• The Hand I Hold Will Never Hold Me Down

    by Debra DeAngelo

    Two years ago today, I married my best friend. And I’m thrilled to report that marriage hasn’t changed that.

    Known as The Cutest Man In The World (TCMITW) to those of you who’ve followed this thread for the last decade or so, Joe is proof positive that soulmates really do exist. I know I’ve found mine.

    Is he my “better half”? No. I despise that term. It represents, in my opinion, the root of dysfunction in a marriage. It symbolizes two half-persons coming together and attempting to be one whole. In other words, two broken people siphoning some sort of emotional epoxy from each other’s souls to fill up the cracks in their own.

    I’ve been one half of a whole before. It’s like living with Kryptonite. It saps your spirit, and ultimately, no amount of super-hero energy can fix someone else’s cracks. I tried to do that for 17 years, and finally realized that the only cracks I could seal up were my own. And I had plenty, because when I got married the first time, I didn’t start out whole — I was 22. If you believe you’re already a whole, complete package at 20-something, revisit that notion in about two more decades. You’ll have a good chuckle at yourself.

    So, what does it mean when you give up part of yourself to mitigate someone else’s deficits? Simple math: anything less than 100 percent is less than 100 percent. Duh. By default, you become a fraction of yourself. But the worse part is that over time, you forget about those fractions you gave away. Key point there: “gave away.” Nobody takes part of you away from yourself. You hand it over willingly.

    One thing that was clear to me when I exited my starter marriage — the last thing I needed was to jump into another relationship. My top priority was figuring out who I was and what I wanted from life. I spent ten years in that decompression zone, working through my midlife reintegration, and as serendipity would have it, I found someone who was working through the same thing at the same time. It was a tandem midlife Gestalt process. We both closed the loops on the first half of life, and proceeded into the second half together.

    So, is life perfect now? No. Neither of us are perfect people. Perfectly whole, yes. Perfect, no. There’s a big difference. But believe me, life as two whole people together rather than two Humpty Dumptys attempting to fill in each other’s cracks is a world apart.

    For one thing, when you have access to your whole self and don’t have to sacrifice any piece of it so someone else can feel whole, the relationship is ridiculously easy. Which makes total sense. It you don’t have to expend much energy to be with a person, you can relax. How do you know if this is the type of relationship you have? Simple: You feel like the same person when you’re with him/her as you do when you’re by yourself.

    More clues: You don’t have to give things up so that your partner can feel secure. You can still pursue the interests and activities you always loved. Your partner may not care to participate, but at the very least, doesn’t discourage you from doing them yourself and at the very best, even if not participating, encourages you to keep exploring the things you love — yes, even if it means without her/him. You’re both secure enough to do things on your own.

    For example, Joe loves blacksmithing and flying airplanes. My interest level in both is almost zero. But I love that he loves those things. Me, I like lap swimming, yoga and running myself silly on an elliptical. Joe would only do those things if forced at knifepoint. But when I demonstrate my just-mastered, still shaky “Needle” pose, he’ll smile and tell me he loves me. Encouragement and support don’t require interest.

    Even when you’re not interested in your partner’s passions, it’s still nice to give them a try on occasion. Once I begged Joe to take an Italian Renaissance dance class with me while vacationing at a medieval reenactment encampment and he did. He pranced and bowed and twirled me around as instructed, keeping his loathing of the whole scene in check (barely), but at least enjoyed me enjoying the experience. I’ll never forget the look on his face throughout — that expression your dog has when you dress him up like a clown on Halloween… “WHY are you doing this to me… I’m so loving and loyal… WHY….” (It was funny as hell!)

    Which brings us to another clue of whether you’re two halves of a whole or two wholes together: When you’re together, it’s fun. If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point, really? It’s like only eating food you hate. You only get so much time at the dinner table. Choose the food you love.

    Wholeness. That’s where it’s at, baby. How whole are you? How whole is your partner? A line from an Everclear song sums it up: “You just don’t realize that the hand you hold is the hand that holds you down.”

    How about the hand you hold? Does it hold you down, or back? Squeezing too tight and crushing your fingers? Or holding so limply that you must clench your fist just to hang on? And, most important: If one of you lets go — will the other one fall? Be like Goldilocks… keep looking until it’s just right. It should feel easy and comfortable, strolling side by side, hand in hand, never too loose, never too tight. And neither of you needs to hold on. You just want to.

    • Debra, loved this story today. I was in a starter marriage at 19 for 20 years and it produced the two best things in my life-my grown sons. I was not whole myself for the entire 20 years. Divorced got whole and for the next 20+ learned to love myself so much there is barely room to love someone else. Try and I mean try it hasn’t worked for me. I have found too many who have no wholeness about them. My choices have been fraught with emptiness and feelings of loving myself so much more than loving them or sharing. They have made my life even better because I know myself so well. Would I love to share-not sure. Friends with benefits seem to work better for me. But soul mate I have not found. My kids and grand kids give me the greatest love imaginable. I know it is not too late to find someone who adds to my wholeness but until it comes it is just about me and my friends.

    • I hit send too fast. I am so glad you found an equal partner and you can enjoy life together. Singledom is great but sometimes a sharing is needed and wanted. But like I always say. My best day married has not been close to my best day single-I was more lonely in my marriage than I have ever been single. Because the choices are all mine now and I don’t really have to think about anyone and their happiness or filling their missing pieces. I am thrilled at 62 to be whole.

      • Jesse

      • May 1, 2011 at 3:37 pm
      • Reply

      D, I love this column. We’ve been talking about relationship stuff for years and this surely and succinctly is something every young person should read, or not so young, as they start getting serious with another person. Thanks, and Happy Anniversary! Jesse

      • Norbie Kumagai

      • May 1, 2011 at 5:36 pm
      • Reply

      Hello Debra: Whenever I read different news stories and columns, there are phrases which simply stand out. As I have been reading (and re-reading) your column throughout the day, other than being thoroughly convinced Joe is a much braver gentleman than I ever would be, your entire column resonates.

      On my fb status, under relationships, I have “It’s Complicated”. Your column actually provides me great insight into why I enjoy being me (secure in who I am) and not really willing to compromise in order to be in a relationship. My last long-term relationship was an unmitigated disaster (ended several years ago).

      I am more inclined to stick my finger in a live electrical socket than to embark down that road again…

      I truly treasure the friends whom I have made this past year being one of your ‘iPinion Groupies”.

      For me, on the one hand, that’s much better than embarking down that road again… On the other hand, if I could actually find someone whom you describe…. Thanks Again!!! (((HUGS))) Norbie

    • Debra,
      I don’t think I’ve ever been more that 75% or so. I too have a very good marriage-long one too-I think it’s been about 100 years-maybe more. Oh, I too think your hubby is really, really cute.

    • oh my god do i love you for this column. PERFECTION, absolute perfection!

      thank you!
      thank you!

    • Madge – You made a super important point: Yes, my first marriage was 17 years of mostly hell. BUT… I got the two most wonderful children from that, and for them, I’d do it all again. And keep loving yourself. That’s the key.

      Jesse – You and I have worked out some STUFF over the years, haven’t we. 🙂

      Norb – Hold out for the right one!!! And thanks for the feedback!

      Donald – You are three-fourths of the way there! Keep it up! 🙂

      Amy – That’s how I feel when I read YOUR blogs! I always think “Dang, I wish I wrote that!” Especially the bird/husband in need of therapy one… That was perfection!

      • 40 year old mom

      • May 4, 2011 at 7:30 pm
      • Reply

      Great piece. I always enjoy your writing and insight–one of the main reasons I love my Enterprise subscription.

    • Man! I need to remember to check iPinion more regularly, because you all are some funny-a$$, wise & talented writers.

      Happy anniversary!

    • 40-year-old mom – Thanks!

      Katja – check at LEAST twice a week! 😀 And thanks!

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