I wonder if, during the course of every great long-term relationship, something extraordinary will be asked of one or both partners. I can think of some classic examples: one person really wants children, but the other is ambivalent. The ambivalent partner, in an act of love, decides to go for it, and they become parents. Or what about all the examples of relocation to follow a job or a dream of living overseas? Then there are foodie examples: one partner becomes a vegetarian or vegan, and the other, perhaps reluctantly, agrees to stop eating meat at home. They become vegetarians, at least at home, together.
Matt and I have our examples of compromise. The meals we cook together are fundamentally vegetarian (for me), with perhaps a bit of meat on the side (for him). I never say anything snide or mean about what he orders in restaurants, and he looks out for me and my vegetarian palate. He doesn’t really eat breakfast, but he will sit with me while I eat breakfast, and we’ll drink coffee together. He loves wine and can drink a lot without ill effect, but he doesn’t make me feel bad for being a lightweight.
Our biggest compromise is the balance of intimacy and space that we maintain. We don’t live in the same city and we only see each other every 3-4 months, but until recently, we wrote daily love letters to each other by e-mail.
A question that I get frequently is, “Three to four months?! What? Why?” To which I can only reply, “Because it’s what works for us.” There are scheduling reasons, such as Matt’s hectic travel schedule or my sometimes-erratic work schedule. There are personal reasons, such as the fact that I am a loner by nature and like to be alone. There used to be financial reasons, because plane tickets are expensive and I was not the one paying for them most of the time. And I think that deep down, there are also romantic reasons: we don’t take each other for granted. We don’t bicker. Our time together is treated like vacation time. We’re lazy and indulgent and we have a marvelous time together. Like I said, it’s what works for us.
Or rather, it was what worked for us until recently. We were happy with things, until we weren’t. Matt isn’t happy, and he doesn’t know why. To clear some space for himself to think about his life, he has put our relationship on hold. It’s sort of like he dumped me, but without the nasty breakup. He has put a wedge between us, whether or not I want it there. I don’t know when we’ll see each other again (I do have faith we’ll see each other again!). And we’re no longer writing daily e-mails. I’m a free woman. Hurray?
It’s a strange thing, to be dumped but not. I tell myself that it’s not me, that this is temporary, but it still hurts. I try to understand, but I don’t, not at a level that makes it easier to swallow. He is asking something extraordinary of me: to not give up on him and to stick around, even though he dumped me. To be honest, I am angry that he is asking this of me. No, he’s not asking; he’s issuing an ultimatum: deal with it or leave. And I’m pretty sure if I left, it would be over.
I’m angry with myself too, for not being more selfless. I miss our daily intimacy, the words that sustain our relationship during the months we spend apart. I miss feeling happy when I think of him. Right now I just feel angry or sad. I feel like anger competes with my empathy for him, which is to say: I feel conflicted. I never signed up for this!
But today, as I was grappling with my anger, I felt my heart shift and I started thinking about the joy he has brought into my life. We have been pretty happy together. There is so much he has shared with me, taught me, and introduced to me. My life is richer because of his presence in it. And I would be a damn fool to walk away without trying to…trying to what? Trying to love him while staying out of his way.
Here are a few of the ways in which he has made my life better.
* Music. I like music, but I’m lazy about it. I don’t really seek out new music, but Matt brings new music into my life. Gillian Welch, Dan Cohen, Iron & Wine, and Jace Everett are a few examples of musicians whose music is woven into my everyday life, thanks to Matt.
* His compassion. His care and empathy for others is unparalleled. For me, to love Matt is to love his kindness.
* Wine. We have shared many good bottles of wine over the years, all picked out by Matt. I love trusting my palate to this man. Most recently, it was Cabernet Franc, my introduction to this particular grape. I like that Matt knows a lot about wine, but I really like that he enjoys sharing this hobby with me (and others, too).
* His sense of romance. I don’t know how to describe this, other than to say that he makes magic happen.
* Travel. We have a portable romance. Over the years, we’ve met up in Illinois, North Carolina, Arizona, California, and Texas. Now that we don’t require airplanes to see each other, I’ll admit that I miss the sweet thrill of airports and planes and the way they served as portals to him. Those were exciting days.
* His humor. He makes me laugh. This may be the sexiest thing about him.
* His sense of abundance. Our conversations have opened my mind to the way that our sense of abundance and opportunity can shape the way we experience our lives. Matt is generous, and he makes me want to be more generous. Certainly he inspires me to indulge him because I like to make him happy. And he does the same for me. Outside of our relationship, Matt sees a world filled with opportunities, possibilities, and interesting challenges. He doesn’t see limits. He is someone who says yes. His attitude and his confidence made our relationship possible. I want to be a yes person, but I fear that I’m more of a no person. I see limits and possible failure. I am often anxious. But Matt…Matt pushes those feelings away for me. He believes in me and us, our friendship and our connection, without doubts. He is amazing.
Perhaps you can see now why it’s so hard for me to leave him alone right now. But I’m going to take my cue from Matt, and write it on my heart that I believe in him and us. I’m not going away; I’m just stepping out of the way.