Friday, February 1, 2013
A Safe Place
I remember the first time it happened.
"Jeremy and I went there last week."
I was taken back for a second. A little hurt. A little surprised.
Vee and I were sitting around talking with friends that she has had since college. Then it happened. She called me by the wrong name. She was telling her friends about something that she and I did together just a week ago, but instead of saying "Steve and I..." she said "Jeremy and I..."
She never caught it... and by the reaction of those around no one else did either. But I did.
It has happened a few more times since then. Mostly around Jeremy's family or friends that Vee and Jeremy shared together. At first it was unsettling. I try to be as empathetic as I can but nobody wants to be called by the wrong name, especially if it's your spouse calling you by the wrong name.
Calling Vee by the wrong name has never been something I have ever feared. Maybe it's because mine and Vee's relationship looks and feels very different than the relationship I had with my ex-spouse. Maybe it's because long before I was divorced I realized that my first marriage could not be salvaged and had come to a place where my ex-wifes name wasn't associated with my everyday living or happiness. Maybe it's because I have a peace about letting the past go and moving ahead into the future. Regardless, I have never found myself accidentally calling Vee by the wrong name... and that might be why I found it surprising the first time she referred to me as Jeremy.
One of the last times that Vee had called me by Jeremy's name she caught herself right afterward and apologized for her mistake. She didn't have to apologize, but it gave us a chance to talk about our feelings on the subject and a learning moment for the both of us. She asked me if I was hurt when she called me Jeremy's name. I told her the truth... while I was't upset, I also wasn't crazy about it.
At the same time, I understood. As Vee began to share and we talked about the couple of times she had called me by Jeremy's name before I understood more of Vee's heart. Jeremy and Vee had a close bond, close enough for Vee to feel safe to share her vulnerable hurt and fears with him. While there are friends and family who know bits and pieces of her life, there was only one person who knew all of her and loved her for who she was anyway... that was Jeremy.
Now there are two men in that role. There are two men that she can associate with proving her a safe place to let down her guard and still feel as loved, valued, and beautiful as ever before. Vee's accidental name slip is not a inner reflection of a greater love for Jeremy over me. It has no basis for a idea that she has a reflected love for Jeremy casted onto me. Rather, it is an natural, impulse reaction to feeling safe and loved. Every time she had felt that sense of committed, safe, and overwhelming love in the past it had always come from Jeremy.
While I will never be thrilled when Vee accidentally calls me Jeremy... I get it. When it happens now (which is very rare) I'm not angry or upset. I recognize that it is not only a melding of Vee's two worlds in her heart and mind, but it is also a expanding of her safe place in this world.
So, the question might be for those of you who are dating a widow "What do I do when my widowed partner calls me by the wrong name?" Here are a few things I am learning to do...
1) I understand that my feelings are valid too. It's ok to feel awkward or surprised if thats the way it makes you feel. You are entitled to have feelings - it's what you do with those feelings that can cause problems. Own your feelings and learn to express them in a meaningful and helpful way. I understand that Vee's name slips are not intentional or intended to make me feel bad or a reflection of a lesser love for me, so I don't accuse her of those things. Instead, I try to let her know that while that makes me uncomfortable, I can understand why that happens from time to time.
2) I take the opportunity to give grace. Vee isn't malicious and never tries to compare me and Jeremy. She makes me feel loved and valued and would never want to hurt me in any way. Therefore, when she makes a mistake, I do my best to give her grace and be as empathetic as possible. I try not to bring up old times when she might have slipped up and called me the wrong name, but let her know that we all make mistakes from time to time and it doesn't affect the way I feel about her or love her.
3) I try not to point out the name slips unless she happens to catch them. With 5 kids in our house everyone gets called the wrong name from time to time. I am always calling the kids by the wrong name, but it doesn't mean I love any of them more or less... it just means that I am getting old and in my mind things sometimes get jumbled! To point out every time Vee might slip up (which again is very, very rare) seems a bit pointless. I know when she is talking about me and when she is talking about Jeremy. Sometimes she catches her mistake and other times she doesn't. Regardless, I try to let those moments pass without "making her pay" for an honest mistake.
4) I embrace the knowledge that I get to make her feel as safe and loved as she has ever known before. As I mentioned before, I am only the second person in Vee's life to give her a safe place where she can fully let her guard down and still be loved. I now get the opportunity to make her feel just and safe and loved. It may come with bumps in the road, or mistakes along the way, or challenges that arise, but at the end of the day Vee knows that I am the person in her life who she can count on and who will love her no matter what.