6: How about Italian?

6: How about Italian?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

How about Italian?

Our self-respect tracks our choices. Every time we act in harmony with our authentic self and our heart, we earn our respect. It is that simple. Every choice matters.

~Dan Coppersmith

“It’s our six-month anniversary,” Rich said. “Why don’t we go out tonight? Where would you like to eat?”

Immediately, I thought Italian food, but I said, “I don’t know. You choose.”

“Okay, we’ll have Mexican.”

Mexican again.

I waved from the window as he backed out of the driveway, and then collapsed into a chair and let the tears flow. Here I was, still a newlywed, but feeling completely alone.

I had willingly relocated to Cincinnati from the small town of Marshall, Michigan, after our wedding, but the adjustment had been more difficult than I’d imagined. I was terrified of getting lost in the huge city and equally afraid of the fast-moving, multi-lane traffic. But more importantly, I was afraid to share my thoughts and fears with my new husband.

My relationships with men had never been comfortable, but when I met Rich, I knew he was the man for me. I loved his quirky sense of humor, intelligence and strong faith. After only eight months of dating, we married.

I basked in his love — yet I felt as if I had to be on my best behavior, as if one wrong move on my part would ruin our relationship. I found it difficult to reveal my thoughts to him. As considerate as he was, when he arrived home from work, I expected to be scolded for something I had done or not done. I was afraid to express my opinion about the most insignificant things — even picking out a restaurant for dinner! I was behaving exactly like my mother.

Mom enjoyed spending time with her children when Dad wasn’t around. She’d play cards with us, tell stories about her childhood, and sing old songs with us. Sometimes, we’d try out new craft projects. But at five o’clock, we children fled to our rooms while my mother nervously tended to the meal she was preparing. Dad expected to eat at precisely 5:30.

We never knew what Dad’s mood would be when he came home. Occasionally, he seemed light-hearted, but usually he walked through the house yelling about something. We couldn’t predict what would set him off.

When I was fifteen, I found someone in whom I could confide all my hopes and fears; my friend Patty. I had relied on her ever since. She was the one I cried to now.

Patty finally suggested, “You’re depressed because you’re not being yourself with Rich. Why aren’t you telling him how you feel instead of telling me?”

“I can’t do that.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“He would be disappointed in me. Or he might get mad.”

“Would he leave you? Would he beat you? Would he murder you?”

“Of course not,” I laughed.

“Would you be any worse off than you are now, sitting around crying?”

I wasn’t sure. I had to think about that — and pray. Rich wasn’t anything like my father, yet I desperately feared his disapproval. The idea of sharing my inner thoughts with him terrified me.

Still, I didn’t want the kind of marriage my parents had. Mom tiptoed around Dad to avoid his anger, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t make him happy. He scolded her when she was too playful, and he criticized her when she was too quiet.

One time, he came home early. Mom was demonstrating a gymnastics trick with a glass of water balanced on her forehead. The door swung open, surprising us and causing Mom to spill the water. “What’s this foolishness?” Dad demanded.

“I… I was showing the kids something I learned to do in high school,” Mom stammered.

“When are you going to grow up? You act like one of the kids.” She didn’t respond, but was quiet the rest of the day. Later, Dad berated her. “What’s the matter with you? Quit moping around.” She couldn’t win.

And there I was, following in Mom’s footsteps, tiptoeing around Rich, mentally rehearsing everything I said to him, even jumping up when he arrived home so he wouldn’t catch me watching TV or doing something equally frivolous. I thought, I can’t win in this relationship if I’m afraid to be myself. I will end up just like Mom. I had to make a choice — spend the rest of my life being lonely and miserable, or face my fears in hopes of developing the kind of relationship I longed for.

I decided I had to share my thoughts and feelings with Rich no matter how difficult, and I had to begin that night before I lost my resolve. Voice quavering, I asked, “Couldn’t we go for Italian food to celebrate our anniversary?”

“I thought you wanted Mexican.”

“No, I really want Italian.”

“Okay, Italian it is.”

As we pulled out into heavy traffic, I took a deep breath and forced myself to say, “I hate to admit this, but this city intimidates me.”

“I didn’t realize that.”

“I’m afraid to leave the house on my own, afraid of getting lost… and being stuck in the house is making me depressed.”

“Oh, baby, I didn’t know. I can help you figure out how to get around.” He put his hand over mine and squeezed.

And as simply as that, I began sharing my feelings with Rich. When he didn’t scoff at my fears, I began to disclose more. Little by little over the next months, it became easier to be open with him. I shared things with him that I had only told Patty. Eventually, I was even able to talk to him about how hard it was to talk to him!

The change didn’t happen overnight, of course. Responding in a new way took effort and practice. I’d take a step forward and then would find myself slipping back into old patterns, which caused me to feel depressed again. But I had learned the warning signs. Whenever I started withdrawing, I reminded myself of the kind of marriage I wanted. I realized that a marriage in which I couldn’t be myself wasn’t really a marriage at all.

One afternoon, Rich found me curled up on the couch engrossed in a novel. I hadn’t started supper, but I didn’t jump up at his arrival. Instead, I simply smiled and said, “I’m on the last chapter — it’s too exciting to put down. I’ll be finished in fifteen minutes.”

These days, Rich and I share laughter, tears, and even opinions. Learning to ask for what I want and to share my innermost feelings not only gave me the marriage of my dreams, but made me a more confident person. And in the process, I found a new best friend.

~Diana L. Walters

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