Back among the icebergs

I USED to have a cute but frustrating habit.

I always left the toothpaste tube lying on the side of the washbasin instead of returning it to the toothbrush mug.

That was 29 years ago.

Friends would come round; newly married couples who would swap notes. This one always said “pardon” automatically, even when it was clear he’d heard every word.

That one would jingle the change in his pocket.

“He’s so cute,” said my wife when it came my turn, “he never puts the toothpaste back… always off in a dream somewhere. It’s so frustrating!”

She squeezed my hand and smiled when she said it.

That night, after everyone had gone, I did it again.

Oh how we laughed!

I did it again last night, too.

“Great God, you sloppy oaf,” she said, “Don’t you ever tidy up after you!”

She didn’t smile and squeeze my hand. She scowled and I think she would have liked to squeeze my throat.

What happened?

When did fustrating-but-cute become sloppy-and-oafish?

It’s amazing how we can be amused by the most repulsive idiosyncrasies in out partners when things are going well; and how we can want to kill them when they’re not.

The bloke who said pardon is probably dead by now; bludgeoned senseless by a bedside ornament one night because his wife said something to him while her mouth was full of toothbrush.

And the sad part is – these things have nothing to do with relationship breakdowns. They’re the symptoms; not the cause.

People don’t divorce because their partners have been jingling change for 30 years, or even because of their long-term sloppy habits with toothpaste.

It’s not because we don’t change; it’s because we do!

We change slim for fat.

We change laundered shirts for unwashed singlets (which we don’t change often enough).

We change passionate and imaginative sex for a set of standard manoeuvres.

None of which represent a new and exciting stage in our relationships.

But for some strange reason we don’t focus on the big picture… we don’t look at the whole building and say: “It needs a total renovation.”

We look at the detail and decide that if we could just have a new doorknob, that would somehow stop the foundations from caving in.

Don’t ask me what the answer is. As usual I only have the questions.

It’s like seeing yourself in the mirror every day. Imperceptibly one’s face gets baggier, we shave less carefully; hairs fall out or grow in random places.

If we stayed away from the mirror for five years and then took a fresh look, the shock would kill us.

With our relationships it often does.

You can probably tell from this that it’s happening again. The Titanic of my marriage has sailed once more into the region of icebergs.

And don’t imagine for a moment that my wife is the only one whose perceptions have changed.

If she prunes one more bush and leaves the clippings on the ground where they drop, she’s going to wake up in the compost heap.

Actually, she is not going to wake up, in the compost heap.

If she ever again fails to empty all the disgusting bits that gather in the little sieve-thing that covers the plughole in the kitchen sink I’ll…

I’m sure you catch my drift.

I made a solemn vow last night never again to leave the toothpaste out of the mug.

My wife said: “Pardon?”