Relationships: Giving Your Partner Permission to Move On

Photo: Gary Houlder/Getty Images.

I recall reading with great fascination a New York Times article back in May 2017, where acclaimed children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote her husband’s soon-to-be dating profile. Or actually it was more like a want ad.

She seemed to be looking for his future second wife, which blew my mind. I had to read it multiple times to actually process it. The piece was titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” and I’m not kidding when I say I read it every time with my mouth agape and with equal parts fascination and horror. A healthy mix of 50 per cent shame, because I don’t even like to share my living husband with the actresses he gets to make out with for living, and 50 per cent respect. Respect that a dying woman would be able to put herself aside and think of her husband’s future. (As if there wasn’t enough for her to be having a huge pity party over, with dying too young being the main one.)

I applauded her. I wept for her. And then I worshipped her bravery, her humour, her kindness and her selflessness. Knowing that your young life is coming to an abrupt halt and that you have zero power to turn that ship around must be, well, to put it bluntly, utterly shitty.

I cannot imagine leaving this earth before getting the chance to witness all the firsts that my three remarkable daughters will have in their lifetimes. Well, I guess I should be realistic. There will be many firsts that I will have to miss because I’m not likely to live long enough to witness them become great-grandmothers, but you know what I’m saying. It’s hard to fathom possibly not getting the chance to watch them graduate, marry (should they choose to), start a family (should they want to). All those firsts.

Then there is the soul-crushing thought of not growing old with my soulmate,  with whom I’ve weathered so many life storms already. Wouldn’t it be a pisser to not get to a more death-appropriate age than 51, which was how old Amy was when she died, all the way to the saggy-skinned, having to repeat ourselves 10 times to get one point across, the blissful ending of having crossed every adventure T and dotted every I of our collective life goals off our lists.

For me, it would be.

It’s not like I obsess over a too-soon death of me or Yannick. It’s more like I’m fascinated by the uber-evolved human beings who can rise above their own pettiness of feeling ripped off by a life cut short to want their partner, whom they’ve loved so deeply and shared the most intimate moments of their lives, spending the rest of their lives with somebody else. I suppose once we’re gone, worldly things are no longer a concern for us, and the reality is that one should only want happiness for their lover, their partner and, if there are children involved, somebody to love and care for them in the vacuum that used to be you.

As I type this, it makes sense to me. It is logical that if/when you’ve loved somebody so completely the thought of them wandering the earth for the rest of their days all alone, longing for what they will never have again, does sound horrible. And would I want that pain, that loneliness for myself? No.

But do I believe for a moment that I will find what I’ve enjoyed thus far in my life within the 30 years of my relationship? It’s doubtful. Then again, I suppose it’s not about the expectation of finding or replacing what you’ve already had, is it? The essence of Amy’s message in her “ad,” of finding her husband’s next wife, was an understanding from a woman so confident in what she gave of herself to her marriage that he would never again have what he had when she was alive and his wife in a second wife.

And it was because of this that she was OK to share him in death. She was wise enough to understand that by letting him go once she passed that whomever would come after her was not in a competition to be a greater partner to her husband than she was but a different one.

By her incredible act of selflessness, I’m confident it also allowed him to move on with his life guilt-free. Which is a stab in the dark since I don’t know him nor do I know how these things work. But I can imagine that along with the grief of losing your person, the one you envisioned being with until your last breath, which most hope will be when they’re very old, is somewhat unbearable in and of itself. Combined with the profound pain of losing somebody that you still love.

So, the level of maturity and deep love that this woman had for her husband is something to emulate and, every day in my marriage, I work toward becoming that selfless should the gods ever decide that I go too soon. I’m not there yet but I’m getting there. I am a long-standing work in progress, fighting daily against my natural tendencies. I’m not a naturally affectionate human being so I have to work at expressing my love. For example, at night I make a concentrated effort to touch my husband in some way. Even if it means just having my foot resting against his. I know that it is important to fall asleep connected since we spend so much of our day disconnected.

And I’ve taught myself to adopt some of the rituals that he naturally performs, such as waking up and saying good morning. I’m not a morning person; I’d like to be left alone for a solid hour before having to engage with any other human beings, but this behaviour doesn’t make him feel loved or enable him to begin his day on a positive foot. Over the years of my long-term relationship, I’ve had to be flexible in how I am inside the marriage so that he feels like his love needs are being met.

So knowing that it has taken me 30 years to learn all the steps in the dance with my husband, how quickly would I want to rush into learning how to tango with somebody else? I mean, how likely are we as mature humans going to be willing to learn how to co-habit with another person? As it is, inside of my 30-year relationship, I still haven’t quite figured out how to just bounce out of bed and say “Good morning!” with a radiant smile on my face. I’m getting to that place where I grasp the understanding that each love is different and, that when you truly love somebody with all your heart and soul, you should want them to live their richest, fullest, beautiful own life even if it unfortunately no longer includes you.