Valentine’s Day Special: All The Time In The World

Dear Michael and Caroline,

She’s coming over to my apartment, this cute young woman from Brooklyn. I’m living on East 23rd Street, in the city’s smallest apartment, and it’s Saturday night.

She’s in my doorway now, looking cute, as she tends to do, and out we go. We go east toward Park Avenue South and hang a right on Third Avenue.

In those days, it seemed we would always be doing Third Avenue. It had the action, the restaurants, the bars, everyone out on Saturday night.

We might be holding hands now, her hand feeling so warm in mine.

We stop off at Nizza’s, a pizza place we liked, thin crust and all, maybe two slices each. We’re already quite fond of eating out. We’d spent our first New Year’s Eve at a place called Bar None, lingering for three hours over a five-course dinner complete with a cabaret singer on piano. We might even have already gone to Windows on the World in the World Trade Center.

We like to eat and talk a little, nothing more on our agenda. Maybe I’m telling her how I hated Hebrew school, or she’s letting me in on life with nuns at Catholic school, and maybe we imagine ourselves trading places.

She eats like a lady, no tomato sauce dripping onto her cheek, and it’s all so easy. She’s easy to be with, easy to talk to, easy to listen to. We each feel no temptation to be anything other than ourselves, and being ourselves seems to fit the bill all around.

It’s 1977, maybe late spring, and we just started going out six months earlier. We clicked right away, the second date soon after the first and so on. Jimmy Carter is president, Hugh Carey governor and Ed Koch the new mayor. The city is in lousy shape, crime high, the streets dirty, the economy struggling.

But that’s all a distant backdrop for us. We’re still busy discovering each other, feeling it all out, and it’s feeling right. It’s feeling comfortable. She’s cute and smart and funny. But she’s much more than merely entertaining. She’s steady, mature. She never raises her voice or gets hysterical.

Now we’re back out on Third Avenue, the streets growing thick with pedestrians as night comes on. We go down toward Union Square Park, but probably stay out of it, the better to avoid the drug dealers.

We head back uptown, past those tall, white apartment buildings. We go down the steps into a Bagel Nosh and pick up some tire-sized bagels, either for later that night or tomorrow morning. It’s all as easy as it gets, a guy from the Bronx and a girl from Brooklyn out on a Saturday night in Manhattan.

We’re doing the town on a shoestring. I’m at the Eastside Courier, earning about $9,000 a year, and she’s at Harvest Fabrics, probably pulling down about the same.

Everything is new. We’re new to each other. Our careers are still young. The city still seems, at least to us, to have a certain innocence (we’re still a few months away from the Big Blackout and the Summer of Sam). But I’m heavily vested in the moment, no plans on my mind beyond tonight.

We’re back on 23rd Street now, the sky dark, the street lights on, passing the massive Metropolitan Life Building. We take a bench in Madison Square Park, but only briefly, because the drug dealers are out here, too. The city is otherwise ours, though, because we’re young and everything is ahead of us, our pasts containing little more than our childhoods. She has such soft skin and such a sweet smile and she makes me laugh more than any girl I’ve known, and nothing else matters. I feel good around her, better, smarter, more successful. Neither of us quite suspects whether we have a future together. We’re still in suspense, making it all up as we go along, nothing by any means a given.

We’re back in my apartment now, settling in for the evening. Soon we’ll watch “Saturday Night Live,” back then still a major, looked-forward-to event. We’ll catch Chevy and Dan and Bill and John and Gilda and Jane and Loraine in the act, and we’ll laugh together. Life is good, still pretty carefree, light on obligations. All is promise and possibility. We have no idea what’s coming.

That November, of course, we’ll move into Forest Hills together, and the next June we’ll get engaged, and the following March, married. And then the rest of us will arrive, first you, Michael, and then you, Caroline, completing us forever.

But for now all that’s still ahead. It’s only the spring of 1977, on a Saturday night, and nobody’s in a hurry to get anywhere. We still have all the time in the world.

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Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Alexandra Owens: Our First Time Getting A Second Chance

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Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 13, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; http://www.asja.org).

Dear Gill and Catie,

I first saw your father on a volleyball court, where he was the man in charge. At 6’3” he was the tallest person there, which immediately caught my eye. (Being almost 6’ tall myself, I notice these details.) I was shy, I knew no one there, but because he was the captain I had the perfect excuse to talk to him.

“Where do you want me?” I asked.

He smiled a wide, welcoming smile that lit up his green eyes, and as we chatted about where I should play, my innate shyness left me.

What got me onto that volleyball court so many years ago was this: my divorce. It was crushing. After eight years of trying to be happy with the wrong partner, I was 30, alone, and very sad. I thought my one chance for happily-ever-after was over and done, so I decided to just try to stay busy on my own.

I’ve told you this story before, because you are so curious about your beginnings. Finding out I was married once before Daddy was a shock to you at first, but then a never-ending subject for questions and speculation.

“Would we have had red hair?” you want to know.

“Wow, I would have been half-Irish instead of German-English-Dutch-Scottish-Russian-Hungarian-Welsh-Native American!”

“How old would I be now?”

And the question you ask most often: “Are you glad you had me with Daddy?”

It was a great volleyball team, and we had a lot of fun. We’d often go out to eat after practice and talk and talk, just getting to know one another better. On one of my very first evenings there I found myself sitting next to this tall captain and we started talking about our lives, telling each other about ourselves.

He told me about learning to be a professional cook, and how he spent so many years working in restaurants and country clubs. Since graduation he’d worked hard, learned a lot, and earned enough to buy his own house at 32 (pretty young to own a home).

Then he told me that he’d finally realized that continuing to work as a professional chef could mean he would never spend evenings, weekends, or holidays with the rest of the world. On those special occasions he’d always be working in the restaurant kitchen instead of celebrating with those he loved, and that was no way to build a family. So just two years before we met, he had decided to find something else that would let him have time for a life outside the kitchen.

That’s when he took the job at the Milburn Deli, the place with the famous sandwiches.

I was impressed — this was a decision few other people would have made, and it showed me his generous soul.

“You’re going to make someone a wonderful husband someday,” I said.

He smiled.

Next I learned that his first chance to be a father went poorly. He was unable to spend as much time with your half-brother as he wanted, and it broke his heart. I could tell this man was meant to have a family—to have children he could raise completely, and a wife to share that road with. When I told him that I knew that, he smiled.

So your question — “Are you glad you had me with Daddy?” is easy to answer. You were already there in Daddy’s eyes the day we met on that volleyball field. I saw you there, and fell in love.

Valentine’s Day Survey: Have You Told Your Kids How You Met Your Spouse?

Most parents have told their children how they met their future spouses. And most say they consider it highly important to do so. But others have never shared that story. And almost none have captured the memory in writing.

So shows my informal Valentine’s Day survey of 100 parents.

For example, 77% of parents have told their children how they met their future spouses. Of those, 45% did so to “preserve personal family history,” while 34% did it because “the kids asked.”

Of the parents who have yet to tell their children, 66% never found the right time, 20% “doubt the kids would be interested,” 7% said it was “unimportant” to reveal, and 7% preferred to keep the matter private.

Asked how important it is – on a scale of “1” to “10,” with “10” being the highest – for parents to tell their children how they met, 43% gave it a “10,” with only 3% ranking it less than a “5.”
Here are some other key findings:

· 66% of the children told how their parents came together reacted with “amusement,” 32% with “appreciation” and 13% with “indifference.”

· All of the parents who told their children did so face to face. Only 4% of those parents also wrote the story down.

· 26% of parents describe their first meeting as “love at first sight,” 7% as “doubt at first sight” and 67% as “something in between.”

The multiple-choice, nine-question survey, conducted online through surveymonkey from January 4 to January 24, 2011, is based on 100 responses from parents.

Personally, I think it’s terrific that most parents tell their kids how they met. But I also urge parents to get it in writing. It’s history, after all. Only then can they be sure that even if the story is forgotten, it will always be there, in black and white, as a reminder.

Here are the full survey results: http://www.surveymonkey.com/MySurvey_Responses.aspx?sm=lmL85waCvc1wh7pCbIT3x6hBnuERptVAqfoj80VENaQ%3d

Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Sally Wendkos Olds: “I Just Met The Most Wonderful Man”

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Sally Wendkos Olds of New York City is the mother of three daughters, Nancy, Jennifer, and Dorri, and five grandchildren, Stefan, Maika, Anna, Lisa, and Nina, who range in age from 11 to 29. Sally was married to David Mark Olds for nearly 54 years until his sudden death in 2009. She has won awards for her book and magazine writing about intimate relationships and personal growth (http://www.sallywendkosolds.com), and is the author of 11 books, including Super Granny and The Complete Book of Breastfeeding. She is currently writing a book tentatively titled The New Normal, for people whose life partner has died a year or more previously.

Dear Nancy, Jenny and Dorri,

Your father and I met on a blind date after he traded phone numbers with a man I had dated for a little while before deciding he was not for me. That first lunch, on Wednesday, October 13, 1955, was beyond wonderful. Dad and I talked and talked, and I was totally enthralled. Not only was he urbane, sophisticated, witty, handsome, sexy, and in a glamorous profession –- radio personality –he was warm, open about himself and his life and interested in me and my life. In that conversation over lunch we discovered that we were soul-mates. After lunch I told a classmate, “I just met the most wonderful man.”

When he came to pick me up for a date four days later and asked me to help him with his bow-tie, my fingers trembled as I did it and I knew this was the man I wanted to spend my life with. Over the next month we saw each other about twice a week, and then he invited me to come to a family party. The night I received the invitation, I complained to my mother, “If he’s waiting to see what his family thinks of me before he asks me to marry him, I don’t know if I want to marry him. I’ve been sure for weeks — why isn’t he?”

Later that week (before his family party), we were invited to dinner by my friend Margie, who was married to Dad’s friend Bob. After dinner while I was in the kitchen with Margie, she warned me, “Mark has quite a reputation as a ladies’ man.” In the next room Bob was telling Dad, “She’s a nice girl — don’t do anything you would regret.”

Coming home, we pulled up in front of my parents’ apartment in Dad’s black Chevy convertible with red upholstery. He drew me into his arms, kissed me, and then said. “I think we ought to get married.” I barely let him get the words out of his mouth when I said, “I think so too.” I ran into the apartment to tell my parents, “We’re getting married and we want to do it as soon as possible!” I worried that they would be against the marriage because Dad was 13 years older than I and had been married before, but they fell in love with him too and were happy with my choice. Four weeks later, two months after we had met, we married. We were lucky to have had an amazing life together for more than half a century.

Dad gave his version of how we met in the 168-page autobiography he wrote for all of you, in which he chronicled his boyhood, his Army service during World War II, and going into broadcasting as announcer, disk jockey, and finally general manager of a radio station. Here’s an excerpt from his version:

I remember sitting at Helen Siegel Wilson’s, a well known watering spot in Philadelphia, glancing out the window to see if I could spot my blind date. A pretty young woman was just coming in, carrying what looked to me like school books. “It can’t be,” I thought. But it was. And that’s how it started. We talked for a long time, as we worked our way through lunch. My feelings of robbing the cradle (I was almost 35, she 22 and about to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania) disappeared. She might have looked like a teenager, but she was poised, wise beyond her years, honest, and open. “Maybe?” I thought as I asked when I could see her again.

Over the next few weeks we saw more and more of each other. … We went on to see much more of each other in the six cities we lived in over the years. And we had fun with the three of you — summering on Fire Island; going camping; surviving gerbils, hamsters, dogs, cats, tropical fish, and canaries; attending your class plays, concerts, recitals, and gymnastic meets; and watching our three very attractive, very smart, very different children grow up.

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Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Robin Kramer: Animated, Laughing, and in Love

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Robin Kramer and her husband of 10 years, Joel, together have three daughters, Reese, almost 7, Brooke, almost 4, and Kerrington, almost 2. She teaches public speaking and writing at Penn State University, blogs at Pink Dryer Lint, and is finishing her first book, “Then I Became a Mother.”

Dear Reese, Brooke, and Kerrington,

On an autumn day in 1997 your father and his college roommate, a friend of mine, were walking down Curtain Road at Penn State as I was crossing the street. Even though your dad was running late, his roommate stopped him long enough to introduce us.

Our initial meeting was quick, inconsequential even. I continued to class, not thinking about your father again until I saw him at a gathering with mutual friends. He was genuine and had a quick sense of humor that belied his general quiet disposition. I soon realized one thing: with Joel, what you see is what you get. I appreciated his simplicity and constancy.

We began seeing each other around campus: going on long hikes with a group of friends, sitting beside each other at a baseball game, playing board games, eating chips and salsa while we watched movies, attending the same church, having long conversations. This casual interaction developed so unassumingly that it took me over two years to notice what had become obvious to our friends around us. Whenever I was around your dad, I was comfortable. I was animated. I was laughing. I was in love.

Three months before I graduated, your father invited me out to dinner and a play – our first outing that could be construed as an actual date. As I dressed up for the night and saw your dad arrive in a blue dress shirt and tie, I remember feeling unexpectedly nervous. I felt our relationship shifting. Over dinner we sat in a corner booth and talked about my job offers and plans. Like most young adults facing their futures, I was confused. Your dad simply listened.
Later that evening as he walked me to my apartment, he did what he continues to do so well: he spoke simply and transparently. He told me that he loved me. “You do know that my full intention is to marry you, right?”

I did then.

My mind was made up. I accepted a teaching position in the area. He bought a ring and formally proposed that winter. We were married the next summer, and this past August we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary by traveling for the weekend while your grandparents watched you. You met us at the front door when we returned, climbing on us before we could drop our bags and asking whether we had fun.

We certainly did. It’s what happens when you marry your best friend.

Reese and Brooke, at some point both of you have looked at our wedding pictures and commented that you’re nowhere to be seen. “Why didn’t you invite us?” you asked, touching the pictures, as if we had slighted you like when we wait to eat ice cream after you’ve gone to bed and you notice the bowls and spoons in the sink the next morning.

The answer to your question is simple: Because we got married before you even existed, sweetie. And now you know why.

Love,
Mommy

Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Vivian Kirkfeld: From That Grim Day Came A Family Of Five

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Vivian Kirkfield is a wife of 44 years, a mother of three (Jason, Peter and Caroline) and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit her Positive Parental Participation blog or contact her at vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com.
Dear Jason, Peter and Caroline,

Your future dad and I met as freshmen in college. I sat in front of him in English 1.1 and he sat in front of me in Social Science. Both of us were dating other people pretty seriously. And so for the first two months of the Fall semester, we were just classmates who spoke with each other as we walked into or out of the room.

Then came November 22, 1963. The intercom crackled. “The President is dead!” a voice declared.

For several moments no one reacted. And then everyone did. Screaming. Crying. Young men pounding their fists on their desks.

As we all exited the classroom, your future dad was right behind me.

“I’m going to walk home!” I exclaimed to no one in particular. “I can’t face sitting on the bus squashed between hordes of people!”

“I’ll walk with you,” the voice behind me said. “Where do you live?”

As it happened, we lived only four streets away from each other.

By the way, there are some girls who look fantastic even when they cry. If only I were one of those. Whatever eye makeup I was wearing was smudged and probably dripping onto my cheeks and chin. Plus, my nose was red and my skin blotchy. Hardly attractive!

No matter. Your future dad and I walked and talked for over an hour till we reached my house. And when we looked at each other, I know we saw into each other’s souls and we wanted to walk and talk together forever.

Our relationship grew stronger and closer during that next semester. By the summer, we were dating each other exclusively. We got married as soon as we graduated from college. And our relationship has flourished ever since. To this day, we remain the most loyal of soul-mates.

Out of tragedy, then, came an unexpected opportunity for love. In a sense, sad to say, it took a death to bring you all to life. We’ve never forgotten that, and we never will. And neither should any of you.

Love,

Mom

Valentine’s Day Guest columnist Jacqueline Chen Valencia: He Followed Me, But I Found Him

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Jacqueline Chen Valencia is a recovering New Yorker who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her husband of four years, Manny, daughter Sofia, almost three years old, and mom Diane. They have three chihuahuas — Loki, Fifi and Snickers – and enjoy hiking, swimming, travel and art. Jacqueline, a marketing/communications professional, serves as senior vice president of Marketing at Amedisys, the nation’s leading healthcare at home company.

Dear Sofia,

I had no idea about Jersey guys until I met the man who would become your father.
I lived in New York City by way of New York University for undergrad. I was, like most 20-something New Yorkers, too cool to date smart men, preferring DJs or men in fashion. I was also too cool to spend time in New Jersey, which to me (having only seen it from the New Jersey Turnpike) seemed to be the armpit of America.

One night, though, my attitude faced the threat known as change. My girlfriends and I were invited to a “white party” — you know, the kind where everything is supposd to be white –on a rooftop near Gramercy Park to celebrate the birthday of some guy from Amsterdam.

It was a crazy party, with at least 100 people there, all dressed in white and dancing under white tents. Best party I’ve ever gone to, complete with awesome music. Then “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige came on. I left my group of girls at the bar to hit the dance floor. This guy came right up and started dancing with me. Great dancer, too. We talked a little small talk between songs.
After that night I gave him precisely no further thought.

Still, I saw him again at another party, and again at a dinner. I kept seeing him at the same events I was attending. And we got to know each other better. One night, he finally confessed — after the white party he had tracked me through my friends to see where I was going to be hanging out each weekend, and found ways to show up. And, it turned out, he lived only three blocks away from me in the East Village.

We became fast friends for a year. Then I helped him through a break-up and he helped me through one too. Long phone calls giving each other advice on how to cope with crumbling relationships (I actually tried at some points to help him win back his girlfriend’s affections).

The weekend my live-in boyfriend moved out, the man who would become your father invited me to stay at his place. He offered to let me sleep on his couch. He ordered in dinner, rented some movies and the next day booked a manicure and pedicure for me. I began to think I could get used to this kind of treatment.

On Valentine’s Day we went out for our first “date.” We hit Apizz on the Lower East Side and had a great time. He talked to me about growing up in New Jersey, and introduced me to Limoncello. He was no DJ or fashionista, but here’s what he was: smart, ambitious, well educated, well traveled — and he could always make me laugh. He came from a great family, had great hair and even danced great.

No one else needed to apply for the job — I was falling for him.

Three years after that first date on the Lower East Side, we became engaged. A year later we got married. And a year after that, you were born.

And in case you ever doubt it, here’s proof that miracles really do happen. Somewhere in there, your father even convinced me to move to New Jersey.

P.S. — The birthday boy from Amsterdam is now your “Uncle” JJ.

Valentine’s Day Special: Dear Kids, Here’s How I Met Your Dad

Dear readers,

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be honoring a favorite holiday of mine, Valentine’s Day.

To mark the occasion, I’ll post guest columns from five mothers of all ages from around the country. Each mom, in a letter to her children, will reveal how she met her future husband.

I’ll also deliver the results of a survey that asked 100 parents nine questions, including, “Have you ever told your kids how you met your spouse?”

I’ll also fill you in on my first date with the woman who became my wife.

Letterstomykids.org is doing all this, once again, for a larger purpose – to urge all parents, mothers and fathers alike, to preserve personal history. Here’s the pledge you can take: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

In this case, it’s to get parents to share Valentine’s Day with the kids – and in the process, tell how Mom and Dad met and began a romance that led to a family.

Here’s a preview of the lineup of guest columnists whose stories you’ll hear in the coming week:

· Jacqueline Chen Valencia, a marketing executive, lives in Baton Rouge, LA, with her husband Manny, and daughter Sofia, almost three years old. Opening sentence: “I had no idea about Jersey guys until I met the man who would become your father.”

· Robin Kramer, an instructor at Penn State University, is a wife and mother of three daughters, Reese, almost 7, Brooke, almost 4, and Kerrington, almost 2. “First sentence: “On an autumn day in 1997 your father and his college roommate, a friend of mine, were walking down Curtain Road at Penn State as I was crossing the street.”

· Vivian Kirkfield, an educator and author in the Colorado Rockies, is a wife and mother of three children, Jason, Peter and Caroline. First sentence: “Your future dad and I met as freshmen in college — I sat in front of him in English 1.1 and he sat in front of me in Social Science.”

· Sally Wendkos Olds, a writer in New York City, is the mother of three daughters, Nancy, Jennifer, and Dorri, and five grandchildren, Stefan, Maika, Anna, Lisa, and Nina, who range in age from 11 to 29. First sentence: “Your father and I met on a blind date after he traded phone numbers with a man I had dated for a little while before deciding he was not for me.”

· Alexandra Owens, an association executive, lives in Morris County, NJ with her husband Michael and daughters Gillian, 13, and Catie, 10. First sentence: “I first saw your father on a volleyball court, where he was the man in charge.”

Valentine’s Day Special: My Last First Date

Dear Michael and Caroline,

We double-date the first time, Elvira and I, with her friends Diane and Carmen. We hit a restaurant in New York City’s Little Italy, Puglia’s on Hester Street. Fettucine, garlic bread, the whole nine yards.

Immediately I’m taken with Elvira. She’s adorable, but she’s also got a good heart, and she’s smart, too. Naturally, she makes me nervous.

So I do what a guy in that situation might do. I clam up, too jittery to say anything. I also drink too much red wine, the house red – much too much – all without eating.

Afterwards, we head back uptown, to the apartment building in the Chelsea neighborhood where I live on the third floor and her Diane and Carmen on the first. We’re all saying goodnight, and then Elvira and I are alone.

“Would you like to come up?” I ask, feeling pretty frisky.

“No, thank you,” she says gently.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m going to stay here tonight, with my friends.”

And then I say something I never should have said. Something that I find it hard to believe I said. Something that I’m still sorry and embarrassed and ashamed I said.

“What are you,” I say, “a lesbian or something?”

Now, you’re welcome to chalk up this remark to all the red wine I had drunk, or to rank immaturity, or to a guy being a guy, taking the only recourse left to his manly pride after seeing his advance rebuffed – questioning a woman about her sexual preferences – or just garden-variety idiocy. Or all of the above.

Whatever my motivation, I know instantly I’ve made a major mistake.

Surely Elvira will now react in kind. She’ll slap my face or call me rude or walk away or challenge me to do something anatomically impossible to myself. Or all of the above. No matter what happens, I suspect, I will somehow have to pay the consequences.

But no. The 23-year-old Italian girl from Brooklyn with the doe-like brown eyes and cute bangs never blinks or balks. Instead, she laughs it off and looks me right in the eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink,” Elvira says to me. “It’s late at night and you have no idea what you’re saying. So let’s just ignore it and wish each other good night.”

Well, I think as we part company, that is certainly going to be that. Under no circumstances will I ever get to see this one again. I’ve blown it. Our first date is going to be our last date

But that, too, proves untrue. I call Elvira the next day to apologize, and she accepts. I then invite her out again, and she takes me up on that, too.

Elvira and I keep going out together, seeing no one else. The next year, we move in together in Queens. Two years later we become engaged. The following year we get married. Before the decade ends, we have two children, a son and a daughter. Next month we mark our 32nd wedding anniversary.

Talk about close calls. Our romance almost ended before it began – one blind date, over and out, all thanks to a comment that showed my judgment to be highly suspect at best. It haunts me to consider all the opportunities we would have missed, the wedding never held, the love never gained, the children never born.

Luckily, Elvira gave me that second chance She saw something redeemable in me, whatever it might be, and bet the house.

Valentine’s Day Guest Blog: Dear Kids, Here’s How I Met Your Dad

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a guest blog from a long-time friend of mine. The author is a mother of three, a wife of over 30 years (to the same husband yet), and a busy executive in New York City who prefers, at least here, to remain anonymous.

My Dear Dear Children ,

We were in college. I was a sophomore, he was a junior. It was a volatile time in my life and I was in turmoil. It was a calm time in his. I had a friend in a special degree program who was working on a special project about which she wanted my opinion. She was working on her project with a guy I had never met or heard of and he would be there.

He walked in and I was immediately smitten. I was head over heels in love at first sight. I could think of little else but him. I had to be in a relationship with him. It felt different from anything I’d had with any former boyfriend (and I’d had a good few before).

Of course, he hadn’t the slightest interest in me.

I chased after him as subtly as I could manage in the state I was in. I’m sure it was anything but subtle to him, but I was determined. I found out what classes he was in and hung out when he’d be coming and going to them. I got his phone number and called his house when I knew he had to be home. I’d ask him for help with my classes. I made all sorts of excuses to get near to him.

He was lovesick for someone else who wasn’t interested in him. I made myself so nice and so there all the time that he couldn’t avoid me. We went out on a first date and I accidentally let it slip. Yes, I said those three little words on the first date. “I love you,” I said.

Amazingly, it didn’t scare him off.

Thirty-plus years is a long time to be married. It doesn’t feel now like it felt then. It’s no longer an infatuation. It isn’t exciting every minute like it was then. Today, our love is a completely different experience. We’ve been each others’ partner, each others’ family, for a long time. We’ve built a bond that can stretch pretty far without breaking. It’s a richer kind of love.

It probably doesn’t look like something you want to emulate but look around. There aren’t many marriages today that last nearly as long. It’s an accomplishment to have such a relationship. It’s worthy of the work it takes to keep it going.

On Valentine’s Day, we think about love, and in particular, romantic love. It’s a good time to remind you that it was an expression of love – ours, for each other — that brought all of you into this world.

Love from your friend,

Mom

The Valentine Prescription

If marriage came as a pill, here’s what the label on the bottle might say — from an article I wrote in 2009 for The Washington Post:

MARRIAGE (hitched)
No advertisement can provide all the information needed to determine if marriage is right for you.

INDICATIONS: Marriage is the therapy of choice for treatment of the condition of being unmarried. Marriage is approved to manage the dread of growing old alone and missing the opportunity to have dinner every night with a special someone without talking. Clinical trials reveal that marriage is recommended if you have found either a true soulmate or someone who has an excellent 401(k).

WARNINGS: You should avoid marriage if you believe the opposite sex should come equipped with a mute button or are unable to hold your own in an argument, however stupid. Never drink alcohol during marriage, as it may ease the inhibition you ordinarily feel about telling your spouse the truth. People suffering from a chronic inability to compromise or adjust the toilet seat immediately after use should also never get married.

PRECAUTIONS: Until you know how you will react to marriage, avoid activities that require alertness, such as a conversation with your new partner. Marriage before either of you is ready may result in divorce – or, equally common, a life together based largely on mutual indifference.

ADVERSE REACTIONS: Marriage may be safe and effective for up to a lifetime. Then again, individual results may vary.
If you notice yourself having any unusual or disturbing thoughts during marriage – such as suicidal impulses – consider it the norm. You may also experience loss of memory, particularly details of your own mistakes. Listening to your spouse for prolonged periods may cause drowsiness, dizziness and headache. You may also feel an urgent need to leave whatever room your spouse currently occupies. Other serious side effects include the growth of a chip on your shoulder.

SPECIAL CONCERNS: Marriage may cause monogamy. It may also cause adultery. Marriage may cause sudden loss of interest in sex with others, or a surge of such interest. Marriage may cause pregnancy. It may also cause children.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Marriage should never be undertaken in combination with pending divorces, unresolved paternity suits or an undisclosed prison record.

OVERDOSAGE: Marriage is available in several dosage strengths ranging from Staying Together Too Much (100 and 200 mg) to Keeping Apart As Frequently As Humanly Possible (25 and 50 mg).

BENEFITS: Marriage may have multiple rewards. You may find yourself grateful to be relegated to being only the second most important person in the world now. Taken properly, marriage may lead to trust, intimacy and the honoring of vows, as well as an unprecedented ability to bend over backwards. Long-term use, in conjunction with a low-fat diet and regular aerobic exercise, may lead to cooperation and companionship and contentment, not to mention the sharing of the Sunday paper without being asked. Eventually, marriage may bring about long-overdue apologies for misbehavior, plus a newfound willingness to forgive all sins.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/02/09/ST2009020902159.html

We Two Funny Valentines

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a piece I wrote for Newsday a few years ago that celebrates humor in marriage.

In almost 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have often joked about how deeply I’m in her debt.

Luckily enough, the other day I finally found the opportunity to bring this running joke home. As my wife sat at the desk in our bedroom paying bills, I noticed her calculator nearby. I stepped over and pecked in a few numbers, pretending to be doing some important figuring.

“Hey, guess what?” I said. “It’s true after all.”
“What is?”
“I really do owe you everything.”

Every Valentine’s Day, the experts weigh in about how romance starts and offer the keys to keeping it going. Biologists cite pheromones and psychologists the whispering of sweet nothings into the ear. All well and good, but let’s remember a sense of humor.

I happen to know this to be true. Years ago I met a young woman from Greenpoint, Brooklyn named Elvira. Quickly I realized that, besides being cute, smart and kind, she was endowed with an excellent sense of humor. Elvira invented nonsense words and did silly walks and made faces and mimicked Betty Davis in “All About Eve.” I learned from her mother that once, as a teenager, she traipsed out in front of her family with a basket of artificial fruit propped on her head, imitating Carmen Miranda in the movie “The Lady With The Tutti-Frutti Hat.”

As it turned out, her brand of humor suited me just fine. I, too, had certain tendencies in this direction. Early on, thanks to my cracking wise and pretending to walk into doors, my fellow high school students literally elected me Class Clown (male division). No joke. I kept playing court jester well after college, too, with my puns and spit takes, and generally showed few signs that adulthood was even remotely imminent.

We clicked, bigtime. I asked for her hand (no, the other one) and nuptials ensued. Over the years, we’ve made fun of anything and everything, including the world, each other and ourselves.

Our humor, mine and hers, is born of pain. Mine, because my mother was born profoundly deaf and never heard my voice, hers because her mother slaved to make a living to raise her without much help from anyone. We’ve gone through our share of crises as adults, too, from a daughter hospitalized at age three to my getting laid off twice. Our disappointment, frustration and anger seep out through our pores as jokes.

I’d ask you how you are, I once said to her, but I’m worried you’d tell me.
Hey, she retorted, did I ever let you know that meeting you back in 1976 was doubt at first sight?

You’re the only person I know, I came back, who usually needs a second chance to make a good first impression.

Listen, she concluded, look on the bright side: Nobody’s killed you yet.
Once, after I misbehaved, she gave me a sympathy card. Inside, she had written, “Because you are so annoying, my heart goes out to you.”

Through it all, such humor has promoted a sense of unity for us. You might almost say we married for funny.

Researchers, too, now recognize that a sense of humor can act as a kind of medicine for a couple. A dose of humor, taken regularly, can alleviate suffering of all sorts, everything from anxiety to grief, potent enough, even, to safeguard against alienation and divorce. Studies show, for example, that the husbands and wives who are most satisfied with life together give each other high marks for humor, and that couples who share private jokes thereby enhance intimacy.

So here’s my advice to couples: Humor each other. You know what they say: laugh, and someone else may, too.

Take it from us. We’re still kidding each other, still laughing together 30 years later. My wife and I have long since learned how best to settle an argument. We take a mature approach. We call each other stupidheads.

Why, just last week, during yet another domestic dispute, Elvira joked once again about how much she looks forward to the day she gets to collect on my life insurance policy. Seeking forgiveness, I asked her what I could do, right now, that would make her happy.

“You mean,” she said, “other than your immediate demise?”

Thus does humor remain the most valuable tool in our personal survival kit. And I think we know why. Our love for each other is much too serious for us to take too seriously.

A Valentine’s Day Special: Why My Wife is the Best Investment Ever

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a piece I wrote in 2007 for The Christian Science Monitor:

Dearest Spouse,

From the moment I laid eyes on you, looking so cute with your pixie haircut and your cool red-leather jacket, I knew you would deliver above-market ROI. I’d acted on a word-of-mouth tip from an analyst, my neighbor in the apartment downstairs, with an eye for value. No sooner had he recommended a buy than I opted to review your prospectus. And then there you stood, shyly smiling hello to me, and I decided to get in on the ground floor.

That night, as we dined out on our double date in Little Italy – remember the waiter who played the spoons in his lap for our entertainment? – we ran through the preliminary phases of research and development. The transaction proved even better than touted. Right away I saw your promising earnings potential and liked my chances. Putting all my cards on the table, I asked you out. And out we then went, every week for months, usually on the cheap, pizza here, falafel there, creating an infrastructure for trust and intimacy.

Little more than a year later, with all economic indicators pointing toward progress – your advances, for example, always leading your declines – I saw you really start to take off. Clearly you could outperform any competition, whether commodities, precious metals or other women. So we moved in together, into a one-bedroom apartment with a doorman and a terrace, establishing a hedge against inflation. Closer and closer we drew, and after eight months, in a dramatic shift of strategy, I, a lifelong sole proprietorship with an outlook typically short-sighted, began to think long-term.

One night, then, I positioned myself on our living-room sofa for maximum advantage and, all variables be damned, asked for your hand in marriage. Never for a second did I rely on guesswork, nor did I have any kind of system in place. I acted on faith. Crying, you consented to the merger.

Nine months later, on March 11, 1979, after doing all our due diligence, we incorporated our partnership. Wedding gifts provided a welcome infusion of capital. We furnished our headquarters, pinched pennies and turned ourselves into a going concern. Within four years, we expanded our franchise with a subsidiary we named Michael, and five years later with a new female division we called Caroline, doubling our payroll. Nonetheless, we kept building equity and hit the break-even point faster than projected.

Little ever went quite as planned, though. Early on, still facing doubts, even occasionally flirting with panic, I would ask, Is this right for me? I would check your share price daily, even hourly. And we’ve had operational issues, too. Job layoffs, illness, the death of our principal shareholder, your mother. As co-CEOs, we’ve clashed over everything from liquidity to whether you’d be better off divesting yourself of me.

But through it all, even in the teeth of disappointments and downturns, you’ve always hung tough, ever-resilent, recession-proof, staunchly blue-chip. Your trading volume never slowed. You never lapsed into volatility. You never needed a price correction. Jumps in interest rates never caused you even a flutter of fluctuation.

Rather, your capitalization always climbed. And as we matured together, you cultivated both our signature products into splendid specimens. You threw off handsome dividends, your rate of return consistently beating the S&P 500 average. Your value only waxed, never waned. You never failed me, or us.

If either of us ever has sold short, clearly it was I, with my limited emotional intelligence and otherwise questionable fiduciary skills. But give me a little credit. At least I had the good sense to hold rather than fold. I never drafted a succession plan or looked for an exit strategy. Nor did I ever feel tempted, for that matter, to cut my losses, let alone diversify my portfolio.
Maybe I deserve more than just a little credit after all. I knew from the get-go that you looked every inch the investment of a lifetime. All your assets – your kindness, common sense and your humor, not to mention your understanding and generosity and loyalty and love – keep bringing home a strong bottom line. You’re a classic growth stock, the fortune I always forsaw.

Hey, I know a full upside when I see one. I’ve done the math. Clearly, I’ve got a winner here. It just shows that any lucky fool can hit it big.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0309/p18s03-hfes.html

Valentine’s Day Guest Blog: How I Met My Husband

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a guest blog about how Gina Barreca met her husband. A Professor of English Literature and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Barreca (www.ginabarreca.com) is a popular speaker at professional conferences the world over and author of eight books, including, most recently, “It’s Not That I’m Bitter,” and the bestselling “They Used To Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted.”

Hey Guys,

You know exactly how your father and I met. We met 22 years ago at work. I’d been teaching there for a year while he’d been on sabbatical, so we were introduced only after I’d pretty much met everybody else in the Department.

But you might not know that I actually remember the first time I saw your dad: he came into the faculty lunchroom wearing a crisp blue suit — he was still on sabbatical, living out of town, dropping by just to say “hi” after a meeting with a publisher — and the rest of the professorial yahoos teased him mercilessly.

“You just come from your First Communion?” was one remark I remember. I think it was the former Department Chair who said that.

It’s true that they all adored your dad and that they were torturing him precisely because it was a show of masculine affection, but they had a woman sitting at the table now.

Having already learned to ignore the riff-raff, I complimented your father, telling him that he looked very handsome, and his face lit up. After everybody went “OOOOooooo” as if we were all in fifth-grade, your father and I were introduced.

We didn’t see one another again for six months or so, until he moved back into town and resumed teaching. You were young teenagers then, stung by your parents’ separation and baffled by the ways your own lives were changing. The last thing you wanted was to be introduced to some new woman he was seeing. You wanted your social lives to have their appropriate space. Dealing with your father’s emerging romantic involvement did not fit into the blueprint. There wasn’t any designated spot for me.

But we figured it out. Amazing? Absolutely.

It wasn’t easy, but we all worked at it. And the very act of “trying to get it right” (and knowing there is no real “right”) is what has made us a family—and a strong, confident family—during the twenty years your father and I have been married.

You both have joyful, lasting, loving marriages of your own now and that’s a tribute to your own resilience, intelligence, and—let’s face it—sense of adventure.

You know marriage isn’t easy and that it isn’t simply based on good intentions and luck. You know that any important relationship is grounded in a willingness to understand, accept, and enjoy the other person.

You know that we love you. And now you know about the First Communion Suit. Feel free to tease him mercilessly.

XXXOOO Your Stepmother, Gina

Valentine’s Day Exclusive: An Interview with Cupid

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming this week to honor Valentine’s Day. Here, to start us off, is an essay I wrote for The Washington Post in 2005.

At his crystal mansion perched high on Mount Olympus, the mythic figure Cupid swoops down to a poolside balcony to give his first interview in 2,782 years. As he stills his fluttering wings and peels off his trademark blindfold, the Greek immortal looks remarkably well for someone almost three millennia old. With his signature bow- shaped mouth and tousled blond hair, Cupid still appears positively childlike — post-cute, perhaps, is the right term — the only sign of his longevity the thick, black bifocals he now wears.

Last sighted in public during the Reagan years — at Spago, wearing the obligatory Armani toga and sandals — he eventually went reclusive, leaving in his wake only a brief statement citing personal issues. Now he has emerged from voluntary exile to promote his tell- all memoir and unveil a sweeping new policy statement about romance.

“Contrary to popular opinion, it’s no picnic being the god of love,” Cupid reflects. “Oh, I had a good run. You’ve heard of love at first sight, right? My concept. Romeo and Juliet? My premise. All the great romances in history, stretching from Antony and Cleopatra to Donald Trump and himself? My doing. Hey, I almost emptied my quiver on Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney.

“But suddenly everything started to change,” Cupid continues. “Just look at the United States. Only 59 percent of the population is married now, down from 72 percent in 1970. Back in 1980, only 6 percent of us were divorced — now it’s 10 percent. Cable TV got oversexed and the Internet brought along all that porn. For the first time, I had a lot of competition — video games, 900-numbers, you name it. I tell you, romance went right down the toilet. For a while I even considered outsourcing.”

Cupid sips some nectar and peers beyond his pool (Olympic-size, of course) to his manicured 75-acre estate.

“My personal life took some wrong turns, too,” he continues. “One controversy followed another. The Federal Aviation Administration, right out of the blue, came after me for flying without a license. Ambulance-chasing lawyers brought a class-action suit against me, claiming that inducing instant love had cardiovascular side effects. Plus, Zeus cut our dental plan.

“To top it all off, I got kind of drunk on my own power. So I made a few extra bucks feeding celebrity exclusives to the supermarket tabloids. Some other Olympians got wind of my lousy attitude and held an intervention. From then on, all decisions about whose hearts I could pierce would be made by committee. I lost my bearings, and clinical depression set in. My eyes got worse, too, throwing off my aim. Remember Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee? A total accident. I came really close to committing suicide. Then I realized it’s out of the question if you’re an immortal.

“Probably just job burnout.

“Now I’m back,” Cupid says. “And it’s true what they say: You really need that face time. So we held a few focus groups, conducted some market research and did some brainstorming and came up with a to- do list. Proposed international guidelines and reforms; 112, to be exact.”

Here’s a taste:

Second marriages should be tried only once. If you try to buy love, your check will bounce. Love at first sight lasts only if you take a second look. Get rid of prenups. Stop stigmatizing one-night stands — it’s Darwinism at its purest. If you go on a blind date, keep your eyes open. Teen sex should consist largely of blushing.

“It’s all spelled out in my new book,” Cupid says. “It’s called ‘Shooting for Love: Cupid Shares His Time-Honored Secrets.’ We’re in discussions with Laura Bush now about drafting a Leave No Lover Behind Act.

“As for me, I never found the right girl,” he concludes. “Here I am, god of love and all that jazz, creating matches made in heaven for the whole world, and I’m going almost every Saturday night without a date. How’s that for irony! I looked everywhere, tried everything: personal ads, singles cruises, the Yellow Pages. Even tried to shoot myself with one of my own arrows — missed. Finally, I just got tired of the whole bar scene, tired of getting stood up, jilted and two-timed. The only conjugating I ever did was of verbs. With all due respect to Joseph Campbell, you can follow your bliss till the cows come home and still be left hanging there on the last call for drinks. So I saw a shrink. Turns out it’s generally pretty hard to find true love when your mother is Venus.

“I mean, talk about a tough act to follow. No wonder I’ve had serious commitment issues. Problems with intimacy, the whole nine yards.

“I never found the right girl — until just recently, that is,” Cupid adds with a wink. “Yes, she’s agreed to be my valentine, and we plan to get married Feb. 14 in Reno. She’s perfect for me: knows nothing about Greek mythology and has no fear of flying. So there you go. Rumors that romance is dead are exaggerated. Love is still everywhere. If I can find it, anyone can.”