Back to the Toothpicks

"Jim: The toothpick issue produced one of our most demanding struggles. I despised Judith's insistence on 'propriety' and what I thought was her exaggerated concern about other people's opinions. I would not kowtow to other people's definitions of what was proper.

"Nevertheless, whenever she saw a toothpick in my mouth, she would try to get my attention. She would step on my foot under the table or she would discreetly point at her mouth. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. I knew she died a dozen deaths, and I also knew her pain wasn't having much of an impact on me.

"Judith: This problem erupted into fair- and not-so-fair fighting. And, since we couldn't arrive at a suitable resolution, it was always simmering on the back burner. We knew this issue was a rich opportunity because we could both see some truth in the other's position. We just didn't know how to go forward more constructively. However, since both of us were committed to a resolution, we used our process of Conscious Creativity as a way to deal with this difficult and painful issue.

"Jim: I realized that for me, toothpicks dated back to my teenage days in Detroit. I was a street gang kid. Toothpicks were a sign of being a 'tough guy' and were directly linked to my adolescent masculinity. But, when I met Judith, I was deeply attracted to her sense of elegance. It was something I had always wanted. By using toothpicks the way I did I denied myself the elegance I wanted and kept the 'macho streets' alive.

"Judith: I realized that Jim's toothpicks had powerfully exposed a profound truth about me, one that I had worked very hard to keep hidden. My father had limited education. He dropped out of high school to support his widowed mother. Though he is very intelligent and artistic, he made his living selling cars. I thought of him as a used-car salesman and, as a result, was ashamed of his job and ashamed of my background. I concealed my embarrassment by creating a 'Beverly Hills-like' persona. Then I met Jim, a man I deeply loved. With each toothpick, he exposed the truth of my 'shameful' background for all to see. I wasn't from Beverly Hills. I was the daughter of a used-car salesman in love with somebody who chewed toothpicks.

"Jim: Despite our education, years of therapy, both of our 40-some-odd years on the planet, and everything else that we had been blessed with, we were both cut off from ourselves in certain ways. Judith in self-doubt and me in self-hatred. We both were hiding behind masks when it came to these particular issues. We both needed to change, and we both needed each other to change.

"Judith: To accomplish what we both wanted from ourselves and each other, we had to confront each other over and over again and had to be willing to hear each other as well as we could. You can bet sometimes we got very defensive. These issues were old and well-entrenched. We both had built up a lot of stuff around them. But we persisted.

"Jim: Judith had to teach me that my allegiance to keeping a tiny sliver of wood in my mouth was undermining the positive impact I was having on other people. She never confronted me in public, never shamed me. But she had to get my attention onto the real problem. She also had to accept that I wouldn't be able to change my behavior easily, much less overnight.

"Judith: Jim showed me how my horror with his toothpicks was a measure of my fear of being found out. Even at those times when I thought someone was thinking less of us, of me, I could see that the real danger was in my defining myself by my assumptions about what other people thought was appropriate. Still, my fears of social disapproval and being unacceptable were deeply imbedded, so my ability to change was also slow-going.

"Jim: The clash of our 'toothpick values' and our willingness to look into the deeper meaning of our resistances, brought us wonderful healing revelations. There was, indeed, profound spiritual wisdom in our choice of each other — as long as we didn't get stuck at the superficial level or succumb to the need to win.

"Judith: Toothpicks led us to deep-seated fears and insecurities. Due to our ongoing lovework, I am far more relaxed about social appearances and much more accepting of my previously 'embarrassing' family roots. This allows me to appreciate how far I have come in my life and gives me much more self-confidence. Consequently, I am stronger and feel more compassion for and acceptance of others.

"Jim: By disconnecting my sense of masculinity from the sliver of wood in my mouth and attaching it to my very real impact in the world, I have grown in my capacity to enjoy my own personal strength and skill as a teacher as well as claiming my own elegance. Through Conscious Creativity, our awareness and commitment to our relationship has not only deepened, we have come to know and understand each other on so many more and different levels. Toothpicks are now a symbol of our special and uniquely helpful interdependence. And that's real romance."