Category Archives: relationships

I Love You Still

People seem to act surprised when someone they love hurts them.  “But I thought they loved me. How could they do this?”  To which I say, “Duh.” Really, it’s no surprise at all, nor should it ever be.  It’s no surprise, because the only people who can hurt you are the ones you truly love. Who else did you rip open a piece of your heart for to allow in for permanent, painful residency?  Who else did you give a front row seat to your most sacred vulnerabilities?  Who else did you show over and over again, even to your own detriment, how much they mattered to you? Then who else, I ask, has the capacity to bludgeon your heart for a moment or two?

No one, I tell you.  No one.

But that is not what really matters.  It doesn’t matter, because every human will eventually fall short of their own standard to never hurt the ones they love.  So putting it aside that it happens – because it will – the only thing that truly matters is what happens immediately after.  If after the knock-down, drag-out conversation of “I-can’t-believe-you-thought/said/did-that-thing-to-me-I-hate” you can look at the other person and think, “I love you still,” things are probably about as right as they can possibly be.

Picking the Right Dance Partner

In seventh grade, I was subjected to a “Map & Globe Skills” curriculum in Mr. Thomason’s science class. We were required to pair off, and of course I picked my number one road dog, Mindy.  Now, anybody who knows anything about me knows I love me some Mindy for real.  Mindy is my girl, and she will be my girl until I take my last breath.  But picking Mindy as my Map & Globe Skills partner was a mistake with terrible, ever-lasting consequences.  You see, Mindy was more interested in the Sharpie marker that came with the map and globe than she was in the learning of said Map & Globe Skills.  So instead of learning basic skills like how to read a map or find a country on a globe, I spent my time during the Map & Globe Skills session watching Mindy draw a handlebar mustache on her face.  Did I get a good laugh out of it?  You bet. Did Mindy end up with a handsome mustache that lasted for a few days?  She sure did.  But to this day, I can’t read a map to save my life.  And I think we know who is to blame for that.

I heard a story today of a potential business pairing that made me want to cringe.  Actually, I didn’t want to cringe.  I wanted to cry or throw up a little or run after the one half of the pairing I respect and scream, “NOOOOOOOOO!” at the top of my lungs.  I quickly realized that last scenario involved running, so I opted out.  But I thought about it, and that counts for something. Right?

If our level of happiness is directly linked to the five people we spend the most time in life as research indicates, it occurs to me that we must always choose well.  Flaky friends?  No time for it.  Boss who doesn’t respect you? Moving on.  Problematic employees?  Help them find the way…out the door.  You see, life is too short for the riff-raff.   They will only distract you from what you need to do, stop you from being the best you.  So I say, take your time, assess the situation, and pick the right dance partner – for every dance – right from the start.  If you find yourself with a dancer who has two proverbial left feet, get yourself a new partner right quick.  It really is that simple.

Because let’s be honest, if you don’t pick the right dance partner you might end up like me:  unable to read a map.  And that is no way to live.

A Gentle Toast

A Facebook message came in a few weeks back, and the outset I was confused.  Someone I had never heard of named Angela was messaging me.  A couple sentences into the message, however, and I felt my heart skip a beat. My old (as in long time, not old old) friend Jane from a past life was reaching out to me. She had assumed a pseudoname on Facebook because she is a teacher or in the witness protection program or something along those lines.  She had stumbled upon my blog and then found me on Facebook and decided to reach out.  I was instantly glad she had.

Tonight the lovely Ms. Jane and I got together for the first time in I believe ten years or more – she had been one of the unexplained casualties of my divorce.  Jane is about as sweet and cute as someone can be without being obnoxious about it.  I had thought of her often over the years and missed the friendship.  So as I left work to meet her for dinner, I felt a few butterflies in my stomach.  I remembered a bunch of details, and a bunch more I did not.  As I arrived to the restaurant, I could not remember…is Jane an early or a late arriver? Does she like mushrooms or hate them? (Let’s be honest, no one falls in the middle on that one.) The little details escaped me.  I hoped this evening would not be awkward or hard. Mostly, I hoped we still had a thing or two to talk about.

When we sat down at the table, we promptly fulfilled our civic duty by ordering cocktails, and when they arrived we did a toast. “Here’s to reuniting, but make it a gentle toast,” said Jane.  Gentle, because her froofy girly pink Cosmo drink was filled to the brim, and we mustn’t spill. But gentle, too, because we had some catching up to do and some history to retrace.

If our gingerly ways lasted more than a moment, I surely did not notice. Turns out, ten years is a long time and also the blink of an eye.  A lot had happened in that decade- family additions and family losses, career changes, and a whole lot of growing up.  But one thing hadn’t changed:  I think we still adore each other.

At the end of the day, I can say this:  my heart is grateful that Jane found me and more so that she made the move to reach out to me.  It’s hard to do that, hard to retrace the past and find a new way. I don’t know why we haven’t been friends for the last ten years, but really, who cares?  At this point, it’s kind of irrelevant. And even though Jane ordered two drinks and I only ordered one, but then we split the bill evenly and I paid more than my share and now Jane totally owes me a drink (the hilarious content of her voicemail message to me two minutes after parting ways) I’d like to keep this friendship alive forevermore.  No more ten year breaks.

Hotter than Hot

You know what’s hotter than hot?  It’s not abs.  Not eyes.  Not arms or thighs or even a well-shaped butt that is high and tight.  (OK, I lied.  That last one is kind of hot.)  I’ll tell you hat’s hotter than hot.  It’s banter.

I love banter.  Banter, when done masterfully, is as good as it gets.  I consider myself the Queen of Banter, don’t you know?  So when someone can step up, accept a challenge to go toe to toe with me, ignite the twinkle in their eye, cock their head, and give me a run for my money, I am all in.  All in, I tell you!  Bring it.

If you can forsake all others for a moment in time, and point by point match me on wide-ranging topics such as micro-brewed beer, marriage equality, art, Milwaukee’s restaurant scene, the glaring truth that no one cares about the Bucks, the glaring truth that it is not possible to care too much about the Brewers, the Pope, and then end it all with a Shakespeare quote, I’m pretty much all yours.  Do it all with a layer of sass and sarcasm?  I mean really, just take me now.  I’m a puddle.

And sometimes when this happens, your friends whisk you away from a perfectly beautiful match of banter to go eat a mediocre (at best) meal at a restaurant you hate.  While disappointing at the outset, that’s okay too. Because the second best thing to it actually happening is having an encounter that reminds you it will happen again.

Two Ships

I looked at him and realized twenty-some odd years had passed.  I can’t say with any degree of honesty that I had ever loved him, but then again the timing had never been right for me to have the proper chance to love him.  Maybe in the right set of circumstances I could have, but to think so is nothing more than sheer speculation.  I certainly had spent a good couple of years hard crushing on him.  And then when he was out of my sight, I pretty much forgot about him.

But then one night, all those years ago, we ended up in the same place (a divey, dirty small town bar) at the same time (a hot summer night) by pure happenstance.  There were a lot of contributing factors – cheap beer and a lot of it, raucous laughs and his bruised heart – that resulted in us staying up until the sun peeked through the windows.  Kissing even though we knew we shouldn’t, laughing, talking, examining figurative wounds and then laughing and kissing some more. And that was it, really. It was lovely and fleeting.  He was gone once again, headed his own way and I headed mine.

So to see him again all these years later, hair graying at the temples and laugh lines around his eyes, was really something.  But I looked at him, and then I looked at his ordinary wife (who is no doubt perfectly lovely and wonderful but ordinary nonetheless), and I thought,  “I bet she makes him Swiss steak for dinner. And I bet after dinner they watch Dancing With the Stars.”  If that sounds judgy, I promise you it’s not. Eating Swiss steak and watching reality TV is a perfectly acceptable way to live if that’s what makes you happy.

But it occurred to me, right then and there, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, that I am no ordinary woman.  Even if I tried with all my might, I could not be that ordinary woman. No, I am complicated and layered, difficult even.  And sometimes twenty-some odd years of time passing gives you perspective that everything is exactly as it should be, ordinary or not.  It’s a good perspective to have.

Friends

I once had a friend, now an ex-friend I suppose, who was trying to explain to me why she no longer saw it fit to be my friend.  It was the first time I had ever had a friend break up with me, and my heart actually felt like it was breaking.  Her reasons didn’t make any sense to me; she had recently found God and felt that our values weren’t aligned.  (The whole thing struck me as a very un-Christian-like scenario, but apparently the irony was lost on her.)  Anyway, in the course of conversation (I am telling you, it really was like a break-up), she said that her whole life she had never been able to maintain a friendship outside of her family and her husband.  Hearing that helped me understand the circumstances a little better, since apparently she was doing to me what she had done to every friend previous to me – no matter how loyal, how charming, how wonderful they were.  (Because dammit, I am loyal, charming and wonderful.)  It also made me sad for her. Really, really sad.

I would never denounce the importance of family – I adore my family. Family grounds you and is the foundation upon which everything else in your life is built, when done right.  But friends, I believe, are equally important. Family, generally speaking, is required to include you and to love you, warts and all.  Friends do not have the same set of obligations.  Friends can come and go as they please – and they often do – and therefore you must be lovingly attentive to them.  You must make yourself a little bit vulnerable, a lot available, and put in some hard work and sacrifices if you want to keep them around.

I’ve often said that it is difficult to make good friends – I mean really, really good friends – as an adult.  In our younger, formative years it is easy.  We have school and sports and activities of all kinds where we can meet people. We also have less definition of our inner selves, and quite honestly probably aren’t as picky.  But as we get older, we have fewer venues to meet people naturally and more stringent views of the world and how we fit into it. So to have friends, be it a solid few or varied many, is a precious and beautiful thing.  My friends are one of the many ways I know my life is truly blessed.

I have friends – two of them, actually – who have known me since I was five, went to school with me from elementary school all the way up through college, have been my friends in every major era of my life, and are still my very dear friends today.

I have friends who I am only recently getting to know, and I can’t wait to know them more fully.

I have friends who have been at my side on both my darkest and happiest days.

I have friends who do the same work as me and understand how important and difficult my life’s work is.

I have friends who started as mentors, and are still mentors but are also friends today.

I have friends with whom I have gone through difficult friendship moments, but we worked through it and still love each other fiercely today.

I have friends who are also family, and even if we weren’t related I would still choose them as friends. (Hello, favorite sister and brother-in-law!  Hello, frousins!)

I have friends who are not technically family, but really are my family in every sense of the word.  (Hello, logical family!)

I have friends who make me laugh about the silliest, most mundane things, such as the merits of the Oxford comma and whether jello is a salad or a dessert.  (Same friends, two equally passionate debates.)

I have friends who know my darker side and love me even so.

I have airport friends.

I have friends who share my passions and my annoyances.

I have friends I can sit with in quiet solitude.

I have friends I can spend hours with discussing every possible thing under the sun.

I have friends who would not judge me if I stoop (lower my moral standards) on a stoop (a small raised platform).  Not only would they not judge, they would think it made for a good story.

The bottom line is this:  I have friends.  Lots and lots friends, fulfilling lots and lots of needs.  And to this, I say – bless you, my beautiful friends.  You are my life’s greatest treasure.

The Answer is Yes

My good friend Alex and her sweet little family picked up and moved to Minnesota this past year.  I knew I was going to miss her – and I do – for a whole lot of reasons.  Of course she had saved me over and over again at work – I could never forget that.  She also fed me dinner almost every single Wednesday night (and fed me well, I might add) for the entire course of our friendship.  But I think one of the most wonderful things her friendship had to offer was the opportunity to develop a relationship with her two little girls.  It gave me a chance to have children in my life, and that was just pretty cool.  I quickly became known as “Jen Wittwer” to distinguish me from another Jen who lived in their neighborhood, but it all ran together like it was one word: “Jenwittwer.”  Or, if you are the youngest of the two, “Jenwickwert.”  It stuck.  I like it.

Alex’s oldest, Kaya, is an independent little seven year-old who has a whole lot of things in life figured out for her tender age.  Her move to Minnesota has been met with mixed emotions, and I think already last winter Kaya started mapping out the ten days she wanted to spend in Milwaukee during the summer months.  Alex took down her requests and began to formulate a plan – a plan that was no doubt partially made by Kaya as a way to escape from the company of her adoring little sister. I was first surprised, and then honored, when I made Kaya’s list of people she wanted to see while here.  When a seven year-old asks to spend time with you, the only answer is yes.

With a freedom before her that only a seven year-old can appreciate, Kaya’s Milwaukee adventure began last weekend.  Day after day was lined up with play dates and visits to her former schoolmates, neighbors and babysitters.  When my day finally arrived, I took a half day off of work and went to pick Kaya up in her old neighborhood.  Her mom had speculated she might be tired by the time she got to me, but to me it seemed she was energized.  Seven year-old Jen would have probably been whiny and home sick by Day 6 of the trip; conversely, seven year-old Kaya had accumulated a pocket full of stories and was ready to make some more.  As we were mapping out our time together, I asked Kaya what time she wanted to go to her friend’s house the following day, adding that I wanted her to have enough time with her friends.  “But you are my friend, Jenwittwer, just an older friend.”  Point taken, my dear. Point taken.

True to tradition, Kaya and I first set out to find her first day of school outfit, for the fourth consecutive year. This is a girl who has already decided that when she grows up, she is moving to Paris to be a fashion designer.  (“It is The City of Love,” she explained.)  When asked if she wouldn’t miss her family if she moved so far away, she assured me she definitely would not miss her sister (though later confessed she invited sweet Indra to join her in Paris) and besides, “I can always Skype.”  So given all of this, all I really needed to do was stand back and have my credit card ready for the transaction.  Without any intervention from me whatsoever, she made a great choice for the first day of school outfit.

Later in the day, we made our way out for dinner and I treated Kaya to her first hibachi grill experience.  Her eyes lit up with wonder and joy as the hibachi chef put on a good show for her.  She later reconciled that the chefs in those restaurants are probably trained to be all crazy like that, and I told her I thought she was probably right. After dinner, we went on a quest to find some shoes to match her new outfit.  It quickly became apparent that this girl is in fact her mother’s daughter.  She loves her some shoes, and must have tried on 20 different pair.  After awhile of himming and hawing, I could see the wheels of negotiation turn in Ms. Fashion’s head.  “Jenwittwer,” she said, “I do have a nice pair of flip flops that are a little fancy that would match my new school outfit.  Maybe I should get these boots instead to wear with my jeans.  I would get a lot of use out of them.”  Her argument was so carefully crafted, I was left defenseless.  Needless to say, she went home with a pair of boots.

At home, we spent lots of time snuggling with/playing with/mildly tormenting the cats and watched a movie. We had a little bowl of ice cream.  Kaya finished hers quickly and then asked, “Jenwittwer, can I have another scoop of ice cream?”  That was a no-brainer – it was an absolute yes.  By 9:00, my girl was all worn out so I tucked her into bed.  The next morning at 5:30, I heard her get up and she made her way to my bedroom door.  “Jenwittwer, can I come snuggle with you and the cats?” Again, there is only one answer to this question, and the answer is yes. After a good spell of interaction with my amazingly tolerant cats, she drifted back to sleep.  Sweet girl.

Later that morning as we were packing up her belongings, I asked Kaya what her favorite thing was of her time with me.  Was it getting your new boots, I asked?  “Yes, Jenwittwer, well that, and spending time with you.” My heart melted, right there.  Anything that girl wants from me, I’m pretty sure there is only one possible answer.  The answer will always be yes.