As a couple grows older together, what are the “normal” forms of connection? Perhaps these are a few:
- Necessary connections (the business of life);
- Fun connections (enjoying life);
- Spiritual connections (praying and faith; the sense of knowing each other well);
- Intimate connections (heart, soul, body)
- Status quo connection (when you’ve lost most of the above? Perhaps the start of “DISconnection?”)
I am not always in possession of the answers and sometimes my questions are greater. All I know is this connection thing gets tricky, and I’m praying for answers. There’s too much good to not find answers.
Once again we have spent an inordinate amount of time together through our recent move. Thousands of miles in a rented UHaul or car together. The stresses of moving. The decisions of how to set up a new house (he has very strong opinions “for a man,” and hanging pictures can bring on some major disagreements). Debating about new furniture purchases and budgets. Getting used to our new (BIGGER) space and keeping it tidy and uncluttered. Ironically, as always, we can’t stay out of each other’s way in the kitchen.
Lots of NECESSARY CONNECTIONS. The “stay on your good behavior, keep the peace, count your blessings, but sometimes get impatient with each other” connections.
The kitchen? There’s a back story… when we first met, through the introduction of mutual friends, I invited him and said friends over to dinner in my very small apartment. After dinner, he insisted on washing up (one of his first positive checkmarks on my list of desirable traits in a mate). As I helped him in my small galley kitchen, we kept bumping into each other—and it became a game, a tease, our first moments of true physical contact. That moment seemed to inform me that he: a) was fun b) had good humor c) was cooperative; d) enjoyed this teasing game of bumping into each other accidentally on purpose; and d) liked me.
Over the years, all of those traits about him remained true, however added to that list was a touch of annoyance. Bumping into one another, aka “getting into each other’s way,” became annoying for him, and perhaps at times for me. I often got my feathers ruffled when he’d grouse I was in his way. I tried learning to strategize my moves in tight spaces to avoid annoying him. At times I tried to make it the tease again by purposely standing in his way for a kiss. But often the humor was lost as I blocked his path to the toaster.
He really didn’t seem to want to “bump into each other” accidentally on purpose any more. Of course the tease in him wants to grab me in intimate ways in semi-public settings—when it might embarrass me (more than titillate me). There really isn’t anything sexy in this tease, it’s more of a “I enjoy your discomfort.” I don’t always react with appreciation. There are fewer and fewer FUN CONNECTIONS.
And, so I get upset. I lost the humor I once had to just take a moment of possible irritation and turn into a light and fun one.
I can talk (and write) a blue streak. I can go off on tangents. I can lose my train of thought. And, well, I am a know-it-all. Traveling, reading, languages, adventures—all of these makes one a bit of a know-it-all. It’s just that you, well, know a lot. It is a joy to hear or learn something I don’t know, I always want to learn. And it is hard to play dumb when someone is telling me something I already know, but I often fake it and just smile, try to stay humble. Communication with and listening to me can probably be exhausting. So too is hubby well read and traveled. Two know-it-alls in a conversation is tough. To this end, when hubby and I are in a conversation, it is easy for one or the other of us to usurp the conversation, perhaps to talk over each other. I default to the ten second trick. When he stops talking, I count to ten before adding my opinion. Rarely do I make it to ten before he resumes talking. Give and take isn’t a strong point.
We are entering an age where we are slowing down in many, many regards. While we have plenty of activities to keep us fit and busy (hiking, yoga, friends, housekeeping, volunteer work, reading, hobbies, outings), we also feel no guilt in being retired and taking it easy. The drive to pack our schedules full is no longer calling us. Impatience doesn’t have an excuse to have its way any more (as he often reminds me when I’m driving). We often can just “be still” in each other’s presence, and be happy, and for that I need to hold onto gratitude. Having an occasional lazy day no longer is as guilt-producing. He is a great napper (I am not). He can lean back in a chair or recline on the couch, close his eyes, and catch a few zzzzs with no effort. The man is absolutely a wonder with how he can still hold a book and sleep. Sometimes I marvel at (envy) the number of cat naps he manages through the day, and it’s not at all unusual to find him snoozing on the couch in the evening while trying to follow a ball game… and then walk to bed to sleep for the night. The man has more than earned his naps, and that is a pleasure I don’t want to deny him.
He is a morning bird, I am a night owl. There are few seductive moments in the evening that lead to falling asleep in each other’s arms. He is so much of a gentleman to quietly sneak from the bed at the crack of dawn and allow me some extra snooze time. There are few naturally occurring bed connections. We essentially “stay on our sides.”
INTIMATE CONNECTIONS and encounters are definitely on the wane, and I am as much to “blame” as he. The sparks just aren’t always there. The effort sometimes seems too great.
And then that sad trait of apathy sets in. I want less time in his presence. I want to be off doing my own thing. This is where the warning bells go off. Am I seeking a temporary disconnect and reset? Or is the start of a major roll to total disconnect?
I had a disconnect opportunity last week. I attended a 4-day training about an hour away, and got to stay at a good friend’s place. I attended training all day, and then friend and I chilled in the evenings, doing nothing in particular. The easy repartee of two women was a welcome change. Conversations flow organically. We listen to each other, we offer opinions and advice. We empathize. We laugh. We reminisce (not only had we shared overseas careers, we also had many great romances that we will never forget, and the telling of these is a fun pastime). It was a low-key and enjoyable few days where I didn’t feel tense or judged, I was just myself.
Returning home, I found hubby and I fell back in the mode of diligently avoiding each other. The STATUS QUO “connection.” It basically says “I’m alive, you’re alive, I acknowledge your existence because I’m polite.”
One challenge of retirement is that most of the time you just have each other to talk to. This is why I value on-going friendships; he has fewer. And in most cases when hubby talks, he just wants me to listen and not offer my opinions or input. He hates when he offers information and I already have heard it or know it—it shuts him down. Some of it is idle talk: the weather, the news. Then there’s the repetitive stories, we all do it. I have asked him to PLEASE tell me if I am repeating a story… I don’t want to be that older person who continually relates the same story over and over (hint, hint). Another communication is complaining: how the fitness instructor wasn’t friendly; someone who annoyed him at the store. The hardest of all is his difficult mother, and their dysfunctional family issues. The woman is growing increasingly mean in her old age, and he is the ever-devoted son who calls almost daily and allows her to complain, bitch, judge, tear down family members, and generally require everyone to join her misery—without censure. This is the way he has decided to handle his mother, to appease. After I’ve had the “pleasure” of overhearing these phone calls (often done on speaker phone, and his appeasing), he naturally wants to vent frustration to me. I know, I know… I should just listen, and for the most part I do. Yet sometimes it is so difficult not to offer up “what if you told her this?” or “what if you ended the call when she goes negative?” and the look of annoyance on his face is clear. I am not to suggest or advise, I am to listen. After being shut down several times in this manner last night, I tried an experiment. For the rest of the evening, I just didn’t talk. I listened. I tried to nod, give eye contact, show active listening. And he went on and on and on. Perhaps he’d built all this up when I was away (and had a conversational outlet in my friend). For a moment I just retreated to the front porch to write, and he soon joined me. There was to be no respite.
By bedtime I think he was realizing he’d not heard from me. He had just complained about being exhausted, and not looking forward to his full day of training tomorrow. As an afterthought, as he walked off to the bedroom at 10 pm, he said “I’ll scratch your back…”
Usually that is his rapprochement, his way of saying “I’m ready to connect with you.”
I was having none of it. I politely said “no thank you,” which gave him pause (come on, who declines a back scratch?). I tried to normalize it and say, “you are so tired, I will take a rain check; I’m staying up longer.” Inside I was saying, “I’m done. I can’t go on with this fake and stilted connection, this lack of authentic conversation and communication.”
In all fairness, there are times he can be a very good listener, and I need to get focused on these times. He’s probably just as tired with my tirades. I need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
He now is off for the day, one of the first in months. It was a delight to wake up alone, to get my coffee and sit quietly without worry of how to gauge my reactions and responses in a pleasing way for him. No need to strategize my conversation or responses. However there will be a price to pay… he’ll come home ready to talk. And I am to listen.
It makes me reflect: I like to fancy that at one point in my life I was a fun, romantic, silly, and spontaneous person. I’ve had to increasingly shut that girl down in this marriage, to protect my feelings, and that isn’t good. She still exists for her very good and trustworthy friends. At moments she peeks out: her deep, spiritual, emotional side, like on our hike in the mountains the other day (I just love “my” mountains, love that we start our drive in the valley in the 80s, and find ourselves quickly in the 70s and below, enjoying stunning scenery, flowers, wildlife… at one point on the trail I spun around to him, landed a kiss on his surprised lips and breathed from my heart, “thank you so much for letting me live here…”). He didn’t seem to quite know what to do with that passion-filled girl, so she quickly retreated, once again.
And she cries a little inside.
But she needs to be honest, and even 26 years into a marriage, you don’t stop trying to make it better, to find new ways to make it work. Crazy how vulnerability will bite you in the butt every time.