Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Posts tagged ‘husbands’

An Electronic Lenten Sacrifice – Can I Do It?

They say the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one in the first place.  So, here I go…

Hello, my name is Joanne, and I’m addicted to my Blackberry.

Hubby’s been hinting for a while now that I’ve gone overboard with the phone.  I always laughed at the thought.  I mean, yes, I tend to curl up with it when watching TV, and I can’t sit in the passenger seat of the car for more than 10 minutes without pulling it out of my purse and checking it.  I guess it’s true that one of the first things I do in the morning is check my email on the phone, and sometimes read the news.  I leave it on my desk all day, and check it regularly.  Which makes no sense, of course, since I’m already sitting in front of a computer, so I don’t need to check my email on the phone, but I still do.  If the phone is sitting within view at any time (and it always is), and the little red light is blinking, I am compelled to check it…just in case.  I can’t help myself.  I know in my head that it’s probably junk mail that just showed up in my inbox, but you never know, right?  At lunchtime, I take it with me, as does everyone else at our table, and we browse the news and check our Facebook pages while we chat distractedly.  Noticing that was my second clue (after Hubby’s comments) that I might have a problem. 

As I type this, the Blackberry is indeed in sight.  And it’s blinking.  And it is killing me not to pick it up.  But I can’t.  You see, it occurred to me today as I pondering the Lenten season that the phone had to go.  Not completely, mind you – I’ll carry it for security and work.  But if I’m home, or I’m at work, where I have easy access to computers if needed, I will NOT check emails or news on the Blackberry.  And if I’m shopping or relaxing and don’t need access to a computer, I will not check the phone.  I have given up all unnecessary smart phone use until Easter, with one small exception.  I am allowing myself a brief dispensation when traveling by air, which I have to do this month, because I do need to stay in touch with airline alerts and transportation in the airports.  But that’s it.  No unnecessary Blackberry use.  For 40 days.  I think I just felt a chill….

Hubby’s comments were my first clue.  Lunch with mature, funny, intelligent co-workers while we all stared at our phones was the second.  The third and final straw was last Sunday.  The TV was on.  I was reading the New York Times on my Kindle.  And suddenly I realized that, while holding – and reading –  the Kindle in my left hand, I was checking my email on the Blackberry with my right hand.  Seriously?  Watching TV and reading is a multi-task I can usually handle, but reading two electronic gadgets at the same time, one in each hand, is just a little over the top, even for me.  Was I expecting each eyeball to read a separate screen?  How could I possibly retain anything I was reading, seeing, or hearing?  The answer, of course, is that I couldn’t.  And yet, I was trying!

I’m not Catholic, so the idea of giving something up for Lent and not eating meat and all of that is not really part of my spiritual journey.  But Protestants have started talking more about giving things up for Lent – the traditional season of somber reflection leading up to the celebration of Easter.  It’s a symbolic recognition of the sacrifices our Lord made when He allowed His Son to be crucified here on earth.  For a week, I’ve been telling folks that I wasn’t giving up anything, I was adding something – daily Bible reading.  But that plan wasn’t feeling very satisfying to me, and I knew there was something else I needed to do.  Setting aside the ridiculously powerful Blackberry seems much more substantial – a true change in my life.  And yes, I know that it’s crazy to admit a phone is “powerful”.  And that damn light is still blinking.  And I so want to reach for it.  But instead, I’ll say a quick prayer and ignore it.

Or try to ignore it.  But it’s blinking.  There’s an email there for me.  It might be important.  Because I get so many important emails.  Maybe I should just check it quickly.  I won’t pick it up – I’ll just push the roller ball and glance at the screen. 

But no – I won’t.  It’s a stupid phone.  I’m old enough to remember the days before TV remotes (yes, we had to walk to the television to change the channels), so I sure as hell do not need a pocket-sized computer to get through my day. 

It’s time to embrace doing one thing at a time.  Time to remember how to actually focus on one thing (or one person) with all my heart. 

The light’s still blinking.  It’s mocking me.  Tempting me. 

It’s going to be a long Lenten season, but the sacrifice will be sharp enough to remind me why I’m doing it in the first place.  And I’ll sure be praying – a lot!  Hopefully I can forever break the nonsensical, irrational hold the Blackberry has on me.  I know I can do it.  I know it.

But right now…. I need to leave this room and that blinking, blinking, blinking, blinking Blackberry.

How to Fight…errr…Communicate With Your Spouse

Odd subject for Valentine’s Day?  Maybe.  But one of the biggest secrets to a successful long-term marriage is figuring out how to argue with each other without irreparably damaging the relationship.

Just to clarify, when I say “fight” or “argue”, I don’t mean the knock-down drag-out verbal battles that pop up (hopefully) very rarely in a good relationship.  I’m talking about the little debates about who’s washing the dishes, which car to buy, etc. that can pile up in any marriage.

Couples who tell me they “never argue” just don’t understand the meaning of the word.  Because I firmly believe that a couple that always agrees on everything every day for years on end is in a coma.  And comas aren’t healthy.  Come on – people disagree with each other.  It happens.  Especially when you’re sharing a bathroom.  For years.  If you can disagree without ever raising your voice, as some people claim, that’s great (and please tell me your secret!), but it’s still a debate/argument/negotiation/fight, at least for the purpose of this post. 

I’d love to give an example of the stupid things we argue over, but I can’t remember any.  Why not?  Well, for one thing, sometimes we don’t end our arguments discussing the same topic that we started with.  And that’s the dangerous part of arguing – a silly vent/rant can become a grudge match if you’re not careful.  The little quibbles over crumbs on the counter or empty toilet paper rolls can easily end up drifting to “you don’t respect me”; “you don’t appreciate me”; or, at its worst, “you don’t love me.”  Fortunately, we’ve never reached the point of doubting our love for each other, even when we’re really ticked off.  Healthy debate is an art, and it’s something married couples have to work at constantly to keep the marriage fresh and balanced.   

There are a few philosophies out there on “how to fight”.  One oldie is the idea of holding hands while you argue.  It has merit – how can you stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with?  You can’t stomp away, and there’s no point in yelling if you’re that close.  And trying to stay mad when you’re holding hands usually leads to both of you giggling uncontrollably.  The problem?  Arguments start at the drop of a hat, and once you’re angry (after tripping over his or her shoes for the fifth time this week), the last thing you want to do is walk over and hold his hand!  The hand-holding thing works best when you know a conversation might eventually get tense (“honey, I’d really like to spend our savings on a new flatscreen TV…”).  If you plan in advance, and assume the hand-holding position early on, it can help both of you stay more calm. 

And of course there’s the golden standard – “never go to bed angry.”  I’m not so sure I support this one as much as I used to.   Hubby is one of those guys who just goes to sleep when he’s tired, angry or not.  I’ve been known to poke him to keep him awake so that we can work through some conflict and I can know we’re not going to bed angry, because that’s against the rules.  Which, of course, makes him angry.  Frankly, we’ve gone to sleep mad (or at least annoyed) a few times, and it’s been just fine.  A good night’s sleep does wonders, especially if you’re arguing about something as silly as leaving the toilet seat down.  Just as it’s hard to be mad at someone when you’re holding their hand, I’ve also discovered it’s hard to be mad at someone you’re waking up with…for the 5000th time.  We tend to just give each other a bashful “love you” while brushing our teeth, and move on with our lives, because again, who can remember what started the argument in the first place?  And who has the energy to carry it into day two?

One of my favorite tips came from a recent blurb in Reader’s Digest.  It basically said to treat your spouse like a dog.  Seriously.  If you love animals, then you know how well your dog is treated, right?  After Fido chews up your favorite slippers, sure, you’re mad as hell.  But then he looks at you with those puppy-dog eyes and you know he didn’t really mean it, and you forgive him.  Uses the dining room rug as a bathroom?  Smack a rolled up newspaper in your hands and kick him outside, but you know an hour later he’ll be curled up in your lap getting his ears scratched.  Yes, I’m talking about the dog. 

But the same can work for a spouse – really.  It’s all about intentions. I don’t intend to forget to empty the trash.  Hubby doesn’t intend to leave the cupboard door open.  I don’t intend to put his favorite cotton shirt into the hot dryer.  He doesn’t intend to track mud into the living room.  And aren’t those silly things the primary irritants in a good marriage?  If I can forgive a four-legged mammal for its carelessness, then I can forgive my two-legged mammal, too.   

On Saturday, we were driving through some bad weather on the way to a wonderful Valentine’s weekend get-away.  Hubby was behind the wheel, and pulled out to pass another car in some very dicey snow conditions.  I held my breath and grabbed the door (it was admittedly an over-reaction).  He chuckled and asked me how the brakes were working on the passenger side of the car.  I glared at him, and said “I’m picturing you as a puppy right now…”  And we both laughed out loud.

And that’s the best “secret” of all – laugh.  A lot.  If you remain aware of how silly a disagreement is, and bring that silliness to the attention of your spouse, how can you really stay mad?  As soon as one of us slips up and says something like “you ALWAYS…” or “you NEVER…”, the other will just start laughing and say “Really?  Never?  Never ever?  Are you sure?”  It might start with just a smirk, but pretty soon a smile is there, and then a laugh, and then we’ve forgotten whatever stupid thing we were arguing about. 

Communication is the key.  And that includes communicating when you don’t agree.  And that’s going to happen, so you may as well figure it out now.  I’m happy to say that I think we’ve done that pretty darned well in our marriage. 

So, as we head rapidly towards our 15th wedding anniversary….Happy Valentine’s Day, my Love!

Boys and Their Toys

Zero-turn mower (no, that's not my house in the background!) {photo: Joseph Barillari}

What is it with men and power equipment?  Have Ryobi power drills replaced swords and spears as symbols of a man’s prowess?  Do men think women are impressed when they wield a “saws-all” and cut a hole through a wall?  And you gotta love the way they swoop in when they see a woman trying to use power tools.  “Oh, let me get that, honey.”  “Honey, you’re not holding it right – let me take it.”  “You’ll never get it done that way – let me do it.” 

In fact, most wives learn pretty early on that the easiest way to get our husbands to do something that’s been on our “honey-do list” for days (weeks, months, years) is to grab a power tool ourselves and fire it up while they’re nearby.  Oh, there may be a curse word or two, but trust me, in the end, the job will be completed…by the husband. 

Disclaimer:  My own Hubby is sometimes conflicted in how to balance our roles, but to his credit, he usually falls on the more enlightened side of things.  Some of my sweeping generalities here are based on other guys I’ve known in the past or have worked with, and other womens’ husbands.  My own beloved at least tries to let me do things on my own, but he still gets twitchy when I grab the Ryobi. 

I don’t think for a minute that guys grab tools away from us because they’re all that concerned for our safety (although, I must admit, I can’t be trusted with any sharp objects, and Hubby knows it).  I just don’t think they want us to learn how much fun they are.

I lived alone for more than fifteen years, including ten years on my own horse farm (with a house that was a hundred years old).  So I had to learn how to make a few basic repairs.  Simple little things like…patching the roof, snaking the pipes, fixing the toilet, thawing out the sump pump, driving a farm tractor older than I was, bailing water out of the basement by hand…just a few little things every girl dreams of doing someday.  So Hubby took on a wife who didn’t expect him to fix everything, and a wife who had her own opinions on how to fix things.  That has occasionally led to some….uh….stress, but overall it’s been a successful match in handling day-to-day tasks.  He refers to my occasional proclamations of “I can do it myself” as my “I am woman, hear me roar” moments, but I think he quietly appreciates that we share the workload.

I’m not in love with running the snow blower, but I can certainly do it when he’s not around.  I’ll bundle up in twenty layers, and I’ll waddle into the garage and open the door.  I spend a few seconds staring at the snow-covered driveway in annoyance.  I’ll push the choke three times and start hauling away on the pull-start rope.  If it doesn’t start on the first pull, I’ll warm the air with a few four-letter words.  If it doesn’t start on the second, I’ll graduate to 5- and 7-letter words, because I know I’ve only got one pull left in me.  But once that sucker starts, I’m off!  Our driveway is three cars wide and 90 feet long.  It’s a bear to clear, but I can do it.  When I’m done, I’m tired, and aching, and usually still annoyed, but I also have a sense of accomplishment and independence that feels pretty good. 

And maybe that’s what guys love about their power tools.  They really do make you feel powerful.  That’s their little secret.  That’s why they snatch them out of our hands so quickly.  It’s not about the operator, it’s about the machine.

I discovered this recently when I finally learned how to drive the “man-machine”, which is what I’ve dubbed Hubby’s new zero-turn lawn mower.  I could drive any lawn tractor around, and I’ve had some doozies, including a big old clunker on my farm that I bought at a garage sale – it would smoke and backfire regularly, but it got me through my last couple years of farm life (before I came to my senses and sold the farm and tractor).  I was even okay driving a 1950 farm tractor and operating the bucket loader on the front.  But just because I could do it didn’t mean I loved doing it, and I was more than happy to let Hubby take over the lawn duties once we settled in suburbia.  And as long as we had a lawn tractor, even the one with the big 4-foot mower, I knew I could help out in a pinch. 

And then he got the man-machine this year.  Hubby coveted this mower for three years, because he drove one at the golf course where he worked part-time.  You sit in front of the engine, not behind it.  And you sit directly over and slightly behind the mower.  No steering wheels here – these things drive with two handles/levers/arms that operate independently of each other.  That means if you pull the left lever back, you turn left.  If you pull the left lever back, and push the right lever forward, you turn left really fast!!!  I’m talkin’ throw-you-off-the-machine fast.  The least little movement on those levers, and you are careening into the garage wall, or the car, or over the top of that little maple tree behind the shed.  Hubby is a zero-turn master.  Me…not so much.  I was more than happy to let that be a man-job.  Until we realized that I would have to mow the lawn at least a couple times while he was out of town this fall.  Uh-oh.

Hubby gave me an impatient lesson last week (I didn’t come that close to hitting the car on my way out of the garage).  I tried to ignore his protests and shouted suggestions and anguished expressions as I ran zigzags around the yard.  You see, I was thinking the man-machine needed a man’s firm hand to steer it.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that the key was subtlety.  A light hand on the steering levers allowed you to move around the yard with ease.  Push them forward together, and you go faster – cool.  After a few herky-jerky attempts to mow around some shrubbery without mowing it down (Hubby’s face was priceless!), I figured out the man-machine.  And I liked it.  The neighbors were watching me, and that must have been admiration I saw in their eyes as I wheeled around and spun that mower in a (relatively) tight circle to head back the other direction.  I felt awesome!

I now know the secret of men and their toys.  The toys are fun!!  And the toys are cool!!  And they don’t really require any special “manly” skills.  Okay, men have got more practice running drills and operating zero-turn mowers than we do.  And they often have more upper arm strength to hold that power tool and its heavy detachable battery pack steadier than we can.  But the reason men love those toys is because they get a heady sense of power and accomplishment from using them.  Women should give it a try more often.  And if by chance you don’t like it, just act like you’re going to drop the tool, or bump it up against the wall, or tell him you think you stripped a screw.  He’s sure to grab the power tools away from you with a tsk-tsk and take over the task.  And he’ll be thrilled to have his toys all back to himself again.

Of Kings and Queens (mattresses, that is)

On a recent overnight trip, my husband and I ended up staying in a hotel room with two double beds.  As we’ve done for the past ten years or so, we quickly opted to sleep in separate beds.   Within minutes of crawling into my bed, I realized that I was sprawled across the entire mattress.  I was laying on my side, but my arms and legs were askew so that I was taking up as much bed surface as was physically possible.  I really think I unconsciously did that just because I could.  And it was delightful.  Don’t get me wrong – I adore my husband, and I really adore sharing a bed with him.  But I also adore having my own space once in a while. 

Until this summer, we have always shared a queen-sized bed.  At 60 inches in width, it allowed us an individual 30 inches of sleep space. 

Our Dearly Departed Very High Queen Sized Bed

That’s less than three feet for each of us.  Imagine yourself in a box that was only 30 inches wide.  Yikes.  That’s barely more than a baby crib mattress.  Of course, we cuddled a lot, and that was delightful.  I can’t think of many things that are nicer than waking up in the middle of the night wrapped in your husband’s arms. 

But we also bumped into each other.  A lot.  In a queen-sized bed, two tall people cannot sleep facing each other for long.  If you both curl up your legs at the same time, you’re bumping knees.  I’d roll over in the middle of the night and run smack into his legs, which were clearly on my side of the bed.   

That’s the other thing you start doing once the honeymoon’s over.   You start claiming territory.  “You’re on my half!”  “Are you kidding?  I’m barely clinging to the edge of the bed over here!”  “You’re lying at a diagonal!”  “That’s my pillow!”  And so on.  

I’m reminded of one night a number of years ago, when Hubby rolled over in the middle of the night (we were both sound asleep), and his arm swung over and hit me right smack between the eyes.  Not a pleasant way to be woken up, believe me.  I let out a yell and started cussing a blue streak, more from the shock than pain.  Of course, that woke him up, and he was yelling “What happened?  What’s wrong?”  By now I was laughing, crying and cursing all at once in the dark as I tried to explain to him that he’d just hit me (completely by accident, of course).  Fortunately, I didn’t end up with a black eye to have to explain, and we just laughed about it.

All that closeness creates other issues besides knocking knees and rolling into one another.  For example, there are all those noises that a human body can generate during the night.  I know the standard joke is to refer to men being the ones that snore and make, um, other sounds, but I have to be honest – I can create my own little bodily symphony at night, and I “purr” more than my husband does.  FYI – women don’t snore, we purr. 

And, as we get older, we all, men and women alike, start getting up from bed more often during the night to visit the bathroom.  It’s nothing for Hubby to be up 4 or 5 times in a night (he’s fine, and sees a doctor regularly, so don’t worry).  But every time I heard or felt him getting out of bed, I was awake, and then I needed to visit the bathroom, too.   Or sometimes it was me, in the midst of a hormonal night sweat, tossing and turning, flinging off the covers.  And then I’d wake up Hubby.  It’s a vicious cycle. 

In fact, it was that regular disruption of sleep that started the final push towards a king-sized bed this year.   There were some valid reasons for all the hesitation.   King-sized beds aren’t pretty – they’re big hulking squares that can monopolize a bedroom.   Plus, we’re a “cuddly” couple, and we weren’t sure we wanted a bed with all that real estate between us (yeah, I know :  “Aw-w-w-w-w!”). 

But we had both grown to dislike the über pillowtop queen-sized mattress set we had.  It was too high, too hot, too small, and too fluffy; so we knew we had to make up our minds so that we could have a more comfortable night’s sleep.  We finally pulled the trigger in June, and our giant square mattress arrived three days later.  And it’s heavenly.

This monster is 76” wide and 80” long.  That’s sixteen more inches of sleep space – eight inches for each of us.   Friends told us that once we got a king-sized mattress we’d wonder why we ever waited so long, and they were right.  I can lie on my side and fling my legs and arms across the mattress, and I’ll never touch Hubby.  We can each get up out of bed during the night without waking the other (usually).   He can sprawl diagonally across the bed and I’ll still have room to crawl in and go to sleep.  Our snoring/purring is eight inches further away from each other.  But we’re really not too far apart – we can reach each other pretty easily.   And the extra firm, low profile mattress set is so much more comfortable than that older, trendy pillow-top was.

Yes, it has meant buying new sheets, blankets and bedspread (we were already using king pillows), and eventually we’ll need a new bed frame (it’s just sitting on a metal frame right now).   So it hasn’t been cheap.  But it was well worth the investment.  We are both sleeping better and longer.  And we’ve discovered that having a little more real estate can make everything a little more enjoyable…

Confessions of a Grocery Store Snob

Flowers, pottery, and fruit in fancy baskets - my kind of grocery store! (© Andrew Dunn)

A few weeks ago, I finally admitted it out loud.  I’m a grocery store snob.  I absolutely love the “high-end” grocery stores, like Wegmans in the north and Harris Teeter down south.  I love their bakeries, the coffee shops, the flower shops.  I can choose from buffet lines of prepared Chinese food, Italian food, gourmet pizzas, subs and other delights.  I love the gift shops in these grocery stores, where I have purchased (very nice) birthday, anniversary and graduation gifts. 

So when my husband decided to abandon my adored store for the cheaper one down the street, I really dug in my heels.  I was not going to leave this wondrous store that I had shopped at for decades.  But the harsh reality was that the store down the street offers a major discount on gasoline with every purchase, and it’s hard to argue with filling the tank at more than a dollar per gallon off the price on the pumps. 

I decided early on that I didn’t like the new store (Price Chopper).  Instead of being greeted with a gleaming produce department overflowing with choices, the first thing to greet me in the new store is a wall of super-sweet coffee cakes, danishes, and desserts.  It’s sort of like being greeted by the tempting, good looking, dangerous guy you know is bad for you, instead of his wholesome, fresh-faced farmer cousin.  

On my first few visits to the new place, all I did was complain to Hubby as we shopped.  My store had more choices.  I liked my produce section better.  The aisles in his store were too narrow.  I didn’t like the shelving.  They didn’t have my shampoo.  I couldn’t find anything easily, so I didn’t like the layout.  It was too crowded, and I frankly didn’t like the looks of the clientele.  I didn’t even like the other cars I saw in the parking lot.  In my delusional mind, we were “slumming”.  I turned up my nose at everything. 

If I had to stop for something on my way home, I always went to my store, insisting that I could find things more quickly, and I just liked it better.  But after continual scolding from Hubby, and reminders of how much gas money I could have saved with each purchase if I’d gone to his store, I started feeling guilty.  And then I discovered something interesting one night as I shopped at my store.  There were products that I’d discovered at his store that my wonder-store didn’t carry!  How could that be?  My luxury grocery store was supposed to be perfect!  But they are also so large that they’ve pushed some popular brands off the shelves in order to sell more of their own store brands.  And I knew that – I’d even emailed them a few years ago to complain about it. 

So now that my eyes (and mind) were finally opening just a bit, I begrudgingly decided I needed to give the new store another chance.  I went shopping there alone so that I wouldn’t be influenced by my urge to disagree with Hubby (anyone who’s married knows what I mean).  Hmmm.  The first thing I noticed was that our five-year-old truck with its mis-matched fiberglass repair to the grill from where Hubby hit a deer actually looked right at home with the other vehicles in the parking lot of the new store.  In fact, I saw a fair share of very nice cars parked there (nicer than the truck, at least).     

While I still don’t like the temptation of the nasty sugar- and fat-laden junk food in the entrance way, there was a very nice produce department inside the doors.  So maybe it was like a test – walk past the junk, and be rewarded with the healthy bounty just beyond it.  And I found the fruit cocktails I’d come to love (the ones my fancy store didn’t carry).  And look – they had a bakery, too!  The stuff actually looked pretty good.  And over in the corner was a small coffee shop and dining area.  Why hadn’t I noticed that before?  The seafood area was far more impressive than at my luxury store (if a bit smellier), and I was forced to admit to myself that this store has always had a reputation for having the best meats in town. 

As I continued shopping, I tried to set aside my snobby attitude (hey, I’m not proud of it, but at least I recognize it!).  Okay, the paper products are in the first aisle instead of the last – is that really a big deal?  Of course not.  Yes, the aisles are more narrow than in my store, but it’s not that bad.  I can deal with it, although it remains my main pet peeve with the store.  I finally found their natural foods section, and it was impressive.  The frozen section appears much larger than in my store, and guess what?  There are more choices!  Hmmm again. 

And then I checked out at the register, and discovered that my shopping had just brought our gasoline discount up to a $1.20 per gallon.  My eyebrows shot up a bit, and I smiled back at the friendly checkout clerk.  I could get used to this. 

It was an eye-opener.  I have to admit that I was wrong (I hate that).  The new store is just fine, especially now that I’m more familiar with it.  It may not have a forty foot display of apples of twenty different varieties like the old store, but frankly, that much selection can be completely overwhelming.  It is more efficient to shop at Hubby’s store (dang it).  There may be a handful of products that they don’t carry that I really want, like my haircare product line. 

But then again, I can use that as an excuse to stop by the luxury shop every 5 – 6 weeks for old times sake.  Yes, it’s still very nice.  Yes, I do enjoy looking at all the pretty and exotic products they carry, but they aren’t saving me a buck a gallon on gasoline.  It is a nice place to visit, and I will do that occasionally, kinda like a tourist.  But I know now without a doubt that I am really a pathetic grocery store snob, and I really need to get over it.

Women Dress For Women, Silly!

A few days ago, a co-worker told me that his wife was going out that evening with her friends for a “girls night out”.  He shook his head as he commented that he didn’t understand why they always got all dressed up “just to have dinner together.”  I just laughed and said “Silly boy, women dress up for other women, not for men!” 

And let’s admit it – it’s true.  We worry far more about the opinions of our female friends than our men when it comes to fashion, don’t you think? 

Even back in high school, we watched the girls’ magazines to determine how to dress.  Why?  Because we wanted to fit in with what was “cool” at the moment.  My favorite outfit ever (sadly, no pictures) was an outfit that featured crushed robin’s egg blue velvet hot pants and a creamy satin top, with a long, hip-length velvet vest to match.  It was a dressy outfit (seriously!), and I wore it with cream-colored lace stockings, off-white sandals, and a long, swinging necklace.  I was groovy in that outfit, let me tell you!  And while my boyfriend (Ken – what a sweet kid) may have appreciated the hemline, he surely didn’t care about the time I’d taken in color-coordinating the ensemble.  For example, he didn’t care, or even know, that it was “robin’s egg blue”, but my girlfriends did.

If we really dressed for men, we’d still be wearing hot pants and mini-skirts today.  They never would have let us stray into midi-skirts, and then to the 80’s “office girl” attire of plaid skirts and blouses with bows under our chins.  Did we then turn to those “Dynasty”-inspired suits with football player shoulder pads for the opinion of men?  I doubt they were impressed. 

Even in those “meat market” bars of our single days, where we admittedly dressed with a particular goal in mind….when we weren’t checking out the guys, we were checking out the other women and assessing the competition.

Of course, I know that the correct response to who women should dress for is to say that we should dress for ourselves.  Bunk.  Yes, comfort is important, and more so as we grow older, but still….   The days I “dress for myself”  (baggy pants, rumpled loose shirt, baseball cap, old sneakers) are the days I’m mortified to run into someone I know at the grocery store.  My mortification is proof that I’m not really dressing for myself after all. 

No, women follow the fashion trends because we want the acknowledgement of other women.  When a man comments on fashion, it’s usually no more than a “nice dress”, or the ever-generic “you look nice.”  But when our fellow women notice an outfit, we get far more detailed feedback:  “That color looks great on you!”, “Pretty blouse – is that silk?”; “I love that outfit – is it new?”, and our favorite – “Fabulous!  Where did you find that?”  Why is that the favorite?  Because it allows us to display our shopping prowess among our peers.  Very similar to the guys bragging about how they beat par on the country club’s toughest hole – the story has to be told with a bit of bravado.

My husband scolded me once for telling another woman that my dress, which she admired, had been found, tags still on, at the church rummage sale for $5.00.  After she gasped and praised me, we giggled together over for my great bargain.  But Hubby thought I should have told her I found it at an expensive department store for far more money, as if there were shame in buying something on sale. 

I tried to explain to him that, unlike a man’s preoccupation with how much they spent, women honor bargain-hunting skills.  She admired that red polka dot dress far more because I’d found such a bargain with it.  “Can you believe I found this on the sale rack at Macy’s for 80% off?”  “Oh, you like these slacks?  I got them at Kohl’s for 8 bucks!”  When we get a great buy, we’re not only seen as fashionable by our women friends, but we’re also seen as wise shoppers.  Skilled hunters, if you will.

To be clear here – I’m not saying that every morning I stand in angst, trying to decide which outfit I should wear to impress women at the office.  Good grief, I barely have my eyes open in the morning, much less being able to function at that kind of level.  No.  I’ve made my purchases, and have a closet full (over-flowing actually, with two sizes of everything, but I digress….) of clothing that I know meets the standards of acceptable fashion.  So I guess I really am dressing for myself at that point, but that’s because I’ve already selected the clothes based on the women I see in fashion magazines and on TV.  I’m not a clothes-horse, but I have enough style to get by.  I don’t fret about what other women wear, but I notice.

Of course we dress up for “girls night out”!  We fuss over our clothes, our shoes, our purses.  We check our hair and make-up, too.  We may do the same for dinner with our husbands, but they see it as us “looking nice”.  Our friends observe us as a complete package – “Oh, my God, where did you get that bag?”; “Did you just get your hair colored?  It looks great!”;  “Those shoes look fabulous with that dress! Are they the ones you got on sale last week?” 

Somehow putting this in writing makes it sound just a little shallow, but it’s not.  It’s reassuring to us to know that we have our “woman” act together, even after all these years.  That’s empowering.  It’s good to know that we’ve got each other’s backs (while we covet each other’s handbags).  Thanks, girls!

Marriage = Work

Happily celebrating Christmas Eve 2009 together

Being married is work.  Hard work.  Rewarding work (usually….).  But work just the same.

I was in love with old Hollywood movies when I was a little girl.  I grew up thinking that people just had to gaze into someone else’s eyes and BAM!  – they were in love.  The bells rang, the music crescendoed, fade to black, all was happy forever after.  Often the moment of love occurred in the middle of some big conflict – “Oh you brute!  You’re an awful man!”  Then the hero would grab the heroine by the shoulders and plant a big kiss on her.  She resisted (just for a moment), then melted into his arms.  Ah…love.  It Happened One Night.  Gone With the Wind.  The Philadelphia Story.  The African Queen, When Harry Met Sally, The Proposal.  It’s apparently a very reliable plot line.

This rosy-hued image of love and marriage was reinforced by the gothic romances I was reading.  As a teenager, it was Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, where the plucky governess always ended up with the lord of the manor (who was usually a rogue she had to tame).  As I matured, so did the romance novels, and the scenes became a bit more…um…explicit.  No fade-to-black here.  There was a lot of throbbing and pulsating going on.  I made the mistake of offering a fairly tame novel to my mother back then, and she promptly pronounced it to be “smut”.  But that didn’t stop me.  Janet Daily, Katherine Woodiwiss (“A Rose in Winter”…oh, my…), and Jude Deveareaux, whose “A Knight in Shining Armor” is probably the best romance novel ever (or so I thought at the time).  

But I digress….   The point is, all those romances were about the magical qualities of falling in love, and spent very little time looking at the “ever after” part. 

Falling in love is wonderful.  Staying in love is hard work.  As the glow of the early courtship fades and familiarity begins to settle in, a couple needs to decide how they’re going to make it work long-term.  If you don’t figure that out early and commit to it, a marriage can spiral into complacency – the true opposite of love when it comes to relationships. 

Complacency is always lurking at the edges of a marriage.  Let’s face it – once you reach the point where you’re flossing and toe nail clipping in front of each other, it’s easy for passion to take a back seat.  And all those cute little quirks that were so amusing and endearing when you were dating?  Well, eventually they can become downright annoying.  Infuriating, even.  That’s when you need commitment.  When you have to look at your spouse and see what you love about them, beyond the burps and farts and forgetfulness.  There are times when I am shaking in anger at my husband, and he has those same moments with me.  But we work past them.  We talk them out (sometimes loudly, I’ll admit).  But we keep communicating until it’s settled.

Like many marriages, on paper, logically speaking, there’s absolutely no reason our marriage should work.  He’s full of Irish passion and temper.  I’m a quiet WASP.  He charges through life full speed ahead, with a take-no-prisoners attitude about everything.  I’m the worrywart who frets constantly (“what if they don’t like me”  “what if someone gets hurt” “what if we get caught?”).  I can’t bear to break any rules, right down to insisting on following “use this door” signs as if the police are waiting to arrest me if I don’t.  He lives to break the rules in every way -devil-may-care, live life for the moment.  He’s the ultimate “morning person”, leaping out of bed before dawn, ready to tackle the day.  I am the opposite of “morning person”, crawling out of bed only under duress, and I’ve been known to put the milk away in the pantry and the cereal in the refrigerator.  He won’t hesitate to get in someone’s face for some injustice rendered.  I am mortified at the thought of causing a scene.  He’s loud.  I’m not.  He loves crowds and parties.  I’m happy with a good book and a glass of wine.  I cry at commercials.  He laughs at me while I’m crying.  And yet it works – magically well.

After a certain number of years, good couples (the ones who WORK at it), become not only partners, but each other’s true soul mate.  And more importantly, they become keepers of the secret shared stories. 

Sixteen years ago, shortly after we’d met, my husband and I faced the ultimate test of a new relationship:  assembling an entertainment center from what seemed like 200 pieces of wood and assorted parts that came out a very large box.  We were still “courting” back then, so we were trying to be pleasant.  He was grabbing pieces and putting them together in whatever order he found them in, insisting he didn’t need the directions.  I was fretting over making a mistake, and finally, exasperated, I said through gritted teeth, “Honey, I really think we should follow the instructions they gave us.”  His response?  “Don’t ever call me ‘honey’ in that tone of voice again.”  We stared at each other for a minute, then burst into laughter.  That comment is still one of our touchstones to this day.  If we use the word “Honey” in that exaggerated  tone, it’s a flag that things might be getting tense, and will (usually) lighten the mood – “Honey, I really think you should have taken that last exit….”

That’s just one example, but all good couples have them – those secret stories that can be referred to as a way of setting a current event into perspective.  A word.  A touch.  A look.  The secret language of experience for the couples who have figured out how to navigate the paths of relationship-building.  No one but my husband and I knows why saying the word “woof” can end a heated debate with a smile.  That’s our secret.  And those secrets are precious. 

Every anniversary, we celebrate another year of shared stories, fiery debates, daily laughter, family joys and sorrows, changing waistlines, career challenges, money made and money lost, evening walks hand-in-hand, and cuddles in bed.  We know each other’s faults and gifts in detail.  We have made a commitment to be partners in spite of or because of them.  Hardly a week goes by that one of us doesn’t look at the other and say “we are so fortunate”.   At the end of the day, it’s his smile, laughter and love that are my life support. 

Fourteen years ago today we exchanged our vows on a warm Sunday afternoon.  Whew.  What a ride it’s been so far!  All that work paid off.  I can’t wait to see what the next fourteen years (and more) bring our way.  Happy anniversary, my love.

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