Talking In Bed by Philip Larkin
Talking in bed ought to be easiest
Lying together there goes back so far
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside the wind’s incomplete unrest
builds and disperses clouds about the sky.
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation.
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind
Or not untrue and not unkind.
This poem always makes me worry about about a permanent relationship with someone. Is it safe to say that when things get here it’s time to leave? Or is this the time to work super hard? Being in bed with someone else is completely opposite to isolation, well it should be. You are at your most vulnerable, physically and emotionally, it should be easy to be honest. But sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes being next to the same person every night can be the most uncomfortable and difficult thing in the world.
Fear gripped her cold icy heart as she strolled past the shop windows. The jewels behind that clean sparkly glass made her worry that she might be too old for this fear.
2012. A leap year. A year which traditionally meant that women who were getting antsy could pop the question. Last week a plumpish blonde woman proposed at the Lions game.
But the fear was real. These past few weeks have proven to her why she should be afraid. Love turns downward. It reaches a bottom. A bottom she is worried she might not be able to live with peacefully. She has expectations of her life. Her life should be a certain way. She deserves a certain measure of happiness.
Marriage might mean that measure is more like a ration.
Marriage might mean kids. Marriage might mean teenagers. She has enough teenagers everyday.
Can she live with being happy on Wednesdays and Saturdays only? Is she happy all the days of the week now?
So I have been completing my Psychology course and in the course of my course I have registered for a module on adult development and aging. Well according to my textbook * marriage is an essential part of adult development. An interesting discussion I recently read was about marital satisfaction. What the book says is that after performing extensive studies with many hundreds of married couples covering a range of age groups, marital satisfaction seemed to follow a U-shaped curve. So imagine a U. It has a steep decline and then it rises again. According to this study this is exactly the same shape that satisfaction in marriage takes.
Imagine dividing your married life up into 3 sections. You get the early years, the middle years and the later years. In the early years with the arrival of children marital satisfaction declines in a steep way. Apparently the longer a couple have been married the more unhappy they tend to be. This is in the first 20 to 24 years of marriage. During the middle years when you are experiencing your so called mid-life crisis, and your kids are going through the joyous teenage years then marital satisfaction hits rock bottom. What fantastic timing. No wonder people like me aren’t that keen on this whole marriage thing. Well there is hope. After this rock bottom in marital satisfaction is reached, marital satisfaction begins improving. In the later years, couples are more likely to describe their marriage as satisfying. And in fact many older adults who have remained married say that their marriage is better than is had ever been (Papalia, Sterns, Feldman & Camp, 2007).
Now this is the kind of information that would make me take the leap. I know it sounds a little bit strange that I would decide to get married based on this type of information but knowing that it will be hard in the beginning but it is almost guaranteed to get better later makes me feel much more secure. This is the type of realistic view I like to enter into things with. Expecting roses and champagne all the time and cuddles and kisses are unrealistic. Those are the types of expectations which are the most likely to cause a great deal of unhappiness. Going in with eyes wide open is the one thing that can ensure I don’t become a divorce statistic. I would rather have my expectations of hard work and perhaps a decline in satisfaction crushed than more romantic expectations. When our parents and their parents talk about marriage it’s meant to be this amazing experience that is supposed to complete one. But apparently it’s not.
Papalia, D.E, Sterns, H.L, Feldman, R.D & Camp, C.J. (2007). Adult Development and Aging. McGraw-Hill: New York.
Ok I’m back after a long long holiday in which I was too busy to think much or do much except make it to tomorrow. Ok it wasn’t really a holiday just a long peep into what my future may be like. Teaching Prac! Whoop whoop! Loved it. Big kids (14-18 year olds) are not the monsters that the media portray them to be! They are actually fairly human and completely capable of mature thought and action, although they don’t always choose that way. So 5 weeks of what I thought would be hell turned into 5 weeks of waking up early every day with a huge smile on my face. Ready to face the traffic. Ready to face just about anything, as long as I got to be in the classroom. Friday was my last day, and 4 (working) days on, I miss it like I’ve never missed anything in my life.
Perception is really the key issue here. I thought teaching big kids would be tough, challenging and full of horror. It was tough and challenging, but it was not full of horror. Maybe being married will be like that too. I think that it will be tough, challenging and full of all sorts of horrific things. Things like self sacrifice, monotony and even misery. But what if it won’t be like that at all? There is the faint possibility that I could wake up next to my husband (ignoring heart palpitations) every morning with a huge smile on my face. Ready to face the big kids. Ready to face the staff room politics. Ready to do just about anything as long as I got to spend my life with my amazing man.
Bad days were part and parcel of teaching prac. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were days when I left school, got to work (after prac) and I felt like crying. I felt so disheartened that I wasn’t getting through, that classroom discipline is not as easy as I originally thought, but I knew that the next day would be better. And it was. I am sure that there will be bad days in any marriage, in fact well done if you haven’t had any yet. (Just check for inner seething in your spouse from all the bloody compromising they’ve had to do to keep you happy.) It’s about making a decision and sticking with it.
It is not impossible to decide to be happy.
I have a tattoo. A great little number that my sister designed for me more than 3 years ago and which I have been living with for just as long. My tattoo is on my left forearm, pretty apt as an engagement ring graced my left ring finger for a less than a third of the time prior to me getting inked. I get to wake up every morning and look at my tattoo and think of how much I love it. Any time I need cheering up its a simple matter of turning my arm over slightly and gazing at the beauty of my tattoo. I miss my tattoo in Winter, it takes much more PT to look at it in these chilly months, but it makes me love it that much more each Summer as I run around in short sleeved t-shirts free to gaze at this declaration of difference and individuality. My tattoo is a statement that will remain on my arm until my skin rots and disintegrates off my bones one day.
As the popular saying goes, Kanye West uses it in lyrics to one of his songs, “Diamonds are Forever”. Sterns and various other jewelers have also coined the phrase. Hence, giving diamonds as engagement presents and setting them in wedding rings. Diamonds are meant to represent something that isn’t going to end. In this case, the relationship, the love you share as a couple. Marriage. I am completely freaked out about this whole forever thing, perhaps also why I’m not so keen on diamonds. I know what you’re thinking. “Why does this mad woman have a tattoo then?” And that is a valid question. Good thinking.
I guess my tattoo represents everything about who I am. And although it was pretty painful to get I want another one. This one a little bigger and a little brighter and certainly more expensive. To me my tattoos set me apart from everyone else, they’re an expression of my freedom. A wedding ring would be an expression of my non-freedom.
But its more than that. With a tattoo its me only. If I make a mistake and choose the wrong artist or get the wrong colours that’s my fault. My mistakes don’t bear on anyone else’s life and there is no one else who’s mistakes can bear on mine. My tattoo isn’t going to cheat on me. I won’t outgrow it. Well I might but lets see how we go [If I keep eating cake as often as I do I just might stretch it out of proportion!]. And even if I do outgrow it, my tattoo and I certainly can’t grow apart. It’s impossible.
When it comes to another human being, saying forever is a promise I’m not sure I can keep. And I don’t know if it’s fair to expect them to keep it either. When it comes to people, forever is naive. I don’t know what the future holds and I have no idea how things will pan out. I cannot make a promise that is just so expansive and so difficult to see to the end. People do outgrow one another, I know it makes us sound like jerseys or jeans, but it’s kind of how we are. There is the possibility that just like your favourite top when you were in your 20’s just isn’t your favourite top now that you’re in your 40’s, your life partner may not be your favourite anymore either.
And what about death? When we say “I’ll love you forever” do we really mean “I’ll love you until you die and then I plan to love someone new”? All relationships end. Any good lawyer setting up your prenuptial contracts will tell you that “all relationships end, in death or divorce”. Not the greatest thing to hear months before the big day, as my friend will attest to. But never the less the truth. Does forever in this case mean, “I’ll move on but I wont forget you”?
So it’s not that I’m afraid of commitment. I certainly am not. I have had several long-term relationships (not only with my tattoo). So it can’t be that. And I am not afraid of change. I just know that it’s probably the only thing that will remain constant when it comes to people, whether it’s us or others we can always count on someone changing (not necessarily to our will though or when we need them to) but if its not them it most certainly will be us.
On Friday this really strange feeling came over me. I was baking scones and as I worked the dough with my hands kneading it smooth and then cutting star shapes out of it, I thought about how much I’d like to build a life with Hennie. Maybe even get married.
I was thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I think to get married. What would I have to look forward to? Seeing Hennie everyday. Some days it might be tiresome, I know this from the last time I lived with a man, but at least I am aware of this and I won’t be surprised by it if it happens this time. I would get the chance to make Hennie feel special every single day. Little notes in his lunch, or tucked up in his towel which he’ll find when he climbs out the shower. To be able to greet him with a huge smile and a giant hug when he gets home. To be greeted by the same thing when I get home. I don’t really need to be married to do this. Kids. I may not want to be a wife, but I do know that I want to be a mom. I know that I don’t really need to be married to have kids but in some ways it might be better if I am. I know that society tends to be super harsh to single moms and kids of single moms. Which is unfair. But I don’t want my kids to be judged for my decisions.
Then I got to thinking about how simple life was before the advent of technology and, dare I say it, awareness. Awareness that women can be and can have more than what society says we need and can do. The way I imagine life was back then before women wanted “it all” was a great happy woman, perhaps slightly unfulfilled, baking, humming, cleaning and looking after children. Her chief concerns were making sure that her family was happy by managing the household in a conscientious way. I mean wouldn’t it be great to run around in kitten heels and dresses everyday? I would love to only need to worry that my sewing was up to date and the supper would be waiting for him when Hennie gets home. Yes it does sound boring and I feel somewhat guilty for wondering what this might be like. The last time I wondered what things might be like, my parents started arguing and the epic 10 year divorce ensued. I certainly do not want that to happen again. Of course it doesn’t work that way anyone can tell you that!
Is being a wife really a full time job? Is being a husband a full time job? I know that if one tries to do “it all” by themselves when there is a perfectly able person there to help then it probably can take up a lot of time. I know that “my homemaking” responsibilities will have to be shared. There is just no way that I can be a good mom, wife, sister, friend, employee, aunty and daughter if I try to do everything by myself. There are a few practical considerations to be thought of before one starts planning the wedding that’s for sure!
I’ve always wanted to build a life with Hennie but to think about marriage in this way is strange for me. Who knows? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
So far I’ve only commented about my negative feelings towards marriage and weddings. I think it’s only fair to present the other side of the coin too since there have been, believe it or not, moments in my life when I’ve actually wanted to get married. While these moments are few and far between they are still important to mention and perhaps to dissect.
After I left my fiancé all those years ago; the movie based on the book PS I Love You was released. I refused to watch it and I was quite anti all kinds of love stories at that time. I was afraid that love stories would melt my heart and would weaken my resolve to leave a relationship that was not only bad for me but bad for him too. I avoided that movie and about a year later, after Kenny and I had been together for a while, he persuaded me to watch it. I cried and I cried throughout the movie.
Kenny* was quite well aware of my dislike of marriage and mistrust in it so I don’t blame him for being surprised when I blurted out after the movie, “What are we waiting for? Let’s just get married already.” I had decided this quite early on in the movie at about the time when Gerard Butler’s character and his wife had a massive argument and he stormed out in a rage. A strange scene to set off a desire for marriage, but look at the great argument they were having. I wanted that then. Not the argument, but the intimacy, the closeness of being able to air your opinions without the worry that he would take offence and leave, forever. Gerard Butler’s character came back straight after walking out of their place and this kind of renewed my trust in the entire institution of marriage. By that stage, luckily, Kenny was fully aware of my knack for changing my mind and he didn’t drop to one knee and present something resembling a diamond on a piece of metal to me. He laughed and asked when I had lost my mind. “What happed to “I’m never getting married”?” he asked.
I tried to explain that the whole shared life was really what had sparked this feeling. Although I value my independence it’s sometimes a comforting thought to know that I am not alone. A shared life is not only about stuff. In fact, stuff has very little to do with it. It’s about knowing that you can rely on someone else to be there for you no matter what. Your husband/wife (personally I prefer partner, because partner makes everyone equal) can’t be a fair weather friend. We all have them, those mates of ours who come to us with their worries, then bugger off when things are good again and are nowhere to be found when we have worries; but your partner is sort of compelled to stick it out with you because if he or she doesn’t, they end up hurting themself . What I’m trying to say is that a shared life is about support, all the kinds of support that any living organism might need. Of course there is a niggly worry that this partner of yours could do more to damage the foundational levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but if you go in awake you should be able to see if they will be an integral part of your life or a total parasite.
A shared life is also about commitment. A term which is usually synonymous with fear and dread in my dictionary of life but what is commitment really? It’s not really anything to be afraid of. We commit ourselves everyday to work, university, family, friends, pets and especially debt. We never think twice about any of the above aspects of our lives and yet we worry about picking a life partner to enter into the business of creating other people and making a home together. Is this really so intelligent? I am quite sure that people were not designed to be loners and to try to do everything by themselves.
At the end of the day I need to give Kenny a break. He is really quite an amazing man and I know that we would be able to be equal share partners if we ever decided to take the leap of faith in one another. Never would he expect me to be a cooking cleaning type of person. He is usually more than willing to carry his share of chores. And when I tell him what’s bothering me, he makes a genuine effort to fix it. It is important to be comfortable alone but it is also important to be comfortable with another being who, in all senses of the word is quite like you and yet different enough to keep life exciting.
Kenny* and I have been dating for three years. It was not meant to last this long but it did and I am glad. So is Kenny even though he was quite afraid of our approaching anniversary which was yesterday. I am not sure why he would be afraid but he was and he saw that it was quite a silly thing to be afraid of. See? I am not afraid of commitment! When this happens, a three year long relationship that is, combined with being 26 years old it is incredibly difficult to avoid questions like when will we be getting engaged.
Our friends, not the close ones who we spend every weekend with, tend to ask us this question a lot. The last time was one of Kenny’s mates, I forget his name, which is unusual because I am usually quite good with names, but that’s beside the point, at a braai we were at. (For my non-South African readers: a braai is a barbecue and it usually includes a lot of drinking and partying and often not so much barbecuing.) He was there with his girlfriend who he lives with and we were talking about some mates of ours who had recently tied the knot. He then posed the dreaded question, “So, when are you two getting married?”
I shook my head in mild panic, “Um, no we’re not getting married.”
He almost choked on his drink, “Why?”
“Because I don’t want to,” I shrugged.
To which he replied by slapping Kenny on the back “Well this one’s a keeper, put a ring on that before she gets taken up by someone else.”
As though I am a member of the livestock family and totally claimable. I told him that I will live with Kenny one day but we’re not getting married. He then went into a long story about how he gets lunch made for him everyday and his washing is always done and ironed.
“I thought you were living with your girlfriend, not your mom?”
“Um, yes well I – ” he didn’t talk to me much the rest of the evening.
So when mates ask this fairly uncomfortable question, it’s ok. It’s quite easy to answer them honestly and in a way which will be least offensive. I mean really now, what mate wouldn’t be happy for his friend if his friend’s girlfriend was happy to forego the whole formality of ownership right? But what happens when it’s parents and other family members who bring up this touchy topic?
My parents are quite ok with my decision not to get married. I can’t say that they agree completely with it but they don’t disapprove. I am sure that they would prefer it if I did marry one day but all that they worry abut is whether or not I’ll be happy. Kenny’s parents are a little more old school than that though.
A few weekends ago Kenny’s dad’s friend from high school came around from Jefferey’s Bay, Oom F*. They were coming up for, believe it or not, his nephew’s wedding and decided to turn it into a catch up session of note. Oom F’s eldest son who is only a year younger than Kenny recently got engaged and they were up here too for the cousin’s wedding. To celebrate that Oom F had come to visit, Kenny’s dad decided to host a massive breakfast. He invited the entire family on his side which included his parents, his brother and sister-in-law, Oom F was there with his whole family and obviously Kenny’s whole family was there. Kenny’s Ouma was expecting some huge announcement and I think most of the people there were too, being the eldest I think they thought the announcement was coming from Kenny and I. Kenny politely nipped that in the bud though because this expectation was only told to me after we had left.
We finished eating our breakfast and we were getting ready to go, which with so many people, is quite an episode in itself. Oom F, who insists on speaking Afrikaans to me, asks “So when will we see you again? At your wedding?” Being thoroughly placed on the spot here I respond with the first thing that comes to mind, “No.”
Kenny’s dad turned several shades of white and I felt the disapproval emanating from Kenny’s mom from across the room.
“It’s not Kenny, I just don’t believe in it.” I’m not improving the situation am I?
Kenny’s Ouma pipes up and says, “Yes that’s the best idea because then if you aren’t happy you can just get rid of him, just living with him is much better.”
Thanks Ouma I thought and while changing colour several times between myself and Kenny’s dad I managed to say “Yes that’s my plan really.”
Kenny hurriedly escorted me out of his parent’s house amongst rushed good byes.
I may never be entirely comfortable in that house again but at least they don’t have unrealistic expectations of me. It’s not even like Kenny and I can get married yet. We are both still studying and weddings are pretty expensive not to mention university fees. That’s of course assuming I do want to get married at all.
* Names have been changed
Oom – Uncle
Ouma – Grandmother