Groundhog Day - Love, Part 1
Imposter's syndrome is a real thing. And it can be a real bitch.
8 or 9 years ago I became close with one of the guys from our church. He and would get together for lunches, and talk about work, life, relationships, parenting and faith. He was calm, competent and confident. He was successful in his chosen field and was always upbeat. I liked him. Still do, although we aren't nearly as close. Seasons of life and all.
I remember being shocked when he told me that he was 50. I was shocked for a couple of reasons. The first was that he was in great shape and didn't look 50. Or at least what I imagined 50 would look like. I was also shocked because 50 sounded SO old to me. At the time, I hadn't turned 40 that long ago and 50 sounded a million miles away. It also completely made sense that he had so much on the ball, because 50 sounded like the time when you would have all your ducks in a row. And all your shit completely together.
I turn 50 this year. My life still feels like chaos on a stick 24/7. For what it's worth, a few years after we were meeting regularly my friend went through a tough divorce. So maybe his shit wasn't as together as it seemed.
I spent a long time thinking that adulthood would be this thing that would just happen. You would look around one day and realize that your life was good. You would have health and wealth and leisure. You would know who you are and what you wanted and how to get it. Your relationships would be healthy and rainbows would appear when it rained.
That's not how any of this works.
Today is Barbara and I's 27th wedding anniversary. On February 2, 1995, we went to the Tarrant County Courthouse in Fort Worth, TX and got married by the Justice of the Peace with my mom and second stepdad serving as witnesses. My brother was there too. I wore a "Singin' in the Rain" tie and glasses too big for my face. Barb wore a white shirt that had belonged to her mother and a black skirt. She points out that she was wearing black to weddings before it was cool. We both look to be about 16 years old.
When I tell people that I have been married to my high school sweetheart for over 25 years, and that we have been a couple even longer than that, the universal reaction is one of respect and congratulations. When they find out that we have been married that long and that we have 5 kids from ages 24 all the way down to 6 the reaction starts to change from respect to shock. By the time that I mention that I was in the military for 12 years and that Barb earned her PhD as a working mom, shock starts to give way to concern. Then I will mention that I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and that one of our children has profound special needs, and that we have always had at least one stay-at-home parent and the reaction goes from concern to full on fear.
It all sounds amazing on paper. And in my more objective moments, I can see that what we have accomplished as a couple is amazing. That the love that we have for one another has endured and grown and changed and survived things that would have ended most relationships. That we can still make each other laugh. That we are still attracted to each other. In my good moments, I can focus on the positives and feel proud.
And imposter's syndrome is a real thing. And it can be a real bitch.
When I tell the story of us, when I talk about all that we have done and are doing, I invariably get asked for relationship advice. And I always come up with something trite that has been said 1,000 times before in ways that are more eloquent than I can. I will say "never go to bed angry" or "be willing to laugh at yourselves." And those are perfectly fine pieces of advice. The challenge for me is that I am not at all certain that I am the one who should be giving them. The truth is, I am pretty sure that we got this far by some combination of dumb luck and pure, unadulterated stubbornness. As much as I wish we were the couple that people thought we were - or even that we tell ourselves we are - I don't think we are. I think that we are just as riven by conflict and confusion as anyone.
Imposter's syndrome is real.
Today is our 27th anniversary. Barb's favorite number is 2. And while we have had many anniversaries this is the only one we will ever have that will fall on 2/2/22. That makes it special.
And when I thought about today and noticed that it was a Wednesday and a newsletter day, I initially thought about writing an update full of relationship advice. And then I thought about the fact that I may, in fact, be the least qualified person in the world to give marriage advice to someone else. Imposter’s syndrome and all.
And as I thought more about it, I realized that I am completely unqualified to give anyone else marriage advice. I am, however, perfectly positioned to give myself marriage advice. Especially my younger self.
I decided to write a letter to that young guy in the goofy tie and even goofier glasses up in that picture up there. A letter to my younger self. A letter telling him all the things that he should know about love.
And I am sharing that letter over the next couple of newsletters. Part 1 today. Part 2 next week ahead of Valentine's Day. It may be that some parts of it will resonate with you. Some of it may feel relevant to your own life and love. Some of it may not feel remotely relevant. And that's okay.
It's important to him. To me. To us? I don't know, this is getting weird so let's just do this.
Dear Young Jeff -
Congrats on your marriage. You made a really good choice. I should start by telling you how lucky you are. I know you think that you are, but I am telling you that in your wildest dreams you don't know what a blessing you just received. You just lucked your way into having the best life partner you could possibly hope for. Treasure her.
This is a letter in two parts. It's full of advice. I will be highlighting the important advice in bold. The advice may feel like a lot of random, diffuse insight. Or nonsense. I get it. But really, that's what love is - a constant, random stream of the sublime and the silly, the sacred and the struggle. My hope is that you will take the parts that speak to you and hold them in your heart.
And. I know you (me?) well enough to know that you won't listen to most of it. You are hardheaded and stubborn. I know you think that those are strengths. And in some ways, they are. In other ways, I know you will come to see the value of flexibility and openness to feedback.
Oh, and in a couple of months you will be joining the Army. You will learn something about flexibility and change there. I know, I know. You would never join the Army and let someone tell you what to do. Good luck with that. I would tell you to practice push-ups, but it's okay. You will get LOTS of practice starting in a few weeks.
The first thing I want to tell you is that love is universal, but every love is unique. Don't spend time comparing yourselves to other couples, or some imaginary standard of what a marriage "should" look like. It looks like whatever it is. Love is love. It might be straight, or it might be queer. It might be two people. It might be 3 or 4. It might be monogamous; it might be poly. It will look like whatever the people involved agree individually and collectively that it will look like. You are going to be asked repeatedly (even by your subconscious) to follow a template. Don't. Do you. And let others do them. This letter will talk about “couples” and “marriage” because they are how YOU have chosen to describe your relationship and live in your love. That doesn’t mean that they’re the only way.
Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day? I know you do. You went to see it at Phipps Plaza the week it opened. You have been watching the VHS at work at Blockbuster on repeat at every shift. I know you think it's clever to constantly repeat a movie that is about a day constantly repeating. It's okay. You will get funnier.
You got married on Groundhog Day. And that movie is actually a pretty good metaphor for marriage. I don't mean that the same day repeats again and again (although, honestly it will feel like that sometimes). No, what I mean is that although many things may remain constant from day to day, youwill be constantly changing and growing and affecting each day in a different way. And if you want to love someone, if you want to be the very best you that you can be, then you must accept that change is a part of life, and a part of love.
Your marriage won't look like it does now in a year. And 10 years from now you will have 4 kids and be in Iraq. Your life will be constantly changing. And that is okay. That is what happens. You will change. Barb will change. Your family will grow and change and morph. Change is okay. I know it scares you. I know you hate surprises. Try and see that change is good.
And, like in the movie, some things won't change. There will always be people who annoy you, situations you want to avoid, short cuts you want to take. Especially in your relationships. And most especially in your marriage. There are no shortcuts in relationships. Have hard conversations. Be open. Be honest. I know that you worry about being hurt, being abandoned. I know you feel insecure and unsafe sometimes. Those feelings are temporary. You are trying to build something that lasts forever. Be there. Be in every moment, no matter how hard. Lean into the hard parts. I know you think it will cause the relationship to break. It won't. NOT being open will do more to break your relationship than vulnerability ever will.
Trust me on this one.
This feels like as good a place as any to end part one. Part two next week in anticipation of Valentine's Day.
I hope you have a great week. Love your people. Let them know you care. Reach out to friends. Say I LOVE YOU. Be vulnerable. It matters.
Finally, I want to say a public thank you to Barbara for 27 years of married life. You mean everything to me. I am grateful for all 27, and I sincerely pray we get 27 more.
Like the man says... we'll see.
Be well y'all. Reach out to someone this week and tell them you love 'em.
See you next week for part 2. Until then, keep pounding the rock.