What have you done in the last year that makes you proud? / What did you learn recently that changed the way you live?

It is important for me to reflect back on the last twelve months of my life. It has been almost a whole year since I sat in this same chair, wrapped in this same blanket, and created this blog. I was so full of intention.

Tonight I am actually writing this from my desktop computer, something that I rarely do, because my laptop is broken again (pretty sure Apple sold me a dud MacBook, but I’m like David over here trying to slay the giant). It’s actually very uncomfortable in our home office – my husband selected the decor, and it’s more for looking at than sitting on. However, it was this same computer that I created this blog ten months ago today, and so it takes me back to a certain time.

Last night I spent some time with a very dear friend of mine. She was a my college roommate, the very first person I met in the United States, and has been close to my heart since I stepped off of that plane over seven years ago. Last week she got engaged to a man that has been such a rock to her, and yesterday she asked me to be a part of their wedding party. Of course, I said yes.

Over the course of our evening together we talked at length about our friendship: the high points, the low points, and the things about each other that we weren’t aware we didn’t know. A few years ago my dear friend went through the biggest challenge of her life, and spent a year battling her way out of it. At the end of this year she met the love of her life, and the rest, as they say, is history. We talked about her tough times, and I shared with her my recent struggles, of which she was not yet aware.

The reason I am sharing this tonight is because I learned a lot about myself last night, and a lot about my friend, and a lot about the way that “most people” live their lives. We shelter the world from our emotions, often choosing to take a personal hit over risking exposing how flawed the world is, and how poorly it has treated us. My friend told me about her own dark path, and the steps she had to take to free herself from it: most of it I knew, but some of it I didn’t. At the end of our conversation I was sad that she had been in that position, angry at the world that had put her there, but mostly proud that she had come through.

When I look back on the last year of my life I am coming to a realization: I am going to be proud of the way I handled myself. I have made the active decision to disassociate myself from some people that have been harmful, and it has been a point of contention, and I really have had to question whether I have made the “right” decision. However, through my conversation with my friend last night I realized that there are people in this world that will take you at your lowest point and twist your soul, and once they have a grip on it they are impossible to shake off. I think that I shook myself free from those people in the last four weeks.

Before I sat down to write this blog post this evening I went into the bathroom to get a glass of water and stared myself straight in the eye. I found myself trying to picture my face a year ago, two years ago, ten years ago, but all I could see is the face looking back at me. Probably, I have not changed that much on the outside, but I feel that also the only person that matters in my life right now is who I am at this moment in time. And I might look tired (I really do look tired), and I might be starting to get some frown lines around my eyes (I’ve been frowning a lot recently), and I might be fifteen pounds heavier than I’d like to be, but I feel like a victor tonight.

Yesterday taught me that I have lived my life right recently. Prior to today I have doubted myself, and wondered if I would live to regret the choices I have made, but tonight I know that absolutely not. I have lived my life right recently, and I am proud of myself, and I really believe that only good things will follow.

What is the difference between falling in love and being in love?

Love is a difficult topic to write about. It’s hard because it’s nearly impossible to verbalize, and almost certainly different for every single person. Also, I personally feel that people that write about love as though they know what’s best sound conceited, self-important, and invariably detached from the reality of other people.

That being said, several questions on this list revolve around the topic of love, and so it is time to tackle the topic head on. And so I am writing with an obvious focus on what is true for my life, my marriage, and the limited knowledge that I have of other people’s relationships.

Falling in love, for me, is infuriatingly easy. I am a product of the 1990’s, of the Richard Curtis generation of Romantic Comedies, and the generation where paupers become princesses. I also grew up knowing a great deal of love: love from my family, love from my friends, and love from the community that I grew up in. Love was a constant in my life, I never felt the absence of it, nor the need to seek it out. I also saw many young girls in my high school getting pregnant, but never really talk about “love”. Sex was the appeal in my high school class, not romance, but I always felt connected with the notion of recreating some epic, literature-worthy affair of the heart. I easily found out that teenage boys are easy to create romance around, they are blank canvases that allow themselves to become pictures of whatever we girls want them to be.

It’s easy to love as a teenager, because falling in love is about hope, and need, and fear. As an eighteen year old setting off for college I was full of hope and full of fear, I was also in need of comfort and security – so I took my high school boyfriend with me and he was my transition, and I his. Once we settled into a “new life” we gave each other up amicably: there was never any question about ever trying to retain anything past the hope and fear and need.

Fast forward ten years and I’m married – just past our four year anniversary – and I think that I fell in love with my husband for the same reasons as that first boyfriend: I was in a period of huge change, and he represented all of the hope, he calmed all of the fears, and he fulfilled all of my needs . He was a constant. In fact, the period of change that I was going through lasted several years, through our courtship, engagement, and marriage. I believe that however much we protested we were already “an old married couple”, we were still falling in love past our first anniversary.

In fact, in the years we have been married there have been periods when I have felt that we have fallen even more in love – we are currently going through one of those periods – and they all hinge around a trying time, a moment when one of us is scared, hopeful, or in need. I think that falling in love doesn’t happen once, I think that it happens cyclically, and that being in love is the quiet and patience between the “falling”, and the trust and faith that the cycle will repeat.

Of course, I have explained this theory to my friends in the past, and I don’t know that anyone has ever 100% agreed with me. I think my theory scares people as it suggests that marriage is only made strong through challenges – I know a lot of people feel as though the best marriages are a calm and tideless sea. Like I said – love is such a personal thing, and I have no business speaking on behalf of other people or trying to counsel them to my way of thinking. But for me, and for my marriage, I think that this is how I would define the difference between falling in love and being in love.

So today I am going to tackle the following questions in one response: Are you holding onto something you need to let go of? When you are 80 years old, what will matter most to you? And, when is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards and just do what you know is right?

Well. I have been in the unique position of having to address all of these questions at one time on two separate occasions in my life. The first was making the decision to follow my heart and allow myself to be with the man that is now my husband, and the second occasion is my present day life.

The first time I had to weigh up these turmoils in my mind I had to wrestle the idea of having trans-atlantic relationship with a man I, realistically, didn’t know that well; leaving my family and my homeland; making myself employable and desirable in a foreign country; the impossible large idea (especially for a 20 year old) that this might be my biggest regret if I didn’t go for it, and maybe this person was the person for me. I was much more romantic back them, with my notions of soul mates and such. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good decision and I love the hubs, but nothing is ever as clear cut as a twenty-year-old literature lover can dream it to be.

And so now I’m on the flip side, faced with a familiar dilemma. I love Kansas City, I have friends here. I don’t love the crime, and I don’t love the distances between places, and I don’t love the work ethic. I don’t love the idea of raising children miles away from their only potential cousins, or in an environment where I’d have to hand them over to daycare at eight weeks. I’m not fortunate enough to afford the luxury of staying at home when the time comes. And, seven years later, I’ve never adjusted to being so far away from my home. So you see, dear internet, I’m in a predicament.

What do I do?

What I would like to do is pack up my husband and my hound and board a plane. Our friends have passports, they can travel. I don’t want to cause pain and upset to my inlaws my stealing their only son and, after all, these people have been my family for the last five years, I’d miss them too. But without them we have nothing here, and that’s the realization it has taken me years to reach.

I miss the sea. I don’t want to wake up at seventy years old and realise I’ve only seen the ocean a handful of times since I was in my twenties. I’m used to seeing it every day. I think it’s soulful – it’s a part of me.

I know all the arguments for staying, and all the arguments for going back to front and inside out. I know what my heart wants to do. Strangely, and probably something most people would doubt about me, I actuallywanted to come here and find it enough, and to be able to allow my husband to be the only thing that mattered to me. But I’m not a Victorian, my post-feminism, liberated backside has dreams and preferences and loves of it’s own, and signing them away with my marriage license didn’t happen.

And the hubs really isn’t set against moving; at least not most of the time. Really, he’s been very flexible in his opinions on subject, other than the occasional “Dammit, woman, I’m American and I need steak and beer every day” moment. His main fears are for his family.

This post isn’t really to seek answers to declare a resolution – I know that these questions are going to be conversations that we have for a LONG time – I just know it’s the only honest answer to these three questions, even if the answers aren’t really answers, but more questions.

Three Questions About Living My Life The Right Way

Today I’m going to answer the next three questions at once, because I feel as though they can all be answered simultaneously. the questions are: What is the difference between living and existing? If not now, when? and, have you done anything recently worth remembering?

If you know me, or rather, if you knew me, you’d realize that I’ve been trapped in a really crappy mood recently. Not just the January Blues (although January does really suck), more like the September, October, November, December, and January Blues. 2011 was a year I gave my self to stand still, but it left me feeling despondent and desperate to reconnect with my inner self.

I have a great “life”: health, house, husband, and hound. I have a job and a car and great friends. My brother told me that, financially, I’m in the “top 1% globally” (this is out of all 7 billion people, please don’t “Occupy” my driveway), and I can really believe it in many ways: I never thought I’d have all this at the tender age of 26. It’s a great life.

But living, to me, is backpacking across Asia, or learning to weave in India, or building a school in Africa. That was the plan I had for my life, which, for very reasonable reasons, didn’t play out right. Before anyone thinks I’m husband-bashing, the primary focus of my disappointment is myself. I get bouts of paranoia where I doubt myself, and think that I no longer have “what it takes” to do any of the things that I ever wanted to do.

Which brings me onto our second topic. If not now, then when? We all have dreams, some big, some small. Most of our dreams don’t allow us to choose the exact time that we get to realize them; however, there are those dreams, few and ignorable, that actually do focus on something that we can control. For me, that dream has been running. I was a runner when I was younger, WAY younger, over ten years ago. I used to run a lot. But a painful knee condition and the crippling self-consciousness of being an overweight teenager caused a fracture in my self-confidence, and, even after my knees were stronger, I never really ran again. Over the last few years I’ve dappled with 5ks (my fastest time being in the 29th minute), and have been known to run outside on nicer days here in Kansas City. Something in me has wanted to do a longer run years, and I’ve always held myself back, telling myself that I can’t do it, that I’ll fail. Or worse, that I will do it and no-one will care or value it.

This year I turn twenty-seven: the age I always believed I’d have my shit together. I finally realised that this is my year, and that I will train for that half marathon, and I really don’t care what people think or if people think it is an achievement. I’ve decided that 2012 is the “when” and the “now”, and that running this distance race will be the first step towards re-discovering all of my dreams of adventure.

As for the thing worth remembering? Well, I feel like we should remember every day, even the bad ones, as we can’t learn from things we forget. But that aside, I believe that today I did something worth remembering. I took the plunge, I signed up for The Race… I have a great friend who has committed to keeping me running, and I’m going to go for it.

Fingers crossed….

What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?

I think that to answer this question I need to think about myself a year ago. Realistically, not much have changed. I weigh the same, do the same job, drive the same car, hang out with the same people. 2011 was a static year for me (I think 2012 will be MUCH better). I think that I didn’t really aim for anything in 2011, I just allowed myself to exist as I was. I don’t feel bad about it, I think I’ve achieved a lot in my life by comparison to a lot of people, and I think I just needed a break from improving. If anything, I probably let myself slip a little.

Actually, 2011 is the first year of my life that I seriously considered seeing a psychiatrist, getting some counseling of some sort. Yeah, that was kind of a low.

However, I think I became better acquainted with myself. More honest. I’ve definitely become more willing to stand up for myself, more honest about what I want and what I think is unfair.

Today, I can stand and look in the mirror and be honest about my faults:  I need to lose about 20lbs, I’m tempestuous, prone to laziness, and messy; I can also be honest about my good points: I have great hair, I’m a very loving and loyal friend, and I really do make the best tea in the world. I can also admit when I’m wrong (well, sometimes), or when I’m hurting. I don’t have to pretend everything is okay all of the time anymore.

Maybe it’s not anything remarkable, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, all things considered. And I really do think that 2012 may be one of the great years of my life.

Who do you love, and what are you doing about it?

I’d like to pause for a second and revisit the first time I read the article that inspired this blog. Clearly, I was impressed enough by the list that I was inspired to dedicate a year of my life to writing about it, but there were a few points that niggled me. The main frustration I have with the list is that many of the questions seem very intentionally phrased. It’s as though the writer is trying to coerce a certain response from the answer – in many cases, a response of self-depreciation, admissions of failure, laziness, and emotional subsistence living.

This question is one of those. I imagine many people answering this question will confess to unrequited, silent love, or a string of failings in their current long-term relationship. How I need to try harder, and cook proper meals, and make more of an effort with my outfits. Etc.

My answer is not going to follow this pattern. Not that I think i’m doing everything right; we all have things that we can improve. However, I don’t think any relationship is ever improved by people beating themselves up. There is nothing I enjoy less than my poor husband (God love him) listing all the ways in which he thinks he’s a failure. I dislike this for two reasons. Number one: If you were really that dysfunctional I wouldn’t have married you. Number two: I now have to spend equal or greater time telling you how you’re none of those things, and in fact are the exact opposite in every way. This is exhausting to me.

Additionally, I don’t have a secret unrequited passion, and if I did I would be highly unlikely to expose it on the internet. Even if I wasn’t married.

My husband is the “person I love”, in as much as he would inherit my life insurance money if I died, and that we have a mortgage together. This differentiates him from all of the other people I love, like my friends, family, co-workers, pets, celebrities, fictional characters. Etc. I have a big heart, capable of a LOT of love. But clearly, the fact I married this person when I was a (ridiculously young) twenty three years old is a testament to the fact that I love him. And that’s before you consider that I had to move 3000 miles from home and start my career and social life from scratch.

I’m not complaining. Okay, maybe I’m complaining a little bit. Marriage gives back for the most part, it’s a pretty uncomplaining and easy to life most of the time. But it can also be the single hardest thing in the world. Sometimes. There are those days that I don’t want to go home and play with the dog, do laundry, mop floors, or talk to his friends. There are those days when everything seems like too much.

Yes, it’s a taboo to talk about it, especially as hubs and I really do have a great marriage most of the time. But being married can be hard, especially when most marriages include so many more people than husband and wife. It’s a process, and there have been weeks, even months at a time, when I have had to work hard at just being here every waking minute. That’s not to say I didn’t want to be here, or wasn’t happy, it was just that every thing I did was so foreign to me. Now we’ve been married for close to four years, those moments are fewer and more far between.

But some mornings I wake up, head full of fog, and it seems as though I’m probably the worst wife in the world. The bathroom needs cleaning, my work clothes are creased, the dog keeps whining, and there is nothing edible in the fridge for breakfast. Hubs will get up, equally frustrated, and it’s easy to feel at fault, that he is judging my abilities. Sometimes, as I’m sure a lot of married minds might wonder, it seems as though it would be easier to leave than to stay; I say this not because I’m unhappy, but because this constant pressure to perform in insanely overwhelming.

But when those days come around now, I approach them with a clearer head, knowing that there is nothing I can do except wait them out. I’ve started to realise that part of being married is enduring these days of self doubt, pain, and crippling self-consciousness. But it’s worth it for the good days (which most of them are), and because I love my husband, and this is what I have to do for it.