Valentine’s Day prompted me to reflect on the gift of love. One of the pitfalls of young love is our tendency to focus so much of our devotion on our new love that we lose ourselves in the process. It’s a relationship hazard stemming from lack of experience. After you’ve done this once or twice, you get smart and realize you’re actually a pretty cool person in your own right. I once dated a trucker who had the bad-boy swagger and looks of a young Jack Nicholson. Before I knew it, I was going to country and western bars, drinking beer and smoking Export A’s. While liking country music is not a bad thing, some of the other behaviours I adapted to be “closer” to him were not so admirable. And he ran with a group of very unsavoury friends.
Later on, I dated a successful businessman who had three teenagers who were perhaps the most spoiled, ungrateful individuals I’d ever met. He was a single father to the three of them and I suppose to compensate for the fact their mother had left (who can blame her) he allowed them to manipulate him shamelessly. For the sake of the relationship I pretended I liked them which was a mistake. I should never have invested time in a relationship with a guy whose values were so divergent from my own.
The other night I watched a rom-com movie called Fever Pitch starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. The premise is based on her character’s adapting to his all-consuming love of baseball to the point she becomes exhausted, frustrated and bitter. It perfectly illustrates the pitfalls of burying our authentic selves to further the relationship.
One of the greatest benefits of getting older is the advantage of hindsight. We can look back on the compromises we made in the name of love that were not aligned with who we really are. Getting older is getting smarter. That includes not bending our personalities to become the ones we think we love. This is not the same thing as compromising on smaller issues for the sake of keeping the peace or accepting minor differences. For example, my husband loves golf. I find it excruciatingly boring. I love words and writing which are anathema to him. I’ll never “get” football but I have no problem with him watching it 24/7 as long as I don’t have to listen to it, which is why headphones are marriage-savers. Accepting and appreciating our inherent differences can actually enrich a relationship when you don’t expect your partner to be your everything. That’s unrealistic. It’s fun sharing your common interests and fun sharing stories about things you do not have in common. Having differences of opinion is natural. Bending your opinions to always be the same as your partner’s is not.
In earlier times when lifespans were shorter, you often died before you racked up 40 years of marriage. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for couples to divorce after 20 or 30 years when they come to the realization they may have compromised themselves for the sake of the relationship and that’s not the way they want to spend the remaining 20 or 30 years of their lives. And our criteria for an optimal mate change over the years. When we’re in our 20s we want a cute guy with a sense of humour who’s a good dancer. In our 60s we want a healthy guy with a sense of humour and a good RRSP. Spending the rest of your life with someone who encourages the best in you is infinitely more agreeable than living out your years with someone who expects you to sell your soul. Life is precious, particularly your own. Loving another person is beautiful but loving yourself first is the first step. Happy Valentine’s Day my loves.