Marriage is in crisis. In 2021, for the first time on record, more children in England and Wales were born to unmarried couples than to married ones. By 2062, according to a startling report, only one couple in 400 in Britain will wed.
You might consider that a good thing, especially if you’re female. According to romantic convention, getting married is still the ‘best day’ of a woman’s life but, in fact, study after study has shown it is men who benefit disproportionately from marriage in terms of health, wealth and happiness.
For women, there is no benefit at all — they might as well stay single. Indeed, many crave release from marriage. Two thirds of divorces are initiated by women.
Yet I still believe in marriage. With all my heart. For me, it has been nothing less than life-saving.
I have known women destroyed by marriage — but not me. It’s our tenth anniversary soon and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Speaking about marriage, Tanya Gold wrote: ‘I have known women destroyed by marriage — but not me. It’s our tenth anniversary soon and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been’
I never thought I would get married and it has taken me until now, at the age of 48, to realise why: I grew up convinced that my father didn’t like me. Is it true? You would have to ask him.
I was a needy and emotional child, hungry for love. My parents were badly matched. They were young when they married — 23 and 24 — and had my elder sister and me. They couldn’t give each other what they needed and this made my father, in particular, very angry.
The shrapnel fell on us all. I was nine when my father left our house in Esher, Surrey, for the last time.
I wasn’t the sort of alcoholic who’d make it to 30
My parents told us he was going on holiday and would be back, but I knew the truth. I remember standing at the top of the stairs as he left the house with an awful feeling of numbness and dread.
I fell completely off the rails. I would run away to Central London or Wimbledon — who runs away to Wimbledon? — and not come home. My mother, who worked very hard to keep us and was often away overnight as a teacher, was distraught.
Tanya Gold and her husband Andrew at their home in Cornwall. Ms Gold said: ‘If we weren’t married, I might well have left him in the early years. If he was a mere boyfriend, who hadn’t bound himself to me with vows, I would have found it easier to run away’
The plan was for me to study at Oxford University, not run around the suburbs drinking cider and looking for bad men. But I couldn’t listen. I started drinking at 13 and using drugs at 15.
Every meeting with the school for bad behaviour, every discussion with my mother about what was wrong, ended with feelings of shame and dread. I hated myself.
It is very painful for me to write about my early sexual history. I had no sense of worth at all. I would be with anyone who asked me and, as I was young, lots of people asked me. Why wouldn’t I? I think many young women are like this, and I grieve for them.
If we weren’t married I might have left him in the early years
Compulsive behaviours tend to speed up: I soon became completely incapable of any relationship with a man that wasn’t sexual. What was there to be friends with? I despised the men who liked me and was obsessed with those who didn’t. I sought cruelty and I found it. My first serious relationship was with a man who pimped me out to his friends.
By the time I went to Oxford at 19 I was, clinically, a sex addict. I know that sounds lurid and interesting but in fact it was an arid and despairing state to be in.
I admire women who are sexually adventurous — that is, women who are not prigs — but I am not like that. For me, it was an attempt at self-annihilation, and it succeeded. It was as if my soul had died. I hated families and people in love, and I couldn’t even bear to look at children. I resented their innocence because I had lost all of mine.
The worst thing was the abortion I had at 22, just after my finals (I was studying history at Oxford). I could never have looked after a child, but it broke what remained of my heart. The next five years were all madness and terror: cold-eyed cocaine binges and alcoholic blackouts and waking up not knowing where I was.
I stopped drinking at 28, thanks to a combination of my mother, professional counsellors who told me frankly where I was heading, and my own fear, which meant that at last I could hear them.
He called me his kitten, his piglet, his dormouse
I was not the sort of alcoholic who would make 30, and I wanted to live because I hadn’t done anything yet. I went to rehab and got sober. But if I had faith that I would heal, I didn’t know it.
I was convinced I would always be alone. I thought I would live a life of lonely penitence, living in a small flat and wearing men’s cardigans and flat shoes. Maybe I would be a librarian? I didn’t know how to have a relationship. I had never had one, except with a bottle.
I stayed sober, mostly from pride, and had a few relationships with married men. There’s no jeopardy with married men: no hope and no disappointment. No love either, but there is lots of control. You know what you are getting: nothing.
My only insight into adulterers, after a decade in their company, is that they are irreparably selfish. It’s not that they don’t love their wives, they just love themselves, and the idea of themselves being interesting enough to have a mistress. Even so, it made me think marriage was fragile and worthless. If it wasn’t, why were they with me?
I worked hard at my journalism and grew older, and by the time I hit my late 30s was well enough to know how lonely I was. At last, I could name it. I had grown a new shell in order to survive at work, but it was beginning to crack.
Then something magical happened. In spring 2010 I went to the cinema in Leicester Square to see a ridiculous film, maybe even a childen’s film. I did this a lot because I couldn’t face the emptiness of the flat.
And outside the cinema I found the man who would be my husband, up from Wiltshire to perform a comedy gig.
He was wearing a dark suit, smoking a cigarette and glaring at London, which he hates. I had known him at university, we had even briefly dated but he was not unkind enough for me and I fled to someone else, who was.
I decided not to see the terrible children’s film and went to see him perform instead. He was very good — funny, angry, different — and I told him afterwards.
‘That’s funny,’ I said, and he said I always used to say that. At university I would never laugh, only say ‘that’s funny’, as if I wasn’t quite there. I was seeing a married man at the time but knew, I think subconsciously, that this man I had bumped into again was the one who would make me properly laugh. I decided to write a piece for a newspaper about comedians and asked him for help with it.
I need to thank the comic Shazia Mirza for what happened next. I interviewed her for the piece, too, and told her he was helping me, and told her about the married man. We were on a train.
Marriage can be a blessing, not a prison
She looked at me with pity and said in her ringing Brummie accent: ‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this. You should marry Andrew Watts.’
It’s very hard to describe this but as soon as she said it, I thought so too.
He had invited me to a gig in Wiltshire. I took a handful of anti-depressants (I was sober but not past self-medicating) and I went. I was terribly jealous of a female friend of his who tucked her arm in his as they walked into the venue, and I invited him to drive me back to London and stay over. We watched the fantasy film Clash Of The Titans and snogged.
The next morning, he looked at me and said: ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ I had never felt wanted like that before.
He was an inexhaustible well of tenderness. He called me his kitten, his duckling, his dormouse, his piglet. He cuddled and he cooked. After three months together, when we were sitting in the flat, I changed my Facebook status to ‘engaged’. It was my way of asking me to marry him.
Speaking about her husband, Tanya Gold said: ‘I loved everything about him: his anxieties, his passions, his laughter (he has a very silly laugh)’. [File image]
He saw the alert, peered down at me and said, ‘Change it back’. I pouted. He gave a deep sigh and called his mother to say we were engaged. He had passed the test: when I had asked him — though in a roundabout way that I could brush off as a joke — he said yes.
He had no ambivalence and all my ambivalence had melted away, as if it had never existed: this was my destiny, not my parents’.
I had no last-minute nerves at all, but I was no Bridezilla. I got married in a register office in a black dress from Peacocks that cost £40. I wanted the man, not the wedding; a big wedding felt performative, and I was in a hurry.
The first Christmas after we married, he filled the room with presents, including tickets to Kiss Me Kate, a musical with a song called I Hate Men.
How did he know me so well? I loved everything about him: his anxieties, his passions, his laughter (he has a very silly laugh).
I am completely absorbed by him. I find him both familiar and mysterious and, though he once drew me a map of a combined sewer overflow — he is very interested in infrastructure — I have never found him boring.
I trust him, and I trust his judgment. He is the first man I have known very intimately in an emotional sense and the only man I have ever ironed for, and ever will.
I found out I was pregnant the day we returned from our honeymoon in Jamaica and I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was a father of, again, inexhaustible tenderness. I had postnatal depression and in the early months he did everything for our son, all the while holding me while I cried and raged.
It wasn’t easy for me, being loved, because it was unfamiliar. It was something I had to learn. Sometimes I found it unbearably oppressive and fantasised about leaving, but never recently. What am I leaving — him? Myself? (That is far more likely). And where would I go? Wimbledon?
Even so, in the early years I would try to send him away by starting fights; it was another test. I was haunted by my father — I still believed, unconsciously, I wasn’t worthy of love.
Perhaps my husband didn’t love me either? Shouldn’t I check, like a dogged love detective? But he has always seen through me and my fear, and my schemes to be alone, to deprive myself of love.
And this is where marriage is important, and where it has saved me. If we weren’t married, I might well have left him in the early years. If he was a mere boyfriend, who hadn’t bound himself to me with vows, I would have found it easier to run away — and I love to run away. I have run away all my life. There is a seriousness to marriage. It gives you pause. To leave, you have to really mean it.
I know marriage can be a tool of control and has been for much of history. I have friends with emotionally abusive husbands whom I wish they would leave.
But the world has changed and marriage can be a blessing, not a prison; it might help the anxiety that is endemic in young women if they find the right man. At its best there is an incredible emotional depth to it, and I needed that: the security and reassurance. I hope it doesn’t disappear altogether.
We are settled now, in a house in the country with a child and a dog. He agreed to my dream of living in Cornwall, and plants roses round the door. Our lives are calm, repetitive and filled with affection.
Sometimes, looking back on the woman I was, I feel like a stranger to myself. But that’s the trauma speaking. I am simpler than I like to pretend — but I have closed the circle and I am ridiculously happy as a result.