What Barry White Taught Me About Love and Other Anniversary Notes

Me & Pete_1990When I was a young girl, electric with sensuality and a burgeoning curiosity about all things lust, passion, and love, a song came out, sung by a man with a silky voice, that seemed an anthem to all three. I was working my first waitress job at the time, an Irish restaurant that had a juke box stocked with as wide a variety of music as you can imagine, and in the midst of milquetoasty 70’s selections (“Dancing In the Moonlight,” “The Morning After”?!) came… Barry White, with an undulating, unforgettable intro and that rumbling baritone crooning “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More”… remember?

Give it up, ain’t no use
I can’t help myself if I wanted to
I’m hung up, no doubt
I’m so in love with you, for me there’s no way out

‘Cause deeper and deeper
In love with you, I’m falling
Sweeter and sweeter
Your tender words of love keeps calling…

Eager and eager, yeah
To feel your lips upon my face
Please her and please her
Any time or any place

I’m gonna love you, love you, love you just a little more, baby….

I remember the suspense of that musical opening: the drums start it… then the keys set that iconic riff; Barry’s voice weaves in and out in that bedroom way he had… all combining to create this grooving, driving, layered paean to immutable love. I was smitten. I was always attracted to the “DrumsDude” of any band, the rhythm section in general actually.

I would play that song over and over, all day and into the night shift, swooning around “section B” like a lovesick teenager to the point that the bartenders thought I was crazy and every drunk in the room wanted to dance with me. But this wasn’t about hook-ups and flirtations; this was about LOVE, true love so strong “there’s no way out.” That’s what I wanted: to be in love with someone who’d fall “deeper and deeper in love” with me right back. I was a young girl mesmerized by romance and poetry who now had my love theme.

But time went on, music changed, Barry put out other songs I liked but none quite as well. I grew up, fell in and out of love more times than my mother appreciated, and learned that the kind of passion Barry rhapsodized about wasn’t easily found. I still believed in it, didn’t give up on it, but stopped holding every relationship to the standard of “no way out.” I always seemed to find plenty of ways out… as did they.

Until I met him. Pete. The man I married, the man who, 24 years ago on this day, told me, by virtue of everything he was, everything he gave me, and everything he promised on that wedding day, that he was, indeed, so in love there was no way out.

This time it looks like love is here to stay
As long as I shall live
I’ll give you all I have and all I have to give

No, those weren’t his vows – I’m still quoting Barry here 🙂 – but in the ensuing 24 years he did give me all he had to give, which was every joyful moment, every event, triumph, and memorable experience you could imagine. But life being what it is  – meaning, we weren’t living in a love ballad – we also hit some walls that were so damn hard I thought our heads would crack. His almost did. And those were the moments when “no way out” felt more like a sentence than a promise. We ebbed and flowed, ran away and came back; sought and looked and learned in every way we knew how and, somehow, some way, ended up full circle, back to where we started… back home. Where we healed and evolved and let go and forgave until we knew, once again, no doubt, “this time it looks like love is here to stay.” A vow coming full circle as well.

I’m sure you realize there’s a wink in how I’m framing this story, a clear understanding of my sweet, youthful naiveté in believing love could be defined by a ballad sung by Dr. Love. But still… certain ideas nestle, certain sensations and feelings become part of your cellular memory, and even seemingly trite words and melodies become connectors to grander ideas. And, to this day, whenever I hear “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More,” I’m back at that juke box, swaying to the beat, eyes closed and heart filled with longing, believing in life and passion and those “tender words of love.”

And today I celebrate the man I married, the one who spoke those tender words so long ago and speaks them still. Happy Anniversary, darling. Wherever we’ve been, wherever we’re going, know I’m always gonna love you, love you, love you… just a little more.

Thank you, Barry White…

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Lesson Of Long-Term Marriage: What’s Better Is So Much Better Than What’s Worse

Twenty-three years ago today I got into a car with a very handsome man dressed in blue pants and a white shirt, drove a couple of hours to a courthouse in the very bucolic town of Mt. Vernon, Washington and, during the lunch break of a local judge, and in the presence of the bailiff and court secretary, married the man to whom I am still married today. The bailiff fired off a few snapshots from my then-cheesy 35mm camera (pictures I, years later, Photoshopped to the excellent results below!), we had lunch at a nearby cafe where a bottle of champagne and a slice of pecan pie with a bride & groom atop awaited us, then we drove north to Vancouver to spend three days at the Pan Pacific Hotel as our rainy, wondrous honeymoon. It was perfect… and when people ask if I ever regret not having a wedding, I assure them I still think it was perfect, to this very day.

Wedding day sepia 4 triptych

There is much to be said for weddings done right (I covered a few of those HERE), and certainly the topic of marriage is a deep and many-layered one (in The Warmest Chord my own heartfelt perspective is offered), but on this anniversary, from where I sit many years beyond that glorious Pacific Northwestern day, currently miles away from my stoic, stalwart husband who continues to deal with the ramifications of brain injury, the message of marriage I have to share is a different one than I had 23 years ago.

It’s a stronger one, one built more on wisdom, resilience, commitment and compassion than wild romance and youthful lust. Though, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for romance and lust, revel in it whenever it presents itself (which, as most of us would attest, is never enough!), but life teaches that any long-term relationship survives within an unpredictable mix of emotion and events… and the way we respond to both. And the longer I live the more I realize, while I may not be able to predict events that come flying my way (damn that unpredictable universe), I can do something about how I interpret, respond to, and learn from those unfolding moments.

Love is a funny thing, too. It keeps you attached and aware of that other person; sensitive to their needs and emotions, impacted by the events of their life that can overlap your own. Sometimes those intersections are lovely, sometimes they’re… challenged. As any couple knows who’s dealt with illness, adversity, injury, or any of those kinds of unexpected events that knock us off our feet  – a job lost, a disease diagnosed, a family member’s death; a brain injury – marriage can become about endurance and tenacity, a balance between attachment and detachment, even an ability to let go when needed to allow life to reorganize into some different while you’re away.

As the wife of a husband dealing with brain injury, I’ve learned about that part of being married. I’ve learned (as I wrote years ago in Love In the Age of MTBI) how circumstances can change and impact a marriage, make it more complicated and mercurial, shake it up in ways that can both take your breath away (and not always in a good way) and make you realize how strong your relationship really is, strong enough to endure the dark corners stumbled upon repeatedly and sometimes without warning. When pain episodes strike, when the walls go up and the lights go down and you realize plans will change, warmth will take a holiday, communication will be backburnered in lieu of necessary isolation and silence, it’s then that you face the reality of what you and your chosen one created back on that magical day, years earlier, in a courthouse in Mt. Vernon…

The tether. The bond. The connection. You can pull apart because you have to, because you both need time to regroup and recalibrate, but you never stop feeling the connection. The love. The sense that you are family and you will get through this to a happier time, a better time.

And while away, if you’re smart, you’ll take the opportunity to pursue your own “vision quest.” You’ll pay attention, listen, learn, and remember that thoughts impact reality; you’ll readjust your own view of life to get stronger, more compassionate and loving… to him and to yourself.

And if, during that time, an anniversary pops up, you’ll pay attention to that, too. You’ll look at that person – from wherever you are – with all the love you feel, all the belief you have in what’s good and right, and you’ll … celebrate another anniversary. Another year of marriage. Another worse endured for all that is better.

Because what you find when you step away, when you take that breath, and look at the reality outside of pain and the adversities life throws at you, is that what’s better is so, so much more than what’s worse. Worse, you can overcome; better, is the life you’ve created and will continue to create. That’s the lesson, the true gift of a long-term marriage.

Happy anniversary to us!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Warmest Chord: Ten Things I Know About Marriage

I grew up in an era when Joni Mitchell’s declaration that “we don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall” seemed just about right, and the very idea of eschewing the shackles of conventional marriage was thrilling to us wild children of the times. Who needed contracts and rules and vows and all that other restrictive, limiting nonsense when we were so freeeeeee? And after all, if you managed to stay together without the bonds of marriage, wasn’t that even more of a testament to how truly committed you were? Love…that’s all we needed to keep away our lonesome blues.

But we did, didn’t we? We ultimately got married. Some of us older than younger, but we got married despite lyrics to the contrary. Which compels the question: why? It’s a fair question. In the last many decades since that heady time of sexual freedom, we’ve become a society of multiple divorces and cyclical re-marriages. We keep getting married despite apparent cluelessness on the topic but, frankly, it doesn’t seem that marriage has all that much to do with whether or not people stay together. Maybe Joni was on to something.

Marriage is on odd institution, oft-times just the fantasy idea, the romance dream of white gowns and handsome princes, frothy hoopla, large tiered cakes and even larger bills for the various parental units involved. Weddings can run the gamut from authentic celebrations of love and commitment, right up to the overpriced free-for-alls that set Pops back a second mortgage and conclude with the bride vomiting on the honeymoon duvet while the groom counts big bucks earned during the obligatory “money dance” set to the slightly hackneyed Al Green chestnut, “Let’s Stay Together.” Cynical, perhaps, but let’s face it, while I’ve seen and participated in some amazing ones (and you know who you are!), weddings have become an industry, and sometimes the whole “why we get married” part of the equation gets lost in the hullabaloo.

Me… I eloped. My old man and I went out and got ourselves a piece of paper from the city hall,  21 years of keeping’ away the blues. Well… there have been some blues, some kick-ass blues, actually, but still… we’re here. Amazingly, still here. Happy Anniversary to us.

And what have I learned in these last 21 years? What great kernels of wit and wisdom can I pass along as one of the wise old-marrieds?

Truth is, whatever wisdom I might have to offer, there are plenty of others who’ve had completely different experiences and will likely be far wiser than I. My marriage has been less a long and winding road than a roller coaster ride, so odds are I may have a remedy for motion sickness that won’t apply to those who’ve managed to avoid the bump and teeth-grind along the way. Or maybe it will; maybe every long marriage has its own wild rhythms that require deep breaths and even deeper soul searching regardless of the particulars. So to the question, what do I know? Only my own experience. And on this day of my 21st anniversary, allow me to put my very uncultured pearls into list form as a nod to this day and the man I chose in the grand institution of marriage:

P&L_Country1. Make sure you fall in love with someone who can ultimately be your friend. By your 21st year that friend will likely mean more to you than any lover ever could. And if you’re lucky enough to still have a buzz with each other at that point, you’ll be fully aware that six-pack abs, a full head of hair and the chiseled jaw of youth are all quite fabulous and chemistry-inducing as a starting point, but ultimately can’t shake a stick at that friend who knows all your physical and emotional sweet spots and loves you despite the outward lessening of your previously-held vixen status.

2. Make sure you marry someone who can be a good mate. Very different criteria than a good boyfriend/girlfriend/lover. It requires things like stellar work ethic (a good job and the wherewithal to keep it), admirable responsibility (like a solid sense of the point and purpose of saving money), age-appropriate skills (can pack own bag and knows how to run the dishwasher), initiative powers (able to plan a trip or wrangle a loan officer). The list goes on. You get the idea.

3. Don’t marry a boy-man or girl-woman. While you may want to raise a child at some point, you don’t ever want to raise a mate.

4. And if there is a plan for children, discuss ad nauseum prior to sending out “save the dates.” Make sure you’re not only on the same page, but the same paragraph, sentence, and word. Ascertain potential partner’s aptitude for managing all aspects of small, irascible human beings. Decide early on exactly how many (open for later discussion, but still decide), and be very receptive to stupid, trendy names brought to the table to argue over and hide from the family.

5. Be a metaphoric animal tamer and get every freakin’ elephant out into the middle of the living room to have at ’em. Discuss and clarify politics, sex, religion, race, family of origin, morality, mortality, gender politics, parenting philosophies; who expects what from whom on any given matter. Get the old boyfriend/girlfriend confessions out of the way (ALL of them), make sure you agree on how much to share on Facebook, and if there is a YouTube video floating around that bears some explaining, do it now (didn’t apply to us but, oh, I’ve heard some stories…!).

6. Be very clear that the most important and essential emotions on the table are— and will always be—love, empathy, joy, and compassion. Although fear of heights and strange aversions to disposable razors do bear some consideration.

7. Honor and integrity are non-negotiable, self-health habits a must, addictive behaviors are deal-breakers (unless the habit is Pinkberry or those amazing coconut shrimp at Pho Tien Long).

8. Have an unassailable sense of humor about pretty much everything. If you had a silly character who won your mate’s heart during the early days of hot sex and easy laughter, make sure that character sticks around for the less whimsical years when a good laugh can save the day. These characters, like you, only get better with age.

9. Speaking of age, LOVE the aging process your mate is/will be going through, presuming you get to 21 years. It can be a brutal and self-negating process and there is nothing quite like looking at your partner on a day when he or she is feeling particularly heinous and saying, “you still look amazing to me.” Because if you followed Items 1-8, I guarantee, they will still look amazing to you.

10. If you do have the misfortune of falling in love with someone to whom Items 1-9 don’t apply, have loads of fun for as long as it lasts, but DON’T marry them.

Beyond these ten, I think we marry and stay married to the person we do mostly because we cannot imagine life without them. Because no matter what accidents happen, what brain injuries occur, careers sputter, asses widen, money eludes, or disappointments pile up, that person is the one you want to endure with. Fight the good fight with. Wake up to in the morning even after a night of sorrow and confusion. They give you a sense of place, of foundation, of home. The “institution” that marriage speaks of is real and tangible to you because being married to this person feels like something concrete and physical, a place you want to live. Because however love may change after 21 years, the way it reinvents itself in each new moment feels as urgent and powerful as the first heady incarnation. That’s why.

And since I started with Joni, let me end with her….”He’s the warmest chord I ever heard.”

That’s why I’m still married to my particular old man. Items 1 – 9 and he is, and has always been, the warmest chord I ever heard.

Wishing you all one as warm.

l__p_in_loveHappy Anniversary, Pete.

 Lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man.

Photo of Joni Mitchell @ Wikimedia Commons
All other photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.