My friend Katrina has a new boyfriend. He is polite and well-mannered. Easy-going and easy on the eyes. Masculine, strong, and self-reliant. Attentive and sweet and funny. But — you knew there was a catch, didn’t you? — he’s also “country,” and that’s causing some mild hesitation on her part.
Being “country” is something of a Southern phenomenon. In Katrina’s part of the world, being country means being a little rough around the edges, a little less polished, and in possession of an accent that offers living, breathing proof that the word drawl actually does have three syllables. Country people not only use the ubiquitous Southern-ism of “y’all” but take it one step further with words like “yonder.” Who still says “yonder” you ask? Southern country folk, that’s who.
Tim and Katrina first met online, and Katrina went on their first date with the “oh why the hell not” attitude, where you’re pretty fed up with the whole dating scene but you might as well go out as sit through another episode of Sex In the City. Tim surprised her. He caught her off-guard. She wasn’t prepared to like him, but she did. A whole lot.
As they began spending more time together, I could sense that she was holding back, intentionally down-playing their relationship. When I confronted her about it, she admitted that she was feeling a little bit nervous about introducing Tim to her friends. What if they didn’t like him? What if they thought he was too country for her and therefore wrong somehow?
Okay, so some of you are reading this and scoffing or judging her, but let’s remember where Katrina came from: We grew up together outside Washington, DC, in a leafy suburb of accentless upper-middle class families. Everyone we knew went to college, as had their parents before them, and many attended Ivy League universities. Ours was not a town of conspicuous wealth, but upward mobility was expected and usually attained. There were no “country people.” Anywhere. The men of our acquaintance wore well-tailored suits and ties to work with shiny shoes and brief cases. They drove sedans, played golf, and many of them had photos of themselves with the President on their study walls. Grammar and spelling and manners were non-negotiables.
Like most children, we didn’t realize until we were nearly adults that the expectations and mannerisms of our childhood were not universal. But unlike most children (and certainly most children in our neighborhood), we began bucking them early. In fact, our first loves were small town boys from a working class steel town 5 hours away. They smoked and drank and drove muscle cars. We giggled at their accents and they teased us about our prissiness. It was a mutual fascination that proved how strongly opposites can attract – at any age.
But in the pre-internet, pre-cell phone age, those relationships existed in the incubator of that small town we visited whenever we could. Rarely did the boys come to DC to see us. Our lives intersected, but did not integrate. So, we never really had to face the question of how to create a life with a person so distinctly different from us. And when we got older and began the earnest search for a husband, the expectations of our childhood came back in full force and guided us strongly toward the successful, well-educated, acceptable men we married…. and later divorced.
The lessons of our earlier years and the outcome of our marital decisions are not lost on Katrina. She recognizes Tim’s value and the ephemeral “rightness” of her earlier choices. But she is still struggling with how to integrate someone so different from her life into her life. What will her friends say? God forbid, what will her mother say??
But then I reminded her of something: Most of us don’t value the relationships we see around us based on the individuals in them, but based on the quality of the relationship those individuals create and share. In other words, at this age, when we think of the relationships that we envy, it isn’t because he’s so this or she’s so that, it’s because of how great they are together – how they treat one another, the energy exchanged between them, the love that is obviously shared. In my life, I am surrounded by several relationships that I admire and not one of them is in that category because I would want to be with that particular guy. No, they captured that status because I value relationship qualities that they demonstrate as a couple.
So, my point to Katrina was that, when her friends meet Tim, see how he looks at her and treats her and values her, and see how she relaxes with him and can so freely be herself and adore and be adored, they won’t see his pick-up truck or hear his accent. They’ll be too busy cheering that she’s finally found an awesome guy who is worthy of her. And any “friend” that is focused on his country-ness probably has enough relationship problems of her own that Katrina should steer clear of that individual’s opinion anyway.
Who knows where Tim and Katrina will end up. Maybe the novelty of the attraction will wear off and they will discover that they are truly opposites, without much in common. Or maybe they’ll find that the surface differences conceal a deeper understanding and a shared value structure that will enable them to go the distance. Either way, whatever happens between them yonder in the future will likely have nothing to do with his twang. And everything to do with whether they have the stuff that makes the kind of relationship we all want.