“Isn’t it funny how when we first moved in together we had visions of us drinking freshly squeezed orange juice and reading the papers together every Sunday?” he says. Not particularly, I think to myself, as I pack the last four years of my life into cardboard boxes. I seal them shut with parcel tape that says ‘fragile’ in big, red block capitals. It’s a word that describes how I feel as much as it does the assortment of feminine trinkets that I am taking with me as I move out of our shared flat, wrapping each artificial plant and photo frame in bubble wrap before carefully putting it in the box.
There’s a very good reason why we didn’t spend our weekends in bed reading the newspapers and drinking freshly squeezed orange juice, I think to myself, somewhat bitterly. You had no interest in doing so: the fantasy was purely mine from the get-go. The last few months before this conversation consisted of me staying in bed for as long as I could, reading the news on my smartphone and mindlessly scrolling on TikTok, before finally coming through into the living room where you could inevitably be found watching or playing something involving football. I guess we both took comfort in our separate screens rather than the quiet rustle of newspaper pages, and in doing so, we grew further and further apart from one another.
I don’t blame you for taking solace in the one thing that has always brought you great comfort; I just wish I could feel the same excitement you do when your team scores. The fact that you have no interest in reading didn’t matter when there was a carousel of experiences for us to have together: nice meals in restaurants, nights out with friends, holidays around the world. I genuinely found it funny when you bought James Corden’s autobiography twice, in two different airports, and then still failed to finish it.
But then the global pandemic happened, and the realisation that we had absolutely nothing in common hit us like a freight train. We had nothing to say to one another. It doesn’t take a genius to see that you were worried we would end up like your parents: the fable of the introvert who loved an extrovert. Once the seed of doubt was sown, it grew like ivy over our foundations. Ivy, although beautiful, is toxic to humans and to animals: it turns out doubt can poison a relationship too.
In spite of being more and more aware of our differing interests as each day went by, I always took solace in the aphorism: This too shall pass. COVID-19 was, to me at least, a storm to be weathered. A bump in the road. When couples get married they commit to loving one another “in sickness and in health” – what better test of our longevity than surviving cooped up working together in a one-bed flat during a global pandemic? I was proud of us and the way we’d grown together over the years, and I felt like we had the tools we needed to make a real go of it. It wasn’t always easy, but then I never really expected it to be.
When you suggested buying a house, it seemed like the obvious next step after three years together. And why not, right? Months of being cooped up inside with nothing to fritter our salaries on left us in a fortunate position. Hearing the mortgage advisor say the words ‘children’ and ‘marriage’ gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of contentment: yes, those were things I wanted, albeit not anytime soon, and I wanted them with you. I could see myself sitting at home, reading the weekend papers, while you took our kids to football practice. However, these words had an altogether different effect on you. In your eyes, buying a house was just financial practicality, not an emotional commitment. You realised you didn’t want it: not with my name on the deed, next to yours, at least.
The growing sense that something was wrong gnawed away at me, my stomach a constant pit of anxiety. When you finally blurted out that you didn’t want to go ahead with buying a house together, I was stunned. I felt like a yo-yo that had been let go, only to be sharply pulled back in. I still loved you, though, and so I listened to you explain your rationale for the change of heart, patiently assuring you that I was in no rush and that I would wait until you were ready. “Put it this way, I can’t see myself proposing to you anytime soon,” you said. Kick a woman while she’s down, why don’t you, I thought at the time.
But in a way, being told that you didn’t want to marry me was probably the best thing you could have said. It took hearing how wildly different our expectations of the future were for me to accept that maybe, we weren’t capable of weathering the COVID-19 storm together, after all.
I now sit in my parents’ house, my room adorned with the cacti and photo frames, unwrapped from their bubble wrap. I reach for my glass of orange juice, and take a refreshing gulp, before picking up the weekend papers. Sometimes life has a rather curious way of giving you what you always wanted all along.