As the morning fog lifts above the garbage bins and my Nissan Rogue and the workmen taking the first of their seventeen breaks on the retaining wall across the street, I am reminded that it’s that time of year that every mid-life bride should embrace: late September, when cool nights pass into days brushed gold by the dying summer sun. It’s the perfect time for a menopausal wedding: when there’s a slight chance of rain but no chance of that white stuff (fro? slow?) that sometimes falls from the sky; when it’s warm but not so warm that you can’t dance and have a hot flash without bursting into flame.
I am also reminded that it was precisely because of weather such as this that I convinced my then-fiancé we should wed last September instead of this past March, as he had originally proposed. Which, in turn, reminds me of yet another reason why I love my now-husband so much: because he listens to my suggestions before vehemently rejecting them and then, ultimately, capitulating.
I know what you’re thinking (because I am one online quiz away from completing my Kaplan Telepathy and Air Conditioner Repair degree): you’re thinking, Heather, you’ve been married for nearly a year! As such, you are practically a love expert. Do you have any love advice you’d like to share with us?
To which I say: Boy howdy, do I!
No, that isn’t even remotely what we were thinking. Just because you put it in italics does not mean that we actually—
I guess, if I could boil it all down to one piece of wisdom (and still have enough broth left over for lunch), I’d have to say that the most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that getting someone to love you is not half as important as getting yourself to love him.
Okay, but actually, we were thinking, wait, garbage bins? Did you put your writing desk in front of the driveway or–
Sure, that sounds obvious, but think of the musical questions we ask ourselves in our youth: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” or “Will you still love me tomorrow?” or “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?” or “Do you like pina coladas?” Note how each question is focused on the needs of another: Do YOU want a drink made from pineapple? Do YOU want to sleep with me in French?
I submit that as we near death, we discover that truly being in love with someone, and staying in love with someone, has ultimately more to do with understanding our own needs than it does with obsessing over theirs. Because, face it: we are just too tired and forgetful and cranky to deal with shit. Forget how he feels about us: will WE still love him in the morning, when he’s sleeping off yet another girlie-drink hangover? Do WE want to feed a 64 year-old every single goddamn day, or could we maybe get take-out, for once?
I feel almost certain that had Whitney Houston lived long enough to make it all the way to menopause, she would have changed the musical question from “How will I know if he really loves me?” to the far more important “How will I know if I really love him?”
But Heather, how WILL we know if we really love him? you ask.
Umm, actually, we were wondering about whether you called us “Howdy Doody,” before.
That’s an excellent question! As a love expert, I have to admit that the answer is largely subjective. It’s like Justice Stewart once said of pornography: it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. (And yes, real mid-life love also looks a lot like that, though the lighting is dimmer, and there’s usually more hair).
But as Justice Stewart might have also said, you can glean any number of objectively loveable traits from a bunch of random and subjective examples, and then make an acrostic that spells out a word that can serve as a mnemonic device in the likely event that you immediately forget everything I just said, if you managed to remember that you were reading something in the first place and hadn’t already wandered away to find that thing you were looking for.
For example, another reason I love my husband so much is that he is the sort of man who decides one night that from now on he’s going to answer “Allrightarooney!” to any question he receives while on call for his medical practice.
And then he doesn’t go through with it.
Yes, this is a very specific reason to love someone, but I think you can extrapolate from it a couple of traits that are universally useful in a later-in-life spouse: 1) that he’s eccentric; and 2) that he’s not so eccentric that he can’t keep a job.
For the middle-aged person, eccentricity in a loved one is paramount because it helps you to distinguish him from other loved ones, like your children or your pets, or that one workman across the street who has the same build and roughly the same hairstyle but a completely different lunchbox. And I can’t emphasize enough the necessity of your later-in-life spouse’s ability to retain his job: not just for the income, but because, at least for a few hours a day, it keeps him out of the house.
Wait: was that supposed to be something that we were thinking?
No. Sometimes I just use italics for effect.
But that’s really confusing. Like, right now, we don’t know if you said the thing about italics or we did, because it’s in italics. Couldn’t you just stick to capital letters or–
Another good way to know if you love someone is if, on occasion, he manages to be helpful around the house. For example, just a couple of days ago, I was making dinner with one of my daughters (the one with the wavy hair, I think), when my husband walked over to the cookie tray full of tofu that we’d covered with towels and heavy books.
“What’s going on with this?” he asked.
“We’re pressing the tofu,” my daughter said.
My husband leaned over the tray. “I have read every single one of these books,” he whispered.
“Umm, those are cookbooks,” my daughter pointed out. “What are you doing?”
“Shh,” he replied. “I’m trying to impress the tofu, like you said.”
As the above example also illustrates, it is equally important to determine whether or not your late-in-life spouse has a sense of humor, and, if so, whether it is or is not bad.
Take my husband, for instance.
See what I did there? I straight up offered you my husband! I could only do that if I knew you wouldn’t take him. Which I totally did. Because his sense of humor is so thoroughly awful that no one in her right mind would ever try to take him away from me.
Worse than yours? How is that even possible?
Seriously: sometimes, he makes puns so dreadful they make your ears weep, just before they beg for the sweet release of a Van-Goghian death. For example, he will say “Yeah, but will he parsnip?” when you mention that the window guy is planning to turn up around three in the afternoon.
The objectively lovable trait? That he is exclusively mine. At least if he insists on opening his mouth.
Better still, as he himself points out, his sense of humor practically guarantees an invalidated prenup, should our marriage ever reach the point where pun evidence gets introduced in a court of divorce.
Which it will never, ever do.
Because my husband is also the type of man who will chaperone my straight-haired daughter (who is, I believe, younger than the wavy-haired one) and her friend at the Demi Lovato concert when I refuse to go, even though he will be the oldest person there by at least 40 years. At the event center, he will encourage the girls to call him “Homeboy,” and he will not complain, overmuch, about the nearly hour-long wait between the opening acts and the time Ms. Lovato deigns to take the stage. And for weeks after, unbidden, he and that daughter will smile at one other and then burst, full-throated, into Demi Lovato song (which is only marginally better than bursting into flame).
In short, my husband is an embarrassing enthusiastic stepfather who is eager, despite his own recently emptied nest, to father the extra chicks who have fluttered down into it. Objectively speaking, a late-in-life bride could do a whole lot worse than to fall in love with a guy like that.
But Heather, what if we don’t have kids? you ask.
To which I say: are you sure? Check around. Sometimes they’re just watching Netflix in their room, and you forgot.
Hurry, though, please, because the sun is now bouncing off of the Rogue’s windshield, and it’s getting harder and harder to type.
It’s just a thought, but you could always pull the blinds or something. Or, you know, move your desk away from the–
Okay, so you can’t find any kids stashed around the house, and you’re still not certain whether you truly love someone, you say? Then there’s one final thing you can do: set him free.
Seriously? Set him free, and if he comes back, he’s ours, and if he doesn’t, he never was? That’s your wisdom? Like, from a poster forty years ago??
No, not like that. Like this:
Break up with him. It doesn’t matter when; you can do this early in the relationship, or you can do it after an entire year or two has gone by. It also doesn’t matter why: maybe he said something stupid in front of your kids, for example, something you maybe know right away that he doesn’t really mean, but it’s too late: the words are out of your mouth, and then you are out of his apartment.
Go home, and wait for him to call to apologize, so that you can show him you mean business this time; you’re both probably going to be way better off this way. All things must end.
Now wait for it to happen: the relief that has always, always come when you’ve broken up with anyone before, eventually. Wait for the next morning, or the one after that, or a few days or even as much as a week later, when you wake up and stretch and think, ah! There’s so much lovely room in my bed! Instead of: oh no, he’s not here. He’s not here. He’s still gone.
And if that morning never comes?
If you’ve set him free, and now even a month has passed, and you still want him to come back?
What happens if we’ve set him free and we still want him to come back?
I was waiting for you to tell me. Wait, did you think the part about wanting him to come back, or did I write it?
Oh. Well, then: duh. He’s yours.
Allrightarooney, let’s make an acrostic from what we’ve learned, shall we?
Now go down the list and what’s that spell?
And what does this help us remember?
That’s right! That it’s already your anniversary, and you forgot to pick up his gift!
Man, I really hope that that was your thought, and not mine. Now excuse me, please, but I have to go fix the air conditioner. Because it is unbearably hot over here.
If memory serves, it was the Stegosaurus in Dinosaurs Divorce who taught us that it’s okay to be angry over a breakup that affects you.
But if memory doesn’t serve, and just makes you go up to the counter and get your own recollections, it’s possible that it was the T. Rex. Or, I don’t know, maybe it was some other greenish creature who quite frankly looked a lot more like Arthur the Aardvark than a dinosaur (and Arthur the Aardvark doesn’t even look like an aardvark) who gave my kids that helpful advice.
Anyway, it’s really the sentiment, and not the species, that counts. So when I learned only just last week of a breakup that had happened many, many months before, I found myself casting back to the first dark days of my own divorce, when my ex and I turned to terrifying, extinct creatures to deliver to our children the sort of explanation and comfort that we ourselves were unable to provide.
And the words came roaring back: It’s natural to feel Sad.
And while I could also hear the long-ago complaints of my children (Why are you roaring, Mommy? Those aren’t even real dinosaurs. This book is stupid!), I’m not going to lie: I felt better just thinking of them. Because I was Sad. And Angry and Afraid and Confused.
But mostly Confused.
“I don’t understand,” I said to the Verizon “customer service” agent. “How did my Wireless bill get ‘de-coupled’ from my regular bill? What does that even mean? And why wasn’t I told about it before it showed up as a separate, past-due bill that threatened to cut off my service?”
“Could you spell your name for me again, ma’am?” the customer “service” agent helpfully explained. “I’m afraid I can’t find any record of your account.”
“I—wait: which name?”
“Ma’am? You have two names?”
“No, I have ONE name, now, which is my maiden name, but I used to have a married name. And now I have a bill from you and a bill from Verizon Wireless in two different names, and—“
“Ma’am, you’re not married? I see here that there’s a Mr.—“
“No, I AM married now, but I got rid of my first married name and took back my maiden name and didn’t take my new husband’s name because it was so much work to get my maiden name back!”
“So you’re planning to get divorced again, ma’am?”
“Wait, what? No! Why are we even talking about me? This is about you and Verizon Wireless and why I used to get one bill from both of you and now I get two bills in different names and different addresses and—“
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to put you on hold.”
“No no no, don’t put me on hold, please? Please, I’ll be good, I promise!”
“It’s just that this will be the third time I’ve been put on hold with you guys in the past two hours and each time you do it I wait and wait and then it rings for like, a minute, and then there’s a click and it HANGS UP ON—“
So then I was Sad again.
It’s okay to cry, I roared to myself, like a simplistic and badly drawn prehistoric creature. In fact, crying can help you feel better.
But here’s the thing: it didn’t. In fact, crying almost never makes me feel better. Usually, it just swells my eyes to little slits and makes my nose glow with the light of a thousand suns. Plus, I get a headache.
No, the only thing that was going to make me feel better, I realized, was to put Verizon on my list.
Which is when it occurred to me that I might have some self-help wisdom to impart to the world as well. After all, I am nearly as old as a dinosaur, and, when I feel yucky, almost as green! There’s not a lot to it, but then again, there isn’t a lot to Dinosaurs Divorce, either, once you take away the illustrations of mommy dinosaurs drinking martinis or daddy dinos carrying suitcases out to the car. But at least my advice rhymes:
When you feel Sad and Angry and Afraid and Confused, make a list and feel less abused!
It totally works. For real! Try it!
You can call your list whatever you want (I call mine “People of Earth: This is Why I Hate You”), but the important thing is to take all that rage and frustration and terror and despair and immediately scribble it, with great force, into a yellow legal pad.
“But, Heather,” you say. “I don’t understand. How could just making a list possibly change the way that I feel?”
To which I say two things: “Because you’re writing it on a legal pad, duh”; and “You are this close to going on it.”
Still, I recognize that you, for the most part, are actually me, so I’m going to hold off on putting you on the list for now. Let this be a warning, however: keep it up, Ms. Judgy McJudgerson, and I’m gonna have to buy another legal pad for all the things “you” do that piss me off.
In the rare event that you are a reader who isn’t me, though, I’m providing a (very) excerpted list (this one is pretty much from last Tuesday) to give you an example of how to get started.
Thus, without further ado, I give you:
People of Earth: This is Why I Hate You (Volume 1)
1) Standing in Doorways, Chatting or Texting. People of Earth, ask yourself just one important question: Are you a door?
Then get out of my way.
2) Saying “Worrying” or “Concerning” When You Mean “Worrisome” or “Of Concern.” Stop it.
I’m not kidding.
3) Swinging Left to Turn Right, When You Are Not a Great Big Truck or Even a Medium-Sized One. Not only is this a confusing practice, but it’s completely unnecessary and almost always makes me, stuck behind your pointless maneuvering, miss the fucking light and set a terrible example by swearing in front of my kids, you asshole.
4) Ignoring Me While You Chat on the Phone at the Register, Then Acting All Huffy When I Politely Say “Excuse Me, But Would You Mind Doing Your Job for a Couple of Minutes?” Self-explanatory.
5) Being Verizon. This includes the Gwyneth-esque de-coupling; the robo-calls; the mysteriously slow-speed FIOS; the bills with the taxes for the taxes and the triple-play that doesn’t include three things and the Wireless bill that somehow adds two $50 monthly service fees and makes them equal $130; the putting me on hold and then hanging up; the fulfilling my request for the return of the Voice Messaging that had somehow disappeared (leaving only its fee behind) by adding the option of “Choose Your Own Area Code” and making me spend at least fifteen minutes of valuable writing time by trying to figure out why anyone would want to do that (for disguise??); making my friend Jamie and her daughter Allegra waste two hours of valuable writing/studenting time trying to get Allegra’s mysteriously missing service back; making me pay over the phone for the stupid decoupled wireless bill and then sending not one, not two, but THREE “Important Information About Your Account” notices over the next three days so that the postman probably thinks I’m like some deadbeat or something instead of just someone who is Sad and Angry and Afraid and Confused about why you broke up with regular Verizon in the first place and whether I’m going to have to spend every other weekend being enraged by just one of you when it was so much easier hating you both in the same place, all the time.
There, I think you get the general idea. Don’t you feel better already? I know I do.
Now, if you want to try this yourself at home and don’t have a legal pad handy, feel free to go ahead and start your own list in the comments.
(As long as it’s not about me.)
(Because that would make me Sad.)
(And then I would have to start a whole new list, and put your list on it. And legal pads, like justice, aren’t really free. Plus I just sent all of my money to Verizon.)