“I shall live long and lonely as a tossing cork.” Kathleen Jamie
My friend recently persuaded his girlfriend to sell her flat. I saw her yesterday, and she told me that she was preparing it to go on the market in the next week or so. She also told me that she felt quite emotional about the idea of letting it go. She bought it a few years back and has put a lot of care into doing it up the way she likes.
I feel really sad about it, she said. I didn’t want to do it but he convinced me. Indeed, when I had dinner there with them a while back, he was pressing her to sell it and she had been resisting. Her own preference had been to rent it out, but he thought that would be too much hassle – better to offload it entirely.
It’s not illogical, actually. They are embarking together soon on a travelling expedition, and intend to set up a rural homestead upon their return, away from the city. The property market is precarious and they are giving up their incomes in order to travel, so freeing her from the responsibility of the mortgage will give them far greater flexibility. Nonetheless, my gut feeling is unease, that she has been persuaded to do something she didn’t want to do, that he is getting his way.
They’ve been dating since autumn. He had moved here a few months earlier, making a fresh start from a past life in another city. He’s energetic and ambitious, capable and charming; he knows what he wants for his future and has found someone who fits into it well. It’s exciting, romantic, idealistic… and she has surrendered herself to it, wholeheartedly.
I don’t know his girlfriend well enough to understand how much she has contributed to their plan, or where her own power lies in their relationship. I only see small glimpses of their interactions and am left to build my own impression: that he is in charge, and she has her place; that it’s his story, and she is a part of it, swept along by his drive. These are only impressions, and I could be very mistaken about what I think I’m seeing. And irregardless, she appears to be very happy and confident about their relationship. She has braced herself cheerfully toward the selling of her flat, despite her sadness at losing it. A new life awaits her.
What intrigues me about it – this situation in which she has agreed to sell her flat at his insistence – is how the elements of love and power and trust are playing out. She trusts him enough to concede power to him; she loves him sufficiently to dismantle the life she had built for herself here, and sign onto a life with him. When they set out on their travels, there will be nothing here of her own to which she might return.
I view her trustfulness with a wariness which is the legacy of a failed marriage and many years of single parenthood. The threads of love and power and trust were woven well enough for me at the start, but eventually they snarled, knotted, and unravelled. Do my friend and his girlfriend really want a life with each other, or do they just want a life with someone? Are they like another person I know who accepted a proposal and thereby disposed of her singlehood, with the remark “because I want what other people have.” Will they live happily ever after or repent at leisure?
Needless to say, I envy my friend’s girlfriend for the pleasure of being desired and for the simplicity of the plot she can now follow, with someone else in the lead, not to mention the social approbation that showers upon those who pair up.
On the other hand, I disdain that plot, and the surrender it demands. When I tried it myself, with someone I loved and trusted, it challenged me beyond endurance. What began as an adventure into the real life of adulthood very soon congealed into a stale routine of unrewarding work and emotional concession. The overriding purpose of our marriage was my husband’s wellbeing: my role was to support him, his role was to be supported. This dynamic grew so unbalanced and unhealthy that a new baby tipped the scales with demands that competed with and trumped his own.
I remember thinking at the time, when I was reaching the decision to leave him: what if this is it, what if I never meet anyone else and spend the rest of my life alone? It didn’t signify. A lifetime alone offered relief by comparison: I’ve never felt as lonely as I did during my marriage.
So what has this selling of a flat got to do with me, then? Fear. It stokes my fear, watching my friend and his girlfriend organise their future together: fear of being alone and unloved, the same fear inside everyone. It battles with my fear of riding gunshot in someone else’s life, of succombing to the numbing ease of a scripted plot. I fear my ability to accept terms that have been set by others, to surrender my own power as payment for the promise of being loved. As I watch my friend’s story unfold, I wonder how his girlfriend will feel after she sells her flat, and how much it will cost her.