Category Archives: Relationships

I Need Some Space…

 

So...tell me... what do you like about ME?  Hold on...let me just get this text...

So…tell me… what do you like about ME? Hold on…let me just get this text…

A friend of mine (married) recently chuckled as he said, “Oh I love that one story about the guy who went on a date with you and didn’t ask you anything about you.  That’s my favorite.”  I looked at him in complete deadpan calm and said, “That’s EVERY date.”

Truth is… the NUMBER one thing men do wrong on dates (are you paying attention, guys?  This is it!  You’re always asking and I’m here to tell you) – is using all the time to talk about themselves and never investing in getting to know the woman.  Not engaging at all in getting to know who I am.

And I’ve tested this a bit.  When on a date with a guy and having realized we’ve spent the last 10 minutes talking about him (partly because I ask…I really do want to learn about him!), I’ll use a counseling trick and let us sit in up to 30 seconds of silence (which, on a first date, is a LIFETIME, by the way) to see if he’ll fill the uncomfortable quiet with something meaningful.  And 9 times out of 10, it’ll end with me having to pick the conversation back up with, yet, another question for him.

"Ok, champ.  You're gonna be great tonight.  Just tell her all night long what a catch you are... you'll have her begging for more by dessert."

“Ok, champ. You’re gonna be great tonight. Just tell her all night long what a catch you are… you’ll have her begging for more by dessert.”

I’ve even tried just inserting facts about myself into conversation, unbidden.  He’ll finish a story about his family and I’ll say something overwhelmingly smooth, like, “speaking of families, I’m the oldest of four kids…my dad’s a pastor…”… and then wait as the crickets play their symphony of discomfort around us.

A few times when the guy texted the next day to ask for another date after a first date I wasn’t thrilled with…I’d explain that I felt like he wasn’t particularly interested in getting to know me.  One time, a guy came back with, “I know ALL about you!  You’re the oldest of four kids!  Your dad is a pastor!”
Good job, detective.  You pieced that together from me TELLING YOU, did you?  Sigh…

I suppose this isn’t just a male problem, per se… it’s a cultural problem that plagues us all – men and women.

We are increasingly self-absorbed and unaware.  (which is a paradoxical combination, if you think about it.)

blog - spaceOne of my biggest pet peeves is when someone is walking into a building/store/restaurant in front of you and instead of holding the door open for an extra 2 seconds to allow you in, they let it slam behind them.  As if you weren’t even there.
#rude
And don’t talk to me about how chivalry is dead.  Letting the door shut on the girl behind you goes way beyond chivalry (which, I don’t actually think has all the way died.  It may be on life support, but there are still a few gentlemen out there opening doors and telling women they look pretty.  Not many…but they’re out there.)

No – the reason people don’t hold doors open or ask questions on dates is, I think, not because we’re losing our sense of good manners…but we’re losing our sense of SPACE.

My brother posited a theory which I’m loving more and more (well…not LOVING in its application, but in its wisdom).  He said… as we become increasingly drawn to the small space between our eyes and our smartphone, we’ve become ONLY aware of that small field of vision… so much so that, even if you’re not currently looking at your phone, you’ve trained yourself to be unaware of anything outside that zone of attention.  The world, for all intents and purposes, is invisible.

I think he’s right.

"This is the perfect date... she's not bugging me and getting in the way of my defending my clan from that annoying 5th grader who's always attacking..."

“This is the perfect date… she’s not bugging me and getting in the way of me defending my clan from that annoying 5th grader who’s always attacking…”

As technology has grown, our awareness has narrowed.  Noticing the beauty and peculiarity and intrigue around us has been replaced with apps that do just about anything we could ever want or need.  No need to even make eye contact with the Starbucks barista… just swipe your phone and move along.  If you play it just right, you might not even have to stop your game of Trivia Crack to get your drink.  Walking to your car after grocery shopping?  No need to look up… just use your app to find your car and then let another app tell you what route to take to your next location.  Heck… there are apps to tell you how you slept and if it was a particularly restless night and your phone got lost in your sheets, just use your FitBit to find it.

I have no problem with technology, mind you.  I love all my nifty apps.  But, it seems if we want to have things/people in our life that MATTER, we’re going to have to make a concerted effort to look up from our screens and see the world around us… engage with it… ask it some questions.  I know I’m not the first person to say this.  But, I contend that this issue is part of what makes people BAD at dates.

You see…as the space we ‘live’ in has narrowed, so has our scope of interest and awareness.  It’s like we’ve trained ourselves to only care about what’s right in front of us…what’s easily accessed… what doesn’t take any work or energy on our part.

Not only that… but our smartphones haven’t just made us stupid about things like mapping your way to a new location, but even knowing yourself.  People depend so much on devices telling us what to do, where to go, what’s funny, what’s trending…that we spend less time in self-reflection and self-awareness.  And if we can’t even be self-aware (a very sexy quality in a date, by the way), then how ever will we manage being “other aware?”

I suppose if all you’re interested in is getting me into bed, plying me with the drinks and talking about yourself all night might actually work.  (I don’t know…that’s not really my thing).

But if what you want, ultimately, is to make a meaningful connection with someone and build the relationship to a place where it brings you pleasure and a deep-down satisfaction, …then you’re going to have to KNOW me.  There’s no getting around it.  So, why not start from the beginning?  Move your attention from your virtual smartphone and engage the world around you….or at least across the table from you.

It’s easy to do.  Ask questions!  Anything, really.  People love to talk about themselves, so you don’t even have to be particularly clever…just provide the conversational springboard and let narcissism do the rest.

The world of first dates would be infinitely different if people could begin to look away from their smartphones, look inside themselves, and then look at me.  Eyes up here, folks.

 

ValenTIRED…?

 

MjAxMy1mYTc1NjkzZDJhZDU1NzBk_511718d534a78Why do so many people hate Valentine’s Day?

Right, right, I can hear many of you reciting that over-used line, “It’s just a ‘Hallmark holiday’.”

And…?

Is Hallmark inherently evil?
Don’t thousands of companies latch onto holidays to boost sales?  We’re capitalists!
We don’t hate Presidents Day because linens are discounted, do we?
Does Egyptian Cotton trump flowers and candy?

Perhaps you’d say, “It’s an invented holiday.”
OOooooooh, ok… not like those organic ones we’ve found while out farming the land.  Right…

Maybe you’d respond with, “Why should someone else tell me when to show the person I love that I love him/her.  I SHOULD be showing them all year ‘round!
Great!  Yes!
You should!
Go do that!  Valentine’s Day isn’t keeping anyone from showering their loved ones with affection on the other 364 days of the year.

Are you afraid you’re going to think up a romantic gesture for your sweetheart and right when you’re about to leave her that note or give her that gift, you’ll get a firm knock on the door from the Valentine’s Day Police?
Sir, …sir, are you aware that it’s April 12th?  What were you THINKING?  Loving your significant other is strictly forbidden.  Any thoughts, words, or actions of amorous expression must wait until next February 14th.  V-day LAW.”

hate-valentines-day-unless-bounty-hunter-ecard-someecards

Truth be told, Valentine’s Day isn’t making anyone do anything.  It just is.

If there were such a thing as “Hug Day,” would you fold your arms and refuse free hugs?  What about “Compliment Day?”  or “Get $100 Day?”  These are all good things… things that should not make people bitter, but excited!

 

 

The beautifully sweet thing about this holiday is this:
It’s one day a year, set aside, to celebrate love.

That’s it.
Love.

LOVE, people!!

The most important thing in this life… ought to have a day…right?

I mean… even people who aren’t at all religious, let baby Jesus have a day.  (That’s Christmas, y’all)
And hardly anyone turns away green beer on St. Patrick’s Day.
No one complains that the 4th of July FORCES them to play with fireworks and eat BBQ.

Why does Valentine’s Day get such a bad rap?

I think the answer is this:  people resent the fact that they don’t have the love they most want.
Valentine’s Day shines a light on the places where we feel lonely or hurt.  Stick with me for a moment.

– Married people who are unhappy in their marriages – hate the idea of a spotlight on love… because they are feeling that awful cringing pain of not feeling loved.

solo– Single people who crave a relationship, but don’t have one – hate the world turning their red and pink attention on those who HAVE found their lobster (which are, appropriately red…).

– Boyfriends and girlfriends in undefined, ambiguous relationships, don’t enjoy the holiday that breathes down your neck and whispers, “you know… you really ought to think about what you want, and what this is.  …I’m just sayin’…”

Anyone who is at all unfulfilled in any relational way – feels the heat of a day whose focus is the very thing you want, but don’t fully have.

And I get that… if there was a day that celebrated designer clothes or cool cars or fancy big houses, …I might feel left out.  Like, “hey – I want those things too… but, alas… not this year.”

The DIFFERENCE is that  Valentine’s Day is about ALL love… not just the Rom-Com, smoochy, McDreamy, end-of-the-movie-swoon-worthy-speech, PDA, fluttery tummy, grand gesture, sweeping soundtrack, surprised by flowers and poems kind of love.  Valentine’s Day is about so much more.

Those things are all fine…but they are one sliver of the story.

I propose… you look a little further.

Celebrating love doesn’t have to be a romantic love.

cheesy v-dayI know, I know…this sounds trite…you’ve heard it before, …but all those super classy corner tables/tents full of roses and cheap teddy bears don’t exactly scream equal opportunity love…they ONLY make us think of 2 groups:
1. gooey-eyed lovebirds – new to the sweetheart scene, and untarnished by the world.  Or,
2. guilt-driven men in panic-mode, on their way home from work

But, I’d encourage you to look beyond the consumeristic piece of this holiday and contemplate the heart of it.  Aha!  The HEART!  😉

You really can take a step back and look at your life…and appreciate the love of your parents, you can ponder the love you have for your children.  You can take an honest look at the friends, co-workers, roommates, neighbors, etc. in your life…and have a moment of happiness when you realize they are all gifts.  And maybe, …maybe you’ll even be inspired to tell them so!?

And if you look around at your life, and you truly have NO one to love… then (and I’m not pandering… I mean this), reach out.  Maybe that means seeking out friendship, maybe that means reconciling with someone who’s caused you pain or who was the recipient of your anger/distancing/etc.  Maybe it means visiting a church to find a new community.  Heck, come visit MY church!

I know you all probably get sick of me going on and on about how I still have hope for finding love… and I do.  But today is about appreciating and celebrating the love you ALREADY have.  I’m blessed to have so much love in my life – amazing friends (I mean, AMAZING), awesome family (who I can call ANYTIME when I need a ‘shoulder to cry on’), and the two most beautiful, creative, sweet children a person could hope for.  So, on a day made to honor love… I am full to the brim.  🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

Love Hurts

I was talking with my kids the other day about love. Yes – this is what life is like in the Stone family… is anyone really surprised? When I asked my daughter, “how can you tell if someone loves you?” this was her answer: “Because he’ll be mean to you.” mean boys 1 *record scratches* Wai….wha….huh???  Where have I gone wrong in my parenting?  How have I failed her so? With pained eyes and a pleading furrowed brow, I asked her to tell me why she thought that. She went on to tell me a story – that inspired this post. See, there’s this bully at Charlotte’s school.  For the purposes of protecting his identity, let’s call him ‘douche-face.’ Oh…am I not allowed to call a 7-year old that?  Fine… FINE!  We’ll call him Jordan. Jordan has picked on Charlotte (that’s her REAL name…isn’t it pretty?  Yup – just like she is) for a couple of years now.  He’s a real piece of work.  One time last year, I had to come to the school to pick her up early after an ‘incident’ where he acted very inappropriately and the school had to write it up.  They were great about it – he, on the other hand, is a predator in the making… So, apparently, this last year, after some skirmish on the playground, Charlotte told a teacher what was happening, and the teacher’s response to her was that “Jordan probably just has a crush on you.  When boys like little girls, they’re mean to them.” Let’s hear that again:  “When boys like girls, they’re mean to them.” Ok – let the record show that I HATE this. [The record shall so reflect.] I do not think there’s a fine line between flirting and bullying. I think it’s a wide highway of bad choices. And it’s why some grown men think that insulting a woman will win her heart.  Or, in extreme cases, it’s a slippery slope to an abusive relationship. I know, I know… it’s true that little kids often display their burgeoning romantic feelings with teasing… out of an immaturity of understanding relationships. I remember those days.  I get it.  I really do. Insert funny caveat here… (yes – click this and watch). My problem isn’t so much with the occurrence of that immaturity, but the way we TEACH it to the girls. Thanks to one teacher’s misguided philosophy of love, my daughter has now been given an incorrect (or at the very least, an incomplete) message, by a grown up, about how love works. Yes – A message. We all collect messages as we grow up, that help shape what we believe about the world around us.  Heck – aren’t the college years basically just a time to sort out which messages we’ll keep and which we’ll dismiss?  Between parents/families, school, friends, civic organizations, churches, etc., we all get an enormous amount of data about how things are – social mores, rules of conduct, ways to think about finances, love, work, sex, and on and on it goes. So, now my daughter has another data point that says – “boys show you they like/love you by being mean.”

mean boys 2

Let’s just consider the implications of this: 1.  Because it’s a sign of their deep affection, being treated unkindly should be allowed, perhaps even enjoyed.  So – don’t be upset that someone’s hurting you. In fact… maybe you could learn to like it – since, after all, it’s a sign he likes you. Awesome message to give a little girl.  And we wonder why our young women are in and out of therapy later in life. A corollary assumption would be:   Boys/men don’t know how to express affection, so either put up with their meanness, or take it on as your own project to change them. And I think we can all agree that a woman trying to change a man – is a recipe for relational disaster.

(A note about boys/men expressing their feelings… I DO know that guys often use teasing or physical methods of communication with each other… I’m not here to say that needs to stop… but there’s a difference between razzing other guys, and being mean to a girl or making her feel unsafe, hurt, or uncomfortable.)

2.  If YOU love someone (or you’re on your way to love), you show it by being mean. Hey – if little boys can do it, and it’s ok, it must work for anyone! And we wonder why women use passive-aggressive behaviors.  It’s just a sophisticated form of mental bullying. 3.  Lastly, not only is it how boys show you they’re into you – but it’s GOOD. The teacher didn’t say, “I’m sorry he’s doing these things…I’ll tell him to stop, but it’s probably because…blah blah blah,” no, she used the “he has a crush” mentality as a rationalization… as if to say, “so that’s why this is happening – isn’t it adorable?”  This might seem like splitting hairs from number 1 on the list, but it makes a difference later in life when women chase after the ‘bad boys’ because the’yre seemingly better. I recognize that this is an age-old issue and that boys aren’t going to stop teasing girls anytime soon. BUT… I think we have an obligation to teach our girls that, while that may be the case, it is NOT acceptable or good.  We need to give them a lexicon of assertiveness.  Phrases like, “I do NOT like it when you do that.  Stop it.”  Pretty simple, right?  Yeah…..try saying it on a date when a guy is pressuring you for more than you’re up for… sigh… As far as the Stone household, we had a nice long talk about how Stone girls look for guys who use their cleverness for flirting, not belittling; their strength for protecting, not bullying; and their words for engaging conversation, not emotional tearing down. Granted….I’m still looking.  But, at least I’m not chasing the bad boys… and in my book, that’s coming out ahead of the game.  

Making a Donkey out of U-M-E

The other night I was playing the radio game with some friends.  (If you’ve never played the radio game, you should remedy that posthaste.  It’s great car-trip fun.)
Anyway – on one song, my friend named the artist before I did, and in his excitement, put up his hand for a high-five (for his amazing musical catch).
Without even thinking about it, I slapped his hand in reciprocal excitement…only to then think, “wait…why am I celebrating his win?  He’s my opponentHe’s the enemy!”
So, why did I high-five him?

assume 7
Simply because he put his hand up!

And it’s human nature to respond.
I’m basically just a sheep, blindly following non-verbal commands…even if it means praising my adversary.

And while that’s fine for me and a buddy playing the radio game, its more insidious counterpart in the dating world…isn’t so fine.
But it happens ALL the time.

 

assume 3

Men and women both do this – me make assumptive gestures – in words and actions – and on a date, it’s hard not to return the metaphorical hi-five.

Picture this… you’re 5 minutes into a date and the girl makes a comment about how you’re going to just LOVE her parents….
Um…what?

Or, before you’ve even finished your first drink, the guy is planning your next date.
Come again?

 

This is an issue I keep encountering in my own dating life… men who assume.  (And we all know what happens when you assume…)

Everyone jokes that women all do this – practically plan out your wedding before you’ve closed out date one.  But, I’ve experienced it recently, comin’ from the menfolk too.  It’s not just us girls.

These are the guys who, by their references and actions, presume all manner of things…about a level of mutual attraction that isn’t necessarily there.

There are two main forms this unrequited “we have a real future together” attitude comes in:  verbal and physical.

Verbal

This includes, but is not limited to…

making plans to do things or visit places together, inlcuding international travel
     “Oh, you haven’t seen the new Mummy exhibit at the Science museum?  We’ll HAVE to go…”
     “Well – you’re going to LOVE the margaritas in Cabo… you’ll see…”

speaking about meeting family and attending family functions
     “That’s totally something my mom would say!  She’s gonna love you.”
     “You haven’t experienced St. Patrick’s Day ’til you’ve spent it with my crazy family.  You’ll see.”

talking about what kind of house you want to live in, how many kids you could have together (or how to blend your existing kiddos), who would move to the others’ place, etc.

assume 6I was on a date recently with a sweet guy.  We were hardly 15 minutes into our date… as in – the food hadn’t even been ordered yet – and he was pulling up photos of RV’s we could use for future camping trips.
(Now, a caveat – most men, when they hear that I don’t like to camp, always want to win me over… so, this isn’t THAT strange, but when he continued on later in the evening, showing me more spacious and convenient road-living options… it was too much.
Really – ANY talk of RV’s is too much.)

 

 

Physical

These are tricky in first-date land.  Because everyone comes in with a different set of rules and limits on what they will/won’t do on a first date.  Will you hold hands?  Snuggle?  Hug?  Kiss?
These are already sticky wickets for 2 people who LIKE each other…but what about a date you’re just ‘enduring?’assume 4

Assumptive posturing in the physical arena may look like:

Putting your arm around my shoulder

– Opening up your hand to you, as if to say, “hold this”

– Leaning in eagerly, and oh-so-expectantly for a kiss.

These (and more) are all things that it’s hard to NOT reciprocate, without feeling like a 1st-class jerkface.

Say you’re watching a show/concert/movie and a guy puts his hand, open/face-up on your knee… …what would you do OTHER than hold it?  Give him an akward low-five?
Put a Werther’s in it and give him a friend-zone-worthy smile?
Cross your legs at that exact moment, as if you didn’t even notice his hand there, and watch his arm fall off with a thud?
Shoot him that “not gonna happen, buddy” stare?  (Seems harsh!?)

assume 5This happened to me recently on a date… I wasn’t feeling the spark at all… but the guy sweetly put his hand out… and what did I do?  I took it!  And we held hands for easily 10 min!  And all the while I was conflicted about the mixed messages I was probably sending.  Argh…

Same for the arm around the shoulder!?  Wriggling out of that isn’t exactly a subtle communication.  Sigh…

Now… the more egregious faux-pas are easy to sidestep.
If I’m dancing with a guy and he presumes to grab my hiney, I’ll take his hand RIGHT off.  That’s culturally acceptable… and often expected.

But, refusing to hold a hand…just seems mean!?
And yet…I really don’t want to hold the hand of someone I’m not feelin’ chemistry with.  Am I locked in, simply by rules of courtesy?

What’s a girl (or guy!) to do?

I need some super suave, stealthy tricks to evade these unwanted gestures.
Not unlike the “hug & roll.”
Open to suggestions here, friends.

assume 2

The moral of the story is this…

When you’re on a first date –
READ THE ROOM!!
Use the clues your date is giving you to know if you can pull off the hand-holding or even a little goodnight snogging.  Watch for things like eye contact, light touching, sitting close, etc. to know.

If she’s making frequent trips to the bathroom…with her phone, or looking off into space, or checking the time, or scooting away… it’s not the time for a smooch OR showing her the latest motorhome models.
It sleeps 6!  That means we CAN have those 4 kids!”
smh…

 

Lonely Waffles

They say that men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti – meaning that men compartmentalize their thoughts/emotions whereas women let everything get entangled together.

But I’ve been thinking lately that the older you get – if you are single – whether you’re a man or a woman – the more we all get waffley.  Our lives are more compartmentalized by virtue of our age and experiences.

Being single at 40 is an entirely different beast than being single at 20.  When you’re 20, you’re just getting READY to start your life – to start a family, grow a career, figure out where you stand in the world… do I want a family?  Am I a ‘pet’ person?  What do I like to read?  Eat?  Listen to?  Will I be a scrapbooker or a salsa dancer or a candle-stick-maker?  When you’re 40, it’s likely (dare I say ‘probable?’) that you’ve figured some stuff out.  You might even HAVE a family (thinking of folks who have kids from previous relationships), you probably have a job, you likely have hobbies and interests that you’ve cultivated over the years, you’ve gone in and out of being a vegetarian or a hipster or whatever ‘thing’ you wanted to explore – and you’re just more ‘set’ in your life and in what you believe about the world, people, and the universe.

What’s my point in this?  Well – if we have more of the puzzle pieces of our lives figured out.. I maintain that we look for partners in a different way.

We no longer (necessarily) need someone to START a family with or to be our cheerleaders as we define ourselves in the working world, or experiment with different hobbies/activities.  No… now we just need someone to come ALONGSIDE us in our existing lives.  And that looks different.

We have friends, hobbies, routines, favorite shows, activities, clubs, etc.

Now we’re looking for someone to fit into our world, not help co-create it.

And this matters….why?  Well… I think that this opens us up (at least for me, I’ve found this to be a danger)… to lowering our standards.

Instead of searching for someone who will be the BEST partner for all facets of our lives, we tend to look for someone who will make one or a few of our ‘categories’ a little better.  Someone who’ll make a great ‘add-on’ to our social life, let’s say.  Or someone who’s a great sounding board for our job life.  Someone to go listen to jazz with, someone to eat out with, someone to simply provide adult conversation, watch shows with or go dancing with.  But there’s a tendency to settle for someone who only ‘fits’ in SOME of our life and not all.  Because…well – it’s better than nothin’.  Better than doing everything alone.

I’ve been in a surreal place recently where I feel like one of the only single people left in my age bracket who is still waiting for her ‘person’ – the whole enchilada.  Someone who won’t just be icing on the cake of my social life, but who will be my lover and friend through my WHOLE life.  That means – my church life, my life as a mom, my veg on the couch days as well as my get dolled up for 2-stepping nights.  Someone who – as my online profile says – will throw me around the dance floor and kiss me passionately on Saturday night and then hold my hand in church on Sunday morning.

I want it all.  So do most 20-year old singles I know.  But creeping up in the late 30’s/40’s… so many people seem to just want SOMEthing.

Because we’re lonely.

And SOMEthing is infinitely better than no ONE.

Someone we can insert into part of our lives… who may not truly know us to our core and GET us in our most vulnerable places, but who makes us feel attractive and is fun to have around… is far better than being alone for one more pitiful weekend.

So, I’m writing today’s post as an encouragement and a reminder to myself mostly – but also to anyone else out there who has started to rationalize dating people for the sake of soothing PART of your/our loneliness… rather than holding out for the one who will be the BEST partner/teammate/lover/friend/soulmate in EVERY part of our lives.

Being waffle-ish is ok.  Having our lives compartmentalized and more figured out than the fresh-out-of-college folks – is great!  But I say we hold out to find syrup that reaches every little square.  Doesn’t that sound more tasty to you?

The people connection

I’ve been struck lately by the power of words.  Especially coming from people I love.

Words from Friends.
Sorta like Words-With-Friends, only fewer Triple-letter tiles and trash talk.

gifts of the modern age

Thing is… We live in a world that not only  provides us with the beauty and provision of nature, but we also have a history of a people who – over the centuries – have given us art, music, the internet, craft beer, high thread-count sheets, the remote control, G2 pens, Target and mint chocolate chip ice cream.  And yet… with all this richness and so much artistry in the universe… it is still not enough.  We need more.

No, this isn’t going to turn into a lecture about the God-shaped hole in each of us …or me evangelizing to my readers.  No, today, I’m just reveling in the wonder of people and relationships.  Friendship.  Connection.  And verbalizing that connection.

We were built for this.  Regardless of your worldview, most people can recognize the benefit of community.  That we thrive in the company of friends and wither in its absence.

A friend recently described an abusive person as someone who wants to alienate, and a healthy person as someone who seeks out togetherness.

Now, I’m not saying we all need to live in a commune…. um…er… I mean… an “intentional community.”  I’m not going all Yearning-for-Zion on us.  I’m just saying, a la Barbara Streisand… that people NEED people.

And I forget this from time to time.
I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’ve never met someone MORE extroverted than myself – I plan get-togethers and parties like a mongoose chases cobras.  I mean, if you throw around a buttered biscuit, it’s BOUND to land on one of my evites… (holla, Aziz Ansari).  But, with all of that energy expended to be WITH people, I forget how unbelievably powerful a simple encouraging message can be.

This last week I was blessed to have several unexpected moments like this.  Wow moments.  Texts, IM’s and e-mails from friends who took less than a minute (in some cases) to use their words as a gift… and it changed my day.. my demeanor… my very emotional state – for the better.  (If I share this post with you, …you were one of those people).
When people express love (in whatever form that comes in – validation, praise, listening to you vent, encouragement, thanks) – it changes you.  If you’re lucky – it changes you for good, not just for the moment.

None of this is new.  The whole “random acts of kindness” and “pay it forward” movements have been inspiring people for so long.  But it merits reminding.  And having been on the receiving end of several of these moments inspired me to remind you.

Lest you think I’m just surrounded by sweet mushy people, I’ll tell you that two of the sweet messages I received were from introverts who I like to tease about not having/showing emotion (which is ridiculous… they know I don’t really believe that they can’t express emotion, but it’s fun to give them a hard time nonetheless).  This kind of communication does not come as naturally for them… and so… being more unexpected – made the words have that much more impact.  They moved me.  Literally!  (Ok, not literally… I was stationary while I read them, but still…)

Point is – the key to this isn’t being a naturally smooshy person… but simply being an authentic one.

If you love someone – tell him or her!
If you are thankful for someone in your life – let them know.
It’s just an outward verbalizing of what you’re already thinking.
It’s taking your internal honesty and putting words to it… which, if done authentically, may just stop them in their tracks for a moment and cause them to write a cheesy blog post.

Ready to Rumble? – The Art of Apology

One of the most dramatically powerful artforms in human relationships is a good apology.

A good apology can soften the hardest heart, heal deep wounds and restore hope to what seemed lost.

But…there are a lot of bad apologies floatin’ around out there.  And I’m here to point out the bogus ones and help us learn how to do it right.

art of apologyMost of the times I hear someone attempt an apology, my inner George Costanza comes out and I start muttering, “You can stuff your sorries in a SACK!”  And George is right… most sorries are only worth a sack stuffing…
Because I dare say that 85% of apologies – blow.  Yup.  They’re terrible.  They’re either disingenuous or lazy or just plain wrong.

First – let’s talk about what a good apology is NOT:

1.  A passive aggressive way to criticize someone.

I have a friend who’s in a bit of tense ongoing conversation with her parents and she receieved a text from her mother, apologizing, seemingly sincerely, about not having told my friend earlier all the ways in which she was disappointing her.  What?  That’s like saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner that you suck.”  That, friends, is NOT an apology.  That’s a coward’s way of skirting around an issue.  Just say what you mean – don’t couch it as something good and kind like an apology, when all it is is criticism.

2.  A sneaky back-handed way of shifting the blame back onto someone else.

This one is common in romantic relationships.  Example:  “I’m sorry that you were sensitive and took what I innocently said and heard it as something hurtful.”  Translation:  “You’re insane and I did nothing wrong.  But, I’m sorry that you’re crazy.”
If you really don’t think you did ANYthing wrong… then there is still a way to do a “sorry you got upset” without invalidating the other person…but that’s a conversation for another day.

3.  A way to end an uncomfortable situaion, rather than a true attempt at peace.

Saying something generic like, “I’m just sorry this whole thing happened…let’s move on” leaves the other person thinking (and correctly so), that all you’re really sorry about is that you’re having to endure some relational discomfort.  A much better tactic at this point would just be to take a break and come back calmer to do the real apologizing.

4.  JUST saying “sorry.”

Sure,  the world of romantic-comedies has women HOPING for the empassioned and pleading “I am a lout and am unworthy of a woman like you…. is there ANY way you’d take me back???” apology that dips into the pool of idol worship and unquestioned adoration.  Heck – I’d take one of those any day!  But, it’s not realistic.  And not particularly healthy.
However, the other end of that continuum  – the weak, half-hearted “whatever” of apologies is no bueno either.  Pushing out the word “sorry” from your unyielding, annoyed lips doesn’t count.  It’s not honest.  And everyone knows it.

 

A true apology contains these elements:

– Authenticity
– Acceptance of responsibility

That’s it, folks.  I’m here to say that you don’t even need to FEEL a ton of remorse to offer up a decent apology…though, remorse definitely makes it better.
But, sometimes you apologize for something because you KNOW you erred and you hurt someone, but the feelings of sorrow haven’t caught up with you yet because your body’s too busy feeling frustrated or embarrassed or….the biggest player in this game –> stubbornly prideful.
And yet…you recognize the wrong you’ve done, and you make it right.

That’s all it is – seeing your error and making it right.  Restoration.  Repair.

When my children mess up and hurt each other, they have to apologize to the other person and include WHAT they did wrong.

Examples:
Bad:   “Sorry…”  (eyes rolling, half whispering it as you walk past the other person)
Good:  “I’m sorry for scratching you with my toy.”

They have to identify what the ‘wrong’ piece was and own it.

That’s all we have to do as grown-ups too!  The problem is that our silly pride gets in the way.  And so often, BOTH people are at fault, and in our stubbornness, we don’t want to admit our OWN culpability until they do theirs.  We want things to be FAIR.

But, what would happen if we tried- even as a social experiment – apologizing for our part of something REGARDLESS of whether the other person ever owned up to his/her stuff.  And see if it doesn’t make relationships move more smoothly and make you feel better.

The other day I had a small moment of friction with a friend where he said something that hurt my feelings.  But, when we talked about it, I realized that I am probably overly-sensitive in this area because of some junk in my past… and so I may ‘require’ my friends to tread softly in that arena.  And that’s not altogether bad… good friends recognize each others’ areas of woundedness and can be especially tender in those places.  But, I also have to own up to my fragility and not put all the blame for my hurt on him.  So, I said so – without demanding anything back… and it was HARD!  It’s hard to press the pause button on waiting for someone to say, “Oh – I hurt you?  I am SO SORRY!” and simply call myself out on my own transgression.  But I did… and it was quite freeing.  For us both!

I think my willingness to take the one-down approach to the situation made him feel less like he was on the chopping block, and so he felt free enough to say he was sorry too.

And my apology didn’t negate his wrong.  He still did say something hurtful.  Me admitting my own frailty and apologizing for being overly senstitive doesn’t take away his role in the hurt.  But, it helps shed light on the situation AND shows him that I’m willing to turn toward him, even while hurt, and do my part to make this right again.

The point is this – when friction arises… there’s a strong possibility that you’ve done SOMEthing to contribute to it.  Even if the part you played was only 10% of the problem… if you identify that and take responsibility for it – you’re intentionally participating in restoration.  And restoration is ALWAYS a good thing.

Don’t wait (necessarily) until you “feel” sorry… we are grown-ups… we can recognize when we’ve messed up even if our feelings of remorse haven’t caught up to our brains.  Do the hard work of swallowing your pride to apologize for your piece…and see if it doesn’t move the whole relationship closer to wholeness.

 

Ask Sarah – Bad Sex

Dear Sarah,

I’ve recently started dating again and was trying a “new MO.”  I confess that I watch The Millionaire Matchmaker and she has a rule of ” no sex before monogmamy.”  So, I thought I’d give this a try.  So, I dated this guy several  times, liked him a lot, had lots in common etc. After we had a discussion about seeing other people, we decide to make the whoopee.

Bad bad bad.

It was so bad on so many levels that I’m embarrassed to go there again. Here’s my dilemma…in the old days, it was an easy fix.
But since I’ve gone out so many times and I genuinely like him as a person, how do you ditch someone over bad sex (not to mention unfortunate anatomy issues)?

Thanks for your wisdom and advice.


 

bad sex 1

Dear Disappointed in bed,

First – let me just applaud you for making the bold and counter-cultural decision to wait on having sex.  I know this couldn’t have been an easy choice when the temptation is so strong!

And the issue of when to take intimacy all the way is a touchy one (no pun intended) because I know I have readers on every part of the continuum from no-rules to no-sex-before-marriage and everything in-between.  So – let me make this caveat that my answer to this question isn’t a commentary on when people should enter into a sexual relationship, but rather, thoughts on how a less-than-desirable sexual partnership can be turned around.

Ok – so – are you sure you want to end it?  Have you come to that conclusion?  Or is part of you wondering if this is salvageable?  Not surprisingly, I have some thoughts on this.

I don’t think bad sex is insurmountable.  Now – please don’t hear me say that I think people need to settle for less than everything they want in the bedroom… I think it’s great to aim for an amazing sex life.  BUT – I think the factors that make the sex bad – can be fixed.  Hear me out.

If you find a good man (and that’s a big if, I’ll admit), then you can turn bad sex into hot sex.

If the problem isn’t the sex, but the person behind it, then…yeah …it may be time to end it.

But, if the person you’re with WANTS you – that is, he wants you physically AND he wants to know you and love you, then you have all the tools you need to have great sex…with a little help.

 

My dad used to tell us (yes – my pastor father …dispensing sexual wisdom to his children…it’s true!) – that the most important sex organ is the mind.  Not the “bathing suit parts.”   If you devote yourself to another person, make their wants/needs as or more important than your own, learn about them and care for them in this way, you can have the hottest sex life.  It’s true.
But, it also requires the scary step – communication.  And communicating about sex is one of the most terrifying subjects, especially when you’re not on the same page.  Talk about vulnerability!  Talking to someone about how they are when they’re at their MOST exposed (literally naked) is the trickiest conversation to have.

THIS is why many people save sex for when they’ve reached the point in the relationship where they feel emotionally safe enough to talk about anything.  Where they feel loved and cared for so much that they have the FREEDOM to speak up about any issue.  This might also be why first date sex isn’t always as sizzling hot as you’d hoped… because you aren’t in a place where you can let your desires be known.

Reader – if this man seems like a catch in other ways, (and…heck…if you’re ready to, as you say, “ditch” him, then you really have nothing to lose), why not talk about this in a gracious way?  You might be surprised that he WANTS to have this talk because he’s eager to please you in this arena.  Now, obviously, this is an area in which to tread softly and use non-judgmental language.  But, I’ll bet if you broach it tenderly, maybe over a glass of wine, and using phrases like, “I really like you and I’m excited about making this thing great.  Would it be ok with you if we try a couple things differently next time we’re in the bedroom?  I really like it when…”

I know what some of you are thinking… “some people just aren’t sexually compatible.”  And I call BS.  If you have the right parts, you’re sexually compatible.  That’s just physics.  A plug and an outlet will always WORK, unless something else is wrong.  What most people mean when they say that, is that they’re not compatible in other ways – communication, intimacy, levels of desire, the ways you express passion, etc.  But all of those things are areas that CAN be changed or modified if you care about someone enough to truly learn them and they you.

That whole joke/phrase that women say and men scoff at:  “size doesn’t matter… it’s how you use it,” ….well, I think there’s some real truth to that.  I’m not saying that body types don’t enter into this discussion at all – but at the core of great sex – is desire, care, understanding, ….love.

So – I say, don’t go down without fighting.  You don’t have anything to lose.  If you try to talk about things and his ego can’t handle it…then you’ve just gained more information about him and he’s perhaps not the catch you thought he was.  And then, breaking things off becomes easier too – because you have more reasons than just bad sex – you have the much greater dealbreaker of his unwillingness to do the work to make the relationship great.

But, maybe you’ll be surprised that he likes you enough to endure a little conversational discomfort for the sake of compatibility – in every room of the house.

Ready to Rumble? – Talking to Myself…

self-talk 1

 

Today’s topic: the internal monologue, also known as intrapersonal communication or, “self-talk.”

 

Now, before you go all Stuart Smalley on me, (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people LIKE me!)… I’m talking about something a little more nuanced and therapeutic than all that.

 

This is a skill I’ve been working on in my own life over the last decade, …though, at some level we do this from birth.  Remember talking to yourself as a child?  Or talking to an imaginary audience?  Or just that silent dialogue in your head that you’d go through when thinking about something?  It’s all part of it.  But, for today’s post, I want to talk about self-talk, as it relates to interpersonal conflict.

One of the most difficult elements of relationships, is that all-too freely given – criticism.  Some people are well-intentioned and offer up “constructive criticism” to help you – and to help heal/improve the relationship.  Others are narcissistic jerks who feed on tearing others down to feel empowered and adored.  And then there are all those moments in-between – moments that have SOME truth, and SOME unnecessary damage – all in one tidy conversation.

What do we do when criticism comes our way?  And it will!

One of the first lines of defense, is the art of self-talk.

If you take the time to know yourself and to know what it TRUE about you, one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal is to TELL YOURSELF those truths WHILE someone is berating you.  Imagine a scenario where someone is talking to you in a condescending way and intimating – not full-on saying it, mind you – but implying that you aren’t smart enough.  You can be saying to yourself, in your mind – “I know that I AM an intelligent person.”  And while it definitely doesn’t take the sting of the criticism away – it does take the “BUY-IN” out of the scenario.  The buy-in (my own lingo) is that slippery slope where we allow ourselves to believe untrue things about ourselves because of others’ critical remarks.

A friend and therapist I really respect, told me that when you’re dealing with a narcissist (and this applies to generally disagreeable or critical people as well), you only have two paths to take:

1.  Escape.  This can come in the form of numbing the pain (drugs, addictions to distract, etc.), divorce/separation, or the ultimate escape – suicide.

2.  Belief.  This is, in some ways, the emotionally easier route.  Though, it is extremely self-destructive.  Believing that what the other person says/believes about you is, in fact, true.
This can look different for lots of different situations:

  • Your boss makes you feel small, so you accept that you’re not an important piece of the workplace.
  • Your boyfriend criticizes your appearance, so you begin to believe you actually are ugly/unattractive.
  • Your mother questions your life choices so much that you start to think you’re not smart enough on your own.  The list goes on and on.

Accepting criticism and hearing the truth in it is an elegant character trait.  But, to do that wisely, you have to know what is true and what isn’t, and be able to hear criticism for what it truly is – to be able to tease out the truth.  And the best way to do this is to know yourself and speak to yourself during and after conflictual moments.

Example:  I had someone in my life who would become easily angered and then tear me down.  It went quickly from the actual point of frustration to claiming things about me in more global attacks.  Often, this person would call me “lazy,” or “selfish” or “foolish.”  And while those words cut – and hurt – I was running my own internal conversation with myself, self-soothing if you will, where I reminded myself of what was true about me – that I do work hard;  that I care about others;  and that I try to be thoughtful and wise.  Obviously I’m not perfect.  And everyone is selfish.  But, to the extent that I CAN overcome that base human instinct, I give it my best.  I would remind myself of specific circumstances that prove that to be true – mothering my children, sacrificing things I wanted/desired so that others could be happy, etc., etc.  So – when the conversation was over, instead of having TWO problems (licking my wounds and wondering how I’d become so worthless), I could concentrate on the injustice at hand – that untrue things were said.  Because my self-talk kept me confident in what was true.

Try it.  Next time someone comes at you with anything remotely conflictual, be listening to them while running a script in your mind at the same time about what’s true about you.  Even if you don’t yet know what do say, you can begin wtih thoughts like, “I’m worthy of love.  I matter.”  And see if it doesn’t help shape your emotional response to the attack.  Sure, you’ll still have an obligation to respond gracioulsy, but your own spirit won’t be crushed.  You will be able to recognize the truth in what that person was saying (that is – areas where you maybe DID mess up or areas where you DO have a blind spot), as well as shield yourself from the more broad-stroked personal attacks.

Because, despite the enormously high cheese factor, Stuart Smalley was onto something …unless you’re in the estimated 3% of society who don’t operate with a conscience (and that’s a whole other post!), you ARE good enough.  And knowing your worth can make a world of difference when your enemies attack.

 

You’re a Jerk. It’s all my fault?

The post last week about women’s expectations of fantasy/romance (you can read it here) has sparked quite the feedback, especially from my male readers.  Totes interesante.

In particular, my friend and blog-reader I referred to in the post as being a real-life romantic, wrote to me about a theory of his, that WOMEN create the unromantic men.  Interesting, no?

So, I decided to post our sparring here for you to read.  Enjoy.  And feel free to weigh in with your opinions!


Brad:

For far too long, women have claimed they mature earlier than men. When it comes to relationships, I posit a contrary hypothesis. Men learn in their early teens that sensitivity is rewarded with rejection. Middle and high school girls enjoy the bad boys. They cling to guys who treat them poorly. Guys learn quickly to deal with heartbreak and – perhaps through survival instinct – that an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure.

Sarah asked whether women’s expectations have been skewed by romantic comedies. I prefer to believe that women are capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Instead, women are reaping the rewards (or consequences, as a matter of perspective) of years of male training.

Here’s a muscular analogy in honor of Sarah. Think of men in the comfortable colloquialism piled on us for ages. Men are dogs. In a sense, this is true. We have been trained to salivate for the bells women ring. Our greatest desire is to be happy with a woman. To achieve that end, we strive for attention. When we fail, we observe those who succeed. When women/girls provide attention to the bad boys and ignore the nice guys, we notice. We learn. We adapt.

The next time the bell rings, we salivate in the desired way, expecting the reward. It works. The behavior is reinforced. This pattern continues with reinforcement of those behaviors through high school and college. By the time women realize they want something different, those dogs are trained.

Not wanting to accept the responsibility for their actions, women blame men’s behavior on movies, porn, immaturity, selfishness, or not being raised right. The dogs continue to salivate at the sound of the bell. Women, now desperate to find something more tangible, provide rewards for less than they want – further reinforcing the behaviors they no longer desire.
Women begin to adapt. The security of a relationship being their reward; lowering their expectations, their salivation. Men continue to observe.

Today’s moral, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

————————————-

Sarah:

Brad… may I?

I wholeheartedly agree that much of what women complain about in men – we have only to blame ourselves for. We have contributed to the unfortunate cycle by settling for less than what we truly want, or rewarding the sort of behavior that feeds on insecurities rather than cultivates confidence.

But… (and there’s always a but in this contrarian mind of mine)… in the same way that not all men drink the kool-aid of high school conditioning, not all women are drawn to jerks. In
fact, there is a large contingent of us who didn’t even DATE in high school because the inverse of your theory was at play.

Guys want to date the girls who don’t have self-esteem and will LET themselves be abused. And girls like me – who were raised in a healthy home and taught that our value lies in our character – don’t get asked out. So….which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Sure – high school boys look around and see weak-willed women swooning at a guy who has the emotional intelligence of a doorknob and so they slowly morph into a bad boy archetype. But, aren’t women (girls) taught the same thing – just mirrored back? We look around at the girls who get asked out and it’s the ones who are throwing up in the bathroom between classes to keep their waists thin, who are panting at the scraps of attention thrown their way by a self-centered tool, and who laugh at the jokes that subversively make fun of them – not standing up for themselves because that would probably push jerky-boy away.

I’m not sure what the answer is (not that I don’t have lots of THOUGHTS about how these things begin in our families of origin, experiences, etc.).  But I do know that unilaterally blaming women for men acting like trolls can’t be right…

I mean, c’mon – sugar and spice and all that!?  (wow… who’s thirsty for tea?)

 


Brad:

Of course there are exceptions, but on the whole, human beings develop behaviors that are rewarded.  The problem now is that women in the dating pool are competing for extremely limited resources.  You addressed this in a previous post to your readers. Ignoring exceptions, I see two possibilities:

 You’ve made your bed. Lie in it.  The pool of men has been shaped by your hands ladies. Accept the results and move forward.  I suggest treating the sculpture the way you would children’s artwork.  It isn’t pretty, but you find the good in it and focus there.  Most guys are still worthy of refrigerator magnets.

Take your ball and go home.  So you don’t want to face the results of your creative efforts?  Fine.  Enough women will choose to accept the flawed men in the dating pool – providing no reason for the men to change. Stay home and complain about how terrible the men are “out there”. 

Enjoy the “Spinserthood of the Traveling Rants”, available now in paperback.


 

So, there you have it folks… what do YOU think?

 


Brad Culbertson has been teaching elementary education in Florida for ten years.  His two children, Kendall, 14, and Gabriel, 12, and his love, Jaime, are his greatest passions. He has published a book of poems dedicated to her available here and he is currrently writing his first novella. Sneak a peek here.