Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
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September 15, 2011 | 11:29 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
My Grandmother always tells me you can’t change a man. Better to just let him be. We’ve all heard this and everyone likes to think that they would never be the kind of person to ask a significant other to change. But yet, it’s impossible not to change at least a little when in a relationship – at least if your partner is a fully formed individual. A boyfriend might start enjoying a certain tv show he never watched before because you like it and he trusts your opinion and he’s around you when you’re watching it. We change for our significant others all the time in small ways. We start cooking with new vegetables, get hooked on documentary filmmaking, or fall in love with a new band not because he’s trying to change us but because our world has expanded. But where do you draw the line in hoping you become a good influence on your boyfriend and trying to change who he is?
On my second or third date with Mr. Dreamboat, he told me that the one thing he thought his life was lacking was exercise. I do something active most days of the week so naturally I was hoping I might positively influence him to join me every once in a while for yoga or that we could start taking hikes together. It took some time but recently he went with me to his first yoga class in years and tomorrow night we have a date to play tennis which is supposed to become a weekly occurrence. And I have to admit, I want him to change in this way a little. Hopefully, he will feel more energized and invigorated from working out or get bitten by the yoga bug or just incorporate any activity into his schedule at least a few times a week and maybe even on his own without me. But I don’t want to be a nag – that’s what mothers are for not girlfriends. So I don’t want to bring it up to much in an annoying way but I do want it to happen and is it so wrong to encourage something that he has told me he thinks will improve his life? But if I never mention it, he’d probably never do it so a little encouragement seems like it couldn’t hurt. It’s just hard to find that delicate balance.
Of course, some of these changes happen naturally. I gave one ex an NPR addiction completely unintentionally just because I listened to it so much. A friend of mine converted a guy who probably drank too much into a guy who has a little bit of weed before bedtime – again not because she nagged him but because he sort of adopted her regimen. But it can get much more complicated. What about when we encourage our boyfriend to get a different job to help him achieve his full potential? Or tell him that the handlebar mustache thing only works if you live in Silverlake or to move out of Orange County or that he might actually enjoy historical dramas if he gave them a chance and by the way it’s time to quit smoking. We think it’s for his benefit because these changes will positively influence his life but really that’s just our opinion. Another friend of mine is struggling to get her boyfriend to support her acting career instead of encouraging her to take up Plan B. The problem is, he’s a practical guy and having turned to Plan B himself, he may never truly support her career the way she needs. Is this her changing the type of man he is or is this just her teaching him how to be a supportive boyfriend?
It was especially poignant for me recently when I was sitting next to Mr. Dreamboat on a plane and had commented on his pants being stained. He made a joke about never having heard that before. I realized this might have been the third time I had something about these pants and I felt embarrassed – I don’t want to be a whiny nag trying to get him to change for me. Part of what I love about him is how motivated he is on his own in his career and also in making romantic or surprising gestures that I’m ashamed to admit I had nagged previous boyfriends to do. But then again, he had mentioned a few times in the last few months that he felt like he could use some styling input and wanted me to help pick out a few things he needs for his wardrobe. And Sunday, after his little teasing comment, he asked if I would go shopping with him this weekend. So was I being a nag or just a good influence in helping him effectuate things that he wants for himself?
In the meantime, Mr. Dreamboat just emailed me about how excited he is about our tennis date, which never would have happened without a little cajoling on my part. I think I’m willing to continue the cajoling for a few more weeks but after that, if he’s not fired up about the exercise thing on his own, I’ll let our tennis dates peter out. I’d rather date an out-of-shape guy who knows I love him for whom he is than be a nag with a resentful but perfect boyfriend.
September 15, 2011 | 12:40 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
I used to believe in soul mates as much as I believe in the New Yorker – which is to say a lot. Not just when I was little but I remember talking to my mom about it not long after I graduated from college and defending the idea that it was fated in the stars that there is only one guy in the world for me and we were meant to be together.
Years later, after a man I loved broke my heart, I stopped believing in soul-mates. It wasn’t a conscience decision but as I was dating a number of different men, I would ask myself, could I see us spending the rest of our lives together? Do we want the same things out of life and should we make a go of it? I settled into this very practical place where I just decided that there were a number of men out there who I could reasonably have a decent life with and I’d just try to make the most educated guess possible. I wasn’t upset by it – in fact the thought that there was more than one possibility for me out there kind of put my mind at ease because if one didn’t work out, there were other fish in the sea.
So a little over six months ago, when Mr. Dreamboat and I started dating, I was still in this practical frame of mind. Is he ambitious? Does he want to live where I want to live? Do we have similar values? Similar interests? Similar priorities when spending money? I was checking all those markers that social researchers say are the best, although still flawed, predictors of a marriage staying together. Naturally, I was excited as it became apparent that many of this man’s answers were my answers. But the notably absent question that I didn’t ask myself was is this guy the one I’m fated to be with? I didn’t ask if he was my soul mate.
Then, a few weeks ago, we saw the movie Crazy.Stupid.Love. together. In the movie, there is a lot of talk about soul mates mainly because the teenage son unreservedly believes in this romantic notion and infuses the idea into all the relationships around him. But even though the movie has an uplifting ending (sorry if that’s a spoiler but did you really think a Steve Carrell Rom Com was not going to have an uplifting ending?), it made me really sad and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
The more I let it all percolate in my brain, I realized perhaps that I was depressed because by not believing in soul mates, I was essentially saying I don’t think I will ever find my soul mate. And if I did want to believe in them again, was Mr. Dreamboat my soul mate? I didn’t have an answer. Our relationship certainly didn’t start out in the way my teenage self envisioned. I pictured us falling in love at first sight, oftentimes he was an artist who was so obsessed with me that he had to paint me over and over, then we’d have a whirlwind romance that included Paris within a matter of days and a wedding soon after to a man that was perpetually in love with me and possibly fireworks behind the Eiffel Tower. (Cut me some slack, I was a fourteen year old girl.) So that scenario was out as a bellweather, but I didn’t really care much about any of that anymore.
The part I wanted to cling to was the metaphysical part. The idea that God or the universe or the stars made someone out there for me and that once we joined together, we would both be part of something larger than our individual self and we would stay that way eternally. I’m guessing that most of you who are married can’t stop rolling your eyes at this fantasy. I know my mom who is 35 years into a successful marriage is just biding her time waiting for me to be years into a marriage with screaming kids so she can come ask me if I feel connected by the universe to my husband now.
But nonetheless, I can’t eradicate that romantic notion from my head. Recently, someone asked me about Mr. Dreamboat and called him my Beshert. A Beshert is the Jewish term for this idea of soul mates but in more traditional terms it refers to the belief that God has essentially chosen ahead of time the person we are made for and therefore will marry. I told him that was the first time someone had called him that to me. He retorted that I made it seem like he was my Beshert. I thought about the first few months of our relationship. Is it him? I wondered. The thing that bothered me was that I didn’t recognize it instantly. We had started dating and instead of instantly knowing that this man was my soul mate, I instead was focusing on practical reasons we might be right for each other. Doesn’t one just know, when it’s right as opposed to questioning it and trying to reason it out? I started to think that maybe Mr. Dreamboat wasn’t my soul mate. Maybe he was just a good match for me and maybe that should be enough.
This past weekend we were out of town at a wedding. At some point late into the evening, we were dancing a bit out of control. One of the bridesmaids stopped me as I walked by her later and said literally but with endearment he’s a freak and you’re a freak and that’s why you guys were meant to be together. I’m chalking the freak implication up to the fact that we were in the mid-west but the point was not lost me – she was saying there was no one else in the world who would dance like that with me. I looked across the room at Mr. Dreamboat. It wasn’t just the way we danced together. It was all the little things that make up who he is: what he ate, how he was raised, what he believed in, what he cared about, how his brain worked, what he liked to do, what he loved about me. There was no one else in the world like him. All those things that I thought made him perfect for me suddenly stopped being a checklist and became so specific to just him. Like he was made for me. It no longer felt like I was with him because I had made a choice that we matched up along a compatibility test. It felt like it was meant to be.
September 13, 2011 | 11:25 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
I recently returned from the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock City, Nevada (actually I’ve been back over a week but it’s taken that long to remove the dust from my body). It’s an art festival in the middle of the desert and I went for the first time as part of my month long celebration of graduating law school/taking the bar. So naturally I decided to run around half naked in the desert to liberate myself from my suburban roots before I reenter the working world. Being a JAP from LA, I was a little apprehensive about the whole ordeal and worried I would not be welcome or even enjoy myself in this free-wheeling environment.
But while I was there and let’s just say perhaps not in the most sober-induced state of mind, I had one of the most profound experiences of my life. I’m not much of a crier but on Friday night, I couldn’t stop tears of happiness from streaming down my face as I had this radical shift in my perspective on long-term relationships and an ever-lasting love.
The whole thing started at a gay bar, where they had built a freestanding door on a platform for anyone to “come out” in a literal way. People came out as gay or bi or whatever else they needed to proclaim themselves to be. Mr. Dreamboat had just taken me to Asia for an incredible romantic dream-come-true vacation and so was unable to join me at Burning Man. But he was incredibly supportive of me going by myself and consistently trusting which made me miss him even more over the five days I was there. So I was thinking about him constantly and in the middle of dancing with a group of friends and feeling overwhelmingly happy about my life, I ran up to the platform, threw the door open in front of the crowd and screamed “I’m in love with a banker!” I was out. It felt amazing to yell it as loudly as I could but, I feared that in a place that was accepting of polyamorous relationships and naked parties and every type of psychotropic substance that existed, I may have admitted to being the one thing that would not be welcomed amongst this group. I was wrong. Strangers came up to me and hugged me and asked about my relationship. People name dropped the large tech firms they worked at. I was ecstatic. I could live in both the worlds I wanted to live in.
Soon, a dust cloud come across the dance floor and out of the billowy whiteness, a couple emerged. The woman was a beautiful woman in her forties wearing a long white dress, who was all smiles as she came up to me and asked how long I’d been dating my banker. I told her and then asked her how long she and her husband had been married.
“We’ve been together twenty-three years,” she said as she looked at him like a schoolgirl in love with her first crush.
“So it’s possible?” I said reflexively. I was just making small talk and this is something I commonly say to couples who have been married a long time as a subtle compliment. They often respond with something about how it takes hard work or compromise. But this time, I was caught completely unaware for the interaction that followed.
This time, this woman looked at me like I was absolutely insane asylum-worthy crazy and had said the most preposterous thing she had ever heard.
“Of course it’s possible. It’s as probable to happen as anything else.” I was stunned.
“Look around,” she continued. “It’s certainly as probable to happen as fifty-thousand people coming together in the middle of the desert to burn art. Why wouldn’t it be?”
My eyes had begun to well with tears. I stood there, with my mouth hanging open, utterly gob-smacked. For so long, I have thought of finding a true love that lasts with a man that will remain faithful to me as one of the most impossible and rarest things to find in life. My girlfriends and I talk about how hard it is to find a man to spend your life with and how practically impossible it is to have them remain faithful to you. I write about it, tortured by my tacit fear that I’m wandering the earth looking for something that doesn’t exist. I concentrate on all the reasons why the odds are against us and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in our way. I have been focusing for so long on how hard it is to find a true lasting love, I didn’t even realize I had started to think of it as essentially impossible. But I looked around, at the thousands of people dancing under the piercing lights in the middle of the desert and realized how every day in life we see achievements of man that seem much more unlikely. Man has walked on the moon, created the internet, music, the written word, cloned a sheep, and eradicated disease. And here I am, walking around thinking that what’s truly impossible is to stay married to someone who will continue to love me forever. No wonder this woman thought I was crazy.
Of course it’s possible I thought to myself. Of course, a lasting true love is possible, I wanted to scream. It’s as likely to happen as anything else in this world that happens. So why am I carrying this onus in my heart that the one thing I want so much is so unlikely to happen to me? And right then and there, I felt myself began to let go of the notion that ever lasting love is insurmountably hard. I danced with a lightness of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. Of course it’s possible, I said over and over again in my head. I was overjoyed. I was so happy, my body was bursting into movement, overjoyed at the idea that there’s no reason I can’t have the love I want. I felt changed and inspired.
As the hours passed, my friends and I moved across the playa until we ended up on an Art Car to watch the burning of The Trojan Horse. The night had been a beautiful one so far and I was just letting myself quietly take it all on.
We had an incredible view, outside on the roof of the art car, of this massive Trojan Horse that was visible for miles. We were near enough that at midnight when the horse began to burn we could feel the heat on our faces. It began slowly with fireworks and soon sparklers were shooting light from the horse’s mane. Then with a huge burst of a fire cloud, the entire horse was engulfed in one massive large flaming fire-ball. The flame cloud receded and left the entire horse on fire –she looked like she was galloping away into the smoke. It was one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen in my entire life. I stared at it and in just a matter of moments, I swear I saw a unicorn looking back at me.
Now, I know how crazy this sounds, but here’s the thing. For the last couple years of my life whenever I talk about relationships or even write about it for that matter, when I try to explain what I’m looking for, I always use the same metaphor. I start out by explaining that I believe that I will find a true love that lasts forever, that we stay married to each other forever, and that we stay faithful to each other forever. But then, I acknowledge how naive and childish this must all sound by saying although sometimes I wonder if I might as well be saying I believe in unicorns. I’m a realist and I really do struggle with the question of am I holding on to a fairy-tale notion that doesn’t really exist anywhere out there. So over and over I’ve used this analogy of the unicorn to explain my internal dilemma – it’s like how I end my shtick on relationships.
So that night when I swear, a unicorn appeared to me out of that smoke, it felt like a sign. I hadn’t been thinking about it beforehand at all. I was thinking about Mr. Dreamboat and then the longer I watched the horse burn, the more clearly I saw a unicorn running away from me into the flames. I felt like the universe was shouting at me it does exist. Wake up already and stop analyzing everything to death! You might have even found it already so stop questioning it! Tears were falling down my face fast. I’ve never cried so much out of joy, but the longer I watched, the more beautiful it was and the more beauty I saw, the more the tears flowed.
Soon the image that I knew only I was seeing began to dissipate. A thin rail skeleton of a horse remained on fire and I watched transfixed as tears still soaked my cheeks. I hardly moved or spoke for the hour we watched that horse burn. I was changed. I felt heeled from heartbreaks in the past and from wounds I suffered as casualties of relationships. I felt sure again about believing that someone would love me the way I’ve always wanted to be loved. I felt sure again that someone would be faithful to me. I didn’t even realize how much I had been doubting it all this time. The world somehow seemed restored to me. Happy life-long marriages suddenly seemed more than just possible. For the first moment, in the longest time, I believed wholeheartedly that I would find what I have been looking for. If unicorns do exist, lasting love suddenly seemed probable to me.
September 1, 2011 | 9:33 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
An entry from my sister while I’m away at the Burning Man Festival.
If someone were to ask me my strengths as a person, probably as my first offering, I would say that I am honest. And then I might backtrack immediately afterwards, saying that being honest may also be one of my weaknesses. I am great at telling people the reality of things as I see it - which is to me, of course the utter truth. But I am also terrible at keeping secrets - whether they be about myself or anyone else (and yes, I have ruined quite a few of birthdays and presents for others)
Recently, I have found my honesty to be a quite a hindrance in my relationship.
I am edging on three years with the same man and since the beginning I have been committed to being honest. I have never had a “secret” chat with an ex boyfriend - I immediately tell Miguel all the details. I have never had a “secret” flirtation at the supermarket - I text him as it is happening. And I have never even spent an evening with an old guy friend without sharing every moment with Miguel.
And well, it has come to my attention this week that my boyfriend does not function quite in the same way. Even though things were clear from the beginning, i.e. that if I was to be completely honest in the relationship, I could not expect anything less from Miguel, he was not born with the same innate sense to share EVERYTHING. And now, upon discovery of his missteps, it is hard not to feel as if it is a type of betrayal.
I admire so much these couples that I hear of, who are committed to one another and really rely on their open communication and honesty. But I can’t help but feel that these abstract ideas are so much more complicated when it comes to the details. I mean, I am committed to open communication and honesty. And I know Miguel tries his hardest to be committed to the same. Yet, I still wonder…
What does honesty include? Are there things I don’t need to divulge with my partner? And if there are, what are they?
And no, I am not talking about the big issues here. There has been no cheating, no meeting with the exes, and no secret family. I am more talking about the day-to-day stuff.
Like for example, lets just say that I snooped around after being on vacation for two weeks visiting my family. And I happened to discover that Miguel had a girl alone in his apartment for a few hours on a weekday while I was gone. And while, yes, they were working together on a project and it was really quite innocent, Miguel decided NOT to not share this bit of information with me upon my return.
When I found out I was angry. And I was not upset about the girl - who I do not know, but I was upset at the secrecy. He chose not to reveal anything at all, deciding to think of the incident as trivial and unimportant. Miguel later explained that his decision was made in order to spare my feelings or a possible jealous tantrum. And being quite self aware, I can understand his side. Nevertheless, I can’t help but be angry at his assumption of my reaction and his repudiation of the truth.
Yet, the entire episode made me question my relationship with honesty. Was it truly necessary for Miguel to tell me a girl came to his apartment so they could do some work? If I trust my boyfriend, which I do, does he need to fill me in on every single detail? In retrospect, I can clearly see that if I had never even found out about this little secret encounter, nothing in our relationship would have changed. I think I just wish that Miguel places the value of honesty in the same vein that I do. However, I have to understand that he is a different person than myself, especially when it comes to the “sharing everything” department.
But this is where I feel stuck now. I am uncertain as to what degree there should be this utter truthfulness. I know that I will continue to be an honest partner in my relationship. I also know that my boyfriend will continue to push himself to a certain degree of honesty to the best of his abilities. But, I can’t help but wonder, to what degree is honesty really the best policy??
Maybe the answer lies in this giant grey zone we live in as a couple. I’m referring to that space in relationships where the generalizations cease to exist and the day-to-day life is really managed by trial and error. Miguel and I can discover what works for us and move forward. If it doesn’t work out, well, I guess there is always another variation of the truth out there to try on…
Jenna Kagel is a writer and English teacher currently living in Argentina. She can be reached at JennaKagel@gmail.com