Love To Last A Whole Life Through

get-attachment-8.aspxWhat should I tell my sons about love that lasts a lifetime?

Last Sunday I was on the phone with my twenty-one year old son.  He seemed stunned that a friend of his had gotten engaged to her college boyfriend.  “But that’s what dad and I did” I said and then I listed all our friends who had also married their college sweethearts and were still together. He muttered something about things being different nowadays and then we ended the call. We were actually on our way to a funeral where we learned that my friend’s parents (it was her mom’s funeral) had been married for sixty-seven years. My friend’s father movingly eulogized his wife calling her his angel and wondering how he would go on without her. I texted my son later that day, “M’s parents were happily married for sixty-seven years, getting engaged after dating for only two months.” “O Wow” he replied.

Judging by a recent article, Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too, in the New York Times, the culture has really changed. The article described what is referred to as the new hook up culture on college campuses, which essentially involves enjoying sex without the messiness of an emotional attachment.  Apparently, this culture has always been aspirational for boys/men but now what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and girls are driving the “hook up” culture. As an eighties gal, this may not jive with my moral compass but I’m okay with anything safe and consensual. I just think that these girls are fooling themselves if they think that they can really separate their emotions from their physicality. Changing the semantics from boyfriend to “hookup buddy” will not shield anyone from a broken heart.

But, what stuck with me most from the article was the cluelessness of the following quote explaining one girl’s reasons for not wanting to commit too early,

“I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”

My husband is not the same man I married and I am certainly not the same woman he married.  We have been changing since the day we met and I hope we will continue to change until the day we die.  Aside from the obvious physical changes, life has deepened us. When we started out we were so black and white full of arrogant, youthful, feckless platitudes.  Then we lived and we learned and we heard and we listened. If we are today the same people we were before we experienced life’s greatest joys and deepest sorrows what would that say about us? If we didn’t grow and learn from our life experiences and morph into richer, deeper more nuanced people what kind of people would we be?

When I look at old pictures I always think, “this is all wrong.”  Why did I think that hairstyle was nice and the clothes.  Oh my, what was I thinking? But, at the time I thought I looked pretty spiffy.  This haircut, the one I have now, this is the ONE, but how do I know that I won’t look back at these pictures in ten years and say, how could I have worn my hair like THAT??? And, what’s with those FitFlops???

How do you know when it’s okay to risk your heart or to fully commit your heart? How do you know that in the shifting sands of time you will not look back and say who is this person I ended up with? Well, there are no guarantees.  The only thing I can tell my sons is that life is a gamble but you can roll the dice wisely. Tastes change but your core, the essence of your being does not change. Identify the qualities in people that are immutable and search for those.

As for me, I looked for the smartest person in the room with the most integrity and I found him and twenty-five years later that’s still what I would look for.

And, then there’s the magic…..

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Advice To The Daughters I Never Had

If you haven’t read or heard about Susan Patton’s Letter To the Editor in the Daily Princetonian (link below), where have you been?

In her letter, Ms. Patton appeals to the undergraduate women of Princeton, “the daughters” she “never had,” to “Find a husband on campus before they graduate.”   She has been absolutely skewered since writing the piece.  The outsized and outraged reaction caused DP’s website to crash.

There is some truth in what Patton says, if you can wade through the overwhelming amount of self-laudatory crap. But, let’s call this piece what it truly is: a delivery system for good news about Susan Patton.  And, I think that is what most people are objecting to, not necessarily the fundamental idea, but the tone.

Patton begins by giving herself kudos for having maintained her relationship with, “her best friend from freshman year.” She alleges that at the Women and Leadership conference she attended at Princeton, the undergraduate women were avidly interested in how she and her best friend had “sustained a 40 year friendship.” Really?  Is having a long-term friendship fabulous? Definitely.  Is it a subject of rapt fascination for 20 year olds? Um, no. I’m around a fair number of college age kids and I have more than one long-standing friendship.  Not one of the twenty somethings I know, including my own children, has ever expressed a scintilla of interest in how my friends and I sustain our relationships. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Then we get to the heart of the matter. Ms. Patton states, “I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians.  My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone.” Really?   He could have married anyone?  Anyone? I think Patton just wanted to inform the Princeton community that her sons go/went to Princeton and that her older son is married and, better yet, he married a girl who went to Princeton. The younger son’s dating potential is, according to mama, “limitless.” Oy. I hope the younger son has entered the witness protection program. Poor kid.

But, putting Ms. Patton’s self-aggrandizement aside, I think she makes a fair point. I knew people in college who made silly lists of qualities for potential dates, not too short, not too thin/heavy, brown hair/blonde hair and so on.  Susan Patton is correct that college is one of those critical times in life. Don’t make lists that confine you. Look at your classmates with an open mind. Making friends is every bit as important, if not more so, than the classes you take.  And, you never know, your best friend or your life partner or both may be sitting next to you in class.

So, here is what I would tell “the daughters I never had”: College is a fantastic place to meet someone but if you don’t meet “the one” in college don’t panic.  There’s time. Don’t say, “He’s too nice.” Nice boys generally grow up to be nice men and nice men are, well, nice. If a guy is crazy about you, put that in the plus column, bolded and highlighted.  Look for red flags and if you see them, don’t walk, run. Don’t pass up the very good for the perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. Choose someone who makes you laugh because at the end of the day you want to spend a lot of time with someone who makes you laugh. If you can’t stand to be with someone even if they have a 200 IQ or 200 billion dollars, say goodbye. It’s just not worth it.

And, I would tell my mythical daughter the same thing I will tell my real son.  You will meet the right person at the right time.  And, when you meet that person you will know, maybe not immediately, but you will know.

Trust your own judgment. I do.  And, remember dad and I love you.

http://www.dailyprincetonian.com

Quiet Moments of Joy

french-laundry-garden.jpgIt’s about the small stuff.

I have long lost any patience I once had for sixth grade math homework.  Or, let’s be honest, I was never really any good at sixth grade math but, nonetheless, I’m attempting to help my youngest son with his nightly math assignment.  My oldest son is home from college for the week and he dismisses me. “Why are you yelling at him?” he asks, followed by, “I’ve got this mom.”  I skulk into the family room but surreptitiously watch them.  Their heads are bent together, the little one and the big one, and I feel a physical ache in my heart.  Watching the people you love, love each other, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’m having a moment, a quiet moment of joy.

I once thought that joy came from the big milestone events in life like weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs or the birth of a child.  But, maybe I’m just too neurotic for that to be the case.   For me, those big events are always completely fraught with anxiety.  Who will wake up with the plague the day of the big event because, let’s face it, you know someone will. Is everyone having fun at the party, even the scowling old people with the earplugs? Does everyone have the appropriate clothes? I mean, those pants fit him ten minutes ago. Can a teenage boy outgrow his clothes in a week?

I have found that happiness comes in the small moments of joy that creep up on me in an ordinary day.  Some of the moments are part of the daily routine like that first sip of hot coffee on a cold morning and the morning telephone conversation with my daily callers to reconnect after the night.  Then there are the moments that are purely sensory delights; the feel of the sun on your face after a long, grey winter, the sight of a beautiful sunset or the thrill of hearing your favorite song on the radio.

Some moments of joy surprise you.  There’s the moment that you realize you’ve made a connection with someone and your relationship with an acquaintance has deepened into a friendship.  Recently, I ran into someone who told me that some long forgotten thing I said to her years ago gave her great comfort at the time. That was a joyful moment for me.

But, the best moments for me are when I see my children interacting with each other as adults.   Big and middle shop together now, consult on fashion, talk about relationships and I think to myself,  “You had a hand in this. You nurtured these brothers who are now capable of giving and receiving advice, support, encouragement and love.”  It’s a heady moment.

So, milestones will come and go, together with their attendant stresses, but here I stand, full of wonder, waiting and hoping for more of the small stuff, more quiet moments of joy.

The First Twenty-Five Years are the Hardest

get-attachment-1.aspxMy father was not only smart. He was wise.

On my wedding day, dad and I had a few moments alone before the ceremony. I waited eagerly for some words of wisdom. At last, dad turned to me, cupped my face lovingly in his warm hands and said “Don’t worry if things are rocky in the beginning. Hang in there. The first twenty-five years of marriage are the hardest. After that, it’s a piece of cake.” Then, we both chuckled.

But now, as my husband and I approach our twenty-fifth anniversary, I find there was a lot of truth in my father’s words. In the beginning we had our share of Sturm und Drang. There were harsh words, slammed doors and great big sob fests. Raising a family and building a career is a struggle and keeping a relationship alive through it all is hard work. Not speaking to my husband for a week because of his insistence on a certain middle name for our unborn child seemed perfectly reasonable. Now, I know with calm certainty that who your child becomes means far more than the name he bears. But, when you’re up all night with a screaming baby and he’s up all night closing a deal it’s hard to be your better selves, your kinder, gentler selves.

These days there is a new tenderness in our relationship. We’ve seen a lot together, the birth of our children, the death of three of our parents. The battlefield has largely been cleared. We know we have the ability to inflict great pain on each other but we also know that life does that all by itself so why lend it a hand. We’ve had the same argument so many times I can handle both sides of it equally well so why drag my husband into it at all?

There are things about him I will never change and vice versa. But, we’ve largely stopped railing about those details. I’ve seen the enemy and I choose to love him. It’s not about apathy. It’s about perspective and choice. And, I’ve got to hand it to my twenty-one year old self. Not bad. He’s a keeper.

Thanks for the wisdom dad. I think I get it now.