April 7, 2010

Married people suck!

The twenty year old me would be horrified to discover the thirty-something-old me writing a blog about marriage.  First of all, because the word blog was not yet invented and secondly, I thought marriage was tragically un-hip back then.  It’s not like I was morally against marriage.  I just didn’t care about it.  It was a stodgy, old thing for boring, old people.  It represented selling out, conforming and pocketbooks.  Married women carried large wallets with millions of credit cards.  They always had gold dangling from their wrists and ears.  Wives wore linen and drank Chardonnay.  They bought homes and condos with their husbands and worried about where their kids should go to school.  Boring!  Not cool!

But then I was twenty-five.  People were starting to get married around me.  Traitors! What were they doing?  What the hell were bridal showers and why did they suck so much?

Yet, my eyes would tear up at the wedding ceremonies that followed the showers.  And somehow, my cool friends managed to retain their coolness despite their marriage status.  I started to soften towards the idea of marriage.  It was around that time period I also started to use the adjective, “cute,” to describe tops and dresses and shoes.  What was happening to me?

Flash forward:  Late-twenties, sitting at my own bridal shower and politely smiling as I open gifts I have already picked-out online.

Now-a-days, I carry a wallet with a busted zipper and a messenger bag as my pocketbook.  I don’t have millions of credit cards but neither should you.  (There’s a recession going on people!)  It was, after all, the go-go 90′s when all those married ladies were sporting their Amex and Diner’s Club cards.

Today, I would tell my twenty year old self that it’s okay.  Getting married is totally cool.  Although, I still get the cold sweats when I’m around hip, young things with their Picasso hair cuts and skinny jeans.  When I mention I’m married their eyes bleed and their heads explode.  I want to say to them, “Don’t worry, I get it.  Talk to me in ten years…”

-Cathleen Carr

April 6, 2010

Where are all these marriage tax breaks I keep hearing about?

I am working on our taxes. It’s my job in our relationship to deal with this. I’m not sure how or why it evolved this way, but it did, and it’s ok since Jim deals with tons of our other financial stuff. It’s pretty last minute for me to be so close to the April 15th deadline without having filed my paperwork. I’m a little sick over it. Not just the tardiness, but the glowing, bold, red numbers that signify how much I owe to the Feds. I’ve never actually used the word “Feds” before this year. But now I owe the nameless, faceless governmental agency so much freaking money, I pronounce “Feds” with disdain, a little spittle gathering in the corner of my mouth as I hiss the word over and over again, slapping away at my calculator, breaking yards of pencil lead, and rubbing my red-rimmed eyes. Sometimes I even pump my fist when I say it.

FEDS!

Flashback to a discussion I had a week ago with a group of single, actively-dating women (you know who you are) who insisted one of the reasons they really wanted to get married was for tax purposes. I threw my head back and laughed. They looked at me seriously and insisted it’s true. I’m still not sure I believe them because when I pressed them to tell me what tax benefits they thought marriage would bring – they turned the discussion to the delicious frittata we were eating. It was tasty. You can’t go wrong with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil and caramelized onions. Seriously though, if they really want to get married for tax purposes, they should be dating more accountants. Bah-dum-bum!

Marriage definitely has it’s non-romantic benefits: I get my insurance through Jim. This is great because I no longer have coverage through my job and with my pre-existing health issues, it’d be too expensive to buy my own. I’m lucky.

Also, our combined credit scores helped us purchase our first condo. This probably wouldn’t have happened if I was left to my own devices. In truth, I would never have applied for a home loan if Jim wasn’t suddenly gung-ho about home ownership. I was pretty happy as a happy-go-lucky renter. But Jim wanted to go for it. I’m not saying this is because he was turning 40 and felt like he should own his own place by a certain age, but I’m just going to insinuate it in a really obvious manner and let everyone make their own judgment.

And honestly, I think it’s WAY easier to share household duties with another person. It is a lot of work to be single, isn’t it? I’m not gonna lie: I don’t know how I got everything done around my home up until August 3, 2003 A.J. (After Jim) Yes, marriage is work – maintaining a relationship takes energy. It’s humbling and it’s challenging. It can be heart wrenching and painful and unpredictable. But, hey, I don’t have to scoop the cat poop out of the litter box and that’s really, really nice. Now if only Jim could do something about the Feds for me…

But even knowing how much easier it is to have Jim’s help around the house, to think that some gals get married for the benefits leaves me cold. I don’t think I could have done it. I respect their choice of course, but I wouldn’t have been able to select a husband due to his promise as a provider or genetic donor. Of course, I didn’t have a strong urge to quiet my quickly ticking biological clock either, so it could have made a huge difference if I wanted kiddos.

Maybe the business of marriage is far more important that I ever realized. School me, ladies.
-Robyn Okrant

April 5, 2010

O ye, of little faith…

Marriage, as we all know, is traditionally tied in with religion.  It just is.  No way around it.  For years, a stubborn few of us have been trying to extract the institution from the Book. I have been to countless outdoor weddings, mine included where there was the suggestion of faith but not an overt declaration of religious commitment.  What are we doing?  What am I doing?  What do I believe in?  The truth is, I haven’t a clue.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  I have a notion.  I was raised Christian and I lean culturally in that direction but I’ve been unable to plunge myself deeply into the waters of the truly faithful.

If you were to ask me what religion I am my response would go a little something like this:

Well, I was raised Christian.  But I don’t go to church.  But I believe in God but I don’t think God is a man.  Did you see the movie Contact?  You know, the one with Jodie Foster?  Yeah, that one.  Well, I bet God is kinda like that.  You know, this light tube that creates everything?  Jesus seems like he was a cool dude but I get nervous about worshiping people.  My parents are ministers.  They’re cool.  I think people should help one another… Maybe I’m a hippie.  What’s for dinner?

Truth be told, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  I enjoyed wearing a ridiculously large white gown and veil at my wedding.  I can’t tell you why I enjoyed it.  I just did. It was my chance to be the pretty princess, damn it!

In reality, I viewed my wedding ceremony as an opportunity to honor our parents.  I wanted to stitch my life into the big ole’ Carr-Hanlon ancestral quilt. But what is normal?  And why do I care about customs that subjugate women? Ugh, I don’t know… Sometimes I just want to wrap myself in the warm blanket of tradition.

Seriously, this is a big wedding dress!

Okay, so maybe the dress was overkill...

I’ve been walking a spiritual tight rope my whole life as have many of my friends.  We pick and choose which aspects of our religious upbringing worth acknowledging and ignore the rest.  Or we disregard how we were raised entirely in favor of all-powerful REASON.  But the wedding ceremonies persist June after June…

I’ve been told that when I have children I will go back to church.  Perhaps.  Not sure…maybe?  Will it be the church of the light tube that creates things?  Will Jodie Foster be the pastor?  What’s for dinner?

-Cathleen Carr

April 1, 2010

Do you judge?

I’m really touched by the emails and calls I’ve gotten as a result of the marriage counseling post. Thanks y’all. I love reading your experiences and feelings on utilizing therapy as part of a healthy relationship. More on this topic later in the year…

So, your responses have me curious about a couple things — give me a hand and check out the two polls below. Thanks in advance for the input, everyone!

Hope you have a great afternoon. I’m excited about mine: Jim and I are going to Target to pick out towel racks, barbecue tools, and hair dye. That place is my Kryptonite and I’m sure we’ll leave with twelve bags full of merchandise and the sick feeling that we might have spent a little more than necessary.
-Robyn Okrant

For everyone:

For married/widowed/divorced folks:

March 31, 2010

Watch out or I’ll sting you!

Peter and I don’t have cable TV.  So, if you invite us over and all we want to do is watch television you now know why.  Because of this little detail in our life we watch a lot of PBS.   Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Last night, as we ate dinner in front of the TV (another little detail) we were watching Globe Trekker.  The host was visiting Jellyfish Lake in Micronesia.  Apparently, thousands of years ago a bunch of jellyfish got trapped in the lake and couldn’t get out.  So they set up shop and created a gigantic community.  Because they had no predators in the lake they lost their ability to sting.  I turned to Peter and said, “So without predators, we lose our edge?”

According to nature, the answer is yes.

Jellyfish are gifted with a mean sting.  I am too!  My instinct is to protect and defend myself and my family.  If my guard is down, the tide can shift quickly stranding me and my husband in a lake with no predators.  Is it possible to be too safe?  So safe that you’ve made yourself and your marriage vulnerable?  Without my sting I lose out on my ability to safeguard what matters most to me:  My tiny family unit that I have created with Peter.

I need my edge!

If Peter and I are not getting through to one another, I can shoot a uzi filled with, I statements. If we have prioritized watching dogs surfing on youtube over intimacy, I can set off a bomb of sexy energy.  And like Robyn urges, if I need it I can bring out the big guns like counseling.

I really believe that in order to make my marriage sustain, I have be a love vigilante.  I’m very talented at falling into boring routines.   Wake, work, eat, TV, sleep… If I’m not careful, I will waste away in an endless cycle of Antiques Roadshow and Trader Joe’s cous-cous meals.  If I don’t take my pledge of marriage seriously, then I risk losing it.   I don’t want to be a stingless jellyfish.  I don’t want to be trapped in a lake breeding like crazy and watching life float by.   All it takes is one nasty hurricane to throw me back into the open ocean.  Yikes!

-Cathleen Carr

March 30, 2010

Why is there still a stigma against marriage counseling?

If I can’t figure out my own taxes, I call an accountant. If my water heater is broken, I call the plumber. If I have a sore throat, I see the doctor. Why is seeing an expert in these other areas totally acceptable, and yet it’s taboo to consult (or admit to visiting) a counselor to fix a malfunctioning marriage?

I’m going to be bold here and admit to you that Jim and I have seen a therapist. And yes, I asked his permission to divulge our secret before I posted it here on the blog. He and I feel the same way: as long as there is shame surrounding the idea of getting help to strengthen our marriages, many of us won’t give counseling a try. We think that we have a strong relationship. We are best friends. We adore each other and want to stick it out for the long haul. And yet…

…a few years ago, we had hit an impasse in our communication and we were arguing a lot. We loved each other desperately, but were unhappy and couldn’t figure out how to resolve our troubles without help. We were just sick over this. We know other couples who stay together even though they clearly can’t stand one another, but that didn’t suit us. We knew that our relationship should not endure as it was because it wasn’t healthy for either one of us.

Interestingly, if Jim and I were still dating, rather than married during that dark time, I’m certain I would have broken up with him instead of seeking outside help. But I just didn’t want it to end without trying everything I could to make it work. Luckily, Jim felt the same.

So we did some research online (we didn’t ask for our friends’ advice because, at that time, we were fearful they might judge us…none of them had ever mentioned they had been to counseling, after all) and found a fabulous relationship therapist in Chicago. We saw her for several months – maybe even a year – and worked our butts off. Counseling can help to end a fruitless relationship or strengthen a faltering one. It assists in redefining and clarifying roles and goals. Our therapist offered us a neutral sounding board and a safe place to air grievances and admit faults. I’m so grateful we took the plunge, swallowed our pride, and made our first appointment many years ago. And you know, I would definitely consider going back if we feel the need in the future. We feel like our marriage is better than ever, cracks sealed, communication improved.

I think there is an expectation out there that a good marriage never falters – that it doesn’t require outside help to remain vital and healthy. Romantic movies end with “happily-ever-after.” They rarely include an epilogue that shows the couples’ woes over finances, religion, family, sex, and career. Our trip to the alter was a mere blip on the timeline of our marriage. It takes energy and desire to stay together while flying on autopilot just causes fatal relationship crashes (or snowballing resentment, dissatisfaction, and stultifying boredom).

I think seeing a marriage counselor for an overhaul or a tuneup is just as important as going to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning…or getting that rotten tooth yanked out once and for all.

-Robyn Okrant

March 29, 2010

My village…

I am currently living out of a suitcase as I travel between New York and Boston for a show I am performing in.   I have been leaning heavily on friends and family to house me while I am away from Peter and my home base.  I just wanted to write a little something to everyone who is keeping me safe and sound right now…

Center stage, spot light.

Begin dramatic monologue.

When my car rolls into your driveway and I tumble out of the driver’s seat along with several coffee cups, cans of ginger ale and used tissues, you do not turn away.  When I eat all of your bread and yogurt, you do not seem to care.  When I squeeze the last of your conditioner into my tangled hair, you do not weep.  When I stink up your bathroom, you do not light a match.  When I sleep a little too late, you whisper so not to wake me.  Thank you.

Thank you for the clean towels, the clean sheets, and the red wine we drink late into the night.  Thank you for the peanut butter, the chocolate bunny, the kitty and the high five.

Thank you for the plug to charge my phone so I can call my husband before I fall asleep on your comfy couch.

Thank you for being my friend.  Thank you for being my family.  Thank you for making me feel like I belong somewhere while I am away from home.

End dramatic monologue.

A month before Peter and I got married, we stayed at our friend’s family home in Maine.  On the little beach close by, we collected a wide assortment of pebbles.   At our ceremony a month later, we had our guests’ each place one of those pebbles into a vase filled with sand.  It was important for us to express how much we value the community that supports our marriage.  We really dig symbolism.

It takes a village to raise a child.  But I think you need the same village to care for the marriage as well.

Time to crawl back in the car…

-Cathleen Carr

March 25, 2010

This is when I worry about my sanity

I miss Jim when he leaves for work. For work. 8 hours. I like my time alone and I enjoy my own work…and yet when he walks out the door each morning, I get a little bummed out. And when I hear his key in the lock in the evening I’m excited. Of course, when I’m not teaching class at the yoga studio, I’m writing at home all by myself, so perhaps I’m just excited to be around a HUMAN BEING rather than my computer, but still…

Does this mean I’m co-dependent? Unhealthy? A total dishrag?

As much as I enjoy losing myself in these feelings, there is a more Critical Robyn who stands outside myself, shaking her head in disgust. “Get a life, wife!” Critical Robyn admonishes Dreamy Robyn. And then Critical Robyn throws a tome on the history of feminism at Dreamy Robyn’s moony face as Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, and Susan B. Anthony cheer from beyond the grave.

I’ll admit, even now I’m anticipating Jim’s return and planning what I’ll cook him for dinner. Damn it. I gotta shake this off. I have about three months’ worth of Ms. Magazines I haven’t read yet. Maybe that’ll help.

March 24, 2010

…According to the gospel of pre-Oscar interviews

I know we’ve heard enough about Sandra Bullock, but…

When Barbara was prodding her about why she got married so late,  Bullock said, “I always had this feeling that if you got married it was like the end of who you were…”

I think many women experience this feeling.  A few days after Peter and I got engaged, I remember have a momentary panic attack.  My face got red hot and my upper lip started to sweat.

“Oh man, what the hell am I DOING?”

I was scared of losing my identity.  Like, really scared.   And with good reason.  It’s not like the institution of marriage has been known over the years to foster and nurture a woman’s independence.  I took a moment to reflect.

“We are a hip and modern couple.  We eat Thai food and enjoy independent movies.  We support bike lanes and local businesses.”

My heart rate returned to normal and I dove headfirst into my engagement/marriage.  I remember chatting with someone once who had the same panic attack after getting engaged.  It happens.  WE have to think about these things!  For some women, it keeps them from getting married all together.  Not Sandra though.  Poor Sandra…

The reality is, I had no way to know for certain that Peter wasn’t going to pull a bait and switch on me.  Acting one way before marriage and then putting the hammer down after the, “I do’s.”

“You’re career ambition is cute and all but it’s time to make a wife out of you…”

I took a risk that paid off.  Peter wants me to succeed and I want him to succeed– even steven.

Further along in the interview with Barbara, Bullock spoke about how she felt like her work got better after she married because she didn’t feel like she could fail anymore.  For the simple reason that at the end of the day, she had a home to go to.  Ain’t that the truth. Sometimes you have to take a risk.  Because, if risks weren’t risky then we wouldn’t think much of them.

I promise to never talk about Sandra Bullock again!  That is until we know more details… Just kidding.  Not really.

-Cathleen Carr

March 23, 2010

Do men need to be needed?

Sandra Bullock, I’m so sorry for your public humiliation. What a wreck. I can’t imagine having Jim cheat on me in the first place, but to have the nasty news of the affair splashed all over the newsstands and Internet is a mortifying thought. Whenever I hear news like this, I am always suspicious that most men can’t handle it when their wives have wildly more successful careers than their own. I know I shouldn’t make such a sweeping generalization, which is why I forced myself to use the word “most” instead of “all.” While many guys joke that they’d be just fine living as a kept man, I think the majority of them have an innate need to provide, the guard, to hunt and gather for the household. So, what happens when a wife no longer needs her partner to do any of this for her? Oh, the emasculation. What’s a guy to do? As we’ve learned from Jesse James’ behavior, you screw around on Sandra Bullock with a tattoo-fetishist. Exert control. Find another woman who makes you feel manly and needed.

Last year, during my Living Oprah project, I heard advice that women should always work to ‘build our men up’ and help them to feel strong. While I initially felt this was patronizing to adult males and a huge waste of my time, I soon found that the suggestion worked. The men in my life were happier and easier to be around when I made them feel like a million bucks. On the flip side, I tried this with a few of my female friends – none of them accepted the flattery. They fought it off and came up with reasons I was wrong to pay them a compliment. No shock: men and women are different.

In a post I wrote last week, I wondered if women are programmed to nurture their spouses, now I wonder if men are genetically unable to shirk the desire to be needed and useful.

-Robyn Okrant