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.

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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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Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

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

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”

I do have a pretty low threshold.

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

Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

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

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

Ana is only 22.

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

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

Ana is still a virgin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

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

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

  • I originally posted this on March 5, 2015.

The Apathetic Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Please, congratulate me on my engagement!

I got everything I ever wanted this past week. On Sunday, Jake and I went hiking. He found a pretty waterfall and hugged me from behind. He pretended he was trying to point to something in the water and asked if I saw it. When I couldn’t see anything, he wrapped his other arm around me to show me the ring and asked if I could see it now. Ignoring the ring, I turned to hug him.

Jake: “Will you marry me?”
Me: “Yes. I will. I love you.”
Jake: “I love you, too… more than anything, not just the normal amount.”

He didn’t get down on one knee. I wasn’t entirely surprised, having known that he wanted to make it official before Thanksgiving. After I said yes, he called into the woods for “Steve” to come out, asking if he got the pictures, because he knows how much I hate the falsehood of staged proposals and he can’t even take a marriage proposal too seriously. It wasn’t Disney, but it was still perfect, because he’s perfect for me.

I called my Gramma to ask if I could bring my fiancé to Thanksgiving breakfast. She completely missed the change in title and went straight to fretting about not having enough time for breakfast and dinner, until I interrupted her to ask that she repeat what I’d just said. She started to congratulate me, then abruptly stopped, saying that you’re not supposed to congratulate the bride.

Me: “Why not?”
Gramma: “I don’t know. They just tell you not to.”
Me: “Who?”
Gramma: “People. They say you’re not supposed to congratulate the bride.”

Naturally, the librarian in me was curious about the origins of this old wives tale and had to do some research. It didn’t take long to find a pretentious wedding site, adorned in classic floral, detailing the long forgotten edict stating that congratulations are indeed considered tacky, when directed at the bride, for they suggest she’s “won” something. While it’s completely acceptable to share this sentiment with the groom, verbatim, even the Emily Post Institute emphasizes the risk of implying that a bride is to be congratulated on “catching” a husband if one forgets the more proper sentiment of “best wishes.” Alright… aaaaand? Why is it appropriate to congratulate Jake on his prize, but not me on mine?

As this blog will attest, I spent years wading through the sea of crap that is the modern dating world and I sure as heck didn’t do it for the joy of being stood up, having my career insulted, my faith mocked, and being solicited weight loss pills. No. I was searching for a husband. I was praying for someone kind, funny, hardworking, intelligent, opinionated, affectionate, strong, and moral and I found him. My whole life, I’ve never felt like the most important person to anyone, and little did I know that that had all begun to change a year and a half ago, when I sat across from a complete stranger I’d met on a free online dating site that was primarily utilized in procrastinating and assuaging my own boredom. Now, I get to spend the rest of my life with the most important person to me and my very best friend. I’ve gotta say, I absolutely hope all of my friends, family, and blog readers will stumble when it comes to this etiquette – which is particularly strange, since it stems from a time when a woman’s primary purpose was to bake and breed – and congratulate me, because Jake is absolutely a prize worth celebrating.

To the Women Who Tried to Ruin My Career

At 25 years old, I’d just begun my career as a real librarian, in my current system, when I excitedly accepted a second job at the neighboring library system. Within two months, I was informed that I wasn’t “a good fit” and that I’d worked my last day there. I was never late. No customer ever complained about me. I did everything I was asked… except go to my immediate supervisor’s house for spaghetti with the rest of the team, share Pinterest recipes, and sport an “I’m With Her” t-shirt. That’s right. Instead of valuing diversity in her staff, this woman sought employees who were just like her, a modern day Heather willing to abuse her power to the detriment of the community she served.

In time, I realized that not being “a good fit” was quite flattering and ultimately the best thing for my career, because it allowed me to hone my skills within my own system. Even in that beloved system, however, there once reigned a Regina George… the girl who poured the pigs’ blood in Carrie… a Cersei Lannister, of our very own.  Indeed, this woman was… psychotically vindictive, in the truest sense. She ruined careers when people mispronounced her name. She permanently transferred librarians to branches across the city, with less than 24 hours notice and no explanation. She planted her favorites in positions of power and pulled their strings like the fucking Puppet Master. She even tried to keep my boss at the West Side Library  from hiring me, because I’d had a poor interview for a different job. It was a joyous occasion the day Cersei pissed on the wrong boots and was demoted. It was downright freeing when she and many of her minions retired soon thereafter, to practice augury and gnaw on the bones of kittens.

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I’d like to think these women are the exceptions. The rhetoric these days would have us believe we’re are all far too evolved from a half century of breaking glass ceilings and opening our own pickle jars to still be facing such deliberate workplace sabotage. It remains true, however, that one of a woman’s greatest battles toward professional success is simply… other women. Perhaps this is evolutionary and stems from a time when we each tried to prove ourselves the most valuable gatherer, in an effort to snag the best hunter, but we are long overdue to pull up our big girl panties and crush our baser instincts.

Had the aforementioned Heather and Cersei had their way, I would be… well, I don’t know exactly, because I can’t fathom the goal behind destroying the career of a random 25-year-old fresh out of grad school. Maybe they knew every detail of the devastation that would result from their actions. Maybe the fantasy hadn’t extended that far. All I’ve ever known for sure is that there was something broken inside these women, which required them to tear down another to feel accomplished. Now, years later, I have a simple message for them:

Thank you. Thank you for showing me the worst possible scenario of who I could be as a professional woman. Thank you for inspiring me to be better at a job I hated than you were at a job you treasured like the One Ring. Thank you for the strength it took to build people up, despite the fact that I spent my lunch breaks crying in my office. I could’ve let the wounds of others fester, with the reasoning that I didn’t cause them, but instead, I worked to heal those around me. I could’ve scoffed at the personality traits and communication styles that differ from my own, yet I worked to not only understand, but translate. I will have been a manager for eleven months, to the day, when I step down into my new position as just a librarian, at the East Side Library. I’ll leave the North Side Library in the city, to work in the tiny town of Jackson, under the same library system. I’ll rarely see these people again… and I’ll be leaving them better than I found them. If I’d never cried from the abuse of powerful women, I might never have made a difference in the short time I was one myself and for that, I am thankful.

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I’ll never be his #WCW.

The first time I told Jake I loved him, it went a little something like this:

Me: “You make me really happy.”
Jake: ::silence::
Me: “Does it freak you out, when I say stuff like that?”
Jake: “What? No.”
Me: “Would it freak you out, if I told you I loved you?”
Jake: ::laughing:: “No.”
Me: “I love you.”
Jake: “I love you, too.”

In the beginning, neither of us was particularly eloquent when it came to sharing our feelings. Jake told me he loved me, in the simplest of ways, with no flowery language. For a few months, that left me feeling pretty insecure and I tried my hardest not to demand clarification, cuz you know, we all hide our crazy.

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The one time I did ask if he really meant it, it didn’t go over so well when Jake got defensive and stuck his foot in his mouth.

Me: “It’s just… I always say it first. You only say it back.”
Jake: “You never give me the chance! Every eighth word is ‘I love you.'”

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For realz yo, Jake is at the top of the list of people who are not allowed to speak at our wedding.

Over time, however, I came to realize that Jake truly meant what he said, despite how simply he said it. I didn’t have this epiphany because of the right frequency or combination of words, either. Instead, I concentrated on looking for other evidence of his feelings … and it became blatantly obvious that he loved me.

The night I called Jake crying, because being an adult is hard and he abandoned his hunting trip to be there the next day was probably the earliest proof. When he told me he couldn’t wait to spend the weekend together in another state so he could introduce me to all of his friends was further confirmation. Of course, when he scheduled a ski trip to celebrate the end of my Gardasil shot regimen, which meant we could finally have sex… coupled with the very fact that he waited eight months to get laid, I was convinced. I knew without a doubt, that Jake loved me, even though he’d never shared it via cute text messages, a “no, you hang up first” back and forth, or through the most modern and ubiquitous medium: social networking.

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That’s right, y’all. In the year and a half that Jake and I have spent together, the most public validation of his feelings he’s given has been by letting me change his relationship status after three months. Now, as an active Facebook user, I’ve posted  many a status and photo with the world, about the fun we have and jokes we share, while managing to keep the emotions light. Jake has never protested, and has made it clear he doesn’t mind… but he’s also never returned the favor. In fact, unlike my high school friends who share little “this song describes our love” links on each other’s wall, Jake saves all of his appreciation for what we have for me and me alone.. and you know what? It feels far more genuine.

When I see that girl from high school tell her husband how wonderful he is, assuming it’s not a birthday or anniversary, my first instinct is always to wonder why I’m reading something so personal. When those sweet, misspelled text message screenshots show up in my feed, I cringe at being included in such intimacy. That feeling increases tenfold when I look at photos of the actual engagement or a video of a pregnancy announcement. It’s like public affection is the sixth love language and the sentiment doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s seen by 236 people from high school, that summer working at the water park, and the sorority you rushed but ultimately decided not to join. After all, if he says he loves you and your family in North Dakota who you haven’t seen since you were nine didn’t read it, did he really even say it?

On the contrary, Jake’s private little Eskimo kisses, his hand on my lower back when we’re in public, his hugs from behind while I’m cooking, the way he grabs me for a last cuddle before I go to work, are solely for me. He’s not showing off for the aforementioned 236 people when he insists I stay in the car while he gets gas. He’s simply showing me that he loves and cares for me. None of my friends or family will ever know, until they see it for themselves… and that’s okay. I will never be Jake’s #WCW, but I will never wonder if the only reason he expresses his love, in his way, is because everyone is watching. There are still times when I ask, point blank, if he loves me more than anything. He gives me the assurance that of course he does and because no one else can hear it, it means that much more.

 

Reigning in My Crazy

If you haven’t been following me since I was a graduate student, you might not be familiar with the fact that I can be a little high strung. Okay, so maybe that was also apparent when I started dating Jake… and then when I started sleeping with Jake… or when I got my new job… or when I realized how much I hate my new job. Know what? Not that big of a mystery. As much as I’d love to be able to, I simply cannot describe myself as a laid back person.

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I want to, at least occasionally, be the girl who’s up for anything, who just goes with the flow when plans change… and I have been at times. I was that girl when I talked Gail into getting tattoos on a whim. I was that girl when Gail called in the middle of the night to tell me Terry was stuck in a ditch two hours away and I went along for the ride, entertaining her by reading aloud from satirical reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was that girl on all those impromptu nights out with Catherine. I was even that girl when Jake wanted to go on a weekend ski trip in February, with little notice and having never skied. Lately, though… lately I just haven’t been able to muster up the gumption to be that girl, at all.

You see, I wouldn’t say that 2016 has been bad. It’s just been in a constant state of change. When I was 21 years old, I moved for the 10th time in two years. Every time someone knocked on the door, my heart leapt out of my chest, because I was certain my ex-husband had gotten us evicted again. After I left, things settled down a bit, but life wasn’t exactly what I’d call “steady” as I worked two jobs and attended graduate school. When I graduated, I was promoted to half time librarian and my pay at the library nearly doubled, but I was still dependent on my substitute teaching check. The harrowing world of dating wasn’t exactly a balm to my nerves, but I was no longer a student, so it was still an improvement. Then, I met Jake and was promoted to full time Supervisory Librarian. Finally, I would have the chance to settle in and get comfortable… except that’s not what’s happened at all.

Jake is wonderful and everything I’ve ever wanted, but his work schedule and the distance have been an endless battle. I thought his quitting the oil field might free up some time, but until he gets a job in the city, he spends his weekdays in another state working on the Granger Ranch. As for me, $50,000 a year in one of the cheapest states in the country sure has been nice, especially with all that health insurance, but… I hate being a manager. Here I am, almost one year from the announcement that I’d been promoted and everything was falling into place and I’m back to my “please let me get the job” prayer mantra.

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Life certainly isn’t as stressful as the days of packing up all of my belongings in four hours, before the landlord calls the police. It’s not even as stressful as working two jobs and relying on the Almighty for health insurance. A surprise middle management position, major relationship milestones, months of illness, a year and a half of schedule conflicts with the love of my life, Jake’s unemployment, and now both of us applying for new jobs, however, does not a laid back Belle make… and I’ve gotta admit, my crazy’s becoming harder and harder to hide.

A few weeks ago, I lay on Jake’s bed, distraught:

Me: “Everything’s in flux and it has been for so long. I just feel like there are no constants anymore.”
Jake: “I’m a constant.”

The only reason he gets away with putting his foot in his mouth so often, is because when he does say the right thing, he nails it.

The next weekend, Jake walked through the door as I announced:

Me: “I’m getting an elective C-section.”
Jake: “Please stop reading those articles.”

After a weekend of arguing about C-sections versus natural birth, I ended up in tears and Jake finally asked the obvious question.

Jake: “Why are you so upset about something that’s not even happening for at least two years?!?”
Me: “Because you told me just last week that you’re absolutely opposed to elective C-sections and I agreed with you. Then Catherine and Laura both told me that natural childbirth will rip you in half and to definitely get a C-section. You have such a big personality and you’re so opinionated that I figured if I started arguing about it now, I’d have a better chance of winning!”

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Jake: “Okay, I promise you that when the time comes, I will consider all of the options, if you’ll promise me that you’ll stop reading those articles.”

He also has the patience of a saint.

My irrational fear of eventual childbirth all started when my (former) OBGYN brushed off my birth control side effect concerns, despite my months of pain. Fortunately, though, I had better luck with my new chiropractor… after my hip popped out of place the morning of Jake’s birthday… because I bent over to pick up a pair of shorts.

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One of the things no one ever really talks about, when they’re busy glorifying living alone, is how much it sucks to be hurt or sick and not even have the luxury of company. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about being alone that amplifies any and all ailments… though apparently not nearly as much as finding out that I didn’t get that job I wanted.

I admit, the day I found out that I didn’t get the Cherokee job, I hit a breaking point and had something of a meltdown. While Jake is great at being supportive in person, he’s simply at a loss when his verbal skills are the only arrows in his quiver. Through a haze of pain, I babbled incoherently into the phone about hating my life, which I’ll admit was needless melodrama, but days earlier my hipbone was tucked behind my tailbone while I grimaced through a fishing trip. I’ve been under a lot of stress y’all.

Here I am, though, with an empty uterus and realigned spine, declaring that I will take the rest of 2016 in stride!

I will stop working myself up over Future Belle’s problems!

I will do my best to accept that the ever changing landscape that is my life these days, will ultimately lead to something good!

I will stop taking advantage of the fact that Jake is experienced in the management of high strung, over-achieving women!

I will reign in my crazy and I will force myself to enjoy my favorite time of year, because I will be that girl who goes with the flow!

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Being Single is Hard

I’m not single and I haven’t been for quite some time. I met Jake last June and I wouldn’t have called myself single past August or so. As Jake and I move closer and closer to marriage, shopping for rings and spending more and more nights together, though, I’m starting to realize how much harder it was when it was always just me.

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I’ve shared, previously, the number of blogs, articles, and comments I’ve come across on the difficulty of marriage, which are usually followed by new parents telling me I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I have a lot of friends who have been sharing this article on the difficulty of parenting on Facebook and I applaud the author for choosing not to discuss how easy everyone else has it… because that’s all I ever hear about being young and on your own. I don’t know if everyone is simply looking at their past through rose colored glasses or if young, single people feel pressured to insist that their lives are fulfilling in every way, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard or read a discussion on how truly difficult it can be to be alone.

Now, I’m certainly not pitying those enjoying the single life and the freedom that comes with it. I had a great time going to movies alone and enjoyed many all night Vampire Diaries marathons over the sound of a whirring sewing machine, when I was single. When Jake visits his parents or goes to Wellston for a few days, I even try to remind myself to enjoy the last chances I’m going to get to be, well… a little bit single. It’s a great time… but it’s also a tough one and no one ever gives anyone credit for the strength it can take…

… to be the sole earner.

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As a single woman with an advanced degree, my entire adult life has been something of a financial struggle. In college, I was married to a man who refused to work, so perhaps I had a skewed view, but everyone remembers those years as the Age of Ramen. After I received my bachelor’s degree, however, that stage had already ended for most of my classmates and not because they got jobs, but because they got married.

As I entered graduate school, more and more of my high school acquaintances were choosing to stay home with their babies. These women posted funny YouTube videos about how their friends without children knew nothing of responsibility as I worked 13 hour days and came home to finish a research paper while eating off brand spaghetti rings, because who am I, the Queen? I still don’t buy the name brand. I paid for everything on my own, from my rent, electric bill, and groceries, to the rare nights out with Gail. Student loan payments, car trouble, chiropractor visits, that time my phone was stolen, my $70 asthma inhaler, trips to the vet… they all fell to me, while my peers showed off their new houses and $300 highchairs and longed for my stress free life.

As a successful young woman, I can’t discuss money when sharing my desire for marriage and family, without giving people the impression that I just want a man to take care of me. The women I’ve mentioned above had their own financial hardships. I understand that, I do, but they weren’t solely their burden or responsibility either. When you’re on your own, you’re the only one available to talk yourself out of that designer purse or that second drink, because you’re the only one funding the inevitable emergency. At the end of the month, it’s just you and whatever remains in your bank account. While this is a really great learning opportunity, it’s also really scary. It’s almost as scary…

… to be the sole everything else.

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American culture has grown strangely proud of poor time management skills, with everyone from stay-at-home-moms to childless professionals competing to see who can claim the least amount of free time. Never was this more apparent than when I rushed home from a substitute teaching job to take my dog outside, before heading to the library, where I worked circulation until 9:00. When I’d get home at 9:30, it was often to an apartment that looked like an F1 tornado had hit it.

When you’re living with another person, it’s easy to take for granted the things that get done with little to no effort on your part. When Jake and I are married, whoever gets home first will start dinner. If one of us has more free time in the week, we’ll help the other out by doing the laundry, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn. If the Internet goes wonky, there will be two people who could potentially take the morning off to wait for the service call, and two people to compensate for any lack of income that might cause.

When it was just me, every day, working two jobs, I was lucky if I had the energy to microwave dinner, let alone clean up the kitchen or do the laundry. Thank God I didn’t have a lawn. Two years ago, a day off of work to wait for a service call could ultimately have been the difference between being able to afford that Internet or not. Even something as simple as company has become a given, now that I’m in a relationship. It’s easy to forget all those times I ran to the drug store sick or went home after a bad day to an empty and lonely house, now that someone’s available to pick up the prescriptions and cuddle up to during bad Netflix movies. It’s almost as easy to forget how hard it is…

… to have to face the unknown solo, with a smile on your face.
Zetus lapetus, dating sucks. If there is one aspect of being a single twenty-something that none of us feel compelled to talk up, it’s dating and that’s because no one looks back on it fondly… unless they just didn’t do it for very long. I remember getting ready for what was unsurprisingly another dead end date, with Gail’s help, a few years ago. She told me how, although she loves Terry, she sometimes misses that feeling of anticipation and excitement. In hindsight, I’ll admit, there were times when it really was exciting. Toward the end, however, it was just… emotionally exhausting.

The entire time I dated, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to admit that the one thing I wanted more than anything was a loving husband and children. I didn’t want them immediately or solely, but it was a goal of mine to be well on my way by the time I was 30. For some reason, I was supposed to leave something so important up to “fate” or “timing,” while being told my career goals were only subject to effort… even though the former was dependent on how one random person felt about me and the latter hung on how several very specific people felt about me. As a result, not only was I terrified that I may never attain what mattered so much to me, but I felt like I wasn’t even allowed to discuss it, for the sake of all womankind.

Not every woman shares my priorities. Some focus more on career or travel or general life experiences, but most people want to eventually find someone to love and care for and with whom to make all the big life decisions. There was a time when making all of those decisions by myself was freeing. Eventually, however, what I yearned for was a little less uncertainty in the world, some assurance that I would eventually put down the roots I wanted with someone I wanted. In your twenties, there are a thousand unknowns in your existence and when finding someone is no longer one of them, you feel a little more grounded, because you’re not facing the other 999 alone.

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I look fondly on the time I spent single, because I made a genuine effort to enjoy it while I could. I had a great time thinking only about me and bettering myself and my career. My Gramma once commented on how exciting it must be to have my whole life ahead of me with all that freedom and all those decisions yet to be made. She was right. It was and still is very exciting. It’s also a lot to take on alone, because no matter how many amazing friends and family members you have, it’s not the same as being in a committed relationship. I don’t doubt that being newly married, having young children, or raising teenagers is stressful. I imagine every stage has its battles and tears. I just get really tired of hearing about how the post college, pre-marriage stage isn’t one of them… because going it alone is, quite often, really very hard. I hope I never forget that.