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...
We moved over the weekend.
Sure, most people do it that way, at least people who work a standard office job with a standard schedule. What I mean is that we moved over the weekend, and now we’re back to business.
It is hard to believe. My husband woke up Friday morning and went to work. The only disruption to his routine was shifting his schedule an hour later so he could drop off our dog at doggy day care. When he came home with the dog, it was to our new address.
When we went to bed Friday night, it was amidst a cardboard city of box towers. We could sleep in our bed, use the shower, and microwave food, but otherwise it was pretty obvious that we had just moved in.
By Monday morning, the bathroom was DONE
and the kitchen was DONE
and the desks were DONE
and the laundry was DONE
and all the furniture was set up in its correct location
and there were only two boxes left to unpack in the bedroom
and thirty-five of the fifty boxes were unpacked
and the flattened, empty boxes were carried down to the parking garage to be given away
and the old apartment was mostly clean
and there was much rejoicing.
On Friday, I sent occasional text updates. I knew my honey was super stressed and worried about the move, and I knew he would be able to focus better if he felt like everything was under control. We were ahead of schedule and everything was going according to plan. I could feel the smog cloud of stress lifting off him with each bulletin.
THIS JUST IN: everything is fine
Instead of stress, the feeling that started to come across was curious anticipation. What’s going on over there? What’s it going to look like?
I raced the clock all day, knowing I was going to be tired no matter what, determined to get as much as possible done before dinner. I also had a vision of my partner’s expression when he walked in.
He was stunned and impressed. He was also extremely pleased that he hadn’t had to haul anything himself!
The great thing about all this is that we’re closing in on our tenth wedding anniversary. As we both think about this milestone and the early days of our romance, he will be thinking of me in this context.
As the moving day updates were coming in, my hubby’s colleagues were checking in as well. “Aren’t you moving today? Why are you here?”
“You don’t understand. My wife is the logistics manager. She’s ON IT.”
“I was bragging on you today,” he tells me, and the last time it was about my homemade banana bread.
This is all part of a conscious strategy on my part. I believe that two heads are better than one head, and that a solid partnership of any kind is incredibly helpful for spiritual growth, not to mention career performance. This can be true of colleagues, friends, and siblings, of course, and even neighbors. When it’s a marriage, it can work on even more levels.
One of these mastermind benefits of marriage is that we can facilitate each other’s career growth. This is fun and it also leads directly to money.
Divorce, on the other hand, can be one of the most expensive things of all. It’s a good thinking exercise to ask oneself, What is the opposite of this?, and see if it makes sense. What is the opposite of divorce? What would be the opposite response in this scenario to what my partner’s ex would do? (Or mine).
My hubby and his ex had quite a bad fight over a relocation, their marriage was never the same, they eventually split up, and now I have him. I also have an easy visual of What Not to Do with this particular man.
What’s the opposite of a marriage-killing feud over a difficult move? Hmm, she ponders.
A quick, easy, streamlined one!
For most people, a move is an extravagant disruption. The turmoil can stretch on for months, and indeed a lot of people never completely unpack every single box. The same box of MISC (the dreaded misc) will be hauled from house to house.
I determined to do it differently. I’d make our move a mere blip. We’d leave our cruddy little studio with the inconsiderate chaos muppets upstairs, and we’d get ourselves a lifestyle upgrade as quick as we could go.
This is good in such a number of ways.
I dominated over this move. It’s true that we still have boxes to unpack in the dining room and living room. It’s true, too, that we went from Fifty Boxes to Slightly Messy Apartment in only three days. Our pets both clearly love it here and it’s so, so quiet. We don’t have to say “we’re moving” any more. My honey can work in his office and give total focus and attention to his projects.
I haven’t mentioned in all this that our home is my office. The main reason I took on this move alone, besides earning a million brownie points, is that I knew it would give me latitude to do it my way. I could choose where I wanted my desk and create my ideal rooms in so many ways. Usually women feel more stressed about cluttered living environments than men do, for whatever reason, and I know that’s true for me. If I planned the move myself, I could do it on my schedule and my terms. I could close the loop.
Now that loop is closed, the move is effectively over, and everyone concerned is back to business.
We’re moving again, for the seventh time in our ten-year marriage, and I’m in charge. I’m in charge because I’m better at it. This move has been more complicated than some of our past moves, for bureaucratic reasons, and it’s better for all concerned when we acknowledge our comparative strengths.
My husband’s reaction to moving is the same as most people’s would be: a wave of depressed overwhelm.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him. I got this.
Now, as an engineer, my mate has excellent Pack Fu. Bring him a bunch of luggage, bags, and boxes, and he will expertly fit them into a given space. He can also tie down a load like a professional. Honestly I don’t think I could have married a man with no Pack Fu or tool skills.
Where he tends to get bogged down is in the planning and the logistical nightmare of all the thousand tiny widgets. There’s also a slew of phone calls and errands, personal relationships to be built, and that takes a certain kind of patience.
Having made my bones in social services, I understand bureaucratic red tape like nobody else.
Example: Where to Put the Moving Van, Chapter Five.
Apartment manager says we will need a parking permit from the city. City says there is a jurisdictional dispute with state transportation agency. State says they do not issue parking permits. City office closed for following three days; revert to alternate plan. Landlord says there is a loading zone. Street is marked No Parking between 3 pm - 7 pm, and so is loading zone, the exact window when we would be parking the van. After a full week of calls, email, and strategy sessions, I finally negotiate to have the movers come at 8 am instead of 2 pm. I have spoken to six separate individuals about: a parking spot. That will be in use for two, maybe three hours total.
Note that these movers could easily have said, sorry crazy lady, find another moving company. Look at our schedule board, posted openly right there on the wall. Anyone can easily see that we can’t make this happen for you with only four days’ notice. I wouldn’t have blamed them at all, and I would have shifted to calling other movers and asking for recommendations for other hard-working people who like money.
It helped, though, that I am so patient and easy-going. It helped that I know how to work a phone when I need to. I’ve beat the IRS twice and I can certainly figure my way through competing parking regulations.
There’s also the not-inconsiderable body of skills I have picked up while working with hoarders and the chronically disorganized. Not to mention the strong minimalist streak I have developed from same.
I married a man with a vast garage, a garden, and the components of several workshops, from robotics to woodworking to replica coins. A man who owns his own personal tree stump for artisanal purposes. He’s bought in to minimalism as a lifestyle, but he still has the instincts of a homeowner, a homeowner who aspires to a couple acres of orchard.
He looks at all our stuff, thinks about moving it, and quivers inside. I look at all our stuff, overlaid with multiple images of hoarded homes, and I shrug.
I’m picturing our new place. In my mind, we’re already gone.
We’ve done this so many times, seven times but technically nine moves. We both moved when we got married, and we also stayed temporarily in a furnished apartment when we first moved to SoCal. I can still remember what size of carton is required for certain objects and which items fit well together. I estimated forty boxes when we started planning this move, and we’ll see how close I got on moving day, but it’s looking pretty accurate right now.
Divide number of days until Moving Day by estimated number of boxes. Simple. There’s your quota. Now get to work.
In past moves, unless we’ve had the luxury of professional movers, we’ve always done multiple trips. We were able to carry over a carload at a time, unpack it, and bring the empty boxes home to reuse. This makes it a bit more challenging to count the total number.
The first time, we had one hundred.
Then we got it down to eighty.
Now it’s looking like forty.
Some of the boxes are smaller, too! A lot of the boxes that got cut were small boxes full of books, getting the numbers down and also eliminating a lot of the total mass.
Yeah, yeah, I thought I loved books as much as you think you do. I thought that until around the fifteenth move. Now I’m on somewhere around twenty-eight and you know what? Dead trees, man. They heavy. Digital all the way.
The funniest thing about planning this move is that I’ve done more home cooking during this process than I have for the past month. I even made banana bread the other night. I see it as using up containers that we won’t have to pack. Since I’m getting the baking pans down anyway...
I’m handling this process with great good cheer. I’m totally excited about the new apartment, counting off the days, and the growing box towers are visible proof that we’re almost there. I want to impress the movers with how hard I’ve worked. I want them to feel my gratitude and how much I’ve done to get ready for their 8:00 am knock.
I visualize how close I will be to fully unpacked, how great our new place will look when my hubby comes home from work. He’ll leave our old place and come home to our new place. All the machinations and wheeling and dealing and planning and scheming will have been done, not to mention the packing and hauling. How relieved he will feel.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him.
My husband is an aerospace engineer, and I’ve been interviewing him about his school days. This was spurred by his recent intervention in the educational trajectory of one of our young baristas. He started tutoring her in calculus, and she brought her grade up from a D to an A. Never having made it to calculus myself, I had a lot of questions. Is he just smarter than the average bear, or does he know something that the rest of us don’t know?
I hated study groups in school. I hated them because I was always the one who wound up doing all the work while everyone else got credit for it. This might have been awesome and lovely if anyone had thanked me for it, but, well, I was a nerd. I made the Dean’s List in college all on my own.
What would have been different about my academic career if I hadn’t had this distaste for group work?
Heck, what would have been different about my work career??
I knew about my hubby’s study group because he had briefly mentioned it back when we were still getting to know each other. Suddenly, after fourteen years, it struck me that this was no average study group. I needed to know more.
How did this group form?
What were the rules?
Who was in it, and how did they meet?
Where are they now?
The first thing to know is that aerospace engineering is not like most fields. Over 80% of the students wash out. It takes five years of hard work to get through the requirements, and there’s no time for electives. This is not a career that people stumble into by accident.
Compare and contrast: History degree
I knew that my husband moved to the opposite end of the state to go to school. Therefore, he had no classmates, friends, family, or colleagues nearby for social support. How did he meet people?
Crucial to the formation of the high-powered study group was a natural social hub, M. M was a member of several clubs and an active student group. He was bilingual, which is intriguing and seems relevant. (I grew up in a neighborhood composed of about 1/3 immigrant families representing at least five languages, and my classmates were generally top students). M went around getting to know people and introducing them to each other, and that’s how the members of the high-powered study group met.
The group originally consisted of four Upholders and one Questioner. The Questioner lost interest in engineering over the summer and never came back.
One member was second in the class and top in the group. The other three, including my husband, competed for second in the group. A certain amount of smack talk and teasing arose from this, driving competition.
(This would not have worked on me)
Other students tried to get into the group. While the group would help them if they showed up, they would not be invited back. The group changed locations between study sessions, essentially to protect their small size and remain exclusive. The rationale here was: if you want to sit at our table, you’d better add value.
There was another high-powered study group. Its membership and size fluctuated. Then there was another study group that consisted of C students. Studying together did nothing to improve their grades, and this is why the nature of the high-powered study group is so interesting.
Most of the C students did graduate and become engineers. Studying together probably helped them quite a bit. They weren’t accepted in the high-powered group because they couldn’t keep up. What they really wanted was the opportunity for tutoring. That’s a big ask. It’s really asking for free labor from other busy people without offering anything in exchange.
I think that’s fair. I’ve helped other students in school, just as I’ve helped people with their resumes in the working world. There’s only so much you can do for them, for one thing. I helped another student in my dorm by editing her papers, and I did it gladly because she helped me quite a bit in non-academic ways. Did I have time to edit papers for any and all comers? Nope, I did not.
Most people don’t ask. Most people don’t ask for help because they know it’s their responsibility to do it on their own. Most people also understand the concepts of win-win and fair exchange, that you give and then you receive and then you give again.
What happened with the high-powered study group? What were its impressive powers?
The faculty became aware of the high-powered study group, because they always worked together on group assignments. They took on more complicated projects than the other groups. They stood out for their test scores. They could also be found using various empty classrooms for studying. This is how they built their reputation.
The school decided to close their aerospace program when this particular high-powered study group was one year from graduating.
The members of the high-powered study group marched into the dean’s office. They advocated for themselves and insisted that the program remain open until they graduated. The dean agreed and the program continued for an additional year.
Note that this was a win for all the students in their program that year, about fifty people.
The tradition continues. My hubby just did something similar, thirty years later. A group of interns who all went to school together were going to be relocated to various desks around the facility. My hubby thought they worked much better when the five of them sat together. He went up the chain of command - unbeknownst to the interns - and pushed back. The five interns continue to sit together and work together. Maybe they’ll go on to get patents together, maybe they’ll publish academic papers together, maybe they’ll leave and start their own company. Maybe they’ll just continue to turn out above-average work, because their group makes them more powerful than they were alone.
It’s that time again, time to move! We’ve been eating up what we have on hand, and this has led to some interesting revelations. What are we doing when we’re coasting along in default mode, and how does it compare to what we would rather claim to be doing on some sort of survey?
Our freezer is almost completely empty right now. We decided to get ready to move immediately after coming home from vacation, when we hadn’t been shopping yet. That was the first disruption. HALT! Eat what we have and try to avoid bringing home anything new.
The second disruption happened when I also skipped my occasional “stocking up” trips. One of our frugality tricks is to wait until certain staples go on sale, and then buy as much as we can fit. Since we haven’t had a pantry for the past couple of years, this means freezer stuff. It keeps, it’s at eye level, and it’s a very limited space, so we know we can’t overdo it.
This would definitely be the point when I would plan to fill up the freezer with entrees to last 1-2 weeks.
The third disruption was when we noticed we were running out of oatmeal and declined to go to Costco. There is truly no point to going to a warehouse store immediately before loading a moving van, especially when you plan to live closer to said warehouse store afterward.
As with any area of complexity, there are multiple inputs here, all with different causes and all with different effects.
As our freezer has gradually and steadily emptied out, it is becoming apparent that I harbor some major fantasies about leisurely hot breakfasts. Now more than half of what is left in there consists of breakfast foods. That does sort of solve the low oatmeal reserve problem.
It has also become apparent that we tend to eat certain foods more quickly than others, and some orphans have been hanging around. I discovered, much to my surprise, that there are two containers of homemade soup in the freezer, and one of a special katsu sauce that I batch-cook because it is incredibly messy.
This makes it theoretically possible to eat an actual “home-cooked” meal in our new place the very night we move in!
Something else came up in the surprise pantry assessment. My hubby found my carefully hidden, freezer-burned non-dairy chocolate brownie ice cream. It’s probably been in there, what month is it? Six months or more? It was under my stash of vegan white chocolate chips from New Year’s Eve 2017.
Yes, it’s true, no matter what I eat or claim to eat, I always have a stash of dessert foods hidden away somewhere. Twenty-five years ago it was a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies in the back of my desk drawer, kept at work so I wouldn’t have to share with my boyfriend. Now it’s - well, it’s whatever I feel like - considerately hidden from my abstainer husband.
Abstainers have to avoid temptations entirely, because otherwise they will immediately cave in. Moderators like me prefer to have the temptation on hand, just to know it’s there, like a fire extinguisher. It’s just as unfair for me to prominently display treats around my husband as it is unfair for him to require me not to keep any in the house.
I learned to be a moderator from my dad, incidentally. He would get three Cadbury chocolate bars for Christmas, one plain, one with dried fruit, and one with nuts. They lived in a desk drawer next to his favorite chair. Sometimes, while reading a book, he would unwrap one of these, snap off one rectangle, and nibble at it. Just one. Not every day. Those chocolate bars - you can imagine how I knew, a little kid staring at candy - would last him for months. I learned to associate moderation with higher-quality candy! That’s probably why, in our fruit bowl, I still have a few pieces of candy left over from Halloween, over nine months ago.
What else do we have in our pantry, now that we’re aiming for nothing?
A dozen or so jars of homemade soup stock, canned four years ago when we had a much larger kitchen. Likewise home-grown and canned tomatoes and collard greens. Are we going to cook from scratch more when we move to a new place and have a conventional kitchen again?
A few different kinds of flours and sweeteners, kept in the fridge for lack of space. Again, bought when we had a bigger kitchen and more counter space for baking. Are we going to do more of that, or are we wasting money by buying more than we use?
Condiments, so many condiments. We seem to keep accumulating mustards and capers and barbecue sauce and salad dressings, no matter where we live or what we’re doing. At least they are current, since we definitely started from zero when we moved to this region.
Behavioral research indicates that moving is the best time to start new habits. Thinking about when we first moved to this apartment, things have been different. We’ve eaten a lot more prepared foods and we’ve done very little cooking. We’re fitter, though, because we started taking classes at a gym instead of leaving our workouts up to fate. We used to alternate which one of us cooked, but it’s been very haphazard in this tiny studio kitchen.
Now what we want to do is to set careful intentions about our new place, because if we don’t, we will certainly fall into default behavior. We’ll have our first grocery shopping trip to fill up our ghostly, echoing fridge. What’s going in the basket? What will we bring home, what will we cook, what will we eat?
Most importantly, where will I hide my treats?
Trip planning is nuts. Every single detail is important. Anything you forget to pack has the potential to mess up your trip, and I know, because someone in my traveling party has forgotten everything including: passport, wallet, car keys, glasses, prescription meds, and hiking boots. There’s even been more than one ticket booked to an airport in the wrong city. Rigor in travel planning is rarely wasted.
The first law of trip planning is: NO CHECKED BAGS.
[The only exception to this is a wilderness trip, because our expedition packs are too big to fit in the cabin, they weigh too much, and we sometimes want to pack liquids].
Personally, I expect the entire sum total of my luggage to fit under the seat in front of me, and usually that’s where I put it.
Why hand luggage? Because you always know where it is, and because you can make connections after a flight delay when others can’t. It also gives you far more options for layover adventures when you don’t have a big wheelie bag - they aren’t even allowed in all places, and you don’t want to find that out the hard way.
NO CHECKED BAGS - NOT JUST A PHILOSOPHY, BUT A RELIGION.
The second law of trip planning: THREE DAYS PER CITY.
We break this rule all the time in small ways, but it is the true foundation of a trip. Three days is enough time to thoroughly explore most cities - too long in my home city, unless you love napping on the beach! Any city that requires more than three days to explore, like London or New York, probably deserves multiple trips. It might also be a good candidate for a hub city.
As an example, we love O’Hare Airport so we route international trips through there whenever we can.
The third law of trip planning: ONE HIGHLIGHT EACH.
A “highlight” is the “swear I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live” part of someone’s trip. Everyone gets one. The rest of the group better be either ride or die, or they’re going off alone for their own highlight at the same time.
Examples: I rode the London Eye with my husband because it was his highlight, even though I freaking hate Ferris wheels. I owe him for all the times he’s bushwhacked with me in search of, say, the tricolored blackbird, and don’t even ask him about Mandarin ducks.
[Note: I don’t think Mandarin ducks are real. I think they are the Sasquatch of the birding world, added to birdwatching guides as a prank].
Ideally, everyone gets a highlight each day of the trip. Usually they are something small like “buy a bag of Starburst” or “walk across this famous bridge.” In museums, it’s good for each person to pick a room, because the biggest and best museums can’t be covered adequately in a single day anyway.
These are the three laws. They may be amended only after discussion and official approval.
My husband and I also have a policy that we take turns choosing the destination of our trip. We’ve agreed that we would both like to visit every country on Earth, so it’s somewhat arbitrary in which order we see them.
This is when the true trip planning starts.
The very first thing that we do is to check the weather history during the time of our trip. This tends to rule out a lot of ideas. Our wedding anniversary is in late August, which just happens to be a terrible time to travel in large sections of the world. It’s our personal choice to avoid the rainy season, partly because inclement weather means more clothes and bulkier bags.
Next we look at the country’s “national day” and any other major festivals. Usually we are trying to avoid these. They make everything cost 3x as much and almost universally result in large drunken mobs. It can be really fun to see a country decorated for celebration, though.
My next pass - and this falls to me, because I’m the one with the dietary constraints - is to look up as many suitable restaurants as possible. I search for “vegan restaurant” [city] and cross-reference with Happy Cow. Then I mark them all as a favorite on Apple Maps. This is huge because we often wind up in parts of town that we had never anticipated, and we can often find a place to eat nearby without standing on the sidewalk searching for half an hour. Many parts of the world have better options and labeling for gluten-free, vegan, or other preferences or sensitivities than we do in the US. Others do not. It can ruin a trip to discover that the only places with real options for a meal are already closed for the day.
Another vital part of trip planning is to look up “[city] in 24 hours” and “must-see [city]” and “don’t miss [city].” Most of those attractions usually don’t interest either of us at all. A few of them will turn out to be the major highlights of the trip. Sometimes we hadn’t even realized that that attraction existed, and it changes our goals for the trip entirely. I mark all of these in Apple Maps as well.
Once our key attractions and a bunch of restaurants are marked, we zoom in on the map together and browse around. This helps us to get acquainted with the layout of the city in advance. It tends to be pretty obvious that certain places are grouped near each other, and we can spend a day in each area. Other attractions are so far afield that we cross them off our list, not wanting to spend half a day or more on a tour bus unless it’s truly epic.
London wound up happening in pie wedges, with Waterloo as the center of the pie. Iceland happened in loops, starting and ending in Reykjavik.
Spending a few weeks planning a trip adds to the anticipation and extends the fun. It also helps to avoid pitfalls such as showing up on the day that a destination is closed, or arriving so late that we can’t buy a ticket.
Policy is part of trip planning for us. We have a weekly status meeting, where we’ve worked out policies for all aspects of our marriage, and our travel policies have become a friendly, efficient way of having fun together without annoying each other. (Much). The better we get at planning, the more fun we have, and the more we can anticipate our next trip.
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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