When You Lose Your Heart, Where Does It Go?

March 3rd, 2011

I created this blog with the intention of learning more about love. I thought, by reaching out to couples who have made it work, that I might gain the hope needed to move forward in my own quest for love.

Turns out, my plan worked. More than a dozen couples into my project, the dark veil lifted. I learned about teamwork, communication and commitment. I learned that a true partnership is difficult, but that if both people are truly in it for the right reasons, it’s worth all the struggle. Happiness comes and goes, but love is always there, covering bodies, minds and spirits like an invisible swath of fabric. Love protects you. It warms you. Basically, it’s got you covered.

All the amazing couples I met were truly changing my perception. I was happy. I was…ready.

So I gave it a shot. I took a few baby steps forward, and landed in something quite lovely. For awhile, I was beginning to feel tiny whispers of love in my ears, dangling like invisible pearl earrings. Then it dropped into my coffee, like pearls of sweet joy. Soon, it was floating through my bloodstream like hope.

It was like a caffeine jolt. I felt awake.

Turns out, though, it would not be enough for me. Not this time. Like all the times before, when a smile or a foreign language, or the fact that I was invited out for a nice dinner was all it took for my feet to begin twirling like a ballerina, this time would be different. This time, I looked for the things I’d learned about from my couples: alignment of values, emotional capacity and shared world. So many of those things were there. So many things I never cared to notice before were bursting through, clear as day. This person was lovely. He made me feel heard. He made mushy broccoli, but he also made me laugh. He collected magical shells for me during his beach hikes. He gave me lots of hugs. He carried in my groceries. But it wasn’t enough. There are many reasons it wasn’t enough, and all of them are based on hours of careful thought and tons of reflection,  but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Love was like a slinky. I had it in my grasp, but it tumbled through my fingers and down the stairs. It wasn’t mine to hold. Not this time.

Because of this, I stopped writing. I stopped feeling. I stopped believing.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately, when you lose your heart, where does it go? Does it tuck into a corner of your body you don’t know about and blend in with the surroundings like a chameleon? Does it recoil into itself like a turtle in its shell, retreating from the world? Does it melt into your bloodstream, making your breath thicker and more heavy? Or does it just go to sleep? Taking a break from feeling for awhile as it slowly begins to mend?

I like to think my heart was just asleep. I let it rest. I gave it time. I’ve been very gentle.

Today, I felt it beating quietly inside my chest. It’s awake again. Not ready for another round, but ready to start the journey from the beginning, where it last left off. Ready to start believing again. Ready to keep trying. Ready for another couple.

Stay tuned…

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Marina and Jarrod

January 5th, 2011

Most love stories follow a fairly linear path. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love and get married, then buy a house and a crock pot.

Marina and Jarrod’s story isn’t like that.

In order to understand the road they’ve taken over the last 17 years, you need a GPS.

Even the way they met was circuitous.

While on a study break from college classes, Marina was sitting outside a coffee shop with a friend, and Jarrod marched right up to her and said hello. Then he walked away. She wouldn’t see him again for two months.

Turns out, he got into a rock climbing accident. When he started socializing again, a mutual friend of his introduced him to a potential climbing partner named John.

John just happened to be dating Marina.

Once, when John and Jarrod decided to go for a climb, Marina and Jarrod’s girlfriend, Andrea, decided to tag along. Marina didn’t know Jarrod was the guy from the coffee shop all those months before.

There was a moment, though. Marina and Jarrod made eye contact. That would be enough to get the butterflies going, but it still wasn’t enough to bring them together.

In the meantime, John and Jarrod became best friends.

Marina stopped dating John.

Jarrod asked John if he could ask Marina out. John said sure, but Marina had already moved on to Steve.

That didn’t stop Jarrod. He was committed from the very beginning.

“The next thing I knew, Jarrod was suddenly everywhere,” Marina recalls. “I was the girl who was loud and obnoxious, out on the dance floor or standing on a chair at the bar. Jarrod was solid and stable. Calm and quiet. When I knew he was there, I knew I could rely on him. He seemed to always know where I was. I was dating Steve. Jarrod was always there. Steve was not.

“There was a big Halloween party and my roommates and I decided to go. Jarrod asked me to dance and we pretty much danced the rest of the night. The next week we got together and were hooked from that point on. We were engaged two months later.”

That’s right about when Steve (Marina’s ex) and Andrea (Jarrod’s ex) got together.

When they got married, John (Marina’s ex and Jarrod’s best friend) was the best man at their wedding. Marina still didn’t know Jarrod was the guy from the coffee shop until three months after their marriage.

Speaking of marriage, neither one of them were really at a place in their lives where settling down seemed like a good option. But not being together seemed like even less of an option.

Jarrod was on his way to becoming a professional vagabond, and had plans for cross-country travel, climbing trips and outdoor adventures. But he chose Marina.

“We got married, and the life I had planned wasn’t something we could do at the time,” he says. “There were a lot of things I just gave up.”

When he was offered a job running a family business – a 90 degree turn from where he wanted to be – he took it. They had a family now, and Jarrod was committed to supporting everyone, but was unhappy in his professional life.

“It was very frustrating,” he admits. “Marina encouraged me to go out and get back to what I wanted to do. That made a big difference.”

Marina says that, at first, the supporting the family thing was great and the money was nice. But seeing Jarrod unhappy wasn’t worth it.

That’s when they packed up the family and moved from Idaho to Washington.

That’s when Jarrod spent five months living out of a tent, then working ski patrol in the winter.

“Making a change is much harder with a family,” Jarrod admits. “It seems like it would be easier if you were single, but, at the same time, I also question whether it’s almost easier when you’ve got someone else encouraging you to take a risk.

“It’s so important to have someone who knows you well enough to encourage you to move in the direction they know is important to you.”

Of course there have been challenges. Sometimes they don’t see each other for months. He misses the kids growing, and some readjustment is necessary each time he returns. But when Jarrod is home, he can devote all his time to the family and help Marina. Plus, he actually sees the kids more, as was not the case when he was working 70 hours a week.

“Jarrod has really stepped in and helped me the past few months,” she says. “There were some hard times in my family, and he has been wonderful. I didn’t have to worry about that.

“We’re in this together, and the other person’s goals kind of become your own. You want to see them reach them. If I wanted to be president, I would have to give up certain parts of how I could achieve that, in order to take Jarrod, my main support, with me. If I decided to ignore him, there would be no way I could expect him to support me. Which might mean I don’t end up being president because he will support me in every aspect of my life, not just that one goal.”

Speaking of goals, Jarrod says being married was never the goal. He says the goal was the commitment.

“It wasn’t about being how we were the moment we got married for the rest of our marriage,” he says. “It was more about the commitment of figuring it all out, and being together as we figured all of it out.

“I’ve learned that as stressful, frustrating and hard as it sometimes is, I can always go back and look at why I wanted to be married to Marina in the first place. The same touchstone beliefs and reasons are still there. I imagine that with some couples, those do change, and then it’s time to move on. For us, part of why we’re attracted to each other is because those beliefs are a part of our core, not just a façade we put on. Being able to remind yourself of that is very important.”

Marina says marriage helped her get to know who she really was. Before marriage, she admits to living a life that was all about her. Now, she has learned about compromise, and that alone has changed her view of everything.

“It’s a huge relief when you can look at someone and say, ‘This is how it has to happen for me,’” Marina says. “Once you feel comfortable saying that, you can work on it.”

And that’s what marriage really seems to be about: work. Depending on the couple, the work may not be worth the end result, but it definitely seems that way for Jarrod and Marina. They have spent 17 years working on a shared commitment to cultivating a life filled with personal joy, equality and compromise.

It’s sort of like that climbing trip they took together before they ever started dating. They had no idea what
was at the top of the mountain, but they kept climbing.

They knew it was really about the journey more than anything else.

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Katie and Nathan

December 25th, 2010

She had a list.

Most women do. You know, that list that outlines what they’re looking for in a partner? He has to have perfect teeth, a 401K and a good relationship with his mother. Maybe a dog. He should never curse, and always iron his clothes. Flossing wouldn’t hurt, either.

Katie’s list wasn’t like that.

There was the optional part of the list, which included dark hair, an accent and green eyes, but other than that, the list was solid.

#14: Likes sunshine.

#34: He will feel comfortable talking about poop with me.

#40: Likes mullets.

#42: Will sing me “The Glory of Love” and the “Top Gun” song.

Her list makes me giggle. But it also makes me cry.

#7: Wants to be 100% in love.

#15: Is tolerant of children with special needs.

#23: Looks at me when I talk.

#25: Has integrity.

#29: Says, “Hi, beautiful,” every time we talk on the phone.

#44: Will look at the stars with me.

#50: Will choose to live his life with joy and will challenge me to be a better person.

The list had 53 items on it, and Katie told me Nathan ended up fitting every single one of those items (except the dark hair and accent part). This really made me start to wonder what I should be including on my list. I’ve made tons of them in the past, but when I look back at all the superficial and empty things I had on them, it’s no wonder I ended up so darned confused.

Katie was confused, too – before she met Nathan. She spent five years in an on-again-off-again relationship that taught her only one thing – what she didn’t want. The day she heard Nathan speak at a Greek Christian Alliance meeting on campus, she turned to her friend and said, “I didn’t know guys like him even existed.” He was respectful to women, he was kind, he didn’t use profanity and he shared her faith.

Little did she know that once, when she shared with a group at a Greek Christian conference about the ways in which her faith had changed her life, Nathan was listening. He developed a crush on her instantly.

So here were two people who never officially met, but who were both completely taken by each other’s words. Neither knew of the other’s crush, college graduation was drawing near, and they would each go home, to cities four hours apart.

Nearly a year later, something remarkable happened. They both ended up at the same dinner gathering in the same city. They started talking. They exchanged email addresses. They emailed for two months, dated for six and were married nine months after that.

“I knew during our two months of emailing that Nathan was the one.  I knew immediately because when my previous relationship ended, I made a list of 53 things I was going to wait for in a husband, and told God that I was not going to settle and would wait however long. Nathan came two months later. I knew what I was looking for, and Nathan was very obviously it for me.”

Nathan knew fairly quickly, too. It was as obvious as the nausea on his face.

“On our first date,” he recalls, “I had so much energy and excitement from getting to be with her, that I decided to take a run around the park after eating. I came back and threw up right in front of her. She rubbed my back, and I knew then she was really nice.”

It was a good thing Nathan was so generous with his, um, feelings, early on, because that night was just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the struggles the couple would face throughout their marriage.

Not long into their marriage, Nathan changed careers, and they moved from Kansas City to Madison, WI, where he went to school for his Ph.D. Right before that happened, they had their first child, then had another child shortly thereafter.

“Since moving to Madison, we have had two of the roughest years of our seven years of marriage,” Katie recalls. “We moved to Madison with a five-week-old, knowing no one, Nathan started school, we were trying to live on a fourth of what we were making prior to our move, new state, new apartment, Nathan had a really rough first semester, we were so lonely and Nathan worked all the time. The second rough year was the year Sophia was born. She was sick, I had pretty severe post partum depression and anxiety, and, over time, all the stress began to negatively affect our marriage.

“There was a time when Sophia was about seven months old that I was ready to give up. I thought, ‘Is this too hard?’ And a little voice in the back of my head said, ‘No, don’t give up, keep going, this is worth fighting for.’ So I did. I remember coming home and talking to Nathan, and us both agreeing that things were getting bad. We called my parents and asked them to take care of the girls for a weekend, and we went to a hotel and talked things out, tried to make a plan of how to get our marriage back on track, and remembered why we loved each other. Things definitely began to get better after that, but we really had to work at it.”

When you’re young, and you watch a lot of Disney movies, there’s this unfortunate glamorization of marriage. It looks like all it takes is a man, a white horse and a glowing sunset. For so many of us, we inherit the false idea that love is all it takes to make a relationship work. Katie and Nathan can tell you it takes a lot more. For them, faith is a big part, too.

“I think things get skewed when the media and movies make love look like this great, easy thing,” says Katie. “I have learned that love is not always how you feel – it is a choice you make. There are times when I feel totally in love with Nathan, but there are also times when I don’t feel that way. I feel tired or blah or angry or sad. I have learned that feelings cannot always be trusted, and I try my best to show Nathan love no matter how I feel.”

Nathan does the same.

In fact, during that rough patch when their second child was sick and Katie was having a tough time, Nathan still chose love.

“Every Christmas we write out 100 reasons why we love each other,” he says. “The year Sophia was born, we did not get to do that, so I did it for Katie’s birthday the following August. Those eight months from Christmas to her birthday were bad. She had post partum depression, and was angry and being kind of mean to me. I did it anyway, though, because we are both committed to making this work.”

Nathan has a list of his own when it comes to what he loves about Katie.

“She is gentle, compassionate, loves to help people, gets excited about the little things in life, is a good nurturer, an excellent mom, encourages me, believes in me, trusts me, works really hard, is creative and really cute,” he says. “An important bond between us is our faith, and it helps that we both realize we are not perfect, and do things that are hurtful to each other, and when that happens, we ask for forgiveness, and that fosters healing.”

“Nathan cares about how I feel and what I think, and he is present when he listens,” Katie beams. “He opens car doors for me to this day. He brings me tea in the morning. He challenges me to be a better person, and is an awesome leader for our family. Most nights I go to bed thanking God he is mine. Although marriage is hard work, it seems not so hard with him. I think he totally rocks.”

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Erica and Mike

December 16th, 2010

He’s a food snob. She makes caramel corn with high fructose corn syrup.

She’s never been married. He was married for 30 years.

She knows no strangers, and he is soft-spoken and shy.

She prefers movies where there is fighting and things blowing up, and he cries at Cinderella.

They are perfect for each other.

Erica and Mike met in 2008 at a boundaries and relationships class. Mike, who was recently divorced, signed up for three classes, and Erica was in the last one he attended.

“I did not want to be stuck in a room with 70 people I had never met before for two freakin days,” she recalls. “Mike came up to me and started yelling, and said, ‘You’re just like my ex wife.’”

“There was more to it than that,” Mike rebuts. “I said, ‘You’re a type A personality, just like my ex wife.’ And she said, ‘You’re a crazy little white man.’”

“We’ve been together ever since,” Erica laughs. “Before I met him, I made a list of everything I wanted in a man, and it was very long. There were only two things he didn’t hit – tall and black! We were both praying every day that we’d find someone, but I’ve always been single. I like my job and I’m happy, so I was okay being alone the rest of my life.”

Mike was praying that his ex would find peace in the world, and that his daughter and son would find happiness, but admits to having given up on finding love.

After just two dates, however, they knew their prayers had been answered.

“I was dating several guys at the time, and called them all and said it was over,” remembers Erica. “They all laughed and said I was crazy and there is no way I’d settle down with one person. I’m an indigo. We have a different DNA strand than everyone else. One thing the experts say is that we only mate with one person the rest of our lives. You’ll know it when you meet them, and that’s it – you’re done. Mike is my soul mate, and I believe God put us together, because I wouldn’t have put us together!”

Erica’s mom gave her seal of approval.

The twist, however, comes from the fact that her mom is no longer alive. But like any opinionated mother, she found a way to make her feelings known.

“My mom is a pervasive spirit,” says Erica, “and she smells like sandalwood and patchouli. She kept coming to Mike’s apartment.”

Though Mike was totally baffled, he can’t argue with what happened.

“It was a guy’s apartment,” he says. “If it smelled like anything, it smelled like meat. Then all of a sudden it smelled like patchouli. No matter how many times I washed my sheets and towels, the scent was still there. It seemed we got her blessing.”

Perhaps Erica’s mother was happy that Mike had learned a lot about relationships after his thirty-year marriage ended.

“I had a lot of therapy before I started dating again,” he admits. “A lot of the things I did in my first marriage and the mistakes I made…I’m attempting not to make them. A marriage is a partnership. There isn’t just one person who screws it up. You can’t make someone else behave a certain way. I try to be cognizant of my part in everything, and respect her making her own decisions.

“When I was living alone, it was all about me and what I wanted. I didn’t have anyone to share it with, and found that very hollow and lonely. Now that I have someone to share it with, I don’t feel less freedom or independence. I just know there’s someone here who loves me.”

Erica had to ask her guy friends for relationship advice.

“The best advice I got,” she admits, “was, if you’re going to love him, you need to love all of him. Even the stuff you don’t like.”

That’s how James Earle Jones showed up.

“When we got together, I noticed that every time he repeated something I said, he’d use an obnoxious, screechy voice,” Erica says. “When I would repeat things he said, I’d use a dumb guy voice. These were very hurtful habits to both of us, so we decided that when imitating the other person, we’d use James Earl Jones’ voice. Silly, but not hurtful. It seems to work well for both of us.”

It’s compromises like this, coupled with a hearty dose of good fun, that seem to be the glue that so tightly binds this sassy couple’s relationship. That, and the fact that they are both crazy about each other and truly enjoy one another’s company.

“When we’re apart, all we want to be is together,” says Mike. “We like walking, talking, being on the couch and snuggling. I don’t sit in my armchair and read my paper. I sit, with Erica next to me, playing with her hair.

“She takes really good care of me. I don’t ask her to, but she does. I always tell her how beautiful she is, and remind her I love her. She gets foot rubs. Women need attention. You can’t forget how special they are. You have to appreciate them for the things they do for you.”

Erica gives Mike pedicures, cuts his hair and brings him into the key decisions she makes in her life.

“I want him to die to get home every day,” she admits. “He went out with his friends not long ago, and texted me that all his friends wanted to find women to take home, but he wanted to come home to me. THAT is what I want to hear.”

Whether it’s in a James Earle Jones voice or not, it seems like something Erica will be hearing for a very long time.

Just as Mike wipes away a tear from hearing Erica talk about how much he means to her, he tells me how much he’s looking forward to retirement.

“Then,” he smiles, “we can be together all the time.”

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How to Love Yourself

December 7th, 2010

“No matter how much we seek, we never find anything but ourselves.”
-Anatole France

I was sitting at a table by the window, a tiny red rose and flickering candle setting the mood. Spanish guitar wafted in through the speakers. It was undoubtedly romantic. And I was, undoubtedly, alone.

At first it was fine. There was a single gentleman behind me, and a handsome blonde man at the table across from me, dining with his parents. My martini arrived. I took a sip.

Then the couple came.

I was reading a book. They were staring. First, it seemed harmless. Then, by the third time, I felt a bit like an animal on display at the zoo. My face turned red. I shifted in my seat. I was suddenly acutely aware of my aloneness.

Me, the only child. The one who vacations alone, goes to movies alone and would prefer to have a leisurely lunch with only a book and an iced tea. Suddenly, I felt lacking.

I sat with that awhile. Stirred the olives in my martini. Looked out the window. Couldn’t stop fidgeting. So I ordered the pumpkin soufflé.

It would take 30 minutes to prepare. I would wait – alone. And I would slowly begin to remember why I loved it so much.

I turned down three friends who wished to tag along, and came to a romantic bed and breakfast on the California coast alone, where I could sleep as long as I wanted and leave my socks and underwear all over the room. I came to sit on a rock and stare out at the sea without anyone telling me they had to pee. I came to share my croissant with a seagull. When a man in my building asked me several times why I wouldn’t be taking a boyfriend, I spent five minutes reassuring him I would be okay. I always have been.

Why, in our culture, do we look down on people who are alone? Do we pity them? Think them less worthy?

I often wonder what people think when they see me. I am graceful and confident. I’ve been told I am elegant and funny. Do people think my lover must be at home sick? What difference does it make if I even have a lover?

In trying to wrap my brain around the concept of aloneness, I realized how very connected it is to the concept of self love. The more you love yourself, the more okay you become with being alone. The fear of judgment washes away. When you love yourself, you worry less. You fear less. You just ARE.

This wonderful video, “How to Be Alone,” reinforces what I believe, and inspired me to write this post. Being comfortable alone – really exploring who you are and what you love – is the greatest gift you can give yourself. I used to think it was a load of crap when people told me you had to love yourself before you could ever love someone else, but now I finally know it’s true. Some of the happiest couples I’ve talked to have a strong sense of self. They recognize the importance of building love around the life you already have, rather than reshaping your life to fit love inside. The love has got to fill you already. No one else can – and no one else will – do it for you.

In the end, what others think doesn’t matter. It’s what you think of yourself that carries all the weight.

Speaking of weight – my pumpkin soufflé arrived right as the couple next to me was discussing their wedding.

The woman cast a nervous glance my way. I took a bite, and couldn’t help but smile.

I finally figured out why she was staring. It wasn’t because I was alone. It was because I was eating an entire pumpkin soufflé alone, and she had to share.

Special thanks to the awesome Andrea Dorfman for letting me use the video, “How to Be Alone,” and Tanya Davis, whose beautiful words helped me remember that I love myself enough for two people!

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Carol and Andy

November 30th, 2010

I have a soft spot in my heart for gnomes.

So when I saw this photo of Carol and Andy in their Halloween attire, I knew there was a love story beneath those pointy red hats. I’m sure I would’ve felt the same, had I seen their costumes from years past – as Marge and Homer Simpson, and as the Indiana Jones who didn’t make it out of the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and his dream date, Medusa.

In a way, they’ve become ambassadors for the nontraditional love story.

That’s the best kind of story, after all.

Even dressed as civilians, Carol and Andy are wildly entertaining.

It might have to do with the fact that Carol is a successful food writer and Andy gets to make DreamWorks movies for a living. They’re both wonderfully intelligent, ambitious and like to think outside the box.

They also bring stinky cheese into movie theatres, tell really bad jokes and love Monty Python.

Doing all this for 13 years has undoubtedly kept their marriage fun. The other important part of the equation comes from the fact that they were friends for three years before they ever dated.

“When we first met,” Carol says, “there’s no way I would’ve known I was looking at my husband. There was something special about him I couldn’t explain, but it took me a few years to figure out what it was!”

Though they worked in the same office on the University of Memphis campus and hung out on occasion, it seems both these intelligent people were relatively clueless when it came to how perfect they were for each other.

At least the cat knew.

Carol’s cat, aptly named Kismet, rubbed his teeth on Andy’s hand the first time they met.

“That’s the ultimate compliment,” Carol reveals. “He was usually afraid of everyone. But he was a perceptive soul. He figured it out before I did.”

A year after Kismet’s stamp of approval, the two finally got together. Carol remembers it vividly.

“One night, we got together to do something and ended up sitting and talking. It was past midnight. Finally both of us were sort of feeling it and we just got our nerve up. It was really kind of scary.”

There was, mostly, the fear of losing a friend if the romantic part of things didn’t pan out. But the rewards seemed far greater than the risks. They had seen each other in bad moods. They were both writers. They had the same sense of humor. And, conveniently, they both really enjoyed each other’s company. The fear they’d run out of things to talk about certainly wasn’t there.

They had been dating six months when Andy got a job at CNN in Atlanta. Carol was working in Memphis, which was about six hours away. The two maintained a long distance relationship for two years.

When Andy got a job in California to work in visual effects and animation, he had already been thinking about marriage. He didn’t want to move to California without Carol. The two were married on October 4, 1997.

How did he know she was the one?

“Sometimes you date people who don’t get you all the way,” says Andy. “Like maybe 50 percent. And the other half they think they can change or ignore. Carol seemed to get me. Like 80 or 90 percent, and the rest she was okay with. Beyond that, when you’re friends with someone that long and they know you and you know them, you feel really strong in the relationship — like you got each other’s backs. I knew L.A. was one of the scariest places to make a living, and I knew I wanted my best friend with me.”

What about her?

“I do think being friends was really very helpful for us,” she admits. “I look at others who met and immediately started dating, and it wouldn’t have been right for me. I wouldn’t have wanted to meet him any other way.

“I dated all the wrong guys for years. When Andy came along, I realized he was worth whatever I needed to do. He was the right one.”

Even today, Carol still can’t wait to get Andy’s take on things. She probably already knows what he’ll say, but she still likes to ask. And, at parties, when someone says something, all they have to do is look at each other and they’ll know what the other is thinking. It’s like they have their own language.

Often, it’s a language impossible to translate to anyone on the outside.

“I’m the only one who will laugh at Carol’s puns,” Andy chuckles. “I really do love her sense of humor, and the easy banter we have. We entertain each other with the silliest stuff – particularly in church. There are a few hymns where we heard the lyrics wrong, or we make up our own. We are always laughing our way through things. It makes it easier.”

As Carol says, life is serious enough.

“Besides,” she adds, “he smells better than stinky cheese. Every time he opens the fridge, I say, ‘Oh god, what did you do?’

“It reminds me of a time we were at the farmers market, and bought some potent cheese. We went to see a movie next door. We smelled something, and kept thinking the person in front of us hadn’t taken a bath. The man next to me got up and left during the climax in the movie, because he couldn’t take it. As we were leaving, we realized it was the cheese. We had completely forgotten. We had a good laugh about that the rest of the day. We enjoy the whole ‘whoops, oh well’ part of life.”

All jokes aside, they’ve certainly had their share of ups and downs in their 13 years of marriage, but Carol credits the deep respect she has for Andy for helping her make it through.

“The silent passive aggressive thing doesn’t work in this household,” she says. “When one of us is upset, we don’t get in each other’s face. If we need to cool off, we’re really respectful of that. It’s good to have that space to try to process and articulate what it is that’s upsetting us, and then we can talk it through.”

One particular challenge involved Carol’s experience in culinary school. She woke up every morning in tears, but Andy told her to keep going. That kind of cheerleading and support, Carol says, made a big difference in her ability to power through.

When Andy took a writing workshop in Seattle for six weeks, Carol supported him through the entire process. Even though they didn’t get to talk or have quality time together, she gave him the space he needed to pursue his dreams.

“A lot of people would not dream of going on a trip abroad without their spouse or partner,” Carol observes. “We’re so excited for each other to have these life and career enriching opportunities that we really don’t mind if one of us gets to go out of town–or out of the country–without the other. It doesn’t mean we don’t miss each other. We’ve worked hard for these opportunities, and we want each other to enjoy the benefits.”

Still, the two enjoy a benefit far greater than travel perks — the strength of their relationship. There is some solid stuff holding this duo together. They really like each other. That counts for a lot.

“Andy is the most interesting person I’ve ever met,” Carol says with a smile. “You can plunk him down in a bookstore and he will read anything he can grab and come up with the most interesting things to talk about. His mind astonishes me.

“Sometimes, I’ll just look over at him and pat him on the arm or leg and say, ‘I just love being married to you.’ He has such a good heart. I haven’t met very many people who have that sort of heart. There is a genuineness and sweetness there. He’s one in a million.”

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Date Girl and Match

November 23rd, 2010

This is a weird story for me to write.

Not weird, weird, but weird in the sense that I never imagined this would happen. I never thought I’d be writing a story about a girl I didn’t know, but whose life I read about on the internet.

Many years ago, when I was writing a blog about my dating misadventures, I received regular comments from someone named Date Girl, who had a blog with the same name. She, too, was writing about her journey through the dating world. It was mostly about how frustrating it all was, and how she finally realized she was fed up with all the drama, and wanted to find a partner. I could relate to her travails. We were bonded in our singledom.

One day recently, I thought about her. I wondered how her journey was going, so I visited her blog again. I was amazed to read about her upcoming wedding! Apparently, while on the dating roller coaster, she jumped off long enough to meet someone who didn’t cause her nausea, and she fell in love.

Date Girl was now Married Girl.

I emailed her immediately, asking to interview her for my new blog about successful, lasting love – a stark departure from my former life of catch and release.

She agreed, and so did her now-husband, Match.

When they first started dating, he was oft referred to as Match on her blog, and now I understand why.

They met on Match.com.

But this is not an endorsement for online dating. It’s just how they met. It’s how many couples meet, but it’s not often the vehicle through which couples stay together.

But Match and Date Girl beat the odds. Even after a super-quick courtship that saw them living together after a month.

Though they’re both young, they are very real, and they’re honest about their stories – both before and after they knew each other. They talk about the lovely parts, but also the struggles and challenges that show up in day-to-day life.

Their answers, just like their personalities, are really cute. So I’m going to let them do the talking.

How did you know this was it?

Match: How about the first conversation? We weren’t even dating. We talked on the phone for an hour and half. I just knew.

DG: Same for me. I think it was the first time we instant messaged, even. I just knew this guy was different. The first time we met, it was like I was seeing an old friend. We snuggled up together like we’d been together for years.

Were you ever scared of commitment?

Match: Yeah, I’ve been scared of commitment before. It was because I knew they weren’t the right person for me. When I met DG, I felt privileged just to be dating her. I was completely committed.

DG: Yes, most definitely in the past. I’ve had some bad relationships, and no one I could ever really visualize a future with. I always saw the end of the relationship looming before me. When I met Match, for the first time I could actually picture a future, and couldn’t see an end in sight.

Did you grow up wanting to get married?

Match: Little boys don’t really think about that kind of stuff. I just knew I wanted to get married someday. I thought it was a normal thing for people to do in their life and I wanted to have it eventually, but I didn’t fantasize about it or anything.

DG: I wasn’t like most little girls. I didn’t really picture a wedding day until I was older. By then I was kind of jaded and wondered if marriage was something I was ever going to have. I think the string of broken hearts really made me feel jaded. That, and I was a child of divorce, and I knew if I were ever to get married, there was no way I’d get a divorce. It had to be permanent for me, so I didn’t want any doubts. I wanted to marry my best friend, and there was no way I was going to settle for less than that.

How do you view marriage now, if it’s different than the way you used to view it?

Match: It takes a lot of work to have a good, happy, successful relationship. I view marriage now in a way as a privilege, but also a job. You have to want the responsibility. You have to want to dedicate yourself. You need to want the responsibility of being a part of something that’s more than just yourself.

DG: Now I see that it really is possible for me to have this kind of happiness. I found exactly what I was looking for. Sometimes it’s a job, but I look forward to the work. I love that our relationship grows and matures with us.

What sort of idea have you had of love? Has it changed throughout the years?

Match: Back then I thought you dedicate yourself strictly to them. As I grew, my perspective on love grew into realizing that it is kind of an exchange. You want to find someone who helps you grow as much as you help them grow. As I grew, my perspective on love grew. I realized that me being happy in the relationship is just as important as them being happy. I used to just try to make them happy, but I never made sure of what I wanted.

DG: I used to think love was messy and full of tears and heartache. I had such drama-filled relationships in the past, that I began to think it was normal. I’m so glad I was wrong. Sure, Match and I get into arguments just like any other couple, but never that up and down drama of my earlier relationships.

What’s your relationship personality?

Match: We’re total goofballs!

DG: We have these funny noises we make, especially this one sound I make, “eemmerr.” I have no idea how it started, but now it’s kind of like our call signal. When I come home I say it, and vice versa. It’s completely goofy, but it’s just so us. One time, we got dressed up in our pajamas and walked downtown to a local bar and I sang karaoke. I love that Match doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, and was totally fine with looking silly in public with me.

What’s good about your life together?

Match: The highlight of my day is laying down in bed next to her. When she snuggles into my pit (armpit) and we fall asleep.

DG: I think the fact that we’re just happy to come home to each other. I still get those little butterflies in my stomach sometimes when I’m driving home because I know he’ll be there and I can’t wait to see him. One of my favorite things that he does is when we go to bed and curl up together, he’ll open up his arm and say, “Come here, get in my pit.” Then I’ll snuggle up and fall asleep with my head on his chest.

What do you think you bring to the relationship? What does your partner bring to the table that you don’t?

Match: I’m very logical in my thinking. “We’ll see” is one of my go-to phrases when DG gets excited. DG is just a very happy person. It keeps me happy. Sometimes I think I dwell on things or think about things too seriously. She reminds me that there’s more to life than stressing about the small stuff.

DG: I definitely bring the positive, happy go lucky side to our relationship. I think I’m a bit more of a dreamer. I think Match keeps me grounded.

Tell me how you remained committed to making it work, despite some of life’s inevitable challenges.

Match: How about all my career shit? Basically my career path has been a real thorn in our side. From the fire academy to not having weekends free for a whole year, to working graveyard at the casino, to coming home angry every day from a terrible job, and now to the police academy, being busy all of the time and stressed. My whole employment situation has been tough. Even when I was out of work or between jobs, I’d come home angry and emotional. I’d honestly say that’s been our biggest issue so far. It’s important to both of us that I have a job I enjoy that will help us support a family. Basically Date Girl has helped support us financially and emotionally while I worked towards finding an ideal career.

DG: Yes, the job thing has definitely been our big issue. There was a time when I worried that Match wasn’t ready for the next step. But we talked it out and we each communicated our fears and our goals in life. Really it just boils down to communication. You have to be willing to talk about the tough stuff. You can’t swallow your feelings, you’ve got to let the other person know how you feel. Our challenges have been financial stress and career stress. But there was never a doubt that we loved each other, so it made those other problems insignificant.

What are some of the things you love most about your partner and why?

Match: I just love how happy and good she is. She’d do anything for her friends. She always brings me up, never brings me down. Even when she’s sad, I just want to help her and make her feel happy again. She’s smart, good sense of humor, funny. Basically just an incredible personality. Oh, and she’s hot!

DG: His affection, his honesty, the way he’ll turn and give me a little hug and kiss the top of my head when we’re at the grocery store or doing something else mundane. He’s completely dedicated and he doesn’t give up when he puts his mind to something. He makes me laugh. He’s smart, and we have real conversations. He challenges me. He’s also incredibly sexy and has a really cute butt!

What have you learned about love and compromise?

Match: No one ever really wins. Even making dinner doesn’t come without a compromise. You cook, I’ll do the dishes. I think compromise is probably the heart and soul of a good relationship. Right there with communication. A good relationship will never survive if it’s always one sided. It has to come evenly from both sides.

DG: I’ve learned, besides compromising, that I don’t have to change who I am for my partner. In the past I always felt like I had to change who I was, and with Match I can be completely me.

The moral of this story?

That once-jaded girl I met online so many years ago has one thing to say to the non-believers. She wants us to know that love is real, and it’s out there.

“When I first started my blog I didn’t really believe in love,” she admits. “And just look at how life turned out.”

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Bob and Tony

November 16th, 2010

I owe a lot to Twix bars.

In Junior High, they quickly taught me the importance of proper dental hygiene while wearing braces.

During my 20s, they brought me together with Bob and Tony.

When I was writing a home recipe column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I got a special note from Bob, who submitted his homemade Twix bar recipe.

After our interview, which was only by phone, I was so smitten by him, that I happily accepted his invitation to keep in touch. When the holidays rolled around, he invited me to his annual holiday party. He would be making Twix bars.

I showed up to a house full of beautiful Asian art, Marilyn Monroe ornaments and two lovely people, all set to welcome me into their lives.

Bob and Tony have been together for 26 years.

They met during a suitable partner screening interview Bob was having at a local coffee shop. Tony was “hired” almost immediately.

“Everyone I knew was starting to pair up, and I wanted to find a partner,” recalls Bob. “One of my friends suggested I put an ad in the paper. I thought it seemed sleazy to do that, and I was scared. I didn’t know how to interview someone, or what to expect. I didn’t want someone I wasn’t interested in to come to my home, so I screened people at a coffeehouse. Tony happened to be number three.

“I interviewed someone after him, and I only thought about Tony. He’s a man of substance. I also liked that he was Italian. I always wanted an Italian man. I am fair and blonde, and wanted a man with an olive complexion and black hair. I called him and invited him for dinner. I decided to fix pasta, since he’s Italian. I made mostaccioli. About seven years ago, I asked him about that first night, and what he thought about my dinner. Turns out, he never liked it. He said it was peasant food!”

Today, Bob is in charge of desserts, and Tony does all the cooking! While it’s certainly clear the two have set up a comfortable life together, things weren’t so easy in the beginning. There was a bit of house cleaning to do, so to speak.

When they met in 1984, Bob was sure he wanted to be in a relationship. He was even more certain he wanted that relationship to be with a man. He wanted to settle down, have a home and create a life together.

Tony, however, had already done all that – with a woman. He had been married a long time. He had a son, and a bit of trepidation about moving forward. He didn’t really know what to expect. But after hanging out with Bob for just a short while, it was enough for him to jump in with both feet.

“I wanted to make the leap,” Tony admits. “I had dated men before I was married, and the experiences weren’t satisfying to me, so I tried to find a female partner. During my marriage I knew I was attracted to men, but I didn’t cheat on my wife.

“What Bob doesn’t remember is that although we’d never officially met, we had seen one another before. I saw him once at the opera. As soon as we met in the coffee shop, I knew I’d seen him before. He is a very handsome man, and I was attracted to him when our paths crossed all that time ago. I soon felt, after knowing Bob, that I wanted to start a life together.”

They moved in together a month after they met – at Tony’s suggestion!

That was, perhaps, the easy part. There was still the matter of telling Tony’s son, who didn’t know he was gay, about his new life.

“That was the person whose approval I thought it was most important to have,” Tony says. “A few months before this, we had been in New York together. We had seen La Cage Aux Folles, and that’s how I explained to him what my life was like now. He was 15. He had no problems with that.”

Neither did Tony’s brother, who is a priest.

“My mother initially had some problems,” Tony admits, “but my brother said, ‘Why not?’ That became the stamp of approval.”

The real sign of approval, however, was the fact that Bob was the only other person to receive a bequest in Tony’s mother’s will, other than Tony, his son and his brother.

Like most couples, there have always been challenges. There still are. But after such a long time together, the two have learned how to weather the storms. Even more importantly, they know the different things they can bring to the table, and they honor those things in each other.

Bob, for example, is very outgoing and likes to be social. Tony is less so, but admits that Bob has made it possible for the two of them to extend their relationships with others. Bob is an artist, and is passionate about interior design, and Tony is a professor, and is into film and literature.

“I think we balance each other,” says Tony. “I know we have very good friends who are very similar to us in the sense that they have very different personalities and approach things in different ways, but really complement one another.”

Like the Marilyn Monroe ornaments, and menagerie of wicked queen from Snow White and Pinnochio sculptures, which are Bob’s influence, and the Asian art, which belongs to Tony. It makes for a very colorful, and surprisingly complementary, home environment.

And it certainly makes for a colorful life. One tinted with happy colors, with a few swirls of dark blue thrown in, just for balance. The swirls are there to remind us that nothing is ever static. Life is all about swirls and dips.

“It really is about give and take,” Bob adds. “There are times Tony can become irritated with me, and I realize I’m at fault, and have to make amends. We’ve realized that if you get angry, you just can’t do the silent treatment. You have to be open to talking about it. Things he wants to do, we do, and things I want to do, we do.”

Tony has learned that it’s all about patience.

“I do not want any tension or dramatics in my life,” he says. “I just want peace. What I do is try not to respond negatively when I feel that way, but to just count and let it go by. Or sometimes just not acknowledge I’m annoyed. We know one another well enough not to go to those places where there’s trouble. It’s a way to survive in peace.”

Bob tells me they’re really happy and content at this stage in their lives, and they only want it to continue to be successful. The key, he says, is that you’ve got to want a relationship. In wanting that, you work to make it work.

Tony agrees.

“You’ve also got to work at it, he adds. “And not be overcome if you have failure. Move beyond it and keep working. You’ll learn from the failure. You have to be honest with your partner, too. We may not have a marriage contract, but we certainly have a commitment, and we honor that.”

That they honor each other is clear. And that they’ve learned a lot in their years together – enough to remain committed to sticking it out no matter how many swirls dot the landscape of their lives – is what really matters.

“People say it will happen when it’s meant to happen, and I was skeptical,” Bob admits. “So I started praying. I told God what I wanted. I wanted someone to call my own, share our families, go on trips together, have a home together.

“I’ve told Tony in the past and I’m sincere. I hope when the time comes, I’m the first to go. I don’t want to be left behind without him. It’s like Camelot – I’ve found THE man in my life, and I’d hate to go on in the world without him. What I have is what I’ve been looking for, and I’ve been blessed by God.”

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What Makes Someone Perfect?

November 9th, 2010

I do a lot of writing at tea houses. It’s a great chance to people watch. For someone like me, who is fascinated with the interplay between people in various states of relationship, it’s a wonderful chance to take note of the way a guy acts when trying to woo a girl, or the shameless flirtation a girl employs to show a guy she’s interested.

Today, I watched as a young guy was chatting up a girl next to me. She was trying to inch her way out the door, and he was going on and on about the rain. She was polite, but not interested, and he was TOO interested. When she finally tumbled out the door, his friend indicated that his level of interest was just a bit too much. “Just a tad,” he said, illustrating the degree with his index finger and thumb.

I could only laugh. All too often I’ve been on either side of that scenario. Both sides are equally awkward. With age, I’ve come to learn that awkwardness and difficulty make for strange bedfellows. It should just be. It shouldn’t be easy or happy or organic or fun. It should just BE.

I’m not implying I know what it is that makes people perfect for each other. Is it really chemistry? Shared interests? Divine intervention? Or is it something far less identifiable? Something in the air. Something that happens only if we’re watching, like when we’re crossing the street –  he from east to west, and you, from west to east.

And then, in that moment, in the middle of a crowded street, you just know. And maybe it’s not even close to the fairytale you imagined. He’s not all that handsome, and you don’t get chills up and down your spine. And you’re wearing a craggy old sweatsuit and haven’t washed your hair in three days. But there it is.

That’s the way Haruki Murakami paints it in his story, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.” I’ve read it over and over throughout the years, and it strikes me as particularly curious. It’s certainly a very straightforward love story. In fact, it doesn’t even really appear to be a story about love. It’s a story about what is. What might be. What we see. What we miss.

What makes someone perfect? I don’t think it’s the shape of their nose, or the color of their jacket. I don’t think it has anything to do with how many gifts they give you or how many compliments they toss out during dinner. I think it’s something as invisible and indirect as what Murakami implies in this story. I think it’s about silence. And possibility. And timing. And openness. And lack of fear. And faith.

Yes, I think it’s about faith. Faith is perfect. Nothing else need be. Not even love. Love certainly isn’t perfect. But faith in love – that’s 100% perfect.

image: www.freeimages.co.uk

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Maria and Ramiro

November 3rd, 2010

Maria has the sweetest smile.

She’s always walking around the office smiling at everyone – even on rainy days. In fact, if she isn’t smiling, my day always feels a little off center.

Lucky for me, that rarely happens. On average, I’d say Maria smiles 98% of the time.

Now I know why.

Maria has a happy and fulfilling relationship with her husband.

It’s not something I think – it’s something I can see. I can hear it in the way they explain how they met. I see it in the way he saves half his meal for her, or how she nudges his shoulder, then lets out a little giggle when he passes her the plate. I can feel it in the gentle way he plucks pictures from his memory – like how pretty he thought she was the day he first saw her, and how, even though he wouldn’t see her again for two years, he never forgot her face. My favorite part, though, is how he can’t stop smiling when he tells me the story – like it’s just now happening for the first time.

Maria didn’t see him that day in 2002, when he showed up for a church concert. But she did see him in 2004, when he came to a small group she was facilitating for professional single people.

“There she was again!” Ramiro smiles.

Sadly, Maria was seeing someone.

“In that moment, he was really respectful,” she recalls. “He never talked alone to me. He only said hello and goodbye – until I broke up with my boyfriend.”

Ramiro, who was friends with a woman Maria also knew, heard that Maria was now single. And even though this friend (who had a crush on him) was the one to reveal the news, he couldn’t help but exclaim, “That’s excellent news!”

And then the instant messenging fest began.

“I had all the friends from the small group in my messenger list,” she says. “So I added Ramiro in. This friend who told him we broke up, she always said wonderful things about him, how nice he was, how good he is with his family, how he pays attention to details. I always thought that was the kind of person I wanted. But she liked him, so I didn’t try to pry. In the small group we didn’t talk, but got to know each other through messenger. When I saw that he would sign in, it got me happy!”

Not long after, when Ramiro’s female friend realized he had his sights set on someone else, he was able to devote more time to cultivating the relationship he really wanted – the one with Maria.

Still, he didn’t really know he was doing this. Not even when he knew she took the bus all day, and asked if she wanted him to send a driver to pick her up, and when she said yes, he showed up – with chocolate! He didn’t know it when he invited her for coffee, and they talked for hours. And after he dropped her home, he called her, and they talked several more hours!

He didn’t know this because he had sworn off dating. He had a bad relationship he was still nursing. There was no room for more.

But he found himself talking about Maria a lot. He told his mother how pretty she was, how she went to the same church, how she’s a leader, how she dedicates herself to her studies.

And his mother said, simply: “She sounds like the perfect girl for you.”

Suddenly, he realized she was right.

Some days he would wait in his office until 9 p.m. just so he could pick Maria up after her classes. He even surprised her at work with Oreo cheesecake – with a big bottle of milk – because he knew how much she loved milk!

One night at dinner, he said, “I like you. I just wanted you to know that. I would really like it if we were more than friends. You don’t have to answer now, but I thought it was the right thing to tell you, so you know what to expect from me and know I’m not playing games.”

Maria, who had also had some bad experiences with dating, wasn’t thinking of starting anything new.

“I didn’t want to date,” she admits. “But then Ramiro showed up in my life.”

She remembers once, when she accidentally burned him with her coffee, and he told her to kiss him on the cheek, she felt butterflies.

So two months after getting to know each other as friends, Maria and Ramiro tossed aside their fractured hearts, and jumped in with both feet. Four month into their courtship, they were already talking about the future.

“We wanted to lay out our plan for the future,” Ramiro says. “So we started going to counseling at church.”

They’ll be married 5 years next week. And in that time, they have learned so much. Like how love is a choice, not a feeling. And how you want to give things to the person you love without expecting something in return. And how love transforms over time (and how that’s nothing to be afraid of).

“A friend told me long ago that if you want a charming prince, you have to be a charming princess,” Maria says. “You need to be the person you would want to be with. One of the things I love about him is he accepts me as I was, and as I am right now. Other boyfriends wanted my hair a certain way or for me to wear heels, and I was feeling like a trophy and it was not right. Ramiro loved me as I was, in my happiest and worst moments.”

Ramiro has learned a lot, too. Like how not to ask Maria why she’s crying.

“Sometimes I just want to cry,” she says, “and I don’t know why. At the beginning, he though he did something wrong. Then he learned to just hug me and let me cry.”

Ramiro has also learned that if you want big results, you need to have a long-term mindset.

“You have to put effort into a relationship,” he says. “It’s a journey. Many marriages fail because things are wonderful, then they wear off, and the real stuff is there. Finances, decisions, life choices. You have to talk it over, and if there are things that are deal breakers, you better find that out while you’re dating.

“It will never work perfectly. You have to compromise every day, in every thing. You need to talk things out and not make assumptions. There will be rough patches, but you need to have patience.”

I look at the two of them, sitting across from me, sharing their meals as well as their wisdom, and I think that they both have a lot of patience.

Ramiro agrees.

“For what matters, yes.”

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