A good friend once told me that she had found a book in her parents’ bedroom entitled Hot Monogamy, counseling married couples on how to keep things alive in the bedroom. It is written into our DNA that any mention of the sex lives of our parents or their peers will induce dry retching and a constricting of the airways, but it’s not the disgust that I remember. It’s the pity. How sad, I thought, that a couple could be getting it so wrong, they have to refer to a book to make it right again.
In my early 20s, I thought that the key to happiness in love was simply this: finding the right person. Informed almost entirely by romantic comedies, I knew with certainty that the struggle was all in the preamble, and that once I had decided to seal the deal with a man who felt the same as me, the credits would roll, and the ensuing 40 years would play out in the reflective glow of our perfect first kiss.
During my wedding ceremony, my eloquent, intelligent, nervous husband mispronounced his vows and promised to stay with me through ‘Aversity’. Our preamble had been filled with fight and moving apart and coming back together, we had already had our battles and the idea that there might be more to come was so alien to us that we couldn’t even speak it. We had done the graft, and from this day forward, it was going to be plain sailing. It never occurred to me that the ‘hard work and compromise’ that was spoken about would actually ever be hard work. It never occurred to me to ask why rom-coms rarely get a sequel.
My husband is a good man and a great dad, we make each other laugh, we are respectful of one another, we are kind and supportive. I am, two years into my marriage, happy, but we’re not Hugh Grant and Andy MacDowell, and we have our rightful share of grievances.
Yesterday, as he left for work under the cloud of an unresolved row, I remembered the experience of another friend. During a year of living an East Coast/ West Coast life with her boyfriend, they had religiously read the same books at the same time so that their nightly conversations had some focus other than the boredom and loneliness of being separated by 3000 miles of land mass. My husband and I live in the same house, but we too are conducting a long distance relationship of sorts. The burden that he carries of our financial well-being and my desire for more help, time and sleep all prove to create a distance that physical proximity doesn’t always bridge.
As in so much of my married life and my parenting, I find myself doing exactly the thing that I promised myself I would never do. Not because I’ve given up, or given in, or run out of ideas, but because all of a sudden, the very thing that I dismissed as pedestrian or pointless seems to be exactly the right thing. It turns out that I’m not the mother who takes her 12-week-old baby to India, and I do have to bribe my children to eat vegetables. In that moment, as I formulated the sentence 'let's have a two person book club' I suddenly realized that I am that person. We are that couple. We do need to work at it, and we may even need to take some hints and tips from travelers further down the road than us. For us, it’s not our physical life that needs spicing up, it’s our intellectual one. It is Hot Monogamy for the brain.
So what is it to be? The mini book club? A weekly date? Comandeering a column on the family calendar for ‘quality couple time’? Actually I think it’s easier than that. It’s just about remembering that the man who walks through the front door at the end of the evening is not to blame for everything that goes on behind it, and the woman that he finds there is more than the badly-fitting bra and the snot-smeared jeans might suggest. Just like taking your coat off indoors so you’ll feel the benefit, the one conversation we that have in 10 which veers away from the big four (work, money, children, food) has the power to take me right to a place where he and I are simply two individuals who are together because we choose to be, not because of contracts, children, bricks and mortar, and beyond. I value our time together more than I ever did pre-kids.
So it turns out that I was wrong back then, when Hot Monogamy was nothing more to me than a sign of something I would never be. I do have to work at it, but I was right too. I did find the right person, it’s just that now I know that the right person is the one who makes the hard slog worth it.