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How to Be a Better Person Than You Were Last Year

Every holiday I drive up the Merritt Parkway feeling hopeful and upbeat. Who doesn’t want to have a relaxed, enjoyable break from the workaday week and stuff themselves silly? Um, I love that. Images of me having a great, easy time dance in my brain. And yet I have ruined many a holiday, mainly for myself, simply by being a jackass. By being too impatient, too reactive, too…everything. Why? Because: I’m stressed, she said this, she thinks that, and so on. Stupid bullshit.

So every year I think to myself, “Can I be a better person this year? And most importantly, how?” Because my moods and triggers are well-worn grooves at this point, and the trip wires of my personality, my fears and insecurities, are largely set. As are yours. But that doesn’t mean you can’t decide to act differently, to pump the brakes and coast through, with the goal to leave yourself and others unscathed.

Every family has its pressure points and aching joints, and it takes only one errant twist or yank to cause a spike of pain or resentment. That’s because the family is a body, and when you assemble yourself, around a table, specifically, you’re no longer this woman with a high powered job or that man with all his shit together. You’re…family. You fall into your old roles.

You may be the boss in your other life, but here, you’re the leg with the trick-knee that gets bent out of shape when talk of politics comes up. You could be the sexy, single catch in your world, but assume your place at the table, and you are the aching shoulder, bearing up under the tension between your mother and your sister. Or maybe you’re the ears of the body, channeling everyone’s complaints and problems and you leave with your whole head ringing.

I happen to have lucked out in that I get zero flak from my family for the life I have chosen, which looks striking different from theirs. And not just by several thousand square feet, but also because I’m the only one in the family who has never been married and has no children. I get to be the fancy aunt, breezing in from Manhattan on a wing, and that back a few days later. Not bad. And I have many friends who don’t get this kind of support.

But even I feel the old strain in the psychological musculature. And you know what? I’m doing my best to ignore it, let it pass, slide, evaporate. And while you don’t need me to tell you that trying to multitask is a bad idea, I’ve found my patience with my own family goes up tenfold when I’m not also “trying” to do something else. Like: respond to an email, write something, do some other kind of work. The less productive I try to be while with them, the less jumpy and agitated I get.

Do I have some magic advice for you this holiday season? Just that. That you’ll feel old aches, and sometimes a fresh, searing pain. And while it’s easy to wish she were this way or he were that way, you know what? If you had a different family, you might not have these particular aches, but you’d have others.

Every year, rather than coddle those pains, I try to do the opposite: Stretch my patience, tone up my good will, keep blood flowing through the most generous parts of me. The holiday season is a long, exhausting haul. You’ve got to make sure you’re in shape.

Worst case, take a hot bath. It works, every time.

Why You Shouldn’t Believe My Instagram Feed

Team

How fun! We won! What you don’t see is how stupid and scared I felt stepping onto that field.

Don’t believe what you see on my Instagram or Facebook page.

Because it doesn’t tell you the truth. Not all of it. I’m a straight shooter, honest, direct to a fault. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I pull no punches. Shit, my whole brand is built on helping other people be authentic.

And yet, lately when I sit down with friends and colleagues, they’ve been saying things like, “Well, you’ve been busy!” and “Business must be great, right?” and I wonder where they get that information from. And then I remember: ME.

It’s not that I purposely mislead or lie. The stuff that I post is true. Things are going well! But there seems to be this outsized idea of what I’m doing compared to what I really am. To what anyone really is.

So you can’t believe what you see in my feed, and here’s why:

1. I only post pictures where I look halfway decent. My face looks fug in many of them, and you don’t know that because I don’t show you.

2. I post my own successes and usually say nothing about the other shit. OK, so I had a piece published here or was interviewed there. You don’t know the things I didn’t get or was afraid to try for.

3. You think I’m out all the time. But I’m not. In fact, I’m often right here, in my studio apartment. I like being here. Sometimes it takes great effort for me to go out, and when I do, I usually am so thrilled I’ll take pictures of whatever I’m doing.

4. You assume that because I’m single in NYC, I’m really happening. Lest you think life in NYC is a non-stop carousel of craft cocktails and sex, let me tell you: It’s not.  I spend more time doing laundry. A great Saturday is a run through the park, a visit to the farmer’s market or Sephora, followed by a nap. There are no photos of these things. Lots of times I’m home, feeling I should be out, and sometimes I’m out, and wish I could be home.

5. I’m about to go on a vacation. THIS is where things are about to go off the rails, because for many sad, stressed, or boring weeks this winter, you heard nothing from me—you didn’t know I had a breakup, or that I was lied to by an old friend. You don’t know that I look in the mirror and wonder what the hell I’m doing with my hair or my life.

But in two days, there I’ll be, waving photos of the Mediterranean at you, shoving a cocktail umbrella up your virtual nose. I’ll be on a cruise through the Greek Islands, so you can expect close-up shots of olive oil, wine, pictures of me and some friends posing on cobbled roads or laughing at something no one remembers. There will be the fancy food arranged like a still life and sunsets over the water.

Promise me you won’t turn around and chastise yourself for what “other people” are doing. Or submit to this fantasy that everyone else is footloose and fancy free while you’re trying to get ketchup stains out of a T-shirt. For years, I never took a vacation, not one. So don’t extrapolate and think that “everyone’s doing cool stuff”; they’re not. In fact, there have been plenty of times I’ve seen you running down the beach or eating a perfect picnic lunch (remember that), or looking flawless and happy and content.

We haven’t been altogether honest, have we.

Let me tell you what I’m afraid of right now as I finish packing:

  • I will bring the wrong shoes / forget a charger / run out of underwear.
  • I will miss out on something big while I’m away.
  • My cat will die while I’m away (it has happened once before).
  • I’ll suffer horrendous diarrhea. Or be constipated for days.
  • I’ll have to be airlifted out of somewhere in Croatia due to some horrible injury.
  • I’ll lose my passport / my phone / my travel companion and be crying and no one will speak English.
  • I will not be able to relax, won’t be or have any fun, and have to lie to everyone about it later.

By now you’ve likely read the absolutely heartbreaking story (“Split Image” on ESPN) of Madison Holleran, the Penn freshman and athlete who, on January 17, 2014, took a running leap off the ninth floor of a parking garage and ended her life. The fact is, Madison didn’t have some horrible secret (addiction, crime). The point the piece makes is that the too-bright artificial light of social media made her life seem darker than it was or should have been. The evidence she left on her feed shows us little but the yawning chasm between what we see and what is.

You hopefully will NOT do something so drastic as to end your life (please God no), or pick up a dangerous drug habit, or any of those things. But you may, like many, suffer despair by a thousand cuts, if you allow yourself to be seduced by what you see.

So promise me you won’t.

 

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How the Boyfriend Excuse Undermines You

This comes from a quirky tumblr called "My Daguerrotype Boyfriend" Click to view all of its weirdness.

This comes from a quirky tumblr called “My Daguerrotype Boyfriend” Click to view all of its weirdness.

I’m going to confess to you, right here and now, that I have done feminism a grave disservice.

And I’m a repeat offender.

I have used the “I have a boyfriend” excuse to duck, dodge, or deflect unwanted attention. On many occasions.

I said it when I was 100% single. And every time I’ve said those words to someone I know I just really wasn’t interested in, I’ve felt a hiccup of self-loathing, and had the unsettling sense that I was trying to hide behind my high school boyfriend’s Varsity jacket.

And that’s because telling a guy you aren’t interested in him because you’re “taken,” whether you really are or not, undermines your respect and self worth. Using an excuse (“I can’t”) in place of my opinion (“Not interested”) is triggered by a lousy premise: That “he” is the only thing keeping me from flying into the arms of any man who will take me. Every time you and I rely on this cultural crutch, we vote against ourselves, again and again.

The thing I hate most about the boyfriend line is that it works.

But at what price?

When you lie about having a partner to turn someone down, you’re basically saying that any man’s claim on you is more powerful than your own, even if the man does not exist.

(And no, it’s not quite the same as saying “I have a work thing” when you don’t want to go to another thing. White lies have their place and don’t get me started on that.)

Listen instead!

By the way, it’s not that your boyfriend isn’t enough of a reason not to run off with someone else. Of course, if he exists and your commitment is real, you will show that bond respect—but that’s your business and your choice. Let’s not pretend that people haven’t fallen in love with other people regardless of their relationship status.

In fact, the only time it is ok to use your boyfriend as an excuse is when you literally WOULD love to get to know said guy better, but have to pass because you are in a committed thing. But even then it’s not blaming the boyfriend, but owning up to your decision to opt for your current relationship over this new potential. The difference is between honoring your commitment and apologizing for not being available. And there is a difference.

Look, I get it. You, like me, have been taught to adhere to that genderized Hippocratic Oath from a very young age: “First, do no harm.” And the second unwritten rule, which is “Always be liked.” That one’s got a bigger grip on you than you realize. Because even if you don’t want to date this guy, you don’t want him not to like you (admit it).

It’s worth adding that our collective memory is strong, and resisting men hasn’t really worked out so great for us, pretty much throughout all of human history. And there’s still plenty of reason to fear. (Do we need to revisit the horrendous stabbing of a Connecticut student when she turned down a prom invitation?)

But if you want to be taken seriously and want your choices to be respected, you need to start owning them, instead of excusing them. A rebuffed man may very well accuse you of being: a bitch, a lesbian, a bitter old spinster. And sometimes, in the case of a drunk old crazy guy, if a lie would save your life, ok fine. I’m just asking you to think twice before you blame (or credit) other people, man or woman, for your own choices. Because if you don’t own them, who will?

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3 Things to Do (and Not Do) on Valentine’s Day

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 5.41.10 PM

Don’t hate on Valentine’s Day.

It’s easy to pile on poor Valentine’s Day. And if it makes you feel any better, a rather small slice of the population is really psyched about it.

If you’re single, chances are you roll your eyes, flip couples the bird.

If you’re in a long-term relationship, maybe very long, this holiday makes you nostalgic for the days when romance was new, before either of you peed with the door open, and when you had time or interest in having sex more than once a month.

Then again, if you’ve just started dating someone, Valentine’s Day is too much pressure. What if he thinks it means more than it does? What if it doesn’t mean enough?

And if you’re one half of an unhappy couple, this Hallmark holiday hits a nerve: Another year of not being in the relationship you always thought you’d be in. You may suffer a bout of brief, intense existentialist grief.

Basically, the only ones doing what you think the holiday is about (roses, chocolate, sex) are, if we want to get technical, people in the first 12 to 18 months of their relationship, who are still trying to impress each other, and guaranteed to get laid. Or, those blessed to be in one of those wonderful relationships where the magic burns for years. They’re rare, but they do exist.

Anyway, look, that’s not a LOT of people having sexy time today.

Valentine’s Day is not an exclusive club; it’s a holiday to celebrate love in all its forms, from the short, sexy bursts to the long, mellow partnerships, to the kinds of love we share with people we’re not dating. (Check out this study on how just being kind and loving to people at work is linked with improved productivity.)

But of course my heart is with the single people who see red at Valentine’s Day, and not in a good way. Here are the things I recommend you do and NOT do today:

1. Don’t hate. It’s not only pointless to hate on a holiday; it’s disingenous; like saying you hate money just because you don’t happen to have any. Don’t pretend that of all days, today you “hate” love because Valentine’s Day ruined it for you. C’mon. (That’s like “hating” gifts because you’ve had a few bad Christmases.)

If you like this post, you're going to love this workshop. Try it for $1. For reals..

If you like this post, you’re going to love this workshop. Try it for $1. For reals..

>>DO: Take a risk. You want something exciting? Try doing something exciting. One Feb 14th, I wrote a note on a cocktail napkin on slid it across a cafe table to a handsome thing. I never heard from him. Don’t matter. It was thrilling and empowering and kind (because though he never called, don’t tell me I didn’t make his day). I felt…romantic, without anything else having to happen. (Also: Read why you should be getting rejected more.)

2. Don’t go out with your girlfriends and dance in a circle. Sure, it’s fun. But the dopiest thing ever is when a bunch of single ladies who would like to meet potential mates do the one thing that will ensure they don’t: Turn in the lady wagons. Who-hoo! Girl power! No. This is dumb. Don’t form a big resentful clot in the middle of the room, telling dudes to talk to the hand. Why act like men suck, when, if we’re being honest, you’d like a nice one?

>>DO: Go out to meet people. If you’re smart, you’ll go out with just a few friends or, if you travel in a gaggle, split off and mingle. Or, forget the girlfriend outing altogether, and do something really bold: Go sit at the bar by yourself just long enough to enjoy a glass of wine. Remind yourself that you’re open to what may or may not happen.

(Afraid of getting rejected? Here’s why you should seek it out more.)

3. Don’t text your recent ex. I shouldn’t have to explain this. But, no matter how it ended, if you broke up within the past six months, steer clear. Of course, unless he has come back with a dozen roses and wants you back, and you’re happy about it. But if you both ended it for all the right reasons, going back now for a moment of comfort could cost you more later. (Read why you should unfriend your ex.)

>>DO: Go on a date with a stranger. Yup. I promise you, there’s someone online who’s free tonight. And don’t give me this crap about how it seems desperate. You can drop a line in the water and see if you get a bite. You don’t have to meet The One. But you can go out on one date with one new person, and say that on Valentine’s Day, you made an effort, and you had a reason to put lipstick on.

The moment when you’re headed out the door and the night is nothing but potential—that’s fun. And romantic. And brave.  And way better than a margarita-sodden rendition of “I Will Survive.” Again.

 

 

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Don’t Marry Yourself. Period.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

There once was a woman from Fargo who married herself. It’s true. She’s not the only one, either. But let’s stick with Nadine, who was featured on the Anderson Cooper show a while back. She did what she thinks was a cute, quirky thing that I’m sure she knew would get a lot of attention, and that would seem to “mean” something, but to my mind it’s no different than when chicks get the yoga symbol for peace stamped on their low back, and think it makes them “deep.”

Fact is, Nadine actually undermined the single movement in this little ceremony (which is what I told Anderson myself). When you get married, you’re not single anymore. Nadine has effectively removed herself from the dating pool, since she’s married to herself. She’s opting out of being single. She doesn’t get the benefits of either being married or single. Plus, she’s buying into the idea that you need to be married to be complete. And you don’t.

(And, if you are married to yourself AND dating whomever you like, as Nadine seems to imply, is your marriage one of convenience, until someone better than, well, you comes along?)

Look: I like the sentiment here: She decided to stop waiting around for some ideal mate and embrace her life and herself, and stand on her own. OK, fine. But: Please don’t tell me we now all need to have a ceremony to do this. Please. I thought one of the great hidden benefits of being single was NOT having to spend thousands of dollars on a single day’s event.

Full Disclosure

Fact is, I actually had a dream myself years ago that I was getting married: I was in white dress, carrying red roses (reminiscent of my private all-girls’ catholic high school graduation where grads take to the aisle in a white dress, something that always raised some flags for me). And in the dream, there was no man, nor was I waiting for one–and that was just fine with me. I call this metaphor. I call this A DREAM. I didn’t run out and start printing invites.

What About the Real Single Issues?

Now, let’s get one thing straight: Nadine isn’t marching on Washington to make her marriage legal–it was a ceremony, not a civil rights statement. I’m guessing, anyway, from the footage we see in the segment in which she kisses herself in the mirror, takes herself out for Indian food, and then home for a candlelit bath (all great things, though I don’t call that a date. I call it living).

I wish the segment showed less of Nadine talking to herself in her rearview mirror, and more expert insight, from someone like Bella DePaulo, PhD, about the reality that singles face in our culture–and not having a wedding day is the LEAST of it (a cogent argument she makes in her must-read book Singled Out).

All in all, I think Nadine took an empowering and timely sentiment, and put clown makeup on it. My fear is that what could be seen as a brave, symbolic step in theory ends up sheer spectacle in practice.

And you now, it’s too bad–because more and more people are realizing that there are many ways to live a life well outside the confines of traditional institutions (like, ahem, marriage). So, then, why take a fresh, inspiring message and cloak it in exactly that?

My 3 Strategies for Single Peeps 

If you happen to be single and needing some support, here’s some advice I offered on the show. (Also featured on the Anderson site complete with pics of sad looking ladies)

Stop singing the same tired song. You know the song: “There’s no good men out there,” “I’ll never find anyone,” “I’m a failure because I don’t have a partner.” What story do you keep telling people and why? I guarantee it’s getting you nowhere fast. Focus on what you want now, not what happened in the past.

Tell family and friends to back down. Make it clear to them that you love them and appreciate their support, but your life is not a problem to be fixed. You have to lay down the law. And realize that if you’re making choices for other people, you’re not living your life. You’re living theirs.

Redefine single: Broaden your perspective.  As a single person, you have the ultimate and enviable freedom of connecting with whomever you want! It doesn’t mean being a hermit. Figure out what it is you really want—and stop using fear as an excuse to not pursue meaningful connections with other people.

 

Want to put yourself out there but loathe the thought? Check out my online webinar, Stop Hating Start Dating. I’ll change the way you think about dating.