Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part IV

Mirror image Fightin' Roos!

Here’s what might be the final installment of my series on marriage advice. I may add more, especially because I’m fixin’ to make a mess right here. It’s going to be a mess because I am about to say a couple of contradictory things.

Here’s the first thing.

Don’t give up.

If your marriage is going through a rough time, do not give up on it. Give it absolutely everything you have. Be willing to change your mind. Be willing to give it all your energy. Be willing to lay your body down to save it.

I’ve received a lot of letters about this blog series from friends and family who have been in the marital trenches. Both from people who have gotten a divorce and from those who managed to not only save their marriage, but find themselves in a better relationship with their spouse than ever before. Obviously, I cannot speak from experience, but hearing from those who were successful in saving their marriages was incredibly gratifying – proof positive that rebirth and redemption are possible. To paraphrase, that marriage is a good thing and worth fighting for.

A friend shared a quote with me:

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Through grace, our failures can be redeemed.

If this isn’t a concept you’re familiar with, or one you buy into, I’d recommend contemplating it, researching it, coming to understand it. I can think of few truths less important than that one.

So to sum up point one – don’t give up. Fight with everything you have. Surrender yourself entirely to the endeavor. Hold nothing back. Your marriage is worth it.

Now for point two.

It is not the end of the world if you fail to save your marriage. You will continue. God will not love you any less because you failed. The people in your life who love you will not love you any less because you failed. And if you’re smart, you will not love yourself any less because you failed.

You will quickly learn that there is something worse than divorce. Namely, enduring a loveless marriage. If you’re smart, you will allow yourself to let go of all the things that are no longer your problem. Letting problems sail off into the wild blue yonder is pretty amazing, you guys. You’re going to go through a lot of hardship, getting divorced. You should take full advantage of every possible upside headed your way – and not feel badly about it. I’m guessing your sense of self-worth has probably been damaged. Here’s your chance to reclaim it. Moreover, this is your chance to become who you really are, unhindered by the 1,000 lbs. suit that is a dead marriage.

Here’s the thing – sometimes marriages die. Sometimes they’re dead on arrival. Sometimes it takes awhile. Either way, it’s better to take off the 1,000 lbs. suit than to carry it for the rest of your life.

The above reflects my experience. Divorce can go down in a lot of different ways. One of those ways being engulfed in a massive amount of regret. I believe a marriage that has even a flicker of life left in it cannot be abandoned in good conscience. Because I fought as hard as I did, for as long as I did, as fully as I did, I am not plagued by regret. For that, I am thankful.

(Now, here comes a part that might be weird for you guys to read. I am going to give Evan some compliments. Don’t freak out, you guys. It’s going to be okay. Some of you may not like it, but I promise you, there is nothing self-loathing about this.)

I am also thankful that Evan took off the 1,000 lbs. suit. In doing so, he released me from the same. Truth is, I would never have stopped fighting. It’s just not in me. Especially given public perception of us as a couple, there was a price to be paid for being the bad guy. Moreover, in making that decision, he took charge of his own life and began a new relationship with honesty. In the end, if he could not find a way to love me, the most loving thing he could do was to set me free. Ultimately, successful relationships must be built on a bedrock of truth and honesty. Which is why Evan and I get along sooooooo much better now than we ever did in the past. Isn’t it ironic. Don’t ya think.

(One more time: If your marriage is going through a rough time, do not give up on it. Give it absolutely everything you have. Be willing to change your mind. Be willing to give it all your energy. Be willing to lay your body down to save it. Marriage is a good thing and worth fighting for.)

I Need Your Advice About My Dogs

Angel, the stray who wound up having her puppies in my friend's barn. Shenanigans is to the left of the picture. Tom is underneath somewhere.

This isn’t going to be a normal blog post. I need advice, but I want to tell the backstory, which would be far too much for a Facebook post, so I am using this space instead. Not ideal, but hopefully people will read this and give me advice.

Five years ago, Shenanigans and Tom were born into a large litter of mutts. Their mother was a huge dog, part Great Pyrenees, part who knows what (Shenanigans got her mother’s polydactylism, Tom did not). Their father was a purebred Australian cattle dog. The puppies looked like cattle dogs, except for Shenanigans. She was the biggest puppy and mostly solid black. I wanted her and I wanted to name her Shenanigans. But I also wanted a Tom Foolery. One of the plainest puppies, a blue male, crawled over to me as soon as he could crawl and never left me. Whenever I visited the litter, that one puppy would seek me out and stay with me, even when the rest of the litter would reform into a sleeping ball of dog. He was my Tom Foolery.

I found a rescue group to take the litter, but I kept Tom and Shenanigans, ostensibly to give to a friend. But that sort of fell through/I really, really didn’t want to give them up. I wound up keeping them. Evan didn’t want them, and as a result, they became outdoor dogs. I always felt guilty about this, so I tried to make up for it with lots of obedience training, walks in the woods, dog park trips, playing in the yard, even sheep herding. (Tom, who is very smart, was a sheep herding rock star. Shenanigans, the most maternal animal even born, was a conscientious objector. She just wanted to love the sheep.)

Tom Foolery as a young man.

Recently, I’ve been turning them into indoor/outdoor dogs. Whenever they come in they remind me of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, where the characters go to heaven and each thinks, “Surely, this cannot be meant for me.” It makes me feel like I failed them. Right now, as I write this, Tom has his nose on my left elbow and a look of pure rapture on his face. He is gloriously happy.

I am the opposite of gloriously happy.

In less than a month, I am going to LA. It might surprise you to hear this, but a BFA in screenwriting only gets you so far in South Carolina. I will be there for a handful of weeks, during which time I am going to try to figure out a way to move there. I might succeed, I might fail. (It’s not something I am going to do if I can’t afford it.)

I have six animals, you guys. The chance I could afford a place in LA where I could house all six is essentially nil.

In an ideal world, I would find a friend willing to keep my dogs until I could afford such a place, but I’m not hopeful that I’ll be able to find such an arrangement.

Placing them permanently seems more likely, but there I run into another issue. Shenanigans’ favorite person in the whole wide world is Evan’s mom, Alice. This makes me pretty confident she’d be equally happy with someone who isn’t me. I’m not sure if that holds true for Tom, who is a one person dog. He picked me when he was tiny puppy and never looked back on that

Little Shenanigans, using her brother as an elbow rest.

decision. So, I could place Shenanigans and not Tom, but I worry he’d be lonely without her. And would it be fair to him, this dog that loves the woods and his backyard, to turn him into a city dog?

It occurs to me that all of this may read like a lot of agonizing over something that isn’t very important, in the grand scheme of things. It’s like in Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart makes the observation that the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans. I’d imagine it amounts to even less when it’s the problems of a couple of dogs. Not that either of them knows there is a problem. Ignorance is bliss. (Tom is still at my elbow, smiling at me. He smiles.)

I know these problems aren’t important, but this doesn’t stop me from crying about them. Tom Foolery and Shenanigans, more than anyone, have been there for me. They have been my solace. They are my family. They are always happy to see me when I come home. There was a time when my life was darkness and anxiety, but when I’d pull up into the driveway and Tom would always be there, rain or shine, his tail a giant windmill of wag.

I have never placed a dog or a cat before. Once you’re a part of my family, you’re a part of my family forever. I keep my commitments and I try my best to do right by them. Not only do I feel like I have failed to do right by my dogs, I feel like I am preparing to repay their loyal service with betrayal.

Shenanigans and Tom Foolery today.

But maybe these are over dramatic and inaccurate thoughts. Maybe they’d be happier in a new home, where they’d get to be inside a lot. Certainly, Shenanigans would like to be a professional laying down dog at this point in her life. When we go on our woodland rambles she plods along slowly beside me, only occasionally trotting after Tom. Tom, meanwhile, is still as much of an explorer as he ever was, checking out miles of forest for each one I cover. He always checks in on me, though. He’ll be gone for awhile, but then he pops up, lays eyes on me, and bounds off again. Sometimes, when he gets a little too comfortable with staying gone, I’ll put him on the leash for a few days. He’ll walk patiently beside me, as if he didn’t really want to be somewhere else. He’s a good dog. They’re both good dogs. If they weren’t, this wouldn’t be so hard.

Long story short – I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s best for them. I want to do whatever is best for them. I know that nobody can really answer these questions. But any and all thoughts and pieces of advice would be welcome.

How to Survive the End of the World

Once your world has ended it will feel like there is a bowling ball in your stomach. This is normal.

Your friends will ask you to come take a walk with them. This will not help. You should go anyway.

When you wake up in the morning, sometimes you will wake up knowing. Sometimes you will wake up having forgotten. It is better to wake up knowing.

People will tell you how to feel. Do not listen to them. Especially do not listen to them if they tell you to feel angry and you do not, or if they tell you not to feel angry and you do.

You have taken care of your pets for years. Let them take care of you. They will do an excellent job.

People will tell you what to do. Listen to them with an open mind, but follow your own instincts. Your instincts are distinct from your fears. This is a good opportunity to learn the difference.

You will decide that you need company, so you will find people. As soon as you find them, you will realize that you need to be alone. Continue to move back and forth between company and solitude. Eventually, you will stop moving, but you will not sleep.

This may not be the first time your world has ended. Do not look to the past for clues about how to navigate the present. Every world is unique; they all end differently.

Take long walks with your dogs in the wilderness. Let yourself get lost. Climb mountains. Cross rivers. Do not worry that anything bad will happen to you. It will not. God is not that merciful.

There will come a day when you will forget that the world has ended for just a moment. You will laugh and then you will remember. This will hurt.

Sometimes you will feel like you’re doing well. This is good, because you are. Sometimes it will feel like you’re barely holding on. This is okay, because you are.

At a certain point, life will return to normal. Except it won’t. You have survived the end of the world. You are now living in a new one. It may never be as good as the one that has ended. It may be better. It will be different. And so will you.

A Bold Declaration of My Own Awesomeness

You'd think I'd get tired of looking up pictures of Fightin' Roos. I do not.

Hello FF readers!

Many of you have taken the time to comment/send me a message about my series on marriage advice. Based on reader feedback, I want to throw out a couple of clarifications.

Firstly, a lot of people had a hard time with the “make his tail wag” thing. Before I launched into that, I wrote, “All of the below presupposes the idea you’re married to a decent human being.” I meant that. If you’re being emotionally abused by someone, then no, don’t grovel around trying to make him happy. But if he’s a decent human being, you better believe that I think a woman is best served by trying to empower the man she’s married to.

Here’s another thing – we cannot change anybody but ourselves, but love is transformative. I’ve had the experience of watching my parents’ marriage evolve over my lifetime. They’ve been married almost 50 years now. Every year of their marriage they get better at being married. It’s not easy. Their marriage is not easy. But by relentlessly staying in the fight – by relentlessly choosing kindness, honesty and love – they’ve transformed one another. Personally, I believe their faith enables this transformation. But wherever you want to put the credit, the fact is – these things are possible. These things are real.

What I’m trying to say is, you can take a decent human being and help them become the fully formed person they’re meant to be. Isn’t that a big part of what marriage should be? Enabling your partner to become who they really are? And allowing them to help you become the person you’re supposed to be? And I maintain that ego functions differently in men and women. I would say that men need to be bolstered and women reassured, generally speaking. A grand oversimplification, of course. But I am speaking generally.

Also – the inverse of the above is true, too. You can take a decent human being and make them smaller. The scary thing is, it’s not hard to do. We are always in the process of becoming. We are also always in the process of helping our spouse become the best version of themselves or we are in the process of diminishing them. If there is one point to all of this marriage advice it is: Take heed – it is easier than you think to diminish your spouse. You can be a wonderful human being and still manage to cause significant damage.

Secondly, I appreciate some comments that I read as rather protective of me. I love my fierce friends! They are awesome! And so I wanted to explain my approach. When I started this blog, I was uncomfortable with the public nature of the thing running alongside my own sometimes caustic sense of humor. I made the decision that I would never write anything negative about a private person. (By that I mean, someone not famous. I made one exception for a server named Blake. I stand by that post.) Evan is a private person, ergo I am not going to write anything negative about him. More importantly, I don’t want to write anything negative about him. We are still friends. I feel like I understand the demise of our marriage and I think with understanding comes peace. This understanding doesn’t feel like blame to me – because I don’t blame Evan and I sure as heck don’t blame myself. But in going through Marriage Destruction University I feel like I learned some things. That, to me, is interesting. Things that are actionable are interesting. I find all of this stuff interesting, not sad. Which may be weird, but hey – I’m weird.

Anyway, just so you know I am on the level about this, here are some things about my performance at Marriage Destruction University that are pretty awesome.

I was willing to change my mind.

That, right there, is huge. Once I realized there were problems, I did a bit of an ostrich act for a month or so, but then I got to work. I was willing – and able – to examine myself and make substantive changes. I think that is pretty awesome and amazing. I don’t think there are a lot of people who do that. I think a lot of people cling to what they’ve been doing, somehow hoping that change is going to come, anyway. I think a lot of people get wrapped up in their own ego and get strangled by fear. To be sure, y’all, it’s bad. Marriage Destruction University is a mind-numbingly terrible place to be. It’s scary in there. Like, watching The-Exorcist-when-you’re-eight-years-old scary. It takes a lot of courage, determination and intelligence to learn inside an hostile environment and then apply that knowledge.

I was willing to fight to the death.

Arguable whether or not that’s really a good thing, but I’m still proud of it. Marriage Destruction University is an exhausting place to be. It takes deep reserves of energy to not only keep going, but to keep trying. I tried each and every day. I’m a freaking hero, you guys. A freaking hero.

So, I don’t look at the failure of my marriage as a personal failure. I look at it as an epic voyage into the wilderness, forty days spent in the desert. When I was out there, I found some really fascinating things, so it’s only natural to want to be like – Check this out. I found some fascinating things! Lots of times, though, what’s fascinating to one person is not at all to another. So, there’s that.

None of the above is to suggest I escaped unscathed. I certainly did not. Bad habits were formed, old insecurities reborn. Again, Marriage Destruction University is a terrible, terrible place. But it can also be a place of a learning. On account of being pretty awesome you better believe I tried to mine all the good I could out of the bad.

I have one installment left.

Thank you all for reading. <3

Marriage Advice You Don’t Want, Part III

The Fightin' Roos are at it again!

Before I launch into the third rant in my ongoing series of foisting unwanted marriage advice upon my beloved readers, I want to tell you a little bit about myself.

From the first, I found dolls insulting. If you gave me a doll, I’d literally be insulted. Dolls were for girls, I’d think, blithely unaware of the implications of that thought. As a very young child, I liked to pretend I was a New York cabbie named Bill. I was obsessed with He-Man and Transformers. I dreamed of becoming a wide receiver in the NFL. In the 5th grade, I got to write my first “paper” on the subject of my choice, which meant I got to write about Muhammad Ali. I asked for, and received, a heavy bag and boxing gloves from Santa Claus. In high school, after one semester of weightlifting, I could curl 75 lbs. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that I carry more testosterone in my body than the average woman.

(Side note – God bless my parents, especially my mother, for letting me be me, without a second thought about it.)

Probably in part because of my aforementioned dude-like qualities, as well as a pretty strong will to power, I had bought in on the idea that men and women were, if not the same, than way more the same than previous generations had believed. Thanks to Marriage Destruction University I learned that men and women are different. I want to say this a few more times. Men and women are different. They are different. They are different. They are different. They are equally important, but they are not equal if by equal we mean “same.”

Head’s up about this post – this is going to be geared toward women. There’s not much in here for men, unless they want to eavesdrop. Which is fine. I’ve had a lot of comments on this series and only one of them has been from a dude. Might as well focus in on the target audience. By the way, ladies – all of the below presupposes the idea you’re married to a decent human being. If you’re not, well, that’s a whole other blog post.

A couple of stories.

After exiting Marriage Destruction University, I spent a lot of quality time with Father Pat, who is awesome. I want to share his observations on the issue. “Men are like dogs. Dogs have three modes, and you can judge which mode they’re in by their tail. They’re either wagging and happy, or they’re at rest, or their tails are tucked between their legs. So many wives think they can train their dogs by keeping their tail tucked between their legs, but it doesn’t train them. It just makes them withdraw. A woman’s job is make her husband’s tail wag, leave him alone when he’s at rest, and if something needs to be addressed, do it in a way that isn’t belittling.” He also made the comment that men compartmentalize. Everything is stored in separate boxes. Women, on the other hand, are like a clothesline. Everything is on the clothesline. When one too many things is placed on that clothesline, the whole thing sags to that lowest point. Everything goes down once the clothesline is overwhelmed. It’s the man’s job to come along and put some helium balloons along the length of the clothesline, to lift her up and keep her buoyant.

Second story.

I became obsessed with “Naked and Afraid,” a pretty rad show from The Discovery Channel. It featured professional survivalists, one man and one woman, dropped into a harsh environment to survive for 21 days. They would meet for the first time upon arrival. These people were tough. Super tough. Extremely knowledgeable, experienced survivalists. Here’s the thing – it invariably took about five minutes for their dynamic to revert to something very primal. I formed a bunch of opinions based on watching these couples interact, but here is the most important thing – one of the most crucial ingredients to success for these couples was how good the woman was at making the man’s tail wag. The women formed the emotional foundation of the enterprise and when they successfully empowered their partner, everything worked so much better. For whatever reason, ego works differently in men and women – and that’s okay. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but by and large I believe it to be true and I don’t think the answer is to try to force an artificial sameness. Basically, what I am trying to say here is – life is really hard. If your man kills a small snake for dinner, be like, “That’s the best snake ever.”

I used the snake reference because the roughest episode took place in Costa Rica. The guy killed a fer-de-lance with a stick. With a stick! Incredibly aggressive, deadly snake. Kills it with a stick. It was a big snake, too. He cuts off the head, skins it, brings it back and the woman immediately commented on how small it was. Their 21 days didn’t go very well.

All of the above resonated with me because I have been guilty of them at one time or another. In hindsight, it is easy to see how damaging it is to be oppressive instead of empowering. So, to recap. 1.) That tail tuck thing, you guys – it’s oppressive. You know what else is oppressive? 2.) Nagging. If a guy is resting, let him rest. 3.) It is good to empower a man to be just that – to be a strong, capable, confident man.

Switching gears.

We’re gonna get real here, kids. Much like Salt n Pepa in the 90’s, we’re going to talk about sex. I have a theory about the sex lives of over educated married people of a certain age. My theory is, thousands of years of oppression + feminism = the woman’s opinion on sex is sacrosanct. It isn’t, btw. Your body is sacrosanct. Your opinion on how your married sex life should go is decidedly not. That, my friends, should be a team decision. There is, no doubt, way too much sexual violence against women. But this isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking about a healthy married sex life. I think as a culture we’ve weirdly conflated the two, such that over educated married women of a certain age are overly empowered to call the shots on how their sex life goes – and if they don’t have a problem with only having sex however many times a month, then their spouse shouldn’t, either. And I get it – kids and work and life tires you out. But the truth is, where you put your energy is a choice. And the other truth is, your kids and work and life will be better, brighter, and more vibrant if you have a thriving marriage. The third truth is, your sex life is an important part of that thriving marriage.

I was struck by something watching a Dr. Brene Brown TED Talk. Dr. Brown studies vulnerability. While listing the things that make people feel the most vulnerable I was surprised to hear that chief among them was initiating sex with a spouse. After I thought about it for a minute, it made perfect sense to me. Keep that fact in mind. Initiating sex with their spouse brings many people to their most vulnerable place. This takes me back to Part I – Be Kind.

This has gotten crazy long. I’ll be back with the fourth and final bit of unwanted marriage advice later this week. Love you all.