It’s interesting what people say when you ask them what they look for in a life partner. When we were younger, it seemed obvious: a good man (whatever that meant, but we all had rough ideas), decent if not above average looks, a stable job and a stab at success. But as we advance in years, it changes. A friend recently expressed her need for being taken care of at last. We were talking about age differences and how that has taken on new meaning now that we are all in our fifties. She has been a single mom and very successful in her career, so what she is looking for is someone to carry some of the burden for her. She doesn’t want to have to do most of the care-taking anymore. I get that and I do think it so important to identify what love looks like for us. Everyone has their own story, but so few of us actually have that internal conversation then we find ourselves flailing in our relationships because we don’t even know how we got there.
I try to engage in this exercise from time to time. What is it, really, that I would cherish in a partner? It’s a whole world of ideas, dreams and hopes, that shift and change over time. For many years I thought it was enough to have a deep and stable connection–and it still is–but as I get older I think of other things: a man who is safe in his vulnerability, who pursues a life of meaning and relevance in the world however that shows up for him, a man who believes in living, expressing and fulfilling love, knowing and accepting it will always be a challenge. A man of integrity. A man who knows himself. A man whose heart can give and receive generously. A man with whom I can have deep and courageous conversations about feelings and fears. I also consider the little things : someone who is affectionate and true, loves to hold hands, write letters, take long walks, appreciates and nurtures the energetic spiritual space we create together, someone who values consciousness as I do, and is not addicted to alcohol and other substances that take him away from himself. See how the little things always make me segue into other things? There are no little things, really, they are what form the web that cradles everything. From that daily exchange of kindnesses and affection can come the ability to have the challenging and complex conversations that build the tone and muscle for authentic and sustained togetherness.
What’s important is that we begin to have this dialogue with ourselves first–this exploration of what we expect from another and an honest look at whether we can offer the same. This is the exercise that I find particularly humbling of late, to see the areas where I might have put unexpected weight on someone else’s shoulders without regard to my own ability to contribute. Yet I find it strangely edifying to concretely see ways in which I can deepen my work and be able to develop as a spiritual human being, forever committed to this work we call love.