So the husband and I met a rather big milestone today: ten whole years together. Ten years since we were uni house mates, both a bit shy, both a bit weird, and both tentatively deciding we rather liked each other. Most of our friends are coupled up now, but we were first. We’ve survived the turmoil and general awkwardness that defines being in your twenties. Hell, we did more than survive – we’re doing really well. Now we’re both 30, we’re still very much together, and I’ve gone all sentimental about it.
We were kids when we got together. Two kids in love, who’d never had proper jobs, and spent their student loans on books, nice pens, cheesecake and pizza. In that third year of uni, we didn’t often hang out with anyone other than each other, and it was awesome. I mean, not many relationships get the luxury of that, do they? Months on end with no work pressures, and just the odd essay to write. Evenings spent watching films, walking by the sea. No early mornings. We lived in each other’s pockets and it was perfect.
When you’ve just turned twenty, your whole life is still a big undecided blob of possibility. We didn’t have to work to ‘fit in’ with each other’s schedules, work lives, homes. We could mould the blob of possibility to suit our relationship. Beyond university, when we first dipped our toes into the scary dream pool of careers, we did it together – and we knew we needed to make certain choices if we wanted to remain a couple. It was a bumpy start, as I decided to live with my parents and save money (and stress) while I did my PGCE. My other half was doing an MA more than eighty miles away, and we were both studying really hard. We missed each other desperately, often not seeing each other for weeks.
I suppose it helped us see that living together was really going to be a priority in our happiness. So, aged twenty-two, we rented our first flat. I found a teaching job close to a university city where he could gradually get a job in academic publishing. We didn’t have much money, and it was difficult – but it made us happy. It’s also quite special that we knew each other before we had careers – there’s so little explaining to do, because we feel we know the ‘real’ versions of each other, the ones not expressed by job titles and CVs.
Now, I’ve blogged before about renting from an early age and now feeling trapped by it (see my post on house ownership anxiety). Paying high rent through our twenties might’ve been a tad financially stupid, but it was good for our relationship. We liked being at home. It was important to us to live together in a nice place. While friends were still at university, living at home or going slightly mad in shared houses, we gave up our cash for a little nest of our own. I cooked, he cleaned, we paid the bills, and we didn’t argue much. It was all pretty easy, but not boring. We were content with a kind of low-key happiness that perhaps most people don’t look for until they’re much older.
We were boyfriend and girlfriend for seven years before we got engaged – ending the rather irritating speculation of friends and family. I’m the oldest amongst my group of close friends, and the one who’d been in a relationship the longest – so it was a cruel mirroring of being the oldest sibling who has to do every milestone first (I’m also an oldest sibling, if you’re sensing any bitterness). It wasn’t a surprise engagement. I think it was around the time of our seventh anniversary… I commented that we’d been together a long time, longer than lots of married people. He made a comment that maybe we should get married, and I buzzed with excitement, though I tried not to show it. We looked at rings. I only needed to try on one… a delicate little number with a small diamond, criss-crossed by a string of tiny ones in a sort of Celtic pattern. (I’ve been wearing it for three years and I still like to stare at it.) The ‘official’ engagement was a picnic by a lake. Not many words, just a ring slipped onto my finger. Oh, and prawns and dip.
Everyone says that the nicest thing about our wedding was that it reflected how much we have in common. We had a literary theme – the cake was a stack of books, the centre pieces were made with bits of old books, and the favours were literary classics. All the family did speeches – in-laws included. It was a rather extraordinarily happy day that still makes me flutter with happiness when I think about it. We went to China for a honeymoon, though we had just as much fun kicking about in Wales in the rain for our ‘minimoon’.
I read Bridget Jones as a kid, and I think I’ve become a smug married. I feel a little guilty sometimes that the romantic side of my life has proved straightforward. I knew very early on that I was with the right person and I’m very lucky that he agreed. I generally get very nervous when any one of my female friends asks me for dating advice, because I really have no idea. The last time I was single, Facebook didn’t exist, and people still took pictures with actual cameras. I ‘dated’ very little (though the ‘dates’ I did experience were excruciatingly bad). I’m sorry I can’t help you if your sort-of boyfriend won’t answer your messages on Whatsapp. I’m sorry if you only find losers on the internet who send you hideously intimate pictures of themselves. I can’t offer advice, because I never had to go through all that crap. Thank God. I just fell into a happy relationship when I was very young, and I’m very, very fortunate.
We’re not perfect – I know I’m super annoying when I demand attention like a six-year-old, start a play-fight and complain that he hasn’t brought me a glass of water at bed time (yes, I’m hard work). I know he’s not perfect when he eats all the biscuits and cannot make ONE SINGLE DECISION (I even pick his food on a menu sometimes). But that’s real life. Sometimes we fight and grumble like teenage siblings. Sometimes we probably take each other for granted. But we agree that we’re staying together, that we’re probably as compatible as it’s humanly possible to be. I don’t believe in fate, but as my father-in-law said at our wedding, it seems quite amazing that two people so alike ended up in the same house in the same seaside town on the same university course. And now we have a lot of shared history, a shared family. I remember reading a lovely metaphor about two trees that grew side by side, so close their roots became entwined. If I’m sad, I think of us as those two trees, growing in the same spot of earth, drinking in the same shaft of sunlight.