In my 20’s the man my best friend and I dreamed of was the “Camel Trophy Man” – he looked rugged, raced across the sub-Saharan desert or, failing that, reported from war-torn zones or dug up artifacts in archeological digs. Alas, we never came across such a specimen. Or, who knows, maybe fortunately.
In my 30’s, slightly more aware of the power a woman can have, at least in the short-term, over men, the field opened up to near infinite possibilities. In my quest for perfection in everything, though, I tended to enter relationships not with expectations of diamond rings, marriage or children but of a perfect life together, the parameters of which were, at best, murky.
Now in my late 40’s, I mercifully got rid of all sorts of expectations. A lively intelligence that can sustain hours of conversation or bantering (one of my favourite Cary Grant’s inspired activities), integrity and the willingness to share – time, space, fun adventures and sad ones – is what I bring to the table and what I would like to receive back. Oh, and some action in the sack would be a nice bonus. Notice, I didn’t mention “expectation”.
Yet, most single men I know in my same age bracket, whether divorced or never married, lament women’s expectations that seem to come earlier and earlier in the life of a (possible) relationship. A need for marriage, or for having a baby, financial care taking all the while with the poor man having to be interesting, charming, surprising, understanding and able to provide weekly re-enactments of “9 1/2 Weeks”. Are we really that bad? Most of my girlfriends couldn’t care less about a ring on their finger, they are past child-bearing age and can take care of themselves very nicely. A relationship is part of their lives, not their life. But I must admit to a breed of women who bitch on a regular basis on the lack of available men, on the stiff and much younger competition Los Angeles has to offer for men who can afford it and, often, the usual refrain of “it would be nice to be taken care of”. And I have indeed noticed that, recently, newly divorced men immediately become prized prey.
I don’t have any life altering advice for a successful relationship. God knows I have been the cause of more than one failure but what I do know is that, at this stage in the game, “expectation”, on both parts, is a word that should be abolished. Equal partnership, being able to hold hands in tough times, shared interests and the ability to identify the fluff that shouldn’t be sweated is what it boils down to. Not the stale Valentine dinner, the proposal on bended knees, the amount of carats on a finger or the Hallmark card. It’s the small daily gestures, the unsaid, the private entendres, the protective cocoon a couple becomes as life unfolds. And the mutual respect of the parts of the puzzle that don’t belong to an “us”, that are not necessarily meant to be shared. Being able to remain who we are, without giving in to expectations, real or imagined, makes for a sometimes more challenging but, in the end, stronger relationship.