If someone was asking if I had a significant other, I would have a quick and easy answer, “Yes, Jim.” Jim has been what the world would define as my significant other for most of my life. He and I have walked, sometimes run and sometimes bumbled through life together. I talk to him about all of my decisions and we make plans for life together. All this makes him significant.
Even though this is true, and even though Jim is certainly significant in my life, I don’t love this term, significant other. It implies two things that don’t sit well with me. The first is if a person doesn’t happen to be involved in a romantic relationship, they aren’t given licence to use the term. Society would say they neither have a significant other, nor are they a significant other. It feels horrible for me to think that simply because a person doesn’t have a current life partner that we should conclude they do not have a significant other. The second is I don’t believe we each only have one significant other. Our lives are filled with people, many of whom hold great significance for us.
As our anniversary arrives, I’ve been pondering this idea of significant other, and more specifically significance; what does it mean to be of significance?
To be significant means to have importance in, or influence on a person’s life. Jim of course, fits this definition. He is infinitely significant in all parts of my life. He is my trusted partner on our journey through life. Yet, no matter how wonderful he may be, it’s unreasonable to expect him to be the perfect partner for every single part of my life. While he is the person I have come home to and shared my life with for over forty years, he has not been the only person I’ve experienced life with. My life has been shaped by so many people of significance.
Some of my significant others are significant because they have known me as a little girl. It takes a long time to make an old friend. Often only those who knew us when, can fully understand where we have come from, and why we are who we are.
Some significant others are newer to my life and yet are no less significant. It’s affirming to have someone meet us right where we are and accept the person we have become, without always comparing her to the girl we once were.
I have significant others in all areas of my life. I have those I love to dance with and those I love to hike with. I have those I love to talk with and those I love to learn with. I have those I love to teach with. I have those I love to share adventures with and those I love to ponder with. Some I love to visit with and some to dream with. Some I love to sing with, and some to bike with. Some I love to challenge me, and some to simply accept me. Some I love to tease me and some I love to take me seriously.
Each of these is significant because each allows me to reveal a tiny piece of the puzzle that is me. The more significant people we have as influences, the more interesting and beautiful our self-portrait becomes.
I had a most wonderful teacher in grades two and three, Mrs. Ann Beausejour. In grades seven and eight I was lucky enough to have her again, for a few hours each week for Art. I loved her. She was everything a teacher should be, and was one of my earliest influences to become a teacher. She had it all; kindness, grace, competence, integrity, brilliance, creativity and encouragement. She was beautiful and so was her handwriting, which I tried so hard to emulate. The things I learned from her I brought with me to every single lesson I ever taught. I’m guessing some of my students who are now teachers themselves continue to bring Mrs. Beausejour with them. She most definitely has been a significant other for most of my life.
Contrasting this, I had a short interaction in Chapter’s this week. I stopped to pick up a book, and while there, couldn’t resist finding a new book for Ben too. I found one about garbage trucks I hoped would be a hit. When I reached the till to pay, the cashier picked up the Ben book, held it gently and said, “Oh, this really hits me for some reason”. I waited, assuming there could be more. “My dad was a garbage truck driver. I lost him in January.” He proceeded to tell me how difficult it was to spend his Dad’s final year not being able to do the things his dad would have loved. Not being able to take him out of the care home he was in and not being able to visit as much as he would have in other times. I know this particular Chapter’s employee only from chatting with him while checking out when I’ve been in to the store. I know if he were asked, he would say he does not have a significant other. And yet, I suspect that during the time it took for our brief encounter, he might acknowledge we were significant to each other. We were significant others.
Luckily, each day we have the chance to both appreciate and perhaps even connect with our significant others. We also have the chance to be significant others. Sometimes these moments are expected. We might make a phone call to or text a friend, or visit with our children. Other times we simply find ourselves in a moment; a moment of significance. In these times we become, however briefly, significant others.
May we each find ourselves at the giving and receiving end of significance this week.
My inquiry for you this week is, “How am I holding space for significance?”
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to hold space for significance.