Dear Father Tony,
I recently faced the end of a relationship I was in for most of my adult life. A relationship that I valued and worked hard at, with a man I still love and respect. We were together for over twenty years, and throughout that time survived many ups and downs, illnesses, recovery and change. Sometimes it isn't the catastrophic that destroys a relationship, some times it is as simple as a revelation during a quiet period. That is what happened to me.
I was on a weekend getaway and met up with friends in another city. I ended up having an amazing time, which served me up a warm dish of regret. It caused me to realize that I was stuck in a half lived routine, with a man with whom I no longer shared much in common with. I am in my forties, and guess I had a midlife crises, a realization that we only get one chance to live and love, and that I was currently squandering mine.
I met a man on this trip, who just so happened to be in the same exact spot as I, in his longterm relationship...
Continued after the jump!
We two spent the rest of that trip together, and have remained very close. I am having difficulty reconciling the end of my relationship and the sadness it brings, with the absolute joy my new friend stirs in me. Guilt versus the previously unknown happiness of a love I have never felt as strongly for another. My friend feels the same, and we are searching for a way to begin a life together as painlessly as possible for all involved. Is this a crash and burn scenario, or were we lucky to find one another after years of trying to make a go of it with people I'll suited for us? Life is unscripted and messy and I feel a mess. Any words of wisdom?
While reading your letter, I felt sorry, hopeful and apprehensive for you. In that order. Also, let's assume that everyone in the "audience" is waiting to see if I will advise you to stay with a man you claim to have loved for decades, or, will I make benediction and Godspeed over the heads of you and you new lover.
As you may know, I am also in a twenty-plus year relationship, and I am always curious about other vintage couples that have earned similar "merit badges". Despite the fact that I know nothing about you beyond what you've told me above, I can't help but compare my circumstances to yours and to those of our coupled friends, as a way of testing and ultimately strengthening my own partnership. (Imagine C and I driving home from a weekend with another couple and saying to each other "Can you believe how they fight with each other? They really are the Bickersons. Hey! Watch the road and slow down. God, I hate the way you drive." Then silently we look through the windshield at our private but shared futures. The CD player in the dashboard sings about love but we ignore those lyrics. What do they know of men who fall in love and survive the decades eventually becoming two people drastically different from the ones who first met each other? )
Sometimes, I telephone C at work just because I want to hear his voice. The subject of the call is usually trivial. Schedules. Groceries. Errands. Even if we end up arguing about something during that call, and even if I say "Why do I even bother talking to you?", I feel a comfort that is only equaled by the times when he calls me for the same reason.
I suspect that you and your partner have lost that investment in each other if ever you had it. Your partnership seems to have become a joint bank account from which all funds have been withdrawn. The account remains open, but month after month you receive a statement indicating the same balance: zero, zero, zero.... The question is this: should you both add money to this account, or, should you close it out. It seems you have gone for many years without doing one or the other. But recently, as you have indicated, you have set up a new joint account with someone else, and at a different bank. You are both making matching contributions and getting a fine interest rate from the new bank. Now, when the statements from that old account arrive in the mail, you don't even open the envelope. Your new lover has the same "financial" history. You are smart enough to wonder if this will prove to be a "crash and burn" situation. I hope you have shared this thought with your new lover and that he is asking himself the same question.
You are certainly right about one thing: this is a messy situation, and what I need to do is make a suggestion about the most practical way for you to "manage your resources". In doing so, I must take into account the fact that life is messy, and that sometimes new doors open before old doors shut. This creates a draft that blows all those neatly stacked bank statements off your desk and out the window. When it comes time to file your income taxes, you won't have the required information. You may be audited. There may be penalties. You may feel regret, or, you may shrug and say "Life is messy".
Because there is no easy solution to that "messy" circumstance, let's focus on you for a moment. How will you feel about yourself when you pull the plug on your old relationship? Relieved? Guilty? Liberated? A failure? Selfish? Practical? Admirable? Scared? Get ready to feel them all. I am sure that you presently feel that you have an overdue right to some joy and passion after so many years of going without. I am also sure that you are presently worried that you may end up repeating the same behavior that bankrupt your lengthy partnership. I know I would be worried about that.
Here is what I suggest. Take it slowly. Clean up some of the mess you have made (and yes, you had a hand in the making of that twenty-plus year mess) before you get yourself any deeper into this new relationship. Most anyone will tell you that relationships struck on the rebound are built on shifting soil. Better to take the time needed to pour a strong and deep foundation. You say you still respect and love your partner. Do not lie to him. Do not cheat on him. Do not hide your feelings from him. You want to come out of this respecting yourself. You won't be able to do that if you marginalize him and turn away from him. Find the highest road and stay upon it. Be exceedingly generous with him. I bet I know what you are thinking: that if you follow this advice, your old relationship may be invigorated and you may decide to stay with it. That is probably the last thing you wanted to hear. It's so much easier to run toward some glittering disco ball of a new life. All I am saying is that you ought not to run. You ought to walk. Slowly. Pausing frequently. Your new lover should be doing the same. If you (plural) are meant to be together, you will survive the hobbling.
Finally, I personally cannot imagine staying in a life without passion or joy. I'd feel like a cat on a hot tin roof (or like a disillusioned priest?). Just gotta jump. But a cat has nine lives. How many have you got left?
Thank you for writing, and know that I will be wondering about you and hoping for your happiness. Please let me know what happens.