What I’ve learned in marriage: to wait

Confession: The other day I was texting with two friends at once. This is quite a feat for me, a slow texter. Fortunately, we were group messaging. Unfortunately, they were talking circles around me.

We were contemplating whether the rewards of attending a ladies’ seminar together would be worth the gigantic hurdles of a) the spouse permission process, signed in triplicate, b) babysitters, c) meals, d) adequate clothing for appearing in public at a fancy event, and e) how many of us will be pregnant by that time.

Hence the utter poverty of my texting approach, which comes out to roughly two words every fifteen minutes. I pretended I was driving and couldn’t endanger the lives of my children.

(Okay, I was driving. But not the whole time.)

One friend said, So how do you go about broaching this subject with your husband? Sometimes I really wish I could see into how these conversations go for other couples.*

I dodged, because it felt like too much to say:

In our house, it aalllll depends. He likes task lists by email, so he has a visual. He likes big conversations after the kids are in bed, but not just as we’re about to drop off to sleep. He likes to save the little things for when he’s *not working in his office, and the touchy things for when I’m *not simultaneously making supper, balancing a baby on one hip, directing several children in cleaning up the living room, listening to music, and opening the door so the cat can get outside. (This happens at our house.) There is an awful knack to picking the right time and medium.

You know how long that would have taken me to text!

But she persisted. I really want to know.

Okay, I said. Well.

What I do is I mention it sort of casually, like ‘Hey, today I was texting with x and x about whether we should try for Oasis this year or just hit the beach instead. Hahaha.’

(Which, regrettably, is true – but don’t forget the context of hahaha.)

And then I drop it entirely. I used to always follow up by pressing for an answer right away – ‘Well, what do you think about me going?’ – but after a while I realized it’s simply not how his brain works. So I drop the seed and let it go, and by the time I return to the topic a couple of days later, he’s had time to get used to the idea. Sometimes he even has a plan made.

That took just as long to text. But it is also smarter than it appears at first blush.

You know I’m trying to be more direct than in previous years. In saying this now, I’m not undermining being direct; I’m highlighting the fact that being direct does not mean being urgent, pushy, and non-strategic. I don’t know about your man, but mine likes time to think on things. He doesn’t think on things by talking about things. When I keep asking it’s like poking the same spot over and over: he develops a bruise, and winces away. He needs to answer in his own time.

So I lay it out casually (one time), and when it feels ripe I ask (one time) for real.

And then whether he says yes or no, whether he acts on the matter as lightning or as molasses, I try hard to keep my mouth shut.

Sometimes it even works.


P.S. I hope he is not reading this post. That would kind of give everything away, wouldn’t it?

* Unfortunately my phone ate our conversation, so this is not verbatim, but I will not be held responsible for accidents.

Productive controversy

There’s no doubt about it: Mennonite bloggers are getting braver. Ooh, and this is a good thing, for voices to be found and viewpoints to be expressed.

It does have its issues.

I read three articles in the past couple of weeks, by three of them—

(Don’t you love the lumping all-conclusiveness of “them”? As though they are one of a kind?)

Correction: I read three articles by three different bloggers in the past couple of weeks. Though their topics differed widely (from Anabaptist ministry to multi-level marketing), each presented a fairly pointed critique of a problematic situation. Each posted an appeal to a wide group of people. Each was brave, and well-worded, and raised important though controversial issues. Each was followed by quite a hubbub of agreement or disagreement.

Only one article was difficult for me to read. Though I agreed with many of its points, I found myself on the defensive throughout the article. Surprisingly or not, this one sparked the sharpest feedback, with numerous people objecting to the “attitude” of the writer while others found her “funny” and “spot-on.”

Hmm.

I am thinking about this now.

On social media, it’s so easy to slant the rules. For example, “My blog is my own space for airing whatever I wish to address.”

??

We never give that right to physical spaces, as if “in her house” or “in his pulpit” or “on that street corner” a person may say anything, at any length, to anyone, without accountability…? I don’t think so.

However, I seldom question the “right” to speak, but the courtesy of the speaker.

What do you think? What makes it possible for you to hear a viewpoint you disagree with without becoming defensive in response? Does it have anything to do with the speaker? Does it have anything to do with your own heart?

Of course the same questions may be asked in any social group, not only online or in the media. Families, churches, and businesses all have to find ways of communicating differing opinions productively. How do we do this? What adjectives describe the kind of pushback people can actually hear and receive?

Personally, there are two things that (rightfully or no) put me on guard against the proponent of a viewpoint, especially online.

First is facelessness. If you are going to claim the right to speak, and particularly to criticize, it’s only fair that we can see you—your real face, your true name, something of your actual self. I may be too incautious here personally, having never been burned by masked gunmen or irate readers showing up at my physical-address-which-I-was-too-free-with-online. But I’m frustrated by the number of times I show up at someone’s site only to find no identifying information whatsoever. No real name, no photo, no history, nothing by which the writer could be caught hold of and taken to account.

Now—I’m Mennonite, right? Which means I don’t properly know you until we’ve discussed your grandfather, your older sister who went to Bible school with my big brother, and the farmhouse you lived in as a child.

But isn’t there a happy medium between the two? Must we have full disclosure or… lurking? We are becoming a generation of eels, uncatchable, untraceable, slipping in and out of deliberately blurred backgrounds. I think I understand our wish to escape our histories, to be known only as “ourselves,” but it’s simply not possible. (Nor is it the way to influence people and situations.) We can’t reinvent ourselves to suit. We have real lives, guys—with real faces, real ancestors, real problems.* Can we have them online too?

*(Sometimes the faces, the ancestors, and the problems are all the same thing. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

The second turnoff for me is ire*, though I have trouble with this one myself—biting my tongue until I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE WITH THESE IDIOTS AND NOW I’M GOING TO SPEAK UP. This doesn’t work, does it? It only makes your listeners raise their shields. And then their swords.

*(The definition is worth clicking on!)

If the explosion approach isn’t successful in real life, with collegues or church families or close friends, it’s not going to work in the cyberworld either. Oh yes, I have the right to speak! but depending on the tone I choose I may find no one to listen. (And then it’s fun to label them “intolerant” of “a valid viewpoint no one is willing to consider!”—but could it possibly be my method?)

It’s so easy to demand a respect for myself and my position that I am unwilling to extend to others and their ways. If I am so passionate as to pour ire on those who disagree with me (cynicism, belittling, blame throwing), I need to take a deep breath and a large chill pill before putting the world through what I have to say.

(Shari Zook, take note.)

I like to hear different opinions. I like when they are well said, when they are respectful, when they are meaty. I don’t even quite believe all our words have to be “kind.” The last time I checked, Jesus’ flaming epithets of “whited sepulchres” and “dead men’s bones” probably had the emotional effect of a punch—though I am not so wise and good as He is, by a long mile. Truth in love is at times sharp-shooting and intense, but there’s a long stretch between cowardly and brutal. Can we permit others the space to disagree with us without making them feel like utter nincompoops?

What makes controversy meaningful? productive? good? What pushes you to engage with a speaker or writer you disagree with?

*****

Your turn! Here are the questions I asked above.

What do you think? What makes it possible for you to hear a viewpoint you disagree with without becoming defensive in response? Does it have anything to do with the speaker? Does it have anything to do with your own heart?

Families, churches, and businesses all have to find ways of communicating differing opinions productively. How do we do this? What adjectives describe the kind of pushback people can actually hear and receive?

What makes controversy meaningful? productive? good? What pushes you to engage with a speaker or writer you disagree with?