[ *this piece written, entirely oblivious of Dr. Martin Spurin’s book, Separately Together © 2016 ]
I can still see her face, and hear her voice.
Carol Burnett, on the Tonight Show, crowing: “Oh, I’d LOVE to get married, again! He could live in his house – right next door – and, I could live in mine!”
Perhaps it’s simply that she and I share a birthday. Stars aligned, and all that. Needing our independence, abhoring being led around by anyone – especially a h.u.s.band.
But, just yesterday, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, seniors like me – single, little baggage, or kids all grown and gone – are finding themselves perfectly content to sustain relationships without the benefit of cohabitation.
In fact, there were several couples cited by name and photograph enjoying just such a radical lifestyle. Yes; imagine that. Loving somebody, without living with somebody.
Up until encountering that societal revelation, I’d been struggling mightily with my relationship of the past two and a half years. Both of us over 60, each of us happy in our own homes, I’d been driving out more than three times weekly to spend much of my time on his property with him; after all, I’d been retired from my full time teaching position for over five years, and he was still trying to eke out the final two before he could leave his position as a dialysis nurse to our regional medical center and take his own. I rationalized that being on site had to be a help, rather than a hindrance.
But, I was underfoot. The things I did, all voluntary, were not required by him. My desire to modify my surroundings to make them feel more welcoming to me were taken as criticisms, as if he needed to make changes heretofore unnecessary. The pop of color I wanted to add to his dreary den in the form of pillows and throws pleased me but, to him, they were just more things and, invariably – considering the presence of his two Rottweilers – more laundry.
On the nights I’d spend there with him, he’d need to be asleep well before 10 in order to rise by 4:30am, while I’d need several more hours of nocturnal biorhythms to wind down. Likewise, the mornings on his rare days off he’d already be up and roasting coffee before I’d even had my REM phase of sleep.
As winter encroached, his desire to keep the house at 64 degrees F hit my small boned body like a rush of blowing snow when the door opens. I shivered until my heart almost hurt, resorting to leaving my coat on through dinner until he commented that doing so was unsettling. Wearily, I’d pull on double layers and endure, not so secretly wishing I could just crawl into my warm bed.
After the first full year, taking stock and keeping tabs became my subconscious ritual. How many times had I driven out, vs his effort to spend a day with me at my house? When I counted the dollars spent on gas, and declared them, this was cause for one of many, increasing disagreements which became verbal volleys which, in turn, escalated into a pattern of lashing out every time I had overstayed my welcome. At the height of each of these, I would pack up whatever I’d brought with me and drive away. Unbeknownst to both of us ( until the counselor intervened ) he interpreted these actions as evidence of an unstable relationship which lacked the emotional security he sought.
Were we breaking up? Were we getting back together? What, exactly, were we doing?
Admittedly, we’d talked about what we’d do, going forward. He’d alluded more than once to selling his 2 acre rural idyll and downsizing to a condo near the water; I’d openly stated that, after 30 years, I would never sell my house. This was clearly our impasse, and I wondered if it would become our deal breaker.
Imagine my astonishment.
Entering the fray: The 100th Monkey Phenomenon. The Wall Street journalist had been doing the study and, here, as by fire, were the results: couples meeting later in life were opting to stay in their own, individual homes and sustain their loving relationships anyway. And, by all accounts, they were actually happy.
Mum and Dad loved each other, exclusively. Theirs was a match made on a train, circa 1940; Providential meeting, whirlwind courtship, broken engagement (hers) and a wedding before the war. Living together, for them, was a trial. Dad took to jogging to get out of the house, and Mum sat at her sewing machine to be alone. They held out until death, leaving so much for the family to vividly recall. My brothers had long since left town, but I’d stayed as witness.
Now, I love to witness my partner drive away. I know where he’s going, and I know where I am. I’m home, where I can keep him in my heart and thoughts until we meet up in the next day or so. It’s called space, and now it’s okay to both want and need it. And, it requires faith, expressed and exercised. Trust is better nourished when tested.
Yes. We are two old habits, and we cannot break. And now, we can still love each other, thank God.
Even if, on this particular night, we only see and hear each other in our dreams.
© 9/5/19 [essay by] Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author (of the essay), whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting original [ essay] material.