Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Long-term relationships
While waiting for a friend to join me at a local restaurant, I observed a couple obviously in the throes of a new romance. You could see it in their mannerisms. They could barely let go of each other but while attentive, were also slightly awkward – clearly both still on their best behavior. They ordered a drink and engaged in an intimate conversation. Oblivious of others in their midst, he asked her what she would like to have and ordered dinner. They held hands, smiled easily, sparks were nearly visible in the night air. “Young love,” I thought.
By contrast, a few seats over I saw another couple, this one just as obviously, in the long stretch of togetherness. There was little question they were together, but they scarcely talked, did not really touch. They were comfortable companions. With a tiny bit of discord, they ordered dinner. She reminded him of dietary restrictions, he grunted in acknowledgment and defeat.
She gave him a look that said a thousand words. They engaged in separate conversations with their neighbors. The sparks more like an ember. “Old love,” I surmised.
There is most certainly a comfort that comes with a long-term relationship. My husband and I are in what I would describe as a nice groove. We try to have date nights and are working to rekindle some of the romance that waned through decades of raising children together and all the distractions that come with that endeavor. After so many years of distractions, we are looking at our relationship with fresh eyes.
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I do not think we are different from many couples who have logged decades together. The days of young love and all its mystery and excitement are long since passed. Neither of us have been on our best behavior for quite some time. We survived the tumultuous days and nights. The times when one of us may have wanted to give up on each other came and went. Now we look to the next chapter – the (in theory) time just for us. No kids to distract us and before we know it, the golden years of retirement will begin to unfold. We are both excited about our future together.
I know several couples who have found these “golden years’ to be the most challenging time. They have been together for so long people think of them as one. You rarely hear them referred to individually but when you say one name it is usually along with the other. Many of them even share an email address or Facebook account! The individual, clearly lost. After so much time, it is easy to understand how they became so comfortable, even complacent. The kids and the jobs became distractions and the relationship sat on the back burner. Sure, they always had a plus one to count on, but one day they woke up and realized they didn’t necessarily care for the person sitting beside them – the love was there—but not so much the “like.”
Decades after falling in love, a lot had changed.
As young lovers, there were not enough hours in the day or days in the week for them to get enough time together. Now the idea of spending every day together has kept more than one of them going to work for years longer than needed. “What would we do all day, every day? I don’t like her that much!” said one friend, partially in jest, with a tiny ring of truth. After many, many years of marriage, they have figured out who they are now as a couple and try to find some common ground.
On the other hand, I know couples with that same amount of time together who have taken care of the deep, abiding love between them. They still prefer each other’s company to anyone else they know. They enjoy individual activities but come together with common goals. It is the best possible outcome — what most people hope for when they take the plunge into a romantic relationship.
I think one of the most enviable possessions these long married folk have is the exquisite gift of a shared history. It is something that money cannot buy. It is the reward that comes with sticking together when things got tough and seeing the value in the person with whom they are spending their life.
Years ago, I was in counseling trying to save a doomed relationship. The therapist sent me home with a paper to put on my refrigerator. It was a list of ways to care for relationships. At the top of the list was the sentence, “Remember that one day this person is going to die.” In that affiliation, those words offered more hope than concern, but I got the point.
How to go on after the loss of a someone who you have shared more than half of your life (or more) is a tough proposition. It is one we do not spend a lot of time thinking about, but really should. At the very least it is a reminder to enjoy the time we have left. It is worth reaching across the table to hold hands, take an interest in whatever topic your partner is discussing (again), find a common interest or cause. And, get down to the dirty work of estate planning, and funeral planning. It is the kindest thing you can do for the person who used to light up when you walked in the room, who can now say 1,000 words with an intimate glance born of never-ending love.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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