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Access and Advice

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Who’s at the top of your phone tree when you need advice?  Especially when it comes to matters of parenting, where do you go?  To your mother or sister?  Perhaps an aunt or grandmother?  Maybe your mother-in-law or a kind older neighbor?  Or do you go to Gwyneth Paltrow or Jessica Alba?

I got to thinking about this question after reading this blog post by Kate Spencer over at HuffPo.  It is mostly about how our culture focuses too much on regaining your “post-baby body” at the expense of much more important aspects of motherhood.  And Spencer makes some very worthwhile points on that score.  However, it was the issue of mentorship that struck me most.

Spencer comments, “Not that celebrity culture is the only way we stay informed. But while women a hundred years and fifty ago got answers from elder women around them, it seems like we now look more toward public figures for instructions on how to live our lives.”  Why is that?  I suspect it’s something to do with access.

Much as we like to believe that our country and culture are fully democratic, they are far from it.  Attorneys jump to the front of courthouse lines to get their speeding tickets waved away.  Huge corporations with deep pockets wield disproportionate amounts of political power.  So called “legacy” offspring of alumns of prestigious universities are admitted with lesser qualifications than unconnected applicants.  Throughout our culture the well-heeled and well-connected have access to “better” of almost everything.

And so this leads us to look to the Paltrows and Albas for advice.  Aside from the whole affiliative desire that celebrities spark in us, we believe (and rightly so) that the routines and regimes they follow are reflective of better inputs than most of us have access to.  We want to know what they know.  Whether it’s a skincare regimen, a meal plan, a bedtime routine, or a time management tip – we want in on the secret, which isn’t necessarily a bad approach.

The catch, of course, is that these women’s lives are strikingly different from the lives of most American women.  They do not work in an office for eight hours a day.  They do not clean their own homes.  They may not even do their own grocery shopping.  This isn’t to say that their lives are charmed and free from the often-mundane aspects of normal family life (toddler tantrums, shedding dogs, picky eating, favorite pants are at the cleaners when you need them, etc.).  But it is to say that the parts of life where they have the resources and bandwidth to achieve the ideal, probably don’t align with mine.*  And for the parts of life where they are subject to the same trivialities of life that I am, their advice is probably no better than that of my best girlfriends.

This current celebrity fixation wasn’t always the case, of course.  I wonder what it would be like to live in a bygone era – an era when we didn’t have 24-hour access to (and obsession with) what Celebrity A wore to put gas in her car and what Celebrity B ate for breakfast.  I wonder what it would be like to live in an era when we looked primarily, or even exclusively, to women around us who have walked these paths before.

My mother participates in a group at her church called Project Day.  Once a month women gather together and sew shirts, receiving blankets, and other baby essentials for the church’s mission in Africa.  My mother is in her mid-60s and is, by at least ten years, the youngest member of the group.  She loves participating in Project Day because of the perspective these women provide.  She marvels at all that they’ve been through.  “There is nothing this group hasn’t experienced,” she has told me.  The loss of a spouse or a child.  The birth of a grandchild or great-grandchild.  Cancer.  Conquering a long-standing fear.  Remarriage.  The betrayal of a friend.  Arthritis.  Cataracts.  70th, 80th, and 90th birthdays.  Some of their advice may be dated, but their perspective is not.  They have traveled through the forests of younger years and can see those trees clearly now from the meadow on the other side.

There is value in a shared experience.  There is a comfort and a bond from going through something together.  This is why my closest girlfriends and I relish in the opportunity to trade war stories (both the ones where we win and the ones where we lose).  We know that we are not going it alone.  But there is also value in the perspective of someone who traveled this path before you and can warn you of the places where you might trip, and assure you that the bloody scrape on your knee right now will heal soon and be nothing more than a memory in due time.

In a way, women who have gone before us have a level of access that no amount of money or privilege can buy.  They have access to a lifetime’s worth of experiences.  And the value of that is immeasurable.

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*The flip side of this coin, of course, is scrutiny.  These women have to pursue the ideal when it comes to their appearances because their livelihood depends on it.  I am sure there are many days when women who have to maintain unreasonable levels of perfection all the time wish that they could go for a week without someone judging their value based on their looks alone.

The Last-Timers

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

We haven't seen at least 5 of these people since that day.

Sometimes it makes me sad how few of my best friends today were not at our wedding.  This group includes all but one of my wonderful girlfriends from graduate school, all of our great friends from GAP’s work, spouses of old friends who have become beloved in their own rite, and many others.  Either because we had not yet met or because the relationship wasn’t fully formed at the time, they were not there.

At the same time, there are people who were invited to our wedding – a couple who were even included in it – whose presence there was a vestige of a phase of life that was winding down.  They had played a role of some significance in our lives up to that point, but their scene was almost up.  Some were childhood friends whose lives have since gone in very different directions from our own.  Others were sorority sisters and fraternity brothers with whom we’d never been that close, but whom we felt obliged by etiquette to invite.  For a few of them our wedding day was the last time we would see them.

I’d been thinking about this recently for a few reasons, and then stumbled across this post on Slate which encapsulates nearly to a T what I’d been mulling over in my mind.  In it author David Plotz discusses the two varieties of last-timers.  There are the obvious ones, the ones you probably know on the day of the wedding are last-timers – parents’ friends from back when you were in diapers, former co-workers, and a sea of plus-ones.  If you could retroactively take them off the guest list, you probably would.  But then there are those whom you would never have guessed at the time were about to fade out of your life.

Plotz comments that extreme pragmatists suggest not inviting those whom you think won’t be a part of your life moving forward, but that such an approach is both unrealistic and misguided.  For starters, oftentimes we just don’t know that someone is a last-timer.  More importantly, perhaps the fact that they are is the very best reason to invite them.  For so many of us our wedding is the moment that ushered us out of the life of an overgrown adolescent and into the life of an adult.  As our lives turn that corner, some of our friendships don’t make the turn with us.  But sharing your wedding with the people who have brought you that far might just be the perfect ending to that chapter of your life.

All of this, though, makes me especially thankful for the weddings that have come after we’ve turned such corners in life.  Some of our very best friends (IEP’s godparents, as it would turn out) had just started dating when we got married, and our wedding was the first out-of-town trip they took together.  A few years later we attended their wedding and it makes me happy to know that our weddings caught our friendship on the upswing.  Similarly, in looking back at the friendships that have fallen away over time I am especially thankful for those childhood and college friendships that have stayed a part of our life in spite of the different paths we’ve taken.

Some good friends of ours recently got engaged and it makes me so happy.  I’m happy for all of the obvious reasons – they are a wonderful match and will have a wonderful life together.  But I’m also happy that we met each other after that fateful adolescent/adult conversion was behind us.  That we will be able to sit at their wedding and comfortably predict years and years of shared moments together.

Perhaps one day my girlfriends and I who married before we met each other will sit around with a bottle of wine and a pot of fondue and tell each other about our weddings.  The dresses, the toasts, what went right, what went wrong, and all that we missed when our lives had not yet intertwined.  But of course what matters most is that we had then, and have now, friends whom we want to include in life’s biggest moments.

Best and Worst

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

My parents have spent every New Year’s Eve with the same three other couples for the past 30 years or so.  They all met through church, back when their families were very young, and they’ve shared many seasons of life together.  They celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, children’s weddings, and all other manner of significant life events.  It’s a collective friendship that I really admire.

One of the group’s traditions is that on New Year’s Eve each person lists his or her “best” and “worst” for the year.  They’ve taken care to gently police each other’s responses, making sure that no one claimed a child’s SAT scores or MVP trophy as their own “best.”  As they’ve seen careers shift, grandchildren born, parents die, and so on they’ve had the chance to offer up a lot of different bests and worsts over the years.

This time of year is ripe for reflection.  We think back on the year that is winding down.  We start to ponder resolutions for the year standing in front of us.  Amidst all of this thoughtfulness I really like the idea of thinking back through the year and identifying what the highest and lowest points were, and thinking about how they might influence me in the future.  I also really like the idea of sharing these identified moments with a group of close friends.  Not only does that degree of transparency (when the answers are candid and honest, of course) help us to understand one another better at the current moment, but the accumulation of answers over years helps us to see with more clarity the paths that have been traveled by our friends.

I don’t know who I might share my best and worst with this year.  (GAP already knows, obviously.)  I realize that traditions like these typically aren’t born on purpose.  Further, I suspect that they carry more significance when they evolve organically.  Mostly, though, I like the idea that 30 years from now I might have a group of friends who have been keeping track of each other’s highs and lows for a handful of decades.

Sooooo….. How’ve You Been?

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Last weekend my dad went to what must have been (if my math is right) his 45th high school reunion.  He is all about both catching up with old friends and reminiscing about old times.  Rarely does he miss a reunion.

My 15th reunion would have been last year, but none of us was really on the ball enough to plan anything.  We tisk-tisked ourselves over it and sort of collectively vowed to get ahead of the curve for our 20th in now-four years.  I went to my tenth, and have since intermittently wondered whether or not I will go to my 20th.  I had an okay time at the reunion six years ago, but it wasn’t an experience that had me aching for more of high school.  (Who really aches for more of high school anyway?)  This question of “to go or not to go” had been put to bed for some time (“Don’t go” was the answer), but lately I’m beginning to reconsider.

The reason this question has become interesting to me again?  Social media.  Specifically, Facebook.  I’ve been wondering: does keeping up with old friends in the online world make us more or less likely to go to some effort to see them in person?  Are we less likely to go because we already know what people are up to and how they’ve changed?  Or are we more likely to go because we’re more engaged with them?

I have a remarkably different view of my former classmates now than I did in 2006.  At my tenth reunion I saw my peers as I did on the day we graduated.  The cool kids were the cool kids.  The awkward kids were the awkward kids.   When you haven’t seen someone in ten years, you have almost no choice but to pick up where you left off.  And one weekend doesn’t really provide the opportunity for meaningful updates of any kind.  Everyone fell immediately back into their old roles and their old cliques, which was only marginally enjoyable.  So why might the next reunion be any different from the last?  Since then I’ve joined Facebook.

You might argue that Facebook doesn’t really provide the time or space for meaningful updates either.  But it does provide the opportunity for regular updates, and I would argue (despite the prevalence of highly curated content – we only show what we want people to see) that via frequency and recency Facebook gives us the opportunity to see our former classmates as they are today – on vacation with their kids, complaining of delayed flights, marveling at a delicious meal, or lamenting an exceptionally poor job of presidential debate moderation.  And I have found that were I to meet my high school classmates for the first time today, my impressions of many of them would be vastly different from the perspective I had in high school.

Getting to know these people all over again through status updates and profile pics has helped me see them with fresh eyes.  People with whom I once had nothing in common, or who intimidated the bejeezus out of me are now just people; people who might share my interests in cooking, or my left-leaning politics, or my passion for travel, or our roles as parents.  Now that I can see these people as people, rather than adolescent archetypes, I think I could enjoy them so much more.  And since I don’t have to waste time asking them what they’re up to – I know who’s been elected to the city council, who’s traveling the world, who’s landed a few national commercials, and who’s started her own business – I can skip over the logistical catch-up and have more interesting and meaningful conversations.

Call me crazy, but I’m kind of looking forward to 2016.

Shorthand

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

You can set your watch by it.  If my sister and I are together and we aren’t having a good time she will look at me and say, “This place is a tomb.  I’m going to the nut shop where it’s fun.”

It’s from “You’ve Got Mail, ” and if you recognize that line then you might have watched it as many times as we have.  It’s one of many movie lines that comprise a sort of shorthand that we’ve been using for years.  And as the internet blossomed yesterday with touching responses to the news of Nora Ephron’s death, my response was different from most of what I read.

It’s worth noting, of course, that there were several lovely descriptions of the many ways in which her contributions to modern culture were important, particularly for women.  Lisa Belkin of The Huffington Post published two pieces about Ephron, (here and here), both of which I really appreciated.  Just as many people wrote, she truly did validate the female experience in ways that no other filmmaker before her had.  But her impact on my life was  more personal.

It was sometime around my senior year of high school that my sister and I became really close.  We’d gotten along just fine throughout most of our childhood, not counting a few rough patches during the middle school years.  But after we emerged from seventh, eighth, and ninth grades without killing each other, it took us a little while to settle into the groove of best-friendship that would carry us through college and into early adulthood.  That settling-in process, however, was in reality not nearly as charming as Nora Ephron might have imagined it.  Thankfully for us we were able to lean on her (and a few other screenwriters) as we stumbled our way through.

I suppose it is not surprising that our transition from childhood sisters into adult friends would be forged at the movies.  We share the same sense of humor.  And we each have an uncanny memory for shared pop culture touchstones.  When more meaningful topics of conversation didn’t interest us, quoting pithy movie lines back and forth to each other communicated something deeper without having to state it explicitly.  It said, “We have this thing in common.  It was a shared experience and it mattered to me.  And this relationship with you?  It matters to me too.  I’m glad that you’re my sister, but I’m also glad that you’re my friend.”  I realize that’s a lot to extrapolate out of one college girl saying to another, “Don’t you just love New York in the fall?”  But somewhere between the lines, that’s exactly what it meant.

No one can ask Nora Ephron now what her career meant to her.  I know that she cared a great deal about forging new paths and upending the status quo.  I admire her for that.  But I most appreciate her for writing movies that my sister and I wanted to watch over and over until we’d committed them to memory.  I appreciate her for giving us a shorthand; a quirky way to tell each other that the relationship between us is like no other in our lives.

Darwin and the Airplane

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

When she sat down she immediately pulled out her book.  She was relieved to see that the guy sitting next to her did the same.  She intended to fly to New Orleans quite happily without having to chit chat all the way there.  As it turned out, she married the guy about three years later.

The “she” I refer to?  One of my best friends from undergrad.  And yes, she married a guy she met on a flight.  Five years and two kids later, they are happy as can be.  Had they both kept their noses in their books as intended that likely wouldn’t be the case.

I got to thinking about my friend when I read this article about how Baltic Airlines intends to allow passengers to board planes according to their moods.  Worker bee travelers can tap away at their laptops in concert.  Those looking for networking opportunities can join up as well.  And those wanting to keep to themselves can select a “relax” option.  At first blush this strikes me as a genius idea.  We’ve all been stuck next to a Chatty Cathy when all we wanted was some peace and quiet.  I’ve also been in the inverse situation where after long and sometimes lonely business trips I’m looking for a conversation, only to get major nonverbal cues from my seatmates that they are not.  Nevertheless, there’s a part of me that bristles at this idea of mood-based seat assignments.

It seems that via social media and other electronic conveniences we are increasingly able to control what exposure we have to people around us.  We can use Facebook to “check in” at various locations and events, enabling us to find people we already know in the same place.  We can hunker down into our smartphones, iPads, and Kindles while waiting for restaurant tables.  We can chat on the phone while riding in taxis.  And now we can have some say in how we are seated on airplanes to ensure that we either are or aren’t disturbed, according to our mood.

It’s not that I mean to be a total grinch / luddite / hater.  I believe that all of these conveniences have real value.  But I also think there is real value in facing the unexpected.  For starters, the real world brings unexpected things our way all the time.  How are we to learn to deal with them if we never have to?  We read in parenting magazines and blogs that we have to allow our children the opportunity to fight and fail and resolve conflict because our interventions will ultimately prove counterproductive.  I can’t help but wonder if the same isn’t true at some level for adults.

Not every unexpected encounter is one for the history books.  Plenty of them come and go without lasting in our memories.  But I think that the more we minimize or narrowly select our human interactions the worse we become at interacting.  And then a cycle starts:  The worse we are the less we want to do it.  The less we do it the worse we get.  And so on.  And that is why I believe there is value in chatting up the bartender while you wait for your date.  There is value in smiling and nodding while a person tells a story that doesn’t particularly interest you.  There is value in sitting next to a person on an airline with whom you have nothing in common.  Relating to people is the only way we learn how to relate to people.  (How’s that for meta logic?)  I fear that this Darwinian selection process of only linking up within our existing cohorts will ultimately make us socially weaker.  We will never have to flex new and different interpersonal muscles.

The traveler who wants to work or network or sit silently may get more out of a flight by electing to sit next to someone just like him.  But  with that he loses the opportunity to find that he has something in common with a person who, on the surface, seems foreign to him.  The soccer mom and the tattoo artist who both have kids leaving for college.  The sales guy and the computer programmer who just finished the same book.  He also lose the opportunity to meet someone who is truly different.  The musician going out on tour.  The person who writes mobile phone apps.  The person who used to work for the Fed and now drives a cab.

When you get down to it, I suppose this is a post about being open minded.  Finding like-minded people quickly and easily via the vast electronic capabilities available to us today is an incredible thing.  The world can be an isolating place and I think it is often made better by the ability to seek out compadres we might otherwise not have found.  But I think we have to be careful not to let the pendulum of our interactions with the world swing too far in the other direction.  We can’t allow ourselves to only find like-minded people or we’ll lose the ability to relate to anyone who isn’t already a kindred spirit.

Back to my friend who met her husband on a plane.  The irony of it is that they both intended to avoid each other and ended up finding a connection in spite of themselves.  Sometimes life throws people at us and we must interact no matter how much we don’t want to.  Nevertheless, I think we have to beware the pitfalls of keeping our circles small.  There’s a whole world out there that is filled with people we might not want to miss.

Worth Fighting For

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I haven’t had a fight with a friend in years.  Marital butting of heads?  Yes, periodically.  A silly, momentary, sisterly spat amidst holiday stresses?  Once or twice.  But a fight with a girlfriend?  I can’t begin to remember the last one I had.  Probably a roommate disagreement at some point in college, but I can’t recall what it might have been.  I haven’t had a fight with a girlfriend in my entire adult life.  And I wonder what that says about me.

This topic of fighting has been on my mind lately because someone I know recently had a major fight with a friend.  The details aren’t relevant but the gist of it is that one of them did something inconsiderate, the other one tried to glide past it while at the same time gently standing up for herself, and the first one picked the scab until the friendship bled out.  And the whole thing made me curious about the nature of adult friendships.

I guess the crux of my puzzling is whether or not there is an age at which we outgrow fighting with friends.  Is there an age after which  offenses that would have caused a playground or dormitory explosion are henceforth always dealt with via some more civilized means?  For example, today if a friend of mine did something really hurtful to me, I’m not sure I would ever confront her about it.  Provided the wound wasn’t inadvertent, I would likely just get through the moment with as much composure as possible, and then let the friendship wither away.  And I don’t know if this is indicative of the limited bandwidth of a working mother, or just the facts of adulthood, or some sad commentary about the quality of my friendships.

Consider Option #1.  I have a very limited number of hours to commit to friendships.  I work full time.  I have two young sons who want and need a great deal of my time and energy.  I have a husband I love and a marriage I want to take care of.  Girlfriends get precious little of my time.  This means that the time I do have to spend with/on friendships is time that I want to be fun and satisfying.  If someone isn’t going to be a good friend to me I don’t really have the time or inclination to dig into that kind of drama.  I’ll likely choose to move on.  Pragmatic or cold-hearted?  I say the former, but perhaps you have a different view.

Consider Option #2.  We are all adults now.  We have skills of diplomacy and self-restraint.  We understand that the fights that make for sensational reality television aren’t actually how we want our own lives to look.  If we confront a problem in a friendship shouldn’t it be in a metered, measured conversation?  If there is a disagreement shouldn’t it be addressed in civil tones over coffee?  Simply put, is there a point at which we’re just too old for fights?

Consider Option #3.  Is none of my friendships worth a fight?  If I’m willing to walk away from a friendship rather than get to the root of the problem does that mean that my female friendships are lacking in substance?  If I would sooner complain to my husband about any platonic transgression and then watch it atrophy than face the thing head on perhaps I should take that as an indication that the friendship wasn’t much to begin with.  Or perhaps Option #1 supersedes all the others.

Truth be told, female friendships are something I’ve long struggled with.  While I’ve had many friendships that I would describe as happy and enjoyable and satisfying, that deep, intimate, BFF-style bond is something that’s never come easily to me – though not for lack of desire.  As an adult with a happy family life I feel less existentially hinged on my friendships as I have so much richness in my life from other relationships.  Nevertheless, I still wish for an adult BFF.  I wish for a friendship that’s worth fighting for.  But how will I know if I’ve found one if the circumstances of adulthood are such that I never actually would?

Who’s the Better Boss?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

IEP and Nanny on her wedding day

I’m here to follow up.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Manhattan’s niche industry of super high end nannies and mused about why some people will pay astronomical prices for childcare.  I was responding to an article in The New York Times Magazine that discussed this topic and has since gotten quite a bit of national attention.

Take, for example, this article from Slate’s Double X section in which experienced nanny L. Wood discusses why she would rather work for a rich family (specifically a rich mother) than a working one.*  Wood comments that the obvious issue of compensation certainly factors in.  But, rather, she believes it is the way that wealthy mothers manage their relationships with nannies and babysitters that makes them preferable employers.  Specifically, they don’t have relationships with their nannies – according to Wood, that is.

Perhaps I come to this topic defensively.  Except for the fact that we did go through a well-reputed referral agency (rather than Craigslist or similar) to hire our nanny  I am everything she described in a working mother.  We went through a series of awkward interviews.  We ultimately made a decision based on a gut feel.  When our nanny was new to us and we were new to parenting I’m sure that I micromanaged her more than was warranted.  And – at the heart of Wood’s position – we have a personal relationship with our nanny.  It seems we’re everything she’d hate.

So now that I’ve gotten my disclosures out of the way let me ask this: what’s so wrong with all of that?  When it comes to babysitters I can see her point.  They are there to keep your kids fed, amused, out of trouble, and put to bed for an evening here and there.  They are paid hourly and if they are reasonably experienced there is no need to go through lengthy pre- or post-game rituals with them.  But a nanny is different.  This person is caring for your children on a daily basis for long periods of time.  (I know of a family who had the same nanny for 12 years!)  Nannies are working (and sometimes living) in your house for the majority of your children’s waking hours.  What I don’t understand is why anyone wouldn’t want such an employment arrangement to come with some degree of personal relationship.

Wood argues that, “Wealthy moms know how to manage their help because they have experience hiring, managing, and firing people in their homes.”  She believes that this level of comfort with household employees makes them better employers because it affords them some degree of detachment from their nannies.  While I would agree that someone well-versed in managing a household staff is better equipped to be a good boss, I wholly disagree that the detachment that supposedly results is any kind of asset.

Any study that analyzes people’s job satisfaction tells us that one of the biggest indicators in whether or not people like their jobs is the relationships they have at work.  This usually outranks even the work itself in measures of job satisfaction.  In a professional environment the friendships and camaraderie that are built amongst coworkers are highly valued.  Yet Wood seems to believe that such relationships come as a detriment.

Taking this a step further, a nanny’s job is to help raise your kids for a portion of their lives.  Certainly she should do so in accordance with the parents’ rules, values, and priorities.  But she’s still shepherding them through life on a daily basis.  In the same way that two parents need to communicate about their children extensively, so should a mother** and her nanny.  Raising a child is a huge job and a collaboration.  If a nanny is part of that collaboration in your family then shouldn’t there be more to a mother’s return home at the end of the day than, “You’re dismissed”?

I don’t pretend that our nanny comes to our house every day out of the goodness of her heart.  She comes because it is her job and because we pay her.  Nevertheless every morning when I leave for work thank her.  And every evening when she leaves our house we thank her.  Perhaps this isn’t the way things are for most working adults.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my current boss has ever thanked me for anything.  But maybe that should be the way things are for more of us.  How much happier might we all be if our employers told us on a regular basis how much they appreciate what we do?

In my last post on this topic I mentioned that IEP was Nanny’s ring bearer when she got married last month.  I couldn’t have imagined it any other way.  And I’m pretty sure neither could she.  And I know for certain that we’re both very grateful for that.

*For the purposes of this blog post I will overlook the incredibly erroneous assumption that no working mothers are affluent, and that all stay-at-home mothers are.  Clearly she’s never heard of Sheryl Sandberg.  Nor has she, apparently, ever met a family that made financial sacrifices in order for one parent to stay home.

**I don’t mean to exclude fathers here.  But Wood limits her argument to mothers, so for the sake of practicality so am I.

I Love You

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

My favorite part of any romantic movie is the moment right after one person drops the “L” bomb for the first time.  “I love you.”  In that split second when you’re not entirely sure how the other person is going to respond my heart does a tiny tap dance.  These moments are only good when you’re not sure; when you lean forward just a bit waiting to learn if the vulnerable fool is going to be showered with the other person’s affections as well, or left to slink off in a state of awkwardness.

I love this moment because I know what a big deal it is to cross that bridge.  I’ve crossed it a few times, but I usually let someone else lead the way.  That is, I was not often the one to say it first.  I bring this up because this article from The Huffington Post discusses several aspects of love – the fact that it reduces our stress levels, the way it causes us to act toward potential romantic rivals, and the economic pros and cons we weigh out when deciding whether or not to tell another person that we love them.  But the thing that struck me most about it was the finding that men are most likely to say “I love you” first.

This caught my attention because I have a theory about it.  My theory is that in most relationships (not all, mind you, but most) the woman actually wants to say “I love you” first.  She feels it earlier and wants to express it, but resists for fear of her statement not being reciprocated.  Much like most women wait for their boyfriends to propose marriage, we also wait for the man to take the lead in other relationship milestones.

I have no idea why this is.  In point of fact, I’m just theorizing here, so I could be completely wrong, but let’s pretend I’m right.  Why women aren’t more assertive in our expressions of affection?  Why do we wait for the man to say it first?  Is it because we want to make sure that the man has had time for his romantic feelings to fully develop?  Or is it because we fear that we will jump the gun wanting something to be love sooner than we know whether or not it really is?  And if we know it’s love, why aren’t we strong enough to risk our pride and say it?

Love is a tricky business.  Especially in the beginning of a relationship we constantly teeter between exposing and protecting ourselves.  It’s a highly personal decision to tell someone you love them.  We each must choose what’s right for us.  But I wonder about the calculus that factors into that decision.

When Does It Become Meddling?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

I come to you today seeking guidance.  There exists a continuum on the spectrum between concerned and meddling, and I’m not quite sure where the midpoint is.  A bit of background for you…

Late last week I e-mailed one of our regular babysitters (Nanny had plans) to ask if she could babysit Sunday evening while GAP and I went out for our anniversary to our favorite Irish pub for some fish and chips and a set or two of live music.  No problem, she said.  Then on Sunday evening, about 30 minutes prior to her scheduled arrival time I surprised GAP with the news that we were going out and to get dressed.  Six thirty came and went.  I called the sitter and left a voice mail.  I texted from GAP’s phone (people often forget I can’t text…).  And then, an hour later I sent an e-mail saying I assumed she wasn’t coming and could she please touch base and let me know what happened.

On Monday I posted a little recap of our anniversary on our private family blog, and mentioned the failed pub outing in passing.  One of our best friends read my post and inquired if the babysitter in question was (we’ll call her) Amy, because Amy had failed to show up for them earlier in the weekend.  Our no-show was indeed Amy.

We have left many messages for Amy asking her to confirm that she’s okay.  I called the emergency contact numbers I had to check on her, only to find disconnected numbers and outdated voice mail boxes.  I called the university where she’s enrolled and talked to the Dean of Students, whose emergency contacts were no more fruitful than my own.  Another friend of ours checked the Highway Patrol logs to confirm that her name wasn’t listed in any accidents.  It wasn’t.  Then yesterday morning she failed to show up for a fourth friend of mine for a date that had been set a couple of weeks prior.

The long and short of it is this: we’re worried.  She has been watching IEP on an as-needed basis for two years.  She babysits for my good friend at least weekly.  She has never been more than five minutes late.  She has never failed to respond to calls or e-mails.  This is highly out of character for her.  And yet, I’m not sure how far to take my concern.  If she were our regular nanny, or a close friend, or a relative I’d have called the police days ago.  But she isn’t.  So at what point does my well-intentioned concern cross the line into intrusive meddling?

I want to do the right thing.  But I’m not sure what the right thing is at this point.