Irritations: the essence of married love

"There’s nothing so dangerous in a marriage as attempting to bring an outside perspective to bear"
February 18, 2016

What is the essence of married love? It’s the little things, right? Not the kindnesses you share—rather, the little irritations that, like the grit in the proverbial oyster, will eventually turn into pearls. I’ve been thinking about this since we had some friends to lunch the other day, and I made a foolish intervention.

My ever-loving wife had, very helpfully, stirred herself from among the roast beef and potatoes and half-empty goblets of wine and had started the washing up. A few minutes into this process I grabbed our friend Marthe and exclaimed: “Look! See! She’s crazy! See what I have to put up with?” “Whuh?” said Marthe.

“There! Look! The pans!”

There’s never anything so dangerous in a marriage, you see, as attempting to bring an outside perspective to bear. And here I was, attempting to enlist the support of an innocent friend—a human shield, if you like—in a long-running dispute.

I gestured at the draining area to one side of the sink. My wife had washed up a selection of pans and put them on the draining board to dry. But she had, as she always does, put them the right way up—which is to say, the wrong way up, if you follow me: she had put them the same way up you’d put them if you were using them to cook something.

I regard this as insane—it guarantees that you will trap a thin layer of dirty water between the pan and the worktop; and that such water as remains inside the pan from the washing up process, instead of running thanks to the miracle of gravity out of the pan and down the purpose-built—PURPOSE BUILT!—runnels in the draining area, will pool unpleasantly in the bottom of the pan.

I have tried gentle correction. I have tried mansplaining the physics. I have tried simply turning all the washing-up upside-down without her noticing. I have, occasionally, hollered and pulled at the hair just above my ears. Still, she won’t see reason.

Instead she comes back with something provocative and entirely reasonable like: “Why don’t you just dry them up?” And then when I explain that the whole point of having a drying rack is that you can allow the one part of the washing up that does itself—if you would just let it—to do itself, you’d all have more time to sit on your backside drinking red wine, she gives me this look as if I’m bossy and lazy and uptight or something.

Marthe, being a wise creature, took all this in with a twitch of the antennae, and avoided committing herself, instead turning the conversation deftly to the ongoing controversy between herself and her partner over the correct way to squeeze toothpaste. From the bottom of the tube, or the middle? A diversionary theatre of war thus opened, my marriage survived the afternoon.

Thank goodness we didn’t get on a roll. Other hot-button topics on which we differ: the insouciant removal of iPhone chargers from their designated positions; the opening of windows while the heating is on; the question of whether jigsaw bits, Fireman Sam figurines and plastic fruit and vegetables must all be separated and put in their places when tidying or whether they should be hoyed into a toy box to let God sort them out; the draping of coats over the end of the banisters rather than hanging them up; leaving the television on standby, which apparently kills polar bears; leaving razors and plugged-in power-tools lying around—kills children, apparently; and various things to do with smelling of alcohol, snoring, being grumpy, going too long between haircuts and airing marital disagreements in print.

Come to think of it, sweetheart: you do whatever you want with the pans.