‘I just want him to find a nice girl and settle down,’ Joy lamented.
‘Oh, I know,’ I replied, pouring her some more tea. ‘But they have to do these things in their own time.
Joy sighed again, her wrinkled hand reaching for her cup. ‘His mother would have hated to think of him all alone.’
I offered a sympathetic smile. I’d met Joy through church, and as she didn’t seem to have any family nearby I would occasionally meet up with her for coffee in Debenhams. Today she’d spent nearly twenty minutes telling me all about her worries for who I imagined to be her grandson, a beloved boy who was yet to find a wife, much to her dismay. He was, by all accounts, a bit of a scamp, but she loved him more for it.
‘Of course, I blame his father for his inability to settle down. All that nonsense with Camilla… broke Diana’s heart he did. What boy would want to follow that sort of legacy? Honestly, it’s lucky William married as well as he did…’
‘Joy,’ I put my own cup down. ‘Are we talking about Prince Harry here?
‘Well, of course. Such a good lad but just can’t find the right girl…’
It’s nice to reflect now that Harry has found the right girl (although sadly Joy died before the engagement was announced). What has been even nicer is the British public’s reaction to her, a willingness to accept an American, mixed-race actress as one of our royals. The reaction to Meghan Markle has been overwhelmingly positive, but for one thing; the same thing that steamrolled Edward VIII off his throne back in the thirties: she is divorced.
I actively dislike the British perception of divorce as a mark of failure. I know many people who have been divorced, and they are good people. No one marries expecting to divorce. Sometimes, life throws you a curveball. People and circumstances change. Sometimes you grow with your marriage, and sometimes you grow out of it.
My husband was divorced prior to our relationship. He put his all into his first marriage. He tried to save it when it fell apart. But in the end, some things can’t be salvaged. He is happier for no longer being with her (and this is irrespective of his relationship with me) and has made peace with the fact that his first marriage just didn’t work out. What we both can’t abide though, is the knee-jerk reaction of many to think of divorce as some sort of failing on the part of an individual. The fact is that some marriages fail, even when the individuals involved give it their all.
I’ve been to a fair few weddings in my time, and not all the marriages that I saw celebrated have made it to a tenth, fifth or even first wedding anniversary. In fact, one didn’t even make it twenty-four hours. But there are lessons to be taken from all of them, the happy marriages, and the not-quite-so-happy ones…
Wedding One: The 17 hour marriage.
I’d known Gem for years. She was a work colleague, bubbly and eager, always smiling and seemingly never serious. She’d been with her boyfriend Daniel for years, since school in fact, and once they’d bought a house together they figured it was time for the next step.
Her engagement ring was just like her, big, gaudy, all flame and colour. She wore it proudly on her hen party, a three-day trip to Amsterdam by ferry where we all drank too much and partied non-stop. It was while in Amsterdam, while we enjoyed another kind of trip, that she suddenly fell quiet and pulled me close.
‘Sometimes I wonder if I really love Daniel, or if we’ve just been together so long that I don’t know how I’d feel without him,’ she confessed, her slurred voice doing little to hide a sudden, unusual flair of emotion.
The rational Sharon, who was bridesmaid and recognised this as cold feet, plain and simple, should have spoken. But covered as she was under a haze of Dutch smoke and Russian vodka, she instead remained silent, giving romantic Sharon (who has given me more than her share of trouble over the years) her chance to shine.
‘You can’t marry a man you don’t really love,’ I told her, giving her a lazy hug. ‘Love is too wonderful to give up for familiarity.’
Of course, knowing what happened next, I could kick myself.
On the morning of the wedding, Daniel arranged for one of his best-men to deliver flowers to his bride. This best-man- Chris- was American, one of Daniel’s friends from his gap year who had flown over especially for the wedding. He hadn’t yet met Gem.
To this day, I believe Daniel could have chosen a different moment to introduce them. What man in his right mind thinks it is a good idea to send his attractive, foreign friend, fully suited and booted, his arms laden with flowers, to meet his fiancée for the first time? Gem was wearing a wedding dress which clung to every curve of her body, while her red hair was curled into a chignon which accentuated the softness of her cheeks and lips. FFS, she was practically gift-wrapped, and as bridesmaid, I’d tied the flipping ribbons.
When Gem opened the door to Chris, it was like silent fireworks lit the room. We, the bridesmaids, could only stand and watch in horror as the bride and best-man fell in love before our eyes. A faint flush stained both their cheeks as they fumbled over words to say to one another. The flowers, idly forgotten, shook in Chris’s hands while Gem’s fingertips traced the outline of one rose.
But it was their eyes that caught my attention. Once they locked eyes, they couldn’t look away. Their eyes clung to one another in all the ways they wanted their bodies too. Their eyes spoke all the words they couldn’t say. It wasn’t just lust- although of course that played a part- it was a meeting of hearts through the windows of their minds.It was adorable. It was fascinating. It was beautiful. It was also, from the perspective of the bridesmaids, completely unacceptable.
‘Well, thanks for the flowers!’ With an unceremonious shove, the maid-of-honour pushed Chris from the room, slammed the door shut and then rounded on the bride.
‘What the actual fuck was that?’ she asked Gem, who remained rooted to the spot, a dazed expression on her face as she looked at us, slowly coming back to the moment.
‘Nothing,’ she finally shrugged. ‘It was nothing.’
The other bridesmaids and I exchanged glances. But we had to believe her. She was in a wedding dress, now holding the flowers her soon-to-be-husband had chosen for her. In forty minutes she would be walking down the aisle to marry her childhood sweetheart. Whatever had just happened between her and his best friend had to be a fluke. A one-off moment of madness, never to be repeated.
At least not until she was exchanging vows with Daniel, stealing glances all the while at Chris. And then again during the photographs, when Chris allowed his hand to linger on Gem a little too long during a staged group shot. And then during the speeches, when Chris’s voice broke while congratulating Daniel on the beauty of his bride. And then again later, during the dancing, when Gem sought Chris out on the dance floor and swayed lightly with him to the music, her head at one point on his shoulder.
It was, to put it lightly, a horror-show of inappropriateness. Now I’m no expert, but when a slightly inebriated vicar turns to you and asks if they married the wrong people, I’d say that was a sign of a pretty-poor wedding.
On reflection, If I were writing this situation as a story, I would run with this love triangle theme and really put these people through the emotional wringer. In romance novels, there is only one possible ending to the love triangle trope, and that is that the right people end up together at the end. And of course, the author can have a little fun on the way to that conclusion.
But real life, of course, is different from a romance novel. More often than not, the right people don’t end up together. People get hurt. There isn’t always a happy ending.
Gem, for all her faults, is inherently a good person, and it didn’t take her long to wise up to a few facts. By eight-thirty the next morning, sober and dressed in plain jeans and an old shirt, she found a few people at the breakfast buffet and announced that the wedding had been a mistake, she was leaving Daniel, and was going home to her parents for a long talk and a think about her life.
She squeezed my hands as she said goodbye. ‘I don’t love Daniel enough to stay with him, but I love him enough not to stay with him out of a sense of obligation,’ she shrugged, as though none of it really mattered.
‘Is he okay?’ I asked.
At this, a sliver of pain seemed to seize her. ‘He will be,’ she replied.
‘And what about…?’
‘No, don’t ask me that,’ she cut me off, her cheeks blushing, instantly understanding who I meant. ‘I’m not ready to talk about him yet.’
Here is the lesson I took from Wedding One: It’s okay to make mistakes in love. It’s okay if it sometimes takes time to find your other half. It’s okay to tell someone that they aren’t for you, regardless of your history. So long as you do tell them. It’s never okay to stay with someone because you feel obligated, or trapped, or because you feel like you don’t deserve better (and if you feel this way, let me assure you that you do deserve more). That isn’t fair to them, or you. Meghan Markle left her partner of nine years, and husband of two, and look what happened to her… she found an actual, real-life prince.
When it finds you, however it does, love is beautiful. You should embrace it. You should nurture it. You should enjoy the fireworks, the passion, and the knowledge that you have met someone with whom you can share not just your heart, but your life. And ultimately, most importantly, you should never settle for anything less. And I’m glad Meghan Markle knows this. Her divorce was not as a failure, but simply as a stepping-stone on her road to happiness.
And, in case anyone was wondering, in 2003, Gem and Daniel were married for 17 hours.
Now, in 2018, Gem and Chris have been married for nearly fourteen years.
Come back for lesson/wedding two: Mulberry handbags at dawn…
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