I want a lot of things in a healthy relationship: honesty, open communication, trust, humor, compromise, this list could go on for several paragraphs. But something I want just as much as humor and communication is that I want both my partner and I to be challenged and stimulated by each other. Something that exists and lives and grows with us that can only be cultivated by our combined, cooperative efforts. (See E=MC2) You know, when in movies or books (or maybe you’ve even said something similar yourself) when the guy says to the girl, “You make me want to be a better man.”
It irks me gruesomely when people call marriages or any other long-term relationship as “settling down,” because there’s nothing about that journey that should be regarded as just “settling” or worse off, envisioning the future as sedentary. Sure, I get the concept of staking a claim somewhere geographically and making a home for you and your partner and possibly children in the future, but it’s really a next step up or forward, or additional layer added on top of who you are already. There is nothing settling down about this. This is cultivating, expanding, and evolving your lives together.
This perspective may sound scary and broad to many people I know, but to me, it fits perfectly. At least it should, since I began this post with “I want a lot of things in a healthy relationship.” Nowhere in this ideal recipe for a partnered future did I prescribe milestones such as grossly over-priced, jeweled trinkets, a type of vehicle, the size of a house, legal certification of my love, or offspring. Because I don’t believe that those things, because that’s exactly what most of the aforementioned subjects are–things–are what make a relationship what it is.
Maybe this broad perspective of a team journey with emotional and sexual aspects makes me different, and maybe it doesn’t. Getting married doesn’t automatically mean “have kids now.” Yes, I would like to have a family with children that I would ideally have with my wife, but just because I don’t biologically father a child doesn’t mean I won’t have a family. And just because I want a family doesn’t mean I want them now. I want to buy a house. But that doesn’t mean I’m currently in contact with a realtor (not “realitor,” by the way) to pick my dream home that I’ll never leave. Just because I want something doesn’t mean I want it now, or even that it’s the only thing I want next. It just means I would like that to be a part of my healthy, happy future.
Not wanting to have kids right away (after exchanging vows) isn’t a testimony of how mature I am, it just means I don’t want to have kids right now, and maybe I want to enjoy being married first. How is it such a bad thing that I would want to enjoy living my life with my new wife before we give so much to our children we only want the best for? Why can’t we take some time to ourselves first? Yeah, yeah, biological clocks, blah, blah, blah, but still. Who sets the timeline? THERE IS NO TIMELINE. I would rather not be able to do something than rush into something, and I’m not just talking about having kids.
I need to get back on track here.
Challenging and stimulating each other in a relationship. This is a unique dance. There is no checklist in my eyes. There is only continuous contribution to health and happiness. I don’t want to date “just to get married,” and I don’t want to get married “just to have kids.” Furthermore, I don’t want to have kids “just to raise them to make their own families.” I refuse to look at life, love, and relationships simply as a means to perpetuate a species or carry on a family name. That’s bullshit. It’s narrow-minded, and intentionally naive. Go ahead, religious fanatics and toss me more verses about how that’s our purpose–to marry and have kids. You can keep that mentality, but I’ll go off in this direction and choose to do more than just “spread my seed” and “be fruitful.”
I want someone that ignites something in me and challenges me to become something that I have not been that is something that can only make me better. As a man, as an artist, as a husband, as a father, as a leader, as a teacher, as a student, as everything that I am, have been, and can be. And I want to be that for them. I want to be that man that unlocks that dream that you’ve buried under so much expectation and obligation that you’ve forgotten how to dream. I want to be that partner that sets you free when you thought you were leashed. I want to be that lover that fuels your passion for love of yourself and myself alike. I want to be that harbor you return to when you’re done sailing until the next time. I want to be that bar that continues to be raised and that you continue to surpass. And when it becomes too high when you feel weak, I want to be the one that gives you the extra boost to leap over and be there to catch you on the other side. And I want you to be all those things for me.
And yes, I could look at my divorce and say that I backed down from a challenge. That I gave up and walked away. But there is a line between enduring a challenge and beating your hands raw against an immovable wall. There is also maturity in recognizing where your efforts are best focused, recognizing honesty in yourself, and recognizing the simple truth that neither of you are happy and this is nothing of what either of you wanted.
My ex-wife absolutely challenged me while we were together, even before we were wed. And our relationship challenges me still, even after she has moved out, in forcing me to analyze how I love, trust, give, and see. For that I can thank her for, but in no way do I owe anything to her.
I wrote in my previous post, IED Ahead, how age is something that has plagued me in dating in years past. And as I slowly merge back onto the dating Autobahn, it’s already in my rearview.
The simplest way to describe my experience is a head-on collision between fun and life experience.
Before the age of 23 I had served in the US Navy and been honorably discharged. It wasn’t until the age of 18 that I began to really enjoy the world in a playful way, going to beach, dancing in the parking lot, watching sunsets and sunrises. I started college in my mid-twenties. I was blessed with a full-time job in a leadership position (outside the military) in my early thirties. I still enjoy splashing around the waterline in the sand and swinging on the swings.
When I meet someone younger than I am they sync right in with the playful, life-loving, more carefree attitude that I hold on to. But in life experience I feel like I spend more time telling them stories of my own experiences than hearing about their own, not for lack of listening, but just because they don’t share stories that they think are worth sharing. And perhaps they don’t have dramatic stories to share because their life has been at a different level of intensity than mine, and that’s ok, I don’t mind that, but we all have stories to share and that’s how we can also get to know each other.
When I meet someone my age or older, we connect in sharing our own paths and how what we’ve been through has made us into what we are now, but when it comes to flat out fun, our definitions differ. Yes, I’ll enjoy going to an an art exhibit or cooking class with you, but on the flip side, I’d like you to come to the beach, play mini golf, or go let out our inner rockstars at karaoke every once in a while. Just because I like air hockey and go karts doesn’t make me a child. To me, having the openness to still enjoy such a wide variety of things is being mature, especially if it’s with someone I care about and that’s what they want to do.
In either situation I can be challenged and stimulated to grow. But for me, I typically choose the former because I’d much rather explore the world with someone who is just as excited to see what else is around us than try and unearth an appreciation for joy and lust for life with someone from the latter.
I guess it’s a fine line between a challenge and a project. Think of it this way, if it’s between work and fun, what would you choose? I always go with fun. Joy. Happiness. Pleasure. Excitement. All things through which learning and growth can be produced. If you choose work, it’s so…clinical and obligatory and mundane. And yes, there is still a result to be achieved, but what’s the fun in that? Why execute actions that are devoid of emotions when we are filled with so many? Well, at least I am. Not everyone allows themselves to be affected by or filled with emotion.
And I should also share that I know generalizations aren’t very nice, and that I can very well meet (or shall I say, continue to meet) people who are younger than I am with plenty of life experience as well as folks my age or older who very definitely still know how to have fun.
And maybe that’s the thing. I shouldn’t be generalizing about age or zeroing in on what I think is a level of maturity. After all, since I’m still an evolving/developing being myself, I can’t be the control specimen in my findings, I can only be a point of reference. People are people and every single individual is different. As long as I keep having fun and challenging myself in continuous development, I’m doing exactly what I need to do.
I think that’s a respectably mature way of looking at it.