I didn’t know uncle Ralph all that well.  I knew he was educated and a businessman.  He drove a black Mercedes and, at the time, lived in Washington, DC.  Whenever I saw him, he was always dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, and suspenders.

I can’t remember his exact age at the time that we were sitting on my aunt Alice’s front porch, but I’ll guess 75.   The occasion was someone’s funeral,  I’ve forgotten whose.

He came out to the porch after I had already been sitting there a short while.  I was eighteen and it was in the mid-1970s.  I had longer hair and a close-cropped beard and went to the funeral in jeans.

He sat in the other rocker and said that he heard I was going to college.  He asked the obligatory questions about a major and what I hoped to do some today.

After my answers and an uncomfortable pause in the conversation,  he said that most people at the beginning didn’t understand how to have the life they wanted.

I thought he was headed to a short speech about hard work and commitment, saving money, and becoming a doctor, lawyer, or financial advisor.

Instead, he began talking about living a “meaningful” life.

A meaningful life was the real objective.

It’s not your major or career or how much money you make. And the problem as he saw it was that most young people didn’t understand that.

He said that priorities in life were different when he was eighteen.  But it was those priorities that led him to a life that he wished he could live over again. The exact same way. Doing the exact same things.  With the exact same partner. My aunt Agnes.

But the candle blew out when she passed away a decade earlier, he said.

I asked what he meant by the candle.

He said it was the light that helped guide him through the turns of his life.  It helped him see where he was going when it was dark.

He said without it, he would have bumped into a lot of walls and tripped over a lot of stairs.

But, he said, that light was lit by two people and it was meant for both.

We weren’t meant to live alone.

Having that candle was the secret, he said.  And, what most people didn’t realize was that it took two to hold it and keep it burning.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family with my mother having perpetual affairs.  My dad had left us for about four years before coming back.  And I often heard about neighbors having affairs and divorce seemed very common.

At the time, I doubted that anyone could have stayed married or remained in a long-term relationship.

I asked how it was possible that he could remain dedicated to one person for most of his life.

I remember rocking and waiting for several minutes before he began his answer. his answer.

He took about twenty minutes.  Twenty minutes that hit me many years later.

He began by saying that people ended a relationship if they allowed the candle to go out.

Let’s face it, he said. If each partner didn’t make the other one feel good about themselves, then the relationship wouldn’t last.  

If you were afraid to confide struggles, worries, and failures for fear of criticism or getting a shrug as if the other were uninterested,  you’d feel not worthy to be there.  And that feeling would sooner or later pervade other areas of your life.

Soon you’d be struggling in whatever endeavor you chose as a career and it would only get worse until you fixed the relationship.  Most end it.  He said ending it did not always fix the other areas of your life, though.

He said that everyone needed a life partner to bolster self-confidence and worthiness during down times.  And, those times will come, he said.

It was foolish to think that you could get through tough times by talking to yourself in a mirror.

He spoke specifically of three things during those twenty minutes.  He also spoke in terms of husband and wife.  I have taken the liberty of using “partner” throughout this article.

1. Vulnerability.   He said that you needed to be vulnerable to your partner.  It’s what kept the candle burning.  It balanced the relationship.   Neither partner dominated the other.  Only equal support and sharing.

Vulnerability made the relationship valuable.  If you didn’t feel vulnerable, then the relationship would be much weaker.

2. Trust and loyalty.   If you didn’t have total trust in the other person, you could never confide.  And if you were not loyal, there would be no trust.  So they went hand in hand.

You needed to trust that you would never be judged harshly.  And at the end of an argument, there was always the knowledge that trust and loyalty remained.

He said that when you were committed to someone, you never did an action that you wanted to be kept secret from the other.  Like an affair.

He said once it happened, the relationship was over no matter if the secret came out that day or ten years later. He warned that eventually, all secrets came out.  They just did. They always did.

The problem with emotional hurt and broken trust was that it prevented the act of forgiveness.  Even though God preached forgiveness, we’re human.

Someone else could forgive you, but your partner wouldn’t. There’s a lot of pretending but never forgiveness.  He said that he saw it over and over.

Trust only needed to be broken once.  It’s like being branded and it’s what one sees when they look at the other.  It would always be visible.  It would always be a reminder that you broke the trust.

He said that he never lied to his wife.  Never looked at another woman.  Never even thought about a life without her.  And, her’s was the only opinion about him that he cared about.  Everyone else could go to hell, he said.

3.  Intimacy.  Intimacy helped you to know your partner so well that you both could read each other’s thoughts.  And, that only happened through an intimate daily relationship, which could only happen with a committed partner.

He said that there was no replacement for a committed life partner and that I should never forget that.

Children were wonderful, but they could never be your partner.

A sibling or close friend could not be your partner.   Neither you nor they would feel the vulnerability of that daily emotional commitment.  And he emphasized that it’s the intimate vulnerability through which trust and loyalty are felt.  Not close ties or close friendship.

Uncle Ralph was annoyed at one of my uncles, his nephew, who liked to preach that a monogamous relationship was impossible.  And, of course, he had never been in a long-term relationship but he had a list of reasons that we all heard about whenever there was a divorce or word of an affair by someone he knew.

Uncle Ralph said to never seek advice from someone who never had a long-term relationship, and he said he wasn’t talking about twelve months.  Twelve months was nothing but a speck. That person had no right to express views as Gospel truth or offer any advice.  He was speaking of several years.

And, he wondered why anyone would think to ask for advice or listen to opinions from someone who didn’t have the experience of a long-term relationship.  It was like having the flu and going to a veterinarian for treatment versus a physician.

I asked what his life had been like since aunt Agnes passed.  I was a little surprised to hear him talk about how good it had been.

He enjoyed his children and grandkids and he tried to take care of his own health and how he went to the YMCA all the time.   But I also had the feeling that he was calmly waiting for something else.

This week, as I was searching for a topic to write, I dreamt about our conversation.  Both of us rocking on the porch forty years ago.  The dream was vivid and his words came back as if spoken yesterday.   I took it as a sign that I should write about it.

There’s no doubt that what uncle Ralph and aunt Agnes had was special.  We are all aware of others that have something special, too.  And, I also think that we are all capable of doing the same.

His last words on the porch, as he stood and patted my shoulder, were that “God did not intend for you to live alone.”

Today, mindfulness, prayer, and meditation are the most used practices for fixing our lives when confronted with hardship and conflict.  We search for our inner voice and a connection to our source. However, they are exercises that we do alone and in silence.

I think uncle Ralph would say that’s fine except that we must remember that going through life without a partner would mean never sharing vulnerability and never experiencing the truest meaning of trust and loyalty.

Therefore, we should share what we hear and what we discover with our partner.  It would be what keeps the candle burning.

I think uncle Ralph could be right.

Thanks for reading,



About The Author

I’m a writer, entrepreneur, and survivor.  I share my experiences and discuss how to battle the odds and keep coming back. Don’t let fear and anxiety control your decisions in life.

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