Updated: Feb 11, 2021
The couple at the museum had fallen into a rut. Nothing beyond repair, at least not yet, but the rut was there, palpable. Their day-to-day life had become less romantic, not so surprising. In the early months of their courting, their conversations went on for hours. Their eyes would lock across a table over coffee, evidence of the fascination one held with the other. The phrase time is merely a construct was no longer a phrase, it was true. Somehow, magic had occurred between the two. Whatever it was that had brought them together, fate perhaps, had stopped time, or at least warped its structure.
When the couple decided to move in together, the dance continued. They watched one another unpack precious items and decide where to put them. Each navigated the space delicately, considering what the other might do. “Do you like this here?” one might say about a small vase on a shelf. “Fine by me!” the other would smile.
What was happening to the couple at the museum was not uncommon. Time turns into comfort, and comfort turns into cadence, and cadence can, sometimes, turn into a rut. The couple was not fighting. There was no grey cloud lingering over their heads. No trust had been broken, no promises betrayed. They were simply existing around one another. They were used to each other.
For some, this type of existence is the ultimate goal of a relationship. To know your counterpart so well that rather than being a glowing, mysterious being, they are instead a piece of furniture, or perhaps even a limb. You are so used to them, so sure of their purpose, that you couldn’t imagine what your living room or your body would be like if they were gone. For some, this is heavenly.
But to at least one half of this couple, the couple at the museum, this was the hurdle. For they believed that life was short, and time may very well be a construct, but it was still limited, and they could feel it rushing through their fingertips like tiny grains of sand. Riddled with anxiety, they would often fill their days with hobbies, tasks, accomplishments on a list to check off, like origami, rearranging the furniture, or night classes at a community college. The problem was, while these time fillers kept their mind and worries at bay, they were quite solitary. The other couldn’t help but wonder if their furniture-like presence had become more literal. That is to say, had they overstayed their welcome? Was it time to be replaced?
While it was difficult to articulate, the opposite in fact was true. For the one who kept themselves so busy, they hoped that the love, the spark, that whatever-it-was that radiated across that coffee table at the beginning, was big enough to dismantle all their fears about boredom. About time. Things like that don’t just disappear. Somewhere, that special something still lived, which meant it could come back. And thus the rut remained, for what is a rut really but something to overcome?
So there they were, the couple at the museum, one of them more jittery and easily distracted than the other, walking side by side quietly. One lingered at a taxidermy lion, while the other skimmed a placard about the lifespan of a mollusk.
In the beginning of their relationship, on a particularly cold day, they couple had gone to the Museum of Surgical Science. Although it was arguably the least sexy museum in existence next to, say, a railroad museum, the two had been unable to keep their hands off each other. They weaved through cases filled with vintage scalpels and diagrams of eyeballs with their fingers intertwining, one hand always on the other’s waist or in their back pocket. Today, though, their hands remained in their own pockets, their arms crossed in front of their chest as they surveyed a map of Pangea. Nothing was wrong, but the minutes trudged on in the quiet.
After precisely two and half hours in the museum, the couple was ready to leave. They had become hungry, agreeing that they had seen everything they wanted to see, and began to discuss one of the only things they were capable of discussing each day: what they would have for dinner. There was some comfort in that consistency. For no matter how good or bad or uneventful the day had been, they seemed to know that they would always have dinner together, and they would always come to the decision on what to eat together.
The body ages, the mind dulls, the bones ache. The steady promise of time ensures it. What had once felt so surely like a made up idea, this time, this measurement, something they were bigger than, now felt so certain, like a heavy gold pendulum swinging behind their eyes. And it was okay, mostly, this feeling they were both having, because bigger feelings seem much more so when they are felt alone.
The other half of the couple, the less anxious one, the one with less hobbies, didn’t actually mind so much this progression of time. While they, too, lingered fondly on memories of the beginning of the relationship, they had grown up amidst seasons, the most reliable measurement of time. They knew that eventually snow would melt away, spring would come, and a warm summer after that. They worked at their own pace, more like the tortoise, if this were a race, which of course the other felt it was. They were quite content with long walks, documentaries, books with many, many chapters. The habits the couple had built together pleased them, because it meant they had grown together. They were becoming a team, an ecosystem. But the one who saw the world this way never said these things aloud, for they feared it might come off as critique of the other, invalidating them. It was becoming clear that there were many things that remained unsaid between the couple at the museum.
On the way out the door of the museum, one half of the couple said something to the other, something funny, and it caused them both to laugh lightly, snuggling into one another in a brief, but shared moment that every so slightly stopped time. They returned home to their usual habits, their spots on their couch, their routines. And they regarded one another not so much as furniture but as flowers, ones with the potential to bloom, ones that could reach towards the sun on a bright day or shrink into themselves on a darker one. Not all flowers are meant to grow in a garden. Some sit side by side, or even across the way where they can admire the other’s beauty without ever once sacrificing their own.