It All Started 49 Years Ago

I grew up in that generation where it was normal for families to get divorced. I could safely say I grew up with a lot of people who lived with single parents. It wasn’t something crazy. Divorce happens for whatever reason. The most important is usually that it’s just better for the kids if the people are apart than together. Sometimes the person who completed you, who made you a better person together, eventually becomes someone that you become better without. Life happens.

Today, my parents have been together for 49 years. That’s insane to me. Growing up, the idea of staying together with someone for that long was nuts. How could you possibly stand one person enough to want to live with them forever? I didn’t get it when I was younger. Even now, as a skeptic when it comes to romance, I’m shocked as I realize my husband and I have been married for nearly 10 years. It doesn’t feel like it. We just get along so well that every day is a treat.

My parents’ relationship taught me some valuable lessons. For one thing, never seeing each other works wonders for a relationship. (Joking, of course. My parents worked different shifts and my dad worked a lot growing up.) That’s why our “Sunday Dinner” was so important. Even though it was lunchtime, it was called “Sunday Dinner” because my dad worked nights and that was like dinner time to him. The whole family would eat together that one day a week. The siblings that moved out would still show up, eventually with their kids, and the house was full of people. That was the time my father cut out to make sure he spent time with us. Our parents would work together to make a massive meal for all of us, and it was something that I’ll remember and pass on to my kids. It’s still a tradition today, with my family going to their house to spend Sunday Dinner with them, even though they are both now retired.

I also learned the importance of being treated well. My father dotes on my mother. Whatever she wanted, she usually got. Whether it was that expensive sweater from Ireland or a new computer, my dad would always make sure that my mother was taken care of. That taught me everything I needed to know about choosing a partner for my life. It taught me how a spouse should treat their wife/husband. There should be love and care and respect. There would be work. That married couples weren’t an ownership; they were a partnership. These are all very important things that I learned growing up watching my parents.

They also taught the value of resolving an argument. I would be lying if I said my parents never argued. They did. But they always resolved their argument. They didn’t belittle each other. They definitely fought for what they thought was right, but they never stooped. It turns out, everyone one of their fights was a good lesson in conflict resolution. There was a fight, and then there was an end. Children need to see that. They need to know that it’s okay to fight to give them realistic expectations in a marriage. Marriage is work, and it takes a lot of work to stay together for nearly 5 decades.

I’m grateful to have my parents still alive and still together. I’m grateful for the lessons that they taught me about marriage, even when they didn’t know they were teaching me. I learned that if you love someone enough to take the plunge, you love them enough to keep working at it in your own way. You can’t always stay together, and you shouldn’t always stay together. I’m not morally opposed to divorce. Families split up for their own reasons and that’s okay. This was meant as a way to applaud my parents for this long marriage and thank them for the lessons they taught me from watching them as I grew up.

The Best Marriages Appreciate the Little Things

I always get that look of pity or a lecture about prioritizing my relationship when I make a comment about how my husband and I only go out maybe once or twice a year for a “date night”. They assume its a backhanded comment about my husband refusing to take me out. They assume our marriage is broken somehow. That relationship can’t be that strong if you don’t go out to some fancy dinner where you blow $100 on food that lasts for 20 minutes in a crowded restaurant that is often either too loud you can barely hear each other or too quiet to want to bother the silence with a conversation. The thing is that this scenario isn’t fun for me. I don’t find it appealing. I’m awkward enough without putting myself in this position of feeling even more awkward.

The thing is that I enjoy being at home in sweatpants, curled up with my forever partner. We’re not “go out for romantic dates” people. We sit at home and eat trash food together while playing a board game with the kids or catching up on Netflix when the kids go to sleep or even playing video games together. That’s our perfect date night. We don’t need to doll up and pretend we are something that we aren’t to be considered normal. The whole point of marriage is to love your partner for who they are, not turn them into who you want them to be.

Every couple is different, but I think that the one thing that people need to remember is that it isn’t how much your spouse spent on your ring or how massive the diamond is. Rings break, they get too small/too big; it’s about making sure the marriage doesn’t break. I barely wear my wedding jewelry. I’m not a huge jewelry person, though I do have a weakness for bracelets. What does matter is how my husband just knows when I’ve had a long day or how he knows that I’m exhausted and brings me a coffee made exactly how I like it. How if I’m sick, he steps up and makes my life as easy as he can. Those are the things that are going to last. Jewelry will tarnish, but the person I chose as a partner should be as reliable as ever.

Marriage isn’t about the shinies or the parties. It’s about being in the trenches for even the most difficult times. It’s not about how many times you go out on dates. It’s about standing by each other’s side as your children undergo surgeries or dealing with their “quirks” as a team. It’s about having their back, even when you think they are wrong. It’s about fighting even harder when you know they’re right. They aren’t your spouse; they’re your partner. It doesn’t matter if you argue 1000 times as long as you resolve it and move on. No relationship will be perfect to the outside world; it only matters what’s perfect to you and makes you happy. Because if you aren’t happy, then what’s the point?

It’s Easier to Ask for Forgiveness Than It Is To Get Permission

Every time I see friends of mine with their partners, I always give one bit of advice: It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission. I don’t do it to be serious, but because I find it hilarious. It’s not real advice they should listen to, it’s the rationale you give yourself when you do something you wanted that your partner disapproved of. What kind of relationship is that, when people do whatever they want without any regard to their partner? I sat around considering this idea of relationships when a few of my friends “put a ring on it”, and are embarking on a fantastic part of their life I’m glad I can watch and say I’ve been through successfully.

The real key to success is not letting the other forget the person they really are and allow them to forget who they are. I used to think that my husband changed me, that he calmed me down but allowed me to still be the quirky and neurotic me who still regains a bit of free spirit. I thought about that, and I realized he didn’t change anything about me. The “calm” that I have now has nothing to do with my husband at all; it’s a result of the natural maturity that occurs as we age. Maturity doesn’t mean you because some boring older version of yourself, it just means that you outgrew everything that differentiates an adult and an adolescent. I wonder if that means that getting drunk on wine and not vodka is a part of this maturity.

In this growth, I wonder if that’s what the difference between a “relationship” and a relationship. A “relationship” is where two people come together under the façade of an actual relationship, but really is an ownership or superficial version that most of us go through in high school. A relationship is where two people grow together, where compromise and common ground is the key and you push each other to follow dreams and allow each other to be the person you fell in love with. It’s easy to be with another person, it’s not easy to be a part of another person’s life. As  I near 30, I’m glad I found this person that follows my idea of what a relationship should be. I hate dating, and I’m definitely glad not to have to be a part of the crowd every again. But what better way to go into the “age of actual adulthood”, than with a partner and not an owner or alone.

People will probably disagree with me, that’s perfectly fine. I’m probably narrow-minded to believe that a relationship equals a partnership. I firmly believe that though, and if you’re constantly bending or miserable then that’s really your problem and I don’t feel guilty that I’m not. I should, but I don’t. It’s not easy to walk away; it’s easier to allow yourself to get lost. Some people like the easy way out. I don’t. I don’t like to settle, I don’t like to bend and I certainly don’t like the idea of not being myself. I wish everyone else the happiness I’ve found and I urge everyone to find a partner too. Notice I said partner.

Does Love Make You Blind… or Simply Stupid?

With all this talk about Rihanna and Chris Brown, first I wonder “why should I care?” Actually in a way we shouldn’t, it’s not our business what celebrities do nor do I see why it’s news. However, this gets over shadowed by the fact that he beat her up and it played out for the world to see. I understand she’s a horrible role model for girls. Maybe people aren’t as shocked that she ended up with someone who mistreated her, because that’s what we (as in us women) do. Maybe they hoped that this event would bring awareness to the situation as to prevent it from happening, using the young and hip Rihanna as a poster child for their cause.

The sad truth is we’re mostly all guilty of this attraction to the “bad boy” at one time or another. I hate sweeping generalizations as a rule, but this one seems more true than most. When you’re out of the phase when mistreatment is considered OK, you realize that the nice ones are keepers. Maybe it’s a long stretch of unfortunate relationships that really makes you appreciate the nice guys. Then you realize that you were stupid before, and you wonder why you just didn’t go after the good guy after all. The question again: why allow ourselves to be with guys who mistreat us?

I’ve thought about this a while, and I’ve decided there are two reasons why we allow ourselves to go the bad way. One is the obvious tale of low self-esteem. Maybe we just think that low of ourselves that we settle for guys who lie, cheat, and smack us around while telling us how awful we are. We think that it’s acceptable and just deal with it, the guy is probably right anyways and we’re lucky to have them. If he’s able to cheat, that must mean he’s just that desirable and I’m so lucky that when he does come home at night, he comes home to me. I couldn’t help but to sign reading that, realizing how true that train of thought is to some people. And then I wish I could meet them and slap some sense into them.

Then there’s the fixer in us. Maybe the other reason is because we see a guy that needs to be fixed and decide “I can change him into a better person”. You can’t. And you definitely can’t go into a relationship and pretend you’re going to make this guy fall so hard for you that he does a complete 180 in his personality. I always joke that my husband loves me for my imperfections. Does he watch more movies that he wants than I do? Sure he does. Would he rather play videogames than take out the trash? Absolutely. When I’m sick and trying to rough it and take care of the boys, does he say he needs to go out and stay out at all hours leaving me alone and sick with 2 kids? No chance, he sends me to bed and takes charge. That’s what’s important, he’s a rare gentleman of our time. I know that he’s not perfect, but I know that he won’t leave me or cheat on me or ever mistreat me in any way, that’s why I married him. I never once tried to change him. That’s not healthy for either person in the relationship. Sometimes you just have to accept someone is no good and just be strong enough to leave.

That fixer in us is worse for us in the long run. That destroys self-esteem to the ground, and no one but you is left to pick up the pieces. We’re dumb to think that we can really change people; we can’t. People might seem like they change, but down to their fundamental core they stay exactly the same. The decision is do you allow yourself to be beaten down in every sense of that phrase or do we allow ourselves to grow up and stand up for happiness. We all are in that spot at least once in our lives; but not all of us have the emotional strength to walk away.

Breakups and You: The Survival Guide

Oh that first time we fall in love! That sweet moment of stupid irrationality and blindness. Then with the words “it’s over”, it seems like the world falls apart while you just watch it shatter. Age doesn’t make any of that easier, and each time seems to leave a little scar each time. I remember watching an interview on “19 Kids and Counting” where they said they encourage courtship because Michelle had carried with her the baggage of the previous relationships and wanted to spare their children that same pain. Sure, every breakup leaves you with some scars. You know what scars exist for? A reminder to “not do that same thing that hurt me once again”. I’ve had temporary scars from burning myself, and did you know what I learned? Don’t be stupid and keep your arms away from hot pans. That, and tomato sauce bubbles with a vengeance.

I was speaking to my son’s grandmother, and I joked with her that “it’s ok, I’m used to being the girl who mom’s hate their sons for breaking up with”. After she laughed and nodded, I told her that “it’s not their fault they can’t handle my awesomeness”. Growing up, you learn that confidence is a key to everything. Am I really that awesome? That doesn’t matter, saying I am makes me feel better about any of the bad. When you have your heart-broken, that bit of confidence can make a world of a difference. One of my philosophy teachers in college once gave a lecture saying “No one is worth crying over if they won’t cry over you”. I repeated that for several days until I really thought about it and realized how true that was. It doesn’t matter in the moment, you’ll still cry. But after, you understand it and realize it’s old news.

My other real trick is the music. I have a playlist for the breakups, though now that Adele exists my list has been altered. My playlist starts at the point of “can we just get back together now” to the result of “who were you again?”. That’s key for me, because I like that my music is taking the same journey I did. I start with “Dumb Girls” by Lucy Woodward. She wants to get back together and realizes how stupid she is for it. Then a “Please Don’t Leave Me” by Pink for the same “beggy” effect. Then the midpoint, a realization. Taking Back Sunday excels at this. For this point, I go with “You’re So Last Summer”, and then the angry point of this realization goes to “Cute Without the ‘E'”. To follow this point of anger, we hit the final stages. Pink “So What?”, that point where you’re over it and onto insults, also All-American Rejects “Gives You Hell” is great too. Then the final point, the place where you’re over it with a line like “You’re calling too late” from “The Best Deceptions” by Dashboard Confessional and “You’re just a phase I’ve gotten over anyways” from “Red Letter Day” by The Get-Up Kids. Toss in some “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, “If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?” and “August in Bethany” by The Juliana Theory, and finish off with “A Sharp Hint of New Tears” by Dashboard Confessional. My two additional picks for humor/anger factor? “Good Will Hunting By Myself” and “Love Me Dead” by Ludo. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this list.

Everything is a learning process, some more painful than others. (Darn you tomato sauce!!) The point of a learning process is how well you pick yourself up after it. You can sit around feeling sorry for yourself and watching TV all day in your pajamas while wondering what you let things get to or you can pick up those little pieces of dignity on the floor and get on with it. Ok, I take the sitting around in your pajamas all day, I still do that. Everything else is true. Situations can only be as bad as you let it, that’s the truth. Things can always get better, you just have to open yourself up to that and allow it.

Wanted: Father

At the bus stop while waiting for my older son to come home, another mother and I were talking about the new baby. Somehow it came up that my older son was not biologically my husband’s. She explained to me that she understood and that the story was the same about her eldest. Then she proceeded to tell me about how she went to her class reunion for the sole purpose of finding a daddy for her child. Then went on to say she understood about when her and her husband had a child, it was different for him than it was for the child that wasn’t biologically his. I think she was looking for someone who understood her situation. She was looking at the wrong person.

I never went out for the purpose of finding someone to play daddy to my son. Sure, a guy who was kind to my son was something I looked for. I didn’t want anyone to play daddy, I didn’t ever once think that I needed a person in a father’s role for my son. We were doing just fine. I understand now that I met someone who fit so perfectly in the role that at a certain age a boy does need a male influence, but I still don’t think it necessarily needed to be a “daddy”. I’m the only girl with 3 older brothers; a male influence for my son wasn’t exactly hard to find. I imagine problems when you go out into the world for the sole purpose for looking for a replacement father. You’d find someone perfect for him but not for you and end up miserable. Or you find someone absolutely perfect but wonder if he was only there because your kid was so awesome. Then there’s the paranoia part of “what if he was a pedophile targeting me for my kid?”. I’m fine with not having any of these scenarios, I have a hard enough time understanding why someone as awesome as my husband puts up with me.

Then to the other point. I might be naïve in my thinking, and I admit there’s probably a difference when you hold your baby for the first time than when you meet your girlfriend’s baby at 6 months old. In general though, I see no difference in the way my husband cares for either child. He loves them both equally, and is equally proud in both their achievements. Though one’s achievements is acing his schoolwork and making student council while the other one is going a day without explosive poop… still he beams with pride at both his boys.

I lucked out. I didn’t need to find a daddy for my child. I found a guy that was right for me and it turns out he is an amazing and caring father. I don’t think you need that though, your child will survive just fine even if it’s only you raising him. Turns out, kids aren’t as complicated as you think and just need a strong influence in their life that loves them with every inch of their heart and soul. This applies if you’re unhappy in your relationship or single with your child. They’ll be happy and thrive as long as you’re there happy and thriving too, showing them that all you need is love and hard work.