Today would’ve been my twelfth wedding anniversary – I got married in 2002 in a small Scottish castle hotel on a crisp, beautiful November day. There were kilts, a ceilidh, fireworks, friends and family. It still ranks as one of the best days of my life, even though the purpose of it has gone away. In many ways, it was a brilliant party that just happened to have a wedding attached to it – I thought so then, and even more so now.
I’ve often wondered why I felt such a strong urge to get married – I pride myself on not following the usual rules of behaviour –but there I was pursuing this goal because it was just ‘what you did’. All my friends had done it or were doing it, and I just had to tick that box. I decided that it had to happen before I was ‘too old’ to go down the aisle, and that thirty-five was my cut-off point. 2002 was my thirty-fifth year.
I knew it wasn’t quite right from the start and yet I pursued it relentlessly. I was the one who asked him to marry me, I was the one who made it all happen, even though he was extremely stressed with work in the year of our marriage and wanted to delay things. I just thought it was procrastination, but in retrospect, maybe he knew it wasn’t right either.
We did it anyway, and it was a huge and wonderful party for about seventy of our friends and family. Neither of us had big families, especially as my parents had died and he’d lost his dad, so there were ‘missing places’ at the wedding that we filled with friends and other loved ones. I made a speech (because of the missing persons), I took myself down the aisle, I arranged the whole thing. I even made myself stay on my own in the hotel the night before, not surrounded by friends and family, and actually a bit scared in the allegedly haunted room. This was all while he enjoyed his last night of freedom with his family and best man back in the village. What was I trying to prove? How alone I could be? I stayed awake pretty much all night.
I knew it was the wrong decision back then, I knew it was wrong on the honeymoon, and I knew for the next eight years. And yet I did it anyway. I know many people – men and women – who’ve admitted to me that they’ve done the same thing and are just going through with it, especially if they have children. It’s really scary, even considering leaving a marriage, and it took me time to gain the courage, and crucially the financial independence, to be able to do it.
When I finally did it, it was so sad. By doing what I’d done over the years, and his going along with it, we’d both lived inauthentic lives and it was time to face reality, in our forties. Essentially, we had been great friends who’d lived a great life, filled with adventure holidays, starter homes, dinner parties and burgeoning careers. There was much to be thankful for and the more distance I get on it all, the more I appreciate it for what it was, and him for what he added to my life. Thank you, if by chance you ever read this. (And by the way, I still can’t watch Out of Africa…)
What I’ve learned from it all is that your gut instinct is entirely correct, every time, in every circumstance. If your heart isn’t in something, your brain and gut know it and they tell you. You must listen to them, because they will steer you correctly through life. I’ve ignored mine in both professional and private life and it’s cost me. I suppose this mistake-making is all part of life experience and everyone does this. If only we’d listen to ourselves earlier in our lives and trust in what we hear. That so rarely happens.
I’ve applied the rule of Gut Instinct to quite a few things now – I only buy clothes if I absolutely LOVE them. Anything less, I know I’ll end up going off them and they’ll be given to charity. I only accept invitations to things I REALLY want to go to, rather than do things because I think I should, or because ‘everyone else’ is going. I only maintain friendships with people who truly add something good to my life and at the first sign of toxicity, back away fast, rather than labour away on something worthless.
The downside is that I often trust an initial feeling about something or someone and back away too quickly, making an ‘insta-decision’ that is so typically too-fast of me. I now catch myself doing it and make myself slow down to really look at the thing or the person, just to see if I’m missing something, if I’m being too hasty. This is the sort of thing I do when I visit new countries (see my Kaleidoscope Effect post) – I go there with all my preconceptions and first impressions and then wait for the reality to reveal itself.
It’s fun, waiting to be disproved about something, because you know, your gut instinct is usually telling you there’s something in there worth waiting for.