Sharing the gray

It’s the couples who are in middle age, or beyond, that tend to catch my eye. There were several in front of me at the coffee shop where I spent a quiet morning today, eating breakfast and reading a magazine. Through glances, I watched the pair who sat at the counter facing the window. She was very slim, with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a denim skirt and a Columbia Sportswear jacket around her waist. Her partner wore a polo short and had nothing around his own waist but a bit of extra flesh. They perched on stools next to each other and read a shared copy of the Willamette Week, exchanging brief and quiet commentary on the news within.

I know that I’m reading too much into a quick observation, but that couple represents a state of being that I deeply wish for and fear I will never have. They are comfortable together, having spent many years in each other’s company. They go on hikes and on neighborhood walks. They have shared rituals. He is far from perfect. She is too, and he knows it well but still treats her like royalty—often enough, at least, that she always remembers how important she is to him. They have long ago made a choice to devote themselves to this partnership. In the face of that devotion, that promise, their personal habits and flaws matter no more. They have settled on each other.

Someday I will need to learn how to settle: not for something that doesn’t make me happy, but for a flawed person whom I will not always love or like. A person who will have bothersome habits and unattractive qualities. I’m sure that the selection of a partner is never free of doubts, and frankly, it’s a mystery to me how one learns to cope with those doubts well enough to move a relationship forward. My own attempts at romantic involvement continue to be crippled by worry and fear. I pine for men who are out of reach (including those who remain unavailable, in a sense, while dating me) and push away those who offer love and devotion. I don’t know how to live with somebody else inside my heart. To put it more clinically, I don’t know how to form healthy romantic attachments.

I can do better than this—better than succumbing to anxiety and habitually withdrawing from people I care about. Better than hiding from my feelings, but better than being carried away by emotions. If “better” is not a very kind term to be using, then I will say “different.” I can do things differently. I need to do things differently if I hope to spend my graying years sitting close to my best friend, sharing the newspaper at a coffee shop.

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  1. Nice article, Kristen. I think about this same kind of stuff a lot. At my age (40), almost every single person I know has been married and divorced, or at least suffered the end of a long-term, committed relationship. So often I hear some variation of the following sentiment: “Well, there was nothing wrong, really. He/she was my best friend, and I really loved him/her- I still do- but something was missing. I just wasn’t in love anymore.” It seems to me like a lot of people reach the stage your WW reading couple did, then say, “Aaah, it’s not working. I want the butterflies in the stomach and the dreamy high of being in love, not this comfortable companionship nonsense.” I think too many of us grew up believing the Disney tale that we’d find the princess/prince and live happily ever after, never having any conflict of having to do any of the nuts and bolts, nitty-gritty, day-to-day work of a healthy relationship. I know I did. So I’m not preaching at you, I hope that’s clear. I’m commiserating with you as I want that too, eventually. Hopefully we’ll both figure it all out sooner or later. If you figure it all out first, please let me know!

  2. kristenpdx

     /  October 20, 2011

    Does anybody ever really figure it out? I know what you mean about the fairy-tale illusions; that is something I hope to talk about, in some form, with my new therapist. I pride myself on being rational, and there must be some way to bring rational thinking into relationships, yes? It’s sad to think of so many relationships, like the ones you allude to, ending just because two people don’t want to put in the work.

  3. I thought I’d check here to see if you were feeling better. While it looks like you are, when I read this some words came to mind that I just had to write. I really hope you don’t mind.

    I just had to say you can do it. There’s a strength in you, I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s part of why I fell for you. Believe me when I say that you are strong enough to choose to stay with someone and “share the grey”. You can choose a path of love over the easier paths like fear and doubt. I just hope that when you do, it will be with a man who is totally devoted to you. You deserve the best, and in my mind there’s nothing better than that.

    As Eddie Vedder sang: “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life. I know you’ll be a star….in somebody else’s sky.”

    I’d also like to ask a favor of any of Kristen’s friends that read this, even though I didn’t have a chance to get to know you very well. Be excellent to her. Give her your friendship, trust, and support. I want her to have a great life, and true friends are invaluable in achieving that.

    I’ll leave with a link to a song that I think sums things up nicely:


  4. kristenpdx

     /  October 20, 2011

    Thank you for the comment, Victor. I hope you’re right.

  5. Anonymous

     /  November 2, 2011

    Victor – I can’t imagine any of Kristen’s friends treating her any differently because that ‘s the way she seems to treat others and move through the world.

    Kristen – I think many of us aspire to growing old with that special someone. One of things I’ve come to realize thought is that when you look at the population of the world there’s a very low percentage of people who make this devotional journey of a life time. As I’m sure many have done, I’ve often pondered what the secret recipe is for this and haven’t come up with any real answers. One thing I do know is this. Clarity about what you want is essential.

    I think many people at least myself vacillate between having fun romantic interludes and trying to find that one special person to be our partner in life. I’ve reflected on the many failed relationships over my life and have come to realize that in reality anyone of them could’ve been the one to go the distance, if I we were both clear about what we wanted and endeavored to turn those corners to get there. I think this is where the magic is, There are many turning points in life and relationships due to all kinds of circumstances, situations, etc. The relationships that make it do the the gray days are the ones where the individuals can successfully navigate those turns together. Then the relationship evolves and grows deeper.

    Be clear about what you want, stay the course, give it time and space to happen. Any one of those cute guys hanging around could be the one, but you’ll never know unless endeavor to find out…

    Best of luck on your journey to life long love and romance!

  6. kristenpdx

     /  November 2, 2011

    All this relationship talk nearly gives me a headache, as I am so not in the mood to deal with it right now. Sigh. I do appreciate comments, though, from people with more experience and a (maybe) similar outlook on life. I’m sure your words will give me inspiration when I’m ready to digest them.

    And it’s true, I do aspire (at least) to move through the world with love and kindness.

  7. “I am so not in the mood to deal with it right now…”

    You started it! =^)

  8. kristenpdx

     /  November 2, 2011

    Ha! Yes, I’m guilty.

  9. You could be guilty of worse.

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