Let me tell you a little story about defining oneself and one’s relationship. It’s impossible. If I define myself and define the person I am with, those definitions leave little room for growth, for backtracking to apologize, or for self discovery.
Of course, I did not always feel this way. At one time in my life, I was someone who believed in parameters, in shortcomings, in labeling the pieces and the parts so that I could see where I stood and so that I could see where my boyfriend stood. It worked for a while, a long while, but then one day that boyfriend became my husband, and I had a revelation that rocked the foundation of our relationship.
When Tom and I started dating, I liked the way we fit together. He was the big, strong scary looking man with the goatee; I was the girl who was happy to be by his side and get protected. He was the jet-setting, corporate America-wearing, 401K building career man; I was the lost, I-have-a-college-degree-but-I-work-for-my-parents-and-have-no-direction bartender. He was the life of the party; I had a million friends. He was funny; I was even funnier. He was the mechanical one; I was the smart one.
We had pieces that fit together, and everything else, we had in common. We both liked people. We both liked to have fun. We both liked sports. What he lacked in his knowledge of literature, he made up for in his ability to discuss current events. What I lacked in my knowledge of specific athletes, I made up for in my enthusiasm for the game. We were a match made in heaven.
One day, I decided I wanted to quit my job and go back to school. I needed Tom’s blessing. We were discussing getting engaged, so taking out a substantial student loan coupled with being jobless for a year would have an effect on our future.
Tom was in love. He did not care that I was going to strap us with debt. He encouraged me to pursue my dream. I would continue my education, and thus, further my role as the smart one in our relationship.
One day about two years later, after we had married and comfortably settled into our roles within the parameters I set up for us in my mind, we decided to go out to dinner. At the time, we liked to frequent Shula’s Steakhouse on Rockside Road. It is actually a restaurant in a hotel, but it does not feel like a restaurant in a hotel. It has appeal: sports memorabilia on the walls; a plethora of giant screen televisions; and at the time, it had the popular bar game NTN Trivia.
Tom and I saddled up to the bar, ordered drinks and dinner, and got two game boards. Oh, I should tell you, we are very competitive. We both like to play games, and we both like to win. It has never put a damper on our relationship. On the contrary, if anything, it has pushed us each to excel.
Anyway, we each logged into the game boards and we began to play. It was in the middle of a miscellaneous trivia game, one in which questions could literally come from any category, and Tom jumped into a sizeable lead.
- What is the favorite food of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (Pizza)
- Who was the longest standing British Prime Minister in the 20th Century? (Margaret Thatcher)
- Time magazine’s first Man of the Year was an American aviator, inventor, and explorer. Who was it? (Charles Lindbergh)
Okay, so maybe I wasn’t up on kids’ cartoons yet, and maybe Tom beat me to the punch about Thatcher, but how in the world did he knew about Lindbergh? All I know is that it seemed that he knew the answers before they even offered the multiple choices.
“You’re really good at this,” I said.
“Yeah, if I would have tried harder in high school, I probably could have gotten a full ride,” he said.
I laughed. It was not just a chuckle, either. It was a put my hand on my belly, open my mouth, and let out an extended, silent, this-is-the-fuinniest-thing-I-have-heard-in-awhile laugh.
Tom was not amused. He took a long sip of his drink and turned back toward the television.
“Honneeeyy,” I said apologetically. “I didn’t mean to laugh, but didn’t you tell me you graduated high school with like a 2.8.”
“Yeah,” he said defensively, “but if I would have applied myself, I could have done a lot more.”
By this point in our relationship, I had finished my Masters, accomplished student teaching, and landed my first job. I was already well-versed in the excuse of “he’s so much more intelligent than his grades show.” Really? To me, the mark of intelligence is the grade you earn. Thus, a 2.8 in high school made Tom the strong, mechanical one. I was the smart one, I mean come on, I just earned a Master’s degree for God’s sake!
I must have shaken my head pretty condescendingly because now Tom was itching to prove his worth and prove me wrong.
“Really,” he said. “My guidance counselor was so mad at me because I did not perform to my ability.”
Frankly, I was getting a little perturbed myself. We both knew I was the brains in the relationship, what was he trying to prove?
“Really?” I responded incredulously. “How did you do on the ACT?”
“I scored a 30,” he said.
This is the point my life changed. A thirty. A THIRTY! I was the smart one. I was the one who graduated high school with a 3.7 accumalative GPA. I was the one with the Masters. Yet, I had only scored a 28 on the ACT. I had tried in high school, and I could not outdo his aptitude.
What had I learned from this experience? Well, many things, really.
- I learned that no matter what, Tom would kick my ass in Trivia.
- I learned that what I had perceived as a good score on the ACT, a 28, paled in comparison to my husband’s 30.
- I learned that whenever I had the chance to try to prove I was more intelligent, I would do it (although, every time thereafter, he squeaked out a better score).
- I learned that I could no longer hold the title of the smart one: we would share it. At this point, however, I still had a Master’s degree, and he only had a Bachelors.
- I learned that I could no longer define our relationship in the ways that I had. I learned that for a relationship to work, it could not be set in stationary, unmovable boundaries.
- Lastly, I learned that when we did decide to have children, they would have a pretty good shot at being bright!