Sunday, October 24, 2010

Love Means Having to Drive on Down the Highway

A week ago I decided to remodel my second bathroom. It is located in my finished basement but it has always appeared a bit, unfinished, lacking in finesse or final touches. I went about this project with excitement and confidence. My son helped set up a mini-workshop, measured and cut some of the materials and assisted as I did the same. Happy with the results, I admired the near finished bathroom with pride and satisfaction. Fresh paint and a couple of cornices will make this room shine! The very next day the septic system backed up. All is not lost, however, quick, offensive work with a wet vac saved all of my labor. Just the same, not something to expect, wish upon your worst enemies, or have any interest in dealing with. It felt a bit like a reminder. A wake-up call and a strange parallel to my own redesigning. A little weight loss, a lot of physical activity, a fresh coat of cosmetics, and a new hair style, don't ensure that everything is working properly. On the other hand, the knowledge that sh-- happens, doesn't have to eradicate all the positive results. Yet, I am a sign-seeker, so I examine things very closely before determining meaning and purpose. Currently I am examining, or determinedly peering at my own next move. Hawk-like I seem to be watching and waiting to see where I may venture. But the wake-up calls keep me grounded.

When I meet with a few close friends we inevitably discuss marriage and relationships, what's working, what's not. We collectively struggle with common aspects and individually appreciate joyous attributes. Maybe not joyous, for some, as much as working attributes. Men, and women both. This is not a one gender only issue or collection of issues. When just the "girls" get together we understand that the "boys" in our lives are not sitting elsewhere, dreamy eyed waiting for us. When we converse with male friends, we are not surprised by their concerns and complaints. In this capacity we all seem to get it, and we all seem to know that we don't have many workable, long term solutions to our issues. Why is that?

One place to start may be home design, remodeling or at least redistribution of space. Many of us with children believe they should have their own space, when space allows. Privacy, room to grow, a place to be alone and contemplate the ever changing landscape of their developing selves. But the expectation that the adults in the home should be coupled in the same room seems a bit unrealistic. Do we truly expect to have the same contemplative thoughts, to have the same needs, are we trying to limit the desire for individual growth? Why would adults ever need time alone, when we can always be with that special someone that is forever special? Don't we grow up with the one desire to simply find that incredible soul mate and never depart from their side? Or perhaps we are adhering to the notion that love and romance equal marriage. The notion that we will be with our incredible, romantic, soul-mate, lover and friend is a fairly new notion and one that needs a closer look.

The idea that we would be marrying for love as opposed to finding a suitable partner with clearly defined roles and long term goals is incredibly new and maybe not so well thought out. Certainly, love is phenomenal. Everyone should have that in their relationships. But love means so many different things at different times. And there are so many other tasks and requirements that must be met within and outside of the confines of that loving home. Is it possible to define some roles, establish goals, mutually and individually, as well as strive for love that is personally identified as opposed to some prime-time, generalized, prototype that has very little to do with our own experiences, interests or desires?

Most of us seem to equate love with mutual, steadfast agreement. Love with no conflict, ever. Love with sex. Love with slippers and a martini glass. Love with a shiny new bauble. With these equations come distrust and territorial score-keeping. Did you love me enough today? Did I get what I needed? Who's turn is it to say, “Honey, I'm home”? Who's turn is it to run and greet with a warm, loving hug? We both enter, we both have hard days we both need the same thing. Or we need very different things. A little space, immediate attention, start the dinner, attend to the kids, 123 Go! Who? Where? Who does the loving, Now!?

For starters, can we find a place in our homes to call our own? A refuge, a corner, a door that closes, a window that looks out onto something calming? I knew immediately if my kids came in and went directly to their rooms they needed space, after a few false starts, some bumps and slams, I grew to learn how and when to approach the need and when to wait it out so that I could be approached. Space, time, respect. What a dream! What a concept! Why can't the adults have a little bit of that real estate space? Oh, that might challenge the notion of love. If I need to be alone, I must not love you. Or if you need to be alone, you don't love me anymore. Now add to that idea, the great test. The test of love: The Standardized Test of Love Act Frequency and Duration. The perfect time to test this out is directly after we see our partners needing to claim space. And the results? Well if you come looking for me to perform, right after I made a leap to gain some space and perspective, I probably now think you don't love me enough to see I need space. Or, if you think that's how you show love and I won't accept your love, clearly something is wrong, because EVERYONE wants love. And isn't that what that one big bed in the center of that one shared room is for? Certainly that has been the message pushed, forced, and shoved down our, well, you know...

The romantic notion of love that is promoted and proliferated from every deodorant commercial, movie, and product launch is hardly the thing that life is made of. (Think back to the septic system and the wet vac). Worth noting that the man I share my home with, on a very difficult day of his very own, rolled up his sleeves and offered assistance. An act of love? Not likely seen in any movies any time soon, or written into a romantic novel, but an act that was surely noted. Love as imagined in marriage, so often fades and twists and turns before becoming simply a term in tennis; Love that equals nothing, the score of zero. Maybe if we start to identify what love means for us as individuals and then as partners, we may be able to sustain it. Maybe we can remodel our lives, our homes and our belief systems around the idea that love might mean having a little space to call our own. Space in the home, space in the world, space in our hearts and mind to fill with feelings of our very own.

I used to believe that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow had it all going on. Separate houses, space to come together and space to be apart. Unfortunately because Mia was the parent and care-giver in her separate living quarter, Woody never realized that parenting love was decidedly different than partner love. He didn't understand that love and sex were not the same feelings or freely interchangeable and available to anyone that lived in the separate home. He blew it. I still like the concept, but it needs a little more work. Clearer boundaries and mutual respect. Time and space to be together and apart. Maybe I would prefer to live closer to the B-52's Love Shack. The Love Shack is a little old place, where we can get together. This implies that we can also get apart. It doesn't have to be rigid. Get in that big whale of a Chrysler, drive on down the highway, take a few breathes along the way, have some fun. Enjoy the ride. Share some love. Feel the love.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Woman in Control: Have-It-All Day

Woman in Control: Have-It-All Day: "I keep coming across articles, reports, conversations and media bites about mid-life women leaving their marriages, “in droves” it's reporte..."

Have-It-All Day

I keep coming across articles, reports, conversations and media bites about mid-life women leaving their marriages, “in droves” it's reported. A new trend, some say. Speculate, proclamate and surmise to say this occurrence correlates with several trends. The first generation of women to have choices and opportunities beyond the kitchen have a collective bit of status, financial freedom and perhaps wanderlust of their very own, right smack in the middle of menopause and the launching of their children. Research has also revealed a pervasive decline in happiness in women as compared to men over the past 25 years. Women seem to be attempting to take control over their lives at a time when their lives suddenly belong to them.

First, when looking at the population that this trend most applies to, women over 40, it is not surprising that we are changing the rules and rewriting some of the regulations. We are the women that were brought up at a time when options and choices were promoted and offered like "Bat Day" at Yankees Stadium. Buy your ticket; get a free bat; a large coke and a hot dog. Dream big about your future, ladies! Step right up, go to college, get a career, a partner, a family and have it all. The big difference? "Bat Day" was only one day, you came, you cheered, you ate, you got the souvenir and you went home with a fond memory. Something new and exciting was offered up next season. We were lead to believe we could “Have it all”. “Have it all” Day was going to be a new way of life, not an attempt to create an ongoing event. (I believe “ongoing event” is the oxymoron here).

We also grew up in a time when divorce initially seemed an epidemic to be quarantined from. We learned, the hard way, that it is also survivable. Maybe not the best case scenario for all parties, but life goes on and it can go on successfully. We also decided that marriage is not for everyone. Families come in all different shapes and sizes and tolerance for differences can move toward acceptance. Hopefully, in our lifetime. We learned we don't have all the answers, but we can continue to ask questions. Maybe we are learning that one size doesn't fit all and we get to make the alterations.

The timing of this great female exodus from the land of marital bliss seems to be worth noting. Many of us were raised up and went right into marriage. From daughter to wife and mother in a nano second. Sure, some travelled, threw themselves into those careers and satisfied desires and yearning before settling down. Those are more the exception, less the rule. Don't pass go, don't collect $200, don't forget the pressures to conform. We went from crib to crib fillers with careers. As women born in the late 50's through the early 70's launch their grown children, there are new possibilities suddenly available. Maybe the very possibilities we had hoped for. The icing on the Hostess cupcakes. The Kool-Aid Mom days behind us. There may be a need to self-regulate but we don't have to self-sacrifice quite so much as our mothers and grandmothers.

The realization that the time comes when children grow up and leave, has been for me, initially debilitating, grief stricken and somewhat surprising. It has quickly turned toward a monumental time of possibility and I find myself examining my potential. What that means, I haven't committed to yet, but the dalliance with a chance to recreate and begin a new life is wide open and welcoming.

Of course throwing in the menopausal hormonal release like the grand finale of a fireworks show keeps me guessing, and those around me bobbing and weaving. Eventually I will see where the chips land. Certainly this all feels a bit mind-boggling and somewhat tantalizing. Truth be told, mind-boggling and tantalizing are more in line with my free spirited self than some of the constrained costumes I've been wearing as mother and wife. Don't get me wrong, I haven't been play acting as much as attempting to ensure stability and safety. I am ready to be a little more of a risk-taker, I think, a wee bit cautiously, perhaps.

Mid life seems a time to give up a little sanity, discard a few behaviors regarded as morals and values, or maybe in some areas, the false adherence to the morals and values that are more generalized and less personal. The freedom from the need to prepare and offer three tightly scheduled square meals is way more liberating then burning a bra. Quite honestly at this point in the game, most of us don't exactly fill the bra in a manner that the bra was created to uphold and maybe fully fill. The burning of it would be just one more added frustration that we just don't need to burden ourselves with. Simply throw it away or tighten the straps, maybe just a few small adjustments are needed (to the bra and the life design).

With no role models to look to, and little support (no bra pun intended) and no one handing out the bats or free refills, peanuts, or cracker-jack, it is no surprise that we couldn't sustain the promise or create the exemplar for marriage, motherhood, and mortal, lest we resort to martyr, as we sometimes do/did. Many held on until the kids were grown. Not the best way to manage but maybe the best that some could offer. We were for the most part, going to Have-It-All and Give-It-All for and to, the kids. With little left, it seems time to reevaluate and redesign. We may not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps we want to throw the baby out and keep the bathwater. I don't know. I do know that I am ready to be more of myself with the safety and knowledge that my children are taking flight and their wings are strong. I want to fly, to try out those wings of mine that have been too long grounded. I may fly solo, I may fly with a friend, a partner, a true companion. Maybe a combination of the two. Rather than an exodus maybe I'll venture towards an alternate flight plan.