At the end of January 2006, I landed at Oakland airport with just one black suitcase. The balance of my packed up belongings were set to arrive in a moving truck a few days later. A Southern California native, I was not used to public transit. I was most comfortable in the protective bubble of my car, not interacting with the general public. As you can imagine, I felt nervous about navigating my way into the city from the airport. Assured I would be fine by my best friend, Nikol, who I was on my way to meet, I planned to take the BART into the city. By the time I made it onto the platform of the station, the sun was beginning to set. As I continued on my way to the Civic Center stop in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, I was lucky enough to catch bits of golden hour. I felt uplifted and positive by the time I got off the train and was instantly accosted by the smell of urine. Welcome to San Francisco, my new home!
I didn’t have the keys to the apartment I’d be sharing. One roommate was a consultant, traveling at the time, unable to meet me at the Western Addition adjacent apartment. The other roommate, an investment banker, had arranged to meet me instead.
This investment banker was Dave. And despite saying he was on his way with the keys several times, he showed up over two hours late. When I, at last, got the call that he was nearly at the dorm, Nikol and I found an idling, red sports car outside. Mouth tight, successfully hiding my annoyance at my new roomie’s mismanagement of expectations, I climbed into the car.
Dave’s job, I would later come to understand, was just that time demanding. What took me a bit longer to realize was that he was seriously deficient at communicating realistic expectations. His laissez faire attitude on life would be at complete odds with my black and white, no room for grey way of living. This outlook on life, by the way, is in no way a ding on Dave. I often envy it.
Earlier this week, we celebrated fourteen years together. So if you do the math, Dave and I became a couple very shortly after we met. They say opposites attract. What they don’t say is: Despite the beauty in the balance, the reality of a relationship with two polar opposites takes a heck of a lot of work and dedication.
During the time we lived in San Francisco, Dave, an extrovert, gave me the gift of experiences. A self-proclaimed homebody and introvert, I’m certain I wouldn’t have seen the beauty of John Muir woods, experienced a blurry night of dancing at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room or have my anxiety spike to uncomfortable levels weekly as he thought it was such a joyous experience to speed down Geary Boulevard. In that little red sports car that turned out to be a 1999 911 Porsche Carrera, we bonded and blasted Dashboard Confessional, The Killers, Postal Service and The Cure. As time passed, there’d be so many more milestones. After nearly three years, we’d leave the Bay Area together to start the next chapter of our lives in L.A. We’d buy a condo and enjoy that special DOUBLE INCOME NO KIDS life to the fullest. Eventually we’d bask in our engagement, walk down the aisle and later produce our two minis. All great, positive things that belong on an Instagram feed.
The reality is, though, we’re two very different people. We come from different walks of life and were raised differently, one way not deficient to the other. But it is those differences that manifest in the minutiae of everyday life - time management, household responsibilities, finance management, child rearing, the list goes on and on. Our differences drive our disagreements, the full on fights and the nights where we go to sleep without the issue being resolved.
We’re two imperfect people and I’m of the opinion that I’m less evolved than Dave. Dave is an open book. What he feels, he says. Very direct. As you would have guessed, I am not, particularly when it comes to my emotions. A function of growing up with the experiences I had, I want to avoid uncomfortable spaces. The unfortunate result is that I keep negative emotions bottled up, stewing longer than I should. In the interim, prior to the inevitable blow up, I am ice cold. Not exactly conducive to maintaining a healthy relationship. We absolutely don’t get it right each time but we’ve made it fourteen years, have managed to stay in love and have hopes to make it together until we’re old and grey.
At the core, what we’ve cultivated as a practice is a no brainer. The real work comes in applying it daily.
1.) Open communication – my Achilles’ heel!
2.) Understanding, at a baseline, neither of us is coming from a “bad” place. We’re both coming from a place of LOVE.
3.) Mutual respect – not going below the belt.
Beyond this, starting last year, we added the occasional couple’s therapy session to our rotation. I cannot tell you the difference it makes to have an impartial third party gently guiding you toward more open thinking. When we started our sessions, one of the first questions she asked us was whether our partner or our children were our first priority. I let Dave answer first having an inkling this was a trick question. Dave, of course, said his first priority was the kids. Honestly, I would have answered exactly the same. She told us that we should consider reframing our thinking, working toward prioritizing each other first. Yes, we have eighteen or more years to parent our children but they will eventually live their own lives. We should do what’s in our power to make sure the love that brought those children into the world will still be recognizable once they are independent from us. This piece of advice has stayed with me as I continue to strive to be a better partner every day.