Before my wife and I swapped roles and my wife went back to work, she wrote a weekly column about family life for one of Britian’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines. Every Monday, I’m going to go through her archives and reproduce one of her ramblings on my blog.
The table was booked, my outfit was washed and ironed and everything was set – finally – for me to celebrate my birthday with a night out.
I’d had to cancel the first attempt when the babysitter fell ill. But now, at long last, I was about to hit the town. There was just one snag.
‘Did you manage to find a new sitter?’ asked The Partner Who Is Not My Husband.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Erm, about that…’
After coming down with a cold on my big day, our regular babysitter had moved away. I’d promised to find someone else but, in usual fashion, I hadn’t quite got around to it.
‘All you have to do is ask the other mums on the school run,’ said The Partner. ‘It’s not difficult.’
I flapped my hands about in a gesture intended to signify I’d been very busy with other things.
‘It’s not easy,’ I said. ‘We’ve got to find someone we can trust, someone the kids will like, someone who lives close by…’
The Partner did not look impressed.
‘Give me a break,’ I said. ‘I’ve been busy.’
‘I suppose I’ll have to cancel that table,’ he huffed. ‘Again.’
There was a bit of muttering and a slamming of a door. As bust-ups go, it was hardly up there with Madonna and Guy but, according to one group of scientists, it could mean our relationship will end up on a similar scrap heap.
It works by dividing couples into five personality types. Clearly, I am an ‘avoider’, someone who skirts around problems rather than tackling them head on, someone who umms and ahhs a lot, someone whose motto is: Why do it today when you can put it off till tomorrow.
The Partner is the complete opposite. He is a ‘validator’.
Worryingly, according to the relationship formula, only two combinations of personality types are guaranteed a happy marriage. Ours wasn’t one of them. Our relationship was deemed ‘unstable’. Very possibly, we slotted into a category of couples that Professor James Murray, who helped devise the formula, reckoned ‘might as well get divorced right away’.
Of course, we’d have to get married first, but I got the point.
Far from plain sailing, it appeared our relationship was about to go over Niagara Falls in a bathtub.
But can such a formula be trusted? Can the complexities of a relationship between two individuals really be reduced to a simple test?
The more I thought about it, the more I reckoned they could. In fact, most of life could be summed up with a few simple equations. For instance:
Me + dirty kitchen floor + Partner down the pub = murderous thoughts
Me + Mistresses on telly + Partner down the pub = heaven on earth.
Then there was this one:
Me + bucket of soapy water = brooding resentment
Me + bath of soapy water = joy unconfined
And consider this one:
Man + woman = twice as nice as one
(Man + woman) / 3 children = well, you do the maths!
Perhaps the success of a relationship was down to science. If so, computer says: we’re doomed!
Now, I’ve been divorced and I have no wish to go through the pain of a second break-up so I went to see my mum and dad for a bit of advice.
When I arrived, I found them in the garden. Dad was sitting on his bench trying to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet but Mum was having none of it. She was striding around the lawn, talking about re-planting and pruning and getting a move on before the weeds took over.
Over on the bench, there was a lot of sighing and muttering going on and I distinctly heard the words: ‘Give me a break. I’ve been busy.’
I had to laugh. Like me, Dad is a head-in-the-sand avoider while Mum is a determined validator. As a result, they don’t always get along. They bicker. They suck their teeth and purse their lips and mutter things under their breath. Sometimes they drive each other mad.
According to the scientists’ formula, they should have gone their separate ways decades ago. Instead they have been happily married for 45 years. So what is their secret?
Mum looked up from examining a rose bush and glanced over at Dad.
‘Did you say something?’ she asked.
Dad gave her a loving smile.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Nothing important. I’ll sort those weeds for you in a minute.’
But Mum was already doing it. As I watched my parents in the garden they have tended together for more than 30 years, I realised how they have defied science and why they give hope to every couple.
It is because people aren’t like numbers. They don’t always fit into a formula or behave in the way you expect. They are not perfect. They make mistakes. But they can also surprise and delight you and make your heart glad you met them.
Mathematics can explain many things but it can’t explain how my mum and dad have stayed together – still sharing kisses and holding hands – for almost half a century.
Perhaps it is because divorce was less acceptable when they first married. Perhaps it is because they didn’t have the financial means to split up when things got tough. Or perhaps, as I suspect, it is because they – like all of us – have the power to change, to compromise and to adapt. When one is weak, the other becomes stronger. When one is down, the other turns into their cheerleader. When one isn’t very good at tackling a persistent weed or finding a babysitter, the other steps into the breach.
There are so many reasons why some couples don’t stay together – money troubles, differing values, unrealistic expectations – and some of these things can be tested by formulas and equations. But there are other things – unexpected kindnesses, compromises made, harsh words that go unspoken – that keep us together and defy measurement.
And, as Mum and Dad always say: ‘Who else would have us?’
Later that day my mobile phone went beep and a text message appeared. It was from The Partner. It read:
Hurry home. Your big night is back on!
I rang him.
‘How come?’ I asked.
‘I phoned your friends, asked for their babysitters’s numbers and fixed one up myself,’ he said. ‘I’ve met her and she’s very nice and I’m sure the kids will love her.’
‘Thanks love,’ I said.
‘Well,’ he replied, ‘if I’d waited for you to do it, we’d never leave the house again.’
It was true. I promised myself and The Partner that I’d be a bit more organised in future. But I know I won’t be. It’s just not my personality type. So, of course, we will fall out again. We’ll argue, he might shout, I might sulk but we’ll make it up again – not because science says we will stay together but because we choose to stay together. And, besides, who else would have us!