Monday, March 29, 2010

Bricks and Patience

How do you build something that will endure the test of time?

Brick by brick.

I’ve become keenly aware how emotionally comfortable I was most of the time during my years with Susan. To be sure, we had our ups and downs – both as a couple and as parents. I had many days and nights of angst over that 32 year period. But no matter what, we knew it would be OK because our relationship was cemented in deep, trusting love. After the first few months (maybe even weeks), the foundation of our love was never in doubt, particularly as time went on and our lives became more and more entwined. It’s amazing to look back and see what we built over that time – and how many building blocks it took – all placed one at a time. Being single again has forced me to identify as an individual rather than as part of a couple. I’m essentially getting to know myself again. What’s changed? What’s the same? It’s a pretty interesting and refreshing experience. And a new relationship means starting over – brick by brick.

I’ve been dating a remarkable woman for about a month. I had completely forgotten the emotional roller coaster that is present in building a new relationship. It’s like being a teenager or a 20-something again. In fact, that’s what Jon said I sounded like on the phone! My heart does flip flops and I feel euphoric when I’m in communication with the object of my new romantic interest. Then, when we haven’t been in touch for what seems like a long while, I begin to conjure up all kinds of stupid stories about how I’ve said something to screw up the relationship, or she’s having doubts, or something’s not right, or . . . I just really like talking to her and being with her and I can’t wait for the next encounter! More than once I’ve heard a voice saying to me “Rob, you’re pathetic! Get a grip!” Then, I get an email or a text or I’m with her and my heart goes pitter patter all over again. To be sure, we don’t know where this relationship is headed – the uncertainty is very real and it adds a measure of vulnerability to this experience. (But how can you feel love if you’re not also willing to feel pain?) The necessary time to build something worthwhile and enduring is in conflict with my impulse to hurry. But relationships are journeys not destinations. The more disciplined voice in my head keeps reminding me to do this one step at a time and savor the experience - brick by brick. Isn’t that how we’ve had to do our grieving? Fortunately, my new special friend is wise in the ways of patience and it’s a common (and enlightening) topic of our conversations.

Experiencing all of these emotions has brought back some vivid memories of my early relationships, including when Susan and I were just getting started. Given my age now, I had assumed all that stuff was behind me – an artifact of youthful immaturity and the absence of life experience and wisdom. Apparently, age alone does not make those feelings go away. The good news about dating at this stage in life is that our hard-earned wisdom really does help keep us reasonably centered and stable. We both know from our life experience that everything is going to be OK no matter what. But the emotions are more intense than I ever would have imagined. It’s invigorating, thrilling, exciting – and unnerving! And it feels like it’s taking so damn long! The reality is that it’s only been a month. How many bricks can that be?

In our fast-paced, high-tech, quick-gratification world, there still remains an ancient truth: Anything built to last still has to be built one brick at a time on a solid foundation. If we choose to, we can call upon the necessary patience to not only persevere, but also to find peace in the process.