Friday is our fifth wedding anniversary. Five whole years. Nothing short of amazing.
It certainly hasn’t gone according to plan.
I blame Disney. And every romantic comedy ever made. All those stories of near-disaster, misunderstandings, evil stepmothers and talking mice have one thing in common. As soon as the wedding bells are over, so is the story.
They all live happily ever after. Don’t ask any questions.
That’s what I was brought up on. I devoured it. And, despite my best efforts to read stories about twins who love to recycle, or little girls who play with tigers, it’s what Elvie is being raised on too. There’s nothing she loves more than a princess. Except perhaps a cake.
She plays weddings a lot. Talks about the dresses. The flowers. The dancing. In her mind, it’s the dancing that means you’re actually married. She’s going to be a menace at school discos.
The wedding is the goal. The big day. The big dress. The princess moment.
To be married. To be chosen. Publicly. And loved forever.
Nothing wrong with that. I’ll be the first to admit that, even as a stony-hearted twentysomething, I desperately wanted someone to pick me. To love me.
And then he did.
A man walked into my life one evening at a networking event, and went home with my phone number and a spring in his step. I hadn’t even realised he was hitting on me and, slightly embarrasingly, I couldn’t remember his name. It was Wes.
He’d said he’d call me. And he did. We went out for a lunch date that lasted eight hours, discovered we had half the world in common, and quickly became inseparable. Despite the thirty mile distance.
I was swept off my feet. I’d never imagined that anybody could love me so well. Warts and all.
Things got serious very quickly. I moved thirty miles to be with him. And then it got messy. I had a deep-rooted fear of abandonment. He had previous-girlfriend-induced commitment issues. It wasn’t pretty.
We broke up a few times. I cried a lot. But we never managed to stay apart. And then, in the midst of another standoff, at the point where I had deleted his number from my phone so that I couldn’t send him any more ridiculously over-emotional texts, he snuck into my garden in the middle of the night and proposed via the medium of tealights.
There were flowers. And a ring. And quite possibly sub-zero temperatures. It was beautiful. I was taken completely off guard, and so stunned that I spent the rest of the night talking about garden gnomes and woke up wondering if it had all been a dream.
If this was a Disney film, or a Richard Curtis comedy, it would all end there. With a few token shots of the wedding to fill the closing credits. (They’d be worth staying for. It was stunning.)
It wasn’t a movie. Thank goodness. That was just the beginning.
We had a fairly disastrous honeymoon. It’s more common than you think. As it happens, France in December is really cold. Especially when you have a throat infection. And exhaustion. And barely any hot water. Thank goodness for Disneyland. It’s hard to be grumpy there.
Mickey Mouse was good respite. I spent most of the following year wondering why more people don’t get divorced. I suspect Wes did too. I went on the pill, and felt as though I was actually losing my mind. I learnt the hard way that I’m more selfish than I’d ever imagined. I did not appreciate having to compromise. I sulked. I snarled. I was passive-aggressive. A lot. And Wes started running out of patience.
Eventually we booked a long holiday. South Africa and India. A month away. It was phenomenal. Sun, adventure and a lot of cocktails. Just what we needed. By the time we came back I was pregnant. The next four years were a blur of pregnancy, small babies, toddlers and post-natal depression. Which brings us to now.
There have been days when we’ve shouted. Or not spoken at all. Endless snaps, and losses of temper. He’s realised that I don’t notice when a room needs hoovering. I’ve discovered that he is incredibly resistant to washing up. I’ve found out that it’s best to feed him before trying to have a serious conversation. He’s learnt not to expect a constructive response before 7.30am.
There have been moments, sometimes weeks on end, when I’ve wondered if he liked me at all. There have been times when I didn’t like him. Days when we’ve argued for hours over nothing at all. Or given in too quickly on the important things. Days when I knew he was going to leave me. Days when I would have left me. Lots of those.
And yet, five years on, we’re still here. Still married. Still celebrating. By the skin of our teeth.
These last few years have been a learning curve. A steep one. With a few unnecessary assignments thrown in just for fun. I’m not sure what grade we’d get. But we’d pass. I know that much.
Not by chance. Through gritted teeth and determination. Because of those gut-wrenchingly vulnerable moments in the clear air of the morning when we’ve turned around and apologised. As a result of those tiny little tiptoe steps back towards romance in the wake of bitter arguments.
All of those raw, painful, wearing-your-heart-on-the-outside moments have got us to today. To a place where we are finally starting to appreciate each other again. Really, properly appreciate each other. It’s been a long time coming.
This weekend, I had a blip in my recovery process. Maybe because of the emotional upheaval of the last few weeks, or because I’m tired, or because I’ve been trying to do too much too soon. Who knows.
By the time I went to bed on Friday I was starting to fold in on myself. All I wanted to do, for the entire weekend, was curl up under a blanket and hide.
Wes was amazing. He asked me how I was. I told him I was curling up at the edges. And he understood. Completely. I couldn’t face the fireworks on Saturday night. So he took the children. And I stayed on the sofa with a blanket and Strictly.
Yesterday, he left me in bed when the children woke up. When I surfaced, they were tidying the living room shelves, which have been a jumble of overfilled chaos since we moved in. 11 months ago. Because he knew.
He knew that physical chaos makes the mental chaos worse. He knew that I wouldn’t have the motivation to tidy. He knew that it would lift my mood. And it did.
He’s the only one who knows me, faults, flaws, hoover-resistance and all. Inside out. And still loves me. He still kisses me, even after two huge babies turned my stomach into a saggy map of the London Underground.
He knows which mug to put my ‘I-need-some-comfort’ tea in. He knows when I need his arm around me to hold me up. He knows how to hold his place in a French queue. And how to give me hope.
Five years in. It hasn’t been plain sailing. It’s hard work.
But it’s worth it. Absolutely.
Happily ever after would be nice. But I’d rather have this. I’d rather have Wes.
Prince Charming may be perfect but I bet he’s dull. And he doesn’t tidy shelves.