Category Archives: Married Life

Happy New Year: Embracing Myself as Myself

 

Quite randomly I ended up taking a neuropsychological screening this week. Well, it wasn’t entirely random. I was attempting to find a therapist (psychologist, psychiatrist, MFT, social worker, what have you) that accepted my insurance plan since theoretically I am supposed to be able to have $20-per-session visits for outpatient mental healthcare. Searching my insurance provider’s website however returned the names of hundreds of doctors who are no longer practicing or specialists for something that, despite being rather special myself, I’m not special enough for (i.e. serves youth or geriatric patients only.) I admit I didn’t call the entire list, but after about 20 google searches, emails and contacts I felt like giving up. Then, I found someone who responded to my email and said he was covered by my insurance (sort of) and could help.

This doctor didn’t do talk therapy. Instead, he is a neuropsychologist who does neuropsychological screenings. What on earth is that? Yesterday I found out. The screening itself is $1700. Insurance may cover that BUT they only decide after you get evaluated. Also, I believe it goes to my deductible anyway, so I’m basically paying for it out of pocket, or at least out of FSA. So much for the $20 per session mental healthcare. Continue reading

Trying to Figure This All Out

My husband wants me to focus on the present. He’s right. I need to stop worrying about the future. I need to stop spinning on the same concerns and focus on now. Maybe then I’d find happiness or at least contentment. And I’d get things done.

I’ve been having panic attacks lately about the cost of life and my inability to maintain my career. We want to have children soon – I’m turning 33 in a month – yet I feel so horribly unprepared. Yes, I have $400k in the bank when most people who have kids are still in debt, but that just doesn’t feel like enough. What I need is a job that I can see myself in 30 years from now while also being able to be the mother I want to be. I don’t see that in my current job. I have no idea what I can do that makes enough money to support the life I want. Continue reading

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Working Moms: When is the best time to have kids?

The answer I get re: when is the best time to have kids is “there is never a best time to have kids.” I’m sure that is true, but there is definitely “a time when it becomes harder / impossible to have kids” (at least naturally), so I’m trying to make that deadline without pushing it too much.

When I was younger, I thought 30 was old. I’m now turning 33 in 3 months. Thirty-three is fine age to have kids, but I always thought I’d have my second by 33. Now I’m looking at not yet even having my first.

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Can We Afford Life on a dual-income, one Teacher’s Salary?

My husband is adamant that until I get my ADHD mess in order, we should not discuss the future. He has a point. I am good at planning for years down the line, but in terms of “today,” my life is a mess. I still cannot get myself to work on time and despite some progress in the cleaning up department – my laundry never manages to make it from the drier to my closet. It’s completely fair for him to state that until I can stick to a basic routine, we should not discuss the future.

I know if I can just keep the house clean (well get it clean and then keep it clean) and leave the house in the morning to get to work on time, he will, eventually, be willing to plan life with me. I am trying to get rid of things and simplify as much as possible so that there is just less stuff to create messes. It definitely helps. Continue reading

Pregnant-Woman

How Lack of Maternity Leave Hurts Working Women

I’m 32 going on 33 and my biological clock is tick-tock ticking. If I’m going to have at least one child, it’s most likely going to occur within the next 1-3 years of my life. I have significant savings so I can afford to take time off to have a kid, but that doesn’t make the whole lack of maternity leave situation any less stressful.

The US is still the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. In fact, the US is one of just two countries in the world that doesn’t ensure any paid time off for new moms, according to a report from the International Labor Organization. The other: Papua New Guinea. Continue reading

Marriage Is the Worst Financial Decision of My Life – And I Don’t Regret It

The marriage tax penalty is real and it is painful if you live and work in a region of the country that tops the “highest cost of living” lists. While you can make the argument that this is a “choice” and that incomes tend to be higher in that region versus the rest of the country (if you work in a high-paying field), it still doesn’t balance out. I’m glad that I knew going into marriage it was the worst financial decision of my life (my husband says the wedding was, but actually the cost of the wedding was pennies versus what I’ll personally lose over my lifetime, financially speaking.)

There are numerous benefits to marriage, and above all else I’m a sap who believes in love and cares more about stability and security than wealth. I’m happy to be married. Happier than I thought I’d be (at least a month in) as it shockingly feels very different from being single. I didn’t expect it to feel different at all, especially after dating over a decade and co-habiting for the last two years. The only difference, I thought, would be that I can’t just walk out the door without repercussions, and neither could he.

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Keeping Married Finances Separate – Is it Possible?

We’re married, now what?

Against the wiser half of my brain, Mr. HECC and I did not go through a formal financial planner before we got married. We didn’t get a prenup (he’s opposed to them and even though I think it would protect me I find them terribly unromantic and I wasn’t going into a marriage with any easy out of divorce, since I think the point of marriage is that you shouldn’t get divorced.) I hope I won’t link back to this article later filled with regret, but I’m feeling good about that decision at the moment.

When it comes to finances, many married couples merge their finances by default. In the case of a divorce (at least in California) the money gets split anyway, so why keep it separate while married?

We’re both very fortunate that we bring no debt to the table. While he has been less proactive in his career and has saved significantly less than I have, we both are financially stable compared to most newlyweds. I believe together we have about $450k in savings – not bad for “just starting out.” However, I’m still unsure on how to handle finances going forward. Right now we’re both working and fairly independent so it’s easy – we split major household costs — food and rent — and then everything else we pay for out of our own budgets and earnings/savings. What I don’t want to happen for either of us is that we don’t strive to earn more income because the other is making up for it. Neither of us LOVE working so it would be unfair to the other person. If I end up taking a job that makes less money, I should just focus on spending less on myself. If we cannot afford to live in this area, then we need to move.

In this WSJ article from 2014 financial planners/writers argue for and against merging accounts as a married couple. One says keeping accounts separate is the secret to a peaceful, happy marriage – and the other says merging accounts builds trust. The commenters tend to think having separate accounts is bad, one of them writing “it’s nothing more than an exit strategy.” I disagree.

I don’t think we have to merge accounts to talk about finances and plan together as a team. I also feel very passionate about having my own money. If my husband were to get sick and need help, or even if he were to want to go to school and not be able to afford it, I’d put the money down then he’d “pay me back” over the years. I’ve borrowed money from him as well because he keeps his savings more liquid and mine is tied up in investments. In the end during retirement we’ll split what we have.

He knows I’m much better about financial planning than he is, sans my shopping addictions, so he generally trusts me to manage our money within reason. I like him keeping his own separate because then he never feels a lack of independence or ability to buy his own shit (i.e. he can back as many Kickstarters as he likes even if I think it’s a waste of money, and I can go splurge at Nordstrom Rack even though that’s probably a bad idea too.)

When we have kids I think things will change. Kids are expensive and to be fair to them we’re going to have to marge a chunk of our finances to cover their lives which will be a lot of our income. If we buy a house, things might change as most of our savings will go into that together. But I really don’t see what’s so wrong with keeping our accounts separate. Yes, it makes it easier to split our finances should we ever get divorced (not that I’m planning on it) – but it also is good for us to know who is really pulling the financial weight in the marriage and who has to contribute more to the household if their earnings aren’t as high. Luckily Mr. HECC is awesome with kids and will be a great part-time stay-at-home dad should we decide that makes sense one day.

In any case, a part of me thinks it would be nice to have totally merged finances, but I don’t see the point. Half the internet has me thinking I’m a horrible person here, but wiser financial savvy people (esp women) don’t want to merge their bank accounts.

We are probably going to keep doing what we’ve been doing… separate accounts but he pays the rent check and I pay him back (eventually) for what I owe — I pay for all food on our 2% cash back card and then I deduct half of that from what I owe him. I’m thinking now that we’re married we might want to merge our travel and healthcare costs – but even that seems unnecessary at this point. Ie for healthcare he currently pays $400 a month as he doesn’t get it through his work. My work will cover him at 50% with better insurance, so if he goes on my health plan (which he might) I think he should pay the full amount he is responsible for, and I’ll pay my piece which is less because my work covers more of my amount. It is his choice to not get a job with health insurance therefore I don’t think I should have to subsidize that. I believe people need a little kick in the ass (husband’s included) to improve their careers and nothing sabotages that more than just paying for their inability to seek better employment.

Now, if we have a kid, and one of us decides to stay at home to take care of them, or if someone goes to school for their master’s, that’s different – but I don’t consider opting to not look for a better job a reason for me to pay more for him, and he agrees.

It might not be romantic, but marriage is a business as much as it is about love. To us it’s more about love and less about business. I hope I can inspire him to save more towards retirement over the years, and also to either take on a job that pays more or become a teacher which will pay about the same but provide more flexibility for taking care of children and also likely more happiness in his life. I just don’t think merging finances is really something we need to do. I know he doesn’t want to do it.

According to a 2010 report, keeping money separate is a leading factor in couples breaking up. But it’s hard to really claim that to be true because it would consider couples keeping money separate and not sharing any information about how they spend the money with each other and couples that just keep separate accounts but who are transparent about their spending.

The argument that sharing forces you to commit is a silly one. We wouldn’t have gotten married if we weren’t ready to commit. Yes it’s harder to disentangle yourself if your merge your finances, but I find that an immature reason to merge your money.

Another argument is that separate money undermines the financial stability of marriage. I guess that could be true, but as long as you remain responsible for your own money and having enough to cover your own emergencies, why create shared accounts? I still want my own financial security, and my focus is on helping Mr. HECC achieve his. He wants to, and I think he can – he’s much more frugal than I am, so it is easier for him.

Instead of feeling like you have to lie if you want to splurge a bit, keeping money separate allows you to know what you have and keep living like an independent adult. I’m glad we agree on keeping finances separate, and I hope we continue to be able to do this successfully and still be happily married.

 

Wedded Bliss and Chaos and Thank God It’s Done

I’m back. From my wedding, that is. My ridiculously expensive, I now wish I could go back and revise my budget (and stick to my original budget) wedding where in the grand scheme of things I’m over the moon to be married despite it not really changing much of anything in my 10-year relationship. After a very short mini-moon we just returned home and things are back to normal, except I have a ring on my finger and he has one on his desk because it’s too tight and he needs to get it stretched. And, in the eyes of the government, we’re legit family now. If I die he gets my savings. I guess I should watch my back. 😉

So I have a lot to say about the wedding, but I’ve spent my last week spinning in circles on what went right and mostly what went wrong, and I’m not sure how much I can get out right now without going off a deep end. The wedding itself was lovely. People had fun – some told me it was the best wedding they’ve been to with such passion I actually believe them. The food was great (so I’m told, I didn’t get to eat much of it – damn missing cocktail hour for family pictures) and my band rocked (despite more than half of the guests spending most of the wedding outside on the beautiful balcony overlooking the lake and missing the entertainment.) I’m trying to look on the bright side of things because a lot went right at the wedding. The ceremony was magical and just perfect – his uncle officiated and we spent a lot of time revising the script so it really reflected us and wasn’t a standard boring wedding. It was super hot and I’m shocked none of the black-tux wearing groomsmen passed out, but other than that the ceremony was a success. Ok,  than the fact that my florist sucked and put the cheapest wrinkliest possible fabric on the previously beautiful birch-wood arch causing it look crappy and the violin-cello duet chose to play “Yesterday” right before my groom walked down the aisle (which, is a beautiful song, but “yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away now it it looks as though they’re here to stay” is not what you want to hear the second before you are to meet your wife at the alter, even if no actual lyrics were involved in the playing of the song at that point.) I’ll give the ceremony a 9/10. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure came close.

I’m such a perfectionist, of course, I’d never be fully satisfied with my own wedding – especially after spending – between my parents and myself – upwards of $70k or even more on one day. I haven’t added everything up yet, but I’m pretty sure we are at least at $70,000 total for a Sunday night wedding in June. I really wanted to stay under $40k and the original budget was $50k so… I failed. After the wedding, I worried I’d feel a huge letdown and be so ashamed to have spent that much money on one day and, while I do think it’s ridiculous, I felt that one day was so full of richness that it was more than just 24 hours. Or, as I tell my now-husband, I want to talk about the wedding every day for the next year at least and ensure it provides some entertainment to our lives so we can amortize the cost of it over the next 365 days. 🙂 But, really, while I know I’m very fortunate to be able to spend that much on a wedding – and equally aware that weddings that cost $5k or less can be just as memorable and wonderful – for me, and for my guests, it was the right wedding to throw. Looking back, I could have saved at least $10k by not splurging in places that didn’t matter (*cough*flowers*cough*) but mostly I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Except my florist and my dress.

My florist was an unfortunate mistake. She meant well -and the flowers weren’t awful by any means – but spending $4500 on flowers was something I was against from the beginning and by two months before my wedding I had gone off the deep end and gave into the wedding industry. My father was paying for the flowers and my parents kept telling me they wanted wedding flowers, nothing tacky (which means nothing cheap looking) and so – after my initial $2k florist flaked on getting me a contract – I was stuck with no florist and went with the best of what was still available, or so I thought. She was a lovely, passionate woman who tried really hard but in the end there’s a certain thing called talent and also something called skill and I think she lacked in both departments – maybe skill more-so than talent, but for $4500 I expect … more than what we got. Well, we got a lot of flowers, for sure, and they were fine – just not flow-y and green like I wanted. She didn’t get the style. The only thing that really bothered me, though, was the arch in the ceremony (now mentioned twice in this post.) The flower arrangements were huge — she says she needed to make them that big to cover the foam but my florist friend assures me that isn’t true. Then she added this horrid, horrible, no-good, going to ruin all my ceremony pictures and make me cringe fabric to drape on the beautiful birch wood arch. When I showed up to the venue and saw it, I freaked, and send the women there and my florist friend (who happened to be my bridesmaid) into a flurry trying to figure out what to do. I was not in the right brain mode to make decisions at that moment so when they asked me if they should cut it down, after one side was already cut down, I said no – and then they wrapped it to the pole making it too short and look even worse. What I realized later is that the drape of fabric at the top not only looked cheap as all hell but also casted horrible shadows on our faces – especially my groom’s face. I went back to the picture I showed her of the draping (as I did ask for this) and it featured a very, very skinny transparent and not-cheap looking fabric (i.e. no wrinkles, folds or pulls) and it barely covered the wood. Her version was just tacky. Later she told me I should have called her to come back but I wasn’t thinking straight at the time. She knows it looked worse once they cut it down and tied it but I was trying to fix things and going absolutely crazy. My $4500 flowers turned my almost-perfect ceremony aesthetically into quite a disappointing picture. — Then, my sweetheart table actually never had flowers on it — she had told someone at the venue to move the special arrangement she made for it to the table after the cocktail hour but whoever she told didn’t remember so we had no flowers on the main table that was being photographed all night. That was less of an issue but just something that I look back on now and realize damn, I should have hired a wedding coordinator for the day of the wedding. I really needed a wedding coordinator.

Ok, so the one thing I didn’t spend on – that I wish, I wish, I WISH I did was a wedding planner. Wedding planners come in all shapes and sizes and costs and not all would have been helpful. A planner for a full wedding (i.e. someone to do what I did in sourcing vendors and venue et al) would cost $5k or more. But month-of planners are around $1.5k-$2.5k. Most are $2k. They help you the month of the wedding make sure you’re not forgetting anything and most importantly manage the crazy that happens the day of the wedding to ensure nothing goes wrong. I desperately needed a month-of planner and almost splurged at the end for one, but at that point I was thinking I already had everything planned and my venue was known for its awesome on-site ceremony coordinators, so why should I spent another entire laptop computer to get someone to help manage the day. Ugh. Wrong decision.

If I had a day-of coordinator…

  1. I wouldn’t have been late in the morning so we would have had an hour more for pictures, and I would have gotten the bridal portraits that I wanted from my $7500 photographer that now I’m worried will have captured no decent pictures because they were all super rushed.
  2. My dress wouldn’t have been all disheveled in all the pictures and my necklace would have been straight because I’d have someone with me at all times to help me fix my outfit and look my best – which, when you’re spending $7500 on pictures, you want to have someone there to help you out. My photographer did not do that really. (*probably picked the wrong photographer and spent too much on that too – we’ll see.)
  3. My mother who freaked out the whole day, showed up super late to the venue, ended up screaming at my flower boy and causing his entire family to storm out of the wedding, would have maybe been a little more managed and manageable with the help of someone else – not sure this would have helped, but I really needed a partner in helping manage my mother who, at numerous points throughout the day, threw a temper tantrum and made a few people really upset/cry (including myself.)
  4. The venue wouldn’t have lost our important ceremony glass (that we poured in the ceremony and were to send off to an artist to make into a sculpture.) I have no idea how they lost this, but somehow it got misplaced. They still haven’t owned up to losing it yet, but where else did it go? It was in a vase that was also ours and that is gone, along with six glasses that had held the glass before we poured it. All gone. And they threw out extra copies of our ceremony programs that are worth $3.50 each (I splurged on those but they were amazing and I figured I’d have extra to frame/keep/send to the bridal party etc but nope, they threw them all out and claim they were all used/taken which is a lie.) If I had a coordinator they would have made a list of all the items to collect back at the end of the night and made sure things weren’t lost. I COULD have done that or assigned someone else to this job, but I forgot as I was focused so much on the wedding itself I didn’t think about after it. The venue did let us keep things there overnight and packed up all our stuff for us, which is nice, but then they lost these important items… I’m still really bummed about it. The sculpture place can get new glass and remake it but it kind of defeats the sentimental purpose of the glass pouring ceremony. The venue doesn’t seem to give a shit about it. I am going to write them a review today and see if it inspires any more compassion.
  5. I failed at feeding my bridal party properly the morning of the wedding, which was a mess. My friend helped source wraps for us but there weren’t enough and a lot of the bridal party didn’t notice they existed. I didn’t realize that most of the bridesmaids hadn’t eaten the free breakfast at the hotel or the wraps (that weren’t that great but nonetheless they were there) which left me frantically trying to find local delivery services in the limo. Well, taking a step back I made the decision to get ready at the hotel because the venue charged $600 to get ready there plus $50 a person for every person over 7,  which was just silly in my mind since we also couldn’t start until 11 then and my makeup artist had to leave at 2:30. The logistics of the day were wonk and as we were an hour behind schedule everything ended up worse. The girls did finally order Panera Bread at the venue and someone went to pick it up for them, so that worked out ok, but it was probably 2pm or later before they ate – which was horrible. The did have a cheese plate at the venue at 1 so people noshed on that but it wasn’t enough. One of my biggest pet peeves as a bridesmaid is not having decent food options in the morning  (because it’s a super long day) and I managed to fail at planning this appropriately. If I had a coordinator they would have made sure this was done without me even thinking about it.
  6. A coordinator would have helped with other little things throughout the night… so many little things that I could have asked them to fix and it would have been done, or, if they were really good, they would have thought about this in advance and I wouldn’t have noticed them in the first place.

Now, granted, there are so many different coordinators out there, and not all of them are both talented at wrangling neurotic Jewish mothers while aesthetically altering venue decorations and making the call to remove cheapo fabric from the arch or recommending in advance not to put it on there in the first place and being able to run around and make sure my damn overpriced Swarovski necklace wasn’t off center in all the pictures — I didn’t believe I could find someone who was capable of all these things, so I decided not to hire anyone. I should have spend much less on the flowers at put the saving into a coordinator. That was my biggest mistake.

The dress itself was a headache from the get go and I spent too much on it and I think I looked horrible. My groom loved it and thought I looked great, and others said the same, but I can barely look at pictures of myself in this dress… it’s that bad. Now, I don’t have the world’s greatest body image but I frequently like myself in nice dresses. Not so in this dress. First off – it was strapless, which was one of the things I didn’t want in a wedding dress because only girls with rail-thin anorexic bodies look ok in strapless dresses… and I’m not one of those girls. Strapless dresses also have to fit just right to not fall down but then also not make you budge in all the wrong places. The tailor at my dress shop didn’t seem to understand this and she first made it too loose and then tightened it to the point where all you can see is my back fat. The dress itself is worthy of its own post at some point because the dress shop was a nightmare to deal with and I spent $7000 on my wedding dress which is crazy and I expected that after spending so much I’d have a good experience in alterations and finally be happy on my wedding day but not so much. I do have expensive taste (surprise) and really it’s a fucking scam the wedding dress industry as $2000 dresses are pieces of shit and to get a dress that is made nicely with good fabric you have to pay $5k plus OR find a used dress/sample. I wanted to get a used dress but then I worried that it would cause unnecessary issues so I splurged and spent $7k and – had the dress been perfect or close to it, I’d say, yea, it was worth it – but… I just look silly in it. And my chest/back/arms aren’t flattered by the shape, nor is the rest of my body. I lost 30 pounds for my wedding and I look at the pics (*not the professional pics yet – hopefully those will be better) and just see fat arms and a fat back and fat chest. Yes, they’d be there in another dress – but had it fit better / had I ordered a dress with straps and a more flattering neckline / had the tailor figured out how to fit it to me properly – maybe it would have looked less awful. I’m bummed about the dress. I hope there are a handful of pictures from the professional photographer where the angles make me look better. I worry I booked the wrong photographer because he didn’t seem to be working angles so much and I should have just booked one of the female photographers who understand how to pose women to make them look good. This photographer I hired is very talented but he typically works with thin NY brides who would look good from any angle. I’m worried I won’t have one picture that I feel good about. The pictures come back in about two weeks now… I’m a little scared at this point, because that’s the only thing we keep with us from the wedding other than our memories (and the video, which we get in six months, and that will undoubtedly feature the starring character of my fat rolls and double chin) — but it is what it is. I don’t HAVE to look at our wedding pictures or video ever. I’m just bummed because I wanted to look beautiful on our wedding day and I hate how I looked. My hair was weird and falling down and my veil was put in the wrong place and slightly off center and it all went so fast I didn’t have time to stop and adjust myself or stand better or anything.

I almost want to have another wedding to fix all these things – except, thank fucking g-d I’m never getting married again. That’s the one good thing to come of all this… it’s done, and we’re quite committed to never getting divorced, and I don’t have to ever do this again (except when my hypothetical future children get married and I hope I can use this knowledge to help ensure they actually can enjoy their weddings.)

Anyway, I’m married. I was surprised how different it felt… it really does feel like things have changed. I don’t know. They have and they haven’t. We still live together in the same apartment. We still say the same things to each other. I still have to go to work in the morning and he still works from home and wakes up late and stays up all night. So what really has changed? We’re keeping our finances separate for now (at least on paper) so nothing is majorly different. But it feels like I’m, well, married. I guess the biggest change is that we want to have kids and we always had said we’d wait until we were married and now there’s nothing really between us and the having kids phase of our lives other than actually getting pregnant (which will be challenging with my PCOS and maybe impossible – but nonetheless there’s nothing stopping us from trying now.) So maybe that is what feels different… because I’m old-ish (I’ll be 33 in November – fuck.) And, you know, baby-making years are limited. And although I am so immature I also feel ready to have a kid. And, moreso, I want two or three kids (at least two) and while I have time to have the first one, it’s going to get tough when I want to spread out having a second a little bit. I see my friend with her crazy three year old who is now pregnant with her second and I think god how hard it is to have two so close together – and that’s not even that close together, that’s really four years apart. If I manage to get pregnant when I’m 33 then I’ll have my first at 34… which means trying for my second pretty soon thereafter. I probably won’t end up having three – which is fine – I’d be happy with two (or one for that matter, but I really want two) — and… I still don’t know logically how this all works (can’t afford house here / job situation not going well / I can’t imagine working this type of job and being a mother / I think we have to leave this area to a place that’s more affordable / we’ll figure it out when we have kids I guess?) — but, anyway, what really changed is now there’s nothing between not being pregnant and being pregnant (other than getting pregnant) now that we’re married. We could have achieved that for a lot less than $70,000… and it would have come with a lot less stress and headaches and regrets… but then again, there were so many magical, unforgettable, priceless moments at my wedding that I think, in the end, it was worth it.

Life is Short and other things you already know…

When you get to your 30s, you realize that 10 years isn’t really that much time from start to finish. Somehow childhood seems so painfully long at times. The stretch between one birthday and the next can feel like a decade. Minutes felt like hours and hours felt like centuries. I remember very clearly sitting in class staring at the second hand slowly clicking its way around the clock. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I certainly was an excellent study of the glacial movements of a clock’s minute hand.

The last 10 years have been filled with plenty of ups and downs. My 20s had their fair share of crazy and now that I’m well into my 30s, I do feel that time of my life is over. And despite that probably being a good thing for my health and sanity, I still feel the need to mourn the departure of my extended youth. I don’t know how it happened so quickly, but it did. And just as the last ten years have passed by so quickly, so shall the next ten and the ten after that. It seems as if there is this cruel joke played on us by time, where all of childhood is leading up to this miraculous part of life where we are just-turned adults and free to be both adolescent and in charge of ever instant of our destiny all at the same time. Then, you’re 21, and, then, you’re 30 – a true adult with wrinkles suddenly etched into her skin, tired eyes and dull hair requiring specialized shine treatments to look half as youthful as you did just years earlier.

I’m less afraid of aging than I used to be. I’m still terrified of death, although in theory if my belief that one loses consciousness entirely and is just nothing for the rest of eternity, it should not be scary anymore than sad, and should not be sad any more than egotistical, as any sorrow for such departure is the same sorrow that should be poured onto thoughts of the world before one was ever conceived – but somehow that doesn’t seem sad at all, the infinity pre-dating our own birth.

Regardless of one’s sentiment towards our  inevitable mortality, we can likely agree that our time on earth is finite, and the years which we have in good health are even more greatly limited. We watch our parents age and part ways with the earth, which is horrible but at this age becomes part of the routine. Then there are the unexpected early departures — relatives who grow sick or lose their life in accidents that have no mental preparation. I’m fortunate to date not to have lost any loved ones, not even my father who was told seven years ago that he had no more than two years to live. But none of this luck can last forever. Life is this transient light which shines for only but an instant, and we must shine despite the lights of others dimming and, others, growing in luminosity all around us.

Nine years ago, I almost died. I don’t like to talk about the car accident I was in because every time I think of it I feel sick to my stomach, probably from minor PTSD. I was driving on a two-way highway when I was exhausted early one morning — I was returning from a work conference and hadn’t slept well the night before, and thought I was ok to drive home. I had just started driving only six or so months before, so I wasn’t the best driver yet either. My tire blew out, I had shifted to far into the curb in the center of the highway and my car skidded across the road and ended up spinning around and around in a ditch. I remember very clearly the dirt coming up so violently to the window as I spun to a stop, completely stunned. About a minute later, two cops came and knocked on my window. I was just sitting there – I was fine, somehow. I could have easily hit a car or truck in the lane next to me, or could have gone off a cliff if I had been on the other side of the highway, but somehow I didn’t hit anything as I skid down the road and into the dirt, completely unable to take control of my car.

I walked away from that accident with no damages to myself and barely any to my car. I was very, very lucky. I never told my parents or many people about it. I didn’t want to worry anyone. I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, or any close friends nearby. I told myself to forget about it, and I did, expect when I think about that day, and remember so clearly the moment when I spun around in the dirt until I finally came to a stop.

And that was nine years ago, but still it haunts me. But then, as I faced death head on, I don’t recall being very upset about the prospect of dying. I was scared, for sure, but I was extremely depressed at the time and thought to myself, in that moment when I was given a second chance, who would care if I was gone? I had never felt more alone.

The beautiful thing about being in a relationship en route to marriage is that you have this one person who cares not only whether you live or die, but who would notice should you be hurt or in need of help. And, in turn, you share that responsibility and that love. You have long left the family unit of your parents and siblings, and now you’re on your own, – and being on your own sounded great until you realize that means no one is looking out for you. When you have no family nearby, when your family barely thinks to call to ask you how your doing, and when you realize they never actually cared how you’re doing because they only value you for their narcissistic supply, you value relationships more than ever.

See, I was the girl who always thought she’d never get married. After watching my parents have violent fights since as early as I can remember, I thought marriage was a bit of a joke for most types of people, especially any with my DNA. I was hopelessly broken, unable to commit or to be worthy of being committed to. The best I could hope for was a series of heated relationships which would be entertaining, to soothe over the long periods of solitude.

But then, when I met my boyfriend, I realized that I could indeed love and be loved. We had a rocky relationship for a while – as we were both immature and scared to grow up, both coming from broken homes and lacking a solid foundation of familial stability, despite deeply longing for that sense of comfort and calm.

Now, deeply in love and on the dawn of my wedding year, I see this overpriced event as the entrance to this new phase of my life. It isn’t that much of a difference from today, but it is a commitment to a commitment. It is knowing that no matter how hard life gets, at least in our health, we have each other. And, just as one never mourns the time before she was born as she would thoughts of her future passing, it’s the worst feeling in the pit of one’s stomach to imagine one day losing your love; yet the thought of life before them is nearly impossible to recall.

When I stood beside my grandmother last year as they slowly lowered my grandfather’s casket into the ground, she shouted “wait for me, I’ll be there soon,” with tears pouring down her face. I had never witnessed such visceral grief. It was real, raw, and I understood, and I closed my eyes and could see years from now myself with the same deep sadness. I wanted to comfort her but I did not know how – how do you comfort a woman who will never again see the man she loved and battled with through that love for so many years?

And in the end, life is only worth what we’ve created and who we’ve loved. In the arms of my sweet future husband I finally know what love is. I can see living with him just about anywhere and together we’d be fine. That part of my life is great now, but I haven’t gotten to the other part – the part longing to create – to maybe make a mark on this world before I leave it. I often tell myself it’s silly to want this so badly, as in the meaninglessness of life, so too is creation pointless in our blip of existence on the infinitum of time. Is someone who is an artist, writer, musician, actor or designer any more of a successful, complete person than a person working to promote software? Anything s possible at any age, yet it gets harder as you grow older and get set in your ways. As I wait for a moment of inspiration, I know I wait for a moment that will never come.

But love did come, and with love comes the sadness of knowing one day the man I love, and I too will disappear from this earth, at least the parts of us which make us human. I try, now, to value each second together, as the clock no longer ticks on as slowly as a slug making its way across a sidewalk, lacking any noticiable forward momentum from the human eye. I watch my iPhone clock go from 6am to 6pm in what seems like an instant, and holiday seasons return in what feels like shorter than a month’s timespan (didn’t the Christmas lights just come down?)

Since there seems to be no way to slow life down, I only hope I can manage to make the most of it, to fight off this curse of depression, and to embrace my consciousness’s brief stay on this unlikely little home we call earth.

 

How to Not Get Divorced and Have a Happy Marriage

Sorry, folks. I don’t know the silver bullet to a long, happy marriage. I do know that while 50% of Americans end up in a divorce, a large chunk of those who remain married do so unhappily. While marriage isn’t a requirement of a fulfilled, happy life – for many of us, having a lifelong partner is a key factor in our emotional and even financial stability. I used to be opposed to marriage as an old-fashioned idea steeped in religion and generally designed to make women a property of a man. Today, engaged to be married, I’m looking forward to that next stage of commitment. After nearly 10 years of dating, it’s time to lock this in forever.

Unfortunately, for MANY people, marriage isn’t forever. I spent last week “hanging out” with my 50-years young aunt and her either unhappily married or divorced besties. These women, all in their late 40s/early 50s, were all uniquely depressed, and the conversation reminded me why, if I have anything to do about it, I won’t be alone at that age (knock on wood.) It intrigues me how everyone is selfish by nature, and that happy marriages are largely the result of two people willing to be aware of their selfish tendencies and to compromise around many things that, in single life, would not be acceptable. Furthermore, the stress on a marriage that having kids brings is immense, and if the parents do not see eye-to-eye about this, they may be doomed to crumble – as no one wants to think about an intimate evening post fighting about their child’s behavior and what to do about it.

I grew up in a very unhappy, abusive household. My parents, now in their 60s, are still married – but rarely go a day without my father telling my mother, in a not-so-nice tone, that she’s a, and I quote, “fucking idiot.” They are not the spitting image of a good marriage or even a decent one. And both of my mother’s sisters are divorced and not remarried. This tells me a lot about the mentality in that side of the family – one which lacks empathy for others. It makes sense since the three sisters grew up with a very narcissistic mother and each of them have pretty much ended up with narcissists because it’s the only relationship dynamic which feels comfortable to them – the youngest, dating a man who is infinity self-absorbed and incapable of commitment; the middle sister, committed, not married to a man who is not exactly the warm and fuzzy type in terms of being open to people who do not fit his limited view on an acceptable human being (but maybe that’s just because he’s French); and my mother, of course, with my “can do no wrong” father who blames the world for all the problems but never can blame himself for anything.

Without self awareness, I don’t know if it’s possible for people like this to have a sustainable happy marriage. What we’re attracted to is not always best for such arduous happiness. Marriage is work, they say, and it’s true. I see some young couples I worry are headed in the wrong direction. I look at friends who do not seem to be able to talk about serious matters to each other. Friends who are married to men who are mama’s boys and who are worried that when their child is born they will be left alone to do all the housework along with childcare and returning to work. I worry about my friends who don’t talk about their finances, where one partner is stressed about work and the other is firmly committed to not worry about money or how it is spent. I worry about a couple who fight all the time with two young children present, who no longer find time to love each other, who maybe will never be fully happy, at least due to the presence of each other.

And then I look at my own relationship — nine-and-a-half  years is almost like marriage in its own right. We live together and split some of our bills, so it definitely feels like more than just dating despite nothing legally tying us together just yet. And I love him more than anything and we get into little tiffs every now and again but generally we can have open conversations about important things and we get along pretty well as long as I don’t focus too much on the serious all the time and we can enjoy musing on absurdities of the world together. I know that for my own marriage to work, it will be a lot of work. I have to change my ways – the many things I don’t like about myself to begin with, so I’m ok with that. First, I need to keep my household clean, and uncluttered. Second, I need to find a job where I can not constantly worry about getting fired and be super depressed all the time (he isn’t so much worried about the loss of the income as he is my constant bad mood about 5-6 months into any new job.) And I need to focus on trying to feel like a woman who can be desirable instead of sabotaging myself with my very low self esteem and body image. If I could do all three of these things and not chew so loudly (he is very sensitive to food noises) and be ready on time when we’re going out instead of always 10-15 minutes late, I think he’ll be very happy with me in our marriage. That’s really ALL I have to focus on doing. The rest comes naturally. Being aware of these things doesn’t mean they  are easy to do, but I know they are flaws in my character and things I need to work on anyway.

But marriages can fall apart when one person is aware of the things that upset the other person and feels they are putting an effort in to resolving these things, when the other person doesn’t make an effort or a strong enough effort to show the other person they are doing the same. This pain point in marriages can be exacerbated by the fact that so married couples just don’t talk about things. Sure, it’s easy to ask someone to clean the house, but it’s less easy for a working parent to share with a stay-at-home parent that they are too stressed out in their job and want to move into a position with less pay and less expectations. Or – things as silly as I miss when we used to get dressed up and go on dates, and now I only see you in your crappy clothes that don’t fit well at home because you’re tired all the time and quite frankly so am I. This is why marriages fall apart. People stop putting in the effort. They start becoming passive aggressive to each other on purpose or accident. That once-novel romance story has turned into a nightmare. And so many men and women get past the point of no return. They can no longer look at each other and understand how they were attracted to the other person in the first place. They long to move on to something new, something where the weight of all the years of passive aggression, poof, disappears, and they can start fresh. They can look at another person and see them not as the man who forgot to take the garbage out or the woman who was too tired from her job to be the exciting, passionate woman she once was. Starting fresh is easier than mending a wounded relationship, in theory, at least.

Divorcees are usually not happy either. Few people can manage being happy and being alone, especially after being in a committed relationship for many years. In spending time with these 40-year-old and 50-year-old divorced or unhappily married women, I wonder if there is any piece of the failings of their marriage that they see as their own faults, or if all the blame is on their former partners, or both. The common thread of conversation is that “he’s awful,” “he’s lazy,” “he’s unhelpful around the house,” et al. Or maybe there were just huge fights about how to raise the children that were unexpected which led to two people who couldn’t manage to love each other let alone spend time together. There’s a musical with a song that asks “When was Dividing Day” that is about divorce. No one goes into marriage wanting to or expecting to get a divorce, or to fall out of love. I wonder if it’s possible for two people to be so aware of their own flaws and especially the ones that rub the other person the wrong way, and to just hyperfocus on changing these behaviors as to always show the other person that you care to be the best person you can be for them. And, the second part of that is for the other person to do the same, all while being verbally appreciative of those changes in behavior, not just accepting them as part of the status quo, when the other person is still working very hard to be a better man/woman for the other person. If two people can do that, I think that a happy marriage is possible. But it requires us to go from our selfish, childish ways to becoming real adults — giving up our wants for the better of someone else, as long as that someone else is doing the very same for us. It won’t always be perfect, but as long as expectations are reasonable and two people really love each other, I want to believe it’s possible, and I want to try. I want to be the old couple that celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary with the same sparkle in our eyes that we have now when we look at each other, and see the man who I fell in love with, and who I’ll always love.