Suburban Snapshots

Affirmation

Friday, February 11, 2011

Growing up, even as a taller-than-most, thick-legged, and awkwardly dressed kid, I was always made to feel beautiful by my family, always warmly and genuinely loved. It was a good early boost to my self esteem, because school kids wouldn't be as concerned with my feelings. Still, I only remember a brief period of feeling like I really was fat and ugly, that I'd never ever have a boyfriend, that only Morrissey knew my pain.

The guys I eventually dated — the ones worth mentioning, anyway — tended to be similarly appreciative. My first serious boyfriend proposed on a weekly basis, my hottest ex walked through crowded Boston bars with me as though I were the one turning heads (Honestly, it was always him. I fucking loved it.)

Steve has always been quiet and practical. I knew it from the time we were roommates, I knew it when we moved in together, I knew it when he proposed by handing me my simple, beautiful ring wrapped as a Christmas gift. He asked no official question as I sat staring into its blue box, sitting on the futon in our spare room. Instead of talking, he tends to show his love in hard work, in loyalty, in his solid character. I love him for all of those things.

I feel like that should have been enough. I feel great in my own skin, I consider myself a feminist. So why did it tear me down that I always had to ask if I looked nice? Why did I let it bother me when I knew this trait of his all along? Why was I being such a girl about it? I brought it up with him repeatedly, gently in our twelve years. I hinted. I asked him to please find ways to at least tell Anna how beautiful she is, because a girl deserves that from her dad. I made light of the issue here and here.

Early in the fall we were headed to a friend's wedding. I'd recently lost around twenty pounds, I was wearing black from head to toe, my hair was cooperating, my heels were high, I felt sexier than I had since my nursing boobs. We left the house. We drove two hours to the venue. We parked the car. We walked into the hotel. Finally, standing in the lobby I asked, "Honey, how do I look?" His response was genuine, but my heart was already hurt.

This has been a big topic in counseling and in our talks together about being better, about making improvements and listening to each other. It turns out that I wasn't the only one in this relationship who couldn't understand why it seemed so difficult for Steve to toss a compliment my way; he's just as frustrated with himself for the years of silence.

I honestly wasn't sure he'd be able to pull off such a change in a way that felt comfortable and organic, and I'd grown so used to his stoic affections that I wasn't sure how I'd react to tenderness — would it be awkward? Suffocating? Forced? Would he resent me? The good news is that he's really taken to it, that he delivers sweet, genuine compliments several times a day without sounding like a cheat sheet of seventies pick-up lines. He tells Anna he loves her often and how pretty she looks in her wildly mismatched outfits.

It wasn't counseling that finally helped Steve understand how important this seemingly small thing was to me, but it's been counseling that's helping us both learn how to hear each other from now on, because as I'm finding out, you have to nurture your happy ending.

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