It’s July in West Sussex, and I’m at a garden party, talking with a lawyer who has two sons in their early twenties. The oldest is living in Scotland, and the other, a sullen college student, is home for the month, tearing everyone’s head off. “So, do you have children?” she asks.

“Oh, no,” I tell her. “Not yet anyway. But I am in a relationship.”

She says that she is glad to hear it.

“My boyfriend will turn twenty-one this coming Wednesday,” I continue, “and you are so right about the moodiness of young men his age. I mean, honestly, what do they have to be so angry about?”

I do this all the time—tell people misleading things about Hugh. It’s fun watching them shift gears as they reëvaluate who they think I am. Sometimes I say that he’s been blind since birth or is a big shot in the right-to-life movement, but the best is when he’s forty-plus years my junior.

“Well . . . good for you,” people say, while thinking, I’m pretty sure, That poor boy! Because it’s creepy, that sort of age difference—vampiric.

“There’s a formula for dating someone younger than you,” my friend Aaron in Seattle once told me. “The cutoff,” he explained, “is your age divided by two plus seven.” At the time, I was fifty-nine, meaning that the youngest I could go, new-boyfriend-wise, was thirty-six and a half. That’s not a jaw-dropping difference, but, although it might seem tempting, there’d be a lot that someone under forty probably wouldn’t know, like who George Raft was, or what hippies smelled like. And, little by little, wouldn’t those gaps add up, and leave you feeling even older than you actually are?

It’s true that Hugh is younger than me, but only by three years. Still, I thought he’d never reach sixty. Being there by myself—officially old, the young part of old, but old, nevertheless—was no fun at all. C’mon, I kept thinking. Hurry it along. His birthday is in late January, which makes him an Aquarian. This means nothing to me, though my sister is trying her damnedest to change that. Amy’s astrologer predicted that Biden would win the 2020 Presidential election, and when he did she offered it as proof that Rakesh has extraordinary powers and thus deserves not just my respect but my business.

“You have to make an appointment and at least talk to him,” she said.

“No, I don’t,” I told her. “I mean, my dry cleaner predicted the same thing. Lots of people did.”

I’m a Capricorn, and according to the astrologer Lisa Stardust my least compatible signs for dating are Aries and Leo. My best bets are Cancers, Scorpios, and Pisceans.

I haven’t looked at what astrological signs Hugh should avoid going out with, mainly because it’s irrelevant. Not long after he turned sixty-one, we celebrated our thirtieth anniversary. Will we make it to thirty-five years? To fifty? Either way, do I really need to hear about it from Rakesh?

My mother became interested in astrology in the nineteen-eighties. She wasn’t a kook about it; she simply started reading the horoscopes in the Raleigh News & Observer. “Things are going to improve for you financially on the seventeenth,” she’d say over the phone, early in the morning if the prediction was sunny and she thought it might brighten my day. “A good deal of money is coming your way, but with a slight hitch.”

“Oh, no!” I’d say. “Are you dying?” I thought it was hooey, but in the back of my mind a little light would always go on. I guess what I felt was hope—my life would change, and for the better! The seventeenth would come and go, and, although I’d be disappointed, I would also feel vindicated: “I told you I wouldn’t find happiness.”

She never had her chart done, my mother, but she did branch out and start reading the horoscopes in Redbook, and in Ladies’ Home Journal, a magazine that had come to our home for as long as I could remember. The only column in it that interested me, the only one I regularly read, was called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

You could have taken everything I knew about long-term relationships back then and fitted it into an acorn cap. I thought that, in order to last, you and your wife or boyfriend or whatever had to have a number of mutual interests. They didn’t need to be profound. Camping would qualify, or découpaging old milk cans. The surprise is that sometimes all it takes is a mutual aversion to overhead lights, or to turning the TV on before 11 P.M. You like to be on time and keep things tidy, the other person’s the same, and the next thing you know thirty years have passed and people are begging you to share your great wisdom. “First off,” I say, “never, under any circumstances, look under the hood of your relationship. It can only lead to trouble.” Counselling, I counsel, is the first step to divorce.

I’ve thought of that Ladies’ Home Journal column a lot lately, wondering if marital problems in the seventies and eighties weren’t all fairly basic: She’s an alcoholic. He’s been sleeping with his sister-in-law. She’s a spendthrift and a racist, he’s a control freak, etc.

No couple argued over which gender their child should be allowed to identify as; no one’s husband or wife got sucked into QAnon or joined a paramilitary group. Sure, there were conspiracy theories, but in those pre-Internet days it was harder to submerge yourself in them. A spouse might have been addicted to Valium, but not to video games, or online gambling. I don’t know that one can technically be addicted to pornography, but that’s bound to put a strain on marriages, especially now, when it’s at your fingertips, practically daring you not to look at it.

I’ve watched a number of movies and TV shows lately in which the characters’ marriages dissolve for no real reason. I said to Hugh during “Ted Lasso,” “Did I miss the episode where he or his wife had an affair?” The same was true of Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story”: “Why are they getting a divorce?”

Don’t people who feel vaguely unfulfilled in their relationships just have too much time on their hands? Decide that you need to discover your true, independent self and the next thing you know you’ll be practicing Reiki or visiting an iridologist. That, I’ve learned, is someone who looks deep into your eyes and can see your internal organs. My sister Amy went to one, who told her that she had something stuck in her colon.

She took the diagnosis to her acupuncturist, who said that, actually, what the iridologist had seen in my sister’s eyes was trauma.

Amy said, “Trauma?”

He said, “Remember you told me you saw a mouse and a water bug in your kitchen one day last month?”

She said, “Yes.”

He said, “That’s trauma.”

My sister is not dating anyone—a good thing, as she’s got way too much time on her hands. And that, I think, is the No. 1 reason so many relationships fail. Too much free time, and too much time together. I’m normally away from Hugh between four and six months a year, and when the pandemic cancelled the tours I had scheduled I panicked. We were in New York at the time, so I sought out his old friend Carol. “What’s he really like?” I asked her. “I think I sort of knew once, but that was twenty-five years ago.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *