In early recovery the rules are pretty clear. Not that we follow them necessarily. Those funny stories, funny when they are told long after the fact, begin with, “They told me in my first year that I was not to date, but….”. The “But” and that ellipsis….are always the prelude to a heartbreakingly funny story. Some relationship gone awry, some undertaking with another newcomer or being snookered by an old timer bent on 13th stepping newcomers. The rules are there for a reason. We did better when we learned why the rule to not date or maybe not even divorce in that first crucial year. We moved on.
Some of us came in gun shy and guy shy. We had given up and had to be coaxed into dating. Others of us, like me, had to learn the difference between dating and planning a wedding. Three dates do not an engagement make. Some of us, endured the heartbreak, and it really does break harder when you are sober and think that now that you are you’ll do better or be wiser or surely a good relationship will be one of the rewards, (the unspoken promise my sponsor used to joke). We thought surely, certainly after we had done all that work on ourselves, learned the difference between cash register honesty and emotional honesty that we could make the relationship or marriage work this time.
In my case it was the sad misunderstanding about exactly what recovery promised and what learning new relationship skills meant. It meant that I might have them but not the other person.
I was so bound and determined to prove myself a good partner that I missed the basic instruction: Select as a partner a person who is committed to emotional growth and to making a relationship work. I was working so hard on my own recovery that I thought I could do it for both of us. I couldn’t. It didn’t, and I got hurt.
We, those of us who stay sober for a decade or more, do get to laugh later on, and even better, we get to cry with other women who are learning that one person, no matter how committed, can’t make a relationship. Later, after the tears and laughter, we sit back and wonder where the middle is? Some of us decide never to marry; some stay with the same person and do the heavy lifting in marriage counseling. Some of us decide to date and have serial but intact and decent relationships.
So what are the rules for love and romance for a woman who has more than ten years of recovery? Well, we know that some of what we thought earlier in our recovery isn’t necessarily true. Our partners don’t have to be 12 step people. What’s interesting in that case, for woman in post-ten recovery is that we don’t have to marry or date only people who can recite the twelve steps and the 12 promises. By this time many of us have integrated those values deeply enough that we recognize a spiritual and committed person and don’t require them to come wrapped in a 12-step package. It helps if they have some understanding of what that’s all about, and it helps if they too have a past that they are facing, processing, and are committed to some kind of personal or spiritual growth, but its no longer true, as I once imagined that I could only be with a man who shared my life commitment to AA. It’s even possible as I discovered that there are some fairly decent men out there who don’t have a lot to recover from. But what we do need is a partner who “gets” that this is important to us and will “get it” that we have some strong preferences around booze, bars, drinking in our home and that sort of thing.
It turns out, we are delighted to learn, that in this area we are like other woman. We’re a little older and we wonder where all the good ones went. Some of us date younger men, some come into (or come out to) our true sexual preference in recovery and find a female partner of whom we ask the same respect and commitment. What is crucial is that we find that just like with our participation in AA, love and romance can be a part of our lives but not the whole of it.
We also discover when we begin to date again or start a new marriage, that those women’s meetings are gold. It’s wonderful to have women who understand that we need to talk about sex and thighs and older bodies and hair loss and jealousy and be able to laugh and cry about all of it.
We discover that having ten or more years of recovery gives us a much-improved sense of humor. We learn that The Promises come true, even if the 13th step doesn’t, and we learn that we can have lives in community even when we don’t have romance in our lives.