Wednesday, 19 August 2009

marital (dis)harmony

This is yesterday. Go out to romantic dinner with husband. Or, rather, intention was just dinner - but restaurant (river view at sunset) fits the romantic bill. Stunning menu. Nice atmosphere. Me, all glammed up.

I brush down my floaty silk skirt, in which I feel free and gorgeous. It's got a print with orange and brown and electric blue, exotic and flattering - and the colours of sunset: beyond the expanses of glass the river is still and the sunset sky, actually, that same electric blue, merging into an orange tinge beyond the blackening silhouetted bridge. It's the time of day where, magically, the fading screen of natural daylight meets the new manmade glow of lamps and bulbs - and everything is clear and defined but yet strangely hazy, in waiting. There's a promise held in the air of darkness beyond the wondrous setting, sun going down. A ethereality. Beloved of photographers, this magical light, brief moment in time. And of me. My favourite time of day. A time for lovers, when heart strings pull and the silky strings of jazz are at their most apt. Not for us, though. We're married. I feel an uncomfortable nostalgia, brush it off.

But, life is good: oh yes. The oysters are unsurpassable: melt-in-the-mouth, with that lingering taste of freshness and ocean. I have to wait between mouthfuls to fully stretch out the indulgence. Wine's cradling me already in its basking chill-out haze.

We're making nice conversation. Not the heady romantic stuff (we're well past that) but reasonable exchanges, after all, what do you expect after 6 years of marriage? The mains arrive, service is courteous and perfectly timed. My black olive bread, of burgandy hue, explodes with mediterranean earthiness. The seabass falls neatly into flaky chunks beneath the crispy, shiny parchment of skin. Complements the creamy mussels sauce - oh, what a surprise! - and the waxy asparagus which snaps satisfyingly between my teeth. Heaven. I'm in heaven. Nice food, nice atmosphere. Just my thing.

And then. We start a conversation about, of all things, Facebook. Let me fill you in. Until recently, I didn't 'do' Facebook. Then I waved my prejudices (about time-wasting etc.) to see a dear friend's new baby pics - and, of course I had to join! I discovered, that used in moderation, Facebook is...well, Great!

I'm on the subject merely to state that two 'famous' bloggers, with books published and all (bestsellers to boot) are now my 'friends' on Facebook. I tell my husband how, in a way, that's kinda amazing. The fact that this era of networking and contact is so, well, facilitating (for someone growing up with royal mail and an egg timer attached to the telephone, paid per unit into a money box!). I mean, I can ask advice at the drop of a hat from people I admire and respect! (even if I rather do less fancy a digital scribble on their Facebook 'walls', each one to his own use of technology!). I'm gushing with the positivity of the evening and how in fact, it's rather nice to see what friends are up to all around the world, and not just at Christmas and birth/marriage/death occasions. To note NOT that someone you know's in the process of drinking Colombian coffee (!) - but, maybe, taken a trip, rather, or been to an interesting place recently. It brings, in a small way, distant and well-missed friends a tad closer. (I waste no more time than a few minutes every few days - which, considering I've only just signed up, is the rate at which friends are 'adding' me. Admittedly the photos are all one-way: I don't and won't post photos on Facebook, bar one profile one. But my friends do, and it's interesting.) So, well, it's all an example of me having made an incorrect value judgement, which again, is a learning opportunity in life. Positive, all positive.

But, on the other side of the conversation, my husband's not positive at all. He's goading me, challenging me. Why I change my loudly-voiced opinions so easily. Why a Christmas card or a phone call isn't enough. "If you really cared about your friends you'd phone them up" sort of thing. Why it's a waste of time to read what people are having for breakfast, etc. What they're doing in the minutiae of their everyday lives being irrelevant.

I'm trying to explain, I don't read the trivial stuff. And how I used to think that way but have seen a different angle. And that anyway, naturally and of course, it's not a necessity. But, it's NICE! It gives me an idea, an insight, a feeling of warmth even, to glean the smallest snapshot of the lives of people I care about or am interested in, or even curious about. Saves you wondering, as in: "I wonder what dear so-and-so is doing these days in Japan/I wonder what dear another-friend is up to in Dubai/I wonder how ex-good-pal's business is going/I wonder what became of fun-acquaintance-who-emails-every-18-months". It's not necessary, in the way that eating oysters isn't necessary. BUT, it's nice. I mean, life isn't all about what's necessary. Christ.

But this conversation ain't going nowhere. I'm trying to explain, maybe getting a little defensive. My other half's provoking, prodding, questioning, provoking, prodding, questioning. This isn't what I signed up for at a 'nice' dinner, I'm thinking. I say so. He says, he's just challenging me. I say, I'm trying to explain but he's not listening. And why challenge me? there's no competition here, we're meant to be enjoying our night out! It doesn't help, things are escalating. I'm trying my utmost to concentrate on the melting flavours of my fish - "be aware. Be present. Live the moment"...

Then: "You need to GROW UP"...I, umm, WHAT? I can't believe he's just said that! Out at dinner with his wife! I thought, I was having a nice conversation and suddenly...this is how it all twists? I can hear the evening deflating, like those old movies when the projector suddenly winds down and dies - eeeuuurrr splutter!!. And the bright picture suddenly crumples and fades away with a whine of the soundtrack. CRASH.

"You know, there are plenty of guys who'd be only too happy to come to dinner with me and not ruin it by telling me 'to grow up' - quite unprovokedly - halfway through..."

(oops. wrong thing to say, probably. like a red flag to a bull)

..."No, I just meant, that, in that case, why do YOU, my HUSBAND of all people, have to ruin a perfectly lovely evening by being so...patronising. I mean, insulting! I just find that, well, incredibly insulting. It shows a lack of respect for your wife."

Nope. He's now caught the plenty-of-guys thread and bashing it for all it's worth. But I didn't mean...

"Look, I NEVER said that I actually wanted to go to dinner with 'other' guys...but why do you have to ruin it when you're the actual person it's meant to be"

I tail off. Anyway the waitress is embarrassed, probably followed the whole thing, asking us if we want dessert. "No thankyou, we've had enough." (too right we have). Horrible stony silence ensues, we both look away. Down, at the river, up, whatever. Big, big wall in the way.

"I'm going." announces my husband. He gets up. I barely saw him pay the bill, too busy looking inside the crevice under my (quite sexy) top, way beneath the skin, inside my chest, in the centre of human emotion where a choking boulder's blinding me to what was a beautiful evening. All I can see now is this heaviness, in front of my eyes, in front of my thoughts. Like, how have things ended up like this? and how long have they really been like this?

I sit, alone, looking out at the river. Fixedly. Diluting the inevitable streak of pain into the orange glow of the lamps, washing it out into the inky dark. Listening to my breathing, inside, and calming my thoughts. There's a couple on the next table, and I can't help but hear. I'm staring past them, no change of expression, but can't help eavesdropping. Perhaps they heard us argue too, clash and repel like magnets, perhaps she feels some empathy. I dunno. I do, when their words drift past me.

"So what do we do now?" she asks. "You've just got your ideas" he says, low. "If that's what you think...but, I try my best. I really do. It seems it's not good enough."
"You don't understand", she says, monotone. "It never changes. We just don't seem to be able to connect, communicate, about this."
"So, what do we do?" (again) "Tell me, what do we do then?"
"I don't know. I really don't."
I sigh, internally. Get up, slowly, 'cos I'm aware that people must wonder why I'm still sitting there, alone.

Outside, my husband's in the car, headlamps on, engine running. Gagging to get out of there but going nowhere without his wife. That's life, buddy.
I get in.
We go home. We don't talk.
What an evening.

But - tommorow's another day. Never forget. No man's an island - even if you feel like it, bundled up on the very edge of the bed. Tommorow's another day. Marriage is hard. What did I do wrong? What do I not understand about the person I thought I understood so well? and why does he seem not to understand me any more? Is this what marriage is always about? (my parents still don't really have compatibility or understanding after more than 35 years of marriage). Does it get better when it just seems to have gotten worse? And, did I wake up one day on the wrong side of the tracks, suddenly? These are my jumbled thoughts as I drop into sleep.

Next morning, I wake up hearing the front door click shut, remember last night, shrug it off, and begin my day unburdened. Later on, we don't talk about it. Today is another day. You just have to remember why you're there, and repair the chips.

(But I still think telling your wife "to grow up" is wrong. I mean, isn't it?!)

P.S. Just saw a very interesting movie: "The Darjeeling Limited", about a brothers' spiritual journey. Quite arty, and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.


  1. I think I too would feel pretty offended if my husband said the same thing to me. Funnily enough, I have just recently started using facebook too. Initially he was amused in an admittedly slightly patronising way. Now he looks over my shoulder and can't hide the fact that he's interested too! I'm a teacher and all the kids I teach were well ahead of me on this social networking thing, so in a sense I feel I am regressing a bit. But I think that when your everyday life is full o being grown up mum to small kids, grown up teacher (part-time) to teenagers, and constant doer of grown up chores like laundry, cleaning, food shopping and cooking, then you need a bit of downtime once in a while!

  2. Thanks Mater (like the latin moniker, very cool!) Thanks for visiting my blog and supporting me (any moral support is great) and do come again!

    Helen x

  3. I don't think this was anything to do with facebook really, just frustrations on both sides. Most of us take our frustrations out on trivial matters because talking about real feelings is difficult, mainly because they are so abstract. How many times have you or someone else dragged up a long forgotten event to illustrate an argument, this is because there's no relevant event to attach the emotion to, but they still feel it.
    Crikey that sounds wise, best back to my wine...
    Nice writing HR

  4. I've been married almost 11 years now, and I'm 35. The first year I adored DH but only in this last year did our marriage finally 'click'.

    Somewhere between the bills, kids, and biting our tongues while coping with life, a lot of resentment built up. There had been so much left unsaid, and by giving our passion to the kids and work, we forgot each other. I'm not sure we really even knew each other during that time.

    What helped was the realization last year that this was occurring and we made a pact to at least try to get to know each other before divorcing. I had to look at him in a new light and decide if this was someone I wanted to love again.

    He's not the person I married anymore, and I'm not the same gal he married. It's been fun this last year getting out of our perceived patterns and surprising each other a bit.

    I hope the best for you- I've enjoyed reading your blog.

  5. Thanks, thanks, thanks, Jenny. For your wisdom and for enjoying my blog. You have made a difference to my day. Do come again!
    Helen xx

  6. I have read and re-read your post. Take heart that the reason for this is that it is beautifully written. If nothing else, you know that you have the ability to express strong emotions in words. Many authors would be exceedingly envious.
    I have been married for 31 years. There are a few moments of total unconnectedness that sucker punch you..... But as the years pass you learn to have answers, to be assertive in a jolly way. To create laughter out of a difficult moment that could go either way. This only comes when you feel confident in yourself and your special place in life.
    A final quote to ponder:
    "One shoe could change your life."
    Cinderella ;)

  7. Liz, you made me smile and feel happy, and made me chuckle - great start to a day when I woke, reviewed the expanse of blue sky dotted with bird-like aeroplanes traversing the will-o-wisps of clouds, and wondered why, in this beautiful world, I just feel like escaping on one of them (kids in tow - husband not...!!)
    Thanks for your comment, appreciation and support. It means a huge lot! Helen x

  8. You capture the mood of an evening out with the other half so well. I have given up going out to celebrate wedding anniversaries because of a string of failed attempts - there was the arguing with the waiter incident, the driving like a road-rage maniac incident, the failing to agree on what film to see indident. Now we usually only go out for 'crisis talks' when things get bad, which works because expectations are so low. After 10 years, I still can't understand him. It's the fireworks that explode from left field that still throw me. The intricacies of married life are so complex but you encapsulate the dynamic so well. Love your honesty!

  9. Thanks Manicmum! I'm comforted's not only me, hooray!!! (although I do wish eternal romance on everyone of course, impossible as it is without changing partners every 7 years!)