Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The happy misinterpretation of successful coping strategies - or "How I Met My Partner"

The thing about developing useful coping strategies is not only can they get you through difficult situations, they can even - in some cases - be wildly successful.

In fact, part of the reason I ended up with the woman I've spent my life with for about 12 years now is that she completely misinterpreted my motives for doing something when she first met me. That made a huge favorable first impression that I haven't managed to erode entirely - yet.

I'll have to back up a bit. Back in 1996, I received an email alert about this new organization named Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group devoted to fighting legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. I won't bore anyone here with the story of my own growing fascination at the time with what I perceived as a "better dead than disabled" theme in pro-"right to die" rhetoric, but I was excited about this group since its reasons for opposing these policies were the same as mine - secular and based in a disability rights perspective.

The group had planned its first protest action in Michigan. The "targets" were a bioethics conference and Jack Kevorkian's house. As a grad student, I didn't have much money, but I did have a friend in the area who found another friend who allowed me to stay at her apartment for the three days I would be there.

Underneath my excitement was a fair amount of anxiety. I am a blob - a reclusive, unsuccessful schmoozer in a large group of strangers. The desire to make connections and the fear of having it all fall flat because I'm so bad at these situations always contend with each other.

Fortunately, I've learned to look for opportunities that can structure my interactions in a group like that. Find a role or job that gives me something to do rather than stay in the corner or try to find something that resembles ice-breakers in the way of conversation.

As someone who has trouble with keeping to a schedule, I compensated in the usual way and was the first person to arrive at the protest action on the first day. The person I later learned was Diane was the second person.

I asked her if there was anything I could do. She asked if I would sell tshirts. I jumped at the opportunity and spent the morning meeting people, taking their money and picking out tshirts for them, with little bits of conversation flowing the whole time.

I did a couple other things during the protest days that helped establish myself as someone who was generally bright and helpful.

But I learned later, that as far as Diane was concerned, it was that first day with the tshirts that made such a great impression on her. (We did a delicate dance on the phone in the month following the protest - political turning to personal gradually)

After we ended up together, she told me that the first thing that drew her attention was my generosity. I helped with the tshirts. I laughed when she told me and explained the entirely self-serving nature of volunteering to do that. At the time, she wasn't sure what to make of that.

Gradually, she's come to accept that really is the truth. She's seen me kind of wander around aimlessly in enough social gatherings to see that I really appreciate some kind of facilitation.

But it worked out well enough, as far as I'm concerned. And Diane says she's pretty OK with how it worked out as well. --Stephen


Terri said...

I read a segment of this to my son and he came over and read the rest. He was funny--he said, "Hey I feel like that at stuff! Do you think I could try offering help?? I have to try that!"

So on top of a great story, you have given someone a strategy to try. Thanks!

Laura said...

Awww... How romantic!

cripchick said...

it's 6:30 in the morning, i've been up all night, and this still totally brought a smile to my face. mostly because i'm incredibly nosy and love cross-dis stories but still---so romantic! ...and so crip.


thanks for posting.

abfh said...

I also ended up married in part because of a misinterpretation. My husband and I were students when we met. I won a color TV in a contest at my bank, and I decided to give it to him as a birthday present because he was a sports fan and often watched games, whereas I wasn't very interested in TV. At the time, I was pretty naive about romantic relationships and had no idea that a gift like that wouldn't ordinarily be given except in the context of a long-term committed relationship.

That was 25 years ago, and we're still together.

sanda said...

I do do like relationship stories! Yours is fun. I met my spouse at a singles event in a church.

We are not Unitarians, which is where the groups met to talk, about relationships. (I was not a wheelchair user then, and it's wheelchair accessible now, they said. I had an earlier disability.)

My spouse and I were in a group and I said, "I'd never date a man who didn't like my art.". And a voice across the room said, "I am a scientist and I don't care if someone likes my work.". I told him basically, "so what". He came over afterwards, while I was chatting with someone.
He is a shy man. But persistent.

Our conversation, he says, has been going for 29+ years.

Stephen Drake said...

abfh and sanda,

By the time I met Diane, I had *some* clue to cues about romantic relationships. I will not go into embarrassing details, but she was the first woman who didn't have to practically hit me over the head with a 2 by 4 to let know she was interested in me.

There might be a day I feel OK about elaborating on just how clueless I was, but today is not that day. ;-)

Shauna said...


So I am not the only one who is quite 'ditsy' in the romantic ways these days??

As in the dryer repairman that came into my home and said, "Wow it is HOT in here!" I, of course, being ME, went and turned the Air Conditioner lower. He later told me that was meant for ME.

ME? Who had just gotten out of the shower with no makeup and wet hair? Well, I don't have a long term story, or any story out of that, as I have vowed to myself to be alone for a number of years, by CHOICE...so I 'miss' those comments that are directed towards me and I go turn the AC up!! :-X

Glad, so glad for you that you and your T-shirt gal have been together and she didn't even see the slight fear in you at all---why??

Because she saw the REAL you!! One that wanted to help and be a part of that....

Congrats! Nice post.

Gentle Hugs... <3