Loving In A World Of Desire
It was always going to be a tricky scene. After some spectacularly failed relationships, Kate Gordon (obvious author avatar, subverted MarySue, and yet, at the same time, the kind of Big Bird character through whom the reader enters into the emotional world of the artists whose fandom puts the fan in the fiction) is understandably wary of formalising her relationship with "Damien," the charming but roguish conceptual artist (bear with me, here) with whom she has finally found acceptance, contentment and a healthy, workable relationship which actually meets her needs.
In the original scene, written when I was pushing 30, he essentially bullied, manipulated and emotionally blackmailed her into it. Which probably speaks a lot more to my thoughts, at that age, on marriage, than it ever did to the characters in the novel. It sat uneasily with me for a decade. It was supposed to be a giant romantic gesture, albeit one that backfired spectacularly for the purposes of plot development and ~drama~. His bullying, and her acquiescence - it read all wrong. I rewrote it about 3 times before its initial publishing back in the 90s, but I still couldn't help feeling I'd betrayed the characters.
But re-reading it, safely from the other side of 40, I was struck by how insistently, how vociferously KG protested the she did not, in point of fact, want to get married at all. Some of her concerns seemed valid (as the bass player in a touring rock band, she feared losing her freedom, creative as well as physical, not to mention her fear that she was a compulsive cheater, and just not suited for monogamy) and some of them now seem ridiculously childish (an archetypical kidult, she did not want to grow up and get pulled from her world of backstage parties and Groucho Club booze-ups to a life of "minivans, tupperware and the school run.")
It was actually shocking to me, to remember that aspect of my 20s, and realise how, by my 40s, I have actually come full circle. Not with regards to boozing and carousing, which I've given up, but in a complete resistance to even the idea of trying to aspire to a marriage-type relationship.
My 30s were weird, like some kind of aberration. The pressure, it was relentless, from my family, from my peer group as they paired off, from the cultural climate, sometimes, surprisingly, according to the typical narratives, even from the lads I dated. Maybe part of it was "biological" - not so much a ticking clock, as an almost compulsive hormonal frenzy, triggered by a failed pregnancy when I was 31. Looking back on it it seems like some kind of madness, that frenzy for Coupling. All I can say is, it passed, and looking back on those relationships, I am *so* grateful that it did pass.
So I rewrote the scene, from the wisdom of distance, to be more faithful to the characters' personalities, and to the kind of relationship I would have actually have wanted, and been happy in, when I was 30. Though I still kept the proposal as exactly that - a marriage proposal. Then into the middle of this, dropped a tweet linking to an interview with Samhita Mukhopadhyay about a book I'm actually quite curious to read. In opposition to the cultural narrative that, if you are an older single woman, ~feminism~ is ruining your lovelife, she posits that actually, it's *dating* that is ruining your lovelife. That those old cultural narratives and expectations need a thorough revising, not just a revisiting.
I want to shout back, through the intervening decade, at Kate Gordon "If you don't want to do it, don't agree to it!" But if she'd done that, there would be no drama and no story, no drug-induced elopement with the wrong man, and the novel would be 200 pages shorter. So perhaps it's my own younger self that I want to shout back at. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself!
I suppose that's the nice thing about getting older, as well as the awful thing. People tell me that it's never too late, you may yet meet some nice man... but that's missing the point. It's really freeing, to give yourself the permission to accept failure. I've let myself go. I've stopped trying. I've become the kind of mad old lady who shouts at bus stops, if that's what I feel like doing. One level, sure, it makes me a little bit sad, that nagging reminder of what might have been. But mostly, it's pure relief.
There are days that it's hard. Mostly Sunday mornings. The uncomfortable reminder that I wake up in an empty bed, when really what I would like is some leisurely spooning followed by some energetic sex. But who am I kidding? The other six nights of uninterrupted sleep and what my friend Sarah calls "going starfish" in an empty bed more than makes up for it. Not having to negotiate the endless petty sacrifices of a relationship. The never-ending emotional admin of looking after a man. No thank you. I *like* the freedom to be selfish.
To be honest, it's when I start to wish prostitution were legal - or at least, that it catered more to women. When I wish I could negotiate a contract on those terms - we will have relations on Sundays only. I don't pay you to have sex with me, I pay you to leave, afterwards, with no questions and no entanglements and most specifically, no demands until you return without fuss the next week. Yes, it's an unreasonable expectation, and a selfish one. But why can't I negotiate a relationship that is nothing more than an ongoing series of one night stands? Because, I suppose, like the author I used to be ten years ago, I hear mine own mouthpiece stating explicitly what I really want, but I'm too scared to listen and actually ask for it..