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.
Remember the princess who kissed the frog
so he became a prince? At first they danced
all weekend, toasted each other in the morning
with coffee, with champagne at night
and always with kisses. Perhaps it was
in bed after the first year had ground
around she noticed he had become cold
with her. She had to sleep
with heating pad and down comforter.
His manner grew increasingly chilly
and damp when she entered a room.
He spent his time in water sports,
hydroponics, working on his insect
Then in the third year
when she said to him one day, my dearest,
are you taking your vitamins daily,
you look quite green, he leaped
away from her.
Finally on their
fifth anniversary she confronted him.
“My precious, don’t you love me any
more?” He replied, “Rivet. Rivet.”
Though courtship turns frogs into princes,
marriage turns them quietly back.
*It doesn’t take a massive poetry geek to be able to see that this poem is a look into the whole “happily ever after” which fairy tales promise us. Perhaps the only thing lacking in the royals’ lives above is some open honest communication. Perhaps this is in fact all that marriage can provide, a general dissatisfaction and an uravelling of the lies we’ve woven in order to bag that great catch.
I didn’t post this poem to have a go at guys, its a problem us girls also create. When “courting” you’ll never catch us without makeup, we’ll make sure we’re perfectly shaped, we’ll never swear and we’ll always feel like having sex. But what happens when we have you? And isn’t a diamond encrusted (yours will of course lack the diamonds) handcuff the ultimate declaration that quite frankly we have you? And then what? You’re going nowhere unless you want to deal with an expensive divorce. And is a general dissatisfaction really reason enough to leave? For me it was but it’s not that way for everyone.
Marriage is meant to be forever but if the courting is built on lies then how can it be a real forever? I guess the only two options available are don’t get married or hope to whatever you hope to, that your partner is truthful about who they really are.
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