Thoughts of a Father: You Should Become Who You Want To Meet

One of the accusations levelled against me when Lucy and I got engaged was that I, an itinerant beach-bum, just wanted to marry her because she had a house. Despite the fact that she also had a mortgage, and two children, was entirely besides the point. There was, is, a perception that we marry someone because of what they bring to us.

My observation is that this is insidiously embedded in our culture. In the way we socialise our children. In gender discrimination. And ultimately this becomes the criteria we use to choose our life partner.

One of the most important things I want my daughters to learn is a healthy way to approach long term relationships. I remember my father advising me “Kissin' don't last, cookin' do.”

And that's the last advice I'd ever want to give. Not that we shouldn't value practical care over sex(ual attraction). But that we should care for ourselves rather than needing it from others.

Emergency Oxygen

Speak to any relationship counselor and they'll quickly get to the principle of 'You need to be happy in yourself, before looking for happiness from another.' What I call the 'Emergency Oxygen' principle. You know, put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping a fellow passenger.

Personally I've found this advice to be pretty unhelpful.

I fear there are far fewer people with healthy self-esteem than there are relationships. And mostly, self-esteem isn't an absolute as in, you have it or don't. Rather it's contextual, there are contexts where you can have great self-esteem, only for someone to walk in the room and shatter that.

So to only enter into a deep relationship when you achieve a unicorn state of permanent self-worth is an impossible ask.

The nugget of the principle is true, of course. That's why it's so popular. My experience puts some practical legs onto it though.

Not Why But What…

Ask yourself the question, “What do you want from your partner?”

Is it financial security? A house? Dare I say it, some form of status, like religious, or social, wealth or class status? Do you want someone to keep you safe? Someone to care for you, or (one day) your children?

Whatever that need is (or those if more than one) figure out how to provide that for yourself first.

That's it.

Anything you want, figure out how to get that yourself.

Independence

The first step to interdependence is independence.

If you want a husband (or wife) so you can buy a house, figure out how to buy your own house.

If you want a wife (or husband) to cook for you, figure out how to cook yourself.

If you don't believe that you want a partner for any of these things, get honest with yourself 🙂

Admittedly this is an incredibly hard ask when you're young, poor, lonely, and wired for your sexual peak. But if you can figure this out, you'll be in a far better position to navigate life in a partnership. Especially if you're a woman (unfortunately).

Independence empowers you to bring your full self to the relationship. To give rather than take, or the ultimate route to mediocre disaster, 'give and take.' To add to your partners strengths. To become a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It frees you up from insecurity, fear, jealousy.

The Challenge

Of course there's a challenge of bringing 2 fiercely independent people to a relationship. But that's a far healthier and ultimately easier challenge to overcome than bringing one or two needy people into a relationship.

21 (and a half) Years And We Still Have The Heat

Picture of Roger and Lucy in Hot Air Balloon
Not just full of hot air

Regular readers will know that Lucy and I alternately treat each other to a Romantic Week-end Away without the kids for our wedding anniversary. Whilst (usually) the dates are known, the destination and activities are always a surprise to the non-organising partner.

Because of our careers, me travelling a lot so racking up Frequent Flyers etc, and Lu working as a Public School Teacher, she has found it challenging to surprise me. Recently, however, she’s managed to change all that.

A couple of years ago she surprised me by booking a Cruise. Given her prediliction to motion sickness, this was huge. This year was even huge-er.

As we were on holiday in South Africa with 2 of our daughters (and their boyfriends) over our recent anniversary we decided to have the week-end away during the year. Hence the Gold Coast last week-end. Where Lu pulled out all the stops.

Now you have to understand, Lucy is frightened of flying, and terrified of heights. So to book the both of us on a Hot Air Balloon Ride, was spectacularly outside of her comfort zone.

And as ever when you’re outside your comfort zone, magic happened.

The Importance Of Asking

A strange thing happens sometime into a romantic relationship. After the infatuation. Beyond the honeymoon period.

One day your significant other will be upset with you. Because the telepathy no longer works.

The lawn needs mowing, dishes need doing, car needs filling, laundry needs tidying up, bath, homework, dinner – whatever it is, whatever your gender, whatever your role in the relationship – there is a critical task you've neglected. Chances are you didn't even notice it.

For some reason the time you took to be consciously kind when you were madly in love no longer exists. For some reason those idiosyncracies you so easily overlooked become irksome. It's like you've fallen in love with someone who no longer even speaks the same language.

Which is exactly what's happened.

You have.

There's an insidious temptation to think “Surely if they love me, I shouldn't have to ask them to do …”

Why not?

No-one has the same experience, history, or genetic make-up as you. They see the world through different eyes. If you don't believe me try this thought experiment: The next time you walk through a shopping centre together ask each other what you noticed was on sale. Chances are you and your partner saw entirely different bargains, even though you 'experienced' exactly the same shops.

So rather than building resentment because they haven't accomplished something you expected them to simply ask them to do it. Courteously, with respect.

Rather than tell yourself the story that they don't value you, give them a chance by voicing how you see the world.

How often?

As often as it needs for you stay deliriously in love with each other. After 21 years of marriage Lucy still has to ask me to do the 'obvious.' And I her.

If I'm honest, this can still be after an argument. We're still discovering each others blind spots, but our assumption is not that we don't love each other [any longer]. Our base assumption is that we do love and value each other, so it must be because of some other reason that we've neglected the obvious.

So, the next time you need something doing, simply ask.

Partnership

I just heard the news that my daughter's boyfriend, Peter (or 'Pierre' as we refer to him) asked Emily to do the honour of becoming his wife. This wasn't a surprise to us, as he had done the “right thing” and discussed the proposal with Lucy and I a month ago.

To Peter's credit, he orchestrated a beautifully romantic proposal, with a Hot Air Balloon and Champagne Breakfast in the Hunter Valley Wine Region north of Sydney. Romantic. Sweet. And I dare say, both of them will be floating on cloud nine for some time.

As a father, and soon-to-be father-in-law, I'm again a n00b. My first time with daughter's marriage. Inside I still feel like a teenager, trying to make sense of the world.

On the outside I'm supposed to be a responsible (sic) adult. Wise and experienced 😀 But I still don't presume to give advice. My daughters are all figuring things out on their own. Just like we did.

But if Em was to ask me for a word or too, there is one humble suggestion I'd make:

“Love is a Verb!”

It's not about being “in love” (noun). It's about choosing to love. (verb) Every. Single. Day.

That's it.

This is a partnership.

Some days there'll be smooth sailing in glistening waters with a tail wind. Some days it may be a grind, heading into the wind. Some days you'll face storms, battening everything down, taking off the sails, and fearing whether you're even going to make it through. Every day will take work. There will always be sails to set, meals to prepare, steering the boat.

You will also need to navigate. To occasionally check the weather, the charts, and figure out where you want to go. Then keep a constant check that you're on track to get where you want to given the environment and weather.

But you choose to do this together. As one complementary organism. You choose to spend your time and money serving each other.

When the bad weather comes, and it will; when you're in a marina and there's a more tempting choice, and there will be; you choose to invest yourself in your partnership.

That's it.

I'm naive enough to wish Em and Pete the very best for their future in the “happy ever after” sense. Of course, which father wouldn't wish that? I'm practical enough to know that if they choose to love, despite what they're feeling, rather than because of it, they will make the best of it.

No matter what life throws their way.