Thursday, July 23, 2009

Men asked, they answered

Today, lifestyle site revealed the results of The Great Male Survey, which polled more than 50,000 men on their views about relationships, finance, fashion and more.

“The results of the 2009 survey confirmed that men aren't the bumbling sex maniacs that TV shows and commercials make us out to be," said James Bassil, editor-in-chief of "We're in fact intelligent, romantic, self-aware beings … with enormous libidos.”

Some of the results:

84 percent of men look for wife potential in a girlfriend.

85 percent of men believe that they should pay for the majority of dates at least until a relationship is established.

70 percent of men would not cheat, but only 13 percent are entirely satisfied with their sex lives.

84 percent cook at home.

50 percent are comfortable with their significant other staying in touch with an ex.

69 percent have fantasized about a girlfriend or wife's friend.

73 percent of men are comfortable sending birthday wishes via text message, versus a phone call or face-to-face greeting.

81 percent of respondents say that the economic crisis has not had a direct negative effect on their career progress; yet it did prompt 69 percent of men to save more money in 2009.

– The best-dressed men are in Italy.

– American men have greater moral qualms about living with a partner before marriage, are more likely to fake an orgasm (!!), and are more concerned about global warming than their male counterparts in Australia, UK and Canada.

In addition, partnered with Yahoo! Shine for The Great Female Survey, which had about 19,000 respondents. Highlights:

34 percent of women said their confidence is their main weapon to attract men.

17 percent use their looks as their secret weapon.

39 percent of women believe Sarah Palin set women back 20 years.

– More than 75 percent believe that women of this era are best identified as “do-it-all multi-taskers” versus the 8 percent who feel that a woman should be identified as a nurturing mother and the 13 percent who think of women as “career women go-getters.”

Comparative results revealed:

– Men are more traditional, women are less traditional.

12 percent fewer women than men believe that marriage is a necessary institution that they will participate in to help preserve.

48 percent of men said they would dump a girlfriend if she became fat (c'mon, guys!), while 70 percent of women said they would keep a husky boyfriend around.

60 percent of men would take the male birth control pill and 68 percent of women would prefer that option too.

Are the results what you expected? I was surprised at how many men thought they should pay for more dates at the beginning of the relationship ... and that so few are satisfied with their sex lives. Also, I say bring on that male birth control pill!

You can view full survey results here and here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Anti-belly fat marketers: We got the message

Dear Internet advertising designers/developers: Please, no more about belly fat.

I need no more details about how we gain it, how to lose it, or how celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Rachael Ray have employed new and expensive methods for eradicating it. (And you can, too!)

Give me no more testimonials written by supposed local moms who claim to swear by Product A or Product B. Ditto for made-up blogs accompanied by grainy photos and very old comments expressing support, real or imagined.

But, most emphatically, don't show me any more photos of other people's belly fat when I visit a Web page -- and it happens nearly every time I click. (Try searching "belly fat." I got 2.8 million results. For research purposes, I clicked. Too many links included photos.)

Why in the world would some ad agency employee think that seeing someone squish their belly fat would make me want to click the photo to read more?

Please, stop.

I don't need anymore descriptions to know that it's bad or that, if I have it, I should get rid of it.

I certainly don't need a photo to know what it is.

And, here's a clue: When it comes to losing belly fat, you might inspire me more by what I might achieve -- not by what I might already be.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Should you stay or should you go?

The saddest thing I've heard in the whole Mark Sanford mess?

That he considers his Argentinian mistress his soul mate ... and yet he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.

Trying? Bonnie Raitt lyrics immediately spring to mind: "I can't make you love me if you don't/You can't make your heart feel something it won't."

I've been thinking about this for several days now. If you're in a committed relationship and you become more emotionally connected to a person outside that relationship, do you stay in your current situation, or do you leave? Do you sacrifice your personal happiness for the promise you made to your partner?

Thanks to the S.C. governor's verbal diarrhea, we know way more than we should about his personal struggles. ("My guess is that it's an emotional breakdown," said Katon Dawson, immediate past chairman of the state Republican Party. "He's so emotional now he wants to tell everybody everything.") We also know from their e-mails that Mark Sanford and Maria Belen Chapur weren't just having a fling. They made an emotional connection way before they had a physical one. “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,” Sanford, said in an interview yesterday. Dude was crying during the interview; he's been crying a lot lately. “A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”

So here's what I wanna know: if you aren't in love with your partner anymore and you want to be with someone else -- and we're not talking about lust, or simple infatuation here -- why stay in that relationship? Because, really, who benefits in the long run? Also, if you know your partner isn't in love with you anymore, why would you want them to stay? I can understand sticking together for the kids, but do you honestly think they won't know that something isn't right?

On the flip side, there's something to be said for making a promise and keeping it. When people commit to each other, it's an agreement that they will live their lives as a team. Most people who have kids in relationships do so with the understanding that they'll have a partner in parenting. A support system in tough times and someone to enjoy the good times. Such a commitment should be able to withstand factors such as infidelity and emotional malaise, right? You work through them and come out stronger on other side.

... Or not.

Oy. Makes me glad to be single. But what about you, readers? Would you leave if you loved someone else, or would you stay?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Will we ever like public couples?

When it comes to the seesaw of public opinion, the past few weeks have given us the extreme highs and lows of relationships and politics.

Most recently, we watched in awe -- and, many of us, in disgust -- as S.C. governor Mark Sanford confessed to an extramarital affair and his wife, Jenny, explained that she kicked him out to maintain her dignity. We derided the governor, praised his wife, and pitied their family for having to deal with all of it.

A few weeks before that, we saw President Obama take his wife, Michelle, on a romantic date -- dinner in New York City and a Broadway show. We complained. We asked: Were the Obamas setting an unrealistic example for romance? We sniffed: Nice that he can take his wife to NYC for a date, unlike the rest of us.

So we don't like philanderers. And we don't like romantics. Huh?

Seems like, when it comes to couples in the public eye, all we do is complain.

We've criticized how Elizabeth Edwards has handled her husband's infidelity. We've watched with glee for any sign of strife between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We slammed Lisa Marie Presley for marrying Michael Jackson -- and questioned her need to declare her love upon his death.

So, who do we love? Is there a high-profile relationship in which we wouldn't find fault? And, if the answer is no, what does that say about us?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Way to go, Jenny Sanford!

I want to buy Jenny Sanford a drink. Girlfriend could probably use one about now.

People are slamming on her, saying she's a controlling harpy. So cold, so bossy, so tough. No wonder her man ran into the arms of another woman, they say. If she'd been concentrating on what was going on at home, instead of what was going on at the office, she might not be in this mess.

What a crock.

I think Jenny Sanford is awesome. We've seen a parade of political wives who've stood by their men as they denied or apologized for their sexual indiscretions. Every time there's a chorus of, "why is she putting up with this? How can she stand to be humiliated in such a way? What a fool!" and so on. Then the Sanford crap hits the fan and Miss Jenny is so not like those other wives. She's probably like, "you know what? I've been dealing with this hot mess for five months while this joker tries to figure out what he wants to do. I've already kicked his butt out. The kids will need therapy. And he left Father's Day weekend? No way I'm going down like this!"

So what does she do? When Mark Sanford went missing, she didn't cover for him. She admitted she had no idea where he was, knowing what message that would send. When he held his mea culpa news conference, she and her four boys were nowhere in sight. When reporters asked about her husband's political career, her response was, "his career is not a concern of mine. He'll have to worry about that. I'm going to worry about my family and the character of my children."

Love her.

Jenny Sanford is going through a defining moment in her life, and she has chosen to put herself and her kids first -- not her husband's career. I admire that. She's handling this situation on her terms, which has got to be hard, considering the intense pressure she's under. If she takes her husband back, it won't be for appearance's sake, it'll be because she wants to give their marriage another chance.

Where others see a harpy I see a strong, smart woman who's being straight-up with everyone, especially her husband. Why criticize her for standing up for herself? At least she'll be able to hold her head high after this ... which is more than we can say for Mark Sanford and his Argentinian mistress.

Update: Jenny Sanford offers details about how she found out about the affair here. Man, did her husband dig himself a deep hole!

Can infidelity plus love equal pity?

Mark Sanford's e-mails to his Argentinian mistress drip with emotion, with detail, with passion.

They read like they were written by a man who longs to express his feelings in poetry. They read like they were written by a man in love.

It's surprising: I've heard pity for South Carolina's governor from an array of avid followers of the story -- from married to single, man and woman.

How tragic, those followers say, to be 49, a public figure, and so obviously in love.

How horrifying, they say, to have such private thoughts and feelings trotted out for public display.

How stupid, they conclude, for Sanford to have made such a classic misstep by a man in a position of power.

No one can win in such a situation -- not Sanford, not his mistress, and, most importantly, not his wife and kids. (We'll have to see how the residents of South Carolina fare.)

It's not that finding love excuses infidelity. Before entering into a relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, perhaps Sanford should have settled things with his wife. He should have repaired a marriage that wasn't quite right in his heart. And if he felt he couldn't honor that union -- obviously, he didn't -- he should have tried to be as honorable as he could in the situation and ended the marriage.

But he did neither of those things, and now his tragedy -- and the tragedy of his family -- is a drama for the nation.

And his love, most certainly, is lost.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Movies to break up to

A friend sent me this list of 20 Essential Break Up movies, as chosen and described by eHarmony. I'm amused that a dating site would do such a thing (to help people recover quickly and move on to their next eHarmony-provided relationship?), but I like that the list is a mix of old and new, U.S. and foreign flicks.

1. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind": This offbeat romantic comedy stars Jim Carrey as Joel, who opts for a procedure in which memories of his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), are erased after he learns she's already had the surgery done. But as his doctor begins to wipe out traces of Clementine, Joel decides he doesn't want to lose what's left of their relationship, so he squirrels away the memories somewhere else in his brain.

2. "Kramer vs. Kramer": Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is a career-driven yuppie -- until he finds out his wife (Meryl Streep) is leaving him and their 6-year-old son. Ted soon finds that he loves being a full-time parent, but then his wife reappears to reclaim the boy. Poignant and beautifully acted.

3. "Annie Hall": Listen closely and you can actually hear the stress hormones pumping through the bodies of the characters in Annie Hall. Woody Allen's real, funny ode to love among twitchy city dwellers includes cameos from not-yet-stars Jeff Goldblum, Shelley Duvall and Sigourney Weaver.

4. "Chungking Express": Hong Kong director Kar Wai Wong established a unique style with this cerebral film that tells two somewhat similar but unrelated stories about loneliness and disconnection in the big city. In the first story, a policeman pines after his former girlfriend and gives himself 30 days to find another woman; in the second story, another policeman catches the eye of an attractive waitress, who's intent on completely rearranging his life.

5. High Fidelity: Vintage record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack) has been dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), because he hasn't changed since they met. In an attempt to figure out where things went wrong, Rob revisits his top five breakups of all time. As he seeks out his former lovers to find out why they dumped him, he continues his efforts to win Laura back. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, the film is a clever, funny tribute to the music scene.

6. "The War of the Roses": This battle of the married sexes played out under director Danny DeVito's jaundiced eye is what The Washington Post termed, "A yuppie Armageddon, an explosion of empty values and curdled peevishness." Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) is losing control over his wife, Barbara (Kathleen Turner), after 17 years of marriage. The irreconcilable difference is their house. Neither wants to move out, so that means all-out war!

7. "White": Julie Delpy stars in Krzysztof Kieslowski's dark comedy (the middle segment in his "three colors" trilogy) about the price of passion. Polish immigrant Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is humiliated in a public courtroom by his wife (Delpy) during their divorce proceedings. Shamed and brokenhearted, he finds an ally in a fellow countryman. The two concoct a way back to post-Communist Poland, where Karol sets about rebuilding his life.

8. "Broken Flowers": After being dumped by yet another girlfriend (Julie Delpy), Don Johnston (Bill Murray) vows he'll be alone forever. But when a mysterious unsigned letter arrives in the mail, he's surprised to learn he has a 19-year-old son. With no idea who the mother could be, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past, surprising a series of old flames (Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone and Tilda Swinton) along the way.

9. "Swingers": In director Doug Liman's career-making look at twentysomething guys, struggling comedian Mike (Jon Favreau) despairs over his love life, so his four pals, fellow Hollywood hopefuls, pump up his nightlife. Buddy (Vince Vaughn), offering dubious lessons on "babes," even whisks Mike to Vegas. Although their attempts at living la vida loca seldom work out as fantasized, Mike meets one woman (Heather Graham) who might finally break his funk.

10. "The Squid and the Whale": Jeff Daniels makes for a haunting Brooklyn professor who's well past his prime, and Laura Linney is his writer wife on the brink of stardom in Noah Baumbach's honest look at the disintegration of a marriage. With their lives headed for distinctly opposite directions, the two can't help but be acrimonious about their impending separation. Unfortunately, their two children are stuck in the middle of the emotional warfare.

11. Forgetting Sarah Marshall: A hilarious comedy produced by Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "Superbad"). After his TV star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), breaks his heart, Peter (Jason Segel) wants nothing more than to enjoy his vacation in Hawaii. One problem: Sarah's vacationing at the same resort he is, and even worse, she's bringing her new beau.

12. Better Off Dead:
After his girlfriend (Amanda Wyss) ditches him for a boorish ski jock, Lane (John Cusack) decides that suicide is the only answer. However, his increasingly inept attempts only bring him more agony and embarrassment. Filled with the wildest teen nightmares, a family you can't help but identify with and a host of wonderful comic characters.

13. "An Unmarried Woman": Director Paul Mazursky's poignant portrayal of a woman dealing with the dissolution of her marriage was a groundbreaking film at the time of its release. When her seemingly perfect husband (Michael Murphy) leaves her for another woman, devastated wife Erica (Jill Clayburgh) must find untapped strength within herself to build a new life.

14. Dodsworth: To escape an empty nest, an automobile tycoon (Walter Huston) and his fortysomething wife (Ruth Chatterton) plan a luxurious vacation in Europe. But as Mrs. Dodsworth embarks on a series of indiscretions -- including a romance with a gigolo -- it becomes apparent that the couple's plans for their golden years don't mesh. From director William Wyler, the film is based on the best-selling novel by Sinclair Lewis and an acclaimed stage play.

15. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman": Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) is happy and completely satisfied with her life: She has a doting husband, Charles (Steve Harris), an impressive home in their native Atlanta complete with a swimming pool and tennis courts, and anything else money can buy. But the night before her 18th anniversary, Charles kicks her out of their home and replaces her with his mistress, calling into question what Helen had long considered a solid marriage.

16. "Breaking Up": Based on a two-person play by Michael Christofer (who also wrote the screenplay), Breaking Up is a series of charming vignettes that reveals the on-again, off-again relationship between modern lovers Steve (Russell Crowe) and Monica (Salma Hayek). Their emotional bond is so intense that it borders on the manic-depressive, and they constantly fluctuate between romantic euphoria and ennui … like many of the rest of us!

17. "Divorce American Style":
Television sitcom director Norman Lear helms this dark comedy about the paralyzing process of divorce. Ex-couple Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds come to realize that after the trials and tribulations of dating, debilitating alimony payouts and commiserations with fellow divorcees, married life wasn't so bad after all.

18. My Super Ex-Girlfriend:
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a bitter superwoman scorned! In this slapstick comedy from Ivan Reitman, New Yorker Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) is fed up with his manipulative girlfriend, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), and gives her the heave-ho. He moves on with his life, leaving the heartbroken Jenny -- aka G-girl -- to do everything within her superpowers to humiliate Matt.

19. "The Belly of an Architect": Jealousy rears its ugly head in this searing drama about a workaholic architect, Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy), who's traveling to Rome for a job. On this trip, however, he's brought his wife (Chloe Webb), who's grown distant and whom he begins to suspect is in love with another man. But that's not all: Kracklite also thinks his wife is plotting to kill him so she can live happily ever after, but he won't let her get away with it.

20. "The Break-Up" (pictured above): Once blissfully in love, Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) find themselves up in arms over custody of their upscale Chicago condo when petty spats about lemons and dirty dishes end their romance. An escalating battle of the exes ensues as Gary and Brooke continue to live under the same roof … while cooking up schemes to drive each other off the premises.

My list would have to include "Closer" (Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman in a twisted mess of deceit, infidelity and egocentricity) and "Waiting to Exhale" (the healing power of friendship as four black women -- Angela Basset, Whitney Houston, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon -- deal with romantic quandries). What about yours?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't let Calvin Klein get to you

The clever ad guys at designer Calvin Klein are at it again, stirring the blood of America with a controversial new campaign. Near nudity isn't enough. Implied sweaty sex isn't enough. Implied sweaty gay sex isn't enough. Now we've moved into implied sweaty group bisexual sex.

Maybe this wouldn't be so conversation-inspiring if the ad was buried in the latest issue of Cosmo or Vanity Fair. But CK has taken over the side of a building in New York City with a 50-foot billboard of the steamy foursome. (What? You don't think the hottie on the floor is gonna be left out of the action, do you?)

"It's soft pornography is what it is," Laurie Baranowski, a tourist in New York, told "I don't think that just because you put Calvin Klein's name on it makes it acceptable. It's a beautiful picture, but I don't think that that's the place for it."

Aaand ... I agree with her. Not about the "soft pornography" part, but the "I don't think that's the place for it" part. But am I disgusted and morally outraged? Nah. This is what the company does -- they're provocateurs.

I took a quick trip down CK ad lane, and the images were borderline NSFW. Lots of pics like this one: genetically blessed, touchy-feely young models, barely clad in snug denim and spritzed with something to make them look sticky and sweaty and sexy as all get-out. The only thing different about this campaign is the number of writhing bodies. (This billboard pic is actually part of a series. Think this is freaky? There's an image with five people breathing heavy.)

I think what really gets to people is what the image implies. The three guys and one chick look like they're all about to get it on. As in, there aren't enough women to go around, and that's not a problem. Put that on a billboard and not only may some parents have to explain the birds and the bees, but why some boy bees might like other boy bees instead of the queen.

But here's the thing. We all know that Calvin Klein is doing this to get publicity, to get people talking. The reality is, while it's a beautiful and erotic photo, everyone in it, and the photographer who took it, were paid to create a fantasy. The only power it has is what we give it. If you don't freak out, your kids won't freak out. As for such an image contributing to the oversexing of our culture, one could argue that a 50-foot billboard of topless, entwined pretty people could actually desensitize passers-by to the beauty and sensuality of the human form. Not me, mind you -- I would smile every time I passed it, and I don't even wear Calvin Klein jeans.

What do you think? Are you offended by the new campaign?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can you find love without looking?

As my friend and I once were lamenting the lack of a love life, my friend told me that, although she truly desired a serious relationship, she did not wish to seek. She wanted to be found.

It's not that my friend never got offers. She received invites for dates regularly.

She just never accepted them, finding reasons to turn down one guy because of one fault, and the next guy for a completely different fault. The criticisms generally were superficial because she never gave the guys a chance. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I once seriously considered dumping a guy because he held his fork in a really annoying way.)

But as for the not seeking, but being found: I didn't understand it then, and I don't understand it now. If you want something in your life -- from the trivial to the intrinsic -- don't you have to seek it at some level? Don't you have to do some research, some self-examination -- or, at the very least, some thinking?

If you want it, don't you have to work for it?

Your search might not take you down the intended path. When I met my husband, I was actually scamming for his friend. I soon found out the friend was a donkey. And my husband wasn't. Most days.

That discovery required a search.

Being found sounds magical. It seems effortless. But, in the end, I wonder if sticking with that plan would prove more effort than it's worth.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Trouble in a red dress

Flipping through the channels on a recent sleepless night, I stumbled across a particularly interesting episode of "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?"

A young couple from Pennsylvania was planning their marriage, but family problems got in the way.

Groom and brother/best man couldn't get along. The groom was devastated when it came down to this: His brother wouldn't stand for him on his wedding day. He was moved to sobbing; I felt for him.

Then, the groom's mother wouldn't cooperate with the bride's wishes in terms of attire.

Huh? I thought, this bride needs to get over it. Dresses aren't important enough to get upset about.

Then I saw the dress -- red and vampy. And heard the mother-in-law say she was so happy about her son getting married, she wanted to pretend it was her day -- and that she was the bride.

Granted, that dress looked spectacular. And the mother-in-law was a bubbly hoot, it seemed. (At least the editing made it look so.) But there's being happy for your child's good fortune, and there's taking the spotlight when you really shouldn't.

The bride decided to let it ride. And, come wedding day, everyone was happy. Groom and brother made up; the guests smiled graciously as mother-in-law made the rounds; bride was beautiful.

But I hope that red dress wasn't a harbinger of serious family relationships issues to come. I wouldn't place any bets on it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Can Mom be a Babe?

When your son asks if he can call you "Babe" -- as in, "Hey, babe," -- several lines of thought race through your mind.

You can plead to yourself: Please, please, please, I don't want to raise a Shia LaBeouf, who last month made waves by saying: “If I could meet my mother and marry her, I would. I would be with my mother now, if she weren’t my mother, as sick as that sounds." (Shia, you can call your mother beautiful without EVER going that far. It is sick.)

You can realize he hears his dad calling you babe and be happy with the fact that he recognizes terms of endearment (and genuine affection) in his parents' relationship.

Or you can giggle and ask (because your son is an innocent four years old), "I prefer Mommy, but why do you want to call me babe?"

"Because I love you," he says.

OK, I tell him. That seems like a good reason.

Monday, June 01, 2009

What's in a kiss? A lot

This incident may go down as one of the best or one of the worst decisions of Halle Berry's career.

If you missed it, all you have to do is Google to find photo evidence galore: The actress briefly made out with actor Jamie Foxx when he gave her the Decade of Hottness award at Spike TV's 2009 "Guys Choice Awards" over the weekend. Actually, "made out" might be too tame a term. Her hand went for his crotch while he grabbed her butt like he planned to take a hunk of it home with him (he also looked like he wanted to cry and/or thank Jesus, which was pretty funny). Depending on how you feel about Halle, Jamie or very public scope-and-gropes, the scene was disgusting, degrading, or hot as hell.

What I find fascinating is how people have responded. Message boards are overflowing with people weighing in. There's the "what was she thinking, she's a mother and an Oscar winner" camp. There's the "ain't she got a man at home and won't he be packing his bags when he sees this" camp. There's the "once you go black, you always come back" camp. (Halle's S.O. is model Gabriel Aubry, who is crazygorgeous ... and white.) There's the "Jamie Foxx is the luckiest man alive and I really hate him" camp. The "they totally had sex in a dressing room after" and "somebody got laid when they got home" camps. And so on. A few seconds of screen time have sparked hours of conversations about race, sexual boundaries, relationship boundaries and modern-day feminism.

For my part, I thought it was bad idea. Don't get me wrong -- I think she should be able to do whatever she wants to do. But no matter if it was Jamie or any other man (or woman), I thought her actions were disrespectful to her partner. It's one thing if you're an actor and you slobber on somebody because it's in the script. But all she had to do was show up and accept an award, not offer up soft-core porn for YouTube posterity. Also, it seemed a little desperate to me. Halle doesn't have go for the gusto with Jamie Foxx to prove that, at age 42, she deserves a hotness award; she does it by simply breathing.

Maybe it was a publicity stunt. Maybe she's always had a jones for Jamie and seized (no pun intended) the opportunity. Maybe her man made her mad before she left the house, and she decided to get back at him in a very public way. We'll never know.

Just as we can have many reactions to what she did, we can think of just as many explanations for her actions. One thing's for sure: if Halle Berry wanted to be in the spotlight, she got her wish.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

No thanks to the last word

When it comes to relationships -- with spouses and significant others, siblings and in-laws, friends and colleagues -- the best lesson I've learned is this:

No matter how good it makes you feel at that moment, having the last word during a disagreement rarely is worth it.

In fact, I can't think of a situation in which having the last word did me much good in terms of relationship-building.

With a spouse or a significant other, it just makes you look overcritical (or nagging). With a friend, you come off as petty and possibly non-supportive. With colleagues or your boss, you just might be lecturing a little too much (or challenging in a not-so-constructive way). And with an in-law? Just choose any words you utter very carefully, and then let the issue lie. Quickly.

But that's just my experience. What's the best relationship lesson you've learned and why?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sticker shock

This Memorial Day, I have to share a sad commentary on how clueless and callous some people can be.

I was in traffic, sitting at a red light, when noticed the car a little ahead of me in the next lane. It had a big sticker on the trunk in the shape of a yellow ribbon, the kind people have to show they support the troops. I saw this sticker had words on it, and inched forward so I could read it. Someone's name? I wondered. A military battalion?

My jaw dropped. Support Pimpin, the sticker said.

When the light changed, I sped up so I could see the driver of the car. He was young, attractive guy who looked to between 18 and 22.

I'm probably turning into a grumpy, middle-aged lady, but that sticker, and that guy, disgusted me. What got me the most was that he didn't even realize the message he was ultimately sending. He probably thought he was cool as hell with that sticker. Nevermind that it was an affront to people who use those stickers to show their support for the military, or breast cancer survivors or other important causes. Nevermind that he's either glorifying a practice where a man makes a living by brutalizing women and forcing them to sell their bodies, or he's abusing women by sleeping around with many of them and living off their largesse.

That's not cute.

That's not sexy.

And that's definitely not cool.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Becoming a joiner, for the kids

As I sit here on a brisk morning, my kids watching "Barbie: Diamond Castle" and eating a second breakfast of pretzel sticks because they can't yet play outside, I contemplate what I have become because of them.

Today, I am A Joiner.

Before kids, I was happy to have a small, family-like circle of friends -- we relied on each other, we entertained each other, we needed little else.

But now, with two pairs of inquisitive eyes watching my every move -- and two little minds mimicking most of it -- I feel the need to be a better role model when it comes to socializing.

When I was a kid, I was timid around most everyone but my family. Extracurricular activities were excruciating. It took me an entire play date (though, of course, they weren't called that then) to warm up. I was reserved (shy?) well into adulthood.

I'm determined to help my kids get past that awkwardness much earlier in life, because I can see they both thrive on interaction with others ... even when mom doesn't.

So I have Joined -- a group of women who meet weekly to discuss the challenges of parenthood. I have Networked -- coffee, lunch, dinner, you name it. I have Signed Up -- classes, lectures, performances.

I have met some wonderful people -- even if I've fretted in preparation for most every meeting.

And my kids are learning that home is safe. Home is where the heart is. But maximum fun can be found when you venture beyond these four walls.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards -- whose story is it?

Why, the critics of Elizabeth Edwards ask, would she write about her husband's infidelity in her new memoir, "Resilience"? Why would she discuss it with Oprah Winfrey on national television?

They scold her: Hasn't John Edwards put you through enough? Do you have to put yourself through the wringer?

"People feel they have license to tell me how I should have reacted and responded," Edwards told The (Raleigh) News & Observer on Saturday when she held a book-signing at a local bookstore. "This story I'm telling is my own and no one else's, and no one can decide how I should tell it."

So let's try these possible explanations for her very public disclosures:

She needed catharsis. Months of rumors and denials and admissions have caused her immeasurable stress, emotional and physical. Telling her story could lift that from her shoulders.

She needed confession. The chance to describe how she felt and what she thought would, she hoped, put an end to some of the questions about how she has handled her relationship with her husband going forward.

She needed to move on, because she has incurable cancer and feeling rancor about John Edwards' affair with a campaign staffer would not allow her to enjoy every moment she has left of her life.

The story of John Edwards' affair was told -- and continues to be told -- in the most public of arenas in the most repetitive fashion (none of them particularly sensitive to his wife and their children). Elizabeth Edwards is correct -- it is her story to tell. Why shouldn't she have her chance, on her terms?

After all, she (tragically) will not have to live long with the sadness and hurt her husband's affair has caused her, her children, her family.

Only her husband will have the chance to heal that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Husband Hunting Bra? This is just wrong.

C'mon now. This wouldn't even work as a gag gift.

New from the Japanese company Triumph comes "support" for "the women who don't have everything: the 'Husband-Hunting Bra.' " Yep, it's a brassiere with a nuptial timepiece (above) that the wearer sets herself.

"First you decide your target time or deadline till marriage and the countdown clock will start. Once you find your life partner and get engaged, you have to insert the engagement ring into the slot and the clock stops and 'The Wedding March' begins," Keiko Masuda of Triumph told Reuters.


Like other countries, Japan's marriage rate is falling and the average wedding age -- now 28 -- is rising. Fifty-seven percent of women under age 34 are single, and Masuda said they've become more aggressive in their quest to find a mate. "The roles have switched completeley," he said.

And how is this bra supposed to help? As if the pressure to get to the alter wasn't enough, some chicks now need foundation garments to remind them their biological clocks are ticking? Ugh.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

N.C. city made a booty call list

The Web site, has released its top 10 cities for booty calls, aka "sex with no strings that always seems to have 'em anyway." The site is for people looking to "connect with like-minded singles for casually dating." (Uh, is this like the scandalous personals on Craigslist where people keep getting arrested for solicitation?)

I tried to look at the site here at work and the Observer's filter sent me to the FBI homepage -- that's what we get when a site is too naughty for the workplace. A bad (or good, considering how you look at it) sign. Here's the site's top 10 cities for April:

1. New York City
2. Los Angeles
3. Chicago
4. Houston
5. Atlanta
6. Philadelphia
7. Jacksonville, N.C.
8. San Diego
9. Columbus, Ohio
10. Dallas

My guess? Jacksonville made it because Camp Lejeune is within spitting distance. Lots of young guys rarin' to do what young guys do, and the ladies luuuuuv a man in uniform.

I have fond memories of Jacksonville. I used to live in Wilmington, and when a girlfriend came for a weekend visit we drove up to party with the Marines. She hooked up with a Marine who became her husband. A weekend of hot hotel sex led to marriage. They're still together. Go figure.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

It's OK to say Happy Birthday to Me

For many years, a friend of mine did the most delightful thing: She planned a week's worth of events to celebrate her birthday every year and dubbed the whole thing her "Fest" as in, [YOUR NAME HERE]fest.

She didn't depend on anyone else to remember her birthday amid busy schedules, and she gave her friends a reason to do something fun every night of the week -- at least part of the time on her tab.

I loved it. I have a hard time keeping track of my birthday and remembering my husband's birthday, let alone the birthdays of friends. So she helped me make sure I lived it up every year on her behalf.

Problem was, some other people didn't appreciate her celebration of self. They saw it as taking the attention away from others who had birthdays in the same month. They discouraged her from engaging in her fest.

She was confused -- for years, her friends had looked forward to her weeklong party. But she toned it down, so as not to cause more controversy. Then she stopped altogether.

And I still think, how sad. Can't we throw a little party for ourselves without incurring criticism?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Colleague stuck in junior high?

In writing this post, I have to confess a guilty pleasure. I might be addicted to watching "Celebrity Apprentice" with Donald Trump. (When I admitted this to a group of colleagues, the reaction was a solid groan, so I'm a bit sensitive.)

The reason "Celebrity Apprentice" makes good fodder for We Can Relate can be explained in two words: Melissa Rivers. She, with the help of mom Joan, has made the show's "workplace" -- and I use that term loosely -- a veritable junior high school cafeteria. (Melissa has even described it that way, though she blamed the other players, of course.)

Melissa always was miserable when she was on the job because she thought everyone was out to get her -- she complained they were talking about her behind her back, excluding her from projects, disregarding her ideas. So everyone else was miserable when she was around.

Haven't you worked with someone like that before -- a colleague who made your job more work than it had to be?

It made me think of N., an amazing reporter and passionate writer who spent most of the time at the office complaining about our boss and, well, everyone she came in contact with. They all interfered with her ability to create the best stories she could -- edited too much, asked too many questions, demanded she make deadline, and on and on.

Truth was, N. was the one creating all the drama. But you couldn't tell her that. And you couldn't spend too much time entertaining her tales of woe, because then you couldn't get your own job done.

So you had to cut her off as diplomatically as possible, or avoid getting tangled in her grip of drama -- again, as diplomatically as possible.

But that would feed her claims of being persecuted, and you'd get caught up in a round of questioning about whether you were mad at her and what she had done to make you treat her so coldly.

N. still works at the same place, but the cast of characters has changed dramatically. So has her behavior and her attitude, from what I can gather. She's happy and productive.

Good thing her boss wasn't Donald Trump. He showed Melissa Rivers the door for such behavior.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do you measure up to love?

Want a little reality check on how you perform your relationship? Try this humbling little exercise.

Take this wedding-ceremony passage and replace the word "Love" with your name. (It's 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.) And though the words often are spoken during wedding ceremonies, the exercise can shed light on any relationship.

Let me show you:

[Alicia] is patient. [Alicia] is kind. [Alicia] does not envy, [Alicia] does not boast, [Alicia] is not proud. [Alicia] is not rude, [Alicia] is not self-seeking, [Alicia] is not easily angered, [Alicia] keeps no record of wrongs. [Alicia] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [Alicia] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

When I first did this exercise (thanks to writer Jill Rigby for suggesting it), I became more and more disheartened every time I inserted my name for "Love."

Patient? Sometimes. Ditto for kind. Easily angered? Far more often than I'd like to admit, and the same goes for "shows no record of wrongs." But I sure try hard on protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering -- to the point of annoyance to some of my friends and family.

After doing the exercise, do I feel like an adequate partner in any relationship? Not so much.

But I do have a good starting place for improvement.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sick, tired and struggling

With flu season winding down, and seasonal allergies just starting to muck things up, I have begun to contemplate the implications of "in sickness and in health."

And, with a husband knocked down by flu and/or food poisoning, a daughter wrestling with a head cold that defines "snot-nosed kid," and a son whose allergy-related coughs lead to gagging that results in heaves, I'm not sure I'm cut out for the "in sickness" part of marriage and family at the moment.

It could be because I'm a leave-me-alone-until-I'm-better kind of sick person, and no one else in my family is. Maybe it's that I still haven't caught up on my sleep after spending spring break week wedged in a double bed between two bunkmates younger than 5. (Heel to the neck at midnight, anyone?) Whatever the reason, I've found myself breathing deeply and counting to 10 quite a bit before responding to my sick family's requests (whines) and needs (demands).

The pitiful countdown:

10. Please, please, please don't say "Mommy" again for 15 minutes.

9. That goes for "Mama" and the two-syllable "Mom," too.

8. Oh, that my husband would miraculously rise from his sick bed well -- and ready to engage in tag-team parenting again.

7. Please.

6. Who needs a stair-stepper? I have a two-story house and three reasons to trudge up and down all day long.

5. Only eight (Or 10. Or 12.) hours till bedtime.

4. This, too, shall pass.

3. This, too, shall pass.

2. This, too, shall pass.

1. Eyes closed. Deep breath in. Eyes open. Deep breath out.

I vow to get through spring sickness. If only I could guarantee no one in my family will get a summer cold.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This dilemma is a sign of the times

Double wallop: The boyfriend of a good friend of mine lost his job, then she lost hers. Both are now searching near and far for work.

He's got a strong lead in another state, but it's a government gig, so the process is moving slow. She's looking for jobs in that same city, but elsewhere as well.

Here's the rub: My friend and her man have only known each other for nine months. They agree that they want to make a go of the relationship, but the job thing could hamper their efforts.

I recently had dinner with her and another friend, and we discussed the situation. My other girlfriend was all about her hitching her wagon to the boyfriend. Where he goes, she should go too, whether she has a job or not, because they're really digging each other. I was in the camp of driving her wagon next to his, but not hitching hers to his. Maybe it's because I've been independent for so long, but I think she should be putting herself first right now. The best outcome would be if they found jobs in the same area. But if right gig for her came along someplace else and he was unwilling to move to be with her, so be it. Long-distance romance until the economy improves.

I used to believe in love at first sight, and "when you meet The One, you'll know right away" and all that, but time has made me feel differently. I'm still a romantic, but I also think that people -- subconsciously or not -- are on their best behavior the first 18 months or so of a relationship. They're still trying to impress each other and may be more willing to make compromises and sacrifices. But with time, some couples wind up wondering what they saw in each other in the first place.

I've seen too many women wind up in bad situations because they tied their entire lives to their man. I've seen too many men in unhappy relationships because they feel a sense of obligation and believe they "have" to stay. Give your heart to someone ... but don't forget to take care of yourself.

What say you, readers? Do you think my friend should go with her boyfriend even if she doesn't have a job? Or should she be all about finding the best job and situation for herself, even if it means they might not be together?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Men, would you rather play games or have sex?

If you've ever felt you had to compete with your man's Wii for attention, take this as ammunition: A recent study shows that one in three men would rather play video games than have sex with their partner. The study, reported in the U.K. newspaper The Sun, was conducted by the site and surveyed 1,130 British men. (How surprising: A study sponsored by a video game site says men prefer video games.)

According to Genie James, executive director of the Natural Hormone Institute, hormonal imbalance and stress may be to blame. "It is very likely that these men are suffering from a hormone imbalance at a cellular level that causes them to lose interest in sex," says James.

For example, when testosterone levels begin to decline in a man's 30s and 40s, libido -- or sex drive -- is compromised. Symptoms include fatigue, lethargy and weight gain. "That is why many men come home, plop down on the sofa and pick up the remote or engage in video games. They just don’t feel up to doing much else," James says.

Don't think you're safe, twentysomethings. "Typically, young men in their teens and 20s are sexually rambunctious but -- in the last several decades -- young men living in industrialized nations like America have shown reduced sperm count and quantity of ejaculate. Both of these evidence an early decline in testosterone levels," she says. Scientists attribute this trend to the high levels of foreign hormones, called xenohormones, that are found in many foods, including meat and milk, as well as in common inhalants such as fumicides and pesticides.

So, what's a guy to do? You may not want to hear this, but the most important thing is to exercise. "Exercise naturally boosts lagging testosterone levels," says James. "Also, clean up your diet. Go organic when possible to decrease exposure to xenohormones. Give up the nachos and beer while sitting on the sofa. Remember that all those pounds packed around your middle are literally decreasing your 'manliness.' "

Monday, April 06, 2009

5 ways to help recession-proof your relationship

I get stuff sent to me all the time, but with the recession taking an emotional toll on marriages and relationships, I thought I'd pass on this advice from Noelle Nelson, author of "Your Man is Wonderful."

"We've seen the result in violent family tragedies across the country," says Nelson, "but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The heartbreak comes in many forms. One spouse blames the other spouse for their financial predicament. It's a constant blame game. ... People lose hope and leave the marriage either emotionally or physically."

Nelson's five rules to recession-proof your relationship:

1. See yourself as a team. The power of “together” is tremendous. A couple who sees themselves as a team will pool their talents and resources to mutual advantage, give strength to one another, and sustain hope.

2. Focus on each other's strengths and qualities. This is not the time to dwell on your own or your partner’s weaknesses. On the contrary, this is the time to empower each other by taking inventory of your strengths and qualities.

3. Express appreciation to one another -- resist the temptation to put down or criticize. Insecurity is rampant, not just in our external lives, but also internally. In times of crisis, we doubt our abilities, we question whether we have what it takes to pull through, we worry about how much worse things can get. Criticizing or putting down your partner just intensifies those fears, not only in them, but in yourself. Instead, let your partner know how much you appreciate them just as they are, and reassure them of your love. Express your gratitude often -- for however they contribute to the betterment of your lives -- whether it is helping out with the kids, putting in overtime, or sending out yet another resume.

4. Set goals you can work on together -- focus on problem-solving, not blaming. The only way there is light at the end of the tunnel is if you see it there. Brainstorm together to figure out what goals you seek, break those down into smaller goals and rough out a plan for getting there. Keep your sights constantly on “How do we resolve this?” not “You’ll never be able to do that.” Keep that precious “we” front and center, respect your partner's ideas and input as much as you do your own.

5. Acknowledge and celebrate small victories along the way. The more crisis enters your life, the more difficult it is to sustain positivity and pro-activity. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge and celebrate every small gain you achieve. Whether it’s figuring out a swap with the neighbor -- after school child care in return for computer lessons -- or making it through the next round of layoffs without losing your job, enthusiastically cheer every bit of progress.

"The economic crisis is not going to change overnight," says Nelson. "In an age of instant gratification, it's sometimes hard to be patient and remain strong and committed within a marriage during trying times. In the end, however, these ordeals can make a marriage stronger as partners truly commit to each other."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Co-workers spill about sex

I was standing at the mirror, combing my hair and listening to a sex addict describe an "average" day in a radio interview. It was as stomach churning as you might expect, but then the interviewer said the addict's name. My hand froze in mid-air as I stared into my own shocked eyes.

Hey! I worked with that dude at my last newspaper! He was a sex addict? And he wrote a book about it?!

Not only did he write a book -- "America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life" -- but he's the third journalist I worked with at that paper to spill their sexual business so publicly.

The first was a real jaw-dropper: The book "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex Drugs, and Classical Music." The author worked at the paper less than a year and had been gone awhile when the book editor urgently called us over to her desk to see the galley proof that arrived, unannounced, in the mail. Yeah, we knew this chick was a little kooky, but we had no idea that her past included ... ahem, quoting Publishers Weekly:

"By age 16, the author of this alternately piquant and morose memoir was dealing marijuana, bedding her instructors at a performing arts high school and studying the oboe. Later, her blossoming career as a freelance musician in New York introduced her to a classical music demimonde of cocaine parties and group sex that had her wondering why she 'got hired for so many of my gigs in bed ...' "

Yeah. WOW. You never really know the people you work with, do you?

Then last year the paper's former movie critic penned "Accidentally on Purpose: A One-Night Stand, My Unplanned Parenthood, and Loving the Best Mistake I Ever Made." The book title says it all. I danced with her "mistake" -- a beautiful infant boy at the time -- to "I Will Survive" at a wedding.

But if baring the raw truth that her child was the result of sex with some random bar dude wasn't enough, she continued True Confession Time with a Modern Love essay for the New York Times. Entitled "Sexy Ribbon on the Buyout Package," in it she spilled about an affair she had with a co-worker that began when they met over drinks to discuss buyouts.

E-mails, texts and phone calls blazed across the country between present and former co-workers, primarily because, even though she didn't name the reporter, the description left no doubt as to who he was. Under subject lines and comments such as "OMG!" "WTF?" "Oh no she didn't!" and "They did it in the back seat of his car! Nasty!!" were discussions about the timing (Had he already filed for divorce when it started? Wait, was she the reason he filed?) and her state of mind (What was she thinking? Was this revenge? Why?)


I guess the easy answer would be "because they can." You could say that's what journalists do: inform readers by telling good stories. That these stories were their own might make them more compelling.

I suppose it's what Alicia and I do, on a much less dramatic note: we try to engage and entertain readers by writing about things we've experienced, and maybe inspire rumination and conversation along the way. Truth is that A) my name and picture are on this blog, B) I have to face blog-skimming co-workers every day, and C) at my core I'm a good Southern girl who doesn't want to shame her mama. I might push the boundaries a little -- broken condom fears, talking about my friend Trouble, and my friend Gabrielle's visit to an orgy, among others -- and I'm sure I'll push them even more. But will I tell all, like my former co-workers? Nah. I still believe in the allure of mystery.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hold the compliments, mom

It started innocently enough, and the comment I made was meant in the most innocuous way.

I was complimenting a co-worker's hairstyle, and she pulled the hair back from her forehead in frustration. (She did not like her 'do of the day, needless to say.)

Then I said it: "You have a beautiful widow's peak. You should draw attention to it."

And she replied: "That's what my mother always said."

She called me her mother -- which amounted to calling me my mother, who always offers this back-handed piece of advice to me: "You should keep your hair short. It always looks so nice when it's short."

Which means, from her view, that my hair never looks nice when it's not.

Why do we do that -- offer advice, innocently or not, when they person you're talking to hasn't asked for it? It happens all too often. Not so long ago, I stopped at the store for a few things and ran into a distant acquaintance who looked at my kids and asked if they were mine. I thought she wanted to make a little small talk. "He's getting a little far away from you," she said of my son -- as if I would let my 4-year-old explore the store on his own. And then she went on her way.

I didn't need that advice. And my friend at work didn't need my input on her hairstyle.

A very wise friend of mine has vowed not to give advice to friends and family, even if it's solicited. She'll listen to you intently. She'll ask how you how you're feeling or leaning. She'll offer support. But she won't give advice. It rarely works out well for her, she says.

Maybe she has the right approach.

Friday, March 27, 2009

'Tough Love' an easy sell

I don't often recommend "reality" dating shows (I mean, I watch Bret Michaels' "Rock of Love," but I wouldn't tell any you to tune in), but VH1 is really on to something with its new series "Tough Love." So much so, I've found myself recommending it to friends, and I suggest you guys watch it, too.

The thing that makes this show stand out is that, like the book "He's Just Not That Into You," the male reaction is front and center. No matter what these chicks do, there's always a segment where the host, real-life matchmaker Steve Ward, lets them see what the men they interacted with really think, so they can learn from it. Hence the title.

It's funny and painful and a great idea. And it makes for entertaining and informative TV.

In the "Tough Love" boot camp, Steve works with ladies who represent archetypes of single women (here's the "cast" with Steve and his mom JoAnn in the middle; the duo runs Master Matchmakers in Philadelphia). There's the gold-digger, who will only date men with money and has never held a real job. There's the chick who likes to take on men with problems, so she can "fix" them. There's the former stripper with serious intimacy issues. There's the 25-year-old who has already planned her wedding and tells men on the first date that she wants to get married and have her first kid by age 29. There's Miss Picky, who wears a tiara and a wedding ring (because she's committed to herself -- no kidding) and has a loooooooong list of requirements for her perfect man. There's Miss Ball-Breaker, an aggressive, braggart of a woman who enjoys intimidating men. There's Miss Lone Ranger, a 38-year-old who's focused on her career for so long, she hasn't made time for a man. And then there's the "Fatal Attraction" chick who becomes way too attached, way too fast when she meets a suitable mate.

Like I said earlier, the best part is that the women get to find out what men think of them. In the first episode, they each had to stroll past three guys, and the guys told Steve what they thought of each woman. The women later got to see what the men said. Steve's point? Women are being judged by men all the time, everywhere they go, based on how they look. Also in that episode the women went to a mixer and later saw see footage of how they interacted with men and what the men thought of them. (One poor girl didn't make an impression on any of them -- they couldn't even remember who she was. Ouch.)

While these women are extreme, it's easy to see some of ourselves in them. While we might not pick our nose on the first date as the ball-breaker did, we might talk about our accomplishments a little too much in an effort to impress. And while we might not have a "tiara test" like Miss Picky, most of us probably have a mental checklist we consult as we try to decide if we want to see someone again.

Whether you're married or single, dating or taking a break, "Tough Love" is worth watching -- even better in a group, so you can discuss. New episodes air Sunday nights at 10 and repeat during the week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Would you do a good deed?

It's a particularly windy day in the chilly Midwest, and my best friend is driving me to lunch before we head to the airport for my flight home.

When we turn the corner onto one of the thoroughfares in her town, we see a trash can wobbling on its side in the middle of the street -- not necessarily in any car's path, but probably a wind gust away from it.

Cars zoom by in the opposite lane, but no one seems concerned enough to stop and remove the potential hazard.

What would you have done?

Doreen pulled her car over, ran into the middle of the street, and returned the can to the yard from whence it blew.

She didn't want anyone to get hurt, she said. Anyway, she added, good deeds have a way of coming back to you.

What would I have done?

I've come across many a crazy road hazard in the middle of Monroe Road on my way to work or on Randolph Road while taking my kids to school.

I've slowed down. I've swerved. But I've never stopped to move things from the road.

I'll move a branch from the sidewalk when I'm walking. I'll take someone's newspaper to their doorstep, too.

But would I, without a second thought, walk into the road to move something that I didn't leave behind? I don't know if it's fear of getting hurt or the desire not to be inconvenienced that keeps me from making that move.

Maybe I'm missing out on opportunities for good deeds to come back to me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A place to share secrets

Do you have a secret you're really itching to share, but don't have an outlet? Frank Warren has made it easy for you to unload -- and be creative in the process -- with his site, PostSecret.

Warren started the project four years ago by handing out blank postcards to strangers in Washington, D.C. He asked them to write a secret on the card and mail it back to him. He's had more than 300,000 cards returned. He post the cards on the site and publishes them in books. He also visits colleges to talk about secrets and young people; he has a sold-out appearance at UNC-Charlotte tonight (auxillary seating is available for 10 bucks).

"I think of the postcards almost more as works of art or literature," Warren said in an interview on WFAE this morning. (Go here to listen to an extended version.) "... I think if you look at enough of these you eventually find one from a stranger that articulates a secret or burden you're dealing with -- and when that happens, it can be an epiphany."

He shared one his favorites: a Starbucks barista sent in one of the company's ubiquitous cups scrawled with, "I serve decaf to customers who are rude to me." One that unnerved him was a postcard with a picture of New York City's former Twin Towers. The sender had written, "everyone who knew me before 9-11 believes I'm dead."

The idea that people might submit made-up secrets doesn't faze him. "You might think that you're writing down a secret that's fake," he said in the interview. "But perhaps you do that and you mail it to my home and I put it on the Web site and you look at it on the computer with thousands of other people and you might recognize for the first time that the whole process was a way for you to come out to yourself about any number of issues."

I visited the site and got an eyeful. Some of the postcards are playful ("If heaven is not EXACTLY like the TV show 'Lost,' I don't want to go!"), poignant ("Guys never stayed because I wouldn't have sex with them. So I did. And they still won't stay."), disconcerting ("tenure-worried professor ignore cheaters in hopes of 'teacher of the year' nominations from students"), and a little weird ("when my roommates aren't around, I look through their cameras and delete the pictures I look bad in"). But they're all insightful.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Guys in search of BFFs

I will admit this is something I haven't given much thought: Men have trouble finding friends, too.

That's what the new comedy "I Love You, Man" is about. The main character is getting married and he realizes he's not close enough to any guy to ask him to be his best man. So he goes on the hunt for a new best friend. (My first thought was, "ask your best female friend to stand up for you instead," but then there would be no movie, right?) I saw the trailer and it did highlight some of the difficulties -- with the inevitable moment where the main character is out with a guy and the dude lays a kiss on him at the end of their "date" (whoops!) -- but the flick looks to be all fluff.

A more substantive discussion of the problem is the recent essay by Ryan Blitstein, "Couple seeking couple for good time."

"Until recently, I thought of myself as different, especially when it came to maintaining friendships with other men," Ryan writes. "I am not afraid to ask a guy out on a so-called man-date. I don't need to use SportsCenter or an action movie or an indie rock show to overpower the supposed latent homoeroticism that some men attribute to one-on-one male socializing. I'm as comfortable talking about relationships with another dude as I am arguing about politics. But it seems the older I get, the harder it is to find new people to engage in these conversations."

His problem is a common one as more people move from state to state, often coast to coast, for jobs. Ryan relocated to Chicago to be closer to family and his girlfriend. The couple has plenty of friends, just none nearby. Neither has an office job, and they're having trouble building a new social circle.

"... My girlfriend and I have embarked on a process akin to a platonic version of dating. Parties, for us, resemble nothing so much as speed-dating events. We search for friends of either sex, sending garbled nonverbal signals back and forth, waiting to gush about our new same-sex and opposite-sex crushes on the train ride home. I search for wedding rings on the fingers of women I like -- not because I'm hoping they're single, but because I'm hoping they're not, and that maybe their husbands will be willing to double date."

Finding people you'd like to spend more than 5 minutes at a party with is a challenge. But knowing there are others out there, engaged in the same activity, is heartening.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When he hates your playlist

Given that spring's almost here, I've thought about doing a little searching on iTunes so I can create a happy-song playlist for the sunny days ahead.

But then I thought about how I might not be able to play it while I was hanging out with my husband, who would no doubt be annoyed by at least some -- and perhaps many -- of the songs that would make the list.

Chief among them would be "Sadie" by Joanna Newsom, a harp-playing folk artist who kind of screeches more than she sings. But her words are poetry, and she sets a reasonable standard for singing ability for the pitch-challenged among us.

Then, he might be annoyed by my choices of -- yep, I'll fess up to them -- "Rush, Rush" by Paula Abdul. "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera. "Get Low" by Flow Rida.

Are they cheesy songs? Oh yeah. But there's something about them that makes me happy -- the singing-in-the-car-at-the-top-of-my-lungs kind of happy. ("You're My Best Friend" by Queen, anyone?)

So we'll have to figure it out, I guess. After all, hearing Motorhead's "Killed by Death" makes my husband smile every time. Me, not so much.

So you fess up. Which songs on your playlist might annoy others?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sleep through the recession? Tempting, but ...

I had Friday off, which was unusual. As I prepared for bed Thursday night, I excitedly planned the next day. I'd go to yoga class. I'd visit IKEA. I'd clean my kitchen.

Instead, what I did was sleep. Almost the entire day. I only staggered from bed that night because I was hungry.

Some people clean like crazy when they're stressed. Others compulsively eat. I slide into deep sleep. It's the ultimate avoidance tactic -- you can't think about how bad life is if you're unconscious.

Have you ever slept for, like, 12-13 hours? The more you sleep, the more your body wants to sleep. When you finally get up, it's as if you've been drugged. Your head feels full of cotton and your body aches. There's guilt at having slept the day away, with nothing to show for it at the end. And then there's the ultimate problem: your life is still there, just as stressful as when you went to bed.

I think people who live alone have to be careful not to isolate themselves, especially now. It's so easy to turn your home into a cocoon and never leave it, but that "safety" can foster a sense of hopelessness and contribute to a spiral of depression. I know because I've been there, and I know how easy it is to go there again.

I had that sleepfest on Friday, but I pulled myself out of it on Saturday. By Sunday I was at the movies with a friend. We had dinner after, and a long talk. We discussed the very things I had slept to avoid. I told her about my fears, she shared hers. We plotted plans of attack on problems, instead of wallowing in them. I was still stressed after, but I also felt more empowered.

Avoidance and denial are temptations too hard to resist sometimes. I think the key is to not beat yourself up for giving in. Talk to friends, talk to family. Don't build that cocoon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Things you 'allow' in a relationship

My husband just returned from a weeklong cycling trip in Baja California -- an interesting way to celebrate his 40th year.

As I arranged my family's schedules to accommodate the trip -- a rare opportunity for him to explore a different region with a group of friends -- the reactions ranged from intrigued to "You're letting him do that?"

To which I thought, is that what it's about -- letting him take a trip?

If you know my husband, you'd know the concept of giving him orders or permission is laughable. He has admitted authority issues.

But, more than that, I'd like to hope that, petty though I can be at times, I wouldn't weigh the short-term challenges of being a single parent for seven days against the fun he might have. (Not that I won't take him up on his suggestion that I choose a destination of my own later this year ...)

And I'd like to have faith that he wouldn't do something that would leave his family in a bind. (However, it was a bit unsettling that he left for his trip to Mexico a day after the U.S. government issued a travel advisory for that country.)

Sure, I cursed him once or twice while he was away as I tried to fulfill the needs of two kids by myself. When he asked, I told him it was hard, but I didn't complain. I didn't want him to feel guilty about it.

Because, really, so what: I was without my partner for a week. My kids missed their father way more than any of us expected. I operated on very little sleep.

My husband had an experience of a lifetime -- I couldn't deny him that. Isn't that what a partnership's about?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Preach, Kelly, preach!

"American Idol's" first winner, Kelly Clarkson, has had enough of a certain rumor about her.

"Just because I'm single and don't date a lot, that doesn't make me a lesbian," she pronounced.

I think it's a shame it's come to that -- she's a singer, and her sexual orientation has nothing to do with her ability -- but I'm happy Kelly is so outspoken. Should she have to talk about her dating life? No. But I'm glad she did.

Whether she wants to be or not, Kelly Clarkson is a role model. In a time where we have Rihanna going back to an abusive boyfriend and Paris Hilton going through men like Kleenex, it's heartening to see a young, successful woman who doesn't need a romantic relationship to define her.

Kelly also is representative of a societal shift: staying single longer, by choice. It's a decision that still makes you suspect. There must be something wrong with you if you're alone. You're ugly, or you're secretly gay, or you have Issues -- any of a number of reasons that would make you a dating leper. Many people still find it hard to believe that someone who is attractive and accomplished might choose to remain unattached.

Said one commenter on the story has about Clarkson: "I think society just has a problem with single people being just that. Single. It's not an affliction. I've had so many people say to me 'why don't YOU have a bf or a husband?' Didn't know I needed one? Men are good for two things in my mind, sex & buying things. Doesn't make me a lesbian. People just need to get over it and start minding their own business."

Well, until they do, it's a good thing someone prominent like Kelly is setting people straight.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

So, do you like being a mom?

It wasn't the question that threw me -- though it was a little personal, coming during a chat with a co-worker.

What bothered me was how long I hesitated before answering.

The question: "So, do you like being a mom?"

After an uncomfortable 20 or 30 seconds (that seemed like hours), the answer was -- and is -- yes. I think my kids are more magical than any other. I keep a journal of the funny and amazing things they do, because I know my memory of those moments will fail me as time passes. I tell way too many stories about them to people who care only tangentially (and listen politely).

But the answer also is this: I wasn't prepared for how hard it would prove to be both a parent and a person with her own identity; how exhausting it would be to have two little beings so completely dependent on me; how guilt-ridden I could become as I realized that trying to parent with a to-do list would only invite failure.

I told my co-worker that sometimes it was suffocating, but that it seemed to get more manageable every day -- most days.

It's probably been a year since that conversation. If asked the same question again, I don't think my answer would have a Part B -- again, not on most days.

And I wouldn't hesitate before saying yes.

But that I hesitated once -- the guilt of those seconds will stay with me for a long time.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Chris Brown, Rihanna illustrate bigger problem

The Chris Brown-Rihanna saga has been all over the news and blogosphere, but as the co-writer of a blog about relationships, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't say something. Not only that, but I've been thinking about their situation -- and the bigger picture it illustrates -- so much that I feel I have to say something.

Parents: Teen domestic violence is real. And if it can happen to a beautiful, seemingly perfect, got-everything-in-the-world couple like Chris Brown and Rihanna, it can happen to your child. The U.S. Department of Justice says 20 percent of all high school girls report having experienced physical or sexual abuse from a dating partner, and one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship. And yet, a poll conducted by the National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative shows 81 percent of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or are unsure if it is an issue.

Need more proof? Just yesterday, there was an anti-domestic violence march in uptown Charlotte in honor of an 18-year-old cheerleader gunned down by her ex-boyfriend, also 18, over the weekend.

Here are some stats about teen dating violence, warning signs and a dating bill of rights.

Unfortunately, and not completely surprisingly, it looks like Chris Brown and Rihanna are back together (no matter what age, it's common for victims to return to their abusers). It could be for publicity; it could be because they're young and in love in that way that only the young can love. Either way, they're now the faces of young domestic violence. What they choose to do with this nasty side effect of their personal crisis will be interesting to see.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Now THIS is a daddy issue

File this one under "And I thought I had dating problems!"

Meghan McCain, the 24-year-old daughter of senator and former GOP presidential contender John McCain, says the '08 election ruined her personal life.

"Of all the things people warned would happen post-election, no one ever said anything about how complicated dating would become," Meghan wrote in a recent essay, "Looking for Mr. Far Right." It it, she explains the unique dating difficulties that come with being the offspring of the prominent Republican. Meghan says she makes a point of keeping politics out of her relationships, and while she's been successful in her friendships, there's not much success on the dating front.

"Here's the biggest surprise: I am not only turned off by people who voted for Barack Obama, but I am also turned off by people that voted for my dad — or more so, obsessive supporters of my dad," Meghan wrote.

"... Nothing makes me more ill than the idea of some guy bragging to his friends that he was going to go on a date with 'John McCain’s daughter.' (Unfortunately this has happened more times than I would like to count and each time I can sense it within the first 30 seconds of meeting them.) One extreme fan of my mother’s recently told me I could be “his Cindy.” And then asked me if I ever wore pearls because they probably would look as good on me as they do on my mother. No, I'm not kidding."


Meghan says she didn't date at all while on the campaign trail with her dad ("too paranoid about getting set up for some sort of weird 'gotcha' moment") and has spent a lot of time hanging out with girlfriends since. Earnest guys who've felt the need to explain why they voted for Obama, or McCain fans who've worked "maverick" and "straight talk" into dinner conversations have left her cold.

"I am sure I am not being fair to all the men out there, but my recent experiences have left me scarred and wary of dating. At this point, my biggest aphrodisiac is an apathetic attitude toward politics."

Wow. Enamoured policy wonks need not apply.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Your boss did what?

The scene: My first day on the job. As I stand at the copy machine trying to figure out which button did what, my new boss -- whom I had just met because she was on maternity leave when I interviewed -- sidles up and asks this question:

"I'm a perfect model size 8. What size are you?"

I stared. What?

This exchange set the tone for what was three years of workplace purgatory -- she told inappropriate personal stories while her employees squirmed in their seats; made arbitrary and capricious rulings about the focus and play of stories, often reversing decisions she had made just hours earlier; caused many people to work well into the night (we were a 9-to-6 operation) because of her lack of organization.

And she took any hint of criticism -- however diplomatic or constructive -- very badly. So you couldn't talk with her about any of it. My coworkers and I tried.

So, though the money was good, the opportunities the job offered fascinating and my other coworkers wonderful, I handled the situation this way: I found another job.

Was there a way to salvage the situation? Maybe. But I wasn't in a place to figure out this particular workplace relationship.

What would you have done?

Monday, March 02, 2009

What's wrong with these roses?

Ladies, a man sends you a dozen roses by way of introduction -- and in hopes of getting you to agree to a date. You:

A. Rejoice. Romance is alive and well! You call to thank him for the gift, you chat a little bit and you schedule that date. He just might be a keeper.

B. Read the note, which goes a little something like this -- "Having enjoyed meeting you, please accept these roses as an invitation to dinner" -- and you think, "Weird. Why didn't he just ask me when he saw me?" Your answer to his invitation: thanks for the flowers, but no thanks to the invite. Let's be friends.

C. Don't respond. What in the world is this guy doing sending me flowers, and, if he's so interested, why do I have to call him to set up a date? Stalker alert: Let the red flags wave.

For one Relate reader, the answer has been a version of C, every time. Seems he keeps sending a dozen roses to women he has met casually, but they never acknowledge their receipt, let alone the dinner invitation -- even if he sees them again.

By way of background, this reader was married for 12 years and says he took a few years off from dating before re-entering the scene. Then he started sending the roses. To four women, to be exact.

Not one date resulted. He says not one woman told him she had received the flowers.

He's frustrated. He says of the women he's encountered on the dating scene: "They claim to want a man who is stable, comfortable, who can provide the security that is needed in a relationship, but yet you watch the type/style these women date and it makes you wonder which side of the mind are they thinking with. For me, I look at the woman's inner beauty, who she is inside, what makes her tick."

So, readers, what should he do?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A reason to celebrate tonight

It's not easy to find a bright light in all the doom and gloom we're experiencing, but if you have a special bottle of wine (or other beverage) you've been saving for the right occasion, tonight is the time to open it.

The Wall Street Journal's husband-and-wife wine team of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher are hosting the 10th annual Open That Bottle of Wine Night tonight (hear their interview with "Fresh Air's" Terry Gross here). The duo started the celebration because the most common question
they get from readers is when they should open a special bottle of wine. Wait too long, for example, and the wine could go bad.

"You should worry less about what is the perfect moment for the wine than what is the perfect moment for you," the couple wrote in their "Tastings" column. (They encourage readers to send their stories of how they spend the evening.)

This reminds me of the movie "Sideways." The main character, played by Paul Giamatti, was saving an expensive bottle of wine for just the right moment, but it never seemed to come. In the end, he realized the futility of his wait and took the bottle to a hamburger joint, to enjoy it with a juicy burger.

I've got my bottle ready. It's a very cheap wine, but it's my favorite, and I don't find it often. I was saving it for "later," but why not savor it now?

Friday, February 27, 2009

A reader asks: What happened to casual dating?

Alicia: Today, we pose a question: If the object of your attraction states at the first date that he/she isn't interested in a commitment, do you stick around? We ask because a reader wonders:

"What about women wanting a commitment when men state from the start they do not want one? Usually men and women do want to date, but want to casually -- this does not always mean that sex is involved. I’ve noticed it’s more prevalent in these parts that if you want to casually date, and say that at the beginning, women are up for it at first, but after three dates or so they are pressing you for some sort of commitment. What about keeping your options open? Men and women, at least this gives us something to compare, and to see who's personality or vibe is a better fit. I do think it would have both sexes thinking and looking more inward."

Deirdre: It's been said that people tell you exactly who they are when you first meet them. It's just a matter of if you choose to hear them or not. I think in a lot of cases, people turn a deaf ear to news that the person they want a relationship with is not interested in a relationship with anyone.

Alicia: Someone who says "no commitment" at the outset is closing off possibilities that haven't even opened up. Doesn't seem like someone I'd want to hang with romantically or otherwise.

Deirdre: I don't know. I think I might. I'm not looking for a relationship either, and it would be fun and freeing to hang out with someone with no strings attached. But what if I become attached?

Alicia: That's always the danger, isn't it? And isn't someone who says he's not looking for a commitment at the outset daring you not to care? I'd be headed for a lot of hurt.

And how many people have we known who have dated a commitmentphobe thinking that person would change their mind?

Alicia: I know I've broken up with a few ...

And the reader's point about why we have to make a decision after the third date -- I say: not everyone does. But the majority of women in America do want to partner up and have kids. The clocking is ticking on their eggs. Also, in general people's time is limited. They often date with a purpose now.

Alicia: That's true. Do you agree with his opinion that the expectations seem to be higher in our area than in others? I've found that it doesn't matter where you live, more people in the dating way want commitment than don't. Or maybe it's just the people I know.

Deirdre: Like a friend of mine recently said: "Women in different regions are just different kinds of crazy." That goes for men, too. It just seems hard where you are because that's where you are.

Alicia: Geographically and emotionally.

Deirdre: Also, the reader's mention of sex -- is it even possible to make it to the third date without at least a trip to third base? When I say I'd rather not kiss on the first date, people look at me like I'm a nun. There's an assumption of physical intimacy these days that makes a person suspect if they enjoy someone's company without swapping bodily fluids.

Alicia: And that's a whole other level of entanglement.

Deirdre: So, yeah, for a lot of people plenty is riding on those early dates. If it was ever a "casual" pastime, it certainly isn't now.