Saturday, January 30, 2010

Okay, I'll read the "settling" book

Anonymous commenter number two makes a valid point:

"Here's a suggestion: why don't you actually read the book before you judge it? You're basing your entire argument off of a 2 year old, 5 page article and a controversial book title. Perhaps when you read it, you'll feel the same way, but maybe you'll actually see that there's wisdom in Gottlieb's book. How about it?"

Yesterday's post is a here's-what-I-assume-Gottlieb's-book-will-be, but anyone who went to middle school knows what an assumption does (ass, you + me). I'll buy it today, Saturday January 30th, (update: not available until next Tues...) and report back my new or same opinion once I'm done.

And if that comment's from you Lori Gottlieb - touche on the direct marketing strategy...

Until I'm through, here's another pre-read assessment - this one from the male perspective. My friend Kevin explains some thoughts on settling from the side we're supposed to settle on:

How about just one guy, one self-respecting guy, being given enough credit because he realizes and wouldn't want to be the one settled for? I have a problem with this "settle" theory because it is so self-involved that it really doesn't take into account the dynamics of a relationship-- there are two people making choices. For Gottlieb, is it like choosing a dog? You go to the pound having wanted something so spectacular, but you settle for the mutt? It's all the same because you end up falling in love with the mutt just as you would have if you'd found that purebred bichon frise.
Gottlieb's article talks as if women are the only ones making decisions in relationships. If that's the case, do you really want to be with a man who's only a puppy dog throughout the course of your relationship? Maybe that is what some women are looking for, but a mutually beneficial relationship, where two people are equals and challenge and grow together, that seems the better option; that's what friendships are. Shouldn't she be saying, instead, "If I had wanted the things I want now back when I was in my 20s, I would have made different choices when it came to relationships"? Well, holy shit, no kidding. You grew up, maybe matured a little, and when you were ready to settle down you decided it was too difficult and came up with a half-cocked idea that you should have settled earlier.

Along the same lines, Gottlieb had wanted a child and didn't want to wait for a father to come around. She was artificially inseminated. Don't take this as judgement, because it's not, but she was then a single mother. It actually made her lonelier to be a single mom than it did to be a woman searching for love, sans baby. In fact, I assume it became more difficult to meet, and put herself in a situation to meet, eligible bachelors because now she had a KID. If her be-all and end-all goal is to be in a marriage, whether liking the guy or not, why does she continue to stack the cards against herself? I really don't even believe she believes this is the right theory for her, but it seems like a good story. And it seems like something an older woman would say because she felt she had missed out on some chances. The problem is that there will be some people who believe this - who believe that settling is just "settling," it's us being hard on ourselves and our significant others. There's more to it than that. Relationships are more complicated than one person saying, "You like me, great. You're a suitable breeding partner and will make my child a decent enough father. Let's do this marriage thing. No more lonely for me." Hate to tell you, but there are many people who are just as lonely, if not lonelier, being in a loveless relationship where they are not getting the support they need from their partners. Then you're stuck. There's divorce, but that can be really hard and financially taxing. Separation? Ok, but there's still some emotional toll. And now what about that father you picked for your child?
Even in the best-case scenario, it seems the risks aren't really worth the mediocre reward. Well, that's unfair, because best-case scenario would be you settle, but you find out that you are compatible and willing to work and grow your relationship together. But that's not really settling; it's having been blind to something that was there all along. Maybe Gottlieb should be challenging women to be more aware of their future needs and desires before posturing this idea to "take what you can get." It's the wrong attitude. And I don't believe it's simply a challenge she's putting out there, deliberately using inflammatory words and statements to inspire women to a certain position. No, it's an actual argument: Take it now or forever be lonely because of your mistakes. Lucky is the man who gets chosen for that kind of relationship.

Yes, I'll try to get Kevin to read the book too.

Friday, January 29, 2010

More on that "settling" article that will not go away...

First there was that infamous Lori Gottlieb settling article from The Atlantic about how biting the bullet and saying yes to Mr. Not-entirely-Right was a girl's better option than holding out.

Then there were the million and one oh-no-you-didn't responses from the how-dare-you- suggest-that-forced-love-is-better-than-true-love set - aanndd one from me that sort of went, "how 'bout we take a walk around the block and come back with an article that doesn't include the word settling, huh?"

And now - though I can't imagine how she filled 336 pages with "don't be so picky or you'll end up really lonely" - is the obvious book extension: Marry Him: The Case of Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Aannddd, the first of what will be another million how-daaaare-you responses from Julia Baird via Newsweek (thanks for the tip Kendall!).

So at this point, I'm involved. Here we go again slash still:

Gottlieb says settle. Read the article (or just my post), and you'll find out why.

Baird says, don't mind if I don't you originally-shallow-but-now-annoyingly-lacking-in-the- standards-department-on account-of-you're-lonely-and-don't-want-to-raise-your-kid-alone feminist blamer! (See because Gottlieb says she used to be picky but if she had to do it all again she'd marry Sheldon the nerd because now she's laboring through single motherhood. Somewhere in there she mentions that feminism is to blame...)

Dear Julia Baird, if you ever read this. I know that's not exactly what you said, but I'm essentially on your side here, so please just go with it...

Baird says that Gottlieb was obviously immature and narrow-minded in her younger years - that any woman knows true love isn't about undying and sex-filled passion but rather a connection between two people who want to forge a life together.

Baird says, "it's a leap of illogic to suggest that the answer is for women to settle for humdrum marriages with men you tolerate so you can have a father for you children. How insulting for men."

And then she fired back at Gottlieb's suggestion that "femanism has completed f--ked up my love life" calling it unfair and unfounded. Baird says it best: "The problem, as Gottlieb sees it, is that women were told they could have it all, which meant not compromising in any aspect of life, including dating (which is odd because people who can't compromise aren't feminists, they are just generally unpleasant people. Then women got so fussy that they empowered themselves out of a mate.'"

It's true that the case for settling is offensive to men. It's true that you can't blanket-ly blame feminism for being picky in your 20s. It's true that you can be compromising and also a strong woman.

But to me, this new defense against settling and most of the old articles that popped up around Gottlieb's original piece are picking at all the details and missing the bottom line. In fairness that's because Gottlieb wrote 336 words on everything from what women are too picky about to why women are too picky to how women can stop being so picky to why it's really hard to raise a kid on your own, so she didn't exactly stick to the crux of her argument either.

Everything she wrote is interesting information. Some of it is painfully true. Some of it is a crock of shit. My issue is, none of it is the most key and most interesting part of this whole argument.

The book is called "The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough" it's not "How Picky is Too Picky" or "20 Ways that Feminism Will Screw You."

The bottom line of Gottlieb's entire argument is that you will be lonelier without a man in your life than you will be frustrated, unhappy, passionless, you-name-it with a mediocre man in it. In one, simple phrase something, anything is better than nothing.

I want to talk about that.

You can't prove how picky is too picky - it's subjective and circumstantial and extremely person-to-person. And you can't pick apart the Feminine Mystique for proof that if you follow it, you'll end up miserable and alone. There are a million reasons you can end up alone - or, to put it less gravely - that you can not find the level of love and companionship you originally hoped for in your life. And there are just as many reasons you can fall out of love or into love with someone else or lose a love tragically. So let's just put all the background stuff aside.

I want to know if you'll really be more miserable without a man that with one you've settled for. I want Lori Gottlieb to travel the country interviewing hundreds of women who didn't settle and hundreds of women who did. I want their take on whether it's better to have a companion that you're luke-warm for than a mythical figure you never meet. Prove to me that settling is smarter, don't tell me that feminism made me want more than any woman should have.

This case for settling says, "mark my word, you will be miserable - absolutely any woman will tell you so," but I bet there are a few women out there pitching the "I settled, and it wasn't worth it" book. I want to hear from them.

I get Gottlieb's point - come out of the clouds and realize that no man or woman is perfect. See people for who they'll grow old to be and how they'll help make your life what you envisioned. Make it about the entire person, not just the stats you swoon over with your friends. I know that. But I haven't even found that guy. How low are we supposed to go here?

Like I said in my first review of this whole mess - there's a big leap between "open your mind" and "just pick someone already." And frankly I'm going to need more than Lori Gottlieb's opinion on the matter and assessment of modern feminism to sway me to the settling side. So, who's going to write the next book?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In defense of the cocktail party spin-doctor

Six or so months ago I had dinner with a close friend in the midst of a career transition. The company he'd been working for in X industry went through a round of lay-offs giving him the push he needed to pursue the next thing. The problem was that there wasn't a next thing. A. no one was hiring, and B. even if they had been, he didn't know where he wanted to be hired. Sound familiar?

He was frustrated about the uncertainty around his next move, frustrated with himself for not knowing what he wanted and frustrated with the world for making most careers so black and white, but that wasn't what he talked about most over the second most incredible pizza I had from October to December of last year.

(ed. note..if this were a magazine and I was its editor: for a brief period of time in late 2009 I attempted to try all 20 of the then Top 20 ranked New York City pizzas. I made it to two, specifically numbers 1 and 2, which I felt were appropriately ranked until it was pointed out that I was going about the process backwards. I gave up after that because one of my OCDs is doing things in order from start to finish, but another is doing things correctly. You see the issue.).

So my friend was frustrated, but that's not what kept coming up. He was confused, but he had some plans to help him work through the confusion. He was discouraged, but he understood the reality of his situation. Turns out the thing that made him most anxious about this entire work/life change was what to say when people asked - how he'd feel after answering the, "so what do you do?" with, "nothing, any suggestions?" - and if he could get around his girlfriend's father's "what's your five year plan" grill session.

And so I gave him an incredibly unexpected piece of advice (as in before I said it, I didn't know I thought it):

  • You should just lie, I said.
  • What?
  • Yeah, come up with something.
  • Something I'm not really doing?
  • No, something you might do or you're thinking about doing and just sell it as your plan, smile, and walk away.
  • I need an example...
  • Okay, so you're interested in breaking into the finance world and you know you'll need to take some courses to make that move, right?
  • Right.
  • So when people ask you what you're doing your line is, "I've moved on from X company and am getting ready to take some finance courses so I can prepare that make that transition, what are you doing?" Aanndd you're out.
Let me backpedal. The truth is important in many, many circumstances - and the absolute truth in some. This isn't one of them. This is one of those circumstances where the perception v. reality of the social status dance can become more important and more consuming than your actual situation. We want to feel stable and know what our next steps will be, but sometimes even more so, we want to look stable and appear as though we know what our next steps will be. This isn't a criticism - I've been exactly where my friend was - it's a fact.

Fear of the cocktail party convo is often greater than fear of the actual question you pray they don't ask. And so may advice is to play a little spin doctor (ed. note: Can't be Wrong, on repeat). Prep your line and deal it convincingly and walk away knowing they're not entirely clear on what you just said, but way more comfortable than they'd be if you went, "I don't knoooow, I'm a messsss, who do you know who can heeelp?!?!"

That's the thing about the "cocktail party" - and really, life in general. What we think people are thinking, how we think they're judging, what we think they're expecting becomes a bigger thing than it probably is and definitely ever should be. It's not their fault for judging - it's the human condition - and it's not our fault for caring - same deal, but if we can just see it for what much of it is - surface, obligatory convo - then we can handle it as such - with a line containing some truth that doesn't make us feel as low as we might be at that point.

Lie to feel better about yourself? No. Present your situation in a positive light then quickly walk away? Yes.

Remember, everybody has a little PR in them. Ask the guy managing Eliot Spitzer come-back campaign what he does and he'll say, "I'm in political strategy." Follow up with, "Oh, for who?" and he'll say "the democrats." True story...

Monday, January 25, 2010

The first-grade teacher phenomenon?

Every once in awhile I hear/read something about the dating world that makes me go "wait, what? shit..." Like when I found out from Chris that an astounding number of people don't count sex halvsies. Or when Patti Stanger said almost all guys prefer girls with straight hair.

The latest came via the tweet of a friend whose name I didn't have time to ask permission to publish: If last night taught me anything, it taught me there's virtually no downside to the "I'm a first grade teacher" lie.

I know - wait, what?!

My gut said naah, my first-grade teacher friends don't have more success meeting guys than I do! Then I remembered I don't have any first-grade teacher friends in the city and what few acquaintances I have in not-the-city are already married. Enter: shit!

Are guys universally intrigued/attracted to a first-grade teacher girl? May as well insert K-12 in there while we're at it. Is there something about what that girl does/represents that equals jackpot to a man-in-search? She's caring. She's patient. She's devoted to children. She has a solid and respectable career but not one she's going to up-and-move-to-LA for (or, you know, wherever...). She's on a secure track with defined growth.

It doesn't not make sense...

But of course this begs the terrifying question - if there are jobs guys are attracted to then are there jobs they're not? If a first-grade teacher is sweet, giving, and motherly then is a lady i-banker cold, ruthless, career-obsessed? What about an artist? An aspiring tv producer? A writer... If broad cultural stereotypes go one way, then don't they also go the other?

And, to ask the even scarier question - do the jobs that attract a guy translate to the characteristics most guys are looking for in a partner? Yes, first-grade teacher equals kind, sweet, giving, organized, patient but is it really about good mother, convenient work schedule, stable career path? A career as a teacher doesn't have the kind of crooked road or unsure pay scale as, say, someone in the film or advertising industries. It features enrichment and many potential higher degrees (supervisor, administrator, superintendent...) but it's probably not going to prompt a woman to sit her husband down for the, "honey, we need to move to Chicago for my career" conversation. Is that what's attractive? Or is it just the old I-had-a-crush-in-my-first-grade-teacher transference?

If you're reading judgement over the choice to be a teacher in this post, you're reading wrong. My point isn't that teachers are simpler and that's why guys like them. There is nothing simple about being a teacher; a fact my mother - the kind of teacher who puts more time and energy into her work than many CEOs do their entire business - has taught me.

My question is, what does a guy think when he says, "oh, you teach first-grade?..." Hot? Smart? Solid? Excellent wife material?

And, since I'm obviously not fooling anyone at this point anyway, what does a guy think when a girl says, "well I work in media doing integrated marketing programs but really I'm an aspiring writer..."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There's a difference between wanting a needing a boyfriend

You want a boyfriend (or girlfriend - just switch all the pronouns) because they’re cute/hot men who kiss you both whenever you ask them and also by surprise. You want one because it’s really fun to go to dinner with someone you'll wear something special for and can flirt with from start to finish without knowing if they’re just in it for the maybe sex. Boyfriends are excellent on rainy days slash all of Winter so you can stay in for the day slash entire season with guaranteed entertainment. They’re really helpful receptacles for your daily stories, work gripes, and friend squabbles and even more fun for escaping and/or powering through rough social/work/family obligations. And, of course, at the crux – you want a boyfriend because boyfriends make you feel good about yourself – like someone chose you, despite the odds and after spending time with you, still makes that choice. In a word, companionship. In another word, attention.
None of that is bad or wrong or needy, but none of those are things you technically need.
In fact, most of us have 85% of those wants met by a form other than boyfriend: friends, family, co-workers, etc. We are living, functioning, successful and mostly happy adults without the want of a boyfriend being met – sometimes so much so that we can’t even identify it as a major want. You hear it all the time – “I don’t want a relationship right now” – “I don’t want a boyfriend right now” – “I don’t want this to get serious.”
A boyfriend is a desire, not a necessity - a glass of wine not a bottle of water. You want the wine. You know the wine will be good. There's a chance the wine will do things for you that are very good - calm you, entertain you, help you finally say that thing you really need to say, but you don't need the wine to survive.
(it gets less cynical, but not right away)
I have always been one of those people who believe you don’t really ever need a boyfriend.
From time to time I want one, sometimes a specific one, but in my how-ever-many dating years – two of which have been spent in relationships…and that’s totaling up all the random months – I have truly never felt I needed a boyfriend. As David would/did put it, I’m a tough girl. Independent, yes, but you can be fiercely independent and successfully coupled. Cynical, of course, but in this case a cynic would argue that you can’t find a good relationship, not that you don’t need it. I’m just cut from a cloth that’s taught me many, many things in your life can bring you the kind of happiness, stability, love, and commitment that a boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband also bring. If that makes me particularly tough, well then thank you, but you should know that I cry every single time I hear Mariah Carey's "Hero" which has just got to disqualify me.

Do I want to grow up to be a happily married woman with a wonderful family – absolutely. Do I acknowledge I will be and have already been lonely at times without a relationship, of course. But do I think I need a partner – that I will be less of anything (a woman, a success, a loving person, etc.) without one, no. I have existed and thought I'd continue to exist under the belief that a relationship would enhance my life in tons of wonderful ways, but none that would be 100% make-or-break for me.
And then in one line delivered in a god-awful gossett dress, Sandra Bullock proved me maybe wrong.
What she said at the close of her Golden Globe acceptance speech was simple, "there's a reason my work improved when I met you. You've got my back." She said it to Jesse James, her husband of four years and a man who - it's true - came into her life at a time that curiously corresponds with the turn in her career from blockbuster rom coms and light action flicks to the kind of roles that wine you Golden Globes for Best Actress.
If I can put words in Sandra Bullock's mouth (and not the ones she'll eventually read off the script of mine she'll someday perform) - I think what she meant is that having the support of a partner, a companion, in her case a committed husband changed her. She was one thing before him - a thing no-doubt capable of existing and, all-would-say thriving, but now with him she's she is better at being who she wants to be. His support was something she needed - whether she knew it or not.
I don't know what the power of love from a boyfriend/husband can do for a person. It's not something I've experienced myself. I'm luckily familiar with the unconditional love of parents - something that I would say I need to be the self I want to be. So then why shouldn't that of a partner be the same?
It's risky to take that step from want to need. But maybe what Sandra was getting at is that once you take that turn - once you decide you're comfortable needing it - you can experience the full effects of letting go and experiencing what being loved can do for you.
I've always been the kind of girl that needs love in my life - I've just never been one who's comfortable saying "and that love needs to come from a boyfriend."
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the lines between want and need are blurrier than I'd like. And maybe the real tough girls are the ones who are brave enough to ignore the lines.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The crazy-enablers, from BET Honors to Ole Miss

This is a story about The BET Honors (the televised awards-show honoring the accomplishments of five, prominent African Americans) and my four, white friends who graduated from Ole Miss (four caucasian friends of mine who attended the University of Mississippi). I promise that this will start off making absolutely no sense but leave you with a warm, cushy feeling like that Kleenex commercial where the people sit down on the couch and within 30 second, end up crying. Stick with it.

This weekend I attended the BET Honors in Washington, D.C. because a skincare brand I work with was a sponsor of the event. The BET Honors are essentially the Kennedy Center honors of the African American community - a chance for the Black Entertainment Network to recognize leaders in entertainment, social change, education, business, media, and music. This year's honorees were Whitney Houston (I know!!!!), Sean "Diddy" Combs, Queen Latifah, world-renowned neuro-surgeon Dr. Keith Black, and Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University. Yeah, it was pretty major. Whitney wore head-to-toe, painted on gold sequins and stood in the aisle doing her sway-dance (twitch?) to Jennifer Hudson honoring her with a rendition of "I Will Always Love You" that made my co-worker Brendan cry, "cartoon tears, like we're talking projectile waterfalls."

Naturally each of the honorees gave a speech of thanks to the people who helped them get where they've gotten - places of extreme and unparalleled success (despite some crack in the road. Intended). Each of their stories was of overcoming the odds; not one started with a trust fund, a star-search win at 8-years-old, a scholarship to a premiere university. Not one rose all the way up without stalling, falling, or questioning whether they wanted to keep climbing at all.

Again and again they spoke of the community of friends that stood by them throughout their darkest and most challenging days. They spoke about starting with nothing but believing in themselves because they were surrounded by the love of a select few people who believed just as much. They talked about never doubting that they could be the success they are because that group held them up and told them not to doubt. For the honorees much of that community was and remains the African American entertainment family, a group of professionals that recognized their talent and held their hands all the way to the top, but my point isn't a racial one - it's that when these success stories reflect back on where they were at 18 and 25 and 30 they can point directly to a family of people - blood-related or otherwise - and say, those people had my back every step of the way, and in some instances, pushed it so I went further, faster.

I think it was Queen Latifah who said that you've got to be crazy to really, truly go for it - whatever your it may be - but more importantly, you've got to have some just-as-crazy in your corner of the ring reminding you that you're not alone - a group of crazy-enablers, if you will.

I thought a lot about that idea of support and community and understanding on my Acela back to New York. I thought about people in my life who are that got-your-back for me, and there are many. And then I thought about examples of groups of people in my life that I look at and think - that is the kind of friend group that breeds success because all its members won't settled for anything less for any one of them.

Enter my four friends from Ole Miss. Jenny the photographer, Zac the writer and burgeoning filmmaker, Meg the writer and world's greatest Lady Gaga impersonator, and Brittany the actress slash muse are that example for me. I've known supportive friends. I have incredibly supportive friends, but I've never met a set of 20-somethings riding this wild ride together quite like these four.

They are each here because of one of the others - literally a chain reaction of New York implants who arrived with two bags, X-hundred bucks, and little to no jobs. They share a common bond of leaving everything they had in pursuit of their own successes. They struggle. They're struggling now. But from where I stand - watching and learning from them - not one of them doesn't believe that all of them will make it where they belong. They are each other's crazy-enablers - each other's constant reminder that it isn't insane to believe, it's imperative. They make it okay for one another. They make the dreaming and the pushing and the sometimes screaming and crying that goes along with it the expectation, not the lonely path it can be for so many people who go through it alone.

The famed Uptown Record exec who introduced Diddy referenced a story about one of his first days interning at the label. He'd sent Diddy on an errand 10 blocks away then stood shocked when the 20-some-year-old showed up back at the office less than ten minutes later. When the exec asked him how he did that so fast Diddy responded, "I don't stop, I can't stop, I won't stop."

When Diddy accepted his BET Honor he thanked his versions of my Ole Miss friends - the people in his life who met that insane lines from his 20-year-old brain with, "I can't seem to stop either, so how 'bout I won't if you don't."

Get some crazy in your corner. It'll make the trip up faster and a whole hell of a lot more fun, right guys?

Friday, January 15, 2010

What 100 girls in 100 days will teach you

You probably think Travis Dillinger is an asshole...or a player...or an alcoholic in denial...or actually named Travis Dillinger. If you start to read the case files of his 100 Girls in 100 Days project (and don't stop, like I didn't...), you will without a doubt form an opinion or ten about Travis Dillinger. He likes girls with good taste in music. His success at meeting people in coffee shops should be studied. If you buy him shots he'll make out with you.

The list goes on, but you'd be wasting your time.

Not because Travis Dillinger isn't an interesting character with a share of issues - past and present - that could get him cast on any number of reality TV shows. He is interesting, his experiment is interesting, and if you read through the lines slash make-outs you may decide he's quite charming, despite drinking too much and statistically preferring blondes over brunettes. But again, not the point.

The point is that within Travis Dillinger's so-far 69 (that is purely accidental) days of encountering 69 different women (note: technically only 66 on account of a few technicalities) you will learn more things about women as a species (I didn't say gender on purpose) than you will about what the hell Travis Dillinger is doing, and if it's working.

This isn't a study in what meeting 100 women in 100 days will do to you - it's a study about what 100 women will do, in general. Here are a few things, but it's best to form your own opinion (read: do your own math) via the site.

  • 95% of the time, a girl will say yes if you ask her out. Travis has been rejected twice - only twice. Now, I don't know what he looks like, but I know his tactics, and they're simple, straight-forward, and fairly void of douchery. Moral of story. If you think you have a chance with a girl, you do. Ask her out or ask for her number - she'll most likely say yes.
  • If you have even a slightly successful date with a girl involving alcohol she'll make out with you, at the least. Broad statement, but here are details: in most cases Travis goes for it, but the girls are all willing and, in some instances, the instigators. Maybe it's Travis. Maybe it's Manhattan women. Maybe these are all lies. But in this set of stories, the girls want action.
  • A majority of the girls don't get picked up in bars - Travis meets very few of these girls in straight-up bars (despite how much time he spends in bars). Coffee shops, Jamba Juice, the Internet, through friends - this is the majority.
  • Sass/edge/ reigns - again, could just be Travis, but the girls who grab and keep his attention all have some degree of edge slash sass - the "play-hard-to-get" tone.
I have a suspicion, and hope, about what will happen for Travis Dillinger as a result of these 100 days with 100 girls, but I'll keep that to myself. But for us, aside from being a good work-break read, his blog experiment proves an important point. If you put effort into dating you'll get dates. Maybe not 100 dates, but as I think Travis Dillinger would tell you - that's probably not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why all women (slash people?) want mind-readers

So on this issue of why, if we know what we want, don't we just make that clear so we can get it? (note: maybe best to read Monday's deal about the Five Love Languages, how getting them is what we want but telling people we want them is something we don't get...)

First - this is more a female than male thing - in my opinion. Guys want us to be clear about how we want things to go - how we want them to behave toward us - what we need from them (note: that's what "WHAT DO YOU WAAAANT FROM ME?!" means). Women, on the other hand, want to just be understood because we take that as a sign or testament to the strength of the connection.

Back to yesterday's example of the hypothetical boyfriend and his hypothetical offer to fix my actually patchy Internet (thanks Anonymous - I'll try that). Here's what's going on in my head when "Him" insists upon the Internet fix while I'd much prefer we sit on the couch and catch up:
  • Me in my head: Ugh - he never just wants to spend time chatting. He's just a fixer guy isn't he... Spending time just being together is never going to be important to him. Why doesn't he want to just sit for awhile and catch up about our weeks? Is he just not a talker? Is he just not a sharer? This is never going to work if all he ever wants to do is tasks-master things...
Yes, I realize how insane that sounds, but for the sake of full honesty - that's just a slightly exaggerated example of how it goes inside many a female brain. We want men to just know because we connect their ability to just know to our ultimate compatibility. That's what we mean when we say things like, "he just gets me" or "it's like I don't even have to tell him what I want." When a woman feels this way it's probably because the guy is speaking her love language (I promise this will stop after I prove the actually valid point of the silly purple book). When we don't click with someone right off the bat - when they don't know how we like to be communicated to and what we need to receive in terms of affection or attention we assume it's just a bad match.

To spell it out even further - here's more of what goes on inside the mind:
  • If I have to spell out what I want that makes me needy and therefore less attractive
  • If you can't figure out how to give me the attention I'm looking for then that makes us a bad match
  • If it isn't already in you to do what I'm hoping you will then you're probably not going to change just because I'm asking
All of the above is true, but where we're wrong is in thinking that a. someone not getting our primary love language off the bat is a indisputable sign of incompatibility and b. that someone can't grow to learn our love language (yes, a. and b. are the same thing said two different ways).

Brace for genius here, but everyone is different. And, to take it one earth-shattering step further - everyone is really different when it comes to how they express and expect love. We want mind-readers, people who speak our dialect right off the bat, because it means we "know" that the relationship is right/good/stands a chance at succeeding. Our having to work at it off the bat - to say, "it would mean a lot to me if you _____ instead of _____" means two things we, as a general rule, cannot stand - 1. early vulnerability in a relationship and 2. investing time and energy into working on something we don't have immediate, sure-signs will work.

And so we do the equivalent of pouting in the corner and refusing to eat because Mom couldn't figure out that we wanted ham and cheese instead of tuna fish for lunch (shotty metaphor, but you get the point).

I am the biggest culprit of the "well if he can't figure it out then it must just not be right," but I have to admit that if what he can't figure out is that my love value system favors quality time over acts of service it's probably not a indication of his entire ability to love a person correctly. This isn't easy stuff.

There's expecting a man to have and exhibit certain universal expressions of like slash love and then there's expecting a man to read your mind about how you prioritize the way he expresses overall love to you. Those are two different things that take two different amounts of time to develop.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The 5 Love Languages, apparently

note: please trust that I won't make reading and/or reviewing self-help books a habit. Especially ones with beach scenes on their cover...their purple cover...

Like I mentioned - my sister Dani-the-wise recommended a psychology-based, self-help-ish book over the holiday break. "Recommended" is used here to cut to the chase about how I got this book. What really happened is 1,000+ comments on behalf of Dani that went something like this: "Thank you for providing me with an act of service Dad, you know how much that means to me," and, "Jessie, perhaps you could use some words of affirmation to help Alex understand how proud you are?" and "You can't blame Mom, Sara. She receives love as 'quality time spent,' so that explains her frustration with your leaving tonight."

So it was more like me saying, "jesusmaryandjoseph let me at that god-damned book!" than her so much recommending. Details...

The Five Love Languages - (Gary Chapman) is built on the premise that there are five different manners or styles (or, languages...) in which we both give and receive love. And, more importantly, that the way you want it isn't always the way you give it (hold the jokes).

From the official website (with my commentary):

  • Words of Affirmation - Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. JR: so not just throw-away compliments and pleasantries. Overall communication of feelings and a constant stream of your significant other expressing their understanding of you. No biggie.
  • Quality Time - In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. JR: this one's mine, now making it extremely clear why certain friendships and relationships have fa-ailed. Where was this book 6 years ago...
  • Receiving Gifts - Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures. JR: don't mistake it for materialism, buuut let's be clear, this is about the exchange of physical things aka materials.
  • Acts of Service - Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. JR: unlike the gifts one this one is about emotional, time-consuming, or immaterial things. This one is Dani's meaning I'll never refuse to not iron her dress before Christmas mass again...
  • Physical Touch - This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. JR: Yeah, me too with the, "um, if this isn't your love language then you have a serious problem," but apparently it's about which expression of love is most important to the success of your relationship. Fair.
Years ago I was involved in a relationship where I constantly found myself saying, "it's like I'm conducting this relationship in English and he only speaks Portuguese." If only I could have formalized that thinking into, say, five different languages all explaining the different pieces of the relationship that were missing slash wrong I might have a New York Times best-seller on my hands, but the point here is that two loving people who both care about each other can still swing and miss again and again because they're going about expressing that love through different styles. A lovey-dovey woman full of compliments is just going to piss a guy off if what he really wants is tangible help with his career or hobbies, let's say. A girl who is dying for her boyfriend to tell her how he really feels is still going to feel lonely and unloved if he showers her with gifts. You get it.
Take me, for a specific example. True story, minus the guy. The internet in my apartment is constantly spotty. It takes me 15 minutes to download a song off iTunes some days because the connection is so weak, and forget about watching My So-called Life on Hulu (yeah, they have it - and yeah, it's as good if not better now). So if a guy I was dating were to come over and help fix that Internet connection I'd be incredibly grateful. But if that guy had one hour in his week to see me and used that hour to fix my internet I'd potentially be annoyed. I know that sounds crazy, but look at how the convo might play out:
  • Him: Sorry I've had a crazy week but let me come over Saturday and fix your Internet on my break.
  • Me: Oh, yeah? How much time do you have off?
  • Him: An hour and a half.
  • Me: Well, why don't we just get something to eat instead?
  • Him: But your Internet is a mess. Let me come fix it for you.
  • Me: Okay...
  • Me to my friend at brunch the next day: So I don't see him in a week and he just tinkered with the Internet the entire time...
Now - let me be clear. This is not fair of me. In fact it's borderline ridiculous, but the point is I want something specific, and he wants to give something specific, and even though we're both capable of meeting each other's needs we don't because I'm not being clear about what I want and why. The convo could just go like this:
  • Him: Sorry I've had a crazy week but let me come over Saturday and fix your Internet on my break.
  • Me: Oh, yeah? How much time do you have off?
  • Him: An hour and a half.
  • Me: Well in that case it would mean more to me if we just spent time eating and catching up. We can do my Internet later or I can work on it on my own. Is that okay?
This seems simple - dumb even - but 9 times out of 10 we don't do this. We don't a. identify what we really want and b. come right out and ask for it. And just to be sure we don't take this from sage advice to a convo-NO-guy-wants-to-have, it isn't, "it would mean more to me if we just spent time together because, see, my primary love language is quality time spent - with a secondary of words of affirmation, which we'll get to another day - which means, to me...." Save it.

In fairness, sometimes we're not sure. I knew that quality time was important to me, but after an initial glance of the 5 languages I didn't know that was the one I prefer the most (they have a quiz - to make this as vom-induction, self-help-y as humanly possible). It takes time to figure it out, and it's true that sometimes you can prefer to receive love in two, primary ways. Not the point.

The point is that we don't stop to figure this stuff out or, if we do, we don't take that step to explain how we most prefer to operate or how the other person operates. Why not if doing so could solve so many problems? Because - guys-on-the-whole-but-people-in-general-to-be-fair - we want to be with mind-readers.

Tomorrow: what that means, why it's a problem, and how we're going to try but likely fail to solve it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Maybe it's, Step One: why are you dating?

I read a book over the break called The Five Love Languages: Singles Edition. (cynical eyes) I know...

I generally steer clear of all books featuring the oh-so-motivational "colon: singles edition" - but this one came recommended by my sister Dani who is the smartest person I know between the ages of 21-25 (I have a 20-year-old sister too).

More on those Five Love Languages on Monday, but for now - within the book's intro was an interesting set up question (rolling of eyes) because no self help book is complete without a set of questions you have to ask yourself before you're qualified to read the book sso that when it probably doesn't work they can say, "well, were you really open to the ________? Did you take the time to examine the ___________ in your life?" (same eyes Carrie gives that "Open to Love" instructor when she stands up for Charlotte).

In the case of The Five Love Languages, though, the qualifier question was a one-liner that seemed to make a lot of sense:

"one of the most important pieces of being successful in dating is asking yourself, why am I dating?"

I know... What does being successful in dating entail? Marriage? But also, hhmmm - ask yourself why you're dating...that's weird slash novel slash seemingly important.

I have asked myself why I'm dating a specific person - as in, "ugh whyyy am I daaating this guy??" I have asked myself why I'm dating at all - as in, "why am I even dating, I mean really?" I've sure as hell asked myself (read: a lot of other people) why I'm not dating give people, "explain to me why I'm not dating _______?" But I cannot say that I've ever sat down and said, "why am I pursuing the act of dating? what is my end goal? what exactly do I want out of this and what am I not interested in?"

You hear people say, "I'm not really dating at the moment," all the time. Ask them why and they'll rattle off any number of things from the list of valid reasons people take a break: I just got out of a serious relationship, I've trying to prioritize things in my life, All men are bastards/women liars, etc. I haven't done this (yet), but I imagine if you randomly survey a group of people currently in pursuit of dates they won't be able to say, "I am dating right now because I'm lonely and I just want someone around" or "because I have decided it's time to settle down and focus on finding the person I'm going to marry" or "because I really like sex but not casual sex so I'm looking for someone to have regular sex with."

There are, of course, more reasons people date: because they can't handle being alone, because collecting a number of dates makes them feel empowered and wanted, because (I'm-onto-your- game eyes) dates usually pay for dinner...the list goes on.

But it's the point, or maybe power of the list that I find most interesting. Does everyone only have one, main reason? And, more importantly, does everyone need that one, main reason to be most successful in their endeavors? And, even more importantly than that, are some slash most people slash women lying if they say anything but, "I'm dating right now because I'm hoping to end up in a serious, committed relationship" (eyes like RDJr as Sherlock Holmes before he jets off on another adventure where he'll inevitably take his shirt off).

This - of course (disclaimer eyes) doesn't take into account people who fall into dating, relationships, marriages by chance, fate, or force. But forgetting those people is the best piece of self-help advice I can offer. Until Monday, at least... (wink).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Will work for cliche, motivational phrases...

...or, the I've-got-the-first-week-back-to-work-blues...

By my basic calculations, the American workforce is comprised of three types of people:

  1. people who are appropriately paid and appropriately worked - they make just what they deserve for the amount of time they put in
  2. people who are over paid and under worked - they make way too much and do way too little.
  3. And people who are under paid and over worked - essentially everyone I know slash the subject of this post.
Note: not discussed here is a fourth category comprised of people who think they're in one category but are actually in another. Those people are delusional, so we'll leave them out.

If you're familiar with the phrase "yeah, but a thousand people are in line for your job" then you fall into category number 3. Also, "it's about paying your dues to get ahead in this business" - "you can't put a price on connections" and "a name brand on your resume will get your further than savings in your '20s" Welcome to the 20-nothing work force running the world's biggest entertainment, media, and art industry companies.

And congratulations - really - you are the brightest and most creative 20-somethings in America. These are not easy jobs to get and they're even harder jobs to keep. You were selected from the most talented of the bunch for the greatest opportunities at some of the coolest brands in the world. You get to wear adorable things to work. You get to maybe be at the same parties as rich and famous people. If freebies come to the office and the important people don't want them, you can have them. You. Are. Lucky. And if anyone tells you otherwise well then they must have boring jobs at management-heavy companies that snuff their creative flames leaving them cold, bored, and Republican. Oh, and probably married. Fools.

Zac and I were talking about bonuses the other day. From what I'm told a bonus is extra money added to your contracted pay in return for better work than usual, more work than usual, unexpected company earnings. Yes, if a company on the whole does very, very well for a year than they will give their employees a part of that success - in the form of money. Word to the not-yet-graduates: those industries are not, in general, entertainment, arts, education, or media.

Why not? you accountants ask. Because our bonus is all the fun and experiences and connections and potential free tickets to things that come our way because we were lucky enough to work for X company in Y mega city. Do you know how many people want what we have? How many people will work longer hours for less pay?

I've been an eager and willing participant in the category 3 work force for five years. Once, for about six months I was paid an appropriate salary for the work I was doing but then I got promoted without a raise, twice.

But, see, here's my thing (and it's not just I'm bitter and exhausted):
  • there are things that are just the way things are because they have to be. Freelance health insurance is expensive because of the way our health insurance system technically works, and that's a numbers and cents game, for example.
  • Then there are things that are the way they are because they keep the world in check. You have to be a poorly paid resident before you can be a well-paid doctor because you don't know enough as a resident to do what a doctor does, point blank.
  • But it's when things are the way they are for no reason other than that the fat cats like getting fatter and 100 bright-eyed kids are in line for your job so sit down, shut up, and be grateful you have one.
Here in New York (and I'm sure LA) exists a workforce of people who are paid pennies for significant work because companies can get away with it - because we have no advocates other than the few saintly bosses who make a case for us - because this is just the way it is. Why? Because it can be. Why can it be? I have a few ideas. One of them is that much of the 20-something work force earns a salary that accounts for 75% of their adult life, and an allowance to cover the difference...

Add the recent recession to this already bad balance of power and you get kids leaving places like MTV, Conde Nast, Time Warner and the like because they can actually make more money waitressing. To say, "I can't afford my job" when it's at one of the most marquee brands in the world is sad - sad and seemingly unnecessary, especially when you read about the way companies like the recently folded Bon Apetite ran their businesses (much of their senior work staff still took company car service to and from work).

I wouldn't trade my industry or my experience for more money at a company I hate doing a job I don't want to do. I'm just saying, why does it have to be an either or? Why do the "cool" jobs get away with paying the least and expecting the most? Where's the check and balance?

When I first moved to New York I had this recurring dream were all the abused assistants and coordinators of the world stormed out of their offices at X time on X day and met in Central Park for a march down 5th Avenue yelling "what do we want? fair pay! when do we want it? within 6 months please!" and holding signs that read: If you ever want to see your dry cleaning again, give me $1,000....or....$850, final offer!! With each step a new company fell. Bosses didn't know how to contact HR to get temps in the office, or how to send an Outlook meeting invite, or if it's 3 cups of water and 2 scoops of 2 cups of water and 3 scoops of coffee. We. Were. Triumphant.

...Until we hit Union Square. There, dressed in cuter clothes and with far fewer bags under their eyes was a force of 20-somethings ready and willing to steal our key cards and pick up coffee for our bosses on the way to their new posts. "Don't do it!" we yelled. "You'll rack up a credit card bill!! You'll have to live in Bushwick!! You'll make a list of Happy Hours that serve free food and rotate them for dinner!!" But they weren't phased. They didn't care. See, they were "getting a little help from home" so they could pursue our dream jobs without worrying what they paid.

I'm not saying those kids and their parents are ruining the bell curve, but you do have to wonder what companies would do if they couldn't get their first 10 choices to accept a 27K starting salary... Perhaps raise it to 30 and cancel one client dinner at Nobu?

I still wonder what would happen if we ever staged a full-on walk-out. The Writers Guild went on strike and they got what they wanted. But in the words of David from the acclaimed Disney musical Newsies, "What we need here's a union..." A union of category 3 workers who, when salaries got too bleak to live could mobilize all of the Manhattan assistants to drop our blackberries on our bosses desks with a note that reads, "If I touch this after 6pm I'm no longer making minimum wage."

I'd join that union (and not only because it would probably be a good way to meet guys). Would you?

Monday, January 4, 2010

We don't have the will-power to make our own resolutions

Theory: the reason no one ever keeps their New Year’s resolutions is that we’re going about making them the wrong way.
Root of problem: we're making them
Evidence supporting theory: we exhibit a general lack of follow-through on all things born of our own invention. Will-power is our generation's Goliath.
Hear me out: The whole idea of a resolution – this thing we want to do for either general self-improvement (read more, keep a journal, go on dates), or to benefit our lives (save money, invest money, travel somewhere), or to mitigate the negative (drink less, fight less, weigh less…) – comes from our own heads.
We want to be better readers - to know more stuff - so we decide we’ll read more. We think we should weigh a little less - to look better - so we diet. It’s not that we’re not right – everyone should read more and could probably weigh less. It’s not that we don’t know ourselves - it’s that aside from the pressure of Jan 1 – a fresh, new year – there’s nothing any different about us than every other day prior we’ve had to decide to read more or eat less. We’re in charge. We remain our own motivation. And it is among the most human of traits to blow it when it’s all on us. This is why we have things like automatic bill payment and that call you get from the gynecologist once a year reminding you to come for a check-up because your birth control prescription is about to run out. We're mostly worthless without a nudge.
Recommended solution: Someone else should make us some New Year’s recommendations slash requirements.
How/why it works: If someone else – a boyfriend, a sister, a co-worker, your Mom – says to you – “you’re so great in so many ways, but I think you’d be even better if you read the newspaper every once in awhile so you had exciting and intelligent things to say” – you’d say screw you, I have plenty of exciting and intelligent things to say all the time! And if you have such a problem with what I have to say than stop listening to me!
And then, in the quiet of your office cubicle on the morning after the New Year – you’d read the paper.
If one of that set of your important life people said, “hey I’m going to try to lose a little weight after the new year – let’s both be healthy and get down to a goal weight because we both know we feel better that way” – you’d tell every other person in that set that so-and-so is a bitch slash asshole who had the nerve to tell you that you need to lose weight and how dare they!
Buuut when it came time to decide whether or not to eat a bagel with bacon egg and cheese after the New Year hits – you’d maybe opt against it.
As a people we care very deeply what certain other people think. This is mostly a negative because we should be our own people and focus on our own goals and not let other people get in our heads. That said - this is the human condition, so we may as well use it to our benefit if and when we can. Case in point, this scenario.
So with that, here are my recommendations for our generation. Broad, I know, but I'm too chicken to make specific call-outs to specific people (which, yes, is the inherent flaw in this plan. Well...I tried.)
  • You should make it a point to call one of your friends on the phone once a week instead of sending them a text. It's more personal, and they'll appreciate it.
  • You should read the Modern Love column in the weekend style section of the New York Times. It'll change your life.
  • You should do the Suze Orman and take out the amount of money you're budgeted to spend per week in cash. You'll save a ton of money. Trust me.
  • If you're single and would like to be dating you should tell everyone you're comfortable telling that you'd like to be set up.
  • You should stop watching Jersey Shore. It's making you stupider. Plus, you'll still see all the best parts on The Soup, which you should never stop watching.
  • If you don't already, you should read one book every six months. That's two books a year. If you can't do that you should take a good look at your life and change a lot of things about it.
  • You should consider saving every $5 bill you end up with. Friends of mine did this and ended up affording a European vacation after two years. Those are impressive results.
  • If there's something in your life that, every single time you do it you think, I have got to stop doing this - you should stop doing it. If it's a person, same applies, times 2.