True Romance

What does a healthy, committed, longterm lesbian relationship look like, beyond the hearts and flowers? Ask an older lesbian.


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When Valentine’s Day comes around, as it did this month, I think about going to the store and buying Jodi a card or making her something sweet or writing her a love note. And, the fact that I used to honor occasions like this more than I do now scares me at first—like I’m somehow not appreciating her enough or taking her for granted or, God forbid, just living a life parallel to hers. But always I remember that our true romance can be seen not in the form of tokens we use to mark a holiday, but the ways we travel the miles of our lives together, each encouraging the other to be whole and true and honest and brave.

We’ve been together 15 years, not nearly as long as some of the women I know, but certainly longer than either of us has been with anyone else. We found each other late in our lives, when she was 40 and I was 50, and we knew what we wanted and needed in a partner. Our maturity also meant we were well-formed adults by the time we discovered each other, each set in our own ways. In the good news/bad news department, we also only saw each other every other week for the first 5 ½ years of our relationship because she had young teenage kids whose lives we weren’t anxious to disrupt. We spent many days longing to see each other, but we also got lots of practice being whole people together and apart.

And this is where we’ve been especially lucky. Because we each experienced years of growing and changing before we met each other, neither of us is happy being in a rut. We’ve done the normal job-changing that most folks do these days, not satisfied like our parents were—admittedly mostly fathers in our day—doing the same work for 30 or 40 years. And, we’ve each been drawn to outside interests, Jodi riding horses after long days at a computer as a graphic designer and me writing in my time away from teaching.

I even went back to graduate school a year before I retired to pursue writing further, and she is now finishing a low-residency MFA program to go deeper as a designer. With each of these endeavors comes a storehouse of benefits—new friends, greater confidence, creative opportunities, and more open doors. What this means for us as individuals is that we are fortunate to always be growing and changing and moving forward, which in turn is a great gift for our mate. There is nothing richer than a partner who is excited about her life and looking for new ways to engage with the world.

None of this means that we spend our time engaged only in individual pursuits. To the contrary, we take long walks, travel together and with friends, make up stories about what our dogs are thinking, and binge watch bad TV. We also face the tough stuff together, as well—worries about kids and older parents, finances, career decisions, friends who are struggling. And no matter what we’re doing, we talk. Even when we are not physically in the same place, we talk—about our struggles, our dreams, our embarrassments, our histories. We share our processes with each other.

I’ve always felt that since being a lesbian starts by breaking all of the traditional rules, then we could make up our own for our relationships. We don’t have to grow old together in a partnership based only on a passion we once had or the verse written on a Hallmark card. The most romantic thing about being with someone for the long haul is that we don’t take each other for granted. It’s that rush of feeling when I hear her car pull into the garage at night and I remember that I am the luckiest human in the world to get to be with a person who meets her life head-on.

When people asked me this year what I was doing for Jodi for Valentine’s Day, I said that I was making something new for dinner and that I was then going to cheer her as she went upstairs to work on finishing her thesis, as she does for me when I have a writing deadline. That may not sound like a traditionally romantic activity, but for us it is love and devotion in their truest form.

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