Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Here comes the rain again  

Several days ago I blogged about how I used to draw little cartoons on my wife's lunch bag. The very day that I posted those pictures, I received a suggestion from numerous people (by which I mean more than zero and fewer than two, all of them named Nick) to create a sort of comic strip in that style. I can't argue with my adoring public, so here is a completely original paper-bag comic, based on actual events. Click on the image below to see the full strip, and don't be afraid to scroll to the right. And please keep in mind that I'm neither a professional nor even amateur artist, illustrator, or designer, and my handwriting is horrible.


I mentioned Dr Pepper in yesterday's post. I come from Texas, where Dr Pepper is the soda (or coke, as we say in Texas) of choice. My bringing attention to the fact that Dr Pepper has no period in the Dr abbreviation prompted this message from Jeff, perhaps the most prominent honorary citizen of the fascinating town of Peachwater, Texas:

The period after Dr was dropped in 1950 to improve legibility on the 6.5 inch bottles of the time.

Unofficial Dr Pepper Page:
http://www.wiw.org/~chris/drpepper/

Fairly unrelated:
Claim: Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide.
http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/sperm.asp

And, in case you're interested, here's the official Dr Pepper Web site.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Essential humor  

Mrs. Happy and I met some friends Saturday evening to see a movie called Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Bill Murray plays Bob, a famous actor whose career is on a downward spiral, though he can still generate a significant income ($2 million for a week's work) endorsing a Japanese whiskey. While in Japan, he meets Charlotte (Johansson), an American who's in Japan to be with her photographer husband while he takes pictures of a rock band. Though they are at different stages of life (she's young and newly married, he has two kids and a raging midlife crisis), they find each other and develop a (completely non-sexual) friendship that comforts them both.

A couple of scenes really stuck out to me. In one, Charlotte asks Bob if marriage gets any easier. I paid special attention to his reply so I could write it down later, but this is probably not verbatim:

That's hard. We had a lot of fun in the beginning. She would come with me whenever I was shooting a movie, and we would laugh about everything. Later, though, she didn't want to leave the kids. We don't spend that much time together any more.

You can read a lot into that, but one thing I see (which is borne out through phone conversations with his wife) is that Bob and his wife have fallen into the trap of taking themselves and each other too seriously. They have lost the ability to laugh with/at each other. That's death to a marriage.

Last night, Mrs. Happy and I were watching TV (the season premiere of The Practice, if you're interested) together. During a commercial, we had the following conversation:

her: Do we have any of that Dr Pepper left?
me: I don't think so. I'll check… <walks to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator> No, it's all gone.
her: There's no apple juice either, is there?
me: Nope.
her: So we don't have anything to drink?
me: <walks back to the living room> There's some milk.
her: No there's not.
me: Yes there is. I bought some today.
her: Oh.
me: It's two percent, though. (note: Mrs. Happy prefers whole milk for drinking and two percent for cooking.)
her: Okay, I guess I'll just have that.

I poured her a glass of milk, brought it to her in the living room, and turned the light off to enhance the atmosphere of our The Practice experience. A few seconds later her whole body went into a violent spasm, and she stopped just short of spewing a mouthful of two percent milk all over the living room. She glared at me and said, "I thought you were giving me water!"

Being the sensitive soul that I am, I laughed hysterically. And after she got over the initial shock, she laughed too. It turns out that she had said to me, "Okay, I guess I'll just have water," rather than, "Okay, I guess I'll just have that."

I've known married couples who would find no humor in something like that, who in fact would find nothing but offense and an excuse to fight for days. Mrs. Happy and I don't take ourselves or each other that seriously. We both laugh when either of us does or says something stupid or weird, issues forth some sort of bodily-function-related noise, cooks pasta with marinade instead of marinara (I did that), or causes a glass dish to spontaneously combust (she did that). We've been married nearly five-and-a-half years and we haven't lost our collective sense of humor. I hope we never do.


Before you e-mail me to tell me I made a punctuation mistake, look at Dr Pepper's official Web site. There really is no period.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Marriage links for the week  

Many weddings are just rituals followed by a dull party. Mine was amazingly, well, happy. It's good to read about another happy couple and the people who love them.

"…happiness is less a matter of getting what we want than of wanting what we have." This article comes out of Australia, but what it says is equally true everywhere: Be sure that your goals are worth reaching—money doesn't make anyone happy.

If you work at it, a marriage can last 50 years, even in the world of professional wrestling: "…they say their marriage has been made stronger by the sacrifices they had to make."

Four siblings all got married between 1949 and 1953. They're all still married, meaning that there's two hundred years of marriage among them. Wow.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Not much going on  

I tried writing a post this morning, but found myself woefully uninspired. That happens sometimes, and in those cases I usually write in the evening. But today I'm just foregoing the blog in order to spend time with my wife. If you're starving for something to read, check out Dean Esmay's post on how feminists want to change our language. Be sure to read the comments. Also, be aware that Dean has edited his post since I commented on it. The quote "If you see it the same way, you should vote for Al Gore and I," was originally "You should agree with he and I."

Thursday, September 25, 2003

It's all about the love, Part 3  

I said yesterday that I never said "I love you" to the Mrs. Happy until I proposed to her. I did my best to express that through my actions, but I also came up with sort of a euphemistic phrase. Whenever I felt overcome with affection toward her, I would adopt an adoring expression on my face and say, "I'm really glad I met you." It may seem silly outside of the context of the time, but she knew what it really meant. It let her know how I felt without the words I had reserved for the woman I would marry. Later, between the proposal and the wedding, she bought my wedding band and had the jeweler engrave "I.R.G.I.M.Y. 5-23-98" on the inside. This, she said, meant "I'm really glad I married you."

Last night and early this morning, Mrs. Happy and I put our heads together to think of some other phrases that mean "I love you" without using the words. Here's what we came up with:

Keep in mind that these only work if they're based on real feelings and real actions in an established relationship. Saying these things to a stranger can result in glares, slaps, restraining orders, and arrests.

If anyone can think of other things along this line, e-mail them to me (see address at the upper-right corner of this page) and I'll share them with everyone.

One nation under…  

I just read an insightful article by William J. Federer called Three Secular Reasons Why America Should Be Under God. It has nothing to do with marriage, but check it out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

It's all about the love, Part 2  

My first dating relationship happened when I was 15 years old. My girlfriend and I knew each other from high school band, where we had pretty much the same group of friends. We started dating basically because we didn't hate each other and neither of us had anyone to kiss. I know now that physical contact is probably the worst foundation for a relationship of any kind. I should have known it then, but I was 15, high on hormones, and low on rationality.

We tried to act like what we had was "the real thing," that we were "meant to be," that we fully intended to stay together forever, but I doubt that either of us believed it deep down. Still, we played at romance. We tried giving each other silly nicknames (none of which ever stuck for more than two days), we tried to do something special for birthdays and Valentine's, and every time we spoke to each other we said "I love you." I don't pretend to know what was in her mind when she told me she loved me, but I said those words because that's what boyfriends and girlfriends say to each other. I didn't understand what it meant, but I somehow knew that I didn't really mean it. Nevertheless, she said it to me so I echoed it back.

Looking back I think I know why the words rang hollow to me even as I said them. To me, they meant that I had a girlfriend and that she liked me enough to spend time with me. But in truth, they were just words based on nothing, like a piece of notebook paper on which someone has written "This is worth $100."

I know now that love means more than kissing. Love means a lot of things, but to me what it means most is sacrifice. When I say "I love you" to my wife, I mean that I willingly and regularly give up part of myself to benefit her. I mean that I will continue to do so into the future. I mean that I will make any sacrifice necessary to keep her well and happy. And I mean that I expect nothing in return. Granted, the fact that she loves me as well, that she regularly sacrifices herself for my benefit, makes it easier for me to love her. That's part of what marriage is—two people taking joy in mutual sacrifice for each other's sake.

After my high school girlfriend moved to another state, I vowed to myself that I would never again say "I love you" to a woman until I was ready to commit the rest of my life to her. After I met my wife, I gradually fell into a disposition of intense affection toward her. I wanted to say "I love you," but refrained. Instead, I showed her. I went out of my way to make her life easier, to brighten her day, to make her feel special, to help her in any way she needed and in any way that I could. When I proposed, when I finally said "I love you," she knew that I meant it and she knew what I meant. And I, for the first time in my life, felt right about saying it to a woman I was not related to.

People want love so much that they end up infecting their computers with a debilitating virus in an effort to get it (see yesterday's post). They achieve nothing but disillusionment with the idea of love and discard it as irrelevant (a la Ms. Turner's song). They throw powerful words around without giving them any substance (as does Marie's admirer). I think a lot of people want to say and hear "I love you" without having any sacrifice involved. I can tell you from experience, that ends only in emptiness and disappointment.

Express love through action first, then words. Trust me, it works a lot better that way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

It's all about the love  

One morning a few years ago I opened my e-mail at work to find about two hundred messages from people I didn't know, all with the subject line I Love You. I assumed that the messages contained a worm or virus and simply deleted them.

The hackers who wrote the I Love You virus counted on gullible and lonely people to spread their virus. How could anyone resist opening a message in which someone declares their love? I Love You spread quickly around the Internet, clogging networks and making life miserable for businesses and their administrators all over the world.

When I was a teenager, Tina Turner had a hit song called What's Love Got to Do With It? Some lyrics:

You must understand though the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it's only the thrill of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract
It's physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore that it means more than that

What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

A little before my time, Randy Newman wrote a pretty controversial song called Marie. Some lyrics from it:

You're the song that the trees sing when the wind blows
You're a flower, you're a river, you're a rainbow
Sometimes I'm crazy
But I guess you know
And I'm weak and I'm lazy
And I've hurt you so
And I don't listen to a word you say
When you're in trouble I just turn away

But I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie

The word love confuses a lot of people. What does it mean? What doesn't it mean? Merriam-Webster's online dictionary lists nine definitions for love as a noun and four as a verb, plus eight more definitions for phrases containing the word love (love apple, love beads, love child, etc.). When people use this amorphous word to describe their feelings about God, country, and ice cream, it starts to lose its meaning. In fact, the word has no real meaning by itself, as Randy Newman illustrated. The concept, though, has a great deal of meaning, or else millions of people would not have infected their computers in an effort to find it.


I am allergic to autumn in New York and am feeling awful right now. I will post more on this tomorrow, with what I think love really means and how it works in my marriage.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Guest blog: Mrs. Happy  

Curt's been asking me for a couple of weeks to do a "guest blog," and I've been a little apprehensive, first because I'm not really the writer of the Happy family, and second because this whole blog concept is pretty foreign to me, the stubborn and rebellious "luddite" (Curt's word for what I'm talking about) daughter of a computer programmer.

However, I started to wonder if readers of Curt's blog might wonder if he's for real—sometimes I wonder myself because he seems too good to be true. That is, until he purposely startles me senseless or burps openly in front of my parents. I also feel his arms around me every day and see his watering eyes when he realizes that I'm a person.

So he's definitely real, and I am so proud of him for his hard work on this blog. I must admit, however, that my support of his endeavors was a bit sketchy at first. I'm Mrs. Happy, not Mrs. Perfect. I get annoyed when he spends a lot of time on the computer, and I thought this would take too much out of our time together. Even when he assured me he'd do it early in the morning before we officially get up to get ready for work, I complained that it would hinder our "cuddle time." Besides, what really is a blog anyway? Who will actually read it? What IS IT WITH THAT?

But as I've been reading it each day, I realize how insightful, humorous, and valuable it really is. The other night, when Mr. Happy went upstairs to check his e-mail, I heard his excited "Woo-Hoo!" and laughter and knew that it was blog-related. I yelled up to him, "How many hits did you get today?" He exclaimed, "Just come here! This is great!"

I found him beaming in front of the computer because another blogger (Chris Noble) had mentioned Curt's blog on his web site. I can't remember the last time I was so proud of him, and I immediately felt guilty for all of my annoyance and even some fun I had poked at him about his blog. I also realized for about the gazillionth time how much I take my husband for granted and how truly special he is. I was also reminded that a wife should always respect her good husband, no matter how little sense he makes sometimes.

I think he should really consider renaming his blog The Happy Wife.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Marriage links for the week  

I had a professor in college who had previously been a marriage counselor. He told us about a couple he once counseled who were going through some very rocky times. Their main issue was that the husband refused to let the wife get a dog, so she wanted a divorce. Of course, that was only the surface issue. It could just as easily have been football.

Happy marriages have more benefits than I can name, and apparently it's even good for the heart.

Shocking news, this: If you want your marriage to be happy, be neither a tyrant nor a spoiled brat.

Man has yet to improve upon the family structure of a man and woman getting married and raising their own biological children, despite many claims to the contrary.

In good times and bad, a common faith lays the foundation for a strong marriage.

I grew up in Texas, where parents train their sons to be gentlemen and to treat a woman like a lady. I've been scolded by non-southern women for opening doors, walking nearer to the street, trying to help with unwieldy coats, and more, but the truth is I'd rather get scolded than act like a clod. (Link via The Noble Pundit.)

Speaking of The Noble Pundit, he had some very flattering things to say about me yesterday, for which I am grateful. My friend Jeff also left a nice comment on the post. I love validation.

Speaking of Jeff, he may have figured out why Internet Explorer can't figure out how to space the lines here in this center column. It has to do with paragraph tags in the HTML and the way my blogging service deals with line breaks and blank lines. If his idea works, I'll retract half of the ill will behind my statement that IE is shoddy software. Even so, get Opera (Windows), or Safari (Macintosh).

Friday, September 19, 2003

Cultivation  

"A friendship is like a garden: You have to water it, and tend it, and care about it, or you lose it." That's from a musical called Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim. The statement is doubly true for marriages. I know from experience how easy it is to fall into a routine of going to work, coming home, eating supper, watching TV, and going to bed. Routines are hard on marriages, because when a marriage isn't growing it's decaying. Or, to extend the analogy, the weeds grow while the gardener rests.

Early in our marriage, Mrs. Happy and I took sack lunches to work nearly every day. Each morning before leaving for work, I would usually pack the lunches for both of us. In the process of that, I would draw a little cartoon on her sack to make her smile during her lunch break. When I drew a cartoon, I liked for it to be relevant to our relationship at the time. For instance, one day we hardly got to see each other at all because I worked until 5:00 p.m. and she had class (she spent two years in a Master's program) from 5:30 to 10:00. When she got home, there was a gentle rain falling, so we lay down in our bed, which is right next to a window, and talked to each other while we watched and listened to the rain. It was truly a sweet time and a relief after being away from each other for longer than usual. So the next day I drew a little cartoon of the two of us playing in the rain. Back then, I made it my goal to cultivate our relationship in such a way that I always had something to draw on her lunch sack.

She looked forward to the drawings every day. They meant so much to her that she saved them in a sack that I had decorated more elaborately than the others. Last night we looked through them again, reminiscing about the times that each cartoon represented and speculating about the events that led to some of the more bewildering drawings. Mrs. Happy picked out four that she especially loved and allowed me to scan them for posting here. I have included them below, with explanations of each. Click on each image to see the full drawing.

  1. One day I was doing some work in our attic when I heard a crash and a scream. I rushed down the stairs to find Mrs. Happy frantic and crying and running around in circles. I was eventually able to determine that she had spilled boiling water on her foot, so I administered as much first aid and TLC as I could muster. This cartoon is me showing sympathy and kissing the wound to make it better.
  2. A couple of years ago, my wife developed a buildup of impacted wax in one of her ears. She could not hear out of it for about a week, and it made her ear feel large and mis-shapen to her.
  3. It took me seven years of going to school to get a bachelor's degree. It took my wife six years to get both a bachelor's and a master's. I drew this around the time that she received her master's degree.
  4. There have been a few times in our 5+ years together in which it seemed that we might have a Happy and Unexpected Baby on the way. This particular time, we (and me in particular) were nowhere near ready for it, but Mrs. Happy was still a little disappointed when the test came back negative.

These days, we don't take our lunches to work so much anymore. But now I make it my goal to cultivate our relationship in such a way that I have something to blog about every day.


My wife went to a meeting at church last night at which one of our friends pulled her aside and asked her very seriously, "What did you mean about people wearing things across their butts? I can't figure it out and I can't remember anything from the Web site but that." So, in case anyone else is wondering, here's what she meant: She saw a teenage girl walk past our table wearing what appeared to be pajama bottoms with the word LUCKY written across the rear. Mrs. Happy is not opposed to that sort of thing in principle, but she does think it a little immodest to wear lucky pajamas in public.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Freaky stuff across the pond  

File this under People Who Don't Understand the Concept #16. According to The London Mirror and The Washington Times (which ran the story from UPI), Alison Smith married George Greenhowe in Scotland in 2001. Ten days after the wedding, she caught him in bed with Pat, her mother. She filed for, and received, a divorce. Earlier this month (or so it seems—the two articles are sketchy on the actual date), Alison served as a bridesmaid at their wedding, saying, "Mum makes George happier than I did." She even calls her ex-husband "Dad" now, even though he's never even apologized for any of it.

Also disturbing is the fact that Scottish lawmakers actually anticipated this sort of situation, making it illegal for a man to marry his ex-wife's mother while his ex is still alive, which is why they had the wedding in Britain.

Love, fidelity, commitment, honesty, and concern for someone you've chosen to marry…it all seems so simple, but people still manage to get it so, so wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I love feedback  

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to send me feedback via the e-mail address at the right. Very few people do. I did get some feedback last week, though, so on Friday I posted some comments sent in by Nick, which I prefaced by saying, "Since I began <blogging> on August 20, however, I have received no feedback and few hits. I figure that either I have nothing interesting to say, or else my friends just suck." It was quickly brought to my attention that I had actually received feedback from my friend Jeff long before Nick contacted me:

I suck??

I've given you feedback... I said that your links had smart quotes in them. And I said something in passing about Dave Barry.

I've been reading your posts on most days, but I haven't had much time to actually write back in reply. I've gotten as far as writing things like "Yes, good point..." and "I agree..." but nothing too substantial, so I didn't send those.

I have had several conversations in the last two months about my perspective on marriage as a single 30-something and as a youth director. I've realized that I have a fairly unique and healthy view of marriage. I'll jot some thoughts down.

My pastor is currently doing a sermon series on Christian Relationships. Some of the sermons are related to your posts. I'll send you copies of the series when it is done.

Oh, and for the feedback: Keep up the good work! I enjoy the site! I highly recommend your website...I've mentioned it to at least two people. You will soon double or even triple your readership!

Jeff

What he says is true. Jeff was my roommate during the time I was courting my wife, and from that time I learned that he has a healthier view of relationships than most married people. Also, he actually played an essential role in this blog's technical refinements. He alerted me to the problem of the smart quotes that prevented certain links from working. He alerted me to a couple of problems with Internet Explorer's interpretation of this page, for which we have found no explanation and therefore no solution—please take a stand against shoddy software and download Netscape, Opera, or Safari (the best browser in existence, but it only works on Mac OS X, the best operating system in existence). And he alerted me to the reason Dave Barry ignores me: "Dave Barry doesn't want to talk with you because you said 'buttload'." He's probably right.

In this past week, I also received feedback from my parents. They both think I'm brilliant, though my mother may change her mind when she reads the Dave Barry post in which I said "buttload."


I want to say a special thank you to Chris Noble over at The Noble Pundit. I've been enjoying his political/economic/societal blog for several months now, and today I realized that he has added me to his blogroll (the list of blogs on the left-hand side of the page). It's my first piece of validation from the blogging community, and I am grateful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The unbearable perception of being  

People are selfish, which is only to be expected. We see the world from our own perspective, after all, a point of view that makes the self-centered approach to life more sensible than any other. I periodically notice this sort of attitude in myself. I often fail to even fully understand the humanity of other people as I deal with them throughout the day. Since I look out at my environment from behind my own eyes, I tend not to even recognize that other people are doing the same, that behind their eyes lie personalities just as vibrant, thoughts just as complex, desires just as illogical, and emotions just as intense and hidden as my own. Sometimes, though, I do notice:

Mrs. Happy and I visited a local eatery last night. We sat and talked, unwinding from a day that was pretty tense for both of us, enjoying the food and each other's company. There came a lull in our conversation. Neither of us said a word for several minutes, then she looked at me and said, with a disgusted expression, "What is it with people wearing things across their butts?" I had no idea what she was talking about. Furthermore, the fact that I had no idea what she was talking about made me wonder whether a question that begins with the words "what is it with" really makes any sense at all. I was trying to decipher the meaning and hopefully the etymology of those four words when I responded by saying quite seriously, "I don't know. What. Is. It. With. That."

Neither of us knew what to say, so she said, "What is it, indeed… with that." We stared at each other for a beat, then burst out laughing. We kept laughing for a long while. When we both stopped, I looked across the table at her. She was still glowing from the laughter. And she was an individual, complete with a vibrant personality, complex thoughts, illogical desires, intense emotions, and an all-encompassing sense of being. Every day I tell her that she's beautiful and I love her. Every week I tell her that she's "such a person."

My periodic realization of individuality in other people always surprises me. My periodic recognition of my wife's humanity overwhelms me, and I thank God for that.


I told a bunch of people just yesterday that I usually update this blog by 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, and here I am already late. My excuse is that I had to play tennis with my wife before darkness fell. We played one set, which she won, of course. But I won two games and took a third to three deuces. I'm getting much better.

Monday, September 15, 2003

An acoustic afternoon  

I stepped out of my comfort zone again yesterday by taking my wife to a concert in Central Park. (Read my post about the last time I left my comfort zone.) The concert, dubbed "An Acoustic Afternoon" by its promoters, featured Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Patty Grffin, and Dar Williams. I'm not familiar with any of them (I didn't recognize a single song they played), but an opportunity arose last week for me to get free tickets to the concert, and my wife is a fan of Shawn Colvin. So I got the tickets, and we caught a train into Manhattan right after church on Sunday.

I'm glad we went. The concert was in the format I like best, with the performer(s) talking to the audience and playing their music without making a huge production of it. In this case, the four musicians sat onstage together and just took turns singing. All four sang backup for each other, and their banter between songs felt lively and unrehearsed (at least I can't imagine Shawn Colvin planning ahead to tell a story about how she peed herself in front of 'N Sync at Disney World). For me, the concert highlights included Mary Chapin Carpenter's impression of Julie Andrews auditioning for Oklahoma! and not getting the part, and a collaborative reinterpretation of the Backstreet Boys' I Want It That Way in an acoustic/folk style.

Afterward, we went to our favorite restaurant in Manhattan. Actually, we tried to go to our favorite restaurant in Manhattan. We both know generally where it is—somewhere within a three-block radius of Radio City Music Hall—but neither one of us can ever remember exactly where it is. That, combined with my abysmal sense of direction and insistence on being the leader, makes for a lot of frustrated wandering. Last night we never found our restaurant, which gave us a good opportunity to practice our conflict resolution and forgiveness skills. We ended up eating at a pretty decent pizza place near Rockefeller Center.

Good music, good fall weather, decent food, and excellent company made for a fun evening all around.

If you're ever in Manhattan and looking for a good and inexpensive place to eat, try our favorite restaurant. It's called La Bonne Soup, and it's located on 55th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues (about five blocks away from Radio City Music Hall).


This is the kind of No Parking sign you find in New York.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Marriage links for the week  

Modern television may be eroding marriage (as I mentioned in a recent post), but ancient television probably created unrealistic expectations. From a fellow 5-year veteran: "I was going to be the perfect wife and mother. I was never going to run out of milk, laundry was always going to be done, we would never have to use Kleenex in place of toilet paper, my husband was always going to have a hot breakfast before leaving for work at 4:30 a.m. and the house would always be spotless." Real marriage isn't like Ozzie and Harriet. It's so much better.

Two party people celebrate their 60th.

If you get married to enhance your own happiness, you will find only misery. No person on this earth can make you happy. If two people get married to devote themselves to each other, the experience will be more rewarding than either could have imagined (another person can make you happier). These two perspectives cast radically different lights on marital conflict, both while it is happening and when we look back on it.

Researchers and long-married couples talk about what makes a good marriage.

A happy marriage can help prevent cancer. (Scroll down to No. 3: Lifestyle.)

This article is sort of a commercial for a dating service, so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but it makes a good point about finding a soul-mate (something I discussed in a recent post). Two people don't fit together like pre-cut puzzle pieces. People invest themselves in each other's lives, build a solid relationship, and grow together like grafted plants.

Friday, September 12, 2003

I've got mail!  

One thing I looked forward to when I began blogging was reader feedback. I didn't expect a whole lot at first, since I mentioned the existence of this blog to only a few friends. Since I began on August 20, however, I have received no feedback and few hits. I figure that either I have nothing interesting to say, or else my friends just suck. I received my first piece of feedback today, though, and it contains some excellent and encouraging thoughts, so I'm marking the occasion by sharing the feedback with both of my other readers. This comes from Nick:

TV totally reflects and reinforces society's views against marriage. A friend of mine and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, how people are now wary of anyone who gets married without living together first. Stuff on Friends would have been taboo not more than a few decades ago when we were kids. Even the older generation, the ones who stayed married for 30+ years, happily or for whatever reason otherwise joke about it...this one old guy in one of the bands I play in is always musing how he "would have been a millionaire if he'd stayed single instead of broke and having headaches with his kids," and he berated the band leader's son when he settled down and got married a few years ago for doing so. People feel pressure from peers, from adults, from media to act contrary to traditional values, and it's all flipflopped. Still I look at my parents and how they did things, and I want to follow their example (except for the part where they got married late and now risk not living to see grandchildren at the rate I'm going). They fight sometimes (moreso when they were younger) over stupid things like most couples do, whether it be tracking grease in the house or overwaxing the floor then telling my mom he didn't touch the floor when she gets home even though you can smell it and it's mad slippery etc. But they do stuff together like gardening and shopping, and just the other day they went on a "date" and drove out east to go apple-picking, and they've stayed together for over 30 years and always went to church. I'd love to be able to say the same when I'm in my 70s.

Wow, that set me rambling. Good thought-provoking site, though.

Thanks, Nick.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A terrible anniversary  

I was looking through some old files today, trying to see if I had a record of writing anything on this day two years ago. I was sure that I had written something, and was hoping that file names might jog my memory. It turns out that I didn't need file names. I found a text file listing 9/11/01, 11:51 PM as its Date Modified. That took me aback. The date still causes me to catch my breath. The file itself, the stuff I wrote, seems pretty jumbled. Reading it again doesn't make me relive that day's emotions. The date itself, though, brings up some turbulent memories. I remember that my wife and I had been living in the tri-state area for exactly one year, almost to the day. I remember thinking about the time I had spent inside the World Trade Center during that one year. I remember that the radio reports were confused, and that the television reports were non-existent because the broadcast antenna on top of Tower 1 had ceased to exist. I remember irrational feelings of guilt knowing that since we didn't live in Manhattan, didn't work at the WTC or anywhere downtown, and didn't know anyone who was killed or injured, that the biggest disruption it would cause us would be the temporary loss of TV reception. I remember writing about it and wondering what name to call the event (there's still no word that adequately describes it). I remember crying compulsively at random moments throughout the day. Most of all, though, I remember stepping outside of my house in the early evening and smelling an acrid odor, and I remember taking a short walk with my wife, crossing a busy street, looking toward Manhattan, and—though we live too far away to see the skyline—seeing a gigantic cloud of smoke.

Now that I have some distance, it still makes me cry. I've visited the WTC site a couple of times, and it still affects me. And I still have the same inability to express anything meaningful about that day:

I want to say something profound. I want to draw a huge, life-changing insight from the devastation. I want to ask the terrorists what the hell they were thinking and what they thought they would accomplish. But it all seems so pointless. I can only say that in the end, all that matters is how well you know God. And since that's all that matters in the end, maybe it's all that matters now.
Here are some photos I took back in July ('03). Click to see a larger image.

 

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Math and cell phones  

This has nothing to do with marriage, but I have to say that sometimes I'm just staggered by the level of ignorance I encounter during the course of my day. I know that "ignorant" has become a synonym for "hate-filled, narrow-minded, and racist," but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the sheer "I-don't-know-squat-about-anything" brand of ignorance. Usually I blame the progressively wretched state of U.S. education for ignorance in people younger than me, but I met two people this past weekend who both had a few years on me and couldn't do simple division.

I won't mention names, but our Sprint phone had died, and the people at the Sprint store were downright rude and condescending to Mrs. Happy when she asked to have it fixed or replaced, so Sprint has lost our business. First thing Saturday morning, I went to Best Buy to check out phones not branded by Sprint and calling plans not on Sprint's network from a company that doesn't manage its stores like a DMV office the way Sprint does. I spoke with a friendly, helpful woman who explained to me that I could get two phones and put them on the same plan. The plan came with 5,000 minutes, which means, and I quote, "that on each phone you could use…um…uh" here she hung her head "I can't think." I suggested that perhaps she was looking for the number 2,500 (minutes), which brightened up her saddened countenance considerably. She quickly agreed that I would be able to use each phone for 2,500 minutes without fear of incurring additional charges. I passed.

From there I visited a local store dedicated to a single wireless company. A salesman there asked me how much time I expected to spend per month using my new cell phone. I told him probably four or five hours. The word "hours" had an affect on him that I would only expect from a word such as "vasectomy." His eyes opened wide and darted around while he stammered under his breath, not knowing what to say. You see, cell phone plans come with minutes, not hours, and he couldn't translate my response into terms he could understand. He managed to find a calculator, and after pressing a few buttons and staring at the floor, he asked sheepishly, "Is 400 minutes enough?" I told him it was, and things went smoothly from there.

Now we have a new cell phone. I think this next Saturday I may go to the Sprint store and tell them about the Let's Make a Deal brainteaser. That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A rare occasion  

I would like to offer warm and affectionate congratulations to my parents-in-law, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary yesterday. It's because of them and their marriage that my wife has such a strong idea of how good a marriage can actually be. They taught (and, more importantly, showed) her how to maintain a solid relationship through prosperity and hard times, through agreement and conflict, through stability and change. She, in turn, has been able to relate some of that to me, for which I am eternally grateful. After spending 30 years as husband and wife, they still love each other. And after 30 years, they still like each other, which is even more impressive. From what I can tell, theirs is a deep, lasting, intimate marriage of two best friends. My wife and I are best friends as well, so this occasion encourages me to think that we have many wonderful years ahead of us as well. Happy anniversary!

Monday, September 08, 2003

More tennis  

My wife is a big tennis fan. She played in high school and followed the careers of Monica Seles, Steffi Graff, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, and others who were all in their prime together. Neither of us has really even paid attention to tennis in the last five years except to watch the occasional Williams sister play. This year, though, we lucked into some free tickets to a couple of U.S. Open matches, which had the effect of reminding my wife what it felt like to be out on a court. Her reminiscences of practicing every day and playing in day-long tournaments inspired us to watch every match of the U.S. Open that we could catch on TV.

The semifinal matches provided a lot more excitement than the finals this year. Justine Henin-Hardenne battled severe dehydration and leg cramps to pull off an incredible and epic performance to beat Jennifer Capriati, then go on to dispatch Kim Clijsters fairly abruptly in the final. Both Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero played brilliant matches against brilliant opponents in the semifinals, but Roddick won his first grand slam title in decisive fashion yesterday, serving up 23 aces and winning 23 consecutive service points.

All this excitement has made Mrs. Happy want to start playing tennis again. So Saturday we broke out the equipment and went to a nearby tennis court. I have actually never been a tennis player. Everything I know about swinging a racket has come from a lifetime of intermittent Ping-Pong and a short, frustrating period of instruction from The Happy Girlfriend before we married. So after we warmed up on Saturday we played a match. Actually, it was less a match than a single set. And actually, it more closely resembled a 6-game trouncing (30 points to 5) than a real set. But I gave it my all, got in a few good shots, laughed a lot, and spent some quality time with my wife. Athletic humiliation and a resulting sore (in some awkward places, I might add) body don't often add up to a good time, but this was an exception.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Marriage links for the week  

Wow. A couple decides not to kiss, ever, until the minister at their wedding gives them permission. I think that's probably the healthiest, most impossibly difficult way to handle physical contact in a romantic relationship. I'll say it again: Wow.

Premarital counseling really helps prepare a couple for marriage. My wife and I went through six weeks of premarital counseling with a Christian psychologist, and it prevented of loads of grief and conflict that would have arisen later on.

This is the kind of attitude that can ruin people's lives. Marriage is sort of like a garden: If you do it right, the rewards surpass every possible alternative—but if you can't commit, you're better off eating Ramen alone every night.

People who lost spouses to terror attacks deal with the excruciating issue of whether and when to begin dating again. (New York Times, free registration required.)

76 years. Incredible.

75 years and still gardening.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Reality TV update  

If reality TV can inspire a man to sit on a live firecracker, then it can also make someone believe that Who Wants To Marry My Dad? and Meet My Folks is a good format for finding a lifelong mate.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Wedding vows  

Today's society places a huge emphasis on freedom: of speech, of thought, of action, of any kind of expression. This attitude allows all sorts of horrible happenings, but it also (in many cases) allows good things that might be squelched in other cultures that care less about freedom. Sometimes, though, the idea of freedom becomes "freedom for the sake of freedom," and it can stifle good and meaningful traditions.

Take wedding vows, for example. People of my generation (I'm 31) tend to use wedding vows as a medium for expressing the intense emotions they feel for an imminent spouse. Instead of reciting the same old vows with the same old words that thousands of other couples have used, marrying couples now state their own feelings to demonstrate to each other and to all witnesses the depth of their feelings.

Personally, I see this as a case of freedom for the sake of freedom. The tradition of wedding vows serves a more meaningful purpose than a mere expression of love. Traditions allow individuals to personally invest in something larger than any single person or couple. My wife and I used traditional vows (minus the King James English) at our wedding:

Minister: John, do you take Jane to your lawfully wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep only unto her, as long as you both shall live?

John: I do.

Minister: Jane, do you take this Man to your lawfully wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Do you promise to you love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep only unto him, as long as you both shall live?

Jane: I do.

Later, as we exchanged rings, we said the following:

I, John, take you, Jane, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

I, Jane, take you, John, to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

I have never heard any personal vows express lifelong devotion quite as well. We wanted to use traditional vows because we had heard them at previous weddings, and hopefully we will continue to hear them at future weddings. The vows I heard spoken at prior weddings made me think about exactly what being married meant. The vows I will hear at weddings in years to come will remind me of the vows I took and reinforce the power of the words.

Whenever I hear a couple taking the same vows that I took, I remember taking them myself. I remember seeing my wife standing in front of me, looking more like an angel than a mortal woman. I remember the overwhelming happiness that we felt from everyone around us. I remember that I pledged my life to her that day. That doesn't happen when I hear something like "My beloved, romance may fade, but true love endures. I choose to truly love you, with kindness, faithfulness, and respect, through every circumstance that life may bring."

Touching, meaningful, romantic sentiments work well in private moments. But for a public wedding, traditional vows express and celebrate the marriage covenant and allow a couple to invest in and perform a vital role in a holy institution larger than themselves and their own thoughts.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Quality time vs. Blog time  

I haven't been able to spend much time with my wife today, nor have I had any real chance to blog. Now I have a choice. Do I write an insightful, in-depth post, or do I hang out with Mrs. Happy? Hmm…

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Forgiveness and Apologies  

There's been a liveley discussion here and here over at One Hand Clapping concerning the issue of Christian forgiveness. People leaving comments to the two posts seem to want to be able to forgive people while reserving the right to punish offenders and harbor bad feelings toward them. I left a few comments myself, but I don't think anyone took me seriously. This is the gist of what I said:

As Christians, our model of forgiveness (and pretty much everything else) is Jesus. He was falsely accused, beaten, tortured, publicly ridiculed, stripped naked, and put to death on a cross, but with His dying breaths He asked God to forgive the people who put Him there. His death paid for all sins, including the sins people commit against me. I have offended God more than any man could ever offend me, and He has forgiven me of everything. How then can I refuse to forgive anyone? Jesus taught absolute, total, unending forgiveness for anything and everything. It's contrary to human nature, but if we aspire to a Christ-like nature, then we have to rise above our natural impulses of hatred and vengeance.

Anyway, the principle of forgiveness applies especially to a marriage relationship. My wife and I have offended each other more times than we can count. Without forgiveness we wouldn't have lasted through our engagement, much less 5+ years of marriage. This point seems obvious, but people still miss it: If you want to have a close relationship with your wife, you cannot let any hard feelings sit and fester, which means you must forgive everything she does that hurts you. She must also forgive everything you do to hurt her.

My wife's complete Christ-like forgiveness, though, does not give me a license to do anything I want and lay the blame on her when she can't let go of some pain that I've caused. First, I need to work to make my hurtful actions a rare exception rather than a rule. That builds trust and makes forgiveness easier. Second, when I screw up I need to apologize and change my ways. (This article provides some advice on that.) Here's something I've learned to keep in mind when apologizing: Try to refrain from using the words "but" and "you." Phrases within apologies that contain those words usually nullify the part that starts with "I'm sorry."

Update: Mrs. Happy just reminded me that a married couple should resolve any angry or harmful conflict before falling asleep. We've had a few sleepless nights adhering to that rule, but trust me when I say it's better than having feelings that fester.

Monday, September 01, 2003

U.S. Open  

I'm sort of a homebody, what my geek friends call a "hobbit." Taking a trip or attending some big event always brings out my latent insecurity by the truckload. I have an irrational fear whenever I approach an airline ticket counter or a hotel check-in desk, or hand my event ticket to an usher, that I will be greeted with a condescending stare and a command to go away and stop wasting everyone's time. Consequently, I tend to favor activities close to home.

My wife, however, is more of an adventurer. It never occurs to her that we might drive across the country to Wally World only to find it closed for repairs. So when a friend of hers gave her a pair of complimentary tickets to Sunday evening's matches at the U.S. Open, she was thrilled. I was nervous, and I stayed nervous and slightly irritable until we were in our seats, fourth row from the top of Arthur Ashe stadium.

We saw No. 1 seed Kim Clijsters (from Belgium) beat Meghann Shaughnessy (U.S.) in two sets, despite the fact that Shaughnessy had the crowd behind her. We also saw No. 2 seed Roger Federer (Switzerland) defeat unseeded James Blake (Yonkers) in three sets, though the battle was hard-fought. Blake has charisma, physical presence, wild hair, real heart, a fiercely competitive spirit, and a home in New York, all of which made the crowd adore him. There were so many close games, games that went on for no fewer than 20 points, that the match seemed to go much longer than three sets. It was exciting, and I was a little hoarse after all the shouting I did. Mrs. Happy and I both had a great time.

Sometimes it's good to let your wife drag you out of your comfort zone.

This is how you see the Blake/Federer match from the nosebleed seats.