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

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.


Six Lessons My Brother Taught Me

For Todd, on National Siblings Day

1. Sometimes you have to leave home to find home.

After my brother Todd, three years my senior, finished college in Georgia, he lived and worked in Athens–arguably one of the best places in a largely conservative state for an intelligent, unconventional, creative-minded twenty-something. After a few years doing quality-control testing in a lab, he decided to take a leap into the unknown: he and one of his best friends moved out west to seek their fortunes.  They visited with our paternal grandmother and family in Texas for a spell, then headed to New Mexico, where they lived with my maternal grandmother, looked for work, and took up rock-climbing. Todd was drawn to the subtle beauty of  the desert, the broad open spaces of the mesa. He felt at home in the west, and it was there he eventually fell in love, got a second degree, found rewarding work, and began raising a family.

Taking me climbing, 1994

Taking me climbing, 1994

Both of us, I think, always felt our southern hometown, though lovely in many ways, was a poor fit, a size too small. And when I found myself in Georgia in my mid-thirties, in need of a fresh start, it was in part my big brother’s example of striking out on his own that emboldened me to sell my house, leave everything I knew, and move to Virginia. It’s probably the single most important choice I made that helped me find my path and figure out my own priorities.

2. “Parent” and “spouse” are roles, not identities—and we play those roles best when we let our essential selves shine through.

Todd with Natasha, 1994

Todd with Natasha, 1994

My niece Natasha was born in August, the same weekend I was loading a moving van to head to Ohio for graduate school.  I didn’t get to meet her until December, when first we gathered, unexpectedly, in Texas for my grandmother’s funeral, then a few weeks later in New Mexico for Christmas. I didn’t realize until I saw Todd with her that for some reason I’d expected him, now that he was a father himself, to have magically morphed into our dad: clean-cut and clean-shaven, sporting khakis and button-downs and suit jackets on Sundays, reserved in demeanor and measured in opinion. Instead, I was surprised to find my brother still very much himself, mischievous sense of humor intact along with his long hair, beard, and preferred wardrobe of jeans, tees, and flannel shirts. He was still forthright and outspoken, unpersuaded by institutionalized religion, and exuberantly excited about Christmas, as he’d always been. He was also clearly besotted with and amazed by this exquisite creature, his newborn daughter. Continue reading


Carol of the Shells

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –E. M. Forster

I collect seashells. More accurately stated, I am constitutionally incapable of walking near any ocean body without searching for seashells. So when Steve and I spent a week at Holden Beach, North Carolina back in July, I was combing the shoreline, back bent, eyes peeled, within hours of our arrival.

We did go night-shelling--Steve's a patient man!

We did go night-shelling once–Steve’s a patient man!

I didn’t find a lot that first day: a few baby’s ears and some slipper shells, which appeal to the little girl in me who can’t help but think of doll shoes. Steve–-who isn’t a sheller but does love a good beachwalk, and so indulges me–-found a beautiful olive. I swooped down excitedly more than once, thinking I’d found a moon snail, only to be disappointed when I’d pick the prospect up. A lovely whorled front would have the back cracked off, or, if the back was whole, the front had large holes in its fragile top curve. Barnacles marred one, having made their home on its swirl.

When I first started shelling, I would often pick up blemished shells. I would settle for the conch with a hole in the back, or a slipper shell with a chipped, jagged edge. The pickings were often slim, and I didn’t have the patience, or maybe the fortitude, to leave the broken shells on the beach. Sometimes the brilliant coloring or the graceful whorl exposed in a fractured shell looked too beautiful, even in its brokenness, to leave behind. Besides, if you turned them just the right way, looked at them from just the right angle, you couldn’t see their flaws. Still, they never seemed quite so impressive once at home as they had at the beach. When I grew tired of the fragments cluttering my collection, I decided I needed to raise my standards. I vowed then to collect only perfect specimens: bright color, shiny finish, completely whole with no marks or blemishes. But therewith came the problem of the perfect: such shells were elusive. There were few, if any, to find. Continue reading