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The Power of Love: Growing Old Together

Pat and I celebrated 13 years of marriage in December, I wrote a post in tribute to our 15 years together not that long ago. But over the last year I have had a lot of time to reflect on what marriage looks like as we grow older and I approach my 40s. There have been many special moments throughout this pandemic that have made us stronger and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on how we propel forward as the world returns to something that resembles normal.

There are a dozen or more movies about married couples that get divorced when their kids go off to college and they are suddenly left alone. The wife always says to the husband “we no longer have anything in common.” That’s what happens when your life revolves around your kids. It’s easy to let that happen. Especially when they are little and demand so much of your time and energy. They require less time as they get older, but more mental space in your brain. Parenting doesn’t get easier, it gets more complicated.

We catch ourselves from time to time prioritizing family time and sacrificing spousal time. But the best thing Pat and I can do for Scarlett is love and care for each other. That means she can’t be the center of our attention all the time. But it’s a hard cycle to break. Scarlett never learned to play by herself, a really important skill for an only child, because we didn’t have the foresight to make her. It was a difficult pregnancy, with an uncertain outcome. We are painfully aware that she’s the only child we can have. She also has some frightening health needs. This doesn’t mean we love her more then any other parent loves their children, but all these things are always on our mind.

Having an only child is also cheaper so she got to do all the things; dance, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, art and cooking classes, engineering camps. You can name it, she did it at some point. Plus there is the aquarium, zoo, and science center memberships. It’s so much easier to take one kid. Vacations, amusement parks, movies, are much more affordable when you only have to buy three tickets. Needless to say she enjoys a lot of privilege as an only child and a lot of our attention.

When she was younger getting away for a date was a really big deal. I remember how expensive it was to go out to the movies. $30 on tickets, $100 on dinner, and then $50 or more for the babysitter. It didn’t happen often. We’ve always lived close to my family and got a lot of free babysitting, but it was still not a common occurrence. When you have a limited amount of time together, you make sure it counts. I mentioned in my post about the good old beer days, that we cherished those beer festivals that took us downtown with a night in a hotel. But as she has gotten older and it’s gotten easier to get away so we have to work harder to make them count. Quantity of time isn’t the same as quality time. If you can go out every weekend, it gets less special.

Pre-pandemic, we had dinner every Wednesday night while she was at dance. We sat in the same spot at The Ale House Columbia’s bar, with the same bartender, usually eating the same thing. Sure, it was great to sit down together away from Scarlett, work and chores at home but routine is the death of creativity. The silver lining of the pandemic was breaking all routines and forcing excess family time on us. You had to get really creative in quarentie to have a date. I wrote two posts on it. One on more complex home dates and some more simpler ideas to make everyday activities into dates.

For the first time in 7+ years we started playing video games together till midnight. This was a thing we regularly did when she went to bed at 7 and we weren’t constantly driving to and from soccer. Video games are infinitely superior to watching tv and movies, as they’re interactive. Especially story based games. You can talk and make joint decisions. We also started experimenting with cocktails to accompany our late night gaming. This was a very temporary solution, as Pat eventually went back to work full time, soccer resumed, and school nights became a thing again. Bring on the wine tastings.

There are too many virtual tasting blog posts to tag them all but just filter for food and drink and you’ll find a plethora of them. Wine became a new passion when we returned home from France in 2019. However until the pandemic started we were just drinking it. Virtual tastings became a new hobby that fit into our more normal schedule. Even on a school night and hour tasting is totally doable. Having a mutual hobby is a great way to spend time together. You’re both already excited about it. As opposed to me dragging him to the Opera or him making me go camping.

From time to time you should do things your spouse loves that you don’t but it’s not a great way to bond. But even mutual hobbies need to grow and evolve. Wine tastings could easily become like our regular Wednesday night date, routine, if we’re not careful. Two weeks ago I wrote about So You Think You Know Wine, and how we’ve taken wine tasting to the next level. I think that’s a good antidote for marriage. You constantly need to take things to the next level. We are vaccinated now and have resumed going to restaurants, and as much as we love The Ale House, we are trying to branch out.

Recently someone asked me what we talk about on date nights. It’s a fair question if I am being honest. When you go to the same place time after time again, order the same thing, talk to the same bartender, you quickly can get comfortable and the conversation becomes routine. The Ale House feels like home, so home based conversation feels natural. How was work? Did Scarlett have a good day at school? Did you make it to the gym today? These aren’t bad topics of conversation, they’re just not new and different. They don’t make the time feel special.

It’s called growth. You have to constantly learn new things to grow. The same is true of all relationships. Imagine if your relationship with your child never grew past the constant feeding and changing diaper phase. We mock that we want them to be little forever, but can you imagine how miserable that would actually be? Friendships can fall in the same category. How hard is it to maintain friendships with people who aren’t married and don’t have kids when you are and do? It’s not always a death sentence but there’s only so much room in your life and it is challenging when they want to go to non-children friendly activities all the time or can’t understand why you are so tired.

13 years in, my marriage is stronger than ever and Covid really helped solidify that. Everyone needed to find new hobbies, new ways to celebrate holidays and important life events, and yes new date night ideas. Discovering new things together can often remind you why you got married in the first place. As your hobbies evolve you can embrace how your relationships evolve. There’s nothing greater than when your child discovers they love your favorite old movie or tv show. That didn’t happen overnight. Scarlett couldn’t get into Gilmore Girls till she grew old enough to identify with Rory. I love the show even more now, because I now identify with Lorelai. So in one way or another it’s new for both of us and a fun way to spend time together.

I think it’s right there in the phrase “growing old together.” The emphasis should be on grow and not on old. Yes, when I am 65 I want Pat the person to be sitting next to me. But ideally, we’re sitting on an airplane heading towards someplace we’ve never been. I hope we are sitting next to each other at the newest restaurant tasting foods we never dreamed would exist. I think it’s probably safe to assume at this point people won’t be living on Mars before we die, but if they were, Pat’s the only person I want to go on that adventure with. At the moment, we are both sitting in the office, he’s playing a game and I am blogging, and that’s ok too. Not everything needs to be new and exciting. I guess for me, when I am looking for something new and exciting, I want to be looking with him.

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