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Posts Tagged ‘love’

katie bethany coffee shop

Here is one thing I love about deep friendships: you develop a kind of shorthand after a while.

Some of this shorthand is topical: my friend Abi and I love so many of the same books and TV shows, and we can discuss/quote them for hours. Some of it’s geographical: my friend Kristin, a fellow West Texas transplant to Boston, knows exactly what I mean when I talk about missing home and loving the life I have here. (Even better: she knows the particulars of certain Texas cities, and how tough it is to find great Tex-Mex food in Boston.)

I’ve been thinking about another kind of shorthand, though: the kind that comes from knowing each other’s casts of characters.

Pretty much everyone I meet knows I’m married: if my wedding ring doesn’t give it away, a comment about my husband is bound to come up before long.

katie jer beach san diego

I also talk frequently about my parents, sister and two adorable nephews – and I’ll show pictures of those sweet boys to anyone who’s willing to look at them. (Here are Harrison and my sister. Adorable, no?)

betsy harrison

But my good friends (and family) also know about the other important people in my life – even if they don’t know one another personally. I tell stories about Sunday nights spent at Ryan and Amy’s, long talks with Abi (and snuggles with her baby girl), college and post-college adventures with my roommate Bethany. (That’s her at the top of this post.)

I talk about my writer pal Hannah (who runs our occasional book club), my snail-mail pen pal Jaclyn, my work buddies Adam and Anissa, my long-distance lifesaver Laura. And in turn, I get to hear about the supporting casts of my friends’ lives: their parents, spouses, siblings, best friends, the people who help anchor them.

It’s a gift to reach the place in a friendship where you don’t have to explain all of that, where the person who’s listening to you has heard, and remembered, the stories about the people who matter. I love hearing stories about my friends’ loved ones – and it’s even more fun if I get to meet them in person. I feel like I know my friends better after getting to know the people they love, because our people are so much a part of who we are.

Do you have this kind of shorthand with your friends? Who’s in your supporting cast of characters?

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jer newport cliff walk

Taken on the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI. A long, meandering afternoon with my love.

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housemates radcliffe camera oxford

If I’ve heard it said once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: friendship is a process of give and take.

In the best friendships, each person has a lot to offer the other, and we do this via a healthy, balanced exchange of love and respect. Not in a pedantic, score-keeping way, but in a way that fills each person up, and doesn’t tip the scales too far in any one direction. We lean on each other when we need it; we provide laughter, a listening ear, a place for our friends to be themselves.

I am grateful to have a lot of these friendships (and this kind of marriage) in my life. (One example: the three girls I lived with during my year in Oxford, who are pictured above – we had a surprise reunion last fall.)

I’m a classic overachiever: organized, driven, capable. I am not Superwoman, but I know my strengths, and like most people, I prefer to operate out of them most of the time. I am so much more comfortable being the giver in a friendship: the one who says, “I’m fine” and means it, the one who can provide what another person needs: a listening ear, a home-cooked meal, a bit of encouragement on a tough day.

I’ve been dealing with a difficult situation lately, and here is one of the most frustrating things about it: I have had to ask for help, over and over again. I need advice and support and cheering up; I need lunch dates and distraction and a little extra attention. I am having to learn to be the one who takes, who receives, who admits her own neediness and lack. And – no surprise here – I don’t like it.

There’s nothing wrong with being capable, but there’s something a little more insidious at work here: I like seeing myself as a person who has it all together. The other side of that coin, it turns out, is a deep fear: the fear of being a person who takes and takes and has nothing to give. Of being a person who pushes her friends away because she’s just so needy. Of turning into a person who demands more than she can give in return.

I don’t have any easy answers for this, at the moment. The tough situation in my life isn’t going away, at least not yet, and I’m still struggling to figure out how to ask my friends to help me through it. I’d much rather work things out on my own and keep presenting a brave face to those I love, but that isn’t really an option (at least not a healthy one).

So I’m learning, day by day, to keep asking for help when I need it, and reminding myself that friendship is about loving each other when we’re human. And to fight down the fear that says I’m not enough – because I know, deep down, that my friends and family are kind and generous and willing for me to lean on them. Even if I have trouble with the leaning, sometimes.

Do you struggle with being the “taker” – the vulnerable one – in your relationships? (Please tell me I’m not alone here.)

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katie jer maine view

Earlier this summer, I started reading Laura Dave’s Eight Hundred Grapes, a novel about a woman who runs away from her wedding after learning that her fiance has a daughter he didn’t tell her about. (That’s not a spoiler; I just told you what Georgia – the narrator – finds out in the first chapter.)

Full disclosure: I didn’t finish the book (though my friend Hallie loved it and recommended it on Great New Books, where we’re both part of the review team).

But there’s one line I’m still thinking about, weeks later:

 

Wasn’t the ultimate form of fidelity whom you told your stories to?

In the book, this line refers to Georgia’s faltering relationship with her fiance: she’s (rightly) furious that Ben hasn’t told her about his daughter, or that he’s still in touch with his ex (the little girl’s mother). But I’ve been thinking about it in a broader sense.

As Joan Didion has noted, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That’s especially true for those of us who view the world through words: readers, writers and bloggers who make and share meaning through stories.

Some of us are born storytellers, like my dad, whose sense of comedic timing and infectious laugh make it fun to listen to his stories over and over again. (I can retell many of them word for word – even if I wasn’t there when they happened.)

But all of us tell our stories to the people we love, whether it’s a funny incident at work or a life-changing moment in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday. And when we don’t – when we start to hide things or simply stop making the effort – it stands to reason that those relationships would start to fray.

Last year, my friend Laura wrote a terrifying and powerful blog post: And then I stopped talking to my husband. She didn’t literally stop talking to her husband, but she gradually quit sharing a lot of daily incidents and insights (which, in her case, happened mostly online) with him. They talked about their kids and their household routine, but they stopped discussing the important stuff – until one day, when he was driving her to the airport and didn’t know where she was heading. This caused a few understandable tears on Laura’s part, but they talked it out, and started making the effort again.

That post terrified me because I saw how easy it could be. How simple and effortless to stop telling your stories – until you don’t really know each other any more. I sent the link to my husband, and I’ve been thinking about it again since Eight Hundred Grapes brought it to mind.

It’s so important to keep telling my stories, not just to my husband, but to my family and friends (many of whom live far away). I want to be faithful in telling my stories and hearing theirs, even when it takes work. (And sometimes it takes a lot of work.)

Lindsey noted last fall that friendship is made of attention, and I believe this is a part of that. We share our lives through stories, and they are foundational to our relationships. To paraphrase Didion, we tell ourselves – and each other – stories in order to live.

What do you think? Who are the people you tell your stories to?

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Seven years

katie jer beach san diego

Yesterday we celebrated seven years of marriage.

It feels like a lifetime (especially since we have been together for nearly 12 years) and a moment, all at once.

We met when we were 18, started dating when we were 20, got engaged at 23 and married at 24. Together, we have weathered most of our undergrad years (in the same town), graduate school (5000 miles apart), a cross-country move, multiple job changes in Texas and Massachusetts, and (most recently) a record-setting New England winter. We have welcomed new nephews and a niece, mourned the loss of friends and family members, served on worship and ministry teams at two very different churches, and traveled to (so far) four non-U.S. countries and multiple states together.

I keep returning to Lindsey’s words from last summer: “Marriage is about abiding. It is about remaining near.” As our careers and other obligations pull us in different directions, the constant work of marriage is to stay near to one another, to pay attention and take care of each other and be kind.

My mother once told me she married my father because he was the kindest person she had ever met. I am glad to be married to a man who is also deeply kind, who is funny and handsome and musical and hard-working, who makes me laugh and whose eyes light up when he sees me.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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Four days in West Texas

sunset sky west texas

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: the sunsets in my hometown are the best.

I may have lived in Boston for almost five (!) years, but every so often, I feel the gravitational pull toward the plains of West Texas, where I grew up. My parents and sister still live there, and last week I hopped a plane to go and spend a few days with them.

I love our annual holiday odyssey across Texas, but it inevitably involves a rental car, mounds of luggage and a lot of schedule-juggling. These solo trips, which I take every few months, are looser, less demanding. They’re not exactly calm (I have two small nephews), but they are their own brand of relaxation.

striped rug bare feet

We wear out the road between my parents’ house and my sister’s. I stand barefoot in my parents’ kitchen in the mornings, sipping tea while my dad brews coffee and flips through the local (typo-riddled) newspaper. We go to church on Sunday morning and watch golf on Sunday afternoon. And we eat a lot – a lot – of Mexican food.

(We also headed to my favorite soda fountain this time for lunch and a strawberry milkshake. Best in the world.)

katie milkshake

My sister has two boys now, and they’re both growing like weeds. Harrison was a tiny infant at Christmastime, but he’s seven months now, and he’s a (mostly) happy little chunk of love.

betsy harrison

Ryder is three (how is that possible?) and much harder to photograph, because he’s in constant motion. His favorite thing to do is play with trains, and his favorite playmate is my dad.

dad ryder trains

I’m lucky to get to come back here and hang out every once in a while. To answer Ryder’s thousand questions and hear him call me “Kiki.” To laugh with my mom and try on clothes with my sister and trade wacky movie quotes with my dad. To stand in a pew on Sunday morning and sing the hymns we all love. To enjoy my brother-in-law’s excellent grilling skills and quiet humor. To be surrounded by, and immersed in, love.

Boston is where I live, and where I’ve built a life I love. But West Texas is still and always my home.

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modern family promo poster season 1

Recently, the hubs and I tried Modern Family, on the recommendation of several friends. We’re not big TV watchers, but we like to have a show (preferably a comedy) to watch together, if we need a laugh in the evenings. As much as we love our Friends DVDs, we were hankering for something new.

After blowing through the first season of Modern Family in less than a month, I’d say we’re hooked.

In case you’re a little behind on your TV shows (like us), Modern Family is a comedy featuring three branches of the Pritchett clan: patriarch Jay and his second wife Gloria; Jay’s daughter Claire and her husband Phil; and Jay’s son Mitchell and his partner, Cameron (along with their assorted children). They all live near one another in California, and they manage to get themselves into an astonishing number of absurd situations in every single episode. (I haven’t heard my husband laugh so hard in months.)

The show centers on the everyday dramas of family life: juggling everyone’s schedules and needs, communicating honestly with your partner, navigating the dynamics of various relationships. There are misunderstandings and fights and a few tears, especially from dramatic teenager Haley. There’s also lots of hilarity: Claire and Mitchell recreating an old ice-dancing routine in a parking lot; Phil constantly trying to be a “cool” dad.

All the characters are great, but we each have our favorites. My husband loves flamboyant, oversensitive Cameron; I’m partial to big-hearted Gloria, with her hilarious linguistic gaffes and Colombian accent (which I love to imitate). But the character to whom I relate most is Claire.

Claire is a stay-at-home mom to three kids, a hyper-organized wife to scatterbrained Phil, a classic Type A oldest child who’s always trying to keep everyone (and everything) around her from going off the rails. She expends an enormous amount of energy holding it together, but sometimes she does break down – either because one of the kids pushes her buttons or because she’s just too exhausted.

In the first episode of Season 2, after a series of crises, Phil says to a teary-eyed Claire, “Don’t apologize. I love you when you’re human.”

That line stopped me in my tracks for two reasons. First, as a person who spends so much time trying to be perfect, I suspect it was what I – and Claire – most needed to hear. And second, I think that line holds the key to the whole show. Family is about loving each other when you’re human.

The Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan – like any family – doesn’t always get along. Everyone’s got rough edges and hang-ups, and they know how to drive each other crazy. Sometimes the mistakes are small, inconsequential – and sometimes they’re a much bigger deal. But over and over again, they pull together and keep on loving each other. Their humanity makes them so relatable – even though, on the surface, my family doesn’t look much like theirs.

Modern Family is a comedy – and I plan to keep cracking up at the crazy scenarios in every episode. But I’ll also keep looking for the nuggets of truth hidden amid the hilarity. Being part of a family is seldom easy – but it is a beautiful thing to love one another when you’re human.

Have you watched Modern Family? (If so, are you a fan, like me?)

(Image from Wikipedia)

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