I am not a person who watches movies often, and I can almost never watch one twice (the exception to this being Spinal Tap, the entire dialogue of which I can recite from memory). However, when it comes to books, I will often re-read a good one after a certain interval –some of my favourites I read a few times a year – finding something new and interesting each time.
Having already devoured all of the books that I bought specifically for my upcoming trip ( I have zero willpower when it comes to new novels – it’s worse than having chocolate in the house), I found myself trawling the shelves the other night for one of my reliable old standbys to be my bedside companion for a night or two.
I usually avoid anything that will be too emotionally draining or depressing for night time fare, but I have re-read everything else too recently. I ended up, somewhat reluctantly, picking out Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy which is, for those who haven’t read it, a frank and brutal account of one man’s thoughts as he is poised to abandon his partner of ten years and their two young children.
It’s a complex book. The main character is hugely dislikable: He is cowardly, self-indulgent, disloyal, and relatively unrepentant that he is about to inflict enormous damage upon a woman he once loved and their two young sons. And yet there is something very compelling and honest about him too. He is self-aware. He is deeply pained by the lack of emotional intimacy in his marriage whilst also accepting that he is at least partly responsible for it. He does not want to settle for a life without passion, without the giddy swooning of romantic love, and is prepared to sacrifice the loss of his family for it. He says:
“Without love, most of life remains concealed. Nothing is as fascinating as love, unfortunately”
That sentence was like an arrow to the heart and I sat bolt upright in bed, my pulse beating wildly.
Was I blundering along with most of life concealed? I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
I can’t, hand on my heart, say that I feel exactly fascinated anymore by my love for Husband. I am not sure that I fascinate him anymore either, although he’s clearly very fond of me, but perhaps this is where life is concealed:
Are we not really paying attention any more because we think we know everything there is to know about each other already?
Or are we just too bloody tired to look?
I was gutted by the thought that I could be on a long, slow slide towards death with emotional blinkers on and I felt compelled to take immediate preventative action.
You’re probably thinking that this came in the form of me turning to Husband and rekindling our youthful, childless passion with wild declarations of love and sexy underwear.
That would have been a good idea.
Here’s what I actually did.
I turned to Husband who was snoring, of course, and demanded that he wake up, it was very, very important. He obediently tried to struggle awake and asked what was up.
I started out by reading the sentence to him, and then trying to explain about how I wanted us to be madly in love again, just like we were at the beginning when we lived in separate countries and used to take the Eurostar from Paris to London (or the other way around) on weekends and spend three hours in a state of heightened anticipation waiting to see the other at the station.
Then I said true intimacy was the key to everything, the cornerstone of our friendship, our marriage, to being in love, and we needed to work on that rather than giving one another quick bulletins about lunchboxes and dishwasher rotas on the occasions that we do meet in the kitchen or en-route to attending to a child in one room or other.
He protested that he thought we were still in love, we were just a bit busy at the moment with kids and work and on that subject did I mind if he went back to sleep as we’d be up in a couple of hours with the baby.
I took that as a cue to continue my quest to bring Husband closer with a lengthy explanation of how we were not connected on an intimate level and what was amiss with our current modus operandi.
I felt certain that once he understood exactly what he was doing wrong he’d immediately want to apologise profusely, beg my forgiveness and never do it again.
Probably want to buy me a nice present as well.
Unfortunately, the longer I spoke, the more I recalled occasions Husband had failed to notice or even deliberately spurned opportunities for emotional intimacy and I got upset about them all over again. My voice got louder and louder, shriller and shriller. Bitter tears of self pity came.
Husband said nothing.
He claimed he couldn’t get a word in edgeways but I triumphantly pointed out that he had managed to say “can’t get a word in edgeways” so he might have said something better and more healing in that space, more proof that we had no intimacy and we weren’t in love and it was all his fault so THERE!
After browbeating him with my superior logic for an unspecified amount of time, he finally harrumphed off to the sofa with his pillow and I sat on the bed, wondering how I had ended up even further from my spouse than before I began my futile attempt at getting closer to him. Given that it couldn’t POSSIBLY be my fault, I started casting about for causes of blame.
Number one, of course is fucking HANIF KUREISHI. I told you that book was last on my list.
Number two, dare I say it, is THE CHILDREN.
This is a tough one because they are both the reason we don’t have any time together to spend thinking about each other, nurturing one another, or being able to have fabulous sex without someone bursting in demanding you play fairy snap/wipe their bottom.
And ironically, they are also the single largest driver to stay together and work through issues when we might otherwise have given up. (But then again I’m not sure how many of these issues would have come up if they hadn’t been there provoking them.)
There have been times when the metamorphosis of my relationship with Husband from closely intertwined soul-mates to bickering parodies of our own parents has given me such a sense of doom that I have wanted to jump a freight train.
But because we love the children and want them to have a stable, happy home we suck it up, try to deal with it like grown-ups and remember that nobody wins if somebody loses a fight in a marriage. It is very rewarding to note that we have both benefited from this and have grown and learned a lot, both individually and as a couple.
However, a small, not very mature part of me needs to tell you that being an adult and working on your issues is not as immediately satisfying as shouting FUCK YOU, flouncing off, having four cocktails and chatting up the bartender.
It does have better long-term prospects, though.
Lest anyone worry, I ended up making a pilgrimage to the sofa after a short while, and extending the olive branch to Husband. He very graciously accepted it without pointing out any of my shortcomings (not that I am saying I have any, you understand) and came back to bed. We curled up together silently like spoons in a drawer and I smelled his familiar scent of soap and warm skin and felt his chest hair on my back as I snuggled against him. One would be singing the dawn chorus in a couple of hours, Four would be creeping into bed between us at around the same time, but until then we were alone together in the wee hours of the morning.
No words, just holding hands.