My top 10 (anti-fairy tale) relationship tips

Him & me

Him & me

We recently passed the twenty-year anniversary of the day my husband and I met. Our eyes met across a room and I knew immediately that I would spend the rest of my life with him.

Except that's not at all what happened.

Actually, if you ask him about the evening we met, he'll tell you that his first impression of me was that I looked very young and very scared. (He's right. I was 17, and we were out with a bunch of people at a crowded movie opening. See: introvert.)

And if you ask me about the night we met? I'll feel like a big jerk as I'll be compelled to admit that I don't remember meeting him.

But we must have met because suddenly we were friends.  And for years we hung out, we went to Rock 'n Bowl and Disneyland. He let my boyfriend borrow a nice shirt for a premiere. I passed his girlfriend toilet paper under the bathroom stall at The Cheesecake Factory. There were break-ups and get-back-togethers and more break-ups. I complained to him about all the alcoholic pretty boys with private planes, mommy issues and little concern with ditching me at a bar.

And then one day, after being friends for four years, something changed with me and J - and it was more.

I kind of wish it had been love at first sight, but the vast majority of the time, the fairy tale doesn't look the way you thought it would. Mostly, the fairy tale is bullshit.

The most fairy tale thing about us is that we are happy. Someone just told meit made her happy to be around us because it's clear that J and I really like each other. She assumed we were newlyweds.

We are kind of like that. I automatically grin when his car pulls into the driveway. He still opens doors for me and watches my ass walk up the stairs. But it's also a real relationship. He re-washes the dishes because I am lazy about it and leave crusty stuff in the corners of the pan and we disagree about appropriate thermostat temperature and how much MSNBC is reasonable. Marriage is a partnership. If both people have personalities and opinions and an affinity for honesty, that partnership is going to have challenges.

We work at it. We don't fall for these rom-com ideas of what marriage should be. And even in the moments when we disagree about something fundamental or when it seems like it might be fun to go get all fluttery-heart, weak-kneed with someone else - we have this foundation of respect for our relationship and the life we have created together.

Sometimes people ask me for advice and while I have a history of spectacular failures in my past, the last sixteen years of partnership with J have taught me a thing or two. The first step is ditching these romanticized ideas about relationships, then we can get to the real stuff.

Go to bed mad Life is not a sitcom; not everything can be neatly wrapped up in twenty-two minutes. Everyone needs space to think things out and gain some perspective. Rarely is one o'clock in the morning the best time to find a resolution for real-life problems.

Start seeing other people It's never good to have your partner be your only outlet for social interaction. Don't isolate. Don't get lost. Going out with my friends is not frivolous; it's essential to my mental wellness.

Don’t talk about it  I have to write things out. My mouth moves faster than my brain and writing helps me be clear, complete and less whipped into an emotional frenzy. Sometimes I give him the letter, sometimes that's not necessary because writing it down is actually all I needed.

Make sure neither one of you gets what you want Compromise is key. I try to not get stuck with this idea about being right and winning. The real win is a peaceful and fulfilling relationship, even if it means bending a bit and watching yet another Jason Statham movie.

Talk behind his back Venting can be really helpful and an honest reaction to the situation is invaluable. I have specific, time-tested friends for this; people who will shoot straight and won’t go blabbing my business. I also make sure I am not talking to my friend instead of talking to my guy.

Be evasive Sometimes, I need to change the subject. For in-depth issues, sometimes a break from the discussion is in order. Doing something fun together that we both enjoy is entirely invigorating and offers important bigger-picture perspective. For us, that often means yoga. When we go to class together, we feel more connected.

Talk about yourself a lot Sadly, he's not a mind reader. If I need something that I am not getting from the relationship, I have to actually verbalize that. Assuming that he “should” know never works well. Then I need to reciprocate by asking him what he needs. And I need to actually listen.

Treat your partner like they are a cop Being polite goes a long way. I say please when I ask for something. I say thank you when he is helpful. I suck it up and apologize when I’ve done something wrong. These daily decencies tend to go out the window when you’ve been together awhile. Loving kindness and gratitude are wonderful spiritual practices.

Pretend it didn’t happen At a certain point, some issues just need to be released. I mean seriously released, not to be dug up again two years later. In all relationships, if I can forgive, I do my best to forgive completely. It's more healing for me than for the person I'm forgiving - it's really for my own benefit. Acceptance is incredibly powerful. It's not the same as condoning someone's actions, it's simply the act of not allowing it to have power over your life anymore.

Lie down. The oxytocin and endorphins that are activated during sexual activity are great for the mental state. It lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Sex clearly isn’t just physical, it’s about maintaining and strengthening the emotional connections with a partner. Oh yeah, and it's fun.

We lucked out, J and me.  Two decades into this relationship, I've noticed that he turned into an even better guy than the one I married. We have both changed a lot, but we changed for the better - we changed together.

I used to think that the most romantic thing in the world was falling in love. But I've learned that there is something even more romantic than that fluttery heart, weak-kneed stuff: choosing to stay in love.


Burn it up: impermanence and playing with fire

I was talking to a friend about how much I like to burn my writing. I don't burn it all the time, but when it's something I feel like I need to release, it's incredibly powerful cathartic ritual. That got me thinking about a wedding I attended two years ago.

I didn't want to go to the wedding because I had nothing to wear.

It's humiliating to admit that. It's such a frivolous, stereotypical girl excuse. I'd been to a million weddings, but nothing quite like this. There were going to be a lot of people there and my social anxiety was running pretty high.

It was silly to think that I was worried looking out-of-place...with a bunch of people who take looking out-of-place very seriously. The wedding was done "burner-style" (think Burning Man) and grounded in the spirit of community, art and self-expression.

When we arrived at the farm in rural Virginia, there were tutus and masks and glow in the dark hula-hoops. There were hot pants and frilly bras -- and the women's outfits were even more eccentric. There were also 60-year-old women in lawn chairs wearing Laura Ashley dresses that would have been right for a church picnic. There was literally nothing that I could have worn that would have been inappropriate. And if I had worn literally nothing, I suspect that would have even been okay, too.

People had set up camp for a week and there was swimming in the river and fire dancing and a tent full of dress-up clothes. There was home-brew and dune buggies and of course, there was a wedding ceremony, in front of a two-story temple that our friends spent months building from scrap wood and fallen trees. We placed paintings, poems and wishes for the couple inside the temple, hanging them from branches.

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And after the ceremony, after the "I do" and the kiss - we burned it all to the ground.

There was such joy in watching it burn. It was a profound sense of release.

Of letting go. Of surrendering to life and the inevitable destruction.

Because eventually, everything deteriorates and falls apart and there is no sense clinging to it. Permanence seems comforting but it's an illusion, and that makes this moment now even more precious. You have to love it with all your heart while it's here. Because one day, it won't be. And neither will you.

Letting go means opening up more space for joy. Not even love can survive if you cling too tightly. Love works when you let the other person be who they need to be and love them through it. As my friend said in his vows "I love you and I will love who you become." Nothing is static. People change.

What a profound statement at the beginning of a marriage.

This wedding was full of joy. The bride wore a purple top. They danced down the aisle and basked in their weirdness. I have always been ashamed of my weirdness, and it did me good to see people so comfortable with theirs. I cried happy tears from beginning to end of the ceremony.

It was just so very them.

We let it all go, and we burned it all up.

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