My Wonderful Tess

Blog time! And what I’d really love to do is write a bunch about my wonderful wife Tess. Honestly it’s embarrassing looking back at my journals and seeing how little I wrote about her. We dated for 2.5 years! But there is hardly anything. Note It was a low journaling time frame anyway, but I still wrote enough and on days when Tess was definitely in the picture that you’d think I would have mentioned Tess more. Especially because I discussed her at length with all sorts of people in my life on many many occasions.
Tess journals about almost every day consistently (usually 3 days or so at a time, but still). So if I’m dead and you’re reading this to figure out what more of my dating experience with Tess was like, you’ll have to get the nitty gritties from Tessa’s journal. Hopefully she’ll let you read it. Or if she’s dead too and she can’t stop you. If we’re both dead you totally have my permission to read her journal, she’ll doubtless be embarrassed about stuff but I’ll make it up to her up here.
Anyway, when she pointed out my low mention of her I thought about and I realized why. There are two major reasons. First, we didn’t get married until I was 30. As result, I had dated A LOT. You can go back through my journals and find all sorts of details about various other people I dated in the past. And even I got tired of reading about these two great dates I had with so-and-so in one entry, and then my entry two weeks later was just the whole thing didn’t work out and I didn’t have anything more to add. So I all but officially decided not to write about dating stuff unless I was officially dating the girl.
Second, Tess and I weren’t officially dating for most of our our 2.5 year courtship. Which is silly to say, because I called her every night (even after either of us went on a date with someone else), and we went out at least once a week almost the entire duration. So, are these valid reasons for not writing more? Probably not, but that’s what happened haha.
However, now we’ve been married for 7 months! And I want to give a deeper glimpse into our relationship. I’ll probably jump all over with this, sorry in advance.
One big thing that has shaped our relationship both pre and post marriage is each of our disabilities. Mine is obvious, being in a wheelchair makes it harder to go dancing (which Tess loves, and we do at times anyway) or travel, or visit our friends in their homes (which is fine because they’re all happy to come to ours). Tessa’s was alluded lightly to in our dating story posters I posted last August, but it explains a lot of her preferences.
During the six weeks of silence Tess struggled a lot and eventually saw a therapist who diagnosed Tess with a sensory disorder. Basically my understanding of this is that bright lights, loud noises, and physical touch all just impact Tess exponentially more than most people. Everyone’s first instinct (including mine) is just to disregard this and is basically to assume she can shrug it off, it’s just lights or noise, she’ll get over it. And really this approach is probably what Tess would tell you, she doesn’t like special attention, and technically she’ll get over it. Apparently the best she can explain it is when her body gets all this sensory input and she doesn’t know what to do with it, it tenses her up, and shuts her brain down. If Tess and I go to a movie at the movie theater, it tenses her up so much that she comes home and literally shakes for hours at times.
The movie aspect has been particularly interesting because I used to go to the theaters and see pretty much every appropriate movie that came out that interested me, but Tess never wanted to go. Note that she was only diagnosed a year before we were married, so even she didn’t really understand why she didn’t like movie theaters (or more accurately, she didn’t understand why anyone else did) so during most of our dating we didn’t have this base knowledge to frame our understand of experiences on. Even her family doesn’t really seem to grasp this, but they’re learning.
There’s two ways I can think to relate to it. Everyone can relate to whatever noise going on being too loud, like standing right in front of a speaker at a party, or the shock of the sound level in a movie when it first starts. For me, I quickly acclimate to the volume at a movie so easily that the first shocking burst of sound isn’t even a big deal anymore. But I still wouldn’t park in front of a speaker at a dance party. Imagine if our regular noise level feels more like standing in front of a speaker for Tess? If you had to do that for 3 hours straight, it’d leave you tense too.
The other analogy I can think of is sometimes when I’m sick, usually with some sort of fever, my whole body feels sensitive. Or how aware you are of even light touch when you have a bad sunburn. Now, this isn’t to say Tess feels pain at any light touch, you don’t have to treat her like glass, but a lot of touch just seems to have this level of unpleasantness to it. That being said, expectation does seem to mitigate this a lot, to the point where if she’s expecting to hug you it’s not unpleasant, and somehow any touch from me seems ok now (more on this later), but one of her biggest pet peeves is still when old ladies have to hold her arm the whole time they’re speaking to her. Physical touch from strangers is super uncomfortable still.
Oh, one more thing, she apparently has a hard time interpreting what people’s facial expressions mean. It’s probably genetic, at least one of her sisters says she’s the same way. But it makes it a little awkward for her in social circumstances with people you don’t know well when it’s hard to understand their facial cues. Another factor in her being more introverted than me.
That foundation being set, it explains a lot of Tessa’s preferences. She prefers to listen to a show more than watch it because their facial expressions confuse her a bit the first time, she likes shows much more once she knows the whole story because it’s easier to understand their expressions when she knows the full context. She dislikes movie theaters because of the assault of noise and color. She didn’t like hugs because of the surprise touch. She didn’t like being in groups of people over like 4 because the awkwardness of reading faces, plus the likely risk of noise and stranger touch. Etc.
One super interesting exception to all of this though is dance. Apparently people with a sensory disorder benefit greatly from some sort of physically taxing outlet they enjoy. For Tess that is dance, preferably Lindy Hop swing dancing. “But that includes loud noises! And touching strangers! That doesn’t make sense!” Yeah maybe, apparently is it’s the expectation, but she loves it. At dance she knows what to do with all this intense sensory input, that loud beat coming in is the rhythm to dance to. That pressure on the small of your back means they want you to spin, and so on. She loves it, and it’s beautiful to watch her dance.
I’ve known I wanted Tess for a long time. Our first date she gave me a hug, and she sat on my lap and rode to the car, and at the time she seemed totally comfortable with it. Angels must have been there holding back her anxieties on the first date, because it took us around a year after that before I could even lightly put my arm around the back of her chair. I’m grateful I had that experience of what it was like physically if she was comfortable around me, because it helped give the patience to work back up to it.
In dating various different potential concerns popped up and left, but the two biggest most consistent ones I remember talking about a lot was physical touch, and feeling loved. I know physical touch is my number one language of love. And I don’t just mean intimate touch. I mean even with a friend, an excited wave from across the room just seems to carry way less weight for me as a greeting than a hug, or even a hand on the shoulder as they pass by wordlessly without making eye contact. Also, in the hospital they explained that for people who lose sensation in most of their body, touch in the places they can feel tends to become more important than usual. So I double knew I needed touch. Understanding at least that touch was hard for Tess for some reason was a big concern for me.
Feeling loved was the other big one. My number one language of love was already off the table, but even though I was willing to accept that, her not being willing to be a couple didn’t inspire confidence. And her not being ready to be official also meant that I couldn’t regularly express how much I cared about her, or it made her feel bad. I had a handful of people who wanted me to move on from Tess primarily due to this aspect. I just always thought there would be some breakthrough where touch would be completely ok like the first date, and she’d be able to show love for me like I wanted to show for her.
Sorry this blog has been a bit of a drag so far, but here’s where we start ramping up to happier stuff! For the most part I’d say we never made any all at once breakthroughs. We just slowly progressed. This is silly to look back on, but I think the first big step in touch was playing a board game, she let me put my hand between on her knee between her crossed legs and leave it there. Handholding v0.3!  But over time she got used to my hugs, a year or so in she let me put my arm around the back of her chair, then progressively more on her shoulders. Eventually she’d let me kiss her cheek good night if I asked (and I always had to ask), or hold her hands for short bursts if I asked. Then she’d start doing these things even if I didn’t ask, but I could tell it took effort, she was just doing it for me because she understood it meant a lot to me.
At the point we got married, holding hands everywhere felt natural to me. I guess there’s a good chance she’s just super good at faking it now, but it feels to me like she actually enjoys holding hands, or my arm around her, or snuggles in general. Seven months into marriage, our regular morning routine is after whoever gets me out of bed around 6:50ish I remove an armrest on my chair, go back into the bedroom, park next to the bed, and quietly say “I love you” to Tess. If she’s awake enough to hear me (most days) she crawls over and into my lap, places her head on my chest, and we just snuggle silently for 5-10 minutes before i go off to work. I can’t express how grateful I am for little things like this. I’m sure one day we won’t be able to maintain this routine for whatever reason, but this time is very special to me.
Tess also curls up on my lap when I get home from work, when either of us is unhappy or uncomfortable for any reason, or any other number of times. We hold hands on and off as appropriate through church or symphonies or whatever. She kisses me goodbye and kisses me hello.
One of the most common questions we get asked, or our friends get asked if people are afraid to ask us, is “can you have sex?” And the answer is yes. I won’t go into detail on marriage only level intimacy, but even here we are doing wonderfully. Anyone who could see the frequency or depth of our physical intimacy now wouldn’t worry about us at all :).
As for feeling loved. For the longest time the only real indicator I had that she liked me was that she’d answer every night when I’d call, resist ending the call, and she’d let me take her out every week. She’s a strong woman, and I knew she wouldn’t keep doing something she didn’t want to. Earlier on I heard through her sister and mom how much Tess liked me, that she was somehow able to tell them, but unable to verbally express to me haha. Eventually we worked up to her saying cute things like “it’s not as terrible to be around you” or “i guess it’s more ok now”. At some point during our courting we were at a point where it was clear we were only seeing each other, but we weren’t official enough to say “i love you” and her be comfortable. But i needed to say it somehow, so in a conversation we somehow ended on the random word “platypus” as our code word for “I love you”. We used it all the time for quite a while until we could just say I love you for real, and now it’s just a cute rare use word. I got her a stuffed platypus for Valentines day 2016, and we both had the plan to get these Lego platypus’ for each other, so we did that for date night in March sometime. Now she tells me she loves me almost as often as I tell her, and I tell her multiple times a day.
Also now she makes meals she knows I love, watches movies with me she knows I love, tries out video games she’s not sure she’ll like, she tells me she misses me when I stay late at work, and in short does all sorts of things to let me know I’m appreciated and loved, including saying it straight out. I’ve never been so happy!
I could go on about specific stories but this post is already huge so I think I'll leave it here for now. But here's some pics of our Platypodes.