8 Unromantic-Sounding Ways I Know We Will Last

two hearts making an effort

“How’s your relationship these days?” is not a question most of us ever ask people. I’ve probably only ever asked it of newlyweds (where it’s more like “How’s married life?” nudge-nudge) or of very close friends with whom I have a precedent of relationship discussions.

It is a bit odd, though. Among parents, there are the constant “how are your kids” conversations, and it’s expected that you’ll dish on the hard parts as well as the fun parts. But for some reason, even though Sean and I are at the age where the majority of our friends are in committed relationships, we rarely discuss that very important aspect of daily life. Somehow, it feels rude or intrusive to ask, even though we certainly care about the answer.

One result of this is that when friends have major relationship troubles or break up, it’s often a complete shock – sometimes even to close friends. You think, But they always seemed fine!

Obviously, the reasons to break up are as diverse and numerous as the couples who do it. For the couples who stay together, there are myriad reasons for that, too. Presumably, though, most couples who’ve had a long-term relationship – whatever its future – had a period of awesomeness at some point. A chapter, of whatever length, where the connection was uplifting and the chemistry was wild and both parties thought, “This could be IT!”

Setting aside the Big Bad Wolves of Relationship Destruction (infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc.), how else do those paths diverge, such that some couples stay together and some split up?

I can only speak for myself in this, of course. I’m no expert. If someone asked me, “How can you be sure you’ll be together forever?” I’d say, “I’m not. It’s impossible to be a hundred percent sure. But I am supremely confident.”

How, you ask, can I be supremely confident without blind faith? What’s the secret? And could it be helpful to anyone else?

Well, shucks, that’s why I’m writing this. So that you can all SOAK UP MY GLORIOUS WISDOMAlors, voilà: here is my carefully crafted counsel, based on my own untrained and entirely non-objective experience of thirteen years with the same person (9.5 of them married).

1. Let Your Inner Grub Out.

If you’re gonna be with someone for the long haul, they need to see the real you, and your real habits. Not dressed up, not scrubbed down. When Sean and I moved in together, cohabitation was our way to make sure that neither of us had habits that would be deal-breakers for the other. We are lucky to have very similar scores on the slob-to-neat-freak scale. If I forget to put the CDs back in their cases (yes, we’re sooo retro, we still have CDs), or if he forgets to put his nasal rinse packet in the garbage, we know we’re about even. We have also found we’re able to handle each other’s dirty laundry and live with each other’s stinkier sides, and we like each other even in comfy pants and scruffy hoodies.

2. Get Used To Non-Perfection.

Speaking of grubs, your personality-related grubbiness is gonna need airing out too. We all have our flaws. We all have at least one side that’s lazy or naggy or procrastinatey or judgey or grumpy or insensitive or whatever. (Fun game: guess which ones are mine!!) And if you join yourself with a person, you join yourself with their flaws. Those flaws are not going anywhere. And Sean and I are well aware of the less awesome parts of each other – and ourselves. Sometimes we drive each other a little bit bonkers with that. But even though we know we can’t change each other, we do support each other’s quests for self-improvement, which are constantly evolving.

3. Forget Sweet Talk. Try Straight Talk.

Speaking of imperfections, it’s good to know we can live with each other’s, but sometimes discussion is necessary. It’s amazing how easy it is to find yourself playing games, manipulating, expecting someone to read your mind if you’re feeling pouty. But that’s lame. If my husband is driving me bonkers in some way, and I never articulate it to him, then what chance is there to improve things? If he’s upset with me for something, I want him to tell me – even when it hurts to hear. (Contrary to some beliefs, it is NOT more respectful to say nothing in an attempt to spare someone’s feelings.) It usually hurts, although we also take pains to word things as plainly-but-tactfully as possible. Those moments are really hard, but bearable – and worth it – if they come from a place of caring. Leaving those unsaid things to fester, on the other hand, is a great way to drive spikes into the potential cracks in a relationship. (We consider that, true to our marriage vows, being irresponsible with spikes is not an option. We have invested; what we have is not disposable or replaceable; therefore, proper maintenance is necessary.)

4. Learn To Mess Up Properly.

Speaking of upsetting each other, Sean and I have learned, many times, that if you handle mistakes with honesty and sincerity, it works way better than denying or deflecting blame. THIS IS HARD, too. Admitting you’re wrong… I honestly think everyone struggles with it. True apology feels deeply vulnerable. But it’s also humbling, illuminating, disarming, and endearing. It allows a couple to be a team, with both members party to the resolution. And I’ve noticed that when a person can be candid about mistakes, those aforementioned flaws and foibles can sometimes even be… kinda cute.

5. Never Mind About That Honeymoon Phase.

Speaking of admitting things, let’s be frank: the exorbitant new-relationship ecstasy does not last forever. Sometimes Sean and I look back on how snuggly-wuggly and cutesie-wootsie we once were, and we think, Yeesh. Our friends must have been nauseated. That swooning stage is not sustainable, long-term. And to be even franker, in a long relationship, there are sometimes downright cool periods – times when you feel distant or annoyed or just not that attracted to each other, or even disconnected.

N.B.: DON’T PANIC. It doesn’t mean the spark is gone forever.

For me, those are usually the times when I’m feeling deflated about life in general. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to put stock in those times. I know that that’s just how I feel if I’m short on sleep, or not eating right, or stressed out about certain things. I wait it out. I know it will pass. It always does. If it needs a little nudge, some of that straight talk (see #3) comes in very handy. Invariably, the moment comes when I look at my husband and feel the affection/happiness/spark surge back in.

It’s also worth mentioning that, in my experience, the settled, solid, non-swooning phase is, in many ways, more sublime than its predecessor. And it still includes kisses that make me weak in the knees.

6. Go Ahead And Take Love For Granted.

Speaking of sometimes-latent affection, one of the perks of being in a committed relationship is getting to take love for granted – in a way. It’s not that I take love in general for granted; it took me ages (years, even) to tell my high school/university boyfriend that I loved him, because I wanted to be absolutely sure I knew what I meant, and meant it well. But once you’ve taken that leap and decided that yes, this is love!, it’s your right – and responsibility – to trust that it’s there… even at times (see #5) when you feel crotchety and not-so-loving. My Hubbibi and I always end phone and text conversations with “I love you.” Especially if we’ve been exasperated with each other, or having a difficult conversation, we both know that by saying “I love you,” we’re affirming that we don’t take challenging moments as bad signs, that we both trust in the proof of our history. Unless one of us were to go through a fundamental change, we know: I’m me, and you’re you, and we love each other.

Furthermore, I really believe that the out-loud declaration of “I love you” is, for lack of a better analogy, like a valve that opens to let the love flow. The absence of “I love you,” on the other hand, is not just a silent moment; it’s a gaping hole through which the love can gradually – and painfully – drain out. I know couples have very different outlooks on when to say it, how often to say it, not wanting it to “mean nothing” if said too often. I see where they’re coming from, but I don’t think saving I love yous for special occasions makes sense. Love, with your life partner, is a gift – but not the diamond-bracelet kind of gift. It must be a practical, everyday gift, like a high-quality glue that can get kinda grungy but does not let go. Even if you say it dozens of times a day, it still means everything.

7. Love Is Not All You Need.

Speaking of love, it’s not the last word. It’s also really important to like each other. If you don’t enjoy each other’s company, all the good chemistry in the world won’t make up for it. I always smile when I see that quote on someone’s wedding program, “This day I will marry my best friend,” etc., because I think that’s the dream. What more could you want? Permanent sleepovers with your best friend! Always coming home to your favourite person! Once you cohabit, and more so once you have kids, it won’t always be “quality” time. There will be many humdrum household activities to share. Once in a while you might think, “Remember when we used to do FUN stuff together??” And you will again. But in the meantime, even if you don’t spend lots of time together (couples on opposite shifts, or with very different hobbies, for example), just sharing those run-of-the-mill activities can be lovely with a cherished friend.

8. Smarten Up And Be Grateful.

There are lots of couples out there who make their marriages function even though they’re not particularly happy or compatible together. Sean and I are fortunate in lots of ways some couples aren’t: we have very well-matched senses of humour; we enjoy the same simple ways to spend time together; we like the same music; we have similar nerdy and/or intellectual tendencies; we have harmonious politics; we genuinely love each other’s families.

We do, however, have differences that can be difficult. We aren’t passionate about all the same things; we don’t have the same style of communication; we have different instincts on a lot of minor issues; but all those things are surmountable with some conscious effort. And with the time we’ve already spent together, we owe each other that conscious effort. Who are we to let small things mess up our relationship when other couples have such larger hurdles?

Ignoring my good fortune seems spoiled to me – like living in such abundance that you feel entitled to waste perfectly good food – and I HATE wasting food. I’ve made a habit of intentionally appreciating the good things, so that when things don’t seem super-rosy, I never forget that I’m still an extremely lucky gal.

One more thing… A Note About Mental Illness.

As many of you know, my beloved Hubbibi is subject to chemical depression sometimes. It took a long time for both of us to understand that while depression can be triggered or catalyzed by circumstances, at its foundation it has nothing to do with how many things are good in one’s life. I have had to pull myself back from feeling like my failings were directly contributing to his depression.

The thing is, before our marriage, we did almost break up – several times – and I mostly blame the depression. It’s an illness that steals your mojo, takes the glow out of even your favourite people and things, makes you feel like stuff isn’t worth doing, saps your motivation to do even the things you know are good for you.

So again, speaking just from my own perspective… If your relationship seems lacklustre despite solid history, consider that mental health (or lack of it) could be an issue. Because there are ways to deal with that. We would never have gotten through those almost-breakups, not to mention having children, not to mention losing one child, without confronting those issues head-on. Being open about this, and being a united team where mental health is concerned, has saved us multiple times.

Just sayin’.

So, to sum up:

If someone were to ask me, “How did you know that Sean was THE ONE?” I’d say, “I didn’t. But I knew he was a super-special-awesome one.”

If someone were to ask me, “How do you know Sean IS the one?” I’d say something annoying like, “He is… because he is.”

I don’t necessarily believe there’s only one human in the world I could possibly make a life with. But Sean is the person I’ve chosen, who has also chosen me, with whom to build something special and interesting and beautiful. He is the only person with whom I can have THIS life, and this life is the one I want.

***

P.S.: To read more about mental health struggles and successes, please click here.


 

[ad name=”Med Rec”]

***

Related Posts:

National Holidays and Life’s Trajectory

Happy Canada Day, Canadians!

strawberry maple leaf

And happy strawberry season, to everyone who can get ’em locally. (The smell of the warm strawberry field yesterday evening, when we went picking, was delectable. You can’t beat strawberries that were picked minutes ago, just a few blocks away.)

While I’m at it, happy early Independence Day, Americans!

I don’t celebrate Independence Day, but I am closely connected to both nationalities. Both my parents and their families were born in the U.S. Some of my very favouritest people in the world (many of whom are related to me) are American. All the same, and despite my recent ranting, I’m glad to be Canadian.

At this time last year, many folks in this country were watching newlyweds Will and Kate enthrall Ottawa.

Kate-Middleton-Prince-William-Ottawa-Canada-Day Continue reading “National Holidays and Life’s Trajectory”

Related Posts:

The Baby Name Game

I’m always amazed when parents (-to-be) are able to agree on the name of their impending child many months ahead of time. I know two expectant couples, both due to have daughters in August, who had names ready (boy and girl options) even before they knew the sex of their baby. They make it seem so simple.

For me (and consequently for Sean), it’s a many-step process. With our firstborn, once we knew he was a boy, I combed through the entire male half of the baby name book (a big one – I think it was 100,000 names in total) and wrote a long list of names I liked. Then it was Sean’s job to do some initial veto work, then we let it simmer, then we looked again at the short list and did some more culling… you get the idea. I have a need to be thorough, so I don’t miss the perfect name.

As a teacher, I have very specific criteria for choosing a name.

  • I can’t have taught several children with that same name.
  • I can’t currently be teaching any child with that name (and as a planning teacher, I tend to have 6-7 classes’ worth at any given time).
  • I can’t have taught even one child with that name who drove me bonkers.
  • It can’t be a name that a future teacher (or doctor or employer etc.) is guaranteed to mispronounce/butcher.
  • The spelling must make sense, i.e. be potentially guessable by your average human.

Then there are the questions all parents (ought to) consider:

  • Does it sound good with the child’s last name?
  • Does it sound good with the child’s sibling’s name, if applicable?
  • Does it rhyme with anything really obviously bad?
  • Is it associated with any serial killers/skanky TV characters/inappropriate brand names/famously failed pop stars?

And this last one seems like a no-brainer, but there are obviously people who forget to ask themselves…

  • Is it actually a name? Or is it a random phrase that can only be considered freakish on a person?

All of these criteria hinge on Sean’s and my belief that it’s really important to think of the child. As in, imagine how he or she will feel with that name. You can’t control whether they will love their name or not, but it should be a name you would enjoy having yourself – otherwise, it’s not fair to inflict it on your child.trans The Baby Name Game Continue reading “The Baby Name Game”

Related Posts:

Okay Stephen, now I’m ******* ticked off.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Langevin Building
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6

Mr. Harper:

As a polite Canadian, I’d like to be able to write a proper, respectful salutation; unfortunately, I have seen no evidence of respectful governance to warrant one.

This is my second open letter to you. You obviously did not heed (or read) the first one, shortly after you were elected, discussing your obligations to the more than half of Canadian voters who did not vote for you. You have, it seems, forgotten all about that particular 60% of us, but WE ARE STILL HERE. And some of us are very angry.

I already knew that I disagreed with almost everything you stand for. You glorify militarism; you want to mess with socialized medicine; you revere corporations.

You are an expert sneak, taking transparency and accountability to a new low – and no wonder, because if you were open about your dealings, people might realize that you are a disgrace to the nation. They might object to your deregulation of everything for your own purposes.

I have been unimpressed (read: disgusted) by many things you have accomplished (e.g. G20 summit) and worked on (e.g. fighter jet boondoggle) since you came into office. That robocall we received didn’t go over well either.

But still, somehow, I retained an apparently preposterous hope that you would not actually — rape — Canada.

canadian-flag

Now it is clear that I was hopelessly naive. Assuming that Bill C-38 is the crystallization of your intentions, it’s official:

You are effing up my country. Continue reading “Okay Stephen, now I’m ******* ticked off.”

Related Posts:

Committing Your Heart: please share your wisdom

holding hands

There’s this couple I know who’s going through a rough time. I love them dearly, and more importantly, they love each other – they have for years. They are one of the best, cutest teams I know.

But right now, there’s heartbreak. One half of this couple looks forward to a future of happiness together, and the other has trouble picturing it, and is unable to use the precedent of happiness to take that leap and say, “I believe in us, and while I know there are no guarantees, I’m going to bet on our success.” The lack of certainty and synchrony is putting cracks in a practically seamless relationship.

It has made me think back over the history I share with Sean. When we got together, he had never had a truly serious, committed adult relationship. In fact, he was confident that he would never marry, never have children. (What a travesty THAT would have been!)

When we decided to be a couple, we knew it was the real deal. Neither of us would have taken the leap to change a high-quality friendship without knowing it was worth the risk. We discussed our long-term future from the start, and almost took it for granted.

Even so, we came very close to breaking up at least twice, because that was Sean’s modus operandi. He was not accustomed to long-term commitment; frankly, he was used to breaking up with girls. Staying together more than a few months was uncharted territory, so he instinctively reached for sabotage. I don’t think it was fully conscious, it was mostly knee-jerk, but it almost succeeded.

Thankfully, it didn’t. When it came right down to it, we loved each other. We didn’t want to break up – we both would have hated that. So we wanted to be together, obviously.

Right?

I guess it’s not always as simple as that.

Now I have a humble request. If you are in a committed relationship, I hope you might take a moment to think back and offer some insight in the comment section. How did you know you were ready to commit to your significant other? How long did it take you to be sure? How long had you been together? Were there specific signs? Was it sudden or gradual? Did you have fears about it that you had to overcome, and if you did, how did you manage?

Thank you in advance for any wisdom you can offer on the topic.

***

Related Posts:

The Christmas Conundrum

When I first started thinking about the Santa Claus myth in relation to my own child, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea. A bit of a bleeding-heart “How can I lie to my child?” thing. Why would I bother with this farce, this deception?

Now that my child is old enough to start getting the concept… I’m starting to think that perhaps Santa Claus really does exist.

You see, I’ve realized that ol’ St. Nick is here, whether we bring him up or not. We haven’t really talked with E about Santa Claus, but he still knows about him – from books, from talking with the other kids at day care, from ubiquitous festive imagery.

Furthermore, there’s all this proof of his existence. He’s not just at the mall. The government is in on it, and we’ve gone way past the level of Miracle on 34th Street; now, not only can Canada Post deliver your letter to Santa, they can guarantee he’ll write back! And that’s just the beginning: you can Skype with Santa, you can email Santa… and the savvy chap is not just on email – he blogs and tweets!

So if I really wanted to NOT do Santa, it would involve one of two things:

a) revealing basically the entire population of the continent to be liars and co-conspirators, OR

b) engaging in far greater subterfuge and stress to avoid exposing our son to Santa. (We’d obviously have to move to the backwoods.)

I might do the former, if I had a good reason. Sean and I agree that we definitely DO NOT want to raise one of those little spoiler turkeys who chooses opportune moments to sneer, “Santa doesn’t exist, dummy! He’s just your mom and dad,” at kids who still believe. But we could find a way around that, if we had to.

But why fight it? It’s not such a horrible myth, if done right. Jolly magical guy who wants to make children happy – that’s kinda nice. Industrious, dextrous elves and flying reindeer with kickass names – pretty cool. Rewards for good behaviour, well – we parents do that all the time already. As long as we avoid sanctimony when it comes to the Naughty/Nice list. (I’ve seen kindergartners pass judgment on each other’s N/N status based on recess skirmishes.)

And does it destroy a child’s world to find out the truth? We discussed this very question in the staffroom the other day. There were a couple sad stories – one in particular where someone’s Grade 4 teacher told the whole class they were stupid if they still believed in Santa Claus – but for the most part, people remember just gradually figuring it out… and being okay with it. Simply outgrowing the concept.

More importantly, most of us loved believing in Santa, and so did/do their kids. There were lots of cool anecdotes about Christmas elves or bears who would show up every December and keep an eye on children; mysterious reindeer prints to be found in the snow; telltale bits of red to indicate a painted sleigh or a furry suit; even jingle bell sounds far off in the night on Christmas Eve. I have very clear memories of trying to stay up late, so we could even just hear Santa Claus arrive (I don’t think I wanted to actually meet him, just know he was there).

It was SUPER-FUN. Christmas was exceedingly thrilling, those years I believed in Santa.

Point being… I think E’s going to get a dump truck from Santa this year.

***


 

Related Posts:

Why I Vaccinate My Child

I first became truly aware of vaccination when I was about eleven. I’d had my standard (Ontario) childhood vaccinations, but didn’t remember them, and hadn’t actually thought about them. Then I read a story about Edward Jenner in Cricket magazine – and I never forgot it.

As you may know, Jenner was the English scientist who discovered the smallpox vaccine. The story started with his own childhood, when he was deliberately given actual smallpox, via a scab from an infected person, in order to make him immune. This was accepted practice at the time. I specifically remember the phrase “For two weeks, smallpox raged through his small body.” He had a seething fever, vomiting, delirium. Luckily, he survived. When it was over, he was immune. He was just a little boy.

The story went on to say that as an adult, he was the one who noticed that the milkmaids never got smallpox. He deduced that their exposure to cowpox had given them immunity. He developed his smallpox inoculation using strains of cowpox. He is sometimes referred to as “the father of immunology.”

Imagine what life must have been like in the Western world, in the latter half of the 18th century. People died young a heck of a lot. Children died all the time. Bereaved parents were everywhere. They tried their best to keep their children alive despite the lethal diseases. The evidence is in the story: clearly, the fear of smallpox – not to mention the likelihood – was so great that parents would rather give their children smallpox in a controlled environment, even though they risked losing them, than leave it up to chance and possibly not realize until it was too late.

Imagine how magical the smallpox vaccine must have seemed.

To me, those sound like desperate times. I’m extremely thankful not to live in them.

If Jenner could see us now, I think he’d be rather shocked. Pleased, no doubt, that “his project” took off and is still going strong; amazed and thrilled that child mortality is so uncommon that we now have the luxury of addressing more subtle issues such as learning disabilities, autism, and psycho-social problems. Shocked that in some circles, the seeming miracle of inoculation is being vilified.

Today, people are asking: Is it a good idea to vaccinate our children? It’s a hot-button issue par excellence. Many parents believe it is not a good choice. Obviously, by the above title, you will have determined that I think it is.

I have been pondering this post for a long time. I have a lot in common with many of the parents who decline to vaccinate their children; very often, they are well-educated people who fit the definition of “attachment” parents. I’m one of those breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping moms. Just like these other parents (and frankly, most parents), I love my child more than words can say, and I just want him to be healthy and happy.

If vaccinations exist to prevent disease, why do loving parents choose not to vaccinate? Continue reading “Why I Vaccinate My Child”

Related Posts:

School Snippets: Student Elections and the stuff we really want from our world

The other week at my school, Grade 5s and 6s participated in hypothetical democracy: student “elections”. I put that in quotes because they don’t actually get to elect anyone – there is no student council or anything – but they get to hear speeches and platforms and read campaign signs, and then vote.

One of the best things about this (in my sentimental opinion) is that the kids who run get to pick their own pretend names. That was one of my favourite things to do as a kid – my sisters and my best friend and I would have elaborate role-playing games that lasted over several days and often involved long sessions of drama-filled dialogue with imaginary people – and our characters (usually “college girls”) always had to have awesome names. My friend N usually picked Tracey, because of the actress who played Carol Seaver on Growing Pains.

tracey-gold-growing-pains-80s

I had a variety of alter egos; I know Samantha was one, and I used Cassandra a lot. In my mind, someone named Cassandra would have to be sophisticated and super-pretty. All the guys would like her.

jennifer-connelly-labyrinth-ball-scene-80s
She might even be as beautiful as this (Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth).

Anyway, I digress. With some aliases the kids pick, you can tell they’re using names they think are cool – but sometimes they’re just being funny (I think Alice McPickle falls into that category). Continue reading “School Snippets: Student Elections and the stuff we really want from our world”

Related Posts:

How Am I?

Disclaimer: As I reread this post, I see that it is on the grumpy side. It is not beautiful. I’m still gonna post it, because, well, blogging has become my therapy and there’s no turning back now. You’re stuck with me. (And if you don’t read this, I’ll never know.)

When people ask me “How are you?” these days, I always have an instant of indecision. Usually, I say I’m fine or okay – because, at that precise moment, I am. Or I say, “Up and down,” since that is probably the truest answer out there.

I should really just admit that I don’t know. (That doesn’t make for neat small talk, though.)

Today, I’m having a bit of an emotional day. (And I’m having chocolate. Trite, but worth it.) I have realized that I am past what I can call “initial grief”; Sean and both have felt ourselves shifting into a different phase. Now I’m becoming aware of the elements of grieving that sneak up on you – the elements that make you feel that as you heal, you sacrifice parts of your functional self.

Since Sebastian died, I’ve generally coped better than I or anyone else would expect. I never felt like I was falling apart; I didn’t lose my ability to enjoy good moments; I didn’t forget how to laugh. In between bouts of intense grieving, I have often felt… pretty good. I have sometimes wondered why I didn’t seem to be hit as hard as other moms in similar situations, why I wasn’t completely devastated. As I’ve written previously, I know some of the reasons.

And now I think another reason is that I’m experiencing grief one piece at a time. One family friend said, at Sebastian’s memorial, “Maybe this can be the end of a chapter.” I think she was right – it provided an apt closure to that phase, whatever it was. The next chapter is the one where I am getting the more mundane, more frustrating aspects of life after loss – ones I was spared (or at least didn’t notice) at first. The ones that make me feel like I’m a different person, and sadly, a person that I don’t like as much. Sometimes I’m not even sure I can blame this new self on my grief – maybe it’s all just the process of aging and gradually losing one’s marbles. The answers to the “How are you?” questions are so intertwined that I don’t know where to start (which is typical). Good thing blogs allow for cutting and pasting. Continue reading “How Am I?”

Related Posts: