Marrying someone and deciding to stay with them for the rest of your life, is really hard work. Everyone says that if you are going to stay with the same person for your entire life, you’re inevitably going to need some sort of tune up at some point. This is the point that my parents have reached. After more than 30 years together they have reached the point where some parts of their relationship have become strained and they need the help of an impartial third person to come in and try to alleviate some of the tension. The only problem is that the therapist they have chosen is me.
I am by no stretch of the imagination qualified to give any sort of relationship advice. I graduated from university with a degree in Chinese and International Relations (my parents are from the same country, so I don’t think their marriage counts as international relations), which I have not put to very good use as I now work as a stand-up comedian. Last year I took a show to the Edinburgh fringe festival about the legalisation of drugs. This year, as I have been spending time reading about couples therapy to help my parents, it seemed to make sense to write a show about relationships. I’ve implored my parents to pay a professional counsellor to have a look at their marriage, but they’ve insisted that they’d rather I do it. I’m not sure if I should be flattered, it almost feels very arrogant of my parents to think that they’ve done such a good job raising me that I can counsel them with no formal training, but I’m happy to give it a go.
It goes without saying that the most awkward thing about counselling your own parents is having to hear details about their sex life. I seem to have reached the age where my parents have stopped seeing me as a child and now see me more as a friend, a development I’m completely fine with but it has taken me a while to get used to the change in conversation topics. Like most children, I always found the idea of talking about sex with either of my parents a horrific prospect. Whenever my dad tried to sit me down to have a chat about the birds and the bees I’d threaten to do my best Vincent Van Gogh impression and slice my ears off and chuck them in the bin. As such, when it came to actually getting around to losing my virginity, I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t even know what female orgasms were back then. I’d heard of them, sure, but they were always mentioned in the context of something that is more effort than it’s worth, so I probably shouldn’t worry myself about it. The first few times I had sex I just assumed the women would be having fun as well but, looking back, the 30 seconds of love-making I offered them was probably no fun at all.
Now I’m happy to discuss sex with my parents, as I think everyone should be. Sex is the most fun thing you can do, so as long as it’s consenting we should all be proud to talk about it with anyone who will listen. If your boss asks you how your weekend was, it should be fine to tell them that you enjoyed some really great intercourse. I’m self-employed, so I talk to my boss about sex all the time. Talking to my parents about their relationship has led me to question a lot of things about relationships that I had previously always thought were set in stone, but now realise needn’t necessarily be. My partner and I have started looking more and more into the idea of polyamory, and having multiple sexual partners. I think the idea of being fully polyamorous doesn’t quite appeal to me just because it sounds like a lot of admin to keep so many different relationships going, and I’m terrible at admin. But, if my girlfriend and I stay together for the rest of our lives (which I certainly hope we do) I like to think I would be ok with her having sex with someone else 20 years down the line, if it was an itch she needed to scratch and might dispel some tension in our relationship. The idea that you should marry one person and then never even look at another person for the rest of your life seems unbelievably difficult to achieve, not to mention puritanical and outdated. People are all wildly different and unique, so it makes sense that their relationships with each other would be just as different and unique. Personally I think it’s about cherry picking the parts you like about all different lifestyles and seeing what works for you.
This is what I’ve learned in the process of counselling my parents, and I would like to think that it has helped me save their marriage. In actual fact it probably hasn’t because I don’t know what I’m talking about. As I said, I’m woefully under qualified.
Jack Barry is performing Tango at The Globe from 3–24 August, 20:30, www.berksnest.com