Situating stories: marriages in lives
Hanna and Tammy (108a and 108b)
Hanna is a 26-year-old white woman who works in social care and has a low income. She is in a partnership with Tammy, aged 29, a white woman who also works in social care and earns an average income. They ‘married’ ten months before the interview. Neither use ‘lesbian’ to describe their identities, although they do talk about ‘gay marriage’. They met when Hanna struck up a conversation with Tammy in a bar. The relationship developed from a first date where ‘we were both chuffed with each other ’cause we didn’t have a drink and we still kept a conversation going’ (Hanna). Both were living with their parents when they met. Tammy recalls: ‘about a fortnight or something [after our first date] I more-or-less moved into your Mam’s’. The living conditions were cramped with no privacy. As Hanna puts it:
I always thought I could never afford to live like on me own but then Tammy got herself a new job […] so like we went to council and said that we was overcrowded, and it took like a year to get this place and then like we moved in here and it’s been the best thing we’ve ever done hasn’t it?
Three or four months after they met, Hanna recalls Tammy had ‘asked us to marry you, hadn’t you? [You] made this nice romantic meal for us and everything and went down on one knee’. But as Hanna puts it they did not ‘set a date or anything ’cause again we always thought we never had enough money to do it ’cause we thought it would be too expensive’. However, Hanna’s sister was diagnosed with a terminal illness and ‘really wanted us to get married while she was still alive’. As Hanna recounts:
It was me sister who give us all the ideas of how to do it, like cheaply and how to save money on things and, and like Tammy’s Mam paid for the food, my Mam paid for like the hall and the disco and like […] we’d asked for presents to help towards the wedding so then we could like save us money and we could afford it and that but we managed […] were getting married and me sister like died a week later but at least she knew we were getting married, and that’s all that she was bothered about.
While these specific circumstances influenced them to marry when they did, they were ‘always’ keen to marry each other. For Tammy ‘it was just the next step wasn’t it? It was just "oh why can’t we get married" […] we loved each other so’. Hanna wanted to marry because:
this might sound corny and things like that, but like I felt like […] I finally found me soul mate, that’s how it feels like, we’ve got a really strong bond and I’ve never had that with anybody before and I just loved her so much and like Tammy says we just felt it was the next step to take [. ] to sort of like sort of show each other how much we love each other.
Both partners feel that they have faced many challenges as a couple ‘compared to like some other couples out there’. In the first two weeks Hanna ‘got taken into hospital ’cause I wasn’t very well and I was saying [. ] she’ll not want a girlfriend that’s always sick [. ] but she [. ] was there every day that she could be there [. ] all visiting hours she was there […]. I’m thinking "What’s going on here?", like I’ve never had someone like this before’. As well as Hanna’s sister’s death, they have had money worries to do with a family member’s bankruptcy. Hanna believes ‘it’s just brought us together’. Both of their families have been supportive of them, but Tammy also recounted that ‘all the sort of caring responsibilities always seem to end up on us’. They find themselves ‘trying to do as much for everyone as we can’ but that, together with work, means ‘that sometimes it feels like we’re spreading ourself too thinly and not having time with each other’. But being there for family is crucially important and family care underpins the values they share. As Hanna puts it:
I think I share the same values as me parents you know, try and work things out if we can, and kind of like in it for the long run [. ] I’d like to think that if anything happened to Hanna if she had any kind of disability or anything that I’d like stand by her through thick and thin you know like me Dad stood by me Mam […]. When [Mam’s disability] started coming on […] their friends all started to disappear […] they’ve just got each other and obviously like me and me brother […] they’re quite happy and I think sometimes that’s all you need if you’ve got like the love of your family
Kathryn and Louise (105a and 105b)
Kathryn is a white woman aged 37 who works as a service manager and earns an above average salary. Her partner of almost eight years is Louise, a white woman who is four years older and works part time as an administrator and earns a low salary. They were ‘married’ over five years ago. They have one child together and another on the way. They refer to themselves as ‘gay’. They met through friends, and fairly immediately hit it off. They were struck by a number of coincidences in their tastes. Also, as Louise put it, they: ‘just happened to be very similar, because of the similar type of […] middle-class upbringing […] very similar values’. Louise continues:
And I think that linked, very much linked to […] family life and whether we wanted children or not. I know that was a very early conversation we had, was about family and children and stuff, ’cause I knew, I certainly knew that I wanted children.
After a year they had a humanist commitment ceremony, as civil partnership was not yet available. The commitment ceremony was their ‘real’ wedding. Their families attended and were pleased for them, ‘but probably a little bit apprehensive and didn’t know quite what to expect’. Most of their friends are heterosexual, and even their few gay friends hadn’t been to a commitment ceremony before. There were about 120 people there, and Kathryn and Louise were especially pleased because the woman presiding over the ceremony was ‘brilliant’:
she actually said, "you know, at the end of the day, we’re here because two people love each other and […] they want to show, in front of all of you, that they’re very serious about their relationship, they want to be together forever, they want you […] to share in that and be part of it and will you support them" […] I think it really got people thinking, quite a few people came up to us, on the day and since and said, "oh it really got me thinking, of course your relationship is as important as anybody else’s".
A couple of months after the ceremony they ‘went to the doctors and said, we’re gay [. ] where do we need to go and how do we go about having a baby?’ As Kathryn recounts: ‘I’m four years older than Louise, so we thought "Oh, I’ll go first and see what can happen"’. They went ‘complete NHS just the same as anyone else having treatment’ and had very positive experiences. After some disappointments about
not conceiving through the first donor, they were offered another and ‘got pregnant on the second attempt with that donor […] And we just moved into this house, I must have been pregnant but we didn’t know’. Louise is now pregnant. As Kathryn puts it:
now it’s not just about our relationship, it’s about our family’s, so the shift has very much gone from our relationship to our family and [their daughter] notices differences and all her little friends notice a difference, but not in a negative way it’s just factual for them […] "We’re just a different type of family" […] tends to be the stock phrase isn’t it, that we’re just a different type of family?
Civil partnership itself did not figure highly in Kathryn and Louise’s story. In some ways they see it as a marriage and in some ways they don’t. On the one hand, in terms of everyday practices they recount:
I probably view it in exactly the same way as a marriage. Yep, don’t see it any differently […] you get on my nerves sometimes, I get on yours, other times we don’t.
You’ve got decisions to make about your family Decisions to make, yeah, you’re knackered at the end of a day, […] running around doing a hundred and one things Yeah, and, and as we’ve said before, the majority of our friends are married and heterosexual and we just Don’t see any difference.
Elsewhere, however, Kathryn recounted: ‘when we use the terms ‘marriage’ or ‘wife’ it’s more about conforming to make it easier for other people I guess to understand, but for me, we’re not married, we’ve got a Civil Partnership and you’re my life partner’. They are agreed that it’s the legal side of things ‘that is most important’: As Kathryn puts it:
if we were in that situation with a hospital, the police, whatever it is, applying for mortgages or whatever it is, I don’t have to say ‘Yes, she’s my partner, we’ve been together seven years’ […] by saying Civil Partner people know what that means and I think they know that it’s, that there’s the same […] level of importance as a marriage.
While Kathryn and Louise were drawn together by similar family experiences and shared values, their own relational values are distinct from those they grew up with. As Kathryn puts it: ‘even before I’d even
considered a relationship with a woman, I […] remember […] thinking I’m not gonna be the sort of woman that will be at home and doing the cooking, cleaning and everything while the husband comes home and sits down in front of the telly […] I wanted very much a relationship that was a partnership, not two different roles’. Similarly, Louise recounts:
we’re Jewish and there was quite a pressure in those days to marry somebody else that was Jewish, [my dad] was a little bit older, time was running out sort of thing and he wasn’t married yet, [my mum] was still living at home, and was looking for a bit of an escape […]. They married for the wrong reasons […] they’re both incapable of communicating really [. ] I want to share my life with somebody [. ] share everything, that’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, money, experiences, all of those things [. ] if you commit to somebody it should be you give yourself really […] that’s very, very different to their approach.