When I think about my relationship with my partner I think about the smallest, most unremarkable of acts. When I dye my hair at home I ask him to check the back of my neck for colour. Presenting him with the damp corner of a towel, I ask him to check the parts of me I cannot see. And he dabs, feather light, at my skin removing anything that doesn’t belong. He goes about this task seriously, and so gently, as though my skin were soft butter, as though he wouldn’t want to crush me.
It is so unglamourous. Me, with my oldest T shirt on, the one that I don’t mind getting stained, my hair wrapped in glad wrap, and him halfway through marking tests. But long term relationships aren’t glamourous. They aren’t about cocktails and suave evenings. They’re about getting up quietly in the early morning so as to not wake your sleeping partner, about taking the rubbish out, not getting anchovies on pizza. It is the story of the long term that has us wordlessly remembering old griefs, sharing joys and battling challenges together. The back story doesn’t need to be told.
Myself, I scrub until my skin is raw. I chew my cuticles until they bleed, once a month I pay a woman to pour hot wax on my skin and rip hair out by the roots. I treat my soul with equal brusqueness. I am my harshest critic, I have 35 years worth of memories to belittle myself with, to never forgive. My partner though, he is that gentle with all of me, with my soul and my heart. Until I need a wake-up call. And even then he is kind. The history of our relationship will be his forgiveness. The most commonly used phrase in his text messages to me is “you’re allowed to be human”. He is the only person who tells me this seemingly self-evident truth. I feel I do not deserve it.
I forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have the deft touch of my love. I forget that he knows me so well, perhaps even better than my family because he has a distance that gives him perspective. I forget that he is the only person I have ever met who I am able to present with the parts of me I cannot see and know, always trust, that he will be gentle, forgiving and kind.