Thursday, August 31, 2006

Relationships that just won't go away

On Tuesday, I cried.

It wasn’t because I bounced a check or because my alma mater doesn’t have a football team (ahem, UNC Charlotte).

I had tasted banana. And so, I cried.

These were tears of sadness scrambled with tears of happiness over a relationship I still hold dear in my heart, one that abruptly ended a year and six months ago.

I love the sweet flavor of banana. And how I miss my grandfather.

You see, my grandmother came out of the bank on Tuesday with her deposit slip and two suckers. Both were flavored banana. I took mine, unwrapped the paper, and the blanket of feelings enveloped me like morning fog setting in over a low-lying bridge.

Tasting the banana flavor took me back to never-ending summer days when my grandfather (or Pawpaw, as my sister and I preferred) carried us off to the Kannapolis Dairy Queen for ice cream. He picked banana, and so did I.

The banana is insignificant, but memories are a permanent imprint of our past relationships. We all have them; those remnants left by a relationship either ended by choice or by a higher being.

Those little reminders have a way of affecting our senses. When I smell spearmint gum, it makes me think of an ex-boyfriend who seemed to have an endless supply of it. When I hear a woman whistling in the kitchen, I long to have my great-grandma just a whistlin’ in hers again. When I see signs promoting the upcoming N.C. State Fair, I see myself at age 13 chasing boys up and down the midway with my best friend, who I haven't seen in five years.

It’s funny how those past relationships, the good ones and the bad, crop up in the most unlikely places and at the most inconvenient times. Those bonds are forever a part of us, and the little reminders serve their purpose – as mile markers on the road of life.

I know I won’t forget tasting banana on Tuesday.

Maybe next time I do, I’ll cry.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tricky question of the tab, Part 2

I wish it were as simple as "we both ate dinner/watched the same movie/heard the same band, so let's split the bill" when two people are out on a date. But let's face it. It's not.

I almost got into a screaming argument with one of my best friends about this topic. She'd been out on dinner dates with two different men in the same week. One had paid for dinner; the other had not. She was miffed that the one dude had asked how they were going to handle the bill.

"The man always pays on the first few dates. You offer to pay, he turns you down, and then he pays," she explained.

"But it doesn't have to be that way," I protested. "The guy doesn't always have to pay."

"Yes, he does," she responded.

"No, he doesn't."

"Yes, he does."

"No, he doesn't."

"YES. HE DOES," she nearly shouted through gritted teeth.

"But why?" I near-whined. "That doesn't make sense."

"Because that's the way it's done," she answered, as if that explained everything.

Because that's the way it's done. No matter how far we think we've come as men and women, no matter how much technology changes the dating landscape, no matter how much we want things to be different, ultimately it all comes down to that statement. Because that's the way it's done.

The steps of the mating dance are more complex than ever, and I could argue that the money mambo is the most complicated of all. I can't speak for most women (certainly not our feisty readers!), but I will use myself as an example. I've supported myself for a long time. I plan my life with the hope that I'll one day have someone to share it with ... but I'm not placing all my bets on that horse, if you know what I'm sayin'. And when I go out on dates I don't feel comfortable letting the guy pay all the time. However, I like to feel like I'm special and I like the idea of a man taking care of me, even if it's only a meal every now and then.

Also, my friend has a point: because that's how it's done. Society ingrains in us that single men and women are supposed to act a certain way. The man is the aggressor and he likes the chase. It's the woman's job to be chased, but more importantly, to be caught without being obvious about it. We have our roles -- our Rules -- that, in varying degrees, affect the way we act in relationships. And you if say those roles and Rules don't exist anymore, you're fooling yourself. Are we as a society changing them? You bet, a little every day. But we're not gonna stop dating until we've worked it all out.

So, if I'm out with a guy on a first date and I reach for my purse when the bill comes, do I want him to stop me? My answer is complicated.

Yes, I want him to stop me, because it shows he's not cheap. Yes, I want him to stop me, because it shows that -- on the surface, anyway -- he's a gentleman. Yes, I want him to stop me if I'm into him, and this is a little sign that he might be into me.

No, I don't want him to stop me if we're friends. No, I don't want him to stop me if I invited him and I picked the place. No, I don't want him to stop me if we didn't click and I know this is going to be our only date.

The money mambo: Even if you know the steps, how well you do it depends on your partner. All we can do is keep dancing.

Who should pick up the tab?

Since we're on the topic of early intimacy and first dates, I might as well throw out another important question: Who's supposed to pay for the date?

There are at least half a dozen scenarios: guy asks girl to go out, so guy should pay for it all; two men (or women) meet at a bar and hit it off, so they share their tabs; or hey, it’s 2006 and the woman makes $90,000 and can easily buy dinner and drinks at Morton’s.

According to a survey conducted by the dating service It’s Just Lunch, out of 3,597 singles, 82 percent of single men say the man always pays for a first date when set up by friends. However, 46 percent of single women believe the bill should be split evenly between the two parties.

My opinion? No matter who asked who or either person's salary, the entire date should be split right down the middle. It’s all about 50-50, folks (and this goes beyond the first date and into marriage). You’re both on the date, so why shouldn’t you both be expected to empty out your pockets?

Your opinion?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Gettin' busy early on

Alisha: We wanted to chat about early intimacy, right?
Deirdre: Yes. I think it's something that can make or break a burgeoning relationship. Mostly break it.
Alisha: What's your definition of early intimacy? Even Bill Clinton had his own ideas.
Deirdre: Anything physical. We're talking anything from kisses to full-on sex. And unlike Bill Clinton, I say oral sex is sex.
Alisha: Yes, it is. And early intimacy is tricky. If there's a spark and both understand the repercussions, then go for it.
Deirdre: This is where we disagree. I advocate no kissing, even, on the first date. If we're talking about you're out and you see someone you want and they want you and you decide to have a one-night stand, well, that's your business and none of mine. But if two people are out on a date, exploring whether they might want to have a second, or a third, then I think passionate make-outs or sex at the beginning is a bad idea.
Alisha: Have you ever gone shopping for a new car? Did you take it for a test drive?
Deirdre: Girl, we're talking about people, not machinery! You're going to have to try harder than that.
Alisha: A test drive is a test drive; you're not signing your name to the contract! As long as it's two consenting adults, and there's some communication before you take the plunge, then what's the problem? Early intimacy isn’t always the death knell for a future relationship.
Deirdre: OK, you mentioned communication. How would that conversation go? Assuming you've just met.
Alisha: Let's set the scene: A man and a woman meet for dinner. For dessert, they take a moon-lit walk around the city lake, holding hands. There's a strong physical attraction. Man takes woman home and their eyes linger for ages on the front porch as they kiss ...
Alisha: Then, woman asks man (or vice versa): "Before we proceed, how do you think tonight went and do you see us meeting for future dates? And, do we understand what we're about to do next?"
Deirdre: Talk about throwing cold water on a hot moment! Do you know anyone that has actually worked for?
Alisha: Sure. Me.
Alisha: We’re not talking about Gettysburg Address-type communication. Ensuring you're on the same page would be helpful.
Deirdre: I agree. But how many people take that mature step? How many people have you known where the woman is like, "well, if I want him to like me, I'd better sleep with him ..." And the guy is like, "SCORE!" and not even thinking about tomorrow?
Alisha: How many people are divorced? Is it OK to answer a question with a question?
Deirdre: What does the divorce rate have to do with this?
Alisha: Life is about risks and rewards. If you're going to say you cannot kiss or involve further intimacy on every first date, you could be missing out.
Deirdre: On what?
Alisha: Excitement, exploration and emotional bonds.
Deirdre: Because you save physical interaction until the next time you meet? I doubt that.
Alisha: How is not kissing on the first date going to forever alter the next date? It's not.
Deirdre: I think it could. You're just getting to know each other. Adding physical stuff at the beginning could muddle things. Besides, people have to learn each other's bodies and what they like. A horrible first kiss could turn someone off, and they could miss out on a good thing by writing the other person off too soon.
Alisha: Hello! Your kissing ability doesn't change from week to week. If the first kiss is horrible, then you won’t be coming back for seconds. I'd rather know my partner is a horrible kisser from the get-go than get five dates in (and wasted money and energy) and be turned off by their lack of ability.
Deirdre: You could be nervous, or, you could be doing it for the wrong reason (because you feel like you have to, not because you want to). All of that affects lip ability and tongue control. (smile)
Deirdre: And if you're enjoying each other's company, it's not a waste of money or energy.
Alisha: Thanks for bringing the conversation back to: "what does this have to do with the divorce rate?" ... Too many people settle for a bad kisser or a bad lover because they enjoy spending time with their partner. However, a few years pass and one partner has an urge to be with a great kisser or a great lover, and that's where infidelity and unhappiness might rear its ugly head.
Deirdre: Oh, I agree with everything you just said! I just feel like people rush the physical side of things when they should be getting to know each other's minds, not bodies. And there's something to be said for the sexiness of anticipation.
Alisha: I'll just adopt the motto: Must take for a test drive.
Deirdre: And I'll say drive slowly until you know where you're going.
Now, comments are welcome, readers, but please keep them clean!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

First date aid

I'm on a dating hiatus right now (which I know I'll have to end soon, or you'll all start fussing at me -- "How can you write about relationships if you're not even in one?"), but that doesn't mean I've stopped doing my homework. Cosmo editor Kate White has an informative book out with an eye-catching title: "How To Set His Thighs On Fire: 86 Red-Hot Lessons on Love, Life, Men, and (Especially) Sex." She offers solid advice in it, including help for what many of us single folk probably dread the most: the first date.

Kate (I can call her Kate, 'cause I feel like we're friends) says: "No matter how well you click with a guy, early on in a relationship there can be clunky conversational moments when a topic has run its course and your brain suddenly freezes. You can't think of one single thing to say, and he seems momentarily tongue-tied as well."

I've been there, and it's ugly, people.

Kate offers a roundup of her favorite questions, and I think they're pretty good ones. Not only will they keep the conversation going, but the answers give you more insight into the person than a banal "So, whaddaya think about this weather? Pretty sticky, huh?" ever could. But be careful, Kate warns: "Just don't ask them all at once or he'll think you're trying to play Barbara Walters."

1. What's the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
2. Where do you want to visit before you die?
3. What movie do you never get tired of watching?
4. What's your favorite time of the day?
5. If you could have dinner with anyone, whom would you choose?
6. Is there anything you're superstitious about?
7. If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
8. What day of your life would you like to live over again?
9. What's the craziest dare you've ever gone through with?
10. If you had to choose, would you rather be rich or famous?
11. Do you remember who taught you to ride a bike?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

'Date Night' more than just one night of week

Most people look forward to the weekend; the parties, the clubs, the games and the lazy Sundays.

I look forward to Wednesday. Why? Wednesday nights are “date nights.”

My work schedule conflicts with my husband’s, which means rarely do we get a Friday and Saturday night together, unless you count our together time after 1 a.m. (when I usually arrive home from work – get your mind out of the gutter!).

“Date night” is special. It’s precious time when the two of us can relax and concentrate on just us. As newlyweds, (though I question if we’re really “newly”-weds when we’ve been together for six years) we can use the extra time to talk about our future – you know, the picket fence, the two cats and a dog, and the two children and a half.

My grandparents have a “date night.” They go to dinner and a movie every Friday. I’ve always admired their commitment to spending time together. As I grow older and wiser in the ways of married life, I realize marriage ain’t easy, and when you can set aside uninterrupted time for the two of you, that’s unique.

Richard and I change up the schedule when it comes to Wednesday night fun. Some times we do dinner and a movie. Other nights we go to concerts or hang out with friends at fine drinking establishments – you know the kind, ones with NTN trivia and $2 drinks. Sometimes we don’t have the cash flow to go all out, and so macaroni n’ cheese and the "Hoosiers" DVD works wonders, too.

I want to hear what activity you have for “date night.” And please, we all know sex is an activity, however, let’s hear what fun dates you and your partner have done or would like to do in the future.

Sky diving? Art museum? Comedy club? Give us some ideas on what kind of dates go beyond the dinner and a movie routine.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Spare us your MySpace divorce

Com·mu·ni·ca·tion [n] The exchange of thoughts, messages, or information.

The idea of communication can be thought of as a fairly easy-to-understand concept. However, communication within the confines of a structured relationship is as complex as the New York Times crossword puzzle.

This blog is about relationships, and communication is the slab of concrete needed to erect such foundations. So, the recurring theme will be communication. Get it? Got it? Good.

On that note, let’s talk about Travis Barker and Shanna Moakler.

The Blink 182 drummer and former Miss USA hit splitsville earlier this month and then aired their dirty laundry on their individual pages.

What happened to good, ol' fashioned “family talks” where mom sits at the kitchen table in her pink robe and dad paces the floor with Hulk-like steps and the family’s issues are dealt with at home?

I’m amazed the innovative ways people “communicate” their grievances.

Yes, officer, can you just e-mail me that speeding ticket to I should have it in two minutes -- and you do take Paypal, right?

The fact Barker and Moakler used to settle – or dispute – their differences is absurd and downright childish. Surely they have enough money to pick up the phone or get their lawyers in for some mediation?

I say it’s time to grow up, Mr. Run-Naked-In-My-Videos Barker and Mrs. Playboy-Too-Dumb-For-MTV Moakler.

What do you think about this Hollywood couple using the popular Web site as a Dr. Phil session?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dance for me, baby

I grew wistful as I examined photos from Friday's Argentine World Tango Championship in Buenes Aires, Argentina.

What a sexy dance. Have you ever tried it? I went through this phase a few years ago when I was really into ballroom and salsa dancing, and I attempted the Argentine tango. I think it may be the hardest dance ever, especially if you're a strong-willed woman. The hardest thing is to just relax and open your mind and allow your body to be led around the dance floor -- all the while trying not to be intimidated by the fact that you and your dance partner are close enough to merge DNA. I was always trying to guess what my partner was going to have me do next -- therefore, I could never do it, because I was too busy thinking about it.

Still, if I could choose the attributes of the perfect man for me, a love of dancing would be in the top five. I still remember how envious I felt when one of my best friends dreamily recounted stories of an ex who liked to pull her into his arms and twirl her around the living room to their favorite standards. (I already asked -- he's married to someone else and besides, he's too short for me.)

Meanwhile, it was the tragedy of my last boyfriend's life that he was born without, as he put it, the "dance gene." He adored soul music and hip-hop, but couldn't make his body do what he wanted on the dance floor. He had to get nearly stumbling drunk to even attempt to bust a move in public. It was sad. He wouldn't even sway to an Earth, Wind & Fire tune without a beer. As a result, when Deirdre went dancing, boyfriend stayed home.

How important is dancing to you? Is it a deal-breaker if your man or woman can't dance? Or would you settle for someone who simply has an appreciation for music and can kind of tap his or her toes to the beat?

Friday, August 18, 2006

My parting words for my first blog

Not all families are as close as mine. So I fully understand when I hear a daughter or a spouse leave a loved one and the farewell consists of a simple "see ya later," or perhaps "adios."

But, what if by some unfortunate circumstance, your loved one doesn’t live another day and the final words resounding in your head are, "Yo, holla at ya later, Ma"?

Love is a touchy subject. Some people live their entire lives never hearing the "L" word uttered from their parents' lips. How sad and how hollow a feeling that must be.

I learned at a young age to always say "I love you" (ILY) because I never knew when or if I would talk with that person again. Parting words are the fossils we leave behind.

But what if the big ILY is too mushy for your spouse to say front of his co-workers? You know what I’m talking about, ladies. You call your husband at work. He’s in a cubicle surrounded by big, burly, ball-scratching men. You say ILY and he mumbles a Neanderthal-like response, then quickly hangs up and tries to appear as though the entire conversation never took place for fear of severance from future male bonding.

At first, you think it’s your cell phone service breaking up. Then, you realize. He’s just a big wuss. Saying ILY in front of his buds is too sensitive. Fine. So what’s the answer?

Find another endearing phrase that lets others know what they mean to you. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore found theirs in "Ghost" -- "ditto," and I say that works. So does "Hey, me too."

Do you and your loved ones have alternative phrases that stand in place for ILY? Should our spouses just suck it up and say the mushy words out loud – co-workers or no co-workers around?

I feel like we don’t put enough importance on telling others how much we care, even if we’re at work in tight quarters with hairy jocks as co-workers. So, stay classy Charlotte.
I love you.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Just ... because

One of life's little pleasures: A man who is not ashamed to carry his woman's purse. And so publicly, too! (Actor Mark Ruffalo arriving for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual installation luncheon at The Beverly Hills Hotel on Thursday. Love love LOVE him!!)

An inconsiderate engagement

First, a moment of silence for the demise of Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro’s marriage.

As my bio says, I believe there is someone out there for everyone, and I thought his freaky was a perfect match her deaky. But alas, it was not meant to last. And as for Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson, well, that split was really no surprise. As a friend said succinctly: "I say it's time for her to go out and find her own Kurt Russell." Amen to that. And cut her kid's hair while she's at it, before he gets mistaken for Coco Arquette or something.

Anyway. Moving on.

I got a call from one of my closest friends. She was so outraged, her voice was about three octaves above its normally high pitch. I’m sure dogs were howling all over her neighborhood.

The reason she was so upset was because a mutual male acquaintance of ours who's pushing 50 – I’ll call him "Inconsiderate Ian" – had just gotten engaged. What upset her was the way Ian went about it.

Ian was emceeing a fashion show in front of a big crowd in San Francisco. His off-and-on girlfriend of a decade (I won’t belittle her with a nickname; the poor child has already been through enough) was “on” at the time, and assisting him backstage. At one point Ian called her out onstage and, to her horror, gave this rambling speech about how they’d been together forever and it was about time he made an honest woman out of her, yada yada yada. Then he asked the crowd if there was a jeweler in the audience.

At this point in the story I was clutching invisible pearls at my throat and gasping, “you mean to tell me he didn’t even have a ring?!” But of course he had a jeweler come out from backstage with a ring on a pillow. Cue the audience cheers.

Sounds romantic, you say? Whaddaya guy, you say? Well, what upset my friend, and me – other than the situation was like that Jagged Edge song with the decidedly unromantic lyric: “Meet me at the altar in your white dress/We ain't gettin' no younger, we might as well do it” – was how Ian went about the whole process. While his girlfriend is arm candy, she doesn’t like to be in front of crowds or make a public spectacle of herself. Inconsiderate Ian, on the other hand, LOVES the spotlight. His favorite place to be is at the center of attention. He loves big gestures and to show off. However, he knows his woman does not. So really, this very public engagement was about him, not his girlfriend and their relationship.

As my friend put it, and I agree: “I’m sure she would have much preferred it if he had taken her to her favorite restaurant and simply asked her over dinner.” Instead, he mortified her by asking her to marry him in front of a large – and very vocal – crowd. If the poor girl had said no (although she wasn’t going to; after all, she’d stuck it out for 10 years) she would have been the villain of San Francisco. Even the cute gay boys in the Castro wouldn’t have bought her a consoling drink.

But that’s not the worst of it! After the poor woman said yes and the deal was done, Ian decided he wanted to have an engagement party. This is where my friend called me.

“He sent me an invitation to his engagement party … IN AN E-MAIL!!” she shrieked, so loud that my cat, napping next to me, jumped. “Who invites people to an engagement party in an e-mail?

“And in this stupid e-mail,” she continued, “he tells everyone to bring a bottle of their favorite champagne to toast the bride and groom! How tacky is that?!”

VERY tacky. Not only is this man expecting people to show up for his engagement party (as if folks aren’t already gonna have to shell out for more parties and showers and wedding gifts and the like), he’s asking people to provide the liquor!

“If he can’t afford to pay for a party, then he shouldn’t HAVE a party,” my friend finished in a huff. But of course she’s going to said party, because she wants to see who else shows up and how the bride-and groom-to-be will behave.

I told her to take copious notes.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Kicking it off with an IM chat

Deirdre: So here we are, our first blog together. And it’s about relationships, one of my favorite topics. I’m STOKED.
Alisha: Bring it on! You know, I bet people are wondering what makes us qualified to write about relationships.
Deirdre: I bet you’re right! Well, for starters, we’ve both been in them. Relationships. And not just romantic ones, but friendships, our parents, our archenemies ...
And I’m fascinated by relationships of all kinds. I study people. If I weren’t a journalist, I’d probably be a psychologist. I read a lot about relationships -- books, magazine articles, online stuff. I’m obsessed with celeb hookups and breakups. I even watch those stupid dating reality shows on TV -- I cried when Trista chose Ryan on “The Bachelorette”!
Alisha: We’ve got some stories to share, that much is true. And as journalists, we tend to observe everything around us -- from the married couples who seem to have something missing in their lives, to our best girlfriends who have little black books, er, make that Blackberry, brimming with digits. Oh, girl -- who needs “The Bachelorette” when you can watch “Flavor of Love” and learn all you need to know about how NOT to have a healthy relationship?
Deirdre: Did you HAVE to bring up “Flavor of Love”? Some crazy chick lost control of her bowels in the first episode this season!
Alisha: Bowels? Get some Depends! I miss Hoopz. She was legit.
Deirdre: Hoopz wasn’t legit! She dumped Flav as soon as the show was over. But we digress. We were talking about how observant we are and we have stories to share. We also aren’t afraid to share our opinions, are we? I know I’m not afraid to say I think online dating is a badbadbad idea.
Alisha: I just hope my Mom and Dad won’t read too closely. Though, my parents know I met one of my ex-boyfriends online. You can weed out men through the Internet and not ever have to worry about them having your cell phone number. Jump in to 2006 with me, Deirdre!
Deirdre: I’m firmly in 2006, thank you! I have the gray hairs to show it. I just have a problem with online dating ... and people who break up via e-mail. That’s just tacky and cowardly.
Alisha: It’s not tacky if you haven’t been with a guy long enough to even know his middle name.
Sounds like there’s quite a few topics we don’t see eye-to-eye on and a few we do. Hey, why don’t we start a relationships blog? [smile]
Deirdre: Gee, what a great idea, Alisha! And questions and comments from readers are welcome, right?
Alisha: More than welcome. Please give us advice and ideas.
Alisha: OK, that sounds way too desperate. But you get the idea.
Deirdre: Also, anyone and everyone is fair game -- especially us! I still haven’t decided if I’ll tell my Mom about this blog, so you know I’m gonna spill some good stuff. I’m just glad none of my exes live around here.
Alisha: They’re always available via e-mail, in case you want to break up with them again?
Deirdre: SO not funny. I’m done with you today.
Alisha: Fine, be that way. Who needs to sit and discuss the merits of online dating when you obviously don’t appreciate the value of flirting while sitting at home on your laptop, in your robe and eating bon-bons? Looking forward to more discussion!