The Reclaiming Wife section of APW started after I got home from our honeymoon and started grappling about what it meant to be a wife. Turns out, all was as it should be. When we take on a new role, we wonder if we’re going to grow into someone we don’t recognize. What kind of adult are we going to become? And it turned out that worrying about creating married life that felt authentic to me was the smartest thing that I could have worried about. It forced me to make decisions that would let me grow, while becoming a better version of myself. If only this was something you could learn in one go. Because of course, I ended up with the same worries about parenthood, forgetting that the adult we become is hopefully a wiser version of the person we’ve always been—and our lives only as authentic as the hard work we put in to make them so.
Seven months ago I got married.
I know, I’ve said ‘I’ when you might expect me to say ‘we’. Getting married is about two people. It’s about standing up and making a public promise to love your chosen partner forever. But I want to talk about how getting married is also a personal thing. A singular thing. It’s about making a decision as an individual to become part of something bigger. For me, the shift from single to married seemed like a very big, very grown-up thing.
In the run up to the wedding there were a lot of things to worry about. There were tables to plan, speeches to write, dresses to have fitted, and bunting to sew. But if I’m honest, to me these things weren’t the cause of my stress. I was using them as camouflage to hide what I was really worried about: becoming a wife.
Let me step back a bit. Before I got engaged, I’d had twenty-three years of learning to be me. I’d built a fairly good understanding of what I liked and what I didn’t. I knew what made me laugh, and what made me cry. I’d learned how to drink a lot of wine and eat a lot of cake and how to make people smile. I knew how to act in a way that was expected of me. All of that was taken care of. The problem about becoming a wife was that I wasn’t sure what was going to be expected of me.
This isn’t the 1950s, of course, and my husband and I believe in marriage as an equal partnership. We already lived together and had shared routines and pooled finances. I wasn’t expecting there to be any visible changes in our post-wedding life. The real crux of the issue was that getting married seemed like sticking my hand up in the air and saying, “Hey! I’m an adult now!” As a fairly young bride (by this century’s standards, anyway) this was a scary prospect.
Logically, I knew that becoming a wife wasn’t going to bestow me with the magical secrets to adulthood. I didn’t really think that when my husband slipped a ring onto my finger I’d suddenly be filled with all the wisdom and confidence I associated with being truly ‘grown up’. But deep down I did believe that when I was a wife I needed to be more mature, and more sophisticated, and learn how to properly clean a bathroom. I thought that when I had a ring on my finger I’d need to be all the things that I wanted to be when I grew up.
I’ll tell you now: all those beliefs were a lot of pressure.
And then the wedding came. Snow fell in the early morning, but by midday it had turned into a bright, blue-skied October day. When I stepped into my long white dress, I felt younger than ever. But there was a shift that day. In between walking into the church and walking out of it again, I became a wife. What I should’ve known all along was that I didn’t need to change anything about myself to do that.
I thought that getting married was the marker that would signify my final step into ‘real’ adulthood. But there is no marker. Like everyone else, I’ll keep on feeling like an adult ‘in training’ until some point in the future when I realise I’m not pretending anymore. It will be a gradual process, a slow dawning, not something that happens symbolically at a milestone life event.
My new husband and I will meander our way into true adulthood together. Somedays we’ll feel more grown up than others. Sometimes we will feel sophisticated, and sometimes we’ll eat on the sofa wearing pyjamas. And who will I be as a wife? I’ll start as the person I am right now.
Photo from Katie’s wedding by Ian Martindale