Monday, August 31, 2009
Where’s the Beef?
Rob just told Celia about his
brilliant plan for a nearly free honeymoon. All Celia has to do is join him when he attends a weeklong
training in Ann Arbor.
kicked back in his cubicle, feet on his desk, and waited expectantly for Celia
to respond to his announcement. He
could not believe his luck when he received the email from his boss asking him,
with two others in the office, to attend.
Every year the firm sent a few of its accountants to this event, and Rob
had figured it would be a few years before he would be so honored. Not only would the training be
extremely valuable in itself, it would provide useful preparation for the CPA
exam he hoped to take next year.
would be in seminars only seven hours each day. He and Celia could have lunch together and then spend every
evening doing whatever they wanted, with the exception of a pair of networking
events, but it would be fantastic to have his beautiful bride on his arm for
those. Between the cost of the
training that the company would cover, and the money it would save them on the
honeymoon, Rob figured he had struck a $2500 gold mine. With the money Celia would save on rent
once she moved in with him, Rob imagined them thinking starter home by Christmas
realized Celia had not spoken yet.
“Are you there?” Rob asked.
“Well?” Suddenly Rob was confused. Celia did not seem to be responding as
he had anticipated. What could she
have against saving money?
– we don’t need a free honeymoon, Rob.
We do have some money.”
some money, Rob thought, irritated.
We don’t have any money together,
yet. “But this way we can use the
money for other things.”
am thinking we should talk about this later, face to face, instead of on the
phone,” Celia said.
there was something to talk about.
“I need to let them know I’m going to go,” Rob said. He could feel himself becoming
defensive, though he was not sure about what; he tilted his chair forward and
took his feet off the desk.
thought you had put in for vacation that week,” Celia said.
did, but now I can save that, too.”
-- Celia sounded confused, like she did not understand the words he was
speaking – “we are talking about our honeymoon.”
know we are! Like I could forget
we’re getting married in a month,” he said.
does Celia say to Rob next?
Friday, August 28, 2009
The Cost of Free (Joanne’s response)
Did you ever see the original version of "Father of the Bride," with Spencer Tracy (the father) and Elizabeth Taylor (the bride)? The groom-to-be announces that he has planned a fishing trip for their honeymoon. Elizabeth Taylor bursts into tears and questions whether she should marry this man at all, because she feels so misunderstood. Thankfully, Rob and Celia are not quite so black and white, and their journey of the past ten months has matured them and their communication skills. Part of me imagines Celia rolling her eyes, laughing at by just how far she and Rob missed one another this time. At the same time, there has to be some hurt to this. Haven't they been anticipating together the delights that await them after the wedding? Rob, the accountant, may have had a brief lapse of sanity during which logic and numbers temporarily overruled all other considerations. Harold has offered good advice, and I think they'll work this one out.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The Cost of Free (Harold’s response)
I love this episode between Rob and Celia because it highlights the emotional collisions that often happen in intimate relationships. These episodes happen as both individuals pursue a common goal (in this case planning an economically-conscious honeymoon) with an entirely different set of expectations.
Sometimes these differences in approach are gender-based as males and females often have different lenses through which they interpret things. In other cases, it is personality difference that drives the approach. The bottom line is that such differences are inevitable in intimate relationships. Sometimes what is brilliant to one person is an unbelievable blunder to another.
So, how do you respond when such differences happen? You preserve the relationship by first validating the good that is in the other. What does this look like? In this example, Celia might say that she appreciates how Rob has taken such initiative to reduce the financial burdens that they take into their marriage. The next step would be to state your own point of view. For example, Celia might express her own view of how to keep honeymoon costs down and clearly articulate her concerns about Rob's approach. Third, they both should talk about the emotional meaning they ascribe to each point of view. And, finally they should come to an agreement.
By taking this approach, their relationship will be preserved (and actually enhanced) throughout the dialogue. It is important to embrace this type of exchange because such differences can create a wedge between the couple if not addressed in a timely manner. Try these steps in your next conflict and let me know what happens.
Monday, August 24, 2009
The Cost of Free
Rob and Celia’s wedding is only one month away. Celia is sitting in the church courtyard that will be the site of her wedding, thinking through the implications of which parent, or both, should walk her down the aisle.
Celia realized: this wedding is not just a culmination of my life up to this point. It also symbolizes my life from this day forward – Celia smiled as she thought the actual words from the traditional service. From this day forward.
Her preference would be to eliminate the aisle altogether and thus eliminate the problem of who walks her down it. But, Celia decided, this is not just my wedding. Yes, Rob and I are paying for most of it, such as it is, and it will be our marriage. But since we chose not to elope, I have to honor the guests we are inviting, and my parents are the two most important guests I have.
A pair of blue jays landed in an old maple in the courtyard and began bickering. As she watched them, Celia realized that the future would be best represented if she walked down the aisle between her two parents. But she would eliminate the pastor’s question of “Who gives this woman in marriage?” Celia had no doubt that she was giving herself in marriage. But this symbolism showed her parents, and reminded her, too, that whatever the past may have been the future was about building adult relationships with both parents, separately.
Celia felt light and happy; happy to be taking charge of her own life and lighter each time she made a decision based on what she and Rob knew was best for them and not based on what others thought or felt. She looked forward to sharing the decision with Rob. Perhaps he might even like to play with the symbolism of his own parents’ roles in the wedding. Celia had once attended a Jewish wedding in which the groom’s parents had walked him down the aisle before the bride entered with both of her parents, and she had been impressed with this gender-neutral, family-centered ceremony.
Rob did not know that Celia had been worried about this. He had a headache of his own, trying to figure out how to turn the thousand-dollar gift from his parents, plus another five-hundred or so he had saved himself, into a memorable honeymoon. Celia was impressed, though, that he was being as creative on this front as she had been in devising a cheap though elegant wedding. By looking into resorts along the Great Lakes, within driving distance from Columbus, Rob eliminated airfare costs. The timing of their wedding was just off-season enough that some pricing was significantly lower than it was even now, at the end of August. And, since their primary honeymoon activity was going to be sex, sex, sex, they did not need too wide a variety of other activities. Celia anticipated chilly and rocky beach walks and maybe a horseback ride or two, but mostly she imagined a big bed with room service available 24/7.
Her phone rang and she saw that it was Rob.
“Hi,” she answered.
“I have great news,” he said. “I’ve just figured out how to make our honeymoon practically free.”
“OK. How?” Celia asked. She watched the blue jays fly away.
“My company wants to send me to a training in Ann Arbor the week after our wedding. You can come with me, and all of our expenses except some of our meals will be paid for. We can put the money we have into our savings.” Rob sounded triumphant.
What is Celia’s first emotional response?
Friday, August 21, 2009
Down the Aisle (Harold’s response)
Wedding ceremonies hold tremendous power to make a statement. Historically, the marriage of royalty among two rival tribes or kingdoms were forged to make a declaration of peace. This is what I am reminded of as I think of Celia's decision.
While the decision as to with whom she walks down the aisle may have little bearing on her marital relationship with Rob, it holds tremendous power to make a statement to her parents and her broader family. Will this symbolize a dramatic turning point in the relationship with her father? Will her mother feel betrayed?
To her credit, Celia is thinking through the implications of the different options. Honestly, I'd like to see both of her parents walk her down the aisle because I believe this would be an amazing declaration of peace. It says to her father that she forgives him for the hurt of abandonment. It shows her mother her thankfulness for all that she has done. And, it makes a statement to both of them that they are an important part of who she is as a woman currently and in the future.
While I often lament the ridiculous amount of money that is spent on weddings (many of which end before the loans are even payed off), I know that the wedding day is one of the most important days in the journey for a couple. It establishes memories that will last a lifetime. And, it represents the beginning of a new era. I would like to see Celia's new era start with a fresh perspective and engagement with her parents. A lot can be construed by who goes down the aisle.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Down the Aisle (Joanne’s response)
Every time Celia faces a wedding decision she wishes she had eloped, and for good reason. The symbolism built into the ceremony carries meaning that can foster good will or resentment in families for years to come, which as a family therapist I well know. Since fathers traditionally walk their daughters down the aisle, Celia, if she chooses her mother, will be making a statement both to her father and about her father, since he will be present at the wedding. In choosing both parents she would make a statement that she is letting bygones be bygones, but she may also fear suggesting to her father that she no longer has any issues with him or his past behavior. Further, by putting Don on equal footing with Mom, Mom could believe that Celia has taken her work and sacrifice for granted. The option to eliminate the aisle is just the kind of choice that many contemporary broken and blended families choose, to avoid sending unintended messages. However, it is Celia's wedding. I support her right to make the statement she wants to make, and to handle any hurt feelings face to face afterwards.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Down the Aisle
After a couple more “halfway”
sexual encounters, Rob decided he would prefer to wait for their wedding next
month for the whole thing. Halfway
was too frustrating and he was unwilling to put Celia in the position of
putting the brakes on each time.
sitting in the gothic courtyard of the church where their small wedding would
take place, was surprised at her relief over Rob’s decision to put off all
things sexual for another month.
But wedding details were beginning to demand precedence over all other
aspects of her life. She did not
want to be worrying over centerpieces when Rob deserved her full attention
during their encounters. At the
same time she was grateful to have experienced the arousal the experiment had
triggered, because now she anticipated their wedding night as much as Rob and
that was fun to talk about together.
new conundrum had surfaced in the last week and Celia had come to the courtyard
to unwind it in her mind. She had
invited her father to the wedding, though Don Gillespie had left her mother
when Celia was twelve and she had been uncomfortable with him ever since. Don had made appropriate cordial
overtures to Celia since her mom had told him about the engagement, and though Celia
had resisted at first she had to admit that he had done a fine job of reaching
out to her. He had even agreed to
attend the wedding alone, at Celia’s request, without his wife Jeanne and their
daughter. Celia would have
understood if he had chosen not to attend if he could not bring his family,
though after months of emailing with Don she found herself more curious than
angry about his second family.
the wedding, maybe Rob and I can drive down to Kentucky to meet them, she
thought. After years of discomfort
it was a new feeling to enjoy getting to know her father
though, she had to decide the walking-down-the-aisle question and she knew the
decision was hers alone. Celia
would have preferred to elope, thereby avoiding all this brouhaha, but since
she had agreed to a wedding she decided to take its symbolism seriously.
father had faithfully provided the agreed-upon financial support to her since
the divorce and had helped with college costs, and he had followed her lead
about the contact she wanted over the years (though she had recently learned
how painful it had been for him when she had cut off all contact after she had
had been there throughout, carrying the brunt of the divorce outcome as the
single mother of two teenage girls and struggling financially despite getting
the house; but Celia had to admit that Mom’s presence had been more physical
than emotional. Celia had been
relieved to leave for college.
it had been years since she had relied on either of her parents for much of
anything, though she loved her mother dearly and looked forward to a new adult
relationship with Don. As far as
loyalty went, though, she definitely felt more responsibility to Mom.
does Celia decide?
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Experiment (Harold’s response)
Well, Rob and Celia had their "half-way" experiment. And, apparently it has left them both in a half-satisfied state--although for different reasons. Celia is not fully satisfied because she is concerned about Rob. Rob is not fully satisfied because their boundaries restricted his full sexual expression.
I imagine that Rob and Celia will eventually become content with their "half-way" arrangement as they grapple with each other's boundaries and expectations. But, I still wish they had just waited. I appreciate the mutual boundaries that they have set--even if they have led Rob to a cold shower. But, I can't help feeling that it still somehow cheapens the "real deal" after they are married.
In the end, it will all be about the meaning that this couple attributes to this and future sexual encounters. This will not make or break their marriage. But, I know that some experiments raise more questions than they answer. In this case, I'm not sure.
Monday, August 10, 2009
After Celia drew a “no unzipping
jeans” line during their first premarital foreplay encounter, Rob withdrew to
take a cold shower.
loved Rob more ever. She was
grasping, without having had intercourse yet, what sex with someone you love
could potentially be. The shift in
focus, from your own pleasure, to thinking about what the other was feeling,
then back again. Being fully in
touch with your body and your mind at the same time. Trying new things together and laughing and talking about
it. This experiment had gone as
well as Celia had hoped it might, from her perspective.
she was not sure how Rob felt about it. Celia decided to make them both a snack
while he showered, because she was a little anxious about how he would respond
when he came out. She walked into
the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
had seemed like the right thing to do, to stop the encounter from escalating
when she did. Celia had noticed
that Rob’s demeanor had shifted once she had allowed him to unbutton her
blouse. He had talked less, and
every move seemed more urgent to him.
Despite their conversations leading up to this, Celia wondered that if
she had let him unzip her jeans just what the next crossroads would have been,
and if cool heads would have prevailed. And which one of them would have been
the one to hold up the STOP sign.
grabbed a bag of shredded cheese out of the refrigerator, found a bag of
tortilla chips, and began to assemble a plate of nachos. This had been her first real experience
with what she understood to be sexual arousal, and as exhilarating as it had
been, she also understood for the first time just how powerful it could
be. Rob had said the encounter had
been “wonderful” for him, but she was not sure that he wasn’t being mildly
sarcastic, especially since his next act was to withdraw to a cold shower.
the plate into the microwave, Celia wondered if this had been a mistake. It may have been infinitely more
frustrating to Rob to taste this tiny sample of upcoming marital delights than
to have continued to wait.
heard the bathroom door open. Rob
walked into the kitchen, wearing boxers and a t-shirt, just as the timer on the
microwave signaled that their snack was ready.
does Rob say?
Saturday, August 08, 2009
A Cold Shower (Harold’s response)
It's hard to say what the outcome of Rob and Celia's excursion ultimately will be. On one hand, they are fully engaged in conversation about what is going on between them. That is a good thing. On the other hand, most of us realize that such encounters tend to be more emotional than rational. And, I suspect this is why Rob is ending up taking a cold shower.
What can we learn from this episode? I think we see how a couple can negotiate their sexual expression. This isn't just an issue for premarital couples. It is a major concern for married ones as well. Many just do not feel comfortable talking sex. Rob and Celia are setting boundaries that are intended to "leave something for after they're married."
I also think that we learn something from Rob's quick exit. Our sexual response is most often not rational. How many of us have been in those precarious situations where our mind is telling us to stop but we just keep forging ahead because it feels good.
There is a place for the rational and the emotional in our sexual lives as couples. The rational should be used to talk about needs and desires. The emotional should be passion and security enabled by a trusting relationship.
I hope Rob and Celia are able to keep their balancing act going until the wedding day. I suspect there will be plenty more cold showers for Rob until then.
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