Friday, March 30, 2007

Premarital counseling: Waste of time or real-life benefit?

I have three good friends who are tying the knot this year, and they all seem to have the same concerns and stresses I had when I was about to get married: How will we pay for this? Should there be disposable cameras at the reception? Will our parents go for an open bar – on their tab? The list goes on and on, especially if you’re the bride!

One topic of discussion is premarital counseling.

Most premarital education is mandated when two individuals are to be married by a religious adviser. Each denomination has varying requirements; some want couples to take a year-long course with lots of homework (yes … homework!), and others prefer at least two meetings to discuss the ceremony and to make sure the couple is on the same page.

My husband and I had to go through the latter. We spent one afternoon meeting with our reverend and that fulfilled all of our counseling duties. During those couple of hours she quizzed us about several important topics, such as our perspective on our financial priorities, our feelings on starting a family and our overall goals for the relationship. I felt our session was productive in that we had an objective person going over some heavy questions that needed to be confirmed out loud.

Do I think my relationship was forever altered – in a positive or negative way – by our premarital counseling? No; my husband and I had already discussed most of what was asked of us. But would I recommend a couple go through such scrutiny before saying “I do?” Yes; it couldn’t hurt in case you hadn’t previously discussed some of the hypothetical situations.

Readers, I'd love to hear more about your experiences. How was your premarital counseling set up? Has it paid off for you? Would you encourage engaged couples to go through it?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And you think we've got problems!

I was listening to a BBC News roundup the other night while driving home, and particular story snagged my attention.

In Tokyo, there's a group called the National Chauvinistic Husband's Association that's dedicated to changing members' bad marital habits in order to save their marriages. Their Three Principles of Love, which members chant over and over: Saying "sorry" without fear, saying "thank you" without hesitation and saying "I love you" without shame.


Sure, a lot of this might be driven by the change in Japan's pension rules, which allow women to claim up to half of their husband's pension if they divorce. Said divorce adviser Hiromi Ikeuchi: "In Japan, 75 percent of all divorces are initiated by women. They're waiting because if they plan to get divorced anyway they want to wait so they get part of the pension. They've been waiting for three or four years, ever since the government announced it was changing the law."

So come April, when the change takes effect, there'll be a lot of Japanese husbands in for a nasty surprise. But I've gotta believe that many men, like the members of the National Chauvinistic Husband's Association, are waking up to the fact that the way they treat their wives is not right -- and just because they behave in the way their fathers did, and their grandfathers did, and so on, doesn't make their behavior acceptable now.

Shuichi Amano, who founded the association in 1999 (after his wife threatened to divorce him) says men don't know how to communicate well because they don't have experience initiating relationships and communicating with others, and have only been trained to achieve in the workplace and to be loyal to the company. So, yeah, Japanese men have decades of learned behavior to overcome, and the fact that some of them are making sincere attempts to alter their behavior now is admirable.

The National Chauvinistic Husband's Association ranks each member according to the level of sensitivity in marital relations he has achieved, and I find these levels to be quite telling. Keep in mind that only one of the hundreds of members has made it to Level 10.

Level 1: Is still in love with his wife after three years of marriage.
Level 2: Does a good job helping with housework.
Level 3: Has never cheated on his wife -- or his wife has never caught him cheating.
Level 4: Can practice a "ladies first" policy.
Level 5: Can take a walk with his wife while holding hands.
Level 6: Can listen to his wife seriously.
Level 7: Can solve problems between his wife and his mother in one night.
Level 8: Can say "thank you" without hesitation.
Level 9: Can say "sorry" without fear.
Level 10: Can say "I love you" without embarrassment.

Kinda makes you want to call your partner right now and shout "I LOVE YOU!!!" for all to hear, doesn't it?

Friday, March 23, 2007

You have a crush - and it's not your partner!

A co-worker recently presented us with this dilemma:

"A friend of mine is in a committed relationship, but is attracted to this other chick who's also in a committed relationship. All four know each other, and it's obvious when my friend is around them that he's nervous. What would you do? Try to hide it? 'Fess up?

"I told him to tell the other couple that he has a crush on the girl, but it's nothing more than that. But, don't tell his own partner because his girlfriend is jealous and wouldn't want them to hang out anymore."

Alisha: Quite the dilemma, and I bet it's one that comes up more often than we think - especially for those of us who tend to gravitate toward groups of people when we go out.
Deirdre: I agree. Whether you're in a committed relationship or not, you can't help who you're attracted to. It's whether you act on that attraction that makes the difference.
Alisha: Which means drinking around said attraction is a bad idea! That's when you might lose control of your actions. So the question is, try to hide it or should one fess up to his desires? What would you do?
Deirdre: I would ride it out. The thing about crushes is, they're transitory. They're often based in illusion, or what you think you know about a person. Once you get to know that person, whatever you found so beguiling in them often fades. Time crushes most crushes.
Alisha: I'm with you on this but for a different reason. If you're in a committed relationship, then you're just that - committed to each other. You shouldn't be macking on someone else. To notice one's beauty is one thing; to dream about being with a different partner crosses a big line.
Deirdre: Would you hide your attraction to someone else from your husband, or confess it?
Alisha: Confess it. Plus, there's a difference between admiring one's beauty and having a crush on someone. As a married person who is totally in love with my spouse, I'm not going to develop a crush. I am, however, open to fully admitting who I think is hot.
Deirdre: And your husband is OK with that? Does he do the same?
Alisha: Oh yeah! It's in our nature to notice if someone is attractive. Anyone who doesn't notice or stare at a gorgeous person is lying about it or totally kidding themselves.
Deirdre: Did you notice our co-worker suggested telling the other couple about the attraction, but not to tell the guy's own jealous girlfriend? What a way to imperil the friendship. And that chick is gonna want to cut somebody when she finds out -- and you KNOW she'll find out. If this is going to be discussed, it should be with one's partner, not the partner's friends.
Alisha: Your partner should be the first to know, no doubt about it.
Deirdre: However, I contend that if you know A) you have a harmless crush, no more, and B) such information will hurt your partner, why tell them?
Alisha: If it's truly harmless, what's the harm in telling?
Deirdre: Girl, you're being rational. Jealousy is an irrational emotion.
Deirdre: But I have to add that if your crush doesn't eventually go away, or you find yourself developing deeper feelings for that person, it's a warning sign that there may be a problem in your relationship. And that DOES need to be discussed.
Alisha: That's the point. There should be communication going on from the start. Your partner shouldn't be finding out you've developed crushes on people after months of drooling.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How honest should you be on a first date?

A dear family friend posed a question to me a few weeks back. Let’s set the scene so you can understand her inquiry:

A 58-year-old divorced woman is on the dating scene. She’s a gorgeous mother of two children, owns her own business and has quite the nest egg in the bank. An old friend of a friend hooks her up with a southern widower, age 61. They meet at a fine restaurant and share several glasses of white wine.

As most first dates go, the conversation is a volley of getting-to-know-you questions. She asks this former Baptist preacher what happened to his beloved wife of 30 years. He explains how she had cancer and he, with great love and little regret, took care of her for eight years before she died. Almost a decade he spent by her side, feeding and bathing this terminally ill woman, the apple of his eye.

The question and answer session then turns toward the woman. After hearing her date’s story, she is at a loss for words.

You see – this woman has cancer.

She isn’t sure of what to say or if she should be honest with him about her health. What man in his right mind would want to date a woman who could possibly end up just like his wife, she thinks.

That night, she elected to gloss over the fact she has cancer. She didn’t want to overwhelm him, and she hoped he would pursue a follow-up date. But, she is currently pondering with a heavy heart her blatant omission.

She didn’t want to scare him away. Can you blame her, though? Most folks would probably run – and why not? This is the first date and it’s the best time to do it, certainly not after 10 dates when you’ve already met the family and feelings are now deeply burned into everything you do.

So, to her question of how honest one should be on the first date – easy answer. No lies, no omissions and no twisting of truth. If someone doesn’t accept you for you, then you’re better off without that person.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm a sucker for schmaltz

There's a certain aspect of my personality that I'm reveling in right now, thanks to a singer named Omarion. It's the part of me that loves schmaltzy pop ballads.

Have you heard Omarion's song, "Ice Box"? It's a doozy. Basically, Omarion is in this relationship that he really wants to salvage, right? But he was hurt -- hurt bad -- by the last woman he gave his heart to. So now he's having problems with the current chick -- even though she gets along great with his mom, his dad, his friends (hey, I'm just paraphrasing lyrics here) -- because he's scared he'll get hurt again.

The kicker is the chorus:

I got this ice box where my heart used to be (but I got this)
I got this ice box where my heart used to be (said I got this)
I'm so cold, I'm so cold, I'm so cold, I'm so cold
I'm so cold, I'm so cold, I'm so cold

ICE BOX?! How old school is that? My great-grandma used to refer to the refrigerator as the ice box. And he's so cold, so cold, so cold, so ...

We GET it, dude.

The song is stupid. But it's also irresistibly catchy. And while the lyrics are corny, the underlying emotion -- fear of giving your heart to someone, only to have it stomped on and kicked back to you -- is universal. Plus, you've got a guy like Omarion, who's not hard on the eyes, begging his way through it. Catchy, universal and some pretty whining: Isn't that why a song like "Ice Box" does so well?

I'm not saying I'll put the song on my iPod, but I will crank it up every time it comes on the radio. And I'm sure I'm not alone. A little schmaltz can brighten one's day.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Some beliefs die hard -- REAL hard

At work this week I saw a familiar face as I walked into one of the break rooms for a Coke. I've seen him several times around the Observer building; an easy-going fellow who always has a hello. He was reading as I entered, but briefly glanced up to exchange pleasantries.

As I pulled my Coke from the machine he asked, "Did you get permission?"

I turned to find him watching me, wide-eyed, whatever he was reading momentarily forgotten. I froze, confused, and looked down at the soda in my hand.

"Permission for what?" I asked with a frown. To buy a Coke? Was this dude joking?

"To cut your hair," he replied, as if it were obvious.

I recently had my hair cut into a modified flapper 'do, and when slicked back -- as it was that day -- it looks very short, indeed. But I was even more confused. Was he talking about some Observer dress code I didn't know about?

"Why would I need permission?" I asked slowly, still rooted in place.

"Aren't you married?" now he was the puzzled one.

What the ...?! I thought as the meaning sank in. No he didn't!

I raised my left hand and wiggled the fingers. "Nope. Not married."

"Oh," he said, relaxing back. "I thought you were married."

Whoa, I thought as I exited the break room, popping open my Coke. I need my husband's PERMISSION before I cut my hair? Men still think like that?

I don't know if the women-are-supposed-to-have-longer-hair thing is strictly Southern, but it's certainly generational. As I sat down at my desk I remembered that every now and then, my mom's boyfriend wishes aloud that she would let her hair grow out of her hassle-free and totally cute pixie cut. She usually rolls her eyes, mutters something about how he wouldn't be the one stuck styling it every day, and keeps on keepin' on.

I second that emotion!

Totally unrelated, but I love it:

Earlier this week, Ukrainian Hryhory Nestor celebrated his 116th birthday. He is presumed to be the world's oldest living man.

Nestor puts his extraordinary longevity down to a diet of milk, cheese and potatoes ... and to the fact that he never married. "I liked my freedom," he said. "I would spend my time with one girl and then another."

Player, player, play on!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bring on the bachelorettes

This weekend I’ll partake in a time-honored tradition: The bachelorette night.

I’m flying out in the morning and will return on Monday after a three-day bachelorette getaway. I’m super excited, not only to celebrate with the awesome bride-to-be, but also because I’m going to a big city – one I’ve never visited before, Boston – to paint the town. Me and 11 other women. Watch out!

The whole idea of bachelor nights and bachelorette weekends got me thinking about how men and women approach the concept.

Here’s what I think applies to the majority, especially after attending many bachelorette nights: Men see the bachelor night as a final sexual fling before the ring becomes a permanent fixture on his left hand. Women view bachelorette nights as a chance to bond with the girls and to be the center of attention for one big party.

Don’t get me wrong, bachelorette parties can have sexual connotations as well. But rarely have I witnessed or heard of a woman being unfaithful on the celebratory night (all I had was R-rated male strippers). I have heard from quite a few guy friends that men, more often than not, will break that oath of faithfulness (and yes, oral sex is sex) because well, they’re not married – yet.

I’m curious if my theories are common knowledge or if I’m just way off base, because you know - "What happens in Boston, stays in Boston."

Monday, March 12, 2007

My mom wants a son-in-law

During my last phone conversation with my mother, she informed me she's ready for me to be in a relationship.

"I want to meet somebody when I come visit," she calmly demanded. "I'm getting impatient."

She's a firecracker, my mother.

There was a time when I would've freaked out and immediately been in the bars and clubs and talking to dudes in grocery stores and stuff, 'cause pleasing my momma was that important to me. But when she said she was ready to be a mother-in-law, I just chuckled indulgently. As I think I've made pretty clear in this blog, while she might be ready, I'm certainly not. And when it comes to having a man in my life, I'm the one who matters, right?

I know I've put my poor mom through the wringer. I'm sure it's not easy to have such ... quirky offspring. And I know it must be hard when most of your friends have married-off kids (some of them even on their second marriages) and a passel of rowdy grandkids, while your only child, at the ripe old age of 12, announced that she was never going to have kids and now looks to be sashaying towards 40 without ever tying the knot. (And she broadcasts such information over the Internet, to boot!)

We've had mental tug-of-wars over me and men for years. While I was in college, my mother was not-so-pleasantly surprised to find out I was dating black guys ... and non-black guys. She was probably proud she had raised such an open-minded daughter, but maybe a little horrified as well. "I would prefer it if you married a black man," she said quietly, but that's all she said. Fast-forward to years later, after I broke up with my last boyfriend, who happened to be a blue-eyed blond. I went on an international tear that included a Moroccan, a French-Algerian, an Albanian, a Nigerian and a couple Mexicans. I went to visit my cousin in the Netherlands and swooned over the tall Dutch men.

By this time, my mom was over the black thing. "Can't you date Americans?" she asked, exasperated.

And now I get this: "I want to meet someone when I come visit." No race preference. And you notice she said someONE, as if she might even be OK if I was snuggled up to a chick when I opened my front door. (Don't worry mom; he'll be a he.)

While her demand may seem a tad petulant and selfish, I know where it's coming from. I'm not getting any younger, and neither is she. I know she worries about me, so far away. She wants me to have someone who loves me, takes care of me and keeps me safe when she can't. She doesn't want me to be lonely and alone.

But she's gonna have to be wait a while longer. What's that the Supremes sang? "You can't hurry love." Not even for impatient mothers.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Household cleaning -- yeah, it's our sore spot

Most journalists are fed public relations fodder on a daily basis, and since Deirdre and I write about relationships and sex, you can imagine the field day PR flacks had with us around Valentine’s Day.

We didn’t want to inundate you with rambling facts or useless percentages, but there is one survey we received in an e-mail that I keep thinking about, even though Cupid’s holiday is almost a month past.

PayPal commissioned a “Can’t Buy Me Love” survey of more than 3,000 people, and though the results focus mostly on how couples like to hide purchases from their spouse, one little factoid resonates with my relationship: “Money beats out sex and house-cleaning as the number one issue couples fight about – 37 percent of young couples report that they fight more about money than cleaning (34 percent) or frequency of sex (28 percent).”

Oddly enough, my husband and I don’t argue that much about money – when you don’t have a surplus of it, it’s hard to fight about it, at least that’s the way we see it. One issue that pops up with some frequency is house cleaning. I hate doing dishes. He hates doing laundry. So you would think we would have it made; we each do the chore that the other loathes, but it doesn’t always work out that way. There are some days when the dishes pile up or the laundry takes on a life of its own, and we both drop the ball.

Let’s set an all-too familiar scene in the Hord house:

Me: “Hey hun, will you please do the laundry today?”
Husband: “Don't worry, I'll get to it.”
Fast forward two days later.
Me: “Oh, love of my life, when are you going to do the laundry?”
Husband: “Tar Heels are playing right now, Alisha. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
A day passes – not one shirt has made it to the washer.
Me: “What’s it gonna take to get the laundry done?”
Husband: “Did you do the dishes yet? When you do the dishes, I’ll do the laundry.”

Aaaaaahhhh!!! This little scenario plays out more often than I ever thought it would. And don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as my husband is at putting off household chores and then saying I’ll get to them later.

So when I read that 34 percent of respondents in the survey argue about cleaning, I was relieved. You should have heard the sigh I let out. I thought it was just us who consider daily chores to be a frequent source of, um, let’s just call it pleasant disagreement.

Please, tell me we’re not alone?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

About those adorable boys

A reader remark on yesterday's blog really got to me, and I feel the need to reply. His comment:

"Quit over-thinking things. YOU PEOPLE ... the women-folk ... make everything too difficult and you are your own worst enemies. That guy might turn out to be the man of your dreams, but you're too busy thinking about things outside of the present to get to step one. Live in the moment!"

And to that I say: "Live in the moment?" Dude, what do you think I've been doing?!

I've spent the majority of my dating life living in the moment. And it's gotten me some great times, to be sure, but also plenty of short-lived ones. I've decided I want more than that, and to accomplish it, I've got to operate differently than I have in the past.

The most important step in finding a suitable mate is to KNOW YOURSELF. To know what's important to you, know what you're capable of in a relationship, and know what you will and will not put up with. In other words, that means having what a good friend of mine refers to as a "come to Jesus" talk with yourself. I've had plenty of those chats over the past couple of years, and here are the top two conclusions I've come to.

1. I want to be in a stable, honest, intelligent pairing filled with love, laughter and passion. Such a relationship is possible for me, but it's gonna take some work and patience to find.

2. The men I tend to be attracted to often have the "love, laughter and passion" stuff down, but fail miserably at the "stable, honest and intelligent" part. After years of failed attempts, I have accepted that this is not the type of man for me. However, because such men are my weakness, I have to be alert.

And yes, that means thinking before I act. I don't consider that making things difficult for myself; in fact, I see it as saving myself a lot of heartache down the road. I sense there are plenty of women out there who would read this and shake their heads in recognition and understanding. There comes a point where you have to stop letting your heart -- and your loins -- lead the way.

Now, if all this means I'm gonna miss out on a guy who I'll have a great time with in the short run, I'm OK with that. I'm looking for a man who's ready to have a great time for years to come.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Get thee away from me, adorable boy!

So right after I blab in a previous blog about how I don't have time to date, what happens? I meet a cute guy, of course.

Oh, don't get so excited. Nothing's gonna happen. The timing is amusing, that's all.

Remember what I keep saying about how you have to be open at all times if you want to attract dating possibilities? I didn't realize I was following my own advice!

I spent Monday morning at a car dealership, having my car, Pandora, worked on. The guy who took my information and checked Pandora in was adorable. I thought I was looking pretty rough -- old sweats, no lip gloss, and I brought my knitting, for chrissakes -- but he seemed to think otherwise. Lots of extended eye contact and over-explanation of processes. He pulled me aside later to fill me in on Pandora's progress and used the time for a little flirting. When my car was ready to go, he walked me out and we stood talking for awhile. Turns out we had something in common: We've both lived in California and would love to go back someday. He made a point of telling me, at least half a dozen times, that if I needed anything, anything at all, all I had to do was call the number at the top of my auto papers. We shook hands and there was a pregnant pause, like in the movies ... and we went our separate ways.

I know what you're thinking. "You fool! Why didn't you give him your number? Why didn't you get HIS number? Why didn't you give him that little nudge to let him know it was OK to ask you out?"

Well, I wanted to do all of the above, but something inside stopped me. As I drove off, I realized what it was.

I'm growing up, dammit.

You guys, that dude was way too young for me! Nowhere near 30. And can you imagine how many chicks he must hit on at work? He's just the type of man I can't stop being drawn to: good-looking, extroverted, a little goofy, a lot flirtatious. The guys who are great fun in the short-term, not so great for the long haul. How many men like that have I tried and failed? That's what I mean when I say I'm "growing up": Instead of throwing myself heart (or libido) first into something that obviously has no future, I'm actually taking time to consider my actions and have "back to reality" conversations with myself.

You want someone your age, Deirdre.

You want someone a bit more serious and a bit less flirtatious, Deirdre.

You want someone your HEIGHT, Deirdre. Why are the cute ones always so short?

Sigh. Reality sucks ... but it's right.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Too busy for ...

Deirdre: I've heard from a few people wondering if we're still writing this blog. At first I was like, "What? We just posted!" But then I took a look. It's been awhile, huh?
Alisha: We're still alive -- just barely. Work has been kickin' our tails. And, not sure about you, but it's also put a huge damper on the love life. I don't think there are enough hours in the week to fit in a super-busy job, extra time to sleep AND one-on-one time for a relationship.
Deirdre: I was all psyched to start going out more, but I just haven't had the energy. Also, I was thinking that we're so busy, it's a bad idea to try to start something new with a guy. I wouldn't have time for him! But you've already got a man at home. How's that going right now?
Alisha: Things are great relationship-wise. It's just you really start to wonder where the time goes when you're seeing your spouse for 30 minutes (or less) each day. I don't believe it's healthy for a married couple to spend every waking minute together (independence and separate friends are a glorious thing), but at the same time, it's difficult to get some quality time in when you're kissing each other good night and that's all you see of your spouse.
Deirdre: Have you two discussed it all? Is he upset that you're never at home?
Alisha: It's not just me who isn't at home. We're young professionals, trying to save money for the house, the kids and the white picket fence. The spark between us isn't gone - it's just that fine line of trying to balance everything .... What about you? You say you don't have energy for a man right now, but I know you would find ways to make time. If you (or we) care about someone enough, you just make the time somehow.
Deirdre: You are correct! And I have to be honest -- right now, I don't want to make the time. At first I was fussing at myself about it, but I don't want dating to become a chore. It's supposed to be fun, and if I tried to do it right now, it would be forced. Besides, I'd rather use the time I have to nurture my friendships. There are people in my life who haven't heard from me lately, and they're starting to ask for updates. So the dating will have to wait until I'm physically and emotionally open to it.
Alisha: It'll happen. Let's hope our busy schedules slow down soon -- we need more nookie!
Deirdre: Amen!

Readers, we know we aren't the only ones in this situation. What do you do to keep your relationships -- romantic or otherwise -- in good standing?