For many years, or at least the many years during which I remained painfully single, I viewed the institution of marriage as potentially desirable for the reason that in the event of my ever finding someone stupid enough to lay still whilst I had sexual congress, it would at least contractually impede their progress in the opposite direction. During those significantly fewer years when I counted as half of a couple, marriage became something against which I had no strong objection, but which wasn't the sort of arrangement I wanted to get into for myself, at least not without a few stipulations mostly conditional to my partner becoming a completely different person.
I guess others have held the same view.
I was astonished when, having broken up with the final girlfriend at the end of 2008, she wailed about how I'd ruined everything and how she'd always imagined we would grow old together. The first part came as no surprise because she had spent most of the time providing helpful lists of my many, many failings as a human being, but growing old together? I tried to picture Adolf Hitler holding back the tears as he realises how few birthday cards he's received from his Jewish friends, and that was when I understood this person to be delusional. Maybe she was thinking of something other than the endless arguments and psychological warfare, whilst uppermost in my own thoughts were hot baths taken over previous months during which I'd find myself idly wondering whether it was true that suicide committed under such circumstances would be as painless as rumour had it; and I really wish I was joking about that particular detail.
Bess, as I immediately realised, was different in all respects to anyone I had known before, and the question of marriage was never really raised because from the beginning we somehow both seemed to regard it as inevitable and desirable. It was the natural choice to be made. Back in 2007, I went for a drink with Alan, the lodger from upstairs in the house in Lordship Lane, and we were discussing our respective partners. He described his wife as his soul mate, then pointed out that for all my declared happiness, I hadn't said much that was good about Marian, so she probably wasn't the one. This pissed me off because the soul mate thing sounded like Hallmark card drivel, but mostly because I knew he was right; and I at last came to understand that whole soul mate deal when I met Bess.
Nauseating though it may seem, we've never had an argument that lasted more than a few minutes, and I can count those on the fingers of one Simpsons' hand. Conversely, the aforementioned final girlfriend once told me that constant arguments and aggravation are natural and healthy for most couples.
There's probably not much point my attempting to describe that which my wife and I share, because it will doubtless sound trite and isn't anyone else's business; but it really is unlike any other love I've known, as the song proclaims. When we are together, it is unlike being in a room with another person because we form a single unit like one of those giant Japanese robots where all the arms and legs fly off to become smaller autonomous robots. We laugh at each other's jokes. We have no barriers between us. There is no subject one of us cannot broach with the other, and apologies have generally proven unnecessary because neither of us does anything which might require an apology. I can describe the shape of our relationship by telling you what it isn't, but otherwise I would be straying into the realms of either poetry or religion. Let's just say that she's a very rare gem and leave it at that.
In April 2010, still a UK resident, I came to San Antonio to meet her family, and whilst I was here I did the down on one knee bit. My mother had given me the ring, passed on from my grandmother - three diamonds I would see sparkling upon Margaret Shepherd's finger as she sat watching the wrestling on Saturday afternoons in the 1970s, flicking ash from the end of her umpteenth cigarette. It belonged to a significant era of my personal history, and it was absolutely right to place that ring on my fiancé’s finger and pop the question just like in the films. We'd both seen the proposal coming a mile off, but it was no less special as a result.
By July 2011, all of the forms had been filled and I was back here in Texas on a K-1 fiancé visa. It was a strange couple of weeks. I was in an unfamiliar and very hot country, surrounded by people I didn't know, here without a safety net on the understanding that I hadn't just made the greatest mistake of my life.
Within a month, we moved to the larger house we'd been discussing, and on the last Sunday before August it filled with people. My wife's friend Sara was brought in to order us around, instructing me to be more cheerful having failed to understand that my cheer has never been expressed with hootin', hollerin' or high fives; and she did an amazing job of turning our porch into Mexico and cooking enough enchiladas for everyone. The ceremonial aspect of the marriage wasn't legally necessary, but it seemed important that we should do something, and so we did; and it wasn't the greatest mistake of my life, if I had even seriously believed that could be a possibility.
Sometimes I think it may have been the first good thing I ever did.