I really like my husband. He once made me laugh so much that just thinking of it now, many years later, makes me snort with mirth until I’m wheezy. He’s so kind that our eldest two kids have launched a campaign called #FreeDad because they claim that his selfless service to me in providing endless cups of coffee and basically whatever else I want, is actually a form of slavery. He – in his typical understated manner – just shakes his head at them and refuses to be goaded. He once drove round town in the middle of the night to get me a slush puppy because I had a pregnancy craving for one. This is just who he is. When I started theology college and had to be up at 6am to catch an early train, he would get up at 5:45 so he could make me coffee to take with me.
Now, in case you’re now rolling your eyes and making the puking gesture with your fingers, let me help you out by saying that some nights I also lie next to him in bed and imagine smothering him to death with the pillow, or ramming my thumbs up his nose; anything to stop the god-awful noise he sometimes makes whilst sleeping. This is marriage ladies and gentleman: a match of two wildly distinct halves. Lockdown marriage? An entirely different game altogether.
We have spent every single day of the past year together. Every boring, interminable, endless one of them. Apart from brief solo forays out of the house to walk the dogs or visit the supermarket, we are together every waking moment. Next to each other at the dining table as we work. Next to each other on the sofa of an evening. Bumping into one another in our narrow kitchen. Sleeping next to each other every night. We are not separate individuals anymore with distinct, autonomous personalities but have instead merged into one seamless, fusion couple, like a hideous Poundland Brangelina. This is marriage, lockdown style.
We finish each other’s sentences, or sometimes we don’t even bother with words because we’re raising four kids on our own during a global pandemic and words are a lot of effort. For example:
Me: “Oh gosh, did you remember to –“
Him: “I did it.”
Me: “Even the?”
Me: <Raises eyebrows> “So.”
Him: <Raises eyes brows back> “I KNOW.”
Both: <Laughs in smug married.>
This symbiosis is the payoff you get for no longer having the extreme sweetness you had when you were newly weds and still did all those things that were important when you first got together: getting excited about Valentine’s Day, buying thoughtful presents for one another, wearing sexy knickers (me) that look like dental floss and feel like cheese wire; noticing the sexy knickers (him.) Then one day, you realise that over 16 years have passed and you’ve settled into a rhythm as roomy and comfortable as the sensible drawers you now inevitably wear.
Now you’re constantly surrounded by all the children you’ve made (note to self: unprotected sex gets people pregnant) so now it’s silence in the bedroom as if you still live with your parents, except your parents are surly teens and pre-teens who recoil in disgust if you so much as look at one another in an amorous fashion, and they are awake all the time for the sole purpose of nuking your sex life. So it seems.
Now, please don’t think that the passion in our marriage has all gone, far from it! Things are still very exciting, in their own way. For example, I occasionally like him to talk dirty to me in Italian: “Spaghetti alla Puttanesca…ragu alla Bolognese…” Or “Pizza margarita.” You know, sexy stuff like that. Romance is not dead in this marriage! Sometimes we even mouth kiss, but only if there’s no children watching (which is for approximately 3 minutes out of every 24 hour period.)
I know of so many relationships that have hit the skids since the pandemic began. Relationships with fault lines or even hairline fractures, have discovered to their cost that lockdown was a strain too far. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. I wonder how many relationships might have made it if not for the enforced closeness and pressure of lockdown. It’s an unnatural situation that not all personality types and relationships can comfortably handle. We are one of those couples who are sufficient unto ourselves, and this has been a great blessing to us during lockdown. I recall discussing our plans for one New Year with my hairdresser; my husband and I were going to have dinner at a local hotel, just the two of us. “But won’t you get bored?” my hairdresser asked. To him and his wife this was anathema, for they only ever spent time together with other couples, whereas me and my husband love spending time together just the two of us; a preference that has undoubtedly served us well during lockdown.
We’ve needed each other like never before, because lockdown has presented some of the harshest challenges to our marriage yet. We’ve experienced the worst kind of grief and pain and we’ve had to do it without support (I’ve written about some of that here.) Some memories of this lockdown will never leave me; his utter collapse at discovering he’d been made redundant again, and me not knowing how to comfort him or make right a really wrong situation; our 10 year old asking in a tiny, quavering voice from the doorway, “what’s wrong with Daddy? Why is he crying?”
Or the day I came home from the gym and had a complete meltdown on the living room rug because I’d heard a song on the radio that reminded me of our daughter and every awful stinking terrible thing that had been done to her, and the pain was so bad I thought I was bleeding inside and so I fell to my knees and screamed with my face pressed into the shag-pile like a wounded animal, and then we held each other until it stopped. We held each other. That’s what we’ve been doing since this whole thing began. That’s what marriage is.
Jamie Fraser said that marriage makes a sacrament out of the things you’d otherwise have to confess, and I also think it makes a sacrament out of the awful, the tedious, the painful and the monotonous. It weaves them together with threads of love, faithfulness, devotion and fidelity, and creates a blanket of grace, large enough to throw over and cover even a family as big as ours. Our marriage is a blessed counterpane of grace that covers us and keeps us safe from the missiles this world throws at us. We add extra stitches to it for every year we’re together and so it grows bigger.
That’s marriage. It’s looking at the other person and wondering whatever did you do to make them love you. It’s profound gratitude. It’s relief after a lifetime of loneliness to finally recognise your own self in someone else. It’s the pleasing hum of hitting the note after years of discordant din. It’s lying awake listening to your partner snore and not actually jamming your thumbs up his nostrils, because you fall asleep holding hands every single night, like a touchstone that says, deep still calls to deep. This marriage is the soul and song of my life and the living prayer that God is always with us.
Here endeth the lesson.
 Gabalden, Diane. Outlander (London: Arrow Books, 1991.)