Valentine’s Day has come and gone and I’m still thinking about love, drawing hearts on steamy bathroom mirrors and doodling in my notebook like a 13-year old.
Why? Two of my best friends recently got engaged, and ever since I heard the news I've been picturing myself giving a toast full of wit and relationship wisdom (also champagne, low lighting, impeccable make-up and strappy stilettos).
Having nailed the visual, I’m still struggling with the content.
For one thing, it’s surprisingly difficult to come up with original material when it comes to advice on love and relationships. Silly clichés and tired old quotes have been swirling around in my head for days, and most of them are profoundly unhelpful and about as modern as a Jell-O mold.
Back in the day, when couples married much younger and men were the sole breadwinners, women were in charge of the home and children. They were expected to put on fresh lipstick and keep the kids quiet when father got home. They were supposed to enjoy cooking, LOVE cleaning and tolerate sex.
So it’s no surprise that phrases like "don't go to bed angry" were considered tried and true marriage wisdom. Personally, I've never understood this one. Don't go to bed angry because someone might die in the night? Because it's better to show up to work the next day with bloodshot eyes? If the problem's still there in the morning you can tackle it with a fresh mind and full pot of coffee, once sleep has softened all those sharp edges. Plus, if going to bed angry means I get my own bed I’m all for it.
"Love means never having to say you're sorry" is also BS. Love is saying sorry all the damn time. "Sorry I snored last night”, “Sorry I'm cranky because I stayed up too late watching Netflix”, “Sorry I pretended not to see the dog barf." I always apologize to my husband and kids when I do something wrong or upset them because I want them to know I value and respect them, and that I’m not a total ogre.
“Don't keep score” is also popular, and a tough one for me. When I carry the putrid and dripping organic bin to the garage for the 907th consecutive time, I’m often tempted to leave the leaky bag on his pillow. But then I’ll accidentally switch the input on the TV and feel guilty when he patiently shows me, for the 907th time, how to fix it. (In my defense, the nine different remote controls on our coffee table make launching a space shuttle easier than finding YTV).
I’m also not equipped to offer any advice regarding what “happens” on the wedding night, mostly because I passed out with a piece of pizza on my chest. And besides, that’s what Cosmo and the Chiquita banana scene in Old School are for.
Both my newly engaged friends are in their forties. They know themselves and what they want, which is an important ingredient for a successful relationship. In Canada, the average age women marry is 28. For most of us, this is a decade when we don’t yet have the confidence, self-awareness and chutzpah to stand up for who we are and what’s important to us. We find ourselves in relationships based on attraction, not substance, relationships that feed parts of us but not our whole selves, and we aren’t yet equipped to do the real work that marriage requires. I got married ten years ago at 32 and the advice I’d give now is far different from anything I would have offered then, and light years away from what I considered important in my twenties.
So what is it I want my friends to know as they begin their married lives?
1. A great wedding ceremony has only a few ingredients: The people you love, a killer dress and an open bar. Everything else is just noise.
2. Be prepared for the ebbs and flows of marriage. Sometimes you'll be out of sync. Sometimes you’ll be N’ Sync. It's normal and not the end of the world (and boy band puns are awesome).
3. Your partner is so much more than a spouse and a parent. He is his own person with his own ideas and interests. Respect them even when you don’t understand them. (Unless they involve snakes, then all bets are off.)
4. Step-parenting and adoptive parenting are not the same thing but they have similarities. Don’t let the lack of a biological connection stop you from being the best mentor, friend and parent you can be.
5. Choose happiness and forgiveness. Surprise your spouse by not being mad when he expects you to be. Enjoy that feeling of just letting it roll of your back and hope he returns the favour when you’re PMSing and scream at him for blinking.
6. DO sweat the small stuff. Most relationships don’t come down to a handful of big moments but rather a series of small ones that, over time, can tip the balance positively or negatively. Pay attention.
Anything to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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