Yesterday I wrote about the importance of choosing happiness. Today I want to write about a related topic: not taking the little things in life for granted. I promise not to turn this blog into a personal self-help blog! But today is a special day and I’m thinking about this topic so please humor me just one more time. More later in the post.
When I was in my early 20’s I was fortunate enough to live in a small house in Manhattan Beach, CA with a beautiful ocean view. Having been born in Philly and having been raised in landlocked Sacramento, CA it was truly an amazing thing to literally hear the ocean waves crash every night from my bedroom as I went to sleep and to see the ocean view every morning as I got ready for work.
For weeks or months I gazed at the ocean at every opportunity I could. “Pinch me – is this my life?” But slowly, strangely and without notice I stopped looking quite as much. I’d love to say that I always appreciated the majesty of the ocean and the sunsets every night. I didn’t. Eventually the ocean view just became life and life was filled with work, stress, bills, cooking dinner, watching football, suffering hangovers, talking on the phone, whatever. The ocean had just become a picture on the wall that I occasionally glanced at. I wish I could say otherwise.
Through hard work and persistence I got transferred to Europe. It’s a fun story how I got there but I’ll save that for another day. By the summer of 1995 I was living and working in Rome, Italy. To this date the six months that I worked in Rome goes down as one of my favorite experiences in life. Il Bel Far Niente! Every day I took a Roman taxi to work (and still lived to tell about it!) and every day we passed by the Monument of Vittorio Emanuelle II – so beautiful. (although the Romans don’t all think so – they call it “The Wedding Cake” or “The False Teeth.”) Me? Sheer beauty. We also passed by the Colosseum. For weeks I gazed out every time and sucked in the experience. But eventually I started zoning out on the drive in – just another day in the office. And then I started reading the International Herald Tribune lest I miss my daily dose of international politics.
I think you see where this thing is heading.
In 1996 I worked (then later lived for 8 years) in London and passed daily through Trafalgar Square. It’s beauty undeniable but as ephemeral as the others.
In 1997/98 I spent months in Barcelona. I was initially in an aparthotel on La Ramblas and later in a stunning villa near Park Güell. Every day I walked passed Gaudi buildings on my way in the morning and again in the evening. For weeks, maybe months, I looked up every day. If you’ve never seen Casa Batllo (It’s the image at the top of the post) I’m telling you there’s nothing like in the world. It’s really that awe inspiring. As are Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Park Güell and his many other creations. (If you don’t know Gaudi or Barcelona enjoy clicking all those links. Really, it’s worth the 10 minute diversion). Predictably over time I started more noticing the tapas restaurants below these buildings of splendor as I craved a morning fix of coffee and food to stave off my hangover. Otto Zutz never let out early in Barcelona. So Gaudi became commonplace.
And this is how I lived the first 32 years of my life until I met my wife. And thus the reason for today’s blog. It’s my eighth wedding anniversary today (don’t worry, she’s as the spa having a massage while I’m typing this!). I was married July 20, 2002 when I was 34 years old. I had the privilege of experiencing so many things in life by that point that by 34 I truly knew what I wanted. And it was Tania. For life.
I knew I was in love when we first took the Eurostar together to Paris for a long weekend. We stayed in the Hotel Vernet in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe. It was a majestic hotel in the city of lights and we strolled for hours and hours sucking in every building facade, every cafe and every bistro. We sipped Cafe Creme in the mornings and Bordeaux in the afternoons. We talked for hours. We sang show tunes as we strolled through the Jardin de Tuileries. Cheesy, I know. But it was a shared common experience from childhood and to this day we still do it. What can I say, I’m Jewish – show tunes are in my blood!
But long before I asked Tania to marry me I knew what I wanted out of marriage. I came from a generation of people whose parents had big families and started at young ages (my mom was 23 when she had my older brother and had 4 kids by 30). And many parents in that generation became de facto families rather than husbands and wives. So I guess it was no big surprise that when the kids flew the coop many parents found themselves alone with partners that they no longer saw as their romantic “better halves” and got divorced. My parents included. I’m sure they’d tell their story differently but this is my version. And that of many of my friends and their now divorced parents.
I think that many of the people from my parents generation eventually took their marriages for granted. I swore never to. I wanted something different in life.
I only asked my wife for one big concession before we were married. I wanted her to agree that we would be friends and lovers as well as parents and a family. I asked her to commit to doing one night every week as “date night” away from the kids. She agreed and we’ve stuck with it since Jacob was 12 weeks old. 7 years later we go out almost every week as a couple – sometimes with friends, sometimes alone.
It’s not for everybody. Some of my closest friends refused to go out without their kids when they were young. They wanted to be families 24/7. One even later admitted to me that they felt kind of sorry for us that we didn’t see our family this way. He admitted this to me in a bar after his wife left him by announcing that “she didn’t love him anymore.” She didn’t even make a real effort at reconciliation. He (and I) were devastated. They have two lovely kids. I don’t think that the lack of date nights was the cause but I do think that there was a certain amount of taking each other and their marriage for granted.
I don’t take my wife for granted at all. Whenever I come home from a day of 8 meetings plus an evening speaking event I always instantly feel serene and I always thank her for that. I am fortunate to come home to my understanding wife who knows what it is that modern workers go through. And I know that I’m not the easiest person in the world: I have strong opinions, I’m self righteous, I’m stubborn and I’m less organized at home than I could be. I’m grateful that I have a true friend & partner who loves me for who I am rather than for my potential. And I’m grateful to have a wife who doesn’t bust my chops when I start writing blog posts as 10.30pm in the evening as I so often do. She knows writing makes me happy and she is unbelievably supportive (except when I come to bed at 2:30am ;-))
And that’s why 8 years into this marriage and 10 years since dating I can say that I’m as happy with my wife as when we met. I now have a family with two kids, whom I adore. But our life is a strain like for any family. They don’t want to go to bed and night, they refuse to eat vegetables, they have everything in life and are not as grateful as you might expect. So life becomes a routine. But not one that I take for granted.
Sleeping faces are my modern day ocean views and I look EVERY night. I’m conscious that “the days are long but the years are short.”
I love you, Tania. And I don’t take our happiness or our relationship for granted.
[and to readers I promise not to make this an annual post or to be this mushy on a regular basis. Please just think about what you have in life for which you are grateful and find ways to make sure you don’t take it / them for granted]