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Coupling

Our sticking point

My husband and I agree on most issues - but not abortion.

By Jodi Daynard
December 5, 2010

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When I first discovered that my lover was not on my side of the abortion debate, we were lying in each other’s arms. A British college professor, Peter was a reasonable prospect for a single mother who had long since given up on love. I assumed Peter was a lapsed something or other, like myself, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. On that third date, he told me he believed in God.

“I feel that God loves me. The world just doesn’t make sense to me without God in the picture.”

I sat up with a frisson d’horreur.

Then Peter added, “I’m pretty sure we’re not on the same page, love.”

For a moment, I didn’t understand. And then I did: I was sleeping with the enemy.

The week I discovered that my new boyfriend was against abortion was the same week I thought I might be pregnant. It was not a good week. When I called Peter with my concerns, he said, “If you had an abortion, my feelings for you would change. I couldn’t help it.”

“Would you break up with me?” I whispered.

A terrible silence followed my question. I knew then that Peter could no more manipulate his feelings to suit me than I could to suit him. Luckily, we would never know what Peter would have done, because it turned out that I wasn’t pregnant. Some might say I should have dumped Peter then. Others might say that Peter should have dumped me. But we didn’t dump each other. Instead, we got married.

Peter has been my husband for nearly a decade now. He has parented my child, seen me through breast cancer, been my closest companion. We’re happy together. How do we do it? Like many couples, we fight most bitterly about the stupid things, like whose turn it is to do the dishes. We agree on most important issues, even political ones, since Peter is a liberal Democrat like myself. We never argue about abortion. Maybe it’s because we know we will never convert each other.

Mainly, things get uncomfortable at dinner parties, when our abortion-supporting friends begin to discuss the topic. I cringe, and Peter keeps silent. On the two sides there seems to be no common language, no way even to broach such a conversation, which I fear will kill our friendships in a second flat. It is this hard line that is the most painful aspect of sleeping with the enemy. It’s the feeling that no dialogue is possible, that there is no place where we might agree. Much of the time, silence seems the best option.

Since our first dicey days, I’ve tried to understand why Peter and I both have such strong feelings and why it’s so hard to talk about them. Is it politicians who have fomented this polarity, in order to win our votes? I’m no philosopher, but I think it has to do with how we define ourselves as human beings. As a secular humanist, I believe in individual freedoms and just laws. I must, above all, love myself. Peter believes that there are higher laws than those we make. One must, above all, love God.

Our Founding Fathers came to blows over such fundamental questions. How much freedom for religion or government? In a John Adams mood, I crave debate: Let’s talk about the rule of law and the greater good. Maybe if we go at it long enough, we’ll find common ground. Of course, it’s easy to talk about the need for debate, far harder to do it. I don’t even have the courage to talk to my husband. Sometimes, I get as far as making a joke. I say I’m glad he’s not an American citizen, because I wouldn’t want him having any power to overturn Roe v. Wade. Peter says I’d make a very bad Catholic, because I rarely feel guilt.

I try to remind myself that friction over ideas is a sign of cognitive and moral life. And I am consoled by the idea that at least Peter and I agree that civilized society must have moral underpinnings, even if we can never quite agree on what they are.

Jodi Daynard is a writer in Newton. Her stories and essays have appeared in AGNI, Harvard Review, The New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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  • December 5, 2010 cover
  • Dec. 5. Magazine cover