Calm, Cool and Committed

Three Moms and a Dude

Let’s Live Together First!

The Dude is a little frustrated. While Molar Mother and Mea banter, quite fruitfully, over how to 12-step your way to a better marriage, CNN is posting this article: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/04/living/women-premarital-cohabitation/index.html?hpt=hp_c3 . To save you the time, this article essentially says that living together before marriage is not only becoming more common in America, but it’s also been shown to lead to more marriages. I mean isn’t that what our country needs? More marriages! Not lasting marriages, not happy marriages, not healthy marriages, just more. More. More. Low on cash? Move in with your boyfriend. Been together long enough? Share an apartment. Don’t want to rush into anything? Pick out matching towels, but hold off on the rings.

I know what some will say: We lived together before we got married, and our marriage is completely happy. Hey, that’s great for you. But isn’t part of the fun of marriage learning what it’s like to live with your lover and best friend (I’m assuming those are the same person)? If you’ve already done that before getting married, then what’s actually changed for you aside from how you fill out your W-4?

I realize that we live in a society that scoffs at traditional values (I mean God forbid people waited to have sex until marriage), but when did we decide that marriage was simply the next step in a long line of relational intimacy intervals? When did America start seeing marriage as something to be decided upon over a bowl of lucky charms at the breakfast bar where you eat with your live-in partner? If that’s all marriage is anymore, then why even bother?

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The power of the buffing wheel…

A few days ago I was looking at some of our wedding pictures hanging on the wall, and what caught my eye immediately was how bright our wedding rings looked. I remembered that while we were on our honeymoon, a waiter at a restaurant guessed that we were newly-weds based solely on how lustrous our rings were at the time. After staring for a moment at the picture, I looked down at the same ring on my finger: tarnish. Four years will do that to brilliant metal.

I went down to the basement, fired up my buffing wheel, and buffed my wedding ring. Logistically this was not comfortable. For starters, my wedding ring is small – buffing a wedding ring is not the same as buffing an old candle stick: I had to be nimble yet deliberate whilst maintaining a tight grip on the ring. This brought about my next problem: heat. As if holding on to the ring was not difficult enough due to its size, now it was really starting to get hot. I tried wrapping an old rag around the ring in order to relieve some of the pain on my fingers, but this hindered me from really getting the metal against the buffing wheel. Once I finished buffing the ring, it looked darker than when I had started; in fact, I started to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Then I remembered what my dad taught me about buffing metal: the buffing is step one, the polish is step two. I grabbed a clean rag, and I polished my ring like there was no tomorrow. And when I finished – brilliance. My wedding ring had never looked so good.

As I was putting my now brilliant wedding ring proudly back onto my finger, I started thinking about my marriage: it has a bit of tarnish. Four years can do that to a marriage. My wife and I do not fight – we don’t scream or yell; we don’t call each other names. But sometime we argue, and there was a time when we communicated better. There was a time when after spending more than the length of one work day apart, we could not wait to get home to each other. Those days are not gone, but they have become muddled through time and a lack of attention.

If your marriage is at all like mine, then you know what I mean when I say that relationships can fall into patterns. You say one thing and your spouse hears another; you think you’re disagreeing humbly, but they are getting offended by your arrogance; you didn’t mean to invalidate your spouse’s feelings, but they are genuinely hurt by your inclination to trivialize their point of view. And if your marriage is at all like mine, then you know what it feels like to have the same conversations over and over in an attempt to fix these patterns. However, since these conversations seemingly yield no results, they are simply repeated, and now the conversations themselves are just another unhealthy pattern. These patterns are abundantly common, and they can quickly take the brilliance away from a marriage. I am not ok with these patterns. I don’t see these patterns as major problems now, but if they aren’t addressed, then I see them becoming gateways to major problems in the future.

After pondering this for a while, I tried to come up with a solution. In the end, I decided to suggest marriage counseling. I know the stigma behind counseling: couples go to counseling because they are having major problems; couples go to counseling because it’s their last hope; couples go to counseling because they scream and yell. I don’t buy it. While some of these may be true for some couples, they simply don’t apply to my marriage. So why do I want marriage counseling? I want marriage counseling because I see it as a buffing wheel that can bring some brilliance back to my marriage. I want marriage counseling because I don’t know how to fix everything. I want marriage counseling because I need someone who knows more about marriage than me to say, “Thedude, did you ever think about it from this angle?” I can’t stress enough that my wife and I have a pretty great marriage: we laugh, we get along, and we’re still in love with each other. But we have some patterns of communication that are simply unhealthy, and I’m not ok with allowing those patterns to become norms.

When I suggested counseling to my wife, she was hesitant at first because counseling is a time commitment, and we’re busy people (what couple isn’t busy these days?). But my feeling is simple: what’s more important than having a healthy marriage? I told my wife that I wouldn’t try to convince her, but that I wanted her to think about it. Within a few hours, she approached me and said she was excited to dive deeper into our marriage. I’ll tell you a secret: that was sexy. There is nothing more attractive to a man than to hear his wife say that she wants to make their marriage better. We got referred to a licensed counselor through our church, and we start in a few weeks.

I can probably guess what some of you are thinking right now: “Well that’s good for thedude and his wife, but me and my spouse would never need counseling – we can fix our own problems.” Hey, maybe you’re right. Maybe you and your spouse have been having the same arguments over and over, but you’ll quit when you’re good and ready. It is certainly not for me to say that counseling is always the answer. I am sure that not everyone needs counseling, but I think it would be hard to find a marriage that couldn’t benefit from it.

I know this won’t be all kittens and rainbows. It’s probably going to get a little uncomfortable and pretty heated, but we will hold on tight. And what I have to keep telling myself is that the counseling is only step one – I’ll call that the buffing step; actually using the counseling and making positive changes is step two – I’ll call that the polishing step. In the end, I know that my marriage is going to be brilliant again. And I can’t wait.

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Real Men

A few days ago I got a call from a male coworker; I’ll call him J. I wasn’t expecting J’s call, but it was a welcome interruption to my gathering things to take to the dry cleaner. J and I talked for a few minutes about summer break and grad classes, and then I finally asked the question: “So what’s up J?” Translation: why are you calling me? J’s response was simple: “I just wanted to say hi and see how your summer was going.”

Freeze.

Now ordinarily there would be an awkward moment here because J’s response goes against all things masculine in America. Guys do not call each other “just to say hi and see how your summer is going.” Guys call each other for a specific purpose (dude, what time is the barbeque?), and then they get the hell off the phone. When a guy says something like “I just wanted to say hi and see how your summer was going,” the other guy panics. Suddenly thoughts of unstable boundaries run through his mind: Does this mean that my friend cares about me? Can guys care about each other? Is he gay now? Does he think I’m gay? Who exactly is Rupaul? How should I respond to this?

When J told me why he had called, there was no awkward moment. There was no panic or shattering of masculine fortresses. I just said, “That’s awesome man; thanks for callin’.” J is an exceptional man, and I think it’s great that he cares about me.

The problem is that most men are not naturally vulnerable, and yes, this is a problem. Sure, men are vulnerable with their women – baby you know I love you- but the idea of sharing his emotions with another man is not a viable option to the average dude. Throughout the course of American history masculinity has been defined by its refusal to acknowledge, experience, and God forbid, talk about emotions. In America a “real man” watches and talks about sports; a real men does yard work; a real man has it all together, and he doesn’t need anyone’s help. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to a “real man” who can’t communicate with his wife, can’t have a man-to-man conversation with any depth, and doesn’t know how to healthily process what he is feeling. Yeah, he’ll get promoted at work because he knows how to wear the corporate face for the higher ups – but everyone else thinks he’s a schmuck.

Is this honestly what the real man has become? If so, then I’m in trouble because I have a different approach. I’m not great at sports; I hate yard work; I don’t have it all together, and most days, I need help. And I don’t mean that I need help figuring out how to start my damn chainsaw, I need help figuring out how to communicate better with my wife; I need help processing the fact that my boss has never offered me any kind of affirmation; I need help learning how to deal with friendships that seems one-sided. Even with all of these emotions, can’t I still be a real man?

I love my wife, and I revel in saying it to her every day. But I also love my buddies like J – the guys with whom I play golf and eat pizza and watch the new Batman movie – and I’d like to start seizing the opportunities to say it to them as well. For the record, I am not saying that feelings should be the only topic of conversation when a few guys get together to play poker and smoke cigars. Timing does play a role here, lest there should be some campy conversations: Full house, boys! Wow Frank, I’m so proud of you…a full house…I love you.

I’m not saying that my version of masculinity is the perfect one for every guy, for every friendship, or that it’s necessarily the solution to the problem. But I do hope that it’s a step in the right direction. In the meantime, I’m going to call one of my “real man” friends just to say hi and to see how his summer is going.

-thedude

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