Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dear long-haired, stubborn, 16-year-old me:

I've seen my share of open letters lately.  From Miley to some poor, unknowing mom checking Pinterest from her iPhone at the park, people have a LOT to say to other people.  Sometimes it's kind of judgmental, too, which is a bummer theme of the "Open Letter".  Or it's all "I know more than you so let me deign to share that abundant knowledge with you." Sometimes they do know more, but open letters still feel kind of weird.

And it's fine. If you page back in this bloggety blog, you'll find I've done it too.  And hang on to your pants, friends, because hypocrite that I am, I'm going to do it again. I mean, I try not to, but I also saw this thing on Facebook (something tells me I maybe spend a bit too much time on Facebook) about "What's one thing you would tell your 16 year old self" and I decided I couldn't do it in a sentence. I spend a lot of time with a 16 year old now, so I've been thinking a lot about what I'd tell *me* if I were *her*.  And I do tell *her* some of these things but not all of them because who needs to listen to me lecture without paying tuition fees?

Right, fictional past-me reading future-me's letter like some sort of knowledge Looper.

This is you in 2 years.  No matter how hard you try, your hair won't be more red than your graduation gown. Just give up. Also, transition lenses aren't your friends now, but I hear they're better in the future. 

So here goes, 16 year old self:

Stop being such a self-centered bungholio. Wait. That's rude because you are sometimes really, really, awesomely selfless.  It's just hidden behind this veil of mememememememememe that you find really comfortable.  But really, a little tiny bit less.  Let us in a little bit.  I promise, it'll be OK.

I should also tell you that the boy you thinks you're going to marry isn't the guy. He's going to go to Harvard and be wildly successful and marry an opera singer.  No shit.  The next guy - he's the guy, but you're not going to know that for another 8 years during which time you'll fall in and out of love with all kinds of amazing people.  Don't hold back your heart - go ahead and do it. Date knife boy and that guy from AA and the musician. . . musicians. . . and the poet.  Definitely date the poet, because you're going to travel the southwest playing disc golf and doing slam poetry and he's going to introduce you to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and snicker as you may, you'll never regret knowing about Joss Whedon.  When you wake up on that inexplicable day in September with the poet at your side and suddenly realize it's not going to work - don't doubt yourself.  Break his heart and your heart and trust it's the right decision because he's going to go on to marry another amazing poet you introduce to him and you're going to get back the "one that got away" and it'll be, well, it won't be perfect because nothing is, but it'll be really, really, really awesome.

Oh, and those two teachers that you were always like "Damn, they SO should be a thing."  They will be.

But these next two are super important:

First: your family rocks.  I know you fight and fight now, but they are fighting FOR you not with you.  It doesn't feel that way and that sucks. But try. Try to see it that way. Also, please know you're going to say goodbye to one of your four parents long before their time. That's just awful and it will hurt. A lot - more than you imagine. So love all of them fiercely now while you can - and love the ones who remain later even more fiercely. And talk to the one who left, no matter how foolish you feel, because even in absence you can learn something.

 Finally, you're pretty cool, self.  So's life.  So when you're feeling like it's not, be kind.  Find a few things that are amazing and beautiful.  Look at a coffee table book of Ansel Adams photographs or Frank Lloyd Wright buildings or a calendar of baby animals and know that it's all good.  Things are going to get much better than they are now.

And in the interest of full disclosure, sometimes they will get so much worse, but you'll rebound.  During one of those dark times, your Dad will write you a great letter and it will say that life has pain and life has joy and because he's an artist he's going to talk about how that contrast brings depth and without some pain the joy's just going to be blah (he's also a poet, so he'll say it better than I have) and without some joy the pain's going to suck and with the two of them, there will be an awesome balance. Something brilliant and amazing with shadows and light.  Like Thomas Kinkaide, except way better and not sold at a mall kiosk.

One final thing:  Don't feel guilty about spending $150 on those combat boots. You'll still wear them in 20 years.  But do, for the love of god, please DO keep the plaid Doc Martens.  Yeah, the toe fabric is peeling off and held together by a band-aid, but sweetie, you're never going to find the right pair to replace them.  And you're going to miss them.

Love you.
And love,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Look, I'm in it, so it's kinda about me.

Yesterday my Facebook feed blew up with reposts of the blog post Marriage Isn't For You by Seth Adam Smith. I love my friends and they usually share interesting things, so I popped the link open.

I had an instant visceral reaction and let me say, it wasn't good.  I went back to reread (or, rather, finish reading) Smith's post this morning and I'm feeling a little bit better about it, I guess, but there are two main points I want to counter.

First: Let's address this future children business

I didn't marry for a family. Well, actually, I did, because I was already knocked up when we did the vow stuff.  But that's not why I married.  That I was having a family was a secondary experience that came along the way. I married my spouse because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. And I would be an egotistical fool if I said I stayed married to him for his benefit.  Please. I stay married to him for the bacon. And because I'm sweet on him. I'm lucky enough that he remains sweet on me.

But I want to address this family thing because it reminds me of an ugly time in my not to distant past when we weren't sure we'd ever have more kids and my friends who are still struggling to create the family they imagine.  They married their spouse because they loved their spouse - their spouse was not a stepping stone to a family with kids. They are a family.

Because some people never get the children, marriage isn't about the children. I guess it's lucky that you can imagine a universe where your marriage will be a family with kids. I've been that lucky as well. But not everybody is as lucky as we are.  Please let's not couch this whole marriage business in the idea that marriage is about a family with kids.
A fun (and stinky and mess-making)  addition, yes, but families are made in many ways. 

Secondly: Marriage isn't for you

Look, I've only been married for 12 1/2 years, so I'm not going to claim to be an expert.  My husband and I have known each other for over 20 and I happen to think we're pretty okay about this marriage business though, and so I want to share something that gets us someplace.

Marriage isn't about you. Except sometimes it is.  Sometimes marriage is for me and about me.  Initially, it was about our kid, because she was the impetus that brought us to "Oh shit, we should probably make this official" but it's not always about those guys either.  Sometimes it's all about them, sometimes it's all about him, sometimes it's all about me, and sometimes it's all about our extended families.  When my stepdad died, marriage was about me. It's the thing that got me out of bed in the morning and without my husband's 99%, I'm not sure I would have made it.  When my husband struck out on his own and started a new company, our marriage was in some ways about him - about supporting his endeavor.  Overall it's going to even out, I think, because we try very hard to ensure that it's me and him not me OR him. That in as many ways as possible, marriage is for both of us.

When I was in college, I had a professor who was a marriage therapist married to a marriage therapist. She taught us that the idea that marriage is 50/50 is bullshit.  Marriage, she explained, is sometimes 50/50. It's sometimes 60/40 or 10/90 or 30/70 or all of those other mathy combinations that take us to 100.  If, overwhelmingly, marriage is all about your spouse, she explained, that might be trouble.  And I've seen that play out in the people I know.  Of course if both partners abide Mr. Smith's scenario, making marriage all about their partner's happiness, then, generally speaking, from the 50 foot view, things should even out. Assuming that everyone knows the rules.

But sometimes they don't.  Sometimes one partner does everything and the other does nothing and it's not fair to either of them.  If we teach about marriage as being about BOTH of us - about the mathy stuff that my professor taught us - it's a much better way, I think, of articulating it.

Upon reflection, I'm not sure I disagree with his overall viewpoint so much as the specific way he communicated it.   I get it. It's not an easy Walmart return, this marriage business.  I don't want it to be.  But I also don't want people running around thinking their marriages fell apart because they weren't enough about their spouse or because their spouse failed to make it enough about them.

Maybe, in the end, just maybe Love doesn't always say "What can I give."  Maybe Love sometimes feels comfortable and supported enough to say "I need" without being afraid of being called selfish.

Or, actually, marriage is about loving someone who understands my need to paint Geek-themed peeps. 

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