The woman, in her mid-fifties, told a familiar story. After much thought, she decided to end her thirty-year marriage. Disappointed, she yearned for a truly intimate relationship, one that offered greater sharing of feelings and experiences. The husband she described was someone she still respected and cared about, and there had been neither infidelity nor a clash of values. But she was so lonely, in what outsiders saw as a happy marriage. As I listened, I wondered about the expectations with which she grew up.
Do young people today believe that the person they choose as a lifetime partner will forever after meet all of their needs? That was the myth of my youth, literally the fairy tale first heard from the Brothers Grimm, then perpetuated by romantic films, and certainly by parents, fearing (before the pill) that their daughters might not wait for Prince Charming. Has that premise changed now that most marriages are postponed a few years, and partners are more mature and relationship savvy? Not from my vantage point.
Before Len and I were married, when we walked hand in hand on the sidewalks of our small college town, I would edge ever closer to him, until before long he was walking on the grass verge. It became a shared joke, the metaphor for my expectation of perfect togetherness. It didn’t happen.
Although we never stopped seeking the comfort and pleasure of physical closeness, over time, and not without periodic angst, (and an occasional resort to the talking cure) we learned to appreciate our differences, and to actually foster each other’s independence. Although we had a rich life together, we also enjoyed many friends and experiences we did not share. My earlier assumptions eased. And a good thing too.
. When a friend or client tells me they are thinking about ending an otherwise good relationship because intimacy is lacking, their contemplation of moving on is so often coupled with the hope, even the anticipation, that the complete closeness they are yearning for will be found with a new partner.
Hearing this, I harbor a concern that the search for the idealized love will fail.
We put such a great burden on our mate to be all things to us, to fill each and every need, when we might be better served by calling upon others when lonely times arise. The road to hell is paved with unrealistic expectations.
On my desk I have a cartoon I share with some clients, in which Madame Gilda, the fortune teller, is being asked by the seeker of her supernatural powers: How can I save my marriage? Madame Gilda answers, as she consults her crystal ball: Stop trying to turn a perfectly good frog into a prince!