In their latest #TrueRomance column, Matt Farquharson and Anna Whitehouse speak about the evolution of love and growing old together
Matt Farquharson on everlasting love…
You get born, you get educated, you get a job. You meet someone, you fall in love, you probably marry. Maybe you have kids. And then what? A four-decade chasm opens up and the next big life event is likely to be whatever kills you. So how are we supposed to fill that time, and can any love outlast it?
I met my wife when she was 24 and I was 29. I knew within minutes that I wanted to see her smile until I was too old to see anything. She was cheeky and quick, her eyes were sharp, and she had a tumbling mass of curls. I became a love-struck goofball. Just before our fourth date I got offered a job abroad and asked her to come with me. We made the decision at 5am on a mid-summer morning, as light nudged past some shabby Ikea blinds. And for seven years, across three countries, several jobs and an elderly adopted beagle, wherever there was music, we danced. Wherever we’d never been, we tried to visit. We sought work that made us happy rather than rich. After years of miscarriages, a rainbow baby arrived, and after a few more that didn’t make it, we gave her a sister. So what happens next?
‘We were walking back from dinner and the conversation took a turn’
Niggles happen next. Recently, we were walking back from dinner and the conversation took a turn: how I don’t cook anymore, how she never puts a wash on. And then something more: how I don’t talk, how she doesn’t listen. We whispered as we passed people, doing a bad job of pretending not to be a couple having a barney on the way home. We smiled for the babysitter and found urgent things to do in different corners of our small home. I said, ‘sorry,’ she said, ‘sorry,’ we both said, ‘but…’ and it became a full summit, about ‘greyness’ and ‘distance’, running into the wee hours.
Because in those first years together, I did cook, extravagantly shuffling pans and applying herbs with an unnecessary flourish, all while wearing a nice shirt. But by dinner 1,287, food became functional, rather than fun. And so we discussed this at 2am, a little bit drunk, when all I wanted to do was go to sleep. And she wouldn’t let things lie, because in matters of the heart, my wife is wiser than me and knows the value of communication.
You have to keep looking with fresh eyes at who’s in front of you. To do something new, something terrifying or something ridiculous to win them over, again and again. You have to look a little harder at one another, and remember to think, ‘oh, hello, it’s you. We get to grow old together.’
Anna Whitehouse on whether a relationship shifts from comfortable to complacent?
I can’t remember when I started focusing more on the things he wasn’t doing than the things he was. In the heady days of ricocheting from Eritrean restaurants in Soho to boozy weddings in The Cotswolds, there were spontaneous, ugly snogs outside festival Portaloos and frisky arse squeezes in the condiments aisle of Tesco Express at midnight. It was carnal, it was exhilarating, it was living. There was no time to consider anything other than the brilliant man that made me feel anything was possible.
So when living becomes a never-ending list of things to do – an encyclopedia of looming administrative failure – that exhilaration is quashed and the arse squeezes transform to pecks-on-the-cheek at the end of an exhausted work day. There’s deadlines and they are unrelenting. There’s a million reasons why you don’t have time to go beyond, ‘how was your day?’
‘Circumstances change, people change, bodies change’
This grey cloud slowly descends until you find yourself at the end of a rare night out together wondering why he’s not listening to your endless talking. Wondering why you can’t remember when you last mocked each other in a way that was uniting not dividing. Wondering why you are only seeing the things he isn’t when it’s clear he is so much.
Like any kind of erosion, there’s no regaining the bits you’ve lost. Circumstances change, people change, bodies change, priorities change: but just because that rock has changed shape doesn’t mean the substance has shifted.
Love isn’t solely in fun nights out or Agent Provocateur-embellished nights in. It’s not in the exhilarating embraces and the rampant excitement of a dizzying future together. It’s in the all-encompassing embrace when you’ve lost a friend, lost a job, lost a baby or lost a little bit of your mind. It’s in the quiet silence of two people watching a Netflix series together: two humans facing the same way, sharing the same experiences who can look back on the box set of their own messy, stressy union and realise it’ll never be Love Island but it is their island, complete with the occasional mug of undrunken tea and banal requests to ‘pick up toilet roll’.