I remember the early days of being in love...my heart beating faster just at the mere thought of my first crush...the way I'd draw hearts all over my school notebooks...the earnest way in which my Kindergarten boyfriend would always save me a seat on the bus, and then carry my Kimba the White Lion lunch box into the classroom, putting it into my cubby for me...the way notes would be passed in Junior High asking me if I liked a certain boy, and to check a box in response if my feelings were in the affirmative....the way my heart literally seemed to shatter into jagged, wretched pieces when it was broken the first time. Love, when you're young, means everything. Crowded, noisy rooms will feel empty when in the presence of your heart's desire. Time will seem to be speed up, and hours will fly around the clock, when you are with that person. You won't believe it's time to go home, until you see the street lamps come on, and know that your mother has dinner waiting on the table. The phone will ring, and your breath will catch in your throat, hoping that a particular boy is brave enough to get past your gatekeeper father in order to speak to you. It's an incredible thing, young love. It is mesmerizing, captivating, all encompassing and bewitching.
And yet, I wouldn't trade my 23 years old marriage for anything...not even to go back to those easy, lovely, dreamy days of stolen kisses and hypnotizing infatuation. There is something even more romantic about the choice to remain with one man for all of adult life. Having met during our college years, my husband and I were still young by today's standards, when we fell in love. Additionally, we never lived in the same city until six months after we were legally married. Our newlywed stage, which I consider to be the first five years of our married life together, consisted of learning how to occupy the same space for more than a few days. Our courtship consisted of a great many blissful weekends together. I had no idea what was in store for me when I actually had to share a house with a boy...forever. As an only child, and then a young lady who went to an all women's college, living with a guy who never went home was new to me. Even though my father was an incredible force in my life, my mom and I did outnumber him, and therefore, our house was kind of 'girl world'. Boy stuff---from the accouterments of Jeff's Army career to his shaving gear in the bathroom--were all new territory. There were entire years we drove each other crazy. We had no idea how to coexist when it came to building a life together. We realized how very little we had in common. However, we made the promise to each other to find that middle ground, and we've been doing so since 1987.
Here are some insights I've learned along the way...during this journey of love, marriage and building a shared partnership:
- It's better to be kind than right. My friend, Leslie, taught me this one. This was a difficult piece for both Jeff and me to digest. We both have a highly developed sense of competitive spirit. We both are willing to defend our positions to the end. During those early years, everything from how a peanut butter and jelly sandwich SHOULD be made to which route to take on a trip, became fodder for arguments. What did I learn? 99% of the time, it's better to simply let an issue, that doesn't really matter, go. Will the Earth stop spinning if I've got the correct answer to a trivia question, but mon mari is sure of his? No. Kindness doesn't mean being a doormat over the truly important matters. But, it can be a balm to heal a multitude of tiny cracks in a relationship's foundation.
- Don't expect your partner to be everything to you. My husband loves the great outdoors. He adores hiking, camping, mountains and sports. I love cities. I gain energy from art museums, great theater, fascinating stores and energetic diversity. Jeff still plays hockey. I practice yoga. I would no more fit my husband into following my salivating, day dreaming forays into Barney's than he would expect me to sit in a freezing rink at 10 PM on a Sunday for a hockey game. We give each other space in which to pursue the activities and passions we don't share. We don't believe that you need to carry your partner with you in your back pocket everywhere you go. We do some things solo, understanding that our choice of endeavor is sheer torture for the other person. Then, we share our enthusiasm. Our favorite trip we've ever taken, just the two of us, was to the unbelievably gorgeous Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont. Jeff golfed. I took yoga classes and enjoyed the spa. We met later on in the day for scrumptious, fabulous dinners. We took hand holding walks through the beautiful grounds. We had the right mix of things we each enjoyed separately, and things we enjoyed together. It was heavenly.
- Make an effort if something is very important to your partner. This may seem to contradict the advice I've given just above. However, making an effort is more about caring about someone else more than you care about your own feelings. Jeff has gone to Broadway with me, and made a huge effort to enjoy what I love about New York. I have actually gone to a Boston Bruins game, and cheered until my throat was sore. I was even a great sport when the drunk guy next to me began swearing like a sailor in front of our then 8 year old daughter. If something is special to the person you love, show an interest. Learn the position, and key players, in sports, ladies. Even if you don't like the game, it never hurts. Likewise, gentlemen? Brush up on a few artists and designers. You never know when a comment like "Really? That's a Michael Kors? It seems way too avant garde..." will make your woman beam with pride. I am not saying that I plan to take up ice hockey (though it would be great for a laugh!), but I do hope that I am kind enough to know which key Red Sox players have been traded.
- Build a foundation together. This is one area that always surprises me...despite Jeff's and my utter lack of common ground when it comes to personal interests, we share the identical goals for the foundation of our relationship. We made choices, and we continue to make choices, that are for the 'common good' for us, and for our children. Sometimes this means compromise...finding that middle path. Other times, we are completely on the same page. There are dozens of metaphors about foundations crumbling because they were not built on firmly enough. So, discover what that ground is together...talk about what's important to you. Think about what you're willing to let go of, and what is a non-negotiable principle. Common goals, common beliefs and common intentions trump common interests every time.
- Be appreciative. I can't stress this piece often enough. When the person you love does something nice for you, say thank you. Notice even the smallest efforts. Be thankful that somebody loves you enough to fill up your car with gas, to fold your laundry in the exact way you like or to watch a movie that's not that your taste. Just say thank you. And, say it again.