Last week , the Significant Other and I celebrated our 26th anniversary together. This is not particularly significant for anyone but us. Except when it is.
I always thought in my heart that I was a relationship kind of guy who would never be in a long-term relationship. I just couldn’t see myself as part of one of those wise old couples dispensing advice from their comfy old home surrounded by photos and artifacts of a life well-lived and loved. And is it any wonder? Just writing those lines makes me (and probably you) want to run retching as far away as possible from that nobler-than-thou image of stability.
I did, however, easily see myself as a rich and famous Malibu loner lying back on an off-white linen couch in my fabulous beach house while staring out into the Pacific Ocean. This, of course, would be done nightly as I drank brandy and pondered the meaning of life both on the page and, intermittently, to the many friends, relatives and fans who would brave the Pacific Coast Highway or go to their local movie theatre or Broadway stage to view one of my great works of art or hear any one of my many grand bon mots in person. Oh, the isolation of it all! Oh, the burdens of genius! Poor, poor – but rich and famous – ME!!
Yes, I really did think this way. And if nothing else, it should illustrate how misguided and just plain wrong (Note: and full our ourselves) we can be about our lives and predetermined destiny.
I’m not a religious person so I don’t believe God has a plan. And if there even is a God, I doubt He/She/or HESHE has granted us anything but free will to steer our own course. Architects have plans, which are not dissimilar to a screenwriter’s step outline. And as every good writer/builder of anything knows- nothing is ever executed exactly as conceived in your mind or on paper. In fact, sometimes the final result bears little physical resemblance to your original vision but somehow captures the spirit, and even betters, what your best intentions indeed were.
Of course, none of this means you enter into a project blindly or unprepared.
Here’s what I’ve noticed after a quarter of a century of being in a relationship. People who want to be in love, try to be in love, or think they’re in love but find it’s not going well – all believe that if you’re in something that looks happy and long-term (and one where they actually suspect you still have sex with your beloved – uh yeah, they often ask) that you must know something they don’t.
Hmm, I am not always sure that’s accurate but, as I stated above, I’m not always the best judge of my true abilities. Clearly, I must have something to impart other than the fact that I don’t know anything all. (On That Note: please do not believe ANY of those uber successful artists who look down shyly and say things like: Oh, I don’t know. I just do my work and hope for the best, when asked about their good fortune. They are the best storytellers in the business and know full well, even if you don’t, exactly why and exactly how they were able to get where they are. They just have no intention of sharing it with you).
For what it’s worth, I do. Here is what I’ve noticed after a quarter of a century of – okay, don’t retch – being in a 26 year relationship where I am still very much in love with that very same person I started out with – and not with their best friend, my co-worker or the person I met at the gym two years ago who lives down the street.
Like all advice, feel free to take it or leave it – as you see fit.
COMPATIABLE WORLD VIEWS
Go for the laughs.
If you’re a drama queen, you need someone to lighten the load. If you’re the Joker – be it Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson or even Caesar Romero – someone has to reel you in. Even if you’re none of these things, your life can, in its bad moments, seem like its worse than the ending of the most tragic 1940s melodrama you’ve ever seen. It is at these times where you’ll need the other person you’re with to not only be there but amuse you – if only for a moment. This doesn’t mean you marry Robin Williams (especially since he just got divorced for the third time). But it does mean you get with someone who you can depend on to occasionally bring a smile to your face. Or at least steer you towards something or someone who can. It also helps if you can laugh at the same things – even if that’s only each other.
Lust in Your Heart
As sure as your hair will go gray or go missing, you can count on occasionally getting tired of your mate. This should not be alarming. Tired doesn’t mean done or unexcited. It just means tired – for a lot of reasons.
Consequently, If you think you won’t occasionally be attracted to or fantasize about getting with some random other human at some moment of some given day, and believe this also doesn’t go for your mate, you have become John Lithgow in Footloose – the kind of guy who won’t let your daughter even listen to music because you believe it’s the gateway to some sort of epic downfall or betrayal.
Everyone has fantasies and wanderlust. Including the person you’re with. That’s different than the real thing. When either of you venture into the real other thing, that’s when you’re asking for trouble. Call me old-fashioned on that score and some have. In fact, one person I was with years ago got so exasperated that he shouted back that me and my values were hopelessly middle-class. Uh, yeah, so — I’m supposed to be insulted by that?
Many decades ago I worked on a movie that starred Anne Bancroft and when some interviewer asked her what the secret was to her long term Hollywood marriage to Mel Brooks she answered, We just look at life and the world in the same way. Plus, he makes me laugh.
Well, not everyone is as funny as Mel Brooks and not even Mel Brooks makes everyone laugh. What you value most in the world – honesty, money, security, world peace, beauty, macaroni and cheese instead of caviar – needs to coincide with the person you share your life with. This doesn’t mean a liberal can’t marry a conservative. Only that Bill Maher and Michelle Bachmann couldn’t be happy together.
By the way, several years before I worked on that movie I went to see a double feature in Santa Monica that included Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum. Between shows I looked to the front/side of the theatre and saw a middle-aged couple giggling in their seats as they playfully poked each other. That couple was – and I’m not lying here – Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks. So I knew first-hand that everything she was saying in that interview was true.
Not So (Joined at the) Hip
You can only continue to truly appreciate someone special if you consistently go out into the world and experience how many real, unadulterated assholes there are. This means you need to have your own experiences and some of your own friends, hobbies and interests. That way you get to have some of your excitements and share your fatigues. You will also be the kind of interesting person your partner wants to spend time with because you’ll have something new to offer.
No – you are not endlessly fascinating despite what the mirror, your checkbook or your friends, co-workers or job title tell you. Like an old borscht Belt comic, your routine will get old. Try something different and don’t always drag the poor schnook that’s sharing your bed along with you. You’ll both be a lot better for it. Plus, you can make the experience seem a lot more desirable than it really was when you share it with them. That’s not lying, just merely accessorizing.
Sheets and Towels
I’m a firm believer in 400-thread count or more sheets, soft towels and as large of a bed as possible. You can share all of these (though I do like my own towel). But just know that the more comfortable they are the more intimate the experiences between them will be. (Note: Yes, it’s true, I don’t like camping. At least outdoors).
Scents that make sense
Passing by a candle or perfume store in a mall leaves me with a headache the size of the national debt. Also, when I enter an empty elevator I literally start to bitch slap the invisible people who left it an empty pungent mess in a desperate attempt to pay them back for all the sneezing and nose tickling I am going to have to endure the rest of the day.
There is a reason why they invented perfume-free and dye-free laundry soap as well as various other unscented accouterments. Don’t assume everyone, especially a date or someone more serious, wants to swim in a sea of Chanel. Or even Calvin Klein. Your house, your bedroom and you are not in Paris at the turn of the century – unless this is the agreed upon routine for both you and the S.I. And if so, don’t expect any invitations to my (I mean, OUR) house.
Body Rot…and stuff
Not to get too personal, but have you noticed when you watch HGTV’s House Hunters that every single couple bridles when a realtor shows them a prospective apartment or home that has a master bathroom with no door? Think about it. Then think about it some more.
And while we’re getting intimate, it is also important to remember that – as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney have recently proven – gravity is a fact of life whether you want to admit it or not. Given the proper conditions, EVERYTHING drops. So when you or someone you’ve loved for a long time (Note: they can be one in the same) passes an unexpected mirror and you gasp (and perhaps sometimes in horror), don’t be surprised and don’t be ashamed. Though feel free to turn out the lights. Or laugh. But only at yourself and not at them. At least to their face.
LOVE AND – MARRIAGE?
Wedding vs. Sin
I’m going to get raked over the coals for this but I always thought one of the advantages of being gay was that you didn’t have the choice of whether to get married. You actually had to work really hard on a relationship because you didn’t have the option of society’s tacit approval. Yes, adversaries can bring you two together.
Oh, of course I love the idea that gay couples can now get married if that is their desire. And my partner and I just might be persuaded if for nothing else than for tax benefits and to surprise people. But before getting the government involved – try living in sin first. Please. It’s good practice and much more…well….sinful. And sinning wouldn’t be called what it is if it didn’t feel good.
Finally, if you don’t have the money (and even if you do) PLEASE DO NOT spend a fortune on your wedding. BUY REAL ESTATE, GO TO EUROPE, SAVE, OR DONATE TO CHARITY. Just trust me on this.
See last paragraph above. It’s the #1 reason couples argue and break up and it is the #2 worst argument you can have. (Note: For #1, see lust in your heart, above).
Yes, money is important but it’s not essential. So don’t lie about it. Have the money talks — honestly. Listen, I’ve known three billionaires. All three have been in relationships but none have lasted. Among the millionaires I’ve known I’d say it’s 50-50. Among everyone else it’s also 50-50 or better. Meaning – money is irrelevant long term as long as you think about it the same way and don’t hate each other for having too little or too much. Yes, you heard me – too much. Nothing can come between two people more than too much, it can be even more treacherous than too little.
Children aren’t an answer – they’re a question.
One of my dearest female friends who has been happily married for thirty years has regaled me with countless stories about other people questioning her and husband about why they don’t have kids. Oh, could you not have any? Why don’t you adopt? Oh, well are you planning to have them? (Note: The latter stopped several years ago, she admitted, when her age made the question a bit unseemly. It then became – Gee, that’s too bad because you two would have made great parents).
I’m not a parent nor do I have any plans to be. I have never had this desire and I was very clear with my partner on this upfront. You should be too. Yes, you can change your mind. I mean, I love brussels sprouts these days yet I gagged at the thought of them the first time I went to a Christian friend’s house for dinner and they were served with a plate of lumpy mashed potatoes. (Note: NY Jewish households in the 60s and 70s opted for canned veggies swimming in mystery syrup).
Bottom Line: You are allowed to change your mind about having kids before you have them but you cannot be surprised or outraged if your partner feels as they always have. However, neither one of you can change your mind once they are born and running around the house.
Final bottom Line: The best parents I know understand and respect childless couples. They also get the similar love that couples or single friends might have for a pet or other animals in general. Often, they themselves have tried this first before jumping into the deep end. So don’t let anyone tell you that parental instincts can’t come in all shapes and sizes. (Note: No, our dog Rosie did NOT make me write the latter).
A HOME IS NOT A HOUSE
The next morning after our first date, the Significant Other turned to me – yes, I was THAT kind of guy – and said, So, when are you moving in?
Well, I just about freaked out. No one – not ONE person I had ever been involved with up to that point, had ever mentioned this subject even though I had long fantasized about it. So why now and why this soon? And why did it make me so nervous? Was what I thought I wanted just a big fat scary fantasy, or even lie? Perhaps. Time would only tell. And – it did.
Point being – it’s tricky to know anything for sure but in your heart you’ll realize when it feels right to at least attempt the leap. Don’t back off of it. But don’t dive in and close your eyes to all reason just because there’s an offer on the table.
Big Clue: Your partner is just as nervous and just as excited as you are about cohabitating. Joy, not only misery, loves company.
Buy or Rent?
You can’t keep up with the Joneses because there are literally millions of Joneses in the U.S. – 1,3362,755 of them to be exact. It’s the fifth most common name in the country and even if you tried you could never match what the best of them have.
Therefore, in terms of love it doesn’t matter if you rent, buy or do anything in between. The S.I. and I were often put on the spot by acquaintances and perfect strangers about how dumb we were, especially in the 80s and 90s, to not buy real estate. But we’re still together as happy renters in 2013 while many of our naysayers have either lost their homes, broken up with their spouses, or done both.
What is preferable is for every couple to have some tiny space that is their own. And we all know implicitly how to give people space – either literally or figuratively.
Pick and Choose your Battles
I hate to quote Will Ferrell quoting George W. Bush on anything but — ya gotta use strategery when arguing . In non-Dubya language that means that you weigh what’s really important.
Every couple must argue, or worse yet, fight. If you consistently say nothing, you’re a Stepford spouse and everyone knows what happened to that hideous remake (Oh, Bette). Yet if you scream and yell all the time you’ll be Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, entwined in a codependent hell of your own making without any acclaim or awards to show for it.
Some things that bug the crap out of you may not be worth bringing up. Other small things might be. But, as the years go by, you figure it out. You learn how to say it without becoming a George or a Martha. As Joe Mankiewicz famously wrote in All About Eve – one has to learn that what is attractive onstage need not necessarily be attractive off.
The good thing about arguing is that you get to make up.
And the good thing about a long-term relationship that works is that you reach a point where you become too wise to sweat the small stuff. You learn what is important. If only for you and your S. I. of choice.