Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happily Ever After -- Or Not

It’s been a while since I turned these pages toward the “Writer’s Blog” part of our title, so I will begin with the obvious. Because my stories are about seniors, those of us in our October or November time of life, they naturally deal with “second-time-around” relationships. Though in today’s world those alliances are not all that unusual, certain assumptions are required to turn them into a story.
Consider for a moment, how adaptable are you? Are you the kind who could start over with someone new? Would you be willing to risk another relationship? Not everyone can or wants to do that. Yet that is not a rhetorical question for the October seniors I write about---the ones considering the prospect of a new life with a new partner. 
For some, those who have seen a promising marriage turn sour, a more hopeful second chance might be tempting. I’ve told a few stories about that possibility. But what about those who have suffered the loss of his or her life mate---whether suddenly or after a drawn out illness? Can there ever be “another time” for them? I’ve explored those possibilities too. In every case the resulting answers are personal and unique. There is no right or wrong response to dealing with such loss, and the daunting prospect of facing our remaining years alone.
In the face of so many variables, what makes me a credible creator of the relational settings from which to launch a story? Perhaps like you, I’ve spent a lifetime becoming one-half of a pair, learning to live with “the one.” (And she with me. Truth to tell, she’s had the tougher job.) At this October stage of the game would I be willing to go through that sometimes complicated learning process again? I can’t answer that, and hope I never have to.
Yet, to tell the story I want to tell I must set my characters in a place where “another time” is an option. In the course of ten novel-length “relational” stories I have tagged along as my Tanner friends, many of them as unsure as you or I, faced that possibility. 
The first part of that storytelling process is simple enough---introducing a pair of lonely and wanting seniors to each other, explaining how they have made their way to that point in life, and planting the seed of relational possibility---a glimpse of what they think they want. If I do my job well the reader will want to know more about their journey toward that place, which is the story I’m telling.
Lately however, perhaps prompted by this renewed blog-focus, I sometimes wonder if my depictions of a “second chance” relationship have been too simplistic. 
I understand that the blending of any two lives into a meaningful partnership is not an easy thing. That must be especially true when they come together late in life---bringing with them a lifetime of habits, preferences, and expectations. Our coming together with a life-mate the first time, all those years ago, required trust, chemistry, and patience. Though I’ve never been there myself, I am certain that a successful second chance, an October relationship, must include those same elements.
In a story I call Second Chances each of the Harris brothers has been widowed. Though not actively seeking a new connection, both are beginning to sense that being alone for the years they have left is not an attractive prospect. There’s nothing unusual about that. So with a typical male “go-get-her” resolve each of them charges off just like the first time---forty-some years before---assuming that if he can win “her” interest their pairing will succeed. Of course, each of them is defining “success” in terms of his first long and loving marriage. Their mind-picture of a new relationship is bound to look like a replay of that first satisfying time.
But it is not that easy, is it? There are so many variables. How can anyone be sure the formula that worked so well in one relationship will succeed with someone else, someone they are still getting to know? Small wonder that not all my stories have a gift-wrapped, happily-ever-after ending. Still, who am I to say they shouldn’t try? Actually, that is exactly the notion I am trying to sell---in a relationship or any other October pursuit, the way to “thrive” is to keep trying.
Perhaps you can tell that digging deep, looking for unseen motives is an occupational hazard for someone like me. If so, I accept it as the price of authenticity. I want the stories I tell to be more than feel-good caricatures of lost and lonely souls stumbling toward inevitable happiness. My Tanner friends know it’s not always like that in the real world. Fact is, you’ll find very few ivory towers in the October landscape.
When I step back to consider my own experience I remember when I first seriously considered a future with “her”---and how that youthful “me” charged ahead, relying on a naive “I know we can make it work” model. Fortunately, it did. But there were no guarantees. The best we can do is say our prayers, trust our instincts, and hope for a patient partner. 
That was true at eighteen. I’m assuming it is still that way at seventy. We give it our best shot and take our chances. Since I want my October Years stories to be credible, don’t be surprised to find there are times when “giving it their best” wasn’t enough to win the happily-ever-after my Tanner seniors were seeking.

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