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"Let's talk about the great marriage shock"


That Kate Moss. She doesn’t say much, but what she does say is bang on.

Her motto for celebrity life is “Never complain, never explain”, which is as succinct and graceful a summary of the vagaries, trade-offs, rights and obligations brought about by a role in the public eye as you could hope to find (and if you write in to tell me that it has been variously attributed in other contexts to Disraeli and Katharine Hepburn, I will say only a) that’s not bad company to keep and b) what else would you expect from a woman with Kate’s style but for her to have lit upon the phrase, understood it instantly as a timeless classic and adapted it for her own elegant ends. It’s the linguistic equivalent of a belted trench).

Now, according to her friends, just five months after she got hitched to rock star Jamie Hince she is talking about “the marriage shock”. In this, she speaks for a generation.

I wrote a book about getting married, called The Reluctant Bride but I have come to feel it’s slightly dishonest because it ends with the wedding (having lost most of my reluctance along the way). What it doesn’t mention is the subsequent year which was… well, let’s call it ‘fraught’.

I hadn’t expected marriage to make much, if any, difference to me. I don’t believe in God, we were already living together, we’d already had sex (unless you’re my grandma reading this, in which case, we absolutely hadn’t) – what, I reasoned reasonably, would therefore change?

I hadn’t fully appreciated that even without religious significance, getting married still carries some heft. For most of us, it is the first public, the biggest and most (though not wholly) irrevocable commitment we make. No matter how sure you are of yourself and your decision it still feels different from any you have made before.

But at least in the lead up to the big day, I got some inkling of this. I had no idea that there would be an ongoing brainscramble once the knot was tied.

It’s as if everything suddenly takes on an extra dimension. That noise he makes when he’s eating/cleaning his teeth/mooching round the place which you vaguely disliked is now the noise you will have to hear for the next 50 years. Every phlegmy cough echoes down the future decades. It’s a strain.

Weirdest of all is the feeling that every time HE can’t or won’t do something he is failing you, personally and profoundly, as A Husband, and that every time YOU can’t or won’t do something else you are equally failing him as A Wife. These ideal Husband and Wife figures hover round the house, idealised avatars of the spousal virtues beside whom lumpen reality is nothing but bitter disappointment.

That noise he makes when he’s cleaning his teeth is now the noise you will have to hear for the next 50 years

I knew, for example, when I married Toryboy (so called because we have very different political views) that he can no more put up a set of shelves orwire a plug than… well, than I can, and I didn’t care. We bought bookcases and did without the toaster till my DIY-tastic sister came to visit. But at some point during the ceremony a switch must have flipped in my brain because I started to resent it, hugely, and berate him ceaselessly (if, in my own defence, usually silently) for his UTTER USELESSNESS. This was in between knackering myself trying to produce a different meal every night and keep the bathroom spotless where before we had bumbled along happily on my patented ‘pasta thing’ eked out for three nights a week and takeaways for four, and used to invite people over purely as motivation to clean the toilet.

Gradually and via innumerable crying fits, many bits of broken crockery, strangulated cries and long talks with married friends, these strange impulses worked their way out of my system and we returned to normality. But it was a salutary lesson in how potent some stereotypes are and how deep some prejudices run.

The wedding night may not be the shock it once was, but it turns out that there is more than one kind of virginity to lose. We think of ourselves as entirely rational, independent beings with a fully raised consciousness and totally free will. It is sobering to realise that we are all just puppets, really. Puppets with unknown but formative childhood influences and outmoded but stubborn cultural cliches pulling the strings. It’s like someone’s ruptured your mind. But you get used to it in the end. Until then, just lie back and think of Kate Moss.

Contact Lucy Mangan at lucy.mangan @stylist.co.uk; @lucymangan

Main picture credit: Rex Features

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