My Funny Valentine - Love, Part 2
This week's newsletter is the second part of a letter to my younger self offering advice on his wedding day back in 1995. You can read part one here.
Do you remember the summer you moved to Jacksonville? Do you remember moving from the apartment to the house and finally getting your own room? Do you remember the dresser?
I know you do. You (we?) were so excited to get it. A yard sale special, dinged and marked, but a solid wooden dresser for $5 that you paid for yourself. No more clothes on the floor in a suitcase. No more sleeping on the apartment's screened in porch. Your own room, and furniture you bought yourself.
You were so keen to move it by yourself, this dresser you bought. And you did too. At least you tried to. Jim (stepdad #2 - the good one) was there, but he let you do it on your own just like you asked. There you were, sweating and stumbling and dragging that heavy fucker from the truck into the house. You were cursing and straining and feeling like you were gonna die of exhaustion.
Jim: You want help?
Young Jeff: Nope. I got this. (dresser teeters and almost falls)
Jim: (laughs) You sure?
Young Jeff: Well, hell no I'm not sure. I am tired as fuck. Fine. Please help.
Jim: (laughs, shakes head) That was hard for you to say, huh?
Young Jeff: You have no idea. Almost as hard as it is to breathe right now.
Jim came over and picked up the other side of that dresser. And the two of you carried it in. And it was easy. You had your dresser in your room.
You got what you wanted because you asked for help.
Relationships are hard. Look at yourself in the mirror. Are you completely okay with the person looking back at you? Do you think he makes the right call in every situation? Are you okay with everything he says? Yeah. I know. He can be a hot mess.
We all get disappointed and frustrated with ourselves. We aren't completely happy with the person in the mirror. Now add a whole other human to that mix. Or a kid or 5. Suddenly it gets infinitely more complex and challenging.
But even the hardest things are possible when you work together. That starts with asking for help and accepting it when it is offered. Relationships are like that dresser. They are hard to move on your own. But if two people are working together, it sure gets a whole lot easier.
Marriage (or any other relationship) is a team sport. When challenges arrive (and they will most definitely arrive - often without warning or preparation) it is you and your partner vs. that challenge. Challenge all too often becomes the context for conflict, rather than an obstacle to be overcome together. You must do the hard stuff together. And. You can't do this alone. If you try and do it by yourselves, you will fail. And even if you do succeed it will be way harder than it needs to be.
You will need friends, counselors, confidants. You will need them individually AND collectively. You are young and you assume friends are a given, that you will always just... have some. As you get older you will learn that friends aren't a guarantee, they are a conscious choice. You must invest in family, friendships, and other support networks. You must maintain connections across miles and years, in the context of competing responsibilities and demands on your attention and energy. You will need people who love and support you as a person and your partnership as a couple. And that will take work and time and awareness.
It's that way with love, too. Over time you will realize that nothing in your relationship is a given. It is like basketball, or writing, or anything you care about and want to do well. It takes practice. You gotta work on your fundamentals. You need coaching and feedback on how to get better. Practice the little things. Big connections are built on little things.
Little things matter in a relationship. Small kindnesses. Being on time. Talking openly. Listening actively. The simple things that are important to you and your partner matter. They are the tangible investments you make in creating, growing, and maintaining your relationship. They are the bricks that build the house. If you don't do the little things right, it becomes that much harder to do the big things.
Be yourself. Your WHOLE self. All the time and in all the ways you can. Don't hide your light or change who you are just to meet some phantom expectation of you that was created externally. The person you love will love you because of who you are, not despite who you are. They will want you to become the best version of yourself, not adhere to some generic template of what someone or something else says you should be.
Please notice what I didn't say. I didn't say don't grow. I didn't say don't change. I didn't say don't listen to criticism or incorporate feedback. You must do all of those things to be the best version of yourself. Most of things that you can be, know and do are up for discussion. There are very few hard and fast rules. There are things that are important to you now that won't be important 5, 10 or 20 years from now. There are things that may feel important now that you will walk away from, and things that once seemed ephemeral that you will run toward. That's part of growing up. And. There are some ideas and actions that will be timeless, core values that speak to the very essence of who you are. Know the difference. Here's a hint: there are way fewer of the latter than you think.
There will always be things that you can do better - ways you can improve as a person, as a parent, as a partner. Do that shit. And be yourself too. These pieces of advice may feel contradictory. They aren't.
Have a sense of humor. About everything. Especially yourself. Have a sense of humor about life, about your family, about your partner. I don't mean make fun of them. I mean be able to laugh WITH them. To see life and love as it frequently is - absurd and filled with random ridiculousness. Shit will happen. Again and again. Learn to laugh about it. It will make everything else easier.
Let's take a second.
Drink some water.
Stretch in place a little.
This has been a lot of advice presented in a great big hurry. I could talk for days about each part of it. But we can't do that. I have to go pick up Justin from school (yeah, just wait 'til you meet that guy). You probably have a shift at Blockbuster (don't worry - you will get to quit after you join the Army and it will be one of the best days of your life). The point here is that we both have shit to do. Plus, this is an imaginary letter anyway, so.....
Look, Young Jeff. I could fill your head with hours of lectures and pages of advice. I hope you will take some of what I said and put it into practice. I think it will make things better.
And all the advice, all of the ideas about love, can be boiled down into something really simple:
Love one another.
Lots of people will tell you that all you need is love. There's even a song. By the Beatles, no less. Written by John. Or Paul. Or both. I never know which song goes with which Beatle. What I do know is that the idea that love is all you need is bullshit.
When people - even The Beatles - say "all you need is love" what they often mean is that the feeling of love will be sufficient to see you through life's challenges. That if you just feel strongly enough about someone, that alone will keep you sane and safe and together. Feelings alone can do it. All you need is love.
Feelings aren't enough. There is real shit out here. Real shit coming your way. There are kids and war and plague (literally, a whole ass pandemic). There will be little strains and huge stressors and trauma and sadness and big, big emotions that feel so heavy you can't lift them and darkness so deep you forget what light is. And in all those moments, you will still feel deep, abiding love for the people in your life and that feeling alone won't be enough to turn on the light or lift the weight. Feelings are not enough.
But there's good news. Love is more than just a feeling.
Love is active. It is a promise. It is an act of faith. Nietzsche once said that "(t)he essential thing 'in heaven and earth' is... that there be long obedience in the same direction..." (emphasis mine). That's what love is. Long obedience in the same direction.
Love is not all you need. But you can't get any of the things you DO need unless you give love and receive love and share love. Without love you will be lost in the world.
So. Love one another.
Be there when they're sad. Hold space for big emotions. Share joy. Ask about their day. Rub their feet. Tell them that they are smart and strong and beautiful.
Say I love you.
Say it to Barbara. Say it to your friends. Hell, tell people you just met. Be open to the possibility of deeply loving every person you meet. Spread bliss and scatter joy. I know none of this is easy for you. I know you fear being hurt and want to protect yourself. I know just reading this is making you anxious. And. Do it anyway. I promise it will come back to you a hundredfold.
Love one another.
The world can be hard and relentless. The night is dark and full of terrors. There will be stress and strain and fear and anxiety and hurt. Disappointment and heartbreak. You will wonder if you are strong enough or smart enough or good enough (you are). You will wonder - many times - if you can do it (you can).
Be kind. Love her. Love the world in all its imperfect perfection. In the end, you will have a love that is delightfully and completely human, full of wonder and joy and beauty, all of which will exist inside flawed lives and imperfect bodies and confused brains. This is water. Just keep swimming.
And get some glasses that fit your face. Keep your feet and knees together when you jump out of planes.
And keep pounding the rock.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate each of you.
I hope you have a great week. The February Q&A is coming in just two weeks. Please consider submitting a question either in the comments below or by email (email@example.com) or Instagram (@combatsnuggles).
And as always, be well y'all.
Have a great week, and keep pounding the rock.