Instead of the sound of rustling trees, rain hitting the tin roof of my long Texas porch, and the chorus of a flurry of birds hanging out in my twisted oaks, I’ve awakened to the slow low rumble of of an elevator, the rattle of an ice machine dropping ice into a cheap plastic bucket, and the knock on my hotel room door and shout of “Housekeeping!”

I’m in Dallas. Yesterday we attended the wedding of the son of two of our favorite friends. It was a perfect day, and it’s fun to see a child we watched grow up become a man and a husband. We wish them well.

Why I Hate Weddings

This wedding was beautiful in every way. I don’t regret attending a bit. In fact, it was loads of fun and I spoke to some interesting folks. But there was a time when I swore I would never attend another wedding in my life. I avoided weddings for over two decades. 

A Rough Moment

When I was a young radio DJ in Miami, I supplemented my income as a wedding photographer. I’m not sure how many weddings I photographed, but it was one too many. My final wedding was the one I screwed up. No matter how many backup cameras, sets of film, and plans for disaster, that time was the perfect storm, and something I did ruined most of the photos. I don’t know if it was a bad batch of film, a processing mistake, a bad light meter, poor exposures, or human error, but I had the displeasure of showing up for the viewing at the family home. 

The anxious bride was on my right, the parents were on my left. Stuttering and stumbling with fear, I had to show them the two dozen photos that turned out OK, and the hundreds that did not. The result was not pleasant. I was loudly berated by the enraged father of the bride and was kicked out of the house. Of course I gave the couple their money back, but I’d botched the photos of their special day. It was one of the toughest days of my young life. I was so mortified that I canceled all the other weddings I had scheduled and swore I’d never do another. And for years I refused to attend weddings because it brought back such a difficult memory.

Looking Back

In hindsight, I should have gotten back on the horse and continued. I was pretty good, well paid, and very entertaining. And I had lessons to learn that would have come in handy in future years. But I was too immature, and pain avoidance was all I wanted at that time. I should not have allowed one angry customer to discourage me. (I’m lucky I didn’t get sued, but then again, all I had was my 72 VW and some cameras.)

Photographer to the Stars

Picture this. It’s 1977, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is the number one album worldwide, and the Bee Gees are at the top of their game. Their sound engineer, Carl, was an icon in the recording industry, and he fell in love with the receptionist at the radio station in Miami where I was working as the night DJ. The couple hired me as their wedding photographer. So I showed up at the beachfront park in Miami to learn that the wedding included the Gibb brothers … all of the Bee Gees, and their little brother, Andy. Here I am, posing some of the most famous people in the world in wedding photos. It was a little intimidating.

At the reception Robin Gibb invited me to sit with them and invited me to an afterparty at their house. I politely declined, but kicked myself later; I should have attended. But I had to go on the radio later that night — and I was so insecure that I did not feel deserving. In hindsight, someone could have filled in for me on the air. 

Thankfully, those wedding photos turned out perfectly. 

My Best Marriage Advice?

When I got married, all the older couples were giving me their best marriage advice, but it fell on deaf ears. And I resisted the urge to take the young couple aside at the wedding yesterday because anything I had to say would also fall on deaf ears. There are days when I wonder how even my wife puts up with me. Here’s what I wanted to tell them, but didn’t.

  • Love changes. I always heard this, but never believed it would happen to me. You go from that euphoric feeling of being in love to a level of mature love. The changes usually start about year three and peak at around year seven, which is why those are the most dangerous times for a marriage. Mature love is so much different. You care as deeply, probably more, sometimes less, but as the euphoria wears off, you get closer to real life — kids, jobs, mortgages, problems and challenges, what to do with your money, how to raise your kids, the impact of your faith, etc. It’s actually better, but it’s easy to look back at the feeling of early love and crave it. If you know this will happen, you’re less likely to do something stupid trying to regain that feeling.
  • Up till now you’ve been living with campaign promises, and now that you’re married, all the pretending will slowly disappear. One friend of mine had never seen his wife without makeup until after they’d been married for a while. Another reported that he no longer closes the bathroom door and no longer hides passing gas. You’ll start seeing the real person behind the actor or actress you’ve been dating the past few years. Don’t let it shock you. Embrace the fact that the real person is better than the person running for office.
  • The person you marry will change, and you will change. Ten years out, they won’t be the same person. Twenty or thirty years later, they will have changed dramatically. That’s not a bad thing. It’s like fine wine; we all mature. Again: Embrace change.
  • The moment you get married, you’ll discover people want what they can’t have. You become more attractive. There will always be shiny objects who will try to grab you when you’re vulnerable. Don’t ever put yourself in a position to take advantage of it.
  • You’ve both been on the hunt … seeking the perfect mate. And you developed a lot of habits you now need to shed. You’re used to trying to win, to conquer. Now you have won the best prize of all, so put your conqueror behavior aside. It’s not even cool to flirt with others. Just understand you have to lose the habit or it could lead you to big problems.
  • Speaking of shiny objects: If you shed one marriage for another, the things you don’t like about your previous mate will tend to show up again and again. I have this on good authority from a friend who has been married five times and finally admitted HE was the problem all along.
  • You’re a team now. Partners. You’re used to making your own decisions, but you can’t do that anymore. All major decisions require both of you to agree. Don’t dominate. Be a true partner. Things will go smoother.
  • Your money isn’t your money anymore. You share it unless you’ve made specific arrangements otherwise. This was a hard one for me. I used to buy things without input, or I’d buy them anyway, even after input. I slip into that behavior once in a while still, but these decisions should be shared.
  • Try to agree on who does what up front. Don’t just assume that she will do the cooking and dishes or stay home with the kids. Don’t just assume he’s the one who is going to work to support everyone. Figure this out before you get married.
  • Don’t think you can change their mind after you’re married. Make sure you talk about every possible scenario, and if the person you’re with says they don’t want kids, or want to work when you don’t want that, take heed and listen. Have the difficult discussions. Get premarital counseling.
  • The “D word” is never an option. Agree up front that no matter how bad things get, you’ll never threaten divorce. You’ll think about it hundreds of times in your marriage when things are not going your way or when you have rough patches. Never make it an option. If before you get married you’re thinking, “If things don’t work out, we’ll simply divorce,” don’t get married. You’re not committed.
  • You’re not going to be easy to live with. Whatever you’re whining about because it’s their fault is 50 percent your fault, you’re just not seeing it. You’re in this together.
  • When you’re upset, don’t start name-calling. Remember, some things will resonate for years, and some things you can never take back. If you’re angry and about to say bad things, you’re allowed to say instead, “I’m angry and might say the wrong thing, so let’s continue this discussion in an hour” or “tomorrow.” But do always go back to resolve it.
  • Don’t keep bringing up old arguments over and over. You get to bring it up one time, not every time you get angry. Get over it. We all make mistakes.
  • Honesty is important, but there are some things you should never share with your spouse. If it’s something that might haunt them forever, keep it to yourself.
  • The number one reason for divorce is people feeling as though their mate is not paying attention to them anymore. Most divorce happens between year three and year seven, or after couples become empty-nesters. When you were campaigning, you worked really hard at showing them you care. When that goes away, your partner no longer feels special. Find ways to keep the attention fresh and new and show that you still care, even if you’re married a hundred years.
  • If you’re going to take sides, side with your spouse, not with your family or parents. Doing anything else is a quick road to division. Even if you disagree, suck it up and support your mate. You’re not married to your family.
  • Communicate about what you each need, daily or weekly. Live up to it.
  • If you’re getting married for financial security or to escape your parents or to get away from an ex, run for the hills. Those are stupid reasons. Marrying for money is empty once you realize that all the money in the world, all the stuff, won’t make you happy.
  • Communicate up front about your faith. It never seems like a big deal if you don’t agree, until you have kids. Then suddenly it matters and you want to raise your kids the way you were raised. Conflict will arise. And it might not be healthy to confuse your kids.
  • Christmas, birthdays ,and major holidays hold family traditions. We used to get our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, my wife’s family got the tree Christmas Eve. I wasted a lot of time and energy debating these cultural things, and there were lots of hard feelings. Decide in advance.
  • Most men change significantly between 25 and 35. Most women change significantly between 20 and 30. What you want and need and who you are will change. Wait it out if you can. But if you can’t, you need to be willing to live with what each of you has become. Growing apart isn’t an option. Stay committed. You can get through anything. Even arranged marriages end up with people coming to love one another over time.
  • Addictions destroy relationships. Take it very seriously if your spouse is giving you clues about your addictions. Listen and change.
  • Make it clear up front that you will never tolerate physical abuse of you or your kids — or emotional abuse. Put him or her on notice that the first time they get physical is the last time they will see you. There are no excuses, and no apology that would ever be enough. If you love someone, you don’t hit them, ever, or threaten to.
  • People who give up who they are and what they love resent it. Respect the passions of your spouse and make room for them.
  • Don’t clam up. Say what needs to be said, no matter how painful

Nothing is ever perfect. The movies sell perfection that does not exist. If you don’t expect perfection, you’ll be a lot happier.

I’m looking forward to the day when my kids find their soulmates and I can have them ignore my advice. But at least I’ll feel as though I tried. 

Happy Sunday,

Eric Rhoads

PS: A note to my bride. I know when you see this list you’ll realize that I’m aware of the things I should be doing that I’m not doing. I’ll try harder. I know I’m hard to live with, I know I drive you crazy, and I know I do stupid things. Still, I adore you. You’re as beautiful as the day I married you, smarter than I knew at the time, and your advice has been valuable and helped me in ways you cannot comprehend, even though I was often resistant to it. Thanks for being my partner in life.

PS 2: Though I love Christmas, I hate the pressure of shopping and gift-giving. I love to give people what they want, but I don’t love buying things not knowing whether they will like them.

I still don’t know what I want. I honestly can’t think of a thing, yet people are asking. But surprises are wonderful. The best gifts are the ones you make.

PS 3: It all clicked when I stood in front of Anders Zorn’s watercolor paintings in Sweden. Then I went to the home of Stanislaw Zoladz and saw watercolors that I couldn’t believe could be made by a human being. So I’m painting in watercolor and gouache more than ever. I’m loving it. It has given me a fresh perspective on painting, I’m learning and growing in new ways, and I’m having fun experimenting. This week I copied two Zorn masterpieces. I did one that I’ve spent five nights painting.

What I realized through all of this is that I never could do what I’m doing had I not attended Watercolor Live online last January. When I find challenges I don’t know how to solve, I’m able to pull the answers out of my head because they were taught to me during that four-day event. It truly does change you; I’m living proof. As the host, I can’t watch every segment. But there is something to this immersion-training thing. 

Reward yourself with a ticket. Yes, you can do it even if you don’t think you have talent. Oh, and it’s a great Christmas gift.

PS 4
Other cool gifts