I adore my husband – I just don’t want to have dinner with him!
THE silence is pounding away, punctuated only by the occasional scrape of a knife on a dinner plate or the chink of a wine glass knocked against clenched teeth.
How long has it been since someone has spoken? Should I say something? But I can’t for the life of me think what to say. If you’d have told me a few years ago this is what a date with Jamie, my husband of six years, would become like I wouldn’t have believed you.
Back then, we used to howl with derisory laughter at those couples in restaurants eating in stony silence. We would never become like that, we thought, during our dating years, when hours seemed to fly by in restaurants as we flirted and giggled through course after course and numerous bottles of wine.
Back home, we could stay up into the small hours chatting about nothing and, when we were apart, we would text, email and ring each other dozens of times a day.
Six years, one mortgage and a son later, things are slightly different.
Now, my heart sinks when Jamie suggests a romantic dinner for two. Some of the excuses I’ve used are truly pathetic: I’ve just got some chicken out of the freezer, there’s a documentary on TV I want to see.
Dinner-a-deux is now an occasion more to be endured than enjoyed and it is always with a sense of shared relief that we pay the bill and head for the comfort of our home.
But don’t be mistaken, you haven’t just read a description of a failing marriage. My husband and I love each other to bits. He’s my best friend, soulmate and, along with our son, the person I’d choose to be stranded with on a desert island, because he’s funny, intelligent and a great father.
So, how did this happen to us? Was it because we became parents or did our relationship just mature this way?
Well, the chitchat slowed down, the early nights became about sleep and the texts were requests to pick up milk on the way home.
A typical evening became one spent at home happily offering little asides here and there, with plenty of quiet — not of the tumbleweed variety, but of a cosy kind.
We reached an understanding that one cannot be sizzling company all the time and enjoyed being able to offer each other time out after a day of working and raising a child.
I have my own theories: when Jamie became a father, his life was not turned inside out, as mine was. I was the centre of our son’s life, but my husband dipped in and out due to his career. He has time to think during his day at work, whereas mine — as a work-from-home mum — is spent bashing out words before hanging out the washing, making lunch and doing the housework.
I’ve forgotten how to communicate with adults; I notice it with childless friends who can chat away for hours without running out of steam.
But, at the not-too-ripe old age of 37, I am spent by 9pm; conversation requires listening, thinking and delving i nto one’s thoughts. Frankly, once my son is in bed, I haven’t got the energy to do that. I’d rather relax with books, crosswords and the TV and then go to bed, so I can recharge my depleted battery.
What’s more, I don’t feel the need to prove in public that our marriage is in good order. Going out when you only had eyes for each other was because you wanted the world to see you as an item, thoroughly in love and cocooned in intimate ‘do not disturb’ conversation.
These days, when we go to a party, we arrive and leave together, but in between we’ll mingle separately. We’ve heard each other’s stories a million times and part of the fun in going out is to share the gossip in the cab on the way home.
Parenting expert Tamsin Kelly, editor of parentdish.com, says such behaviour is perfectly healthy.
‘I’m sure we’re the only couple who, instead of complaining about being let down by the babysitter, routinely let the babysitters down,’ she says. ‘Early Saturday evening, we realise we can’t be bothered to go out to make conversation when we could be lying on a sofa watching the latest gripping box set and eating biscuits. ‘ It’s different if we’re in other people’s company — then my husband bothers to make his job sound funny and interesting, rather than talking about endless people called Dave. ‘And we can tell ever-so-entertaining anecdotes about our progeny without either of us wanting to hiss: “I know, I was there, too.”’ When it comes to silence, clinical psychologist Dr Funke Baffour says we should embrace and enjoy it, rather than seeing it as a sign of a relationship gone stale.
‘Silence is not a bad thing. When people are happy with it, it is a form of relaxation, a time to sit and reflect. Silence is extremely healthy within a relationship,’ she says.
It’s true that when my husband does force me to go out alone with him, plucking me from my hiding place in the wardrobe and bundling me into the taxi, I do relax, aided by a bottle of wine and a good steak.
But I’m yet to be convinced that a takeaway in front of the telly, just the two of us, can be beaten.
Perhaps the next time he suggests a night out, I can persuade him to see a film, so we can sit in blissful silence in the cinema instead.