Last week I attended a political dinner which concluded a conference Mike helped to organize. Mike serves as treasurer for the Evergreen Leadership Conference and works all year for this one-day event.
That he participates shouldn’t really be surprising. That I looked forward to attending may be.
You probably wouldn’t know it if you met me now, but I used to have my heart set on being a senator. I’ve been involved in political activities since high school, and always assumed that I would go to law school, serve privately, and establish a public presence before finally running for senator — and then I’d get married.
Well, that didn’t work out, did it?
It’s nobody’s fault but my own. I chose other pursuits, realized I had no interest in law school, and that was that.
Still, this dinner last week was a bit of an out of body experience. As I watched him interact with people and run the event, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t me. I, too, have lived and worked in Washington, D.C. I have hob-knobbed with politicians and attended political events. I have walked the halls of the House of Representatives and the Capitol building as an intern. How did I end up as the arm piece? (Not that I am, though I do try to dress to impress.)
Most people expect the uninvolved ladies to be somewhat mindless. I choose not to be insulted by this. It’s an opportunity; when a group is discussing health care and I make a thoughtful comment, I can see the tiny eyebrow raises and metaphorical jaws on the floor as if they’re exclaiming, “She reads the paper! You don’t say!”
Meeting people in this atmosphere is the place where I feel most acutely the “extension” part of marriage — the surreal feeling that people are looking and talking with me not as who I am, but as an extension of my husband.
As much as I love talking politics with the general public, I do have my limits. For instance, a gentleman seated next to me at dinner the other night was going on and on about how homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed in church until they’re no longer practicing their lifestyle. I replied that if all people weren’t allowed in church until after they stopped sinning, the place would be empty, but he refused to see my point. Soon, I was boiling below the surface.
These are the moments when Mike lightly taps my arm in the “it’s not worth it,” gesture, and I simply let the man finish his thought. I nod politely, and transition by commenting on the approaching dessert.
I think this is where I lose my footing in the political sphere. You see, I am much more pro-Jesus than I am pro-Republican. I am loyal to my faith, not my political party. Jesus is not part of a political group, so I do not want to align myself too strictly with something outside of Him. However, I can see that this line of thinking can quickly lead to being utterly passive, and that is what keeps me engaged in moral/economical/social issues of the day.
For now formal involvement isn’t my pursuit. However, it will be a long transition to let go of that part of myself, and realize that this other role, this seeming second-place as wife, is just as valid. Perhaps more so.
The unexpected blessing is that political events aren’t as hard as when I did them alone. It’s almost like Mike whacks away at the underbrush and then I just have to walk through. Since people already know him, by the time I meet them it’s like they already accept me; all I have to do is not ruin that impression. Previous to marriage, I did all my own bushwhacking.
When Mike and I got together, we both loved that the other was as into politics as we were. It was such a bonus, because so many people we’d each dated completely didn’t get it. But we didn’t really dive deep enough to see the obvious: there may be two senators for each state, but there probably shouldn’t be two senators for each marriage.
Two of the people I respect most in this world, Skip and Cyd Li, assured me that marriage does not mean I fade away, only to be glanced at as an accessory to my mate.
“You are NOT wallpaper,” they said emphatically one night while having dinner at our place. “We want to see you get your law degree and run for city council and move your way up. If you don’t want that, fine. But don’t dismiss it just because Mike has those same interests.”
This advice is only believable because Cyd lives it every day. Her marriage to Skip, who is partner in a major Seattle law firm, doesn’t stop her from buzzing all over town with her own projects and passions. She gives to people as much as he does, but uses her own gifts.
I suppose that’s why I’m fine with redefining success for myself. Mike may decide never to pursue a seat, or he may become even more involved tomorrow. I have to be at peace with where I am apart from that.
Besides, it’s no secret that I handle criticism about as well as I handle getting lemon juice in my eye. Mike has thicker skin. He’ll handle the lemons.