I have often found that being unmarried doesn’t preclude you from the intimacies of the domestic lives of your friends. Certainly if they can throw you a life jacket as you navigate the stormy waters of the single life, you are obliged to push their boat along the placid stream of domesticity. Couple friends in many ways mirror one’s view of parental relationships. To put it simply, you don’t really want to be sitting on their couch and thinking about their sex life. It’s just not very comfortable. And usually they spare you the details. However, it’s when they are not having sex that you are brought into the mix. So when my friend told me she wasn’t really into it, I reacted with rehearsed incredulity, which is now my artful defence when accosted by sexual forwardness—be it in adult or child. How can you have a good marriage and not be into it? Quite clearly, you can. She loves her husband, they have great conversation, they just don’t have great sex. Having perceived neither in sexual avatar, I am at odds with a suitable response. So I throw sexual platitudes favouring her partner. Wrong move! “You don’t think I’m sexy,” she looks at me with hurt. “No,” I clarify, “I think you’re very sexy; I was just doing the whole reverse psychology thing. It’s like a new hair cut, you like it better when others praise it.” No dice? I can tell that she is a whisker away from asking for specifics. So I decide to bring on the blanket statement: “I think you’re both amazingly sexy, I just can’t figure out why you’re not having sex!”
In response, she shakes her head. It wouldn’t be of any help to suggest Cosmo—her therapist already had. Instead, she tells me that she keeps a calendar, circling the days when they “do it”. “Next time you come over”, she says (like she’s speaking of the new oven), “I will show it to you”. I get the whole mechanics of marriage and it’s the part I don’t really think about that just helps keep the whole illusion going—it’s the buoy that keeps me in the waters. Furthermore, my statistically inclined mind would certainly map a trend and henceforth be condemned to looking at the days on a calendar with voyeuristic foresight.
Unaware of my ambivalent thoughts, she leans over and tells me that she wouldn’t really mind him seeking it elsewhere. I am all for the ‘observe don’t judge’, ‘control of the body doesn’t only mean an articulation of desire, it means taking charge of it’ line. But in this case, when there was a lack of it, must we insist on skulking back into the cave, and letting the hunter gather his experiences elsewhere? I looked at the woman who sat before me—self-possessed and dismissive, so familiar with sex that she was beyond it.
Some sexologists attest that prescribed infidelity is great for a marriage. That is if one can get away with it. By introducing permissiveness and a time limit on this pass, it’s an “honourable” attempt at making a marriage work. It’s not an “open marriage”—in the scandalous sense that is relished. It is an evolved consensus, supporters would argue, of tackling the sexual demands of two people who are at their sexual peak. The world is changing and so must the rules. It is more difficult to be in a marriage as opposed to being outside one. It has even changed the landscape of the dating world for singles, apart from it being more populated, what one finds now are people who are in a lot of ways “almost single”. They are open about their marital status and their “ins” and “outs”. There is no more twisting of the wedding band off the finger, no obfuscation of personal details. The offer is on the table. Just how many turn away? Even those who sit on the outside and view marriage as a portal into the world of the accepted, those who view it in terms of absolutes, remain seated at the table.
Passion is a dangerous word, it is a synonym today for a life well lived. It’s no longer a luxury, it has become a necessity. Its absence felt, chronicled and analysed. No longer shoved under the bath mat or explained and dismissed as the vagaries of a hormonal rush. It’s real and not only an expectation, but a demand. Hence the pressure and the stress, the constant striving of making it work. A whole plethora of industries like publishing, lingerie, beauty, medical, pharmaceuticals are directed at reigniting the passion in a marriage, building the romance, keeping it exciting. And debatably, it just might be as simple as letting each other out to graze for a bit?
(Advaita Kala is a bestselling novelist.)