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Modern Love

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Modern love: Learning to lean in together

By Paula Derrow
New York Times

The first night my husband and I lived together, we had been married for two years. His work was in a small town in Massachusetts, where he and his ex had raised their now college-age children. My work and life were in New York.

Early in our relationship, after we had been dating a few months, he said, “Eventually the distance is going to be a problem, isn’t it?”

I didn’t think so. The distance suited me. I had always believed I had it better than women who were dependent on men. Or maybe I was jealous. I never thought I would marry or even that someone could love me enough to let me lean on him.

Instead, from my early 20s on, I leaned in, focusing on my career and surrounding myself with other serious young women, all of us trying to get ahead.

By the time I met Randy at age 45 on the porch of a Victorian inn where we were both vacationing with friends, I was used to men coming and going, and even more used to being on my own. Several years earlier, I had bought an apartment, a one-bedroom with a tiny kitchen, perfect for a single person who didn’t cook.

I was a free woman beholden to no one.

Randy said he appreciated my independence. A guy who liked to lean in himself, he ran a small medical-device company – a chief executive, yes, but one who wore shorts to the office, bought his shirts at Sears, liked little cars with big engines and had no need for a loan from me.

He was doing fine on his own, as was I. Which is why when he brought up the geographical distance between us, I was uncharacteristically blasé.

“What’s three hours?” I replied. “A car ride!”

Each week we alternated, three nights at his place, four at mine, every reunion a first date, with lingering kisses and predawn drop-offs at Amtrak. We took turns paying for things, too, not in a calculated way, at least not on Randy’s part. I always kept score: Was I letting him pay for too much? Was it my turn?

Yet as the months passed and Randy didn’t disappear, it was hard not to lean on him simply because he could do things I couldn’t: fix a toilet, whip up a dinner without a recipe, suss a car problem by listening.

Randy didn’t need me in any material way. What he needed, it seemed, was to take care of me.

Things worked so well, in fact, that after dating for two years, I married him in a lovely ceremony at his new house on the edge of a pond. Still, I was determined to keep things separate when it came to money.

His home on the water was his; my city pad was mine. Two households, two bank accounts, no chance of anyone leaving me in the lurch. Wasn’t my independence part of the reason he chose me?

Then, I lost my job

Then, at the start of my 49th year, I was laid off from my magazine job, as were others.

Randy was unruffled. “You’ve been thinking about freelancing,” he said. “Now you can try it. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Instead of being grateful for his optimism, I resented his telling me not to worry. After all, he still had a paycheck. (His money, not ours.) I even ungenerously wondered if he secretly wanted me to have a flexible schedule so I could be a more traditional wife, doing most of the laundry, dishes and cooking.

Rather than decamp for the country with him to contemplate my options, I stayed in the city, paying the mortgage, scrambling for assignments, worrying about cash flow.

I had found a man who liked taking care of me, yet I couldn’t accept his support, opting to lie awake nights crunching numbers in my head. Suddenly, my solo-mindedness seemed a little sad. A little stubborn.

Reluctantly, I decided to sublet my apartment for a few months and move in with Randy, a big expense off my plate while I tried to make a serious go of a freelance career.

I missed my friends. I missed that competent person with a packed calendar I had once been. In the country, I was mostly stuck at home.

The married life

As Randy predicted, assignments gradually began to come my way, and I found I didn’t mind working to my own rhythm, no meandering meetings or email avalanches to interrupt me. Nights, I moved nearer to my husband, letting him draw me close.

As my business picked up, Randy offered advice on billing and price points.

Maybe that’s why, after a productive day at my computer, when I spied Randy’s convertible coming up the drive, I closed my laptop and met him at the door with a vodka martini, bone dry, rimmed with slices of cucumber, the way he liked it.

“Don’t get used to this,” I warned, but his smile was worth the cliché, even as he said with affection, “My little wifey.”

I gave him a punch but didn’t really mind. Then we leaned together until our lips touched, like two sides of a triangle, each trusting that the other wouldn’t give way.

Paula Derrow divides her time between New York and Connecticut.
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