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Addiction, Binders, Guest Posts, Marriage

The Proposal

March 28, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Andrea Jarrell

Brad and I met making get-out-the-vote calls for an aspiring California State Assemblyman. In the beginning, our love for each other and for the city of angels was entwined. I’d moved back to L.A. after my breakup and was happy to be home again claiming my city. Brad lived in a neighborhood I’d never known existed – a barrio recently discovered by a few hipsters from nearby Hollywood. Rival gangs tagged the apartments along his street. There was a guy we thought might be homeless who sat on a nearby wall drinking tallboys, his belly hanging over his pants. We good-morninged him and the rest of the neighbors in the determined but naïve belief that being neighborly was all it would take to get past the recent Rodney King riots.

The first time we went out was a Friday night dinner, which turned into breakfast the next morning. Saturday biking in the Santa Monica mountains turned into slow dancing in his living room that led to Sunday brunch that led to the late show of Blade Runner at the Rialto – on a school night, no less. Sunday night led us to Monday morning carpooling to work. We moved in shortly thereafter. From the start everything was easy with Brad. Even that first weekend when I’d waited for an inevitable awkwardness – when surely we would realize we needed our own space – but that moment never came.

The night he proposed, we were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a kitschy Italian place on Vermont where the waiters served thin-crust pizza on tall table stands and sang opera. We were sitting in a red leather booth when he turned to me and said the very words: “Will you marry me?”

It’s all happening, I thought. Those words I’d anticipated all my life. “Yes, yes,” I said. “Of course. I love you. Yes.” Afterward, we went to the Dresden Room – a lounge next door – to toast our future over Manhattans.

But five months later, while talking with friends about our impending nuptials, he denied he’d been the one to say the words. I tried not to cry when he said it was I who’d asked him. Our friends tried to change the subject. Like a needle scratching across a record, the evening came to an abrupt halt.

Perhaps because we were so in sync about everything else, it didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme. The proposal became like a spill of red wine on new carpet, gasp-worthy in the moment, then a fading stain you winced at only when you made yourself notice.

We planned to go to Paris for our honeymoon. We chose rings, a cake, and a wedding meal to serve to family and friends. Along with nine other couples, we went to a Making Marriage Work class that was like a version of The Newlywed Game. At one point, we were asked to switch partners and converse with the opposite-sex member of another couple. “Notice your increased heart rate with a stranger,” our teacher instructed us. “Your quickening pulse, the flirtation, the intrigue, the pressure to seduce. That’s how it was when you first met your partner, right? Remember that. Keep it alive.”

Listening to the other couples in class, we counted ourselves lucky that we didn’t have the kind of meddling parents they described. Our parents, divorced and married more than once, cast a sober eye on the whole endeavor and gave us money – an equal share from each – to do with what we wanted. By then, my mother had married and left my father for the second time. I wasn’t even telling my father about the wedding for fear he’d show up drunk.

Our class teacher, who was a marriage therapist, told us that sex, money, and not agreeing on big issues (such as having children) before the wedding were always the underlying causes of broken marriages. We wondered who would be dumb enough not to agree about the kid question before getting married? Wanting kids was something we’d talked about early. As for money, we’d already opened a joint bank account and pooled our resources. And when the teacher read (anonymously) everyone’s answers to the question of how many times we wanted sex each week, I just knew that we were the two who’d given the highest numbers. We took satisfaction in the fact that, if we’d been playing The Newlywed Game for real, we’d be winning.

On a sunny September morning, we married. Making our entrance at the same time, we descended opposite marble staircases in an historic building in the heart of downtown. I wore a dress made of vintage French lace. The candidate we’d volunteered for when we met officiated at the ceremony. We had a wedding lunch on the deck of a low-key, but trendy restaurant off Vine Street in Hollywood. Instead of rice, our friends tossed environmentally-friendly birdseed. They gave us a pair of new mountain bikes festooned with bows. And when the Chateau Marmont where we’d planned to stay for our first night of marriage – another L.A. icon – felt more like a grandmother’s dowdy guest room than the elegant suite we’d envisioned, we made our first important decision as a married couple.

The bellhop had just left. Champagne was on its way. We turned to each other and said, “Let’s leave,” in unison. We practically skipped out of the lobby, checking into the Bel Age on Sunset instead. In plushy bathrobes the next morning, enjoying breakfast on the balcony overlooking the city, we congratulated ourselves for not settling. We were elated that we each knew the other’s heart and mind so well.

* * *

Five days short of our first wedding anniversary, I’d gone to bed early. I had a big day at work the next morning – alarm clock set, my suit, shoes, and jewelry laid out. I’d left my husband in the living room watching television after bending down to kiss him goodnight.

Hours later, I remember waking with the moon shining gray-blue through the curtains. He was beside me, then over me, his randy mood obvious. He didn’t know that, in that moment, he’d reminded me of my ex—and the salty guilt I’d sometimes felt in my previous relationship when I would wake to find that other man taking off my clothes and I would go along with him just to keep the peace. Sometimes submitting timidly, victimized. Sometimes responding fiercely as if I could get back at him through sex. My husband also didn’t know how relieved I was that, in the dark of our room, I didn’t feel fear as I had with my ex. That I knew I could tell him I needed to sleep, and he would still love me.

The next morning, we were standing in the kitchen dressed and ready to go our separate ways, when I said, “I didn’t know who you were last night.”

In his starched white shirt and navy tie with the little green squares that I liked, he looked at me, startled. He’d been about to take a sip of coffee but stopped. “Why, what do you mean?”

“You know,” I said. “It was just kind of weird. You knew I had to get up early to get ready for my meeting.”

Through gold-rimmed glasses that always struck me as a Clark Kent disguise, his blue eyes searched me. He didn’t tell me then – coffee cup in hand, me on my way out the door – but he had no idea what I was talking about.

* * *

It wasn’t until after work that evening, sitting in our living room, that he told me his version of what had happened the night before. He had no recollection of coming to our room. He didn’t remember waking me. He didn’t remember me pushing him away or telling him no. I learned that morning had been like many other mornings we’d shared: him asking me questions, gathering intel, trying to piece together the previous night’s blackout. Only this time, I’d said something that scared him: I didn’t know who you were.

Then he confessed that he’d thought it would be different with me. That from that first weekend we’d stayed together, I’d become the talisman he held up to an addiction he’d been hiding since he was fifteen. He told me that after I’d gone to bed, he’d finished the wine we’d opened at dinner and then he’d finished another bottle. And then he wasn’t himself. And for the first time, I’d seen him that way.

As we sat on our Sven couch from Ikea, I looked at our wedding picture on a nearby shelf. I stared at my stupid smiling face and bouquet of gardenias. I’d been duped. I didn’t really know my husband at all. How had the child of an alcoholic, gambling, pill-popping family ignored the clues? Why hadn’t I noticed these morning interrogations as he tried to reconstruct our activities together?

Or had I? Continue Reading…

Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life. How Do I Stop Trying To Save Everyone?

February 23, 2014

By Elizabeth Crane.


Dear Life!

Welcome to the newest installment of The Manifest-Station. Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column With a Spin.The questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. Today’s question is answered by author Elizabeth Crane. Sometimes the responding author will share their name, sometimes they choose not to. Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Send an email to dearlife at or use the tab at the top of the site to post. Please address it as if you are speaking to a person rather than life or the universe. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!

Elizabeth Crane answers today’s DEAR LIFE.

Dear Life,

I play the same cycles over and over in my life. I’m sure everyone does to some degree. The part I continually find myself is that of caretaker. And it has finally begun to exhaust me and I also believe led to cancer in my body. Yet every time I swear it is the last time, I do it again. Upon reflection I see that taking care of another is the only place I feel I matter. The only time in my life I feel I have a purpose. Truth be told, it’s the only way I think people love me. I did it with my siblings. I’ve done it in nearly every friendship I’ve ever had. I did it with my mother. And I even did it with my abusive father. For some reason, no matter how poorly he treated me I felt sorry for him and would do what I could to take care of him. At 16 when I worked full time while going to high school helping to support my single mother and hoping to save for college, I even snuck my own money into his wallet after I knew he had gambled away his rent money.

Cognitively, I can see the cycle and how it all began. But I simply cannot seem to find a way to stop playing that role of the person who give up my dreams, my hopes, my wants, my needs for anyone else’s happiness. Maybe it’s that I simply cannot understand how someone can love me if I’m not doing something for them or supporting them in some way.

I do not mean to appear “poor me” at all. I take responsibility for putting myself in this position and for thinking this way. But how do I stop?

Thanks, K.


Dear K.,

You got this. Feel free to scroll to the end if you’re in a hurry, because the solution is super simple and even though it’s long-term simple, it’s still really good. (Is change ever not super slow? I like to think I’ve changed a lot since the days twenty years ago when I was in my apartment alone, feeling sorry for myself, wondering how not to think that the world was generally against me and so why bother – which is very much not the way I think now – but that was a long-ass process that involved a whole bunch of continued effort on my part.)

Before that, though, you said something sort of off-handedly that is sort of a bugaboo of mine, something very much along the lines of things my mother (who died of cancer) used to say. You mention that you believe this behavior led to cancer in your body. I know that there are those who hold very strong beliefs along these lines, and in a sort of general way, I don’t think there’s harm in looking at how our beliefs create our existence and where we can create new, more positive beliefs. HOWEVER. Sorry, sometimes I just get capsy. However.  To me, this kind of statement implies blame. And I just can’t get down with that. I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of gal who’s inclined to blame herself for all kinds of things I’m not actually responsible for, and to take on blame for something like an illness – seems not only unhelpful but soul-damaging. So I’d personally like to relieve you of that. There’s so much that’s not known about cancer, all kinds of cancer. My mother was a vehement non-smoker her entire life, wouldn’t come within ten feet of a smoker if she could avoid it, and when she was 63 she somehow still died of lung cancer (there are different kinds, and this kind is more common than is known about, and is not caused by smoking or second-hand smoke). A ridiculous number of people on my mother’s block had some form of cancer all around the same time. Our world is polluted. That’s but one possible contributing factor. I’m not a scientist, don’t write me letters about this, people. I’m just saying there are all kinds of studies and actual sciency-things out there that explain where cancer comes from, and I’m on board with science. Do I also believe in the power of the mind? Sure I do. But not in this way. I can’t. Because it basically means that significant numbers of the people I’ve loved and/or been related to have created some kind of awful illness in themselves; my dad died of Parkinson’s Disease and nobody had a more cheerful disposition than that guy. So… I can’t urge you strongly enough to let that idea go. There are lots of caretaker-types out there who don’t have cancer. It just doesn’t add up. I’m not judging you. What I want is for you to not judge yourself.

So, to the primary topic – caretaking: By way of my own experience, I did this in my own way with a close friend for over fifteen years. This was a friend who I related to, who was super bright and funny and who helped me very much at a difficult time in my life, and who, when I was down, was tremendously compassionate and always knew the exact right thing to say.

But a dynamic existed between us, one that took me many years to become fully conscious of, wherein – I was sort of recreating an unhealthy pattern that had existed in my relationship with my mother. I’m talking about emotional caretaking. My mom was given to emotional extremes, and the primary lesson I took away from that as a kid was to avoid conributing to that at all costs. My purpose in life as a kid was largely “prevent Mom from crying.” I was a six-year-old Executive Assistant in the Department of Crying Management. And it was a job I sometimes assigned myself in my adult relationships. So while I might not be any kind of – chicken-soup maker or financial supporter (hahahahahahaha) or drop everything and come over-er, I have been known to tell you what I think you want to hear, and it turns out that this can be incredibly damaging. It’s dishonest. I too, have in the past wanted to be loved so much that I not only sacrificed who I was, but harmed others. And I wondered that same thing – could anyone possibly love me if I wasn’t doing something for them? It turns out the answer to this is a million times yes. Better, we don’t even have to understand why; we only have to accept it. The unconditional love of friends sustains me beyond measure. My friends are not saints. They’re beautiful, flawed people, like me, and they loved me until I learned to love myself. Those people exist for all of us, especially if we know where to look. And I happen to know exactly where you should look!

In any case, whatever fault I once believed lay outside me, the first thing I have to do is take responsibility for my part, and you have already acknowledged that you’ve done this, and that’s huge.

Here’s where the slow/simple part of the solution comes in. It’s called Al-Anon. That’s it, that’s the whole thing. Absolutely, a good therapist in conjunction with this can also be of great help. But this is what Al-Anon is all about. How to create boundaries, to say no when it’s appropriate, to learn how to take care of yourself and create healthy relationships with people.

I wish I had a speedier solution.  But I can offer you this one assurance based on my own experience.  This can absolutely change, and I look forward to hearing about it.

~Elizabeth Crane.

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the story collections When the Messenger Is HotAll This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has been featured in McSweeney’s The Future Dictionary of America, The Best Underground Fiction, and elsewhere.


Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.

All Jen Pastiloff’s events listed here. Up next is NYC Sat Sep27.Click here to book.

Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We're keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.

Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We’re keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.


Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.