Not Just Grudging, Not Just Tolerant, But Supportive

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I got 1,300 likes on Facebook that I didn’t deserve. And it wasn’t even my own post that went mildly viral among the sewing community – it was my wife’s, talking about what a nice husband I am.

But I don’t think what I did was nice – I think that what she and so many others lauded me for was the baseline for any healthy relationship.

Hang on. Lemme back up and explain what I did.

So my wife likes to quilt, and ever since she got her new sewing machine she’s spent her every spare moment in the basement, making quilts for people she loves. And as she’s devoted more and more of her life to this reignited passion, she’s needed more equipment – I built her a new table for her sewing machine, a shelf for her fabric dyes, and Amazon packages are forever flying in through the door.

Yet she’s been complaining for months about her sewing space in the basement. She’s wanted to rearrange the entire basement to give her a better workflow, and a little more space – which, given that we have nine heavy bookshelves laden with reading material that I refuse to give up, would be no small task. She kept calling me downstairs, sweeping her hands majestically across the basement as she explained how much nicer things would be if this table were here, and these chairs were here…

I did not care. I liked the basement the way it was. I had my writing space, the books were organized the way I wanted them, and about once every three weeks Gini would pull me aside breathlessly to say, “Oh! I thought of a new way to rearrange the basement!”

Inexplicably, every new basement configuration somehow involved even more work to get it done.

This remained in the planning stages, as many major pain-in-the-ass projects do, for months.

But in September, we had our nineteenth wedding anniversary – which we didn’t get to celebrate thanks to the presence of not one, but two unexpected guests from different cities. We sighed, knowing that “seeing people we love” is a part of who we are as a married couple, and cleared out a weekend in October to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Now, I wanted to go to Philadelphia to burn off a $300 gift certificate we’d gotten last Christmas. But I knew what would make Gini happy. So I shuffled my feet downstairs and asked, shyly:

“So, for our wedding anniversary weekend… how would you feel about spending it rearranging the basement?”

She all but tackled me in a hug.

And she wrote about that for her sewing chat group, and next thing you know there were over a thousand people raving about what a good husband I am – which, you know, is praise I’m never going to turn down. But a lot of the comments were from wives who wished they had husbands like that, or joking quasi-bitterly that she’d better chain me in the basement before I came back to sanity, or other indications that this behavior was viewed as exceptional for a husband.

And man, it shouldn’t be.

For me, one of the fundamental tenets of any romantic relationship I’ve had is, “Be supportive, even for stuff you don’t care about.” Gini has hobbies that I’m not personally into – but part of why we work is that I’m actively enthusiastic in helping her enthusiasm.

I don’t know much about sewing, nor am I going to take up a class on quilting. But when Gini squeals, “LOOK AT THIS GORGEOUS SECTION I MADE!”, you bet your ass I’m headed downstairs to ooh and ahh at it. Maybe I won’t understand all the fine details, but I can get that it’s pretty – and if it’s not pretty, I can always ask what made this so difficult to create, because often what Gini is celebrating is not the end result but mastering a new technique.

Likewise, my wife will haul her butt out to the garage whenever I figure out some new way to join wood together. I have, in the past, patiently explained to her that yes, this looks like an ordinary plank, but this plank has a perfect 90 degree angle, as opposed to that awful one, which only had like 89.3 degrees.

And she has applauded.

And I know a lot of people who actively fight their partners on hobbies they deem insufficiently interesting – the wife who yells at her husband for wasting his weekends fishing, the husband who’s grumpy because his wife is spending his money on these dumb scrapbooks. And there are other partners who treat their partners’ hobbies like a black box – they’ll authorize a budget for their spouse to buy whatever the heck it is they want, but really they don’t want to be bothered with this.

Whereas if my sweetie has something that brings them joy, I want them to hook me in as much as possible. No, I don’t always get the fine details of a perfect stitch, and thank God Gini doesn’t try to show me everything. No, I don’t think Gini should drain our bank accounts dry for this hobby, and so I’ll occasionally ask, “You sure you need to buy that?” No, I don’t spend hours watching sewing videos with her.

But I know quilting makes Gini happy, and so I try to connect with it.

Furthermore: I want to enable her joys, even when they are not directly benefiting me. Which is why, even though I was perfectly content with the basement the way it was, I’ll happily head downstairs and spend six sweaty hours with my wife kicking up dust and old spiders.

And I want to tell all these other people: It’s not enough just to endure your partner’s other affections. You have to enable them whenever you can.

Because not only does this help train myself in that vital skill of “riding somebody else’s high” – which is super-useful in so many other areas of life -but it helps bond us. I’ve seen too many relationships crumble because the partners refused to venture outside their comfort zone, and both of them built these secret lives where they worked in isolation from their partner, and eventually those secret lives became more compelling than the actual marriage.

They don’t always lead to affairs, of course. But there’s a lot of baffled people in the throes of a divorce, wondering why their lover’s leaving them. And the answer is, all too often, “I realized I wasn’t having any of my good times with you.”

Whereas Gini and I both try to find good times in whatever we’ve got, even in the foreign stuff. This pair of scissors makes her happy, so I’m happy – and her being able to share her joy with me means that I am with her in the basement even when I’m out in my woodshop. We are woven throughout the fabrics of each other’s lives.

(Right up until I use those quilting scissors to cut open a piece of mail. Holy crap, do not touch a quilter’s good scissors. THIS I HAVE LEARNED.)

So yeah. Last weekend, we spent six hours rearranging the basement. It looks nice to me – but it’s everything to Gini. She danced around, clasping her hands to her chest, squeeing about how beautiful it all looked now.

But you know what was beautiful to me?

Her. Just being happy.

And that’s the way it should be, dammit.

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Oct 18, 2018

    You think quilters are sensitive, try touching a hairdresser’s scissors.

    Don’t think of them as scissors; they’re TOOLS OF THE TRADE.

    -Alex

    • Yet Another Laura H.
      Oct 18, 2018

      Do not try to touch a hairdresser’s shears, please. It endangers your fingers and annoys the hairdresser. (I’m helping!)

  2. Ronfar
    Oct 18, 2018

    My wife is *actively jealous* of my hobbies and gets angry with me when she sees me online. 🙁

  3. Yet Another Laura H.
    Oct 18, 2018

    Tom Robbins, or one of his characters, suggested that instead of “love and honor,” we should promise to “aid and abet,” because to love another truly, madly, deeply, and healthily is the most subversive thing you can do in a world that tries to commodify people as resources— you pair of rogues, you..

  4. You just reminded me of my Jason and his approach to my enthusiasms. I need to be more like this with him as well — thank you for putting words to the thing.

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