There’s this thing many couples do when they’ve been together a long time. It’s kind of a shtick where they roll their eyes frequently and tease each other in front of friends. If by tease you mean mock and if by ‘friends’ you also mean strangers.
Sometimes it’s an affectionate type of teasing, other times it’s passive-aggressive. And occasionally, it turns hostile enough to make other dinner party guests uncomfortable as the couple loudly denounce each others’ foibles and snark about never having sex.
This week, I was jolted by encounters with two couples that behaved in the opposite way; couples that made me stop and notice how in love they were. Neither were brand new relationships so it wasn’t that honeymoon rush of lust or infatuation; one couple had been together a year or two and the other had a few years and a few kids under their belt. So it was something altogether different. Really different.
The first couple was only half a couple; I had dinner with a girlfriend whose partner was away. “How is he?” I asked over wine and pasta one night. And she lit up. At the mere mention of his name, it was as if a pleasure charge went through her. Her eyes widened and I do believe she blushed. A smile cracked open her face as she told me about how well it was going, how happy they were. It was lovely to see her so sparkly.
The next day at a school concert, I bumped into an old mate whose child was also performing. His wife was there with their new baby and as the concert began, they passed her easily back and forth between them. When the Dad left to go back to work, I watched him say goodbye to his wife who was by then standing near the back, rocking the baby. He put his arms around them both and they hugged for the longest time. I was transfixed. It was the kind of hug you see at the departure gate of an International airport. Then he took her face gently in his hands and kissed her. Nothing sloppy, just tender and beautiful. And then another long embrace. I was unexpectedly moved by such an intimate expression of love and affection between two people who are not only married but also deeply sleep deprived (confession: I am not particularly loving when I’m sleep deprived, in fact, I am closer to batshit insane and also a capital P punish to be around).
In the world of couples with kids, you don’t see couples passionately embrace that often. It’s more likely to be a cursory nod or a quick exchange of information as you rush past each other in the kitchen. Like relay runners mid-race: exchange the baton with maximum care and efficiency. Keep running.
Not to say there isn’t deep love there but it tends to be less publicly – or even outwardly – expressed. Often, there just isn’t time. And did I mention sleep deprivation?
But it’s not just that. Not if we’re honest. There’s a certain amount of taking-for-granted that comes with the terrain of a long-term relationship. When you’re married, living together or have kids, there is an implicit understanding that you’re in it for the long haul. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way but the presumption is mostly there.
After a while, those love bubble feelings of infatuation usually settle to something deeper because it’s surely impossible to stay in such a heightened in-love state for years let alone decades.
So what’s the secret of the couples with whom I crossed paths this week?
Thinking about it, I realised they had something in common: both couples are forced to spend time apart due to their work.
In his iconic Mars & Venus relationship book, author John Gray floated his theory that men are like rubber bands. They need the space to pull away before they can ping back. He was talking about intimacy and used the analogy to explain why men can become emotionally distant and sometimes need to withdraw into their ‘caves’. But I think it can apply to both sexes and be about physical space too. You need time apart in order to miss each other especially if you’ve been together for years. Was it a co-incidence that my girlfriend’s partner was away when I asked about him? Or that my colleague had spent the previous night interstate when he saw his wife at the concert?
It’s far more challenging to remain excited day to day about something you take for granted because it’s always there. For example, I’m extremely grateful that I can walk but I don’t feel a daily excitement about having legs. Do you?
Later in the week, I emailed my mate from the concert and mentioned how special it was to see a married couple behave like that in public. “Yep, I’m madly in love with my wife,” he replied. How great is that.
Does this resonate with you? If you’re part of a couple now or in the past, what has factored into your loved-up-ness? Any secrets? And if you and your partner spend a lot of time together, how do you keep it fresh?