Walking the relationship talk. At last.
I write often about the mother-daughter relationship for Psychology Today. But no single post has gotten more attention than one I wrote offering advice mothers can give daughters regarding their romantic relationships. One of the points I made was that neither person in a relationship should — or should be expected to — change who they are — which is why I decided it was time to write about my own journey in this respect.
When I married for the first time just short of my 31st birthday, I hoped the handsome, fast-talking self-made man I fell for would be inspired by me and, of course, grateful that he chose me as his life partner. I figured I had a lot of offer — maturity, I had traveled extensively, earned a college degree, and best of all, had a family that always felt like my safety net — all things I knew he didn’t possess or nor had experienced but could offer him. I also figured my sense of adventure was enough for two people. Unfortunately, most of the time I felt myself suppressing it to keep the peace between us, because conflicts seemed to grow intense over what I perceived as trivialities and he perceived as principles. Having a child soon into our marriage had us shifting gears, but also made me more determined than ever to make things work between us, even though I felt early on I had not married my soul mate. I adamantly refused to become a statistic. As many women do, I concentrated on ignoring, forgiving, and dismissing the abuse I occasionally felt and focused instead on my husband’s better qualities. Besides, it was what my saintly mother had taught me to do. Eventually, however, the space between us felt like chasms instead of mere differences, and I ended the marriage after nearly 20 years waiting for some miracle to occur.
Sooner than I would ever have thought possible, I began seeing an old friend — a person I thought of as a long-time acquaintance but who began to reveal himself as the smiling man in the shadows who had always had a rapt interest in me. It was then that I began to live the advice I offered in that Psychology Today post. I was finally with someone who not only accepted me for who I was, but also adored my individuality as well. In some ways we were like peas in a pod with our love of music (singing, piano), dancing, old movies, the trivia of our childhoods and the closeness we felt with our siblings. We make each other laugh incessantly and we flirt endlessly. In other ways we are vastly different (politics, risk-taking, discipline). It doesn’t hurt, of course, that an amazing chemistry exists between us — the undercurrent that makes it impossible for us to stay angry at one another for more than a few hours.
But one of the most striking differences between my first husband and this man is how he is never threatened by my independence. Where in my first relationship I was discouraged to spend time away, George is fine with it when I tell him of my plans to do a girlfriend trip. We maintain separate home offices, keep private phones, and even have separate finances, apart from the expenses of owning our home. He is still the gentleman, paying my way when we go out, but knows I spend on other things we both benefit from. We admire one another both close up and from afar. While we miss each other intensely when we are apart, I often travel without him when he is not in the mood to leave the nest, and he cheers me on, holding down the fort while I'm gone. Even more than that, he also understands my occasional need to get back in touch with the take-no-prisoners woman I once was in my youth. Separations only seem to breed more passion between us while we are apart. And when he decides to visit relatives he grew up with in other parts of the country, I encourage him to go off and have his adventure as well. I know that we are often slightly different people apart than we are together, and that both sides of us are important.
While George and I met some 38 years ago, we never imagined we would end up together someday, even though he wasted no time in showing his interest in me when I was in transition. He had never married and was pushing 50. We now joke about growing old together but work hard to buck the aging odds by staying active and eating healthy so we might be around for one another as long as possible as well as for hopeful grandchildren. It's as if we've formed our own little 2-person club we will forever remain loyal to.
I write this to give others who once loved and moved on hope that you can change the game, partner up, and still retain your sense of self — that magical person inside you that attracted the other in the first place. While marriage presents challenges, as long as the foundation is built on two people who want to walk down life’s path together without losing their individuality, it can indeed work.