Be the person you want others to see

When you’re a writer whose beat is love and relationships, among other things, your relationship – you’re life really – is far from private. I don’t mind, for the most part anyway. It’s what I signed up for. And when my wife decided to marry me, it’s what she signed up for too.

It has its ups and downs. But the other day, we got to experience one of the major ups, as it were. It’s something that’s happened before. But this time it really struck me.

We ran into someone my wife had met a half dozen or so years ago. She’s significantly younger than both of us (read, 20-plus years in relation to my wife). And she told us how much she looked up to us and our relationship. She said how much she admired what we had, how we supported and loved one another. And she described how much she hoped for that for herself one day.

It got me to thinking about how much — and how little — she and anyone else who knows us almost solely through social media really does, well, know us.

She knows how beautiful our wedding was. But she doesn’t know about the arguments and even tears that went on behind the scenes as we were planning.

She knows how I sometimes get to travel with my wife when she’s working. But she doesn’t know how hard it is for me when I can’t.

She knows how much time and energy my wife puts into promoting my work. But she doesn’t know how frustrating it can be to be married to a creative.

And that got me to thinking about how much I want to be the couple she sees us as. I mean, we are that couple. Our social media is curated, like everyone else’s, but it’s not make-believe, not by a long shot.

What I mean is, I want to start thinking, “Are we making this person — and all the other people who have posted #CoupleGoals over the years — proud?”

Kind of like asking yourself, “Would this make my mom/dad/grandparent/fill-in-the-blank-with-someone-whose-opinion-of-you-is-important-to-you proud?”

I’m thinking about when we do disagree. What if that young woman could see us then? Would we feel good about how we talk to one another? About what we say? About the language and even volume we use?

Would we feel good about the choices we make when it comes to one another? About how we support one another?

I have a weird pet peeve: I loathe humming. My wife loves to hum, and to sing too, for that matter. I’m not really proud of my internal eye rolls and (hopefully) imperceptible sighs when she does either. And I don’t think our #CoupleGoals admirers would be very impressed with my internal huffing.

So, I’d like to change that. I’m not sure how you rid yourself of a pet peeve. But I sure would like to do my best.

Being in a relationship is weird, especially during a pandemic marked by so much isolation. And it can become easy to not do our best, to take things personally, to not speak impeccably, to make assumptions. In other words, it can get too easy to not follow my beloved “Four Agreements.” It can seem like you’re operating in a vacuum when you’re in a relationship, and that can make it easy to get lazy and not be your best you, not give the best of yourself to your partner.

But what if you thought someone was watching?

I wouldn’t want anyone to see me grumbling about having to unload the dishwasher for what feels like the millionth time or see me looking irritated at my wife’s choice of music in the car. It’s just not nice. And I’m sure my wife could give you her own list of behaviors she’s not proud of when it comes to our relationship.

Sure, we should do the right thing because it’s the right thing. We should be generous and kind because we should be generous and kind. But sometimes that can be more than we can muster, and so, maybe, if it helps to think there’s someone watching, someone counting on us to give them hope that relationships really can be pretty darn terrific if we commit to them and tend to them and prioritize them, then so be it.

Pretend your mom is watching. Or pretend that friend who tells you how much she wants a relationship just like yours is watching. Or, heck, pretend you have your own reality television show. Ask yourself, is that a clip I would want on YouTube? And if not, why would I behave that way?

We should live our lives to make ourselves proud. But when things get tough, it can help to think about what choices would make those we love proud of us, too. I like to call it the rewind test. So, next time you catch yourself about to be less than your best, ask yourself, “If we could rewind the tape, would I — and others — be proud of what I’m about to see?”

You just might be surprised about what a little perspective can do for your relationship.

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