NOTE: I had the NASCAR Nationwide race at Phoenix, which was on super-late, playing on TV as I typed this. L'Ailee came downstairs and watched the last bit with me as her second-favorite driver Kyle Busch raged his way back to the front after suffering some self-inflicted bad luck. As he grabbed first place, L'Ailee yelled, "Kyle Kyle Kyle Kyle cooooome onnnnnn!", punctuating it by banging on the arm of the couch. Then as he won, "That...was...SICK!" Very cute. Makes the following very, very easy. :-)
At my work, I am, among other things, the intern-wrangler. To the two, three, or four interns we have every year, most of whom are female, I tend to be the agony aunt. Conversations often turn to issues of love, family, love, finances, love, dealing with authority figures, and did I mention love? I try not to let it intrude on our tasks at hand too much, but I don't mind giving them an ear and, when I can and they actually want it, a bit of advice.
It happened again with two of our three interns yesterday. One bemoaned the fact that she couldn't "get a guy to stick around more than two weeks." The other intern actually hadn't come to me for romantic advice yet. The first intern turned to her. "You are *so lucky*. You already have your guy. He's been around forever."
The second intern's facial expression turned a bit strange. "[My fiance] and I have our problems, too."
"Yeah, but he sticks around." She turned to me. "This one met her boyfriend when she was *thirteen*."
"I was fourteen. Freshman in high school." Her tone was a little defensive.
"And now they're engaged!"
"We're getting married after I graduate."
I said an automatic "Congratulations!" Then I added, "I met my wife when I was 18 and she was 17. We were touring your school, actually, only she got in and I didn't."
"So you were pretty young when you met yours, too." The second intern's smile began to reach her eyes. "How old are you now?"
"Thirty-six, and she turns 35 this summer."
"Oh, wow, that's half your lives!"
"I know, literally. If anyone wonders why we're crazy, that's why. We made each other that way!" She grinned then.
The first intern shook her head. "Another one who met her soul mate when she was a kid. I wish I had that."
"You should be more careful what you wish for," I told her. The second intern nodded. The first left quickly. The second stuck around a little while to talk.
Some people--and I am not referring to any frequent reader or commenter here--seem to think that L'Ailee and I met our ultimate soul mates on that long-ago summer day when I climbed the tree in which she read her book. It usually surprises them when one or the other of us tells them that we don't believe in soul mates. As an atheist, L'Ailee doesn't believe in the soul at all. I believe that there are several people--not many, but a few--who a person could happily live their lives with, if they're willing to put in some work and they bend a little bit. (Needless to say, the person they pick should also be willing to work and to bend a little bit.) L'Ailee and I are both loyal and stubborn. We chose each other, and it would take a lot to make us un-choose each other and go elsewhere, that's all.
When you meet your longterm, maybe even lifelong, love at a young age, you grow up differently than someone who is searching in her twenties, thirties, forties, or later. You grow up together. You shape each other. Sometimes your influence on each other is really obvious, like when my Russian-born wife who emigrated to NYC says "y'all". Sometimes the influence is far more subtle, so much so that it's hard to distinguish your own thoughts from the thoughts you arrived at together. L'Ailee and I speak of each other as being "the other half of my brain." The longer you get used to having that, the harder it is to contemplate leaving that behind. Ultimately, I think that I'm a better and more well-rounded person because L'Ailee has been part of my life for my entire adulthood, and she's said she thinks the same about having me in her life. It's because of her, and me, and how we interact, not because of the ages we were when we found each other or the length of time we've been together.
Sometimes as your friends tell their stories and live their lives, you feel a bit weird. Maybe your friend's been sleeping with a Whitman's Sampler of different desirable people, and when she's done telling you about it, the only story you've got is, "Um, we tried doing it with candlelight last time." Likewise, maybe your friend's had her heart stepped on for the quintillionth time, and you feel oh so grateful that you don't have to date. Or maybe you feel like you *should* be dating, like you're keeping yourself above the mess everyone else your age is in, like you're missing out on important life-shaping experiences and holding your beloved back from having those, too. Maybe what you have isn't really love at all, but a force of habit or a lack of imagination. Then s/he calls, or you go home, and you get over that fast and feel a bit guilty for having had those thoughts. All you needed was their voice to remind you, it's really love, and your friends can keep their erotic Whitman's Samplers and sad, funny stories. Rest assured, other aspects of you and your beloved's lives will give you tons of "learning experiences".
My mother and I have had our struggles, especially lately, but she gave me one truly excellent piece of advice. She'd always tell me that a wedding was the beginning of a story, not an end. She made me want to know what came after "Happily ever after" in fairy tales. Sometimes we'd discuss it. I even wrote a few juvenile fanfics: Sleeping Beauty was an insomniac and never wanted to sew anything, Cinderella was super-nice to the palace maids and urged her husband to be more considerate as well, Snow White knighted the dwarves and urged people to examine their apples carefully before eating them.
I'm pretty sure the second intern hadn't done anything like that, but she understood quite well that her and her fiance's love story didn't end in their early teens. If anything, it's only beginning. Many of her peers, like the other intern, don't quite understand that. They think snagging the guy (or girl) and getting him (or her) to stick around is *it*. But what happens after they've been around a while? That's another amazing story in itself, and one that doesn't get told in our culture nearly as often. I think it needs to be.
Of course, my mother would know. She met her husband, my father, when she was 19. He was 10 years older. One of the unique hazards of meeting your lifelong love young is that they may not, in fact, be lifelong at all. You're still growing up, and you have the potential to grow into something very different from that starry-eyed girl or boy. That's what my mother did. Eventually, she felt he was holding her back, and began to take night classes. Her natural ambition began to assert itself, and she began to assert herself. It freaked my father out a little bit. He died of a heart attack at age 38. (This owes far more to his pack a day smoking habit and love of fried pork chops than my mother's growing up into something different.) We all believe that if he'd lived, they'd have divorced. She has dated a very different, very ambitious man for over 20 years. She has been engaged to him for several of those years, but doesn't really want to get married again. I have a hard time imagining her loving my father, especially after relatives started telling me stories, but she did!
She told my brother and I both to hold out for the right one. You know what happened with me. My brother met his future wife when he was 18, too. She was 14. My mother, of course, was afraid that if things went sour, her parents would accuse him of statutory rape, even though they weren't having sex. So he dated other, older girls until she turned 17. They gratefully ran to each other after that. She moved in with him on her 18th birthday, and they didn't look back. They struggled as they both attended college. Now that they've graduated, they can't imagine trying to go through college without each other.
I don't know what the Fates have for the intern and her fiance, or my brother and sister-in-law, or L'Ailee and me for that matter. I do know that while there is a lot of beauty in falling in love young, there are also a lot of difficulties. Sometimes it's hard to process those intense adult feelings when you're in your teens. You hope your life lasts a lot longer than your teens, you know? L'Ailee and I both had a lot-lot of issues with commitment and other things that we needed to resolve before we could become, well, marriageable. In some ways we helped each other, in others, we needed outside help.
I think ultimately that it helped us to keep the relationship long-distance, her in NYC and me in Orlando, for over a decade. Neither of us really wanted to leave, and we couldn't find a compromise place. We weren't always monogamous, either, though we were always truthful. (I don't think that would work for a lot of people, nor would that work for us anymore. We claim "Celebrity Sex Amnesty" now--regular readers know the male athletes I choose--but that's not real, either.) Sometimes I even think the fact that we couldn't legally marry each other, being two women, helped some. It gave us time to really think about things, instead of having people demand, "When are you gonna get married?" like my brother and SIL did.
I'm not sure exactly why I'm typing this out, only that I kinda feel like I need to after that conversation. I don't really like what our society and our media teach about love. So maybe by blogging this out, I get to (barely) articulate something different to a few people. I think every real love story is going to be different simply because every person and every relationship are different. Some people may begin theirs early. Some people may begin theirs very, very late. Some people may have multiple love stories in their lives, and some of those love stories may run concurrently. I hope everyone reading this finds their "happily ever after," their way, and doesn't let either the media or someone else they know make them feel bad about something that's going good. I hope everyone reading this learns what comes after "happily ever after."
Links, if you care to read more:
If you aren't already an expert on Kyrgyzstan--and I'd bet money that you aren't--you'll probably need to read this primer on exactly what the hell happened to make the Kyrgyz people so angry.
Just to remind everybody, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich ain't the only Christian game in town, no matter how loudly they say they are. I for one really do need that reminder sometimes as a non-Christian.
Finally, a professional fashion snob is "terrified" of Lilly Pulitzer! Makes me love her stuff all the more, though I can't afford as much as I like. (Actually, in NYC, it's probably all to the good that I can only afford Lilly accessories, and not many of those. Still...)