George Eliot writes with such acuity about relationships and character, that it is, at times, cringe making. Every few pages I find some observation that is so piercing, so redolent of my own relationship with Ben, that I feel myself sighing with recognition and wonder.
How was it that in the weeks since her marriage, Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt with a stifling depression, that the large vistas and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of finding in her husband’s mind were replaced by anterooms and winding passages which seemed to lead nowhither? I suppose it was that in courtship everything is regarded as provisional and preliminary, and the smallest sample of virtue or accomplishment is taken to guarantee delightful stores which the broad leisure of marriage will reveal. But the door-sill of marriage once crossed, expectation is concentrated on the present. Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight – that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.
– George Eliot, Middlemarch
Who among us hasn’t experienced the same sort of disenchantment, ending in years of protracted upset inevitably followed by begrudging acceptance?
Well, does it get any better?
When I first met Ben, it was his music that fascinated me – his obsessive approach to it, his knowledge of the subject, his virtuosic skill. As I grew to know him better, I realised that his chosen subject was his only one; his interests were narrowed down to a mere two or three things. It was disappointing. And once he was on the booze, even his narrow interests dissolved – diffusing with each successive can of beer.
The winding passages and anterooms that Eliot writes of are the many avenues we explore in our partners, always hoping for some revelation that buoys our relationship, lifting it to a higher plane. But as time peels away, we find ourselves washing up against the sides of a sink. It may take longer for us than it did for Dorothea, but sooner or later almost all of us end up marooned there like soap scum on porcelain.
What choice do we have then? Do we leave, still hoping for those wide open vistas, or do we stay (if we are comfortable enough) and content ourselves with the basin?
It’s a question for anyone fanning the embers of their relationship, perhaps too afraid to strike out onto open plains, preferring instead the intimacy and predictability of containment.