Trading Places

The Next Family

By: Shannon Ralph


I have been in a loving relationship with my partner for thirteen and a half years—some days more loving than others, but loving nonetheless.  A lot changes in that length of time. Houses change. Jobs change. Responsibilities change. Children come along. We age—some gracefully, others not so much. We grow up. Ruanita and I have been through it all. The good times, the bad times, and the downright ugly times. Thirteen years into our relationship, we have settled into a rhythm. We are comfortable with one another. We are still madly in love. We know one another inside and out. There is something infinitely magical about creating a life with the person  you love. I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that we are happy. We are a success story.

That is not to say that everything is sunshine and roses all of the time. I came to a rather interesting conclusion recently. I have decided that, over the course of our long relationship, Ruanita and I have changed. As I said, that is to be expected in a relationship. Everyone changes, right? However, the part that is interesting (and mildly disturbing) is the way in which we’ve changed. It appears that slowly—and without my conscious knowledge or intention—I have turned into Ruanita and she has turned into me. It’s true. And rather frightening.

When Ruanita and I first met, you would not believe how uptight she was. She was a woman of strict routine. A place for everything and everything in its place. A bit of a control freak. Disciplined to a fault. As a matter of fact, the first week we were together, I concocted a little experiment to test my hypothesis that she was the most anal retentive person I had ever met. In the middle of the night, when she was fast asleep, I moved the canisters on top of her refrigerator. Ever so slightly shifted them to the left. Would she notice? A “normal” person certainly would not have. However, to my surprise (well, not really), I found the canisters returned to their original spot the following day. My hypothesis was correct. Ruanita was, without a doubt, the most anal person I had ever met.

I, on the other hand, was much more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of girl back in the day. When I first moved from Kentucky to Minnesota, I did so with a barely-running pick-up truck, a box of CD’s, and $24 in cash. That was it. Those were all of my worldly possessions. However, I had no qualms whatsoever about driving my jalopy of a truck cross country, confident in my assumption that all would work out. I was young. Perhaps I was naïve—or stupidly impulsive—but everything did work out. Just as I expected it would. Ruanita would have certainly killed over from an embolism had she been down to $24 in cash. How the two of us ever managed to hook up is a modern day miracle. I suppose the old adage is correct—opposites do attract. The rigid anal retentive fell in love with the irresponsible flighty flake. And vice versa.
Today, however, is a different story. I am not the same obliviously optimistic person I used to be. As a matter of fact, I have become rigid. Sarcastic. Cynical. Set in my ways. Perhaps it is age that is causing these changes in me. However, if aging is the culprit, how does one explain Ruanita? Since we’ve been together, Ruanita has changed as well. However, she has become less cynical. Less rigid. Less pessimistic. Don’t get me wrong. She’s still firmly planted on the Negative Nelly side of the optimism-pessimism spectrum. However, the degree has diminished significantly. She’s moved much closer to the center. Situations that used to cause her to dissolve into a puddle of curse words and oozing anger just roll off her back these days. I find that I am the one cursing and getting anxious and uptight.

Just recently, I was in a car wreck. The wreck was not my fault. However, the other person involved in the accident ended up giving us bogus insurance information. To my complete dismay and utter irritation, she was uninsured. In the end, I had to file a claim through my own insurance—and pay my $1000 deductible out of my own pocket—to have my minivan fixed. Though my insurance company fully intends to pursue the uninsured woman, there is no guarantee I will ever see my money again. I was a complete wreck by the time all was said and done. The whole situation had me nervous and edgy and generally feeling cantankerous. Ruanita, who a few short years ago would have gone ballistic over the situation, calmly responded with complete logic. She simply said, “Oh well. No one was hurt. That’s the important thing. It’s just money. We have no choice but to repair the car. So, let it be.” Let it be? Let it be?? When did my snarky, uptight partner turn into freaking John Lennon? And when did I become the snarky, uptight partner?

I am sure my transformation was a gradual progression, but it seems quite suddenly noticeable to me. All at once, Ruanita is the one who lets the kids pull all of the cushions off the couch and jump up and down on them, and I am the one rolling my eyes, putting them back on, and telling them to stop. Suddenly, Ruanita is the one letting the kids dig in the dirt and get filthy up to their ears, and I am the one asking them to please stay out of the mud and muck. Ruanita is the one who will leave clean clothes in a laundry basket and tell me, “It’s okay. They’re clean. We can dig what we need out of the basket.” I am one who can’t stand wrinkly clothes and is driven mad by the baskets of clothing sitting around. I am the one who thinks there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place. When did we trade places? When did we switch roles? Does this happen in all marriages? Or maybe only lesbian marriages? What happened to that girl who laughed in the face of deadlines? That girl who thought all detours in life were an opportunity for a new adventure? That girl who rarely cursed, never wore a watch, and was always up for anything? She’s been replaced with a cynical, coffee-guzzling, neurotic, uptight, list-making, quickly-approaching-middle-aged woman who curses at the drop of a hat and craves order and consistency and a well-structured plan.

Somehow I think I got the raw end of this “trading places” deal.


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