An evocative and heartwarming collection of essays and anecdotes from great writers and celebrated thinkers, O's Little Book of Love & Friendship will captivate anyone whose life has ever been touched by a lasting friendship or an unforgettable romance.
With essays and anecdotes from some of the best contributors to O, The Oprah Magazine, this charming collection warms the heart and stirs the soul. Among the highlights: a frank, funny, and freewheeling conversation between two of the world's great BFFs, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King; Abigail Thomas on the ecstasy and agony of a first date; Elizabeth Strout on sharing the words that made her heart crack; Susanna Sonnenberg on reconnecting with her adored sister; Walter Kirn on love lessons learned the hard way; and more. A perfect gift for anyone's nearest and dearest, O's Little Book of Love & Friendship is a treasure box that readers will turn to again and again.
About the Author
Each month O, The Oprah Magazine helps readers live their best lives, serving up information and inspiration on everything from lasting love to luscious food. With a signature blend of candor and humor, fresh advice and timeless wisdom, the magazine offers people the tools they need to, as Oprah Winfrey says, “become more of who they are”to love themselves more deeply, to look hopefully toward the future, and to leap wholeheartedly into the adventure of being alive.
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O's Little Book of Love & Friendship
By O The Oprah Magazine
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2016 Hearst Communications
All rights reserved.
The Four-Alarm Wedding
Andrea King Collier
I was freaking out. I went to bed the night before, freaking out. What was I doing? What was he doing? We were twenty-six, and we were getting married. It was such a bad idea — clearly we were too young. Everybody knows the true best age for a first marriage is forty-five. I remember getting a brown paper bag and breathing into it that morning. I was sure he wouldn't show up. I thought about not showing up. It was awful and wonderful. It felt like going to the guillotine in a really fabulous dress.
Years later I have come to realize that there are two things that happen. Two people get married. And two people have a wedding. These things don't really have a lot to do with each other. I wasn't worried about being a wife that day; I was worried about being a bride. I should have given more thought to the whole wife thing, but I was twenty-six and it was all about the right wedding music. What if our relatives got drunk? Of course somebody was going to get drunk — it wouldn't be a wedding if they didn't. Getting married wasn't going to throw me over the edge, but being a bride was surely going to finish me off.
One of my mother's dear friends had left an emergency wedding-day Valium for me. She told my mother that she would know when to give it to me. My mother produced it right about the time I got back in bed with the covers over my head and the balled-up paper bag in my hand. "Here, take this," she said.
The next thing I remember is being at the country club where we were going to get married, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, rollers in my hair, and, miraculously, a full face of makeup. I thought it was a good idea to go out and greet the guests — before the wedding. I was so calm and charming and gracious. Fifteen minutes before the wedding was supposed to start, I still had on shorts and big green rollers in my hair. And Darnay, the groom, was not there. He and his best man were watching a fight on television. Twenty-six is too young to get married. I am sure that people who were watching this spectacle were shaking their heads trying to figure out if we would return their gifts in a week when we got divorced. The oddsmakers would have had a field day.
But somehow, the girl with the big green rollers and the guy who forgot that he had to be somewhere survived the wedding and built a marriage — which, a quarter century later, is still a work in progress. It almost seems astounding that we've made it this far. In spite of ourselves we were able to raise our kids, create and re-create careers, argue over who should be doing the laundry, and learn how to trust each other more than we trust anybody else. We have had great joy in our years together, and we have shared a lot of sadness and loss.
When I was twenty-six years old, holding my head between my knees, breathing into a paper bag, I didn't know I was about to go on a wild adventure. I surely didn't know I would grow into a really good best friend to someone who would learn how to be a best friend, too. When we celebrated our anniversary this year, there were no big parties. The bride and groom — the husband and wife — wore sweatpants and dirty gym shoes. We ordered a pizza. We drank water because we've read that soda increases heart disease in old people. And we had to eat before six because, these days, the bride gets acid reflux. This time around there was a paper bag, too — with cheap reading glasses, and ibuprofen for the groom's creaky back and the bride's popping knees. And just like the first time, everything went off without a hitch.CHAPTER 2
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Scram
The taxi is just pulling out of the driveway. He is on his way to Indonesia, a five-day business trip. Gone! I don't know what to do first. Take a walk outside with just a noisy bunch of tree frogs for company? Cue up some highly objectionable music (that would be the soundtrack to Carousel or Show Boat) and raise the volume to deafening? Or sing! I'm great on the choruses, even the solos — I've been listening to this music since I was ten.
Let me catch my breath for a moment. My husband has left the building, and I'm exultant; it's the way you'd feel if you landed alone on the moon and everything was cool and silvery and you knew you could go home to Earth again — just not quite yet. Because I'm crazy about Jeff, my husband of thirty-two years. All that time, we've had coffee together practically every morning. We've bought dinged and battered antiques that nobody else would look at twice. We've lived congenially, for the most part, in a one-bedroom apartment, a rambling prewar Classic Six, and two drafty, centuries-old exurban farmhouses with sodden basements (doesn't every house have water seeping through its limestone foundation?). I've handed him a glass of vodka as he obsessed about his dozens of orchids and his acres of flax, and I've shrieked at him as he uprooted the tender shoots of our fifty-year-old peonies with the rake of his tractor. I've seen his eyes close in rapture as he played his guitar; watched him gaze with boundless admiration at our sweet, manic quasi-Labrador, and even at me. I've seen him accumulate a world-class collection of ties — enough to outfit a small company — and a pile of laundry so steep it finally collapses into the bathroom doorway, where he nimbly climbs over it, scattering clothing like rose petals in his wake. I've watched him sleep propped up on his elbow, head resting in his hand and blankets merrily twisted around his legs, as the eternal light from the blaring television flicks hectic patterns onto his face. I've listened to him snore so resoundingly that our neighbor's peacocks honk in solidarity. And I've tiptoed out of the bedroom, slippers in hand, to slide beneath the covers of our daughter's bed (she's long been out of the house), where the velvety night envelops me and I can hear the humming of my own reclusive mind.
In truth I have always been a loner. I love tiny, singular spaces where a body can sit quietly and contemplate. I was never happier than when I lived in my quirky basement apartment in a Manhattan brownstone, and Jeff, a stranger to me, moved into the parlor-floor apartment right above it. We began to meet for coffee, and at night after he got home from his corporate job at a textile firm and I finished reading for my graduate courses in Renaissance poetry, I'd clamber upstairs and sip wine with him. I might stay over — or I might go downstairs to sleep alone. It wasn't exactly Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir maintaining separate apartments and perfectly calibrated minds. I have no idea what Jeff and I talked about in those early days, but it was probably nothing more scintillating than how I could prep for my orals without falling asleep and whether or not he should paint contrasting trim around his ceiling. It didn't matter. What mattered was that we never stopped talking.
Then we moved in together, into his apartment. I had to get rid of my spindly Victorian furniture; it looked ridiculous with his chunky brown sofa and pragmatic oak table and chairs. The shag rug was a bone of contention; luckily, it didn't survive a sheepdog with digestive issues. Crammed in a claustrophobic space, we began to battle, one of us invariably slamming the door and retreating into the narrow bedroom. We built a sleeping loft to escape to. Still, we not only survived the merger but married. We tried to become a "we," traveling for our honeymoon to the Paris I loved (and he hated), always seeing friends together, dragging each other to movies that bored one of us to death. His eyes glazed over when I tried to fascinate him with Middlemarch. I rubbed my temples while he replayed a Hendrix album into the wee hours or puzzled over some intricate business deal. We survived corporate dinners and foreign films, poetry readings and rock concerts.
My role models were artists, his were entrepreneurs. We tugged persistently at each other's psyches and prayed for continental shifts.
As the years passed, though, the tugging became less strenuous, more habitual. We perfected the fine art of needling. Our children, Lucy and Peter, grew up exasperated but also oddly liberated by our differences, which at the very least gave them options; one eventually became an editor, the other a musician, and both are avid readers who seriously love rock music. Gradually, it dawned on us that we, too, had grown up. Or we had aged out of social insecurity. We no longer had to prove anything to others or, for that matter, to ourselves. We knew we could trust each other. We could say goodbye when we went to work in the morning, maybe stay in town to meet a friend (someone the other could live happily never seeing), and reconvene at home later to compare notes. It was never boring. It's still not. Yet I have friends who tell me they do everything with their husbands. They push a cart together at the supermarket. (Jeff: "I'd rather be dead. Just let me do the shopping.") They never travel separately. If I ask a childhood pal (now married) out to dinner in hopes of some intimate conversation, she invariably answers, "We'd love to!" Calling a friend in California, I learn that "we" are dazzled by the new exhibition at the Getty; we're vegan now; we saw that movie and we were not amused. I relate more easily to my ex-roommate Ginger, who rolls her eyes in mock gratitude when her stay-at-home husband sallies out alone; to my grad-school friend Jane, who has a heady and deeply satisfying relationship with a man who lives in another state, but worries about what will happen to their blissful independence if the two of them ever move in together. I can see her point. Sartre and de Beauvoir lived apart until their deaths, after which some enterprising soul decided to plant them under a single headstone. They've got to be turning in their grave.
I walk out the door with a suitcase, on my way to speak at a weekend writers' conference in Texas, as Jeff, guitar pick in hand, laptop softly whirring in the next room, gives me the warm, sweet glance I fell for decades ago, and a parting kiss. He tells me to have a wonderful time as he gently and firmly closes the door. I know he's about to celebrate — three days in which the television never goes off, the dog sprawls on the bed, the lights stay on till three A.M. No one greets him at daybreak with a list of ancient grievances and a furrowed brow. No one smashes his concentration as he's putting the finishing touches on a complex lecture or presentation. No one gloomily reports to him about diseases he doesn't have and dangers he's too sanguine to fear. He's in paradise, and he's got it all to himself. When I finally return, exhilarated by the readings and the company of other writers, he will be delighted to see me. He will have already opened a bottle of wine, and the porch chairs will be ready and waiting. We will have so much to say.CHAPTER 3
This is a love story. Like every other, and like no other. This is a story about how one day I believed certain things about myself and the next day I knew, the way you know a good nectarine, that I had been wrong.
About all of it.
This is what real love does, of course. Transforms. Enlightens. Boils off the fat. Reveals the sinew underneath. I had read about such things in poems. Sung along with the heartbreak songs. But I had not felt that sort of love myself. The kind that shakes you up inside like a Boggle board, jangling all your letters into wholly new words, some you've never seen before but recognize instantly nonetheless.
It started with a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that in the end wasn't a misunderstanding at all.
I first saw my love online. He had written something about music in a column I often read. The column comes with a photo of the author. And it was the photo, more than the words, that captivated me. It was nothing extraordinary. Just a head shot. Him, looking sleepy-eyed and stoned (which, as it turns out, he was) in a brown shirt and narrow tie. He was sitting down, slumped and easy, and it was obvious even from the pixilated screen of my decade-old computer that this man was unlike any other I'd known. I found myself staring, leaning in as though he were an insect on the sidewalk. There was something about him: intelligence, warmth, confidence, but also something else. Something I had no name for.
That night I went to see Slumdog Millionaire with my mother. I told her about the photo. "He looks like Dev Patel," I said. He did look like Dev Patel, but I was so consumed, everything I saw looked like him. The popcorn guy. The theater curtains. The shadows on my windshield as I drove home from the movie. Late that night I gazed at the photo again. And I decided I would send this man an e-mail. From all angles, this seemed crazy and pathetic to me. What kind of fool writes an unsolicited note to a complete stranger? It wasn't as if I had an agenda. I didn't. I expected nothing. But not writing seemed somehow impossible. I was drawn, impelled.
I wrote two lines: introduced myself, said I'd seen the article. And pressed send.
He wrote back the next day. This in itself was a small miracle. As a successful novelist, my intended receives a lot of uninvited e-mail. He even has an assistant to weed through the letters, answering most with a cursory Thanks for your interest and support note. But this e-mail he read himself. And though it said nothing particularly charming or saucy or brilliant, he felt he needed to respond.
And so we began. The old-fashioned way, with letters chaste enough to show your grandmother. We did not Google-stalk. Nor did we write about our similar careers or engage in eager, romantic self-promotion. Instead, we stayed in the present, wrote about who we were, who we wanted to be. It was the opposite of flirtation. We talked about our mistakes. Our families. Our needs. Neither one of us was selling anything. It was unlike any courtship, any conversation I had ever had. The intimacy was so immediate, the compatibility so palpable, we didn't notice until it was too late that we'd grown hooked on transparency, on the dizzying, terrifying high of finally allowing ourselves to be seen.
It was amid all this that my love disclosed something that should have mattered. Something the whole of my history would have insisted mattered, and yet, did not. Not really. He told me, in his typically open, candid style, that he had not been born male.
"This will never work," says my friend Ralph the day after I find out. We are having lunch. Ralph is a chef, bald and brawny, the kind of guy who can get away with wearing a red leather coat. He shakes his head, sloppily scooping Vietnamese noodles into his mouth. Ralph has known me since I was twelve years old. He has seen the men I have cycled through over the years: the brutish painter, the boxing steelworker, countless football jocks and rednecks and martial artists, culminating in a civilized eight-year marriage to a onetime Australian rugby player that produced two daughters and one of the more amicable divorces on record.
"You aren't a lesbian," he says in between slurps of his noodles.
"He isn't a woman," I answer.
Ralph rolls his eyes. "At any rate, you like manly men. Testosterone is your Kryptonite."
He isn't wrong. The last man I was involved with was six foot four, another ex-boxer, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago and so reeked of conventional masculinity that he was cast as cops and toughs in major motion pictures.
"Plus," Ralph adds, looking pointedly down at his crotch, "there's this little issue."
"Your napkin?" I say, narrowing my eyes.
"More like what's under the napkin," he says drily.
And there it was. The first incidence of what I would soon learn to be the defining question about my relationship with a trans man: What the hell, if anything, is under the napkin?
Excerpted from O's Little Book of Love & Friendship by O The Oprah Magazine. Copyright © 2016 Hearst Communications. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Just You and Me,
The Four-Alarm Wedding, Andrea King Collier,
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Scram, Cathleen Medwick,
The One, Allison Glock,
The Love List, Alice Bingham Gorman,
The Tricky Bits,
Lover's Leap, Martha Beck,
My Learning Curve, Walter Kirn,
Sixteen Again, Abigail Thomas,
She's a Big Cheese, He's a Little Annoyed, Andrew Corsello,
Astonished by Love, Ellen Tien,
The Family You Choose,
There Were No Words, Elizabeth Strout,
Female Friendship Never Gets Old, Elizabeth Kelsey,
Oprah and Gayle, Uncensored, Lisa Kogan,
The Witches, Patricia Volk,
With Friends Like Me, Who Needs Strangers? Amy Dickinson,
It's All Relative,
What Betty Knows, Monica Wood,
My Sister, Saidee, Susanna Sonnenberg,
The Strongest Link, Valerie Monroe,
The Baby Kaboom, Cristina Nehring,
A Bigger Love,
The Other Woman, Helyn Trickey Bradley,
It Only Has to Make Sense to You, Aimee Swartz,
The Cupped Hands, Pam Houston,
Heart-Prints, Oprah Winfrey,
Other Titles in O's Little Book Series,
About the Author,