Embracing Vulnerability Made Us Stronger
Jed has texted, called, emailed and smoke-signaled hundreds of middle-aged men over the past week with this simple message:
"If you want to get lucky in the bedroom, have heart surgery.
Trust me on this one."
Which is why every middle-aged man in Minnesota has been giving me this strange, knowing look all week. They point to me in the grocery store, whisper about me at the coffee shop, and give me a sly wave as I drive by in my minivan.
I am now an urban legend.
Truth be told, good sex has nothing to do with heart surgery or hospitals. It has more to do with remembering why we fell in love in the first place, and admitting to needing to be loved even after 16 years, three kids, and hundreds of cat puke piles cleaned off of the carpets.
Most importantly, it is about being able to finally let go of our egos and be vulnerable again.
Image: Cassandra Kinaviaq Rae via Flickr
Vulnerable - leaving yourself open to emotional hurt.
I think that's what is missing in our home. And frankly it's exhausting when you cannot admit that you really need someone or something to get by with the big, but also the small tasks each day.
I mark my days as a mother in a kind of "I can do it myself so just get the fuck out of my way" attitude. From bringing home bacon and frying it up in a pan, to managing loads of laundry, mountains of bills, and an extracurricular schedule for three kids that would make a wedding planner in New York City cringe. In my own way, I do okay with this. Maybe I truly don't need help, but maybe, just maybe, Jed needs to be needed just a little bit more. Whether it's letting him pick up groceries sometimes, or putting Astrid to bed, or not getting mad when he folds the towels wrong.
It's okay for me to accept help and be vulnerable for him.
I dropped Jed off at the hospital the day of his surgery. He told me he didn't need me there and to not worry about trying to juggle the kids (and burden friends or family) just for him. But he looked very alone when I dropped him, so I took the kids to my aunt's house and returned to the hospital. I gave the receptionist Jed's information, and stated that I was his 'wife' and was now there for him if there was news.
She acted like she expected me. This is what people do it turns out (married people, people in love)-- they are there for one another. The alternate plan that we had made, the one where I left him at the hospital alone, was strange and uncomfortable like a coat two sizes too small bought at the thrift store that tugged awkwardly at my arms and didn't quite zip.
This is not how a marriage is suppose to feel.
But as I sat in the waiting room, with other wives and husbands and children and loves, I felt a peace I hadn't felt in a very long time-- The feeling of what it's really like to love your spouse.
A few minutes later a nurse came out looking for "Mrs. Duncan" and asked if I wanted to see Jed before he went in. My strong sense of self and independence didn't even rear its ugly head to correct the nurse's error of 'my' name. I was letting go.
When I saw Jed, he was drugged, hooked up to numerous things, tubes and medication, and alone. He reached for my hand and cried.
That's when I wanted to jump him right then in there in the surgery prep room. Not because he was weak (his words) or because this might be good-bye, but because we need each other more than we want to admit. It shouldn't take this to bring us to this new now, but it did, and it's strange being grateful for a medical emergency to fix a marriage.
Maybe that's why we focus on motherhood so much and forget about the work it takes to be married. Kids need EVERYTHING - from food to shelter to boo-boo kissing to doll dressing to homework help. If my tween won't let me kiss her anymore I can still whip up a bowl of popcorn with extra butter and she knows that I love her.
We are born vulnerable.
So when does it become a weakness to admit needing something?
I even find I stray from vulnerability when I write. I want to write the happy things, the clean things, the neat things, the easy things, the things that don't ask for advice. But when I've opened up about the hard things, the hard to admit things, and the messy-not-so-perfect things, I feel the weight lifted off of my chest. This weight that you all take from me piece by piece as loved ones do as you work in combination to carry a burden and protect me as I can finally be vulnerable and breathe again.
How long have I been holding my breath?
I met Jed in the recovery room. I sat gently on his bed, kissed his forehead, and put my head near his as I stroked his hair for a very long time. He slept on and off and I was just there. I didn't think of him as weak in those moment - actually the exact opposite - that he was strong enough to want me to be there.
Being vulnerable is sexy.
A few days later I told Jed something that I needed. I haven't asked Jed for anything in years, but for the first time in a long time I felt a level of trust, love, connection and mutual vulnerability that it felt freeing to truly ask him for something that was important to me.
"Jed, I need you to accept my past. To acknowledge and love me not only for now and the future with our family, but for what brought me to today," I said quietly. "You fell in love with not just me, but what I've done - the good and bad, my life experiences, and the 29 years I had before life led me to you."
Sometimes Jed likes to pretend he married a quiet, trust-funded, virginal, blond, Catholic girl from New England. Jed instead fell in love with an opinionated, middle-class, divorced and experienced, Atheist woman from the Midwest. Now, 16 years later, he needs to finally be okay with that and be vulnerable enough to know that it doesn't matter what anyone thinks of my past, especially him. If I cannot start talking about my whole life, then I will continue to live a closed-life that is lonely, full of walls and stifling to not just my creativity and ability to love, but to our relationship and future.
So I asked Jed to be vulnerable with me, to admit to mistakes and failures, to look for help and more hugs, and to live true and messy lives together.
We are checking our egos at the door this year. We have to if we expect this marriage to last a lifetime.
We've found each other again-- those two people who met on an airplane to Bangkok 16 years ago. We remembered the honest and open conversations we had for those 20 hours - about divorce and loves and heartbreaks and dreams. Good sex is truly such a bonus. I just need to wear dark glasses now when I go to the grocery store.
Tracy writes about the lighter side of parenthood at www.sellabitmum.com