This is a story written by Dave Harrity. Listen to Through The Motions on iTunes, Stitcher or Homebrewed Christianity.
I’ll try pretty much anything once. I’ve lived by this tenet since I married my wife Amanda, after our minister gave me advice on how to get along together: whatever she’s taking on, be there and be supportive—that way she’ll know you’ll stand by her through anything. I took this to mean that our relationship was an act of presence, that I should demonstrate my loyalty by being around, regardless of the activity or circumstance.
So, since our marriage, because of this advice, Amanda and I do little apart, which often makes me the lone guy in the room. I’m proud of her and proud to be with her, so I don’t mind coming along so long as she doesn’t either. Whether it’s a book club, tea soiree, women’s business luncheon, or a cosmetics conference, I’ll go to support her.
Because of this try-anything-once clause, I can tell you many things about the ‘feminine world’ that most men can’t because they lack field experience. I know that I’m an autumn; I can tell you what topiaries are and what bows look best wrapped round their tiny trunks; I can identify a houndstooth pattern; I know foundation should always be applied in downward strokes to hide any unpleasant cheek whiskers. So when I say that Zumba is “a fusion of Latin and International music that creates a dynamic, exciting, and effective fitness system” I do so with an air of ethos most men can’t match.
Though this is the definition on the institution’s website, I know it’s true from experience. I’ve been the lone man bobbing in an ocean of dancing women. After joining a gym, Amanda wanted us to go to a class together—of course I agreed, but wasn’t excited about this particular adventure. So I did what many men do when they feel uncomfortable: I tried to cover discomfort with machismo.
“No big deal—I can dance. How hard could it be?”
She described the aerobics, the sweating, all the women. Even more nervous, a sexist joke slipped from my mouth.
“How hard can it be if a bunch of women do it?”
She wasn’t amused and I laughed awkwardly to myself. I should have recognized my own discomfort with the situation, since I’m not one for misogynistic joking. There isn’t hiding anything from Amanda—she’s perceptive in all matters of my heart and mind. She knew I was reticent but decided to take me anyway, partly because she wanted to spend time with me and partly—I think—because she wanted to throw me under the bus for being such a jackass.
As a large and clumsy person, I’m reluctant to dance publicly, though I have been known to get down at parties or weddings, mostly with a countenance of good-humored self-deprecation. But dance aerobics is completely different. There’s no alcohol to loosen the joints and I feel strangely emasculated, my deficiencies exposed. Because of all those women, something primal—some Darwinian striving for evolutionary fitness—kicks in and I’m unwilling to embarrass myself the way I usually do. I can’t be shameless or ironic.
During the class, I tried to maintain my smooth sensibilities, but could barely keep up over panting. The entirety of the class isn’t a complete memory but a series of flashing images—my feet fluctuating against the wood floor; my wife grinning at me, first kindly, then holding back a belly laugh; the squeaky instructor bouncing around; and the woman in front of me who made us all jealous: gorgeous in middle age with glistening olive skin, gyrating her butt without missing a step—a butt, by the way, my wife and I were sure must have been carved smooth from a slab of marble. Then there’s my image in the mirror—hunched over, breathing like a sick ox, my body flouncing. The dactylic pulse of the bass beat carrying our movements quickly through transposing songs. But my windedness made dancing dangerous—I became a careless marionette. Between my wheezing and wounded pride there was no way I could even laugh at myself.
The whole incident was embarrassing not simply because of my lack of skill, but because I was the only man in the room, which was normally never a bother. I wasn’t comfortable being there; I should have said no. Amanda wouldn’t have been upset. Instead I was obnoxious, sophomorically mocking something she wanted to do. This was a public penance.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed my inelegance—a woman walked by me at the end of class and said “bless your heart young man,” which is a euphemism in the South that loosely means “you made a complete boob of yourself in front of all of us and we loved watching it happen but are too polite to laugh out loud, so we do so on the inside.”
After class, I practically crawled to a chair near the lobby where a beefed-up trainer walked toward me. I presume he thought I might like to incur his services since I was breathless, pale, and slugging water, having been vested by the class.
“What’d ya do tonight?” he said.
“That’ll work ya big time.” His reply was absent sarcasm and condescension.
“Oh, yeah. It was pretty good,” I grunted, feigning tough.
There was an awkward silence between us—weights clanking over the reverberating blare of pop music. The next thing out of my mouth was a complete surprise, my insecurities speaking for me.
“Well, umm, I’m in therapy with my wife—we’re trying to do more stuff together…”
He smiled back at me. He knew I was lying—I tend to reveal subterfuge with a smirk of my eyes. I felt a mix of smallness and guilt—the shallow echo of my words thrumming repeatedly in my head, overcoming the background noise.
I don’t want to make a bigger deal of this than it is—it’s not some indicator of the state of my marriage, nor is it typical behavior for me as an individual. It was just a simple lapse in judgment because my ego got the better of my character. It’s just one of those stupid things a spouse or partner does in the moment of forgetting who he or she is. Deception isn’t part of who I try to be, and, until that moment I had never lied about my relationship, or even to Amanda.
Looking back, I’m confounded by with difference between the man I thought I was—one who would do anything for his wife—and the man I actually was in that moment. That gap is where my ego rose from the ground, an ivy overriding my honesty. I thought the comment would slide until Amanda, having walked up behind me in time to hear everything, asked me what I said.
I didn’t know how to answer, so I just stuttered. Already feeling foolish enough, explaining it to the woman I implicated in the lie was rubbing my nose in it. But she wasn’t trying to shame me. She did what any gracious woman would—packed it away with silence. Not a cruel or resentful kind, but the compassionate brand—one that gave me the benefit of the doubt, one that realized my vulnerability and respected it with sympathy. She was being amiable in the face of arrogance.
When you say I do, you don’t quite understand to what. You feel love but time helps you experience it—you screw up so many things in so many ways, but you live those things together, conceits aside. Eventually you realize you didn’t marry just for companionship, but for grace. And in these small intimacies and discrepancies are the seeds of commitment, of real affection. You understand, you forgive, you stay. There’s a germination that takes place in till death do us part and eventually grow tangled together.
It’s like going to the eye doctor. She makes you look at that lighted chart in that dark room. Switching the lenses over and over she says better, worse, or no different? After a while, you can’t tell what is better and what is worse—it just is, and you accept it. You witness a clarity, even if it isn’t exact perfection.
That merciful silence meant that so much of what Amanda and I do as husband and wife is an act of seeing—affirming meaning in one another’s lives by bearing witness and accepting the reality of the moment, regardless of vulgarity or beauty. Walking into that gym I thought I knew I loved Amanda, but leaving I didn’t realize what that might mean. I’m still sketchy on the full definition. And that is how I know it’s love, because once I thought I understood it, it evolved to something new—some tango where I’m feeling the steps out as I go forward.