Love Lessons

“This old heart of mine, been broke a thousand times. Each time you break away, seems like you’ve gone to stay.” ~The Isley Brothers

I am no love expert. I feel like I should qualify that first. Love is not always sunshine and roses. I feel the need to qualify that second. Because, while love can be the most beautiful feeling in the world, it can also be the most confounding, the most frustrating, the most devastating at the same time.

For me, love has been several roller coasters, going everywhere but never really stopping. And it’s taught me a lot, in its various incarnations.

  1. Unrequited love is the worst. Having feelings for someone who doesn’t share those feelings can drive you insane. Keep in mind, though, that unrequited means they know of your love for them but do not reciprocate. If you love someone but keep it to yourself, it doesn’t qualify in this category. I’ve learned that it’s best to be honest, to get it out there, because keeping it in doesn’t help.
  2. Love has expectations. It’s interesting to me when people say that love doesn’t expect anything from you but to be yourself. This isn’t true, specifically because most relationships are doomed by a lack of communication. When you love someone you should stretch outside of your comfort zone at times so you can understand each other.
  3. You can’t force love. No matter how “great” someone looks on paper, no matter how many of your friends think you’d be perfect together, it’s not about paper, and it’s not about friends. It’s about how you feel inside, and you can’t make yourself love someone you don’t love. Yes, you can cover over your true feelings, but eventually they will come out, and regret will set in.
  4. We don’t stop loving people. If it’s real love, it doesn’t just go away. Sometimes it can morph into a different level, or it can be put on the back burner because of the actions of the individual. Often, love isn’t enough to keep people together because there are so many other factors that influence that, but the excuse that “love died” is not true. If you feel that way, then you never loved in the first place.
  5. Don’t mistake lust for love. In true Romeo & Juliet fashion, too often we are struck by the newness of a situation, we are overcome with emotions that are attached more to our libidos than to anything else. It’s easy to think this is love, but it’s really love-adjacent. It’s really one facet of a multi-faceted emotion, and often times we can have lust without love. Beware.
  6. Love needs cultivation. Just like with anything else, if love stagnates it can be detrimental to you overall as a person, and to your relationship. Taking love for granted, settling into routines where you aren’t receptive to the other person’s needs, is easy to do. It’s one of the reasons love isn’t enough by and of itself. You need to show that love instead of letting it settle.
  7. Love can be harsh. Because we can’t choose who we love we can get ourselves into situations that are detrimental to our overall mental, physical, and emotional health. I’ve seen it time and again, people who are in dysfunctional relationships because they love that person even though they’re being mentally, physically, or emotionally abused by that same person.

Love is so powerful because it tugs at our heart strings. It’s the kitty in the shelter we just have to bring home with us. It’s the book we can’t stop reading even though it’s 4 in the morning. It’s the twisted sheets, the notes under windshield wipers, the pop-ins just to say hi, the shared tacos, the phone calls that never end. It’s everything. Except that it isn’t. At least, that’s what I’ve learned so far.

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Starting Over

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” ~Henry Ford

I’m 40 years old, and I’m starting over again. This is not the first time I’ve done something similar to this, but it is different than all the rest, because I’m different now. There’s something to be said for experience being a sure teacher, and yet it seems like my whole life all I’ve been doing is repeating mistakes. That won’t happen again, because of where I’ve been, and because of where I am now. This is my declaration, at 40 years old, with a wealth of fiery carnage in my path. I’m tired of being engulfed in flames.

It’s time for something new.

All this year I’ve been doing new things. I’ve been branching out, stretching past my comfort zone, waiting for exactly this moment — to start again. It’s always been fascinating to me watching the seasons change. They always change differently, at different times, and in different ways. While the actuality of them hardly changes (summer is hot, winter cold) the degrees and architecture of them shifts subtly from year to year, and sometimes even within themselves. I feel like I’ve become that now, worn and aged by time, but also a little unpredictable as I become this best version of myself. Well, as I become at least this better version of myself.

I just finished a novel manuscript last month that explores a whole new world I don’t think I could have envisioned before. The wealth of experiences, the starts and stops of my life, have made it possible. We are in our new house now, and I finally have the study I’ve always wanted. It is calming to me in a way I didn’t realize it would be, even when I dreamed it up as a boy in Southwest Philadelphia. But most importantly, I’ve grown closer to my wife, our shared disappointments and commitment to improving us just so much more focused.

It has all opened my eyes.

I’ll be 41 next week, and before I even approach the significance of what’s to come, I want to embrace being 40 in a sort of last hurrah, because this year has taught me to be patient, to be focused, to be more authentically myself than I’ve ever been before. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because my birthday is its own resolution, a chance to clarify who I am and where I’m going. This year I have even more reason to be grateful as opportunities have risen that I wouldn’t have dreamt of even a few years ago. The me I was then wouldn’t have even been ready for them.

Yet here I am, restless at night, but for good reasons, eyes wide open for joy, for blessings that I wouldn’t have imagined could come my way, not after all this time, after all this self-inflicted pain. I’m here, ready to start all over again, because life is short but not so short we can’t have several chapters. I’m ready to read the next one.

Sam

@Mid-Life

“It’s the fear that you’re past your best. It’s the fear that the stuff you’ve done in the past is your best work.” ~Robbie Coltraine

I guess it’s about time I had a midlife crisis. All the signs are there, after all:

  1. I’ll be 40 next month
  2. I’ve been married for 13 years
  3. The gray hairs are taking over
  4. Fie, how my bones ache
  5. My car is red

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about age and where I fit on the scale, which makes a kind of sense, I suppose. After all, things I used to do with ease are now a bit of a challenge even though I can still do them. My memory isn’t quite as solid as it used to be. And I’m trying to grow my hair but I don’t think it will quite reach the afro heights from my heyday.

All of which would be fine if I weren’t feeling so out of sorts. Maybe things would be better if we were finally ensconced in our house instead of being boarders for over a year now. Perhaps I would feel a little more settled if I had the kind of spirituality I used to have. I drink my coffee religiously but that’s the extent of the spirit moving me lately. Maybe I need more of that in my life.

If I can live until 80 then I’m firmly at the middle of my life, and what have I done to this point? That’s what it’s all about after all, isn’t it? What have I done? I married the love of my life, had two amazing kids, and finally have a job teaching college. Add to that the fact that I’ve published three novels and I’ve done a lot of the things I wanted to do by this point in my life. But those weren’t all of my goals, which is probably why I’m feeling incomplete.

I would like to have more security. While I’m teaching again, and on the college level, I still need a second job because I’m not on tenure track yet. I need that. I need to feel necessary to the process and I’m not there yet. This house, while it is a labor of love, isn’t done yet and that makes me weary every single day. And then there’s the lack of time for the things I want and need in my life.

I want to get back to something physical. I need to fish back out my tennis racket, to dig out my golf clubs, and find people to play with me. I need to rediscover my friends, or find new ones who are good for me, who help me achieve my goals while I help them with theirs. I need a chance to breathe, to sit back and explore my own thoughts in the midst of this chaos that is life.

So I don’t need a mid-life crisis to save me from myself. I need to find myself again and help myself get better. I need to be grateful for what I have to this point but keep striving for more. Because while things may be harder than they used to be, I’m still alive, and I need to keep striving.

Sam

A Perfect Marriage

d0fdb7547031a98032dadc7689c43bf6Marriage is not easy, and anyone who says it is, well, they’re a liar, or at the very least delusional. I mean, imagine it. You come from two different places, with a series of experiences that have shaped you individually, with a wealth of preconceptions and idiosyncrasies that don’t just go away. Instead, you come into a marriage ready to compromise, prepared to give up or modify some of the things that won’t mesh with the other person and what they bring into the union on the other side.

I can’t stand it when people say that marriage is two halves making a whole. It’s really two wholes compromising in order to make something bigger than their individual selves, a third whole that consists of both always striving. It’s in this striving that marriage truly lives and grows, this constant growth together, like vines intertwining but never choking each other out. I love that view of marriage because it’s realistic, not this pie in the sky envisioning of everything being perfect from here on out.

Because it’s not going to be perfect. Nothing ever is. Perfection is a construct that assumes no human interference. But we are humans, which means we are not perfect, so if we can’t be perfect individually how can a union between two of us ever be perfect?

“We’re not perfect but we’re devoted.”

That’s the crux of a good, solid marriage, being devoted to each other and to what you’re building together. Marriages fall apart when we lose sight of that as a daily goal. It’s not something you look at beginning the year and say you’ll hit it by year’s end. It’s a never ending challenge that both of you need to be committed to in order to make it work, in order to make it last.

I’ve been married for 13 years, and it’s true even more now than it was back in 2003. The times when we’ve been most distant, when we’ve had the most friction, have been the times when one or both of us let things go, when we didn’t communicate, when we lost the thread that we had been sewing together for so long. It was in those times that we grew frustrated with each other, and things began to spiral. But every single time we caught ourselves before everything disintegrated. That’s the key.

We’ve learned over the years that the old adage about never going to bed angry is a good one, that talking about things, no matter how difficult, is always the best way to go about anything and everything. And today, on our 13th anniversary, I can honestly say that our relationship is stronger than it has ever been.

Not because we’re the perfect couple, but because we work hard at this relationship thing. And it pays off.

Sam

Being “Other”

“I, too, feel different in the world I live in. Most girls my age are married and have children. I don’t have either. It’s hard feeling you belong to a group of friends when everyone is different in that regard. I feel as though I’m the black person living in a world of white people.”

59349-Don-t-Be-Afraid-Of-Being-DifferentI spend so much time thinking about black and white that I forget there are so many other colors out there, more specifically so many different ways to feel like you’re an outsider in a world where it seems as if everyone else is inside. As a society we make it pretty plain that there are norms, and anything outside of the norm is to be ostracized. WE should feel embarrassed when we don’t fit neatly into the boxes crafted for us. WE should think less of ourselves for being “other.”

In turn WE convince ourselves that they’re right, that we should feel sorry for ourselves, that we aren’t normal. We look behind our backs at others who are whispering and we assume they must be whispering about us. And it’s not our faults that we’ve been programmed this way. After all, we’re only human. But just because we understand that we’ve been conditioned doesn’t make it any easier to live in this world.

Women are still expected to settle down at some point, to decided on a mate and have kids. In fact, even professional women are prejudiced against because they have ovaries and ticking biological clocks, getting passed over for promotions in fear that they will at one point be gone on maternity leave.

Once the kids do arrive these new mothers are expected to put everything else they love and appreciate about themselves on the back burner because the kid is supposed to completely dominate their lives now. They are mother. Hear them roar. In the opposite respect, men aren’t expected to drop their own personal identity when they become fathers. It’s this pressure (and double standard) that makes women feel inadequate in their own world, to feel deprived of their own individual selves.

And, you know, even if as a woman you don’t want that life, if you’re not interested in settling down and having kids, you’re made to feel bad about yourself for having different goals for your life. That’s when it’s time to search yourself. Do you really want all of that for you, or do you want it because you want to fit in? Do you want it so you won’t feel judged by women who are insecure with themselves and with their own place in society, who need validation by following prescribed paths for females?

It’s not black and white, either, which is the real problem. It’s not like being a black person living in a world of white people. It’s really like being a deaf person in the midst of people who are blind. We all have our insecurities. We all want to fit in with others, to have a place where we feel safe and loved for who we are. It’s just hard to figure it all out, especially when we don’t fit the norm for wherever we are, or for our society as a whole. And the baggage we carry along with us is getting heavier by the year.

Perhaps it’s time we shut our eyes and pretend we are blind. Maybe then we might be able to focus on what we really want, on what will make us whole.

Sam

Boarders, Volume 9

“Oh the leaves they fall. They go so far sometimes. Do I blame the wind or the tree that let you go, or do I wave goodbye, settling?” ~Tara McLean

Settling: adopting a more steady or secure style of life.

il_570xN.509563643_15w9I used to think of settling as this process that happened once a house had been sitting on the same patch of ground for so long. It begins to creak and protest the inertia dragging it down deeper into the foundation that was supposed to always be so strong. There is a shifting, a settling that rearranges the position of things, that reasserts the power of nature to do what it pleases as it pleases. And as we move from a lazy winter into a reticent spring this settling is not for the faint of heart; neither is it for just houses.

The land outside the living room window remains as it has been, mowed down low but not active. There are no large vehicles sitting on it, no noise from backhoes or tractors, no sounds of riotous laughter from sweaty men working hard to raise a house, to raise a home. The place itself remains as a tracing sheet, imminently capable of holding form but empty as of yet because it has been placed over nothing. I can sense its possibility, though, when I walk out there on it, when I picture it in my mind. But it’s not enough, not right now.

Yes, I want to be there now, to have a house of one’s own (to loosely paraphrase Virginia Woolf), but I know I can’t. I can only hope, wish, and dream it into being in my mind, and wait for the day when it will start to come to fruition with baited breath. And in the meantime here I am — boarding. Settling.

For me settling means more along the lines of adjusting expectations and making the best of what’s around (to quote Dave Matthews). It arrives as mere transitioning, all proud and full of excitement because it knows it won’t be around long. It’s just making way for something bigger and better right around the corner. Then the longer it goes transitioning transforms into languishing, when it finally recognizes the length of time it will be around is more than just the nearest corner will remedy.

That’s when it becomes settling, when it knows its time is relatively open-ended and it tries to make lemonade from the lemons that seem to be everywhere at once. That’s what this boarding has turned into, what it has always been if I’m being honest with myself. I go from day to day in this routine, in this ritual that is neither looking forward nor looking back, because looking back is to pine, and looking forward is to lean. So I’ve settled instead, and I try to make the best of my time here. I try not to languish.

Which is hard. Make no mistake about it. It’s dreadfully hard not to get discouraged, not to feel that this settling is dying, that this easing into a routine isn’t easing into the grave, because that’s honestly how it feels sometimes — most of the time. I know I will feel more assured, more grounded, when they begin digging up the ground next door.

Sam

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