My family. I talk about them a lot. They were there through everything in my life; as mentors, teachers, role models, friends, checks and balances, mirrors, reality checks and humblers. My parents were at the hub of the fast-paced exchange of information in our family and did their best to mediate the flow of arguments, frustrations, encouragements, judgments, and praise that flew around the six of us kids like a whirlwind, always creating ample opportunity for togetherness, honesty, and correction. No one ever had to be alone in a joy or a sorrow; really, to be alone took quite a good deal of secrecy and craftiness.
In all of this, I took for granted how well we understood each other. Tones, vocabulary, words, phrasing, jokes all slipped and morphed easily as we moved from one family member to another. I knew her buttons, she knew mine, she knew his soft spots and he knew hers. We could read each other’s moods by a stance or a hand gesture, a twitch or an eyelash flutter. Everything we said was calculated, whether it was thoughtless or not.
But isn’t that the way families are? Spending all your young years growing around each other, shaping and pruning each other?
And then I got married. And suddenly there was this man who spent 20+ years growing apart from me, in a world that I didn’t understand. And in my naivete, I thought that the 18 months we spent talking for hours every day would give us the kind of nuanced knowledge of each other that I had with my parents and siblings.
But so often, I find myself unable to comprehend why what I’m saying is not getting through to Andy, even if I run through every arsenal of tone and vocab that I have ever used. I don’t know why he just raised his eyebrows the way that he did. I don’t know why that thing just made him laugh, out of the blue. The more that I think I can predict him, understand him, the more I realize that I don’t – not in the nuanced, deep way – not even despite the fact that we really know each other better than we’ve each ever known anyone else in our lives.
What is the difference between the knowing and the knowing? How can I know him better and yet less than my family? How do I learn to know exactly what words to avoid when his eyes flash in that particular way?
I think that what it boils down to is that in marriage, we’re not dealing with people who grew into you, who shared your experiences at five years old. We’re dealing with an adult who experienced things in their life that you will never even see; or had a set of people shaping them that is, perhaps, completely different from our own and some of which we may never meet. Only knowing Andy for five years and living with him for three just doesn’t equal that. But yet, we share something we’ve never shared with anyone else – marriage – and that forms the core of a new, deeper knowing that, ultimately, trumps the other sort. And time, time will eventually make us equal the other kind of knowing, too.
It’s odd. It’s odd and fascinating and always enlightening.
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