Beginning in fifth grade, I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted a girlfriend because I liked girls and was attracted to them. I wanted one the same way that I would want a car or a stereo, because I expected a girl to make me happy. Through my teenage years, my idea of an ideal girl was a combination of cheerleader, nurse, and cocktail waitress.
I had a starter marriage to Kathy in 1972. I thought, selfishly, that marriage entitled me to food and sex. I would come home from work at 6 pm and say “I’m home. What’s for dinner? Then can we have sex?” Something about this lacked charm. After two years she left me. I was stunned. How could she turn me down like that?
My mistake was that I wanted a woman, but I was not ready to love one. When we want someone, we want them for us. We want to get good things from them. When we love someone, we love them for them. We want to give every good thing to them. Loving and wanting are opposites.
Much later, when I was married to Priscilla, I learned how to be married at the auto dealership. The dealer sold Volvos and Chevrolets. A friend had a new Chevy and I had a new Volvo. My friend was very angry because they wouldn’t fix his car. His exhaust was falling apart and they wouldn’t fix it because it was a new model and replacement parts weren’t even being manufactured yet because none of them were supposed to fail this quickly. He left, angry.
When it was my turn, they changed my oil, as I had asked. They also replaced both side mirrors under the warranty, which I had not requested. They said the metallic backing was flaking off, and Volvo required them to service the cars in such a way as to confirm in the customer’s mind, that they had made the right choice when they decided to buy a Volvo.
I thought “I bet that would work at home”. I had never thought of marriage as a customer service opportunity. The way I come home should confirm in her mind that she made the right choice to marry me. Now when I come home, I say “Hello. How are you? How was your day? I love you. Is there anything I can do to be of service to you?”
Today I am 66 years old. Priscilla is 77. She is retired. Whenever she travels, I make all her flight, hotel, and car arrangements. I check her reservations, make window seat selections, and arrange for first class upgrades whenever possible. She jokes that “All I have to do is make sure that I have a color-coordinated wardrobe.” It’s a service commitment.
I have had a lot of trouble with nightmares and flashbacks from child abuse over the years, and Priscilla has been absolutely consistent in her kindness and compassion towards me when I have hurt. She has provided the peaceful home in adulthood that goes a long way towards making up for what I lost in childhood. I never found the cheerleading nurse with a drink that I wanted. What did happen is that I chose to fully love someone and care for her. She chose to fully love and care for me. The result is that we curl up at night with a sense of peace, comfort, and safety. We are still very different people, but we have the assurance that we are allies in life. This weekend is our forty year wedding anniversary. The minister who married us said at the wedding “I never thought you two would go through with this.” We did, and we keep making the decision to love each other, no matter what happens.
John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat. His book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is available on Amazon.com.
For More Information About Programs Offered At The Retreat, Download Our Brochure!