My fiancé Steve and I see the world differently. He likes to tell the story of how, when we were trying to remember whose toothbrush was whose, he determined ownership by recalling his brush was on the left, mine on the right, whereas I identified our respective implements by color: his green, mine blue. A similar scenario occurred trying to recall which mug belonged to whom—I checked the colors of the teabag tags, remembering Earl Grey was yellow, English Breakfast red, while he’d noted he’d placed his mug to the left. He relies on spatial relationships for identification and cueing. I inevitably register color first.
The point here isn’t that we middle-aged folk keep forgetting things; the point is the differences in how our brains work. Steve has a mathematical, map-guy mind that tends toward a linear, laser-point focus; I’m a creative, crafty type, with a heightened aesthetic awareness, my attentions more diffuse. More than once while traveling, we’ve passed some wacky, hard-to-miss building or sign, or a group of deer hovering on the side of the highway. Each time, Steve was so focused on the road in front of him that he missed anything not represented on the GPS. (Note: generally speaking, a driver’s ability to keep eyes on the road is a plus!) And of course, there’s shopping: if Steve’s targeting shirts, he looks at shirts, and nothing else registers. I am almost incapable of filtering out all the pretty items on the periphery, especially those in my favorite colors.
Our minds clearly process information in wildly different ways, and while this is true for all couples to some degree, our obvious disparity carries the distinct benefit of preventing romantic relationship pitfall #11: believing that true love creates magical mind-reading powers.
To whit: we don’t even see our toothbrushes the same way. Any expectation that the other could consistently and accurately conjure up (and then fulfill) our deepest thoughts and desires borders on absurdity.
But it’s good intel. Because that knowledge reinforces the importance of romantic relationship lesson #23: you have to ask for what you want.
If I’m honest, #23 is a lesson I’ve been a long time learning. For many years I was swayed by the myth that one of the most romantic things a partner can do is surprise you with a gift, a moment, an adventure that fulfills a secret wish you’ve always had but never once expressed. In other words, the height of romance is, indeed, having someone read your mind.
If you still believe this, I urge you: get over it.
I’m not sure where the myth originates—popular music? the movies?—but it’s a dangerous lie. Perhaps our attachment to it stems from our desire to be truly known and understood. But intimacy doesn’t include a mind-meld. Real intimacy is a product of time, attention, and energy, and while it’s conceivable that a partner who’s truly paying attention could deduce your secret dream to sing a karaoke duet of Air Supply’s “Even the Nights Are Better,” if you hope instead of ask, there’s a good chance you’ll go home disappointed. And peeps, it’s especially unfair to sulk when your unspoken wishes go unfulfilled.
During the first summer we were dating, Steve and I went to Asheville for a quick getaway and stopped in for a drink at the old Grove Park Inn. We watched the sun set over the Blue Ridge while sipping cocktails and giggling at the antics of the wedding guests partying on a patio to our right. After strolling around the grounds and the main lodge, we headed toward the car. Night had fallen, and the cicadas called. Above the parking lot, several trees wound with strings of white lights twinkled. “Ooh, look,” I said to Steve. A bark-chip path led up the hill, where a small wooden deck nestled amongst the trees. It was the world’s most romantic dance-floor.
I hesitated for a moment, waiting to see if Steve would move toward the path, but he didn’t see what I saw. So I tugged his hand, pulling him toward the lights. On the deck, he wrapped me in his arms. “Now we just need music,” I said. He pulled out his iPhone, found Norah Jones’ “Turn Me On” in the music folder, hit play, and slid the phone into his breast pocket. As the stars blinked through the canopy above, leaves rustling a quiet percussion, we danced.
Steve is a big romantic. He sends me flowers “just because,” and when I’m having a tough week, he brings me a bottle of my favorite wine. He shares jokes and videos he knows I’ll like. He sends sweet texts and funny cards, and, of course, there was that killer surprise proposal, complete with a moonlit walk on the beach. I am a lucky, lucky girl.
But my toothbrush is blue, and his is on the left. That moment on the mountain was a revelation. Each of us lives largely in a universe of our own perceptions, and no matter how much you love someone, how simpatico you are, or how romantically inclined, no one else has access to the visions in your head unless you share them. There were times when I wouldn’t have tugged my partner up the hill—and I’d feel regret and disappointment. When I asked for what I wanted, I got even more than I’d imagined.
I, apparently, have a thing for dancing in unconventional places. We’ve also danced alone in the middle of Mary’s Barn to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” at Mountain Lake, and in a parking lot next to the inter-coastal waterway, where Steve learned the Cupid Shuffle in front of deckful of restaurant patrons. Do I sometimes wish he could see the magic dance floor in my mind? Sure. But it’s far more important that whenever I ask him to dance there with me, he says yes.
We’ve most of us made Christmas wish lists, or offered a few suggestions when someone asks us what we’d like. Why should we be any less straightforward about our desires in relationships? Steve’s math mind works differently than mine, but he loves me to the moon and back. If I ask for what I want and need, he’ll give it to me if he can.
And when it comes to love and romance, that’s what counts.
To find out how to make the cute Christmas wish list magnet board featured in the photo above, check out How to Nest for Less.