Tag Archives: engagement

The pursuit of happiness (Part 1)

Yesterday I was dragged away from my work by a positive storm of barking. Zulu might only be two dogs long and one dog high, but when he puts his mind to it he has the bark of a German Shepherd on steroids. Yesterday he was clearly very unhappy about something.

“What’s going on?” I asked, as I reached the front of our house and found my neighbor, Barbara, already there.

“Oh,” she said, laughing. “It’s a big, scary, toad. He’s not the world’s bravest dog, is he?”

She was right about the big part – the toad was enormous; it could barely heave its bulk along the pavement. She was also right about the brave part. Zulu was prancing around it, frantic, trying to decide whether he could take it. The closest he got to it was nudging it with his nose once or twice.

“Leave it!” I told Zulu sternly, herding the toad into the drain with a shovel before he could decide he really did want to kill it (not that I was all that concerned for the toad, I must admit, but I’ve heard that they’re poisonous for dogs).

Once in the culvert the toad made for the covered part of the drain and disappeared underneath cement. Zulu shot me a reproachful look and set to work, apparently determined to dig it out again.

“It’s gone,” I tried to tell my puppy after fifteen minutes of chatting to Barbara and watching him try to extricate the toad. He left few avenues unexplored. He climbed into the culvert, right into the dirty running water, and shoved his nose as far as it would go down that mucky drain. He tried to dig up the sheltering concrete and, failing that, to chew it to pieces. He backed away and set up a quiet ambush at the mouth of the drain, tip of his tail wagging gently, apparently hopeful that if he stayed there quietly for long enough the toad would venture out again of its own accord. Then he tried all of these things again. And again.

“Oh well,” Barbara said, “he’s happy.”

He was, too. Watching him I felt a little wistful. If only I could get so absorbed in the adventure of hunting toads or get so unabashedly excited every time I saw someone who had ever been the least bit nice to me (Sidenote: this last trait is mildly problematic as Mike and I are pretty much convinced that any would-be robbers just need to stick their hands through the gate and pet his head nicely before letting themselves in and he’ll escort them, tail wagging all the way, right to the front door). No, Zulu might not be especially brave or particularly discriminating in his choice of friends, but he sure is a happy little dog. If only the puzzle of happiness was as easy to put together for people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness since I started a consulting project requiring me to write a distance-learning course for masters students on wellbeing and resilience. What is it that makes us happy or sad? What influences how satisfied we feel with our lives?

Some of this seems to come down to genes. A number of researchers have come to the conclusion that happiness is about 50% genetic, 40% intentional, and 10% circumstantial.

If this is accurate, it means that about half of our predisposition toward happiness is coded into our genes and pretty much outside our control. Circumstances (health, marriage, work) can also be tough for us to change (although often not impossible). But what is really surprising here is that circumstances don’t seem to account for as much happiness as we might think, either for good or for bad. On the one hand that means that buying an expensive new car doesn’t seem to boost happiness for long.  On the other hand, it means that when things go awry we often re-orient fairly quickly.

No, the really surprising finding that has so far emerged from the happiness and wellbeing research is that we do have a lot of control over how happy are. We may have been gifted a genetic “set-point” but we can move that set point up or down significantly.

In a previous post, happiness and the mango tree rains, I discussed one psychologist’s take on what makes us happy. Martin Seligman argues that there are three important components to happiness:

  • Pleasure: The “smiley face” piece that makes us feel good.
  • Engagement: The depth of our involvement in our family, work, romance, and hobbies.
  • Meaning: Using personal strengths to serve some larger end.

Pleasure, Seligman argues, is the least important component of happiness. In the quest for a happy and satisfied life he insists that engagement and meaning are far more important. Somewhat to his chagrin (given that he was a life-long academic and a born intellectual) Seligman also admitted that research suggests that, “cerebral virtues – curiosity, love of learning – are less strongly tied to happiness than interpersonal virtues like kindness, gratitude, and capacity for love.”

With more research being conducted on this topic all the time, it is increasingly clear that there are things we can do (ways of thinking and behaving) that can significantly boost our happiness. We can probably guess some of the things that Seligman would prescribe as “happiness boosters” but what about you? What do you think boosts people’s happiness? What increases yours?

Come back in a couple of days to read more about things we can do to boost our happiness. I’ll also post some links to follow if you’re interesting in learning more about this topic.

In the meantime, have a happy weekend!

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Happiness and the Mango Tree Rains

It rained last night and today – a brief, wet, respite right in the middle of the dry season. Locals have told us that these rains generally come every year, sometimes just for a day, sometimes for two.

“They water the mango trees,” they say, nodding, as if these clouds have arrived specifically to provide the mango trees with the boost to get them through until the monsoon. So Mike and I are calling them the mango tree rains.

The mango tree rains are making more than just the mango trees happy – they have dropped the temperature at least fifteen degrees and that’s always cause for celebration on my end.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness this week – not just because of the mango tree rains but also because I recently agreed to write a distance learning course on wellbeing and resilience as it’s related to the humanitarian field for a university in the UK. This course has ten chapters in it on topics as diverse as childhood attachment and community resilience. I said yes to this project partly because I thought it would force me to learn a fair bit. On that front I haven’t been wrong.

I’m finding the chapter on positive psychology that I’m working on this week particularly interesting.

Positive psychology studies topics as diverse as happiness, optimal human functioning, subjective well-being, and the meaning of life. If you’d like a brief introduction you can go to the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center and download the first article on the list – a Time Magazine Cover Story on The Science of Happiness.

Over lunch yesterday Mike and I were discussing this thing called happiness and one psychologist’s take on it. Martin Seligman argues that there are three important components to happiness:

  1. Pleasure: The “smiley face” piece that makes us feel good.
  2. Engagement: The depth of our involvement in our family, work, romance, and hobbies.
  3. Meaning: Using personal strengths to serve some larger end.

Pleasure, Seligman argues, is the least important component of happiness. In the quest for a happy and satisfied life he insists that engagement and meaning are far more important.

“So how would you rate yourself on each of those domains right now?” Mike asked me yesterday.

These sorts of questions always make me look at the ceiling, fidget, and try not to get too hung up on the scores of “well, it depends on…” caveats that are suddenly flooding my brain.

“OK,” I finally said. “High on engagement – I tend to be very involved in whatever I’m doing. A bit lower on meaning at the moment. And fairly high on pleasure.”

“Really?” Mike said, giving every indication of being surprised. “High on pleasure?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “I mean, we get to hang out together a lot at the moment. We live in this nice house and all the air conditioners work. And we have a little dog to play with that makes us laugh. And you work five minutes up the road and often get to come home for lunch. And we can walk to dozens of restaurants here and eat out anytime we feel like it. And we live in this cool country that’s pretty interesting. I mean, the pleasure index is going to go down the hotter it gets – that’s unavoidable. But it’s been pretty high this last four months.”

“Huh,” Mike said. “That’s so different than the way I would have looked at it. I was thinking of pleasure being more associated with things like adventure bike rides and hiking, and I’m not doing a lot of that at the moment. And I would have thought your pleasures index would have been lower anyway.”

Oh yeah, I suddenly remembered. I’d spent a good proportion of the last three months battling pregnancy nausea. And I’ve been alternating between happy, neutral, ambivalent, and terrified about said pregnancy. And I’ve been craving bbq sauce on hamburgers and other things hard to procure here. And the hot water heater in our bathroom hates me and tends to turn off about four times during every shower, sometimes refusing to come back on at all.

Perhaps it’s good that these are not the first things to rush to mind when I’m trying to think about how happy I am. Perhaps I am more of a pessimistic optimist than an optimistic pessimist after all.

Or perhaps (thanks again to pregnancy) I have the memory of a goldfish at the moment and I am not a good judge of my own happiness.

Seligman would endorse the first of these possibilities. He argues that “we are our memories more than we are the sum total of our experiences.” For him, studying how we feel moment-to-moment puts too much emphasis on transient pleasures and displeasures. It is the remembered self that provides us the truest reflection.

What do you think? Are we our memories more than the sum total of our moment-to-moment experiences? And how would you rate yourself at present with regards to pleasure, engagement, and meaning?

The engagement ring

Mike and Lisa are driving down the freeway. After four months of engagement, three trips to Robbins Brothers, two thousand internet searches, and a partridge in a pear tree… Lisa has finally decided on an engagement ring.

Mike (shell-shocked): “We just bought a small car for your finger.”
Lisa: “Well, yes. A small, second-hand, car.” (Then, hastily) “But it will be much more beautiful than a car.”
[There is an extended pause]
Lisa (trying to be helpful): “At least this won’t lose value like an actual car would. That could come in handy.”
Mike: “How’s that?”
Lisa: “Well, you know, we might need to barter it for something someday – like safe passage on a boat during a military coup.”
[There is another extended pause]
Mike: “I cannot believe you said that less than ten minutes after I signed the credit card slip.”
Lisa: “I would take you with me on the boat.”
Mike: “Just look at all those shovelsful of dirt flying out of that hole you’re digging there.”
Lisa (sulking): “Hey, I was trying to save your life.”
Mike: “This is one of those times when you should just stop talking.”

Lisa decides to stop talking until she figures out whether Mike is actually upset, or not. She is still trying to figure it out when they get home fifteen minutes later.

Six weeks go by. The ring is ready. Mike and Lisa go to pick it up. When they open the box Lisa is silent with awe. She was right, it is much more beautiful than a car. Mike looks at it thoughtfully.

Mike: “Wow, it’s really pretty. I’m going to miss it when we have to barter it for boat tickets.”

In The Beginning Were The Words

After I sent out an essay in May about getting engaged I received more than a handful of letters from people on my mailing list complaining that they hadn’t even known I was dating someone, and that they felt they’d missed a few chapters in the story. A couple sounded quite aggrieved.

How did we meet? And was it true that Mike proposed after we’d spent a mere three weeks in the same city, or had I now taken to blending fiction and reality? What’s the story?

So here’s the rest of that story, from the beginning. It’s long, I’m warning you. But don’t expect any sympathy from me. You did ask for it. Or some of you did, anyway.

Early October 2007. I’m living in LA, working for the Headington Institute and preparing to take off for a month on the road in Kenya, Ghana and Washington DC. Mike is living in Papua New Guinea, working as a water and sanitation engineer for World Vision and preparing to take off for two months on the road in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Erin, an old friend of Mike’s, is living in Atlanta and working as an acquiring editor for a magazine.

The story really starts with Erin. As she explained to Mike via email later, “Lisa’s publicist at Moody sent me the usual press stuff for the month including a one-sheet type thing for her book. ‘We’ don’t usually work with fiction, so I normally chuck those unless they sound really interesting. But the title was killer and the cover was quite nice (I judge books by their covers in general), so I read the synopsis and the little author bio blurb.”

It wasn’t my novel that caught Erin’s attention at this point, it was the fact that I worked for the Headington Institute. As Erin saw it, we helped “burned out and tortured aid workers”. She thought of Mike and his last six years on the field and knew she had to figure out how to sign him up for our newsletter.

So she went to my personal website, which was listed on the press release, and looked for a link to the Headington Institute. What she discovered first, however, were my essays. A couple of essays in and Erin suddenly found that she wasn’t as interested in hooking Mike up with the Headington Institute newsletter as she was in hooking him up with me.

Yes, she acknowledged to herself, the fact that I lived in LA was going to prove a minor drawback. But she also knew I was a third culture kid. My upbringing, she reasoned, had prepared me well for the challenging romantic equation she was visualizing. As for Mike – as she told him months later – “I was so overcome with giddiness at striking gold via one glossy sheet of press mess that I just had to brag to the people in the nearest three cubes that I had just found the perfect woman for my friend in PNG.”

So Erin wrote to Mike that day and strongly encouraged him to look at my website.

Mike, apparently, rolled his eyes and wrote back to Erin pointing out that he lived in PNG, with a dial-up internet connection, and wasn’t about to go browsing the website of a stranger living in LA.

Undeterred, Erin downloaded all the essays on my website, put them in a single word document, and emailed it to Mike.

Mike groaned at Erin’s meddling, but opened the document. Fifty pages later he was intrigued. Dial up connection notwithstanding Mike then visited my website, and as the photo on my homepage popped up he realized that he’d seen my face before – on the Facebook profile of Alison Preston, a friend he’d met in Melbourne when he was doing his masters there five years previously.

Mike decided to drop me a line.

Mid October 2007. I received a note from someone named Mike asking whether I would add him to my essay list, which I did. As he’d mentioned Alison’s name I also friend-requested him on Facebook. After he accepted the request I was more than a little surprised to see we had several mutual friends.

In addition to Ali, Mike knew the Scoullars – a family my own family had gotten to know very well when we all lived in Zimbabwe during my teenage years. Mike also knew another friend of mine, Ryan Schmidt. I learned later that Mike met Ryan in Afghanistan and how I got to know Ryan… Well, that tangent could be a tale unto itself. For now, suffice to say that back in 2004 I read some of Ryan’s essays about his experiences as an aid worker in Afghanistan and Mozambique. Raw and powerful, they were so compelling that I tracked him down via email and pestered him until he gave in an agreed to be my friend.

So, back to Mike. Five days after his first, casual, email, the email dropped into my inbox.

The email where Mike laid it all out on the table and said he’d like to get to know me better – that he really liked my essays, my smile, and my Australian passport (though he was also quick to point out he didn’t need said passport as he had already an American one that functioned just fine). The email where he confessed trepidation as to whether a relationship between LA and PNG would even be worth trying given the potential ordeals involved. The email where he acknowledged the massive information imbalance between us and sent me some of his own writing, told me to give it a think and decide what I wanted to do, and thoughtfully reassured me that regardless of what I said he wouldn’t turn into a Lisa stalker.

The email made me blink. And gulp. His writing made it clear that he’d lived and worked in Australia, Tajikistan, Uganda, and Sri Lanka in the last seven years. He struck me as someone who was either seriously interesting, or seriously crazy. Or perhaps both.

Now I was intrigued. I was also, like Mike, more than a little wary. My own previous long distance relationships had taught me a fair bit about those potential ordeals that Mike was referring to – and that had been without the added complications of an 18 hour time difference, jobs we loved anchoring us on different sides of the world, spotty internet access, and starting from the ground up with these constraints already in place. If ever I’d heard of an against-the-odds long distance scenario, this was it.

It didn’t make much sense to even consider this, and I knew that, but he was cute. Along with the essay he’d sent a link to thirty photo’s he’d compiled to celebrate his thirtieth birthday the previous year. He was only in one of those photos – he was kneeling, surrounded by children in Rwanda. Who has the power to stay untouched by that? And his writing, chatty and confident, was very compelling…

This issue, in and of itself, was one that had me particularly worried. Mike had been frank with me. Despite a sudden shyness, I figured it was the least I could do in return and I tackled this head-on in my reply.

“I know it’s an edited version of me that goes in those essays. All the boring parts, all those days and moments when I’m just flat, or exhausted, or grumpy, or uninspiring, or selfish… I know I’m not as interesting, witty, or attractive as those essays make me appear when read in a vacuum (not to mention the press photos for the book).”

My forays into long-distance relationships, I told him later in that letter, had taught me the very valuable lesson that, “The tangible, living, breathing someone will inevitably turn out to be very different from the idealized someone who springs to life in my head when I read their writing.”

But doing my best to convince Mike that I really wasn’t that interesting or attractive didn’t address the issue of what I wanted to do.

What did I want to do?

After some thought I put it this way.

“Let’s email. As friends. Or as people who think they might want to become friends. With no expectations of anything more until we at least cross paths in person, if we ever get there.”

And email we did.

During the next three months the two of us covered six countries, a dozen cities, and managed to exchange more than ninety thousand words – your standard novel.

In late November, about six weeks into emailing, Mike wrote to me from the Solomon Islands. He waited until the very end of a three page letter to drop a question on me – one, he said, that he trusted I’d answer truthfully and straightforwardly.

“So what do you think of me trying to come down to Oz sometime between Jan 10 and Feb 6 while you’re there? I’d like to try. If you think that would be okay.”

I was truthful and straightforward. I told him that I thought it was a good idea and would be lots of fun.

I knew when I answered that this would mean taking Mike home; there just wasn’t going to be any other sensible way to do it. Luckily, I also knew that when I informed my parents that I had just invited someone I had never met or talked to to come make himself completely at home with us for two weeks during our family holidays, I could count on my parents not to freak out. And indeed they didn’t.

The same cannot be said of the handful of friends in my life who were tracking this story as it unfolded. Several of them delicately suggested I may be crazy.

“What are you going to do if it’s a disaster?” One of them asked.

“Well,” I said. “All going well we’re planning on going to Melbourne to see mutual friends after spending ten days at home in Ballina. I’ve already bought those tickets and I made sure the dates were flexible. Worst case scenario, he gets off the plane, we have an awkward couple of days, I hand him a plane ticket to Melbourne and say “nice try, thanks for coming”. Mike has plenty of friends in Melbourne, he’d be fine. Look, we win either way. It’s either going to be a great holiday, or a great essay.”
I didn’t feel near as flippant as I sounded, of course. But we’d made the decision, what good was it going to do to freak out now?

That mantra carried me right up through to January 20th, the day before I was due to pick Mike up at Brisbane airport. Then I started to get a little nervous. By the time I actually made it to the airport on Monday afternoon I was about as stressed as I ever get.

I stood there in the arrivals lounge of Brisbane airport for an hour, scanning every Caucasian male who looked somewhere in the range 20 to 50. What if I didn’t recognize him? I’d seen a couple of photos on Facebook, but I’m terrible with faces. I didn’t even know how tall he was!
By the time he finally walked out I’d almost hugged three complete strangers and was having to remind myself to breathe.

I did recognize him. Or, more accurately, I recognized his smile. I saw that first, almost in isolation.

There were no Disney fireworks, or choirs of angels singing the Halleluiah chorus as we exchanged our first glances, and our first words. I don’t think either of us thought in that first moment, “this is it.” In fact, pretty much the only thing I clearly remember thinking during those first ten minutes was…

“Phew.”

Because it was easy. Despite the objectively bizarre situation, as we got in the car and began the drive from Brisbane to Ballina, it felt natural. And that feeling stuck around for the next two weeks as we slowly but surely, surrounded by my family and friends, figured out the answer to the question Mike asked me on his second morning in Ballina.

“What are we going to do, Lis?”

By the time we parted ways in Melbourne airport in early February we were utterly exhausted, emotionally overloaded, and happily determined to give this a serious try.

So there you are… That’s the start of the story. There’s more, of course, but I’ll save the trials, tribulations, and treasures of long distance dating for another essay.

In the meantime, Mike’s back in some village on an island in Vanuatu this week. No internet. No phone.

And I have a letter to write.

Shock and Awe in Love

I’d always wondered how someone is caught by surprise by a marriage proposal in this day and age. I mean, if you’re in a solid relationship, you’re both good communicators, it feels right, it feels easy… surely you’d have some idea if one party in that equation were scheming to pop the question, right? I mean, how dumb are people?

So, yeah, apparently I’m dumb.

Well, it’s one possibility. Another possibility is that Mike is crazy.

Or Mike could be both dumb and crazy. Or I could be. Or maybe we both are.

I’m still undecided and after the last week they’re all plausible options as far as I can see.

So let’s set the scene here – because setting the scene is a valuable life skill that should be exercised during the shaping of all excellent stories and, the last week suggests, quite possibly in advance of all major life-altering decisions.

I’ll bypass how Mike and I met. That’s another story for another day. Suffice to say we met in January in Brisbane airport for the first time after several months of emails bouncing back and forth between Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Los Angeles, Kenya, Ghana and Washington DC. He walked out of immigration. We smiled nervously at each other as we exchanged our first words. And then I promptly took him home and dropped him into the middle of “McKay family holiday” – which meant parents, siblings, eight month old niece, brother’s new fiancée, and approximately ten friends who cycled in and out of the house while we were there. And what were Mike and I doing in the midst of that, you might ask? Well, chatting lots and figuring out if we were going to take a chance on an against-the-odds long distance relationship, clearly.

Two weeks later we parted company in Melbourne airport. Mike headed back to PNG, I headed back to LA, and we set about figuring out a relationship across an 18-hour time zone difference when one of us lived in a town where there’s only one, unreliable, high-speed internet connection point. Despite some communication challenges that were exacerbated by intermittent electricity in PNG and Mike’s propensity to spend weeks at a time in the bush with no cell phone reception at all, we persevered. By April we’d begun discussing when between August and December Mike would leave the field and move to LA.

Fast forward to May. Mike was coming back to the US for a month and I was thinking something along the lines of… We’ve decided to put off talking about when Mike’s going to leave PNG until the end of May, so we’re all set to have a lovely, relaxed, fun month. A month full of plenty of talking, and all those normal date things that are pretty hard to replicate over skype –movies, candlelit dinners, picnic blankets, strawberries, wine, hand holding…

Meanwhile – from what I’ve managed to piece together in the midst of all the discombobulation of the last couple of days – Mike was thinking something along the lines of… We’re going to talk about when I’m leaving the field at the end of May. Big decision, that one. Major life implications. Lisa might like some assurance of where we’re heading before then, and I’ve been sure for a while of where we’re headed, so looks like May’s the time to pop the question…

Fast forward to Saturday night, the end of Mike’s first week in LA. Picture a picnic blanket, a grassy quiet hill, my favorite white wine, macadamia nuts, cheese and crackers, sunset and the Pacific Ocean.

“Ah, Australia,” we said as we toasted the Pacific, looking out to sea.

“It’s just over there,” I said fondly, pointing.

“Well,” Mike said diplomatically, “you could get to Australia that way… if you wanted to go through Ecuador first.”

He handed me a strawberry. “So,” he teased, “we have this whole list of topics to talk about that we haven’t tackled over skype. What weighty topic do you want to discuss tonight?”

Somewhat tired, I opted for the easy option. “You pick,” I said, smiling magnanimously.

“I don’t want to talk about anything on the list tonight,” Mike said.

“Oh, okay,” I said, thinking that Mike must have finally had his fill of intensity and was after light and fluffy conversation. “Pick something else then, any topic.”

“Any topic? Any topic it all? Do you realize the power you’ve given me?”

“Use it wisely,” I said, lazily wondering where he was going to go with it.

And that was when he got on his knees in front of me and asked whether I would marry him.

As best as I can remember, before total shock set in three seconds later, I thought, WHAT???? Lisa, focus! You’ve just been asked a yes or no question. The answer is absolutely, categorically, not a no. So, uh, it must be… yes?

So that’s what I said. Or, probably more accurately, squeaked.

There are a couple of things I do remember clearly about the rest of the evening. The restaurant where Mike and I met my parents later was gorgeous, and the food incredible. I took the fact that I was actually able to eat as a good sign (although worryingly, and completely out of character, I wasn’t able to finish desert). But as they filled me in on the backstory – Mike’s weeks of planning and data gathering via email, and how he and Mum and Dad talked all morning on Friday while I was at work getting mock-kidnapped by drunken militia at a checkpoint in Uzbekistan during a security training exercise… I started to get progressively more overwhelmed.

“What did you talk about on Friday?” I remember asking them.

“I asked for their blessing, and their concerns,” Mike said. “It was all very natural, comfortable. It was great.”

“I did ask whether he thought you’d say yes,” Dad said.

That counted as “comfortable” and “great”? I sneaked a look at Mike. He seemed unfazed.

“I said absolutely,” Mike said.

“I said I wasn’t so sure,” Dad said.

“Then your parents spent the rest of the morning telling me my proposal plan wasn’t credible enough and we needed to tweak it to come up with something that was absolutely credible,” Mike said. “You’re plenty smart and I really didn’t want you to figure it out and ruin the story. Because I know that you need stories.”

I bit my lip.

“Mike, you just proposed to me after we’ve spent three weeks, total, in the same country. I really don’t think story was ever going to be our biggest problem.”

After dinner Mike and I talked until almost 2am. By then a somewhat sobered Mike had begun to realize how far off our respective timelines had been, and I’d regrouped enough to say I wasn’t ready to tell anyone yet and that I needed some time. The answer, I said, was both “yes and wait”. I didn’t know whether that meant for two days, two weeks, two months, or two years. But one thing I did know in the midst of this out-of-body-experience was that I didn’t want to start on a long list of “people to tell” and risk repeated conversations along the lines of…

Lisa: “Mike and I are engaged.”

Good friend #23 (looking totally stunned): “Oh my WORD! Isn’t that a bit fast?”

Lisa: “Uh, yeah, I’m a bit thrown by that myself. I didn’t think we’d be addressing this question QUITE yet.”

Good friend #23 (delicately): “Are you sure you know what you doing?”

Lisa (edging towards hysteria): “Yeah, I think so. I really think I do. All my instincts say yes. But then I came home this afternoon and he was cleaning my kitchen and playing Shakira and I realized that I didn’t know he likes Shakira and I don’t know what music is on his iPod and is it safe to agree to marry someone when you don’t know what music is on someone’s iPod? Is it?? Huh???? HUH????”

Good friend #23: “Um…”

So at 2 AM after a rather exhausting conversation – the kind of conversation that anyone would want to have on the night they get engaged – I did something I’ve never done before.

I took a valium.

Well it didn’t take me two years, two months, or two weeks to regroup – at least partially – and when Mike asked me that question all over again on Tuesday night this week I was able to hang onto coherence and say yes without squeaking (and without the need to resort to valium afterwards). We’re celebrating this as progress.

Oh, and we’re also celebrating the fact that we’re engaged.

And that I am now able to anticipate conversations along the lines of…

Lisa: “Mike and I are engaged.”

Good friend #23 (looking totally stunned): “Oh my WORD! Isn’t that a bit fast?”

Lisa: “Don’t forget we’ve been getting to know each other since October last year. And, anyway, fast is all relative according to Einstein.”

Good friend #23 (delicately): “Are you sure you know what you doing?”

Lisa: “I never get 100% sure about anything in life; I don’t think it’s in my nature. But I’m more sure of this than any other major decision I’ve made. Definitely a statistically significant result on the surety scale.”

So as for crazy, dumb, or some combination of and/or in relation to Mike and me… I’m pretty sure neither of us is actually dumb even though I regularly do a vintage imitation. Crazy, however, is not as easy to dismiss, so I’ll just completely blame-shift on this front and posit a classical and elegant formula that goes: Mike is crazy.

But then again, life would be very sad, lonely, and boring without some crazy now and then, right?

I think so.

Yes.

I do.