The joke among my family and friends is that deciding is my superpower (well, that and working a room). In recent years, I figured out this has a lot to do with my family dynamics. At the dinner table, starting when I was tiny, my parents pushed me to have an opinion and firmly back it up. Turns out, this wasn’t a random game to create a difficult child. Women in our culture are pushed to go along and keep their opinions to themselves, and I was in for a lifetime of pressure to go quietly. These days, as a boss, I press my (female) employees the same way my parents pressed me: What’s your opinion? State it firmly. Back it up. Leave it on me to debate if I disagree. Given this, Sarah’s post hits close to home for me. Being a woman who makes decisions is hard. It’s something that has to constantly be relearned and is ultimately so important for our relationships.
Sometimes the thoughts that pop into my head are so foreign and unsolicited that it feels as if they were put there by somebody else. I am pretty sure there is this other chick squatting inside of me, silently watching the drama unfold, waiting for some distracted moment to jump in and smack me upside the head with what she really thinks. A few weeks after my engagement, I am yawning at a stop sign, searching for my break in an endless parade of cars, when over the relentless clicking of the turn signal she suddenly utters: Well, I guess you’re never going to be single again. Better start figuring out what you want in a relationship.
Wait. What? Where did that come from?
At first I’m indignant. The “Yes” has already been whispered, the ring photos uploaded and subsequently “liked,” the congratulations envelopes emptied of their contents. The decision has been made. And now is the time to start figuring out what I want? It’s a little late for that.
I do see where she’s coming from, though. I have a history of getting into relationships and forgetting that I have opinions; in love, I fail to participate in making decisions that affect my own health and happiness. I can trace this habit all the way back to my (loving, supporting, wonderful!) family of origin. Along with an infamous punctuality deficiency, my parents, siblings, and I all share an inability to make a joint decision on even the most mundane matters. A typical Friday night in our house during my youth:
“Well. Nobody feels like cooking. Should we have Chinese or pizza?”
“I don’t care. Ask Dad.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. What do you want?”
“I dunno. Maybe pizza?”
“That’s fine, I guess. But didn’t we have pizza last weekend?”
“I guess. But what do we order?”
“Don’t ask me. Ma, what should we get?”
“Oh, I don’t care. Just…anything.”
“Well, we had that last time. But get whatever you want.”
“Maybe we should just order a pizza.”
(My fiancé Mark is baffled by this waltz of non-decision. As a point of comparison, his mother recently sent us both an email entitled “Gift Hints for my Birthday.” Her birthday is nine months from now. She just wants to make absolutely sure she gets what she wants.)
“Okay,” I say to the squatter inside my head, “so my family had take-out problems. So I’ve played the doormat in a relationship or two. That was then. I have since grown up, gotten a master’s degree, gotten all feminist, and gotten over it. Right?”
She reminds me about that time our friends recommended a “great” apartment on a one-way dead-end street in Northeast Philadelphia. (You had to park the left half of your car up on the sidewalk, and drive out in reverse if you wanted to leave. Just in case you’re curious.) I kind of had some vague sense that this might not be our finest idea, but I ignored any qualms and deferred completely to Mark. That little voice remained silent until exactly one week after we moved in. It was a sunny Sunday morning when she finally spoke up, as I stood examining the bloody gash in my right index finger, searching for the shard of glass that had slipped inside as I swept up the shattered evidence of my car’s midnight robbery: You should have looked at more houses before signing this lease. She’s a sage, that little voice, but her timing really sucks.
Okay. So I’m a lot better at figuring out whatever it was I wanted after it’s already too late. We walk into the noisy dive bar with the terrible cover band and I realize I just wanted to stay on the couch tonight. We blow a grand each on airplane tickets I was pretty sure we could have gotten for half that. We watch the neighbors deal drugs on our old stoop in Philly and I remember that I once had a bad feeling about this place. Given all the trouble it’s caused, you’d think I’d have learned by now to speak up sooner. But here’s the thing: having no opinion is a way of never being wrong. Oh, dinner tasted like garbage? Well, don’t look at me: I never said I wanted pizza in the first place.
For the sake of sanity, partnership, health, and happiness, it’s time to kick the habit.
Being engaged doesn’t mean it’s too late to start figuring out what I want. Engagement is not a contractual obligation to remain in the exact same relationship we were in at the moment the question was popped forever. In fact, this is the perfect time to lay out the blueprints for this marriage. We’ve already decided to be together, but there are so many other decisions to be made: What city or town are we both going to be happy living in? What words are Never Okay to use during a fight? And seriously, whose job is it to do those dishes? It’s not that these things won’t be amended throughout the course of our lives together: every day of a marriage is a new decision on what direction the relationship will take, whether its participants realize it or not. It’s just that forever is an awfully long time to wish you’d had something to say in how this would all begin.
Oh, and for dinner tonight? I want sushi. Most definitely.
Photo by APW Sponsor Moodeous Photography