October 18, 2021

I recently saw an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine decides to befriend George's fiancée, Susan. Kramer warned Jerry that their circle of mid-single friends was "George's sanctuary," and that inviting Susan into that space would cause worlds to collide and blow everything up.

Kramer's words proved prescient when George found out. He says there are two Georges--”Independent George" and "Relationship George" and that Relationship George moving into the world of Independent George would kill independent George. As he famously said, "A George divided against himself cannot stand!" Of  course the episode ends up consisting of George's string of funny paranoid overreactions to his friends befriending Susan.

Now, Cathy and I have many friends in common. We work on Love in Later Years together. We each have relationships with each other's children. We are best friends and we naturally want to spend lots of time together. The world of relationship Jeff is wide and vast. But, Independent Jeff remains important too. I have my legal career and the Internet TV show "The Lawyer's Den." I have other interests that don't involve Cathy as much. Cathy has her violin studio and her string quartet, which are basically hers and I don't have a huge amount to do with them--though I try to be friendly to the people in those circles and help out at recitals when I can. But I am a fan more than a participant.

I think it is healthy for two people in a relationship to each have some things that are just theirs. Cathy and I were each single long enough that we became much more independent than we had been in our prior long-term marriages, and that Independence had some advantages. During my first marriage, I think I lost myself. When I rediscovered myself following my divorce, I realized that there were parts of myself I didn't want to lose again in another relationship.

Having said this, I don't think we need to go to ridiculous extremes to keep worlds from colliding. I met my Lawyers Den colleagues in New York City (the city of Seinfeld) this summer to speak with a prominent talent agent. Cathy was present at the dinner, as were all of my co-panelists partners (except for one that is not currently partnered). We all found that we liked each other's partners. We did some other things together socially during that time in New York City and nothing blew up. Cathy did not get tempted to audition for The Lawyers Den. I still appear on shows regularly and mingle with my co-panelists afterward, and Cathy is usually not part of that. On the rare occasion when she is, nothing blows up. I believe it is healthy to have an independent self and a relationship self. I also believe it is important to allow each other to touch each other's independent selves once in awhile without taking them over.

Sometimes, I like to have a night out with male friends and watch sports or something else that Cathy doesn't like to do. Occasionally, Cathy benefits from a girls night. These are not done to the exclusion of our date nights, but they help to fulfill other needs. There are times when I just need to go on a bike ride or for a drive in my car and be by myself. It isn't that Cathy is not welcome. It's just that I need some alone time. She needs the same thing from time to time, and that is no threat to me or our relationship. In fact, both of us maintaining a healthy sense of self allows us to show up better in our relationship.

How you strike a balance between your independent selves and your relationship will be a little different for every couple. It is something we negotiate. We make agreements that protect our relationship while carving out some space for each of us to be a unique individual that is not totally consumed by the relationship.

As you are dating and creating relationships, be intentional about striking a balance between your independent self and your relationship self. When you have been married a long time, it is sometimes tempting to jump in and quickly marry on the rebound because you don't know who you are outside of a relationship. There is a tendency to be somewhat codependent--which overloads your relationship. I believe when you know how to stand on your own, you will participate in your relationships with more security and less neediness. It takes pressure off the relationship and allows it to flourish because it is not being asked to meet all of our needs.

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