Three Bad First Dates

He asked the bartender for a taste of a particular wine to see if he liked it. Common enough; no biggie. He wanted a sweetish white. Well, he did not like it, so he tried another one. Nope. The bartender tried to chat with him about the wines, explaining that the Reisling they pour is quite dry, that they don’t have too many truly sweet whites, that such-and-such was the most “fruit forward.” My date was pretty determined to know more about wine than the bartender, so he waved his words away and asked for a taste of yet another bottle. Still no luck (as was anticipated by everyone within five feet). After the third reject, he ordered the same red wine I was drinking, but only after asking for a taste—he refused to taste mine, though I offered.

So this was the start. Then he needed to interview the chef about the menu. She obligingly came out to the bar to talk about this and that. I sipped my wine, nodding. I know a bit about food too, but saw that the wisdom in this moment was to just smile and seem impressed. I was impressed—with the chef—but my date did not need to know that he wasn’t the one earning my approbation.

I’ve been very lucky with my forays into the world of dating, thanks to the following: I am very selective, and do my homework. I don’t have a ton of unscheduled time to drive around the Hudson Valley and meet people so when I do I want them to be—at least—interesting. I have met about a score of men since last fall, most of them truly lovely—various versions of smart, kind, interesting, interested, thoughtful, sexy, funny. But this guy was a mistake from the get-go. To make it even more interesting, two friends of mine happened to be sitting at the other end of the bar no doubt giggling into their martinis.

After he had his wine, and was eating his calamari or whatever it was, he began to tell me the story of his lovely wife and how she died. I actually was relieved when he started down this road as it gave me a chance to simply see him as a man who has gone through a tough time. But somehow, his narrative was full of sex. The sex he used to have with her, and that they didn’t have while she was dying (yeah, and that is important to his story why?), and then the tangent about his mother and how she was such a fan of his stories of sexual exploits now that he’s single. She must be very proud. Actually, I think the word he used was “sexual prowess.” Oy. (This same mother, I also learned, got pregnant with her husband at the age of 17 back in the old country, without knowing how that worked—like, what made a woman pregnant exactly? I could write a book about this guy, his mother, and dead wife….)

The story of the wife was quite moving, actually. I think part of my reaction was on her behalf, wondering if she was now spinning in her grave as her widower tried to use his grief over her loss to get into other women’s pants. But she sounded pretty great, and unless he was lying completely, he may have been a good husband to her. I am willing to assume: yes. It helps me to believe that.

I had talked very little at this point (a definite theme in the three bad dates), but I said something sympathetic and he said, “Now don’t start crying.” I said, “Not planning to…” wondering if perhaps that was and continues to be his end-game with first dates, to get them to cry over his dead wife.

His next rant was about the dating site on which we met and how they “obviously put filters on the photos.” Excuse me? Pretty sure they don’t do that, and I said as much. He whipped out his phone and called up my profile. There were my carefully selected unfiltered photos on his phone, his big thumb flipping through them. Yup, regular old pictures, my most flattering of course, but as I am not a baby any more, they show the reality of wrinkles and the like.

Somehow the poor guy felt like he’d been sold a bill of goods, and did not mind telling me. I laughed right (at him) and asked, “Am I not looking my very best tonight?” (I looked really hot, BTW.)

But then, he flipped to a full-length photo of me and said, avoiding the question, “Oh, this is my favorite.”

I commented, “Oh look, I’m wearing those same pants now.” (It was something to say.)

He said, “I know,” and proceeded to jam his entire hand between the thighs of my crossed legs. I batted him away and inched closer to the woman sitting to my right.

Why didn’t I leave then?

Meanwhile, the bartender, Jim, was giving me sympathetic looks every time he came down to that end of the bar. I felt free to make eye contact with Jim because literally any time he was not actively talking, my date was looking over my shoulder at the TV set above the bar.

When my date launched into a story about how he gets hit on by ministers on all the dating sites, and his weird fantasy of the awkwardness of taking off a minister’s clerical collar to get at her boobs, while demonstrating on me, including a “turn the knob hard to the right” gesture mere inches from my own breasts, I turned to the bartender and said, “Could we have the check please?”

My date threw down his card the minute the check arrived. Almost 100% of the men I have gone out with (there is one exception and you’ll meet him below) have picked up the tab—this is a topic for another blog perhaps but I learned early on that questioning or offering or simply raising my eyebrows while reaching for my wallet—these things make men very uncomfortable. So I have developed a gracious-acceptance position and always say thank you. When my date for the evening walked me to my car and said, during the very unwelcome full body hug he pressed upon me, “If you want to see me again, it’ll be on you,” I had to wonder about that mama of his, and what she taught him, exactly, as a child.

The other two “bad dates” were similarly themed. One guy was the epitome of the mansplainer. He pursued me very hard on the dating site and I had a few pre-date phone conversations with him. So I have only myself to blame as the writing was on the wall. But, I was lured by the words, “You interest me,” though they were belied by his actions. (It is rare that a man will admit to being interested in me, as opposed to how sexy I look or the fact that I might be interested in him.)

So I met this guy in my town. He drove the 40 minutes (normal procedure is to meet halfway) which was a nice touch. He wanted to greet me with a kiss. To clarify: he wanted to meet for the first time with a kiss on the mouth. I demurred.

So this is the summation: he talked, he held forth, and he knew more about everything than anyone, especially me, could ever know. One topic covered: cooking and food—I managed to slip in that I had once cooked professionally. He blew past that to launch into All the Knowledge about All Cooking as well as All the Kitchen Exploits—his. Not interested in my input. I did try to start a few sentences. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

He brought up independent education because he went to a private school in 8th grade. I slipped in (by talking very fast) that I had attended private schools too, and have worked in independent education for 30 years. He gave me a level look that seemed to say, “Oh you poor ignorant woman,” and proceeded to mansplain the hell out of education, private education, including teaching, fundraising, finances, child development, private vs. public, and on and on. He got a lot of things wrong. I started a few sentences along the way. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

At one point during this ghastly hour I figured, what the hell. I’m going to have fun and try an experiment. Next time I try to talk and he (invariably) interrupts me, I will—instead of stopping talking to let his interruption go unchallenged—continue with my sentence until it is over. Or even my paragraph. Let’s see what happens.

Maybe you’ve guessed? Yup. I continued to talk after the next interruption and he kept talking so that we had two adult humans facing each other both saying different sentences. If this were a traffic situation, it would look like this: I had the right of way, he pulled into my lane and then refused to stop, instead literally driving over my car and probably my dead body.

I was truly amused by the fact that he was 100% oblivious. I went to the bathroom and texted my daughter: “CALL ME IN TEN MINUTES WITH AN EMERGENCY.”

She did it, bless her. As soon as the call came through and I explained the “emergency” to my date (who clearly knew what was happening as it probably happened on all his first dates), I hustled to find the waiter for the check. The waiter and his colleague were in a little alcove out of my date’s line of sight. I asked for the check. Both men gave me looks of such unutterable sympathy that I almost cried and laughed. Instead, I rolled my eyes and grinned. The check came fast. This was the one exception, in my experience, to the who pays rule of thumb—I threw down cash and bolted. My date did not object.

The most recent bad date was probably the least bad, really. Nothing aggressive or menacing, no rude assumptions or veiled insults. Just another well-meaning, obliviously privileged white male who thinks a first date is a chance to dazzle, monopolize, hold forth, audition, dominate, prove-something….

This is what I learned about him in one hour: how many times he was married, what kind of alcohol he likes, how he came to be introduced to port, and sherry, and his recent trip to the Middle East, and that his sister paid for it, and that they stayed at great places, and what airline they used, and what airlines he prefers typically, and that he used to drink one beer a day, and that he doesn’t now but he drinks wine (and port and sherry) and that he goes to the gym daily, loves Zumba…. I learned how he found out about Zumba, in detail, and how he got involved, and how he got good at it because he’s not a natural dancer, and how it reminds him of some great free form dance events he used to go to, and how his girlfriends never went with him, and exactly what those events were like, and how he organized a Zumba flashmob at his gym, but that he did not know what one was till he heard it mentioned, and that the flashmob he organized made him a hero at the gym and how everyone loves him. And he has a bad knee, and I know about the medical interventions he has sought, oh and I know what kinds of shoes he wears for each kind of activity he does at the gym. I heard about the errands he did on his way to meet me, and about his career, and about a conference he is about to go to in Oregon, and I learned so much more that has leaked out of my brain. Realize that each of these single items was part of a detailed narrative with tangents, side-notes, and usually accompanied by the words, “I’ll keep this short.”

This is what he learned about me: my son lives in Oregon, I had knee surgery once. (Slipped those suckers right in there!)

The funny thing is, all three of these men understood instinctively that there would be no second date. So they all pulled the plug on their own, making excuses or shutting the door, managing the situation so I did not get to reject them. Understandable. Their privilege comes with a certain undercurrent of uncertainty perhaps, or vulnerability when faced with a very clearly unimpressed female with a mind of her own, long legs, and a loving heart—none of which they’ll ever get to touch.

Tennessee Roamers, Mother-Daughter Style

The sun rose behind me on the first day as I drove west with Maggie, my 24-year-old daughter, snoozing in the back seat.

First hour of trip. ZZZZzzz

The sun rose ahead of me on the penultimate day of our trip as we drove east again, out of Memphis.

Penultimate sunrise, Memphis, TN

Then on the last day, heading north from our overnight stop in Virginia, I drove first shift as the sun slanted in through the opposite side of the car and fell upon Maggie’s head as she slept the sleep of the innocent and the young.

Final sunrise, somewhere in VA

Those are the sunrises I can measure our trip by. There are other benchmarks. Museums. BBQ joints. Friends. Local music. Local coffee. Local beer.

Seriously local Nashville Brew

Not my first road trip (by a long shot) nor the first I’ve written about in this blog, the recent mother-daughter journey to the heart of Tennessee was one of my most adventurous. Mostly because of the number of miles traversed—2,418, from one Friday to Saturday of the following week.

Road trips need no reason. They need no justification or excuse. They are, a priori, of value.

But why Tennessee?

  1. Never been
  2. It’s drivable
  3. Music and food mecca
  4. Two dear friends have, independently of one another, moved there over the last two years making it OBVIOUS that the universe required us to visit

100% worth it.

High points:

  • The usual road trip with Maggie perks. Epic rounds of “naughty Madlibs” that would no doubt horrify most people but that have us crying gallons of laughter tears. Fabulously twisted 20 questions games. Listening to the same CDs over and over because she is obsessed (currently with The National)– oh wait, that’s not a perk, but I’m willing to put up with it most of the time.
  • We read a whole book as we drove. Or rather, I read. When I drove, she slept. When she drove, I read.
  • Stopover in Cincinnati to see my sister and her family.

    Laughing with my sister

    That visit included long card games, great cooking, a mani-pedi, a fantastic contemporary art center with some great current exhibits around gender, feminism, and race in America etc.

    Feminist cousins at Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center

  • An afternoon at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY. Neither of us is a fan of the racing industry for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the horses. But we are both horse lovers and the museum was all about the ponies.

    Derby hats

  • Wandering around Nashville with friend Betty. This involved non-stop talk-as-we-walked.
  • The Johnny Cash Museum. Seriously excellent museum with interactive musical exhibits, lots of info on the soulful, challenging, often uplifting life and times of the Man in Black.

    Maggie channels Johnny

  • Sitting in a famous Nashville bar (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) in the afternoon listening to live music and drinking local beer.

    Tootsies in the afternoon

  • The exact replica of the Parthenon that exists in Nashville (who knew?) with a wonderful American art exhibit and a seriously huge replica of the Athena statue too. Very fun stop-off on what became a torrentially rainy day. We left there and ran barefoot back to our car, headed to dry off and have dinner in the Gulch section of Nashville where we listened to more music, of course.

    Talk talk talk walk walk walk (me+ Betty+ the Parthenon)

    Athena!

    BLAT… having too much fun

  • Memphis! It is a seriously cool city. First night there our awesome friend Charles introduced us to one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever experienced. The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Ave was everything it should be, including the ice-cold beer. Their “dry BBQ”—basically with a dry rub to die for—was flawless.

    Dry ribs at Bar-B-Q Shop

  • Graceland—Elvis portrayed through the lens of worshipful love. The home is not huge, but it is flamboyant in its way, with a surprisingly modest kitchen! I was lucky enough to see him perform shortly before his death. I was 17, a senior in high school, and despite not being a particular fan, grabbed the chance because somehow I knew this iconic man was not long for the world. It was an amazing experience and I’ve had a soft spot for Elvis ever since. I’m glad I got to pay homage at the museum of Elvis-homage. 

    Surprisingly modest Graceland kitchen

    Elvis and his mirrored ceilings, amiright?

  • The Civil Rights Museum. Probably the high point of the entire trip. It is at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered and is worth going to Memphis for—the BBQ and music are nice bonuses. I wish every high school student in the country could experience this museum. We were cramming too much into one day and did not have a chance to see it all, so I will be going back. Someday. Warning: you will feel lots of things, and you will, in the end, cry.

    Balcony where he died

  • Four Way Soul Food Restaurant. Soul food, the real deal, straight to the face (and waistline).

    Fried green tomatoes at the Four Way … heaven

  • Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars playing on Beale Street on a Wednesday night—at Rum Boogie Café (hint: it’s not a café). Some seriously hot and dirty blues.

    Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars

    Beale St. Memphis

  • Taking home a cooler full of BBQ from another Memphis standard: Central BBQ, right behind the Civil Rights Museum. Their dry BBQ gave Bar-B-Q Shop a run for its money but I could never choose. Not in a million.

We drove back in two days that should have dragged but flew by, thanks to our tried-and-true road trip protocol. Re-entry was a little tough as it had been a long time since I’d been that footloose and it felt really good.

Maggie and I would both recommend a trip to TN. There’s much more to it than we managed to see in what amounted to 5 days actually in that state, but we were there long enough to realize there’s plenty of soul, beauty, flavor, history, and music.

 

 

 

 

Solidarity, Empowerment, Sisterhood, and Love

 

Me with my daughter on 42nd Street amidst the throng.

Me with my daughter on 42nd Street amidst the throng.

Standing in line to get some food at Grand Central at the end of the day, my daughter, a friend, and I stood chatting. A man in a Metro North conductor’s uniform stood near us. He turned a few times to look at us, and finally spoke. “I don’t mean to be forward, but I wanted to say something to you.” We were listening, unsure what would come next. “I haven’t been doing so well since the election. And today, seeing all the people pouring onto my train to come here to join the march, is the first time since that day that I have felt calm. I want to thank you.”

The estimates vary a bit but it looks like at least 500,000 men and women marched in New York City on Saturday, January 21, 2017 in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump. The purpose was simple enough: to let the new administration know we are here, we will be heard, and that human rights are not to be abrogated, dismissed, or flicked away because they interfere with one man’s fascist agenda. Well, one man plus a lot of other men who see Trump’s ascendancy as their chance to solidify their privilege once and for all. Fat chance.

A group of friends who either went together or found one another.

A group of friends who either went together or found one another.

If you have a pulse and are awake at least an hour or two out of every 24, you probably know that over 600 marches worldwide pulled in upwards of three million participants. All of them were peaceful. What I tuned into while I walked (and often stood still in pause-mode, pressed up against the patient thousands in my immediate vicinity) were: love, empowerment, solidarity, optimism, some fear and anger at what is transpiring in this country at the expense of the majority, but most of all a spirit of activism that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even the protests against Vietnam, the Civil Rights marches, the Million Man March (1995), and other major peaceful protests have not approached the numbers that turned out this time (around the planet).

As far as the eye can see.

As far as the eye can see.

Thousands of men marched alongside their sisters, wives, daughters, mothers. There were people of every color and all ages. From toddlers on shoulders to teens, the kids who participated were learning the lesson of peaceful activism from their parents—such a valuable lesson to learn by doing. White-haired grandparents, men and women in wheelchairs, straights, gays, transgender, first time marchers, veteran marchers, breastfeeding moms, dads wearing pink pussy hats—so many human beings with common purpose.

I marched with my alma mater.

I marched with my alma mater.

People are realizing that every voice does matter. People who voted for Hillary, and people who did not vote at all, and even some who voted for Trump, are coming together to take a stand against the rich and entitled skewering the rest of us. Take a stand for affordable healthcare for all. For public education. For the environment and the future of our planet. For the rights of women. For the rights of immigrants. For #BlackLivesMatter. For the future of this entire country, not simply the privileged.

Pussy hats prevailed.

Pussy hats prevailed.

There is a phrase in the song “America the Beautiful” that goes like this: “crown thy good with brotherhood.” (Sometimes when I sing it, the word “motherhood” slips out instead.) But what I want to say is this: for centuries, the concept of brotherhood has been accepted as a catch-all to refer to solidarity among people of all genders. The male pronouns and nouns have reigned. Yesterday, a spirit of sisterhood infused the marches worldwide. The men who participated did so joyfully in that spirit of sisterhood. Josh Bauman, a young cousin of mine, wrote this on his Facebook wall: “As today has proven in overwhelming numbers, we are stronger together and we will stand against those trying to tear us apart. And, appropriately, it is WOMEN leading the way.”

Some friends and colleagues of mine in D.C. with their posse.

Some friends and colleagues of mine in D.C. with their posse.

Women are indeed the future of this planet, simply because to continue to marginalize them and the issues they embrace is to alienate 51% of the humans on Earth. The needs, wishes, and agendas of only men will not serve the future. Pretending that a pussy-grabbing, climate-change-denying, racist one-percenter in the pocket of Vladimir Putin is a legitimate and worthy person to lead us into the future is pointless, a distraction, and a very dangerous thing to do. The Trump Zone of “alternative facts” is a parallel universe of lies and hatred that more than 3 million people rejected on Saturday.

Love, assertiveness, and empowerment are far from being mutually exclusive. They strengthen each other and those who embrace them. #whywemarch #womensmarch #resisttrump #pussygrabsback #dissentispatriotic

 

 

After the Fear, Fall in Love with the World

love-the-frog-kiss

It’s been almost 3 weeks since the 2016 election. Or rather—the day when the people went to the polls to cast their votes. It is, of course, not over until the electors do their voodoo next month. And the aftermath… well the entire length of Donald Trump’s presidency will be known as the “aftermath” I suppose. Like the aftermath of a tsunami, or tragic explosion, or an inexplicable death.

This is not a political blog. It is my personal blog. I’m one woman, trying to figure shit out. Sometimes I poke fun at myself or maybe you, sometimes I rant about the things I feel passionately about, sometimes I submit pure fluff (well researched or at least backed by meaningful opinions… namely, mine).

So don’t look for any deep wisdom here. In fact, at this point (paragraph three) I have no damned clue what I’m going to write next.

What has it been like for this privileged white woman? Let’s see. First, grief. I don’t know how it was for others, but my grief was partly because I had misjudged so badly. Had failed to see what was right there around me, under the surface… no doubt my whole life. The deep anger. The bigotry, or at least the willingness to let bigotry do its worst. Oh so easily. I thought about minds closed tight. Mainlining Fox news. I grieved that people were so badly informed.

But what did I do? I immediately mainlined my own version of intellectual/philosophical comfort food. Gloria Steinem in The Guardian. Toni Morrison in the New Yorker. Tess Rafferty’s video. Among many others.

Of course, by comfort food, I do not necessarily mean words that lower the adrenaline and cortisol in my blood stream. These people’s brilliant, thoughtful, and inspirational words are the kind that remind me that I’m not alone. That other people feel pissed and scared too. But more importantly, that there is more to be done. That we are not giving up. That’s good comfort, even if it isn’t the easy pablum of “it’s all gonna be okay.” (Cuz it won’t.)

So then I realized I was badly informed too. I can’t bemoan the way people only read what they want to know if I have been doing that as well.

So many of us chose not to believe a Trump victory was possible. Easy for us to be horrified by what was in front of us: the white supremacists at Trump rallies, and the pussy-grabbing, and the ignorant, hateful, reactionary tweets. But did we really believe the danger was real? I’m thinking maybe not. Until it was.

And then, along the way, I realized that, white supremacists aside, there are Trump voters out there who feel scared too. Or they did, and somehow a vote for the Orange One made their fear abate. Still, I don’t really get what they’re thinking. I mean, how scared and angry do you have to be to vote for someone as terrifyingly narcissistic, reactive, ignorant of government in all forms as Trump? How desperate must you be to overlook the racism and blatant misogyny? Because from where I sit, if you overlook it, you are it. Bystander guilt is real. But there was a lot I did not know, and that these folks are scared too, I had to finally admit, with help, starting with Bernie Sanders’ statement the day after the election.

I tend to see the good in people. That’s who I am—no credit can be taken because I guess I just came out that way. But you can see how this tendency is creating a kind of cognitive dissonance in me right about now.

Unable to continue a consistent train of thought in this particular blog, I’ll end with this question: Have you done any of these things?

  • Shared every horrific fact about what Trump is doing, post-election, on Facebook?
  • Wallowed in the “whatthefuck” as, eyes pinned wide, you watch videos of white supremacists heiling Trump at political speeches until you are sure your as-yet-unborn grandchildren will live in a literal and figurative desert?
  • Listened while people you know tell you about how they were ordered to the back of the line (black woman at the post office), told to go home to their “third world country” (American with Pakistani heritage), lunged at by a group of young men saying, “It’s legal to grab you by the pussy now” (girl walking down the street)?
  • Cried real tears for HRC. #imstillwithher
  • Decided to only spread love on Facebook, which lasts about a day? But then you keep deciding that, which is good. (Keep trying.)
  • Decided to leave social media altogether but then you don’t and then you see something truly inspirational?
  • Decided to do something tangible, even if you can’t pour money into Planned Parenthood or the Southern Poverty Law Center (if only you could)? I applied for iMentor, whereby I can actually help kids from under-served schools in NYC apply to and get into colleges.
  • Spent entire dinners with friends NOT talking about the election? Except when you can’t help it for like ten minutes but then someone says, “Let’s not talk about this right now.”
  • Spent entire afternoons doing nothing but talk about all of it with anyone who will engage with you?
  • Sent postcards to Trump? #postcardavalanche #stopbannon
  • Tweeted even though you literally never Tweet.
  • Wondered if you should wear a safety pin or if it’s patronizing and all white-clueless-privilege to do so? The paralysis of NOT wanting to be judged as insensitive sometimes makes us insensitive. (I think I’ll get my safety pin on.)
  • Reminded yourself that #blacklivesmatter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is a superpower?

I’m just one person floundering around trying to do something good. I almost said “my best,” but I wonder if we ever do the best best best we are capable of and if trying hard to be real is almost as good anyway.

I realized the day after the election that I had (heretofore) managed to banish fear from my life almost 100%. The journey to that state was long and sometimes it was hard work and genuinely concentrated effort and other times it just meant being me, your basic happy, loving person who sometimes gets scared when the internal monologue needle gets stuck in the groove. The reason I realized I had almost entirely banished fear is that on November 9, I felt it. The fear was back.

My goals as I see them right now, November 27, 2016.

#1 Keep fear at bay.

#2 Know that light banishes dark, love banishes hate, and activism works.

#3 Remember that people are good, and those who are not good right now have goodness in them. It’s just hiding behind fear.

#4 I want to talk to people who disagree with me about anything and everything…. The ones who can do that without agenda or anger. And I’ll leave all agendas and my own anger at the door too. I just really need to know a lot more.

#5 Try harder.

#6 Here is one more goal I can think of right now: Fall in love with the world all over again every day from scratch and then again and then again. Pass it on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother’s Battle Against White Male Privilege

woman-in-mans-world-3

I’m sure I don’t know the half of it.

Back then, if it was named at all, it might have been called chauvinism. I doubt she even heard the word “sexism” until she was out of the corporate world and battling a different set of demons that dominated the latter part of her life.

She grew up in poverty during the Depression, was the first person in her family going back to forever who went to college, and the first of her immediate family to leave Ohio. She was also the first woman in her family to pursue a career outside of domestic service. She was, I believe, the first to imagine a different life. She had aspirations.

She learned how to “pass” in the world she longed to enter by taking lessons from a kindly aristocrat who lived on the other side of town. As a girl, my mother would visit Mrs. Myers to learn how to speak properly, set a table, pour tea, walk gracefully, descend the stairs with a book balanced upon her curly head. She had aspirations, sure enough.

Her fascinating career path, post-college, included stage acting, a brief hiatus as a travel agent (it got her to Europe), and even her own 15-minute TV show called “At Home with Lee”—a kind of proto-Martha Stewart thing where she (as I understand it) advised about home décor and fashion. That was all out in California. Then, in 1962, when I was two, she ended up leaving my dad behind in Pennsylvania where they lived, to pursue acting in NYC, only to change gears again in the pursuit of enough money so she could feed me and pay rent. A clever writer, she got a job with L’Oreal (then known as L’Oreal of Paris) creating names for lipsticks and nail color and was soon promoted to copywriter. Within five years she was a rising star in the New York advertising world.

I literally had to watch Mad Men to realize how thrilling, and truly horrific, that must have been for a young woman.

She was a strange product of two worlds—the one she was born to and the one she pushed her way into (brooking no argument). She did not think in terms of “feminism” but the constant inequities she faced were, to her, shockingly, soul-burningly unjust.

But she shared little of this with me. Interesting, considering she did not hesitate to include me in way too much information about other things in her life. Perhaps she felt that it was somehow her fault that she could not convince her employers that she was worth more than 50 cents on every dollar her male counterparts earned. Her solution was simply to work five times as hard as they did, achieve 10 times their success… and maybe if she was lucky inch up to 55 cents.

One story she liked to tell—probably because it showed my father in such a good light—was this: My father had recently taken a job as a professor at a small Pennsylvania college. At this point, their separation and her move to New York was still a couple years in the future. Though she’d always worked before they moved back east from California, she was now expecting a child (moi), and didn’t have a job. My father was asked to give a speech, but felt overwhelmed with his new duties, so he asked his wife if she’d help him out by writing the speech for him. The way I understand it, they talked. He told her the gist of what he wanted to say, and she made it happen. It’s called ghost writing (I do it for clients all the time). It was apparently a very good speech. He delivered it, with few, if any, tweaks.

When the chair of his department came up to my parents after the speech and praised my father for it, my dad (bless him) said, “Well thank you! My wife wrote it, actually.”

The professor looked down at my mother with (I imagine) a painfully patronizing faux smirk of uber-unctuous paternalism and said, “You mean she typed it?”

A good story in that the guy was set straight, but very few of my mother’s encounters with entrenched sexism had happy endings. As a single working mother over 30 she was constantly judged as either doing a crappy job of parenting or, inevitably, doing a poor job of everything else.

Still, she earned lots of respect from many people in her field. She always managed to be promoted, or head-hunted for an even better job, and broke through several intermediate glass ceilings on the way. But she had to prove herself again and again in ways that the men in her field did not. She and her team won numerous Chloe awards and, every time, had to correct assumptions that the team was led by the only man on it, 15 years her junior and with less than half her experience or savvy.

Before she left the corporate world, she was making more than anyone in her family ever had, despite the income disparity between her and every guy within ten thousand hectares.

That was the 60s and 70s. One woman: my mom. Multiply that story by a zillion cubed and we might have an idea of how women have had to fight for every ladder rung. Beat off the guys who tried to grab them by the arms and throw them off that ladder with dismissive claims that they belong in the secretarial pool, if not the kitchen. I imagine my mother sitting in meetings with a bunch of men and trying to report on her department while being called “honey” and asked to make coffee. How many times was her ass pinched in the elevator? How many men tried to sleep with her? How many men threatened her job if she did not sleep with them? I mean, I don’t know for a fact. So maybe it never happened.

But it happened.

Here we are in the 21st fucking century. Women have been elected to the highest offices in several countries. Women populate the colleges and universities in the US by over 50%. We’ve crept up to 74 cents on the dollar (average between the 79 cents of white women and the 68 cents black women earn). Do we celebrate those gains or beat our heads on our desks because it’s so insanely not enough? But we keep inching painfully forward. Justin Trudeau makes headlines by having a totally integrated cabinet. I love him, but why does that make headlines? It should be a non-starter, as it would be to splash the front page with two inch letters saying Boys and Girls Being Born Every Day in Local Hospitals.

Still, what I’m saying is that we’ve continued to (mostly) make progress since my mother’s story.

The coming election will mean everything to this continued narrative of women’s rights. Will the tone set by Trump and his followers become the tone of the story of this nation in the future? Will the ugliness of bare-knuckle misogyny be the new starting point with our children, sons and daughters alike—the next generations who will either continue to be incrementally moved toward gender/race enlightenment or have the scaffolding knocked out from under them?

Women still get their butts pinched in the work place, but at least now it’s against the law. Women still have to cope with intrusive, objectifying, sexual, patronizing behavior from men every single day, but they are less and less afraid to come out in public to say, “This happened and it’s not okay.”

Is all that going to change?

“Momma, I’m sorry to say that all the work you did will come to nothing in the end” is not something I want to say to the urn sitting on my bookcase. I want to say, “The asshole got his comeuppance and the first woman president has been sworn in. And she’s badass, Momma. You’d love her.”

Love me, love my pet (5 reasons to love a pet owner)

(This blog appeared previously on the Be Free to Love website  where I am an occasional guest blogger for the inimitable Betty Russell.)

My familiar.

Me with my familiar.

About 60 billion dollars is spent by pet owners on their pets each year. Researchers actually dedicate time and resources to do studies to confirm cat person and dog person stereotypes, figure out if dogs or cats have human-type emotions (duh, of course they do), and other super important catdog stuff. There are hashtags on Twitter and Instagram devoted to cats and dogs and there are hundreds of cat and dog fan pages on Facebook with tens of thousands of followers. And do you know anyone who, according to their profile pic, looks EXACTLY like their pet? Oh sorry – that IS their pet. They switched out their profile photo for one of Fuzzball or Siegfried.

As an animal lover myself who is relationship-minded, I think about what being a pet person says about me, you, or anyone. I know people who don’t live with animals. They have reasons. Lifestyle, allergies, expense. Personally, I have lived with an animal every day of my life since I was 6 and got my first cat. (I named her Venus.) Well, except my first year of college when I was in a dorm. That was the year that Venus died, within weeks of my leaving her. That says a lot about the pet-person bond.

My familiar as a bottle fed kitten. (With my daughter.)

My familiar as a bottle fed kitten. (With my daughter.) 15 years ago.

And I still remember the grief I felt at having left her, broken her heart, and not been with her when she died. Why? Because I am like most people who own a cat or dog. To us, that animal is A) a person and B) a family member. And yes, research has been done on this.

So as you chat up the guy in line at CVS or scroll through your matches on whatever dating website you prefer, take note of those who love a dog or cat. Or both. Or several.

Here are a few reasons being in relationship with a pet lover is a good idea. This is not so much about cat-people or dog-people qualities as it is about #catdogloversarecool.

  1. Compassion. People who live with and love pets are (usually) genuinely compassionate. Remember how much money people spend on their pets? And not just that, people truly feel for their animals. When Rover is sick, his person is sad. When we leave Fluffy at home for the weekend we feel… a bit guilty, even though our neighbor is feeding her. Dating a pet owner is more than a little likely to hook you up with a person in touch with some sweet emotion.
  2. Loyalty. It is a truism that dogs are loyal. Cats can be too, but that might depend on how long you let the food dish stand empty. But pet owners are definitely loyal. For sure. They look out for a totally 100% dependent person known as the cat or dog (or guinea pig or horse or goldfish). The pet owners who toss their pets away when they become inconvenient are the rare exception. Most people will jump through any number of hoops to ensure their furry person is happy, healthy, and available for a hug at any moment.
  3. Enjoyment of life. Whether you are a cat or dog person, you know that pets teach us to cherish the moment. How can you walk in the woods with an energetic dog and see her bounce and run and chase and frolic without feeling happy? How can you resist the pure delicious pleasure at that moment when you’ve just sat down with a cup of hot tea and the cat tiptoes onto your lap and curls up into a fuzzy ball of purring? The moments of life are so often enhanced when shared with an animal, and if you find someone to love who loves animals—you’re golden.

    My grand-dog enjoying life as she knows it, with ball.

    My grand-dog enjoying life as she knows it, with ball.

  4. Intuition. It’s no guarantee, but there is reason to think that a person who lives day in and day out with someone who can’t speak (aka dog, cat, or other fur/hair covered quadruped) will be more likely sensitive to non-verbal cues. Plus, dogs and cats are great at reading people, reading “the room,” and in general figuring out what’s up. When your super friendly cat hisses at the delivery guy (or your I-love-everyone dog growls at him), and then that guy asks you out, you have to wonder…. Anyway, it’s always best to SAY what you want in a relationship, but if there is any intuition to be found, I’d guess a pet owner will have it.
  5. Cuddliness. Not to be underestimated, the cuddle-factor is huge in a relationship. An interesting study by the Kinsey Institute found that men actually are even more into cuddling than women, and I personally know that I love cuddling so I can only assume we all agree on its value. If you have a relationship with a cat or dog, you are required to cuddle often, so this is good practice for relationships with human people. (And according to my daughter a horse is the best animal to cuddle. She made me put that in.)

    My daughter cuddling and kissing a horse last week.

    My daughter cuddling and kissing a horse last week.

Another factor to consider is that you can tell a lot about people by how they treat the animals under their care. Most pet owners are wonderful, kind, and loving, but there are some who… not so much. So, if you drive up to your new girlfriend or boyfriend’s house and see the dog chained to a tree 10 feet from his water dish, back out of the driveway and get away, fast.

It’s no accident that the vast majority of dating websites have a question about whether you are a pet owner and what kind of animals you like. I found some very interesting (strokes chin) stats from a survey done by PetSmart Charities and Match.com:

  • 66% of people would not date someone who doesn’t like pets
  • 27% of women find photos of pets in an online dating profile a turn-on
  • 70% of singles think their dates’ reactions to their pets are important
  • 35% of women are more attracted to someone because of his/her pet

I wouldn’t race out and buy a pet just to get a date, nor would I make pet-owning a deal breaker. But personally, I’d be hard pressed to love a guy who didn’t love my cat. Or at least appreciate her fine qualities. Just sayin’.

ubercuddle

ubercuddle

A favorite dog of ours, out for a walk.

A favorite dog of ours, out for a walk.

Boy + cat + sleep

Boy + cat + sleep

The Bad Boys It’s Easy to Love Are Not That Bad

This blog appeared as a guest blog on Betty Russell’s amazing website.

As a strong feminist I have often wondered at the idea that women are (allegedly) irresistibly drawn to “bad boys” – aka full grown men who are not “nice guys.” The iconic James Dean, like in East of Eden or Rebel Without a Cause.

James Dean, iconic rebel

Or Damon in Vampire Diaries.

DamonOr one of my personal faves, Heath Ledger playing Patrick Verona in Ten Things I Hate About You, a fab Taming of the Shrew-inspired movie. Okay that one doesn’t really count because he’s just faking. Then there’s George Clooney and Sean Penn just being.

If you make your own list you will see that the “bad boys” on it, like the ones above, are likely to have a soft caramel center (well maybe not George and Sean, but the fictional ones anyway) so their humanity/vulnerability/sweetness just needs to be “discovered.”

Ahhhhhhhhhh…. There’s a reason for women to be drawn to those bad boys. Oh, to be the one woman in all the world to uncover the secret soft caramel core—the ultimate score. But there’s so much more to it than that….

Research of all kinds has been done on the subject of bad boys and the women who love them. There are, from what I can see, loosely three types of bad boys and loads of articles and blogs that attempt to “definitively” analyze the heck out of them. First, and most easily dismissed for my purposes, are the hardened criminals who attract some women, and the ensuing jailhouse weddings, tabloid headlines, etc. Without intending to be uncaring or dismissive, I’m just going to chalk those up to the “pathological” column.

Then there are the narcissists—the ones who start out great (aka brilliant chameleons) only to reveal later that they only have eyes for themselves and are trying desperately to fill a hole inside them as big as the Valles Marineris, a canyon on Mars that makes the Grand Canyon look like an infant bathtub. Women, research suggests, who go for these guys have deep seated beliefs about their own unworthiness stemming (perhaps) from a poor father-daughter relationship. The unmet needs of that relationship with an aloof, distant, narcissistic dad result in women trying to “get it right” this time. Okay so that’s not the kind I’m going to be talking about either.

The above two types of “bad boy” aside, there is still that allure of the James Dean/George Clooney guy. A study of 1000 men and women done in Barcelona, Spain suggests that women are actually biologically programmed to go for James Bond, not Columbo. Rhett Butler, not Ashley Wilkes. And let’s face it, Mr. Darcy is sexier than Charles Bingley. As happy as we are for Jane, we all want to be Elizabeth.

Bond vs. Columbo Rhett vs. Ashley Darcy vs. Bingley

It is not cruelty or self-destructive behavior that your normal, well-adjusted woman is drawn to, however. It’s basically confidence. The “bad boy” we all drool over, who seems so sexy and alluring, has certain traits. But guess what? So does any woman you’ve ever admired.

  • Confidence. Not the faux confidence of a narcissist or braggart, but actual confidence. The real thing. The behavior and body language of a confident person is appealing because it implies comfort with self. In a Venn diagram you’d notice that many bad boys are confident but not all confident people are bad. In fact, most aren’t. They are just out there being themselves and getting shit done.
  • Authenticity. If you don’t need to prove yourself to yourself or anyone else, you will be real all the time. It’s kind of hard to tell when a bend-over-backwards-to-be-nice person is being real, and when he (or she) is just holding all the uncomfortable stuff inside. Can a nice, kind person be authentic? Sure! And I attest that when we are drawn to an authentic person who is himself without apology, we think it equals “bad boy” because #movies.
authentic Obama/sexy

authentic Obama/sexy

  • Purpose. “I can” is sexier than “I can’t.” Just like “go for it” is more rewarding than “but what if?” Again, not rocket science that this trait (and all the traits in this list) applies to men and women alike. When you have purpose, and confidence, and tackle your goals without second-guessing everything in the world, it’s hot.
Petitte/purpose/sizzlin'

Petitte/purpose/sizzlin’

  • Proactiveness. If you go ahead and live life and do what you want, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, a thinker or a doer, cautious or spontaneous… if you are unapologetic about your life choices, and feel worthy of your own best interests, you are not being an asshole, you are living your life and being awesome.
  • Self-esteem. People who basically are good with how they are, not dying to “fit in,” and able to live without anyone’s approval are sometimes the rebels, with or without causes, but truly broken people, the bullies and the braggarts, the narcissists who do faux confidence so well in short bursts… they don’t have that much self-esteem after all. Trying way too hard.
self-esteem/Depp/"I'm me"

self-esteem/Depp/”I’m me”

  • Assertive. A man who can make up his mind is, in my opinion, sexy. And that includes when he makes up his mind he likes/wants me. I also deeply admire assertive women who know how to negotiate, stand their ground, speak out against injustice. There is a clear, not-at-all fine line between assertive behavior and bullying. We all have a responsibility to know that line and honor it. But sometimes we just want to be grabbed and kissed, ya know?

kiss

  • Honesty. If there is nothing to hide—#honesty. Men (and women) who are genuine and self-assured have no reason to lie. I’m not talking about what my mother used to call “aggressive truth telling”—when you go out of your way to clarify how ugly you think someone’s haircut is. I’m talking about being in relationship with someone you can trust to be straight with you. Yeah, it’s sexy. And it’s good—not bad.

honesty

  • Relaxed. As in: comfortable in his own skin. What this looks like: cool. This person will smile when he thinks something is funny, leave the party when he wants to leave, and wear his old Run-D.M.C. tee shirt whenever he feels like it.
Clooney/chill=cool

Clooney/chill=cool

  • Modesty. By that I mean standing on his own merits. When your worth is not in question, you don’t need to sell it.
  • Passion. Why do the apocryphal “bad boys” have this reputation of being the hottest things in bed since electric blankets?
    Pitt/Banderas/passion/vampires

    Pitt/Banderas/passion/vampires

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that passion is part of that whole unselfconscious, confident, authentic, relaxed, assertive vibe that we’re talking about here. Passion won’t grow from a place of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, or dishonesty.

No need to be an asshole bad guy or gal to be irresistible. And I choose to believe that the above traits are not in the slightest bit in conflict with the ability to bring a hot cup of tea to someone or give a foot rub. A loving person makes himself happy by loving others. I tend to do what I want most of the time, and part of that is nurturing and loving my friends and family. No conflict.

If you really have the qualities above there is nothing bad about it. You will ultimately be unafraid to show your vulnerability within a relationship because you don’t give a damn what people think and doing so is honest—because even the most badass among us has vulnerabilities. So what’s my takeaway from today’s train of thought? When your confidence is intact you don’t have to be bad to be oh-so-good. Or even great.