Category Archives: Marriage

12 ways we keep our blended family marriage strong

My husband and I dated for a few years before we got married, living in separate households and reveling in the excitement of coming together every weekend. We’d both been married before, and were now living as divorced single parents. I longed for the time when we could finally blend our households and things could become much simpler.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Things were bumpy when we finally did move in together, mostly because blending a family is hard work. But the other hard part was learning how to work together as a team in every decision when both of us were so used to being independent.

Marriage only made this worse.

Our first year of marriage was really rough. I loved being married to Shawn, but I also recall the many fights we had, the loneliness I felt as I clung to stubbornness, the continued struggle of being two different families in one house, and the daily realizations over how different we were in so many areas.

Things finally did settle down, and our family has learned how to come together in many ways. We still have differences, as many families do, but mostly, we’ve learned which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t. I won’t pretend we’re perfect — we’re not. But the place we are now is paradise compared to the darkness we experienced in the beginning.

The biggest reason, I believe, things are much better is because Shawn and I have come together as a solid team through all of this. Every year I’m amazed at how much more I love him than the year before, and how there’s still so much we get to learn about each other. He’s my biggest champion, and I’m his. It makes me excited to see where our marriage will be by year 10, 20, 50 and beyond.

The other day I was thinking about the things that makes our marriage so wonderful, and the following things came to mind:

1. We compliment each other often. When I look in the mirror and am disappointed by what I see, he’s right there behind me to let me know how sexy I look. Just this morning I was bummed out about the number on my scale. He didn’t know this when he asked me to stop what I was doing and take a turn for him. “Damn, I’m a lucky man,” he told me. I know we’re supposed to love ourselves and all, but it sure is helpful when the man I love reminds me every day that he finds me sexy. It goes both ways, too. I think my husband grows more handsome and sexy every day, and I tell him so. It goes beyond looks, too. He’s my biggest cheerleader to the things that mean most to me, helping me to see the positive when I’m stuck in the negative. I tell him how proud I am of him, from the big things to the small. We both try really hard to notice what the other person is doing, and acknowledge those things with words of affirmations.

2. We respect each other’s seasons. Let’s just get right to the point: sometimes I’m not in the mood to have sexy time, especially at the end of my cycle. There’s a particular week when there is nothing he can do to awaken the sleeping dragon. What I love about my husband is that he understands this and is completely respectful about it. However, it would be completely selfish of me to let this mood control our sex life. There has to be a give and take when it comes to sex. Sometimes I fight through my “don’t touch me” feelings for his benefit. And vice versa, when I’m in the zone and he’s not, he’ll make sure I’m taken care of. The benefit? More times than not we’re in the same space, and I firmly believe it’s because we understand the give and take, and respect each other’s moods.

3. We spice things up. Right now, our lives involve a very busy household, teenagers, hectic jobs, and we just moved his mother into our home. All of that is a combination for passionless nights as we collapse into bed so we can do it all again the next day…even with everything I mentioned in #2. Luckily, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I won’t divulge our secrets here, but if things are feeling fairly routine between the sheets, perhaps it’s time to get a little creative. Is there something you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t because it feels a bit too naughty? Maybe it’s time you let down some of your guard. You might be surprised at what happens. 😉

4. We plan for uninterrupted time daily (even if it’s just 10 minutes). Our lives have only gotten busier since our earlier days. Two out of three of our blended kids are in college, plus I started college two years ago. We both have demanding jobs. Plus, we’re caretaking for his mother. Life is crazy busy. There are some days I only see him in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and in the evening when we go to bed. Still, we make it a point to ask about the other person’s day, and then LISTEN, phones away, completely focused. This is one of my favorite things about our marriage, that we still have so much to share with each other every day, and this uninterrupted time becomes some of our best conversations.

5. We support each other as much as possible. Shawn is a gardener. I am not. But I love the outcome of his efforts when we have fresh tomatoes in the summer. Usually, he’s the one out there watering. But (when I remember) I’ll go out and water, too, simply so he doesn’t have to. I wanted a dog. Shawn did not. Guess what? We have a dog. And despite his repeated insistence that he never wanted a dog, he still takes the dog for walks regularly. We’re both writers, and we are each other’s first readers. We attend events that are important to the other person, even if they’re not our personal cup of tea. We only talk kindly about each other to others, never slamming the other person (how many times have you been uncomfortable around other couples who do the opposite?). We build each other up and cheer each other on. I can truly say Shawn is my best friend, and he says that about me, and it’s because we truly support each other.

6. We put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is our level of empathy. I’m not going to lie, we still have our fair share of fights. But these fights never last long. One of the reasons is because we have a high level of empathy for the other person, willing to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This isn’t easy, admittedly. However, we both know each other’s true nature. When I’m mad at Shawn, I also know he’s not a bad person. I know his reasoning isn’t to be malicious, but because he has his own reasons for acting a certain way. I try to see what that reasoning is, and if there is something I should bend on. Shawn is the same way. Even more important, he knows how to say he’s sorry when he’s wrong, and has been a great model for me so that I can learn to do that, too. And man, is that hard!

7. We recognize each other’s strengths, and remind each other of them. I’m the worst when it comes to knowing what I’m good at. I’m really hard on myself. That’s why it means so much to me when Shawn stops everything and tells me all the things that are special about me. I need to hear this, because I forget. In the same way, I often tell Shawn what I admire about him: his confidence, his way with words, how he carries himself, how personable he is, how much people appreciate his wisdom.

8. We date each other. If I had my way, Shawn and I would go on a date at least once a week, if not more. However, we live in the real world, and that is rarely possible. We do make time for each other regularly, though. This could be a movies date, or time at a coffee shop, or even, and I’m not even joking, a Costco shopping trip. It’s mostly about the time together without anyone else so that we can talk and have fun together. It keeps our friendship alive in our marriage.

9. We are social together. There’s something so romantic about being with Shawn among a group of friends, from quiet dinners to group outings, laughing with friends and having him close to me as we experience the same thing. I always feel so proud of him when we’re out together, and we often come home feeling closer than ever before.

10. We’re social apart. We don’t have all the same friends or interests, and that’s completely okay. I love that Shawn has no issue whatsoever when I enjoy time with my girlfriends or some solitude time away from him and everyone else. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with him going to the ball game or the movies with his friends while I stay at home. We both enjoy a healthy amount of time away from each other and by ourselves, which makes our together time that much more special.

11. We work as a team. Earlier this year, Shawn’s mom moved in with us. This change in our household held all the promises of stress on our marriage, and yet, I’ve never felt closer to him. We have divided the duties, trying to avoid burnout. We are talking so much more about real feelings through this, being open and honest, even about the hard stuff. We give each other breaks. We build each other up. We do every single thing on this list. I can honestly say that his mother moving in has brought us so much closer, which, seriously, astounds me.

12. Our shared faith is at the center of our marriage. I recognize not every married couple is lucky enough to share the same faith. I feel fortunate that Shawn and I do. I’ve been in relationships where the faith is different, whether because someone didn’t have faith or we shared completely different faith altogether, and it was HARD. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it definitely takes work to be in a loving, committed marriage, and share vastly different ideas about God and what that means for humanity. So in that, I feel very fortunate that God is our partner in our marriage, that we both view God through loving eyes, we see our duty as to love all people, and we do all this together.

What works for you and your spouse in your marriage?

Taking a marriage hiatus

A few weeks ago, I was in a bad place. My mood was totally foul, my patience thin, and everyone was in my way. At the time, I knew that there were several culprits to blame for my negativity.

I was feeling pulled in all direction on how to go about marketing my book while writing my new one.

I only wanted to be writing. Period.

I was having mixed emotions about some work stuff.

It was probably that time of the month.

I was restless.

At the brunt of my irritability was my husband, who (bless him) was completely patient and kind with me as I went through being a complete pain in the ass. The kids got it too, don’t get me wrong. But I definitely inflicted most of my grumpiness to him.  And because I was in such a horrible state, I made an even more horrible decision.

I went on a marriage hiatus.

Okay, so I didn’t actually stray from the marriage (nor would I ever!). But I did totally tune out. My biggest accomplice to this was my iPhone, the nifty little pocket-sized computer that allowed me to check up on Facebook for hours on end, check how many sales I wasn’t getting, read the millions of Tweets on my Twitter feed, play a bit of Bejeweled….escape from where I was and ignore everyone around me.

I knew it was a problem. I knew I was only making it worse. All the things I was stressing about weren’t getting done because I was so wrapped up in social media and dumb internet distractions. And I was totally blocking everyone around me from getting close to me….and me from getting close to them.

Fast forward, and my daughter and I spent a week at camp (annual camp post coming soon, I promise!). There is no internet at camp, and only enough phone reception for a strategically placed text. A week away from my phone, and my head started getting clearer. I was able to talk to people without my words fumbling around in my mouth. I felt…smart.

You guys, my smart phone had actually been making me dumb!

I got back home, and everything was different. It could have been the time apart that made that next week one of the best weeks of our marriage (wink wink). But I truly believe it’s because I had relearned to put the phone down and have a conversation (among other things) with him again.

One more week, and we were camping – sans iPhones again. We not only stayed connected, but my head has remained clear for weeks. There’s no throbbing blockage in there, no loss for words, no wall that’s keeping me from my creativity. And Mr. W and I? We’re like newlyweds all over again. 😉

I’ve been contemplating giving up the iPhone altogether. Right now, that still seems like such a scary thought. I mean, I do everything from that phone! But it’s also holding me back – a lot. However, it’s something to think about until my contract expires. When that happens, maybe I’ll go for a dumb phone, and just choose to BE smart instead.

Anyone out there NOT using a smart phone?

P.S. Exciting book news to share with you, and it has to do with this blog!  The first in a series of eBooks based on the posts in this blog are being published THIS SATURDAY! This first book will focus on the earlier days of my single parenting adventure, and includes that first year of my relationship with Mr. W – way before I knew I’d be Mrs. W (yeah, who am I kidding? I think I always knew. 😉  )  Check out the details HERE.

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What I bring to the table.


“Your writing is so amazing,” Shawn told me, coming downstairs after spending an hour with the rough draft of my novel he’s been proofreading for the past several days. “I can see that you’ve taken some of the suggestions I’ve given you and grown as a writer.”

He meant it as a compliment. And I swear I heard it in there. But what I also heard was, “I’m glad I happened to come along and save you from a doomed life of writing badly. How would you have every survived if I weren’t here to hold you up?”

“I haven’t even read the revisions from the last novel,” I told him. Well, that was only partially true. Admittedly, this was at the same time I was revising a novel I wrote last year, reading over the notes he had made in the margin on parts that needed a little more help. While I hadn’t taken the time to pore over the suggestions he had left me, I had skimmed through it and appreciated the honest remarks he had left, both exclaiming over the parts he loved and suggesting places that needed a little more fleshing out. And now as I went through the physical act of revising, his notes gave me clear-cut clues on what a reader would be wondering as well.

But still, my pride wouldn’t let him take credit for all I had pored into it.

“What do you mean?” he asked. I could already feel the half-eaten foot in my mouth swelling to try and prevent me from speaking. But I only pushed it aside and continued.

“I mean, I’ve grown as a writer because of continued practice, not because you’ve taught me how to do it,” I said, trying to sound light but feeling backed into a corner.

“I’m not trying to take credit for your writing,” he told me. The smile on his face had long since disappeared, leaving behind a look of bewilderment at a reaction he hadn’t been expecting.

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just, what if I were to say ‘Great job on selling search engine optimization at your new job. Thank goodness you have me to teach you all about the internet so you can do your job properly’.”

“I’m not saying that, though,” he stammered. “I’m trying to pay you a compliment! Maybe I should just stop reading your novel.”

“If you don’t want to read it, then don’t!” I yelled at him.

And just like that, things went from dumb to completely idiotic.

I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly. Of course he wasn’t taking credit for my writing. I knew that deep down. But for some reason his statement was pecking at me, taking away from my accomplishment even when that wasn’t Shawn’s intention at all.

When we had cooled down some, we gave each other a wounded offering of apology. I’m not sure either of us meant it completely, both still smarting from the earlier argument. But it was the only way to move past the surface and dig deep into what was really going on.

“What is going on?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  But it was starting to come to me, a series of past hurdles I’d overcome that decided I wasn’t done running from them yet.

“I once dated a man who told me to my face that he had saved me from being a white trash nobody, how he had single-handedly raised my standard of living just by his presence alone,” I admitted to him, detailing how even then that statement hadn’t sat well with me, yet my meek little self had accepted it in the moment. I described how my ex-husband had also placed himself in this pedestal position – or rather, I had placed him there on my own. I had spent so many years building him up and letting him shine that I had forgotten to work on my own being. And somehow I was able to explain something I hadn’t even realized was haunting me, how important it was for me now to stand on my own two feet in recognition of my accomplishments.

“You’re organized and responsible,” I told him. It was in reference to a statement he had made earlier last week, stating that he must be rubbing off on me as I encouraged the kids to clean up their mess. “But I have some of those traits as well, and I had them before I even met you.” I was firm in my insistence of this, but we both could hear the question that lingered within it.

“Are you unsure of what you bring to the table in this marriage, how you help ME to be a better person?” he asked me. I paused, suddenly realizing I didn’t know the answer to this question, at least not in this moment. I had spent so much energy fighting against another pedestal that  I couldn’t think of any of the strengths I possessed that helped bring Shawn up.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I help you with patience, and how to parent a teenage daughter.” The answer was weak, I knew it.

Unfortunately time was not on our side. We were minutes away from needing to get in the car and drive to my parents’ house for dinner. We made peace with the conclusion of our discussion, deciding that even if the conversation wasn’t finished, we could still end it with a hug and a mutual unspoken agreement that it was over.

We spent a really good evening at my parents’ house, visiting with my family over dinner and dessert before saying goodbye and driving back home. On the way, Frizz turned on the radio and let it scan through the stations. Every time it landed on a song we knew, the kids and I would break into song and fill the car with mostly on-key versions, belting out the words we knew and stumbling over the ones we didn’t. Even Frizz joined in, the act of singing in the privacy of our car still cool in his 17-year-old mind.

Once home, I began to decorate the Christmas tree, a task we had been putting off for days. Little by little, everyone joined in, placing their favorite ornament on the tree as we remembered where each one came from. It was done in no time, slightly lopsided in the areas that were decorated more than others, but beautiful just the same.

DQ and I then set to filling out December’s activities on the dry erase calendar that hung on the wall. We took turns giggling as we noted the End of the World with a zombie apocalypse on December 21st, adorning it with pictures of hungry zombies that invaded the day’s space. We continued our giggles as I noted the San Francisco trip we were taking the very next day when we ultimately survived the day of doom. I finished up the calendar with various doodles depicting a month of activities in a colorful display.





Shawn leaned over me in my dedication to the calendar, kissing me lightly on the neck. “Do you know what you bring to this marriage, and to the family?” he asked me. “Fun.  You help me to be more fun, and you make things more fun in this family.  I never would do stuff like this.  But you do, and we all appreciate it.

The whole family was in the living room, enjoying a few last moments of silliness before bedtime.  The evening had been spent with mostly smiles.   The calendar had become a monthly point of anticipation as everyone wondered how I would decorate it at the turn of the month.

And I believed in what Shawn said.

I know I have improved in every facet of my life by the steps I have taken to get to where I am today. This is true in the quality of my life, just as it is true in the skills I possess in my writing. But these accomplishments didn’t just manifest entirely of their own accord. They were inspired partially by those that influenced me along the way. Each novel I have written in the past few years has proven to be better than the last, proof that practice makes perfect. But admittedly, this last novel improved leaps and bounds as I (ok, I admit it) took the suggestions Shawn had made and kept them in mind as I extended my description and prose. It’s ok to be inspired by others. In fact, it would be a lie to believe otherwise.

And it doesn’t make my accomplishments any less great than they are. 🙂

Dating your spouse

This article will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 21.

In a few weeks I will be getting married to Mr. W. The last year of our engagement has passed rapidly, but the last few months have been a whirlwind as we’ve crossed things off our list of things to do before the big day. I’ve had to shut down my social calendar in favor of freeing up my time, and have learned the fine art of saying “no” to obligations that might take me away from all I need to do. It’s been a very busy season for both Mr. W and me!

One of our to-dos was to attend premarital counseling with our pastor before he performs our ceremony. During our final session, the pastor asked us a very pointed question.

“What do you two like to do together?”

Here we were, planning our wedding and a lifetime together, and I was totally stumped for an answer. Needless to say, I was pretty embarrassed. Eventually I was able to think of a few things we’d enjoyed over the years we’d been dating. But the truth was, in the last year we’d been so consumed with conserving money (weddings are expensive!) and utilizing free time to plan the celebration that we had forgotten to schedule in time to reconnect and build our relationship – just the two of us away from the kids and all wedding commitments.

Remember the beginning of your own relationship? If you’re like Mr. W and me, you spent the majority of your time with this other person, discovering new things about each other while finding out all the interests you shared together. You made time for each other, moving things aside to make your other half your highest priority. It’s probably safe to say that you focused on little else than each other in those early days.

Of course, relationships can’t continue in this red-hot, passionate, can’t-get-enough-of-each-other phase forever. There’s a career to tend to, friends you don’t want to lose, and interests you both have that are separate from each other.

And then there are kids who enter the picture and have this tendency to make everything about them. Am I right?

As life adds many chapters to your already busy life, it’s so easy to take your spouse for granted. After all, it’s not like you don’t see them every day. But, as my pastor reminded us in our counseling session, it’s just as important now to date your spouse as it was when everything was fresh and new. It helps to build that connection the two of you have, the one you started way back when you signed up for this life together. Getting to know each other again can even help to repair any of the broken steps you may have swept aside along the way.

However, money and time aren’t exactly falling out of thin air these days. So here are some inexpensive, no-excuses tips for enjoying some one-on-one time with your spouse.

Swap or share babysitting with a friend. One of the main reasons couples don’t go out after kids is the high cost of babysitting. Some date nights can cost an extra $40 on top of going out to dinner and a movie. But if you share a babysitter with another couple before heading out on a double date, the cost can be cut in half. Another option is for your friends to watch your children in exchange for babysitting their children on a different night out. Third option, and my all-time favorite standby is to package watching your kids to your own parents as some all-important bonding time with their grandkids. For added measure, point out they can undo all the ways you’ve screwed them up in your failed parenting skills.

Go on a cheap date. Going out doesn’t mean you have to spend tons of money to have a great time. Eat dinner at home before checking out what’s playing in the movie theaters. Enjoy a play at one of our local theaters. Consider a lunch time date when prices for food are usually a bit lower than they are at night. Even simply going out to coffee sans kids can be a great way to catch up. Free dates can include perusing the bookstore together or enjoying a hike in your favorite state park. And don’t underestimate the date that includes a little community service. Bagging groceries at the food bank or participating in a beach clean-up day is not only time well spent together, but doubles your warmed heart efforts as you do good for others.

Enjoy a night in. One of my favorite suggestions I’ve some across for dating while the kids are young is to date after they go to bed. Once they’re tucked in, enjoy a candlelit dinner with your sweetheart followed by a cozy evening of movies under a blanket on the couch. A tip for timing is to prepare most of the dinner ahead of time. Prep it to go in the oven while you’re tucking the kids in, or have it already cooked and ready to reheat once their heads hit the pillow. Share a glass of wine or your favorite sparkling cider over unhurried conversation. And before you start the movie and snuggle up, you may want to ensure they’re really asleep. After all, you never know what might happen during all this free time together (wink wink).

Most important – make sure your time together allows for communication. Uninterrupted talking time without kids and other concerns barging in can be rare. So take advantage of this prime time of conversation by turning off the cell phone in favor of talking, listening, and staying connected with your partner in crime.

How to have a Zombie Wedding

Saturday’s wedding expo at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts is sure to hold a ton of booths and ideas on how to create the most perfect wedding. And with the fashion shows, beauty consultations, prizes and ideas being passed around, we’re sure that lucky in love brides and grooms will have all their wedding needs taken care of. All but one. While we don’t negate they’ve thought of just about everything to create the most beautiful wedding, we do believe they’ve missed a vital area of planning…

How to have a ZOMBIE wedding…..or survive one. Read on.

1. Dress the part

It’s a known fact that zombies don’t like eating other zombies, so best bet is to blend in. This is actually the third wedding ceremony for Russian couple Vitalich and Jirka, a couple who have divorced each other only to be able to marry each other again. Odd story, cool pics. Check it out, and the numerous zombie photos that go with it at

2. Have your cake and eat it too.
Ok, you might not want to eat a wedding cake that looks this….fresh. But your zombie guests might. They’ll be too busy munching on this beautiful braintacular sugarfest that they won’t even notice you rushing through the nuptials and then hightailing it out of the church. This little goodie was created by Katie Karcher, the owner and chef of Illinois bistro Seasoning on the Square, and apparently a very talented baker as well.

3. Top that cake
Till death do us part might be a little sooner than he thinks….. Find this cake topper and more at Etsy shop ZombiesbyZombiatch.

4. Play dead
You might think this lovely couple is merely planking, but they are actually demonstrating a unique defense tactic should a zombie attack occur – playing dead. Of course, zombies are hungrier than they are dumb. If you smell fresh, this move may not work. We recommend skipping your showers at least three weeks before your wedding day. This photo (gathered from can be found with a ton more wedding planks zombie defense moves at

5. Survive the engagement photo attack
Juliana and Ben were only trying to create a beautiful scenario when lo and behold, a zombie came out of nowhere and tried to attack them! Lucky for them, they stood a fighting chance. To see the whole story for yourself, check out the photos at

6. Come in style
Already bitten, and still looking to tie the knot? Make your way down the aisle in your very own casket, perfect for the living dead. When you’re done, you and your hubby can feast on the guests. Zombified Thea “Munster” and Adam “Invader” shared real life death vows at last year’s Zombie Walk in Toronto. The spooky photos and eery story of their nuptials can be found at

7. Register smart
Forget the fancy china and expensive silverware. And do you really need that 10-speed blender when there are monsters out there clamoring for your brain? Nix the department stores and register for something a bit more practical – Zombie Tools: Accessories for the Apocalypse. From knives to machetes to reapers, you’ll be set to slice your way through a sea of zombies on the best day of your life.

8. Invitations

You might as well let the guest know what they’re in for. A young couple asked artist Manueal Mogrado to create this unique invitation. Check out more of his art, zombified and not, at

9. Take a Zombie Honeymoon
It’s all fair in love and war until someone gets bit by a zombie and starts eating all your friends. The 2004 romantic indie film “Zombie Honeymoon” will help you know what to do when you struggle with the love you feel for your not-quite-dead husband and the hope he doesn’t eat your brain.

10. Trash the dress

The wedding is done, the guests have all gone home, and your still finding sand in weird places after the honeymoon. One more photo session and BAM! Zombies! This bride and groom saved their zombie apocalypse for a Trash the Dress Session. See the whole saga unfold at

Merging families without marriage

Sound off: Is an unmarried merge of families setting a bad example for the kids?

Two weeks ago I wrote about moving in with my boyfriend, Mr. W.  This was a decision we did not take lightly in our 2 ½ years of being in a relationship with each other, and I’ll be moved out of my own place and into his by this weekend.  By moving in with each other, we are each giving up our total independence of having a space to call all our own – something that became very sacred in each of our single lives.  We’re giving up the separateness of our families as we combine them into something new.  But these are no longer sacrifices as we gain so much more – more time with each other, a shared life, a break in the financial obligations, and all the other perks of living with the one you love.

There was plenty of discussion before we finally came to this stage of feeling confident enough (and out of shellshock from our previous divorces) to be able to live with someone we love once again, plus going through the complicated process of combining families.  We’re making a bunch of decisions that are solidifying the permanent status of our relationship – but without yet being married.

Understandably so, several readers took issue with this – questioning the example that is being set for the kids, as well as feeling that “it’s a slap in the face” to those who are married.  I had originally written this article as a story of hope for those just starting their single parent adventure, feeling pulled apart by the financial hardships and lack of time that go along with that role.  But I realized there is a whole other issue at hand that needs to be discussed –

Merging families without marriage.

According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau in 2007, 6.4 million couples chose to cohabitate before marriage – making up roughly 10% of all opposite sex coupled Americans, and rising almost 1.5 million since 2006.  And of that number, 45% of them had children living in the household that were related to at least one of the cohabitating adults.  And while past research showed a higher percentage of failed marriages in those who chose to live together before marriage, the present research shows there’s virtually no difference.

I have several friends who chose to live together before marriage.  One couple in particular just recently tied the knot, and is now in the final stages of an adoption process that will make their unified family complete.  Another couple, who has no children, is showing no interest in ever getting married.  And yet it’s unthinkable that they would ever split up despite their lack of marriage license.  My sister (also no kids) is in the process of planning a wedding with her fiancée while also living with him.  And one couple that swore off marriage yet raised a whole family together for 30+ years finally bit the bullet and exchanged rings a few years back – after their kids were raised, finished college, and making lives of their own.  Heck, even the royal couple, William and Kate, are setting their own cohabitation example for the world while in the spotlight by “living in sin”.  And another couple I know are raising their two children together and are unmarried.  In fact, they weren’t even allowed to marry until recently, being that they are also lesbian.

I have friends who did not move in together at all until their wedding night – planning a life together in separate homes, yet letting the reality of it be a mystery until they were legally joined. One I wrote about here, her marriage 6 months ago also symbolizing a sacred promise to her new husband.  My own parents just celebrated 34 years of marriage last week, starting their new life together on their wedding night.  And another couple I know who waited until marriage to cohabitate has been married for 40 years – yet are now living in, not only separate beds, but separate homes, just so that they can remain happily married without killing each other. 

And then there are my single mom friends who choose NOT to live with someone else while raising kids.  One in particular has only been divorced for 4 or so years, has a steady boyfriend, and promises she will never marry nor cohabitate again.  She enjoys her personal living space too much, and she’s adamant in her unwillingness to ever give it up – especially while raising her kids.  This same mom lived with her ex-husband before they got married and had children, and shared a wonderful marriage with him before they grew apart and divorced.  

So here’s your chance to sound off – no judgment.  I’d love to hear your point of view about living together before marriage in general.  Do you see a problem with it?  Does your view change if there are no kids involved?  Do you think relationships suffer from living together before marriage, or suffer if a couple does NOT live together before marriage?  Do you have a personal story to share?  Let me know.  And as always, anonymous comments are welcome, but mean comments are not.

Boycotting Valentine's Day

I told Mr. W that we’re to not exchange Valentine’s gifts this year. None. It’s not that I don’t love a good present. Truth is, one of my favorite things is to unwrap a surprise treat, no matter what it is, and especially when it’s meant as a token of love. But this year, last minute, I decided against it. And the biggest reason is because it was starting to feel more like a forced gift rather than a token of love. We were even making gift requests to each other. I needed my oil changed and had been eyeing a pair of silver hoop earrings. He really wanted a gift card to Ace Hardware. We each had a $40 limit. And it was starting to feel like this was just another Christmas gift rather than a loving gesture of our feelings for each other. So I put my foot down last minute and said that this year there would be no gifts.

But I’m not against Valentine’s Day. I actually love the idea that there is a holiday that has been set aside strictly to unleash those romantic gestures of love to the one who makes your palms get all sweaty and your heart race faster. It’s when guys, who statistically aren’t prone to be romantic on a day-to-day basis, are bringing flowers to their wives, getting all dressed up for dates, showering them with cards that tell how much they love them, giving them boxes of chocolates, and maybe presenting something sparkly they can wear proudly the rest of the year. For couples that generally don’t see a lot of romance the rest of the year, it’s when a little of that passion that brought them together in the first place is reintroduced – even for just one day.

But there are negative feelings involved with the holiday too. Men feel put out, bitter because they are being forced to shower their girl with gifts, flowers, and cheesy cards all because it’s become expected of them – and there isn’t so much of a demand on women to reciprocate. Relationship expert Marc Rudov is even calling for a national boycott from men of the “NOmance” holiday. “There’s nothing romantic about coercing men to oblige female entitlement,” Rudov said. “Valentine’s Day artificially and unilaterally caters to women. It’s the media’s annual male-bashing fest.”  And one blogger over at CafeStir has written a whole article on why married people should skip Valentine’s Day altogether. “Valentine’s is the day we are supposed to prove our love to the person we’re smitten with. Well, if you are married, don’t you think that the act of getting married and sharing your everyday life with your husband is proof enough?”Mr. W and I are not lacking in romance. While I admit there were a lot more gifts for no reason and bouquets of flowers (from both sides – yes, women can give flowers to men) in the beginning of the relationship, there are actually even better gestures of love that we give to each other now. On days that I stay over, he brings me coffee in bed in the morning, and we pore over the newspaper together before greeting the day. I make him breakfast, and he washes the dishes afterwards. We fold each other’s laundry. He washes my car. He teaches my son how to mow the lawn, how to build a greenhouse for our vegetable garden, and plays ball with him in the yard. We give each other weekly 10 minute squeezes to relieve the pressure a grueling work week can bring. He makes dinner almost every night when I’m there, plating the food as if it were a Michelin restaurant and I were the food critic he wished to impress. We talk every single night, wrapping up the day with a phonecall to rehash our days and just say goodnight. We send each other occasional “I’m thinking of you” texts.

The truth is, we don’t need Valentine’s Day to keep romance in our relationship.

I still believe in the holiday, and am actually against any boycott that is being implied by a so-called relationship expert. But what if couples worked on their relationship throughout the whole entire year rather than putting so much stress and pressure on one day in February? What if small gestures of love were given every day, rather than a big gesture on just one day? What if husbands brought their wives flowers every week or did the dishes after eating dinner? What if wives made their husband’s lunch before they went off to work or asked about their husband’s day with actual intent to listen? What if husbands and wives set aside a time every single day to just sit and talk with no interruptions and nothing on the agenda? Would divorce rates go down? Would happiness go up?

Would anything change?

At any rate, while I have put my foot down towards V-Day gifts, we’re still celebrating. We’ll get each other a nice card, and then go out to lunch together where I will pay for his meal, and he will pay for mine. And then we will go back to our own homes and spend Valentine’s Day with our own children. And that, to me, is the perfect way to celebrate a day set aside for love.

What are your thoughts on Valentine’s Day? Are you doing anything special?

Being a teen mom

I started family life at a relatively young age. I first found out I was pregnant at 19 years old, was married by 22, and finished my family planning by 23 when I had my son. And at 26 I was divorced. I had cycled through a whole lifetime in a matter of years, and before any of my friends had even thought about settling down. But that was ok. While it was tough in those first years as a young parent learning on the job, I was glad that I wasn’t beating down that biological clock that was just starting to tick for my friends by their late 20’s. Been there, done that, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt, a bigger food bill, and some amazing kids to raise on my own.

Thing is, that biological clock doesn’t just magically go away – even if I had experienced it all already.

Now I am 32. My daughter is closing in on 13, my son almost to double digits. Their father is absent once again, and for the moment we are working on that reality being a part of our norm. I am dating a wonderful man with an amazing son. And this man is kinder to me and my kids than any man has ever been to us. We are all happy in this life that has settled down to something as comfortable as a favorite sweater on a winter’s day by the fire. And while nothing is perfect, this is pretty damn close to it.

But at 32, my friends are all at that age where new love is blooming. And that love is solidified by numerous announcements of wedding plans. Gorgeous ceremonies take place, my friends enveloped by white and taking those first steps with their new husband, love radiating from their eyes. And a year or two after those celebrations, a new announcement is made. Their family of two is about to become three.

Having just gone to another beautiful wedding this past weekend, it’s hard to describe the feelings that go along with taking part in this joy. Of course there is happiness. You watch your friend experience something that you once took part of, and you know exactly what they are feeling. You are excited for them, remembering those first years of being a part of a union that seemed unbreakable. You remember what it was like to be only two, and then suddenly be three, and then one day, four. But when your own version of this fairy tale took place and ended in the last 10 years, wistfulness is an underlying tone in this happiness. And in my case, the fairy tale version of how a marriage and family planning is supposed to be didn’t exactly match the reality.

My teenage pregnancy meant shame, especially since the father and I were on the rocks already. Friends came to me and strongly suggested adoption, even abortion. I fought against it. The father and I reconciled, but I was living without him in my parents’ house when I had the baby at 20. We didn’t move in together until she was 4 months old. And we didn’t marry until she was 18 months. I wore a purple dress, a choice made mostly because, let’s face it, the jig was up. The wedding was perfect, exactly how I wanted it to be. But I admit that it was an unextravagant wedding on purpose, as I already had a child and we were already living as a family. Our funds were dedicated to the family that was already created. Paying for a huge wedding was not in any of our means, and would have been too ridiculously frivolous.

In essence, by becoming pregnant young and marrying out of necessity, I had robbed myself of so much. I robbed myself of my youth, as I was nursing a baby while my friends lived it up in their glory days. I robbed myself of that innocent excitement of wondering what it would be like to live with this new person following our wedding, just the two of us. I missed out on the joy of discovering that we would be welcoming a baby into the world, a baby that was planned – or even a joyfully unexpected surprise that was happening when it was supposed to. I missed out on family planning at the same time as all my friends, being able to compare and contrast notes as our babies grew together. And at 32, while my kids are at that halfway point between baby and being out on their own, my friends are all just starting out on their own adventures. And while I am happy for them, it gives me that feeling reminiscent of a biological clock ticking.

Don’t get me wrong, I would never change the way things are. I am so in love with my kids that sometimes it feels like my heart is going to jump out of my chest for them. My daughter is a carbon copy of me, almost as tall and with a better sense of humor than I ever had. My son is growing into a young man that I am incredibly proud of. And in both of them, I can see the adults they are going to be – so much clearer than I could see when they were just babies. I can relax into parenthood now, at the young age of 32. While my friends are gearing up for labor, suffering sleepless nights, and chasing around toddlers, I get to hang out with my kids and share the household duties with them. And when their kids get to that stage, I will be in my early 40’s and experiencing the quiet of an empty nest.

But when I speak to my daughter about the life cycle, marriage, and family planning, I stress the importance of waiting. And it’s the best advice I could give to any teen that is starting to feel like a baby will be the answer to all their problems. Yes, a baby will give you joy. But with that joy, a lot of life will be sacrificed. And you won’t realize the full extent of all you missed out on until years later when your biological clock rewinds and haunts you with that damn incessant ticking.