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.