Meet A Good Woman: Jessica Ward
How old are you now, and how old were you when you got married? I’m 30 now, and was 22 when I got married. My husband was 23.
What’s your career, and what is your husband’s career? I’m a freelance writer and I own a mobile notary company. My husband works in a prison as a social services provider. I spent the first 10 years of my career as a lobbyist though, so the writing/entrepreneur thing is just two years new to us.
Tell me a little bit about yourself – anything you choose. I have a passion for children without families–perhaps because my parents fostered kids while I was young, and I know that my foster brothers grew up without ever having a family of their own. As a result, we’ve adopted two children who are special needs, and we sponsor two more. We plan to adopt again.
What were you doing in life when you met your husband? I met my husband in Junior college, right after I swore off dating (after breaking off a long relationship). I got to know him because I thought his girlfriend was a shrew who didn’t deserve him, so I as forever trying to set him up with a decent girl. He kept going on blind dates that I set him up with just to get to know me better.
I love your story about how you got to know your husband! I love how those schemes turn around sometimes. What were some favorite things you noticed in him; things that triggered the, ‘Oh, he could be husband material’ thoughts? He had a really nice family and a lot of respect for them. He struck me as someone who knew what a family was supposed to be like. I remember him saying he wasn’t really allowed to cook as a kid–his mom also has the “don’t mess up the kitchen” thing… but I remember him saying that he knew it would be important to know how to cook–because he wanted to be able to cook for his family one day, because that is how he would like to show them he loves them. (He’s now a very good cook, and regularly cooks for the family–in fact, the day after I got laid off from my job before going full-time freelance, I decided to make waffles for the family. My oldest daughter asked me, “Does Dad know you’re cooking?”)
How long was your engagement? Just under a year.
What was your primary concern when deciding if he was right for you to marry? His stability and his family. If either made me crazy, it wasn’t going to be worth it. Marriage lasts too long for it to be a headache.
Who is the idealist in the relationship and who is the realist? We take turns, depending on the subject. We have very different priorities in life, which is kind of funny, so the stuff that is really important to me to have “just so” doesn’t really matter to him, and vice versa.
When you say different you and your husband have very different priorities in life, how do you mean? Can you give me some examples? When do these clash, and how have you handled them? One good example is our fundamental difference in keeping our house. He’s most concerned that everything look tidy–I’m most concerned that something is getting done. Are the bills tidy? No, but they’re getting paid because I’m paying them. He’d tidy them like crazy, but forget to pay them. No, the kitchen isn’t clean right now–but I’m making lunch for the kids–he would put off making a meal for fear of making a mess of the kitchen. It’s a funny little balance we have–I force him into progress, and he forces me into order.
Give me a general feel for what type of person you are, and what type of person your husband is? You can just use adjectives, a summary – whatever strikes you. I’m organized and crazy ambitious–often to a fault. I’m wound a little tight, but in a good way, always wanting to make wherever I am better–and sometimes when I fail, I get very frustrated. My husband is very mellow and patient, but likes everything to have order–purpose he doesn’t care too much about, but everything must be tidy, organized and planned. (I will throw out the plan in favor of a better outcome). By way of example, when we first adopted our oldest daughter, she was seven years old and did not yet know how to properly use a fork. I set about teaching her how to eat properly, and helping her to experience new and different foods–he followed her around with a dustbuster and a damp rag.
It sounds like he levels you out a lot. You and I seem pretty similar in personality, actually. How did your organization/overly ambitious personality affect your decision making in saying Yes to him? What solidified your, “Okay, this is the right decision”? Yes, he levels me out. As for how my personality affected the decision to marry him, I’m not sure. I think I knew I needed someone who would level me. I was actually interviewing for jobs with the CIA just before we got married. I would have jumped in a minute, but I would have had only a career, no life. He’s forced me to live a life–not work for a living. (Now I work to live, instead of live to work). I don’t think there was ever a “this was the right decision” moment–there’s been lots of “I don’t regret this decision” times (all times, really), but I don’t know if I’ll ever have the mental assurance that it was the right decision–hence that need to always maintain and nurture the relationship.
This is kind of a strange way to answer the question–don’t misunderstand and think I’m saying, “gee, I’m having doubts” because it’s not like that at all–there’s always been doubt in my mind because I’ve seen so many seemingly good marriages fail. I don’t want that to happen to us, so I always feel like I’m not sure yet that it’s going to work–it’s only been eight years. I met a guy the other day who was married for 83 years. Can we make it that long? I hope so–but I have no idea.
Were there red flags that you chose to ignore, or deal with? What were they, and how have they played out? Every family has some little dysfunctions–which happens because we’re all imperfect people. I felt like my family had a lot of dysfunctions but his family was perfect. That should have been a red flag… that his family buries imperfections, and hides them, even from one another. Eventually, this played out OK, but it was pretty scary as I came to the realization that there was an “outside view” and an “inside view” of the family. Not sure what it was, but something cracked, and all of the hiding stopped, which makes me far more comfortable. (Perhaps it’s just because I’m ‘inside’ now? To me, the hiding faults so cautiously was much more disturbing than the actual faults.)
I think you touched on a huge issue when you said you felt like your family was dysfunctional but his was perfect. My family has a lot of issues, and I’ve struggled with dating guys who have ‘great families.’ I’ve even caught myself wanting to marry a man with family full of problems, just to feel more comfortable about mine. Thoughts on this? I always felt like I wanted to have one side of the family that could model functional, healthy families. My parents divorced when I was in college, but were never a very good match. My parents made many bad choices, and my dad struggled with alcohol, but we weren’t the model “dysfunctional” family either–there were just several family scripts that I didn’t want to repeat.
Did you live with him or others before marriage? Thoughts? We lived next door for a while in our last couple of years of college, but no, we never lived together. We dated for five years and wanted to be sure that we were going to marry each other. Studies have shown that people who live together before they get married divorce more frequently–and likewise, I wasn’t about to move in unless he was willing to marry me (and I think the same was true for him). Ultimately, I’m glad that’s the decision we made. Also, neither of us have lived with pervious partners before either–which is nice knowing we’re not starting off in a relationship with someone else’s baggage.
There’s a certain mystery about marriage, and a fear of the unknown, especially for those of us who struggle with the idea of commitment. What settled you and gave you peace in your decision? I’ve always been afraid of commitment, and remain afraid of commitment. Perhaps, I’m more afraid of the failure of commitment. I want to be married once, and only once. I don’t want to go through weird family separations, custody issues, or fighting.
We both treasure peace in our home. (So much so that I can’t recall a single fight we’ve ever had–we’re just both relaxed about things like that–our home is a sanctuary, and we just don’t have hostility in it). I had a suitcase packed in my car the day we got married. I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. I’ve not packed a suitcase ever since, and not felt like I was ever going to leave. We want this marriage to work, and are willing to work at it. I think perhaps that is the key–if you aren’t fighting to stay committed, you shouldn’t bother with marriage.
How many serious relationships were you in before getting married? Two–one for three years, resulting in an engagement which I ultimately broke off–fearing that I was settling, too inexperienced (how was I to know he was the right guy, if I’d never even dated another?) Also, our future plans were misaligned–he dreamed of farming in the community we grew up in, I hoped to leave and never come back. Ultimately, we both got exactly what we wanted with someone else, and though the parting was heartbreaking, we both know it was the right choice. (This was my high school sweetheart–we dated through high school and the first year of college)
Ah, high-school sweethearts. A lot of women marry theirs and have great marriages, but a lot of them don’t. Many young women who are still single wonder if their high school sweetheart was The One, unsure that they’ll ever find someone better. What would you say to those girls? I guess all I can say is that one never really knows. But you’d be doing yourself (and your partner or future partner) a disservice if you went headlong into that relationship anyhow. I think if you can be your whole self, and you don’t have go give up any part of you, your goals, or your plan for the future, and you are willing to really work when you grow and change in your marriage–rather than giving up–go ahead and marry the
high school sweetheart. I think it has to do with maturity in both partners and knowing when you’re marrying someone you love, or marrying an ideal you love. I think this is where I was with my high school sweetheart. I adored him, and he is a very, very good man, a wonderful husband and father with his wife–but ultimately, I knew we’d both have to give up too much of ourselves to make a marriage work. Too much compromise.
Why did your previous relationships end? See above for the first. For the second, I dated a friend briefly after the long-term breakup. We were crazy about each other and there was a lot of chemistry/tension (good tension if that is possible). Ultimately, I knew he wasn’t the person I wanted to marry, as I’d be “his wife” not my own person. Also, I’d feel compelled to compete against him in everything I did–and he would have felt belittled by that. He doesn’t understand my reasoning, but I didn’t feel like I could give up that much of myself to be with someone who I think ultimately I would make unhappy. (Weird perhaps?)
Chemistry is obviously important; a lot of us are afraid to let go of the “wrong guy” because we’re afraid we’ll never find another guy we’re that attracted to. I know this is a pretty broad question, but what’s your honest opinion on sex and chemistry? Regarding sex, my experience is limited to my husband, so I can’t really comment on other relationships. Regarding chemistry in general though, I’ve dated people with whom the chemistry was very different–perhaps intensity is the word. While I would say my husband was always very attractive to me, I had a respect for him (perhaps even awe) that really seemed to interfere or dull attraction/chemistry. I barely knew him when we first started dating (a funny story about that–remind me if I don’t tell you about our fist solo date). I was a little intimidated by the unfamiliarity of him, but the chemistry didn’t kick in for a long time. Whereas with someone else–we’d been friends for a long time and then all of a sudden WOW–there was chemistry and it was really fun/exciting/interesting.
That said, that intensity was just across-the-board, and we could fight like nobody’s business too–and I’m not usually a fighter–something about that boyfriend really amped me up–I was on edge all of the time. The relationship was fun and intense, but I was afraid we’d make each other crazy, or that this would all just burn out and we’d have nothing but an old friendship made awkward left. It broke my heart to hurt him, but it just didn’t set right with me as a long term relationship, so I broke it off quickly.
Everyone knows that compromise is one of the most important keys to a healthy relationship. However, compromise is not the same as settling. Give me a couple examples of things you’ve compromised on in a healthy way, and things you’ve refused to ‘settle’ for. (In your marriage, or in previous relationships.) Right now I’m ready for more kids. More kids RIGHT AWAY. If given the opportunity, I would like to adopt a sibling set of four or five kids with special needs. This terrifies my husband, but not the idea of adding kids–instead, the idea that our marriage might not hold up, or our health might not hold up. Our compromise was this–1. We don’t adopt again until all of our finances are REALLY in order, and 2, we don’t adopt again until my health is better (I’m recovering from open heart surgery as well as a major back injury, both of which resulted in some scary and sudden weight gain). He has said he’ll feel better about adopting again when our finances are on surer footing, and when he knows I’m less likely to suffer from medical problems that leaves him with a great big family alone. The two scariest words we can think of are “single parent.”
Along the same line, women frequently overlook their man’s “flaws” and end up harming themselves in the process. In your opinion, what are three unpardonable sins in a boyfriend or fiance that would warrant calling the whole thing off? Do not tolerate disrespect.
This can mean all kinds of things…pornography (I don’t know about you, but I want a man who just wants me–not any bimbo with a hot body), lousy friends who he doesn’t have the courage or respect to leave at the curb (don’t date a guy with crappy friends, it means he has bad taste in people and that says something bad about you both!), don’t tolerate a man who doesn’t treat you with respect all of the time. You can fight respectfully, you can disagree respectfully, and I have even seen perfectly civil divorces. Don’t tolerate a temper with any level of violence. Don’t tolerate excessive possessiveness. These aren’t endearing, they are dangerous. Don’t tolerate financial irresponsibility. If he can’t pay his bills on time he won’t be able to remember to change the baby’s diaper either. Also, don’t tolerate poor decision making. If he goes out and spends $2400 on rims for his ’82 civic, he’s not going to be able to save for retirement, buy a house or provide any financial security. You will fight about money until the end of your marriage–which will cost you both dearly to get out of.
Alright, let me clarify this real quick: You’re saying if you think your boyfriend’s closest friends are crappy, it’s worth breaking up with him over? Heck yeah! He’s got bad taste in people, which means he likely isn’t going to be very good at choosing a wife either. Family you can’t do much about, but friends are flexible. However, something I’ve noticed is that people often keep their crappy friends around for a LONG time. You marry this guy, and before
long his crappy abusive friends are going to be drinking beer on your couch… a few years farther, when the friends’ wife throws him out, your husband’s crappy friend is going to be freeloading on your sofa full-time while he “looks for a new place” (read: watching your cable, eating from your fridge). People who choose to keep crappy friends also aren’t good about setting boundaries–and this means they won’t be setting boundaries to protect and defend your marriage.
What’s the biggest mistake you see single women making today? Rushing into marriage because the clock is ticking, or being “serial monogamists” and jumping headlong into long-term committed relationships without proper planning, counseling and time to get to know one another. Don’t allow yourself to get desperate, or later you’ll be desperate to escape the lousy relationship.
What’s the biggest mistake you see newlyweds making today? Not being on the same page about money, kids and career. Premarital counseling is a MUST.
How has your life or career most changed when you made the decision to marry him? I stopped seeing my value as a person with my accomplishments in my career. I’m much happier now. I see success in career, family, parenting, community, etc.
If you could go back and tell your 15 year old self one thing about relationships, what would it be? I would tell myself not to worry about being in a relationship until I was 21 or 22, because I wouldn’t even begin to see glimpses of my personality until then.
Your 21 year old self? Only date people with husband potential, and only if they come recommended by someone else–you need some kind of character reference, and by 21, others know your character as well and can recommend people with some authority.
Agreed. There’s a huge shift that happens in a woman’s mentality when she transitions from ‘dating for fun’ or ‘dating because it’s good’ to ‘dating to marry.” What did you have to realize in order to get to this second point, and which life events surrounded it? Can I be really bold and old-fashioned and suggest not dating unless you’re looking to marry? I wouldn’t want to be dating someone who was just dating me for a while until he felt like settling down or the bio-clock set in and he wanted a family. What the hell? Why would I accept that from someone? Why would I offer that to someone? You can have fantastic friendships without the romance/chemistry business (oh, and a whole lot easier) until you feel like you’re ready to be looking for a spouse. We have a pre-teen daughter, and we’re seeing kids having
“boyfriends/girlfriends” in the sixth grade–last year in the fifth grade, one of my daughter’s friends had been with her “boyfriend” for six months (in the fifth grade) and as a result were trying to have a baby–which they thought was the next natural progression in their relationship, and they saw as a responsible choice since they had been “stable” for so long. As I understand from a friend in law enforcement–it seems this young couple was successful in their fertility quest. I know lots of thirty-year-old married people who shouldn’t be having babies because their relationship isn’t ready for it. My goodness! We have a rule at our house about dating–no boyfriends/girlfriends until you have something to offer a relationship. A career plan, a financial plan, etc. We don’t raise up our kids to become drains on society or on partners. Grow up, have a plan, have some money, and live how you want to live–but if you make bad choices, you don’t get to take anybody down with you..