Doing it Your Way
“Just do it,” Nike ads encourage us, an image behind the words of freely following your heart. Perfume, cars, clothing, holidays: loads of things are advertised to speak to the same unname-able longing we all carry in our hearts. Frank Sinatra plucked a related string when he mused on how he’d lived his life: “I did it myyyyyyyyyyyyyyy wayyyyyyyyyy!” I recently learned how important it is for us to dwell a little more on the real concept behind the advertisers’ hype and Frank’s perhaps defiant declaration. This is how it happened:
I married a quiet guy. We were drawn together by, among other things, a shared love of the outdoors, the same sense of humour, an intellectual bent, and a creative streak. Everyone thought we were a perfect match, and this seemed true to us as well. Through the years we’ve had our tough times, but the fact that we pulled through seemed to endorse that we were made for each other.
Yet over the fifteen years we’ve known each other, we both also changed and grew. Micky had to work hard to provide for me and our growing family, and had less and less opportunity to live out his creative side. He encouraged me to develop mine, though, and my life revolved ever more around writing. One of the reasons we moved to Ireland was to have more opportunities to indulge our love of outdoor pursuits. Here in Dundalk, we’re ten minutes’ drive from good walks in the Cooley mountains, while an abundance of more serious climbing waits an hour away in the Mourne mountains. Micky could use his time off more and more for his first love, rock climbing. He encouraged me to start cycling, and I discovered a passion for long journeys on two wheels.
I stopped watching television, because it has never interested me that much in the first place. Micky’s needs were different from mine, and it was a relief for him to come home and be able to flop in front of the telly a few hours after a hard day’s work. After years of only one computer in the house, we each got our own laptop. Television time was now often turned into computer time, but while Micky delights in philosophical debates with people all over the world, I snigger over the latest lolcats.
We haven’t gone on an awful lot of holidays together. When we did, we discovered that he likes to take in as many sights as possible in the limited time at our disposal, while I would rather spend a few hours at one place. Moving to Ireland brought a huge shift in our circumstances: there are no grandmothers, aunties or uncles to babysit while we go away together for a weekend break. Moreover, his dream getaways involve climbing trips, while mine are all filled with days of cycling. It made sense for us to cooperate to make it possible for us both to fulfill our dreams: one stays home to look after the children while the other goes away (we try to also take the children away once a year, and Micky takes them on regular walks in the mountains). Because we live simply and holiday simply, we can go away for a fraction of what it costs for a more conventional holiday (the fee for a camping spot in Switzerland was about €10, while a night at a hotel cost €60). If we insist on going together, though, the cost of child care for a weekend, for instance, would probably make it impossible for either of us to ever get away.
But recently we both became aware that we live very separate lives. While we knew we still loved each other, we were increasingly concerned that we’re allowing a chasm to develop between us which might become impossible to cross if we didn’t mend it now.
So one night, when Micky got home from work, he resisted going straight to the computer after dinner. Instead he sat with me at the kitchen table. We stared at each other for a few seconds. I searched desperately for something to say, ended up babbling about little things that had happened during my day. Why could this not be as nice as the occasional spontaneous long discussions we indulge in while I’m cooking? I despaired of us ever being as close as my friend Adele and her husband, who do everything together. Or my other friend, who doesn’t go anywhere without her husband.
Later, in bed, when we quietly joked about a funny story we’ve been elaborating on since just after we were married, I came out with the truth. “Baby, when we did the talking thing today, I kept wanting to tell you it’s fine now, you can go.”
“I didn’t particularly enjoy it, either.”
Taking a deep breath, I soldiered on. “I want to do that race in March, you know, the obstacle course thing. I showed you the photos online, remember?”
He shuddered. “That one where everyone is covered in mud?”
“Yes. I’m so excited about that, I can’t wait to do it. But... please don’t feel insulted, Love, but I’d really like to go alone. Unless you really want to go with me...”
“No. I would have gone if you wanted me to, but if it’s all the same, I’d prefer not to. It would be a bit like if I asked you to come along with me when I go climbing.”
It was my turn to shudder. Sure, if he really, really wanted me to, I would. I could go for walks while he goes on the actual climb, but I’d much rather stay home. “Thanks for understanding,” I said. We thought things over in the dark. “But if we both in honesty prefer doing our sports alone, and we don’t really enjoy forced time together, what are we going to do to be closer?”
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“I wish we could just carry on as we have been,” I blurted. “I mean, sure we live very separate lives, but even so, I can’t bear to even think of living without you. I don’t want to lose you.”
He reached out under the duvet and took my hand. “It’s okay, Love. You won’t.”
The next night was Stitch ‘n Bitch Club. It was my first time going, and I was nervous as hell. Would I fit in? Would my crochet work be good enough, or would someone there be able to point out all my beginners’ flaws? I waited until Micky came home from work before leaving, so I could have a hug and his encouraging words before I went. Two hours later, I was back.
“How was it?” Micky asked.
“Fantastic. I had a ball, the girls made me feel like I’d always been part of the group. They’re great, not old fuddies like I worried they’d be, and I’m definitely going again next week.” He was already in bed, laptop on his lap, watching an online video. I sat down beside him and pulled out my crochet work, glanced at the screen. “Oooh, Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens. I watched a bit of that debate, I really enjoyed Fry.”
“Tsk! Now how can she raise that point in a debate like this?”
“Yeah, and isn’t that guy’s voice annoying? He has good arguments, but hell, listening to him you can barely concentrate on what he’s saying.”
“You think he sounds annoying. Let me just find you this video on YouTube, and I’ll show you annoying.”
We discussed annoying voices, finished watching the debate together, and joked about the characters in our silly story before going to sleep side by side. That’s how we roll. It’s our way, and from now on, we’re following Frank’s advice.