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I had dinner the other night with a friend whom I have admired and known for many years. She is divorced, with a new boyfriend for the last 10 years or so, and is quite content in her life. She shocked me when we were discussing relationships after divorce. She said that for many years she felt empty without a serious relationship with a man in her life, and because of this, ended up in a series of bad relationships in order to “fill up the space” in her otherwise full life. She described all of the choices that she made that did not take care of her, but took care of filling the man void in her life. At this stage, she has made peace with her choices, but would also welcome the opportunity NOT to be with a man as the center of her world if her circumstances should change.
I was surprised to hear this. I work with and personally know so many people who are desperately trying to find their “soulmates”, and who feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness because they are not part of a couple. Generally finding love later in life can be difficult. As we age, we have to assume that each of us is “fully baked” when you meet. Trying to mold and shape someone who has already lived a life time, often is an exercise in futility and frustration. For later in life relationships, there is an implicit need to accept. To accept your romantic partner for who they are, without the struggle to try and change them. Yet, this leads to inevitable conflicts, and can make it very easy to fall into the trap of “the grass is greener on the other side”. Often, because of this, second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first, and one hears constant narratives of how “tough it is out there”.
But what if we reframed our need to be part of a couple? Many of us, in our middle years, have been a part of a couple in some form or another. It is familiar, and it is comfortable to think in terms of we, instead of I. But, what if I really am enough – not a means to an end. What if I am a gift to be nurtured and cared for instead of waiting for the We to appear. Let’s reframe some common obstacles that I hear all the time from men and women who have gone through the loss of a long-term partner and are desperately wanting to meet someone.