“So how do we get this train back on the track?” I say.
“I don’t know,” he replies.
We’re at lunch, and we’ve talked of everything and nothing for the last forty minutes. We’ve been distant for a few weeks. Nothing serious, no protracted arguments, just distant — at least compared to the usual. All it took was a conflict managed poorly on both sides, and then getting swept into two weeks of sickness and heavy obligations to make us hunker down separately to get through. We discussed the issue, but never really came to much of a resolution. There is no fighting, no overt hostility; things just feel wary and mechanical.
Before this lull we were in a kind of golden period — close, intimate, in sync. Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her book The First Four Years, talked about the time immediately after she and her husband Almanzo were married: “It was a carefree, happy time, for two people thoroughly in sympathy can do pretty much as they like.”
Thoroughly in sympathy.
The phrase popped up in my mind again as I was considering our recent chilly phase. When something arises in a relationship that backs each person into their own corners, sympathy and care-taking gets directed toward the self pretty quickly. That’s normal. But at some point you have to figure out how to re-extend those things to your partner, because they are the seeds of intimacy. We both know this — my husband is a family therapist — but it’s an easier thing to know than to do.
And so we arrive back at the only real wedding vow we took (except for my joke about never using his bath towel): always be willing to go back to square one. Relationships are cyclical, and with two messy human beings, square one becomes a familiar hangout. And square one is always about figuring out how to come back together after somehow ending up apart.
We took a walk after lunch, holding hands even as it didn’t feel perfectly comfortable, and when the time came for us to go back to work, we kissed. He kept his lips on mine for longer than was really necessary for a goodbye kiss. There was something about the warm softness of that kiss that flooded into the gap between us, cushioning the prickly things that had been keeping us apart.
Thoroughly in sympathy. For a few more seconds than expected. Square One wasn’t such a bad place.
“Maybe more of that would do it,” I said.
“Maybe,” he said with a grin as we went our separate ways.