The Bluth-McDucks: Merging Our Finances and Debt

I got drunk with Jake and ordered a Google Home last weekend.

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I’d been considering the purchase, having decided against the Amazon Echo, after Jake made me listen to some comparison reviews. He considered both products frivolous and excessive, but really didn’t want me to spend $50 more on the one with worse reviews. So, after a few drinks, I finally came to the conclusion that I had to have a Google Home. Fortunately for me, the purchase only went through once, because I do vaguely recall confirming the order three or four times. So, all in all, it was a well-researched decision, but still… I got drunk and ordered a Google Home last weekend.

As a 29-year-old Millennial, I’m constantly reading articles about people my age wailing over an inability to find a job utilizing their degree in feminist dance theory, refusing to show up on time or display any real work ethic when they do, and despairing over the injustice of having to pay back the money they knowingly borrowed to do so. I saw this immaturity firsthand when I was wading through the sea of Lost Boys that was online dating: grown men living with their parents and “still trying to figure it all out.” I even witnessed it in my year as a manager, when I had to explain the importance of not wearing pajamas to work to 25-year-olds.

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My OKCupid search results from 2011 to 2015

So, yeah, I’m familiar with the generalization that anyone born after 1985 is fundamentally irresponsible… and it still kind of pisses me off. Gail’s a mail carrier who graduated high school and entered the workforce, never borrowing a dime to find her place and discover a career she loves. I, myself, took the more stereotypical Millennial route: entered college at 18, borrowed six figures, and got a masters degree in a field everyone assumed would have no career path. Then, I got a great job making about 50k a year in one of the states with the cheapest cost of living in the country. I pay my private and federal student loans on time, am eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in 2024, and carry a small balance on a credit card, which has helped to raise my credit score above 700. For every gum smacking 20-something ironically ignoring you for their phone behind the customer service desk at Wal-Mart, there’s another Millennial working their ass off to make their own way… and I’ve always been the latter.

I had two jobs all through grad school, worked up to 65 hours a week and still found time to write papers and complete my portfolio. When I wanted to splurge a little and buy something I didn’t really need, I never felt bad about doing so, even if I didn’t have the money right then. It would all come together somehow and I would be the one solely responsible for making that happen. No one else was effected by my financial decisions… until I got engaged to Jake; and while I may not consider myself to be bad with money, I’ll admit I’m pretty much Lucille Bluth next to Jake’s Scrooge McDuck.

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At 32 years old, Jake has zero debt and quite the nest egg. Though he’ll spend his money on the things and experiences that are important to him, he’ll neither touch his savings nor take out any credit to do so. He’s determined that we continue to live this way as a married couple and it’s not like I can really argue with that. Over the next year, we plan to live as frugally as possible, so we can buy a house sooner rather than later, but… I think we might have different ideas of what “as frugally as possible” looks like.

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’m finding some truth to the idea that when a couple marries in their late twenties/early thirties, the learning curve for existing with another human being can be a bit longer. We’ve already faced this with home décor tastes and communication styles.

Me: “I love you, but I do want to take premarital counseling, because if you don’t get better at communicating, I’m going to fucking cut you.

In a few short months, though, Jake and I will have to blend our finances, which means adjusting to the idea of consulting one another on how we spend our hard earned money after making those decisions all by ourselves for our entire adult lives. When my Gramma asked me last fall, what Jake thought of my having taken out an Amazon payment plan to buy a Kindle Fire, I told her it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t his money. While Jake asked why I needed my Kindle Voyage and a Kindle Fire, making no effort to hide that he thought it was a superfluous purchase, he never told me not to buy it. Similarly, when I spent $80 on my Fitbit Alta, he thought it was silly and that I wouldn’t use it, but he also acknowledged that it wasn’t his business… nor was the final cost of redecorating the bedroom… and ultimately buying a Google Home after too much whiskey.

Likewise, when Jake insists on $3000 worth of catering and bar service for what I consider an overly lavish wedding, I keep my mouth shut. That’s his money, which he earned without me and he can spend it as he wishes. At present, we operate on a more or less unspoken agreement that as long neither of us is accruing more debt, the other doesn’t get a say… and on that note, on May 06, 2017, not only do my future financial decisions effect Jake, so do my past ones. While I’ve been careful not to charge up my credit card or get behind on my car and student loan payments, since we’ve met, I still have a lot of debt from my college days… and now so will Jake.

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While I might be able to control any future urge to buy matching Kirk and Spock costumes for the cat and dog… I mean, why would I need to again?… I can’t change the fact that at 18 years old, I began accepting thousands of dollars a year to pay for college and life in general, when my ex-husband wouldn’t work. Honestly, I don’t even think I would. That money fed and clothed me. It put gas in my car and rebuilt my life after my divorce. It got me my dream job of librarian. I am where I am because I took out student loans and I’m not sorry. I’m not bitter that I have to pay them back, either. I’m bitter that Jake has to pay them back, retroactively taking care of miserable and lost 21-year-old Belle, because my debt will become his debt. Any and all interest accrued will no longer be mine, but ours, which is why Jake wants to spend a huge chunk of his nest egg paying off all but my federal loans from day one. Why rack up interest over time, when he can pay it all off now? Well, because it’s mine.

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It’s so tempting to stamp my foot and insist that Jake can’t clear my financial name, because if he pays off my debt, not only does that mean I can’t take care of myself now, but that I never could. When I consolidated my private loans, agreed to a terrible interest rate on my car, signed up for my credit card, I did so with a bit of begrudging pride, knowing that one day I would pay it all back, because I take care of me. Despite all my jokes about how I’d let Christian Grey hang me from the ceiling and gut me like a deer if it meant paying off my student loans, I never thought I’d actually meet someone who saw value in ridding me of that debt. I would happily pay a thousand dollars a month for a couple of years, from my own paycheck, but Jake would rather we spend that money building something than trying to dig me out of a hole, which makes a lot of sense. It’s just… it’s my hole.

So, as a compromise, I’ve insisted on adding this bit to the prenup we’ve already agreed to sign for the sake of the family ranch. If Jake wants to take care of my past self, I insist on taking care of his future self, by legally agreeing that I’ll pay him back if our marriage lasts less than 10 years. I’m too pragmatic and quite frankly, I love him too much, to let romance get in the way, here. If he can protect me from further financial ruin, I can protect him. Still, it wounds my pride far more than being told I don’t need another cat costume… and I always need another cat costume.

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The Best Laid Plans…

I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.

I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.

Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”

The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.

Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and  hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.

I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.

In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.

Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.

The best laid plans… well, maybe not “best.”

How Alcohol Poisoning Reminded Me How Good I Have It

Jake and I had a great day on Saturday. We went to a festival in Springfield, ate fried food and candied nuts, watched Netflix, and then walked around the park to make up for the calories we’d consumed. We had a pretty low key night ahead of us, when I checked my phone to see that Catherine, Laura, and Gail were calling me out for a night on Catherine’s patio. I’d promised I’d come, even last minute, if they sent me the invite and Jake, in all his good ol’ boy charm, was game, especially since Gail’s Terry would be there, so he wouldn’t be the only cock in the hen house. Conveniently enough, we’d just been to the liquor store and were more than prepared for this BYOB with whiskey and coke and the small bottle of Strawberry Smirnoff I’d bought to mix with Fresca… only I’d forgotten the Fresca.

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I remember a great deal of the night. I remember Jake arguing politics with Catherine. I remember sitting in the grass with Laura, talking about her marriage. I remember making fish sticks when we got hungry drunk and walking around the block. I remember teasing Gail about her newfound veganism and Terry about their five year engagement. I remember playing on Catherine’s daughter’s swing set. I’m so glad I remember all of that, because I had a great time… until I didn’t.

You see, I also remember judging my shots without a glass and drinking straight from the bottle. I remember wondering why I wasn’t feeling it more. I remember feeling good and drunk and then thinking I really didn’t want to be any more drunk, but that I didn’t have to worry, because the bottle was empty anyway. I remember Laura realizing this and making me stick my finger down my throat… Jake trying to carry me inside, after Laura’s failed attempts to rouse me… and throwing up. I remember that last one the most. The rest of the night was just a blur of pain and humiliation… and apologies, because y’all, I am a grown ass woman. I have no idea what I was thinking. I haven’t even been close to that drunk since the summer of 2011, when Gail, Malik, and I decided to mix shrimp and peach vodka to celebrate my new apartment. Even then, I had an excuse in the fact that I’d lost about 60 pounds and had no concept of my new tolerance. I’m 29, not 19. I don’t even get drunk enough to be hungover anymore, let alone lose the ability to stand or speak. I’m not that girl. I chase chick beers with water and ibuprofen, not vodka with vodka… and thank goodness Jake and my friends know that…

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… because through all the misery and mortification, what I remember most clearly was Jake and Laura working to get me inside and clean up any mess in Catherine’s house, all while assuring me that I didn’t have to apologize and it was okay, that I’d be okay, because losing that kind of control is terrifying. Ashamed, I begged them not to laugh at me or tease me. Laura spoke in motherly tones while cleaning up vomit. As I dry-heaved, Jake held my hair, rubbed my back, and told me over and over again that I didn’t have to be sorry or embarrassed, because he’d done far worse. The two of them sat in the kitchen sharing their own cringe-worthy drinking tales as I fell asleep on Catherine’s couch.

I woke a few hours later to find Jake in the kitchen and told him I wanted to go home. After 30 minutes of gathering my stuff, we headed out, before Catherine, Gail, or Terry woke to witness my shame. Jake helped me up the stairs and onto the couch, where he was once again unbearably sweet to me as I recovered from just that short trek.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Thank you for being so nice to me.”
Jake: “You don’t have to be sorry.”
Me: “Will you be nice to me tomorrow, when I don’t feel good?”
Jake: “I will always be nice to you.”

Still drunk, I showered and changed as sunlight filtered through the window.

Me: “I’m so sorry. Are you going to break up with me?”
Jake: “I wouldn’t dream of breaking up with you.”

That afternoon, Jake came into the living room to find me with a throw-up bowl in my lap, texting Laura a thank you.

Jake: “How are you feeling?”
Me: “Bad.”
Jake: “Well, the good news is, you don’t have to worry about how many calories you ate, yesterday.”
Me: “I’m embarrassed.”
Jake: “Oh, I’ve been much more embarrassed. Do you remember what you drank to make you so sick?”
Me: “All of the vodka.”
Jake: “Were you just drinking straight from the bottle? Did you think you were a saloon owner in an old western?”

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There is no way I would’ve had more than a fourth shot, had I been using a shot glass, let alone a sixteenth.

Gail texted to ask what time I’d left that morning and I realized that Laura hadn’t told anyone about the events of the previous night. She’d kept my humiliation private. Jake spent the rest of the day watching Harry Potter with me and taking brief breaks to check on the Cowboys game, as I failed to keep down pretzel sticks and water… and wondered how I got so lucky to have such amazing people in my life. Those two are both getting homemade peanut brittle this weekend.

No. It’s not okay if I get pregnant.

I’ve had to abandon hormonal birth control, because it makes me sick. While I’m considering an IUD, that’s something of a process, so it’s just condoms and somewhat hypocritical prayer for the time being. This comes up a surprising amount, with medical professionals and even family and friends, perhaps because we live in a society where people “check in” to the urologist on Facebook…

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… therefore, I’ve realized that the world is super okay with an accidental pregnancy for Belle.

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Aunt Lacy: “Why get on birth control? Why not just have a baby?”
Me: “Because Jake and I… aren’t married?”
Aunt Lacy: “So? You’re old enough.”

Me: “Well, I’m not on anything right now. Both Nuvaring and the pill made me sick, so it’s just condoms and prayer.”
Nurse: “Well, if it happens, it happens.”

Aunt Dee: “Well, you’re 28 now. If you got pregnant, it would be wonderful.”

Please, tell me more about how okay you are with taking my remaining years of freedom. Let’s talk about how great it will be for me to get fat and go five years without sleeping. I’m sure Jake will be thrilled to either have to propose, knowing he’ll never convince me that he actually wanted to marry me or break my heart forever.

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I have just gotten the hang of putting the dishes in the dishwasher, as I go, as opposed to musing aloud about taking them to a car wash while balancing a mug precariously on top of the pile like a game of kitchen Jenga. I am so shocked that I’ve kept a plant alive since Christmas that I’m not even sure it’s a real plant. In just the last week, my pets have had to alert me to their need for water by barking and meowing when I turn on the bathroom faucet. It’s either really flattering that the rest of society thinks I can handle the life of another human being or really quite sad that their standards are so low, because I’m perfectly willing to admit that I can barely take care of myself right now. I am finally at a point in my life where I can afford a small emergency and remain on top of my bills and I’m enjoying such expansive financial freedom in comparison with where I was one year ago.

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… how my bills got paid from 2007-2015…

It’s fantastic that the rest of the world is now so keen on babies born out of marriage. I’ve seen Bastard Out of Carolina twelve times and I’m not a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, so I really do mean that. I’m glad society is more accepting of individual lifestyles, but I still have a pretty traditional idea of the one I want to live. Call me old-fashioned, but I think life is generally easier and more pleasant for everyone involved if two people fall in love, marry, enjoy some time alone, and then have babies. I don’t want to be the only one to take my kids to basketball and ballet, to be the enemy when I take away electronic time for the weekend, to attend parent teacher conferences and pick up snacks for pre-K, because it’s my week to be the parent. I admire my single mom friends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look absolutely exhausting.

Fine. I concede that at this point in my life and relationship, I wouldn’t actually even be a single mom. Jake would step up, but his mother and father would never respect me again. Regardless of my financial standing, my dad and step-mom would be disappointed in me, too. Who cares what they think, though, right? I do. I care what they think. I care how the world reacts to the news that I’m having a baby and entering a new and exciting stage of life. So, yes, maybe a child wouldn’t derail my entire future, as it might have once, but it’s still one of my greatest fears and will remain so until long after my wedding day, because I can only handle one mouthy redhead for the moment. Am I being ridiculous and overdramatic? Possibly, but no one really gets to decide that other than me. I am not ready for a baby. I want to be excited by the prospect of parenthood, as does Jake. We are the primary individuals effected, after said baby, therefore it’s only our opinions that matter. So everyone needs to back the fuck off and stop jinxing my uterus with their damn well wishing!

 

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Living in the Moment

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At 19, nine years ago today, I came home from work to find my house burned down, my pets dead on the lawn, and my ex-husband suspiciously profiting from the tragedy on the same day he lost another job.

At 20, I woke to pounding on my front door and an officer telling us we’d been evicted… with my ex-husband suspiciously insisting he’d been paying the rent.

At 21, I spent an ice storm in a motel room after being evicted, again… with my ex-husband, suspiciously insisting he’d been paying the rent, again. Later that year, we lived in another motel room for two whole months.

At 22, I had just lost a baby, my ex-husband totaled the truck my Gramma gave me for my 16th birthday, Gail buried her infant daughter, and the engine blew up in my car right after my college graduation… with my ex-husband suspiciously insisting he’d changed the oil.

At 23, 24, and 25, I worked two jobs and took grad school classes online, while coping with the fall-out from an emotionally exhausting divorce and attempting to date.

At 26 and 27, I continued working two jobs, with my only emergency fund and healthcare provider being prayer.

My entire adult life has been spent looking toward the future, because the present was at best unsustainable, and at worst made me near suicidal. For years, I told myself that things would be different in X amount of time. In five years, I’d be done with school/have steady income/be married to a good man. If I could only get through the present, the answer to my prayers was just on the horizon. This line of thinking was, quite literally, the only thing that kept me going, at times. I lived for the future, because I had no choice. It was pure survival.

Now, I’m 28-years-old. I’ve finished my master’s degree and and have a full time supervisory librarian position. I have healthcare and a hearty retirement fund. I have the money I need and even some extra I want. I met the man I’m certain I’ll marry and he’s perfect for me (not for anyone else, because he can’t keep his foot out of his mouth). I even got the black kitten I’ve yearned for, Thackery Binx. I’m living what will most certainly be some of the most exciting years of my life and it’s so ingrained in me to look forward that I’m afraid I’m missing it.

Last week, I wrote about my readiness to marry Jake. I don’t begrudge myself the eagerness to start our lives together. I think it’s healthy, at this point in our relationship and that’s truly not what I’m referencing. I just worry that I’ll look back and see myself always longing for another time, never enjoying the moment, because of a time when there were so few moments to enjoy. It’s not just me, I don’t think. We, as a society, treat life’s many stages as though half should be spent waiting, the other half reminiscing, with only a few years in between intended to be enjoyed. I was miserable for so long that I want to take the time to enjoy it all. I don’t want to marry Jake and count the days until we can pay off the debt, buy the house, have the babies, get them in school, get them out of the house, have grandbabies. I’ve been wishing my life away and for a time, it was necessary, but it’s just so good right now, that I wish I could be truly content.

Over the Fourth of July, I downed half a pitcher of margaritas and drunkenly fell on my ass while trying to get Jake to dance with me, in the park. I lit sparklers for his nieces and watched them chase their pigs. His mom and oldest niece both hugged me for the first time, before we left and I felt like one day we’ll really be family. Last week, when I drove to Wellston to enjoy a few hours with Jake, he tackled me to the couch, when I announced that his friends were going to think he was super sappy, as I tried to share Facebook’s “Friendiversary ” video from his phone. He cuddled me on his bed and let me give him Eskimo kisses. I’m terrified that I’m going to wake up one day, old and grey, devastated that I never truly appreciated these insignificantly beautiful moments and I pray for the ability to just… be.

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The One Promise I CAN Make to My Future Children

Dear Future Children,

I have six or seven unopened pregnancy tests under my bathroom counter, right now… and not out of hope, but paranoia. I’m not ready for you yet. You’re really more of a concept, an eventuality, and as such, I can’t make a lot of promises. I can’t promise I’ll never yell at you. I can’t promise that I’ll put my phone away every time you have a story to tell. I can’t promise that I’ll never send you to school sick, because I was certain you were bluffing. I can’t promise that I won’t look away for a second, missing the moment you climbed too high and fell and broke your arm. I certainly can’t promise to never embarrass you.

When you’re 11 and just starting to notice that other people judge you, and you forget to tell me that you need a cover for the report that’s due the next morning, I’m wearing my Star Trek pants to the store, or we’re not going. In 2035, when I catch you having a hologram chat with that boy you’ve been crushing on, I’ll interrupt to explain that it’s late and you’re now grounded. If you’re a cute redheaded girl, then I genuinely apologize for how much worse your dad will be on your first date.

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It’d probably be more accurate to just go ahead and promise that I will embarrass you. I’ll sing and dance to 50’s music, when I clean. I’ll use outdated words and phrases, like hogswoggle and hokum. I’ll wear t-shirts that say things like “Having fun isn’t hard, when you have a library card.” I’ll do these things even more when you complain. The one promise that I absolutely can make to you, though, is that I will never embarrass you online.

When you get stuck in the doggy door, I’ll text a photo to your grandma… but I won’t put it on Instagram. When you throw a tantrum at the mall, long after the acceptable age to do so, I’ll record it and send it to your father… but I won’t live stream it. When you have your first wet dream or your first period, I’ll update your Aunt Gail… but I won’t update Facebook. When you’re caught cheating on a test, I’ll make you tearfully tell your dad… but not Youtube.

The people who love you will know all of your embarrassing stories, just as those who love me know mine. That’s the cost of having family and you should never take that for granted. That photo of you, proudly wearing nothing but underwear and a princess crown, will make the annual family album. However, when you have a falling out with your best friend in the 7th grade, she won’t be able to tag everyone you know in it, along with the one where you smeared your diaper all over the crib.

I know that I’ll make mistakes as a parent. There will be times when I forget to sign your permission slip and keep you from watching that video in class. Maybe I’ll forget that your friend is allergic to melon. I’m sure I’ll yell at you for something, only to realize later that your father is to blame. In response, I’ll atone privately, not while wearing a sign around my neck on Facebook. In turn, I vow that you’ll receive the same courtesy. You’ll be lectured and punished, but it will happen behind closed doors. I’ll receive validation from your dad and Gail, not that woman I graduated high school with 25 years earlier.

When your first boss Googles your name, anything scandalous to be found will be your poor decision making, not mine. Large scale shame and humiliation will never be part of your punishment. When I’m angry with you for being a disrespectful brat, I’ll tell your grandpa, not all 157 of my closest social networking pals… only for you to read all about it four years later. I don’t know anything about being a parent. I can’t promise that I’ll be any good at it. I can, however, promise that I will not ruin your online reputation, before you even get the chance.

Shout-Out to the Children of the Mentally Ill

I’m an active Facebook user. I love seeing people grow up and be happy. That’s why, even though I knew I’d regret it, I still thumbed through all of the photos of my friends with their moms. The sentiments were all the same. She’s their best friend, their major source of support, and an amazing grandma. She’s seen them through everything and taught them everything they needed to know about life.

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Naturally, there were no shout-outs to the children of the mentally ill.

When I was nine, I found out I needed to wear deodorant when my dad snapped that I stank, assuming my mother had had that talk with me. I opened my first training bra in front of my family on Christmas, from an aunt who was trying to send my mother a hint. I came home crying, one day in middle school, because the other kids said I had a mustache. I mostly gave up on makeup in eighth grade, because I didn’t really know how to apply it and had no one to show me. My mother didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know as a teenager and certainly not as an adult, considering she left me to live with her boyfriend two hours away, during my senior year.

I wish I could only feel anger. I know that’s not healthy, but I think it might be more bearable than this deep-set ache I’m feeling these days as I remember the good times we did have. Even though absent-minded about things like making sure there were tampons in the house, that I was wearing the right cup size, and keeping the electricity on… even when she was filling my head with lies about my dad molesting me and dosing me with 250 mg of Welbutrin so I wouldn’t leave her abuse…  there were good times with her. In my mother’s addled mind, we were only ever the Gilmore Girls, laughing over B movies and eating raw cookie dough. The mind of the mentally ill cannot be deciphered, so I don’t know how she rationalizes all of those other things, if she even acknowledges them. All I know is that she’s sitting at home on Mother’s Day, wondering what happened, why her babies don’t love her, while I’m sitting at home desperately missing the woman who hid the Easter eggs twenty times, because I had so much fun searching for them.

To this day, my big, tough, redneck dad still tears up talking about the mistakes he made. I’m the one who assures him it’s all good. There’s nothing to be done about it, not a DeLorean in sight, and we can go from here. I’ve tried that so many times with my mother and it’s ended the exact same way each and every time as I hysterically weep into the phone to either Gail or my Gramma that I wish Kitty Forman was my mom.

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The last time I initiated contact with my mother was two years ago. I say initiated, because she’s taken to showing up at my work, claiming there’s something physically wrong with her, deliberately speaking in stilted sentences and walking slowly. She’s told me herself the doctors can’t find anything and I’ve watched her become animated and drop the act as she gets engaged in conversation. My grandpa was our pediatrician and although he loved my mother, he thought she was making us sick, long before such things were used as plot twists in horror movies and Law and Order episodes. Today, either she or her husband is doing the same and I just can’t be a part of it. She refuses to get mental help and I refuse to entertain her insanity. I’m at a point in my life where I have to choose, and I choose me and my future family. So, today, as all the normal folks purchase flowers, take their mothers to lunch and movies, I think of all the future moments for which I won’t have a mom.

My mother won’t be there to help me choose a wedding dress, argue about how I have to have flowers, or even meet Jake, because I can’t invite her to the wedding. She’s burned too many bridges and too many people are uncomfortable around her, myself included. She won’t be able to guide me through my first pregnancy or answer questions about how to get the baby to stop crying. She’ll never take a three generations photograph on Mother’s Day, with me and my daughter. I won’t even have anyone to walk me through basic aging, like grey hair and menopause. I have so many good people in my life, including many who mother me, like Gail, my Gramma, Laura, Karol, my step-mom Lena, my Grandma Kay, and most certainly a mother-in-law one day. I’ll never have my mom, though… just a shell who resembles her less and less… and that hurts more than her absence. I suppose that’s just how it goes for the children of the mentally ill and you all have my sympathy.

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Things I Will Not Do as an Adult, Wife, and Mother

Gail’s engaged, y’all.

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I know, I know. After she’d lived with Terry for three and a half years, we’d all pretty much lost hope, but there it is: my best friend is getting married. Some people do buy the cow.

While some of the most pertinent to me, Gail’s pending nuptials are hardly the only big life news being announced. It seems anyone who isn’t planning a first wedding is subtly reclaiming their maiden name. What can I say? We’ve got a lot of twenty-something divorcees, here in the South. The rest are planning babies… possibly numbers two and three. We’re growing up. My Facebook feed is no longer flooded with beer pong photos and 4/20 shout-outs, not even college graduation pictures and new job announcements. Even the engagement announcements are usually for the aforementioned divorcees or some of mine and Jake’s younger friends. Today, it’s all babies and mortgages… and that’s awesome. Truly.

Everyone I know is complaining about getting older, but I would so much rather be 28 and where I am than 22 and where I was. Life is good and I aim to keep it that way, which is why I’m baffled at why so many of my peers are doing such awful things they don’t want to do. I’m sure many who read this will chuckle with a patronizing “Oh, you’ll see, when it’s your turn,” just as my parent acquaintances who hear me say my kids won’t have cell phones chuckle with the same comment, while wondering why their own children are such lazy assholes. I don’t care, because there are pins and posts all over Pinterest and Facebook that make both adulthood and parenthood sound awful and exhausting. Adults today are screwing themselves and if Future Belle reads this list and shakes her head, I hope she’ll at least consider the reminder of the things she once swore were neither healthy nor beneficial to anyone involved. Such as…

Having an Elaborate Wedding
Y’all, when Gail told me about her upcoming wedding, I immediately started hyperventilating about my own. It wasn’t because I expect Jake to propose soon, but because if ever and whenever he does, at this point, I know I’ll say yes. My stars, does it sound wonderful to actually be married to such a genuinely good man… but the part where we get married? I’ll pass. Is passing an option?

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Jake loves weddings, so it’s really not. Yes, I found the one man who thinks weddings are so hunky dory that he’s been in like ten of them. That’s not even an exaggerative Belle-isim. I frequently joke that his online dating headline was “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” For Jake, a boy, a wedding is an awesome party where he and his best friends dress to the nines and enjoy free food and booze. Not until he got himself a researcher for a girlfriend did Jake know that the average cost of a wedding is $26,444.* When I look at pictures of other people’s weddings, the obvious expense stresses me out. It’s a party, y’all. It just happens to be one where I’m expected to spend $200 on engagement photos, $900 on invitations, $1,500 on flowers and decorations, and $700 on wedding favors.*

You know what my wedding favors are going to be? Free food and booze. That’s it. I’m not paying hundreds of dollars to have flash drives or plastic stadium cups or even cutesy Hershey bars made that no one will remember. That also means no programs, or rustic wooden backdrops, or burlap… ugggggh, the fucking burlap…, or twinkle lights, or mason jar chandeliers, or lace tablecloths. I’m not spending the first hour of my reception taking photos that look like I’m cutting a cake, even though I’m not really cutting a cake, and another 30 minutes personally thanking each person for coming. My perfect wedding plans involve butcher paper, crayons, and Sam’s Club cupcakes and if Jake will let me get away with it, that’s what I’ll do. I want to have fun and I want to do it on the cheap. I’m not missing my own wedding, because Pinterest told me I’d forever regret not taking a photo where Jake and I spell out L-O-V-E with our hands while laughing in a field of blue bonnets. I’m also not going into debt for a party. I. Will. Not.

Altering or Defending My Choices About Adulthood/Mommyhood
Jake and I talk about money more than I would imagine most married people do. I think it’s great that he’s so opposed to any and all debt, but this means that we would likely not buy a house until my student loans are cleared, in which case we’d buy outright. Now, as heartbreaking as a future without Jake sounds, I have always maintained a Belle Goes Solo version, as well. In this, I still wait until my loans have been cleared, because only at that point can I afford both a mortgage and a new roof. In short, with or without Jake, I will not be a homeowner until I am at least 36 years old.

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For some reason, in the South, owning a home is the pinnacle of adulthood, regardless of whether or not you can afford it. I’ve been told numerous times that renting is “wasting money,” but until you’re paying on the principle, “owning” is exactly the same, except for the part where you replace your own roof. While Solo Belle likely wouldn’t have any other choice than to take a mortgage, Jake and I wouldn’t be “wasting” any money renting that we wouldn’t be paying in interest and upkeep. For us, buying outright is the most desirable option. That wasn’t the case for Gail and Catherine, who are both thrilled to have recently bought homes the traditional way and more power to them. I’m not going to defend my choice not to buy before I’m ready, though, to anyone with whom I wouldn’t discuss any other financial matters. Nor will I defend my choice not to roll the existing loan on my used car into the price of a new one, which I might add is terrible advice, Dad. While we’re at it, I’m also not defending the aforementioned student loans, because it’s my money that I dedicated to build my career.

It amazes me that people will ask a near stranger about their finances, but this pales in comparison to the audacity it takes to ask a woman about her Mommyhood choices. My birth plan is to be high as a kite. I’m going to vaccinate. I will never breastfeed. In regards to my birth plan, anything and everything involving my vagina is and will remain private. I’ve had friends criticize me for my breastfeeding decision, though, and I don’t have children. I had a reduction at fifteen and can’t breastfeed, but it’s bizarre to me that I’m supposed to explain this to a nosy woman in the grocery store who tells me “breast is best.” I swear on the sorcerer’s stone that if anyone ever says that to me, I will at the very least respond with “so is minding your own business.” I’ve heard women complain that a stranger scolded them for not having shoes on their baby in a carrier, in July. I’ve listened to friends complain that a lady at the gas station mocked them for extended rear-facing.

I didn’t say a word when Jake and I had hibachi for dinner the other day with a four-year-old who spent the entire time loudly laughing at a tablet, even though I thought it was unimaginably rude to ignore the chef’s show and disturb the other diners. It’s not my business or my problem that you’re raising a disrespectful little shit, just as it’s none of yours that my child will have horrible detachment issues, night terrors, a desire to harm small animals, or whatever it is that people think results from formula feeding. Why are we, as capable adults, answering to these rude and nosy people?!?!

Spending More Time and Money on My Children’s Happiness than Mine
Oh em jingles have parents today made the whole gig harder. I admit, I’m not a parent, but that means I can be entirely objective when I ask: why are you people exhausting yourselves over your Pinterest orders?!?! Y’all can’t just wrap presents as a couple, while eating cookies, on Christmas Eve. You have to spend the month of December coming up with increasingly complex and elaborate Elf on the Shelf scenes. You can’t just take everyone’s favorite fruit snacks to pre-k. You have to stay up all night making strawberries that look like lady bugs, because heaven forbid your children eat anything non-organic. You can’t buy the one time use Halloween costume at Wal-Mart. You have to spend $120 on Etsy, so your daughter can look more like Elsa than the 47 other Elsas at the church carnival. I don’t know about you guys, but my skating rink birthday parties, where someone else made the cake and did the cleaning, made for great memories. Your children don’t need tiered cakes to make them happy, or at least they didn’t until you started convincing them that tiered cakes were for anything other than weddings.

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I understand that some people genuinely love making cutesy snacks or complicated costumes or designing unique family t-shirts for the Disney trip. I, myself, will be the parent who plans elaborate birthday parties, because I love birthdays. I struggle with the idea that anyone genuinely enjoys being expected to do all of these things. Maybe it really does fill you with joy to buy your seven-year-old that pair of $120 basketball shoes or give your 12-year-old the Uggs she so desperately wants. I’m not saying that I’m never going to do nice things for my children or enjoy making them happy. I’m saying that I’m not going to spend all of my time and all of my financial resources satisfying their every whim. I’m not neglecting my marriage or my retirement fund for my children, with the exception of some life-threatening illness. I’m not going to scratch my head over why my sex life is nonexistent as I, once again, lie in a bed with all three of my children between my husband and I. I’m not buying the newest game system, planning a trip to Disney World, and paying for brand new fencing equipment for my beginner fencer.

By today’s standards, maybe it makes me selfish to say it, but building a happy marriage and strong financial future will come before my children. If we took a family vacation one year and only have the means for one big trip the next year, the kids can have a fun-filled week with grandma and grandpa, while mom and dad remember why they got married. Given the choice between a good night’s sleep and my child having the most convincing costume for Dress as Your Hero day, I choose sleep. I also choose $80 worth of groceries over $80 worth of costume supplies.

It’s wonderful that our society cares so much about children, but we’re all so fucking miserable, because we’ve been told we’re supposed to stop caring about ourselves. I’ll tell you from experience though, that having mentally and financially stable parents who loved each other would’ve trumped the MacBook every day of the week.

Citations

http://www.costofwedding.com/

Why My Boyfriend Will Never Live with Me

As I mentioned in my post Why My Boyfriend Will Never Be at Christmas, being in a serious relationship involves answering to a lot of people. Yeah, yeah, I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my life choices and all that feminist mumbo jumbo, but that’s a wee bit easier said than done when you’ve got a family as nosy and opinionated as mine.

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The troublesome thing about a large family, spanning several generations, is that they can’t seem to actually agree on any of these opinions, no matter what decibel they happen to reach in their attempts. As a result, I’ve heard every argument for and against living together before marriage and can address each of them accordingly, to explain why it’s not happening for Jake and me.

This is our last chance to live alone.

It’s no secret that Jake and I are discussing marriage.

Jake: “If I’m going like, bare bones, I could maybe keep it down to four.”
Me: “Oh my gosh, you are such a diva. I’m dating Kate Middleton.”
Jake: “I have a lot of friends! I have to include Aaron, Jason, Craig, and James.”
Me: “I assumed Aaron and Jason, but you don’t even like Craig and I’ve never even heard you mention James.”
Jake: “I like Craig… sort of… but I have to have my brother in my wedding and you have too heard me mention James.”
Me: “Fine. Bare bones it, then, because I may have 12 female friends, but I do not have 12 female friends who can handle being bridesmaids together. You get four groomsmen.”

It may be mostly hypothetical still, but all the same, we’re not shy about planning our lives together.

Jake: “My sister was herding cattle at eight months pregnant.”
Me: “I am gonna love hearing that story when I’m eight months pregnant.”

Jake and I have been together for ten wonderful months and things are progressing at a steady and healthy pace. I love him. He’s a good man. He’s responsible, yet fun. He’s never let me down. He’ll be a great husband and a great father. Laura’s contributed a slightly abnormal amount to my private Pinterest wedding board, after jumping into rustic wedding planning minutes after meeting Jake, who did not bat an eye. Things are good and it’s quite likely that marriage is happening… so I’m gonna enjoy this shit while it lasts.

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I have a hard time leaving Jake each time we see each other. I get all weepy-eyed, because women are all little bitches as they get older and I wish I could fast forward to a time when I get to see him every day. Then, I reenter my own life and remember that there are a lot of really great and unique aspects to living alone, that no matter how hard they try, cohabitating couples cannot honestly say they still get to enjoy in the same way I do.

A couple of months ago, I got some great news. My apartment complex has changed its pet policy and I get to get a kitten! I have wanted a black cat for years, y’all. Jake, however, has not been subtle in his dislike of cats. He also realizes that, in absence of any allergies, irrational fears, or some kind of pet hoarding situation, it really wouldn’t be fair for him to dictate whether or not I could add a feline to the household. We’ve agreed that this is my decision and one with which he can live, but that if we’re sharing a home, new pets take unanimous agreement… and that’s never happening with future cats. When Jake and I marry, we’ll have to agree both on new pets and their names. Right now, though, I get to get a little black kitten and name him Thackery Binx and that’s awesome.

It’s not just the commitment of new pets, that Jake and I will have to agree on once we live together. We’ll have to unite on essentially every decorative issue, because Jake has an opinion on everything. This past weekend, we ended up in a furniture shop together and I’m pleased to say, we were able to find a lot of middle ground on the household décor… which is great, because we hugely disagree on the seasonal décor. That’s right, folks; the hot pink Christmas tree likely only has the one year left. It’s probably my last chance to decorate like it’s Babes in Toyland, because Christmas 2017 will be full of faux snow covered greenery and live Christmas trees. It’ll be beautiful, sure, and not only because it’ll be ours, but it’ll never again be mine. I am facing my last Girl Christmas in my Girl Apartment and that’s a little bittersweet.

Even household and seasonal décor are somewhat weightier issues, than the day to day things Jake and I will both be giving up to join our lives one day. As of now, if Jake wants to go on a video game binge and spend four days beating the latest Halo or Fallout game, he can do so. If I want to bomb the living room with fabric squares and straight pin landmines, I’m the only person around to complain about the blood. Jake can watch plotless boy movie after plotless boy movie at his place, because I’m having a Roswell marathon at mine. Sure, we can do these things when we live together… in moderation. When you live alone, you don’t have to moderate anything, from hobbies to meals (who wants sweet potato fries and breakfast sausage for dinner?!?!) to midnight dance marathons with the dog. I can have girls’ nights in or out and play the same song on repeat and drunkenly rant about Titanic and there’s no one around to be annoyed… except my downstairs neighbors, but that’s a different issue. Why would I give all that up for any reason but the true commitment that is marriage?

It’s a commitment all it’s own, while still not being a valid test of marriage.

I hear all the time that living together is a true test of being married to someone, without all that pesky entrapment. I call shenanigans, specifically on that last bit. You’re putting your name on utility contracts and a lease with someone, or worse, not putting your name on someone else’s utility contracts and lease, trusting that they’re going to step up financially and not kick you out or get you evicted… without the feelings of love and commitment that are singular to marriage. You both want to maintain a way out, just in case you’re not ready for marriage… but you’re going to share finances. Oh, you’re not going to share finances and you’ll just split it down the middle? Well, then, that’s specifically not a test of marriage, in my case. Jake and I have talked about money, a lot. One of the many reasons we don’t want to live together is because when we share financial responsibilities, we want to do so with the model we’ll use in a marriage, which is full inclusion and disclosure. Right now, if Jake wants to buy a new handgun on a whim, or if I want to buy a new Kindle on the installment plan offered, we do so without permission or even necessarily discussion. Keeping our finances separate while sharing bills, though, sounds like a great way to muddy the waters and set bad habits for the relationship we want to share as husband and wife.

I know, I know, people aren’t just talking about money when they declare living together to be the ultimate test. I’ve heard it dozens of times: “You don’t truly know a person until you live with them.” Why? Why can’t two adults be completely and totally honest with one another, about who they are and what they want in life? Jake and I aren’t 19-year-olds intent on convincing one another that we have no bad habits or gross bodily functions. We won’t live together before marriage, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t spent large blocks of time together. Jake knows I use a menstrual cup and I’ve watched him stir his whiskey and Coke with his own toothbrush. Humans are gross and we’re fully aware.

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People are often referencing bad habits, here, and my response is the same. Jake and I have been completely honest with each other. I know he’s stubborn as an ox with a vendetta and that he won’t throw his shirts away, no matter how many holes are in them. He knows I suck my thumb and find any excuse not to wear pants, even if it means getting “ready for bed” at 6:00. Sure, we both do some inconsiderate things separately, as seen in my absolute refusal to fold laundry and his insistence on leaving his boots and weights in the floor for me to trip over and die at night. That doesn’t mean we’d be so inconsiderate together and if we slip up, so what? We’ll work through it. Bad habits shouldn’t be a deal breaker in what you’re thinking might be a lifelong relationship, if you’re even relatively respectful people. The things that matter, like his follow-through, my ability to control my emotions when I’m upset, his work ethic and determination to provide, my need to contribute to my own well-being… those things aren’t negotiable, nor are they only realized when you move in together. If Jake is always willing to bring home a paycheck, I think I can get over the fact that he fills the bathroom soap dispenser with one part Dawn and two parts water.

There’s an intimacy in living together.

I don’t believe that people who don’t live together don’t truly know each other, at least not to the extent that they won’t be able to stomach one another long-term. I admit, though, that until we’ve lived together, Jake and I won’t necessarily understand every facet of our personalities. I’ve never hidden my mommy issues from Jake. On the contrary, I’ve been very open and matter-of-fact, both about why we don’t talk and how the whole thing makes me feel. It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll realize how truly devastating the whole thing can be for me, until he’s my shoulder to cry on on a more consistent basis.

Similarly, I’ve only seen Jake genuinely angry one or two times. It’s enough that I know he’s not irrational or aggressive in this state, but not enough to know how to comfort him or take his mind off things. We both know the things we need to know about one another to promise forever. We don’t know each other with the familiarity of an old married couple… and that’s wonderful. I love that Jake and I will be able to share, only with each other, the intimacy of day to day married life. Yeah, yeah, there was that one time I was married, but that was so fucking miserable that it never even resembled what I’m referencing.

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There are always going to be things you haven’t experienced together and that’s part of the gamble of marriage. Sure, you can cite “what if you can’t stand the way he pees with the bathroom door open?” as a reason to live together first, but you could also ask “what if you hate the way he tells your son that boys don’t cry?” Does that mean we should all raise children together before saying our vows, just in case? There are no guarantees, says this divorcee, so why shouldn’t we save the truly precious moments for marriage?

It’s cheaper and the social stigma is gone.

I admit, I’ve been Googling reasons to live together before marriage, so I could choose the ones I’ve heard most frequently and find the most ridiculous. These were, by far, the worst.

It’s cheaper? Really? I’m not going to make a lifelong commitment based on the idea that I’ll now have someone to split the electric bill with me. Perhaps this is so deeply irrational to me, because Jake and I live in the middle of the country. I pay $545 for my two bedroom, two bathroom apartment, with washer and dryer hookups and I make just under $50,000 a year. Sure, moving in with Jake and splitting the bills would ease some of my financial burden, but it’s not that big of a burden. If it were, getting a roommate would have the same benefit without the weird pretend commitment that comes with living together. On that note…

I’m aware that the stigma toward cohabitating is gone. That’s great. It’s no one else’s business what people decide on this matter. I know a lot of people feel like moving in together is a step on the way to marriage and they’re excited to enter a new stage of their relationship. More power to them/I wish them the best/[insert disclaimer here] because I do not care about other people’s choices that effect only them. For me, though, if Jake asked me to move in with him, my response would be “Wow! He wants all of the perks of marriage with none of the risk or responsibility! Swoon!”

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The societal stigma may be gone. In fact, it may lean in the opposite direction, these days. That doesn’t mean that I’m ever going to be comfortable with Jake and I living together before marriage. That’s okay, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation and I don’t owe anyone an explanation for why my boyfriend and I will never live together… but I’ll continue to give it, because telling people to mind their own fucking business tends to ruin the pool party, even in my family.

 

Visiting the Family Ranch

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That sounds so made up.

Last Friday, I drove straight from work to spend the weekend with Jake, in Wellston. Lately, my grandma has been dubbed Beagle Sitter, so I didn’t have to go home to get Jude and the other supervisory librarian was comfortable with my leaving an hour early, to make up for a previous late day. Still, Wellston is an hour from Shetland and an hour and a half from the Northside Library, so it was quite the trek and I was glad I’d be getting nearly three days with Jake for my efforts, since I’d arranged to work the evening shift on Monday. I was both hungry and tired when I arrived in Wellston, as was Jake, after working nights on the rig for a week. Neither of us objected to going to bed early, knowing that we’d be attending Jake’s nieces’ basketball games, first thing in the morning.

Y’all, we have officially entered new territory. I am no longer being introduced. I’m being included. This was not a meet and greet, but a family event.

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Having previously met everyone, I wasn’t caught up in a lot of pleasantries with Jake’s family. His brother-in-law, Cody, seemed friendly enough, while his sister, May, briefly said hello between plays, as she was coaching a herd of five-year-olds, her daughter Lucy included. Jake’s nine-year-old niece, Shana, seemed shy, so Jake and I were mostly left to enjoy the game. I don’t know what Jake looked for in me, as I watched his nieces play… perhaps nothing. What I noticed, however, was how wonderfully supportive his entire family was of this slightly silly game. I also admired how patiently his sister coached, without coddling. I couldn’t help but think how much more I might’ve enjoyed sports had I been taught with such positivity.

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On second thought… nah.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for actually playing sports, I enjoyed watching. From an educator’s standpoint, I found the teaching methods fascinating. As a woman with working ovaries, I found Jake’s open interest and encouragement quite appealing. It’s a good thing, too, because Lucy’s game was immediately followed by Shana’s, in a nearby town.

As I set my stuff down, at the next game, and turned to sit next to Jake, I noticed my seat had been stolen by Lucy, who just looked up at me and grinned. She is, clearly, her Uncle Jake’s smallest fan. Not wanting to deprive either of them of their bonding time, I took a seat on her opposite side and, surprisingly, got the chance to bond, myself. Lucy is both ornerier and more outgoing than Shana and she chattered away with me as I snuck her m&m’s, because a little bribery never hurt anyone. Together, we teased Jake, who teased us in turn.

Jake: “I won a trophy just the other weekend.”
He was referring to the trophy he’d won at the engagement party, as the champion of a drunken carnival game.
Me: “It wasn’t a real trophy, and he cried when he didn’t win the other one.”
He was genuinely mad that his teammate lost him the title of Beer Pong Champion.
Lucy: “Ha ha. You cried!
Jake: “I didn’t cry. pouted.

There are a lot of different ways in which I find Jake attractive, but none of them have ever matched watching him snuggle and talk with his niece as he cheered the other one on at a game that was going quite poorly. At 28, you just don’t care about his six pack. It’s all about dad potential.

This game led to Dairy Queen for the kids and Chinese food for the adults. Afterward, we went directly to Jake’s sister’s trailer, where we all chatted and helped Jake’s parents with their new tablet. The entire day had been spent with Jake’s family, but it was nice to get to know them better, without the pressure of a First Meeting. Knowing we’d have time the next day, I wasn’t bothered, until…

Mrs. Granger: “Your Uncle Benny’s coming down to the ranch to go quail hunting. He wanted you to go with him.”
Jake: “Yeah. Dad told me. I may do that.”
Mr. Granger: “You comin’ down first thing in the morning?”
Jake: “Well, I don’t know if I’ll come down first thing.”

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We hadn’t seen each other for nearly two weeks and now he wanted to ditch me? On the one hand, I didn’t want to tell him that he couldn’t do something, or manipulate him into feeling that way. Jake had already mentioned how limited his time to go quail hunting would be, with his work schedule. On the other hand, we’d specifically planned to spend the weekend together. Not wanting to discuss it in front of his family, but unable to completely hide my hurt feelings, I got kind of quiet, until we got in Jake’s truck.

Jake: “You okay? You’re kind of quiet.”
Me: “I’m… um… I just… I’m good.”
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Jake: “‘Feelings are for the inside?'”
Me: “Um… yeah. They belong with the last Horcrux… it’s just… I had a great time with your family. I enjoyed getting to know them better, but I thought we’d have time tomorrow, because we planned to spend the whole weekend together. That’s why my Gramma has my dog and I even arranged to go into work later on Monday. Now you’re leaving the state to go hunting and I feel like you’re just ditching me. I don’t wanna tell you not to go, because I know you want to hunt with your uncle, but we had plans and it hurts my feelings.”
Jake: “Well, you can come. I wasn’t just going to leave you.”
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Me: “Why… why would I assume that? I’ve never been to your family’s ranch. You’ve never mentioned taking me and I’ve met your parents twice.”

The most functional part of mine and Jake’s relationship is how we communicate. At no point did either of us raise our voices. We were both genuinely surprised by the other person’s assumption. Jake was truly sorry he’d made me feel as if he didn’t value his time with me and I was excited that he wanted me to see his family’s ranch. So, the next morning, we got up early and headed further south to The Granger Ranch.

Y’all, I am not pulling a Belle-esque exaggeration here, where I make some hyperbolic statement and assume you’ll read it as such. The Granger Ranch is a legit, fully functioning ranch. This is the family legacy, which Jake made it more or less clear, will one day be the subject of the Granger boys’ prenups. Over 2,000 acres, a 3,000+ square foot house, hundreds of red angus, and a custom brand comprise the multi-million dollar ranch run by Jake’s parents and his brother. Jake occasionally assists, but tries to distance himself, because he does not want to be a cattle rancher. This, folks, is why I worried that Jake’s friends might think I was after his money, as he’s currently one third of the eventual ownership. His brother Craig’s girlfriend, Matilda, is why I worried Jake’s family would think I was after his money, as she seems to be. I can only assume that this is also why Jake’s mom was so… cool to me, after Jake left me at the house, to go hunting with his uncle for a few hours.

Mrs. Granger: “So, Belle. You don’t like this stuff at all?”
Me: “What?”
Mrs. Granger: “Going out in the pasture, seeing the ranch?”
Me: “No, I do. I just don’t think I’d take to quail hunting and I know Jake really wanted time with his uncle. I didn’t want to intrude.”

I tried a few times to engage Mrs. Granger in more conversation, offering to help her clean the breakfast dishes, but she didn’t seem eager. Soon after, Craig stopped by and briefly said hello. Not wanting to push myself on anyone, I sat down and crocheted a hat for Jake’s smallest niece, Chloe, with the yarn he’d bought me on the way, so I’d have something to do. After I showed Mrs. Granger what I’d made, she seemed impressed and asked if I’d like to go with her and Mr. Granger to find Jake and his uncle and see the ranch. She seemed pretty surprised when I was eager.

As we rode in the high-end ATV, Mrs. Granger began to point things out on the ranch, like the windmill she’d requested for Christmas a few years past. She seemed pleasantly surprised that, while I wasn’t necessarily knowledgeable about country life, I was interested. For a good 45 minutes to an hour, the Grangers drove me over the ranch, telling me all about their land, while lovingly sniping at each other. When Mrs. Granger snapped at her husband to quit going over so many bumps and he sped up, I couldn’t help but think that Jake is definitely his father’s son. Eventually, we found Jake and Benny and took Jake to retrieve the tractor to pull his uncle’s truck out of the mud. A boy riding a tractor…

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Jake: “What are you doin’?”
Me: “Chillin’ with your parents.”
Jake: “You havin’ fun?”
Me: “Yup. I love you.”
Jake: “Love you, too.”

Then he kissed me in front of his mom. Sigh.

Not wanting to be in Mrs. Granger’s way, when we got back, I walked down to the horses I’d seen and talked to them and petted them for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. I didn’t realize it, but Mrs. Granger had been watching from the kitchen window. It was like talking to a different person, when I returned. She told me who Jake was in high school and asked if I could tell the difference between him and Craig in old photos. I’ve known for months that she’s a bit high-strung, often worrying needlessly, but I could see how deeply rooted in love that was. She’s a good mom. Mr. Granger is a good dad. May is a good sister and mom. We had a dinner of ribs and homemade pecan pie, and headed on our way.

Me: “I think they liked me. I liked them a lot. Your sister seems like such a good mom. I’m glad I like her, because…”
Jake: “… you hate your sister-in-law so much?”
Me: “Well, kind of, yeah. I’m not proposing, but it would really suck to have two sisters-in-law I didn’t get along with one day. That’s kind of the same reason I like your mom so much. She may be a little high-strung, but her intentions are good. She’s a really good person.”

A few days later, Jake and I talked on the phone, after he’d gone back to the ranch to quail hunt for another day.

Jake: “Yeah, I asked her, kind of trying to catch her off guard, ‘So, do you like Belle?’ She goes, ‘Yeah, she’s real sweet. She’ll actually talk to ya. She’s a lot better than Matilda.”
Me: “Woot! I’m the favorite. Does she seriously hate her that much?”
Jake: “Well, apparently Craig called to say he and Matilda were going to come over for dinner and mom told him not to, claimed we didn’t have enough ribs. When I told her we had plenty she snapped ‘The only time that woman comes around is when dinner is served!'”

For reasons best not detailed, at this time, I don’t really blame Mrs. Granger for this. The situation sounds like Matilda probably is after Craig’s money, but at the very least, she’s a controlling woman who doesn’t want him to have much to do with his family. I also see it as promising that Mrs. Granger is just as forthright as her son. My own family has always been loud and opinionated, never leaving you to wonder where you stand. That, I can do. Fake, I cannot. Overall, I am beyond thrilled that Mrs. Granger likes me, because she is clearly the one to please as Jake and I continue to grow closer… and that we do.

Jake: “So, do you want to go somewhere the week after next?”
Me: “What?”
Jake: “You have some time off, don’t you? Do you want to go to Ruidoso and ski?”
Me: “I have Friday through Tuesday off. Are you serious?”
Jake: “Well, yeah. Let me look at my budget. I’ll let you know for sure.”

He called just a few days later to tell me he’d booked a room. I didn’t have to plan anything. I just have to go to Wellston on Friday morning, right after I get my last Gardasil shot, and we’ll head out from there to spend our first weekend together that will actually involve sex. I’ll hyperventilate later. Right now, I’m too excited.

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