A love story about self-acceptance
“Good job!” he says after reading anything I write. My man is my biggest fan, but not the best beta reader. He is a man of few words, but when he does speak, it is thoughtful and considered. He rarely passes judgement and is often empathetic. He absorbs information quickly but digests it slowly. He prefers to listen rather than speak. Indeed, he is an excellent listener — which may not be entirely appreciated until he makes a thoughtful comment at a later date about a previous conversation.
He does not seek glory or approval from others but acknowledges his successes, even for the smallest of tasks he undertakes. I often hear him quietly say ‘good job’ to himself after completing something on his ‘To Do’ list. He may feel discouraged at a mistake, or even feel upset for a while after a failure, but he doesn’t carry that burden for too long. He shrugs it off after learning from it. He incorporates the lessons, or a fresh approach to a problem, into his mental toolbox for next time. He is who he is — the successes and failures of his life do not define him or alter his equanimous nature.
He loves the simple things in life, and this may account for his demeanour. He is fully present in any activity he undertakes, as if that is the only thing in the world to do at that moment. He enjoys such simple pleasures as walking the dogs, reading, swimming in the ocean, having head scratches — definitely not in that order. In his way, he embraces mindfulness without even knowing that he does.
We spend almost all our free time together — we enjoy each other’s company. Our relationship is built on dual pillars of friendship and intimacy — but we still argue. Our contrasting upbringing trained us in opposing argument strategies. His was a quiet home, voices hardly ever raised, but perhaps certain things were left unspoken. Mine was a raucous home, voices often raised in jubilation but also in anger (that was quick to come but quick to go), yelling one minute, hugging it out the next. Arguably, too much was spoken. While he was loved, he was rarely hugged as a boy, and as a young Aussie bloke, handshakes and pats on the back were the norms. Whereas I was practically smothered by physical affection as the (forever) baby of my large Italian family.
During an argument, he remains quiet or walks away — confused at what happened. I, on the other hand, am often tempestuous — but when it’s over, well, it’s over. And I often feel better with a burden released. If it’s not a mutual catharsis, however, then the desire for release — and then moving on as if nothing happened — is selfish. It’s just one person venting with the other person expected to hide the body out of loyalty. His confusion during an argument stops me in my tracks. It’s not a response I ever encountered in the past. It’s then that I explain myself calmly, and we talk it out together.
This relationship — 9 years so far — has been a massive learning curve for me. I had never been in a serious long-term relationship before, and these lessons came to me late in life. We were both over 40 and set in our ways when our new tentative friendship metamorphosed into an intensely intimate relationship in the space of a few weeks. The intensity scared us both, but our need for one another was so great that we braved the merging of our two lives anyway after two months of dating, and we both made changes to accommodate the other. We found a way through the initial seismic events, to love one another with a persistent and compassionate commitment.
We may not always agree at the end of an argument, but we always understand each other better. I am learning to recognise my triggers and stop the explosion before it happens and speak calmly instead. He is learning to hug it out afterwards. My partner’s equanimity still frustrates my passionate nature at times. Sometimes I wish I could get a rise out of him, and occasionally I test his limits to check he is actually alive (spoiler: he is). He is just unaccustomed to overt displays of passion. But his playful side is privately guerrilla-style, catching me off-guard, sometimes at inopportune moments. He is learning to read the room these days, and I am learning to be ready for those moments and to lighten up.
We both had to learn patience and acceptance of each other and ourselves. But with his effortlessly empathetic tendencies, this part has been easier. He rarely criticises anyone, including strangers, even in private with me. He seems to be infinitely aware of the adage about walking a million miles in someone else’s shoes before passing judgement. His lack of prejudice and compassion for others were qualities that first caught my attention. Along with his shy, nerdy ways and sexy thoughtfulness.
After I give him time to digest my writing, with the copious amounts of first draft words, I ask him ‘which part did you like the best?’ He replies in his cheerful manner, ‘I like it all!’ And he means it too. I give up — and give in — his affection is contagious. He sweeps away my annoyance with a soulful look in his deep brown eyes and a smack on my backside; “Cranky pants”, he mutters affectionately.
His equanimity is a salve for my anxious mind. My inner beast’s roar transforms into a purr under his unwavering devotion. My surrender is complete. And I’ve never been more consistently happy.
It only took forty-odd years.
What I have learned from my partner:
? Listen more & provide fewer but more thoughtful remarks
? Speak to people, not at people
? Show compassion & empathy even if your first impulse is to criticise
? Acknowledge & celebrate your successes, no matter how small
? Accept & learn from your failures, no matter how big
? Love the simple things in life, such as making & spending time with loved ones
? Practice mindfulness daily
P.S. Yes, it’s important to be independent, be yourself, and follow your pathway in life. You can live a fulfilling life without a partner(s). But it’s also OK to need another person, to trust in and rely on them, to be vulnerable. For myself, it has been a lesson in courage and self-acceptance.