I like me better when I’m with you
I’ve been listening to the pop song by Lauv with the same title as this post lately (find it here). And the song and the video (so cute!) took me back to the time when my husband and I were first falling in love. Not in New York City, but a cute college town in Washington state, USA.
Twenty plus years together has given me some time to reflect on the various stages and phases of love and what has made ‘us’ work for that long. It’s a combination of things, really- as we’ve moved through different seasons of love. And, yeah, today is Valentine’s Day, so that whole ‘romantic’ love thing is on our minds (and we’re bombarded by it nearly everywhere, thank you consumerism). But- as we’re all of a certain age here- I’d encourage you to take a step back today and consider what it is you most deeply know about making love good now that we’re in mid-life.
Maybe you don’t know much- maybe your romantic and long-term love life have been crap. If so, I’m sorry. But I know we can all learn from that, too- and try not to repeat our mistakes again. And if you have been lucky enough to fall in love and see it through for a year or twelve, take a few moments to look back and see what you know. And recognize that wisdom for the gold it is.
Here are some things I know now.
The Magic Of Love
When we first met, I felt like the character in that song, above. My partner made me feel like I was the best version of myself, and that it was easy to be that way around him. What I came to understand later is that there is a particular magic in that kind of love:
when the love I easily give is the love you most crave, and when the love you easily give is the love I most crave it feels like we were made for each other.
Of course, there are also hormones and brain waves and personality styles mixed up in all of this, but if you have this reciprocal easy to give/easy to receive thing happening, it’s pretty damn awesome and worth looking for. [But also: simply feeling loved and safe is pretty damn awesome, too. And equally worth seeking and keeping.]
Intimacy and Safety
I know now that once we enter that gorgeous, gooey love phase, we’re also embarking on the work of intimacy and safety. We want to be seen – all our stories, perspectives, fuck ups – and be accepted. We open ourselves in moments of vulnerability, in the hopes of creating intimacy, and it can forge a new level of safety in our relationship. If I tell my story and I’m accepted, I feel safe and we can go deeper.
This doesn’t change as time goes on. It often gets scarier as we go deeper emotionally with our partner (and we have to confront our fears about that), but the process doesn’t change. Feeling intimate, safe, and supported is bedrock stuff in happy, long-term relationships. [This is also one of the reasons an ‘outside the marriage’ person can be so compelling.]
I grew up in a time when the highest goal of being in a relationship was to not fight. It signified that you were a perfect fit if there were no fights. Of course, today we know that’s….impossible and unhealthy. Good partnerships come down to good communication- even if that communication is heated and intense. We have to know both how to fight well and to fight about what we care about.
Couples fight well by communicating as clearly as they can (and always improving and learning and experimenting). They aren’t cruel or vindictive with their language. They take responsibility for their words, actions, and any promises made. They also take responsibility for their own healing (because sometimes it really is about your mom and what she said when you were 10 and how that triggers you, even today).
And you fight for the relationship sometimes. My partner and I had an all-day (literally 8 hours) fight soon after my son was born because his definition of ‘family’ and what that looked like in behavior was different from my definition. His definition involved a lot more free time for himself and a lot more baby care for me. We nearly got divorced over it. Until we spent 8 hours fighting about it- because our love, our connection, and our care for each other was more important. (We still fight. We’ve discussed divorce in other phases, too. And we know we are extremely lucky to be together still. Which is to say: divorce is a blessing sometimes.)
Aging and Growing
One of the toughest problems I see in mid-life women is partners who aren’t growing. ‘Growth’ here may be emotional (as in communicating emotions), ‘psychological’ (as in issues stemming from other phases of life that are diminishing the joy of this phase of life), ‘physical’ (especially in the case of the Sex Surge), or ‘relational’ (as in, you still gotta enjoy hanging out with each other). I could probably write five blog posts about this all by itself.
Growing as individuals and as a couple is really key to making the best of your long-term relationship. But if you don’t keep up with each other, it can be lead to indifference and resentment- which will kill a relationship dead.
So, I just wanna be super clear to anyone reading who thinks they might be the ‘less growing’ partner: when your partner asks for you to grow, or to see a therapist, or to consider doing something new in your partnership, that is them trying to get you to grow with them. They want you to grow so you can stay connected with them. They are further down the road and they are doing their utmost to get you to move down the road as well. And they are doing this because they are already thinking about leaving you, but they don’t want to. Please, let that sink in for a moment.
This is your wake-up call and your sign. You don’t have to grow- that’s always your choice- but if you don’t acknowledge it, if you don’t talk about it, if you don’t figure it out in a way that helps everyone- you will be left behind. And sometimes that leads to divorce.
I Like Me Better When I’m With You
I think it’s important to remember here that humans are built for 2 or 3 long-term adult relationships. If we’re lucky, all of them are with the same person. But even if it is with 3 different people, bringing our wisdom to love is the most important thing we can do to keep relationships strong and healthy.
Mid-life love, even if it’s a completely new relationship, is different than early twenties love. And while it may be a Facebook cliche, I think to a certain extent it’s true: because we know more of who we are in our 30s, 40s, and 50s, a partner must truly enhance our lives in order to remain in our lives. And we determine what that means to each of us by taking the time to reflect on our own experiences of love, our desires for love, and applying that wisdom to whatever we find on our path.