I am a skeptic. On the one hand I want to fall in love, and stay in love. In reality, it is perhaps more precise to say that I want to know if romantic love actually exists and if it comes with a death-do-you-part ending. My rational, logical side finds it hard to imagine that two people are meant for each other, or that you “know” when the person is “the one”. But is that because this knowing is so subtle as to be undetectable to those like me who are unfamiliar with its vibration, or because it takes your breath away when it happens and I have yet to experience that breathlessness? Since I seem unable to identify it, I cannot rule out the possibility that it may once have happened to me and I lost it. That is probably the real reason I am now a skeptic.
I may never unlock this mystery because my skepticism is the shield I use to cover my grief and my fear. I’m scared to find the answer, all the while knowing that the only way I will find out is to risk having my heart broken. There is no avoiding heartbreak regardless of the answer. Even upon discovering that romantic love actually does exist, it only postpones the inevitability that my heart will be broken if/when my partner dies before me.
Perhaps I haven’t found or been found because I’ve refused on principal (and even scoffed at friends who have made lists) to make a list of my ideal partner. I guess it’s a place to start. What would be the traits of my ideal romantic partner? They would be…
- A Kindness-mentor, first and foremost and not just with me, but with everyone
- A role-model for gentleness and acceptance, even at times when a line must be drawn
- A helper, sharing in the responsibilities of daily living based on strengths and interests
- A supporter, yet knows when to leave me to my struggles without it being a punishment
- A protector, not Rambo but someone who instinctively walks closest to the street
- An entertainment conspirator, able to take the lead on planning and execution of fun
- A humorist, someone who is undoubtedly more funny than I am, but gets my lame jokes
- The person most-likely-to-be-available for spontaneous interactions
- The person whose schedule I’m most likely to consider before making other commitments, and vice versa
- Living together? Uncertain but willing to discover or create mutually fulfilling alternative
- Financially undependent, an equitable ratio of shared expenses based on earnings
“I want a relationship that is somewhere between traditional and modern” sounds like such a cliché. I think my parents were ahead of their time because my mom almost always worked, and she worked a lot. My dad had a very precise schedule and was home much more than she. He enjoyed reading and listening to his music, but he almost always washed the dishes and in later years did all the laundry. There were some “traditional” duties each of them never gave up until my dad’s cancer made him too weak; my dad always mowed the grass, my mom always cooked. Dad took mom (and me) out to dinner almost every Friday night that I can remember. My dad always paid the bill at the end of the meal. My ex-husband almost always paid the bill, and in white linen restaurants even communicated my order to the waiter. I’m a sucker for that. I don’t expect it, it’s simply hard to break a tradition that in my world exemplifies a “protector” trait.
- Setting my skepticism aside for a moment and allowing myself to imagine having a romantic partner, it’s important that a partner understand that they are highly likely to have more disposable income than I do because of the work I do and the glass ceiling the profession imposes on me. This does not mean that I am looking for someone who will “take care of me” in the financial sense. I am not looking for a partner who will start making car payments for me. I am fully self-sufficient precisely because I do handle my finances pretty well given what they are. Realistically, this does mean that a disparity in income requires expenses associated with a relationship (entertainment, travel) be shared in relation to earnings, not split 50/50. My partner would need to be accepting of the reality that a disparity in income will probably exist between us forever. And they need to understand that this restriction is what imposes on my disposable income because my living expenses are my first priority. I don’t buy on credit. In my chronicles of past dating, there have been partners whose interests and hobbies required more disposable income than my budget allows, being too embarrassed to admit my inability to bridge that financial divide I hide behind excuses that I’m too afraid to XYZ or that I don’t know how to do XYZ. It does not mean that I wouldn’t be willing to try if money were no option. I use these excuses rather than be embarrassed to point out that my income is less than yours especially at my age, level of education, and skill. I’m even more embarrassed that unless I do point this out (or even when I do) I run the risk of being stereotyped as either another woman who only wants to talk about money or another one of “those women” who are just looking for a man to take care of her financially. I don’t need your money; I need a partner who is willing to step into some (not all) of my usually less expensive recreational pursuits if for no other reason than it enables me to feel like I am making a contribution to our having a relationship grounded in mutuality. I have been the breadwinner during downturns in my previous marriage. I don’t think I want to do that again outside of an emergency, so I respect your having similar feelings.
2. I’m 53 and I imagine that a partner would be the same age or older. Maybe I should imagine someone younger? Regardless, I don’t know how well I would handle being in a relationship with someone who were retired or semi-retired, but who also didn’t have some major plan or interest that still excited them. I am an entrepreneur and workaholic. My mom was an entrepreneur and a workaholic. My ex-husband is an entrepreneur and workaholic. Would I resent a partner who does not have the hard-driving energy I experience in life? I think it would depend on what a partner is doing with their life, which sounds judgmental – I can’t quite find the words, but I think I mean that rationally I recognize that people (partners) experience life in different cycles, and that each of those cycles comes with its own levels of energy, creativity, downtime, need for introspection, action, and inaction. But I’m an illogical human being at times. A by-product of that is that I am prone to fits of resentment when I perceive that a partner is “being lazy” when spending an entire day to lay about while I work. The reality is that I know I need to be asking myself, what work am I (not) doing that I then resent what anyone else is (not) doing? There is a fine line between owning my resentment for what really is, and facing the reality that one, both, or either of us are not making good on agreements held between partners. This is perhaps best explained by way of example from my childhood; my dad seemed to be at home all day, every day after he retired – he’d go out to get the oil changed on the car (code for he went to the neighborhood garage in the barrio to hang out with the guys), he’d drive to the lake house to mow the grass a day ahead of my mom (code for he needed a day – or in later years an entire night alone — out in the wild). However, I don’t remember him doing this without first doing the things that daily life demanded – cutting the grass at home, doing the laundry. Which is probably what lies at the heart of my inability to resolve this issue for my self – I want a partner who is a lot like the image I hold of my dad because my dad shaped my image of what it means to be “a man” and therefore, “a partner.” Just reread the bullet list if you don’t believe me. Although it wasn’t intentional, looking at what I wrote I can see it’s a profile of my dad to a large degree.
3. I want to laugh. I know I will cry. I may get annoyed or even angry over something erroneous, when considered in hindsight. I will apologize. I do work very, very consciously to not blame. I am not infallible about anything written in this epistle, and am much chagrined when I discover I’m not. I have a bad habit of expecting you (whoever you are) to be infallible, although I am vigilant about noticing it for what it is and letting it go without involving you.
4. I want the person I’m in a relationship with to be an example of the kindness that I aspire to. I want the lessons lived in the relationship to help make me a kinder person, but not cause me shame when I find I am otherwise. (Reread paragraph immediately preceding.)
5. I say I want transparency and honesty in a romantic relationship, but deep down I question if I’m mature enough to really handle that. Maybe I don’t know exactly what this even means. As of right now, I think I mean vulnerability although that word seems overused lately. I know I don’t want the other person to lie just because they don’t want to hurt my feelings or because they think they should say what I want to hear. I want us to say what needs to be said in a safe environment and with kind intentions, not hurtful, and especially not blaming. I will act on my freedom to ask for clarity, while realizing that I cannot demand an answer. This will be frustrating.
6. I want to be with someone who is a friend who also loves me in a romantic way. There are a few things in life it’s kind of difficult to do without a romantic partner. I suppose I could settle for a dog, but I don’t allow furry animals on the couch and I’ve never seen a dog tango.
7. I’m not sure how I feel about sexual intimacy. At this point in my life, I certainly don’t feel the urgency nor does it have the priority it once carried. In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t keep adult toys in my bedside table. I have not read, and don’t intend to read, Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t consider myself a prude, sex is simply not something I think about. I mean, if you moved to Arizona, wouldn’t you likely stop thinking of snow after a while? Kissing and hugging, especially wrap-your-arms-entirely-around-me hugs is where it’s at for me. Kissing sounds fun.
8. Relationships I admire for various reasons and probably reflected in my “fantasy romance”:
- Rachel & Mikael (my daughter and son-in-law),
- Judy & George (my eighty-something year old friends who still throw full-moon yoga parties around their outdoor pool),
- Dave and Earlene (my mom and dad icons of romantic love),
- David and Lora (my brother and sister-in-law who married as high school sweethearts and are still married),
- Beth and Kenny, (my friends who married later in life and hold every Sunday night as sacred pajama night – meaning early into pajama pants, a home cooked meal and watching movies as a method of staving off the Monday morning blues)
9. On the matter of living together; I’ve surprised myself in the last two or three years with wishful (or wistful) imaginings of coming home to someone. (A househusband?) It’s more of a sensation that I’m looking for, I think. But I’m not sure. I’m exploring the feeling of whether it’s loneliness versus tired-of-living alone, by renting my spare bedroom for four months to a young woman recently moving here to attend university. Having her here will enable me to explore the differences between just wanting someone around (which will actually be a test of endurance for me), the possibly of wanting “the right person” around, or confirming that I do indeed still enjoy living with no other person at all. I’m testing the hypothesis that I might merely be looking for a sense that someone is at home waiting for me, although my renter and I will clearly NOT have a romantic partnership. In a romantic partnership I’m looking for someone to whom I can always return, and have confidence that we will both be content to see each other. (Notice I did not say “happy”, which I think sets up a problematic expectation.)
10. Maybe this idea of coming home to someone is also linked to my father. His shift at the post office ended at 3:00 every day, which meant he was almost always home when I arrived from school. And with rare exception, I knew I could find him in his brown tweed-covered lazy-boy rocking chair reading the newspaper or a magazine, bare footed, one leg crossed over the opposite knee, his reading glasses falling slightly away from the bridge of his nose, with the TV on or listening to music. The table lamp beside him casting a glow in the family room that was never sunny because of the large trees and metal awnings my parents had placed on the house to protect windows from hailstorms and rain. The occasions for me having to enter an empty house without him are so rare I think they never happened, but surely they must have. Funny that I don’t remember ever expecting my mom to be the one at home when I arrived. On the other hand, it was so common for my dad to be there that I never even realized until this very moment that what I’m searching for in a romantic relationship is an underlying sense that when the expectation of a daily reunion is fulfilled, there is a sense of rightness and a sense of having arrived home that is present in that moment of reconnecting. This is an elusive concept to describe, and perhaps even more elusive to put into practice. I may never find it again.
And so, I can only consider from behind my shield of skepticism whether it is coincidence or providence that my uncertainty about falling in love ends with homecomings.