(from the essay by Natalia Ginzburg)

He leaves his clothes in a heap on the floor. I kick them aside. Mine are dumped in the hamper, washed and folded neatly, put away where they belong.

He is pleased with ‘good’. I knead and worry every small undertaking till it is perfectly formed and executed. It never is, and I am often unhappy.

He once wished he was ‘cool’ but now jeers at those who seem it, saying clothes don’t make you cool, they just make you think you are. I tell him ‘cool’ is overrated; my other boyfriends were cool, and look where that got me.

His shoulders are broad, and he wears responsibility lightly. My muscles are strong, and I carry others’ burdens.

He struggles between loyalty to his party and his own clear view of things. He is frustrated by these compromises and I encourage his independence. I spurn parties, groups and clubs and he says my refusal to compromise is why I’m sometimes lonely. We are both right and wrong.

He delegates, tells people what to do. I feel guilty, do it all myself and grow resentful. When we were young, we were both called ‘leaders.’ Now he leads, while I go my own way refusing either to lead or to follow.

He half-listens, loses keys, forgets the conversation we had and what we agreed. He mocks my irritation in order to hide these lapses. I feel invisible, hurt, impatient.

He is good company: gregarious, big hearted and curious. He holds court and tells funny stories. I am lively, quick witted and mimic people and accents before suddenly withdrawing, curling up my paws beneath me, seeming unreachable.

He develops arcane interests and becomes expert quickly, talking easily about their complexity and how they work. I read widely about society and ideas, delighting in ephemera and going to bed with my book.

He is boastful and over-confident. I give away power too easily, and blush with shame at my failings.

He is patient and tolerates my moods although he tells me it is painful for him, that he feels the sands are perpetually shifting. He fears I will leave him, and sometimes I threaten to go. I hate myself for making him afraid and say I will be better next time. But these are compulsions: I am not better next time, nor the time after that.

He reads maps easily and always knows exactly where he is. I find my way by intuition and never get lost.

He is often lazy and procrastinates. He grows obstinate and irritated when I pressure him to do something he’s promised. Sometimes he lies and says he’s done it, when we both know he hasn’t. I am riddled with guilt, anxiety and a sense of obligation, which fuel my reputation for diligence and reliability.

He loves poetry, hates opera, reads novels obsessively or not at all. He paints and draws well, has a ‘good eye’ and buys art whose value appreciates. I write poetry, listen to jazz and watch contemporary dance. We hold hands and cry during concerts.

He loves the outdoors and wanted to be a farmer when he was a boy. I love the cinema, and losing myself in the anonymity of the city.

He wrestles with regret, and says he wishes he’d met me 20 years ago. I say we would have hated each other 20 years ago, and besides: my mistakes are the stepping stones that led me to him.