A few weeks ago on a quiet Sunday morning, fiancé Steve and I were seated across from each other at my dining table. Having shared a homemade omelet and fruit and still working on our respective cups of coffee and tea, Steve sat with his paper calendar in his lap, his laptop open to email, while I had called up my calendar on my phone and sat with the wedding notebook in front of me. As we compared notes, I made a to-do list on a legal pad: we needed to call X, send a follow up email to Y, compare quotes from Z and Q. We divvied up the duties and decided on a timetable, determining what had to be done before the holidays, what could wait until after.
Once we each had our assignments, I slid my reading glasses off my nose and snapped the frame closed, the muscle memory of the movement recalling something far removed from a leisurely morning lingering over breakfast with my love. I sat back in my chair in consternation.
“What?” Steve asked, closing his calendar.
I sighed. “I know planning a wedding is supposed to be fun, and it mostly is. But it feels like we just spent our morning in a business meeting.”
Even without planning a wedding or the prospect of combining households, the “to do list” looms large this time of year. The festivities and family time and all the anticipation that preceded holiday fun end, and suddenly decorations need putting away, the (probably higher than usual) monthly bills have to be paid, and we dig back into our work routine, gearing up for the next class, planning the next staff meeting, slogging through a seemingly Sisyphean in-box. Add a wedding and all its concomitant changes, and the already rare-enough morning tête-à-tête turns into a strategic planning session.
Planning is a big task, and as we’ve quickly discovered, it’s easy to let it dominate our conversations. But Steve and I had plenty of other things to talk about before we got engaged, and what we learned and shared in all those conversations is largely what led us to decide to walk down the aisle in the first place! We know it’s important to keep forging those connections, so in 2015, we’ve agreed to ban wedding talk from at least a few dates each month.
Yet, as a very wise mentor of mine once advised, it’s always more effective to approach or state things affirmatively—name what you will do, rather than what you won’t. Intuitively that rings true: any kind of “yes” feels more positive, more inclusive, more welcoming than most any “no,” which tends toward exclusion and puts people on the defensive. There’s some solid biology and psychology underlying my mentor’s sage advice: according to James Zull, whose book The Art of Changing the Brain explores the neuroscience of learning, once we’ve built pathways (“neuronal networks”) in our brains connecting two or more ideas (“Steve and I need to plan this wedding!”), any statement referring to that connection, even one that seeks to negate or break it (i.e. “Steve and I won’t talk about the wedding every time we’re together”) actually reinforces the initial connection. Therefore, declaring “we won’t talk planning tonight” is less likely to turn our attention elsewhere, as desired, as it is to make the wedding the omnipresent elephant in the room.
Of course, Zull’s analysis is focused on classroom teaching and learning rather than personal relationships. But it’s an obvious improvement to replace a negative, necessarily abstract statement about what we wish to avoid with a positive expression of what we want to do. It’s the same psychology behind trading in “I don’t want to gain weight” for “I will visit the gym twice a week.” The first is a vaguely articulated wish; the second is a clear, achievable action.
The only problem: that brings us right back to making a list of “to do’s.” And as the two page list in my calendar attests, we’ve quite enough of those already.
So, I started thinking about an alternative. Instead of a “to do” list, perhaps we needed a “to be” list. After a short consultation with Steve, we came up with some things we want to do, or rather be, on those dates when we, er, leave the planning be (see what I did there? 🙂 )
“To be” list:
To be with each other.
To be present in body and mind.
To be outside, in nature.
To be in love.
Just, to be.
Short, simple, and infinitely be-able.
To be or not to be? Together, without question.