One-nighters and Cocktails vs. Marriage and Babies

*sniiiiiiff* Can you smell that? I can from my living room. Tuxes, cakes, flowers, crazy aunts and drunken uncles…that’s right, it’s wedding season.

Chances are very good that most of you this summer are getting married, attending a wedding, are in one, or irritated you aren’t invited to one that, damn-it, you should be.  Fortunately this year I am only participating in one (congrats Shannan & Micah!!!) and I am pleased to say I even made the cut for bridesmaid!  I’m truly honored and excited….22 days and counting. ❤

But it does make me think.  You’ve seen this meme going around, yes?

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I’ve even found a Facebook group supporting the cause: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Everyone-I-know-is-getting-married-or-pregnant-Im-just-getting-awesome/126569300696716?v=wall&ref=share.

Let me preface with, I am very happy for my married/getting married/baby having friends – I do plan to be like you one day.  But as for the rest of us…is there a countermovement?  Counter-typical-life-progression?

You know what I’m talking about.  The cycle goes like this:

High school -> College (aka partying) -> Get a job (partying not happen in college? Insert partying here)   -> Get married -> Have babies

According to a myriad of studies, somewhere between 80-90% of Americans will marry.  Oh and by the way the rate of divorce is declining.  Some suggest that the rate of divorce is declining because people are trying harder (bullshit), but the most supported hypothesis follows that people are more careful in choosing a life mate and are therefore waiting longer before saying “I do.”  This is tangibly evident according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which demonstrates that the average age of those exchanging nuptials have significantly increased.  In 1960, the average age for men was 22.8 and for women, 20.3. Compare that to the latest report from 2009, with men at 28.4 and women, 26.5.

I’m not the first to speculate what is going on here. We all know that the women’s rights movement has allowed women with more career opportunities than the past, and therefore don’t require someone to take care of her financially. (Don’t celebrate yet ladies, we still make only $0.77 to every $1.00 a man makes).  Mass media depicts life other than the nuclear family, from Mary Tyler Moore to Friends to Parks and Recreation. Finally another reason can be that various forms of birth control have allowed us the ability to choose when we want to have children.

But I think a very strong, less discussed, reason we are waiting is that many of us Generation X and Y’ers grew up watching our parents’, or best friend’s parents’, messy divorces. We vowed to ourselves, “I swear to God, that will NEVER be me!”

So we react. How do we prevent divorce? Marriage is “forever,” so how do we fix what our parents messed up?

I know I reacted early when I went to a church that prescribed what the divorce-free marriage would look like.  If I went back to the Biblical roles of men and women, that is the man is the head of the household and the woman submits, then she will be taken care of and he will have the satisfaction of leadership.  Ergo, they are fulfilling their gender duties and will never divorce. I have since divorced and been exiled.

While my experience with this divorce remedy ended poorly, this church is not the only one to offer this solution, and also argue that it must have been my fault that it didn’t work out. Many bloggers and average joe’s/jane’s alike have joined in the idea that marriages in the 1950’s were the ideal of divorce free marriages. These supporters suggest that women should be less focused on themselves and their rights, and rather be sweet and submissive to men because men need respect and the leadership role. THEN marriages would work better. I suppose that’s not…entirely insane…

So there’s that solution to divorce.  But I think a more prevalent reason why we are waiting to marry is the idea that marriage brings, dum dum DUUUMMM….age.  And in an era where plastic surgery is a normal commodity, mainstream media revel in the joys that we had getting drunk on the Jersey Shore, as well as our oh-so-glorious high school and college years.  You’ve heard it, college is the “best time of your life,” right?  Well those of us over 22 are in big trouble….the best times have already been had?!

Enter the trending “quarter-life crisis.”  You know you’re old as shit when you hit 25 right?  RIGHT?!  If you didn’t, well now you do, that especially goes for you chicks.

Grasping for youth, all around me are people terrified of growing older.  I see it especially living in Southern California.  “Peter Pan” syndrome, as it has been coined, is where no one ever wants to grow up and embrace adulthood’s ostensible responsibilities.  I mean, yuck, who likes bills?

But wait!! You are fiiiiinally the one who gets to call the shots!  You get to CHOOSE what bills to take on. No teachers, professors, parents commanding your every move. What the hell is wrong with that?  Why are we so obsessed with our early 20’s? Is it the casual sex? Drunkenness? Lack of responsibility? The unknown? Sure those things can be fun, I’ll give you that.

However I argue that post-college is when the real fun begins.  You have your own spending money (hopefully).  You get to live where you want.  The mood-swings have (again, hopefully) subsided. You have options and choices and the chance to fall in love with another person.

And YOU get to choose who that is. They can be as hot as you want!  Well, and, of course smart, funny, witty, you know…but also hot!!

I’m not getting married any time soon, don’t get me wrong.  But when/if I do, that level of love and commitment, I contend, can nowhere near be rivaled by a line up of [shallow] men/women texting all day and Sex-and-the-City-esque two week “relationships.”

Yes, babies are loud, smelly, messy and sometimes kinda gross.  But I think, I THINK, they’ll be pretty fun.  Going to the zoo would be more entertaining with a toddler that’s never seen an elephant, right?  Having a little one who you get to teach whatever the hell you want?  Ooooh the possibilities…(insert plan of world domination).

One-nighters and cocktails are fun. The latter of which I am the first to say is a great way to spend an evening out.  But the giant M-word is not something we need to fear, and no it doesn’t automatically make you old and dead to the fun part of the world.  So to that, congratulations to all of you who this summer will take on a new Mr. or Mrs. you.

But as for me, whether babies, marriage, one-nighters (haha, no) or cocktails are in my future, I can honestly say that the greatest times are yet to come.  I’m 28 dammit. Whether you consider that young or old, it really doesn’t matter because the truth is, I’m only getting more awesome.

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My constant consonant replaces chaos

Great loves in life are few, and in some cases never realized.

As I have been searching for jobs/avoiding spending money/avoiding working out, I have been given time to remember some of the activities I love.  As a student I was certain that the list was:

1. Coffee drinking

2. Punching things soft enough that won’t break my knuckles

3. Finding reasons to go to happy hour with friends

Now that I am no longer being crushed under academic stress, different stresses such as will-I-be-able-to-pay-rent-next-month or my-boyfriend-wants-things-to-move-forward, require alternative ways to adapt.

Oddly, I at times feel 18 again.  Not sure what to do with life, endless possibilities await, not necessarily tied down to anything.  The wide possibilities also lend to a special type of panic. As a teenager, I was dealing with familial problems few people have had to face, and so I turned inward and expressed my frustrations in music and poetry.  Recalling this helpful release in light of my 28-year-old-ish problems, I picked up my guitar for the first time in years yesterday and was surprised I was still able to play.

But greater loves have taken over my attention.  Last year after I got back from Europe I was determined to learn German, and bought Rosetta Stone.  School did not permit that I continue this type of scholarship, and have only last week picked back up where I left off. Ich liebe es! (I love it!)

In addition to that, I forgot how much I love leisurely reading, and have been flying through a book. I found my Scrabble set and have annihilated opponents in all games played thus far. I happily discovered Words with Friends, which many of you may have noticed given the 10,000 games I have initiated recently.

And finally, I have lately been very particular about each and every word my boyfriend says, and for some reason seem to enjoy arguing with him in spontaneous debate.  My seemingly pugilist tendency, I think, has little to do with actually wanting to pick fights, but rather revolves around a different need.

Do you see a common thread here? Each and every activity revolves around my one true love: words. It’s an affair that has been going on since I could spell my first word, A-P-P-L-E.  Since then, I have been obsessed with learning new ways to speak, engaging in debate, adding new languages to my repertoire and even avoiding the television to pick up a good book.

I have always been nerdy, and my ways of expressing it dynamically change given life circumstances. And here in another life turning point, my interests and nerd manifestations have again shifted.  During school, I medicated the tremendous stress with copious social activities, as time alone with my thoughts only meant I was freaking out over, or actually doing, schoolwork.  In the times that I had “free” (“free” = time too tired to continue work, but really should have been anyway), cluttering my schedule was the perfect distraction to forget the mountains of papers to grade and research to conduct.

But now in the quiet, demands having subsided, I no longer need the chaos.  Life today is pleasant.  Stressful still in some ways, true, but I’m ready to enjoy the quiet and not worry about chasing away deadlines with a packed social calendar. I can listen to my real desires, and I can honestly say at this point I’d rather stay home and host a board game tournament than go out bar crawling. Did I just say that?  I’ll still serve Coronas.

I’m ready to, I’m going to say it, do grown up things. No more he-says/she-says mediating, but replace that with intelligent conversations for the fun of it.  Take dance lessons, host fancy dinner parties – the latter when gainful employment is attained.  And while I stress about growing up in more ways than one, my one true love has always been with me through every inconvenient life turn.

In writing, poetry, song lyrics, foreign languages and spirited debates, I find his familiar comfort.  I have faith my friend who shares my love for grammar will pull me through these recent trials, once again.

Climbing metaphorical & actual mountains with Kasia

If you said to me 5 years ago that I would be a regular hiker, I would have laughed in your trail mix.

But among the activities I’ve come to love in the last year is a good hike. In an ordinary day I will either – or all at the same time – have the radio playing, the TV on, and/or my laptop open to check my Facebook feed.  A cacophony of media, I know.

Yet every now and then I get out to nature. Given my (neurotic) need to keep the brain entertained, it’s normally with a friend or few.  So yesterday my friend Kasia and I, both freshly graduated from SDSU, decided to climb up San Diego’s Cowles Mountain.  What’s nice about this leisurely hike is the ability to prattle on about ourselves and not so much struggle with losing our breath.  As such, she’s the perfect person with whom to yackity-yack.

I’ll never forget when I met Kasia, one of the first I encountered of my cohort two years ago.  Her playful demeanor and constant smile could attract even the angriest of scholastic trolls. “Hi I’m Katherine! Well, that’s my real name. My friends call me Kasia. Or Kathy. You can call me whatever you want, haha! Where are you from?  This is my roommate Erin!”

And so our friendship began and I don’t think her rate of speech has slowed down since. We have traveled to Europe together, endured crucifying breakups in each other’s arms, and cried hysterically about research papers we would have otherwise set fire to.

As a first generation American, her parents immigrated to Chicago from Poland.  She was, then much to her distain, raised learning all things Polish.  As the years passed on she has become proud of her ancestors and keeps this heritage close to her identity.  However, I still can’t get her to cook me one little pierogi.

Polish pastries on my mind, we began our ascent up the rocky, dusty mountain.  The usual talk ensued as I discussed recent happenings in my relationship.  I have a debilitatingly hard time letting go of my love’s former f-ups, and regardless of how truly sorry he is, my far-from-pristine-self continues to bring it up and beat him with it. “How can I just LET IT GO?” I asked wiping sweat from my forehead as the 80 degree heat began getting to me. “He said he was sorry, I know that he means it, I just can’t move past it. Seriously, how do I forget about it?”  For those of you wondering what “it” is, it’s really not that big of a deal.  I’m a giant baby and also perfectionist who must control each and every situation, and if there’s a blemish, that receives my focus. God help me.

“Well,” she answered, “sometimes it’s hard. I struggle with that too, but I have learned that it never helps.  The only one who ends up suffering when you hang on to that is you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, fully knowing this information and wishing for a Men In Black mind eraser pen.  Seriously why haven’t we come up with that yet?

As my mind started to wander, my legs started to tire.  Nearly each step required a steep lunge onto a rock or a branch, demanding more energy that I anticipated for said “leisurely” hike. “Damn I am feeling out of shape,” I think to myself.

I then realize I’m not paying attention and shake the self-doubting thoughts from my mind. Returning to the conversation, “I am just so scared.  What if that’s a sign of things that could happen?” Moving to a slippery slope I continue, “I just don’t want to wake up at 45 with a couple of kids and then have him, I dunno, run off on me or something.”  I offer this scenario as the worst possible situation I can ever imagine.

“Well,” Kasia reminds me, “that’s exactly what happened to my Mom…”

My already labored breath came to a sudden halt.  I completely forgot what had happened.  While my parents have their own horrific divorce story, Kasia too, has one of her own.

I remember at our graduation a grey haired, handome looking man standing next to Kasia’s older brother.  They stood oddly apart from one another and I quickly came to realize that he was their father.  His pressed shirt tucked into dress pants, in addition to his presence, demonstrated that he wanted to stay involved in Kasia’s life.

The trouble, however, is that this 50-something charmer has another family to attend to.  A wife around Kasia’s age, and children younger than her nephews.  Her devastated mother was placed in a deplorable predicament upon learning of the affair not many years ago, and has since taken over the struggling family restaurant.  While the details are not mine to divulge, she offered this story as a comfort.

How is that comforting?!  After thinking about it for a while, it is because these things happen.  And people survive.  She explained how her mother is now finally happy, no longer suffering verbal assaults from her husband of 25 years.  The worst that I can imagine does happen, but living in fear of it is no way to navigate a relationship.  I can’t control the present just as much as I can’t control the future.  And sometimes, people do have happy long term relationships.  Right?

Kasia continued hopping from stone to stone, as we journeyed up the increasing grade of the mountain.  With a tumultuous past, her literal and metaphorical buoyancy is inspiring. While she has had her own struggles in romantic relationships, she now is in a happy partnership. Her boyfriend, who, *ahem*, I introduced her to, is a loving devoted partner.

Yet my friend and hiking companion is facing a new challenge.  She fell in love in San Diego but received a job offer in Maryland that she could not refuse – Godfather pun unintended.  She has three weeks left until she and her man are separated for a year.

How awful!  A nightmare for a person like me.  How will you know that he is faithful?  How do you stay faithful?  This will be her second long distance relationship, the former ending in sadness and broken hearts.  But of course she has men willing to try with her. She is beautiful. Educated.  Flirty.  In fact, the nickname we gave her is “bedroom eyes,” given her sexy but harmless come-hither stare, flashed to anyone including me.  But back to the point, she is strong.  She fought back when the man who raised her demolished her trust in marriage and relationships.  Yet she will not let that stop her, and is willing to follow her passion to a job across the country, AND have faith that her love will stay true to her.  She has what I desire: trust.

I believe it is Plato who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  I am fighting my many battles, and that battle today is trust.  Kasia showed me that afternoon that everyone makes mistakes, some much larger than others.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop living our lives, and reside in frustration over the past.  Trying to control what may happen lest fears become realities. To move forward, we relationship-havers must shed the past, and instead have faith in the partners we fall in love with.

When I put it in that perspective, I realize the requirement to forgive and at least somewhat forget.  After all, love keeps no record of wrongs.  Therefore, in the emptiness that will have once held anger at my loved one, perhaps I can open that space instead, for trust.

Catching my breath

It is incredible how quickly life can change.

Certainly it must have been a few minutes ago that I was in an unhappy marriage, a job well below my qualifications, and living in a region comprised of two parts rain, one part grey sky.

That was three years ago. I was living in Seattle and working as a teller at a bank.  My bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Washington lent to me multiple internships in television, part time writing gigs, and a stint at the local newspaper in data analytics.  None proved for gainful employment, and I was grateful for the opportunity provided by a friend to have steady work at the, then, Washington Mutual.

Consistently friends would tell me to be content. “Joni, you are too much of a dreamer,” was a persistent criticism.  My mother would echo the words of my late Grandfather, “Bloom where you are.”  I agree!  Bloom where you are. But if the proverbial flower is suffocating, how can it find the nourishment to bloom?

Not everyone is affected by weather, but my God I am.  I couldn’t bear one more Seattle winter – the skies really and truly are gray 75% of the year.  With the weight of the dark skies tracing my every step, I would return home from work to my devoted but emotionally distant husband, whom I wished above anything I could love equally in return.

Four years my senior, this gentleman was my spouse of two and a half years, all of which were wrought with struggle.  Our first date to our wedding day was a span of 13 months, a tangible example of our haste.  We attended a church that facilitated quick nuptials, after which I was scolded for my unhappiness.  Marriage, they said, was about “holiness, not happiness.”

I should say that they were right, as my happiness was non-existent, and I felt selfish for yearning for joy.  The reasons for this deep sadness are complicated and I’m not in the business of public finger pointing.  But I take the blame for seeking security and safety in marriage at the early age of 22.  The absence of my family in those years provided a ready platform for religious allegiance, and I took the “easy” way out I suppose, marrying a man I knew would be faithful to me and perhaps take the place of a present family.  I have regrets, and I’m sorry.

But joy was not present and sorrow continued to grow. So I did what the women in my family always did when faced with depression and hopelessness. I dove into books, and pledged to myself that scholarship would be the key to freedom.

I checked out every book on the GRE in the local library system, as I could not afford the $1,000+ prep course for the arduous prerequisite test to graduate study.  I got up at unholy hours every drippy northwest morning, and practiced ridiculous vocabulary words and tedious math drills. My boss at the time didn’t mind that between customers I was studying, and every waking hour I strove to achieve the high score I needed to get in, as my undergraduate GPA was, well, terrible.

Then I did it!! I got the score I wanted, applied to the schools I dreamed of, and by some chance of fate and grace, I got in!!!  And not only that, but the school I wanted the most, San Diego State University.  Number three Communication Master’s program in North America, might I not-so-humbly add.

Three years, five semesters, one trip to Europe and a divorce later, here I am.  Freshly graduated and living with two amazing women in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, I have the freedom I dreamed of a short three years ago.  As I look outside at the blue sky, I am comforted by my small black chihuahua Bella nuzzling closer against my hip as I write this introductory blog entry.  A year after my divorce, I have a new companion whose passion for life I find motivating and at times exhausting.  I don’t know what the future will bring, and in that I find happiness.

Admittedly, I have made many decisions, some excellent, some disastrous.  But to those who have been there through it all, thank you.  To those who haven’t, I hope someday you’ll come around, even if I will never see it.  But life can’t be lead with regret.  To paraphrase the philosopher Kenneth Burke, failures should be filed under the column of experience, and therefore called exactly that: experience.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your failures, or rather, experiences. As I sit to catch my breath after the madness that was the last three years, two weeks after I received my Master’s degree in Communication, I look forward to a new chapter of experiences, may they be of the failing or succeeding variety.