Thursday, February 12, 2009

living the right life

living the right life. how can we ever really know? we're so in the middle of living our lives, that how can we ever see if it's the right one we're living or not? twelve years ago, i was living the wrong life. only i didn't know it. i was practically a newly-wed when i headed off on my fulbright. why did i go away to an obscure balkan country, leaving my new husband (he was an old boyfriend, so it didn't feel that new) in a new city (we had moved from arizona to chicago)? i thought i did it because it was an academic/professional opportunity that i couldn't pass up. i mean, who turns down a fulbright, especially for a guy? that would just be silly if not downright stupid.

when i was in that balkan backwater, i encountered a lot of lost souls and i silently thanked my lucky stars that i wasn't one of them. because i didn't think i was. i even had a conversation with a friend one evening about how so many of the people around us seemed to be running from something...responsibility, loneliness, boredom, relationships (or lack thereof), a picture of themselves they didn't have to face when there were there outside of their "real" life. i remember that we decided we weren't running from anything. and i meant it at the time. i felt not so much like i was running away as running toward. towards a career that i could see on the horizon and to which a fulbright was an essential component, just like presenting at conferences and scholarly publication.

but, about halfway through my time there, i realized that i was in fact running away from a life that wasn't working. i had gotten married for all of the wrong reasons. it was a combination of a lot of factors...peer pressure--all of our friends were getting married, even the ones who hadn't been together as long as we had. his residency was ending. we'd been together for years. people thought we were a great couple--being with us was like hanging out with paul and jamie from mad about you, only even funnier and wittier and not at all annoying (or so we thought). he was a doctor, so i didn't have to explain what i was doing studying russian literature. he was funny and nice and i liked him. key word being liked. i wasn't in love with him and never had been, but the time was simply right, so we got married.

but i didn't know, or at least didn't admit, any of this, especially not to myself, until i actually had met the person i should have been spending my life with. he too was funny and nice and so cute, but was so much more than that. he challenged me--i remember a heated discussion about postmodernism at a cafe high on the hill in thessaloniki, warm summer breezes wafting in from the aegean, him waving a forkful of cool honeydew melon at me while telling me that postmodernism was just laziness, it wasn't possible that everything was equally good. and in challenging me, he took me seriously in a way that my starter husband never did. he indulged me, but never took me seriously. and in taking me seriously, i realized that j-p respected me. and he made me laugh and do silly things (stealing fries from some friends of ours who were standing in line in bull's (a greek equivalent of mcdonald's) even tho' we didn't even know one another at the time. we immediately started in on the practical jokes together, already then. it was destiny that we would be together. meeting him made me feel like i'd been holding my breath for such a long time and could at last breathe for real. it was the great love that i had stopped believing could exist outside of big-budget hollywood films.

we had to go through a lot to be together. it's one thing to meet one another and fall madly in love when you're both out of your element, away from your everyday life and your everyday responsibilities. but we knew we wanted to try to be together back in the real world as well. we talked openly about how we had each been living the wrong life up to that point and we didn't want to wake up in another twenty years and realize that it was too late to correct it. so we went through the pain of divorces and not having much money and transporting me to a new culture to which i am still at times resistant. but we were always resolved in wanting to have lived the right life and to treasure the great love we had found together.

and today, we've been married for ten years. what a life it's been. i didn't end up the academic i expected to be, but then i would never have traveled the way i have, nor had the experiences i've had career-wise. and today, on our tenth anniversary, i'm completely sure that i'm now living the right life. and we still have the great love that we found in one another back in that balkan backwater. it's deeper and more sure than ever.

we still discuss deep issues like postmodernism and social theory and evolution and the shockingly aphoristic, crap-like quality of business/leadership-related books (even those from harvard university press), if not daily, then every other day. sometimes we have these discussions in bed at night, giggling in the darkness as we elaborate on bourdieu's notion of cultural capital or whether the next steps of evolution are taking us into cyberspace. and these discussions keep us vital and engaged in one another and in the world.

he builds me things, like my beautiful kitchen and my writing house/atelier/studio/building-in-the-garden-that-i-don't-know-what-to-call (so he had the help of a wonderful polish guy named rafy on that one). we have a style together that we've developed over the last decade. it encompasses everything from our home to our cooking to our music collection (admittedly, i influence that rather heavily because i'm the one with iTunes and have banished his 18 supertramp albums to his workshop--didn't they only have the one song, you ask? yes, and they did it over and over on many albums, but i digress). but we have come to a place, after ten years, where we know who we are as us.

although we each have a professional life that is individual, we are definitely living our life together and it feels like the right life, even more so ten years in. and i hope it goes on for several more decades before that plane crash, but today, we will celebrate that first decade.

oh, and it's also husband's birthday. that way he couldn't very well forget our anniversary. clever, eh?

husband, you are my life.


Unknown said...

Congratulations on your anniversary! I know exactly how it felt all those years ago, change the details and essentially you have me three years ago. So I know, it must have been hard, but you sound so, so happy now! To living the right life! x

Molly said...

Congratulations Julie!
Lovely story, good life lesson.
I also loved this anniversary story recently, and I'm sure you will too:

Ann said...

Wow, what a great thing to stumble into!
I have experienced the same thing, only I did not have to go to another country, just change my job. The clarity you obtain when meeting that other 'right' man is just violent, I think! Not to mention the consequences of being honest to yourself :) But it is such much healthier too.

Thanks for sharing

Sebrina Wilson said...

Congratulations Julie!!! Thanks for sharing your story! And Happy Birthday to your hubby!!

Amanda said...

happy birthday to you. happy anniversary to you. happy birthiversary dear
julieandj-p...happy happy day to you!

Beautiful usual!

Meri said...

Happy anniversary (and hubby birthday). You are indeed a clever lass, both to have combined the dates so he'd never forget and to have found a partner who challenges and never bores. Bravo!

heidikins said...

Happy Anniversary!! This love-story is absolutely beautiful, thank you for sharing.


Tess Kincaid said...

Best anniversary and birthday wishes!! Beautiful and touching photo. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

tangobaby said...

Holy sh*t. You're so brave and beautiful. And now I'm fascinated and dying to meet him, too.

What a true and compelling account, and I'm so glad that you followed your heart and took such risks to be able to see the road behind you and ahead of you are grounded in love and honesty.

Congratulations to you both and happy birthday to your hubby. He sounds positively swoon-worthy.

Laura Doyle said...

What a shining example of honesty and happiness you are. What a lucky, lucky girl you are. : )

Sandra said...

I think this is so beautiful I don't know what else to say. Thank you for writing it.

Delena said...

A beautiful love story. I think everyone has a soul mate out there somewhere!

Liz Fulcher, The Fragrant Muse said...

Like B, change a few minor details and that's my story. I didn't know it was possible to be so in love and best friends too. Thank you for sharing this lovely love story.

sfbefri said...

It was pure serendipity that I stumbled across your blog, particularly this entry. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful love story!

I am in the throes of confusion at this point because I met the other "right" man. Unfortunately, I haven't had enough moments of clarity to make a final decision yet. But coming across your entry here makes me wonder, "Is this a sign?" For the first time in my life, I am just focusing on today (no more planning) and seeing what the universe brings...

kristine said...

Obviously you wrote this forever and ever ago but I only just found it now. I like those "if you liked this, you might like this" functions. Clever.

Anyway. Just wanted to say that this really resonated with me. Its a lovely love story, but I am not actually talking about that - I often wonder if I am "living the right life" - I have made a lot of sacrifices for my career, and it feels very right to me most of the time. I know that doesnt sound convincing. But the fact is my job is so much more than a career to me; I have always wanted this life - i think of it as my life, not my career, and I love what I do. But sometimes I wonder. It is complex. Anyhow, I don't mean to unload the entire story of my life, just to give you some feedback to say that this was a very moving post for me.

la pianista said...

I can't believe i've only just now read this. maybe it's time for me to start taking myself seriously. So many of us have married under those same circumstances or similar ones and find ourselves in 'that' place.

Here we are, 30 years into a marriage that is evidently wrong for both of us; comfortable, but wrong. I know it. He knows it. 'Not sure I have the sort of courage to start over that you did. If not, how tragic and sad. *sniff*

Elizabeth said...

This is still an fantastic post to read and the picture of two people so brave. You two are a beautiful couple.