I’ve always been slightly in awe and slightly wary of couples who’ve been together since high school or college, and are still together 20 years later. How is this possible? How can you still like the same person? How can you still be the same person? Or maybe you’ve changed, and they’ve changed, and you’ve gracefully managed to change together!? Don’t you feel like you missed out on your wild 20’s? Don’t you wonder what it would be like to have sex with someone new?
Clearly, I did not have this experience. I most definitely cannot count the number of partners on one hand. (Remember doing that? Yep, that ship sailed in college!)
Throughout adolescence and into our 20s, we’re essentially trying on identities like masks. Who are we? What do we like? What feels true? What are our values? What’s important to us?
When you are looking to find out who you are, I believe people and relationships are the best mirror. They give us the opportunity to see the good AND the bad, and give us a glimpse of who we might become.
Along the way, I kissed A LOT of frogs.
If I had married my first serious boyfriend out of college, how would my life be different? I’d probably still be in Los Angeles, which would be okay, I guess. Would I have teenage kids now? Would we have waited to have kids? Maybe we never would have had kids? If I had stayed with Sam*, would I have been happy at this current stage of my life? When I broke up with him at age 24, my twin sister said to me , “you’ll never find someone who loves you as much as he does.” You know what? She may have been right. I don’t mind admitting that. There were enough things wrong, that this notion wasn’t enough. At that time, he was the brooding existentialist writer type. It made for some good writing, but ultimately kind of a bummer to be around. And I was an extrovert, trying to enjoy this glittery shiny Hollywood nightlife. The nightlife may have proved superficial and fleeting, but my essential need for joy and optimism has persisted and persists today. It is part worldview, part deeply embedded into my essence since birth. I need to feel hope and happiness. I’m not just glass half full, I’m glass half full with sparkles in it. It’s doubtful we would have been a good fit long term. Possibly I wouldn’t have seen how crucial hope was for me, without the contrast of his brooding nature.
And what about the incredibly good looking younger guy, Mike*, that I dated at age 27, who followed me around like a puppy dog? Oooh, that felt good. For a minute. Until, after drinking too much one night, he peed in my bed. Maybe good looking isn’t something I need to prioritize? Maybe at 28, I’m ready to date a grown up, not a college frat boy.
Then I went ahead and got married when we’re supposed to get married. 30 sounds grown up, right? Being married sounds grown up, right? I prioritized the following things when I made the choice: he’s funny, he’s my friend, he has a good job, he lets me be me. All good stuff, right? What I didn’t realize at the time: when Eric “let me be me”, he was letting me be my absolute worst self. Inconsiderate, materialistic, gluttonous, you name it!
And he didn’t believe in God, which got me thinking about what I believed in.
The foundation wasn’t there. Our relationship wasn’t built on common values or respect. Being with someone who is funny isn’t worth much when trying times like job loss are at your doorstep.
After being married, and divorced, I made my own vows to myself that I would find someone who shared my values. I’m not sure I knew what my values were anymore, at the time. But I was going to use every subsequent relationship to pressure test.
What did I need in a partner?
Next there was the charismatic fun-fun-fun guy who took me on helicopter rides and other larger than life dates. But I could never really “feel relaxed or looked out for around him and that stopped us from going any further and it’s kind of too bad cause we could have had much more fun.” (to quote Alanis Morissette). We are still friends and I love him dearly, but he didn’t bring a vulnerability or commitment to our relationship, so it wasn’t going to go the distance.
Along the way, I dated two different guys with kids; something I ultimately knew nothing about, and as a result, resented not being the priority (I get it now, guys! Of course your kid was the priority! It’s my priority now too). And their crazy ex-wives didn’t help. What can you do!? I now knew somewhere deep down that I’d like to have my own kids someday!
Then there was the kind, proper English guy who told me my lifestyle was too wild for him to keep up with. That floored me. It’s not like I was crashing White House Correspondent dinners or anything. As glamorous as it got was Katsuya Sushi with clients. But he wanted to live a simple life. And he wanted a woman who would be happy to stay home, cook, have kids. I have a kid now, and I am still not that woman. Nor will I ever be that woman (although I do a hell of a lot of dishes now. And less Sushi dinners!) Good for him for recognizing what he needed.
In between all of these men, were men who don’t even merit a footnote. Those who played piano, did landscape design, drove fast cars and motorcycles, bartended, introduced me to spirituality, played soccer, were French, worked as doctors or lawyers or studio execs or actors, could tango, smoked too much pot, had ADD, lived in a studio with a murphy bed, worked down the hall from me, had green hair, loved their dogs but not people, sang karaoke badly, etc etc etc.
But everyone played a part in getting me where I am today. For better or for worse.
Throughout all of these relationships, here is what I have learned:
1. I need a partner who pushes me to be the best person I can be; who holds me accountable to the standard I set for myself.
2. I need someone who is ultimately hopeful about the world, and his fellow man.
3. I need someone who believes there is something bigger than us.
4. I need someone who is kind-hearted, just, and stands up for what they believe in.
5. I need someone who is strong enough to allow my vulnerability and their own.
6. I need someone who loves fiercely even though it’s terrifying.
7. I need someone who I respect, can count on, and that I secretly believe is a better person than I am.
I took the long way to get there, but I finally found him, 20 years later. I also found myself, as a result.
Welcome home, Maggie.
*all names have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent ☺