What strikes me most from my recent reading, however, is not the traditional boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl story, but practically minded women finding love where they can. For example, Lieve in Glass by Alex Christofi, tells the protagonist (p217):
Although separated by sixty years, as well as another language and country, she reminds me of Katharina in The Undertaking who marries Peter for the sake of a widow’s pension should he die in the war, and yet the pair gradually fall in love. A little earlier in the USA, young Linnie Mae falls for Junior Whitshank in one of the shocking revelations in A Spool of Blue Thread, and, over the ensuing years, her love has to suffice for the pair of them. Back in post-war Britain, when sex between men is still illegal, Barbara, one of the minor characters in Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl, forges a successful marriage with a man who cannot fully love her back. On the non-fiction side, in contemporary Africa, I was intrigued by Asad’s two marriages in A Man of Good Hope: the first begins as revenge and turns into love; the second is more out of pity for a refugee and a young child who would die on the streets without a man’s protection.
Relationships require compromise, but compromise is tricky: too much risks edging towards the kind of wifely adaptation either fictional or otherwise that leads to physical and mental breakdown; too little traps us in a Sisyphean search for our unique soulmate, when we might find contentment with a fit that’s good enough. Perhaps it’s because of Charli’s latest flash fiction prompt that I’m wondering if the missing ingredient is another c-word: we need compassion for ourselves to recognise what we need and ensure that we get it either within or outside our romantic relationships; we need compassion for our partners to accept them as they are, rather than resenting them for what they’re not. So I’ve composed my flash around the compassion for the relationship that holds it together:
We never reserved I love you for Valentine’s and anniversaries, so why should it matter that, this year, you forgot? Yet I contemplate arsenic-on-toast for your breakfast; you couldn’t even bring me a cup of tea in bed.
Once you’re cleaned, fed and dressed, we wait for the sitter. The hairdresser’s booked and the theatre, a restaurant reservation for one.
This evening, when I’m calm again, we’ll look through the photographs. “Who’s that handsome man with the carnation buttonhole?” I’ll say. I won’t mind if you can’t tell me; my memories of our marriage are strong enough for two.
This is a much-condensed version of “The Merry Widow”, one of the first stories I wrote and submitted for publication, so, for all the pleasure I take in post-apocalyptic novels, this may be the more mundane future I fear. Ah, well, another chance to link to my post on literary dementia!
What do you think helps relationships endure over the years? Do we make the best couplings by holding back for the right love match, or do we create that between us by loving the one we’re with?
If you’d like to join in with the Carrot Ranch flash-fiction challenge, you’ve got time before the deadline on Tuesday afternoon. Or consider joining the 1000 voices blogging for compassion this Friday 20 February. I’m hoping to write a bit more about self-compassion for my contribution.