Our new bicycle built for two wobbled across the alley like an errant bowling ball. My husband, Steve, hit the brakes before we made a strike with our neighbor's trash cans.
He ripped off his helmet. "Weren't you ready?"
"I'll back it up. Then tell me when you're ready!"
I glowered. For two cents, I'd leave him without his backseat driver! Unfortunately, our empty-nest present to each other cost more than two cents. I forced myself back on.
To the open road at last!
Unlike Daisy and her suitor in the 1890s song, "Bicycle Built for Two," Steve and
I have been together 30 years—sort of. Immersed in decades of work, 2 a.m. feedings, training bras, and teen drivers, we sometimes forgot each other's names ("Oh, yeah—I remember you. White dress, organ music …"). Now middle-aged, we hoped our tandem bicycle would make our Time Together dreams come true. Tender hours shared would accumulate with the miles on our cyclometer.
Instead, Steve and I found ourselves back in Marriage 101, re-learning lessons we thought we'd mastered many years before.
You want me to wear what?
Take body image issues.
My husband wears brown clothing one day, navy the next. But when he rides, Steve dons eye-popping jerseys, a Star Wars-style helmet, and Spandex cycling shorts. In cold weather, he wears shiny red tights.
Discovering I was married to Captain America was one thing; sporting complementary Catwoman attire was definitely another.
"These shorts cut off my circulation!" I gawked in the mirror. "I'd shame the kids!"
"The kids aren't here. We're doing this for us. Wear them."
I thumped my rear. "I don't need padding!"
"The shorts are standard equipment." His eyes held a smile. "Besides, you look good." Thus, I had to re-learn the first lesson in marriage: I have to be flexible and willing to stretch—even if it involves Spandex.
After another gawk at myself, I thought about Steve's remark that he liked the way I looked. Since ultimately
I want to please my mate, I shed my baggy capris and embarked on our tandem adventure.
How can I trust your lead when I can't see?
Our first mile caught me off guard. I saw nothing straight ahead but Steve! In this case, the shorts were essential equipment. Definitely. His muscular calves, pumping away, added to the excellent view.
He, on the other hand, could see nothing behind as he pedaled grueling, hilly stretches.
My aching legs begged me to stop. He'll never know if you take your feet off the pedals. Go on. Take a break.
No way, I thought. He'd fling me off at Dead Wife's Curve. Besides, look how hard he's working.
At that moment, we passed a female biker who guffawed and pointed at me: "Hey, you—start pedaling!"
"She'd quit on her partner," Steve said. "You wouldn't."
My man trusted me. I was truly touched.
But I had to trust him, too, since he controlled our direction. What if a crazed farmer roared his tractor into our path? I'd never see what hit us. Maybe I could have avoided it. But Steve had shown confidence in me. Could I do otherwise?
That's when I remembered the next marriage lesson: mutual trust and teamwork move partners ahead. If we fight each other about who's going to lead how, when, and where, we'll only spin our wheels. There will be times when he leads and times when I do. When the non-leading partner supports, encourages, follows, and keeps pedaling, we move a lot further down the path.
Talk to me!
Panting, I grabbed for my water bottle. Out of reach!
I plunged again, nearly standing on my head.
"What are you doing?" Steve shouted.
The unforeseen shift of my weight as listed on my driver's license might have destabilized us. My actual poundage sent us careening across the road.
"Yell before you move!" Steve snapped.
Further on, we hit a huge pothole. I said nothing.
I couldn't. My incisors were embedded in my lips. But I finally managed: "Sadist! Why didn't you tell me that was coming?"
Silence. Then, "Sorry. Forgot you can't see ahead."
Martian couples may possess mental telepathy, but we don't. Thus, we re-learned another marriage lesson: communicate or crash. When we talk to each other, we stay connected and active. Silence is deadly.
The next time I need a drink, I've learned to let Steve know before I lean forward. And now he warns me when he sees a pothole that he could potentially hit. He warns me before hitting the brakes and thereby avoids pedaling me 15 extra miles to the hospital for the smashed face I received.
Talk is cheaper. Really.
Yes, I forgive you. Now please remove the dog's teeth from my leg.
Our communication regarding starts, stops, water bottles, and potholes made us face the most difficult marriage challenge: forgiveness.
A pair of canines highlighted this. By law, every farmhouse comes equipped with a snoring monster roused by a tiny, yapping insomniac. The first time we encountered Lassie and Lucifer, I followed my instincts:
"Go!" I shouted as I pedaled for my life.
Steve slammed the brakes, yelling and kicking at the dogs.
I nearly landed on his handlebars. Somehow, we escaped our pursuers. Barely.
When we later conversed in printable fashion, my husband defended his Dog Disaster Plan: Dogs always outrun cyclists. Besides, his method alerts owners, who dislike human roadkill by their mailboxes.
Easy for Steve to say. Do dogs bite the front rider?
In time, we realized arguments got us literally nowhere. The faster we forgave our differences, the faster we covered the miles.
We demonstrated more marital mercy during a later cycling crisis, when both of us forgot to inflate the tandem's tires. One nearly disintegrated, threatening a 20-mile walk. This time we skipped the blame game. We didn't even try to figure out who was right or wrong. Focused on solutions (prayer, pump, and duct tape), we arrived home alive—and still married.
When we practice forgiving even the minor offenses, the other offenses are easier handled, and forgiving becomes a way of life.
Wow! This is fun!
As we absorbed tough lessons, our marital balance improved, and delight took the place of drudgery. Our car-blurred views swung into focus as we pedaled along familiar roads: shadowy forested hills, elegant collars of Queen Anne's lace encircling pond mirrors. Steve and I marveled at God's exterior decorating as the countryside shimmered like a diamond in the grass.
We experienced a similar epiphany in each other. Even with our quirks and ticks and frustrating characteristics, we are still each other's hero and best friend.
The best part is that our enjoyment of each other is our secret. Others never suspect our true identities. During our snack break at a park shelter, a policeman, investigating reports of hanky-panky, prepared to order us out. Then he realized we were his parents' age.
"Sorry. Thought you were kids."
"We've been married 30 years." Innocence radiated from our wrinkles.
Perhaps the officer should not have left the scene …
It's okay to have fun in marriage. Steve and I have rediscovered the wonder of our relationship, and we drink it in.
Solomon wasn't a biker, but he was a wise guy.
Our first tandem attempts inspired few romantic—or biblical—thoughts. Solomon's Song of Songs never entered our minds during our near trash-crash. Steve's lips did not resemble lilies dripping with myrrh. If I reminded him of a lovely hind, he was wise enough not to say so.
And if we aspired toward better marriage skills, we could have spent Saturdays at the nearest Marriage for Dummies seminar—certainly a good investment.
Instead we chose a unique way to nurture intimacy: our tandem. We heeded Solomon's words to "come away, my love," mounting our bike to discover, "This is my lover, this my friend" (Song of Songs 5:16). Tandem Torture grew into Time Together. Now we grab every chance to ride our bicycle built for two—mostly in sync. We laugh more during a single rest break than we once did in a month. Hand-holding cool-down walks make even our most exhausting finish a pleasure. Last summer we completed a 72-mile stretch on a weekend getaway. Perhaps we'll bike to our next class reunion 150 miles away in grand style—together.
In the song, Daisy's man probably didn't wear Spandex when he proposed marriage lessons on a bicycle built for two. But I hope she still said yes.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.