Married Couples

We might get the Danbys," said Mrs. Miniver, looking through her address-book over early morning tea. Clem's father had just sent them a salmon, and it seemed a good opportunity to ask a few people to dinner.

"We-ell," said Clem, I'd love to have Nigel, but I don't feel like coping with Helen. She yatters.

"What about the Pritchards?"

"There again," said Clem. "Only the other way round. It would be grand to see Sara again, but Clive'll talk nothing but shop. It's too hot for Clive. Look -- I must go and shave. Call out if you get any other ideas."

Mrs. Miniver put down the address-book and poured out some more tea. As she did so her eye fell on an article in the newspaper which Clem had just thrown aside. "Problems of Marriage," ran the title. She glanced through the first paragraph.

"I am not setting out to decry marriage. Nobody pretends that it is a perfect institution, but nobody has yet suggested a better one. At the worst it is seldom quite beyond repair: at the best it can be delightful. Most married people are neither more nor less happy than they would have been if they had remained single. They may not be able to go round the world on a tramp steamer: but there is not that start in the evening when the coal falls out of the grate."

Good of its kind, she thought; written, at any rate, with more restraint and a lighter touch than most articles on that well-worn subject: though. like all the rest of them, it bristled with three-quarter truths. She would finish reading it later, when she had settled the dinner question. She applied herself again to the address-book. The Frants? The Palmers? Really, it was lamentable, the unevenness of most married couples. Like those gramophone records with a superb tune on one side and a negligible fill-up on the other which you had to take whether you wanted it or not. Only in this case you could not simply ignore the vapid backing, but were forced to play it through to the bitter end exactly the same number of times as the side which you treasured. How silly it was, this convention -- relaxed a little nowadays but still surprisingly obstinate -- that you must not invite one half of a married couple to dinner without the other. Even when both were equally charming, she often wished she could ask them on different days. For in order that the game of dinner-table conversation may be played to its best advantage, it is essential that every player should have a free hand. He must be at liberty to assume disguises, to balance precariously in untenable positions, to sacrifice the letter of the truth to the spirit of it. And somehow the partner's presence makes this difficult. She does not, if she is civilized, chip in with "No, darling, it was Tuesday "; but she is apt to crumble the bread, and to have a look in her eye. The pronouns, of course, can be reversed, thought Mrs. Miniver hastily, remembering Clive and Sara.

"Any luck?" said Clem, reappearing.

"No, none whatever. All the couples we owe dinners to are hopelessly lopsided."

"I wish to goodness, said Clem, we were as brave as old Lady J. She simply asks all the nice halves to one party and all the boaks to another."

"I know. And as often as not she has a cold and cancels the boak party at the last minute. But anyway, old Lady J.'s a Character. You can't do that sort of thing unless you're a Character."

"Oh, well. better ask both lots, and then you can talk to Nigel, and I can talk to Sara, and Helen and Clive can go into a boakish huddle."

"All right," said Mrs. Miniver, shutting up the address-book with relief. But why, oh why, she wondered, do writers of articles on marriage always confuse themselves to the difficulties which it presents to those who are actually involved in it, and never mention the problems which it raises for their friends? To everybody except the protagonists, she thought for the thousandth time, marriage is nothing but a nuisance. A single person is a manageable entity, whom you can either make friends with or leave alone. But half of a married couple is not exactly a whole human being: if the marriage is successful it is something a little more than that; if unsuccessful, a little less. In either case, a fresh complication is added to the already intricate 'business of friendship: as Clem had once remarked, you might as well try to dance a tarantella with a Siamese twin.

That had been years ago, before they were married; but the phrase had stuck, and to avoid, so far as their friendships were concerned, turning into Siamese twins had been one of their private marriage vows. How well, she wondered, had they kept it? Only their friends could judge: but even to have been aware of the danger was something.


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