We were midway through junior year of college, and we had been having the sort of “where is this going” talks you start having when you are getting closer to graduating and starting to think about what is next – where is next – etc.
I knew his examples of relationships included many MANY fucked up examples and very few if any good examples. To him, certain steps in a relationship spelled pure disaster – the beginning of the end – so he avoided them as though even thinking about it would result in contracting the disease that would kill this relationship. So, as you can imagine, our conversations went very poorly.
As someone who grew up with good role models of relationships, I started struggling with what to do about this. I had been extremely tolerant of his relationship issues which included the first 2 years of our relationship hearing “I love you but I don’t want to marry you” on a frequent basis. It only stopped when I pointed out that I didn’t want to marry anyone, so that statement went both ways. I really had, but this one – this one was a deal breaker. Why was it? Because despite his assurance that he was committed, I always felt like he had one foot out the door. He had an escape plan, if you will. He told me a story once of a girl who used to sleep with one leg out from under the covers because it made her feel like she wasn’t totally in bed with the guy she was with. It made her feel better being partially out of bed already. He understood where she was coming from with the story. I rolled my eyes and thought she was delusional and needed therapy.
See, that was the thing for me. I wasn’t looking to get married immediately. I just wanted to understand our plan. I didn’t want to go out into the big world post college and build a support system with someone who wasn’t sure he wanted to be with me much past college. We were either in this together, or we parted ways. For me there could be no middle ground. It was less about marriage but about commitment. And while he committed to follow me to the ends of the earth, he didn’t see the absurdity in the fact he would not say words that made me think he was totally in this for the long haul – marriage or not.
I finally laid it out for him. While I got what his issues with commitment and marriage were, I was sick of compromising what I wanted because he had childhood issues with it. He needed, in my opinion, to work his shit out or get out of a relationship until he figured his shit out. No more best of both worlds. I couldn’t handle it. I needed him to make a choice. This was one area I could not compromise. THIS was the hill I was willing to die on. In the end he did make a choice…..clearly the right one.
Five years later, we had a long talk about that moment. He was still very hurt at the fact I was willing to give up what we had for what he viewed as something minor. I explained to him that I never wanted him to make the other choice. It would have been a difficult thing for me to recover from had he walked away, but I needed him to get over his past so that we could have a future. I needed him to realize that I was not his mom and he was not his dad and things would not go the same way they did for them and affect our kids the way it affected him. And the position he had put me in was one that I tolerated for a while but decided I could not tolerate it anymore. Not because I didn’t love him, but he didn’t see what it was doing to me. And the relationship wasn’t all about him and his issues. The relationship had to be about us. And until that point, it wasn’t about us – only him.
We recently talked about this moment again, and he simply shakes his head at himself. Nothing in our life has gone in a way he feared. Mainly because we compliment each other in a way that results in a great relationship. Despite the fact we have been together for almost 19 years and married for almost 15 years, we have never lost that spark – or turned into that old married couple. We’ve had our moments – mainly when our kids were younger and not sleeping….but even in those moments, we were still at our best. Be up all night, change 5 diapers in a row, and you realize your choice is to laugh with your partner or cry – we usually cried because we were laughing so hard.
This situation between my husband and me is not something I often talk about. But it is the driver behind my urging of friends to not compromise certain things in relationships. There are things you can compromise on, but everyone has that hill they will die on – the one thing they need to make the relationship really work. In my case it was commitment to our relationship – understanding that our relationship was our own to succeed or fail as we made it happen. In others, it may be communication. It may be a periodic outlet. For us, our relationship works because it isn’t constant work. We often comment it is like running. When you find that stride – you realize you aren’t working that hard all of the time. Sure there can be hills to climb – and some are easier than others. But at the end of the day, it works because it doesn’t feel like work. It works because we know when it isn’t working, and we talk about it. Sure it doesn’t result in the kind of situation I describe above, but we both acknowledge it and do something about it. It’s the awareness and communication that will make it successful – finding that stride that makes it feel effortless.
I want that for people I’m close to. I want effortlessness. I want passion. I want communication. Because when you have it, it is all good.