I grew up hearing that I should be nice. Of course we should be nice. We should all be nice. But some people think that means be polite. And being polite often means don’t say what you mean or behave in any real way. Like a cotillion…there is a script, a pattern, a dance. Do what’s expected not what the situation really calls for.
I’ve never been good at following dance steps. I’ve tried aerobics, line dancing, disco, the waltz, and many others but one thing always happens. I make the wrong move. When I make the wrong move I either kick, bump into, or knock someone down. If I could just learn the freaking dance, everything would look good, and run smooth. And believe you me I’ve tried.
I’m more of a free spirit kind of jump up and down and wiggle my hips kind of dancer. Which I enjoy immensely. So what if I can’t dance a certain way? I’m still a good dancer!
In the 50’s children were taught manners and that was great. You say please and thank you. Great. But does it really matter which fork you use? Does it? Or is that just a rule someone made up just to have a rule? Small fork is for salad, big fork is for the meal. I get it. Ok. But what if I use the big fork for my salad? Is there any kind of true moral dilemma here? No. Not like saying please and thank you.
If I put my elbows on the table, God forbid will the world end? Or what if I don’t put my napkin on my lap? I may drop food on my clothes and get messy but even that consequence doesn’t affect anyone but me.
I lived in a marriage where I HAD to be polite always. If I wasn’t and if my ex caught me in a moment of frustration, or angst, or if I was in a hurry and spoke too loud or too quick I was deemed unworthy, fatally flawed, and looked down upon. It wasn’t that I was being mean…I just wasn’t being nice enough. And why did it matter? If I stepped out of line even in the most trying of circumstances…it was seen as a moral failure. Because he cared so much about keeping everything on the outside pretty and neat and tied in a little bow. And he denied whatever was happening on the inside.
I tried to be like him. I tried not having passion and not being spontaneous with my emotions and actions. I tried following the dance that made sense to him, so that there were no surprises. But I sucked at it. Bad. I disappointed him often. I was always sorry and I didn’t do it on purpose but that was never good enough.
I was never good enough.
I don’t know how many times I said, “But what do you really think?” I was always honest with him. Not brutally honest with intent to destroy. Just honest with carefully chosen words with love in my heart most of the time. Ok there were a few times where I was brutally honest too but dammit he really needed to hear it. I did for him what I WISHED he would do for me. But all I ever got was a polite response. I never got what he really thought. He saved that for me until after I found out he was a having an affair. After he gave his heart to someone else. After it was too late.
I begged him to be real with me and he told me over and over again…That is not what you want. You say you want it but the second I start being honest with you, you give me push back. And I was like…but that’s called having a conversation and me trying to understand what you’re saying and why you think that way. It’s called being able to give a reason for your thoughts. Any time I asked why, he thought I was challenging him, and he’d give up immediately accepting that as proof that I truly did not nor could handle the “truth.”
So now with Harry I have to ask myself is this a situation where I should be careful what I wish for? Harry is just as passionate, spontaneous, and honest as me, especially in the heat of a moment. Can I handle that?
I appreciate Harry’s honesty with me. I appreciate that when I ask him what he thinks he really tells me. I don’t always like what he says. Sometimes it even upsets me. But 98% of the time if not more what he says is not brutally honest intended to hurt me. He is trying to help me either see something I’m not seeing or think in a way I haven’t thought before. He is the only person able to change my mind because his argument makes more sense. THE ONLY ONE. Others have tried but I’m better at seeing all the sides of an issue and I’m usually never convinced enough to shift my position. Harry can do that.
And he does it by being real with me.
We say often that we have each others back. What good would saying that do if when I saw him running toward a fire I just let him see for himself how it could burn? Having someone’s back is risking that pretty nicely tied bow and getting a little bit messy if it means helping someone avoid damage in their life. He’s willing to risk me being mad at him in order to tell me the truth. And I am willing to risk that as well.
If I raise my voice when I’m talking about my son to him he doesn’t take it personally. He knows that I’m reacting emotionally to something that has nothing to do with him. I dropped my napkin on the floor and picked it up again…no biggie, who cares? My two-step becomes a stumble for a moment until I wait a couple of beats. Not the end of the world.
If I was mean or disrespectful to HIM…then he would have cause to consider me a problem. But I’m not. I always honor him. Even when I’m telling him I think what he is doing is wrong. And he me.
And the end result is that we are truly communicating with one another. We will NOT wake up one day like my ex did after 18 years of marriage and be surprised that there are issues between us. We will not! Because we talk and talk and share and risk and sometimes show each other our dark sides. And that is a whole other level of honesty.
We can be real in terms of what we say, but also share and show each other how we truly feel.
Yesterday Harry’s feelings were hurt. I’ve never seen him that sad and confused as to what he should do about it. He knew what he felt like doing. But because we have this kind of relationship where we can be vulnerable with each other he came to me and we talked it out. He cried, I listened, I shared, we commiserated, and after about two hours he felt good enough to smile.
He asked me point-blank, “Why are you with me? You should run.” And I thought to myself this is precisely WHY I am with you. Not only is that MY LINE…I knew those two hours of talking I was getting the real Harry. Everything stripped away. He was showing me his heart and his weakness. It meant he trusted me. As hard as it is for him to trust because of pain and disappointment from his past as we sat holding hands, I knew he trusted ME.
And I knew also that I most certainly CAN handle the truth. My ex was wrong. I will take a real person with real struggles over a polite robot any day.
I imagine Harry will shake his head at this revelation and consider me foolish for seeing that as a reason to be with him not without him, but a few weeks ago I ran to the toilet with an upset stomach and puked right in front of him. And when I was done, I was not pretty. No nice, neat, bow. I was a mess. And as he pushed back my hair from my face, he said, “I have to marry you.” In that moment he knew like I knew yesterday that we could be real with each other and it’s something we’ve always wanted but never had.
Some people truly don’t want to know…they want order, and everything in its place. They want to know the dance steps ahead of time. But I think Harry and I are actually cut from much the same cloth. When we met I thought I was polished cotton to his burlap because anyone who ever reflected me wanted that polished, perfect exterior and he liked portraying a very gruff, rough exterior.
But I think I was wrong. I think we are both linen. Linen is valuable because it’s so real and its cool even when things get hot. Tightly woven natural fabric made from raw fibers that sometimes give the appearance of flaws but seen as a whole are beautiful.