My husband Justin is a race car driver. It’s not how he earns his living but something he does as a serious hobby.
Whenever I can, I travel to races with him. This is partly because I very much enjoy traveling around and exploring new places — and also because I like being supportive of him. Cheering him and the rest of the team on.
I don’t race myself, and I’m not really on the team. But sometimes I feel like an honorary member. Especially because in the past, I have played support roles beyond cheerleading. One time at a cold weekend when we were all camping with a skeleton team of three drivers and no crew, I whipped out a Dutch oven and made a pretty mean beef stew.
Occasionally, I’m asked to drive an extra car off track as part of a mission rescuing a broken down vehicle.
That sort of thing.
Anyway, I don’t know a lot about cars personally (either as far as their mechanical setup or when it comes to their seemingly infinite taxonomy of model years, makes, and models), but my husband and our friends do. They’re really passionate about it.
And I find that endearing, so I try to support them any way I can.
“You’re So Lucky to Have a Wife Like That”
The last time he raced, I went with the team to a celebratory post-race dinner at a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant. One of those places that only seem to exist because of concrete medians and lack of protected left turns, giving it a monopoly on one side of a divided state highway.
As I was chatting with my husband and his teammate about their latest adventure, another racer came upon us and inquired about my participation. When my husband introduced me as his wife, the other racer’s face lit up with surprise.
“You’re so lucky to have a wife like that,” he told my husband. He advised him to hold on to me. Said I was a keeper.
I never know quite what to say when one of the other racers says something like that. It’s far from the first time I’ve heard a sentiment like that. From people who know nothing else about us or our marriage (let alone any non-racing adventures we’ve gone on together, made possible by a deep enduring friendship and trust). They certainly don’t know that we’re open.
Anyway, I believe I blushed and thanked him for saying so. And I forgot it for the most part, as we had a difficult journey home ahead of us, during which I was driving one of the team’s cars for a stint in the wee hours of the morning along a foggy freeway with pairs of deer sitting on the side of the road placidly but still managing to look menacing by simply being there.
The car I was following (at hopefully a safe distance) had spongy ass brakes, and I hated to think what would happen if Bambi and Company started wildin’.
Relationships With a Culture of Support
“I’m so lucky to have you,” I said to him a while after we’d arrived safely home.
“I don’t know what you’re doing with me sometimes,” I admitted. “You’re so wonderful.” (This has been something I’ve consistently struggled with.)
“It’s cuz you’re awesome,” he replied.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
“It’s everything, not just one thing,” he said.
I asked him for an example. I expected him to get upset at this because most people hate when you fish for compliments. But we were both riding high from a great trip, so he responded positively.
“Well,” he said. “For one, you come to races. Remember what that guy said?”
I told him that that didn’t seem to be such a big deal to me. “Of course I support you,” I said. “You support me in everything I do. You back my writing career 100% even though it’s been difficult sometimes, especially in the short term. I feel like we’ve set up this culture in our relationship where it’s natural to support one another. Where it would feel weirder not to.”
“Maybe there’s something there, too,” Justin replied. “Maybe those guys who complain that their wives won’t go to the track or are upset when they buy another crappy car to fix up aren’t supporting their wives either.”
Tossing Support Back and Forth Like a Perpetual Motion Machine
I’m thinking about it later in the shower. That there’s definitely a culture of support in my marriage. It rings true. And I can’t pin down who started it in the first place.
But I also realize it doesn’t matter. Not when you aren’t keeping score.
Because either of us could end it at any time, but we don’t. Instead, we keep proliferating the support. Moving it forward.
Tossing that support back and forth like we’re part of a perpetual motion machine.
And it’s in that moment that I realize that that, more than anything, is why I feel more safe and secure in this relationship than I have in any other I’ve had.
In every other relationship, there was a failure in that process. In the give and take, the back and forth. Usually it happened because I threw support willingly, but it was never returned, causing me to stop throwing after a while.
In a few others, I found after a brief courtship that I just couldn’t support the other person because their values didn’t mesh with mine, and I realized I didn’t respect them enough to have a relationship with them. Could I have continued to throw out support and stretch and strain myself and try to make it work? Perhaps.
But those combinations never would have been a good relationship. One based on actual compatibility, where it’s easy to give and receive support. Where there’s a kind of natural momentum that’s rarely (if ever) interrupted. Where it’s easy to resume the same processes even when and if it momentarily is.
One whose support seems exceptional to people outside of it but seems natural and even inevitable from within it.