Empty nest syndrome.
Judging from what I see online, these three words are almost exclusively associated with mothers, but the adjustments involved are felt by every member of the family. Daddies miss their children too, and our newly-minted adults can go through difficult adaptations while making the transition into the brave new world of personal responsibility as well.
Yet, as with everything else involving marriage and parenting, we've charged headlong into this new challenge without an instruction manual.
Now that I've had a few years to adjust to this phase of life, I feel that I can look back and offer some helpful nuggets of wisdom, especially pertaining to the couple that was married decades ago.
Without a doubt, raising kids changed our relationship -- likely for the better -- but with that behind us, the time had come to do a little rekindling of our old flame. My wife, Veronica, felt unsettled by her loss of mommy duties, so I made a point to focus on the feelings that I have for her, just as I did before parenting entered our picture.
I’m not talking about pretending that we’re twenty-somethings again (although a little of that ain't bad at all!), but rather rediscovering the attraction that brought about the big fall into that chasm of love in the first place. Sure, we are very different people now than the crazy kids we were back then, but the flint and steel that provided the spark is still within us; it just needs a little dusting off.
These attraction embers still have life because there is much more to attractiveness than what meets the eye. Veronica is not vain, but -- like many women -- she has struggled with the image of herself as the years have gone by. The bombardment by advertising's unrealistic ideas of the female form -- regardless of age -- has an impact.
But here in the real world, there is much more to beauty and allure than physical appearance. Years of shared experiences, and the comfort of complete compatibility, more than make up for any lost youth, no matter what marketers splash across our screens.
As men, we see those images too, and have been persuaded -- no, programmed -- into thinking that we all want supermodels who think about nothing more than fun times and a lot of beer. Well, I have two things to say about that:
First, it's crap. This fantasy has no relation to real life, where our desires stem from actual affection, love, connection, and passion.
Second, when it comes to these fictitious, ideal females, most of us men are like dogs that bark at cars; we wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do with one if we caught it.
Perhaps the most important point I can make is that in order to explore these changes and feelings as a couple, we needed to talk. Believe it or not, even though we've been married for over three decades, sometimes our mind-reading skills lead us astray.
Luckily, we've learned to be open and honest about our relationship, both physical and emotional, but it's vital to know what each of us expects, fears, anticipates, looks forward to and yes, dreads in the upcoming thirty years so we can face them together.
Veronica really brought this home to me recently when she said, “Remember when we were first married and we used to talk about growing old together?”
Sure I do, back then it was cute and romantic, in a sort of Beatles “When I’m Sixty-Four” kind of way, but it was an idea that became easily overlooked in the hectic frenzy of child rearing. Now the time has come to wholeheartedly embrace the concept. Like it or not, it’s staring us down as a fact of life.
Then it struck me: the idea is still romantic, in a very real sort of way. In fact, it’s practically the definition of romantic, “doing and saying things to show that you love someone.”
I don’t think there’s a better way to embrace that concept than by celebrating each day of our future together.
Because, seriously, how lucky am I to have this time to spend with my best friend?
David is the author of Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All, written with his bride of thirty years, Veronica