Last month I had a slumber party with one of my best friends. I vacationed at her house for 2 weeks so one might argue I had 13 slumber parties with her, but it was only one particular night that we stayed up obscenely late (read: 12:30 am), giggling and talking about boys and dating and first kisses. For one giddy night, we pretended that we didn’t have three toddlers that were going to wake
us her up obscenely early sleeping right in the next room. We told stories of the girls we had once been, eventually getting around to how we met our husbands and created our own little girls.
It got me thinking about what advice I might give to my little girl one day when she is not so little. So here, Addison, is my almost-34-years-old, been married for 6-years-and-3-months advice. Someday, I hope we can discuss it during a late night slumber party . . .
Don’t look for a checklist. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
If you find the checklist, don’t imagine that guarantees happiness or ease. Plan to marry a work-in-progress (since everybody is), knowing that you will never know what the final version of that life will look like. Think long and hard about what this person’s version of work-in-progress looks like — ask them, too; it’s a good idea to find out if you have the same ideas about what progress means — and then ask yourself, am I willing to take this person’s progress as my own? Do I want to go on a very uncertain and possibly rocky journey with him?
Speaking of journeys, take a road trip together, possibly a very uncertain and rocky one. I would be happy to come along! Nothing puts a boyfriend through the wringer like hitting the road with potential in-laws two hours after you meet them — just ask your Dad!
But don’t just take road trips: Live near each other for a year, observing his day-to-day habits. I can’t take credit for this one; it was Grammy and Gramps’ instruction to their adolescent daughter. But now I know why, because that romantic haze — wherein your new love seems perfect even though they are, in fact, a work-in-progress — is a real thing. The “dopamine bubble,” some researchers call it. Don’t be its victim.
Observe as many couples as you can, as closely as you can, for as long as you can before you get married. I lived with four different married couples and, wow (!), it’s eye-opening to sit in the crosshairs of the occasional marital conflict.
Ask him if he’ll go to therapy with you anytime you ask. Maybe therapy won’t be your thing — there’s always the chance you’re more well-adjusted than your mom — but ask anyway because his response might be very revealing. Even if nothing could ever possibly go wrong because you are like two peas in a pod, promise each other that you’ll get help together anytime one of you feels the need. You keep your end of that promise.
Make sure you think he’s funny, even if no one else does, because humor will be the next best thing if you can’t get over to the therapist immediately.
Meet his parents. Try not to throw up two minutes later in their bathroom, but if you must, you must. See if he cleans it up after gently tucking you into the nearest bed. See if they invite you back.
Never say you can’t live without him. I know it seems like a romantic superlative, but whoever he is, you have lived without him before and you could do it again. Hopefully, you won’t have to and, hopefully, you won’t want to, but you could, always.
If at all possible, find someone who will write about you as beautifully as your father has. It’s not the only way to gauge someone’s love, but it will give you goosebumps for years to come. (In exchange for those goosebumps, you may have to work to support your starving artist. No big deal.) If he can’t write, have him read this just to test whether he can at least appreciate good writing:
When she was born, the waves of that sea crested over her one last time, and then crashed, spilling away on a fading tide, draining from her lungs and clearing from her eyes. In the residue of these waters were my wife and myself and a little girl, who looked directly at us, and screamed. As we beheld this tiny sea creature, wafting ocean spray formed drops that ran in rivulets down our cheeks, and then also spilled away.
And there we were, all of us washed up on dry land. Addison, the most recent castaway, cried out immediately in bewilderment for something to take the place of the soothing waters of her life as a fish and to quench her powerful thirst. Her mother provided much of that, and would continue to do so, for the next year of her life. But in the first moment that I stroked my daughter’s hand, she grabbed onto me, without even looking, and didn’t let go. I knew that my wife wasn’t her only safe harbor.
She placed herself completely, without a hint of reservation, in my hands. It was hard to fully grasp then, and it still is. She needed me. But I also realized during that time that she didn’t just need me as I was, but that she needed all the potential in me. I didn’t immediately feel like a different person. Rather, I felt the weight of my obligation to become the best father my daughter could wish for. Some fatherly instincts were automatic; others I’ve tried to cultivate.
Eventually she lost her automatic grasp reflex, and now any time that she holds my hand it is an act of volition. When she merely held my finger she was barely on the cusp of serious decision-making, and she never wandered far anyway; but now she can grasp my hand with hers, her sweaty little octopus hand, and every time she does, my heart swells a little. Because she is choosing me.
If he knows exactly what Dad was talking about here — you summon all the potential in him, too, and that heart swell, well, it doesn’t even begin to describe it — he may just be the right person to invite on your own work-in-progress journey.