In Defense of Earning Less

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“Keeping up with the Joneses” refers to different kinds of families, depending on the region. On the west coast, I’d imagine it’s the family we met on our honeymoon, who booked an Alaskan cruise on a whim, because the San Franciscan port was 30 minutes from their house. The mother complained that Cabo would’ve been a much better choice, because the kids could swim all day, while she read by the hotel pool. Both she and her husband had lucrative careers in downtown San Francisco, which apparently enabled them to purchase an $8,000 cruise on impulse, as opposed to their annual trip to Cabo, that seemingly wouldn’t have been much different from a visit to the community pool.

The east coast Joneses call to mind my godfather and his wife. She stays home with her children, putting on hold the well-paid career afforded by an advanced degree, while he travels the world on business and climbs Kilimanjaro. He’s not an absent father or husband, and in fact, the family often accompanies him on these fabulous trips. He makes it home when he can, to see his kids in their recitals and school plays, courtesy of the renowned local public schools that negate the necessity of private schooling.

In the South, the Joneses are in profitable manual labor positions, often oil. She’s a teacher, despite the wretched pay and reputation of our public schools, because she can afford to spend her own paycheck on the cute, fun, trendy, school supplies and classroom decor. If she’s lucky, he’s gone two weeks at a time, working on the rig, to pay for the McMansion and the upkeep of the two acres it sits on, so he can feel like the country boy his grandfather longed for him to be, when he’s at home playing on the newest iPad. If she’s not so fortunate, he’s gone sporadically, working long hours, sometimes not coming home for days at a time. He’s missed every Christmas for the last three years, much to his wife’s frustration, as she’s forced to make the holiday magical solo, but he’s made up for it with an annual family vacation that’s the envy of everyone on social media.

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People love to mock the Joneses, commenting that they’re nearing bankruptcy and struggling to hide it, but it seems wildly unfair and judgmental to me to insist that anyone who has more can’t afford it. In fact, I know many people who fit the description above and live well within their means. They aren’t bad people and they aren’t bad parents or spouses. Different families just maintain different lifestyles and I’m not judging what might work for some… except to say that it’s not for me.

As a kid, my parents longed for the Southern scenario I’ve outlined above. They wanted to give us the experience of a country life, with all the benefits of suburbia. We would feed the chickens and geese before we left for little league or piano lessons. We’d ride in the back of the pickup to go to slumber parties and swimming lessons and rodeos and the lake. We’d eat eggs from our own chicken coop and enter our goats in contests at the Frontier Days parade, before going back to school shopping at the mall. It was the best of both worlds, in my father’s eyes, but it also came at the cost of both worlds. Living on five acres meant living in a trailer house, with big plans to eventually build… when the money appeared… one day… which, of course, it never did, because ballet lessons, T-ball, horses, ducks, and bunny rabbits add up to a small fortune. So it was, that to fund our suburban farm life, my dad worked… a lot.

A lineman for the electric company, my dad had seemingly limitless earning potential. All it demanded was time… time away from his family, his friends, his youth, but the return was substantial. In addition to our pseudo-farm, we had a Motorhome, a camper, a four-wheeler, a boat, and jet skis. We took dance classes, piano lessons, and gymnastics, played softball and baseball, had our own trampoline, roller blades, bikes, game systems, and TV’s in our bedrooms. Had we been born twenty years later, my parents would’ve been the envy of Facebook. It seemed they had it all, and at the time, I think that was a balm to their unhappiness. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that my parents were never truly happy.

I suppose it’s true that little girls marry their fathers, because my dad is very much like my husband, an extrovert and an adventurer, a storyteller and a comedian. He’s the life of every party and impossible to offend. He has a thousand friends and is universally adored… except he came into this tremendous personality in the 70s and 80s, in the South. It was just assumed that he would contain all of these wonderful attributes to make room for marriage and fatherhood at 22, because that’s what people did. At 20, it’s unsurprising that my mother was a chameleon, taking on the interests and passions of those around her. Whereas my father was forced to squander his liveliness, my mother was kept from developing her own, with the most singular thing about her being that she was a nurse. Every other character trait was borrowed from whomever was nearest, creating a clingy and insecure match for a man brimming with personality. I’m not blaming the times or young marriage, as this certainly wasn’t the case with every other 20-year-old bride and 22-year-old groom in the 80’s. It’s not even necessarily the case for the same set now, if they’re making their choices for themselves… but that’s precisely the problem for my own parents. They made their choices, because they were the choices to make. No one asked if they wanted anything different and they didn’t know themselves enough to speak up.

My husband is my favorite person in the whole world. He’s a good man and a hard worker. He’s infuriatingly wonderful and absolutely my perfect match. Had he been married at 22, though, he’d have been just as unhappy as my father was, when I was a kid. Surprisingly, for the son of cattle ranchers, born in the late 40’s and early 50’s, Jake was encouraged to sow his wild oats. Perhaps his father remembered what it was like to be a young and wild bull rider and his mother remembered what it was like to love one, but for whatever reason, they encouraged him to spend his 20’s getting an education, figuring out who he was and what he wanted from life, creating all those appalling stories his groomsmen told at our wedding. Unlike my father, he was given the freedom to run off some of his wildness, to shape his larger than life personality into the man he is today.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you likely know some of my own background. My mother took off my senior year of high school, to live with a man she met online. Terrified of being alone during such a time of change, I married my first boyfriend… because he was there… before either of us knew who we were or what we wanted. It wasn’t long before the boy I tied myself to, became a man I loathed, a sociopath with no moral center or basic human conscience. I hadn’t just made the same mistakes as my parents, attempting to fulfill some classic high school sweetheart fantasy… no, I’d made completely new, much larger ones, crafting my very own terrifying hell and in a post-Facebook world, it was much more humiliating to admit it.

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We like to think we’re above it all, today, the gratification of social expectations, especially as women. We travel and go to college and build careers. We have choices and we’re empowered. And yet, we still feel like marriage and family and having all the things are inevitabilities. Few of us sit down and ask ourselves if these are things we truly want, because we’re told from birth that we do and that concept is reinforced at every family get-together, when we’re asked about our dating lives, or when we’re getting married, or buying the McMansion, or having children. The only reason I spent my twenties mulling it over, was because of the consequences of the last time I just went with the flow. Still, I have a master’s degree and rarely does my family ask about my career, but this past weekend, at a baby shower, there were a half dozen stopwatches on my uterus.

The societal expectations are, in reality, stronger today, because we lives our lives so publicly. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has taken on new meaning in 2018. Gail once told me I was “post-high school popular,” when I was still on Facebook. When I asked what that meant, she said I had overcome adversity, dressed cute, made funny posts, had the right job, the right hobbies and interests, and a man to look good with me in photos… and it was true. I secretly preened, after years of rejection in my youth and my early twenties, but in time, I realized how unhealthy it was to care about the opinions, when I didn’t care about the people holding them. As I’ve told you in more depth, I eventually deleted my Facebook and this was one of many reasons.

Despite my absence in social media, though, I still feel the pressure… to have more, be it the McMansion or the babies or the new car. Perhaps it’s because, after years of living our lives deliberately, the choices I’m making, that Jake is making with me, just so happen to fall in line with old school Southern expectations. We’re building a life in suburbia, holding traditionally feminine and masculine careers, and planning to have babies, so why not check all of the boxes? If we want to own our home, to raise children, why did Jake leave oil to build a career in hydrology, a pay cut of tens of thousands of dollars?!?!?

… because many of the men we know do check all the boxes and they miss the first steps and the bed time stories and the recitals and the family vacations.

… because we’re watching our friends divorce in our 30’s and it’s no longer because they never should’ve married, like it was in our 20’s, but because they haven’t taken the time, time to laugh and talk and argue and lean on each other and grow together. They don’t know each other and they don’t like each other and they’re too exhausted to fight the war after avoiding all the battles.

… because I haven’t spoken to my mother in over a year, because she never grew or strengthened, never overcame her worst personality traits, never became the woman she could’ve been.

… because my father is a good man now and we’re close, but it’s a damned shame that that didn’t happen until my twenties. I can’t be ten years old and live in his house and see him and talk to him and play with him every day, ever again, and we missed the chance the first time around.

So it goes, that at every family get-together, they scoff. I tell them we can make more money, but we can’t make more time, and they tell me I’ll learn, “one day.” But I’m not 20 years old anymore and this is not the idealism of youth. I’ve seen the potential fallout of keeping up with the Joneses, squandering family time, couple time, and youth to make more money, losing oneself in work and forgetting to play. I will not risk my marriage or my relationships with my children to have all the things. I will pace myself and I will make the right decisions this time, because it’s my only chance to do so. At every family party, when my rich uncles ask, I will happily defend earning less, as I pack up my children in my used car and drive home to enjoy the evening with my husband.

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A Librarian’s Reminder of Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

Fifty Shades Freed is officially in theaters. This means, of course, that bloggers and reviewers are rushing to be the first and cleverest to insult the series and anyone who enjoys it… despite the fact that there exists no comparable male term to the literary genres of “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” or the film genre of “chick flick.” I can give my professional word that the former is not because men only read weighty historical tomes, either. So, in the spirit of such sexism, I remind you of the ways you tend to offend women, as a whole, by insulting the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

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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, itself, 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 twins who formed their penises into one giant penis. 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 The Bachelor 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.

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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 psychotic 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 must be asexual or worse, somehow abnormal. Until two years 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, perhaps more so.


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

While literary Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat (I found his movie persona far less abrasive), 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, to take charge, to be assertive. 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 (not television trends, which explains the dated Carrie Bradshaw reference). 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 and it’s unsurprising that it’s a fantasy growing in popularity, in a society full of over overgrown frat boys who couldn’t be assertive or successful if their futures depended on it, which they do.

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… and it’s a complete double standard, because no one shames men for fantasizing about winning the lottery and becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through no effort on their part. At least the women fantasizing about Christian Grey and the like also dream of love.

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 injury. 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 year is it? 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, like Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, 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, because adult women are allowed to be sexual too.

  • I originally posted the this blog on March 5, 2015. It has been updated for currency.

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.

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.

You Can’t Scam Lucille Bluth

A couple of months ago, on one of my rare 12:00 – 9:00 work days, I spent the morning watching Hocus Pocus in my pajamas, with my cat, Thackery Binx, on my lap. I snapped a carefully framed photo of little black cat ears in front of the screen and shared it on Facebook, declaring that it was never too early to start watching Halloween movies, especially my favorite of all time.

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When I got to work, I put my phone on silent, stashed it in the drawer, and went along with my day, at some point opening Facebook in the desktop background, just in case Jake messaged me. Not an hour later, I was surprised to receive an urgent message… or really any message… from Grandma Kay.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my Grandma Kay. She’s the sassy, witty, forthright, bibulous, matriarch of the family. Essentially, she’s Lucille Bluth.

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Case in point, several years ago, at our family Christmas party, my cousins were discussing the idea that telling children about Santa is a breech of trust, because it’s a lie. Grandma Kay, in the process of enjoying her own drink and making another for someone else, held one drink in each hand and shouted “That’s fucking bullshit!”

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Merry Christmas, everybody!

One summer visit, she was showing me some old photos and sentimental knickknacks, of which there are plenty, because she has more money than God and is completely unaware of that fact.

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Grandma Kay: “Your grandpa and I painted that giraffe together. What—? It’s chipped! Lupe must have done that with the vacuum!”
Me: ::in jest:: “You should have her deported!”
Grandma Kay: ::hopefully in jest:: “I should!”

If you’re ever standing in front of the mirror, wondering if your outfit for the family party works or not, have no fear. Grandma Kay will let you know, as soon as she sees you. Some popular Grandma Kayisms include:

“Oh, but that’s just not in!
“She’s just put on so much weight.”
“She’s been so stressed lately and she’s lost a lot of weight, but she looks great. She’s got a really cute figure, now.”

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Now, she might be a wee bit critical of us, but you have never seen anyone go mama bear like Grandma Kay. She might be allowed to tell us all of our faults, but if anyone else tries, they’d better be ready for a verbal filleting like no other. The Thanksgiving Day I showed in tears, because a family member unrelated to my grandmother (and who has a tendency to overshare on medical issues) had been sending me such vicious and hateful text messages, that I’d actually stopped reading them, Grandma Kay took my phone from me, read through the texts and loudly declared:

“Well, then. I’m glad she won’t be at Christmas. Now I don’t have to listen to that cunt talk about her twat over dinner.”

I genuinely share these stories with delighted amusement, because while Esther Walton, she may not be, I’ve never doubted that Grandma Kay cares. It’s just that I’ve always been my Gramma Mae’s best girl. She’s essentially the one who raised me, with her PG swear words and enabling “But he likes his bacon raw!” ways. So, an urgent message from Grandma Kay, before 1:00 in the afternoon, when the family crest includes a warning not to call this woman before 11:00 am, is a bit unorthodox.

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Grandma Kay: Belle? Where are you?????
Grandma Kay: Answer me now!
Me: I’m here. What’s wrong?
Grandma Kay: Where?
Me: At work? What’s going on? 
Grandma Kay: You need to answer your phone!

My father works for the electric company, my stepmother for the Salvation Army and is currently deployed on hurricane relief, and my three stepbrothers are just boys in their early twenties, so when I checked my phone to see missed calls from Grandma Kay, Aunt Dee, and my dad, I was certain someone had died.

Me: “Dad? Grandma messaged me on Facebook, panicked. Is everything okay?”
Dad: “Well, no. Someone called her and told her they were you and that they were in a Texas jail and needed $2,000.”
Me: “Dad, that’s a scam… a pretty popular one.”
Dad: “Well, I know that, but she didn’t and she didn’t want to call me, so she called your Aunt Dee and they were both worried. I told them you couldn’t be in jail, cuz you were just posting on Facbook about how you were watching Halloween movies with that damn cat.”
Me: “Umm… yeah, and no discredit to Grandma Kay or anything, but if I were in jail, she’s literally the last person I would ask for help.”
Dad: “I know. You’d call your Gramma Mae.”
Me: “Well, yeah, but Grandma Kay is also the least likely person to give me $2,000. I have $2,000 and I’d pay it from that before I’d ask her for a dime, because she’s more likely than you are to tell me to suck it up.”
Dad: ::cackles:: “Well, you’re probably right.”

Once I’d been assured that my stepbrothers hadn’t been killed in a car accident, I took a walk around the block to ease my nerves and messaged Grandma Kay, who told me the same story.

Grandma Kay: I knew it couldn’t be you, that you wouldn’t go to Texas, when we had plans for your birthday on Sunday. It really did sound like you, Belle, but drugged.
Me: You’ve never heard me drugged, Grandma.
Grandma Kay: Well, that’s true.
Me: I’m just glad you didn’t send them any money.
Grandma Kay: You know me better than that. I told them “You’re married now. You need to call your husband or your father” and then I hung up on them.

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Y’all, my grandma literally told me to solve my own damned problems and hung up on me in my hour of irresponsible need! There has never been an old woman so vicious!!!!

Just a few days later, I saw Grandma Kay at my 30th birthday lunch, where she gave me the customary $50.

Me: “This is about $1,950 less than I requested, Grandma.”
Grandma Kay: “Oh, yeah right! You better just stay out of jail.”
Me: “I’m just saying…. for the future, if you and dad ever have a debate over where Belle is: in a Texas jail cell or at home watching Halloween movies with the cat, always go for the latter.”

I assist a lot of naive elderly people in my daily work. Naturally, I’ve always worried about my grandparents being taken advantage of; but I can apparently rest a little easier, because it seems it’s not so simple to scam Lucille Bluth.

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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.

 

 

How are we FINALLY happy?!?

This time last week, 15-year-old Gail was banned from all of my future youth group field trips, after our duet of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Let’s Make Love” in the middle of Six Flags.

Six days ago we were sophomores, sitting in the back of my pickup truck, eating Fourth Meal, before it was cool. A couple pulled up, realized their make out spot had been claimed by chubby girls eating chicken in sweats and overalls, and quickly drove away, as Gail and I laughed.

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Five days ago, Gail and I huddled together to keep her infant daughter Grace warm, when I locked us out of her apartment’s gym in 20 degree weather.

Three days ago, I sat next to Gail in the children’s ward, as we both accepted the fact that Grace would never wake up.

Two days ago, we took turns moving each other out after our divorces were finalized.

Just yesterday, we were trolling for dick at the cowboy bar and Gail was begging me to stop calling it that.

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Yet, somehow, today, we’re both 30 (or almost for Gail) and remarried. Just four months after standing by my side on my wedding day, Gail has finally married Terry, after five years of living together. That’s right, folks. Some people do buy the cow.

In all seriousness, I’m unbelievably happy for my best friend… for us. I just don’t know how it happened. Some moments, the happy ones, feel like they weren’t that long ago. I mean, hasn’t it only been three or four years since 9th grade yearbook class, where Gail and I first bonded over deadpan sarcasm and the WB’s Everwood? 

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The tougher stuff, though… zetus lapetus it often feels like it all happened to someone else. It can’t have been just 10 years ago that I called Gail to reconnect after that first year out of high school…

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… after my ex burned down our house and killed all of our pets, but before my miscarriage and Grace’s death, before both of our divorces. It wasn’t just seven or eight years ago that Gaily and I sat at a table in an Arby’s, eating free sandwich toppings and drinking refills from the .99 kiddie cup, because we didn’t want to go home, was it? That can’t have been us.

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For so long, our lives deeply sucked and we were each other’s sanctuary from the storm. I thought our lives would never get better, but I blinked and now we’re both 30 with husbands and careers. Didn’t I just call Gail after being stood up, crying because I was never going to get a full time job or meet a good guy and my life was never going to start?!?!

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Truthfully, I found myself more emotional about Gail’s wedding than my own, despite all of my “Who da real MOH?!?” jokes, the title of Matron of Honor having primarily officially gone to her sister. Watching Gail take pictures with a bridesmaid’s daughter had me crying in secret, because it should have been Grace. She should’ve been by her mother’s side, but had she been, everything would’ve been different. Twenty-four year old Gail would have been far more self-preserving, with a three-year-old at home. She’d never have even met Terry, after finding his profile on Craigslist. I might have been less inclined to date, myself, had Gail not been in a serious relationship, prompting over-dramatic rants about how she was going to leave me behind for her couples cruises. Our whole lives would’ve been different. I suppose this was just how it was all supposed to be.

It’s just so good to see my best girl happy… to see us happy and I was reminded of that even more so, when Gail and I had a moment alone, while the rest of the wedding party chatted about how much she was freaking out.

Gail: “You know what this reminds me of?”
Me: “What?”
Gail: “When we were at the hospital with Grace and you and I were walking around, talking and laughing and everyone was whispering about how I shouldn’t be okay right now, but I was, because you were there. I love you.”
Me: “I love you, too. It was so awful and I couldn’t do it all again, but I’m so glad I did it all with you… who da real MOH?”

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We’re both happily and healthily married now and it’s a little bittersweet, because that means Terry and Jake undoubtedly know more about us than we do each other. As much as I’ve always hated when women assign the title of “sister” to every friend they have, Gail and I will always share a history no one else can claim, because the foundations of our adult lives were built on the rocks that we were for one another. So, here’s hoping that our strangely, bizarrely parallel lives that have had us claiming for years that only one of us is real and has imagined the other person up, while rocking in a mental institution, will continue to be so; because all the highs and lows considered, I cannot imagine living my life without my sister, Gail.

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.

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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Wedding Advice From a Reluctant Bride

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know how ready I was to be a wife and how reluctant I was to be a bride. If I’d had my way, Jake and I would’ve married in the chapel of my church, with only immediate family and friends by our sides, and might have had lunch at a local restaurant afterwards. However, I apparently married Princess Kate, because Jake was adamant that we were going to have a real wedding, with all of his friends and family.

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This, but with a cowboy hat.

Because I love Jake and wanted to make him happy, I agreed to his shenanigans. In hindsight, I’m glad I did (barely), because we had a beautiful and fun-filled wedding. I can look back and remember my real marriage began with a real wedding. Despite all the stress that lead up to it, I do have good memories from my wedding day and I, primarily, attribute them to a few key decisions, which I’ve compiled into far more practical wedding planning advice than anything I ever read.

Keep the Engagement Short and Prepare for a Headache
I was convinced that planning my wedding was going to suck from the start. Jake insisted it wouldn’t be so bad, as did many family members, and several articles I read… and they were all wrong. We got engaged just before Thanksgiving and I didn’t have a moment of peace until a week after the wedding. Granted, I switched jobs and moved and dealt with Jake’s unemployment during this time, but still… it was exhausting from start to finish and only barely worth the effort and I’m glad I wasn’t blindsided by that.

Buy Your Dress on Etsy and Save Big
My dress cost $450 with rush delivery, tailor-made to my measurements, in one week. You will wear it one time. As long as it looks good in the photos, no one cares… because all those dresses look the damned same. Try some on in stores to get a feel for what you want and order online.

Get the Rights to Your Photos
The photographer is probably the only service that mattered to me. If the food was mediocre and the DJ was annoying, whatever, but those pictures are going to sit on my children’s children’s mantle one day… as holograms. That’s only possible if I own the rights, though. Prints get lost. They age. They become damaged in floods and fires. Photographers go out of business and die and even if they don’t, they probably don’t have your wedding photos 15 years later. The rights to my photos were included in my package and I would’ve kept looking if they hadn’t been.

Skip the Videography, Flowers, Live Band, Open Bar, etc.
Only spend money on the important things. No one notices flowers or centerpieces or draperies over your chairs. If they want liquor, they’ll buy it and no one, no one, no one, wants your fucking beer cozy that says Heather and Tim Forever in True Love. Splurge on food, photography, your cake, whatever actually matters to you, even if it is the dress, but not everything, just because everyone says you should. We didn’t even have a videographer or flowers. Our bar was a cash bar and the free food was our favor. I couldn’t be happier about those decisions, because it saved us a lot of money on things we didn’t miss. I remember the awesome food, the beautiful cake my aunt made, how great our DJ was, and how much fun we had. I don’t remember wishing I’d had custom coasters made for everyone.

Don’t Throw a Bouquet
If you’re not 22 years old, your single friends don’t want to dive for your damned bouquet. They’re either single by choice or default and they don’t want to be publicly shamed for it. Furthermore, that bouquet cost a mint. Why would you want to give it away? I bought wooden bouquets on Etsy for my bridesmaids and myself and spent less than the average cost of one bridal arrangement on all four.

Spoil Your Bridesmaids and Groomsmen
One of the biggest troubles I have with the wedding industry, is the understanding that these people are your bitches for the day, or even the months leading up to the day, and you can be an asshole to them and make them pay for everything. I let my bridesmaids choose their dresses, with the condition that it was short, they all agreed on the same one, and they each wore the color I asked (pink for Gail, blue for Catherine, purple for Laura, all to match the flowers in my boots). They found one online, for $50 and ordered it sight unseen.

Other than that, they chose to buy matching jewelry and their optional manicures, but I bought their boots and made their boot bracelets and the t-shirts I expected them to wear the day of the wedding. I bought them brunch and gave them each a monogrammed silver compact as a thank you for being by my side, in addition to the wooden bouquets they each held. I let them do their own hair, instead of insisting they pay someone. Jake’s groomsmen got a fishing trip and engraved shot glasses and we paid for their shirts and vests and ties. These people are supporting you on your day. They least you could do is treat them.

Live in the Moment
You’re not going to care about centerpieces nearly as much as you’re going to care about the fact that you barely remember your first dance, because you were fretting over the centerpieces. Be present. Look him in the eyes. Thank God. Have fun with your new husband and your friends and family, because the time for worrying about the tablecloths has passed. You only get this once… hopefully.

Buy To-Go Boxes
Y’all this is the best piece of advice I found from all those stupid wedding planning articles Facebook has been advertising to me since my relationship status clicked over to “engaged.” After the cake had been cut and served, we put out to-go boxes for our guests with a cute chalkboard sign the venue staff penned. We left with less than a dozen cupcakes and the top of our cake and that was it. We have like two months of meat in our freezer, so really, it would’ve even been wise to put some boxes near the taco bar, but I’m thrilled we didn’t waste any cake.

Don’t Drink Too Much and Don’t Plan on Having Sex
If I could change one thing about my wedding, I’d have drank a little less, toward the end of the night. I wasn’t hungover the next day or anything, but the last of the evening is something of a blur and I’d like to remember my wedding night more clearly. I’d like Jake to remember it at all. Regardless, we would’ve been way too tired to have sex and my expectations of having anything other than a tipsy moment of helping each other undress, were unrealistic.

Write the Damned Thank You Notes Immediately
I had every one of my Thank You notes mailed within a week of our wedding. Yes, yes, I teared up at one point because the wedding stuff was never going to end, but it was so good to have it behind me and it was so much easier to write them with their giver fresh in my mind. I didn’t forget who attended the wedding and who sent one in the mail. The stores still had record of who sent what. For this reason, each note was written with care and personality and I didn’t embarrass my mother-in-law.

Delay Your Honeymoon
Jake and I leave for our Alaskan cruise honeymoon on Sunday and I am so glad we chose the 28th, instead of the 8th, which was two days after our wedding. The gifts have been opened, their trash disposed of, and the kitchen rearranged for their storage. I’ve already received my photos and my dress has been preserved. We’ve settled into our routine and had time to relax and actually get excited for our trip. Had we left on the 8th, we’d have tried so hard to enjoy ourselves, but we’d have been completely drained.

So that’s it. That’s my advice, beyond “this too shall pass.”

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