LeAnne Carrouth and John Bourbonais are fine with being apart, and they told us during our conversation that that’s part of what keeps them together. At first I thought they meant they didn’t like each other that much, so they were relieved to have their independence. But after seeing their fiercely connected dynamic in action, and after hearing their story, my understanding of the potential of partnership has shifted dramatically.
John and LeAnne met in 1999. LeAnne had two small children at the time, and says, “it was sort of instant family.”
They dated for about six months before John broke things off in search of “something else.” In his words: “I had a pattern … where I would typically date someone sort of quarterly… and LeAnne lasted two quarters, and it was time to settle down, and I was like, ‘What is this gonna be?’”
They were apart for about nine months before, John says, “I came back on my knees.” In the meantime, LeAnne says, “I got really peaceful about being alone, and what that meant, and what that entails. I have a lot of friends in my age group who are terrified of being alone. They’d rather be with anybody who’s awful than be by themselves, and I didn’t wanna be there.”
And yet, they were drawn to each other nonetheless. Here’s John:
I thought she was interesting and kind and a great parent … LeAnne treated them very much like young adults … and I think to this day [her kids] are just remarkable people. I love hanging out with them … I also enjoy LeAnne as a person, just being goofy with her, being intellectual with her … we have a lot of mutual interests, not only interests, but philosophies on religion, on vegetarianism, on art, on travel.
LeAnne says, “we’re exceptionally compatible…complementary I think,” to which John adds, “I’m extroverted, she’s introverted, she calls me the loudest man in the world.” “Because you ARE,” she says with a laugh.
LeAnne elaborates on the introvert-extrovert thing: “Left to my own devices, I might just read a book and drink tea and not go out into the world, and John always introduces to me new things I wouldn’t necessarily take on or tackle – like snowboarding. I learned to snowboard when I was in my late thirties.”
After a nine-month separation, they got back together and have now been married for twelve years. John says, “I think it was about making choices that were more deliberate … there’s a very high level of respect and trust and I think that reengagement in the relationship was really the beginning of that.”
After that first snafu of ours when we split, when we got back together there’s this particular loyalty that is really really strong … there was a whole big lesson and process of forgiveness and coming to an understanding based on that forgiveness that served me really well ‘cause it would have been easy to say, ‘You’re off the list, I’m done with you,’… but I think it would have been a rigid decision that I wouldn’t have learned as much from.
This initial separation was only the beginning of absence in John and LeAnne’s relationship. John’s career as a cinematographer has taken him all over the world for periods ranging from one weekend to six months at a time. Here’s John:
Looking back, that was sort of the beginning, the groundwork, that … the absence is going to be part of who her and I are. And my interests in production have shifted over time, so now it’s not so much about, ‘I’m going to Europe for three weeks and I’ll be back to do this job.’ It’s more about, ‘I’m going to the mountains for the weekend,’… and she can go off to a two-week yoga course study or do whatever she wants. And I think both of us also appreciate having the house to ourselves, where I can play the music loud, and I can get up at all weird hours, and I can watch movies loud – which I love to do – and when she’s home she likes to read and be very quiet.
In my one-on-one conversation with LeAnne, I asked her how this could possibly work. How can you care about someone enough to connect with them if you don’t mind when they’re not around? Why bother working through tough times if you’re fine alone? Here’s LeAnne:
I think that now it is kind of natural … it has its own flow to what we do and how we are together. I would say earlier though a really helpful book for me is a little tiny book called If the Buddha Dated … It brought a better perspective about attachment, non-attachment, what those two things are in our lives – what they mean, how they feed us. We’re attached, but when you get to the end of the story, we’re both gonna be gone. That’s how all our stories end, and so how much say do you have over what that person does or doesn’t do? It’s a limited amount, and if you have enough where you feel comfortable – or where you feel secure – in whatever that little tucked in piece of the relationship is, then the rest of it…a lot of it’s not really up to us. And that’s not always an easy realization, but in some ways it’s sort of a comfort that I don’t have to be in charge of all of that. So the way we do connect – we just keep reaching out in those ways and we find other ways to connect.
We’re still really compatible in our lifestyle and some of that is a happy accident – we’re both fairly health-oriented, we enjoy going to movies, we enjoy a lot of different creative pieces, art openings, blah blah blah, that kind of stuff.
I wanted a longterm relationship because I thought that would be the best way to find out what a good longterm relationship is like toward the end of a longterm relationship … I sort of entertained that very French idea of taking a lover, but I didn’t think that would really work for who I am. As many years in now as we are, I have somebody I can really count on and who cares about me in ways that I can’t even fathom and we know that no matter what, we’re a team, that if one of us has an issue, the other’s there, and I like that. It’s totally reliable.
While LeAnne and I discussed the mechanics of how such an independent partnership works, John and Daniel discussed the rewards: “I really look at what she’s given to me as a gift. I think that – I don’t know how it has evolved but I feel a much more grounded person.”
On the recording, he pauses here to collect himself, before continuing tearfully: “She loves me in a way I didn’t think I deserved to be loved. That um, how she has opened her heart to me, how she has been so gentle with me. I just didn’t think that I deserved to be treated in such a beautiful way.”
Daniel presses John to elaborate on the recording, asking what he means by this gift. Here’s John:
I do know that people in general day to day, they’re pretty fucked up individuals. You know, we carry baggage with us from these things we were brought up with. Sometimes you think they’re normal, abnormal, you seek therapy. I think that people in general but certainly me, I brought that into my relationship with LeAnne. And I think those habits are detrimental – were detrimental – to our relationship, and it took time and dialogue and love and respect with each other to get past those things. And I think at that point there were children in the equation, and I think LeAnne was most protective of them, but I also think that … she had her own sort of barriers, defense mechanisms. And I think over time and being together this long we’ve largely eradicated those, which is fantastic. It’s great, but it was a long time coming.
The depth, breadth, and mysterious power of John and LeAnne’s connection is best revealed in the couple’s own words, so rather than try to wrap up today’s lesson in a final quip, I leave you with one final exemplary anecdote from John:
When [LeAnne’s daughter] was going to Ohio State it was a really expensive endeavor, out of state tuition, and it sort of got to the point where we were going to have to start liquidating retirements, we had to do something and we decided to move out of our big house into a smaller house – at the time it was sort of painful, because I didn’t want to let that dream pad go and there was a bit of humiliation attached to it, and there was a little bit of, “damn, this didn’t quite work out like I wanted it to work out. But now we sit here 4 years later … we’ll be fine, and that’s one example of decisions her and I have made for the betterment of her children over time. And there was a great text: so [the kids], we got together over Christmas, and we went skiing for a number of days and after the fact, [her son] and I were texting and he said, ‘you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to this family.’ And it really just warmed my heart and um, you know – it’s just – I think it speaks to how LeAnne has honored me that I feel that I have to reciprocate and honor her and her children in the same way.
Does anything in this article resonate? What baggage have you had to leave at the door to make your relationship work? How do you and your partner find a balance between independence and connection?
Share your story in a comment below!
Brooke is a founding author of How Love Lasts.