I've been in three major relationships in my life.
I married a man at 20. I divorced him and later married another man in my 30s. We divorced in my mid-40s. And at 50, I entered in to the relationship I am in now.
At 20, there were a myriad of reasons that I chose to get married. None of them were good enough to base a life-time commitment on. I barely knew the man, who was older than me...who had been out in the world...who had embarked on a career. I was young, had never seriously dated anyone before, had never worked out a compromise in a relationship, and had only worked the typical high school/college jobs. I had no clue about how a relationship was supposed to work, so I decided to take his word for How Things Were Supposed to Be and tried to submit to his ideal of What A Wife Should Be.
Seen and not heard. Maybe not seen at all.
He preferred attending military functions, which typically included the spouse, on his own. He preferred shopping different parts of the store than me when we were out.
Shy. Submissive. Subjugated.
Which I'm not. Which I tried to be. Which I became.
And what growth I managed to do in the shade of his attempted control turned out to be rather stunted.
So in my 30s, when I was manic, and I married again, I made sure not to marry a controller.
Instead, he wanted me to be in charge of everything...and he wanted to be close. All the time. Overwhelmingly close.
I couldn't leave the house without being called every few minutes to "see how you're doing." I couldn't talk to my friends or family without him interrupting me to make jokes or ask questions that could very well have waited. I couldn't leave the room without him asking where I was going.
And in the shade of his clinginess and smothering, I did not grow at all.
I was also very unhealthy at that time -- in the throes of a bipolar roller coaster, not yet diagnosed, and desperately needing help.
When I got help...when I started to get healthy...when I tried to take back some of the strength I had gained when I was on my own...the marriage (always shaky) quickly died and we separated, then divorced.
I became strong. I began to grow.
Slowly, and with the help of family and friends who did not try to control me or smother, but always encouraged me and supported me as I began to take steps to set my future in place.
Now, in this third relationship, I started out healthy and strong on my own. My friend and I met on equal footing, in a long-term supportive friendship, and built on that. We talk...about everything. We discuss important things and chat about silly things. We celebrate both our similarities and our differences. We explore each other's thoughts, dreams, likes and dislikes, discovery ways to interact and connect. We support each other in the decisions we have to make. More than a girlfriend...more than a lover...he wants a partner. He doesn't want me to be anyone but me. He doesn't want me to put myself under his control...he wants me on equal footing. He doesn't want me to be his mother or his constant-every-minute-of-every-day-touchstone...he wants me to be his companion. He wants us to have our own interests independent of each other, as well as things we enjoy and do together.
It is the healthiest relationship I have ever known.
I had to grow and get healthy to find it.
I could not grow in the shade...but in the nourishment of family and friends whose love was unconditional.
* Leo Buscaglia