There’s a person I’m always glad to see when I’m in my hometown: my parents’ neighbour, a kind, 80-something old lady who hugs me every time as if she were embracing her own daughter. Recently, I went over for tea and cookies. It felt like one of these movies where the heroine meets an older, wiser woman who will teach her the basics of life and love over tea. So it was during our recent visit.
And now I want to pass along her wisdom to you. While some of this advice may not seem new to you, it’s still a good reminder, yes?
- Write More Love Letters: Maria met Guido when they were very young. She really liked him, but he was a player. She’s always been in touch with her own values and decided to be faithful to herself. After his last broken promise, she left him and moved abroad to work in another country and follow her desire to travel. However, he really loved her and found a way to get her address and send her a letter. For over a year they wrote to each other, disclosing their hearts. One day Maria came back to visit her family. Her plan was to leave after a few weeks. But then she met Guido again and within a couple months they were married. She tells me some of the things he used to write to her, some really romantic, some even cheeky—she admits blushing. Then she smiles a bit nostalgically and whispers, “You know, he’s never told me such things anymore after we got married. Talking wasn’t really his thing. But I still read his letters from time to time even though he’s not with me anymore, so I can still feel his presence.”
- Speak Up For What You Need: I ask her whether there were things that her marriage was lacking in. Yes, she says, there might have been some. For example, she’s very touchy-feely and her husband was never particularly good at showing affection. She shows me how she often took take her husband’s hand and put it onto her own shoulder. Sometimes, she’d ask him to embrace her. She would have liked him to do it without her having to ask for it, and yet she understood that he simply hadn’t learned to show his affection that way. So she had to kind of teach him how she wanted to receive love and also to learn to understand how he would spontaneously show her his devotion. Sometimes, he’d come home after work with a rose picked from a garden for her. He’d rather show his love through small gestures than with words or touch. And she got it. She understood how he was and learned that she had to ask directly for what she wanted, instead of being upset because he wouldn’t do what she thought he should do.
- Learn To Be Accepting: “He had so many flaws and I forgot them all,” she says. I see how much she still misses him, 12 years after his death. And at the same time, it’s not a hopeless way of missing him, as if she couldn’t live without him. She’s a very happy woman, surrounded by a loving family and community. She misses her husband in a sweet and graceful way. Stories of the hard times are softened with humor. You sense her profound respect for his role in her life and the deep love for every single thing they’ve shared. Maria tells me again about the other men who courted her when she was a young girl. She says that at some point “you need to accept the other’s flaws and habits, all of them, together with what it is that you appreciate in that person and embrace them 100 percent for who they are. It’s about choosing him among others, knowing there might be someone else who could be better. It’s the choice that makes the difference. We made that choice once and then renewed it day after day, for decades.”
Her eyes shine. Their love is still so alive to her, even though he’s not next to her anymore.
Things have changed a lot these days, but still I think we’re yearning for the same kind of deep connection that Maria and Guido shared for more than 35 years—and still do. Our search for freedom and the perfect partner can become an illusion that leaves us exhausted and disappointed. We are often left with a mixed feeling, stretched between the desire to find a safe haven and be free, scared to make the wrong decision. I believe there’s no right or wrong decision. Mistakes are just ways to learn. And second chances are available, if we dare to ask for them—like Guido did with Maria.