Statistically speaking age at the time of marriage is the number one factor in measuring how long the union will last. Those who get married very young are more likely to see the inside of divorce court then those who wait until their mid-twenties and beyond. Social scientists indicate a number of reasons why the age people get married is such an important factor in success; education, stability, and maturity just to name a few. Every 18 year old thinks they belong to the mature adult club, but they are missing the life lessons that can only come from navigating the complex world of personal relationships. Meeting new people, surviving a breakup (romantic or platonic), living on our own, learning new skills, and travel are just some ways we learn more about ourselves and others on our path to personal fulfillment. It is thought that those who marry too early in their inter-personal maturity cycle miss out on key developments necessary to figure out what and who really matters to them in life. We learn about ourselves and our needs from each person we interact with. I am not a relationship expert or accredited social scientist, but in hindsight it is interesting to analyze my own relationships and what I learned about myself and the world from dating trial and error.
Even if you only watched one talk show episode in your entire existence you more than likely heard the following phrase uttered by a woman scorned; “but I love him.” These four words are often muttered out of the mouths of women who are trying to defend the reasons they stay in an awful and physically or emotionally abusive relationship. He stood me up on a date but I love him. He cheated on me but I love him. He got another woman pregnant but I love him. He beat the crap out of me but I love him. Women who utter these words have no self-respect nor have they learned an important maturity lesson; you can love someone deeply and profoundly and not have a successful relationship or marriage with that person. This lesson applies to more then just the obvious bad relationship signs of abuse and infidelity. It might sound completely unromantic to those who have not “been around the block a few times” but the Beatles were wrong; love isn’t all you need. It is possible to fall in love with someone but still not have the elements necessary for a lifetime commitment. Understanding more about yourself, your goals, and your needs and how they conflict with a person is necessary to know when to walk away from an otherwise good relationship. Too many women (and men) stay in a relationship (or get married) to the wrong person because they are comfortable, stable, and ignoring the subtle signs of doom. Even worse, we often think the conflicting behavior, opinion, or attitude will change over time; people rarely change. Learning this lesson is eye opening but frightening. When it comes to relationships we cannot always trust our heart but we must listen to our head.
Warning signs are ever present during bad dates and in bad relationships, but we often don’t recognize those signs until it is too late. The sound of our brain screaming “no” to pursuing or continuing a relationship is undeniably muffled by the heart screaming “yes.” Our hearts lie to us when we are lonely, depressed, bored, or feeling a little desperate. Common sense is the first thing thrown out the window in affairs of the heart and it is important to have a mental (or physical) list of relationship “must haves,” “nice to haves,” and “no ways” allowing good judgment to prevail over lust and infatuation. New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a piece on Father Pat Connor who educates teenage girls on “whom not to marry” before they walk down the aisle with Mr. Wrong. Father Connor’s lessons on what traits and qualities make good husband material reminded me of my own “who can I date” list. Created in jest with friends one night to after one of my more amusing dating disasters, this list proved a useful tool in weeding out a few prospective boyfriends before anyone got hurt. Some argue against the laundry list of dating requirements claiming that they are unromantic, eliminate potential good matches, and make women and men too picky. For those who feel that way go ahead and waste your time in a string of dead end and unhappy relationships, everyone else can take notes on their life experiences to help speed up their process of elimination. Here are some qualities that were on my list (in no particular order):
No jealously or possessiveness: Some women (and men) think people show love when they are jealous or possessive. It seems cute at 16 but at some point it is important to learn that men who are jealous and possessive lack self-esteem, don’t trust you or your relationship, become controlling and manipulative, and should be kicked to the curb at the first signs of these negative qualities.
Macho Man: There is no bigger turnoff for me then the whole macho man showoff routine. I wasn’t looking for an ultra-sensitive “girly man” but the exaggerated sense of power, strength, and dominance often demonstrated through actions like bar fights is repulsive. Machismo is nothing more then men indicating that they think they are better than you just because they were born with a penis and this well-educated, equal rights advocate has no time or tolerance for men like that; romantically, personally, or professionally.
Foodie: One might say I am passionate about food. I love a good meal, love to cook, love an evening out at a fine dining establishment, and love trying new dishes. It would be impossible to share my life with a person who didn’t have the same feelings for food. It only took a few dates with a guy who openly admitted he ate not out of enjoyment but because it was a requirement for staying alive to realize this. He would plan day long dates without any stops for nourishment and look at me strangely when I begged to stop for dinner.
Cheers: I like wine with my dinner, love a cold beer on a hot afternoon, and have an affinity for fine scotch. I didn’t judge men who didn’t drink but they often judged me so it was best to avoid teetotalers. This predicament didn’t happen very often giveen I predominently met men (including my husband) in bars.
Adventurous: Not necessarily jump out of an airplane adventurous, but after a string of dating boring homebodies it became apparent that I required someone who liked to enjoy new experiences, learn new things, and grow as a person. With my love of food I also preferred to date men with adventurous palates and often used the pizza test; if a date ordered nothing but a plain cheese pizza with no toppings the date would end with a handshake and a nice to meet you; have a nice life.
Respectful: How a person treats a waitress or bartender speaks volumes about them. If someone is nasty to servers, talks down to them, and treats them like second class citizens beware; chances are this is how the person will treat you after the honeymoon period is long over. I waited tables and tended bar during college and was amazed at the number of men who acted like they were showing off to their date by ordering around the “help”.
College: Having a college education was a necessity. This is not saying that people who attend college are smarter or better then those who don’t, but my experiences in college shaped much of who I am and sharing my life with someone with similar experiences was very important to me. I went out with a few guys who didn’t go to college and the differences in life experience were too hard to overcome. These were also the same men who expressed jealously and contempt towards women who earned more then them and given the pay gap between educational levels chances are that would become an issue in the long term. Some of these men openly asked me to dumb it down around their friends. I like being smart and don’t think it is something I should have to hide or apologize for.
Dogs:I am a dog person and although I didn’t have a dog during my dating years there was never a question that some day I would have a dog, or two, or three. Men who didn’t like dogs, didn’t want dogs, or thought of dogs as anything less than furry blessings from above didn’t get past the first date.
Children: I am what the childfree community refers to as an “early adopter;” someone who knew from a very young age that they did not want to have children. Even possessing this knowledge about myself I still dated a few people before realizing the effect of this on long-term romances. I wasted my time, and the time of some amazing men who met many of my other criteria, not sharing this tidbit about myself up front. It is kind of a weird thing to bring up, but eventually I realized how important it was to just throw my not liking nor wanting children out in the open early rather then wasting my time and energy with a man who wanted to have 2.4 kids and the white picket fence.
Smoking: No ifs, ands, or butts; after kissing a smoker I realized it tasted like I was licking an ashtray. Not sexy. Nor is the use of any drugs; total deal breaker.
Friends: If someone is a loner there is usually a good reason. Often the loner has a crappy personality that appears a few months/years into the relationship.
Challenging: One might describe me as strong, tenacious, and opinionated. I tended to attract men who were quiet and looking for someone with a more domineering personality. They were fun at first, allowing me to take over the relationship with little to no push-back. After a while these men bored me to tears. No doormats please.
Taller: This is not very PC; I tried to date men who were vertically challenged and the relationships came up short (pun intended). There is nothing small about me and my 5 foot 9 inch frame, often described as statuesque and voluptuous. My inability to handle a relationship with a shorter man has much to do with my lifelong mental and physical structure with my weight. Dating a man shorter then me made the weight struggle worse and I realized I just feel happier and more attractive when I am with a man who makes me feel a little thinner and smaller.
Italian Men: Also not very PC but as a part-Italian girl growing up surrounded by Italian men I learned many lessons about what I did not want in a romantic relationship. (Most) Italian men are jealous, possessive, macho, sexist pigs. They are egotistical Mama’s boy drama queens who think their shit doesn’t stink and the world revolves around them. They believe they are God’s gift to women. Women, in their opinion, were put on earth to have their babies and it is there right to marry those women but keep a few girlfriends on the side. Even if an Italian man somehow escaped his upbringing without obtaining any of these negative characteristics, chances are I would tower over them wearing simple flats. I am still looking for an Italian man out there to defy the sterotypes and prove me wrong on any or all these observations. If you exist and are single let me know; I have plenty of interested friends.
Do you have a relationship checklist? If so, what is on your list?
Victoria Beckham is looking a little thick around the middle lately, isn’t she? Posh seriously has lost control of herself and should lay off the cheese doodles and get her fat ass into the gym. It is seriously pathetic how she is just stuffing herself into size 00 clothes; like squeezing ten pounds of potatoes into a five pound sack. She’d better watch that weight or her husband David might turn his eyes elsewhere. How can she even go out in public looking like a two-ton heifer?
Making any reference of the twig-thin Victoria Beckham having even an ounce of body fat on her is nothing short of ridiculous. Promoting that Posh Spice has a figure any woman can or should strive for is just as ridiculous yet magazines publish her diet and fitness secrets with such enthusiasm you think they found some lost scriptures. Her ultra-skinny body and obvious disordered eating are not healthy; her diet lacks diversity and includes calorie restriction mimicking malnutrition. Mrs. Beckham’s reported lettuce, strawberry, and edamame diet, standing at a dangerous 900 calories a day, is not something that women and girls should attempt but they do, following dangerous celebrity diets like they were prescribed by their doctors.
Even worse then the promotion of a “thin at all costs” culture is chastising women publicly who do not fit within some impossible mold created by fashion giants who would rather dress shapeless girls then women. Jessica Simpson is the latest celebrity falling victim to public scrutiny about her weight. She joins other strong, healthy, beautiful women like Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, and Drew Barrymore who found themselves on the cover of magazines after committing what is apparently the worst offense in Hollywood; packing on a few extra pounds. Celebrity mug shots for inexcusable offenses get less press then celebrity “fat” pictures sending a poor message to the world; it is more acceptable to commit a felony then to eat a cheeseburger.
Canonizing waifs and crucifying curves is mentally and physically damaging to the millions of people who suffer from, or on the brink of developing, image and eating disorders. In recent years many tabloids started publishing stories on women who were too thin, almost in an “effort” to appease eating disorder awareness groups. These “efforts” are nearly as damaging to the human psyche as publishing “fat” photos. Celebrity women can’t win the weight game and in turn all women and girls learn that they cannot win. We are either too fat or too skinny. We are either too tall or too short. We are either too happy or too sad. We hear the old adage that you can never be too rich or too thin but are then ostracized for being too successful or to skinny. No where in these messages do people learn how to be healthy.
We are in the midst of an eating epidemic where people who fail at starving themselves to nothing give up for a life of obesity and its related diseases; hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer. In between too fat and too thin is just right but how do we understand what just right is in a culture that actually calls that fat? When newspapers and tabloids attacked Jessica, Tyra, Jennifer, and Drew their weights did not classify as overweight or obese but were in the healthy “just right” range. Rather then declare “this is what healthy looks like” newspapers and tabloids sent a loud and clear message that healthy is fat.
Celebrities starting fighting back, commenting positively on the bodies of the media’s latest fat scandals but the fight needs to continue. About the worst thing that can happen from Jessica Simpson’s “fatgate” is for the celebrity to come back ultra-skinny in record time, sending a poor message that women’s talents are worthless unless they are also thin. Jessica Simpson is a gorgeous woman with a beautiful voice who is currently sporting a figure reminiscent of the most iconic woman in our country’s history; Marilyn Monroe. I hope she doesn’t go on some crazy crash diet, revealing her "new and improved" body to generations of women who will receive the message that starving yourself is healthier than maintaining a healthy weight. She and the media have the chance to promote healthy but if healthy doesn’t sell magazines we’ll likely see another woman sellout to societal pressure to be too thin.
Money and I have a decent but fleeting relationship; we have fun together but often part ways very quickly. I am incredibly responsible in many aspects of my life with a thriving career, well-cared-for dogs, strong personal relationships, (somewhat) good eating habits, and a healthy exercise schedule. However, when it comes to managing money I am a complete moron. I am sure if I really put my mind to it I would be half decent in the realm of saving and investing but the whole process is rather boring and time consuming. For years I felt guilty about my poor saving habits, made excuses about how little I contributed to my retirement plans, and had various financial advisors frown at my monetary choices. But, after looking at my recent statements I no longer feel guilty; I feel vindicated!
The lack of enthusiasm for all things financial actually makes my plummeting profile easier to handle. Math is not my forte but upon a quick examination I have lost just about 20 cents of every dollar I’ve put away since 2000. Essentially if I would have just shoved that money under a mattress rather than be responsible and put it into my 401K, mutual funds, IRA, and stocks I would have 20% more than I have right now. Finally my monetary irresponsibility worked in my favor! Had I listened to the “experts” and been more “responsible” with money through the years my investment losses would be even more devastating. One could argue that all the money I spent rather than saved is also a financial loss but I disagree. I opted to invest in other things through the years. Although the ROI on these “investments” cannot be calculated by an accountant the ROL, Return on Life, cannot be disputed.
Many of my friends and co-workers followed a savings strategy that they believed would allow them to retire early so they could enjoy life. Taking the “responsible” route meant working like dogs, squirreling away every dime they earned so they could retire while they were “still young enough to enjoy life” and do things. Even before the economic downturn this logic didn’t work for me; we don’t get any younger and life should be enjoyed now. Dreams of retiring by 45 required sacrificing the here and now for the possibility of enjoying life later. People forget that later on might not come, that every day of life should include some level of enjoyment, and that we are young once and should take advantage of that youth. People are now realizing just how possible it is to work hard and have nothing to show for it when investments sour. I am glad I have more to show for years of labor than my now worthless 401K; a healthy ROL.
Perhaps ROI is easier to quantify than ROL because the calculation for ROL is different from person to person. Most people, although adept in understanding the return they get on their monetary investments, don’t understand or appreciate that the money they spend can have a good, or bad, ROL. People often spend money on stupid things that do not yield good ROL while bypassing those things that do. I am just as guilty of making worthless purchases that yield little to no benefit while bypassing those things that bring me measurable joy.
Through the years I realized I have a great affinity for shiny things, fine wine, good meals (and the kitchen items that make those meals happen), leather purses, camera equipment, fuzzy puppies, books, and quality bath and beauty products. I love to spoil dogs, family, and friends to make them smile. Cheap, processed food will never again pass my lips. Group fitness is worth every penny beyond cheap gym memberships. The world is a vast and beautiful and there is nothing I enjoy more then traveling to exotic destinations and staying in the most posh hotels. My house might be worth less then what it was purchased for nearly 4 years ago but it is still the home to many of the most amazing and happy memories I share with friends and family.
Many people might find my “investments” wasteful, not sharing the same ROL I get from seeing the world, entertaining friends, wearing nice jewelry, buying organic for my family and animals, eating, drinking, looking nice, and making memories. Conversely I have trouble understanding the ROL others get from spending their money on things like cars, electronic gadgets, nick-knacks, and raising children. ROL requires figuring out what makes you happy and focusing your disposable income on those things. If you can afford to buy a new car every year, understand it yields negative ROI but makes you very happy then it is a wise investment in your ROL.
Do I wish my retirement savings were at their pre-economic slump levels? Absolutely! But I am incredibly appreciative that I have more to show for the past 12 years of employment besides a depleted retirement account.