un homme et une femme
See those two young people in that photo? She was 22, and he was 25. They met in Munich, Germany of all places, in the mid 1960's...the young man was an Army soldier stationed there, and the young woman was an Army brat attending the University of Maryland's Munich campus.
Fast forward a few years...they were engaged, she was living and working in Chicago, and he was living and working in Cleveland. They were writing each other letters every day, as email was a good thirty years in the future, and long-distance calls between Chicago and Cleveland were rather expensive back then. One day, the young woman recieved a package from the young man, a 45-RPM record. It was a Burt Bacharach tune, "This Guy's In Love With You" by Herb Alpert. It was an appropriate song, because he was indeed in love with her, and she was in love with him. They were married at St. Cletus Church in LaGrange, Illinois 37 years ago today, Saturday, August 24th, 1968.
If you haven't guessed by now, the two young people in that photo are my parents. They're still married today...quite happily, actually.
My folks set an extremely high standard for me as far as relationships go. For one, they rarely go to bed mad...they're the kind of people who stay up and fight until the conflict is resolved. Now, they're not perfect, but then again, they've never claimed to be. These days, instead of my mom having to deal with my dad's annoying faults, she loves him for his quirky foibles, even if he does hoard scotch tape and toothpaste, blame "people" (there's only the two of them living there now) for leaving "the portable" (cordless phone) off the "cradle" (charger), and read entire Tom Clancy spy novels while sitting on the toilet.
Or course, my mother has no faults or foibles to speak of, and is absolutely perfect in every way. Isn't that right, Dad? ;-)
They're independent, but not co-dependent. During rough times (like any relationship, there were a few) they didn't call it quits, instead choosing to behave like adults and do everything they could to find common ground, mutual understanding, and balance. Not surprisingly, they ended up even closer and more in love as time went by. Not everyone can do that, and I am by no means knocking people who haven't been able to make relationships work in the past. If I did, I'd be hypocritical. That's a glass house I'll avoid with this boulder in my hand, thank you very much. However, I have never seen two people communicate between each other the way they do; they're at the point now where they can have an entire conversation with each other without uttering a syllable. It's quite remarkable, actually.
A long time ago - I must have been fifteen or sixteen - my mom and I were talking about relationships, and the dynamic between her and my dad. I don't remember why we were talking about it, but we were. She said something that struck me then, and stays with me now...that she and my dad were not only husband and wife, but also best friends. She went on to say that neither of them were "in charge" of things; rather, it was a partnership of equals, two people bonded together by love and respect, sharing their lives, and raising their family. That mutual love and respect for each other was the glue that held together our family...no matter what...so they could be the best rock and foundation they could for my sisters and me.
It was a rather profound Chad and Mom conversation.
I remember mulling over it later in the evening, sitting alone at my desk in my bedroom after I had finished my homework. I realized in order for a relationship to work, you need to be best friends with your partner and always - ALWAYS - have clear, open lines of communication if you have any chance of making it. There's just no other way. It makes NO difference if you're gay or straight...love is love, respect is respect, trust is trust.
It's all the same.
I've seen my folks in a different light ever since that day. They've shown me how to have a mature, adult relationship that isn't dysfunctional. They have raised the relationship bar stratospherically, no, ionosperically high. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to emulate that, because I sure as hell won't ever, EVER settle for anything less...even if that means spending the rest of my life single. That's not to say I've haven't tried; I have, a few times, but I've always fallen short and landed flat on my face. But you know what? I'd rather be happily single (and I am...I'm in an open relationship with myself right now and absolutely loving it) than in a crappy relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship (I'm not looking for one, either). I see too many people like that, straight and gay alike, desperately holding on to something that just isn't working, and it's just a train wreck waiting to happen.
I should know. I've been there, and it sucks.
You see, when my folks met, I don't think either of them were particularly searching for a spouse; it just...happened. I firmly believe the more you desperately search for someone, more they'll elusive they'll be. So in the meantime...I'm just having fun being me, and loving life. That's probably the most important thing of all.
While I was writing this, an old memory surfaced, something I haven't thought of for years.
When I was a little kid, I used to sit at the top of the stairs and eavesdrop on everything going on downstairs for hours and hours. One night, after my sisters and I were tucked in, I climbed out of bed and settled down in my usual spot at the top of the stairs...I couldn't have been more than eight years old. I heard someone turn off the television, so I got ready to bounce back into bed. However, I heard the distinct sound of a stylus dropping onto a vinyl record, and music starting.
If you click on that record, you'll hear the song they played that night...a song that will always make me think of them.
Curious, I carefully descended the stairs to the landing (it was harder than you realize...in an old house, wooden stairs creak and I knew just where to step on each stair so I could sneak down there undetected). When I poked my head around the corner, careful to conceal myself behind the banister, I saw my parents standing in the living room. They were holding hands, and just looking at each other, smiling. They embraced, and kissed.
For the first time, I saw them outside their daily routines. The groceries had been bought and put away, dinner had been made, the dishes had been done. The kids were in bed, the dog had already been taken out, the front and back door were locked, and finally, they could have some down time. Instead of Mom and Dad, I saw two young people very much in love with each other. I sat there, watching them sway back and forth to the music, talking quietly, and just enjoying the moment. They'd worry about how they were going to pay the phone bill that month, the mortgage, the electric bill, the gas bill, the fact that the car's transmission was leaking, my bike had a flat tire, and the lawn mower was out of gas...later. Yes, those things needed attention, but their relationship was more important, and needed as much care and upkeep and nurturing as anything else. There's a time and a place for everything; this was the time; this was the place. They'd sweat the small stuff in the morning.
I watched them for about a minute, then silently sneaked back upstairs. I was careful to avoid the creaky parts of the hardwood floor in my bedroom, as they were directly below me and I didn't want them to come upstairs to see if I needed something. I didn't want to disturb them, because I had just learned that Mom and Dad needed some time where they could just be alone and give each other their undivided attention. As I got in bed, I thought about what I had just witnessed. As I fell asleep on my fresh, clean Snoopy sheets in the cool darkness of my bedroom, door slightly ajar so I could see the hallway light and hear the murmuring of my parents' voices, with the music softly filtering up through the floorboards, I felt safe, and I smiled.
In fact, I'm smiling right now, thinking about how lucky they are to have found each other...life partners, best friends. Through thick and thin, richer and poorer, sickness and health. 'Till death do they part.
Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you both.