Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ignoring Bad Advice: The Ballad of Veranera Ocho’s Mother

I’ve had the good fortune to meet and become friends (and in some cases, lovers,) with people from all over the globe. It’s taught me to appreciate different cultures and to embrace the differences in people from many parts of this big blue marble… but it’s also taught me that as much as people can vary culturally; at our roots, we’re all just human beings trying to get through life doing the best that we possibly can. That said, I feel compelled to share with you the advice uttered by Veranera Ocho’s mother… a statement which has stayed with me… lingering in the back of my mind… for  the last sixteen or so years.  

Standing over steaming mugs of cocoa at the counter of a store in the mall where we both worked part time, Veranera and I were discussing the men in our lives, and their respective annoying habits. She, being a well-brought up, super-smart, incredibly pretty little firecracker from Venezuela, and ME, being a second generation blue collar all-American girl, found it astonishing how much the “complaints” about her husband and my (then) fiancĂ©e mirrored each other. We laughed about how, no matter where you’re from or how you’re brought up, you still want to remove that damn Y chromosome from some of these hairless apes, in the hopes of them suddenly understanding that which seemed elementary to us, as women. Of course, it was all in good fun; truly… we loved our men.

After one particularly hearty laugh that set us both over the counter in that familiar “ouch, my stomach” position, trying not to spill our cocoa, we both sat down on crates to catch our breath. Veranera thought quietly for a moment and said, in her lovely Venezuelan accent, “I mean… it’s like my mother says… they are basically all the same… she said to me when I was very young: When it comes to marriage, just pick one who is clean.”

I laughed, but that statement was destined to stay with me from that moment on. Why? Because as much as the majority of us would like to believe that a statement like that would set us free… that it would grant us the power to accept people as they are, with habits that annoy us and aspects of personality that were not compatible with our own, something inside of me knew that the statement was one made by a woman who had married the wrong man; a woman who had accepted her marriage as a fact of life, despite being unhappy in it. I knew it was the statement of someone trying to convince herself that there was nothing better out there for her, and, in fear for her daughter’s happiness, had dished out that advice in the hopes of shielding her from waking up one day and “wanting more.”

I thought about the concept of “them,” of men, being “basically all the same.” I had to admit… I didn’t agree. My father cooked and cleaned. He worked his ass off. He paid the bills. He didn’t drink, smoke, or take drugs. He wasn’t violent, but he had a titanium backbone and would stand up when he needed to. He wasn’t a philanderer. He was family oriented and spent every spare minute with his kids. He was funny. He was fun to be around.  He treated his wife with respect and dignity, and was even, in his own way, very romantic. Logic stated, I thought, that if HE existed… the species was not extinct. “Good” men existed out there in the wild… somewhere.

I got married a few years later, and although I was in love and really thought it would last forever, it didn’t.  It happens. People grow, people change, people drift apart… call it whatever you want… the bottom line was that, despite how we felt about each other, and despite having grown up only a few miles apart, and being born only a few months apart, and having a great many things, including our culture, in common, who we were as people just didn’t match. Cultural backgrounds be damned, we simply were two different people. And, ten years later, when the marriage fell apart, people would ask me if I’d ever get married again. Suddenly being single for the second time around brought up all the old theories… was there such a thing as true love? Was there such a thing as soul mates? Were all the good ones “taken?”  Truly… were all men the same?!  

I refused to believe Veranera Ocho’s mother… well intended as she may have been, I knew she was wrong. I knew that all women were not the same. How could all men “be basically all the same” if we were not? They couldn’t be. It was a big damn world out there… and somewhere on this planet there had to be someone like ME. I refused to give up the belief and the hope that when it came to love and relationships… it was, in fact, possible to find “the right one.” I refused to settle. I refused to listen to Veranera’s mother’s haunting voice in my head when loneliness would set in. I refused to hear her sad and defeated advice when I attended functions intended for couples by myself knowing it was better to be there stag than to be there with just anyone… just because they happened to have a Y chromosome.

The world is a funny place. Fate… Karma… Destiny… whatever you want to call it, whatever you want to believe, whether you believe in God or not, whether you think we are the masters of our own paths, you have to admit, truth is often times stranger than fiction. Life always writes the best stories…

Maybe you’ve seen the email that frequently goes around… it says that some people enter our lives for a reason, or for a season… and goes on to say a bunch of lovely things about how and why people come in and out of our lives. It’s true… and just as the seasons always cycle, so, too, does life. I’ve found myself back in the lives of people whose seasons I thought had passed, and as it turns out, Veranera Ocho’s mother was wrong. Men are not all the same… not by a long shot. Just as I always knew, there are good men out there. Some, I have the privilege to be dear close friends with, and, happily, one who has returned to my life like the joyous warmth of the summer sun and has proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don’t need to settle for just any man… and… she’d be happy to know… he’s also “clean.”

Believe in love. Believe that you don’t have to settle. Believe that it’s real… there are soul mates and true love does exist... it can even come bundled with comfort and compatibility. And whatever relationships you had that didn’t work out… well… there’s always something to learn, and something to gain, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, a failed romance can actually lead to a lifelong friendship. In my extremely blessed case, I’ve got several of those. But in addition, a romance that I never really considered a failure has smoldered and remained alive under the surface for nearly two decades and now lives again … born anew. Embers that lived deep down and glowed brilliant orange are once again a raging fire that rivals the sun, and its warmth and glow seem to be a comfort to others when we venture out and share ourselves with the world.

Don’t settle. Each woman is unique, and so is each man. Whoever you are and whatever you’re searching for…. IT’S OUT THERE. For me, a second generation blue-turned-white collar all-American girl… my soul-mate turns out not to be a yankee doodle dandy at all, but hey… the cultural differences between us bring a richness to our relationship and an endless opportunity to grow and learn together as partners. Your “right one” is out there. True love is out there. I promise you that. And when you least expect it, it’s going to place its hand on your shoulder and say “I’m here” and surprise the hell out of you… and pleasantly so. When it does… I’d love to hear all about it!