The trouble with having a love life is that all relationships end. Either you break up or one of you dies.
And yet, almost all of us aspire to share our lives with someone who will accept us for who we are, warts and all, even knowing that heartbreak waits at the end. The simple truth is, it’s worth it.
I was thinking the other day about Rob Reiner, the actor/director who made a living out of directing romantic comedies. I recall Reiner talking in an interview about all the stupid things he did while first courting girls as a teenager. He said that he was a complete idiot who didn’t have a clue how to behave. Some of his scripts play off those memories.
I have lots of painful thoughts from those days as well — rejecting someone as well as being rejected.
But eventually, along came someone who actually made me a better person, who pulled me out of my slovenly bachelorhood and made me want to do the responsible thing — like support a family.
It wasn’t your typical courtship. She had two children from a previous marriage, so it was a package deal.
I don’t know how it happened, but I gradually found that I would rather hang around with the three of them than anybody else. That included one of my more memorable birthdays when she cooked a nice meal for me, and the party ended with the kids, then ages approximately 3 and 7, throwing chocolate cake across the table at each other to their mother’s everlasting embarrassment.
One of my proudest moments as a parent came when our son was challenging me, wanting to do something — I no longer remember what — that I put the kabosh on. He didn’t like my answer and kept after me. Finally, I said in exasperation, “I don’t think you should, but if your mother says it’s OK, then you can.”
He said, “That won’t work. You guys always stick together.”
He didn’t realize it, but it was the best compliment he gave us during his teenage years.
After our nest eventually emptied, my relationship with my wife continued to evolve. Because the kids were there from the get-go, we had never spent much time alone before.
Suddenly, in that pre-cell phone era, the phone on the kitchen counter stopped ringing, and we found ourselves settling into a much quieter, more orderly routine than children of any age ever allow.
I have one of those jobs where I never know if the next e-mail, phone call or drop in is going to be all smiles or all frowns.. Good days or bad, I now find that the highlight of each is the moment I return home to be greeted with her smile.
A few years ago, we ran into the pastor who married us. We had not seen him in 30 years, and he didn’t even remember us. However, after we explained who we were, the first thing he asked was, “Do you still like each other?” Not love, but like.
We both laughed and said, “Yes.”
Now, we are moving into that stage of life when the frailties of age are just beginning to take their toll.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were at a convention and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The waiter brought the check, and I assigned the charges to our room.
A few minutes later, the waiter came back and said, “Mr. West, have you checked in yet? We can’t find you on the hotel registry.”
My wife looked at the tab upside down from across the table and gently pointed out the error for me. I’ve never been accused of being dyslexic, but I had written, “1810” for the room number, when we were actually in “1018.”
In the same way, if she puts an already opened jar of strawberry jam in the cupboard instead of the refrigerator, I just quietly move it to where it needs to be. There’s no need to get excited. We watch out for each other and move on.
A friend of mine, Bob Shaw, the retired manager of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, recently wrote a book for the recently divorced or widowed. Entitled “The Bachelor Slob in the Kitchen,” the book begins:
“In your former life you were spoiled, spoiled rotten by another person — it was a woman — who took care of you. She washed and ironed your dirty clothes, did all the shopping, paid the taxes, bore the children, performed a thousand household tasks, worked every day over a hot stove while you — you hero, you great, big Lord of Creation — went out to work in the cold, cruel world to bring home the bacon.”
From time to time in this column, I have referred to her as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. That’s because, I humbly admit, our life together has been pretty much the way Shaw describes it above.
We take care of each other, and we remain each other’s Valentine.
I wish to clarify one point and correct another in last week’s column about the city’s sign ordinance. City officials told Robin Hensel to take down the numerous lawn signs she had in her yard after receiving complaints that she was violating the law. She complied with the order, then later asked city officials and the media to investigate whether the “We Support Our Troops” sign hanging in Bank Square was in violation. One sentence made it appear that she was still violating the law when she made her complaint, which wasn’t the case.
In addition, under the existing ordinance any single-family dwelling may have one sign not exceeding 2 square feet without obtaining a city permit.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].