As we hurtle towards our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary – celebrations and condolences for which are still under negotiation – it seems to me that the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a postmortem of our relationship.
I’ll be honest with you, as the product of divorced parents, I never expected our marriage to last. Like most couples in long-term relationships, we have experienced our share of highs and lows. Particularly this year. Living TOGETHER, and working from home TOGETHER, have inevitably created pressure points that at times have pushed us closer to our own re-enactment of that last scene in The Notebook.
And yet, here we are, still breathing, still together, together forever – words he taunts me with when I’m grumpy – as we morph into the middle-aged stereotypes we always denied we’d become. He is the archetypal grumpy old man who shouts at the tv, wears socks with sandals, and no longer feels guilty about excusing himself from social gatherings, while I am the highly-strung, middle-aged, other half, secretly more suited to life as Betty Draper in spite of my feminist idealism.
My father describes our marriage as a life sentence, and sometimes, (as some of you “lifers” might agree), it feels like it. But although marriage doesn’t necessarily get any easier, the ageing process does have a clever way of smoothing over the cracks, that in the past we might have left exposed for longer. Perhaps, as well, both of us feel like we’ve passed the point of no return in our relationship. The idea of intimacy with anyone else is terrifying, we have become comfortable with our silences, and unapologetic about the deterioration in our physical standards.
Our marriage has enriched and evolved like a fine wine. Not like those schmaltzy, finger-down-your-throat senior love matches depicted in British movies – and usually set in India – we are more Jerry and Margo Leadbetter from “The Good Life” or Ethel and Norman Thayer from “On Golden Pond”. We have traded most of the fireworks for a resigned acceptance of how we should behave at our age, although secretly we keep our swords sharpened.
When he is loving life, I hate it. When I’m chill, he’s a stress ball. While he condemns me through his silence, I am a spitting, yapping Rottveiler. While he rarely criticizes me, I prepare a review of him each morning to contemplate throughout his day – although I have discerned recently, certain underground attempts to alter that status quo, demonstrating a worm-turning bravery in middle age that he concealed from me as a young man.
The other day he accused me of not putting the lid back on the toothpaste.
‘What lid?’ I countered, bristling as I frantically racked the wine-addled cells of my brain for a visual of our bathroom vanity and the scrunched up toothpaste tube.
PETTY, as I’m sure you will agree. But it is important to understand that pettiness evolves with marriage in the same way as deep love and respect, and so his refusal to refill the oats container and the fact that he only empties the recycling box once it has overflowed; only wears deodorant when I remind him to and asks me what’s for dinner the day before – a cardinal sin in the universally accepted rules of marriage – have all been duly noted and will be used in retribution, sometime in the future.
And yet…he’s my best mate. I know what he’s going to say before he says it; he has steered me through more dark tunnels than I can remember and forced his sweaty hand into mine when I have needed it most. He makes me laugh when I am determined not to, and his impression of Miguel Maestre from The Living Room has to be seen to be believed.
Admittedly, his close relationship with the dog is bordering on seedy, he has rarely bought me flowers, can’t cook for toffee and is useless when it comes to DIY. And yet he can put a smile on my face even when storms rage around us.
Our set of scales has always wavered precariously in our marriage, yet somehow, in the end, it always finds its balance.