Completely Subjective: Stephen Dunn’s “The Imagined”

I have grown up in a world of happy relationships, for the most part. My parents are happily married, I have some content extended family members in serious relationships, and I have only witnessed divorce through the eyes of my friends. I remember the moment when my mom told me my aunt and uncle were getting a divorce. It was something I never thought could happen. I wondered: How could two people who fell in love want to cheat their relationship to be with other people? I wanted to hate my uncle for this, but I knew he was family and I shouldn’t. The rest of my family, well, they hated him. Even now. I asked my mom why this happened. “It’s because they weren’t communicating. They were unhappy together” she said. Again, I thought how a couple could just not talk when they live so close together. As I got older, I started to understand this.

The author, Stephen Dunn, has won multiple literary prizes for his excellency in poetry as I later learned while researching him. I learned also that he has a wife, so I kept this in mind while reading to see if he had made his own personal connections. His tone in the poem is very descriptive and it painted a picture in my mind of what this couple looked and acted like. I didn’t know I connected with this poem until I realized the people painted in my head were my aunt and uncle.

When I came across “The Imagined” by Stephen Dunn in BAP volume 2012 while working on a project in poetry class, this abstract idea of marriage and commitment sort of clicked for me. A relationship burns out overtime because the couple isn’t honest with each other. This applied to my aunt and uncle and the couple in the poem. In this poem, the man prefers his imaginary wife over his real wife and the woman prefers her imaginary husband over her real husband. Is having an imagined spouse better than just finding another partner? The couple in the poem don’t seem to be complaining. They just go about their lives, participating in a made-up marriage. The line “He’s present even when you’re eating your omelette at breakfast” (Dunn 34) stood out to me because it is almost like the woman switched the roles and the real husband is non-existent to her and she pays more attention to the imaginary husband.

I tried to find a reason for this uncommunicative relationship. Is being in an imaginary marriage make one more happy than being in a real marriage? After some research and thinking about my own experiences with relationships, I figured that the main reason is time. Hints in the poem reveal that they have been together for a long time. The poet notes that they have been on vacation together, eat breakfast together every morning, and share a bedroom. These are usually not normal factors in a new relationship. I think they grew old together and heard each other’s stories over and over again, until they go silent.

The last poem considers the happiness of the man and the woman. How maybe they are not in love anymore, but they just go along with the relationship because they don’t feel like starting over. “Isn’t her silence, finally, loving? And yours not entirely self-serving? Hasn’t the time come, once again, not to talk about it?” (Dunn 35). This quote says a lot about the character of the man. First, he appreciates her silence. He doesn’t wish for her to communicate with him which shows that he is more happy with his imagination. Second, he thinks that his silence is appreciated by the wife, so he suspects the wife has a imaginary spouse also. In other words, he thinks he is doing her a favor by not communicating. Thirdly, he mentions again that he won’t talk about it anymore which reveals why the relationship is distant in the first place.

I would like to think that people drift apart because they have known each other for so long, not because they have fallen out of love. What happened between my aunt and uncle was bound to happen because of time and miscommunication. It is sad to think about it, but in reality, they saw it coming way before I did. The couple in the poem are different because they have found a way to accept their miscommunication and don’t feel like it is appropriate to start anew because of their age. I feel like I can accept their relationship if they are happy that way, but I would not want to live like that. I hope that when I grow older, I can find myself in a healthy relationship based on honesty and trust. I think that that should be the main goal in a marriage for everyone and they need to give their relationship time before they settle because not speaking your mind to someone you love isn’t worth it.

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