Tag Archives: Joan Wickersham

What If We Hadn’t Met?

cheese cubes

Wickersham is an American writer – most famous for her memoir, The Suicide Index – who also writes regularly for The Boston Globe. An essay of hers about how married couples communicate sparked a part of my own entitled, The Secret Language of Long-Term Marriages which I shared here last month. And now she’s published another essay about marriage – How We Met – in which she describes the universal fascination we all hold with the story about how couples meet.

In Wickersham’s own case, her initial meeting with her husband was a total dud. They met at a party; she was friendly, he was aloof. They didn’t speak again for 18 months. She also recounts the tales of other couples she knows, some of whom experienced the proverbial “love at first sight,” others who met via a personals ad (“I like to walk in the rain” apparently turned out to be a big draw.)

As Wickersham points out, the reason we’re all so fascinated with the “how we met” narrative is that it’s always about something deeper. These stories are, as she puts it, “fated yet random…behind every “How we met’’ story is the unspoken question: What if we hadn’t?”

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50

Image: Swiss Cheese Cubes via Wikimedia Commons

The Secret Language of Long Term Marriages

marriage

marriageI once read an article about the underlying codes governing long-term relationships that really struck a chord.

It was an essay by writer Joan Wickersham about the ways in which, over time, couples develop their own private lexicons with which to communicate with one another.

Wickersham talks about this dynamic within the context of marriage, but her point applies to any long-term partnership. What’s crucial is that you’re together long enough to have a shared experience which then evolves into a catch phrase that only the two of you can understand.

By way of example, she recounts the story of how – right after she married her husband – Wickersham got a job in a bank which she hated. Even though her husband had a job that he liked, he convinced her to quit her job (and he his) so that they could move somewhere else and both be happy. From there on out, “It’s like the bank” became their stock way to describe any situation that was especially bleak and dismal. Wickersham has another great story about the phrase “We’re just not serrated knife people” and what it came to mean within the context of their marriage.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Marriage by Jo Christian Oterhals via Flickr

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Amid all the controversy over Sheryl Sandberg’s new feminist manifesto for the workplace, Lean In, here are two must-read responses: Erin Callan’s “Is there life after work?” and Mary Louise Kelly’s on what happens when you get that fateful phone call…and you’re in Baghdad.

2. Absolutely loved this essay by Jeremy Shatan in the New York Times about what it’s like to live after your child dies, aptly titled “A High-Functioning Bereaved Parent.”

3. One of my favorite new (to me) blogs is The Monkey Cage, a blog about politics that does that rare thing: creates a space  where journalists, wonks and political scientists can meet. Here’s a great post on the relationship between gender equality and growth.

4. As usual, Joan Wickersham nails it in a post on grammar and why it matters. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.

5. Downton Abbey fans will love the Downton Abbey Facebook recap on Happy Place.

6. You don’t need to be a Billy Joel fan to appreciate this video. (But yes, I’ll own up to it!)

7. Finally, something that’s guaranteed to make you smile: the Pony Dance Party over on Strangling My Muse. Love it!

Have a great weekend everybody!

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. In case you missed this feel-good moment of the century, here’s Paul Simon letting a fan come up on stage and perform one of his songs.

2. Equally inspirational is this commencement speech by NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich on the future of journalism. If this doesn’t move you to go out and pursue your dreams, nothing will.

3. In other news, for those following the whole Lars Von Trier/Hitler/Cannes saga, this you tube video is priceless.

4. Loved Salon’s virtual tour of the world’s most inviting bookstores.

5. Also loved this sneak peak at book covers that didn’t make it over on the New York Times. (Ummm…Wetlands? Hello?)

6. I’m always drawn to stories about the kindness of strangers. Joan Wickersham has a great tale about drive-by kindness in the Boston Globe.

7. Finally, in the department of random, quirky and fun, read the Guardian’s interview with Director John Waters. Hat tip: Donna Trussell.

 

Have a great weekend!

How I Met My Husband

I think  Joan Wickersham is my muse.

Wickersham is an American writer – most famous for her memoir, The Suicide Index – who also writes regularly for The Boston Globe. An essay of hers about how married couples communicate sparked a post of my own entitled The Private Language of Marriage some months back. And now she’s published another essay about marriage – How We Met – in which she describes the universal fascination we all hold with the story about how couples meet.

In Wickersham’s own case, her initial meeting with her husband was a total dud. They met at a party; she was friendly, he was aloof. They didn’t speak again for 18 months. She also recounts the tales of other couples she knows, some of whom experienced the proverbial “love at first sight,” others who met via a personals ad (“I like to walk in the rain” apparently turned out to be a big draw.)

As Wickersham points out, the reason we’re all so fascinated with the “how we met” narrative is that it’s always about something deeper. These stories are, as she puts it, “fated yet random… Behind every “how we met’’ story is the unspoken question: What if we hadn’t?”

What if, indeed?

Like Wickersham, my husband and I also got off on the wrong foot. We first spoke during a graduate student reception at Stanford University in the autumn of 1993 where we were both pursuing our Ph.Ds in political science. It was one of those horrible affairs where the faculty mill about and speak with one another jovially, while the grad. students hover over in the corner by the food, stuffing as many cheese cubes into their mouths as can decently fit while downing the cheap red wine that’s on offer.

Despite having been at Stanford for over a year at that point, I didn’t actually know my husband, who was a couple of years ahead of me in the program. I was pretty much a hermit at that point in my life, rarely emerging out of the dungeon (yes, that’s what it was called) in the basement of the political science department where they stuck the first and second year students in one giant, communal “office.” (I use this term generously.)

But at this party – where I, too, undoubtedly came out of seclusion in order to gobble down some cheese cubes – I was first introduced to my husband via a mutual friend. He made a joke about something – I no longer remember what – which I took (mistakenly) to be misogynistic. I left that meeting with two thoughts about him: a. he’s cute and b. too bad he’s a jerk.

Fast forward a few weeks, to our second meeting. This time, it came at my initiative. I was putting together a dissertation committee and someone suggested that I consult with the “jerk” who was to become my husband, as he’d assembled a very diverse group of scholars for his own committee. I remember thinking “Ugh. That guy?” when his name came up. But work was work, and I decided to put my first impressions behind me. So I asked him if we could meet for coffee to talk dissertation committees.

Somehow, because of scheduling conflicts, coffee morphed into dinner. We met at an Italian restaurant in Palo Alto. We were in the middle of talking about god-knows-what scintillating aspect of political theory when he turned to me and said something about my eyes. Suddenly, I became aware that what I’d been thinking of as a business meeting was actually…a date.  “Oh my God! I’m on a date!” ran through my mind as I tucked into the lasagna. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What I learned from that date many moons ago is that you should always give people a second chance. The first time I met my husband, I thought he was a loser. That was just so wrong. (He was cute, however, so I got that part right.) I also learned that you always need to be open to suggestion in life. Because sometimes even when your head’s stuck in a book (or a dimly lit basement office, or an Italian restaurant menu), your future is sitting right before your eyes. You just need to open them long enough to see it.

And finally, I learned – over time – that the “What if we hadn’t met?” question is an unfathomable one for me. My husband – who is now also my best friend – technical advisor – father-to-my-kids – fellow consumer of DVD commentaries all rolled into one – might, for want a cheese cube, be just another stranger I once met at a party. As a die-hard control freak, it’s nice to know that once in a while, fate really does matter.

OK, your turn. How did you meet your husband/wife/partner (past or present) and what did you learn from that experience?

Image: paneer, cubed by chotda via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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The Private Language Of Marriage

I read an article in the International Herald Tribune last Friday that really struck a chord. It was an essay by writer Joan Wickersham about the ways in which longtime couples develop their own private lexicons with which to communicate with one another.

She talks about this dynamic within the rubric of marriage, but her point applies to any long-term partnership. What’s crucial is that you’re together long enough to have a shared experience that which then evolves into a catch phrase that only the two of you can understand.

By way of example, Wickersham recounts the story of how – right after she married her husband – she got a job in a bank which she hated. Even though her husband had a job that he liked, he convinced her to quit her job (and he his) so that they could move somewhere else and both be happy. From there on out, “It’s like the bank” became their stock way to describe any situation that was especially bleak and dismal. Wickersham has another great story about the phrase “We’re just not serrated knife people” and what it came to mean within the context of their marriage.

My husband and I have been together for nearly 17 years and I know exactly what she means. I’m one of those people who’s obsessed with schedules. Once – on a trip to visit my husband’s parents in Atlanta – I perseverated for hours over whether, upon landing at Hartsfield Airport, we ought to go directly to his parents’ home or stop by and visit a friend first and risk being late. To this day, whenever I begin obsessing about our travel schedule, my husband will look at me and say: “Should we just go home or should we stop at Douglas Jackson’s?” (Not his real name.) It’s code for: Are you really going to go on about this all night?

Similarly, we’ve also incorporated a phrase to describe that feeling you get when you anticipate that someone is going to disagree with you. My husband and I met in graduate school and one of our early bonding experiences was over our feelings about a mutual acquaintance (we’ll call him Simon Collins.) Simon Collins was the kind of person who – no matter what you said – instinctively responded with something negative. I haven’t seen or talked to Simon in years. Nor has my husband. But whenever one of us raises a topic that might possibly prompt criticism, we preface it by saying “No Simon Collins!”  to disarm the other person from any knee-jerk disapproval.

Neither of these phrases would mean anything to anyone but the two of us. And that’s the point.

I’ve written before about some of the things that make for a happy marriage/partnership: having shared interests; establishing a division of labor. But Wickersham’s column reminded me of one more crucial ingredient – feeling like a team. There are lots of ways to do this, but having a private language – a “civilization of two” as she puts it – is one of the principle ways that you can reinforce that bond.

How about you? What strange and impenetrable shorthands have you and your partner devised to communicate with one another?

I’d love to hear them…

Image: portrait of a happy couple – day 358 or Project 365 by purplemattfish via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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