Cathy still sleeps up on the 10th floor. A half hour ago I left my bed situated besides hers to sit outside wearing lounge wear doing double duty as pjs. Last night, thinking that my roommate’s hours would differ from me, I prepared to go out the door without waking her.
We’re both here for a writing conference and before my seat in the Seattle Westin mezzanine fashionably-suited businessmen and woman parade by, fortunately not noticing my stained drawstring pants and fleece meant to conceal nipples poking through a tee shirt underneath.
Yesterday I and Cathy talked a lot, catching up on involvements in church, our kids, and relationships with others. The free flow of conversation was wonderful—both in little tid-bits as we unpacked and walked eight blocks to check-in and over dinner, then in a concentrated, lengthy form over dinner, both ways renewing to my soul.
At 9:15 when I was repeatedly yawning and saying, “I so tired,” she called her husband to exchange a few sentences and good nights.
When Cathy got off the phone, I said, “I wouldn’t dare do that.”
She stared, arrows of surprise arcing my way.
“I mean, Collin doesn’t like to talk on the phone. Because I need to keep in touch with him when I’m away, he’ll talk to me. But not because he actually wants to and how much do I ask him to do that?”
This lack of him wanting to listen with attention or to express himself to me has hurt at times. Hurt deeply.
I’ve cried. I’ve prayed. I’ve journaled. I’ve ranted (to him). I’ve vented (to girlfriends) about him not wanting to engage deeply or have my chattering interrupt his concentration at home. He cares. Some. He’s conceded to my going with him to counseling.
He’s changed some, but not to the ideal companion I wanted.
He’s not always available at the time I want to talk, but consider this: I don’t want him to talk to me when I’m busy fixing dinner for guests and he would never dream of dumping a full-detailed account of his day when I was obviously stressed. Or even when I’m openly exhausted, preoccupied, or stressed out.
So, I have to admit it, this holding back of my words is not a one-way deal. Perhaps you can even call it mutual consideration, though the time periods I want to talk probably exceed his desire by three-fold.
Yet, it’s still a mutuality such as Cathy exhibited last night. She thought to call her husband for their good-night conversation when I was yawning repeatedly. She realized I’d be turning back bedcovers soon. And I’m showing that same consideration as I sit in my bed clothes, an ugly duckling among the swans, rather than rustling around our room or tap, tap, tapping on my keyboard as she tries to catch more zzz’s.
What I have learned is this—I don’t need, and won’t get, all the connection my nature desires from my husband. I’ve discovered too that my chest-heaving pain is not about him, but the vestiges of the little child in my soul, the memories of a mother often depressed, angry or withdrawn. Or perhaps of the father busy teaching night classes, withdrawing behind his newspaper, snarling at my mom and not noticing me.
I’ve discovered that instead of pointing a finger outwards, or inwards at my own failings, or continuing to lament how my spouse and I differ, I can embrace our differences in rhythm. When I accept rather than pity myself or vent, I can create a jazzy syncopation.
I’m also choosing to ask myself questions.
Do I actually need this conversation with him? Is connection now, in this immediate time and space, important for our relationship? What might be his physical and mental condition now?
Can I express what I want on paper? Talk to a girlfriend?
Am I feeling hurt by him not wanting what I want at this instant?
Sometimes it’s painful to admit that. I’d like to think I’m a bigger girl than that. But if I am hurt, I need to let go of that pain and forgive, but not just pretend I don’t feel anything and don’t need him.
Assuming I do need interaction with him, when and how is best to invite that?
Perhaps the last question is key. Contrary to what I used to think, imagination, planning and skills are needed to bring connection that bring joy for both of us.
Last night, at 9:15, I dared not call because he was tired. And—once I employed my imagination to think about it—I could see he had plenty reason for exhaustion, having gotten up at 4:30 AM to be my airport shuttle. While I’d enjoyed three naps, he none. Plus, I know his routine: while I like to wind down by talking, what he likes—and perhaps it’s not too strong to say needs—is to pencil in a crossword or unscramble the letters of the paper’s daily Jumble.
So this morning I called him at 7:20, what I thought might be a good talking time for my early bird. His voice was cheerful, not rushed or tired. We spoke only for two minutes.
I asked him about checking in briefly tonight. Ahh, he reminded me of the phone bank he’d be doing from 6:30 to 8:30. He’s an introvert. Imagination and memory teamed to warm me that calling strangers would exhaust him. A brief good night would be all he’d want. So that’s all I suggested and all I hoped to get at 9 PM. Later, with expectations under control, hearing his voice and a few sentences from him at that time proved sweet.
He in turn honored my desire to stay connected on his way home on the train earlier in the day. He wrote and sent an e-mail about whom he talked to at work and what his day was like. We’re both working at this.
Over the years our differences have become more apparent and argument more heated. Both of us have changed considerably. Face to face with differences, we’ve both questioned at times if we married the right person. It seems having the nest empty and changes in our minds and bodies with aging requires a new level thinking our way through our differences and coming to terms with strong emotions.
Yet, with help from outside and a commitment to marriage for the long haul, we keep rebounding. What we may think to be ñ in the heat of the moment ñ “irreconcilable differences” have become counterpointing drum and flute. We’re reconciled. We’re working it through.