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Bad Advice My Grandma Gave Me, and What I Learned From Her Anyways

Okay, so those of you who know me well are asking yourselves two questions: 1) Is this Monday? Cause you were supposed to blog on Monday? and 2) I thought you loved your grandma? In a ‘world-hasn’t-been-the-same-since-she-died’ kind of way? Confession: you are right on both counts. 1) This is not a strictly ‘Monday’s Mama’s Musings’ post today, and heaven knows those may not come very often, because me and inspirational parenting? Yeah, I’m not the model for that! I love my kids but I am grateful that they have lots of grace for me, and 2) My Grannie was one of the best and brightest people this world has ever seen. And yes, we do tend to endow loved ones to sainthood after they die, but in Grannie’s case, its really true. She was one of the best.

But think about it for a moment: can’t you remember one of the best people you ever knew, telling you to do something really, really, er… on the side of not wise?

Ten years ago, my ‘i’m-so-old-look-at-me-i’m-going-to-get-married’ self was chatting with my grandparents about, oh, probably hockey – FYI, I just figured out why I’m so neurotic about the sport; not something they put in the water here in VanCity (well maybe it is, but if so none of us have any proof because our brains would have been sucked out in the process), but apparently female sport fan socialization is heavily dependent on her family’s culture (D.L.Wann, M.J.Melnick, G.W. Russell, D.G. Peace, Sport Fans), whereas males are more dependent on their peers, and let me tell you, my family were Canucks crazy people, in the very best way. But in the middle of this innocent conversation, my grandma looks at me all starry eyed and says, ‘you know, I almost married a red-headed boy.’

I looked over to my grandpa, who had literally the best and most psychotic sense of humour of anyone I’ve ever met, and he quirked his upper lip, then glanced at me. We both glanced upward at the shade of auburn/brown Grannie had died his remaining hair not too long before, and then I said, “um, Grannie? What, er… I mean…”

She continued off in ‘i’m-back-in-my-late-teens’ land, and said, “yes, he was quite persistent you know.” I nodded, Grandpa’s grin got wider, and then I said, “so, what made you change your mind, Grannie?”

She, too, nodded, and said, ‘well, I don’t like red hair.’

Holding in the giggles, I couldn’t resist. “Um, ok, so…Grandpa’s hair…”

She interrupted my ‘what is going on?’ moment with: ‘Your grandfather had nice hair and really nice teeth, so I chose him.’

Grandpa finally spoke up here. “They both fell out,” he said.

After a split-second of silence, where Grannie looked at him, indignant, the whole room burst into laughter. Grannie pursed her lips together tightly (something that most of us have inherited from her, something that was really cute about her, even though I sometimes practice raspberries to get it out of my system), and then started giggling herself. “yes, I suppose they did, didn’t they?” She paused, dreamy-eyed again, and then told him very seriously. “but you were really handsome.”

Grandpa jumped in before she could cover her comment. “Yup, but too bad, not anymore.”

After they laughed at each other, Grannie looked back at me. “See, hen?” she said. “You need to really be in love when you get married. I mean, you need to think the man you’ve married is the most handsome man you’ve ever seen, and have the biggest butterflies in your stomach when you see him, and you know when it happens, because you just know and you don’t have to think about it too much.”

As we left that night, I said to my mom, “hey, you know what? If that was the advice you got about marriage, well, you did really, really good.”

Because as cute as this story is between my grandparents, and as successful as their marriage was – they were together over 60 years, and she was never the same after Grandpa died – if you really think about it, it was really bad advice.

Ladies, I know you love your men. You know I love mine. And we probably all love a well-written romance or two. Hint as to where I’m going with this: My Grannie was addicted to them! I love the story-book endings, the powerful chemistry between lovers, the love-conquers-all adage. They’re great, wonderful, they give me warm fuzzies. Really. But all this stuff? All this emotion-with-no-thinking? Yeah, that belongs in a book. And, probably not in a book I’m going to read. Because, perfect love-fell-from-the-sky-into-my-lap types of stories, they just don’t work for me.

Because, its not real life.

Before you accuse me of being in a loveless marriage, or being deaf-to-romance, let me explain.

I adore my husband. Truly. And I get to say that really nauseating thing that I actually am way more in love with him now than I was eleven years ago, when we first started dating. But all my friends who ‘just knew’ and ‘fell in love with their husbands the moment they met’, I really didn’t understand that. Because we sort of have that reverse-love story. Instead of falling in love at first sight, we argued our way into love.

David doesn’t even remember the first time we met, because, ironically, he was preoccupied with another girl at the time. And the only reason I remember it is because one of the girls in my dorm said their moms were trying to set them up. So, my first thought when I saw this guy, was, he is waaayyy too serious for her.

Not that I was looking, but he was way too serious for me too.

But we had a mutual friend, or two, and found ourselves over and over again, in the same place at the same time. We’d talk in passing during English class – cue the glares of his current girlfriend, and my response of ‘what? I’m not interested!’ which I really wasn’t. I mean, how can you date someone who reminds you every chance they get that your country, which he is currently attending school in, is just not as good as his?

Yeah, he’s American. (and he loves me anyways, go figure).

And then that strange day when our mutual friend said, ‘hey, Lan, David’s gonna be my roommate next year,’ and us looking at each other like, huh, I guess-we’re-going-to-have-to-tolerate-each-other. David acknowledged it first, saying, “I guess we’ll be spending more time together next year.” I nodded, really slowly, not sure what to say back, thinking this will be interesting.

But this man was smart, I figured. Because not only did their dorm become our ‘brother dorm,’ whatever that means; at TWU, there are also secret ‘mistress dorms,’ so go, figure, but about a month into the year, he called me, desperate for girl advice, or so he said.

This was a role I was comfortable with. I play ‘the sister’ well. So I smiled at my roommate, who was also excellent at giving guy friends advice, and she hung the ‘doctors are in’ sign on the door.

Turns out, he was interested in someone who lived down the hall from me, someone like you, he said, but she really wasn’t. I played along. Why not? I didn’t have a boyfriend and sometimes, living in an estrogen-filled hall is a recipe for slowly going crazy, one hair curler at a time. There was a reason I played hockey with the boys at recess growing up.

The whole torrid affair turned out to be David’s ploy to make one woman in his life ‘off-limits’ for attraction. He tells me now, ‘you were too beautiful, and I had to make you the friend if I was going to have a normal relationship with you.’

Ok, aw. Very cute. But, he could be making that up.

A year of advice and dorm-dates and me-giving-up-on-boys (no, not his fault, at all) later, he stopped calling. I looked at my new roommate. Was I giving bad advice? Had I said the wrong thing? Was I too Canadian to hang out with anymore?

The next week, another mutual friend sat me down to warn me: He can’t ask you for girl advice when you’re the girl.

Here’s where my grannie’s bad advice fits in: if I had listened to her, I would never have married my husband. I was attracted to him, but I’m not the kind of girl who will ever be ridiculously in love at first sight, and even if I was, there were so many things about him that did not fit the list, that I probably would have dismissed the idea altogether.

In fact, I had. One year before. I’d said, ‘yeah, that’s never gonna happen,’ to a group of our mutual friends.

Joke’s on me.

Because at that moment, learning that I was the girl, I expected to think, oh, shoot, I’m going to have to have that conversation. But instead, I thought, wait, is this a good thing? My roommate confirmed it. I said, I don’t know about this. She looked me dead straight and said, why, not?

I really didn’t have a good answer for her.

After all, we’d been spending hours on the phone every night. He made me laugh. There was no pretense. We did not hover around each other, scared to say what we were thinking. We’d openly debate. We’d openly make fun of the other. And though to many people that sounds like a member of my family, like a brother, or someone destined to only-ever-be-a-friend, to me, well…

I’ve always been a sucker for the love stories that were friends first. Because, contrary to what my grandma said, that romantic thing? It comes and goes, really. If I depended on that fluttery-ness to have a successful marriage, well, we’d have been divorced a long time ago. Maybe some of you are lucky enough to have the butterflies every moment you see your significant other, for every second of your lives; but for us, the ‘butterflies’ could be, cues we need to eat, or the other one is driving us nuts, or we’re both about to burst into ridiculous fits of laughter for no good reason.

And, we might not be totally off here. In a culture that tells more romantic stories than ever before, in a world that advises, just pick the one who makes you feel gooey inside, our divorce rates are through the roof.

Not that you should never divorce; no, not at all. And not that you shouldn’t be attracted to your life partner; because, really, you have to wake up to that face, in its least finest moments, every day, even when it snores like a black bear in the middle of Revelstoke.  But if this is the advice we’re giving, and if success in marriage is defined in the number of years together, well, then, its not working somehow.

I used to feel embarrassed by our relationship, I confess. We had been friends for so long first, we knew each other so well, that we argued from the first moment of our dating relationship. And we’ve been arguing ever since, but I think we’re much better at it now. It was only this past year, as we stopped comparing ourselves to our circle of friends and started looking at the relationships we admired and wanted, and then realized, hey, we might have something here, that I realized:

Grannie, I love you. But you were wrong about this.

It had worked for her, though. I mean, this guy she picked for his hair and teeth turned out to be the love of her life. And they modeled for me something that infused itself into our relationship, a sort of feisty grace, where neither one turned a blind eye to stuff the other was doing that was ridiculous, but that they loved them anyways and would help them get better, that has made our marriage really, really great. And, they fought. Sometimes louder than others. But they laughed. A LOT. And, I think, by the end of those six decades, they were the best of friends.

And, friends are friends whether the butterflies leave or not.

Friends are friends whether you have cancer or not, whether you might die or not, whether you might not look like all of the things that first attracted them to you in the first place or not.

Friends are also friends when the things that you think make you worthwhile – like ‘nice hair and nice teeth,’ or good musician, or valedictorian, or any number of a long list of external impressive accomplishments, are no longer you.

And, here’s the kicker: the person you’d choose to have with you whether you ‘felt in love with them’ or not? Not too hard to fall back in love with. Trust me.

So, Grannie might have given me bad advice. But I learned the important stuff from her anyways, from how she lived her life. Feisty, caring, loving, creative, gracious, passionate, optimistic; the world will never be the same without you, Grannie.

And fortunately, neither will I.

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