love and relationships


I am not a poetry fan. Of all the visually digestible words there are, poetry ranks least in my favor and so, it is the rare poem that moves me from cool glance to lukewarm* interest. But this poem is an exception to my disinterest:

And okay, I will admit that a man with an accent from just about anywhere in the UK has me at “hello” in terms of my attention at any rate, but this poem speaks to my young self. The girl who whiled away whole weekends with her nose in a book. Any book. Who made projects out of hunting down everything written on every person, time period or historical event that caught her fancy and held it for more than the time required to breathe in and out.

And it speaks to the “girl” I am now, who can still be swept away by a fictional vista that only the author really can see for sure.

It’s not often that a work of fiction moves me to invest anymore. I am over reading the classics for literature’s sake. Literary narrative reminds me too much of university and I refuse to bow down to the notion that Jonathan Franzen isn’t long-winded, rather pretentious and not particularly original.

I like print wherever it’s printed. I’ll take my words carved neat with sharp points or wildly pontificating or with heart dotted i’s and j’s. As long as they sing arias that intrigue, inspire or infuriate me to thoughts I wouldn’t have otherwise had – I am good.

Women in my youth, but today as well, are not loved for our words – the ones we read or the ones we write. Still it’s mostly about our shapes. The size. The firmness. And the age. So a man who comes to appreciate the package because of what’s inside and not the other way around is a rare find, worthy of note and further study.

To all you girls who read then, take heart. There are indeed those who find the trait attractive, and rightly so.

*I prefer my world lukewarm for the most part to perhaps a shade about room temperature. Even tea is better “just right” unless I am nursing an asthma ravaged set of lungs or a sore throat, but even that has temperature limits.


A yoga class.

Image via Wikipedia

I teach yoga two evenings a week at the local community center. Class size varies from one session to the next but there is a small core who sign up every time. One of them is an older lady who lives down the street and for 76, having never done any yoga prior to starting classes with me a year ago, she is incredible spry and limber. It’s amazing to see her progress and to know how much she enjoys and values the instruction. Introducing people to yoga and watching them find themselves in the practice is even more joyful than teaching grammar was back in my public school teacher days of yore.

During the winter months, Rob usually walks me over to the hall where classes are held. It’s not even a two-minute jaunt. Just out the back door, down the drive, up the alley and across the street. But it’s dark, icy and made more precarious by the bags I schlep with me. He carries my equipment and I point the flashlight, and the process repeats in reverse an hour later when class in complete.

Last night, Rob ran into our sweet elderly neighbor as he was hustling up the alley to walk me home from class. Greetings were exchanged, but Rob stopped to chat because she had halted in her tracks and he had a feeling she wanted to tell him something.

“Your wife is so lucky,” she said.

He didn’t reply and she continued,

“You carry her things and walk her to class and then come back to help her get home. That’s just so nice.”

“Just doing my part,” he replied.

He told me the story later and I concurred,

“I am lucky and I know it,” I said. “I read so much about men who have no idea that it’s the little things day in and out that matter the most, and here I have you. I never have to ask you to pay attention, help out, or for much of anything really. You just do.”

Kind of reminds me of the lyrics to a song I shared not long ago,

There’s no way to describe what you do to me
You just do to me, what you do

Except it’s more than what’s done to me but what is done for me.

He would argue, correctly, that this is a mutual thing, which is as it should be.

But, I am very lucky. I don’t take that lightly or for granted.


A local radio station has a Facebook page where they post a daily topic and invite listeners to post their two cents. Today’s topic was a tired old retreading of the false divorce stats that conservatives and ultra religious types love to trot out to support their somewhat punitive ideas about relationships and marriage.

The gist of their query was soliciting relationship advice from the listeners.

What Do You Do To Keep Your Marriage From Ending Up a Divorce Statistic?

From the predictable to the not funny came the replies, but the red herring stats fired me up enough to go and google up something resembling actual numbers and here is what I found:

  • The percentage of marriages in a given year that will end in divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary has increased slightly from 36.1 per cent in 1998 to 37.9 per cent in 2004. [3]

 

  • In 2003, the risk of divorce decreased slowly the longer a couple stayed married beyond three years. [4]

 

  • The divorce rate for first marriages is likely lower; “first marriages have a 67% chance of lasting a lifetime.” [5]

 

So while Canadians marry at fairly low rates per capita (with Alberta’s number being the highest, which is a reflection of the economy here more than anything), getting hitched is not a death knell for a relationship. In fact, statistically, you have a greater chance of splitting up if you just live together than you do if you marry the object of your affection.

Rob and I have been discussing the “living together” versus “marriage” thing recently. Apparently one of his sisters-in-law suggested to him – a month before we married – that he and I simply try living together first to “make sure it will work out”.

The worst advice you can offer a young couple is “live together for a while” because “trial marriages” actually have the worst statistical survival rates. The only non-legal arrangements that fare worse are those of couples who move in together to “save money” on rent or other bills. The only really good reason to live with someone before marrying them is love. Going into a co-habitation without love, and a commitment to a future together, is just asking for the privilege to someday argue furiously over who gets the cat or the flat screen tv.

But marriage advice. I don’t know that I’ve spent enough of my adult life married to qualify as an expert but here goes:

Shower together.

Yes, that’s it. Shower. Together. Every night if at all possible.

Okay, sure, open communication. Putting the other’s needs at the top of your to do list daily. Common interests, value systems and goals. And being able to have discussions on a wider range than simply the grocery list and the children. All important. As is, according to new studies, just being consistently kind to each other.

Showering together? Key.

Why?

Good question because I certainly didn’t shower with the late husband. But with Rob, we discovered very early that the most surefire way to touch base, in a manner of speaking, every day without fail was to take our nightly shower together. You can’t avoid conversation, eye contact and a certainly amount of physicality in a shower – just ask anyone in prison, if you don’t believe me.

With a small child, the shower became the logical “get away” when we were on holiday and cramped together in a single hotel room, and it has always been a good way to reconnect at the end of long days when other contact was limited.

I’d like to add that it’s a good way to conserve water and soap, but that just hasn’t been a side benefit.

 

 


Pike's Peak in Colorado, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

While on holiday, we off-roaded, following the forestry roads high up the peaks into logging country. Tourist types typically keep to the highways and attractions requiring little physical effort. You run into, across or past them on the well-worn trails of 3 km or less and at the venues close to the main roads. You will not find them up a mountain. Especially this time of year with the Canadian summer only officially beginning.

Our first off-road experience took us to Fenwick Falls, a sweet little waterfall up past Canal Flats. Gravel roads and not another person for over four hours as Rob rambled us up and up the mountain in search of Fenwick Lake, a mountain lake that feeds the creek and falls of the same name.

At times, riding shot-gun, I could literally look out my window at the thin air followed by a sheer drop to the river valley below. I have learned though not to do this too much because it’s quite terrifying.

The first time I ever rode  up a mountain, seemingly on the clouds, was back in 1999 on my honeymoon in Colorado. Will decided we should follow the rest of the lemmings to the top of Pike’s Peak. There is a monorail, but he had an issue with heights and refused. He had to be in control to contain his pesky (and in his opinion not at all manly) vertical aversion.

So up the mountain we went and nearing the top, the road is bald, narrow and framed with air. The first time I glanced out the window, I was keenly aware that inches separated our truck from taking flight. And I burst into tears.

I cried the last miles and Will, who couldn’t turn back and couldn’t take his hand off the wheel to take mine because the traffic was too heavy, tried to console me with reassurances about his superior driving skills. Not once did he chide me or try to talk me out of being afraid. He just allowed me to be a girl about the whole thing and when we got to the top, he walked us around until I felt brave enough to ride back down.

Riding down is also hugging the mountain, which isn’t nearly as bad.

I tell the story only because Edie and Silver were also on holiday in the Columbia River Valley this past week and the campground they stayed in could only be accessed through mountain roads. Edie, at shotgun, discovered what I did long ago – shotgun riding up a mountain really sucks.

“She looks down and bursts into tears every time,” Silver confided to Rob when we stopped for a picnic during another off-road adventure later in the week.

When Rob told me, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. The women of men who drive trucks up mountains eventually cultivate some measure of zen though I can’t personally say I enjoy heights or living a bit dangerously, as Rob thinks everyone should.

It’s funny because I can ride up a mountain now and only just phantom brake, but I hate climbing or standing close to edges. Twelve years ago I couldn’t ride but stood on the edge overlooking steep canyons while Will watched nervously from a distance. Change is reversal? Or just change?

We hiked the Hoodoos and due to the erosion, some of the trail is narrow and slippery with sand. I was all for going around but Rob coaxed Dee and I out. I was vocal about my fear. Some of it is actually bad knees. Climbing – down especially – hurts and I am keenly aware that it wouldn’t take much to strain or pop something. But worry about Dee is also a factor.

When we discussed Edie’s tear bursts, I reminded him that just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I am not frightened. I simply tell him when I am scared and/or uncomfortable. Voicing terror works wonders. It’s an age thing and it’s also grounded in the fact that I don’t feel a need to “man up” for Rob. He is well aware of my weenie side and apparently is fine with it.

Interestingly Edie also has the same trepidation about driving trucks that I had back in the long ago days. Will had a Silverado and I avoided driving it like she declines to drive Silver’s truck.

I didn’t counsel her about the shot-gun position. I could tell she felt a bit foolish. Indeed, it is not something I expected because she is so like my sister DNOS, fearless and strong. But she will be fine. Eventually, she will concentrate on the horizon or on Silver or – perhaps one day – wee people in the backseat and the sheer drop to her side won’t hold much power because it won’t have her undivided attention. Change. Happens to all of us.


Houseplants and Clean Air

Image by Chiot’s Run via Flickr

That’s the title of a post I would write for The Elephant Journal if they didn’t happen to prefer overwrought clichè navel-gazing posts on the evil of marriage or the enlightenment to be found through singularity.

As it is 2011 and we are decades past the women’s liberation movement, one would think that the knee-jerk “men pigs and marriage bad” rhetoric would be considered – if not actually archaic – then at least too tritely tired to form the basis of any arguments where being single by choice was concerned.

But they are not.

Though Rob possesses a similarly low opinion of his gender for the most part, I don’t think that men in general deserve the slagging they get at the hands of women who left unhappy relationships and have “found themselves” as single women.

My personal opinion is that women who see themselves as better off single ought not to have married in the first place due either to inherent personality traits that make co-habitation emotionally tiring or a rather microscopic view of reality that only allows room enough for them and their needs. It would be refreshing to read someone admit that relationships just don’t suit their temperaments or the need to be concerned solely with one’s self because there is nothing wrong with that.

But the articles I’ve run across from women who are militantly single, or single after a string of relationships or a long marriage, inevitably focus on the details to the exclusion of honest explanation.

These women drone on about the maintenance of life – holding a job, running a household and even raising children – as though no female in the history of humanity, anywhere on the planet, hasn’t mastered a single one – ever.

They go on – and on – about “independence” to such a degree that I wonder if perhaps they don’t know what the word really means.

Anyone with an IQ that exceeds a houseplant can live on her own. Financially supporting yourself, taking care of the myriad of daily living details, long-term planning and even parenting aren’t independence milestones. Being a grown up isn’t something they hand out gold stars for doing.

The most recent “look at me! Am I not wonderful because I am single” post at The Elephant Journal was written by a woman two years out of her 25 year marriage. Judging from the photo, she married young, so I suppose her surprise that she can take care of most matters in her life without a husband isn’t too surprising. Though it is disheartening to think that someone in my peer group is so mid-1950’s in a Ronald Reagan kind of way.

She writes that all she needs a man for is a “good fuck and to have someone to pick me up from the airport”, though she admits that sex and a ride home are not beyond her abilities to self-manage either.

But is this a stereotype that women should be crowing about in the 21st century? That “yes, we can!” take care of ourselves?

I left home at 18 and spent the next nearly 16 years taking care of myself. Put myself through university, worked, managed the daily tasks and the crises – big and small – all by my lonesome little self without applause or cookies and milk for my efforts. It was no big deal.

And what’s more, most of the women I knew did the same thing. A fair number of my friends were single well into their 30’s and some are still single now that we are in our 40’s. Though boyfriends came and went, these men were add-ons to our lives not necessities to off-load responsibility on or fix us and our problems.

Being single is not really hard, but like anything else, it can be a monotonous grind over time despite the “freedom” of not having to concern yourself with anyone but you.

I think the point people miss in the war between marriage and single is that they are choices and that neither is utopia. People who whine about either state would be better off looking inward to figure out what is wrong than to lay blame externally.

Single was okay. It could be very lonely at times and not having someone around who had your back regardless made it lonelier. I continue to not understand people’s preference for single over married just as I don’t understand people who equate marriage with bondage.

Barring deal-breakers, if your marriage isn’t working then one or both of you isn’t doing something you should and probably that thing is communicating and coming to consensus on what needs to be done. Marriage “haters” labor under the delusion that relationships are not work or that they are driven solely by attraction and soul-matey connection nonsense that should have been discarded for reality when we graduated from Sweet Valley High.

Women will spend any amount of time nurturing their relationships with sisters, mothers, friends, co-workers and children, but barely a second thought for their husbands. Romance to too many is about “what’s in it for me”  and not about “how can I show this amazing person who shares my life how important he is to me and how special he is”.

I don’t really have many close female friends and perhaps my impatience with articles like these are the reason why. I am too practical and male in my approach to relationships. But, being single is not an accomplishment because taking care of yourself is – or should be – a given, so quit giving yourself “high five’s” already. You didn’t do anything that millions of us haven’t already done or continue to do.


Couples at square dance, McIntosh County, Okla...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Not many evenings ago as Rob and I sat at our desks in the home office because we still don’t have a living room and the new incredibly comfy sofa is sandwiched behind the dining room table in the space soon to be known as the kitchen, I waxed wistfully about the not so far off day when the fireplace will be operational and he and I can curl around each other in front of it.

“Like the teenager I never was, ” I said.

“We’ll need mood music,” he replied.

“70’s and make out-ish,” I concurred.

April Wine it is.”

Truthfully, I only knew the most syrupy bland ballad of their career before I met Rob. A Canadian band, most of April Wine never made it onto the American Top Forty rotation, which is a shame. And even more truthfully, the first romantic interlude Rob and I shared was soundtracked by Tool, but the former is a better V-day pick.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day, whether you celebrate or scorn it, anything that promotes love has an edge on just about everything else in the world.


The High School Sweethearts

From time to time  the oldest daughter would shyly announce that she’d “met a boy”.  Sometimes that’d be it. But occasionally a date or two-ish followed only for said “boy” to be quickly banished for his clinging ways or over-enthusiastic interest in her.

One thing about both of my step-daughters that struck me early is that neither one has a clear picture of themselves in relationship to how others see them.  Attention and enthusiasm seem to puzzle them.

That young men notice them is no surprise to me.  Each in her own way is a bright light that naturally draws the eye and incites interest.

The “boy” in question turned out to be the older brother of a friend.  I can’t recall if they’d met previously, but they collided with some force at a party, which found them sitting on the roof, deep in conversation for five hours.

“He thinks I’m funny,” she chirped bemusedly.

He probably thinks you are quite beautiful too, I thought but knew better than to say aloud.

“Anyway,” she continued, “we have a date.”

And we didn’t hear about “the boy” again for some weeks.

Edie will be 28 on Thanksgiving (the Canadian one) this year. Her age and singleness have been a growing concern – to her. Rob was unconcerned. His ambivalence about the girls and “boys” is amusing and reminds me a lot of my own father, who had little visible interest in his children’s marital status*.

I tried to be encouraging without being nosy. I am not her mother. Although we have a good relationship, it is not a deep one. She has her confidants, and I am unlikely to be added to the list. That’s okay. I don’t have expectations of being a mother-like figure for her. I came into her life late, and we simply haven’t had, and most probably won’t have, opportunities to bond in that way.

But I wasn’t surprised that a “boy” would find her funny, want to take her out or discover a way to pursue her without sending her in search of her hidey-hole in the hills. That clever “boy” was bound to show up some day.

On Father’s Day, Edie brought him up again. She’d just gotten back from a long weekend in the States, and he surprised her with wine and flowers.

“He missed me,” she blushed a bit.

At the end of a Sunday supper visit later in the summer, I inquired about whether she would be bringing the “boy”, who now had a name which peppered her conversation, to visit.

“It’s too soon for that,” she said.

And I let it go, but I told Rob I expected we’d meet this “boy” by Thanksgiving.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” he replied.

Christmas at the latest perhaps, but I am guessing sooner rather than later,” I said.

She brought him around for Rob’s birthday at the end of August. A bit sooner than I thought, and the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost, even on her father.

We knew a lot about him by then.

Edie had breathlessly updated Rob as he lay in the hospital the night of his heart attack. Worried perhaps that she wouldn’t have another chance?

At one point during her gushing, Mick leaned over to me and said, “I wish she’d just marry him and shut up about it.”

Silver is a paragon though this is no surprise as like as he is to Rob.

He is handy. Renovating his first house and flipping it for his current fixer-upper. He’s outdoorsy. Good with the romantic gestures and sweeping a girl off her feet moves in a way that cast me back to my early days knowing Rob.

The clincher, I think, was an extended weekend camping trip he planned for the two of them.

“He’s doing everything,” she said. “And I don’t even have to drive!”

So familiar. The keepers must all get the same playbook handed to them before they embark on a new existence.

His first Sunday dinner with us was enlightening as it was vindicating. He was, however, not what any of us had envisioned.

Rob feigned indifference to the potentially momentous occasion.

“I’ve met boyfriends before,” he said.

“But have they had good jobs, their own transportation and owned property?” I asked.

“Good point,” he said.

And upon first glance, he was handsome with pants that sat at his waist and a ball-cap that just about hid his Dermot Mulroney eyes.

During their first conversation, Silver explained to Rob that he liked to do all the renovation work himself because he was “too cheap to pay someone”, and I had to turn around and find something to do in the dining room to keep from laughing out loud where I found Mick snickering knowingly.

When I commented on that revelation later, Rob simply said,

“Don’t go there.”

Barely a week later, a Facebook message from Edie announced their intention to come to dinner again.

“Why so soon?” I asked. “What’s up?”

“Maybe they just want to spend time with us,” Rob said. “There doesn’t have to be something up.”

But of course there was. The children want to spend time with us only about every six weeks more or less.

I am not Edie’s mother but I did watch** them carefully that first supper. Silver had eyes or a hand on her at all times, and I have seen that look before. It’s the one that says everything in the world that will ever matter is right in front of you, and you still can’t quite believe it.

The second dinner was a family dinner. Teasing and stories and protests that nothing more can possibly be consumed even as hands move to refill plates.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Until we were at the door, Mick, Silver and Edie saying their good nights. Edie suddenly threw her arms around her Dad’s neck and said,

“So …” Long pause and deep breath expelling a rush of words she’d clearly rehearsed. “I’m moving in with Silver at the end of October.”

Rob blinked but said nothing. This produced a slightly less breathless rush to fill the gap as Edie began to expound on the foolishness of renting a place she was never at anymore and that finding a sublet had been easy and that Rob wouldn’t have to move the couch again – in case he was worried about that.

“Well, I’m certainly not helping with that couch again,” Mick chimed in.

My heart sank a bit at the “rent saving” reason. I don’t think that money should ever be the motivating factor for couples to co-habitate. It should always be based on love, and the realization that a shared journey is the only option for them even if achieving this means scrapping one life, or both, to rebuild the new one together.  Expense, logistics, degree of difficulty are to be treated as details only. And then Silver broke into her monologue with

“And she likes me.”

And she does more than that. She’s giving up the city, her beloved neighborhood of Whyte Ave to move to the suburbs. Her sensible speech was for Rob because all his daughters from oldest to smallest value his opinion and respect and want him to approve and be proud.

“Well, I told you so,” I said.

The next day Rob asked,

“How long have they been seeing each other again?”

“How long did we know each other before we were engaged and I was leaving the U.S. and everything I knew?” I said.

“We weren’t kids,” he countered, “but good point.”

“They aren’t kids. Twenty-eight and thirty-two are firmly in adult territory.”

“Good point again.”

“He’s good for her. She loves him,” I said, “and he fits.”

And now that I have officially blogged about him – he’s family.

*Save for that of my youngest sister. Her habit of breeding with men she either wasn’t interested in marrying or those who were not interested in marrying her drove him to distraction periodically.

**I watch because I care deeply about her happiness and because I have this inexplicable sense of obligation to Shelley to keep watch in her absence. It’s something only mothers would understand, I think.