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HAPPY WIVES CLUB
ONE WOMAN'S WORLDWIDE SEARCH FOR THE SECRETS OF A GREAT MARRIAGE
By FAWN WEAVER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Fawn E. Weaver
All rights reserved.
HAPPINESS CAN HAPPEN
Agoura Hills, California
I'm not quite sure when the shift began. Maybe with the Stepford Wives or sitcoms like Married with Children. Like a tsunami of epic proportions is the only way I can describe the recent onslaught of negativity surrounding marriage.
Wives are miserable. Husbands cheat. Marriages don't last. That's the message that seems to be on full display in every form of media. If I ever have the misfortune of my TV remote landing on shows like Desperate Housewives, Basketball Wives, or the mother of all "wives shows," The Real Housewives of (Fill in Your Town), I only watch enough to confirm that they still make me sad. Sad because of what they say about culture and what they regularize in it. Too many times have I seen marriages with people I know and love falling like flies. I've seen love wither before it takes root. But only once have I seen a reality show following two happy people in a love gone right. Not good for ratings, I suppose.
On a cool February night, my husband, Keith, and I strolled along the boardwalk of the Commons, a local shopping center in Calabasas, California. With his left hand wrapped around my right, he soothed me as I expressed my disappointment. I'd had a difficult day at work. I had learned that one of my employees had been carrying on a relationship with a subordinate and had lied about it to my face. I was hurt and disappointed. I may have even been a bit angry. Keith and I were walking and eating frozen yogurt when I began to vent.
Maybe that's what set me off. I'm not sure. But I remember walking past a store display of a prominent bookstore chain, and there in the window popped out this book about marriage. It had an awful title, something that reveled in and exploited the decay of marriage in order to get possible buyers to connect with their own dysfunction and buy this book that would help fix it. My frustration was already heightened, and my rant got raised to a fever pitch. I found myself going off in public about the sad state of marriage in our culture. People probably thought I was upset with Keith, poor guy, who was empathetically listening and letting me get it out of my system.
"I love being married," I vented. "I love being a wife. Why won't someone say something positive about marriage?"
Keith just held my hand as we continued to walk. A few silent moments passed.
"You know what? I'm going to start a club for wives like me. Women who love being married and love being a wife. I'm going to call it"—I paused to think of some genius name—"the Happy Wives Club!"
Keith has always been my greatest supporter, but we also have a very honest relationship, and we express the truth to each other. And in that moment, his truth involved an instant burst of laughter. Loud, doubling-over laughter. Since you don't know Keith, you might think he was being insensitive or rude. But he wasn't. He's got an impeccable track record of supporting me at all times, no matter how harebrained my plans have gotten.
"That is the corniest name I've ever heard!" he said while continuing to laugh. "And with what spare time are you going to start it?"
He made a fair point. When you include preparing for work in the morning and checking e-mails throughout the night, I was already working fourteen to sixteen hours each day. He was right. The name was a bit silly, and I didn't have the time to add anything more to my plate.
And yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
By the time we arrived home, it was well into the evening. Tired and exhausted by work, yet energized and renewed by the thought of this club with the overly simple name, I lit a flame in our gas-burning fireplace and sat in an oversized chair nearby. I flipped open my laptop and began to type. As if my fingers were on fire, I rapidly wrote our mission statement, purpose, and an invitation to join the club. Shortly after 2:00 a.m., with my eyelids begging to close, I stared at the page one last time. At the top were three simple words: Happy Wives Club.
You know that moment when you know something significant has happened? You meet a new person and know you've just met a lifelong friend? You have a flash of a business idea and know, somehow, it will be the long journey of your life's work? Happy Wives Club. When I saw those three little words, I instantly knew they would be central for me. It gives me no greater joy that you're reading this if it only confirms that moment.
Built into that bright morning that followed as I read and reread "Happy Wives Club" was a flood of the future. But like any good story, it wouldn't come without a fight, without a journey. Since writing those three initial words, I have traveled all over the world and engaged with thousands of women from dozens of cultures. I've been on a sleepless search to know and prove that happy marriages do exist and that they can be created. What I've discovered on this journey has astounded me. The profundity and simplicity of love gone right is just within our reach. Women everywhere are experiencing it right now. Wherever you might be in your relationship—whether you're married or want to be, whether you're planning your wedding or wrestling with ever getting married again, whether your family includes children or just the two of you—I'm excited to take you where I've been, to show you what I've seen.
After the night Happy Wives Club landed on my computer screen, I knew I would be unfaithful to Someone (God) and lots of someones (you) if I didn't take the next step, even if I didn't know where it might lead. Most beginnings feel uncertain, with that gnawing anxiety and excitement of the unknown. To take the next step, I just sort of followed my instincts and decided to start an online club, HappyWivesClub.com. Simple enough. The three words I had written, followed by .com. Now we were getting somewhere!
It's what happened shortly thereafter that still amazes me. I invited my mother, one of my sisters, and three of my closest girlfriends to join the club. The purpose was simple. Since Hollywood and the media seemed fixated on divorce and everything that could possibly go wrong in marriage, our club would be squarely focused on everything that could possibly go right. There would only be one requirement to join: you need to be (or aspire to be) a happily married woman.
Because I don't know the meaning of small goals, I scribbled "One million members in six months" on a sticky note and stuck it on the frame of my computer screen. In my excitement, I hadn't taken the time to do the math. To reach that large a membership in just six months, 5,682 happily married women would need to hook arms each day. Spoiler alert: I fell shorter than short of my goal six months in. But what happened was nonetheless extraordinary.
Five friends and family members sent the link to their friends and posted it on their Facebook pages. Then their friends and their friends and their friends did the same, until 1,200 women in more than twenty countries around the world were surprised to find they weren't the only ones who had and believed in a happy marriage. This happened in four weeks and started with five women who all lived within thirty miles of my home.
The media caught wind of the story, and I was featured in a local newspaper article. Then an award-winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times interviewed me, followed by a segment on ABC Channel 7 News. The club continued to grow. But as it grew, so did my already-jam-packed workload. The Happy Wives Club multiplied what vied for my attention and energy.
At the time, I was the general manager of a busy hotel, and anyone who has worked in the hospitality industry will tell you GMs work around the clock. We're in a business that's open 24/7, with customers who expect to be tended to every minute of every day. The job is demanding, the hours are long, and the work is never done. There was no way I could stay on top of my job and juggle a growing club. It was overwhelming. So I made a choice. I stopped posting articles on the club website. I stopped encouraging the women who'd joined. I stopped interacting.
For more than a year and a half, the Happy Wives Club lay dormant while I made sure bedsheets got folded correctly. Despite my online absence, the club continued to grow by ones and twos. Sometimes I'd go on the site and post an article about marriage, a once-in-a-while poker to make sure the embers didn't die. It wasn't a glorious phase, to be sure.
But toward the end of 2011, a year after leaving my post as general manager, I again longed to be a voice championing marriage. Not an overly political or religious voice, but a simple voice willing to go against the common negative perception of marriage seen in the media. I returned to the online pages of the Happy Wives Club and again began inviting happily married women to join me, to celebrate happy marriages, and to fight against the tsunami of negativity telling so many it didn't exist. I asked all the members to invite every happily married woman they knew. We quickly began growing again, this time by more than 150 women per day.
At the time of this writing, the Happy Wives Club has brought together more than 100,000 women in more than a hundred countries who are official members, and an infinite amount of hope to impact our spouses, our families, and the world for good. The club started on a small laptop balanced on my knees, but it's connected so many women from so many places because we're all longing for the same thing. We are sisters in arms.
After meeting and talking with so many women who have joined, what started to emerge were some universal elements of a great marriage and being a happy wife. This book is my attempt to gather it all completely and show you what I've seen from happy wives from all over the world.
When I say "all over the world," I mean it. This book is the result of traveling to twelve countries on six continents in every hemisphere. (I didn't go to Antarctica because I didn't think penguins had much to say on the topic.) I wanted to travel because there are things you can only learn by being on someone else's turf, by hearing her words directly and soaking in the environment around her. Plus, I love to travel! I mean, who wouldn't become a jet-setter for a few months to learn marriage secrets, see some of the world's greatest sights, eat foods that are hard to pronounce, and create a true connection with wonderful people?
What I learned on the journey that became this book delighted me and surprised me beyond measure. It delighted me because I'm now convinced that a happy marriage is within reach for anyone who would grasp it. It surprised me because the truths at the core of a great marriage are so stunningly simple—we can live by them every day without getting caught up in the little things that rear their ugly heads.
Join me on this journey, and if you're not already a member of the club, I look forward to you joining us by the time you reach the end.
A WAY TO THE WATER
San Diego, California
The drive from Los Angeles to San Diego follows one of the most beautiful coastlines in California. It is among the few places where you can see the ocean from the highway. I was traveling that road to meet with a woman I'd met through the club. Even though I was fighting some traffic (it is California, you know), it dawned on me that I'd driven this stretch so many times that at some point I had stopped really looking at it. But on this day, it was rapture. The search I was undertaking had lifted a veil from the familiar and injected the everyday world once again with a revived wonder.
I passed Camp Pendleton on the right, with a few marines running along the path inside the numerous square miles of cross-wired fencing. Men on jet skis sped across the nearby lagoon and kicked water into the air like a fountain in the cold Pacific waters. Palm tree clusters and couples walking hand in hand along the beaches of San Clemente beckoned on the other side of the freeway.
Along the coast, the ocean is ever present. Even if you're not actively thinking about it, swimming in it, or looking at it, your mind and heart always know it's there, a living thing of mystery and beauty. You can feel the briny ocean breeze anywhere within twenty miles of the shore.
I took all this in on my way to Sandy.
When Sandy first came to HappyWivesClub.com, she somewhat sheepishly posted a question: Can a widow join the club? I answered her as I do everyone else who asks that question. If you're here, it's for you. Though Sandy is a widow, that she had created and sustained a great marriage throughout her fifty-three years with Jim made her more than qualified to hang out with us. I wasn't the only one with that perspective. She immediately received such a warm welcome from other women. That welcoming first impression on her has been returned in kind—since joining, she has never stopped pouring out words of wisdom to us all.
Sandy was the woman who immediately reached out to others, hearing about their lives and offering her unique wisdom. The breadth of her empathy rang through. Beyond her wisdom, our community could feel the love Sandy had for Jim. It ran so deep you probably couldn't distinguish between it and her lifeblood. Something else rang through too. You could tell that as deep as her love ran, so did her sadness. Sandy's sorrow was born out of an absence and a longing.
That's where I was headed—to Sandy's quaint palace of wisdom.
You would think, after that glowing review of Sandy that I just gave, I'd have raced to open my car door, skipped up her driveway, and banged on the front door like an impatient kid when the candy store is a few minutes late in opening. But I had a reservation in my gut as I pulled into her drive. Even though Sandy had proven her authenticity online, I admitted to myself that I had no idea what to really expect. I questioned the wisdom of going to the home of someone who was basically a stranger. She could really be a he, and he could be an ax murderer. (Sorry, Sandy!) But seeing as I was halfway to the front door with my cautious steps, it was too late to chicken out.
I stepped onto the concrete porch covered by a small awning. The main entry was guarded by a screen door with a cast iron frame, and a humble porch light was guarded by an intricate cobweb. A No Solicitors sign faded by long years of warning hung just underneath. I was getting the distinct impression that Sandy didn't like having unexpected visitors at her door.
But I wasn't discouraged. Sandy and I had arranged this visit, and I was exactly on time. I rapped on the screen door, and it gave a distinct metallic sound that rattled against the doorjamb. A few moments passed, and I didn't hear any stirring in the house. I knocked again. Did she forget our appointment? I wondered.
A minute or two later, I pressed my ear to the outer door. That's when I heard a muffled yelping and shuffling steps making their way to greet me. I heard the click of a deadbolt, saw the knob slowly turn, and the inner door cracked ajar. Sandy showed half her face and gave a curt "Yes?"
Sandy's dog, Bonnie, a well-groomed golden retriever, began bouncing up and down and barking a stream of threats at me. I admired her loyalty while Sandy was only slightly trying to calm her down. I sensed that Sandy wanted me, the unsolicited stranger, to feel the tiny threat through the screen door.
"Well, I guess you don't need a doorbell with that dog," I joked nervously.
Sandy just shot me a glance. Don't try and charm me, it said.
"Yes?" she repeated, more firmly, as if to say no small talk was going to get her to open that door.
"Sandy, it's me, Fawn."
The hardness in Sandy's eyes melted into the warmth I had expected and experienced online. Faster than I can describe, the inner door swung open wide and Sandy started to unlock the screen door. She apologized all over herself as she ushered me in. Bonnie would take more convincing, however. Sandy was holding her back on a leash while trying to hug me. The whole episode had that distinct feeling I would have over and over again—strangers who are friends becoming real friends sloppily.
Sandy's house felt lived in. Pictures spanning the decades were scattered across the walls. Decorations from the years—symbols of memories and loves and places—were strewn over end tables and the fireplace hearth. I looked down the short hallway into the kitchen, with its linoleum floor graced by a small breakfast table. To the left of me was Sandy's living room, the place where her beautiful life with Jim was lovingly enshrined with knickknacks and gifts he had given her. As the initial hubbub died down, Sandy led me to the couch across from her chair, the high-tech kind that can move up and down with a little control panel. I noticed the one just a couple of feet to the right of it. She invited me to take a seat in that chair.
But I stopped just as I was sitting down.
The burgundy upholstery was worn on the arms. There was a slight indentation on the puffy headrest. The seat was weathered from nights of sitting and talking, sitting and watching TV, sitting and holding hands.
Excerpted from HAPPY WIVES CLUB by FAWN WEAVER. Copyright © 2014 Fawn E. Weaver. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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