Recently, I was surprised when my sister asked me to start using her formal name – something I’ve rarely done. She said the family nickname has been bugging her for fifty-six years. At first I felt kind of weird about it, even though of course I knew she had the right. Then I thought, hey, pretty cool. She’s at That Age. No more compromising on this point. She’s renegotiating her relationship with the family.
I checked with my friends at Kevorkian Estates, and this renegotiating thing seems to be going around. “I never really got along with my brother,” said my friend Joan. “For years we avoided each other because we have nothing in common and frankly, we grate on each other. But I’m older now. We’re family, and I miss that. I’m willing to make some concessions.”
It’s not just distant siblings who are renegotiating long-time relationships. Wives are throwing down the gauntlet.
“We either change or I’m out of here,” Maureen told her husband. Now that they were retired, he was getting super-clingy. She loved him, but needed more space. After some heated discussions and a bit of cold shoulder, they thawed out enough to agree that she would take a few solo weekend vacations every year, and he wouldn’t get mad or feel unloved. It wasn’t perfect, but it works for them.
Some of my buddies said they feel more whole within themselves, or more confident; they no longer need the affirmation of others, or compliance from others, to feel respected. But there was no solid agreement! For example, Kathy said, “I’m sixty-six and I’m more mellow. My friends don’t have to be 100% in tune with me. Now, I can settle for less and be cool with it.” Her friend Sandra stared at her, indignant. “I’m too old to pretend. If they can’t handle me, the hell with them.”
Sometimes an issue might be a deal-breaker, causing a long-time relationship to fade away. That happened with me, and I’ll never stop missing my dear friend, but as we matured, I got frustrated with her heroic resignation to martyrdom. She’s “happy” and it’s her life, but I can’t hang with her now. I get frustrated. I keep wanting to fix her! So now we live separate lives. I’m sad about it, but we both have the power to choose.
But in regard to my sister, her demand for authenticity sparked my own. What might I ask of her? Is there something I’ve been soft-pedaling that I might be able to come clean about and ask her to respect now? For example, I might ask her to stifle the politics, since we’re polar opposites on that score. She might agree, and then we can move forward, respecting each other’s choices.
Have you renegotiated an old relationship? How’d that go for you?