Reader, I’m marrying my first boyfriend

By Hailie Pentleton

Hailie reflects on the questions that often crop up when she talks about marrying her high-school partner amidst her final year at university.

It sounds very Disney, the prospect of marrying your high-school sweetheart in your 20s. The dress is hanging up in my mother’s wardrobe, the band is booked, and yet with only 156 days to go, it’s feeling less fairytale-esque by the day. As my dissertation continues to sap the life out of me and unfinished applications taunt me from my pinned tabs, I haven’t been in the right headspace for wedding chat lately. It took reaching fourth year to realise that everyone who’d told me this would be the most draining year of my life was telling the truth. It feels as though everyone around me is burnt out, blocked up and begging for a break. And so I understand why people might question my sanity a little when I mention that I’m getting married in the summer. Still, and I say this wholeheartedly, it feels like the right decision for me.   

I have had a lot of questions since getting engaged and setting a date. “What’s the point in getting married?” “Aren’t you a bit young?” And, perhaps most commonly, “how do you know you’ve found the one?” 

I’d like to think that I’m not too naive. I know that my situation is strange, I know that it sounds even stranger when I mention that I’m marrying my first proper partner. Your first love isn’t typically meant to last, especially if it’s one you found in your early teens. If my younger sister were to come home and tell me she’d found the person she’d be spending the rest of her life with, I’d take it with a whopping serving of salt. I know that when I spoke about my future with my high-school boyfriend that it had a fictional air to it, unbelievable to anyone with a sense of rationality about them. Fair enough. At 14 I hadn’t experienced much of the world beyond North Ayrshire. I was only just learning to understand what my own wants and needs were, let alone what it meant to love another person in the way I would grow to love my then-boyfriend-now-almost-husband. When I think about how much I’ve changed and grown into myself over the last few years, I’m in disbelief that I managed to make it past 18, never mind last eight years in a secure and loving relationship with a boy that asked me to “be a thing” over an episode of Doctor Who. And yet here we are, still a thing. Still happy.

I don’t believe in fate, but I don’t see my relationship as a fluke. It didn’t come easy. Although I’ve never had to know the turmoil of a teenage breakup or navigate the current dating landscape, we’ve both had to work really hard over the last decade to maintain an honest, healthy, and hopeful relationship, facing a lot of very challenging circumstances younger than you’d expect to. With both of us being disabled, we’ve had to have a lot of really difficult conversations around our own mortality, our health, and our ability to support one another when our struggles align. We’ve had to consider the financial implications that getting married could have for us in the future if either of us have to seek income support again. Marriage equality is still a real concern for a number of disabled people, who are at risk of losing out on their benefits by choosing to get married or cohabitate with their partner. Although we’re both lucky enough to be in a situation where we’re both capable of working, this is something that could change for us in the near future. It’s a sacrifice we’ve chosen to make, but it isn’t one we should have to. So why make that sacrifice? In all honesty, I don’t have a good answer for that one. We just wanted to. 

Before the world got to us too much, we’d spend hours talking about what it’d be like to have our first home together. I made it clear that no, he wouldn’t be allowed a Star Wars poster in the living room (unfortunately, I have since changed my mind). We’d joke about sharing a beaten-up car and going for midnight trips to McDonald’s, about living-room picnics, and buying our first Christmas tree. He was going to be a teacher when he grew up. I wanted to be a writer. Perhaps against my better judgement, I’d skip school to visit him in hospital. He’d hold my hand on the way to CAMHS appointments. We were best friends. And now, as I watch a much healthier version of him get ready to go into school and teach the next generation of naive 14-year-olds about the world, I’m grateful to say that we still are. The bill paying, the hard grafting, and the constant communication that it has taken to get to where we are is far less glamorous than two children – and that is what we were – made it sound, but somehow I’m happier than I thought I could be. It’s funny how life works out. 

I don’t know if getting married at 22 is a good idea. I don’t think it’s a bad one. It’s a privileged position to be in, and one that will come with it’s own unique set of challenges. If I could go back to those easy days, the ones before we set a date, maybe I would have put a little more space between my dissertation deadline and a whole ass wedding. But we’re happy with our decision, and I think that’s enough for now. 


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