The third wheel

New Straits Times - - Heal -

ON a re­cent trip to Bangkok, I found my­self sit­ting at the back of a taxi with a mar­ried cou­ple. I was in the city to at­tend a con­cert, and through a mu­tual friend we ended up rent­ing the same Airbnb ac­com­mo­da­tion and hung out to­gether most of the time.

I didn’t know much about them prior to this trip. But it turned out they are friendly, funlov­ing and easy to get along with.

On that par­tic­u­lar Satur­day when the sun was blaz­ing hot and we were in the taxi in the mid­dle of bustling Bangkok, stuck in traf­fic, I de­cided to in­ter­view them. “How long have you guys been mar­ried?” I asked.

They told me they had been mar­ried for three years.

THE THIRD-YEAR IN­TER­VIEW “So,” I be­gan, “Now that you’re three years in, is it dif­fer­ent from what you ex­pected be­fore you got hitched?”

“Yes,” the hus­band an­swered, al­beit a lit­tle hes­i­tantly. I saw that he quickly glanced at his wife for ap­proval, a flash of panic in his eyes. The wife agreed and was quick to elab­o­rate. “It is a lot more dif­fer­ent than how I en­vi­sioned it would be be­fore we got mar­ried,” she said.

The first three years of mar­ried life were less about the rain­bows-can­dies­flow­ers sto­ries and more about the real­ity of it all — the ad­just­ment of liv­ing to­gether, the newly dis­cov­ered sides of each other and in gen­eral, a lot of in­ter­est­ing “why can’t you just help me vac­uum?” type of ques­tions.


On the les­son learnt about co-ex­ist­ing with each other, both of them had the same im­me­di­ate an­swer. Tol­er­ance. It seemed to be the main theme of the dis­cov­ery process.

There is tol­er­ance af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that you will never quite get ex­actly what you fan­ta­sised about in a part­ner.

There is tol­er­ance af­ter learn­ing that there will be things about the other that you don’t quite fancy but you learn to ac­cept them.

There is tol­er­ance as ev­ery­one has flaws.

Peo­ple are in­di­vid­u­als, and you will never think alike, or have all the same opin­ions as each other.

It is in­ter­est­ing to ob­serve the evo­lu­tion of re­la­tion­ships from their be­gin­ning to three years later, to a few chil­dren later, to when they are an old mar­ried cou­ple.

As the nov­elty of a courtship fades away, so does the lovesick haze, that will then al­low you to see the real­ity of a per­son, which in­cludes bad habits, un­pleas­ant qual­i­ties and flaws.

My mother once told me that you will never find a man who will fit ex­actly into the “box” that you have pre-de­signed.

There will be things about the other that do not quite seem like what you ide­alised them to be. The ques­tion then is: Are those things worth tol­er­at­ing in ex­change for hav­ing that per­son in your life?


We’ve heard it all be­fore. Peo­ple have chal­leng­ing re­la­tion­ships but are de­ter­mined to be to­gether. Peo­ple who fall in love with oth­ers who are not at all their usual past choices. Peo­ple who are so dif­fer­ent from one another but have man­aged to be hap­pily united. Tol­er­ance is not easy.

The cou­ple in the taxi gave me an in­sight into life to­gether af­ter a few years, some­where be­tween the ex­cite­ment of new love and the com­fort of a long-term com­pan­ion­ship.

No mat­ter how sim­i­lar or dif­fer­ent you are to be­gin with, some­where down the line, the mat­ter of tol­er­ance will emerge, as no two in­di­vid­u­als are of the ex­act mould.

In to­day’s world where we are of­ten pre­sented with choices, as well as un­likely col­li­sions, what is worth tol­er­at­ing and what isn’t for the sake of to­geth­er­ness seems to al­ways be a ques­tion of the mod­ern­re­la­tion­ship dilem­mas.

Al­though there are such things as “deal-break­ers” when it comes to what is ac­cept­able, the real­ity is that main­tain­ing love, re­gard­less of type,stage and age, will even­tu­ally be largely a mat­ter of be­ing kind and tol­er­ant of each other’s in­di­vid­u­al­i­ties.

And al­though I was only a third-wheeler in this third-year mar­i­tal in­ter­view, I sure was glad to have learnt some­thing on that af­ter­noon taxi ride in Bangkok.

The sub­jects of my in­ter­view.

When it comes to what is ac­cept­able, the real­ity is that main­tain­ing love, re­gard­less of type, stage and age, will even­tu­ally be largely a mat­ter of be­ing kind and tol­er­ant of each other’s in­di­vid­u­al­i­ties.

The first months of mar­riage are like a fan­tasy which will even­tu­ally dis­perse slowly.

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