I had a wonderful linguistics professor in college who taught my History of Language course spring semester of my sophomore year. Sadly, that turned out to be the only class I ever took with her – she died of cancer that summer and I never saw her again. Her name was Karen, and she was witty and sarcastic, intelligent and warm.
Karen took a liking to me, partly because I spoke so much during class and joked a lot. As you might imagine, this was something that certain teachers liked more than others. My whole academic life I was a huge hand-raiser and a frequent joker – it’s not something I could ever help. Karen would often feign annoyance but a sly smile would shine through, and one day she told me that I was a master at asking ‘naive, devastating questions.’
It took me a minute to parse. What she meant was that I had a habit of asking questions that on the surface seemed naive, or shallow, simplistic – but that were actually difficult to answer and might even stump her. I now think of it as one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.
I thought of Karen today as I biked home from breakfast and of the wise words we are given to chew on from time to time. This morning I met up with another fantastic professor of mine, Carmen, who still teaches and is an amazing sociolinguist, a friend, and one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. I took 5 or 6 courses from her and she was my thesis adviser – helping me spit out a 100-page monstrosity on language purism and the resistance people show towards language change. She’s the person primarily responsible for me choosing linguistics as a major and I still send her language questions from time to time.
During breakfast she asked me about Jessica, and I gave her the basic rundown of how we met and started dating and all that. She then asked me:
“Why do you think Jessica is the right person for you?”
It’s always interesting to be asked such a straightforward question like that, because I feel like it doesn’t happen all that often, especially with people who aren’t your closest friends. Carmen was initiating what R. Kelly would call Real Talk, a type of talk that Drew and I are particularly fond of.
I thought it over. “I think that one of the main reasons is that Jessica is incredibly kind,” I said, “to me, and to others. She has a tremendous amount of love to give and she doles it out in giant batches.”
To some degree, everyone wants to be treated nicely. But I’ve realized that kindness is especially important to both of us and is at the root of our connection. Jessica is always nice to me. That’s something I hope never to take for granted.
Of course, her kindness isn’t the only reason. “She laughs at my jokes,” I continued, “and loves spending time with me. When she greets me every day, her reaction is indistinguishable from the excitement she showed during our early dates. Both of us feel most like ourselves when we’re hanging out. When we’re looking at the calendar and we discover that we’re going to be able to spend an evening together, just the two of us, she usually says “yesssssss!” with a fist pump and proclaims herself to be so lucky.”
I’m lucky, too.
When Carmen and I said our goodbyes, she offered me what she called some “unsolicited wisdom,” speaking as someone who has been happily married for many years.
“From how well I know you,” she said, “and from your answer to my question about Jessica, I can tell you’re going to have a successful partnership. You didn’t answer ‘oh she’s great because we both like to travel.’ You clearly know what you want out of a relationship, and Jessica gives that to you.”
And you know, I think she’s right.