Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Scientific Examination of What Makes a Relationship Work ....

.. by a girl with a history degree.

I write a lot about relationships, specifically mine (write what you know, right??,).  And I’m drawn, after years of being in a relationship, getting older and seeing some become stronger and some fall apart, to figure out why sometime it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Because it all starts the same, right?

Attraction. Chemistry.  Butterflies. 

Then maybe it fizzles, or it grows to include attachment and meaningful love.  We have babies together, we make lives together.  We know where your back is always sore, that you can never remember the phone number for your brother, or that there isn’t a saying or punchline that you won’t mess up.

And there’s the same arguments held over and over again.  There’s the points of contention that never seem to be dulled. There’s the same buttons that hurt when pushed.

Within this delicate balance, this dance of life, some seem to get stuck and forget how to dance.  Maybe they just stop wanting to dance all together.  But some, some miraculously, dance on until the music fades to dusk.

But… why?

So often we hear “outgrown” or “it’s been over for a long time” when people decide to end things.  And the researcher in me, the person fascinated with truth, is always dying to delve in and ask uncomfortable questions. 

So it's with my best friends, curled up with a glass of wine, that I gain real insight into men and women, marriages, partnerships, things that work and don’t work.  I have the best girls in the world.  We are open and honest.. REALLY honest about the mistakes, the highlights, and the times we thought living in a commune might be ideal (ok that was my idea).

We talk a lot about give and take.  What works? How can you learn to be the right partner for your partner as life inevitably takes over and you grow and change as an individual.  It’s folly to think otherwise, and marriage and friendships are doomed if you think the other half of you will never change.  

But, on the contrary, who you were when you met, the essence of you are, never changes. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald,

 “I don't ask you to love me always like this but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside of me there will always be the person I am tonight.” 

We talk and talk and rehash who we are, what we have done that works and what we have done that doesn’t, and it still seems like no one, even those married for a hundred years, can figure out what the key to it all is.  Mostly, as I can determine, because every person is so different, and every situation so varied that there is no one way to describe ‘how to make it work’.  Don’t believe Dr. Phil or the Self-Help section.

Naturally I turn the microscope on myself.

True self-reflection to me is a gift that I get given once every three months.. that’s a rough average.  It happens when I’m reading something, or listening to a song, and something resonates so deeply that I have a brief moment when I can skip and see my life, not just from the outside, but in a more mechanical, non-biased way.  I think scienticians (that’s an inside joke.. if you’re nerdy you’ll get it) call it existentialism.

I mean why have we made it so far?

I am an out there kind of person.. I am free with my opinions (don't you all know this..) enthusiasm, and affection.  I love hard and gregariously.  I think the best of all people, and that intentions are always well-meaning.  However, I am closely guarded about how I feel.  Small difference in nuance, huge difference in meaning.

I am married to someone who is the complete opposite.  He is quiet and reserved and definite.  He sees what people’s intentions are way before I want to believe it.  He is sure about people, situations and what he feels about life.

People are genuinely surprised when they meet one of us, and get to know us before meeting the other one.  It seems INSANE that two people so genuinely unalike in personality have been together for so long.

As I do, I listen to music, and I read. 

This article popped up on my feed and I chuckled and gave it a whirl.  Thinking this author meant to talk about free-love and hippies (and hopefully communes!!!).  But upon reading it, I saw something else entirely.  I saw how the author articulated, more eloquently than I, how so far in our lives my husband has managed to put up with my butterfly ways.  How he can sit back and let me make new best friends wherever I go, talk to everyone and anyone about whatever is on my mind, how he puts up with living and loving a person who is constantly at battle with who she is, what she wants out of life, and who she wants to be when she grows up.

In the article, “How To Love A Wild Woman”, he writes:

 “Do not be jealous of her smile, her laugh, her body or her love. Smile at the pleasure she brings to others and do not resent it and wish it all for you. She has chosen you.

Let her fly and do not stunt her desires because you are scared of losing her to them. Support her dreams; entwine yourself in them if she wants you there. But let her go too. Give her freedom and choice because in following her heart she is most happy.”

Sometimes following my heart means eating a poutine in bed.  Or watching a sad movie and weeping and snotting on him.  Often times it’s wandering around parties and gatherings and asking perfect strangers inappropriate questions about their lives.  And making best friends.  He has heard me declare “YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND” to someone I have just met at least once a week since we have been together.

And through all of this, all the people and all the besties I have acquired (I actually have a small handful of my real bestfriends.. please don’t be disappointed, Mr. Doctor who once gave me Dilaudid at the hospital.  I still think fondly of those drugged out days), he remains the one constant in my life.

So imagine my delight, and the tears, and the loud singing and enthusiastic arm gestures, when I was pondering this very thought and “Sweetest Devotion” by Adele came on.  

“I'll forever be whatever

 You want me to be

 I'd go under and all over

 For your clarity

 When you wonder

 If I'm gonna lose my way home just remember

 That come whatever I'll be yours all along.

I’m headed straight for you

You will be eternally

The one I belong to.”
I know.. I AM THE CHEESIEST person ever.  But it’s so true.  And for us, for two people who are so different in their daily interactions, it seems to be what works for us.  I need to be challenged, respected, and encouraged to chase the WILD ambitions, and dreams that I think will help me become the person I want to be. It is not easy to love a person who is forever at odds with themselves and the world around them.  But I will always, always look to him as home.

And oddly enough, despite all the differences, all he really needs is to be challenged, respected, and encouraged to chase the REAL ambitions and dreams that will make HIM the person he wants to be.  It is not easy to love a person whose job and reality means I will stand by his side as we pack up the house and our belongings and say good-bye…. again. But he will always, always look to me as home.

So the answer to the why?? I still don’t know… for other people.

I know the why for us, for now.  Why we are happy and why it works. 

I’ve realized that the other girls I debrief with, who seem to have the similar happy days to non-happy days ratio as us, well they also have a foggy grasp on what the ‘why’ is for them.

I guess the point I’m driving at is that maybe, just maybe it’s the constant state of wondering, working, and challenging the redundant norms of your relationship, that seems to be universal in all good relationships. But not just the boring, but imperative mechanics of striving to be better, but also the cheesy parts too. 
How even when his socks are all over the damn house, and the kids are driving you NUTS, he’s the same guy that set your heart on fire the first time he kissed you. 

I asked him to take a selfie with me for Valentine's Day.  This is what I got.