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.


Mom, mom's mom and me: under one roof

Last week, I was in North Carolina sitting on a lawn chair watching a lot of Jeopardy. The living room of the tiny beach house just has a love-seat, and my mom and grandma were already forced to share that space with my dog. So, I dragged in a lawn chair and yelled out incorrect responses that I always forgot to put in the form of a question.

Three generations (well, four, if you count the dog, and you should always count the dog) were vacationing under one roof for five days. At ages 35, 57 and 85 - we all seemed to be just different versions of ourselves. It could have been the backdrop of a Tennessee Williams play.

Everyone's families are complicated and contradictory. That's just the reality of family dynamics. Families are loving and brutal. They are intimate and they are strangers. They are accepting and critical. They are all those things, intertwined with memories and expectations and the desire to make you another cup of tea.

But through all the inherent messiness, there are important moments that come from spending extended time with family. Like hearing the story of how my 20-year-old Grandma would flirt with the guys she worked with at the newspaper, so that they would give her cigarettes. She didn't smoke, but she'd tuck them away and give them to her boyfriend -- that broke boy would eventually be my grandfather.

My mother knows the first album I ever bought, even though I've forgotten. She remembers exactly when I attempted to expand beyond the Carole King and Earth, Wind and Fire that pervaded my early musical education. It's so easy for me to revert back to those days. Mom still uses phases of discontent, like "Shootski pootski" and "Ishkablibble' that catapult me back to a time when I wore a fringed jean jacket and thought those were legitimate swears.

In this company, many sentences start with "Do you remember...?" - a person, a place, a time in space that feels so removed from this. So far from this 1,000 square foot beach shack with windows that don't close properly and a finicky toilet handle. But here, over the sound of bickering seagulls, we remember our shared past.

As much as all this reminds me of my history, it also grounds me in the present. I see the grey streak I started to notice in my hair in my mid-20s, reflected back at me. That grey expands into my mom's salt and pepper hair. It expands further into my grandma's silver shine.

We are not women who dye.

All this shared DNA and shared experiences express themselves in distinctive ways. We are decidedly different women, with different outlooks and ways of understanding the world -- but when I see my mom and grandma sharing gestures, I wonder if I do them, too. It's like an archeological dig of your own existence, except instead of discovering broken bits of pottery, I'm looking at a woman making an egg salad sandwich.

My mother has put a quote (most commonly attributed to the great poet, Dr. Seuss) on the bathroom wall of the beach house.

quote

I'm reminded where I get my sense of truth-telling from. That no-hair-dye honesty is strong in all three of us. It's both a blessing and a curse. That same honesty that brings us closer has also hurt feelings and gotten us into trouble and damaged relationships. The truth is powerful, and I want to use it carefully. Sometimes honesty needs to be sheathed in kindness to soften the blow. Sometimes we are skilled at that, sometimes we are not.

I wonder, as I make my way through the years, what family traits I will keep, what habits I will let go, and if my hair will turn out to be the perfectly shiny silver of my grandmother's.

I watched a lot of Jeopardy last week and I realized that it's the perfect analogy for life. Because life is all about asking the right questions.

The answers take care of themselves.

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