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 Salon.com 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 CharlotteObserver.com 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?