Marriage For Men

Articles by: Henry Sawatzky

MA; RCC and Director

The Gym Floor Dance – Courage vs Being Stuck in Marriage

It was 1976 and I was 14 years old. Sock Hop Friday only came around occasionally in JuniorHigh, but every time it was wrought with anticipation and dread, a mixture of emotion difficult for any 14 year old to make any sense of. It was a Friday lunch hour. The lights were dimmed, the disco ball was rolling and the dance was on. Oh, let’s not forget, shoes were left at the door, hence the title “Sock Hop”. It was a Gym floor after all. But it wasn’t until after the shoes came off and the music started that the drama began. Along with the dread. Invariably the girls would end up on one side of the floor with the boys on the other.

We were a crowd 13 & 14 years old, and the idea of talking to a girl, never mind asking her to dance, was as terrifying as stepping off a cliff’s edge. At least for some of us.

I remember standing on the “boy’s side” of the gym with my back pinned against the wall like I was stapled there. Eventually, the moment that everyone had been waiting for would happen. 2 or 3 brave souls would cross the vast expanse under the disco ball and each asks a girl to join him on the dance floor. Would she say yes? Or would he be rejected for all to see and have to make the journey back across the floor, alone and humiliated?

They were followed by the next group, and the next until the floor was crowded with sock hopping, head bobbing teens. The girls crossed the floor too, in fact, it seems that more often than not, they were the ones to get things going. But as I stood frozen (along with my terrified and overly-cautious friends) I marveled at this phenomenon.

From my perspective, something remarkable was happening. These boys, my peers, were walking across the floor and offering themselves in such a dangerous manner. In such a way that the girl had all the power in the world to grant him his wish, or to turn him away in rejection and humiliation. And to be sure, sometimes that’s exactly what happened.

Where did they get that kind of courage and self-confidence? I couldn’t conceive of it.

I wished I had it, but somehow the risk of being turned down and the fear of being that exposed seemed too much for me. I felt safest with my back securely pinned to the wall. Eventually, I stopped attending the sock hop ritual altogether.

I told myself I had more important things to do, but the truth was that the tension I felt just became too much. I felt a little defeated like I had given up on myself. I still feel a little sad as I write about it all these years later. But it has dawned on me since I was 14 that the “Gym Floor” is somewhat proverbial. It seems to still present itself in my life in my most important relationship on somewhat of a regular basis. It shows up every time I have a wish that the girl on the other side of the disco ball (also thankfully proverbial) has the power to grant or withhold.

The truth is that my wife is not a girl I have admired from afar but never actually talked to. I know she loves me and holds my heart with care. So the stakes are a little different. But I am regularly stunned at how often I have to peel my back off the wall to ask her to dance. Sometimes the dance is a literal one.

Last fall we were at our son’s wedding in Boston. There was a dance, and for a moment I felt 14 again.

Should I ask her to dance? Will she want to, or is she secretly hoping I won’t ask? Will I look like a fool and embarrass her?

But more often the dance too is proverbial. It happens when I have to expose my inner world to her. My fears, my wishes, and dreams. My failures. My fear of failure, or of admitting that I was wrong. To admit that I am absolutely dependent on her acceptance in spite of these fears. Or when my wishes conflict with hers and there’s a chance of contention.

It’s exactly in situations like these that I feel strangely 14 years old, and that I once again have to cross that same gym floor and simply offer myself to her. Every time I do, something beautiful happens.

With a trembling heart, I reveal myself and the girl responds to me. An intimate dance emerges filled with twists and turns that would have been impossible to predict. And somehow, in ways that are difficult to put into words, it connects us to each other and deepens my sense of self-confidence. I have to admit, there are times when it seems just too hard to get my back off the wall. I get stuck inside myself while the song ends and the moment is gone. I feel sad every time it happens. Like I gave up on myself. And then there are the times I do cross the floor and it doesn’t actually work out. Ya, that’s still a thing. But I’ve discovered that that actually doesn’t feel as bad as having my back stapled to the wall while the song ends.

Having courage is actually less risky than staying stuck. That’s something I wish I had known at 14!

So, through it all, I think I’ve figured something out here. I’ve learned that in order to dance with the girl, the boy has to cross the gym floor and offer himself, giving her the opportunity to accept or deny him. Without that vulnerable offering, the dance can never actually happen. It can be scary as hell, but the opportunity to dance is really great. Bring on the sock hop!

2 Comments

  1. Marcus

    I wish men would truly understand, and myself included, that being a “real man” does not so much involve fixing cars and lifting heavy things, but having the courage to cross the gym floor, to risk the journey of loving and being loved. That takes courage, as you say. Love this metaphor, and have used it with my wife in understanding our own journey of growing intimacy and vulnerability.

    Reply
  2. Charles Roberts

    A French woman was heard to say during dinner conversation on gender equality in Paris in the 80s: ‘for us equality would be a step down’. Women’s benefits like red tees on the golf course, and multiple orgasms came to mind but were not what she was talking about. Henry you hit it — it is the fact that the boy is the one who was expected to cross the dance floor and risk crucifixion in hopes of whatever.
    Males can whine about that, but later when it became more common for girls to take the lead and make the first move, guys didn’t necessarily like that either. Funny we think that women are the ones who are never happy.
    If there was a sock hop now would the 14 year olds just text each other?

    Reply

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