First kiss

I met my wife in May of 1994. We spent a great deal of time together and over the next couple of years grew to be best friends. We came to know each other and love each other in a way I had never known or even conceived. I say that in my defense, because as I look back on those years I cringe at the utter and complete level of absolute cluelessness I displayed.

After about a year of spending time together, sharing our thoughts and pasts, helping each other out in difficult situations, and actively pursuing each others’ happiness, I began to feel a strong affection for the Happy Best Friend. I hugged her at every opportunity. Sometimes I stroked her hair. Sometimes I let her lean against me as we sat on my couch watching a rented movie. None of this, in my mind, constituted romance. That may have been because lust had not yet entered into it, and I had no conception of romance without lust.

Anyway, some time in 1996 I developed a strong desire to kiss her. I can say in all honesty that the desire grew out of a pure, overpowering, non-lustful affection for her. I realized at the time that a kiss is a powerful show of affection that could have all sorts of implications I didn’t intend. I knew that a kiss out of the blue would make her think I had romantic feelings for her, which I absolutely didn’t. I needed an excuse to kiss her so that we could share that show of affection once and have it intensify our friendship rather than unravel it.

Valentine’s Day and both our birthdays came and went without a kiss. As Christmas drew near, I came up with a perfect excuse. When she visited me at my apartment to exchange gifts, we had the following conversation:

ME: You know, uh, I’ve always wanted to kiss someone under the mistletoe* but I never have. I was wondering if you’d like to do that.

HER: Oh. Okay. Where’s your mistletoe?

ME: Um, I don’t have any. ::mentally kicks self for not thinking to actually get some mistletoe:: We can pretend.

HER: All right. Let me go spit out my gum.

She went to the kitchen, spit out the gum she was chewing, returned, and let me kiss her under the imaginary mistletoe. It may have been the most unromantic first kiss for a couple in the history of relationships, but it also may have been the sweetest, purest, most powerful and clueless kiss ever. Previous kisses that I had experienced began at the instant lips touched and ended as soon as contact was broken. This kiss, however, began early in the year, built up momentum over a period of months, and still affects us both today.


I wrote recently about how I used to grasp for excuses to spend time with the Happy Best Friend. I received some criticism for having employed deceit and game-playing rather than being up front about my feelings. Let me just make it clear now that neither deceit nor denial have ever played any role in my relationship with my wife. For several years, cluelessness and a profound lack of understanding on my part played a dominant role, but I eventually (and thankfully) overcame them.

*I don’t know if the mistletoe tradition exists in other countries. A mistletoe is a semi-parasitic green plant with thick leaves, small yellowish flowers, and white berries. Around Christmastime, you cut a piece of mistletoe off of a tree and hang it somewhere, usually above a doorway. When you catch someone standing under the mistletoe, you have the right to kiss them.

Playing with food

My wife has been a playful artistic type all her life. Her mother still has some of her childhood artwork, and even before it began showing signs of real talent it displayed an exuberant creativity.

Back in high school, when she reached an age at which she went to restaurants with friends and found herself responsible for leaving a gratuity, she decided to liven the tip up a bit. She would arrange coins, uniquely folded bills, and leftover bits of food into some semblance of a face and leave it for the waiter. Her hope was to brighten someone’s day a little bit. She has continued doing that over the years, though now she just uses the leftover food bits since I buy her meals with a credit card.

I’ve seen all sorts of reactions from waiters and busboys. Most don’t even notice the adorable food face and just dump everything into a tub. Some do notice and don’t know how to react, so they ignore it and pretend that nothing is upsetting the delicate balance of their waiterly routine. One recently saw the food face, giggled with delight, then covered her mouth with both hands and walked away quickly. It’s always interesting to see how people react, but the greatest reward is when it obviously makes someone happy, as when one waitress was so enchanted that she called several others over to the table to see (we witnessed this through the window after we had walked out of the restaurant).

I recently decided to begin documenting the faces she makes. Whenever we go out to eat, we take along the digital camera and record her creations for posterity. So far we only have two, but maybe some day we’ll have enough to compile into book form. Click on the images below to see full-size pictures.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll probably mention it again, but my wife is so cool.

Quotes

I just got an e-mail from my friend Geoff with some quotable quotes about
marriage. They’re good enough to share:

A successful marriage is not a gift; it is an achievement.
      —Ann
Landers
, 1918
– 2002

I would say that the
surest measure of a man’s or a woman’s maturity is the harmony, style, joy,
and dignity he creates in his
marriage, and the pleasure and inspiration he provides for his spouse.
      —Benjamin McLane Spock, 1903 – 1998

Marriage
is not just spiritual communion and passionate embraces; marriage is also three
meals a day, sharing the workload
and remembering to carry out the trash.
      —Dr Joyce Brothers

Marriage and the up-bringing
of children in the home require as well-trained a mind and as well-disciplined
a character as any other occupation
that might be considered a career.
      —Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884 – 1962

Story writers
say that love is concerned only with young people, and the excitement and glamour
of romance end at the altar.
How blind they are. The best romance is inside marriage; the finest love
stories come after the wedding, not before.
      —Irving Stone

A successful marriage requires
falling in love many times, always with the same person.
      —Mignon McLaughlin

 

Marriage links for the week

Speaking of office Christmas parties (see Thursday’s post), women in Scotland apparently see them as opportunities for bad behavior. I’m not Scottish, but I’ll repeat what I said: I’m glad I left when I did.

Blogger Mark (of Minute Particulars) takes issues with the biggest blogger on the Web (Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, if you didn’t know) on the subject of sexual purity before marriage.

The U.S. military recognizes the challenges faced by married couples and is offering to help with marriage classes offered through the chaplain’s office.

Happily married for 60 years, 70 years, 73 years.

A married couple, both psychologists and marriage specialists, turn their academic eyes in on their own marriage on their 50th anniversary.

A newly married man offers advice to men who haven’t yet grown accustomed to their wedding band.


Wednesday’s post was posted (with my permission) at The Bible Archive.

Check out the where we’re from page for Jeff’s poem. If you write your own, send it to me and I’ll make you famous.

Christmas theatrics

Real life trumps blogging today. I will say, though, that it’s important for married couples to do things together that they both enjoy. Mrs. Happy and I are involved in a project at church called Meet Me at the Manger, a children’s musical production for Christmas. I get to play the Scrooge character Mr. Herod, the owner of Herod’s department store, who refuses to let the children set up their living nativity scene and sing for his customers. Mrs. Happy plays Miss Ellie, the operator of a local mission. She gets to sing a soulful song, I get to have a change of heart, and a good time is had by all. We had our first rehearsal earlier this evening. The rehearsal taught us that when we start having kids, we should definitely stop before we have twenty.

If you’re on Long Island on Dec. 21 around 6:00 p.m., come check it out.

Office party

A recent study found that situations and attitudes in the workplace can have an adverse effect on marriage. Among the findings (some of these statistics are from other studies reported in the same article):

  • Working with coworkers who are all of the opposite sex increases divorce rates by 70 percent.
  • A married person is 43 percent more likely to get divorced if one-third of his or her coworkers are recently divorced people of the opposite sex than if none of the co-workers were recently divorced.
  • The risk of divorce rises 60 percent if all co-workers of the same sex are single, rather than married.
  • Working in the same office as a spouse reduces divorce rates by half.
  • More than half of married survey respondents say they flirt back when flirted with.

The article talks about the dangers involved in spending long hours at work with coworkers of the opposite sex. “What starts out as a coworker relationship develops into a friendship, then a deep friendship, and then into a [romantic] relationship. In my wife’s case, work led to business lunches. Business lunches led to ‘nonbusiness’ lunches and then to ‘happy hours.’ And the whole thing led to divorce,” said one man whose wife divorced him after she had an affair with a coworker.

I read this article several weeks ago. It doesn’t apply to me much because I have contact with only one woman at work, and all our contact is over e-mail. We’ve never even met face to face. Plus, I apparently have some sort of quality that makes women not want to flirt with me (that quality has been described by various people as an air of unapproachability, arrogant condescension, and snide indifference). That’s a good thing now, but a source of immense frustration during my single days.

Anyway, I went to my company Christmas party last night and I felt like printing up a copy of the aforementioned article and handing it to whoever organized things. The company rented out a very nice building, complete with catered appetizers and dinner as well as a live band, an expansive dance floor, comfortable couches, and an open bar. Oh, and employees were not allowed to bring guests, including spouses.

I stayed for only two hours, but by the time I left I was already beginning to question the wisdom of having an open bar and an activity (dancing) that encourages people to engage in intimate physical contact with coworkers. Even after one hour, my friend Jerry was having to ward off advances from a tipsy coworker.

Fortunately I don’t drink, I can’t dance, and women rarely take notice of me (though that could be because I tend to begin every conversation with a mention of my wife). But open bar + comfy couches + dancing + no spouses allowed = recipe for disaster. I don’t think I was in any danger myself, but I’m glad I left when I did.

A political rant, sort of

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that our constitution guarantees consenting adults the right to perform pretty much any sexual act they can physically accommodate. Shortly after that ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that nothing in the state constitution prevented a legally binding marriage between two people of the same sex. Throughout everything, there has been a movement among religious and political conservatives to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.” I have avoided the topic here because it is a political powder keg, and to discuss it would be to veer slightly away from my stated purpose of celebrating marriage. But I figure I can weigh in once.

As I was formulating my thoughts, for some reason I imagined myself at a rally in Washington. I imagined tens of thousands of people gathering on a day when Congress and/or the Senate were meeting to debate and vote on the marriage amendment. And I imagined being given the opportunity to address the crowd. What follows is the text of my imaginary speech.


Marriage is a legal, physical, spiritual, lifelong commitment one man and one woman make to each other. We know that. Everyone knows that. Any attempt to alter that definition is an attempt to undermine and eventually obliterate it. The current effort to legally legitimize same-sex marriage mocks a sacred institution, but society has been systematically undermining marriage for hundreds of years. Is there any aspect of marriage that has not been delegitimized?

We have allowed this to happen. We have undermined marriage ourselves. If society still held the institution as sacred and treated it as such, same-sex marriage wouldn’t even exist as an idea. We need to bring back commitment. We need to bring back devotion. We need to bring back love.

If you are a husband, love your wife. Make her the only woman in the world to you. Sacrifice yourself to help her achieve her dreams. Be the leader of your household, and be the type of leader that wants the family to love and respect each other and achieve things that its individual members cannot achieve alone. Serve your wife. Serve your children. Show them what it means to serve one another. Show them by example how Jesus treated people. Make your marriage sacred.

If you are a wife, love your husband. Love him actively and constantly. Never let him doubt that he has the undying devotion of a good woman, the best woman, the only woman in the world to him. The world tears him down every day. You build him up. Be his advocate as much as he is yours. Keep God at the center of your family. Make your marriage sacred.

I don’t know what the federal legislature will do today. I don’t know how the courts will respond. I’m afraid, though, that we’re in a losing battle. In a democracy, the law exists to protect what we value most. In the United States, the law does not protect marriage. What we should do now is build marriage back up. Make it an institution worth protecting. If we can make marriage sacred again, we can show the world how God intended it to be. I truly believe that when we demonstrate how marriage should work, then even if the law recognizes non-sacred relationships, people will look at the pretenders and say, “Who are you trying to fool?”

The reading of books

Periodically I get the chance to buy books for next to nothing. Today I got the chance, so I picked up a book by David and Janet Congo called Lifemates: A lover’s guide for a lifetime relationship. Looking through it, I see that it is full of mainly just common sense stuff—commit to each other for life, make your marriage a priority, make yourself vulnerable to your mate, be honest with each other, etc. It contains nothing spectacular, no magic spells for making a marriage perfect. But it did get me thinking about other books that have influenced me.

In my Christian life, the book of James (eighth book from the end of the Bible) made the first and biggest impact on me. Its opening admonition helped make sense of my life as a 14-year-old: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The rest of the book contains some of the most practical spiritual instruction you’ll find outside the Sermon on the Mount. Some day I’m just going to memorize the whole thing the way that guy in Fahrenheit 451 (another good book) memorized Ecclesiastes.

And speaking of Ecclesiastes, it was the second book that solidified my faith. At the age of 14, it seemed that all the smart people I knew denied the existence of God while none of the Christians I knew could explain their faith intellectually. Ecclesiastes proved to me that someone wise, wealthy, powerful, driven, extravagantly gifted, and thoroughly human could believe in God as firmly as he believed in his own life. I’m 31 now, and the Christians I have known over the past 17 years have put to rest my fears of faith’s compatibility with intellect. The vibrant minds of people who love both God and knowledge make even the most accomplished atheists look sickly pale in comparison.

In a similar vein, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis demonstrated to me how intellect can strengthen faith and vice versa. I have read many books by Lewis now—you can’t have a philosophical/theological discussion with Curt and not hear a Lewis quote or two—and find myself eternally grateful that God gave him the gifts of reason and communication and allowed him to share those gifts with the world, and particularly with me. Other notable Lewis books include The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters.

As far as marriage goes, one book in particular encouraged me more than I can express. I read If Only He Knew by Gary Smalley a few months before I got married. I didn’t intend to read it. I was living with my grandparents for a few months, and one night pulled that book off of a shelf in the guest bedroom I occupied. I don’t remember much about the specifics, but it opened my eyes to the possibilities in marriage. I do remember that it explained the concept of the husband as servant-leader of the household, and that camping is the best family activity that has ever existed in the history of the world. Both points made an impression on me that I doubt will ever wear off.

I have never actually read The Five Love Languages, but the very idea behind it helped make me a better husband. In a nutshell: Find out what makes your wife feel loved, then do it; Find out how your wife expresses love, then let her do that. We all express and perceive love differently. For example, my wife feels more loved when I hug her and say “I love you” than when I buy her a gift or do her laundry. I still buy her gifts and perform acts of service, but I want her to feel as loved and as precious as possible, so I focus my efforts accordingly.

I’ve always loved to read, and I can almost always learn something new and useful and sometimes life-changing from any book. But these are the books that have really put my life on a new course and made me a better person and a better husband.

Saying “I’m sorry”

Christianity Today has a fairly extensive collection of articles about marriage dating back to 1996. It’s good reading. The articles cover topics ranging from money and spirituality to communication and sex. One article in particular caught my eye. It is titled Don’t Say You’re Sorry and examines how the words I’m sorry can often ring hollow and make things worse. I personally have found it much more effective to admit specifically when I’m wrong and explain to my wife how and why I failed to take her feelings into account. When she knows that I understand how I hurt her feelings, she’s more willing to listen and forgive, especially when I’ve acted out of a lack of information or insight.

I’m sorry by itself usually accomplishes nothing. True apology and repentance, however, can bring a quick end to an argument and start the reconciliation.

This brings to mind quotes from a couple of movies.

From Love Story:

OLIVER BARRET IV (Ryan O’Neal)
Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

From What’s Up, Doc?

JUDY MAXWELL (Barbra Streisand)
Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

HOWARD BANNISTER (Ryan O’Neal)
That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.


Update: In the comments section, Matt has pointed out that I misspelled Ms. Streisand’s first name. That is now corrected. I must admit that I had no idea anyone ever purposely spelled Barbara without the second a. A search of the Internet Movie Database, however, turns up 19 actresses named Barbra. I learned something new today.

As a side note, nearly five years ago Matt pointed out the last word I spelled incorrectly. It was liaison and I had left out the second i.

Marriage links for the week

Wellington Boone is a popular speaker at Promise Keepers conferences. He tells men to be a servant leader in the home, an idea I wholeheartedly endorse and aspire to. Wellington is also the author of Your Wife is Not Your Momma: How You Can Have Heaven in Your Home.

I’ve said before in this space that older generations need to do a better job of educating younger generations in the ways of marriage. Today’s 20-somethings aspire to marriage but have no idea what they’re in for.

57 years of good marriage makes one man an expert. He even wrote a book. I haven’t read it, so I can’t endorse it. I’ll certainly be checking it out, though.