27. 11. 2020

English Version | Casais que não se amam

by Nuno Miguel Dias


In decreasing order of feelings, we all know couples who love each other passionately. Others love each other affectionately, without great externalizations and kisses with tongue all the time. Others just tolerate themselves. Finally, there are those whom we never invite over, because they hate each other so much that we end up feeling shame ourselves with the arguments they have all the time and, in better days, brittle disputes.


Amongst us, almost half a century later, there is a ghost established almost a century ago. The 1933 Constitution established the principle of Citizens' Equality Before the Law, but with the exception of women. There were some references to “differences resulting from their nature and the good of the family”, by which they saw women to be individuals in the background when it came to family and society in general. To be a woman was therefore to be smaller. Single women could not vote or be in a political office. If you were not a nurse, you could get married. If you were a teacher could too, but only upon a request for authorization made by the groom, who should have a higher salary. When granted, it was published in Diário da República: “So-and-so married on the 10th”. Once married, she couldn't travel or even work without her husband's approval (if he considered that she should not work, all he had to do was go to her job site and contact her hierarchical superior, who was forced to fire her), nor could she play an active role in the education of her children. She could only be "heard" about it. The married woman was by law, responsible for the House, which is means mandatory domestic chores. Furthermore, divorce was forbidden by the Catholic Church, this institution whose power was confused with that of Salazar, as for the 1944 Concordat. Were there separations? Of course. But if there were children of a later relationship, these were considered “illegitimate.” In addition, when registering the child, two alternatives were given to the mother: she either gave the child the name of her husband (from whom she had separated) or assumed the extremely heavy status of "unknown mother."

It goes without saying that, to avoid going through all this, the overwhelming majority of unmarried couples (if they ever were something else) chose to drag a heavy relationship for many, many years. Paradoxically, almost one century after this immense sadness that was being Portuguese, and going back to the lighter days, without the weight of pandemics on our backs, we decided to go have a drink with that friend that we haven't seen in years. Long before the unbridled dance to exorcise less good days, there is a dinner cherished by portentous reds, delicious cocktails and ice-chewing tonics. It is then that, surprisingly, we hear a whimper of complaints about the better half, with whom we always thought she had a perfect relationship. How nights are made of sepulchral silences. And the days pass too quickly for those who do not want to get home and do it as if they were going to the scaffold. And the weekends are spent sleeping whenever possible, making up lame excuses for not having meetings with friends in common; visits to in-laws; trips to places that have already stepped on a thousand times; a trip to the restaurant where they always eat the very same thing that tastes like something worse, while each one has their eyes on their phone. We have no other impetus than ask why the hell is she postponing the unavoidable. The answer will almost invariably be "the kids." And that’s when the silence comes in. Instead of saying what we think. Which is that that’s incredibly dishonest. For them and for "the kids." Who won't like to know, in a few years, that they were the reason for their parents’ unhappiness. The little stone inside the shoe on a road that could change to a more prosperous and beneficial course for everyone. But the years go by and we found out, however, that the breakup actually happened. Because “The kids” were older and understand better. Or, worse, we meet the couple in the most unlikely place, to note that they both look much older than you would expect them to under normal circumstances. Unhappiness is the bitch when she wants to go against face creams!

I don't know if you know about Kikas Bar, located in Vale de Santarém. If you do, it stays between us. It's just that it is a whorehouse. I’m not familiar with it. But I do follow it on social media. Marketing is great, you know? Just a relaxed humour as we imagine it to be the ambiance of a whorehouse. Not that we have ever stepped foot inside. "A friend told me about it." Anyway, what I wanted to demonstrate was that, for example, during lockdown, Kikas left on its Twitter page - where the “bio” only states: “Preferred book: Checkbook”, between statements like “Real love doesn't exist, what exists are moments when we listen to Tony Carreira's songs” or “By hand it’s craftsmanship”- a message of hope for all those who fit, some more, others less, in what we want to deal with here: “Be calm. Soon you will be able to kiss and have sex with the person you like. For now, stay home and do it with the person you got married to.” Jokes aside, this has been the harsh reality of many people since March. And if this strikes you as being surprising, followed by a "Really man I never thought of that", that’s a very good sign. But it always depends on perspective. So let's move on to a practical case. Zé Maria and Teresa Guilherme (fictional names of course) met at Venda do Pinheiro. They were extras at the first Big Brother gala (hence the fictitious names) and, in recording breaks, met outside for a cigarette. She had no lighter. He offered his lighter and said "It's really cold outside, isn't it?" It was love at the first cliché. A few months later, they saw the reality show Acorrentados, hosted by Artur Albarran and José Figueiras, together on the sofa, she was wearing pyjamas by Hello Kitty, he was wearing a pair of boxers with locomotives, eating popcorn of the same bowl. They rented a three bedroom flat in Santo António dos Cavaleiros which they bought in the meantime even before they got married in a memorable ceremony on a farm on the way to Ericeira, with mini-fireworks at the time of cutting the cake, shrimps waterfall and unlimited grilled steak for those who don’t like seafood. The wedding dress, of an impeccable whiteness and decent neckline, had to undergo last-minute adjustments, via a prominent belly, much to Teresa’s father dismay, Mr. Fulgêncio. He was command awarded by himself Mr Oliveira on his return from the Guinea War, loaded and brutality ready - in gestures but also at the tip of the tongue (always purple due to so much Bag in Box wine and whiskey on Sunday lunches). Every Sunday. And Teresa's belly growing. And Mr. Fulgêncio avoiding socializing with friends at Café Katekero for certain matters not to come up.

When Martim was born, everything changed. Zé Maria’s father-in-law Maria softened and even tapped him on the back, with a huge, shaggy hand. Teresa toughened up. She was not up for intimate contacts and when they existed, they were cluttered and undermined by a rush that left a huge void between the two, even if they whispered, almost in chorus, “be careful not to wake up the boy.” She only had eyes for Martim. He was only fit for household chores that until then he knew nothing about, to go to the pharmacy to buy something that “the boy” always needed sooner rather than later, to put the baby to sleep late at night (using a well elaborated Excel scale) and to be a punching bag of hormones. She was so cold that the house he once longed to return to actually froze. Now he drinks beers after work with his office colleagues, in the pastry shop at the end of the street that he didn't even know existed because he always took lunch from home and drank coffee in the corridor machine between the Director General's office and the Human Resources’ lady Odete, to save for holidays in the Tavira huts. He doesn't even look at his watch. The later the better. Getting home is now one of the worst times of the day. He no longer shares anything with Teresa, except for his son. The expenses from school. Weekend tours. The tantrums in the queues at the supermarket. Except for arguments. Those are passionate. Against the light you can see the microbes in the air. They are sonorous. And they are eternal. At least until Martim starts to cry. However, Odete, who always had a special affection for Zé Maria, can sense it. There is an invitation for coffee date through the company's IntraNet. And another one. And lunches. Then dinners. Armando, the IT of the department, warns his colleague: “Be careful, Zé. If I'm asked to show the messages, I am forced to do so”. Meanwhile, for Teresa, Zé's “meetings”, increasingly later, with the cellphone turned off, sound sneaky. Then they move on to weekends, with trips supposedly paid for by the company, but with too many strange movements. When everything finally makes sense, Zé Maria is all excuses: “Look at the boy, who needs us to be together”. It is worthless. They separate. Mr. Fulgêncio gets pissed at his daughter as if she were still a teenager: "I told you so". Martim cries for his father. Teresa as well, but in the corners, in silence. She gets involved with someone else one, two, three times, error after error, hoping to find a future as it was some kind of lottery. Orgasms that don’t make up for the emptiness that comes afterwards. Months go by and they arrange a meeting to work things out, in the usual coffee shop. The flame that had been extinguished for years burns. They get together in the stairwell leading to the three bedroom flat in Santo António dos Cavaleiros, where they spend an entire night swearing on things they had already forgotten. The next morning, everything goes back to being familiar. Teresa calls to find out about Martim, who had slept in her parents' house. Everything is forgiven, right there. But the ghost will haunt them forever. And the little boy is now a teenager. And the teenager is almost an adult. And he reveals to the woman he most desires in the world, that he does not want for him the life his parents had. Because no one lives out of disaffection. They only survive. It's quite different.

Low self-esteem. Yes, we already know, the excuse for anything and everything. And the guilt, whose is it? We are always bumping into the wrong person, and we complain. But we are incapable of a self-criticism that assumes our lack of discernment in choices. Why? Because, in fact, we don't choose. We pursue louder impulses. Sexual desire, most of the time. If we’re lucky enough, that feeling that we are finally in the exact place where we always wanted to be. Isn't that love? That desire to be there, and only there, at that moment. The worst sign is when, post sex, her head lying on his chest, one of them says “Are we going to the Maldives?”. Wrong! We were supposed to want to be only there, living that exact second before someone broke the silence. Despite low self-esteem dictating an emotional dependence that leads to the eternalization of a relationship that is not healthy for anyone. “What if I can't find anyone else?”, Here's the motto for disgrace, the passport stamped by the Consulate of Sadness towards Bitterness, Maldives they said?! From there, we put the responsibility of our happiness in the hands of the other part. Because if we are afraid of “turning out to be an auntie”, that fear instituted by the Judeo-Christian pillar, which plagues us, even if unconsciously, we start to demand everything that, after all, we’ve always looked for and that we won’t look for elsewhere for sheer fear that life will be a deep and lonely well. The thing is, between the most truthful sentences stands the one that goes “It's never too late to find love” as the absolute winner, whether in hope or in tackiness. Isabel Allende separated from her husband at the age of 73 only to feel, in her own words, that “a new world had opened itself for her”. If this happens to someone who is quite old, just imagine for those who are still young? Another cause may well be accommodation. Most couples who stay together when, after all, love has already left a long time ago, they do it precisely because they have been together for many (too many) years. Often since adolescence. Or since college. Or even since that night way back in spring break in the Dominican Republic in which the heat was a lot and the margueritas even more. In these cases, there are routines which they do not even dream of losing. And mutual friends who they don't want to see takings sides (and, I assure you, they will). But considering that in a breakup everything changes, how about starting to understand which friend was truly a friend and which one was not?

Other causes, much more tragic, remind us of other times and have to do with economic dependence. At the expense of an attorney who will be necessary to regulate the terms (yes, eventually, the parts will become great friends again, but in the first few months, forget it, it's pure and hard war). With the sum each will have to attribute to the other referring to the horribly named Children's “alimony”. I hope, honestly, that no one reading this text sees himself in any of the above situations. Unfortunately, however, almost everyone has in his close circle someone who suffers from one of them. Or all of them. The arguments are endless, the disrespect is constant. Each word or gesture serves as an argument starter. That only ends up with making someone accountable for something we don’t even know about. It's embarrassing to share a dinner table with "these people". Even “we”, that have known this relationship since its beginning, no longer remember when there was affection and respect. If there was any. And the percentage of unhappy couples worldwide is very high. Tragic, even. Or not? Of course not. For the simple reason that there is a solution. Tragic may be its complete reverse, when there are couples who love each other as we always wanted to be loved by someone and yet they are destined to stay apart. Because, in a postmodern allegory, “The train passes only once. We either catch it, or we lose it forever". And, let's face it, however delicate this subject is to be addressed, we all have that person who, one day flew by us in all directions. Stayed imprinted on us in such a way that we are doomed to revive the memory of those days forevermore. Even when we shouldn’t. Out of respect for those who put up with us every day, with all our most difficult flaws. Isn't that love?