There is a type of love that your grandparents may have had, a type of love that seems to be the glue that holds the most cantankerous of people together well into their golden years. My therapist and I talk about this mysterious kind of love in our bi-weekly sessions. Since, I came from a broken home and a series of surrogate parents, understanding the concept of this type of love has always been a mystery to me. My therapist calls it “a stir the oatmeal kind of love.” This type of love is not full of wanton lust and desire for another. It is a simple kind of love, filled with acceptance, and a sense of commitment that a human being can feel for each other. However, the most confusing thing for me is that some of them appear not to like each other! As a psychology student, I have found it hard to wrap my mind around that concept. How can you be with someone you may not particularly like? Sometimes my mind tends to act like highway round-a-bout. My thoughts circle endlessly around a concept or idea while the complete picture seems to be completely elusive. Nothing irritates me more when there is concept of knowledge beyond my grasp that I cannot dissect apart, study it under the proverbial microscope, and replicate it if I choose to do so.
I met my domestic partner two years after my divorce, in the spring of 2002; he was ten years younger than my ripe old age of twenty nine. Like hot over cooked oatmeal, psychologically he was a sticky, gummy mess, just like me. I guess, birds of a feather do flock together and all that psychobabble. We both had similar pasts; our parents failed us and themselves. Abusive men marred our bodies; neither of us remembers not having a bruised and sore body. We were two people alone in the world, by mere happenstance we found each other on the road halfway between the mid-west and New England. On that bumpy road we figured out that we have the ability to be there for each-other no matter what happened in our lives, we became content and secure in that knowledge. It’s nice to have a person to turn to when you need someone, a person to stand with through the downdrafts in life. Between a drug addict for an ex-husband and the amazing adventures of three teenage children, we had a lot of downdrafts in the eight years that followed.
At one point during that time I realized hot oatmeal, if unattended, likes to grow cold and settle at the bottom of the pot like the sticky equivalent of wallpaper glue. In fact, I am pretty sure oatmeal is a suitable alternative to wallpaper glue, and in some cases an improvement over the other adhesives. Ten years later I felt my relationship was cold, lumpy, and firmly stuck to the bottom of the pot. If I wanted to salvage the pot, I would have to use a chisel and a hammer to chip the layers of goop out of the pot. To me, my partner became an irritating stick on that smelled rather stale and burnt; needless to say the paper wasn’t pretty any-longer. What changed? Where had I gone wrong…again?
There were choices: clean out the pot and reuse it, throw it away, or buy a new one. I thought this would be an easy decision I had been through this before, right? With more thought I came to realize this was not a simple decision at all. For others, it seems to be an easy decision to make; after all we are a throwaway society. It seems to me anything that breaks, fails, or becomes less desirable after a certain amount of time gets tossed to the side and a new one is set into place. As a society, this has become the norm, why are so eager to move on to something bigger and better?
The problem was not the pot or the oatmeal, the problem was me and my inability to cook oatmeal. I realized something while I was chipping away at the burned on oatmeal with one of my wood chisels. You cannot rush oatmeal… it needs to be on a slow burning heat and stirred slowly so it won’t boil over or turn gummy. It was my job to put in just the right amount of apples, and it was his job to add the right spices to form a beautiful combination. It was also my job to hand over the spoon to him when I got tired of stirring; it is a delicate process that always needs attending to. In essence, a relationship is a lot like cooking oatmeal. It is not only the ingredients, or the pot you cook it in, but the people who care to take on the commitment to care for it no matter what. I finally learned the keys to cooking an excellent batch of oatmeal; it takes a lot of work!
The epiphany came to me one morning two years later, while sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of microwaveable apples and cinnamon oatmeal. It was a perfectly simple cup of oatmeal I did not have to stir; it was made for me as a gift by my loving partner of thirteen years.