My relationship is so old that she could have left the house… | life and style
On Saturday, my boyfriend and I woke up to realize it was our 20th anniversary. Which was mathematically curious, given that it surely makes our relationship older than us, two people who struggle daily with the many murderous realities of adulthood and remain baffled by such things as decisions about taps and the how we got here. The truth about how we got here, on a birthday so important it has its own plate (traditional gift: china), seems to be – every month we silently agree, first, not to break up and, then continue.
The popular stories we were brought up on insist that all of life happens before a person settles down – marriage is the end. What happens next? No one really knows – all relationships are secret, inward looking. All we really know of the others is that they either survive, progressing slowly, picking up children, heartache and a passion for gardening along the way, or they don’t survive, exploding into utter failure. . There is no third way. But, from the inside, a thousand seasons can pass in a single morning, a mixture of survivals and failures, of hatred and tenderness. The love letters are disguised as text messages about lunch. Arguments over Tesco delivery are not about Tesco delivery, we learn, except when they are.
New accomplishments on top of each other happen not just by candlelight or hospital beds, but at the very end of a tube of toothpaste or with all eyes glued to the TV. A relationship develops between you, develops its own arms, legs, memories. Our relationship is old enough to have left home and had children, she is old enough to drive a forklift.
I find it hard to imagine the idea of dating now, as an adult, rather than the nebulous glow in tight jeans that I was when my boyfriend and I first met. We grew up on each other. And around, and intertwined, like that bicycle that leaned against a tree so long that the tree grew on it. And aside sometimes, a long dance performed with four left feet. Earlier, we passed each other in the kitchen and I told him that I was writing about us. Not just love and fame, because of course love and fame, but the more complicated feelings that come with a big birthday. He handed me some tea.
For the past few nights, we have been watching an episode of Fleishman is in trouble (on aging and divorce) followed by an episode of couple therapy (on how to continue), and the combination tenderized us, like cutlets. It turns out it got him thinking about relationships as well, how in times of stress you need to maintain an ongoing conversation with yourself, asking yourself, “Is this a breach of contract? ? Alright, is that it? balancing them each time with memories of small kindnesses or jokes from the other person. And we talked about how he was like, how long does it take to really get to know someone? And: “Is the pursuit of this knowledge the purpose of a marriage?” And then: “Can we ever really know each other?” When the only you we will know will be the you in a relationship, the you with me by his side? We questioned ourselves a little more during lunch, very slowly, then we returned to our various tasks.
Mostly, I don’t think about being in a long relationship, I just accept its privileges – dinner cooked, responsibilities shared, mortgage granted, a heavy arm on my body at night. But when I do, I am often baffled again. How could we have known what we were getting into when we kissed that time outside of the party? When did I realize that to be together, I would also need a lot of alone time? Why did it take me so long to learn to apologize? It’s tempting to imagine all the other worlds where: I waited too long to text, or he bumped into an ex, or we broke up two months later, or I moved out, or we decided not to wear makeup after an argument, and no baby would be born and no washing machine would ring downstairs.
But when I relax and accept the choices we made without realizing that we were making choices, I realize that any questioning I do is not about him, but about the relationship itself, this invisible being who lives in our house and massages our necks and eats our time. Instead of getting married, I come to see the benefits of treating this relationship as an ongoing contract, to be renewed every year after a boring, loving meeting about nursing, babies, grooming, desire. Continuing to choose yourself, not just in spite of all existential irritations or assumptions, but because of them. The way they test us, teach us to live among others, remind us of our differences and love us despite everything. And remember that even if there is a bike stuck in your trunk, whose wheels sometimes spin, you never stop being a tree.
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