We were sitting in the wood stove room. He was sitting in a small leather chair we bought on a trip north. He saw it and fell immediately in love.
“It looks so small,” I said.
“I love it. I love the lines, I love the look of the leather, and those antique wheels on the legs are perfect,” I couldn’t remember him being that smitten by something in a long while.
It was a beautiful chair and it wasn’t so much that it was small as that it was not the oversized, over-stuffed, kid friendly thing we’d been drawn to for the last decade. It fit perfectly within the small, boxy rooms of our house. Across from his spot are the wildly patterned chairs he bought me for my birthday or Mother’s Day.
I remember a few weeks after we bought them the thin fabric on the seats had started to come apart at the seams. I had been furious, the chairs had been a splurge from a store I love but am not able to shop at very often. We called the store and they said they’d never heard of that happening. They showed me similar chairs I could get in exchange after paying the difference. There was a back and forth, but ultimately the difference of $2000 and the idea of driving two hours round trip made less and less sense. I made peace with the wear and, in fact, came to love the frayed edges and the rose colored fabric that showed through underneath.
“I bought you reading glasses,” he said. “Two pairs, one for here and one for camp.”
I was surprised. “You did? When? And why?” I asked. He smiled and said nothing for a minute. I found myself feeling two very clear emotions: gratitude and embarrassment. The former for the way this gesture let me know that he had heard me saying things like, “I can no longer read things like shampoo bottles or cooking directions. Poof, gone,” and the latter for needing reading glasses sooner than he does, for aging.
It’s so strange that we pursue more—being older, having more things, more freedom, more time, growing old together, but when it really comes down to growing old together we resist. I know with utter certainty that I do it for him, and yet, there are times when I feel shame for not being the youngest, the fittest, or the whateverest.
“It was a few weeks ago. I was out and I was thinking of you and wanting you to have them when you needed them.”
The most potent emotion became the sensation of being dear. I am dear to him, not a disappointment, not a burden, not a drag. All those abstract wishes for someone to love me and keep me safe, I am living them now. Sure, all of it comes with a greater demand for humility, patience, and effort than I could have ever imagined or read in a magazine, but the reality is also more than the dream.
There is also a legitimate need for self-love and self-care that can’t ever come from a partner, no matter how amazing or committed they might be. I find inspiration and cues from women around me and from my own thoughts when I am willing to hear them. The latest come from things that happened organically, of all places, on Facebook. The first a closed group for women in their forties, the second a hashtag ( #fit40whatever ) also for women in their 40s trying to manage fitness/health/self-confidence.
I found myself thinking about all of these things and how relationships, self, friendships, and aging are all kind of laced together. I decide to reveal myself in all my tentative, panting, and maybe slightly whiny ways on video during a morning run that wasn’t a run while on business in Lake Placid.
I was fascinated to find myself actually enjoying all the ways my face moves as I talk. When I’m not inspecting my face as I try to apply makeup, not measuring the elasticity or sallowness, but just looking at myself like I look at others, I’m happy with me. Content with the changes in pacing.
Take a look. Let me know where you are. I’d really love to know.