When Mel and I first met, I was 21 and working full time at a hardware store. I told her that I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how to type. I’d also never read a novel, and I’d been out of high school for years, so I honestly didn’t know where to start. In fact, I’d never really wanted to go to college until I met Mel. But there was something about her that made me want to be more. I’ve heard other men talk about this, and it isn’t easy to put words too. I felt like she was so smart and wonderful and thoughtful that the only way I could match all of that was to become something more.
When I confided in Mel about my desire to go to college, and all the things that were in the way, I assumed she’d see me as some sad pathetic go-nowhere-chump (which, looking back, I sorta was), but she didn’t run away. Instead, all she said was, “Don’t worry. I’ll help you.”
During that first semester, I hand wrote all my papers. My handwriting and spelling were so poor that she couldn’t read them, so I’d sit next to her in this dumpy, one bedroom apartment and read my papers as she hunched over a keyboard and typed.
Since that moment almost 16 years ago, I’ve learned how to type. I finished my undergrad, went to graduate school, and found a good stable job in higher education. We’ve had three children. We pay our bills. I’ve published three books and written for places like the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the very awesome Scary Mommy. I have come a long way, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that all of it, every single step of the way, Mel has been at my side, expecting me to be more.
Now, when I read what I just wrote, it sounds like Mel changed me. But that’s not correct. I made those changes. But what I want to point out is that as I grew and progressed, Mel supported me in my efforts, and when I began to slack, she expected more. And you know what? There were times when I couldn’t understand why Mel kept wanting me to be more than what I was, when I’d obviously come so far from where I was when we met. But, to be honest, if it weren’t for her high expectations and my desire to meet them, I wouldn’t be the father, husband, author, educator, and over-around-established human I am now.
Mel has expected more from me on all fronts, always, even now. And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that her high expectations were formed on two fronts: her ability to see more in me than I can see in myself, and her desire to see me become something more for the overall betterment of our family.
But here’s the kicker. For a long time, I saw her asking me to do more, be more, act like more, as nagging. I looked at it like so many men have in the past as their wife not being satisfied. But it wasn’t until I accomplished more than I ever could on my own and then looked down at what I was from where I am, that I realized she was helping me raise the bar.
And right there, my friends, is where were all need to take a moment and reframe the way we look at a word like “nag.” Because the reality is, I will never meet all of Mel’s expectations for me. This doesn’t mean she thinks less of me or that she isn’t proud of my accomplishments or that she isn’t satisfied.
Naturally, this article is coming across as one-sided. I am looking at all the ways Mel has encouraged me to be better. But I must say, I’ve done the same for her. During our marriage she finished her degree, and I was at her side every step of the way. She has also become an incredible teacher herself, along with an admirable mother and wife. I want her to be the best she can be. Much like she has supported, encouraged, and expected more for me, I have done the same for her.
Ultimately, isn’t that what marriage is all about? It’s about two people coming together and trying to support and encourage each other to become something more than they are, and become what they really ought to be. And when it’s put that way, all those high expectations, all that “nagging” is actually something really beautiful. But that’s the thing with growth — it isn’t always comfortable. It isn’t always desired or wanted until you look back and see that all those gradual steps have resulted in something wonderful.
So the next time your partner expects more of you, realize that this is not a slap in the face. It’s not a put-down or feelings of dissatisfaction. It’s actually one person seeing more in you, and extending their hand to help you reach your own potential. And frankly, I can think of nothing more loving than that.