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Dear Sexual Assault Guy: I Want To Be You

Dear Sexual Assault Guy:

Just for today, I want to be you. Come on, don’t by shy. You know who you are — you’re the guy who violates women’s bodies. Why do I want to be you today? Because I’m a woman and a therapist and there are things I need to know. And, because you’re not exactly known for owning your actions, I need an answer to a seriously burning question.

Millions of women have come forward this week — on Kelly Oxford’s #NotOkay Twitter feed, on their Facebook pages, in private conversations — to bravely reveal their experiences with sexual assault of all stripes.

Some of their perpetrators were strangers, some friends, some relatives. Many women described violations beginning in their early childhoods. Some were heinously violent, some subtly deplorable. I doubt I have to do the math for you, but if millions of women are coming forward, that means nearly just as many men are violating them.

So, here’s my burning question for you:

WTF?

I’m pretty sure you won’t give me a satisfactory answer and that’s why, just for today, I want to be you. So I can know, truly know, what makes you tick. What thoughts you have before you touch a woman who doesn’t want to be touched by you. What faulty wiring prevents you from making a better decision. And what, exactly, you tell yourself after your dirty deed.

Am I overthinking this? I imagine you fight the urge to be sexually aggressive and exploitative. Am I wrong? I assume you’re consumed with self-loathing and guilt. Aren’t you?

What goes through your mind in the moments before you grab a stranger’s breast on the street? Or while you rub your crotch against a woman in a crowded subway train? How do you rationalize “grabbing the pussy” of a pre-adolescent girl in a dark hallway, while her parents sit ten feet away in the kitchen?

I want to be you so I can explain to society who I am and why. So I can ask for help. So I can warn women to stay away from me at block parties, on buses, at corporate retreats. So I can feel what it feels like to be an ultimate piece of human garbage, while going on with my day — and my life — peacefully. (Only after I’ve robbed the peace of those I’ve violated, of course.)

I do so want to be you. So I can talk to other men like me and tell them what they’re doing is so wrong it defies comprehension. So I can realize the damage I’ve done and live my life out trying to correct for it.

There are so many, many good men. Men who don’t grab the privates of women who don’t consent to it, who don’t whisper crudities into the ears of prepubescent girls, who don’t inappropriately comment on the body parts of their own daughters.

But to you, I must ask again, WTF?

The accepted definition of rape — that it’s an act of violence, not sex — has long angered me. Stabbing someone is an act of violence. Forcing your penis into someone’s vagina against her will is a depraved sexual act. When you stab someone, you’re hoping to wound or kill them. When you rape someone, your goal is to demean them while getting off in the process. When you touch a woman’s body without her consent, you’re doing the same.

What talent or success do you use to hide your true persona — that of a sexual deviant? Are you the music teacher, the bar manager, the real estate tycoon, who feels it’s your right to grope any girl or woman who crosses your path? (And, just between you and me, do you ever privately suspect you’re a monster inhabiting the form of a human being?)

Years ago, I worked as a social worker in a hospital. One day, I was showing a male family member of a patient something I had written in the patient’s chart. He was standing next to me as I pointed to the note I wanted him to see. “Oh, that note there?” he asked, as he raised his hand to point at the chart, deliberately brushing my breast with the back of his hand in the process. It was so unexpected, it took me a couple of hours to realize what he’d done.

When I told my supervisor, he said, “Find me that guy so I can knock his lights out.” My supervisor was a good, decent man — an actual human being — who couldn’t bear the thought of someone getting away with that behavior. Because — newsflash! — good men don’t tolerate that shit.

And just so there’s no confusion, you’re not one of the good guys. I don’t want to hear about your selfless deeds, your charitable givings, your churchgoing ways. I don’t care about your rescued dog, your recycling, your sobriety. Because none of those things matter when you walk this earth as a sexual predator.

On second thought, I don’t want to be you — not for a day, not for a minute. And you shouldn’t want to be you, either. Because you’re depraved, your behavior is criminal — and you need help. You need a support group, or medication, or a shack in the woods far from female humans.

If you don’t stop or get help, know you’re ruining lives. (Say it: “I’m ruining lives.”) While you’re giving in to your basest instincts, you’re stealing part of a woman’s soul. While you’re eyeing your next victim, you’re potentially destroying her ability to ever trust men. While you’re touching a child in the way only consenting adults should touch, you’re compromising her chance of ever having healthy relationships. So, seriously, WTF?

I know you won’t answer, so, instead, I’m giving you permission to make my burning question your own. Please, next time you’re tempted to sexually assault, stop and ask yourself: WTF?

And then, for the love of God, do something about it.

 

 

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Dear Sons: Please Don’t Vote For Donald Trump

Dear Sons,

Please don’t vote for Donald Trump.

Now that all five of you are of age, you have the beautiful right to vote in this beautiful country. If it’s true that every vote counts, please don’t squander yours.

Donald Trump is the face of everything I’ve taught you not to be: a hater and a blamer. Not convinced? Need I remind you about his revolting suggestions which include: 1) building a wall dividing us from our old friend, Mexico, 2) prosecuting and punishing women who have abortions, and 3) deporting millions who’ve lived peaceably and industriously in the US for years?

Should I also mention his newly-revealed defenseless comments about assaulting women, and the narcissistic non-apology that followed? His unforgivable imitation of a disabled reporter? His deplorable critique of the parents of a Muslim soldier who lost his life in defense of this country? His well-documented, never-ending misogynistic commentary?

What’s that? Don’t like your other choice?

Hillary Clinton is a liar, you say? Great. Find me a politician who isn’t. When you locate that needle, I’ll be all ears. For whatever secrets she’s kept, for whatever untruths she’s told, there’s nothing truer now than Clinton has become the new whipping girl of an old guard. Steeped to their own politically padded knees in lies and duplicity, her finger-pointing detractors and colleagues are hardly beating their own paths to the pearly gates of truth and transparency.

And Benghazi? Please, let it rest. For God’s sakes, if Ambassador Stevens’s family doesn’t blame Hillary, what’s your skin in the game? Think you know more about what happened there than they do? You don’t.

Save your breath arguing that Lester Holt was biased during the debate. I watched it, and I agree. And good on him for being that brave. Maybe things would’ve turned out differently for Germany in the 1930s if more journalists had been free to speak and write about the disastrous turn their country was poised to take. So, let’s take pause and be doubly thankful for our First Amendment. Because every day it protects the dozens of well-respected news outlets dismissing Trump as a viable, sane choice for the presidency.

In a few short weeks, this will be over and done and the people will have chosen their next president. But, in the end, what will we have learned? As the rest of the world watches this election slack-jawed with disbelief, we’ve pulled back the curtain on a not-so-pretty revelation: We’re a nation of angry folks.

Several weeks ago, talk show host John Oliver made a brilliant suggestion. He proposed Donald Trump step down and admit he’d entered the race simply to expose the flaws in the political system…and in us. Oliver would have Trump say, “I openly ran on a platform of impossibly ignorant proposals steeped in racial bigotry and nobody stopped me. In fact, you embraced me for it. What the f*ck was that about?”

Ah, now wouldn’t that be great?

If the voters in this country are so disgruntled that they’ll support a politically inexperienced megalomaniac in his bid for the presidency, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why? There are clearly things that need fixing. But I’m guessing The Donald isn’t the one for that job seeing that the ideology he’s selling depends more on fanning flames than addressing the cause of the fire.

Boys, you and your generation are our future. With the right outcome in this election, we’ll resume our imperfect quest to make good on the freedoms and rights promised to all Americans. Are we there yet? No. But what good can come of time-traveling back to shameful eras in American history marked by hate, fear, and prejudice? And that’s exactly where Trump would have us go.

We don’t need Trump to make America great again. It’s already great. Do your part to keep it that way.

I have faith you will do the right thing on November 8th. That the values and ideals you’ve grown up with will prevail. That the acceptance of those who look, or sound, or dress differently than you will triumph in your hearts and in the voting booth. That you’ll recognize a dangerous choice when you see it. That you will not confuse true patriotism — now or ever — with exclusion or xenophobia.

And that you’ll seek to uphold all that is good and right with these United States of America — one vote at a time.

 

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Are You Ready For A Kid Because You Have A Dog?

I’m crazy about my dog. So much so that it embarrasses my kids. “Please don’t talk to the dog in that voice while our friends are here,” they plead. That voice is the reserved-only-for-him, baby talk-ish language I’ve (purportedly) annoyingly developed when talking to Spike.

My husband ranks himself #3 on my list of importance. My kids, he claims, own the #1 spot and Spike captures #2. He may or may not be right. I’m not at liberty to say.

But as much as this dog owns a huge piece of my heart, I’m also a mother to human children. If you have a dog — but don’t have kids — I’m gently suggesting that as much as you may love or dote on him, having a dog is not like having a child. Your dog is a wonderful, beloved addition to your family but, again, not a child or even like a child. If you have a dog and you’re thinking about having a child, please don’t delude yourself that raising a human baby will be anything remotely like life with your pup.

Here’s why:

1) Ownership. Brace yourself for this one: You don’t own your children. Your dog, however, is your property. Your children are simply loaned to you on a temporary (but sometimes seemingly endless) basis. Your children belong to themselves. You may be their instructor or role model, but you will never be their master.

2) Sacrifice. Yes, taking care of a dog requires some sacrifice. You may lose a few nights’ sleep when he’s a puppy or when she’s sick. But the sacrifices you make for your children, although done willingly, are countless. You may sacrifice your career goals or hobbies. You will, inarguably, sacrifice the overall freedom to live and do as you please. You may sacrifice the bloom of youthful escapades. But your dog will never require you take a huge chunk of your pay and stash it in a college fund. Your dog will never necessitate a move to a bigger home or safer neighborhood with a better school system.

3) Care. Before you walked out the door this morning, you gave your dog a pat on the head or a quick hug. Then, seamlessly, you walked out the door. Perhaps you went to work for the next ten hours or just ran out to do a few errands. With kids, there’s at least a decade before you can do anything like that. Small children (and some teens) require constant supervision. All eyes on deck all the time. Reflect for a moment on how this would or will change your life.

4) Unconditional love. Your dog gives it to you. Your kids can’t and won’t and shouldn’t. I’ve never walked in the door when Spike hasn’t been ecstatic to see me whether I’ve been gone five minutes or five hours. Your dog thinks you’re your best self every minute of every day. Your kids will never see you that way no matter how many brownies you bake or how much spending money you provide.

5) Communication. I know when Spike is hungry or needs to go out. I know when he’s tired or when he wants to play. I know because we’ve developed our own way of communicating. But Spike will never tell me hates me because I won’t let him stay out past midnight. He’ll never get in trouble at school or fight with his siblings. He’ll never throw a tantrum in Target. He’ll never petulantly inform me that he didn’t ask to be born. Conversely, he’ll also never tell me he loves me (aloud) or acknowledge the sacrifices (see above) I’ve made for him. He’ll also never make me as proud, delighted, and humbled as I am watching my sons grow into young adulthood. #schleppingnachas

6) Legalities. You can leave your dog for a few minutes alone in a cool car with the windows open. You can put your dog behind a gate when company’s over. You can send him out to the yard unsupervised while you vacuum. I do not condone doing any of these things with young kids. The law doesn’t either.

7) Training. Kids can be taught and guided. Dogs can be trained. And never the twain shall meet.

8) Grief preparation. Spike will be 13 years old in the spring. If life continues in a normal trajectory, I will lose him in the next couple of years and I have to prepare for that. Yes, parents lose children. That’s unquestionably the worst thing that can happen in this life. But although we worry about our kids’ safety, we don’t anticipate that kind of loss and we pray fervently we never have to. Just getting a dog is brave because, when you do, you’re knowingly signing up for losing him. But every joyful day with your dog is well worth the journey to whatever sadness or challenge awaits you. And, as it turns out, that also holds true for having kids.

 

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Everything I Write, I Write It For You

It’s possible I’m mildly obsessed with Facebook. Scrolling through my feed, I am often — in equal parts — admiring, envious, and glad. I truly enjoy the “last-one-I-promise!” shots of vacation sunsets, successful kids, and sparkly cocktails — of folks I care about. But I do know — as I desperately hope you do as well — that Facebook hasn’t earned the nickname Fakebook for nothing.

Where are the pictures of us watching eight hours straight of Hannibal on Netflix? (This may or may not have been how I spent the holiday weekend). We don’t boast about our shrinking bank balance or that day we stayed in bed because depression got the best of us. When our Facebook friends do share their shadow-lives, it takes us aback. It’s like, “Don’t you know Facebook is reserved for our TV-ready selves? Get with the program, people!”

In the past few years, I’ve blogged a ton and written three books. I’m currently working on a novel which may or may not become a bestseller. (Who’s to say? Could happen.) When I tell people I’m a writer (which took a long time for me to say aloud, btw), they have some combination of these responses:

  1. That’s cool. I really admire you for doing that.
  2. I wish I could write, but I can’t because (fill in the excuse here)…
  3. Do you make any money at it?
  4. I would never put myself out there like that. Why would you do that?

Question #4 is a really good one. Why in the heck would I put myself out there for all the world to read? The plain answer is: I don’t write for me, I write for you. Before you fake gag, hear me out. I write for you because I hope one turn of phrase, one personal story, one emotion I invoke in you, will set you on the path to positive life changes.

Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Great advice but…what other choice do we have? I’ve strolled through those flames more times than I’d like — the mega-bonfire of my divorce, for one. Divorce, if you don’t know, is one of hell’s guests of honor. Heck, it has its own presidential suite. Divorcing was one of the toughest experiences of my life, but honestly…so what? That doesn’t make me any different from you or your neighbor.

But here’s what happened: In the ashes of my post-divorce life, the lessons left behind kind of started following me around. And they were kind of yelling, “Share us! People need to hear this stuff!” So, I started writing those lessons down — sharing what I wish I’d known sooner. That, and I wanted those lessons to shut up and leave me alone. Turns out, they’re still hanging around and new ones are popping up all the time. Because of their tenaciousness, many of those lessons about divorce are in my books, Without This Ring and From Bitter To Better.

If I could have a few superpowers, one of them would certainly be preventing folks from marrying the wrong people for the wrong reasons. How great would it be to be able to swoop in and save people from years of marital misery? Answer: Pretty, pretty great.

But, without that particular superpower, my choices are limited. I knew I could help people one-on-one in my psychotherapy practice. But I realized, by writing, I could also get my message out to thousands of people at a time. That’s one reason I wrote Should You Marry Him? — to share lessons about what to look (out) for when you’re choosing your Mr. Right.

Writing isn’t a superpower, but sometimes its the next best thing.

Any blogger will tell you there’s little money in it. A couple of viral articles won’t make you famous or land you a book deal with an elite publishing house. I can’t tell you why others write, but I can tell you that whatever the topic, my message is always the same: Please learn from my very real mistakes, professional expertise, and life experience. Please.

But I’m also guilty of perpetuating the Fakebook persona which doesn’t feel very real at all.  I have a sparkly website. I display professional photos of myself wearing things I never would in my everyday life. And — surprise! — many of them have been retouched.

I love Gary Vaynerchuk. I love his blunt messaging. I’m pretty sure he rolls out of bed, brushes his hair (or not), and jumps in front of the camera. Vaynerchuk is the anti-Fakebook and I’m jealous of the freedoms that allows him. But although his love-me-or-leave-me approach works for him, it probably wouldn’t stand a chance for most of us trying to catch the public’s eye.

I want you to read my work. I want you to be touched by it, moved to action by it, comforted by it. And if a glam, Fakebook shot of me makes you click the link, then I’m all for it. Go ahead, perk me up and slim me down. If that gets your attention, good on me. Because it ain’t about me. It’s about your journey through hell — and my commitment to helping you to keep going.

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I Got Blamed But I Didn’t Do It!

Ever been blamed for something you didn’t do or say? Discredited by someone you thought would never question your character? If so, you know how icky and awful it feels. It’s like everything you believe about yourself — and what you hope others believe about you — gets erased in the madness. What follows is my version of that madness: 

Some years back, I had the most wonderful aesthetician. I’ll call her Kat. She gave a mean facial and, afterwards, my skin would glow for a week. But I didn’t continue to see her strictly for her skin expertise. I went back for her. Over time, we developed a close friendship. I was surprised at the things I shared with her — things I hadn’t shared openly with anyone else, including my closest friends. And she did the same.

Even more years back, I stayed one night a week with a friend’s lovely family. I lived in a rural area where driver’s ed classes weren’t readily offered. My friend, who lived closer to civilization, suggested I stay with her and we’d take the class together. The bonus was that my boyfriend lived quite nearby, and, if her parents allowed it, I would be able to catch a couple of additional precious hours with him on those nights.

Both of those two memories, as written, are sweet and comforting. But both of them went haywire when I was blamed by those very people for things I didn’t do. I don’t have a great memory, so the fact that these two events have stuck with me says something. There’s something so disturbing, so discomfiting, about telling the truth, defending your good character — and still not being believed.

Here’s how the first scenario went down:

Clients would enter Kat’s treatment room alone. There, they’d undress, don a comfy robe, and drop any jewelry they were wearing into a glass dish on a small table. Nothing unusual there.

One day, after I’d left her office, Kat called to ask if I had seen a “very expensive” ring in the glass dish when I had gone into the room to disrobe. I hadn’t. I had placed my own jewelry in the dish and it was empty when I did. Apparently, the client before me believed she had left her ring in the dish. Kat was very upset but I assured her the ring wasn’t there.

It was clear almost immediately that Kat wasn’t convinced. She made comments like, “But you were the only person to go into that room after her!” I realized she was probably worried the other client would hold her responsible. But, point is, I didn’t see the ring, I didn’t take the ring, and I certainly didn’t lie about any of it.

Being accused of stealing by Kat was indescribably hurtful. I didn’t have any hard evidence to the contrary, but I did have my word. Not being believed by someone who knew me and knew my character, was the worst of it. Suddenly, all the goodwill and trust we had established was demolished by some woman who was obviously less than careful about where she left her diamonds.

Here’s the second:

One night, my friend’s parents gave me permission to see my boyfriend after class. The requirement was I be home by 9pm and not a moment later. They were on the stricter side (compared to my parents) but, hey, their house, their rules.

That night, my boyfriend and I spent those hours doing what teens did in those days: We went parking. I made it back by nine bells and was surprised to find the house very dark and quiet.

Since I was a guest, I didn’t want to disturb the rest of the family by traipsing through the house, so I decided to sleep on the living room couch. Before dropping off, someone came into the room and turned off the small lamp on the table behind me.

The next morning at breakfast (this family sat down for every meal together except lunch), my friend’s father was irate. As my friend and her mother sat by silently, her father loudly berated me for disrespecting their home and betraying their trust. He let me have it in a way I guarantee parents no longer discipline kids who don’t belong to them.

Near tears, I choked out my version: “I was home, I swear. I was on the sofa. Someone shut off the light. They must not have seen me, but I was here!

But Daddy-O wouldn’t even entertain that perhaps there was another story to be told about the previous evening. He threatened to call my parents which wasn’t much of a threat. I knew my parents would believe me.

There’s no happy or pithy ending to either of these vignettes. I stopped seeing Kat after unsuccessfully trying to contact her a handful of times (apparently her other client’s accusation held more sway than my truth). And I don’t remember if it was made clear I was no longer welcome to stay in my friend’s home, or I was too humiliated to go back. In any case, I didn’t.

Has anything like this happened to you? Have you been blamed or doubted when telling nothing but the truth? What did you do about it, if anything? I’m all ears.

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Choosing A Psychotherapist? Avoid These 5 Red Flags

Choosing A Psychotherapist? Avoid These 5 Red Flags

We’ve all been there. If you haven’t, you’re probably not reading this article. By “been there” I mean struggling. Whether it’s with a bad marriage, a troubled child, an addiction that has us in a half-nelson, or simply the feeling that something isn’t right. Maybe that something is depression or anxiety. And maybe it’s time to find a psychotherapist.

Reality is, people seek out therapy for all kinds of reasons. And they’re usually really good ones. Even highly successful folks — the ones you think couldn’t possibly have anything wrong with their lives — seek therapy in big numbers.

But if you’re looking for a therapist, what — and who — exactly should you be looking for? Fortunately, the internet has made shopping for a psychotherapist easier than ever before. Websites like Psychology Today and Network Therapy provide profiles of therapists which consumers can browse based on geography or specific issues. Know that therapists pay to be on these sites — it’s advertising of sorts — but they’re certainly a good place to start.

The number one predictor of success in psychotherapy is the connection a client feels to their therapist. As long as the clinician is credible, don’t worry about how many diplomas they have hanging on their wall. A zillion master’s degrees or doctorates will not determine a therapist’s ability to empathize and help you work through your challenges.

Most therapists work hard at their vocation. It’s comforting to know all licensed therapists are required to complete continuing education credits in order to stay licensed. This means therapists are always learning and staying current on treatment recommendations and diagnoses updates.

However, I’ve heard more stories than I can count about psychotherapists who’ve somehow, some way, gone awry in their treatment of patients. I’m not sitting in judgment of other therapists but I know, as a psychotherapist, what I personally would not consider acceptable treatment in therapy.

Here are five red flags you should avoid like the plague when you’re choosing a therapist. Remember, your comfort level is what matters above all. But if you’ve never been to therapy, you may not know what is common, appropriate practice.

1. Distracted. If a therapist seems more interested in watching the clock or reading his emails during your session, get outta there. And fast. I’ve heard about therapists who actually answer their phones when meeting with clients. A friend of mine saw a therapist who took her clients with her to run errands. Uh-uh. You’re paying for the undivided attention of a professional and that’s what you should get.

2.  Self-absorbed. It’s fine once in awhile for a therapist to share a small tidbit about their own life if it’s appropriate to what’s going on with you. Therapists should use these details sparingly and only when they believe this information will be useful to the client. A therapist once said to a client of mine, “Your husband is exactly like mine and he’s not going to change, so you should leave him.” Any therapist who is talking more about themselves than listening to you has lost their way. Move on.

3. Critical. Yes, it’s absolutely the job of the therapist to guide you toward seeing your role in your relationships and how you may be sabotaging yourself in any number of situations. But therapists shouldn’t be unkindly critical. Long ago, a friend of mine was working through her abusive childhood in therapy. This was very emotional for her and she shed many tears in her sessions. At one painful point, she began crying uncontrollably. Her therapist said, “You’re pathetic. Stop your whining.” And that, people, is not the way therapists should talk to their patients.

4. Inappropriate. Sorry to say, this happens. A very beautiful female client of mine saw a male therapist who insisted on rubbing her shoulders during her sessions. She felt uncomfortable but wasn’t sure if this was what therapists routinely did. Um, no, they don’t. Your therapist shouldn’t touch you, and certainly not without asking first. Same goes for inappropriate or flirtatious remarks about your looks or clothing.

5. Personalizes. A divorcing client of mine — who also happens to be a recovering alcoholic — recently met with his child’s therapist who was helping determine custody arrangements. This psychotherapist shared that her own father had been an alcoholic and that she had many painful memories of him. Almost immediately, the therapist began raising outrageous parenting concerns that were clearly about her own father and had nothing to do with my client. Therapists are people with life experiences, but those experiences should in no way influence how they work with their clients. If you get the feeling your therapist is judging you based on their own issues, cancel your next appointment.

Bottom line: If you feel unheard, criticized, or victimized by a therapist, find another one stat. No psychotherapist is going to hit it out of the park every time but, in general, you should feel liked, respected, and thoughtfully guided by the therapist you choose. And most importantly, don’t let one bad apple dissuade you from getting the help you need.

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No More Begging! 6 Ways To Convince Your Partner To Stay

No More Begging! 6 Ways To Convince Your Partner To Stay

In the history of the world, begging a partner to stay in a relationship has never ended in a good result. Even if — after all your pleading — your partner agrees to hang out in the relationship a while longer, it’s only a matter of time before he’ll grow tired of the charade. Not only that, but begging is demoralizing. There’s no dignity in it. And sometimes, when a relationship is crumbling, self-respect is all you’ve got left.

Tears and threats won’t move your partner — at least not in any permanent fashion — so save your energy for tactics that will make a difference. What you’re going for here is reason not emotion. So stop all the conversational processing and give your partner some thoughts to sink their teeth into.

Here are six conversation starters that just may tilt the relationship — and your partner — back toward togetherness. More than one break-up scenario may apply to your situation, so mix and match as needed!

Script #1

When It’s A Shock

I know you’re ready to call it quits. The thought of that is devastating to me especially since it seems so sudden. This is all so unexpected and I don’t know what to make of it. Given all the time we’ve had together, I’m asking you to consider setting a mutually agreed upon timeline for your leaving. Please understand that I need some time to adjust (and so do the kids). If you still feel the same way in x months, I won’t stand in your way — but I hope we’ll use that time to try and fix what’s broken.

Script #2

When Forgiveness Is the Issue

You know I’ve been having a hard time forgiving you for (your affair, your lying, your unavailability) but I know I have to if I want you to stay in this relationship. You’ve apologized but I haven’t really heard you. I’m sure you think I’ll never forgive you and that we’ll be fighting about this until the end of our days. I promise you, that’s not the case. I’m going to do everything in my power — and I’m committed — to fully forgiving you and moving on. I hope you’ll give me a chance to show you I’m capable of this.

Script #3

When the Kids Are (Almost) Gone

You really seem in a hurry to leave — and I understand that. Neither one of us has been happy here for a long time. You know I really don’t want this but we have to consider that the kids are struggling, too. Given that they’re in high school (or leaving home soon), we only have a short time left to live together as a family. I truly think that would be the best thing for all of us. If you can wait a little while, I don’t think you’ll regret you made that choice for them. Please think about it.

Script #4

When You Need Counseling

It seems crazy to throw away our relationship without getting some outside advice. We’ve put so much time and energy into our marriage (and family) that it’s only wise to see if we can make improvements with the help of a professional. On top of that, we really want to be able to tell the kids we tried everything to hold our marriage together. If we don’t at least try couples therapy, we won’t be able to tell them that and mean it. We have to show them that our marriage — and our family — was worth fighting for.

Script #5

When You’re Ready to Take Ownership

I know you’re having a hard time forgiving me for (my affair, my addiction, my neglect) and I totally get that. Now, I’m paying the price for my behaviors and you’re ready to leave — and it’s killing me. Maybe I haven’t shown you enough how sorry I am. I know I’ve hurt you through my words and actions and it slays me to see you in so much pain. I certainly have a lot of making up to do. Would you consider staying a while longer so I can show you I can take full responsibility?

Script #6

When The Relationship Has Been an Afterthought

I can’t believe we’ve gotten to this place where you want to end our relationship. I’m sad to say that I kind of get it. Neither one of us has put much effort into it for a very long time. We’ve let everything else take priority — work, the kids, our families — and we’ve neglected what was once a very good thing. I’m horrified that things have deteriorated to this point and I’m wondering if there’s any chance we could try again. We loved each other once. We really did. And I’m convinced, with some work, we can get things back on track. Are you willing to give it a try?

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My Old Friend Died But She Wasn’t Old

An old college friend died last night from cancer. Except she wasn’t old. She was 51.

Not two years into her second marriage, she succumbed to cancer after fighting a heroic fight. She tried every drug, practiced positivity, sought the best doctors, and even traveled to Brazil to a healer. Name it. She did it. She so wanted to live.

Truth be told, she and I had fallen out of touch as that happens. We lived a hundred miles apart. We were Facebook friends – whatever that means. We exchanged emails and texts: Let’s get together! So much to catch up on! But we never did.

At the risk of sounding trite when speaking of the dead, I’ll just say it: She was beautiful. Yes, inside. And charming as the day is long. But she was also physically stunning. The kind of stunning that folks would stop her on the street to simply say, “Wow. You are gorgeous.” I witnessed this firsthand more than once. Men virtually fell at her feet.

I have many beautiful friends but, for her, the world stopped to take notice.

She was what some call Black Irish. She had dark, wavy hair and blue eyes so piercing and light, they were the color of the sky. That’s the truth. Risk of triteness, once again, aside. One of her sons has those same eyes.

Her first marriage was to a man almost as beautiful as she. A tall, handsome Italian, their wedding photos looked like something out of Bride’s Magazine. A huge wedding I barely remember except for the best man’s speech: “May all your ups and downs be beneath the sheets.” Oh, yes, and the bridegroom drank champagne out of her shoe.

And her charisma? Pure magic. The world just seemed to do her bidding. Her college roommate remembers that once, when they couldn’t pay their phone bill, she called the phone company and tried talking them into forgiving it. And they did.

Hers was a magic of kindness and sweetness. She exuded pure love. The combination of her warmth and beauty were mesmerizing. She also had some zany health scares over the years – always resolved – and now I can’t help but wonder if they were signs worse things were to come.

Did we ever think on that spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale that a mere thirty years later she would be dead? That when her new husband was drinking bubbly out of her white satin shoe that twenty-something years later she’d be divorced, remarried and now, gone? That she would die when her boys were still way too young to lose their mother?

Answers: No, no and no.

Do I dare mention she didn’t live a perfect life? She didn’t. Along with the rest of us, I’m sure there were many things she’d rather forget. Many things she would have liked do-overs for if do-overs were possible in adult life. But they’re not. And like all of us, she lived and died with her demons, mistakes and regrets.

But she died loving and loved. By so many. Obviously, of course, by her children and husband. But her ex-in-laws will mourn her as if she were their own daughter. Her stepchildren are heartbroken. Her ex-husband’s new partner and child will be front-row mourners.

Because that was Lauri. Once you entered her orb, you didn’t leave and you didn’t want to. She challenged the way we assume relationships need to evolve. She pushed the boundaries because she knew that, although the definition of relationships change, love doesn’t. She took the painful ordinariness of broken relationships and families and healed them through sheer willfulness and unrelenting love. And people got on board.

She left behind what most of us would like to: a wake of warmth and healing. And a boatload of people whose lives are now joined in peace rather than rancor. And love. Always love.

(Originally published July 2013)

 

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The Affair Guy: Why He’s Rarely Mr. Right

Please, someone give me a dollar for every time I’ve heard a client or friend describe their Affair Guy this way:

“He’s so interesting. We like all the same things. He wants to dig deep into everything. And did I mention the sex is crazy-good? And, when he does something wrong, he actually apologizes!”

They’re excited, of course, because — attendant guilt aside — affairs are exciting. Getting to feel “those feelings” again is exciting. And people get swept up in them and they want more. They want to feel this way all the time. Even when mature, intelligent people know it’s not possible to feel this way in any relationship all the time, they convince themselves that this — this!is different.

But there’s always more to the story:

“His ex-wife has a restraining order on him,” or “His kids don’t speak to him,” or “He has trouble making ends meet,” or “He’s tried to end his marriage for years, but his wife isn’t having it.”

And sometimes, “I’m not sure if I can see myself with him in the real world.”

Do some affairs end up as long, happy marriages? Of course. But they’re a rare breed. Why? Because an affair means both parties have agreed to do something they know they probably shouldn’t. And both parties have shown they’re capable of lies and deceit. Any relationship built on half-truths and betrayals doesn’t usually have a good prognosis. That, of course, and the lurking insecurity in knowing the other person is open to cheating.

But the red flags don’t stop us. We humans sprint towards what makes us feel good. Against your better judgment, you keep running towards the Affair Guy because he makes you feel so damn good. But is your Affair Guy really someone you can imagine a life with? An affair is a living, breathing fantasy. You see in your lover everything lacking in your current partner, and/or as the perfect partner for you despite the wife and kids waiting for him at home.

An affair is an attempt to address lack. You take a lover you hope will fill in your gaps and provide the intimacy you can’t access in your marriage or elsewhere in your life. But when you’re soul-desperate to color in the blank spaces, it follows that you’ll fill them in the most cartoon-y and reckless of ways. In other words, if you’re going to blow up your life, why bother with caution?

When it’s sex you’re pining for, you’ll naturally be drawn to someone who wears his sex appeal like an overpowering cologne. You’re a homing pigeon for his carnality because that’s what you need and that’s what he’s selling. It’s kind of like cheating on your diet. Does anyone cheat with a cup of cottage cheese? Um, no. But a hot fudge sundae will do the trick. And your Affair Guy is the whipped cream on top.

Affairs fill you with promise of a better everything. But can they go the distance? Listen, when you’re choosing a spouse, you examine the whole picture of that person: Does he love me? Will he be a good father? Will he help provide for our future family? Do we share the same values?

But when you choose a lover, your criteria is far more relaxed because you’re only looking for those couple of puzzle pieces that somehow got lost. A married person who begins an affair doesn’t approach his or her new lover as a potential spouse, right? They’re simply looking for the feel-good stuff: warmth, excitement, friendship, hot sex.

Even in this era of hookups and booty calls, it’s traditionally tough for women to hold our lovers at arm’s length. We’re communicative beings. We connect. So, it makes sense that the wheels start turning when we fall in love or lust. It’s hard not to fantasize about the great life we could have with this one-in-a-million guy who “gets” us.

But who is your Affair Guy, really? The starving artist? The bad boy? The guy who can’t leave his marriage just yet? The one who can’t seem to get his life on track? Yes, the emotions run high and you feel — maybe for the first time in a long time — alive. And alive feels so good. But is it really the best idea to disrupt your whole life (or put it on hold) for someone who’s better suited as a lover than a lifetime partner?

If you want to leave your marriage, leave. If you want an available partner, go find one. But do yourself a solid and don’t look to your Affair Guy as a reliable back up plan. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to give you what you will eventually require — his whole, cohesive self. Because that’s not what he signed on to do.

Your affair is a symptom of your unhappy marriage. Your affair with an unavailable someone is a signal that something in you needs tweaking. Put your affair on hold and take care of those fronts first. If your Affair Guy is Mr. Right, he’ll be waiting right where you left off.

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10 Golden Rules For Moms Raising Sons

Years ago, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was preparing for her son’s upcoming wedding. At the time, my sons were still quite young and I asked her what her relationship was like with her adult son. She told me it was good because she followed the golden rules of raising sons.

Golden rules? This is great, I thought. I’m about to get a good dose of helpful advice.

“Here’s what you do,” she said, “Wear beige, keep your pocketbook open, and your mouth shut.”

In other words, be an invisible, mute ATM if you want to have good relationships with your boys. I was floored. Raised in a sisters-only family, I had little frame of reference. But even with my limited repertoire, I decided then and there that those golden rules were Not. For. Me.

I had to revamp her advice. I wanted to foster loving relationships with my boys while raising men I’d be proud to launch into the world. Now my sons are young adults and not one expects me to remain silent or fade into the wallpaper. (Full disclosure: The “pocketbook open” thing remains open for debate.)

Abby’s Ten Golden Rules For Raising Responsible, Loving, Respectful Sons©

1. Accept that boys are wired differently. They look at and experience things from their own, unique male perspective. Don’t expect they will have the same reactions you do. And don’t be disappointed when they don’t. And, for pity’s sake, allow them to express their emotions openly.

2. Talk about sex. Don’t blame or shame. Porn will likely be their first entree to sex — and from a younger age than you’d like. Much younger. So, talk to them about fantasy versus reality. Talk to them about moderation. Talk to them about romantic love and mutual consent. Talk to them about rape. Repeat.

3. Rudeness and self-absorption? Unacceptable. If I’m entering a building with my sons and they go in ahead of me, I wait outside until they realize I haven’t joined them. (Sometimes this takes longer than I’d like.) One will inevitably come back and hold the door for me. I don’t expect them to do that because I’m a woman, I do that because I expect them to move through life thoughtfully and with a keen awareness of others.

4. Keep pushing God/spirituality if that’s your thing. Turns out younger folks aren’t as interested in religion or spirituality as their predecessors. That hasn’t stopped me. I don’t care what deity they embrace — or none at all — but I want them to know the value and sustenance a spiritual practice provides.

5. Welcome the partners they bring home — with caution. A mom of grown sons once warned me, “Don’t fall in love with their girlfriends. Those early relationships never last.” Turns out, she was right. Embrace the lovely people they bring home, but know you may get your heart broken. Let your sons know you approve of their choices. If you don’t, figure out a respectful way to tell them why.

6. Get emotional.  A male friend was raised by an emotionally distant mother. He says he grew up with little understanding of what made women tick, and he remained intimidated by women’s emotions well into adulthood. So, here’s the deal: Let your sons see you laugh, cry, rage, weep, grieve, rejoice. Holding back does nothing to educate — or prepare — your sons for the beautiful range of emotions women are gifted with expressing.

7. See something, say something. What to say: “It is your duty as men — as human beings — to step in if someone is being assaulted or bullied. If you’re a silent bystander, you’re guilty. Do your best to put a stop to it without physical altercation. If that’s not possible, get help or call authorities. Be part of the solution.”

8. Intimidation factor. Males have it. That’s the reality and they need to be aware of it. Here’s what I tell my sons: If you’re ever on a dark street or in a parking garage at night, be mindful that your mere presence may feel threatening to a woman walking alone. If you’re rushing up behind a woman, casually assure her of her safety. Say, “Don’t mean to alarm you, I’m just in a hurry…” Or, better yet, “If you’d like, I’d be happy to walk with you until you get to a safer area.”

9. Love them unconditionally. Always. Because they need you to do that, even when it’s not obvious or they don’t seem to notice. A man who experiences unconditional love from his mom has a better chance at healthier adult relationships. Don’t hold back. Give them your heart and, in turn, you will have theirs.

10. Kindness matters. My middle son recently went out for a night on the town with my ridiculously amazing niece. Both are young adults. My niece told me how lovely my son was to everyone he met during the evening. She even told him how impressed she was. His response? “I learned that from my mom.”

Mic drop.