4 Simple Steps to Better Relationships

romancegifThe first year of my marriage didn’t go according to plan. The creative, smart, strong man I thought I married appeared as the jobless brat who refused to take on consulting while he toyed with his latest algorithm instead of engaging with me.

I’d waited 36 years to marry, ten years behind most everyone I knew. I’d waited to find a best friend to share life with. I had this idea of the man I wanted to be with since childhood. He’d be smart. Very smart. Massively creative, anything less would bore me. Financially stable, able to support a family with his skill set. And fun, of course, loved exploring new places. Cute was a must. I had to be physically attracted.

My husband had all these things and more, even after we married. And similar goals of having a family remained intact, but something changed between us. The best friend I wanted became the burden I carried the poorer we got. I couldn’t support us both on my salary alone. Ten months into our marriage we’d gone through most of my life savings. He had none, used the last of his for our honeymoon.

Working tirelessly at developing technology for profit, my dear husband’s response to going broke was making his already complex software even more complex. Marketing was a mystery and easily avoided by immerging himself in his muse. He seemed more intimate with his computer than with me. Many a night I had to please myself while he was downstairs making it with his 64-bit Alpha, coding.

There were many good days, long drives and hikes along the Pacific coastline, filled with conversation that flowed from one topic to another in a smooth, endless dialog. Those days bonded us, reminded me why we married, how much I enjoyed his mind, his perspectives, his passion. But things got harsher and more contentious. Eleven and a half months into marital bliss I lost our first baby in utero eight weeks into the pregnancy. And my husband engaged with his muse while I morned alone.

Time and again that first year of our marriage, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that considered divorce. Yet, he arranged to celebrate our first anniversary with a second wedding ceremony, in an empty courtroom in front of a judge who reiterated the vows which we repeated. Our first wedding was with a large crowd of family and friends and I’d always wanted an intimate affair.

The commitment was between me and my husband after all, not extended family. I was really that naive.

A chasm was growing between us. I’m sure he felt it too. He was just better at ignoring it, and me, which personally, I found infuriating. And I was so very lonely, and when prodded, my husband admitted he was too. We were stuck in a downward spiral which I couldn’t live with, in a relationship I didn’t want to abandon, but ultimately fear of missing my childbearing years starting from square one dating again compelled me to stick with my marriage.

I narrowed the root of our discord down to three possible scenarios:

  • He feed off other people’s pain, which would make him a psychopath.
  • He was indifferent to anyone’s needs but his own, which would make him worse than a psychopath.
  • He didn’t know any better.

It was improbable I’d married a psychopath. My husband was guilty of distance, but never violence. Indifference was impossible to work with. Trying to motivate people to care—that don’t, was a fool’s play. So I went with the third possibility. He didn’t know what was wrong between us, or how to fix it, so he froze, paralyzed by uncertainty.

My husband is a mathematician. Like the metal doors and iron bars that slammed shut behind Maxwell Smart as he walked down the hall to Control, my dear husband’s brain shut out chaos. He craved order, created it in tidy mathematical models with strict parameters. Feelings were messy, but exploring them was downright unnerving for him.

My dad once told me the difference between men and women lies in our nature. Men are self-oriented, internal. Women are maternal. Producing life grounds us outside ourselves. Therefore it is the woman’s role to coax the man outside himself, bring him to her—even their children.

It was my job to figure out a method, a series of clearly defined, linear steps we were both beholden to take that would make our marriage work. I felt certain once a path was apparent my husband would gladly take it with me, if for no other reason then to end the perpetual arguing. And though it took me several months, I eventually came up with an equation, and presented it on our vacation, because timing is everything.

We were climbing on the gigantic slabs of granite rocks and exploring the spectacular rugged shoreline of Acadia National Park in Maine. Humbled by the grandeur all around us, we connected in the shared moment. That’s when I unveiled my latest plan to improve our interaction.

  1. We are a team.
  2. What does my partner need/want?
  3. What do I need/want?
  4. Compromise.

Four simple steps, in that exact order.

First define the goal, I explained. The proceeding steps are the methodology to achieve it. To effectively manage discord we first must acknowledge we were not competing, we’re on the same side trying to work together to solve the issue at hand. Next, if I knew he considered my needs and desires before his own, and he knew I was looking out for him before myself, we could build a foundation of trust knowing we’d be there for each other. Finally, meeting close to the middle was mandatory. At least, understanding must be achieved before archiving an issue. At best, both parties get most of what they want. And as a sidebar—giving in didn’t mean losing. Concessions were more easily accessed by referring to step one.

My husband paced me across the granite slabs but with much more grace as we climbed the rocky shoreline. His slender form moved easily across the rock. He scrambled ahead to help me with a vertical climb, then reached down to give me a hand up. A moment later we stood on cliff’s edge overlooking the Atlantic. “Other than I think you’re hot, I married you because I knew you were smart. Anything less would have bored me.” He smiled at me then stared out at the ocean, big waves striking the shoreline sending plumes of mist around us.

We walked and talked and climbed for the next five hours, breaking down each of the four steps with specific case scenarios. After analyzing and massaging the data the rest of the weekend, and each step passing QA of course, it was agreed upon to give them a go.

For our summer vacation this year we took the kids to Acadia in Maine to share with them the park’s pristine beauty. My husband spoke of our earlier adventures there, and told the kids about our long talk. He quoted the four steps in order and explained why each was important, then pointed out how applying them to most interactions strengthened communication and improved relations. A big wave sprayed us all, and as we laughed with the mist twinkling around us I spied my husband staring out at the sea and flashed on our moment there so long ago, what he’d said, and smiled.

We will be celebrating our 15th anniversary this coming spring. And though it isn’t always bliss, our marriage has been a lot less rocky since we adopted the four steps on that Maine shoreline all those years ago.

Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known—actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.

My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even wanted to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments, her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give, but she realized, laying helpless in bed and gasping for every breath, her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.

Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

What is SEXISM?

My father raised me to believe my mother was ignorant. “Your mother, (implying like most women) is irrational. Fickle. Full of love and lightness, but not really a [deep] thinker.”

All women were (are) not as…capable as men, as the woman’s primary job—her role in society of mom, caretaker, homemaker—doesn’t take much real work, or brain power, according to my father. (His ignorance is only surpassed by his arrogance, as he left the raising his children to what he’d deemed his nescient wife.) He actually said to me, “Isn’t it odd that women can’t walk and talk at the same time,” and stopped to tell me this, in all seriousness, while we were walking.

My father thought he was inherently smarter than my mother, or any woman. He was a MAN, after all. He was well read, had to be for business in the real world, unlike silly homemakers. (My mother read the newspaper daily, news magazines monthly, new non-fiction and fiction monthly. My father read only Scientific American and Popular Mechanics, and watched TV. Cop shows, like Magnum PI mostly, where the main, white male character was rescuing ditsy, busty women.)

My mother graduated high school at 16, and attended Florida State University two years before most of the classmates she left behind in New Jersey. My father has no degree beyond high school.

My father went through five or more businesses, several of which failed, none of which ended up in substantial wins. My mother started a pilot magnet program at Cabrillo Marine Museum for underprivileged East L.A . kids, to teach them marine science. For almost 20 yrs she touched thousands of lives, many of whom I met personally, in the store or gas station, when they stopped my mom to gush that they were now oceanographers and scientist because of her program. As a woman, she made 1/3 of the men whom she worked beside, offering comparable programs.

What is SEXISM?

Sure, most of us will agree equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender is an important step in ending sexual inequality. According to Forbes, the top paid actress of 2016 is Emma Stone, at $26M. Actor Mark Wahlberg, made $68 million. Women had only 28% of the speaking roles in major movies, and Emma is the first women, at #15, of highest paid Hollywood stars. (Women are half of the human population, yet no actress is even close to #2, 3, 4….)

In 2017, 54 years after the United States passed the Equal Pay Act, on average, a woman earns 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.

So, why, even today, are women fighting so hard for equal pay, which most of us agree is one obvious step to ending SEXISM?

BELIEF.

My father was born in 1929, when MEN WERE MEN, and everyone ‘knew their role.’ His mother, my grandmother, was a homemaker. His father, my grandfather, was a pianist for the New York Philharmonic, and the breadwinner for his family. To make it through the depression years, and the harsh realities of being a Jew through WW2, each family member had a role, a function to fulfill to assure the family unit was maintained—literally stayed alive, however modest an existence.

Back then, many jobs required physical labor suited to a man’s physiology, as technology wasn’t here yet. There were no robotics building our cars or manufacturing our appliances. Go back further in time, all the way back to our caveman days, and you’ll find a distinct division of labor. It took the strength of many men to kill a mastodon, and they had to work as a group to do this. There is an adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and women naturally took on this role as the childbearing sex. But make no mistake about it, it took a community for both sexes to fulfill the often integrated tasks of their respective roles.

Fast forward to present day. Last Sunday my husband is reading me an article on the feminist #MeToo movement, in the New York Times, while I cook pancakes for him and our two teens. At the end of the article he sighs heavily, his ‘this is absurd’ sigh, and says, “It gets so tiresome hearing women complain how hard they have it. It’s equally hard on men, and always has been.”

I looked at him incredulously, and said, “How many times have you been sexually assaulted on the job?”

He didn’t respond to my rhetorical question. I already knew his answer. Zero. He didn’t turn my question around. He knew an investor in my very first startup tried to rape me in my office at our Christmas party, then fired me that night for not letting him assault me. He knew my second job out of college, as an Art Director for 1928 Jewelry Company, the CEO came into the empty conference room moments after me, introduced himself, and instead of taking my outstretched hand, squeezed my breast, as if checking the firmness of an orange. I’ll never forget, he said, “Mmm, Nice!” before I pulled away, shamed as others I’d yet to meet walked in.

My husband wasn’t at my housewarming party, when a relative accompanying an invited guest tried to assault me when I found him at my work-space on my Mac. I could go on, but you get my point. And even knowing all this, my husband is “sick of hearing women whine about how hard we have it.”

Can’t blame him, really. My father-in-law talked down to my mother-in-law, probably all their lives together, but clearly in the 20 years I’d been on the scene of their married life. He was cruel and cutting with a continual barrage of snide ‘jokes,’ if he listened to her at all. My husband tells tales of his mom going ballistic on his dad every few months, probably when she’d had enough of trying to communicate with him while he verbally slammed her, or, by and large, ignored her.

To this day, most men do not BELIEVE a woman is as ‘equal’ to them, as other men.

The problem is, most women BELIEVE this too. We do not feel ‘equal.’ Why would we? We get paid less for the same job. Our bodies are more valued then our minds (as most men can’t seem to get their brain out of their little head). Women are rarely taken seriously by the overwhelmingly male controlled business world, nor in our home environments.

How many women reading this post did most of the cooking and serving of your last holiday meal, even with a career/job? How many of you do most of the cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring of the kids, even working full time? The fact is, according to the 50 news articles I just read, women still do 80 – 90% of all domestic chores, including kid care, regardless of her job status. Equal pay for equal work, of course, but also equal WORK must be invested by both genders to reach sexual equality.

How do we get there from here? I honestly have no idea, other than to stand up, and say “NO! Not OK,” whenever you are a victim, or see the action of SEXISM.

Since the mastodons are all gone, and we can now buy packaged meat at Safeway, we no longer require the muscular physique of the male physiology to survive as a race. While most women have always brought to the table of any union equal intellectual, logistical and financial support, men are rapidly losing their position of strength, literally and figuratively. Our bodies and minds are adapting to the changing needs of our time. In fact, we are getting fat! Obesity is at an all time high, close to 40% of the population in some states now, and rising fast! (Think Pixar’s Wally.)

Men have dominated the business world from the beginning, and this too must change. They have created an ugly, psychologically and sociologically corrosive environment with their continual attacks against women, to keep us ‘in our place.’ It isn’t “locker room talk.” It is degrading, and women buy into it, thinking our value really is just in our breasts and vagina. At the very least, women are made to feel we must acquiesce to this humiliating behavior men dish out to be heard at all, at work or home.

This BELIEF, that women are lesser than men, by both genders must end, before SEXISM is a non-issue.

Humans, all of us, ACT as we BELIEVE. Change the BELIEF, and change the ACTIONS of SEXISM.

Fitting In

Ever been sitting with a group of people, you may, or may not know, and everyone is talking amicably, and you’re sitting there listening, and you feel like an alien? Not a foreign national among a group of natives. More like you’re from another planet. Or they are.

I’ve known I was different for most of my life, always on the outside looking in at the world I live in, but don’t really get. But beyond abstractions like my atheism, there are actual, real differences that separate me from most.

1. I don’t drink alcohol. Can’t stand the taste of the stuff. Wine. Beer. Hard liquor. BLA! Even rum wrecks some would-be-great desserts, like tiramisu. Virtually the first thing that happens at any gathering is the ritual serving of the drinks. I always refuse, which immediately raises suspicions that I’m either a friend of Bill W, or on some fad diet, or a hippy-vegan. The first brick in the wall between me and the group.

2. I don’t watch TV. Too much of a time kill. I average three movies in the theater a year. I don’t watch, or follow sports. Any. Ever. I don’t know the latest shows, any of the actors, or what rock star is trending on YouTube. My kids turn me on to their music, my only source of what is new. And while I download what I like, I suck at remembering the artist’s name, and their faces too, quite frankly. I must have some mental disorder, because people who play no active role in my life just don’t register with me.

3. For the most part, I have no interest in discussing my kids. I don’t want to talk about their schedules, their soccer matches, their summer camps. I’m not interested in other parents sharing the cute, or even bratty things their 5 year old did or said. I’m with my kids a LOT. I don’t want it still all about them when I’m not.

4. As a woman, with other women, I feel particularly off-planet. I don’t care about sales, or shoes. I dress for comfort, prefer my old, soft, often ripped clothes to new. I don’t wear a bra, except when working out, or when it’s mandatory for business. I never wear makeup. I don’t even carry a purse. The diamond studs in my ears have been there for 30 yrs. I wear no other jewelry. I don’t have a lot, and I don’t want a lot, of things.

5. I’m interested in discussing the issues of the day, without being political correct, and with virtually nothing held sacred—an open forum of communication and healthy debate. But it seems every time I bring up global, national, or even local concerns, I create a void in the group’s dialog, this vortex of weighted silence. Either no one seems to have heard of what I’m talking about, or they have no opinion, or they’re too afraid to state it.

The bitch is, I want to fit in, be a part of, integrate as I see others do. Sort of. I just don’t want to DO what most seem to. I really could care less about celebs. And while I like playing racquetball, I’ve no interest in watching someone play sports. Pro athletes work towards excellence 24/7, yet somehow fans take on team victories as their own, while they sit on the couch downing beer. I just don’t get it. The ‘little bit of color,’ my mother insisted was mandatory, make most women who wear makeup look like clowns, or manikins to me. And it’s a rather ironic twist that the media convinces women they need cosmetics to be pretty, especially since it’s a proven cause of cancer, and cancer isn’t pretty. Additionally, I don’t wish to remain ignorant about global to local news, so not to disrupt my personal bliss. We really do need more than the few vocal social advocates we have now. In order for humanity to thrive, now and forward, we all must participate in solving issues of the day for our continued evolution.

Clearly, I am damning myself to the outside looking in. And while it’s unlikely I’ll develop a taste for alcohol anytime soon, I’m hoping through community, and global social media, to find others of like mind, as it’s so often rather lonely out here.