In the last moments of our final couples session before we moved to the City, our therapist gave us a tiny silver acorn. When we’d started couples counseling we’d been dating for close to two years but didn’t know where the relationship was going. She gave us the acorn to remind us that we had been like the tiny seed, but we’d worked hard and now were a young green sapling. She told us that we had the tools, the knowledge and the love that we needed to nurture our relationship so that it could grow into a strong old oak. I keep that silver acorn, with the boutonniere Mike wore on our wedding day, in a vintage ashtray that belonged to my great Aunt Sue. Symbols of things worthwhile; treasured memories.
After Mike and I had been dating for a year, we started having disagreements that would go on for days at a time. I wouldn’t call them fights because we never threw any punches or anything, but something would come up and one of us would get upset and then the other one would get upset and then things would be really awkward for a while. After a week or so we’d meet up for coffee and try to talk about it and things would be ok for a few weeks but then something would come up and we would get all weird again. After several months of being fine one minute and awkward the next, I started worrying that if we didn’t learn how to communicate effectively our relationship would fall apart.
I knew that I loved Michael and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I knew this because we had the same values and the same goals, we made each other laugh, we had common interests, we respected one another. But I couldn’t spend another week in awkward silence, so I suggested we try counseling.
“I would really like to go to couples counseling with you.”
“I think we need to learn how to communicate better.”
“We don’t need counseling.”
And that was that. For six months. Six months of dancing around topics we couldn’t talk about because if we did we’d end up in tears or screaming or breaking up.
Then, one beautiful spring morning, Mike looked at me over coffee and said the three little words I’d been longing to hear: “Let’s start counseling.”
We had our first appointment the following Thursday. Within a few weeks, Thursday’s had become our favorite day of the week. They were our day. A day we devoted to spending quality time together and getting to know one another. Every Thursday I’d leave work early and drive to Sherman Oaks where Michael would be waiting for me with my favorite Starbucks latte. We’d walk arm-in-arm to our therapist’s office and no matter how the session ended, regardless of if we were weeping or glowing, we’d go to In N’ Out for dinner and talk about what came up during the session. And every Thursday, even if we’d started dinner in tears, by the time we kissed goodbye we were holding hands again.
Talking honestly about one’s feelings can be very difficult, but it’s a significant and important step towards learning how to communicate. We soon discovered that the thing we were refusing to talk about, the thing that had become the fat ugly beast hovering in the room, the thing causing all those weeks of awkward silences was Marriage. Mike had asked me to move in with him every month for the last six months and each time I’d said, “I won’t move in with you unless we’re engaged.” I wanted to marry him but I didn’t want to give the milk away for free. Mike fully intended to marry me, but he needed to know that we could live together without killing one another. His hesitance to propose wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me and my refusal to move in wasn’t a reflection of my feelings for him. We both wanted to live together and we both wanted to get married, we’d just been too scared to talk about it.
A few months after our first counseling session Michael asked me to move in with him and I said yes. Two months later we were sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and his hands were shaking as he held out a tiny blue velvet box. The stars were flung over our heads, the night air was cool and filled with the scent of the sea and somewhere someone was playing a guitar. It was the most romantic proposal in the history of all marriage proposals. I blame it on couples counseling.