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.
My first day at WDS, “all I did” was check in to my hotel, register, and go to one meetup. Then, thunderbolt from the blue, I made an instant friend!
Kismet doesn’t usually happen at your house. It happens when you get up and go somewhere where there are other people, preferably on a similar wavelength. This is the best reason to go to conferences and workshops.
The kismet thing is even funnier from my new friend’s perspective. Just the night before, she spontaneously went to an event, where she met a workshop facilitator, and then had the bright idea to go to this person’s next event. We happened to sit next to each other. From the moment we started talking, we felt an unusually strong connection.
Two days ago, I was already in town, already packed, already registered, my annual lightning-bolt disruption experience carefully planned. This is my fourth year, and I bring fully formed expectations of making fabulous new friends and having life-altering conversations.
I’m, you might say, a ringer.
My friend, though, two days ago she was just living her life. Suddenly she stumbled down the rabbit hole, not even having heard of this event going on across the street from her office.
Are you hearing this? Are you??
These types of encounters are available to you the moment you disrupt your routine. Go somewhere new and different, introduce yourself to strangers, be open to new ideas and new conversations. Maybe even across the street from your building?
The workshop itself, the meetup, I should tell you about this because it was excellent.
Marli Williams. Check her out. She’s a genius and she changes lives so often that she may be sorta kinda taking it for granted.
This particular meetup was called: “How to Be an EPIC Facilitator Who Changes Lives.” A lot of us had *aha!* reactions to the concept of facilitating rather than teaching. I took vigorous notes and already feel like I have had a major perceptual shift around facilitating meetings and events.
Picture the room. It’s literally standing-room only. A few people standing in the back could sit on the floor if they chose, but honestly there is so much energy in the space that one would find it hard to remain seated.
Every person present is there for an extremely specific message, which is how to be a leader and change lives. See that this attracts a very particular type of person and a certain mindset.
The more specific you can get when you are dialing in to a new friend wavelength, the easier the click will be.
Pull back a moment. What if I had sat next to someone else? Was there another person in the room (or more than one) who might also have felt like an instant friend?
The point is to set aside the time, to be open to the possibility, to make room for friendship. It feels like people used to be better about this, about having long timeless evenings of conversation and laughter. On a weeknight!
Everyone got ready to go. We turned to each other.
“Do you want to go somewhere? Like, now?”
“What do you want to do?”
We wound up drinking tea and bogarting a booth in a bar for, what, three hours? Exchanging life stories and talking about every single thing ever.
Have you ever been swept away and smitten by a new friend? When was the last time?
This is something I want for the world, and also the reason I’m interested in event planning and facilitating workshops in the first place. If I could lead a discussion and have it end with new friends walking out the door together, I’d die happy. Probably even if it only happened once!
Friendship. Out of all things, isn’t it something the world could use a lot more of?
When I went to my first World Domination Summit, I was lit up and inspired by the academies and the keynote speakers. I took pages and pages of notes and felt a serious case of FoMO about all the times I couldn’t be in three places at once.
With each year that’s gone by, I’ve felt more like I’m here for the people I will meet, and that the event content is more of a side attraction. Oh, yes, this person has published a book / runs an annual event / has a website / has a podcast and I can catch up later. But ***this person*** will only cross my path for two hours unless I do something drastic
Like get vulnerable and reach out and say
“Hey, I like you”
“Do you want to go somewhere? So we can talk more?”
Sometimes people say “sure” and then they talk themselves out of it later. That’s because most of our interaction with other people is via alphabet letters these days. Or memes or emojis, but... We aren’t doing much, culturally, about sitting across from each other and listening intently and making a magical conversation bubble.
Face to face, voice to voice, laughing in stereo.
As I write about this, as I get very worked up about the power of friendship, I start picturing all my older friendships. I have not been present for my old friends lately and I feel sad and full of fails about that. Then I think, that is not friendship. No real friend would want someone to associate guilt or sadness or failure with that friendship! Right?
That’s my call to action here. Reach out to someone, someone you like. Make a new friend, step closer to an acquaintance, call up someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Say hi, tell them why you’re thinking about them.
I told the waitress for our section that we had just met and we felt like we’d been friends for twenty years. I told her she should watch for who sat in our booth next, and see if it looked like they had picked up on that vibe. Maybe her curiosity and expectation will influence the next party to sit there. Maybe they’ll have a crazy amount of fun and have no idea why!
Maybe it will be you and your friend?
Maybe I can carry that feeling into the next workshop I lead. Maybe I can, maybe anyone can, create a space where people feel like friends are all around them, waiting to be made.
I was in my apartment alone one night when a strange man knocked on the door.
I answered it.
The strange man asked if we had change for a twenty.
At this point in my life, my husband and I live at a pier, a busy tourist area with a lot of foot traffic about ten feet from our front door. Anyone who shows up at our door could be, quite literally, anyone, from a transient to a yacht owner.
The smart thing for any true crime aficionado and student of the martial arts, especially a small female one, would be to ignore a knock at the door entirely. If you know me, text me or call out my name and prove it. If you don’t know me, vamoose.
I’m a trusting soul, however, and I answer my door.
The man introduces himself as my new neighbor and says he needs change because he’s trying to sell a piece of furniture to someone from craigslist.
A likely story!
Surely this dude is trying to convince me of something. He wants to find out if I’m by myself, he wants to know if he can trick me into showing him where I keep my money.
Or, he’s purely honest and he believes that neighbors can approach each other and ask for small favors.
I have the luxury of taking him at face value, for several reasons.
There’s also the fact that this guy fits. He’s from a different ethnic background than me, but he clearly looks and sounds like the software engineer he describes himself to be. He seems like the kind of guy we would hang out with.
This is the funny part. Everyone in this story definitely has twenty dollars, or, rather, the ten dollars needed to make change for the furniture sale.
We just don’t have it in cash.
What, like, bills? From the ATM? Do they still make those?
Where we live, we can go weeks at a time without handling paper currency. We can go days without touching a plastic card for credit or debit as well. Neither of us has had a paper checkbook for several years. Often we can pay for things with our phones, which for people who grew up with rotary dial phones still sounds utterly preposterous.
We have at least three separate caches of paper money, no, wait, four? Five? None of them have anything smaller than a...
The fairy jar!
I have a glass jar filled with money, all of which I have found on the ground since I moved to California. More accurately, I’ve found it in the street, since I don’t take coins if I find them indoors. It has to be “free range,” which my husband finds hilarious. If it’s indoors I put it in the next available tip jar.
Fifteen years of pennies and nickels tends to add up, especially if you walk a lot, especially if you have a dog who likes to stop and sniff every blessed thing.
Whenever the jar has gotten full, I’ve “bought” coins out of it with paper bills. When the wad of paper money gets too big, I’ve bought the small bills with bigger bills.
It turns out there’s nearly two hundred bucks in there now!
You’d think there’d be more, but we don’t really generate our own coins in change because we don’t really pay for things with cash.
Sure enough, there is easily change for a twenty in the fairy jar. Our new neighbor has been patiently hanging out on the porch while hubby and I scramble around looking for small bills. We make the exchange.
Now there’s a new twenty-dollar bill in the fairy jar where there used to be pennies.
More importantly, we’ve met a new neighbor who feels like a kindred spirit. We’ve done a tiny favor for him. Through this transaction, we’ve gotten to learn each other’s names and recognize each other’s faces. When we see each other around the complex, we’ll recognize each other as ‘NEIGHBOR’ rather than ‘INCIPIENT THREAT.’
With the pennies I’ve found on the street over the years, I’ve bought another layer of safety and connection in my neighborhood. I’ve added trust to the world, or my corner of it.
This is abundance. This is how it works and how it feels.
I open my door freely to a stranger because I feel like I can do that without real risk. I’m happy to meet someone new who might be a new friend, or colleague, or an eligible date for one of my single friends.
This person asks me for money (well, kinda) and I have it. I have this specific money because I find it all the time, on the ground, like a walnut or a crabapple or a blue feather.
I find money because I believe that I “have the time” to walk my dog, to walk on errands, to go out and hold hands with my husband while we watch the sun set. I have the identical twenty-four hours as everyone else who has ever lived, and I’m one of the few who feels like I “have the time.”
I put the $20 in the jar, in place of the smaller bills and coins that were there before, and it looks mighty fine.
I’m creating something out of nothing.
I’ve recognized subtle opportunities and taken advantage of them.
I’ve made my own fairy jar and I’ve filled it with coins that other people never bothered to pick up. I’ve made my own bit of whimsy and I’ve used it to work a bit of magic in real life.
I almost didn’t marry my husband. It would have been the greatest screwup of all time. Worse, I didn’t really realize why until we’d been together nearly 13 years.
I was caught up in a battle between the pop culture image of romance and the true love that I finally found, neither of which have anything at all to do with one another.
This is what happened. My current husband was only weeks away from suggesting that we start dating. I had no idea, of course. I had broken up with someone a few months earlier, after a year of dating, and I didn’t have a thought to spare for my coworker/lunch buddy/future husband.
I’d met a boy on a plane.
I’d met a boy on a plane, and he’d given me his email address, and after my breakup I remembered him. The very fact that I’d kept that little slip of paper should have told me something about my previous relationship.
I thought I’d reach out and see if the cute boy from the plane wanted to get together.
The idea of myself initiating a new flirtation made me feel modern and strong and sexy. Look at me, chasing a boy I met on a plane! Just like a romantic comedy!
*** cue many, many red flags ***
I emailed the boy, and he wrote back. We made a date.
We lived a two-hour drive apart. This didn’t bother me (which it absolutely should have) because he lived in the same city as my ex. (That’s how we met, because we were both on a flight to his local airport - not mine).
For the sake of romance, I made the drive. I stayed at my auntie’s house and we gossiped about MY DATE. Ooh la la! How much of the excitement of a new romance comes from talking it up with your friends and family?
What are you going to wear??
Hair up or down??
Oh ma gawwwwwd! *squeal*
Check in and let me know you’re safe...
I drove to the designated place of assignation. The cute boy from the plane was there, just like in a movie. We hugged and walked around talking.
In retrospect, I did almost all of the talking.
We kissed and agreed to make another date. I went back to my auntie’s feeling very fluttery indeed.
Then I didn’t really hear from him for weeks.
I called him and we made another date. I really liked spending time with him. I thought he was cute, and he had a cute accent, and I liked his clothes, and he was my age, and he complimented me, and he seemed to be a great listener, and we had pretty strong physical chemistry.
Just like in the movies!
Then I didn’t really hear from him for weeks.
We made another date, Date Number Three. I thought of myself as a smart, savvy, independent and upwardly mobile woman, so this was going to be the test. How were the cute boy from the plane and I going to make this a thing?
Was this worth a four-hour round-trip every time we saw each other?
Who was going to do the driving?
I’d already been down this road with the ex who lived in the same city. Once I realized I had no intention of marrying that guy, I knew I wasn’t willing to do that drive for something more casual. That meant the same decision point would come up again. Who would move?
I liked this cute boy, and I liked holding hands with him, and he was a great kisser. I needed to know more, though. I set out on the drive for Big Date Number Three with my bag full of question marks.
The date involved both of us meeting in a distant city and going on a riverboat cruise. OMG how romantic!!!
I got seriously lost on the way, because I’m a terrible driver and a worse navigator, and I told him I was going to be late.
He yelled at me on the phone. He was genuinely mad.
I had nearly two hours to think about this before we met. He’d agreed to drive away and meet me in our destination city, skipping the whole riverboat cruise, and I thought that was accommodating of him. Still, he’d yelled at me on the phone, and yelling is a dealbreaker for me. If we both hadn’t already put in hours of driving, I would have ended it on the spot.
Let’s find out, I thought. Let’s just see this through and we can have the Where Is This Going talk.
As soon as we met, I started in. “You yelled at me on the phone. Are you a yeller, [Cute Boy]? It’s okay, lots of people are.” He didn’t answer me.
What should have gone into that conversation, what should have come unprompted, was AN APOLOGY. That didn’t happen, and I put it into one of the many pockets on my bag of question marks.
We had a normal date. That worked for me. Almost all humans are abjectly rotten at apologizing, and I wasn’t going to hold it against him if he could move past his anger and shake off a bad mood. As long as he got the point that yelling at me is not okay.
That afternoon I initiated The Talk. I held his hands and told him I really liked him and asked him how he wanted to move forward. Since we lived two hours apart, who would do the driving?
“Why do you have to make it difficult?” he said.
He didn’t want to have this conversation at all.
The two-hour drive, though! Four hours round-trip!
We talked for nearly an hour, and the lightbulb finally flickered on over my head. This wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t take this boy seriously.
Then he made HIS pitch. Since it was our third date. Did I want to go to Motel 6 with him?
“Or we could go to the Super 8. I have a coupon.”
I dropped him off at the Motel 6 and broke up with him by email that week.
What happened here was a classic Pursuer/Distancer relationship. I chased this mystery boy, knowing nothing about him, because the mystery itself made him more attractive. Our “dates” felt exciting due to the novelty value.
After I started imagining him actually in my world, being “boyfriend and girlfriend” rather than “dating,” the spell wore off. The practicalities loomed in my mind. Would I have to drive four hours every time I wanted to see him? Why had he invited me to a cheap motel when we both supposedly had our own apartments? Why hadn’t I met any of his friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors?
Why wouldn’t he give me his business card when I asked?
With time, I grew more suspicious. I started to think he was a pathological liar, or at least someone with something to hide. I thought he hadn’t invited me to his place because he had a live-in girlfriend (or wife), either that or he lived in squalor. I thought he was lying about his job and being “an entrepreneur.” He’d made other claims and I had no reason to believe any of them, either. I was 100% sure he had lied about being a Mensan like me.
A Mensan! I fell for someone’s BS and I’m a documentably smart person.
Here’s the deal. Between Date Number Two and Date Number Three with the cute boy from the plane, my current husband made his pitch. I should date him because he thought there could be something more between us. I told him we had nothing to talk about. I said he was only interested because he knew I was starting something with someone else. Why hadn’t he said anything sooner?
He almost walked. At that point, I had almost succeeded in permanently driving him away.
What are some differences between the cute mysterious boy from the plane and my lunch buddy/future husband?
I knew nothing about the cute boy, and I basically knew my work buddy’s entire life history.
I knew nobody from the cute boy’s life, and I’d met almost all of my work buddy’s friends and his daughter.
I knew nothing about the cute boy’s work situation or home life, and I’d worked with my work buddy for about a year and a half. I’d also been over to his house a few times.
I knew nothing about the cute boy’s value system, other than what he’d demonstrated through his actions (yelling at me, lying), while I’d spent many hours discussing ethics and life philosophy with my work buddy.
I couldn’t really tell you anything about the cute boy, other than my guesses and hopes and dreams and twitterpated feelings. I could tell you basically everything about my work buddy, from his favorite lunch orders to his personal heroes to his musical tastes to his finances.
What I had with my work buddy/future husband was friendship. That’s how we wound up married four years after we met. That’s why we’re still happy after thirteen years. We actually know each other.
I don’t have to speculate with my girlfriends about whether he likes me or not, because he told me himself. I don’t have to guess “what he meant by that” when he sends me a text, because I can just ASK HIM myself. I don’t have to guess how he feels, I know. I know him.
What we have is a companionate marriage. We’ve never done pursuer/distancer.
Why do you have to make it difficult, asked my cute date, the one who yelled at me, the one who never called and told me nothing about his life. Why? Because that’s reality. At some point you actually live together and do laundry together, and you have to expose yourselves and start having a normal, ordinary life.
Make it difficult. That’s my advice. Ask your questions and make sure you know what you’re getting into. Don’t be like me and chase after some unknown random dude when you might be losing out on the awesome guy right beside you.
I made it difficult with my current husband. We spent six months debating about how we’d move forward before I would agree to marry him. Because of that process, we spend our time laughing and cooking for each other and traveling around the world. Make it difficult enough and it will be easy ever after.
I got pitched again. “Will... you be my mentor?” This is sweet, and flattering, and problematic for a bunch of reasons. For one, I have four current protégés, four slices and only one pie. I’ve also lost two in the past year or two. Mentoring is something I take very seriously, and that’s why I feel it incumbent upon me to share how easy it is to mess up.
For starters, maybe have more than two conversations with me before asking me to commit to a long-term relationship with you?
You’re right to pick me. I started doing this years ago, and it’s a formal couples project for my husband and me. Our young ones (now grown) have gotten dream jobs and internships, won grants, traveled the world, relocated, gotten fit, won promotions, and we’ve even married a few of them off. Personally I’m proudest of the happy marriages, because those are the hardest to do properly. We’re proud of all of them, though, because the important thing isn’t the dream, it’s having the dream.
Now that I’m working more with adults than with young people, the dreams tend to be different, but they’re still dreams and thus they operate within a standard framework. Win a competition, become a professional public speaker, get a promotion, get a raise and a bonus, pay off a bunch of debt, those are the easy ones. Weight loss and chronic pain management are intermediate and ‘stop hoarding’ is advanced.
See that it’s not the nature of the project under discussion. It’s how you approach it. Choosing a mentor is the tiniest piece, just a faster way to get to where you want to be.
What I’m looking for is a kind-hearted and honest person who is willing to get to work, eager to listen, and suitable to introduce to other people. I have one strict rule, and that is that anyone in my circle has to get along with everyone else in my circle. Cause problems with my friends, colleagues, or guests, and you are automatically disqualified.
I dropped a prospect for sending angry emails in ALL CAPS. That might seem extreme, but I later witnessed her having an altercation in a business setting. She doesn’t know she got dropped, and she may never figure out why things are so comparatively difficult for her.
Using the word ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ also immediately moves someone to my probation list. It’s not quite an auto-fail, but I do see it as a major red flag.
Swearing is fine; in fact it’s encouraged, as long as we’re in a casual setting.
Naysaying is probably the most important thing that one of my protégés needs to understand. Most people do it reflexively and they’ll never stop. My people need to be receptive to working on this habit, because the entire point of working with me is to learn possibility thinking.
“That’ll never work!” “Prove it.”
I have a prospect who is burning through chances right now. She needs a job, and she happens to have a lot of experience in a field with which I am well acquainted. I set up a lunch with her and she canceled while we were already waiting for her at the table. I invited her to a meeting with the director of a company that would probably hire her on the spot. She didn’t come.
From my perspective and that of my friends with hiring authority, new acquaintances are assets. If I can offer them a qualified candidate, I’ve done them a solid and they’ll remember it. I’m not asking them for a favor, I’m giving them a gift. The door is wide open and there’s a little gift bag on the other side with your name on it. Smile and walk through the door. You’re welcome.
That’s why it’s so frustrating and puzzling when people inevitably stand around outside the door, like a cat that can’t make up its mind. Do I really want to go in there? Am I sure? Maybe I’d rather be a giraffe farmer.
This person who keeps blowing her shots always has some reason. One time it was an audition, and she actually got the job, but it was a one-day gig. The rest of the time it turns out to be childcare. I’m sympathetic, but what are you going to do for childcare after you get the job? What did you do while you were working at your last job? This is not a problem I can solve for you, but it is a problem that you have to figure out if you’re going to make your life easier. Find a sitter for two hours, go to the interview, get the job, collect paychecks, problem solved.
If you have a problem that can be solved with money, go after that money!
“I can’t make it.” Okay, then suggest to me another time or another format that would work for you. Do you want to try a video conference? Type an interview over Skype? Send over your portfolio or your resume? What, nothing?
If you’re going to stop at the first obstacle, you’re going to be standing in a tennis court surrounded by little green balls that you never lobbed back.
I made something absolutely crazy happen a few months back. I was riding in a Lyft with a chatty driver, and because I love storytelling, I got him going. It turned out that his sister ran a big charity event, a bulldog race. I immediately texted my friend who has Frenchies to tell her about it, and she said she wanted to go but she thought the deadline passed. I got the driver to give me his sister’s personal phone number! (Of course I told him why I wanted it).
Did my friend text or call to ask to get her dog into the race? NO SHE DID NOT.
They could have made friends. My friend could have networked herself into the charity. Think of all the dog friends her dog could have made!
She might also have won $15,000, but who’s counting.
Passing along opportunities is like a game of Hot Potato. You bounce it back and forth and get it off your hands as soon as possible. This comes from a deep recognition of what an opportunity looks like, even if it’s one that you yourself would never want.
Naturally I’ll continue to pass along opportunities to my bulldog-loving friend, if they come my way. I won’t extend myself quite as far to make them happen, though.
The truth is that almost every time, a person presented with an opportunity will pass. That’s because we like the feeling of having lots of options, but we’re violently allergic to actually deciding and choosing them. That would require change, and change is what we can’t stand. We hate uncertainty, and that unwillingness to be in the Place of Uncertainty is the exact thing that keeps us from our supposed dreams.
That’s the main reason that I lose protégés and drop prospects. They change their minds and decide that they didn’t really want what they originally said they wanted. You mean I got you an interview with a paleontologist with a PhD, and you didn’t make the connection because only just this moment you lost interest in the field??
This is why there are so many gates in the business world. We start feeling burned after extending so many opportunities to people who lost interest or changed their minds. There has to be a way to filter out the tire-kickers and the looky-loos. Show us you’re serious.
Okay, so here’s how to annoy your mentor.
Flake out, fail to show up, fail to follow through.
Ignore suggestions, even easy ones such as checking out a website, reading an article, or applying for a gig.
Keep asking the same question.
Give lengthy explanations as to why you can’t do something.
Try to get the highest-level possible mentor in the room when you aren’t ready, and even the most junior person could easily answer 90% of your questions.
Make major decisions that change your circumstances without mentioning it. You don’t report to me or answer to me, but wouldn’t you want to know if I could save you some hassle or help you avoid a costly mistake?
Allow persistent problems to hold you back, such as bad wi-fi or lack of transportation. Unless you want that to be your condition for the rest of your life, figure it out. If you can’t figure it out, ask everyone you know for advice and follow that advice.
Balk at trivial amounts of money. I used to clean my friends’ bathrooms when I needed $20 or $50 or $100 for something. If you don’t have $65 for a conference, find seven people who will pay you $10 for something, or four people who will pay you $20. Or ask me and I’ll shake down some odd jobs for you.
Ask for my free time on evenings or weekends (1) and then flake out or cancel (2).
I don’t care if you doubt me or disagree with me. I don’t care if you work with additional mentors - the more the merrier! Although do consider introducing us. What I do care about is whether you understand what you’re asking when you ask me to be your mentor, and that you commit to your dream and to living up to your own standards for yourself.
Neighborhood gossip time!
I have a neighbor, an intriguing figure who is rarely around. My hubby and I talked about her and immediately decided, She’s single on purpose. She’s a professional model, a sweet-natured young single mom. Her kid is nice - our parrot loves her. We sometimes walk dogs together and chat casually.
This is Southern California. Naturally we have neighbors who are personal trainers, former professional athletes, and models. Thank goodness we’re middle-aged and have the good sense not to take this personally.
So we’re all hanging out in the hot tub, and a group of men gets in. A couple of them are senior guys, friendly and interesting but not in our age range. One of them is ludicrously good-looking. I mean, shut up and get out of here, that’s a hologram, right?
They leave after a while, and the gossip goes on.
I mention him and refer to him as “the hot guy.”
“That’s what we call him!” she cries. “The Hot Guy!”
What’s the story here?
Okay, we have two extremely attractive, smart, funny, and kind-hearted single parents. They like each other.
Their kids like each other.
Each kid likes the other adult.
They hang out.
Why aren’t they dating?
“Oh, we’re just friends.”
THIS, this is exactly what keeps happening and why none of the single women I meet are in a happy relationship.
I talked to two single gals, one an old friend and the other her road-trip buddy. How did you do it, they want to know. How can we have a marriage like yours?
You don’t want what I have, I said. Yes we do, they said.
No, you don’t. You both travel around the world for your jobs. How are you going to date someone? Either you’d have to give up traveling to be with him, or you’d have to find him work in the same city as you every time you change contracts, or you would both travel and you’d always be on different continents. BY DEFINITION you don’t want and can’t have what I have.
What all these women have in common is that they’re emotionally hooked on the pursuer/distancer dynamic.
That’s fine, except that it is the relationship style most likely to lead to divorce.
I don’t think people recognize this when they’re in it.
The trouble with the friend-marriage is that it starts by dating someone you see as “just a friend.”
This is not the same as the supposed “friend zone” phenomenon, in which one person is interested exclusively in a sexual relationship and fakes a friendship while waiting for a chance. Built into that model is inherent disrespect. I know you don’t feel that way about me, but. I know what’s best for you and I will change your mind, I’ll wear you down. This “relationship” is goal-oriented and you are my target.
This is not that.
Your romance should be like your other relationships in most respects. If you’re friends with a wide range of people, from your work buddies to your neighbors to your dental hygienist to your high school friend’s mom, then you’ll understand this. You like each other, you enjoy talking to each other, you find each other’s stories interesting, and you make each other laugh.
Why would you want a love match that was any different?
What I told my model friend is to picture yourself on your most boring day. Your default. That’s marriage. Almost all the time, you’re just hanging around, messing with your phones, doing chores and running errands. If your romance doesn’t fit into your ordinary life, then it won’t last.
Your marriage has to be a friendship or it can’t possibly survive, because you’ll annoy each other too much.
For whatever reason, most women and many men seem only to be attracted to the sort of person they can’t be friends with. We want someone sexy, and that means mysterious.
Look, I get it, I’ve done it too. When I was young I dashed my hopes against the rocks many times. Filled my poetry notebook with sad verses about musicians, poets, and boys who dumped me. It wasn’t until I was nearly thirty that I finally figured out why the other party always broke up with me first:
I wanted to extract emotions from the other person, even though he didn’t feel them
I thought of “the relationship” as a separate entity
I assumed the boy wanted the same things that I wanted, or that he would if only I could convince him
I fell for his “potential” - not his behavior today
I read between the lines, convincing myself that even though he said one thing, he really meant something else
I spent a lot of time guessing what he might be thinking or what he might do, incorrectly
I focused on superficial things about him, such as his taste in music, clothing style, or hair
I assumed that if he was into something that bored me, he would stop in favor of hanging out with me, effectively trading his main interests and hobbies for... talking to me
Ditto with friends I thought he would cancel if I didn’t hit it off with them
Finally I quit all of that, and I started vetting my relationships differently. I started to realize that what I needed was someone I liked and respected, someone who was fun to talk to, not some mystery poet. That’s why I decided to give my current husband a chance. I realized that if we could have fun together going to the grocery store and making dinner, then this thing could work.
Thirteen years later, it still seems to be working!
I explained to my friends, including the single mom/model, the difference between the five styles of marriage. I talked about the friendship marriage, which is the most successful, and how it feels. No more of this “wait until I meet some random mysterious stranger” nonsense. Turn to your left, turn to your right, and notice the friend who really gets you and likes you for who you are.
Then I heard that my model friend, the Hot Guy, and their kids are having dinner together, on a weeknight.
The Lone Matchmaker strikes again.
Heh heh heh.
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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