January 30, 2013

Marriage in the Friction Zone

"We stayed married so long because we just don't go crazy at the same time. When I'm crazy, she pulls it together and takes charge. When she's crazy, I do the same. We take turns being crazy."

My father told me these words nearly 25 years ago, when I asked he and my step-mother how they had such a loving, happy marriage all of these years. He died just two short years later.

I was discussing this with my step-mom Kathy today.

"You two will get to know each other over time and just instinctively know when the other is about to blow. You'll learn when to push and when to pull. Just you wait and see. Why, two years from now you'll understand him so well, you'll know what he needs before he does."

She gives good relationship advice and today she and I discussed my marriage to Highway. Often times I worry that I'm not reading his needs right and I fail him. Occasionally I do misunderstand his needs and we crash into a quarrel.

"It's just like that clutch on your new bike. In a few weeks it will just be instinctive. You'll find that sweet spot and you know just when to pull on that throttle and when it's time to gently squeeze that clutch. You'll learn to be gentle with the clutch. It just takes time."

When I took the riding course two years ago I had no fear. I was filled with excitement. My first time of getting the bike really rolling, we rode in large circles for 15 minutes. The bike seemed to know the way and I rode with a huge, stupid smile the entire time. When I finished the course I begged Highway to ride his Yamaha Roadstar. It took a few weeks to get the long-forgotten motorcycle in shape to ride. But once he did, I mounted her with no fear.

We rode around town and I was brimming with glee. I hoped my friends and neighbors would see me on that enormous bike, wheeling her like a champ, overcoming the restraints of my past and riding into my future.

Then I dropped her. On the downhill corner by my house I rolled up behind Highway who was pulling onto a busy street. I couldn't make the narrow hole he had cut through, so I had to stop and wait. I yanked too hard on the front brake, lurched forward, and down the Roadstar went. Highway had prepared me by telling me if the Roadstar started to fall, don't try to keep her up. She was way too heavy, so to just get out of the way. I pulled away as she fell, humiliated that I had failed.

I began to be afraid after that. I rode the Roadstar on and off for a few months, but so sporadically that every time felt like the first time. When we moved to San Diego, I was petrified to ride in the busy traffic. The first day we did, I laid her down. I hadn't ridden again for 8 months, until Katie Scarlet.

When I first mounted Katie and tried to shift I stalled her. Visions of the Roadstar lying on her side filled my head. I was determined to never drop Katie. I struggled with the tight clutch, the tight gears, the tiny friction zone. I longed for the Roadstar days with the 2 inches of play in the clutch and the low, steady idle of the big motor. Katie revved so high, her friction zone was so small, it seemed merely a fraction of the room of play on the Roadstar. Later that day as I lay in the street, screaming at myself for dropping her in traffic, as the excruciating pain infiltrated my leg, the fear clutched my heart.

It hasn't let go.

When Highway and I began dating, I was amazed that we never argued. He was so understanding and we had such a good time together that I never imagined we would ever quarrel as I had with my exx.

These last few months have been difficult. We each are clearing away the wreckage of our pasts, peeling back the layers of pain we've hidden our true selves under, to find ourselves again. The quarrels have become too frequent, leaving new scars of their own.

I longed for the early days of our relationship, just like the Roadstar, with all of the play in the clutch and the low, steady idle of the big motor. Now the gears between us seem so tight, the friction zone so small, the tension of the clutch so hard to pull. Frustration has built up within me, not for him, but for myself, and my inability to know what to do. I feel I should have the answers, to be the leader, the relationship guide. My lack of tolerance for my own shortcomings have me sitting on the curb, crying over our marriage, just like the bike, occasionally lying on her side in the street.

"It's just like that clutch on your new bike. In a few weeks it will just be instinctive. You'll find that sweet spot and you know just when to pull on that throttle and when it's time to gently squeeze that clutch. You'll learn to be gentle with the clutch. It just takes time."

I know Kathy is right. Baby steps for now. And patience. I hope he stays patient with me too.


  1. I tend to think a marriage is far more difficult than dealing with a piece of machinery because the definition of what "works" changes constantly. I think it's far more akin to trying to herd a bee out of one's house.

    In Britain, inexplicably, they don't have screens on the windows. So, you get bees and wasps and houseflies wandering in all through the summer. And I've learned that there is a very amorphous art to getting them to go back outside. In general theory you just block off any other exit but the window and move toward them. But this doesn't totally work. How you move, how quickly you move, where you move, the light conditions, the weather conditions, who else is in the room, and so on all have an effect. It's a silly and complicated dance. That, I think, is far closer to the challenge of marital relations - what worked yesterday may make things worse today, and vice versa.

    On a side note. Have you ever considered getting an even smaller bike? Like a 250? Having lived in San Diego I know freeway riding is sometimes unavoidable (try getting from Balboa Park to Tierrasanta without taking a freeway) but I'm guessing that at present you prefer to avoid them. I'd think a 250 is just enough power to cover the necessary distance of a few freeway exits but then small enough that you'll be more comfortable and confident.

    But then, what do I know? I just think that. It's the route I'm planning to take. But I don't actually know.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Yes, in the riding course I took I learned on a 250 but since we are taking such a long trip in April, a 6-month ride across the U.S., I wanted something with more power.

      I tend to be incredibly hard on myself. I have been a perfectionist my whole life, so not being "good at something" from day one really pisses me off. I'm used to being the smartest kid in class, the quickest learner, etc. Being behind the curve, while humbling, in an incredibly important lesson for me!

      I'm such a whiner sometimes. That's the "Chick" coming out in me!

      Thanks Chris!


    2. Sash, you're still newlyweds. Sometimes wrinkles pop up and you just have to be patient and iron the wrinkles out, slowly... communicate with each other.

    3. Thanks Kimberly!

      I tend to forget that fact, because we aren't really so young anymore. I never realized what a perfectionist I am until recently. I have the least amount of tolerance for myself.

      Still a learner, that's what I always say.



  2. Tina:

    I have started several times to make a comment but I was reluctant to post them. I can see you are perhaps being a bit too emotional and grasping for solutions for a problem that only exists in your mind. Marriage is a two way street, a bit of bending here and there, and perhaps a bit of stepping back at the same time. Perhaps you had expectations and your perceived plans aren't seeming to work out to what the image you have pictured in your mind. Doesn't mean you are a failure and you keep equation the problems to your past. Sometimes you just have to let go and more forward. (yes, both of you)

    Let me just say that some of this friction is related to learning how to master your riding skills. It may not be the best thing for Highway to be your "instructor". He enjoys riding, the freedom of two wheels which you want to share . . . You are trying too hard to please him and when you can't grasp simple actions, he is getting frustrated and it is seeping into other areas of life. He has been riding for much longer and perhaps can't understand why you can't understand what he is trying to teach you.

    Forget about the costs. Get riding instruction elsewhere, from someone else until you are proficient, then get more road experience. When you are comfortable go away somewhere for a few days. It will be money well spent and won't stress your relationship further. I think the Ninja 500R is okay for a beginner, it is similar in size to the Ninja 250R which has an even tighter sweet spot due to no power at the low end, and you have to rev it very high RPMs to gain any speed.

    Riding the Wet Coast

    ps: I'm not ignoring your request

    1. Bob, you're such a DollBaby!!

      Yes, you've told us repeatedly about letting go of the past, and for everyone that's a different process. For the both of us, one thing we've learned that we have in common is that we've made a habit of stuffing our real feelings and run from our true selves. Now we are learning to stand up and face all of those feelings; love, fear, anger, regret, shame, and joy. This is all part of our healing process. It's moving forward, just in a different way than perhaps you do.

      I couldn't be more grateful for the insight into the sweet spot! You're absolutely fucking right and I'm bouncing around my office right now reveling in the fact that I KNEW SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT than the 250 I learned on!! But the good news is I've been doing some parking lot riding and I'm doing really well now. :)

      Practice at a snails pace has really paid off!

      Thank you for your kindness, concern and friendship! I can't wait to meet you soon!! We may be taking a trip to Sacramento in March, before we leave on our long trip, to see my daughter and my step mother. Maybe you could come and say "HI!"

      Hugs to you Bob!


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