I’d do anything for you, I hope you know that.
If you ever need me, just call me, day or night.
If anyone ever messes with you, they better not, but if they do they’ll have to go through me.
Nothing gets me more worked up than picturing you in harm’s way, and all the things I would do to anyone who ever tried to hurt you.
I just really want you to know that.
I’m here for you, I’ll always be here for you.
If you were ever wrongfully accused, I’d get you lawyers, I’d call the press, I’d call our state rep, I’d write letters, I’d be in court every day. I would get you out if it took twenty years.
If you were ever in the hospital, I’d be by your side day and night. I’d sleep in a chair. I know you know that.
If you needed a blood donor, if you needed an organ, take mine. But if we weren’t a match I would drive around with posters all over the car. I’d set up a GoFundMe. I’d do whatever it takes and I’d find you a match.
I’d do anything for you.
If you were ever stranded, you could call in the middle of the night and I’d put on my coat and snow boots and I’d go get you.
Would I fight a bear for you? Are you kidding me? I am that bear!
I told you I’d do anything for you and I know you know how much I mean that.
So why do you keep asking me about this vaccine.
You know that is something I will never do.
But that has nothing to do with how much I love you.
I’m not getting the shot. I’m not reading articles about it. I’m not watching interviews about it. I’m not looking at posters or brochures.
I made up my mind, so stop it and leave me alone!
Just, please can’t you quit thinking this has anything to do with you or how much I love you?
I’ll do any of those other things, but not this.
Because I’m afraid of the vaccine in a way that I am not afraid of the courts, or the press, or wild animals, or any human on earth.
I will face literally anything on Earth for you - except this one thing.
This is where I draw the line.
Sure, I had the tetanus shot, so not all needles. Just this one.
Maybe there are two things I won’t do for you after all.
I won’t get the shot and I won’t listen to you on this subject.
I have the biggest, wildest heart in the world, just bursting with love and loyalty - but this is where it stops.
This is the fence around my love.
And I’m not even sorry.
Please let’s go back to pretending this isn’t happening so I can go back to loving you with my whole heart once again.
This is the day when everyone runs out and buys half-price Valentine’s chocolates, am I right?
Not me. Life is too short to eat cruddy, stale candy. I like heart-shaped stuff and I love Valentine’s Day, but I don’t care for supermarket chocolate.
I’m glad, though. I’m glad there is some consolation for the haters. Whereas, after all the decades I have been exhausted by two-month Christmases, all I get is decorations left up until February.
Why is there so much sympathy for the Valentine’s cynics and none at all for the Grinch crowd?
As a divorced person married to another divorced person, it’s not like I have no inkling of imperfect matches or bad romance in general. My ex was pretty good at the romantic stuff. He was a phenomenal cook and a great gift-giver. Once he got me this super fluffy white bathrobe that I kept long after we split up.
Nothing on the traditional romance checklist could have kept us together, though. Fundamentally, I don’t think my ex ever actually liked me as a person.
Did I like him? In that way? I dunno. Honestly it never occurred to me to ask myself that.
This is my only real grievance with the marketing around Valentine’s Day. And it’s the commercial aspect that’s the problem, I’m convinced of that. If all we attend to are the ads, we’ll get more or less the same message that we get around any other holiday.
BUY THEIR AFFECTION AND GRATITUDE
There’s an annoying stereotype around every holiday, starting with the New Year. Get drunk and start your new year with a splitting headache! Buy red roses, conflict diamonds, and child-slavery bonbons for your love interest! Burn breakfast for Mom! Cause explosions after dark, for patriotism!
It goes on. I’m stopping before Halloween, though, because at least one thing in this world must remain pure and true and that is the mass wearing of costumes while eating candy and watching scary movies.
But doesn’t that describe Valentine’s Day, in its own way?
Put on flattering clothes that you would normally never wear, eat sweets, and maybe watch a “romantic comedy”?
I’ve been with the same person for fifteen years. I just leaned over and asked him:
“Have we ever watched a rom-com together?”
“I don’t usually put those things in memory.”
(AHA! I thought as much. If we’ve ever watched a movie with a romance in it, it was probably a standard screwball comedy that happened to have a couple get together at the end).
It is my considered opinion that “romantic comedies” do not reflect reality and that following the plot of any of them would not lead to an actual relationship.
Romance novels? Even worse. I have yet to meet someone I would consider happily married who is also a consumer of romance novels. The most dedicated romance readers I have known are single and like it that way.
What does it take to feel like you’ve won the romance lottery, that you’re in a long-term relationship with someone who actually makes your knees weak? Someone you would still choose over all others?
Friendship first and foremost. I don’t know why this is such a mystery. I know several pairs of friends whom I think would make fantastic married couples, and why they don’t just go for it is known only to themselves.
A paradox, second. What has created the cloud of romance in which we live is the straightforward pragmatism with which we negotiated our union.
Total transparency with money.
A full accounting of all our past relationships and where we messed up.
Official business meetings, complete with an agenda and business jargon.
This is part of why we’re a good match, because we’re both able to dork out on the same stuff.
Of course, the other part is that we know we can trust and respect each other. We started out by comparing value systems. While we don’t necessarily share the precise same ethical position on all or most things, I think we both have a good understanding of each other’s position.
Based on that foundation, we’ve gone out and tested ourselves. We’ve ventured into the wilderness together, we’ve done the “wing-it method” in other countries where we didn’t speak the language, we’ve handled one goldarn crisis after another, been broke and confused and stressed out, and at this point he’s even kept me alive through this stupid pandemic.
Have we ever bought each other roses? No
Heart-shaped box of chocolates? No
Written each other poems or love letters? ...well, *I* have
I did buy him a nice anvil one year. Which he loved, of course.
We’re allowed to do things our own way. We’re allowed to choose what we think love means, for ourselves, and we’re even allowed to talk about it from time to time. Anyone else who finds it annoying when a couple is sweet on each other, check yourself.
Do you suppose that perhaps your attitude is the reason why you don’t have a happy love relationship?
Do you prefer it when other people openly bicker and make their quarrels the center of social gatherings?
*shrug* have it your way
A two-person union isn’t the only way to do things. It is a way for a lot of people, though. I’m convinced that in a lot of ways it can be a shortcut to personal growth, to have this other person to call you out on your BS and remind you who you are in times of difficulty.
No matter what the world may think, there is space for two people to create a private universe and step into it, hand in hand.
Romance is pragmatic in this way. It’s just so darn useful to have that other person around, for wise counsel and sympathy and boosterism and sometimes making the breakfast.
The trouble is, to *have* that person you have to *be* that person. This is why it’s so important to nail the pragmatic parts. To figure out your partner’s love language and check those boxes, especially the acts of service. To be the good and decent roommate. To be endlessly considerate and courteous, even when the other person is being annoying. To put in the time every year to think of something that would really please and delight your partner.
Romance is work. It takes mental effort. Probably 80% of it consists of indisputable chores and drudgery.
Ah, but the payoff. Love, sweet love, the best way to live and the best form of revenge.
People be out here listening to their craziest friend. I am very curious as to why.
This is genuinely what seems to be happening. If the rule is, Anything mainstream is automatically suspicious, then the most paranoid person suddenly seems like the wisest and best strategic thinker.
I like this sort of thing for comedy value. In practice, though, I have questions.
It used to be that you could go to people and ask them about their experience with something, and they would tell you a story about what happened to them, and you would be smart to follow their example.
For instance, I was at a meeting the other day where people were trading tips on which DMV was the fastest, how to get an appointment, and what to bring with you. If someone shared information that turned out not to be true, the next person to go there would quickly find out. Then they would tell everyone. The first guy would lose a bit of credibility and would probably be expected to give a sort of apology. Whoops, my bad.
That is how social proof works.
People are constantly asking each other for social proof. What restaurant is good. Did you try that flavor yet. Is that breed of dog good with kids.
That is the entire premise of everything having star ratings or likes or product reviews. We want to learn from each other what things work as promised.
What we’ve all learned from a couple of decades of rating everything, from movies to salad dressing, is that some reviews are not worth reading because the reviewer obviously has a screw loose. Giving something a one-star review because you had problems with the shipping is not helping anybody.
We’ve all quickly learned to skim through the page-long rants because it seems pretty clear that that person’s deranged opinion is not going to affect our experience of the local dry cleaner or veterinarian.
The trouble is, we don’t seem to be quite as savvy about topics that don’t involve consumer products or local businesses.
I wonder why that is?
I was talking to a friend the other day and she said her parents aren’t planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of the “long-term effects.” It turns out my friend’s mom’s friend’s... son? Neighbor? works in a hospital. In the mom’s mind, this makes him a nurse. Supposedly he said something about Bell’s palsy, which she heard as Ball’s palsy, which then somehow morphed into the story, “Nurses are saying that the COVID vaccine causes cerebral palsy.”
Bell’s palsy, by the way, can be caused by viral infections. It’s a temporary facial paralysis that resolves in six months. Yeah, I wouldn’t want it, but it is far less frightening to me than the idea of getting COVID again! And it has nothing in common whatsoever with cerebral palsy, which only happens to kids under age three.
What this sort of anecdote comes down to is, I heard something that made me nervous from someone I know, therefore I am 100% opposed to it.
Even though I can’t even remember the exact details and I’ve never even met the first guy who said it.
The “long-term effects” argument sounds perfectly reasonable. A lot of people are skittish about getting the vaccine because it was developed so quickly. They think that must mean that there can’t be enough testing information from humans, and they don’t want to be that first penguin that jumps in and gets eaten by the leopard seal.
Okay, then, you want more information about “long-term effects” before you’ll take it? What timeframe are we talking here? One year? Five years? Twenty years?
That means you would literally rather the pandemic continue to rage unchecked all around the world for whatever length of time than have a vaccination program in 2021?
What year, can you tell me? What timeframe do you think would be long enough?
Also, could you give me numbers on the number of sick, hospitalized, or dead people that you find acceptable? Like, maybe if the numbers stay low enough we could all wait even longer?
It took over two hundred and fifty years to go from variolation in North America to the elimination of smallpox. (1721 to 1974).
Is that long enough?
I go back to what I was saying to my hesitant friend. If vaccines caused some kind of long-term health effects, we would be seeing that reflected in the longevity data. Vaccines appear to have added thirty years to the average human lifespan just in the last century.
If you think that lifespan increase was due to something else other than vaccines, what do you think it was? Television? Microwaves? Air pollution? 5G?
The most surprising thing to me about vaccine hesitancy is when you hear about it from people who were previously fine with it. People who were vaccinated as kids, who then took their own kids to get their shots, people who were maybe even getting their flu shots up until recently. What changed?
Why are there so many Boomers out there who are nervous about vaccines, when they saw smallpox completely eradicated in their adult lifetime?
Oh, and polio! How many Boomers knew someone who caught polio?
The biggest question of all to me is this. Why would you think that vaccines from 40-60 years ago were somehow safer or better than the vaccines that we have today?
Think it out. How many stories have you heard in your lifetime of people who survived breaking their neck or having a stroke or heart attack? When you were a kid, wouldn’t you have expected that all those things would have killed someone?
Medical science has improved. If you stop and think of all the anecdotal evidence you have of various people surviving accidents or surgery or crazy illnesses, most likely you will be able to come up with a bunch of interesting medical miracles. For instance, we had a neighbor who survived meningitis and another who had a quadruple bypass. I know at least four people who have had brain surgery.
On the other hand, your memory is probably also full of every story you’ve ever heard under the category of Disaster.
It’s a survival trait to trade disaster stories. We don’t want the same thing happening to anyone else. “Don’t eat that, it gave me food poisoning” is probably one of the very first folktales that humanity ever told.
This is where we stand today. We’re constantly bombarded by information from literally millions of possible sources. It’s too much for us all to do due diligence on all of it. The way we cope is by relying on people we can vouch for, people within two or three degrees of separation from us.
We like the stories that come from our craziest friends because they are more memorable and because they seem more trustworthy than whatever we’re told by any kind of larger organization.
We’re at a crossroads where we have to choose what we think is true, and base our actions on that. Unfortunately, the consequences for turning in one direction or the other are more serious than usual. I hope that the path of documentable results becomes more well-trodden and that it starts to be more obvious which way to turn.
For the first time, I took up the offer to be accountability partners with someone.
I’ve had supposed accountability arrangements with people before, and it hasn’t suited me. I had come to the conclusion that what people are asking for is to abdicate on their decisions and try to outsource their willpower.
“I will literally only ever do this if someone else forces me.”
Sure, I’m very good at this type of nagging, but it’s part of what I do at work. Essentially, if someone is asking for me to be their accountability coach, they’re asking me for administrative support.
You can program your smartphone to do this for you if you want to, and it will probably only take you a few minutes to set up.
I did this type of accountability coaching as a coach for about a year, but the amount of stress on my part went far beyond the measly pay. It seemed like, from my perspective, the clients would have either done it on their own without my help, or would never do it at all, either through blackmail or at gunpoint or for charity or under extreme hypnosis or any other reason.
I think it’s better if more of us just admit that we don’t want to do certain things, that we have no intention of ever doing them, and that we’re not going to pretend to try. The end.
I do! I do this. I have no intention of, let’s see: making scrapbooks, learning to wear liquid eyeliner, or making any kind of food that has a shape. When I see attractive stuff on someone’s pinboard, I just wave my hand, Ehh.
Another lifetime maybe.
It’s easy for me, as a Questioner. If I think something is a good idea, I’ll do it right away. If it makes sense to me, I only need to hear about it or see it once and I’ll jump on it. Or at least give it a try.
For instance, I tried those little suspenders for the fitted sheet? They work, but they’re miserable to put on. I’ve basically given up on them and determined to just buy slightly more expensive sheets next time.
This is the more challenging part of being a Questioner. If I don’t think something is a good idea, I won’t bother. This is fine for me but apparently very trying to other people, most of whom are not fellow Questioners but some of whom are, and should know better.
I have an Obliger friend (actually many, as a plurality of people are Obligers and they are the nicest kind of friend). What they have in common is that they will go far out of their way for others, but they have a tough time sticking to things that they see as benefiting only themselves.
The easy part of being a good friend to an Obliger is that I can explain to them how something they are reluctant to do for themselves actually benefits other people. For instance, if you take your meal breaks at work, you set a good example, but you’re also in a much better mood than when you attempt to go until 3 pm before you have your first calories of the day.
*ahem* You’ve all done it at least once, admit it.
So my Obliger friend asked if I wanted to be accountability partners, and I did the best I could. I told her my honest feelings.
Eww, she said. That wasn’t what she had in mind at all.
All she wanted was to check in every now and then and talk about our goals.
I agreed to this, because talking is something I know how to do. Also, and this is the secret lure if you’re trying to negotiate with a Questioner, she had privileged information that I found compelling. She was going to tell me about her system for tracking goals.
This wound up being a good part of our call. We traded details of how we’ve set our goals over the years. There was something about her system that really appealed to me, and something about my system that caught her attention too. It made me feel closer to my friend, realizing that goal-setting is such a big part of both our worlds.
There are very few people who take all this as seriously as I do, or at least, if they do, they haven’t told me yet.
Both of us had goals that we weren’t really sure how to tackle yet.
In this sense, our accountability arrangement is closer to what is usually referred to as a mastermind.
My friend wants to learn a language, and wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I don’t think she realized quite what a linguistics nerd I am. I told her all about language exchange partners, and which exact app has the language she wants to learn, since they’re all different. I told her, if she has any questions at all, I can’t help her with her chosen language, but I definitely can help her find resources and figure out her study plan.
It turns out that my big work goal of learning data visualization is right in my friend’s wheelhouse. I wouldn’t have gone so far as to ask her to look over my charts, because that’s overstepping. We did agree, though, that she could point me toward some resources. She told me I was making a really sound choice and that being good at data visualization sets people apart more than anything else.
After our talk, we were both laughing and excited. We agreed that we would do two-week sprints, just like we do at work. Our first task would be to share what we’re working on for our first sprint. Then we’ll check in every two weeks and see how we’re doing.
Our accountability arrangement is as much about sharing how thrilled we are with the whole goal-setting process and making accomplishments. I think we’ve both found that most of our friends are not up for this sort of discussion in any way. Couple of goal nerds.
If you want to do something similar, the most important thing is who not to choose. Almost all humans of Earth will naysay everything you ever wanted to do, left, right, sideways, and upside down. It’s better to keep your ideas to yourself than to expose them to this sort of negativity.
Honestly, it might be better to meet a random Internet friend who enjoys goal-setting than to choose from amongst your family or friends?
The main thing to remember is that your life is yours. You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you want to learn certain things or do certain things with your free time. You are perfectly entitled to have goals and resolutions, and enjoy them to the fullest extent. If your goal is to spend 18 hours a day with your phone, who’s to stop you?
Talking about money is why my husband and I are married. Done right, a big money talk can be exciting and fun.
Then, of course, there’s the way most people do it.
When you’re broke, which we both were when we met, thinking about money is stressful. It makes some people cry, others freeze up, and others want to throw things at the wall. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The trouble is, most people don't know that. All we have to go on are the examples we learned in childhood, the sanitized academic exercises we might have learned in one semester of personal finance, what we see in the media, and maybe what we’re being pitched by someone or other in an MLM scheme.
(I have one of them in my life *again* - sending me texts and emails over the holiday weekend asking me to pitch her company’s product to my work, which is a non-profit - and probably quite cheesed off that I am ignoring her).
(Come to think of it, I’m probably going to have to have a sort of big money talk with her, too).
Fear of conflict is what holds so many of us back. We won’t take the initiative because we don’t really know how to do it, how to open up a conversation about a topic that is so loaded.
Go first. That’s the first rule. Be willing to take the lead, be willing to be the planner and the researcher. One way or the other, there is no escape - you must take total responsibility for your own finances whether you are alone or whether you have a partner.
It might not work. People often need to be told that they don’t need permission to break up, that their relationship might not be viable and that they might need to get out before doing anything else. Your partner might be completely unwilling to make changes in this area, and that’s okay.
You’re not the boss of them and they aren’t the boss of you.
All right. Assume that you do have a partner, which is why you would need to have a money talk, and that you are fairly sure your partner is willing to hear you out.
What you’re aiming for is a high-level strategy, not something like “I can’t believe you spend $5 a day on chewing gum.” (True story). Or, “You have to quit buying so many Funko Pops or we’ll never be able to go on vacation.” Your motivating force may be irritation with your partner’s spending habits, and if so, I don’t blame you - but it also means you’re losing the game.
The truth is, at a certain income level, an “excessive” spending habit is actually affordable, or even negligible.
The big money talk, on a strategic level, is about two things. It’s about lifestyle upgrades and it’s about personal empowerment. The first is about what sort of stuff you would buy or what you would do in your spare time, if you could “afford” it. The second is about whether you both actually enjoy your jobs and find them interesting versus feeling constant stress, burnout, and background dread.
Getting rid of debt is both a lifestyle upgrade and a personal empowerment.
Talking about the debt first doesn’t really work. Generally it will make anyone flinch and start feeling defensive. The entire concept of debt revolves around guilt, blame, and shame. You can skirt right around that by talking about blue-sky visions first.
This is where you have to do a lot of prep work before you initiate the talk. What do you personally want? What would you do differently if you were debt-free? What would you do differently if you had $100,000 in the bank?
These are the types of questions that get the juices flowing. These are the types of questions that encourage your partner to actually want to engage with the discussion.
In my coaching work, I have discovered that almost nobody has an answer to the question, “What do you really want?” Most people can’t finish the “perfect day” exercise, either. We don’t know what to do with ourselves when we aren’t fussing and fretting over something. It’s so, so important though!
Most of the items in my perfect day/dream life don’t cost money. They include lots of time in nature, staying in touch with my family, eating a hot breakfast on weekend days, and reading a lot. It’s possible to do all of those things regardless of one’s income or balance sheet. This is another area you can explore with your partner, to wit, “What do you already know makes you feel wealthy?”
The goal of the big money talk is to figure out how you can facilitate each other in whatever you both need to live a bigger life. There are two ways to do it, the trapped way or the liberating way. Either you feel like you’re pinching every penny until the end of time, or you feel optimistic and lit up because you know you’re making steady progress.
Our first big money talk happened not long before my husband proposed. The way I remember it, he spontaneously offered to come over and do a ten-year financial plan together. The way he remembers it, I suggested it and asked him to show me how he did his. Somehow we both think it was the other’s idea. It was fun. That evening is probably why we finally did get married. This year, we realized we had hit the target right on schedule - in fact, we were .1% over our goal.
If you want to start this type of discussion with your partner, you can start with any introductory personal finance book. Or you can start by introducing the concept of FIRE, financial independence/retire early. (We don’t plan to retire early because neither of us plans to retire at all). Start by asking what your partner would really like to do, and offer to facilitate that in some way. Make sure you can both explore the topic with curiosity and willingness. If you’re going to be a strong team, this big money talk is going to go on for years or decades, so make it easy to agree with you.
It’s already starting. The families are making demands, and it isn’t going well.
My friend’s mom asked her to “come home” for Thanksgiving. This is one of my friends who had a particularly rough time with COVID-19. My friend, sensibly, said she would make the drive if two conditions were met.
Everyone in the family said no.
Like many of the people in our extended friend group, they think these requests are insane. We’re being paranoid, controlling, and unfair. We’re the ones with the problem. Indulging us is simply a bad idea.
This year, my friend isn’t going home. Her parents, her sister, and her brother-in-law will be eating without her because the four of them aren’t willing to pod together for two weeks or get a test.
Ultimatums are usually a bad idea, unless there is a toxic situation involved and a permanent, thick line needs to be drawn. When both sides are tossing out ultimatums, it’s likely that the relationship will be different from that point on.
The family says, Come home and do it our way. The end.
You say, I don’t want any of us to wind up in the hospital. I’ll come home under these conditions. The end.
That is a showdown.
In family law - not the kind that involves the courthouse or actual legal code - the only rule is loyalty. Call on any other authority, and you’ve said, or they’ve heard, “I choose a greater authority than you.” Science? Fiscal responsibility? The needs of your own children? A temporary situation that puts your partner’s family first?
It tends to go downhill from there. Whoever had the first conversation where the line was drawn will then call others and repeat their version of what they heard. Then the other family members will text or call and tell you off.
This should be no surprise. There are very few things that humans enjoy more deeply and sincerely than telling someone off. Lecturing, chastising, rebuking. Oh, what fun.
What we’ve forgotten how to do in our society is to stand down. We’ve forgotten, if we ever knew, how to reach toward one another, how to compromise, how to admit we’ve been wrong, how to give an honest apology, how to forgive. We do not have light hearts. We are instinctively suspicious and easily wounded. We read into conversations opinions and words that were never there.
This scenario of the skipped Thanksgiving could easily turn into a point of You Always Do This. This Is Just Exactly Like You. There You Go Again.
What my friend did is what we call Yes, And. Yes, I will come and be with you, And I will do it under these conditions.
When people know how to play Yes, And, everything can be positive and fun.
For instance, one person can say, Let’s do Thanksgiving this year, and the other can say, Yes, and let’s all get tests and quarantine so we can actually do it with no masks on! Maybe that even turns into, Yes, and, I can work from home so maybe I’ll stay through the New Year.
The first refusal shuts down the options that might have followed.
When two people are able to collaborate and cooperate, everything from that point forward becomes easier. Trust is established. Tastes and preferences are put forth. Something new comes out of the interaction that maybe nobody thought of before.
When the third or fourth person joins the interaction, there is already a basis for that cooperation. The unstated rules of the game have been laid out. If each additional person gets it, and keeps the game of Yes, And going, there is then a positive upward spiral.
For instance, my ex-in-laws figured out their own Thanksgiving rules in this way. One of the five kids went vegetarian, and then another went vegan, and then the dad got put on a special diet by his heart doctor. The mom shrugged and said, “Potluck?” And everyone said, “Tacos!” Thereby the great Thanksgiving Taco Buffet was born. Everyone lined up and served themselves from a dozen bowls of ingredients, and everyone was satisfied, and nobody complained, and all the leftovers got eaten.
(If a turkey had climbed through the dog door and gotten in line, it might have gotten its own plate).
Negotiation sounds shifty to a lot of people. Crafty, devious. What it really means is that there are a hundred thousand opportunities for everyone in a situation to be satisfied and have fun. Everyone can walk away happy. The only situation where everyone loses is when at least one person stalls out and refuses to consider any other possibilities.
This is the COVID Thanksgiving scenario under which nobody can win: I demand that you come to my house and pretend there is not a pandemic.
There are a million variations of this, where everyone can feel loved and connected and well-fed. One involves everyone getting tested. Another involves everyone bundling up and sitting outside. Another involves everyone agreeing to meet in person “when all this is over.” My own family is going to get on Zoom and wave to each other and compare meals and play games. I live a thousand miles away, so it’ll be more or less like the 350 days of previous years when we just... live where we live.
Personally I think family relations work better when we treat each other more like professional colleagues. That means we respect each other’s time and budgets. It also means that we speak to each other with basic civility. The more we set policy with each other, the more time we can spend talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The alternatives? Are not that many and not that interesting.
When we’re caught up in family power struggles, sometimes it’s all we can do to avoid making things worse. Focus on what is true: I love you, I want to be with you, I understand how you feel, I know everything is crazy right now. Another thing that is true is that I want us all to be here this time next year. I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk. I will always be here for you.
Just maybe not in person right now.
We built a thing. I’m calling it a hummingbird tower. It’s both a fun and pretty project, and a direct example of how manifesting works.
(Or does not work).
I have a friend who has lived in California for many years, but she and her husband both grew up in different parts of the country. Apparently they don’t have hummingbirds in those areas, because my friend had no idea that you can get hummingbirds to fly right up to your window throughout the day. If you live in a hummingbird area, nothing could be easier.
I looked them up out of curiosity, and it turns out that in North America, they live on the West Coast. That means if someone lives far outside the region, say, Maine, a project like ours would be unlikely to work.
First rule of manifesting: Start with something simple and straightforward that has a high chance of success.
What I wanted was something nice for a wedding anniversary gift for my husband. He is notoriously almost impossible to shop for. (When in doubt, may I recommend dried blueberries). I wanted to get him a hummingbird feeder, because he had been commenting on the one bird that occasionally showed up in the tree outside our apartment.
There are some constraints with our current apartment. We can’t drill into the stucco and we can’t hang anything from the roof. I would have to find something that either clamped to the railing or stood on its own.
As I looked at free-standing hooks, I stumbled across one that also had rings for flower pots. It looked sturdy and had good reviews. Great, I thought. I can get him the hummingbird feeder, and then he can pick out some hanging baskets and some flowerpots of his choice for the rest of it.
Then I ordered it and somebody broke into our building and stole it from the lobby, which was very annoying, and the company refused to replace it since it had been delivered inside our locked building. All I can do is hope that young thief didn’t throw it away, since it was fairly expensive, but rather gave it to an unsuspecting older relative. If someone somewhere is enjoying it, I suppose I can tolerate that.
I ordered a second one and fortunately got an email notification when it was delivered. By that time, our anniversary had passed, and the moment was somewhat spoiled, but I handed it to him and told him what it was.
He set up the plant stand that weekend and immediately mixed up some hummingbird food and hung the feeder.
This is where the manifesting part works.
I had two wishes. One: More hummingbirds! Two: Make man smile!
I had strong reason to believe that I could do both, attract the hummingbirds and please the man, if I took action. I was right.
There he was, hanging around the window, looking around, waiting and waiting for the hummingbirds to come.
It took about six hours before one came to take a drink.
By the next day, there were three distinct birds quarreling over the feeder, chasing each other out of the tree and buzzing around from early morning until sunset.
The next thing that happened was that my man took me up on my offer for the rest of the gift. Let’s go to Home Depot, I said, and you can pick out any flowers you like. Having known him for fifteen years, I was 100% certain he would enjoy this.
This is one of the secrets to long-term love - and friendship, too. Understand what the other person truly loves and facilitate it as often as possible. Usually it’s a very modest, easy, and inexpensive thing. Sometimes it’s the opposite of a thing, like knowing which people hate having their birthday acknowledged or don’t like listening to talk radio.
I happen to know that gardening is one of my husband’s very favorite things, something he misses keenly and something that is hard to do on a small, shady, rickety balcony.
We went to Home Depot, somewhere we used to go together all the time when we lived in a regular house. I knew it was going well when he got a certain bustling manner about him, and we left with a cartful of plants and pots and a bag of soil.
The first thing he did when we got back was to pot everything and arrange all the flowers. Almost immediately, one of the hummingbirds came out and sampled several of the blossoms, even though the feeder was hanging inches away.
The next weekend we went back, to get a few more pots to put around the base of the hummingbird tower. I laughed to myself, because this gift was going even better than I had hoped, and the entire thing was less expensive than, say, a new electronic gadget.
The hummingbird tower has turned out to be a really great anniversary gift. It’s something we both can enjoy. The hummingbirds are endlessly entertaining, and my little parrot likes watching them too. The flowers have utterly transformed our dinky patio, an area we didn’t use at all last year, but which is now the highlight of our apartment.
Best of all, something about this gift really seems to have touched my chosen mate after all these years. He has been extra-sweet since then. He’s also picked up something like 20% more of the housework, with no discussion.
I offered to get a second one, but we decided there wasn’t really enough room. It’s just right.
Now, there’s something missing from this story. I mentioned my friend who didn’t know that in California, you can basically snap your fingers and have hummingbirds start hanging out in your yard all year round. Her birthday is in a couple of months and I secretly got hold of her mailing address. For about ten dollars I can send her a hummingbird feeder. Her husband likes to garden, too, and I have a pretty good feeling about how it’s going to turn out.
I have some stuff to figure out. Don’t we all?
I work 8-6 at my new job, and it’s been hard to find the time to write my blog five days a week as well. Essentially all I do is work, try to put together a blog post, do chores, and sleep.
I hate the thought of just... having a job... forever and never doing anything else.
Also I’m like: ‘side hustle’ - on what side?? There are no sides??
I’m tired all the time.
(Isn’t everyone though)
But most people aren’t post-COVID tired, which is a different order of beast.
My big logistical plan for the past couple of months has been to brainstorm a list of blog topics, and then “catch up” on one of my three-day weekends so I can free up some time in the evenings.
But then all I do on the weekends is sleep.
I’m barely even reading any more.
Worst of all, I feel absolutely starved for alone time. I’m not an introvert, I’m a shy extrovert, but introverts will recognize this problem. I’m in meetings for as much as 7 hours a day. I have to be “on” and listening and ready to be called on at any moment. While it’s exciting and interesting, it’s also pretty draining. Sometimes I shut off my computer at the end of the day and just walk into the bedroom and sleep for two hours.
At the beginning of the year, what I thought I would be doing was finishing my book proposal. I had an outline and a lot of material, I was jazzed and productive, I was “in talks” about it with a publisher...
And then COVID happened and the entire premise of my book kind of just blew away. The world changed and my book was for the old world, the world that was.
Gosh. I’d love to write a new book for the new world... but when? When exactly is that supposed to happen?
I’ve always felt that the fountain is ever flowing and that the ideas are always there.
That, though, requires carrying the bucket to the fountain and hauling it up.
Maybe all of this is just because I’m so physically tired, and still trying to heal my lungs and my heart after nearly dying five months ago. Or maybe it’s just reality.
Maybe most people really can’t have a challenging full-time job and write books at the same time. Maybe it really is a zero-sum choice, one or the other but not both.
Or maybe I’m just tired.
I hope that this dilemma speaks to you. As you read this, I hope you recognize where you have challenging choice points in your own life and that you’re able to make more time to think them out than I have been lately.
I’m not a caregiver, I don’t have kids, I don’t even have a commute right now. I don’t need an excuse to be tired, though, or to feel like I have trade-offs that I don’t want to make. I don’t need an excuse to feel like there are demands in my life that have me spread thin.
I certainly don’t need an excuse to feel like I often create my own issues in my life.
This is where strategy is so important. This is where it’s so important to pull away for an aerial view sometimes. We say, “This is how it is right now, this is the situation. Now what?”
What if it’s still just like this a year from now?
How about three years?
Nothing changes if nothing changes, and then nothing changes.
I’ve just come out of a three-day weekend, where I did almost none of the things I had planned to do, including writing in my journal and resolving some of this stuff. Where did the time go? It seems to have elapsed in long conversations with friends and family. That is a trade-off that definitely should not feel like a trade-off. I can’t very well say, “Will you please give me back that hour so I can do some writing, because I’m parched for time to myself right now?”
What would that become? Me at the end of my life, in a stack of journals and books, alone?
What I’d like is a day to literally sit inside of a closet, on the floor, with the door shut, and just have... nobody call me or talk to me or ask me questions or task me or assign me anything. Or look at me.
That’s why I’m going to bed now, facing another busy working week packed with people and conversations, not “caught up” (whatever that means) and still with nothing to write about. Except for my sorrows, feeling cut off from my creative well, wondering whether I have to just say goodbye to that part of my life.
Those of you who know exactly what I mean by all of this, do what you have to do. The task here, I believe, is figuring out a way to create time and space out of thin air, time and space to remember who we are and why we do what we do.
Recently we found out our company won’t be calling anyone back on site until there is wide availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Today, I read in the news some speculation that that wouldn’t happen until summer or fall of 2021. Looks like we’re buckling in for the long haul.
I bring this up because guess what, all the fall and winter holidays will pop up on the calendar regardless of what is happening in the world. We might as well plan now for alternative ways to celebrate.
I used to visit my family three or four times a year. We live a thousand miles apart so it takes some planning. I haven’t seen any of them in person since December, and it’s looking like we may not even be halfway through yet. Believe me, I’d love to be making plans to see everyone during Thanksgiving.
Which is what I’m doing. I’m emotionally planning to see them on a video chat.
I know a lot of other people are planning to meet in person. Or if not, they will have extremely intense family pressure to meet, which will ramp up in double proportion to any resistance from the more science-minded or cautious voices.
DO IT I REALLY WANT YOU TO
Look, I got COVID at a social occasion. I’m pretty sure the person I got it from, got it at the airport. That is my bias.
I’ve heard some pretty compelling talk about “love over fear” and people making choices based on how they interpret that. I feel the same exact way.
The way I interpret it, I choose love. Any sacrifice that is demanded of me, I’ll make it gladly, because I love my family. I will do anything to keep them safe. That means depriving myself of their physical presence for a while.
I choose this sacrifice of physical presence over fear:
The fear I know I would feel if my parents got sick
The fear I would feel if I realized I was the one spreading the virus to people I love
The fear I would feel, standing in the hospital parking lot, holding a big sign over my head
I don’t need to love someone from inside the same room. That would seem to me to be a very low-battery kind of love. A weak love.
Mine is a love that radiates across continents. I have no fear that it can’t be felt.
I know this because if anything, I hear from my family more often than I did before. They really pulled together for me when I was sick. We’re on family group chat every day, cracking jokes and sharing pictures. Of course we’d rather be able to see each other in person.
Which we will. One fine day.
Just not this Thanksgiving.
This is why I say we might as well plan now. There’s time to make it fun, if we’re all united in agreement that we’ll do things virtually.
For the rest of you poor souls whose families are going to try to guilt-trip you into risking their lives by carrying your body to them, there’s time to plan your responses.
Keep in mind, we might all be wrong. There’s always time for people to change. But you can probably write out a pretty accurate script of what each of your family members will say in most discussions. You can probably predict all the ways they’re going to try to “force” you to do what you don’t want to do, which is to go to their house, hug everyone with no masks on, and potentially have to plan a virtual funeral two weeks later.
A good friend of mine taught me how to do this. I told her I needed to learn to say no. She said, “Don’t say no. Say, “Um, no.” We practiced it together until I got the intonation right.
There are a few ways you can go about this. What you choose depends on individual temperament.
Passive-aggressive: Say yes and then claim that someone is too sick at the very last minute.
Workaholic: Say maybe and then claim you have to work on a report (school or work).
Tech-savvy: Make a recording of yourself saying No and play it on a loop so you don’t have to rely on willpower.
Executive: Pay someone to handle the guilt calls for you.
Honest: Say you have no intention of traveling during a pandemic and you aren’t going to do it.
This is what I’ve learned from being married to an Upholder. They just say what they intended to say. They don’t do guilt - they either do what they committed to do, or they do nothing, because if it isn’t part of their system, it kinda doesn’t exist. One simply does the correct thing, and in this case it is obeying shelter-in-place orders and working together to end the pandemic.
This is what I’ve learned as a Questioner. My answer to every possible situation is, Here, read this. Then I turn on the firehose and send mass quantities of links, articles, books, charts, and pre-review journal articles. I can genuinely do this ad infinitum. Wear ‘em out. Of course, there is the other variety of Questioner who gets sucked into the information vortex and does not necessarily have the academic rigor to distinguish fact from conspiracy theory.
I don’t think Rebels need any help giving people a firm No. Rebels don’t react well to peer pressure.
It’s Obligers who have the issue. There is a distinct Obliger tendency to operate by group consensus. If the Obligers in the family all got together and came up with a beautiful fantasy of eating and drinking in large groups, then by gosh you’d better not mess it up.
This is where I think planning can come in. What if we simply came up with a variety of plans that are more interesting and fun but still allow everyone to live until next year?
These are some of the things my family has done:
Try to copy a picture blindfolded, on a timer, and then give points for individual parts of the drawing. This could be fun to do with gluing tail feathers on the turkey.
Two partners try to wrap a gift and tie a bow around it using only one hand each. Also on a timer. Extremely funny on video.
Wear matching ugly sweaters.
Trade stories and jokes.
Simply put a laptop on the dinner table and casually hang out.
One thing we have not done, which would be great fun, is to learn a TikTok dance and have a family dance-off.
We also haven’t done any photo slideshows, although we probably should.
I tend to be the family tech support person, which is why this occurs to me, but some family members may be resistant to doing stuff remotely because they don’t realize the possibilities. They may be very uncomfortable using most of the features of the electronics that they already own. Sometimes they’ll try something for a cute grandchild or niece that they wouldn’t try for one of their own adult children.
There’s still time to practice.
One day, all of this will be over. I sincerely hope that on that day, all of us can celebrate together. I plan to run down the middle of the street yelling WAHOO! Might as well plan for it now. It will help to have something to offer as a distraction when you have the inevitable talk with your family about why this year is going to continue to be a little different.
It might have been a relief to a lot of people if this happened to them, but it wasn’t to me. I tried to log in to a Zoom meeting and discovered it had been locked.
This came as a surprise, partly because it was an error message I had never seen before, but partly because I was logging in a minute early. I tried again a few times over the next ten minutes, only to keep getting the same message.
This is where the story gets interesting, because of what I told myself while this was going on.
When something happens, does it happen *to me*? Or does it just happen?
I had the immediate, visceral response that this was happening *to me*. It was deliberate. “Everyone” had gotten together without me and decided they didn’t want me around. As soon as “everyone” had convened, they locked the room, relieved that they wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore.
I told my husband. “This is pushing all my buttons.”
He suggested the obvious, which was to email the host because they might not have realized that anything was wrong.
I did this, because I feel better when I do my due diligence, but my shoulders were slumped as I put all my stuff away. See, there’s this whole ritual setup when we do these calls. I have a spot at the dining table where the lighting is good. I set up my equipment. I pull up a chair for my little parrot Noelle, at just the right angle and distance, because she likes to look at everybody and see herself on camera. I have to pull an old pillowcase over it because she’s dusty, and for other reasons that anyone who has spent much time with birds will understand. Then of course I have to go get her and carry her over. The reverse of this process lacks all the anticipation of the initial setup.
At least I hadn’t put on makeup or straightened my hair...
Then I checked my email again, only to see an entire thread of the other half-dozen people who couldn’t get in to the meeting. The host said to try again. Accidental setting error.
We did it all over again. My husband helped with the bird, who was quite stimulated by the unusual activity level. I logged in to the call and everything was fine.
What was going on there, though? In the ten minutes when I felt like I was being deliberately rejected?
Granted, I’d had a long, rough day. Our system was lagging and everything that would normally take five minutes took more like half an hour. I was tired and frustrated. One last hassle late in the day was just... a lot. I hadn’t felt on the verge of tears like that for a long time.
Even so. Would others react the way I did, with sadness and futility? Or were there other “obvious” responses?
One person might have been relieved and gone off to watch a movie or soak in the tub.
Another person might have been angry, maybe pounded the table.
Someone else might have used the opportunity to reach out and bond with another person over the experience.
Yet another person would have assumed there was a technical failure on the platform’s end and shrugged it off.
Someone else might have blamed themselves for lacking technical skills and felt stupid, or old.
Another person might have been distracted and forgot the whole thing, never realized there was a technical issue, and then felt FOMO the next day.
A different person might gloat over their own impeccable hosting skills and contemplate seizing leadership of the group.
Someone else might have worried that something happened to the host and hoped everything was okay.
Another person might have catastrophized: “why does everything always go wrong, this thing is going off the rails” and spun off into a paranoid fantasy that the entire grid was collapsing.
Another approach might have been to assume the meeting had been hacked and start checking for signs of identity theft.
I dunno. Chances are that each person responded differently and forgot all about it once the meeting resumed. Probably the most common reaction was, give it a few minutes and it will be fine. Technically, that was the correct response.
The puncture in my esteem was patched later on. At the end of the meeting, someone asked, out of the blue, “If there’s time, could Jessica share one or two sentences about her parrot?” It was really funny! I gave the whole spiel about her: “Her name is Noelle, and she’s 22, and she’s a Congo African Gray parrot. She loves Zoom and she likes to look at you all on grid view.” I panned the camera so they could see how she relaxes by standing on one foot and curling up the talons on the other.
Of course nobody would lock us out of Zoom! Whether I’m there or not is probably a matter of some indifference, but my sweet little poof ball is a welcome presence. She just stands there quietly blinking and nodding her head, looking ridiculously solemn. Fluffy professor.
I read somewhere that when you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks about you. When you’re 40, you realize it doesn’t really matter what people think about you. When you’re 60, you realize nobody was ever thinking about you.
I’m trying to embrace this perspective a little early. I’m mostly harmless, average in most ways, and I have solid training on keeping my remarks brief and to the point. Whatever else they may say about me, I’ve learned to keep my mic on mute unless I’m speaking and I know when to yield the floor.
I try to remember that there are over 7 billion people in the world, and there’s no reason to try to be a part of every group. Statistically, most people will never know I exist, much less have an opinion on whether they like me or not. Better to calibrate and find a way to contribute, and seek out people on a similar wavelength. Or at least people who like parrots.
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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