Having written a book about infidelity, it is amazing how many people have approached me with stories of their own or others close to them. One of the commonalities, amongst all the differences in who, how and where, is that their partners were usually blindsided. Whether it was the husband or the wife who went looking for something outside their marriage, when they announced they were leaving, their partners had no idea it was coming.
For anyone who is married or in a serious relationship, this is obviously scary. While we like to think that we know our partners and how everything is rolling, it seems that the people who were on the receiving end also thought this and were wrong. You can never know what chance encounters or events conspire to leave yourself or your partner open to the suggestion of others. Maybe it has something to do with our age, as most people I’m chatting with are around the same age as me, nearing forty with all the kids at school, but a lot of marriages are breaking down. When I ask why, partly for research and mostly because there might be something to learn from it, the reasons seem to be something that is resolvable (he/she never listened to me) or that was present from the beginning of the relationship (I don’t like his friends/family). No one has said because they fell madly in love with someone else, though a someone else is generally there in the background.
Given the level of difficulty managing new partners and extra children of blended families, especially around holidays, you’d have to really want out to put yourself through the aggravation and negotiation stretching for years ahead. Which begs the question – was the choice of partner wrong in the beginning or do people change? Or does what we want out of relationships change over time and if your partner doesn’t flow in the same direction is it largely inevitable that you will one day look across the table and feel nothing but the desire to flee? Maybe the couples who stay together are mostly lucky, and any smugness felt at not getting divorced has less to do with any conscious decisions you have made, but that you were fortunate that events outside your control went in your favour. There, but for the grace of God, go all of us.
This week I nearly killed the goldfish. His name is Boots, named by a few years ago by a child in the thick of Dora the Explorer fever. Being someone who grew up with a variety of pets, I understand that pet deaths are mostly inevitable, though sometimes due to carelessness. The most striking example of this from my childhood was the short-lived Yabby the yabbie (a small crustacean) who lasted exactly one change of water in the tank. While it was great that my brother was so proactive cleaning it out, he forgot that Yabby was a saltwater creature, not a freshwater one. In case you had any doubt, it matters.
So why do I feel particularly guilty about Boots? Well, Boots is a survivor – he outlasted his original companion Dora, who went off exploring into the sky on week one, then Tico and Benny (the golden snails who were supposed to clean the tank) and a much later companion Swiper, who lasted a couple of months. He’s been through so much over the years, and I really sort of bonded with him. He watches me in the kitchen and begs against the side of the tank for me to come and drop the manna from heaven. I don’t really expect the child who “owns” him to actually feed him, so I have really assumed responsibility for it. And I forgot. For I don’t know how many days. He was limply flapping around, barely moving. I thought he was gone. And that was when I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I sprinkled those fishy smelling flakes to his gaping little mouth.
This week I’ve been assuaging my guilt by nursing him back to health. Today, he was almost back to his old perky self, flipping his tail around with only a hit of dorsal fin droop. In my guilt spiral, I flirted with releasing him into the wild, where he wouldn’t be adversely affected by an inattentive owner and could seek out his own food. Then I realised what a ridiculous though that was – a goldfish in the wild? Surely it would last mere moments. We keep creatures in our houses that are completely reliant on us, bred to be unable to survive on their own. They are as reliant on us as we are on technology, helpless if it were taken away. Without my phone, computer, tablet or more basically, dishwasher, washing machine, etc I too would struggle. I am Boots.
I seem to be on a bit of a roll – first secrets and now rumours – but it is particularly topical, given my day today. Luckily for me, I wasn’t the one being talked about, but there’s nothing to stop it happening to me too, or anyone really. The facts were scanty but the words being thrown around were worryingly harsh.
When your kids go to the nearby public school, you encounter people regularly on a social level that are different to you in many ways – race, religion, ideas on how to raise kids and the importance of vegetables. Though I have to admit, where I live doesn’t have a vast amount of racial and religious offerings on the school smorgasbord, I think this makes the small differences seem far larger. The people being talked about would have a fairly similar social and educational background to me and work in traditional fields. So far, so good. They went through what seems to be a bad divorce though and I’m not sure if this is where the trouble started or if something had happened prior to this, but of the many people talking about them, not a good word was said about either. And that’s enough to make other people who might otherwise have been friendly, stay away.
Obviously, getting divorced is harrowing and unpleasant and it is the rare person who is able to set aside their weapons and endure it with grace. The people around them may only see the worst side, particularly when the former spouses collide in public and small children are involved and emotions high. Because most people will not be taken into their confidence of both, they know one side or the other or merely observe the strained relationship and come to their own conclusions. This, I think, is where the worst of the rumours start. Not being close to either party, there is no obligation to hold back and with each subsequent retelling over the day, the details became more scandalous. What is worse is although I saw the evolution of the rumour and recognised that the lack of detail was getting filled in too quickly to have had any verification done, I had to keep a firm hold of the part of me that really wanted to join in. Why, when I knew I had nothing to base it on, did I want to contribute something? I gave myself a mental spanking, but I’m still thinking about it and whether I have been on the receiving end of similar treatment but just don’t know about it. To write means that you expose parts of yourself, cleverly hidden amongst other details in the storyline of course, and you never know what people are going to assume about you after reading your books. There is no way to prevent it – even if you hide out in your home people will still talk. If what people say about you is none of your business, why should you still have to deal with the fall-out?
Sand, sand and more sand. I love the beach but would love it more if it stayed where it is supposed to be, which is picturesquely on the actual beach and not in my kindle, ears and sheets. Small children are magnets for sand and even after a thorough rinsing, seemingly retain it by the handful, cleverly stashed somewhere on their little person, only leaving them when they climb into bed with you where the magnetic property disappears and you’re left to exfoliate while you sleep. I woke up yesterday, thoroughly encrusted, my night cream having acted like glue. It made for a spectacularly romantic moment with my husband, who made a small “eep” of fear when he opened his eyes to my gloriously glamorous self, salt-encrusted hair reaching for the sky and aforementioned skin covered with sand looking like I’ve half-turned into a crocodile.
There is something quite enjoyable about still being able to startle a long standing partner. Sure, it’s not the romantic, “I love you so much I want to consume you (in a non-Hannibal Lector sort of way)” but not many couples I know still have that. Strangely enough, the ones that did are largely divorced now and fighting over custody of the soup tureen. Fear and laughter can make a glue that, like sand in the bed and night cream, may not be particularly comfortable, but can still hold a relationship together.