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Guest Posts, Marriage, memories

The Summer We All Got Married

July 31, 2021
wedding

by Larkin Warren

Eight of us were wed that summer of 1981. Each of the four engagements had come about during the previous bone-crackingly cold New Hampshire winter, although I’d like to believe that all the troth-pledging was more about love and joy than the need for warmth in icy weather.

We lived then in a university community, where marriage itself was subject to flinty-eyed skepticism—three of us eight to-be-marrieds were divorced, with kids in tow and wedding albums long lost in an attic or cellar. Nevertheless, as mud season passed and the lilacs appeared, we all prepared to take a plunge that seemed to grow ever more traditional as the days went by. Gathering on weekends, we ate pints of strawberries, pounds of brie, drank more Champagne than was customary on a teacher’s salary, agonized over venues and budgets, and complained, of course, about our parents—because what’s a march towards a wedding without that?

Coincidentally, another couple, first-timers both, planned a similar event. Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding would be larger, certainly, than all four of ours combined; her engagement ring big as a Volkswagon headlight, the invitation list and seating chart more complicated than the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly. We guessed that Diana’s and Charles’ whole coping-with-the-parents thing resembled rolling a large power mower over a hornets’ nest. We tried to envision the monogrammed thank-you notes, the writer’s cramp. “Ha!” somebody grumped. “Not likely she’s writing them herself!”

Whether Royalists, Fenians, or flat-out cynics, we refused to begrudge them the royal circus and the related hoopla. We were all determined not to be cynical that summer. They were in love, we were in love—and when you’re sufficiently love-addled, Frank Sinatra is forever crooning in the background, every sunset is peach perfection, and it’s an easy if somewhat wacky leap to emotional kinship with the future King and Queen of England.

By the day of the royal wedding, our own four weddings had been achieved. All our kids were in embarrassment recovery and all the wedding-cake tops (two organic from a local farm store, one eight-layered from a fancy caterer, one Mom-made) were stashed in fridge freezers, to be thawed and eaten at the first anniversaries. And so it was that on July 29, each new married couple, bleary-eyed and feeling more than a little sheepish, rose at dawn, fired up the coffee and joined teams of gushing TV network anchors and the billion other guests at the Spencer/Windsor wedding.

Feminism, pragmatism, and reality checks notwithstanding, it was difficult at first not to think in fairy tale terms as the veiled girl, swathed in an acre of virginal silk, arrived in the golden coach, glanced shyly up at her prince, and Bach rang throughout the cathedral; we were, after all, the first generation of Disney-movie kids, brought up on princes, princesses, and happily ever after, even if Ms magazine and Our Bodies Ourselves sat on the bookshelf next to a Virginia Woolf novel and somebody’s dissertation on the various psychoses in Grimms’ fairy tales.

It did occur to me, however, that if we dropped a nickel into the piggy bank every time a commentator actually used the words “fairy tale,” we might make a sizable dent in my son’s tuition savings account. “Why doesn’t he just grab her and kiss her?” asked said son with a medium measure of disgust, having witnessed many other silly grownups do precisely that for weeks.

A month or so later, my husband’s parents returned from a vacation trip to the UK with gold-trimmed souvenir royal wedding cups, one for my sister-in-law, one for me. I kept mine on the kitchen counter for a while, ceremoniously using it whenever I drank tea, silently begging forgiveness of my paternal grandmother, who’d secretly funneled her pension money to the Irish Republican Army. My sister-in-law used hers briefly as well, then stowed it away for safety after her two kids were born.

By the time little princes Wills and Harry were making shiny appearances in People magazine, our Summer of ‘81 group numbered three babies, two divorces, a few rounds of infertility treatments and a couple of complicated midlife career adjustments. At that point—pre-internet, pre-social media, pre-cell-phone cams in every hand around the world—we didn’t know about the mistress, the affairs, the drama worthy of Bizet’s Carmen. We didn’t know that Diana had flung herself down a flight of stairs in a bid for Charles’ attention, although one or two of us might’ve understood. I surveyed my own castle—eggy dishes in the sink, two dogs who ate shoes as if they were kibble, the husband who worked all hours, and the moody adolescent who painted Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover on his bedroom wall—the entire bedroom wall. “A lady in waiting would be nice,” I muttered.

Time kept passing. Parents aged and died. Kids grew up, friends moved away. Somebody’s son flunked out of college, another joined the Navy, a daughter eloped. Soon, we were all linked only by Christmas cards with ever-changing zip codes. Somewhere in there, the UK fairytale went all to hell.

On the last day of August 1997, the Princess of Wales and two others in her car died in an automobile crash whose grisliness was surpassed only by its agonizing stupidity: the drunk limo driver, the frenzied pack of paparazzi, the dying woman pinned like a butterfly in a shadow box.

A week later, I once again rose at dawn, heading for the television and feeling grim. For breakfast, I ate an entire box of Peek Frean lemon biscuits (with the “by Royal appointment” seal on the box), and drank Earl Grey in the gold-trimmed wedding cup. I don’t even like Earl Grey, and I had no doubt my IRA Granny spun in her grave. There again was the cathedral and the soaring music. Some of the faces were recognizable, all of them were older. “I thought I’d feel like an idiot watching this,” said my husband, who joined my vigil late and under protest. “But I don’t. I’m actually sad.” We both agreed that Sir Elton John could’ve used a couple of second thoughts.

That afternoon, my sister-in-law called, tired and teary. “I stumbled all over the place in the cellar this morning,” she said, “hunting for that damn teacup. Scraped my shins on every toy my kids have ever owned.”

I told her about her brother’s unexpected sadness, about my lemon-biscuit breakfast. We tried to figure out what it was that we were feeling, why someone and something that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with us seemed, suddenly, to have everything to do with us. For her, a mother of very young children, it was the unimaginable sorrow of two boys walking behind their mother’s coffin. For me, it seemed somehow about the sun-burnished wedding summer, the strawberries and champagne, the blind hope and optimism, and the friends whose lives and loves we had shared. We’d made promises. Mostly, we’d kept them “The odd thing is, I think I feel grateful,” I said.

“Me, too,” she said. “For the junk in the cellar. The dirty laundry. Even the old Barney videos.”

How often, in the frayed ribbon of a lifetime, do lovers and friends, husbands and wives, parents and kids, do wrong, disappoint, betray, yet somehow manage to start over? What’s the score now, as we pass another anniversary and roll however clumsily towards the next? My son, when he was little, had a term for the number of stars in the sky: “infinity many.”

“Most of all,” said my sister-in-law that long ago morning, in a very soft voice, “I’m just thankful for my completely ordinary life.”

Larkin Warren lives in northern NH. She has collaborated on six-and-a-half memoirs, is writing one of her own, and her poetry’s been published in Mississpipi Review, Ohio Review, Yankee magazine, Slow Motion Review (NYU), Quarterly West and others, She is currently owned by a mini Aussie shepherd rescued from a NYC kill shelter. Her poetry chapbook, Old Sheets, was published by Alice James books (Farmington, Maine) in the previous century. Her essays have appeared in New York Times magazine, NYTimes op-ed page, AARP magazine, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Glamour, Salon,  and others.

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Margaret Attwood swooned over The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl, but Enchanted is the novel that we keep going back to. The world of Enchanted is magical, mysterious, and perilous. The place itself is an old stone prison and the story is raw and beautiful. We are big fans of Rene Denfeld. Her advocacy and her creativity are inspiring. Check out our Rene Denfeld Archive.

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, Marriage, pandemic

Husband Fatigue — Oh, It’s Real

April 21, 2021
husband

by Debra Ryll 

I get it: if you’re white and you are not living under a bridge, you’re not allowed to complain about anything. But as I look at my spouse of thirty plus years, my sole dinner companion for lo, the last two hundred nights, I wonder: can I bring a paperback to the table, like those people you see on vacation?

I take a bite of the mushy broccoli he prepared. “Oh, bummer, it’s overcooked.”

“I don’t want to start a fight with you over this!” he says.

“I’m not starting a fight! I just made a comment!” And then we start fighting about the fact that we aren’t fighting.

Husband Fatigue. It’s real, people.

I know, I’m lucky to have a companion. How dare I complain when so many single people are plumbing the depths of loneliness? My issues are irrelevant, as trivial as the BAND-AID wrappers he leaves on the counter, just inches from the trash can.

This far into confinement-while-married, every irritant is magnified, and all the old adages are suddenly relevant. Like, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Or would.

I remember laughing hysterically at a video I saw at the beginning of the pandemic, where a woman hides in the closet so her husband can’t find her. That was back in March. In April, when the daffodils were blooming defiantly, we were all, “We’ve got this!” And in May—though we joked that our theme song was “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”—Fred and I were still playing ping pong and drinking margaritas on Friday nights.

And then came the horror of George Floyd’s televised murder. The riots, the fires, the smoke, the unbreathable air. Vladimir Putin being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, after his chief critic was poisoned with a toxic nerve agent. The passing of RBG, along with a peek into the Grifter-in-Chief’s tax returns, which included a $70,000 expense for hair care. Can I get a deduction, for overworked adrenals?

Mama said there’d be days like this. But weeks, months? Years?

In the middle of it all, we sold our house and moved into a rental with only one TV hookup. “That’s okay,” I said, “we mostly watch the same shows.” I must have been brain dead, because I completely forgot about the return of Monday Night Football. And Sunday Night Football. And Thursday Night Football.

As happy as I am that my husband has sports back in his life, when he asks, “Who’s winning?” on his way back from the kitchen I can’t resist saying, “The Denver Foresters” or “the L.A. Fire Chiefs.” He rarely laughs at my jokes, and I don’t really care. I just want him to fix that loose towel rack in the bathroom. And quit leaving his shoes in the middle of the floor. And stop taking the unused dog waste baggies out of his pockets and leaving them… everywhere.

Does Michelle Obama have to deal with this after Barack walks Sunny and Bo?

I want my husband to quit stealing my handicap placard. To please stop throwing away the newspaper before I read it. And why, dear God, can’t he put his pocket change in one place instead of making little currency deposits on every surface in the house? No wonder there’s a coin shortage.

I’m rinsing out the unwashed jar of spaghetti sauce he “mistakenly” slipped into the recycle bin (The Artic isn’t going to save itself, Buddy) when Fred interrupts. It must be halftime. What an odd nomenclature for a sport with a half-life similar to uranium.

“Can you teach me how to Zoom?” he asks. “I have an appointment with my doctor on Thursday.”

I can’t punt this to Siri, so I wash my hands for the hundredth time, set up a meeting for the next morning, and send him an email invite. He takes it in the bedroom, and I connect on the other side of the wall, in the living room.

Funny, he looks different on screen. I’m livestreaming my husband! He could be a thousand miles away… instead of ten feet. And we always get along better when we’re apart.

I tell him to “unmute” himself, the opposite of what I normally try to do. He smiles and says, “You look so pretty today,” and I blush. Because he’s the only one who sees me without a mask, and let’s face it, masks hide a multitude of sins. Once you forgo lipstick, it’s a very small step to skip concealer… foundation… eye shadow… mascara. Ponytails have long since replaced blow drying, and I’ve been somewhat remiss in plucking my chin hairs of late.

I complement him on his haircut in return. We’d been arguing over his quest for “the Jeff Bridges look” for years. “Jeff Bridges has a stylist,” I’d repeated, ad infinitum. “Jeff Bridges doesn’t go to Supercuts.” When the salons re-opened he finally agreed to make an appointment at mine, and at last, the blowzy grey “wings” that usually frame his ears like Bozo the Clown are gone.

Slipping into pretend Doctor mode, I ask how he’s doing and he responds with the same litany of complaints I’ve heard a thousand times. But this time I actually listen. Whoever said “variety is the spice of life” wasn’t kidding. It’s like we’re on TV doing Improv or starring in our own reality show. Who knew that the separation provided by 2×4 studs and a few sheets of drywall could have such a profound effect?

Because on the other side of the wall, this is the same guy who bitches about the San Diego Chargers moving to L.A. and how the Raiders got their own four billion dollar stadium in Las Vegas that that big shot Sheldon put up and you can see the Mandalay Bay Resort from every seat and why do the Chargers have to share a stadium with the Rams just because that cheap shit guy Spanos who owns the Chargers wants the people of San Diego to pay for it?

It’s the same guy who over-steams veggies, but barbecues like Guy Fieri. The one who feeds the hummingbirds and pumps up the air in my bike tires and puts windshield wiper fluid in some mysterious tank under the hood of my Honda so I can see clearly. The one I fell in love with when he bought me a chocolate malt for breakfast after our first all night “date.” The same man who accidentally taped the Marvin Hagler fight over our wedding vows 36 years ago. But we got over that, and if I can just ignore that pile of pocket change glinting in the background, we’ll get over this. Because he’s the one I pledged to stick with—through better or… wait a minute, I just realized: our anniversary is right around the corner.

I should send him a Zoom invite. And find those tweezers. debra

Debra Ryll is freelance writer, a TEDx Monterey speaker, a children’s book author… and a reformed smuggler, working on a memoir.

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Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to reclaim your own life.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Marriage, memories

Find My

November 23, 2020
phone

By Abby Frucht

I’m in bed under the covers, my phone in my hand, my eyeglasses on, locating you. The little bullseye thing twerking I invent a way to feel it in the palm of my hand, green throb with slow glow, the map of back roads and main drags so near to my face I might trace them with my tongue, disentangling them. In my hand your route stabilizes, agitates anew, then blurs to a stop at the dead end curb where that couple once parked to have sex in our yard. In a blend of moon and lamplight they stumbled out of their car and knelt on a spot of grass to fuck. It was three in the morning, just like now, so I sat naked at the window and cranked it open to watch them going right at it, their limbs paler than worms, half in and half out of Bermuda shorts. Undisturbed by their cries, you twitched in your sleep, dreaming of tennis. Later you were grateful I didn’t rouse you to join in spying on them, and so was I. It would have been like the two of us watching a movie, one I liked but you didn’t. It was way too predictable, you would say. It took forever to get there but you knew all along what was going to happen.

You’ll turn seventy three a week from this morning.

You like to joke about death, especially now, including me in the bargain.

“G’night,” I might say. “See you tomorrow.”

“Hope so,” you’ll say.

“Let me know what we should order for curbside pick-up.”

“Bones,” you’ll say.

The little cursor reconsiders and makes its way to your parking place in our driveway. To see it blinking there fills me with panicked rage. My own pulse climbs, as it did last night and the night before. My feet turn cold. I don’t like to be tricked. I don’t trust this app. There are all sorts of ways for someone smarter than me to make fools of the rubes on the opposite end of it. Even if I get up and prowl barefoot outside to see your truck where it belongs, I won’t believe what I’m seeing. I’ll feel cheated, let down, since you’re not out and about in the midst of this scourge, so I can’t stalk you any longer, follow you around. Instead I shut down the phone, then turn it back on and start the whole app up all over again, provoking myself, stoking my adrenaline in preparation for catching you clicking shut the truck door, backing out of the driveway, gliding away.

Locating… the phone confides.

It works more quickly this time, more confidently.

Oshkosh

Now

Careful not to make a sound, I snake my arm through the blankets to set my glasses and phone atop some books on the night table. My head still undercover I shimmy sideways until one of my feet meets yours. I jerk it away, then slide my whole leg nearer and sneak my toes between your ankles to get them warm.

You keep on snoring.

You in our bed.

Our bed in our room in our house on our street in this town in this world.

Now.

Abby Frucht is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and most recently, poetry. She has been published at Narrative, Virginia Quarterly and in Brevity. Her writing has received a Best of the Web citation as well as the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. She has published nine books, the most recent of which, Maids, is a collection of poetry.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Marriage

Finding Forgiveness in the Cheating

September 27, 2019
slept

By Anonymous

My husband made me a martini. He had taken a red-eye from Las Vegas where he spoke at a tech conference some days before and returned home early this morning. All day I watched him deliberately move about the room, organizing his desk and paperwork, a glint dancing in his eye, a sneaking smile at the corner of his lips. He was keeping something from me. Every cell in my body sensed it, suspicious gestures aside, since I pulled into the driveway two hours in his wake. I had been away myself, putting the last touches on a collection of essays up in Seabrook.

We were sitting on the couch when I swallowed the last drop of my drink. It was 7 p.m. Talking heads on the TV were yammering on about the Pats, but the words all ran together. Whatever he was concealing seemed an impromptu triumph between us, formless and muted, nonetheless an unfamiliar presence.

He placed his hand on my thigh. His touch was subtle, loving, foreboding. I gazed into my glass, lamenting its emptiness. His eyes penetrated my cheek and he said: “I slept with a twenty-six-year-old girl in Vegas.”

He had a reason for waiting to tell me; the vodka would lessen the blow. I’m not argumentative when I drink. Just pickled. But I wasn’t entirely drowned in it, not too far removed to do the math. That’s what my mind jumped to first. Twenty-six. Half my age.

I sat unmoving, gazing into the glass, the reality in its fullness seeping into the coils of my pickled brain. Did he just say what he said?

Thing is, Chris and I have this gentlemen’s agreement.

When Chris and I met I was having a sporadic fling as a fit and invincible forty-two-year old with a married billionaire, Max Litoris. Once a quarter or so, Max would fly into Logan to attend a meeting at a startup he had poured venture capital into and we continued to hook up. Chris was okay with the situation. We’re big on a relationship that values honesty, full disclosure and “being adults.”

Out of fairness, sparked in the aftermath of evenings spent with Max (featuring preliminary Tanqueray and tonic, then hot sex in his Four Seasons’ suite), Chris and I spoke of his taking advantage of an opportunity – if it presented itself.

Incidentally, the last time I saw Max, five years ago, I later received an email from him accusing me of making his dick itchy. For the first time in years of cheating, the guy had Guilty Dick. His kids had recently flown from the nest and he and his wife bought a new home, embarking on a new and exciting life together. To quote Howard Hughes at this point is not only fitting, it’s irresistible: “I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddammit, I’m a billionaire.”

I replied, what the hell is chlamydia? And Chris and I checked into Mass General’s STD unit. Imagine this: a couple devoted to one another go to a clinic because one has taken liberties outside the relationship and there’s talk of an itchy dick.

It’s a grueling experience, right?

Wrong.

Chris and I were in this together. And we checked out clean.

What about Max?

I can’t tell you what his reaction was to my report of cleanliness because I deleted every email he’s ever sent to me. Including, the dirty ones.

As for the twenty-six-year old…

The opportunity presented itself to Chris eleven years after we made our Gentlemen’s Agreement.

Despite the agreement and amid his depiction of the endeavor, words enunciated with the softness of goose feathers, I held up the empty martini glass and asked for another.

He had listened to the girl’s sad story. Bought her nachos. Paid her. Kissed her, his lips to hers, his fingers to her hoo-hoo. Let her ride his willy, perched on top of him. 

After the second martini, two glasses of wine and a shot of ginger Cognac, Chris got me into bed and held my hand. I took my hand away.

The next morning, I woke with I slept with a twenty-six-year old slithering through the coils of my aching brain. Before asking Chris to recount his confession, I asked him how I did in the reaction department the night before. He told me I handled it well. I hadn’t gone, as he expected, “ape shit.”

His acts were uninhibited because, he stressed, I granted him that freedom beforehand. He showed me the things he did with her; the same hot and sexy way he is with me.

Remember, it’s about being fair.

I had stepped out on him; doesn’t matter how long ago, how hot I was, how fat and gray I am now.

But this is a testament to our relationship. For as the minutes and the hours passed, my feeling offended lifted just like my hangover. I grew happy for him. Checkmark on the bucket list. At 65, Chris scored with a twenty-six-year-old.

Hell, he wasn’t looking for it. She came into the bar in Dick’s Last Resort and sat her young and sweet ass down, donning faded denim cutoffs, next to the only classy guy in the joint who was dressed in a suit and tie. She laid down a calculated bet and won.

I love Chris. Love that he’s already been to the clinic. I love our honesty and trust. I love how no one knows about the intimate facets of our relationship.

And the gentlemen’s agreement?

I hope it’s never enacted again.

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Guest Posts, Marriage, Race/Racism

On Loving v. Virginia and Interracial Marriage: When Race Isn’t the Only Difference

August 30, 2017
life

By Rebecca Bodenheimer

Our story is not the Loving story. It is a tale of interracial love and marriage—like the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose journey was beautifully and poignantly represented in the 2016 Jeff Nichols film Loving— and yet, it’s so very different. Fifty years ago, the Lovings took on the state of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in a landmark Supreme Court case, and on June 12, 1967, they won, hammering the final nail in the coffin of state prohibitions on interracial marriage. The Lovings were relatively similar in terms of background, including aspects of class, region, and language. The only thing that separated them was race. This is not to minimize the huge significance of racial difference, particularly in the 1950s South, but only to emphasize that in terms of other aspects of their identity, they were actually quite compatible with each other. One of the main messages I took away from the Loving movie was the gulf between the huge significance of race from a legal and social perspective, and its insignificance in the daily life of the Lovings. This story was not about a couple who set out to challenge a racist law, or even to take a stand on racial equality, at least not at first; rather it was about a man and woman in love, trying to do what was best for their family. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

A Good Marriage

August 11, 2017
marriage

by Marlena Fiol

We’re sitting around a Formica table at a booth in one corner of the Café in the Galesburg, Illinois train station. A faint stench of rancid grease hangs in the air. Barry Manilow’s otherwise velvety voice whines from a tinny speaker above our heads. Part of a rusty spring hangs out of a gash in the brown vinyl seat cover next to me.

Without looking up from her tray, the waitress places four tall plastic cups of water on the table in front of us.

“Can you please bring him a smaller cup?” I ask, nodding at our 4-year old. Only Stefan’s blond mop of hair and greenish-blue eyes peer over the top of the table. His sister, four years older and always his little mother, is trying to convince him to sit in a booster.

“It’s OK, Shareen, he’ll reach his food,” Steve says, gently laying a hand on our daughter’s arm.

Steve and I place our orders and ask for hamburgers and fries from the Kid’s Menu for the children.

“Look, Stefan,” Shareen says. “See how you can make airplanes with these napkins?” The two of them, heads bent over a pile of paper napkins she has ripped out of the rusty metal container, enter their own make-believe world.

I glance at my husband sitting next to me, slightly slouched, hands in his lap. The dark gray sweater, the one I gave him for Christmas four years ago – or was it six? – bags at his elbows.

In the booth next to us sits a couple carrying on an animated conversation. I watch the young woman leaning in toward her partner, laughing brightly. “I could hardly wait to tell you about …” I turn away, swallowing hard against something that remains stuck in my throat.

The waitress brings our food. Shareen breaks Stefan’s burger into little pieces. Steve cuts into his steak to check for doneness. The silence between us feels like air in a coffin, and I wonder when it was that we ran out of things to talk about. I stare into my bowl of chili, pushing the clumps of beans around with my spoon.

We met ten years earlier. I was 19, and had just arrived in the U.S. from Paraguay, South America, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. Seven years older and wiser, Steve guided me through the strangeness of American flush toilets and traffic lights. I was safe with him.

The sixties were coming to an end, but we continued to ride the wave of their spirit. We filled our home with the sounds of Dylan and Baez, but also Brubeck and Brahms and Coltrane. Despite our relative poverty, we traveled to India, Europe, and South America. He sang opera. I studied French. Our kitchen was a favorite among our friends, always simmering with the latest gourmet recipes coming together. We made two healthy babies. Ours was a good marriage. Everyone said so.

But is good really enough? Is it asking too much to want a life partnership that provides more than safety and kindness? To want a partner who has the courage to put his hand into my heaped-up heart and, passing over all of the pathetic things that he can’t help but see there, draw out into the light all of the beautiful and radiant things that no one else has looked quite deeply enough to find?

I watch my husband now, contentedly chewing on his steak in the booth next to me; and our children who, having lost interest in their hamburgers, are back to making paper airplanes. They are my world, these three. The family I dreamed of as a child, when my parents were busy doing the Lord’s work.

My precious family.

Steve notices me looking at him and slowly raises one brow. His kind brown eyes seem to ask, “Is there something wrong?”

A shudder crawls down along my spine and I shake off the almost unthinkable, terrifying notion that in the midst of all of this serenity, something really is wrong. Almost unthinkable because, after all, ours is a good marriage. Everyone says so.

I shake my head. “How’s your steak, honey?” I ask, taking a small bite of my chili, which has grown cold.

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a globally recognized author, scholar, and speaker specializing in personal transformation. Her significant body of published books and articles on the topic, coupled with her own raw identity-changing experiences, makes her uniquely qualified to write about deep change. For more information please go to www.marlenafiol.com

 

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Guest Posts, Marriage

The Chiringas Over El Morro

June 9, 2017

By Melissa Banigan

The sky was filled with the chiringas families had bought at nearby stalls. They chased each other’s tails in the sky like parrots, and easily out-maneuvered the Puerto Rican, American, and old Spanish flags that flapped phlegmatically over the El Morro in old San Juan. At the base of the fort, the variegated blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashed against the rocks in an undulating mantra—ebb, flow…ebb, flow.

Standing atop the highest level of the fort, the wind whipped my hair around my shoulders as I looked over the San Juan Bay and out over the ocean. My boyfriend—no, my recent fiancé—placed his hand on the small of my back. I smiled at him, but in that moment, I knew: I did not want to be married to him.

“That’s so…wild,” I said, pointing down towards the white, foam-covered rocks. This wasn’t what I meant to say, but I didn’t have the language to describe the panic rising in my chest. The rough ocean below beckoned. I leaned gently over the wall of the fort and felt my heart dislodge itself from my chest and dive like a seabird into the roiling foam.

~  ~  ~

In the 1800s, future Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Gladstone, wrote that in the Odyssey, Homer had described a “wine-looking,” rather than blue, ocean. Some years later, a philologist named Lazarus Geiger examined ancient texts in a variety of languages and discovered that although the ancient Egyptians produced rich dyes using the blue woad plant, many ancient cultures didn’t have a word to describe the color blue.

What sort of feelings must she have had (for I’m certain it was a woman) when she looked down into the ocean to find that the water no longer appeared “wine-looking,” but had become an undefined color? Since she was without words to describe what she saw, I imagine was faced with a choice—remain silent and risk going mad, or give up everything she thought she knew in order to try to describe to others what only she could see.

Today we live beneath a blue sky and swim in cerulean seas, so it’s clear that she chose the second option. What, then, were the consequences? Was she tolerated as an eccentric? I doubt it. People are wont to accuse strange women of witchery, so I imagine she was dragged, bloodied and naked, and then burned beneath an ancient wine-colored sky. A consolation, of course, is the hope that the experience of seeing blue finally sparked to life in the imaginations of her fellow villagers as they watched the hottest zaffre flames coldly lick her tongue, lungs, and brains to ash. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage

Alpha and Omega

May 7, 2017
husband

By Pam Munter

Even now, all these years later, I have a recurring dream about driving alone around Madison, lost and trying to find my way home.  I am driving around hills, the lake always on one side. It all looks so familiar but I am not sure I am heading in the right direction.

When he was nine, my son and I flew to Madison, the coincidental location for a family reunion with people I had not seen since I was his age. Aaron was eager to see where he had been born so I took a photo of him by the Madison General Hospital sign, his arms cradled as if holding a baby. For me, his sweet spontaneous pantomime brought the backstory roaring back as if it had happened yesterday.

***

By 1972, I had been married for two years, living in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was doing a post-doctoral year in clinical psychology at Mendota Mental Health Institute. The husband had found a job as a social worker in a government agency. We agreed we wanted to have a child, hoping to time it to coincide with the end of my internship. There’s nothing like good planning and perseverance. By Christmas that year, I was pregnant. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Surviving

Flamethrower

April 21, 2017
water

By Lori Fetters Lopez

Some days it’s enough that he breathes. The exchange of air grates on my psyche like the high-pitched squeal of a six-year-old at the sight of a spider. A childhood dream to be a pilot, he sits with his hands grasping the yoke of a computer flight simulator. At his perch, he can turn from the pretend to the surreal. An endless choice of television shows filled with intolerable stupidity, followed by commercials selling drugs with side effects more damning than the symptoms they claim to cure. It all culminates into a farce. He’s been deployed for months and I’m left with only the memory to fuel my fire.

Hands on hips, I look at the obstinate water softener spewing its juices over my walls. I’m lost in incredulity wanting to collapse into the wet. Yesterday, I replaced the damn thing, the day before, the water heater. It mocks. Disgusted, I walk into the garage where the car lays in shambles begging me to crawl beneath its underbelly hoping for an altered result. First, the valve cover gasket, then the radiator, and now the gas tank.  The large door stands open revealing that another rain has brought our grass to grow. The lawn mower sits in the corner, a pigheaded child too engrossed in a video game to go to the bathroom, it leaks. Fixed before he left, obvious the repair was in vain; the first fill drains onto the floor. The mailbox leans forward as if reaching for the next letter too long overdue. Someone crashed into the pole and I replaced it. Too tired for more, I forgot the concrete anchor to gird its pole. I could call someone, pay someone, but that’s not who I am. I persevere. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

In Sickness

March 23, 2016
marriage

By Kristen M. Ploetz

Thirteen years ago, I passed the bar exam and got married.

Needless to say, I was not quite paying close attention when we planned our wedding. I was spent. Four long years of law school at night followed by the bar exam eroded my capacity to make decisions, especially those with multiple choice possibilities. Plus, after living together for nearly all of our eight years together, marriage felt like a mere formality. I’ve always leaned toward practicality more than passion, and our wedding was no different.

Still, we indulged in some creative control. My bridesmaids would wear crimson and carry candles instead of flowers. Letterpress for the invitations, seafood instead of steak. Otherwise, I just didn’t have it in me—time or desire—to let the planning of those eight hours consume my life.

A few weeks before our wedding, we met with the officiant to discuss vows and readings. I knew that I didn’t want to hear “I now pronounce you man and wife” (feminist!), nor did I want any religious anything (atheist!). But beyond that, and the fact that I would not be changing my last name, we were pretty much traditionalists—and pragmatists. Just give us the bare minimum required to make our bond legitimate in the eyes of whomever it matters for taxes and ratify our mutual trust to make life and death (and life after death) decisions for each other. And then let’s party.

So when we got to the part about selecting vows, we skimmed over the book of options. We took the steadfast road already traveled by millions of others.

for richer or poorer,

in good times and in bad,

in sickness and in health. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Sex

Sex Should Satisfy You Both

February 10, 2016

By Anonymous

This is a very real subject for me. I grew up with a narcissist mother who made me feel like I was not enough, worse, that I would never be enough. My first marriage happened mainly because I was pregnant and ended because we never should have been married. I finally met someone, a man who was kind and honest and everything I needed.

We got married and soon after, I became aware that, like lots of men, he had watched some porn. But it was more than that, what he watched dominated what he wanted in the bedroom. This wonderful man who was great husband and provider outside of the bedroom, wanted me in 6 inch stripper heels and making up stories about me fucking other men in the bedroom. It was baffling. I went along.

I had been so screwed up that I actually thought it wasn’t a big deal at first. But then, it became every time. Every time. There were dildos, butt plugs, costumes, outrageous shoes purchased for me by him. He also took me on romantic vacations where outside the hotel, we were happy and normal. In the hotel, it was filthy town. I never said no. I thought I must have done something to make him think I wanted this. It had to be my fault. My fault.

I finally said I hated it and now I am in therapy learning lots about myself and why I let this continue for years. YEARS. I never thought I could just say no, because him wanting this made sense to me, because it was ingrained in me that I was not enough. That was the insecurity planted in me from a young age by my mother. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage

Fisherman’s Wife

February 1, 2016
love

By Shell Fejio

My husband was born one of three boys on the east coast, in a small town known for its Portuguese fishermen, perhaps more for their drug use and hard drinking than for the big catch, but they were known nonetheless. When his parents left for sunny California in his early childhood, they landed in a more fog covered Bay Area, but there was water, and my husband’s father took advantage of it. His dad would show up at the elementary school just past noon on a Monday, barely cleaned up from a late night of partying, pulling in the parking lot and honking. The receptionist would send the boys out, and under the guise of a doctors appointment (nobody at the school ever questioned why they were so many appointments, it was the seventies), Pops would take them down to the marina.

A ninety-nine cent package of bologna with a bottle of mustard and a loaf of white bread fed them for the day. Pops drank beer while the boys shared sugar laden Shasta soda. The lake was the bathroom, unless number two was needed, then, a bucket in the back of the truck sufficed. By sundown, Pops would be drunk, the boys tired and cranky, and the fish, on a good day, were flopping on a stringer in the water by their feet.  Weekends might be searching for crabs or clams at the ocean, rushing them home to get them in the pot, simmered in garlic and spices. In bad times, his dad would marinate smelt, a tiny fish abundant in the Pacific, a fish that soaked up the wine and got everybody drunk from tasting before dinner. Parties were oysters on the barbeque, hot sauce and a beer chaser.

My husband became a big drinker too. At twenty-two, he worked ten hours a day at a dry cleaners, with no respirator, inhaling any chemicals he could, hoping for a little buzz. After work, the first stop was the drive thru liquor store on the Mission Boulevard strip, a six-pack, at least. He’d get home, eyes shiny, beer in hand, ready to grab his pole. Night fishing was catfish. An early morning before work was hoped for rainbow trout. On Wednesdays, he got off early, picked me up from high school at first, later, from our tiny run down apartment, and begged to go to the lake – the ocean was too far on a work night – even in California, you can be a flatlander. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, Marriage, Relationships

A Year of Revisiting Old Loves

January 4, 2016

By Zsofia McMullin

It is so easy to get into a rut. The toenail clipping, burping, morning-breath kind of rut of busy days and exhausted evenings. The no-sex rut, the no-talking rut, the not-holding-hands rut follow quickly behind. It doesn’t take long to get there—not as long as you’d like to think.

I am sort of baffled by this. I married for love. I married for great sex. For friendship. For a deep connection. We were mature and intelligent and in love. Isn’t that all you need?

But now it all seems muddled and not so easy. I feel like it’s unfair, because I can’t even put a finger on that nagging feeling between us. It’s everything. It’s nothing. I remember that sweet tingle, the antsy anticipation, the burning lust.  But now love just feels like a promise we made a long, long time ago that we’ll stick with this, even when it’s so, so hard. And it’s hard on most days.

So we work at it, because that’s what we are supposed to do—and because we want to. I buy the lingerie and wear makeup and we schedule date nights. But it all feels forced and not like the real thing. So we settle into that feeling—that the real thing will never be ours again. And I start to wonder: would it be different with someone else? With the young men I knew way back when? Are they still sweet and caring and romantic? Are they still funny and horny?  Am I? Or is it inevitable that we are all tired and comfortable and settled into life with soft bellies and graying hair?

*** Continue Reading…

depression, Divorce, Guest Posts, Marriage, Relationships

Construction Season

November 14, 2015

By Patti Carlyle

Summer seems an incongruent time to ponder life’s harder questions. Long and brutal winters in the Rust Belt present a more fitting time to look inward, everything thickly coated in Suicide Gray. Thoughts deepen and even darken, and it makes sense. By contrast the warm, sparkling days of Cleveland’s early summer are arguably the most beautiful, demanding a certain carefree hubris. But instead of fish tacos on patios, gin and tonics, afternoon sex or campfire lazing, I slid into a dizzying circular conversation with myself. Depression or divorce?

Orange barrels rush past the window, a translucent blur of stout, gaudy grandmas. Squinting into the distance looking for some broad blinking arrow, I try to predict lane changes. Sit up straight, hands at ten and two. The speedometer needle sinks left and I sharpen my focus. Rumble strips hyphenate the road mid-lane, a startling warning of a new traffic pattern. A driver for over 20 years, I still tense up in construction zones, still roll my eyes when the barrels begin gossiping in medians each spring.

And as the work begins each summer, I find myself muttering ‘didn’t we just do this?’

Depression or divorce? For two summers, this alliterative question worried a groove into my journals and tortured my therapist. Amused at my binary thinking and familiar with my white knuckle grip on a fanned deck of pessimistic options, he suggested that I refrain from applying intellect and instead feel my way through. Deep thought and analysis might not save my marriage, and I may still need clinical intervention. Worst case? Both. That’s how I saw it: terrible options all.

Predictive pessimism doesn’t protect me from much, though. I need to do before I know much of anything. Lowering myself into the tides of experience, sometimes the water is fine and frolicking like a four-year-old is the only appropriate response. But sometimes the relentless and punishing waves are frigid and teeming with jellyfish. Bystanders can hear me screaming from shore.

Ending my marriage to experience divorce is an obviously myopic move. Eyeballs deep in the struggle, I flailed and clawed for a cognitive buoy. The goal was simple: tease out which was cause and which effect. Is my marriage foundationally broken, resulting in situational depression? Or is my fundamental problem clinical, my relationship merely its casualty?

The gaudy grandmas have waddled off. Concrete lane dividers stand shoulder to shoulder in their place. The effect is menacingly close. My phone is face down on the console and I poke a finger at the dash, silencing the radio. Any distraction could have me trailing sparks along the barricade wall or sliding onto the gravelly shoulder. Adjust the mirrors and glance back.

I started circling the drain a few years ago. The well-received launch of my alternative health practice had me so certain. This was my calling. I might have been suspicious when the aspects of entrepreneurial adventure I enjoyed most turned out to be designing the website and writing the blog. After shuttering the business in 2012, I tumbled into a shame vortex. Struggling to make sense of how I had misread myself so terrifically, I cocooned. It took months of shame and denial before finally deciding to close, abandoning years of training, the encouragement of friends and family and a lot of invested capital. Continue Reading…