Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Canadian Marriage Tips

The August 2010 issue of Real Simple magazine contained a column authored by Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, two comedians who are married to each other and appear as regular correspondents on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (and who are from Canada, too). Their column, titled "10 Ways to Make Your Marriage Divorceproof," offered tips for a long-lasting union. I decided to test my own marriage against their advice to see how I measured up against their Canadian marital ideals 

1. Realize that if you can agree on what constitutes a clean room, you can agree on anything. 
My ex-husband and I never did quite agree on what constituted a clean room. Instead, I reminded him often of my standards, he made somewhat of an effort to meet them, and then I finally threw up my hands and insisted we hire a housecleaner. Without a housecleaner, we probably would have been divorced in the first year.
2. If you're irritated by your partner, imagine him as a small child.
I excelled at imagining my partner as a small child. In fact, I did this all too often. This led me to treating him like a small child, which was ultimately one of the things that led to the end of the marriage.

3. No fisticuffs in public.
While my ex-husband and I never had a knock-down, drag-out fight in public, I certainly nagged and teased him in public more than anyone should in a healthy relationship.

4. Marry someone with a backbone who appreciates that you possess one of your own.
To say that my ex doesn't have a backbone would be unfair. However, I think it's not inaccurate to say that he has an extremely flexible backbone, whereas mine is strong as steel. He's just the kind of guy who's very willing to go with the flow and doesn't see the need to rock the boat very often. I, however, sometimes swim against the flow just for the sake of doing so. While neither is inherently better than the other, the difference between our approaches to life was vast.

5. Procrastinate.
The authors recommend sometimes putting off mundane everyday tasks in order to reconnect with your partner and introduce a sense of playfulness to your relationship. I'm a pretty Type A person, so the idea of procrastinating really doesn't appeal to me, and I can't imagine being able to relax enough to be playful if I had a mile-long to do list hanging over my head. While we were married, I often felt like the more proactive half of our relationship, which then led to my feeling like I was carrying a greater portion of the workload and feeling put upon. Not a recipe for success.

6. Have sex with each other.
No comment. My mother reads this blog.

7. Accept that everybody needs alone time.
We excelled at alone time! By the end, nearly all we had was alone time. This was actually one of the greatest lessons I learned: while alone time is crucial to me, I would make more of an effort to cultivate more shared interests with my future partner. I'd also treat a desire for increasing amounts of alone time as a serious warning sign.

8. If you have to fight, walk and fight.
Bee and Jones say that "arguments stem more from being cooped up together in tight quarters than from the issue at hand." While this may be the case for some couples, I really don't think that making our arguments mobile would have solved our problems. And I don't agree that being cooped in tight quarters was our problem, either - see #7 for reference.

9. Let your spouse in on 90% of your day-to-day routine.
This one sounds misleading - the authors explain that it's healthy for the wife to avoid letting her husband see her struggle to squeeze into a pair of pantyhose, and that it helps "keep the mystery alive." I agree 100%, and I often say, "Flossing is the death of romance." I will avoid watching my partner floss, or letting him watch me floss, at all costs.

10. When you buy gifts for each other, give them at least a full minute of thought.
My ex and I were always pretty good at buying thoughtful gifts for each other; I think we both made an effort to consider what the other person really wanted to receive (rather than what we wanted to give). My mom also taught me a similar and equally important lesson: make clear to your partner early on that he should never, ever, EVER give you any sort of household cleaning implement as a gift. A vacuum cleaner is not an appropriate Christmas present, even if it is a Dyson. 

Overall, my ex and I would have flunked about 6 of the 10 marriage tips here. And I take issue with #4 - that's a pre-marriage tip if there ever was one. But even if we had managed to master tips #1, 3, 5, 6, and 8, I don't know that we would have avoided divorce. In the end, I think we had what our marital counselor called "unfixable problems" - fundamental differences that were just dealbreakers (for me, at least) that no amount of walking while fighting could have solved.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 1: The Challenge

My 30th birthday is now less than 2 months away.

Excuse me for a moment while I breathe into this paper bag...

Okay, I'm back.

As I was saying, my 30th birthday is less than 2 months away. It falls on a Monday, which I plan to take off work. That also means that it follows a weekend, which provides an excellent opportunity for celebratory antics. Unfortunately, I still don't know what those antics will look like. I do know that I'm dragging the celebration out for the entire weekend.

I briefly considered renting out my favorite cafe/wine bar for the evening, until I found out what it would cost me. I do not have that kind of money to lavish on a single night, even if it is going to be The Best 30th Birthday Ever.

Then I started thinking about just having a regular party. When I was married, I told my ex-husband that it was his responsibility to throw me a big bash. Now that I'm single, I don't have anyone to bully into it. And while I know I have a few friends who would do it for me, I'm not presumptuous enough to actually ask them to. That just seems rude.

So, I'm throwing my own party. One problem: I don't have a lot of space to do it in. My house is nice enough, but it's a 1984 tract house that measures just under 1400 square feet. Once you subtract the three bedrooms and the galley kitchen (which really can't accommodate more than one person at a time without inducing homicidal urges), and you're left with the front room and the dining room. We're talking about a combined total of less than 400 square feet, before you factor in furniture. That's not a lot of space for a party. The only solution: outdoor space.

Now, I've done a pretty good job with my front yard. I built a raised planting bed out of limestone blocks and landscaped with drought-tolerant plants. I have an assortment of potted plants on the front stoop ("porch" would be an overstatement). Sure, the lawn usually needs mowing and the tree needs to be trimmed, but overall it looks pretty decent (bordering on "good" if you compare it to the other houses on my block). But it's the front yard - in other words, it's not a good place for a party.

The backyard is another story entirely. I built a raised planting bed off the kitchen for my veggies and herbs, and while it's functional, it's not exactly visually appealing. Built of two rows of cinderblocks, it's located right next to the air conditioner. Plus, it's a vegetable garden. Not exactly party central.

This leaves me with the small concrete patio off the dining room and the rest of the backyard. When we bought the house, it was dead grass and weeds. Today, it is a thriving wildlife habitat composed of small patches of live grass interspersed among large swathes of weeds. Depending on whether or not it has rained recently, it may be brown, green or somewhere in between. It is, in a single word, ugly. It is also entirely unsuitable for hosting guests, unless I want them to go home with fire ant and chigger bites and a very low opinion of me.

Case in point:

The space is about 17 1/2 feet wide by 31 feet long.

See that tree leaning against the fence? It was dead so I cut it down and then I tore up the stump. All by myself. I'm a badass like that.
If I'm going to have my 30th birthday party here, I'm going to have to turn the backyard into some kind of usable space (Yes, I know I'm ignoring the fact that it could be pouring rain in mid-November. It could also be a lovely, crisp evening. I'm gonna have to go with it.). I've been talking about doing this for a long time, but I've been lazy. This is just the swift kick in the ass I need. And to hold myself accountable, I'm going to blog about it here. I expect you all to nag me (politely, of course) on my progress if you haven't seen any in a while.

The next steps are to kill all the grass and weeds and come up with a design. I'm an ace at plant killing, so the first part shouldn't be too hard. I'm aiming to have a design for you to "ooh" and "aah" over next week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

That's Right, I Said It

Since I published this a few days back, I've had a few people ask me more or less the same question: aren't you worried/concerned/afraid that friends/family/potential employers/future love interests will judge you based on it?

I have two entirely uncontradictory answers to that question: Hell yes, and hell no.

Yes, of course I'm afraid of being judged. I don't really know anyone who particularly enjoys it. I certainly don't like the idea of revealing vulnerable pieces of myself to the world only to have people turn up their noses and decide, "She's a lesser person for thinking, feeling or doing _______."

But another part of me says, "Screw them." In my extended circle of friends and acquaintances, I know people who have wrestled with severe post partum depression, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, and both chronic and short-term depression. And while every person's experience is unique, there is usually one common denominator: they feel alone in their experience. Mental health issues can be profoundly isolating, and social stigma only compounds that sense of loneliness. I've been lucky enough to have extremely supportive family and friends, and over the years I've learned how to (more or less) manage my own issues. In a way, I feel some kind of responsibility to talk about my own experience, if for no other reason than so that other people don't feel quite so alone in theirs.

So no, I'm not all that afraid of being judged by friends, family, potential employers or future love interests. This is part of who I am. I'm open about it, and more importantly, I don't think it's something to be ashamed of.  And quite frankly, if someone is going to judge me harshly for talking openly about this part of my life, then they probably aren't the right confidante, employer or boyfriend for me.

Also: they can suck it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Brand New Day

Nothing special or noteworthy to say today, just that I love this song. I feel like it was written for me right now. 

(When you play the video below, I'd actually encourage you to only listen to the song without watching the video. Personally, I find the video a little distracting - especially the interruption in the first 30 seconds.)

Some kind of magic
Happens late at night
When the moon smiles down at me
And bathes me in its light

I fell asleep beneath you
In the tall blades of grass
When I woke the world was new
I never had to ask

It's a brand new day
The sun is shining
It's a brand new day
For the first time
In such a long long time
I know
I'll be okay

Most kind of stories
Save the best part for last
Most stories have a hero who finds
You make your past your past
Yeah you make your past your past

It's a brand new day
The sun is shining
It's a brand new day
For the first time
In such a long long time
I know
I'll be okay

This cycle never ends
You gotta fall in order to mend

It's a brand new day
It's a brand new day
For the first time
In such a long long time
I know
I'll be okay

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I have dreaded writing this post before this blog, or any blog of mine ever existed. 

I do not see myself the way that you see me. No one really ever can see themselves as others do, but more than some others, I do not. My vision of myself has always been distorted. My failures are greater and my successes are smaller in my own eyes. I have never been the person I wished I could be.

The first time I attempted suicide, I was 14. I was a baby. I was a girl who didn't know how to separate the things that happened to her from who she was. I wrecked myself, and I wrecked my family, and I have never forgiven myself for it. 

The second time, I was 21. I didn't know myself well enough to tell rejection from one person from rejection by the world. I couldn't separate a single failure from my total failure as a human being. I didn't know then what I know now: that one day, I would look in the mirror and see someone who didn't just deserve to be loved, but who loved herself; that there was inherent depth and value and beauty in me, regardless of what I or anyone else did or did not see; and that one day, I would feel whole and worthy and loved in my own eyes. I wish I could say I completely believed all those things today.

I wish I could talk to the girl I was 10 years ago and tell her that everything would be okay. I wish I could tell her that it would pass and she would never know any of those awful feelings ever again. I wish I could promise her she would find her way.

10 years later, I can't say any of those things to her. But I can say this: you are getting there. You are growing, and you are finding yourself, and that in itself is a success. And even if you never quite get to where you think you should be, you have gotten far enough, because you are good, and you are beautiful, and most of all, you are enough. Right now, as you are, you are enough. You are more than you were, and you are more than you thought you would be, and that is enough. Take a breath and revel in that, because it's more valuable than you let yourself believe. 

I love me. Or I think I do. And at least in this moment, I celebrate me. I am flawed, but I am good enough just as I am. I will wake up tomorrow and I will muddle through the day with the rest of the world, and I will end it just a little bit better than I was when I started. 

I cannot ask for more than that.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Horror, The Horror!

It's no secret that I'm trying to get out and date. I'm not very good at it. I freak out about what to wear, how much to drink beforehand, how loudly to laugh - and that's just to answer the phone when he calls to ask me out. But there are people who are worse at it, apparently. Large, multi-national corporations, in fact.

Today I joined OkCupid. Like eHarmony, they purport to match you based on some sort of proven, mathematical algorithm. Unlike eHarmony, OkCupid is free. OkCupid it is! So I fill out my profile, submitting thoughtful written answers about who I am and how I like to spend my free time. I answer 100+ multiple-choice questions about everything from ethics to leisure time to sex to family, ranking the topics' relative importance to me. I click a button and tell OkCupid, "Yes, show me my matches!" And within the first 10 matches, up pops my ex-husband.

I shit you not. I searched frantically for a "block" button, but OkCupid doesn't let you hide your profile from specific people. Yes, seriously. I can hide him from my view, but I can't hide myself from him. I'm hoping and praying he doesn't log in and see my face. I'm afraid it'll break his heart all over again.

According to OkCupid, my ex-husband and I are 83% compatible. Based on the fact that we got a divorce, I'm going to go ahead and say, "Hey, OkCupid, you're wrong!" It's true, my ex and I got along fairly well most of the time. But we also had some fundamental differences that turned out to be deal breakers for me. Apparently OkCupid just slots all that stuff into the other 17% and brushes it aside. Kind of an important 17%, don't you think, OkCupid?

This is almost as bad as my first foray into internet matchmaking 6 months or so ago. While my ex and I were still separated, I joined I wanted to see what else was out there, so I could make an informed decision. Was my marital situation as dire as I thought it was? Maybe there really wasn't anything better out there... So I created my profile and posted it. I started browsing through my matches. And who showed up on the very first page of my matches, in the second row? One of my coworkers. And not just any coworker. Someone I don't like a whole lot. Someone who believes women should stay more or less at home, barefoot and pregnant. Someone I find incredibly obnoxious and annoying. Someone I wouldn't breed with if he were the last living, breathing human male on Earth, because if his genes were going to constitute half of the future human race's genes, then our species was just better off dead. And thought that he was a pretty solid, viable option for me.

Just shoot me now.

I told my coworkers. They laughed hysterically. I felt nauseous. I wrote off for dead.

OkCupid, you're on life support. I'm almost ready to pull the plug. I have only one thing left to say to you: you best step up your game, or you and your effed up mathematical algorithm will soon be going the way of with me. Find me some solid matches, or send up the white flag. Quit phoning it it. In the meantime, I'm hitting Craigslist. It can't possibly be any worse, right?