Talking Troubles: Notes on Silences and TikToks in a Marriage

Charlie Puth’s ‘We don’t talk anymore, like we used to do’ seems to be the current soundtrack to my marriage. Puth’s version is about reminiscing a recent break-up; ours is the summation of twenty years of knowing each other, fourteen being married. I feel the need to draw out these numbers so you can see the dividing lines: on one side, a stupid and ridiculously happy pair in their twenties getting thrown out of a bar for being too handsy; on the other, the same pair, with less hair and more weight on their bodies, whose messages to each other read like “Can you get…” “Did you remember to pay…”. 

I wish I could call our story ‘tragic’ but we’re yet another slice of stale bread in a bakery of folks who cannot seem to find the heat anymore, too tired of wading through ordeals of understanding and misunderstanding, day after day, year after year – and so instead, we choose to swim through the world inside our phones. We are both singing ‘we don’t talk anymore like we used to’ and adding our own lyrics to it: because the kids drain us, there is no time, there are more questions than answers, and the list goes on. We find relatable characters in movies and books, reflecting our boredom and exhaustion in different shapes and forms. This is normal… right?

We go to therapy, click different coloured refresh buttons, try injecting lackadaisical passion and purpose. But eventually, we are back on the couch, sharing updates about the day, our child and the cat before staring at the television again. What else is there to talk about? Hopes and dreams turned obsolete? Capitalism and climate change? Family shenanigans back home? 

I tell myself that such silences are a true hallmark of trust and stability in a relationship. But I’m in denial because to confront the drought we are in, is painful. I lie because I have been made to believe that my desire for easy chatter – after all these years of togetherness – is a demand, not a need. 

Interestingly though, as a couple, we have developed a new form of conversation – sharing articles, jokes, memes, videos on parenting, cats and dogs doing funny things, mental health tips and other inspiring things. Our story is closer to the tiktok trends of women running away from their husbands, wanting sex, couples planning a romantic evening only to end up doom scrolling as they sit beside each other. We share memes and videos with each other saying: ‘This is so you’ or ‘This is us’. It’s comforting to know that at least our struggles are universal enough for content creators to engage in and milk humorous narratives out of.

Sometimes, the deeper bits surface – stuff we have skirted around for fear of opening not cans, but cauldrons of worms. We click the share button and hope the other would understand – ‘This is why I am so frustrated’ ‘I feel unappreciated’ ‘This hurts me’ ‘I am lost’ … Our experiences fall into a vast expanse of personal wars against ourselves and shared pain; our problems are too complex to be slotted under the ‘You just need to talk it out’ section. Communication evolves with each phase of our growth as individuals and a couple, getting both easier and harder with the challenges of technology and the reality of ageing. 

We are trying to maintain a degree of excitement and connection through this mode of chatter because right now, it feels like the simplest way to tackle the rust in our marriage. The bitter truth about intimacy in the modern world has hit us. As a writer, I feel that the burden of words weighs heaviest between two people whose differences define them far more than it bonds them. While conventional wisdom of coupledom stresses the importance of talking, most of us today use texts, emojis, voice notes, memes, tags on posts, as a love language; we can figure out tones from words on a screen, picture the other person smiling or ignoring us.

Sometimes, I escape to the corner of my memories where we have just met. We’re on the beach, he’s smoking a cigarette while I’m awkwardly blathering away. His silence is so sexy and I am a hopeless fool, eager to pry words out of him. Then, in months, sparks turn into a steady flame as we fall in love; we spend many nights talking, frantically filling up the darkness and space between us.

It was simpler then; there was the ignorance of youth and the urgency to explore all we could about the person we decided to love. Talking was motivated by curiosity and passion. But today, we know the meaning behind every kind of smile, how much spice they can handle, what irritates and enlivens them, the level of childhood trauma buried in memory and habit. We can afford to take all this knowledge for granted – I think. How much longer till we turn into our parents, conversing out of necessity and circumstance with little ardour? 

In school, I had an American teacher whose wife only spoke Japanese. They fell in love and got married, after which he went all out to learn the language to understand her. She never learnt to speak English. At that time, this sounded strange and romantic. I’m in awe of how Beyonce and Jay Z use music and lyrics to communicate with each other. While I am aware that this move is motivated by commercial interests, it’s interesting how they use social media to display the intensity of their love and betrayal in public, as if including strangers into their tangled world could heal them. 

The big question still remains – Does talking even help? Or am I just looking for excuses? 

Who knows. 

Maybe talking about talking will get us going again. 


photo

Sangeetha Bhaskaran

Sangeetha is a writer, mother, birdwatcher, always learning. She is a blahcksheep that can fit in and stand out where it matters. Her fiction and non-fiction works have been published in Out of Print, Kitaab, Arre, Himal Southasian, Livewire and Women’s Web. She lives in Dubai and Bengaluru. You can follow her on Instagram @simple_sangee_writes 

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