Thursday, May 23, 2013

Binge Dating

It is my husband's final weekend of work for a couple of months after spending the last ten months on the road.  It feels like he's been gone all of the time, even though I know it was more like 3-4 day stretches with the occasional crazy mixed in there (see "The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem" or "Instructions for Crazy").  I have been waiting for this light at the end of the tunnel feeling for months, and it's so bright now that I'm squinting.  Ah!  The light, the light, the glorious light!

After Memorial Day weekend, Brandon and I have three solid days of dating planned.  It happened accidentally. I am going to New York City on Wednesday to accept an award on behalf of the Ashland Poetry Press (woo!), and it just so happens that Wednesday is Brandon's birthday.  What better way to spend your birthday than with me in NYC?!  We're staying one night and bounding back to Ohio on Thursday, but then, THEN, we are going to see Tim McGraw at Blossom on Friday night, a gift from Mr. Awesome-Husband.  

I am so freaking excited about this stretch of three days. 

That is kind of bad news.  I am the queen of getting my hopes up.  I've already imagined the lolling tongue grin I'll have plastered on my face at the concert with my husband's arm around my waist as we belt out with the crowd, "Where the green grass grows."  I can taste the sizzle of dinner in the city, the cool heat of whiskey or martini after our meal, the twinkly glow of city lights dancing in the night, the melt and anticipation for the rest of our evening, cool sheets, down pillows, the silence of no-children, the useless alarm on the nightstand, the muffled roar of the city below our window.

This is kind of bad news because you really can't plan to be romanced.  Oh, I can hope for it and rev up to it and dress up and psych myself but I can't predict or prepare for how our trip will go.  You can't plan which memories will stick as a future touchstone.  The quickening heart only beats harder in reminiscence.  I feel it now because we have been in these scenes before and my heart warms at the memory-- other concerts, other cities, other dinners, boardwalks and sidewalks and forest hikes and hot tubs and rose petals in soap bubbles-- but in the moment, we were just walking.  Just eating.  Just coming down from a wedding or a movie or a play or a good show, and man, weren't those seats great right there by the stage and he sang every song we love it was so good let's play the CD of him again and sing along loud down the highway home.

Is it weird to look forward to a trip and a concert so that you can also look back at it with the warmth of nostalgia and familiarity later?  I think back on the day I graduated from Ashland, how I squeezed Brandon's hand in the car on the way home after dinner that night, how I smiled and said, "This has been a really great day," how he detoured to downtown Cuyahoga Falls and then how we walked the shadowy boardwalk by the falls, the water raging below, the highway racing above, branches low and full of leaves around us, how he stopped and knelt, and I knew, yes, finally, yes, yes, I will!  It was the only day he could have picked to propose that he knew I wouldn't be anticipating a ring.

I couldn't know then as the day played out that I would return to this memory, turn it around in my hand like a smooth stone to feel the cool air on my skin, the cold band on my finger, the rush of my breath and our embrace, that promise, that choice.  How could I know?  But I hold that memory, tuck it in an aura with all of the other small and significant moments I've collected.  So much would follow that proposal, so much more heartache, so much more joy than any one person can fathom from that starting position.  Only from this current peak can one comprehend the distance and majesty of the preceding hike.

All I see this coming week is the trail and some trees, a little slope to the climb but nothing much to strain against.  So as we enter into our binge dating after so many stolen minutes between work and homework and baths and bedtime songs and wrinkled baskets of laundry, we will drive to the airport like it is an ordinary day, stroll the streets of another city like they are just sidewalks, eat food as if that's just what you do to survive after all, and roll towards the middle of the king-size bed because, sure, we're tired, but we're not that tired.  It will be an ordinary day, but all of that ordinariness, well, it is woven in this unique pattern between my husband and me.  And that's extraordinary.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

About "Field Guide to Resisting Temptation"

Today, a short essay I wrote appears on Brevity, a journal for brief nonfiction, called "Field Guide to Resisting Temptation."

I wrote this essay after it occurred to me for the first time that I could be the one to screw up my marriage. Even though my husband and I had talked about temptation abstractly, about bar scenes and dinners out when he’s on the road for work, I thought we were talking about him and his temptations. Not me. I felt infidelity-proof. This could never happen to me; I love him too much to ever be tempted, and who would be attracted to me anyway?

So when the circumstances of this essay came to pass, I was surprised by how easy it could be. How fast. How immediately painless. How could this happen to me? I was stunned and pleasantly surprised that someone besides my husband found me—three c-sectioned mom, married, average intelligence, occasionally humorous, recently leaner and healthier but still so not attractive—desirable. I wanted to keep hearing these things.
What scared me the most was that my husband and I had just come back from an amazing weekend away, a weekend of laughter, relaxation, vulnerability, and intimacy. We spent the weekend reminiscing over career changes, our three children, the future, the bright and uncertain and beautiful future we imagined always with us together. Married. Forever. We were in about as solid a place as we had been in the nine years we’d been married. 

Even this contented, even this satisfied in my marriage, I could be the one to drive us into a guardrail.

But this didn’t just “happen” to me. I had let it happen, and I was making a choice by allowing it to continue, the flirting and the compliments and the texts, I was letting them arrive, I was receiving them. I was a threat.

I didn’t realize at first that I had a choice, that I had the power to say yes or say no, to protect my marriage or maim it beyond recognition to the point that reconstructive surgery or, God forbid, amputation might be necessary. I could turn one way, or I could run the other. I could choose to let it keep playing and wrecking my heart, or I could turn it off even though it was crazy ridiculous hard, the kind of hard that shamed me because I felt so weak against it. 

Out of that realization, out of that place of shame and weakness, I wrote myself this essay. I wrote down the things my best friend had said to me and the things I needed to tell myself in those moments of insecurity when I felt ugly and undesirable or just temporarily lonely and wanted a quick fix. I had to write myself a way out. I had to write down what I was choosing into and what I was choosing out of. I don’t have to give in or just let this happen as if I have no control over my emotions or my fate or what pain or joy I inflict or deliver. I have a choice.

Writing this essay was shaky hand, racing heart, peeling skin back kind of work. And when I sent it to my husband, it was shaky hand, racing heart, peeling skin back kind of work. But after he read what I had said out loud to him in far fewer words, he heard me, and that confession shrunk my Goliath down to the puny little monster he is. It handed me a few stones and a slingshot.

“Field Guide to Resisting Temptation” empowered me to look for ways to protect my marriage, to own up to the truth underneath the desires, to realize that “it isn’t the full story, it’s only a moment, this moment when you are small and insecure,” and to face those insecurities head-on. Through bearing witness to my weaknesses, I found strength.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Romantic Comedies and Reality

After chasing Henry around the softball field and putting the kids to bed, after downing glass #1 of wine and eating two chunks of dark chocolate, I am now reclined with feet propped indulging further in one of my favorite romantic comedies, French Kiss, with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline.

My favorite romantic comedies all have the same plot line.  Oh, they aren’t exactly the same of course. 

The leading actress is dating a guy other than the leading actor when the two meet in Serendipity, and the entire movie follows the push and pull of fate and destiny as they battle the doubts of their other engagements against the passionate, emotional love connection they felt with this other person they met once in a romantic scene with gloves and elevators until it comes right down to the wire and now this is IT, will he marry his fiancĂ©e or will he come to his senses and keep pursuing the dream of an unknown woman, who is also pursuing the dream of this mystery man?  Yes! Pursue the dream! There he is in the park in the middle of the ice skating pond and there's the glove! The end.

In While You Were Sleeping, Sandra Bullock has a crush on a stranger that passes through her toll booth every day until he nearly gets hit by a train, and due to rescuing him she meets his family and gradually falls in love with the guy’s brother, who, surprise surprise, is the person she ends up really wanting to be with, the better match, and in spite of the wild circumstances, surprise! He asks her to marry him by dropping an engagement ring into her token slot.   The end.

Both of the leading actresses in The Holiday were with guys that were not right for them before, and Kate Winslet is still crushing on her ex- who is engaged when she finally discovers an interest in Jack Black, who is also seeing a girl that isn’t quite right for him, but by the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) they all end up with people who bring out the best in them, who seem to like them for who they are.  "What are you doing for New Years Eve?" asks Jack Black, who then flies with Kate Winslet across the big blue to spend New Years with her and Cameron and Jude, who are also now awesome.  The end.

Or how about When Harry Met Sally, when Harry is with another girl the whole time and Sally is with another guy the whole time until the end when, whaaaaat they are actually really great together, they should be together, why aren't they together, get together already!  The end.

And in French Kiss, my favorite favorite romantic comedy, Meg Ryan is on the hunt to win back her fiancĂ© from the French Goddess he met and suddenly fell in love with, but along the way she meets Kevin Kline who is not at all the kind of guy she ever expected to be with but then, surprise! "I want you.  That's all."  Oh, sigh.  L'amour.  The end.

Oh wait.  These are all the same plot lines, aren’t they?  Leading actresses who are with the wrong guy, leading actors who are with the wrong girl, leading actors and actresses who discover by the end of the movie that they love each other, actually, that the first relationship was good, sure, good enough in fact that most of the time the couples were ready to commit to a lifetime together, but now, well, it either wasn’t great, or it wasn't great enough or someone messed it up or now, this, this other person has taken them by surprise, they have touched the circuits that weren’t triggered with the first, and their compatibility is so much better than anything ever anticipated or experienced, and this is what they’ve been waiting for.  No more messing around with a ratchet set, trying to adjust the wheel of a wrench until it fits.  This one is it.

There's a reason this plot line works for me, though.  There's a reason we're crazy about these movies, these predictable yet entertaining comedies we can laugh at and cry through, and it isn't just because Meg Ryan is just the darned cutest person who ever starred in an eighties or nineties romantic comedy (Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail, French Kiss, When Harry Met Sally).

I feel that hunt and pursuit for the person I thought was perfect for me, if I bent and twisted a certain way, and I feel even more the resolution, the discovery of a person who is actually quite more perfect for me.  It's been ten years (minus two days) since Brandon proposed to me on my college graduation day.  We did a lot of chasing before we met, kept running to some degree afterward, even, but finally I convinced him to marry me.  :)  Gratefully, that isn't the end.

The difference between reality and romantic comedies though, I think, is that it isn't that we've tried on these different people until we've found the perfect match.  It isn't that we've just collided with the wrong people and have to keep bouncing about until we form some kind of ionic chemical bond that is sure to keep us together with a better chemical composition.

I think it has more to do with being aware of the person you are, discovering the solid heartwood of ourselves that will not bend, that will not be worn away by time but will always serve as our core.  This is who I am.  This is what matters to me.  In real life, once we understand this heartwood and stop trying to whittle it away to take the shape of something else, or bend it like a bow, I think that's when we're best suited to find someone who is a good fit.  I think that's when we are ready to choose a life partner who is hopefully also a whole human being at home in their own skin, who also is ready to find someone that is compatible with him or her.

Maybe it's a surprise at first, this compatibility thing, and we say things like, "I never imagined myself with someone like him," with joy and delight we say, "we're so different but in all the right ways."

The unexpected joy of the real life romantic comedy comes later, when after these years of trial and temptation, these years of grief and sorrow and anger, these years of triumph and rejoicing, during the moments when they are both fully the best versions of themselves, she rests her head on his chest while they watch a show, he drapes his arm over her shoulder.  She knows herself.  He knows himself.  She knows him.  He knows her.  This familiarity and intimacy is security, rest, ease, trust, faith. Love.

When the show is over, he fills her water glass for her while she takes out her contacts and they climb the stairs, plug in their phone chargers for the night, turn off the lamps, and roll towards each other under the covers, bodies warm, and they sigh and embrace and laugh and kiss and love, and it is better than any "You... complete me," better than, "What are you doing for New Years Eve?", better than, "I want you. That's all."  Better.  Better and better and better.