marriage issues

I read The Globe and Mail fairly regularly. One of the columnists, Sarah Hampson, has a semi-regular feature on relationships with a tendency to view marriage as a glass half empty. Because she is divorced, she focuses about half or more of her columns on divorce – the process and the aftermath. She is playing to her strength and the fact that divorce is one of the most common of denominators in many people’s lives anymore. Cynicism shouldn’t be a given, but she has a jaundiced eye. There are many divorced people who do not cast such a world-weary glance at the institution of marriage or love in general, but she isn’t one of them – though she will give credit where it is due.

Her most recent piece was on the Obamas’ Broadway date night and their tendency to promote their marriage as a successful one – which by all accounts it is. Her issue though is that they don’t air the dirty laundry as much as they try too hard to put a good face on their relationship, or at least that is what I read between the lines. She feels that the Obamas are being disingenuous.

Interestingly, I ran across a blog piece the other night that said much the same thing only the targets were ordinary bloggers who write about themselves. The blogger questioned whether the women whose blogs she reads are really telling the truth about their relationships, mothering experiences or their sublime contentment with being single. The writer thought that perhaps they were fudging and putting on airs to maintain a façade in a game of one upmanship because … I don’t know … because if you are chronicling your life in the blogosphere (or living it in the public eye as the President and First Lady do) and you are not doing it reality tv show style – with dysfunction being the main ingredient – then you are not real? You are faking it? Happiness and contentment are not common? Misery and longing is the major theme of most lives? Real relationships have sticky thorn-like issues? The average single person would rather not be*?

I have touched on this subject a time or two. Recently even. And I don’t think I am deliberately cultivating a façade because I keep private details about my marriage and my children private. There is no fourth wall in blogging, but each blogger does establish boundaries with their audience. I can be as revealing (some would say TMI) as John and Kate, but the truth is, I don’t want to, and Rob and I are so not John and Kate and so not interested in being so. We do not have a dramatic life. We are two remarkably well-suited mates who live a pretty ordinary life that just happened to have an unusual beginning. If anything, I feel a bit guilty FOR BEING happy, content and right where I belong. It’s not as if this has always been the case and I marvel often how I ended up just exactly where I should be. 

I am not Dooce and my motivation for blogging is, as it has mostly always been, about writing. 

What I think Ms. Hampson and the blogger are about is projection. A Facebook acquaintance recently  posted an update that read,

“It’s all about them. It’s all about them.”

And what he meant was that regardless of how your life manifests in the public sphere, others will interpret it through their own experiences and the spot in life where they are currently residing and make whatever is going on about whatever is happening in someone else’s life about what is not going on in their own.

Ms. Hampson, for example, is divorced and writes about the experiences of the divorced and all the other downer topics that consume the single. Since I was single a long, long time,  I know those gray-colored lenses through which she peers and how they tint the landscape with a pessimistic and cynical hue. Naturally, she would see the Obamas’ as posing, flaunting and perhaps even trying to hard. It looks like that when you haven’t had a relationship that really fit.

My dear friend Cissy, whom I have known for twenty years and is the big sister I had to go out and find, has a marriage that to anyone not privy looks effortless and loving. It is certainly the latter. Cissy and her husband were my role models. Had I never met them, I wouldn’t have married at all because I didn’t learn much about marriage from my own parents beyond endurance. But Cissy’s marriage is not effortless. There has been ebb and flow and back again during their 25+ years. I have not been privy to the details but I have been assured time and again that issues come up and are dealt with and it stays between them. Where it belongs.

Here’s what I learned about marriage – quickly – that the person you talk to when things are at ebb tide is your spouse. People who “poll the audience”, so to speak, do themselves no favors and their relationships much harm.

I never discussed Will and I with anyone really. Things that came up stayed between us. And we worked at making time for each other and communicating regularly throughout our day and allowing each other space and individuality. I brought these lessons with me when I began dating Rob, and he in turn brought with him the very similar things he’d learned from his marriage to Shelley. And key to this? Our relationship is about us. 

I am a writer. A blogger. I open small windows into my daily life just like everyone else in my genre. Just excerpts. Little splices really. It might seem like an Obama photo op, but I don’t think the world is a worse place because happy, successful couples share their lives. It is certainly healthier than the Spencer and Heidi’s of the world. Or the John and Kate’s. Give me a First Couple who date after 16 years of marriage and obviously delight in one another any day.


*My Auntie is 78 years old and never married. She will be the first to admit that she has known lonliness, knows it still from time to time, but she is not sorry she never married. She has more friends than my mother – and that is a feat – and she is never home between her social life, her volunteering and the army of devoted nieces and nephews who include her in every family function imaginable. And Auntie is not an isolated example. I know people in my own peer group and even people in the blogosphere who are not lamenting the single life. All life choices have an up as well as a downside and nothing can ever be said to be permanent.

 A Valentine for My Husband, Rob


Every woman needs a Sasquatch of her own

Life being incomplete without one

Earth signs are best 

but at least born in an Oxen year

Able to shoulder all manner of burden

Physical and Emotional


but with firm and unyielding flesh 

and principles

Impish, teasing,

able to giggle and explain (nearly) everything

Confident of being able to do (nearly) anything

Beacon bright blue eyes, 

furry all over 

and with very warm feet

Every woman needs a Sasquatch of her own

Life being incomplete without one

Today is a Second. It is our second Valentine’s Day as a couple. To anyone who hasn’t been widowed, this would be hard to understand, but to those of us who have experienced the death of our most loved one, it shouldn’t be very hard at all. During the first year of widowhood, there are Firsts. The first birthdays: theirs, children’s, yours that the person is not there to help celebrate. The first wedding anniversary that doesn’t count towards the total. Holidays whose meanings and traditions will change because of their absence. Rob and I have done all those things as widowed people. But today is a special day for us because today is the first Second of our life together. We have been together for over a year. The birthdays and holidays from this point on will be ones we have celebrated as the two of us and it is such a wonderful feeling. Seconds become thirds and fourths and a decade followed by another one. A damn long time.
Happy Valentine’s Day my lover. Here’s to our “second” and the damn long time to come. 


My widow friend, Andrea, in Texas recently posted a quote from a movie that sums up better than I have ever been able to what it is that goes missing from our lives when we lose our spouses.

”We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

Shall We Dance, 2004

I had never really thought about it in just that way. Funny how sometimes just what you need to know or see or do will arrive via a movie or the daily horoscope in the daily newspaper. A song will come on the radio and something that a moment before was an insurmountable problem or an inscrutable dilemma melts away into clarity.

I have been puzzling in my head how to best remember Will on the second anniversary of his death this coming January 23rd and was not satisfied with any of the ideas I was coming up with thus far. I started a memorial page for him on FaceBook but realize now that this was not something that many people who knew him would ever see as I am the only uber-geek of the bunch. None of his friends or family would have much use for a social networking internet site. Try as I might, I have never been able to capture him in words to my own satisfaction though I have written about him, I have never painted his picture with a thousand words.

I’d thought about a memorial in the Des Moines paper where we lived, but again, no one who knew him would see it. Sadly, few of them read or keep abreast of the world outside the bubbles they live in. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. His best friend going back to childhood called my parents house the other day to find out my number because he and his family would be back in the Des Moines area for Christmas and wanted to drop a present by for Katy. He must have called the old number and discovered it was disconnected and thought we’d moved or something. I don’t know what he thought when my mother gave him my new cell with a funny area code but he called it and left a message. I gave it a bit of thought before returning the call. It was apparent he didn’t know I’d remarried and moved out of the country. I suppose this was mostly my fault for not calling to tell him last spring, but he’d pretty much dropped out of our lives after Will died. I heard from him once the May after when he called wanting to know where Will was buried. There was no “how are you?” “how is Katy?” just asked for the location and I haven’t heard from him since. I did see his wife and mother-in-law last Christmas. She called and asked if I could stop by to pick up a gift for Katy, which we did. During our little visit, I learned that Doug wasn’t handling Will’s death well at all and at the time couldn’t bear to talk about him. He kept the ball cap and the pool cue of Will’s I had given him hanging in the cab of his truck and no one was allowed to touch either. I felt at the time I heard this, and still do, that this was really no excuse for avoiding me or Katy, who is his goddaughter. Will wouldn’t have done that if the situation was reversed. I was/am a bit tired of his family and friends laying claim to grief for my husband as though it was some kind of contest.

I didn’t get a hold of Doug. I called him but his voice mail picked up. I gave the abbreviated version of the past year and haven’t heard back. I guess that tells me what I need to know.

Sometimes I feel that no one knew Will at all until I came along. His family. His friends. If it weren’t for me, who would bear witness to him in a true sense? I still haven’t figured out how best to do this however, but I have not quite another month to think on it. I think though that the way I have lived and moved forward, building a future is a best testament to him so far.