I’ve had one of those fractured days with multiple clients where I have to dump my work conversations on the table before I can be present with my wife. We’re sitting at a window counter in a new hamburger joint with a view of a pretty neighborhood.
“I had to wear a scarf today,” she says.
I look at her. “I’ll bet. That’s some shirt.”
“I had it buttoned all the way up at work. This is just for you.”
It isn’t, of course; we’re in a restaurant after all, but I see what she means. She means that she considers my preferences when she gets ready. She considers how much I hate lipstick and how much I love mascara. She considers that I prefer glasses to contacts. That I like her hair up better than down.
Over the years, she has figured out what appeals to me and then explained why it appeals to me. “You’re just saying that because I’m wearing mascara.”
“I put on mascara before I pick you up. And you always say something about my eyes. I’ve tricked you.”
But it isn’t a trick. It’s prowess.
The trick is to be in a relationship with somebody who tells you they deserve grace and forgiveness and then continues to do the same shitty things to you over and over. If you love me, you’ll forgive me. If you love me, you’ll work with me while I change. If you love me, you’ll see the best in me despite my behavior. It’s not a train wreck, it’s a marriage! Help me love you better!
Mary rests one finger on my knee and zap! A charge kicks through me. The chemistry is that simple. We tell ourselves stories about love. About the ways we want to be treated, and the behavior we’ll accept in our relationships. We draw our lines and expect them to hold. Nobody who loves me will keep pushing at my boundaries, right?
But I don’t think it works like that. I think people do push at our boundaries. Even people who love us. Maybe those people most of all. And we have to decide if that boundary must hold to keep us safe, or if it was a place marker for intimacy. I drew a line there because that’s as close as anyone’s getting or I drew a line there because that’s the point where I want to reevaluate.
You get your lines. You get your boundaries. You get to say no whenever you need to say no. And you can love in spite of everything. That’s how you know the line is most important. Because you love your person enough to demand she honors that line. That line that keeps you safe. That line that’s just for you.