My wife Mary grew up knowing the value of saying yes to Getting The Work Done. On Saturday mornings, when I was destroying my brain on cartoons and other acceptable forms of Lounging Around, her family was doing chores together, laughing and Getting The Work Done.
Incidentally, that first Saturday after we were married, when she was ready to Get The Work Done, and I was still on the couch in my boxers at 4:00pm eating cereal, it was an awkward moment.
For Mary, there were lots of yeses. To her church, to getting straight A’s, to whatever any man said, ever, and to a thousand other things. And in that ocean of yeses, she drowned.
I have met about a million other Christian women with this exact same story. Lots of yeses, lots of drowning.
So when we got married, Mary decided she needed to Learn To Say No. Kind of a lot.
That meant, in the beginning of our marriage, no doing my laundry, no cleaning, no assuming she was going to cook, and there might have been a few hundred other things. I was honestly okay with all of that, and it even felt sort of cool, in a progressive-couple-who-bucks-the-Christian-system kind of way.
I wasn’t as wild about this Learning To Say No deal when it came to sex. I actually applied for an exception to the deal (you know, for the sex), but it didn’t go through, because a deal is a deal.
Mary is one of the kindest, wisest people on planet Earth. Even people who have only just met her describe her as if she’s a mix between and the Dalai Lama and Mary, the mother of our Lord, because she really is that kind and that wise. And she’s also very committed to her own transformation.
So after Learning To Say No (quite well, actually) she decided she wanted to Learn To Say Yes Again.
I grew up with a dog that was perfect. Her name was Daisy, and she loved me with the kind of love that only dogs know how to give. Every single time I came home, she jumped up and put her front paws on my shoulders, and frantically tried to french kiss me. Sometimes I let her. She was a lover. You can’t stop a lover from doing her thing.
Mary is not a dog person. This is perhaps her one glaring flaw.
But partway into Learning To Say Yes Again, she read an article on a plane about Greyhounds, and how they’re abused by those terrible dog tracks, and how you can adopt them and give them a better life.
So she asked me if I thought it was time for us to get a dog.
The next morning, we were at someone’s house who owned 3 Greyhounds, just to see how they were in real life. It was a very small house. And Greyhounds are very large. And awkward. This very small house smelled exactly like a dormitory full of freshman, male hamsters. And none of them even came close to french kissing me, so we decided to keep looking.
So we checked out a local animal shelter, and found this Rottweiler. For me, it was love at first sight. He had a scar on his belly from a recent fight, but I could tell he was a lover. Mary wasn’t as wild about the idea of a Rottweiler. Greyhounds were large but sweet. Rottweilers are the kind of dogs who have scars on their bellies and probably pack heat and are addicted to crack.
We adopted him and named him Samwise because I thought the scar made him look brave, and I knew Mary liked Lord of the Rings, so I figured she’d learn to love him.
She really tried. But after three months, she had a conversation with a friend. Mary was trying so hard to Learn to Say Yes Again, but her friend asked her, “Mary, are you writing?”
That was the question that did it. All of the Learning To Say Yes Again and the commitment to transformation came crashing down with one, well timed question.
“How am I supposed to write with his obnoxious nails clicking on the wood floors every second? And he really smells. And the hair is absolutely everywhere. And he whines every time Steve leaves and he doesn’t like me. At all. And the nails are making me want to swallow gasoline.”
Her friend was nice but she obviously hated dogs, especially dogs who pack heat and have scars on their bellies. Samwise didn’t stand a chance after that question. Her response was subtle:
“That dog has to go.”
So we talked and talked but honestly it was a little hard to concentrate because of all of the click-click-click of the nails on the hardwood floors. The truth is that Mary wasn’t ready to say yes. Not to this. When I listened to Mary, I realized that Learning To Say Yes Again is sometimes trial and error, and this trial probably had a lot more error to it than I wanted to admit.
So, we gave Samwise to a family that had a little more room for the nails and the scars and the smells and the hair and the alleged crack addiction.
The truth is that I love that Mary wanted to Learn To Say Yes Again, even though Samwise didn’t work out. I love that she tried, and I love that her yes was to something that she thought I’d love. I knew she loved me enough to try to Learn To Say Yes Again to something that she wasn’t sure about, and that is one of the most awesome things a spouse can do. Because you can’t stop a lover from doing her thing.
Which, incidentally, brings us back to the sex. One of the reasons why Christian women are still drowning in an ocean of yeses is because many of them were taught they can never say no to their husband for sex. This is ridiculous. If a woman does not have a no to sex, she does not have a real yes. The journey towards yes regarding sex for us has been so much sweeter because there has been space for no; it’s been embraced as a part of the journey towards yes.
What we’ve learned after 17 years of marriage is that we’ll always need to keep Learning to Say No, and Yes; that the one needs to be held within the other, for either one to be real. But at the end of it all, there’s a place beyond yes and no, where there’s a me, and there’s a her, and no one’s drowning.
In that place, we stand up straight, each on our own yeses and no’s, and we create an us.