Marriage and Tender is the Night

It’s not the end of the world if marriage doesn’t last forever, as Holly Platt-Higgins learned from Tender is the Night

Holly Platt-Higgins

To have and to hold, but maybe not foreverPixabay

I’ve never really believed in marriage. I think it’s genuinely a sweet idea, that you’ll find ‘your person’, promise to love each other forever, celebrate with friends and family and then go off to spend your days together. But, there is undeniably a gulf between intention and reality. You might hope to love somebody for the rest of your life, but how likely is it that you’ll both grow at the same pace and continue to want the same things? 

No one is the same person in their sixties as they were in their twenties, so why would we want the same things from a partner? I wonder how many people are genuinely fulfilled and content within their first marriages, because I’m not sure I know more than a few happily married people. To me, it just doesn’t seem likely that any relationship is meant to last a lifetime. That’s not to say these relationships aren’t important, only that romantic relationships tend to have a ‘best-before-date’. 

My parents have been together for a very long time, I think something like 26 years. They got engaged after three months and stayed engaged for 16 years; in which time they had us kids. The day they tied the knot we all went to a registry office; three or four of their friends came as witnesses and Ma wore a big pink hat. She walked in to ‘Make way for Noddy’ because we were all obsessed with watching Noddy back then, and afterwards, we went to Pizza Hut and ate that ice-cream which you have to squeeze out of the machine with a lever and then get to decorate with smarties and chocolate sauce. It wasn’t exactly a traditional marriage, but I don’t suppose my parents are particularly traditional people. 

I recently asked Ma why she chose to marry my father, what was it that made her pick him? She laughed and said, ‘He was extraordinarily handsome darling. I mean really really good-looking.’ I assume I didn’t look all that impressed with the answer because she then swiftly added, ‘and he used to be able to down a bottle of red-wine in one, which was pretty cool.’ 

I would bet money that my father could no longer down a bottle of red to save his life. And, without meaning to be unkind, my father is a fifty-something year old man, who doesn’t do any exercise and enjoys pork pies and expensive cheese, I wouldn’t quite categorise him as ‘really really good-looking’ any more. So that, I suppose, begs the question, what isn’t being said here?

Tender is the Night is one of my favourite novels because it explores exactly what is so rarely said about or in relationships. Most of the time, we have a personal connection or dependence on the relationships we interact with, and therefore, we don’t have the ability to be impartial as we observe them. Reading Tender is the Night is simply an opportunity to interact with the emptying-out of a relationship, from a perspective that allows you to understand rather than judge.

"Ultimately, marriage asks us to commit to an almost impossible task, to love one person constantly, for the rest of our days"

Fitzgerald’s novel documents the gradual dissolution of Nicole and Dick’s marriage, Dick’s affair with the beautiful, youthful movie star, Rosemary Hoyt and what it means to grow into different versions of ourselves as we age. Although this sounds like a storyline you could find in hundreds of books, what is so poignant in Fitzgerald’s novel is that, there is no obvious perpetrator. Everyone’s mistakes are evenly documented and the general blamelessness, forces us to confront the quite difficult truth, that sometimes we just outgrow people. And I suppose people feel shameful about that, that their love can end without some dramatic betrayal or break-up.  But, Tender is the Night taught me that there is no shame in having had ‘a good run.’ There is genuine beauty and integrity in having tried, in having wanted to love someone and in "wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved."  

When Dick thinks about his marriage with Nicole he realises that, "it was lonely and sad to be so empty-hearted towards each other". Even if you aren’t fighting every fifth minute and neither of you are having a clichéd affair with a co-worker, there is something deeply unbearable about being lonely and sad within a love. Often, I suppose marriages are held onto because of children, or familiarity, or fear, but Fitzgerald quite rightly suggests, that there is nothing noble about clinging onto a love that’s already lost, ‘it’s all just habit.’

I recently proposed my ideas about marriage to my Grandma, who is basically the oracle in my life. And she not only agreed with myself and Fitzgerald, but suggested that I ought to try and find at least five husbands; one for each of my different interests. One I could cook with, one I could to go parties with, one who I could go to the theatre with, and so on. 


Mountain View

Mary and my grandpa’s funeral

So, it comes down to company. The company we want and need changes throughout our lives, as does the company we provide to others. I think what Fitzgerald taught me, that my parent and probably a lot of other people are afraid to say, is that one person is not enough to last a lifetime. But this isn’t a failure or something to be sad about, because we’re just people and people change. 

Ultimately, marriage asks us to commit to an almost impossible task, to love one person constantly, for the rest of our days, despite our personal-progression as we age. Really, what ask, of the people we love and who love us in return is, ‘I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am to-night.’ Surely, it is better to look back in fond memory, than look around in loneliness