12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

I’m getting married for the first time at age 53, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. But I’d like to think that my age is a plus. I’m not impulsive. I believe in doing my homework. I am all about looking before I leap.

Lord knows I’ve seen enough marriages fail to get a strong sense of what kills them off. It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It also helps to know the other person’s hopes, dreams, and expectations in advance, and decide whether you’d be willing to help them achieve them.

Here are a few things you may wish to consider talking about ahead of your big day:

Money. This one is huge. Is one partner bringing a mountain of debt into the union? It’s only fair to bring this out in the open. How will you handle finances? How much credit card debt can you tolerate? What level of discretionary spending are you comfortable with? What are your plans, if any, for retirement? What are your expenses? How will you cope with financial emergencies? What are your long term financial goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Children. Do you both want them? How many? Do you already have some? Who has custody? What is your philosophy regarding discipline, and child-rearing in general?

What goals do you have for your future? Do they align? If you want to travel and your partner simply wants to retire and watch Jerry Springer all day long, that’s a problem. What do you consider to be a successful life? What is most important to you in terms of a future? Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to have? What types of vacations do you like to take? What are your priorities? What are your expectations?

Sex, Intimacy and Fidelity. It’s okay to be who you are. But it’s only fair that you spell it out. If one person is asexual, and the other expects a high degree of intimacy, that’s a problem waiting to happen. If your philosophies regarding fidelity don’t align, it’s a recipe for disaster. If one person hates public displays of affection, and the other feels rejected if her partner won’t hold her hand, this is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Is pornography a big part of your life or do you have any sexual habits that your partner might find unusual? Discuss what you need to feel loved and sexually satisfied now, or your marital ship will sink like a stone.

Individuality. You don’t have to be joined at the hip. You don’t always have to like all the same things that your partner likes. You don’t even have to have all of the same friends. Becoming a football widow isn’t a big deal if you have interests of your own. Are you both comfortable doing things alone? If you have different expectations in terms of togetherness and attention, it’s best to work that out now.

Vices. If you smoke and your partner does not, you should find out if that will become a deal-breaker. If you have a drug addiction, your partner has a right to know. How much do you drink alcohol? How much is too much? You should even put your quirky habits out there. One person’s quirk might be another person’s intolerable oddity.

Health. Does your partner take health as seriously as you do? Are there any ticking time bombs with regard to family health history that you need to be aware of? How will you cope with a medical catastrophe?

Religion. What are your spiritual philosophies? Atheists and Fundamentalists can marry, of course, but they’d have to be extremely tolerant of their differences. If one is expecting the other to make a dramatic, very basic shift, and the other person isn’t willing to do so, then that will be a problem. Also, what holidays are important to you, and how do you celebrate them?

Politics. I’ve seen couples thrive in spite of political differences, but if politics is a huge part of your life, it rapidly becomes a definer of the content of one’s character. And in this current atmosphere of division, it’s not like you can ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will you be willing to agree to disagree on the issues? It’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with expectations that your partner will change and come to his or her senses.

Family. Unfortunately (or luckily, as the case may be), when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family, too. Everyone has a few nuts in the family tree. Having insane in-laws is not necessarily a problem unless you discover, to your horror, that your spouse expects said crazy relative to live with you in his or her dotage. Will you be okay with that? What does family obligation mean to you? Best to figure that out in advance.

Communication and Conflict Resolution. How do your resolve disagreements? If one is a shouter and the other tends to withdraw, you’ll never be able to meet in the middle. It’s all about respect. Talk about issues before they get out of control. Listen to what your partner is saying. Nip things in the bud as often as you can. Don’t stuff things. Don’t get hostile. Don’t just hope things will go away on their own. Take the initiative. How do you plan to talk things out?

Cleanliness. Can you tolerate your partner’s level of clutter? Can your partner stand your obsessive compulsive need for a spotless home? And how will the cleaning tasks be divided? This is 2018. You can’t assume that both of you are on the same page regarding basic chores. Talk about it.

Communication about all of the above is key. It’s important to know as much as possible about the foundation on which you are building your relationship. A solid foundation leads to a long-lasting home.

Are there any other topics that I’ve overlooked? Please share them in the comments below!

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Our Own Private Crop Circles

Dreams. I’ve always considered them messages from my subconscious. Which makes it all the more frustrating when I don’t understand them.

A friend of mine calls them our own private crop circles. Like those beautiful and mysterious creations (whether you believe they’re man made or otherwise), we know these dreams are trying to tell us something, but what? Good question.

I’ve always kind of assumed that my subconscious knows more about what’s going on with me than I do. But if that’s really true, why can’t it enunciate, at the very least? Quit mumbling gibberish.

Why can’t it say, “Yo, you are stressed out about xyz, and I have no intention of letting you sleep peacefully until you deal with it.” I’m much more functional when my marching orders are clear.

Instead, what does it give me? Dreams about being chased by bats or  giraffes walking on water.

We share the same head. You’d think we’d speak the same language.

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The Sacred and Mundane in Relationships

A friend of mine used that phrase in one of her recent Facebook posts, and I immediately thought it would make a great title for one of my blog posts. I’m very relationship-focused at the moment, having just started a new one. I really, really want to get this right, so I’m putting a great deal of thought into it.

I believe it’s very important to respect that every healthy relationship will be multi-layered. Not everything is going to be deeply intimate and highly significant. It’s not all inside jokes and passion and the stuff of love songs. No. Some of it is driving to the post office and making chicken soup when your partner has a cold and cleaning his or her pet’s poop off your carpet. It’s delighting in each other’s company, but it’s also deciding what’s irritating enough to speak up about and what is better to simply adjust to.

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I’m in my 50’s and I never expected to have this opportunity again, or the fact that I’ve lost someone quite abruptly in the past so I know how fragile it all can be, but one unique feature of this relationship, for me, is that the mundane seems to be every bit as sacred to me as the sacred is. I like shopping with him. I like doing yard work with him. I like cooking with him. I’m just as happy holding his hand while watching TV as I am going to a major event.

I’m hardly an expert, but I think the trick is to not take anything for granted. Even the basic stuff. Because the bulk of life is the basic stuff. Just the fact that it’s life and you have someone special to live it with makes it worth cherishing.

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Play Nice

It happened again, just the other day. One of my friends attacked another on my Facebook page, simply because they had differing points of view. It was a hostile, below-the-belt attack. And these people did not even know each other.

It’s so easy, in this age of anonymity, to manifest our worst selves. Respect and reasoned discourse seem to be things of the past. One would think we could all agree that this is not a societal improvement. And yet, we persist.

So I was delighted today to get this e-mail from StoryCorps, announcing their latest project:

So far, almost everyone who has ever recorded a StoryCorps interview has done so to thank and honor a loved one. But, in an effort to increase empathy and sow unity in our nation, we are trying something different. We are asking people with opposing political viewpoints to record StoryCorps interviews with each other. It’s called One Small Step.

As all of StoryCorps’ wide-serving programs do, One Small Step seeks to build understanding and recognition of our shared humanity. Ultimately, we hope to repair and even to strengthen our frayed national fabric.

What a delightful idea. We need to start talking to one another again, face to face. We need to stop hiding in cyberspace. Learn more about the One Small Step project in this podcast.

StoryCorps is one of my favorite organizations. In fact, I donate a dollar to them every time I sell one of my books, because they inspired me, and gave me the confidence to become who I am as a writer. Including me in one of their anthologies is what really got the ball rolling for me, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that.

If you haven’t already done a StoryCorps interview (or even if you have), I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s an amazing experience, and it allows you to become part of history. Check out one of the first One Small Step interviews here. It’s beautiful.

And don’t forget: Play nice, everybody.

Play nice

Bruxing

True confession: I am a bruxist. When I’m feeling stress, I tend to clench my jaw and/or grind my teeth. I don’t even realize I’m doing it much of the time. I even do it in my sleep. I know I’m going through a rough patch when I wake up in the morning and my jaw aches.

Once, I had a dream that I was deep within the bowels of an old, creaking wooden ship. I woke up and could still hear the creaking. It was me, grinding my teeth so hard that they were groaning in protest. Needless to say, I got a night guard to wear right after that. I’d kind of like to keep my teeth.

But for the past week I’ve had to wear my night guard even in the daytime. I had a filling replaced, and my constant grinding was not allowing the area to heal. I had to go back to the dentist 3 times for bite adjustments, and in the meantime my clenching and grinding caused the ligaments under the tooth root to get bruised. So here I am, wearing the adult version of a pacifier, feeling really grateful that I work alone, and looking forward to the day when I’m not in pain anymore.

My subconscious does its best to send me signals when all is not right in my world. Unfortunately, I’m quite adept at ignoring them. So then the signals get louder or more persistent, until I get with the program. I think I need to pay closer attention to what I’m trying to say to myself.

Our bodies have a language all their own. Since they cannot speak, they act out in other ways. Panic attacks. Back spasms. Stomach upsets. Reduced immunity. Heart attacks. It’s best to listen to these messages while they’re still “whispers” instead of “shouts”.

Bruxism

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Becoming Forgetful

When I was young and I’d hear an older person say they were getting old and forgetful, I used to smile and say I couldn’t wait to have that excuse for my absentmindedness. I’ve always been easily distracted. Flaky, even.

But now I’m starting to get it. As I age, it’s getting much, much worse. And that’s terrifying. It is no fun, no fun at all, to know you can no longer rely on your own brain. Especially when you live alone.

Today I accidentally left my to-do list at home, and I’m a bit freaked out. I’m fairly certain that I’m forgetting to do something that’s time-sensitive and important, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what it is. That’s a helpless feeling. I don’t like it. That’s why I created the to-do list in the first place.

And I’m starting to forget words. I know what I want to say conceptually. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I just can’t always verbalize it. “Please pass me the… the… you know. That thing.”

Do you have any idea how scary it is for a writer not to be able to come up with a word? And since I’m not currently in a nice comfortable relationship where the other person can finish my sentences for me, odds are that the person I’m talking to doesn’t know what thing I’m referring to.

The older I get, the more I feel like I’m traveling in a land where I don’t speak the language and I don’t have a map or an itinerary. And while I do love to travel, I love to be able to communicate even more. This is a confusing place. I’d like to go home now.

Forgetful

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How to Piss Off a Bridgetender

I have spent a great deal of time writing about how much I love my job. I really do. I swear I do. Just… not today.

Perhaps it’s because we are marinating in the last, bitter dregs of the holiday season, and everyone is getting cranky. Perhaps I’m the bitter one, because everyone is out on the water, celebrating in their Christmas light bedecked boats, and I’m stuck in this poorly insulated tower, alone, and will never own a boat. Perhaps my nerves are on edge due to political dread, or because I haven’t really seen the sun in weeks. I don’t know. But I’m in a foul mood.

I think everyone should be allowed to vent once in a while, even those of us who realize that in the overall scheme of things, we have a great deal to be grateful for. So fasten your seat belts. I’m about to rant all over you.

After 15 years as a bridgetender, I think I’ve pretty much seen it all. But here are some of the more annoying things that come up time and time and freakin’ time again. It’s enough to make me turn into a bridge troll.

I shall divide my rants up into the various forms of stupidity involved, just for clarity’s sake.

Boater Stupidity

  • You wouldn’t buy a very expensive car and hop into it without knowing the rules of the road, would you? Well, a distressing number of boaters seem to do this. If you have achieved enough financial success to own a vessel, kindly take the time to know what the hell you are doing. The life you save could be mine, or that of someone else.
  • If you can afford a boat, you can afford to invest in a working marine radio and learn how to use it. First of all, this isn’t a convoy. We don’t use “10-4” or any of the other 10 codes. And if you call me and have your own volume turned down, I can respond all day long and you’re not going to hear me. Don’t blame me for that.
  • My voice isn’t that deep. Why do you assume I’m a “sir”?
  • Do not call me on the phone. This isn’t a date. Contact me via the CORRECT horn signals (which you’d know if you read the Coastguard regulations), or call me on the radio.
  • Be polite. I’m not your servant or your minion. If you “demand” an opening “immediately upon” your arrival, there is nothing on earth that will be more apt to tempt me to make you paddle in circles for a while. As in all other parts of your life, you’ll be amazed at how far a simple “please” and “thank you” will get you.
  • Don’t tie up the radio with unimportant chatter. Someone could be sinking out there.
  • Know your mast height. A shocking number of boats don’t actually require a bridge opening. Operating a bridge costs the taxpayer money. And slowing down street traffic for no good reason is never appreciated.
  • Know where the hell you are. You should get charts, but even a Rand McNally map is better than nothing. The other day, I had boats calling me the Ravenna Drawbridge and the Washington Drawbridge, neither of which exists in Seattle.
  • And just calling me “drawbridge” doesn’t work, either. There are often several drawbridges within the sound of your radio. And no bridgetender, to my knowledge, can read your mind.
  • All drawbridges are bound by the Coastguard Federal Regulations. This means that many of us have time periods in which we cannot open for most boaters. Don’t argue with me about it. That won’t change anything. And don’t take it personally. I was not put on this earth to make you late for your golf game.
  • And by the way, if you’re on a sailboat, why on earth are you so impatient? You. Are. On. A. Sailboat.
  • This isn’t my first rodeo. If you ask for an opening and I tell you that I’ll start it upon your approach, continue your approach. I’m timing it based on your rate of speed. If you come to a dead halt before I’ve opened the bridge, that will just make the time the bridge has to stay open for you that much longer. Your lack of consideration backs up traffic for miles. Surprise! The world does not revolve around you.
  • Don’t call me for an opening when you’re still 10 minutes away. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than stand at the operating console, idly waiting for you to show up.
  • Don’t assume I’m asleep. It’s insulting. I’m never asleep. I’m a professional.
  • It is every bit as illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated as it is to operate a car in that condition. When you are drunk, I cannot effectively communicate with you. Ineffective communication on the water can be deadly.

Automotive Stupidity

  • The average drawbridge opening is only 4 ½ minutes long. And you knew you were taking a route that took you over a drawbridge. So there’s no reason to throw a tantrum when you have to wait while a drawbridge opens.
  • There’s also no reason to do a u-turn. By the time you take your detour, that 4 ½ minutes will have passed. It’d be far more pleasant for you to just step out of your car for a minute and enjoy the scenery. Life’s too short.
  • Turn off your engine. Why pollute the atmosphere, when it’s been proven that idling more than 30 seconds is much less fuel efficient than turning your car off and restarting it again?
  • You can honk at me all you want. It’s not going to make the bridge opening go any faster.
  • Rude gestures just make you look like a jerk.
  • When the bridge closes and there’s a pause before the traffic gates go up, it’s not that I’m up here picking my nose. The bridge locks are being driven beneath the street. Just because you don’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Hold your freakin’ horses.

Bicycle and/or Pedestrian Stupidity

  • If you see lights flashing and/or hear gongs, that means STOP. Don’t cross the drawbridge. It does NOT mean stop halfway across the bridge to take a selfie. It doesn’t mean stand there and take in the view. It doesn’t mean slow down. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should crawl under the gates. The rules apply to everyone, including you, and they’re there for your safety.
  • Barges can’t slam on the brakes. You need to get out of the way.
  • Cursing at me won’t speed up the opening any more than honking at me does.
  • Projectiles are not appreciated. People in Seattle don’t throw as many eggs and rocks and beer bottles and tomatoes as the people in Florida did. But I’ve never been in a bridge tower anywhere in the country that hasn’t been shot at at least once. What have I ever done to you that merits my death or injury?
  • Please don’t vandalize the bridge. We are proud of it. And many of your fellow citizens are, too. Also, please don’t vandalize my car. I’ve done nothing to you except work hard to ensure that you are safe.
  • Climbing over an opening drawbridge might look cool in the movies, but it can get you killed. And I’ll be the one who has to carry that for the rest of my life. Be a daredevil someplace else.
  • There is nothing more terrifying than being all alone, and going into one of the machinery rooms below the street only to find that someone has broken in and is still there. And it happens just enough to make me jumpy. Can you just… not? If you’re curious, ask for a tour.

Hoooo! I feel cleansed! Now, back to work.

But don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of the boaters, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are polite, friendly and easy to deal with. I only wish the rest were as cooperative and pleasant. Bridgetenders really do care about all of you. That’s why we’re here, doing what we do. So you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes get irritated that there are a few out there who don’t care as much as we do.

Oh, and did I mention? It’s my birthday.

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Mixed Signals

When I was seven years old, I was walking into school with my best friend when a boy grabbed her arm and started dragging her down the sidewalk. I didn’t know this boy (I didn’t know any boys, really), so it scared me quite a bit. Loyal friend that I am, I started beating him in the head with my Scooby Doo lunchbox (complete with full thermos), while screaming, “LET HER GO!!!!”

Needless to say, he let her go and ran away. What I didn’t expect was my friend’s angry reaction to my rescue. Apparently I had interrupted some sort of prepubescent mating ritual. I hadn’t gotten the memo. My lunch was crushed and so was I.

This wouldn’t be the last time I misinterpreted the subtle nuances of life. Just the other day I was at a party with a friend, and she said something to me and I responded. We carried on that conversation for the rest of the event. It wasn’t until we were walking to my car afterward that I discovered we had been having two entirely different conversations the whole time!

I always find it to be quite disconcerting when I find out that my reality is completely distinct from the reality of those around me. It’s as if the universal translator in my head is set to the wrong frequency and I’m speaking a different language. I’m out of tune, out of touch. That’s an awful feeling, because my entire ego is built firmly upon a foundation of intelligence. When I realize I’m on a different page than the rest of the readers of the world, I feel kind of dumb.

It also doesn’t help that I’m prone to daydreaming quite a bit. I enjoy the garden of my mind. There is just so much to see and do there. But that doesn’t serve me well when interacting with others. Lack of focus is putting it mildly.

Let’s just say that I am forever grateful to my loved ones for their abiding patience. Thanks everybody!

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Garden of my mind by AishaTheWeirdo

Where are All the Bridgetenders?

Bridge operators are a quirky group. We like our privacy. We tend to be slow to trust. We like to be kings of our castles, so to speak. Plus some of us (not me, not anymore) work under some draconian rules and have to fear for our livelihood. That’s probably why there isn’t a widespread network of us out there. We aren’t communicating.

I think this lack of community is a pity. Not only would we benefit from sharing our best practices and telling each other about job openings, but it would be fun to exchange our crazy stories. I would dearly love to hear about and see other views from other drawbridges! So if you know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who opens a drawbridge for a living, please share this post with them, and also invite them to join my Facebook group The View from a Drawbridge, and my other group, Drawbridge Lovers. (Of course, the rest of you can join, too!)

Lets hope this whole 6 degrees of separation thing works, because I’m looking forward to meeting some fellow travelers! Anyone can be a part of Drawbridge Nation! You just have to open up! (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

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The Fremont bridge opens for a sailboat and a pontoon for the 520 bridge. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

It’s Okay to Talk About Death

During the most profound parts of my grief over the loss of my boyfriend, I remember thinking, “I wonder how long it will be before I can talk about Chuck without making people uncomfortable.” I wanted to talk about him. I really did. Both good stuff and bad stuff. I wanted to process what I was feeling and why. But I found it really hard to discuss it with people because I felt as if I were making them squirm, and they didn’t know what to say.

How could I explain to them that it was okay to talk about Chuck? How could I tactfully make the point that death, as a general rule, is not contagious after the fact? How could I reassure them that they couldn’t possibly cause me any more pain than I was already in, and that, by talking about him, they were actually helping me? My energy was at an all-time low, so I wasn’t in the mood to school people.

Then the other day I came across the following in a book by Barbara Kingsolver, and as per usual, she really knows what to say:

“People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we’ll somehow remind them of death’s existence, we are missing their reality.”

This couldn’t be more true! It’s not like we’re taking a vacation from grief and by bringing the subject up you’re thrusting us back into that awful place. You’re not reminding us of something we’ve forgotten. We’re already there, people. And it’s okay. We’re going to survive. It’s just that it would be so comforting to talk about it, so nice to feel less isolated. So make the effort, even if it’s just to ask if we’d like to talk. It would mean more than you know.

I’m happy to say I’ve gotten past the worst of my grief (although it will never go away completely), but if anything could have made the experience easier, it would have been the general sense that I didn’t have to censor myself to avoid making everyone feel awkward. Please try to give that gift to the people you love who are grieving.

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[Image credit: nhfaithfusion.com]