My Escape From Social Media

I am a millennial in every sense. I haven’t had cable for years. I go nowhere without my Kindle. I use a tablet at work, instead of a notebook. I have six figure student loan debt, for a degree that no one thought could make a career (suck it bitches). More than once, I’ve answered the phone with “Did you mean to call me?”, because what year is it and why aren’t you texting? I met my husband on a dating app. I actually started typing this blog post on my smartphone. I love technology and all the ways it makes my life easier and makes me more connected. So, naturally, I’ve been an avid user of computers and social media for… well, my entire life.

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In middle school, it was AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger. I’d get home from school and chat with my friends all night long, while posting comments and reading articles on gurl.com, browsing online at Delia’s, or participating in a Roswell RPG chat room. Eventually, I took up blogging, with Xanga, and graduated to Myspace, when the time was right. At 21, I joined Facebook and have never once deactivated it, since. I tried Twitter, but quickly realized I care very little about the lives of celebrities and ultimately deleted it. Instagram filters drove me mad, but I enjoyed the photos of friends from high school and world travelers I’d never meet, so I maintained a lazy relationship with it, which consisted mostly of cat photos. Despite it’s peaks and valleys in popularity, however, Facebook was consistently my jam.

I think my Facebook obsession can be attributed, in part, to having lived alone for so long. While I enjoyed my single girl peace and freedom, living alone could be, well… lonely. Facebook made me feel connected, especially once messenger took off. I could be at home and still be in contact with acquaintances, friends, and family. I could both play the hermit and be in-in-the-know about everyone from high school. I could strike up a conversation with any random friend from the 9th grade and ask what was going on in their lives. We could get lunch or a drink and catch up, and we did on multiple occasions. I was never truly alone, as long as I was on Facebook and that was comforting when I was alone in every other sense. Because I lived by myself, I never worried about my relationship with social media. Who cared if I spent two hours on the couch, thumbing through my newsfeed, reading linked articles, or falling prey to Modcloth advertisements? With the dog curled up in my lap, I was neglecting no one.

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Gail has always had a love/hate, on/off relationship with social media, deleting and reactivating her account on the regular. I, however, only stopped rolling my eyes at her and started to consider my own Facebook usage, around the time I met Jake. If things went well, I’d eventually be living with another person, and I couldn’t neglect them for my phone. In a sense, however, it remained Future Belle’s problem. I saw no need to immediately cut back. Then, the Mother’s Day before last, I saw the post of a friend of a friend, the result of Facebook’s annoying practice of displaying every item a friend likes or comments on, instead of just their own posts. She was sharing the ‘About My Mom’ worksheet her daughter had completed at school, stating from her daughter’s perspective, what she did for a living, her favorite color, how old she was, and what she liked to do. It was that last one that stuck in my mind.

“My mom likes to…”
“… play with her phone.”

Several people thought this was adorable. Maybe I’m a judgmental cow, but I thought it was deeply depressing. There are so many ways my hypothetical children could respond to this question:

“Play with daddy”
“Read”
“Crochet”
“Play with me”

I think the most horrifying one would be “play with her phone.” I don’t want my kids to remember me with a smartphone plastered to my hand like some kind of nuclear fallout victim. I don’t want them to keep things from me, because my default setting is to ignore them for technology. I don’t want to look at my 18-year-old and realize I missed her childhood to keep up with people from high school I didn’t even like enough to attend my reunions. I especially don’t want my children to think that I care more about how fun our daily lives, holidays, and vacations appear to be than how fun they actually are. It was at that point that I realized, Gail was right, and I would need to extricate myself from Facebook, entirely… eventually.

Indeed, after I got married, I realized social media was taking me out of the moment. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures and actually carried a film camera around with me throughout high school, but I wasn’t just chronicling our memories for us. I was reporting my every moment to everyone I’d ever met… and it was none of their business. It was starting to make me a bit uncomfortable, sharing so much with people I barely knew, but when I cleaned out my friends, I’d feel guilty when they requested to follow me again. I began to post less. When I wasn’t posting, though, I was constantly checking the feed and responding to Messenger. I was immediately available to every person on my friends list, no matter how remote. It reminded me of the way I used to watch TV, not as something I actually enjoyed, but because it was present and easy and just plain addictive… and it ultimately kept me from doing and/or discovering those things I did enjoy.

I thought a lot about my long term relationship with social media. I considered my already exhausted parent friends, further worn out by the virtual mommy wars telling them they could never do anything right. I thought about the girl from high school who shared pictures of her twin girls’ naked baby butts at bath time, my cousin who shared photos of her five-year-old in a bikini posing like a grown up, the guy from high school who was charged with soliciting teen boys, the IT guy of the local school district who was just arrested for distributing child pornography. If I was uncomfortable with strangers looking at pictures of me, I really didn’t want them looking at pictures of my children, one day. With children just around the corner, no longer was I worried about just my time and personal privacy, but that of my eventual family and my well-being as a parent.

I definitely needed to pull back and knew it would be hard to make such a change after having a baby; so, several months ago, I decided to delete the app from my phone to lessen my own posts and scrolling. When that didn’t work and I found myself just using the browser, I decided I would keep the app, but stay logged out and only check it once a day. I’d only use it at work or I’d only use it before work or I’d only sign on for Messenger or I’d only check it for an hour once a week. Back and forth I went, with variations on Social Media Light, month after month, lending just as much head space to not being on Facebook as I did to being on Facebook… and failing miserably in each attempt.

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Then, six weeks ago, the final girl drama broke out among my friends and I decided I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t spend so much energy on cattiness and gossip and drama… and in addition to all of the aforementioned problems, Facebook had made these things that much worse, with friends, family, and even complete strangers. The group chats and photos of events that excluded me… the family dinners and evenings out that I was never invited to… the controversial virtual slap-fights with friends of friends of friends… it was all so draining and beyond ridiculous that an online relationship could affect a real one. So, on a whim, I deactivated my account and deleted messenger.

I’ll be straight with you, folks. In the beginning, I thought I was being rash. I knew I would reactivate to check in on the goings on of my friends and high school acquaintances, the happenings of the library world, the photos my family shared…and I did spend the first couple of days picking up my phone, only to remember I didn’t have a reason. I quickly realized, however, how little I missed updates from people I never really knew, political commentary from both extremes, affirmations in the form of likes and comments.

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In the first week without Facebook, I crocheted three hats, sewed my Christmas stockings, finished three books, called my Gramma several times, and cleaned the house. Jake was gone hunting that weekend and I watched all five Twilight movies while crafting all night. I actually met up, in person, with friends I’d previously neglected, because I’d felt like we were somehow still virtually connected.  I had so much fun and felt so rested. No longer did I wonder why I felt like I was working constantly, despite a pretty consistent 40 hour work week, because I was reading endless posts on library boards. No longer did I snap at Jake that I couldn’t discuss some current event for another second, because I’d spent the day reading every possible viewpoint of the church shooting online. No longer did I feel completely emotionally exhausted with other people’s drama and opinions. It was so life-altering that I signed into Facebook one last time: to download my information and request permanent deletion. I followed this with similar requests for Instagram and Pinterest, to avoid replacing one vice with another.

Over the next few weeks, I was more productive at work and more energized at home. Jake and I had more sex and valuable conversations and I actually experienced movies and shows and nights out with him far more, because I wasn’t checking Facebook every 10 minutes. When my Gramma told me she was disappointed that she couldn’t see my pictures anymore, I created an immediate friends and family only Instagram and showed her how to follow it, finding it far less tempting to share only photos or scroll through the photos of about 20 people. I put the account under a false name and denied acquaintances who’d previously followed me, because I don’t owe them anything. When my family expressed their horror that I’d deleted my Facebook account, I reminded them that my phone still works. 

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but in time, I’ve come to realize that I value privacy more than being connected. Perhaps it’s simply because a live person now takes priority over virtual ones. Perhaps, it’s because I have more free time and realize the sheer volume I’ve been wasting. Perhaps, it’s just because so much natural distance has formed between myself and the people I was once knew. It sounds trite, surely, but without social media, I feel free… free to pursue healthier friendships, take up more fulfilling hobbies, have conversations with family and friends about things they haven’t already read about on Facebook. I feel free to continue blogging anonymously about my life, without the discomfort of people I barely remember knowing the intimate details, because I need an outlet. I feel free to look back on my life one day and not regret that I missed out on it for a virtual one, because I’m afraid that’s going to be the case for so many.

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I admit that some people can have a healthier relationship with social media, than I. Maybe they aren’t millennials, used to a technology driven world. Maybe they don’t have jobs that place them in front of a computer, with a healthy dose of downtime. Maybe they just have better self control. I, however, am glad for my escape from social media.

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Single for the Weekend

I always sort of scoffed at the idea that opposites attract… until I fell in love with Jake.

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You see, Jake is literally the most outgoing person I’ve ever met. Just last week, he struck up a conversation with a woman at the grocery store, who was dressed in head-to-toe camouflage and wore a gun on her hip. They talked about hunting, one of the many sports that draws Jake, as witnessed by the letterman jacket he modeled for me the same day.

Jake: “You want to have sex with me right now, don’t you?”
Me: “You look like Uncle Rico.”

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He’s not just outgoing and athletic, though. He’s outdoorsy.

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I will readily admit that while I regularly test on the cusp of introverted/extroverted, by the end of a day at the library, where I’m paid to be an extrovert with my teens and every customer who walks up to me, I am worn out.  Whereas Jake is up for any last minute social gathering, I need to know, at least three days in advance, that I cannot come home and put on my comfy pants and read or crochet. I have to give myself pep talks that I will indeed have fun and be happy that I went to Taco Tuesday with my friends from work. If I get a text at 4:00, inviting me to join in on some 7:00 plans, there is an astronomically high chance that my answer will be no, because I don’t want to go and I’m not waiting until I’m in my fifties to start insisting I’m too old to do things I don’t want to do.

I have a picture of Jake doing a toe touch, on our wedding day, as his groomsmen look on in amazement, everyone decked out in their coats and ties. I don’t know why. Contrary to Jake’s natural athleticism, I once busted my head on the bathroom counter putting on a sockwhich is only one of the many reasons I do not participate in sports. I don’t mind exercise, honestly. I quite enjoy using the elliptical while reading my Kindle or watching Netflix, in the air conditioned or nicely heated third bedroom. I am unabashedly an indoor girl, though. Even as a child, if the temperature was lower than 45 degrees, it was too cold. Higher than 75 degrees was too hot, especially for physical activity. In all their attempts to get me interested in softball or horseback riding or just playing outside, my parents never figured out that I wasn’t necessarily lazy; I just like to be comfortable and for a good portion of the year, outside is uncomfortable. That’s why I loved piano and dance… not because I was any good at them, but because they were indoors.

From the beginning of our relationship, I’ve made my Indoor Girl stance clear to Jake. He knows that, for me, camping is renting a cabin and spending the day outside and the night inside, in an air conditioned bedroom. Any sports I play will be done indoors, or within my designated 30 degree window… and I won’t win. I am a product of my generation and roughing it means going without a cell phone signal or the ability to download a new book to my Kindle. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m going to sleep on the ground, I may as well churn my own butter, stir a large pot of lye soap, or dye some denim with my own urine, because no.

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As you can probably guess, when it comes to killing our own food, I am also out.

Me: ::suddenly covering my face in the passenger seat, crying::
Jake: “What’s wrong?!?”
Me: “Nothing… I saw a dead cat.”
Jake: “Oh. I thought it was something I said. I’m sorry.”
Me: “I’m glad Thackery Binx has no interest in ever going outside, just like his mama.”
Jake: “Are you sure you don’t want to go hunting with me?”

Now, don’t misunderstand. Jake and I have plenty in common. Our values are near identical, which is great, because we exhaust each other debating about the few that aren’t. Our political ideologies are very similar, with both of us identifying as libertarians, although Jake claims I lean left, because he leans right. We both like comic book and horror movies and have a handful of shows we enjoy together. We enjoy discussing current events and articles and blogs we’ve read. When we don’t have an interest in common, we’re perfectly content to sit on the couch together, while he plays his video games and I crochet, read, or watch Gilmore Girls. We really do compliment each other, but when Jake goes hunting, I get the weekend to myself and I’ve got to admit that the weekend before last, I was really looking forward to it.

Jake and I have been married for just over six months and, in short, I’d call it a wonderful adjustment period… because, although I adore my husband, I have to live with a boy.

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Most experts will tell you that it’s better to wait until you’re a little older and better established to get married, and I totally agree with that. What they don’t tell you, though, is that it’s a lot harder to live with a person after living alone for six years. Y’all, when I lived alone, I could buy Easy Mac, not be in the mood for Easy Mac for a month, and still have Easy Mac. In my little single girl apartment, Miracle Whip and peanut butter lasted for months. If I bought the fancy pickles I like from Wal-Mart, not the cheap ones from Aldi, I knew that would actually get to enjoy them. Then I apparently married a man with a tapeworm.

Me: “You already ate all the peanut butter?!?!? I haven’t even had any!”
Jake: “We’ve had that for like two weeks.”
Me: “I KNOW! THAT’S MY POINT!”

I swear that man drinks Miracle Whip through a fucking garden hose, because there is no other way he can consume that much, that quickly. Although I pride myself on my emotional control, one night, a few weeks ago, I hit my threshold, when Jake came out of the bathroom after some time. I hadn’t heard the faucet run, which in his defense, is not at all his routine. He’s not that disgusting.

Me: “Did you just come out of the bathroom without washing your hands??”
Jake: ::goes back to wash his hands, as I head into the kitchen to get a snack::
Me: “You ate all of my pickles?!?!”
Jake: “I left you three!”
Me: “Three?!? I bought those, because like them! You don’t even know the difference between those and the ones from Aldi!”
Jake: “I’m sorry. I tried to leave you some.”
Me: ::crying in earnest::
Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “You’re such a boy! You eat everything in sight and you leave your dirty clothes on the floor and you hang dead animals on my wall and you won’t let me have my pink Christmas tree and you hog all the covers and you don’t wash your hands when you poo!”

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Jake: ::sincerely trying, yet failing, not to laugh:: “Oh, I do too. I forgot one time.”
Me: “I married The Beast!”
Jake: “What?”
Me: “The dog from The Sandlot. I married the dog from The Sandlot. You’re so hard to live with…”
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Jake: “I know, baby. Aaron told me so all the time, in college. I’ll bet you guys will have some great stories for each other, about just how hard it is to live with me. I’m sorry I ate your pickles.”

I’m obviously nothing but a delight to live with, but did I mention that Jake is is super laid back and I am… well, not? That’s why, when Jake was going to stay on his family’s ranch for four days, I was looking forward to a Single Girl Weekend. I was going to read and watch all five Twilight movies and sew and crochet and feed the dog table scraps and dance to Taylor Swift and sleep starfish style. It was going to get cray up in here.

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That it did, y’all. That it did. I crocheted two hats and spent two hours at Hobby Lobby, choosing the perfect fabric for his and hers Christmas stockings, which I immediately went home to start sewing, from scratch. With no time for “real food”, I ate snack foods for dinner and finished all five Twilight movies in one very productive night, only to wake up six hours later, in the middle of the bed, start where I left off with my sewing project, and watch Edward and Bella fall in love all over again, but as Christian and Anastasia this time. After work on Sunday, I hit Wal-Mart for more fabric and embarked on another evening of lots of crafts and five hours of sleep.

Niki came over on Monday night and we ate junk food and crocheted with Star Trek the Original Series playing in the background, while we talked about our lives. After she left, I read romance novels all night. On Tuesday, I watched This Is Us and went out for tacos with my work pals. It was entirely reminiscent of my off dating phases, when I was 26… and by the end of it, I was bored out of my mind… and exhausted, because apparently Jake is the only reason I ever go to bed at a reasonable hour.

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When I met Jake, at 27, I was just getting to a point where I was tired of coming home every night to an empty house; where I’d eat sweet potato fries, a handful of marshmallows, and a small bowl of popcorn for dinner, with no one to complain that it wasn’t “real food.” Vampire Diaries and One Tree Hill marathons with the dog were only beginning to lose their appeal, as I imagined snuggling on the couch with a beau. Sleeping starfish style was still pretty awesome. Because I really did enjoy my single days, when Jake went away for the weekend, I thought it would take a lot longer to hit that threshold. By Monday, afternoon, I was sitting at work, thinking I couldn’t wait to go home to… oh, wait.

Everyone says the first year is the hardest, and granted, I cried because my husband forgot to wash his hands, one night, but overall, being married to Jake is pretty awesome. At one time, I thought my introverted side would suffer, from a lack of peace, but that hasn’t been the case. On the days when I walk through the door and declare that we aren’t having children, or worse, say nothing at all and maybe take a shot, Jake will usually leave me be for thirty minutes or so, while I read on the couch. On his tough days, he’s usually had time to calm his own nerves with a drink, since I get home an hour or two later. Once we’ve both had time to decompress though, it’s like having a nightly slumber party with my best friend. We watch Netflix and eat popcorn or play two person board games or he plays video games while I read. It’s surprising how quickly I’ve adjusted to having Jake in my space at all times and, despite how much I’ve always liked being alone, I feel lonely when Jake’s not in the house. Jake Only is my new solitary comfort level.

By the time Jake returned, I’d Single Girled myself out. I was ready to eat real food at the kitchen table and sleep with my husband my side, at a normal hour. They say we look at our past with rose colored glasses, but I disagree. I really did have a lot of fun as a single girl, reading in my little living room, with the patio door open and no political podcasts playing in the background… cleaning up my own, much smaller mess… eating my breakfast cereal and frozen yogurt for dinner. That time was great and no less valuable than my new domestic life. Marriage, though, has been so much more awesome than all the blogs and lifestyle articles have claimed. Having someone to come home to, to tell me about his day, to buy little surprises, to cuddle with on the couch, while we do our own things, to make weird jokes with, because he’s just my kind of weird, is a dream come true. It more than compensates for the fact that the man can’t seem to enter a room, in which I’m sleeping, in any way unlike that of the fucking Kool-Aid man…

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… or that he’s constantly under threat of stepping on a straight pin or having to search for the shorts he left on the floor for me to passive aggressively hide. Admittedly, we’re still learning, but it sure is fun.

When Good People Aren’t Good Together

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There was a catalyst, as there always is with these things.

Six years ago, Gail told me the secret of a close friend, Camille. She was confiding in me, because said secret directly affected her, she was hurt by it, and there was no chance I’d ever be close to Camille. She shouldn’t have told me, but Camille was essentially a stranger and it didn’t matter if I knew or that said secret gave me some strong negative feelings toward her. It mattered that a friend had done something to hurt Gail and I don’t think she was unreasonable in sharing that with me.

Five years ago, after a couple of years of chatting on Facebook, Catherine called me out to a local bar and we smoked, drank, talked about guys, teased each other, and a friendship began… and what a coincidence, Catherine worked with Camille and considered her a good friend.

Three years ago, Catherine introduced me to Laura, via Facebook chat. We talked about Supernatural and Buffy and Sherlock and all our silly fandoms and another friendship developed. I eventually brought Gail along and for the last two and a half years, we’ve all been pretty close. Gail was my maid-of-honor, of course, and Catherine and Laura were my bridesmaids. In the last year, our interactions have included many of Catherine’s friends, as well… which meant Camille and I have seen more and more of each other.

When Catherine and I met, we were 25 and single and dating and thrived off of the somewhat abrasive friendship we had. I was the prude and she was the one who got around and our jokes regularly centered around this. I remember once, when Jake and I had just started dating, Catherine actually made a joke about how he’d break up with me once I was done with the Gardasil vaccine and he’d gotten laid. I’m certain I said things that were just as appalling to Catherine. It was not one-sided. We were both just kind of… mean to each other, because that’s how a lot of single women in their mid-twenties interact, today, I suppose. When Laura came along, this dynamic spread and our humor was always sarcastic and antagonistic, as a group. Gail, naturally, fit right in, since we teased each other similarly on occasion and I don’t know if any of us thought much of it.

There are a lot of problems with this dynamic. The most obvious, of course, is that when someone is offended, they’re not allowed to say anything, because they’re just as guilty of offense. Resentment builds and no one tells anyone they’ve crossed the line, so the line continues to be crossed. In time, however, another issue develops. Perhaps as a defense to take the ribbing off of each other, other people become the focus.

Catherine and I, and even Gail and I, have always talked about other people… people from high school, who we don’t know anymore, people we sort of know and follow on social media, people we don’t like who overshare. Perhaps it’s not particularly nice to do so, but I also think it’s natural when you share a history. These are people to whom we have no loyalties, though, and the topic is usually something they’ve chosen to share with the world via Facebook. Gradually, however, the conversation has shifted.

It took some time for me to remember exactly how Camille’s secret was spread. That, in itself, serves as evidence that said shift had happened some time ago and we’ve been talking about the wrong people for a while now. I remember, though. I remember we were all drinking at Catherine’s and the subject of why I didn’t like Camille had come up, with Catherine posing different theories. I told her it was a secret and I shouldn’t share and she pressed, insisting she might already know. I looked to Gail and Gail didn’t object, so I told her what I now realize was Camille’s most humiliating secret and confided that I didn’t like Camille because of how said secret affected Gail… and we all sat and gossipped about Camille’s deepest shame. I didn’t know or like Camille, but I knew that Gail and Catherine considered her a good friend and I encouraged them to discuss her private business and they eagerly participated and it wouldn’t be the last time.

I’ve always prided myself on not saying anything about someone that I wouldn’t say to them and I realize now, that I haven’t been able to claim this as sincerely in the last two years. I’ve been part of secret Facebook chats about an excluded friend. I’ve sat drinking and bad mouthing one of them, only to smile at them and tell them we’re good the next day. I’ve kept quiet when a friend said something ugly to me, only because I know I say ugly things to them… and I’ve realized that these things are only true of this one social group. I have a lot of friends… and none of the others talk to or about each other this way. The conversations revolve around ideas and things, not people… not other friends.

Individually, this is still true of Gail and Laura and Catherine. Gail and I talk about politics, sociology, hypotheticals, the ethics of veganism and the meat industry. Laura and I talk about our fandoms and books and movies. Catherine and I talk about… well, Catherine and I don’t much talk one-on-one these days, but when we did, it was shows and movies and our lives. There also isn’t an antagonistic energy to fuel cruel jokes, so they’re few and far between. Together, though… together, we hurt people. Together, we hurt Camille.

Perhaps the gossipy nature of my own birthday party a few days before Gail’s wedding had been the motivation to change my friendships. Undoubtedly the alcohol involved affected the implementation, but I felt a burgeoning friendship with Camille. I realized that she couldn’t have possibly meant to hurt Gail six years before… and I drunkenly told her so. At a wedding, Camille found out that someone she barely knew was privy to her deepest, darkest secret, and had judged her for it, however indirectly, and used it as a reason to avoid a friendship. She found out that her friend betrayed her trust and that several people knew something she’d only told four people… from someone who was too drunk to read the signals and shut up about it. I told her that we’d been talking about her and for once, I realized that it was unquestionably not okay. I absolutely should not have put her in that place… and neither should Gail. None of us ever should’ve discussed these things about her and it wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t who we are together… if the conversation didn’t so often revolve around the person who’s not present.

The outing of Camille’s secret was the catalyst. She wanted to have a Halloween party at Catherine’s and, quite reasonably, no one thinks I should be there. When Laura told me this, I dramatically deleted Catherine, Camille, and all of their mutual friends from Facebook, feeling as though I was the only one getting any blame for something that involved all of us, something that involved much better friends of hers. Catherine messaged me and told me that it would’ve just blown over and that the reason she’d ignored the last 10 messages I’d sent her in the previous month, was because I’d also made some joke about her sexual past in front of her date, saying that those jokes had always bothered her. For years, she’s not commented on this, as I’ve not commented on many of the things she’s said, because we’re stuck in this place where we can only be horrible to each other, as a collective… and we don’t really talk one-on-one anymore. We don’t feel safe setting boundaries with each other. So, while they’ve chosen not to include me in a Halloween party, I’ve chosen to no longer be included, at all. I’m sure it would’ve blown over, but that’s not what I need.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t feel the dynamic of this group of friends is healthy. I cannot grow in this circle. We don’t challenge each other to be better people. In fact, we often look for affirmation from each other to defend poor decisions and actions. We say ugly things about other people, about each other, and then we excuse it as we laugh about how we’re all assholes. Each and every one of us is guilty of this and all I can think is that four years ago, had I looked to Gail before sharing her friend’s darkest secret, she wouldn’t have given me the nod. All I can think is that two years ago, none of us would have sat around the table at my birthday party, saying hateful things about the people who weren’t there. A year ago, I wasn’t exhausted by the level of drama involved in simply being friends with people. I don’t know how they interact without me, of course, but that’s for them to find out, because I can no longer excuse this behavior in myself.

I’m aware the reaction seems like a dramatic response to not being invited to a party, but no one realizes drastic change is in order without a catalyst. Gail is still my best gal and I’ve discussed much of this with her already. If they’re willing, I’m still interested in pursuing one-on-one relationships with Laura and Catherine. They stood by me on my wedding day and I think that’s worth the effort, but if the Girl Troupe is the only option, as it seems to have been for some time, I’m out. I can’t remember the last time we all enjoyed a drama free day together. I can’t remember a time when any one of us has shut down a catty conversation. I can’t remember the last time someone else wasn’t the topic of discussion. Good people aren’t necessarily always good together.

 

 

Carcinogenic Radioactive Waste and Oranges: Marriage at 19 vs. Marriage at 29

Jake: “So, we’ve been married for four months now, give or take. Do you ever look back and compare it to your first marriage and realize how different it is?”
Me: “Well, honestly, I try not to think about that time in my life, but even if I do, it’s just… apples and oranges. Yes, I was legally married and have never claimed otherwise, but that wasn’t actually a marriage in any way.”

When I was a senior in high school, my mother let my boyfriend move in with us, and a few months later, she took off to live with a man she met on the Internet. Because years earlier, she’d seen to it that I had no relationship with my dad, I didn’t really have anyone else. Sure, my Gramma has always been an amazing presence in my life, but it wasn’t the same as having a parent in the home every day to help me through the huge transition that was the end of childhood. Graduating high school, leaving those friends, going to college: those things are really hard with a supportive and loving family… or so I heard from friends. At 18, though, I felt like I had nothing and no one to hold onto as my mother prepared to sell the house she’d left behind, less than gently pushing me out the door, and my high school boyfriend was… there.

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Looking back on my reasons for getting married at 19, it’s no surprise that said “marriage” deserved air quotes. I don’t know that “apples and oranges” is even a fitting phrase, considering those are both fruit. Being “married” at 19 and married at 29 are more like… carcinogenic radioactive waste and oranges. For instance…

The Wedding Day

At 19, on my “wedding day,” I tried to look five years into the future and determine whether or not I’d still be “married.” I couldn’t picture it, but… I also couldn’t think of any other options. The college I was attending would only let us continue to live in family student housing if we were legally married and I had nowhere else to go… or so I thought. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I could’ve called off the wedding, even the day of, and the rest of my family would’ve supported me. I’d have been able to stay with my Gramma or my dad (who I fortunately reconnected with in time), until a dorm opened up the next semester. There was always an option besides getting married at 19, when it didn’t feel right, watching a troubled young man become a sociopathic grown man, derailing my life because I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable or be the subject of gossip. I couldn’t see this, however, and there was a chapel full of people…

On my real wedding day, as I like to think of it, I was so excited to join my life with Jake. The only nerves I experienced were the result of knowing that in just a few hours, a lot of people would be staring at me… and I’d have to dance. Jake though? He has never been a question. The day I married Jake, I’d already moved past fantasizing about our newlywed days and well into day-dreaming about the complacency and monotony of everyday married life that everyone dreads. I haven’t just looked five years into the future and felt certain I would still choose Jake. I’ve imagined growing old together a thousand times… and not in some romantic Noah and Ally from The Notebook sort of way, but one that includes the horrors of childbirth and dead pets and money troubles and funeral arrangements and prayers and tears and heartbreak. I don’t need a romantic fantasy. I just need Jake. I’ve never doubted that he was the right choice; not when I walked down the aisle with my dad, as he assured me I had chosen right this time, not when Jake elbowed me in the head during our first dance, not when I was seasick for most of our honeymoon, not even the dozens of times we’ve argued since. Jake has consistently been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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The Religious Implications

As a confirmed Catholic, for any marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church and God it has to be blessed by the Church. Now, even practicing Catholics elope or get married in beautiful wedding chapels or at pricey outdoor venues. However, their marriage has to ultimately be blessed by a priest in a convalidation ceremony. I knew this when and after I “married” in a wedding chapel at 19 and yet, something prevented me from ever actually going through with the process. In time, I distanced myself, not just from the Church, but from my faith in general. It’s difficult to call someone Godless without drama or exaggeration, but it’s a fitting term for my ex. Unlike an Atheist or an Agnostic, the man truly lacked any moral center. He stole, lied, cheated, and he did so indiscriminately from friends, family, enemies, and strangers. Simply being associated with him as a person made me feel unworthy and yet, leaving him would also be wrong in the eyes of many. It took two years after my divorce for me to shake my shame enough to return to the Church and I promised myself that my next marriage would be official in the eyes of God.

When Jake and I married, we decided together that with his Protestant family and my Catholic family, moving and career changes, our short engagement due to rodeo season (no really), a Catholic wedding wasn’t for us. We were married at a beautiful and rustic outdoor venue, by a friend of Jake’s, who’s a youth minister and faithful husband and father; which was preferable to me over a minister to whom Jake felt no connection if we couldn’t get married by a priest. Jake might not be Catholic, but on this we agree: God’s authority is superior in every way to that of the government and the approval of my faith, as well as his, is crucial. So,we’ve already met with our new priest and scheduled to have our marriage blessed, the day after Jake’s birthday. Because I’m a confirmed Catholic, my previous “marriage” was never recognized by the Church. I have some paperwork to send in to complete my “defect of form” annulment and then, in the eyes of God, my marriage to Jake will truly be, my only real one.

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Our Standing in Life

When I was 19, I had worked a couple of minimum wage jobs and had nothing to show for it. My ex had even less, with no work experience at all. I had no savings, no assets, no real job prospects. I wanted to be a teacher, naively insisting that the money didn’t matter, making a difference in the world did. My ex didn’t and wouldn’t work or go to school, which I hoped would change. I tried not to think too much about the future, because any level of stability seemed so distant. We were renting married student housing, which was about to be condemned by the city (literally) and counting on financial aid to house and feed us. My mother paid for the wedding, because if I was married, she could sell her house guilt free and wash her hands of me. I had no real concept of money, myself, and ultimately accepted all the loans I was offered. It was Future Belle’s problem, as were many things, as I coped with how drastically my life had been derailed since the beginning of my senior year.

At 29, my wedding and honeymoon were always paid in full. At 32 years old, Jake had ample savings from his days in the oil field and zero debt, which of course meant zero credit. At 23, I’d begun working to improve my credit score and after six years, it somewhat made up for my debt, particularly when coupled with my Income Based Repayment Plan and the fact that I qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. While Jake is beginning a new career in hydrology, his bachelor’s degree in the field, his experience in oil, and his crazy work ethic have already been assets to him. Because I make just under $50k myself, in one of the cheapest states in the country, we can afford for him to start at the bottom and I’ve every confidence he’ll move up quickly. We do have debt, but we’re both committed to paying it off and we’re currently saving to buy a home within the next year. The future is looking bright and Present Day Belle handles her problems like a big girl.

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Our Actual Relationship

It’s easy for me to put that first relationship in air quotes, not just because I was 11, but considering the motivation, the fact that God wasn’t looking, and that its primary funding source was financial aid and prayer. I feel those reasons invalidate the union plenty. The foremost reason, however, that my first “marriage” was no marriage at all, was the relationship itself. At the best point, we were extremely codependent. I don’t know that, looking back, I’d claim to have ever loved him, so much as I’d say that I needed someone, anyone, and he was the only one present. 

As time wore on, though, I moved closer to Shetland and my Gramma. Gail and I reconnected after that initial graduation drift, and even any sense of codependency faded. I once explained to Gail, that you get different things from different people, that I trusted and loved her and my dad and my Gramma. All I needed from my ex was for him to work. Literally, I didn’t need love or support or trust or fidelity or goodness or strength of character or a partner or someone to lead me closer to God. I just needed him to feed himself. I was actually completely willing to continue taking care of myself, if he’d stop stealing from me. I used to joke that I’d never get married again, that marriage is miserable, that my next wedding would be on a snow covered mountaintop in hell. However, no matter how hard some readers may judge me for claiming that any marriage can not count (in which case, they can go fuck themselves), I cannot stress enough that the relationship that spanned those four years was not a marriage in any sense. 

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Today, happily and healthily married to Jake, I’ve had to get used to a few things… like the fact that my Gramma and Gail are second and third in my life. It’s strange, having not just an additional person on my list of people I’m willing to see on a weepy and frustrating day, but having someone actually upstage them. Gail has been my best friend since the 9th grade and she still is… but the dynamic has shifted. Jake comes first for me and Terry comes first for her and in neither of our previous marriages was that ever the case… nor could it or should it have been. We were married to scary fucking dudes and were both somewhat distant from our families. It was us against the world… and now it’s not. We still talk every day and have some pretty fucked up shared history, but we’re not 20 and married to psychopaths, eating fish we grilled in a public park because we don’t want to go home. When I get pregnant, she won’t be the first to know. I’ll never drive her and her baby to the ER again… and that’s weird to imagine and sometimes even weird in practice: having someone. Being married.

I’m not driving around with food from The Dollar Tree in my backseat anymore. I don’t sleep with my wallet in my pillowcase. Zetus lapetus, y’all, I trust this man enough to share a bank account with him. What the fuck happened?!? When I went home crying from the stress of my first week at the Cherokee library, Jake was the only person I wanted to comfort me. When I had food poisoning and threw up all over myself in the car, I was only mildly embarrassed that he was present to see me miserable and covered in vomit. If I have good news or a secret to tell or a funny meme to send, Jake is the first person to come to mind and that’s so weird. What is this fantastical adventure they call marriage?!?! I ask, because this is truly the first time I’ve experienced it.

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The most I can say, in defense of 19-year-old Belle, is that she was not an adult. Nineteen-year-olds are teenagers, whose brains function differently. They still need guidance and I didn’t have that. In theory, it would’ve been nice if I did, but then I might not be here… and here is really good.

My honeymoon was… fine.

After six months of planning and one epic and well-deserved tantrum aimed Jake’s way, we had a beautiful wedding. What I had assumed would be a day of stress, which I could barely remember, was wonderful. I cherish every moment and if I could live the day before and the day of my wedding over and over again, I would. If you follow my blog at all, you know that I am not a romantic and it was just that perfect. So naturally, to restore balance in the universe, my honeymoon had to be kind of… meh.

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I’ve put off writing this post, because I keep coming back to the same question: what kind of entitled white girl calls a 10 day Alaskan cruise “meh?” I mean, travel is the ultimate goal for millenials. Facebook has told me 15 times this week that I should abandon all my responsibilities and see the world. Why save for retirement, when I might die in a car crash next year? I should spend that money now and see Uzbekistan. What do you mean “Why Uzbekistian?” Why not Uzbekistan?!?!?!

I’ll tell you why not Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan doesn’t have my cat or my little-old-man beagle. I can’t get good service to call my Gramma or download library books from Uzbekistan. If I’m in Uzbekistan, I can’t make an impromptu girls night or swing by the local dairy store for a cup of my favorite frozen yogurt. My own bed is not in Uzbekistan and neither is my favorite Superman mug or my polka dot blanket. I can’t get my favorite donuts in Uzbekistan. You know where I also can’t do these things? Alaska.

For modern newlyweds, the honeymoon is meant as a chance to recharge and reconnect after the stressful wedding planning months. Jake and I were supposed to go on a 10 day Alaskan adventure and have the time of our lives before settling into a routine in our new hometown. I forgot one thing, though.

I am a hometown girl, who thrives off routine.

If it weren’t for this simple, yet undeniable fact, I’m pretty sure I could’ve overlooked the less than perfect details of the aforementioned adventure… like the fact that the only vessel worse than The Grand Princess was used as the setting of the movie Ghost Ship. 

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Regardless of my lack of adventure lust, there is no scenario in which I wouldn’t have been frustrated that for eight thousand dollars, I had booked a balcony suite on a 20-year-old ship… literally. The Grand Princess was built in 1998 and only a poster of The Backstreet Boys in our room could’ve made that more apparent. We had a dorm refrigerator, empty save for two bottles of water, that management insisted on calling a “mini fridge” when they charged us $15 for drinking said water, despite having an all-inclusive drink pass. There were only two outlets in the room built before personal devices had become the norm and only one of them worked. The decor, right down to the brand emblem on our television, had faded with time.

838-02482326er Jake and I on our honeymoon.

Princess Cruise Lines took full advantage of the fact that, at least on this cruise, their average passenger age was wheelchair bound by refusing to update their ship, amenities, or entertainment in any way, since I was in the fourth grade. If I were a little more Amelia Earhart and a little less Miss Havisham, perhaps I wouldn’t have cared. I’d simply have lived for the days at port, but for me, one of the things I’d most looked forward to, was enjoying the coziness of the ship, with my husband by my side. It’s the entire reason I chose to book the longer cruise. The cozy part of my honeymoon wasn’t cozy, though… and after six months of wedding planning and moving and new jobs, I really needed cozy. As much as I loved my time with Jake, I couldn’t get over the disappointment that, while I’d planned my wedding day perfectly to the last detail, my honeymoon preparations had left so much to be desired. I hadn’t properly researched the cruise line or put enough thought into how I’d feel spending ten days away from the comforts of home and neither ended up being all that great.

When we were at port, Jake and I did have a wonderful time. We went on a rain forest walk and enjoyed a crab feast in Ketchikan, took an impromptu brewery tour and visited the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, went ziplining for the first time in Skagway, and shopped and saw the sights in Victoria, Canada. The souvenirs we bought were minimal and I took approximately 30,000 pictures, because I did have some wonderful experiences with my new husband. At the end of each one, however, I dreaded boarding what must secretly be the original Titanic, with their terrible, disrespectful management, nonexistent entertainment, blatant overcrowding, and severe lack of kitten and beagle snuggles, quality donuts, and the smell of home.

3e7az The perfect honeymoon.

I didn’t have a miserable time on my honeymoon. I don’t know if I could have a miserable time with Jake. We had our adventures and saw some amazing sights. Whereas Jake had never been on a cruise, though, I have and I couldn’t ignore the fact that we had been ripped off and it was all my fault. The six days on the ship had been just as important to me as the four days at port and they were… well, pretty crappy and left me longing for home. The one time we tried to watch a Movie Under the Stars, we couldn’t hear Avengers: Age of Ultron, over the sound of a construction crew, who I can only assume was frantically trying to keep us from sinking to the bottom of the North Pacific. The only other entertainment options were the casino and a series of sales pitches about the amazing deals on precious jewels just recently discovered in the Alaskan mountains. We spent more time watching movies I’d downloaded on my Kindle Fire than enjoying the “all inclusive entertainment” and it wasn’t half as comfortable as doing it on my own couch.

I’ll just go ahead and confess something that no millennial is ever allowed to admit: I don’t particularly enjoy travel. I’m too much of a homebody and it’s too much of a chore. I don’t like leaving my pets and my king sized bed and my WiFi and my books. I don’t appreciate any part of air travel, especially getting motion sick, with barely enough room to lay my head in Jake’s lap while he brushes my hair aside as I deep breathe. I hate the fear of forgetting to pack something important, only to realize later that I brought far more than I could have ever needed… but I should’ve included my hair dryer. I work in a library, so I worry about bed bugs always. I don’t like spending large quantities of money in just a few days time. I don’t want to stress about whether or not all of my belongings will get home. I really, really, hate Princess Cruise Lines.

Our honeymoon definitely wasn’t horrible. A couple of times, it was even wonderful. Overall, though, I didn’t really get the recharge I needed and I was just so frustrated with myself for spending so much of our money on something that turned out… just okay. We’ll have better vacations and I’m sure we’ll have worse ones, because if travel doesn’t really appeal to me now, I can only dread attempting it with children. We had a dream wedding and that will just have to make up for the fact that our honeymoon was… fine.

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In Honor of Two Years Together: #JakeQuotes

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On my second date with Jake, I’d have sworn I was on my best behavior. We met at the mall, to see Jurassic World and I was cute and polite and I am certain that, on at least one occasion, I bit my tongue so hard it bled. Apparently, it was one time too few. Months later, Jake reminded me what I’d said, when I came upon him, flustered and yelling at the fancy soda machine.

Jake: “HI-C!!”
Me: “It’s not voice activated.

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What can I say? I’ve never been what you might call “sweet.” Fortunately for me, neither has Jake, which has led to my collection of #JakeQuotes, loved by my friends and his alike. So, in honor of two years of saying the wrong thing to each other, meet my husband. Meet us.

Me: “Ugh. I put my eyeliner on too thick. I look like a panda bear.”
Jake: “It looks fine.”
Me: “I look like Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Jake: “I like that movie.”

Me: “That one sweater makes me look bigger than I am.”
Jake: “The pink one?”
Me: “No. Not the pink one. If you don’t know, don’t guess.”

Jake: “Did you just send me a text message?”
Me: “What? No. I mean… yes. I just sent it while we were on the phone. It’s very important.”
Jake: “Did you schedule an automatic birthday countdown to message me every day?”

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“Why are you eating a sucker at 10:00 in the morning?”
“Why do you wanna buy a Christmas ornament? It’s September.”
“There’s a test to find out which Hogwart’s House you’re in?”
:: to the cat :: “Why are you sitting in a box?”

… ridiculous questions my husband asked one weekend… my RAVENCLAW husband…

Me: “My brakes are squeaking. I’m going to die.”
Jake: ::continues talking about Lord of the Rings::
Me: “You don’t even care that I’m going to die.”
Jake: “I’m pretty sure I hear that every day.”


Jake: “I can’t hear you.”
Me: “I work in a libra
ry.”
Jake: “What? I can’t hear you!”
Me: “I can’t talk louder. I work in a library.”
Jake: “What?

… when Jake calls me at work, annoyed that he can’t hear me. #librarianproblems

Me: “He’s a brilliant hunting dog.”
Jake: “Sure he is.”
Me: “You’ve never seen him tear the insides out of a squirrel and show them to its mother!”
Jake: “… neither have you.”

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Me: “This is why you don’t use my decorative towels. I washed it and now it’s a different color and I can’t use it anymore.”
Jake: “Why does that mean you can’t you use it anymore?”
Me: “Because it’s decorative.”
Jake: “Why did you wash it?”
Me: “Because you used it.”
Jake: “…. and why can’t you use it anymore?”

Me: :screaming:
Jake: “WHAT?!”
Me: “There was a spider!”
Jake: “Geez! I was going for the pistol!”
Me: “That would probably take care of the spider!”

Me: “We had cows when I was little.”
Jake: “What kind?”
Me: “I dunno. They were brown.”
Jake: “That’s… not a color used to describe cattle.”
Me: “Yuh huh. There’s a children’s book called ‘How Now, Brown Cow?’“.

Me: “I love the guy with the lantern!”
Jake: “Because he’s cute and helpful?”
Me: “Yeah, just like real bears.”
Jake: “I… don’t think that’s true.”

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Me: “Just so you know, if you add any more deer mounts to Buzz, I’m going to name all of them after Toy Story characters, too.”
Jake: “Great. I’ll have little name plates put on the mounts.”
Me: “Yes! I’ll hold you to that!”
Jake: “I immediately rescind that offer.”

– boarding the plane home –
Me: “Stop singing that!”
Jake: “What?!?”
Me: “”You keep choosing the most obnoxious song you can and you sing it for FOUR DAYS and I’m going to murder you!” ::to airport security:: “I mean… I didn’t say that.”
Jake: “You are REALLY bad at getting on a plane.”

– all night at the rodeo –
Jake: “This is my wife, Belle. We got married two weeks ago. We met three weeks ago on farmersonly.com.”
Me: “Stop telling people that!”

Jake: “I’m pretty sure we’re both too big for that.”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Jake: “I’m just saying we’re both stocky people.”
Me: “I’m STOCKY? Like a linebacker?”
Jake: “It was a compliment!”
Me: “Call every woman in your phone and ask if ‘stocky’ is a compliment.”
>> later that day
Jake: ::taps the small of my back:: “Take that, small part of your back.”
Me: “There is no small part of my back, because I’m so STOCKY.”
>> even later that day
Jake: “I’m sorry you don’t understand me when I say things.”
Me: “Okay, Google. Define ‘stocky’.”
Google: “Stocky (of a person) broad and sturdily built.”
Jake: ::cackles:: “Google doesn’t know what it’s talking about.”

Jake: “Yeah! How ’bout you Facechat THAT to all your friends!”

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When a millennial marries a Gen Xer.

Me: “I’m sorry I’m irritable… and I’m sorry you think the best response to that is to play ‘I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.'”
Jake: “I didn’t do that… but I’m going to NOW!”

Jake: “This picture looks like it’s from a magazine.”
Me: “Is that a compliment?”
Jake: “It’s just that nobody’s that happy to put on earrings.”
Me: “Well, thank you for telling me I look fake in our wedding pictures.”
Jake: “That’s not what I… I’m making this worse, aren’t I?”
Me: “Yup.”

Jake: “‘The Dog Easter Egg Hunt.’ That sounds…”
Me: “… like so much fun! Where is that?!?!”
Jake: “… like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jake: “You’ve never used an electric filet knife?”
Me: “How do you see that ending? Do I have all my fingers?”
Jake: “They’re really good for fileting fish, if you catch a lot of fish.”
Me: “Oh, yeah. I catch a TON of fish.”

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… every time I have to explain to him that I’m an indoor girl.

Me: “I’m being serious!”
Jake: “I’m trying to lighten the mood!”
Me: “I don’t want to lighten the mood. It’s a serious mood!”
Jake: ::growls at me like I’m an angry kitten::

Jake: “Going to the doctor is not a waste of money. Cat costumes are a waste of money.”
Me: “They looked ADORABLE in those costumes!”

Me: “I’m sorry I ate your strawberries. I mean, I’m sorry you didn’t eat your strawberries.”
Jake: ::to the dog:: “I hope YOU’RE still here, when I get back.”
Me: “DID YOU JUST SUGGEST THAT THERE’S A RISK I MIGHT EAT MY DOG, BECAUSE I’M THAT FAT?!?!”

Jake: “They’re the same age.”
Me: “Ew. I can barely handle 32-year-old Jake. I don’t want to date 29-year-old Jake.”
Jake: “I wasn’t that bad at 29!”
Me: “What was the name of the last woman you had sex with, before me?”
Jake: “I… don’t remember… but she was from Louisiana!”
Me: “Okay, Google. What’s the population of Louisiana?”

Good news. He narrowed it down to 4.671 million.

womens-march-in-chicago-imgurReal footage of Jake’s sexual conquests. 

Shetland in My Rearview Mirror

At 10 years old, I was chubby, asthmatic, and uncoordinated, longing to rank amongst my sportier classmates, who played competitive soccer and already had “boyfriends.”

At 13, I was still chubby, asthmatic, and uncoordinated, but also surly and defensive around those “stupid whores” who now bullied or ignored me.

At 16, I was every small town, cliche, misfit, declaring this town was too closed-minded for my creativity and biding my time until I could leave the judgemental assholes behind.

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I used to joke that there was no sight as beautiful as that of the Shetland water tower in my rearview mirror, insisting that once I left, I’d never return. I did leave at 19, to go to college about 45 minutes away. It wasn’t far, but it wasn’t my bizarrely religious and intolerant southern suburban hometown, either. Sadly, however, my college years involved several more moves, a house fire, a miscarriage, and a divorce, as opposed to the more traditional toga parties and slam poetry readings everyone else enjoyed.

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Wait, wait, wait… did Saved By the Bell lie to me?!?!?

Luckily for me, as Robert Frost once said, “home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” because at 23-years-old, newly divorced and a little broken, I returned to Shetland to lick my wounds. Waiting for me was a flexible job substitute teaching and a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment that rented for just $490 a month, with an ironically comforting view of the Shetland water tower from my patio.

After the first year, the fear began to subside when someone knocked on the front door, because I knew the rent was being paid and there was no risk of eviction. After the second year, I realized one morning that I hadn’t slept with my purse right beside me, because there was no risk of anyone stealing from my wallet. After the third year, I was able to put away my .357, in its pink gun sock, because I knew he wouldn’t break in and steal from me again. Surprise of all surprises, when I wasn’t looking, the town I once despised had become a healing place.

Indeed, for six years, my little apartment has been not only my home, but my safe haven. I’ve pulled all-nighters with the patio door open, enjoying the breeze and the cigarette smoke from the neighbors as I worked on my graduate portfolio. I’ve littered the floor with fabric swatches and straight pins in my latest craft project, while marathoning One Tree Hill. I’ve lain by the pool and read romance novels and listened to 50s music. I’ve packed more people than was probably wise onto my patio, to smoke cigars and drink cheap booze. I’ve dramatically cried after bad grades and bad dates and bad days at work.

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In a lot of ways, Shetland now embodies my carefree twenties, more so than my tumultuous teen years. The horse-themed landmarks that once brought forth memories of bullying and boycotted football games now recall nights at the community center playing pickleball with my friends after closing, getting day drunk in my living room floor and giggling over online dating profiles with Gail, decorating my hot pink Christmas tree, sharing my first kiss and makeout sessions with Jake. It’s been a wonderful time in my life and it’s bittersweet to see it end.

Saturday, I bought packing tape and boxes. I threw out my college kid papasan chair. I took down my wall of photos of just my family and friends and consolidated them to one collage frame. In less than eleven weeks time, my life will no longer be just my own and so in just two weeks, Jake and I will move into our first house together. The town of Cherokee is just fifteen minutes from the Jackson library, but forty minutes from Shetland… forty minutes from Gail… forty minutes from my Gramma… forty minutes from home.

I know it’s for the best that Jake and I start on neutral territory, that we have more space than my apartment allows, that my dog finally has a yard, but it’s so hard to pack this stage of life into boxes, knowing I’ll unpack them in another. I’ve hardly begun and I’m having trouble not tearing up looking at my bare walls. Ridiculously, I already get weepy driving through town, knowing that one day I’ll be surprised to see new restaurants and office buildings, that the Shetland I know today will cease to exist.

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I’ve worked so hard over the last six years to carve out the life I wanted, to figure out what that life even was, who I even was. I’m overjoyed that that’s where I’m headed. I’m also beyond grateful, that I cherished my time here in Shetland and the bulk of my twenties. I didn’t spend my days pining for a husband and children and mortgage. I enjoyed my days alone and my nights with friends and even my bad dates with strangers, because each phase of life should be savored, one is no more valuable than another. At one time, I identified so clearly with Steinbeck’s quote that “it’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” But… I loved this one and it’s kind of breaking my heart that it’s just time to put the Shetland water tower in my rearview mirror.

 

 

Seeing Each Other at Our Worst Through Unemployment

At 19 years old, I married the only boy who’d shown any interest in me, because facing adulthood alone sounded scary and he was there. That’s really the simplest, least dramatic explanation. Of course, since I neither grew up in the 1950s or a Nicholas Sparks novel, at 23 years old and three days after Valentine’s Day, I sat in an office alone, holding back tears, as a judge signed my divorce papers. There were a lot of reasons for said divorce, but the most… well, not notable, but quotable in polite company, was that the man I married refused to work or contribute in any way. In fact, toward the end, I was sleeping with my wallet and keys in my pillow case and driving around with all of my valuables in the car. Ah, young love.

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On an average day, I have few, if any, significant thoughts or feelings about my previous marriage. It, in itself, could barely even be titled as such, equating to many other toxic long term early twenties relationships. It is what it is, though, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. The last few months, however… really haven’t been made up of average days.

One year ago, Jake and I saw each other twice a month and the future of oil was bleak. That’s when he made a promise to me that if things hadn’t picked up by September, he’d get out. All through August, Jake worked the manual labor side of oil, two weeks on and one week off, 12 hours a day, with an hour commute each way. Though he was staying with me, we were lucky to get a half hour together at the end of the night, before Jake would succumb to exhaustion… and unlike other exhausting oil jobs, this one didn’t even pay well. Since this allowed no time to apply for new positions, let alone interview, Jake kept his promise. Starting in September, he was officially unemployed; and although he was applying for positions in the Metro, they tended to be ideal scenarios, as opposed to ones that would provide immediate income.

You see, Jake comes from rodeo people. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. His dad ran away at 15, to become a bull rider, where he met his mother, a trick rider (you’ll have to Google that, I’d imagine), and together they built a cattle ranch and traveled the country, with their three children in tow, like the Partridge Family, if Shirley Jones fried more stuff. His brother is a bronc rider, his sister a retired trick rider, his brother-in-law a retired bull rider, and his uncle runs a wildly successful rodeo company. Every one of them run their own cattle. Even his nieces are third generation trick riders. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to help Jake see that any spawn of mine is unlikely to possess such coordination. It seems athletic country folk tend to marry other athletic country folk, and well… a few weeks ago, I fell over putting on Uggs.

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The thing about country folk, and I mean genuine country folk, not the “country folk” in my family, who board their horses because they live in subdevelopments thirty minutes from Downtown, is that they’re often not beholden to a Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. For Jake’s family, in fact, this is a pretty foreign concept. I mean, sure they know that city people lead more regimented lives, but it’s in the same way I know that there are people who live off the grid in travel trailers: because I saw it on TV one time. The Grangers do not define “steady work” in the same way the librarian daughter of a nurse and lineman does… and to an extent, neither does Jake. That’s why, when Jake wasn’t immediately able to find work, he wasn’t especially worried. He had plenty in checking from his last paycheck and plenty more in savings, that he knew he wouldn’t have to touch for months. In the meantime, he could just work cattle on the Granger Ranch, for $100 a day tax free. That’s a financial plan, y’all. I couldn’t argue with that, particularly considering I begged him to quit is job in the first place.

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The trouble is, as much as I’d love to claim otherwise, I can never truly break free of 22-year-old Belle, evading those pesky questions about her partner’s employment and working two jobs, herself… not in my own mind and not in the minds of some of those who witnessed that struggle. So, while Jake’s family and friends considered working the family ranch to be legitimate employment; I knew that, at the very least, the man who opened the door to his daughter to hear “ImgettingadivorceI’msorryIruinedChristmas” was struggling with it… and so was I.

Jake is not my ex-husband. He’s nothing like him, nor is he responsible for any of the damage done. It’s not his problem. That’s what I told myself all through the holidays, as I defended his work ethic and decisions to people who, quite frankly, probably weren’t even worried. I’m no longer an idiot teenager making promises I can’t fathom, because I’m out of ideas. They know that. I know that… but that knowledge didn’t change the turmoil and stress I felt and tried desperately to hide.

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I tried to explain to Jake, that his unemployment was wearing on me. I did. I was also careful not to really draw any obvious parallels to my previous situation… so it sort of canceled itself out. “I really need you to get a job… but I know you’re working hard and I trust you.” I was too rational and it wasn’t the clearest expression of where I stood on the issue.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell Jake what our situation was doing to me, without nagging him or sounding manipulative… or just revealing things about myself and state of mind that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging. What kind of woman begs her guy to quit his job and then complains that he’s unemployed, when he spends all week doing physical labor on his family’s ranch for pay?!?! A batshit crazy one… one who’s a little bit broken… one who can’t quite let go of the past… and I did my best to hide that part of myself. Jake was under his own stress from working for his family and it was starting to show, as well. We started bickering more and more, as I tried to keep a hold on my feelings and he tried to juggle his familial obligations with the new ones he had to his fiancé… sometimes poorly.

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I spent New Year’s Day furious with Jake for getting drunk and embarrassing me in front of his friends, people I barely knew, the previous night. It’s one thing to hear his crazy college stories, but a completely different one to live through them at 29, as a witness to his complete regression. He was not responsible for how I felt about his technical unemployment. He wasn’t responsible for the flashbacks to my previous marriage. He wasn’t responsible for the nightmares, but he was damn sure responsible for not being a drunken asshole and I told him as much. I’d planned to just save my breakdowns for when he was at his parents’ house and only share just how much his unemployment was getting to me, when he’d found local work, but there was always a new need for him on the ranch. It was always urgent and if he turned his parents down, they’d tell him he was selfish and lazy, even though they made no moves to hire anyone for the long term, knowing Jake was looking for work here. He was becoming more inconsiderate and I was becoming shorter tempered. It was really starting to wear on us… and eventually, I just couldn’t abide by my cardinal rule that feelings are for the inside.

Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but I spent years thinking things would be different in six months, in a year, in five years, and I can’t do it anymore! You’re working and you’re making money and I know it’s not the same and I’m sorry I’m so fucked up, but I didn’t sleep for days after the nightmare where you turned into my ex-husband during sex! You have to get a real job.

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Jake: “All I wanna do is help my parents and my brother. I want to get a job up here, stop living out of my truck, and find us a house. I’m just trying to help people and everyone I love is pissed off at me.”
Me: “I know you want to be there for them and I’ve supported that for four months, but you asked me to marry you and I can’t do that if you don’t have a job. I don’t mean that as a threat. I love you so much, but this is too hard for me. It’s been too hard for me.”

Ultimately, we compromised. Jake would spend the next week on the ranch, one week looking for work here, and one more week on the ranch, when he’d tell his dad that he couldn’t rely on him for daily help. By the end of that first week, he had a start date for spraying lawns. It’s not his dream job, but it’s income. It’s local. We survived seeing each other at our worst and Jake’s officially moved in with me. He can stop drinking like when he was 22 and I can stop having deeply disturbing sex dreams about my ex-husband, like when I was 22.

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The Apathetic Bride

As a child, I was not especially girly. This might come as a shock to my frequent readers, considering Jake and I just recently had an argument as to whether or not glitter can be my second favorite color. Spoiler alert: he’s wrong.

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Perhaps I’m simply overcompensating in adulthood, because when I was little, I was bound and determined to be a tomboy. I “hated” baby dolls, Barbies, dresses, and the color pink, because naturally you couldn’t like Disney princesses and climbing trees. Regardless, I loved my Water Baby, because it didn’t feel like a doll, but a real baby and I wanted my play to be as realistic as possible… which is precisely why I stuck my baby in the microwave to heat up the water, after my mother refused to refill it. While my mothering instincts might have left something to be desired, it wasn’t for lack of interest. Just like most other little girls, I felt that biological drive and genuine desire to be a mom.

I suppose my first romantic fantasy had the same lead as that of every other 90s girl: Jack Dawson. Of course, it took me a bit longer to realize that Cal Hockley was the real hero of Titanic, but all the same… at age 10, I began to dream, innocently (put your dress back on, Rose, you just met this man), of falling in love. Despite this, it would be another six years before I even considered my own wedding, and as an assignment in a marriage and family class, at that. Now, before you go mocking my undergraduate degree of family and consumer science education (or home-ec), I’d like to clarify that this was a budgeting and planning exercise. Weddings just happened to be on topic with the course, as we calculated the cost of catering and venues and attire. While I’m sure this was fun (and a little harmful) for the girls who grew up fantasizing about their dream weddings, for me, it was just… illogical.

Teacher: “You have to include boutonnieres for the men.”
Me: “Why? You can have a wedding without those.”

Even when I planned my first wedding, I just couldn’t muster up the energy to care about this entirely unnecessary party. In hindsight, I’ve considered the possibility that this was simply because I was getting married for all the wrong reasons, and there may be some merit to that. On the day of my wedding, I remember trying to picture my life five years later and thinking that I couldn’t see myself married then… that maybe this was the wrong path… that it was too late to do anything about it. Few believe me when I tell them this, since I didn’t actually say it at the time, so they insist that the only reason I don’t care about my pending party is because I’ve already had a wedding. Y’all, I swear on the Deathly Hallows that the next time someone implies that my second marriage counts less than the one I entered before I could legally drink, Imma cut a bitch.

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Weddings have just never been my thing. On our first date, I told Jake as much… and he was baffled as to why. In every other way, this man is a stereotypical country boy. He loves hunting, fishing, drinking, football, and taxidermy. He has such a thick southern accent, that he sounds like a racist cartoon character. The man’s a downright parody of himself… and he loves weddings, so much so, that he’s attended at least fifteen over the years and has been in half of them. Jake thinks it’s absolutely worth it to spend $9,000 on a party. I’m marrying Katherine Heigl from 27 Dresses and I’m… Sheldon Cooper.

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Hate is a really strong word for how I feel about weddings. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I don’t mind the idea of looking back on a big celebration to declare my lifelong commitment to Jake, in front of all of our friends and family. It certainly means a lot more at 29 than it did at 19, to me and to the audience. I’d do it just to make Jake happy. It’s just… I want to be a wife, not a bride. I don’t need or really even want all the fuss, especially when the tradition and industry surrounding weddings… kind of sucks.

Weddings and wedding planning are typically very sexist. It takes a lot to tickle my feminist bone, but I resent that I’m supposed to plan this shindig, just because I brought the vagina to the party. I want to go to the caterer, who Jake told me was shocked that I’d “let” him decide the menu without me there to hold his hand, and remind her that it’s 2017. I love Jake’s mom, but I think it’s completely unfair that she and everyone else think my father should pay for an elaborate party that his adult daughter doesn’t really even want. It’s not because it’s my second wedding, either. It’s because I bring in $50,000 a year and I don’t need my father to inventory his livestock so he can pay some man to take me off his hands, because women are such a burden. If we want a party, we can pay for a party.

To be clear, it’s not any one person being sexist. It’s the wedding industry. Societally, we talk sooooo big about female empowerment and some pretend sisterhood where I owe more to a random woman than a random man, because somehow equality (?), but the second a woman gets engaged, all of that goes out the window. I’m criticized for my own traditional relationship and gender role (my boss once joked that I was “gender conforming”), which effect only me, but now it’s not only okay for me to ask my dad to pay a literal dowry, but mandatory. No longer are the sparkle and the glitz and the bright colors grounds for mockery, but celebrated… by the jewelry and bridal stores, who want my money. If I say I want to maintain a certain body image for Jake, I’m doing a disservice to all womankind, but my wedding is in three months, so it’s just assumed I’m on a diet of laxatives and self-loathing, to look good for everyone else. The idea that I’m not allowed to be traditional and feminine (aside from the language), unless it’s wedding season, is utter bullshit… and a marketing ploy.

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Zetus lapetus, are weddings expensive. After my first and only wedding dress shopping trip, last summer, I’ve refused to go on another. I was thrilled when my bridesmaids chose their own dress online and ordered it sight unseen. As for my dress…. well, I’m getting married in three months and I don’t even know what I’m going to wear. I’m not really that concerned about it, either, because I’ve been shopping online and all the dresses look the same. It’s my first communion all over again. For realz, y’all, the only difference I can even see half the time is price. The same white, A-line, floor length, strapless dress, either runs for $800 or $2,300 and no one is going to remember it, either way. In fact, none of the stores even make anything as low key as the lacey, tea length, sleeved dress I had in mind. They’re so well stocked in taffeta and tulle, I’m never sure if I’m looking at bridal gowns or pageant dresses… and I’m not even going to pretend I’ve ever had that much grace and poise.

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I’m sure I’ll order the dress I’ve had my eye on from Etsy in two weeks, and if I don’t… so what? I can find something on Modcloth in the last month if I must. It’s a dress I’ll wear one time and it’s likely I’ll only vaguely remember doing so, because that’s the thing no one tells brides: they’ll be so stressed and wired the day of their wedding, that when it’s all said and done, it’ll be a fog of memory. They’ll have looked forward to the day their entire lives, shed tears of frustration over ridiculous arguments during the planning, spent thousands of dollars on flowers and centerpieces and videography and all those other things I refuse to purchase… and it’ll still be a haze. The only people who’ve ever truly enjoyed a wedding are guests, and so I maintain my apathetic stance: I don’t care and if it’s my day, why can’t I bring my pets?

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Marrying a Whole Person

It started with a pillow.

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On Friday, Jake and I had planned to look at a furniture outlet, so we could get an idea of what kind of new couch and bedroom set we’d like to buy in a few months. Unlike our often disastrous Hobby Lobby trips, I wasn’t concerned that this would cause any disputes, as we generally agree on large furniture pieces. It’s soft furnishings and décor that cause meltdowns and declarations that maybe we shouldn’t get married and he can just live alone in his bat cave forever. On the way to the store, however, Jake dented his pickup, so he was in a bad mood when I wanted to make a quick stop at the beauty store, before exchanging a pillow to Hobby Lobby. Eager to find out how much damage he’d done to his truck, he told me to go ahead, which was fine… except for the wording.

Jake: “There’s no reason for me to go to the beauty store with you.”
Me: :: angrily browsing hand lotions :: Well, there was no reason for me to go to the western store, the golf store, the video game store, and more often than not the liquor store, but I didn’t insist that all of your interests are frivolous and stupid and sit in the car.

I was eventually so frustrated that I decided to walk to Hobby Lobby on my own, because there ain’t no way that trip wasn’t going to end in a fight… and I was right. So, I suppose it started with a trip to the beauty store. It escalated with a pillow.

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Me: “You hate everything I like.”
Jake: “That’s not true. I liked the shelf you wanted to get for your coffee mugs. I just didn’t like the pillow. I thought it was a stupid, frilly, single girl pillow.”

Dude. Ouch.

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*Jake insists he did not say “stupid.” I insist he did and that that’s a terrible defense.

I spent the next 10 minutes or so privately crying on the way to the furniture store, messaging Laura about how everything I like is dumb and girly. I told her about the pillow and she agreed that one pillow was not worth any strong opinion, that Jake could handle a single pillow.

Jake: “There’s no point in going in here and looking at furniture if you’re pissed off at me, so what’s wrong?”
Me: “What’s the point of looking, when everything I like is stupid and frivolous?”
Jake: “That’s not what I said. Would you prefer me to just not say anything and you do whatever you want? I don’t even mention the stuff I’d get if it were just me.”
Me: “Neither. Do. I. Every single thing I point out is something I consider a reasonable compromise. It wasn’t sequined or pink. It was a white, furry pillow, to go with several other pillows you do like.”

We argued for a few more minutes, before I told Jake that I really didn’t want to look at furniture with him right now and that I’d like to go spend my gift card money at Bass Pro first… where I’m sure he’d love the furniture. After a good 45 minutes of silence, Jake was the first to speak.

Jake: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “You keep saying that, but we keep having this argument. Aaron hates that ceramic deer head Mindy likes so much. He thinks it’s stupid. She still has it, though, because that’s what marriage is. You know what? I hate your “Manners Maketh Man” sign idea. I think it’s pretentious and dumb… and Buzz is gross. It’s absolutely disgusting that you have a dead animal on your wall. The only reason I named him Buzz was to make it slightly cuter and less morbid, because you like him. I love animals so much that I cried when a goat died on The Walking Dead and I can still get over a dead fucking deer on my wall, for the rest of our lives, but you can’t handle one fuzzy fucking pillow? You just want to smoke cigars on a bear skin rug with the head still attached, while I sit quietly and contain my glitter. You tell me our home will represent me as well as you, but apparently it’s only the parts you like.”

The word glitter has never been spoken with such hurt and tears. Dude’s lucky it didn’t end with a pillow.

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Jake: “I like all the parts of you.”
Me: “Apparently not the ‘stupid, frilly, single girl’ parts.”
Jake: “Okay, that might have been what I said, but-”
Me: “That’s what your sign needs to say.”
Jake: ::laughing:: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “I’m buying that pillow.”

I didn’t actually buy the pillow. I bought a much larger, softer one, with shorter fur, at Target… and Jake loved the overall effect of a gray linen comforter with large beige linen pillows, one red and one brown suede pillow, my fluffy white pillow, and another furry brown oblong one. I draped a soft red throw over the foot of the bed and we’re both happy with the overall appearance and comfort. We found our medium and Jake was only an ass and I was only a drama queen, like half the time… because this is not a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Jake and I are not two teenagers figuring out who we are, what we like, and what we want from the world. While I’m sure we’ll grow together over the years, we’re hardly the blank slates that were Noah and Ally/Jack and Rose/some example where the woman wasn’t a screeching whore. On our first date, Jake and I discussed our views on both religion and politics, in depth, because we’re not college freshman taking a contemporary moral problems class to evaluate theses concepts for the first time. Similarly, on our third date, I made it clear that I wasn’t leaving my library system. I worked hard for my degree and my place in the system. I make damn good money in my field and region and am over the soul searching part of life where I’m up for anything. Not long after, Jake and I talked about our financial philosophies, goals, and personal standings… because these things are not up in the air for us. We were 27 and 30 when we met. We’d had respectively 9 and 12 years to establish ourselves, take a stance on these issues, and realize that they weren’t worth compromising.

The only trouble is, Conservative Christian values are not equal to a fluffy white pillow. The career about which I’m passionate isn’t comparable to a clock that is somehow “too nautical.” A debt free lifestyle is not a deer head on the wall. While it’s benefited us greatly to have spent those 10 years or so making mistakes, conquering our goals, and becoming whole and complete adults, it’s also given us grounds to be quite the stubborn asses. It’s not just him, either. I may not be completely irresponsible with my money, but I also don’t have $50,000 in the bank like Jake… and I do have debt. For years, my Christmas budgeting plan has been to buy what I want for everyone and catch up later. Jake, however, is committed to us being debt free. So where Jake is going to have to let go of the rustic hunting lodge image he has in mind and loosen the purse strings a bit, I’m going to have to learn to hold off on that cat costume, the Amazon Echo, and a new watch, when I don’t have the discretionary income to fund it immediately.

At 29 and 32, we’re well established and developed individuals. Jake is a whole person and so am I, which has only ever been a perk, until recently. While I’d still rather have 200 fights over home decor over the course of our lives than 2000 about how he responds to everything with “I don’t care”, I am realizing that it’s going to be a struggle sometimes, for us to marry such complete people. It’s worth it, of course. Just… maybe we no longer talk about pillows.

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