Sulking is infantile, especially with your 'manpanion'
Coping: Direct your sullen stares at Percy Bysshe Shelley not the object of your affections
Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran 1819. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London
It is difficult to know what to call one’s other half if you’re under 40 and unmarried. In fact, “other half” implies a rather pathetic lack of personal completion, as though you’re somehow invisible below the waist.
Mine prefers “partner”, though I think that sounds like we are in our 50s and run a small putting green in the south of England. “Boyfriend” sounds as though our relationship is conducted entirely through the activity of kissing behind bike sheds. “Lover” conjures up images of agonisingly insouciant and elegant Parisians arguing about cigarillos on a chaise longue.
Last week I suggested “manpanion”, but he dismissed that as sounding canine. I don’t know what to call him any more, so I suppose I’ll have to call him by his name. I’m not buying a chaise longue.
Tsunami of silence
He and I had a disagreement, and I found myself engaging in that most infantile of behaviours within a relationship: sulking. You’ll recognise the scenario. You have an expectation that the other person will anticipate a specific need. They don’t react as you wish, and your response is to stonewall them with a tsunami of passive-aggressive silence. “What’s wrong?” they will ask, and you will reply with a steely gaze and a flinty “Nothing”.
But it’s not nothing. It is never, ever nothing.
Of course, it’s never anything particularly terrible either. This behaviour always arises from something small, a moment of feeling overlooked and consequently disappointed in your man/womanpanion. Perhaps you go with them to their friend’s birthday and they leave you by yourself for a bit too long, so you eat four pieces of cake and grow resentful. Maybe you have been working on something important, and they forget to ask you how it’s going when you’re feeling insecure about it.
You can’t have an outright argument; that would be to admit your vulnerability. So you shut down and affect a glassy surface while, below, the piranhas are massing. A simple explanation that we feel vulnerable and slighted is all that’s needed, but we can’t bring ourselves to make it.
I blame Percy Shelley, one of the great Romantic poets and a man who was frankly more winsomely pretty than any of the many women he had dalliances with. I found him as distasteful as his poetry is sublime when I read that he described himself as being more “tempted” than others rather than “weaker”. This from a man who eloped almost as often as he tousled his floppy hair, and married Mary Shelley three weeks after his pregnant wife had committed suicide.
Shelley was one of many poets who popularised the idea that love was some sort of cosmic melding of minds, in which your partner/lover/ whatever will see into your deepest self and pre-emptively empathise with you; that they will understand your needs without the need for such a paltry vulgarity as language.
It’s a lovely idea, and does actually bear out at the beginning of a relationship with a deeply compatible person. To an extent, they can guess correctly, but in the long term it gets complex.
Have you ever telepathically asked someone to make you spaghetti hoops on toast because you have cramps? When we are children, our deep needs are met without us having to ask. The spaghetti hoops on toast just appear, and we feel loved and cocooned and nurtured. The sulk comes from the mistaken belief that a partner should make us feel how our parents made us feel, which is a bit concerning.
Love doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have to explain or express our needs. It is being open to the explanation and accepting responsibility. Still, why not drag Shelley under the bus with me if I can?