The Terrible Thing is Coming, So Be Here Now

One of the reasons I was happy being single was that I did not have to worry about future heartbreak.  Someone once told me that the best case scenario for romantic relationships is staying together until one of you dies, and my risk-avoidant brain immediately decided it would be preferable to just stay by myself, thanks.  How annoying to find myself dating someone five years older than me, so that even if we hit upon the best case scenario, odds are I’ll be the one burying her.

Yes, I am aware of my morbidity!  I regularly kiss my cat’s head and tell him how sad I will be when he dies.  I once sat outside and enjoyed the brisk autumn breeze by wondering how it would feel if I were a corpse and it could get to my bones.

Best case scenarios are not the only option, however.  Opening myself up to loving someone and being loved in return means also opening myself up to the possibility of that love disappearing.  Here I find it very unhelpful to have a counseling background.  I don’t have the luxury of blind belief in our relationship being special.  I know we will lose the honeymoon desperation and affection.  I know that if we replace that with a deeper, committed love, we are likely to fall into the ten year pit that sinks a huge proportion of relationships.  And I know that if we choose to stay together through that, there’s still a chance we will be physically together but emotionally separate.

Is now a good time to mention that we have been together for less than six months?  In addition to my morbidity, I am also aware of my anxious overthinking.  My tendency to plan and sub-plan will always be with me, and honestly, I’m grateful for it.  My knowledge of potential future outcomes makes me eager to set up our relationship for success by having hard conversations early and establishing habits of communication and affection that will see us through rough patches.  But sometimes I get stuck anticipating and preparing for the terrible thing, and it becomes all I can see.

“The terrible thing is coming, so be here now.”  I heard that in a podcast referring to job failure, and it illuminated my problem.  The terrible thing is coming, whether that terrible thing is breakup now or later, death now or later, dissatisfaction now or later.  But the solution to the terrible thing coming is not to look over my shoulder and around every corner so that I can catch a glimpse of it.  The solution is to be here now.

Something terrible will happen in my relationship with Rachel.  That’s the inevitability of life.  So because of that, I want to be with her, fully and in deep appreciation for what we now have.  I want to laugh with her, dream with her, hold her and listen to her affirm me.  What we have is good.  It’s so good.  When I spend my time anticipating the terrible thing, I miss what’s happening right now.

And that’s a terrible thing in itself.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

18798983I thought this book was a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, but I just saw that the book jacket actually says it’s “inspired” by the classic Middle Eastern story.  That makes much more sense, because the plot of “woman saves her life by telling the wife-killing king a story every night” only lasts for, like, three nights.  Then they fall in love!!!

Which is my main problem with the story:  too much insta-love.  Khalid, the ruler of Khorasan, apparently falls in love with Shahrzad at first sight because she is honest.  And, okay, whatever, maybe I can believe that.  But then Shahrzad, whose only purpose in becoming his wife is to murder him and therefore avenge her murdered best friend, falls in love with him!!  After only a couple weeks!  Because she realizes he is secretive rather than a total monster.  It just didn’t fly for me.

But the world was incredibly interesting, and even though it was unbelievable, the dynamic between Khalid and Shahrzad was super compelling.  So after a few chapters I just decided to accept the fact that they were entangled in a forbidden love and enjoy it….and I did!  It’s a very enjoyable book about murderous plots, curses forcing good people to do bad things, and Love Conquering All.  Sometimes you just wanna turn your brain off and enjoy a good emotional story.

It’s a series, though, which I didn’t know going in.  I honestly don’t know if I’ll read the second book.  It feels like even more Forced Obstacles will be thrown in their path, and I already got what I wanted out of the story: confessed love and cute kisses.  Who knows!  By the time it comes out, maybe I’ll be ready to suspend my disbelief again.

I do know I want more Middle Eastern settings in books, though.  More desert royalty and extravagant costumes, please!   Continue reading

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

I loved Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles series, and her ability to create a believable fantasy world holds true.  Can you sense the “but” coming?  But….I thought The Winner’s Curse indulged in YA romance tropes, when I know she can do more interesting things with relationships.  Kestrel and Arin have a definite Romeo-and-Juliet vibe going on, since he is her purchased slave, but their feelings for each other felt too inevitable.  Is that a weird complaint?  Neither of them seemed to really care about the social implications of their feelings for the enemy, even if their internal dialogue begs to differ.   Continue reading

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I loved this book far more than I anticipated.  I like memoirs written by comedians, so I knew I would pick up Aziz’s when it came out.  I love him in Parks & Recreation, and his stand up on Netflix is some of the smartest, most modern, most feminist comedy I’ve seen.  I knew his book would be funny.  I did not expect it to be so smart!  He’s an insightful guy, but teamed up with Eric Klinenberg, sociologist, this book is everything my humor-loving sociology-major heart could want.

I found it fascinating to look back at courtships of yesteryear (aka 30 or 40 years ago) and compare them to my struggles as a single with an iPhone.  So much has changed with the advent of the Internet and phone apps that allow us to check out singles all over the world.  In an especially effective analogy, Ansari likens dating to a hallway.  Men and women used to enter a hallway with four or five doorways–they peeked through a couple, found one that wasn’t too horrible, and walked through.  Now, singles stand in a hallway with millions of doorways.  This enormity of options means that we are more likely to find someone who aligns closely with our interests, values, and personality.  But it also means that we are often paralyzed, terrified to walk through any doorway for fear that the next one down will be better.

Ansari hilariously describes and analyzes the frustrations of modern dating.  I appreciated his honest assessment of the good and the bad, and I really appreciated how he managed to find humor in it all.  I finished the book both thankful and horrified to be in the dating world at this time in world history.  But at least now I have the tools to understand what I’m going through and hopefully wade through the complications a little more effectively.

81IWfWiI1vLBook Jacket

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love.  We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection.  This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago.  Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history.  With technology, our ability to connect with and sort through these options is staggering.  Just a few years ago, in 2010, 10% of single Americans said they met their significant other online.  Three years later, in 2013, that number was up to 35%.  We are truly in a new world.  What’s the good in all this change?  What’s the bad?  Why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time:  “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?”  “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite food snacks?  Combos?!”  “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan.  Who’s Nathan?  Did he just send her a picture of his penis?  Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone.  In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically.  A few decades ago people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood.  Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid–all by the time they were twenty-four.  Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided to take things to another level.  He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita.  They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages.  They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer.  The result is Modern Romance, a marriage of cutting-edge social science and razor-sharp humor to form an assessment of our new romantic world that is as funny as it is groundbreaking.

Release Date:  June 2015

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, I really liked the juxtaposition between physical and mental disorders.  I liked that both were treated with respect and acknowledged the unfair stigmas attached to each.  And I liked that the romance felt genuine and earned–it’s tricky to have a relationship develop between an able-bodied person and a disabled person and never once think there is a power imbalance.

On the other hand, the pace of the book felt very strange.  Sometimes we got to see all day, every day.  Other times we skipped months at a time.  Sometimes the scenes evenly alternated between Amy and Matthew, and sometimes they skewed toward one more than the other.  The plot seemed to be following a particular route, but then there was a twist.  Which is cool!  But the last third of the book felt uneven and disjointed.  Subplots were tacked on without the development they might have been given earlier in the book.

Still, I’m glad this book exists.  It’s always good to read about the stories of people that, sad to say, I often ignore.  It’s a good reminder that people have so much more going on inside of them than we can ever know from the outside.  And–this is so basic, but so important–it’s great to have books that loudly and confidently remind readers that nonverbal men and women in wheelchairs are people too.  I mean, of course they are.  But how often do we get to read about their story?   Continue reading

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant feels a little slow, but instead of being uninteresting, this deliberate pace feels more like a spell, drawing readers deeper into the plot with every new revelation.  Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple on a journey, and I loved having protagonists at the end of their love instead of the beginning.  Theirs is a historical England, after King Arthur but before all his knights died, but the realistic setting is peppered with fantastical dragons, pixies, and a mist of forgetfulness.

This book is powerful, because I didn’t think I cared much about it until I finished the last page, at which point I hugged it to my chest and repeated a word over and over again.  I won’t say what word for fear that it will give something of the ending away.  Suffice it to say, at that point I realized the story had sunk into my body, and I am changed by it.

Themes of forgiveness and revenge, peace and memory, love and endurance weave throughout the story and our five main characters.  Different chapters have different perspectives, and most begin by jumping forward in time before slowly revealing what has happened in the interim.  Yet despite these choices, the plot slowly reveals itself, and by the time we know what is really happening and how everyone aligns with each other, it feels incredibly right.  Ishiguro is a genius.  Continue reading

A Romantic Ideal: Harold and Jean Stark

I tend to have an unhealthy view of romantic relationships, either by idolizing them and assuming marriage will solve all my problems or by demonizing them and assuming marriage is a playground of horror.  Thankfully, I have men and women in my life who model healthy relationships.  None more so than my grandparents, Harold and Jean Stark.

DSC00042I once asked them to describe the hardest thing about marriage.  “Oh, it’s not that hard,” Grandma said.

“What?  Come on.  What do you fight about?” I asked.

Grandpa drummed his fingers against the table.  “We don’t fight.”

Grandma covered his hand with hers, cutting off the repetitive noise.  “Stop that, Harold.  Well, I get mad with how fidgety he is.  But that’s pretty much it.”

I think there is a 100% chance that they have fought at some point in their marriage.  But after 61 years of living together, I find it extremely adorable that those times of animosity have faded into something inconsequential.  Continue reading