Sunday, November 11, 2012

Enough is Enough

Before I can write the house needs to reach a certain level of cleanliness or I can't focus. Because we don't make enough money to eat out very often, I need to cook at home, and then I need to clean that mess. Or, I can work more, make more money, and eat out a little more, yet have less time to clean the house or write while also tiring myself out. And it would be nice to socialize every so often. My conclusion inevitable ends up being: I don't work enough, I don't clean enough, I don't write enough, and my social life is nearly non-existent.

Owen is in a similar boat: he doesn't study enough, he doesn't sleep enough, he doesn't work on house projects as much as he'd like to, and he doesn't socialize enough. So as if I weren't stressed out about my own inability to get enough done, I also stress out about whether or not Owen will make his paper deadlines or study enough for his tests. In response we typically don't allow ourselves to do the things we enjoy because we don't have time. Yet we can't help crashing a few times a week. We veg on the couch either watching television or pouting about how hard life is.

Why do we feel like we can never do enough? We have a beautiful home, we live in a friendly city, and we love each other, yet all of that is overshadowed by the stress. We know how we should react to this situation and how we should feel. We should take an hour a day to do something we enjoy. We should focus on the journey and appreciate what we have. We should be patient and gentle with ourselves and stop asking the impossible. Oh we know. But for some reason knowing how we should feel hasn't been enough to feel it.

I don't think I have any advice on this matter. This is more of a, "Yeah, we can relate, life is difficult sometimes," post because I don't think that we are alone in this. Sometimes I do get caught up in the idea that we're the only ones who feel this way, or that I'm the only one from my graduating class at St. Olaf who hasn't achieved anything career wise. But it's not true. Even those friends who did pursue high paying jobs after graduation don't seem happy with what they are doing. They still struggle with purpose.

All we can really do is try to make ourselves happier one little step at a time. Today we've made the decision to go to an art museum because we enjoy it and it helps us feel more creative. This decision took months because it is so outside of our daily patterns and habits. It even produces a small knot of anxiety to do something out of the norm leaving questions like, "Do we really have enough time to do this?" or even, "Do we really deserve this time to ourselves when we have so many other things to do?" Today we've decided to have faith that investing time into our happiness is worthwhile.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What We Need

When a friend described third grade Owen having existential crises on the bus I had to laugh at the truth of it. Owen reports experiencing existential crises on a weekly basis. These quandaries have become such a strong part of Owen's life that the idea of discontinuing such thoughts causes him to have an identity crisis on top of it.

Though most of us don't struggle with these issues quite as frequently as my husband, most of us will face them at some point. What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? How can I find fulfillment? Often existential quandaries deal with distinguishing that which is permanent and fulfilling from that which is temporary. Thus I suspect that most of us experience existential crises in the form of day to day strife.

So many people, myself included, feel the frequent urge to engage in retail therapy. My partner, Owen, does not like for me to spend money unnecessarily. You can see how a potential for conflict exists. I believe that when we feel we need something we do need something, we just may not know what we need. Perhaps an example would make this idea more clear.

  • On a subconscious level I feel the need for greater agency in my life.
  • Given that I live in a consumeristic society where media advertisements play on my emotions on a daily basis I misidentify the need as a need to buy myself something.
  • I go to the mall and I buy a new scarf, which makes me feel better not because I have the scarf, but because I exercised my agency to do so.
  • I go home and Owen gets upset at me for spending money unnecessarily, perhaps making me feel childish for what he perceives as not understanding the concept of budgeting. 
  • Rather than feeling independent I feel frustrated, defensive, and perhaps trapped within my relationship.

Retail therapy is a particularly relevant example because it appears to fulfill so many different needs. The need for agency, the need for change, the need to think creatively, the need for basic goods, the need for social interaction, etc.

Thus financial decision making becomes a huge problem in many relationships. Too often the partners of those who spend too much money attribute the problem to lack of self control. When spending becomes a problem, we have to step back and identify what need the spender is attempting to fulfill and find ways to fulfill it without spending. If, like me, the spender wants to feel more independent find other things that make him or her feel independent and incorporate as many of these activities as possible into daily life. Play Monopoly, do crafts, learn a new trade, etc.

Another common example of misidentified needs occurs after breakups. Let's consider the fictional couple Jesse and Jordan. Jesse breaks up with Jordan after 6 months of dating, during which time they spent twelve hours a day with each other. Jordan feels the constant need to text, call, and facebook stalk Jesse. Jordan feels that she will only be happy when Jesse takes her back.

There are a few problems here. First of all, Jesse and Jordan do not love each other enough to have an open fulfilling relationship, and being together will not make either of them happy. Second, Jordan feels inadequate because Jesse broke up with her, and she worries that there is something wrong with her. Jordan thinks that Jesse taking her back would prove her adequacy thus making her happy. Jordan actually needs to find a sense of adequacy outside of Jesse. Maybe Jordan needs to pick up a new hobby, such as guitar. She can spend time learning the guitar, and the talent of having learned an instrument will make her feel adequate. Not to say that significant others and guitars are interchangeable, but that spending time improving herself in some way may help assuage Jordan's feelings of inadequacy.

Who of us hasn't mistaken the approval of others for our own inherent value? Sometimes I think all of life's struggles lead back to existential crises. We want life to be worthwhile, and we want to have purpose as individuals. Yet we take these needs and we make them smaller than they are; we attempt to make them manageable by believing that temporary things will fulfill them.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Love is Frightening

Owen and I enjoy sharing the story of how we became a couple, partly because it seems so bizarre. When we first started dating we didn't like each other very much, my previous post Two Years Of Letting It All Out details some of that time. People always ask, "Then why were you dating?" Good question... After 2.5 years of reflection, we're just starting to understand it ourselves.

The guards were up before we even started dating. Each of us was drawn to the other, but both of us feared the implications of dating, Owen stating that he feared the "black hole" of lost friendship. When we finally did cross the friend line we cried. That evening we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable with each other and talked about the possibilities. I remember feeling an uncanny comfort being in Owen's presence that night, truly as if we belonged to each other.

The night of our first kiss we bumped into a friend with a camera.
The next day, our guards were up again. Dating Owen was hard. I remember talking with one of my friends about how the beginning of relationships was supposed to be this overly-happy idealistic time, but that it wasn't for us. We were frustrated with the new life of being tied to one another and each of us blamed the other for our frustrations, which is why we say we didn't like each other very much. In hindsight we agree that our frustration didn't come from each other so much as from the growing pains of change; love is a frightening prospect!

P.S. I Love You romantically portrays the change brought by love when Holly first meets Gerry:

Gerry: you have my jacket.
Holly: I'm keeping it unless we meet again, otherwise that will be the most perfect kiss ever shared by two strangers.
Gerry: I bet we will meet again.
Holly: You better win that bet, because if we do, that'll be the end of it.
Gerry: The end of what?
Holly: Life as we know it.

In this scene Holly hopes that she will meet Gerry again and that her life will change, but in real life I don't think many of us look forward to the drastic change that comes with love! In real life it's exhausting. It's frustrating and nebulous. Owen and I were both comfortable single, each enjoying the freedom of only having to think about ourselves. Neither of us wanted to introduce something like love into our vocabularies or our daily lives.

In becoming a couple we each had to learn to be less selfish, more open with our emotions, more flexible with our time, and more aware of our own flaws. Neither of us felt ready for that! I've had several friends say to me, "I'm not ready for marriage; I'm not ready to sacrifice." Are we ever really prepared? Owen and I didn't feel prepared, but as we fell in love the changes came naturally. The fear of the change was much more difficult to deal with than the change itself. And really, I do believe that change is good (Ever Persistent Change). When everything around us changes all the time, isn't the prospect of not changing actually more frightening than that of changing?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sick Day with Dan Burns

I write from my sick-nest today curled up on the couch with grandma-made quilts, soup, and tissues. My favorite sick day activity consists of watching Dan in Real Life on repeat, and I am currently on my third viewing. Dan has just met Marie in the book store, and I am caught up in the charm of this middle-aged romance all over again.

For some reason, I have found myself in Dan more-so than in any other fictional character. The weird part of this, if you haven't seen the movie, is that Dan is a middle aged widower played by Steven Carell. Yet despite the obvious differences between myself and Dan, I always find myself feeling slightly rejected by those who do not like this movie and simultaneously nervous to show it to any of my friends.

We do have some striking similarities, Dan and I. For one, he is a writer! Dan also prioritizes his family over everything else and has an awkward streak. I've heard other people question his actions in the movie-- "Why does he eat the burnt pancake? Why does he throw that rock? Why does he tackle Marie during the football game? Why does he sing badly at the talent show?" And I realize that not everyone understands Dan to the extent that we, the awkward, can.

In Dan's case the source of the awkwardness appears to be the presence of a passion that he is unable to express due to his circumstances. He develops a habit of keeping his passion inside for the sake of his family, and as he lives his most passionate thoughts and feelings inside of himself his actions just come off as... awkward. His awkwardness indicates that he has deeply held emotions under the surface.

Ultimately Dan learns that though he focuses all of his energy on his family, the best thing he can do for his family is take care of himself. When he self-sacrifices to the point that he can't be happy, he becomes overbearing. When he is happy he can be better for them. By falling in love with Marie and allowing himself that joy, Dan can reconnect with his daughters. It's all a part of the giant balancing act of life.

The first time I introduced Owen to Dan I barely paid attention to the movie because I was afraid that Owen wouldn't connect with Dan the way that I do. I just didn't feel like Owen could ever really like me if he didn't like Dan. To my great enjoyment Owen understood and liked Dan better than anyone else I had ever introduced to Dan in Real Life.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle." -- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

According to Urban Dictionary, Catch-22 has become a more general term describing "a situation wherein both options are seen to have negative consequences." Whether we define it by its original context as a situation that cannot be solved due to inherently illogical rules or by the colloquial use above, in the context of relationships, we will all face Catch-22s. 

Spending ten weeks living and working in inner city New Orleans during one summer vacation from college gave me a taste of how much can be learned from immersing oneself in a completely different culture. In many ways I was completely separated from most of those things that I had previously believed formed my identity: I lived without clothing I liked, without music I liked, without food I liked, without the car I liked, and without the people I loved. I found myself stripped of everything I though was me, and yet I continued to breathe, to eat, and to love the people around me. If you've ever experienced anything like it you know how cleansing it is. I yearn to experience this again, but to a greater extent. Thus, I have long wanted to join the Peace Corps.

Then, I fell in love with Owen. We have so many plans. We want education and children. At first I held onto the idea that Owen and I would join the Peace Corps together after he graduates from his PhD program, but we don't want to have to put off having children for that long. Day by day my dream of joining the Peace Corps felt more unlikely. A few weeks ago the frustration of a Catch-22 like choice hit me. I felt that by being with Owen I would never get that immersion experience again. Yet, I have already determined that I do not care to pursue anything without him. By following him to Iowa I felt unhappy and unfulfilled, and yet I can't possibly be happy or fulfilled without him. 

The thing you never hear about Catch-22, but, which to me, seems most important is the moment when Yossarian finds his freedom from Catch-22. Orr, the crazy man described in the comment above, fakes his own death and leaves. When Yossarian figures out what Orr has done, he realizes that Catch-22 isn't real.

As I sat bawling my eyes out on the lawn of the Old Capital Building, Owen, much more versed in world traveling than I am, helped me to understand that there are other options for us besides the Peace Corps. Actually, there are many many options to work abroad, even with children. He reminded me that his very own family worked and lived abroad, experiencing other cultures during his childhood. 

There are never only two options. When we allow ourselves to get caught in Catch-22, it is only because our minds are limited. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Advice on Advice

When Owen and I announced our engagement we couldn't avoid it no matter how hard we tried. Advice is everywhere, and it comes from so many different sources that you can pretty much choose any advice that you want to get. If you want advice encouraging you to get married, you will find it. If you want advice encouraging you not to get married, you will find it. That's true of just about everything now, especially with all these know-it-alls, like myself, posting our opinions all over the inter-web. How can we even begin to pick the good advice from the bad advice?

First of all, know your source. What perspective is this advice coming from?
I'm that friend that always asks, "So, do you think you'll get married?" As a young wife who greatly enjoys marriage I tend to want everyone else to get married too. Within my excitement for love I have accidentally encouraged relationships between people who should not have been together, only to regret it later. Objectivity is rare: even professional advice, such as that coming from counselors or doctors, can only be given from the perspective of an emotional being.

In matters of love, you should know some background information about where you're getting your advice from. Obviously newlyweds are going to give you different advice from new divorcees, and most advice is going to be surrounding matters that the individual giving it doesn't fully understand.

Second, be open to advice from weird sources. It is my personal philosophy that wisdom can come in all forms, from people of all ages, and even hidden in the midst of folly. Here's a weird example:

Owen and I are planners. We think about everything ahead of time, so it is no wonder that though we don't plan on having children for another three years or so, we already have names picked out and we are already considering how it will affect our relationship. Right now we greatly enjoy knowing that we are each others' first priorities. Adding children to the mix can really only mess up that balance. The advice, or more, random quotation from a random source that most settled my apprehensions on this matter came from American Ninja Warrior.

One of the competitors was describing his love for his family and said, "My children have my heart, and my wife has my soul." It's so cheesy, and it's from such a rando source, but it really speaks to me about how we can find love for our children and our spouses without having to neglect either. So, I suggest that we be open to finding advice or good wisdom wherever it might arise.

Yet, given the surplus of advice and wisdom (or folly) available to us, how do we choose what is best without becoming laws unto ourselves? Is there a way to measure what is good when goodness seems to vary from culture to culture and moment to moment? The only sense that I've been able to make of this conundrum is in the ancient concept of the good tree bearing good fruit. It's in the results!

Fruit Pickers Harvesting Under the Mango Tree
Fernando Amorsolo 1939
When evaluating advice perhaps we should think, "Does this advice bring me peace?" "Does it make me feel more connected to myself and others?" "Does it have the potential of hurting others or myself?" And yet, we cannot truly know that advice is good or bad until after we have given it a go. As is shown throughout history, hindsight is always 20/20.

And thus comes my next bit of advice. Don't let the fear of making mistakes keep you from acting. Especially in the context of relationships, making the big decisions like getting married, breaking up, moving to a new state to stay together, maintaining a relationship long distance, or whatever can be life changing and frightening. Mistakes will be made, and that is okay. Greatness and great happiness do not come from making the easy decisions.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fiction Elation

Why is it that romantic fiction is never the same as real life romance? At first, I thought it was the quirky unique story lines that are always more interesting than real life. Consider 50 First Dates, which hit theaters in 2004:

Lucy (Drew Barrymore), having suffered brain trauma after a car accident, has short-term memory loss, and every night when she goes to bed she forgets the day that she has just experienced. Every morning she wakes up thinking that it's the morning of her accident.  Henry (Adam Sandler) meets Lucy a year after her accident, and they have great chemistry from the start, but when Henry runs into her again the next day, Lucy doesn't remember him. Henry and Lucy fall in love, but every morning Lucy forgets who Henry is, so every day he has to make her fall in love with him again.

Lucy and Henry's romance seems so exciting and unlikely. Real life never seems as interesting as fiction. I used to worry that in the context of real life marriage the excitement and quirkiness of romantic comedies would make life feel blah, and I became prematurely disappointed.

Now that I am married I've found that fiction's effect on me has become... just as complex, but different. Owen and I went to see The Vow together earlier this year, which is another film involving memory loss and the male character having to work against the odds to gain the female character's love. My initial reaction to the movie was a great happiness and appreciation for my love with Owen. I felt like what I have with Owen is as special and interesting as what characters have in fiction.

Fictitious romance has still caused me frustration though, and I'm starting to get a grasp of what that is, or at least what it is on the female end of things. Later in the day, after having seen The Vow with Owen, he and I argued about something or another and my frustration with him was tenfold because of the movie. In the movie, Leo (Channing Tatum) fights for Paige's (Rachel McAdams) love. Though Paige rejects him, though her family rejects him, though he seem to have no hope, Leo continues to fight for Paige.

During arguments I try to give Owen ample opportunity to fight for my love: I walk away from him, hoping that he will catch me; I ignore him hoping that he will speak; I tell him off hoping that he will at least get angry. Whenever we argue he becomes quiet and withdrawn and I always have to solve everything (or at least, that's how I feel). All that I want is for him to step forward and fix things so that I don't have to spend all of my emotional energy making him feel better.

This pattern is not unique to us. According to John Gottman's The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, males generally have a much more difficult time addressing relationship turmoil than females do. He says that relationship stress is so overwhelming for many men that they just freeze up, and are physically and emotionally unable to approach the problems. I won't assume this is true of all men, but it sure is true of mine.

If Gottman is correct in his analysis, then the lead male character who takes control of emotional situations is the biggest lie in fiction. Most of my favorite romantic comedies involve men who take charge and say the right thing at the right time. Think of some of these films, who ultimately repairs the relationship, usually with a heartfelt speech? You've Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Ten Things I Hate About YouHow to Lose a Guy in Ten DaysTwo Weeks Notice, Love Actually, (Actually any movie with Hugh Grant), The Notebook, The Wedding Singer, The Wedding PlannerLast Chance Harvey, Bridget Jones's Diary, Breakfast at Tiffany's... Gah I could go on for days, and at this point I'm only talking romantic comedies!

Dear ladies, it's time to get over it.

He can't help it, he is trying, and he does love me... it just doesn't always look how I think it should. Usually I want Owen to fix things with a beautiful speech of his love, like men do in the movies, but when I'm upset at him, he has a difficult time with words. Perhaps the man who actually does say the right thing during a time of emotional turmoil isn't emotionally invested enough. Owen reports that when I'm mad at him he can't find the right words because the emotional toll is too strong, so he tries in other ways. He may clean the kitchen for me or rub my back. Though he is generally unable to talk a problem out he does try. Since accepting this difference in how Owen and I handle emotional upset, I've found that I can enjoy movies like The Vow without feeling like Owen doesn't love me enough.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Forget Self-Esteem, Just Love

Sometimes as I write this blog I feel completely unqualified to be writing anything at all. Perhaps all of my notions about marriage are wrong. In a way writing this blog is similar to being married. I keep living it, every day, but sometimes I don't know if I'm doing it right.

Actually, I feel unqualified to be doing most of the things that I do. When Owen and I are volunteering at the Shelter House, we end up deferring to the staff members whenever people ask tough questions, even when we really do know the answers. Why do we ask questions that we already know the answers to? Why do we doubt our own knowledge? At work, situations arise that I was never trained to handle, and I have to make up the answers. Through all of the feelings of not knowing what we are doing, we continue on, doubting and also hoping that we are doing the right thing.

When we allow that doubt to stop us, we put ourselves in danger of failing. In relationships of any kind, if we allow feelings of inadequacy to overwhelm us, we won't be able to have fulfilling relationships. We may even allow ourselves to be treated poorly. I saw a movie clip recently that made sense to me. The girl says to her friend, "Why do I always end up with jerks?" The friend responds, "Because you only accept the love you think you deserve."

When I was in high school I would get wrapped up in notions of fixing myself. I always sought my flaws and worked to make myself "better." That doesn't sound like such a bad thing to do, but it caused me more stress and unease than it may have been worth. I learned to break free from this self-depreciating pattern when I was on a mission trip in New Orleans. At one of the sermons, the speaker discussed self-esteem, and for the first time I heard it discussed as a negative phenomenon. She asked who are you to esteem yourself? We don't have the right or the power to determine our worth, it's something infinitely designed by God.

As a Lutheran, I can take this idea that God determines my worth and make it really mean something to me, but what about people who don't believe? Perhaps this idea can still be meaningful in that there is no sense in trying to evaluate our own worths.

How can we even begin to love others if we are overly concerned with how lovable we are? One of the most hindering aspects of questioning our worthiness is the selfishness that results. If we allow ourselves to be consumed in guilt or embarrassment about things we have said or done, we are not thinking about the people we love anymore. We have to love ourselves enough to focus our attention on others. I would suggest that we should love ourselves without reason because as soon as we attempt to give it a reason, we risk minimizing the love and getting caught up in selfish patterns.

Does anyone remember that movie from years ago, Aquila and the Bee? I still meditate on the quotation that her trainer gives her, which has been a source of inspiration for me:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves--who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you not to be so?

You are a child of God, small games do not work in this world. For those around us to feel peace, it is not example to make ourselves small. We were born to express the glory of God that lives in us. It is not in some of us, it is in all of us. While we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same. When we liberate ourselves from our own fears, simply our presence may liberate others."
-Marianne Williamson in Return to Love: Reflection on a Course in Miracles

Sunday, August 12, 2012

One Year Anniversary!

Hopefully we're a little wiser one year after tying the knot! Here are a few things we learned.

1. You will see your partner in unflattering lights, and there's something wonderful about that.

We attended a friend's wedding last month and during the dollar dance the groom asked me, "So how do you like marriage?"
I said something along the lines of, "It's insane. It's a roller-coaster, and the man is crazy."
He asked, "It is good, right?"
I said, "Absolutely."

I don't know how it happened, but compared to a year ago, I see Owen as being more complicated than I had realized and I also love him more. Maybe I love him more because I've also learned more about how he is wonderful, but I think learning more about his perceived flaws may actually play the bigger role. As I learn more about his traits that annoy me I come more into what makes him vulnerable and in that I empathize more. Often I find that what I initially perceive as flaws are actually weaknesses, and in knowing accepting each other's weaknesses we can better enjoy our own humanness.

It's like that Seinfeld episode when Elaine says that she can't date a guy because he is too good, which makes her seem more bad. There's just something uncomfortable about being around people who seem perfect because we know our own flaws keep us from being as "good." By sharing his weaknesses with me, Owen allows me to be more myself, warts and all. For more on this idea, see my earlier post,  You Don't Complete Me.

Owen can be, at times, pouty. I have always had a short tolerance for pouty, so at some point this past year we addressed it. Actually, I think this took many months of conversation to figure out. What we've realized is that Owen needs verbal affection to feel secure and loved. What I perceived as a flaw, pouting, is less of a flaw and more of an unmet need. I've learned that in describing Owen it never proves accurate to say "he is flawed in such and such a way," only that "in this aspect of our perceptions, we differ, and I react with frustration."

2. Your own shortcomings will be thrown in your face, and you will have to accept them.

During St. Olaf graduation this year I had the opportunity to introduce Owen to one of my favorite professors who said, "Isn't being married great? Single, you can go around thinking that you've got it all together, but once your married... you can't hide anything. All your flaws come out."

One of the hardest aspects of marriage is the disillusionment of the self. An interesting phenomenon in relationships is when people defend ridiculous actions that they would never defend in a different context. When you are intimately close with another person, you cannot hide your flaws, and if you continue to act as though they don't exists, you are in danger of looking like an ass. 

If your partner continuously accuses you of being such and such, perhaps you should take a step back and see if there's actually some truth in it. When Owen first suggested that I didn't care for him as much as he needed, I was shocked. I cared so much, and he was so wrong in that, but he was on to something. What he had noticed was my addiction to busyness. I am all too capable of allowing a million other things take my attention from Owen. 

3. It's okay to question your decision.

Owen supervisor at work sways on his toes and clasps his hands behind his back, always half joking and almost too honest. He told us that choosing a PhD program is like getting married. Sometimes you find yourself thinking, "This is what I married?"

When I was in high school I was terrified to question my religious beliefs because the church trained me not to. The church taught me that questioning my beliefs and looking outside for answers would mislead me and I would go to hell. College presented me with the frightening idea that the church was wrong. After a painful first year, I realized that avoiding information and avoiding ideas had me trapped. When I finally allowed myself to question my beliefs, I confirmed some and tossed others and I would say that I am a much freer person with a much stronger faith. I no longer have nagging questions because I allow myself to address them and think them through.

The same should be true in relationships. If you have a nagging question in the back of your mind regarding your partner, don't be afraid to ask it. Don't be afraid to ask, "Do I really love this person?" If you confirm that you do, then you will enjoy freedom in having asked. If you find that you don't you can start attending to the problem.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ode to Place

When I daydream about living at Hogwarts, Harry Potter doesn't need to be there. I want to travel the Mississippi on a raft of sticks and leave Huck behind or discover Wonderland or Oz without Alice or Dorothy. I'm more distressed by Raskolnikov's yellow apartment than I am by him, and I can't imagine living with eight children in a shoe. When place makes itself present in fiction, it has the capacity to become stronger than the characters.

Frequently I find that my daydreams revolve around place. I think of living in Colorado, Finland, Ireland, Italy, or Alaska (especially the fictional town of Cicely). Place captures our imaginations and desires, and we can get caught up in thinking, "if only I lived there..."

In many ways place does influence our moods and contentment. That's why Owen and I are so hooked on coffee shops! With our domestic responsibilities out of sight, our minds feel clearer and we can do our work better. The smell of coffee and the standard comfortable chairs also add an element of coziness. Similarly, I have to visit my home in Colorado every few months to breath in the mountain air and reclaim myself. Everywhere I go, I attempt to bring the colors of home, brown and blue, into my life. We've painted our new kitchen blue and orange, like the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Even the little touch of color makes me happier.

However, place can't make us happy by itself. The purity of mountain life is slighted when our relationships are in turmoil. When I say that moving made Owen and I happier as individuals, I should qualify that it didn't change our relationship. In our new home we face the same repetitive arguments that we dealt with in our crummy apartment. Owen still says he'll do a task for me, but gets distracted before he can complete it, and I still get mad at him and nag him to be different, at times leaving him feeling like he does everything wrong. Thankfully, Owen and I are able to step back from our arguments enough so that I can assure him that he does not do everything wrong, but does things differently from me... and that I just need to chill.

Owen and I are hooked on that silly reality show called Love in the Wild. As Owen describes it, it's a combination of all the different reality shows in one. An equal number of men and women compete in athletically challenging (and sometimes frightening) races in the jungle. The end goal is to fall in love with one of the other contestants in the show. Each episode a male-female team wins a night at The Oasis, a gorgeous house with an indoor/outdoor pool and full service bar. The team that comes in last has to stay in the lean-to, with no walls or beds. Regardless of the couples' lodgings, you can see that the people who enjoy each others company have good evenings and the people who dislike each other have bad evenings. Even a place as beautiful as The Oasis can't make people happy.

This doesn't make the value of being in a place that makes you feel happy and comfortable any less, I don't think, it's just a reminder that place isn't enough by itself. Certainly I encourage people to search for those places that make them happy, but would warn that it won't be enough to fix relationship problems.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pillow Talk

Owen and I moved into our new condo this week! A darkness has lifted from us, and we are finally feeling comfortable in our living space. However, moving in has been a slow process. We rush to our apartment to grab more stuff between work, volunteering, church, yoga, grocery shopping, cooking dinner... we barely catch a break to talk to each other, and thus I won't spend too long on this blog post today, when I have barely had time to talk to my husband.

During busy times like this, we've had to come to an acceptance that the love is there, whether or not we can express it through the day. Owen describes it as an "assumed" love. As I rush from work to class, I direct Owen to grab lunch for me, and I barely slow down enough to ask how he is or say thank you. Despite this I do want him to be happy, and I am thankful for his help. We just have to know, until the end of the day. 

Pillow talk: the time of day when couples slow down and share thoughts before falling asleep. Though Owen is a night owl and I am a morning person, we rarely go to bed without each other. When we don't have an hour to ourselves the whole day, those few minutes of pillow talk confirm our solidarity and provide us with emotional balance. It's not much, but it keeps us steady for a time.

Oh busyness. It's certainly an addiction. Amazingly I can find myself missing Owen even as we sit next to each other, working on our computers at the coffee shop. Today I am going to choose to neglect writing anymore and ask Owen how he is.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Liberal Arts vs. Family?

After four years at an exceptional liberal arts institution, I've come to summarize liberal arts with three core values that seek to bring about a more harmonious world: education, health, and travel. With these three components, I was taught, we can change our world for the better as more people gain a greater understanding of humanity's interconnectedness with each other and the earth.

Education, health and travel are important to me, but I find myself in conflict. I grew up in a household that had other values on top. At home I learned to value family, egalitarian interactions, friendship, love, hard work, and the higher power that guides it all. Obviously the liberal arts values don't inherently conflict with the values I learned at home, but they clash more frequently than some may realize.

During my senior year of college I began to experience a deep frustration, which took me an additional year after graduation to understand. A few of my classmates so touted the liberal arts values that it became offensive to me, sometimes to the point that I couldn't sleep at night (and I am a good sleeper). When I would interact with people who placed a moralistic necessity on these liberal arts values, I took it hard.

One of my professors invited me to see an applicant to teach at the college give a presentation of her classroom values and teaching style. I liked her quite a bit, until she said something that crushed me. She said, "I teach a lot of first generation college students, so I usually start by explaining how classrooms function: that people should raise their hands when they want to speak, and shouldn't text during class..." After she said that I felt myself spiraling into a sick sort feeling, unable to listen to anything else she had to say. I still ruminate on this comment, which would not have phased most of my peers.

I love my family so much. So so much. So much. Owen and I look up to my parents' marriage as the example of marital bliss, often citing their interactions when we don't know how to react ourselves. My parents are very smart people, and Owen frequently refers to each of them as "remarkable" in their interpersonal insights. So though I am a first generation college student, my parents actually did teach me common courtesy! (Who'd a thunk it?) Though I should give credit where credit is due: my first grade teacher taught me to raise my hand in class.

I sound bitter. In some ways I have been. The liberal arts values do not need to conflict with my familial values, but at times other people don't hear the harmony that I seek to create between my upbringing and the liberal arts. When professors would ask me what I was going to do after graduation, I experienced a certain bashfulness telling them that I would be turning down acceptance to graduate school in order to get married. I feared that my professors would value education more highly than marriage.

By valuing love and family more than education, I found myself feeling inadequate. I began to draw lines between different groups of people. It went something like this: Group A included those whose families naturally embody the liberal arts education; nice enough people, but I felt that they would never understand me. Group B included those who lived outside of the liberal arts mindset; those who didn't always have the money to value education, health, and travel to such an extent. And then there was me. Me with The Grapes of Wrath ancestry Group B mindset trying to maneuver a Group A world.

When I allowed this sense of separation into my mind, I began to hold myself back. Over the past year I've felt timid about reaching any further for education and questioned my own abilities. Not that I question my intelligence so much as my emotional capacity to continue striving for education when academia seems like a world that doesn't care for people like me, people who choose marriage at the young age of twenty-two.

Thankfully, I have friends and family who are wiser than myself, and who have reminded me that the divisions I've drawn for myself and others are illusions. Whatever groupings we place among ourselves are human created and need not get in the way of reaching for the lives that we desire. No one seeks to exclude me from academia, and I have the capacity to bring my worlds together. Thankfully I have a loving husband to help me find the balance that I desire.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Am I Supposed to Just Learn to Live With It?

I have an incurably Type A personality. However, the majority of my close friends and my husband are Type B. I love them and they drive me crazy with their vague scheduling patterns. Owen makes me late to something almost every day, which makes my eye twitch a little. Frustratingly for my current academic pursuits, Type A processing also makes poetry difficult for me. Poets are supposed to dwell and find comfort in ambiguity. I tie all loose ends up with a bow, including any general relationship or life questions.

Every time Owen and I have an argument I quickly find the reason and solution for the argument and convince Owen of my findings. Yet we argue about the same things over and over, and for some reason I always feel blindsided. I can't even count how many times I thought we had solved the Owen feeling disillusioned thing. (I just have to stop and roll my eyes at myself for thinking that we could conclude something as emotionally complex as that in one sitting.)

We're not the only couple that fights about the same thing over and over. The most frequent question I've heard might actually be, "So, am I supposed to just learn to live with it?"

Well, yeah.
Some things just don't change. My irrational desire to be on time to everything will always make me hurry Owen along when he wants to slow down and enjoy the view, and his inefficient time management skills will always make me anxiously late. Hopefully Owen won't always be disillusioned, but I'm realizing that I should just get comfortable with it because this might take a few years.

Every relationship deals with "perpetual" disagreements as John M. Gottman puts it. In his book The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, he attempts to dispel relationship myths by describing his empirical research on healthy marriages. His findings are very interesting; Owen and I highly recommend the book as one that will help you to understand what happy marriage looks like in a society where it can be so difficult to find. Anyways, he asserts that even happy couples have certain subjects that they will always argue about, and he suggests ways of dealing with those arguments.

When I attempt to explain to others that Yes, you do just have to learn to live with it, I often get the response, "So, it's like the good outweighs the bad?" Kind of, but it seems more complex than that to me. For one thing, I don't think that's true in every moment. Many long-married couples report having "bad years," where the good actually didn't always outweigh the bad. Also, all of us go through biological cycles where we feel more or less happy regardless of our surroundings or personal philosophies. During these cycles, we attempt to rationalize our emotions, often putting the blame for the unhappiness on our partners. For women we have a name for this phenomenon, PMS, but men experience it to some degree as well.

When it comes to deciding if you want to spend your life with another person it can't come down to rationalization. Consider loyalty. On one hand, loyalty can actually lead to corruption such as in economies where the only was to get by in life is by knowing someone. Because of loyalty, good people with no connections might unfairly miss out on opportunities. However, loyalty is absolutely key in marriage. You have to be unfairly loyal for it to work. In a sense dealing with your partner's flaws has more to do with overwhelming dedication than a tally chart of good and bad moments. Sometimes your partner won't deserve your continued attempts to heal problems between you. Sometimes you won't deserve theirs. If we try to keep tally of deserved and undeserved, positive and negative, good and bad, we'll just drive ourselves crazy. Loving someone can't come down to a pros and cons list.

Though "Type A" has a positive connotation most of the time, especially in the business world, it's not always the best route to take. Sometimes we just have to Type B it and allow things to be unsolved. We have to allow arguments and frustrations to be left as open wounds and be okay with it. Of course, not all flaws are equal. If your partner's flaw is a nasty temper that leaves you feeling unsafe, you shouldn't learn to live with it, you should get away and find someone else. If your partner, like mine, just has some annoying communication habits, that doesn't need to bring the end to a good relationship.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Get Married At All?

Looking through the dating advice links on Yahoo, the very first article that I found had "Why I'll Never Marry" as the title. The article describes marriage as "antiquated" and quotes a woman saying:
         I’ve come to the realization that marriage was an outmoded convention that doesn’t really work 
         in today’s society. It was created when people lived shorter lives and needed a partner to create 
         babies, till the land and stay warm. This led me to decide that I didn’t want to be married again.
I hate tradition for tradition's sake. Yet, I find myself with some traditional thought patterns, such as a desire to stay with one person for my whole life in Holy Matrimony. For this, some people have treated me with a sort of infantilizing tone, interpreting me as someone who just doesn't yet understand that I don't have to follow the conventions of our forefathers.
Owen and I are totally bad ass for being married. It's so uncool that we're cool for doing it anyways.

To ask, "Why get married at all?" we must ask two separate questions. First, "why stick with just one person for your whole life," and second, "if you do stick with one person, why make it legal?"

Do you know the best thing to do when I'm angry and headed in your direction?
You have to make me laugh.  You also have to know what I'm going to think is funny and what's just going to make it worse. Owen has learned what to say and when to say it. By making the decision that we are going to be in each others lives forever, we have also made the decision that we are safe enough with each other to invest in knowing each other as fully as possible. We are making the effort to learn how to make each other happy.

Because we have dedicated so much time to taking care of each other, Owen and I both benefit on many levels. For one, we each have a person who puts us first. Just knowing that Owen will (and often does) drop everything to help me gives me a deep sense of worth and contentment. Also, each of us has someone to take care of, which, as I've said before, may be even more important.

As a dedicated couple we find ourselves growing ever closer together. In a sense, we are progressing toward oneness. If a certain philosopher is correct (I can't remember the philosopher for sure, but I'm thinking Aristotle), then by becoming more integrated into each other's lives we can also learn to love everyone else better as well. The philosopher describes a man's attempt to love all women. He starts by loving the female figure, but he quickly finds that one figure blends into another figure and ultimately he hasn't loved any women. Yet, when he loves a single woman in every way and devotes his life to loving this one woman he learns how to love a woman properly and develops a depth of tenderness and care for women generally, thus loving all women.

One of our good friends claims that Owen has become nicer since dating me. Because of the time that he has spent loving me and figuring out just how I tick, Owen now has a better idea of how to communicate with women in such a way as to make us feel appreciated. 

Aside from the emotional investment piece, there's always the question of why to limit your sexual life to only one person. On this point I consider myself to have traditional ideas, but for modern reasons. I believe that in order to have the most pleasure, you have to give yourself fully to one partner who knows your ins and outs and will make the effort to make you feel good. Some people claim that passion and romance die after marriage. Others do not; others make the claim that it only gets better the longer that they have to be with each other and know each other. Perhaps, like with any physical activity, it's a matter of practice makes perfect?

In my observation, staying with a single partner is also a matter of emotional health, especially for women. Though many try, we cannot sever sexuality from emotion. People are so emotional about it, that they're emotional about other people's habits. Why are abortion and gay-marriage the two big political social issues? Because they have to do with sex! Pre-marriage, I was telling a friend about how Owen and I could share anything with each other. She responded that she mostly had that in her relationship, however, she and her boyfriend could not talk about their previous sexual experiences. It was one topic that was just too painful to share with each other.

If you, like us, decide to stick to one person, then why make it legal?

First of all, I do not believe that paperwork makes marriage--that's ludicrous. Owen has relatives in Finland who have lived together for over twenty years and have children. How can we say that they aren't married, yet people, like Tabloid Movie Stars who made it legal just to divorce within a year were married? Anyways, point being, we do not believe that signing a paper makes you married.

Really, for Owen and I, it came down to this: we wanted to get married in a public expression of our love for each other in front of the world. Legal binding provides, in a sense, just another way to become closer to each other. Yet, any attempts we give to justify that decision risk simplifying it and making it less than it is. Both of us hope to take big risks in our lives, and by getting married we took a pretty big risk on each other.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Dating Never Ends

Having moved to a new place just to find ourselves as the only married couple in our peer group makes socializing difficult. When other women I know talk about meeting new men I enjoy listening, but feel unable to contribute to the excitement. Amidst a sea of single friends I am already settled down. That feels awkward. Part of me wonders if, for the sake of social health, I should be out on weekends joining in on girl's nights, but I really hate leaving Owen behind.

To fulfill our social needs, Owen and I find ourselves searching for compatibility with other couples. We're trying to find our Barney and Betty Rubble, our Fred and Ethel Mertz, our Deacon and Kelly Palmer. It feels like dating all over again, as we search for intimacy in friendships that we can enjoy as a couple. Sometimes we find a couple-unit that we as a couple-unit have a crush on, but we won't know if they like us as much as we like them, and all of the usual confusion of dating follows. Again, we find that chemistry plays a very important roll, this time in our search for another couple to share friendship with. Though in the instance of double dating, we have to find four people with good chemistry, which proves rather difficult.

Repeatedly we find ourselves most comforted in the company of those who we have shared friendship with for several years, though many of them remain single. Thus, I find myself extra concerned with who they date. Dating someone who has bad chemistry with one of your friends can really put a strain on the friendship. Not to say that your choice in a life-long partner should revolve around your friends, but when you imagine your future life with an individual realize that if your relationships with your significant other and your friends are in conflict, one or both of them are going to suffer. Finding friendship while married is hard enough without estranging the friends you already have.

Whether you're looking for friends, romantic partners, or a couple to double-date with, building relationships is just plain hard. Suddenly, I remember advice that I have often given, and yet not always followed. If you want to meet new people, who have similar interests to you, then involve yourself in the community: volunteer, join clubs, develop hobbies.

Happy Father's Day

I've heard that the greatest thing that a father can do for his daughters is to love their mother well so that they can learn what being loved should look like.
Thank you Dad for doing such a great job loving Mom and loving us!
Happy Father's Day

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm Feeling Optimistic

Lately I've fallen into the habit of separating the reasonable optimists from the insane ones. Reasonable optimists include those who built a playground in the middle of the Iowa City Ped Mall, or those who take on an attitude of "whatever comes our way, we can handle it." Reasonable optimists seek to be productive. I typically think of those optimists who think that they will get whatever they want, even if the odds are against them, as the insane ones. These are the people who think that even though the sticker price says 120K, they can get a house for 100K. Recently, however, I'm rethinking my conceptualizations of optimism.

Did you know that optimists such as the insane ones that I reference above are actually more likely than non-optimists to get what they want?

Optimism, even when it appears unreasonable, actually plays an important role in the quality of life, even beyond the general happiness that comes from a positive attitude. People who are certain that they will succeed in their endeavors tend to try harder to get what they want and tend not to give up as easily as people who do not think that they will succeed.

Positivity can actually improve health as well! We've all heard of the placebo effect: a person thinks he's taken a miracle pill, which is actually a sugar pill, and he becomes healthier because he thinks that this miracle pill will help him. The placebo effect really isn't that different from the optimistic attitudes that some people naturally take on. When sick, those who think that they will recover do so more frequently than those who don't.

I don't think of myself as an optimist. If you read my last post, you'll see that I was not feeling very optimistically about our living situation. After recent conversations revolving around the world economy and seeing the bleak economic outlooks on the news, I found myself trying to decide whether or not to worry. I asked my psychologist if I should worry. She stopped me in my tracks to explain to me about the research surrounding optimism, which I paraphrased above.

Once I started to think about it, I realized that I am sometimes optimistic about certain things. I'm optimistic about aging. I cannot wait to be 30, and better yet 60 because I am so convinced that life can only get better the longer that a person has to learn how to approach it properly. Though, obviously, some people age more gracefully than others. Perhaps the difference is attitude?

Also, I am optimistic about my marriage. Owen and I believe that we will have a very happy life together, which has helped us through a difficult nine months of married life. Together, we've faced Owen's disillusionment from the idea that all of life's problems would melt away after getting married, and my struggle to find significance as life revolves around Owen's education. Our optimism has given us strength, a sense of humor, and continued excitement for daily life and the future.

Right now Owen and I are in the process of reading The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman. We like this particular marriage book because it's based on empirical evidence gathered from years of comparing happy couples to unhappy couples. We haven't read too much of it yet, but so far I am finding it worthwhile, and I plan on writing up a sort of book report for the blog when I'm finished.

According to Gottman, contempt kills marriage. Contempt stems from having such a negative view of your partner that you think that everything he or she does is wrong, and you take a moral high ground against his or her actions. Contempt sounds similar to pessimism. If contempt is a marriage killer could optimism be a marriage redeemer?

We cannot deny that optimism comes easier to some than others. Actually, I usually enjoy pessimism very much. I get caught in the loop of thinking that pessimism is just realism with a negative connotation. Pessimism is edgy and cool. Yet, the enjoyment that I find in pessimism tends to be self-centered. When I'm being pessimistic I tend to think that I know more about life than most everyone else. When I'm feeling optimistic on the other hand, I appreciate people more. I find that if I focus on those things that I am naturally optimistic about, such as aging and marriage, I feel more comfortable being optimistic about other things like finances and health.

I'm feeling optimistic today. It feels good.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Where Does This Thing Even Belong?

Marriage is a giant blending of stuff, which I mean in the simplest terms, as in things or items. When we moved into our first apartment as a married couple we moved in his and hers guitars, my crappy lamp, his nicer lamp, approximately 50 items of men's clothing, and 300 of women's, my broken chair, his parent's microfiber reclining love seat, my art, and well over a hundred books on poetry, psychology, religion, cooking, fiction, and political science. We did not have a book shelf. We bought more items to add to the mess: bookshelves, a coffee table, a trash can, and washing machine to name a few.

Now, our stuff is blended with the stuff of the man whom we are subleasing our summer housing from.

We live in a obstacle course. To get to the air conditioning, one must step onto the dining table chair and dive into the love seat. From there, jump over the coffee table and onto the couch without landing on the guitar.

As you can see in the lower picture, we sleep on a tower: our mattress box, the leaseholder's mattress box, his mattress, our mattress. At least we're closer to the tiny windows.

As we were waiting for the Powerball drawing last night (anything that might get us out of here faster), we found ourselves watching ABC's Secret Millionaire. Producers send millionaires to the roughest of the rough neighborhoods with only the amount of cash equivalent to the food-stamps that a person in poverty would receive. The millionaires must search the neighborhoods for "hidden heros," people who seek to be of service in these communities. At the end of each episode, the millionaires write checks to whomever they believe to be deserving.

In one episode, the millionaire, an apparent workaholic, was worth $500 million. The millionaire appeared to be participating in the show in an attempt to find greater contentment than his riches offered. He said, "my brother tells me that the more stuff that you accumulate the more stress you have." I think that we can take his brother's comment as a criticism because judging from the quick glimpse of the interiors of this millionaire's mansion, he was not a minimalist.

That quotation has been swimming around my head today. I swear that I descend from hunter-gatherers because both my dad and I accumulate stuff like none-other. As to the quotation, my stuff is stressing me out! I have been in tears almost daily of late because I am so afraid that we will have to move all of my crap into another temporary space before we can settle into a house.

Now, there's this backpack. Made from an old grandpa couch by a local Iowa City artist, it's tan with giant flowers and out of my price range, but I told myself I would buy it if I were accepted to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. When I was not accepted, a few people suggested that I should just buy it anyways since I liked it so much. I didn't. Raised by a conservative small business owner, who himself was raised by a blue dog democrat and small business owner, it's against my nature. I've heard enough times about how not every kid at the soccer game should get a trophy because it only praises mediocrity and stunts exceptional performance. Though I must say that in practice my dad has never actually hesitated to give me anything that would make me happy, earned or not. Still I wanted to earn the backpack.

Today I broke down again. Anxious about finding a place to live, moving all my crap, and my upcoming poetry class, I found myself tempted to engage in retail therapy. In particular, I wanted something that would encourage me, such as the handmade journal I spotted at a craft fair, which was decorated with a sunflower and the words, "Be happy," and at the bottom, "the secret is, there is no secret." Amidst the whirl of the Iowa City Craft Fair, I sat with Owen and told him of my anxiety and how I wondered if that $30 journal would help me feel calmer for my class, so that I could get more out of it. That's when he told me that he had secretly been planning on buying me the grandpa couch backpack to boost my confidence for my poetry class.

For a moment I hesitated. I hadn't earned it like I wanted to; I didn't deserve it. Yet the gesture was so loving on his part that I couldn't reject his efforts. The reasoning for gaining the backpack had completely changed from a reward to a generous act of encouragement from my husband, who's usually so careful with spending.

We walked to the store to find that the backpack was gone. Of course, my bad mood relapsed at that point as I tried not to tear up over something like a backpack. That's my problem. (Well, that's one of my problems.) I put too much symbolism into too many things.

My grandfather immigrated to the United States from Germany when he was eight years old. The only items that I remember seeing from this journey are the German coins that my great grandmother gave me when I was a little girl. I have always kept these coins in a special place in my dresser drawers. What special thing of mine will my grandchildren keep? I have so much that I'm afraid that none of it will be special, and they'll just throw it all out, assuming they aren't boarder-line hoarders like myself.

I won't get the excitement of carrying that grandpa couch backpack to my first day of class, but I know that I will bring Owen's support, encouragement, and confidence that I can succeed with me as I face my anxiety regarding my own abilities.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Marriage Practice

I am hanging out in Colorado this week!  I can't even express how happy I am to be here to see my little sister graduate from high school, and not only graduate, but also give the commencement speech at the ceremony! Taylor may not like me saying this, but the girl couldn't even order food at restaurants when she was a kid because she was too shy to talk to the waiter! Something in her changed when I left for college because just yesterday I saw her calmly deliver an intelligently written and clearly spoken speech in front of hundreds of people. It's difficult to wrap my head around.

Before I knew Owen there was Taylor. I had more fun with her than anyone else, and I got more angry at her than anyone else. Growing up Taylor and I were always competing and distinguishing ourselves from one another. I am a tall brunette with sizable hips, and she is a tiny blonde. I love to speak my thoughts, and she does not  like to share her opinion very frequently. Academically we each wanted to preform better than the other. Being the older and more developed sister, I thought of her as the weaker of the two of us, on every level. We were not affectionate.

For my birthday one year, a friend gave me the book When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy. It sat on my bookshelf for at least two years until, saddened from my first break up, I picked it up. I don't remember most of it, and I thought a lot of it was pretty cheesy, but one bit of advice from this book really changed my relationships for the better. Eric Ludy describes his relationship with his brother, which seems rather similar to my relationship with my sister in that they were not verbally encouraging and lived in competition. At one point Eric realizes that before he can have a marriage he needs to heal whatever struggles he has had with his family and most importantly his brother. Though even the thought of apologizing to his brother was extremely awkward, he did, and their relationship became more loving.

The Ludy's say that you will treat your spouse the same way that you treat your family, and thus your family is practice for having a marriage. This concept makes sense to me. You see family when you're at your worst: when you are grouchy from work, hunger, or whatever. Later, your spouse takes over that roll. After reading the book, I reflected on my relationships with my own sister. I realized that I spent too much time feeling annoyed and frustrated with her and not enough time doing nice things for her or encouraging her. I still have a hard time being verbally affectionate, but I try to show love in other ways like petting her hair or sharing my stuff with her more readily. Since making the effort to be nicer to her, my relationship with her has been much better. I don't know for sure that becoming nicer to my sister has improved my relationship with Owen, but I highly suspect that it has.

When Taylor started thinking about college, I knew that St. Olaf would be the perfect fit for her. I invited her to stay with me in the dorms and see the campus. While she was visiting me, I still had class, so she would sit and read in the student center without me. I had many people tell me that they saw her there and instantly knew her as my sister. This information surprised me because we thought of ourselves as being so different! My friends and acquaintances told me that not only did we look exactly alike, but we also had the same mannerisms. At one point in my life, I would have been frustrated by this information. Yet, Taylor has grown up to be such a beautiful, intelligent, strong, and kind person that I've very much embraced the comparison, and I like that she always gets my jokes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I need you to need me

When Owen has class at 8:00 in the morning I wake up at 6:50 so that I can make him a good breakfast before he has to leave. When Owen, who often seems so unaware of his own desires, orders hamburgers every time we eat out, I realize that I should buy ground meat for him to make hamburgers at home, even though I won't eat them. My world revolves around Owen and most of my time is dedicated to taking care of him.

As a full time student with a half time assistantship, Owen has too much to do. I take it upon myself to alleviate him of as much as I can by doing most of the domestic work and trying not to place any extra burden on him generally. I suspect that this is the biggest mistake that I make on a regular basis.  In an attempt to protect him from my needs, so that he can focus on his own, I neglect to give Owen something that all of us need: we all need to be needed.

One effect of this, I find, is that I appear to be the emotionally stronger partner in our relationship. I help Owen through his stress, and I provide him with emotional support in the relationship as I deal with my own emotions quietly. Yet, Owen can take criticism without flinching while I shrink in the face of my own flaws. Actually, I find that I require so much reassurance that even people with flat affects make me nervous. Owen naturally offers me a consistent flow of praise, I surround myself with friends who are very vocal about their affection, and I come from a loving family atmosphere. Usually, I don't even realize how much I need reassurance because I find it so easily.

Even amidst the praise I receive from my loved ones, I myself feel awkward about expressing verbal affection or praise. However, as part of the philosophy of open communication that I have already described in previous posts, I don't hesitate to tell Owen when he's being annoying. I think you can see where imbalance has the potential to grow in our relationship.

Reevaluating our situation, I do not believe myself to be emotionally stronger than Owen.  What's actually happening is that Owen is better at appreciating than I am. Nearly every night, Owen tells me, "Thank you," and sometimes I ask why. He doesn't have a straight answer, just a vague idea of appreciation for me and my presence in his life. And I, feeling strangely uncomfortable with verbal affection, don't always respond as I should.

Recently, I found myself attempting to protect Owen from my needs again. Owen was behind on his homework, as usual, and I found myself knotted up with anxiety for the future. Without thinking about it, I left the room. I called my parents, and I talked to them, and they did make me feel more comfortable, yet not completely.

When I told Owen about my anxiety, and he had the opportunity to comfort me, we each experienced a heightened sense of security. I've shared this quotation before, but I will share it again because it may be the best advice that I have ever received, "Seek not to be appreciated, but to appreciate." Perhaps appreciation is more than an attitude; maybe it actually requires giving others the opportunity to help you in the first place.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Reasonability of Chemistry

I am completely hooked on the old television show Northern Exposure.  One of the many running themes in the program is attraction. Maggie O'Connell hates that she is attracted to Joel Fleischmen, and as she agonizes over his "misogynistic" and "mean" ways, Shelly Tambo offers her a bit of advice. Shelly describes a time in high school when she was torn between two men: the tall, handsome, and cool athlete vs. the president of the chess club, stereotyped as usual. She wanted to be attracted to the athlete, but found that he just didn't excite her. However, she couldn't keep her hands off of the president of the chess club. Shelly concludes, "The bod wants what the bod wants."

The realms of reason and rationality often live in tension with those of desire and emotion.  I know that eating chocolate to the extent that I do around Easter will make me feel tired and even cranky, but I want it. I can explain to you that teddy bears don't feel emotional or physical pain, but I can't stand putting my Emmie bear in a plastic bag where she can't breathe. When it comes to my chocolate eating and teddy bear protecting habits I find that reason isn't enough to change my actions, or at least not for very long.

Emotion seems like a wild and unruly creature capable of leading us astray. Yet, when putting reason ahead of emotion becomes a struggle, which often leads to more emotional turmoil, maybe reason simply is not worth the trouble. Imagine if we always put reason ahead of emotions: the less than lucrative worlds of art, music, and literature would take major hits without artists who were irrationally dedicated to investing their lives into creative endeavors. If we all put reason ahead of emotion, we'd all be like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, funny, but not exactly who I aspire to be.

When I've asked strong couples what keeps them together they usually say "chemistry."  Apparently, when my parents met, my dad always wore cowboy boots and usually had car grease in his hair from working in auto-shop. My mom found this to be a weird combination. Nonetheless, she liked him, as she says, "for no good reason." Owen and I resisted our good chemistry for over a year as we both found plenty of good (or not so good as it turns out) reasons not to like each other. We each felt, rationally, that the other lacked certain qualities that we wanted in our partners. Sometimes chemistry is just irritating and makes us flirt with people who we don't care to flirt with.

Sondre Lerche wisely sings, "Baby, be prepared to be surprised. It's all I know." If you haven't yet found "The One," my first bit of advice is to throw out any ideas you have of your perfect significant other. A long list of reasons and overly-rational thinking can severely limit your options, and stop you from finding unexpectedly great people. Given that each of our minds are limited by our own experiences, we cannot even imagine all of the good qualities that we can find in partners with completely different life experiences. When you get to know other people with an open mind, you will find that most are pleasantly surprising, and usually their perceived flaws  don't seem so bad in the context of the whole person. And actually, keeping an open mind doesn't seem so irrational; perhaps reason can also lead us astray.

This feeling that we call good chemistry boils down to this: do you enjoy the time that you spend in the presence of this person? Seek to make decisions that give you peace of mind, which is located somewhere between reason and desire.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Finding Equality

My parents never treated my sister and I as if we didn't understand something because we were kids. They treated us as equal human beings as they spoke to us, taught us, listened to us, and learned from us. Yet, they maintained a sense of parental guidance; they were still the leaders.

To create equality among apparent unequals, such as a children and their parents, requires consistent democratic thinking. As children, my sister and I were always able to share our opinions, and our parents took them seriously when they made decisions, often putting our opinions at a higher priority than their own. Equality is not a simple equation, like 2+2=4, it's an incredible balancing act, like 3.4+8.7+2.3-10.4=900x8/1800.

This balancing act of equality as democracy is vital in my relationship with Owen, in both daily life and when making big decisions.  In daily life, this equality keeps us both sane amidst all of the domestic work that the two of us are still adjusting to. To say that Owen and I should share the cleaning equally does not make sense because he has more work to do outside of the home than I do. To say that I should do all of the cleaning also does not make sense because every day is different, and sometimes he just has more energy than I do. We have to strike a balance between time availability, stress levels, energy, etc.

As far as the big decisions go, balance finds itself somewhere between the strength and practicality of our individual desires. Before we knew where Owen and I would be accepted for graduate school, we determined that we would stay together. The results came in: Owen was accepted to Minnesota and Iowa, and I was accepted to two Colorado schools. Though as an individual my best opportunity lied in Ft. Collins, when we looked at the situation as a couple the scales weighed heavily toward Iowa. At that point I had to make the decision that in my life story Owen and his needs would take an equal footing to my own. I believe that equality within a relationship is not that each partner receives equal opportunity at all times, but that each partner holds the other's needs and desires at that same level as his or her own.

Our situation may appear to favor Owen, since I gave up my acceptance in order to pursue his. Yet, we have to remember that everything comes in time. For now, I am in Iowa, and in the future Owen promises to follow me wherever the opportunity for further education lies. I know that he will follow through because he respects me as his equal and therefore puts my desires and needs at an equal priority to his own.

Recently, I've witnessed older couples face the inevitable situation wherein one partner declines quicker than the other, so that one partner must take on a caretaker role. If anything has made me question my sense of equality in marriage, it is this. How can married people maintain equality when one partner cannot function as highly as the other? I've determined that this apparent inequality is no more a hindrance than finding equality between any two people. It's still a balancing act, albeit a more complicated one, which fully exhibits the importance of putting your partner's needs and desires at equal priority to your own. Though one partner becomes the primary decision maker, the importance of the other's emotional and intellectual desires within the decision making process need not decline.

A relationship can look equal in every way, and yet not be equal. Even if we appear functionally equal in our relationships, if in our hearts, we hold our partners' needs at a lower level, they will sense it, through those things that we say in moments of passing, or the words that we don't listen to.

We have no way of listing every positive and negative attribute, every strength and weakness, every responsibility that each person takes on. Thus, we have no way to empirically determine that two people are equal. Therefore, equality must be felt. If both people in a partnership feel that they are equals, then they are. Perception is reality.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You Don't Complete Me

 If I were a circle, you could follow my perimeter steadily around for a long time before coming to a sheer, unexpected cliff. One such cliff is the place where I struggle to speak.

I generally like myself, and I am confident in my intelligence and relationships, but sometimes I become tongue tied, shy, awkward, and anxious. My own mother has expressed confusion about this aspect of me, saying, "you are so confident, why do you freeze up like that?" This awkwardness had long caused me to feel incomplete, as if I just need to develop or find the rest of my circle. This cliff causes me disharmony, stress, and frustration with myself.

Recently, I have been working with a psychologist with the desire to banish anxiety from my life, so that I can complete my circle. During my last session however, I gained a greater understanding of my incompleteness.

In my mind, I pictured my incomplete circle-self. Next, I saw Owen's incomplete circle. I found that we filled some voids for each other, but even together, we were incomplete.

As Tom Cruise speaks the famous lines, "You complete me,"to Renee Zellweger, I don't find myself swept into the moment so much as thinking, "That doesn't make any sense." Even when he is with Dorothy,  Jerry Maguire seems incomplete. He's still moody. He's still selfish, though maybe less so. What does he mean by complete? Obviously she doesn't make him into a perfect person. I doubt that she makes him completely content.

When I think about it, being together has not completed either Owen or me in any sense that I can come up with. Both of us still spend time feeling inadequate or discontent, though I'd say that each of us spends less time that way now that we are together. Earlier in our relationship, when Owen and I would have communication errors, I wished that we didn't have such gaps between us. I wished that we shared a body and brain as a complete circle. Yet, with more reflection, I realize that at that point, we would only be one person and alone.

If we were both complete independently of each other, we might looks something like this:
Notice how perfect circles can only touch at a single point. Only when the circles are broken and flawed, such as the blue circles above, can they make more contact. When the circles are broken, they can join together. My closest friends are those with whom I have shared vulnerability. These are the friends who make fun of me for being awkward, or those who have listened to me rant about the rampant elitism that pokes my insecurities.

I have determined that my anxiety makes me human. This anxiety, though it cramps my style, provides me with some of the flaws necessary to be in community with others.

Perhaps if humanity were a tapestry it would look something like this:
Imagine that every circle in the picture above has its own unique pattern or color, and imagine it with millions of these broken circles. Through the gaps that remain behind we can see the light.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ever Persistent Change

"This is your time and it feels normal to you, but really, there is no normal. There's only change and resistance to it and then more change." --Meryl Streep

My husband is a fourth generation "Owen." His name is a symbol of tradition. He is Lutheran, as was his family before him. Owen stands firm in his Scandinavian heritage, planning one day to live in Finland, as did his parents and grandparents.

The name "Summer" reflects the change of the earth as heat replaces cold and is again replaced by cold. Baby books describe my name as borderline hippie.  My great grandfather was excommunicated because he desired the church to change; my family has been Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelical, and Lutheran again. I have over eight different lines of heritage.

When Owen and I first addressed our attractions to each other, Owen told me that he hated and feared change, and I, a lover of change, did not understand. He feared that change may bring the "black hole" of lost friendship, but I accepted that everything would change whether we acted or not.

Despite Owen's resistance to it, change came. Together, Owen and I have faced the change of moving from friendship through dating to marriage. We faced graduation and moving to a new life in Iowa.  I have faced the change of no longer being a student. As the world swirls around us, we hold onto each other that much tighter.

Just as we are settling into our new lives, change knocks at our door once again. As the school year winds toward an end, so does our lease, and Owen and I must move. We find ourselves drawn to houses near where we already live, though we can logically determine that the houses on the other side of town are actually nicer for the cost. In this instance, I am with Owen; we have been in transition for nearly a year, and we don't want to prolong it. Stability has its place.

Yet, more changes lurk outside of our control as we and our families continue the persistent process of aging. My sister is graduating from high school and will be attending college in the fall; my parents have an impending empty nest; my grandparents are preparing for their fiftieth wedding anniversary; and my great grandfather has just entered hospice care.

Knowing that I cannot avoid aging, I've decided to age well. I am excited to experience middle age and old age. One thing that I've realized lately is that you can't have a fiftieth wedding anniversary without being seventy years old. Being only twenty-two, I can't say that I know how to age well, but I have some hypotheses. First, stay healthy, love people, and accept yourself. Second, bask in the goodness around you, and when life changes don't mourn the loss of what you had, but seek a fresh sense of goodness.

I think of Ecclesiastes 3 (this selection includes verses 1-4):
"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance..."
In the spirit of this passage, I think we can add, "a time to change and a time for tradition."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Saving Money and Sanity

Many people decide to wait until they are financially stable to get married. As much as I don't consider myself a romantic, perhaps I listened to that old Alan Jackson song, "Livin' on Love," a few too many times, because I do enjoy the idea of the loving couple who makes the best of a small income. Though, finances being the stressor that it is, I do have a hard time conceptualizing the reality of a couple who struggles financially, yet maintains happiness within their relationship.

I've determined that a few factors may help to keep a low income from upsetting marital bliss. As always, I stress open respectful communication and equal responsibilities in all aspects of the relationship, including financial decision making. Also, I suggest living within your means. In light of school loans and home mortgages I define that as living such that you can pay off your debts and eat without racking up more debt for unnecessary items. Besides these two obvious points, I would make the third suggestion that you make sure that you take the time to have some fun. These days having fun often refers to having a night on the town, eating out, going to movies, traveling, etc., which means that having fun frequently requires disposable income (or at least appears to require it).

Owen is in grad school, I have two part time jobs, and money is tight. We don't mind it though. In order to get around the "I can't go to the movie theater as much as I used to" blues, we have found many fun free (or nearly free) options for entertainment. I get completely stir crazy if I have to stay inside of my apartment all day, so my biggest temptation for spending money revolves around what I do with myself when my primary purpose is leaving my apartment. Making the effort to enjoy ourselves outside of the apartment requires some creativity, but when we can find a free activity that we enjoy, it really reduces our stress levels.

We love going on walks. In warm weather, we walk around the park behind our apartment complex and in cold weather we walk around the mall. We don't really look at the merchandise, mostly we look at the architecture, colors, and people. That reminds me of another fun thing to do-- find a crowded area and just watch people. Or, walk around whatever free museums may be in your area. Here we have The Natural History Museum at the University of Iowa. It doesn't have very many interactive exhibits, but it has a gargantuan stuffed sloth, plastic people, and a room full of animal skeletons. I wouldn't call it up to date, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

Also, we love the public library. We'll go there to get out of the apartment and read or do homework. We don't have Netflix (largely because I'm afraid that if we did, I'd never do anything productive), and as movie rental places continue to decrease their selections, I find that the public library actually has an exciting array of movies to check out! I've had The Godfather on my list of movies to see forever, so finding it at the public library was exciting (and free).

Volunteering is also free. I find that when I'm volunteering, I stop thinking about myself and my tedious problems, and that feels good. Sometimes we just need to put life back into perspective to lower our financial stress levels.

Admittedly, two frivolous expense remain in our budget. First, Owen and I love coffee shops. It's not even about the coffee-- we just like sitting in them. If you go to coffee shops as frequently as we do, you save a lot of money by making a habit of ordering the cheapest item available--hot tea.

Secondly, Owen and I love wine. For our honeymoon, we went to Napa Valley and learned about the wine making process. In order to keep our wine budget reasonable, we've found what we believe to be the best of the cheapest bottles:
Sutter Home Moscato
Beringer White Zinfendel
Yellowtail Cabernet
You don't need an expensive wine to enjoy the flavor enhancing effect, just one that you like the taste of! Though, you should still probably avoid twist off caps.

Actually, all in all, we're having fun spending our young and poor years together. The lack of money forces us to be creative. We've had some delicious dinners with weird, end of the week, left over ingredient combinations. We're also learning that we don't need as much as we once thought we did. I'll let Alan Jackson end this one:
"It doesn't take much, when you get enough
Livin' on love."