Monday, March 5, 2018

7 Reasons Women Don't Want to be Called Sexy (And 3 Ways to Know if She Does)

Originally published on The Good Men Project.

In the age of #metoo, how do men handle random interactions and flirtatious encounters?

I’m walking down the street on my way to work. It’s a path I’ve trodden hundreds of times. Whenever I pass by the local bar, my body tenses. Even though it’s closed at this hour, men still seem to gather out front. I’ll likely be fine, but this is how it is to walk past a bar in the morning going to work. A man calls out, “You’re sexy.” I respond, “Thank you.” I keep walking, but he leans in, starts to walk with me. “Can I get your number?” “No,” I say and keep walking. He doesn’t follow me. At the pace I go, I’m not surprised. I mean business. I’m late for work, and it’s 8 a.m.
This is a scenario that’s familiar to many women. It comes out of the blue and calls for more attention than we want to give or have time for.
Imagine, instead, this other scenario. I’m walking down the street on my way to work. Same scene. Man calls out that I’m sexy. I thank him. He smiles. I smile. That’s it. Exchange complete. This one works for me. This one leaves me feeling safe. This one tells me the man is listening and not just pushing for an agenda.
The first scenario is one of the reasons women don’t want to be told they’re sexy.
1. “Sexy” isn’t freely given. There are strings attached. Even responding to the words with a simple thank you can be read as an invitation for more. If a man is offering a compliment, let it be just that: a compliment. A woman responding is not an invitation for more--unless it’s clear it’s an invitation for more. If she’s dressed for work, seems to be moving quickly, has headphones on, or doesn’t respond, it’s because she doesn’t want more.
2. Sometimes a woman doesn’t feel sexy, so telling her she’s sexy doesn’t land. In this case, it’s not about you. You may think her clothes cut a phenomenal figure. How could she not know it? Truth is, sometimes we don’t. I might be bloated, tired, distracted, overwhelmed, none of which is about you. This means my sexiness doesn’t depend on external factors. It’s how I feel on the inside. You’re not going to convince me. I need to find my own true north.
3. A woman’s sexiness doesn’t depend on you! What an onerous task that would be, to be responsible for a woman’s sexiness. There might come a day when the man might be absent or not feeling the woman’s sexiness, and then what? If a woman depended on you for her sexiness, she might just fall apart. Okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but when people are externally referenced around something, they have a hard time internally sourcing it. If a woman feels sexy, you want that to grow from the inside out, watered by her own self-esteem, not by the words of others.
4. It can be manipulative. A man tells me I’m sexy, and now I owe him something. Somehow, we’ve had a transaction, and that transaction means I have agreed to be part of a system which obligates me to do something. I now owe the man a smile, a phone number, more of my time and energy. Men have been known to guilt-trip me because I haven’t responded or haven’t responded positively. The guilt trip doesn’t work these days, but when I was in my teens and twenties, I felt as though I had done something wrong. I would go along with the interaction, getting manipulated by the man, thinking that I somehow owed him something. I didn't.
5. Sometimes a woman doesn’t want any more attention on her body. Now, a sexy comment can definitely be about more than physical appearance, but I’d put money on the idea that the comment probably IS about physical appearance, especially if it’s done publicly from a stranger. Honestly, we get so many comments about how we look, should look, don’t look, don’t look good enough, do look good enough, that sometimes we’re sick of it. Therefore, if we don’t respond/respond well, know that this might be a cause.
6. It’s an invasion of private space when we’re in the public. Some women simply want to be free and undisturbed when they’re in public. They don’t want to have to be on guard when someone calls out to them. They don’t want to be called out to at all. It doesn’t matter how hot you are, sometimes we just want to be left alone!
7. Sloppy sexual energy. This is when a man is oozing so much sexual energy, he might as well have become a life-sized walking penis. He is a man who is not in control of his sexual energy, and a woman can feel it. It’s one thing for a man to be connected to his sex and his sexual energy, which is potent and non-threatening. It’s another to hear the words, “You look sexy,” coupled with a massive dose of uncontrolled testosterone. The latter is huge turn-off and unsafe.

What if a woman does want to be called sexy?

Certainly, I’ve been there, and I know other women have been there, too. In my experience (and when chatting with other female friends), three things really matter: connection, calibration, completion.
Connection means a man is actually connected to the woman. For some, it could be minor--though this is always a bit dangerous. Eye contact and a smile might not be enough to establish rapport. A friendship or romantic relationship might be enough that she would appreciate hearing those words. When it’s a random man at a random time, it can feel invasive and disconnected. Furthermore, saying those words doesn’t create a connection; the connection must exist before the words are spoken.
Calibration means the man has felt into the woman, assessed whether or not she might be open for a comment, and is confident she is. When in doubt: ask. (“If you were into it, I would love to give you a compliment.”) He sees what her pacing is, what she might be up for, and then moves from there. If he starts to speak and finds there’s little to no response, he changes tactic and perhaps chooses not to move forward with what he had intended to say. He matches her beat for beat.
The last piece is completion. Telling a woman she’s sexy doesn’t mean there needs to be any acknowledgment, any thanks, or any reciprocity. Consider the interaction complete. She doesn’t owe you anything, not even a thank you. Now, I was certainly raised to say thanks and try to do so, but if a woman feels like you’re invading her space, she might not be up for any sort of response. In that case, you considering the interaction complete would be a welcome gift.
In the age of #metoo, people are grappling with how to handle random interactions, flirtatious encounters, sexy texts, first kisses, and more. With some presence and awareness, slowing down the pace, and ultimately caring for the person you’re interacting with, you have a much higher degree of chance that you’ll leave the person you’re interacting with not only better than you found them but better off for having met you.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Father’s Anger, and the Wounds I’ve Healed

Originally published on The Good Men Project

Can a man be a better grandfather than father?

We were sitting at the dinner table when my father came home. The scene before my father: buoyant, joyous, filled with laughter. My brother was cackling. I was in on the joke simply by being his sister. I remember the giggles, like neverending champagne bubbles. Then, my father arrived, and we were tense, giggles splattering into straight faces, stretched tight like a rubber band about to split, and it did, or I should say he did. I don’t remember what my brother had done. Perhaps it was his grades. Perhaps something else or nothing at all. All I knew is I was grateful I wasn’t the target of my father’s anger. He unleashed a firestorm at my brother, doing nothing short of incinerating him. My brother sobbed while I stared at my plate, wondering if the peas would magically turn into carpet to transport us out of there. Then, dinner was over, and we could go back to acting like it didn’t happen.
That’s what happened in my family; the anger boiled up and over, directed at one of us (usually my brother), and then minutes, hours, the next day, it magically evaporated. We would pretend it hadn’t taken place. It took me years to work through the idea that working through conflict was desirable, and all men weren’t scary. Then, it took more time to realize my husband wasn’t my father when my husband was angry. I peeled back layer upon layer, wondering why I glowered when men showed interest. Slowly, that too began to melt away.
I remember when I was about ten years old, I was playing in the pool with my father and the other kids. I don’t remember what he did, but I do remember screaming at him, “I hate you!” I had never said that before, and I’m not even sure I meant it, but in the moment, it was real. Later that night, my father was noticeably absent after dinner. I asked my mom where he was. Outside. Near the pool. He was upset that I had told him I hated him.
I couldn’t believe my father could actually be hurt. He had shown few emotions other than anger and playfulness with little middle ground and a hairpin trigger temper. I sucked up my pride and went outside. I apologized, which felt awkward and sad in my mouth as though the small words could never erase the large words that had been spoken. Years later, I came back to this: men could be hurt and hurt deeply.
Years later, I came back to this: men could be hurt and hurt deeply.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I made peace with my father. I learned how much he had wanted us to have the life he never had. He grew up in Nebraska, and his father came out to San Francisco to find work. Finally his father sent for his mother and their four kids. They arrived in the San Francisco train station where his mother was served with divorce papers. His father had hooked up with a San Francisco socialite and abandoned them. That was the role model my father had.
It’s a pretty low bar when your father has abandoned you. In the absence of that, my father tried to fill in the gaps with societal expectations: work hard and provide for your family even if it means commuting an hour in the morning and a hour and a half at night. Work became a proxy for family because family got the emotional dregs of the day generously sprinkled with frustration and fatigue.
I understand he was doing his best, trying to create a life for us where we weren’t living hand to mouth, but the fallout was hard and especially hard on my brother.
In me, my father instilled a powerful work ethic, infallible honesty, and a desire to do better. Along with that, I am incredibly sensitive to criticism. My brother seems to be the one who didn’t escape. The father wound is deep, so deep, I don’t know if it will ever be healed, but I have to believe it is possible. As Jed Diamond writes in “Healing the Father Wound: It’s Never Too Late,” it truly is never too late. It is possible to make amends with a man who lashed out with verbal violence. It is possible to make and find that peace.
The father wound is deep, so deep, I don’t know if it will ever be healed, but I have to believe it is possible.
I don’t have answers except to say that my father does spend time with my son. Gone is the stress from my childhood days. Here is the man who truly is a better grandfather than father. It’s not that he’s perfect--far from it--but I can see the gentleness in his touch and patience in his manner. My son loves him and wants to spend time with him.
For me, this is the healing of generations. My father brings his best to my son, and my son will learn to bring his best to those around him. I hope my son will learn that creating the best life for those around him is not about working himself down the angry dregs of his grandfather. I hope he will remember our own peaceful dinners when he sat with me and his father and learned how to be in this life.
At the end of the day, I wish there were some way to wrap up my father’s anger in a tidy little package to be set aside, but I know that’s a fallacy. Instead, I take my forgiveness with my brother’s hurt, my own memories of cold squishy peas with effervescent giggles, and try to hold it all. Some days it is easier than others. Other days, I look at my son and the laughter which rises effortlessly into the air. It is the promise of a new generation, one that is learning how to love without creating suffering.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

Men Releasing Anger in a Safe Way Prevents it from Coming Out Violently

There are healthy ways for boys and men to release anger so that anger is not a gateway for more violent behavior.

Originally published on The Good Men Project. 

The father was handling the crisis between his two young children with skill and aplomb. It was a typical child hit child offense. Both boys, twins, were about two years old. One belted the other; the other was crying. The father was working patiently with them both, trying to get apologies, naming feelings. Everything was gracefully handled until I noticed he kept on insisting one of his sons was sad.

“You’re sad because he hit you.” The father said it a number of times. The kid, however, wasn’t having it. He crossed his arms and scrunched his face. He wasn’t crying; his lips weren’t quivering.

I turned to my husband. “He’s not sad,” I sad. “He’s pissed.” His brother had hit him. He wasn’t hurt. There were no tears. My experience in helping kids name emotions has told me that when they are named, the child is able to surrender into that emotion. This kid was actively resisting his father’s words because they weren’t correct.

The father continued telling him he was sad. Then, the father said that he himself was going to be sad if the boy wouldn’t accept the apology. My husband and I looked at the father. ‘He’s not sad,” my husband said. “He’s pissed.” And he was.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this: parents trotting out “sad” feelings when really they’re angry. Is it because they’re not emotionally literate? Or are they afraid of what exploring anger might look like?

I can understand why a person wouldn’t want to explore anger. In this culture, we simply don’t do it well. We rarely see it done healthily. Where do we see the anger that burns brightly but doesn’t destroy other people? Why was this father labeling emotions as sadness and not anger? I have some ideas.

The masculine is associated with anger.

A study conducted in 2014 examined the connection between the masculine and anger. Those who were more masculine (note: not necessarily connected to gender) disclosed that they had more anger than the participants who were more feminine. Okay, so the masculine tends to be angrier, but it doesn’t mean that men are always more violent. The landscape is more complicated than that.
When it comes to domestic violence, an equal number of men and women initiate it, BUT men are perceived as initiating it more. When it comes to road rage, while younger men are more likely to exit the car and engage aggressively, but women are more like to flip the bird. Both genders engage almost equally in such activities as tailgating, honking, or yelling at other drivers.

On the other side, more than 73 percent (73.3) of the persons arrested in the nation during 2014 were males. They accounted for 79.8 percent of persons arrested for violent crime. Taking that into consideration, it’s understandable that this father might not want his son to be perceived as angry. He might want to steer him towards a gentler emotion as opposed to becoming part of a larger societal stereotype. Ultimately, this approach will backfire.

Teaching our Sons to Release Anger

How can we teach our children to let out anger in a way that doesn’t harm people, that tells them, there are moments when anger is absolutely the most appropriate response? How can we wrap our brains around the idea that releasing anger in a healthy way is not the gateway for more violent behavior. In fact, the opposite is true. If it’s released in a safe way, then it gets out as opposed to festering inside or coming out sideways, directed at another individual.
In his Pyschology Today article “Four Ways to Help Boys Process Emotions,” Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D. details four ways boys can process emotions.
  1. The Action Release Method — In this method, you have the boy use some sort of physical activity to release his emotions. This could look like stomping, pacing, fidgeting (exercise balls are good for this), and general movement. Sometimes letting off some steam both before a conversation as well as during a conversation can be helpful. As long as something like stomping off is done respectfully, no harm is done. Also, movement during a conversation can be a way of letting a boy access his emotions.
  2. The Suppression-Delayed Reaction Method — For some boys, they suppress their emotions because they need to focus on something they’re working on, or sometimes they need space for their brain centers to actually process what’s going on emotionally and verbally. While I’m not advocating a boy stuff down his emotions, sometimes waiting before responding can create a safe emotional distance and allow him choice in when he wants to re-engage.
  3. The Displacement-Objectification Method — In this method, a story or object can be used to help a boy process emotions. This means the boy feels less vulnerable and is able to explore safely. For example, last year, my husband was in a very serious car accident. When I engaged our son about how he felt, his response was very limited. Later that day, we were talking about a book fair we had missed, and that’s when his emotions surfaced. Tremendous sadness overwhelmed him when he talked about how his classmates had all gotten books, and he hadn’t. His response to the bookfair was disproportionate in relation to his father’s accident.
  4. The Physical-Expression Method –This method can be the scariest for parents to witness as it involves letting the boy use aggression in a way that won’t hurt anyone (including himself). He can hit, kick, or punch an inanimate object. No one gets hurt. For some, this method feels very closely linked to destructive male aggression. And while men do engage in more violent crime than women, it’s also clear there is a perception of men that overshadows the reality (e.g. domestic violence, road rage). However, once the boy engages in this method and dispels some of his adrenaline, he will be able to engage more clearly and calmly about the issue at hand.
Going back to the father at hand. He was so clearly doing his best at the moment. As parents, none of us are perfect. I know I have acted and done things that I later wished I had done differently. My saving grace has been self-reflection, numerous conversations with other parents, and ongoing conversations with my son about how he can better understand and express his emotions. I don’t want to be afraid of my son’s anger, nor do I want him to fear or be ashamed of releasing it. Shaming and suppressing is what I most fear. It is the gateway to more aggressive behavior and creates the possibility of an anger far larger and more destructive than it ever needs to be.

Monday, January 22, 2018

It Applies for Men, too: The Absence of ‘NO’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Yes’

Society defines a man by his sexuality; for a man to say "no" is like whispering into a hurricane.

A major communication breakdown around sex led to a break-up. I didn’t ask; he didn’t say no.
A number of years ago, I was briefly involved with a totally delightful man: sharp, sexy, sexually compatible. Alas, our relationship was short-lived when we had a major communication breakdown around sex. I didn’t ask; he didn’t say no. Here’s what happened.

A boundary was set.

We had had a date planned for a particular evening. It was early on in our relationship, and the chemistry was scintillating. Earlier on that day, he had sent me a text letting me know he had had a significant experience with another lover and was feeling very tender. Because of that, he wasn’t up for being sexual that night. That was fine by me. I enjoyed his company and was a big yes to where he was at.
Later that evening, the two of us began to kiss. One thing started to lead to another, and before I knew it, things were getting hot and heavy. His earlier words lingered in the back of my mind, but I — foolishly and naively — took his erection for a change in direction and figured his boundaries had just changed. It happens, right?

A boundary seemingly changed.

As clothes started falling away, we changed from one room to another, and he set a boundary. Using hands was fine; full-on sex wasn’t where he was at. Again, I was a yes to that. I love using my hands and was more than happy to continue in that way. Throughout the time in this new room, I noticed a nagging heaviness in my body. Something felt off. It was a strange mix of pleasure and inertia at the same time. I ignored the feelings and continued onward. I felt committed to what we were doing and didn’t think to stop or check-in.
After we had had our fun, we sat in his kitchen. Things felt tense, off. We bickered about something trivial (perhaps his furniture), and I ended up going home. The next day, we had a check-in, and he told me he actually hadn’t wanted to be sexual.
I was horrified. Ashamed. Hadn’t I done the right thing? Hadn’t we changed rooms? Hadn’t he set a boundary?

The absence of no doesn’t mean yes.

In that space, things began to untangle. I began to listen more, to sit with some big feelings of embarrassment and shame. On the one hand, he understood where I was coming from. He had had similar experiences with women where he thought there was a green light—or at least an absence of a red light—and forged on ahead. Through many discussions with friends—and with my own experiences—I’ve come to understand that for some, the absence of a no means it’s a yes.
For these people, a wishful yes is much better than a clear no. The result, however, is if neither party is on the same page, what they both end up getting through the interaction is not truly what either of them want. The yes a man receives is a false yes from a partner who couldn’t speak up (for many reasons). The opposite can clearly hold true, as was my case with my male lover.

When Men Aren’t Taught to Say “No” to Sexual Opportunities

My lover later revealed he had never said no to being sexual. It was really eye-opening to me. As someone who had turned down many sexual opportunities, I had never imagined the possibility that some men are trained to always be a yes.
Because he is a man with a high libido, my lover had moments of feeling incredible scarcity, so saying no was foreign. On top of that, there is often a long-standing belief that female sexuality is scarce, so a man needs to jump on any opportunity that passes him by. This means my lover felt compelled to be a yes even when he was a no.

Be a Man

It reminded me of beloved men I know who lost their virginity to girls they didn’t truly like or feel attracted to. Being a man meant getting laid. The sooner they could divest themselves of their pesky virginity, the better. On top of that, add societal pressure to define a man by his sexuality, and saying no is like whispering into a hurricane. It is lost the very moment it comes from a man’s mouth. More than that, it seems futile to say anything at all. After all, why would you say no if it meant closing down a defining moment of being a man?

The Shame of Saying “No”

I’ve been with men since who have turned me down for sex. In later conversations, they’ve revealed their vulnerability. As much as they didn’t want to think it, old societal beliefs of manliness kicked in. Would I judge them for not being virile enough? Would they be less in my eyes? In every case, I’ve been grateful for the no. Hugely grateful. Why would I have sex with someone who really didn’t want to, regardless of the reason? Some reasons are simple (fatigue, illness, lack of desire), and others have complex emotion underpinnings. All of those reasons are valid. In each case, the man has breathed a palpable sigh of relief. There was no need to save face. Our relationship was a safe place where all forms of yes and no were honored.

Verbal Check-Ins

For my own self, I realized how crucial it is to have verbal check-ins. Stop. See if the words uttered at the beginning of the evening still carry weight. Take a minute for the heat to subside. If hot sex is meant to happen, a short interlude won’t prevent it from happening. I’ve done this many times since, and I’ve always found a way back to the heat of the moment when there’s a yes.
And here’s the thing: if sex is truly not mean to be, it’s not meant to be. After all, I’d rather have sex with someone who not only wants to in the moment but is a radiant yes after it has taken place.

Friday, January 19, 2018

How Do You Prepare for the Last 15 Minutes of Your Life?

The Cave of Refuge where Hawaiians sought shelter was miles away. Did I want my last minutes of life to be spent in a rental car?

Originally published on The Good Men Project. 

We received the message:
Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This is not a drill.
Could it be true? My husband and I checked our sources. Nothing on Google except Hawai’i re-implementing an emergency system because of North Korean threats. That was months ago. Could it be that this was the one? Nothing on Facebook. Nothing on Twitter. Our local host knew nothing. She scoffed at the idea and spoke of love and light. My head was full of Trump saying stupid shit. And then our son. Our six year-old son.
I asked my husband, “Where can we seek shelter?” We were in a wood-frame house on the lava fields. There are no basements here. The Cave of Refuge where Hawaiians sought shelter was miles away. Did I want my last minutes of life to be spent in a rental car?
“Let’s put down our phones,” my husband said. We sat together on a bench in a small hollow outside a wooden storage hut. The black lava around us had hardened into swirls years before. Even so, the lava fields are tenuous, and the land is cheap there. A confirmed lava junkie showed us pictures of his house burning down within the past few years. That’s how I felt in the moment. Would our world be burning soon?
How do you prepare for the last 15 minutes of your life? My husband grabbed his hat. I grabbed a banana. In the last 15 minutes of life, who would want to be hungry? We were in disbelief. How did we know it wasn’t a drill? How did we know it wasn’t Trump distracting us from more stupidity? That he hadn’t pulled another foolish “button” tweet?
We sat together, and I recalled the first time I had met my husband. What a dork. He was in a costume going around at a Valentine’s Day party acting like Cupid, poking people with arrows. His long limbs had flailed around like an awkward 12-year-old boy while he was dancing and jabbing. And then there was in the time in Pai, Thailand, when we had both gotten food poisoning. I’ll spare those details. And our son. Our vibrant six-year-old son Phoenix who had risen from the ashes of a complicated miscarriage. What would his life be like without his parents? Our estate plan was on the table upstairs, awaiting our completion.
I rested my head on my husband’s chest. His heart fluttered like a hummingbird. I imagined our deaths to be quick, painless. Outside my head, the mosquitoes buzzed and bit. I wasn’t trying to be brave as I sobbed. I couldn’t send any goodbye messages. All I could do was sit with the fear, the warmth of my body and my husband’s next to me. I thought of all the challenges we were working through. Maybe we would never work through those now. Of all the people to die with, I was grateful it was my husband. Coupled with a deep love, I fundamentally like the guy. He is incredible company. I had never figured he would be company on this last journey.
And then more news tumbled in. It was a mistake. A big fucking mistake. People began to emerge from lava tubes and laundry rooms. We felt our bodies on the earth, and I read the Washington Post. More political mudslinging. More research about the actual impact of a ballistic missile, how far the destruction would go, which was both comforting (I live close to San Francisco – a supposed target – but not in San Francisco), but not comforting (beloved friends live in San Francisco).
We finally received a message saying the previous message was false. False. Not a mistake, but false. I messaged Tulsi Gabbard. This was unacceptable.
And then we got down to the business of making breakfast. There is breakfast when you are hungry. Then, there’s breakfast when you have survived a false ballistic missile threat. The latter is the one where you savor every bite of eggs scrambled with sun-dried tomato chevre, the juiciness of ripe papaya, and the crunch of green salad accompanied with smooth Kona coffee. Moments of chewing were punctuated with soft touch and remnants of tears. When we were done, I turned to my husband and said, “So what do you want to do with the first day of the rest of your life?” While I normally hate such platitudes, this one rang true for the first time in my life. We sat together in the moments of stillness shot through with the realization that we are alive, gloriously alive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why I Don’t Want to Take Your Last Name

When asking “What’s in a name?” the answer certainly isn’t simple.

Originally published on The Good Man Project.

My first boyfriend was both a staunch feminist and at the same time cherry-picked his sexist traditions. He both insisted on calling me – at 18 years old – a woman, but also insisted (with equal vehemence) that any woman would be lucky – lucky! – to take his beautiful last name. Von Berger. It meant “from the mountains.” Really, what woman wouldn’t want that name? Apparently, me. My last name, I argued, goes perfectly well with my first name. And it is part of me. My feeble arguments didn’t make much of an impression on him. It didn’t stop his first wife from taking his last name. Nor his second wife.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have offered different arguments to his claims about his last name. I would have been an even stauncher no. In fact, I hope more men (and women) will reconsider what it means to take a man’s last name.
Seventy percent of U.S. adults believe a woman should take her husband’s last name
In a recent survey, more than 70% of U.S. adults believed that a woman should take her husband’s last name after she gets married. Frankly, I was shocked to read that, but I wasn’t prepared to find about half of those adults think it should be required that a woman take her husband’s last name after marriage. This same study showed that half of those who thought a woman should take her husband’s last name also said she should prioritize her family and marriage and marriage ahead of herself.
It saddened and angered me to read this, and I thought, Dear Men, where are you in this? Where is the support in women being who they need to be? And what about men who choose to prioritize their families and marriage over themselves because they need or want to? This sexism cuts both ways. Women are boxed into a singular focus on family and relationship whereas men are boxed into focusing on career and singular identity. Who wins in all of that?
Some might argue that having the same last name makes people a family. Last names don’t make a family. If they did, Icelanders would be screwed. In a culture where last names are derived from parents’ names, each member of the family could end up with a different last name. Furthermore, with current U.S. divorce rates hovering between 43% to 46%, what would it mean for those families? That which makes a family transcends their name.
When no Female Person had a Legal Identity
An article in Seattle Bride magazine (of all places) reported that women didn’t start taking their husband’s last names until the ninth century in England. And “taking” isn’t quite the right word. It was the law.
Lawmakers devoted time to families and marriage, where it intersected with the law, and that’s when we saw the birth of the doctrine of “coverture.”
If you don’t know that word (I didn’t), it is worthwhile checking out its meaning. Coverture held that no female person had a legal identity. At birth, a female would be given her father’s last name. It would change upon marriage to her husband’s last name. It meant women couldn’t enter into contracts, engage with the law, or have ownership with respect to real estate or personal property. It also meant a woman, once married, owned nothing. She had no rights to her children, her body (no such thing as marital rape), and no claim to money she earned. In as recent as 1966, in the United States Supreme Court case United States v. Yazell, we still saw the impact of coverture on a woman’s lack of ownership around her property. In fact, former Justice Abe Fortas claimed “[c]overture… rests on the old common-law fiction that the husband and wife are one, [and] the one is the husband.”
So, where do we stand with coverture now and why should we care? In her 2012 article, Catherine Allgor, Ph.D. details how a loan officer refused to make her the primary borrower of a loan even though she made more money than her husband, had a longer work history than he had, and was older. The loan officer (a woman) told her “it’s a man’s world.” Is that what we want for the women in our lives?
Now, bit by bit coverture has been disappearing but has never fully gone away. This is why women weren’t commonly on juries until the 1960’s and spousal rape first became a crime in 1979. The list goes on, but importantly, it highlights the inability of women to simply be their own person in society. Is this what men want for their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers? Is this what man would want as part of his marriage?
Choosing the Right Last Name
For some, knowing a history that has erased and oppressed women might be enough not to follow tradition. For others, acknowledging that history, what has changed, and what changes are coming is enough to empower them and choose to take a man’s last name. In this country, names can still be changed (not true in some other countries), which means some couples decide to hyphenate names, create new last names, or simply make no changes. For my own self, I never took my husband’s last name because it simply didn’t make sense to. In the end, is there one right choice around taking a new last name? Definitely not. But when asking “What’s in a name?” the answer certainly isn’t simple.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Truth About Parenting When You're Exhausted

Originally published on Perfection Pending.

The last few days had been exhausting. I’d felt worn down to the nubs. My husband had been gone for a work trip. I taught during the day, parented during the mornings, nights, and weekends. I tried to pour in friendships and movies to fill in the cracks like mortar around bricks, hoping the foundation would hold.

Things came to a head when I came home with my 5 year-old son. We were two exhausted creatures plowing through the molasses of mundanity. I was operating with abridged patience while my boy was pushing the boundaries at the worst possible moments. Bedtime was a series of stops and starts, half-begun games, deep sighs, and toothpaste. Listening on both sides was fraught with difficulty. Getting him into pajamas was like verbally sparring with a floppy fish: impossible at best. Finally, I tried to explain to my son that I really Just Needed Him To Listen. My voice quavered between sadness and anger until I broke down into tears. Tears were all I had, and then my boy started to cry as well.
In the midst of it all, I thought, I’m still the parent. In all of the chaos and fatigue, I was still the parent. Even in the wornout spaces, my son looked up to me, needed me, and I could reach down and find a deep strength I never knew I had. Parenting: the place where we find power beyond what we’ve known. And along with power, the greatest responsibility.

My child was also worn down to the nubs, and so something inside of me shifted. He needed his mama. His tears washed away my own anger and frustration. I reached down into the foundation, which really had no cracks at all. I was solid; he was the rain washing over me.
I sat my son on my lap, and listened while he told me about how tired he was, and how bored he was in aftercare. My listening capacity had grown. I was no longer a shallow stream but vast like the ocean. He had been wandering around school, waiting for me to arrive, and I had been late.
When the moment seemed right, I asked him why he hadn’t been listening to me, and why he was doing so many things, even after I had told him not to. He explained that there are so many rules to follow every day at school, and even more rules to follow during aftercare. When he got home, he didn’t want to follow any more rules.
And then it made sense to me. When he spoke of rules and more rules, my body felt weighed down by the heaviness, each set of rules like a brace of rocks. I empathized. I couldn’t disagree. I have chafed against rules, broken them, forged my own. I told him as much and could feel his clenched body relax.
In the end, we didn’t “figure it out.” I didn’t create more rules, and he didn’t push. For that moment we were just two souls trying to connect even through the fatigue and limited resources.
In those moments, I try to remember to:
Slow down. I sometimes get caught up in trying to get dinner, bedtime routine, in bed done in record speed. When we’re all stressed out we actually need more time to do these mundane activities. Really, does 5-10 extra minutes make that big of a difference?
Breathe. In those moments, I remember to breathe. My body is so tense, I can barely think. When I breathe, my child breathes, too. When I relax, he relaxes, too.
Parent. I am still the parent, and he is just learning. I can tell him I’m having a hard time, but ultimately, I need to lean on adults, not him. And, he needs to lean on me. He needs a parent.
Listen. The better my listening got, the less he misbehaved. It was hard to reach down and listen, but when I did, it made a world of difference.

That there are no solutions sometimes. Sometimes, it’s just about listening. Connecting. Being there.

It is not easy, this dance of parent and child. There are moments of supreme joy and laughter, and then there are those moments of rough edges, impatience, and fatigue. For those rough moments, we are two stones getting washed smooth in the same ocean of life. We are in it together, just figuring it out.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Husband: Not the Father We Thought He’d Be

He thought he’d glide effortlessly into fatherhood in the same way his father had. It turns out, he has his own path.

Originally published on The Good Men Project.

Despite his affinity for kids, parenthood has been a rocky road for my husband.
Our son was planned. He’d come after a complicated miscarriage and fertility treatment. Loved, desired, ostensibly the most powerful creation we’d conceived of. We had created events together, masterminded courses for couples and singles around relationships, and yet … And yet, in the final months of my pregnancy, my husband would wake, gasping for breath. What were we doing? Did we know what we were about to embark on? Clearly, we didn’t.
I had confidence my husband would be an incredibly good father. I’d seen him with kids. He had a certain magic that had them gravitate towards him, an instant affinity and connection. Why then, was fatherhood such a rocky path for him?
Loss of Freedom
The loss of freedom was huge. Certainly, we had anticipated some of it, but we never fully realized the extent of our freedom and spontaneity until it was gone. For me, I was dunked in the ocean of motherhood and so overwhelmed, my focus was largely on learning to find my own true North in the watery nation of parenthood. For my husband, he could logically understand the importance, but internally he felt trapped with his own version of island fever. It felt like almost every aspect of our lives had changed: meals, sleep, exercise, sex. Everything was now dictated by a tiny helpless creature.
Loss of Connection
The loss of connection was huge. My husband felt like he had lost his person, his anchor. In a relationship where he often needed space (see the article I wrote called “Loving the Man Who Needs Space”), he now had more space than ever while I was breastfeeding. Only, with the vast space he found he actually wanted more connection with me. With this new creature in our lives, it was hard to find it. Date nights never seemed to give him enough time and even weekends away weren’t enough. In our minds, we had thought the child would be yet another source of connection between us. In one way, he has totally been that. In another, he has been the biggest cockblocker of our lives.
The Jealous Inner Child
Over time, my husband has realized that not only was he having a difficult time with the shift in our lives, but with his inner child was as well. As stated in “Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child“, “We were all once children, and still have that child dwelling within us.” My husband certainly has an inner child, and boy is that kid pissed. You see, my husband is not a jealous person. We have incredible amounts of freedom within our relationship to explore with others. But when it came to our son, he found not only was he jealous, but his inner child was jealous, too. Talk about a brainfuck. I found the best thing I could do was be gentle. The amount of self-judgment my husband had was huge. Not only was it difficult enough to weather the changes in our lives, he was jealous of his son. This has certainly shifted over the six years of our son’s life, but in the beginning it was intense.
Needs vs. Neediness
While my husband intellectually understands everyone has needs, neither of us were prepared for the vast quantity of needs a baby has. And while it was all normal and healthy, it still had the odor of neediness to him. With time, he’s come to understand that he will unconsciously code needs as neediness, but in an equal opportunity fashion. Everyone’s needs – including his own – have been needy for years upon years. With this new understanding, he has been able to relax into the volume of needs a young child has as well as learn that his own needs are totally normal. What a journal that has been.
My husband had spent time on and off with children over the years. Each time I saw him, there was a natural spark and connection. With our infant son, however, he became easily bored. While I enjoyed motherhood – in a profoundly deep and satisfying way – he found the early years of parenthood painfully boring. Now, he is definitely someone who notices nuance and detail, so it honestly came as a surprise that he didn’t find the same in his own son. Recently he remarked, “Our son didn’t actually get any personality until he was about three years old.” It would be easy for me to jump all over him, judging this experience, but I know these words are not meant unkindly. For him, the ability to hold a conversation, create projects together, and have a meeting of the minds, is really important. That he can do that with our now six-year-old is eye-opening.
Falling in Love
I immediately loved our son, but it wasn’t until he was four or five months old that I actually fell in love. It was tipping over into the great abyss and being held in a vast warm ocean. For my husband, it wasn’t until our son was somewhere between a year and a year and a half old. Perhaps it was the lack of hormones. Perhaps he needed to wade through his own self-judgment, but it did happen on its own time and at its own pace. By giving him space to connect more with his son, he was able to move past the jealousy and find his own relationship.
It’s Like Becoming a Vampire
Jonathan Coulton tells us this story:
I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling – I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually, you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.
Indeed, it is complicated. My husband is not the father we thought he’d be. He thought he’d glide effortlessly into fatherhood in the same way his father had. So did I. It turns out, he has his own path, one paved with vast unconditional love and moments of freakout and boredom.
I remember when our son was a year or two old, my husband turned to me and said, “I know if I keep turning him away because I’m having a hard time, there’ll be a time when he won’t come back.” So my husband keeps leaning in, growing, stretching, having moments of breathtaking, exquisite connection and almost painful beauty mingled with irritation and suffocation, but he keeps on trying. That’s how I know I chose the right man to be not only by my side but my son’s side as well.

Monday, December 25, 2017

11 Ways a Man is Successful

Originally published on The Good Man Project.

It’s not about money, looks, or fame.

In a recent conversation, a male friend was describing a group of his female friends discussing their ideal male partners, detailing how the define a “successful” man. This particular group of women are all financially successful and live in luxurious homes. Their measure of success? A man who made more money than they did.
Each time I hear of such things, I metaphorically vomit a little in my mouth. My own father worked long hours to bring home a six-figure salary. He left at 5 a.m. and returned at 7 p.m., tired and cranky. A female friend of mine is married to someone like that. They have a beautiful home, take beautiful vacations, but at the end of the day, all that’s left for her and her family are the scraps of a vibrant man working himself to the nubs.
This is not the measure of a successful man. Society may pressure a man into being this, wearing himself down day after day, but how is that the measure of success when there is nothing left for your partner, friends, family, or self after a long day at work?
When I look at the word “success,” it becomes incredibly problematic. For some, the notion of a success is a Trumpian world where the gleaming opulent lifestyle should somehow bleed inward, resulting in a magnificent internal world gilded by good looks.
For me, success doesn’t flow from outside to inside; it moves from inside to out. It transcends money, celebrity, height, weight, race, sexual orientation. This success has a man glow with purpose and integrity.
  1. 1. In my eyes, a successful man is one who is willing to quit his job when he realizes he is selling his soul. No amount of money will nourish a withering soul. My husband left a six-figure, eighty-hours-per-week job when he realized the money didn’t represent freedom. It represented being chained to his desk. In short, a successful man is not someone who brings home the bacon when he himself is the sacrificial animal.

  2. 2. A successful man embraces a partnership where both people contribute, where he might not make more money than his partner, or even less than fifty percent. When my husband and I first moved into together, I paid more of the rent. It simply made sense as I made more money. He was not a “kept man.” We were in a partnership of equals not defined by money.

  3. 3. A successful man is one who finds his purpose and creates a life where he can fulfill that purpose. He knows or seeks to find the balance between fueling that purpose and sacrificing himself and others to make it happen.

  4. 4. A successful man knows himself—or searches to find out who is he—so he can take responsibility for his choices and impact on others.

  5. 5. A successful man is one who has close friends, people he is willing to be vulnerable with. I know some men tend to be more introverted, but even introverts have friends. I want to see that when it man is down and out, he has other people support him, not just his intimate partner.

  6. 6. A successful man is internally resourced. He doesn’t look for others to do his emotional labor. He knows his own true north and can find ways to nourish and replenish himself alone or with others, but ultimately, he is responsible for it.

  7. 7. A successful man is one who will work to co-create a relationship, not dominate and try to control it.

  8. 8. A successful man chooses to be or not to be in an intimate relationship because he knows there is a choice and one that stems from being complete and whole as he is.

  9. 9. If a man is a father—and let’s be clear, contributing sperm is not a measure of success, but being a father is something else—he is willing to work on whatever issues come up for him. His children don’t bear the brunt of his dissatisfaction. My husband is not the father he or I thought he would be, yet he returns, again and again, trying to be the best he can.

  10. 10. A successful man is one who recognizes within himself the desire for freedom, is honest about it, and at the same time cultivates a nest where he can have a soft landing. He is not running; he is being himself without negatively impacting others. His freedom does not preclude integrity or commitment.

  11. 11. A successful man embodies commitment without suffocation. He gives his word when he knows he can follow through, and if he is unable to follow through, he examines whether or not this is an anomaly or pattern to change.

This is more of a beginning than a finite list when it comes to the qualities a successful man embodies. No amount of money, good looks, or fame can cultivate this.
When I heard my friend’s words, I imagined a group of women who might attract a man who played the game of life by the numbers. Perhaps his compass would be tuned to a north within himself, one magnetized by his core, guided by integrity. But when the first attribute relates to money, I have to wonder what kind of man that is: someone who measures his success by the digits in his bank accounts, or someone whose own vast worth goes beyond the external, the vast space uninhabited by a dollar symbol.
I chose the latter when I chose my husband. I see him rise daily to be a better man, father, husband, friend. For me, that makes him successful now and forever.

7 Reasons Women Don't Want to be Called Sexy (And 3 Ways to Know if She Does)

Embed from Getty Images -- Originally published on The Good Men Project. In the age of #metoo, how do men handle random interaction...