Thursday, January 29, 2009

How the 'other half' suffers

When I first read this, I thought it was a joke.

"Dating a Banker Anonymous

Are you or someone you love dating a banker? If so, we are here to support you through these difficult times. Dating A Banker Anonymous (DABA) is a safe place where women can come together – free from the scrutiny of feminists – and share their tearful tales of how the mortgage meltdown has affected their relationships. DABA Girls was started by two best friends whose relationships tanked with the economy. Not knowing what else to do, we did what frustrated but articulate girls have done since the beginning of time - we started a blog. So if your monthly Bergdorf’s allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life, lighten your heart with laughter and email your stories to Warning all stories sent will be infused with our own special brand of DABA Girl humor."

It's true, ya'll! It's the intro of a real blog. The group merited a story in the New York Times, which you should read, because it's fascinating, from a sociology point of view.

Confession time: While I try not to be judgmental, the story and the blog -- even just the intro -- repulsed me. "Boo effin' hoo," I thought. "People are being kicked out of their homes and you're pouting because you have to get facials every six weeks instead of every month?!" Um, some time has passed and I'm still repulsed, frankly. But I'm trying to be understanding, especially since this is a banking town and there're probably lots of women who can relate to the chicks on the blog.

Americans have different standards of living. Some folks are struggling just to stay in their homes, some are simply cutting back on dining out and downgrading from digital to basic cable, others have to cancel that monthlong trip to Europe. This just goes to show that the recession really is hitting everyone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Converted by tales of yearning

Once upon a time, I was a snob about what I read. No mass-market fiction, unless coerced by someone important to me, or unless I was sitting on the beach with a little chick-lit.

In my free time, I read literature. Period. (And the newspaper, of course.)

Friends had recommended romance novels, and I would smile, make a supposedly interested comment and change the conversation. (I even edited -- and enjoyed reading -- a thrice-weekly column about romance novels. But I wouldn't crack a book.)

That was once upon a time. I realized, a few months back, that what I thought was a shogun-era Japanese adventure series called "Tales of the Otori" was really a shogun-era Japanese bodice-ripper full of phrases like "he yearned for her warmth" and "he felt his sex tingle."

There were sex scenes. Love triangles. Romantic hurdles of epic proportions, leading to tearing of hair and renting of garments.

And I really mean epic. There are three books in the original series, plus a prequel. I reserved them all, with relish, at the library. I read them in a span of two weeks -- even though, after book two, I could no longer justify it by calling the author a modern-day J.R.R. Tolkien. (She is not.)

When I realized what I was doing, at first I felt a little dirty. And then I started to wonder about what was so appealing about the stories. And I think it's this: A really good romance novelist, like any good writer, can tell a simple story of boy meets girl, or vice versa, and they fall in love -- and take you into their world so completely that you get lost. You become enthralled.

I did. And for a few hours, I wasn't worried about the economy or my job or cleaning the house.

I just enjoyed following the path Takeo and Kaede traveled toward their destiny. (And I suppose I learned a bit about Japanese culture and history.)

Am I ready to start reading Janet Evanovich and Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb? Hmmm. Maybe someone can convince me I should.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Guys: Does it matter what women wear?

Fellas, I need you to weigh in on this one.

New Year's Eve I went to a party with a girlfriend. It was one of those big events where there's hundreds of people milling around, drinking, dancing and yelling at each other over the music. We ran into one of our coworkers from another department. He was with a group of welcoming, fun people, so we hung out with them for awhile.

After a few more drinks our coworker looked at us and announced that we were dressed all wrong for the party. (Truth be told, it did seem that the uniform for the night was strapless cocktail dress, and we didn't get the memo.) He told my friend that she was dressed like a grandmother. She had on black velvet pants and a cute, '50s inspired black short-sleeved sweater. Then he told me to look at myself -- I was covered from head to toe. I had on wide-legged black pants and a black blouse that was gauzy, but, indeed, long-sleeved.

Our coworker looked sincerely confused. He said we were both sexy women. He said he'd seen us in more enticing outfits at work than the ones we had on at the party. Basically, he wanted to know why were were hiding our light under a bushel.

We weren't offended by his comments; he'd had a lot to drink and even though his remarks were blunt, he obviously wasn't trying to be hurtful. My friend and I are NYE party veterans, and were going for classy comfort when we chose our outfits.

But we discussed his comments after he'd gone off to dance with his date. My friend argued that a man shouldn't be attracted to her just because she was wearing a revealing outfit; he should be attracted to the person she is as well. I agreed that women shouldn't feel like they had to dress borderline hoochie to get male attention, but added that there's nothing wrong with accentuating one's natural assets.

Guys, this is where you come in. Do you find yourself more likely to approach a woman if she's dressed provocatively, or if she's in jeans and a T-shirt? Or does it not matter what she's wearing?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Keeping it mum with mom and dad

So it's a month past Christmas and New Year's, and I think I've finally caught up with all of the friends and coworkers I hadn't seen since trips here and there to visit families.

I've heard all the war stories from holiday break -- and many seem to carry the same theme, which leaves me with the question:

Which details about your relationship should you share with your parents (mostly your mother)? And which you should leave out for their own good?

The stories I heard all went something like this: My sister/friend/sister-in-law/cousin told my mom about a disagreement/split/other issue with her boyfriend/husband, and then mom was caught up in the drama for the entire visit. And, more often than not, the issue was resolved independent of mom's and dad's fretting -- because it really wasn't that serious after all or because the sister/friend/sister-in-law/cousin had it under control ... and could actually work through the problem without dragging the whole family into it.

So holiday visits across the country were sent into a tailspin for no good reason.

Which leads me to ask these three little things of family drama instigators everywhere:

-- Don't say the word "divorce" to mom and dad if you don't really want it to happen -- or think it's going to happen.

-- Be careful about telling your parents about every little thing your dear one does (either on purpose or unintentionally) to annoy you. Your parents will grow to dislike him. Do you really want that?

-- When you get the urge to call mom to complain about your relationship, call a trusted third party (friend, sibling, sibling-in-law) to unload. Then, call mom and dad if you feel you still need feedback or comfort.

Your parents love you. Which means that, if you hurt, they hurt. If you lead your mom to believe your life is falling apart, she's going to fret and worry. Her blood pressure is going to rise. She will lose sleep. Please, only inflict that stress on her (and the rest of the family, by extension) when you really need their help through a tough time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I slept with him ... now, silence

From a worried reader:

"I have had feelings for this friend of mine for a few years, but nothing has ever really happened between the two of us until recently (we live in separate cities). We actually took the friendship to a more physical level over the holidays. We did speak the day after and he said everything was cool and not awkward, but it's been a few weeks since I heard from him and now I am afraid that our friendship is over. Do you think friendships can overcome a one-night stand? Also, a female friend of his recently wrote on his Facebook wall that she missed and loved him sooo much! Now, do you tell your male friends that you love them? I usually don't. Is this a red flag?"

I'm confused about this question. Does she want a romantic relationship with him or a friendship -- and which is more important to her?

Deirdre: I feel sure she wants a romantic relationship. And that's the problem.

Alicia: No kidding. If they haven't talked about that possibility, I fear that ship has sailed.

Deirdre: She's right, Reader. I know you don't want to hear this now, but you should've talked it out with the guy before you fell into bed together. And while I do think friendships can withstand a one-night stand, in your case, I don't recommend it. You want more than he does. If you and he were on the same page, you wouldn't still be waiting to hear from him.

Do you think it would hurt for her to lay her cards on the table, though? I know I'd feel awfully coulda-shoulda-woulda if I didn't at least tell him how I felt, knowing that he probably wouldn't reciprocate. But then, I've been known to be a glutton for punishment.

Deirdre: OK. I used to feel the same need for closure. But experience has taught me that when you pursue it, you're just asking to be hurt. People have a tendency to make excuses for romantic prospects when they don't act right. He hasn't lost her number. He's not too busy to call. He just ... won't. Now, can we discuss this Facebook chick?

That's a whole other side of putting yourself out there. Sounds like she had one too many cocktails before declaring her looove.

Deirdre: Yes, Reader, it's a red flag. She's totally making a play for him, and in a public, marking-her-territory way.

Alicia: Well, in this case, Reader, you might take comfort in this: I bet he hasn't called her, either.

Deirdre: HA! And as for using the "L" word with male friends, I tell some of my guy friends that I love them. But they know perfectly well I don't mean it THAT WAY. Again, it comes down to communicating, so there won't be any misunderstandings.

Alicia: I've learned that one the hard way. Well, I guess communication is a good way to check the situation -- or soften the blow of disappointment -- before you open yourself up to someone.

Deirdre: But take heart, Reader! You're not in the same city, so you probably won't run into him at a club and get arrested for punching him in the face! Seriously, though, learn from this experience and count yourself lucky that you didn't get involved with him. You deserve better than a man who neglects you for weeks. Now, get a great outfit together -- you're going out this weekend!

What about you, other readers? What's the relationship miscommunication you'll never forget?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thank you, Michelle Obama

Now that Michelle Obama has had her first full day as first lady (in cute black flats, I noticed -- it'll probably be awhile before she can look at a pair of Jimmy Choos without shuddering), I'd like to take this opportunity to offer her some gratitude.

Thank you for being who you are. I don't think most people realize the import of what it means to black women to have such a fantastic black woman in the White House. What images do we usually get in today's pop culture? Harpies, hos and shrill baby mommas. Sassy sidekicks. Overweight know-it-alls who dispense sage advice. And now we have Michelle Obama as our first lady -- she's intelligent, self-assured, ambitious, successful. An adored wife and adoring mom. How can America's -- and the world's -- thought process about black women not be altered by this fact? Also, thank you for not giving in to the pressures of what others think the first lady should look like. Thanks for not starving yourself into a size 4, or covering your arms and shoulders because showing them is "not first ladylike," or bowing to the pressure to wear pantyhose.

Thank you for giving Barack Obama a chance, all those years ago. Our new president has said that when he and Michelle met, she turned down his date offer many times. Black women are the least likely to marry in American society; for generations we've been raised to be self-sufficient. We've also started looking for love outside our race, and while I'm certainly not judging people's choices (I date non-black as well as black men), it can't be denied that this strong black couple sends a powerful message. So years ago, when that cocky young hotshot came calling, again and again, Michelle saw something that let her know he might be worth her time. The result is a true partnership that has yielded spectacular results. Her husband is enamored to this day. During their tour of inauguration balls, he was holding her just as tightly during the 10th dance as he was the first -- all the while giving her smoldering looks that let us know just how hot he thought she was in that dress.

Thank you for raising your daughters as what they are: little black girls. Is there any relationship more complex than that of a black female and her hair? Sure, the Obama girls are resplendent with flowing locks and bouncing curls on special occasions -- say, when their dad is sworn in as the president of the United States -- but every other day, they look like normal girls, with easy-to-care-for twists and hastily brushed ponytails. They spend summer breaks in braids. (Raise your hands, black women, if you had cornrowed hair during childhood summers. Mine is raised just as high.)

But this is about more than hair, of course. Sasha and Malia Obama are smart, confident, well-behaved kids who are as comfortable with standing in front of a million people as they are playing with a group of friends. It's beautiful to see and a testament to how they've been raised. Which brings me to ...

Thank you for taking your mother with you to the White House. No nannies for these girls while mom and dad are away on state business. Speaking as a woman who spent her childhood raised by a mother, two grandmothers and a great-grandmother, the effect our elders have on us can't be over-estimated. They teach us the finer points of life in a way that sticks with us forever. As Garrison Keillor said of the Obama girls during a recent broadcast of "Prairie Home Companion": "They''ll do fine, 'cause they've got that first grandma with them now in the White House. And you can tell just looking at her, she is a grandma who means business. This is a grandma who's gonna make sure that those two girls don't wind up in the roles of famous people who are not that bright, if you know what I mean."

And finally ...

Thank you for risking all that you love for us. It's historic to have a black family as America's first family, and there are people out there who wish them harm. Gen. Colin Powell decided against a run for president in part because his wife, Alma, feared for his safety. Barack Obama would never have run for president if Michelle hadn't agreed to it. The entire family has committed to serve America for the next four to eight years, and there's an element of risk to their lives every day. It's a sacrifice few would make. Here's hoping the prayers sent from all over the world do their job to help keep the family safe and sound.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday funny: Stripper pole hijinks

This chick gets an A for effort, but it's a prime example of "just because other people can do it, doesn't mean you should do it, too." (Safe for work ... if loud laughter is allowed.)

Nuff said.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

'Gimme shelter' may strain relationships

Since we're talking about boundaries (and I vote for Alicia stashing her toothbrush in the medicine cabinet because I, too, am icked out), here's a pretty timely one: people who invite themselves to stay at your house.

NPR's "Talk of the Nation" did an interesting segment on this topic because of the crush of people expected to pour into Washington, D.C., in the next few days for Barack Obama's inauguration. D.C.-based writer Veronica Miller was on the show to talk about all the folks who announced they were coming to her place for the festivities. Miller and her roommate share a tiny two-bedroom basement apartment, and they've agreed to let three people stay with them. Even so, the aunt of Miller's roommate proclaimed that she would be "stopping by" on Inauguration Day. With five people.

The roommate promptly proclaimed that NO, she would not be stopping by. There's no more room in the inn. Kudos to her for not giving in to her pushy aunt.

I admit that I was briefly guilty of this crime. I have a friend who is temporarily living with his friends in D.C. Caught up in the excitement, the day after the election I texted him about crashing at his friend's place for the inauguration. Within five minutes I was texting him back, begging him to forget my request. I realized the serious social faux pas I was committing.

This is a matter of respect. It's just not right to force your desires on other people, especially when it's something as intimate as sharing their living space. Even if you are family, when you stay at someone else's home, you are their guest. They are opening their homes to you. They do not have to do this.

And yet, in the last few months, folks who live anywhere near D.C. have found themselves flooded with calls, e-mails and texts from shameless people they haven't heard from in years, wanting shelter. People who live in desirable locations -- near beaches or shopping/entertainment meccas, or in other countries -- are probably used to random "friends" inviting themselves to stay for free.

Here's a tip: those three people wedged into Veronica Miller's D.C. apartment? They asked. Don't assume, don't insinuate, don't demand. And don't be surprised or hurt if you're told no. But if you're told yes, be prepared to be the best house guest ever.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Can you brush away boundaries?

I have a new toothbrush. It's white and green, bristles not too soft, not too rough. Makes my teeth feel squeaky-clean.

My new dentist gave it to me at my last checkup. (Thanks, Dr. Burley.)

My ownership of this toothbrush -- as is the case with all of my toothbrushes -- will be fleeting. It seems I'm the only one in my house who has boundaries when it comes to using other people's toothbrushes.

I'll find my kids ambling around the house with my toothbrush protruding from their mouths -- the oldest providing mighty-machine sound effects (he's tower-crane obsessed), the youngest intoning, "Bu-ush teef, mommy? Bu-ush teef, mommy?" (Who knew that, when you drop the "R," brush is a two-syllable word?)

They have no problem with where they might drop it. (Bathroom floor, anyone?) No problem with where their hands have been before they touched it.

Ick. Toothbrush retired.

To be fair, my kids give the same treatment to their father's toothbrush. And it icks him out, too.

Not so when he borrows my toothbrush.

Perhaps borrow isn't the word. He really can't always remember which toothbrush is his, and he just grabs for one when he needs one. Sometimes, it's mine.

He doesn't understand why it's a big deal.

But it icks me out.

I've tried to get past it -- rinsing it off with mouthwash, and then water, and then drying it with a towel before using it again. Attempting to use it again.

But it icks me out.

Maybe I'll take to keeping my toothbrush in a not-so-accessible place. (We'll not say "hide." That makes it seem neurotic.)

Maybe I'll post a dummy toothbrush in the holder in my bathroom, and keep my real one in another hygienic place of my choosing. (OK. Neurotic.)

Or maybe the other members of my household will respect my boundaries when it comes to toothbrushes.

So, does the medicine cabinet sound like a good place for a toothbrush? (Though who knows what sort of germs lurk those dark recesses ...)