It all started with a question. Alex and I were walking around the neighborhood after dinner. We were both quiet. To jumpstart conversation, I asked him about some snippet of football news I had heard. Not that I really cared. We could talk about anything; I just wanted to connect with him. Sports news seemed like the best route to get there.
But my half-hearted attempt didn’t work. In the scope of intriguing conversation topics, Alex was well aware that I considered football, pickles, and naval fluff pretty much equal. He responded to my question, and we lapsed back into silence.
Then he asked, “If you want to know more about football, why don’t you learn for yourself?”
It was a question that filled me with not-so-righteous rage.
And it was the question that changed everything.
“This is YOUR thing”
When we first got married, I was a mostly bored, unwilling participant in Alex’s sports hobby, except when:
1) I was in a good mood,
2) I didn’t have anything better to do, or
3) There was the promise of helmet nachos.
Assuming the eye-rolling wife persona, I liked to declare “This is YOUR thing” and “Well, YOU’RE the expert, how was I supposed to know that?” I did this to excuse my lack of attention or interest in whatever game we were watching. When describing our sports-saturated lives to friends and family, I used a tone laced with humor, but barely hiding my true feelings: I spent my entire Saturday night watching basketball, and I’m bitter about it.
I didn’t care about sports, but I still asked questions because I loved my husband. Except I asked, and then he would direct me to Reddit or a particular sports documentary. Or he would shrug and point at the television a la Levar Burton as if to say, “Don’t take my word for it!”
But I didn’t want sports. I just wanted him.
And he didn’t want half-hearted questions. He just wanted someone to share his passion.
A passion shared
Few things are more affirming than getting to share something you love with someone you love, and for them to actually get it. On the flip side, when they can’t see what you see, it’s painful.
This spring, I got to take Alex to one of my beloved places: a family cabin in Colorado, where my cousins and I spent summers hiking, playing Monopoly, and telling stories together under the towering Rockies. When we visited, the cabin hadn’t been officially opened for the season, so the electricity was off and all the windows were boarded up. As we beamed a flashlight at its log interior, toward the piano where we played duets, and the bedroom where I slept as a child, I couldn’t wipe a smile off my face. Alex followed me around quietly. Taking it all in, I thought.
When we left, I could hardly wait to hear his reaction. Get ready for heart-talk and instant understanding of this formational place in my childhood!
He assured me the cabin was nice. But I could tell he didn’t see what I saw. It crushed me. Then again, he never experienced the chilly cabin nights around the fireplace, the snowy tops of Longs Peak seen from awed 10-year-old eyes, the winding car rides into Estes Park for a game of putt putt golf with Grandma and Grandaddy. I could hardly expect him to make the mental leap from what he experienced to what I had.
With sports, I continued to draw circles around this is YOU, and this is ME, refusing to enter in to share in his experience, forgetting that while marriage doesn’t make us the same person, it asks us to do the hard work. To step towards each other.
To seek to understand.
What I’m learning
That night on our walk, I had a new idea: if I want to grow closer to my husband, maybe asking vague questions isn’t the way to do it. Maybe I really do have to care.
It’s easy for me to feel like this is unfair. This is your thing. I have other things to do – like read literary fiction, organize my closets, and try to finally get past season 3 of “Parenthood.” When you know who you are and what you like, is it worth leaning in for the sake of intimacy? What if leaning in is actually the best thing you could possibly do?
So I’m learning this: I can roll my eyes and not pay attention, and ask questions I don’t care about, and what I’ll get is nowhere closer to my husband.
But there’s another way.
I can sit my butt down on the couch next to him and park it. I can ignore my phone, leave the clean clothes in the laundry basket, and watch the game. Because at the end of the day, he’s still going to love sports, and my disinterest, judgement, or lack of participation isn’t going to change that.
I can stand in my circle alone forever. Or, I can step into his, with the hope of endless discoveries: of the beauty of the game, the meaning of my husband’s passion, and the depths of his very heart.
Photo Credit: Kendre Oxendale Wedding Photography