I first spotted my husband Richard (or Dick, or Dickie) on the night bus, on another night of shuttling across London on public transport for a party. It is incredible how most couples imbue their first meeting with a certain majesty, a beguiling magic, as if the stars aligned and their guardian angel was on a roll. But it was just another night in a long list of nights, and Richard, I’m afraid to say, was just another guy. It’s odd to think of a time when my husband was just some guy, just tallish (nearly every guy that kissed me before needed the orthopedic assistance of a wedged Croc) and funny-ish (I remember laughing, I think), and certainly not, at that time, a vessel for my personal sense of satisfaction and a mirror for my shortcomings, a constant test for my patience and compassion. It’s quite a transformation, quite a leap, but I guess that’s the way relationships roll out: you morph from polite stranger to salacious mate to domestic companion, while maintaining some kind of emotional equilibrium.
But in Dalston, on the top deck of the 243, I could not have predicted a family future with this drunk chap, I did not foresee a Royal wedding balcony kiss, followed by a lifetime of Call Me by Your Name summers and Brokeback Mountain winters. There was no premonition, no psychic flash-forward, no foretelling palmistry when we touched. I was not enlightened, I was not called to God like a nun, Cupid’s arrow didn’t roll my eyes to a heart shape like a Vegas slot machine. I was not looking for love. Being a bachelor and cruising other bachelors has a certain panned out quality, in that you meet men in person but never really get close. You never have to commit. There’s a personal safety in keeping a safe distance, a way of never giving your full self to anyone, of never getting hurt. In retrospect, I can see I was at my most lonely, but I honestly had no idea. I was ostriched to myself, ear-deep in my own sand. Richard may have been manifested by guardian angels, divined by a James Blunt song, but I was too busy searching out good times to notice. I did not take to Richard like a duck to water, yet here we are, a decade later, married and sharing a domestic pond, and emotional farmyard.
I remember my 20s as a series of unrequited lovers, the ones that got away, that slipped through my clumsy, selfish, needy fingers. I now think of all the men I chased round town—dressed brilliantly (sort of like a male Sugababe, original lineup) so they’d notice me ignoring them—as dickheads, though there’s no concrete evidence of that. Richard is the one that didn’t get away—a keeper, a sticker, a boy scout badge in going the distance—but I cannot tell you how and why it worked out. Somewhere between casual sex and authentic boyfriending something clicked, something twigged, I can’t for the life of me remember what. I never felt the dawning “light of my life, fire of my loins” obsession. It was gentle and each progressive step into coupledom lacked the emotional turmoil I’d become so accustomed to. I wasn’t worried about my heart getting stamped on, which I appreciate is novel in itself. I wonder what he saw in me, the young Raven full of shit? Bravado, maybe? In 2010, nobody wanted no scrubs, and yet I somehow was one, living hand to mouth and night to night in incredibly small and cheap clothes. I’m not sure how datable I read to the casual observer. When I met Richard, I was a month out of living on my mate’s sofa (waiting each night for them to finally go to bed so I could settle down on the cushions). My attitude was very fuck it. Fuck it, I won’t sleep. Fuck it, I’ll have a Jägerbomb for breakfast. Fuck it, I’ll fly to New York next week. I was happily, almost proudly restless, but my ‘rip it all up’ mentality wasn’t sustainable. The loose threads of my late 20s snagged on this man, the two bachelors were mutually caught. We are now mutual captives, which sounds like prison and it isn’t not. I am his cellmate. I am his bitch. The chances of me baking a file into a cake for him are small but not impossible.
As more of my friends have babies, they seem to be hypnotically drawn to the times they were “still fun.” We don’t have kids yet, but mine and Richard’s “remember when…”s are honestly so lively, it’d be cruel to keep you out of the loop. Remember when we hunkered in our mate’s attic room and you ignored your oyster allergy and passed out on the floor after vomiting in the guest loo next to the platinum discs? Remember when the rat ran at us and I screamed so loudly it did a jig towards us rather than running away? Remember when you actually met a guardian angel at a bus stop and asked if you could come over so you weren’t alone and I said yes but I fell asleep and I couldn’t be roused to answer the door? Remember us both crying in South Africa when we both got the runs because we both thought fuck it and drank tap water? (Was that my last fuck it? Oh God.) When we first lived together, I remember getting locked out and Googling how to break into our own house with a bent credit card (which is depressingly easy, people. Double lock your door for fuck’s sake). I remember getting locked out of our next flat too, and not having a robber’s YouTube to help and just having a massive tantrum and being accused of turning into my mother.
Not to blow too much smoke up his arse, but Richard is dependable and patient, supporting my bouts of hardcore typing, long periods isolated and writing, my unrelenting procrastination. I blame my mood swings and character defects on Mercury in retrograde, and Richard nods along, knowing I’m just hungry. He turns the other cheek while I’m checking in my eyebags at the airport. He coaches me through the following morning in the hotel room when I’m over-accessorizing to patchily cover my morbid jet lag. He supports my failed digital detoxes, as I try to avoid my jealousy of people on the other side of the equator in better clothes than me. He’s silent when my pescatarianism stutters and I eat fried chicken.