This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there!
Recently I went to a wedding and, when the bride and groom exchanged vows, I was surprised to hear this line in the middle of a dozen familiar others:
“I promise to try to be what you want.”
It caught me off guard a little, if I’m honest. Be what you want? I thought to myself. Doesn’t that sound a little co-dependent? If I spend my life trying to be what someone else wants, I’ll spend my life as a disappointment to myself, and to the person I’m trying to please.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how my perspective has changed a little bit on this since I’ve been married. I never thought I would ever be the kind of girl willing to “try to be” what someone else wants, but here I am, one year married and —
It’s actually brought me quite a bit of happiness in marriage.
At first, it didn’t. At first I approached any conversation about changing “who I was” as a threat to everything sacred and holy. My husband would mention he didn’t like a certain shirt I wore, or the way I said something, and I would act like he had committed some sort of mortal sin.
“That’s just who I am.”
After awhile, though, I started to find myself lonely in marriage, wishing there was something I could do to bridge the gap. At first, I blamed it on my husband (he just doesn’t love me!). And usually in some sort of desperate fit of frustration to gain his approval, I would give in, doing whatever I thought it would take to get him to pay attention.
I would wear what he liked.
Say what he liked.
And although doing that sometimes bridged the “gap” as I had hoped, more often than not it left me even more lonely than before. It set me up for feeling invisible (I wasn’t being genuine), and for crushing disappointment when he didn’t respond the way I had hoped. It left me feeling like a victim.
If it sounds immature of me, that’s because it was.
So our first year of marriage was a little bit like bumper bowling in that way, bouncing back and forth between one extreme and another, between “this is just who I am!” and “what else do you want from me?” trying to find the middle ground of a loving relationship, trying to be ourselves and still stay connected to one another.
I do believe it is possible, even though I haven’t mastered it yet.
It’s backwards from the self-protective, self-actualized, me-first message of the day, but isn’t this what the Kingdom of God is like? A little backwards at times?
When I “try to be” who my husband wants, not to gain his approval, but as an act of love to him, I don’t lose myself. I actually find myself. It’s the strangest thing. I learn to like things I never knew I liked.
Last week my husband took me to see Les Mis, and then to frozen yogurt, two of his least favorite things (he hates musicals and prefers ice cream). But as I watched him enjoy the movie, and as we talked about it over my favorite dessert, I couldn’t help but think about how thankful I was he was wiling to “try to be” what I wanted.
Not in a pretend sort of way, but in an open sort of way —
Open to the possibility of liking something he never liked before, to sharing a food that wasn’t his favorite.
It made me feel connected to him.
We like to talk about our identities as if they are fixed in space and time (“I’m organized” “I’m confident” “I’m a very reliable person” I like to bike/hike/swim”). I think it makes us feel safe to pin ourselves down like that. But I don’t think it’s fair.
We can’t figure out “who we are” in our teens or twenties and be done with it. We can’t figure it out in our first year of marriage. It’s not that simple. We are not that one-dimensional. We are constantly being shaped and formed.
We are constantly becoming something new.
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