post written by Lilly
Sixteen was not the easiest year for me. My grandfather was an extra parent to me. I lived in his house at times, I ate dinner with him upwards of five times a week, he was perfectly over- attentive to me and my goals and accomplishments. The summer before I turned sixteen, he had suddenly died on my third day of my sophomore year of high school.
High school – that was another problem. I was a second generation legacy at my Mom’s private, all-girls Catholic high school and a square peg to say the least. Especially with the added loss of my grandfather, it was all I could do to keep off the sensation that I was drowning and not just walking down the halls between classes. People that I thought were my friends from middle school were moving on to more elevated social circles, and it felt to me like a key step in this process for them was treating me like I was dead. As a July birthday, I was a full year younger/behind most of my classmates at a time when it seemed that every second on the life experience clock counted – the more mature you were, the better. Add my cluelessness to the lack of control I had over my grief, and I was completely socially inept and useless. The worst part was, no one else had these problems. Everyone else was perfect and I was lost. Until I found John Hughes.
John Hughes movies, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink, were finally spaces where I could find other people like myself (and even some empathy for those pesky popular kids who, given some of these plot lines, may not have their lives all figured out either).
As a self-proclaimed invisible sophomore feeling a little lost with all of the changes happening in my family, Molly Ringwald as Samantha in Sixteen Candles was the storyline of choice.
Just like Samantha, I had a family that I loved, although the more independent I felt and the more that was going on, the more I began to wonder how much I truly identified with them (which seems about right for sixteen). Maybe home was in a fresh start, possibly with someone incredibly handsome and adored by everyone in my social circles so my self-doubt would be infinitely tamed and I would know everyone could clearly see how much I mattered. Maybe, based on the iconic popularity of this movie, you felt this way too. I’m just grasping at straws here.
Life was hard right now, but my Jake Ryan was just around the corner. Love would come for me. And it would know my birthday without having to ask and, when everyone else around me was caught up in their own humanity, this love would know everything I wanted and deliver it eagerly. My birthday cakes would be gorgeous and thoughtful forever, with my favorite icing flavor I never had to share and candles that matched my bridesmaid’s dress.
And then, miraculously, I got him. My Jake Ryan, complete with the hair, chiseled jawline and perfect amount of stubble. He didn’t have the Trans Am but it sure felt close when he drove anywhere and I was in the front seat of his car. Twelve years later, it still does.
There was one pesky problem. The romance. There was no doubt he loved me. I could see it every day with his respect, attentiveness and care. It was just, like…where were the grand gestures? When I felt a little lost or unsure of myself, where was my unanticipated act of reassurance from him? Where was my surprise perfect birthday cake?!
How was this wonderful man “the one” if he wasn’t anticipating and meeting all of my unspoken needs? Did he even know me?
No, he didn’t. Because I hadn’t fully shown him who I was.
Sharing what I need can be so vulnerable, more so the older I’ve gotten. For me, it only took a few times of saying what I needed and not getting it – in friendships, family or even at work – to teach myself that the lesson here was no one cared and there’s no point in saying anything, making the fantasy that one person did even bigger.
The story became “If he loves me, he’ll know what I need,” instead of “He loves me and wants to know what I need.”
Sometime this past year, we met with our marriage counselor, going over a sticky morning from earlier that week. The day before we had a wonderful morning, where Markus walked in from exercising to greet me still in bed, lovingly talk to me and then going to turn on the coffee. It started my entire day perfectly. But just the next day, it was the opposite – he walked to the other end of the house to the coffee pot first followed by popping his head into our room to say hello.
I explained calmly to our therapist how difficult it was to try to be in a relationship with someone who prioritized me one morning and then not the next.
Our therapist: “Mm, yes. And at what point did you tell Markus how important the previous day’s interaction was to you and that you would like to continue doing that?”
My internal dialogue: Why would I have to do that? They don’t do that in the movie. Also, I’m in a fight with myself over deciding it was time to find a therapist that challenged me.
And this was the first time in twelve years of dating the same guy (and many other previous experiences I can see more clearly now), that it dawned on me. This idea of love was from a movie.
Jake Ryan, you guys, is a movie character.
People may not even be able to act like that – to read our minds and just give us what we want without asking. The whole concept and plot could be a work of fiction, which may also explain how he was able to clean his house so quickly after that rager.
We have a new phrase in our house, thanks to our therapist a la Brene Brown, “clear is kind.” If you love someone, help them make you feel loved by being clear with what you need, what you expect, how you feel. I could try to trade my husband in for a mind reader, but I don’t think he would be as good looking, funny or perfect for me in every other way.
Last week, I got hit with a stomach virus. Barely able to stand or talk, I could see Markus standing in my periphery either trying to think of a way to help or waiting for my head to start spinning.
“Hey,” he said, “I”m so sorry. Can I do anything to help?”
My internal dialogue: Think of what I need so I don’t have to and do it for me. Take this excruciating pain away from me. Then find a small but strong family of doves to wrap me in a chenille blanket and carry me the ten feet to our bed where you will stroke my hair with the exact cadence and pressure I’d like without me having to tell you.
Then I got still enough to think and got the strength to mutter, “May I please have a glass of still, room temperature water?”
As much as I didn’t want to have to use this new and still uncomfortable-to-me method in such bleak circumstances, I knew I had to in order to get the help I really needed. With all the physical suffering I was in, we had a razor thin margin for error without me coming completely unhinged.
In that moment, it finally clicked that by not communicating, I’m really only creating scenarios where I feel hurt and lonely from my own actions, not my partners’ lack of.
From the kitchen he yelled to me, “I’M GETTING YOUR WATER. STILL AND ROOM TEMPERATURE. IT WILL BE OK. THANKS FOR BEING CLEAR WITH ME BABE I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.”
I rolled my eyes and gagged with the micro comfort of knowing what I needed was on the way. From a guy who still looks a lot like Jake Ryan, which is an added benefit.
The process of being forthcoming with what I want still doesn’t seem as easy as Samantha literally making eye contact with Jake at the dance, walking off and getting her perfect birthday cake 20 hours later. But the happy endings are abundant on this new model and my husband is pretty dope for a non-movie character human being like myself, so I’m willing to participate.
And here’s the thing about those acts of reassurance. I can create them for myself.
Maybe Jake Ryan is toxic, or maybe there’s a deleted scene where he calls Samantha and asks if he can have anything at his place for them to enjoy and she mentions, why yes, it’s her birthday and she’d like a two-tier buttercream icing cake with 16 evenly lit candles. Maybe Jake got this one right on a fluke, but for the sake of all of the birthdays, anniversaries and all the everyday moments in their future, I hope Jake and Samantha get to figure out clear is kind. Maybe we’ll all get to see for ourselves in the sequel, A Simple Breakfast at Home for Mother’s Day Because We Talked About It and That’s What My Wife Really Wants.