April 29, 2020

What Pure Vulnerability looks like in my Relationship.

What is your reaction when I mention the word golf?

Are you wondering how you are surviving April without hearing the iconic music of The Masters playing from the television screen due to COVID-19 cancellations?

Or thinking “Omg, I cannot think of a more boring or expensive way to spend four to six hours of my Saturday.”

Perhaps “Too long. Didn’t do.”

Maybe it’s a resentful feeling because you think your significant other plays too much. Or perhaps you don’t give the game much thought at all, except when you hear again about how Tiger Woods might “make a comeback.”

I fell in love with a man who was raised a golfer. His father was essentially raised on the golf course, being dropped off to play there and stay out of trouble after school. He is a super talented golfer and he taught his boys to love the game as well.

My husband has always really enjoyed playing. Sure, he gets hung up mentally about his game sometimes (from what I hear, this is a fairly common problem among the white ball community), but he genuinely loves being out on the course.

Then there’s me.

My recollection of golf exposure in childhood was this: if I walked into the living room and saw the screen filled with scenes of greenery and a zoomed in image of a small ball moving at a snail’s pace toward a pin, I would groan and head back to my room to pop in “The Parent Trap” (the Lindsay Lohan version). The game seemed incredibly dull, pointless, and only meant for strange people wearing visors and plaid pants. I wanted zero part of it.

My distaste for the fancy game thickened when I was on the course for the first time with my girlfriend in high school. We got ourselves into deep water with our buddy because we had “accidentally” driven the cart into a bunker perched on a small hill. When he realized what we had done, he screamed “For f*ck’s sake, we are members out here!”

Certainly, we misbehaved with the cart. I won’t dispute that. But perhaps I went into defensive mode, feeling attacked—like I didn’t belong out there, like I didn’t fit in. This fit with my understanding at the time of not belonging (see my prior post, entitled To the Women who Want to be Chosen). I subconsciously dumped any hope of a golf game at that point. It was boring anyway.

But what is one to do when the man they love, loves golf?

We’ve had our share of disputes over the last 10 years of our marriage. We are still learning “best practices” for communication, and I can recall multiple times in the past where it felt like a golf day was sprung on me or I was expected to watch the child(ren) alone while he cruised 18 holes in a golf cart with an ice cold drink by his side and wind in his hair. At least that was my imagery of the situation.

My brain would revert to game strategy: Tit for tat. Equivalent retaliation. Scoreboard me 1, you 0. Your turn next time, bubs.

Bubs? When have I ever used the term bubs? New vocabulary is emerging now in the midst of marital friction. I could feel myself becoming more salty, crusty, whatever adjective the kids are calling it these days.

When Tiger won the 2019 Masters and the terrible announcer informed the viewer, “If that doesn’t move you to tears, you’re not human,” it sent me into blood-boiling rage. It strengthened my resolve to dislike golf. Can we stop telling other people that if they don’t feel the same way we do, they won’t be accepted? Also, thanks for robbing our own personal reaction to the win with your immediate, seemingly premeditated, antagonistic comment.

As we began to raise our two boys, I thought, they will end up loving the game of golf like their daddy. Then they will go out on the course, and I never will. Because people who don’t golf (or people who have a big stick up their butt about the game) don’t get asked to go play. By default, they get asked to stay behind and monitor grandmothers and babies.

Now, my husband has asked me to play, sparingly, throughout the years. I would begrudgingly comply, grit my teeth, and get through nine holes, hoping to skip to the 19th hole as soon as humanly possible.

But we should also examine the flip side of this psychological coin: I am terrible at golf. I am an individual who leans far right on the idealistic, perfectionist spectrum (or, so I’ve been told). The fact that I am physically subjecting myself to criticism or judgement from the person I love the most while I swing at pure air with all my might and that stupid white ball remains balanced on the tee below the gust of air my over-swung club created makes me cuss to the almighty something awful.

He can’t see how bad I suck! I don’t suck at things! If I do, I steer clear of them at all costs. We are talking about my pride here. We are talking about allowing ourselves to be seen.

I decided that I, unequivocally, wanted nothing to do with golf. 

At the precipice of one particularly intense climax (not the good kind), my husband confessed that he thought about giving up golf. That idea only annoyed me because I knew it would result in resentment toward me for life. It also didn’t feel right in my heart. It hardly sounded like a proper or successful ending.

“And then I gave up golf, my one true passion, and we lived happily ever after and I loved my wife so much more after that.”

So, as we headed toward the milestone of year 10 of marriage, we began working through my feelings related to the game and my feelings related to this loss of self. I acknowledged that I had no emotional issue with his love of the game. What I did not like was poor communication, being affected without input when he wanted to go play, and feeling left out of that area of his life simply because I was not a “golfer.”

He wanted to feel free to ask me to go play without worrying about me asking to draw up divorce papers. He wanted to be able to enjoy his time out there, and bring our boys, and raise them to like the game, too. I realized my anger toward the game was more anger toward myself. I was doing a bad job keeping an eye on me. Numbing my stress with alcohol, ignoring my one true passion (writing), and stubbornly pushing through the grind of young kids and gritting my teeth when people told me to “Enjoy it.”

I must be fair and say that my husband’s golf game has dwindled considerably since we’ve had kids. He is as involved in housework and child raising as I am, oftentimes more so. And we have finally found ourselves in a place where, when he wants to spend some time on the course or go play an out-of-town tournament with his brother, I don’t recoil at the request because I know that I, and our boys, come first to him. And maybe that’s all I ever needed to know.

One day, we had a rare Sunday to ourselves. No plans. No obligations. He asked what I wanted to do. I said I was doing it: sitting at our white Ikea table with residual spaghetti stains at the toddler’s seat, sipping hot coffee, and laughing with the boys. I asked him what he wanted to do and nearly fell out of my chair at his response:

“I want to go play nine holes of golf with you and the boys at Magnolia.”

My honest reaction was, “He’s gone mental.” A five-year-old (borderline acceptable) and an 18-month-old (not at all acceptable) on a golf course? Surrounded by pushy, old men who are not patient with a golf-challenged and spiteful wife and a screaming toddler? Why would we do this to ourselves? Has he contracted the Corona? Why did I stop drinking? (As a side, this was prior to social distancing recommendations in the U.S.). I don’t even have a set of clubs, so he arranged to borrow his mom’s for me.

But, and this is really important to take note of, he had a look of pure vulnerability in his eyes, a look that said, “Do this for me.” A look that I can count as one of the pivotal moments of any relationship, where the people involved must actively choose to grab hands and walk forward together if they want to get it right.

“Okay babe, if you think we can get away with it, let’s do it.”

So we did it, and yes, it was a bit of a sh*t show. However, the elderly gentleman we encountered on the driving range quietly observed our family foursome, then looked at Adam with deep appreciation, and told us we were beautiful and it was beautiful that we were out there. The five-year-old flung his body down a hill a time or two, and the toddler wailed a number of times when we did not allow him sufficient putting time near the tee box.

There were the moments of pure bliss: watching my hubs line up his shot and send a smooth sailing white ball toward the green, him posed in that standard golf position of a perfect follow through, looking quite hot and very happy. Let it be known that on a par 3, that had a large dip of a valley directly below where I teed off, I used my mother-in-law’s driver to land my ball on the green. On. The. Green. My husband freaked out and I tried really hard to walk to the golf cart like it wasn’t nothing.

My husband didn’t make fun of me when I made mistakes. He didn’t criticize or over-correct. He gave me a tip or two, which I quickly decided was the right ratio per outing for me to absorb without becoming overwhelmed or frustrated. He thanked me for coming. He was playful and kind. And this is something extremely important to note:

All of his actions had a direct effect on mine. And vice versa.

As the sun began to set and the cool air entered rather rapidly, we had time to complete the seventh hole before we called it a day. Our last ball was lying on the green, a good five to eight feet from the pin. My husband and I had taken turns hitting to get us through that hole, as the toddler’s patience was wearing thin. We told Sawyer, our five-year-old, “Go sink that put bud. Finish it out for us.” My husband ramping the moment up with, “It’s the final round of The Masters!”

My husband asked me if I had any words of advice, out on this golf course—my own personal arena of vulnerability—for my son.

All I could think to say was, “Yes, don’t screw it up.” The words Adam’s uncle voiced to him when he introduced me to the family as his new girlfriend back in 2008, long before we committed to a lifetime of figuring it out together. The words my dad sometimes states when he is recounting a story in which he was considering how to react or behave in a morally challenging situation.

Don’t screw it up, Bethany.

Our son walked out to the green, and as we were surely expecting a two putt, he sunk it with one swift tap. The crowd went wild, with my husband exclaiming, “We won The Masters!”

This time, I didn’t recoil. I smiled.

The day I turned 34, Adam got me a set of tall women’s golf clubs. The name on the bag? Magnolia. I looked up at him after examining the bag’s contents. “It has positive associations,” he said with a grin.

I unequivocally agree.

We showed up where it hurt and we let the pain happen and we sat in it for a while, and then we talked about it and it went away and out of it came a joyous time together and a deeper understanding of one another. A deeper understanding of how to care for each other better and how to figure it out without running or numbing it away.

We have to let the moments of uncertainty come and meet us, face-to-face. We have to remove our grip on being right or wanting to hide, and instead, pick up the tall women’s driver, tee it up, allow ourselves to be uninhibited knowing someone we care deeply for is watching, and figure out how to better connect to send that bad boy sailing strong and far.

I’m a newbie with golf lingo, but I’m fairly certain they call that love.

Happy 10 years of marriage, Adam. I love you.


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