Let’s All Admit We Love a Stranger

“I feel like I don’t know you anymore.” Usually, we think this means the end of a relationship. What if it means a relationship can finally get started?

My wife and I have been married for fourteen years so I’m absolutely certain I know why she is not returning my text messages. When I left her this morning she was quiet and sullen about something so I assume she is withdrawing into herself to punish me. She must be retaliating for some unknown transgression of mine.

Maybe she is giving my children the best of her and I’m getting the rest of her. The kids are home for winter break and she is probably showing them the time of their lives. In the meantime, I have a couple of simple questions and she can’t seem to take a moment to tap out a reply.

Perhaps she is disorganized and can’t find her phone or its charger, or she can find her charger but hasn’t bothered to plug it in. She runs a mental health clinic impeccably, but she has never been very interested in keeping her phone running.

At this point, I decide it is probably all three.

I think I know her, which can be a hazard of any meaningful relationship. You spend months and years and decades with someone, and you start to believe you know them. Of course, in some ways you do. You know how they take their coffee and if they sleep on their side or their stomach, or both. You know their habits and their peccadillos. Yet, as soon as we presume to know what is going on inside of them, the miscommunication begins.

We haven’t experienced life through their eyes, so we can’t really know them.

There is a universe alive within the people we love. At best we know the metaphoric little plot of land within them that we’ve mapped out. But there are entire landscapes, oceans, skies and galaxies of their experiences that we cannot even fathom. We have only had a glimpse of the mystery that exists within the people we spend our lives with – and that inner world is ever-changing.

At the core of each of us, we have a true self that is steady and sturdy. But as a whole people aren’t static creatures. Human beings are dynamic, fluctuating, flowing, growing and evolving. What we knew about each other yesterday may not be true tomorrow and what was false yesterday may be tomorrow’s reality.

Of course, sometimes – on a night 14 years into a marriage for instance – what you are certain you know about someone else is really just a projection of your own fears, insecurities, doubts and loneliness …

I still haven’t heard from my wife as I’m pulling into our driveway. While I am grumpy about that, I realize that I am also grumpier about something else. Yesterday, our big Christmas present was delivered: a set of three lockers for our children – a place to finally put their coats, schoolbags and shoes instead of on the hallway floor. I expect to spend most of my first day of Christmas vacation assembling them. I’m not very good at that kind of thing so I’m dreading it.

As the garage door rises, my headlights illuminate the inside and I look for the delivery boxes. I see only empty space. As I park the car, it begins to dawn on me that perhaps I don’t know my wife as well as I think I do.

I open the door to the house and in the entryway there are the three lockers, completely assembled! My wife did not reply to me because she was too busy surprising me. She wasn’t punishing me – she was loving me. She wasn’t caring for the kids more than me – they were all caring for me together. Her phone was fully charged, but if she had answered my texts it would have drained the surprise.

I thought she was busy giving me grief, but she was busy giving me a gift.

Almost two months have passed since that night and another holiday is approaching. What if this Valentine’s Day, we gave the people we love the best gift of all – the gift of wonder

Maybe we could admit that we don’t really know our loved ones at all. We could start trading in our certainty for curiosity, our knowing for asking, and our accusations for questions. We could trade our biting words for biting our tongues. We could stop telling and start listening. We could wait upon the mystery found within another human heart.

Maybe our awareness, like my garage door, will begin to rise. The interior will be illuminated. I encourage you to wonder and be surprised by the good things we find there.  

Dr. Kelly Flanagan
About Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist who writes regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again.

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