Every couple has one fight they repeat for the rest of their lives. Every fight is the same fight. The fight over a birthday is the same one that started over the washing up. It doesn’t matter if the names called are different, if it started well then ended badly or started badly but ended well. The triggers may change but the cause is the same because you’re always fighting about the same damn thing. It’s true of my parents, of your parents, of every pairing of human beings that ever was and ever will be – The American and I never the exception.
In the early days we never fought. We were too much in love and too busy being our best selves, all of the time. This was easy because all of the time with each other was not all of our actual time. We were both free and far from home. He lived in one house, I lived in another. Both houses were far away from the places we grew up in. We were unbound to these worlds, released from the expectations of others and the behaviours tied to a historical account of Who We Have Been / Who We Appear. At the time we met, I had just shaved my hair and was growing it back, GI Jane style. I was clearly not in the market for a partner. He had just decided against staying in Chicago for the summer, instead taking a two month internship in Cochabamba always with the intention of returning to his Real Life.
And then in a dusty city in the heart of Bolivia we stumbled into each other and fell rather clumsily together. On this much we agree.
It’s unclear exactly when we began to fight. Sometime after we moved in together and our best selves began to fade. Let’s face it, being the best is unsustainable. Add to that the complete lack of exposure to each other owing to five months of long distance preceded by only two months of knowing each other. Yet one advantage of being overseas is that it acts as a kind of accelerator, a minute in Peru is worth a week back home. More things happen. Bigger things happen. Life moves fast. One day you’re dancing in a bar goofing around doing the stanky leg with some bearded guy in a flanno and the next you’ve moved in together, work at the same place, have all the same friends and are far, far away from anybody who could recognise your life right now.
So of course we fought. It was incredibly difficult for my brain to catch up to heart. The neural pathways I’ve had for twenty-three years all fed back my most selfish needs: my desire for space as a middle child, my ability to fly under the radar, my intermittent sliding between the spectrum of introvert and extrovert without explanation. But now there was The American to consider. Although we started off as friends, he was not like a friend. Not somebody I see infrequently enough that they always get my attention, my adoration, my listening ear, my best self. No. This somebody was around. Like, ALL THE TIME. We loved each other but we didn’t know yet what that meant. First comes love, then comes the fighting, then if you’re lucky love comes back around.
Everybody is aware of their own faults. Your friends accept them graciously, your family laugh knowingly. It’s only in the close quarters of an intimate relationship that your worst self spares nobody, not the love of your life and least of all yourself. What I’ve realised is that I am the fire always trying to start things and he is the water always trying to put me out. I’d rather be the water. I’m fiery and out there and am too ready to yell. He’s calm and logical and would rather walk away than raise his voice. So our fight is elemental, it is about the way we are. It’s extremely tiring coming up against yourself and losing, not just for yourself but for the one you love. You want to change but you’ve spent all your life being a certain way. Can you be better soon enough? Can you speak more and yell less? Can you raise the bar for your worst self? Nothing in Popular Western Culture teaches us that the hardest work of life will be to really love somebody.
I was ill-prepared but I was also lucky. He tempers my intensity with patience and space, he meets me with all the love he can muster. And the fight, the one we still have now, is shorter and closer to love the better we get at making room for each other. I have never been so aware of what it takes to be unselfish. In the far-flung reaches of my mind I could easily be unselfish – do work that is meaningful, be of service to the community, return the good I have been given with all the time I have left etc. I didn’t register that love is not simply a feeling of good-will but a choice that you make over and over. It’s standing an inch away from failures and faults and not turning around and walking away. It’s finding out that I don’t have to be my best self to love somebody. And that somebody can love my worst self. And well isn’t that just a miracle.
This post is my first Daily Post prompt. It’s about Learning. I started writing it before I saw the challenge but finished it because of this prompt. I’m a sucker for assignments.