Chapter 14: A Room of One’s Own

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” said my Creative Writing professor, Neil C. Garcia. Sir Neil, who Mark and I share as a common teacher at the University of the Philippines, always had an insightful and unique way of looking at things. Moreover, his statement was one of the most relevant observations on marriage that I had come across with in years, and one of the few that actually validated my own ideals. 

Our professor spoke of a necessary yet potentially useful degree of separation within marriage.  Traditional ideals dictate that marriage is all about the union, of becoming one, of merging together as man and wife but for my own twisted reasons, these matters disturbed me somehow. I have always felt like a single girl at heart and there are several creature comforts of bachelorette-dom that I can’t come to terms with letting go of: things as simple as sleeping alone on a queen-sized bed (I have never felt 100% comfortable about having other people beside me. I hog space–enough said); saving up for my own studio without worrying about incorporating somebody else’s taste or having to live with that person’s habits (I am seriously obsessive-compulsive); or the more complicated matter of sharing last names or putting a hypen on mine (Yet why doesn’t the husband hyphen his own name?). This makes me wonder how such a “selfish” individual like myself can make peace with marriage. 

Ideally (and unconventionally), Mark and I would want to have our own personal spaces.


We are always told to compromise yet personally I don’t completely agree with this popular piece of advice. I’m sure a lot of people would beg to differ, stating that marriage should be about meeting halfway at a place where two individuals can be happy. Before eyebrows are raised, I would like to say that, my personal idea of compromise is allowing the other person to be him or her self, living a life that allows the other to be a proper, supportive partner in marriage while being an individual with his or her own interests. It is about providing a space for the other which allows for growth, both as a couple and as individuals.

“Love is still possible,” Sir Neil continued. “It is not about trying to change the other.” He continued by giving suggestions on living plans. “Build a house,” he advised. “With a room for each one…and your own bathrooms!” Oh, how I appreciated this suggestion as it echoed my own “wish” to Mark a few years ago.

“I need to have my own room,” I told him back then. “I have to have my own space.” The great thing about my fiancee is how he happily obliged and personally agreed with such a set-up.

“Okay yun [That’s a good suggestion],” he said, “Paminsan-minsan, puwede kitang ligawan uli. [I can attempt to ‘court’ you again and again].” I envision that idea of separate rooms as more than just a literal place where we can express our unique selves but also as a device to help maintain the passion in a relationship.

I once read in a women’s magazine that after some time, a couple’s love life fizzles because of too much familiarity. In other words, we’ve settled into a spot that has become too comfortable and just too easy. Maybe that’s why quickies in dangerous places are so alluring. Then again, it’s precisely these novel and adventurous activities themselves that rekindle the butterflies-in-the-stomach feelings of new love. The article goes on to suggest ditching the usual dinner-and-movie combo for more creative dates. As a result, the rush and excitement from doing activities we don’t routinely do will mimic those feelings we first felt. 

Even Mark and I are guilty of falling into a rut. We meet after work, go to dinner then check out the movies. Movies have always been a failsafe activity since we enjoy analyzing films right after. But this mind exercise, although great for developing a critical eye, has become the norm. Sometimes, we welcome the idea of watching a gig (as a date activity, so night-outs with a big group of friends don’t count, as  far as I’m concerned) but in our 5 years together, we’ve probably seen less than 10, which is strange because Mark used to be in a signed band himself and was deeply immersed in the local music scene. Nowadays, whether it’s because of age or our increasing preference for less stimulating (read: loud bars) activities, we almost never watch gigs (not even bands of our own friends, which is a shame) just because we are satisfied enough with drinking coffee while reading magazines. Yes, go ahead and call us spoilsports.


Routine, like brushing your teeth together every 7am, offers the comfort of normalcy but surprises keep things interesting.


Seriously though, Mark and I have started to address our own issues of over-familiarity. It’s ironic. We expect our relationships, and later, marriages, to provide us with a sense of stability and normalcy, yet normalcy itself still tends to lose its luster. It’s ironic how we demand convenience and comfort when too much can have the reverse effect.

“Nagsawa lang sila sa isa’t isa [They just got tired of each other]” is a common explanation for long-standing relationships that abruptly end to the surprise of the community. “Weren’t they so happy together? What went wrong?” people ask. Could it be that what went wrong was the now-exes did not have enough mystery, complexity, perhaps danger or periodic distances during their time as a couple? Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say; but likewise, it heightens the effect of your partner’s pheromones. In other words, when you don’t see each other 24/7, you feel crazier for each other.

In order to better understand the normalcy bane, let’s take a look at the relationships of girls. Such unions seem to be even more successful then romantic unions. Sometimes, friendships fall out, but generally girlfriends stick together. Why? Is it because girls maintain a lifetime physical distance. In other words, we don’t get tired literally of one another’s faces. Is it because our innate, subconscious competitiveness imbibes an element of tension that keeps things interesting, for as long as we don’t end up in a catfight and appropriate that sense of competition to challenge ourselves to do better? Is it because girls are constantly finding new things to try, whether it’s as mundane as copying the latest catwalk make-up in a fashion spread or gushing on a new Hollywood crush? I’m not a relationship expert, but maybe there’s something about female relationships that can help us with our own romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

Secondly, maybe we can take a look at literature as an example. When I was in the first year of my master’s course and had to take up a pre-requisite subject in literary theory, I had to do a report on Russian Formalism. I don’t remember most of the details in that report but what stuck with me was the concept of Defamiliarization or Ostranenie, which was popularized by the Russian Formalists. Essentially it is a technique for making common things appear unfamaliar. Ostranenie literally means “to make strange.” One example was the use of a horse’s point of view in  Leo Tolstoy’s Kholstomer. When I think of how I can apply this to spicing up a boring love life, I am immediately reminded of an episode from one paranormal TV show (in the same vein as The Twilight Zone), wherein a man’s wife–literally and figuratively–changes into a different woman everyday, shifting from a leather-clad, whip-wielding dominatrix to a Stepford-type wife who wouldn’t be out of place in a 1950s nuclear family. Hmm, maybe role playing games for couples do help.

Maybe, we should even consider taking relationship cues from Cosplayers. 

Cosplayers constantly dress up in different gaming characters. Outside of the gaming convention, I think role-playing is also great for couples.


Yes, I may have always dreamt of separate rooms but I would have to admit that it could cost more as well, especially if this compels us to get a home with more bedrooms, and it displaces say, a potential home office or study. But without having to resort to strictly having a room of one’s own, I believe that the lesson is this: A marriage brings you together because you not only complement each other but you have  a partner with which to explore the novel things that life has to offer; that which keeps life itself interesting and inspiring enough for us to keep discovering a world that is not so familiar after all.