the knowing

How can someone else ever really know you?

How can someone else know the fictional lives that play out in your head as you brush our teeth in the morning?

How can someone else know how you delight in catching patterns of color and light?

How can someone else know why you sometimes need to listen to the same song over and over?

How can someone else know the stories you map using threads of overheard conversation?

I don’t know.


Sometimes I don’t know why we married each other, honestly. He’s a thinker and I’m a feeler. He’s an Excel spreadsheet and I’m a Photoshop document.

Not to generalize, or anything.

Our first year of marriage was uneventful. Marriage is supposed to be hard, everyone always says, but maybe we didn’t get that memo. That’s not bragging. We simply weren’t challenged, at least not any more than the average relationship is challenged. None of our loved ones died. Neither of us dealt with unemployment. We didn’t move anywhere. We didn’t even get a single stick of new furniture.

From the outside in, absolutely nothing changed.

But from the inside out, one thing quietly gnawed at me over the past year. One big, long-running worry that was there even before the marriage.

That the stuff carved into my heart – music, writing, art – isn’t written on his.

We aren’t very similar. At all. That’s it.

And does that mean we’re doomed?

The doubt was there from the beginning, when I was still pretending that we were just casually seeing each other. One night of hysterical crying in the car belied my cool, arm’s-length demeanor. What am I doing with someone so different from me? I asked myself. Who are you? I asked him. Who are we? I wondered silently.

You’re not supposed to ever, ever, ever doubt your choice to be with a person, are you? You’re just supposed to be crazy for him or her. You’re just supposed to know that you two are right. Not to the exclusion of getting angry at that person or battling through hard times together, mind you. Love isn’t supposed to look like glassy-eyed perfection. But it is always presented as a universal truth. Sure, you are going to fight and scrape and work at being good to each other, but you’re never supposed to have to work at knowing whether you should be together.

That’s supposed to be a given.

And if you have to ask, well…

Well, that’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is. Having been someone who was once emphatically chosen by a person I never actually chose back, you could say I’m acquainted with the curve of that slope.

I know love is not like movies, but that’s about it. Ever since that ill-fated relationship, I’ve wondered: what is it really like to choose? What is it really like to know that you want to be with someone?

Truthfully, the beau and I not the head-over-heels type. We’re the feet-on-the-ground, arms-crossed, snarky-comment-escaping-from-our-lips type. I guess we are similar in that way, at least. I wouldn’t touch anything that looks like love or sentimentality with a 10-foot pole, at least not when anyone else was looking. I guess you could say that certainly makes knowing love complicated.

That first year, as I snuffled and blubbered in the car about where we were going with this thing between us, he took my hand. “I’m here,” he said. That’s not what I’d wanted to hear. I’d wanted to hear that he understood me. I’d wanted to be comforted by common ground between us. I’d wanted to see that he saw the world the way I did. I’d wanted to know that he knew me, inherently; knew and loved all the same things I loved.

Because if he knew, maybe I would know back.

This year, as I floundered and once more reached for reassurance that we were right for each other, he sat with me again; this time on the couch. He rested his hand on top of mine. “I’m here,” he repeated.

It took me a long time to figure it out, but that’s what I needed to hear all along.

He doesn’t know me, really.

But he wants to.

And maybe that’s the best kind of love I could have chosen.

27 Responses to “the knowing”

  1. And the heartless cynic in me cringed at typing the word “love” so many times in this stupid post.

  2. I loved this. I have the same fear of our vast differences and what it means down the line. But as you elegantly point out, he’s there. He’s always there. And when he’s not, I hurt a bit.

  3. Holy shit, Lyn – this was amazing. Feelings like this are hard to articulate, but you did, and so well.

    And it made me feel really good to read this as validation. I always enjoy reading about you and theBeau, because it is so obvious that you are a great pair. Your relationship always sounds stress and drama-free, happy and fun, unsentimental in the most romantic way. But yet, you aren’t exactly a MATCH in the match-y way.

    Craig and I are very different people too, and I get the worries just like you. He’s a problem solver and I’m a wallower, I could kill a week reading a book and he can’t sit still for five minutes. I’ve freaked about this more than a handful of times. Sometimes I even get angry AT him for not being more like me. “Can’t you just read this book?! Just this ONE? Because I love it and it changed my life and I need you to know about my lifechanging things and this one character is such a big part of me??”

    I get upset, and I worry. But when I need a big column of numbers added up, or someone to hand the phone too to spar with customer service without crying, I remember how happy I am that he IS different, and that we balance each other. And that I’m never bored because there is always more to figure out.

    Love love love this post. LOVE we need a little more LOVE on this page here! Love.

  4. This is a freaking amazing post, one of the best you’ve ever written.

    I don’t have any insight, not at all.

    But from all the blog posts you’ve ever written I know you guys definitely connect on more than the funny level. And I do think that for every moment you might feel uncertain you’ve had plenty of the other moments too, the ones where you think, yes, this is right.

    So I have no insight. But I am always here reading and grateful for the inside knowledge you give me by writing here.

  5. If love is all about knowing you’ve picked right and never doubting then I’m totally screwed. John and I are actually very alike in many ways, but that never stopped the doubting. And I never knew if the doubting was just because I’m a skeptic who couldn’t accept a good thing, or if it was my supposedly all-knowing intuition. But after enough years together, I could no longer deny it: we work. Like you, we are not the “head-over-heels type. We’re the feet-on-the-ground, arms-crossed, snarky-comment-escaping-from-our-lips type.” But our snarky comments make each other laugh. And even if he doesn’t always get my complicated inner life, he listens and he tries to understand. And he’s the only one I’m willing to share it with.

  6. Oh dear god. This hit me right where I needed it. I always knew we were different, but this year is really about BEING different. How do you support the other person’s dreams when they don’t go the same way yours do? Can you respect them if they say dumb things about feminism, even if they’re a true feminist and theyjustdon’tknowityet? We’re the snarky ones too, but I wasn’t sure that was enough to hold us together, aside from the choosing. And the determination.
    I needed this. Mostly to know other people feel the same/have the same.

  7. When S and I first started dating we realized we were very different personalities. (Our Myers-Briggs types are basically opposites, plus we have other cultural differences too.) At first I worried that it meant we were doomed, but then with a great pre-engagement counselor, I realized that it is really what we do with our differences that matters. Every couple has their differences, even if they seem quite similar on the surface. So now I try to remember that his resistance to think about the future keeps me at least somewhat in the present (more than I would have been anyways) and my planning-planning-thinking-about-the-future mind keeps him from neglecting some things that have to be planned and some of the more un-fun administrative tasks of life. Our styles of communication are also different and are sometimes the cause of misunderstandings, but at least the fact that we both know this helps.

    Perhaps it might be a lot easier to be with someone who was much more similar to me and thought like me and saw life like me, but I choose to think that maybe that would be a little boring. 🙂

  8. I’ve never understood the idea that couples should be alike, have all of the same interests, and completely understand each other. How incredibly boring. As in love with myself as I am, I don’t want to marry myself.

  9. Thank you for this amazing post. It’s exactly what I needed right now.

  10. I have a few thoughts on different parts of this:

    * This post was outstanding. You’re an excellent writer.

    * Stephen and I are a lot alike. A LOT. We have some personality differences and a few different interests but we’re good at a lot of the same things and we have almost the exact same sense of humor and design aesthetic. It’s much harder than you would think it was. I feel competitive with him sometimes – why is he better at something than me, when we both really like doing it and are above average at it? I feel like I lost my “place” as the creative one, the artistic one, the performer, the one who dresses in crazy costumes for no reason, etc. etc. I still am those things, but he is too! So where does that leave me if I’m not defined by those things in our family like I was in my family of origin. Stephen is the artistic one in his family and none of his relatives know or acknowledge that I am too and it bothers me. So being alike can be really, really hard.

    * The knowing. I think this is a lot more about the person you are and not the love you choose. I know people who are convinced they found The One in a partner that I somewhat objectively see is probably an awful long-term match for them. But they’re romantics, dreamers, people who want to believe. And the cynics or the realists or whatever you want to call it (including me) will probably never have that certainty. Not because of the love they chose but because of the people they are. And that’s okay, and right.

    • B and I are a lot alike, too. As in, we took a personality test once (I forget which one) and we had extremely close results. We have lots of overlapping interests (though some different ones, too), similar values, similar political opinions, similar cleanliness habits, similar ways of spending free time, taste in movies, books, music, etc., And while this generally means we see each other’s POV with little effort, it also has its downsides. We have to work really hard to take stock of and “balance” our mutual strong/weak areas, because if we don’t stop and consciously evaluate and discuss it, we will both tip too far in the same direction.

      The certainty thing… I never know what to make of that. I have friends, like you, who seemed 100% certain they were destined to be together… some of whom are now divorced. :-/ I know others who will probably never feel sure. I can find no rhyme or reason in the (few) couples I know who ARE still together after 30+ years. Personally, I have an eery, gut-level sense of sure-ness… but I’m enough of a realist to know that this might just be me wanting to believe to make it so.

      • @Rachelle: er, when I said “I have friends, like you, who…” I didn’t mean YOU were like that, but rather, I also have friends like that. Just making sure that’s clear. 😉

    • That’s a really interesting point, and I didn’t look at it from that side. Honestly, I don’t know if I could handle having my talents and interests directly challenged all the time — I’m competitive enough with him as it is! I think you’re onto something with the knowing having to do with an individual’s personality. I think the romantic notions about love are the more popular ones, for obvious reasons, and the more you hear about that the more difficult it is not to question your own black, doubtful heart.

  11. So. I started to write a long-winded comment about how opposites can make a fabulously strong relationship if they (1) provide one another with unconditional love and support, (2) don’t compete with one another, (3) love the other for who they really are and not for who they want them to be. Blah, blah, blah. And then I remembered the best opposites-attract couple ever. Paul Neuman and Joanne Woodward. So here are a few choice quotes on their marraige-of-differences.

    Paul on why their marriage has lasted: “… because of “great impatience tempered by patience. When you have been together this long, sometimes you drive each other nuts, but underneath that is some core of affection and respect.”
    Paul on the secret to their long-lasting marriage: “Patience. Affection.”
    Paul about Joanne’s support: “Joanne has always given me unconditional support in all my choices and endeavours, and that includes my race car driving, which she deplores. To me, that’s love.”
    Paul Newman on marriage: “I’ve repeatedly said that for people who have as little in common as Joanne and myself, we have an uncommonly good marriage. We are actors. We make pictures and that’s about all we have in common. Maybe that’s enough. Wives shouldn’t feel obligated to accompany their husbands to a ball game, husbands do look a bit silly attending morning coffee breaks with the neighborhood wives when most men are out at work. Husbands and wives should have separate interests, cultivate different sets of friends and not impose on the other … You can’t spend a lifetime breathing down each other’s necks … We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger.”
    Joanne on love and marriage: “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”
    Paul about Joanne’s concerns about his racecar driving: “Joanne fell out of bed the other night and broke her collarbone. As she lay on the ground, I said to her, ‘I’m not going to listen to any more complaining about my racing!’ ”
    Paul on why he never was unfaithful to Joanne: “Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?”

  12. When I met M I was positive I had met the man I was going to marry. Never mind that he had a girlfriend at the time (details, pfft) or that it was 4am and we had just drunk copious amounts of vodka*. He loved all the obscure bands that I held dear in my heart. It was fate. I’m sadly not just being glib here. I actually have an email I wrote to my best friend telling her I’d met the guy I was going to marry.

    Still, the year leading up to our wedding I worried. I cried. What if I was wrong? what if he was wrong? What if we changed our minds? What if he changed his mind? I think marriage is one of those things that you can never be sure about. One half of that equation will always be out of your control. You can never be certain how life will change you. I think the best we can do is make the choice that best fits our lives in that moment.

    *Yes, I met my husband up at a bar. No, I didn’t know he had a girlfriend at the time. It’s a long story.

    **Also this is kc (shinyprettybits), logging in under my new blog handle.

    • “One half of that equation will always be up in the air.” Yes. As someone who likes to be in control, that made it all the harder to merge lives with someone.

      And I am heartened, really, to hear from someone who knew that they had found their person at the first meeting. To know you can fall hard for someone and still have doubts makes me feel less alone in my situation.

  13. I love that you wrote this post. I love everyone’s comments. Because in the first year.5, I found myself thinking the exact same things. But he doesn’t LIKE reading fiction? Or watching foreign films? Or going to art museums? And on the competitive side, but I’M the cook! I’M the creative one! How is this going to work? And I admit, in sorting those things out, I lost myself for a little while. At this point, those identity questions have kind’ve sifted themselves out. And it’s surprisingly more fun than I could have imagined to be with someone different and interesting than it would be to be married to someone Just Like Me.

  14. Thank you for this. My boyfriend and I are very, very different, in our personalities, communication styles, interests, culture, etc. We both struggle with wondering if we are a good “match” (he wonders more than I do). I read about these seemingly-perfect relationships on the internet where no one ever doubts anything and it makes me feel like we shouldn’t get married (which we are planning to do soon). Realizing this is more normal than it seems has helped more than you know.

  15. Crazitude. The young man and I are pretty alike in our interests. But then the things we differ on seem vast. That vastness can be scary to me, and to him too I think. My parents were hugely different and yet I knew they had a good, bickering, loving marriage even their respective professions/interests were profoundly uninteresting to each other. My mom used to say that they agreed on the big things: children, values, what to do in their spare time, their senses of humor, each other.

  16. Oh my goodness. Thank you so so much for writing this. It is exactly the sentiment I have carried with me for 5+ years. The number of times I have cried over not being understood, and him not really knowing what I wanted him to know. I am SO glad someone has written about this. I always find it way too hard to articulate, and it always sounds as though I don’t love J and have made the wrong choices to be with him. But that’s not it. What you’ve written is it. Thankyou.

  17. Thank you for helping me feel less alone, everyone.

  18. You are not alone lyn.

  19. I’m catching up on my blog reading, so am late to the game on this one. Apologies.
    And I haven’t read all the other comments.
    My 2 cents: I think having that edge of doubt (I have it too) keeps us committed to one another; to look for new similarities and to better cultivate the ones we have. To respect the differences, accept them, to question those when we don’t understand. I think making the life long commitment to explore all those things is a good (and only one of many) definition of love.

  20. I know this feeling SO WELL!!! AH!!! The “but we don’t really like the same things – how can we be married?” The terror, the doubt. I find that whenever I imagine my life without Aidan, I don’t like it. There are other reasons we are together too of course. But that’s the one that saves me whenever I feel overwhelmed by the fear. I want to be with him, and I want to want to be with him, and also he’s really nice to me- so I’m sticking with it. Bam.

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