Sometimes it takes a prod to make you grateful for what you have. I live with a man who loves me intensely, who ignores me a plenty and who only blames me when he walks into a sewing dummy, a piano or an easel.
All this talk of choices, ruts and settling that I’ve heard recently feels alien to me. I’m listening, but I can’t quite work out what it is I’m hearing. I’m trying to find something wise and helpful to say, but I can think of nothing. Am I not bored with my choice of one man, especially when he spends most of his time programming or rowing? I hadn’t thought about it, but no. How could I be bored of someone who’s always changing, ever evolving and can make me smile without saying a word?
Sure, we live within a routine. But I’d live within a routine even if we weren’t together. No, I’m not always wondering where he is. Yes I do text him whilst he’s at work, but only maybe once or twice a week. Great romantic literary pieces such as ‘could you buy some toilet roll’.
We don’t date, we never have. We don’t celebrate anniversaries, barely acknowledge birthdays and Christmas isn’t on the calendar. This existence as an ‘item’, as the grandmother calls it, isn’t simply whizz-bang obsession. I read the Dalai Lama’s autobiography and tell everyone I know about it, then I won’t mention it for months, or even years. I frantically pour my soul into a story and forget that I haven’t eaten and don’t notice the sun has set, and then don’t reopen the computer file. It’s not like that.
With the Boyfriend, most of the time I’m nagging about the washing-up, or negotiating knives and forks so we can eat dinner. There are things to deal with, like housing contracts and electricity bills. Maybe once I talked obsessively about him, lost track of time when we were together and was prone to bouts of random emotional outbursts. When the Dalai Lama’s story becomes knowledge within me and I can use it as a reference to build upon, that’s when reading his autobiography will truly pay of. It’s not the frantic writing that will make me a novelist, it’s the steady hours of editing. Nor is it the single picture drawn alone in a midnight trance that’s going to make me an admirable artist, it’s the gentle encouragement, critique and tutoring from people around me. Greatness is something learnt everyday for a long time.
Sparks only light a fire.
This doesn’t necessitate a period of stagnation, or a rut. When a car passes the house during the hour the Boyfriend normally arrives home, my head tilts to listen. When he left super early to do a weights session before work, I noticed the silence. When he’s exhausted and needs some looking after, I can see it in his hollow flushed cheeks and wide eyes. And when he’s bouncing around the kitchen like Tigger on Haribo I know to pay attention. I put down my book or pens and it’s like they no longer exist.
Often, as relationships are discussed, a one-sided story is told. I’m certainly a culprit of this. When his eyes gloss over after rowing, and he’s too exhausted to think about lunch so just pours a box of cereal into a bowl with a bottle of milk, I’m saying ‘Guess someone’s not helping with dinner tonight’, but really, deep down, I’m thinking how I can be more of that. I watch him push himself to the edge: where he aches so deeply that his walk is heavy, getting up off the chair is pain and his hands are so calloused, blistered and sore that he winces when you hold his hand. You can’t help but admire his persistence. Most weekends, he rows in the mornings and sleeps throughout the sunny afternoons. Every evening Monday through Thursday, and sometimes some weekday mornings too, he’s training. I complain that he’s never mopped the floors, he’s vacuumed once and hasn’t put away his clothes this year, but so what.
To be good at something you need to build skill by repeating exercises. The best violinists are those who have practised the most and pushed themselves past their limits. The best painters, writers, architects et cetera are all the same. At the extreme of ability, physiological attributes might give you an advantage; Olympic rowers are tall. Some people also have more opportunity than others do – better access to materials, tutoring or a more challenging environment. But of the things that you and I are in control of, it’s effort that counts.
Persistence, determination and practice make the master, but who’s going to put in all that work without having the crucial element of passion. If the Boyfriend wasn’t intensely passionate about rowing then he wouldn’t have the self-discipline to go to every training session and put everything into it. He obsesses over rowing. Results are analysed and videos of both himself and of his heroes are watched repeatedly. Yet, most of the time it’s an everyday process, it’s not all that exciting when you look at it up close (sometimes he just sits for an hour going back and forth on a rowing machine), but it’s the path to greatness.
He and I tread our paths with a stolid determination. His is more focused, mine is a little more winding and prone to promises of shortcuts and shiny trinkets. We both keep an eye on the other, making sure they keep going. We’re each other’s Kendal mint cake and a quiet reminder to hold the compass flat. And sometimes, instead of using the magnifying glass to stare at the map, he switches the focus entirely to me.