terry hargrave, a professor of marriage and family therapy, writes of a “third identity” in marriage — a “we-ness,” an “us” that is not quite the same as either individual, nor as the sum of the two. the “us” can have interests and preferences that don’t necessarily belong to either person. his example: the ballet. he, by himself, does not like the ballet. but when he and his wife make a date of it — getting dressed up, having dinner, enjoying the show together — it’s a different story; their “we” loves the ballet. it’s important to recognize and cultivate this “us”, writes hargrave, while also honoring and maintaining the identity of each spouse.
i hadn’t thought of this concept in our marriage until last night, when i found myself chopping fresh oregano and shallots for dinner as robert stirred a vat of pasta in boiling water. i, by myself, am not a huge fan of cooking. i love to eat, but cooking always felt like a giant hassle, especially when 1. i was only cooking for myself (meaning that i would be eating the same dish for days, and all of the leftover ingredients would slowly wither away in the fridge) and 2. i could get tasty, inexpensive, and relatively healthy dinners from trader joe’s that required minimal preparation. but we, armed with a stack of cookbooks from our registry, love cooking. we get to spend time together in both the cooking and the eating phases, we get to enjoy something that we’ve mutually created, and the whole process is much more efficient with two people. we’ve liked it so much that we’ve blocked off 2 nights a week for it.
another example: watching the sopranos. i never would have started watching it on my own, but watching it with him has been awesome. we eat peanut-butter-filled pretzels and talk in between episodes about what happened, putting all the pieces together, analyzing the characters and their motives. i still wouldn’t watch it without him, even now that we’re well into the (very compelling, extremely violent but freaking brilliant) series.
not to say that the all of the traits of the “us” are completely different from those of the individual. i love frozen yogurt by myself, and we love frozen yogurt. i love will ferrell on my own, and we love will ferrell. the “us” has pieces of both of us and some completely unique qualities, not unlike the offspring we might eventually have.
all that to say that while i’m continuing to learn more about robert and all of his many facets, it’s been really interesting to think about the development of the “us” — the birth of a completely different identity, whose characteristics can be fun and surprising.