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.
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.
When I was living in London I used to do door-to-door sales as a way to earn money. In hindsight I earned nothing from it in terms of financial gain but I certainly have a few fantastic memories and experiences. In the company I worked for, there was the opportunity, if you were good enough, to work alone and open up your own branch of the main company. The only catch was that you had to make a lot of sales first. You needed to be pretty good at getting people to trust you and buy into what you were selling. Firstly you needed to reach the daily sales targets and then you could be in charge of a team of other sales people. Once you were a team leader you needed to make sure that all the people in your team reached their targets everyday and then after doing that for a while you got to open and run your own branch. It was hard work but apparently the benefits were well worth the effort.
The manager of the branch we worked at always told us that we wouldn’t make it unless we closed our back doors. What this meant was that we needed to put everything we had into our work. No holding back, we needed to be willing to become completely vulnerable and be ok with that in order to make targets and go big. We needed to keep our eye on the goal and be willing to walk towards our goal without looking back. The way he explained it was like this. When we embark on something new we keep a little escape hatch handy so that if it doesn’t work out we still have a way to save ourselves. When you start something new it’s easy to tell everyone you’re all in and to close the door that they entered through but you need to close your escape hatch too. Only once that’s closed will you be able to succeed in what you have set your mind to.
Getting married is the ultimate in closing that back door. You can’t leave when you are bored. If he sucks between the sheets you need to deal with it. Either you can talk to him about it or you can keep quiet and pretend you love making love to him. When he makes you angry, you can’t just get up and leave him. Maybe he has not put the toilet seat down and in your urgency to get to the toilet and have a wee you sit directly on the bowl. Maybe he hasn’t come home from work when he said he will. Maybe he keeps inviting his family over and keeps making excuses why yours shouldn’t visit. Whatever he has done to make you feel under-appreciated or worthless you can’t just leave him. Well not easily. Getting married is saying to him (and him saying to you) that you trust him completely with all your heart and mind. You know that he will look after you when you need him to and you know he’ll be completely honest with you (these are of course reversible). When you are married you need to try your best to make the relationship work, especially when it’s not quite meeting expectations. You can’t just leave when the other person stops making an effort. We all remember the first days of a new relationship. For us girls, our legs (and any other body part usually shaved) was kept smooth, consistently. We were always in a good mood when we saw him, even if we’d had a bad day. We made sure to keep the conversation sparkly even if we’d spent a long time with our new man. We always looked and smelled best. Once we got used to him though, it became perfectly acceptable to climb into bed next to him with the hairiest legs you’d ever set eyes on. It became easy and understandable to be in a bad mood over dinner, and even to take that bad mood out on him (assuming he didn’t cause the bad mood). Why is that ok? More importantly why don’t we think about these things when we get married? That is after all exactly what will happen in 5 years after the big day.
A friend of mine says that having kids a big deal. The things that don’t normally bother you when it’s just the 2 of you make you consider murder when a baby enters the house. She gave an example. You’re making dinner for the 2 of you and he is reading the newspaper. That’s ok, you don’t mind. Cooking isn’t an unenjoyable pastime. You wouldn’t say no to help but it’s not like you really need it. Now add a baby to the scenario. You are making dinner, he is reading the newspaper. Baby is crying, she wants a cuddle that’s all, but he refuses to get up and cuddle her. Well it’s not that he refuses his help; it’s more like he is completely oblivious to the sounds of her loneliness. As the childhood rhyme goes; Jill and man sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a golden carriage. Babies are a reality in the whole marriage story. When you get one you get the other. Why, you ask? It’s because people stop using condoms and other birth control devices.
On the topic of not using condoms I heard a horror story when I was at the tender age of 16. I was at the age when youth club at church was a pretty fun thing to go to. It was a good way to meet guys and a good way to get out of the house to hang out with them. This particular Friday evening, after a pretty thorough mouth examination by my boyfriend at the time using only his tongue, we went into the hall to hear the “message” of the evening. We all sat down and the youth pastor told us of a young woman from that particular church who saved her virginity till she got married. All her life she dreamed of meeting “The One” and when she did, she waited until the “Big Day” before she had sex with him. So far it was a pretty romantic story. They got married and they had babies, as you do. She had remained faithful to her husband throughout their marriage and she loved him dearly. One day during a routine medical check-up she discovered that she had HIV. How did she get HIV? She wasn’t using drugs, she waited until her wedding day to have sex and she stayed faithful to her husband. He, the swine, had decided that she wasn’t good enough between the sheets and had paid a prostitute for sex. Kick in the face. After telling her husband, indirectly, that she trusted him, he took that and gave her HIV. I can’t remember what the youth pastor’s point was in telling us about this because I was too busy considering her pain.
Closing your back door when it comes to love is a scary and horrifying thing to think about, let alone do. You need to be prepared to take the good with the bad. Marriage is not about a big party in a white dress that you dreamt about since you were 5 years old. It’s about the nitty gritty of building a life together with another person. But if you don’t close that back door in order to prevent the draft from blowing your love away will you keep a hold of that love and have a fulfilling relationship anyway? Does love need to be declared publicly and cemented in marriage registers for an eternity for it to be real? Is it really any of society’s business how I feel about you or how you feel about me? When you date someone it’s quite easy to keep that back door open. It is easy to make sure you have an escape route handy. It’s a lot harder to actually pull and lock that back door behind you though.