No Flowers for Valentine’s Day

[Note From Indestructible Relationship Author Kimberly Pryor – You will love this true Valentine’s Day story! And it has a beautiful lesson for couples and singles alike—that it’s important for you to let your romantic partner, date or spouse love you in his or her own way.

The friend Renee refers to in the article is me—but I no longer believe that men are scum like I did in my 20s. That belief was a result of my not understanding men as much as I do now. Men and women are all in this together and men get their heart broken just as much as women do.]

By Renee Ballenger

Growing up, Valentine’s Day was never a huge deal for me.  Of course, I remember in grade school exchanging Valentine cards with classmates while we gobbled those little candy hearts, all of us innocently giggling at the romantic, rather suggestive messages on each, like “Kiss Me” or simply “Yes.”

In high school, my boyfriend had flowers delivered to me, and I to him, while class was in session, so all our friends, and jealous non-friends as well, could see an additional public demonstration of our affinity for one another.

But when I became a young adult, dating a variety of forms of men, I found myself searching for the “one” who could bring some meaning, for me, to Valentine’s Day.  Instead, however, it seemed my experiences, more peculiar than not, only brought on “a whole new meaning” to the holiday. In fact, they inspired a whole new name for the 14th day of February. I and my co-worker, also a young woman cautiously playing the dating game, justifiably re-christened cupid’s celebration, “Men Are Scum Day,” and chose to protest the entire pomp-and-circumstance by not decorating our office with paper hearts and doilies!

Nevertheless, I quietly maintained my own idea, and hope, of what a true valentine would be for me.  He would be my partner for this-thing-called-life. He would know me better than anyone else—sometimes maybe even better than I. He would be the person I would feel comfortable leaving as my proxy, to answer for me in my absence, assured of what my responses and opinions would be. He would often have similar, if not the same thought as I—that “finish my sentences for me” thing.  And although I’d always thought it a corny phrase, I guess, in brief, he would be my soul mate.

Still, even after my female friend and I moved to different workplaces, we made sure to call or write on February 14 to wish each other a “Happy Men Are Scum Day!”

Eventually my prayers were literally answered, and my search ended when I met and married my husband Danny. He is, indeed, the king of my heart, but guess what holiday was never, and is not a huge deal for him?  You guessed it, Men Are Scum—oops, I mean—Valentine’s Day.  

Danny requires big, red reminders on the calendar of the upcoming event.  And, then, instead of asking a sister or another female for gift suggestions, he still makes the common, horrific mistake committed only by males:  he asks me, “Honey, what do you want me to get you for Valentine’s Day?”

On Valentine’s Day of our sixth year of marriage, I awoke, not expecting, nor really wanting any manifestations from Danny acknowledging the holiday or its intent. This particular year, February 14 fell on a Sunday, and as I readied myself for church, I couldn’t help noticing, again, in our large, closet mirrors, my post-partum figure.  Our youngest child was eight months old at the time, and I was overweight.  OK, who am I
kidding?  Years later, I’m still not near my ideal weight!  

In that moment of disappointment with my figure, my husband walked in the room. I had on a new dress—a spring fashion—that actually made me look a bit slimmer. My hair and make-up were done.  As I stretched on the second leg of my stockings, my husband suddenly stopped, staring at me with a tender, but intense expression, as if he was seeing me for the first time.  

Before I could ask what was wrong, he spoke with a sincere wonder in his voice.  He said, “Oh honey, you are so beautiful!”  

I dropped my arms, as if in surrender, giving up my most recent thoughts about my appearance.  I said sincerely, “Thank you, honey.”  Then I thought to myself, You know someone loves you when you can feel it across the room.

After our church service, Danny and I attended separate Sunday school classes. While in my class, I came across one paragraph within a lesson that particularly touched me. It spoke about how, man, with his limited intelligence, is not able to comprehend, at least in this life, the full magnitude of God and His plan, and how, therefore, we should not obsess or frustrate over what we don’t or cannot know, but rather achieve three other accomplishments: seek to further develop oneself in light of the spiritual precepts we do know and understand; live the Christ-like life the Father urges us to live; and rejoice in our knowledge and ability to follow through on the Lord’s teachings.

I thought about the many deep discussions Danny and I had had on this broad subject.  Intending to later share this passage and how it affected me, with Danny, I made note of the page number.

When church was over and our family was walking out to the car, Danny said to me, “We had this great lesson in my Sunday school class today that I wanted to share with you.”

I responded without much thought, “Oh, yea?”

“Yea. It was from our doctrinal handbook. I think it was a paragraph on page 31.”
    
I took in a quick breath, and thought to myself, “Oh my goodness! Wow! That’s the very same page that my favorite passage was on.”  Then Danny began to quote some of the phrases from the section, the exact ones that so inspired me.

“When I read those words,” Danny said, “I instantly thought of you, Renee. I know how you feel about this subject, so I thought you might enjoy reading it.”

That night in bed, I said to Danny, “Thank you for my Valentine’s Day present.”

He bowed his head and said, “I’m sorry, hun.  You know how I am.  I’m sorry I didn’t get you any flowers, or candy, or something.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I answered as I gently lifted his chin so his eyes would meet mine. He looked confused.  I explained, “Today you gave me the best Valentine’s Day presents I’ve ever received.”

“I did?” he questioned, looking even more bewildered.

“This morning, at the very moment I needed to hear it, you, spontaneously with voice full of emotion and a face full of sincerity, told me how beautiful I am to you.”

Danny began to protest the value I put on what he saw as a meager gift, but I stopped him and continued, “But the biggie was today at church when we both apparently were reading the same paragraph in separate rooms, and thinking the same thing.”  

Then looking at him more intently, I stated, “Danny, today you fulfilled yet another dream of mine. You’ve come to know me so well, in a relatively short time together.  When you read the lesson today, you had an awareness of how I would be moved by that one specific paragraph. You know my thoughts, my soul.”  I paused and concluded, “You know my heart, Valentine.”

Danny smiled, “Thank you, Renee. I love you.”  He reached over and turned off the light.  

In the first few moments of peaceful darkness he whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

My friend continues searching faithfully for her true valentine. We still call each other every February 14 to offer our regular holiday greeting, but now, with an amendment.  She beams over the phone, “Happy Men-Are-Scum-Except-Danny Day!”

The Indestructible Relationship blog and book share the secrets of couples whose relationships last a lifetime. If you enjoy inspirational stories of hope and love, buy The Indestructible Relationship book at amazon.com or if you’re in the Northern Nevada or Lake Tahoe area stop by Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley where you can buy The Indestructible Relationship in the gift shop then devour a berry cobbler in the café.

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A Tribute to Caretakers of the Elderly or Injured Spouses

My 89-year-old mother is about to go into assisted living. This got me thinking about caretakers—and how much I admire you if you are taking care of either a parent or grandparent or an injured or ill spouse or significant other. Or if you make a living taking care of the elderly or the ill.

In fact, you are all my heroes.

My admiration for caretakers began when I interviewed Barb and Wayne for my book The Indestructible Relationship. The couple’s story is pretty amazing.  And it illustrates not only the stress that caretakers are under but also the way caretaking affects your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Because there’s no doubt that if you’re taking care of an elderly parent it can impact your relationship. And if your spouse is the one who is injured it adds a whole new dynamic.

Which brings me back to Barb and Wayne. Nineteen-year-old Barb awoke on the morning of September 24, 1972 prepared for an idyllic life. Almost four weeks before, she had married Wayne and looked forward to starting a family in their hometown of Wautoma, Wisconsin. But on that day in September, Wayne decided to play football—and all Barb’s dreams shattered. 

“I’d like to say I was playing for the Packers,” recalls Wayne, who was twenty years old at the time, “but it was for fun with friends. It was after the Packers had beaten the Bears, and I was looking for something to do.”

What started out as fun with friends turned into a nightmare. Wayne, a wiry bundle of muscles, caught the football and slipped away from his rivals. As he sprinted up the border of trees that marked the sideline, an opponent rushed toward him. Determined not to run out of bounds, Wayne faced the man head-on. The two collided, and Wayne fell backward, slamming his head against the ground. His neck snapped. The force crushed seven of his vertebrae. Pain overpowered him and he slipped into unconsciousness.

On the way to the hospital, Barb’s aunt tried to reassure her, telling her over and over again, “It’s only a pinched nerve.” But when they arrived, the doctor showed Barb the x-rays, and her hope dissolved into despair. Her husband’s neck was twisted into the shape of a V. The diagnosis? Wayne was paralyzed from the neck down and might never even sit up in a wheelchair.

When Wayne finally arrived home for good, Barb went from newlywed to nurse.

“I used to gag when I had to change the dressings,” says Barb. “I was such a wuss at the sight of blood. Boy, I had to get over that in a hurry.”

Wayne’s disabilities were often as physically challenging for Barb as they were emotionally draining. Initially, she struggled to lift her two-hundred-twenty-five-pound husband in and out of the bed, straining so hard from time to time she would jolt her shoulder out of its socket. At times, she nearly collapsed from exhaustion.

As the couple told me the relationship skills they used to get over their challenges, and as I began to write their chapter in The Indestructible Relationship, I was in awe of the way they eventually learned to cope. And I discovered some important lessons of love from them as well—lessons I continue to use in my own relationship.

But most importantly, I discovered an appreciation for people who dedicate their lives to helping others in need.

Kimberly Pryor is the author of The Indestructible Relationship: Support and Understand Each Other Better During Grief, Illness and All Life’s Stressful Moments, which won the 2012 EPIC eBook award for best non-fiction. The book is a collection of inspirational, real-life stories that can show all couples how to stress-proof their relationship and fall more deeply in love and singles how to ensure that their next relationship lasts forever. It’s an ideal holiday gift for caretakers and any couple experiencing job stress, chronic illness, cancer, bankruptcy, the death of a child or any other traumatic or stressful experience. Purchase the book on October 25 & 26 and receive more than $800 in free gifts.

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Are Women Without Makeup Attractive to Men?

A few months ago, when my now fiancé and I had broken up for a month, I was sitting at the bar of a restaurant at Lake Tahoe. My buddy Les sat next to me.

“Kim,” he said, “You attract the strangest men. And it doesn’t make sense because you’re an attractive woman. You’re going to get mad at me for saying this, but you downplay your femininity. You need to wear more eye makeup.”

This mystified me. How could I be downplaying my femininity? I was wearing a sundress. I had spent ten minutes curling my hair. I had applied foundation, makeup powder and eyeliner. I thought I had achieved just the right balance between covering up my flaws and still not looking overdone. I felt feminine and sexy that night. And I told Les as much.

Les shook his head. “Kim, you have to understand that men are basically pigs. You have to appeal to that side of them. As much as I make fun of all the neon women who come in here dressed to the nines and all made up to try to attract a man, let’s face it, that approach works. All you need to do when you go out on a date is stop downplaying your femininity. Wear more makeup.”

His words bugged me. For most of my life I didn’t want a man to even see me without makeup on. And I still refuse to leave the house without foundation on. I even wear makeup when I’m camping. But I had progressed to the point that I could be at home with a man, my face foundation free, and still feel sexy, self-confident, and desirable. I thought I had come a long way here, and now I had a man telling me I should reject all the progress I had made and go back to needing make up to feel sexy.

Later Les spoke with his grown daughter about this and she told him, “Dad, you don’t ever want to tell a woman to wear more makeup. That should be her choice. If Kim doesn’t like to wear a lot of makeup she should be complimented for embracing the au natural look.”

This whole conversation got me thinking about makeup and men. Do the women who wear a lot of come hither eye makeup really make more men, well, come hither? Or is that a bunch of B.S.?

What’s Sexy?

Here’s what I believe. It’s not the makeup that attracts a man to a woman. It’s her self-confidence. She could be wearing jeans and an old T-shirt, no make-up at all, and if she’s self-confident enough to flirt with him, comfortable with her body and appearance, that is what’s sexy. Not the eyeliner or the foundation or the lipstick or blush.

It’s how you move and act that’s more likely to attract a man than how you paint your face. It’s how you feel that’s more important than how you look. Feel sexy and feminine and you’ll be irresistibly attractive to men whether it’s your spouse, your
boyfriend, or (for single ladies) that guy you’re trying to attract.

It’s like that popular “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” song playing on the radio these days. The lyrics say: “You don’t need makeup to cover up. Being the way that you are is enough.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Guys, feel free to chime in on this one, too.

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The Beautiful Side of Cancer

Dawn Murphy

Any woman will appreciate and be moved by this guest article written by my friend Dawn Murphy—because the article emphasizes that a man can love you for who you are rather than what you look like.

By Dawn Murphy

Tom and I met a year and a half ago through a dating website. We were attracted to each other by both our pictures and profiles, and then confirmed that attraction when we met for a “brief” cocktail. We ended up moving from the bar to the dining room and had dinner. We were the last guests to leave the restaurant that evening.

Three months after our first date, Tom and I were living together. Three months after that—we were not. I demonstrated my unhappiness with his behavior on that fateful day by giving him the silent treatment. He responded by leaving.

The break-up only lasted a week; but it was a pivotal period in our relationship. Over a dinner date, we talked about how important communication was. By not telling Tom what I was upset about, I committed a relationship faux pas that never works for anybody! We women tend to think that men should be able to figure it out, but in most cases men really do need to be told, as they tend to not be very good mind readers.

“Let’s talk things over,” I suggested, “when either of us have a disagreement, instead of you moving out, ok?”

Tom agreed, and since then we’ve been able to work out our disagreements, without either of us resorting to passive aggressive behavior.

Our relationship was going well, and then in December I had my annual mammogram.

A Diagnosis That Changed Everything—Except the Way He Feels About Me

“You’ll get the results in two weeks,” the technician told me, “Unless they see something, in which case you’ll find out sooner. No news is good news!” she said.

They called the next day with the news.

“There is a mass on your left breast,” my gynecologist said on my voicemail. “We’ll need to get some more images; this shouldn’t be taken lightly, we’re talking about cancer.”

It seemed every woman I knew had a mammogram scare that in every case turned out to be nothing. My mass, however, would turn out to be something, as a biopsy two weeks later would confirm my worst fears. I had breast cancer.

“How could this be?” I wondered. Cancer did NOT run in my family! I was a staunch advocate of healthy living. I ate right, ran six miles a day…

Luckily the lump was removed in a procedure called a partial mastectomy, which meant I didn’t have to have my breast removed. Unfortunately, the cancer was also discovered in my sentinel lymph node, an indication that it had spread. This meant I would have to consider more aggressive treatment as follow-up.

“I am not going through chemo!” I declared, to myself and anyone who would listen. “I will not be bald!”

I remember being more worried about looking un-attractive to my boyfriend, than anything else. He would later tell me that was completely ridiculous my thinking was!

My resistance to going through chemotherapy did not last long; I knew it would save my life. A few weeks later, I began a series of four treatments given in three-week intervals. Two weeks into the first round, as expected, I began to lose my hair. Other cancer survivors told Tom and I that in the beginning, I’d find clumps of hair on my pillow when I woke up in the morning. Tom told me not to worry about that.

“I’ll wake up every morning before you and get rid of the hair,” he said. “Then when you ask, ‘How does my hair look today?’ and you only have one strand left, I’ll tell you that it looks great!”

Your Man Loves Who You Are, Not What You Look Like

Tom always makes me laugh. During my first week of being bald, he bought me an assortment of cute hats and some hairpieces, too. (A few weeks earlier we’d gone out together to pick out a wig).

I remember Tom and I sitting with friends one evening, at our favorite karaoke bar. One of the women was a cancer survivor, so that was the topic of conversation. Tom sat quietly.

“Sorry,” I said to him later, “that must have been boring for you.”

Tom assured me that it wasn’t. “They were talking about breast cancer, and that’s what you have, so how could I be bored?”

I knew before starting chemo that I would lose my hair. What I was not prepared for was the weight gain and the constant tearing of my eyes that prevent me from wearing my contact lenses. The latest things to go now are my eyelashes and now my fingernails. I’m a far cry from that profile picture that attracted Tom to me.

“I look at who you are on the inside,” he told me. “Your hair will grow back, anyway.”

I seem to be the only one in our relationship who is bothered by my lack of hair, but I still query him with, “Do you still think I’m beautiful?” and “Are you still attracted to me?” The questions are rhetorical, because I know the answer will always be, “Yes.” I feel like the wicked queen in Snow White who always asks her mirror, “Who is the fairest one of all?” If we don’t feel beautiful, we have a hard time believing that others could see us that way.

Tom’s nonchalance over my baldness has been a huge relief. I remember thinking that I’d always wear my wig even when we were at home together; I am so glad I got over that!

Choose to Love Yourself, No Matter What

Those three months that I endured to get through chemo were definitely rough. While I have acknowledged the cancer, I’ve refused to let it get me. We have the power to choose how we’re going to respond to “bad” news, and I chose to be happy and grateful. The alternative, feeling depressed and victimized, was simply not an option.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer put your thoughts and energy on getting well, not about how your boyfriend or husband will feel once your looks are altered. We need to give our men credit for being attracted to our inner beauty, and not worry about what we perceive they are thinking.

Tom and I laugh all the time. We both make jokes over my lack of hair. It’s amazing how much humorous fodder there is in baldness. I know that my hair will grow back, as will my nails, and then Tom and I will have to find something else to laugh about.

Dawn Murphy is a humor writer living in Reno, Nevada. A former columnist for the Reno Gazette Journal, Dawn contributed anecdotal humor to the Sunday edition. She holds a master’s degree in education and has written many papers on effective teaching and student engagement. She currently writes for www.examiner.com and her own website: www.singingbadly.com, where she is writing about having breast cancer.

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Traveling With Your Significant Other: Rules for a Stress-Free Couple Vacation

In early April, my boyfriend (Patrick) and I took our first couple vacation together—a weekend of camping at Death Valley. We had a wonderful time, and he confessed to me later he was relieved we got along while confined in small spaces.

With the summer vacation season approaching, this is a good time to talk about traveling with your significant other. Regardless of whether you’ve been with your sweetie for a couple of months, a couple of years, or a lifetime, going on a trip together can present some challenges. In fact, going on vacation is actually on the list of top stresses in life.

In writing about couples who have experienced some of the most stressful events anyone can imagine, I noted those whose relationships survived after going through these experiences used certain skills. And the skills they used to keep their relationships strong after big traumas can also help us get through the smaller stresses of life—such as traveling. So whether you’re hitting the road or flying the friendly skies, here are four rules for traveling with your honey:

1. Don’t Blame Your Sweetheart for Things that Go Wrong

At Death Valley, Patrick and I faced a choice about where to camp. We could camp by Mesquite Springs at 1800 feet above sea level or we could pitch our tent at Thorndike campground at 7000 feet. Camping at 7000 feet appealed to both of us, but I knew there are only six spaces there and it was a busy Easter weekend. What if we drove all the way up to Thorndike—it was about an hour’s extra drive—only to find there were no spaces available? At that point, by the time we drove to Mesquite Springs campground, it would be well after 1 p.m. and other campers may have snapped up all the spaces by that time.

Patrick convinced me to drive up to Thorndike. And when we arrived there were two spaces available. But what if all the spaces at Thorndike campground had been taken and I blamed Patrick for “making us” drive up there? What would our trip have been like then? Not very pleasant.

There are three cures for blame. The first is recognizing that everything is going to be all right. When we’re on vacation, if something goes wrong, we blame our partner partly because we’re worried. For example, let’s say you asked your significant other to make hotel reservations but as you’re driving toward your destination you find out your sweetie was so busy with work he or she forgot. If you’re tempted to get mad, the reason is because you’re afraid the two of you will be left without anyplace to stay or that you’ll have to stay in some dive.

Take a deep breath, and in your mind repeat to yourself that everything will be all right. This will help ease the tension. After all, maybe once you roll into your destination, you’ll discover a new and exciting hotel that you didn’t even know existed or that the hotel you were supposed to make reservations at isn’t as nice in person as it looked on the Internet.

The second cure for blame is realizing your romantic partner didn’t intentionally mean to hurt you. The chances are good that your sweetie didn’t forget to make the hotel reservations on purpose. And, couldn’t you have reminded your significant other to make the reservations?

Gratefulness is the third cure for blame. If Patrick and I hadn’t found an established camp space at Death Valley, he had a camp stove so we could have pitched a tent anywhere backcountry camping is allowed. Even though I would have had to sacrifice having a campfire, I would still have been grateful to be outside, in a beautiful place, under the full moon with someone I love. No matter what’s going wrong on your vacation, there is likely something you can be grateful for.

2. Do Your Own Thing

As I discovered in interviewing indestructible couples, each member of the couple has developed a strong sense of self. For example, Jessica and Larry had to face the fact that when Larry’s Crohn’s disease was at its worse, he couldn’t go anywhere. During these times, if there was a social event that Jessica wanted to attend, she would go by herself or with friends while Larry stayed home. If not, she might ultimately end up resenting him for making her miss out on the fun.

The chances are good the two of you have a lot in common. But let’s say you like to sit on the beach or shop for souvenirs while your romantic partner likes to play golf. Your vacation will be above par if you gladly let him hit the links while you hit the beach or the stores. The two of you can reconnect for a romantic dinner.

3. Ask For Help if You Need It

One of the characteristics of indestructible couples is they abandoned their fear of dependency and asked people for help. So if you’re lost, ask for directions. I know guys. For many of you, asking for directions is torture. But the sooner you get to your hotel with your sweetie, the sooner the traveling nooky can begin.

4. Express Your Expectations

Just like in daily life, your romantic partner can’t know what you expect on your vacation unless you tell him or her. So often we expect our significant others to read our minds and then get mad at them when they can’t figure out what we’re thinking. Let’s say, for example, you expect help with the driving but your significant other isn’t offering. Inside you, anger is brewing. Much better to come right out and ask for help. Otherwise, he or she might think you actually want to stay behind the wheel.

Follow these four rules for stress-free couple vacations and you’ll return home feeling closer to each other than ever before.

Do you and your significant other want to stress-proof your relationship? Or do you like inspirational stories of hope and love? Then read The Indestructible Relationship: Support and Understand Each Other Better During Grief, Illness, Catastrophic Loss and All Life’s Stressful Moments by Kimberly Pryor. The book was the winner of the 2012 EPIC eBook Award for best non-fiction. Kimberly also is hosting the First Annual Rebuilding Your Life After Divorce Mountain Retreat September 15 – 17, 2012 at beautiful Lake Tahoe.

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