Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Hour of the Oyster*

The other night, whilst reading in bed, I looked at my left hand and thought I'll never get to wear a ring on my fourth finger. I don't know why it suddenly occurred, or re-occurred, to me then but it did, nor why my eyes this time welled. It must have been the lateness of the hour when thoughts are more intriguing or poignant.
The book was laid down flat on my lap and the matter considered. Why was it bothering me now, when the reason was more choice than circumstantial? And when I've never hankered after any of that? That being the shared life, the shared space, the belonging to another, or the big white wedding: the frothy dress, flowers, church.
Okay, so you don't have to do it that way, but some people live for that day: walking down an aisle towards their intended with friends and relatives looking on. Frankly, the whole idea of that she-bang makes me want to run. But the big day is really a minor concern because afterwards, when the knot's been tied, there's the whole living together, which the majority of couples today will have been doing beforehand anyway, but then it gets real. More real. You can't just walk away when you've had enough, well you could, but legally you'd still be bound to each other, and undoing that is no picnic, not so much for the paperwork involved but in the untangling of yourselves emotionally speaking. And I'm not sure that is ever achieved, in spite of the ex you eventually put in front of wife or husband.
Marriage is tough, even in the best of examples where illness and death parts the union, because in those bridged years there's been struggles within and struggles without; there's been learning when to support and when to be supported; there's been knowing when to give space and when to give undivided attention; there's been forgiveness; there's been compromises, and, of course, there's been love. Love of some description, though it may not have been the highly romanticised version that we see everyday in films and on billboards or read about in novels. Love, whatever its form, changes, and that's their success story: the fact that they've let it.
And so, it begs the question: can you ever truly know someone outside of wedlock? And if you commit, do you spend your whole life together trying?
Surely, even within a marriage there's a part of you held back. Just for you. But then perhaps that's where my thinking is wrong. All barriers have to be broken down and none kept, for what's the point otherwise. Isn't that a prerequisite of marriage and in general coupling: to give all of yourself to another?
It's on and at this point my head goes into its usual spin. For aren't you then just Mr and Mrs and not individually Jane and John, or Jane and Janet, or John and James. Joined together, like conjoined twins, as symbolised by the exchange of rings. Individual thinking must diminish – from now on you must think as a pair.
You have to admit there is an element of that; you can't continue to be what you were. And for a person who likes their own company, more than the permanent presence of others, that prospect, imagined or actual, is naturally scary. It's not a simple diagnosis of fear or selfishness; for some people being alone and having time alone can be as vital as life-giving water. Without it they shrivel inside, until it manifests on the outside, giving them a pained expression as if all the nerves running the length of their bodies are being pinched. Their malaise reached a critical level: is the relationship worth it?
Ask yourself, could you go through life with that degree of tenseness? For at its heart that is what it is: an inability to relax and an wanting to please, not just themselves but someone else all the time. There has to be a loser and usually it's the one whose most concerned about the loss, potentially, of their identity and how they've thus far navigated life.
I'm not equal to that task, of having what others prize, for in those circumstances I'm far more likely to choose the oyster over the pearl.

*Title in reference to 'the hour of the pearl' as coined by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row.

Picture credit: Oysters, Edouard Manet