In Honor of Our Anniversary

Monday was mine and Josh’s sixth wedding anniversary.  It was the first wedding anniversary we celebrated post-cancer diagnosis, so this one obviously had an especially bittersweet quality to it.  We shed our tears early in the morning and then moved on with our day, he to work and I to a boot camp class at the gym.  If you’ve been a reader of this blog (e.g., Deals With God, Numbers Mean Squat, The Bliss in Making the Journey Alone), then you may have gained the impression that Josh and I have an extraordinary love, the kind of romantic love that great poets and novelists glorify and use to tug at the heartstrings, that somehow our union is idyllic and especially blessed.  A good friend of mine who has known me for 20 years and has listened to all — and I mean all — the ins and outs of my relationship with Josh laughingly pointed out to me the other day that such an impression is not really accurate and that a more fleshed out portrayal of our relationship as she understands it would likely be more honest, relatable and even entertaining. 

I want nothing more than to be always honest and forthright here, so in honor of our anniversary and in the interest of painting a more three dimensional picture of our relationship, I must confess to you that Josh and I drive each other nuts from time to time and we fight.  I’m not saying that we don’t have an extraordinary love and all that good stuff — because I absolutely do believe that most people don’t find the kind of love Josh and I have, that he is my soul mate, my kindred spirit, etc., etc., etc.  But no marriage is perfect.  We’ve fought about one thousand and one things, at least.  When he packs a suitcase, he likes to put the suitcase, the one that gets dragged through airports, on the bed.  I get it — it’s hard for a 6’3″ guy to lower himself to the ground to access a suitcase — but still, suitcases on beds are disgusting!  He likes to place our fragile drinking glasses in the freezer so he has a chilled receptacle for his fancy beers.  I mean, what happened to the stainless steel German stein I purchased for him for this purpose?  Does beer somehow taste better in delicate drinking glasses that might shatter at any second in the freezer?  And guess who would then have to pick those billion shards of glass out of the freezer with her neuropathic hands?  Yeah, right, yours truly.  For my part, I like to dump my bags and purses wherever I find convenient, which somehow coincidentally always manages to fall right in his foot path.  I also like to drop my clothes as I walk and undress and leave bits of used floss lying around for Josh to clean up because he hates disorder, and underwear and dirty floss lying around definitely falls into the category of disorder.  These are the mundane irritants that pepper our daily lives and that come hand in hand with having a lifelong roommate.

Then, there are the bigger and darker disputes that come with having a lifelong lover, the sources of tension that cloud and have the potential to destroy any union if not handled with care, the unflattering, shameful aspects of even the most healthy of relationships that no one wants to unveil for all to see.  Some of them stem from personality traits or  deep-seeded issues brought on by past experiences and relationships that have left our insides broken and bereft (i.e., what many colloquially call the baggage we carry on our backs), while others may arise from fundamental differences in value systems, while others still are a hodgepodge of both.  Josh and I have had lots of fights that would fall into this broad category.  I’m not going to get into mine and Josh’s baggage.  It isn’t my place to share with the world my husband’s baggage without his permission — he’s been incredibly generous in not busting a fuse at the amount of time he gets in my blog — and it isn’t my intent at this time to share with you my baggage (although you can probably guess if you’ve read some of my other posts).  So I will just focus here on the (much more humorous in retrospect) fights we’ve had over our differences in values and opinions.

There was the months-long argument about whether I would take Josh’s surname.  Our difference in opinion no doubt came out of the clash between his traditional, Southern upbringing and my liberal feminist leanings (combined with a healthy belief in the Chinese custom of not adopting a husband’s name).  He saw my refusal to take his name as a sign of my lack of commitment.  I saw it as an encroachment of him and marriage into my individuality.  We eventually compromised on hyphenation.

Once we had Mia and were struggling under the stresses and demands of having this new awesome responsibility, we spent a lot of time quarreling about the division of labor in the home with respect to childcare and household responsibilities, particularly in light of our relative equal earning power and potential.  Again, that longstanding battle was a natural byproduct of his more traditional and my more liberal worldview.  I naively felt like we should be 50/50 partners in all things, but that just isn’t realistic as I came to understand.  If a family’s house is dirty or a child is dressed in rags, who does society judge?   Right, the wife and mother.  Too frequently, mothers are responsible for it all — working, putting dinner on the table, clothing the children and just generally running the household.  I’ll save my tirade on the topic of men and women’s roles for another occasion.  Suffice it to say, we eventually figured out the right balance for us after some heated negotiations but mostly just by going through the motions.

But perhaps nothing has produced more controversy in the realm of differences in value systems than our views about my parents and personal space.  When Mia was born, of course, it would be okay for my parents to come stay with us for six weeks, I declared.  I mean when 4th Uncle and Aunt — my father’s four brothers and their wives are numbered in my family based on birth order with my father being the first — had their children in San Francisco, my grandmother (who lived in Los Angeles) moved in with them for three months to help with the kids.  Josh was horrified at the idea of well-meaning, but nonetheless annoying, in-laws in his personal space for more than a week, never mind six weeks.  He generally believes, as do most Americans, that fish and guests stink after three days.  He wants to come home from work, put his feet up in front of the TV and, if he feels like it, scream like a maniac at his beloved Gamecocks (the Gamecocks are the University of South Carolina’s football team for those fortunate enough not to be familiar with the world of college football — the amount of sports I’ve had pushed into my brain against my will during the past 6+ years is appalling).  He doesn’t feel like he has such freedom when my parents hover about our not-so-big apartment.  Plus, there was also the not insignificant issue of the language barrier that exists between my husband and parents.  While we mother can converse with Josh about rudimentary things like what’s for dinner, my father and Josh are pretty much restricted to conversations that consist of grunts and the words “Yes”, “No”, “Good”, “OK” and lots of effusive hand gestures and facial expressions. Having grown up in a multilingual environment and therefore being comfortable in situations where I don’t understand what’s going on, I forget how overwhelming it can be for someone like Josh to be surrounded by people jabbering away in strange tongues.

From my perspective, my parents are not guests; they’re family and so the three day fish rule does not apply.  Just for the record, in my mind, the inapplicability of the fish rule is as true for Josh’s parents, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. as they do to my relations.  Plus, my parents are so low maintenance and so accepting of whatever Josh does that they would never say or do anything suggestive of judgment or disapproval.  In Chinese culture, when a girl marries, she is said to marry “out of” her family and “into” her husband’s family.  Therefore, a great deal of deference and respect is shown to the husband and the demands of the husband’s side of the family.  I don’t feel the same kind of self-consciousness that Josh feels when people are in my home, so I wouldn’t have a problem screaming at the Gamecocks in front of anyone (if I ever were to come to somehow care enough about them, which isn’t outside the realm of possibility considering I’ve caught myself screaming at and caring about the Nets, the Heat, the Red Sox, Federer and others because, like I said, a lot of sports has been shoved into my head in the last 6+ years) — after all, it is my home and any guests are staying because of my good graces.  I grew up surrounded by relatives seemingly all the time, where deafening noise and chaos of family meant love and comfort and warmth, where self-consciousness had no place.  What Josh doesn’t understand is that in the midst of many, you can find a strange kind of privacy and solitude; you can hide in plain sight.  When we first came to America 34 years ago, we were 11 men, women and children living in a two-bedroom apartment in LA’s Chinatown, sleeping on beds, cots and sheet-covered floors.  I still am comfortable sleeping on floors without a sleeping bag (although carpeting would be nice).  4th Uncle still sleeps on a sheet on the floor in my parents’ house when he visits from San Francisco, even though he could easily afford to stay in a hotel; to him and those in his generation there’s no point in wasting money when there’s family around.  Many not raised the way we were would view such behavior as rude and a gross imposition.  That view is just something that neither I nor my extended family have.  Family exists to be imposed upon for the bonds of common blood and ancestry come with a mutual obligation to support and love, which includes letting people invade your home, especially when they’re there to help you.  Based on all of this, but for Josh’s presence, I would have been totally fine with my parents staying with me when Mia was born and for all the visits afterwards.

In the end, we compromised as we always do; my parents visited for six weeks but stayed with my sister in Astoria; they made the hour subway commute each way Monday through Friday to help me with the baby during the day and cook Josh and my dinner and then they went back to Astoria in the evenings.  This is how we’ve navigated my parents’ lengthy semi-annual visits since Mia’s birth, including this last visit post-cancer diagnosis where my parents came to help out as I undergo treatment.  As for my parents and what they think of all this, they understand that cultural differences exist and so they go with the flow, allowing me to call the shots.

Cancer hasn’t made me and Josh see eye-to-eye on the issue of my parents, personal space or anything else.  It hasn’t rid me or Josh of our annoying habits nor has it miraculously obliterated our respective baggage.  If anything, I feel like cancer tends to intensify every experience, emotion and personality trait.  If you’re by nature a pessimist, it will bring out the pessimist in you.  If you’re by nature a fighter, it will bring out the warrior in you.  Anniversaries have a special poignancy as never before.  And yes, it’s made Josh and me fight a little more frequently and a little more fiercely. The stress and anxiety of living perpetually under the dark cloud that is cancer, combined with the unrelenting physical and mental fatigue and other side effects from treatment, creates ripe conditions for all kinds of eruptions.  Thankfully, cancer also accentuates the good things in our relationship and personality.  It’s made me and Josh quicker to forgive and more willing to compromise.  It’s made us hug each other more often and tightly.  It’s made us love each other a little more. Nothing can be a greater testament of Josh’s love for me than him telling me two weeks into my parents most recent month-long stay, as he saw how helpful they were to me, “You know, babe, if you want, I’m totally fine with your parents staying in New York longer.  They can stay until the end of your treatment as far as I’m concerned.  And if you need for them to stay over on some nights during chemo week, that’s okay too.”  Wow!  Wow!  And as a testament of how much I love my husband (at least in part and for various other reasons), I eventually declined his generous offer after several days of consideration and had my parents go home as scheduled.

Cancer has reunited me with long ago friends.  It’s ended the 4-year-old feud between my father and my mother’s brother.  And now, Josh…  What other wondrous things can cancer do?  I’ll keep you posted.


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maxine Jaramillo
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 09:55:08

    Dear Julie:

    I think about you every day and look forward to reading your blogs. I will be up North Christmas day and a few days after with Felicia and Louis. I will be in touch to try to see you. I love you and you are always in my prayers.


  2. Debbie Whitmore
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 11:44:04

    Thank you for you wonderful blogs:) I am going to have my husband read this tonight when he gets home from work. I agree on all of the points you made on how cancer effects marriage. Sounds like we both have great husbands 🙂


    • julielyyip
      Oct 30, 2013 @ 18:25:04

      Thanks, Debbie. Let me know what Mark thinks. We do both have great husbands. The one thing I didn’t say is I think cancer has the potential to make a strong marriage stronger. However, I suspect that it will almost certainly destroy an already troubled marriage. We’re both very lucky.


  3. TxTwin
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 13:55:42

    I love your blog and wish I could write like you. My sister has a spouse who loves televised sports—their compromise is that he has to massage her feet or her head (MY spouse says my sister and I are part puppy-dog because we love having our heads scratched as much as having our hair washed). Fighting can be wonderful as long as the parties can remember it’s okay to be angry at the disease, it’s okay to be angry at your spouse for spousal things, but, as you said in an earlier blog, it’s best to vent about cancer elsewhere, outside the marriage.


    • julielyyip
      Oct 30, 2013 @ 18:21:45

      Thanks TxTwin. My husband loves to have his head scratched too and I’ve often accused him of having been a dog in a prior life. Couldn’t agree with you more.


  4. Mae-Ann Salisbury
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 15:32:24

    Happy Anniversary, Julie!


  5. Mirna
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 16:41:37

    Happy anniversary. When i was reading this story i had to think how kelvin and i fight about the same things, especially the family and personal space aspects. :)) i am like you and think its totally normal. Thanks for being so honest in your blogs. Wishing you two a lifetime of happieness and many more anniversaries. Take care


    • julielyyip
      Oct 30, 2013 @ 18:27:53

      Hi Mirna. We should have a face off between the Joshes and Kelvins of the world against us. It would be entertaining. Then, they can sit together in front of their giant TV, drinking their beers and screaming stupidly at their sports teams, and we can dump them with the kids and go out on the town.


  6. Alison
    Nov 01, 2013 @ 14:50:25

    I read this a couple days ago and I still laugh thinking about josh using the fancy glasses in the freezer….


  7. iwonderandiwanderKris
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 14:08:47

    Having worked with kids and families dealing with cancer for several years now, I think you are totally right that it can exacerbate both positive and negative coping skills, personality traits, and family structures/patterns. You and Josh clearly know how to communicate, and I think that is one of the most important things in getting through treatment with relationships intact. It stinks that you two have to go through this, but hopefully when it is over you will feel you are closer and stronger and know each other and yourselves better than before.


  8. Tyler
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 21:52:45

    Thankfully I am not the only wife who has had to train her husband not to put the suitcase on the bed! Thanks for sharing and happy anniversary.


  9. Shan
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 10:28:26

    Another generously honest, well-written post. You share a lot of your personal life, and it really does help form a rich picture of the ups and downs you go through. As you mention in other posts, your blog is extremely relatable to all sorts of people.


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