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Valarie is from Georgia. No, she doesn't have an accent. No one in metro-Atlanta really does. You can read her thoughts, using non-regional diction, at thinkingaboutdoing.tumblr.com.
I recently attended the wedding of one my boyfriend’s close friends. It was very lovely and wonderful to meet some of his old friends that came from across the country and see those that I’ve known for some time now. It was an especially happy occasion as the bride (my boyfriend’s friend) was healthy and well after having been through a health crisis over the last couple of years. I’m not sure what prompted it, but at some point I mentioned death (not related to any specific person, but just the general idea of it) and was roundly rebuffed by said boyfriend thusly, “death is not an appropriate topic of conversation at a wedding.”
To which (I actually said nothing), but internally thought WHAT?
What else do you think about at weddings besides death? Okay – perhaps that’s overstating it, but you are promising to cherish and love and blah blah blah UNTIL YOU DIE. That’s the whole point. Weddings, to me, are very much focused on death even if it’s not the thing that people are explicitly talking about. Admittedly, discussing end-of-life choices at a wedding is probably too macabre, even for the Morticia’s among us, but it’s impossible to escape the fact that death is inherently a part of weddings. (Also, it should be telling that Births, Deaths, and Marriages are all lumped together as vital records.)
Oh. Matthew Terry. Clearly, whoever is responsible for the Calvin Klein Concept ad during the Super Bowl deserves a medal. Or, at the very least, an enthusiastic “atta boy/girl”! Clearly, they know how to get women’s attention.
Anyway – this post isn’t about whether or not we can come between Matthew and his Calvins; it’s about dreaming. This isn’t as desperate a dream as Fontaine’s, but it’s a modern update to the age old question: how do you know if they’re the one?! We all imagine what life would be like with the person with whom we choose to spend the rest of our lives, the one where we are the perfect versions of ourselves and everyone around us is the best possible person that they can as well. But, I’ve found that the reality is much, much different. Not bad. Just, different.
I’m a big fan of the show “Community,” although this season has been less than perfect. Most of the characters are charmingly ridiculous and their antics, plus the multitude of obscure references in the show keep me coming back. I believe, however, that Jeff Winger, played by the lovely Joel McHale, is the WORST. He’s manipulative and egotistical, sure, but that’s not the worst part. Why does he have to be a lawyer?! Other professions have jerks too! As a lawyer, I can admit that there is a high concentration of socially inept d-bags who use Esq. in their email signoff, but the sort of personality that is drawn to law is also drawn to any profession that promises prestige and loads of cash. That’s a FACT.
You may be thinking that, naturally, I would defend my chosen profession because I don’t want to be painted with the same broad strokes. And you would be right. But, it’s more than just that: I think there is a certain level of self-awareness that is often mistaken for conceit and which may tend to negatively reflect on a person when they really weren’t trying to be a d-bag.
Let me explain.
I checked my credit score for the first time the other day* and had an epiphany – why have we not managed to invent some sort of relationship score?! Sure, there’s plenty of hocus pocus out there to help you determine your “compatibility,” but when you’re past the stage of knowing whether or not you can stand being a room with someone for 10 minutes, how do you gauge where you’re at – like, right now?
My mother is not one to mince words and when I asked her for some relationship wisdom she was ready to dish out her best – regardless of how uncomfortable it made me – admittedly we talk about a lot of things, but number 4 on her list was a bit of a surprise.
In honor of all the work she did to bring me into the world, here are her top tips for making things work. Thanks, Mom!
My name is Valarie, and I am an introvert. I am proud of this fact, but I realize that it can sometimes be difficult for other people (read: extroverts) to appreciate what it really means: basically, my life would be the worst reality TV show ever. I mostly like doing things by myself or in very small groups of people that I know very well. And, most of the time, I’m really happy just thinking. It doesn’t really matter what it’s about, but I like to think I have a robust inner life that requires regular maintenance and care.
Luckily, I have a job that requires thought and most of my friends are smart so I can talk to them about smart things. Mostly, though, my schedule is pretty bland: I occasionally watch TV (why doesn’t Daenerys Targaryen get more screen time? She’s the BEST!), I write some things, and I contemplate the meaning of human life. This is not an episode of Girls in the making. I’m just chilling like, all the time. To the extent that the boy is occasionally skeptical that I’m actually doing nothing because it’s just always the same. And, of course, it’s not really nothing, but it’s difficult to explain to someone that you just spent 10 hours on a beautiful day wandering to the farthest reaches of the internet because you had an idea and wanted to learn as much about it as possible. I can’t imagine people ever wishing they could live vicariously through me.
It’s really quite surprising how many teen rom coms are based on Shakespeare plays. When I started thinking about this post, I had an idea of the movie “10 Things I Hate About You,” and decided I needed to watch it again to make sure that the ideas that I had actually made sense. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I was able to find the whole movie online (I don’t know how the YouTube censors missed this).
Now 20 years later, my most significant relationship is with my partner (a guy), who I often (maybe obligatorily) refer to as my best friend. Although an endearing way to describe our love, it also speaks volumes about the absence of other significant relationships in my life. Namely relationships with women. What happened to my best friends?
I couldn’t help but think of all the conversations I’ve recently had with friends about how difficult it is to make friends as you get older (everyone wants them, but no one wants to put in the time), and on the eve of my third major move (Atlanta -> Boston -> D.C. -> Toronto) since I graduated from college, I wonder how many of the people that I know now will still be in touch. Given that I am no longer in touch with anyone from high school or college (in any meaningful way, at least) I have a real fear that I am going to end up friendless.
Writing about your relationship is an odd experience. You are at once subject and object: participating fully in the experience, but trying to cull some objective sentiment that will register on a broad scale. I wouldn’t have anything to write about if I wasn’t in a relationship, but I’ve found that writing about it can distort the interactions that I have within it. It’s Gonzo journalism on a very personal level.
Luckily, or perhaps not, relationships are by definition subjective, and writing about them, although it requires some objective explication, fully embraces the use of personal narrative and emotional honesty to expand on broader themes of life, love, and human nature. So, it was somewhat surprising to me when, in reading a review of a book about a cat, the observations about what it means to be human were especially profound:
Though “about” a cat, this heartwarming and heartbreaking tale is really about what it means to be human – about the osmosis of hollowing loneliness and profound attachment, the oscillation between boundless affection and paralyzing fear of abandonment, the unfair promise of loss implicit to every possibility of love.
I read this and recognized myself immediately: I am always alert to the possibility of losing everything. I really don’t have any reason to be. My boyfriend has, time and time (and time) again, proven a remarkable ability to forgive, forget (sometimes), and venture ever onward into the fog of our future. We certainly both have our anxieties about the future, but my own have manifested in what I’m finding to be a rather counterproductive way.
I recently read a follow-up article to a letter-to-the-editor of The Daily Princetonian encouraging female Princeton students to “[f]ind a husband on campus before you graduate,” because “[a]s Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market … You will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
First, I would like to say that this woman seems a bit bitter, and that’s not really a good starting place if you want people to listen to your prescriptive advice about choosing a life mate. Aside from that, there isn’t a lot of data to back up her contention: it’s just incredibly unlikely that a Princeton graduate will never find another man “worthy” of her. Beyond these initial hurdles, the follow up article also rightly points out that the error in this way of thinking is that it assumes “that [female undergraduates] should have their life partners effectively picked out by the time they’re walking out of Fitzrandolph Gate at graduation,” but of course “[s]ome people are ready for lifelong commitment at 22. Many aren’t, and my hunch would be that most recent Princeton graduates fall into the latter camp.”
When Aaliyah released the album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number in 1994, I was 10 years old. I definitely didn’t appreciate what she was singing about at the time, but as I get older, I am starting to wonder whether I agree. At a high level, yes, I agree that (after a certain age) age is only a number, but to be honest I can’t say that I would feel comfortable dating someone significantly older (or younger – I don’t ever want to be a cougar). But, once you’re in the working world it’s much harder to know exactly how old people are, and, unless they’re wearing a wedding ring, there’s always potential.
In high school, I only dated people who were in my grade. Even then, I thought that freshmen were off-limits for seniors and had pretty rigid ideas about what was age appropriate and what was not. I distinctly remember the first time I dated someone who was three years older than I was (17 and 20). It was the summer after I graduated from high school, and we went out a few times, but I just thought that he was creepy for being interested in someone who was basically still in high school (psychologically, at least).
Throughout college, I only dated people who were in the same year as me until my senior year when I met a guy who was four months younger (YOUNGER!) than me, and a junior. I remember making a thing of it for a few months and then just being like, well I guess this is happening. It was really only annoying when I turned 21 and then had to wait for him to catch up so that we could go out together.
As I mentioned before, the road to commitment is long and winding, and there are a lot of pitfalls that can get the best of even the most well intentioned couple. One of the most treacherous of pitfalls, in my mind, is the mess we’ve made of distinguishing between lovers and best friends. While the concept of lovers being your best friend is the stuff of country music legend, it doesn’t seem, to me, to be all that helpful as an organizing principle. The way I feel about my best friends is not the way that I feel about my boyfriend. That’s a good thing because, while Tim McGraw, with his rugged handsomeness and perfect twang, makes the idea awfully romantic, if your lover is your best friend, and your best friend is your lover, we have a problem with the way we define friendship.
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