Friday, May 27, 2011

The bad mood relationship litmus test.

If you're anything like me you can't be within five feet of a unpeeled banana, are furious that you're not yet best friends with Heidi Klum, and are particularly prickly about how you're treated when you're in a particularly prickly mood.

Luckily most people in my life are up to speed on the banana situation, I now live in L.A. and I'm not usually prone to bad moods.

So it wasn't until several months into our relationship when my entire life came crashing down as a result of too much work, too little time, too many questions and too few answers that R first saw my dark side. I was moody - like one-line-answers-to-every-question moody. Like, don't-even-care-if-my-accessories-match-my-clothes moody. Like, just-throw-your-wet-hair-in-a-ponytail moody. It. Was. Bad. I complained all day and all night. I didn't have the energy to do anything. And when R tried to reason with me I dealt him lines straight out of an after school special: whatever, who cares, and it's not like I can do anything about it, so...

And do you know what R did? Everything right.

Now hold on before you click off this post because you think it just became a why-my-boyfriend-is-the-best-boyfriend-in-the-world story. It isn't.

R did not do what many girls might have needed. He executed a 60/40 combo tough love/coddling strategy that transitioned into a 80/20 tough love/gifts of frozen yogurt strategy then finished up with the strangely effective I'm-going-to-listen-but-not-say-anything-else move.

I never said, "what I really need is tough love" or "after I complain for ten days straight please stop trying to talk me out of it and just listen." He just did what felt natural based on who he is and what he knows about me. Ooor he just did what he was able to do after harnessing all the patience he has in the world. Frankly, I'm only concerned with the outcome.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I think you should fake a bad mood within the first three months of a relationship to see how the other guy handles it.

There is nothing worse than coming up against a reaction you can't handle to a mood that's already got you holding on by a string. If it's going to be an issue, it may as well be an issue before things get really serious. And for those concerned with the moral gray area of fake moods just know that it's kinder than all the complaining you'll do about the person if they don't treat you like you were hoping to be treated.

Good luck out there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Graduating for the third time

I may or may not have mentioned that two of my younger sisters followed in my footsteps by attending the Boston College. This is very wonderful because we share a the very unique experience of knowing what it is to spend four years on “The Heights” learning to be “women and men for others” educated to “set the world aflame” (read: we have the same fifteen t-shirts and an unhealthy obsession with Jesuits). This is a total pain in the ass because it means I have had to endure the very uniquely miserable experience of graduating from Boston College not one but three times.

SIX (my hands literally shook typing that number) years ago I graduated on a 45-degree late May day as Boston’s infamous “wintry mix” sloshed down on my poor family. I then proceeded to cry my eyes out for the four hours we were given to move out of my Gabelli Hall dorm while my parents packed the belongings I’d decided not to pack before their arrival. They still refer to it as the worst behavior of my entire life. “You were the meanest you’ve ever been on that day,” my Mom says.

I cried because it was the end of the most special time I’d experienced to date. A phase of my life was dying, and I was in deep, uncontrollable mourning. I was terrified of the unknown to come, overwhelmed by the journey it had taken to get there, and exhausted from the sleepless, drunk nights that preceded the big event. I had both a conscious and unconscious knowledge of what it meant to be crossing over into this next phase of my life – adulthood – and what I knew is that I didn’t want any part of it.
Four years after that my sister Dani graduated on a 52-degree late May day under cloudy skies that turned into a total downpour in the middle of her ceremony. I then proceeded to hide my half-dozen mini sob sessions for the far fewer hours it took to move her out of her Mod while her friends begged my for advice about when it was going to get less devastating (and their parents’ asked when they were going to stop being such assholes).

I cried because I knew exactly what my sister was going through, how painful it was, and the sad fact that it wasn’t getting better any time soon. I had the perspective of having seen some “success” in the “real world.” I was doing the whole “adult” thing, and it was going fairly well, but being back in that moment where life begins anew still filled me with all this crazy emotion. Was I doing it right? Was I becoming the person I intended when I left this place? Was there any way to take a pause, rewind, move into a dorm-style apartment with my five best friends and re-train ourselves to drink like fish without the risk of hangover? In other words, I cried for her but I was really still crying for myself.

Monday morning my sister Sara graduated on a 56-degree late May day under skies that went from pouring to threatening to pouring again all day long. (I guess the silver lining is that none of us can brag about our superior weather?) And after that, the strangest thing happened. I controlled myself and my tears for the fifteen minutes it took us to carry the neatly organized piles of things she’d prepared before our arrival (they call her “Best Rosen” for a reason).

Don’t get me wrong, I was just as sad for Sara as I’d been for Dani and myself. I don’t think the moment is any less devastating or worthy of misery. But this time my perspective on the event was I kept having these moments where I empathized with my parents and their pride/joy/sadness at their little girl accomplishing this major goal. On more than one bizarre occasion I looked around and thought about how I would be handling this if I were a parent. I think I actually hugged one of Sara’s friends and said, “It’s okay sweetheart. Being an adult is an incredibly exciting thing.”

Maybe it was just a passing phase on a day when I was excited more excited about my future than sad about missing the past. Maybe I now know that there is some semblance of life after college (even if I can't guarantee that it starts anytime after the day you graduate). Or maybe it's just that three's a charm when it comes to handling BC graduations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Doesn't it take two to have a love child?

Something about this whole Arnold Schwarzenegger as baby-daddy ordeal struck me as strange.

No, it wasn't the fact that Arnold hid a love child from his wife of 25 years nor was it that the love child was the product of an affair with a member of his house staff. Sadly, I didn't find all of that particularly shocking.

What was strange in my admittedly desensitized book was this statement in the article from The LA Times.

"To protect their privacy, The Times is not publishing the former staffer's name nor that of her child."

I'm not sure how I feel about their omission of the staffer's name. I am all for protecting the privacy of others, especially young children, but in this case I'm not sure I think it's fair for someone to be protected when they were an equal participant in the "scandal" being reported.

I'll leave the issue of privacy protection to the experts, but this one question lead me to another: in a situation where a married man cheats with a woman who knows full-well that he is married, is one party guiltier than the other?

Yes, Arnold is the celebrity in this situation, but he did not act alone. He cheated on his wife with someone who worked in their home, but the "former staffer" had sex with her married employer. Is what he did worse? I don't know. But she is not innocent.

Let's assume he pursued her, worked hard to convince her, and made all the arrangements to have and hide the affair. Does that make him more guilty?

Is there a scenario in which her luring him, convincing him and insisting he hide all the evidence makes her more at fault?

I don't know the answer. I know people who have been involved in the situation and no matter how you slice it, it always feels like the person in the relationship is more in the wrong. Logically I know that's not correct.

This latest gossip really tests the question best. You've got a world famous actor-turned-politician with intense physical strength having an affair with a person he employs. It feels like he must be the villain, and lord knows we'll treat him that way. But is this unnamed former staffer at equal or less fault? And, back to the original question, what does the LA Times move to keep her identity a mystery mean relative to that bigger question?

Monday, May 16, 2011

How can you possibly take it slower than not officially dating?

Allow me to paint a picture for you and then explain why I think that picture is absolutely ridiculous.

A guy and a girl meet, determine that they enjoy each other and begin "dating." I say "dating" instead of dating because one or both parties might not consider it dating. There are people who don't consider the act of joining each other in multiple, consecutive sessions of food, beverage or activity dating. They prefer phrases like "hanging out with." In the case of this example I'm making up, this guy and girl are not just hooking up. They go on dates. They go out in public together. And when they do both those things, they behave like a couple. She holds his hand. He lets her. You get the picture.

For the sake of this example let's say they see each other 3-4 times and week, sleep together 2-3 of the 3-4 and talk every other day. This goes on for - say - three months.

At the three month mark one of the two parties is itching for some definition. He/she wants to know what to call this thing they're doing. He/she wants to know whether or not it's appropriate to invite him/her to - say - a wedding. He/she would really enjoy posting some photos of the two of them together on the Facebook so that his/her friends/family can be assured that he/she is not going to die a lonely spinster (sorry, lonely bachelor just doesn't have the same ring, annoyingly).

So she brings it up. (I give up. It's usually her, and my continued use of he/she has got to be more annoying than a little bit of blatant stereotyping, right?)

He is caught off guard. He didn't know the lack of definition was an issue. He's not sure where he wants this to go. He's now feeling pressured to make a decision he's really not prepared to make. Plus, he just got out of a relationship/is still reeling from his parents' divorce/has an insanely busy work season coming up/might join that company soft ball team which would keep him tied up most nights so...

So he suggests they step on the breaks a little. Take things a little slower. Just eeeaassee up a bit sos to keep things even and easy and stress free.

Okay, she says. That makes sense. Let's take things a little slower and see how that helps.

You've heard it a million times before.

My thing is this: how can you take things slower than they were currently being taken? And, more importantly, why would you want to if you like the person?

First part first: You're not official. You have no formal commitment. You do not see each other every day. You do not talk every day. No one's talking about flying home together for the holidays or taking a road trip to some wedding. It's been three months of gradual dating leading to the obvious question of, where is this gradual dating going. What exactly does slowing down mean? Less dates? Less sleepovers? Telling less people about each other? Texting less? Isn't that called breaking up?

Now onto part two: I have never, ever been in a situation with someone I really liked and thought, hhmm you know what would make this situation better? Spending less time with this person. It's the equivalent of starting to work out/eat healthy, losing some weight, loving how you look and then deciding the best thing to do next is eat more and work out less. Makes no sense.

And so I say to all the people out there on the receiving end of the, "let's take things a little slower" bullshit - walk away. Harsh as this is going to sound - if someone has decided after three months of dating that less of what you've got going on is better, that's not a good sign. The goal is more dating. Lots more. The goal is for the other person to feel as though they cannot get enough of you.

Yes, there are people who fear the progression of relationships, no matter how slow and reasonable that progression may be. I'm saying, don't date those people. Sorry.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What exactly is the allure of the older man?

This topic comes courtesy of an e-mail from reader Caitlin in an unknown city and state.

Caitlin writes: "What is it with the allure of an older man? Is it the idea we younger girls have that older somehow means wise? (Even when the Red Flags are flyin' high and all signs indicate that age does not equal wisdom). What's the deal?"
Truth be told, Caitlin, I have no idea. It turned out my fourth grade teacher was gay, so that didn't go very far, and I haven't dated older than two years older than me since (not since I dated my gay 4th grade teacher, just since 4th grade).

Naturally that won't stop me from making some broad, sweeping assumptions about why other people are attracted to and/or date older men. Here's what I've come up with:

The whole "Daddy" thing

Perhaps it's that some women are seeking out a "father figure" or someone to take care of them in a fatherly way on account of a bad experience in that department or some other issues. This is a grand statement to make for a person who never took a psychology class in her life (aside from one on the psychology of shopping. I'm not kidding. It was called "Shop 'Til You Drop" and it was taught by this woman at the Boston College). Let's just leave it at some women are looking for a relationship in which the man is much older because that woman feels like that man will be able to care for her better as a result of his age.

The whole money thing
Many older men have more money than young men. Many women like men who have a lot of money. Many men who have a lot of money spent it on women. And scene.

Some people think it's cool
I'm going to attempt to make this point without offending anyone. It is often the case that girls date people who are wrong/bad/dangerous/different because they believe it makes them cool in the eyes of people looking at their Facebook photos. "Did you hear about Jessie?? She's dating this waaay older guy. Ugh. Only she could pull something like that off." So in this way the man is akin to a skin-tight day-glo tank dress.

Older men generally are more mature
It's a proven fact that women mature faster than men. You'll recall this from your experiences with the 6th grade. Unfortunately they don't always catch up by the time we collectively hit our 20's meaning some women jump ship for older pastures.

I think there's a lot of truth to this theory, specially when it comes to women who are ready to settle down and get married. Yes some men in their early/mid twenties are prime for the picket fence, but many many more men in their mid 30s are ready. I don't have research around this, but I'm going to go ahead and call it a fact.

You can't help who you fall in love with
A favorite saying of grandmothers, gays and a post-Lyle Lovett Julia Roberts. It is possible that there's no angle at all to a cradle-robbing scenario. Unfortunately convincing your Aunt Edna in Scarsdale of that fact will be difficult. Probably best to block her from commenting on your wall.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It finally happened. I became the girlfriend I swore I'd never become.

I used to take pride in the fact that I wasn't a crazy, obsessive, nagging girlfriend. I was a go-with-the-flow girl. The kind that lets her boyfriend be who he is, live like he wants, dress as he pleases. I'd never remove a poster from a bedroom wall or criticize the way he cooks pasta or make him wear less baggy shorts that don't have mini stains on them.

Then I got a boyfriend who wore baggy shorts with mini stains on them.

As I've made clear in previous posts that bear his letter, R is a wonderful man who leads a life in which I rarely find elements to judge (and trust me, I can find a needle of judgment in a haystack of perfection). So I was pleased to see that my in-going position on the kind of girlfriend I would be was coming true as a result of the kind of guy I had chosen.

Then shorts season hit L.A. (Note: even though it's warm here all the time people follow general season attire because they really want to pretend they have seasons. It's weird.)

To backpedal yet again, R has very nice clothing. He isn't colorblind and generally knows what fits him. So shorts-gate was not the straw that broke this clothing horses' back. My request for R to buy all new Summer shorts came out of a place of love, respect, and many years spent with gay best friends who wear much shorter shorts.

I wanted him to look nice. I wanted him to be stain free. And my understanding of what short-length is appropriate for a man has been, shall we say, skewed.

R was not thrilled. His old shorts are comfy and barely worn and the stains will come out if he just puts a little Shout spray on them.

No, I said. They've got to go. They're way too baggy and do nothing for your legs and those are grease stains! They're not coming out.

And the worst part is, I didn't feel bad about it right away. I felt like I'd triumphed over the forces of the former frat-boy. He would look great, and it would be my doing. When people saw us together they'd say, "who is that appropriate short-clad stud Jessie found, and can he talk to my boyfriend about the benefits of above-the-knee action?"

It wasn't until I found R wearing the old shorts, curtly asked why he insisted upon looking like a preppy rap star and was told that the shorts I made him buy are, "weeny" that I realized I'd gone to that place I promised myself I'd never go.

Fine. It wasn't until I told him to stop complaining and go change then saw him fidgeting in the shorts five hours later that I realized it.

Later than night I apologized. "I'm so sorry I turned into a nagging girlfriend and made you wear shorts you hate. It's just that I want you to look nice, and I think the old shorts are a little tattered, and, and, and..."

R cut me off. "Are you seriously concerned about this?" he said.

A question like that represents those tricky relationship moments where you have to tell the truth because it will be obvious if you don't but lying is undoubtedly the better decision.

"Yes," I said, "I really feel bad."

R laughed in my face and told me he doesn't hate the shorts and appreciates that I want to help him look nice.
  • "But they're still weeny shorts," he said.
  • "Stop! It makes me feel bad when you say that!" I said.
  • "Too bad," he said.
And with that I think we may have both won.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why IRL (in real life) is becoming a ubiquitous at OMG, and what that means for relationships

Once a year the New York Times' Modern Love column runs a contest for college students to submit their essays about love, intimacy and relationships. For the past several years the winning submissions have had something to do with "hook up culture." Students trying to find intimacy where there generally is not or trying to defend the fact that they're not looking for it.

This year's featured essay took a turn into territory we're all bumping up against - purposefully or otherwise.

Caitlin Dewey - a Syracuse senior - wrote about her experience developing a relationship with someone over Skype. Her essay titled "Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between Us" tells the story of what happened when an online romance blossomed between she and a boy she met at an Internet conference. Dewey writes:

"With my Skype screen open and my webcam on, I viscerally felt that Will was sitting a foot away on my bed. Ignoring the times the picture froze or his voice cut out, I thought he looked and sounded exactly as he had in person. Sometimes, when he leaned into the computer to read an article I had sent him, I could see the pores of his face.
We started video chatting for hours every night — he from an ascetic all-white bedroom, me from the cupcake-print corner of my studio apartment. I learned that he ate take-out for every meal, slept in a series of identical white V-neck T-shirts and smirked with one side of his mouth when I said something clever. I knew his preferred coding languages, his least favorite content management system, and his general hatred of dancing, small talk and girls in bars.
One night, when we talked too late, I fell asleep with my laptop open and woke up seven hours later, tangled in cords. He was still there, asleep in the light from an open window, pale and young and pixelated.
Eventually he stirred, blinked at the camera and said, “Hey, you.”
“Hey,” I said easily. “How did you sleep?”

Dewey eventually built up the courage to visit her Skype-based beau in his mid-sized city, three states away. The courage part was a factor because she feared what so many people fear when transitioning the relationship from online to IRL - a term that's become popular among the digitally savvy set - that things would be different.

And as the title of her essay foretells, they were.
"But after we kissed and ate pizza and went back to his house, we struggled for things to talk about. In real life, Will stared off at nothing while I talked. In real life, he had no questions about the drive or my work or the stuff that waited for me when I went back to school.
He took me out for dinner and read his e-mail while we waited for our food. He apologized profusely, but still checked his Web site’s traffic stats while we sat in his living room.
He took me to a party at his friend’s house where they proceeded to argue for hours about Web design while I sat on a futon and stared at the ceiling, drunk and bored and terribly concerned that I looked thinner online. At points, he grabbed my hand and gave me small, apologetic smiles. It seemed like a strategy game: a constant dance of reaching for me and pulling back, of intimacy and distance, of real life and Internet make-believe."

The first time I read this essay I thought - ugh, these are the problems with developing a relationship rooted in an unreal connection. You never truly know a person. You can't learn each others' habits. You can't get a sense of what it would be like to be together IRL. Ugh, kids these days, I thought.
It was the same reaction my mom had when she heard about girls being violated by men they met on or an older colleague had upon hearing that a father who tucked his kids in using Facetime for iPhone while on work assignment across the country found they didn't recognize him in person when he came home.
Ugh - they said - this technology is hurting us, not helping us! These online connections aren't real!
What happened to Caitlin Dewey is unfortunate. What happened to Caitlin Dewey is definitely more common these days because of the sheer number of people now connecting romantically over all the means we have to connect. But what happened to Caitlin Dewey doesn't mean those connections can never work or are never "real" or are more hurtful than they are helpful.
It is easy to say that Dewey wasted her time with this whole Skype relationship because the guy didn't turn out to be as she imagined. She would have known that after two dates if they lived in the same town. Maybe yes, maybe no. Caitlin's is one story about a situation that was disappointing. It doesn't not stand to represent all online relationships just as one letter-writing romance between a soldier and a girl-back-home not netting post-war marital bliss would.
I loved this essay because it was well-written, touching, and shed light on an issue facing this new generation of "daters." But I fear it will cause too many people to react that way I reacted when I first read it versus the way we should when it comes to one story out of the millions happening every single day.
What I should have thought was, "Ugh, that's unfortunate and sad for Caitlin Dewey, but it doesn't mean all romances that begin online are doomed. It's just that most romances that begin anywhere are doomed."

*picture by Brian Rea from NYTimes

Monday, May 2, 2011

L.A. 8 months in: Mom's first visit

There is nothing more nerve-wracking than your mother's first visit to the city she's been begging you not to move to for the past decade.

Add to that the fact that you're fully adjusted after eight months in this new home, have the first serious boyfriend of your life, and don't currently need anything at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

In the words of my mother, "Well, looks like you're not coming back as soon as I thought..."

I have lived "away" from home for a decade. First there were four years of college in Boston then five plus years of post-grad life in Manhattan. But there's a difference between hosting your mom at your college dorm or the 300 sq. ft. apartment you share with your cousin and welcoming her to your Spanish-style duplex with back-and-front yard for a brunch you're throwing in her honor.

Boston was a 5.5 hour mini-van drive away from the house where I grew up. Manhattan, a hour, tops. Los Angeles is a two-movie plane ride, and, "those movies are $7.50 a pop!"

It is important to mention that my mom is the easiest guest in the world. A few weeks ago I asked her what she wanted to do for our nice, long Saturday together - go to the beach? take a hike in the mountains? shop along Melrose? "You have a nice backyard, right?" she said, "I don't need to do anything special. I just want to sit outside." It's not the stress of her being difficult to entertain or please that had me worked up.

It is also important to mention that my mom was in town for work (she is a curriculum consultant for school districts) and that she stayed with good friends who she's known since she and my Dad lived here in their 20's. So it's not the stress of introducing her to this city over five, full days of minute-by-minute plans.

But neither the fact that L.A. is a place she knows well or the fact that she was incredibly busy during her five days here changed how consumed I was with showing her that I'm happy, healthy and secure in my home away from her home.

And then once I was fairly certain that part was covered - dealing with the guilt only a daughter can feel because those three things are true.

"She may have a little bit of a hard time seeing you so totally independent and grown up here," R warned.

That's the part that made me most concerned.

If the international center of the entertainment industry where in New York instead of L.A. I'd happily live 55 miles from my mother for the rest of my life. I'd go home for every holiday and random weekends in between. I'd have Mom into the city for shopping trips and Broadway shows and slumber parties. I've never one been the kind of kids to say, "God I need to get far away from this family for a few years!" or even the kind of kid who feels it. My move was career driven, and the only thing that prevented me from making it earlier was the idea of being far away from my family. I miss them every, single day I'm out here.

So the problem isn't that my mom represents this nagging, unwanted pull back to a place I was always dying to leave - it's that she embodies the reasons I didn't want to leave it.

I was stressed out about making sure she knows that my life here is healthy, happy and "worth it." But mostly that's because showing her is the same as proving it and feeling it myself. In many ways my mom is like a mirror to gut-check my own feelings and progress with this whole transition.

It wasn't easy to see that self reflected back and say, "yes, okay, we're going to keep going on this path even though we both know how hard it is," but luckily my mom-in-the-mirror smiled back at me and told me she loved and believed in everything she saw.

There's a sliiiight chance the day-long wine tasting adventure I took her on Saturday helped rose-color her glasses, but a tipsy mom is an honest mom, as far as I'm concerned.