Ten*

February 2006. Five moves, four cats, three children, two home continents and one beagle ago. I’m brimming with gratitude for having you to grow up with, Matty.

“Love is something ideal, marrying is something real, and no one ever confuses the ideal with the real without being punished for it.”

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, c. 1823

Today is our tenth wedding anniversary. And we’re in our sixteenth year of love and friendship. In reflecting on this milestone, I’ll start with a moment of misery and move to some lessons learned.

Around two children into my marriage, I called my mom from a Tokyo hotel room, devastated by some marital dispute. I said something like, “I don’t know how long I can do this,” about my relationship. I continued: “Humans live so LONG nowadays!” My mom, who celebrated her 40th anniversary with my dad last year, chuckled and said she totally got it. Her idea is that modern marriage contracts shouldn’t be ’til death do us part. Rather, she wished they were more three or five-year contracts, like my then-employment contract at NPR. In those, you can re-up at the end of the three-year terms, or you can opt not to and both sides walk away without shame. It’s the norm. It’s also a built-in check-in. At renegotiation time, we say, “How are we doing? What could be better? What is the value of this to us?” All USEFUL in a relationship! Instead, in marriage we have a whole “I promise you forever” thing that’s lofty, high pressure and impossible to predict. If you walk away, does the whole relationship have to be considered a failure? It obscures what was likely a solid, satisfying partnership for various periods. Which gets me to my first takeaway…

To me, the day-to-day work is ultimately a better signifier of love than a ceremony. I cannot imagine my life without my husband. I cannot. But the promise you make in front of friends and family on your wedding day is at best a hopeful aspiration, and just one day in an endless run of days in which you choose to be present in the relationship. I have to get up each day and decide whether I still choose this, choose my partner, and so does he. A day can come when he or I decide to NOT choose the other. Ultimately, I’ve learned there was no epic sweep to promising ourselves to one another ten years ago, inside a 16th century room that’s part of an Amsterdam museum. In actuality, our partnership has represented a series of daily recommitments. In that sense, my mom makes so much sense. For a sustaining partnership, we don’t NEED the ceremony of a wedding or a traditional marriage vow at all! Why NOT short-term contracts?

Your partner can enhance you, or he/she can diminish you. Choose well. Matty didn’t think twice about giving up his career for three years to support mine, a choice that women make for men regularly but is less common the other way around. I didn’t expect anything less from him, because our partnership is about sharpening the other from similar  positions of power. (He also agreed to take my last name while we were dating, because, even if it’s just symbolic, down with the patriarchy!)

Marriage is a contract individualized to the people in it. Matty has always acknowledged we aren’t each other’s everything. I feel most seen in the understanding that we won’t fulfill one another’s every need, and he has long given me the space for meaningful connections with people who aren’t him. The moral here is what you decide about your relationship is between the two of you. But intimacy requires bringing your full, open hearts in speaking up and designing your marriage to your unique specs.

Forgive. I love this, from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings:

“In any bond of depth and significance, forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be. Forgiveness is the alchemy by which the shame transforms into the honor and privilege of being invited into another’s darkness and having them witness your own with the undimmed light of love, of sympathy, of nonjudgmental understanding. Forgiveness is the engine of buoyancy that keeps the submarine rising again and again toward the light, so that it may become a lifeboat once more.”

Older but wiser.

I’m filled with appreciation and love. Especially because part of this post has been “maybe we’ll be together forever, maybe we won’t,” I want to underline how deeply love and appreciate my husband. If Matty and I don’t stay together “forever,” I will still never transition from my roaring twenties to my semi-responsible thirties with anyone else. I will never lock eyes with another man while pushing out a baby of ours in a delivery room. And there’s something beautiful about the moments unique to life stages, all the ones that forever bond us to each other — a shared history that can be shared with no one else. Our most daring choice to be together happens each day. Who knows about tomorrow.

“To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being—what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.”

—Ada Calhoun

*Incidentally it is also an excellent Pearl Jam album, though that’s neither here nor there.

They All Count

I like Chuck Klosterman a lot, even though his take on the nemesis thing is sexist and he got bounced as The New York Times Magazine ethicist for I don’t know why.

One of my favorite Klosterman books is the not-critically-acclaimed Killing Yourself to Live, which features Chuck ruminating on his exes while completing a cross-country assignment for SPIN Magazine, visiting the sites famous rock musicians died by suicide.

In it he makes a useful point about romantic partners in general while writing specifically about “Lenore,” the pseudonym for one of his exes:

“The problem that has always been between us: Lenore wants me to be a slightly different person than who I actually am, and I can’t force myself to care about the things that are important to her. So even when we both ‘win,’ nothing really changes.”

Moral: Don’t try to make it work with someone who will always want you to be a slightly different person than who you actually are.

And since it’s Valentine’s Day, here’s a more sentimental one, about the templates for who we love.

“We all have the potential to fall in love a thousand times in our lifetime. It’s easy. The first girl I loved was someone I knew in sixth grade…The last girl I love will be someone I haven’t even met yet, probably. They all count. But there are certain people you love who do something else; they define how you classify what love is supposed to feel like. These are the most important people in your life, and you’ll meet maybe four or five of these people over the span of 80 years.

Heart-shaped meat box, and other metaphors…

But there’s still one more tier to all this: there is always one person you love who becomes that definition. It usually happens retrospectively, but it always happens eventually. This is the person who unknowingly sets the template for what you will always love about other people, even if some of those lovable qualities are self-destructive and unreasonable. You will remember having conversations with this person that never actually happened. You will recall sexual trysts with this person that never technically occurred… This is because the person does not really exist. The person is real, and the feelings are real — but you create the context. And context is everything. The person who defines your understanding of love is not inherently different than anyone else, they’re often just the person you happen to meet the first time you really, really want to love someone. But that person still wins. They win, and you lose. Because for the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else.”

LA Is Really A Small Town, With Excellent Bar Trivia

Chance encounters are the best. I get more than my fair share of good ones.

Yesterday, I had just flown back from a conference/retreat in Sonoma when I got a random message from my high school friend Bryan, who I hadn’t seen since 2001.

Bryan introduced me to blogging nearly 20 years ago by setting up my LiveJournal as part of building elisehu.com for me. (That site got even fancier when Friend Justin added Flash!) Besides websites, our times spent together consisted a lot of Cici’s Pizza (all you can eat for only … 2.99).

So, the reason Bryan reached out is because his Tuesday night bar trivia team only had three other members who could make it, so he took a gamble in asking me to go (not knowing if I could even be helpful at a trivia challenge … little did he know I EFFING LOVE BAR TRIVIA).

Upon joining the team, which we named “Alexa, Sue The National Enquirer,” I met Kat and Kevin.* How did Kat and Kevin meet? Good question. It turns out they met through a matchmaker, and their first date was recorded in full on, wait for it, NPR for a Morning Edition piece that aired a year ago. NPR? Hey that’s where I work!

I am happy to report they are now engaged. And our trivia team CRUSHED IT, coming in first place, winning fifty dollars off our bar tab. But perhaps we should have slacked a little because the prize for second place was a copy of the book, “Conflict Resolutions for Couples.”

*Kevin really showed his chops on a question about the common name for the medical condition ‘circadian dysrhythmia.’ Answer: jet lag.

Advice, Illustrated

I was just in a regular gchat with my sister from another mother and part of it showed up in one of her drawings. Love!

Here Are My Favorite Links on Love

Hangin’ out some hearts. Source: Gloria Garcia, Flickr Creative Commons

To mark the holiday, I went through my Evernote for links I’ve saved on modern love:

Joan Didion on loving yourselffirst. Nora Ephron and what love is like in the movies. Falling in love with a friendPreserving love in a culture of fear. Kurt Vonnegut on marriage. Whether you’re a libertine or a loyalist in relationships, you’re wrong. The Americans reminds us marriage isn’t black-and-white, and neither are politics. The operative fallacy about unconditional love. I want everyone to get laid more. What if the purpose of love is to break us up? The quantified breakup. True romance is the “palpable, reassuring sense it’s okay to be a human being.” “Real love is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.” And my favorite Zadie Smith: “Joy is such a human madness.”

I enjoyed going through my Evernote, in which every link I save I associate with several tags, so that I can go back and find saved links on general concepts when they strike me. If you liked this sort of “links on a specific theme” thing, let me know and I can feature other themes in the future.

This post is excerpted from my near-weekly newsletter, the Hu’s Letter. You can subscribe if you’re into that sort of thing.

What I’m Reading: The Love and Relationships Edition

It's complicated.
It’s complicated. (Photo credit: Channing Johnson)

If you and I spend any one-on-one time together, we inevitably get around to some of my favorite topics — love, fidelity, identity and memory. I cover human connection (and how technology is changing it) as a beat, so over the past year I’ve been writing more on these themes, with posts questioning whether online dating is really helping us make better matches, etc.

I’ve also evangelized the best show on TV right now (since Mad Men isn’t back yet), The Americans on FX. It’s ostensibly a show about Russian spies living as sleeper agents in the U.S. But really it’s about love, fidelity and identity. And it stars one of my mad crushes, Matthew Rhys. (I love Matt’s! And Welshmen!)

Buried in that exposition was RECOMMENDATION #1: The Americans on FX. Watch it. Seriously. Season 3 debuts on Wednesday.

Okay, here are the rest of my recommendations on this theme:

#2 Why We Cheat (Slate Magazine)
The author of the book ‘Mating in Captivity’ sits down for a Q&A, in which she dispels some of our black-and-white thinking about stepping out on our partners. The nut graf: “Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

#3 The Split-Screen Marriage (The New York Times)

Showtime’s Golden Globe-winning (but not necessarily deserving) program, The Affair, explores the notion of perception and memory in our intimate relationships. It tells half its story from the man’s point of view, then flips midway through each episode to the woman’s perspective. Even though they remember the same sequence of events (for the most part), the tone and details are completely different. This NYT piece gets at “the canyon of ignorance that cuts across every human relationship” and got me thinking about how we can treat one other better by seeking to know our partners more.

#4 Vonnegut on Marriage (dannyman.toldme.com)

An argument for the villages of yesteryear — extended families. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

#5 Searching for Sex (The New York Times)

This piece made me want everyone to get laid more. As I mentioned in a previous post, an economist dives into the big data we have on sex-related searches, whether it’s penis size or the number of times “sexless marriage” is searched instead of “loveless marriage.” The results show Americans are have WAY TOO LITTLE SEX and that they’re really hung up about body insecurities.

Risk Your Heart, Break It

“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Bill Murray on Life

“Take what you love and make it the way you live your life, and that way you bring love into the world.” -Bill Murray, in his Reddit AMA