One Great Question Altered Our Path
There have been surprises in my first year of “new shoes.” The leading eye-opener is that I’m not breaking in these shoes, they are having their way with me instead. They are breaking me in.
As a relationship coach, I thought maybe I knew a thing or two about relating—about being myself in a relationship, about love, about communication.
And I do. I’ve written quite a bit about it in my new book How to Save Your Fourth Marriage.
However, new shoes are, well, new.
These relationship shoes are unlike those I wore in the 17 years of marriage to my husband who died in 2017—or with any other partner, for that matter. Starting a relationship is not like slipping on a familiar pair of loafers. Being with Paul is an altogether unfamiliar walking experience. Of course it is.
How We Began
There was the first part, where we met online. Dating by way of computer was something I figured I’d never do, but somewhere along the line, I changed my mind. Why not give it a whirl?
Paul wrote to me, and my reply was a simple request for a Zoom date. Zoom saved me time by providing clues about facial expressions, health and well-being, how the eyes speak, the quality of attention, and so on. These visual cues helped me sort men, and I was grateful for that, because dating is about sorting.
At the end of any conversation, I’d say something along the lines of, “Thank you for being willing to join me on Zoom to explore getting to know each other.” If my date wasn’t a match to me, I’d figure out some way to say so. I’d thank them for their time, energy, and attention, and go on to the next candidate.
At the end of our call, I didn’t say no to Paul. Our conversation gave me pause, and I felt I needed to consider everything for a few days in order to feel sure about my answer. On our Zoom call, he had seemed pretty serious to me—proper, straight-laced, and conventional. Would he find me too far “out of the box” and disapprove of me once he really knew me? Could he be lighthearted about life, did he laugh daily? Also, was he tender enough? Sure, he was an honest and strong human, but did he have soft edges? I couldn’t see them. After agonizing about him for a week, I finally told him I didn’t think we were a match.
Paul did this brilliant thing. He said, “Can you please tell me how you came to that decision?”
Which got my attention.
He didn’t complain, criticize, or defend. He didn’t blow me off. He asked a question that opened my mind.
So I shared with him that I appreciated his question, that indeed maybe I had missed something important. Maybe I’d come to unfair or inaccurate conclusions. Perhaps I’d misinterpreted.
Which got his attention.
We had a phone conversation, and then set up a rendezvous, this time in person.
He drove to meet me on a Sunday, 3-1/2 hours each way. We talked for hours on my covered porch, and then we made dinner together. Before the trip, I asked him not to kiss me on this visit, but didn’t say why. Later, I confessed that kissing is too influential for me. I needed to get to know him before meeting his lips and breathing his air.
On this sunny Sunday, he told me about his intentions during our initial conversation, that he’d read everything on my dating profile and liked it. He really wanted to be with me and give it a go, and on that first call he was just trying so hard not to f-it-up. He didn’t want to say anything that would send me running.
You could have pushed me over with a feather when he said that.
Becoming better acquainted with Paul brought so much to the surface. Up came the stories about his father, who studied martial arts and religion. And his mother, who sang jazz and traveled with the big bands of her day. He was raised predominately by his grandmother, who took him to tent revivals and taught him how to prepare food and cook. She was a chef. We talked about how his upbringing educated him, informed him, influenced him. What also naturally came up is what he’s fierce about—I’d never met any of that before, not to mention how it interacts with my background, my upbringing, and what I’m fierce about.
We had a good beginning, mostly sunny days, but there were also clouds, storms, and a few tall mountains to climb. In the mix, too, was my intention to become slightly saucier, more forward and irrepressible with age. The two of us are an occasional challenge for each other, but we’ve made our truths evident at every turn. In short, we have learned, learned, learned—from each other and about ourselves. Yes, we have differences, but our differences are less important than I thought they were.
Oh, the Questions…
Intimate relationships provide especially fertile ground for self-study. Have you noticed this? In a relationship with another human, we find our strengths. We also find what’s undeveloped. Being with a partner brings up plenty of questions.
What are my strengths? Am I able to use them, be true to them around this person? Am I able to be all of who I am, or must I ratchet back some aspect of myself in order to get along? Can I continue to do what I came to Earth to do?
Do I feel safe? Can I ask anything? Are the two of us able to talk about tough subjects, including our differences? What happens when there’s a bad surprise? How do we deal with that? Are we kind to one another under stress?
Is it possible for me to evolve with this man, and is it natural for him to do the same in my presence? Can we grow together? Are we both interested in learning from each other, from our daily life, from the world? Are we committed to that?
What are our deepest desires about partnership? Do our desires mesh? Do they support us, bring out the best in us? Are we better together?
Every budding relationship provides mysteries. Perhaps we can do as Yo-Yo Ma suggests: “Each day I move toward that which I do not understand. The result is a continuous accidental learning which constantly shapes my life.”
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