Róisín Ingle on . . . the distance between us
Every now and then a relationship falters. The rows over sideboard clutter, unwashed floors and who had the audacity to watch the final episode of Orange Is The New Black behind the back of the other one escalates. Then it spirals from the trivial to the traumatic. Harsh words are spoken. Stuff that can’t be unsaid or unheard is said and heard. In your mind’s eye you become two cowboys standing back to back, all that distance and dust and tumbleweed looming between you, wondering who is going to turn around and fire the first shot.
It’s hard to ignore someone completely when you live in a house with only one wing. If I had an East Wing, or even a North East Wing I’d just hole up there until it all blew over. But it’s impossible not to keep bumping into the other cowboy going in or out of the bathroom. And our sofa is really uncomfortable for sleeping. And counselling is out of our budget. And we’ve these two children who keep demanding “family hugs” and you’d rather die than not be part of that. So you have no choice. You have to do something.
An emergency date night is scheduled and over black pudding croquettes – a little detour here to tell you the ones at the Marker Hotel in Dublin are to, like, die for? – I take out three printed pages from my mini-backpack and start our business meeting. The business we are at is trying to avoid living in separate houses. That really would be out of our budget.
As my younger sister always says with a sigh and a knowing Oprah face, relationships are tricky. Love’s not enough. Nothing’s enough except hard work. That’s what all the books say. So I do what all right-thinking people do these days when they want expert advice. I Google “how to save a relationship”. I strike it lucky first time. I print out two copies of the advice and we sit in a hotel foyer scanning our A4 pages, surrounded by theatre-goers, trying to find some common ground.
What’s fortunate is that we are on the same page. The one that says first you have to figure out if you both want to save the relationship. It takes us about half a second to agree that we do. Which is a relief and not just because I’ve my eye on the lamb for main course. Most of the advice is sensible and straightforward and probably would have cost hundreds of euro if we went down the counselling route.
We go through it point by point: learn to open up again, don’t be passive-aggressive, find a new interest to pursue together, make time for romance, take a trip down memory lane, start something new, blah, blah, blah. I mean it’s exhausting but we agree it all makes sense and after a while I put the pages back in my backpack and we just talk in a way we haven’t for months. Possibly years.
The advice is all very well. But what we discover is that what’s really fuelling our latest stand-off is that neither of us is doing the things we should be for ourselves. The things that keep us on an even keel. The stuff that makes us healthy and happy. Of mind and of body. These things are different for everyone. I need to sing more. He needs somatic exercise. I need to eat better and to move more. He needs meditation. I need to watch back-to-back episodes of Don’t Tell The Bride. He needs time on his own with the entire Liverpool Football Club. Lack of self-care, is what it boils down to, lack of self-love. A sort of poison spreading. That shouty everywoman in the audience of Oprah/Jerry Springer/Trisha was right. “If you don’t love yo-self how you gonna love nobody else?” How? You can’t. You just can’t.
The Germans have a proverb: Eigenliebe macht die Augen trübe. It means self-love clouds the eyes. I think though, if it’s pure, self-love can lift the clouds. All this takes hours and three courses and a tell-it-like-it-is Bloody Mary and a hopeful sounding “Passionata” but there’s some serious relief in seeing that there is a solution. The distance between us shrinks. The dust settles. A sense of joy returns. It’s hard work, yes, but at least there’s a plan now. A roadmap. You follow it or you don’t. You hole up on the sofa or you knuckle down in the house with no wings, and try to fly.
Last night the internet and some amazing black pudding croquettes saved my relationship. Until the next time, anyway.