What a sad but ultimately revealing and enlightening film this was. As part of the BBC’s Wonderland series of documentaries, this one followed Emma Bishop and Ben Marshall as they deliberated the pros and cons of getting married.
But what sets Emma and Ben apart from other couples in their twenties who are contemplating the same thing is that they both have Down’s Syndrome, therefore their lives are not truly their own because they must be, in many ways, reliant on others to sanction or veto various aspects of their lives.
Because of the propensity for Down’s sufferers to be subject to what many consider vulnerability and an inability to make life changing decisions, there was to be no rushing into anything for this couple. Despite the fact they’re clearly devoted to each other, and I can think of few young people better suited to making a real go of a marriage than these two based on what we saw last night, there are hurdles for them at every step.
The fact is, for most people of their age and circumstances – they both work and live in a shared house – getting married is something that doesn’t need a legion of people to agree to, nor a plethora of paper to fill in, nor a change in income inherent with becoming an official couple, but for Emma and Ben, those are just a few of the obstacles in their way.
But to watch this charming couple interact and enjoy each other so much was heart warming, and I don’t mean that to sound patronising; I don’t mean it as one might describe the ‘ah’ factor when watching little kids holding hands. Rather that genuine, heart-on-sleeve affection is something that’s often lost for those of us who find ourselves jaded by life and are wary of being hurt. Their childlike – thought not childish – openness and honestly was refreshing to see.
Ben and Emma trust each other implicitly and are on a shared frequency that was inspirational to see. But of course, the fact that they are so able to function in the world is in large part testament to the love, care and support they’ve both received from their families, and it was easy to see the doubt in their parents’ minds about the prospect of marriage for the couple.
In the end, they decided against marriage for all the practical and ‘right’ reasons in as much as it would’ve been a hugely complicated move, logistically. But on a purely emotional level, I felt desperately sad for them that this was their ultimate decision.
Emma wanted the thing most young women of her age take for granted they can have when they choose to have it; a wedding that’s truly the bride’s ‘big day’ complete with flouncy frock and celebrations shared with loved ones. But it’s not to be for Emma and Ben.
“It’s just a bit of paper, getting married” said Emma, while clearly trying to convince herself that’s really all it is.
And though the couple didn’t demonstrate any anger about it, I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had. The fact is, they’ve spent their whole lives trying to be independent and have achieved such a lot, both separately and together, that it feels wholly wrong that they can’t have the autonomy that people without Down’s have. They can cook, clean, work for themselves but when it’s a really big decision, it seems the world and his wife has their twopennorth to put in, and it felt unfair.
Not that I’m in any way condemning Emma and Ben’s families for being concerned about their getting married; clearly both are very loved and the worries of the parents were justified. But again, it just all seemed so sad.