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I'm going to put my phone down to what love feels like. We were lying on the shiyi carpet of my five hundred square foot apartment playing Bananagrams, deciding what love feels like, I said it's the workout where you squat and catch the medicine ball at the same time, it's falling and lifting at once. Paul said, How heavy is the ball? I thought about it, about his depression and compulsiveness by type A personality and body image issues. Just because we are in love doesn't mean things have been easy, I replied.
I mean, how do you think I got thighs like these?
Thank you so much. Yeah. Bye bye. Mia, do you know what our means and I. Just tell me what it stands for. Define the relationship.
I'm not that big of a fan of the acronym, but it's something that's used fairly widely among people my age.
Oh, I didn't know what it was either, but I was asked by someone else, Oh, did you? I was like, oh, what is this? I have to Google this.
It's like people what people have always done with saying, you know, like you're my boyfriend or you're my girlfriend. But putting in a new terminology or is it something different than.
I think not. Yeah. I mean, it could be boyfriend girlfriend or it could just be like, what is this? Or a casual hookup.
But it's about clarifying, hey, this is what we are and we're both on the same page.
Mm hmm. We ran an essay a year ago that had a line about divorce that had been passed down from this woman's mother, who said the way to stay married is not to get divorced. And it's one of these simple lines that actually comes back to me fairly frequently. It's about love being a decision. You're going to love each other and sometimes that will come.
Naturally and feel good, and sometimes that's going to be like a mighty struggle to remind yourself that you love this person and you need to act like it, choose to be with them still.
Yeah. And when you talk about defining the relationship, like that's really a beginning.
You have to keep having those conversations and coming back to like, what do we expect of each other?
Who are we to each other and where where are we going to defining the relationship?
Redefining the relationship.
Yeah. So it's really not you know, it's not it's not just at the moment. It's like an ongoing it's like a subscription model that you have to keep up year after year.
Today's essay is Flying Close to Temptation, written by Liz Parker, published in April 2013.
It's read by Gapper Sackman.
I always said I would drink again only if Sarah got cancer, which was my way of saying I would never drink again. The possibility of anything bad happening to her seemed remote and decades away. Imagine my surprise when a mere six weeks into our marriage, she called me at work to say. The doctor found something. The din of midday midtown swallowed her words, a routine exam a week earlier had found a lump and the results from her mammogram had been concerning enough that the doctor immediately picked up the phone and called her.
I left my office to meet her. Unsure what to expect. Some people exude resilience and fortitude in the midst of adversity. I am not one of them. My first thought is of certain and immediate death, followed by a maudlin song orchestrating a montage of good moments. I don't call my smartest doctor friend and ask him what to do. I start writing the eulogy. Sarah and I met outside a church on Fifth Avenue. Her eyes already steeled with resolve.
I've emailed my boss and we'll go to Germany tomorrow as planned. She said, You'll still meet me in Italy. Our honeymoon in Venice was two days away. We had planned it to coincide with one of her business trips. She would fly over first and I would take the red eye two days later, even before we had the confirmation that it was cancer, we knew it was and I immediately started thinking about a drink. It was a benchmark I had never wanted to hit, and here it was staring me down.
Sarah and I were set up on a blind date. I was in New York for work, and at one of my meetings, a man I barely knew asked me if I was seeing anyone he was about to get married, and I was petrified this would turn into one of those exchanges in which the happy person assures the single person, there's hope for you yet. I want you to meet a friend of mine. He said, I think you'd get along.
He swiftly arranged for us to meet that day. Later, I walked into a bar of Central Park and was shocked to find a gorgeous woman, complete with perfectly styled hair and makeup waiting at the bar. This couldn't possibly be my date. Half of my head was buzzed and I was hanging on to my baby fat in a knot, baby. Cute way. She ordered a club soda with a splash of cranberry.
I ordered wine twice. The first question she asked was why I had moved from New York.
And for some reason the answer that came out was love, but not great love, because less than a year later I was dumped naked. She sat there politely and I realized with growing horror that we were both picturing me getting dumped naked. I live in a sublet in Long Island City. She finally said, and sometimes I go grocery shopping at the mobile mart. She was as kind as she was pretty, I may have been dumped naked, but at least I could get myself to a proper grocery store.
We left after an hour and I went uptown embarking on the exact kind of New York night that made me miss the city so badly. I assumed we didn't have much of a future. We were 10 years apart, shared no hobbies, and I drank. What fun could possibly come from sobriety a few weeks into our courtship started mainly because we kept responding to each other's emails. We were walking through Chelsea Market, our hands raised. And as I glimpsed up at the back of her head, I had this feeling deep in my gut that I would love her.
Not in that moment, not yet, but I knew in the way seasons change that I would love her before this one ended. I asked her early on why she had stopped drinking, and she described feeling as if everyone around her had known to get on a train moving forward. But she was watching from the road as these people slowly passed her by. I took stock of my life, a new relationship, wonderful friends, a rewarding job. Drinking had not kept me off the train.
My heart exhaled. Maybe I was safe. A few months later, I was out late, propelled by a thirst to belong, and I walked unsteadily into the bathroom. The mirror caught my reflection and suddenly I was squinting into my eyes, trying to figure out how I could be madly in love with someone, but no one my core that if the person I was drinking with at this bar made a move. I would go along with it. The next morning, I called Sarah.
I don't have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I said. Cursing myself for saying it out loud, because I knew she could never even hear it. But I knew. If I drank, I would cheat. And she would leave. She had the tools and presence to move on, and I didn't. She would be the one who got away. So I stopped drinking and my life jolted forward at an unbelievable clip, a cross-country move, a career change, cohabitation, another career change and engagement, homeownership, marriage, also deaf professional challenges, family politics gone awry, financial anxiety, actual anxiety and now cancer.
Two days later, I sat in the United Lounge looking at fellow travelers, the clock, my phone and my club soda. A man with a fedora sipped something brown on the rocks, a woman left smudged lipstick on what looked like a wine spritzer. A little boy watched his parents drink, his eyes moving from her red wine to his beer, his head moving slightly between the two. I saw a young couple honeymooners to toast with champagne flutes. I looked down at my club soda, the ice was mostly melted.
If I drank now, could I pause my life again? Could Sarah and I go back to that first summer when everything was still a possibility? I imagine the coldness of the chardonnay leaving an imprint on every cell as it travel down my throat. My backwood lucene, my thoughts would get fuzzy in the best way. I could call an old friend, chat about mindless gossip as I waited to board. The bartender wouldn't think twice about giving me a poor for the road.
The flight attendant wouldn't cork her head when I asked if I could have both red and white with dinner. Sarah would never have to know. No one would. Except I would know. The thing I prized most about our relationship was that Sarah knew everything about me and loved me anyway, if I were to drink, that secret would be the first brick in a wall between us. Suddenly, I felt as if I were back in that bathroom squinting at my eyes.
This wasn't about just my own life. We had a life now, and the only way I was going to be the wife she needed was if I stayed in the moment. We don't get to rewind the clock and we don't get to rewind our self-awareness. Honesty is Lennier. I thought about that night in the bathroom and how scared I was that Sarah might be really sick. For me to escape into drinking now would be to leave her alone. I watched the wall grow brick by brick.
My stomach clenched at the thought of Sarah sitting in a doctor's chair wondering where I had gone, I thought of months down the road when we would get test results back, saying she would need surgery and chemotherapy and radiation. Neither of us knowing at the time that she would come through it and be fine. All I could see was Sarah reaching for my hand and there I would be locked up with my secrets, navigating a dark cave while wishing I had chosen the brighter path.
A ding and a scratchy female voice announce that my flight was starting to board. I didn't want to escape regardless of what may be hiding in the future. The flight passed, unremarkably, I watched a movie slept, ignored the wild card at dinner time. And in the morning, Sarah was waiting at my gate in Milan, cappuccino and croissant and ham. Shopping for home and auto insurance can seem like a daunting task, but protecting the things you've worked hard for is important.
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And thank you. Hello. Hi, how's it going? It is good. It's great to meet you. How are you? I'm doing well, Liz. So your essay ends right at the beginning of Sarah's cancer diagnosis. How did it go from there?
We we got back from our honeymoon and immediately started, for lack of a better term, the cancer process. It was surgery, chemotherapy and radiation from July until February. But she had a type of cancer that was treatable and we could feel pretty strong and confident that she was going to be fine. Hmm. So with the mortality tables, it took away a lot of the fear that might have silenced us or serves as an elephant in the room. And instead, we spent some time thinking, OK, what do we need to really get through?
And. We were surrounded by our friends in a way that was profound. They showed up every Thursday at five pm at Sloan Kettering for four months. It was incredible because what other point in your life do you have a group of 10 adults that committed and while it was happening, our friends were going through sort of extraordinary times themselves. My best friend was pregnant. Our other best friends were in the process of adopting their niece. My dad was going through a career change and we were living it together in a way that without structuring it around Sarah's chemotherapy.
It would have been a series of updates over dinner over several months, and I would never want anything bad to happen to Sarah. It's my worst fear. But there was a tremendous amount of growth and love and connection that came through this experience. Yeah, yeah. That I wouldn't trade. Sarah and I talk about it a lot, we always will treasure it. And so you wrote at the beginning of your piece that you would only drink again if Sarah got cancer and then, of course, Sarah did get cancer.
Could you tell me about the conversation that you had with Sarah when you realized you had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
So for the first three months of our relationship, I was in San Francisco and Sarah was in New York, and it was really easy to maintain essentially two lives.
One with Sarah didn't revolve around alcohol and one in San Francisco, that I had this creeping suspicion that. Alcohol was a problem, and when I told Sarah I knew what I was really saying was I think I might be an alcoholic and I don't want to lose you because of it. I was basically looking down the tunnel of fights that couples have. I mean, fighting is part of life. And every single one I saw involved me getting drunk and Sarah getting frustrated by it.
And I thought, if I stop drinking, we're never going to have those fights. We can have fights about other things, but we don't ever have to have a fight about me coming home too late or me going out or something that I knew was going to become an issue. And all of that tied into getting sober. Mm hmm.
And how did that conversation actually go when you told Sarah?
So I had been out late the night before and I slept late and I called and she could hear it in my voice. She could hear the hangover. And I said, I don't think I have a healthy relationship with alcohol. It felt like eating glass while I said it. Because I knew I could never unsay it and she could never hear it. And by saying it out loud. A plan had to be put in place and to Sara's credit, and I'm not surprised because she's the most generous person I've ever known.
She gave me the room. Hmm.
She just said, OK, what might you want to do? And it was so generous because, you know, she hand delivered me into the corner that new time to stop drinking. But I didn't feel like I'd been pushed or bullied or pressured to get there. So when I did get there, it was like saying goodbye to my oldest friend in a way, you know, it was like that sort of it was such a maudlin farewell.
And it's comical to look back on it because it's, you know, just alcohol.
Mm hmm. So you had been sober for about two and a half years by the time Sarah got sick, were there other times during her treatment that you were tempted to drink?
It was interesting because I didn't want to drink in the moment. I didn't want to pass the chemotherapy nights away by drinking wine. The epiphany I had in that united lounge of if I drink now, I'm going to ruin this. And knowing that it was the same epiphany I'd had in twenty thirteen looking in the mirror, that was real.
It was a moment that I couldn't have I couldn't even think the fact that there was no way to get out of this, there was no escaping it. And so Sarah and I just sat together. There are days in which you are on a ride of anxiety and your only choice is to hang on. There is no amount of willpower that gets you off the ride. And in that case, it's finding the people or the person that encourages you to name the feelings instead of immediately trying to fix the problem, it's finding the space or you're allowed to just feel it.
Thank you so much for talking to me today. Thank you so much. Thank you, Liz. Bye bye. Bye. You're listening to Modern Love, the show is produced by Kelly Prime and Hans Butow and edited by Sarah Sarasohn and Wendy Dorje.
Music is by Dan Powell. This week's essay was written by Liz Parker and read by Gapper Zachman. Mahtani Love Story was written and read by E.J. Schwartz. Special thanks to Julia Simon, Nora Keller, Mahimahi Mitchell, Bonnie Lorcan, Bonnie Wertheim on your Streamy and Sam Dolnick and Corsica and also to Ryan Wagner and Kelly Rogers at Autum. The executive producer for New York Times audio is Lisa Tobin. I'm Dan Jones and I'm really see you next week.