Happy Valentine’s day, world. We aren’t typically big “celebrators” of today’s holiday, despite my intense love of all things “romance” and ability to create sentiment out of the most benign situations. But I started this post a few months ago after you guys asked for it, and well, today felt appropriate and kinda sweet. Besides, these days I sure as hell celebrate a successful marriage because I know it’s not something to take for granted. After 19 years, I’m very, very very happy that I still love that guy and actually want to hang out with him. A lot.
If you missed it, a few months ago, I posted part one of “marriage promises” that Brian and I wrote together on our honeymoon (over a bottle of wine, surely). These promises were meant to hold our future selves accountable to our youthful, innocent and naive ideals. If you are just getting married, I STRONGLY recommend doing this because boy, has it made me ask myself some hard questions. Holding up a mirror to your own set of past beliefs is nothing but good, sheer, terrifying self-analysis. This round is way less about our marriage and far more about what kind of people we wanted to become, or actually the kind of people we wanted our futures selves to avoid becoming. It’s highly self-indulgent, more like a journal so if you aren’t into reading others self-analysis then come back tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s see how we did.
Good to know that my penmanship hasn’t changed in 12 years. I should get it analyzed and find out what it really says about me…
#1. Once a week we have a date night.
The original intent: We wanted to make sure that we always connected outside of friends and TV, the other big distractions in a marriage that can make it seem like you are spending time together, but you aren’t really connecting.
How we are doing: HA. We definitely don’t do once a week, but I’d say at least twice a month (when we are good, when we are in a slump we’ll forget for over a month). This is obviously due to kids because before kids we would do date nights like at least two or three times a week. Right now, Brian is in a play, rehearsing every single night (except for Mondays when I get my break from parenting and he takes over) so right now, it’s extra bad. This is something to work on, but I will say that usually, Friday family night is hard to forego, then often we hang out with friends all day on Saturday so we often just feel like staying in on Saturday nights after we put the kids down. This is the most boring story I’ve ever told. Maybe thats because we have gotten boring. You HAVE to plan them and while many will say even an hour at your local restaurant is a good thing, we have found that in order for us to connect and get over the basic stuff (kids, schools, work, politics), we need a full night (3 to 4 hours) and just going to a movie without dinner doesn’t count. You can’t ask your partner “How are you? No, really? Are you happy right now?” the second you sit down at a burger joint. And that’s the stuff you really need to talk about on a date. Not your kids and not your friends. You need to get to the “are you happy right now” convo and that takes a little while (for us at least).
Definitely, need to get better on this.
#2. We do not become obsessed with our kids.
The original intent: We think that was to prevent us from neglecting ourselves, living vicariously through our kids and not letting them be their own people.
How we are doing: I’m not sure. We don’t think we smother them, but we are pretty obsessed with them. They are so little that aren’t you kinda supposed to be obsessed with them at this age and loosen the reins later? I’m not a helicopter parent, maybe that’s what we were trying to avoid? I’m not sure what level of obsession is healthy if any…thoughts? Brian says we are the right level of obsessed, which is “very” but we still have our own lives and go on vacation without them.
#3. Every decision we make will be good for us individually as well as our family.
The original intent: This is the whole “happy parent, happy kid” thing that we’ve always believed. This was to prevent us from moving to the suburbs where our thoughts, similarities, cultures, would be discarded for a better school district and bigger yard for our kids. This was also to avoid one of us getting a job we hated in order to pay the mortgage. I remember thinking ‘why would you ever do a job you hate just to support your family when you could scale back, rent forever and just send your kids to public school?’ (ha. see #4) It’s not wrong, it’s just very naive because most people don’t necessarily have any other option (or just have different priorities).
How we are doing: What you can’t predict, what you don’t know until you have kids is that the happiness and well-being of our kids actually largely determines your happiness, and that security and feeling safe plays a huge part in feeling happy. The suburbs do provide things that living within a city doesn’t. True story: Two years ago, we were desperate to move to a suburb of LA to get more of that life before we bought this house, but were deterred by the school district. Our friends were appalled at the idea of leaving “the city” but we just kept saying wait ’til you have two kids and need space and quiet. Listen, with these kids and two jobs, it’s not like we are going to concerts and art openings every night. We are definitely constantly eyeing suburban living, just getting outside of the city and having more space, less traffic and a generally more family-oriented community. We also know that we are idolizing this and we aren’t seeing the failings of such a suburban life. In fact, the reason we haven’t moved to the mountain house is because we know that while the kids would thrive (for now), we probably wouldn’t. We might get bored, miss culture, miss diversity, miss the hilarity and intellect of our friends, so I guess we are kinda choosing our happiness while trying to prioritize them. For now. 🙂
#4. We will always value happiness over financial gain.
The original intent: Easy. Choose happiness over money. Duh. We didn’t want one of us to take a job we would hate just to make more money. We wanted both of us to pursue what would make us happy, regardless of pay. The benefit of never having a lot of money but always having enough to get by is that you (or at least we) didn’t really place value on it. Both our parents chose careers that weren’t high paying but made them happy.
How we are doing: It’s complicated. It goes without saying that happiness is more important than money. The tricky thing is finding out what makes you happy because if you don’t know that then, how can you value and prioritize it? And let’s face it, the stress of financial stability can strongly affect your happiness. I’m obsessed with articles about this. Brian first pursued a career in New York theater that made him so so happy, but we were barely getting by financially which made us unhappy. So despite us both being happy, we moved to LA to “make it big” ( $$$ as well as career fulfillment). But pursuing a TV and film career in Hollywood made him EXTREMELY unhappy (daily auditions/rejects is soul destroying).
As my career took off, for some reason we thought that he was unhappy because he wasn’t contributing financially and just needed “a good career.” The old role-reversal-emasculation issue. So he went into real estate because it was flexible, and could potentially make money and listen, making money does make you happy to a point because you feel like your time is being valued financially and you have a sense of pride every time you deposit a decent check. You feel important. Two years later, we realized we were very wrong. Turns out just having a job, flexible or not, making money or not, doesn’t make you “fulfilled” and yes, our family as a whole was suffering. We came to the conclusion of what we always knew, that he is an artist and has to create, perform, write and be involved in theater in order to really be happy and it didn’t matter how much money it would or would not make (a sentence of privelige I realize). Our family is happiest when both parents are happy and fulfilled. Since he got back into theater he has been SO MUCH HAPPIER which means our marriage is so much better and our family is just so much happier. DUH.
But what about me? I originally chose happiness over money as a prop stylist but is that still true?
What originally made me happy, why I got into this all was because shopping, styling, writing about decor and my life, connecting and having a positive influence on others made me really, really happy. The first five years of this career (TV + design + blog), I worked a ton but really loved every second of it.
Then the business grew, of which I’m so grateful, but I have no actual business skills, both in management and in things like setting up our 401K or say “sorry, one sec, opening emails from my accountant about my monthly P and L.” But it was all still manageable and honestly still good until I had kids. And then I realized that in order for me to be happy, I was going to have to shove my kids into that equation and I would need to do the creative aspects + the business aspects + forming two beings into productive, kind, empathetic humans. Also, I just wanted to spend more time with my kids because they really made me happy.
The challenge is all about time, and I needed more of it to be creative and with my kids.
This year, after writing the first draft of this in September and realizing that I wasn’t as happy as I could be (I was just so stressed out), I had a huge epiphany as I realized having this business makes me so happy, but running it really does not. Before kids, I didn’t care that I was working 60 hours, I loved it and I loved the stress of it. But after kids, it all changed. I realized that while I was happy in so many ways, the only thing I truly wanted more in life was more time to spend with my kids while they are young and hell, to go thrifting every now and again. They say you can’t buy happiness but in this case, having more time would make me happier. I knew it.
So I restructured the business with the intent to give myself more time, more help, sacrificing the potential profits. I finally set up an “executive” team that runs departments and answer questions and make decisions for me and you guys, it’s AMAZING!!! It’s like a real business!!! Arlyn, Michael and Sara are killing it. Everybody feels like they know what is happening, what their deadlines are, and what their roles and expectations are. They feel so much more empowered and I know that things are getting done and done well. Investing in people with high-level experience and management skills means I have more time to be creative and actually do the things that make me happy. The profit margin is less, but by doubling my team and really empowering them, I really am so much happier.
So hilariously, writing the first draft of this post (4 months ago) forced me to ask and answer the question, wherein this shift emerged. Money is infinite, but time is finite and therefore it is the most valuable thing in the world. If we don’t have time to be happy because we are trying to be profitable and “successful,” then what is it all for anyway?
#5. We will always take the subway.
The original intent: We really didn’t want us to be out-of-touch-elitists. (I realize the irony after I just wrote a whole paragraph about my successful business). It stemmed from this: In 2002, when I was a dog walker on the upper east side, we had clients that went from their penthouse to their private elevator, to their car service, to their fancy-ass restaurant with their similarly fancy friends, back to their penthouse and never ever, ever, were around actual people. I even had to take the service elevator so they didn’t have to be in an elevator with “the help.” I just remember it feeling so gross because avoiding humanity does exactly what you think it does, it isolates you and puts you in a bubble and then you can no longer relate, empathize or even acknowledge other’s lives or problems. Duh. I remember thinking that public transportation is the easiest way to do this, daily. While your neighborhood, community, bubble might not be as diverse as you wish it were, being faced with true diversity (both racial and economic) an hour and a half a day keeps you grounded a bit.
How we are doing: Well, LA certainly isn’t the bastion of transportation. We went on the metro here once as a joke for a “subway pub crawl.” It’s just not set up here to work as well as in New York (or even CLOSE) and rarely makes sense to take.
Obviously, we’ve failed at this public transportation promise, but that wasn’t really the point, was it Past-Emily? Nope. It was more a challenge to combat the larger problem that everyone faces as they get older: to not surround yourself with people just like you. But that means that we have to actually seek out others different than us. The blog is a HUGE help because so many of you comment from diverse backgrounds. I’ve told you this before but your comments about why you voted for Trump and why you own a gun or why you are okay with a closed border really elevated my thinking and opened my eyes and I know so many people from “my bubble” who read every comment.
We’ve also started attending this community church that is really diverse and the kids have been involved in volunteering there. At the beginning of service, everyone goes around and says “hi” to everyone, with the intent of welcoming, connecting and meeting someone new, and while it’s very intimidating, I’m always happy that I made that small new connection to someone who is likely outside of my bubble. I don’t want to go too into it in this post (it’s a whole thing, guys, I can’t wait to tell you) but I will say that having the kids help make a meal for a lower income family in the church and being there to hand out the cookies they’ve made to the homeless is the thing that I feel most proud of as a mom right now. Just when they are fighting over the last cookie in front of the families and I’m embarrassed and frustrated that they just aren’t getting the bigger message, I’ll get an email from their preschool teacher about how they said they like “making food to help the families” and I just want to bawl.
So I suppose we are trying but lord knows everyone could be doing a lot better. Brian hopes that by choosing public school next year, our kids will get some of the diversity that we want for them. It’s just hard because we self-segregate. I’m attracted to the mom at the playground who dresses like me. We don’t really want to seek out really socially conservative people whose views go wildly against mine and ask then over for dinner. Subways force daily interactions and connections that you otherwise have to seek out in LA and it’s hard. Maybe it’s time to start taking the bus? 🙂
#6. We will never live in a gated community.
The original intent: The idea of exclusivity was disgusting to us and not allowing people into your neighborhood felt mean. Everyone should be welcome. (This also stems from me moving to a very wealthy suburb of Portland when I was 16 where we were the poor kids and I think I’m still scarred from some of them).
How we are doing: We get it. Pre-kid notions of safety and how you think you’ll raise your kids are always hilarious. I still don’t want to live in a typical gated community, but sure a neighborhood that is always safe sounds pretty darn attractive to me. There is one near us, in Beachwood Canyon, that is gorgeous. It’s all these old craftsman and mid-century homes. Nothing fancy, just charming, and due to tourist traffic up to the Hollywood sign, they got permission to gate it. See? I can get my head around that and you can start rationalizing your way into exclusivity. Soho House is another example: on principle, it feels elitist, but let’s face it, it’s just so fun to be around all those cool people in such a beautiful space.
Additionally, the lake that the mountain house is near is owned by the community, thus private and not accessible at all by tourists (basically gated) and while I HATE the notion, I secretly love that there aren’t used condoms on the beach and knowing that all the strangers that are near my kids likely also live in our community is nice. So…I get it now.
I’m curious about your thoughts on this one: Is the country club (or a modern version of it) coming back? I think yes. It’s just in the form of social clubs like Soho House where you can only be a member based on finances and status/relationships. Is this a good or bad thing? God, each ONE of these could be a blog post. Is it a cop-out for you to want your friends to join these clubs so you can enjoy them, but not actually join one yourselves? Probably.
#7. I will not spend more than $500 on a handbag.
The original intent: That was kinda the beginning of the Kate Spade era, where people were OBSESSED with name brands. I was just not into status symbols so it was less about expensive handbags and more about valuing status.
How we are doing: You see a theme, here. Did I stick to that? Sure. I have never spent more than $400 on a bag, if that, but that’s only because I’m not that into bags (I’ve been using this bag for THREE YEARS and still love it). It doesn’t mean I’m as grounded as I should be.
Pretending that I don’t have some snobby taste is stupid and acting like I don’t splurge or care about my “status” is not the truth. I’m a kid of the ’90s and status symbols and brand names make me uncomfortable. But I get a thrill when I open the ice machine at the mountain house and it’s the small balled ice. When I turn on that microbubble bath, it makes me feel VERY good as I suppose I know it’s a luxury. So I’m no better. I still misplace value on material possessions, it’s just that current Emily values high-end reclaimed wood flooring over handbags.
#8. We will always support young artists.
The original Intent: As young artists, we wanted support and we promised that if we ever had money, we would use it to support up-and-coming artists. This was more Brian driving this one (he was probably sick of me talking and dominating the last three).
How we are doing: I think we are doing pretty well, Brian even more so then I am. He goes to a lot more plays and indie movies than I do.
Does this mean I can buy some more art without guilt???? YES!!!! I hope because of this blog, we have helped promote young artists and I really hope that many have seen a bump when we post and tag/link. But no reason not to be better at this. One of the things we want to do this year is a larger program around artists, kinda like what we did in Portland but all year, in every project. The artists got a lot of exposure, many of their pieces sold and we got to use amazing original art in a project which elevated it tremendously.
Thanks for reminding me to do this more, Past-Emily. We are on it.
#9. No matter what, like a greek army we will make it work.
The original intent: I’m pretty sure that was written at the end of the bottle of wine “Like a Greek Army, We will make it work”?? Who says that?? I like the sentiment, it’s just a very determined comment and I don’t actually know what the reference is. I suppose we knew that there would be ups and downs and we wanted to remind ourselves to stick through it.
How we are doing: We have STUCK with it and while there have been a lot of ups and downs the last 19 years right, now it’s really really good. I could talk about this for hours and hours “how to make a marriage work.” It’s literally my favorite subject and I’m learning so much right now from those close to me whose marriages are struggling so I feel like just talking about marriage is a real thing right now.
I’m writing this from Minneapolis, having left Brian and the kids for a few days to work. I think about how marriages have changed so much since women have entered the work force and boy is it better. To have a husband that is so supportive and can handle two small kids on his own while his wife went off on business trips is just not what happened 30 years ago (well, he’s in dress rehearsals every night so his parents came down to help at night so they were around family at least, but typically he’s by himself and fine). I’m seriously grateful for that guy and our marriage and while we need to go more on dates and work on some of the above, our family unit feels tight right now. Ugh, I miss them so much.
Happy Valentine’s day, Brian. I love you VERY VERY VERY much.