I’d always planned to go. I didn’t know where or how or when exactly, but long before marriage was on the cards, I planned to board a plane. I knew that there was a thirst inside that was far from satisfied and that one day that would lead to a life packed up in a backpack (or two) and a plane bound for an extraordinary location, for a year, or two, or for life.
It took me some time to get there though. Nine years ago, I was graduating from three years of hard emotional work, with a broken heart and a BA in hand. I’d stripped myself – and been stripped – to the core and whilst I’d thrown a lot of junk away I still needed some skin on my red raw soul. A year later, the time was still Not Yet. London first, the romance of lit bridges over the Thames, that strange urban beauty, the city that stole into my wilderness being and now will never leave.
It was then, eight years ago, that I met Aaron, though neither of us were ready to dream of who we would one day be to one another. Seven years ago, in part on Aaron’s advice, as he was now a close and respected friend, I was ready to begin the process of applying for a part-time PhD in anthropology and education, to better understand development work, to feed that thirst for understanding people, and to entangle myself more deeply with this great wide world.
Six years ago, Aaron asked me to be his girlfriend. He knew me well by then, as we were reviving a struggling charity together, working side by side with our courageous colleagues, long since a team of urban adventurers. We talked about how far flung his life may become if we connected ourselves to each other.
Five years ago we were in the throes of discussing adventure and it wasn’t as much fun as actually adventuring. The questions on the table included: “Where was I heading?” “Where was he heading?” “Was there plenty of overlap?” and “What is negotiable?”
I wondered to myself, to my friends and to him whether our respective senses of adventure were compatible, whether he understood me, or whether his wonderful ways would stand in the way of my outdoors, rural-extreme, rough-it dreams. He wondered about me – and to me – too. Painful and ruthlessly honest conversations to make sure we were really meaning and dreaming the same things about our future, and being honest about our fears, kept us true to the one promise we’d given each other so far – that if, in this pre-marriage stage, we had to choose between being ourselves and being together we’d call it a day.
Being selfish didn’t count as “being ourselves,” but we both knew and trusted the difference. “Being ourselves,” as we understood it, wasn’t about getting our own way, but about being true to our values, calling and vision. We both adamantly believe in compromise, sacrifice and submission – essential, albeit unpopular, ingredients in any long-lived marriage – but neither of us wanted, in the name of romance, to attempt the inevitable train crash of trying to drag another person into a life they never wanted or had a vision for or, worse, perhaps, trying to build a shared life on multiple unshared foundations. Mutual respect and freedom had to be the core from which we built.
Four years ago we made another promise – to marry each other. It was a beautiful night and Aaron invited me to a spontaneous picnic under the stars where he sang a song he’d written for me. In poetic lived symbolism, our respective loves of music and the outdoors wove together in a beautiful way as we committed to a shared adventure, whatever it looks like. Come what may.
“Come what may.”
Also, come what we usher.
So having worked hard to create a shared vision for life that we both could commit to and were excited about, we turned our energies to building it. This meant that it was probably time for Aaron to at least see these foreign lands I was always on about, which is how, just a couple months before our wedding, we found ourselves on the other side of the world puttering down a river in a canoe so tiny that we could hardly turn without capsizing it, on our way to a destination accessible by neither road nor plane. We were on a survey trip, trying to find a location without access to an active primary school where we could both live, I could research, and Aaron could work. It was ambitious, and also joy-filled. We’d come through the “will-we-won’t-we?” tunnel. The easy fun was back.
Two years ago, after months-upon-months of effort and faith, I finally boarded that plane, with my husband, and more than one backpack.
Because, the thing is, I never got the memo on marriage being where adventure goes to die, and nor did Aaron, so we never countenanced it. If marriage was going to happen it would have to strengthen adventure, and if adventure was going to happen, it would have to strengthen marriage. They seemed like kindred spirits to us. After all, what is marriage if not a great risk-ridden adventure? I was scared, at points, before I knew Aaron well enough, that adventure was at risk in our relationship. My fears are laughable now that we’ve spent more of our marriage living in a gorgeous hut on the side of an unmapped mountain with a grass floor and open fire and the great wide world outside than we have anywhere else. A year ago I was sitting on that grass floor, on the other side of the world, my husband across from me and new friends around me, laughing and talking and eating from the land as we warmed ourselves by the fire.
Today, this year, we are once again camping out in someone else’s house. We are jobless and homeless, and back in a city. I’m missing that hut, that mountain, those friends. But I’m not missing that husband, because whatever adventure comes next, our marriage is going to be part of it. And whatever chapters of marriage come next, adventure is going to be part of it too.
Image by Rachel Hughes Shah