I Spent My Wedding Fund on a Glorified Vacation

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I assumed I would never marry.

Photo credit: Alesso Maffeis, CC BY 2.0.

I spent my 20s baffled by relationships. My own were brief and overblown, characterized by miscommunication and mistiming. Decoding romantic interactions became a pastime, leading ever more certainly to one conclusion: I was destined to remain single throughout my life.

In time, I came to terms with this belief. I would not have great loves, but boy, would I have adventures.

Bringing up their two daughters, my parents always prioritized fairness. As young children, my sister and I would often receive the same presents —T-shirts or animal figurines — but in different colors, as if to recognize our uniqueness. As we grew older the presents diversified, but we would always receive the exact same number. Fair and square.

My father had grown up poor, in a remote dairy-farming community in New Zealand. He would wrestle his two brothers for the right to wear their one shared button-down shirt on a night out. Through years of sustained bootstrap-pulling — even now, beyond retirement age, he continues to work long hours and weekends — he has clambered into the middle-class.

Over the years he socked away a bit of money in accounts for my sister and me. This is your wedding fund, he told us. Or you can use it to buy a house. You’ll both get the same amount. You’re to use it for your future.

But what if I never get married? I thought. Buying a house in Sydney’s notoriously unaffordable property market on a single salary seemed even more unlikely. What then? Can I never cash in? Why should my future goals be contingent upon meeting a man?

My sister was, at this time, engaged to her boyfriend of four years. And so it followed that she claimed her wedding fund for a beautiful ceremony at a historic site on the waterfront, followed by a knees-up for family and friends.

Meanwhile I was waking at 4 o’clock every weekday morning, making a living as a newsreader on the breakfast shift. The lifestyle was isolating. I was constantly exhausted, and I barely had energy to socialize.

I managed to do a little bit of writing here and there. But I had escapist fantasies: a life in which I was well-rested, dedicating my days to my craft. Indulging in this dream one day, I applied for a writer’s residency in Iceland.

The acceptance email came a couple of months later, and I read it bleary-eyed at my work computer at 5 a.m.. “We’d like to welcome you for a three-month residency placement.”

Here it was: my escape. I had been looking for a way out of the early morning grind, but felt trapped by inertia. A sabbatical in Iceland — far, far away from Australia, far from all distraction — would be just the trick.

But how would I afford it? I had four weeks’ of paid leave accrued but very little money saved, and Iceland is notoriously expensive.

I chatted my best friend: I’ve been offered a three month writer’s residency in Iceland. But I don’t think I’ll take it. Too expensive.

Are you kidding me? she replied. YOU HAVE TO GO.

My workplace offered to give me unpaid leave for the remainder of the residency. Good fortune—or privilege, if you rather—was on my side. I would try my luck. I called my parents.

In my mind it was a feminist move. Using the wedding fund for the residency would be a middle finger in the face of tradition, and would help my development as a writer. Remarkably, my parents agreed.

It was a charmed season. The residency was in a tiny fishing town of 2000 people, surrounded by the wild nature of Iceland. At last, I spent my days crafting the novel that I had been aching to write for years. I would take breaks to walk around the town. Blueberries grew wild on the hillside, fields of them, and I lost hours methodically yanking the fruits from the plant, collecting them in my pocket.

After three months I felt rested, recovered somewhat from the depression that had taken hold through years of shift work and erratic sleeping patterns. I had written 20,000 words of my novel, and I vowed to finish it when I came home.

It has been two years. I have not finished the novel. For all my arguments about personal development, and spending the money on something that meets my values, I have not fulfilled my end of the bargain. The residency was, then, a break; a glorified vacation.

My writing time has been diminished partly by — finally — a happy relationship. I’ve met the man I want to marry.

I could really use that money.

Amelia Marshall is the editor of The Cusp, and a former Triple J news reader. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Vacation Series.

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