EPISODE 18: Looking for an Answer to Love
Originally Aired: June 13, 2017
IF YOU LOOK UP GLOBAL GLUE PROJECT, YOU WILL FIND A REPOSITORY OF DOZENS OF VIDEOS OF COUPLES TALKING OPENLY AND HONESTLY ABOUT THE TRAVAILS OF THEIR RELATIONSHIPS, WHAT KEEPS THEM TOGETHER THROUGH THE HARD TIMES.
GLOBAL GLUE PROJECT WAS FOUNDED IN 2011 BY GILLIAN PIERCE AND HER BROTHER, DJ PIERCE. THEY HAVE FILMED MORE THAN SIXTY COUPLES FROM AROUND THE WORLD, INCLUDING THE U.S., CHINA, DENMARK, INDIA, JAPAN, AND PERU.
GILLIAN: We really started with this idea of offering relationship mentors, you know, offering this hope around it but also giving something other than the Hollywood version. It’s very much what you talk about with all forms of relationship, the messiness and really putting on screen how hard it is and how hard people have to work.
GILLIAN AND HER BROTHER WERE INSPIRED BY THEIR OWN PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS TO DOCUMENT STORIES OF LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS AS A KIND OF CONSERVATION EFFORT. IN ADDITION TO THEIR FILMS, THEY ALSO HOLD EVENTS, INCLUDING THEIR POPULAR WORKSHOP SERIES, GLUE GROUPS.
GILLIAN: The great thing is that we’ve literally had several people say that events that we’re done where we’ve had the films have helped save their marriages because of giving them this paradigm shift of thinking about their relationship in one way and then seeing a couple on screen and saying ‘Oh, my Gosh, wait a second, they got through a similar challenge that we’re in now.’
MY NAME IS ANDY HORNING, AND THIS IS ELEPHANT TALK. IT’S ABOUT ALL THINGS RELATIONSHIP – THE SOULFUL, THE SILLY AND THE SEXY.
GILLIAN One of the reasons that we did Global Group Project is this hope around giving people the tools to talk about these things because in my parents’ case, it could’ve been a conversation and it could’ve happened many years before he died and that would’ve impacted my life and my brother’s life, and those kinds of things impact in generations to come.
GILLIAN I think when we started I thought, naively, that there was going to be an answer and there’s not.
HOST Oh, you really were looking for an answer.
GILLIAN I really was looking, yeah.
HOST And what was the question?
GILLIAN How do people stick together? How do you make long term love work?
HOST And why that question for you?
GILLIAN I had just gone through divorce in my thirties and our parents had been divorced and remarried on my dad’s death bed which is a whole other long story, so yeah.
HOST Wow, divorced and got remarried… how far from when your dad died?
GILLIAN Uh… weeks.
HOST And were you there?
GILLIAN Yeah, yeah.
HOST And what was that like?
GILLIAN [Laughter] I just got chills all over. So they divorced, I want to say in ‘96.
And then they were still friends for years so it didn’t have a huge impact on me.
My dad had Parkinson’s disease and he was given couple months to live – he lived with Parkinson’s for fifteen years, he was doing great and then he took a rapid decline, they said he only had a couple months to live
But, my mom immediately said ‘You’re going to move in with me, I’m going to take care of you’. I moved home so it was my mom, my dad and I in the house, along with hospice. I still don’t really like to talk about this, and I still haven’t fully let it in but what I have found out is that my dad- there was infidelity stuff that had happened and, um, they weren’t able to work through that stuff.
GILLIAN And so, this hospice care social worker was able to help them heal and my dad had lied about many things for many years and finally because there he is facing death, and he’s living in the house and they’re face to face, and they’re working through it, he told her the truth about many things and they were able to heal through that and so, they decided to get remarried.
HOST You think if they had had it earlier, that same conversation they had, if they had had it earlier they might’ve been able to heal and not split up or…?
GILLIAN I mean, I think vulnerability is so unbelievably uncomfortable and I think there’s nothing more vulnerable than death. And I think it was really that that pushed him over that edge.
HOST It gave him permission.
GILLIAN Yeah. It’s like there is no escape at that moment, anymore.
HOST Right. But, what’s it like to tell that story.
GILLIAN It’s hard, it’s painful, it’s hard, you know it’s very bittersweet, I love that they had that at the end but I really wish that they had had it twenty years earlier.
HOST Yeah. That’s a heck of a story. So, that planted the seed, I imagine, for this Global Glue Project.
GILLIAN That’s one of the seeds, another seed is that our great-grand parents, my mom’s grandparents, we have memories of going to visit them in West Virginia and they were- they both lived to be over a hundred and they were married for seventy-five years. And we never did any capturing of them or their relationship.
GILLIAN My brother was working in advertising and he decided to apply for film school and as a part of that process he wrote a treatment for a documentary film.
And he was asking the question about love and relationships and do they deserve a conservation effort? Because, you don’t see those seventy-five year relationships anymore so he was sort of looking at it as, you know, relationships are also an iceberg that’s melting and what do we do here? And how do we give people hope around this? And how do we help give people tools and also preserve some of the stories of these longer term relationships? So that’s how it started.
HOST That’s great. Tell me a little bit about what it is, how many couples you’ve recorded, and…
GILLIAN We’ve film over seventy couples in nine countries and most of those films live on our website and the site is designed to be an archive of relationship wisdom and it’s also designed as sort of ‘Choose your own adventure.’ You can watch the films based on topic, based on how long they’ve been together, based on where they’re from. We really started with this idea of offering relationship mentors, if you will, you know, offering this hope around it but also giving something than the Hollywood version. It’s very much what you talk about with all forms of relationship, the messiness and really putting on screen how hard it is and how hard people have to work. And as much as I love my parents, I didn’t necessarily want to copy their relationship, there were things that were great about their relationship but it- that wasn’t exactly what I was aspiring to but because that was the one that I was, you know, most intimately…
HOST Like a blueprint.
GILLIAN Right, exactly, so I didn’t- I didn’t know what it looked like, what it sounded like. I’ve gotten so much out of watching these films and interviewing these couples, and just seeing what the texture is, what it actually sounds and looks like.
HOST What’s been the response you’ve experienced?
GILLIAN You know, the great thing is that we’ve literally have several people say that events that we’re done where we’ve had the films have helped save their marriages because of giving them this paradigm shift of thinking about their relationship in one way and then seeing a couple on screen and saying ‘Oh, my Gosh, wait a second, they got through a similar challenge that we’re in now.’ And if we could be sixty years in if we get through this.
HOST As a therapist for fifteen years working with couples and in this field, we don’t need more experts out there, there’s enough experts telling people how to be in relationship. What’s not full is real couples having real conversations about what it’s like to be in intimate partnership and what they learn, and some of the challenges they went through. So, we kind of have a shared mission here; you doing the more video piece of it and the global piece.
GILLIAN We started with this- with the just capturing real couples’ stories and then as I started learning more from the experts when we started doing events with many of these well-known relationship experts and I started learning more what to look for, I started watching the films differently so I would see in the film where I thought they were really connected, I would be like ‘Oh! They’re not actually making eye contact or this one, when that one says something, this one’s looking way off this way.’ And I could see some of the internal processes that – it was the unspoken things that weren’t been said but I could see there was a bit of a riff, it wasn’t getting talked about.
HOST Are you kind of supporting or facilitating couples in their dialogues or are you really leaving it up to them to wherever they want to go is what you’re recording?
GILLIAN I guess it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes we need to coax them to share. You know, I think sometimes people really want to put their best foot forward and just give a hallmark version of their relationship but we really do have to press a little bit for the why we ask for the challenges and how important it is for other people to see that and to not only talk about why they’re so much in love, but really ‘Ok, what have you been through that almost broke you up and how did you get through that?’
HOST Yes, I love that. Like ‘When were you almost divorced?’
GILLIAN Yes, yeah, yeah.
HOST And how the hell you get through the other side? You know, Brene Brown calls the tendency for us to kind of fast-forward through those difficult times, she calls it ‘gold-plating grit’ because what we end up doing is not talking about the struggle and in not talking about the struggle we miss the – the grit of getting out of the struggle and instead we flash forward to ‘Yeah, that was hard’ and it sounds canned, like ‘Yeah, it was hard but we’re much better now.’
GILLIAN Yeah. It’s cool because, and I’ve seen this in the interview process, that sometimes there’s a bonding that happens when they really go back to those moments because it’s like this dragon they slayed together and there’s this prize that comes out of ‘Oh, yeah, we got through that and that was really hard.’
HOST Yeah. You’ve got to continue to rewrite your narrative of your life in a way. But I find that couples don’t know how to do that and that’s generally not something that they’re equipped with. So, I think part of our- like, we’re helping couples tell a better story. Do you- do you feel like that’s what you’re sort of what your work is doing?
GILLIAN Yeah, definitely. One couple that’s coming to mind they had two daughters and one of their daughters had a serious illness and passed away. And it had been maybe only like six months prior. They didn’t feel they were ready to talk about it and it was bringing up a lot for them and we had a few conversations where they almost cancelled, and she would call me and say ‘I’m not so sure we can do this.’ And in the end I did go and filmed them along with this friend of mine, this is out in California. They talked about their grief and they talked about their loss and they talked about how they worked through it and they talked about what they were there in that moment, and they talked about his- he is an alcoholic and how before their daughter died, basically, from that loss he was really able to see how much he- the other daughter needed him. And so it helped him in his recovery. And at the end of that interview they were so grateful that they were able to tell that story and see some of the strengths that they- that they- you know, how far they’d come from that loss.
HOST So, you’ve taken to live events and then recording those and putting those on the site.
GILLIAN Yeah, so we do an event called Glue Talks where we’ll pair the films with a relationship expert. And then I do a workshop series called Glue Groups which is a similar format.
HOST And has it impacted your view on intimate partnership for you?
GILLIAN I went from ‘I’m going to figure this out, I’ve got this’ to being like ‘Nah, not so sure [Laughter] I think I’m going to hang on my own for a while’. I mean I think…
HOST It’s complicated.
GILLIAN It’s complicated and I also think that all of these rules that apply also apply to relationship, to ourselves, and I think I was so focused on relationship to other that I- I really missed that ‘You’ve got to start with right here, you’ve got to start with relationship to yourself.’ And I- I think I spent a lot of years really focused on wanting that.
HOST Yeah. Sometimes you- I think ‘how can we get that taught or expressed to people before they get into partnerships? Because, that’s the other thing, the mythology around romantic love is so powerful, there’s such a pull that I think sucks people down this hole of lack of awareness around that relationship to self. I really appreciate you saying that.
GILLIAN I think we’re fed from a very young age this storybook ending that we have to have this sort of love that looks this way in order to be happy.
GILLIAN I also see now the reality, which is- as joyful as it is, it takes a lot of work and I’ve just been focus on other things.
GILLIAN When I started out it was very selfishly motivated thinking there was an answer and I would learn the answer and then I would figure out this puzzle. I have really shifted in that belief. Like I said, I don’t- I think there are many, many, many answers just as there are many experts that all have different opinions, I don’t think there’s any one right answer, I think each couple is a unique chemistry experiment. I think there are certain themes that we can draw. One of the things I like to talk about is simply choice.
HOST Say more about that…‘choice’.
GILLIAN Some of us are better equipped to make certain choices based on the imprinting that we have as in the role models that we have. But, my opinion is that there are, you know, thousands of choice points on any given day that you can choose connection or disconnection with a partner and choose the commitment or looking- you know, are you going to look for a way in or are you going to look for a way out? And just that choice of how to think about something and, you know, making a choice to see the negative or the positive, have the gratitude or look for what it’s missing, you know. And then just the choice around, you know, ritualizing a relationship. Are you going to wake up and have a cup of coffee together and choose to take ten minutes to connect? Same thing at the end of the day, you know, all those little moments when your partner comes in the door or are you going to choose to get up and walk to the door and give them a hug hello or keep typing away on your computer? You know, have the device in hand as your making dinner or put it away and turn it off, and light a candle, and actually connect?
GILLIAN It’s the little things that build up to a lifetime. One of the couples that we filmed Helen and Sydney. When we filmed them, they were sixty-nine years together, just about to celebrate seventy and the things they talked about in their interview were having their meals together, that he held her hand every night before going to sleep.
HOST That’s that ritual piece you’re talking about.
GILLIAN Yeah, exactly. At the end of their lives together, they weren’t talking about these huge things it came down to the everyday. You know, he said in this very strong Brooklyn accent, you know, ‘We have all of our meals together and that’s good, I look forward to that’ and she says ‘And he holds my hand every night before we go to sleep.’ Like, that’s it! And they were so in love.
GILLIAN I think we tend to complicate it some. I know I’m guilty of that just complicating it versus just the simple, daily acts of kindness.
HOST Yeah. And I think part of what you’ve spoke to, is complicating it, because we’re getting such- we’re being inundating with the latest advice and experts telling us that we end up sacrificing our own intuitive wisdom.
GILLIAN I believe in both. I’ve learned a lot from the couples that we filmed and a lot with the experts that we’ve worked with so it really is both.
HOST Both are true.
GILLIAN I think both.
THANK YOU TO GILLIAN PIERCE FOR THIS INTERVIEW. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GLOBAL GLUE, VISIT GLOBALGLUEPROJECT.COM. PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND RESOURCES ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS.
WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO JOIN THE CONVERSATION. I’D LIKE TO THANK JONI GILBERTSON FOR HER MESSAGE TO US ABOUT LAST WEEK’S EPISODE REGARDING PTSD IN RELATIONSHIP. IT’S FEEDBACK LIKE THIS THAT GALVANIZES US TO KEEP PURSUING OUR MISSION TO ENCOURAGE COURAGEOUS CONVERSATION BETWEEN INTIMATE PARTNERS, BETWEEN FAMILY MEMBERS, AND AMONGST FRIENDS.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE YOUR STORY SEND US COMMENTS, OR BECOME A SPONSOR, VISIT US AT ELEPHANTTALK.ORG. JOIN THE CONVERSATION.
OUR PRODUCERS ARE LISA GRAY AND KIM POLETTI. OUR THEME MUSIC IS BY ROB BURGER. ADDITIONAL MUSIC BY REZA MANZOORI. AUDIO PRODUCTION ASSISTANCE PROVIDED BY LESLIE GASTON-BIRD AND JOSH KERN.
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THANK YOU FOR LISTENING. I’M YOUR HOST ANDY HORNING. THIS IS REAL LOVE. THIS IS ELEPHANT TALK.