Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Accepting others

In my last post, I mentioned sitting next to a chatty engineer (we never exchanged names, pity). I did not realize it then, but my conversation with him made me realize that for me to respect other people's opinions, sometimes all it takes is for someone to respect mine.

I had class first thing on Monday morning. It was cool, around 50 degrees, and gray. A fellow classmate and I caught up as we were walking from the parking lot to our class. We took a detour, a new route for me, cutting through the quadrangle of the dormitories, past tall oaks, under the covered walkways. I told him that I did not live with my husband. And he replied, "That must be hard."

For several years now, I've wanted to take a rolled up newspaper to anyone who said that statement. To beat them around the head and neck. Perhaps give them a kick in the shins for good measure. Because they are idiots! Narrow-minded fools that believe children's stories, and believe love only exists in their version, their thin slice of experience. If people can live together and not be married, why is it so "hard" to be married, but not live together? There are those (71% of Americans) who think that a wife not changing her names means that she lacks a proper familial unity, or a lack of respect for husband, religion, or tradition. And 90-95% of American women do change their name upon marriage, but I never get "it must be hard to have a different name".

But the chatty engineer, when we were making small talk about our families, didn't just assume, like others did. He had lived apart, knew others who were married and living apart as well, and said that while it had been difficult for him, the difficulty being apart had grown over time, after he and his wife had lived several years together.

"It's what you're used to," we agreed.

Back now, walking to class on a Monday morning, I replied to "It must be hard" with "It's what you're used to."

It was the fairest answer I could give, and I realized I couldn't blame the asker: living together with his wife was what HE was used to. Of course he assumed it would be hard. I could think of him being narrow minded, or I could accept that perhaps, if I had been like him, if things had been different and I had followed the script that society had laid out for me, I would have assumed that such a thing was hard.

But perhaps that I could explain to him that there are other paths, too, perhaps off the sidewalk, across the quadrangle, and under the oaks and covered walkways.

Living Apart Together
SF Chronicle: One for the price of two
Elle: Living Apart Together