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!

marriage

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A New Future

The older I get, the more people I know who are mourning the loss of a partner. Along with that, inevitably, comes the mourning of the loss of your future. Because couples make plans. That’s what they do. They have an image of what they’re working toward. When your partner dies or you get divorced, that image turns to dust.

That’s unsettling. Suddenly you have absolutely no idea where you are going. It is as if you’ve been blindfolded and spun in a circle. You spend a lot of time swinging your arms around in attempt to orient yourself and avoid crashing into things. And while you’re doing that, it seems as if the rest of the world is cruising merrily past you, intent upon one destination or another, not even having to rely on a GPS. You feel as though you can’t keep up. You’ve been left behind.

It can take many years before you’re able to find the strength turn your face toward the sun again. And when you do that, it feels really strange at first. What is this warmth I’m feeling? It feels good. Do I deserve to feel good? Should I feel guilty?

And then a funny thing happens. You start doing things that you like to do that you perhaps had abandoned because your partner wasn’t into them. And you stop doing things that you only did because your partner enjoyed them. In other words, you begin to take back your individuality.

Being an individual takes strength and courage. It takes confidence and creativity. At first you’re going to feel like a newborn giraffe. Not quite steady on your feet. A little confused about how you got here and why you’re suddenly towering over things that you never knew existed. The world will seem new.

But with any luck, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realize that you’re actually kind of excited about the fact that the world seems new. Colors are brighter. Smells are more intriguing. Food has regained its flavor. Everything seems rife with possibilities.

And just like that, you begin to plan a brand new future. It may not look anything like the future you once imagined for yourself, but my wish for you is that it’s an adventure that you’re eager to begin. Onward!

the-future-is-ours

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It’s Normal to be One of a Kind

Many of us, especially when we’re young, try desperately to “fit in”. We want to be like our peers. We don’t want to be an outcast or an oddball. It feels much safer to graze with the herd rather than blaze one’s own trail.

It’s also quite common for us to pigeonhole other people; fit them into nice, neat little cubby holes so we don’t have to make much effort to get to know them as individuals. If you’re that religion, you’re violent. If you’re that skin color, you’re lazy. If you are from that country, you can’t be trusted. (This is such a common habit that you most likely filled in the blanks regarding which religion, skin color or country I was referring to. Let that sink in for a minute, because it’s really sad.)

Here’s the problem with all of the above: We are all one of a kind. Unless you are an identical twin, no one on the planet has the exact same DNA that you have. And even twins have different life experiences, and that shapes them over time.

We have all lived different lives. We’ve seen different parts of the world. We’ve experienced different tragedies and triumphs. We’ve loved and lost and learned and laughed and cried, each in our own ways.

A very, very rough estimate tells me that the number of people born each second on this planet is about 2. So there might be someone in the world who was born the same second that you were. (Actually, by my admittedly rough calculation, one human is born every 0.576 seconds, so you may even have your second all to yourself. It could happen.) But the odds that you and your second-mate, if you have one, will both die at the same second, unless the whole world explodes, is pretty slim. So it’s safe to say that no one, no one will experience the exact same span of history that you will.

And then, if you start comparing favorite colors, career paths, place of birth, politics, and whether you prefer chunky peanut butter or smooth… well, you can just imagine what a rare individual you are! You are truly one of a kind. And I think that’s wonderful.

My question is, why are we so loathe to celebrate our differences, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they exist?

Today, as you walk through your unique life, look at the people around you, and revel in their individuality. And take a moment to appreciate yourself for the miracle that you are. Vive la différence!

You are a gift!

gift

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What I Love about Seattle, Washington

I’ve been living in this delightful city for 2 ½ years now, and I have never been happier. It sort of feels like I went to bed in Florida and I woke up in the Land of Reasonable People. Not a day goes by when I don’t look around in awe. How did I get so lucky?

Now, more than ever, I’m grateful for the liberal bubble in which I reside. In the current political climate, I think it’s the only reason that what little sanity I still possess remains intact. I love that my senators and my representative are all Democratic females. I love that we have a member of the socialist party (also female) on our city council. I love that our mayor is gay. And granted, it was a federal judge who ruled against Trump’s travel ban, but that judge was located right here in Seattle. I couldn’t be more proud.

The City of Seattle also just divested itself from Wells Fargo Bank due to its involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Integrity in politics. How refreshing. (Not that we always get it right. For example, the homeless situation here is abysmal, and there’s absolutely no excuse for it. But it’s a start.)

We’re also proud to be a sanctuary city. Immigrants are welcome here. Contrary to supposedly popular belief, that makes me feel safer. I don’t like the idea of people being snatched from their homes. That happens a lot more frequently in this country than any terrorist attack.

I love the fact that individuality is celebrated here. It means that creativity thrives. Because of that, you can experience a wide variety of art, music, culture, and food in this fair city.

Oddly enough, I’m glad that we have horrible weather in the winter. It makes me appreciate the rest of the year that much more. I spend a lot more time outdoors here than I ever did in Florida.

I love that no one here needs air conditioning (yet). I love the parks and the flowers and the diversity of the landscape. I want to explore this city and this state a lot more. I love that every neighborhood has its own personality.

I love that the environment is taken so seriously here. If you don’t recycle, you can practically cause a riot. And there are so many outlets for environmental activism.

I love that this is the most literate city in the country. I love that the library parking lots are always packed with cars. I love that people enjoy talking about books.

I don’t smoke pot, but I love that it’s legal here. I don’t drink coffee, but I love that it’s celebrated here, and I love hanging out in coffee shops. I am musically inept, but I love that you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a musician. This is the land of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, after all.

Now, if you want to talk about horrible traffic, out of control growth, and the outrageous cost of living… well, that’s a topic for another post.

seattle

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Too Perfect

If you’ve seen the movie The Truman Show, you have experienced Seaside, Florida in all its creepy perfection. I have never been there myself, but I have been to Celebration, Florida, which is another perfectly planned little hamlet. These places are cool to visit, but they kind of give me the willies.

Seaside, Florida [Image credit: misfitsarchitecture.com]
Seaside, Florida [Image credit: misfitsarchitecture.com]

These communities are regulated in the extreme. Individuality is very discouraged. The houses can only be a certain style and a certain range of colors. Your white picket fence must be of a particular design. And forget about unique landscaping. Seaside and Celebration are the Stepford Wives of communities, even more so than your typical neighborhoods with homeowners associations.

I am thinking of these places because recently I drove through Port Gamble, Washington. Port Gamble was established in 1853, and looks as if it has been frozen in time. The Victorian houses, many of them identical, are in pristine condition, and there’s one continuous white picket fence along the length of the main street. There are also some touristy shops, but we didn’t stop.

The reason we didn’t stop is that I got the shivers just driving through the place. Yes, it’s charming, and each building, if by itself, would be a delight. But as you drive through there, you start to notice that there’s a distinct absence of humans. And all the blinds are drawn. I could easily imagine an FLDS polygamist cult occupying the town, or an extended family of zombies. It’s downright disturbing. I wouldn’t want to be caught there after dark. It felt like an extremely sanitized ghost town.

Port Gamble's perfect little church.
Port Gamble’s perfect little church.
Port Gamble's perfect little picket fence. Taken from the safety of my car. With the window rolled up.
Port Gamble’s perfect little picket fence. Taken from the safety of my car. With the window rolled up.

I genuinely think that there’s such a thing as too much perfection. Humanity lies in the flaws; in the peeling paint and the tacky lawn flamingoes. When people start marching in lockstep, they seem robotic. When they force their surroundings to do the same, it feels otherworldly. I would definitely not thrive in that environment. It’s too much about appearances and what the neighbors think.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

The first time I heard Kermit the Frog sing that song when I was a little girl, it made me cry. And I have to admit it still chokes me up to this day. That’s because I’ve felt green my whole life.

In this case, “green” means different from everybody else, and yet somehow not particularly special. I feel green when I hear coworkers getting all enthusiastic because we’ve got a new hire and “she’s gorgeous” (as in, “what a refreshing change.”) I feel green when my intellectual friends start speaking computer-ese, and I suddenly feel as though I should be chewing bubble gum. I feel green when I share my unique perspective and am met with blank stares.

In America, we claim to prize individuality, but most people seem to want to be popular and accepted and understood. “Cool” seems to mean trendy, but it has to be trendy enough to where everyone wants to follow that trend. You’re expected to stand out in a crowd, but only as a leader of that crowd, not as someone who is on the sidelines, alone.

Boy, Kermit wasn’t kidding. It’s not easy. Not even a little bit. Sometimes it hurts like hell.

But because I’d start blubbering the minute he started to sing, I seem to have missed the point of the whole song. If you listen to it all the way through, you realize that what Kermit is trying to say is that, yes, it’s not easy. But it’s important. We all have a role to play. We all matter. We need to accept ourselves and love ourselves for who we are. Because, after all, green is a fundamental part of the color spectrum. This world would be a lot more ugly without green.

jim-henson-kermit

Thanks, Jim Henson, for being green.

Naming Yourself

I have never really related to my own first name. And my middle name? It feels downright foreign. If I could have named myself, I would be Serenity. I’d actually legally change it tomorrow if I didn’t think I’d be laughed out of my family. It’s the name I chose for myself in the virtual world of Second Life, and it feels right.

It seems exceedingly strange to me that the one thing you are stuck with for life, the thing that identifies who you are and makes you stand out from everyone else, is the one thing you don’t get to choose for yourself.

Over the years I have come across some really amusing names in Second Life. I started making a list so I wouldn’t forget them. Some of them are well thought out, others not so much. Naming yourself should be serious business because you are stuck with that legacy for life. But one thing I’ve learned from all of this is that if we all got to choose our own names, the world would be a much more interesting place.

Here are some of my favorite Second Life names.

  • Aloof Hermit
  • Always Schmooz
  • Antenna Rae
  • Anytime Thursday
  • Argyle Socke
  • Athiest Priestman
  • AyeLove Yue
  • Before Afterthought
  • Belgian Waffle
  • Bittersweet Lime
  • Blunt Fhang
  • Blvd Ho
  • Born Aristocrat
  • Bratty Childs
  • Breezie Catnap
  • Bringiton Paine
  • BrokenGuitar String
  • BrokenHeart Paine
  • CallYou Back
  • CanYouHearMe Snoring
  • Cheese Twist
  • Cherish Clarity
  • ChickenNoodle Soup
  • Cold Frog
  • Cooky Munster
  • CoolComfort Nirvana
  • Counterfactual Fizzle
  • CountTo Infinity
  • Crawfish Gumbo
  • Creepy Janitor
  • Cryptic Quandry
  • Denied Flatley
  • diddlesme gearbox
  • Discovered Clarity
  • driveme Oppewall
  • dry Rage
  • Editorial Clarity
  • Enticing Destiny
  • Experimental Afterthought
  • Extremely Noble
  • Failed Inventor
  • Fifty Winx
  • FreeWee Ling
  • Gathering Gloom
  • Gawdawful Calamity
  • Harmonic String
  • Heinous Deed
  • Ina Tryce
  • Justyn Tyme
  • Katydid Something
  • Love Pang
  • Naturally Offcourse
  • OctopusDropkick Sorbet
  • Oh Mercy
  • Pickle Soup
  • Pipsqueak Halfpint
  • Prison Barrs
  • Promises Paine
  • Rational Clarity
  • Shouting Kidd
  • SkittlesofDoom Waffle
  • Sling Trebuchet
  • Starlight Melodie
  • Story Writer
  • Strangely Broke
  • Subtle Charisma
  • Subtle Difference
  • Subtle Signals
  • Subtle Witte
  • Tainted Love
  • Tenderlee Held
  • Twisted Fool
  • Vry Offcourse
  • Wandering Homewood
  • Yorma Destiny
  • Youbetcha Babii
  • Younever Rang

What would your name be if you had a choice?

name

[Image credit: Redbubble.com]

Affectations

I once knew a guy who spoke with a French accent. The thing is, he was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. None of his siblings had French accents, nor did his parents.

I also know an American writer who absolutely insists on using British spelling at every opportunity. Colour. Theatre. He also uses antiquated words such as “fortnight”. Honestly, when’s the last time you’ve ever heard anyone say fortnight?

I also have known a few people who refuse to modernize. I worked with a lady, I swear to God, who still has a bouffant hairstyle. People call her “helmet head” behind her back. Another one likes to wear cat glasses and pillbox hats.

And then there are those who like to be on the cutting edge. Too far on the cutting edge. They tended to wear one glove when Michael Jackson did, and had Flock of Seagulls hair.

And frankly, senior citizens wearing short shorts or miniskirts…that’s just a little bit sad.

I’m all for individuality. Believe me, I am. And I myself have a tendency to zig when I should zag every now and then. It’s great fun to push the boundaries and flout convention. But when you stubbornly cling to things waaaay past their expiration date, or go where no sane person will, that’s not trendy. That’s not stylish. It’s pathetic.

I have two theories about people like this. Either they are so out of touch with reality, so ignorant of all social cues, that they just don’t know any better, and/or they have such low self-esteem that they think they have to go to such lengths to be accepted.

Prithee, get with the programme.

affectations

Image Credit: http://www.demotivationalposters.org

Stage Mothers

Anyone who has seen the musical “Gypsy” knows that certain people turn into the stage mothers from hell. It really ought to be a mental designation in the DSM 5, and it should be defined as someone who is so unhappy with her own life that she attempts to live vicariously through that of her child, whether he or she likes it or not.

I once knew a woman whose daughter was heavily into Irish Dance. Or so I thought. Their whole lives revolved around competitions. They traveled hours each week for lessons. Mom purchased obscenely expensive costumes, and came very close to losing her job because she took so much time off for competitions. Daughter broke her foot on several occasions, and started back dancing way before she should have. She will experience pain for the rest of her life. I used to think that was amazing effort and sacrifice on her part to excel in something she loved, and oh! what a loving and supportive mother! Then I had a talk with the daughter one day, and discovered that she no longer wanted to dance at all. It was fun at first, but her mother put so much pressure on her and it took up so much time, it had become more like a horrible job. And she had no time to just be a kid, to just have fun and goof off and make friends. She was even home schooled and had no social skills whatsoever. From then on I saw it for what it was: a sickness. The daughter finally grew up, left home, and they no longer speak.

I know another girl who just had a baby, and she told me she was entering the child in those horrible kiddie beauty pageants. I said, “Why don’t you wait until she’s old enough for her to decide for herself?” She replied, “Well, I can’t do that. She might not want to.” That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

But stage moms aren’t just relegated to the stage. I used to really feel sorry for the valedictorian of my high school class. I have never known a more stressed out person in my life. She HAD to be the best. HAD to. For her mother. It was so freaking important to her mother that this girl practically made herself sick over it. One day my mother and I ran into her in the library, and my mom asked her what she was going to be majoring in when she went to college. I can’t really remember what she said, but it sounded dreary, and I said as much. I’ll never forget what she said. “Well, it’s not what I want to study, it’s what my mother wants me to study.” And my mother said, “Hmmmm. Wow. Well, I’d never do that to Barb. I want her to be herself and enjoy her life and chart her own course.” That girl looked at my mom like she had two heads. Granted, I chose a really stupid major and came away with a useless degree, but I enjoyed every minute of college. I lost touch with the valedictorian, but I’m willing to bet that she spent a lot of years being miserable, and had to experience a major crisis in her life before she took charge of it, if she ever did.

I may not be a parent myself, but this I can guarantee: if you attempt to control the direction of your children’s life, if you stifle their individuality and don’t allow them to think for themselves, your relationship with those children will be severely damaged sooner or later.  And as adults they will have issues, whether it is an extreme midlife crisis, anger management problems, depression, divorce, or difficulty relating to their own children. This “gift” you are giving them will keep on giving, to be sure.

stage mom