My paternal grandparents have always been a beacon of unconditional support and love in my life — a source of equilibrium in a tumultuous journey to adulthood. They’ve contributed a great deal to my growth while also nurturing a commitment to one another. Theirs is what seems like an old love, reserved for days long since passed. A pure love. The type of love that sees past the wrinkles and the hearing aids and the creaky joints to something more. What’s interesting is that their love has endured, evolved and grown stronger over time.
My grandfather is a retired minister. He’s gentle, soft-spoken, and thoughtful. He’s choicely deliberate with his words and generous with both his laughter and listening. My grandmother is an extrovert to a T. She’s sharp-witted and packs enough snark to shame even the sassiest of teenagers. What’s always struck me is the harmony they’ve been able to strike with such wildly different chords.
Their love is one I’ve aspired to understand for some time, especially in the contexts of this impersonal, transitory, modern world we’re currently living in. How have they made it work? What’s the trick to keeping the magic after all those years? I decided to find out. We had a conversation in their apartment about their relationship, how their choices have led them to a partnership that’s lasted, and this enduring love that I’ve been witness to. As we explored their years together, I was surprised to see how some of the simplest acts define a sound basis for love, then and now. Together, we surfaced three practices that have led them to the triumphs and through the trials, every relationship must endure — independence, commitment, and fun.
For my grandparents, independence is celebrated and embraced by each of them and has proved to be a critical aspect in maintaining a healthy relationship. My grandfather noted, “I think it helps for each person to pursue their personal interests, and not have to do everything together.” We found through our conversation that this belief stemmed from recognition of the importance of self — to maintain an identity in the oneness of partnership. This practice is something I’ve struggled with in the past. As I’ve sought meaningful connections in my relationships, I’ve found myself being pulled further away from myself. I’ve traded who I am for who my partner wanted ‘us’ to be. I’ve learned since then, that even in the most committed relationships, an understanding of one’s self is necessary, this knowledge helps to nurture both sense and love for who we are.
Long since retired, they make a point to maintain their independence, their sense of self — even in the face of a growing dependence on one another. Simple activities now create this importance space, help to affirm a sense of identity and give them something interesting to talk about over dinner. For my grandfather, attending a morning breakfast club provides connection to other men his age, while for my grandmother, volunteering at church and shuttling my little brother about town is a great reason to get out of the house.
The second pillar we discussed was the concept of commitment. Though we all can understand commitment in the context of a relationship, at its core, it’s the choice to “not give up when the going get’s tough.” And of course, that’s the most challenging. No one is perfect. We are inevitably going to mess up, not once, but a lot. Staying married for almost 60 years has required compromise and unwavering determination. “Sometimes when you wonder if it’s worth the effort. With us, we decided that it was.” It was worth it to not give up on each other – not because they had two children to raise, but because they made a choice, a choice to work together as a team. We all know that communication is key for a team to function well. For them, they’ve learned over the years what works for them.
“Life is an adventure, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.” My grandparents recognize the importance of adventure in their relationship and believe it’s the key to a happy, healthy relationship. Together, my grandparents have made traveling a way to keep their relationship fun and exciting. They’ve road tripped all over the U.S., and they’ve traveled all over Europe together too – Spain, Germany, the UK, France, Belgium, just to name a few. Travel isn’t a requirement to infusing fun into your relationship; there are countless ways to find fun in your lives together that don’t require crossing oceans. Maybe it’s getting involved in an outdoor activity or sport together; perhaps it’s going to see a play or movies on a regular basis. Having real fun together balances out the times you’re independent from one another. But it has to be a priority, otherwise, other commitments will inevitably take over.
Enduring love isn’t some magical, elusive ideal that only graced our grandparents’ generation. It’s about honoring each other’s individuality while also making space to grow together. It’s about making the active choice to tackle life as a team, knowing you have each other’s back even in the hardest of times. And finally, it’s about being able to find joy in being together – however that may be, whether it’s traveling the world, or making pancakes on Sunday mornings together – know that enduring love is possible and attainable, you just have to choose it.
BY Colleen Eversman - February 22, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.