- by Alyson Shane
It wasn't about you at first which I guess is how these kinds of dreams always start.
I was in a house, hooking up with someone I used to hook up with
a long, long time ago
and at one point he turned to me and said
"there's an art exhibit happening"
so I walked into the living room and there was a huge, three-sided diorama in the middle of the room
almost as tall as my chest
the kind you see in science fairs, except
built into the diorama were little nooks and crannies
and sections that slid out or folded open
little pockets of memories about us
when we were together, years ago.
I sat down in the middle of the diorama
pulled at a sliding section
and all the words you called me when I left you came tumbling out
your hurt littered like petals at my feet.
As I looked down I saw a light in the diorama to my left and crouched down
pulling back curtains to see our bedroom, back on Spence St
our bed, crumpled sheets
the closet door intact, before you punched it
and realized that I was looking at a history of us
laid out like the set in the movie Rear Window.
I could look from window to window
see moments in our life together
the dinners in the kitchen, the games in the living room
camping at Connect, the drives out to B.C.
how we held each other, the cats climbing over us
our slow weekend starts drinking coffee in bed.
I could open windows, pull out sliding sections
and comic illustrations of our life together would pop out
setting up our Christmas tree
buying snacks at the Marchée Jean-Talon in Montreal
riding our bikes around the city in the summertime
drinking beers in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto
catching plays downtown at The Fringe Festival
watching the sun set over the mountains in Golden
the first time I said I loved you
and you said you loved me back.
I could flip through this collection of experiences we shared
see how you saw me
an inspiration, then
someone you hated.
Someone you still hate.
In the dream you walked in when I was standing in the middle of the diorama
rifling through the memories of us you had assembled
organized into windows, envelopes, pockets
and as you walked in I felt my knees get weak, my legs almost fell out from under me
with nerves, guilt, sadness, shame
a longing for the friendship we shared that I know
we'll never share again.
"Hey" I said "what you've made is beautiful"
(a city built around your ongoing heartbreak)
and you looked at me for the first time in eight years and said
and in the dream we talked about how you'd built the diorama around
the ups and downs of five and a half years of
"I'm sorry" I said in the dream, and I meant it
and you looked at me and said
"it's okay, I'm doing better now"
and then I woke up and I wished that I knew that to be true
but I don't know if that's true.
I wish I did.
- by Alyson Shane
The weird and scary thing about relationships is that they're really just based on a few things:
like when you start dating someone you're essentially taking a gamble with yr heart and hoping that one of a million things doesn't happen to mess it up, and if you start messing these up or slacking in these areas then you can basically kiss yr relationship goodbye.
(No pressure or anything.)
When John and I started dating four years ago I sucked at all of the things on that list.
I was in a super duper dark place emotionally and felt very trapped and afraid of my life and future.
I had unaddressed and unresolved trust issues which caused me to keep my thoughts and feelings from my partners and friends.
A lack of trust meant that I was never really honest with anyone.
And even though I could bare my soul here on the internet I wasn't taught the emotional language to express how I felt to my partner in healthy ways. So I didn't.
(I feel bad for my past boyfriends. But maybe that's normal.)
The last part is luck and I don't just mean "omg we're so lucky we found each other"
For some weird reason the universe sent me a human whose personality, values, motivations, and communication style are all compatible with my own. For whatever reason, even though we grew up in different places with very different influences, we somehow became people who work well together and can work together towards our shared goals.
That's what I mean by luck. This shit's rare.
(Believe me, I've been looking for a while.)
Of course our relationship has challenges.
We both work a lot and sometimes our businesses are the main priority.
John can be too severe when he's upset and is so, so stubborn.
I still struggle not to stonewall and be snarky when I feel overwhelmed or attacked.
We miscommunicate and misinterpret each other's intentions.
But those conflicts become fewer and farther-between the longer we've been together, and it's because we don't let each other sweep stuff under the rug, or avoid talking about how we feel.
In fact the few times we have conflicts these days is usually because one of us had some negative feelings building that we didn't address (or recognize) until we were already mid-conflict.
Like I said: we're working on it and I'm okay with that because day-to-day life is pretty swell.
It's nice to be in a relationship with a fellow business owner who understands the crazy roller coaster that is entrepreneurship, closing deals, hiring and firing, and everything in-between.
It's nice to be in a relationship with someone who can make me laugh until my face and sides hurt and my eyes start tearing up.
It's nice to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't take my shit and keeps me accountable (even when I wish he wouldn't.)
It's nice to be in a relationship with my best friend.
At the start of this post I talked about how luck plays a big role in successful relationships, but I kinda think the idea that luck is a thing that happens to you is kinda is B.S.
Life presents you with opportunities, and "lucky people" are just the ones who are ready / brave / stupid / enough to go for it.
Which is what we did.
And here we are, four years strong.
I couldn't be more happy about it.
(Miss you, Bear.)
- by Alyson Shane
When you're in a long-term relationship it can be easy for the magic to fade away. Conversations rife with sparks eventually become lacklustre discussions and you find yourself spending more time less time lookin' fine and more time in that baggy old ugly T-shirt you got from your work several years ago (team building exercise '99!)
Staying connected can be enough of a challenge for most couples, but when you're trying to maintain a healthy, happy relationship while also balancing a crazy professional career, side projects, spending time with friends and family, and all the other good stuff that comes with being a responsible, driven adult, it can seem even more taxing to spend time keeping your relationship kickass.
Since the past few months have been such a whirlwind for both John and I, I figured I'd take a moment on a laid-back (almost) long-weekend Friday afternoon to reflect and share some insight into what's worked for us so far:
Learn Your Love Language
A few weeks ago I was browsing Reddit, and I came across a thread where one of the posters talked about couples' "love languages," and how understanding how both parties in a relationship express their affection is a key component to you both feeling loved.
Here's an example: I like to clean, and one of the ways that I demonstrate my love is by taking care of chores like laundry, dishes and etc which I know John doesn't like doing. I show my love by making his life easier. John, on the other hand, shows his love by telling me every day, singing songs to me and holding my hand, giving me hugs, being silly, etc.
Many people in my situation would just assume that he's lazy, or doesn't care about helping me, but what's actually going on is that I'm basing my expectations for his behaviour on how I behave, not how he behaves. It's important to understand and recognize this distinction.
When we take the time to understand how both parties express their love it makes communicating a million times easier, and nobody feels neglected or put-out by their partner's behaviour.
The test I'm talking about is called The 5 Love Languages and you can take it here.
Practice Active Listening
When the day is over and both your heads are swimming with information from your respective busy days, it can be tempting to want to zone the hell out and not dive into a deep discussion. However, it's important to ask your partner how their day went and actually listen to the words coming out of their mouth.
It can be tempting to nod your head and give the token "yeah, that's good" reply, but (spoiler alert) people can tell when you're placating them, and it's pretty disrespectful to your partner to tune them out while they tell you about what happened that day.
The best way to avoid the classic "mmhmm, that's nice dear" reply is to practice active listening. Active listening is when you listen to someone and then reply by repeating back what you've heard, either by re-stating or paraphrasing what you've heard in your own words.
Not only does this show your partner that you give a shit about what they've said, it also helps clarify the message and meaning, and make sure there's no confusion.
If you're feeling overwhelmed at the end of the day (as I sometimes am) it's totally okay to say "hey, I need some mental downtime, can we chat in a bit?" and then go for a run, or take a bubble bath, or read, or whatever you need to do to de-frag your brain. As long as that communication is there and your partner feels listened to and valued, that's what counts.
Schedule Some Downtime
One of the most difficult things for super-busy couples to manage is getting some freaking downtime. When you're both managing extremely demanding careers, going out to events several times a week, working on side projects, and maintaining a social life, it can be extremely difficult to find time to just hang out.
Admittedly, I really struggle with having "downtime" which doesn't really help. My idea of downtime is usually doing projects around the house, writing, or doing other things that need doing.
Sometimes though, you have to set aside some time and just hang out with each other and enjoy each other's company. This could mean anything: read books together, watch a movie, make dinner, play video games... whatever classifies as "downtime" for you, do that and do it as often as you can.
Hook Up (aka "Netflix & Chill")
I don't want to get into too much racy stuff here, but staying physically connected is such a huge part of any romantic relationship, and unfortunately it's one of the first things that seems to evaporate the second couples start to get overwhelmed in other areas of their lives.
I've experienced this personally, and can attest to the fact that when your physical relationship starts to wane, eventually so too does your attraction to your partner, and eventually any romantic interest you may have had goes away as well. At that point you might as well call it quits because you're basically just friends at that point (or roommates, if you live together.)
So the next free evening you have available schedule some time with your partner put on a movie that you've both seen a million times before (you know the one) and "chill."
When you're busy almost every night of the week it can seem impossible to figure out when to make the time (or the effort, really) to go out for a real, legitimate, you-and-your-significant-other date but it's so, so important.
Courtship is crucial to maintaining all that other good stuff I talked about earlier in this post. Courting isn't just about showing up with flowers (though that helps), it's about putting in the effort, making plans, dressing up and going somewhere spectacular where you have an amazing time together.
We should always strive to be 'dating' our partner, no matter how long we've been with that person.
One of my favourite dates was the day last summer when John and I biked to Assiniboine Park and explored the zoo together. We packed a picnic, a bottle of wine, and the book we were reading together and had a tremendous afternoon.
Do John and I have any dates planned in the near future? I'm glad you asked! Besides going to Gogol Bordello for my birthday (OMG!) we're going to be checking out Mahlerfest, presented by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Even better, the good people at the WSO have given me an additional pair to give away to one of my readers!
Here are the deets (via the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra website)
At the time of his death Mahler had completed two movements of his Tenth Symphony and sketched the remaining movements. A performing version was made by Deryck Cooke: “A masterpiece of reconstruction,” Neville Cardus wrote in The Guardian, “sounding the voice of Mahler and of nobody else.” We are proud to present a WSO premiere, hosted by the eminent writer and Mahler scholar Norman Lebrecht.
This performance also features a Viennese-style masquerade following the performance, which the audience is invited to attend.
Want to win tickets to Mahlerfest? Of course you do!
Here's how you do it: leave a comment and tell me about your favourite date.
It could be anything - maybe you went skiing and sipped hot chocolate together; maybe you went to the library and left Post-Its in all the books you've read; maybe you skipped stones on a pond and made out beneath a huge oak tree. Whatever! I want to hear it!
I'll be choosing a winner by October 26th, which gives you plenty of time to dig through your box of memories as well as make sure your calendar is clear on the 31st.
- by Alyson Shane
Today marks my one-year anniversary with super-talented megababe John Luxford. That's 365 days of silly jokes, smiles, laughter, and shared experiences.
It's been an incredible ride. Fulls of ups, downs, and more amazing stories than I can count.
But this post isn't about my relationship.
Rather, it's about the first day, 365 days ago, that I took control of my life.
Before May 7th, 2014, I was floundering.
I had been fired from my job at Direct Focus and my career was directionless.
I was in a relationship with someone whom I had outgrown, but I was too insecure to realize it or do anything about it.
I had been partying my weekends away for years and the strain on my health and my wallet was taking its toll.
I had crippling anxiety attacks and routinely broke down, but didn't have the strength to admit that there was a problem.
I was maintaining a destructive and strained relationship with my parents simply because I thought that it was the "right" thing to do.
Things started to fall apart. My life began cracking at the seams.
I couldn't do it anymore.
So on this day last year I took the first step in taking control of my life: I left my boyfriend of nearly five years. With it went most of my "friends" and the party lifestyle that I had become so accustomed to.
Those first few weeks were some of the most difficult I've ever faced. I hadn't realized how much I had relied on my toxic lifestyle to mask much more deep-seated issues in my head and heart, and having to face my mistakes and look critically at my life wasn't easy, to say the least.
It was lonely at first, but removing myself from those influences gave me the space to clear my head and start addressing my issues without the haze of alcohol, partying, and the inevitable Monday-morning low that had clouded my mind for so long.
In the following months I focused on personal reflection and using my new 9-5 as an opportunity to learn some new skills. I picked up my first freelance client that summer and the realization hit me like a ton of bricks: I could do whatever I wanted to do.
I revamped my blog and started sharing the things that were relevant to me. Not just what I'd done that weekend (though sometimes I still share the cool things that I do) but my knowledge, my learning, and most importantly, my struggles. Who I really am.
I've acquired a handful of really great freelance clients while kicking ass at my 9-5. I've made enough money on the side that I've managed to make a serious dent in my student debt - something I could have never done in a year without my freelance work. At this rate I might pay it all off this year, who knows.
I work out regularly and because I don't party like I used to, my body actually responds to the hard work I put into it. I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm only getting stronger.
I stopped putting effort into relationships and friendships that detract from my life. The people I have in my life are smart, driven, kind, sincere individuals whom I know I can turn to in a crisis. This includes addressing issues with my family and standing up for myself.
I've started to address and work on my anxieties. I talk openly about my struggles because I want to help people who experience the same doubts and worries that I do. I work every day to be open and honest with myself and the people in my life about how I feel, and why. It's hard, but it's worth it.
In 365 days I have changed into someone so utterly different from who I used to be that I barely recognize myself sometimes.
I didn't manage all of this because I have a great boyfriend and a new relationship (though that helps), I did it because I started to take ownership of my life and to start making decisions that were in my best interests.
My relationship with John started on May 7th, sure, but I really feel like our anniversary means so much more to me than just the start of my relationship with him: it's the day I finally started taking what I want from life and not being so afraid all the time.
Here's to another 365 days of positive change and amazing new opportunities!
"being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage"
- Lao Tzu