I’ve been thinking lately about relationships. I’ve been thinking about couples I admire so I can define – for myself – what makes some work and others fail. I’m not talking about longevity here, I know people who’ve been together for decades but I wouldn’t say their relationship works. I know people who’ve been together a short while and it’s apparent they will to go the distance.
I started my adult life with a rusty relationship toolbox full of not quite adequate tools. I had a big hammer and a working knowledge of its uses. That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a shiny red one full of well-worn and well-loved tools as well as some WD40 for the sticky situations. I wanted the kind of tools I could see my Grandparents had. Instead I had my barely functional rusty old junker. My parents made it for me.
My Mom and Dad had a confusing relationship. They were best friends, and laughed together every day. They could be extremely romantic, I would find them in the kitchen dancing and sneak back out feeling like I’d stumbled on something beautiful and intensely private. My Dad left my Mom Post It notes all over the house telling her he loved her. When things were good they were wonderful.
Cause I feel safe when you’re near me
And I can hold you completely
Although you constantly hurt me
My parents also knew how to fight. They would flay each other verbally. They fought so hard and so loud it felt like the house was going to cave in, and my heart along with it. They had no shortage of passion and there must have been an unhealthy kind of balance to it – they stayed together for many years – but eventually the scales tipped and the whole thing fell apart.
And we fight
And we cry
And we tell the same lies about love
The man I call my Dad is not in fact my father. He is my Dad, but he isn’t genetically related to me. That means less than nothing at all when it comes to love. Our relationship hasn’t always been easy, but I couldn’t love or respect him more. He was the first in our family I spoke to after that visit to the geneticist, and the only one strong enough to shoulder my grief. He didn’t try to tell me it was going to be ok, he just listened and absorbed and loved.
When my parents relationship fractured it was hard to know what to do – as an adult – with such a messy and toxic range of emotions. My Mom wasn’t at her finest, and honestly neither was my Dad. It took a LONG time for them to forgive each other for the pain they inflicted recklessly.
So I’m gonna drag you down
Whilst you drag me down
And I’m gonna shout at you
Whilst you shout at me until we realize that real love is free
But they did learn to forgive. In the last few days of her life my Mom was in the hospital and my Dad was sitting beside her. He helped my sister and I through every step of the arrangements made in the aftermath. He held my grandparents up at the funeral, literally. It comforts me to know that under the wreckage of their failed romance was a fortress of love and friendship.
And we cling to each other shoulder to shoulder against the world
I’ve tried to learn from the mistakes they made. In my marriage. I’ve tried to make sure the hammer stays in the toolbox and the WD40 gets replaced often. We stand together – shoulder to shoulder – and when one of us has the kind of bad day that results in bad behavior we think about the aftermath. The fall out for our kids and the chemical waste that eats a relationship. I’m not saying we always get it right, or even 50% of the time…but being aware is half the battle.
Whilst you pull me down
And I’m not gonna shout at you
Whilst you shout at me because I’ve realized
that real love is free