I love this book! I loved Denise Duffield-Thomas’s prior book, Lucky Bitch!, and I think I love this one even more. Yet I have a confession to make.
I read the first third of Get Rich, Lucky Bitch!, marking all sorts of passages and knowing I wanted to review it. Then I put it aside for nearly a year.
This has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, my delight in it, or anything intrinsic to the book itself. It’s really a big, bright, blinking neon arrow pointing to my own money blocks. Gosh, how embarrassing.
I will say, though, that since I began the book a lot has changed in my life. My husband and I were living in a tiny, dark studio apartment. We were saving tons of money and crushing our financial goals, but living there was genuinely sucking the life out of me. I was sick all the time. Finally, my husband, who is a million times better at putting positive energy toward money than I am, put his foot down. We had to get out of there. We paid double rent for two months.
It’s more interesting than that. He saw a listing for his dream apartment, and I had to admit that it was pretty darn fabulous. (Much too fabulous for the likes of me…) We went on vacation, made the decision, came back, and called about the apartment. Even though it had been nearly two months since we saw the listing, it was still available, and we got it!
I was feeling ill about spending the extra money. The rent was higher and that double rent didn’t help.
Ah, but my hubby was dialed in. He got a raise at work a few months later. When I told him I still felt bad about the double rent, he shrugged and told me he had already earned it back in overtime.
The new place has everything we wanted: Hardwood floors, lots of light, a dishwasher, no upstairs neighbors… and, what is crazy for a small apartment, no adjoining walls with anyone else! It feels like we’re on vacation all the time.
It basically feels like we were living in a cruddy little cave, until my husband snapped his fingers and got, not just the perfect apartment, but the higher income to pay for it. I was able to get us moved out of the old place and into the new place between when he left for work and when he came home the same day.
This is all to say that IT WORKS. I have a long and storied history with poverty and struggle and darning the same pair of socks three times. Little by little, I’ve been able to reeducate myself and understand how abundance works. Which it darn well does.
I agree with everything in this book, and much of it I can validate through personal experience, such as finding money and winning raffles and contests. We get free upgrades and comps all the time. I almost feel like I could write an appendix filled with testimonials. Anyway, what are you waiting for? It’s time to Get Rich, Lucky Bitch!
Money doesn’t solve money blocks.
If your behavior stays the same, it doesn’t matter how much money you make.
For some reason, I used to think I’d have to change everything about myself to be “worthy” of success.
I’m having a freak magnet kind of a day. I can call it that only after long experience. When I was younger, this kind of thing might have made me feel special. I might have mistaken other people’s poor boundaries, or other serious red flags, for instant intimacy.
I’m sitting in a busy cafe. Within an hour, three total strangers have interrupted me and physically touched me. One of them also touched my purse.
This is highly unusual. Let’s acknowledge that. If I were Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it’s unlikely that other people would walk up and lay their hands on me, even if the song “Lay Your Hands On Me” were playing in the background.
I have to ask myself, is there something in this situation or in my physical presence that is drawing this odd behavior from others?
First assumption: I’m in the way.
If I were standing in a crowd, like at a parade or festival, I could assume that I would be pressed against. I’ve ridden mass transit for many years and I don’t necessarily mind being squished together.
Being touched by a series of strangers could also be a sign of low situational awareness on my part. Maybe I’m blocking a doorway or I keep wandering into other people’s paths.
Second assumption: Something is visibly wrong with me and people are checking on me.
If I were having some kind of dizzy spell, if I had just been hit by a car or knocked over, if I was bleeding from a head injury and didn’t realize it yet, it wouldn’t be surprising for someone to physically steady me or try to help me sit down. I assume that if I were going into shock or having some kind of episode, I might not realize what was going on.
Third assumption: I am the victim of a prank.
Maybe someone stuck a sign on my back. Maybe I’ve unintentionally walked out of the house looking like some kind of meme, and I’m too out of the loop to know it. In this scenario, people might be interacting with me because they can hardly keep from laughing, and making eye contact or sneaking photos of me is prolonging the fun.
Lord help me, I wish I could rule out that third option forever, but I’m still haunted by this kind of thing...
Fourth assumption: I’m in the kind of neighborhood where the cultural norm is more physical than other places.
It is true that I live in a beach community with very relaxed norms. Seeing people walk down the sidewalk barefoot, or wearing only a skimpy swimsuit, is everyday and unremarkable here. Maybe the locals are also huggers and I just haven’t noticed yet.
Fifth assumption: I look approachable and people are drawn to me.
This is likely, and also hilarious to me, because it’s both true and untrue.
I happen to be wearing a set of enormous noise-cancelling headphones. My husband bought them for me specifically because they are an ostentatious signal that I am WORKING and unavailable for casual chatter. This is because he knows about my freak magnet problem. I also happen to be wearing a Warrior Dash t-shirt, a garment I’ve worn to Krav Maga lessons, and the only accessory that would make me feel more intimidating would be my kali stick.
When I left my apartment, my sartorial messages were STAY AWAY and BUSY and I MIGHT FIGHT YOU.
At least three other people looked at me in this guise and thought, I should touch this woman.
Who were they?
One, an older woman, possibly old enough to be my mom. She grabbed both of my arms from behind. What?? She wanted to joke with me about another man a few feet away who was playing air drums. Okay cool.
Two, a young man, possibly young enough to be my son. He touched my arm and started talking to me until I took my headphones off. Then he asked if I would pull down the blinds. As I did, he put his hand on my purse and held it out of the way.
Three, a young girl, probably middle school age. She tapped my arm and kept waving at me until I took my headphones off. “Hi.” She wanted to know what I was doing (“trying to get some work done”) and tell me that she and her two friends had the day off from school.
When people physically grab my arms, they have my attention. I figure they’re telling me that the building is being evacuated, or someone is trying to steal from me, or my headphones aren’t plugged in and I’m blasting everyone with a wave of sound, or I’m foaming at the mouth and having a seizure. It’s never been that.
For some mysterious reason, random people just feel impelled to do anything to get my attention.
My family has had a joke for many years. Every time we go somewhere together, someone picks me out and asks me to take their picture. The joke is that I could have a very large stolen camera collection by now! Obviously consensus opinion is that I look trustworthy, approachable, and kind. Another way to put that is: small, female, and harmless. Never mind that I’m belted in two martial arts and I have special training in how to fight with hammer, screwdriver, pen, knife, and staff. I look nice enough, don’t I?
The thing about instant intimacy is that it’s superficial. Just because someone is ready to drop their boundaries on sight doesn’t mean there is any good reason for it. Someone who becomes emotionally open and vulnerable right away may have motives hidden even from themselves.
The truth is that I’ve had this “instant intimacy” issue since I was a baby. Or so I’ve been told. It was part of my socialization as a tiny child to listen closely and with sympathy when people start spilling their life stories. They may do this with literally anyone who crosses their path; I’m just the type to regard it with compassion instead of annoyance, shock, or dread. Oh wow, someone with serious boundary issues, tell me more!
People are right when they see me as someone who is safe to approach, to interrupt, or even to grope. Apparently. I’m never going to haul off and start beating someone up or shouting at them, although I am trained in these arts and I certainly know what to do. I’m also a Free Hugs person, experienced in social services and crisis management. These are empath problems.
There are probably people who come across as seriously intimidating everywhere they go. I imagine there are people who wish they had more friends and can’t figure out what unintentional signals they are sending out. I’m not scary! Come back! I wish I knew their secrets, just like they probably wish they knew mine.
It’s incumbent on us to figure out what to do with these surface impressions. I’ve had to learn to protect my mental and emotional bandwidth. I’ve had to learn to slow that roll and set up more limits and speedbumps and tests and boundaries with all the random strangers who are drawn to me. I’ve had to learn not to mistake every approach as friendship or romance. Instant intimacy is a red flag, a signal to slow down and ask more questions. Real friendship needs more time to develop. Real, ordinary friendliness and cordial behavior is plenty.
I snapped awake. It was still dark outside. 4:11 AM. I had been asleep for four hours.
Why does this happen?
It’s a mystery why a tired person who isn’t sleeping well will still wake up in the middle of the night, wake up too early, or struggle to fall asleep. I know it’s a mystery because I’ve been reading everything I can find on the topic for twenty years.
Another mystery is what I would have done with my life by now if I hadn’t had so many disrupted nights.
I had plans for the day. Doesn’t everyone? I lay awake until 6:30 AM, turning off my alarm, since I wouldn’t be needing it. I was finally feeling sleepy again just as I had planned to be waking up and getting ready.
Decision point. Do I:
Get up and struggle through a long day on four hours of sleep;
Fall back to Plan B, see if I can sleep another two hours, and rearrange my schedule;
I went to Plan B. Again, I snapped awake before the alarm. I was so groggy and I felt so terrible that the will to launch simply snuffed itself out.
The worst part about this is that I structure my own schedule. I have no real reason for struggling with sleep, no caretaking responsibilities, no duty to unlock a door or turn the lights on. My income does not depend on a requirement that I get out of bed at a specific time. This was, of course, fallout from my parasomnia disorder.
Why some people voluntarily deprive themselves of sleep is beyond me. Staying up late to play games, surf the internet, or binge-watch anything, only to get up early the next day and be exhausted, is a pattern I don’t really understand. You mean you would be able to sleep, you just don’t feel like it? What must that be like?
The last couple of years that I worked a traditional day job, I had some very rough days. If I only slept for two or three hours, I would still have to get up and get dressed and commute and drag myself through my workday. I used to go into the ladies’ room every 90 minutes or so to splash cold water on myself or slap myself in the face a couple of times. I used to pinch my upper thigh between my fingernails until the pain jolted me briefly into alertness.
There were times when I barely made thirty hours of sleep for the week.
It was the same in college, when at least I could take naps between classes. I trained myself to sleep in 45-minute increments, folded onto one sofa cushion in the student lounge.
During that era, most of my work occurred outside the time dimension. I could read my assignments and write papers at any time of day or night. While I was a Dean’s List student, this was somewhat of a disaster, because it shattered my circadian rhythms.
It was probably inevitable that I would cut the cord of the traditional day job schedule as soon as I was able. I’m worthless when sleep deprived. Can’t concentrate, lose objects, get physically lost, speak slowly, read the same paragraph over and over. Probably there are high-functioning alcoholics and addicts who get more done at work than I did after a week of poor sleep.
What I didn’t expect was that I would have some of the same problems when I had nobody to report to but myself.
Over the years, I’ve figured out a lot of inputs that affect my sleep and allow me to get enough rest 80-90% of the time. I haven’t figured out how to deal with external noise past a certain decibel level. I’m struggling right now because the apartment beneath ours is being remodeled, and there are saws, drills, hammers, and who knows what else going on ten or eleven hours a day, six or seven days a week. Naps are off the menu. Until when? How would I know? How long does it take to completely overhaul a 650-square-foot apartment?
This is a difficult world for parasomnia. If I knew of a quiet place, I would already be living there, but the countryside isn’t much better. My sleep has been disrupted by anything and everything including garbage trucks, loud motorcycles, helicopters, slamming doors, domestic arguments, barking dogs, ice cream trucks, roosters, other people’s phones, crying children, jackhammers, drunken singing, and even misdelivered packages. Some of these happen between the hours of midnight and 4 AM, because why would the world ever quit being loud?
What I’m trying to learn to do is to fit in an acceptable level of productivity around all of it, somehow. I have to accept that there will never be anywhere in the world, or any time in the day, when I can go off somewhere and never experience disruption. It’s built into the system. If I check into a hotel room, people will persist in talking and laughing loudly in the hallway outside my room every single hour of the day and night. If I move somewhere, the adjacent space will almost immediately undergo renovations.
As I write this, a car alarm is going off in the parking lot next door.
I don’t even own a car, much less a car alarm.
I’ve tried white noise generators and high-end noise canceling headphones and fans and double-glazed windows. I’ve tried every sleeping pill on the market, both prescription and OTC. I’ve tried massage and hot baths and essential oils and meditation. I’ve spoken with doctors and even a psychiatrist. I’m an edge case. I’ll never stop trying things, because I’m curious and because I’ll never give up hope that I can beat this dumb problem, one way or another.
In the meantime, most of the stuff I do that happens on a schedule happens in the afternoon.
I always wanted a chauffeur. That used to be something high on my outrageous dreams list. I’ve always hated driving, I’m a terrible navigator, I’m definitely the kind of person who forgets where she parked, and I saw the whole thing as a chore.
That’s why going car-free has been so great for me.
Honestly I feel like I’m getting away with something by not driving. Most of what I do in my neighborhood, I do on foot, and it feels like I’m on vacation. A little outing most days of the week gets me out in the fresh air. Sometimes I take the bus, something we also do on vacation. It’s when I get a rideshare driver that I really feel like I’m living the dream and having a chauffeur - except that I didn’t have to become a millionaire before it happened.
Why do other people drive so much? I’m not totally sure, since driving was only a regular part of my life for a few years, but I think it’s almost entirely 1. work commute and 2. errands.
Oh, and driving kids around, for those who have them, but we can get to that later.
When I talk about not having a car, especially in Southern California, people get very fidgety. It’s one of those topics that falls under the category of “preachy” for some reason, like eating enough dietary fiber or voting in midterm elections. Ugh, stop pressuring me, I don’t want to spend my social time talking about this!
It’s like people have a conversational filter, and a huge number of topics gets caught in that filter, because we make automatic assumptions about WHY someone would do something.
The only reason someone like me would quit driving - well, I can’t understand it - but surely it absolutely must be something preachy. Saving the environment or something. Ugh. *eye roll*
On the contrary, I don’t drive because I’m spoiled!
Why any middle-class person would do their own errands is beyond me. I for one am way too busy! There is no way I’m going to give up any time on my evenings or weekends to drive around in circles, looking for parking, and wander from place to place doing a bunch of unpaid labor.
That’s what errands are. Unpaid productivity.
Let’s go through the errands point by point.
(If you have kids, hear me out, because my mom did all these things with three small children *by bus* all the time when we either had only one vehicle, or our car was broken down. Riding herd on small kids is even more reason to want to avoid doing your own errands!)
Again, I see errands as an annoying chore that disrupts my precious free time.
Groceries. There is a grocery store across the street from my apartment that is open from 5 AM to midnight, every day. We’re also a ten-minute walk from a Trader Joe’s and a ten-minute bus ride from two different Whole Foods locations. We almost always walk to pick up groceries, or grab a bag as part of another trip. I’ve also paid to have groceries delivered, and for $6-7 plus tip it’s definitely worth saving 1-2 hours of my time.
When would I have groceries delivered? When I’m prepping for a dinner party, once when I was wearing an ankle brace, and another time when I had the flu and my hubby was out of town. If I had little kids, I’m telling you, I wouldn’t do my own grocery shopping again until the littlest one went off to college.
Pharmacy. Every pharmacy I have seen encourages mail delivery. I switched to this because they obviously prefer it, and also because I’ve picked up a cold at least twice when I went to the pharmacy in person.
Dry cleaning. Um, we don’t use a dry cleaner… Maybe once every year or two. I learned how to use those dry cleaner kits you can put in the dryer at home. To me, this would not rate as a good enough reason to own and operate a car. I can walk to a dry cleaner five minutes from my apartment.
Doctor/dentist/veterinary appointments. To me, these aren’t errands, they are appointments. I usually ride the bus, but this is one category where we both tend to use rideshare. We’ve never had a problem bringing our dog or our parrot with us; in fact, often the driver asks to take a photo with my bird.
Beauty treatments. I get my hair done across the street. My hubby goes to a place across the street from our favorite cafe. I’m not interested in stuff like nail art, and I have no idea how many other types of beauty treatments there are, but I imagine most of them could be combined in one full-service location? Again, this wouldn’t be a good enough reason for me to make myself drive anywhere.
Random stuff. Shoe repair - I had to take my hubby’s dress shoes in when my parrot climbed into the closet and chewed on them. It was on the bus route to one of my clubs. I have no idea what type of random things other people are doing, but how many of them involve car-related things like oil changes?
“Shopping.” What do we mean when we say “shopping”? I mean groceries, because personally I hate shopping for clothes almost as much as I hate driving. My hubby and I don’t shop for entertainment. We usually tie in something like buying new shoes or pants along with a trip to the movie theater, and we go there by city bus. I do one major clothes shopping trip a year, usually on vacation, when I make my hubby help me pick out all my stuff.
Outings. I think a lot of people come up with “reasons” to do errands because they include outings, like getting ice cream, going through the drive-thru because they secretly love it and despise cooking, or stopping at the craft store or other favorite shop. Just admit that you are in the mood for an outing and go on the outing. You don’t need to tack a chore onto it because you don’t need to justify your desire to have fun.
Here is where I might add that we used to spend $700 a month owning a car. We got rid of it three years ago. My hubby’s bus fare is paid for by his employer, and he’s learned to prefer playing games and saving money to fighting freeway traffic for 40 minutes every night.
I realize that many people don’t live in a walkable neighborhood. Neither did I during the first five years of my marriage. We sat down and consciously strategized about how we could relocate to a walkable neighborhood. It meant downsizing and being willing to fit into a smaller house… and that in turn meant way less housekeeping and zero yard work!
Since we started living the way we do, we’ve been able to live off half our income. We never fight about money. We also never fight about chores because there’s almost nothing to do, and we’ve automated most of it. When other people are out fighting rush hour traffic to do their own errands, we’re lounging around our living room, talking about stuff like what we would do with our time during the rocket trip to Mars, or why the students at Hogwarts still walked to the candy store even though they had magic.
Well, obviously it’s because walking around town is fun! Stop driving around doing errands all the time and start feeling more leisure in your life.
Interesting things always happen when you clear clutter, and this was no exception. My husband was going through a bag of papers, the last thing left from our move six months ago. Yes, a bag, a reusable shopping bag. Aha, he said, here it is! We’d been looking for this. The first financial plan we ever put in writing together.
In 2009, we made a ten-year financial plan. It turned up just as we were getting ready to do our taxes for the tenth year.
How’d we do?
Before I answer that, I should explain what is so significant about this ten-year plan and why anyone other than us would care about it.
What I didn’t know that winter was that my boyfriend at the time had already decided he wanted to marry me. We had been dating for nearly three years, living in separate cities the whole time, and I was perfectly fine with this arrangement. We had both been divorced, mine five years before his, and I didn’t see any reason to disrupt what we had.
I also felt like it was his decision if he ever wanted to get married again, because his divorce was much fresher and he had a kid. There was nothing to be gained from exerting any pressure on my end, especially because I value my independence and I need a lot of alone time. I had steadily been doing better for myself and I was proud of my progress.
Keep in mind that when we met, I was sleeping on an air mattress in a rented room, working as a temp, with no benefits. After I paid my student loan every month, I had about $30 of wiggle room in my budget. This boyfriend of mine, the one who was secretly contemplating marriage, had watched me as I consolidated my position:
The first raise. The permanent job offer, with benefits and another raise. The first promotion. Moving to an apartment of my own, with no roommates. Paying off two credit cards. Paying off a student loan six years early. Applying for, and getting, two promotional opportunities. Going on a proper beach vacation (without him) and paying for it in cash. Moving to a small rental house of my own.
I didn’t necessarily see myself on a clear trajectory at the time. I felt I was constantly pushing away from a very rough period in my life and recovering from the disaster that was my divorce. I still thought of myself as… temporarily non-broke. I knew I wouldn’t feel any kind of peace of mind until some later point, not one that I could imagine, but probably something like a hundred thousand dollars of savings, that or annual income. Why would I ever stop what I was doing when I felt the dark alternative in my bones?
When my boyfriend of nearly three years called and suggested that we have a financial planning meeting together, I was intrigued and excited. Sure, sounds great!
He came over to my mini-house. I loved that place! It was the first time in my life that I felt really proud of where I lived, the tiniest house in a safe, quiet, and upscale neighborhood. (It was really more like a servant’s quarters, to be honest, a granny unit on the same lot as a house that was 4x larger). I had built all my IKEA furniture myself, bought and paid for it all in cash, and although I was renting, my place was nicer than my boyfriend’s.
The financial planning meeting wasn’t too different from the New Year’s planning I had invited him to do with me for the last three years. I think that process opened the door for this. We had already had some practice being open and honest with each other, we’d already seen some of our plans work out, and we had been talking about money since before we started dating.
He worked the calculator and I wrote everything down on ordinary lined notebook paper.
Most of our discussion was setting the parameters for what would go into the plan.
We started with the assumption that neither of us would ever get a raise, a promotion, a bonus, or a windfall of any kind. That way, any successes of this nature would come as pleasant surprises, not baseline requirements.
We each have our own page. Our names are right at the top. We’re set up slightly differently, because at the time our retirement savings were structured differently and we had different expenses. I supposedly had a pension and a deferred savings account, while he had a traditional 401(k). He was still paying child support, alimony, and a note on his truck. (I had already gone car-free by then).
It took me a while to reinterpret the math, because almost everything I had written out for both of us was arithmetic, not notes or dictation. We were estimating our retirement contributions and savings. In his case, we were forecasting how much more he could save after he paid off his truck and no longer owed alimony or child support.
What we failed to anticipate was a couple of layoffs, major moves, and surprise expenses. *gulp* We also didn’t include consumer debt or my last student loan.
Oh, and, um, we didn’t include me quitting my day job a year later. *nervous laughter*
Or the wedding, since the entire topic of marriage had not come up yet...
Ten years is a pretty long time for anyone. It’s quite a long time indeed in the life of a love relationship. My first marriage was over and done in a three-year span. It was a little nuts for us to be forecasting this far, and we knew it at the time. WHO KNEW what the future would bring???
Trust, love, and optimism, that’s what it brought, along with the usual share of disruption, dread, and calamity.
When both of our ten-year financial forecasts were finished, a full page for each of us, we sat back and looked at each other. Wow! That was actually fun!
Just a couple of months later, he proposed, his decision already made. He chose the one who likes to crunch numbers and talk about money, the one who is a careful saver, who reads personal finance manuals and manages her own investments. The one who beat the market in 2008. He chose me.
I chose him right back. I could choose freely because I didn’t need him, I wanted him. I was doing fine on my own. It just so happened that we liked it better when we were together.
How did it turn out?
After ten years: roughly two thousand dollars ahead of forecast. That’s a 0.4% win, pretty much as close as one could get.
How about that? Not only do we still like each other and find each other attractive, we just found vindication of our decisions from a decade ago buried in a stack of papers. Our methods apparently worked.
Now it’s probably time to put together a new ten-year plan, since the old one just expired. We can add in the perspective we’ve gained over the past decade, with the assumption that the next ten years will probably include a long recession and the firm knowledge that we can’t expect a single thing in our lives to stay the same. Well, except for our ability to have rational discussions together about our plans. That part we get to keep.
Have you ever learned about something that suddenly snapped a huge part of your life into a new perspective? That happened to me the other day when I read about future faking for the first time. If I had known what it was twenty-five years ago, it would have changed the entire course of my life, and I am not kidding.
Future faking is a trick that manipulative people use to make us think they are invested in a relationship. They pretend they want to do something with you in the future in order to win your affection, attention, or whatever the heck it is that they want.
This kind of thing actually happens all the time to varying degrees. Most people do not regard casual statements as a firm contract. When we say, “we have to get together soon” or “I’ll send you that link” or “I’ll call you,” we’re expressing a sentiment that feels true in the moment. Today Me thinks Future Me is totally going to want to hang out!
Just like Past Me has committed Today Me to do all kinds of things, from donating blood to reorganizing the cabinet under the sink, Today Me never feels any more like doing those things than Past Me ever did. Ah, but Future Me, Future Me is the one with the motivation.
Future faking goes beyond ordinary over-promising and under-delivering. Future faking can be a conscious strategy of the unscrupulous.
Multi-level marketing is a classic example of this. There’s a huge amount of inspiration, motivation, visioning, and pumping up of aspirations. It’s going to be so great, business is booming, you’re going to get so rich! …in unsold and unsellable inventory and bitter experience. Even though 99% of people who sign up for MLMs lose money, they’re still allowed to operate. Sadly, getting duped by one MLM is not enough to convince everyone to swear off all of them, and the same individual may get swept up in the same type of scheme several times.
One of the hints here is to do a status meeting with yourself and ask: “Is this working for me, right now?” “Do I constantly feel uneasy about this situation… until Person X talks me out of it yet again?”
This works in romance, too.
I can give my ex-husband credit for a few things. One, he did a great job of erasing himself from my life after we split up, which is more than most people can say. Two, he always did his share of the housework. Three, he told me the brutal truth (meticulously, over several weeks) about why he wanted a divorce. At least I would never have to wonder!
Among other things, he told me that he had tricked me from the very beginning of our relationship. He pretended to be into the same things I was, because he wanted to go out with me. In fact, he said he was still attracted to me and would still date me, he just didn’t want to be married anymore. Strange but true.
He had the basic concept of marriage down. Marriage isn’t about two people who find each other attractive and want to save money by sharing rent. That was sort of what was on offer with my ex.
Marriage is about wanting to live the same basic lifestyle, on the same basic schedule, with compatible values and ultimate goals. My ex knew we didn’t have any of that, and furthermore, he knew it almost instantly from the moment we met.
He formed a deliberate plan to use his strategic advantage and manipulate his way into my good graces. He read me well, and quickly understood that I was oblivious to his position.
On the alignment chart, I’m a lawful good character. My ex was… hmm, I never really thought about it… ugh. Neutral evil? Honestly I don’t think he would be offended by that characterization; he might find it flattering. Why wouldn’t an intelligent person look out for his own interests?
I fault myself, although the mistakes I made were a young person’s mistakes of trust, optimism, and simple naivety. Poor little fool.
It goes basically like this:
I like walking on the beach. Oh my gosh, you do too?? Oh, look, we both have a scar on our chin! We’re meant to be together, forever!!! *harps and butterflies*
We give our hearts away, spilling a dozen details about ourselves, which any carnival employee could quickly note. It’s a straightforward matter of conjuring up a persona that shares those interests. We fall for it because we want to believe, because we believe in a vision of love, romance, and dating that is missing all the important steps of a long-term marriage contract.
Absolutely none of that can be determined at a faster rate than that at which a lovesick young fool’s heart falls for a certain sort of image.
Young Me had dreams of middle-class stability and home ownership. Young Me came up with a plan in which one of us would go to college while the other worked, and then we would switch. That’s what my parents did, after all, and my new husband said I could go first because he had no particular desire to go to school right then. It was easy for him. I made all the plans and dreams, and he nodded along. All he had to say was a formula along the lines of, “Yeah, I always wanted that too” - and I fell for it every time.
The truth was, I had no independent vision of what he wanted for himself, because he never offered one, I never asked, and I never got curious. I simply swallowed the bonkers notion that we coincidentally wanted all the same things. Didn’t everyone want to go to college and buy a house, after all? (No, actually).
Further, nothing in my ex’s past indicated that he had ever been on track for any of these plans. Just like me at the time, he was on the rebound and probably “between plans.” Most people don’t necessarily have any plans beyond avoiding eviction or job loss.
Future faking is no big deal when it involves tentative plans for lunch or dinner with someone. It may happen, after all, sometime within the next year. Future faking is definitely a big deal when it leads us to believe that someone is a completely different person than he actually is, a person with a different ideal life and different visions for what happiness looks like.
While I didn’t know what future faking was as a clueless twenty-two year old, and I didn’t have a name for it, I did figure out how to get around it. I started asking a lot more questions when I met prospective suitors. I also married my current husband only after we had dated for three years, when I pretty much had him figured out. Our future would turn out to be a lot more interesting than I would have guessed, and that’s because I chose a man, not a carefully plotted future fantasy.
Sugar might feel like a love language, but it isn’t one, but dang it sure feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it? My relationship with sweets is probably more nuanced and affectionate than my relationships with specific people in my life. It’s the bad-news rebound boyfriend and the great frenemy of my days. I know this, and I set decent boundaries for myself at home. Still working on those boundaries around others, particularly with my cake friend.
My husband and I used to have several food rituals when we first started dating. It felt like romance. One was that we would keep a package of Oreos in his freezer and eat them with the Very Vanilla soy milk. Another was to make root beer floats. That was separate from the giant waffles we might have eaten that morning. Part of how we lost 100 pounds between us was that we had to notice our patterns and agree, together, that we would replace them with something else.
It’s a lot easier when you both agree.
That’s not always as easy to do with more sporadic relationships. When it’s someone you don’t see as often, it doesn’t feel like a pattern - until it does.
Until you catch it in action.
Through a research and investigation process that included astrophysics-level mathematics, I figured out how to break my personal code on weight gain. I reached my goal weight and was able to maintain it almost effortlessly for over five years.
Then two things happened. One, I changed sports and took up martial arts. Two, I made a new friend - my cake friend.
Boxing made me ravenously hungry. My performance improved when I started eating more, and things were great for a while. I put on a bunch of muscle and had fun kicking people across the room. There’s this thing, though, called “dirty bulk.” You can add a certain amount of muscle by eating more, but it tends to bring a certain amount of adipose tissue with it, a.k.a. body fat. For women that tends to be in a ration of 1:1, so every pound of muscle walks in with its arm around a pound of fat.
It was all fine until we moved to a new apartment, downstairs from a family of chaos muppets, and suddenly I could only get half as much sleep as I needed.
I didn’t see it coming because I had been feeling so strong. Since I was doing something new to me, I felt like I had broken my pattern, and I didn’t realize it would happen again even though I’ve been through it half a dozen times in the past twenty years.
All the symptoms that, for me, are correlated with higher body mass came back. All of them! The migraines and the night terrors and the depleted immune system.
Suddenly I was getting sick a lot. That led to missing a bunch of classes. Then I couldn’t keep up. Just as I was in need of more and more recovery time, I was getting less and less sleep. Finally I had to drop out of my gym and try to take some time off to recover.
Did you know that? That working out in the 90%-capacity range too often without enough downtime will affect your immune system? It happens to endurance athletes but it didn't occur to me that it could happen from any sport.
Anyway, there I was, all dirty bulked and back in the same spiraling pattern that drove me to try body transformation in the first place. I knew - I knew through spreadsheets and years of tracking metrics and enlisting an engineer to crunch my data - I knew I needed to drop weight. I needed to be able to sleep, and I needed to corral my dirty-bulk eating habits. Otherwise I didn’t see how I could get back to any kind of fun or interesting workout again.
We moved, I started getting the sleep, I cleaned up my diet. I would drop two pounds and gain it back, drop two pounds and gain it back. Stalling and stalling.
Finally it clicked. I was nailing it in all areas, doing what I needed to take care of myself. Then I would literally lose all my progress because of this one particular loophole.
The cake friend!
I had to tell her. “I’ve gained weight.” “Me too!” “Nearly 20 pounds since we met.” “GASP”
“But we lose it so quickly!”
“*I* don’t! It takes me three times as long to lose a pound as it does to gain it. I can gain two pounds over a weekend and take the rest of the month to burn it off.”
Then we started talking about how much we love our favorite neighborhood restaurant, the one with the gorgeous glass display and eight flavors of vegan cakes. Every time we went out, brunch lunch afternoon tea or dinner, this is where we went, and we always got cake.
We agreed to stay out of there until we were both back on track, and we did. We tried a few new places. I went there with some other friends, all of whom were also doing the whole January thing, and lo and behold, no cake!
Then my cake friend and I went out again. The waitress brought out the dessert menu. I was *completely full* and cursing myself inwardly for not putting half my food in a box. I realized my friend was fluttering her eyelashes and looking completely stymied over the dessert menu.
“Oh! I see. You’re not going to eat dessert in front of me.”
“And I’m definitely not going to share it!”
We both laughed, and the waitress laughed, and then we both got desserts and we both ate them.
I was still full the next morning when I woke up, like Thanksgiving-dinner full. Granted, I ate a pound of Brussels sprouts, but still, it’s not the best feeling.
Why can’t I say no to you, my darling?
There are a bunch of answers to this conundrum. I’m extremely fortunate and privileged to be in this situation, rather than, say, an alcohol or heroin situation. I don’t have to shut down my friendship to save myself. I could invite her over to our place and cook at home. I could (rather easily) make a list of new places to try that don’t have a tempting dessert menu. I could ask to have half my entree boxed up and save it for lunch the next day. I could get a Sharpie marker and write NO! on my hand, since I can’t seem to get it out of my mouth.
Or I could do the more fun version, which is to start distance running again.
My cake friend and I have talked several times about run-walking together. I realize that I am the gatekeeper on this, and I’ll have to be the one to choose the time slot and get us going. We could both be running a 10k together by this fall, no problem, or maybe even this spring.
Then we can eat all the cake we want, which is probably the only situation in which you can really have your cake and eat it, too.
Disaster struck my little household a week or so ago. It was like an earthquake, short in duration but dramatic in impact. Just like an earthquake, we got through it more easily because we were prepared. Out of everything else we organize, our ability to come and go quickly is perhaps the most important.
I happened to be working on a presentation about “getting organized” when my husband suddenly got a severe eye injury. This is why it was on my mind. There’s a lot of Hurry Up and Wait in any crisis, and an overnight in an emergency room includes many hours of time for reflection.
I work with people who are chronically disorganized. What would any of them have done in a situation like this?
Imagine you walk into your front door covering your face because you’ve hurt your eye, and you can’t see. What do you do?
Can you easily open and walk through the front door?
Can you make it to a chair, or somewhere to sit?
Do you have a first aid kit? What’s in it? How long does it take you to get to it?
(A first aid kit was actually not helpful in this case; nor was ice, although my hubby was able to put together a baggie of ice cubes for himself. In case of a corneal abrasion, just go to urgent care or the ER as soon as you can).
The tricky thing about our situation was not so much that we each had to know where our own stuff was. I had to be able to find *his* stuff. In particular, I needed his wallet and his health insurance card. It’s easy to imagine the reverse situation, where he would have to get into my purse.
Not being able to find your identification is one of the endless hassles of the chronically disorganized. Photo ID? Social security card? Birth certificate? Often what could have been a simple bureaucratic chore can take weeks, because my person has to go back and fill out forms and pay extra fees for additional copies of documents that they already have. Somewhere.
Our stuff is either in our wallets or in the fireproof safe. Simple. I knew right where to go.
Some people can get deep into the weeds of organization. I call it “alphabetizing your socks.” The goal is perfection. Really, the goal is efficiency: Can you get what you need the moment you need it? Like when you need emergency instructions on how to save someone’s eye?
This is why we called the advice nurse rather than rushing straight out the door. First, we needed to know if there was something we could quickly do at home to help the eye. Second, it turns out my hubby was worried that if we went to the ER without the proper authorization, we could wind up on the hook for thousands of dollars of bills. We talked about it later and realized that if we had been on vacation when this happened, it could easily have been financially ruinous.
(Here we were lucky. A corneal abrasion is off-the-charts painful, and it can indeed result in permanent vision damage, but with the right treatment it can heal in 24 hours. Because of the type of injury, we could afford to delay).
It turned out we had about forty minutes to DO ALL THE THINGS while on hold for the advice nurse. My temporarily blind husband sat with the phone on hold, since he was in too much pain to do much else anyway. Every other thing that I did to get ready involved... stuff.
Basically the level of organization of our entire apartment.
Needed the insurance card. It was in the drop zone, right where it belonged.
Needed to make a quick meal for hubby and grab something for myself. Fridge and freezer were stocked. I was able to throw something in the microwave and grab a clean plate and fork with about five seconds of conscious thought.
Needed to clean up after our sick dog. Had gloves and enzyme cleaner right where they were supposed to be.
Needed to give a pill to the poor sick dog. Knew where it was and which bottle it was in. There was a trick here, because they have to be cut in half and I had to do it with a knife. Apparently our pill slicer had broken and been thrown out without being replaced. Who would have thought something this minor would ever be a matter of urgency?
Needed to take the dog out. His leash and baggies were right there in the drop zone. He had his harness on and he knows the drill. Good boy.
Needed my keys, since we live on the fifth floor. Yet another item that was right in the drop zone.
Needed to get out of my workout clothes, shower, and throw on something for cold weather. This was another sticking point, because we were planning to do laundry the next day and I only really had one clean outfit. But all I needed was one.
When it was finally time to go, I did a bag check on both our bags. Usually I only need my own bag, with my phone, purse, wallet, and keys. This time I also needed to track someone else’s stuff. It was all there... right in the drop zone.
A drop zone, if you haven’t figured it out, is the area where everyone in your home drops their stuff when they come in. For chronically disorganized people, there is no drop zone. It might be different every single day. Each person might drop certain items (shoes, backpack, glasses, inhaler, hoodie) in different rooms. Someone else might kick something under a table, or drop something on top of it. Nobody knows where anything is because nobody formed a memory when the thing got dropped. When the entire house is a drop zone, nobody can ever find anything truly important, like the keys, the health insurance card, or the first aid kit.
It feels simple and easy to drop stuff “wherever,” and that’s why it is such an easy habit to develop. In reality, having no drop zone can create endless chaos. Designing a drop zone and training everyone in the house to use it, including young kids, can feel like running up the down escalator. After that, though, the most important stuff is streamlined. Getting ready to go somewhere is a matter of minutes, and nobody cries.
Our drop zone is the top of a bookcase, as close as we could get to the front door. There’s a wooden crate, and my hubby literally drops his stuff into it when he comes in. I keep my stuff in my bag and hang it on the chair by my desk. That’s all. Nothing fancy. One chair, one flat surface.
It’s true that this particular disaster of an evening involved several housekeeping systems. The kitchen, the bathroom, the linen closet, the laundry and the groceries and even our dog’s few possessions were all involved. We could have figured out how to get around a systemic failure in any of these areas. The really important things were the wallet with that pesky insurance card, the phone, and the keys.
The art of the drop zone can transform any home, no matter how many people live there, whether it’s a tiny apartment like ours or a sprawling five-bedroom. Try it, and then make a game out of practicing your emergency preparedness skills.
Groundhog Day is my second New Year. First you have 1/1, then you have 2/2, right? It’s also a great way to tie in the Harold Ramis movie and themes of fighting boredom by learning all kinds of cool new skills.
I need a second New Year because January somehow always seems to be a disaster. It’s like chaos is determined to disrupt any plans and projects I might try to make. Since there will never be a perfect, uninterrupted streak of routine and a smooth supply of both mood and motivation, might as well accept it. Skip January and wait until it’s finally February.
Which it is!
I’ve done what I planned to do, which was to waffle around and come up with a loose outline of how I sorta roughly plan to attack my goals and projects for 2020.
Ultralearning: My ultralearning project for 2020 is to get to A1 level in Dutch. I am on track! I downloaded an app and loaded up the lessons, and, toughest part of all, I figured out a time of day when I can practice. Mealtimes? No, mouth full of food. Evenings? No, husband is home. I’m going to do my lessons either first thing in the morning, or while my hubby is in gym class on weekends. I already know some basic greetings and pronouns, and the app says my accent is good! Now that I’m over the part where I debate scheduling with myself for weeks, I’m having fun and looking forward to each lesson.
Personal: My big personal plan for 2020 is to Get My Body Back. (Recovering from surgery in December). New urgency behind this as I had night terrors twice in January, and one of those definitely woke up my husband on a work night. Unfair. Years of tracking my metrics have led me to the conclusion that I only experience night terrors when I: [eat after 8:00 PM] + [weigh over 135 lbs]. + [did not do at least 45 minutes of cardio training that day]. While I always feel stupid when I eat something late at night and then immediately have night terrors, I have other reasons to feel that my current body composition is not serving my needs. My “low-side compliance” bare-minimum goal is to lose five pounds a month until I hit goal, and I am on track for that.
Career: My career goal is to learn to do webinars. This may be escalated on the timescale because, due to misfortune, I lost out on a speaking opportunity. Instead I may be able to present the same workshop online. With an external deadline involved, I may be able to find support to learn what I need sooner than I would on my own, i.e. late November.
Home: My home goal is to work on automating more chores and researching methods for my upcoming book. The result of this is that the place looks great and hubby has been doing odd jobs like fixing door handles. Bustle is contagious.
Couples: The only thing I really did as a couples goal in January was to take my husband to the emergency room when he got a corneal abrasion. I did earn major wife points that night but I would recommend something, anything, else as a bonding experience.
Stop goal: My stop goal for 2020 was to stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail. I am really proud of myself for having a perfect track record on this. It has been challenging, though, as it seems that my rate of received text messages has literally tripled since I put the goal in place. Schtaaaappppp!
Lifestyle upgrades: I put on my list that my major lifestyle upgrade for the year would probably be gum surgery. I went for a checkup with my endodontist, got a referral for a periodontist, called to clear the insurance, and actually scheduled the appointment. I keep reminding myself that the sooner I get an answer, the better, and the sooner I can put it all behind me. Also that there are few things more middle-aged than having one’s own periodontist.
In another area, my hubby and I rearranged our living room (which we often do in January) and we love it!
Do the Obvious: I put down for Do the Obvious that I should accept the reality of constant travel and No Normal Weeks. This has to be at least the fourth time I have smacked my forehead for picking the stupidest, worst slogan for my year. Let’s see, so far this year our dog almost died, my husband almost lost vision in one eye *the night before* my first big-time speaking opportunity, we both got the flu just as a major remodel began on the apartment downstairs, and, yes, he already has at least a week of travel on the calendar. “No Normal Weeks” [glares at self]
Quest: 50 for 50! I have done no outdoor running yet this year, but I have put in considerable time on the elliptical and actually walked out part of my proposed training route, visualizing how much I am going to enjoy it.
Wish: My wish for the year is to get a book deal. I have been unusually productive on the book outline itself and I feel a lot of momentum around this.
For anyone else who is thinking about resolutions and goals and plans and projects, take heart. Whatever you are working on, it’s probably best that you do it seasonally and take a few months off each year. Accept the natural rhythms of your life. Allow yourself to start at zero, feel like you have no idea what to do, have no concrete plans or structures, and just LEARN about your project from a place of curiosity. If it’s something that will continue to appeal to you enough to do it, let it draw you in and become more interesting to you.
Everything I do, I do with bumbling, fumbling, stumbling, ludicrous misunderstandings of what’s involved, missed deadlines, bungled introductions and mismatched networking, purchase of inappropriate supplies, and every other possible mistake. These are the compost of the garden of creativity. Even the most glorious botanical tourist attraction has a lot of bare branches in winter.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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