An Ordinary Marriage
I always smile when I see the young boys strutting around, fluffing up and making noise, just so that finally a girl looks over at them.
And sometimes I think that it was only yesterday that I performed the same dance, clumsy and full of joy.
But it’s been so long since I hardly know what it felt like.
Maybe that’s why I should be sad and try this game again.
But when I look at the adults as they spread out and run after their lost youth, then I get sick and disgusted.
Because I see no longing, no hope or love, but only fear and despair over a missed life.
And that’s another reason why I decided long ago not to take part in this circus any more.
Of course it makes me lonely. Lonely in a time in which everyone dreams of romantic love and a life full of passion and spring scent.
But I didn’t care, I wanted to be alone and free rather than to play in this monkey show for the rest of my life.
At some point I came across a volume by Inge Merkel in which she took up similar thoughts and weaved a story from them.
A story so true and close to life that it almost hurts to read it.
She too talks about passion, love and desire, but she goes far beyond that. Because she knows that this is only a tiny little part of life, and only then comes what can perhaps be called love.
And she speaks of marriage as “a relationship in which man and woman … above all together and with the use of their gender differences, back to back, face the existence, the superiority of the world … Each of them brings their specific abilities into play to cope with this existence, and together they have a chance to stay in the surf of the superior to some extent”.
Today this seems banal to many. They long for the one, great love that will change their lives, that will heal everything and in which there is passion and romance until the end of their lives.
But that’s just a reflection of a basically pathetic culture.
Because man and woman are far too different to ever succeed.
After a short period of passion comes disillusionment, a period of deep injury and strangeness. Not so much for lack of love as because two foreign worlds meet here.
Of course, this could also be beneficial, healing and fulfilling for both partners, but hardly anyone dares this step today.
We much prefer to talk about individuality and equality and by that we mean only an equalisation of man and woman.
But we will never find this similarity and the more we fight for it, the more we will lose.
When I look at the people in my life, marriage seems to me like the torture chamber of the 21st century.
For instead of understanding the other as a basically foreign person who gives us a part of his life, everyone tries to shape his partner according to his inner image.
And it poisons not only his marriage, but also the person he loves.
Inge Merkel speaks of another way.
She knows about the equality of man and woman, she shows that Penelope can easily hold a candle to Ulysses and is just as clever and cunning as he is. But it also shows that for her as a woman other things count than for a man.
For Ulysses pushes it out into the world, before Troy, because “men must leave their homes”, for “this is not a proper image of a man who does not want to leave his wife and child and house and court for a while”.
Today this is often seen as an escape, as a betrayal of really deep love.
But this is simply an age-old urge of the man, who must prove himself in a world of like-minded people to see who is the strongest.
A woman will never fully understand. A woman may never understand that. The two worlds are too different.
But which man still chooses this path today? What man has the courage and the strength to revolt against the narrow limits of our time?
And what woman would let that happen without turning her back on him?
Still on Ulysses’ deathbed Penelope asks the question by which all men can be subjugated today.
“Have you ever loved me?”
Ulysses evades the answer and tries to joke: “You know! It was good talking to you … in spite of your mouth … and the one with the rudder was your masterpiece … it was never boring with you”.
Maybe he finally wanted peace. Maybe he just got tired of having to explain himself as a man over and over again.
For everyone understands Penelope, but who understands Ulysses’ kind of love?
A man’s love is something completely different from what we believe today. Not this youthful spread, this immature behavior that we know from the media. And also not this romanticism, which most women demand over and over again to fill their inner emptiness and hide their own insecurity.
But Ulysses is only tired of all of them and doesn’t speak the words Penelope has been waiting for so long for.
Once more she sees in his eyes a spark of his former cunning and hears him say: “What else do you want? Don’t drill!”
Then he dies. And Penelope is left alone.
Maybe it’s true, and Ulysses really couldn’t love. Perhaps he was only the cunning hero before Troy, but with a paralyzed tongue where it was really important.
But maybe he was just tired. Tired of bringing proof of his love over and over again.
Without ever understanding that his love, a man’s love, is of a different kind.
And he can’t give Penelope what she wants.
Nevertheless, the book ends conciliatory.
Because they both reached out across the trench that separated them, and walked a piece of the way together. A little less lonely than before, a little more upright and courageous, in a deep awareness of her otherness.
And that is more than one can hope for as a human being.