The other day over coffee, a friend says to me, “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Personal? I’m not sure what that means anymore. Most of my life’s events are open to the world for critical analysis if not as memoir writing than as fiction.
“Go right ahead,” I reply nonchalantly.
“Your husband seems very cool,” she says. She screens my face for reaction but gets none.
Is that even a question?
“He seems so supportive of what you do and you seem supportive of him.”
Spot on so far. Still no reaction from me.
“In fact you guys seem like such a cool, couple…happy….unlike so many others I see. Is there a secret to your marriage?”
And there comes the reaction!
Now I have been taken aback several times in my life but this particular question strikes me like a thunderbolt. In a good way if that is possible…a thunderbolt whose strike is welcome. Coming from a relative newbie in the game of marriage, I realize that this is the biggest compliment I have received in the last eighteen years of my own trial-and-error partnership.
With an American divorce rate of fifty percent (and it’s probably creeping up to that in other countries), it’s worth reflecting on what it is that makes my marriage tick.
Most people will point to the romantic moments of relationship but for us that’s not the case. The most ‘classically romantic’ it ever got was when he shocked me into the reality that we were dating by having a dozen red roses delivered to me on the first Valentine’s Day of our courtship. It was the first and last bouquet of flowers I have ever received from him.
I knew I’d found my life partner way back one morning in his Greenwich Village apartment when my contact lens went missing somewhere in my left eye. A highly sensitive person, I don’t do well in these situations. Within moments, I was a complete wreck — tearing up like their was no tomorrow, my left temple pounding like a thunder dome, my tomato red face accentuated by floods of snot shooting out from my nostrils like river rapids. It was not pretty. Yet with complete aplomb, he guided me gently to look up, look down, this way and that until he found the runaway culprit lens and gently urged me to blink it into his hand cupped under my eye.
I cringed when I got to the mirror. I looked like a depraved lunatic who had just ingested a dose of devil juice. The embarrassment – we had barely started dating! But I knew then that his holding my hand through this mess was indication that he could stick with me in more turbulent times ahead.
He never gave me the opportunity to return that ‘stickiness’ by losing a contact lens in his eye but he did lose other things over the years – a father, a job, a home. And stick with him I did.
Stickiness. It’s how we define the emotion of love in Ayurveda. Not to be confused with ‘lust’ which is much more about sensuality (read the Kama Sutra). Love is sticky, oily, something that gets into your system and wipes out negative toxins to ultimately make you happy. The less processed, the more likely to stick.
But even sticking takes work.
It helps to have a long term vision that you both identify with so that you can agree to disagree on the small stuff which becomes water off the duck’s oily back. It helps to give each other plenty of space but it also helps to spend as much time as you can together. I’m talking about undivided time you can really value…not dinner parties with friends. Even though it appears to the outside world that you live in the same household, there are ultimately very few hours in a day that you end up spending with your partner. Much of that time goes into admin and logistics. Or parenting your kids. Nothing wrong with any of that of course that but it does take away time you can actually spend together as a couple.
And then what do you do in that time that you do spend together? For us it’s always been about the simple, maybe even mundane things in life like hiking with the dog, getting a foot massage or watching a stand-up comedy show.
And it helps to have a sense of humor. Because the ebbs and tides of life are such that you never know when you are going to be on at the highest point of the roller coaster or scuttling down towards the dumps. One day you’ve built yourself a castle but then disaster hits and the walls come tumbling down.
These situations happen to us all – you can cry about them or you can laugh. My partner and I have customarily learned to search through the rubble for the funny stuff. And then begin rebuilding block by block. Aside from releasing a whole lot of endorphins, it definitely pumps up the stickiness.