Sweet Dreams

Valentine pillowcaseFor Valentine’s Day this year, my mother sent hubby Steve and me a set of handmade holiday pillowcases. She’d instructed us to open the package the first of February so we could enjoy them all month. As I pulled them from the wrapping paper, Steve raised his eyebrows.

“They’re very, um. . .pink,” he said.

“Yes, they are,” I replied. “They’re for Valentine’s Day.”

I wondered for a moment myself how well the pastel palette would blend with the red, white, and turquoise wedding ring quilt we keep on the chest at the foot of the bed. But it would be a stretch to say we have anything approaching a “color scheme” in the bedroom at the moment, and the cases are cheery and cute. The primary (pink) fabric, trimmed in a wide band of green, features candy conversation hearts proclaiming sweet nothings: “Love me.” “Be mine.” “Say yes.” All quite fitting for our first married Valentine’s Day.

When I called my mom to thank her, I asked if she’d pre-washed the material as she usually did, or if I needed to run them through the laundry before putting them on the bed.

“Well, I think so, but I’ve had those put away for a while, so I don’t really remember,” she replied. “I made them years ago.” She told me she’d made a set for my brother and sister-and-law, too, and she’d sent those out right away. “But I held on to yours. I just knew you’d find the love of your life eventually. And see, I was right—you did!” Continue reading

Not-So-True-Love Tuesday: The Architecture of Want

Broken heartBack in 2011 I took a research trip to Louisville, Kentucky, to do some writing and interview a friend who lived there. I’d lived in Louisville for a short but significant six months the year after I graduated from college, when I’d moved north to complete an internship with Actors Theatre, and I’d been back to visit a few times since. For the research trip I’d booked a room in a B&B in Old Louisville, just across from Central Park, around the corner from my former apartment, and—best of all—within walking distance of my favorite place in town: the neighborhood of St. James and Belgravia Courts, home to a plethora of grand old Victorian manses whose architecture I never tired of ogling.

The pink VictorianI was glad to escape home, for a few days at least, and an on-again, off-again quasi-relationship I’d gotten myself involved in, which had been further complicated by a former boyfriend who’d also been calling. The first man wanted to be friends-with-benefits but remained emotionally distant, while the second pursued emotional intimacy but avoided sex. Both were dodging committing to a full-on relationship, and I was frustrated.

Along St. James CourtOn my last evening in Louisville, I visited my houses one final time. St. James Court and Belgravia intersect in a T-shape, and I liked to trace the T, starting on the right of St. James (the base), stroll along Belgravia (the top), and finish my walk down the left side of St. James.

I’d photographed a gray and white cat in front of one of the Belgravia houses (cats abound on the pedestrian-only court) and tried to capture a beautiful library aglow through a window. All I was eyeing were shelves of books, but I felt like a peeping Tom, so I skulked, camera in hand, giddy with guilt.

A man approached from St. James, and I figured I was about to get scolded. I palmed my camera, but he just stopped and said, “Why does everyone have cameras? What’s everyone taking pictures of?”

Huh, so maybe he wasn’t part of the neighborhood watch. Forty-something, reasonably trim, close-cropped gray hair, regular features—he was handsome in an ordinary guy kind of way. He wore a plain t-shirt and shorts.

Archway“Oh, I just think the houses here are so beautiful,” I said. “And I used to live here.”

“I was wondering,” he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I’m here from out of town, and I keep seeing all these people with cameras. I thought, well, the houses are pretty, but why so many cameras?” He paused. “Where did you move to? Where do you live now?”

“Roanoke, Virginia,” I said.

He looked surprised. “That’s quite a move.”

“Well, there’ve been a few in-between,” I said, not quite sure what to make of the whole conversation. I was wary—he seemed nice enough, but I’d forgotten to put my phone in my pocket. I hadn’t planned to stay out after dark, either, so I was minus a light source. No one else was out walking, though we were surrounded by homes. The man lingered, so I asked, “You said you’re here from out of town—where are you from?”

“Evanston, Illinois area,” he said. He traveled to set up new grocery store displays for organic frozen vegetables. “It’s not that exciting,” he said, “but it’s good money.”

“Well, any job in this economy is a good one,” I replied.

2011 June2 037bWe introduced ourselves—his name was Tim—and he asked about my job. I told him I taught and wrote, that I was doing some research in town. He asked me if the area was safe, which was reassuring. I played tour guide, extolling the neighborhood and selling him on the charms of the historic downtown hotels; he was staying at a chain and thought it dull.

At some point, I mentioned I was leaving town the next day.

“Oh, that’s a shame,” he said, looking genuinely disappointed. “If you weren’t headed out tomorrow, maybe we could have had dinner.”

Oh. “Yes, that would have been nice, but I’m headed out at 8 AM.”

“Yes, that would have been nice. Unless—are you married?”

I laughed. No, not married.

“Because that might have made it a problem.” He peered at me intently in the dusk. “Have you ever been married?” I shook my head. “How come you’ve never been married? I mean, you’re so attractive, and your personality is, too.”

“Yeah, I’ve gotten that question before,” I said. “I don’t know.” Maybe if someone I’d dated had asked me to marry them, instead of asking why I wasn’t yet married?

2011 June2 032Suddenly Tim said, “I’m recently divorced.”

Uh oh. Even in a strange city, out minding my own business taking pictures of gargoyles, I was a magnet for a man on the rebound.

“Recently” was about a year; Tim had been married for twenty. “And this dating thing, you know,” he said, “I tried to go to a bar and meet someone, and that’s just not for me. It’s hard.”

I’d been dating five years longer than Tim had been married. I suggested Match.com and told him about the Meetup outdoor club I’d joined.

Tim said he wasn’t ready for a relationship. I understood, given his circumstances, but the refrain was a little too familiar. Then he said, “When you’ve been married that long, it’s hard, you know.” He paused. “I mean, especially the sexual thing.”

“Yeah, dating is tough these days. Maybe you need a friend-with-benefits, something uncomplicated.” Right—because that was working out so well for me. “But if you’re looking to meet people, just make friends, Meetup really is great.”

Tim shoved his hands deeper in his pockets, saying, again, “Yeah, I’m not ready for a relationship, but after you’ve been married twenty years and then there’s no sex, that’s hard.” The light was slowly dawning. “It’s too bad you’re leaving tomorrow. It would be nice to have dinner.” He was definitely angling for a fling, but he’d prefer to buy me dinner before he propositioned me. That was nice.

2011 June2 045“Yes,” I said, “I’m out bright and early in the morning.”

“I guess it would be too forward to ask if you’d like company tonight?” Tim smiled hopefully.

Oh boy. “Oh, well, I’m flattered, but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.

“No friends with benefits, huh?” Tim said wistfully. I wasn’t sure he understood the concept, as he and I weren’t friends. Perfect strangers with benefits was a one night stand.

“Well, it’s just—I’m flattered, but I don’t think so.” I pictured walking back into the bed and breakfast, passing the innkeepers as I headed upstairs with a strange man in tow: “Look what I found on my walk!”

“Well, it’s just that you’re so attractive, it couldn’t hurt to ask,” he said. Awkward silence. He looked so sad. If he was a serial killer, his was a really convincing shtick.

“I’d give you a card, but I don’t have any on me,” I added, hoping the “maybe someday” element of the gesture might take the sting out a bit.

Tim spread his arms wide, palms up. “Me either, I just threw this on, had to get out of the hotel room for a little while.”

ChateauWe shook hands, said good night. I turned back toward the B&B, shaking my head at the absurdity of the evening: I go for a walk to take pictures of pretty doorways, and I get propositioned for sex by a stranger. There had to be a nice guy out there somewhere, healed and whole, who wanted an actual relationship—didn’t there? As I walked I toyed with the wording for a funny Facebook status, thinking I’d post something about the encounter for a laugh.

But it was too raw, too poignant. Tim was so lonely. His advances were clumsy, a little desperate. And not a little courageous. But mostly he was lonely. Lonely and horny and wondering how he got there and trying to figure out what to do to get somewhere else. Just like everyone else. Just like me.

Fountain detailNight had fallen. As I walked back down St. James, the manses lining the street blurred in the gathering darkness, their beauty no less for my not being able to see it, in that moment more remote and inaccessible than ever.

Not-So-True-Love Tuesday: Certainly Not

Broken heartA few years ago I made the longest hike of my life to the top of McAfee’s Knob, one of the most-photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail. From trailhead to summit and back is only a little over six miles, and I’ve hiked much lengthier stretches. But there’s something about having your beliefs derided most of the way up and the virtues of celibacy preached at you most of the way down that affects your perception of distance.

I’d met the day’s hiking partner, whom I’ll call R., a few months before, doing some local film work. We’d had a good time goofing around on set and became Facebook friends. R. was also in his late-thirties and enjoyed running and biking and performing. We had a couple casual dates, but the potential for a relationship was limited—he lived over an hour away, and our values were dramatically different. He puzzled me, which was dangerous. People who perplex me compel my attention: mystify me, and I’ll stick around a while just to try and figure you out.

So one clear summer afternoon, with nothing (and no one) else in the offing, I invited him to go hiking. Continue reading

Weddings and the Interwebs

More than once I have wondered, as a 21st-century bride who lived the first third of my life in the 20th-century, what it would have been like to plan a wedding before the advent of the internet.

Easier in some ways, no doubt. For one thing, the sheer volume of wedding ideas on Pinterest alone is near-paralyzing. The more choices you have, the harder it is to make a decision. Malcolm Gladwell illustrates this phenomenon in his bestseller Blink when he describes psychologist Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment: consumers who had 24 jams to choose from purchased one 3% of the time, but when offered only 6 choices, 30% bought a jar. Other studies have shown how people get caught in an endless loop of serial online dating, seduced by a sense of endless possibilities. The same phenomenon occurs when faced with an apparently endless array of wedding dress or bouquet styles.


Sign here…or?

And then there’s the creepy factor: as soon as I search for, say, “jewelry with blue stones” on Etsy, the ads running down the side of my Facebook feed are filled with…jewelry featuring blue stones. Shortly thereafter, I receive an email on the same subject. I don’t know how much direct (paper) marketing wedding vendors did before the web, but my email inbox overflows with all things bridal. The internet brought with it more items on the bride’s to-do list: TheKnot.com’s recently updated checklists added “Search for (flowers, dresses, centerpieces, etc).” And most couples these days create and maintain the near-requisite wedding website.

And then there are the social media pre-nuptial agreements.

You read that right.

With this Post, I Thee Contract

Shortly after Steve and I got engaged last year, ABC News and Time magazine reported on the rise of social media pre-nuptial agreements. Apparently couples are increasingly creating and signing on to contracts that detail “what they can and can’t post online” and, in many cases, imposing monetary fines for violations (more on that in a moment). Charlotte Alter captured the absurdity of this phenomenon nicely, I thought: “Dating a jerk who cares more about his Facebook than your feelings? Don’t worry! You can get a social media pre-nup to protect your online reputation while you continue to sleep with the callous twit of your dreams.”

Um, why would you want to do either of those things?

I know from experience a person’s online behavior offers considerable insight. I once dated a man whose political and religious beliefs contrasted mine. In person, he discussed those differences rationally, and indicated respect for my point of view. He also had an online avatar he thought was anonymous (not so much) which he used for commenting on articles and websites. Online, when he thought no one was looking, he was irrational, disrespectful, and full of vitriol. Hello—and good-bye—Mr. Hyde.

I’ve also lived the “don’t post any pictures of us together” relationship. A person who won’t claim you as a partner publicly is not a partner you want.

It’s a no-brainer. If you don’t like how your partner treats or represents you on social media while you’re dating or engaged, and you strongly suspect he or she would misrepresent or mistreat you online if the marriage dissolved, maybe you shouldn’t marry that person.

And then there’s those monetary fines: pay your partner $50,000 (choke) if you post an “unflattering photo.” Unless all your finances are completely separate, how is one spouse paying another not the equivalent of playing with Monopoly money? If you later draw upon that money for a mutual expense, haven’t you just created ill-will for no good reason?

Healthy couples don’t contract; they communicate. “Hey honey,” I said to Steve, when I got online to post some photos from one of our beach trips. “I’m going to post some pictures. Which ones do you like? Is this one okay? What about this one?” I thought he looked handsome in all of them, of course. But when he said yes to the first and frowned at the second, I respected his choice.

Beach together

This photo is mutually approved!

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Most people know airing dirty laundry or making passive-aggressive comments about a partner is a bad idea in any public forum, be it social media or a backyard social. If it’s an issue, instead of visiting a lawyer for a pre-nup, you might want to see a counselor for professional relationship guidance. Research has shown that couples who offer five positive statements—compliments, expressions of thanks, etc.—for every one critical piece of feedback are more likely to stay together.

World Wired Weird

Everything has its flip side. Planning a wedding sans the web would also be harder in some ways. There would be no wedding website, which–though time-consuming initially–allowed us to streamline our invitations, and relieved some pressure when they were slightly delayed. I’m a bit phone-phobic, so I’m thrilled to be able to communicate with vendors via email. I would miss having access to online craft tutorials and Etsy. And obviously, without the web, I wouldn’t have the opportunity or joy of chronicling this journey on a blog.

We’re gonna skip the social media pre-nup.

Yes, everything has its flip side. For many years I struggled to appreciate the boons of being single. My schedule was my own, I could decorate my home any way I liked, and adopt as many cats as I pleased. 🙂 But I was lonely (cats notwithstanding), and I wanted someone to laugh with, someone to hold me, someone to share my thoughts with, to ask, “How was your day?”

Steve and I haven’t yet walked down the aisle, but one of the gifts  our almost-marriage has already granted is perspective: the understanding it’s all a trade-off. I can more fully appreciate the gifts of the life I’ve led up to now, even as I thrill to the prospect of exchanging those gifts for others. I now, finally, see the whole of my life, as, well, whole.

Here at the crossroads, I look back and I look forward. And everything I see is a brave new world.

Not-So-True-Love Tuesday: The Way-Back / Way Forward Edition

Broken heartI played one of those internet quiz-games not long ago. This one was pretty simple: type in your birth-date, and it would tell you what song was number one on the charts the day you were born. I got a good laugh when mine came up with the Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues.” You know, the song where the woman is cajoling her lover Bill to marry her? And repeats, “Am I ever gonna see my wedding day?”

Wow, says forty-something-first-time-bride. Prophesy much?

The truth is, I started running into trouble with romance early on, and I had especially bad luck with movie dates. When my sixth grade “boyfriend” K. wanted to take me to a movie for my birthday, my parents agreed, as long as his mother went too. She and his little brother went in to the theatre ahead of us to sit down while we got popcorn. The theatre was dark, previews running, by the time we wandered in. I picked a row and settled in as K. hissed, “No, are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s fine,” I whispered back.

I’d inadvertently chosen seats right behind his mother and brother.

I wish I’d had a chaperone, or maybe a weapon, on my first solo movie date when I was fourteen. My crush—let’s call him “Toad”–called me up out of the blue, and my folks agreed I could meet him at the theatre. He was late (probably, I later learned, because he’d just come from some other movie with some other girl). And he was an oversexed lech. Yes, teenage boys have raging hormones, but no one else I ever went out with repeatedly pushed my resisting head toward his lap. Toad couldn’t keep his hands to himself and kept trying to put mine on his unzipped crotch. I’d never even been kissed. “Creep” doesn’t quite cover it.

from IMDB

from IMDB

In the ninth grade, my longtime chorus buddy P. asked me to go see Dune. When he and his mother arrived to pick me up, P. awash in cologne, I wondered if he was thinking something other than “buddies.” I shrugged it off. Searching for seats inside the theatre, we spotted someone waving: it was A., a tall, handsome tenth-grader who was in chorus with us. A. had come to the movies alone, so I—innocently, I swear—suggested to P. that we sit with him. Only after I was sandwiched between them, passing the movie vocab sheet that had come with our tickets back and forth between a strangely jubilant A. and a rather sullen P., did I realize I’d screwed up, yet again.

Not all my dating misfortunes involved the cinema. There was the time my high school boyfriend M. and I decided to go parking on the covered carport of an empty house for sale. In his sliding over to my seat, he knocked the gearshift of his Honda Civic into drive, so that when he restarted the car to leave, it jumped forward, the front wheels rolling over the lip of the concrete parking pad. Did I mention the Civic had a front wheel drive? A few friends, his father, and several policemen later, we managed to pull the car out. The irony was, we’d spent the evening just cuddled up, talking.

Several memorable star-crossed mishaps were food-related, like the time I was scheduled for a second date with a fellow I really liked, got food poisoning, and had to call and cancel. Talk about great timing: I hadn’t thrown up for something like 10 years before that, and I wouldn’t barf again for another 20. But we never had another date. Or then there was the really sweet, lovely dinner-and-a-show first date I had with J., which was probably as perfect an evening as you get—except for that awkward moment I bit down on a sharp object in my salad and had to extract a metal lettuce-crate staple from a mouthful of chewed romaine. Try that trick next time you’re looking to impress someone.

And that just takes us through high school.

♥ ♥ ♥

I don’t remember who said it, or wrote it, or when, but somewhere along the way, I was introduced to this idea: the common denominator in all the dates that went awry, the relationships that didn’t launch? Me.

I’ve lived most of my adult life (thus far) as a hapless romantic. It became, over time, a significant piece of my identity, being the single woman with all the crazy dating stories. Now that I’m getting married, the shift in my sense of self sometimes feels strange, almost alien.

I certainly had my fair share of not-so-true-love dates and near-disasters post-high school. There was the awkward dinner date that sent me straight to retail therapy, and the “Oh, did I mention I’m into poly-amory?” moment. And there was the time a guy asked me—while my date for the evening stood in the next room, ten feet away—if I’d be interested in “being asked out.” Wow: both ballsy (in the next room) and cowardly (asking if I want you to ask? Really?). He’s the same guy who recently expressed frustration that he keeps meeting nice women who seem good prospects, but then they bail, and he doesn’t understand why. The former profile picture (still visible in an album) featuring his screaming face superimposed over a woman’s naked, spread-eagle genitalia might be a factor. But I think that falls in the if-you-don’t-already-know, I-can’t-help-you category.photo

I myself have encountered puzzling problems (what do you mean, you can’t sleep until you fully void your colon, even if that means sitting for an hour before you come back to bed?) and painful puzzles (did you really just proposition me a) one month after you broke things off, and b) one hour after you told me men would flock my way if I just lost five pounds?). I’ve encountered the truly perilous (capsizing in a canoe and losing first an oar, then my car keys—and finally the boat) and the deeply poignant (a friend suffering from post-traumatic-stress-disorder after an agonizing divorce).

But I wouldn’t trade any of my not-so-true-love moments (okay, well, maybe except for losing the boat). They’re instructive, after all. Big red flags waving in the wind are helpful signs: Caution. Think twice.

There are a lot of reasons not to couple up with someone, a lot of reasons not to marry person X or Y. Some of those reasons are pretty universal: don’t marry someone who abuses you, physically or verbally. It’s probably a bad idea to attach yourself to someone who lacks self-awareness, or who can’t love you as you are. Some reasons are a bit more individual: it wouldn’t work for me to couple up with someone who can’t see his own misogyny, or someone who’s a great person but who comes with weighty baggage I’m unable, or unwilling, to carry.

There are a lot of good it’s-not-so-true-love reasons not to pair-bond, not to marry someone.

Their being of the same sex isn’t one of those reasons.

♥ ♥ ♥

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, I’ve seen a lot of love, and a lot of hate, on the interwebs. One of my favorite comments came from someone named Rachel, on a public thread I’m not sure I could find again if I tried. Rachel said “I’m not gay married, I’m married.” Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Love is love, peeps.

If you are one of the folks who can’t or don’t or won’t understand the difference between constitutionally guaranteed human rights and your own personal sense of what is right and wrong (and you are entitled to that sense, but you must realize the whole world need not follow your personal ideals, any more than they will all love brussel sprouts just because you do)—please, work to get over it. The best explanation I’ve seen comes from lawyer Jessica Eaves Matthews, who writes:

“Those railing against the decision of marriage equality as a basic constitutional right are confusing the idea of constitutional (i.e human) rights with certain types of behavior (the stuff they call “sin”). But human rights are inherent in all human beings and US citizens – not doled out based on who is behaving “well” and who isn’t. All US citizens should have the equal right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, regardless of the “sins” they commit. The only behavior that should curtail your constitutional rights is if you commit a crime (a felony) and are convicted. But even then, criminals can still marry, have kids, own property, work and live in our communities. The only things they can’t do is vote and carry firearms. If committing a sin was a barrier to receiving basic constitutional rights in this country, we would all be in big trouble, not just the LGBT community.”

Unless you are equally prepared to argue that a judge should not, because of religious objections, marry someone because of other “bad behaviors” (based on a biblical definition of such), such as anyone who’s ever gotten divorced, had sex out of wedlock, eaten pork—then stop. Just stop.

If you don’t, almost no one is going to qualify for marriage. Ever. Even you. Seriously. You know I’m right.

Judge Dennise Garcia, left front, watches as George Harris, center left, 82, and Jack Evans, center right, 85, kiss after being married by Judge Garcia Friday, June 26, 2015, in Dallas. Gay and lesbian Americans have the same right to marry as any other couples, the Supreme Court declared Friday in a historic ruling deciding one of the nation's most contentious and emotional legal questions. Celebrations and joyful weddings quickly followed in states where they had been forbidden. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

George Harris,  82, and Jack Evans, 85, kiss after being married (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, HuffPost)

How many of us have been in a committed relationship with the same person for over 50 years? I’m guessing not that many. These fellows are my heroes: Jack Evans and George Harris, who met at a party in Dallas in 1961 and have been together since. Now 85 and 82, they were married in Dallas on Friday at the Records Building. George had this to say: “Love is everywhere, and that’s a great thing.”

It is, indeed. Fifty-four years. Fifty-four years by choice, without any legal bind, or tax benefits. Just love. Show me what’s not true about that.

That’s the way forward. Walk on.

Once Upon a Traditional-Fairy-Tale Takedown: Readers’ Love Stories

shoes 1b captionThe week before Valentine’s Day, I initiated the “Traditional Fairytale Takedown Challenge,” asking readers to eschew standard romantic narratives and write some alternative fairy tales, real-world love stories that reflect the rich and varied ways we fall and stay in love. You answered the call with tales that capture the beautiful, complex, occasionally frustrating, perfectly imperfect ways we love one another, and ourselves. Thank you, readers!

This collection gives me more hope than any Cinderella story that love does indeed win.

There are the romantic realists, those whose stories show us that humans are fragile and imperfect, that loving someone deeply requires vulnerability and negotiating differences.

Once upon a time there was a broken fair lady. Her heart was shattered beyond repair. One fateful night, in a night full of despair, a not so shining knight stepped forth. He bravely picked up a fragile shard and began to help the fair lady try to piece together what once had been broken. Though the process was not without pain and anger, the outcome healed the fair lady. She was blessed with a most beautiful son and a not so shining knight who, to this day, remains by her side protecting her fragile heart. –Lora Jarrett

Another take:

“A Short Fairy Tale of My Own,” Oui Depuis‘s honest fairy tale about day-to-day love.

There are surprise entrances. Love does seem to show up when and where you least expect to find it.

Once upon a time a divorced mother of 2 went to her high school reunion and met a friend she hadn’t seen in years. Although they had never dated before there was an instant spark now. He fell in love with her kids as well. A year later they were married and have been for 14 years, adding another prince along the way. — Michelle P.T.

A surprise that reminds us to focus on the fun from Twenty7zero3:

Once upon a time a girl asked if her bum looked big,
Her friend told her indeed it did,
but there was no time to change
As the taxi had been arranged,
for a night on the tiles,
So they left with smiles,
And that’s the night she met her prince!

Continue reading