Friday, July 31, 2009

True Love is... Freezing Your Butt Off

New cute shirt. Check

More than five minutes spent on hair. Check.

Make-up actually applied. Check.

Kids dropped off for the night. Check.

Hotel reservation. Check.

Outrageous expectations. Checked at the door.

This time of year, time alone with my husband outside of our condo is rare and precious, so an arranged date night is exciting. I get pumped up about the night out, but I am not fanatical about it anymore. I used to build up these rare dates to such a level that I was often disappointed and then frustrated about things that were out of my control. Last night’s date could have been a night out with friends for drinks ending in hot romance at our hotel. (fill in your own fantasy here) Instead, we spent our night out with friends for dinner and then we were pulled away by a work emergency for my husband. We spent the rest of the night rambling around in a run-down ’82 pick-up truck, tossing full boxes of food in and out as we transported food from one broken freezer to a sub-zero warehouse.

Granted, we live in Minnesota in the winters, so it is somewhat expected that some of our dedication to one another would include exposing ourselves to freezing temps. When the driveway is covered in snow or the windshield caked in ice, it is loving and kind to be the warm-hearted soul who chips away at the ice or shovels the snow for the spouse who stands huddled in the doorway. It happens in our house, and more now than a few years ago. I must note that the spouse who is huddled inside is not always me.

For a while, at the beginning of our marriage, I had this inaccurate impression that it was the husband’s job to take care of the wife. Every girl wants to be taken care of and to feel loved by a doting husband, but what I have found, is that every guy, and most definitely my guy, feels that way too. Most men, in fact, need women to dote and care for them much more than we women need them. Men suffer most when they are not in a marital relationship and women suffer most when they are in an unhappy relationship. Studies have concluded that men have a longer and healthier lifespan when married, and I am starting to understand what that means for me as a wife to that needy man. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is an incredibly efficient man who can do practically anything, but I have spent some time the last few years accepting my role as a helper, and our overall relationship has improved. Luckily, with the sacrifices I started to make, my husband began to sacrifice willingly too.

This week it was me throwing boxes onto palates and helping to get things stacked inside the walk-in freezer, but he too has frozen. Last year when I was coaching a soccer game in pouring rain, he suffered through the game, huddling the kids under a large trash bag and all out of support for me.

I was, and still am, a little disappointed that our date was changed, but I’m glad that I have gotten better about accepting each shift in expectation as a new experience, and that those shifts are not necessarily bad. We had fun laughing about the twist our “date night” had taken. We acknowledged how great it was to be out and about late at night without the kids, and we both chose to simply make the most of it.

I am finding happiness in the little things, letting go of unrealistic and fanatical expectations. Each moment is a gift, each conversation worth relishing and... freezing can be good for a marriage too.

If you want to be happy…
For an hour, take a nap
For a day, go fishing
For a month, get married
For a year, get an inheritance
For a lifetime, help someone.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

River Rafting Through Marriage

“Half the boats that go through that part of the river flip over,” our guide somberly explained as we watched the lead boats approach the toughest part of the river.

As a boating team we hadn’t had the most stellar rafting day up to that point. We had spent some time trying to free ourselves from a rock, losing one of our rafters in the process. She didn’t go down the river at all, and we were eventually able to lift the boat from its submerged state, but our guide had to use his belt for the first time all summer. We thought we had collected ourselves at lunch, determined to have a more successful outing in the afternoon. Literally yards from our second drop-in point, our guide had suggested that we try to “surf” an eddy while we waited for the other boats to launch. We got sucked in by the powerful water, again becoming submerged, and this time our guide had to deploy the life line as he swam to shore to pull us out.

Our confidence was shaken, and we had been forced to paddle continuously to catch up with the boats in our group. There were four women and a guide in our boat, while the boats ahead of us had five or six rafters including at least one man. I was starting to understand why our guide sounded less than enthusiastic when he realized that he was going to be in a boat with four women. We didn’t weigh as much as the other boats, slowing our travel, and despite my desire to admit otherwise, men have more brute strength. We wanted not to be nervous about the description of the upcoming rapids, but our experiences up to that point made it hard to remain calm.

We watched, with wide eyes and gaping mouths, as the first two boats in our group navigated the class 4 rapid. The first boat ducked out of view for a moment, and then we saw bodies and oars flying as the bottom of the boat became visible. We knew our friends had been thrown and we marveled at the speed and force with which they had been flung from the boat. The second boat approached that same spot, and again we watched as they were jostled and then flipped. Our panic was evident, and our guide could sense our trepidation.

“Ladies! Look at me! We can do this! We have to work together and you are going to make it if you do it right! Listen to me, and when I tell you to go high side left, you will put yourselves high side left and stay there with everything you got.” He yelled with authority and encouragement.

As he spoke, and we practiced the instruction, we were still floating toward the impressive rapid. We were getting closer, and each of us took a serious posture gripping our oars. We approached the rock and slid to the left of the boat as instructed. It was an instantaneous collision that included water spray, the overwhelming noise of water on rock, and involuntary movement as our bodies reacted to the boat motion. In less than two seconds we were past the obstacle, having been thrown about inside the boat, but most definitely still inside. We cheered and celebrated with relief. The boat directly behind us had also successfully navigated the rapid, and exactly half of the boats in our group had remained intact.

It was an amazing experience, and a phenomenal memory for our boat and also for the boat of our friends who were thrown out. The pictures of the turned over boat were definitely more interesting, and we looked at those images over and over again. As I studied the pictures of our boat I realized something about the experience that relates directly to what I have come to discover about navigating marriage.

Using the rafting analogy, being married is like navigating a tumultuous river. The personality of each boat is unique and no trip down the river is quite like any other. We all do essentially the same preparation: putting on life jackets and helmets and getting instruction about what to do if you fall out, but until you are on the river, and facing the hidden boulders, you cannot really appreciate the work it is going to take to get down.

In my marriage, I think my husband and I had boarded our raft with the proper safety attire, but we didn’t necessarily have the most experienced guide. We were operating with our own ideas about how to get down the river, and it created some uncomfortable situations. If you have ever rafted, you know that you have to be in sync with the other rafters, or you don’t go where you are supposed to be on the river. Six years ago we ran into an unexpected rapid, and I was thrown from our marriage boat. Rafting experts will tell you that you have three choices when you are thrown from a boat. You can put your feet out in front of you, keep your head above the water and float down bouncing off of rocks. You can swim aggressively to shore or to another boat, or you can swim aggressively back to your own boat. When I fell out, I knew I wanted to swim back aggressively to my own boat, but I needed some help to get there. After all the interviews and books read, I was able to climb back into our boat, and with the encouragement and willingness of my husband we have been able to put a reliable guide in the back to help get us down the river. The guide in our marriage boat is the collection of stories and advice that I gained through the tea party conversations. All of my research has helped me to identify some of those hidden boulders as well as how to best navigate the protruding rocks.

I found out, after our day of rafting, that our friends’ boat was given no specific instruction for how to get through the worst rapid of the day. In our boat, our guide told us what to expect and then we also practiced our technique. There was no guarantee that our instruction would keep us in the boat, but we were more prepared than the first boat who had received no instruction, and who hadn’t had the advantage of watching other boats tip. River rafting is hard work, and it can evoke fear, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, anger and pain. Marriage is no different, but like rafting, if navigated with the best equipment, a reliable guide and a willing partner, it can be an incredible adventure that is full of joy.