How to Fall in Love


Having gotten over my glow from dreaming about wearing a blue NASA jumpsuit to Mars after the announcement that NASA will be taking applications for the next astronaut training cycle, I came to a funny realization yesterday. Sometimes the things that seem closest to your heart and obvious, are not so obvious to those you know and love. My husband, whom I’ve known for over 20 years, who has been with me through deaths and births, friendships and heartaches, the demise of numerous TV shows, moves to 3 different homes and across the country, had no idea that I really, truly was serious about wanting to become an astronaut. He had absolutely no idea that it had been a lifelong dream. It’s got to make you wonder, just a tiny bit, how well people know one another.

This made me think of the New York Times article this year called “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” that spawned a whole series of columns and articles, and even it’s own downloadable app about 36 questions based on a study that “explored whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions.” The series of questions were designed to become more “probing” than the next one, and ends with an exercise in which the two people are supposed to stare into one another’s eyes for 4 minutes.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I thought this would be a fun thing to do. This article came out in January, and we’ve never even answered one of these questions, as setting aside 2 hours and 4 min (which is apparently how long the writer of the article took to complete this experiment), is virtually impossible to do with 2 full-time and 2 part-time jobs (at least until July) between the two of us, children in soccer, karate, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, swimming, catechism, piano, and managing to keep our house from being put on the Environmental Hazards List, while setting personal records for achieving the Guinness record for tallest piles of laundry.  If we tried to stare into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes straight 1 of 2 things would likely happen: I would dissolve in a fit of giggles and highly unbecoming snorts of hilarity,  or he would fall asleep.

I wondered again if we’d managed to complete this, if this would have revealed what seemed to me to be an well-known fact about myself, given my love for science/science fiction, love of travel, and desire to see/experience everything possible.  After perusing the question list, I saw 2 questions which could potentially have revealed this:

“14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?  . . .

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”

Thinking further though, I’m pretty sure astronaut would NOT have come up.  In fact, as I read through the list, I know I would have answered a lot of these questions differently now than I would have when we were dating. And, maybe will answer them differently in another 10 years. So the question to ask is, do we truly every know anyone? Is it possible to know everything there is to know about someone ever, no matter how close we are?

I think the answer is no.  And I think that that’s OK.  One of the most illuminating quotes I read as a kid basically stated that in all lives but our own, we are but minor players.   No matter how much we think we know someone, they are the only ones who know everything about themselves, although for the less introspective among us, perhaps even this is not true.

Regardless, as entertaining as it may be to sit down and answer these questions, the premise that this might make you fall in love with someone is a trope that might be interesting in a movie or as the basis for a newspaper article, but the reality of falling in love with someone has less to do with knowing the answers to 36 questions, and more to do with how well we know ourselves. And the important question is not how to fall in love, but how to stay in love and how to continue to love despite the changes wrought by time and circumstance.

And so I’m not upset or surprised that he didn’t know this about me. Instead, I realized that it is more important that he cares to find out more, that he keeps asking and learning more than a mere 36 questions would ever tell him, and that even after all these years, we still have secrets and surprises to discover.  The authors of the study understood this, beyond the way the results have been hyped:  “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.”

Link to the article with the 36 questions:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/no-37-big-wedding-or-small.html?_r=0

 

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Love, Despite


 

Before I married my husband, I told him to make sure that he was marrying me for who I was that day, and not for any future changes he hoped to have wrought in me through the “transforming” power of marriage. Though we were both young, I had seen enough unhappy marriages to make me wary of the institution, and who wants to be institutionalized, really?  I had no question that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, but I wanted us to start off with as little illusion as possible.  I wanted to know that he saw me, and not some airbrushed version of a girl to be placed on a pedestal.  It is easy to fall in love if you believe all the fairy tales and movies.  Beautiful women with flowing hair and flawless skin meet muscled men with pure hearts and chivalrous intentions and they ride off to his manor with servants aplenty to watch the perfectly well-behaved children gambol across the lawn.

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Real life, though, is grittier.  The muscled boy that you met at 18 will have to help you get to the bathroom after giving birth to an almost 9 lb baby, change that baby’s first meconium-filled diaper, and not comment on all the broken blood vessels across your face from pushing to get that giant-headed child out. Those flowing locks that you used to have time to tame into submission, will subside into their normal frizzy state, then fall out during pregnancy so you look like an alien who accidentally swallowed a giant watermelon.  The manor will actually be a tiny little starter home surrounded by other tiny little starter homes where you can hear your neighbors argue and flush their toilets. Those perfectly well-behaved children will kick a soccer ball right through your basement window after being sent outside so you can think in silence for 2 blessed minutes before you erupt into acid-spewing dragon mama mode, yet again.

What is not easy, is staying in love, loving, actually choosing to love, when face it, there are times when we are not lovable.  When we are angry at the burned beef stew and there is not a single, flipping thing ready to eat in the house and everyone is hungry.  When we are frustrated at piles of bills and broken car innards, and then the dentist says your child needs braces and it’s going to cost you exactly what you planned to spend on the car repairs.  When we are already late to church for the umpteenth time, and we scream hurry up at the child who has to go to the bathroom right now.  When we slam the phone down multiple times, because once is just not enough.  And does anyone else agree that hitting the end button on our cell phones multiple times is just not the same?!  We are so often not at our best, so often not that serene  image of our best self that we aspire to, and carry around in our heads.  And yet, and yet, we continue to love one another, despite. We continue to hold on, in a world that does not value the sanctity of marriage or family or friendship.

Last Sunday’s Gospel described Jesus’ tranfiguration on the mountain.  Every time I hear this passage, I giggle a little to myself at Peter’s response to the incredible change he is witness to, but then wonder myself at what I might have said or done in his shoes. In reality, though, we see one another every day transformed. We see past the imperfections and flaws–frizzy hair, receding hairlines, extra pounds, impatience, frustration, and love one another.  That is the tranfigurative power of love, and we do not have to look to the mountaintops, or what others refer to as those thin places where the divine is closer to us mortals, to see that transfiguration.  We see it everyday when we choose to love despite and not because. We do it everyday, when we call one another Mình ơi, or sweetheart, when we are definitely not being sweet nor acting like the best reflection of our selves.

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Today I am thankful for love that echoes the divine, that transforms us into our most ideal selves. I pray for the fortitude to keep trying to love despite and not because.  I am grateful for the lack of illusions that makes marriage a safe harbor despite all my fears to the contrary, and for books which not only enthrall us, but also give us inspiration through words of wisdom which are gifts unto themselves.

“It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear


Movie Night


“Mama, you look so young! And look how much hair you had Daddy! You have to come and sit down and watch this with me.”  Of my three children, the boy, the one who never stops moving, who never stops surprising me with “out of the mouths of babes” moments, has unearthed my wedding video and decided THIS is what he wants us to watch for movie night.

In the kitchen as I stir a pot of dakjjim (Korean braised chicken), I hear him and my middle daughter whispering to one another. “Are we at the part where they kiss yet?”  They are sitting on the couch, the snack I told them they could not have before dinner on the couch between them, and they are munching away as  if they are watching the greatest movie ever made.

I did not want a wedding video.  My husband and I had decided it was an unnecessary expense, but somehow, after the honeymoon, my cousin presented us with a wedding video made from footage he had taken.  The 2 tapes were offered with such sincerity, I did not tell him I never wanted a wedding video.  I could not imagine, all those many years ago, any scenario in which I would want to watch this again.  This is not because my wedding was awful.  It was, in fact, so wonderful that I didn’t want my memories of that day “tainted” by the images that would be caught on tape.

I am, like most women, never happy with my image on film.  Years of being raised by blunt, but loving family members who are going to tell you (fill-in-the-blank) “because no one else will tell you” and because we love you, and also, sometimes just because it’s too funny not to pass up an opportunity to make fun/make an example of you.  Also, I have documented proof that I did truly have “the longest ugly period of anyone else in the family.” Someone once told me that people who don’t like to have their pictures taken usually take bad pictures, perhaps because they are uncomfortable, and thus smile unnaturally, or in a way that reveals they think of the camera as their enemy.  I can attest to this, as I am always the one in the picture with one or both eyes closed, mouth in the middle of saying “But I really don’t want to have my picture taken,” hair looking like monkeys had just been foraging for dinner in it, likely wearing the most unflattering outfit that I own.

We are surrounded everyday by images of airbrushed perfection.  Wedding magazines are filled with brides in perfectly-fitting gowns, holding perfectly formed bouquets in a perfectly decorated wedding venue.  Is it any wonder that we frequently cannot look in the mirror without feeling that what we are is enough? Even the recent Academy Awards winner, Lupita Nyong’o, radiant as she accepted her recent award, talked about the days when the images on television or in magazines made her despair and pray to God that she would awaken and look more like what she perceived to be perfection.

And so, I knew that if we had a wedding video, I would be unhappy if I watched it.  I packed the wedding videos in moving boxes from one house to the next, taking them hundreds of miles across the country, and never once watched them.  I treasured my memories, and when friend after friend got married and asked to look at my wedding photos or video in preparation for their own wedding photographer requests, I held steadfast in my belief that watching the video would ruin my memories of that beautiful April day.

And then, from the kitchen, I hear “It’s Great-Grandma! And Grandpa Griffin!” And my heart leaps.  I want to see my grandma again.  And against my will, I am pulled toward the screen.  And I am able to see again so many people I love that I thought I’d never see again, laughing, praying, watching me and loving me on one of the most sacred days of my life.  How was I this blind for so many years?  I am floored all over again by the joy of that day surrounded by family and friends, by the immensity of our vows, and by the witnessing of faith in the sanctity of marriage by all those present.  How did I forget that the day was not about me or how my hair looked, but instead about the people who were present that day with us as we started our lives together.  And for once, I don’t care, I’m not looking at me but looking at the congregation in the church, and at the reception, looking at the faces filled with happiness of all the people I love, and all the people I will never get to see again.  Until the next time I watch the video, of course.  I grab my husband’s hand, and point out little scenes we missed between people who have passed away, and we laugh a little through our tears at how young we all looked.

Today, I am grateful for the wedding video that I did not want, and for the ability to see beyond myself. I am thankful for children who think that watching Mama and Daddy get married is high-quality cinema worth watching for family movie night, and for showing me how wrong I was.