Questions on the surface, feelings at the core…
I just spent 90 minutes or so sitting in my yard sharing a beer, and a conversation with a young woman I have known her since she was 15. She’s now 28. We are honest friends. In our friendship we have discovered that I possess the experience of her parents, without the judgment. She brings youthful ideas, and situations to the table that I have long forgotten. We have been benefitting, mutually, from honest conversations about life, and relationships for a couple of years.
Today we met at her request to discuss some immediate changes in her life. She will be leaving the state next week to fulfil a new relationship, and a new life in a different region of the country.
She is experiencing all the excitement any young woman might feel under the circumstances; a new region bringing new activities into her life. A new job. New friends. New weather. New culture, and customs. And of course, a budding relationship with a new man. This is a leap on many levels. Her love, faith, and strength will all be tested in the coming months, and she knows this.
She is also experiencing all the apprehension anyone in the same circumstance might feel. Of course this is what she really wanted to discuss. What happens if it doesn’t work? What are the professional ramifications within her career? What might the consequences be with the family and friends she is leaving behind? Might she be stranded there? Will she have to tuck her tail between her legs and move back with mom and dad? If this turns out not to work, will she ever find that one true love?
Her head is spinning.
Peel back the layers…
The larger questions I thought we should explore are what are the many things that might keep this new relationship from working out…?
As we sat by the fire pit I flashed back to a walk on the beach another friend and I enjoyed last year; she and I are both divorced. As we got to the end our walk we stood below a contemporary beach condominium with a crowded upper patio. A wedding was taking place. As my friend and I looked up to see the bride and groom exchanging vows, I joked, “Should we warn them?” I was only partially kidding.
As a culture, it is my opinion that’s an area where we fail, habitually. Failing to be honest with our children about the potential downsides of life is simply the act of supporting, of reinforcing mistakes they may make in their future. Rather than expose the complexities, complications, and potential downside of relationships, we watch episodes of Say Yes To The Dress, choose honeymoon destinations, and offer investment advice – as though our weddings, our honeymoons, and our investments have made us happy.
I suppose not warning our children about the downside of relationships is, at its very root, based on the idea that we don’t want our children to expect or experience the worst aspects of relationships. However, does this mean would shouldn’t discuss these…? I guess it’s just easier to offer fairytales, and our undying support should the fairytale not play out as expected.
An example I offered my friend is this: We hear often that money and sex are the two biggest causes for relationships to break down. Nobody ever says that having kids can also be a cause, or a root cause for divorce. Who wants to say to their child, “Someday you may be divorced, and raising kids might be at the foundation of that divorce.”
I don’t know by percentage what causes more relationships to decay, money, or sex. I think it’s fair to say though, since having children influences sex, money, time, sleep, stress, and so many other aspects of marriage, that raising children may lead to the decline of a marriage, and possible divorce. Maybe we don’t want to be parental buzz kill, or maybe we just assume that our children won’t listen. Not talking about difficult things is easy.
What advice I gave…
I suggested that her life is unique. That she herself is a paint brush, but the brush whom she is can only paint within the singular day that she lives. Painting the future, I suggested, is like trying to predict in which direction a vine will grow.
Love: I suggest that a long kiss under a magnolia tree might swoon a girl into next week. However, an affirmation of unity and strength after one partner has been diagnosed with cancer is the more mature version of the kiss under the tree.
Love evolves. Love changes. Sometimes it grows stronger, and sometimes it falls apart. There is no telling. I suggested though, real love doesn’t germinate until it’s been watered by adversity.
On like-minded endeavors: She was concerned that she might not fit in with his more rigorous outdoor activities. I suggest she give them a fair try. If after that time she felt she didn’t enjoy them, then it is her absolute responsibility to be honest about that. I further suggested that he first took to those activities for himself, and if she finds they are not for her, she offer to play a supporting role in them so he can better enjoy them.
On career: I simply reminded her that she was looking for a job when she found this one. When she suggested her Communications degree is unmarketable, I reminded her that most degrees are unmarketable.
On sex: Each relationship is unique. I only suggest that sex may change over time, it probably will. Desires, abilities, and opportunity change as the circumstances of the relationship change. I don’t know too many 80 year olds who do it up against the wall, though there may be some. Of those who do, I suggested, it’s probably because their relationship is new.
On the failure or success of the relationship: I suggested that she should absolutely consider failure as a possible outcome – especially in the beginning. I also suggested she not consider failure to the point of the tears which were sliding down her cheeks during our talk. The possibility of failure is quite real I reminded her, but can be thwarted with honesty and discussion. To borrow from a letter I wrote to another young person recently, I offered this:
If you get married that marriage may be wonderful, tolerable, or tragic. If it’s like many marriages, it may hold elements of all of these. It may also include divorce. Divorce, I have learned, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the marriage. Conversely, a sustained marriage does not necessarily state the quality of that relationship.
If a relationship fails, you may ask yourself how many soul mates does one get…? At best, that question creates knots in my stomach daily. At its worst, it paralyzes me to a point of emotional stagnation. Marriage or partnership, if you are fortunate to find the right one, and are able to ride it out for the very long term, it will not be without your share of sacrifice and second guessing.
As I walked my friend to her car I gave her a big hug, told her to stay connected, and chose not to wish her luck, but to wish her well. Be well. rc
Please check back in 2weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Willy DeVille. Enjoy…