Stretching to try and get the stiffness out of my neck, I peer at the wall clock that chimes 9.30 p.m. I should be winding up work, getting to sleep, maybe reading a book but I am working late.
Fingers tap almost mechanically on the keyboard and I pause for a second. He is standing by my table with a raised eyebrow in enquiry. ‘Making tea. Want some?’Gratefully, I nod. A part of my brain says caffeine after 6 pm is not a great idea but I shush it. Five minutes later, a steaming mug of tea stands on the table.
My eyes see the mug, then travel up to see the smile on his face and I find myself smiling back.
If you’d asked me a few years ago to talk about what makes a good relationship, I’d have waxed eloquent on a number of things- compatibility, interests that align with one another, loving the same books or films- but it would all have rung hollow.
For one thing, it isn’t true. For another, each relationship is different. What works for me will not work for you. Why? Because, we’re very distinct people.
Earlier this week, V and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We’ve been together for over a decade and a half and just saying that out loud makes me glad.
Do you know why? Because on our very first wedding anniversary, we couldn’t be together. I was recovering from bipolar disorder at the time and was away from him. To my 24-year-old self, it was heartbreaking. It was our anniversary, after all.
But, we survived. It would take me 13 years to tell the world about that period in my life and now when I look back, it seems like a distant memory.
We’ve had our ups and downs, like any other couple. It’s probably par for the course. One of the earliest mistakes I made was assuming that we had to do things together all the time to stay together. I’d find myself trying to read a book which he enjoyed but not understanding it. I tried watching an entire cricket match but would lose interest mid-way. He’d just look at me in amusement and say, ‘Do what makes you happy.’
You may have read the story about how we met. I blogged about it last year. But what you may not know is how we’ve survived one of the biggest challenges of togetherness: Not being together.
Three times, I’ve lived away from him. The first was for a year when I was diagnosed with depression. The second was during a 9-month stint he spent abroad on a consulting assignment. The third time was a recent two-year period within the same city. He worked on the other side of town, 35 kilometres away, and since the commute was a killer, we decided he’d take an apartment there.
Now I know this isn’t anything new for most couples, especially those who have spouses in the army or the merchant navy. I’ve always admired the way they make it work. But it was very very tough on me, personally.
Parenting a strong-willed child who is very attached to her father can be enormously taxing. Some of my worst meltdowns happened when he was away.
But everything happens for a reason and the best reason for all of this was that it brought us closer together. We started understanding one another’s challenges, giving the other one space when we needed it and not making mountains out of molehills.
All of this came with time, trials and stormy waters. Smooth sailing is not how I’d describe a marriage. And we survived. What’s more important though, is that we have learnt to thrive on the differences that brought us together.
At the height of my mental illness, one incident stands out in memory. I’d just vented loudly and angrily about something and stood in the middle of the room, shaking and crying. Seething, I yelled, ‘Who do you want me to be?’
Quietly, he met my eyes and said, ‘You. I want you to be you. That’s whom I married.’
In a recent group conversation on Whatsapp with my cousins, we were talking about weddings attended and events missed. One of them asked us if we’d renew our vows any time soon, since he’d missed our wedding. V responded with, ‘We will, when we’re 60.’ In that one simple, frank statement, he’d conveyed what this relationship meant to him.
We’ve been through a lot and I wouldn’t change any of it. Not one bit.
16 years later,
I just want to say,
I’d get married to this guy
All over again.
As these thoughts swirl through my head, I feel gratitude. Shutting the laptop, I pick up the cup of tea. Pushing my chair back, I go over to the couch where he’s seated. Tucking my legs under me, I sink into the cushions, simultaneously savouring the warmth in my hands and the warmth in the room. We look at each other, smile and sip quietly on our tea.
This is our togetherness.
Linking up with Shantala Nayak at #ChattyBlogs for May. Check it out.