Sunday, September 8, 2019

Pets and People

Mupsy was a beloved member of my family when I was growing up.  She was sweet, beautiful, and mild mannered.  She loved our family unconditionally and we loved her the same way. Like all of us, she had her place in the family tree... mother, father, daughter, sister, pet.  Human, human, human, human, dog.  That is right, she wasn't a person.  Of course, this didn't make her any less of a member of the family, but our expectations of her were different than they were for us human family members.  Mupsy was incredibly well trained.  She didn't need a leash or a hidden electric fence, she knew where she was and was not allowed to go.  But she did need us to feed her, let her outside, and meet her other needs... which we gladly did, because of what she gave us in return.  In fact, scientific studies show that having a bond with a pet helps our physical, emotional and social well-being.

And because I understand all of this, it is with great gentleness that I say... Please do not compare your pet to a human.  This is not to slight your beloved friend, or to diminish the human-like personality traits of your fur baby.  It is to implore you to recognize that there are significant differences between human relationships and those with our pets.

Pet owners, this is why those of us who have raised children cringe when you compare being a pet owner to being a parent.  According to research by animal psychologists, dogs are as intelligent as the average two-year-old child.  They are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures, can count up to five and perform simple mathematical calculations.  Like a two year old, they are dependent on you for their every need.  And like a two year old, they will develop a bond and attachment to the people who care for them.  Unlike a two year old, your dog is never going to advance beyond that.  And that is OK!  This is what we expect from our fur babies!

Parents of human babies, on the other hand, still have years of change to survive.  While the goal of having a pet is to enjoy the unconditional love and companionship they offer, the goal of being a parent is to raise a child that eventually becomes an independent, contributing member of society.  And with this challenge comes a certain amount of suffering and sacrifice that we wear as a badge of honor.  For example, while you may allow or even encourage your pet to sleep next to you, a parent's job is to teach our child to learn to sleep alone - despite how much we may want to do nothing but hold them after a bad dream. 

Throughout a child's life, we continue to do things that lead toward the ultimate end result of them leaving home, and hopefully starting a family of their own.  And in this process, we wake up early to pack lunches, struggle to get them out of bed and appropriately dress their little wiggling bodies, stay up late helping with homework, spending time we would rather be sleeping to instill the value of a job well done.  We hold their fevered bodies, kiss and bandage skinned knees, love them despite being told they hate us, listen and try to comfort them when they lose a friend, teach them to drive, stay up all night worrying when they are out, save money for college, go to sporting events and recitals, watch them walk for their diploma, and walk them down the aisle to give them away when they find their true love.

Speaking of true love, there is another important distinction between pets and humans.  Human love and emotion is complex.  Humans require more than a few treats mixed in with their kibble and a scratch behind the ear to develop trust and attachment.  I recently spoke with someone whose expectation for romantic love was for it to be as constant and unconditional as his dog's love.  Studies suggest that it isn't uncommon for someone who has been hurt by human relationships to turn to the unconditional love of a pet as their primary way to fulfill the desire for a committed relationship. In many cases, those same individuals who can't trust a human being are naturally also unwilling to give the same unconditional care and compassion they have for their pet to a love interest.  In this particular case, his dog was trained exclusively with positive reinforcement, while fellow humans were met with criticism when they fell short of his expectations.  While a dog might be upset when challenged for a short while, it will inevitably get over it within a few hours with little effort on anyone's part.  A human, on the other hand, isn't likely to jump on your lap and lick your face a few hours after a disagreement - at least not without some form of conversation or apology.

Are people more complex than pets?  Absolutely.  Are they worth the effort?  I guess that depends on whether your only need is to receive unconditional love, or if you're willing to put a little time and effort into understanding someone who can meet your physical needs, share the burden of other responsibilities, discuss topics that interest you, and grow old with you.  I tend to say yes, they are worth it.... and that doesn't mean I love my cats any less.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Relevance of Ephesians

Fair warning - this is my modern day interpretation of ancient texts and not intended to be a statement of fact.  And, if you are very conservative, there are one or two statements in here that will likely offend you.


In the 5th chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul provides the church with instructions for Christian Households.  These same verses are often used to demonstrate the rampant misogyny in the Christian church, so it is understandable why attendees at my own wedding were surprised to hear them quoted in the readings.  And as a single woman, it might seem strange that I still defend those verses to this day.  
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[b] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Admittedly, any discussion of scripture is best held in a space of understanding of each other's frame of reference and interpretation of Biblical teachings.  I don't support fundamental, literal interpretations of texts that were translated from Greek and Hebrew to Latin, then English years ago by mere mortals, because not every word has a direct translation, and not every word has the same meaning over time (remember when intercourse with someone meant you were having a conversation?).  I think my step daughter's hand decorated Bible cover summed it up best:


Ephesians 5:21-28 is a good example of this.  There are a few concepts in those verses that make most people tighten up, but if you can get past the words you deem offensive and look into the heart of what is being said, it is actually very good modern day advice.

But since I know you won't easily do that, let's just hit this straight on - "Submit".  I'm not going to try to defend it, I understand the connotation that word has in modern times.  If we take a step back, though, to the original text, the word that was translated to "submit" is "hupotasso".  It is distinctly different from "hupakouo", the word we translate to "obey" (what children are commanded to do).  "Hupakouo" refers to blind obedience or compliance.  You obey traffic laws because you have to or there are consequences, not because you want to.

"Hupotasso" is a choice - to yield or defer to someone out of respect or affection.  When you are thinking of taking a trip or making a big purchase, you talk it over with your spouse.  Not because you need their permission, but because your choice likely will impact them and you respect your partnership enough to get their input.  Reviewing Paul's instructions with that frame of reference, consider the following (I will substitute the distracting words with those that I feel are more easy to digest).

21:  The very first thing Paul says is to yield to EACH OTHER.  He instructs both husbands and wives to respect each other and have each other's best interests at heart.

22 - 24:  Taken out of context, these can be very challenging verses to read without immediately becoming put off and defensive.  I will share how I view it, but it is incredibly important to first acknowledge that it MUST be contemplated within the context of having a husband who lives up to the instructions in verses 25 - 33.  When we look at the basic needs of *most* men and women (yes, I am applying gender stereotypes and recognize that they do not apply to every person), most women feel loved by their husband when he demonstrates that he will do anything in his power to ensure her needs are met.  Most husbands feel loved when their wives show their respect and appreciation for him.  Now, this is not to say that women don't also take care of their husbands (ask any woman who has nursed a man with a cold!), or that husbands shouldn't also respect and appreciate their wives (ask any woman who is home all day taking care of the house and kids!), but wives.... I can't stress this enough.  As a single woman, I am approached by more men who are married or in committed relationships than single men (Note to self: Figure out why that is and how to change it) - and the overwhelming reason they give for why they are straying comes down to two things they want from you, but aren't getting:  appreciation and fellatio (and I could argue that the latter is just a way to express the former, but for the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing on the former).

When I read, "Submit yourselves to your own husband as you do to the Lord", I don't read it as a command to serve him or make yourself inferior to him.  I read it as a reminder to spend a little time practicing the one thing that we modern women, with our international business trips and executive presentations, tend to not do quite as often as we should - let our husbands know we respect and appreciate them, ask for their opinion or input, honor the things that they express are important to them.  Note where it says, "as you do to the Lord" - we don't make ourselves less intelligent, less capable, less talented, or less powerful than we are when we go to church.  The same applies at home.  You can be the bread winner, the corporate executive, even the Nobel prize winner, and still be respectful to your husband when you come home.  The odds are that you are respectful to strangers who cross your paths as you go about your day.  Your husband doesn't deserve less than strangers - especially if he is living up the incredible standard set for him in the next few verses.

25 - 33: The interesting thing about this whole set of instructions is that most people are up in arms about how it instructs women, but don't notice the magnitude of the expectation set for men.  "Husbands, love your wives, *just as Christ loved the church*" - spoiler alert if you haven't read the book:  Christ endured unimaginable torture, died, and went to hell for three days for us.  And most of us go about our day not only not acknowledging that sacrifice, but continuing to do those things that he died for.  Husbands - would you suffer and die for your wife?  What if you knew she would barely recognized your sacrifice?

It goes on to say, "to present her to himself ... without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish."  Now I know a few will argue with me here, because I do understand it is talking about the man spiritually leading his wife.  However, given my earlier admission that I am looking at this as modern day advice - Husbands, do you see past your wife's flaws?  Can you look at her *without* noticing her imperfect figure?  Or that she keeps her car a mess?  How do you love your wife?  Do you love her as much as you love yourself, as Christ loved the church?

If Christ were here with us today, do you think he would be giving Likes on Facebook to the photos of Pharisees sucking in their cheeks while fasting to make sure people knew they were holy?  Would he be sending private messages to the Israelites complimenting their golden calf?  Would he refuse to share the stories of the miracles he performed because he's "a private person"?

You can choose to close the book, or click to a new page when you see those verses, but it is hard to deny the applicability of the advice:
  1. Everyone, yield to the person you love out of respect and affection, always keeping each other's best interests at heart.
  2. Women, regardless of your role in the household, don't forget to let your husband know you believe he is worthy of your respect.  He would do anything for you, including die.
  3. Men, put your wife first and make her your top priority - she is worth more than that "Like" on Facebook, she is worth your very life.  Make sure you deserve that respect she gives you, whether she is with you or away.
And if you're thinking, "Yeah, but my spouse isn't living up to his/her side of the deal," the odds are your spouse is thinking the same.  Someone has to give in and go first.  Try it, you might be surprised what you get in return.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Love The Spin You're In

My first husband was a flight instructor.  I remember when he started his own training to get his private pilot's license, he excitedly told me that one of his flight lessons would involve recovering from a spin.  The thought of intentionally stalling an airplane and causing an uncontrolled corkscrew descent terrified me!  While I couldn't share his excitement over this, I understood the logic.... recovering from a spin requires intentional steps that may go against what intuitively feels right to a novice.  Knowing the right corrective actions is mandatory for survival.

Life is pretty much the same way.  We all go through times when we feel like things are spinning out of control, and we expend tremendous amounts of energy trying to "fix" whatever has caused us to stall.  Out of desperation, we try whatever maneuvers we believe will quell our uncomfortable emotions in rapid fire succession, while our grasp of logic plummets toward the earth.

I'm not going to beat around the bush... this analogy struck me as I considered the recent stories of several single friends who found themselves upset over the outcome of dating relationships.  In the process of seeking their "happily ever after", their enjoyment of life stalled.  As their attention became focused on "fixing" what was broken, their innate reactions proved counter productive, resulting in an uncontrolled spin.

We've all heard the first rule of finding happiness - love yourself.  Enjoy your own company.  Love the skin you're in.  Part of accepting yourself is accepting where you are on your journey, which means not trying to write the script for every experience you have, but instead allowing your experiences (positive and negative) to contribute to your growth.  It's not enough to love the skin you're in, you have to also learn to love the spin you're in.  Like the flight student taking the controls as the plane stalls, part of life is gaining confidence in our ability to quickly pull out of an uncontrolled descent and return to straight and level flight.

Everything in our being tells us we need to assert power and control to pull out of a spin.  And this is where it becomes interesting... because the first step to recovering from a spin in flight is to throttle back to idle.  Sometimes you have to let go of power to regain control.

The second step is to bring your ailerons to neutral. Now is not the time to try to raise your wings, trying to change direction while still in an uncontrolled descent will only make the spin worse.  Give yourself an opportunity to level off before setting a new course.

The third step is to rudder opposite the spin.  Whatever direction the spin is taking you in, turn the opposite direction.  Walking away can be one of the hardest things to do, but it is necessary to return to a stable position.

And finally, elevator forward.  As uncomfortable as it may be when you feel like you're headed straight down, now is the time to quickly move forward.  Reducing your angle of attack will break the stall, and everything else is perfectly positioned to allow you to fly out of the spin, raise your nose, and restore your power to take you wherever you want to go.

Love the spin you're in.  Watch the video... the pilot does these things in quick succession.  There isn't time to deliberate - there are only two possible outcomes:  deliberately doing what might not feel natural to regain stability, or crashing to the ground.  Let the spin teach you, so you can pull out of it and experience the real freedom of flying.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Perishable Gift

The last few years have been a rebirth, of sorts. I have become fluent in the languages of fear and loss, developed the righting reflex of a feral feline, and mastered the art of self-preservation. 
I embraced my ability to create and sustain life, a home, and a future without dependence - simultaneously harnessing the power to accrue money, possessions, and success with the power to see into the secret corners of one's soul. From the seeds of human potential that need nurturing, to the lurking demons defending their stronghold.
And so I looked my demons in the eye, drew my sword, and adorned myself in armor fashioned from their dismembered appendages so that I could claim my choices as my own, my actions as intentional.
In the process, I learned to integrate tears and scars into the foundation of the pillar upon which I now stand to lay my offerings of gratitude on the universal alter:
  • Gratitude that my every true need has been provided for
  • Gratitude for a heart that loves fiercely but not foolishly
  • Gratitude for the ability to adapt and overcome
  • Gratitude for the strength to transform pain into power
Like the tides, I rise and fall, but my presence cannot be denied. I will amaze you with my intellect, and frustrate you with my thoughtlessness. I will draw you in with my song, and split you open with my words. I will challenge you to expose the greatness in you that you cannot see. I will boldly conquer by day, and seek solace in loving arms by night. My body will respond to love's touch with the intensity of a volcano, but wilt to the shallowness of lust like a cut flower.
I am raw yet polished. Vulnerable yet indestructible. Made of grit and passion robustly entangled with nurturing softness. I am brilliance and talent and beauty and fortitude. And within me is an infinite spring of love and compassion patiently awaiting a willing and worthy recipient.
But I will not abide casual folly, nor pleas for second chances. I will not be content in the shadow of other priorities, nor compared to other lovers, nor penciled into anyone's agenda.
For my attention is a precious gift... but one that perishes without proper care.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Too Much Woman

The other morning, a friend of mine lit a fire under my so-sore-from-spin-class-that-I-can-barely-sit ass.  She sent me this video of Gina Hatzis.  My immediate reply was, "my life couldn't possibly be any more opposite of this woman's."

And then it hit me...

My life, in many ways, was nearly identical to this woman's.  I studied dance and grew up confident with my body.  I worked it hard and I wasn't shy about showing it off.

And, I endured years of fighting to be recognized for my intelligence and contributions, only to be invited back to men's hotel rooms for sex and coffee all across the globe.

In fact, the only thing opposite about my life was my response to it.  Through it all, she found her power.  She stood proud and shared her truth with millions.  But me?  Somewhere along the way, I got tired of the game.  I was never much good at games, anyway.  She stopped hiding and proudly announced that she loves her body.  Me?  Well, mostly, I apologized for mine.  Learning to unapologetically stand proud of being "too much" is not an easy journey... but one that all women should embark upon.  And as I round that corner toward celebrating a half century of life, I'm here to say...  I'm a hell of a lot more than a pretty face.  But I got that, too.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Lost Art of Fidelity

In the dating world, the subject of faithfulness inevitably comes up. Believing the popular adage, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” there was a time when I said I would never date a man who cheated on a past partner. Then I realized how significantly that reduced the pool of available men on the market who met my criteria.  Eventually, I took a different approach. I learned that when asked, “Have you ever cheated on a partner?” most men will not only answer honestly, but will immediately elaborate on that answer with their justification. And this little gem of information provides significant insight into the thought processes of the person you are getting to know. If you want to quickly separate the grown men from the man children, ask this question and listen closely to the answer.

But first, what is cheating and why does it matter?  People define cheating differently, and it is important to understand your potential partner’s beliefs on the topic.  I’ll be honest, I have high standards.  I define cheating as any behavior involving another woman that my partner wouldn’t want me to know about.  That may seem extreme to those men who have been with women who got upset if they merely looked at or talked to other women.  That isn’t me, though.  I expect a man to respect me enough to not give another woman the impression that she has a romantic opportunity with him.  As long as he isn't hiding his relationship with me, I don’t care if he talks to another woman, is friends with another woman, or compliments another woman.  I’ve been with men who will dance with a single woman at a party so she doesn’t feel left out.  I find that kind of compassion sexy, not threatening.  I don’t even care if he watches porn, as long as his viewing habits are moderate enough that they don’t lead to porn induced erectile dysfunction (yes, it is a thing, and yes, it happens to even the most virile men).

I have never accused a man of cheating without prior evidence that he was cheating.  I guess I actually believe I have enough to offer that a man who is with me doesn’t need to cheat, so I simply don’t assume he will.  But if he is showing me a great new app on his phone when a text message arrives with a seductive photo of another woman with that reads, “Hey babe, I miss your face”, I believe I have the right to ask a few questions.

Why does it matter?  People have been cheated on throughout history.  Everyone has been hurt, right?  It’s just sex!  Yes, when done right, it’s just the most intimate form of personal connection that two people can share.  When done wrong, it’s the act that is at the core of the deepest emotional damage caused by the most destructive forms of abuse. 

Being unfaithful is ultimately a selfish decision to destroy someone’s psyche and self-worth in exchange for a few moments of pleasure.  And to be unfaithful without protection is to unilaterally decide to gamble your partner’s health and life without their knowledge or consent.

You see, when a person has been cheated on... they aren't just hurt by the betrayal.  They begin to question everything about themselves.  Was I not good enough?  Wasn't I pretty enough?  What should I have done differently to prevent this?  They blame themselves as this emptiness where their self-worth once was consumes them - at the hand of a partner who was supposed to care about them.

Hopefully this sets some context as to why I ask that question and pay attention to the responses.  From my perspective, there is only one acceptable “elaboration” when admitting that you cheated in the past – that is that you were young and stupid, didn’t know how to treat people, and you are so ashamed and remorseful that you could never possibly hurt someone like that again.  If you give that answer, you win the grown man award.

Unfortunately, answers like these are far too common:

“Neither one of us was happy, we argued over everything, our relationship was pretty much already over…”  There are two possible solutions to this problem.  One is to work things out, the other is to admit that things can’t be worked out and end the relationship so that both parties can freely pursue someone else who will make them happy. 

This answer is given by a man who is unwilling to give his undivided attention to making things work, but also unwilling to allow his partner to pursue the same happiness that he found through his affair. 

Often, he simply doesn’t want to give up the things his woman does for him, like raise his children, clean his house and prepare his meals, so he needs to secure a replacement for her before he sets her free.  A man who uses this justification is a man who most likely will not communicate honestly during difficult times in the relationship, and will seek ways to meet his own needs before sacrificing his comfort for the good of the partnership.

“She really let herself go.  She was so self-conscious, that she lost interest in sex.”  This sounds like a woman who is depressed and unhappy with herself.  I’ve hear similar excuses about a woman being so wrapped up in being a perfect mom that she wasn’t interested in being a good wife.  Women don’t just “let themselves go”.  Most women feel so overwhelmed by the daily responsibilities of raising children, managing a home, and supporting their husband that they are literally exhausted at the end of the day.  Note… this exhaustion is not always the result of the amount of physical work required to accomplish these tasks.  It can also be mental exhaustion from feeling like a failure when a meal is over-cooked, or laundry is backing up. The man child who uses this justification can’t see past his wife’s imperfections or insecurities to the beauty within her that created life, or sacrificed her own interests to support his, or cares so much about being perfect that she is wearing herself out.  There are ways to bring a woman out of this… they start with being her partner, letting her know she is perfect in your eyes, gently supporting her when it comes to taking care of herself (which means taking on some of the responsibilities she believes are solely hers so she has time to take care of herself), and maybe even getting her professional help.

If this is the woman you loved enough to marry and have a family with, and she is still in the race with you but starting to lose her footing, doesn’t she deserve your helping hand?

“She constantly accused me of cheating.  I was so tired of being accused that I finally did it.” There are a few reasons a woman will constantly think you’re cheating.  First is that she is just very insecure and will never trust you.  You probably aren’t going to ever have long term happiness with a woman who isn’t capable of trusting you, so end it respectfully.  Second is that she has been hurt by other men who have cheated on her in the past.  Third is that you yourself have cheated on her in the past.  I have been that woman in the third example… a man cheated on me, I forgave him, but asked him to discontinue those behaviors that led to an all-out affair and unplanned pregnancy.  I admit, I was an idiot for forgiving that in the first place, but a few months later when I asked him, again, to please change his ways, he pulled out that line: “You know, you make men cheat on you by constantly thinking they are.”  No, no, no, no, no.  The man child who uses this excuse is the worst kind, because he actually wants you to believe that he cheated against his will because he was expected to.  If we apply this logic anywhere else, what does it look like?  “I got tired of my mom saying if I’m not careful, I’m going to poke my eye out… so I finally just poked my eye out"?!

The man who does this believes it is a better idea to do the one thing that the woman he loves is the most afraid of, than to offer her comfort and reassurance that he wouldn’t hurt her.

It's time to man-up, guys.  Yes, and women who have cheated, too.  If you cheated in your younger days, just call it what it was.  Unfaithfulness.  A choice that doesn’t really have a good justification.  I understand that not every relationship is meant to last forever, but if you are in a relationship and find yourself thinking you might be happier with someone else, please end the relationship you’re in before moving on.  She (or he) deserves an opportunity to seek happiness, too… and even if they would be hurt by the relationship ending, they will most certainly be hurt more if they find out you’re giving the attention they believe they deserve from you to someone else.