Faith in each other

A view of the river in Nong Kiaw

A month in, the clearest part of parenthood is the reflection it provides. In the late nights, in the long days with sparse sleep, we see few things clearly save each other. Our ability to rest, to walk, to eat, to see friends, and exercise depends on our partner’s abilities, on their tolerance, and on our mutual trust. We have, in this small child, a way to finally see the compassion in our relationship, and our kindness for one another. It is humbling, to understand that our ability to hold the baby while she cries and our partner eats is perhaps the best gift we can give. It is clarifying to understand that our push for an extra smile when she will not sleep takes more energy and is therefore more appreciated than anything else we’ve done in weeks. And it is revealing to understand that our ability to do things, from lunch with friends to climbing workouts to dinners out depends entirely on our partner’s ability to be ok when things go wrong. We serve at the pleasure not of a higher authority, but of each other, a pleasure that must be re-iterated daily. Would you like to go out, would you like to go to the gym, would you like to meet friends? Each one requires explicit confirmation, and the understanding that it could take extraordinary effort, extraordinary patience.

Mostly they do not, and Clara is peaceful, is at peace with our decisions. She is ok with electronic music and ambient heat outside the pizza parlor on a Friday night, where we eat on a bench and share a beer with friends after a long week. She is ok with the bright lights and bouncing tunes of the climbing gym, with the many voices and odd sensations of an afternoon at the swimming pool. She tolerates a ferry ride, an MTR ride, and many taxi rides, without outburst. In some ways we adventure at the pleasure of the child, and I think in some tellings this would be true. But it is not, for while she has a voice, and uses it at will, she has no say in the initial agreement, in the planned outlay of patience and effort. That is instead an agreement built on all our years together, almost fifteen now since those early scooter rides in Shanghai. Almost four now here in Hong Kong, where the idea of family became more possible.

And so we continue to grow, our true selves revealed to each other in the things we are willing to smile together after. It has always been this way, of course. In many ways our four hours together in the back of a flatbed from Nong Kiaw to Luang Prabang remains the clearest mirror, held up to our relationship in pain, guilt, and the joy of adventure. It is good, then, to find new joy together in these late nights and the early mornings they blend into.

The person we meant to be

Runner at night on a Hong Kong track, with city behind

I write a lot, or I think a lot, about the difference between the person we are and the person we meant to be. This gap changes over time, and can be between our hopes, or between our actions. This sentence could read my hopes”, rather than our hopes”. I think, though, that these differences are common, are true for most of us.

One of the quotes I repeat most, both on this site and in daily life, is Jan Chipchase’s the distance between who you are and who you might be is closing”. It’s succinct, and encapsulates so much of the fear of getting older and the challenges of relationships. We are all so far from who we hoped to be, and yet we are running out of time.

Mostly I think about who we said we would be, when we started a relationship. When we were first dating, first flirting, and trying so hard to be the best version of ourselves, to convince both our now partner and our then self that we were as good as we could be, as we hoped to be. I think so much about this version of myself, aged twenty eight, working his first real job, managing people, traveling, spending hours on his blackberry on bus rides to cold Chinese factory towns. I think about this boy constantly, wanting to quit his job and move somewhere with central heat, wanting to move somewhere with blue skies, wanting to write. He wrote, he studied, and he wanted to do more. He wanted to learn, to put out, to create.

In the intervening years he has done that, the boy I used to be. He’s written dozens of letters, hundreds of posts, and several drafts of a novel. He’s written journals and filled notebooks with Chinese characters. He’s grown in other ways as he has learned new industries, new cities, new sports. He has met so many people, and tried with each introduction to be a little more of the person he wishes to be and a little less of the person he wants to leave behind. He tries to be more curious, and less judgmental. He wants to be more open, and less sure.

In relationships there is an art to letting one’s partner make these changes. The trick is to make space for growth without expecting it, without demanding it. People don’t change, and we should never expect them to. But when they do, when they move past what’s comfortable to a new reaction or a new choice we should be ready to embrace them there, to welcome this change.

When bored, be it in Saitama in 2002, San Francisco in 2010, or Hong Kong in the lockdown days of 2020, I run. In the park, on a track, on a road. Whatever. It’s a habit born out of boredom and the inability to sit still. But because I am a person who does not like to run neither do my friends. And so, one morning this year, when I said I’m bored, I’m going to go for a run,” and my partner said I’ll come,” I had the perfect opportunity to react how I hope to be.

The easy snark, of Oh really, but you hate to run,” is death in this phase, when someone’s trying hard to do a new thing.

Great, I’m getting changed, 10 minutes?” I said. Build a bridge together to the people we both want to be. It was fun, running together in the park, walking back sweaty and tired. A new kind of fun, for people who are still trying to close that gap.

My partner tells me she’ll be ready when I decide to cook. Meanwhile she’s happy making dinner, figuring out new recipes that I might like. It’s love, in the best form.