Six weeks to live, that’s what the vet told us. He was in one room and we were in another, having a surgical consult for our 10-year-old dog. After absorbing all the information and asking a lot of questions, we wept on each other and then declined treatment.
A year later, he’s still here.
There are few emotional moments as difficult as saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Our love for them is uncomplicated and pure in a way that it rarely or never is for the humans in our lives. This is why sitting in a veterinary office can lead us to make decisions that can ultimately be bad for the animal and bad for us as well. It helps when we can set ourselves some guidelines in advance.
It sucks, but animals have lifespans. Most of them are shorter than ours. We love them, and then they get old and die on us. It’s desperately unfair. Why can’t a dog live as long as a horse? Why can’t a cat live as long as a parrot? Our parrot helped raise this dog, Spike, from a 10-week-old puppy. Now she’s still swinging upside down by two toes and singing to Lady Gaga while he’s a stiff old elderly dog. She’s 21 and she could probably outlive five consecutive dogs during her natural lifespan.
It isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair, and yet that’s part of my attraction to parrots. Long life and few health problems.
Comparing one phylum to another isn’t useful in this context, though. What I am going to offer is a comparison between two dog-loving families faced with similar veterinary issues, what they decided, and how it turned out.
First I’ll offer the test case, and then I’ll offer details about Spike’s situation.
I met a woman at a party. She had a lot on her mind. Her household was broke, she was unemployed, and she couldn’t afford the special high-end groceries she needed for her diet. I used to work in social services, so when I hear “can’t afford groceries” I get into “feed this family” mode and start offering options. Then I found that the family was broke partly because they had recently spent over $20,000 on cancer treatments for their dog.
I didn’t meet the dog in question, and we’re not in touch, so I have no idea how this looks a year down the road. The story was that the treatments worked and the dog was cancer-free a year later. The woman at the party didn’t seem to have made the connection between struggling with grocery money and paying the extra vet bills.
This stuck in my mind because only a couple of weeks later, we found out that our own dog had a liver tumor.
Here’s the backstory. Our dog was diagnosed with Addison’s disease when he was two years old. He hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and he lay in his bed, shaking. I got down on the floor with him and held him all night, certain this pup was going to die. Took him to the vet and found out he has this genetic endocrine disorder which is so serious that most people choose to euthanize rather than try to treat it.
We decided to give him the pills and keep him around. A few years later, that medication quit working on him and we thought he was going to die again, but he responded to a different drug. Now he goes in every month for a shot, and the few days at the end of the cycle, he tends to be shaky and ill. Tough life for a little dog.
Then there was the time he hurt his neck from shaking his toys so much. The vet advised a spinal tap and a long list of other treatments to find out what was wrong. He didn’t do well on the pain medication and quit eating again, and once again we were sure our expensive little dog wasn’t going to make it. We took him off the pain meds and I was able to coax him back into eating solid food by pretending I couldn’t stop dropping bits of my lunch on the floor.
By the time we made it to the Liver Tumor point on the timeline, we had been through a lot as a mixed-species family. Spike had been on countless prescriptions and was on a first-name basis with literally every single employee at no fewer than four clinics. He was a canine celebrity, The Addisonian Dog Who Lived. “Personality plus,” they call him, a great dog with a loving home... and poor health.
It’s like this. 20% of the time, he’s happy and hilarious. He jumps three feet straight off the ground, chases his tail, and does a dozen circus tricks.
20% of the time, he’s curled up in a ball feeling sick and refusing food.
The middle 60%, he’s like any other dog, hanging around sleeping or scratching his ear or following us from room to room.
We’ve known for a long time that Spike probably wasn’t going to get the advanced life span of some dogs. We’ve known for most of his life that his genetic condition would eventually progress to the point that it was untreatable. We had to make the decision early on that when he started suffering more and life was no longer fun for him, we would do the right thing.
Then my mother-in-law died of cancer, her fifth recurrence.
When we decided to decline treatment for Spike’s liver tumor, this was why. My husband couldn’t put his dog through cancer treatment because he saw what it did to his mom. She was a human who could communicate and sign her own forms. Our dog could never possibly understand what was happening to him, what we were doing to him. We knew he might die during the exploratory surgery, much less during radiation and chemo. All that just to buy him another year, a year of constant pain and fear and confusion?
And then what? The same choices again, only with an older dog?
When we declined treatment, the $9100 bill for the exploratory surgery was a factor, sure. It should be for most families. We have an adult child. What if *she* needed help with that kind of money but we had already spent it on our pet?
What if one of *us* got cancer?
Wouldn’t it be nice if veterinary care came free of charge, no matter the animal. Wouldn’t it be nice if they lived forever. Sure, that would be great, but we don’t expect anyone else to work for free, so why veterinarians? The “cost” isn’t a financial cost, though, as much as it is a cost of pain and confusion and dread for the animal. They hate it there, we know that, and when we bring them in it’s often more about postponing our own pain than theirs.
What happened with our dog’s liver tumor, a year after declining treatment? Fair question. It got larger and he developed a second tumor, in his lung this time. He’s still here, though.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that treating our dog for the liver tumor/possible cancer would not have been a good idea. He got this second tumor anyway, and the treatment for the first tumor could not have prevented it. We would easily have spent twenty thousand dollars treating our dog, who is now eleven and a half, and for what?
In the year that we didn’t have to buy him, the bonus year, he’s had a lot of terrible days. He’s also had some great days, where he was so happy and energetic that we just looked at each other with our mouths hanging open. This dog! His vets (he knows the whole team) have no explanation for why he is still alive. We know his day must be coming any time now, and we have the number to call to help his crossing over the rainbow bridge. We’ll do the right thing for him, no question, but why rush when he still wants to jump and play and do tricks?
Did that other family do the right thing by spending $20,000 on cancer treatments for their dog, at the expense of their own grocery budget? They seemed happy about it, and it isn’t for me to judge. Did my husband and I do the right thing by declining treatment for our own dog, partly because we knew it would cost $20,000? Not everyone would agree, and it probably isn’t fair to include the results, because if he had only lived for a month we might have seemed callous and cruel.
We made the choice we did because we felt that it was too much to ask of our dog to tolerate a year of cancer treatments. We also made this choice because spending that kind of money on a ten-year-old dog did not make sense in a broader moral context. If we were going to spend $20,000, why not put it toward a human’s cancer treatment instead?
We’ll say goodbye to our dog sometime soon. We won’t wait for the obvious last day. We’ll make it a party, so his friends can say goodbye too. He can have party foods, even the naughty stuff if he wants it, like fried chicken and chocolate and grapes. We’ll let him go, and it will crush us. But we knew, even when we first held him and he would fit in one hand, we knew he would. We knew that we would love him and he would break our hearts, because we are immortals compared to his kind. We choose this love because it burns so hot, an enormous love for a short life.
If you haven’t already seen the cover of Fair Play popping out everywhere you go, you soon will. Tucked under arms, clutched on mass transit, sliding off a passenger seat, maybe even on your spouse’s bedside table. Equity in household bandwidth is an extremely hot topic these days, with good reason, and Eve Rodsky’s book is a user-friendly take on the subject. Because it’s made into a game, it can be put into use without both parties needing to take a highlighter to it.
(Other titles on this issue, like Gemma Hartley’s Fed Up or Megan Stack’s Women’s Work, are going to be a much harder sell to a recalcitrant, unreformed mate and may not be as easy to implement).
The premise of Fair Play is that in traditional households, even when both parents work full-time jobs, the mom typically gets stuck doing 2/3 of household labor. This appears to be true even when she both earns more money and works longer hours. Yikes! Natural results: resentment, exhaustion, fighting, and perhaps even divorce.
Fair Play not only has a system for diving tasks, it also has scripts to follow for introducing the idea, getting buy-in, dealing with problems, et cetera.
In my experience with two chore-doing and dinner-cooking husbands, the direct approach and clear, specific requests really do work. “I’m doing X, Y, and Z before our friends get here, so will you do A, B, and C?” “Would you rather do Chore 1 or Chore 2?” Various men in my life (roommates, dad, brothers, travel buddies) are often more efficient than I am, and many of them have been objectively better at cooking and cleaning. Credit where it’s due. Division of labor tends to be far, far more about how it is structured, incentives, and communication than it is about motivation or competence.
The incentive part of Fair Play is that both partners get Unicorn Time, which in research is referred to as High Quality Leisure Time. This is so huge and so important! My husband and I build our schedule around our hobbies, classes, club memberships, workouts, vacations, and favorite weekend activities, with the understanding that we can easily fit housework and errands into the crevices that remain. We take turns cooking, not because it’s fair, but because we both specialize in certain dishes that we prefer to eat “our way.” Done right, housework can go virtually unmentioned because it feels like it handles itself.
While Fair Play is a truly great starting place for happier homes, happier kids, and unhappier divorce attorneys, there is one area where it could be improved. That is including kids in the gamification of the household. This book will work for couples with infants and toddlers, sure. In my opinion, any child old enough to play sports or have after-school activities is also old enough to start learning some skills. I didn’t love chores as a kid, nobody does, but it turns out that childhood chores were the reason my husband, brothers, and I all know how to keep house as adults.
Let all adults feel equally competent and equally free of drudgery and bickering!
The hours of my life are as valuable as yours and we both get to make choices about how we use our time.
As it is with time, happiness is an equal right.
What is fair is not always equal and what is equal is not always fair, so don’t expect a 50/50 split. The goal of Fair Play is equity, not equality.
Recognize that you and your partner have already been communicating about domestic responsibilities, just not in the most positive or constructive way.
I have to admit, when I read the title of this book, I heard it as a disembodied voice calling me to account for some nebulous crime and asking ME, personally, Why Won’t You Apologize? I felt defensive! Even without anything or anyone specific in mind, I was sure that someone out there felt wronged by me, felt that they deserved an apology from me. Other may wonder if, instead, Harriet Lerner is advocating for them and asking that special villain, hey, Why Won’t You Apologize? Yeah, So-and-So, tell me you’re sorry! Forgiveness sounds beautiful right up until it’s time to actually forgive. Either way, this book definitely has something for everyone.
One of the best parts of Lerner’s book is the inside view it offers into other people’s scandals and private dramas. It really helps to put our own gossip into the appropriate context. Hypothetically, I can look at my divorce and be mad, or I can think, well, at least he didn’t cheat on me and get another woman pregnant... There are examples of all sorts of behavior, from the petty and comedic to the dark and deep, and how apologies were botched or done well.
Why Won’t You Apologize? has a more or less comprehensive catalog of fake, shoddy, sham pseudo-apologies with explanations of why they are D- or F-grade homework. These include the Mystifying Apology, “I’m sorry but,” “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and the rest of the gang. The explanations of exactly why non-apologies are so much worse than nothing are very helpful. At last we can clarify our feelings. Knowing these are universal tendencies and that being sloppy, lame, and uncool about apologizing applies to everyone can maybe close the loop on past hurts.
Culturally we are in a very weird place with apologies. The same person who feels slighted all the time and carries many grievances is likely also to be cruddy at apologizing, or even to be a passionate defender of the belief in never apologizing for anything, ever, at all. Being able to admit when you are wrong is a marker of adulthood and also a marker of intelligence. It’s not like refusing to apologize will keep people from noticing that you are sometimes in the wrong!
The best thing that we can do is to learn how to make graceful and effective apologies, because that’s how we demonstrate how it’s done. Give what you wish to receive. Let’s everyone read Why Won’t You Apologize? Then we can pass around our copies at Thanksgiving for some wholesome family fun.
Being too sorry can be a covert form of defensiveness.
No person can be more honest with us than they can be with their own self.
How do you find peace when the hurt you’ve suffered will never be acknowledged or repaired by the one who inflicted it?
Letting go of anger and hate requires us to give up the hope for a different past, along with the hope of a fantasized future.
Hey, I have an idea. Let’s start off the week with a highly loaded discussion of power dynamics!
When we talk about who makes the money and who does the chores, we tend to frame it in a really dumb way, which anyone who has multiple siblings should immediately understand. Why are chore wars always “husband vs. wife” or “mom vs. kids” when it should really just be “people who share common areas”?
I have two brothers, so in our household chores rotated week to week. My dad’s response to questions about trading chores was:
“I don’t care, just get it done.”
Right. Focus on the goal. Cleanest house with the least amount of effort. In my parents’ view, that meant training the kids to do as much as possible. A charitable interpretation of this is that they maximized our opportunities to learn adult skills.
It’s pretty common, in a traditional monogamous hetero marriage, for the wife to take on more of the housework and childcare. We’ve workshopped this, my husband and I, with groups of other couples. A wife will explain that she does more because she feels guilty that she is earning less money.
This is where the contrarian take comes in.
Power couples look at the division of labor strategically. What can be done so that both parties maximize their earning potential and overall career success? How can everyone in the household enjoy the highest possible quality of life?
This can happen in a million bajillion different ways, arranged over various timelines. Where it doesn’t happen is in relationships where one party is motivated by guilt and feelings of being a lesser contributor. What, one of you is the CEO so the other one has to be the janitor?
(Note: facilities maintenance is an honorable profession, and plenty of people have become millionaires through offering custodial services. Trash is cash).
When one person in a relationship is motivated by guilt and/or shame, the chore wars become about something entirely different than a smoothly running household. They become about earning approval, or avoiding conflict, or demonstrating, what? Fealty? Subservience?
What we’re talking about is not the sort of relationship in which one partner radiates joy and serenity through interior design and the culinary arts, while the other channels their self-expression into career ambition. That’s totally a thing, and if it works for both of you, more power to ya.
What we’re talking about is that other kind, where both parties are dissatisfied or bored or fighting about money or feeling unappreciated. None of those feelings tend to be part of someone’s wedding vows.
To have and to ignore, to annoy and exasperate, from this day forward.
We’re smarter than this. We didn’t marry our houses and we know better than to prioritize our stuff over our relationships. Besides, we have robots now.
The truth is that we tend to magnify the amount of work that “needs” to be done to run a household in four ways:
By having larger homes than we need,
Filled with more stuff than we need,
With no systems in place,
And having power struggles about it all.
My ex-husband and I used to play poker for chores, using a points system that we designed together. He did 95% of the cooking, because arguably he was a much better cook and he preferred it that way. Yes, he earned about 50% more than I did, and that was an issue when we discussed our budget and our savings goals, but it didn’t factor into how we divided labor at home. Rather, we had a plan that he would work while I got my degree, and then I would work at my newly increased rate of pay while he finished his. It was understood that it would be several years before we divided the housework “evenly.”
We never got to that point. I can claim, though, that we kept a pretty tidy home. Out of all the things we fought about, housework wasn’t on the list. Probably because we were minimalists and spent most of our marriage in small apartments. Possibly also because we both had multiple siblings!
Now I’m remarried, and the structure is different, partly because the man is different and partly because we rely on engineering principles rather than poker. What works on the manufacturing floor that would also work at home? We have successfully harnessed professional pride, his in Agile methodology and mine in my work with chronic disorganization and hoarding.
Keep work surfaces and common areas clear. Streamline processes and eliminate unnecessary steps. Don’t tie up capital in excess inventory. Cross-train and share best practices. Continuous improvement.
We have had a LOT of discussions about housework over our ten-year marriage. This has been almost entirely driven by me, because I’m the fussy one. I’ve framed it as a way to view a smoothly running household like an engineering management problem. Rather than make this, How do I convince you to wipe down counters my way?, I’ve tried to make it, What terminology would an engineer use to describe this work process?
Also, What kind of robot could do this particular task? Could you build me one?
This is how I learned that you can clean a greasy oven in ten minutes if you use a drill, and that the question, Can I get my husband to spend three hours kneeling in front of this thing instead of me? WAS THE WRONG QUESTION ENTIRELY.
All of the questions we have about dividing household labor fairly may, likewise, be structured in an unhelpful way. If the framework involves guilt, shame, blame, resentment, grudges, anger, or crying, there are probably other ways to look at the situation.
What if almost all of those feelings were directly related to household labor that didn’t even need to be done by a human? What if we engineered those chores out of existence?
There used to be household chores like churning butter, darning socks, and carrying coal scuttles that most 21st-century households no longer do. (Well, I still darn my own socks, but hey). It’s my thesis that a lot of our 20th-century chores can be canceled, too.
Stepping forward and focusing on a more interesting, challenging, and fulfilling career almost always results in significantly more income. A higher income can do a lot more for a family, like eliminating debt and buying a $200 robotic vacuum cleaner, than anyone can do just by focusing on folding laundry more often. Eyes on the prize.
Let’s find a way to restructure our division of labor so that everyone involved is excited, having fun, laughing, talking, and generally thinking about chores as little as possible. One day it’ll all be done by nanobots anyway.
We were having our weekly status meeting in the cafe when a neighbor walked in and asked what we were up to. “Status meeting?” he laughed. “Are you the board of directors?”
Well, yeah man, that is sort of the point. If not us, then who?
A conversation commenced in which we tried to determine who is the president and who is the CEO. “I’m actually the treasurer,” joked my husband, to which I replied that I was the one with formal treasurer experience.
Our neighbor, who is recently divorced, found everything about the premise of Status Meeting uproariously funny. He left chuckling, and we carried on our conversation.
The thing about a two-party marriage is that it’s not really a democracy because there are no majorities and no tie-breaking votes. Whatever a marriage is, it’s better when it’s a clearly defined something-or-other. There are so many business decisions involved - finance, property, logistics, strategic planning - that a lack of clear policy can only lead to...
Endless rehashing and relitigating?
The same issues coming up over and over again, either addressed or ignored until an inevitable crisis point.
Most couples handle these issues as they come up, because the idea of setting policy is not really a part of the pop culture understanding of love, marriage, or dating. Others handle issues the traditional way, in which they are divided out by gender role. Whether one couple’s method works or does not work can only really be determined by the decade. Are they still married, or not? Are they both happy, or not?
Are they in a perpetual detente over money, housekeeping, and childcare? Thinking that’s what it’s like for everyone, mustn’t grumble?
My husband was recently on a city bus, and he related that the driver tried to rope him into a conversation he was having with another male passenger. The driver asserted that a woman should submit to her husband. (Unsurprisingly he was single; surprisingly, he was around thirty). He wanted more male backup when the first passenger disagreed with him, and was dismayed that a second male also disagreed.
That’s the Board of Director model, I guess. One person is in charge and makes all the decisions?
Better be good decisions then!
In the business world, it can be really expensive when leadership makes poor decisions. The company can go under and thousands of people can lose their jobs. That’s an awful lot of responsibility for one individual.
Same thing with marriage. If everything depends on one person, and the other’s job is just to stand by and gnaw their fingernails, how fair is that? Sharing decisions means sharing the load and sharing the stress.
Everyone starts out single, and that’s fair in its own way. That’s when you really are the Board of Director. One person, one life, one career, one set of executive decisions. Either you’re doing just fine in that role, thank you very much, or you’re hating it and really wishing you had someone else to rely on.
Before I got married for the second time, I was doing well. I had my own little house, I managed my own portfolio, my career was on the rise, and I cooked for myself. There were a few areas where I felt like I could really use a partner:
Getting the flu
Having a wasp or hornet get in the window
It hadn’t yet occurred to me that I could hire professional movers and buy boxes. I had no idea what that sort of thing would cost. Now I know the answer to that but I still don’t know who I could hire to get stinging insects out the window or take care of me when I’m ill.
Being married is cheaper and easier than being single, if you do it right.
Two people can live for 1.4x the cost of one person. One rent, one set of utility bills, and significantly less effort for cooking and cleaning in one home instead of two. It’s a very practical arrangement, and that’s probably why people keep doing it even when they’re annoying each other and not really getting along.
Anyone who understands the dynamics of a power couple is obviously going to prefer to have a smart, hard-working partner. As a couple, you can handle things like layoffs, relocating, or one partner retraining. You’re each other’s buffer. You bring different perspectives to your strategic planning.
This is how my husband and I experience it. We started our friendship by talking about money, recognizing that we had different problems and were in different stages in life. He was fresh out of a divorce, while mine was already five years in the past. I had just graduated from college and was facing fifteen years of student loan payments, while he had already paid his off. We discovered that we could give each other pertinent and effective advice.
By the time we started dating, in some ways, we were already sort of mentally married.
I respected the way he made decisions, and I knew I could never marry anyone if I didn’t feel that way.
He respected the way I was constantly improving myself. He’d watched me get three promotions, pay off a student loan several years early, move from a rented room to a rented house, and drop five clothing sizes. I’d demonstrated what I was about. He wanted a seat on the party bus before it left the station.
We’ve been through some hard times together, some of them before we had even noticed that we felt a mutual romantic attraction. We’ve both paused several times to ponder how we would have handled the same events and choice points as bachelors, and often shuddered to think how we would have blundered or mangled the situation on our own.
Having a partner is most valuable for that additional perspective, that outer mirror that nobody can provide for themselves. Most people rely on their friends, family, or colleagues when they want to vent, and the best anyone can get out of that is the chance to blow off steam or maybe get some validation. It’s extremely unlikely that venting to anyone will lead to useful strategic advice, and that’s why friendship is not partnership. What we really need is not venting but insight, and that’s why there’s always more than one person on a Board of Directors.
I’ve been telling my friend she should propose to her boyfriend. There’s this terrible habit I have of encouraging people to get married. I’d quit doing it except that I have such a good track record! I can tell when people are going to be happy together, and the reason seems simple to me.
They boost each other.
This is more or less the opposite of the “Four Horsemen” indicators of divorce, two of which are criticism and contempt. It should be obvious that criticizing and insulting someone is not a great sign of contentment! Unfortunately, these behaviors are incredibly common, and the longer a couple are together, the more likely they are.
What we’re looking for here is not just the absence of criticism or contempt. There are literally seven billion people in the world that this couple are not criticizing right now, because they don’t know them and aren’t thinking about them. That doesn’t mean they’re wearing seven billion wedding rings.
Boosting someone is something special, something that many people don’t do for anyone. It’s not just a secret to a happy romance, it’s also a magical key to popularity and success. Might as well include a bit of that here.
See, people tend to treat romance differently than all other relationships, and this is a major reason why there are so many breakups and broken hearts all the time. A long-term love affair feels very similar to a long-term friendship (because it is), or being with family (because you are, after a while), or having a buddy at work.
Tell each other everything
Glad to see each other
Can be yourself, without feeling self-conscious
And, perhaps most importantly:
Celebrate the good times together, even the small stuff!
Someone who boosts you is genuinely excited when something goes well for you. They recognize even tiny little milestones, sometimes before you do. They give you credit when you aren’t willing to give credit to yourself. They remind you of who you are on your best days and shrug off the rare occasions when you’re having your worst days. They regard your funny little quirks with affection. They respect your dreams and want to magnify your image of what is possible. Basically they just think you’re great.
This is why I think my friend should marry her boyfriend, because the way she describes him, he is like her personal fan club. I don’t know if she sees him that way, but I know it when I see it. He’s always rooting for her success, the more the better. He loves it when she wins.
As her friend, I feel the same way. I see her as staggeringly talented, a personal role model of grace and generosity. I also see that her biggest issues are her shyness and reluctance to push forward, because I have the same issues. They just seem to make sense for me in a way that I wouldn’t say they make sense for her. Of course she should follow her ambition and go big. Of course she should!
It’s easy to like him because he loves my friend for the same reasons that I do. We both want the best for her and we’ll be waiting, side by side, every time she crosses a finish line, with a hug from me and a kiss from him. Figuratively.
This is by no means the model for every romance, or every friendship. There are so many:
The rescuer who loses interest when the wounded bird starts flying again. The sadist. The competitor who’d rather you both lose than watch you win. The dreamer who will never become a doer. The distracted one with nothing much to give. The one who’s checking the boxes of external approval and looking for a mate to pass the panel interview. The one who doesn’t want a romance but rather a personal servant.
They’re all out there.
People can be activated by your success for their own reasons. You have no control over whether someone else envies you or targets you as their personal benchmark. Somehow, some people will make your life about them. It would be nice if people just thought, “My colleague’s success is our company’s success,” or “My neighbor’s success is the neighborhood’s success,” or “My relative’s success is our family’s success,” but how common is that?
In a happy marriage, it should definitely feel like “My mate’s success is my success.” “When one of us succeeds, our marriage succeeds.” The question is just whether both of you are defining success in the same way.
If you and your sweetie are both aligned in the same direction, if you share values, then the natural result should be that you boost each other.
If you can’t boost each other, then something is misaligned. What is it? Your communication, your direction in life, your values, your affectionate regard for each other? Your ability to be excited for someone else and to express your delight to them?
The best way to find boosters for yourself is to be a booster of others. Show them how it’s done. One person can gradually set the tone for entire social groups. For instance, the quickest and best way to stop negative office gossip is to praise colleagues when they aren’t there. Promoting other people’s successes can be sneaky in that way. It establishes what traits and behaviors are valuable and what kinds of things can earn praise and positive attention. It also makes you look good!
Not everyone likes being boosted. They can’t trust it because their cynicism runs too deep and they suspect praise as sarcasm. That’s fine, and it’s also good information.
Not everyone is emotionally capable of boosting other people. Sometimes they are just too damaged, too angry, too competitive, too something. That’s good information too.
The truth is that feeling happy for other people is always a reliable way to feel happy in general. We’re all stuck in this dumb old world together, and it’s easier when we recognize that. We don’t have to walk alone. We can cheer each other on along the way.
Our fridge is still full. Not only did we buy a bunch of party food for our housewarming, but people brought stuff, too. Like every potluck, if everyone brings enough for 6-8 people then it’s a pretty big multiplier.
There was so much that we couldn’t even bring everything out, which is why there’s still a giant watermelon filling most of the top shelf.
The problem with this situation is that we’re only two people... well, unless you go by size, in which case we might get an extra quarter-person between us... and we can only eat so much. How are we going to reach our year-end goals of physical transformation when there are all these GOODIES laying around?
As I may have pointed out, the Halloween Store is already open in our neighborhood, in a place so close and conspicuous that we see it every time we leave our building. This is the first reminder of how we do it:
A month of eating candy and watching horror films
Mashed potatoes in general
And suddenly, oh dear, New Year’s Eve
What this all means is that our September party food problems are just the beginning, just the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
I’m a “live to eat” person. I can’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy something I do at least four times a day to the absolute maximum. I’m never going to stop eating and loving party food.
On the other hand, I’m also a tightwad who hates shopping, so it’s incumbent upon me to continue to fit in my clothes. The alternative would be to buy more, without being able to escape the memory of all the fries and cake that put me back in the changing room.
One of my secrets here is to make sure to buy or make very particular party foods. There’s a method to the madness.
First of all, there are a lot of perfectly great snacks and treats that I don’t necessarily like that much.
I’m a potato chip person, so we always have corn chips or pita chips, both of which I can walk right by. I’m also fussy about anything in a huge bowl where people are reaching in with their bare hands. I see that and it’s like that bowl isn’t even there anymore, it stops existing to me.
Not a big fan of salty foods in general, like nuts, pretzels, or popcorn.
I quit drinking soda of any kind back in 2013.
Probably most of all, I’ve been vegan for 22 years, and that makes it easy for me to skip anything with even one non-plant-based ingredient. Pie, cookies, cake, deviled eggs, anything with butter or whatever... I would no sooner eat those foods than I would walk by someone in a restaurant and grab something off their plate. Not mine, not for me.
The easiest way I’ve found to deal with party foods that I actually find tempting is to make them myself. Cooking in my kitchen is an intensive activity. I do a lot of bulk cooking or attempting to feed groups of a dozen or more - even when only three people are coming over. I’ve found that the act of cooking from scratch keeps me from snacking. There is nothing about flour, raw onions, or a teaspoon of spices that makes me want to pop it in my mouth. Other people sneak bites when they are doing food prep, and I can’t really imagine how, what, or why. Clean hands!
I made a platter of hummus wraps but never got around to eating one.
It turns out that being a hostess in a small space packed with people makes a conveyor belt of continuous snacks less possible. Every time you turn around, you’re either meeting someone, greeting someone, or trying to finish the story about how they got the purse out when it fell down a hole six feet into a bank of lockers.
It’s also different with a dog and a parrot. Our critters are both extreme extroverts who love meeting everybody and they were on their best behavior. Ah, but neither of them are trustworthy if there’s a plate of food within reach. There happened to be a lot of avocado on the premises, mostly in the form of guacamole or seven-layer dip, and it’s literally a matter of life or death to make sure nobody unknowingly offers some to Noelle. I kept my eye on her as she kept dancing around, asking someone to carry her to the kitchen or at least bring her a few pounds of snacks.
The reason to have a party is to be with your friends.
There happens to be a ton of food around, of course, but the grocery store next to our building is open eighteen hours a day. Just because there is food next to me does not mean I am required to continually shovel it into my cakehole.
It’s basically all there for sustenance so that we can focus on serious business, like fast card games, or conning an intern into trying to spin two hula hoops while juggling three balls.
Also cheaper than sushi for a crowd.
Entertaining at home can be a good bargain for all concerned. No parking, no traffic, no waiting for a table, no tips, no babysitters. If you’re in the habit of doing it on a regular basis, it takes off a lot of the pressure for perfection, and it can also take away the pressure of feeling like this is the one and only lifetime opportunity to eat snacks. Eh, that’ll be there next week.
I made it through unscathed. Rather than gaining three pounds, which is typical after a big party, I was still on track the next day. This is important, because I never want to feel like avoiding a social gathering just because there will be food there. People first, then everything else.
A friend took me out for my birthday, and it turned into a breakup. Not between us, of course, because we aren’t dating each other!
My friend had a new flirt thing going with a guy from a dating app. This is great fun for me, because I’ve been out of the game for nearly fifteen years and it can be really entertaining to learn about app life from someone else. Vicarious thrills and all that.
We were sitting on the beach under the moonlight, eating strawberry ice cream, when her phone lit up. She lit up, too, thinking of her crush and how much she liked him.
Her face fell as she read through the rapid-fire barrage of texts.
Her crush was accusing her of being out with someone else, because all she supposedly wanted was to date a younger guy.
What the heck, man??
She didn’t reply until later, after we said goodnight, but they had a fight and she blocked him. Honestly, who needs that kind of energy?
I couldn’t really get over it. I might be a lot of things, but a younger guy I am not!
Almost everything we were doing, my friend and I, would definitely come across as cheating if we were in a romantic context. In fact I picked up a phrase that another friend of mine coined. Ro-tic.
It’s “romantic” without the “man.”
This is what’s so messed up about jealousy and why it has to be a dealbreaker. This guy was so fixated on the idea that someone would want to cheat on him that he blew up a new romance over it.
I have a unique perspective on the situation because I was there, and I know myself to be a monogamously married heterosexual middle-aged woman. Totally not a single bachelor in his thirties or twenties. I know my friend wasn’t out cheating with a younger guy because I’m her alibi, and a pretty boring one at that.
What were we talking about, while this delusional man was fuming over his suspicions?
Soup. Vision boards. How to give feedback to our direct reports. Interior design. Dog breeds. Book clubs.
The thing about jealousy is that it turns a living, breathing person into an object. Rather than a woman, my friend is suddenly a cardboard cutout representing Cheatin’ Females.
About 20% of people cheat. That’s one in five. Those people believe in their hearts that everyone does it. People will do whatever they want based on the stories they tell themselves, and some tell themselves a story that involves romantic involvement with more than one person at a time. Sometimes they are willing to be honest about this and sometimes they are not. But it’s only one in five.
There are people who find themselves cheated on more than once. Sure, of course. One in five is reasonable probability, and I’d probably buy a lottery ticket based on 1:5 odds!
There are two things that happen. Either the person isn’t asking the right questions or setting the right boundaries, or their behavior instigates cheating in a person who otherwise never would have done it.
Actually there’s probably something else, which is when a person is attracted to the operatic style of relationship. That’s the one where the couple believe they have massive physical chemistry or some sort of fate has driven them together, and then they have huge fights but make up afterward. Barf me out the door. But some people like it. They can’t believe they are loved or wanted without high drama and explosive emotional outbursts.
What a jealous person probably wants, after throwing a jealous tantrum, is that the recipient replies poetically. “I love you the most, there’s nobody else for me, you are the grand passion of my life,” mwah. I actually walked my friend through this as a strategy and offered to talk to the dude on the phone, assuring him that I am not in fact a younger guy. Boring old lady talking about soup recipes.
Fortunately my friend has no need of a jealous boyfriend. Who does, really? It hadn’t occurred to her that there was a formula she could follow to keep this guy, because once he revealed this icky jealous side, she was done.
If it happens once, it will happen again.
She’ll sit next to a man on a plane, or her male boss will call her one evening, or a male person will happen to live within a mile of her, and the jealous guy will get jealous, suspicious ideas. More and more of her emotional energy will be burned up trying to explain reality to a walking delusion. The more she explains, the guiltier she will look.
Not only is it better to date among the 80% of reality-based, non-jealous people... It’s better to be alone.
Better to live amongst friends, neighbors, and colleagues who take you at your word.
Better to associate with people who trust you and accept that you are implicitly trustworthy, which of course you are.
The reason jealousy causes cheating is that when someone is constantly under suspicion, they’re forced into this defensive, negative posture through no fault of their own. The very first time that someone else comes along who treats them normally, without this constant criticism and judgment, they will remember what it’s like in Realityville. They’ll turn for comfort to the only person who is offering it. It’s impossible to love a scornful face.
I feel bad for the jealous guy, because he had everything going for him. Successful in his career, interesting, funny, physically attractive, well-dressed. “Gee, why are you single?” Until he can get over his fixation that every woman wants to cheat on him, nobody will ever love him. He’ll create his own lack of love until he is no longer funny, interesting, or attractive.
The real irony of this situation is that there is not a younger guy in this story, and never will be. One of the things my friend and I were talking about was what it would take for her to settle down and get married. We both agreed that younger guys are fun, but too much hassle, and no longer worth our time due to where we are in life.
My own husband happened to be out of town on business. (This evening wasn’t my actual birth date). He didn’t spend any time worrying about what I was doing, eating strawberry ice cream on the beach under the moonlight. He knows that I chose him, that I’d sworn off younger guys before we even started dating. There’s not a younger guy on earth who could give me what I have, either a mature husband or a fun female friendship.
We just celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary. According to those ridiculous gift-giving charts, while some milestones get very fancy symbols like gold or silver, “ten” is the “aluminum” anniversary.
What’s that supposed to look like? Exchanged beer cans? Tinfoil hats at dinner?
Instead my husband got me one of the most romantic gifts I could imagine: a double hammock.
I cried all over myself, of course, which probably wasn’t the effect he was expecting.
Thirteen years we’ve been together, long enough to bore each other or drive each other nuts. Instead he’s telling me that we’re upgrading to a family-size hammock.
We used to have a single hammock. I bought it for him when we first started dating, as a souvenir from my trip to Cancun with my brothers. He stayed behind and did my taxes for me and I figured he deserved a nice present.
That hammock got a lot of use. We used to take turns in it. Our dog learned to jump up in it, where he would stretch out on someone’s torso and try not to stick his feet through the holes. One or the other of us would swing and read in the back yard, parrot on her perch nearby, the crazy-fast respiration of the dog’s chest making it very hard to believe he was relaxing.
Doing this separately has its own special cachet. There’s a message in there, one that I find extremely important in a long-term relationship. That message says that each party has the right to relax and do nothing on a regular basis.
HQLT. High Quality Leisure Time.
The secret to a happy relationship is to maximize your partner’s HQLT and facilitate it in any way possible. This is usually wildly different from any experience they’ve had in the past. In return, they can be taught to do the same for you.
Hammock time is sacred. There are almost no emergencies dire enough to demand an interruption of hammock time, and almost all of them can be seen from the hammock anyway:
Squadron of UFOs overhead
Sudden appearance of DeLorean vehicle racing down the street with flaming tire tracks behind it
I’m the one who messed it all up, of course. The hammock was getting a little musty from spending so much time outside, and I thought it would be a smart idea to run it through the washing machine.
It wasn’t. Never do that.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to detangle it before realizing too many of the strings had come untied. Oh well. That was fun while it lasted.
Then we moved, and most of the time since then, we haven’t had a yard. Instead we occasionally bring out the inflatable camping couch, also mostly a single-player experience.
Having a hammock again is very suggestive of one day having our own yard again. It also hints at retirement.
The double hammock? Have we even both been in a double hammock together?
We tend to value experiences more than things, but a hammock is the kind of “thing” that is really an experience in itself. Even looking at it strung up, with nobody in it, can be a bit of a moment. We used to walk past a neighbor’s yard that had a fancy hammock. Nobody ever seemed to be in it, but it turned a fairly ordinary yard into a romantic image. Conspicuous leisure, remember that?
Now all that’s left is to wander our new neighborhood and see if we can find somewhere to test out this fancy contraption. May it put some ideas into people’s heads about leisure time and comfortable companionship.
You try to prepare for anything when you travel, but you don’t really count on coming down with a cold. My hubby woke up ill on vacation. Later in the day, we determined that we should go out and find some cold medicine.
That’s when it got complicated.
Objectively, I feel that we are very lucky this is the only thing to have befallen us. All sorts of things can go wrong on holiday.
In fact, our first night out, we had just sat down to dinner when an elderly man fell on the pavement. He was alone. The waiters of our restaurant ran out to help him, offered him a seat (which he refused) and probably would have brought him water, called him a doctor, or anything else he needed. We’re right down the block from a hospital, after all.
He did what a betting person would assume an elderly British gentleman would do. He waved off all offers of help and limped off on his own. He probably would have done the same even if he had a crocodile attached to his leg.
Fortunately, all we had was one case of common cold and one case of man-cold.
We walked to the closest pharmacy to see what they had in stock and test my language skills.
This is one of the toughest parts of travel. Not only do you not have the terminology for anything you didn’t explicitly study, but your cultural and commercial assumptions only apply sporadically.
At home, we knew exactly where we would go to buy our preferred cold medicines and how to take them. We’d just go to a large grocery store and buy some NyQuil. Maybe they have the same brands?
Answer: No they do not.
At this pharmacy, even the vitamins were kept behind the counter. Almost the entire store revolved around skincare, shampoo, and baby stuff. We checked the grocery store later, and they don’t even sell bandages or aspirin.
We didn’t recognize ANY brand names or packaging.
Cover me, I’m going in.
My Spanish is pathetic. I mean, I have successfully bought train tickets, gotten directions, ordered food, and made change, okay sure. But there are probably junior high school kids who have covered more than that in their first term. I feel that as an adult person who has spent weeks in Spanish-speaking countries, I have no excuse for not trying harder, studying more. Practicing with my many Spanish-speaking friends. Preparing.
It doesn’t help that I am shy, and my embarrassment at my sloppy efforts makes this worse.
I’m going to leave out punctuation and accent marks here, because if you heard me talking, that is how it would sound.
Hola, mi hombre esta enfermo.
The pharmacist looked extremely professional and intelligent. She raised her eyebrows.
I nudged my husband and had him hold up his phone, where we had looked up “translate Spanish common cold.”
‘Resfriado comun,’ it said.
“Ah,” said the pharmacist, and gestured, holding her hand in front of her nose and mouth. She had two drugs to offer, one for cold symptoms and one for dry cough. That certainly simplified things. She told him (me) to take it three times a day.
We bought the cold medicine, and then it got slightly more complicated.
We were only a couple minutes from our hotel. I started reading the package of the medicine, looking for instructions. While I realized that this would be a powder to mix with liquid, there were literally no instructions on how much to mix it with.
This has got to be one of those vernacular things. Like when we buy tablets or capsules and we know that you just swallow it with whatever helps you wash it down, unless you are a chaos magician and you dry-swallow. A lot of countries sell their over-the-counter medicines in this powder form, and people probably figure out their preferred delivery method in childhood.
Like, don’t mash up headache tabs and put them in jelly. To this day I think raspberry jam tastes like aspirin.
My husband, an engineer, shrugged and poured the powder into a glass of water while I was still puzzling over the instructions.
My reading comprehension is really pretty good when it comes to jargon like this. Most of the key words are Latinate and medical terminology is similar everywhere. I was able to read through the list of contraindications. “Be careful if you’re lactating,” I tell him, and he replies, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The one thing we couldn’t figure out was whether this would be a wired-and-tired drug or a knockout drug like our friendly neighborhood NyQuil. The answer to that came a short time later, when he descended into a two-hour nap.
The next day, the maid came in. I had waved her off the previous day. “Mi marido es... sick.” (I haven’t been feeling that well either). She cleaned around us. After she left, I realized that she had brought us a pack of tissues, a very thoughtful gesture and not on the regular checklist.
Then I realized that she was checking IN, making sure that these strangers to her country were alive and kicking. I have no doubt whatsoever that, if she found us passed out or in distress, she would have taken the appropriate steps. She unlocked our door with purpose.
We had all sorts of plans when we came here to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. They definitely did not include lying around feeling ill or testing our language skills at the pharmacy.
You know what, though? Like most shared adversity, this is helping us feel closer. We’re taking care of each other, somehow throwing together hot meals, pouring juice and tea, knowing that everything could certainly be worse. We’re safe and friendly people are looking out for us.
Here’s hoping we’re over the worst of it before our dinner reservations, or at least our flight home...
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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