The Married Couple’s 36 Questions for Staying in Love

love

Photo by Dennis Skley, flickr

I am sure that by now you have probably read the recent Modern Love column in The New York Times by Mandy Len Catron. In “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” Mandy unpacks the 36 questions that can help two people fall in love. The exercise suggests that both parties answer the questions and then, as a bonus, stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes.

The questions, based on the work of psychologist Arthur Aron, become more and more probing as they go: “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?” “What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?” “What roles do love and affection play in your life?” “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”

Reading the questions I can see how it would be such a heady, intoxicating feeling to get into deep, important topics on a first date — some of these issues, like relationships with family, embarrassing moments, thoughts about illness and death — might not normally come up until much later dates. I can definitely still remember that feeling when you are just getting to know someone and how exhilarating it is when you feel like you are getting at something important, something at the very core of the other person.

And then you look into each other’s eyes. Instant love.

My husband and I went through some of the 36 questions, but we already know so much about each other — there weren’t any big surprises. What struck me the most is that I realized that the questions that are important at the beginning of the relationship are very different from the questions — and answers — necessary to keep that love going once you are in the trenches. Once you don’t have time to ponder the big questions of love, death, illness, childhood or life goals over a glass of wine, what questions become essential for survival? When you don’t have four minutes to stare into each other’s eyes, how do you stay in love?

Here is my stab at the questions that I think are important — or at least helpful — to think and talk about after the first big rush of love has faded.

The list is over at The Huffington Post…

How do you make 13?

This has been a frequent question in our house lately, now that Sam is suddenly interested in letters and numbers: “How do you spell mama?” “What is 5 and 5?” “How do you make 13?”

Easy answers.

But today is our 13th anniversary and suddenly, I am not sure how one makes 13. It’s not just a matter of simply writing one number after the other — is it?

I spent the morning sending my husband calendar appointments for various trips and plans that I have so that he can take all of that into consideration when he makes his travel plans for work. It all seems very official and clinical, like we are running a business together.

Before you get married, or even when you are first married, you do not think of your relationship in cold business terms. And I still don’t — but somehow it’s all necessary. The listening, the scheduling, the planning, the changing plans to accommodate the other. It is not sexy at all. It is the opposite of sexy.

But maybe our idea of what sexy is changes over time. I used to yearn for flowers and cute cards and jewelry for our first couple of anniversaries. Now I just want us all to be at home at a reasonable time in the evening so that we can eat burgers and drink champagne — a tradition left over from our first anniversary. I want our calendars to synch up, so that we don’t miss anything. I want the easy shorthand of our relationship. I want simple, I want boring, I want predictable.

I know that we are supposed to keep our marriage fresh and spice things up with date nights and lingerie and new adventures together. Am I the only one who is too exhausted to do that? I am busy putting one number in front of the other. I want a comfy bra and my yoga pants. And wine.

Spice, to me, comes from security. From knowing where my next kiss will come from. That I will be making dinner and a pair of strong arms will hug be from behind and just stay there for a few seconds. That I can take up the entire couch with my laptop and notebooks and that around 10:30 I will get a gentle nudge to go to bed.

Or that I can put 1 and 3 together and somehow make 13.

Five

I had to do a quick calculation in my head to figure out how old you are in months. We have long ago stopped talking about you in terms of months—it’s been a long time since those were the big milestones: three months, six months, twelve months, eighteen… It’s also been a long time since we stopped referring to you in terms of vegetable sizes. When you were in my belly I got those e-mails every week reminding me that this week you were the size of a pea. A kumquat. A tomato. A pear. An eggplant. I loved those e-mails.

Maybe that is why it’s been hard not to refer to you as “my baby” lately. You correct me, and you are right, but still. You are my baby. It’s a cliche that you will always be mama’s baby, but there it is. Our lives are cliches, one after the other, things that millions of other people have experienced and described before us, but to us, who are going through it now, it is all virgin territory.

Like you turning five. You are a boy. Your little body is so long and strong, yet still has a bit of that baby softness. You never lost your sweet little baby thighs and I am grateful for that. Everything else is bony boy, but that little part of you reminds me of the little bundle that you used to be. You used to fit on my lap. I used to be able to carry you up the stairs.

But this is just blubbering now… The real important stuff. Here it goes.

I think you had a really rough year. I don’t think—I know. We all have. We moved to a new city and while I only had to figure out where the grocery store is, you had to navigate a new school, new playground, new gym class, new friends. Of course, I was navigating with you, but let’s be honest, you did the hard work. I left you every morning and you were on your own.

And you totally rocked it. Yes, you bit one of the little girls during the first turbulent weeks. I think there might have been a shoving incident as well. But those were all expected and frankly, I would have done worse in your shoes. You were—are—fearless and smart and kind. You handled everything like a pro and kept us in line and sane. That’s a lot for a little guy.

I comforted myself with the thought that it’s good for you, in a way, to go through some hard times, to experience adversity. You learn and grow from them. I know this as an adult, but it’s against my every instinct as a  mother. I want to protect you and see you happy and content all the time. Life will be hard later on — there is no need for me to make it hard. But how else will you learn to sail through difficult times? I doubted — and still doubt — whether I am a good enough parent to teach you the hard lessons. To let you suffer, fail, experience pain. I know I have to. Just not yet.

This year I was also painfully aware that this is the last year that I have you all to myself. We have nine months until you start kindergarten and I am so excited for you and also sad to be giving up our freedom of stay-home days, long weekend trips, early pick-ups on a whim. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss you. But you are so ready and I can’t wait to see how you’ll do in school. I know you will soak up everything. That is one of my favorite things—watching you sit on the couch, with a book, obviously thinking hard and making up stories. It’s the best thing in the world and I hope that nothing and nobody will ever ruin that for you.

Another thing that stood out for me this year is something that I’ve known about you, or rather felt about you maybe even since you were born. I am writing this on Christmas Eve, six days before your birthday, and just today I experienced this with you. It might be hard to put into words… We went to a klezmer concert at our synagogue—this was your first experience with this kind of music. And the entire evening I just knew—or felt—that you were feeling this music in some deep place in yourself, that you are taking it all in in a way that is unusual for a five-year-old. I feel this way when you talk about going to Hungary or being Hungarian—that you just feel these things in your soul, that you have that sixth sense, that depth, that intuition that makes you so serious and thoughtful. And that also maybe makes your life right now a bit difficult, because it is hard to articulate all of these feelings. But I love that you are so sensitive and that you are so in tune with yourself—as much as your five-year-old impulses allow you.

I feel like I could go on and on about how this past year has been difficult and amazing and fun and challenging. I feel like every year has been and will be like that with you. Maybe there will be shifts in the ratio of difficult vs. fun, but they will both be there every year. We are growing together and yet I know and remind myself regularly that we are also growing apart. That you will not always think that I am beautiful or smart, that you won’t always allow me to kiss your sweet lips and cheeks and tickle your belly, that you won’t always tell me so openly when you are sad or confused. So I treasure every year and start the new one ahead of us praying and hoping that we’ll end it like we are now: together, in peace, in love, in magic.

Wondering about other writers

Just when I needed a little kick in the butt to get writing again, I saw this awesome post by Nina Badzin that was inspired by another post by Kristen M. Ploetz. I love being nosy like this, getting a brief glimpse into other writers’ lives and habits. And to get my writing juices flowing, I am going to post my own answers—just in case you were wondering about me as a writer.

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet? 

This is a toughie in my house. Drew is very supportive of my writing, but he is also a sensitive soul. Of course, I have never written—and I never will write—anything that might be hurtful to him, I have no reason to write such things. Strangely, what upset Drew in the past is exactly this, that I haven’t written about him. I write about myself, Sam, old friends and lovers. But not him. Some things I like to keep private—like my marriage. So, after all that: I do show him my work, mostly just so he knows what I am working on. He does give me some feedback if things don’t make sense, or if he finds a small typo before publication. And I do show him things before they are published—especially if I think the topic is sensitive—like past loves.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it?

Hm, I am really not sure. I know I have friends who are regular readers, and I also know that I have friends who I consider to be some of my closest friends, who have never set foot on my blog. I am OK with it—we are all busy and I know that not reading my blog or my published essays is not because they are not supportive of my writing. And I feel icky about pushing my writing on anyone—and now that I think about it, I don’t even post my blog entries on my Facebook page. So if you want to read my blog, you really have to be into it and follow me.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

I can only think of maybe two pieces that never found a home, and I have to say that even as I was writing them I knew that they would be hard to place. And I am OK with that. Many times I just want to write what I feel like writing, without aiming for a specific publication. Getting published is great, and that is my ultimate goal with every piece, but I also want writing to be its own reward. So yes, some pieces do end up on my blog and some pieces end up on The Huffington Post. Is that awful to say?

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

I feel like the things I write about are somewhat flexible and even if I was originally aiming for a specific publication, the piece will most likely work for another place. But I try not to aim as I write.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

Daily life is my biggest inspiration. I have gotten much better about jotting things down—usually on my phone—because ideas can come to me from a brief sentence, something that Sam says, or something that happens as we just go about our lives. I love that unpredictable nature of the creative process—you just never know when an idea will strike.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

I have to agree with Kristen about the brilliance of Lauren Apfel. Every time I read her writing I am amazed at how easy she makes it look and how much I want to be like her when I grow up. I am also always, always amazed by the eloquence of Dina Relles and Jennifer Singer Meer. Their writing knocks my socks off.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

Well, if I can’t list Anne Lamott, then I am not sure. I have to admit that it’s been a while since I read a craft book. It feels like just reading in general is a craft lesson every time.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? (Obviously we all grow as writers and looking back at our “clunkier” writing can be cringeworthy…that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean are there things you wish you hadn’t said out loud either because of what you said or how you said it. I’m not in this position right now, but some things I’d like to write about might get me there. And yet…how can I ignore those topics, you know?)

No. And I have written about some personal topics—breasts, anyone? I sometimes wonder whether writing something and publishing it for everyone to read somehow cheapens the experience or the person… But no regrets.

Happy boobday

It’s actually tomorrow, but tomorrow is supposed to be crazy since I have taken up this other little part-time gig, plus the kid, plus Christmas party, plus my regular job… But I wanted to stop and talk about my boobs for a little bit.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my breast-reduction surgery. A year ago on this day, the day before my surgery, I looked completely different. Well, maybe not completely. But different enough. I took a picture of myself that night a year ago, just in my bra, so that I can look back on it and see the difference. I will spare you—and me—the embarrassment of posting that picture right here, but I still do look at it from time to time. I mean, I am still chubby and thanks to my smaller boobs now my stomach looks bigger… But still, I feel so much… lighter. More free. Even after a year, I am grateful every morning when I put my clothes on. I don’t have to hide my boobs, or figure out ways to make them look smaller, or make sure that I am not showing too much cleavage, or that my bra straps don’t leave my shoulders painful and bruised. Ugh, just… Such a huge difference in my life, it’s hard to even put into words.

And what is weird is that in a strange, unexpected twist, my boobs that I have tried for so long not to let define me, in a way launched my writing career. Writing about them got me on The Huffington Post, and the confidence from that got me to submit to and get published by other publications. Before I wrote the essay about my surgery, I did hesitate about putting it out there. I mean, it is a deeply personal, intimate subject. But the universe returned so much goodness to me thanks to that article — not just in the form of publishing success, but in the form of other women who wrote to me in private, admitting that they, too, struggle with their breast size, or are thinking about surgery. I hope many of them have gone ahead with surgery in this past year and I hope they feel as amazing as I do.

It was such a lightbulb moment to realize that just because nature made me certain way, I don’t have to stay that way. I can change things. I can cut off or erase any part of me that I don’t like or that makes me uncomfortable. And why not? Would it have been heroic or honorable in some way to carry around this weight for the rest of my life? For what? For whom? Why? No need to suffer—whether the weight is physical or emotional—chop it off.

Anyway, I just wanted to acknowledge the day and the date and the occasion. My essay is still up on Full Grown People where it originally appeared. It’s still one of my favorites.

Math Problem

Sheets crumpled at the foot of the bed,
the white, silky ones.
Pillows thrown here and there,
mismatched, warm, sleepy.

A foot across my chest
toes twitching from dreams of running
biking
swimming
adventure.

One arm tucked under his chest
rising, rising.
Another arm twisted,
chubby palm on my thigh.

A soft snore
breath of lemon and honey and milk
sweaty curls on his forehead
like baby hair.

This is how we nap,
tangled,
all curves and lines spread on the sheets,
like a complicated math problem.

What is the angle of the body
as it grows away from yours
if time is twice as likely to
speed up and rush away?

What is the slope of the belly
once you are unfamiliar
with its intake and output?
What is the distance these feet travel,
when they no longer fit into your palm?

Does the plane of the back change
once it’s not yours to examine, heal, caress?
When the open-mouthed laughter
the tiny, square teeth,
the round cheeks
are not yours to kiss anymore
will your own mass change?

Will you become shapeless
all negative numbers
and undefined lines
never meeting in the distance?

Will there be holes where
once soft hands rested
unashamed, unaware
that they were right over your heart?

Things Every Household Should Have

When I rented my first apartment right after college, I had two pots, a glass baking dish, a set of four plates and mugs, and a colander. And wine glasses, of course—mismatched, most of them left over from college parties. Even though it wasn’t much, I couldn’t imagine when I would use most of these things. Under what circumstances would I need more than four plates? When was I going to bake anything?

Then a care package arrived from my parents. Inside the box was a wooden cooking spoon and a pair of salt and pepper shakers that looked like tiny mushrooms with red caps. When I opened the package it struck me how I never even thought to have any of these things, but how obvious, necessary, and indispensable they became as soon as they entered my kitchen.

My kitchen now is much better equipped with electric mixers, spatulas, pie plates, a garlic press, cutting boards, matching glasses, and place settings for at least eight. But my arsenal of tools and gadgets will never live up to my parents’ kitchen when I was a child—and even now. As I was setting up my first household with just the bare minimum, I think it was hard for them to imagine my life without wooden spoons and saltshakers.

Read the full story at Sweatpants & Coffee