I love potlucks. Well, I do and don’t love potlucks. I don’t love the part where most of the dishes are irrelevant to my interests. I do love the part where I set down my contribution and it’s sometimes gone before I can turn around and cut a slice for myself. I’m good at choosing crowd-pleasing recipes. I always bring an entrée because I know there will be so many sides and desserts. My cooking used to be nefariously bad, but now I can make anything I want. I know what I’m bringing to the table and I’m proud of it.
That was an allegory. This post is really about relationships.
My husband and I were both divorced when we met. We each have a bitter ex-spouse who would probably tell you all about how horrible we are and why we both deserve to die alone. We’ve also both been single and lonely. Part of what we like about each other is that we’ve accumulated the experience to form our own philosophies about love and dating. Also, staying together means we’ll never have to go on a blind date ever again!
When we met, I was sleeping on an air mattress in a rented room. My credit cards were maxed out and I would sometimes eat a can of green beans for dinner and then go to bed early. I was at my heaviest and so unfit that I would see black spots when I climbed a flight of stairs. I was “still the same person” – but looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that I was single. There were a lot of logistical reasons why I would not be a great pick. I would definitely have been a case of dating someone’s potential. I felt I deserved to have someone believe in me; the trick was convincing anyone else of that. What I was metaphorically bringing to the table at that time was… an empty can of green beans.
My first husband met me as an average-sized girl with long hair. When he asked for a divorce after three years of marriage, I was a chronically ill, overweight, unemployed person with short hair. It was, to put it mildly, extremely inconvenient timing for me, that he would leave just when I needed someone the most. Looking back, I could see how someone would regard our marriage as a bait-and-switch. The person he wound up with was not the person he thought he was marrying. We didn’t make any vows about sickness or health. I quit bringing many of the things I had brought to the table before.
Fast forward a bit. With the benefit of hindsight, I am grateful for the lessons of that experience. I came away with a long list of things I did not want in a relationship, and the glimmerings of a list of things I did want. I wanted someone who liked me and thought I was funny. I wanted someone who was willing to meet me halfway and try out the things I liked. I wanted a companion. I came to believe that the personal characteristics of such a man (appearance, profession, hobbies) did not matter, as long as we felt comfortable together, enjoyed talking to each other, and preferred being together to being alone.
What did I have to offer? I had an emotional commitment to monogamy. I had resolved the question of kids (can’t have them). I took accountability for my personal circumstances. I was solution-oriented and well organized and frugal and I knew how to keep house. I didn’t need a man; I just wanted to have one around. I wanted to dote on someone, to have someone to spoil and maybe hero-worship a little. If I found someone and we were a good fit, I knew I would give my 100% and always do my best to give him a happier life. I like male energy and I can make space for privacy and a “man cave.” I resolved that whomever I chose, he should be able to enjoy any interests that didn’t happen to overlap with mine, to hang out with his friends without me, and to have time to himself when he wanted. After all, these were benefits I wanted for myself. I wanted someone who would be eager to spend time with me and be fully present when he did, and I knew I needed to offer freedom first.
I got my wish. We’re coming up on nine years together. I got the friend and companion I wanted, someone to spoil and hero-worship, which, if I told you all the awesome things about him, would make you say, “Wow, you’re totally right. He is like an epic hero and stuff.” He carries me around on a little tasseled cushion and feeds me bonbons. Part of the reason for this is that I made a secret commitment to improve something every year, so he was slightly gladder about marrying me with every passing year. When we got married, I had no consumer debt, which I’ve maintained. Since then, I’ve learned to cook and become athletically fit. What will it be next year? Shh, that’s for me to know and him to find out. I’m always conscious of what I bring to the table, and making it a bit better all the time.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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