On my walk to work the other morning I stopped in the corner market along the way, Durn Good Grocery. There’s a gentleman who works there in the mornings who usually has a smile and friendly conversation waiting. I’m not normally one for chit-chat but he’s always been kind when I stop in for my caffeine fixes. There are days when a short chat at the Durn Good can mean the difference between walking into my job a few minutes later with a smile on my face or not and I like my quick stops there.

The other day I walked in for my pre-shift caffeine rush and saw that another man was standing there talking to the cashier. They were discussing a woman and the cashier kept asking, “How well do you know her? What can you know about her? I don’t know, I wouldn’t trust her. Oh, she’s only thirty-four? She’s young. She’s a gold digger!” I was near the counter when he blurted out the phrase “gold digger” and I unintentionally laughed. He then began advising the other gentleman, “I’d have her checked out. Spend the $34.99 on a background check, they are worth the money! She sounds like trouble; the young ones always are.”

I could see that the man talking to him was around his fifties which I suppose explains why they were chatting about a thirty-four year old woman as a “young gold digger”. I assumed they were talking about his newest love interest. I had to smile a little as I left the store. All I could think was, “Gold digger. Man, I missed my calling in life. I just keep falling in love the old fashion way with other peeps as broke as I am. I should have entertained the idea of being a gold digger when I was a young thirty-four year old whipper snapper.”

It was a joke, but I began thinking about all of the relationship advice I had been given over the years. I have to admit, most of it was bullshit. Romantic advice is always biased and over-opinionated. I have been the receiver of some of the worst. When I was married to a man for a handful of years earlier in my life who had a tendency to lie and run around, I was told everything from “Nobody said it would be easy” to “You know, God says that a wife is to be submissive to her husband always. To even choose him over her own children! I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s written in the bible.” Sadly the bible did not keep him from writing up personal profiles on dating sites used to meet other women. Or from blowing all of the family money at least once a year on himself and leaving us in financial ruins for months at a time. I finally had to take some of my own advice in that situation and throw in the towel. Relationships only work if both people are being open, honest and loyal to each other. I could only forgive so much.

I spent more than ten years in a on-again, off-again relationship with a abusive veteran suffering from PTSD. He was likable though; he just had one of those personalities. I got a surprising amount of “work it out” advice in that relationship, even from my own mom after I finally confessed to her that it had escalated to the point of him beating me. I felt like the relationship was tearing my sanity into shreds and yet he was so damned likeable. It tainted a lot of the advice given to me. People seemed to want me safe, but not as safe as they wanted him. We love watching the obvious jerks being walked off in handcuffs but nobody wants to see the funny, likeable Irish drunk hauled off to jail. For years I forgave and forgave and forgave until it broke me. Relationships only work if both people are kind, patient and respectful towards each other, even when they disagree. Sobriety might have helped a little back then too.

I had a good scattering of other shorter affairs throughout the years. Some one night stands, some brief courting periods. I can’t say that I have ever been handed any great relationship advice throughout those though. The best thing I have ever done in my relationships is listening to my own heart and mind.

A family member was giving me some grumpy relationship advice on the phone one day a couple of years back. She said that she spent her whole life trying to please other people and it had gotten her nothing. That she should have just married rich because at least she’d still have the money. She then said over the line, “Follow the money, Shelly. Follow the money. It’s the only thing that’s going to help you out in this world.”

I felt sad in that moment, because right then I knew that one of us was wrong. I still believe in lifelong love. As a matter of fact, I live for it. At the very end of my life if someone asks me what my favorite thing about it was, I am going to reply,

“The best part about being alive was falling in love. Whether it was a romantic partner or the first time I held my babies in my arms, falling in love was the fucking best.”

So who’s right? Those who chase money and security or those who dream about love? Am I wasting my time dreaming inside my own head? Should I be out there shaking it a little harder and working longer hours for the almighty dollar? Should I be forsaking old school notions about love and family and just focus and building a fiscal nest egg? I know my past relationships haven’t done much for my net worth – I exited the majors ones financially crippled with extra mouths to feed. I understand her logic, to a degree. I may have been financially better off in life right now if my goals and focuses had been different in my youth.

I still believe in love though despite all of the heartbreaks and disasters. Like a shitty 80’s song I hold tightly onto the idea that this ridiculously hard life is completely conquerable with the right person by your side. I even occasionally toss around the idea of marrying again one day. I like the idea of it: a good marriage. I don’t know many people who stay in it for the long haul, but I admire those who do. Though maybe I’m being foolish.

I used to walk up and down the halls of the nursing home I worked in for two years. By the doors to some of the residents’ rooms was a picture of the person who was staying there and a brief life summary. Where they were born, grew up and went to high school. A few paragraphs about their marriages, children and careers. I loved reading those since many of the residents no longer spoke well or clearly. Many suffered from dementia and some couldn’t recall their own names. I saw wives come in to visit husbands who couldn’t remember them and it broke my heart. Yet I read their stories on the walls. Of long, happy marriages spanning decades. Of children and grandchildren and lives that sounded well-lived.

I don’t know. If I ever find myself waking up one day in a room of some nursing home, trapped in a old body I can’t remember wearing out, I hope I will have at least one great love and marriage to read about next to my photo on the wall. I’m already lucky, because it will say that I had three wonderful children and that is pretty great all on it’s own. *smiles* Who knows, maybe the greatest loves in our lives are just the people we make and catapult into the future ahead of us.

Either way it will say that I loved.