Relationships and Race Discussions

Lately, I’ve been listening in on a lot of conversations about race. As a white guy in my thirties, I feel like the least qualified person in the world to discuss these issues myself. After all, I have all of the privileges.

But I recently had a conversation about marriage that might as well have been about race.

During our first year of marriage, my wife and I had to work through the fact that I always think I am right. In truth, everyone always think they are right. Who would purposely hold to beliefs that they know to be false? So the problem wasn’t that I was self-assured. The problem was that my confidence in my viewpoint left no room for conversation.

Whenever I would state an opinion, I would present it as fact. My wife, who is possessed of a gentle spirit and rather averse to confrontation, would not openly disagree with my opinion, even if she would internally. It was never worth the argument. Until it was.

I don’t remember what the final straw was, but eventually she told me that my actions were keeping her from speaking her mind. Now, I never told my wife that she couldn’t speak her mind. In fact, I would ask for her opinion often. But if I had already stated my opinion on a matter, she didn’t feel comfortable sharing hers.

MY OPINIONSAnd so I’ve tried to tone it down. I preface my statements with the fact that I could be wrong or that what I think is just an opinion. I try really hard to bring her thoughts and feelings into the conversation, even (especially) when she is keeping them quiet. Our marriage is much stronger because of it. Our communication has moved into new levels of trust.

So as a white guy in my thirties encountering discussions of race, I feel like I’m back in the first year of my marriage. My opinions are not facts. My privileges do not make me right. I need to intentionally quiet myself and engage people of color in dialogue, even (especially) when those conversations seem hard.

I am smooth.

Since I started thinking about my college days again for last week’s post, I thought I’d share another college story.

When I first moved to Kalamazoo in order to attend Western Michigan University, music was something that was still primarily enjoyed by listening to the radio (that makes me feel very old all of the sudden). Illegal file sharing was yet to be made illegal, and the iPod was only a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. While searching the dial for a station worth listening to, I stumbled across my college’s radio station, WIDR, and instantly fell in love.

WIDR | Radio EvolutionI still get nostalgic for WIDR and many’s the time when I wish that I could get the signal where I live now. All of the DJs were students, long awkward pauses and dead air were not uncommon, and I had never heard of most of the musicians they played, but it all worked. WIDR had the perfect mix of loveable amateurism and exposure to the underground music scene.

But enough of my gushing and on to the story.

I learned where the station was located after being invited to speak about the Valhalla Norwegian Society, of which I was president at the time. As it happened, WIDR’s studio was located in the same building as the registered student organization mailboxes, so in the weeks following the interview, I would stop in at random to say hi to the DJs who interviewed me with whom I had struck up a friendship.

On one such visit, rather than ask if my DJ friends were available, I stepped up to the main desk and said, “I’m here to pick up my prize pack.” Now, there was no prize pack waiting for me, but I thought that on the off chance that I could get a free t-shirt or something, I’d try my luck.

“Prize pack?” said the receptionist. “Did someone call you and tell you that you won something?”

“Um,” I replied. “Well, no.”

“Then, why did you come in?” asked the receptionist, and rightfully so.

“Um,” I replied. “I just wanted to see if I could get something. Maybe a t-shirt or something.”

“Oh,” said the receptionist. “Well, I can’t give you anything.”

“Okay,” I said. “Would you mind telling John that I’m out here then, if he’s not on-air at the moment, I mean.”

“Actually,” said a woman sitting against the wall who I had completely missed, “I was about to go record an interview with John, so he’ll be busy for a little bit.”

“Oh,” I said. “It’s cool. I’ll just check back later.”

“Wait a sec,” said the new woman. “I heard what you were trying to do with the prize pack thing. Clever and ballsy of you. If you wait around until after the interview, I’d love to give you a couple tickets to my show tonight. Maybe you could bring a date.”

I waited. True to her word, this mystery musician put my name down for two tickets to her show that night.  This turn of events gave me sufficient reason to ask out a girl that I’d been interested in a for a few weeks. What a great first date story that would be, I thought (isn’t it funny how we want to make our lives fit into clever story arcs?). To my surprise, the girl agreed and off we went.

The seats were prime. The music was good. My date and I were enjoying ourselves. And then, around the middle of the set, the musician stops and says, “Where’s Josh? I met Josh earlier at the college radio station and he told me that he was going to be on a first date tonight. Josh, are you here?”

I raised my hand. People from all directions stared at me… and my date. I should probably say that the girl that I brought to this event was a shy girl who didn’t like the spotlight.

“How’s the date going so far?”

I looked over at my date. She gave me a thumbs up, but the look on her face was not happy.

“Um, great!” I lied.

“Cool,” she said, and then she finished her show. The first date became the last date, and that was okay. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Afterward, I stopped back into the radio station to thank them for doing the interview with the musician that led to me getting free show tickets. My DJ friends invited me to talk about the evening on the air. I told them that it was a good evening, but that things didn’t work out.

That was when they decided that it would be a fun show segment to have girls call in to the station and go on dates with me (WIDR would be footing the bill) and then I would talk about my experiences the next day. At the time, I thought nothing of being pimped out by my college radio station and thought it would be a fun way to see concerts and such for free.

The promotion never came together however, and now I’m really glad that it didn’t. Now, I’m married to a wonderful woman (a bit on the shy side, I guess I have a type). And though I’m sure that my wife would never have left me when confronted with a spotlight on us, I’m glad that our story started differently.

I love my wife more than old people love racism and talking about diseases.

I am a husband.

I love my wife more than old people love racism and talking about diseases.Let me be up front with you about something. I stole the idea for this post from a series of posts that Jessie Clemence did on her blog. Her interviews with her family (husband, daughter, son) made me smile and opened a window to her life that I hadn’t seen before (I knew Jessie and her husband when I was in college, but our paths split before they had kids).

I thought, “What a great idea! How hard could it be to interview your spouse?” So, I made  a list of questions and had my wife answer them. Here’s the result:

How long have we been together?

Not nearly long enough.  That being said, we had our first date 8 years, 2 months, and 16 days ago.  We have been married for 6 years, 8 months and 16 days, but as I said, not nearly long enough.

What are you reading now?

I am just about to finish Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, which has kept my attention from the beginning of the winter school semester.  I have read the book about three pages at a time for almost five months, but even though it has stretched over a long time, it still kept me coming back for more whenever I had time to spare.

What is your favorite book?

This is a hard question because in every genre I have a favorite book. That being said, the book I have enjoyed for the longest amount of time is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

What are your thoughts on your husband being a writer?

Honestly it depends on the day.  For most days, I am excited and supportive of your desire to do something you enjoy and I try to express that through my words and actions.  There are also occasional days were I become self focused and wonder why you must choose a hobby that is not only time-consuming but also solitary. On those days, I must remember your writing is not about me, but about you doing something that makes you happy.

You work full-time, raise a 1.5 year old, and are 7 months pregnant. You also just completed a master’s course in Accounting. Are you crazy?

No, let’s just say I have an incredible partner that makes all that possible.  I couldn’t do it without you babe.

What is the first thought that goes through your head when I say that I’m going off to write for a while?

Once again, this honestly depends on whether I have my attitude and focus where it belongs.  Given that I feel most loved by spending quality time together, leaving me to write isn’t the best way to say I love you.  So, whether I need an attitude adjustment or it is where it needs to be already, I need to remember that my joyfully letting you go is a good way to say I love you.

What is something that you want strangers to know about me?

Oh, the things I could share…

Do you have any advice for the spouses of writers?

Whether other spouses deal with this or not, maybe it’s just me, but I have to constantly remember it’s not about me, it’s about you.  That applies to all areas, at least in my opinion.

I love my wife.

I don’t know if you’ve read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, but it spells out five ways that people feel most loved. There’s quality time, words of encouragement, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. DeAnne and I read this book in our first year of marriage and it has really helped me understand how to make her feel loved. That said, her love language is quality time and mine is physical touch. When we are snuggling on the couch, both of our love tanks get filled.

But then I took up writing. Like she said in her answers, I write best when I can be focused entirely on my writing, so it is essentially a solitary thing. I try to choose times to write when it won’t affect our time together, times when she is either out of the house (her commute is about an hour longer than mine) or sleeping (I’m a night owl anyway), but there are still times when I get together with my writers’ group when I could be spending time with her.

That isn’t a good way to help my wife feel loved. Sometimes, this makes me feel like bad husband, like I am not giving her what she needs, like I am choosing my own desires over hers. And no matter how many times she insists that I go off and write, I feel that I am messing things up.

This past weekend, through the interview and other conversations that we had, she helped me understand that my writing time wasn’t really the issue. The real issue is that when I am spending time with her, it isn’t always quality time because my mind is still living in writing-land. We may be sitting on the couch together or playing with our daughter, but I’m not fully there because I’m thinking of the next scene in my novel or the blog post that I’m going to write.

Our time together isn’t quality when I’m letting other things come before her and marriage.

Now, I’m not going to quit writing. I think, for the most part, I’ve tried to limit the time that I spend writing when my wife is available. But I am going to try turning off the writing part of my brain when I’m with my wife. For me, my marriage comes first. I love you DeAnne Lynne Mosey!