Carla Carlisle on the secret of a lasting marriage

On the evening of our 25th wedding anniversary, we opened a bottle of Pol Roger 1996 Cuvée Winston Churchill. Minutes after a tender toast from our son (‘To Mama and Papa, without whom I would not be here’), I saw tears in my husband’s eyes. He is not one of those stiff-upper-lipped Englishman. He weeps when he watches Chariots of Fire and when he hears Elgar’s Nimrod. On this special evening, our glasses filled with golden nectar as we celebrate a quarter of a century of married love, his eyes well up… because… England has won the Test Match.

Ours is a Sky-less household so the Test match highlights that begin at 7pm are as sacred as the ceremony in which he pledged his troth. I could have suggested that, on this significant occasion, perhaps a sunset stroll in the garden would be more fitting, but I would have seen that far-away look of regret so we sipped our Champagne against the backdrop of leather-on-willow.

This is how we got this far. Both the bride’s side and the groom’s side were mystified at our union, but we brought to our marriage gifts we didn’t even know we had: the wisdom to know when to give in. In my family it was called ‘the politics of shutting up’-knowing that you don’t have to say everything you feel (more concept than reality with my own dear mama, as I recall). It also means that as soon as I hear the background crackle and unique banality of Test match radio, I go into a day-dreamy trance, re-examining my life, making lists of letters to write and menus to plan, much as I might do if I were sitting in a concert of Stockhausen.

We have friends who’ve celebrated significant milestones in their wedded lives with a renewal of their vows. That never entered our heads, and yet every time we attend a wedding, I listen in amazement to those quixotic promises-for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. As my husband silently weeps, I silently think how rash are these vows, how little we really know as troths are pledged and words are given.

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This summer my husband wept through the wedding of Will and Kate, and he wept at the wedding in Ely of Daisy and Nathan, a beautiful high-church wedding uniting a musical bride and a groom who is pianist and composer. He wept through the Bach, the Brahms, the Schubert and Schumann and only cheered up during the signing of the register at an unexpected version of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love, quite likely an Ely Cathedral first.

I’d like to think that these 25 years have given me some wisdom on the subject of marriage. Sadly, I’m no wiser than I was all those years ago. The older I get, the more I appreciate a telegram we received on our wedding day with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Please-a little less love, and
a little more common decency’, and the more I believe in theologian Frederick Buechner’s description of a marriage made in Heaven as ‘one where a man and a woman become more richly themselves together than the chances are either of them could ever have managed to become alone’.

The truth is, nothing nurtures optimism in this gloomy age more than the news that friends are getting married. On the mantelpiece is a Christmas card with photographs of the wedding of our friends, singer Jill and writer Patrick. They got married in the Royal Chapel, Windsor Great Park, in November, after living together for nearly 40 years. Patrick is a boyish and handsome 70, Jill a beautiful and glamorous bride a few years younger. Leading the bride to the altar (‘Cavalier to the Bride’) was the distinguished editor Walter James, aged 98. I tell my husband that it fills me with happiness every time I look at it. ‘Well, there’s still a long way to go,’ he replies. ‘Trent Bridge lies ahead.’

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