Tim Dowling: We’ve been married 30 years – and I’m getting romantic in my old age

‘I am bad at anniversaries, but my wife is worse: most years she doesn’t even remember’

For our 20th wedding anniversary (the china one, I think) I got my wife a candle and a Breaking Bad box set – series one and two. Luckily, she was already in a bad mood because she’d spent all day at Thorpe Park with the kids and had her bag stolen. She cancelled her cards and we went for a curry.

On our 23rd wedding anniversary we went out for a curry again, this time to a restaurant so popular that when my wife called to make a reservation they said we could only have the table for two hours.

“I was, like, two hours, are you mad?” she said. “It’s our 23rd anniversary. We’ll run out of things to say to each other after 45 minutes.”

Days before our 28th anniversary my wife got into a panic because she thought it was our 25th, and it would require some kind of formal commemoration. When I reminded her that we’d passed that milestone without fanfare three years previously, she was very relieved, and we had a takeaway.

On the morning of our 30th wedding anniversary, my wife is looking at me when I wake up, eyes aflame.

“Happy anniversary!” she shouts, as if answering a quiz question. “I said it first! I win!”

“Thirty magical years,” I say. “Everybody wins.”

“Oh shut up,” she says. “I win.”

“I’m going to let you have this moment,” I say.

I am bad at anniversaries, but my wife is worse: most years she doesn’t even remember. She also finds the idea of celebrating them publicly embarrassing and unnecessary. We had to do all that when we got married. Why relive a traumatic day from 30 years ago?

As far back as January I gently suggested we make some kind of plan, knowing I would be rebuffed.

“It’s 30 years,” I said. “It just feels like the sort of thing where we should invite everyone we know to a remote island.”

That’s where we left things. No plans were made. No save-the-date cards went out.

In the circumstances, I’m happy for my wife to claim a victory for being the first to say”Happy anniversary”, as I know that victory will be short-lived – because I actually got her a present. It’s been in my sock drawer for a month.

I hand it to her at her desk an hour later: a little box in a little bag.

“I didn’t get you anything,” she says, opening the box.

“I know!” I say. “What a day!”

She opens the box. Inside is a silver chain on which three silver rings of slightly different sizes are strung.

“Do the three rings symbolise each of my children?” she says.

“Or 10 years of marital bliss apiece,” I say. “Your choice.”

“How did you know I wanted this?” she says.

“A husband just knows,” I say. This means: I overheard you talking about it on holiday, while you and a friend were staring at a picture of it on the jeweller’s website on my laptop. All I needed was sufficient foresight to bookmark the page, and to remember to order it when we got home. Then I just had to spend a month not doing anything so stupid that I would have had to give it to you by way of apology ahead of time. There were a few close calls.

“Help” my wife says, bending her head and holding up the two ends of the chain. I put it round her neck and spend a few awkward moments trying work out the clasp, thinking: I should have practised this bit.

“There,” I say, finally. She admires her reflection in her computer’s screen.

“I like it,” she says. “Thank you.”

“OK,” I say. “See you at the 35th.”

I suppose one’s approach to big wedding anniversaries depends on the reasons for getting wed in the first place. We got married 30 years ago, partly so that I could remain in the country legally. At the time, I felt as if I was trying to trick the government into letting me stay with the woman I loved for the rest of my life.

If 10 years together felt like sufficient justification for the stratagem, 25 made us seem like marital enthusiasts. I think my wife is worried that 30 years risks making us look like flag-waving fanatics. But really, a marriage starts again every morning, with you both waking up still thinking it’s a good idea. In that context the passage of time seems hardly worth noting. Honestly, it’s flown by.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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