Rewards of Heavy Lifting
So we sat next to each other at my mother’s house because one of our ‘village’ elders was in town and my mother had recommended that we seek counsel. He was a divorced, single father of two young sons and I was a single, adult college student. We were best friends and all the time we spent together built quite the cozy nest beneath us without us realizing until we noticed we were looking at each other through eyes of the googly sort. It confused us and riled us up, surprised us and comforted us. It took some time to figure out what to do with this thing that had developed between us, including some angry rants and some attempts at sabotage, before wondering why there was space between us and decided to close it. Literally. After a weekend at his apartment, preparing to return home to start the week, he stopped me and asked, “Why do you keep leaving? You don’t have to leave; I want you here.”
That beautifully unexpected moment from a man I’d later discover struggled with decision-making was the beginning of a conversation that would eventually become a proposal. I think the discovery I was being asked to never leave was more monumental than being asked to be his wife and, subsequently, the other mother to his boys. I cried real tears of joy and got my things as soon as time would allow.
Two years later we were being referred to community elders to offer insight on the best ways to get and stay together. My side-eye game kicked in at the ‘get’ part because we’d already passed that stage. We were being told we’d done it all wrong and needed to press rewind, to moonwalk our way right out of our current set-up and dismantle the band. The man I loved looked like wisdom had rained down on him from the heavens and I knew he was feeling the suggestion that we stay together but take up separate residences until we worked through our stuff. He drank whatever liquid substance substituted for Kool Aid because we didn’t drink that at my mother’s house.
At the time, I was clear that if we put physical distance between us we were destined for doom. If we couldn’t figure out how to stay together while together, how would we ever figure it out apart? I didn’t trust it. More than that, I probably didn’t really trust him, or me, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d explain this to people who loved us. It never crossed my mind that there was no cause for these specifics to even be a point of discussion for anyone else because it was none of their business. I was afraid of not looking the part and convinced myself that my insistence that we remain under the same roof was about us fighting for what we had, seeing the separation as throwing in the towel.
Some months later I graduated from school and from our relationship. It was a few more months after that before I left his apartment because our friendship kept creating these awkward spaces that we named compassion. The physical space gave me time to search for an apartment and put furniture on layaway and have pillow talk with my best friend turned ex fiancé about how amicable breakups meant more humane separations. Oh the ways humans kid themselves.
That relationship ended 9 years ago. I’ve been in another relationship for nearly 6 years and over the course of this 1, I’ve had a chance to grow in perspective. I now have the good sense to know that there are as many ways to do relationships as there are relationships. It is insane that any of us believe that 2 very different people could come together to live and love in the same way as 2 other very different people. I don’t know what writer penned the rules for relationships and marriage but someone gave some Christian HIM great power over all of us. As my significant other and I continue to work through what Us looks like we’ve had some difficult conversations about our true to life needs.
It may seem trivial but discussing one partner’s disdain for sharing a bed in a construct that expects that people typically sleep side by side is not easy. Snoring is disrespectful and I’m not here for it. It has led to conversations about options from sleeping in separate rooms, perhaps on separate floors to even separate locations. But this exploration is symbolic of all the difficult deliberations we have unflinchingly tackled. The learning outcome—forgive me, I’m a former teacher—is that we must be bold enough to use a magnifying glass to search for the ways we’ll fight to hold onto what’s important to us.
We realize that we could require a home with 2 kitchens to support different blood type diets or be open to living in separate states for career moves or abandon the U.S. altogether to add layers to our quality of life. We know that we may have to add grandparents’ quarters to our childless home to accommodate the people who made us, and to be open to other considerations the average couple guards against because it looks too nontraditional. And nontraditional is the virtual unknown. These considerations are not easy and the conversations usually aren’t fun to have, but we love being together enough to endure some discomfort sponsored by the collective before one or both of our individual needs or goals overtakes us. We have decided that only we will dictate the terms of our relationship, which means we cannot and will not ever be molded in your image. Or yours.
Watch us move.