Life examined and what is "love"? (baby, don't hurt me)

Dined tonight with a friend from BHS (just a side note to say how weird it is to hang out with someone I've known since I was 14; how can it be that I'm so freakin' old?!), and we were talking about how you know (or how you might know) whether you're in the right place in your life, a propos of this being the year we all turn 40.

Apart from not having children yet (or at least one child; I don't want to be greedy), I am where I want to be (sure, I could be a hell of a lot more fit and somewhat healthier, shut up), personally and professionally. I adore my husband, am blessed with a great marriage, love my friends and family, like my job a lot, and appreciate my lifestyle. As you've read here, there are, of course, things that irk me, but by and large, I am a very happy girl. Part of that is no doubt just who I am as a person, but part of it is certainly contentment, which is a good thing.

My friend, on the other hand, is presently less than content: although he's doing well at a job for which he is fantastically over-qualified (and WAY too smart) and grossly underpaid, he's not hitting the financial milestones he sees as ideal, and that is affecting the relationship he's in, particularly because the young lady (11 years his junior) is ready for marriage and kids now. He works at this job which is in no way a career because it gives him time to write; the problem is that getting in the door at a studio or with a production company is incredibly hard and depends an awful lot on sheer chance or that old stand-by "knowing somebody". He's making connections, but it takes awhile, and it doesn't pay. His argument is that because he can't afford to buy a house in L.A., it's no marriage and no kids for him. Not meaning to stir the pot, I nevertheless suggested to him that if he were actually committed to the woman in question, the financial and logistical issues would sort themselves out -- or at minimum, would seem less insurmountable because he would want marriage and fatherhood, and make any sacrifice (including giving up his dream of writing) to make those goals his priorities. That seemed to be a bit of an eye-opener for him; sorry, buddy.

On the work front, and the writing front, I suggested that he make lists of what he wants and why he wants it -- do a check as to whether some of what he thinks he wants is residual, left over from the goals he set 10 years ago. Revision of those life plans is always a good idea, and I mean that in the British sense of "review" as much as the American sense of "edit."

The tougher question, of course, is the one about the girl, because that one's really about life. He wondered what I thought were the essential ingredients for a stable and healthy relationship. I decided that it comes down to very few things, which is good, because all of us have pretty short attention spans. We get distracted when shiny objects flash by.

Here's your recipe:

  • Laughter: you get a long way down the road to happiness if you and your partner laugh at the same things, especially if you find the same things ridiculous. It helps if s/he thinks you're hilarious, and vice versa. You can get through a lot of shit if you can laugh.
  • Candor: I'm not talking about "Yeah, you look like the side of a barn in those red pants, honey" here, but about openly expressing what you need and want, and what scares you, and creating a safe environment in which your partner can, too. This ingredient might also be called "communication."
  • Respect: you sure as hell don't have to see eye-to-eye on everything (and you never will, so don't even bother trying), but you have to be willing to let someone be who they are, which is not who you are, and which may even be unfathomable to you. Respect means letting them vote Republican, or eat meat, or not floss, or whatever; obviously, it stops (or maybe not obviously for everyone, but obviously to me) with infidelity, abuse or cruelty of any kind, but otherwise, live and let live, baby. Find a way to integrate your differences.
  • Perspective: figure out what your deal breakers are (and I mean in the abstract, not just as a way of ditching someone who farts in the car or picks their nose, or whatever), and let everything else go. Period. Let it goooooooooo. Face it: you are not perfect. No, it's true, you're not. You're close, sure, of course you are, but at the end of the day, you are human and therefore flawed and come with a whole matched set of your own baggage, and you need someone to love you for who you are and all that comes with ya. Extend that same courtesy to the person with whom you fall in love. Make room on the trolley for their past and their tagalongs, and don't sweat the small stuff.
Ok, that's the end of today's lecture. Hope it helps!


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