I’ve been in a particularly reflective mood recently. This last May saw a personal milestone that simultaneously filled me with joy, surprise, pride, and a little horror: my partner and I celebrated 20 years together!
Horror, because to have reached 20 years in a single relationship makes me feel ancient. I have a particularly difficult and incongruent set of thoughts around age (which for the record is a protected under the Equality Act). Age is just a number and shouldn’t in and of itself be loaded with intrinsic value.
But! We all know it is.
On the one hand, age has given me experience and seems now to automatically lend me credibility at work – several colleagues have mentioned their youth giving them imposter syndrome, feeling as though they are taken less seriously. At some point, as a woman, in your 40s, there is also some weird voodoo that occurs where you become invisible or irrelevant in many circumstances.
As well as the existential navel-gazing about age prompted by a 20-year anniversary, marveling at a chance meeting at a fancy dress party themed around song titles (I dressed as 99 red balloons – Jon for the record came in his everyday work suit claiming to be a ‘Sharp Dressed Man’!). It was also 1999, hence the celebratory balloons, that baffled most, that Jon bought in a grand romantic gesture.
I have come to recognise our achievement in being willing and able to work through the ups and downs and often unbelievable challenges of having 2 (mostly) full-time careers whilst co-parenting our blended family of 4 daughters (step and birth for me).
If life has taught me anything it is that there isn’t any ideal. There is what works for you, what makes you happy and brings you joy – if you are fortunate or for many, there is simply what life serves up. Married, heterosexual, monogamy is not an ideal it is just what we are (mostly) brought up to believe is expected!
I celebrate this anniversary recognising that we are conditioned to believe certain things are ‘ideal’ and that what we enjoy isn’t always been a legal possibility, for all people.
Growing up it never occurred to me that I (or anyone else) would have a relationship with anyone other than someone of the opposite sex. As I have matured and discovered more about myself and considered more honestly what attracts me to people, I believe that given ‘permission’ I would have explored a wider range of relationships earlier in my life and would do should I ever find myself open to new romantic relationships.
At the time we decided to get married, the law defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Neither of us practiced a faith and neither of us was that enthused at the idea of getting married per se, but we did want to celebrate our relationship and give each other the benefit of legal protections. Plus, we wanted to demonstrate our commitment to each other publicly as well as share our love with our friends and family (despite the fact my mother told several guests at the wedding that she had ‘given up’ on me getting married). That same year our brother’s in-law celebrated their love but couldn’t ‘get married’ being two men.
It’s heartening that today the choices of marriage and civil partnership are available to many more people regardless of sexual orientation. These are also characteristics protected by the Equality Act. Though, let’s remember, it is still not yet a right available to our Northern Ireland brothers and sisters though hopefully, this will change this October!
In 2019, it might seem archaic, but we also need to remember that it was not so long ago that married women, or women with children, had to leave employment. This piece of history is part of the reason we have female underrepresentation in our workforce.
So back to thinking about age and time, my life philosophy is that there’s little point in carrying around regret – we should learn from our experiences but not dwell or wallow in them. I am who I am because of all the experiences I have had the chance to have, not least, the 20 years of my relationship. They accumulate into me being the middle-aged (47-year-old) woman, mother of 4, who, against all odds, doing a job I love at an institution that fills me with pride, whilst sharing my life with someone who has been willing to work with me day by day to build our mutual life. A living, breathing example of intersections, age, parenting and marriage that can get lost in the regular diversity discussion.