Argument is essential to the progress of the human race: this much I have been told. However, your forays into the art that millions of couples have made their own are less than impressive. The paltry parade of petty rows which punctuate the space you occupy together do not make you a modern day Burton & Taylor, with the angry, sexual tension leading to great creative output and even greater moments of bodily passion. They don’t even make you Princess Margaret & Lord Snowdon. Regular rows erupting from calling her best friend annoying (which she is) or his new shoes ridiculous (which they are) isn’t a sign of a pair of star-crossed lovers frustrated by the tight corset of societal convention, but rather signifies that a couple is roughly another half a year of mediocre sexual relations away from a shackled lifetime of Saturday-spent-choosing-a-toaster-sadness.
Your usual Saturday afternoon consists of tacitly turning your phone to airplane mode at some point at around midday, and then sinking just enough drinks with your friends over the course of an afternoon to weather the cyclonic eruption of furious WhatsApp messages when the Faustian pact with your iPhone 7 finally ends.
There are couples who exist – one or two at most dotted across each of the great conurbations of the world – who are genuinely amusing in one another’s company. Be it in a smoking area or at a dinner party table, their shared repartee of tales, impressions, and jokes makes them social gold dust. I must be so bold as to inform you that you are not one of said couples. And deep in your heart of hearts, as the deceit of your own hollow laughter at his rehashed anecdotage twitches through your conscience, you know this to be an unswerving truth.
That time is like an ever-rolling stream which bears its sons away is a fact of which you are increasingly aware. Forty is no longer the far-off pinnacle it once seemed, so understandably, your time is more precious than it once was, thus each second you waste pretending to find his irredeemable humour even almost amusing becomes a weeping sore of resentment, as the realisation dawns that the reaper will not give you them back on credit when that dread moment finally comes.
‘I love to be the worst of company’ – so wrote the master of irony, Dean Swift. When a flash of revelation breaks through your now regular bouts of solipsism, you become aware that you lost the attention of the room sometime in mid-2017 by your rhetorical domination of parties, with your tales of your Bank Holiday in Lisbon, and by the fraught pride with which you announce just how many weddings you’re attending that summer. You realise, then, that your conversazioni makes the earliest Icelandic sagas seem both entertaining and pithy, and so you wonder, over searching and profound hours, whether the great Dean’s line does not in fact apply, unironically, to you.
It would be eminently distasteful to detail acts of copulation in a publication such as this one. This having been said, when your sex life has only two settings – unsatisfactory fumbles on a Sunday sofa interspersed with the occasional, furious act of stress relieving congress that can only come about through mutual loathing – something is indeed amiss. Neither of these extremes is tenable as a model for the next fifty years of intercourse.
‘If music be the food of love, play on. Give excess of it’ – the Bard of Avon’s words, placed so plumly onto the lips of Duke Orsino, shape our understanding of every note we will ever hear; from the Baby Bach CD strained by an anxious mother keen to counter-balance a glass of sangria, to whichever moving expression of individuality you select to have played at your funeral. However, the dulcet tones to which your love life currently waltzes are not the swelling strings that provide the soundtrack to a Hollywood romance, nor even the grimy tunes that have accompanied many an equally sordid house party hookup. Rather it is Destiny Child’s 1999 hit Say My Name; a track you only affected to like after you found out on date two that your now other half knows all the words, learnt in between drinking vodka and vomiting at teenage sleepovers. That affectation was a pathetic yet successful ruse to gain short-term access to the courts of Venus. Now you’re eighteen months in, and a little fed-up of hearing her slur ‘acting kinda shady, ain’t calling me baby’ in an impeccable Home Counties drawl every time she has more than two rum and cokes. Excess of this sort, understandably, is beginning to make you sick.
It is said, and I have no reason to doubt it, that hackers in the employ of the Russian state are aware of almost every action of some nine-tenths of the populations of the great Western Powers. Such a level of knowledge about your online activities pales into insignificance when compared with the level of information that your other half has compiled on you. The Kremlin may have access to your bank details, but your partner has access to that ill-thought out bout of sexting you went through. You’re much better off escaping now, thereby limiting the damage to a leak of some photos of a regrettable visit to a continental nude beach, or a screenshot of an embarrassingly mawkish Valentine’s greeting.
When Michelangelo produced his Pietà, contemporaries earnestly believed it to be a miracle, such was the skill with which he managed to render stone as flesh. We, happily free from centuries of superstition, know that it was through a careful study of the human form that the master breathed such life into marble. By contrast, the fruits of your intimate eighteen-month-or-so study of a particular corporeal form has resulted in a fixation with a mole on your loved one’s lower right thigh. This observation has transformed a figure formerly ensconced in your mind as one of Aphroditean perfection into what you know it to be now: foul flesh; inevitable dust.
You have, at some point, persuaded yourselves that and M & S Dine In For Two meal offer is an acceptable way to spend a Friday evening. The inward thoughts of your hearts told you it was wrong, and the reheated seafood paella and Chilean white turned to ash in your mouth accordingly. Despite this, there is a very real threat you might be wearily convincing yourself to do the same again (‘Shoreditch is a long way to go for a house party, I don’t know Becky that well but I do like Shepherd’s Pie’ etc). While you might forgive each other for this sin, society will not. Amend your ways accordingly.
It dawned on you twenty minutes into the first pub-based awkward conference, that the great forces of your loved one’s life were never going to be in concert. You hate his friends and his friends hate you. Necessity is, however, invention’s mother, and duly reconciled to a course of false interest, you bore these boors with sweetness and patience. Which is more than he managed with your friends (who are, of course, epitomes of wit, honesty, and good humor – even if they can’t quite fathom what you see in him). Now the truce is practically over – any number of events could serve as the casus belli (from your learning about that impression they perform of you, or his discovery that your friends all know that he routinely weeps at the cinema). So if conflict is inevitable, you must ask yourself whether you have the reserves (of energy, affection, and comprimising screenshots) to fight the inevitable fight.
Money ought to be the ruler of our heads but not our hearts, and to enter into a relationship solely on financial considerations in this day and age would be inexcusable. Yet, after a certain period of time together, heartstrings and pursestrings inevitably become intertwined, and when they become dangerously entangled – such as when you face paying for a looming trip abroad that you barely agreed to in the first place – you will quite sensibly find your head winning out over your heart, and googling how expensive a removal van back to your parents’ place would actually be.
When one first meets the parents of a paramour, first impression is, of course, paramount. After much preparation, one’s conversation sparkles, one’s visage is bright, one dares not even venture downstairs for a glass of water in the depths of the night, lest your hosts are woken, so determined are you to impress on them the idea that you are the perfect match for their offspring. Now, as familiarity has bred, reared and helped contempt get its first mortgage, the in-laws-not-to-be are lucky if they hear an uninterested question about their recent holiday over an otherwise silent supper; or likelier still, a cursory thought as you steamroll your way through their fridge, their drinks cabinet and their Sky Movies package, while recovering from a weekend at a festival conveniently situated about five miles from their house.
You have binned every item of white clothing you ever owned. You have begun taking detours to avoid walking past churches. You weep near florists. You will never, ever suggest Venice, or Paris, or even the London Eye as a trip for two. If he so much as kneels to tie up a shoelace, you feel lightheaded – and not in a good way. Even jokes about it from your oldest friends are shut down with an utterly unflinching seriousness, and you have long perfected the art of the calmed half-smile when one of your parents’ grotesque friends makes an allusion to when, and exactly when, you might just be wed. But still, the goblin-like figure of Richard Curtis haunts your dreams, instilling you with the very real fear that yours will be one of the four weddings; when in fact, you’ve already told yourself that you’d absolutely slay it in black at his funeral.
You’re just not that into each other any more.