A friend of mine is having some marital issues, and that got me and Ms T talking.
We've had hard times. Getting through a catastrophic illness isn't easy. Adjusting to life afterwards isn't easy. Shit, even the normal stuff of mortgages and children and employment isn't easy.
And we're still here and together and wondering how we got through, and agonising over what to say to someone else having a hard time. And we got somewhere, and it's the point of this post.
A relationship or a marriage can get through the tough times. If there's one insight I have to offer, it's not “how to get through the tough times”. It's “what about afterwards?”
You see, the story always ends at the “happy ever after” and doesn't tell you what the “ever after” feels like.
If you want the “happy” bit of the “ever after”, the only lesson Ms T and I can possibly offer is that you have to understand something: it won't be the same.
You can never go “home”, wherever that is.
I'm not going to reiterate the travails of Ms T's illness, now better than three years old. But at some point in those three years, we decided that what is left to us in the future is more important than trying to perform a constant CPR on the past. So somehow, by mutual consent and without actually deciding to, we made a decision that made the new foundation of our marriage.
We put our hands together, gripped tight, and walked away.
Back in our pasts, there's a woman who – made up by an expert on the day – looked like a film star when we married.
Back in our pasts, there was a man who could do so much more than I can.
Back in our pasts, there were so many things.
But if we tried to cling to those things, there wouldn't be an us to cling to, to love, to try to fashion a future.
You can only make the future out of the materials you have to hand. And if they've been ransacked by circumstance, you have to decide: do I want to scrap it all and start again – would I want to buy a Harley-Davidson and hope someone young and nubile scrambles on behind – or do I want to remake a future with someone who I know loves me?
The decision was thrust upon Ms T and I in an awful hurry, because she was so close to death when I took her to RPA emergency a few years back.
Somehow, in the last three years of crisis, we reached a mutual decision, or perhaps we both made the same choice at the same time.
We walked away.
Not from each other: from what we once were. We farewelled our last sentimental dreams of what we'd thought we'd be, back in 1991 when we married. We took each others' hands, turned our backs on our youth, and walked away.
It's like this: you can get through the crisis. You can do it together or not, but either way: you won't be the same. The “you” that you treasure with a sentimental tint, the “you” that you hope will be sepia-coloured via Instagram …
By the time you're wondering what changed, that's already gone. The only decisions you can make involve the future. “What do I want?” is the crucial question, and somehow, Ms T and I answered it together, that whatever the changes in us or the world we faced, we'd hold hands and manage, somehow.
It wasn't easy. When we talked this through, tonight, we cried together. Would I love to have her back as the film-star-bride of 1991? Of course. Would she love to see me again, without my grey beard and deaf ears? Ditto.
But we hold on, not to what we were then, but to what we have now. We have a new contract, a new accord, a sword we managed to forge in the fires of crisis.
We have taken each others' hands, and farewelled old dreams. There's nowhere to go anyhow: our parents are all long dead, there's no emergency bolt-hole for us to flee to if it gets too much. There's no childhood bedroom to retreat to.
You can never “go” home. You can only make one.
Growing up is hard, even if you're 50 years old.