If we imagine that all long-term relationships are easy, romantic pairings of soulmates who find no difficulty in forgiving daily, who live completely for the happiness of the other, and who can’t entertain the friendship ever ending, we would be wrong.
Believing that both people’s hunger for intimacy, for touch, for sexual satisfaction are guaranteed to be met, would be a mistake. And, yet, many long-term relationships between two humans endure.
Ray and I love each other deeply, more deeply than we thought humanly possible, certainly more profoundly than we could have imagined at the beginning of our pairing nearly 44 years ago, but we have to work hard every day, sometimes very, very hard, to keep our relationship healthy and happy.
We both focus independently on letting go of annoyances, of grievances, of resentments, of feeling taken for granted. We can feel trapped, bored, stifled, held back, unappreciated, unattractive, unattracted, embarrassed, disgusted, annoyed, impatient, alienated, hateful, resentful, misunderstood, mistreated, frustrated, and lonely.
But, we decide, over and over again, day after day, that it’s all worth it. The third-party of our relationship — “us” — is more magnificent, more divine than either of us on our own.
Married people can lust for other people, imagine themselves single, and wish for freedom from their role as a dutiful, devoted spouse. We can get tired to death of carrying the burden of our daily responsibilities of shopping, cooking, cleaning, managing the finances, maintaining the workings of the house and car, walking the dog, watering the plants, decorating for the holidays, and staying on top of the birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends. Nevertheless, we carry on, because our relationship thrives in an environment of mutual respect and sacrifice.
If you choose to continue to share a bed, and a bathroom, couples in long-term relationships don’t always get the covers and pillows they want, or sufficient “alone time” in front of the sink. Toothbrushes and razors can get mixed up, things don’t get put back orderly into medicine cabinets, Kleenex boxes can be left with just one tissue, and toilet paper can run out without a back-up roll within reach. However, we find those to be a small price for the experience of ongoing, mutual love, filled with laughter, happy tears, and the feeling of belonging.
Car seats and mirrors can be constantly in need of readjustment when two drivers use the same car. Coffee makers can need cleaning, and filling even when you’re not the one who drinks coffee. You can be handed the phone to talk to someone you would have avoided had you lived alone.
Sometimes you can sit quietly in frustration as the other with the remote control reviews every movie and TV series option. Or, you wait for them to return to a movie they stopped in order to go check on something, that turns into something else, and then something else.
But, for us, anyway, waking up, and going to sleep with the comfort of having each other is worth the minor aggravations of living with one another.
When you are in a long-term relationship with another human being, it’s possible, but not necessarily so, that you are best friends, each other’s soulmate, one another’s confidante. Ray and I are that to each other. The downside of such love is that when one of you dies first, the other can feel incomplete, totally lost, and rudderless.
The anticipated extraordinary pain of such a separation makes it too difficult for some people to make the commitment. They’d rather stay single, self-sufficient, and happy in their own company. And, some of us become too set in our ways to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of another human being.
Ray and I choose to stay together, even during the darkest cloud times, and we have endured our share of severe thunderstorms, because we trust, and know from experience, that sunnier days are ahead. It’s not sex, money, the dog, or shared family and friends that keep us together, although those things pop into our heads when we feel we’ve reached the end of our rope. It’s rather the awareness of the other’s goodness, fidelity, and deep, abiding love that makes us start talking again. And, talk we do, about everything we’re feeling.
Many people over the years have told us that we’re their role model for a loving gay couple in a long-term relationship, even when it had only been six months, which in 1976 felt like a long time. I have always wanted these people to know that Ray and I are far from perfect human beings, that we can be selfish, petty, angry, resentful, moody, weak, difficult, overbearing, inconsiderate, etc. But, we diligently work to be the best partner/lover/friend that we can be. We care deeply about the well-being of the other. We go out of our way each day, all day, to be thoughtful, forgiving, considerate, attentive, appreciative, accommodating, supportive, upbeat, helpful, and even-tempered. We try to apologize quickly, to say things in kind, loving ways, to listen, to grow, and to be a safe haven for the other.
Because we believe that we truly struck gold when we met, became friends, and committed ourselves to each other. We know that we have grown extraordinarily in the loving presence of the other. By choosing to prioritize our relationship over all other opportunities, we have created a powerful, magnetic field of energy that guides and supports us on our path.
Yes, it will be agonizing to survive the other, and we will be ill-suited to carry on the tasks a single person has long ago been forced to master. But, our memories of totally amazing experiences that we shared will comfort us until our own body gives out. If you had told us at age 25 and 28 the kinds of challenges we would be facing, we might not have allowed ourselves to get close. But, that’s because the love was just infatuation then, not the child of the Universe it grew to become.
Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.