Married at Nineteen

This week I interviewed one of my best friends, Miranda (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/just-call-me-cabbages/) about the reactions she received when she told friends and family she was getting married at 19. Check it out! 

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom and Abigail7

Just wanted to wish all the mother’s out there a wonderful day–today and every day! A special wish of happiness for my mom–who has shaped my life in ways she doesn’t even know; my grandma–who is my best friend and the most supportive woman I know; and my Auntie Barbara–for always keeping me entertained! I love you guys!

Eating Disorders Not Welcome

reed!

The last woman who taught me about love is also the one I’ve known for the least amount of time. But this doesn’t mean that the lessons she’s taught me aren’t as significant as the others I have learned from those I’ve known longer.

Last year, I went to visit one of my closest friends, Joe, at a school production that he was lighting. I found him in the hallway standing with a thin girl with red hair to her chin, her forearms wrapped with tattoos, a ring in her nose. I ran up and gave the big teddy bear (Joe) a hug.

“Abbey, this is my girlfriend, Reed. Reed, this is my friend Abbey.”

Oops.

*

Now don’t get me wrong, I never had feelings for Joe as anything more than a friend, but I wouldn’t exactly want some girl I’d never met in my life running up and hugging my boyfriend while I was standing there either, so I understood why Reed looked like she wanted to shoot lasers out of her eyes to kill me with. And don’t get me wrong about her either, she seemed like she could be a really nice person. I just didn’t think I would end up being one of the people she would be nice to.

Months passed and I rarely saw Joe, and even less of Reed. But at another summer musical that Joe was lighting, I ran into Reed and this time it seemed as though the walls she had surrounded herself with when I first met her had melted and she welcomed me with warm arms.

Sitting in the sound booth during a rehearsal, we talked about the majors we planned on pursuing in college and how we both had similar ideas of studying music or music therapy. At the time, this was an amazing thing for me to find someone else who shared my passion. Music therapy often felt like such a small field that it was miraculous to find someone else who knew about it as well. She spoke with such passion, self-assurance, and confidence that I wish I had a fraction of. I was finally learning how to accept myself exactly the way I am, flaws and all, and to see Reed, who came across so comfortable in her own skin, gave me inspiration to continue working towards loving myself and working towards the woman I want to become.

When I went away to college in the fall, I was talking to Joe one day and he suggested I send Reed a text message and talk to her. And just as she had been friendly to me at the musical over the summer, she radiated joy through every text message. She was so happy and was supportive of all the new and tentative decisions I was making while starting my first year of college. I felt vulnerable and unsure of myself but she encouraged me to do the things I wanted and knew would make me happy.

But even considering our growing friendship, I really didn’t know much about her at all. I knew nothing of her past. All I knew was that we both loved music and that we were both really nice to each other. That’s definitely a good basis to found a friendship on but in order for our relationship to grow it was important to actually learn about the other person on a deeper level. And when I posted my piece, “My Family Confession” (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/my-family-confession/) I got a text message that read, “Abbey, I really think we should hang out over spring break. I think we have a lot more in common than we realize.”

And so was the first step toward a deep, meaningful relationship.

During spring break, I took a trip to visit Reed, like we had decided. She was staying at Joe’s house and I met her there. We took a walk around the neighborhood and simply talked. She told me about her past love interests, her relationship with her parents, and the struggles that she faces every day. Because although Reed seems like the happiest person you could ever meet, with confidence radiating out of her pores, she battles against a distorted self-image that she sees of herself when she looks in the mirror. I learned that when her parents were getting divorced when she was younger, things felt like they were getting out of control. And so in order to feel some sense of control, she began to manage what she put into her body. And that meant very little.

As Reed has grown through the years she has become aware of her eating disorder and is now in a strong recovery from the disordered eating she once had, although it is still something she works on every day. Learning that her past was not as easy as she makes it seem with her bubbly personality gave me hope. Hope that even those of us who come from difficult upbringings, “untraditional” families that make us feel like there’s something wrong with us, who go through traumatic experiences, can overcome them and get to the other side as a better person than we were before.

I guess the reason I feel so connected to Reed and the story she shared with me is because I see so much of myself in her. Never having shared my darkest secret to anyone, I finally had the courage to share it with Reed as she so bravely opened up to me. I told her that I too, struggled with disordered eating when I felt I had no control in my life as well. I had bizarre eating habits and almost compulsive behaviors around meals. I counted calories for fear of gaining weight. I obsessively devoted myself to the gym. But no matter how trapped I felt in my own mind in regards to self-image, I was always able to hide bad behaviors as being “healthy”. Going to the gym every morning for hours was considered part of a “healthy” lifestyle. My diet appeared “healthy” to my family. All anyone noticed was that I was losing weight. And I was praised for it. “Abbey, did you lose weight? You look great!” I’d brush off peoples comments with a smile, just to hide how trapped I really felt in my own mind.

But after coming to a feminist consciousness, I realized that I am worth more than what my body looks like, contrary to what the popular media tells us. Loving my body became a political statement, and slowly I freed myself from the thoughts I could not silence that ran through my head on repeat every minute of every day. I gained weight. And I am happy. I am free.

Like Reed, I recognize these past behaviors every day and consciously make the decision not to repeat them. By sharing my experience with Reed, I finally felt relief. She didn’t trivialize my experience and she finally made me feel like I had someone who would understand if I just needed to talk about having a tough day of “recovery”. Eating disorders are associated with immense amounts of shame, and even thought it’s scary to finally share my story, I no longer feel like I need to hide this part of my life and hope that by having someone read my experience, they’ll realize they are not alone, just like Reed showed me.

Reed has confirmed for me that despite the challenges we may face in our lives, we must continue to work through them to create a better and healthier life for ourselves. We must learn to love ourselves first and foremost. And this…this love for oneself is the most important thing I’ve learned about love. Once we love who we are as complete and whole individuals independently, then can we truly experience love with another and all the beautiful experiences that go along with it to their absolute fullest. Until then, we are just gipping ourselves.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, do not hesitate to reach out for help. The National Eating Disorders Association has a helpline available Monday-Friday from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM 1-800-931-2237

Meet Cha Cha

abbey and kaitlyn

Most people meet their best friends at school, at work, or through a mutual friend. But I met one of my best friends at a very unlikely place: my bereavement Group.

It was the fall after graduating high school and I had decided to take some time off of school to finally address my grief surrounding my father’s death. I had gone to bereavement Group the previous year but didn’t return after a particularly hard session. It was easier to simply avoid the problem at the time. But now that I had finally graduated high school and realized I finally needed to address my dad’s death, I finally committed to attending bereavement Group.

And so, at my first meeting I sat on a couch across from two other women who were in their twenties, two middle-aged social workers who led the Group, and on the other end of the couch was a girl my age. She was about my height with tan skin, her long dark hair pulled up into a messy bun on the top of her head. She wore leggings and a t-shirt with countless bracelets stacked up her arm. She was fairly quiet the whole session and I really didn’t think we’d have anything in common. I felt like we had come from two very different worlds.

I had grown up in a “non-traditional” family, being raised by my mother and grandparents until I was ten and then by my single father until he died when I was seventeen when I then moved in with my maternal grandparents in another town. I learned during the session that she, on the other hand, had grown up in a “traditional” household with two married parents and two younger siblings until her mother, like my father, got cancer and passed away. Now, she admitted to feeling like she had taken the maternal role in her family and could no longer be a regular teenager. I had rarely felt like a teenager even before my dad was sick since I had grown up quickly due to my mother’s mental illness and didn’t think that we would ever be able to connect.

But as I continued going to Group throughout the year, I slowly came to learn about this girl. Her name was Kaitlyn and despite being shy about her feelings, it was obvious that she was a fun-loving and spirited girl who just needed to learn to trust in order to open her heart to someone. Considering the loss of her mother, this came as no surprise.

One night, as I left Group and rushed to my car in the cold winter’s air, Kaitlyn caught up to me. I had mentioned in Group that I just started going to community college for the spring semester. She attended the same community college and asked how I was liking it. Suddenly, I was telling her about things completely unrelated to my loss. In an instant, we became people who had lives outside of bereavement Group and it felt liberating. We exchanged numbers and planned to hang out after our next Group meeting.

After the next meeting, we drove to an ice cream place in town. Despite the freezing weather, I got an ice cream sundae with extra hot fudge (because after talking about your dead dad for an hour and a half, you really deserve one) and she got a chocolate shake. We walked up the street to a pizza place and she got a slice of pizza. Sitting across from each other, we talked about silly things: a boy that asked me out on a date, her plans for spring break, what our other friends were like. It was such a relief to spend time with someone my own age who had gone through the same kind of loss as I had and not talk about it. Finally, our losses didn’t feel like our entire identities. We left that night agreeing that we would continue the tradition of going out to dinner after each Group meeting.

And so every Tuesday after Group, we drove to the local diner and had dinner, talking about things in our lives that most of the time had nothing to do with our loss.  When we weren’t together, we checked in on each other regularly, knowing the challenges that the other person might be facing that day from their feelings of loss. We constantly made sure the other person knew that we were there for anything the other needed. We did silly things like sending the other person a picture of their celebrity crush or leaving them a note on their car at school to make them feel loved even when they didn’t always feel that way in other areas of their life. Every time we met up we almost always had something special to give the other person: a new CD, a DVD, or a friendship bracelet. Kaitlyn made me feel like a priority in someone else’s life. I can only hope that she felt (and feels) the same.

When the summer came and our Group ended, it would have been easy for our friendship to dissolve since we no longer had the excuse of going to Group to bring us together. But after becoming so close, that was impossible. Despite our busy schedules, we regularly made time to get together and have dinner and see a movie. After so many dinners and desserts I came to be known as the Cheesecake Queen and after I couldn’t eat any more Kaitlyn introduced me to frozen yogurt, for which I will forever be indebted to her.

At the end of the summer, we both went away to different colleges. Again, it would have been easy for us to let our friendship slip away, especially considering the distance we were from each other. But that was simply not going to be the case. We contacted each other almost every day, supporting the other in the challenges she faced and sent cards for every occasion and some just because. We counted down the days till we were reunited and when we saw each other over winter break, it was like no time had passed at all.

We still talk almost every day and we still make sure to send the other person little messages of how much we love them. Kaitlyn has taught me how simple it can be to show someone you care. You don’t need to send telegrams with roses and jewelry. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, “How are you?”. Instead of constantly telling the other person how I feel, I’ve learned how to show it.

Our friendship has proven that out of tragedy, love can grow.

Just Call Me Cabbages

In middle school Orchestra, the viola section was reserved for badasses. It was a group of four girls who wore ripped jeans, wore dark makeup, had boyfriends, and listened to alternative music that you would never hear on the radio. They were their own clique and although I was part of the orchestra, I never talked much to them. I was too intimidated.

By the time I entered high school, the viola section had split apart as a few of the girls stopped playing their instrument. And when only one of them continued on to join orchestra in high school, I was surprised to learn just how nice she really was.

I learned that her name was Miranda. She had a wicked sense of humor. She was incredibly intelligent. She loved Phineas and Ferb, comedians, her friends, and her boyfriend.

One day in the tenth grade after we had slowly started to become friends, she invited me to spend the day with her at the mall while her mom worked at a kiosk selling children’s music. Of course I agreed to go because, who wouldn’t want to spend twelve hours at the mall? (I learned the answer to that question quickly. ME.) I remember being a little nervous since we had never hung out outside of class before but I figured that all the excitement at the mall would keep us busy regardless of whether or not we had anything to say to each other. It turned out though, that I had nothing to worry about.

We went from store to store looking at the most outrageous clothes we could find and scouring each store for the perfect dress for her sweet sixteen. We ate greasy food in the food court and returned back to her house where her mom made the most delicious Italian dinner that we stuffed our faces with and then fell asleep in her tiny twin size bed.

Before I knew it, we began having dance parties, gave each other nicknames (forget Abbey, just call me Cabbages from now on), and bonded over music that we both hated (at the time Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” was usually the punch line of most of our jokes). I watched on in admiration of her growing relationship with the boy she had dated from middle school—Bryan–and dreamed of some day finding someone like that for myself.

Because although Miranda and Bryan are young, their love is unequivocal. It’s a rare treasure to find what they have. A needle in a hay stack. A diamond in the rough. (Insert your own cliché about unique discoveries here.)

What’s so special about their relationship is that they’re friends first. Best friends, actually. I may like to think I know Miranda very well, but I can guarantee that Bryan knows her a million times better. Throughout their entire relationship they have each lived their own lives doing the things that they each like individually, doing the things they both like together, and always meeting somewhere in the middle to compromise and work through any situation they are put in. They are devoted to one another and are willing to make their relationship work under all circumstances. They take the effort to understand the other person. They communicate. And because of this, they rarely fight. They have decided to be a team where both sides put in an equal amount of effort.

So when Bryan proposed to her at our senior prom, it was no surprise that Miranda said yes and the wedding plans began. And last summer, I had the privilege of being a part of their wedding. Many people are surprised that they got married so young but if any couple is going to survive, it will be them. Because as I watched her walk down the aisle, it was obvious what true love was. It wasn’t marrying the person you spent your whole life wishing for. It was marrying your best friend. Because no matter how close Miranda and I get, there’s no one who will understand her better than her husband. I see their future as something beautiful and amazing and I know that when they’re old and gray they’ll be walking along the Florida coast still holding hands.

This is because they share all three components of what constitutes consummate love. They like each other and share an emotional connection–intimacy; they share a physical connection–passion; and they are seriously devoted to the other–commitment.

I can only hope that one day I experience consummate love in this way. I hope that I can find someone who brings the best out in me—who doesn’t make me feel suffocated or stifled, but let’s me be myself and explore my identity in all aspects. More importantly though, I hope one day I can do that for another person the way Miranda has done for Bryan.

miranda and bryan

My Honey Bunches of Oats

It was the seventh grade and I was the new kid. Sitting in Orchestra one day, the fire alarm went off. Filing outside, my class stood underneath the maple tree in the front of our school that was just beginning to lose its leaves. That was when she introduced herself to me.

“Hi! I’m Emily. You’re Abbey right?”

Her confidence was obvious. And her personality seemed to radiate out of her body. She wore a Jets sweatshirt, cargo capris, and green etnies sneakers. Her curly light brown hair was pulled into a low ponytail, and green eyes peered through glasses to look me over. She wanted to know where I came from and how I was liking school. It was typical conversation that the new kid (which I happened to be) experienced, but for some reason ever since we filed back into the school after that fire drill, we were inseparable.

We became stand partners in orchestra, which encouraged our friendship to grow as we both realized that we were passionate about the violin. We dreamed of going to Juilliard and playing fiddle shows across the world. In our imaginations, our futures looked something like this:

Barrage

After months of talking in orchestra class, we finally decided to hang out outside of school. It was wintertime now and Emily’s mom dropped her off at my house. While our parents talked outside, we walked up my front steps and into my house. I could tell we were both a little nervous to be hanging out outside of the safe environment of school. What if we had nothing to talk about? Slowly though, we each came out of our shells and started talking and laughing about all the people in school we found particularly strange and all the movies we discovered we both liked. For lunch, I made us both frozen pizzas and we ate them on my bedroom floor with glasses of apple juice. When her mom came to pick her up later that day, we wished we had more time.

On the last day of seventh grade, I took Emily’s bus home to her house. We ran into her bedroom and cried our eyes out because we were afraid everyone would forget us by September. Secretly, I think it was just fun to be a little dramatic. We felt our lives were a television series; a network just hadn’t picked us up yet.

That summer we created the memories that lie at the foundation of our friendship. Despite Emily’s habit of sleeping with the television on, forcing me to wear a sleep mask, I began sleeping over for days at a time. While staying up till all hours of the night that summer, I discovered bagels with cream cheese; nearly broke my nose on her kitchen chair while ducking from a moth that was flying towards my head; played games of chess that lasted hours; developed a love-hate relationship with her cat; learned Emily’s passion for all things Disney; and became a member of her family. I met her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, her cousins. They all treated me as one of their own. Even now, eight years later, I love staying at her house where I know I am safe and supported by not only her, but her whole family as well. They give me a place where I feel like I belong. Where I feel I am a part of something bigger than just myself.

In the following years, we developed a sisterly bond. And like all sisters, we had our fair share of fights. What is a good television series without a little conflict, anyway? Looking back, I’m pretty sure adolescent hormones fueled most of our arguments. However, through our fights, we learned that we don’t want to live without the other. It’s awfully hard to stay mad at the person who will sing classical music while riding the Ferris wheel at a carnival to distract you from your insane fear of heights; who will hold your hand through an entire movie no matter how stupid it is; who will take care of you when you are sick; who will become as insanely passionate about a book series as you (or more so); who tries out for softball with you despite both of your athletic inability; who makes you a better musician; who believes in soul mates like she believes in air; and who doesn’t punch you after you’ve thrown a glass of water in her face.

This past October, Emily came to visit me in my college town. I knew something was wrong, but waited for her to tell me on her own time. Sitting at a restaurant with people constantly streaming by our table, televisions with volumes was way too high, and conversations buzzing in the room, she told me that one of her relatives was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. I was devastated. In my mind, I thought I had taken the brunt of all bad things that could happen within my circle of friends since my dad died of cancer. I never thought any of my friends would be affected by what I had gone through. Unconsciously, I had the feeling that what I had been through was somehow worth it, because it would protect all the people I loved from having to experience the same thing. Sadly, I was mistaken.

It was in Emily’s time of crisis that I realized just how much I truly loved her. Not romantical love; companionate love. Because Emily was in pain, I felt it within myself. Knowing that she was hurting and knowing how it was affecting me was proof that I truly loved her because I wanted to do anything to take her pain away. In my opinion, this is one important signifier of love. Love involves being willing to do anything to keep the other person from feeling pain, even if it means feeling it yourself. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do. I was helpless. And I realized how she must have felt for the two years my dad was sick. It’s hard to be the friend of someone going through painful experiences because nothing you say or do can really truly help. It can’t fix the root cause of their pain. But what I’ve learned, from Emily’s example, is that simply by being a friend, checking in, and making the other person laugh, you can ease it.

Unlike my dad, Emily’s relative is doing very well now and I couldn’t be happier for her and her family. Things can always change, and if they do, I will be there beside my best friend to help her along the way.

Emily and I have a lot of years ahead of us. And it’s great to know that we’ll be by each other’s sides no matter what. I look forward to the memories we will create and can only hope they’ll be as outrageous as the one’s we’ve already shared. Emily may dream of finding her prince charming one day, but until then, I suppose she’s stuck with me.

abbeyandemily

What Is Love?

Sitting in my car the other day in front of a strip mall, I watched people pass by from all paths of life. I saw parents and their children, men dressed up in business suits, and teenagers with clothes way too tight to permit breathing. I started thinking about how different we are from each other and all the unique stories we each have to share. Then I thought of the things we must all have in common. There must be some things we all share besides our species.

And so I thought, what are the things we all want from life?

I decided that besides being happy, there is at least one other thing we all want in life. And that’s to experience love, either by giving it, receiving it, or ideally, both.

Maybe it’s just me—and if so, I give you full permission to tease me mercilessly—but whenever the topic of love comes up it seems that we all think of romance with a beautiful man or woman being swept off their feet in a whirlwind love affair. Maybe this image comes to mind?

titanic10n-6-web

We think of Valentine’s Day, chocolates, bouquets of roses and steamy nights spent in bed. We all have an image of what the perfect lover would be like and what they may even look like. It’s no surprise that we think this way though, considering how the media portrays love in movies and television shows and how they market celebrities as the ultimate lovers.But there are so many different types of love. We don’t love our parents the same way we love our partners. We don’t love our friends the same way we love our pets.

According to psychologist Robert Sternberg, there are three components that make up the various forms of love. They are 1) Intimacy, feeling close or attached to someone 2) Passion, sexual attraction to another, and 3) Commitment, the decision to stay with the other person in the short or long term. He calls it the “triangular theory of love”. Using this theory, we can identify all different forms that love takes.

There’s nonlove, which is the absence of all three components, intimacy, passion, and commitment. This is how we may feel toward a stranger on the street. Unless they’re banging’ hot, of course.

In that case, we would experience Infatuated Love, where we have no true attachment or intimacy toward the other and no commitment, but we feel physically attracted to them. It’s hard to admit, but this is how I feel toward Harry Styles. (No shame!)

Then there’s liking/friendship. This is when we feel close to another person but feel no physical attraction or commitment to them. This may be how we feel about an acquaintance at work or school.

Empty Love is when we experience no emotional or physical connection with the other person but remain committed to the other; this may be seen in a marriage that has fizzled but remains together just for the sake of doing so.

Companionate Love (the kind of love I’ve experienced the most) is feeling emotionally close to someone knowing that we will stay committed to the other person but with no physical attraction. This is how most of us feel toward our best friends.

Fatuous Love is how we might feel toward someone we have a committed physical relationship with in the absence of emotional connection.

Romantic love involves being physically and emotionally close with someone but having no commitment to the person. This is what is shown in most movies and therefore what we may yearn for, without knowing that there’s an even better form of love out there.

And that’s what I think is the ultimate form of love that we are really dreaming of, which is Consummate Love. This is the presence of all three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment, where we feel emotionally and physically connected to someone and have committed to staying together.

Here’s a pretty little chart to explain it all:

Intimacy Passion Commitment
Nonlove
Liking/Friendship X
Infatuated Love X
Empty Love X
Romantic Love X X
Companionate Love X X
Fatuous Love X X
Consummate Love X X X

I truly believe in the saying that you have to love yourself before you can love another and after taking the time last year to do just that, I’ve been able to become aware of how to show my love to the people in my life. I may have brought consciousness to this area of my life but I’m no expert on any type of love. Far from it. But there are a few people in my life who have helped me realize what it means to love another. Of course my family has helped teach me this but there are four women in my life that have especially helped teach me what love is, in all of its various forms. And the best part about it is that all of these girls are my dearest friends.

I have been graced with these beautiful people in my life and want to show each of them how much they mean to me and what they’ve taught me, without even knowing it. Each of these women share characteristics that should be celebrated in all people.  They are each intelligent beyond measure in all different subjects. They are all caring, supportive, encouraging, and despite the challenges they have experienced in life, have risen above them to live the lives they each dream of. They are determined and hard-working and most importantly, are wonderful to talk to, have great senses of humor and live life to the fullest.

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing stories about each of these women in my life and what they’ve taught me about love.I hope you’ll follow the stories of my friendships with these women as I know that what they’ve taught me are things we can all learn from.