Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A very long conversation

Every now and then, one of us makes a reservation, we dress up a little and head out for an evening to spend some time-out-of-time together. You might call this a date night - and I have too - but somehow 'date' night changes to something richer the longer I've been married.

I actually don't remember a lot about dating - those rituals of learning more about a potential partner. I've done most of my dating after I got married. They have been fleeting moments savored before returning to diapers, homework, and dirty dishes. Dates have been an hour or two where someone else cooks while we just sit and look at each other across the table. I could remember what it meant to look pretty, he could figure out where those dress shoes were hiding. We rarely went to a movie or an event that took time away from our ability to remember who we were before we were J's mom or dad; his wife, my husband. Sometimes we talked about kids, family and work. More often the conversation flowed into our hopes and dreams. It was a breath of fresh air, a moment to hold the vision and, yes, remember what brought us together so many years before.

Saturday night, we headed out to a great little Italian restaurant in Seattle and settled in with a carafe of wine with appetizers.

"Tell me about yourself - what's your name again? - I know I'm taking you home with me but I'd like to know a little more about you before I do."

Yes, that's what I said to my husband of 28+ years. Because we had been bantering he didn't look too startled - but still my basic question caught him off guard. "Who are you, what's important to you?"

I smiled into my wine as he sat and stared at me - not in frustration as you might imagine - but simply trying to figure out how does one even begin to answer that question.

What this man doesn't seem to realize is that he is extremely good at getting me to talk about myself. Whether its been the minutiae of a day spent home with sick children, or office politics or the latest family drama - he listens. What he is even better at is not talking about himself. He can share stories about others and, sure, he reveals himself in those stories - but he doesn't talk about the goodness in his heart, the skills, the successes that are so much a part of his life. I tell him he's brilliant and he looks baffled and then says that he's simply been lucky.


I don't know why it happened the way it did, perhaps because the conversation started in a playful pretend sort of way but as we sipped and ate our way through a few courses, the conversation delved into his dreams, his way of looking at the world and how he sees himself there. Listening, I was touched so deeply by this amazing man. Of course I'm not going to share what he talked about but I fell in love again with the person he is, not who I blindly assume him to be.

We do that, you know. Its not often in the loving chaos that is raising a family, working full-time, dealing with the world as it comes at you - it's not often that you look across the table and see a life partner with fresh eyes. We are lulled with assumptions, by our understanding, by all the little things that we take for granted.

What if I was meeting you for the first time?

I looked across the table and felt like the luckiest woman on the planet.

Occasionally he would get incredibly uncomfortable having what he considered such a one-sided conversation but I was so interested in what he was saying, just listening, asking another question - that I gently refused to let him start asking me matching questions. I realized something rather profound even as I said it to him - "I know that this conversation feels unbalanced to you, like it needs to be fair in some odd tit-for-tat way. Can you let that go? Just for a little while? This is a lifetime conversation between you and I - and these last couple of hours have been wonderful getting to know you - right now, in this time and place."

A Lifetime conversation.  A conversation that lives between the two of us that we pick up at odd times - building on other things we have said, experiences we have had. Sometimes I talk non stop for hours - I should remind him of a particular drive up from Las Vegas to Seattle.  Sometimes, when I have all my wits about me, I get him to talk about his living of life for a time as well. He's sneaky, the master at deflecting the conversation spotlight off of himself.

There is no balance sheet for this.

I recognize myself in this - I have often struggled with the notion of taking up space or the notion that there is only so much time (at dinner, in a meeting, for a debate) and we must have equanimity or else it isn't 'fair.' Somewhere over the last decade that has mellowed. What hasn't mellowed is my interest and love and curiosity for this man I married almost thirty years ago. He isn't the same boy I met when I was seventeen. Like me, he's a person who keeps growing, learning and deciding who he wants to be in the world. I'm not going to know him without making the space for him to share who he is with me.

And of course, as we walked hand in hand back to our car, he asked me, "so who are you, Jennifer?"

I just smiled rather smugly, "I'm a woman of mystery. But I'm still taking you home with me."

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