The amount of overlap will vary from couple to couple. Each member of the duo doesn’t have to need the same things from his or her partner. Just compatible things. And the part that overlaps is what looks out on the world and sees a lot, or enough, similarly.
So much remains separate. Should remain separate. There is a line from Jane Eyre I remember from when I read the book, as a teenager. It’s about a strand, a cord, that connects Jane to Rochester’s heart. He fears he would bleed if she went away.
Long married couples form such connections, more than a strand or two. A web. More bonds between them in life, more places to bleed when one of the dyad dies.
February is a cruel month. In our family, for many years, it was the month when people we loved passed away, my father among them. All his life, my father hated February, gray and cold, as though the weather knew what mourning felt like.
His death blindsided my mother. “I’ve never lived alone,” she told me. I think of her when learning of friends who have lost their husbands, as a surprising number have, this month. Husbands—or fathers—after long illness or with shocking suddenness.
These friends bleed behind closed doors. And we, outside, still secure in our connections, know this.
One cannot live in constant awareness of impending loss. It is too stressful. We shut the knowledge away, and too often we shut away anything that will remind us. Anything. Even the knowledge that we have bereaved friends, aching quietly in empty bedrooms.
Cultivating the part of our circle outside the soulmate overlap makes much sense. It allows us to bring richness into the partnership while making more likely our individual survival when even the happiest of partnerships ends.
It’s more difficult to do this, though, when illness surrounds us, when everywhere we go there are sick people, coughing, sneezing, breathing into the air we share. (Yes, if the person breathing beside you in the grocery checkout line has a “flu-like illness,” she is infecting you.)
At community gatherings between November and March—over the holidays and during January when volunteers meet for the year’s planning—contagion is on the menu. No doubt it’s part of the reason for February’s macabre harvest. But it is also an example of a community-wide result from individual choices made without thinking past the boundary of the self.
Do I have a solution? Not really. I choose to skip indoor group activities in years like this, hoping to avoid influenza for myself, and especially for my husband. We failed this year because we didn’t start soon enough. We were waiting until November to have our flu shots, and by November we were sick.
Once sick, however, we stayed home. We’re retired, so we could do that. Even when we were employed, we could do that, because we worked from home.
Technology allows many people to work from home when they are sick, if their employers allow it. I would argue that employers should revise their approach so that is widely possible. Even when the job must be done by a person on site, letting a sick person stay home for three days can pay off in reducing overall employee-hours lost to illness. It also protects the customer.
February doesn’t need to be as cruel as it has become. With foresight and consideration, it can be just another month, possessing its own versions of beauty and challenge. Challenge in the ice and cold that make outdoor activities less appealing; beauty in the romantic mists that lie upon pastures of brown and gold grasses, promising spring. Soon.