Friday, December 29, 2006

Confessions of a New Year's Eve baby

I was chatting with the 28-year-old (yep, he called and now we're working on a friendship -- go figure) when he asked me what I was going to do on Sunday. You see, not only is this Sunday New Year's Eve, it's also my birthday. That's right: Dec. 31.

The 28-year-old was shocked when I said some girlfriends and I were thinking about having a good old-fashioned slumber party, complete with games, junk food and, of course, cocktails.

"You're not gonna go out on your birthday?" he asked incredulously. He has big plans of his own; he's flying to Washington, D.C., for a party thrown by an old college friend. "It's New Year's Eve! You're only going to have once chance to ring in 2007!"

"I may not go out to party, but I'll be with friends," I countered. "That's the important part."

I can't tell you how long it took me to realize that.

Sure, being born on New Year's Eve seems cool. "Wow, you must do something awesome every year!" people say. "The biggest party of the year is on your birthday!"

Oy, THE PRESSURE. When I was a kid it wasn't so bad -- after all, I wasn't expected to dance on a bar when I was in grade school. However, it was hard to have birthday parties, since most of my friends were off visiting family during the holidays. As I aged, people's expectations grew ... and my anxiety grew right along with them. While I've had some memorable celebrations -- one highlight was partying in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl; another was a "cleansing ceremony" with two of my best friends, where we burned negative reminders of past lovers and danced and sang and laughed, all by the moonlight bouncing off San Francisco Bay -- most of my birthdays have never quite lived up to my hopes. There was the year I broke up with my high school sweetheart, and he promptly went out and tried to wrap his car around a tree. There was the year I held some girl's silver lame cowboy hat while her friend held back her hair as she barfed into a nearly overflowing toilet. There was the year I got the midnight kiss from a really hot guy, only to discover seconds later he was there with his girlfriend.

I'll stop before this becomes an Alanis Morissette song.

The older I get, the less important New Year's Eve blowouts become. Now I find myself content to have dinner with friends, and ring in the New Year with people I care about. We celebrate being alive another year. We celebrate the possibilities a fresh 365 days can bring. We celebrate each other.

Plus, this year, I'm tired. I've worked hard the past few weeks, and my family was at my house all week for Christmas. I'm looking forward to a goofy, low-key celebration complete with Cranium and Cosmopolitans with my friends. My flannel pajamas are ready. Sorry; a silver lame hat just wouldn't match.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Big decision: Which family do we spend holidays with?

The biggest decision of the holiday season isn’t deciding on which sweater Grandma would actually wear once you bought it or which honey-baked ham place has the better deal; it’s deciding on where you and your significant other are going to spend the holidays.

Granted, this decision was likely made weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not weighing on your mind – the long hours in the car, the short amount of time spent with each family, the stress that comes with making sure you have all the presents accounted for.

Dividing up family time during the holidays has to rank as one of the most trying efforts of any relationship. It’s not an easy decision. It seems like every family has their own traditions. Some host the big celebration on Christmas Eve, complete with egg nog, appetizers and caroling. Other families prefer the big morning gift opening to be the centerpiece of their holiday. And then again, other families don’t celebrate Christmas at all. You don't want to upset the apple cart, especially when it comes to strict traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.

All these decisions affect your relationship. You want to make everyone happy – or at least, I feel I have to. Life seemed so much easier when we were kids – Mom and Dad would just pick one place for the holidays and that’s where we spent it. Now, as a married couple – with no kids – we feel compelled to split our time among family.

I believe most of us are thankful and blessed to have such a hard choice to make, but I have to say, it sure doesn’t make it any easier.

How do you handle family time during the holidays? Do you switch off the major holidays with each side of the family, or do you pull double-duty and visit both sides on the same holiday? Has this big decision caused major stress in your relationship; if so, how have you handled it?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Your friend's S.O. is a loser -- do you say something?

Alisha: So I'm at the age where it feels like everyone is getting married. Next year, I have three weddings lined up. One thing I've been wondering (and no, this doesn't apply to any of the three upcoming nuptials): What if I think a friend's fiancee just is not "The One," and she should dump him before they say "I do"?
Deirdre: Wow. That's a tough one. On one hand, your (hypothetical) friend is a grown-up and capable of making her own decisions. On the other, you might see something she doesn't.
Alisha: Exactly. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but surely she would take that as a friend looking after her friend. I worry I'd come across as prying into their personal life. Is there really an easy to way to say, "Hey, your boyfriend is a creep and downright slob?"
Deirdre: I had a situation once where a friend had a complete boor of a boyfriend. No one in our shared social circle liked him or understood why she stayed. She'd even said some things that made us feel she might be thinking along the same lines, but she stuck with him. Meanwhile, the more we were around him, the more obvious his jerkness became.
Deirdre: We'd all been wondering how to talk to her about this dude. I'm the most blunt person in our group (surprise!) and my friends are used to my straight-shootin' ways. So one night I just told her no one liked her boyfriend and we were worried about her.
Alisha: See, that's where you and I differ. I just don't have the gonads to be as upfront as you are. How did your friend respond?
Deirdre: She laughed off my comments at the time, but she broke up with him before too long. She just had to do it when she was ready.
Alisha: And you can't really say "I told you so" after it's over, or can you?
Deirdre: Oh, no way! How cruel would that be? We just let her know in subtle ways we were relieved she'd made the decision. I mean, the dude was getting possessive and dangerous. And I'm happy to say that she is now engaged to an AWESOME guy.
Alisha: [Sigh] Ah, we love happy endings! [Snap to reality] But happy endings don't happen all the time. I wish we could protect our friends from the losers. Though, really, it's often much easier to scrutinize someone's faults than to praise the positives.
Alisha: So we're obviously not talking about just random folks. What you're saying is, it would need to be a good friend, not just an acquaintance?
Deirdre: Yes. My closest friends are my extended family. We take care of each other and trust each other. And if one of those friends tells me something troubling about a man I'm dating, I take them seriously because I know they have my best interest at heart. The problem is, most of us know people who might not be so noble. They might actually do or say something just to cause pain. So you do have to consider the source.
Alisha: Good advice. There are so-called friends who could be secretly pining over your significant other, so it is a wise move to consider the source. I wonder how many people would actually take someone else's advice? I would listen to my friend's advice, but I also know when you're in love, it's hard to just walk away.
Deirdre: Personally, I would want to know. It's hard to walk away, but it's also hard to ignore information people are giving you because they are concerned about your well-being. I think it's best to give the person that information and they can do with it what they will. And you would need to have proof, not just a hunch. They may choose their mate over you (I've had that happen as well), but ultimately, it's their decision.
Alisha: I hear what you're saying. I'm just torn on the subject. I keep thinking about my friends who are engaged. Hypothetically speaking, if I went to one of them right now and said, "you cannot marry that person," I feel like I would lose out on a good friend. On the other hand, I feel like my friend should know how I feel. Gosh ... you make it sound so easy, but it's just not that way, I'm afraid. If it were, don't you think the divorce rate might be a tad lower?
Deirdre: I would never say "you cannot marry that person." No one has a right to make such a pronouncement about someone else's life. But I would say "I'm telling you this because I love you and I'm concerned for you and I have reservations about your man. Here's why ..." If your friend knows you are coming from a place of love, and they are confident enough in themselves and your friendship, they will listen to you.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hand-written letters a thing of the past

Last week I made my annual trek to the post office to buy four booklets of stamps for my Christmas cards, and of course, the line was out the door. I patiently waited -- as patiently as one can wait for 55 minutes to buy stamps. Geesh!

When folks wait in line that long, you tend to strike up conversations with the tall man in front of you or the little old ladies behind you. What else are you going to do? Plasma TVs just don't seem to fit the ambience and blue uniforms at the post office.

This time, a bearded gentleman in his mid-40s inquired of the people around him -- all of whom just happened to be women -- the reason for their visits to the post office. A stout woman with round, silver glasses and a hand-knit sweater spoke up and said she was sending a letter for the first time to her nephew, who is in Iraq with the U.S. Army. We all let out a collective sigh and shook our heads as if to say, "We're so sorry to hear he's in Iraq." The woman acknowledged us, and then said, "I just hope he receives my letter. I want him to know I love him, especially during the holidays."

Writing letters seems to be a thing of the past, much like 8-track tapes and LP 45s. It's all about e-mails, text messages and Bluetooth phones nowadays. I truly miss writing letters, as well as receiving them. There's something quite special about getting a handwritten letter in the mail, knowing that someone cared enough to take 30 minutes out of his or her busy life to pen words of encouragement or admiration. And major bonus points if the letter has stickers or cool artwork in the margins! You can't add stickers to e-mail.

I hope that woman's nephew receives her letter, and appreciates the love it was written with.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dating hiatus during holidays?

I have a friend who has totally immersed herself in dating. She has profiles on several dating Web sites and is out at parties, events and dates several times a week. The girl is committed.

And while she especially loves to date during this time of year -- "There's so many parties! And everyone is out shopping! There are people and opportunities everywhere!" (yes, her enthusiasm can be gag-inducing at times) -- she reminded me that many people don't dig it. In fact, just yesterday she was talking about people she knows (especially guys) who avoid dating during the Christmas season altogether because they don't want to have to buy a gift.

Yeah, that's kinda cold-blooded, but if you take the high road -- which I'm gonna do here -- you can understand why. When you're just starting a relationship, things are uncertain. You're still getting to know each other. You're not sure where it's going. Things you would gloss over in a longterm romance take on weighted significance in the early stages. On the topic of Christmas goodies, if you buy a gift, what are you saying? If you don't buy a gift, what are you saying? If you buy an expensive gift, what are you saying? If you buy an impersonal gift, what are you saying? See what I'm saying?

So it makes sense to avoid the drama altogether by not dating during the Christmas season. Would it really be such a bad thing? So what if you go stag to a few holiday parties -- look fabulous and practice your flirting skills. And just wait -- January is coming. Think about all the New Year's resolutions being made to get out and date more! And after a month or so of dating hibernation, all those singles will be ready to mingle!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dating your co-workers

Deirdre: Every now and then I think about things I've done in relationships that I feel pretty sure I would never do again. At the top of my list: No more dating men I work with.
Alisha: There are definitely some pitfalls that could come from dating co-workers. What made that particular relationship regretful?
Deirdre: My last boyfriend and I actually worked in the same room. And the woman he dated before me also worked in that same room. I know -- I was on crack to even think about going out with him in the first place, but he won me over.
Deirdre: So you can imagine what it was like when we broke up. Soap opera.
Alisha: I know there are many couples who work together and somehow, their relationships don't seem to suffer from them being around each other 24-7. I salute them. But, on the whole, I just don't see how it's healthy to be around someone all the freakin' time.
Alisha: Space, people. Space.
Deirdre: It worked for my ex and me because our schedules were completely different. And I can kinda see it working for people who are employed at the same place, but work in different buildings, or departments. That space you speak of -- I think it's necessary if only to keep your co-workers from knowing your business!
Alisha: So what's worse, dating a co-worker or dating a boss?
Deirdre: A BOSS, of course! There's no way that's an equal relationship. Some might say the boss has the power, because they control the subordinate's career (promotions, raises, etc.). Others might say the worker bee can run to HR and cry sexual harassment if they don't get their way. It's just not the best way to pursue a healthy relationship.
Alisha: Yeah, in my experiences, I haven't seen or heard of many managers dating their subordinates. Though, I have heard of managers having affairs with their co-workers, but that's a whole 'nother blog topic.
Deirdre: Ohhhhhh yeah! The stories I could tell ...
Alisha: See, that's the thing. When co-workers date, the gossip line is completely abuzz. The whole, "did you know that he cheated on her... have you heard they had a big fight last night and she didn't come home," etc.
Deirdre: Been there, done that, could write a book. But here's the rub: As a culture we all work so much that the main place we meet people is at our jobs! When you don't get out much, that office hottie becomes harder to resist.
Alisha: In 2005, CNN had a story about a career publishing house that released an employee survey. The results showed that 58 percent of respondents said they have been involved with a co-worker and 22 percent said they met their spouse or significant other at work.
Alisha: Fifty-eight percent! That's high. I guess those 40-60 hour work weeks can squash your dating life, eh?
Deirdre: They can squash your meeting non-work-related people, smarty pants. Like I said earlier: that hottie that keeps walking by, sometimes you gotta for it! But since I've been burned, I now treat the office cuties as what they are: nice scenery.
Alisha: Good idea. Look at it as window shopping, and your credit card is maxed out.
Deirdre: You ever dated someone you worked with?
Alisha: I would use the term "dated" very loosely; more like hanging out and finding out we would never work. ... I prefer to keep my home life separate from my work life. My husband is in the same profession as I am and though I can't really prevent him from working with me, we both agree it would not be a good idea.
Deirdre: But I'd count that as one of the perks of being in a relationship with someone you work with! They know what's going on, so they understand the joys and stresses of your job.
Alisha: On the downside, if the stress gets to you both, such as the looming sale of your company for example, then you both go home facing double the pressure.
Alisha: To play devil's advocate, I could see where dating a co-worker is beneficial. At least you get the opportunity to sneak in "together" time while on the job.
Deirdre: Ah, but I could see how some bitter and petty co-workers could mutter about preferential treatment because of your emotional involvement with someone on the job.
Alisha: And don't forget how if you make friends who are co-workers as a couple, then, if a split does happen - you're possibly forcing those people to pick sides. That's a hefty price to pay; losing your better half and your friends.
Deirdre: Ugh. Readers, what say you? Are the rewards of dating someone you work with worth the risks?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Scene from a healthy marriage

I had to work the day after Thanksgiving, so I was unable to be with my family on the big day. Some friends -- a young married couple -- took pity on my orphaned state and invited me to join them for Thanksgiving. They were driving to a small town in South Carolina to be with her family. Food provided by a gaggle of country aunts and cousins? I leapt at the offer!

So Thanksgiving morning we were off, laughing and telling stories and talkin' trash. About halfway through the drive, the husband's cell phone rings. He answers it, has a terse, stilted conversation, then hangs up. He was quiet for a few stunned seconds before he told us who had been on the phone.

It was an ex-girlfriend, "just calling to say hi." His mother had given her the phone number, saying he wouldn't mind a call on Thanksgiving Day. Even though he's, like, married with a small child.

Yeah. TACKY.

But here's the thing. After we got over our initial shock, we all howled with laughter -- his wife loudest of all. Now, if an ex-hottie called many women's husbands, they'd be upset and trying to pick a fight -- with the husband, the hottie, the mother-in-law (MIL) or all of the above.

What the MIL did was underhanded. What the ex did was just plain stupid. But how the hubby handled it was great -- he was courteous but clipped on the phone, then told his wife exactly who it was and what had happened. (Who among us doesn't know some dude who would lie to keep from upsetting his woman, only to make matters worse in the process?) How the wife handled it was even better, with dignity, good humor and an easy, obvious confidence in her man and her marriage. It was glorious to watch the lack of drama. Whatever the MIL had planned, it failed horribly.

It turns out that MIL doesn't like the wife very much (gee, what was the giveaway?) and this was the latest in a line of not-so-subtle marriage-marring machinations. But the husband is his own man and won't let his mother mess up his healthy, happy thing. The wife is secure in herself and has the support of her husband and a loving family; why let the scheming of this woman affect her life?

On that day, I was thankful to see such a fine example of a marriage that works, thanks to communication, trust, love and humor. Now that's my kind of relationship!