Treading on Eggshells
January 30, 2012 § 59 Comments
I went to see a friend this weekend who is deeply depressed because she and her partner are getting on atrociously and constantly arguing. He demeans her all the time, puts her down. She is the most upbeat person I know, and yet he has brought her very low. Whittling away daily at her confidence by telling her how crap she is in every which way. This is a man who, in my view, should be counting his lucky stars that he is with this funny, clever, youthful, gorgeous woman. But no. She has given him beautiful children and is a wonderful mother and human being and he tells her she has ruined his life.
“It’s funny,” she said, as we sat on her sofa together, “when you are single, all you pine for is to be with somebody; but when you are with somebody, you pine to be single again.”
She is so right in some ways. It’s a funny thing to say as the Plankton, but there are many ways in which I relish being on my own. And I am not talking about autonomy with regards to the television remote control. Perhaps the greatest gift of being alone is no longer having eggshells beneath one’s feet and to be living in fear of treading on them.
This is the phrase I hear all the time from my girlfriends in unhappy marriages or relationships (and I am sorry to say that the unhappy v happy ones stand at about 90/10). The sheer strain of eggshell treading, day in, day out, as a heart-in-mouth method of trying to prevent The Male Mood, which in some cases can go on for days and days. Men are less inclined to bury their Moods. They are happy to cast a pall over an entire household if they so wish. Women are better at covering up, I think, suspending their mood so as not to sully the atmosphere to everyone’s cost and misery. I may be wrong. But observation tells me loudly and clearly that this is the case.
Sometimes, no amount of light-footed treading can avert the Male Mood; then it’s sickness in the stomach until it lifts. Another friend was telling me that her partner has it for days, sometimes weeks. He calls it depression. She thinks “depression” in his case is no more than being spoilt, and a license to behave with supreme selfishness. She has contemplated being alone and speaks of it holding no fear for her. She has an extraordinary strength and confidence and spirituality, way beyond my own. “I’d never be alone,” she says, “even if I were alone.” And she means it. Plankton does not enter her vocabulary.
So many friends are telling me of the bad times they are going through. The strong, spiritual one believes there is something in the water, something extraordinary going on in our times. Men lost and weird. Women in pain. Marriages going down like victims of the plague.
Of course, I see and know all this, but it still doesn’t stop me from wanting to be with someone. Because there are just a few marriages one observes which have their small-scale struggles, sure, but which are fundamentally oozing with love and respect. There are Mr and Mrs Standard Bearer, those lovely stalwarts, but I can think of a handful of others I know, such as the incredible pair I saw this weekend. I know them so well, they are both extremely special, both as individuals and as a couple, and I have looked and listened (not in a nasty way, I assure you, more in an admiring one) and I swear there just is no chink.
So for all my railing in former posts about it being better to be in a shitty marriage/partnership than none at all, perhaps I only believe that to a certain extent and don’t in fact live by it when it comes down to it. I do relish the fact there isn’t an eggshell to be seen or trodden upon in my life. And when I come upon a distressed friend, I do not instantly urge her to hang on in there daily to be reduced and perennially to carry on trying to render herself as light as fucking meringue so as never to smithereen the vista of eggshells covering every surface of her tension home. No, instead, I gently ask if she has ever considered bailing out and the answer comes back, All the time.
“He went away for five days, and it was bliss,” she admits. “In many ways, I yearn to be alone.”
I simply tell her that it isn’t easy, and in many ways it is hell. Not in every way, but many.
And that it is always an option.