10 Things I’ve Learned: Kerry & Nathan
Actually the title for today’s post should be 10 Things We’ve Learned, as my good friends Kerry and Nathan are tag-teaming this one.
I met these two lovebirds at church maybe five-ish years ago. But I’m still a bit in awe of the fact that they met each other more than a decade earlier at age 12. (Oh yes, imagine your future spouse’s first impression of you being from those spectacular middle school years.) Sparks flew though, and they eventually began dating at 18, got married at 20/21, and are now coming up on their 10th wedding anniversary. Incredible! I think it’s safe to say they win the award for the couple who have known one another the longest out of all our thirty-something friends.
Kerry and Nathan are now living in Lawrence, KS where Nathan teaches high school English and Kerry just graduated with her master’s last year (go Kerry!) and is working as a speech language pathologist. Two cool jobs for two smart cookies, and I admire how they both work incredibly hard to study and keep up their skills in order do their best in their respective fields. But this love of learning undoubtedly spills into the rest of their lives as well, which results in them just being thoughtful, well-read, kind, faithful, curious, hilarious, caring, and bright people, and awesome friends to have a conversation with. (And since great conversations are just about my favorite thing in the world, this pretty much guarantees that they are some of my favorite people.) They’re the kind of friends who can naturally bounce around from talking about our dogs, to F. Scott Fitzgerald, to the best beer recommendations, to interpretations of scripture, to navigating relationships, to Patty Griffin, and every possible thing in between. All the better when over good food and drinks with good friends. And after our trip to England with a bunch of friends last December, I also have it on good authority that they can pull off said conversations with British accents… ;)
Ha, on a slightly more serious note, I also want to note that I’m really grateful for the kind of couple they are. I’m not quite sure how to say this. But as someone who’s single, there are some couple friends I whom I absolutely adore but sometimes feel kind of third-wheel-ish or just extra-aware that I’m not married like they are when we all hang out together. Not a huge deal, but it happens. With Nathan and Kerry, though, it’s quite the opposite. Time with them is always comfortable and “normal” and feels like I’m just hanging out with good friends (who happen to really love each other)…which is a gift. If anything, I feel like I usually come away from time together really admiring how they do marriage and feeling encouraged that the sort of cool, loving, honest and fun relationship they have is possible.
Anyway, I wish all of you readers could grab a drink with all of us and hang out with these two for yourselves. But for now, this post is the next best thing. Enjoy their 10 things!
1. Let yourself be amazed by your significant other
(Kerry) This seems like an easy thing to do. And it can be. It can also be easy to get caught up in daily life and miss the great things the people around you are doing. I believe it is easier to be amazed by my friends because I hear of their accomplishments, challenges, projects, dreams, and pursuits. When we get together, these are the highlights I get to hear about. Oh, and I should just tell you, my friends are simply incredible. I mean, not to brag, but they are beyond great. But so is Nathan. I’ve found that in my life, this person that I live with and spend the majority of my free time with is an amazing person. I don’t wake up in the morning with this being the thought in my head though. If/when I give myself time to reflect and truly think about who he is, I’m blown away. It’s kind of like having piece of art on a wall, one that you’ve walked by without truly taking it in. And then, taking the time to reflect and be inspired by it. I’m continuing to learn to allow myself the time to be inspired by my spouse, which will be a life-long pursuit.
2. Being “cool” isn’t worth the energy/effort
(Nathan) My first job as a teacher was at a school where the average age of the staff was pushing 55, which means pleated slacks and boxy dress shirts where the standard male dress code. As I was 25 and owned clothes that fit a bit better and didn’t wear ties as wide as 1-70, I was instantly the “young, cool” teacher, which meant I had an image to uphold. And boy did I try and fight for that label. When I moved schools, this image came with me because no matter the school in America, the male high school teacher loves pleated slacks and boxy dress shirts. In the midst of all of this, I became friends with people who worked in fashion and, because I had to keep up with my own image of the Jones’, started to subscribe to GQ. All of this to say, I was surrounded by, and couldn’t escape the need to be, cool. I bought more clothes and shoes (that I have since given away) in an attempt to stay up to date. And it wore me out, and still does, and has made me realize that it just isn’t worth it. This was driven home when I was working with a current student of mine on a college application essay this past fall. She is, by far, the smartest and best overall student I have ever taught. And she is weird. Just as strange as can be. I mean, she is “Mork and Mindy” odd. And that is what makes her great. In the essay we worked on, she was addressing her parents fleeing communist Romania in the 1980s and how her parents experience living in a land without freedom has shaped her and taught her to love life and live it without concern for what others think. She said that without any hint of pretension as she really doesn’t care, and not in a rude way. She is who she is and this all hit home to me. Who cares what is or isn’t cool? Who cares if my jeans are cut a certain way or if I have heard of the latest band Pitchfork loves or if I drink PBR? None of it really matters because none of it is really about who I am. Being cool has no real part of what makes me me, so I have stopped being so worried. Not that I plan on buying pleated slacks anytime soon.
3. Commit to a trip, then save
(Kerry) One of the best decisions for Nathan and I was to commit to going on a trip and then start saving. We had often talked about going abroad together. And by often, I mean every 1-2 months we would discuss this…in depth…for 9 years. We just never had a reason or something pushing us to plan or save until we got an invitation to at wedding in England for our friend, Sara (which you may have seen a few photos from that trip on here). At the time, I was finishing up graduate school and we didn’t really have the funds to (a) fly internationally and (b) to a country with a less than ideal exchange rate. However, we decided we needed to stop talking about it and finally do it! The day after, I took to saving everything: minimal cash for eating out, using up the majority of the food in our house, limiting the extra driving to conserve gas, etc. This lasted about 2 weeks (yea! commitment!), but I tried to save in other ways moving forward. After saving and figuring out how to travel the cheapest, we were able to go without breaking the bank. We were able to celebrate a marriage, experience Christmas in another country with friends, and enjoy traveling with each other and our friends. It is a trip that not only strengthened our relationship with each other by also with our friends that were there. Definitely, one of our best decisions. Can’t wait for another one!
4. Never put soda water in your Old Fashioned
(Nathan) Seriously. Why would you do that? What is wrong with you? If you ever order an Old Fashioned while out and about, double check with the bar keep and make sure they do not do this. If it turns out they do, promptly leave and never return. Ever.
5. Just because there are choices doesn’t mean you have to look at/consider all of them
(Kerry) I’m a person that even if I know that I want from the store, I end up looking at pretty much every thing…every time. When I get around to leaving the store, I’ve got a headache or feel like my eyes are going to explode and realize I haven’t enjoyed the process of looking at options and making decisions at all. Having more options actually made it more of a chore than it needed to be. I find this to be true in other, more meaningful areas of my life as well. I’ve learned that if I reduce my options to 2 or 3 choices, I’m much happier about the decision process and ultimately my final decision. With an abundance of options, I find it is the “needle in the haystack” scenario and that ultimately I’ve made no decision at all.
6. Don’t become trapped by your own labels
(Nathan) I am a son, brother, friend, husband, teacher, co-worker, master’s degree holder, Christian, Jayhawk, etc. I am all of these and more (and less). But, I am not only these nor will I ever be. Too often I get hung up on the labels that others assign to me. Actually, I get more hung up on the labels I assign to myself. These labels then become rallying cries (“All The Single Ladies!”)(which, it must be mentioned, was sung by a married lady) and, while labels can provide a sense of pride (ROCK CHALK!), they also limit and hold me back. For example, when I consider the label of being a husband, it comes with a certain weight and gravitas that shapes how I respond to the world, especially the world around Kerry. I wear this label with pride and it is deeply ingrained into my current psychological DNA. This label, however, does not mean I see all others as either married or single or divorced, taken or free or on the prowl. I do not divided my friends into such groups and make choices based on these groups. “Man, I want to have fun and grab a few drinks and hit the town! Let’s call up all the single dudes and be dudebros!” What fruitless thinking. Married dudebros can drink a beer just the same as single dudebros, so why assign such labels? I get it is easier to live in a world with labels and it allows me to get mad about certain things or proud about others, but the reality is that labels put blinders on us all and cause us to forget that the world is bigger than the rather small space we actually occupy.
7. Go with your gut when ordering
(Kerry) I’ve learned from experience to follow your gut, at least when ordering food or libations. On too many occasions to count, I’ve ordered something that “looks interesting.” Or I think “I should try that.” So I do. Then it comes. I take three or four bites/sips and that other thing I thought about ordering (my gut order) comes back to haunt me. “I should have ordered the (fill in the blank). Ahhh”. When Nathan and I were on our honeymoon in San Francisco, we ate at this super nice French place ($100 for prefix) which was way too complex for our palettes at the time. I felt that I shouldn’t order the steak being from Kansas, although I wanted to, and that I should order fish or seafood as we were on coast. I decided to order lobster tail and scallops never having had them at this point in my life. I got the food, which I’m sure was delicious, but wasn’t for me on that day. I started to notice the tables around us had order the prime rib! What? They shouldn’t be doing that. Don’t they know they are in California? They seemed to thoroughly enjoy their meals as I was forcing myself to eat mine. Now, Nathan and I joke that we “should’ve ordered the prime rib” as a reminder to order from your gut.
8. Make sure to verbalize
(Nathan) I spend far too much time inside my own mind. While it is no Sherlockian Mind Palace, I have built up a my own mental Xanadu. At the end of each day, I head to my palace and process my day with all its hassles and hang-ups, quickly, quietly, and then move on. Turns out this works great for me and not so great for those around me, especially Kerry. When we have conflict, be it large or small, I take the event/information and internalize and process it, look it over from all angles, and when I have found a solution and dealt with it, I move on. I forget to let Kerry know this 99.7% of the time, which in turn causes more conflict. Which is super awesome. No matter the relationship, be it wife or friend or student, it is key for me to actively express the internalizations that I make. It is beyond unfair to those around me when I do not take the time to do so, for it keeps those I love and care about in various states of annoyance, agitation, distress, and neglect that are not accurate to how I view them.
9. Be open to saying “yes” first
(Kerry) I find myself prepared to say “no” when an idea is presented. Not always, but often that is my attitude and then I wait to be convinced into saying “maybe.” I find this to be true with friendships, family, and Nathan. I’ve learned that if I can change my attitude to “yes” first, I’m more supportive, a better listener, and find that people tend to say “yes” back. I’ve heard this practice called “the yes spiral.” It’s not to say that I always say “yes” or even should always say “yes,” but at least if I start with this attitude of being open I’m able to better understand, without bias, what I’m passing on.
10. Laugh often and always
(Nathan) Over the years I have been asked by my students, and many others, what is the best part about being married or the key to a successful/strong/good marriage. My answer has always been, and will be, laughter. Kerry is the funniest person I know. She cracks me up multiple times each day and can alleviate my darkest times with her joyful and laughter filled spirit. We laugh with each other, at each other (in good taste), at our dog, Apollo (because he is ridiculous), and at and with life in general. From the stupid songs I am always singing about Apollo to Kerry’s impression of me, laughter fills our days. We have seen ups and down, deaths and divorces, triumphs and failures, and through all of this we have laughed together. During the past 12 years of being together, nine of those married, I cannot remember one day that we didn’t laugh together. (Ok. I can remember one…but if I had followed my own advice above about internalizing, we could have laughed.) Laughter is key in my job as well. In the six years I have been a teacher, I cannot remember a day that has passed in which I haven’t laughed with my students. I am usually the butt of the joke in these moments as I believe that self-deprecation is a must in my field and it teaches kids to not take themselves too seriously. I firmly believe that laughter (not mean, cruel, careless laughter, mind you) is the key to a successful life.