One of the biggest lies (or delusions) of romance in pop culture is that your soul mate will love you for who you are, not wanting you to change at all. While I knew this was unrealistic, a part of me did secretly wish that my future partner would find me perfect.
When we started dating, it quickly became clear that my now husband and I had different views on certain issues – issues significant enough that one or both of us would need to compromise if we were to build a life together. But the idea of compromising on any of these things caused me to question if I was giving up too much.
Early on in our relationship, I remember having dinner with a couple of single female friends. Both of them are keen travellers like myself. So when I shared that my new boyfriend and I held contrasting opinions on how much we wanted to travel, they were fairly close to mortified. This despite the fact that I had just been describing to them how compatible we were in a whole bunch of other ways.
“But that’s like who you are,” they said to me. A traveller. And I kind of agreed.
Wrestling with my identity
I am very conscious – indeed, quite self-conscious – that I have written an awful lot about no longer being a nomad. As early as 2016, I detected that this traveller persona had become a significant part of my identity. Being conscious of it didn’t make it much easier to resolve. Looking at this now through the lens of my marriage, I begin to see the struggle was as much about wrestling with my relationship with my husband as it was about wrestling with my identity – my relationship with myself, if you will.
In this process, anything I might need to compromise on seemed, by definition, to be a sacrifice if not a denial of an aspect of my own identity. While it would have been super romantic if he were to give up something big for me, when I was the one making the “sacrifice” it didn’t feel the least bit romantic.
Working towards marriage in our dating relationship helped me start relinquishing that idol, that closely held sense of my own identity. Not only was I choosing my husband-to-be over dreams of living abroad or a jetsetting career – I was choosing him over my own sense of pride in being a well-travelled, cross-cultural creature.
The choice was obvious, but letting go of both the lifestyle possibilities and the value I attached to them felt hard. It still does, sometimes. This, I think, is both the blessing and the challenge of marrying later in life, when our identity as an individual is more clearly developed.
Works in progress
More clearly developed, but a work in progress all the same. We talk often about how there are positive and negative things in our past that have shaped us, yet so much of the narrative nowadays seems to be about how to seize control of our own, well, narrative. How to write my story and not let anyone else write it for me.
Beyond the issue of travel, I liked getting to decide what my strengths and weaknesses are. I liked being moved when other people were “right” about me and outraged when they were “wrong” about me. It’s one of the best things about being single. Life is easier when I get to define my process of becoming to suit my own tastes, when I don’t have to compromise.
What does it mean for two works in progress to embark on an intimate relationship? While I’m not now suddenly defined by my husband, the journey to marriage has been as much an ordeal of staring down my own stubbornness and foibles as it has been a process of birthing and maturing a new creature called Us.
So does he love me for who I am?
In some ways this is the wrong question to begin with. I understand now – and this is one of my main takeaways from the overly wordy Intimate Allies – that someone who truly loves me will see both the wonderful and the broken in me. They will nurture what is wonderful and work with me to redeem what is broken.
That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with my desire to travel. It would have been a non-issue if that was a preference or value my husband shared. But it isn’t. It isn’t even a case of him not loving that part of me. It just felt that way to me when I got defensive about it.
Ultimately, when we looked at the values we each held, the swathe of things we had in common and what it would look like to build a life together, this was simply one of the things that fit Me but didn’t fit Us. And Us was precious enough for Me to adapt to.
Look, I know it’s a personal question but I’d love to hear if you went through a similar wrestle in your dating relationship. Or perhaps your material differences didn’t surface until after you got married? Leave a comment below or send me a private message on Facebook or Instagram.
Header image: Hisu Lee.