Thursday, December 18, 2008

A card, to say you care

I have friends I haven't talked to in months. You know what it's like -- you mean to send an e-mail. You mean to call. But time slips away, and before you know it, the end of the year draws near. And if you're like me, when December rolls around you find yourself driving to the post office with a stack of holiday cards sliding around on the passenger seat.

I'm not one to get too excited about holidays -- you work enough of them, the magic fades -- but this is the time of year when I look forward to checking my mail. There's just something about spotting a bright green or red envelope mixed in with the bills and magazines. No matter how bad my day has been, it's hard to stay grumpy when you open a goofy card from a person you haven't heard from in ages, or you view a friend's family portrait with cute kids growing up impossibly fast.

The holiday card is the great equalizer. It says, "I know we haven't talked, but that doesn't mean I don't care." It says, "In the midst of all the shopping-eating-family drama frenzy, I took a moment to think of you, and wanted to let you know." It says, "We're family."

It's sort of the renewal of a vow: you stay in my life, and I'll stay in yours.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Finding my sometimes father

I haven't seen my father in more than 16 years.

If you've known me for at least that amount of time, that wouldn’t surprise you. My dad has always had a sometimes there, sometimes not presence in my life. When I was very young, he worked a difficult job with wacky hours, and didn’t always make it home. Sometimes, perhaps he wasn’t working, and he didn’t make it home.

He and my mother had at best a strained marriage for all sorts of reasons. They got married young, had kids quickly and struggled to pay the bills. They separated when I was in junior high, and divorced several years later. He remarried, and his new wife often pressured him about his commitments – financial and emotional – to his former life. There were periods of time when my siblings and I didn’t hear from him even then.

We stopped talking the last time, this one by more of a general agreement, right after I got married. We had a falling out about his new girlfriend and his family, and their involvement in my tiny wedding ceremony.

At least, that’s how I remember it. He may have a very different and certainly valid recollection. There's all sorts of blame to go around when it comes to what went wrong in our family.

My dad does, however, acknowledge the general framework of our past – he and I began talking again intermittently about two years ago – but I haven’t asked him to confirm details or asked him to explain why any of it happened. I don’t think either of us is ready for that.

But when he called me, he did admit to this: He said that he wrongly put other relationships in his life ahead of his relationship with his children.

I think that’s part of it. I also think he doesn’t much know how to relate to his children. He has always wanted a very traditional, family-ties kind of relationship, but we have never had a run-of-the-mill family. And I think it would have been difficult to deal with three tweens/teens even if there isn’t a divorce involved.

All of that is to say this: In the end, I know my dad’s a pretty good guy. He means well, even if he doesn’t always do good. (I sadly report that he currently isn’t returning my calls.) I don’t always like him, but I can say that I don’t want to regret not having tried to rebuild a relationship with him. I want to give him and my children the opportunity to know each other. And I think that, should I peel away all the years of armor I built up to keep from getting hurt, I probably would say I love him.

Maybe it won’t take another 16 years for me to be able to tell him that.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Counseling shouldn't stop after marriage

I asked a newlywed pal how her marriage was going. She said it was good, but hard. "Because we're both stubborn, and we're older," she explained. (They're in their mid-to-late 30s). It takes work to meld two strong, independent lives.

So the newlymarrieds have decided to keep seeing the person they met for pre-marriage counseling. They don't go often, only when they have a problem they feel they need an objective opinion on. And my friend says it has helped a lot.

I think that going to a counselor is a great idea. More people are marrying later in life -- I have a friend who married for the first time when she was 41. It's not easy to change your life from one where you have your space the way you want it, and your daily schedule the way you want it, to sharing it with another person. Some compromises may be simple; others, not so much. So talking out your issues with a third party who has no stake in the outcome can be a good thing.

Also, the counseling doesn't have to end once newlywed issues have worked themselves out. I heard a recent radio interview with caustic actor-comedian Denis Leary. He's been married for 26 years. He was talking about his new book, "Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid," and offered men advice on marriage counseling:

"Number one: Do it," he said. "You're not gonna find a guy who's more anti-therapy or anti any kind of counseling than me. I'm a stubborn, pigheaded Irishman and that's sort of in my DNA. And it takes me a long time to learn a lesson."

After going through three counselors in about six weeks, Leary said, "We finally went to a male marriage counselor, and it dawned on me -- 'Oh, I'm completely - I'm totally wrong. And emotionally unavailable.' Goes right back to that Irish-Catholic upbringing. Once I figured out I'm wrong, and emotionally unavailable, we started to make some progress.

"I gotta tell you, the male, the man shrink, that's the way to go," Leary continued. "It's a person, a man, who gets paid to sit in a room and listen to women complain about what's wrong with men. It's the female version of hiring a prostitute. ... and it works. Sitting in that room with that guy -- I guess it was because he was finally a guy I listened to him -- I started to realize yeah, you know what? I am not right about most things. I am sometimes right about things in sports and show biz, because I'm a sports fan and I work in show business, but in terms of raising children and making a marriage work, I'm 0 for 7 million. That's my batting average. But I've learned how to learn from the man shrink."

So there you go. If he can learn, can't we all?

The one you don't forget

Some breakups, you just never get over. No matter how bad the relationship. And maybe because the relationship was so bad.

Take my friend, Melissa. She dated this guy for close to two years. She was sure he was the man of her dreams. Little bit of a bad boy. Had traveled a bit, and he seemed to know a lot about the world and could carry on a conversation about anything. Attractive.

(She overlooked some major red flags -- still lived with his parents? -- so she caused herself some unnecessary heartache, she concedes.)

The first time he broke up with her, she was blindsided. During a date, he stopped her on a sidewalk in a busy neighborhood, suggested they sit down on a bench, and listed everything he felt the relationship was lacking: She tended toward the quiet, when he was a little more outspoken (took him a year to figure this out?); they seemed to be a different stages in their lives (a fair concern); and the sex was so-so (you only get what you're brave enough to ask for, my man). Then he let her loose. He said he was sorry. Melissa dissolved into tears, he took her home, and she tried to forget about him.

Then, about a month later, he apologized. He said he wanted her back. She agreed.

It was about three weeks of happy-happy joy-joy, Melissa once again got lost in the relationship, and she was blindsided yet again.

He broke up with her -- in a park, this time. She says she was a little less weepy that time around, a lot more angry, and a lot quicker to move on.

But she was always haunted by what she should have said, how she could have expressed her anger a little more clearly. Maybe a little more loudly.

She ran into him about a year later. He apologized again for how he had treated her. He blamed it on depression, and said he was taking medication to address it. Then he asked her back to his place. She says she smiled at the silliness of it all, but she declined.

Still, the regrets of that relationship follow her -- like those nightmares you have about missing a final exam long after you've received your diploma -- despite many years and several solid, healthy relationships under her belt.

She says she'll probably never get over those regrets. Given that she's held onto the regrets of the relationship for so long, would she ever take him back, should they again cross paths? No, she insists. She'd rather just live with the old regrets, instead of creating new ones.

But how would she react? She's says she can't know until she's in the situation. But she guesses she might have a few words of advice for him. That her tone might be a lot harsher, the volume a little louder than the last time.

Maybe she even has those words ready to go now. Don't you?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cussin' up a public, political storm

One of the most fascinating aspects about the impending fall of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is the excerpts from his wiretapped conversations. The man talks like he's filming a Quentin Tarantino movie, only not quite as clever.

"I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden," Blagojevich said of his authority to appoint the replacement for President-elect Obama's Senate seat, "and I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing."

And his wife is right there with him on the cussin' front. She unleashed an obscenity-filled tirade suggesting Tribune Co. ownership should "just fire" Chicago Tribune editorial writers if the company wanted the state to help it unload Wrigley Field.

"Hold up that (expletive) Cubs (expletive)," she's quoted as saying in the background as her husband talked on the phone. "(Expletive) them."

OK. I cuss. Quite a bit. I've never believed that business about how you're not a lady if you use foul language. I swear in English and in German, and sometimes in French. But even I got a little slack-jawed when I heard what came out of the Blogojeviches' potty mouths.

I really began to question my own use of salty language when I read this story, which mentions a 2006 study that found 74 percent of Americans frequently or occasionally hear people cursing in public and that most believe the use of profanity is on the rise.

But, “there's a huge difference between a person who drops a swear word once in a while and a person who uses it in every other sentence,” the story quoted Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and an author and lecturer on business etiquette, as saying. “There's a certain level of arrogance in it that says I can do anything I want, I can speak any way that I want.”

Noooo, I don't feel that way. I moderate my language depending on who I'm talking to, of course. In casual conversations with friends I may pepper my sentences with profanity, but even so, I don't think I'm as blue as the Blagojeviches. Or am I? I wonder what tapes of my conversations would sound like?

I don't think I'll give up swear words completely -- in many situations a "gosh darn" or "crap" just doesn't cut it -- but I will make an effort to use less of them.

What about you? Do you use profanity in everyday language? Have the Blogojeviches made you rethink your cussin'?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What are you doing, Oprah?

This week, Oprah Winfrey disclosed that she has ballooned to 200 pounds. She details her troubles in the January issue of "O" magazine, which features an image of her fit, flat-tummied self next to her current curvier self, with the headline, "How did I let this happen again?" And in the magazine article she talks about how she wanted to hide during an "Oprah" episode with Tina Turner and Cher because she felt like "a fat cow."

Alicia: Talk about roller coaster relationships -- Oprah Winfrey really has to come to terms with her weight and what it means about who she is. Seems to me she keeps making the issue more public than it needs to be.

Deirdre: I'm glad you brought that up, because I have mixed feelings about what she's done. On one hand, millions of women -- including me -- can identify with her. This just shows she's human. On the other hand, there is some serious masochism going on.

Alicia: Really. It's not that she does it -- to a degree, she has to address issues like her weight head-on, because she's a celebrity. But, you're right, she does it in such a dramatic and self-deprecating way. Many, many people struggle with their weight. But I don't know if you can solve your problem by beating yourself up so much.

Deirdre: But, A, isn't that usually the first impulse -- to beat yourself up?

Alicia: I suppose that's true. And heaven knows I've kicked myself about stupid things I've done (including a run-in or two with a plate of hot wings). But she just keeps kicking herself in front of so many people -- some supportive, and some just dastardly -- almost setting herself up for failure.

Deirdre: It's interesting you say that, because what's the popular advice when you're trying to lose weight? Tell other people about it, as a way to hold yourself accountable and build a support system.

Alicia: I don't know, I've only seen that work when you tell a small group of people who you know will support your goal, and then you open up to others as you move toward your goal. Otherwise, don't you just get a lot of people asking you how it's going -- putting pressure on you, which stresses you out and drives you back to what you're trying to overcome?

Deirdre: I can tell you from personal experience the answer is "yes." But what I find poignant about this situation is that Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest, most powerful women in the world. And the struggle with food and her weight -- when she could hire any chef, trainer, or plastic surgeon -- is like her Achilles heel. So what hope is there for us peons?

Alicia: That's what I'm saying -- is she setting the example that could help those of us who can't afford to hire an army of experts to help us, let alone pay a monthly gym membership or Weight Watchers fee?

Deirdre: She has inspired millions over the years who have followed her struggle.

Alicia: Maybe you're right. She's showing her humanity. I just hope she can find a way to succeed for the long-term.

Deirdre: Well, I'm heartened by an excerpt I saw from her article: "My goal isn't to be thin. My goal is for my body to be the weight it can hold -- to be strong, and healthy and fit, to be itself ... My goal is to learn to embrace this body and to be grateful every day for what it has given me." That's a far cry from back in the day, when she went on a liquid diet to fit into size 10 jeans that were too small the next day.

Alicia: That whole thing was a circus -- and being healthy is the right goal. I hope we can learn a lot from her this time around.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When is special really something else?

Welcome to a very special episode of We Can Relate.

It’s so special because well, you’re so special. And the day is just so beautiful and peaceful and … special. Could there be anything better than spending such a special time with you on a day like this?

Annoyed yet? I am.

But that’s how this couple I know talks to each other. Yes – in front of actual people. It’s all so saccharine it makes me want to heave, or at the very least roll my eyes – which is what I do when they’re not looking.

It annoys me because I shouldn’t be hearing it – when they set off on these dialogues they’re always very wrapped up in each other. They’re not making general conversation with the others in the room. The dialogues can last five minutes – or 20. And one of the two often interrupts conversations the other is having to begin the you’re-so-special babble.

And, no, they're not newlyweds. They've been together for more than a decade -- and still it persists. And it annoys not only me but also others who witness it; I always have a partner in eye-rolling.

It all just makes me suspicious: Can things at that moment really be that special – and, long-term relationship-wise – that good, if you have to say it over and over? And, perhaps most annoying, in that really cloying I’m-talking-to-a-cute-widdle-kitten tone?

My money’s on no.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

He just wasn't that into me

I'd been at a friend's Christmas party for a couple hours when her neighbor showed up. Her single male neighbor. Her sexy single male neighbor.

I had met this guy before at another party; he was laid-back, confident and witty, in addition to being easy on the eyes. And when a small pack of us moved to a nearby bar to continue drinking and talking, I figured it was the perfect time to get to know him better.

At this point, I'd been drinking for awhile, so my reaction time was slow. I mention that because signs I normally would've noticed went right over my head. Signs like while we did talk and laugh at the party and at the bar, he didn't come over to join my conversations, but rather, I joined his. Also, he spent more time with other women at the bar than with our group. But all was made clear when, at one point, we were standing next to each other, but his attention was on a thin blonde nearby.

"So ... you like skinny white chicks?" I asked.

"Yep," he replied with a nod and a smile. A refreshingly pithy response, actually.

And ... that was that. I'm not skinny, or white. I will never be skinny, or white. I looked really good that night, and conversation flowed smoothly, but if I'm not his type, there's nothing I could do, you know?

I think a lot of women beat themselves up when something like this happens. I know I used to. You think that, because a certain man isn't attracted to you, there has to be something wrong with you. You must've said the wrong thing. Wore the wrong outfit. If only you were prettier, smarter, skinnier, taller, funnier. The truth of the matter is, it's not even about you, really. We all like what we like. Just because one particular man isn't attracted to you, that doesn't mean all men feel the same way. But I think that some women (and men, too, don't wanna leave you out) take a lack of interest personally, when they shouldn't.

So I shrugged off the sexy neighbor. There's plenty of men who do like non-skinny, non-white chicks. Of that, I'm sure.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Speaking the language of love

Let’s play a little relationship multiple choice.

I feel most loved when the important people in my life:

(a) don’t hesitate to show affection through all sorts of physical manifestations – hugging, kissing, whatever … depending on the person and our relationship.

(b) tell me that they love me and offer other encouraging words. I need to hear it before I can feel it.

(c) stop their busy lives for a little while to talk, walk, go to a movie – doesn’t matter much the activity, as long as we’re spending time together. I crave that connection.

(d) gives me gifts when I don’t expect them – they’re not always expensive, but they’re always thoughtful.

(e) does things for me – washes my car, gives me a shoulder rub after a long day at work, cooks me a great meal. It’s always things that make my life easier or more enjoyable.

Got your answer?

Then you’re on your way to understanding the five love languages as conceived by Gary Chapman, author of a series of books that started with "The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate." His theory is that people give and receive love in five ways: through (a) physical touch; (b) words of affirmation; (c) quality time; (d) gifts; and (e) acts of service. You can love someone so much it hurts -- but he won’t feel it if you don’t show that love using his love language.

I’m fairly certain I’m an E, though A probably runs a close second most days. And my husband has figured it out without reading a book – when I’m stalking around in a foul mood, he’ll tell me to soak in a bubble bath while he cleans up the kitchen after dinner. (Or is that code for go soak your head?)

Can’t hone in on just one love language? Could be that you speak several very strongly. Could be that your love language changes depending on the person you’re with, or that your love language has changed over time.

Or could be you’re just high-maintenance. Let your friends, family and significant others be warned.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Concessions to manhood

My friend and her husband couldn't beat the prospects: Spontaneous sex without the hassle of birth control. No reaching for a condom. No taking a daily pill that caused less-than-sexy mood swings. (My friend has a health condition that makes life with her an amusing little roller coaster without the help of synthetic hormones, thank you very much.)

However, the dream required a little outpatient medical procedure. For her husband. And first, he had to clear the huge emotional hurdle that the specter of a vasectomy can create.

And she had to help him.

He approached the procedure as a challenge to his masculinity, his role as chief breadwinner and head of household.

The problem: She’s strong-willed and independent – and she doesn’t hesitate to tell you if she thinks you’re acting stupid. Which is what she called her husband when, leading up to his surgery, he started picking at her for not consulting him on every decision she made. (Roll your eyes here.)

So, to maintain peace in her family – and to ensure she’d never have to dial-a-pill again – she had to sublimate her living-out-loud personality for a while. She had to show her husband that she needed him, despite what the doctor snipped.

Which is where the story gets amusing.

Leading up to her husband’s appointment with the knife, my friend started inventing ways to make her man feel, well, manly.

She called to ask him how to open the garage door when the power was out – even though she knew full well how to pull the chain. She sought his advice on how to get their toddler daughter’s hair cut. She consulted him about the grocery list.

She succeeded. The arguing stopped. He got the snip.

And since I wasn’t on the receiving end of that procedure, I don’t know that I’m qualified to pass judgment on the lengths it took to get it done. But my friend and her husband should be home-free.

If she can convince him to schedule the follow-up appointment – to ensure it all worked.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Someone new to relate

Deirdre: I've got a treat for you, Relate readers: the addition of a new writer! Her name is Alicia Roberts, and she works with me here at the Observer. As you will soon see for yourselves, she's smart, sassy, sexy and full of opinions about everything relationship related. Say hello to the readers, Alicia! (And readers, you be nice to her.)

Hey there. I might be full of opinions, but I'm no expert, as you'll find out all too soon. But a wise colleague once advised me that it's good to know your limitations.

Amen to that! And speaking of limitations, my former co-writer, Jason Benavides, recognized his. Jason realized his life is too crammed to squeeze in writing time, so Miss Alicia is taking his place.

Alicia: I think I have some interesting ideas, and I like the, um, lively conversation Relate readers have been known to start. So gimme feedback. And we'll see how it goes.

Deirdre: This blog started as a platform to discuss all types of relationships -- marriage, friendship, dating, co-workers, etc., and bigger picture topics like race relations and other social issues -- and I'm glad you agree we should keep it that way. But what fascinates you the most about relationships?

Alicia: You know, I'm fascinated in general about interpersonal relationships. I'm kind of a loner by nature and an observer by trade ... so I tend to analyze a lot. And maybe criticize a bit. In private. My husband hears an earful quite a bit. But he's a chatter, so it doesn't bother him.

Deirdre: Alicia and I are going to experiment with a schedule. She'll post Mondays and Wednesdays, I'll post Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we'll post together on Fridays. But since she's new, we'll start her off with her first post tomorrow. So come take a look!

Alicia: Thanks, D. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Best airport for a romantic connection?

Now that the holiday travel season is upon us, you may be dreading waits and delays at airports. But try looking at it from a positive angle. From

"For singles, long airport waits are opportunities for romantic encounters. If history is any guide, Chicago O'Hare will offer plenty of opportunities for singles to meet up and bond over shared trouble. Last winter, O'Hare led the nation's airports in flight delays, with one out of every two flights delayed on average. Midway came in second-place, with one out of every three flights delayed. (Way to go, Chicago!)"

Got a flight scheduled to go through Chicago? Ladies, don't forget your lip gloss. Fellas, leave the stained sweatshirt at home and opt for a nice sweater. Budget Travel continues:

"Romance is in the air when flights get grounded. Consider the results of a survey of 860 travelers last fall by StrategyOne.

'Nearly one in 10 adults has personally gone out or knows someone who has gone out with someone they met at the airport or during a flight. The survey also showed people are taking advantage of their flight time: one-third of adults would rather sit next to someone they find attractive or interesting than have an entire row to themselves.' "

BTW, there are going to be bigger airfare sales this year. Fearing a possible sharp decline in commercial traffic in 2009, the airlines are desperate to fill seats on their planes this holiday season, so they'll be offering rock-bottom prices on flights. You never know -- maybe love really is in the air!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Do men ever ASK to dance?

Over the weekend I hit a club with Nightlife writer and Paid to Party blogger Sarah Aarthun. We were relaxing at the bar when I drew her attention to a dude nearby who thought he was a backup dancer in Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step" video. He obviously thought he was doing something over there.

"Why doesn't he just ask a girl to dance, so everybody can see him?" I asked Sarah.

"Hmm. I don't think men ask women to dance anymore," was her response.

"Really?!" I said, shocked. Then we both got faraway looks in our eyes as we tried to remember the last time a guy had actually asked us to dance, rather than just coming up on the dance floor and joining in.

Sound familiar, ladies? You're getting your groove on, having fun with your girlfriends when suddenly a guy jumps in between you (if he's really foolish, he'll shout, "SANDWICH!") and starts gyrating like mad. Or you're moving to the music, eyes closed, when you feel a unexpected crotch pressed against your backside. Or you're doing your calm version of the "I'm not gonna sweat" dance (every woman has one) when you slowly realize there's a dude right next to you, bumping and grinding and trying to get you pregnant through your clothes.

I brought up the topic with the friend I call Gabrielle, aka, The Club Bunny. She has dubbed the maneuver the "sneak attack."

"It's about fear of rejection," she theorized. "If you ask someone to dance, you give them a verbal chance to say no. But if you just start dancing with them, they have to turn away or walk away from you on the floor, and some might think it's not worth the trouble. Especially if it's their favorite song -- you'll at least get that one dance."

Back to me and Sarah at the club. We're on the dance floor, grooving and laughing, when my favorite jam surfaces in the DJ's mashup: "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. (I'm 38, remember?) With a delighted squeal I start dancing harder. Right then a guy eases past us, headed for the bar. He looks at me, and the next thing I know, I'm in his arms and Sarah's giving me a "didn't I tell you?" look over his shoulder as she dances away.

Weigh in on this, people. Ladies: do men still ask you to dance, or do they mostly employ the sneak attack when you're already on the floor? And how do you feel about it? Fellas: Do you ask women to dance, or move in when you see the goofy "This. Is. MY. JAM!" smile spread across their face?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A pastor's seven-day sex challenge

Have you heard about this? The pastor of a Dallas-area megachurch says that, during this Sunday's sermon, he's gonna challenge his married congregants to have sex for seven straight days.

The Rev. Ed Young, 47, said he believes society promotes promiscuity and he wants to reclaim sex for married couples. Sex should be a nurturing, spiritual act that strengthens marriages, he added.

"God says sex should be between a married man and a woman," Young said. "I think it's one of the greatest things you can do for your kids because so goes the marriage, so goes the family."

He plans to deliver his challenge while sitting on a bed in front of his congregation. (Oooh, kinky! Imagine the fantasies he'll inspire.) Also, he and his wife of 26 years will participate in the challenge themselves. They have four kids; no word on if they'll be trying for a fifth.

Which, BTW, makes me wonder: Is it OK to have sex with your spouse if you use contraception? And what if you have a long-term partner, but you're not married -- is it permissible to have sex with them? And I suppose that anyone who is just dating, or gay and has sex is gonna be punished in the hereafter?

The "having sex every night for so many days" idea is nothing new; a Charlotte woman wrote a book about having sex with her husband every day for a year. And while I support the basic idea behind these challenges -- physical intimacy leads to a deeper bond, a greater understanding of each other -- it chafes me that they're limited to married couples. As if people can't be committed without marriage.

Even so, in any kind of relationship sex can fall by the wayside through no fault of the people involved. If it takes a week of physical intimacy to kickstart desire, it's not such a hard cross to bear.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obamas a fine example of a fine marriage

Anyone paying attention to the state of America today knows what a hot mess President-elect Obama will have to deal with when he takes office in January. I keep coming back to the same thought when I consider the rough road ahead:

Thank goodness he has Michelle.

We'll never know what's really going on in the Obama marriage, but they present a picture of a strong, healthy partnership that I don't think is being faked. Lord knows they'll need it now more than ever.

I followed the entire presidential race, -- yep, almost two years -- and one of the aspects I found myself focusing on was the interaction between the candidates and their spouses. For instance, I became fixated on catching a glimpse of Hillary and Bill Clinton in a full-bodied hug, or seeing them peck on the lips instead of his lips brushing her cheek (I saw neither). And people might call Cindy McCain a robot, but I saw the affectionate glances she tossed her husband's way, and the blue steel of her gaze when she felt insulted on his behalf.

Say what you will about Barack and Michelle Obama -- and plenty people have -- but can there be any doubt that they are a man and woman in love? They're each other's biggest fan. There's an easy intimacy about them that is inspiring. He often refers to her as the love of his life, and sometimes when they're together you get the feeling that at that moment, it's only the two of them, and nothing else matters.

And how did they spend their Friday morning? At a parent-teacher conference at their girls' school. On Halloween, Barack the Dad walked 7-year-old Sasha to a party as Secret Service agents followed at a respectful distance. Even though Michelle the Mom will be First Lady, she has vowed to attend dance recitals and anything else her kids want her there for.

I think the Obamas offer a fine example of what a happy, healthy marriage looks like. There's obvious respect, support and communication there, and a sense that it's a partnership where both sides hold up their end of the bargain and have each other's back. And frankly, I'll feel better knowing my president is happily married and less likely to spend his time trying to get a little something on the side. That way, he can focus on more important things ... like being the leader of the free world.

Monday, November 03, 2008

If sex was for sale, would women buy?

The New York Times ran a provocative piece last week about the conversation France is having about female sexuality. It was sparked by the popularity of the movie "Cliente," about a hard-charging, 51-year-old divorcee who wants good sex without strings and is willing to pay good money for it.

Director and author Josiane Balasko, 58, wanted to shatter a long-held taboo in France and to send a positive message to middle-aged women who find themselves alone and wanting sexual fulfillment.

“Prostitution is the last sexual territory owned by men,” Balasko said in an interview. “Men are in control of pleasure and have the right to buy it. Women do not. A lot of my friends are alone, lonely, divorced. They can’t always reinvent themselves with another man and a new family. So I decided to show a female client of a male escort. She’s not a victim. She is a woman who is in control of her life, her feelings, her sexual pleasure.”

Although there are ads for male escorts on the Internet in France, the concept of a woman paying for sex is still a taboo. “If a woman agrees to pay a man for sex, she’s a whore,” said Pascal Bruckner, an intellectual and novelist who has written extensively about sexuality. “If a man pays a woman for sexual services in France, it’s accepted. It’s one of the strange flaws of feminism.”

Historically, the French are much less conflicted than Americans when it comes to sex, so if France is struggling with this topic, can you imagine a national conversation about sexual mores in the U.S.? We can't even talk about sex education or sexual health without people having hissy fits and trying to legislate sexual behavior.

But still ... if prostitution were legal in more states than Nevada and Rhode Island, and you didn't have to go to a brothel to get it, I bet a lot of women would pony up for a few hours of service. (Legalized prostitution has mandatory STD testing, unlike the dudes you pick up at a bar). An attractive man who will cater to your every whim sexually? Whose only goal is to satisfy you, and you don't have to go through an online dating service, or blind date or any kind of date at all -- you just get what you want and go your separate merry ways? Sounds pretty good.

There are times when women, like men, just want sex. It's a natural drive. The sooner we all accept that, the healthier our cultures -- here and France and everywhere else - will be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gotta love friends

Hi, guys. Sorry I've been MIA; I was on vacation and determined to stay away from the computer. But now I'm back in the saddle. Hope you've had a great couple weeks!

Here's a text conversation between me and my friend Gabrielle, she of the sex party I told you about. A little background: I've had my eye on a certain bartender for awhile now, and I've been trying to decide if I want make a move. As you'll see, the fates haven't been in my favor.

Me: Went to bar; lusty bartender off. 3rd time this happened. i think its a sign i shuldnt mess wid him. (yes, I'm wordy, even in text messages -- I'm a writer; what do you expect?)

Gabrielle: U are being melodramatic.

Me: is there any other way to be?

Gabrielle: not really! :) all my friends live with exclamation points.

Friends -- they talk you down off the ledge when you're overreacting and love you for who you are.

If anything happens with the hot bartender, I'll let you know.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Google helps avoid drunk e-mailing

Haven't we all sent messages we later regretted? Google has launched a new feature to combat a particularly disastrous form of e-mailing: late-night drunk typing.

I found out about this on the blog at Good Vibrations (it's great site that sells sex toys and adult videos, but there's also lots of good information about sexual health and other issues). The idea is that when you’ve been partying, you’re less likely to be both willing and able to do simple math problems. So if you enable Mail Goggles (its like beer goggles, but in reverse), Gmail will make you solve some math before you can send your e-mail. Here's what it looks like:

By default, it’s active on weekend late nights since that’s when most people may need it. But if you like to get your drink on in the afternoon, you can set it for any time of day.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Are they lying? Listen to body language

People lie. The lies may be small and harmless, or they may be big and serious. But even the little ones can be destructive in a relationship if they're frequent. So how do you know if you're being hoodwinked? Well, what does your gut tell you? Pay attention to it. Also, body language can be a dead giveaway. According to The Nest, here's six of the most common physical indications of deception. (Not included: wide "who, me?" eyes, which is an oldie but a goodie.) While one or two are likely meaningless, if you see enough of them repeatedly, you should probably be concerned.

1. Covering the mouth while talking. It's as if they're subconsciously repressing the untruths they're spouting. It may be as blatant as completely concealing the mouth or as subtle as a single finger placed in front of the lips.

2. Touching the nose. Scientists have found that lying can cause the tissue in the nose to swell, meaning that a quick stroke could be a sign of deceit (or that it's allergy season).

3. Rubbing an eye. When lying to someone, the instinct is to look away in shame. Since that's a dead giveaway, many people content themselves with a fast wipe of the peepers.

4. Touching an ear. Just as you're supposed to see no evil, you should hear no evil as well. These nervous gestures can range from a small rub of the back of the ear to an outright yank of the ear lobe.

5. Going for the neck. Research has found lying can cause a tingling in the tissues of the neck, leading to scratching or pulling the collar. It signals that the speaker is feeling uncertainty, so be concerned if you see it right after your woman announces, "Of course this Prada dress was on the sales rack at TJ Maxx."

6. Shaking the head no while saying yes. If he says, "Yep, I'm getting home late because I have a big assignment to finish" while nodding his head, he's working late. If he sends the mixed message of saying yes while shaking his head no, check the strip clubs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Enjoy a corny love moment

There's a blog -- -- where you can go and declare your love for all to see. You can write a love note, post a photo, record a song or recite your favorite sonnet, then post it on the blog. Link your post through one of the networking options and your message will go even further.

The blog was created by a 30-year-old guy in Portugal who hopes to reach 1 million posts. When I looked, it hovered around 900, so he has a ways to go. The posts are from all over; I read notes from the Ukraine, Malawi (where Madonna adopted her youngest kid), Spain, Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, France, the U.K., New Jersey, California and more. Many were from young lovers; I saw a creepy message that included the book cover for "I Know You Really Love Me: A Psychiatrist's Account of Stalking and Obsessive Love." I have one word for the recipient of that missive: RUN!

To me, the most touching notes were from children to their mothers and from moms to their kids. One poster offered a message to "Everyone": "Tell people you love them today. You never know when you may see them again. (And don't forget about animals, too!)"

Got a minute? Why not go tell someone you love them?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

You won't get lucky with these lines

Ran across a delightful short by's Kate Harding with some serious dating don'ts: things guaranteed to not get you laid. You'll have to admit, her list is pretty good:

1. Don't tell me on a first date about the time you were tested for chlamydia (because you found out your high school girlfriend was "a bit of a skank") and go on to describe in loving detail the sensation of a medical-grade Q-tip being inserted into your penis.

2. When informed that I have an autistic nephew, don't respond with, "Well, at least when he gets older, you can take him to Vegas, right?"

3. Do not bring red roses to a woman on the first date. This is not an adorably romantic gesture. This is creepy as all hell.

4. Do not tell me that despite your being in your early 30s, most of your friends are in their early 20s, because "they just get you better."

5. Do not attempt to impress me by speaking Spanish to a waitress, if you don't actually speak Spanish.

6. Do not call out, as you watch my ass while I walk to the washroom, "You know, you're not really that fat. You're, like, thick at best."

7. When I say, "Hey, you know, my friends will make sure I get home OK, so you can feel free to go," do not interpret this as an invitation to stay.

Can you top Kate's list?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An experience not all it's sexed up to be

Those naughty things we're not supposed to do, but want to anyway -- are they really all that great?

I was going through a stack of books when I came upon "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (And How to Do Them)" by Peter Sagal. I meant to tell you guys about this book when I read it awhile back, and to share a personal story. No time like the present!

"The Book of Vice" is a fun read, although, depending on your comfort level with the subject matter, is of questionable naughtiness. "Somewhere, somebody is having more fun than you are. Or everyone believes," begins the book jacket blurb. "Peter Sagal, a mild-mannered, Harvard-educated NPR host -- the man who put the second 'L' in 'vanilla' -- decided to find out if it's true." So for the book Sagal visited a porn set, strip clubs, gambling halls, and a swingers club to see if they were all we've been made to believe they are. And you know what he found out? They're not.

Let me tell you that story, because I think it illustrates Sagal's point really well. A few years ago, one of my best friends and her roommate went to an orgy. For real. There's a house in San Francisco where every third Tuesday of the month or something, people show up to have sex with strangers. Well, my friend's roommate was invited to attend and after talking it over with my friend, they both agreed they were too curious not to go.

So they get to this house and find out they're required to check their clothes at the door. They stripped down to their intimates - my friend's in a lace teddy, her roommate's got on a matching bra-and-panty number trimmed in fur (because of that fur from now on I'll refer to her as "Xena" and my friend as "Gabrielle"). Since the majority of the people walking around were naked, they felt decidedly overdressed. But they took a deep breath and entered the fray.

At this point in the tale I admit I was pouting, because I hadn't been asked to go along. I'm just as nosy as they are! But as the story went on, I found myself thanking my friend for sparing me the horror.

OK. They leave their clothes and start wandering. The house had a couple floors and something different sexually was going on in every room. There was a room for food, but it had all been scarfed down. Bowls of condoms everywhere. Lots of nekkidness and lots of sex, but Xena and Gabrielle were surprised at the number of people they didn't find attractive. Weren't parties like this populated by young, hot people?

Overwhelmed, Xena and Gabrielle cowered in a corner of an orgy room -- after a discussion about if it was hygienically safe to sit there. Gabrielle heard "May I give you a massage?" from behind her, and turned to find a smiling naked man. Apparently, the big rule at this kind of shindig is that you're not allowed to touch people without their permission, so the "massage" line is often used. It's code for "hey, wanna have sex?" Gabrielle told me she nearly shrieked, "DON'T TOUCH ME!!" but managed to calm it down into a simple "no, thank you," and grabbed Xena and fled. In the hallway, they ran into an equally mortified-looking pair of young guys, clad in pajama pants and sweats. They, too, were ridiculously overdressed. The quartet commiserated about the lack of sexy people and stuck together until the smell (Gabrielle said the odor of the different and numerous body fluids was overpowering) got to them and they left.

When Gabrielle told me her story, she said she was glad she went, but sad as well. In no way did the experience live up to its naughty allure, and it left her feeling disappointed and kinda dirty.

So she could well relate to "Book of Vice" author Sagal as he wrapped up his trips to the dark, indulgent and kinky sides of human nature. "God knows there are people who are having more fun that you, who are having more and better and frequent and more gymnastic sex than you are, who are enjoying adrenaline thrills and indulgences you can't even imagine," he wrote. "But you have one thing in common with those people: They, too, are wondering if there's something they're missing."

My friend Gabrielle is now content to keep wondering. After hearing her story, I think I am, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Poll: Lots of couples clash over clutter

Since I'm in a numbers mood, here's another stat: More than eight in 10 couples view unused items lying around the house as a source of tension in their relationships.

According to, a free local classifieds Web site, 81% of Americans in relationships own items they’d love to throw away but can’t, because their significant others insist on keeping them. Sound familiar?

The poll says there are about 35 unused items in every household, on which each consumer has spent over $3,600. And it’s not just women hanging on to outfits they're sure will fit again one day; the poll found 31% of men are clogging the closets with old clothes.

Good luck streamlining your lives, couples. If you do get into an argument, remember there's always hot makeup sex.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

State of singles in America

Guess what? This is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. "National Singles Week" was started by the Buckeye Singles Council in Ohio in the 1980s to celebrate single life and recognize singles and their contributions to society. The week is now widely observed during the third full week of September as "Unmarried and Single Americans Week," an acknowledgment that many unmarried Americans do not identify with the word "single" because they are parents, have partners or are widowed. Here's some illuminating statistics about us singletons, courtesy of the Census Bureau:

92 million: Number of unmarried Americans 18 and older in 2006. This group comprised 42 percent of all U.S. residents 18 and older.

54%: Percentage of unmarried Americans 18 and older who are women.

60%: Percentage of unmarried Americans 18 and older who have never been married.
Another 25 percent are divorced, and 15 percent are widowed.

15 million: Number of unmarried Americans 65 and older. These older Americans comprise
16 percent of all unmarried and single people 18 and older.

86: Number of unmarried men 18 and older for every 100 unmarried women in the United States.

50.7 million: Number of households maintained by unmarried men or women. These households comprise 44 percent of households nationwide.

30.5 million: Number of people who live alone. They comprise 27 percent of all households, up from 17 percent in 1970.

35%: Percentage of births in the last 12 months, as of 2006, to women who either were separated, widowed, divorced or never married. Of these 1.5 million unmarried mothers, 199,000 were living with an unmarried partner.

12.9 million: Number of single parents living with their children in 2006. Of these, 10.4 million were single mothers.

733,000: Number of unmarried grandparents who were caregivers for their grandchildren in 2006. They comprised about three in 10 grandparents who were responsible for their grandchildren.

6 million: Number of unmarried-partner households in 2006. These include 5.2 million of the opposite sex and 780,000 of the same sex.

904: The number of dating service establishments nationwide as of 2002. These establishments, which include Internet dating services, employed nearly 4,300 people and generated $489 million in revenues.

36%: Percentage of voters in the 2004 presidential election who were unmarried.

83%: Percentage of unmarried people 25 and older in 2007 who were high school graduates.

24%: Percentage of unmarried people 25 and older in 2007 with a bachelor's degree or more education.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ad shocking ... in a good way

I was bored and flipping through the TV channels when I saw a commercial that made my jaw drop. It was for Trojan's Vibrating Touch, a fingertip massager that ... ahem, gives women pleasure.

It wasn't the massager that shocked me, but the fact that there was a commercial on television advertising it. Sure, it was almost 2 in the morning, but the ad was on AMC, no less! (I would think Bravo or FX, but there it was ...)

A tasteful commercial is a leap forward in taking some of the mystery and stigma away from sex toys. Trojan has done a nice job of mainstreaming sexual aids with its Elexa line for women, and this toy is a logical step. I think it's great that more women and couples can see, even if it's on late-night cable TV, that not only is it OK to be interested in sex toys, but you can have attractive and affordable ones of your own. And that no, it doesn't make you a perv!

Friday, September 05, 2008

'Tis the (football) season

My favorite season is finally here: Football Season! It's about time -- I've been entirely too productive on Sundays. Now painting the kitchen will have to wait until February.

I have the luxury of a girlfriend who also loves football. Nothing's perfect, though; she's from Pennsylvania and a Philadelphia Eagles fan and I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan. If you know anything about football, you know those teams mix like oil and water. I know I'm not alone in this situation so I've got a few tips to help get through the season.

Find some common ground and cheer for the home team. What would I do without the Panthers? We can both scream and cheer without penalty and check the scores of favorite teams at commercial breaks. And if your team plays a late game, there's a chance your spouse will be passed out in a pool of beer and nachos by then.

Join a Fantasy Football league that both of you can be in. Playing god with football players is fun. Trade 'em, start 'em, sit 'em ... you'll get more familiar with the game this way. Plus, it's kind of a turn-on when your girlfriend rattles off stats about San Diego's defense. (Is that weird?) Try to pick up a player from your partner's favorite team so maybe you can stomach watching them play. All it takes is one fantasy kicker to make an uninteresting game worthwhile.

Just accept it. It may have broken my dad's heart to tell him I'm dating a Philly fan, but I'm not gonna dump her because of it. (If she was a Patriots fan, maybe.) Team apparel makes for a good birthday gift and traveling to watch either of your teams play makes for a great weekend getaway. Last year my girlfriend bought me tickets to watch KU play in the Orange Bowl at Miami. That was an awesome gift idea!

Hopefully, my advice will help. You can apply it to almost any other sport, too. If you don't think it's possible for rivalry couples to prevail, a friend from Chicago recently married his Green Bay lovin' girlfriend. So, yes, differences can be set aside.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

10 date night ideas under $15

Unless you're a believer in the "no dating" method of saving money, here are some recession-proof date night ideas, courtesy of The Nest ( Yeah, they're cheesy, but they'll help you think cheap.

Here's an idea for some delicious and caliente amusement.

— Novelty sombreros: $10
— Chips and salsa: $5
— Doing the Mexican Hat Dance naked in said novelty sombreros: hilarious
Total: $15

Positioning you and your sweetie on opposing teams makes for an excellent grudge match and great make-up sex later on.

— Kickball: $5
— Big grassy field: free
— BYOB: whatever you've got at the house
— Cotton T-shirts and markers (clearly you need team jerseys): $2/each if you get at least 12
— Losers buy the pizza: makes things much more interesting
Total: around $10/person

While it's odd to say that dogs once epitomized romance, we loved the scene at the Italian restaurant in “Lady and the Tramp.” Skip the pricey pasta and opt for the cheaper (and cheesier!) pizza instead. Kissing isn't optional.

— 2 slices of pizza: $5
— 2 glasses of wine: $4
— Ice cream for 2: $6
Total: $15

She loves “Project Runway” for the fashion and drama, he loves it for, well, Heidi Klum. Combine your passion for fashion and fun and then take it all off at home.

— Trying on ridiculous outfits at a vintage store: free
— Disposable camera: $6
— Incriminating pictures: priceless
Total: $6

Miss the wild abandon of your college days? Have the gang over for beers and movie but save the make out session for later.

— Renting “Old School”: $5
— Inviting your friends over: free
— Going really old school and having people throw in beer money at the door: awesome
— Going streaking through the quad: optional
— Popcorn for 20: $10
Total: $15

Like our love lives, it's easy to overlook the beautiful things that happen around us everyday. Watch the sun go down and then share a kiss under the stars.

— Blanket to sit on: $6
— Sunglasses: $2/each at your local drugstore
— Lemonade: $1/each
Total: $12

When it's done right, poetry can express love like no other medium. Remember Byron's “She walks in beauty like night?” Well, bad poetry can be just as evocative and downright hilarious.

— Berets: $10
— Espresso: $5
— Trying to out-do one another with cheesy, horrific poetry about your love for one another: awesome
Total: $15

Not all dates have to be steamy! Simply spending time together is what dating is all about. Pick a beautiful day to sit on a bench in a park and marvel at the wonders and freaks! of nature.

— Bottle of wine: $8
— Plastic cups: $3
— Bench: free
— Marveling at the wonders of the public: more fun than you think
Total: $11

We'll let the Wikipedia entry for edible underwear speak for itself on this one: “Edible underwear is a type of undergarment that is formed of an edible material which can be consumed by the partner during sexual activity. In this case, pleasure is heightened by undressing the partner with the mouth. However, this sort of underwear is often given as a gag to friends …”

— Edible panties: $6
— Kama Sutra booklet: $5
— Keeping information about the number of positions you try to yourselves: please do
Total: $11

Hot tubs are overrated! There's fun to be had in your very own bathroom. Rub-a-dub-dub, keep it sexy in the tub.

— Luxurious bath soap and salts: $8
— Back-massaging Loofah: $5
— Getting clean and being dirty at the same time: sexy
Total: $13

Friday, August 15, 2008

High school, 20 years later

When I walked into my 20-year high school reunion over the weekend, I almost immediately saw one of my best friends from the era. He's rail thin and (maybe) comes up to my shoulder. He ignored my delighted hello and took my purse away from me and tossed it on a nearby table. While I was asking about my purse, he snatched me into his arms, whipped my protesting body down into a dramatic dip, aaaaand ... he slipped and dropped me on the floor.

Deirdre McGruder, welcome to your reunion!!

The accident happened early enough in the evening that not many people saw it, and even so, I wasn't really upset. In a perverse sort of way, it wouldn't have been my reunion if something potentially horrific hadn't occurred.

The rest of the night went well, big crowd. (True confession time: I had hoped that one guy in particular would show up, but he didn't. It was probably for the best.) My class turned out interestingly enough -- we had a pro football player who played in a Super Bowl, a Navy deep-sea diver, a guy who moved to New Orleans to help with Katrina recovery, at least one recovering drug addict, a former stripper, and one dude who came out after college and brought his partner with him. (They wore matching shirts and by the end of the evening I was doing the bump with the partner out on the dance floor.) The women aged remarkably well; the men, not so much. People milled about, high school cliques for the most part ignored.

Here's the weird thing: I was at the bar when the guy voted "still the class clown" that night came up with the guy who was voted "cutest" back in high school (he held up fabulously, BTW -- still cute). Turns out I was standing next to the cute guy's wife. They both joked about how the wife had to be careful with me, because I was mean -- I was painfully shy in high school and cold indifference was my defense mechanism, but I was still surprised that's how they remembered me. We were all laughing when the cutie leaned in to his wife.

"Here's the weird thing," he said as put he put a hand on my shoulder. "We never spoke in high school. I knew her name, I knew who she was, but we never said a word to each other."

"That was your fault!" I protested, still laughing.

His smile faded as he straightened and looked into my eyes. "It was both our faults."

I opened my mouth for a smart-aleck retort, and closed it just as quickly. "You're right," I finally said, because it was true. A simple "hi" from either of us back then and we might've been friends.

Later, I was talking to the chick voted "best looking" 20 years ago. We weren't in the same social circle then, but we chatted easily now. When I mentioned her class title, she shook her head and said, "I don't know what people saw back then." She was beautiful then and is just as beautiful now, but didn't seem to believe it. Isn't it amazing that we sometimes see ourselves so differently than others see us?

When the reunion went more than an hour past its scheduled time, I decided to skip the after-parties and opted for late-night eats back in my hotel room. While I enjoyed seeing everyone, I'd had my fill. I also knew nothing good would come of more alcohol and memories.

Turns out I was correct. My friend -- the one who dropped me at the beginning of the evening -- called me in the morning to fill me in. The party crowd moved on to a bar, closed it down, then transferred to a dance club. As the night wore on, people grew maudlin and wistful. The girl voted most likely to succeed in high school had repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) hit on the guy voted "most changed" that night; he was a former geek who'd morphed into a laid-back, good looking man comfortable in his own skin. She was later seen crying on a street corner, reluctant to say goodbye to old friends. The (ex) stripper, surgically altered, deeply tanned and obviously high, kept referring to a former band nerd as her "reunion boyfriend." The ex-band nerd was married, but didn't bring his wife. They were walked to their respective cars to make sure they didn't leave together. As my friend put it: "maybe you don't want to throw away 10 years of a marriage for a shot at the girl you couldn't have in high school."

Or maybe you do and need to be saved from yourself.

People at the reunion were at different stages in their lives, and some needed it more than others. Many were curious and just wanted to see how we'd all turned out. I count myself in that group. It was nice to visit the past for an evening ... but even nicer to return to the life I have now!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Facebook, MySpacers 'can't form relationships'?

I stumbled upon this article on a message board. It made me curious:

Facebook and MySpace generation 'cannot form relationships'

Here's an excerpt.

Dr. Himanshu Tyagi, a psychiatrist at West London Mental Health Trust, said social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have fostered the idea that relationships and friendships can be formed and destroyed quickly and easily.

"... It's a world where everything moves fast and changes all the time, where relationships are quickly disposed at the click of a mouse, where you can delete your profile if you don't like it and swap an unacceptable identity in the blink of an eye for one that is more acceptable.

"People used to the quick pace of online social networking may soon find the real world boring and unstimulating, potentially leading to more extreme behaviour to get that sense."

He said teenagers who socialise online put less value on their "real world" selves which puts them at risk of impulsive and even suicidal behaviour. They may be less able to form relationships as they do not learn the physical clues involved with communication including body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.

That last sentence really spoke to me because it's one of the main reasons I don't like online dating sites. Not only do you not know who you're talking to, but you can't see the effect your words have on them and they can't see how what they say effects you.

The article isn't all doom and gloom; for example, online communication can strip away geographical boundaries and there's less discrimination as race, gender and wealth have less meaning. But still ...

What do you think? Are online networking sites chipping away at our ability to communicate?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Edwards mess: People really think like this?

After returning from a trip down to Alabama this weekend for my 20-year high school reunion (I'll fill you in on that later), I was cleaning out my e-mail when I came across this from a co-worker:

"This is one of the comments on the Edwards story," she wrote. "It disgusts me."

Here's the comment:

"Big deal. The guy got a little outside action. I'm sure he loves his wife and kid and he is concerned about his wife's medical condition. Nothing wrong with cheating on your wife, just don't bring any STDs or unwanted babies home. I'm sure he paid the woman money, paid her rent, gave her hush money, etc. I'm sure she knew he was married. Get all you can Mr. Edwards, just be a little more careful next time."

Get all you can, Mr. Edwards? Are you kidding me?

I want someone to please explain this statement to me: "Nothing wrong with cheating on your wife." How can there be nothing wrong with betraying the trust of someone you supposedly love?

Readers, do you agree with this commenter? Is cheating on your spouse OK, as long as you don't bring home diseases and babies ... and you don't get caught?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Unsafe sex 'the new engagement ring'?

Hey, guys! I'm back from mourning the blog loss (sob!) of Alisha Hord, co-founder of We Can Relate. She has moved on to another gig, as most of us are wont to do, and I wish her and her hubby Richard all the best. Peace out, sister.

And now I've returned with lots of stuff for us to talk about! Let's start with a little day brightener (NOT!), courtesy of

"Pendarvis Harshaw, an Oakland (Calif.)-based teen, recently sparked a slew of controversy with his public radio essay which stated that in his social circle, 'sex without a condom is the new engagement ring.' "

Yeah, parents. Shudder at the thought. Trendcentral continues:

"(Harshaw) said that for a generation who has grown up with safe sex education and divorced parents, the real symbol of trust, love and commitment has nothing to do with walking down the aisle; the ultimate oath is letting your guard down in the face of potentially life-long consequences. While we don't condone this behavior, or claim that such activity is true across the board (hey, the Jonas Brothers are still wearing their purity rings), we have been hearing from young people that safety and protection -- both physical and emotional -- are the issues that concern them most about relationships and dating."

Man, oh man, oh man.

Just because those cute Jonas Brothers boys wear those rings, that doesn't stop them from being the biggest gigolos on Nickelodeon. They probably aren't, but I'm just sayin'. And once again, I'm thankful not to be the parent of a teenager, because that has got to be the hardest job there is. How do you convince a 16-year-old in the throes of first love that using condoms IS the best way to express that love? Not only are you protecting yourself, but your beloved from unplanned pregnancies and STDs. (Have you seen this week's news about AIDS? And NPR's "Talk of the Nation" had a segment yesterday that'll make you want to go get an HIV test right now. Remember: It's not how much sex you've had, but who you've had sex with. Public Service Announcement over.)

I believe that safety and protection are the issues that most concern teens about dating and relationships; after all, they're pressing issues for us adults as well. But having unprotected sex -- at no matter what age -- flies in the face of such concerns. You're just opening yourself up to a whole new mess of worries.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My parting words for my last blog

Almost two years ago, Deirdre and I started "We Can Relate."

The title of my first entry was: "My parting words for my first blog."

The title for this one? Seems logical to go with "last blog."

Sunday was my final day as a journalist with and The Charlotte Observer.

I've moved on to a new job -- I'm now an Associate News Editor for -- and with my new gig comes the issue of saying goodbye to this blog and to the loyal readers who kept us on our toes and fed us with some great insight into their own relationship struggles, moments and victories.

I cannot give you all hugs (big embraces rock) and I cannot write each of you a personal letter (hand-written notes rule), but I can say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Oh, and if you read my very first blog (see link above), then this should make sense:

I love you, Charlotte.

Monday, July 21, 2008

If you left, what would you take?

While I was out for a walk today I listened to a podcast of NPR's "Fresh Air," featuring an interview with Rhett Miller, singer and songwriter for the band Old 97's.

During the interview, host Terry Gross asked Miller to recall his experiences on Sept. 11, 2001. Miller and his wife lived only a couple blocks from the Twin Towers in New York. Miller described going up to his apartment building's rooftop and seeing the first tower on fire, and people falling from above. He and his wife rushed back down to their apartment, only to be engulfed in smoke when that building fell. They managed to get away just before the second building fell, then, two months later, were allowed back into their apartment for five minutes as a National Guardsman watched from the doorway, machine gun in hand. Miller described his wife standing their closet holding six or seven pairs of high heels, crying. She was overwhelmed, and couldn't decide which pairs to take. Miller reminded her there was a man with a gun waiting on them and grabbed his guitar.

The interview got me thinking: If I had to leave my house in a hurry, what would I take? The first two things that popped into my mind were my cat, which didn't surprise me, and my passport, which did. But then it didn't. There are family keepsakes I would mourn the loss of, but most items -- clothes, furniture, etc. -- can be replaced. I've never really been big on collecting photographs or souvenirs; memories of life experiences are more important to me. So the gut reaction of grabbing my passport reinforces how important the ability to travel and gather more life experiences is to me.

What about you? If you had to leave NOW, other than your purse/wallet and family members, what would you take with you?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Perfecting the art of cuddling

A little quibble that my husband and I seem to have ... OK, OK, it's more an issue I constantly bring up (happy, dear?), is the fact we don't cuddle when we're asleep.

We have a king-sized bed, and every morning I find myself on the Antarctica side of the bed while he's camped out in Greenland territory. I've always thought it romantic to wake up in the arms of my husband, but alas, it just never happens.

In my search to see if cuddling is an issue in most relationships, I dug up this comical YouTube video (above) on the "art" of cuddling.

Do most of you couples out there fall asleep and then wake up with arms and legs interlocked? Or, are my husband and I not alone when it comes to waking up facing opposing bedroom walls?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Use Internet to research your dates?

The dreaded first date just ended. It went smoothly and you’re kicking yourself for being nervous. But before you pick up the cell to inform that handsome fella or gorgeous gal what a lovely time you had staring into their eyes … you first turn on your laptop.

That’s right. It’s time to get ol' Google rollin’ because you’ve got work to do.

With the onslaught of social networking sites, powerful search engine capabilities and access to more personal information than ever before, it seems more and more single people are flocking to the Internet to do their own “background checks” on potential dates.

I’ve talked with several singles lately that have uncovered startling facts just by spending a little time online, including: arrest records, messy divorce cases, children, spouses who are current and holes in people’s stories (i.e., he said he graduated from Dartmouth but his Facebook profile has Wake Technical Community College).

Now, I realize it’s been almost eight years since I was single, but I would have never thought to look up a potential significant other to see what I could unearth about his past. Then again, eight years ago in Web years is like when the caveman first rubbed two sticks together.

Are you using Facebook, MySpace, Ning, Twitter, Google, LexisNexis and a bevy of other sites to do background checks on your dates? If you are, and you find out some juicy information, is that a deal-breaker for you or do you bring up your self-explored research to your potential date? Tell us. Enquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Thumbs down for 'How to Be Single'

I was excited when one of the book mavens at the paper came over with a copy of Liz Tuccillo's new novel, "How to Be Single." Tuccillo co-authored the self-help phenomenon "He's Just Not That Into You," and even though I thought she was the book's weak link, and even though I'm not a fan of chick lit, I was still interested. The protagonist is the same age I am and I thought it would be fun to read a single point of view from the same place I'm in.

Here's the first paragraph from the book cover:

"On a brisk October morning in New York, Julie Jensen, a single thirty-eight-year-old book publicist, is on her way to work when she gets a hysterical phone call from her friend Georgia. Reeling from her husband's announcement that he is leaving her for a samba teacher, Georgia convinces a reluctant Julie to organize a fun girls' night out with all their single friends to remind her why it is so much fun not to be tied down."

I shoulda known when I saw "samba teacher."

You guys, I only made it to page 17 -- and that was out of sheer stubbornness. It's obvious Tuccillo got to write this because of the success of "Not Into You." The start of the novel reads like a first draft before the editors get to it. Like she was just writing to get the story idea out of her head and then she'd go back and punch up the prose, but never got around to it. It's a lazy effort. Sophomoric sentences. Non-compelling, cookie-cutter characters. In short: NO.

I think Tuccillo may be felled by what snags lots of other authors: Singlehood is hard to get your arms around. There are so many angles to take and most of them fail. But I've got to hand it to the author -- the main character travels to find out how women around the world are dealing with being single. That means Tuccillo had to travel around the world for "research." I wonder if I could use that trick on my bosses?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hooked on 'Bachelorette'

I have to say, I'm a fan of "The Bachelorette" this season. Unlike the salaciousness of "A Shot at Love II" or the hot mess that is anything Flavor Flav is involved in, this show really seems to have the goal of a real relationship as its outcome. Well, as "real" as a relationship can be in six weeks with camera crews everywhere and 25 men competing for the attention of one woman.

What I like is the bachelorette, DeAnna Pappas, has decided she wants a husband-to-be at the end of this process, and she's let all the guys know it. The woman is 26 and she wants three kids by the time she's 30. She ain't playing around. I believe that people who want to be married and are ready to be married, will be married. Once you've decided, you try to find someone with the same life goals and you figure out if you can embrace the things you like about them and accept the things you don't. Because isn't that what marriage is all about? Love, yes, but also acceptance, understanding and compromise?

I think the most affecting episode happened this week, when DeAnna sent home Graham (pictured), the Raleigh native. Most people watching -- me included -- could sympathize with DeAnna's situation. She was attracted to Graham from the moment they met. She said he made her feel like a giddy schoolgirl. When she was with him, she couldn't keep her hands off him. She said she felt totally comfortable around him. And yet, not only did Graham have a problem with her dating other guys simultaneously (hasn't he ever seen the show?), he also didn't feel comfortable expressing his feelings. There were times it was obvious his mind was teeming with thoughts, but he wouldn't say a word. Total opposite of DeAnna. That standoffishness was probably part of his charm at first, but ultimately DeAnna got rid of him because she couldn't take the chance that he wasn't falling for her right back. (BTW, Graham has pretty much said he wasn't feelin' it, but if that's the case, speak up, dude! Just say you wanted TV exposure! She'd recover and move on!)

Yeah, DeAnna can be self-centered and irritating (alarm bells go off when she talks about the "perfect" life she could have with Jeremy ... or Jason), and yeah, the guys can come off as doofs, and yeah, situations are manufactured for TV. But it's still a fun show to watch, 'cause it's like Dating 101. You see how first impressions really can make or break you. Or if you're a nice person, but you have nothing in common with the one you're dating and there's no chemistry, it's not going anywhere ... and it really may be as simple as "she's just not that into you."

Relationship Mad Lib

Are you tired of playing soduku or Pogo's 'poppit' online? Here’s an entertaining outlet that not only could be rather humorous, but it might also enlighten your partner -- Relationship Mad Lib! As a kid, I loved filling out creative mad libs, (a word game that prompts one to list words for blanks in a story) and who says we can’t still “play” them as adults?

Here’s a mad lib – applicable to either married folks or singles. I’ll paste mine below, and I hope some of you will copy and paste your answers in the comments section. (And, yes, I came up with this on my own!)

Here goes, and oh, have some fun!

Dreaming Up The Perfect Date

If I were to go on a perfect date, I’d love to take ______ (date’s name) to ______ (city name). We would begin our evening by going to a _______ (adjective) restaurant, where we’d eat lots of ______ (food) and ______ (food). Spending the evening ______ (“ing” verb) at ______'s (date's name) ______ (body part, something similar) would definitely top off the best time together. For dessert, I want to take ______ (date’s name) to the fun ______ (place). There, we’ll jump on the large red _______ (noun) and I’ll buy him/her the ______ (adjective) present, such as a ______ (adjective) ______ (noun).
You know, it’s amazing how dating someone so ________ (adjective) and ______ (adjective) can complete me. I’ve always wanted a man/woman who had a large ______ (noun) and who wants to ______ (verb) with me. Our night would end ______ (adverb) with his/her ______ (body part) on my ______ (noun).


Alisha's version:

If I were to go on a perfect date, I’d love to take Richard to Miami. We would begin our evening by going to a semi-fancy restaurant, where we’d eat lots of steak and cheesecake. Spending the evening staring at Richard's smile would definitely top off the best time together. For dessert, I want to take Richard to the fun amusement park. There, we’ll jump on the large red ferris wheel and I’ll buy him/her the biggest present, such as a black gorilla.
You know, it’s amazing how dating someone so compassionate and honest can complete me. I’ve always wanted a man/woman who had a large sense of humor and who wants to laugh with me. Our night would end sweetly with his/her hands on my face.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trend: Divorced couples living together

Gas prices, foreclosures, going green and bad credit are the hot buzzwords of 2008, and in these trying economic times, we’re all going about our lives with a different mindset than we did even five years ago.

One example of the changing times: Divorced couples are living together in the same house because they cannot afford to divide their assets, sell their house and move on.

Last week, The Boston Globe’s Lisa Prevost examined one divorced couple’s experience of trying to sell their home in a down market, all while having to cohabitate with their children.

When I first heard of the article, I immediately thought of a few friends who are in Charlotte and in the same predicament. It’s further proof this dilemma is not confined to just metropolitan cities like Boston, but it is in fact right in our own neighborhoods.

There are so many issues with divorced couples living together – too many to list and everyone’s situation is unique depending on children, finances and other intangibles – that it is hard for me to judge anyone going through it. But there is one important lesson to be gleaned from this new trend: It further enforces the idea that marriage is a long-term commitment and you need to be truly ready to take that step.

Heaven knows you don't want the future to include you living in the basement while your ex resides in the attic.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pregnancy pact reveals underlying issues

Here's a story that'll give you pause: Seventeen girls at Gloucester High School, located in a small Massachusetts fishing town, are pregnant. That's more than four times the number reported last year. The really shocking part is that at least half of those girls apparently made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.

None of the girls is older than 16. One of the fathers is a homeless 24-year-old.

In the story, 18-year-old Amanda Ireland offered her theory on why the girls decided to get pregnant. She had a baby during her freshman year and remembers some of the now-pregnant girls telling her how lucky she was to have a child. "They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally," she said. "I try to explain it's hard to feel loved when an infant is screaming to be fed at 3 a.m."

I find the whole situation so sad. The town of Gloucester is limping along financially as its jobs go overseas. "Families are broken," says school superintendent Christopher Farmer. "Many of our young people are growing up directionless." The fact these kids feel they have to have a baby in order to experience love is heartbreaking. And what kind of future can they provide their children? When you're 16, you're not thinking about details like that.

The school clinic's medical director and nurse practitioner started prescribing birth control after they'd administered around 150 pregnancy tests. Some parents took exception to that, saying they had no right to make that decision for their children. But in this case, would birth control even matter? This is a problem that goes way deeper than sex ed. Hopefully, those parents can see that.

Addendum: One of the pregnant girls came forward and claimed there was no pact, that some of the teens just decided to help each other in a difficult situation. Doesn't change the fact that there's still 17 moms-to-be this school year.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Addicted to fright

I love to be scared. Not "oh my god, you're pregnant?!" scared, but more of the on screen "don't open the closet!" scared. My girlfriend -- not so much. She left fingernail marks in my arm just from "Spider-Man 3" so I can't imagine what she'd do if I made her watch "Saw 3" with me. It's better for my health to just skip this sharing opportunity. I'll settle for watching football together.

I remember watching "Friday the 13th" marathons before I could talk. Jason Voorhees became my anti-hero. I know you shouldn't cheer for the bad guy but c'mon ... he has my name, wears a hockey mask and is indestructible. That's pretty cool. Oddly enough I can't remember a single nightmare caused by a horror film. The blood and gore overload must not have done any permanent damage ... occasionally I'll hear Tubular Bells from "The Exorcist" playing in my head but I've learned to live with it.

I've grown out of my splatter film phase. I actually look for a glimmer of plot or suspense over body count nowadays. Recently viewed flicks I'd recommend:
"The Descent," "The Orphanage," "Silent Hill," "Saw 1-4"

I don't want to abandon my obsession completely but I'm not one to force people to do things. So basically, when the girlfriend's away the horror flicks will play. It works out. I still get my occasional fix and she goes on thinking "Halloween" is just a holiday.