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,” dictionary.com 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.

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