Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The No No List and the Dish on Love

Once upon a time, I listened to my husband encouraging one of his daughters. He was dispensing relationship advice to her. Her dilemma wasn’t should she break up with a certain young man, as she initially seemed to ask, but how. All I can say after picking up odds and ends of this conversation are that cute feet cannot sustain a relationship. (Don’t ask.) Her keenest recognition of her own circumstance was this: That love shit doesn’t last. It wears off.

I love teenagers. I am intrigued by their points of view, the urgency in which they feel they must romantically love someone, and the infinite trouble they suffer as a result. No matter how progressive we think we are in the 21st century, these liaisons are the training ground for marriage, and there is so much I wish I could tell both my husband’s daughters about this. Out of respect for them and their birth parents, I draw the line at interfering unless directly asked for advice.

Last year I was dining at the home of a good friend. Around the table were ladies ranging in age from teenage to maybe fifty-something. One of the young women asked what warning flags she should recognize in her current relationship. This question in itself suggested imminent disaster. We entertained ourselves immeasurably with this conversation and accrued a list that began with obvious deal-breakers, such as someone else’s lipstick in his truck. Between bouts of laughter and the pouring of wine, the most notable points made included considerations that are easy to overlook. As a young person I would have disregarded these completely. In fact, I know I did.

1. Have you met his friends? What kind of people are they? Does he ever hide his friends from you?

2. Take a good, long look at his father. You’ll end up marrying that. And there is hardly ever an exception to this rule.

3. In particular, how does he talk to his mother and father? Those are our first authority figures. How he speaks to them, he will speak to you (if not now, then someday). And there is never, never, never an exception to this.

I think women tend to make excuses. We want “the love shit” to last, and often enable misbehavior. I have made this mistake before. I won’t make it again. We tend to think that conduct is a temporal flux of sorts. We tell ourselves that what we are seeing will stop when he grows up, changes, settles down, finds a job, the ex goes away… whatever. We make a lot of excuses about how he treats others (or ourselves) saying that he was under stress or the treatment was deserved in some way. We might assume certain of their responsibilities to avoid conflict or embarrassment. Lo and behold, a cycle is born.

What you see is what you get. And if you see others suffer at the hands of your mate while you seem to skate fairly peacefully at a distance, be wary. This peace is short-lived. My step-daughter is right—the aura of your love does wear off, and you may find yourself, as I once did, trying to understand how you became the person who accepts being told you are “less”.

The human brain does not fully mature until the age of 25. I have often pondered this and thought marriage should be discouraged prior to this point, but who am I to say? My husband’s daughter recently described someone as being the cookies to her milk. The sweetness of this statement should not overwhelm the profoundness of the realization. This young lady already sees love, knows it, feels it, gets it. And I get it, too. After all, her father is indeed a heaping plate of warm cookies to my milk. He brings to my life sweetness, innocence, goodness, and comfort.

This kid’s going to be all right. She is tougher than I ever was and I cannot see her accepting sarcasm or disrespect from anyone. She has other demons, though, that she has yet to discover about herself. I look forward to a conversation with her years from now when she has a handful of wriggling toddler, a mortgage, and she has just coached her future spouse through a job loss or death of a parent. I want to know what she really finds underneath what wears away, and how she feels about the love of her life seeing her in her own moments of vulnerability. I hope the cookies and milk will still be there.

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