The person you long for – the answer to your prayers – is probably right in front of you. He just doesn’t look like the man of your dreams. It is time to throw away your list of must-haves.
– Paul Mandracchia
My late husband gave this sage advice to many people of all sexual orientations and identities. To far fewer people, he also gave the back story. His own reference for this phenomenon was the two of us. He wasn’t interested in a furry central European guy with a gut and advanced degrees. I wasn’t looking for a lithe dancer and artist with little prospect of earning a living wage. Still, our chemistry, compatibility, and complementarity were clear and persisted for more than three decades.
As an artist, Paul was a problem solver. Every line, surface, color, light, form presented a challenge to be worked with or around. When we bought our home 27 years ago, it needed a paint job. Paul waited a year before we took on the project because he wanted to see the house in the sunlight of all four seasons. In the end, the south and west sides of our home were painted a slightly different color – no one actually even noticed – because the light from the east and north is softer. Our front door was first painted a dark color, then covered in a few coats of yellow before a coat of green was applied. The result is a rich chartreuse of sorts, the yellow invisible but still affecting the green because most paint is somewhat translucent.
I, too, am a problem solver of a different sort. I keep a stack of theoretical models and evidence-based approaches in my head, like a church filled with icons. I venerate these pictures and bring them to the light when I am faced with a community issue that wants attention. I brought one of them, Sternberg’s model of love, to our relationship as well. Paul and I regularly assessed our views on our intimacy, passion, and commitment for each other and our relationship.
When we met all those years ago, I was looking for someone older and beefier – someone more established. He was looking for someone younger and less established. His career was likely to take him elsewhere. My educational program was likely to keep me put for a while. We didn’t look like we thought we would. We had must-haves that were faced with not-haves. Still, we were really great solutions to the problems, challenges, and opportunities of our lives.
But most of all, we did not settle for each other. We had no idea when we met how limited and limiting our dreams were. In each other, we struck it rich. We truly wanted each other every day for every year of our time together.
I think our experience together can be a useful analogy for building community. Many of us have dreamy, almost illusory, images of community. What is in front of us does not resemble the amorphous stuff of our dreams. Whether we envisioned tidiness or camaraderie, picket fence or open field, consensus-building or prompt vote, racially homogeneous or culturally diverse, the lists we carry around are unlikely to be actualized in the communities we find.
But we can build upon a foundation of appreciation for what is in front of us. We can hold on to our dreams and work for their actualization. We can look at the people and places in front of us and decide to fall head-over-heels in love.