I’m a real, live girl… apparently.

Every year, starting in September, my dad slowly morphs into The Grinch, himself. You literally cannot have a conversation with the man, without hearing about how we should just cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas and go to Cozumel. Truly, it is not Christmas dinner without listening to my dad bitch about Christmas dinner.

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My dad and his Christmas shopping list.

Now, I love the holidays so much, I am currently plotting to send Jake away for a weekend, so I can pull out my hot pink Christmas tree and have Christmas in July, before I have to sell it this fall… because Jake’s a boy and wants a boring ol’ green tree. I did not get my father’s disdain for the last quarter of the year. I did however, get his… you know, I keep Googling a word for “cynicism, but funny”, because I am fucking hilarious, but I can’t find any results. Fine. I got my father’s cynicism, only instead of directing it at the holidays, I’ve spent most of my adult life directing it at feelings. Ask Gail…

Me: “Ugh. Emotions belong with the last fucking Horcrux.”
Gail: “What’s a Horcrux, again?”
Me: “It’s where Voldemort stored each of the seven parts of his soul and hid them at the ends of the earth, you loser.”
Gail: “Yes. I’m the loser.”

Me: “Spock is the perfect man.”
Gail: “Why?”
Me: “He feels nothing. He’s always completely logical. Spock would never text you at 6:00 in the morning, asking if he’d done something wrong, because he hadn’t heard from you since 9:00 last night.”

… or Catherine.

Me: “Real men don’t cry.”
Catherine: “Dude, agreed.”
Me: “A real man is like Louis from Interview With a Vampire. He only cries one tear every thousand years.”

My teenage years might have been spent obsessing over Roswell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but every romantic entanglement that wasn’t supernatural was met with mockery and derision. No lie, I’m still surprised that I wasn’t kicked out of The Notebook for my hysterical laughter.

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As time went on, I actually developed a love for ridculing these movies. My 24th, 25th, and 26th birthdays were spent crafting with Gail while talking over teen movies, Gilmore Girls style, making up new lines and yelling “Where is the administration?!?!” at the screen. Gail still regrets making me watch Dirty Dancing, because I spent the entire movie ranting about how Baby was the only one dressed like it was 1987 and no one noticed.. and ultimately cackled upon discovery that the famous “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” line referenced which table she sat at at the country club.

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Me: “Fucking white people, dude!”
Gail: “You are literally the whitest person I know… and the whitest person you know.”

I don’t have a friend left who will watch Titanic with me, as they’ve all been subjected to my epic rant, several times, and don’t want to listen to my random shouts of “Team Cal!”, during every romantic scene. I think I’m the only woman alive who will openly and cruelly mock Pretty Woman. 

Me: “I loved the ladies who turned their nose up at her in the dress shop. They’re the heroes of that story.”
Laura: shut_up_breaking_bad

It’s not just movies that have failed to invoke sentimentality in me. I hate weddings and anniversary cards and Valentine’s Day. I’d rather Jake fill up my gas tank than buy me flowers and I couldn’t even give our wedding officiant three reasons I love him without making a joke. I have indeed spent the better part of my life priding myself on being a little bit dead inside…

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… except something’s changed. I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but at some point in the last five years, I’ve begun to enjoy these movies… and not for the sake of mockery and blog material, but because they invoke feelings in me.

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I realized the other day, that not only was I not hate-watching Hope Floats, I was actually empathetic to the main character. I mean, yes, I still critiqued it, messaging Laura about how Birdy had a dream divorce, with a mom who would pay all her bills during her recovery, while looking like Sandra Bullock. I’m not a completely different person… or maybe I am, because as I’m nearing 30, I find myself in the mood to actually watch these movies more and more.

Such was the case the night I rented The Longest Ride. I genuinely wanted to watch a romance, but since the only Nicholas Sparks movie I’ve ever (eventually) enjoyed was The Notebook (and I still fast forward through the cheesy James Garner scenes), I figured chances were high I’d spend my night giggling through it… except I didn’t. I loved the bull-rider-meets-artist tale and almost immediately ordered it on Amazon, assuming this would go into my cache of chick flicks, one of the few I actually liked. After all, I was marrying a man from a rodeo family. That must be the only reason I related to this one… but I had to be sure I maintained my heart of stone, so I searched Netflix for the sappiest romance I could find, perhaps one I’d already seen and knew I would enjoy mocking… like Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven. 

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I knew the twist ending. I knew it wasn’t just love that saved the heroine, but ghosts. Yet, I found myself delighted by the chemistry of the lead actors. I thought the children were adorable and I don’t even like children. Yes, yes, I still laughed my way through the ending, but it was with less mirth than I once had. The same was true of Steel Magnolias. I no longer giggled at the predictability of Julia Roberts’ death, but found myself tearing up and wishing Sally Fields was my mom. I even Googled “movies like Steel Magnolias,” because apparently what they say is true. As we women get older, we all morph into the same Lifetime Original Movie cliche, weeping through formulaic romances about cancer and finding ourselves tearing up when Lorelei tells Emily about her secret day with Richard… and I am no different. It’s only a matter of time before I drag Jake to the latest rom/com and cry over Hallmark cards full of sentiment written by someone else. Soon I’ll find myself looking at children with affection, instead of distate and binge watching 7th Heaven… but wait, I did that last summer! What is happening to me?!?!

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I had a dream wedding.

Just as there has never been a wife more certain of her choice in husband, there has never been a bride less certain of her choice to have a wedding… because I knew what planning a wedding entailed… and I was not wrong. Folks, I spent at least a month straight running errands during every spare moment. I got off work and hit the mall for ties or underwear or wedding makeup. I woke up on the weekends and ran to grab supplies to make boot bracelets for my bridesmaids or to buy a dress for the rehearsal dinner or to pick up gifts for the groomsmen. I worked the day of my own bachelorette party, running home on my lunch break to take care of the dog, so I could have ample time to make some fucking memories. I ran errands before and after my own bridal shower. I did all of this right after relocating to a new city and in the middle of developing my massive Free Comic Book Day program at work, solo, knowing I couldn’t be there, because it was on my wedding day. Planning my wedding was somehow more exhausting than I always knew it would be, and that is saying something.

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I’m not even going to pretend that I handled the whole thing with grace and poise, y’all. In fact, Jake had never seen Angry Belle until Easter Sunday. 

::cue musical score from Jaws::

You see, Mrs. Granger is a really sweet woman, who just doesn’t fully consider what other people are going through… particularly when planning a wedding, because she was married in Vegas a thousand years ago. Like her son, she has an opinion on everything and isn’t afraid to voice it, as she did four months ago when she told us that she didn’t like weddings and didn’t even understand why we were having one. Alrighty. I actually agreed with that and took no offense. Still, I figured she’d want to see the groomsmen’s vests and Jake’s jacket over Easter Sunday, so I had him bring them along to make her feel included.

Now, in hindsight, I think Mrs. Granger is just stubborn like her son and made a “my way or the highway” claim, when she realized we weren’t getting married in a church, without thinking it through. If we weren’t going to do things the way she wanted, she just wasn’t getting involved. Then she realized, three weeks out, that her baby was getting married and she’d had little part in the planning. Sooooo, upon seeing the $40 jacket we’d chosen, she figured she would offer to buy Jake a nicer jacket for his wedding, as a caring gesture and a way to make her mark on the ceremony, not realizing that this would throw a wrench in the wardrobe of the entire wedding party. Fair enough, because apparently Jake didn’t realize it either and didn’t immediately shut the idea down, nineteen days before our wedding. I understand… in hindsight. 

Me: “Are you fucking kidding me?!? I had you show your jacket and the vests to her, so she could feel included, because I wanted to be nice, and her response was to veto them?!?!”
Jake: “I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t like the jacket. She just wanted to do something nice.”
Me: “Then how about she shut the fuck up?!? Literally every single comment anyone in your family has made has been negative! They don’t like that we aren’t getting married in a church, that we’re taking the pictures beforehand, that we’re paying for it ourselves, that it’s the day of the Kentucky Derby even though they blacked out every other weekend, and now your mother wants to change the wardrobe three weeks out and you said you’d think about it?!?!?” 
Jake: “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”
Me: “OF COURSE YOU DIDN’TI HAVE DONE EVERY BIT OF WEDDING PLANNING ALONE! Do you have any idea how hard it is, how much it hurts, to do this without a mom to help me and then listen to everyone tell me how much it all sucks?!? You had to have your Pretty Pretty Princess Party and you have done jack shit to make it happen and all I’ve gotten is criticism! YOUR FAMILY HATES ME!”
Jake: “They don’t hate you. That’s just… how they are. They have an opinion on everything. I’ll tell my mom the wardrobe has been decided and that’s it.”
Me: “Then she’ll know told you to say that! FUCK IT! You can wear a fucking clown suit for all I care, because I’m not going! I hope you and your mother have a beautiful ceremony for two! Just let me know how many kids we’re having!!!!”

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I kid you not, I cried in the floor of my closet, tearing a layer of tulle out of my wedding dress, with a seam ripper, because I just did not have time to have a mental breakdown, without continuing to be productive. I cried for two hours, because I was so physically and mentally exhausted by planning a wedding I didn’t even want. As little as he actually did for this wedding, though, I have to give Jake some credit. He let me have my inevitable breakdown, despite how out of character such utter rage might have been. When he knocked on the closet door to see if I was okay and I screamed at him to leave me alone, he left. When I came out and lay on the bed and cried, he lay beside me and held me.

Jake: “If I’d known this would be so hard on you, I never would’ve done it.”
Me: “How could you not? The wedding is three weeks away and I just spent every night this week getting vests and ties and shirts for your groomsmen, to match the jacket we chose together. I would’ve let her dress all of the guys four months ago. It would’ve been nice to have some help, but it’s too late now.”
Jake: “I didn’t mean that. I meant the wedding in general.”
Me: “If only I’d said verbatim that I hate weddings, because they’re expensive and exhausting and miserable for the bride, who doesn’t even get to enjoy the day… oh, wait… I said that on our first date.” 

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I’m not going to say this was my proudest moment, but I’m also going to forgive myself for it. I had one genuine breakdown as a direct result of planning this wedding in six months, without help (and I’m still the one who suggested the compromise of letting Mrs. Granger buy Jake dress boots). Those six months included Jake’s unemployment and frequent work in another state, my hour long commute to my new job, a move to a new city, and major structural changes within said job. While I’m not one to excuse the stereotypical bridezilla, I am willing to concede to the idea that everybody gets one. In my case, I directed that one at exactly the right person for a limited and precise amount of time and then I moved down the ever-lengthening to-do list, up until one day before the rehearsal dinner… and it was all worth it.

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You know, if you marry a man from a rodeo family, this really should be mandatory.

Okay, okay. “Worth it” might be a weighty phrase, so soon after The Great Jacket Debacle of 2017, but I can say, without a doubt, that Jake and I had the perfect wedding. Thursday night, when I got home from another trip to the mall, after work, I was lost. I had nothing left to do. I’d already picked up my dress, done the iron-ons for the bridesmaids shirts, finished their boot bracelets, packed my bag for Saturday, ordered Gail’s vegan cupcakes so she could eat cake with us, cleaned the house so it would look nice when my bridesmaids slept over the next evening and, I was… done. How was I done?!?! For the previous month, I hadn’t had a moment to spare and now I was free?!? Could it be that all that racing around and my growing resentment toward Jake for being unable to help with anything beyond writing checks had actually paid off?!?! Could I enjoy getting married?!?!

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The next morning, Jake and I woke early to get our marriage license before the 9:00 a.m. rehearsal. I made us late and for a moment, I thought I’d thrown a wrench into all of my plans for the day, because when we got to the Court Clerk’s office, there were three couples ahead of us. After fifteen minutes, we realized there was just no way to get the license and make it back to Jackson in time, so we left and hoped there wouldn’t be too long of a wait when we returned.

After speeding through our rehearsal, we made it back just in time. Only fifteen minutes later, we left with our marriage license, as literally 10 people walked through the door. I was free to take my bridesmaids to brunch, hit the mall to see the new nerd-themed store and get my ring cleaned, followed by group manicures and pedicures and even a trip to the liquor store. When Jake’s parents insisted we open our thousand dollar grill together (told you I was marrying a Windsor), I didn’t have to rush to get dressed for the rehearsal dinner afterward. My bridesmaids and I were even the first to arrive, after my dad and step-mom, Lena (who paid for and coordinated the whole thing out of kindness and not stupid obligatory traditions). I am pretty sure we found some kind of wormhole, y’all, because nothing went wrong or had to be dropped from the list. We even had time, after the rehearsal dinner, to watch the episode of Black Mirror, where the maid-of-honor goes crazy: my dream ending.

The next day went just as smoothly. While we were running a bit late from coffee and donuts, since the Jackson venue was only 15 minutes from my house in Cherokee, we had few worries. We arrived in plenty of time to put together centerpieces with the decor from the venue closet, since the tables, padded folding chairs, and linens were already set up by staff. We ran to the city to pick up Gail’s cupcakes and grabbed lunch to-go from the food court at the mall. Still, we had plenty of time to giggle as we squeezed into our spanks and Laura did my makeup. We chugged (but in a delicate, ladylike way) our free mimosas, while my cousin did my hair.

Finally, it was time for Jake and I to do our first look photos. It was a perfect, cloudless, still day, just a touch too warm when we first got started. Jake and I giggled through our photos, with no objection from the photographer I found through work. As we headed toward our families, his 7-year-old niece, Lucy, came barreling up to us.

Lucy: “UNCLE JAKE!!! You know how you talked about me being a flower girl!?!?”
Jake: “You mean when you said you didn’t want to, because you were a tomboy?”
Lucy: “Yeah. I want to now.”
Jake: “Well, did ya bring any flowers?”
Lucy: “No.”
Me: “Don’t worry, Lucy. We’ll find you some flowers. You find one of my friends in a pretty bright dress and they’ll get you some flowers. You can’t throw them, but you can walk in front of us and show everyone how pretty you look, okay?”
Lucy: “Okay. Where are your friends?”

I’m pretty sure my impromptu flower girl was carrying faux flowers from a vase inside the venue owner’s home, but she sure was happy to do it. The pictures went quickly and before I knew it, I found myself hiding in the bridal suite, taking a shot from my cousin to calm my nerves. We all gathered in the groom’s suite, half of us in one room being coached by our wonderful drill sergeant coordinator/venue operator, the other half of us taking shots behind a closed door. As my dad passed around some kind of mentholated liquor, my step-mom Lena stuck her head inside and snapped:

Lena: “Seriously? Give me a drink of that!”

Before I knew it, my dad was walking me out.

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Dad: “You did good this time. You picked a good one.”
Me: “I really did. It means a lot for you to say that.”
Dad: “I like him even more now that he’s got a job.”

Because that, too, fell into place just in time. A month ago, I found a listing for a wastewater treatment worker position for the city of Cherokee. Jake wants to build a career in his major, hydrology, and was excited to start from the bottom, especially considering they agreed to let him off for the wedding and honeymoon.

As my friends walked down the aisle one by one, I couldn’t believe this was happening. I thanked God for bringing me here. I was once so miserable in my life. How could it be that I got everything I ever wanted? My dad’s arm in mine, I walked down an aisle of people excited for me. No one passed bets on how long it would last. No hidden feuds were being quelled for my sake. My friends, Jake’s, and both our families were just happy for us and I thought:

This is exactly as it’s supposed to be. It was all worth it.

My dad gave me away and it was less gross and antiquated than I thought, knowing he approved. Jake and I took hands as one of his best friends, a youth minister, started the ceremony, which included just the right amount of humor, with such gems as:

Jason: “Now, Jake… he’s smarter than he looks.”

Jason read Ephesians 22-33, as I requested. I felt a bit apprehensive for a moment, knowing all my liberal library pals were in the crowd, but finally decided it was my party and I could be archaic if I wanted. I held Jake’s hands and looked into his blue eyes and thought he looked so handsome, even though I once swore I’d never date a redhead/anyone shorter than 5’10″/an oil man. He’s absolutely perfect for me.

We didn’t read our own vows, but Jason had asked us to list three reasons we fell in love with the other. He read Jake’s, cleaning up the language to say I countered his smart aleck attitude, that I had a deeply rooted faith, and that I made him a better man. He chose to read mine verbatim, which I did not realize he’d do when I wrote it.

“I was asked for reasons I fell in love with Jake, but those all seem too generic, like his work ethic and his patience and his intellect. I didn’t just fall in love the one time, but multiple times. I fell in love with him the first time I was truly upset with him and he apologized and kept his promise not to make the same mistake. I fell in love the day I thought the dog was choking, but it was really just Jake cuddling him and cooing at him like a baby. I fell in love when he introduced me to his friends and I realized that I wasn’t alone in my affection for him. I fell in love when I hit my head skiing and he held me while I cried.

I guess I can’t give a handful of reasons why I fell in love with him, because I keep doing it. I even love that his answer to this question is going to be lame and vague, because he’s bad with words.”

We spoke the traditional vows and traded rings and I was married to my best friend and the love of my life. We walked down the aisle to Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, because we had the best DJ, who took liberties when I told him I did not care what music he played during the ceremony.

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We took pictures with our wedding party and I had another cliche screaming girl moment with Jane, even though we’d done the same thing when we’d run into each other at the mall. Jake and I had our first dance and it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jake was such a great dancer… because he refused to practice with me and I am not a great dancer. This was especially difficult to hide when Jake elbowed me in the head trying to spin me.

Me: “No one told me this was going to involve sports!”

My mortification only increased when I danced with my father, who kept telling me when to step and then loudly instructing me to quit leading when I did as told, as Lena stood to the side giving me looks of pity. My first dances were easily the worst part of the day. In fact, I’m pretty sure purgatory for me is dancing at my own wedding.

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Pictured: Jake and some other, more graceful woman.

Jake danced with his mother and I let her believe that he chose the song. We ate and poor Gail gave a brief, but sweet speech, about how she’s loved me for many years; that she’s loved Jake ever since she realized how much he cared for me and that he can match and counter me when I name and dress up the stuffed deer head on his all. Aaron, Jake’s best friend, gave a speech of all the reasons Jake is his worst best friend. Of course this means my family now knows that my new husband vomited all over his best friend’s honeymoon suite the night before his wedding and then cleaned it up with the shirt he was supposed to wear the next day. Jason shared an equally disgusting, yet far more endearing story about Jake wearing a dead snake in his hat during a camping trip, until it started to smell. When Jason kindly mentioned this, Jake responded in true Jake fashion “It’ll be a’right.”

Jason: “So Belle, whenever times get tough, just remember ‘it’ll be a’right.'”

The rest of the night was spent laughing with family and friends, eating our beautiful lemon naked cake, made by my aunt and occasionally dancing. We drank from the cash bar and made s’mores by the fire, while our guests played horseshoes, jumbo Jenga, and cornhole and filled up on tacos and cake. While we do have enough leftover meat in our freezer to eat for a month, our to-go dessert boxes were genius, because we only left with the top tier of our cake and a few cupcakes.

As the night wound down and only our closest friends and family remained, everyone danced, with my dad and Lena stealing the show. I suffered a brief respite, throwing up in the bathroom, after realizing I’d had too much and that if I didn’t make it happen, my body would. Lena and I had a sweet, drunken heart to heart where she declared she thought of me as one of her own and if I ever needed her, I just needed to let her know. This had been proven throughout the night when she, quite soberly, introduced herself as my mother. As the venue closed, our friends gathered our things into their cars and Jake and I rode separately to our house in Cherokee. Fortunately this meant Jake missed his chance to watch me drunkenly lick and dig into the top of our cake with my bare hands, because I am a dainty little lady.

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Our friends brought our things into the garage and Laura fed our pets. We helped each other out of our wedding clothes and into our own bed, where we spent an inebriated and chaste first night as husband and wife.

I never expected to enjoy my wedding day. I assumed it would pass in a blur of stress and frustration and drama. Instead, we had the best day. Now that it’s all behind me, I can say that I’m thrilled to have celebrated my real marriage with a real wedding.  I’d live it over and over again… just not if I had to relive the prep.

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Click here for a throwback to my first dates with Jake.

Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and I once showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”

I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:

Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien king. One of the most well-read women I’ve ever met has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I also devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch American Idol or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people had to Google “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

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When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books, Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.

Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active is asexual or somehow abnormal. Until one year ago (exactly, oddly enough), I not had sex in six years. Furthermore, I’d only kissed five people, ever, and that includes a stranger who pecked me on the cheek on New Year’s Eve. I am not asexual, far from it. I was just never interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I saw no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut.

Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat, I can tell you that when I was treading water in a dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it wasn’t so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together. While I’ll admit that for an America drowning in debt, financial freedom might be it’s own fantasy, I’m still not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is the sole appeal of the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience. This article suggests a somewhat circular logic for the over 30 bracket, in particular: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends. This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new. Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice.

Note: I was known, at one time, to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.

Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call shenanigans. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the spine injurt. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What is this, Amish country? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, but with with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them.

  • I originally posted this on March 5, 2015.

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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Why Everyone Needs to Stop Telling Me Marriage is Hard

Maybe it’s just my Facebook friends or the blogs I follow, but it seems that the Internet has devoted itself solely to telling me how hard marriage and motherhood will be, lately. Just the other day, Lacy told me how it irritates her that so many people “glamorize” motherhood. Um… I must be reading a different Internet or talking to different moms, because from what I understand, birth looks like this…

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and motherhood looks like this.

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I had my IUD inserted Wednesday and after two months of Summer Reading in a library full of unattended rabid babies, I was tempted to ask the doctor to shove a whole fistful of Mirenas up there, just for good measure. Add in that Facebook post about your four-year-old threatening to throw her dinner plate across the kitchen, those memes about how moms never use the bathroom alone, and passive aggressive remarks about your baby daddy’s XBOX usage and I’m rethinking my entire position on parenting. People make parenthood sound miserable, because all they do is bitch… and the same goes for marriage.

Jake and are getting married. We’re not engaged, because his job is in flux and his hours suck, but we’re no longer speaking in terms of “if”, but “when.” While he still speaks in the hypothetical to his parents, his sister has invited us to attend a marriage seminar at her church, with her and her husband. We’ve discussed dates and venues and argued about how insane it is to suggest an open bar for 200 people, because I’m apparently dating one of the Windsors. No money has been put down and no rings have been bought, but we’re in agreement that it’ll likely be official by the holidays… and that’s wonderful… or at least it would be if I wasn’t constantly hearing comments and reading articles about the impossibility of marriage.

I know, I know, these comments are generally coming from good people who mean well and 80% of the time, I’m more than happy to look past a person’s words or actions and analyze the intentions. Then, why does it get to me so much this time?

It’s just all so generic and… cliché.
I’m getting countless marriage related Facebook ads. I don’t know if it’s because my relationship status changed approximately a year ago or if it’s the fault of all those times I’ve Googled barn venues while bored at work, but nearly every suggested article is about engagement, weddings, or marriage. There was also that one about joining the “cat lady” subscription service, which felt like an implied threat, if I don’t get married yesterday, but generally they all have titles like “7 Things to Discuss before Getting Engaged.” Spoiler alert: children, religion, money, sex, location, family relations, and career should all be discussed before planning to spend the rest of your lives together. Zetus lapetus, I should light a candle at Mass for HuffPost, because I nearly saved that talk about my absurd student loan debt for the honeymoon!

Wait. No. We brought up religion and career before we met, family and kids and location on the first and second and third dates, sex on the sixth, and finances after three or four months… because we aren’t complete morons.

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What the fuck do people think we’ve been doing for fifteen months? Is it really so preposterous to think that in lieu of spending the first year having sex, we’d choose to actually get to know one another, discuss our goals and values, introduce each other to friends and family, and really assess whether or not we could build a life together? Must people actually be told that they need to discuss these things? Does anyone actually find this advice helpful?

It would’ve been nice if someone had told me that birth control could make me sick enough to Google how to cope with chronic pain. I’d have liked a heads up that him turning me down sexually doesn’t mean I disgust him, before I burst into tears while naked in bed about how I’m bad at sex for not understanding these things. It would be great for someone to write an article on how to explain to your future mother-in-law that you’re not inviting your own mother to your wedding. I’d love a how-to guide on letting him take the lead in a traditional relationship without occasionally feeling like I’m being steamrolled. An article with that combination of information wouldn’t appeal to the masses, though, because not everyone needs the same things. 

People assume everyone needs the same things.
Gail and I have been through some frighteningly similar life events, from marriage and divorce to lost babies to money, dating, and career struggles. Interestingly enough, however, these things have shaped us into very different people with completely different needs. Gail needs to know that she is always in control of anything pertaining to her. She needs to be asked not to do something or have it suggested that she might benefit from a specific choice. I need to know that I’m with someone who will take charge and make a decision. I need to know that he cares enough to tell me that I need go to sleep when I’m blubbering from job stress in the living room in the middle of the night. Gail needs to know that she is still in control of her life and I need to know that I’m with someone who will take an active part in our lives. The concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, but our priorities drastically differ… and that is okay. 

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I have several friends who will openly admit that they wear the pants in the family, others who insist that both people are equal, and some who believe the man should be the head of the household. None of them are wrong. Just because one perfect view of marriage means the woman works 70 hours a week and the man stays home with the kids, doesn’t mean the opposite is archaic and degrading. We’re all so quick to point out that there is no right way or wrong way to parent, but no one ever says this about marriage. They just talk about how hard it is in general terms, because everyone has different needs and therefore different struggles. I’ll never have to worry about crying in frustration, because Jake won’t put down the XBOX controller and discipline his kids or help me around the house, but I will cry after a ridiculous fight over the fact that I threw out a carton of expired milk without even tasting it first. My marriage will not look like anyone else’s marriage, so they really can’t give me advice about the ways in which it will be hard.

I’m divorced.
It’s actually pretty cool that everyone in my life seems to have completely forgotten about the four years I spent married to Lord Voldemort, but it’s still one of the primary reasons that receiving generic marriage advice gives me such a burning desire to be a patronizing asshole right back. Oh, he left a glass by the sink?

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You know what my ex-husband left?

My ex-husband left…

  • … a lawn full of dead pets after he burned our house down.
  • … me alone while I miscarried.
  • … my dog chained to a wall for a week, while I was on vacation with my mother.
  • … a window unlocked after our divorce, so he could break in and steal things to sell.

I could go on, but I’m not actually trying to belittle anyone else’s marriage struggles. Yes, being treated like a house elf for twenty years is a legitimate problem, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to trivialize the pain I suffered. I know that marriage is hard, but the broad reasons cited are usually ones I’ll gladly face if it means my pets are all alive and well at the end of the day. So, if you don’t want a copy of the fire report, while we compare marital woes, then…

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But… again, I know these comments are generally coming from good people who mean well. There were things about their own marriage that genuinely surprised them and they want me to be prepared. That is so very kind of them and I hope they’ll invite me to the marriage seminar at their church, lend a supportive and non-judgmental ear when we do have struggles, and tailor their advice a bit more specifically to the situation and people involved. Most importantly, I wish they’d just celebrate when we do get engaged and married, because  I research for a living, so I promise I’m getting plenty of the doom and gloom marriage prep material. We’ll have problems one day, I’ve no doubt, so let’s be joyful while we don’t.

 

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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A Readiness to Marry

Jake lay on the bed, his back toward me. A few minutes later, he rolled over to see me quietly crying.

Jake: “What’s wrong?!?”
Me: “I’m not going to see you for three weeks!”

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Fuck all those people who told me you get more emotional as you get older. Fuck them for being right. It’s disgusting.

Jake’s job really sucks, right now, with a two weeks on and one week off schedule. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I got to see him for a few days out of the month, last month. We saw each other in the middle and then at the very end, only speaking on the phone in between. The times we have seen each other have frequently been shared with his family, such as when we went to the rodeo for Memorial Day, when Jake helped his sister brand cattle on our anniversary weekend, and when we spent the Fourth of July in Wellston helping clean up after a storm took out her barn. Jake just doesn’t have enough time to do all he needs to on his week off and would rather take me along than miss out on time together.

Of course, I would selfishly rather he skip all those non-Belle activities and spend more quality time with me. Therefore, a bit of the time we have together is wasted on me fighting with myself (and sometimes a super understanding Jake), because I can’t help being upset that we don’t get more alone time and more time in general. After a long weekend together, the moment he leaves is just… heartbreaking. I spend the whole day on the brink of tears.

I liked being single, y’all. I had so much fun having my One Tree Hill marathons, while crafting in a t-shirt and panties. That’s one of the reasons I’ve stated for why Jake won’t be living with me, before marriage. This is the last time I get to do these things, in excess. I’m trying to take advantage, too. I’ve been spending the time alone working on my photo album projects, having girls’ nights, watching Army Wives and old teen movies and… it’s just not fun anymore. I try to remind myself that five years from now, I’ll do anything for a week alone and it’s just not working.

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While Jake and I don’t live together and won’t until we share a name, there have been a few occurrences when it’s been easier for him to stay with me for a week than drive back to Wellston every night, just depending on his job location. These snapshots of married life have really shown me what it will be like, particularly when he has a rough schedule. I know that not every night will be a romantic night out, that sometimes Jake will come home from work with just enough energy to shower and go to bed. I’m aware that during these times, I’ll be the one doing most of the domestic chores, including buying him new underwear and t-shirts. He’ll criticize my Diet Coke intake and we’ll argue over how that compares to his beer intake. I’ll have to sit through more damned Ben Stiller movies than I ever anticipated. But… he’ll be with me.

In February, I told Jake that I imagined I’d say yes after a year of dating, based on our progress at the time. I was right. If he asked me tomorrow, or more likely after his job settles a bit, I’d pull out my calendar and choose a date right then. I hate weddings. I’m sure you’ll read all about how and why in the next year, but I am not a wedding gal. I just want Jake. I’ll sign his prenup, stating that I’m not after the family ranch. I’ll argue with his mother over cake toppers and flowers. I’ll do the drama where I tell my mom she can’t come. I don’t care. I just want to get to the part where I get to see him every day, sign his name with mine, and spend our lives together.

A few years ago, I tried to explain to Gail why living together before marriage just wouldn’t work for me. I theorized that cohabitating for a marriage bound couple might deprive them of experiencing a true readiness to marry. By going halfsies on commitment, by taking on some of the duties and most of the perks, the remaining benefits could become muted and vague and wouldn’t necessarily outweigh the added responsibility of forever. When I have a bad day and long to curl up with Jake on the couch, while he plays with my hair and doesn’t ask a single question; when I wake up alone and wish he were there to roll over and kiss me on the forehead; when I eat dinner in front of the TV and would prefer to be at the table with him; I know I was right. If I experienced these little luxuries every day, I wouldn’t yearn for them as a part of marriage. As much as it aches right now, I’m really quite grateful that I’ve gotten the chance to truly recognize the readiness for marriage… and I wish the day would hurry up and get here.

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Normal: I Never Thought I Would Be Here

In a country where divorce has become an inevitability, it’s no surprise that, as a society, we’re pretty damned reluctant to admit how much it screws us all up. As a divorcee, with divorced parents, I’m not throwing stones, here. My childhood, though, like that of half of North America, is split into two points: before the divorce and after the divorce.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I have no illusions that my life would have been improved by my parents staying together. Those two… it was like if Archie Bunker of All in the Family had married Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. Sure, there were times when they were good together… or more accurately good separately, but zetus lapetus, all I remember after age seven was hate and insanity. The most obnoxious thread in any divorce discussion is the erroneous claim that these marriages shouldn’t have ended. Had my parents not been allowed to part, I’d have been orphaned in a murder/suicide by age twelve. I’m not really exaggerating. Despite divorce sometimes being the best option, however, that doesn’t mean those involved aren’t damaged from it.

3ed6673b748b2e9208e960af20a81decI literally cannot watch this movie, because she reminds me of my mother.

Before my parents divorced, I was… normal, for lack of a better word. I was ornery and a bit bossier than the other kids in my class, but I didn’t get in a lot of trouble at school or home. I never wore the cutest clothes or the most complicated hairstyles, but I was dressed in clean and matching outfits and I fit in with the other kids, well enough. Then, everything changed and I was too young to understand why. The other kids didn’t like me, because no one was making sure I was bathing or brushing my teeth. I was putting on weight, so I grew defensive and mean. I got in trouble constantly, because I acted out in class, wishing more than anything that I could be the petite teacher’s pet or the cute blonde girl who was good at sports. I was the smelly, chubby kid, who was always sitting out at recess for one reason or another. Of course, at age eight, I didn’t understand that this was the direct result of my parents’ distraction during their divorce. I thought something was wrong with me.

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I get it, y’all. I don’t hold a grudge for any of this. If anyone understands the consequences of choosing the wrong person, it’s me. My parents tried… mostly… sometimes? Regardless, I still had my Gramma, food in the fridge, and plenty of material wants provided by said Gramma. I’m not typing this while weeping over Sarah McLachlan’s Angel (or I wasn’t until I got the craving to listen to that song… fucking emotions). What I didn’t have, however, what affected me most deeply, was the sense of normalcy I enjoyed for the first seven years of my life. I’m not being dramatic when I tell you that I never got that sense of belonging back, even after the dust settled.

I started showering, wearing deodorant, brushing my hair… but those formative years of being outcast and bullied, set a precedent. If I wasn’t going to fit in, it would be because I chose exclusion. I eventually made friends, many of whom were equally defensive, and gained a sense of inclusion from the refusal to conform, but it wasn’t the same as feeling truly accepted, even if my friends or those looking in saw no difference. With a still unstable home life, it’s no surprise that I clung to a true outcast, mistaking him for a kindred spirit, instead of a man who was being rejected for having no good in him. I married him at 19 and I have never felt more alone. If being chubby and unwashed and bad at sports made me feel excluded at age 10, being morbidly obese and plain and married to a sociopath at age 20 made me feel like Will Smith in I am Legend. Like, literally, I had the dog. That’s it.

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Y’all, I never thought I would be here. After Gail’s and my shockingly similar divorces, I was pretty convinced that all of the “happy” people were… lying. I don’t mean that in some catty way, mocking the Facebook statuses and family newsletters, so much as I mean that I never witnessed true happiness. I assumed the people complaining about their relationships on Facebook were being tacky and the ones who weren’t just knew better than to air their dirty laundry in public. I didn’t want everyone to be miserable, but of course they were. 

Then… I lost 90 pounds, graduated with my master’s degree, started my career, and life was good. Things were really working out. I was headed in the right direction. I had great friends and coworkers. I felt like I actually fit into society, for the first time in nearly 20 years. Sure, I hadn’t met a good man, but… how many of those were really out there? Why would they want me with all my mouthiness and baggage? Still, I prayed. I asked God to help me to get over myself so I’d see a good man when I found one. I asked for a man of strong character to love me and take care of me and let me love and take care of him. I prayed for someone who would bring out the best in me and for whom I could do the same. I wanted a good father for my children and even bargained, promising it would be okay if I couldn’t get a full time job, if I could just get him; because more than anything, I still yearned for the traditional family unit comprised of a husband, wife, and kids… “normal.” I knew many women who were fulfilled and happy without these, but I would never be one of them. I followed up said prayers with bad date after bad date, often crying to Gail about how it was “never going to happen,” while making self-actualized blog posts about why people wouldn’t want to date me… and along came Jake.

Just shy of one year ago, I headed out on what would undoubtedly be just another funny blog post. Instead, I met a guy who more or less looked like his picture, opened the door for me, paid for an actual date, laughed at my jokes (even the unintentionally offensive ones), and was charismatic and fun. I left to take my Gramma a birthday present and told her it wasn’t love at first sight, but I liked him, he seemed to like me, and I’d go on a second date if I ever heard from him again.

One year later, I make no exaggeration when I say that Jake is everything I never knew I needed and wanted. He’s responsible, independent, adventurous, funny, intelligent, unbearably obstinate, considerate, attentive, generous, affectionate, impossible to offend, driven, hardworking, charismatic, rational, even-tempered, and good to his core. He both tells me and shows me that he loves me. He makes me strive to be a better person, while encouraging my passions and relationships. He gives me a sense of stability I never knew I was missing. He has strong, healthy friendships with good people and so much love for his own family, that I know that being with him will never make me feel excluded, isolated, or worst of all damned. I still don’t believe in soulmates, but I do believe in answered prayers. Is it sappy to say all this? Does this completely defy all of my claims that emotions belong with the last Horcrux and feelings are for the inside? Sure. But sometimes that’s what gratitude looks like.

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The Romantic Weekend that had Nothing to Do with Valentine’s Day

Jake and I both find Valentine’s Day to be kind of lame. I’m pretty sure Jake has never celebrated it. In fact, the only way I have, in the last several years, is by going to dinner with Gail to reminisce over the infant daughter she lost on February 13, 2010, just weeks before I would’ve had the baby I miscarried. It’s not just a greeting card holiday for me. It’s actually a pretty sensitive time of year, one when I’m quite prone to tears. As timing would have it, though, it was on February 12 that I received my third and final Gardasil shot. After eight months, Jake and I would finally be able to have sex without voiding the $600 I spent to vaccinate myself against his sluttier days. So, more in spite of the faux holiday than because of it, I scheduled five days off, from the 12th through the 16th… and Jake decided to plan a ski trip.

Y’all, recently I’ve admitted that my relationship with Jake is pretty old school. He pays and opens doors. I make him peanut brittle and chat with his mom in the kitchen, while he goes quail hunting on the family ranch. It would never work for Gail, Laura, or Catherine and to each their own. I just love that Jake’s… the boy. I don’t care if that makes me June Cleaver, Samantha Stephens, or Charlotte York. I’m not living my life to make a statement for the modern woman and I’m not real fond of the modern man.

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Specifically, I loathe the tendency modern men have to refuse to make any plans. Every woman knows the conversation.

“What do you wanna do?”
“I don’t care. What do you wanna do?”
“Whatever you wanna do.”

I wanna watch as your testicles descend and you make a fucking decision. That’s what I wanna do.

tumblr_nzgsuslugj1qlvwnco1_500 How was I single for so long?!?!

I come up with plenty of fun ideas. I just don’t want to be the only one doing so. The catch of course, is that when you insist the man make the plan, you have to go with it… entirely. You can’t veto this aspect or that aspect, so my only caveat was that Jake check to make sure our hotel was not on the bed bug registry. With my having no more real information that that, on Friday morning, after I got my shot, we were off!

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The moment we left, Jake declared that we wouldn’t be stopping at all for several hours… and promptly relented every time I had to go to the bathroom. The drive was relaxed as we debated politics, talked about work, gossiped about our friends. Any silences we had were easy and comfortable, despite the fact that Jake doesn’t really listen to music when he drives. Jake humored me as I took photos of everything and told me tales of his previous ski trips, encouraging me not to get too frustrated if I didn’t pick it up quickly. He thought he was being encouraging, anyway. In actuality, he was just insisting over and over again that I’d likely suck at skiing and therefore hate it, continually citing his friend’s wife who got so frustrated that she insisted on walking down the mountain alone. I assured him I’d try and that I was looking forward to it, but was worried that the sport, in general, would cause me back pain.

It was evening when we arrived in Ruidoso, luckily still light out, so we could see the snow on the mountains and find a place to eat. We’d each had a pretty rough week at work, mine having actually involved a hysterical phone call to Jake the night before…

Me: “Could you please pack the pink travel bottles I left at your place?”
Jake: “Yeah. Sure. Are you crying?”
Me: “NO. I just have something in both my eyes!”
Jake: “So, that’s a yes.”

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I told you it’s a weepy time of year for me.

Jake works in the oilfield and he’d just embarked on a trip that cost right around a thousand dollars. He had his own job worries after driving all day and coming off the night shift. By the time we’d eaten and gotten back to the hotel room, we were both exhausted and fell asleep around 8:30, like the party animals we are.

I woke numerous times in the night, unable to sleep because my left shoulder and the left side of my neck were painfully tight and my arm was throbbing from where I’d gotten my shot. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how many times I got hurt over the weekend and it’s just… not surprising at all.

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The next morning, it finally happened. Yes, yes. I doubled the number of men with whom I’ve had sex… more than that if you want to get into discussion as to what counts as a man… and sex. Not to go into unpleasant amounts of detail, I’ll just say that Jake and I definitely click, sexually. Gail was right and we just continued doing the same things we’ve been doing, only without stopping this time. I barely even worried about what to do with my arms. It was just the perfect amount of comfortably awkward, messy, and emotional. I wouldn’t change a thing.

We spent Saturday procuring skis, ski pants for me (only $45!), and browsing the stores on main street. Jake bought me a souvenir t-shirt and it was the best Valentine’s Day gift I’ll ever get, because that wasn’t his intention at all. He just likes to do sweet things for me. There was only one small theater in town and it looked like it would have folding chairs in the auditoriums, but we decided to see Deadpool anyway.Though we loved it, we agreed we’d never let our children watch it as we made our way back to the hotel room. Jake suggested we get a cab that evening, so we could drink freely and have a ride back to the hotel. Naturally, from that point forward, everything went wrong. 

The cab driver drove us the three miles or so into town, dropping us off at a restaurant we’d both wanted to try. We decided to see some more of the shops while they were still open, making the approximately one mile trip down main street, despite the new boots I was wearing. We headed back, as it started to get cold, and Jake gave me his jacket to wear over mine, since I was in a dress. When we finally made it to our first choice restaurant, we realized they were only filling reservations. In good spirits, we headed to our second choice… which had permanently closed without removing the sign. We made our way to our third choice as my legs began to freeze and my feet thankfully started to go numb.

Finally, we made it to an open restaurant… where the food was meh, the service was terrible, and the company was wonderful. We drank and laughed and I told Jake how my Gramma had hinted that he’d be proposing.

Me: “I assured her that would be terrible, since I’ve told you verbatim that sooner than a year is too soon.”

When he came back from the bathroom, Jake teased that he’d had to catch the waiter and make sure he didn’t put the ring in my dessert. At around 8:30, he went to call the cab driver… who would not answer. At 9:00, after hearing from more than one waitress that the cab company was made up of “assholes,” our only option had become pretty clear. We would be walking back to the hotel, more than three miles away, after having walked two miles already… in the cold, with me wearing new boots and a dress, and completely drunk. Fortunately, Jake was relatively sober, because he quite literally had to drag me that entire three miles.

I’d like some credit for the fact that, for the most part, I didn’t complain. I drunkenly rambled some pretty offensive musings. I laughed about how much walking three miles in brand new heeled boots sucked. I made several dramatic declarations of my pain.

Me: “Okay. So, if I lay on the ground right now, you’re just gonna say logical things about how I’m getting my dress dirty and you’ll insist I get up and start walking. We’ll argue for awhile and then I’ll finally get up. You’ll be annoyed and I’ll be cold and it will just be twenty minutes gone that could’ve gotten us twenty minutes further, won’t it?”
Jake: “Yes. That sounds pretty accurate.”
Me: “Could we do it anyway?”
Jake: “No.”

Me: “MY BOOTS ARE RUINED!”
Jake: “Your boots are not ruined.”
Me: “THEY ARE TOO, BECAUSE THEY’RE FILLED WITH MY BLOOD!”

Me: “JUST LEAVE ME HERE TO DIE!”
Jake: “Keep walking.”

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Towards the end, my feet were hurting so badly, I did start to cry. I was drunk. My shoulder still hurt from the night before and my arm was still sore from that stupid shot. It was 40 degrees. Regardless, Jake pulled me along beside him, refusing to let me rest or take off my shoes and walk barefoot. Not once did he get angry with me. Not once did I blame him for his brilliant cab idea. Finally, we got back to the room and I was able to take off my boots and survey the damage done to my feet. I’m telling you, I looked like a victim of ancient Asian foot binding. It was horrible and we were getting up to go skiing first thing in the morning. Thank God for small favors, though, because the walk in the cold had sobered me up enough that I didn’t have to worry too much about being hungover. It’d be terrible to ski with a headache.

After trying on skis Saturday afternoon, I’d very seriously explained to Jake that he had to stop teasing me for not knowing things he considered common ski knowledge. On this one topic, I didn’t want him to joke with me, because it was making me feel stupid. He apologized and agreed… as he did when we got to the resort and I told him he had to stop telling me how frustrated I was going to be in an hour, because it was ruining my fun.

Overall, skiing was great. Jake was an endlessly patient instructor, never insisting I do something when I told him I was scared or uncomfortable. I realized that the falling, that is so much a part of skiing, didn’t affect my back at all. Bending down to tighten and loosen my skis, however, was a different story, so Jake did this for me approximately 20 times throughout the day. He encouraged me and waited for me and never grew impatient, despite the fact that he can ski a black and I was barely doing the bunny slopes. It was great, but after a couple of hours, I needed a break for my blistered feet, so we ate lunch and I slept with my head on a picnic table while Jake skied some more difficult runs. After an hour or so, Jake came back, convinced I could do the easiest green, so we headed up the mountain.

The day was quite warm, but as the sun set, it was growing colder, particularly higher up the mountain. What I didn’t know was that this meant snow would turn to ice. What Jake didn’t know was that I was serious when I said the lift got off on too high of a slope. Not having much choice, I went for it… gained too much speed and threw my legs out to the side to intentionally fall… and smashed my head into the slope.

I’d hit my head so hard my cap and glasses flew off and my eyes felt like they were swelling. I buried my face in the snow and gripped the back of my skull as I heard Jake telling the guy manning the lift that he thought I’d hit my head. I started to cry and Jake rolled me over, insisting I look at him.

Most of the women I know cherish memories of receiving flowers and jewelry. For me, it’s the little things, like the time I was mostly asleep on Jake’s chest and I felt him pull my glasses off and kiss me on the top of the head. All things considered in the expense of the trip, the gravity of it being our first time, or the notion that it was a “romantic Valentine’s Day getaway,” the most profound moment of that weekend, was when I reflexively turned into Jake’s chest after I hit my head on the ice and he wrapped his arms around me. I don’t even remember what he said to steer me to the side of the slope, but I remember how good it felt as he held me in the snow and I cupped my head and cried from pain and fear, while trying to decide how badly hurt I was. For about 10 minutes, we sat there, until I determined I was okay to ski down. He never rushed me or told me to shake it off. We didn’t speak at all, except when Jake assured a woman that I was okay. I am pretty sure I fell in love with him all over again, on the side of that mountain.

Had I not hit my head, I think the run would’ve been alright. As it was, my eyes were pulsing and I just wanted to lay down in the cold snow to soothe the pain, but I had to get down the mountain. Jake skied directly by my side, the entire time, including when we came to a slope that was both steep and slanted toward a drop off full of trees.

Jake: “I’ll ski to your left and if you start getting too close, I won’t let you fall.”

Now, uninjured, I am pretty sure I would not have been able to complete this run, straight through. Injured, though, I made it less than halfway down this particular path before shouting that I didn’t want to do it anymore, throwing my legs out to the side, and knocking both Jake and myself down. Uninjured, I might have shakily declared I would just walk until it got a little easier. Injured and scared, I panicked and started crying uncontrollably and gripping my head. All the while, I kept flashing to Jake’s story of his friend’s wife, fearing he’d see my freakout in the same light a year from now. I apologized over and over, crying, as Jake told me that it was okay, we didn’t have to hurry, and that I could just sit down for a minute and decide what I wanted to do. Ultimately, I did decide to walk until things got easier, as Jake skied at the same pace I plodded. When I could, I put the skis back on and gave it another shot. Jake was ready to head back to the truck when we got down the mountain. I insisted he go ski a blue or something before we left.

Jake: “I don’t want to leave you hurt.”
Me: “I’ll be fine. Have fun and I’ll hang out at the picnic tables.”
Jake: “Are you sure?”
Me: “Yes. It’s fine. Go.”
Jake: “Well, if you’re sure…”

It’s beyond me why any woman would play this game if she didn’t actually want the guy to go ski. I meant it. I wasn’t angry. I wanted Jake to enjoy a last run before we left, particularly since it didn’t seem likely we’d be back the next day. I thought about asking the first aid center if they’d lend me a cot for a bit, but then I realized what an asshat Jake would look like in that scenario and spent the next 45 minutes perusing the ski shop. We headed down the mountain and Jake made no attempt to make me feel bad for not wanting to ski the next day. I made no attempt to blame him for insisting I could do the run on which I got hurt. We went back to the hotel, showered, changed and made jokes about calling a cab for a ride into town for dinner.

We spent the next day lounging in the hotel room. We watched movies and went in search of an affordable wooden bear souvenir, made with a chainsaw, an apparent staple of Ruidoso. It was the perfect souvenir, as Jake spent the entire trip quoting his best friend Aaron in a silly voice “Ruidoso, home of the wooden bears.” We talked and laughed and I tried not to complain too badly about my still very sore shoulder, feet, and head.

Me: “How old were you when you had your first beer?”
Jake: “Fifteen.”
Me: “What brand was it?”
Jake: ::confused:: “Budweiser.”
Me: “Where were you?”
Jake: ::still confused:: “Camping.”
Me: ::laughing::
Jake: “What?”
Me: “You remember drinking your first beer better than you remember losing your virginity.”
Jake: ::laughing:: “That was a mean trick!”

The next morning, we had our last continental breakfast of sausage and fresh made waffles. We headed out early, since we’d lose an hour on the way back. I knew everyone else would be sad to see the vacation end, but I was just devastated that I’d have to go from spending every day with Jake, back to our usual schedule of once every two weeks. We’d connected so much over the weekend, not just physically, that I couldn’t imagine not waking up to him every day. I’m glad we’re taking our time. This is how you figure out if you want to be with someone forever. I still can’t help but wish we could fast forward to the point when we’re ready for that, though.

Sex. It’s just a blog post about sex.

Jake and I have been dating for exactly eight months. Despite this fact and our many sleepovers, we have not had sex. It’s not that I’m a prude… okay it’s not just that I’m a prude. It’s precautionary. Jake probably has a pretty average sexual history for a 31-year old guy. I’ve insisted he never tell me his number, explaining in a somewhat stereotypically irrational woman way that if his number is three, every time he introduces me to someone, I’m going to wonder “Is she one of The Three?!?!” If his number is 33, then I can only assume that he’s had sex with all of them. It’s not a source of contention in our relationship, though. Quite the contrary, we regularly joke about it.

Me: “Does it bother you, when I tell you what I like?”
Jake: “No. Not at all. I’m glad you let me know… unlike all the other women I’ve been with.”
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Me: “ALL the other women you’ve been with!”
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Me: “There’s a conveyer belt next to your bed!”
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Me: “It’s like a WHO CONCERT in your room!”
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As you can see, I’m not particularly bothered by the number of women Jake has seen naked. I just don’t want the details. I also don’t want anything else, which is why I started the Gardasil vaccine course six months ago from this Friday. If you’re unfamiliar with Gardasil, the basic gist is that after three shots, given over a minimum six month period, both men and women are protected against HPV, which is the cause of cervical cancer and cannot be reliably tested for or treated. Gardasil is generally given at ages 11-13, before people become sexually active. In fact, the FDA has decided that the average American has had so much sex by their 26th birthday, that they’re no longer worth even attempting to protect.

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With the vaccine being so new, I never got it, assuming that was Future Belle’s Problem. Then I met Jake. Luckily, I was able to find a physician who would approve Gardasil for off label use, so that eventually, Jake and I could have sex. Honestly, it was sort of a relief, at the time. I mean, as inexperienced as I am, the idea of sex with Jake was a bit daunting. That could just be Future Belle’s Problem, too.

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Y’all. I don’t remember how to sex!

It’s not that I’m not looking forward to sex with Jake. If anything, the last eight months have left me certain that we’re not only sexually compatible, but also truly in love and I’m glad for that. It’s just… I’m 28 years old and I’ve only had sex with one person… five years ago. Five years ago, I was morbidly obese and so was he. There are only so many positions that are even possible for elephants. For realz, y’all, we were very large people. Most of the time, my ex-husband didn’t even want to have sex, because as Gail puts it “sex is like a super fun workout massage.” I got turned down nine times out of ten, which killed my self-confidence. When we did do anything, it was always the exact same: one of three positions, under five minutes, and I was not… prioritized. So what’s not to look forward to, amiright?!?! Sure… except for the fact that I barely remember where the penis goes. I read a lot of romance novels and when I think about the logistics of certain sexual positions, I literally cannot figure out what’s happening. Where does the girl’s leg go and how can that be comfortable? Wouldn’t that hurt your back after a few minutes? How do you get any leverage doing that? Wouldn’t the table tip? What do I do with my arms?!?!

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Why didn’t I have more sex and refine my skillz while I could?!? My friends either tell me I’m overthinking it and it will come naturally (which is entirely useless advice, because I want diagrams, complete with angle measurements, damn it), or they join me in my own self-mockery.

Laura: “You only lose your virginity once.”
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Me: “What if I’m bad at it?”
Jake: ::rolling his eyes:: “You’re not going to be bad at it.”

Well… no help there, either. I watched some porn for tips a few months ago. I’m pretty sure it was the worst idea I’ve ever had, because I know I don’t look like that. Naturally, I’m convinced that every woman Jake’s ever been with was a size 2 and wore Victoria’s Secret wings. I even tried to buy sexy underwear.

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It did not go well. In fact, after I bought a couple of pretty (but sensible) bras and panties, I checked my credit card statement, panicked, and returned everything, because I’m paying out of pocket for birth control and the Gardasil shot this month.

Responsibility: 5
Sex Appeal: -5

So, here I am… with the same old undies and no idea what I’m doing. I suppose my awkward delivery of the wrong words has brought the boys to the yard so far…

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… perhaps Laura is right and I could self-medicate, though perhaps Xanax is a little extreme.

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Really, though, the man’s seen me sobbing because a zombie ate a goat in The Walking Dead. He’s wiped my tears when I’ve gotten drunk and weepy. He’s heard me attempt and fail at dirty talk. Could I really embarrass myself that badly?

It’s just… if you’ve never been on a roller coaster, it doesn’t matter if your first, or even your second, only has the one loopty loop. It’s gonna be a good time. But if you’re a… roller coaster aficionado, it’s possible you’d be disappointed or even bored by just the one loopty loop, especially if you waited eight months to get in the park. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MY ARMS, LET ALONE HOW TO LOOPTY LOOP!

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