Free To Be Me

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Our spouse should be the person who makes us feel seen and safe in all the moments of our shared lives.

Love in Marriage: 365 Reasons I Love My Husband

Do you remember the day you met your spouse? Even though it’s been 21 years, I remember the day we met as if it were yesterday. Actually, we met twice, two days in a row, but I’m the only one of the two of us who remembers the first time we met, probably because it was a pretty minor moment. Except it wasn’t. Not to me.

Our story is too long to include here, but I will share the highlights of this minor moment and the next day, the day we met that we both remember and why they both matter in the big picture of our marriage. The night we met was the night of one of my best friends’ wedding rehearsal dinners in Alabama. For David, it was a college reunion of sorts because several members of the wedding party all went to college together in Birmingham. I, however, did not meet the bride and her maid of honor until much later, when we were all living in Boston.

After the dinner and speeches came the mingling. Mingling is not something at which I excel, especially when I am in a group of people I do not know. It brings out my high school awkwardness like nothing else, and this night was no different. Even as I write this memory out on the page I can feel my self-conscious self standing awkwardly outside the circle of college friends wondering what to do (and likely wishing I’d brought a book to read in a corner somewhere). As I stood frozen to my spot on the floor, David laughed at something someone in the group had said and turned his head in my direction.

At that moment he said something I didn’t quite hear and immediately I responded with, “I’m sorry, what?”

To which he then responded, “Oh, I wasn’t talking to you.”

Awesome, right?

Except he made a small but incredibly important-to-me gesture in that moment. He turned slightly aside and opened up the circle enough for me to feel like a part of it. Was I still awkward and self-conscious? Absolutely. But I was also now included in the social circle rather than standing outside of it, so even though I offered no conversation, I felt less socially anxious.

Reason 7 of 365

It is this kind of small gesture that continues between us in our relationship. Over the 20 years of our marriage, we have come to know and understand each others’ tendencies in social settings. Of the two of us, I am definitely the one who runs out of steam first if we are in a setting where the conversation spans many people in an open space. I can chime in and contribute for a short time, but eventually, I retreat into the quiet of my mind. My brain needs that quiet.

There were times when David would draw this to the attention of others in the room, asking me if I were okay. We have since discussed that my quiet is merely a sign of my autistic brain checking out of the big conversation and checking in to the quiet of my mind or seeking a one-on-one opportunity (I thrive in 1:1 conversations). So, now he sees me and understands, and that’s enough for both of us.

Through our years together, David has continued to be the one who makes me feel at ease and comfortable in the moments that might feel stressful to me. Whether that is a family gathering, a social get together with friends, or a work-related event, I am free to be myself, whether that means I need to withdraw for a while or whether that means I need David to open the circle and let me just be a part of what’s going on without having to contribute directly.

photo: Birgit

David doesn’t recall that moment at the rehearsal dinner, but that doesn’t surprise me. He remembers seeing me come in with my friend, Greg (who he said he figured was not only my date, but my boyfriend), but he doesn’t remember me outside the circle. His gesture was nothing special to him because it’s a part of who he is and what he does. But it mattered deeply to me in that moment. Other than him opening the circle to me, the only other thing about him I remember from that night is his smile. It was warm, inviting, and inclusive. 

All of those are things I have come to cherish in this life, especially as someone who spent a lot of her life feeling excluded, like an outsider. I’ve never needed or wanted to be popular or part of the “in” crowd, but I hated feeling like an outsider who didn’t have a safe place to be me. That’s why that gesture mattered deeply to me, and why I love my husband. He remains that safe place for me on many occasions.

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