Today I head into New York City for the annual Romance Writers of America conference, an anniversary of sorts. It's been four years since I first attended, having newly designated myself a writer, excited to learn about my craft and meet the rest of the pre-pubbed, and I wasn't disappointed. I met real romance titans--Jennifer Crusie! Susan Elizabeth Phillips! Anne Stuart!--and listened as new friends shared their industry stories. It was energizing, galvanizing, and it helped me finish my book. But I return this year slightly less starry-eyed and I'm trying to figure out why.
So, I've been thinking about what makes a good relationship great. I've now been married longer than most of my relatives, many of my friends, my own parents. I've been so secure in the superiority of my own relationship that when it hit a bump a few years ago I was genuinely shocked. Like, HOLY SHIT THINGS COULD GO VERY BADLY HERE HOW DID THIS HAPPEN shocked. And it took about three years before I could examine it with the proper degree of honesty and gain some clarity.
But, you know, honesty is relative. It's based on how much truth you want to see.
Just saying my relationship hit a bump is false. That's like blaming the deer for hitting your car. Relationships and cars don't drive themselves. But when you cruise the same roads everyday, you learn where the deer like to hang out (my neighbor's yard). You have an expectation of when you will
see them (early morning and dusk). You get a little complacent, or cocky. And then one night a ridiculously large animal bolts across the wrong road and caroms off your quarter panel. You could blame the buck (damn deer!) but that seems a tad unfair.
So it is with the people we love--our partners and, perhaps even more so, our children. We have notions, many of them preconceived. But at least when you start dating someone you acknowledge them as a separate entity, a person with a past that didn't include you. Not so much with kids. Because you know them from the zygote, there's a certain proprietary instinct that kicks in. An idea that because you created this being, it will be what you want. A Bionic Man/Frankenstein mash-up: faster, smarter, more successful than you. And this becomes the foundation of your House o' Parenting. But after a while--or pretty quickly, if you have a passle of young 'uns--you start to notice you've jacked your shack up on some crummy cinder blocks and the termites are gnawing the wood.
Your holy theories are just hole-y.
As much as we'd like to go all Christian Bale and scream at the kids for ruining our carefully lit PARENTING: Scene One it's not their fault. The sight lines were unrealistic. It's unfair to saddle someone with the burden of fulfilling your dreams*, especially if they've gotten a little fuzzy with time. And it's impossible to be honest about our children--or our partners, parents, friends, or jobs--if we're not first honest about ourselves. And that requires some digging, possibly with something stronger than a sand shovel.
So, today I return to the Romance Writers of America, unsure of our relationship status. Checking the structural strength of my dreams. Trying to be realistic about what I want, and why. Wondering if we'll celebrate another anniversary.
I'm renting a backhoe.
*I hereby release you, Chris Pratt.