When I was a kid, my mom and I had our whole life planned out. Although I visited my dad every other weekend, she made most of the decisions about our day-to-day activities. Whether she was figuring out how to punish me after I swore at a friend, or what we should eat for dinner, she didn’t have to confer with anyone else.
I knew that being a single parent had its challenges. For example, when my mom was bitten by a stray cat, she had to ask my grandparents to help take care of me while she was in the hospital. But I wanted nothing more than to re-create the arrangement when I had kids. “I’m going to be a single mom, too,” I always said.
Because I always imagined my future as a single parent, I went into my dating years with strict expectations. Anyone I dated would have to accept me exactly as I am, because I wasn’t willing to change anything — from my terrible soda drinking habits to my stubbornness to my fierce love of cats. I was about as inflexible and uncompromising as Lorelai Gilmore. In fact, I’d prefer if my partner were willing to go along with whatever plan I came up with.
This resulted in a lot of selfish moments in my first few relationships. I asked one girlfriend to visit me from North Carolina, and never even thought about making the trip from my home in Massachusetts to see her. I got offended when one of my dates didn’t like holding hands in public, instead of considering that she might be shy. When I went out with someone to see a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, I zoned out the entire time, wishing we were seeing a comedy instead. If my interests didn’t exactly align with the person I was dating, I expected them to give mine a shot without offering to test-drive any of theirs.
It wasn’t until I started getting serious with my current partner that I began to think about what it means to compromise. I knew that one of the biggest reasons my parents broke up was because of their differences. My dad was clean and meticulously organized, my mom was messy and chaotic. He was outgoing and wanted to go everywhere, and she liked to stay inside and read a book. One of my mom’s favorite ways to push his buttons was to move his stuff just slightly, because he would inevitably notice that his baseball was half an inch out of place and move it back.
When my girlfriend and I started to talk about what we wanted for the future together, it shattered my ideas of growing up to be exactly like my mom, raising a child alone. I was so accustomed to that my-way-or-the-highway thinking — which is a lot easier to hold onto when you don’t have siblings fighting you for the “good room” — that I needed to relearn what it means to consider someone else in the relationship.
I’ve gotten better at compromising. A few years ago, when my partner asked me to give the “Star Wars” franchise a chance, I agreed — if she would be willing to watch “Gilmore Girls” with me. We plopped down on her couch with chocolate and popcorn, and I found myself laughing along with Princess Leia and Han Solo. Now I’ll willingly go see the new “Star Wars” movies in theaters with her, and I actually teared up when I learned that Carrie Fisher had died.
My ability to compromise was really put to the test when we started spending the holidays together. Neither of us wanted to sacrifice our traditions, such as her family’s Thanksgiving cheese danishes or my family’s gingerbread house destruction. At first, it led to a lot of fights about how to fairly split it up, and whether traveling between houses was preferable to switching where we went every year. I like to think we’ve finally worked it out, and I feel as welcome watching her cousin carefully unwrap his presents as I do watching mine unwrap an entire pile at top speed.
A couple of years ago, when my partner and I started searching for our first apartment together, my first thought was: “I want to live north of Boston, so that’s where we’ll go.” I had to take a step back and think about my girlfriend’s preferences, and what was important to her. After deliberation, we chose something that was convenient for both of us.
As we get closer to the stage in our lives where we’ll be ready to talk about having kids, I’m getting fidgety. I never pictured myself with a partner and a few kids; I always thought I’d adopt one child and we’d wind up curled up on the couch after a tickle fight, like my mom and I always were. But there’s a comfort in knowing that I’ll have a partner by my side when the time comes. I may not be a single mom like mine was, but she always told me the best thing about life was being surprised.
I am, however, taking my unhealthy soda drinking to my grave.