“Ohhh… I’m sorry. You’re up, Mackenzi.”
And then the lecture hall went nuts.
Earlier this week, we had a mandatory debate on abortion. The debate prompt: “It is immoral for a physician to perform an abortion.” The debate format: two students would be randomly called to the front of the lecture hall (filled with 150 fellow MS1s), then assigned to ‘for’ or ‘against’ the prompt, and deliver opening statements followed by a quick cross-examination from the opposing student or moderator.
All-in-all, the debates would run for two hours, and each debate would last about ten or fifteen minutes. This meant that there would be probably ten students called to speak in front of the class. It had a very Hunger Games feel to it— the professor preparing to list off the two unfortunate names, and the rest of the student body breathing a momentary sigh of relief as these two poor souls floundered in front of their peers.
And somehow, despite randomizing the student lists, Mackenzi and I were the first pair of debaters called by the moderator. It felt like the whole room was either clapping or laughing (or both). Part of me wondered— do that many people know Mackenzi and I are dating? We had been keeping it relatively quiet, with the implicit understanding that medical school relationships are a different beast than any we’ve tackled before.
When Mackenzi and I walked up to the front of the lecture hall, the professor asked me where my shoes were— I forgot that I had left them by my chair in the very back of the room and walked up barefoot. He gave me a look and asked why the ruckus: what was everyone laughing about? We quietly told him that we are dating, and he smiled. Then, he assigned Mackenzi to the anti-abortion position, and myself to the pro-abortion side.
Beyond the simple comparisons of speaking styles and debate-ability, I would be supremely interested to see another couple called up to debate a sensitive topic. How do they support each other, despite being placed against one another? How do they handle the stress of being asked to argue their partner, on such an emotionally charged issue like abortion?
From the beginning, I refused to debate Mackenzi. Instead, I chose the more dangerous and most wiggly path— I made my opening statement against the prompt itself, and didn’t address any of the valid points she made. This allows the dynamic to shift from Me vrs Her, to Me vrs the Moderator. By taking this tact, I could utilize the full suite of debate skills without possibly affecting my relationship: the moderator took the bait, our argument was delightfully heated, I was incredibly wiggly, and he could not pin me down.
As a partner, I knew she was very flaccidly defending her position as pro-prompt/anti-abortion. It seemed to me obvious and important that I not argue her points, instead distracting and trolling the moderator until he exasperatingly dismissed us. I wonder what other tactics other partners would use, if they were presented with the same situation but different life experiences: I was raised by internet message boards, battling trolls far more skilled than he and I.
On a more subtle level— how do you support your partner when they are ostensibly arguing against you? For me, it took the form of subtle touches and brushes while Mackenzi was speaking. I could tell she was less comfortable than me speaking in front of that many people, and under such artificial constraints. As her partner, the only thing I felt I could do was gently stroke her leg under the table to help put her at ease.
And she reciprocated that support entirely— giving me her full attention while I spoke. Yes, I was speaking at the audience, but I was only speaking to her, at my side. By reducing the scope of the audience, I could focus more clearly on the moderator’s points and my counterarguments. Additionally, knowing that she had a goofy smile on her face while thinking, “where in the world are you going with this?” was icing on the cake.
If you consider this mock debate as a stressor on our relationship, much like a true argument or an act of dishonesty, then this was a lovely controlled environment to experience this stress. The stakes felt high at the time, but were entirely social in nature— looking foolish was the only real negative outcome, besides tension in our relationship if things went south.
In the same way you learn the deeper things about someone if you travel overseas or live together, this stressor was an invaluable glimpse into the future. When placed against a challenge, we bind tighter and it’s us against the world, rather than feeling any friction or disagreement internally. Who knew that an abortion debate would have me feeling so optimistic about the future with my partner?
I love you, Mackenzi.
- On being a zebra, not a cheetah (or failing most of medical school)
- On grit, Netflix, and The Punisher (or a meditation on rearranged and delayed gratification)
- On slacking (or a meditation on falling)