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.