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Memo from JB: Back to the Basics of Love

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Why starting over means feeling like a newlywed again.

By JB Hager, Photo by Rudy Arocha

This will, by far, be my least romantic Valentine’s Day in my 18-year marriage. Valentine’s Day and birthdays are typically something I put a bit of pride and effort into for my wife. I’ve pulled off feats like a surprise performance on a tour boat by the artist who was singing onstage the moment I proposed to her. Then there was the time I picked her up for a date in the red Porsche 944 that Jake Ryan drove in Sixteen Candles, her favorite movie—not one like it; the actual car.

This year, there won’t be a fancy dinner or expensive flowers. There certainly won’t be an elaborate gift exchange or jetting off to an exotic beach, her favorite place to relax. We’ll likely exchange artsy blank cards that we fill with our own words and share our thoughts on how exciting it is, feeling as if we are starting over. What do I mean by starting over? It’s not that we split and got back together, although walking through Target with a registry scan gun would be fun again. We have just had to reboot. My career experienced some major hiccups a couple years ago, and a family health issue drained that well-planned savings pretty quick.

For my entire marriage, I’ve lived in fear of this day. In my mind, which is not much to work with, if the money went away, literally everything went away, including my wife. My life coach, or, as less successful people call him, a therapist, would constantly ask me why I was so worried about the future, which I didn’t have control of. I never had a good answer. I was adamant that the rug was going to be pulled from beneath my feet and I would lose everything, recovery not being an option. It’s hard to imagine the amount of time I let this consume me.

Here we are 18 years into our marriage and feeling a bit like newlyweds again. We’re scraping by with financial creativity, much like starting over. The crazy thing about it all is that it feels great. Neither of us wants to admit it, but this very well might be just the sort of kick in the teeth we needed. Trust me, my wife is not the biggest fan of painting her own nails, but much to my surprise, she was the first to roll up her sleeves and assure me, “We’re going to get through this.” This is not the premonition I had for so many years.

The irony is that for many years on my radio show, I have said, “Get married and start a family when you are young and stupid. It will be the best time of your life.” You don’t know it at the time, but the struggle to get by, working together and placing value on only the most important things is really special. With money come a lot of complacency, distractions and taking things for granted.

Our first home purchase together was a 1953 1,600-square-foot home in Central Austin, and was never viewed as our forever home. We couldn’t wait to get out to the West Austin Hills and into a bigger home of our dreams. We are in the process of closing on a 1960 1,600-square-foot home back in Central Austin. It’s all we ever needed and where we belong.

I’m not entirely certain I won’t worry about the future moving forward, but I will definitely look forward to the excitement of where changes will take us, together, and to perhaps our most memorable Valentine’s Day ever. Lucky me!

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