They both thought they were over it. Rachel had been insecure about the whole moving-in thing. But with patience and care and tact Jake was sure he’d laid her worries to rest and set a solid foundation for productive communication and mutually respectful resolution of disputes. The kind of thing you’d want from any relationship. Frankly, the kind of thing that’s essential when taking as big and life-changing and—one would hope—as permanent a step as moving in together.
They’d blown up pretty bad a few months back. Maybe two months before they moved in. Rachel had come down to visit and she’d clearly had a shit journey and probably a terrible time at work that week too, and she’d made one or two comments Jake considered, frankly, to be thinly-veiled digs at his life choices and decisions up to that point and which Jake considered, frankly, inappropriate to the kind of relationship they were building and indeed would need to build if this moving-in thing was ever going to work out.
And its working out was imperative. With Rachel busy at work, Jake had taken the initiative to look for a place. They’d back-and-forthed a little but had eventually settled on a decent flat in a newish development in the city Jake had moved to for university and currently lived in and in which Rachel had done most of her latter growing-up before leaving for university. They had signed a contract and had what Jake considered some pleasing and emotionally resonant sex the following night. Rachel had returned to her university town to study and to work and Jake had occupied himself at work, happy in the knowledge their moving-in was now, if not set in stone, something close to it.
Then they’d blown up. Rachel had come down to visit before moving-in and had expressed doubts. Shouted insults were exchanged and tears shed. Jake had even caught himself worrying in deeper terms about the two of them as a couple. Regardless of the moving-in thing, which he had supposed was negotiable after all, albeit in an absolute worst-case scenario, the very future of their relationship had seemed in doubt. Noticing this, Jake had immediately performed an audit of his own emotions and deduced he might be responding poorly to the situation on account of a bad experience in a past relationship, in which a woman with whom he’d seen a long future, Ella, had seemed to grow detached almost overnight and had, despite his best efforts to foster rational communication and open discussion, ultimately become entirely distant and ended things and moved out to, he believed, Cambridge.
So Jake had moderated his tone and placated Rachel and, he felt, brought the two of them to a mutual understanding.
And then they had moved in and hosted a house party with a variety of friends from the city where they now lived together and one or two of Rachel’s from university who had been able to make it down for the night. And things had been good and they had invested in a fish tank and two pretty and placid goldfish and in a rug and some nice throw cushions for the living room.
Things had been good. They had both thought they were over it. Several months passed and all was well.
Then Rachel had changed jobs. Sick of what she described as unfulfilling administrative work in a sector in which she saw no opportunities and with colleagues she disliked, Rachel had quit and looked for something else. Jake had privately thought she was being somewhat rash. Prone to add a pinch of salt to any of Rachel’s comments on third parties unknown to him, he had lightly discouraged the move. But Rachel had quit and he had offered his full support, only prompting her once or twice about bills and avoiding an argument over rent when the end of the month had rolled around and Rachel had wanted to travel up to London to see the opening of a university friend’s exhibition.
Not long after this Rachel had found another job in a sector in which she seemed mildly more interested. Jake had again offered his full support, and had looked forward to developing a mutually supportive routine.
But their schedules soon started to clash. Not all the time. Most days they worked similar, regular hours. But increasingly Rachel’s new job required her to take irregular hours—to stay late or to work weekends. Keeping his disappointment at losing their Friday night TV-watching to himself, Jake had once more offered his full support, even going so far as to cook two servings of each meal he made up on nights Rachel worked late so that they would be able to eat together when she got in. Some nights she wasn’t hungry or had eaten at work, and Jake had dutifully—and, he hoped, subtly—altered his cooking repertoire to incorporate meals that could be more easily reheated or even consumed cold for the following day’s lunch.
Then it came. The snoring conversation. The setting was a pub they both liked on the outskirts of town. A quiet place that reminded Jake of his childhood in more rural environs, and a favourite place of theirs to meet mutual friends for couples’ meals. Thankfully they were alone this time, though the setting was still more public than Jake would have preferred for this sort of a dispute.
Rachel was playing with her food. She slid her fork around the plate, dragging a loose lettuce leaf. Periodically she reached for her glass of white wine and took a sip.
“Why are you doing that?”
“That. With your fork.”
“Dragging it. Around the plate.”
Rachel looked down. “Am I?”
Jake smiled. “A little while now, yeah. What’s up, hun?”
A pause. Rachel didn’t reply. Jake smiled again. “Come on, hun. I know you well enough to know when something’s up. And something’s up. Was it the food?”
“Did they forget the gluten-free bread again?”
Rachel grinned. Or grimaced. She was still playing with her fork. “No! The bread was fine, Jake.” She chuckled a little as she said it.
“Okay. So, what’s up?”
“It’s pretty clearly something.”
Another pause. Longer this time. Rachel sipped her wine.
“Come on. I know it’s something. And what am I here for if we can’t tell each other when something’s up? Like, what’s the point?”
She smiled. More genuine this time. “I know, Jake. It’s just…it’s so small.”
He smiled back. He brought his cutlery together at the bottom of his plate and reached forward and rested his elbows on the table and clasped his hands. “I don’t mind. That’s what I’m here for. Big or small. What’s up?”
“Okay. Fine. I’ll say it. But you won’t like it.”
He smiled. He smiled warm enough, he thought, to successfully convey openness and support, but with a flirty undercurrent that, he hoped, reminded her why they’d fallen in love in the first place. “Try me.”
Rachel looked away. She looked back at him and put her fork down and rested her palms flat on the table. “I haven’t been sleeping.”
“It’s not like I’m an insomniac or anything. I just haven’t been sleeping.”
“Why not? Is something on your mind? Is it—”
“It’s you, Jake.”
“Yes. No. Well…no. Not you. Honestly it’s so small and stupid and insignificant I feel dumb even for bringing it up. It’s just…” She trailed off. She looked away again, quicker, her eyes darting.
Jake was of course proficient in reading human body language—he had watched many YouTube videos and taken an A-level Psychology course, for which he received an ‘A’ grade. He didn’t think she was lying. But he did think this was worth talking about and in fact not at all small or stupid or insignificant. Frankly, he thought, her minimising the issue was an unhealthy attempt to avoid confrontation.
Rachel levelled her gaze at him and folded her arms. “You snore, Jake.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
She pushed her plate away a little and flicked her hair back over her right shoulder. “Okay, Jake. You don’t. This thing that you do involuntarily and in your sleep, you don’t do it. You’re right and I’m wrong and I’m sorry for bringing it up.”
Jake smiled, again injecting into his smile all the warmth he felt towards this woman. “Honey—”
“No, Jake. It’s fine.”
He reached across the table and took her hand gently in his. He was still smiling. “No, honey, don’t worry. I didn’t mean that. It’s just…” Now he trailed off. What to say here? He didn’t want to deny her feelings, and of course she made the convincing point that he would not in fact be able to tell if he did snore, with his being asleep a necessary condition for his snoring. But still. “It’s just that…well, I’ve never snored before.”
“Okay. Not never. Sometimes when I’m drunk, sure. When we’ve had a big night.”
“So you do snore?”
He thought it over a little. “Not…not habitually.”
He felt himself avoiding her gaze. He focused, firm but not harsh. “You know what I meant, hun. Not…not regularly.”
“You do though.”
She removed her hand from his and picked up her wine glass and took a tiny sip and set her wine glass down and returned her hand to its earlier position, folded inside the crook of her right elbow. Jake brought his own hand back to his chest and took a long and thoughtful sip of his beer.
Rachel remained in position. “You do, Jake. And it stops me sleeping. And it’s driving me mad.”
“Driving you mad?”
“Not the snoring! Not itself, at least. Just…the not-sleeping. It’s driving me mad, Jake.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, hun.”
She sipped her wine.
After a slightly longer pause than he was entirely comfortable with, Jake thought it was time to move away from this back and forth and towards a workable solution. “So…what can we do about this?”
“Do about it?”
“Yes. What can we do to make sure you’re getting enough sleep?”
“You can stop snoring.”
I don’t snore.
Jake breathed in through his nose and closed his eyes a little. “Okay. But how? You said yourself, if I do snore—”
“Yes, okay. But if…when I snore, I’m asleep. How can I stop doing it? If I’m asleep, I mean.”
“You can go to a doctor.”
This next step, Jake realised, required a light touch. Frankly, it was absurd for his girlfriend to ask him to go to a doctor when the problem clearly lay with her inability to sleep. It was possible, he conceded, that he did snore, regularly and at sufficient volume to interrupt Rachel’s sleep. But it was not possible, he maintained, that this snoring could have simply emerged from nowhere, out of a clear blue sky. First, no prior girlfriends had ever complained of repeated snoring. Second, and frankly more important, Rachel’s inability to sleep (not insomnia, he conceded) logically must have preceded any problems he had with snoring. For how else could she be awake to hear him snore? If he did have a snoring ‘habit’, he could see no reason that it would have emerged from nothing—and no reason that any pre-existing snoring problem (habit?) would have shifted to an earlier period of his night’s sleep. Rachel had often commented, it was true, that he tended to sleep before her. In their early days as a couple, she had relished recounting to him his apparent practice of mumbling sweet nonsensical nothings of a night, just as he drifted off.
But she had never mentioned snoring.
The facts remained, then, that, even if he had always snored, it was only now that Rachel was awake to hear it and to be kept awake by it. Accordingly, there was simply no reason that he should seek a professional medical opinion on the matter. So, the problem must lay with her. And so, consequently, if one of them should be obligated to seek help, it was her, Rachel.
Of course, he could never say this to her.
Instead, he again reached across and took her hand. “Okay hun, I’ll ask about it at my next check-up. But—”
“Your next check-up?”
“Yes. The next time I see Doctor Peters.”
“When will that be?”
“When will your next check-up be.”
“Do you even have regular check-ups? Because I don’t. Just going to a doctor to see if anything’s changed. Doesn’t that seem a bit weird? Certainly at our age. When you’re seventy or eighty or whatever I can understand it, but at our age?”
Fair point. Jake opened his mouth to respond.
Before he could, Rachel spoke. “I mean, I know we’ve moved in together and all that, but we’re not, like, an old married couple or anything.”
There it was. Jake felt himself losing control. He knew he was about to say something he’d regret. But, in the moment, he also knew that Rachel deserved whatever she got. She was needling him. Trying to undermine him.
His eyes flashed steely and solid and he furrowed his brow. “God damn it, Rachel! This is what you always do, isn’t it? This is what you always do! You just—”
At that he was cut off. Behind Rachel he saw two people he knew enter the pub and catch sight of them and wave and make their way over. Sophie and Kingsley were smiling broadly as they walked. Jake cut himself off and mouthed ‘sorry’ at Rachel and smiled at his friends and stood and welcomed them to the table.
And that had been that for the big snoring conversation for that evening. Jake had attempted to resolve the issue on their return to the house, but Rachel had brushed him off and insisted it was fine. Ignoring the voice in his head that told him to sort the issue sooner rather than later and to foster an honest and open dialogue from the outset, Jake had nodded and said ‘Okay’ and changed into his pyjamas and brushed his teeth and laid down to sleep. And Rachel had laid next to him.
The next evening they had together, Jake had again raised the issue. Rachel had seemed more open this time. She’d rolled her eyes initially but had agreed to talk through it. In the interests of establishing the facts of the matter first and foremost, Jake had suggested they record themselves sleeping for several nights. He’d even downloaded an app for his phone that automatically started recording in response to a sound. He’d shown Rachel, delighted to be able to provide some solid ground on which they could rest their future decisions.
She’d been horrified. It was intrusive and creepy and weird, she’d said. And it was besides the point. The issue wasn’t whether or not Jake snored. Jake had been puzzled by that. As far as he could see, that was the single animating issue behind any disagreements they’d had since they’d moved in. Rachel had sighed and flared her nostrils, but she had not expounded further. Jake had placated her, then, recognising the signs that future conversation would prove unproductive and, frankly, even destructive. Silently and to himself, he had also resolved to record their next few nights’ sleep. Rachel, he was confident, would understand. And the sooner they settled this snoring issue, the sooner they could truly settle into their home. The sooner they could both be well and truly over it.
Jake slept well that night.
© 2020 Alex Ryan
An Oxford University graduate, musician, and freelance writer, Alex loves to share stories, opinions, and everything else.