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What was your life-changing moment?

In aging, behavior, Crime, culture, domestic life, education, family, life, love, travel on June 20, 2014 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

She was wandering the shoe department at Bloomingdale’s, the one at 59th and Third in Manhattan. On a hot, humid day, her pale arms were fully bare, shoulder to fingertips.

But something terrible had happened to her, and to them; they were covered with deep, wide scars, dozens of them up and down each arm. Had she flown through a windshield? Been pushed into a window?

Whatever had happened to her surely divided the moments before and the moments afterward into two very different lives.

We all have them.

Sometimes joyful — a scholarship, a career-making award, a fellowship, a new baby, a wedding.

 

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

Sometimes devastating — an awful medical diagnosis, the onset of a chronic illness, an accident and subsequent injury, a divorce, the death of a child or loved one, getting fired or long-term un(der)employment.

It might not be, and probably isn’t, just one moment, but the epiphany that results is often very powerful and, like a river suddenly silted after a landslide, can radically alter a previously set course.

For my husband, Jose, then a White House Press Corps photographer for The New York Times, it was the 1995 assignment — which he volunteered for — to cover the end of the Bosnian war, over Christmas, a job that would prove to be frightening, dangerous, bitterly cold and mean spending six weeks, often alone, in utterly foreign surroundings with very little to eat in rough living conditions.

The first few times I asked him to describe it, he teared up. This is a man of ferocious sangfroid, so a lot had happened there and it changed him forever; he came back and soon afterward became a devout student of Tibetan Buddhism.

Three moments stand out for me:

1) At 25, I won a fellowship to live in Paris for eight months in a group of 28 foreign journalists from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35, and travel alone and in the group, all across Europe, from Denmark to Italy to Istanbul. I was bored with my quiet, calm life in Toronto with all the boxes ticked: boyfriend, dog, friends, work, family. I craved a major kick in the ass, both personally and professionally. That it was!

But I was also terrified to leave, knowing that it would forever change me. I’m still friends with people in Ireland and England and the U.S. and France I met that year, and have since traveled widely for work using my language and reporting skills polished there.

It showed me that the world beyond my city and country is filled with smart, passionate, kind people. By doing hard work, alone, I learned how fully capable I really was.

2) At 41, I was lonely, broke, struggling mightily, and nursing the sounds of an abrupt and unwanted divorce and two break-ups since then. Into my life came a smart, caring, witty man who seemed to want to help me.

But then he didn’t — the day the phone rang and a credit card company informed me that he had opened my mail, stolen my new credit card, activated it from my home phone, forged my signature multiple times and run up all sorts of charges on it. When I called him to ask if he had done it, his three words — said many times in his career as a convicted con man: “It’s not provable.” Nor was it, despite evidence of six felonies. The police and district attorney scoffed at my request to act: to arrest, charge and prosecute him. They refused.

I learned to be much less trusting and know that “authorities” in charge of protecting us from crime may legally choose not to. It was my job, and my job alone, to be much smart(er) about my romantic choices and to stay safe.

Landing in Bilwi with Jen. The start of a great adventure!

Landing in Bilwi with Jen. The start of a great adventure!

3) The third came recently, after an intense eight-day reporting trip to rural Nicaragua for WaterAid, in the poorest part of the second-poorest nation in the Americas. There were many emotionally powerful moments, from Marly, 5, who let me braid her hair, to 69-year-old Ailita, who used her machete to carve a bamboo stem into a canoe seats for us. Jen and I spent a morning trailing two women in their world, one completely alien to ours, (no electricity, no running water, sixth-grade educations, no shared tongue) — walking through the rain forest, crossing the river in their dugout canoe, watching them gather cucumbers and beans and squash from the vine so that we could best describe their lives and their need for water. They were kind and welcoming to us, even though we had never met.

It reminded me again that potential connection, mediated by empathy, kindness and curiosity ignores many visible boundaries.

What was one of your moments?

How has it altered your course since then?

 

 

 

I loved summer camp; she hated it. How about you?

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, nature, parenting on June 18, 2014 at 12:23 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It's hard to appreciate nature if you never spend much time in it

It’s hard to appreciate nature if you never spend much time in it

Here’s a recent rant from The New York Times by a woman who hated her time at summer camp:

Here is the truth: I hated camp. I hated camp so much, and continue to hate it and to resent the fact that I hated it, that I’ve come to develop a grand, if wobbly, theory about it. The world divides into those people who despised camp and those people who loved it. What about those who never even went? They would probably fall into either camp if they had.

People who like camp, naturally (that’s a key word in this divide) are different from me in every way. Campers are outgoing; they are out-everything, really — outdoorsy, outward bound. They dart through bushes without worrying about ticks or slugs or sharp metal objects hidden in the undergrowth. They enjoy getting undressed in front of large groups of strangers. They know how to throw and catch Frisbees. They don’t mind bologna.

I loved it, and here’s some of my first blog post about why, from 2009:

You learn to pick your bunk, preferably the lower one so you can draw your knees up and kick the bum of the kid above you. You hope the kid above you does not wet the bed, snore or have an epileptic fit.

You learn to hoist a sail, build a fire, portage a canoe, gunwhale bob (and pronounce gunwhale, “gunnel”), twang a bow, pitch a tent, collect firewood from the highest branches (using a Melamine mug and long rope swung like a lasso.)

You get homesick, and get over it. You discover you’re really good at the J-stroke or singing Broadway show tunes in the summer musical. You learn how to cup your hands and imitate a loon call.

You learn how to spot a loon across a lake before he dives deep and disappears. You learn to find your place in a new community, amid the bed-wetters and thumb-suckers, the jocks and the artistes.

You realize, no matter how poorly you might fit into your class or your school or your neighborhood or town or your family, these people are genuinely happy to see you. The best counselors, and they are gifts indeed, want to see you thrive and grow. Your shoulders drop a little with relief.

Camp is definitely a North American thing, and usually for people whose families have healthy incomes.

For me, it was also the place I put myself back together again — emotionally and intellectually — after yet another year in boarding school being yelled at by old, fat Scottish housemothers and competing all the time for grades. There, I was often in trouble, being messy and scoring low marks for our room’s neatness, which then required that I memorize Bible verses (yes) in order to even be allowed off campus for the weekend.

I attended summer camp for all eight weeks ages eight to 16, and went to three of them, all in northern Ontario, each about three hours by bus from my home city of Toronto. Each camp was all-girl, and one of the things it taught me is that smart, athletic, kind girls rock.

The counselors who took us out on 10-day canoe trips through Algonquin Park, battling rain and black flies, were female. They kept us alive!

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua

I doubt I’d have been as comfortable in a Nicaraguan dugout canoe without it!

Competence was expected and excellence often the norm. Those are powerful lessons for any young girl.

If you come from a happy family, and/or have a safe, calm and lovely place to escape city smell, noise and humidity during the summer, camp isn’t probably very appealing.

But if you don’t, and also hunger for a place where all your talents can thrive — and the best camps do — it can be such a refuge.

It was for me. One reason I’m still so deeply comforted by nature is having spent so much time in it there: canoeing, hiking, sailing, swimming and living in a wooden cabin with the sound of the lake lapping on the rocks below. Sharing space with four or five or six girls I didn’t know was normal after boarding school.

And only in the safe harbor of camp was I able to fully become all the things I wanted to be: a singer, actress, sailor, friend, and even a leader of my peers. No school or classroom, anywhere, ever, allowed me such freedom, or gave me access to so many people who loved me, every year, for the quirky and creative kid I was, and would remain.

Camp gave me the confidence I might never have found elsewhere, and the guts to survive three years of high school bullying. I am grateful beyond measure for having had that experience.

Have you been to summer camp? Or your kids?

Love it or hate it?

Whose (nasty) voices live inside your head?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, women on June 13, 2014 at 12:40 am

By Caitlin Kelly

She was pretty, in an elegant black dress, nylons and shoes. Her hair was carefully highlighted, her gold jewelry tasteful. Likely in her late 50s or early 60s, she radiated elegance and confidence.

But, as she turned the corner the wrong way to head to the five-star hotel dining room, I heard her mutter: “Pathetic!”

To herself.

Who was living inside her head and why were they — still — so cruel?

I later saw an interaction with her husband, a soft-spoken and highly-educated retiree, as she made another meaningless and minor error anyone could make — and he immediately chastised her.

It was painful to watch, both his attitude and her reaction.

Don't stay trapped!

Don’t stay trapped!

Here’s a smart and helpful piece from Alternet via Salon:

Loser! You messed this up again! You should have known better!

Sound familiar?

It’s that know-it-all, bullying, mean-spirited committee in your head. Don’t you wish they would just shut up already?

We all have voices inside our heads commenting on our moment-to-moment experiences, the quality of our past decisions, mistakes we could have avoided, and what we should have done differently. For some people, these voices are really mean and make a bad situation infinitely worse. Rather than empathize with our suffering, they criticize, disparage and beat us down even more. The voices are often very salient, have a familiar ring to them and convey an emotional urgency that demands our attention. These voices are automatic, fear-based “rules for living” that act like inner bullies, keeping us stuck in the same old cycles and hampering our spontaneous enjoyment of life and our ability to live and love freely.

Some psychologists believe these are residues of childhood experiences—automatic patterns of neural firing stored in our brains that are dissociated from the memory of the events they are trying to protect us from. While having fear-based self-protective and self-disciplining rules probably made sense and helped us to survive when we were helpless kids at the mercy of our parents’ moods, whims and psychological conflicts, they may no longer be appropriate to our lives as adults.

One therapist I know calls them “old tapes” — possibly a meaningless phrase to anyone under the age of 30: “Tapes?” (As in: tape recordings on cassette or [gasp] reel-to-reel. Things we keep re-playing and listening to, even if they’re toxic.)

I felt so badly for this woman, whose external appearance and life of ease — retired, dividing her time between two homes in lovely areas of the country — initially might have intimidated me.

Because I know all too well what it’s like to have a nasty voice, or several, echoing in your head.

Some of us try to drown them out with alcohol or drugs or food or shopping, costly ways to self-soothe.

Some of us spend a lot of time and money in therapists’ offices, trying to make sense of why these voices still resonate so loudly, sometimes decades after we first heard them.

They can carry such power and pollute or destroy so many other relationships, whether with friends, lovers, our spouse, co-workers, a boss…

Is there an unwelcome and nasty voice inside your head?

What are you doing to silence or exorcise it?

 

And then, suddenly, it gets real…

In behavior, blogging, domestic life, family, life, love, women on June 11, 2014 at 3:48 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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It was a sad, sudden shock to read this from a fellow blogger recently:

It’s raining, and the sky is overcast.  I cried.

I woke up to an empty apartment.  The water leaking from the ceiling is hitting a tin bucket, sending out an echo.  I cried.

Today, I am not strong.  But I’m giving myself permission to feel it all.  And I’m not so sure that’s weak, either.

It turns out, losing what feels like home is much more difficult than I thought.  Buddy.  Georgia.  They were my home.

I respect him and what we had far too much to shell out details to a semi-faceless-web, but I feel that to move on, I have to say this “out loud”; Georgia and I have gone our separate ways.

The blog, Key and Arrow, written by a young schoolteacher in Austin, Texas, has been a source of pleasure for me for a while now. Every Monday, she posts “Seven Things”, a recap of seven pleasures from her past week, charming and inspiring, with lots of photos of meals, her man, her dog…

Now the man and dog are gone and I, too, feel a little bereft.

The Internet is odd that way, all this uninvited intimacy with strangers, people we will likely never meet in person, but whose children and pets and lives become a part of ours for a while, possibly for years.

FINGERS ON KEYBOARD

Some people disclose a stunning amount in their blogs, as I have occasionally as well, including infidelity, mental illness, family strife and addiction. The Internet sometimes feels like a safe place to park difficult and complicated feelings, hoping against hope that someone else out there will read you and say:

“You, too? I thought that was only me!”

Admitting publicly, especially to strangers, that your life is actually complicated and difficult takes guts. We’re not all perky and shiny all the time, and blogs that reveal little of the writer behind it quickly lose me. There’s plenty of that faux fabulousness on Facebook already.

But doing so also means trusting that others will read you with compassion and empathy  — not schadenfreude and voyeurism. (It happens.)

It takes trust.

I like that it demands trust, as when intimacy is met with kindness, friendship blossoms.

In the past few years, I’ve become friends with several readers of Broadside and plan to finally meet and visit with two of them, both living in England, this winter; both moved from reader to new friend after I posted this very dark and personal piece about my mother.

I find these web-created friendships sustaining, as sometimes people thousands of miles away better comprehend us than our own families, colleagues or neighbors.

Do you feel close to anyone whose blog you read?

Or to your blog followers?

 

 

The quest for belonging

In aging, antiques, behavior, domestic life, family, life, urban life on June 9, 2014 at 3:13 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Is there one more existential?

Maybe not, for some people, who are born, live and die within the same four walls or zip code or area code, state, province or country.

Others, like me, feel both at home in many places yet not really rooted in any of them.

I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved at two to London, England; back at five to Toronto; then on to Mexico, Montreal, Paris, New Hampshire and then New York.

american-flag-2a

I’m writing this on a park bench in a small town in Ontario, visiting my father for a few days to celebrate my birthday and his 85th next week. He bought a lovely 1860s home a few years ago here and has fixed it up nicely — the garden now has fruit trees and a pond with koi.

To me, it’s heaven, a place I’d be thrilled to own.

But he wants to sell it and move. To where? Anyone’s guess.

Happiest in motion...

Happiest in motion…

Itchy feet are normal in our family.

My mother has lived in New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Mexico, England, Toronto, Montreal, Peru, British Columbia; my father in Vancouver, Toronto, Ireland, London and for several years on his boat in Europe.

So I have nowhere to call “home” in the sense of some long-cherished family homestead, nor any expectation of inheriting one.

And longtime Broadside readers know that my husband and I are not close to our families physically or emotionally. Working freelance means those relationships are tenuous and often temporary.

I like living in suburban New York and am always glad to return there, but some of my deepest friendships  remain in Toronto, a place where real estate is breathtakingly and punitively expensive, as out of reach for me financially, even after decades of hard work and saving, as Santa Fe, New Mexico is for Jose, my husband, who grew up there and would love to return. My husband’s late father was the minister for a church there — long since torn down and replaced by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Only a small courtyard and an apricot tree now mark his childhood home.

I joined a local church in 1998 but have not been there much recently, too often feeling out of step with a wealthy and conservative congregation focused on child-raising.

Oddly (or not), these days I most often feel I belong at my local YMCA, as I am there so often for my dance classes and to use the gym. There, I always see people I know and like.

I spent a few minutes in the library here, asking if they have my latest book. They don’t, but the librarian said “I read you!” Which was pleasant.

Then I went to the local convenience store and was thrilled to find my first-ever story in the July 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan.

photo(51)

Sometimes I feel my work, friends and husband are my real home, the place(s) where I belong and always feel valued — not within family or a job or faith community or specific geographical setting.

Where do you belong?

 

How to be the guest they want to invite again…

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, travel on May 23, 2014 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s the season of invitations — to a summer share, a beach house, a cottage. Maybe you’re finally meeting the parents.

While it’s lovely to be invited into someone’s home, it’s also a potential minefield of hurt feelings and unexpressed emotion. We’ve stayed with friends many times, most of whom live in fairly tight quarters, so being considerate and tidy really make a difference.

“You’re so low maintenance!” said one grateful hostess. We try!

A few ways to leave a good-to-great impression on your hosts:

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When they ask about your dietary preferences, remember  — it’s not a full-service restaurant

Some people have genuine allergies that are life-threatening and others simply have a realllllly long list of their very strong preferences. If you absolutely must have a specific food or drink, bring it with you. It’s rude to impose your individual will on a larger group of people gathered for a good time; I recently stayed with friends who served steak for dinner, but invited a vegetarian friend, who happily joined us and ate only vegetables.

Be a good sport. It’s their home!

Our most recent hosts insisted we wear slippers (or bare feet) to keep the floors clean. No biggie, as they had a huge basket of nice clean slippers by the door. Everyone has their quirks and habits.

Sex? Keep it fully private and really quiet

No, I’m not a prude. Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.

If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and you

Just because you adore them and find their 300-decibel shrieking/barking normal/charming doesn’t mean it is. People who have chosen to “get away” are hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off.

Bring a gift

Never arrive empty-handed. A great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic your hosts enjoy. Something!

BETTER BLOGGING

Detach from, or put away, your electronics

While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach. Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!

Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week

Sure, you can email and people probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed. No one writes thank-you notes anymore? Polite people who want to be invited back do.

Help out wherever you can

Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. They’ll probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.

Avoid all public grooming

I once stayed with a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife  — while both of them flossed their teeth. To me, a more private person, it was just gross. You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door. No one wants to see or hear the evidence of your later stunning public appearance.

Bring your own beauty, health and grooming supplies

If the place you’re visiting is miles from the nearest store, and you must have some essential item, be sure to buy it and bring it with you. No one wants to ruin their host’s plans with last-minute dashes for basics. Yes, they might have it, but (tampons, diapers, Neosporin, etc.) they might not.

Tidy up!

No matter how welcome and relaxed you feel, pick up after yourself — coffee cups, dishes, newspapers, towels….

Bring a small flashlight

Perfect for midnight runs to the kitchen or toilet or while navigating unfamiliar stairs or paths.

Avoid arguments

Seems obvious. Some couples bicker as easily and normally as they breathe which can make less contentious people uncomfortable. Nor is a shared dinner table the best place to argue your views on gun control or other sensitive matters. Relaxation is the order of business, not sharing your deeply felt and hotly argued views on economic policy.

Do you enjoy being a guest?

What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?

Bossy?! Is that an insult?

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting, women on March 12, 2014 at 3:19 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Did you see this recent piece in The Wall Street Journal?

Most dictionary entries for “bossy” provide a sentence showing its proper use, and nearly all focus on women. Examples range from the Oxford Dictionaries’ “bossy, meddling woman” to Urban Dictionary’s “She is bossy, and probably has a pair down there to produce all the testosterone.” Ngram shows that in 2008 (the most recent year available), the word appeared in books four times more often to refer to females than to males.

Behind the negative connotations lie deep-rooted stereotypes about gender. Boys are expected to be assertive, confident and opinionated, while girls should be kind, nurturing and compassionate. When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.

How are we supposed to level the playing field for girls and women if we discourage the very traits that get them there?

Much as I have very mixed feelings allowing corporate cheerleader Sheryl Sandberg to be the mouthpiece for women — hello, anyone else out there?! — I like this leadership and her new website, banbossy.com. 

Her goal, and one I admire, is to encourage young girls, and those who raise and teach them, to speak up and speak out, to claim and re-claim their voices, both literal and political.

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Here’s another take on this, from the consistently brilliant blogger Stacia Brown.

Did you see this wonderful collection of black and white images of five-year-old Emma, mimicking powerful, legendary women of the past? Amazing!

I think every young girl, especially, needs to know that her voice, ideas and opinions have value. Becoming a leader means stepping up, taking risks, speaking out and being brave.

Yes, she may end up bullied or called names or shouted at or booed for her daring. For being….herself.

Sticks and stones, kids.

One of my favorite beaux called me — affectionately but accurately — bossyboots.

Loved it.

Have you been called bossy?

Did you take it as a mark of pride?

Are you saving enough?

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, parenting, US on March 10, 2014 at 2:21 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal asserts that Americans spend way too much money:

You may overspend because you’re bored, you have no budget or you want to keep up with your neighbors.

Or you might be letting your emotions dictate your financial decisions.

Whatever the reason, you may be setting yourself up for a financial disaster.

But fear not: There are a few ways you can rein in your spending before it’s too late.

Tracking your cash flow and tapping into your feelings are two things financial advisers say you can do to curb your urge to spend.

“The spending choices you make now will greatly impact your quality of life later on,” says Patrick McDowell, a Miramar Beach, Fla., financial adviser.

Here’s an honest post by a new Broadside follower (welcome!), a college student, making minimum wage and struggling financially with college costs:

Although it can be annoying, I understand this is making me a better person.  It’s not just about the money all the time, it’s about a learning experience.

And here’s a dense and dry blog post, recently chosen for Freshly Pressed, about behavioral economics — written by a professor:

Certainly the evidence that people don’t typically behave rationally is quite compelling.  It’s easy to find examples of behavior which conflicts with economic theory.  The problem is that it’s not clear that these examples help us much. I’m pretty much obsessed by when, why, how and where we choose to spend our money. Or save it.

Given how little money most Americans save — here’s a blog post from The Economist about that — it’s a tough decision to postpone immediate pleasures (let alone the daily grind of needs), for groceries, housing and medical care in the future, possibly decades away. What if we never get there?

But what if we do live to be 80, 90 or beyond — and find ourselves broke and scared?

Here’s a frightening post from one of my favorite writers, Guardian journo Heidi Moore, about how older women — because we earn less and live longer — end up in poverty:

17.8 million women lived in poverty in 2012, 44% of whom lived in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty means “income at or below 50% of the federal poverty level”, which amounts to less than $5,500 a year…

What is surprising is that the slide into deep poverty is happening so soon, and in such massive numbers, among the elderly. It’s not clear what could have changed between 2011 and 2012 to cause it.

My mother went into a nursing home three years ago, paying — for a small room — $5,000 a month. Yes, really. That certainly made clear to me the very real cost of getting old, ill and needing costly care every single day. She saved, lifelong and ferociously, so she has the funds for it.

Most of us will not.

Our parents and grand-parents, and a few fortunate folk in specific industries, could look forward to a company pension; Jose will receive one from The New York Times, thank heaven. A few lucky people also get a company match to their 401(k) retirement savings from their employers.

But most of us are now expected and required to save and save and save and save, praying our investments retain and grow in value. I’ve been saving 15 percent of my income every year for a while; it’s finally adding up to a sum that makes me feel like the sacrifice is worth it.

It’s also simplistic to shame people who “spend too much” when millions have lost their jobs, often repeatedly, and have run through whatever savings they might once have had. Millions are also now earning far less than they once expected or hoped to.

Wages are stagnant or falling while the cost of living rises each year — and we’re still human beings who actually want to leave our homes and have some fun!

I splurge on four categories: 1) items or improvements for our home; 2) travel; 3) entertaining friends; 4) fresh flowers.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

How about you?

What do you splurge  on — and where do you keep your wallet closed?

Do we expect too much of marriage?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, men, women on February 18, 2014 at 12:41 am

By Caitlin Kelly

From The Economist:

Eli Finkel at Northwestern University in Chicago.. told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week that most married Americans expect their spouses to develop profound insights into the essential qualities of their other half, fulfilling their needs for esteem and self-actualisation. A spouse, these days, can be expected to be a confidant, lover, co-parent, breadwinner, activity partner and therapist. This, he concludes, makes being happily married harder than it was in the past.

I was struck, and touched, by how many of you “liked” my recent post about my 14 years (so far) of marriage with Jose.

ringsOur rings and wedding certificate

One commenter noted that I believe in work, that a happy marriage doesn’t just happen spontaneously. Maybe it does for some people.

In our case, our marriage is hard-won. We were both married before, very unhappily. We came to our relationship, as many of us do later in life, scarred, wary and battle-hardened, by life, by work, by disappointing relationships along the way.

It wasn’t a great start and we’ve benefited from several smart, insightful counselors along the way.

So, what do you think of this list? It does strike me as exhaustive, and possibly exhausting to fulfill.

— confidant, lover, co-parent, breadwinner, activity partner and therapist.

I don’t expect him to parent children (we have none). I do expect him to earn a living, but he is not the only breadwinner; we rely on my income as well. I don’t really look to him as an activity partner, much as I’d like to. I love going to movies. He hates it. I love theater and dance and museums. He’ll join me occasionally but he’s happier reading or relaxing at home after another hectic workweek. We’ve helped each other confront some of our issues, but I also have a therapist and her role is clear.

I’ve also learned the hard way that it takes two people to make a marriage.

Duh!

Actually, not really. You can hit every traditional milestone: a fancy wedding and sexy honeymoon and a big house and tons of kids — and still have a crappy, lonely, cringe-making life, wondering why on earth you took vows with this creep.

If both people aren’t in the same set of traces, pulling hard in the same general direction most days, I think your marriage is less likely to last.

I don’t actually feel like an oxen tilling the fields. But we all need backup!

Knowing that each of us is as fully committed to life’s dreary scutwork — laundry, groceries, scrubbing the toilet, getting the damn car inspected, collecting all our tax paperwork — as we are to one another’s deeper happiness helps a lot. Jose is not, thank God, lazy or messy or disorganized. (OK, I can be the last two, rarely the first.) He puts gas in the car. I wash the floors.

Sexy? Maybe not for some people. Someone taking responsibility is deeply attractive to me.

Shared values matter enormously.

One of the many self-help books I read while dating, (yes, I admit it!), offered what I thought was an interesting way to decide if someone new might prove to be a good fit romantically: PEPSI — whether we had a decent match in the following categories: Professional, Emotional, Physical, Spiritual and Intellectual.

From our first date, I knew we matched well on four of the five.

Offering your sweetie your absolutely undivided attention, preferably for an hour a day, (yes, it’s not easy; that’s the point!), is also huge. In an era of CPA — continuous partial attention — this is one of the greatest gifts we can still, and must, give one another.

But I think the single most important element of a marriage you want to last for decades is, paradoxically, remembering that your partner or spouse is a separate human being.

We each carry our own fears, hopes, dreams, goals and unresolved wounds. We each arrive at the altar — whether we marry at 20, 40 or 60 (possibly all three!) — as someone with a past. We all bring ghosts, angels and demons, some of which we have yet to even notice, acknowledge, tame or banish.

(Which is where good therapy can also strengthen your marriage, whether you go alone or together.)

I keep a photo of Jose, as a small baby in his onesie, his mother beaming beside him, nearby in a lovely frame. I treasure everything about this image: her joy, his delight, her optimism, their love.

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Gregorita is so thoroughly delighted with him, even though he’s a surprise baby and she’s 50 and her husband is not in good health and they have little money.

She cherished him, but she died decades ago.

Now it’s my turn.

Here’s a post from Psychology Today, by a man happily married for 43 years, with his five tips for a satisfying marriage.

What do you expect from your husband, wife or partner?

Is it too much — or not enough?

The milestone-free life

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on February 16, 2014 at 1:26 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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“There’s a thin line between pleasing yourself and pleasing somebody else”– Indigo Girls

Here’s a great post from blogger Infinite Satori. Her thoughts on milestones — and ignoring them:

Get married in your mid 20s, buy a house in your late 20s, have a baby in your late 20s and early 30s, and the timeline moves along. That’s what they say right? The reality is you don’t have to get married, you don’t even have to have a baby if you truly don’t want to. Before I explain this any further, please know that I am not against any of these. Because I would love to have at least one child one day and if I, one day, decide that marriage is for me it would be because I found the right one who I connect with in all levels. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. And more importantly, that it feels right to me. To my heart. To my soul. My point is, it’s very important to listen to what you inner voice is telling you. And if it’s telling you that kids aren’t for you, that marriage isn’t for you, listen to it.

You are probably meant for a different path in life, one that stays true to your purpose here on this planet. Don’t get married because your parents want you to, or because you’re in a long-term relationship and you might as well tie the knot, or have a baby because you’re a woman and that’s what you’re suppose to do, or because you’ve hit that “milestone” and you feel like you need to, or because you need a man to make you happy, or because your peers are all getting married and you don’t want to be left out. You don’t have to hit these societal milestones and timelines and you sure don’t have to plan your life around it most especially if you don’t want to. Create your own life.

Hell, yeah!

Most the women my age are now grandmothers or great-grandmothers, owners of multiple homes, thrilled with their expanding, multi-generational families’ achievements, running a business or enjoying a big fat corporate salary and title. Or they never had to work, having “married well.”

Few of these women, as I have and continue to do, stare into the sky at passing airplanes and still wish I was on one — heading to…who knows where? Somewhere new, somewhere to be tested, to not speak the language, somewhere I need to carry and read a map.

I feel completely out of step with them.

My life never really followed a tidy, laid-out trajectory. I attended university, and graduated, (after much prodding. I love learning, but didn’t enjoy a huge school, University of Toronto, where undergrads just didn’t matter much.) I never wanted an advanced degree so that was the end of that — until I studied interior design in my mid-30s. But after my marriage blew up, I didn’t finish my certificate.

I’ve always pitied people who feel the wrath or contempt from their peers or family for not doing what everyone expects them to — instead of creating and following their own path.

My parents never pressured me to marry, (young or at any age), or have kids or “settle down” or buy property or “grow up.” Thank God.

They wanted me, still, to enjoy life and travel and do the very best work I’m capable of. To be useful and kind to others. My maternal grandmother was married a bunch of times and my father has four kids with four different women, so “normal” doesn’t fit our family too well.

I freelanced as a journalist right out of college, (instead of desperately seeking a full-time job; luckily I had no student debt and Canada’s healthcare system covers everyone, job or no job.) I won a fellowship to Europe for eight months when I was 25, and only took my first staff job after that, at 26. I left after 2.5 years and went to a Montreal newspaper, stayed 1.5 years and followed my first husband to New Hampshire.

I married him late, when I was 35 — and was (sadly but somewhat relievedly) divorced two years later. I was single for six years, then met the man I’ve been with ever since.

Neither of us had children nor a desire to have any.

But when you don’t have children, nor even nieces or nephews, (none that we are close to, now adults anyway), life becomes weirdly shapeless. Nor have we attended others peoples’ kids’ birthdays, christenings, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and baby showers. I would have loved to, but we were rarely included.

(We have, sadly, attended wakes and funerals for the parents and partners of friends, honored and proud to do so.)

This makes our lives a milestone-free cycle — work, sleep, play, repeat.

Bizarre, really, when you scan the greeting card section of the drugstore and see the endless iterations of affection and progress most people officially celebrate all through their lives.

Not having children also really forces you to consider and examine — pardon the grandiosity of the word — your legacy.

You haven’t passed along your genes, or your sofa, to anyone.

No one will cherish our carefully-curated stuff 30 or 50 years from now, at least no one related to us.

We’re still stymied making out our wills, deciding who (who?) to leave our eventual estates and assets to: church, charities, friends, almas mater…

Do you feel compelled to hit specific milestones?

What if you don’t?

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