Monday, December 3, 2012

Prayer on the 50-Yard-Line?

After every NFL game, players from each NFL team have the opportunity to pray, together with players from the opposing team, at the center of the football field.  While fans around the country are bitter after a loss or elated after a win, yelling at their televisions or gloating to their friends, hundreds of players around the country take their knees to submit to something greater, something far beyond the game. 
This picture was captured after the Kansas City game the day after Jovan Belcher killed himself and allegedly murdered his girlfriend.  To me, it signifies the astute reality that they faced that weekend of just how meaningless football is within itself and how meaningful their platforms can be as players of the most popular game in America.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Dark Side of Love in the NFL: A Look at the Jovan Belcher Murder Suicide

This morning I opened my twitter page where I read that Jovan Belcher killed himself at Arrowhead Stadium after killing Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and mother of his 3-month old daughter.  Tears filled my eyes.  For her.  For him.  For everything that I know about the dark side of love and relationships in the NFL.  Twitter followers used words like “Incomprehensible” and “Senseless."  

To outsiders, it may have appeared as if Jovan Belcher had a perfect life.  He was a player on the rise with a contract worth $1.9 million.  He had a beautiful girlfriend and a healthy daughter.  Perhaps it was even hard for Belcher not to buy into that illusion, to begin wondering why, if they he had a perfect life, did he still feel like something was missing? 

Less than a month before their daughter was born, Perkins posted a game-picture of Belcher on her Facebook page with the caption, “In LOVE with SUPERMAN ♥."   Superman?  It could be argued that he was.  

An undrafted free agent in 2009, Belcher displayed such prowess on the football field that he became a starting NFL linebacker just two years later.  He flew through the air, over and around offensive linemen to defeat quarterbacks.  But no costumed Super Hero can remain on duty all the time.  What happens when the mask comes off?

Fans of the game continue to speculate:  Was it steroids?  Concussions?  “He wasn’t a bad guy”, his teammates reiterate.  He was known as much for his work off the field as on.  He worked with underprivileged children in his off time.  He doted on his daughter.  He seemed to love her mother.  So what was Jovan Belcher’s kryptonite?

I don’t know Jovan Belcher.  I’ve never met Kasandra Perkins.  But I do know NFL relationships --  and they aren’t easy.  Love is the NFL is riddled with loneliness, depression, uncertainty, and fear.  Positions aren’t permanent and players are easily replaced.  Players and their partners are often thrust from the only lives they’ve known, far away from their friends and families, into isolation as their alter-egos.  Fans cheer their names, but they don’t know their stories.  And when the player is cut, the cheers continue for the team without them.   Those in romantic relationships with NFL players are well aware of that reality.  “It doesn’t matter how bad things are with our relationship or how upset I am.  I’ll never talk to him about those things during the season,” a fellow NFL wife told me.  Wives and girlfriends of NFL players are left to care for their children alone during the season, miles from their families, and often emotionally far away from the NFL players who live in their homes.

I don’t know what made this Super Hero snap.  I don’t know why this NFL girlfriend lost her life or why their daughter is going to be left to grow up without her mom and dad.  But I can guess that there was a private pain that plagued them both.  Inside the world of the NFL, it’s neither incomprehensible nor is it senseless.  Tragic, yes.  But the pain is not new to NFL families.  Four current or former NFL players have committed suicide in the last eight months.  The details in this story will likely continue to leak out throughout the days and weeks to come.  After all, nothing remains private for fallen Super Heroes.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Find Your Soulmate: Five Easy Steps

Do you know someone who is perpetually single despite being a great catch?  How about someone who perpetually picks men or women who are completely wrong for them?  Or maybe someone who is in a relationship right now that is going no where?  
Why is it so difficult to find someone with whom we are compatible?  
When people, especially women, find out that I study love, they inevitably tell me a story about someone in their lives who is either single or in a bad relationship.  They want to know what they can tell them to help them along their path to love. The truth is, love is not a science.  I don’t have a special equation to give them that will guarantee that they find a true love that will last forever.  I wish I did.  Can you imagine all of the heartache that might be avoided if we were taught a clear and concise path to and through love?

Funny thing is, the media tells us that it’s simple.  We’re taught that love can happen in a moment and that if it is really true love, then we will live happily ever after.  Media has taught us that there are a few tricks to finding our true love: We can either look into the eyes of our soulmate and we will know; we can act helpless and wait to be rescued; or we can kiss enough frogs until one of them turns into a prince (this one is particularly dangerous because when you kiss frogs you date frogs...and when you date frogs, you ultimately marry a frog.  Then you have to divorce a frog or live with his ugly warts forever and divorces are uglier than the frog you kissed in the first place).  
The truth is, the media lies.  Most of us are sent out into the world with hearts full of dreams but no helpful tools to help us make that love happen.
So, I don’t have the magical equation, but I definitely have some helpful tools that might help you find someone with whom you really can spend the rest of your life loving.  
Here it is in five easy steps:
STEP 1: MAKE YOUR LOVE LIST  What do you love?  Before you can figure out WHO you want to love, you need to identify WHAT you love. 
Make a list of every single thing that you can think of that you love.  You can use the computer or just a blank piece of paper and a pen.  If you’re creative, get out your colored pencils.  

The beginning of my love list might include: my husband’s dedication to our family, seeing my girls smile at me every morning, my family, writing as a way to get out what’s inside, loving, grape juice with crushed ice, cherry kool-aid, hot chocolate with whipped cream and caramel sauce with a little bit of sea salt, cheering for Craig and the Seahawks when he played football, learning about God, waking up feeling rested, self-serve frozen yogurt stores, the smell of paper copy stores, crisp fall days, white sweatshirts, learning, teaching, soft blankets, playing board games, Craig’s music, back rubs, traveling overseas, discovering new places, being home, inspiring conversations, thinking through new ideas, dreaming, spreadsheets, sleeping babies, playing basketball, reading poetry, live concerts, finishing a project, a clean house...but not cleaning a house, s'mores, Chicago, Colorado, Seattle, Banff, mountains, fireworks, feeling at home with friends...

The goal of your love list is to help put you in a loving frame of mind.  This is a fun activity whether you are single, dating, or married.  Rereading your love list and it will not only make you happier about living in a world with so many things that you love, but it will also allow you to reflect of who you are in relation to the rest of the world.

Before you go out into the dating world, it is important that you know what you’re looking for.  This list will help you figure out WHO you want your future husband or wife to be...or at least what qualities you would like for him or her to have.  
For this step, you must limit your must have and can’t stand lists to ten items each and you must be specific.  For example, you cannot just say that you would like for your partner to be athletic.  It’s too broad and leaves wiggle room later on when you are trying to convince yourself that the guy you’re dating is athletic because he bowls once in a while.  If you want a bowler, then say that you want a bowler.  But if you’d like someone who runs marathons or someone who works out daily at the gym, then say that instead.   
You’re going to need a piece of blank paper.  Title one side, “My Top Ten Must Haves” and number 1-10.  The other side is going to be for, “My Top Ten Can’t Stands.”
Here are some ideas for you to consider:
Traits (chemistry, communicator, sense of humor, verbal intimacy, emotionally healthy, strong character, artistic, kind, educated, organized, exciting, patient, tolerant, attractive, conflict resolver, affectionate, industrious, certain energy level, emotionally generous, intellectual, self-confident, unassuming, able to accept help, curious, loyal, adaptable)
Values (family life, shared interests, style and appearance, politics, charitable)
Family (children, parenting style)
This exercise is taken from a book called
Date or Soul Mate
by the founder of EHarmony.
Social Habits (like to go out, stay in, many friends or a few, gives me space or wants to spend all of their time with me)
Sexuality (abstinent, sexually knowledgeable, passionate)
Spirituality (religious practice, spiritual acceptance)
Financial/Career (financially responsible, ambitious, relaxed)
Here are a few of my must-haves from before I met Craig:
  1. He must either write poetry or sing...and be willing to share his poetry or songs with me.
  2. He must be taller than I am.
  3. He must be able to beat me at basketball.
  4. He must be intelligent and able to teach me about things that I don’t know.
  5. He must have dark hair and light eyes.
  6. He must be faithful.
  7. He must want children.
  8. He must adore me and make me feel like I am the only woman in his eyes.
  9. He must be able to provide financially for our family but also be okay with me working outside of the home.
  10. He must be a good conversationalist and we must enjoy talking to each other.
There are a few things that I might change now that I lucked into with Craig.  For example, at the time I didn’t realize how important it was for me to be with someone whose religious convictions were similar to mine.  We just lucked out that we were kind of at the same place with that.  I would encourage you to make that a higher priority than I did.
When you’re done with that list, it’s time to create your Can’t Stand List. This list is very similar to your Must Have List, but in reverse.  Here’s your opportunity to add a few more things to your list that you couldn’t fit on your must-haves.  Again, you are limited to just 10 items.  You can do this one on the same page as your must-haves if you’d like.  I find it easier to have these two together because when you’re evaluating a future prospect, you’ll want to have both lists easy to find.
After creating this list, it should be a bit easier for you to picture what your ideal spouse may be like.  These lists are SO IMPORTANT because when you meet or start dating someone who has something that is on your can’t stand list or who is missing something on your must have list, you are going to walk away immediately.  You’re not going to keep dating them in hopes that it will change.  That is a recipe for many years of unhappiness.  Just walk away.  Do not stay out of the fear of being alone.  It may not seem like it at first, but alone is a much happier place to be than stuck in a relationship with someone who has one of your fundamental red flags.
CAUTION: If you are married, do not do this list.  There are more beneficial exercises for you that will help you focus on the positive qualities of your spouse.
CAUTION: If you are currently in a relationship but not married, please pretend like you are not in that relationship when you are creating this list.  Sometimes people have a tendency to fib a bit or omit certain characteristics because that may eliminate the person who they are currently dating.  Please take note of that as you do this exercise.
Now that you have a clearer vision of who you are looking for, take a moment to think about what type of person they might want.  What do you think that they might find attractive?  For example, if you are looking for someone who is athletic and loves to work out at the gym, then might they be attracted to someone who also enjoys working out at the gym?  Or if you are looking for someone who is honest, then might they like someone who is honest too?  
Who do you see when you look in the mirror?  Who do you want them to see when they look at you?  
On a new piece of paper, make a list of the top three qualities that you think that your dream spouse might look for in their spouse.
Now, go over that list and compare the list to who you are and how you are currently living your life.  What do you need to do to become that person?  Pick at least one of the areas to work on so that you can become the person who you want them to want.
Everything is easier if we have someone in our lives to help hold us accountable.  After you’ve created these four lists, please share a copy of them with a trusted friend. Ideally, this will be someone of the same sex or someone who you know will always be just a friend.  Explain to them what they mean and ask them to hold you accountable in sticking to the lists when you find someone new.
The final step is simple.  Put yourself in the types of places that your ideal person would be.  For example, if you don’t want a future husband or wife who enjoys hanging out in bars or clubs, then bars and clubs are not where you should spend your time.  If you want someone who loves watching live sports, go to live sports games.  If you want someone who loves to ski, hang out on the mountain.  You get the idea.
So, there it is -- five steps to finding the love of your life.  Living happily ever after isn’t simple even with the most compatible partner, but it sure is a lot easier than trying to make it happen when you’re spending your time with someone who isn’t right for you.
Let me know as you go...what’s on your love list?  What are you looking for in your mate?  I’d love to hear your success stories too! 

Live Love,

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Do We Hurt the Ones We Love?

Last night, I sat with a friend who told me her love story.  She and her boyfriend were madly in love.  They found in each other everything that they had ever wanted.  They understood each other’s demanding work schedules.  He listened to her.  Really listened.  In fact, he called her every night, no matter the hour on his long and late commute to his house from work.  They had fun together, they laughed together, and they quickly became each other’s best friends.  He loved to ski, to camp, and to work with the youth group at his church.  She didn’t love the outdoors, but she loved that he loved to ski, and camp.  Together, they worked with the youth group at his church.  They both loved God and each other.  That was enough.  He bought a ring.  He called her parents.  He told his parents of his plans.  They started to dream about what life might be like together, with the promise of forever.  

Then, one morning he left early to go skiing, early enough to be the first one on the lift so that his tracks in the powder would be the first of the day.  But on his way up to the mountain that morning, a sleeping disorder caused him to fall asleep at the wheel.  He veered off of the road, into a tree, and died.  

A couple of days later, his parents gave her his grandmother’s ring, the one with which he planned to propose.  But death did them part before she was able to say “I do”.  She was left alone, mourning their shared hope of forever.   She was left in silence, every night, when they once shared long phone calls on his way home from work.  Now, it’s been five years since her boyfriend passed away.  She isn’t sure that she will ever find that kind of love again.  Nicholas Sparks once wrote, “The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected.”  No doubt their souls were and always will be connected.  But, he is there, and she is here...left to pick up the pieces of her broken love story and to move on...somehow...without him.


If you knew that you only had a few days left with the one you love, would you change anything?  The way you look at him?  The way you talk to him?  Would you take an extra minute to listen to what he tells you or to look into his eyes when you walk past him in the hallway?  Would you be gentler with your words?  Less harsh with your thoughts?  Would you focus on who he is instead of who he isn’t?
Craig's Dad, Ray
Why do we treat those we love the most the worst?  I read a quote today by Haruki Murakami that said, “Here she is, all mine, trying her best to give me all she can. How could I ever hurt her?  But I didn’t understand then that I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. A person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair. 
It’s true, isn’t it. My friend was hurt beyond repair by the loss of her boyfriend.  But we hurt others beyond repair while we’re still alive, by our own selfishness.  We hurt with our words.  With our actions.  With our silence.  

That makes me think of the way that I treated some of my ex-boyfriends.  In fact, a friend of mine once told me that the pain I’ve caused others in love is comparable to killing a person.  Perhaps that’s what drew me to study love.  For so long, I didn’t understand it.  
I thought that love was supposed to be all about me and about getting my needs met.  I once told a boyfriend, “You are welcome to try to find a way to fit into my life, but I am not going to change to fit into yours.”  Can you imagine?  It’s a good thing that we weren’t married, because that marriage would’ve been doomed to failure on account of my selfishness.  In fact, the relationship ended on account of my selfishness.  I thought that I needed to kiss other boys before I got married.  I also thought that my true love was the guy who wrote poetry and lit candles for me.  The feelings of limerence went wild and I was sure that I would be lying to my heart if I didn’t follow it straight to him.  So, I broke up with the nice boy who was willing to change for me and allowed the poet to take up residence in my heart.  Turns out that he wasn’t as nice as the nice boy who I broke up with for him.  He wasn’t as stable either.  I’ve come to believe that not many poets are, but that instability allows them to fall into the depths of their souls from where they can write the words that move us all.  So, I broke up with the poet because he wasn’t willing to change for me either, and despite the passion we felt when we looked into each other’s eyes, we didn’t have much to talk about.  I broke his heart too.  
And then, when I was sure that I had found the one, because we were so much alike, I realized that the ways that we were alike were not healthy.  We both believed that the world should give way for us.  I cheated on him with a good looking but shallow man.  He cheated on me with a woman whose face I’ve never seen.  Cheating, in general, isn’t healthy for relationships.  And so ours ended.  Two hearts broken.
One more boyfriend, who I thought could do a better job of being my boyfriend, also failed at being everything I’d ever wanted and needed.
Then, I met Craig.  By that point, I’d started to realize that something was wrong and it was probably me.  Turns out that it was.  One person can't do all of the loving and caring in a relationship.  It takes two.
Craig’s dad passed away about a year before we started dating.  A couple of weeks into being crazy for Craig, I had a dream.  In my dream, Craig’s dad was there and he said, “Craig is such a special person.  I think that you two could be very happy together and I will do everything that I can to make that happen.  But if I do, you have to promise me that you will always be good to him.”
I woke up with the feeling that I had just visited with his Dad.  And in that moment, I promised him that I would.  It was a profound moment for me and certainly life altering.  For the first time, I realized that it was up to me to cherish him.  
For a long time I didn’t feel like I deserved Craig.  After all, I’d done nothing but deceive others and break hearts in merciless ways until then.  Why on earth should I deserve someone as great as Craig?  And I used to tell my friends that.  And then someone told me, “God doesn’t care what you did.  He cares what you’re doing.”  And that’s when it clicked.  I cherish Craig.  I adore him and I thank God for him.  I deserve Craig because of the way that I treat Craig and how much I appreciate and adore him...not because of anything that happened before. 
When I hear stories like the one I heard last night from my friend, it reminds me of how lucky I am to be given this chance with Craig.  We loved and adored each other just like they did.  Craig bought a ring just like he did.  But Craig had the chance to give it to me.  I had the chance to say yes.  I don’t know or understand God’s plan.  I don’t know why my friend’s relationship ended so tragically.  It’s not fair and that makes me angry and sad.  It also makes me work harder to never take my marriage for granted.
I’m not always the perfect wife, but I strive to be better every day.  I strive to listen to him.  To let him know that he’s heard.  I strive to stay focused on what is best for our family and our relationship.  I keep my eyes away from other men.  I keep my thoughts away from other romance.  He deserves it.  We all do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Live Happily Ever After

After a long family road trip, we were stopped at a red light just a mile from home.   Journey (our three year old) was getting anxious to get out of the car and started yelling at Craig, “GO, DADDY...JUST GO!”  As she did, Josie (our four month old) woke up from her slumber and let out a high pitched cry.  

“See, Daddy?  Even Josie is crying because you won’t go!” Journey scolded. 

“She’s crying because you yelled, Journey” Craig said.
“No, your story is just funny.  My story is right,” she told him.
Craig and I sat in the front seat with smiles on our faces for the wondrous mind inside Journey’s three year old head... believing that our story was right.
The truth of the situation was only within the stories we told ourselves.  Josie may have been crying because the car stopped and/or because Journey screamed.  Or she may have just cried because she is an infant and that’s what infants do.  We blamed Journey.  She blamed Craig.  It’s easy to blame others in moments of frustration.  It's easier to story them as  the bad guys.
The stories that we tell in moments like those are significant.  Those moments make up the stories of our lives.
What is your story? -- Who are the characters and what role do you play?  When did your story begin and who have you become?  Are you a victim?  A hero?  A champion?  Have you overcome?  Been oppressed?  Worked hard?  Given up?  Settled?  Achieved?  

How you story your past is the #1 predictor of your current level of happiness.
Don’t believe me?  Consider how happy you are right now in your current relationship.  Now, write down your story.  Reread it.  What do you think?
Now consider what would happen if you reinterpreted the events that you pick out or even insert other events from your relationship instead of those you included?  
Here’s an example from my life:
Our Love Story:
Craig and I met in college and were instantly attracted to each other.  Neither of us said a word because we were both in other relationships.  One night, Craig sang to me by my car and I knew I wanted to hear him sing forever.  Three years later, and four states away, we had our first kiss.  He was drafted to play in the NFL which set our lives on a path of fairy tale adventure.  He was my big strong hero who played the sport he loved in front of millions of fans while I cheered for him.  He sacrificed his body daily for the future of our family.  During his time in the NFL we grew much stronger in our faith in Jesus Christ, fell in love with Seattle, and  cemented life-long friendships with his teammates and their wives. Soon after he retired from football I graduated with my PhD.  We have two adorable daughters and we are excited about what the future might hold.
Another Perspective:

Craig and I met in college but didn’t start dating until I was in graduate school.  It was bad timing because I was just a year into a five year graduate school program. A couple of months after we started dating, he was drafted to play football all the way across the country.  I gave up my dream of being a traditional graduate school student and time with my professors and peers to follow him.  He was gone all the time, in our only vehicle, and I spent my days in our small dark apartment.  By the time he got home, it was dark out, and so for the most part I didn’t see the sun all day.  He gave his life to the sport while I struggled to continue working on school from far away.  Eventually, the team told him he was too old to play anymore.  The time I devoted to him and our kids took me away from school so I am not prepared to be in a highly sought-after academic job like I could’ve been.  Now, he’s unemployed and so am I.  Sometimes I don’t even get out of my pajamas.  It’s hard for me to imagine the future.

How you story your relationship matters because just like Journey and Craig in the car, you will believe that your story is right.   We have all had happy times and we've all had sad times when we've squealed a high pitched cry.  We have all been hurt and we have all hurt others.  But we've also overcome. Are you blaming others for your moments of frustration?

What story do you tell of your spouse?  If you don’t know, just ask your closest friends.
Here’s the scary thing: If you don’t change the negative stories you’re telling, you will continue to live them.  It takes a purposeful re-storying to escape those bonds.
It breaks my heart when I hear people, who I know were once madly in love, talking poorly of their spouse or telling negative stories of their relationship.  I have learned that there is never a reason to speak poorly of the one you love.  The hard truth: The more you say it, the more you will believe it.
The happiest couples tell stories of overcoming the inevitable hardships of life together.
My Challenges for You:  
1.  Make a list of five positive attributes of your spouse.  In the next few days, make a point of sharing those five things with at least three other people (one of them should be your spouse!)
2. Write your love story...  Start at the beginning and pick out the significant moments.  You don't avoid the hard or sad times -- but show how you grown since or even because of those times.  The most important part of your story is the should end with you both living in love together... Happily Ever After.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Secret to Staying Married for Sixty Years

My Grandpa Don was an alcoholic.  When he died last fall, he had been sober for 55 years and five months.  At the time, he had been sober longer than any other alcoholic in the state of Minnesota.  The Gopher State Roundup is an annual state-wide Alcoholics Anonymous conference in Minnesota.  The last time I went to the roundup, for the 50th anniversary of Grandpa’s last drink, his wife, my Grandma Shirley, was just months away from succumbing to liver failure.  The cause of my Grandma Shirley’s death was ironic because, as a good Mormon girl, she never drank.  My Grandpa Don used to joke that she took co-dependence a bit too far...after all, he was the alcoholic.  This is them:

At the count-down meeting at the Gopher State Roundup they asked all of the alcoholics to stand up.  Then, starting at just a day, and then a week, and then months, and years, and decades, they asked those who had been sober for longer than that amount of time to stay standing.  When it was time to stand up, my Grandpa asked my Grandma Shirley to stand with him.  She stood up from her wheel chair, depending on him to hold her up, beside him until, out of the thousands of alcoholics, there was only a one other person still standing.  Tears filled their eyes and mine as they stood together, him recognizing and displaying how integral she had been in his sobriety.   Beneath the thunderous applause, he leaned over to my Grandma and whispered, "I'm going to out live that son of a bitch."  He did.  Some of the young guys in his AA group used to ask him what the secret was for lasting so long in the program.  His answer was simple: “Don’t drink and don’t die.” 

Craig’s grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Terrill have been married for 62 years and 3 days.   This is them:

This year, Craig and I were in Indiana with them for their anniversary.  It got me thinking about what it takes to stay married for that long.  I suppose that the secret to a long marriage is a bit like sobriety -- don’t get divorced and don’t die.  

Sixty-two years probably seems like forever for those who are in unhappy marriages...or at unhappy times within their marriages.  Right now, sixty-two years doesn’t seem like long enough to spend with Craig.  Sometimes I wish that I would’ve met him sooner...or that we would’ve married sooner.  We’ve only been married for five years.  Those years flew by.  It’s hard to think that after just 11 more five-year segments we will have been married for sixty years and we will both be almost ninety-years-old.  Our daughters will likely have had children and those children will have had their own children.  I want to have a long marriage like his grandparents and I want our children and our grandchildren to be inspired by our love, by our dedication to each other, and by our dedication to the sanctity of marriage. 
But marriage, like sobriety, isn’t always easy.  If it was, then we wouldn’t need divorce lawyers (or a program like AA).  Sometimes marriages feel like they are surviving one day at a time.  Life happens, and life can be painful.  Inevitably, if we live long enough, we will experience loss -- a lot of loss.  We will lose our youth, opportunities, jobs, and loved ones.  Each loss will take a bit of our selves with it.  Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, loss is tough.  Each time we experience loss, we are forced to re-evaluate who we are, what is important, and how we will move forward.  Recovering from a loss can also be detrimental to relationships...and loss is only one thing in life that can make marriages that start happy move to a place of unhappiness.
In fact, statistics show that the happiest moment in most marriages is the wedding day.  A week or so after we are married (when the honeymoon is over) we start a steady decline into unhappiness that peaks at around seven years (commonly called the seven-year-itch).  It’s not surprising, is it?  By about seven years, couples typically have a couple of kids and their careers are into full swing.  Instead of turning toward each other, couples typically neglect their relationship and they begin to grow apart.  
In love, we have a great potential to hurt others and to be hurt.  Yet still, we choose love.  In the movie Shadow Lands, C.S. Lewis asked "Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."
And so, like C.S. Lewis we have to ask ourselves, is loving worth it?   Is sticking it out in a marriage that seems unhappy worth it? 
My answer is YES.  Love is worth it and marriage is worth the investment.  Here’s the good news.  After the seven year peak of unhappiness in most American marriages, happiness levels start to increase again.  At about twenty years of marriage, a typical couple will finally get back to the level of happiness that they felt the day they got married*.  I understand that twenty years seems like a long time to wait for the happiness to return.  It doesn’t have to be a love-less time!  But, even if we wait twenty years (until our kiddos are typically out of the house and on their own) for our happiness to return, if we live long lives like Grandpa and Grandma Terrill, then we have forty-two or more years to live in love together.  
Craig and I may only be five years into our marriage, but we have high hopes for the future:  We hope that we stand up together like my Grandpa Don and Grandma Shirley did at the Gopher State Roundup, not for fifty years of sobriety, but for fifty years of a marriage spent helping each other through the ups and downs of life...and we hope in sixty years, that we, like Grandpa and Grandma Terrill, sit with our grandchildren on our anniversary, inspiring them to love each other for a lifetime.
*A note to those of you who may be contemplating aren’t moving yourself closer to a happy marriage.  If you end your marriage, you start over from day one of a marriage.  Sure, the first week will be great but, after that, you have twenty more years before you get there again.  Unless you are dealing with abuse or you and your children are in danger, Stick it out.  Choose to stay married.  And, if you’re going to stay together, then choose to see the best in each other.  You’ll be on your way to twenty-years in no time. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guess Who: Identity Issues

This weekend I am presenting a paper at an academic conference about identity.  The formal title is, Finding Myself in the NFL: An Autoethnographic Exploration of a Divided Self.  In non-academic terms that just means that it’s about the identity conflicts that I experienced when I was a graduate student in Florida while Craig was playing for the Seahawks in Seattle.  

Preparing for my presentation has sent my mind wandering and wondering about who I was then, how it changed me, and how I see myself today.

How do our relationships affect how we feel about ourselves, how others see us, and even who we become?

Until I met Craig, my main identity was that of an academic.  I was in my first year of graduate school with at least four more in front of me.  I never cared whether or not my shoes matched my outfit, only if I was prepared for that week’s classes.  I wasn’t focused on pleasing a man, but I was happy to entertain the idea of a man who could find a way to fit into the life I’d established for myself.

In December of my first year of graduate school, I went out to dinner with Craig and fell passionately in love with him.  Three months later he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks.  That evening, we were in his bedroom in Indiana discussing the future of our relationship. 

“I still have four years of school in Tampa and it’s my dream to teach, to write, to be a scholar.”

“I know that – and I love your dream. Everything will work out,” he told me, “I promise.” I didn’t believe him.

“I believe in your dream too,” I told Craig, “and I will support your dream wherever it takes you,” I promised him.  As soon as I did, I wondered if I would be able to honor that promise. Can I hold on to my career aspirations, the aspirations that have become so ingrained in who I believe myself to be? Do I even want to be the girlfriend of an NFL player?

The following week, I scheduled an appointment with my academic advisor to talk through my dilemma.  He listened patiently as I described the scenario and weighed the pros and cons. 

“Will you kill me if I go to Seattle?”

“I wouldn’t kill you, but you might be disappointed. Follow your heart, but don’t lose your head.”  

A few weeks later I chose love over logic and made the decision to move to Seattle, telling myself that I would still be an academic, focusing on studying NFL relationships.  Once I’d made the decision to move with Craig, I was thrust from the comforts of a predictable graduate school life into the unknown and unfamiliar world of the NFL.  

My first real friend in the NFL was Melissa. Her husband, Grant, played on the defensive line with Craig. He was a veteran starter and took Craig under his wing.  About a year into our marriage, we were all together playing bocce ball. We played in teams as couples.  After we won, Grant said “Team Wistrom will beat you next time,” as he and Melissa gave each other a high-five. 

Grant moved closer to Craig and asked, “Are you team Terrill or team Binns- Terrill? 

“We’re just team Binns today,” I teased. “We take turns using our last names.” Melissa looked at me as if she felt sorry for Craig. 

“Remember what I told you? They need to feel like men. You really need to change your name.” 

I was confused. My husband, a professional football player, needs me to change my name to help build his masculinity? Who feels more like a man than an NFL football player?  

Looking back, Melissa was probably just passing along what she had learned from her time in the NFL: individual identity was not valued.  To fit in as a “good wife,” I would need to sacrifice my personal desires and identity for the betterment of my husband. 

I was being instructed that day that the correct response in the world of NFL wives was for me to change my last name and to keep my mouth shut to protect my husband’s masculine status among his teammates.  I saw Melissa seeing me as a sub-par wife.  By keeping my last name, it was clear that in the world of the NFL I did not measure up.

Before graduate school, I hadn’t even considered keeping my last name when I got married.  But nearly every female professor in our department had kept her last names.  It seemed like the thing that educated women should do.  Looking back, my resistance to change my name was likely a combination of my academic socialization and a response to my feelings of invisibility (compared to my husband’s hyper-visibility) as an NFL wife.

The values of the NFL and Academia are different.  The progressive politics of academia encouraged me to think like a feminist: don’t submit to a man, don’t dress up for a man, keep your own identity, your dreams are just as important as his. The NFL valued women who were feminine: Let your man feel that he is in control, do everything you can to make his life comfortable, his job and health are most important, looking good for him and submitting to him will help keep him faithful.  

As I spent more time in the NFL, I became more like the other NFL wives I knew.  In fact, after having our first daughter, I changed my last name from “Binns” to a hyphenated “Binns- Terrill”.  I told myself that it was for a more evident shared identity with my daughter.  Before having our second daughter, I changed my name “for insurance purposes” to Rachel Terrill.  But, three months after she was born, when I walked across the stage to commemorate earning my Ph.D., they announced my name as Rachel Binns Terrill.  

Perhaps I have settled on a compromise somewhere between what I learned I should be as an academic and what I should be as an NFL wife. My time spent in both worlds strongly shaped who I am, what I believe, and who I want to be.   

After spending years unable to identify fully as an academic or an NFL wife, I now feel that both are a part of who I’ve become. Now, I’m no longer an NFL wife and I’m no longer a graduate student.  But my time spent navigating both identities helped met to feel confident in who I am today... A future professor, Journey and Jocelyn’s mom, Craig’s wife... Rachel Binns Terrill, Ph.D.

After writing this blog, I can’t help but wonder...are we as Americans too shifty with our identities?  Perhaps the lack of a strong cultural identity has left us susceptible to this shifty-identity syndrome?  

Has your relationship changed how you see yourself?  By allowing our identities to be shaped by others, do we lose parts of ourselves?  Do we, perhaps, lose the very parts of ourselves that our spouses first fell in love with?  Could this be why so many marriages fail in America?  

I'd love to hear your thoughts.