Years ago I was in the pediatrician's office, waiting for my child to be called to an exam room. I was pretending to read a magazine. I sort of hate magazines. When boredom and waiting force me to read something I hate, I begin reading at the end and go towards the front. For some reason this makes me feel less grumpy about reading it. So I was reading the end of the magazine - the part with all the ads and classifieds and partial recipes and shopping information for things I would never in a million years want or need - and something caught my eye. It was a vacation ad for the islands off the coast of Maine. For two weeks one could kayak from island to island. Nights would be spent at an island bed and breakfast, meals and lodging were part of the package. In short-- an outdoor adventure during the day with a hot meal and comfortable room at night. This is my kind of camping.
When I got home from the appointment I couldn't stop thinking about that advertisement. At the time, Darrin and I had quite a bit of disposable income. The price was reasonable, we had never taken a vacation of that duration together since the kids had been born, and I wanted to do it. I talked about it with Darrin that night. To my disappointment, rather than sharing my excitement, Darrin listed 100 reasons why we shouldn't go. Among those were concern about competent child care and ability to get time off. Those were valid. I agreed with him. All Darrin's other reasons were, in my opinion, silly: Maine was too far away; if we were going to spend that much money, he'd rather just take the kids and visit family in NYC; he didn't want to eat seafood...
I looked at him for a moment, wondering what was happening. Then I realized he simply did not want to go on my vacation. What I had chosen didn't appeal to him. He didn't want to go to Maine, he didn't want to go kayaking, didn't want to risk staying at a B&B or eat meals that came with a prepackaged vacation. But most of all, he wanted to plan the vacation himself.
This has been a chronic problem for Darrin and I. When it comes to decisions involving a lot of money, like buying a car or planning a pricey vacation, Darrin objects to anything I choose without him. In the end, we usually end up with my choice anyway because I don't just choose on a whim. I research and haggle and find great prices, and Darrin is all about getting a great deal-- but he objects on principle because I didn't include him in all that.
So I asked Darrin to help me plan a vacation and we ended up spending about $150 to take the family to a reunion and stay with my parents and siblings (and their families) in our old home on the other side of the state. Not really a vacation for me, since that house has a lot of very ugly memories and I spent my time taking care of kids and juggling family politics. I really wanted my kayak time.
I didn't forget. In the past, when I've come up with an idea for Darrin and I to spend time together, if he's not shown reciprocal interest, I've given up the idea. It's not fun to spend time with someone who doesn't want to be there. But this time, I really wanted my vacation.
When I began seeing Therapist, one of his observations was that I was very independent at work, in my parenting skills, and in my personal life, but when it came to my interaction with Darrin I was no longer sure of myself. I often compromised things that I wanted in order to assure his comfort and ease. That is not to say that we never argued-- but that usually happened when I had compromised to the point that I felt my needs were completely ignored (interestingly, Darrin has often felt that he compromises to that same extent with me). When I could no longer tolerate the feeling that I was completely at the mercy of what Darrin wanted, a huge fight ensued, sending my children running for cover and leaving Darrin wondering who he had married. These things happen. Fortunately, for us, they haven't happened very often.
So Therapist and Darrin and I had some conversations where we talked about alternative ways to make decisions. Therapist said a compromise usually involves giving on both side, so what I was doing was not compromise but capitulation. That was not something I wished to hear. Nor did Darrin. Then Therapist told us that Darrin and I are both great capitulators, but not great compromisors. We needed to switch gears, say more words about why things were important to us when a conflict arose, and allow each other alone time to pursue the things that one of us enjoyed (cars for Darrin), but the other did not (running/working out/kayaking for me).
That made complete sense to Darrin and me. And we spent five years honing our skills and strengthening our marriage. But in the process, some things happened to me.
1. I stopped being emotionally dependent on my husband.
2. I took the first solo trip of my life and spent a week on the road, visiting friends and being alone.
3. We needed a car. Darrin said I could choose - so I did. As was his habit, he found a different car he thought would be better. I stood my ground, reminded him he said I could choose (and that my car had nearly 80,000 fewer miles and was $4000 cheaper and I WANTED that dent in the bumper), and Darrin remembered that sometimes I can make decisions without him. We bought the car I had chosen. I felt rather empowered going through the process of researching what I wanted, finding the vehicle and setting the price.
4. I began spending some of my free time with people other than Darrin. I invited friends to lunch with me. I planned alone time. I didn't allow myself to feel guilt when my social life blossomed and Darrin was left to fill some of his with things he wished to do. The fact that he didn't choose to fill that new time was not my fault.
In short, I became a whole person without Darrin. I still wanted him. I was still in love with him. I just didn't NEED him all the time. And I was much happier.
On the other hand, Darrin had to deal with a loss. I wasn't always there when he wanted me. Sometimes I just said no when he asked me to do something and I had too much to do. Often I asserted my needs or wants, reminding him that mine were equally as important as his. Darrin supported me in this. He understood why it needed to happen. But it was still uncomfortable for him.
So one day, when I was with a someone-not-Darrin, I talked about my Maine kayaking vacation and asked that person if she would like to come with me. She said, "YES! That sounds amazing!" And I decided that I was going to go one day, with or without Darrin. He said he was fine with that.
That was three years ago.
Last week, as we were traveling, Darrin was sharing his bucket list with me. A day or two later he said, "You didn't tell me the things on your bucket list." I actually had shared some with him, and I reminded him. He wanted to know what I hadn't shared. I said, "Well, most of what's left are things I like to do, but you don't." He wanted me to name one. So I mentioned the kayak vacation. Darrin was quiet for a minute. Then he said, "I'd like to do that with you."
Therapist told me a long time ago that this would happen. He said that Darrin and I both harbor fears that we're not enough for each other-- which is why we sometimes argue even when we don't know why. We feel insecure. We need to reestablish the status quo. We don't know how to say, "This makes me feel vulnerable." And the truth is, we're not "enough" for each other. One person can never fill another's needs completely. But we ARE enough in the sense that we don't have to do more, or be more, or have more, to be the person each of us chooses. Every time.
Darrin does not want to go kayaking in Maine. But he does want to be with me. And that's enough.