A few years back I announced to my wife that it might be time to sell our ’56 Oldsmobile. I told her that I was starting to see rust bubbles and that it might be good to let “Rocket” go. In response, both my wife and daughter started to tear up; their lips quivering. Long story short: I set about restoring her and I am so glad that I did.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to own an antique automobile, that sort of attachment to an inanimate object may be hard to understand, but know that it is less about the car and more about the stories and feelings associated with the it and the knowledge that there is even more fun to come. Grad, the bullets found under the seat, the low-riding trip to camp, the love notes from my (now) daughter-in-law tucked into the bench seat… our Olds is a family storybook on wheels.
And, as it turns out, a rolling metaphor in my mind. Consider:
1) It’s something special.
Biological Anthropologist Dr. Helen is known for asserting that we are wired for the “four year itch”—an ancient human tendency to “marry” a new partner every four years. It is a rational and pragmatic view of human biochemistry. Like leasing a new economy car every four years, on one level giving in to this wiring sort of makes sense.
And yet this approach to relationships seems to me as cold and soulless as a silver Sunfire.
When you drive an old car, you know it isn’t perfect, but the smiles and “thumbs up” you get driving down the road are a testament to its beauty and uniqueness. Similarly, when a couple commits to the long term, they are creating something beautiful, full of richness, memories and soul.
2) Learning to repair is life changing and enriching.
Trading in “Rocket” for a bit of cash would have been easier. But had I done that, I wouldn’t have learned how to “source” parts, use air tools, weld, shape metal, or paint a car. Those skills have made me a better man able to help myself and those around me in ways that I couldn’t have ever expected.
Similarly, learning the skills needed to build and/or repair a long term relationship can be life changing, not only helping your heartmate relationship but potentially every connection you make with others in your life.
3) It’s a different kind of sexy.
New in the 50’s, “Rocket” would have been a boring, four-door family car. However, seasoned by age, her uniqueness has become beauty.
Similarly, my wife and I are not new. Yet, when we look at each other, we see each other’s deep, rich, beauty. We are so familiar with each other that we can share a joke in a glance; say ‘I love you’ with a touch. We may not be showroom fresh, but we are more beautiful to each other now that we were when we got married. Sexy is not about flowing blonde hair or a perfect figure, it is about connection and understanding, seasoned by age.
4) Sometimes there are things you can’t do on your own.
Learning how to restore a car, I spent many hours reading manuals, watching videos, and tapping into the expertise of friends and outside experts. As I type this, “Rocket” is at a custom shop having the work on the new disc brakes checked “just to be safe.” I could not have done the restoration totally on my own.
Similarly, in your journey together, there may be times when you’ll need outside assistance. A book, the listening ear of a relationship-successful friend or the learned words of a counsellor may be what you need to take things to the next level. Never be too proud to ask for help.
5) The work is never done.
While the hard work of the restoration is all but finished, I know that once “Rocket” is home I’ll still have to wash her regularly, change her oil from time to time, and replace the brake pads every so often.
Relationships are like that. They cannot run well without regular maintenance. Whether it is keeping coming and going rituals, establishing a date night, or making sure our partner is the regular recipient of a romantic gesture, a long term relationship can only survive if work is put into it.