J.B.’s Expectations

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee

Living with other people’s expectations stinks.

My dad was a terrible student. He was brilliant but never could buckle down to teachers’ expectations. He ended up flunking a few grades, but then skipping grades in between; he just barely made it through law school, graduating in the bottom quarter of his class. He was always disappointed that he hadn’t achieved higher grades or a better standing

And as often happens, his expectations for himself fell directly onto his children and manifested themselves in what my middle sister and I always called the “What Next Syndrome”. Every achievement was met with “That’s nice, what next?” What grade will you get next semester, what level class will you take next, what goal are you setting for yourself next? It made it seem as if no achievement was ever good enough in itself – only as a stepping stone to whatever was “next”. My sister got out from under this weight by blowing off school, blowing off grades and blowing off my dad whenever he got blustery. I went the other direction, excelling at school and working hard on all my next steps.

By the time I began to look at colleges, my dad’s expectations were starting to wear me down. He came home with a big fat reference book of all the colleges and universities that listed all their SAT and Achievement Test scores; he announced that I could only go to a place that had really high scores as their norm.   JBExpectationsVennAs a lover of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I promptly announced that I would only go to a school in one of those two states. If you love Venn diagrams, you can guess that the intersection of our two announcements wasn’t too large!

We both got our way. I ended up at Carleton; it was in his book and it was in Minnesota. Of course, as these things usually go, it wasn’t a fairy-tale ending. I didn’t like it all that much and ended up dropping out, not getting my degree until I was 39! I’ve always wondered if I had gone to a different school (read “with more social life than just studying”), I would have been happier and stuck with it. I guess I’ll never know. I do know that I’ve worked really hard over the years to not settle MY expectations about school and grades onto my child. And it’s been hard.

When have expectations tripped you up?

112 thoughts on “J.B.’s Expectations”

  1. My mother’s expectation of ‘successful’ wasn’t satisfying for me. But it took me many years to finally recognize what she wanted for me and what I wanted for myself were not the same. In following her vision of ‘success’ was keeping me from not only my joy, but also my purpose.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Actually right now we’re sitting in The Waffle House in Castle Rock. We underestimated our ability to enjoy a cold breakfast from the cooler when it’s 52 degrees!

        Liked by 4 people

  2. I suppose parental expectations – especially during my formative years – were the most damaging. As a child, I tried hard to live up to their expectations of getting good grades and doing well in school, but I was only fifteen years old when I realized that their expectations were too confining and limiting.

    My parent’s working class background made them suspicious of academics. No child of theirs was encouraged to pursue a higher education, and they most certainly should not aspire to a career in what they considered a male domain.

    That realization pretty much freed me to pursue whatever educational and career path I chose, knowing at the outset that it would not meet with their approval no matter how successful I was.

    Unfortunately, I have failed my own expectations many times and in different ways.

    My first marriage and subsequent divorce were devastating and painful. I wanted to have children, but never did. In retrospect that’s probably a good thing, I doubt that I would have been a very good mother at the stage of my life when motherhood was possible.

    At this stage of life my goal is to age as gracefully as I can: staying interested in what’s going on around me, making a difference in whatever ways I can, and maintaining a positive outlook. Some days that’s not easy.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. i think you are doing great pj

      none of us are fit parents when you are able to have children. youth is wasted on the young
      tom wingo in the prince of tides says it was his job to mess with his kids as much as possible and their jobs to get through ti and do the best they can.
      thats my parenting style.too

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  3. Rise and Set your Goals Baboons!

    Oh, my. There have been many. I expected that MPR would replace the host(s) of TLGMS and man, oh, man was I disappointed in the management. Still makes no sense to me, but then who asked me anyway? I thought they asked me as a community supported service, but that expectation was not realistic. Sigh. The great thing is that the blog provided an even more real community than MPR could ever hope to be.

    And then there is/was my mother. Her Alzheimers Disease co-opted her very high and unrealistic expectations of all her children–that we would somehow fix her life. Now that she has forgotten those expectations she seems to like me now. But it was very clear that I disappointed her in so many ways. It is hard to grow up as “the disappointment.”

    Well, that is depressing.

    I tried not to repeat that with my children (2 steps and 1 mine). My son says I did not repeat it! Yippee. And the grandchildren? I spoil ’em rotten and love and hug them till they squish. And they love it.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Good morning. I was lucky in having a father who only expected me to make a good effort at whatever I did and allowed me to go whatever direction I preferred. The problem has been how to deal with my own expectations and with the all the things pulling me in various directions. It has been a big problem meeting my own expectation that I should make good use of my years on this earth.

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  5. Looie and Adeline set expectations that were more about effort/process than results, the Protestant values sans the religion: hard work, utilitarianism, independence, basic moral decency. Education fit in perfectly to that: what you studied or where you studied or even if you studied were not spoken of, just the expectation that you would work hard and take care of yourself and those for whom you accepted responsibility.
    So I envisioned effort and process and assumed results would follow, whatever they would be, not so much for myself as for my family and for my students and parishioners.
    I think that was an erroneous way to live my life, but I the comments today and other days do not seem to offer a wiser option than that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i think you hit the nail on the head clyde
      we are raised with the damn work ethic as the top priority
      never mind happiness and fulfillment
      you may think you know what will make you happy but i know better. you had better listen to me or you will wind up being a bum is a common theme that children have to deal with.
      what if you did what you thought would make you happy and lived with the consequences of choosing a happy life instead of a failed plan to succeed in order to enjoy life on another level.
      damn… maybe next time huh?

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  6. I was very fortunate to have parents who supported me, many times with alarm, to set my own goals and make my own decisions. My mom sometimes said she wished I had just married the farmer down the road, but I think what she really meant was that she didn’t want me to move too far away. She just wanted every one to stay close and be “normal”. I remember once she came home from parent teacher conferences when I was in Grade 7 and saying, with exasperation “Great. Your band teacher says you have talent!”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. To be fair to my mom, this was around the time my dad had just been diagnosed with coronary artery disease and she was pretty stressed with worry that he was going to die soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Exactly fifty years ago, after Sandy and I sprung our surprise marriage on everyone, we were planning our small thrown-together wedding. One of the hot topics around us and with us was our difference in ages (I was 20; she was 25) and how that played out for our future, meaning more their expectations for us than ours. One of the issues discussed was our old age. When we arrived at 70 and 75, what would our lot be? Would I have to take care of her and would I accept that and be capable of it? There seemed to be an assumption about me, or all men, that I was not up to the task or would drift off or something. It was for certain more about gender stereotypes than us.
    Our answer was 1) women outlived men by 7 years, so she was ahead of the game. 2) Life was too much of a roll of the dice to worry about things 50 years away. 3) We did not accept the gender stereotypes.
    But privately my expectation was things would end up as they have. I did not presume lupus, but she had so many health issues even then, this outcome seemed obvious. I did not for one second shy away from our marriage because of that, and sort of prepared myself for this outcome, stepping more all the time into the stereotypical female duties. I knew the one issue would be my patience, or lack thereof. That is true.
    But really the odds were always that by this age our status would not be my expectation. I am glad I prepared for it. but give me patience, Lord, and right now.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wishing you tons of patience, Clyde.

      The marriage expectations can really do you in. With Wasband in 1975, we had been living together for a year, but as soon as we were legal, people had all kinds of expectations about our lives and behavior that I’m sure hastened the separation… what kind of job he should have (since he had none at the time), where we should live…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I have a new duty which is rather fun. I am Sandy’s DJ.
      All of our music is on my computer in iTunes. My computer is in the second bedroom. She spends much of her day reading in a chair in the livingroom. So I moved the small speaker system I had for my computer out around her chair. Then I bought a bluetooth system, which did not cost much. A little USB plug in sender and a wall plug in adapter that also has the receiver on it. So I send music out to her, often bu Internet, often Lutheran Public Radio (there is a rife source for jokes). I just bought her another Loreena McKinnett album.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Ah, expectations. Lots of ways they can trip you up when you’re not looking, the assumptions we make. The big one, of course, was when our son Joel died at age 26 (this was 2007) in an alcohol related accident. So sudden, and all those assumptions and expectations out the window.

    But little expectations that you don’t realize you have, when they aren’t met, can ruin your day or week. We count on the weather making it possible to attend events, count on a functioning alarm clock or smooth traffic to allow us to get somewhere on time, count on interpreting someone’s mood to let us know what’s going on with them… Will try and think of more.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was thinking of Joel last week. Heard from a friend who lost a son the way you did yours. He has Parkinson and was not expected to live this long, Is still living at home with his wife Adeline, the only other Adeline I ever knew. He must be over 75. A fine fine man. Excellent educator.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. they say losing a kid is the hardest thing. i feel for you every time i am reminded . it was shortly into our intro that you mentioned joel and it was so uncommon to have a person be able to be so open about such an intimate part of your life. i think you have done a great job of dealing with the trials and tribulation involved. congrats on getting through all that. el doctorow died today and theodore bikel yesterday but they are distant touches not part of your heart. the circle is there for all of us all the time but it touches so intimately at times that dealing with it is key.
      nicely done

      Liked by 4 people

  9. So hard to be a parent, always wondering how much to try to influence your kids and how much to trust them to work it out on their own. My mother worshiped doctors and dreamed that I would become one. She told me I’d be a great doctor. The D I got in inorganic chemistry said I would not.

    How do we expect young people to find their way through life? They don’t know two things: 1) themselves and 2) the world. It is a miracle that things work as well as they usually do.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. you make it sound like thats an age thing steve. i dont think those who dont know themselves as young people change much as they get older. thats the problem with what we see out there much of the time

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        1. I’ve learned a lot about myself through living alone. I have to put up with all my own bad habits and my impulsive nature. In order to get along in the world, I’ve had to learn what’s wrong with my own behavior. I’ve learned to look critically at my decisions and be honest with myself when I’ve been wrong. The lesson has come when I’ve been ready to accept it.

          Dogs are very good therapists too.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. I tried that on my daughter the other day but I knew she wouldn’t get it. And she just wrinkled her eyebrows and stared at me.
        Clearly I haven’t been showing her enough Monty Python…

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve already gone over that I caved to my folks’ career expectations…no need to beat that horse any further.

    Actually, the expectations that usually trip me up are the follow-up ones. In other words, I tend to put forth an initial effort that everyone goes ga-ga for. People’s expectations are then built up, so I up my efforts but the follow-up tends to be a let down. I do tend to try too hard…that may have something to do with it. But it’s an interesting phenomenon that plays fairly consistently with me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had an English teacher colleague who would plan a whole semester for a class, running off much paper. A week into the class he would throw out his plans, replan, and run off much more paper. A week later he would do it again. And again. When he resigned to take over his father’s small town newspaper, another colleague and I filled eleven ream boxes of paper he had from all this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. newspaper was perfect for him
        write a bunch of stuff today print it. throw it out and start gain tomorrow
        yes lots of paper. wasted? much of it yes but there is no accounting for stuff other people are interested in

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  11. In high school, I had great expectations of being an actress and/or a dancer. Going to college at the U of MN-Mpls for Theater was a big reality check — I just didn’t have the talent or the thick skin for constant rejection.

    After graduating with my BA (because I just had to finish), I went to business school for Word Processing/Secretarial as there were lots of jobs in the paper for that. Working at Pillsbury, I had grand expectations of climbing the corporate ladder and breaking out of the secretarial role — which never happened. Just don’t have the smarts, degree or moxie for managerial or other roles.

    So my career is going backwards. I’ve FINALLY been hired full-time at this temp-to-hire clerical job in St. Cloud (after 2 years). I’m very grateful for a nice job in a good company, but man — I am bored. After being laid off from Pillsbury 15 years ago, I’m still not making anywhere near what I was making there. But, I am content. Have I “settled for what I can get”? Managed my expectations? The important question for me is, “have I grown, learned, loved and expanded myself”? A qualified, Yes. There’s always more.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. congrats
      st cloud is a cheaper place to live that minneapolis . 20% cut makes you even.
      hope it goes well and jim gets his degree and the ball rolling on that end too.
      godd wiork and persistance pays off sometimes. only one thing worse than being bored in a job and that is not being in that job that you are bored in. its always something

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  12. I was expected to do well in school and go to college. My father thought it would be good to become a teacher so I’d have “something to fall back on.” I did graduate in elementary education partly because I didn’t need a language requirement and I had flunked intermediate Spanish…figured I was too dumb to learn a foreign language. I taught one year and quit to go to Europe. Before I left that September, my father said, “Why don’t you settle down, get married and have children like other people your age?”
    So I finally married at 30, no children, marriage didn’t last either. I still don’t know what my mother expected of me. I’m a good cook but a lousy housekeeper, prefer caring for animals and anything else that is more interesting.
    Interesting, thought-provoking, self-evaluating question, VS. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dad was a guidance counselor, Cynthia, and he said the same thing about teaching – “You’ll always be able to support yourself.” Funny thing was, I graduated 1970 in elem. ed., and there was this glut of teachers – it was no small trick to find a job that summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh, I did try teaching again. For two years. Then when I was ready to go back to it after twenty years, the jobs weren’t there to “fall back on.” Thus came MPR to save me…totally unexpected or unimagined.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. For many years, early in my life, I did worry about pleasing my parents. Even today I feel very slightly guiltly if I do something that they would not have appreciated. However, I reached a point, many years ago, when I decided to be much less concerned about pleasing them. They always gave me a considerable amount of freedom and more or less let me go my own way.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I had a friend who was driven to justify her existence by accomplishing things. Alas, she was unrealistic about what she could do during the week and wildly unrealistic about what she might do on weekends. That meant she spent every Monday writhing in despair and self-contempt because she was such a slacker.

    I suggested she could avoid this predictable despondency if she would just reduce her expectations. She wouldn’t honor that suggestion with a reply, choosing instead to give me the kind of look usually reserved for poor folks locked up in padded rooms.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. My dad expected me to be a doctor. He was never all that impressed with nursing. He would’ve settled for a dental hygienist if that’s all I could muster. He thought careers in music or English were pointless. We were very different, my dad and I.

    I’m happy now. I’ve suffered from low self-esteem in the past due to being unable to live up to those expectations. I know who I am now and that’s enough for me.

    Liked by 7 people

  17. Robin also went to Carleton, also was unhappy and also left partway through. Had she not, we likely would not have met, as I was at the University of Minnesota at the time. Less than six months after we met, we declared our intention to get married. Having decided, we were ready to do it as soon as possible. Our parents persuaded us to give them a couple of months to make preparations. Because Robin’s father was ordained as a minister, though not active as one, we asked him to marry us and thus avoided having to negotiate schedules or membership with any churches while still having a wedding that would satisfy the sensibilities of our parents and their friends. Given the fleetness of our plans and arrangements, I’m sure that there were expectations among the wedding guests that our new family would be expanding imminently. That didn’t happen for 5 1/2 years.

    The question of expectations, for myself or from others, is a bit foreign to me. I’ve just never felt the weight of expectations in a way that would push me in a direction that I didn’t want to go or in a way that affected my self esteem in any lasting way. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never had the sense of a goal, as in a career, whereby if I achieve it I will finally be somebody. I’ve never felt I have anything to prove. I’m just not that externally influenced.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Husband’s dad wanted him to be a lawyer or doctor. Psychologist just didn’t make sense to him, but it did to husband and he has never regretted the choice. It is interesting that husband and I, the two oddballs in husband’s family, have, in the long run, had the most stable marriage, living situation, and employement than any of his siblings have had. It was the last thing his dad and stepmom expected. I know they thought everyone else, who DID follow parent and family expectations, would lead charmed and wonderful uppermiddle class lives. It didn’t work out that way though.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. it never occured to me to look to my parents for their expectations. i did what was the right thing to do and if they didnt get it that was ok … they would eventually.
    ended up working with my dad and he became one of my best firends and my mom is one of my favorite people.
    i guess im just lucky
    they pulled for me in all my efforts and sideways deflections along the way in the pinball machine of life.
    its been an interesting ride.
    i dont have to worry about whether my kids will duplicate my journey. they couldnt if they tried and i couldnt help them . i dont remember a lot of it certainly not chronologically. it comes back in blips and flashbacks.
    if you remember the 60’s you werent there. i was a 70’s kid so i have a little less in the way of dead brain cells. someone told me once only the weak ones die anyway. i have taken solice in that. i didnt expect those brain cells to have a great influence anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. tim you have come up with the most original excuse for drinking or doping that I’ll ever hear! Fans of wolves defend them (when attacked) by saying the deer that wolves catch are the slow, dopey, trusting ones. You’ve applied that thinking to controlled substances. Think I’ll have me some wine tonight!

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Your story is so very relatable, VS! You sound like a first child? As a therapist, I’m quite aware of birth order roles which play out more of the time than not. First kids are usually the achievers and follow the rules; second kids take on the roles left open. If #1 is very rational, #2 is very emotional, for instance. #3s often march to their own drum.

    This model fit my family beyond a doubt! My brother was a really good, rational, and conscientious child; I was rebellious (although in sneaky, behind the scene ways) and quite emotional. Enter in parental expectations and they were different for him than for me. He earned his degree at a private college a state away; I was expected to commute to the U of M.

    I, too, couldn’t invest at that time and dropped out because I got pregnant. On a subconscious level, I knew that was the only way out of my parent’s home. Ten years and three babies later, I divorced, then started back at the U for a bachelor’s; then a masters; then a second masters. I was 38 when my full time trek through higher education finally concluded.

    It’s been my experience that having high expectations for virtually anything is treacherous as it speaks to the outcome of an endeavor. To me, it also says “I have some control over the outcome”. Then, when something doesn’t go just as well as I’d wanted it to, I’m demoralized. This includes relationships.

    Oddly, one of my mom’s expectations for me was met: getting pregnant before getting married! She told me for years that I’d “end up getting in trouble” if I got involved with a guy. Well, at 19, I met that expectation.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. oh the parental expectations I have shattered, and yet I kept trying for the approval that is never going to come.

    I had a major breakthrough this summer, realizing that there is no way either the s&h or I is ever going to do anything remotely “good enough”, so we can just quit trying and please ourselves.

    We just have to show up and check off the “showed up” box, not doing so results in “unpleasantness”.

    Meeting my own expectations, now that is really pushing things.

    See recent post about list-making 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. leave s&h out of this mig this question was about you.
      hes gonna have to get the hang of dealing with your snafus like we are all writing about here.

      Like

      1. Ah but the s&h was the biggest expectation shatterer in my resume!

        For starters, he was never supposed to even be here. I was supposed to be the doting and generous single aunt with a conventional career as a physician.

        Once he was here and I made it clear we were sticking together, the expectations were that I would make a right hash of bringing him up.

        One of the proudest moments of my life was getting a letter from his paternal grandfather stating he thought I had done very well with what must be a challenging job.

        I have exactly zero expectation of hearing anything like that from my own parents.

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        1. You have done an exceptional job mig
          Congrats and continued success
          You have raised a remarkable young man with great curiosity and high aim at the goals he will achieve
          You done good

          And he can run too

          Liked by 2 people

  22. Today makes me appreciate that my parents did not do those things to us. We all met the expectations I gave earlier today. No other things were said, no pride, pride is one of those Protestant sins my parents abhorred. But no displeasure either. My father it turned out had hoped I would take over the farm, which my mother told me years later, but she said it was an early sign of senility that he came up with that thought. They did of course teach us to set expectations for ourselves. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I’m curious, because frankly I don’t understand: what gives parental expectation the power to direct (or evaluate) the course of one’s life?
    Especially when one has also become an adult?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Because children are vulnerable on their parent’s expectations and, unfortunately, this doesn’t cease just because they grow up and leave home. This reminds me of a client many years ago who’s father taught him that he’s always be a good for nothing loser. He started a business and became a millionaire, but his dad still withheld his approval. He died of a massive heart attack at age 45 after driving himself mercilessly for decades.

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        1. I think it is due to attachment. I think we are hard wired to affiliate with those who nurture us, even if it isn’t the greatest nurturing sometimes. There isn’t anything logical about it.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. But at some point don’t you have to distinguish your perspective from the opinions of others and decide which you are going to follow? Especially when they differ? I think I was about 15 when I realized that I had to trust what I was being told or I had to trust myself— that I was at a fork in the road and there was no going back. I chose myself.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. That’s such a good question, Bill. What indeed? All I know is that I didn’t dare question my father. I ended up doing what came naturally to me instead of what he expected me to do, but it made our relationship unbearable at times. I still tell myself sometimes that it’s okay to be me – that I don’t have to live up to my parent’s expectations of me – that I can be satisfied with myself as I am. I let go more and more every day. It helps to have like-minded people around.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Where expectations take on a presumed authority, that authority only obtains where you allow it. Submitting to a presumption of authority that is counterproductive to you makes you complicit in a way. Individuals with opinions are just individuals with opinions, not authorities.

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        1. Incidentally Krista, I think doing what came naturally to you was the natural and brave choice. That it should have been controversial was your father’s failing, not yours.

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    3. Well Bill, in my experience it is because your parents get ahold of you before you are even aware of your “self”.

      If they are really efficient, they see to it that you get almost no exposure to the idea that you have other possibilities than those they have laid out for you. You figure this is just how life is for everyone. You also daily learn that you are just not capable of choosinv wisely for yourself.

      At some point you get to actually leave, and it is an almighty shock to find that other people have a very different relationship to their parents, and it’s tough to act for yourself because you’ve never learned those basic skills.

      A metaphor, if you will:
      My maternal grandmother was left-handed. This was not allowed at school and her left hand was tied behind her back. To her dying day, she wrote very poorly with her right hand and could not use a left-handed scissors. She had never learned these skills properly, only the makeshift workaround with her right hand.

      She probably could have eventually learned to write left-handed, but it is unlikely a mother of 5 children who had to feed a threshing crew would have been able to find the time.

      By the same token, it takes a lot of work to scrape together the self-esteem to start over once you’ve been schooled to think of yourself as having failed.

      Oh, and you also probably have those loans to pay off that you accumulated while pursuing the career you did not want in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. No idea about where the parents got this.

          They were both the first in their respective families to go to college (FWIW, birth order does not seem to have been a factor). It did seem to endow them with a sense of authority over the rest of their respective families, but they must have had some sense of self to go off and do that. Neither would have gotten the idea from their parents.

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  24. So, given that scenario, how did you get to be such an intelligent, insightful and competent parent and contributor to the trail?

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  25. Evening.
    Kelly’s Mom, Jean, was rather put out when Kelly told her she was dating a farmer. Jean expected Kelly to find a doctor.
    (And there may have been a few interested in Kelly but I managed to scare them off. Kelly says next time she’ll go for the doctor.)

    Isn’t that how it goes: First for love, second for money?

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Once read a suggestion that one should marry someone fifteen years older the first time, fifteen years younger the second time and same age as you the third and last time. Tried a variation on the theme without getting married to each of them…but lastly, now single. (except for upcoming virtual marriage to HVS)

    Like

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