My partner and I love to fantasize about what the next chapter in our life will be like.
It’s become a favourite pastime to dream about our idyllic retirement in a lakeside cottage. We have it all planned out: sipping morning coffee out on the sundeck, taking our future dogs (a Golden Retriever we’ve named Charlie and his brother Max, a German Shepherd) for games of fetch-the-stick at the shore, enjoying hammock naps listening to the waves roll in. When the grandkids come to visit, we will do arts and crafts, explore the beach for treasures and spoil them with ice cream before dinner.
For the first time in my life, I can clearly picture myself and my partner in our twilight years. Whether it was merely a factor of youth or a symptom of a more deep-seated issue, it was never an image I was able to conjure with my ex. Despite having known him for more years than I didn’t know him, I’d never been able to see our future together.
It was one of the first things that flooded into my mind amidst a swirling vortex of questions and emotions the day he left. As I watched him pack his bags, I thought to myself how strange it was that I’d never pictured us growing old together. All along, that’s because we wouldn’t.
This is a photo of my mom and dad in their courtship. In October, they will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary. Even in the third act of their marriage, they are a beautiful example of the relationship I’ve always wanted to have.
They are partners and friends who genuinely like one another. They have grown together and know each other’s rhythms and moods intimately. While some of their interests intersect, they also have their own independent pursuits and give each other the space and support to enjoy them. As the John Lennon song goes, they are two branches of one tree. There is respect, there is trust, there is appreciation, and there is still playfulness and affection. Most of all, there is a deep love that leaves no doubt that they are soulmates. This is how “grow old with me” should be, I think.
Growing up, my parents’ relationship was one to aspire to, but tough to live up to. Don’t get me wrong, no one put any expectations on me other than the burden I placed upon myself by yearning for the kind of love they shared. I foolishly thought that if you invested yourself in your marriage, the reward would be the love of a mate who would be by your side for better, for worse, for richer, for poor, in sickness and in health. Someone to grow old with until we both simply fell asleep and slipped away in a Notebook-like ending.
Did a wonderful childhood in a happy home with two loving parents become a liability as an adult? That sounds preposterous to even consider, but I do admit to sometimes wondering if being the product of a good marriage meant I went into my own with rose-coloured glasses.
My parents’ relationship is by no means perfect, but it did define marriage in my eyes. Maybe that lead me to assume that my marriage would simply follow their example. As our 5th wedding anniversary passed, followed by our 10th and then our 15th, I thought, hey, maybe we had the hang of this marriage thing after all. We were making it work like Mom and Dad did.
But when it all came to a crashing halt just shy of the 20-year benchmark, I was deeply disappointed that I fell short of the marital standard Mom and Dad had set. They had given me the blueprints to follow and I still couldn’t replicate what they had built.
Thankfully, another thing about being the product of a good marriage is that it gives you an unshakable foundation of love. Although I had to take time to heal my heart after the marriage ended, I never grew disillusioned about my capacity to love and to be loved – and that is a direct result of my parents’ influence. Whether they beat the odds or just got lucky, the fact is, it’s because of their enduring marriage that I never stopped believing in love and never lost hope that it was not too late to live happily ever after.
My partner and I found love in mid-life. Our love narrative is our own yet, it is reminiscent of what I have witnessed in my parents’ marriage. There is mutual respect and kindness, genuine interest and support for one another and a soulful connection that includes playful and lighthearted aspects of intimacy.
One of the joys of our relationship, I think, is a deeper appreciation for what we have at this stage in our lives. It’s a reality that there are more grey hairs and wrinkles, not to mention aches and ailments, and that making a commitment to love and cherish one another until death is a lot closer to fulfillment in our late 40s than it would have been in our 20s.
My partner’s love is like a serendipitous affirmation that hey, bad things happen in life but that’s only to prepare you for something much better. It’s helped me to move on from my first marriage by accepting that it was never meant to be more than what it was.
When something in your life is this good, you can’t help but be excited for what comes next. It’s no wonder I like to dream about growing old with this man. When I look at him, I can imagine our future and know the best is yet to be.