Sharing Space

A giant spider has taken up residence on the outside of our living room window.

Yesterday I noticed an enormous web that hadn’t been there before, spanning two windowpanes in height and two in width.  A smallish spider, the size of a finger’s first digit, was camped out in the middle of the web as if he owned the place.  Galen and I admired the little fellow’s handiwork for a few minutes and went on with dinner plans.  Around 8:30pm, as the sky darkened, I looked up from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and saw the fattest spider I recall ever seeing, climbing its way up the center of the web.  I don’t know my spider types, but I know when one is too big for my comfort.  (As you can see, I don’t love the spindly beasts.)  I assume now that the web was actually this spider’s handiwork, since with his size he could make a much quicker job of it.  That, and suddenly all other spiders that had been on and around the web were gone.

I have a slight masochistic streak which manifests in me watching things that horrify and disgust me for much longer than I mean to when they cross my path.  Galen, realizing that I was about to spend the next three hours watching this spider’s conquest of our window and cringing at his every move, asked if I wanted him to kill it.  I considered.  I’m not one of those people who is against killing things.  I’m really not.  Kill all the bugs.  But I usually only bother with that if they are encroaching on my immediate space.  If a spider comes into our apartment, its life is forfeit.  If it descends from a tree onto my hair, you bet I’m going to destroy it.  But this giant beast of an arachnid was outside – running all over the glass wall between us, yes, but still technically outside of it.  Like an older brother in a car, finger hovering above your arm, evilly smirking: “I’m not touching yoouuuuu.”

We let the spider live.  And I tossed and turned with dreams about it crawling through our AC unit and nesting in our home all night long.

The idea of sharing space has been cropping up a lot for me lately.  Whether it’s the fact that we live in one building with nearly 1,000 other people, stacked 15 stories high – or the fact that our building is only one of hundreds just like it across Chicago.  Or the conversation I had on Monday night with my friend Valerie (shout out to the one person I know of who has actually bookmarked one of my posts for easy access!), who insists that this apartment is not actually ours, but our cat’s, and we are just her guests.  Or being the only woman in an office full of men.  Or even the tiny sprouting bud I noticed an hour ago, pushing its way through the dirt of a planter that already has way too many roots for its amount of soil.  And of course, well, marriage.

Sharing space with someone is always an interesting mix of different kinds of tension.  Some are good.  Some push us towards being better humans, or at the very least, better neighbors.  And some just feel like they’re here to be difficult.

As a woman, one particular type of shared space is never far from my mind, whether because I think of it on my own or (more frequently) someone remarks on it or asks me about it: pregnancy.  I may be biased, but I feel like this is especially true of young married women.  It still seems to be socially inappropriate to ask an unmarried woman if and when she’s planning to procreate, but apparently we’re fair game.  After all, that’s the only possible reason we’d have gotten married so young, right?

Please don’t take this to mean that you should never ask me about Galen and my plans, or about my own feelings on having children.  I like blunt questions when I’m allowed a blunt answer.  But oftentimes, the context in which these types of questions are asked (or opinions voiced) doesn’t allow for bluntness on my part.  Generally, this is because people think it’s fine to ask these types of questions during a large group conversation at a social event.  (If you don’t believe me, ask any young woman who was married in a church about the number of times well-meaning older women scared the hell out of them with wedding night “wisdom” over after-service appetizers.)  Social politeness forces me to keep my answers light and non-confrontational, not because I’m afraid of answering (or don’t have an answer), but because I don’t want to make innocent bystanders uncomfortable.  If they didn’t ask, they don’t need to know.  That seems fair, right?

Children are wonderful.  I have three beautiful nephews and two beautiful nieces that I think the world of.  But it’s really only in the last six months that I’ve even started to consider that maybe it might be nice to have our own someday.  I never made an oath not to have children, but for most of my life, the subject has brought up feelings of obligation, fear and guilt rather than excitement or hope.  You can ask me about that sometime, but you should know that it’s not an easy “of course!” answer for me.  It’s deeply personal, and wrapped up in many other thoughts, questions and fears.  It is for many women.

This is something that Galen and I have been working out over the past few years, and will continue to work out, together.  The emotional and spiritual space we share as a married couple necessitates that we work it out together.  In the theater ensemble where we met, there was a standing rule that came up every so often: If you have to leave the room, leave to come back in.  In other words, walking away from conflict is never the final action.  Leave, if you have to, but leave knowing that after a few steps and a few breaths, you must turn around and walk back.  Walking out on your colleague, without returning, is lazy, cowardly, and destroys any chance of trust between the two of you.  It is not acceptable.  Galen and I have transferred that same rule to our marriage.  We will work it out together, every step of the way.  I can’t refuse to get pregnant any more than Galen can demand it.  We work it out.  Imperfectly, of course, but that’s how it goes.  That’s what sharing the space of a married relationship looks like.

I can’t tell you much more about the shared space of apartment complexes, window spiders, cats, or aloe vera plants that desperately need to live in a bigger pot.  I can’t tell you about sharing the space of my uterus with a tiny human.  But I can tell you that, in my experience, sharing space with your life partner means living each day by three rules:

  1. Be straightforward with your questions (do not beat around the bush, try so hard to be polite that you don’t end up asking anything, or ask questions in a social context that forces your partner to answer in a way that feels false to them)
  2. Be straightforward with your answers (do not beat around the bush, try so hard to be polite that you don’t end up saying anything, or answer in anger or unmerited defense)
  3. If you have to leave the room/conversation/moment, leave to come back in (do not abandon your partner, brush the moment off, or passive aggressively insist that “it’s not a big deal”)

It’s only three rules, but they’re hard ones to carry out.  Galen and I fail at at least one of these every day.  But sharing the space of our lives together well is absolutely worth the work.

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