I would like to be able to say that I never again did something dumb to win another’s approval, but I can’t. What I’ve hopefully done is made it to a place where I am trying to win the right people’s approval, for the right reasons, and in the right ways.Read More
(Photo: Us as babies on our first trip together.) ...I often heard the phrase ‘Love is not enough’. As in, “Love is not enough to make a relationship work long term". But wait, Love is everything, right? All we need is Love?Read More
How Did I Get Here?
I think about this question a lot. These days, I’m thinking of it in terms of geography and the finale of an almost-two-year-long trek to a new city. Other times, however, it’s more, “How did I EVER get here?” in terms of marriage, motherhood, and approaching 30. Weren't we 19 barely three years ago?
I had always hoped to someday be where I am now. It didn’t matter when, I just wanted to get here sometime. Maybe that’s why it’s still somewhat strange to sit still and realize that I’m finally here. This is it, as they say. But it’s not really it, as in the end of the end, the top of the top. It’s just one it. But rather than looking to all of the other its I hope to reach in life, sometimes it's good for me to reflect on how I got to the current here.
When I was a teenager in a relatively small town, my older sister got married young and became a mother. The goal. A few years later, she was unhappy. I was at the local college, not sure what I wanted to study, and quickly losing my personally prized status as a straight-A student. I didn’t really care about school anymore. I wasn't sure what I wanted to study, and I was getting restless being back in school so soon. In addition, as someone who went on few dates in high school and had never had a boyfriend, my job at the grocery store near campus boosted my visibility and the dating opportunities came.
My sister warned me not to get married young. Some friends of mine were prepping to take the plunge. I got it in my head that if I didn’t leave for awhile, at the rate I was going I would end up married at 20, living in my hometown, someday resenting my poor husband for my lack of life experiences on my own. Or so my 19-year-old-“sky is falling”-self reasoned, so I left. Thus began the gypsy lifestyle that persisted for the next ten years.
About five years into it I was tired of wandering, realizing that there is something to be said for consistency in some form or another.
I wanted to be somewhere I could invest my time (relationship-wise), not just spend it. When I asked him what he liked most about being married, my dad said, “One time my dad gave me his credit card when I went on a road trip up the coast of California. It was a sad trip. There were gorgeous sunsets, beautiful scenery, and I could spend whatever I wanted, but I was alone. Being married is all about being able to point to the sunset and say, ‘Now isn’t that beautiful?’”
Living for myself was growing tiresome, and not being able to share my adventures began to take the fun out of them.
Dating provides so many opportunities to see, do, and try fun, new, incredible things. But when I began to look back on many of my favorite memories, I realized many were had with people I would never see again. They got married, or once I was in a relationship, a close friendship with them would be inappropriate. Those memories had to be locked away to some degree, whereas marriage is about keeping shared memories front and center, relishing them, continually polishing them to keep the fire alive.
Being alone with oneself is a wonderful thing. I have great memories of solo road trips, solitary reflective moments, creative projects where I lost track of time for hours. I still seek these times. I don’t regret any time on my own, nor am I saying marriage is the only way to invest in a long term relationship (friends, family, coworkers, those we serve…). I know I handle marriage better than I would have due to the things I learned about myself in those years. But I reached a point where, for me, sharing my whole life was my greatest desire.
There is a difference between feeling lonely and feeling desperate. Loneliness is a normal human emotion. Desperation often comes from a sense of unworthiness. Too often it's assumed that if you actively seek marriage, then you must be desperate. There is also a difference between feeling lonely for company and feeling like you want a home of your own. Somewhere to stay, somewhere to build. My parent’s home was a constant hub, a place where I felt belonging and love. But it wasn’t mine to build; it wasn’t where I could stay and grow.
So, I worked at dating. I got very deliberate, and put my partners through the wringer. I created a lot of social discomfort by skipping small talk and cutting to the chase on second and third dates (sometimes sooner). I narrowed down the enormous list that was unconsciously floating around in my head and chose THE three things I needed in a man. If he had those, I stayed (barring any red flags, obviously). No allowing the list to grow as time went on. If I found the three things waning, I left. No hanging on for lack of anything better to do.
I quit using dating as my entire social life and something fun to do on Friday night, and began using it for what it was designed to be: a way to select a life partner. Sometimes this approach worked, sometimes I had to scale it back. But I figured that the type of guy who would want to be with me forever would probably be able to handle my unconventional ways.
Years later, I was finally able to choose Jon. It was no whirlwind, and it didn't just happen. He was the type of man I had set my sights on, sifted through the masses for. He met the three criteria (and plenty of the ones I thought I had to let go of years before), as well as the final criteria of liking me back. We both had qualities others had turned away from. We both had many shortcomings. But we had the same end-goal and the same vision of what it would take to reach it.
We didn’t date long, but we packed in a good two years' worth of discussion, arguments, and discoveries in our short courtship. By this time in our lives, we had both laser-focused on the types of things we needed in a mate, so we cut right to finding out if we were a match (or at least I did).
It wasn’t easy though; as a recovering serial dater who had always kept my distance emotionally, I would actually vomit on our dates from the anxiety of knowing this one was real. Jon jokes that it was the sight of his face that did it; but I know it was because I was having to open my heart for real. This is what I had been seeking, I knew it was right, but I also knew deep down I had to then give of myself and leave the life I was used to.
Sometimes we think we want something so badly, but when faced with the reality that our lives will actually change in a huge way, the discomfort in that is much scarier than missing out on what we stand to gain, so we remain stuck. I knew I had to reveal the deepest parts of myself to someone who deserved it, and that freaked me out. How he managed to stick around through all of that, I’ll never know.
In the darker times of my single life when things weren’t working out how I hoped, I had this recurring image that I would visualize of my future husband, our children, and me sitting in a living room in front of a fireplace. In that image I would realize, This is why. This is why I had to go through those difficult times, because this is where I was heading.
This scene has played out many times in my current life. Although, it’s not in a perfect living room with a perfect fireplace in it. Many times it’s on the go as we run from here to there trying to get our “real life” set up. Sometimes it’s in a 600-square-foot apartment feeling my first baby kick, knowing we will move three times by the time he’s one year old but wanting him all the same. Sometimes it's when my son laughs because he has barf all over his face. Most times it doesn’t feel like a rush of satisfaction, or “my heart bursting” like the common Instagram caption goes. It just feels so natural, more natural than anything, because it's exactly where I belong today.
When starting this blog I wondered if I should talk about things like this. Gush about family life. The feelings I had while single, reading others’ such accounts, are still so real to me. The mixed emotions of joy for my friends, longing for it for myself, twinges of envy, ache with the fear it might be a long way off, frustration, excitement, and many others. The struggle of singlehood, however inconsistent it was, isn't something I’ll soon forget.
Some saw me as having gotten married young, so I don’t know anything about the real struggle. Some Married's saw me as old and offered me the well-meaning but useless encouragements of “Keep your head up, he’s out there!" Or my favorite, "When the time is right, you’ll find each other! Work on being the one, and then you’ll find the one". However, the most annoying thing married people did was pity me. Just because I seek marriage, doesn’t mean I am perpetually bummed when I don't have it. Single life can be a great, full life. Married life can be terrible. It's all what you make it.
Good-intentioned married people interrogated me left and right, trying to diagnose me or figure out what more I could do to fix my singleness. My “ability to commit” was examined, and once even my sexual-orientation was questioned due to the number of seemingly "perfect" matches I let go. Only the two people in a relationship can know how perfect, or imperfect, the pairing is.
In short, people can be ridiculous. I don’t want to be one of those married folks, so I am going with what is real to me. I’m choosing not to pity. I’m choosing to believe that married or single, we are all in charge of our own happiness and contentment. I trust that you, dear reader, are strong enough to handle a few adorable baby photos and the occasional husband-brag.
So how did I get “here”, in the literal sense? Here is all over the West Coast where we are visiting family on our way to Massachusetts. Jon is going to attend Harvard Law, and the babe and I are going to explore Cambridge and enjoy being in one place for awhile. By the time we get there, Clayton will have visited 12 states and 8 major cities in his little life. We are ready for a rest.
As unconventional as it is, and as trying as it can be, the joy I have experienced in my new family life has been as exquisite as any pain felt in waiting for it. It's been a wild ride, but I am happy to finally be here.
“Some things are only real because they represent what we think. When we learn the truth and think it, the old reality is no longer real to us and loses its hold on us. The truth sets us free.” -C. Terry Warner, Bonds That Make Us Free
When the syllabus for my Intro to Mediation class landed on my desk, I had to chuckle at the choice of text that was going to be guiding my studies. Inexplicably, as a 17 year old at the library with my family, I had picked up Crucial Conversations and later, after such a natural page-turner for a teenager, its sequel, Crucial Confrontations. Now in college, I was to read it again and put it to use in mediation training.
This happened a few times throughout the course of learning the behavioral sciences, where the texts were books I had read in my late teens. I blame Oprah. Many an afternoon in my childhood was spent watching the show with my mom. Talk about tween gold mine, right? It was practically Twilight for the 90’s. Or at least I responded to it that way. Due to my growing interest in watching grown women talk about their weight and self-esteem issues, I devoured self-help and relationship books. I became my very own, self-proclaimed, relationship/self-help expert. Key word: self-proclaimed. In lieu of my own experiences, I observed other’s relationships, listened to what the doctors on TV had to say, and read a lot of books. As for me, I didn’t have a serious relationship until I was 22, and even then I’m using the term “serious” about as loosely as Fox News uses “Fair and Balanced”.
Before getting married, I told Jon there were a few of my favorite “love doctor” books I had always hoped my future spouse would read. We agreed to each read the other’s five favorite books. One he gave me is called Bonds that Make Us Free by C. Terry Warner. If you’ve heard of the Arbinger Institute or Leadership and Self-Deception, it’s all done by the same people with the same concepts. This one is just ultra in-depth and covers pretty much everything you ever need to know. It's not religion-based, but does align neatly with certain religious concepts if you choose to think of the ideas in that way.
This book did a few things for me:
1) Singlehandedly blew up my imagined status as a relationship expert
2) Frustrated me with its truthfulness; it’s the kind of true that sucks because you have to do something about it.
3) Made me very happy
Many times after reading a book I will proclaim it is the best, most life-changing book I’ve ever read, instantly leading an all-out campaign to get others to read it...for about a month or until I read a different book that trumps it. I felt that way about this book, but the difference? Six months and at least 15 books later, I still feel it. This book was different in that it actually made its way into my life in tangible ways- my mind, actions, and most importantly, my heart, are different.
It initiated a paradigm shift, impacting the very way I look at all things relationships. Other books teach methods and techniques. Behaviors to emulate, steps to follow. This book builds a foundation for relationships to be built upon so that the behaviors come naturally and intuitively without having to try so hard with a list of how-to’s.
The whole book is based on the premise that you can act however you want. But if your motives, feelings, or thoughts are angry, blaming, resentful, etc. then whoever we are interacting with at that moment will feel it. This isn’t energy healing or anything, it’s the idea that we can’t hide our true intentions. Somehow, whether in our face, the tone of our voice, body language, or word usage, we will reveal ourselves. And in so doing, usually the other person behaves in kind. Once they do, we then decide that they deserve whatever we are giving them because their behavior justifies it. Forget the part about how we started it in the first place. In short, it makes an excellent case for how nothing anyone does is ever an excuse to blame them for how we are feeling or behaving.
The author calls acting in a blaming or judging way “self-deception”. He gives many examples of how this looks in everyday life. One simple example is this: A man and woman are in bed, their baby is sleeping in the other room. The baby cries in the middle of the night. The man hears the baby first, the woman is still asleep. He thinks, “I should go get the baby and let my wife sleep. She does so much for our family.” But then, his fatigue takes over and he doesn’t go right away. Thus, in that moment, by turning from the little nudge to do the right thing, he has deceived himself.
As he continues to lie there, he begins to think things like, “Well, I have to get up early tomorrow and go to work. She doesn’t have to… plus, I have gotten up three times this week already.” This thought pattern continues until his wife, who has been in the exact same position, nothing has changed, now appears to him as a selfish, lazy, fake-sleeper who is trying to make his life more difficult. Thus now, even if he does get up to get the baby, he feels like he is doing the world a great favor. His wife should be so grateful to him.
What happened? Literally nothing had changed about the situation in the two minutes since he first heard the baby, other than the fact that he felt he should get up, but didn’t. His wife is still the woman he thought he should serve, as she “does so much for the family”. Yet, he has now become “in the box” of self-deception, unable to see the situation clearly.
In the morning, she doesn’t mention anything about him getting up. He feels angry toward her, even though he knows she really didn’t do anything wrong. When they talk at breakfast, he is a little short. She responds in kind, not knowing what his deal is. Because of her reaction, he is now able to feel validated in his assessment that she is selfish and doesn’t care about his efforts. She begins to feel the same way and act accordingly, and so the cycle of self-deception is set into motion.
The only way it will stop is if one of them chooses to see things clearly, take responsibility for their own actions, and begin to be kind. To decide that they will look at the situation from the other’s perspective, assume the best, and act appropriately in spite of the other person’s behavior. When done this way, the other person soon only has their own behavior to look at, and loses the chance to blame the other. Odds are that they will then begin to soften and understand that the problem is with them.
After reading Bonds That Make Us Free, the level of responsibility for my own life and feelings that I came away with was immense. It gave clear antidotes to destructive thought-patterns such as:
- I am angry/mean/negative/critical/offended because you did XYZ to me.
- My boss makes my job miserable.
- It’s your fault I’m unhappy in our marriage.
- If you would only do XYZ differently, I wouldn’t be so upset with you all the time.
- I want to change for the better, but every time I try, my spouse/parent/sibling/friend/boss does something to ruin it.
- I can’t have a healthy relationship because of XYZ that was done to me in my childhood.
- If I don’t nag my husband, he will never do the things he should do.
- I shouldn’t have to treat my neighbor with compassion, because she has never been friendly to me.
You see the theme: placing any blame on another person for how you are feeling, behaving, or living life, IS the problem. So often we think that another person is the problem, and if only they would change, our life would be perfect. I repeat: believing that another person is the problem, IS the problem. You can see why I said it's a little frustrating. Oftentimes blaming is so much easier than taking action yourself to improve the situation.
A quote from the book:
“Fable: When we're stuck in troubled feelings we believe that all our feelings are true-- that is to say, we believe that by our emotions at that moment we are making accurate judgments about what's happening. If I'm angry with you, I'm certain that you are making me angry.
Fact: Though we truly have these feelings, they are not necessarily true feelings. More likely I'm angry because I'm misusing you, not because you are misusing me.”
Any, and I mean any, issue we are struggling with in conjunction with another person is within our power to solve. Let me be clear: it is not within our power to stop them from doing whatever they are doing. They could be acting really poorly. But it is always within our power to get out of victim mode and be in control of our own happiness and contentment with life. This doesn’t necessarily mean we should stay in a bad situation, or continually welcome destructive people into our lives. It simply means that if I say another person is responsible for my life in any fashion, I am in the wrong and the problem is with me, not the other person.
Some will say that there are times when they truly are the victim. Heinous crimes against them, brutality toward someone they love, child abuse, etc. In those cases, a victim is absolutely the victim and is not to blame for what happened to them. However, it does not mean that the person who was victimized must have a victim mentality the rest of their life. Giving things from the past, or other people’s bad behavior the power to cause us to live a less-than life, is choosing to live a life of self-deception.
The book explains the problem so much more eloquently and completely than I just did. It makes it so easy to see where you have walked down the path of self-deception in all areas of life. Even having the thought, “So-and-so needs to read this book! That would solve everything in our relationship!” is itself self-deception. I love it because it gives the reader all the power. Everything we need to do to improve our relationships and life is within our power. Not easy, but it’s there.
The solutions in this book aren’t in self-help-how-to mode. They are large concepts that have to be carefully customized to each individual’s life. However, I have seen amazing progress in my life and the lives of others who have adopted the concepts. It’s a life-long pursuit, as is everything to do with more perfectly loving others and ourselves. It is worth it!
There was a time I was in the classic BYU ward (church group), doing the not-so-classic Provo thing of working, not going to school, and hanging out in Orem a lot. A stake president (church leader) spoke and said out loud what I had been trying to identify for years, while simultaneously removing a nagging guilt I hadn’t realized I had, but did have, until that moment.
He was speaking only to the Relief Society (group of women). He told us about his 31 year old, business-owning, not-married, daughter and how cool she was and all the cool useful and fun things she had done. He then got very stern and made this previously unheard-of statement:
“Some of you are here in Provo treading water. You are in jobs you don’t like, doing things you aren’t passionate about, waiting around to get married. Provo is not an interesting place, and it’s not the only place to meet other Latter-Day Saints. Get out. Go out there and make yourself a more interesting person. And in the process, you will meet other interesting people, and possibly a guy who has similar interests, and you will be even more attractive because you will be becoming more interesting than you are when you are here treading water.”
The lifting of rose-colored glasses, the sound of judgy parties getting off their high-horses, and the relieved sighs of those feeling the anxiety that comes from living only for potential marriage, were heard throughout the room. It was a beautiful message, and one I have imperfectly strived to live by ever since.
I think I was about 23 then, and I had already suffered through, and would suffer through more, self-inflicted 'waiting spells'. Times when cultural pressures-- that’s a cop-out-- my own fantastical imaginings of what my life should look like before I could really get going with it, got the better of me. Times when I was too lazy or scared to look further down the path of my life and figure out what I truly wanted to be- regardless of marital status. Over the years these annoyingly desperate times would become shorter in length, to the point where in the few years prior to my marriage they would occupy an overly hormonal weekend and no more.
Sure, the entire single population (LDS or not) and married friends continued to focus on little else besides my relationship status, but my feelings of patience and contentment grew stronger as I set my sights on becoming “more interesting”, rather than “more married”. In addition, I added more interested to the equation as well, as I found it was a surefire way to become more interesting. I wanted to be more interested in those around me, in the world around me, and the opportunities all over the place inviting me to grow.
Along the way I met a woman in her early thirties, active LDS, beautiful, amazingly fun, and single. I had never met someone so interested in aggressively seeking fun while also being highly responsible. In fact, she was in HR at the company where I worked-- the department where fun goes to die. I learned that she competed in karaoke competitions dressed in full character attire, had become certified in flying trapeze, enjoyed skydiving (who doesn’t?), and was forming a kick-ball team to compete in a city league.
I’m also ashamed to say that until then, I didn’t know that someone could be in her place in life and not obsessively talk about dating and marriage. I had simply never encountered it. It was so refreshing to not be painstakingly discussing the ins and outs of love life, but rather the wild new adventures from the weekend.
The fact that she was the first LDS person in my then 27 years of life whom I had met with this attitude is a sad, sad fact. Either it’s sad because I didn’t expand my horizons enough to meet more people like this, or because there aren’t many women like this out there. Considering I was in something like 22 different singles wards where I spent a lot of time with women, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.
The tricky part is this: once married, it’s even more important that you are an “interesting person” who is also an interested person, curious about the world, motivated to learn, and willing to seek appropriate novelty. It has been repeatedly shown that variety is one of 6 basic human needs, and also that it is crucial in a marriage. Blending the safety of consistency with the adventure of variety is a challenge that, if mastered, will keep a marriage going. Good marriages end because of 'boredom'. Bored people are boring people. A desire to learn new things, a willingness to step outside of your immediate circle to see whom you might help or learn from, and becoming adaptable to new situations, is not a born-with or born-without trait. It is a skill that is cultivated through exposure and practice.
If our entire focus is finding a mate and nothing more, then the moment we find him/her, we are already heading for a boredom+unrealisticexpectations=disaster. The marriage is already doomed, as we are essentially saying, “I’m choosing to marry you, and by the life I’m currently living I am demonstrating that I’m choosing not to concern myself with anything other than you. Therefore, I’m counting on all of my excitement, fulfillment, passion, compassion, good works, fun, and pleasure, to come from you.” Yikes, needy much? I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times where I’ve put that kind of pressure on my husband, due to that same nasty habit I picked up long ago of being too lazy or scared to look at my own life and what I wanted to make of it.
Two individuals who spend time seeking learning and developing their healthy interests and hobbies are going to be able to go out into the world --either together or separately-- and come back home, together, and share the new insights they have garnered. They will learn from each other, they will grow as individuals, and their synergy will be unstoppable. They become a force to be reckoned with in their life as a couple, far more than the sum of their parts. They will be able to more positively impact their children and their communities, and are more likely to become intentional about their purpose in life. Not to mention, each person’s desire to learn about the other increases, which leads to more love for each other, which leads to more service to one another, the glue that holds a couple together.
Developing this as a single person is crucial to getting out of the waiting mentality and finding fulfillment in the infinite areas there are in which to serve, love, and play. And more likely than not, it’s in taking your eyes off of the supposed “Holy Grail” that you become relaxed, joyous, and interesting enough for the right one to take notice.
But even if not...
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
1. the improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes. 2. the process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance.
From what I've gathered so far, great relationships are made and broken in the details. Refinement isn't alchemy, completely overhauling what currently is and turning it into something it’s not. Refinement is simply removing impurities from something, little by little, until its purest form is revealed. Sometimes it takes fire, other times pressure, and every time, when humans are involved, it takes love.
I've been interested in the idea of refinement since I was a wee ‘tween, when I read this little ditty, referring to the verse in Malachi which says that Christ will “sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”. Spoiler Alert: The story talks about the process of refining silver, and how the silver must be held over the hottest part of the flame until the imperfections are removed. The silver must be carefully watched or else it will be destroyed by the heat. The silversmith knows the silver is complete only once he can see his reflection in it.
As I’ve grown up and fallen in love with all things connection and relationship: how people interact, the ways they choose to love, the ways they hurt each other, the ways they bring out the best or the worst in others or themselves, one common factor always emerges: the small things are where the differences are made. Minor impurities can hurt, but even the most minor of improvements can work wonders.
I believe the enemy to careful and deliberate refinement is found in the idea that relationships with others, with oneself, and with God, just happen. That if the relationship is good or right, it will just work. I once heard that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference, and over the years I have found this to be true. To hate something, some form of energy or action must be exerted, and oftentimes, with great passion. So it is with love. Passivity and indifference on the other hand, require no action, no concern, and no thought, much less passion. I can think of no better way to kill the love in a relationship or prevent a new one from forming than by taking no thought, no concern, and no action for it.
The line between being passive in a relationship and practicing personal refinement to improve it, can appear very thin. Most people (myself included) struggle to admit, or even realize, that they are coasting in their marriage, or mindlessly forming their personal identity. That they are waiting around for a good Date, or paying little attention to how and why they practice their religion. It’s normal to feel like taking it easy, especially at home where we just want to relax a little. We want to be loved for 'who we are', 'for better or worse'. Being loved as we are right now (and accepting ourselves right now) is a great feeling. But that love should be used as fuel to propel us to greater heights, not as an excuse to rest on our laurels and maintain the status quo. Being loved when we are in our purest form, our most authentic, free from the walls and fears keeping us at arm's length, is a joy that far surpasses simply being accepted as we are in spite of our flaws.
The impurities in ourselves, in our marriages, or in our relationship with the Lord aren't what make us who we are. They are merely specks of dust clouding our true image that can ultimately be revealed with small, consistent efforts. Being held over the fire is painful, but depriving ourselves and our loved ones of better-than-OK relationships is a tragedy.
I’m still trying to figure out the best ways to clarify and refine the most important areas of my life. Seemingly infinite numbers of ways to fix life, fix relationships, and fix myself appear everywhere I look. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect. But refinement isn't perfection; it's a process. This site is a place for me to compile the things I’m learning about that process, the things that have worked for me, and the things I want to work on in order to continually revamp my commitment to chipping off my rough edges. There are incredibly refined people out there from whom I can learn amazing things. Suggestions welcome!