THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN
There once lived a man named Huffnagle. He was a sensitive man with a bright mind, and he was lonely. He had many good things in his life -- he was young and athletic, got good grades in college, had some good friends, and he was handsome. He couldn't necessarily see these attractive attributes in himself because he focused on people who rejected him. He rarely risked his fragile ego to ask women for dates and, when he did, he was horrified if they refused him, even for really understandable reasons.
One day at the beginning of an academic year, Huffnagle met a lovely young woman named Hilda and walked her home from class. She was aloof and stand-offish but cordial. He assumed she was not interested in him and determined not to call her. He didn't even ask for her number.
The next week, Huffnagle and his roommates all decided they needed to start dating more. They bought tickets to a concert in a unique location and decided to all get dates. Huffnagle vowed to ask the next woman he ran into for that date. As he was walking from his apartment toward campus, Huffnagle met Hilda again as she was about to go out for a run -- and he almost forgot his vow. But he kept the vow and asked her to the concert.
They had a good time, and he asked her for another date. However, Hilda's roommate called him and told him that Hilda was making fun of him with her other roommates. His fragile ego was unable to stand this kind of insult, so he walked to her apartment, asked her if it was true and, when she admitted it, he broke the date. She told him she was not interested in dating him anyway, but asked if they could be friends. He said that was up to her and walked away.
The school year progressed forward, as they always do, and Huffnagle dated once in awhile, but the first dates didn't ever seem to lead to second dates. Huffnagle was discouraged. He doubted he would ever find a woman who could put up with him and keep him company over the long haul.
One night, when Huffnagle was returning from a Valentine's Day dance in his tuxedo, he found Hilda waiting in his apartment. His date had not gone particularly well, and he had decided not to ask the same girl out again. Hilda wasn't there to see him, but he needed someone to talk to. He asked her if she was doing anything later that evening and she said no. He said maybe he would go to her apartment and see her. She had said she wanted to be his friend, so now he was going to talk out all of his romantic woes with her. However, Huffnagle's roommates got home, and they decided to watch a movie together, and Huffnagle completely forgot about telling Hilda that he would visit her.
The next day in church, Hilda asked Huffnagle what had happened. "I waited up until 1:00 a.m." she said. Huffnagle felt genuinely sorry to have inconvenienced Hilda and promised he would visit her that afternoon.
During that visit, Huffnagle and Hilda talked like best friends, reminiscing about childhood, sharing experiences, talking about literature and ideas, and connecting at a really deep level about emotions and spirituality. After that conversation, Huffnagle and Hilda were inseparable for the remainder of the school year. They often went to the beach together, got together in the evening to study together, went for long walks, and otherwise just craved each other's company.
As the end of the school year approached, Huffnagle realized that Hilda was planning to go on a mission, and he realized how much he would miss her. He thought he might never see her again, and it made him very sad. He thought about it over and over again, and he decided he did not want to live without her. So one quiet evening on a beautiful beach, Huffnagle proposed marriage to Hilda. He read her a poem he had written to her and said, "I love you Hilda. Will you marry me?"
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN, PART 2
When Huffnagle proposed, Hilda smiled and said, "Aren't you going to get down on one knee?" More sure of her answer now, Huffnagle bent down on one knee and repeated his proposal. Hilda replied, "Of course I'll marry you Huffy!"
Huffnagle and Hilda tumbled ahead like careless puppies, having a baby 10 months after they were married, living in different cities where Huffnagle tried to develop a career. But early in their marriage, Huffnagle noticed that Hilda didn't seem entirely happy. She seemed to resent not going on a mission as she planned. She also made the comment wistfully that, "I was just getting to the point where I could get any man to ask me out and enjoying being young and single. Now I'm just old and married and knocked up!"
Huffnagle was very troubled by these words and didn't like Hilda thinking them, let alone saying them. Why was she missing the attention of other men? Wasn't the point of dating to find love and get married? Then why was Hilda missing the dating game? It seemed out of harmony with their religion. Wasn't eternal marriage the point of everything? Hilda's thinking seemed dangerous. Were there former boyfriends she missed? Did she wish she was with one of them? Did she regret marrying Huffnagle? He worried and fretted about Hilda constantly. He quizzed her and asked her questions trying to decipher any clue of her disloyalty or dissatisfaction -- even if it was just a passing thought. She refused to discuss it with him, which only made his horriblizing worse as his mind concocted all kinds of things that might be going through Hilda's mind.
And there was more. Hilda was often unhappy. She rarely smiled, except when she was putting on a show for other people. She rarely smiled at Huffnagle anymore. She worried a lot about whether they had enough money and seemed to regret their sometimes meager budget for groceries. She often slept in until well after noon and was unmotivated to do house work -- so their home was usually a mess. Huffnagle tried to clean up when he could. But working full time, he couldn't keep up with it.
Huffnagle and Hilda had more children and more children were more work. They loved these children, but life had started to feel overwhelming. Huffnagle was often worried that things at his home were unsafe when he was not there and worried about Hilda's well-being when he was away at work or out of town on business. The budget continued to be tight and Hilda and Huffnagle got in trouble with credit card debt a couple of times, which they only overcame by even deeper cuts in their budget.
Hilda finally decided that she needed more money than Huffnagle could provide. So she got a job working nights as a waitress at a local diner. At first, Huffnagle objected to this because it would give them little time together as a couple. Hilda watched the children during the day when Huffnagle was at work, and he watched them at night while Hilda was at work. Hilda did seem a little happier. She kept all of the money she made for herself. It wasn't a lot of money, but it bought her some of the things she wanted, like the occasional pair of new shoes or a meal out with a girl friend. Huffnagle sometimes resented that He worked "for the family" and Hilda only worked for herself. He resented that she had more money to spend on herself than he had for himself, because most of what he earned was used to pay bills and support the family.
Hilda also made glowing comments from time to time about the men she worked with, or who flirted with her when she waited on them. Huffnagle wasn't so sure he liked having his attractive wife out in a social place where she was exposed to so much positive male attention.
Huffnagle also noticed that lovemaking had become less frequent and more of a chore for Hilda. She rarely wanted to be satisfied herself and mostly just wanted it to be over quickly so she could get back to reading her book or other solitary activities. Huffnagle tried to talk with her about how this hurt his feelings, but she refused to discuss it or even admit that it was a problem.
Huffnagle decided that maybe Hilda would talk to him in marriage counseling where there was someone else in the room to help Hilda feel safe. He proposed that they go to marriage counseling.
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN, PART 3
Hilda agreed to go to marriage counseling. Huffnagle loved Hilda desperately and he told the therapist, "I'll do whatever I have to do to keep my family together." Hilda was less convinced that she wanted the marriage to work, so most of the therapy focused on making Hilda happier. Occasionally, Huffnagle brought up the concerns he had, but the therapist said they were "putting the cart before the horse."
After six months of marriage counseling, Hilda did feel better and more willing to be in the marriage. But her behavior toward Huffnagle didn't change very much. She was still unwilling to discuss his concerns. Since those had never been explored in counseling either, they remained unaddressed and continued to fester. Hilda continued to be uninterested in Huffnagle in the bedroom.
As the years passed, Huffnagle and Hilda occasionally caught glimpses of the relationship they had when they were young. They were both intelligent and could connect over thoughts and ideas. But they could rarely connect over the things that were most personal to them. There was an undercurrent of contempt between them.
They built their dream home with a vaulted ceiling, wood floors, and an incredible mountain view. Hilda had always hoped that moving into a house like that would make her happy. (Huffnagle secretly hoped so too.) In the end, Hilda was happier for a few weeks -- until the newness wore off and the house was just a place to crash. They tried the same experiment with a luxury car for Hilda. She was happier for a few weeks and then it was just transportation.
As our couple was sitting in church on Easter Sunday, Huffnagle looked over and saw that Hilda was not wearing her wedding ring. His anger swelled within him, and he removed his wedding ring and dropped it in Hilda's purse. She looked over at him incredulously and whispered, "what?" Huffnagle whispered back, "You haven't worn your ring in months and you ask me what?"
That moment between Hilda and Huffnagle was the beginning of the end. Huffnagle decided that his concerns had never been important to Hilda, and he persisted harder than ever to make her hear him. In turn, Hilda persisted more stubbornly than ever to stonewall and resist all uncomfortable conversations. The more they did this dance, the more polarized they became -- until Hilda wanted nothing to do with him and moved into to the spare bedroom.
Huffnagle went to Hilda shortly after this and said, "I love you Hilda. We've been together through good times and bad times -- 16 years. We have children. I don't want a divorce. Can we go to marriage counseling again?" She said she would think about it. Huffnagle went to her parents and told them everything and asked them to recommend counseling. They seemed troubled and said they didn't want to be involved, but said they would encourage her to go to counseling.
TO BE CONTINUED AGAIN . . .
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN, PART 4
Hilda agreed to go to counseling again and said she was hopeful. Huffnagle was hopeful too. But this time around, Huffnagle was different in counseling. He didn't approach it with the attitude that he would do anything it took to save the relationship. He thought it would be better if both he and Hilda were heard and understood in counseling.
Perhaps Hilda was hoping that counseling would do what it did before -- and get Huffnagle to focus only on making her happy at his own expense. Perhaps she was actually just done with the marriage and didn't know how to end it. Perhaps she only went to counseling to please her parents. Huffnagle could not tell for sure which of these answers was right or if they were all wrong together. All he knew was that, at first, it felt like Hilda was trying to "win" the sessions. Perhaps he was doing the same. It is common for people to go to counseling wanting the counselor to change their partners.
The counseling went on for 8 months, but it was mostly over after the first month, when Hilda mentally checked out and became mostly non-responsive in therapy. Whatever the reasons, she just appeared tired and crestfallen -- like she was exhausted from years tolerating a marriage to a man she didn't really love. She seemed to be following the path of least resistance. She wasn't quitting counseling, but she wasn't engaging either. It was quiet, passive resistance.
They say some marriages end with a bang and others with a whimper. This was definitely a whimper kind of ending. In fact, Hilda and Huffnagle never argued -- during their marriage or in the middle of the divorce. Their marriage just seemed to fade out of existence.
The counselor once said, "You two don't seem to have any passion -- even to fire one of you up to go and file for divorce." Huffnagle knew, for his part, that he had been passionate about Hilda. But he was emotionally exhausted from years of over-functioning with a chronically depressed wife, and trying to earn the love of a woman who would never give it. One person cannot have enough love for two. Huffnagle had learned that the hard way.
As the years passed, Huffnagle and Hilda tried to mitigate the harm the divorce did to their children through counseling and other interventions. But it was hard for Huffnagle to watch his children suffer and act out.
Hilda moved in with another man before the divorce was final, believing she was finally in love. Huffnagle dated many women for a decade before he re-married.
As his single years passed, Huffnagle sometimes reminisced about his younger years and his marriage to Hilda and he was sad that something that began with so much promise seemed to almost end for no reason. He heard from the kids that Hilda's new husband had a bad temper and he hoped she was o.k.
As he thought about it, with the benefit of some time and distance, he understood that he had not been a perfect husband. That is not to overlook Hilda's limitations. But he could remember moments early in the marriage where he was needlessly insecure and jealous, and realized that his questioning of Hilda not only seemed weak and needy, but also reflected a lack of trust. He also thought about how he was always a little bit afraid that Hilda was not who he hoped she was, and might not be true to him and to their shared faith -- and he had never been at peace about this. As he reflected on it, Huffnagle realized that this had probably helped to create a feeling in Hilda that she was not right for him and that she could not be what Huffnagle needed. This was reinforced by the fact that Huffnagle often looked to Hilda for his happiness and validation of Himself -- which was overwhelming to Hilda and felt smothering to her.
Huffnagle came to peace with the idea that the demise of the marriage had not been all Hilda's fault. He had also played a role. He had loved Hilda the best he knew how at the time. There were marriages worse than theirs that went the distance -- even involving severe mental and physical abuse. So what did that say for Huffnagle and Hilda? Not much. Such comparisons are seldom very helpful.
Huffnagle had always previously thought that marriages ended because of abuse and that people need a really good excuse to get divorced. He learned that divorce is about a choice, not an excuse. Huffnagle learned the hard way that you can never take love for granted. It is a precious gift. It cannot be taken, demanded, or extracted. It can only be freely given, and a wedding ring does not change that. Real love honors agency and accepts the consequences.
Huffnagle also learned that a marriage is more than a discovery -- it is the creation of the two people involved. He learned that he could only create his 50 percent of it, and that marriage could be better if the two spouses together formed clear intentions about how to operate and create a marriage they both loved.
And here ends the tale of Huffnagle the human -- utterly human isn't he? I hope all of us can see the little bits of Huffnagle and Hilda in ourselves and think a little more deeply about how we show up in relationships. Divorce creates a precious opportunity for us to intentionally consider how we can show up better, be less demanding, be more connected, and be more capable of personal happiness and, thus, marital happiness.
You may be in pain lover past losses. But take this journey. Accept the challenge. It might be the best thing you've ever done.
Remember our new mid-single friends we met at church a few months ago? We recently attended their wedding and it was such a joyous occasion!
He was widowed and she was divorced, both were single parents. Thankfully, her kids signed her up on a dating site (not something she would have done herself), which is how they met.
We absolutely love witnessing the blending of two previously separate lives! It's wonderful when a new and loving companionship blesses the lives of good people and their families.
After their ceremony, we did the photo booth and got to sit and eat with the bride & groom and make more new friends with their fun guests. We felt grateful to be there celebrating with them. Congratulations RJ and Debra!
"Loving someone will never be wasted."
During our mid-single years, we met a lot of amazing people and created many good relationships. They didn't all lead to marriage and that's okay. When a relationship doesn't turn out as we may hope (forever), the opportunity to connect with and love another person is never wasted.
"About a Boy" is a popular 2002 film starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult. It begins with a self-centered mid-single man named Will (Grant) who lives off of the royalties of a Christmas jingle his father wrote. So he has no job and doesn't need one. He insists that he is an "island" and doesn't need anyone in his life. He spends his day playing pool, getting haircuts, watching TV, buying things, and figuring out ways to date lots of different girls. A couple of his married friends offered to make him godfather to their daughter Imogene. Will's response was, "I can't think of a worse godfather for Imogene." He said that he likely wouldn't do anything to help her until her 18th birthday, when he would take her out, get her drunk and, "let's face it, probably try and shag her." The mother says, "I can't really believe you're that shallow." Will boastfully responds, "No, you've always had that wrong. I really am that shallow."
Will develops an elaborate scheme to date "single mums" by attending a support group and pretending he has a two year-old child named "Ned." It actually works and he begins dating a woman from the support group he is attending. They end up on a Saturday outing to a park. The woman informs Will on their way out the door that they are taking her friend's geeky teenage son "Marcus" (Hoult) on the outing with them because his mother (Toni Collette) is not feeling well. His mother is something of a hippie and gives him a loaf of bread to take on the picnic. It is hard as a rock and won't break when Marcus tries to feed the ducks with it. In desperation, he finally throws the entire loaf into the pond and kills a duck with it. Forever after that he calls that day "the dead duck day."
When Will and his date take Marcus home, they find his mother lying unconscious, having attempted suicide. They call an ambulance and rush her to the hospital, where she receives life saving treatment and lives.
Marcus is very disconcerted by his mother's suicide attempt. He is bullied at school and doesn't have any friends. He is such a target for bullies that even the other geeky kids don't feel safe hanging around him. He also realizes that the only person he really has in the world is his mother, and she is unstable. He says to himself that one person is not enough. "You need backup." So Marcus turns to Will, the "island" man, and starts dropping by his apartment after school. At first Will is resistant, but eventually takes a liking to Marcus.
One day when Will sees Marcus getting bullied, he takes him out and buys him some cool new shoes. Of course, soon thereafter, the bullies steal the shoes and he has to walk home in the rain in his stocking feet. As he explains the situation to his mother, he is forced to tell her who bought him the new shoes, and she goes to a restaurant and confronts Will about "these little after school tea parties." Will gets upset, tells her off for being a bad mother and not knowing what her son needs, and vows to "not open my door to Marcus again, adding "I'll be grateful to be rid of the pair of you frankly." The mother then seems to shift her position by saying, "so that's it then, you're out of his life?" She asks him if, by some miracle, he is right about what Marcus needs and she is wrong, what he is going to do about it. At first he claims that Marcus is none of his business, but continues to allow him around his apartment, gives him socially relevant Christmas presents, and coaches him through his first crush. He observes that, "When you let one person in, all sorts of other people come in too." I think, perhaps, that is the most important idea in the movie. Marcus helps Will to realize that being an island isn't enough. There are "Island chains." Will realizes that he needs people in his life.
After he lets Marcus in, Will takes a fancy to another beautiful "single mum" named "Rachel" (Rachel Weisz) and wants her to be his girlfriend. He wishes that he was "in any way interesting" to make him more appealing to her. He interjects a comment about Marcus in a conversation she is having with someone else, and she assumes that Marcus is Will's son. Not having learned his lesson yet, Will allows her to go on believing that, even when he brings Marcus over to her house for a Saturday afternoon. During that little event, Marcus is forced to associate with Rachel's son Ali (Augustus Prew), who is one of the kids bullying Marcus at school. When he threatens to cut Marcus into little pieces if he doesn't stop his "father" from dating Rachel, Marcus goes running from the house, and Rachel is forced to do some advanced single parenting.
Will ultimately decides that he has to tell Rachel that Marcus is not his son, but he blames her for choosing to believe it. She gets upset that he has been lying to her about having a son and breaks up with him.
Will, fresh from this stinging rejection, blames Marcus for messing up his relationship and says he can't help him with "real things" like his mother's depression. Marcus gets upset and decides the only way to make his mother happy is to sing "Killing Me Softly" in front of his entire school at a talent show, playing a tambourine that his mother gave him for Christmas.
After Marcus deserts Will and stops coming around his house, Will misses him and realizes that his perfect little life doesn't mean anything. He realizes that the only thing that means anything to him is Marcus. So he goes to Marcus's mother and pleads with her not to try to kill herself again. In the course of this conversation, he learns about Marcus's plan to perform at the talent show and knows immediately that it is going to get him bullied even worse at school. Will and Marcus's mother rush off to put a stop to Marcus's plan.
When they get there, Will pleads with Marcus not to perform and tells him that he cannot make his mother happy, and she has to do that for herself. Marcus disagrees and goes out on stage. He begins a timid performance and is about to be laughed off stage when Will shows up on stage with an electric guitar and gives a humorous (but a little more "hip") performance--for which he takes an apple to the head from a heckling student in the crowd. His performance saves the day for Marcus. Rachel is in the crowd and is impressed by Will's willingness to make a fool out of himself to get Marcus through his moment of humiliation. She gets back together with him and Marcus develops some sort of relationship with the first crush. The closing scene of the film is where they are all celebrating Christmas together as a hodgepodge of misfit people.
I love this movie for a few reasons. First and foremost, I think it explores the fact that letting one person into your life and your heart can open the floodgates to a whole lot more love. Marcus's persistence softens Will's heart, and he realizes that it feels good to love and be loved. Once he let Marcus in, he could let Rachel in and have more than a superficial relationship.
I also love that this movie is full of single parents who are finding their own ways through life, and a confirmed bachelor who develops a parental kind of love for a young kid. They are figuring out parenting mostly on their own. When I was a mid-single, I often said, "We are the Island of misfit toys." I think it helps for mid-singles to be together and give each other support. It is tempting to draw a little bubble around ourselves and our children and stay isolated. Having been through significant traumas, it feels safer to close people out. But letting more people in is important. Letting love in is essential.
The important message of "About a Boy" is that life doesn't mean much if you are an island. It means more when you share it with others. If you want a funny, heartwarming movie, find this one, pop some popcorn and enjoy. If you are a mid-single, I think it will speak to your heart.
We celebrated our anniversary this past weekend by treating ourselves to LIVE theater for the first time since Covid shut it down. Desert Star's first show opening back up was "Harry Poppins," a fun spoof on Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, and even Star Wars. Cathy knew their amazing pianist (Tracy) from back in her pageant days and we were lucky enough to get tickets. It turns out Jeff also knew one of the cast members and talented costume designer (Lee) from back in grade school. We were able to chat with each of them after the show; it was good to catch up with old friends!
There was a fun surprise for both of us at the end of the play when they called us out by name as a couple celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary. They had us stand up and dance in front of everyone while Tracy played a lovely rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
At the end of our dance and unexpected moment in the spotlight, Jeff twirled Cathy around and while the audience clapped, we kissed with our masks on!
ABOUT GRATITUDE. Yesterday Cathy
and I went to lunch as part of celebrating our third anniversary. I remarked to her that one of the advantages of being a divorcee is that I take our marriage less for granted.
I got married the first time when I was 26 years old. We had a child 11 months later. To some degree, I was going through the motions of what American Latter-day Saints do. I graduated from high school, served a mission, went to college, and got married when I was in graduate school. It's kind of the life plan we all expect to follow. I loved my first wife and my family, but I think I kind of just expected it would always be there for me. I took it too much for granted. Perhaps I thought what I was doing and the way I was living was just normal. But normal isn't special.
Having a lengthy marriage and then getting divorced woke me up to the fact that we are not simply entitled to marriage. Our spouses ALWAYS have choices. Even if you feel really solid with someone, that is partly a result of their devotion and conscious choice to be with you. That is a great blessing and a high honor. We should really never take it for granted. We should celebrate it every day, and not just on anniversaries.
Cathy and I dated for a good chunk of 2016 and were "just friends" for all of 2017. At the end of that year (literally the last day of the year) I wrote her a letter and asked her to date me for marriage. I didn't know it at the time, but she was dating two good men, who both had serious intentions, and trying to decide between them. So I complicated her life. Even with the great options she had and even though we had stopped dating a year prior, Cathy chose me. I don't take that for granted. She could have chosen otherwise. So I consider it a great blessing that she chose me.
Before I even met Cathy, I learned that we can only enjoy something to the extent that we are grateful for it. Our enjoyment is directly proportional to our gratitude. I enjoy my marriage and the love that we share so much because I am deeply grateful for it. I am grateful for another chance at life and happiness in marriage. I am grateful for someone to love everyday in a special way. I am grateful for the kind of family life that I once took for granted as being "just normal." Because I feel abundantly blessed, I feel abundantly happy. That is the secret my friends.
Be grateful for what you have. Be happy for others when good things happen to them. Be enthusiastic and embrace your life for its possibilities. Life is not merely to be endured. It is to be lived. So take chances, have adventures, love deeply, and live it well.