When I was a kid, I didn’t think of marriage. I didn’t daydream about my perfect day or sketch my perfect dress. My feelings on marriage were that it was something I might do in the distant future. The very distant future. Then – I’m sure this will come as a shock – I met Mr. Juniper. A year later, we married. The turnaround of my thoughts on marriage came less from romance than they did from practicality. I hadn’t ever been one of those who said, “it’s just a piece of paper!” but I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the institution. Whereas now? Now I appreciate more of the importance marriage holds.
The law isn’t the most romantic thing out there, but the legal recognition provided by marriage was an important part of our relationship. Being married meant we could relax a little. I do perhaps need to add a little explanation to this way of thinking. First and foremost, we’re in the United Kingdom, so the relevance and implications of marriage are not necessarily the same as elsewhere in the world. Secondly, (as can be seen in the Caregiving series) Mr. Juniper is mentally ill.
With mental illness, or rather, the treatment and care involved for mental illness, there are some big legal points involved. For instance: confidentiality. As Mr. Juniper’s girlfriend, my legal rights to discuss his condition with a professional were close to nil. As Mr. Juniper’s wife, I can call up his mental health team without a worry. But that only comes as a result of being legally recognised as his partner. Another example would be hospital admissions. If I want to speak to his doctors, then as his wife, I can. As his girlfriend? Not so much. A very extreme example would come in the form of sectioning. In the legal hierarchy of getting someone sectioned, the legal recognition of a relationship is critical. Without being married, the first person to have a say – other than Mr. Juniper and his doctors – would be his family. A girlfriend would have little to no say in the matter. A wife, however, would be top of the list. By being married, Mr. Juniper’s well-being and care are in the hands of someone he wants, rather than the default of blood relations.
To be fair, it works both ways. I became far more aware of my health and potential for unfortunate happenings when I was pregnant. I knew that if something went awry, that as much as I love and trust my family, it was Mr. Juniper that was going to be the first port of call. In short, that “piece of paper” is legal recognition we both wanted with regards to each other.
Marriage is, however, something I only began to think of in something resembling a “serious” way a few months before I married Mr. Juniper. It’s possibly worth pointing out that this was quite probably because I married young. So didn’t have years of anticipation and societal pressure. And when I say I married young, I mean I was a teen. Eighteen and a half. That was five and a half years ago, and still it bothers me. Not my age but the perceptions others hold about my age at the time. Those around us, our loved ones, never questioned my choice (or Mr. Juniper’s, indeed) but on the whole, there is an attitude out there many people hold, that those who marry young are stupid, or sluts, or idiots, or [insert-derogatory-term-here]. Even now I can get wound up when I see these comments, though I have come to expect them.
The usual declaration is that marrying young is stupid. Either that those involved are stupid or that the choice is stupid. I appreciate that people often express the sentiment out of concern, but it is not their choice. They presume to know the people involved better than those people know themselves. It also suggests that there is a magical age at which adults become infallible. And that a young adult has a long way to go before reaching that point.
I wonder why people are so eager to undermine a personal choice which doesn’t personally affect them. Once we reach adulthood, aren’t our decisions meant to be our own? Those decisions may be subject to law but they are no longer ultimately decided based upon the wisdom of our families, in the way that we have endured up until that moment when we hit eighteen and at last enter the world of Being A Grown-Up. At eighteen, many legal moves that a person could take are actively encouraged; whether they be financial, education-based or some other venture involving a signature on the dotted line. But marriage is seen as something which a young person doesn’t have the required competency with which to make the decision for themselves.
At moments when I haven’t been seething with annoyance over the comments on stupidity, I do wonder if my age meant I could have a clearer perspective of marriage. In that the idea of marrying wasn’t hampered by the pressure many women feel, as they get older, to get married. Our decision was ours, and not of the hearts and minds of those who I didn’t share a bed with.
So I guess when it comes to marriage, my perspective has changed as time has gone on. I appreciate more than ever that declaring an action stupid based solely on age is rarely a fair assessment of the circumstances and the situation. I appreciate that marriage is not simply a piece of paper. And I’ve learned that marrying young – even younger than my Grandmothers were when they married – and taking a less-conventional path in life often means people feel at liberty to dissect the choices involved. I have learned, if anything, that there is always more to learn.