The path to true love that begins with active disdain
Some of the university friends I believed would stay together for ever are showing signs of strain, says Celia Walden.
Some years back, while stuck in a traffic jam, I turned to look out of my window to find the man in the car beside mine pretending to be asleep in the passenger seat. His right eye – the eye nearest his wife, who was talking and gesticulating wildly in the driver’s seat – was closed, but the left one – the one staring blankly at the road – was open. Marriage, I laughed to myself – who needs it? I’m married myself now, but the image has stayed with me: a reminder of the potential souring of human relationships.
Not that I need a reminder. Some of the university friends I believed would stay together for ever are showing signs of strain. Just this week, the expression “trial separation” was being bandied about by one couple. I have no idea what that means, but my older brother did once tell me that around the ages of 37 and 38 the divorces start. One of my closest male friends, however, thinks he’s found the answer.
For years, Alex has being going out with a girl he doesn’t actually like. Now we’ve sat him down and patiently explained that he’s got this relationship lark all wrong, that a phone call from your girlfriend is meant to prompt a smile, not a grimace of exasperation, and that holidays with your chosen other are something to be looked forward to and relished – not indefinitely postponed because the idea of it being just you, her and some jovial Jamaican water-sports guy is worse than the prospect of life in a Turkish jail. But he wouldn’t listen, and over the years, something curious began to happen. First, the active disdain Alex felt for his girlfriend mellowed into indifference, then an apathy tinged with fondness took over. It’s all part of the plan, he assures us. “While your partnerships move irrevocably away from passion and respect towards irritability, a faint disgust and then, finally – that death knoll of the relationship – contempt, mine can only ever get better.”