Love is Winter: Can a 'Move-On' Generation find the Comfort of Commitment? 'Notes on a Marriage' author Selma Carvalho writes

Fairytale marriages do not exist. But is a lifelong commitment to show up for each other still possible?

Selma Carvalho Updated: Feb 14, 2024 16:21:25 IST
Love is Winter: Can a 'Move-On' Generation find the Comfort of Commitment? 'Notes on a Marriage' author Selma Carvalho writes Shutterstock

If I think of marriage, I think of winter, a heavy northern winter, snow-blinded windows, hard frosts, dead leaves, skies so sullen, the grey bleeds into rooftops and trees. This seems contradictory, love is the coming of spring, bringing us its red-rosed promise of newness and hope, but to me it is winter’s cold breath, its muffled sounds, its calm silences, its prolonged incarceration, the endurance of living things hidden underground.

This is the image my mind retains, because three months after we tie the knot, my husband and I arrive in Minnesota, in deep winter. Not a soul stirs in the pale light of lamp posts outside sparse and solitary houses buried in snow. Within the barren walls of our unfurnished apartment, within its cold and damp rooms, I discover I really don’t know my husband. I am living with a stranger. Our year-long courtship has revealed only an illusion. Now that illusion is unravelling.

Here in the small galley kitchen where I learn to cook, in the water-stained bathtub where I bathe, in the living room where I watch American news on the one thing we can afford to buy, a television set, I discover my husband is going to let me down, horribly and repeatedly, that I am going to spend many nights crying, and hating the man sleeping next to me. What is this stifling life-long contract I have signed up to? Who devised this hobbling institution into which I have committed myself?

Winter gives way to spring, rivers thaw, buds bloom, we argue, we make up, we cry, we laugh, we infuriate each other, we make love, we throw away burnt meals, we eat takeout, we read poetry, we watch movies.

When at last spring turns to summer warming our backs with its lemony light, we travel long distances in our polluting, second-hand Toyota car, we stay in bed & breakfast inns, we go to artists’ studios and buy cheap paintings, we dine at all-you-can-eat buffets and swear never to go back, we get to know each other. The scales from my eyes fall away. Before me is no longer the cardboard cut-out of my young, blurry dreams—the tall, handsome man who is going to rescue me, who is going to have deep and meaningful conversations about Darwinian evolution, who is going to dance like Travolta and quip like Mark Twain.

cropped-selma_021424040407.jpgThe author, Selma Carvalho


No, before me is a man, flawed and incomplete, a man who is going to destroy every rainbow-coloured dream I have ever dreamt about my future and build it up again in new ways. That autumn, the first leaves begin to wilt, the days grow shorter and the nights colder, we watch in horror the twin towers sinking into rubble, America turning into a wounded nation, mourning its loss, mustering all its collective strength to heal. We live through this history, we feel something shifting profoundly, and we are in some inextricable waybound together in the immensity of the moment.

That was nearly 24 years ago. Since then, we have lived through our own history, we have mourned our own losses, we have celebrated our own triumphs, we have moved several houses and continents, raised a child and a cat, built a life. What I’ve discovered is that before me stands a man willing to commit to marriage, a man who is a wonderful father, a hardworking man building our home one brick at a time, a kind man, an honest man. There he is always in that tiny pause when life holds its breath.

And now it is my daughter’s turn to venture into the deep and complex world of relationships. She is living in a lost age. Her generation is endlessly preening, modifying, distorting, dissipating, becoming a parody of womanhood to gain attention in the vastness of social media.

The ‘sexual revolution’ has been great for men, but not so great for women. It has not empowered women, it has not liberated us to lead more fulfilling lives. It has pressurized women into promiscuity, pushed them into single-parenthood, made sex increasingly transactional and pornography readily available.

In this age of endless Tinder-choice, to insist on commitment is seen as being needy, to turn down sexual activity that leaves women uncomfortable is to risk being labelled a prude. Men are still extraordinarily privileged when it comes to biology and economics. They can afford to treat sex as an all-you-can-eat buffet, but there is enough evidence to prove such attitudes greatly undermine the well-being of women.

For women to thrive we need intimacy, stability, we need security, we need partners to take responsibility for their children, we need family. Marriage is not an utopia, it is riddled with pain, uncertainty, jealousy, inadequacy, but it is still a place of sanctuary, a place for us to discover our grace, generosity and resilience. Within the comfort of commitment our worst lives become liveable, our worst selves become redeemable.

To my daughter, I say this, “Go, young woman, may the world treat you kindly and may you discover winter in all its splendour and glory.”

Selma Carvalho is the author of Notes on a Marriage, published by Speaking Tiger Books. She lives in London.

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