While I’m sitting here in my cozy room very early on a bitterly cold winter morning, my husband has just left for a meeting at his office about 30 miles away. He is not a morning person, and when a 7:00 a.m. meeting is called, my heart sinks for him because I know how difficult his day will be. He has worked in the professional world for almost 40 years now, and during that time has spent long, long hours hunched over drafting tables and computers. He has crawled through scaffolding in probably every automotive assembly plant in this country. He traveled to China thirty years ago (before it was cool to do so) to instill “American quality standards” in his company’s operational facility in a small village in Outer Mongolia.
But his working days are winding down, and we are blessed that his current job allows him a great deal of flexibility in time and working conditions. These early morning meetings are rare, and he can often work from home if he chooses. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to hear him say recently that he wouldn’t mind working at this job until he was 65 or even older.
Nevertheless, we are beginning to think about another new stage in our lives. The Third Act is a term I’m hearing bandied about among folks our age - that time when your children have all not only flown the nest, but are independently managing nests of their own, when you’ve “retired” from the daily grind, when you’re still (hopefully) physically fit enough to live without assistance.
I’ve been re-reading Katrina Kenison’s book Magical Journey (which was this week released in paperback). I read the book for the first time last January, and was so moved by the way she wrote about facing the challenges of mid-life and how a woman re-fashions her life during this time of change. But here is what I love about re-reading…now, a year later, I come to the book at a different stage in my own life, and with a new focus and interest. Last year, so intent was I on my own inner journey, that I didn’t fully absorb what Kenison has to say about what happens to a marriage during this time.
To grow without growing apart, to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what’s changed: Perhaps this is the challenge that must ultimately be surmounted in every long term relationship if it’s to remain fresh and resilient, rather than growing stiff with age, too brittle to bend and stretch with time. I know my husband and I love each other. But now it seems we’re both coming to see that love alone isn’t enough to keep a commitment alive; we need imagination, too. And enough creativity and courage to create a new form for our marriage, a marriage that’s growing old and being forced to adapt, just as we are.
I think of the evolution of our relationship over the 37 years we’ve been married, how we slipped easily and naturally into roles often driven by the demands of Jim’s work. Because he worked SO much, was gone from home for many long hours, even weeks sometimes, I became the one who kept the home fires burning. The details of domesticity were things I could handle to give him as much free time as possible. When Brian was born, I became the primary caregiver, happy to be a “SAHM" and devote much of my time and energy to making a home. I became accustomed to doing my own thing, to setting my own schedule, to finding ways to nurture my own interests. And although we remained close as a couple and still loved our time together, in some ways we led separate lives which intersected whenever Jim’s workday happened to end.
Now the dynamic is very, very different. I realize I’ve been chafing against that for a while, with one foot in that old life where I run things on my schedule, based on my calendar and my needs. Who is this interloper, I was thinking, this man hanging around my house so much of the time, interfering with my plans for laundry and cooking and piano practice?
But I feel a shift in my attitude these days, a sense of gratitude for his presence, for this extra time we’re able to share. After all those years of being apart for hours and hours every day, now there are many days when we potter around the house together, doing our separate work and meeting in the kitchen for lunch. On nice days, he joins me for the morning dog walk. We start every day (even early morning meeting days like today) with coffee and our books.
"To grow without growing apart, to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what’s changed…"
Change. There’s that word again, the one I used to be so afraid of.
But now when I say it, when I think of it in terms of our relationship, I feel a tiny frisson of anticipation. We talk about ways we can spend winters in a warmer climate, how we might even like to spend a few months living in the UK once, just to see what that’s like. We wonder about ways to pursue our mutual interests in music. We smile at thoughts about watching our grandson grow up and imagine the things he might do. And even knowing there will inevitably be hard changes ahead does not dampen my enthusiasm for this new opportunity to renew and re-imagine our relationship.
“I stepped into marriage twenty five years ago,” Kenison writes, “convinced that passion would sustain us; now I know better. We will endure by the grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close even as change transforms the landscape of our lives."
We have certainly grown so much from those dewey-eyed 20 year olds who committed ourselves together for life, not knowing what would be written on the landscape of our years together. So as we travel into the future together, still not knowing the details, I’m confident in our ability to sustain through the “grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close."
And I’m so grateful for my partner on the journey.
Magical Journey is a transformative book, one I keep on my bedside table to dip into at regular intervals for a dose of guidance and inspiration. It was released in paperback this week, and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to participate in the launch team. I’ve purchased several copies that will be gifted to close friends. You can be one of those people - if you’d like a copy of the book, please leave a comment below and tell me a little about where you are on life’s journey. I’ll choose a random winner on January 30, 2014.
Magical Journey (paperback)
Author: Katrina Kenison
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, a Division of Hachette Books