To Be Known
by Joy Monger
I was having lunch the other day with two lady co-workers who are both my age-ish, and both in committed, but unmarried, relationships. And they were talking about how they wish their boyfriends would hurry up and propose already. Because that’s what ladies my age-ish talk about at lunch. Unless of course, their boyfriends have already proposed and they’re married and pregnant and then they talk about placentas. Which is gross. So of the two choices, I prefer marriage lunch talk.
And then, because I was nodding my head and making eye contact, and saying “me too”, which all indicated a safe environment for sharing, my lady lunch friends admitted that even though they really want to get married, they are also scared. Scared of the marriage ending, of being hurt, because the men change, or the men refuse to move back to Wisconsin so they can have babies near their mom, or what if their husbands leave them for young pretty blondes who aren’t in non-profit, and look good in skinny jeans.
And then, because they also were making eye contact, and nodding their heads, I felt safe and vulnerable. And I said I was scared too of failed marriages. But not scared for the same reasons they were.
I took a deep breath and revealed my greatest fear to my lady lunch friends. I admitted, “I’m scared I might be the asshole.”
You see, the scary part about marriage isn’t that I might get left behind because marriage was just too tedious for my partner, or that my partner will someday turn into some icy cold version of themselves who says cruel things and no longer thinks my Tina Fey impersonation is funny, or that one day the person I love most will hurt me in the most painful way because they know exactly where my most vulnerable spots are.
What is scary about marriage to me, is that I might, one day, do all those things terrible things to the person I love most.
I might be the asshole.
When I hear stories about marriages ending and the terrible things people do to each other, I never would have thought that those people had such nasty things hiding inside of them. What if it’s hiding in me too?
Do I have what it takes to be true and generous and loving and committed and vulnerable and altruistic and steadfast and interesting for the rest of my life, so help me God, amen, to the same person who will also be changing and growing and imperfect and scared? What if I get bored, or lonely, or weak? Will I still be kind?
Sometimes when my cat is annoying and wakes me up too early in the morning, I have fantasies that he would run away and never come back. And he’s basically just a chubby, hairy, hug who loves me unconditionally.
I fear I might be the asshole.
So I say all this to my lady co-worker friends over lunch, because I thought they might understand.
But they don’t.
And they stop nodding their heads and it’s suddenly very quiet and I am keenly aware of the birds chirping and the traffic in the parking lot. And they stare at me unblinking and my hands flap around awkwardly and now they know me. The real me. And they don’t like what they’ve learned.
And then I am certain I am the asshole. And now I am also alone.
But then a few nights later I had wine with my real, good, long-term girlfriends, who know me and are honest and funny and gusty and happily married.
And I take a deep breath and I try one more time.
I admit that I am scared that I might be the one who does the hurting. And then I hold my breath and wait.
And immediately my girlfriends nod their heads and make eye contact and say “me too”. And they tell me that already in their marriages they have been the asshole. They have hurt and been hurt. And have been forgiven, sometimes quickly, sometimes over a long period of time. And that they are always trying to be a better person in their relationships. To keep the asshole at bay.
And then I feel understood. And I feel better. I’m still scared. But I feel better. Because they know me and they still love me.
Even the part that might be the asshole.