I think if you were to make a video montage of my relationship, it would be a highlight reel of our best fights. Fighting fascinates me, I’ve written about it before here.
We’ve been together almost ten years, we’ve fought a lot. I wish there was a better name for it than “Fight”- I’m not talking about name calling, mean finger pointing, or saying cruel things in the dead of night that were better left unsaid.
Our fights weren’t about respect or the lack thereof, betrayals or playing games. They were (and still are) the result of two completely disparate people trying to claw their way towards some neutral middle ground, trying to find their way to their own no-man’s land, knowing somehow that it would be worth it.
We’ve been like two countries at war, periods of peace shattered by volleys of cannon fire, continually annexing territory, re-drawing the maps and the borders so many times that the lines have become faded and it’s impossible to tell who owned what territory in the beginning of it all.
Do you know why people liked The Notebook so much? Not because of the sappy love story, the sweet ending, the beautiful actors – other romantic films have these in spades. I think people gravitated towards it because of the fights. The relationship was messy, you could see that their hearts were in the right place, they wanted to be with each other, the fights were them figuring out how.
Over and over and over again.
I think that people who have strong relationships recognized that process, recognized that friction and were delighted to see it acted out on the silver screen.
Some of the highlights of our many fights:
- The first one, me crying on the stairs of my university apartment sad that he was leaving to go hang out with the guys. He was kind about it, but left anyways. “What an asshole” I thought at the time, “Good job, buddy” I think now, marveling at the insecurity, the clingy-ness of my small 18 year old self.
- The time I left his house in Calgary at 2 am and walked the 45 minutes home, fuming because he insulted the Dalai Lama. Seriously. We had a fight about the Dalai Lama.
- The time we broke up for 9 months and he fought to bring us back, he would show up at my office with flowers, picnics. How he finally gave up and moved away. How deeply I missed him and the day I realized it was my turn to fight.
- The time he accidentally left the sink on in his kitchen before leaving for the weekend. His apartment flooded and I had to haul a carpet cleaner up four flights of stairs and spend five hours mopping up stale dishwater from that stinking brown bachelor-pad carpet.
- The time we took a spur of the moment road trip to Saskatoon ( 14 hrs round trip) and he blew in my face every five minutes until I finally screamed that if he did it one more time we were done, DONE! And how he then looked me right in the eye and did it again.
- Every time I shrink one of his sweaters or leave food out, or refuse to full up the car with gas until the light is on and the needle’s pointing way below E.
It’s incredible to look back at these fights and see (knowing Adam as I do now, seeing the past with 20/20 hindsight) what each one was expressing, what we were fighting for. Which parts of our character were being revealed at each moment.
In order of the above: Adam’s independence, my (at the time) incredible insecurity and co-dependance that he refused to bow to, instead insisting I stand up by (and for) myself. My reverence for authority, his constant questioning of authority, of “experts”. His loyalty (then my loyalty). His need to know he could rely on me for help, my frustration at his disorganization. My need for control, his pathological need to disobey it. Me needing to rely on him sometimes, his frustration at what seemed at times like my willfulmemory lapses.
Our relationship is nine and a half years of disagreements, rows, differences of opinion. And after each time, we stepped back and looked at each other, this stranger in the ring, circling, showing a little more of their hand with each clash.
Each time, we reevaluated our positions, decided whether it was still worth it, added this new information to our mental picture of each other.
What I’ve learned: Adam is incredibly loyal, disturbingly messy, a visual thinker, physically incapable of simply doing what he’s told. He has never held a grudge, ever. Everything is a joke. This is both his best and worst trait. He loathes weakness, whining. He’d never hurt me. He’s never played games.
Through all the fights, the combat, this is the picture, the man that has emerged. I learned that even when we were at our worst, he could be trusted.
I think this is what fighting is, this is what we are all fighting FOR. To see who shows up in the ring – Can you let your guard down? How hard will they strike? Do they fight dirty, go straight for the jugular or sneak around to clip the Achilles?
It’s important. It’s so, so important. I’m telling you this because no one told me. With each fight I questioned myself, I wondered if we were doing it wrong. I wondered why it wasn’t all rainbows and roses, I wondered why we were lobbing grenades instead of bouquets.
No one takes pictures of fights and their resolutions, no one blogs about how grateful they are for the skirmishes. No one talks about who you become when you’re angry.
One day the gun smoke will clear and you’ll be standing in no-man’s land, side by side instead of face to face with itchy trigger fingers. I don’t know when it happened, I can’t pinpoint the day when the fights stopped being fights, and just became something to laugh about, “There’s Adam being messy again. There’s Maddie trying to control things.”
Perhaps the sheer familiarity of the arguments brokered a truce?
On our ten year anniversary I’d like to take a trip. And over dinner in some impossibly picturesque locale, dressed in our finest, I’d like to lift my glass and make a toast to the fights. To knowing what I was getting, to the man who always fought clean, to the team that emerged.
“To us” I’d like to say, “It’s been a pleasure doing battle with you for the last ten years, I would be delighted to fight with you for fifty more.”