Transcript Episode 28 : Lucidly Ever After

Introduction

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we take joy very, very seriously.

The podcast in which we re-discover what brings us joy and make space for it in our lives.

The podcast in which we try to think a little bit differently about happiness so that it becomes something attainable.

My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half hour or so.

First and foremost! Welcome back for the second part of our first season. Yup, I took the summer off, and spent it with my scalawags and my indulgent husband. Priorities, priorities, right? 

What? You think that Fairy Godmothers don’t get time off? Well, let me ask you this? After Cinderella heads home from the ball and gets there at the stroke of midnight, you never noticed that her Fairy Godmother is suspiciously absent? That’s because our job is to get the ball rolling. Then our charges must start doing some of the magic for themselves!

So…I hope you had a great summer, that you stayed healthy and made some great memories. Who knows? Maybe you even made some progress towards your Ideal Life?

A little? 

When we left off at the end of June, we were in the middle of a series about something I affectionately call the “Ideal Life Exercise.” This is a quick list of questions intended to be asked about a different area of our lives each day. They are the same four questions each day, and serve as a little trampoline to get us thinking about how we are doing and the progress we are making, stagnation that we might be facing, or any conscious or unconscious backsliding. 

As a refresher, here are those four questions: What is working? What isn’t working? What do I need to think about? What can I do today to make progress in this area?

Importantly, though, we don’t ask these four questions in a blanket way for our lives as a whole–no, that would be too overwhelming. What we do is we look at our lives as if they were a Venn Diagram, with 19 different circles that overlap in complex ways that make up the blueprint of our life. So each day, we ask those four questions for just one circle of the Venn Diagram. And then, after a few weeks, we start over again.

So, coming back full circle, when we parted ways at the stroke of midnight on June 30, we were in the middle of a series about those different circles of the Venn Diagram. I was defining them, hopefully in ways that got you thinking how very intertwined the seemingly disparate parts of our lives are, and how just a little bit of progress in one area can be consequential in others, too. 

Being systematic, disciplined and hopeful is a cocktail whose most dangerous side effect is progress. And progress towards what we hope for can feel a heckuva lot like joy.

So that is why I am taking the time to go in-depth about each of these themes. Defining, seeking, finding, luxuriating in, and sharing joy is, as far as I can tell, the most satisfying way to live. That’s why, even though throughout the first part of our first season, you kept complaining that you didn’t have any fairy dust, and I kept telling you that it wasn’t a problem because I had enough hope for both of us?

Well, my most sincere hope in this second part of our first season is that you are going to start trusting your instinct about joy and you are going to get serious about pursuing it.

All right. So, there we have it. 

Once this series of episodes where we take the Ideal Life Themes apart and put them back together again is over, we are going to move on to a slightly different topic: the topic of Curiosity. So you see, we’ve got plenty of work to do, Cinderella.

This week, our topic is one I feel simultaneously extremely unprepared to talk about, but also, not without a certain amount of credibility. 

Our topic is, as is fitting for any talk of fairytales and Prince Charmings and Fairygodmothers, Marriage.

One disclaimer before we get started: You know your relationship better than I ever could. But you know where you started from and where you are now. I am not over here recommending that anyone stay in a dangerous or abusive relationship. If you are in one of those, then get out, by any means necessary.

I am talking today to people who find themselves in ho-hum relationships, who still love their spouse, but are simply dissatisfied with how things have turned out. Please believe me when I tell you, it is entirely possible to be married to someone wonderful, whom you deeply love and still be dissatisfied in your marriage, because I have been there. 

On that note, let us begin with :  

Part One: My Favorite Funeral

“Now now now, Lily Fields, didn’t you just say that your topic this week is marriage?” OH! That? That’s you. You, Cinderella, sound like a country bumpkin. It’s just how I imagine you talking, and I find you perfectly adorable that way. “Yet the first part is called  “My Favorite Funeral?” 

Yes. Yes I did say that our topic is marriage. And yes, this first part is called My Favorite Funeral.

I heard a quote the other day that said this: If you think that marriage is about being happy, then you have it all wrong. Marriage is about making someone else happy.

This summer, my indulgent husband and I celebrated our 23 wedding anniversary. Twenty three years, in the scheme of things, is a rather average amount of time to be married, don’t you think? There is nothing spectacular or memorable about 23 years, other than, I assure, 23 years of being married is both a feat of the will and the exact amount of time at which you start to wonder “but where did the time go?”

Twenty three is a paradox. It’s an eternity and nothing at all. It’s been two years that I have been tipping the “been married longer than I haven’t” scales, and that feels just so very odd. 

What I know for sure is that I certainly have, not even a drop in the bucket of those 23 years, been thinking that marriage was about making someone besides myself happy.

And in this regard, I am quite humbled and a little bit embarrassed. I’ll get to that at the end of the episode. But let’s talk about my favorite funeral for a moment.

Early this summer, I attended the funeral of a gentleman who had just celebrated his seventy-eighth wedding anniversary.

Me, fresh from feeling like I had done the impossible by staying married for twenty three years, listened to the elegies to this man, wondering how in the world someone stays married for seventy eight years.

How did their marriage start out, and did they have rough patches? Did they ever wonder if they wouldn’t make it? Did either he or his wife ever drive the other crazy with bad or annoying habits? Or, in a seventy eight year marriage, are the people in the couple genuinely different from people like me, who consider hearing my husband complain about the weather to be an unquestionable martyrdom?

I’m telling you, I had all these thoughts at what has become my favorite funeral.

I was touched by all the stories, especially those told by the grandchildren of the gentleman who died, who were all about my age. I didn’t know him particularly well, and didn’t expect this, of all the funerals I attend in a year, to be the one at which I would cry.

However, when the grandchildren stood to take the casket back down the aisle, I happened to be looking at the 90 something year old widow, who had just lost her life partner of 78 years. And I watched her cry. Something in me broke at that moment.

Me, I’m all “I’ve been married longer than I haven’t,” and she’s like, “I’ve been married longer than many people actually live.”

Yeah, so I cried. I cried realizing that no matter how we experience the amount of time we are married, being in a healthy marriage fundamentally changes who we are, no matter how long we are married. 

Ups and downs, disagreements and happy moments…living them with the same person over any period of time works to fit us more and more together like puzzle pieces. Maybe by the time a couple has been married for seventy some odd years, they are more like an intarsia than a simple puzzle piece. By then, the pieces have become so intertwined and overlaid and woven together that you can’t remove one without damaging the other. 

All I can say is this: If, after a funeral I tend to sit in my car wondering what my loved ones will say about me at  my funeral, this one was no exception, and specifically, I was wondering what parts of my husband and myself have become so intertwined and overlaid.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I prefer a funeral to a wedding any day of the week. But marriages are inevitable in a society that values stability and family. So…let’s talk a little bit about marriage.

Part Two: Mating in Captivity

Quite obviously, the circles of Sexuality and Marriage overlap significantly in our Venn Diagrams. 

Some years ago, I started listening to a podcast hosted by a sex advice columnist named Dan Savage. Full disclosure, 5% of what I know about sex came from a very poorly taught Health Class I had to take in high school where just about every gender stereotype was reinforced and I learned that “some people might find sex pleasurable,” with the unspoken part being, “But not you, because you are a girl and girls shouldn’t like sex.” This 5% was all I had when I went into my marriage, and it was all I had for a very very very long time.

Twenty percent of what I know about sex came from friends who have been willing to be extremely personal and talk through the details and mechanics of sex with me when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, about 15 or so years into my marriage. 

The remaining 75%, which I have picked up in the last 8 years or so, has come from Dan Savage, his column Savage Love and his podcast.

I honestly don’t know where I stand on the “organized Sex Education” bandwagon, but I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: Sure, talking to kids about sex is uncomfortable, but I don’t want my children to learn about sex from porn, because what they will learn there is not based in reality. It would be like trying to learn about physics from watching Star Trek. 

At the same time, I don’t want to delegate the responsibility of talking about sex to other adults, even teachers whose job it is to talk about sex, because I know that what I learned in “Health” class was an incredibly damaging tornado of mythology, fearmongering and stereotypes.

I’ve seen how this played out in my own life, and the incredibly damaging consequences of it. 

Because talking about sex is so uncomfortable, most people just don’t do it. There is a kind of thought that being interested in sexuality means that there is something wrong with us. And yet in many many ways, our sexual and reproductive systems are just another part of our bodies, like our digestive tracts and our nervous systems.

What I know is this: by educating myself on issues of sexuality and human biology, even when it comes to kinds of sex that I don’t necessarily ever plan on having, I feel unafraid and maybe even somewhat equipped to handle the broad swath of questions and curious interrogations my children can throw at me.

Being an informed human being about human sexuality has not turned me into a sex-crazed monster, which is what, for a good solid three-quarters of my life I believed would happen. What it has done has made me less afraid of talking about sex with my children, less judgmental about other lifestyles and, most importantly, happier in my marriage.

One of the things that I love about my husband is that he is open-minded enough to not shut off  conversations about sex, even though there are a lot of things that still make him squirm when it comes to sex-positive parenting. 

This was a long introduction to what I really wanted to talk about, which was the book Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.

It was on the Savage Love podcast that, over time, I heard many many references to Esther Perel, who is a Belgian-born couples therapist who practices in New York.

I had been married almost 20 years by the time I read this book, but it made a huge difference in the way I saw my marriage. She is very thoughtful in her approach to relationships, and rich from her experience as a therapist, puts into words the experiences of a woman like me who had been rather successfully married for a long time, but had also, for a long time, started to feel like she no longer existed as a woman in her marriage, but as a roommate.

I don’t have the time to unpack all of her insights here, but she shares research that communicates how, about four years into a marriage, women can begin to feel like they’ve been duped and become dissatisfied. This can be explained because the behaviors men use to pursue and woo a woman end once the man feels satisfied that he is now settled and is married.

To oversimplify, in many instances, a woman gets into a marriage because she likes how he makes her feel. The man likes making her feel that way, sure. But once the deal is done, he doesn’t see the need to expend the effort anymore.

So, actually, according to research, it is women who experience the first pangs of dissatisfaction in a marriage, and this occurs often around year 4 of a marriage. It is, again, according to research, women who experience the first desires for infidelity in a marriage. You know. Almost as if they wanted someone to love them and desire them or something…

But this is where I might start saying things that will shock or surprise, so put on your seatbelts:

I don’t think it is wrong to want to be loved or desired. I also don’t think that is completely abnormal that after a few years, a husband become lulled into a sense of security, no matter how it came about—whether through laziness or evolutionary science.

What I do think is wrong is that either party hold unrealistic expectations of the other. 

I think that a wife who expects her husband of 20 years to adore her and worship the ground she walks on is just as foolish as the man who expects that a woman be satisfied with the crumbs of attention he manages to give her when, once every three months or so he decides he wants to have sex.

And this is where I am going to start sounding like a broken record: marriage is about the Golden Rule. Loving others as we love ourselves. Doing for others what we would want done for us.

But we cannot love each other until we learn to love ourselves. We cannot do for others until we know what we want done for us. And we cannot expect attention from others that we are not willing to give ourselves.

The curiosity required of us to learn to love ourselves is not negligible and non-negotiable. If we want a satisfying marriage, we need to know what we expect, what we want, what we like. And the really really really good news is that it is never too late to start figuring this out. 

Part Three: Being in Love…with ourselves 

Now, as you know, one of the love languages I speak fluently is words of affirmation. I like to think of myself as a verbal cheerleader. I absolutely love giving compliments and making people feel sincerely good about themselves.

Have you ever had a friend, or someone you love, who struggles with self-esteem issues? I’m talking about the kind of person to whom you can give authentic, genuine praise until you are blue in the face, but that person you love is going to find a way to deflect anything positive you have to say about them.

I experience real frustration when a person I love deflects, changes the subject or presents counterarguments. I wish they could just hear what I’m saying and know that it’s true, or else I wouldn’t be saying it.

This is simply an observation from a person who loves to make people feel good about themselves: many people with low self-esteem are people who don’t know how to love themselves. Now, you may say to me,

“But Lily, the Philosopher Princess says that Humility is a virtue!” And that is true. Humility, that is, having a lucid esteem of our capacities, talents, abilities or character, is a virtue.

But a person who systematically, perhaps even reflexively, deflects praise is not being humble. They are performatively demonstrating how little affection they have for themselves. It’s like the opposite of PDA. And I’ll be honest with you? I find it just as annoying as PDA.

I’m not here to criticize these people, if anything, I wish with all my heart that encouragement and kind words from me could help them. But here’s what I know to be true: self-esteem cannot come from a source outside of ourselves. Self-esteem, self-love comes from a lucid examination of ourselves. And many people just don’t want to, or don’t know how to do that work.

If you have ever been in a relationship with someone who does not love or respect themselves, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. You can pour everything you have into that person and there will come a time when you get tired of pouring. I don’t have any life-changing relationship advice for this. Relationships like that are exhausting. Stepping back emotionally and consciously deciding to no longer take personal responsibility for your partner’s happiness is sometimes the only thing you can do.

This doesn’t always mean you are abandoning the relationship. It just means you need to let your partner wallow for a bit.

Someone who is so delighted with who she is, who has self-respect affection for herself is someone who is easy to love. Be like that. 

If you want to be a good partner in your long-term relationship, you need to begin by loving who you are, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and talents and failings. You need to start by being curious about yourself, in the same way that you would be with a partner. Know what makes you tick. 

THE EXERCISE

Let’s take a few minutes to answer the four questions we answer for each of our Ideal Life Themes, for this, the theme of Marriage

1: What is working? Even if right now you want to scream, “nothing is working in this area, Lily Fields!”  I want you to try. Can you name one moment of connection you and your partner have shared in the last few weeks? Try really hard to think of something. A moment of eye contact? A smile? 

2. What isn’t working? If the list of things that aren’t working is longer than the one that is, don’t despair. You need to start somewhere. 

3. What do I need to consider? When it comes to things you need to think about, it helps to look at your list of what is working and see what it was about that moment that made you feel good about it. Equally important is to consider that list of what isn’t working and see how much of it, if any of it, is our own doing. I know that, while there may be a dozen things on my “What isn’t working” list, many of them are there because I simply refuse to forgive or get over what I perceive to be a slight. Once I can address those parts that are my problem, it makes it easier to see clearly to the real heart of the issue.

4. Lastly, what can I do today to get me closer to my Ideal Life in this area? If you were able to pinpoint what about that good moment made you enjoy it, try to do one thing today that can try to replicate it. Just try. Also, you might need to have an unpleasant conversation at some point. Maybe today is the day.

Conclusion

A satisfying long-term relationship is a rather basic human desire. It’s not for everyone, I recognize that. But for a goodly proportion of humanity, it’s at the very least, something we hope for, if not seek out actively.

I’ll be honest, though, it’s a lot more work than I ever expected it to be. In all the ways I wish I could “change my partner,” I have to remember that the only person on the face of this earth  I can ever hope to change is me. The most effective work that I can put into my marriage is the work that makes me less judgmental, less picky, more patient and easier to love.

This work is done by taking the time to ask myself lots and lots of questions about what I like, what I don’t like and why. Learning to love myself is what will make me a better partner. 

And to come full circle, I mentioned that quote earlier that said “marriage isn’t about being happy. It’s about making someone else happy.” I truly believe that loving myself has the effect of making me more in tune to someone else’s happiness, because when I love myself, I am not sitting around nit-picking and expecting someone else to fulfill my needs. This opens me up to invest in someone else’s happiness. I truly believe that this is the secret to a happy, long-lasting relationship.

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. A great big thank you to Seven Production here in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie for the intro and outtro to the show, to Claude Ekwe who wrote it and Matt Kugler who sang it.

Links:

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/,  here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/,  here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.


Episode 32: Environment and Ecology Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: “Not on my Green Parenting Bingo Card,” LiElla is back!; Geeking out and going out green. Episode 32 is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week's theme being "Environment and Ecology." The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up! Links: Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge
  1. Episode 32: Environment and Ecology
  2. Episode 31: Mental Health
  3. Episode 30: Contentment
  4. Episode 29: Commitments
  5. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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