PAGE 2
Reentry fights are interesting. They're like a reenactment of the power struggle most couples encounter on the first day they find that they're not tearing each other's clothes off the minute they see each other. Suddenly, her expectation to be served coffee in bed is not quite as adorable as it was only yesterday. How much leniency is she going to show toward his brattiness, irritability, or eccentricity? How much will he show toward her? Lines get drawn through fighting.

These fights occur again on a larger canvas when a couple moves in together (Is he going to forget that it's garbage night every Wednesday for the rest of our lives?). Then there's the huge one on the honeymoon, when you look at each other dumbfounded, the way Ben and Elaine did on the bus at the end of The Graduate, and someone picks a fight. Then, though, most couples tend to settle in for the long haul, choosing their battles and compromises as they go along, often with remarkable patience. This balancing act gets thrown out of whack when you're apart for a while and you get used to a certain amount of freedom, and maybe you worry that the other person has also gotten used to a certain amount of freedom. A partner tasting freedom = reentry fights. And they can be nasty.

After the fighting, there's the good part: the frisson created by absence, the thrill of sleeping with someone who's slightly unfamiliar (and not too unfamiliar). You get to reintroduce yourself. Because whatever's transpired day-to-day that has changed you in tiny ways—the infinitesimal shifts that you don't notice when you live with someone—well, you notice those things, or you feel them, when you haven't seen someone for two weeks. The way when you have dinner with a friend and she looks much more exhausted than she did the last time you saw her, and you talk about what's happened between then and now. You see your spouse more clearly with a little distance. Being apart and then together is a reminder that time is passing, that you'd better take note of it. And that's always a good, if bittersweet, thing. Suddenly the need to attend to another person's oddities doesn't seem as onerous as it did when you were alone. It seems almost noble, part of the human tradition.

All told, I have to say our arrangement works out well for us. I think it may be hardest on Hobbes. Every December, on the night that Tom arrives home for good (and I don't know how the cat knows it isn't just a visit, but he knows), Hobbes relieves himself with malice of forethought on the bedroom floor. Change is good for couples. But it's hard on a cat.

More Real-Life Romance:

NEXT STORY

Comment

LONG FORM
ONE WORD