Happily never after

Everybody knows beyond doubt their love is real because she is so beautiful and he is so handsome. If there were any doubts, their first kiss erases them. Since their love is so great, they must get married, and we know they will live happily ever after. It’s a lovely script for a movie. It is not a guide to real life.

The words LOVE and MARRIAGE have as many meanings as there are lips to speak them. If we can agree on a working definition for each word, I’d like to rid myself and maybe at least a few readers of some mistaken ideas that keep us from loving and being loved well.


LOVE is commitment to the well-being of another person.

MARRIAGE is a contract by which people agree to be married.


  1. The right person, your true love, will make you happy. No. You are the only person in the world who can make YOU happy. If you are an unhappy single person, you will be an unhappy married person. Your spouse, your mother, your friend, your counselor, your minister may point the way to Happiness and her more homely but more desirable sister, Contentment, but you have to find them for yourself.
  2. I can’t live without you,” means that the one who says it really loves you. No. It’s a romantic thing we say to each other, but if your prospective partner shows signs of really believing it, he or she is not reality-based, and you should run as fast as possible in another direction. Love means being a whole person who doesn’t need another person but can choose freely to love that person. Love may mean carrying on alone what you and a loved one have built together. The traditional marriage vow reminds us of this in the words, “until death do us part.”
  3. Marriage is a bill of sale that means, “I am yours and you are mine,” and there can be no secrets between us. No. A desire to share deeply is often brought on by common marital practices like living together, having sex, having children, and staying together for the long haul. Sharing secrets can be a lovely thing, but spouses have a right to keep facts and feelings to themselves, so long as those secrets don’t have a direct effect on the relationship or on the partner. The partner who prods and pries for all facts and feelings will drive them deeper and discourage real sharing. Nobody is “yours” except you, and even that’s debatable.
  4. If you are married, you must live in the same house. No. You will probably want to. It may be convenient. It may be fun. It may be economical. On the other hand, you may work in different cities or have radically different styles, or one of you may be loving and charming and a pain in the butt to share a house with. Living together in marriage is the conventional plan, and most people choose it, but it is by no means a requirement for being or staying married. Separate residences have been known to save relationships. Unfortunately, people sometimes ditch an otherwise wonderful partner simply because they couldn’t live happily in the same house.
  5. If you are married, you must share a bedroom and sleep in the same bed. Nope. Cuddling, waking up together, and enjoying the comfort and convenience of sex in lovely privacy and darkness may be conducive to long and lasting relationships, but I favor having the option of my own space and my own bed, out of acoustic range of a snoring spouse, away from another’s clutter and sleep schedules that are out of sync with mine. Carving out a separate space can be refreshing for a marriage that is getting on someone’s nerves.
  6. If you are married, you must have sex. Not necessarily. I belong to a generation that thought of marriage as society’s permission to have sex, and it was kind of a fun idea, even if you were one of those who got a thrill from the danger of defying your parents and society. So my first reaction to the idea of marriage without sex is, “HUH??” However, being ALLOWED to have sex doesn’t mean you are REQUIRED to have sex. There are a few people who mutually don’t care much for it. Some people are sick or impaired. Some are too old or too tired to bother with it. As long as they agree, they can have a fine relationship without it.
  7. Being married is superior to being single, and staying married is always the best choice. No. Married, single, divorced or widowed people have lived good, wholesome, productive, creative lives. Or not. Being married or single is not a factor. How they lived is what made the difference.
  8. Divorce is always a terrible tragic choice, and it will fill your life with bitterness and strife for as long as you live. Not really. If you believe this, you will probably make it come true, but some people get post-separation life skills. They may uncover a friendship with their former partners that wasn’t possible under the pressure of living up to marriage stereotypes. Most people, whether they admit it or not, once found something attractive in their partner in addition to those youthful pheromones that convinced them they had “fallen in love.” It might have been shared faith, charm, a sense of humor, a shared passion for animals, food, art, movies, bowling, or just about anything, and, of course, if they have children, they share their love for those children. When they are relieved of the expectations for marriage, former partners sometimes see each other in a new light. Of course, there are toxic relationships that can’t be even partially salvaged. Ending a toxic relationship is not tragic, though. It is therapeutic.
  9. If you are happily married, you will want to have children. No. If you want to have children, you want to have children. If you partner with someone who also wants children, things can work out splendidly for all of you. Conventional marriage and children are designed to work together, but you CAN have either without the other. What is not advisable is bringing children into an unhappy marriage.

If you are married, living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, having sex, and have kids, you don’t need to change anything, but if you are not living in the same house, or not happy about living in the same house, if sex is not that big a deal, and you don’t really want children, don’t be too quick to give up on the relationship, and don’t count yourselves as failures just because your life together doesn’t look like someone else’s.

If movie brides and grooms were real, there would be a fifty-fifty chance their fairy-tale love stories would end in divorce. Of those who didn’t divorce, an incalculable number would make each other mutually miserable until death did them part, and some of them would eventually abuse each other and maybe speed up that parting.

So, what is a good marriage? It comes back to the definition of love. It is caring about the well-being of another person as much as you care about yourself and signing a contract that promises you always will.

Old style church wedding

Before Minimalism had a name, there were Minimalist lifestyles forged by limited circumstances and practical wisdom. Sayings like, “Waste not, want not,” and “A place for everything and everything in its place,” helped children learn to live productively and peacefully in an increasingly materialistic world.

Judged by twenty-first century standards, most pre-1960 weddings were minimalist. They were tradition-bound and financed by the father of the bride. Performance proposals, themed weddings, specialized venues, favors for guests, save-the-dates, and Bridezillas belonged to a future that only the prescient could foresee. So did Destination Weddings unless you count going to Tijuana for a quickie Divorce-Wedding Combo.


Churchgoers who were getting married could rely on their church’s sanctuary, paying little more than a clean-up fee for the janitor and a thank-you gift for the officiating minister. If there were no singers and instrumentalists among friends or relatives, the church’s music staff were available for a modest fee. The unchurched might opt for a home wedding unless they conveniently got religion as they made their wedding plans.

The bride’s mother, grandmother or crafty aunt might make the wedding dress. Attendants made their own dresses or had them made from fabric and patterns provided by the bride.

The local baker could produce a lovely traditional wedding cake. Variations had more to do with size than with originality or artistry. The town florist would happily offer a range of options to match the church‘s facilities and dad’s checkbook.

The church Fellowship Hall with adjacent kitchen could be reserved for a cake-and-punch reception after the ceremony. Banquets and buffets were only for brides whose fathers could afford membership in the country club.

If the groom’s father had the means, he would host a rehearsal dinner at a nice restaurant for attendants and the families on the eve of the wedding.

Considering the expense, the preparation, and the great to-do made of them in the society pages of the local paper, actual weddings were shockingly brief and boring, brightened only by seeing the bride all beautiful in her lovely dress and veil and indulging in the sugar high of obscenely white, obscenely sweet wedding cake. It was rumored that Catholics drank alcoholic beverages and held dances after weddings, but Southern Baptists frowned on such practices. It was also rumored that ethnic peoples, particularly those with Latin or Mediterranean roots had a morally questionable lot of fun at their wedding receptions.

Then the sixties happened. Couples ditched tradition, and those who bothered to seal their vows at all experimented with original venues: helicopters, submarines, untamed beaches, dionysian meadows. Bridal wear might consist of a flowing granny dress and bare feet, a garland of flowers braided into unwashed hair, or bride and groom might show up barefoot all the way to the neck. Hare Krishna chants replaced organ music and high-collared ministers gave way to Buddhist monks or Pagan priests and priestesses. Tokes replaced champagne toasts. Weddings suddenly were fun for all, but there was little profit for anyone but the Cartels. Meanwhile, churches were beginning to look more like rock concert venues than places for worship and sacrament, so…


Generic Wedding Chapels sprang up, along with Faux Palaces, Faux Barns, Faux Dionysian Meadows, Faux Country Churches and Faux Victorian Mansions. Flimsy portable kiosks and a few plastic chairs could turn Real Beaches into Overpriced Venues. Groomed and perfumed agents rolled out red carpets and pricey package deals. If you could imagine it, for the right price they could make it happen.

Brides’ mothers and crafty aunties were no longer at home ready to stitch up a wedding dress at the first glimmer of an engagement diamond, so wedding fashions ordered from China by corporate specialty fashion boutiques replaced Butterick patterns and yards and yards of peau de soie, Belgian lace, discreetly blingy sequins and faux pearls bought at the local fabric shop and assembled on Singer sewing machines. Mothers and daughters with buy-now-pay-later mindsets indulged in Modern Bride fantasies bringing forth Hollywoodesque productions and debts larger than the family mortgage.

It is probably not a good idea to convert to Minimalism just as you are planning one of your life’s most significant celebrations, but it might be helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep those excessively groomed-and-perfumed agents (and your mother and your best friend and your best friend’s mother and your grandmother and your sister and a whole slew of ad writers for glossy magazines) from taking over your life and making your head explode. You’re likely to spend more than your grandmother did for her accidentally minimalist wedding, but with some common sense and planning, you won’t have to drive your family into bankruptcy to have a wedding and reception party that will be a lot less boring than Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. Unless, of course, Grandma and Grandpa were Ethnic. Or Catholic. Or both.


1. It’s a celebration for two people with the people they love, not a Hollywood production for millions of spectators. Unless, of course, that’s what you want. Just don’t get confused.

2. It’s your wedding. It’s extremely important for you two who are getting married and your families. For your invited guests, it is just one more social event in a busy season. Those perfumed agents who are so sure of what you must have won’t even be there.

3. More is not necessarily better, and neither is More Expensive.

3. Simplicity (the aesthetic quality, not the pattern) is the foundation of elegance. Trendy and Extravagant will give you some hilarious Awkward Wedding Photos twenty years from now.

4. If it turns a beautiful bride into Bridezilla, it probably should be eliminated.

5. If anyone pitches an idea, even if it’s your grandma or your future mother-in-law, just smile sweetly and say as sincerely as you possibly can, “That’s a good idea.” Don’t offer any explanations, apologies, or promises to include it.

6. Watch some You Tube Pinterest Fails before you commit to DIY decorations.

7. Hire a competent photographer and a DJ who is in sync with your party style.

8. Worst-Case Scenarios like a tornado, chocolate Groom’s Cake smeared on the wedding dress, or a key player with a broken leg will give you something to laugh about once you get over it, so the sooner you get over it the better. Don’t waste valuable pre-wedding energy worrying about Worst Cases. They are rare and unlikely, even though all my example WCS’s actually happened to people I knew.

9. Originality is overrated. If you have doubts, let traditions with proven success records be your guide.

10. Make your wedding as meaningful, joyful, fun, and stress-free as possible, whatever that means to you and whatever it takes.

Here is an excellent article on reasons to not have an extravagant wedding:



Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

Then Almitra spoke again and said, ‘And what of Marriage, master?’ 

And he answered saying: 

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. 

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days. 

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. 

But let there be spaces in your togetherness, 

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 

Love one another but make not a bond of love: 

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. 

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. 

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, 

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. 

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. 

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. 

And stand together, yet not too near together: 

For the pillars of the temple stand apart, 

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow

Chiles rellenos

Chiles rellenos are versatile and delicious. I prefer them with cheese, but you can stuff them with ground beef or just about anything that suits you!

  1. MAKE THE SAUCE AND SET IT ASIDE: In the blender, mix thoroughly 1 kg TOMATOES, 1/2 SMALL ONION, 2 GARLIC CLOVES, 3 c CHICKEN BROTH and 1 t SALT. Cook over medium heat until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
  2. PREPARE: Wash 6 POBLANO CHILES and dry them well, then roast them on both sides for a minute or two. You can place them directly on the flame or use a griddle or non-stick dry skillet. Wrap them in a damp dishtowel or put them in a plastic bag for about half an hour until the skin loosens. When they are cool, peel them, remove the stem and set it aside, and using a small, sharp knife remove the veins and the seeds from the inside.
  3. STUFF: Grate 1 LB OAXACA CHEESE and divide into 6 portions (mozzarella will work if you don’t have Oaxaca cheese). Stuff the cheese into the chiles .You can use more cheese if you want to.
  4. BREAD AND FRY: Beat the whites of 5 EGGS until they are almost stiff, then fold in the slightly beaten yolks. Secure the stuffed chiles well with toothpicks, then dip them first in the egg mixture, then in a small amount of FLOUR and fry them in 1 c OIL, remove and drain on paper towels.
  5. SERVE the chiles with the tomato sauce

Three tales of deportation from the Cancun airport


Vacationing together in Cancún seemed like a splendid idea, so Dad bought the tickets and made hotel reservations for himself, his wife, their daughter and her brand-new husband. After weeks of anticipation, the day arrived and they headed happily to the Mayan Riviera. Their joyful family vacation was cut short, however, when they reached the Immigration station. The daughter’s brand-new husband would not be allowed to leave the airport and would be escorted to the next available flight back to where he came from.

A few years earlier Dad had been in a much less splendid mood when he found out that Daughter, who was still in her teens at the time, and her teenage boyfriend were “together.” A dad from earlier times might have fetched a shotgun, but this twenty-first century father went to the courthouse and charged the boyfriend with statutory rape. The girl was underage, so no matter how loudly she protested that she had eagerly consented to their togetherness, the charges held, the boyfriend was punished, and his name was written down on the Interpol List of Sex Offenders, barred until further notice from international travel. In the intervening years, the boy and girl had grown up and got married, and everybody was happy. Until they arrived at the Immigration station in Cancún. Dad had repented long ago for being such a hothead, and he told his karmic tale with doleful humor to people sitting around as they waited sadly to board their return flight.


Another bride, older but not wiser, was infuriated when her honeymoon plans hit the Immigration wall because her obviously experienced groom had earned a place on The List by togethering with a less-than-willing woman. He had failed to tell his bride about that faux-pas. “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do,” she shouted as they walked the jetway to board their return flight much sooner and less tan than anticipated.


Everyone in the family knew about Grandpa. He had been wild and reckless in his youth, had raped a girl, had done time, and had spent the thirty years since his release building a productive, respectable life and family. His life had been productive enough to bring the whole extended family on a Caribbean vacation. Grandpa had no idea that although he had paid his debt to society for that long-ago crime, his name had not been erased from Interpol’s List. The extended family sadly waved goodbye. Grandpa insisted they should go ahead and enjoy their vacation without him.


There are some injustices and oversights to be dealt with on the home front. No one welcomes predators, but the definition of predator may need refinement, and communication between passport agencies, airports, and airlines should be improved. Sex crimes are not the only crimes that can land you on a list of the Unwelcome, but, as in the case of the hothead father-in-law-to-be, they are more ambiguous than, say, homicide, larceny and money-laundering, and they sometimes keep you on the list much longer than other offenses. Unexpected deportations are inconvenient for families and for airline employees who deal with them and can incur unwarranted expenses for families and for the airlines.

Meanwhile, if you or someone you travel with has ever been accused of a crime, it’s a good idea to check your status before forking out a load of cash or credit for a fun trip to the Mayan Riviera or anywhere else.

This website has some helpful information.


The truth about accent marks


My Spanish teachers liked to show off their advanced knowledge of linguistics with long impressive words like esdrújula, sobreesdrújula, and penultimate. So, I gave up on comprehending those little marks and just did my best to learn words visually, accent mark and all. When in doubt I sprinkled marks randomly like salt and pepper to give my writing that Spanish-ey flavor.

There are many fascinating things that linguists know about language in general and accent marks in particular, but I will not go into that here because if your goal is to speak and understand Spanish in the real world, you can take courage from knowing that most Spanish-speaking four-year-olds and a few two-and-three-year-olds have already mastered more than you will ever need to know in order to reach your goal, and those pre-schoolers have not yet even heard the word esdrújula. If you forego the big impressive words, the facts are really very simple:

An accent mark on a syllable indicates that the marked syllable is to be stressed in the word. So canción will be pronounced something like this: kahnSYON. Well, then, what about all those words that don’t have an accent mark? We can divide those words into two major groups:

  1. Words that end in a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or the consonants n or s. These words will be stressed on the next-to-last syllable. (Ricardo)
  2. Words that end in any letter other than the ones in the first group. These words will be stressed on the last syllable. (arroz)

Accent marks have a few other uses, such as distinguishing between one-syllable words that are spelled alike but have different meanings, like (yes) and si (if).

They also indicate whether two vowels together make a diphthong (no mark) or should be pronounced individually (María).

Now you know.

Paintings by Joanna C. Cooke, Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico







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