Having just returned from a child- and dog-free break with my husband, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I’ve begun to wonder if after eleven years and two kids, it is necessary to abandon all dependants and splash a thousand euros simply to remind ourselves to take notice of each other.
We’d had date nights regularly and the odd weekend by ourselves at home, but it wasn’t until we were on a plane speeding down the runway at 200 miles an hour that we felt free to be us again.
The sun was fierce, the streets were shady. There was no dog lead to grip, no noses to wipe, no timetable to adhere to. We wandered the cobbled paths of San Sebastián, with no more pressing obligation than to pick a place for lunch.
At first it felt strange – we checked our phones, we talked about the house alarm, the Thames Water refund. Then we stopped for coffee, then tapas. We browsed the shops, and began to look around, and at each other.
We climbed the Urgull. We walked along the beach. We breathed in the hot salty air. He made me laugh. I made him laugh more (because I’m funnier). We held hands.
We talked about life, our dreams (oh yeah I’d forgotten about those) and when each of us spoke, we actually listened to each other.
We swam in the sea, dived through the waves and body surfed like teenagers. We ate croquettes, we drank Tempranillo, we had sun downers and night caps. We found a dive bar and danced like loons. The bed was lumpy and the air con rattled but we slept like babies, in each other’s arms.
We remembered who we used to be. I remembered that he wasn’t simply an annoying presence in front of the fridge/sink/or wherever else I needed to be. Or the perma-exhausted workaholic who neglected to fix stuff around the house and put the bins out. We didn’t bicker once. No competition over who’d had the least sleep, who was working the hardest, whose job it was to discipline the kids or deal with the dog’s impacted anal glands.
On the last day, we both felt strange, as though we’d travelled back in time to check in with our old selves, but we knew that wasn’t our life anymore. Of course we’d missed the kids, we’d missed the dog, we wouldn’t want to change any of that, but there was a heavy silence, almost a mourning as we wheeled our cases towards the carpark.
At the airport, his iPhone came out [he had work to catch up on], my eye-rolling resumed [we’re still on holiday you know]. I bought a magazine. He typed emails and checked voicemails. I felt a sulk brewing.
On the plane, I thought about all the research I’d conducted into how to make love last. Few people have the luxury of nannies on tap/family support or a five-star budget. And most couples are so weighed down by the admin of life, it’s hard to differentiate our relationships from our shared responsibilities. Maybe we’ve overcomplicated matters. Maybe we need to stop working so hard to build a future, and instead like the millennials, live for the moment.
I glanced out the window to see the sands of Concha Bay slipping away into the distance, the surfers bobbing up and down in the waves, fading to nothing, and realised that what’s special about romantic love is the very fact that it’s fleeting.
Like catching the perfect wave, we have no control over the ocean, but it helps to be in the water, be present and ready to ride that mother f*cker when it comes.
Or at least just as soon as I’ve called Thames Water…
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