Love


General wisdom says that life changes are stressful.  Whether getting married, having a baby, changing jobs, or losing a loved one, experiencing a big transition puts great stress on the body, heart, and soul.

It therefore did not come as much of a surprise that, as true firstborns, Leon and I ended up tackling three life changes at the same time.  Talk about being poster children for overachievers (or, as some friends have said, crazy people).

We are now 36 days away from our wedding, and things are only picking up speed from here.  Guest counts must be finalized, checks to vendors must be written, and meetings must be held with our pastor and church coordinators to go over details for the big day.  We’re both incredibly excited about the wedding, don’t get me wrong, but the wedding is one of many things on the checklist right now.

Besides working on wedding plans, we also just closed on a condominium in northern Virginia, not to mention that Leon is about to make a career change.  When we’re not discussing wedding plans, we’re arranging movers to move my apartment’s contents into the new place and reading over his resume.  My mom flew out for a weekend to help us look for furniture for the condo, and we spent 13 hours with one meal break running around D.C. to find things.  Granted, it’s a small (I like to say cozy) condo, but it takes a lot of work to furnish even a D.C.-sized place.

I asked my mother if being an adult would always feel like you were sprinting on a treadmill, just one second away from tiring out and flying right off the back (which I did in college once–it didn’t feel very good).  Her answer?  “You guys are just getting started.”

As I look over the “to do” list that just keeps growing, much like the stress lines in my forehead, my current goal is to get down the aisle without collapsing at the end.  At least, we’ve been telling ourselves, if we push hard now we’ll enjoy several benefits later.  We have our honeymoon to look forward to, with the daily grind being temporarily replaced by a French Polynesian bungalow and the beach.  Then we’ll return to an actual home.  One that we own.  As a married couple.

This time period feels a lot like running track in junior high, when I was completely out of shape  but the coach would not take the “I have no desire to be an athlete” argument that I should not be held to McKinney ISD gym class standards.  I remember running around the track cursing the day, feeling miserable, and praying that I wouldn’t throw up my peanut butter and jelly sandwich from lunchtime.

As the finish line approached during the last lap, though, I remember feeling a surge of energy.  And after crossing the line, it felt pretty good to know that I had finished the run.  Before I threw up, of course.

We’re at that point with life changes–the final lap is approaching, and we’re running toward the finish line of “adulthood, chapter one.”  Only this time there won’t be a snobby classmate watching me run around the track, yelling out in front of the class, “Douthit, I can walk faster than you run!”  (She’s not invited to the wedding).

To the chagrin of many, and the delight of others, Valentine’s Day is next week.  In case you hadn’t noticed all of the red hearts filled with chocolate lining your local grocery store aisles.

February 14th marks the day which some anticipate with breathless excitement, which some dub “Singles Awareness Day,” and which others brush it off as a “commercialized, fabricated holiday” meant to boost retail sales of florists and candy shops.

Depending on what stage of life you’re in, Valentine’s Days over the years can have many different faces.  As a kid, Valentine’s Day was exciting for my friends and me–our parents would take us to buy little cards and candy hearts at the store and we would all exchange them during the school day.  There were years when Valentine’s Days meant going out with a group of fellow single girlfriends to see a chick flick and “people watch” individuals who had the misfortune of being on awkward dates that evening.  Those were always fun.

There were also some not so great Valentine’s Days.  Like the one where the guy I was dating cooked a great dinner for me (apparently out of guilt, or so he told me when he broke up with me a week later).  Or the one when a guy I had been out with a few times called to tell me that he was boycotting Valentine’s Day because it was a “useless” holiday, and he was going to go to the gym instead.

Thankfully, recent Valentine’s Days have been much better.  Valentine’s Day 2008 was spent with my mom in Rio de Janeiro, the same week when we somehow ended up caught in the middle of the Carnival parade near Ipanema Beach.  On February 13th, 2010, pre-Valentine’s Day, I was reintroduced to my now-fiancé.  One year ago, also on February 13th, Leon proposed, and we celebrated our engagement with friends on the actual holiday.

Americans, in general, tend to treat Valentine’s Day as a pretty big deal.  One only need to turn on the TV this week to see a jewelry store advertisement, for instance.  American culture overall seems to uphold certain traditions for Valentine’s Day, namely, nice dinners, flowers, chocolates, jewelry, cards, and candy.  In its purest form, it’s a day to show love and appreciation for loved ones, especially a spouse, and to take a step back from the hectic pace of life to rekindle any dimmed sparks.

Celebrations will also be rampant around the rest of the globe next week.  In Mexico, for instance, Valentine’s Day is also known as the day of “amor y amistad” (love and friendship), and apparently anything red and heart-shaped is a popular gift.  In Western Europe, from what I saw, it seemed like flowers and chocolates were the most common gifts.  An interesting article I read recently talked about how, in Africa, Valentine’s celebrations mainly happen among affluent residents, but because so much of the world’s cocoa bean supply is grown on the continent, Africa is permanently tied to the holiday.

In South Korea, they do things a little differently.  I remember being surprised to hear from my Korean friends that February 14th was a day when girls would give gifts to boys, and then one month later on March 14th (also known as “White Day”) the guys were supposed to “step up” and bestow gifts upon them (to note, in Japan they do the same thing).  The Koreans also go one step further–another month later, on April 14th, single people are supposed to eat jjajanmyun, wheat noodles smothered in black soybean sauce.  To add insult to injury, April 14th is also called “Black Day.”  I remember seeing many depressed-looking Koreans out and about that day.

Then there are some places that don’t allow Valentine’s Day celebrations, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where things like the sale of red roses are outlawed.  Militant Hindu groups in India have also called for bans on Valentine’s Day, namely because St. Valentine is a Christian figure.  From some research I did, however, it sounds like some clandestine celebrations still occur.

This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday, and it will be interesting to see what is happening around D.C.  (Last year the holiday fell on a Monday, and I remember cringing while watching men in suits and ties fight over the last bouquets of roses at the local CVS).  This year, besides spending time with Leon, I’m planning on gaming the system a little bit; I’m going to wait and buy chocolates and candy the day after Valentine’s Day.  When they’re on sale.

 

 

As a traveler, as I’ve discussed before, packing light is key to one’s sanity.  This translates to every form of travel, from leisure travel to studying abroad to working overseas.

Since I was on the go so much, and never felt sure of if or when I’d have a more stable life, I took the concept of packing light and applied it to everything. I found myself living the nomadic bachelorette dream.  I preferred language books to cook books, plastic utensils to real plates, takeout instead of home-cooked meals, and so forth.

I was the epitome of a bachelorette, in every sense of the word.  I ate whatever I was craving that particular day, set my schedule the way I wanted, and let whatever quirky tendencies I had to have full reign in my lifestyle.  Some would call these quirks “secret single behavior,” those little things you do but that you know full well you won’t really want to do when you’re married.

My “secret single behaviors” were wide ranging, and I never had them challenged by anyone.  I hated having an overflowing trash can, so I’d often keep a trash bag by the door and take it out when it was full.  Sometimes if I wasn’t really hungry I’d have popcorn for dinner.  I didn’t like to decorate, so unless my living space overseas was already furnished, I’d usually hang up a world map or something just to look like I was putting forth effort.  The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

While most of my friends were marrying and having children, I was planning my next adventure.  I told myself that, eventually, I’d meet someone and transition from a bachelorette traveler to a domestic goddess.  Would it be easy? No, probably not, but it would be necessary.  I wanted to be a wife and mother, after all, and I didn’t want my husband and children to get food poisoning every time I cooked.  Or see my own kids throw a bag of Orville Redenbacher in the microwave and announce that dinner was served.

The initial step of my transition from bachelorette traveler to domestic goddess (ha) arrived when my fiance moved to the D.C. area and we went from a long-distance relationship to a close proximity one.  I hadn’t realized how ingrained my bachelorette behavior was until “the kitchen incident.”

Leon had a couple of days in D.C. to kill time before his larger household items arrived to his new apartment, so he was itching for something to do.  He graciously offered to do some stuff around my apartment that I hadn’t taken the time to do (another bachelorette tendency–you ignore a clogged sink as long as you can):  plumbing DIY projects, restocking the fridge, and so forth.  I was happy to have the help and appreciated his gesture.

After work that day, I headed home trying to ignore my craving for macaroni and cheese.  As a bachelorette, I ate whatever I felt like for dinner, guided only by my cravings.  Things were changing though–Leon was more of the mindset that you plan out your meals each week, shop accordingly, and cook healthy meals at home. The plan was for us to eat out less during the week and enjoy going to restaurants more on the weekends.  I loved the idea, in theory.  In practice, it was tougher.

Take that evening, for instance.  Leon and I had planned to cook shrimp stir fry together, and we had all of the ingredients ready.  I wasn’t really craving shrimp stir fry though.  I wanted mac and cheese.  But, I told myself, I needed to eventually break my habit of eating whatever I wanted and get into a healthier routine.  Shrimp stir fry it was.

I got home to find Leon starting the stir fry and gave him a big “thank you” hug for being my maintenance man that day.  The apartment looked so much better, and my sink was actually draining at a normal speed.  I tilted my head to the side, though, and noticed that the kitchen was totally different.  I had to investigate.

By totally different I mean, well, totally different.  My kitchen was tiny, as I lived in a tiny studio in Arlington, Virginia.  There wasn’t much space, so I had organized everything on top of each other–spices, paper towels, cereal boxes, and so forth.  It was cluttered, yes, and a little stressful to try to cook in that space, but it was my clutter.

Now there was no clutter.  Leon had reorganized everything, putting items in different shelves that I hadn’t thought to use as storage, put spices in a basket on top of the fridge, and cleared enough shelf space so that we could actually chop vegetables on a flat surface.  It was completely different.

I stood there with my head still tilted to the side, and took a deep breath.  He looked at me like he knew he had tested me a little, and I was going to have a bachelorette moment.

Oh, and I did have a bachelorette moment.  I’m not talented at hiding my emotions, and I had a mini meltdown.  I think that the gist of the meltdown, to which Leon patiently listened, was that everything was changing and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it.  My life had been structured according to my wishes, and those wishes had not included planning out meals, cooking at home, or having someone else organize all of my stuff.  It was tough, I ranted, and he had to understand that I was used to being independent and on my own, and I wouldn’t transition overnight to being more domestic, and what if I never did, and on and on and on.

Once I calmed down, Leon smiled, gave me a big hug, and said, “Oh Linds, you need a man’s touch in your life.”  Then he looked at me, and we both busted out laughing.

So, lesson of the day–transitioning from being a 100% secret single behavior indulgent bachelorette traveler to a domestic goddess won’t happen overnight.  It’s a process.  I know it won’t be easy, but I also know that it’s time.  I’ll never lose that traveler side of me, but it’s also time to grow up a little and allow myself to share my life with someone.  And use real plates.

As a traveler, it almost seemed comical (and perhaps fitting) that the relationship which led to my getting engaged to a wonderful man began as a long distance one.  I liked to think that my years of travel experience had allowed me to sharpen the skills needed to give a long distance relationship a real shot at working out.

Not only were Leon and I long distance, but we were on opposite ends of the country.  I was in D.C., and he was out in California working as an attorney for the U.S. Army.  We met through mutual friends back in 2005, while I was interning in D.C. and he was in law school.  Our first meeting was at Lauriol Plaza, a great Mexican restaurant in D.C., and we were both there for our friend Chris’s birthday dinner.  I was focused on finishing my internship, and he was focused on his law books.  The main thing I remember about our first introduction was that I argued with him when he tried to pay for my dinner.  I protested that he was a law student, and he responded that I was an intern–I conceded defeat and let him pay for my enchiladas.

Fast forward to 2010, when I had been living and working in D.C. for about a year.  He was in town for an Army conference, so our scheming friends Rose and Chris (well, mainly Rose, my friend with a knack for matchmaking) planned to get us together once again.  We met at a Thai restaurant in Pentagon City, and after reconnecting with Leon I remarked to Rose that he was such a great guy and whoever ended up with him was truly fortunate.

I ended up being the fortunate girl (yay), and even though we were on opposite sides of the continental U.S., Leon pursued me.  He flew out to D.C. just to take me on our first date, and things progressed smoothly from there.  We tried to see each other at least once a month over the next year, arranging visits in different cities, whether to meet up with his family in Colorado and mine in Texas, or to visit his sister in North Carolina. Our relationship let me use my hard-earned traveling skills, from packing super light to finding decent airfare to coordinating logistics.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and we just concluded the long distance chapter of our relationship.  He was able to move out to D.C. for work, and we are looking forward to being in the same city and enjoying being engaged.  (I have also made it my goal to learn how to cook well, emphasis on the word “well,” but that’s a whole other story).

It was interesting to see what travel skills came in handy to conduct a long distance relationship with a man I felt was worth it, and I made this little list:

–Patience in Communication.  Whether talking with your significant other, airline companies, tour guides in foreign countries, and so on, you cannot assume that others can read your mind.  When frustrations or difficulties arise, sometimes you have to take a deep breath and patiently explain what’s going on in your frazzled head.  If you are having a bad day and just want your fiance to listen and not try to fix the problem, tell him.  If the airline is asking you to give up your seat because they’re overbooked and you’re traveling to see a loved one, communicate to them that you aren’t in a position to do that–it’s okay to say no (you might get kicked off anyway).  If a tour guide in a foreign country is rushing you through the sights and you want to stop and smell the roses, tell him or her.  You have to speak up when appropriate.

–Flexibility.  This skill goes a long way, as anyone traveling to a far off destination will attest.  Things happen in travel, from luggage being lost to things being lost in translation (in one country I went in for a haircut and came out with my hair bleached white blonde, not a good look for me).  You have to be flexible, understand that things sometimes escape from your control, and adapt to the situation.  If your train derails in Egypt and you’re stuck on the rails for an extra 8 hours, be thankful that you brought reading material–or take that time to look forward to when you’re not stuck in the middle of the Egyptian desert (true story).  Relationships need the same amount of flexibility–when you’re dealing with two complex, flawed human beings, sometimes you have to exercise adaptability and just roll with it.

–The Ability to Pack Light.  Whether referring to literal luggage or emotional baggage, it’s best to travel light.  Many women I’ve talked to think that dragging their two overstuffed suitcases filled with extra clothes and shoes they don’t really need for vacation might tell themselves that it will be worth it to have everything with them, but they certainly don’t enjoy the process of traveling.  There is nothing better, in my mind, than showing up to the airport and going through security with a small bag and a purse. Similarly, a long distance relationship taught me the importance of prioritizing time together and not bringing along unnecessary emotional baggage.  When you’re traveling around the country to see your significant other, it’s vital to appreciate each moment together, since those in-person moments are limited.  That lesson also relates to relationships in general–appreciate the time you have together and don’t weigh yourself down with extraneous “stuff” that doesn’t benefit you or your loved one.

–The Ability to Savor the Simple Things.  When you’re in a long distance relationship, the little things become those which you miss the most.  I found myself looking forward to the day when my fiance and I could go to the grocery store together, pick up items to make dinner, and cook together.  Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant–just everyday activities that are better when you share them with someone.  On similar lines, traveling is most rewarding when the simple things are appreciated.  Some of my favorite travel stories come from times when I wasn’t standing in front of the Mona Lisa or Great Wall of China (although those were incredible experiences), but from when I just strolled around a new city and picked up a local treat to enjoy (I’m looking at you, Italian gelato).

I learned a lot, and grew up a lot, from having a long distance relationship with my fiance, but I will be the first to say that I’m relieved it’s over.  Even when we have “off” days, or we’re both grumpy after long days at work, my goal is to think back to the days when we couldn’t see each other often.  Plus, we both gained more experience using the skills mentioned above, which will come in handy for future travels.  This time, though, we’ll be able to get on the same airplane–in record time too, since it won’t take us long to get our small bags through security.