Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, including my own. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older. My view of the world seems to be shifting – sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically, the closer I get to leaving my thirties behind.
Hollywood tells us that our partner should make us happy and in my twenties, I truly believed this was true. My husband needed to know me intimately – not just my basic likes and dislikes, but what I was thinking, what my ever-changing dreams were, and what I secretly desired for my birthday present. If I was not happy it felt like it was his fault. I wanted that scene at the end of a Rom-Com where the man gives an impassioned speech listing all the unique ways he loves the woman in his life: I love that little crinkle you get between your eyebrows when you’re thinking.. I love that you always leave your keys in the pocket of your coat but you think that you’ve left them in the bowl by the door…
Wanting this kind of life, this kind of relationship leads to a lot of wishing and not a lot of peace.
In a book I read recently, I think it was A Little Life by Hanya Yangihara, one of the characters talks about relationships in terms of picking and choosing. The idea was that you get to choose three traits in your partner, maybe four if you’re lucky. For example, you could have loyalty, humour and good conversation but miss out on common interests. I think this is true to an extent. What I learned a few years ago, is that you cannot be all things to your partner, and your partner cannot be all things to you.
It’s okay. But sometimes it’s sad. Maybe, like me, you will even feel some grief attached to knowing, really knowing, that your husband will never be excited to share a certain part of your life with you.
My husband doesn’t read. He’s read my books but he took a long time doing it (long enough for us to have an argument and for me to get my feelings hurt) and he is the first to admit that he’s just not a reader. He doesn’t like sitting still and reading makes him fall asleep (ouch).
I read all the time. I read whenever I’m waiting somewhere for longer than two minutes, as I walk into school in the afternoons, before sleep and as soon as I wake up. I cannot imagine a life without books and without those wonderful mind-travel adventures I’ve been on spanning centuries and countries across the globe. Often, when I read a particularly beautiful piece of writing I look up from my book and briefly look around me, as if I’m searching for someone to share it with. That there is no one there leaves me with a hollowness in my soul that feels almost desperate. There are other things I love that my husband doesn’t care much about: growing food, cooking, pets. But words are me and I am them and so not sharing this, or, I should say, him not understanding this part of me, well, it’s not easy.
But this is the thing. To say, “I want my husband to love poetry!” is both selfish and ridiculous. It’s as silly as my husband saying, “I want my wife to love cars and drums!” But I have said it in the past. The kind and patient reply came from my younger, but often wiser sister. She said, “You just have to find other people to fill that gap for you.” This is true.
It’s too much to ask of our partners to be all things to us, to fulfill every need. What a burden. What a responsibility. I don’t want to be solely responsible for another person’s happiness and I don’t want to hand over the control of my happiness to someone else, either.
So, we choose. In my case, companionship. A shared sense of humour. A mutual love of music, of art, of travel. A commitment to family. Kindness. But not books. Not words.
I’m still searching for the person who will fill my book-shaped hole. There are wonderful people in my online world but there isn’t someone I can connect with face to face. I want to talk F. Scott Fitzgerald over coffee and have someone send me photos of their favourite passages in the book they’re reading in the middle of the night because they just had to show someone, right at that moment. In my imaginings, this person and I take a literary tour when we’re in our sixties, visiting the settings of all of our favourite books. We walk arm and arm and read pages to one another and at night we sleep heavily in our hotel beds, too tired to dream.
Perhaps, one day, this person and I will recognise each other in an instant. Perhaps they also have a book-shaped hole in their soul that I will fit perfectly, as they fit mine.
I like to think so.