Posted on February 27th, 2020
Gary thought Carol knew how much he loved her, because of how well he maintained the yard. The closely-mowed lawn, the precisely-bordered beds, the profusions of seasonal flowers, all were intended to speak of his love. Or so he thought, because he never actually said anything about it to her.
Carol, for her part, didn’t really care about landscaping, but she knew Gary did, so she occasionally praised his efforts. Meanwhile, she waited for a hug (reserved for Mother’s Day and birthdays), waited in vain for him to notice her trim figure (why else all of that dieting?), waited for any questions about her life—the closest he came to that was asking her if she had time to pick up a bag of fertilizer on her way home. These unmet desires were what mattered to Carol, although she didn’t want to to have to ask for them, so she didn’t tell him.
Gary and Carol were similar to each other and compatible in not wanting to talk about feelings. This was so much the norm where they each had grown up that they didn’t even have to talk about not talking about it. It just was how it was.
Carol, for her part, had a comparable routine to Gary’s, hers centered around housekeeping. She cleaned thoroughly and made sure the house was always tidy. She shopped for food within a budget, prepared meals she thought he would like, kept his clothes clean. She appreciated being able to do all of this, none of which he seemed to notice very much. When he did happen to make a comment about what she had done—“Good dinner tonight”—her response was a demurral: “Oh, that? That was nothing.”
Everything is not perfect in the world of Gary and Carol. Gary is lonely, a loneliness intensified by his having no friends other than Jim, a long-ago college buddy he phones once a year. Carol likes to complain to her friend Sylvia about Gary’s inattentiveness, an ongoing complaint she adds to each time she and Sylvia have lunch.
But even these aspects of their life are not what they seem. Carol’s complaining is similar to her housework. They are what she learned about how to be a married woman from observing her mother. Both her housework and her complaining make Carol feel as though she’s getting life right. The same is true about Jim’s loneliness. He comes from a lonely family, a family in which feeling separate and alone was the mark of belonging. Yes, he’s lonely in his yard, but it’s exactly that loneliness which binds him to Carol, just as it has bound him to everyone in his larger family.
Ask them if they’re happy, and they would evade the question, since happiness is beside the point. Belonging is what matters to them. Ironically, what looks like a lack of love and connection between Gary and Carol actually is love and connection to them. They belong to each other.
Posted in Marriage and Couples