Are we THAT couple now?

Turns out, after two years of wedded bliss and occasional blunders, a lot of my friends have now decided that I’m one half of an old married couple. I’m not sure when it happened, or why. But, I find now that my husband and I are often the most senior married couple in any room of our peers. Weird… Some of this is because here in Maputo the couples we know have been together for ages, but haven’t gone through the cumbersome feat of planning an African wedding. Most of my friends in New Jersey are singling and mingling. In short, we get asked about relationship and marital advice a lot. By no means, should we be asked. We don’t know anything about relationships, we just know a lot about each other. But, because I know we’ll get asked many times over the next year, as our friends and siblings get married one by one, here’s a short list of lessons I can share about transitioning from girlfriend to wife.

1f803ad34b2dd53f6f0ac81417fb88e5.jpg1 – Living together isn’t the same: Remember, girl friend, when it used to be exciting to sleepover at his house? The joys of the scent of his cologne on the sheets. Or better yet, before he said he’d come to your place, you cleaned up and put flowers everywhere. Oh, the staging! Staying in to cook dinner together was sweet and cozy then.When we were dating it was like sleeping over was the equivalent of staying in a nice Air BnB with benefits.  Now, wife, no matter where you go – he’s there. All the time. There’s no prep time. No down time. You’re not sharing his space and he’s not sharing yours. You’re both entitled to the same space. EEK! I died a thousand deaths at the beginning of our genuine cohabitation. I thought it’d be the same as before and it wasn’t. But the silver lining is that once it dawned on me that we’re both entitled and both responsible for the space we share, I stopped thinking I had to be the keeper of the house. His household chores have mounted! I’m his wife, not his maid.

30a1988f60fe3a530e297ac5520e9c4c.jpg2 – Honesty is the best policy: It’s so much harder to lie when you’re married. Remember, girl friend, when you would spend days apart and just meet up a few days a week for dates or cuddle sessions? You both had separate lives then. He was busy. You were busy. You both were broke.  You casually omit that your ex drunk dialed you, because you were in bed alone that night any way. You could say with a straight face, “I didn’t spend that much on shoes yesterday,” because you didn’t go over your household finances regularly. He could say, “I was at soccer,” and you wouldn’t have a clue if he actually went. You didn’t experience the confirmation funk after he came home from a friendly match. Now, wife, you both know too much. Even little white lies are hard to tell and personal secrets are hard to keep. We have managed to keep a pretty uncensored relationship and I don’t know how anyone could survive any other way. “I know your grandmother doesn’t like me. The feeling is pretty much mutual,” has been heard at our dining room table with multiple furrowed brows. “Quit complaining about being fat, you aren’t doing anything about it” has been said about 3 times in the last month – not that I’m counting. In any case, there’s a bit of thick skin that’s acquired, but the active listening skills improve. When you’re married you’ve got to listen to and live through the whole truth, not just the pretty parts.

4fed46be6744ee5704980e3718161437.jpg3 – “You’re on the same team”: We have 2 married couple role models, both couples were families I worked with in India and whose advice has been absolutely invaluable. (#couplegoals that are attainable and proximate are important for us.) This nugget came from the husband of one of these patron saints. And he said it to me, not us. At a farewell dinner, he said (with caution), “you have to remember that no matter what, you’re on the same team. I know you, and you’ll need to remember this.” And he was right. Not just right, but really right. Remember that honesty thing I said before, well that’s hard to stomach. It’s so much easier said than done. When somebody tells you things you don’t want to hear or when their support doesn’t look the way you planned, it can definitely feel isolating and oppositional. I’ve learned over the last few years that being on the same team doesn’t always mean being in agreement or even in sync. Sometimes it means being complimentary, using each other as force multipliers. What a relief it is to learn that marriage is like running a relay race together rather than competing side by side at a marathon.

b90ffe3084d263ae588576f23004322b.jpg4 – Be prepared to act a fool together: We struggled at the beginning to have fun together. My husband’s idea of fun sometimes goes too far and I feel like I have to be sober to make sure he doesn’t throw up in the pool. My idea of fun is best described as “0 to 100 real quick.” Either I’m absolutely boring (seriously, listening to productivity podcasts and watching paint dry boring) while recharging my introvert battery OR I’m double fisting at any bar that will let me in without a cover (after you do this enough, the bar access eases). What this means is, we have seen each other at our worst – in the pursuit of trying to let off steam and let our hair down. Work hard, play hard has landed us next to each other the next day often with one of us having absolutely no recollection of the 15 hour period before. Girl friend, you might feel the need to discuss this in depth. Ask and be asked about your motivations. You think this behavior is an indication of a problem. This wife does a thorough physical check that no one has shed blood over the night before, confirms that no one has incriminating photos in their phones, says a prayer to the patron saint that keeps all fools safe, and makes a hearty breakfast to sop up the alcohol belly and shame accumulated over the night before. And then, we laugh about it and move on. Remember when I said you’ll have to “listen to and live through the whole truth, not just the pretty parts,” embarrassing yourself in front of your partner is just part and parcel.

58957daf33441420612215b7310ce537.jpg5- There are things I still don’t understand: This list is an abbreviated version of the long list of things I still don’t get about my own relationship, much less anyone else’s, i.e. farting around each other, managing finances, when/whether to have kids, intimacy, making the bed in the morning (hint: i don’t give AF about making anybody’s bed), attendance at family functions, working together, cross cultural union, inter religious union,  bilingual union, deciding where is home, retirement plans (yes, i’m thinking about it already), exes as friends, platonic friends, definitions of fun, managing a social calendar, managing my introversion, managing his extroversion… I could go on, but can you see why we’re so uncomfortable being the old wise couple in the room? We don’t know anything except our own experiences, most of which we haven’t even worked out yet.

My guess is 10, 15, 25 years down the line, the same will continue to be true. We still won’t know much, but we’ll have a lot of experience with trying to figure it out.

Dear Husband,

I’m new to this. I don’t know the rules. And maybe things we said before we got married were all bullshit. But, this thing isn’t easy. At least, it hasn’t been for me.

Trying to form an identity with someone isn’t something I know how to do, but I hope you see I’m trying. But you have to imagine how hard that is for me. You eat meat. You don’t like people who yell. You watch lots of BET. Can’t you see how different we are?

Culture is something that I’ve grappled with my whole life – What is a sense of belonging? What are the traditions we carry to stay connected? Am I part of a Diaspora now? This, we, aren’t an academic exercise, though. Right? I can’t figure us out in a transnational paradigm of contemporary globalization. Or perhaps I can…

But that doesn’t make me understand things like why the towels never make it back on to the racks after you take a shower. Or why I’m the only one who seems to SEE the food rotting in our fridge. You know when something is fermenting in our kitchen, right? I mean, when I married you your nose was working fine. Has it broken since then?

And some of this is just about space. How to share it. When to invade it. Who has a right to it. And I think we both need a gender neutral “cave.” Me? Because I’m an introvert, I do my best thinking alone and being around lots of people (even you, my love) can be draining. You? Because you’re a dude and you want to do dude things that I frankly don’t want to see. You could also do all the running you wanted in there, esp. while watching youtube videos and world star hip hop clips. I mean, this could work.

Does this sound like I’m pushing you away? I hope not.

I’m just trying to figure out strategies to make it a lifetime. We made it longer than Kim and the guy before Kanye, so I guess that counts for something. But, doesn’t forever seem like a really long time to you?

I’ll be old and wrinkly. Things will sag. You might want that cave then. So, it’s now or never baby.

No, seriously.

Like I said, I’m new to this. And I’m willing to make mistakes. But one thing you’ll never be able to say is that I didn’t try. I’m trying every day in ways you don’t even see. I’m trying to be a reliable part of this team. I’m trying to be an independent person who can rely on another person for help, regularly.

I am not from your rib. I was a whole person before I met you. I wasn’t incomplete before us. You rely on me to be whole. You expect me to be more than a fragment of a person without you. You expect me to represent you and us and me all at the same time, even when I’m not with you. You expect great things from me, with little more than a hug and a few pep talks along the way. You realize that you didn’t make me who I am, but that you are valuable part of everything I’ll be. You don’t see yourself as in contradiction with my ambitions. And you can’t see a future for either one of us without the other. You believe in us. I believe in your faith.

Sometimes I need you more than I admit. You don’t yet read my mind, but when you do… because someday you will… you’ll understand how embarrassed I feel to ask. You’re laughing right now. (I know this because, I just read your mind.) But you shouldn’t. You know that only compounds the original embarrassment. I’m weird.

Now you’re stuck and I guess you’ve got to come up with some strategies of your own. So, like they used to do back in the day, I’m going to have to ask you a few questions to see if you’re on team us:

  • Do you like me? – YES or NO
  • Can you agree to a cave? – YES or NO (if no, explanation required)
  • Do you promise to love me when I’m old and naggier? – YES or NO
  • Can you try to laugh at me less? (I’m sensitive!) – YES or NO
  • Can you remember who I was when you met me? – YES or NO
  • Can you agree to forgive me, in advance, for stupid things I’ll do through the rest our lives together? – YES or NO
  • Will you sign my friend contract? – YES or NO
  • Do you still like me? – YES or NO

If you can’t agree to all of the above, I think we’re days shy of being able to apply for annulment.

Think it over. No pressure.

With love,

XOXO

 

They ask me how I know…

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.30.57 PMComing from a woman who is two weeks away from being married, it may come as a surprise that I’m thinking a lot about my exes, i.e. ex-boyfriends, ex-friends, ex-“dudes I used to mess with.” I always teased my fiancé that no matter how many skeletons I had in my closet, there’d never be a need to think twice about where the bodies were buried. Trust, they were always a continent or two away! But as the wedding approaches, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of the exes who have cropped back up, who have asked to come to the wedding, who are going to be in the country, who might be around after the honeymoon, who we’ll probably hang out with more than once, and who I never – in a million years – thought I’d welcome as friends into the ‘happily ever after’ phase of my life.

Really, this isn’t about them so much as it is about me. The woman who entertained them then isn’t the same woman who appreciates them now. I expected to carry animosities forever. I expected to be embarrassed by the idea of my husband meeting living reminders of experiences I haven’t always been that proud of. Yet, the years and experiences that lay in between have shown me that now I must be smarter, must be more practical, and must be in love!

I actually asked my fiancé if more than one skeleton could walk his way into our wedding party and break bread at our – very exclusive – celebration. And what’s more shocking than the fact that I even parted my lips to ask, is that he actually said “Yea, whatever.” That may not seem like much. But for a guy who actually doesn’t like guys that much, this is about the best I could have hoped for. And for a guy who I still torture to this day about how many “popcorn hoes” he exposed me to in the beginning of our courting, this is big. Moreover, for a girl who took a very long time to find her way into a mutually supportive, trusting, and communicative relationship, this is huge for me.

For some, thoughts of an ex bring the wedding jitters. For me, thoughts of an ex (or two… or three…) make me more and more excited about being a wife to the man I chose and who chose me.  All I can say is thanks to all the dudes of yesteryear and good luck in this lifetime. For those who I’ll see soon, my interest in their lives is genuine. It’s lovely to know that we’ve grown up in parallel, if not together. And for those who I’ll never see again, I wish them neither ill will nor well wishes. If this relationship has taught me nothing else it’s to save all my energies, positive and negative, for the present. Being here, fully here, has made all the difference.

I’ve heard it said that some people are only with you for a phase. I’m not exactly sure what it means when people pop up in random phases and happen to be in Africa when you least expect it, but I’d like to think that it means that friendships evolve with time, I can’t trust my 18-year-old self for my entire lifetime, and I’m ready for this next phase of life, called forever ever!

 

thirty days

Photo on 3-29-13 at 10.51 PM #2Until four weeks and two days ago I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t up for the challenge and I wasn’t interested in commitment. Thirty days ago, I was resigned to the fact that the greatest love of my life, which was also the greatest disappointment of my life, might in fact have been ‘it.’ I had decided that I had missed the relationship boat, and I was okay with the life raft that just kept me dry. I was satisfied with not being soaked in anyone’s expectations or insecurities, even if it meant that I was left unprotected from all the other dangers of exposure.

Until 30 days ago, I had decided to tell the world that if I fucked up in the past, then I was willing to live with it. I made a Kissinger decision, bitch, and I could regret it the rest of my life or I could accept that it was the best decision I could have made at the time. I don’t have any regrets. Feeling stifled in someone else’s dimming shadow is not much of a choice anyway. Until thirty days ago, I was satisfied in my world, because I’d finally had it appraised and I wasn’t coming up short. I didn’t seek forgiveness and I didn’t need anyone’s remorse. I had decided that all I would commit to is putting one foot in front of the other and letting the day run its course.

I had decided. I had figured it out. And then, he asked me on a date.

A date? A whole one? Yes, a proper date. I got picked up at my house and there were forks and knives on the table.

I told him that I didn’t need a title and I didn’t need a relationship. There was a time in my younger, more naïve life, when the person in this body would have wanted something – anything. A road dog, a homie lover friend, a cuff buddy, a boo, a side-piece, a boyfriend, a husband, a business partner, a hope, a dream, or a goddamn clue. But, on that day – 30 days ago – I wanted free dinner. But who can say that out loud when someone asks, “so what do you want from this?”

I said I wanted someone who wanted nothing from me. I wanted someone who had met himself, knew his own flaws and didn’t wait for me to mother him into fixing them. I wanted an adult who could handle that I had lived adult things, had fought adult traumas and didn’t need a hanky anymore. I wanted someone who I enjoyed spending time with, not someone to call mine. I never wanted to possess or be possessed again. I wanted someone who chose me, with every hiccup and hang up, and who never asked me to be a ‘better me.’  A better me doesn’t exist!

I said things like this. And I meant things like this – when they came out of my mouth, then stuffed with fish & chips & diet coke and rum. And I really fucking meant it. And I said it like a sailor too, I fucking swear!

And now this dude is my boyfriend. I don’t know how it happened. I’m pretty sure he snuck up behind me and clobbered me over the head like a cave man. And I can’t remember the part when I fell for him, but I know for sure that I did. He keeps saying, “It’s natural.” And I keep thinking, “oh shit! Is this real? Really? OMGOMGOGMOGOMGOMGOMG Is this real? Really? oh shit!”

He asked to get to know me. I thought he was being facetious. Apparently, he wasn’t, because he’s still around. And I think he knows me pretty well, for as much as someone can actually know another person. Around day two, I wondered if he would be a flash in the pan like the douchebag in New Orleans. Around day ten, I wondered if he would hide me like my first love in Philadelphia. Around day thirteen, I feared he wouldn’t really be able to communicate with me like the philanderer in Paris. Around day twenty, I figured he must be a man whore like that ass clown in the Bronx. Around day twenty-two I told him not to hurt me and, on day twenty-two + 2 seconds, he laughed in my face. “Me? Hurt you?! I’m so in love with you, only you could mess this up.” He said it with a chuckle that only half masked that he really meant it.

He doesn’t walk in the faith that we’ll last forever. It works because I don’t know that I believe in forever anymore. Neither one of us grew up believing in marriage or seeing nuclear families function. We don’t have high hopes for a day far away from today when we’ll say ‘it’s us against the world,’ and mean it. We think people who say shit like that are stupid. We know that we’re good today and that we’re committed to trying to be good to each other every day thereafter.

He? Well, he’s just grateful that he knows what this feeling feels like and I’m glad to share his company. Me? Well, I’m not sure that I can handle the pressure of being someone who is now so adored, so revered, so supported – when I spit in the face of the possibility just 30 days ago. Thirty days ago, I was, in fact, determined against this very reality that I’m soaking in with such delight. What happened on day thirty that made me feel ready to be all the things that I had written off ever being, ever expecting, just 24 hours before? What about me today is so deserving, when 30 days ago I was such a skeptic?

I ask, because I don’t have an answer and I don’t want to mess this up.

What if this is ‘it’?