Autonomy, Monogamy, The Tree and Me: An Analogy of Love and Marriage
Where the touch of the lover ends
And the soul of the friend begins
There’s a need to be separate and a need to be one
And a struggle neither wins
©From the song Sky Blue and Black by Jackson Browne
The old man flew away recently to visit family for a week. It was a week of autonomy for me, something quite unusual. He’s been my mate since we met in 1973. We’ve been married now over 38 years. Yeah, I know, forever.
I dropped him at the airport Tuesday afternoon. After channel surfing for an hour Tuesday night I turned the TV off and forgot about it. I listened to music on You Tube: John Coltrane, Greg Lake, Steve Winwood, Jackson Browne–any damn thing I felt like. I ate lot’s of almond butter sandwiches. For three days in a row, I ate waffles with extra bran in the batter for breakfast. I ate scrambled eggs for dinner. Sometimes I sat at the kitchen island and shoveled romaine into my pie hole like a stoned hamster. It was great.
I sat in bed at night with the laptop listening to music and scrolling through HOUZZ photos. I painted the spare bedroom and hung new curtains, and re-arranged the furniture. I even bought two pairs of shoes on clearance at Big Five, and no one asked me why I needed another pair of shoes, since I already have like a dozen pairs in the closet! Say it isn’t so Imelda! Sneaky sneaky me.
For a week, I lived an autonomous life. I did my own thing. It was liberating. It was easy. It was exhilarating. It was a little lonely.
Not moping around the house lonely, just a kind of “Wow, this is weird” lonely. When you’ve been with someone as long as I’ve been with the old man, the pattern of your life becomes inextricably woven in with theirs. Two lives, two threads integrate into one–your food choices, entertainment preferences, habitual activities, hinge on those of the other person. You don’t even realize it. It just happens. You make natural and necessary accommodations for one another.
Looking out my window searching for an analogy for our relationship made me think of this: a couple of tree seedlings that germinated close to each other, which, as they grew, took on the appearance of a single multi-trunked tree.
We’ve been fortunate because the two trunks grew easily together without one overtaking the other or without each rubbing the other raw. Not that there wasn’t any friction, or that the trunks no longer moved independently of each other. Both trunks maintained their autonomy, even as the roots weaved together to create an underground network that supported and fed the organism over it’s long life span. Eventually roots, trunks and canopies became one living system.
Just like a tree, our marriage required energy. We applied our energies to our relationship. We worked hard at this. We committed ourselves to it. We didn’t talk love, we lived it. Makes for a non-event every Valentines Day, but that’s okay. Sappy cards make me nauseous. Ditto for too much chocolate.
It’s pretty intense, this life long monogamous commitment to another human being. It doesn’t work for everyone. It takes a lot of flexibility, negotiation, sacrifice… and it really really helps to like the other person. I love my old man. He’s very smart. He’s funny and self deprecating. And he has a good heart. Sure he’s a pain in the ass sometimes. But I’ve been around long enough to know everybody is. Even me. Sometimes, especially me. Just come by some Sunday while he’s trying to watch NASCAR, and I’m not. GRRRR GRRRR goes the Kirby, cha-chugga, cha- chugga, cha-chugga goes the washing machine, $onofBi!ch why can’t I find that receipt?!! goes the old lady. I’m a PIA sometimes. Definitely.
And that’s why it’s expedient to create some space between us once in a while. Some breathing room. And now that he’s retired and we spend almost all of our time together, it’s an especially good idea. So good that he decided to get on a plane and go visit his sister. He had to deal with some anxiety demons to do it. He had not flown in twenty years. But he had a great time. And he wants to go again next year! Will wonders never cease?
So, it was weird when he was gone, but it was also nice. It it was nice to listen to my music without headphones. I didn’t almost drag the laptop off the counter once because I started to walk away with them on. And it was nice to eat what I wanted, or actually what I could scrounge up quickly, and when I wanted. A little autonomy for a little while, and NO TV FOR A WEEK. Very, very nice.
But it was also nice to have him come home again too and fill that space that he occupies in our lives. It was nice to lean into that trunk I’ve grown up against all these years. It was nice to walk the dog together with my hand in his pocket again. It’s all good. It’s all nice.
(And no, there wasn’t meant to be any double meaning in these last few lines. Unless you want there to be. But that’s your bad, not mine. For my part, let me just say, I’m glad he’s back.)
©2017 by Ilona Elliott