** Caution: Could be triggering **
My therapist asked me about relationships last week, and specifically who my role models were for good relationships.
Me: “I don’t think I have any.”
My therapist: “Really? No relationships you admire or want to emulate?”
Therapist: “Will you think about that for next time?”
So here I am, thinking about it.
It came up because a friend has asked me to babysit for her and I said to my therapist that I couldn’t remember a time when my parents went out together and left me with a babysitter. Really? Yea, really. I can remember two weddings they went to – one I had a babysitter, and the other I got to stay home by myself (I was 17) – but they never went out together. Never just them, as a couple.
I remember Mum leaving me at home with Dad one night. I was about 6 or 7, I think. She left me a book, and told me she’d read it with me when she came home. I spent the evening standing at the window crying for her to come home. It took me another few years to actually read that book.
I can’t remember my parents ever showing each other any affection. No holding hands, not even a “hello” kiss at the end of the day. Mostly my mother and I were home before my father, and we would lie in wait, anxious to see what mood he was in. Usually it wasn’t good. And even when it was I used to wonder how long it would last, tap dancing around in the hope that I wouldn’t set off his foul temper.
I think I was about 20 before I was conscious of seeing other married couples holding hands. I remember thinking “wow, they must still love each other.” See I grew up thinking that you probably fell in love with someone in the beginning, then that faded and you just “put up with” each other for the rest of eternity. I didn’t realise love could be an enduring thing.
I also thought that being in a relationship meant having someone lord it over you, night and day. I learned that as a child, and had it reinforced in my last (only) adult relationship. It wasn’t until I watched some of my friends (older friends as well as those my own age) that I realised people could be equal partners in a relationship.
It wasn’t until my friends started getting married that I realised all couples have troubled times, but that doesn’t mean they shout at each other, or hit each other, or anything like that. It took my friends to show me that people could disagree about things but work it through, and still love each other at the end of the day.
I look at older couples now (even ones that are not that much older than I am) and admire their gazes, or their holding of hands, or a gentle touch here or there. I admire the relationships where people know each other so intimately they can finish each other’s sentences. I even admire much simpler things, like relationships where the couples can speak to each other without venom on their tongues.
I long for all of that, but I’m also afraid that I won’t know what to do if I ever get there. I just don’t understand how relationships are supposed to work.
I’m reminded of a friend of mine who grew up in the 1950s. She tells tales of growing up Catholic, knowing there were people in her street who didn’t go to church on Sundays, but she just didn’t understand what they did instead. It’s kind of like that for me: I know there are good relationships out there – I just don’t understand what they look like.