When I was little, I loved figure skating. Like, legit had dreams about wearing one of those amazing outfits and having some stunning man (equally gorgeous and masculine in his own sequins) toss me around while I made beautiful turns.
The fact that I had zero talent, nor any of the multitude of skills required to become such a beautiful skater did not interrupt this fantasy in the least. In my young teen years, my grandma Lo came to live with us, and she also used to love figure skating. We would watch the events together, and I remember always hearing her say, “That’s terrible partnering!” or “He calls that a hold? What a joke.”
In case you’re wondering, Grandma Lo (Lolo to everyone who knew her) had no more experience or talent in figure skating than I did, other than she had been around to watch it longer. Yet, what she said made sense in some aspect, although it gave me pause as well, and made me wonder why, whenever one of those beautiful women entrusted themselves to their male counterpart, Lolo always focused on what wasn’t being done, rather than what the pair were doing well.
As an adult with a partner of my own, I guess I can understand the allure of this pitfall: criticism is easy and quick. I can also understand its impact on a relationship.
I’ve been thinking a lot about partnering—being that partner for the person you love most in this world—since December, when Old Man River and I were hiking in the rain and laughing about our failed theory that it was “lessening.” It was not, in fact, lessening. If anything, the longer we hiked, the harder it rained, and because I had also been determined that the weather would turn, I was not in rain gear; rather, I was in snow gear (not as waterproof as one would think, especially when one was in a torrential downpour for almost two hours). I digress. While we were slogging our way through Fallen Leaf, we somehow got on the conversation of relationships, and Jan said how he hadn’t actually known love was going to be for him until we met.
As much as I melted, I also couldn’t help the “What? Why?” that slipped out of my mouth. And then he shared how he hadn’t been able to guess, or even believe, that something could be so good between two people—so right—until he felt it. That he hadn’t known about love and if it was for him before we decided to be together—really together—because his experience before hadn’t been this way. Of course I fished for more and asked, “which way?” And he shrugged and said, “The way that everything is us, together, both all about what we have and what we’re making. All in.”
And let me tell you, I’ve been holding on to those words, replaying them over and over. I’ve also been reflecting on them, thinking about what it means to hear those words. Conclusion: it means everything. Mostly because, and this will blow your socks off, our marriage is not always as easy and perfect as my love-story stuffed bookshelves say it can be. We work hard at being partners, and some days, it feels like maybe we aren’t working together, like maybe one of us is pulling more weight than the other (in my story, I’m always the hardest worker, so…protagonist problems, I guess). And sometimes being in a marriage, a partnership, can feel heavy—like, as much as you love the person, communicating your ever-changing needs and wants is one more goddamn thing on your plate that you just don’t want to have to do.
Please, read my mind. And while you're at it, read the room and vacuum the floors so I fucking relax about one thing. Ahem.
But you do communicate your needs, maybe not always well, and not always at the best moment, but you do because as heavy as that partnership is, it’s important. The most important, in fact, when it’s right.
When Old Man River and I were talking about this post (yes, that’s one way I know it’s right—he talks about writing and relationship posts with me even though it's my hobby) and I told him what my focus was and asked if that made sense, he said, “Of course. Does your partner make you want to be a better person? That’s really what it’s all about.”
I am the person in our family who chops lunches and cleans floors. I write I love you posts and click ORDER on new clothes for the family. I make sure tuitions are paid for all activities each month, and I organize carpools for sports and hangouts. Sometimes, this makes me feel like a secretary, and I can get snippy and resentful, falling into that pitfall of partner-criticism that Lolo and I snarked about thirty years ago. But then Jan says things about our Money Market account (no idea what that is) and our retirement funds; he talks about the new insurance he signed us up for, and the conversation he had with our CPA, right after he mentions making an appointment for my Explorer to go in and get serviced, and I realize that maybe I’m not the only one who has an endless to-do list in this partnership.
It seems crazy, but it could be possible that we’re both left feeling like the default secretary when it comes to certain aspects of this life we’re building together, and that’s why it works. Why it’s not perfect, but why it’s still pretty fucking great.
And so, Lolo, I think what you and I didn’t notice when we were watching those beautiful dancers twirl and spin and dance across that ice, judging the placement of their partner’s hands like we knew a damn thing about it from our spots on the couch, was that every moment they had to dance together was another attempt, another shot, another chance at communicating, growing, and making something beautiful.
Another chance at making each other better.
This one’s for Old Man River: I didn’t know love could be this good either…mostly because I’d literally just moved out of the sorority when we met, but I was a very mature twenty-two ;) Thanks for being the best partner—even when we’re both being the worse versions of ourselves, we’re tired, and we’d rather do anything other than make a decision. I love you…and pizza is always the best decision. We should probably write that down somewhere.