Corrina and Sam Gordon-Barnes make up one of the wisest and coolest couples I have the fortune of knowing. Rock solid in their devotion to each other, yet not soppy, coach Corrina and teacher Sam are the epitome of what a healthy and happy marriage should look like. When Corrina posted some pictures on Facebook with some thoughts about what it meant to her to be married, I asked her if I could quiz her further. Here are the fruits of a really enjoyable morning’s chat:
How did you meet Sam?
Both of us were on a teacher training course in Cambridge. Although we were studying different subjects, we were doing teaching practice at the same school and so we caught the bus together. We both can get travel sick, so we sat on the front row every day together and instantly became best friends. 3 months later, travel sickness had turned to love sickness!
What made you decide to make your partnership ‘official’?
Even from the first few weeks of our relationship, we referred to each other as ‘wife’. I proposed to Sam three months after we got together, getting down on one knee and telling her I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It wasn’t so much of a question as a declaration of what we were both thinking. This was in 2003 and Civil Partnerships hadn’t been introduced, so there was no way of making our relationship legally recognised at the time. Once Civil Partnerships came about in 2006, I proposed again – with a ring this time – and we had our ceremony in 2008.
How did you celebrate your Civil Partnership?
We both had a feel for how our ceremony might be and we wanted to find the perfect place. We looked at the Cambridge University college where we’d met as a potential venue, but found that exorbitant prices to hire a cake knife and the like made us feel that our day would be on someone else’s terms and that wasn’t what we wanted at all.
My parents moved to Dorset and the first time we went to their new house, we knew our wedding would be there. It felt perfect, so we set a July date and excitedly started planning dresses, marquees and caterers.
We booked the registry office for the weekend before and arranged for a handful of friends and family members to be there. We knew it would be an event in itself, even though it wasn’t the big party we had planned for the following weekend, but we were surprised at how significant it ended up feeling. We looked into each other’s eyes as we were announced civil partners and it was a very meaningful moment, not just for us as a couple, but on a bigger scale too: we now had status, and we felt that the law itself was saying ‘yes’ to our relationship and supporting us; the country, the government, the queen even was recognising our union. We felt conscious that we were standing there as a couple at a significant moment in history – same sex love has been marginalised for so long and now we were saying our vows in the eyes of the law. We were legally in a relationship, and not just ‘special friends’: there was something formal and untouchable about our union.
After that, Sam and I ran up and down the car park just squealing with joy!
Down in Dorset the following week, in the middle of trying to organise all the wedding ‘stuff’, I questioned why we were doing all of this as we felt officially married already. It was worth it though, as it turned out to be the most beautiful day of my life.
We had about 50 guests – each and every one of them someone we actively wanted to be there! – under one marquee in the garden. All our guests stood in a circle and we walked in separately from different sides. We met in the middle, kissed, and walked together into the circle. We were both followed by a best friend, and our other best friend was the celebrant / MC. Everyone had candles, signifying the light of love and blowing that out into the wider world.
We felt really in our power on the day: we wrote our own vows, planned and ran the whole thing and we weren’t following anyone else’s format. Our guests sang ‘We Are A Circle’ and it was a circle full of people who were current and active in our lives. It was our day and we had really thought through what we wanted, as two adult women, when we declared and celebrated our marriage, and we didn’t want people there because we felt we ‘should’ invite them, or elements of ceremony just because that’s ‘what’s normally done.’
What did you include in your vows to each other?
Here’s a part of them: “I commit to finding you right, to remembering the truest version of you when you forget, to listen and to try and understand you, even when I don’t agree with you. I commit to remembering and trusting in the strength of our relationship and our ability to resolve challenges.” They’re hanging up in our room now!
Did you convert your Civil Partnership to a marriage when it became legal last year?
We had called ourselves ‘married’ from the day of our ceremony, but I always had a niggle that someone could argue “No you’re not, you’re in a Civil Partnership”. We took an extended trip to America this year and decided to convert to a legal marriage before we went. We went back to the same registry office where we had done our CP and signed the conversion papers. Again, there was real significance when the registrar declared Sam to be my legal wife. Nobody could ever tell me it was inaccurate to say I was married.
I’ve never encountered prejudice but occasionally people are momentarily confused when I talk about “my wife”. I just smile, keep eye contact, and reiterate: “Yes, that’s right – my wife.”
What’s the best bit about being married?
I feel incredibly privileged to be able to witness another person’s life over the long-term. Every morning, I wake up and there she is. I get to witness her changes, her experiences. And she is always there to bounce ideas off and to reflect things back to me. Of course, that means that my life is also always being witnessed. I love being ‘seen’ by Sam – both my flaws and my strengths – through loving eyes.
Sam challenges and supports me. We’ve always got each other’s backs, we’re always each other’s partner, and we’re always rooting for each other. The team that we are together is so much bigger than the two of us independently.
At the same time, we’re not always in each other’s pockets. If we’re at a party, for example, we often arrive together but then socialise apart. We might hear each other’s laugh across the room, exchange a glance perhaps, then come back together afterwards. We lead independent lives but our marriage is where we can come back together to recharge.
What would your advice be to couples who are thinking about getting married?
I would say that, if you find someone that you adore, you can work on all the rest. Little niggles about each other are not necessarily deal-breakers if you fundamentally believe in the relationship. The heart of the relationship can then stay strong and you can work on the fact they never take the bins out or eat with their mouth open. I believe there’s something greater than the two of you, guiding you and holding you together. Whether you see that as God, the marriage itself or a higher power, it works things out for you and holds you together.
Regarding the wedding itself, my advice is: don’t follow someone else’s format. You’re both adults, and you can choose how the day goes for yourselves. So don’t draw up a guest list out of duty – put your relationship above social niceties and do it for you, not to please anyone else. How you plan your wedding is how you plan your marriage. Enjoy yourselves.
Corrina Gordon-Barnes offers marriage coaching for men and women wanting more connection with their partner. Find out more at http://corrinagordonbarnes.com.
Want to choose exactly how your day goes and follow your own format? Give me a call and let’s make it happen.