Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Throwing Stretch Under the Bus, Again

March 17th, 2022

“I’m dedicating this weekend to making a digital photo album for all our wedding celebrations,” Stretch informs me.

I don’t say anything. We’re  driving to Old Greenwich in Connecticut. It’s a gorgeous cloudless Friday so we’re taking advantage and heading to Tod’s Point along Long Island Sound to go for a beach walk. Stretch has lots of “projects” that he likes to involve me in. I’m not a weekend project person, especially when it comes to making a photo album. Kill me now. Thankfully, he changes topic.

“I didn’t realise soy sauce had gluten,” Stretch says. “Luckily, there’s a gluten-free brand called Tamarind or something. And tempura, that also has gluten. Who knew that had gluten?” he chuckles.

Who knew indeed! Two weeks ago, Stretch decided to go gluten-free and has been keeping me abreast on a breaking news basis of what he cannot eat. Bread, pasta, French fries, croissant, cereal, crackers, and news alert, soy sauce and tempura.

“That’s fine,” I tell him with a slight edge to my voice, but remember you can’t talk about it all the time. It’s boring.”

“I know, I know you don’t want me talking about what I eat to other people, but you’re my wife. I need to tell someone.”

Does he really? I wonder. We’ve been married ten months. Thanks to these minutely announcements, it feels a tad longer. I’d much rather talk about my upcoming week of doctor’s appointments. Now that is interesting!

In her new memoir, Foreverland, author and advice columnist Heather Havrilesky argues that lifelong monogamy is “the world’s most impossible endurance challenge.” I feel her pain.

When I first met Stretch seven years ago, I was impressed with his computer skills. With the touch of a keyboard, he had booked us a long weekend in Shelter Island. Restaurant reservations came flying into my inbox. It was exciting to be with a man who made things happen. A doer. I didn’t realise that these email invitations would extend to scheduling dog walks, subway rides

and bridge review sessions…

I suggested Stretch learn bridge as a bonding thing, something for us to do together beyond walking the dog and making albums. I’ve played bridge with the same group of women for a decade. I figured it would take Stretch years to catch up (translation: be as good as me). Turns out, he’s a quick learner.  Last week, he convinced me to join some bridge class called “Great Job Partner.’

“Sure,” I said, figuring I’d easily be the best in the class, but it might be a pleasant review.

Imagine my surprise when we were dealt a hand to figure out and within what seemed like seconds Stretch was exclaiming,

“I got it. Did you?”

I can learn a lot from Havrilesky:

Surviving a marriage requires turning down the volume on your spouse so you can barely hear what they’re saying. 

I tried meditating to be more zen, less competitive and irritable. I bought an excellent app called Choose Muse. The meditator wears a headband that measures your brainwaves. During each session you hear rainfall and birds tweeting. The more birds that tweet during your session, the calmer you are, the better a meditator you are. I loved Choose Muse, that is until Stretch joined me on the sofa and started meditating next to me. Here’s my tweet score after two weeks with Choose Muse:

And here’s Stretch’s after two days:

He has 50 birds to my two! I don’t even know why he bothers meditating. Just makes the rest of us mediocre meditators look bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Stretch. He’s smart, supremely patient (unless I really push him), surprises me with his humor (I always thought I was the funny one), romantic, cheerful,  knows the answers to all my questions, is never mean when I burn the toast, overdress the salad, or forgetfully add milk to his tea (he’s dairy-free too, of course, and sugar is the enemy), confident, generous, fun, a devoted father and seems to love me as much as I love him. He is the man for me.

But, like me, Stretch is human. Flawed. I don’t mind living with myself. But living with another person poses challenges. For one, Stretch loves our dog Josephine a little too much. He gives her nightly neck massages.

“I think she really likes it when I rub right here, behind her ears, see,” he points as he simultaneously removes Josephine’s collar so she can be more comfortable.

I can’t remember the last time he gave me a neck massage.  Or played with me on the floor.

“No, she cannot sleep with us on the bed,” I, the old shrew, say one more time to Mr Nice Guy.

Like Princess Diana, sometimes I feel like there are three of us in the marriage.  If I die, Josephine will happily take over my side of the bed.

I think the issue is no matter who you love, living with someone 24/7 is a lot to ask. I look at my friends who have been married for eons with renewed respect and awe. My friend Lucy tells me that at times she hates her husband Charlie and wishes she could throttle him. She’s tired of waking up to a symphony of his farts, so musically loud that they wake up anybody sleeping on the floor below.

 ‘But,” says my happily married friend, ‘I need someone who doesn’t bore me. I didn’t say ‘doesn’t annoy me because that would be unrealistic. I want someone who always (reassuringly) likes the same people that I do, and even more importantly, hates the same ones that I do!”

For Louise the success of her marriage boils down to one thing, her husband Eric’s sense of humour.

“All is forgiven if Eric can make me laugh. At times this seems like it’s all Eric has going for him,” admits Louise who is the breadwinner and does most of the parenting of their two kids. “Most of the time it feels like ‘for poorer and in sickness.’

For Louise, happiness boils down to the fact that after twenty years together Eric can still make her laugh.

I like silence in the morning. I’ve told Stretch that more than a few times.  So instead of talking to me when he enters the kitchen, he talks to himself.

“OK, going to the gym today, need to work on cardio and my abs. Maybe I’ll do a few more steps. Weights too. Then I’ll get some gas and wash the car. Elena, do we need anything at Whole Foods?’

How can I be annoyed with someone who does so much for me? Well, because I like silence in the morning. It’s my best thinking and writing time. It’s also Stretch’s chatty time.

Actually, he’s chatty a lot of the time.

“Elena, come watch the wedding video. I finished it,” he calls to me from the study Sunday night.

I’m busy scrolling Instagram in the kitchen. Right as I am about to say ‘Now is not a good time,’ I think, why say no, when you can say yes? (I’m on a be a nicer person kick. Maybe Choose Muse is working.) I go into the study and plop myself down onto the sofa next to Stretch to watch his homemade video.  He’s added background music- Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (on multiple repeats) and …I’m surprised. The video is touching and sweet,  full of love and happy people, especially Stretch and me.

Sometimes, most of the time in fact, apart from some mornings and some bridge and meditating sessions, I feel very lucky to be with my man Stretch.

March, 2022