Real Marriages – Bobby & Julia
I’ve never struggled for examples of great marriages and persevering love. My parents have always been hard-working spouses, hands-on parents, and an incredibly supportive partnership. They’ve been honest with us about the parts of their marriage (and lives) that are hard, and they’ve never let us feel that any of us deserved anything less than wholehearted support and love no matter what happens.
When Ant and I got engaged a couple of months ago, I was totally blown away by the outpouring of love, support and, inevitably, advice that we received from all over the place. Inspired by how many wonderful couples and marriages we have around us, I decided to start a ‘Real Marriages’ blog series featuring stories and advice from some of our favourite couples in the next 7 months leading up to our wedding – and I can’t think of anywhere better to start than with my own wonderful parents.
It’s not a perfect marriage – but it is a real, flawed, hard-working, beautiful marriage, and there’s nothing I’d love more than to still be as happy and in love as those two amazing people are in 40 years.
Bobby & Julia
How long have you been together?
Bobby: 41 years
How long have you been married?
Julia: 40 years and 6 months…
J: Five – three boys, two girls. Lovely, lovely children!
Tell me about the proposal?
B: I proposed to Mum unofficially two weeks after we met, but I officially gave her an engagement ring about three months after we met. Two weeks after meeting I proposed, then I went away on tour with a play all around the Western and Eastern cape called Playboy of The Western World with the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB) as an actor. While I was away I sent Julia a telegram, a letter or both every single day.
J: I still have them all in a box somewhere!
B: She designed an engagement ring…
J: Inside the back cover of my cataloging book at University…
B: …and then a few months later I officially proposed to her with the ring at Spier wine estate and she said “Yes please!”
When did you know you know you wanted to marry him/her?
B: I met her at a party of a good friend of ours for only about 10 minutes before I had to go off to the theatre. I contacted that good friend the next morning, only to be told she’d gone back home (to Rhodesia) for a 10 day vac. The day she arrived back, I took her to go and see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the next day we drove around the Cape Peninsular in my blue VW beetle. I have vivid memories of Julia putting her hand underneath my thigh…
J: On the car seat!
B: …I think I knew then.
J: We had the greatest two weeks, and it was very clear to me then that this was a very fine thing. He was a very clear woo-er and we had a really good time together. Even when he disappeared to go on tour, he was very present. I took that beetle and drove down to see him in Knysna
B: We arrived in Knysna on tour and the two hours before Julia arrived to meet me where the longest two hours of my life!
What was your favorite thing about your wedding day?
J: It was very relaxed – just like us. I made my own dress out of cheesecloth for R22 (we were very hippie-ish!) and my mum and her friends did the food. We were quite young, it was quite un-thought-through! But relaxed and community focused. We recorded my mum singing Ave Maria on a cassette and it must have been quite poor sound quality but we were perfectly happy with it! I wasn’t anxious at all, even though I was only 22.
B: We got married in the brand-new community church hall, and the whole community pitched in to get the hall ready. I remember Julia’s whole family painting the hall the day before to get it ready in time. I also love that Julia made her own dress…
J: …and all the bridesmaids’ dresses!
If you could do one thing differently on your wedding day, what would it be?
J: I would have a decent photographer! We had an old friend who took snapshots, and there really aren’t any real pictures from the day.
B: I would stay on for the party – in those days it was traditional to drive off and leave everyone to party after a while.
What is the absolute best thing about being married?
B: Coming home to somebody who knows you at the end of a hard day. We’ve always slept very well together (big spoon and little spoon!) and there’s nothing nicer after a hard day than to have that comfort.
J: The comfort and understanding after many years together. It’s worth the work and the years that you put into it – you have something very sustaining at the end.
What’s the hardest part of being married?
J: Weathering the misunderstandings and the fact that sometimes you’ll be in different places at different times. We have always felt that when we committed, it was for life, so when things were tough, we had to work them out.
B: You both change over forty years, and somehow, you’ve got to adjust to your changes and your partners changes.
J: And I think you really have to adjust your expectations – we all think there’s going to be a fairytale, but you’re dealing with real people, and nobody has a fairytale. But because you’re real people, it’s much more satisfying at the end.
What’s the secret to a happy marriage?
B: Communication. Constant communication, even when you really don’t want to. You have to talk to each other.
J: And persevering! You start talking, and it doesn’t always go well, and you have to push on and come back to it. Also, even though our tastes are very different, we do have some really good things in common that we love: We both put our family above all else. Find stuff you like to do together.
B: When I was 19 years old I drew up a list that I called ‘Heaney’s 100’ which was a list of things I wanted to do before I die. It was long before the phrase ‘bucket list’ was a big thing, and number 1 on that list was ‘Celebrate a Golden Wedding anniversary.’ I’m now only nine years away.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for us?
B: Commit totally and irrevocably, so that you always know when things are tough that there’s no going back. And then when things do get tough, talk it out with that in mind.
J: If you have to, force yourself to keep talking until you both feel heard.
Any other wise words?
B: It’s not possible to have 50 years of blushing young love. But as you reach the latter stages of your life, you realize that that’s a fraction of the comfort that you get from living with somebody who understands you and your foibles and is still happy to spoon you in bed.
J: Enjoy it! It goes like a flash.