One of the Good Ones

@IsabelKaplan posted the following plea on Twitter:

Plz send heartwarming stories of straight male partners supporting your creative endeavors. Hungry for a story that isn’t “I achieved unprecedented professional success and my relationship was never the same.”

I responded on Twitter, but it is hard to fit all the thoughts into the space that Twitter supplies, so in more expanded form:

Howard and I will hit 30 years married in August. We’ve had a recent dynamic shift where I’m stepping up, writing more things, taking work that makes me less available at home. As I started taking on these roles, stepping into a primary wage earner space, I kept waiting for the push back and quiet resentment. Howard always said “Go do the thing.” He’s always said “go do the thing” yet somehow I still found myself pausing and checking with each step. Is this move okay? How does it change our dynamic? Am I making Howard feel bad about his disability when I run fast all day long? Especially since I know that “run fast all day long” is Howard’s preferred mode for living? So I paused and gave space for complex feelings that never showed up to fill the space that I left open. It turns out that Howard means “go do the thing” with his whole self.

I described this on Twitter and got a couple of responses essentially saying “you got one of the good ones.” Yes I did, but I think that statement actually downplays what is happening here. Because Howard isn’t possessed of some innate goodness that people either have or they don’t. Howard chooses who he is on a daily basis. He’s been choosing for decades. We’ve been building communication and choices together. I actually think that younger iterations of us would have had to wrestle with exactly the emotion and resentment I kept pausing for. Younger Howard would have had a pile of feelings to work through about me stepping into spotlight. Current Howard is practiced and adept at managing his own feelings without making them someone else’s job. He’s learned a lot of emotional intelligence and excellent partnership skills through the years. The fact that our current dynamic shift is without friction, speaks to who we have chosen to become and the relationship we’ve built in all the years prior.

Howard definitely gets credit here, because he chose a growth path for himself which deliberately gives his partner as much space to grow as she needs and wants. To his credit, that is always who he has wanted to be. He said as much thirty years ago when we were dating. He told me that he could see I was in the process of growing and becoming, and he never wanted to interfere with that. I believed him. I married him. We sometimes both failed at the shared project of giving me space to grow. I often kept myself small because of unstated cultural expectations about what my role should be, because my own anxieties tell me I’m only allowed to take up space if it won’t inconvenience other people. Learning to be inconvenient has been part of my growth path. Joyfully, every time I allow myself to take up space, I discover that my best beloved (both Howard and my kids) are quite willing to scootch over and let me be big.

I wish that everyone’s life was full of people who are willing to make space for them to grow as big as they can. The good news is that this is learned behavior. You, and any partner you currently have, can choose to become this way if you’re willing to put in the work to let go of ego, root out anxieties, and learn communication skills.