This is a repost from Watsons Unleashed, where I shared love lessons I’d learned by my husband’s and my fifth wedding anniversary in May 2010. At the end of this month, we celebrate our 10th anniversary and so I’ll be writing about love, marriage, and relationships for the next few weeks.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and about love in Brian’s and my time together, both as husband and wife and in the three years we shared before marriage. In celebration of our fifth anniversary, here are five love lessons I’ve learned:
- You can’t change your mate. You have to accept them as they are, in entirety. However, don’t be surprised when they change on you. Growing and changing along with them is part of the fun!
- Chemistry changes over time. It’s incredibly important to have compatibility and commitment, too.
- The disagreements you have before marriage will continue after you’re married unless you consciously do something to resolve them. Open communication is essential.
- Sometimes you’ll have to choose between being “right” and being “happy.” In relationships and in life, happy is almost always the best answer.
- “Thank you” goes a long way. It’s a given that Brian is our family chef, but I still thank him every day for cooking for us. He, in return, thanks me for being the family dishwasher and laundress. We both feel appreciated and happier as a result.
Update 5/5/2015: Now that Brian and I are 10 years into our marriage, I’m happy to see that I can stand by all the love lessons I shared at year five. Here are a few more observations:
- On change: They say the only constant in life is change. I agree. When I met him, Brian was a pescetarian home brewer (and software engineer). Now he’s a omnivorous mid-distance runner (and software engineer) who appreciates craft beer but doesn’t brew. I’m sure I’ve changed, too, from his perspective.
- On chemistry: There’s nothing like those initial days of infatuation, is there? Chemistry isn’t all fireworks, though. Now that our love has settled into a nice, stable togetherness, I think of chemistry as “clicking.” We just “get” each other, serious to silly.
- On communication: While we’ve long since settled any disagreements we brought into our marriage, I still think communication is one of the most important components of any relationship. It can be so easy to make assumptions about what each other is thinking or to say, “never mind” and walk away. Staying on the same page takes vigilance and a willingness to show up.
- On being right versus happy. The longer I live and the more difficulties I face, the more I realize that my most challenging times have resulted from wanting to teach someone a lesson, from wanting to be right. This is true in marriage, among friends, or in business. Whenever I take on the challenge of meting out justice, I make the situation more stressful for myself and worse in general. It’s not worth it and so, the older I get, the more willing I am to live and let live.
- On saying thanks. Saying “thank you” has become so ingrained in our relationship that, when I first re-read this post, I wasn’t sure whether we even did it anymore. But, as I thought back over the past couple of days, I remember thanking Brian for making dinner and going to the grocery store and him thanking me for cleaning up and washing clothes. It works, even when it’s so natural you forget you’re doing it.
I’ll be back next week with more love lessons.
Photo Credit: Cassandra Deasy Lauters
Do you ever think about how we become who we are? I do, all the time.
Whenever I meet a young person with big aspirations or an adult with interesting life experiences, I ask myself, “How did they know they could do that?”
Let me give you a few examples:
A few years ago, I met a 10-year-old girl who told me that she wanted to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon one day. I remember replying, “Wow, do you know one?” Of course she did. She had been born with a skeletal condition that required multiple childhood surgeries, and she knew several.
My husband and I know a woman who, by her mid-20s, had amassed a small real estate empire. She had been born to multimillionaire parents and had learned to create positive cash flow via investments without needing a conventional job.
- Another woman I know is a successful businesswoman and second-generation Mexican American, the daughter of immigrants. She was the first in her family to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and she did it contrary to the expectations and wishes of her family. She had always done well in school and, thus, she knew she could keep going.
We are all products of our upbringing—which can be empowering and limiting. What we learn and experience during childhood generally sets the tone for who we become.
And so I wonder:
What happens to children who grow up in communities where adults typically have high school educations or below?
If parents aren’t fluent in English, how do they know all of the options available to their children? How well do such children do in school and life?
How likely are children from low-income families to go to college or professional school?
- How likely are children to aspire to become lawyers or doctors or software engineers if they don’t have appropriate role models for inspiration?
I could post statistical answers to the above questions, but statistics dehumanize my message.
It always frustrates me when I see a story about a young person who hoped to make it out of a lower income community by becoming a professional athlete or musician…and then she or he didn’t. Sure, some do, but music and athletics aren’t the only options to “make it.”
We say that our children can become anything they want to be, but is that true if they don’t know their options? More importantly, how will our children become their best selves without feeling confident that they belong where they want to go? Without culturally relevant role models?
Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri has said that he hopes his recent wins on the European Tour will help show his countrymen what is possible for them. Their responses are bearing that out.
How do we help millions of young Americans see their opportunities and believe in their futures? I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I don’t have all the answers. But I don’t need to. Many people are working on this issue. A wholly effective solution would be comprehensive, involving parents, schools, communities, nonprofits, and the government. But every little bit helps.
And so I’m choosing to help in the way I know how: By documenting the issues and sharing the success stories, not of celebrities but of everyday men and women through my new Project “What Will You Be?” Details are in the project outline below:
To learn more or to become involved, please contact me.
One of my key lessons this year is acceptance. I brought it upon myself, of course, by choosing “accept” as my word for 2015. I knew I had these lessons to learn.
Last week, after I wrote about letting go of others’ expectations, I started thinking about what happens when you can’t meet your own expectations. Unless you’re a minimalist or highly evolved soul, you probably have a wish list, a vision board, or goals for your future. We all want something.
But what happens when you can’t have what you want?
Right now, for example, I want a house and family. I’m past my mid-30s, have been married almost 10 years, and I want what other people my age have. Or should I say: What I perceive other people my own age to have.
The problem? The hubs and I live in a neighborhood where starter homes go for about $1 million and my husband, who works his butt off at an Internet startup, isn’t ready to grow our family. Regardless of our ages, my wishes, or our previous agreements, the fact is what I want isn’t possible right now.
There’s very little I can do about either situation. On the home-buying front, prices rose 13% this past year and homes are typically selling $100k over list in bidding wars. These are facts. What we can do is either tighten our belts and save more, or move outside the Bay Area.
On the adoption front, there’s literally nothing I can do. My friends have posed solutions, including giving Brian an ultimatum, starting the process without him, or accepting that he may never be ready. I know these suggestions are well intentioned, but they’re awful, aren’t they? Either I manipulate my husband, go behind his back, or just give up.
Call me crazy, but none of those works for me. So what can you do when you want something you can’t have? I have asked myself this question many times. I think the answer depends in part on what it is you want and how likely it is to ever occur.
When you can’t have what you want…for now
If your situation is temporary, here are some things to try:
- Distract yourself. Psychologist Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. says that when we don’t get what we want, we want it even more. But each of us has a choice as to what we focus on. Instead of obsessing over what we don’t have, we can choose to do something else like start a new project, clean the house, or change the topic of conversation.
- Make a plan. I’m a planner, my husband is not. He and I drafted a timeline for adoption, but then he said our plan was unfolding too quickly so we put it on hold. The lesson here is that plans aren’t perfect and may change, particularly when you’re dealing with another person. However, planning for what you want could work well if it’s something you can work toward on your own.
- Be open to alternatives. A friend of mine told me the following story: One of her friends had trouble getting pregnant, tried round after round of fertility treatments, experienced several miscarriages, and ultimately was unable to carry a baby to term. Eventually she came to resent my friend, a mother of two, and she won’t visit with or discuss my friend’s children. This makes me sad. There are so many alternatives to a childfree life if you don’t choose one, including surrogacy, adoption, fostering, mentoring, and enjoying the children already in your life, however they got there. When something doesn’t manifest exactly as you envisioned it, that doesn’t mean you can’t have it in another form.
- Choose hope versus despair. We all have a choice about how we apply our mental energy. Do we focus on hope or despair? Sometimes processing takes a long time but, as long as you’re alive, there’s always hope. Whenever I need a reminder of this I practice gratitude, journaling about things going right in my life right now.
When you can’t have what you want…ever
As with the childfree woman I mentioned above, sometimes the dream we have for ourselves isn’t meant to be. When you’re dealing with a permanent loss—whether you’re in love with someone who will never love you back, were overlooked for your dream job, or will never birth a child—the only way forward is through…through the grief to the point where you can find a new normal. In that case:
- Remember that you’re not alone. We all know grief and struggles. Often you may not know what others are going through or have experienced, but you can safely assume that you’re not alone. We have all faced our share of battles and losses.
- Process the emotions. Allow yourself to experience the emotions you have. It’s okay to be sad or in denial or angry. It’s okay to have good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments. Continue working through the stages of grief until you find peace. And if you can’t do it on your own…
- Get help. Surround yourself with support, either from your friends and family or mental health professionals. There’s nothing wrong or weak about asking for help. In fact, I believe it’s a sign of sanity to realize when you need more support.
- Embrace your new normal. Once you have processed your darkest emotions, find your new normal. Look for others who can understand and support this new chapter in your life. If you’re newly single, for example, that could mean joining a single’s group. If you’ve decided not to have children, that might mean hanging out with other childfree couples or volunteering with a mentoring organization to teach and learn from kids in a new way.
Choose to focus on what’s going okay. What do you have to be grateful for? What are you here to accomplish? What beauty can you bring to the world, perhaps because of and not in spite of your past experience?
I’m feeling a bit sad and uncomfortable today. I hurt the feelings of someone I love over the weekend. It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t set out to hurt or reject her act of love but, to be true to myself and my needs, I had to say no to a very kind offer. The truth is: As uncomfortable as it may be, if you’re going to remain true to yourself, disappointing others at times is inevitable.
Even more frustrating, how others respond to our acts of self-care is out of our control. Some will accept graciously and let the situation go. Others will fight back, accusing you of harming them deliberately or selfishly. Still others will say everything is okay yet hold a grudge. It’s no picnic, disappointing others.
But we have to be okay with doing it. Otherwise, we’d live our lives to the beat of another’s drum, trying to keep someone other than ourselves happy.
Accepting that I have to disappoint others is hard for me. That’s why I’m writing about it. I was raised to people-please and I struggle with not doing so, but it’s just not okay for me to sacrifice my sense of self and happiness to meet someone else’s wishes. If I always compromised for someone else, where could that lead:
- Would I be willing to sacrifice where I live?
- What I do as a career?
- What about my choice of spouse?
Even the people closest to us have their own agendas. Sometimes their agendas clash with what we know to be true for ourselves. I don’t fault them. They’re doing their best, but they don’t fully understand our needs or what will lead us to our best lives. How could they when they’re not us?
Let me give you an example: My husband’s parents did not want him to leave aerospace engineering to become a computer programmer. But Brian was unhappy in his aerospace job. He didn’t like the bureaucracy of the industry and he was bored designing brackets for telecommunications satellites.
His parents were rightfully worried that he’d have trouble finding a good job outside his major and that he might not make as much money long-term. They were trying to protect their baby boy from suffering. But they were wrong.
Now, 15+ years later, Brian loves software engineering and he makes a great living doing it. While I’m sure his decision to go against his parents’ wishes was disappointing to them at the time, it’s what he needed to do to be true to himself.
Brian and I have developed a bit of a reputation in our families for choosing the unconventional route. We live across the country from our families, both having moved independently after college. We put our careers on hold to travel full-time during 2010-2011. I haven’t held a traditional job since 2006. Brian turned down an offer at Google to work for an Internet start-up. And we’ve chosen not to birth children.
Sure, we’ve made mistakes, but we’re doing the best we can. And our mistakes are ours to make.
Disappointing others sometimes happens on our paths to becoming our most authentic selves. We’re sorry when it happens but we also must accept it as inevitable.
We can’t live our lives in an attempt to keep others happy. For one thing, it’s impossible because everyone has his or her own opinion. Also, it’s a death knell for our individual dreams, wishes, and goals.
Who are you going to disappoint today? What dream or goal are you going to take action toward in becoming your best self?
If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed some changes around here lately. First, there’s a new KateWatson.net tagline: Passion for personal development + social justice. There’s also an updated About page, explaining my new(ish) blog focus and providing the context for where we’re headed.
These are the first of several new developments. For a while now, since returning to the Bay Area after traveling for a year and a half, I have been exploring career and life possibilities. I knew I wanted to do something beyond wedding and portrait photography and, while I loved helping photographers differentiate authentically via Art Aligned, that felt more like a parting gift to the industry rather than an inspiring new career.
I’ve tried on many hats: Running a fashion company. Volunteering as an advocate for children in foster care. Scouting ventures for a social enterprise accelerator. Working with impact investors. Revisiting portrait photography.
What I’ve done consistently throughout this time is write on this blog and research topics related to social justice and personal development. Honoring that, I’ve asked myself several questions:
- Did I want to work for a social enterprise?
- Start a social enterprise or nonprofit?
- Photograph social issues?
- Write about personal development and social issues?
The answers to these questions are not now, maybe, yes, and yes. No one knows what the future holds, but what I do know is that, right now, I want to write, photograph, and continue supporting organizations working to make the world a better, more equitable place. And so that is exactly what I’m going to do.
As I wrote on my updated About page, going forward KateWatson.net will feature:
- Inspiration to believe that change is possible—both internally and out in the world
- Tools to change your perspective, understand and alter limiting beliefs, and grow into the person you want to become
- Stories of people making positive changes in the world and in their own lives
I hope you’ll join me for this journey.