In order to thrive in a primary relationship, a woman must be prepared to acknowledge such arrangements are delicate, requiring vigilance and frequent tweaking and tuning.
This is something I have learned only by being in one, and the ‘constant’ part of it can be wearying – to the point of making mistakes. Nothing is learned without some mistakes, but one must make every attempt to ensure these errors in judgment cause minimum, repairable, damage. The big ones may either signify the end of the relationship, or profoundly alter it. Some major alterations turn out to be beneficial, taking the relationship to new heights of understanding and sometimes, change. With others, however the result may be evil. Just yesterday I came perilously close to making the latter sort.
In the very middle of a rant at Pete about talking to me in a more meaningful way I realized if he were to do that, change his behaviour so significantly, then I would be obliged to reciprocate with a fundamental change in my behaviour. The notion brought me to a verbal standstill and I left the room, horrified by what I had so nearly done.
It was quite a moment: it made me realize how fortunate I am in this arrangement, this marriage, not just in the obvious ways of financial sharing and support and a friend and partner, but in the way I have become free to address him. He is my sounding board for every thought about every thing, and I don’t have to mince words, or edit, or pay much attention to anything other than expressing myself, whether it is waxing rhapsodic about a new ice cream flavour or venting my spleen and damn! but it is fine. I’ll not likely get cancer-causing stress from this relationship; every possible bit of poison or even mild distaste gets spewed out into his listening ears.
If he were to start talking about how he felt about things, as I have frequently urged him to do, I would have to listen! And that would dramatically eat into the time we now spend with me talking and him listening. Do I really crave comment on what I have to say, as I was telling him I do? Well, hell no! That would take even more time from the hours when the podium is mine, with him my attentive audience of one.
What if he were to make some sort of male breakthrough and start insisting on sharing his feelings with me? Or telling me what he thought about every single thing in our lives? Jeez! I would hate it. And I would not be good at it, either; although I am a listener in a crowd, in a one-on-one, listening has never been my strong suit, and listening to someone disagree with me only irritates me. As for the possibility of hearing him put forth another point of view, well that is even more likely to be upsetting. Listening takes patience and lots of time.
Those lovely times we have when he is home of sitting down together with a mug of tea or a glass of wine would be forever altered. I would have to take a turn at being the listener and I don’t have Pete’s skill at appearing attentive while being mentally somewhere else. I don’t know if I have enough time left to learn it; I’d be twitching in my chair, picking at my nails, crossing and uncrossing my legs, perhaps even sighing once in a while as I waited for my turn to speak.
I happen to know for a proven fact that Pete often zones out when I am telling him about some event or thought. In a rare moment of confiding (I think it was when we were in Mexico and had both had tequila; it’s the only thing I clearly remember from that conversation and at the time I thought he was being amusing) he out and out admitted he doesn’t always pay rapt attention to my every utterance.
Maybe men are born with this ability to tune out; it explains their listening skills as well as their often irrelevant response to a question. For instance, I remember telling Pete about my real feelings around his mother’s move, with her third husband, to Costa Rica (it was relief) and when I’d asked him for his real feelings Pete said he didn’t like Costa Rica either.
And then there is his total approval of everything to do with my appearance. No matter what I ask, he thinks it’s beautiful, a word he has used for everything from a new hairdo to a pair of boots to a suspicious mole on my shoulder.
Now, I am thinking it is time to stop pestering the man for details. Do I really want to know? I am fairly certain there are some things Pete thinks that I am better off not knowing. When I model my new green sweater, do I want to risk hearing, “It’s OK, but it makes your chest look like a 10 year old boy and the colour reminds me of the time the cat threw up a hairball”?
or, “Oh, you’ve had your hair cut; I thought you’d done it yourself, with my Swiss army knife.”
There are three subjects that can be relied upon to evoke eloquence from Pete: fishing, hunting, and sports. I had a history of being utterly disinterested in all three, but when Pete and I were dating, I became quite fascinated by the art of tying flies and which rifle is best for hunting deer, and I likely would have chosen a favourite team to root for, had we had access to television. Pete adored my interest and was tireless in his effort to educate me about these things, and I was an eager student.
It took about a year to disabuse him of the notion that I was not actually interested in actually doing any fishing or hunting or watching sports. We courted in a time and place where none of these activities were available; I’d merely been getting to know him, to learn who he was, and part of that was knowing what he liked to do.
Would we have come together so happily had we met and dated in this country? It is one of the few questions I have never asked Pete and now I know better than do so – ever.
I am a very lucky woman, one might even say blessed; my husband listens and he doesn’t need to talk back. I get to critique every movie, every show on TV that we watch together. I get to describe how we feel about people, places, events, and each other. I am the one who describes what we eat and where, what we buy and why we buy it. I even get to tell him what he likes about me!
Whenever I have something to say, which is every waking hour, I expect and generally get, his attention. I can even wake him up in the middle of the night to describe a dream. And road trips! No matter how many times we have made the drive to Whitehorse, I still get to describe the journey.
He has heard about most of the minutes of my life, from birth till the present day. He is the one who knows things about me that few others do, such as I can write backwards, and that Baloo the bear is my secret hero. He knows I don’t like flu shots, uniforms, or wind.
To think I almost blew it, this blissful partnership of speaker and listener! There are some inequalities that are like sleeping dogs – let them lie. Carrying on with the animal comparisons, did you know that only the female duck quacks?
Mother Nature knows best.
Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.