(This post was inspired by comments Sarah in Calgary and Doug in Vancouver left on a previous post. My thanks to both of you.)
I've hesitated writing about why I think my relationship with Chris has endured over the past nineteen years because, honestly, I didn't think I had much to say about it. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to relationships, I know luck plays a big role--in terms of being at the right place, at the right time, to meet the right person, and to remain together over time--as do a degree of magic and serendipity.
But I also recognize that the two people involved have something to do with the longevity of their relationship, bringing with them certain attributes and characteristics to give what they share a fighting chance, and working hard every day to get along with the single most important person in their lives.
Chris and I have not been without our challenging times together; it's during these times when relationships are tested, and when what they're made of is revealed. During the summer of 2000, after eight years together, we reached a crossroads. I was about to accept a promotion as a manager, in Victoria, and I was thrilled since I'd always wanted to move to Victoria. This was a big step for me, both personally and professionally.
But Chris was dead set against moving to Vancouver Island, and more than a few heated words were exchanged between us.
In the end, we moved, but there had been no contest. I would have gladly remained in Vancouver if there had been any real threat of losing Chris. As far as I was concerned, no job was worth losing him over, regardless of where it was located, or how much money I might earn. I would have chosen him over anything else, but I acknowledge many other couples have broken up over far less.
Which takes me to the first of thirteen reasons why I believe we're still together today.
(Note: This is a random list which is in no particular order.)
1. Commitment: Many unforeseen things come up in the course of a life together. A relationship is always about two people, never just one. Two people who may be quite similar, but who are also different in appreciable ways. When a relationship becomes about just one, then that isn't much of a relationship, is it? Whatever's happened to Chris and me over the years, we've always made the conscious choice to be together, to make our relationship the priority, to commit to us. Thus, life-changing decisions are easy to make, although, sometimes, they can be difficult and painful.
2. Trust: From day one, both Chris and I were in agreement we must be able to trust each other. We also agreed that when trust is breached, the foundation of the relationship is gone, and it can't be restored. Sure, that's a black and white way of looking at it; however, our relationship was built on the solid foundation of trust from the beginning. Since then, it's never wavered, not for a moment. I trust Chris with my life, as he trusts me with his. I know for a fact I will always be able to trust him, and he knows he will always be able to trust me. It's worked for us over the past nineteen years, and it will continue to work for us however long we're together.
3. Respect: Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust. I have a deep and abiding respect for Chris, as he does for me. I knew within a few weeks of meeting him that his parents had done an outstanding job of raising an honorable, generous, and responsible young man and human being. From the outset, I saw he was decent and good. He has a pure heart. He inspires me. I admire him. I look up to him. For me, he's an example of what a man of character should be. Being with him makes me a better person every single day.
4. Friendship: I have no better friend on this earth than Chris, though we did not start off as good friends, then move into something more. Rather, as we got to know each other, we worked on being friends and partners simultaneously. But I instantly liked who he was, and I felt drawn to him. I wanted more and more of him in my life. I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. We liked each other. We really liked each other. And, for me, like is a critical precursor to love.
5. Monogamy: Monogamy was a deal-breaker for me, as it was for Chris. If either one of us had wanted an open relationship, that would have ended whatever chance we had to be a couple then and there. I would not have allowed myself to become emotionally attached to him knowing he wanted to be with other people in addition to me. Both of us agreed that, along with trust, we had to be exclusive to each other. No ifs, ands, or buts. That has never changed and will never change. I will not share Chris with anyone else in that way. An open relationship may work for some gay people, but not these gay people.
6. Patience: I'm not the patient one, Chris is. I want and need everything right now; Chris is happy to wait. I admit his patience irritates me sometimes, especially when it seems he uses it as an excuse to procrastinate. That said, through his example, Chris has mellowed me by showing how virtuous patience really is. And, no question, he's been patient with me over the years. When I get uptight about something, I can be ugly, lashing out and saying whatever enters my mind. When I get like that, Chris never takes it personally, instead always exhibiting flexibility, deference, and patience. He knows once I've had my say, I'll get over it soon enough and return to normal. Until then, he waits without antagonizing me further. Chris is the model of patience. In that way, he's a pillar, an example, and a blessing.
7. Change: Each single person coming to a new relationship has what I call rough edges. After all, for however long you've been on your own, you've developed tastes and habits and routines completely suited to you. Since you have only yourself to please, you become self-indulgent, and it's unreasonable to assume anyone will put up with that once you come together. I like to think Chris helped to smooth over my rough edges, and I helped to smooth over his. Rather than sit at polar opposites, over time, we've come closer together, meeting somewhere in the middle of our individual extremes. But there are still things about ourselves and our personalities that will always be different. That's when compromise comes into play. When one person is big enough to let the other get his way, be right.
8. Compatibility: Chris and I work well together because we are different enough, yet still similar. For example, in most things, he's laid back (passive), while I'm high-strung (aggressive). If both of us were laid back, we'd never get anything done. If we were both aggressive, one of us wouldn't be alive today. In other words, Chris and I complement each other. We're different, but not too different--just enough to make it interesting, most of the time. Our strengths and weaknesses are often opposite and complement each other. Where I'm not mechanically minded, Chris is. Where Chris isn't always good in the kitchen, I am (although I've trained him to be a lot better than he was). And, occasionally, we have to agree to disagree, and move on, knowing neither one of us will ever win. We rarely argue. I recall only one time in nineteen years when we became so angry with each other, we took our separate corners and didn't talk for hours. That was in June 1996, only four years after we met, and it was one awful evening. I swore to myself I'd never let that happen again. As long as we kept talking, we might get somewhere. We learned our lesson. Since then, we've consistently kept the lines of communication open, even on those occasions when we didn't want to look at each other.
9. Space: There are two kinds of space: physical and mental. Chris and I give each other both. Sure, at first, I was more physical with him than he was comfortable with. In both of our families, we hadn't been raised to be touchers or huggers. So, when I met Chris and was falling for him, I wanted to touch him. All the time. He hated it, but I was determined to help him get used to it. I was starved for physical affection, and, if Chris wasn't going to give it to me willingly, I was prepared to take it. And so I did. Today, we are much more compatible physically and mentally. We're not clingy. We're secure in what we share. We give each other the space and the freedom to be who we essentially are. We don't try to change each other. We let each other be.
10. Worldview: I lump a lot of things in this category. I also think it's one of the most important, because it could be the source of a lot of friction between two people. By worldview, I include everything from something as simple as daily recycling, to morals and ethics, to political affiliation. In most respects, Chris and I are almost identical. We both believe strongly in recycling everything we can; we have a consistent, strong, and unbending sense of what's right and wrong; and, politically, we're both liberal. In worldview, I also include religion and money. While he was raised Seventh Day Adventist and I was raised Catholic, today, we have no use for formal religion, but we retain a sense of spirituality. And we recognize the value of a dollar, manage our money effectively, and believe in putting away something for a stormy day.
11. Self-fulness: Chris and I know who we are as people. As we've grown older, we've become more of who we were meant to be. We've come into ourselves. That's one of the benefits of maturing. We're not young and insecure anymore. We've learned to like and respect ourselves. Part of that is being comfortable with our sexual orientation. Had one or the other of us not been able to make peace with his homosexuality, we'd be very different people from who we are now, and I have no doubt we wouldn't be together. I think that's one of the elements that sabotages a good many gay relationships--one person is comfortable in his own skin, and the other isn't. Like I've written before, loving yourself as a gay person is a definite prerequisite for a successful gay relationship. There's no way around it.
12. Love: I don't think love by itself is enough to keep a relationship going over the years. Surely, love is necessary, and love sets the tone of how two people interact with each other--their commitment to put the relationship first, their willingness to work together when times are tough, to compromise when two alternatives are equally viable, and to forgive each other when necessary. Love is the emotion that has the potential to bond two people, no question, but, without many or all of the other points I've outlined here, love struggles to keep things together and lacks the strength for long-term endurance.
13. Humor: Chris and I laugh together. A LOT. From the beginning, he said one of the reasons he was attracted to me was because of my dry sense of humor. I wish you could follow us around on most weekends. You would think our life was a TV sit-com. I have a kooky way of looking at things, usually turning my observations into barbs or cracks. That gets us going. Then Chris says something, and I say something back, until we're both howling (well, Chris doesn't howl, but I know when he's laughing himself sick inside). And we tease each other constantly. We know each other's weak spots, and we zero in on those with a few funny remarks, which gets the ball rolling. (But we are never cruel.) In short, Chris and I share a lot of levity and joy. We try to look at the funnier side of life and make each other laugh. Truly the sign of a great relationship.
It's fitting I came up with thirteen reasons why Chris's and my relationship works, because we met on the 13th day of June, and the first home we bought together was apartment #1303 at 1323 Homer Street in Vancouver's Yaletown. We've always considered 13 to be our lucky number and have never understood why some people are so superstitious about it.
So there you have it. Apparently, I have more to say about how to have a successful relationship than I thought I did. Inasmuch as Chris and I can take responsibility for the longevity of our relationship, I'd say these are the top thirteen reasons why we're still together today. But I bet you have some other reasons why you think relationships last. Don't be afraid to share them with me and my readers. We'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject.