Friday, April 29, 2011

Falling In Love

For those skeptics that wonder if anyone still believes in love at first sight, let me assure you that plenty still do. Unfortunately, as people get older and suffer some disappointments, they start to build up their guard. This is natural, and it is healthy-- to a point. We all need to be able to let our guard down at some point if we are ever going to let others into our lives. For those with trust issues, this may take a bit longer, and no one should be rushed to move at a greater speed than is comfortable-- for a relationship to flourish, you need to patiently move forward at a pace that works for both.

In the past six years, I have had to re-learn the dating game rules. At times, it may have seemed like a pointless exercise, but I chalked it up to a "social experiment." Well, that experience has finally come in handy, although not in the way most would have expected for me.

Learning to take turns with 20 questions, to set a good pace, to take time to process information, has all come in handy the past few months as I have gotten to know my lost family. The "Elders" as I have affectionately dubbed them are a wealth of information about the past, and extended family full of Gen Ys have been a great source of entertainment, but this week was the best. It is like they saved the best gift for last-- I finally connected with my half-brother.

At a time when I was totally starting to lose faith in the existence of an adult man that could possess my perfect trilogy-- smart, cute and kind, I found it in my own brother, who has in just one week managed to restore my faith in mankind. It has often been said that the greatest acts of kindness often come from places where you least expected. Well, this is the perfect case in point-- I had no idea how this would play out, and yet it is sweeter than I ever could have imagined. The guard is totally down, I have taken the biggest leap of faith ever, and in return I have regained that amazing feeling of what it is like to fall in love all over again.

We all have fears of rejection and abandonment, but in the end, I truly believe as FDR once said that the biggest thing we should fear is fear itself. In order to connect with others, we have to find the strength to put ourselves out there, and we have to put down our guards. You need (figuratively speaking) make yourself jump out of the plane and find the perfect parachute, just as Prince William did today when he found his lovely princess.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bittersweet Moments

When I was 25, and getting ready to walk down the aisle on my wedding day, I had the most bizarre "oh my gosh" moment. I could not process what it was at the time, but years later it all makes sense. I was so happy, and yet so sad because I knew there was a part of my family that was never going to share in this moment with me. A few months later, I graduated from law school, and again I had very mixed feelings that whole day-- a part of me was relieved to have finally completed my studies, but another part of me was so afraid that I would not live up to people's expectations of what I should do with my career. A few years later, right after my 31st birthday, my son was born. That will always be to me the happiest moment of my life, and yet at the same time, I remember being scared-- because I was painfully aware of the fact that what would lie ahead was a ton of responsibility and sacrifice. Motherhood changed me completely, and ever since then life has been full of what I call bittersweet moments.

In the past few months, 8 new people have entered my life: I now have an uncle, aunt, 2 cousins, a father, a step-mother, a step-brother, and a half-brother. These are all new words in my vocabulary, and figuring out the dymanmics is going to take some time for sure, but whenever people ask me how I am handling all of this, I just say it is awesome, and my beaming smile assures them that all is well. But, I truly believe the only reason I am able to process everything so well now is thanks to all the prior years of experiences with bittersweet moments.

To look at old pictures, to hear stories of weddings and family trips is great-- because I want to know my family, and yet because they are such wonderful people there is such a profound sense of loss, particularly with my baby brother. I could look at his pictures all day-- and I could spend weeks asking him a million questions, and it probably would never be enough to make up for all our lost years together. Luckily for everyone, I have always been an optimist. I would rather focus on the future than dwell in the past. And best of all, I love irony, which helps me appreciate the fact that sometimes the greatest sources of life's joys can also be the greatest sources of our pain.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nature versus Nurture

I have always wondered whether I am an extrovert by nature or if that part of my personality was developed as a way to compensate for the lack of siblings or cousins in my life while I was growing up. Do I like to read because that is my natural inclination or does my thirst for knowledge stem from a deep-seeded longing to find answers to basic questions about my family that went unanswered for years? Would I be the same person I am today if I had grown up knowing my siblings and cousins? I may never find the answers to these questions, but for the first time in my life I am at least able to look for similarities and find patterns in behaviors among the various people that share my same genes.

Last night, for the first time, I got to speak to my half-brother, who lives in Europe. Both of us grew up as only children, so you can imagine how weird it is for both of us to now have someone we can call a "brother" or "sister." To add to his shock, he also has to process the fact that I have made him an uncle overnight. Needless to say, it is a lot to take in at once, and it will probably take some time for all of us to figure out the roles we want to play in each other's lives. No matter what happens, I do now realize that my life will never be the same-- and I could not be happier about that fact. As good as it has been, it is about to get better, and this is why-- because I love the fact that we are all making an effort to connect, and this effort is not driven by any need, it is because we want to know each other. To me, that is true love.

Those of you who know me are well aware of the fact that I rarely cry, and that I know for sure is just not in my nature. But I'm not going to lie, finding my little brother, did make me cry-- and they were wonderful tears of joy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Suspending Judgment

As children, we start by seeing the world simply from our own perspective. Over time, we learn to consider other people's feelings and to appreciate that our actions might impact others. Hopefully during this evolution of our thought process we also learn to respect differences of opinion-- everyone is entitled to his/her own view, especially here in America.

Somehow, in a global sense, especially in terms of politics, everyone seems to appreciate free will and individual rights. We extoll as an American virtue the belief embodied in our country's founding documents that each person has a right to pursue his/her own happiness. Yet in a very micro level, when I hear people talk about issues with their friends or family, so many are quick to pass judgments on others or seek to impose their views on those in their immediate circle. Why is that?

From what I have read and observed throughout the years, there are some couples that are happy with the traditional marriage arrangment, where one person stays home and cares for the children while the other person focuses on providing for the family financially. Some people thrive on constantly playing the role of a savior, while I know plenty that would find that exhausting. There are those who believe in love at first sight; meanwhile others need years of being together to develop sufficient trust in a relationship. Some people live to work, but most simply work in order to live. Not everyone has a particular passion or interest in life; not all believe in a higher power; some will not be able to bear children, others will not want that responsibility. Many people struggle with different forms of addiction or mental health issues. It is also quite common for people to have an exit affair because few are strong enough to leave a relationship without having another one lined up-- apparently fear of being alone is quite prevalent.

Life is complicated, and particularly intimate relationships are challenging to maintain. But perhaps if we could apply our more open-minded global view to our personal lives, and suspend judgment of others, we could have longer lasting and less volatile relationships. Simply stated: a little more compassion would go a long way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Is The Best Time To Call It Quits?

There is never a perfect time to tell your spouse that you want out. I have had cases where the parties decided to divorce right after the honeymoon, and at the other extreme I have helped people end their marriage after over 35 years together-- that is almost my entire lifetime! Some people do their best to keep it together until the kids go off to college; meanwhile others have parted ways while their spouse is pregnant. Countless people have cried in my office as they recount the moment when they learned their spouse was leaving them-- sometimes while they are in the middle of cancer treatment, or grieving the loss of a parent, or recovering from a miscarriage. The best thing I can say is that they are not alone, this happens a lot, and it is unfortunate.

Dr. Robert Emery shared this beautiful analogy in a lecture I once attended, and I believe it is also in his book, The Truth About Children and Divorce: He states that if you imagine 2 people paddling along a river, you will see that there is one about a mile or so ahead of the other-- the one that opted to leave the relationship is the one in the lead because s/he had a head-start; meanwhile the one that was caught by surprise about the decision to end things is the one behind, struggling to catch up. What the person left behind needs is time, time to process what has happened, so s/he can catch up to the other.

Unfortunately, time is not always on my side. By the time someone has unilaterally moved out and raided joint accounts, a lot of damage has been done. If people could just exert a little more impulse control and check in with an attorney before they make rash decisions, a lot of unnecessary heart-ache can be avoided. It is still going to be painful, I just mean it may hurt less.

Regardless of when the news is delivered, the key point for parents to remember is that it is their job to protect their children. Kids do not need to hear the details of what their parents are arguing about or what is going on in court. They just need to have reassurance of 3 key points: 1) this is not the children's fault; 2) mommy and daddy will both still love them & be a part of their lives; and 3) the parents are going to try their best to minimize the disruptions for the children. To the extent that this message can be delivered simultaneously by both parents, that would be ideal.

After all these years, I truly have not found the perfect time to tell someone a marriage is over, but I will say the manner in which the message is delivered can make all the difference in the world.

Going to Court

Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were all great lawyers, who believed that the most important role of an attorney was to try to act as a peacemaker, to counsel people to reach a resolution. I try my best to do this, but I am not a miracle worker, and there simply are some cases that cannot be settled. The positions some people take in their cases do not allow for any sort of compromise. If one person wants sole custody and refuses to settle for anything less, then that case will have to be tried. If one person wants to move to another state with the child, and the other parent will not agree to the move, then a judge will have to decide that issue. When one party seeks indefinite alimony, and the other refuses to consider any support beyond a couple of years, there is very little I can do to help these people find some common ground. Tomorrow, I will have to deal with one of these scenarios.

A friend of mine was shocked when I told her I had a contested trial tomorrow, and I laughed. Apparently the impression created by the media is that I have stopped litigating. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth-- only about 25% of my practice is Collaborative Divorce. I do use my Collaborative skills in the rest of my cases, and I do usually settle 95% of all my cases without a trial, but there will always remain 5% of those people that can only see things as black and white, without any possibility for gray. I have learned to live in a world full of shades of gray, and it is so beautiful in its richness and complexity, but not everyone can appreciate the world this way. It is I suppose an acquired taste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dating is an Exercise in Curbing Your Enthusiasm

We have all heard the saying, "if you have low expectations, you can only be pleasantly surprised." Well, if you are out there dating, you may want to adopt this as your mantra. There are some people that can look great on paper, and yet be complete idiots in person. Some people post pictures from when they were younger, skinnier, or had more hair, and then when you meet them you find a totally different person in front of you. Then there are those who might appear fine during the first few dates, but as time wears on you start to see icky character traits. The latter are the toughest ones to deal with because if they have made it through the first few rounds of 20 questions, you cannot help but start to hope for the best. Yet the best thing to do here, is curb your enthusiasm.

If you have zero expectations as to when someone should call, email, text or set up the next date, then you won't be disappointed with whatever timeframe they chose for themselves. In the meantime, you just need to figure out whether their behavior works for you. If someone really wants to make something work, they will make the time. We all have busy lives and varying interests, but let's face it, when we meet someone that causes us to say "wow," we can shift things around to pursue a relationship that seems worth it. If that is not happening, then you just need to accept that s/he is "just not that into you."

As my best friend from college told me recently, when you are in love, "you will move heaven and Earth to be with that person." She is right, I have done this a few times in my life, and as a result I believe it is totally worth waiting for that perfect inspiration. So, while I am advocating that we start off dating with zero expectations, please do not mistake the message to be that we should settle for good enough. There is no point to settling; finding that "wow" factor is totally worth the wait.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Coping with a Bad Break-Up

Since 1998, as a divorce attorney in the nation's capitol, I have probably heard or seen over 1,000 bad break ups. The worst are the ones where one person was oblivious and was totally blind-sided by the other's decision to end things. I often tell my clients that more than anything, they need to allow time to pass so that their wounds will heal. But, in the process of mending a broken heart, here are some tips many have found useful:

1. Make a list of the things that make you happy, like being surrounded by flowers, eating some gourmet chocolate, going to the movies, getting together with friends, buying a new dress, going to the spa, hitting golf balls, or working out, and then go do these things for yourself!

2. Try writing in a journal to help you articulate your feelings, or if you are like me, start blogging. It is very therapeutic.

3. Pick up the phone and call a friend. It helps to get your story out, and hopefully the person listening will be able to provide you with some great advice, or refer you to a good book or other references that will help you. Learning that what you are feeling is normal, that you are not alone, and that things will get better are all part of the healing process.

4. Plan a vacation-- even if it is just a short weekend get-away. Sometimes, it really helps put things in perspective by getting out of your daily routine. If you don't have someone to go with you on a trip, and you don't want to go alone, then go visit a friend that lives in a cool place.

5. Dedicate some time to a special project. Using your down time to do something worthwhile is a very healthy way to fill a void. For example, you can work on your garden, or organize your photo albums to then share with your family, or sign up to do some volunteer work in your community.

If none of these suggestions help, and you find yourself stuck in negativity or feeling depressed, perhaps it is time to consider some professional help. There are many wonderful psychologists specifically trained to help guide those struggling with their emotions. The sooner you can work through the grief cycle, the sooner you can move on to a happy, healthy partnership.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Love and Money

I have to admit upfront that I am a hopeless romantic, but over the years I have learned that there is some value to reining in the emotions and looking at marriage more like a business merger. When you are contemplating a life-long partnership, it really is important to make sure you are on the same page about finances, because in the end if you are not united on this issue, it could tear a marriage apart.

We may all have our different missions in life, but at the end of the day, we all need a place to live, food to eat, transportation, clothing and some basic entertainment. With your partner, you need to have some consensus about the household budget, including how much you are going to try and save each month and how you are going to address any debt. It is amazing to me how many of my clients come into the office admitting that only one of the parties knows about the couple's financial condition. I often wonder how many of these marriages could have been saved if the couple had just talked more about the budget and any problems, or sought the advice of a financial planner, before they were faced with a major crisis.

As parents, we owe it to our children to make sure that they are safe and secure-- and that requires having sufficient means financially to for their basic necessities. I cannot tell you how many people I see living well beyond their means. Usually, the more money people make, the more debt they take on, and with increased obligations come increased stress. Most people do not handle stress very well, and this is a major source for a lot of breakups. That for sure is the last thing kids need to see or experience, for the sad reality is that if there is not enough money to support one household, there is going to be even less to support two.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keeping It All In Perspective

As a child, I would detach from my reality by either pouring my heart and soul into being an athlete or delving into books. From age 7 until 18, I was a hard-core gymnast competing around the country; from age 14-25 I focused on my studies at some of the nation's top schools to become a lawyer. Along the way, I traveled through Europe, lived in Paris and Madrid, had several great internships and met a bunch of interesting people. My ability to detach was perfected over time, as I left one environment and joined another, and it has served me well professionally.

As a divorce lawyer, I get to know the most initmate details of people's lives, and I help them through a very difficult time, then they move on and I go onto my next case. At work, I am like a surgeon, performing an amputation without any anesthesia. It is not an easy job, and by the end of the week, I definitely need to take a break from all the sadness. On the weekends, I need to fill my heart and mind with all the great stories about my friends' engagements, upcoming weddings, baby developments, accomplishments at work or home improvements. I want to watch movies, read books and go see plays that inspire people. I love to plan trips and fun events to look forward to, and more than anything I relish in bonding time with my family and friends. Maintaining a balance between my two worlds (professional versus personal) is what helps me keep things in perspective.

Just so the rest of you are clear on my view with respect to this blog, I am going to set out some disclaimers: 1) As a divorce lawyer in DC for over a decade, I have learned alot about relationships, but I am not about to talk about my cases or reveal client confidences on this blog; 2) I am not here to provide legal advice, if you need legal advice go hire a lawyer; 3) I am not a psychologist, although I work with plenty in my field and attend a lot of seminars on psychology; 4) If you think I have all the answers, nothing could be further from the truth. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know; 5) I am not a saint; I am just as fallible as every other human out there; 6) I am not a very politically correct person, I call myself a "girl," use the word "chick" a lot, and often refer to men as "boys" with very funny nicknames; and 7) I intend to protect the privacy of my family, new and old, as much as possible, so I will not use any names or delve into their stories, just mine.

It has been great these past few weeks getting everyone's feedback from the essays I have posted thus far. The calls and emails have been very encouraging, and I hope people will continue to send in requests on specific topics. Just remember, everyone's perception of reality is tainted by their own experiences, and I have a very unique perspective that may or may not resonate with the rest of the world. I have my ideals in my head, yet my duty on a daily basis is to help others face the harsh realities of their love stories gone awry. Maybe this blog will help me reconcile the two.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Divorce Makeovers- An Increasing Trend

Last night, at Curve Appeal, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the hosts, Dr. Michael Cohen, who is the head of the Cosmetic Surgery Center of Maryland. I shared with him my observation that despite the state of our economy, there seems to be a growing trend among my friends and clients, who are doing what I call a "divorce makeover." He confirmed that he has seen the same trend-- and not just among women.

For those that need an ego boost before they head back out into the dating world, a little liposuction, tummy tuck or breast augmentation may just be exactly what they need to get back in the game. Surprisingly, the recovery from these surgeries can be remarkably short-- some women have breast surgery on a Thursday and are back to work on Monday. Guys are also getting in on the action wanting to reduce those beer guts and have chin implants for a more chisled look. Luckily for all, as technology has improved and supply of plastic surgeons has increased, prices for these procedures have become far more reasonable, and many surgical centers offer financing.

Some of Dr. Cohen's patients, who were very open to discussing their surgical experiences, were models at the fashion show held by Sylene's in Chevy Chase. Part of the proceeds from the evening's event were donated to Living in Pink, which is a local breast cancer charity founded by Michele Conley, a breast cancer survivor. Stephen Hull, Editor of Bethesda Magazine, also helped host and publize the event, which a tremendous success.

Obviously, anyone contemplating surgery should make sure they research the right surgeon, and it would be helpful to check in with a mental health professional to make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons and that your expectations are realistic. Make sure you have the right support system around you right before and immediately following the surgery-- and be prepared for some negative comments from those that just cannot understand why someone would undergo elective surgery.

The models I met last night still looked like real women, and they were beautiful. What struck me the most was how happy they were, because they felt great about themselves. I can understand how my divorce clients might want a little ego boost, and ultimately, I believe that if a little nip and tuck is going to put them in the right frame of mind to move forward and feel confident about themselves, then I say go for it!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Impact of Learning Difficulties on Relationships

Throughout the years I have learned a lot about how learning difficulties impact families. It turns out that over 80% of families with children that have special needs will wind up getting divorced. The pressures of dealing with this added stress tend to drive an insurmountable wedge between the two parents-- especially when they have grossly different views on how to address their children's issues. This is so sad, especially when you consider that these children are already struggling with their own issues, and now on top of that they get hit with their parent's divorce.

I would urge parents of children with special needs to seek family counseling right away-- hopefully to prevent a divorce from ever happening. It would also benefit the couple to learn how the parent with the same issues as the child may still be exhibiting some symptoms, or how s/he is coping with the child's diagnosis. It is very common to be in denial or grapple with feelings of guilt for passing on a genetic trait that might complicate your child's life. Burying those feelings is not healthy, and it will come out in horrible ways.

The other day, I came across a great article "I'm OK- You're Not" by Melissa Orlov in the Spring 2011 issue of Additude. (Check out She talks about the impact of ADHD on a couple, where one partner has this issue and the other does not. Everything she describes as common patterns-- the creation of a parent-child dynamic, the arguments over household chores, the complaints of nagging, feelings of walking on eggshells-- I have heard a million times before. What was new to me was her final message, which is that if the couple promptly seeks an evaluation and effective treatment, there is hope for saving the marriage.

In sum, we all have issues, but not everyone has the strength to face them. Sometimes, we need an added incentive to do something difficult. Well, I cannot think of a better incentive that doing something that will help you save your love and your family.

The Joys of Motherhood

Given that Mother's Day is just a few days away, here are my thoughts on why motherhood itself is the best gift my son could ever give me:

Because of you....

I don't get to enjoy as many movies, restaurants or parties as I may like;

Because of you, my schedule is much more complicated; I have lost a lot of sleep; and exotic trips abroad have been on hold for the last few years;

Because of you, I have less money in the bank, and a lot more laundry and clean up projects at home, but

Because of you...

I look forward to coming home; I've learned that money cannot buy happiness; and I am far more considerate of others;

Because of you these past few years, I have relished in the joy of being surrounded by children and their laughter, and I appreciate the simple things in life like cuddling while we read bedtime stories together;

Because of you, I have learned the importance of teaching young minds, and the true value in sacrificing for someone else;

Because of you, I have found the courage to face my fears, worked at becoming a better person and discovered true meaning in life;

You taught me about unconditional love by making me a mother, and so to you dear son, I am eternally grateful.

Love always,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Understanding the Complexties of Adultery

Over half the divorce cases I handle involve adultery, and over the past decade I have represented a fair amount of clients on both sides of this issue. My experience is that it is not the reason for the break down of the marriage, but rather a symptom of a larger issue that has gone unaddressed for some time.

Those that have committed the transgression typically fall into 2 distinct camps: 1) there are those who feel terribly guilty, and as a result may want to be far more generous than what would be considered reasonable from a legal perspective, and 2) those who feel that it was not at all their fault, this is what they were driven to do. Either way, with the person that has committed the affair, it is simply my job to explain how this may impact his/her divorce case, the process ahead, etc. Emotionally, the adulter is usually in a far better place than his/her spouse in the sense that this person has already moved on from the marriage. Emotionally, they have been detached for a while, and now they are usually relieved to end this dysfunctional charade. Dealing with the betrayed spouse, however, is far more complicated. Often times, they have just learned the news and are grappling with a million unanswered questions, mainly: 1) when did this start? 2) how did this happen? 3) where did it happen—was it within the home, at the office, or in a hotel? and 4) why? The person uncovering an affair is usually struggling emotionally, and therefore tends to present at the initial consult a bit unfocused, if not a complete basket case, and basically anything in between. The hardest thing to explain to the person that has been betrayed is that (in my opinion) adultery may not have the impact they think it will have on their case.

Divorce court is not criminal court, we are not here to punish the perpetrator of this offense. Judges and lawyers are so used to seeing some element of adultery in divorce cases, that it does not have the sensational affect it might have outside the legal arena. In my world, we see adultery as a symptom of a larger problem; we may actually be able to see how both people are at fault, we have come to accept that an “exit affair” is just the final excuse to leave after years of misery, and we not only distinguish between post-separation adultery versus adultery while the couple is still together, but also whether it was just an “emotional connection” versus actual penetration, sadly the latter being the one that actually counts in court while the former is the one that most wronged spouses want to be vindicated for in court. Ultimately, courts simply tend to focus on whether marital funds were spent to fund an extramarital relationship, and not much weight is given, if any, to the emotional impact on the spouse that endured this humiliation, who will probably struggle for quite sometime to rebuild his/her self confidence and trust in others.

The trust issue raised because of adultery definitely impacts the litigation of a divorce—and clients need to understand that there is a cost associated with trying to have the attorneys answer as many of their questions as possible, even when the relevance may not be significant, ie: sending subpoenas to email providers, culling through 10 years worth of credit card receipts, deposing work colleagues that may or may not have known about the affair. The most painful reality is that at the end of the day, the court may not be able to compensate someone who dedicated 20 faithful years to his/her family, only to have the other spouse run off with a younger model. The best advice I can give these clients is to seek counseling immediately, so that they can air their feelings, start the healing process, and hopefully get their emotions under control so that they can make sound financial decisions with respect to their legal divorce (which is different from the emotional divorce that may not come until much later.)

I am reminded of a quote I found in a fortune cookie not long ago: Love is like War, so easy to start, so difficult to stop. But I do see it as my job to stop the war, and not feed into the anger that my clients are feeling. People need a reality check-- a voice of reason. Sadly, life is not always fair, and the courthouse is not this great panacea that will make all things right. What may be morally correct, is not necessarily legally required. At the end of the day, what most people want when a significant relationship is dissolving is an apology, but that is not somethign anyone can mandate, and saying "I'm sorry" seems to be dwindling from most people's vocabularies these days.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lasting Impressions

I was having lunch with my step-brother the other day. We are only 10 years apart, but he is Gen Y, I am Gen X. It was amazing to see what a difference that can make when you think about the events that leave a lasting impression on a child.
I remember the Carter days, and everyone complaining about inflation. Then, Reagan became President, and delivered these great messages about hope. He had faith in American values and our future, and shortly thereafter, I saw the Berlin wall come down and the Cold War came to an end. We had a great economic boom in the 80's and 90's, which coincided with my formative academic years at Andover, Georgetown and GW Law School. When I graduated, there were plenty of jobs, and spirits were high. Then, the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in DC were hit on September 11, 2001, and everything changed.

For those of us lucky enough to remember the good times prior to September 11, 2001, I think we remain filled with hope and take solace in our memories of better days. But for those that lack those things, I'm not sure what guidance to provide. This has been a tough decade, and no one is sure how long it will be before we ever enjoy the economic prosperity of days gone by. All I can say, is that perhaps this economic downturn can be seen as an opportunity for everyone to truly consider what matters most to them. What I have learned is that none of things I care about the most came easily, and they also can't be taken away regardless of the state of our economy. No matter what, I have my education, life experiences, and great relationships. Those are the things that have left a lasting impression on me, and hopefully Gen Y and all future generations can take heart in that.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

10 Virtues of Being Married

The past several years, I have had the distinct vantage point of crossing over two separate worlds-- on alternating weekends I am surrounded by my happily married friends with children, then the next by single professionals in their 30's and 40's. As much fun as I have had with the latter group, I really have to thank the former one for keeping me grounded and sane.

As exciting as the whole dating game can be, it is not lost on me that the goal is in fact to find a life-long partner, and whenever I've found myself losing faith in that possibility, it is married friends that restore my faith in love and humanity.  It is these friends, who are truly reaping the joys of married life, that fill my heart with hope and help me remember the many benefits of being married.  Here are some of my favorites:

1. You do not have to face life's challenges alone-- you are part of a team;
2. You have a guaranteed date for weddings, galas, benefits, etc;
3. You can divide up the household chores;
4. You can plan trips, vacations, adventures together;
5. You can share in each other's success, and that of your children;
6. You can problem-solve together and bounce ideas off each other;
7. You have a sympathetic ear you can count on;
8. Staying home with your spouse on a Saturday night is perfectly ok;
9. You don't have to plan your own birthday party or get your own gifts; and
10. You never have to eat dinner alone, in silence.

We all know that marriage is hard-- there is a great deal of work required to make sure the lines of communication remain open and that neither one takes the other for granted. The art of compromise, and finding common ground is the key to a successful marriage, and it definitely is not easy to do this, but the payoff is huge. Americans are clearly aware of this, and that is why 85% of us get married and give it our best shot.

I am so proud of all my friends that have taken this plunge, and are making the effort to establish a work/life balance that promotes a healthy family lifestyle. You guys rock-- and if ever you want to hear a scary story about what it is like talking a walk on the other side, just give me a call, and I promise to talk you off the cliff!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Emotional Baggage

We each carry our own set of “emotional baggage” some just have heavier loads than others. Quite recently, a friend shared with me an analogy that has really proven useful with others. She said, “if you don’t empty out your suitcase after each trip, the suitcase will just get heavier and heavier with all that dirty laundry.
Sooner or later, a time will come when you need to face that mess.”

Well, from personal experience I just want to say that I wish I had faced my dirty laundry ages ago. Instead, it all exploded on me at once. Thankfully, I was surrounded by kind people willing to help me wash, fold and put away all that laundry. Finding healthy outlets is also key: exercising, writing and talking about our feelings are all great ways to deal with the pain and sorrow inflicted upon us by life’s challenges.

Another useful thing that I have learned is that anger is just a more aggressive way of exhibiting disappointment, and that actually stems from expectations we set and that are not met. What is noteworthy is that ending this horrible cycle is completely within our control—for if we do not set unrealistic expectations upon others, we are far less likely to be disappointed and/or angry. Trust me, it is a far healthier way to live.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Smart Women Date Inappropriate Men

Today I feel the need to explain why smart women would date inappropriate men. The short answer is so obvious: dating inappropriate guys is safe because you know you are never going to truly fall in love with them.

I could just leave it at that, but that is just not my style. An in depth analysis of this phenomenon, however, could easily be the subject of various dissertations, and I am not about to delve into such an endeavor here. I will say this-- my observation is that women that have good relationships with their fathers tend to cut guys a lot of slack; meanwhile, those like me, who grew up without fathers, or had poor relationships with their dads tend to subscribe to the general belief that "all men are pigs," and then we seek out the exceptions to that rule. I will proffer that the best approach is probably somewhere in the middle, and if you want to find a satisfying meaningful relationship, you need to take the time to reflect on past relationships with family, friends and former partners to figure out your own pattern. If you don't like what you see, it is totally within your control to change yourself.

One of my esteemed divorce colleagues told me that the reason we stay in business is because "women marry men thinking they will change; men marry women thinking that they won't." That insight is priceless! The fact is that we cannot change those around us-- you either accept someone the way that they are or you need to move on. On the other hand, men need to be prepared for the fact that motherhood will drastically change their wives. Raging hormones, sleep deprivation and the added stress of finding that perfect work/life balance, can send the best of us into a frenzy.

I would implore women to cut guys some slack-- most men are not trying to be jerks, they are just clueless. We speak totally different languages, and often we only hear what we want to hear from the other. Learning to communicate effectively takes time and effort. Our trainings also color our perception-- as a lawyer, I was trained to focus on words; meanwhile my psychologist friends were trained to look at behavior. I have learned that paying attention to both is your safest bet when trying to figure out another person and maintain a strong, healthy relationship.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dating in the 21st Century

When I was getting divorced, a friend of mine told me to brace myself for what it is like to date in the 21st century. While I was out of the game for 12 years, technology came along and changed everything. Now people use multiple online dating services and can queue up as many as 10 dates a week. People expect instant responses to texts, emails, Face Book messages, or cellular calls. She told me I would have to go on about 20 bad dates before I would meet someone half-way decent. I thought she was joking, but apparently not.

My happily married friends have been quite entertained the past several years with my dating stories. I share the stories with them in the hopes that they will stay together because dating in the 21st century is no picnic. We all joke that my search for Mr. Right has become a quest for finding a unicorn. Well, I will spare everyone here the details of what I have encountered, but I do feel compelled to warn others of some common red flag categories:

1. Married Men for Whom the Ring is Just an Accessory;
2. Rebound Guys;
3. Online Weirdos;
4. Socially Awkward Guys;
5. Control Freaks;
6. GIs (Geographically Inconvenient);
7. Insecure/Needy Guys;
8. Commitment Phobes;
9. Emotionally Unavailable/ Ambivalent Guys;
10. Pretty Boys (aka Players);
11. High Conflict Personalities (“HCPs”); or
12. Poor Communicators.

Ultimately, I believe dating is supposed to be hard, so that when you find that right person you do not take him/her for granted. I believe Dr. Kasl is right in her book “If the Buddha Dated” when she suggests that dating is a journey—and from each experience we learn something about what we need or what we cannot tolerate in our relationships. Dr. Gottman, author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, is also correct in his assertion that without the right conflict resolution skills and communication abilities a couple is doomed.

While it has been an interesting social experiment for me observing all these trends in dating, I have to be honest, I am truly disturbed by what I have seen. Technology has allowed people to expand their options, but it has also enabled people to lose sense of their accountability. Talking to strangers online about personal and/or inappropriate topics has somehow become mainstream. People have a false sense of intimacy just because they are friends on Facebook, or follow each other on Twitter, or text once a day-- you have to see each other and spend time together to form an intimate relationship. Furthermore, having multiple people in the mix at once is exhausting and prevents you from focusing on developing a meaningful relationship. Finally, it seems so many are treating one another like disposable tissue these days—but just because you can does not mean you should.

The best advice I can give someone in the dating world is to not take things too personally. If it does not work out with someone, you need to keep moving forward. If there are lots of arguments and problems in the beginning, listen to your gut. Dating is supposed to be fun, if it ceases to be that get out. When it is meant to be, trust yourself that you will know it.

At the end of one of my lectures, a law student asked me whether after everything I have seen and been through, "do you still believe in the institution of marriage?" Without hesitation I responded, "yes." There is nothing more spectacular in life than finding that special person that gets you-- one that you love, trust and respect, and cannot imagine living without. If I never find it again, that is okay, because I at least felt that once. Ultimately, I firmly believe that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In the Eye of the Storm

My father said to me recently, "sometimes we cannot see what everyone else arounds us sees because we are too caught up in our own lives." I have been telling my clients the same thing for over a decade. When they come to me, they are usually caught in the eye of a storm-- it is not just the legal reality of a divorce that is hitting them, but they are struggling with severe emotional and financial consequences that result from a separation. At this juncture, it is imperative that people seek out help from family, friends and trusted experts because it is simply humanly impossible to weather this storm alone.

I understand that it can be hard to ask for help.  For most of my life, I have gotten by trying to rely on my own resources. By not expecting anything from anyone else, I was less likely to be disappointed. But it has been a very lonely road, and while professionally I've gained tremendous recognition the last several years, in my personal life I had to face some of the worst challenges ever as a result of the economy tanking and major family developments that required immediate attention. Without the help of others, I never would have gotten through all the personal setbacks suffered last year. To need help from others can be a very humbling experience-- no doubt I needed that.

Now that I think the storm is a bit more behind me, I am able to see the big picture. When people ask me how I have managed to get through everything I have been through, all I can really truly say is I did not get this far on my own.  No one can navigate through life operating as if s/he lives on a solitary island-- especially when you are in the eye of a storm.  With the right help, you can get through it, and after the storm has passed you will see things much more clearly.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Family Connections

Last night, I received confirmation that I have indeed found my father-- 99.999% sure based on our DNA test. All of a sudden, I have a father, a step-mother, an aunt, an uncle, 2 cousins, a step-brother here in DC, and a half brother in London. I spoke to 6 of the 8 last night, and everyone was so happy. My aunt joked that we should send out a birth announcement:"It is a girl! She is 5'4", and weighs over 100 lbs." She is hilarious!

Apparently, making jokes about some of our greatest sources of pain is a trait that runs in my family. It has been a coping mechanism that I have used all my life, and perhaps now everyone around me can understand a little bit better why I appreciate irony so much-- it seems to be a common theme in my life. In 2005, when I got divorced, not ony did I un-do the vows of marriage, but I also severed the ties with my husband's family, who had become mine over the twelve years that we were together. So many people have asked me my divorce was such a traumatic event for me-- well, perhaps now it all makes more sense-- for unlike so many, I did not have my own family to fall back on. The safety net that most people take for granted their whole lives has never been there for me.

So here I am now as an adult, with a child of my own, about to embark on a new journey. I am about to learn something most of you have enjoyed all your lives, and that I have always envied. For the first time ever, the word "father" actually means something real and personal to me. He is the one I look like, the one I think like, and the one I am finally learning to understand. The greatest irony here is that I am a family law attorney, who is just about to learn what it really means to be a family. All these years, I have helped people renegotitate their family ties when they separate, and in my lectures and writings I advocate for people to collaborate in order to minimize the negative impacts of the separation for their children's sake. But for the first time ever, I am going to have to learn how to pull a family together-- reuniting everyone after all these years not just for my son's sake, but actually for myself.