On the evening that my boyfriend Jon and I held hands on my parents’ corduroy sofa and declared — as you have to when you are 19 — that we were “officially dating,” Jon surprised me by telling me that our relationship had two ground rules. The first one was honesty. The second one was telling him when he had food stuck in his goatee.
I probably laughed. I certainly brushed the comment off. But in reality, I had no idea how much the first statement (okay, both) would challenge the way I viewed just about everything.
Up until that point, I had this weird perception of womanhood that combined the elegance of a ballet dancer with — and I can’t figure out of a better way to say this — silence. Not necessarily a lack of a voice, for that would have been too extreme, but just a poised and gracious refusal to challenge others, to rock the boat. I called my quietness — which was way beyond my introversion, for that is different — by many names: easy-goingness and accommodation. And I was at peace with this.
But Jon wanted to hear me. He wanted to know what I wanted to eat for dinner, where I wanted to take a walk, and if I agreed with what I was taught at college. What did I think of English porters? Was the steak he grilled overdone? He was so full of questions — and what I mean by this is that he just wanted to have a conversation — that I found him slightly terrifying. But if I could not tell him what I really thought about that bass solo we’d just heard, I certainly couldn’t express why, on certain days, Jon annoyed the crap out of me. And how, on some days, I just inexplicably needed my space. And how, on most days, he was the most incredible person that I’d ever met.
The first time I found my voice was the day when I took twenty minutes to tell Jon that I was annoyed by the way he had hung up his coat, inside-out and by the arm (I swear this was a big deal). The result of the conversation stunned me: Jon wanted to keep hanging out anyway.
After all these years together, the sweetest lesson of our relationship has been learning that speaking my heart doesn’t mean that Jon will leave me, that telling the truth is the first step to finding a solution, and that all this combined — the speaking, the listening, and the sharing in any relationship, not just ours — is actually the definition of trust.