Sunday, September 8, 2013

I'll never hang on him in public, but I'll write things like this.

I've never been terribly trusting of the nature of relationships whose virtues have to be extolled from rooftops. Like all of us, I'm at least somewhat a product of the environment in which I was raised, and in my family, couples historically just aren't syrupy-sweet and hanging on one another. The message I received growing up was that "real" relationships shouldn't have to be broadcast, and, right or wrong, I guess I've carried that over into my marriage.

But today, protocol be damned, I'm feeling the need to do a little broadcasting.

Kevin and I have been married a little over seven years. Both of us were married before and brought kids to the relationship, and each of us would be the first to tell you the ride hasn't been easy. No matter how much a person cares for his or her stepkids, the relationship is different from the one between a parent and his or her own children; your stepkids have been raised by people who aren't you, and the transition to functional, caring steppparent/stepchild relationship can be daunting. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

I'm happy to report that we seem to be past all that now, and we have a pretty great family. But there have always been, and still are, other bumps: financial issues. Illness. Parents' deaths. Menopause and more than a touch of OCD (me) and efforts to quit smoking (him). But we've hung in there, and I'm pretty sure we still like each other.

And the last couple of days, cheesy as it sounds, I've been realizing just how lucky I am that my initial attraction to this person happened to turn into a relationship that makes me certain that if we're lucky enough to grow old, we'll be growing old together.

Oh, wow, you're thinking. What a boring blog post. But please bear with me, because Kevin deserves for you to read about him.

In March of this year, I announced to him one Friday that we needed to go out that weekend and eat our way through the greater metropolitan area, because I was planning to start Weight Watchers the following Monday. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I was over 200 pounds at 5'5", and I was unhealthy and unhappy. I'd had enough.

As we ate our Chinese and Mexican and pastries that weekend, I proceeded to also tell him that as of Monday, he'd be on his own, food-wise. Now, anyone who knows me is aware that a warning that I'd no longer be cooking likely wouldn't be met with shrieks of dismay, but this was his response: "Whatever you need."

So, for six months, not only have I not participated in any sort of culinary activity for anyone but myself, but I've shopped for no one but myself. To a large degree, with the exception of my kids, I've thought of no one but myself. And he's complained exactly zero times.

This is the point of the post at which my friend Beth would ask, "Why did you feel you HAD to cook for him? Simply because you're a woman doesn't mean you should have been expected to cook." Exactly, and the way it actually worked was that we shared the shopping and cooking, and we also ate out several nights a week. So what I was doing, essentially, was saying, "My end of the bargain is done. Oh, and the whole eating-out thing, which I know you really enjoy? That's over, too, unless you take someone else."

I was presenting to him a real 180, then. And his only balk was worrying that my chicken breasts and green beans and Smart Ones dinners would take up the entire freezer. (And they haven't ... not the whole freezer, anyway.)

Let me step back and point out that this man never said a word about my gigantic weight gain in the first place ... never pointed out that being fat was clearly making me unhappy, and that my raiding the pantry in the middle of the night and eating two packages of Swiss Cake Rolls was somewhat troubling behavior.

Now, am I advocating that spouses berate one another for physical changes? Of course not, and I wouldn't be married to someone who behaved that way. But I didn't even sense concern or disapproval from him as my weight climbed and climbed. It was as if he was saying, "You're a grown, smart woman, and I trust your judgment, so you eat your Swiss Cake Rolls if you want to, and I'll do my thing over here."

Back to March, and every Monday since. Although he's probably sick to death of hearing about pounds lost and miles run or walked, when I get home from each meeting, he not only cheers me on, but finds someone to tell about my progress: his mom. One of the kids. A co-worker. And his comments aren't just of the "you look great" variety. He talks about being proud of my determination and my strength, and he tells me how glad he is that I'm healthy.

He also tells me -- not a small thing -- that the gross loose skin I'm left with is nothing compared to the years I've (hopefully) gained through taking control of my eating. Believe me, many parts of me are not attractive with 50-plus pounds gone. And again, not that I'd be married to someone superficial, but he goes the extra mile by telling me just why the Sharpei-like wrinkles on my neck don't gross him out.

I need to add some context to this love-fest. When I hit the 50-pound mark, some friends surprised me with balloons and a card. Kevin didn't do anything special, and as I was feeling especially hormonal and downright bitchy the next day, I made a nasty remark to him about having not acknowledged what I considered a giant milestone. I even had the audacity to complain to a friend about what I perceived as a lack of support on Kevin's part.

And then I thought about the fact that the guy is trying to quit smoking, so he's going through some struggles of his own. And I thought about all the restaurants he goes to with his kids -- not that he minds that; he loves it -- but that he goes just with his kids and without his wife, who's at home eating a Smart Ones dinner as she tries to work through her neuroses about eating food she can't track exactly.

And I thought about the ongoing support he provides me, in his non-flashy but consistent way. He doesn't bring me flowers, but he hugs me a few times a day, then exclaims about how much smaller I feel to him. "It's working," he'll say. And it's great to have that affirmation.

"For better or for worse," he said back in 2006. And since then, he's tried consistently to find the better in the worse, and the worse is often me. And I'll probably never be cuddly with him him public, so I'm being cuddly with him here. No funny, cute closing; I'm not even going to try. Just this:

Thanks, Kevin. I am grateful. And I hope you know how it means to have you around.

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