I tend to be my best self around other people's kids. I'm patient, generous, and flexible. They like me. I like me. Everyone is happy. So logically, I should call a couple of neighborhood moms and negotiate a swap, right? After all, if their kids bring out my best self and my own children bring out my moody, snappish, Candy Crush-addicted self, the relationship just isn't working. We should all just move on.
Obviously, no one would agree to that. Our kids are our kids for life. We're committed to them. They need us and we need them. We love them -- flaws and all. No matter how messy it gets, I will never, ever trade my children.
And yet how many people unwittingly apply the same logic to marriage? They like themselves better around their friends or they are confident their next love will be the person who makes everything better. Or they've already taken up with someone. "He really understands me," you might say. "He loves me for ME." Actually, he doesn't. Because he doesn't know you. He knows the best you that we all put forth in a new relationship. If my daughter's friends thought I was cooler than their own moms, it's because they know their moms play their share of Candy Crush and nag about messy rooms -- and they don't know that I do too and most certainly would if they stayed at my house for more than a week.
This is why long-term relationships are so hard. Because we're all our best self in the beginning. It's not a trick or a ruse -- it's what we do. When we first fall in love, we're in love with the best self the other person is able to present and, truthfully, we're pretty in love with ourselves. We feel like we've finally conquered our weaknesses from the past -- our jealous, needy, nagging, emotionally distant, or inconsiderate selves. And that's great -- because we should never stop trying to be better.
But inevitably, that same woman whose name you spelled out in rose petals is going to see you sulk, and snore, and forget your anniversary. The guy you told, "Sweetie, go spend my birthday weekend hunting. You deserve to have fun," is going to catch you peeking at his texts, listen to you rant about his mother, and find out how whiny you are when you're sick.
And when all of that realness rises to the surface, real love can finally begin. When you understand who you really married -- and who you really are -- you can start accepting each other for what's messy and imperfect and true. You can strive to be that best person you thought you were in the beginning but for real this time. Because now, the other person knows your faults and loves you anyway. Maybe they'll even help you be that better person.
I understand that some relationships are beyond repair -- some are even dangerous. I know that not all marriages can last and for those experiencing that, I am so truly sorry. Divorce is painful for everyone involved and I hope you have lots of great supportive people to see you through it. But for those eying the door because you think your partner makes you less than perfect and the grass will be greener, let me assure you that marriage is hard no matter what. If you can make it work; if you can start becoming your best self right where you are and helping your partner to do the same, it's worth a try. Because that person is already so far down the path to really and truly knowing you and the person you want so much to become. And there is nothing more romantic than being loved for the real, messy, uncool, complicated, trying-your-guts-out you.