tears and masks and gentle tugs

"Koinobori" by Jenny Terasaki @flickr

I read a lovely little piece by Melissa Feros in the Times today about crying in public. Having lived in the city for a long time (and in other cities, too) I definitely recognize what she so eloquently describes as the moment you witness someone crying, or you cry yourself, in public, of the brief moments when you let down you “train face,” and as she describes it, “the seal between [the] public face and the feelings underneath it” break.

Today I had a brief discussion with my daughter about relationships, about fidelity, and longevity, and respect. It was, in the context of pop star Michael Bublé who, it seems, just married. “He seems like a nice man,” I said (did I sound like my mother with that comment, or what!?) and she agreed, although commented that he’d cheated on his last girlfriend. Hmmm.

I told her that in my mind it is not the exclusivity that is the key here, that actually some people are together and are not exclusive to one another, but it is handled naturally and openly (did I say that!?), but that the critical thing is honesty. What hurts is not that they cheated on you, but that they hid it from you, that they lied to you. I had to backtrack just a tad, telling her that I was of course exclusive to her father, and he to me, but that we were not typical people either, that our relationship was unique.

To that she nodded knowingly, agreeing (something she doesn’t often do), and uttered “Oh, I know.” When I asked her what she meant she said that we never fight, and that the parents of her friends fight all the time. Actually I think the parents of at least three of her friends have split up in the last year or so, so I guess that must be true.

It is also true that we do not fight. Which is odd, and which I totally attribute to him, for in my past relationships there were many teary drama fests. What I have learned from my husband (actually I’ve learned so many things I couldn’t even begin to quantify or describe) is respect, honor and how to avoid conflict. Not to avoid it by denying it, or repressing it, ignoring it, but how to identify in myself when it is time to just step back and take a breath, how not to say things out of anger or cruelty. There is, I suppose a boundary there that I will not cross with him or he with me.

This is, obviously, so different from they way I was raised to think a “good” relationship should be, a total opening of self, no secrets, endless discussions of feelings and emotions and needs and wants. There is a formality to our relationship that is not stifling and would go unnoticed, I think, by others, other than by the fact that we do not have strife, ever. Crazy, I know. But it works, and I’ve never loved a man so deeply as I do him. I could not imagine my life without him.

Joyce Carol Oates, in her A Widow’s Story, discussed her relationship with her husband, like this:

At the time of the car wreck we would celebrate our forty-seventh wedding anniversary in a few weeks. You would not think, reading this, if you are younger than we were, that to us these dates were unreal, or surreal; we’d felt, through our long marriage, as it we’d only just met a few years before, as if we were ‘new’ to each other, still ‘becoming acquainted’ with each other; often we were ‘shy’ with each other; there were many things we did not wish to tell each other, or to ‘share’ with each other, in the way of individuals who are just becoming intimately acquainted and don’t want to risk offending, or surprising.

She then discusses her writing and his relationship to it:

Most of my novels and short stories were never read by my husband. He did read my non-fiction essays and my reviews for such publications as the ‘New York Review of Books’ and the ‘New Yorker’—Ray was an excellent editor, sharp-eyed and informed, as countless writers published in ‘Ontario Review’ have said—but he did not read most of my fiction and in this sense it might be argued that Ray didn’t know me entirely—or even, to a significant degree, partially.

Why was this?—there are numerous reasons.

I regret it, I think. Maybe I do.

For writing is a solitary occupation, and one of its hazards is loneliness.

But an advantage of loneliness is privacy, autonomy, freedom.

Much of these passages struck me as very profound. I do maintain a space, albeit in my head, where what I do is unbenownst to him. Even if I were to try to bring him in, it just wouldn’t work. He would feel uncomfortable in that crowded little room full of dust and cobwebs, old leather-bound thoughts, and I would not feel comfortable with him being in there. So we smile and kiss and each one goes off to their own little space. This space, in our relationship, and our marriage, is what I believe keeps us so happily together. To be together we must, at times, have some privacy, retain a “me” and not try to always be that “us.”

I don’t remember the last time I cried. It’s not that I haven’t felt sad, but just that I have found ways of channeling that sadness. But it’s also because when I have felt near tears, he has a way of letting me just be while assuring me with gesture and presence that he is there, always.

Ms. Oates seemed to have a husband similar to mine, describing him as looking to her with a bemused smile. “You take yourself so seriously. Why?”… and leaving the reader with an image of him which does indeed make me think of mine, “The spouse who, with a gentle tug, holds in place the recklessly soaring kite, that would careen into the stratosphere and be lost, shattered to bits.”

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