I just finished reading this sweet and empowered article on HuffPost called 10 Things Only People Over 30 Know About Dating, chuckled at some points and shook my head at others. This piece inspired me to think about what I know about relationships at 44, after being married for 10 years (1997-2007), and experiencing probably the kindest, most undramatic divorce ever. It lacked so much drama that we remain friends to this day. But to my point. I fancy myself a bit wiser now than I was in my 20s and 30s, and I certainly have the psychological battle scars to support that hard-won attitude. As I was reading this HuffPost piece, I realized that what I now know about being in a relationship after being married, and then single for four years, and then dating a bit before finding the perfect man for me, will probably sound very familiar to anyone else who is in this position. To the list!
10. You both have ingrained attitudes and ideas that will not change. This is the one that my love and I butt heads about all the time, but we always recover because in the end, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that we disagree about politics or see the world through different lenses. In the end, we honor each other's experiences and accept that our differences stem from a lifetime of experience - a lifetime that, until relatively recently, didn't include both of us. There is no need to compromise on what we each know - expecting to change your partner's mind or expecting compromise is an exercise in futility and a complete waste of energy - we simply have to acknowledge and accept our partner's hard-won wisdom as legitimate. Suddenly, with this shared mindset, it's easy to laugh off and forgive statements that would have set off World War III in our 20s. Because in the end, those ideas and attitudes don't (and shouldn't) affect how you treat each other day to day.
9. You both have limitations and must accept this. Perhaps this is just a function of physically aging, but limitations come in all forms and can be frustrating to deal with. If your partner has a limitation that you find frustrating, no good will come from anger or a lack of acceptance. You both have limitations and must accept each other's limitations without judgment. Find a way to make it work because there is more to your partner than those limitations.
8. You must see beneath the surface. Being physically attracted to your mate is important, yes, but striving for an unrealistic laundry list of surface attributes is a surefire way to miss out on someone wonderful. When my honey and I met online, I found the photo of him in Grundens holding a large dead fish quite intriguing because I am also an angler. But many women wouldn't have even clicked onto his profile because of that picture. And thank goodness they didn't. Because he is so much more than a guy who fishes. He is funny, and my intellectual equal to the point of beating me quite frequently at Scrabble. He writes well, loves experiencing adventures with me, and tries to understand all of my ingrained attitudes and ideas. If you look at our physical forms, you would see a 44 year old woman and a 47 (almost 48) year old man who both look like they enjoy eating out entirely too much and who probably never go to the gym - how shameful! Not. Physical appearance really isn't everything. In fact, it becomes secondary very quickly. Seeing beneath the surface opens a whole world of joy, comfort, acceptance, love, and generosity that just is not available to those who stay on the surface.
7. Together, you should form the calm at the center of life's storms. This is something I didn't understand when I was married. But I get it now. It is so vitally important that your relationship be the calm center - it must not be the storm itself. When shitty people damage you, when systems beat you down, when family turns on you, when everything goes haywire-screwy, the one person you should always, without question or fail, be able to turn to for help, advice, comfort, and calmness, is your partner. If your partner adds stress to your life, then that isn't the right partner for you. Find the one you want to run to when life goes wonky. Find the one who soothes your spirit when the world crushes you. It makes all the difference.
6. Compromise is non-negotiable. I know I just said that ingrained attitudes and ideas will not be compromised, and that still stands. The compromise I'm referring to is the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly decisions that you will face together. You must both be willing to compromise and give in to the other. When this comes from a place of love and understanding, no one loses. Sometimes I give in because I know the activity is something he will truly love. Sometimes he gives in because he knows how much I want that experience. In the end, all of the compromises balance out and you both get exactly what you want: A willing partner.
5. It is important to share your dreams, goals, and plans for the future. The big goals and plans that you each have as individuals should be shared as soon into the relationship as possible (maybe even while dating) because you'll want to know if your goals and plans are compatible and there is no conflict. For instance, if I wanted to move to Boise, Idaho for a job and he was unable to pick up and go, that's an important conversation to have. Compromise will likely come into play here, but being secretive about your plans and goals is a bad idea. Plus, sharing means you have a great chance of finding shared dreams and goals, and nothing is sweeter than planning to achieve those together.
4. Respect each other's independence. You are both fully formed adults with histories and experiences that make you who you are today. You both have homes, possibly mortgages, hobbies, friends, and careers that were formed and in place well before you met. Nobody likes to be told what to do or how to live, least of all after being independent for so many years. Respect each other's independence, while looking forward to and enjoying every moment you do spend together.
3. Be interested in your partner's life and interests. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is something that I learned a long time ago and it remains important in relationships. You cannot be selfish and self-centered, expecting your partner to bend to your interests all the time. You really need to not just participate in your partner's interests and activities, but do so wholeheartedly without misgivings. If your partner senses that you are just going along to appease and to bide your time, this will cause heartache and disharmony down the line. Better to jump in with both feet and just go for it so that your partner will return the favor.
2. Have the hard conversations. Oh boy, this is something that I still think about from when I was married. So many hard conversations that we either never had or didn't have enough. It is a mistake to avoid difficult subjects with the person you love and trust. You must be willing to trust your partner with your vulnerability, your fears, and your deepest truths. Hard conversations come in all subjects and at our age, it sometimes involves discussing health care directives, power of attorney, and death (of family members, of ourselves) and sometimes it involves discussing increasing physical limitations or sex. Myriad subjects can fall into this "hard conversation" category, but whatever the subject, you owe it to yourself and to each other to delve deeply together. You will emerge with an even stronger bond.
1. Live fearless, together. Hesitating, allowing fear to stop you from trying something, or listening to voices from the past (usually parents) in your head telling you not to do something are the best ways to avoid living your life. This fearfulness can be especially dangerous in a relationship because sharing new experiences together is not only incredibly fun, but also strengthens your relationship. When opportunities arise, agree readily and try new activities together to tap into unbridled joy, excitement, and a storehouse of bright memories that will slowly darken past relationship experiences into harmless shadows.