Ups and downs
I happen to believe that getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (For the record, I think this is true no matter how many times you do it, because each person is different, each relationship is different, and therefore each marriage is a different experience.) Contrary to what the WIC would have you believe, things that are NOT once-in-a-lifetime experiences include but are not limited to: wearing a fancy dress, hosting a big party, getting some pretty pictures taken, having people say nice things about you, buying and arranging flowers, and eating food. All of those things, you can do again. Often, even. But the one thing that will not ever be repeated, the one thing you will never have done before nor ever do again, is get married to that person. (Unless you are Elizabeth Taylor, of course; but, sadly, many of us are not.)
Despite this, the getting married part is often the part that is glossed over, which seems odd to me, since it's the only thing that separates a wedding from, say, a graduation or a 21st birthday party. And I should know, because Fin and I were at each other's graduations and 21st birthday parties and we certainly didn't come away from any of those events feeling like we felt on the 24th of July last year.
I think part of the reason why we don't hear this part of the wedding story is that it's so very difficult to put into words. Meg had a good go at it, but the closest description to how I personally found the experience of getting married has to be this:
"...all of sudden you'll be like .... fucking hell this is horrible! And it'll just hit you like WOAHHH and it'll be ARGGGG and then all of a sudden she'll be there and you'll be so relieved and it's like THANK GOD..... but that's when everything starts happening all at once and it's like a montage and it all rushes by LIKE A MONTAGE..."
As accurate and as eloquent as this description is, though, it doesn't quite do justice to exactly what I'm trying to convey. I'm thinking about more than just the moment itself, more than just the ceremony, or even just the wedding day. I'm thinking about the whole act of getting married, from the moment you make the decision, together, that yes, you are actually going to do this thing, you are going to bind yourselves to each other for as long as you both shall live, to the moment you say your vows to each other, and mean them, and walk out into the sun as husband and wife (or into the rain as wife and wife, or into the snow as husband and husband. You get the picture).
I was racking my brains trying to think of something I could compare it to, a way of somehow putting into words what is fundamentally an indescribable experience. 'Tis tricky. The best I can come up with is an extended and slightly tortuous metaphor. This is going to sound incredibly lame, but please, please, go with me on this.
Getting married is like getting on a roller coaster.
I did warn you. Bear with me. I beg you.
Note that I didn't say it's like being on a roller coaster. It's like getting on a roller coaster. Which is, clearly, quite different.
When Fin and I were in Santa Cruz, we went to the boardwalk, home of the mighty Giant Dipper. We were at the boardwalk, we knew we were going to go on the Giant Dipper at some point; we just didn't know exactly when. When we first arrived, I was ready to go straight there, but Fin was hesitant, a little nervous. He didn't see the hurry. So we went on a gentle ride first. We rode slowly through the sky and watched as other people entered the Giant Dipper, as they waited in the queue, jumped on the ride and were whisked off into the great unknown. Sigh.
Our meandering little ride was fun too, though. We huddled together, admired the view across the bay, pointed out giggling teenagers on awkward dates and stands selling strange American snacks. It was a lovely little ride; but the Giant Dipper was beckoning.
When we eventually alighted, we agreed that the time was finally right for the big one. The behemoth. The Giant Dipper. We were, quite rightly, crapping ourselves at this point, but together we went through the turnstile and joined the queue. We were committed; we were going to do it. And so commenced the hard part: the long wait, the frustration, the slow and painful progress that we hoped would all be worth it, in the end. Sometimes the wait was boring. Sometimes it was uncomfortable. Sometimes the chatter of all the people around us was funny, sometimes it was distracting, sometimes it was utterly overwhelming.
But the wait was fun too; we could prepare ourselves for what we were about to do, there were stories to read and pictures to keep us entertained, and we peered ahead, craning our necks to see round the corner, wondering what the ride would be like when it was finally our turn to get on.
We get closer. The excitement and the terror increase exponentially with every step. Then, almost unexpectedly, we find ourselves at the head of the queue. The moment has come. Suddenly it's all moving so fast. We're being ushered through, taking our places, everyone is already there, waiting, expectant, and the empty cars rush up and jerk to a shuddering halt before us.
This is it; last chance to back out. I know that I can still turn away. It will be embarrassing, no doubt, but once I'm in that thing there's no getting out of it. Who knows what lies beyond that dark tunnel? From the safety of our little ride it looked exciting and terrifying and wonderful, the best ride in the world, but now it is here in front of me it all suddenly seems so unknown, so rickety and dangerous and old-fashioned. How can I trust it, how can I put my faith in its fragile timbers?
But then Fin steps into the car. And he turns to me, and reaches for my hand. And suddenly, my path is clear. My choice melts away; I don't need to choose. I a chose long time ago. I place my hand in his outstretched palm, and together we let ourselves be clamped in. No going back. With a hiss of breaks and a clanging bell, the train moves forward, more smoothly than I had imagined, then, gathering speed, whips us round the corner and into the darkness.
I don't know what comes next.
If the act of getting married is like getting on a rollercoaster, then we are just at the beginning of our ride. Soaring peaks and stomach-lurching drops lie ahead, all the way.
I am reminded of a friend of my parents', a warm, funny Scottish bloke who was a great skier. He died of cancer when I was 9 or 10, and his wife and young family placed a bench in his memory at a ski resort in the Scottish Highlands. The inscription read, "The moguls were great, but the run too short." That's the kind of epitaph that in my heart I wish for our marriage; one day, hopefully a very long time from now, to be able to look back at all those ups and downs and think, "Wow, that was fun. I wish we could just stay on this ride forever".
See? The metaphor wasn't that bad, was it?
P.S. Hands up if you now have Ronan Keating stuck in your head.
P.P.S. I have a little extra special bonus post for you this afternoon, so make sure you come back after lunch...