The other day I think of when I think of James's and my anniversary would be a week after it.
I was not having a good day, to put it mildly.
We were a couple of days into what ended up being The Month Without Internet. And the kitchen sink was blocked despite all the usual means of attacking it.
I was wearing my grubbiest clothes, spattered with bleach, alternating between calling up our phone and internet providers, sure this kafkaesque situation couldn't be as bad as it seemed yet continually discovering it was even worse, and trying to get the u-bend off the sink drain to see if that was where it was blocked.
Nothing was working. All my stress and effort on both fronts was getting me absolutely nowhere. I was not happy.
So when James texted me to ask me how my day was going, I don't remember what I said but it must have sounded pretty miserable. I remember reading the reply from him, "wish I could help" or somesuch while I was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, head tilted back against the wall, having again failed to do more than hurt my hands trying to pry the u-bend loose. "I wish you could too," I said. I wished anybody
could. I clearly wasn't good enough on my own.
Eventually he volunteered come over, if I wanted. It was, after all, his day off. My mind boggled at this. Why would anybody want to come in to such a situation like this? I'd have loved to get away from it!
I gratefully accepted his offer. I really wanted to see him. I did fleetingly think that it was a shame I only got one go at "I'm wearing my favorite skirt and am able to carry on a conversation" before he'd see me frazzled, frustrated, fragrant of strong chemicals. But then I thought well hell, I know I can't consistently pretend to be happy and competent and well put-together for any length of time. I'd like things to work out with this guy, but if they're going to, he's going to see me crazed and unlovely sooner or later -- and probably often -- so to hell with it. We'll start that already, trial by fire.
The conceit for us to start chatting was another quote I put in my blog:
frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.
I'm so bad at small talk that this really appealed to me. "So, do you want to exchange dark secrets?" James said in a comment, and we started telling each other about ourselves, but this felt like a darker secret to me than any of the silly stories I'd told him so far. I don't like who I am when I'm having a bad day, when I'm self-absorbed and self-pitying. I don't like being seen then. Especially by someone I like and want to like me.
By the end of the day, we were no closer to having internet or being able to use the kitchen sink (or the washing machine, annoyingly, it needing the blocked pipe in order to drain). But I'd taken James to my beloved local pub, delighted that he liked it too, and we went out for dinner before he had to get a train home.
That morning, I had written I really want something good to happen to me today
with no real expectation or idea of what it might even be, but I got it anyway. I felt so lucky.
And, far from scaring him away, he's since seen me through much worse, especially recently, being there for me after a work meeting so stressful that I'd had a week of panic attacks and self-harm before it, and of course being immeasurably helpful in moving house, from spotting patches of damp at house-viewings to carrying furniture into our new house to figuring out how to get into the loft, and letting me whine and complain at him as much as I wanted about every stressful, expensive, intimidating or frustrating thing in the house-buying process.
I described our relationship yesterday, only to get a laugh (and it did), as "relentlessly unromantic" but that's not really true. One of the iconic features of our relationship seems to be saying goodbye at train stations in a way that charms passersby (but not train conductors), my favorite still being the woman with a baby on my train from Brighouse who saw me standing in the train doorway kissing James standing on the platform (this handily makes us about the same height!) and turned to her baby and said "your daddy doesn't kiss me like that any more." I told her that I know I am very lucky.
But really, being the kind of people who believe that relationships are based on sarcasm and mutual condescension, and I know I at least have had a challenging year, we've had a lot of pragmatic conversations and a lot of days when neither of us is at our best. And each of us worries when we're the miserable one, like I worried here, but we always reassure the other person that it's fine and they're not as difficult to be around as they think, and then we have naps or drink beer or talk about cricket, or whatever, and it all seems to go very well.
I think this day also started the tradition of us expecting to see each other on Thursdays. The first "date" was on a Thursday just because that was the one day I wasn't working that week, this was a Thursday because, it being James's day off, he could actually offer to see me, and after that we just kind of assumed that if it was Thursday one of us would probably get on a train.