“I’ll go and stay at Mum’s then.”
Listening to someone leave the home you share is a peculiar thing.
Practically, it’s awkward. Where'd you once swan about the place, comfortable in every corner of its familiarity, you’re now standing in the kitchen, staring at the worktop with the door slightly ajar, wondering where to put your body, where to look, if you should speak. There’s a tunnel from your heart to your mouth and it’s choked, so full that it spills out and squashes your breath. And in that searing silence that widens the canyon between you, a thousand opportunities to break and reach across.
But you don’t.
Welcome to The Rough Patch.
All couples experience The Rough Patch, and if you’re together for a long time, then you’ll experience more than one. The Rough Patch is a slippery beast, difficult to identify objectively owing to its fluid form. It moulds its shape to fit a space and then grows and swells within it, easy to neglect at first but eventually impossible to avoid. You can’t work around it - it’s too full, too stubborn in its situation - so you have to work through it. But being as sticky as it is, there’s a chance that you may not make it to the other side; if The Rough Patch can claim you in the belly of it’s No Man’s Land, it will do all it can to hold on to you.
Sometimes it’s easier, then, to allow the canyon to spread. Sometimes it’s easier to look the other way, hold on to what’s left and pray that it will pass. That The Rough Patch will find another couple to sidle between, another couple to sigh its sad separation over. “It will pass,” you tell yourself, “it will pass.” The threat that you might take the leap and fall flat on your face is too great a sacrifice. What if it doesn’t work out? What if this is the beginning of the end? If I might take a chance and lose the person I love, then perhaps I’d rather not take the chance at all. Can I exist like this, on the other side? Do I want to?
Of course, The Rough Patch is neither patient nor accommodating. It takes some time to grow but once it’s big enough to command the canyon, it won’t wait for your convenience. An omnipresent third party, its existence becomes so palpable that if you stretched out your fingers, you’re sure you could feel it. And while you keep these questions turning like a rotisserie of complications, The Rough Patch is fed by your inaction. The Rough Patch loves that you don’t know - indecision is its favourite flavour. The Rough Patch is sucking on its sticky fingers with every missed opportunity to acknowledge its occupation, shouldering you further and further back as it luxuriates in its space. The Rough Patch wants to drive you so far apart that through the silence you cannot scream; it’s too late, it’s too far, it’s too rough.
Why does it come? It could be as simple as complacency. Relationships are breathing things - they need care and attention, an awareness that as each person involved naturally changes, so does nature of the commitment. When you neglect to invest in this thing which you share, The Rough Patch can slip in, mute.
Sometimes something happens which makes space for The Rough Patch very quickly. Directly or indirectly, the door is elbowed open and there, primed, is the perfect breeding ground for The Rough Patch to swell. Often in these instances the gestation period is considerably shorter. Take a moment to catch your breath and it’s there, in all its insidious bigness.
Though it tailors its shape to fit where it can, the symptoms are often the same.
The Rough Patch is being angry, really angry, back-of-the-throat-burning kind of angry, so angry that the fine line between love and hate becomes needle-thin. The Rough Patch is misunderstanding and wilful ignorance; you can’t make head nor tails of it but fuck it, maybe you don't want to.
The Rough Patch is touching the person you love and feeling their second skin, not them, not the them that you know. It’s like a veil has dropped from on high and you can’t feel them, not in the way that has been reserved for you.
The Rough Patch is helplessness. It’s having to be vulnerable in the expectation and anticipation of pain. It’s the understanding that whether you try to cross that canyon or not, The Rough Patch will take its emotional bounty from you regardless.
The Rough Patch is sitting together with your friends in quiet, catastrophic sadness. It’s feeling fraudulent as you hold hands, kiss and share stories, knowing its sport for spectators. The Rough Patch is closing the door after a party and lingering in that moment, in that moment where your friends' presence is still felt, where you can still hear them walking away, in that moment where you can still be somewhere else. And then The Rough Patch is oxymoronic: the state of being together but so very alone.
The Rough Patch is a deep longing for contact but not being able to reach. It’s a desperation, an unfulfilled yearning, an impossible hoop to jump through. It’s loving someone but understanding that love might not be enough. It’s reckoning with a potential end - the practicalities of separating, the possibility that you might stumble across them in 10 years in the embrace of another person. It’s struggling with the concept that they could favour someone else, that they’d be making jokes with someone else, knowing the minutiae of someone else, the little things, the threads in the fabric of another person’s being. It’s trying to make sense of walking past them in the street when they might look right through you.
The Rough Patch is missing someone before they’ve gone.
The Rough Patch, at one time or another, inhabits every relationship that ever exists. And what it wants from you is submission in silence. The Rough Patch invites you to fight - sure, give it a go! Kick and scream and thrash, furiously. Eventually you’ll tire yourself out and surrender to the swelling space, the stretch between you. You’ll stop pushing against it because you’re tired, every fibre of you is tired, and it becomes easier to close your eyes and pray for its passing.
And do you know the real sickness of The Rough Patch? Not knowing whether the fight is deserved. Because at times, The Rough Patch precipitates a Rough End, and that Rough End is necessary because not all relationships serve us forever. But some do - some are magic - and there’s no way to know whether taking that leap, stepping off the canyon’s edge and battling through The Rough Patch in the hope that you won’t get pulled under, will be worth it. It could grip you in pain and deliver nothing for your sacrifice. But there’s no other choice - it has to be worth trying. You have to go through it.
You have to step off.