Saturday, 30 October 2010

Still together

Curious as we are, there are questions we hesitate to ask long-established couples, because there's always a sub-text that's a bit dodgy.

Like "So how come you're still together after 17 years?" which translates as "But you're like chalk and cheese. You squabble all the time. You like completely different things. Surely you should have split up ages ago?"

Secretly you keep wondering how they continue to rub along after so many years. Surely they've both changed so much they must now irritate the hell out of each other? But you just can't ask. It implies all the wrong things.

Even less can you ask "So how's your sex life? Still going strong?" because there's always the awful possibility they gave up on it long ago, or one of them has bizarre sexual tastes the other finds repulsive.

Asking if they're the same fiery political radicals they used to be can be hazardous too. You might find one of them's done a stealthy U-turn and become a crusty old bigot railing at the feckless and the workshy.

It may be that that old-established couple is just as compatible and besotted as they were on day one. They may still get on like a house on fire. But asking too many leading questions is inviting disaster.

Instead of a cheerful confirmation that they've never been closer, you might suddenly get frosty stares, shifty evasions and elaborate lies. Or even a bitter rant about how their other half doesn't understand them, is an obsessive control freak, or is emotionally paralysed.

Wiser just to enjoy their company and their apparently still viable relationship than to broach those delicate questions you're dying to ask. They could backfire dramatically.

And naturally Jenny and I remain as compatible and besotted after 29 years. How could you suggest anything different? What do you mean, how's our sex life? What do you mean, are we still fiery political radicals? How dare you, what a cheek. What is this, the Gestapo? Kindly leave the premises immediately....

No, the pic's not me and Jenny, just a happy-looking couple!

24 comments:

kylie said...

when a couple appear incompatible i dont wonder why they are still together, inertia answers that.
i wonder what got them together in the beginning? was it always like this?
people have actually asked me about my sex life so not everyone thinks pesonal questions are off limits :)

Eryl said...

What a lovely couple you are (that is you, I take it) so come on, what's your secret?!

Nick said...

Kylie - But it might not be inertia, and the apparent incompatibility may be just your assumption....

Those people who ask about your sex life presumably know you're not embarrassed by the subject?

Eryl - No, the pic's not us, just a happy-looking couple! What's our secret? Ooh, that would be telling. Well, I guess just plenty of give and take, mutual tolerance and a shared view of the world.

Leah said...

Nick, what a funny and well-written post. Sarge and I have been together for 20 years and no one's ever asked us how we do it! I wish they would. I would say "tenacity and good conversation, though not necessarily in that order!"

xo Leah

Wisewebwoman said...

Nick:
If the couple are obviously happy together for me there is always the one word that doesn't appear in too many answers in questionnaires such as this:

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

XO
WWW
PS And I've known enough toxic couples, enough not to give a shite as to what their answers might be.

Nick said...

Leah - Well, there you are, I rest my case! Tenacity and good conversation - I think those would be ingredients in our relationship as well. The intellectual stimulus of sharp conversation is so important.

Nick said...

www - Respect is important too. Once couples start to undervalue and denigrate each other, the rot has really set in. Like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

e said...

Nick,

This struck a chord, mostly because I've never found anyone with whom I would enjoy a long term relationship.

People like my grandparents who were married for over fifty years knew that they were in it for the long haul, they also knew that everyday would not be blissful. Additionally, they had a sense of themselves as a family and as part of a larger community. Sometimes I think these things are lacking for people today. Two of their three children were divorced, the other a widower who re-married happily.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Flip and I have been together for 19 years, which is much longer than I ever thought I could be with anyone. A lot has changed for us as he has Alzheimer's and I am his caregiver. I still love the man I married although he recedes a bit more every day and loyalty and simple compassion become more important than the things we used to share. But "we'll always have Paris."

Nick said...

e - Yes, couples saw things very differently a few decades ago. They were more determined to make the relationship last whatever the difficulties. And they stuck together "for the sake of the family". Nowadays people are less willing to keep going regardless.

Heart - Your relationship with Flip has obviously changed a great deal. As you say, loyalty and compassion have superseded other qualities that are no longer meaningful.

Grannymar said...

It is not always necessary to ask those questions, the answers are engraved in the body language particularly the eyes!

kylie said...

i guess i am famously open but i am able to be surprised by some peoples inquisitiveness

Nick said...

Grannymar - Yes, body language and expressions can give plenty of clues as to the state of the relationship.

Kylie - So what have they been too inquisitive about?

kylie said...

am i getting any? is the question that blew me away

Megan said...

You never told me you knew my parents.

Nick said...

Kylie - Hey, that's a bit forward. And did you ask them if THEY were getting any?

Megan - So which bit is your parents? Chalk and cheese? Bizarre sexual tastes? Crusty old bigot? Now you've got me really curious....

rummuser said...

I can relate to your post completely. All those questions were asked before Urmeela passed away, and now the questions are different but often the themes go back to how we managed to stay together for 40+ years. I guess that it is difficult to explain quite how that happens when the comfort levels are very high and people cannot accept that it could happen to someone.

Nick said...

Ramana - Yes, I think some people simply can't believe that a couple can be together for umpteen years and actually be happy. Surely they must be going at each other hammer and tongs by now?

secret agent woman said...

From my work, I can tell you that compatibility is not really a predictor of people staying together. Some couples who are fairly compatible still don't stay together, some insanely incompatible couples do. I was with someone for 20 years - we were pretty well aligned on politics, humor, parenting, finances and even had a solid sex life right until the end. But it did end.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - I suppose it's possible to be too compatible, to the point where you just bore each other with your similarities. And as you say, some apparently hugely incompatible couples are somehow good for each other. Who can fathom it out?

Liz said...

I think if you can get through bad times as well as good times together then you've probably found the secret. Even if you don't know what it is.

Nick said...

Liz - Yes, that's probably a pretty good rule-of-thumb. It's the major crises, like repossession or a serious illness, that really test the strength of a relationship.

mrsnesbitt said...

22 years for hubby & I! Best 22 years of my life! Bring it on!

Nick said...

Mrs Nesbitt - I can only echo your sentiments. Jenny and I have made an excellent team. We complement each other in so many ways.