Commitment II

“To appreciate the real value of marriage you have to discard the superficial idea of repetition as something boring and negative, and see it as, on the contrary, something liberating and positive — the secret of happiness, no less. … (This is getting quite exciting: I haven’t thought as hard as this for years, if ever.)

“Take sex, for instance. Married sex is the repetition of an act. The element of repetition outweighs any variation there may be between one occasion and another. However many postures you experiment with, however many erotic techniques and sex-toys and games and visual aids you might employ, the fact that you have the same partner means that every act is essentially (or do I mean existentially?) the same. And if our experience is anything to go by (mine and Sally’s, I mean) most couples eventually settle on a certain pattern of love-making which suits them both, and repeat it over and over. How many sex acts are there in a long-lasting marriage? Thousands. Some will be more satisfying than others, but does anybody remember them all distinctly? No, they merge and blend in the memory. That’s why philanderers like Jake think married sex is inherently boring. They insist upon variety in sex , and after a while the means of obtaining variety become more important than the act itself. For them the essence of sex is in the anticipation, the plotting, the planning, the desiring, the wooing, the secrecy, the deceptions, the assignations. You don’t make assignations with your spouse. There’s no need. Sex is just there, to enjoy when you want it; and if your partner doesn’t feel like it for some reason, because they’re tired or have a cold or want to stop up and watch something on the telly, well, that’s no big deal, because there will be plenty of other opportunities. What’s so wonderful about married sex (and especially middle-aged, post-menopausal sex, when the birth-control business is over and done with) is that you don’t have to be thinking about it all the time. I suspect that Jake is thinking about it even while he’s phoning clients and drawing up contracts; probably the only time he isn’t thinking about sex is when he’s actually having it (because orgasm is a kind of slipped second, it empties the mind of thought for an instant) but I bet as soon as he comes he’s thinking about it again.

“What applies to sex applies to everything else in marriage: work, recreation, meals, whatever. It’s all repetition. The longer you live together, the less you change, and the more repetition there is in daily life. You know each others’ minds, thoughts, habits: who sleeps on which side of the bed, who gets up first in the morning, who takes coffee and who takes tea at breakfast, who likes to read the news section of the paper first and who the review section, and so on. You need to speak to each other less and less. To an outsider it looks like boredom and alienation. It’s a commonplace that you can always tell which couples in a restaurant are married to each other because they’re eating in silence. But does this mean that they’re unhappy with each other’s company? Not at all. They’re merely behaving as they do at home, as they do all the time. It’s not that they have nothing to say to each other, but that it doesn’t have to be said. Being happily married means that you don’t have to perform marriage, you just live in it, like a fish lives in the sea. …

“Sally just came into my study to tell me she wants a separation. She says she told me earlier this evening, over supper, but I wasn’t listening. I listened this time, but I still can’t take it in.”

~ David Lodge, Therapy: A Novel
end of part I, pp 127 – 129
London: Seeker & Warburg, 1995

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