|by Karen Glooch|
My partner and I will celebrate our nine-year anniversary this August. All indicators point to our relationship outlasting our living bodies, a prediction that others seem to share because often we are asked how we do it. No, not that it; though it is like pornographyyou know it when you see couples who have it.
People tell us we have that magic combination of love, like, trust and laughter. We certainly enjoy the compliments, and truth be told, we believe there must be something magical involved with the mysteries of love. Often, though, the compliments faintly resemble a common reaction we get from first-time guests to our home in Severna Park: It's so clean! There's no clutter! As if we thought to buy the clean, clutter-free model and the couple complimenting us did not. If only their realtor had shown them the clean, clutter-free model, their tone seems to imply, their home would be just like ours.
Again, all compliments welcome! But our house is clean most of the time, and fairly clutter-free, because we clean it and throw away the stuff we don't need. Not much magic or mystery. Our home is the way it is because we work at keeping it that way.
Just like our relationship.
Being women, my partner and I made the shocking decision to be in a committed relationship relatively soon after meeting. Our romanticized remembrance tells us we were completely, overwhelmingly intrigued, ignited, and physically and emotionally hijacked by each other when we first shook hands at our mutual place of employment. (Okay, that's my recollection; my partner claims only to remember thinking that I seemed like an over-confident renegade with a too-strong handshake, and that I would not last a month at the company she had managed to succeed in for years). The major problem was that we were both already in relationships; ones we didn't know were in trouble until we met.
We do agree on one thing though, meeting each other seemed simultaneously accidental and predetermined. We were not looking for each other (go ahead, say it in unison now: at least not consciously). But this is what I think two people can often mistake for magic. Years of unspoken longing, unresolved anger, and the unattended holes of an existing relationship, mysteriously transform into an energy stream of awakened hope. The spontaneous, unexpected intensity appears magical, mysterious and as breathtaking as David Copperfield clapping his white-gloved hands andvoila!creating something inexplicably fantastic out of vague darkness.
Once the spotlight turns on and reveals something spectacular, it's hard if not impossible, to march over to that switch and willingly turn it off.
I've been on both sides of the leaving process. I know the devastation of being left, and the courage and selfishness it takes to leave a good person. As my partner and I both began to realize that neither one of us would be marching over to that light switch anytime soon, we also realized the innocence of the magic would disappear.
We laid awake at night, knowing the road ahead would be intensely painful for everyone involved, and quite possibly something that the future we envisioned for ourselves would not survive. Were we truly it for each other? How would we know for sure this time? Hadn't we both thought that about the wonderful person we had each already chose to commit to?
In our corporate lives, we were taught that when deciding on a potential candidate for hire, maybe means no. Courtship, done correctly, is an interview process. We decided neither one of us was a maybe. We took a deep breath and hired each other for life.
The aftermath of our decision felt like an emotional nuclear explosion. When the fallout settled, we knew with renewed certainty that our decision to be together was the right one, and we were determined not to repeat the mistakes of our past. We drafted a "covenant," a kind of "statement of work" for all you fellow business geeks. This is what we are committing to. Eleven statements born of what we rightly believed to be the keys to success for our relationship based on countless hours of analyzing what we could have done differently in the past, what we learned along the way, and what we wanted to protect and grow for our future. Our commitments read simply: "Never take each other for granted", "Dream dreams together" and "Have the courage to communicate how you feel" are three of my favorites.
We know these commitments are the work of a lifetime together. Sometimes we live all, or most, of them for months at a time, seemingly without effort. But then some act, some word, or lack of words, seems to come out of nowhere, and it becomes clear that one, or both of us, has forgotten one or more of our commitments. The experience always serves as a reminder that our joy isn't effortless; it is always the result of our diligence to the things we committed to almost a decade ago.
We all know that it is easy to fall in love, but sometimes we forget, or never take the time to identify, what it takes to stay in love; what it takes to stay committed to the right person.
My partner and I, not strangers to forgetfulness (and bigger business geeks than we care to admit), fired up Microsoft Word nine years ago, listed our eleven commitments, (complete with heart-shaped bulletsif you need to run to the bathroom to puke, I understand, but be assured we have never, ever used heart-shaped bullets before or since), and printed and framed our masterpiece. We hung it on the wall of our clean, uncluttered bedroom.
We walk each other over to that wall from time to time. We look at each other in that way we do when one of us wants to make a semi-subtle point to the other. "Remember?" one of us will ask.
The answer is always yes.
Karen Glooch is a business and personal coach. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 8 July 1, 2005