As the decades passed, though, the tugging became less strenuous, more habitual. We perfected the fine art of needling. Our children, Lucy and Peter, grew up exasperated but also oddly liberated by our differences, which at the very least gave them options; one eventually became an editor, the other a musician, and both are avid readers who seriously love rock music. Gradually, it dawned on us that we, too, had grown up. Or we had aged out of social insecurity. We no longer had to prove anything to others or, for that matter, to ourselves. We knew we could trust each other. We could say goodbye when we went to work in the morning, maybe stay in town to meet a friend (someone the other could live happily never seeing), and reconvene at home later to compare notes. It was never boring. It's still not. Yet I have friends who tell me they do everything with their husbands. They push a cart together at the supermarket. (Jeff: "I'd rather be dead. Just let me do the shopping.") They never travel separately. If I ask a childhood pal (now married) out to dinner in hopes of some intimate conversation, she invariably answers, "We'd love to!" Calling a friend in California, I learn that "we" are dazzled by the new exhibition at the Getty; we're vegan now; we saw that movie and we were not amused. I relate more easily to my ex-roommate Ginger, who rolls her eyes in mock gratitude when her stay-at-home husband sallies out alone, to my grad-school friend Jane, who has a heady and deeply satisfying relationship with a man who lives in another state, but worries about what will happen to their blissful independence if the two of them ever move in together. I can see her point. Sartre and de Beauvoir lived apart until their deaths, after which some enterprising soul decided to plant them under a single headstone. They've got to be turning in their grave.
I walk out the door with a suitcase, on my way to speak at a weekend writers' conference in Texas, as Jeff, guitar pick in hand, laptop softly whirring in the next room, gives me the warm, sweet glance I fell for decades ago, and a parting kiss. He tells me to have a wonderful time as he gently and firmly closes the door. I know he's about to celebrate—three days in which the television never goes off, the dog sprawls on the bed, the lights stay on till 3 a.m. No one greets him at daybreak with a list of ancient grievances and a furrowed brow. No one smashes his concentration as he's putting the finishing touches on a complex lecture or presentation. No one gloomily reports to him about diseases he doesn't have and dangers he's too sanguine to fear. He's in paradise, and he's got it all to himself. When I finally return, exhilarated by the readings, the company of other writers, he will be delighted to see me. He will have already opened a bottle of wine, the porch chairs will be ready and waiting. We will have so much to say.