Empty nests, full lives

I wrote this last month but neglected to publish it.

Today was my son’s first day of his senior year of high school. We completed his first two applications to college this week — one school is five hours away in Memphis, TN the other over six hours away in Charleston, SC.

Soon, very soon, only Joe and I will live in our house together each day.

I have several friends (most of my close friends, in fact) who have elementary and middle school kids. Most of these friends have spouses. Some like the person they are married to, some like themselves, some do not care much about themselves or their spouses. Some are holding their marriage together because they have kids. Some of those with kids long ago gave up on having a life that did not revolve exclusively around the kids’ activities, and I wonder what will fill that void when the kids are gone.

When my youngest sister married at age 30, she scoffed at the wedding invitations with “Today I marry my best friend” sentiments. “He’ll be my husband and I love him; I don’t need him to be my best friend, too,” she said. I have to say I think she’s right.

I remember believing in the concept of soul-mates, or at least of some storied match where likes, dislikes, core beliefs, attitudes, pastimes, and manners all meshed together to create a unified whole from two people — where a spouse was sexual partner, best friend, life partner, on-the-same-page parent, someone who seamlessly filled any gaps or needs their partner had. I got over that, and I think my marriage is mostly better for it.

Not expecting your spouse to be your EVERYTHING leaves room in your life for friendships to develop that will nurture you and fill a need your spouse may not (whether it be discussing an unusual menstrual cycles or rehashing the Knicks’ trade rumors or dealing with the person at work who is flirting with you), and I like that spreading out and shoring up of my own personal support system.

I’ve cultivated some interests or beliefs that I may not have had it not been for my spouse, and I know that he has done the same, but we still have clear and distinct preferences. I like walks in the woods, he likes going to movies. He thinks our son should go to college to learn a skill like engineering or computer science; I think our son should go to college to figure out where he might belong in the world. I have never seen him eat an egg; he has never seen me engage in a team sport. We both value quiet and the ability to focus on a project when we’re working. We binge watch certain series together. We eat together, and we go to bed at the same time. We’ll be fine on our own, probably.

Note — Based on my observations, when people are on similar work schedules but do not generally go to bed at the same time, there is often a bigger problem they need to discuss or some intimacy issues. I’m not talking about going to bed and having sex, or even going to sleep at the same, but rather getting in bed at the same time and ending the day together. This is not always the case, but routinely not ending the day together is often a warning sign that something vital has unraveled or a harbinger of whole nights spent alone.




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