Seán Moncrieff: What’s the secret of a good relationship? You’re both annoying

Every couple comes to a working arrangement, or fails to, in their own intricate way

Daughter Number Two is going through a phase of theorising about what makes a relationship work. As a case study, she says myself and Herself are very similar. We have a lot in common. We have a lot of opinions about what we have in common. There’s always something to talk about. Annoyingly, we are that couple who’ll go to a party and end up yakking to each other for the night.

All of which is true, but also not. Our brains are wired quite differently.

For example: Herself is a legendary cleaner; by which I mean that friends and family are in awe, even a little afraid, of her commitment to cleanliness. On visits to other peoples’ houses, they will sometimes apologise to her in advance about the state of their homes; which, of course, is completely unnecessary. Herself isn’t judgy about these things. She already knows she’s better than you.

It's one of my jobs to put everything away. Obviously, these tasks are not equivalent in time or effort. But that's not my point here: she's clean, but I'm tidy

In action, she’s like a slightly terrifying natural phenomenon. Unlike me, she doesn’t stagger down the stairs every morning, hoping to be revived by caffeine: she gallops down, laundry in arms, already all business. She has the focus of a guided missile. No barrier will stop her, including the flimsy constraints of privacy. While showering before I go to work, she’ll routinely enter the bathroom to wipe or empty something. She’s usually followed by the dog, ball in her mouth, who blithely assumes that I’ll happily abandon my ablutions to go in for some naked ball tossing.


Yes, I know: sexist pig complains about being interrupted while his wife does all the work. I won’t fight my corner here. I know I’d lose. Or come a respectable second place. What I will say is that Herself’s thunder shot of cleaning energy always comes to a sudden end. Once it’s over, the various cleaning tools are abandoned around various and often surprising parts of the house. The mop is in the back garden. The hoover is in the bath.

It’s one of my jobs to put everything away. Obviously, these tasks are not equivalent in time or effort. But that’s not my point here: she’s clean, but I’m tidy. While Herself is constantly at war with dust, I’m at war with all the stuff that inexplicably turns up in random parts of the house. Daughter Number Four constructs toy villages on the upstairs landing. Other daughters seem to feel that the sofa is for sitting, eating and leaving coats on.

But Herself is the worst of them. There’s a constant pile of clothes in our bedroom which may or may not be enroute to somewhere else. And shoes, mostly runners, are everywhere; not abandoned, but secreted on chairs or under tables: as if she may need to do some emergency running and will need them close by. She can’t explain why she does this, just that it made sense at the time.

Then again, my tidiness is similarly strange. I have thousands of CDs, all alphabetised. My records are on different shelves and organised as Jazz, Soul, Funk and White People. Much to Herself’s amusement, I arranged the books in one part of the house by colour.

Herself worries that, if she wasn't around, I'd spend a lot of my time saying: I thought the oven was always that colour

I worry that if I wasn’t around, Herself might get buried under a massive pile of shoes: just as she worries that, if she wasn’t around, I’d spend a lot of my time saying: I thought the oven was always that colour.

When I have the chats with Daughter Number Two, I sometimes pretend at a degree of relationship wisdom. But I’m spoofing, really: there’s a central mystery about why two people get on, but two others do not. Each couple come to a working arrangement, or fail to, in their own intricate way.

There’s no overall template. Only clues: care and consideration, of course, but also a willingness to accept that the other party can occasionally be really annoying; just as you can be really annoying too.