I’ve been a fan of the show Madam Secretary from the first episode, so when the second season debuted this year, I brought new hubby Steve into the fold. Quickly hooked, he suggested we go back and watch the first season on Netflix. When we finished it and went trolling for something else to watch, we landed on Scandal. Steve was a little less intrigued than I, but we decided to try a couple of episodes before deciding whether to continue.

Soon, I couldn’t stop.


Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope

Scandal, like Madam Secretary, is a drama set in and around the White House. In Madam Secretary we follow Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni), former CIA agent turned secretary of state, as she navigates foreign affairs and her family life. In Scandal, the main character is Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). Pope is a professional “fixer” who left a position at the White House to put some distance between herself and the President, with whom she began a tumultuous affair during his election campaign. She opens Olivia Pope and Associates, a private consulting firm that specializes in helping high-level clients navigate and mitigate potential scandals. Spoiler alert: she’s a little less than successful at leaving her love affair with the President behind.

Scandal’s take on government is, I hope, pure fantasy, because if it represents what truly goes on behind closed doors in Washington, it’s not a pretty picture. Most of the characters are schemers and rogues: corrupt, manipulative, even murderous. Sex, torture, and intrigue abound. Yet despite (because of?) their flaws, the characters are complex and compelling, and every episode ends with a cliffhanger of one kind or other. It’s addictive storytelling. Still, everyone is so dirty, so seamy, so wretched. I feel guilty watching, like I need a shower afterwards, and not because of the steamy sex scenes.

In fact, the show’s portrayal of romance is one of the things that bothers me most. It gets love completely wrong.

Fitz and Olivia

Fitz and Olivia

I know: it’s television, not reality. But a lot of people’s ideas about love are influenced and shaped by media interpretations. All indications are we’re supposed to empathize with Olivia, the series’ protagonist, but it’s hard to when an otherwise intelligent and compassionate female character throws herself under the bus for “love” repeatedly. President Fitz is controlling and emotionally manipulative. More than once Olivia tells him no, she’s done, good-bye; he refuses to respect her wishes and let her go. That’s not swoon-worthy—it’s stalking. When the President directs his agents to bring Olivia to him, she berates him for treating her like a possession, but makes out with him under a tree before the scene is over. Romanticizing a no-means-yes scenario? Disturbing and dangerous. It’s hard to stomach that this is “true love”—what the show wants us to believe Olivia and the President share—composed as it is of frequent arguments, insistent and usually rough sex (often in public or risky places), lots of agonizing, and fretful tears.

Maybe the show’s creators are counting on us to understand that Olivia gets it wrong, to recognize that her skewed sense of love is, in fact, a fatal flaw. We live in a world that gets moony over the machinations on The Bachelor, though, so I’m guessing the average viewer isn’t that discerning.

Olivia, brooding

Olivia, brooding

I almost threw in the towel in season two, when former suitor Edison returns to Olivia’s life. Spoiler alert: Edison is a genuinely good guy, kind and caring. He knows and brings Olivia’s favorite take out, shows up when she’s in crisis, communicates clearly and honestly. When he proposes, she accepts, then (surprise) agonizes, and finally declares she can’t marry him after all. Why? She doesn’t want the simple, supportive love he has to offer. He tries to tell her that love isn’t supposed to hurt, but she insists she wants—and I quote— “painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.”

I wanted to scream.

♥ ♥ ♥

Back in April, on a chilly Saturday morning, two students at the college where I teach got married in a simple backyard ceremony. The bride went barefoot and wore a simple lace dress. Her one-year old daughter walked with down the aisle with her, as the groom smiled and waited, nervously pushing up his glasses. I trembled for them; so young, so many changes and choices ahead.

But I was reassured by their vows, in which they eschewed the idea of soulmates, the concept that another person would complete them or make them whole. “I come to you as a whole person,” the bride declared. They vowed to challenge each other to be and to become their best selves, to support one another as each sought to do so.

That, my friends, shows a much better understanding of true love than a feverish sex scene in a closet. That is a love more Edison than Fitz, a love with the potential to be genuinely life-changing and extraordinary. And that is a love I can root for.

If only the Olivias of the world could be as smart with their hearts.

The young bride and groom with friends

The young bride and groom with friends

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

Blogger Recognition Award

During this season of celebrating gratitude, I’d like to thank Carrie of sexandtheshires for awarding me with a Blogger Recognition Award!

The terms of the award ask me to reflect on why I started my blog, offer some blogging tips, and nominate some other bloggers whose work I find inspiring. So, here goes!

I started Forty-Something First-Time Bride for several reasons. When I got engaged in my mid-forties and began navigating my new identity as a bride, I was excited but also overwhelmed and occasionally flabbergasted at the weird world of 21st-century weddings. I’d been working on a creative nonfiction manuscript of my mid-life dating years, and mid-life marriage seemed equally rich with material. I thought of the blog as the sequel to the manuscript (or more accurately, the manuscript is now the backstory to the blog). As a writer, committing to making regular posts on a blog gave me a sense of accountability and deadlines. As a bride, blogging allowed me to document and share my engagement and wedding with far away friends and family as well as other women in love. I’ve also enjoyed the community aspect of blogging. Continue reading

Fall, in Love

golden leavesLast year around this time, as we scuffled through the fallen leaves covering a local park trail, my now-husband Steve recalled an article he’d seen about the process by which leaves change colors. The brilliant orange and yellow and red hues of autumn are always present in the leaves, the article asserted, though we see them only in the fall. In spring and summer they are masked by chlorophyll’s green. As the production of chlorophyll wanes, the bright, varied colors that were always underneath emerge to glow against the steel grays and robin’s egg blues of an October sky. The writer likened this process to the presence of God in everyone, using it as a metaphor for a kind of true spiritual beauty that all possess, even when it’s not readily apparent.

That’s a lovely idea, and the writer mostly got the science correct: carotenoids, the pigments that produce yellow, orange, and brown, are present in leaves year-round and revealed in autumn; the compounds called anthocyanins that make leaves turn red, however, are manufactured in the fall in response to a combination of light and an abundance of sugars. In any case, the process put me in mind of a slightly different metaphor. Continue reading

The Bachelorette: A Party & A Promise (or Two)

The spreadLast weekend, my girlfriends threw me a bachelorette party. I was chauffeured by my friend Shannon to a local winery that was hosting an evening of live music and wine-tasting. They also had a food truck there with BBQ, but maid of honor Melissa and her cohorts had provided such an incredible spread—chicken salad croissants, fresh strawberries and grapes, veggies and hummus, delicious cupcakes with pink frosting and “pearls”—we never went near the truck. I was provided with the requisite tiara and a hot pink boa and gifted a basket filled with wedding-day-support supplies. We drank wine, we danced, we played a surprisingly difficult game where we had to guess whether a particular title belonged to a nail polish or a porn flick.

Should it really be that tough to tell the difference?

IMG_1299The weather was pitch perfect, the setting beautiful. As the sun dropped, the mountains in the distance shaded periwinkle, navy, then black. The band played until 10, and as darkness fell, my last wild fling as a single gal drew to a close.

I was home by 11 PM.

I suppose that’s what happens when you’re a forty-something first-time bride.

But I think the early and—naughty nail polish labels notwithstanding—generally tame nature of the evening was less about, ah, advanced age than it was a lack of a sense of urgency.

Feathered ring popA bachelorette party gives you permission, of sorts, to be silly, cut loose, dance with abandon. I did my best! I felt like a princess (glittery crown and Royal Feathered Ring Pop included), and everything about the evening made me feel special–the details of the decorations, the generosity of my friends, the graciousness of those who danced with me even when the music was unfamiliar to us all. I was awed and deeply grateful.

GirlfriendsI also, though, had a moment while I was out on the dance floor, when I felt a strange sense of peace. I realized that, beyond the boa, the evening felt so, well, normal. There wasn’t any sense this was some last hurrah, no pressure that I’d better enjoy hanging with my girlfriends now because everything was going to change, no worry that I might never have fun like this again.

girlfriendsOf the women who celebrated with me, one or two of them have been married nigh onto twenty years. A couple have been married one or four or six years. Some have been through tough divorces and remarried, others have never tied the knot. One is in a long-term committed relationship, while another recently said, “I don’t date. When would I date? I have all this other stuff I want to do.” One is thinking about trying again. One is engaged. Another is embarking solo on a journey of self-discovery filled with travels near and far. Several just returned from trips to places like Canada and Croatia. Most live local-ish, but my girlhood gal pal Sherry drove all the way from Georgia for the weekend.

image22So here’s what I know: My girlfriends all have rich, layered, complex lives. Yet no matter what the state of our romantic relationships, or where we find ourselves hanging our hats, we still get together and laugh. Drink wine. Talk about books. Share recipes and relationship stories and pictures of kids and pets. We hike up mountains and dance to 80s music. We’ve done it all before, and I have no reason to think anything else but that we’ll do it all again. There might not be a tiara involved, but if the universe is willing, we’ll have many more fun-filled evenings and heart-to-hearts.

And I’m so, so grateful for that, too.

Steve and I have talked at length about the vows we’ll make to one another.  I’ve been thinking, too, about the vows I want to make to myself. At the top of the list:

  • Make at least a couple of girlfriends dates a month. Honoring and investing in friendships outside the marriage enriches life and spreads the happiness wealth.


Other vows I make to myself, in support of a loving and lasting marriage:

  • Travel somewhere by myself at least once a year. It doesn’t have to be a big trip, but it keeps things fresh, because Steve and I will have new stories to tell one another. And it’s good for me to remember I can be solo and self-reliant. I want to bring a whole person, always, to our union.
  • Do something that scares me at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be scary to anyone else (cold-calling anyone makes me tremble), but again—sometimes it’s a little too easy to let a willing partner “rescue” you from the hard stuff, and while it’s good to need someone, it’s not good to become overly dependent.
  • Make mental and physical space for quiet reflection. I am a better and nicer person (and a better partner and more present listener) when I journal, lose myself in a workout, or both.
  • Write and make art: if I’m not doing either, I have lost a piece of myself somewhere, which means Steve will have lost a piece of me, too.
  • Embrace change. Might as well. It’s inevitable. 🙂

Nineteen days and counting. Hoo boy.

My bridal partySpecial thanks to my bridal party Melissa (right of me), DB, and Sherry for an awesome evening and many years of wonderful friendship!

BlogHer 2015: FsFTB in the Big Apple

I’m taking the weekend off from wedding planning and spending it at my first ever blog conference, BlogHer 2015 in NYC, which has been inspiring. I was surprised to find they’d chosen my wedding colors as the conference palette.  🙂

It’s a conference packed with smart, engaged, and vibrant women, and I’ve been moved to tears by excellent writing and powerful commitment more than once. And don’t tell Steve, but I met some nice fellas at the Expo…

It’s a bit overwhelming—so many people to meet, so much to learn, so much swag. It was kind of cool at the Stylecaster community party to get to personalize my own conference bag with a screen print of a leafy plant wearing glasses.  I’m a nature nerd, okay?

I’m still trying to figure out Twitter, as I feel a bit old-fashioned without more social media savvy in this context.

I was most impressed by a keynote featuring Girl Scout CEO Ana Maria Chavez and two Girl Scouts.  One young woman, Monique, a former Girl Scout who is now a junior in college, really impressed me with her confidence and no-nonsense advice.

“Your voice is free,” she said. “Use it.”

Amen, sister.


Steve and I also wandered a bit in the city, particularly enjoying the High Line, a park created on what’s left of a former el-train that once ran through the city.  It was a weirdly beautiful day for July in the city–sunny, with a light breeze, and low humidity. The park was unique and impressive—great views, innovative architecture, and attention to local plantings.

And it’s funny how there always seem to be reminders of love anywhere we go, even in schoolyard artwork and a community Lego build….

What can I say? Love is the answer, and I ♥ NY!