Who knew? Why I married for the first time at 50
When actress Catherine Tate ties the knot for the first time, I will know how she feels
I got married just over two years ago on my 50th birthday. It was an amazing day full of tears and laughter, family, friends and children but, for many people, it was somewhat of a surprise.
I’d hadn’t been married before. Despite two previous long-term relationships (and nominal engagements) I’d never actually managed to make it down the aisle. I’d become one of those people friends talk about: the “runaway bride”, the eternal serial monogamist who bolted like a horse when anyone showed up bearing a ring. So I think some found my decision to finally get spliced quite bewildering.
They obviously felt that it was wonderful I’d found a man I was happy with, but at our age (Nick, my husband, is eight years older than me and had been married before) it felt like a nice excuse for a party, rather than a necessity. I imagine many thought the same when they saw that UK actress Catherine Tate is also about to get married for the first time, at 50. Previously in a long-term relationship with stage manager Twig Clark, 45, the father of her 16-year-old daughter, the comic got engaged to American screenwriter Jeff Gutheim, a divorced father of three, over the new year and is reportedly planning a summer wedding.
I think it’s amazing and life-affirming to make such a commitment in your sixth decade – it made me feel all warm and toasty towards her – but I know many will wonder, why now?
Weddings are all about white dresses and cooing doves; fresh-faced friends cheering and bridesmaids snogging the best men; proud fathers giving away daughters and mothers of brides wearing huge hats. Weddings aren’t about middle/old-aged couples like Nick and myself, a bit wrinkly, weather-beaten and emotionally battered. Even my own mother looked pretty nonplussed when I told her. After all, I’d had children with previous partners and I hadn’t married them.
Raymond, aged 22, was the product of a major relationship I had in my 20s, and I had my other three children, Lennie, 15, Jerry, 14, and Ottoline, 11, with my other longer-term partner of nine years. We separated seven years ago and both of us have gone on to marry other people. Yet, somehow, we didn’t manage to marry each other.
It’s not that I hadn’t entertained the thought of marriage before. Both my exes had kindly proposed (maybe they thought they had to as we had the commitment of children). It’s just that somehow the weddings never took place. Weddings take thought and care and planning and, as I discovered two years ago, an application for a licence. I didn’t know that.
When my now-husband suggested we might get married, after four years together, I think part of me said yes because I didn’t think it would happen this time either. So I was rather surprised when he logged us in online and applied for the licence, then started looking at venues. When he got his cheque book out and started paying for things, I realised we were actually going to do it. And yes, there was a moment when I thought: “Uh-oh, is that what I want?”
Before I turned 50, I wasn’t really the marrying type. I’m good at committing to children but not brilliant at committing to relationships. My parents had a difficult divorce when I was 11 and although my reticence to marry wasn’t solely about that, it certainly played its part. I’d careered around in a pretty chaotic state for most of my 20s and 30s, and just didn’t have what it takes to love and honour in sickness and in health. But as I got older, things changed. I went to therapy and then spent six years training as a therapist myself. I understand myself better than I did before. I also understand other people more. I feel more empathetic and, ultimately, I believe our connection is very strong.
Nick’s a good, honest man and his steadfast love really convinced me to stay, not go. Why get married though? That’s what people wanted to know. My answer is partly that it turns out I’m a romantic, after all. Part of me wanted to get married precisely because I’d never done it before. I wasn’t bothered about a big white dress, but I realised that, yes, I did want a ceremony and a party and a day just for us; and there’s a terribly show-offy part of me that wanted to be the centre of attention for a few hours. However, it’s more than that.
I found a man I wanted to commit to, and it felt important to do so. His presence in my life moves me. Our relationship has made us better people and I wanted to cement it, in public. Maybe, on some other level, I finally felt ready. It’s a grown-up commitment that I made as a grown-up. Without marriage it’s easier to walk away, to say “this didn’t work”. I feel we have to make it work. It’s what we signed up to. It’s not easy. We have six children between us and life can be like walking an emotional tightrope at times. By getting married I think we wanted to show them that we were serious about it, and each other.
In many ways, it’s helped. Our marriage was our commitment to work difficult things out, to be kind and thoughtful and continually to learn and grow. That’s the idea, anyway. There’s something terribly beautiful and gentle in late-flowering love. I think it’s amazing that we have the capacity to fall in love at any age. Marriage is a celebration of that – and has changed things completely. I’ve cohabited for much of my life, yet this feels deeper, if also sometimes more difficult. I can’t run away, as is my tendency. My commitment to my husband deepens all the time. I look at him and see the man I will get old with (hopefully).
I like that sense of ageing together. I like the fact that, as we peel away the layers of ourselves to reveal more and more to each other, I feel a deep sense of knowing him more fully and being known. I couldn’t have done this when I was younger. I just thought you fell in love and then carried on with the rest of your life. I couldn’t have borne this intimacy. So this is why marrying later on has worked for me.
I walked down that aisle in the Henley-on-Thames town hall two years ago in a trembling mess, crying and laughing at the same time. My instinct to turn and run was coursing through me like some mad fight-or-flight reaction, but when I saw Nick waiting for me, I suddenly knew it was all going to be okay. And then I got married, for the first time, at 50 – and I’m so glad I did.
– © The Daily Telegraph