When you’ve been living with someone for a long time, you become so comfortable with each other that you can sit for hours – quite literally – in the same room, reading, and never have to speak. I’ve often heard younger people say “Look at them. They don’t say anything.” That’s because ‘they’ don’t have to. A glance, a touch on the hand, can convey so much more than words, and by the time you’ve occupied the same space for days and months and years, you’re finishing each other’s sentences and reading each other’s minds anyway. You engage in the kind of loving banter that others, those outside your particular relationship, would consider hurtful. But you know better.
The two of us have very different personalities that are at the same time very much alike. Maybe that doesn’t make sense. For instance, Paul takes care of the finances because I love spending money, will spend it with impunity, and my maths skills are rubbish. Our ideas of what’s important are vastly different. I remember the time he gave me thirty dollars to get groceries; I brought home a loaf of black bread and a bottle of wine. I’d never seen his face turn that color before. It was almost…puce.
I asked you to get groceries!
This is groceries.
This is a bottle of wine and a round black thing. What the hell is wrong with you???
There were lots of raised voices and slammed doors that night. You do that when you’ve been together a long time and you’re arguing. You call each other horrible names and you scream about things that happened forever ago that hurt you SO MUCH and then you separate and sulk for awhile until someone decides to break the impasse.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say your bread had the consistency of wet cement. I didn’t mean to say you burned the sausages so they looked like the charred fingers of an immolated corpse.
Yes you did.
In the beginning, there were always arguments about my cooking. The potatoes were too soft; the potatoes weren’t done. There was too much fish; there wasn’t enough fish. Why did I add so much salt? Why couldn’t I cook – here is the absolutely most damning phrase a spouse or partner can ever utter – like his mother?
So, lots of arguments. Raging out of the house and slamming the door. Going out to look for each other: please come home. In the beginning all you do is argue. Some of the arguments are quite vicious. Your personalities are getting used to each other, jostling against the other person, afraid there won’t be enough room for you both in this relationship. No matter how well-adjusted you think you are, you have neuroses sufficient to drive the other person batshit insane.
But we’re also very alike, too. Everybody says that opposites attract, but I don’t think that’s true. For instance, we are both introverts, although he’s much less socially awkward than I am. We both love to read; we both love British crime drama; we both love ice cream; we both adore our dog, Lola.
We don’t have to say “I love you” but we do, often. I worry – a lot – about the day we will be separated from each other. No matter who we are or where we live and in what circumstances, the people we love will eventually leave us, and we’ll be alone again.
This is what nobody ever says out loud: some day you will leave me and I’ll be alone. Or I will leave you. Once you’ve been together for a while, you realize that, no matter how happy and fulfilling the union, it will end.
I try not to think about it. I have a lot of “issues” (as people say) around abandonment. I always fear – know – I am going to be left alone in the end. It seems a funny thing for me to worry about, seeing as how I’m such an introvert (INFJ if you’re into the whole Myers-Briggs business) but it has defined my life. And I don’t mean ‘mere’ physical dislocation, where the person you love leaves you in one way or another.
There are lots of ways to be abandoned. Not fitting into society or your family of origin is abandonment. Not knowing where you belong is abandonment. Feeling like a stranger on earth, like you are always on the outside looking in, is abandonment, in the sense that initially They abandoned you, but then you abandoned yourself.
Which isn’t to cast blame. Feeling like you don’t belong hurts so much and cuts so deep. Being close to someone who hurts you or rejects you or just outright burns you really hurts. For a long time afterwards you walk around feeling like your skin is gone and all your nerves and blood and feelings are on the outside. Even brushing up against another human being is horribly painful.
For a creative person, abandonment is when blood relatives either don’t understand or don’t care about what it is you’re trying to do, when they’re ashamed of you, because you aren’t a doctor or a success in business, or you don’t have a huge house and twenty-seven beautifully-turned out children. Because you have deliberately chosen what they see as a life of penury so you can do whatever it is that you do – paint, write, dance, act, make sock monkeys. Because you can’t do anything else. Because you tried, and you lost just about every job you ever had, trying to make a go of things in a world where you’re quietly screaming (or sobbing or muttering or praying) I’m an artist and nobody gives a tinker’s cuss. Not just that, but they think that you’re insane to even try.
You’ve felt the sting of abandonment every time someone says something like:
- Grow up and get a real job
- Stop wasting your time with that old garbage
- You’re never going to get anywhere with that
- How are you going to make a living
- You’ll kill your mother/father/grandparents/drunk uncle Chester if you persist in doing this
- I’m so ashamed of you
- I’m so disappointed in you
- What’s the matter with you? Are you insane?
- You’re just doing this to get back at me
…&tc., and so on.
The truth is, unless you are supremely well-connected or supremely lucky and/or beloved of the gods, you probably aren’t going to make a kajillion dollars doing your art, nor are you going to afford that private jet/house in the Bahamas/whatever it is you think defines wealth and success. It ain’t gonna happen, child. And for a lot of people in your intimate circle, including but not limited to your family of origin, what you’re doing will seem to be utter madness. In a lot of ways, it is.
You live in a world ruled by money, influence, connection. It’s a generally accepted truth that these things are achievable only through committing oneself to a course of work that will guarantee them. Most creatives don’t make much money (the lucky ones make enough to live on); their only influence is their immediate sphere (usually other creatives, and if you’ve never witnessed the kind of jealousy and pissy infighting that often occurs in such groups, you’re missing out); they lack the kind of powerful connections thought necessary because, in order to create, you have to isolate yourself.
Art is something that occurs in solitude. I’ve written in crowded cafes. I quite like it, in fact, because after a while others’ conversation and assorted ambient noises fade into an agreeable background hum that drives my creativity. There are even websites featuring virtual noise machines that mimic this environment.
But everyone needs other people (some of us prefer them in small doses, but still) – at the end of your creative workday you need someone there to love, to hug, to pester, to bicker with. There’s a famous old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ but I beg to differ. Familiarity, especially the kind born out of years of close cohabitation, breeds content.