As I was chatting with Cheryl she asked how long I’d been partnered. I told her it would be 12 years next month, and she congratulated me on our enduring relationship. She lamented that both times she thought her relationships were really going to last she was surprised when her girlfriends broke up with her. Then came the inevitable question: “What’s your secret?"
As I began to answer her question I couldn’t help but think that this conversation would become a blog entry. Does anyone else ever have that experience where you know right there in the moment that you will blog about whatever it is that’s happening? At first I felt a little guilty, as if I might say something better or different simply because I knew I’d be quoting myself. But in a rare moment of clarity (or was that an alcohol-induced delusion of clarity?) my thoughts seemed to organize themselves and begin to flow. I felt like I was really communicating with Cheryl.
“What’s my secret? Hmmm, I guess I’d have to say being realistic. You know, there’s no ‘perfect relationship’. You can rank potential partners against your wish list and there will probably never be one that matches completely, so you’ve got to be realistic about that. I mean, its fine to have a wish list. That will probably help you identify what’s important to you in a partner. But you should also decide which are the ‘nice-to-have’ and which are truly important things on the list and really look for the truly important ones in a partner. The nice-to-haves will be the icing on the cake.
“For instance, my partner really makes me laugh. He’s clever, smart, and funny, and that combination is really important to me. Now, I’d also like a partner who’s neat and tidy, too, but I think of neat and tidy as a ‘nice-to-have’. I didn’t discard him because I couldn’t check the box next to “neat and tidy” on my wish list. He matched the truly important elements so I decided I could compromise on the neat and tidy.
“Which brings me to another part of my ‘secret’: compromise. Unless you find a clone of yourself, your partner is not going to like everything you like, and vise-versa, so you’re both going to have to compromise from time to time. Just be careful and try to keep the compromising balanced, so that neither of you feels like you’re always the one to compromise. Taking turns works for us. I watch a show he likes for an hour, and then he watches a show I like for an hour. You get the picture.
“Then there’s being willing to say you’re sorry. Do you remember that line from the movie 'Love Story' with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”? You don’t? Oh, never mind… you probably weren’t born yet. Anyway, that’s bullshit. Being in love means that you will definitely have to say you’re sorry at some point or another. Everybody says stuff they don’t mean in the heat of an argument, and you’ve got to be willing to say you’re sorry, even when it’s not your fault. Sometimes it’s just what they need to hear.
Suddenly I realized I’d been talking for several minutes, and had likely thoroughly answered her question by now, which might have been meant to be rhetorical in the first place. But I was glad that Cheryl’s response seemed to indicate an appreciation for my sage wisdom. “Wow, that’s great. Be realistic, be willing to compromise, and be willing to apologize. You know, I’m really going to try and remember this” she said sincerely.
I smiled and wished her good luck in her current, new relationship. For a second I thought about suggesting we exchange email addresses so I could keep abreast of how Cheryl’s relationship was going, but quickly decided against it.
‘Who am I, Deeprak Chopra?’ I asked myself silently. ‘What makes me qualified to dispense relationship advice?’
But then I decided that being in a successful 12-year relationship, for which there were no role models nor legal recognition, did give me at least the feeling that I had something worthwhile to share: my experience. So although I have no 4-year counseling degree, I decided that my 12-years relationship experience made up for it, much like it does when applying for a job.
“Bachelors degree or equivalent experience.”