I love being part of stealth communities, with all their secretive jargon and covert behaviours. When I was a quad-bike rider, motorcyclists whizzed by with a bob of their helmeted heads, or a raise of a solitary index finger, joining us briefly in mechanical solidarity as they squealed by.
With vanlifers, the clanship is less strident, unless one is a solo woman traveller greeting another fellow solo woman traveller, then the full beam of an avid wave and smile binds us together momentarily across windscreens. We are not as rare a breed as one might suppose.
The same camaraderie exists between us and the women bus drivers who wind their windows down to give us a quick ‘howdy-doody’ as we squeeze our vehicles past one another on calm country lanes. Our sorority still evokes a sense of the avant garde about it all, a determination to demonstrate we are just fine and dandy as we are, and perhaps above all underpinned by a presumption that perhaps she too has overcome the invisible mental and structural barriers of her sex. A sense of having trumped the obstacles.
It shouldn’t be this way, of course, but fairy tale fodder promised our girlish imaginations that everything would work out perfectly and having obtained a life partner, we would live happily ever after in holy matrimony.
Those very same books with their noble ambitions to instil in me right from wrong, also taught me that only good-looking people find love and happiness, and that ugly, fat people deserve miserable lives.
Then came the magazines with their endless suggestions on how to be alluring, to lure or to somehow modify ourselves to fit with a stranger’s expectations. A belief system that we were simply not good enough as we were, that we must somehow adapt, change, alter from our position of lacking, limited or lamentable existence. The endless “Nobody will want to marry you unless you …if you don’t brush your teeth…if you don’t lose weight…if you don’t have long hair," ad infinitum. It seems to me that romance was, in reality, better depicted as a sport: a game to be won, a prize to catch and an event to train for.
I harboured that sinister belief that the end-game for a girl was to be married. That the worst thing that could befall a good girl was to be a spinster and old-maid. The Romantic diarists foretold all who read that to be single was an unpalatable disgrace and that was despite over thirty-percent of women of that era being exactly that - neither married nor cohabiting. By replication they became something to look at askance, to ridicule or to pity. And yet, nonsensically it inferred that the other seventy percent were content, satisfied or otherwise fulfilled. These days, an estimated forty percent of the adult population is neither cohabiting or married: hardly a small minority.
Certainly no children’s book warned me that I might meet middle-age with divorce, that my husband would call time abruptly and without consultation on the contract of marriage.
His decision nonetheless thrust us towards the other forty-two percenters who failed to terminate the marriage by conveniently expiring.
It was his second attempt, my first. Statistically, he had a seventy percent chance of success, and me a sixty-percent given our mutual Englishness - the rates vary greatly around the world. Second marriages in America are twice as likely to fail as first. But, for us, it was not to be.
It took nearly a year before that bloody indentation on my left hand smoothed out for the record.
No one ever told me that the union’s demise would leave me dwelling on the ‘why’ for far too long. That the seeking to understand would simply distract me from focusing on how to rebuild a life just for me. But the why is a fascinating but endless pontification. It is only natural to do so, we are told. To permit oneself to grieve, to not bounce back in some faux demonstration that it never mattered to begin with. But when is it enough? When does trying to learn from past mistakes, of necessary reflection cross the line into pointless rumination?
But there is one part of divorce that is eminently enjoyable: the invention of the many insults upon which to pour scorn on his very being in his absence. It was well-indulged hobby.
I confess, it took a few years before I permitted myself to use his first name again - and that was only on a good day. Perhaps, these days I am more consumed by the question why I didn’t leave? I knew on some level it was rotten to its core, but I had no courage to go, and conversely I called him the coward for leaving. I supposed I always assumed that prior to the decimation of a marriage, there would be a lot of
If the idea of divorce sends a shudder down one’s spine, then one should avoid seaside towns. Bizarrely, it is these scenic locations, according to the Office of National Statistics, that become England’s hotspots for the dissolution of marriages. Landlocked Cambridgeshire, therefore, would make for a very attractive destination for those who wish to remain within the union. Except that is in the district of Peterborough, whose marriages are currently disintegrating at a rate of 11%, nearly two percentage points higher than the national average, and thus tops the charts of marital demise in the absence of a seaside.
The rest of the county is pretty stereotypical - around half its residents are currently married.
Somewhat ironically, I thought Cambridgeshire probably best demonstrated why so many marriages break down. Then again, given that the Cam means ‘crooked’, which incidentally, to the Australian also denotes exasperation as opposed to referring to something criminal, twisted or dishonest as it might in England.
The top reason given is always “drifting apart”. Of course this is what happens to long marriages. One day, the children have gone, one looks towards the other, factors in the advancing years, then ponders what the hell is in store for them.
That said, probably the biggest determiner for divorce is that the thrifty and the spendthrift make for terrible bedfellows. It is probably useful to know before one sinks a small fortune on a wedding that love does not solve money worries.
I have often heard it said that one should ‘cherchez la femme’ when a man walks out, but an exit affair is a pretty common way to end a marriage as well as simultaneously destroying the esteem of the one left behind. I pass no moral judgement, whilst at the same time, chuck the entire church at them.
Then there’s those harbouring the wonderfully incompatible natures, like two people who have become inherently competitive. They would sooner tear each other apart in their need to be right, rather than focus on any demands for happiness. If I was tired, he was tireder. If I was fed up, he’d remind me that I should think about him for a change. And on, and on, and on we’d go dwindling downwards.
Or perhaps the mysticism just dies. No longer are farts retained nor toilet doors kept closed. The make-up is off, the crack revealed and one, or both, is slowly creeping into their parent’s skin. Where once one fancied the socks off their partner, now one can barely bring oneself to look in their direction.
And of course, there’s always the sex. The lack of, the inefficient or the disappointment after.
Thus it is in Cambridgeshire, home to England’s most expensive and notorious celebrity divorce solicitors, Vardags, that I am able to recite the advice from those who failed to make it to the ‘til death do us part’ bit.
Still, the good news is once the divorce, or splitting up, is done and dusty, and all has settled down into a new routine, it is worth reminding oneself that Mintel, a global intelligence gathering company, discovered that sixty-one percent of women will say they are happy with their relationship status, providing they tick the box that says ‘single’. On the other hand, only 49% of unattached men can say the same.
All told, there are just two things that I miss about marriage.
Having someone to make brainless remarks to. Secondly? Having someone to blame for my picking up a speeding fine.