Monday, September 29, 2014

Thoughts on the Monday before My Wedding

So…it’s the Monday before the wedding. What does that even mean? (Wow…that sounds like a bunch of philosophical, coffee-house, pretend meaning of life pretentiousness.) Scratch that.
So…it’s the Monday before the wedding. What am I feeling, what am I up to, what is kicking around the old mind grapes?
Well…by using the phrase mind grapes, I am obviously thinking of some 30 Rock. By the presence of Whitney Alexander in my house, it means I am still working my second job as a DMin editor. By the presence of James LeCroy in my house, it means I am still single and living with a roommate. By the text from Betsy I just got, it means preparations are still in swing approximately 800 miles nearly due north of me ahead of my arrival. By the phone call from my Aunt G last night, it means final planning for the Texas re-Wedding is wrapping up. By a good (albeit difficult) conversation with Betsy’s dad yesterday, it means that we have reached a point where Betsy and are to stick to a plan, even in the midst of life happening that will affect our new family. So, I guess at the end of the day it means this –
Getting married Saturday, although an event, is simply the next step of merging two lives into one. Granted it is a significant part of the journey, but it is simply, metaphorically, moving our left foots in front of our right foots, but this time holding hands as we move forward.

One of my heroes (Thomas Merton, of course), although not writing about marriage, puts it like this:

What I wear is pants.
What I do is live.
How I pray is breathe.

In essence, all of these things, these big events, these life-changing circumstances are part of a simple narrative of which we are a part. Yes, this wedding on Saturday is exciting. Yes, Betsy and I have made decisions that will make this day special. Yes, throughout the week family and friends will start arriving (and have already arrived) to make this a special day. Yes, Betsy and I hold that something special will come about because of the preparations that we have laid for the day.
But, today is Monday. And this morning I will go to work. And this evening I will edit dissertations and maybe even get to see my friends at small group if all goes well. And Betsy will paint some doors, hang out with Rachel Bliss and do other preparations that I will never really know about, but will be thankful for just the same.

And tomorrow I will go to work, and repeat much of what I did today, including editing dissertations. And Betsy will take on more preparations and hopefully spend time with other people and just enjoy being home in Grand Rapids. Hopefully she will be nice to Bella for me.
Then Wednesday, I will go to work. Then, Gaylynn Bittle will take me to the airport. Jay and Amy will board a plane in Boston, and somehow our planes, originating from different parts of the country will arrive within half-an-hour of one another. Apparently at that point a few of us will sit around a fire and enjoy each other’s company. Also, the Webbs will start their drive from Chicago.
Thursday brings about a whole other wave of travel and preparations. Friday brings more. Saturday brings still more. And so many of you will be making little preparations that Betsy and I cannot see. From John, Sheridan and Scooter driving from Chicago, to Deb flying from Colorado. From my family road tripping and hopefully eating some ribs in Memphis for me, to Betsy’s family erecting tents and putting in lights at the house. A few of you will lift up prayers. A few of you will be in a small church in Michigan or a tabernacle in Texas to be a part of our big days. Some of you will help us “warm” a house that I have already been living in for two years. Our roommates will be getting married. Other friends will be getting married. Friends will have babies. My friend Amy will grieve the loss of her sister. Other people will do the same.
But today is Monday. Today I will go to work. I will wear pants. I will breathe. I will edit dissertations. I will look forward with expectancy to things like a ceremony and a honeymoon. There will be dancing. There will be sitting and quiet conversations. There will be anxious moments. There will be heated tempers. There will be gentle tears. There will be big laughs. There will be unexpected moments of tenderness and grace.
Betsy will step into her dress on Saturday and feel different in a way she can’t explain, or even comprehend. Amy and others will help her with her make-up and hair. The guys will sit around for “getting ready pictures” when most likely we will all be dressed already and staging something that has already happened. I would guess a radio or a phone will be playing the Michigan and or Michigan State game while we wait…and probably at the honeymoon if I were to be honest.

On Sunday, the two of us will drive with Jerry to Detroit. He’ll go to L.A. We’ll go to Nova Scotia. We will land WAY past my bed time. We’ll take a cab to our first hotel. We’ll wake up late and go to the little tea shoppe around the corner, because Betsy likes tea. I will probably convince her to take a walk along the harbor market and drink a local beer at an Irish pub and eat some poutine. I will read some Wendell Berry. She’ll read some Tina Fey. We’ll drive up the coast to Cape Breton Island for the rest of the trip.
We’ll come back, do another wedding in Texas. Love on my family. Stay at the family farm. Drive to Alabama. Get back to work. Attend another wedding. We’ll do thank you cards. Betsy will apply for jobs.
But today is Monday. I will put on pants. I will go to work. I will breathe.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thoughts on Wedding Fatigue

This might be an ornery face.
Yesterday I woke up, to use an old term that has fallen out of favor, ornery. When I get to a certain stage of orneriness I sometimes choose to wear a sign (my face and body language) that indicates: “You may not want to engage in traditional exchanges with me today…Unlike your last break-up it really isn’t you…it’s me.” Now before I go too much further, let me say that when I share something like I am going to share today, the thoughts that I share are not going to surprise Betsy or anyone else involved directly. These are things we have worked through. So, this is not a time where you have to say, “OMG!!! I TOTES can’t be live he said that. I hope Betsy is okay!”

Noticing my foul temper I quickly escaped the house to take stock of what was going on in my head. What I realized was that I had reached a point of wedding fatigue. Now those of you tracking at home realize something key here: “DUDE! Your wedding is still over a week away.” To which I would respond: “I know, right?” So before I go any further let me clarify a few things: This wedding fatigue had nothing to do with Betsy, nothing to do with fear of life with her, nothing to do with regret. It really had nothing to do with relationship…and that is key and also why I feel it is okay to share the things I am going to share. What my fatigue had to do with was this: weddings are now completely unnatural things. In other words, I had to perform unnaturally and make unnatural decisions.
Another face that indicates you may not want to talk to me.
Wait a minute now James. Hold your tongue man! (I don’t know whether 36 makes me young or old…so I will just use man instead!) What do you mean weddings are unnatural? What I mean is simply this: a budding relationship between two young loves is quite an organic thing. It is a beautiful thing for many people to see. Older couples often comment that it helps them renew their love. But all of a sudden the idea of marriage comes up and you insert an industry that has sprouted up around dream and fantasy creation for your big day.
Betsy and I decided early on (like one-month into engagement) that we had to define the wedding day for the sake of each other. The wedding had to be a true reflection of who we were and what we were about. The thing that sent us over the edge…well let’s be honest…the thing that set ME over the edge? Save the Dates. Betsy and I had a good talk where I basically said, “I worry that Save the Date cards remove us from our heart and allows an industry to dictate what our day is going to look like.” We had a good discussion and decided it would be best for Betsy to go to the beach, journal what the day is about and what her true expectations were. (We also decided I probably overreated to Save the Dates btw…I don’t want it to appear I am always right in matters…far from, as most of you would agree!) My point was this (and I think I would offer this to any couple getting married): I don’t care if you have flowers, or dancing, or alcohol, or a meal, or prayer, or a poetry slam, or parachuters delivering a ring to the altar through a retractable hole in the roof of a church. What I care about is simply: is this who you are? I would rather be at a simple wedding before a county judge followed by roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s, than a $100,000 shindig serving foie gras and caviar if that couple was living more from their heart than a checklist from whatever the latest magazines are.
This is more just a sick face.
We worked from there to create a day that we could both be happy with. I know people say that it is the bride’s day, but the truth is this: I didn’t want to be miserable the day of my wedding. So, I pushed back on things. I made it clear there were certain things I would do because I love and care for Betsy, but there were certain things she should in turn not expect of me. For instance, I will dance with her and maybe a couple of others, but I will not live on the dance floor. I love it that her friends will be there and having a great time, but the amount of nerves and noxiousness that brings me would make me absolutely miserable. Asking me to stay on the dance floor is tantamount to asking me to be a walking stress ball that could vomit at any given moment due to overwhelming self-consciousness.  Betsy on the other hand loves it. She loves dancing. It is one of those celebrated differences between us. I love that she loves that. I love that I will dance at our wedding for her. However, she should never expect me to push over the lines of things to the point of misery. It’s like I would never expect her to sit in a deer blind at 4:45 in the morning or live a week a year with monks. Do I think she could benefit from those things? Sure. But, I also don’t want her to be miserable. (Point of clarification: these days there is no gun in the stand. It is more just the beauty of creation arising with the sun that I am after.)
So, back to the point here. Yesterday I realized I had hit the point of fatigue. There was just too much to do. There IS too much to do. But because of how we decided to go about things one thing became abundantly clear: to simply say, “Betsy. I cannot talk about the wedding today” was unfair. We created space for Betsy to take care of all things wedding when we made our plan for transition. To stop at my above statement says, “What you are doing is not valuable, it’s not as important,” which is not what I wanted to communicate at all. So instead, I said, “Betsy. I appreciate everything you are doing, and I know without your efforts things would not go well, but I just don’t have the emotional space to talk about songs for the DJ that I have no intention of dancing to today. Also, I know that covering the drum shield was my idea in the first place, but with the patient load I have, and my second job stacking up, I just can’t think about what a good replacement for the antique doors we cannot find is right now.”
This is more like it. Just enjoying some Steve Martin!
So, what is the difference? Not letting fatigue bring me to a point of complete egotism. Instead it led me to a point where I affirmed Betsy and presented to her a vulnerable side of myself. This is not, “I hate what you are doing,” which could be inferred from, “I’m not talking about this.” Instead it is, “When I think about you and me, I know that I do not have the ability to do this well right now. I will do a poor job, which will make things worse instead of better.” In essence it is about saying, “The current event is way less important than our long-term relationship. And to support the latter, I need a break from the former.” As Betsy wrote about yesterday these are just the things that we get about one another. I get that if I say things in a certain way, she will (rightfully so) be hurt. I also get that if I do not give part of myself to her she cannot understand the “why” of the current situation. And friends, the “why” does something that we often times forget – it gives space for grace and mercy. By saying, “Betsy, I have so much going on that I might snap at you when I don’t want to,” gives Betsy space to decide, “This really is not about “James and I” right now. This is about James and his stress.” That is huge when doing relationship.
So, if I am going to wrap this up and put a bow on it, what is the lesson of the day? Simply this: when confronted with the stresses of life our response still needs to be affirming to others and include vulnerability toward them. When we close ourselves off to the point that we can only see “me,” we allow the stress of a situation to create undue tension into a relationship it never included. In other words, vulnerability and affirmation sings to another heart a soothing melody reminding them, “Not every emotion in my partner is sparked by the things I have done and said. They have things going on that I do not know about, and I must allow them that space, just as I will one day need that same space.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some of Betsy's Thoughts

Seriously 4:45am is way early.
First of all, let me say that I am excited to be posting on the blog!  I’ve had a few thoughts swirling around and am eager to share them.

James and I have a different relationship than most people. Whether that is good, bad, or otherwise is yet to be determined, haha. I would say it works for us. We don’t have a formula or magic recipe that we follow and what works for us may not translate to other relationships. We also haven’t figured everything out…but what we do well, we do well.
When I was brainstorming what to write, I was thinking about the move. Loading up the truck, driving for days across the country, early mornings/late nights, unloading the truck, and unpacking all the boxes…any one of these things can be stressful and for me, stress exacerbates snarkiness. In thinking about the move, I was shocked and surprised that we didn’t have a fight or moments of intense snarkiness. In reflecting on what worked while moving, I realized we had hit a growth point. We reached a deeper understanding or point of connection.

We have grown a lot since a long January weekend.
Let me explain. Early on in our relationship, we would miss each other. I’m not talking about longing or hoping to be next to each other…I’m talking about completely missing the cues of the other. We would miss sacrifices that were made, invitations to explore deeper emotions/values, or expressions of affection. In thinking about the move, I realized that James and I have come to a place where we recognize the sacrifices of the other, more than our own. Everything about the move was far from sunshine and roses, but it was a lot more challenging to be frustrated or annoyed by the small things when I saw how James was working to support us. My agenda melted because I was able to recognize things in James, evaluate what to correct and what to accept, and how to promote the relationship rather than hurt it. Point blank, some things don’t matter. What does matter is my relationship with James. The move was less stressful and more enjoyable because we were able to focus on the other and our relationship. I was looking for ways in which James was working to support me and help out rather than pointing out how his ways were different than mine (note: I was successful at this most of the time. I mean, we’re all human,right? ;) )

FYI...Northern Arizona is desolate beauty at its best.
Granted some of this may be positive emotions because we are days away from our wedding, but I think there is still something valid in what I’m about to write. Being that I am an older bride, I have had the gift (though it didn’t always feel like that) to watch and observe a lot of relationships. My practice of being a marriage and family therapist has also taught me a lot. I’ve learned what not to do and what helps make a marriage strong. There is something to be said for appreciating something that you’ve waited for and hoped for. Frustration, annoyance, irritation…it’s a part of being in a relationship comprised of two broken people. The tough work of having a relationship that matters is finding ways to bring restoration and for me it is finding ways to be thankful for James by appreciating him, recognizing his efforts, and focusing on who he is rather than who he isn’t. That has caused a paradigm shift for me and the move highlighted it. Often times, I am too quick to focus on what isn’t working and it only makes the situation worse. This does not mean that problems are swept under the rug or issues aren’t addressed. It does mean that conversations and interactions are coming from the perspective of promoting the relationship, appreciating the other before anything else. In promoting the relationship, I work to highlight, accentuate, and enhance character by accepting and nurturing traits, gifts, and talents that are unique to the person. Love is complex and messy and deep and all encompassing. So why not make it a little easier by asking the question does what I am about to do, say, think, or express promote or inhibit relationship?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughts on my Evolving View of Feminism

The world's most beautiful couple started me on today's path!
This morning I woke up with some funny thoughts. I pinpoint the start of these thoughts to reading the newsletter that my friend Sara and her husband sent out this week. But really that newsletter shed light on conversations that I had with Betsy over the past couple of weeks. What I realized is that my view of feminism is shifting. So, before I get into those recent shifts, let me give you the evolution of my thoughts on feminism from birth to age 35, uhhh make that 36.
Birth to about my sophomore year of high school – Oblivious. I didn’t know this was a thing.
Sophomore year until about my sophomore year of college – “All that ‘Girls rule’ stuff is kind of annoying.” (AKA I did not see or understand the heart of feminism.)
Observing some great women like Drs. Holcomb, Kemp, Howard, Keys, etc. I began to see the confident, successful woman that did not draw attention to what she was doing. Observing some great women like Ashley, Ashley and Bethany I began to see younger women wrestling through issues of feminism beyond “Girls Rule” into life application and empowerment of women. This shifted things until I got to seminary.
At seminary I observed several arms of feminism from aggressive, in your face messages, to passive, reserved confidence, from completely over turning power structures, to subversive  culture change, and from women needing to fight for every high power position to women having the right to choose whatever they wish. In other words I saw so many brands of “feminism” I myself had to wrestle with how I viewed things.
Dating changed things for me (obviously). I am a dude’s dude. Men just make more sense to me, so I preferred spending time with male friends. When I started dating Betsy one thing was readily apparent to me – by the terms of worldly success (aka money, prestige, power, rank, etc.) Betsy would be the power partner. Unlike me Betsy has real definitive goals and the drive to achieve certain things like advanced degrees, trainings, publications and such. My goals are more like, “I wanna be happy and love people. How I do that is of little account to me.” So, it was actually quite easy to say, “Betsy…you’re gonna be the high earner. You’re gonna be more successful. And I love that about us. Yeehaw!”
Kev and Steph have also changed my view of feminism.
But over the past few weeks as I have been listening to her there has been a change in some of that drivenness if you will. (P.S. I know drivenness is not a word, but for any of you who have been to seminary or law school, you know that we are taught to make up our own words, so I am just doing what I was instructed to do.) Now, that change was not so much that Betsy became less driven as it was a change in direction. I won’t go into details (because I know Betsy is not as “Hey, I don’t care! I’m an open book. I’ll say just about anything to anyone” as I am), but some of the shifts that are going on in her could appear very anti-feminist in some circles.
Which brings me to my point—to me the heart of feminism can be captured in four words: the empowerment of women. I think there are arms of feminism that believe that anything except extensive, institutional education and the obtainment of high-profile, power positions is just not good enough. To me however, the empowerment of women to choose the path that is best for them is amazing. If a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home mother and is able to work with the finances her significant other brings home to accommodate that, I think that is a success, not a bow of the knee to a patriarchal society that has inlaid values that are foreign to her true nature, so she succumbs to lesser dreams. To me a mother doing what she chooses to do is a better example to her daughters than one who is out to prove a point. My chief evidence of that is one Mrs. Stephanie Fox.
Stephanie and I have been friends for ages by now. She was this amazingly empowered, free-spirited, artistic blur of strength and energy that entered my life freshman year of college. If you had told me in the first year of our friendship that she would one day choose to stay at home and raise kids I would have laughed at you and asked if you needed to be institutionalized.  This woman was the real deal. She was strong; she was beautiful; she was going to blaze her own trail. The reality? She has done all of that by choosing what was true to her nature. And she is not only radically changing the lives of her family and community but parentless children that she and her husband bring into their home.
She uses that creative force, she uses her beauty and strength in ways that are beyond me…and she does it in the walls of her home…by her choice. To me that is the very picture of a true feminism. She COULD be out there shaking things up in corporate America. She COULD be pursuing advanced degrees and running up the corporate ladder, but it would not be true to who she is and where she is headed.
Then there is Sara. Reading her newsletter gave me an education on processes of child development that I never got in class. Her vulnerability in saying, “When I talk with my children these are the things they are going through” and then expounding upon things too foreign for me to grasp was amazing. Although she has advanced formal education, her wisdom of applying those same concepts to her own children, and then turning those observations into teaching points for others is amazing.
Eva Webb...about as strong as a woman can be!
Then there is Eva. Eva and her husband Matt have packed up their kids for a year on the road. During the year they will be continuing their education. Eva worked with the school to develop lessons that will not put her children behind when it comes to school, all the while providing alternative education in the form of introducing them to children who are changing the world in the sciences, arts, humanitarian work and combatting poverty. Her kids will be embracing those things every day. They will be changed because she and Matt had the strength to risk doing things differently.
Then there is my cousin Jodi (there are so many strong women in family that this was a tough choice to choose one!). Jodi knows what she loves. It just so happens to line up with what her husband loves, and a need that America has. So she and Chad own their own businesses. Chad has his own line of weightlifting equipment and is able to capitalize on his experience as an Olympic athlete, which allows Jodi the space to really take hold of their gym as her own project. Over the past few years seeing the emerging businesswoman in her is inspiring.
Finally, there is my Betsy. Betsy is taking stock of her own life right now. Though she has known the path ahead of her for a long time she is realizing that our relationship changes things. Now when I say that, don’t hear I have asked for these changes. Some of them shock even me, but the reality is this – she sees change, she assesses it and then she embraces it. And again, that, along with these other women express to me true forms of feminism. Allowing women the space to become the next Angela Merkel or the next lady you have never heard of. Sure, we have a long way to go in creating space for women to break through certain glass ceilings. But the other thing we have to do is learn to reevaluate success. Success cannot be calculated merely in material ways. Material success only measures a certain portion of who we are, and when we lay women on the cross of that form of success then we crucify them from their own measures of success, which in all honesty are far more important than the ones we place on them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thoughts on the awkwardness of living in liminal relationship space

Before I begin, let me say that I ran the idea of Betsy writing on here past her and I think she is down for that! So, maybe in the next few days/weeks you will see something(s) from her. I thank Sara Simons for that particular request…and the rest of you may thank Sara later as Betsy begins to share.

I think last week I made it readily apparent that Betsy and I had packed her life up and moved it across the country. Her things are now settled in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while her person, at the time of this writing, is in transit to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she will reside until the time of our pending nuptials. This week was quite interesting for us. I think the best word to describe it was a “liminal” space/time. For those of you unacquainted with the word “liminal,” defines it as - relating to the point (or threshold) beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.
That might sound like an odd way to define a week, but I think engagement, by nature, is quite liminal. Two people find themselves in more than a dating relationship and less than a marriage relationship. Questions about finances are just strange. Seeing someone mettle through YOUR things is quite strange. Finding yourself using someone else’s things…again strange. Seeing two lives merge together just before the long-term commitment was both a great preparation and also a bit unnerving at times.
And oh, did I mention my roommate James was right there beside us for this whole jaunt? Yeah. He was. And for the record he took the destruction and reconstruction of the house like a champion. Then again, he goes to The University of Alabama, so he lives the life of a champion every day. #rolltide
Betsy and I found ourselves in really awkward moments all week. I believe it was Sunday that we decided the next step in cleaning the house was to empty my closets to store some of her things that just did not have a home yet. Simple decision…not a simple outcome. Watching Betsy rummage through my things elicited emotional responses I was not ready for. I became on edge without being angry. Have you ever been there? You are thinking in your head, “WHAT ON EARTH IS SHE DOING? Oh…what I asked her to…But why am I watching her like a hawk? Why is this so strange?” So, she left for a moment, I took stock of the emotions and when she returned just said, “Hey. This is really strange.”
Which lead to one of our better conversations. Her response? “Yeah. I think I need to be doing something else. It is weird knowing that is yours and I am making decisions what to do with it.” The truth is that moment could have escalated into one silly argument, but because Betsy and I were both able to sense “something strange” we were able to step back and say, “This is not going to work.” It actually led to a really productive and happy afternoon where we got a lot of things done. In terms of my last post what worked for us was just honest communication. “Hey Betsy, this isn’t working.” “Hey James I know.” “Hey Betsy, why don’t we stop?” “Hey James, why don’t you keep going and I will do other things?” “Hey Betsy that sounds like a good idea.”
In reality, simplifying that conversation down to bare bones makes me realize how many times in my life I recognized this type of tension before and was too passive to do anything about it. Like the time Dr. Tony Martin came over for dinner with Busby, JVW and I. Busby became a kitchen tyrant so I just left instead of addressing what was going on between us. We had quite the awkward dinner whenever things could have been addressed and we could have moved on. Plus, who combines blueberries and bleu cheese and doesn’t call it a blue salad?
I think the issue of boundaries is what makes engagement such a strange thing. There are all sorts of ideas about engagement out there that couples have to address. Questions about sex, money, family, shared assets, rent, utilities, friendship, spare time, etc. loom when it comes to the engagement stage. Are you moving toward shared bank accounts? Does someone REALLY owe someone money when you are about to get married? What are the expectations regarding family time and events during this time? Do you go to everything? Do you skip out on certain things? For certain couples do you ramp up certain physical events or do you hold certain limits? All of these things whisper in the minds of couple, “You are not quite married, but you are sharing space.” It really is pretty fascinating.
Our last evening together ended up being quite interesting and even somewhat followed the plan that we had. We went out for a nice dinner and also spent time addressing wedding invites for Texas and filling out Thank You cards. In addition, we sold a bunch of stuff to a college student named Vlad. Vlad turned out to be a really good dude. We sold him a lot of things for a lot less money than we would have because he is a struggling college kid living on his own for the very first time because all of his roommates bailed and now he has to furnish an entire apartment himself. Why would I mention Vlad in the midst of the liminality of engagement? Because for this brief moment we passed the threshold and experienced making a decision as a couple – let him have all of this; it is better for us to be generous than to haggle. And that decision was not a discussion it was just a look in the eyes and a step toward understanding each other even in the silent moments. And that little act of generosity helped set the tone for the rest of our evening.
That little act also reminded me that in the midst of discovering the “emerging we” it’s not just the oddness that defines this period of life. It is these little things that could easily be discarded or overlooked. Isn’t it so easy to focus on what is not working to the exclusion of what is really beautiful? That little look to each other that communicated, “Let’s help this kid out,” did more for us than we realized or even I initially understood. It set the tone for what “we” were doing and how we were doing it…not just for a Monday night, but for the beginning of our joint life.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Thoughts on an Unconditional Relationship

So, for those of you who have somehow missed it, I got engaged. There is this girlie named Betsy who somehow is crazy enough to try and live a life with me. So, we have progressed through the normal hoops that many relationships go through without the luxury of, you know, time in each other’s physical presence. I know that sounds strange, and perhaps even a little alarming. What it has done for me though, is make me realize that the way relationships work in 2014 is radically different than the way relationships have worked throughout history. Therefore being a little unconventional is not as strange an ordeal as I thought it was in the past.

As much as any author out there tells you they have figured things out, the truth remains there is no proper or standard way that makes relationships work beyond this – you have to know each other. You can figure out love languages, and strengths, and schedules, and families, and strategies, and still find yourself in a terrible relationship. You can also blindly ignore all of those things and somehow end up with an enduring relationship that makes people marvel. (And as a side note – I list those specific things, because they are IMMENSE helps in learning one another and how the other functions and differs from you. Knowing Betsy is a touch person helps me understand that she has different relational needs from me. Knowing that I am an introvert helps Betsy know I am not so much withdrawing from her, as I am recharging because lots of people time can be quite draining for me.) The question is do you know that other person? Do they know you? Only then do you know what you are truly signing up for.

And what I mean by that is not the projected person that you used to reel them into your net, but the deep-down, hidden you that sometimes you don’t even fully recognize yourself. Are you able to bear open who you are, let them behind the curtain and expect the same from the other? In that sense it does not matter if you are marrying for love, in an arranged marriage, had sex before your vows, exchanged purity rings, or have any other specific defining characteristics of marriage. And in that sense it is also a lot of work. But…I am also getting ahead of myself as I am just engaged and not married.
What Betsy and I have is, in my guesstimation, quite untraditional. We have known each other for about 6 years, actually nearly exactly that long since she moved to California around September for school. We both had relationships while we lived in the same state. We navigated and processed those relationships together. We had a heckuvalotta fun together without any of the pressures of dating. And in that sense we got to just be ourselves around one another without any fronts.

I left California; she stayed. Three years passed and then, BOOM! We started dating long distance. Her uncle (GUB is pictured to the right) helped us see each other face-to-face the first time post-dating. It was terribly awkward. I said something like, “I think we are in two different relationships.” She let me know, quite contrarily, “No…this is just as terrible for me as it is for you.” Somehow that made things better. Somehow that let both of us know that what we were dealing with was not the same get-to-know-you adjustments that lots of our friends went through. What we were going through was the oh-I-seem-to-have-missed-these-parts-of-you-when-we-were-just-friends adjustments.
From that first weekend together we instituted weekly Skype dates…with terrible lag times. We had to be a hyper-structured couple, because unlike many of you guys and gals that got to do this thing in person, I couldn’t just stroll over and plop on a couch. We couldn’t just meet at the movie theatre or have her drive down to the beach. We had to be super intentional or we honestly would just not make time for one another. Why? We both had good lives. And as such, we liked what we were already doing.

But what this did for us, or at least for me, was make me a student whenever I was around Betsy. I did not have the benefit of lots of time, so I had to learn as much as I could on the fly in brief, intense weekends. So, we did that in January, March, April, May, July (twice) and August. The more we have spent time together the less I have been forced to be in observation mode, and the more I have been able to be in togetherness mode. I think this is what my buddy Matt Barber (to your left) was trying to say to me when he held my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Be present. Be present. Be present. Be present” over and over again to me. I think he saw the social scientist emerging and not the fiancĂ©.
But the other thing that I learned from having to be so structured and intentional was this – I have to be structured and intentional. Relationships do not always unfold like a flower at sunrise. Sometimes they take a little coaxing. I say awkward things to Betsy like, “Ohh…I think you are trying to communicate to me that you need more affection right now. Though I get your cues, you know what would be helpful…words!” Sure…I am learning the cues, but a girlie reared in Michigan who really bought into SoCal culture speaks a different language than a lad who was raised in Texas and has spent four years in the Deep South. We have to work…and we have to expect to work.
Finally, the last thing that I have learned is this – I have to listen to outside observers. I cannot tell you how encouraging some of your words have been to us throughout this process. Whenever Betsy and I are “in it” sometimes we can lose focus of the things that make this work, because something small like, “What do you mean we aren’t going to share a bathroom” comes up. Just yesterday, two ladies came up to me and said, “I just love the two of you together.” One said that we had “Sympatico” whatever that means; and the other said she just loved the way we can flow off one another. Truth be told, in public I don’t think Betsy and I are at our best. At that party I was engaged in other conversations than she was. And maybe that is part of what they observed. We are comfortable enough at an early stage to not have to be like, “WHERE ARE YOU?!?” (Betsy and I are not always this engaged when at parties) I don’t know. But the fact is so many people have seen things that we just cannot see ourselves. And in the tough moments…it helps to hear those things. Other people can help you define strengths you just can’t see.

I have a feeling this will be part of a lifelong series if I keep writing on this here blog…which I plan to do more often. But for now…tell me about relationships. Tell me what you are learning and have learned at whatever station you are at.