"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ”
One night in 1993 I was making a fire. It was a Friday, which in our house meant pizza and a movie in front of a fire. Crumpling up some pages from the Willamette Week, the hip, professional paper in Portland, Oregon, two words in bold print caught my eye: Romantic Scientist. Now there's an oxymoron for you. Pre e-harmony, Tinder, and It's Just Lunch, the paper was known for its personals ads. The truth was, I wan't looking for love. I was just building a fire. Five years out of a destructive marriage, I was 40 years old with two young daughters, a good job, and a nice little home in a lovely neighborhood with good schools. Life. Was. Good. But there was something about that ad that intrigued me. Whoever wrote it sounded like someone I'd like to meet. I took a deep breath and what felt like a big risk, and answered the ad. Wrote a letter, stuck it in an envelope along with a photo of the three of us, and drove it to the post office so as not to talk myself out of it in the morning. A few weeks later we had our first date, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today marks the 24th year of being married to my romantic scientist, and I offer this post in gratitude for every one of those years. For the love we share, and for the magical partnership we've created in our years together. I have to say, it honestly feels like a match made in heaven, even though we've had to work harder than hell to get here.
We couldn't be more different. I'm an introvert. He's not. He's good at math. I'm not. I care about form. He's all about function. I'm an external processor. He's not. He loves world travel. Nothing makes me happier than being at home. He's a peacemaker. I'm a disturber of the peace. His love languages are touch and quality time together, which means he loves it when I hang out with him, and reach out and touch...his hands, his face, his arm, his... well, you get the picture. Mine are words of affirmation, and space and autonomy, which means please tell me I'm beautiful, and then just go away. I'm messy. He's a bit more buttoned up. I talk about myself too much. He should speak up for himself more. He struggles to find words for his feelings. I have more than enough for both of us.
Our first marriages taught us what we didn't want, and when we got together we tried our best to learn what we did. While we both understood that it would require us to "show up and do the work", we had no idea what that meant. Early on I came up with what I thought was a great analogy. It would be like the two of us going to the doctor's office for an exam. We would both need to strip naked, get up on the exam table under those god-awful lights, and be willing to examine every lump, bump, spot, and imperfection. We'd be willing to bare it all. He nodded in that peacemaking way that makes me think he's totally onboard, when really he's just trying not to rock the boat.
Early on, so many differences didn't make for smooth sailing. Somewhere about year eight, an especially big storm hit, and we were heading for some rocks. While neither of us wanted another boat, we needed to learn how to steer the one we were in. Sitting over coffee I told him that the marriage we had wasn't the one I wanted, and tried my best to explain what I meant by that and why. There were tears (mine), a boatload of emotions (mine), and a lot of silence (his). Reaching the end of my explanation rope I said, "I feel like I'm up on the exam table, naked as a jaybird, and you are sitting in the chair with all your clothes on, taking notes on a clip board. Get naked and get up here with me. Now!!" And he did.
24 years later, here is what I know about navigating our marriage waters: It's taken lots of hours in a therapist's office, and putting into practice what we learned there. We've discovered how to tend to the pain sooner rather than later, allowing our wounds to heal into scars. And in that knitting back together, that which connects us is stronger than before. Because our love is fierce, we fight for it mightily. Because we've had to learn that it is fragile, we tend to it gently. We've learned that the truth is what sets us free, and that living together means giving each other room to roam. We've learned to wire together our differences so that the lines of communication stay open. With endless opportunities to practice, we continue to master the art of forgiveness, both the asking for and the extending of. We work to be long on grace and short on judgment. We've come to have faith in one another's strengths when faced with our own weaknesses. He has taught me to "love by listening", and I've helped him learn to find words for his feelings.
We still have to get naked under those god-awful lights and climb up on the exam table. But I know I'll never find myself up there alone.