Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Divorcing in a Bad Economy

When I first started practicing family law over a decade ago, most people had equity in their homes and decent amounts in their retirements/pensions. When there was plenty to divide, splitting up was not so painful, and my job was a lot less complicated.

These days, a lot of people are facing short sales or foreclosures because their homes are underwater. Retirement accounts have lost a fair amount of value in the last couple of years, and good pensions are rare. People are unsure about their job security and their future, and as a result, I think fewer people are making the drastic decision to separate and divide into two separate homes. As long as they don't ignore the issues in the marriage, and make an effort to address the problems in the relationship, I think this is a good thing; if they don't the whole arrangement is eventually going to fall apart.

When the decision is made to divorce, there is a lot the couple can do to minimize the legal expenses. First, if they can agree to go to a mediator, they will only being paying for that one professional's time as opposed to each incurring legal fees with their own attorneys. Second, if one person wants to consult with an attorney first and have a Separation Agreement drafted, the other partner can then set up a consult with an attorney of his/her own choosing simply to review the proposal. Ultimately, the more negotiating the parties can do on their own and the more information they can exchange freely and voluntarily about their income, assets and liabilties, the less they will have to spend paying professionals to do this. Third, for parents with young children, they may want to consider consulting a mental health professional trained in child development, who can help them work out a Parenting Plan that will include an appropriate time-sharing arrangement. Fourth, couples that do not want to litigate, but need the advice of their independant counsel to help in a mediation-style dispute resolution format may want to consult with attorneys that are Collaborative Professionals to see if a Collaborative Divorce is a viable alternative to litigation. Finally, when all else fails, even in litigation couples can minimize their expenses by using mutually agreed to evaluators, appraisers, and other experts.

Divorcing with an attorney is a luxury these days. While you may not be able to afford to retain one for a full-blown litigated case, it is worthwhile getting a consult, learning about your options, and then formulating a strategy that works within your budget. For most cases where people want to minimize the expenses, opting for mediation or a Collaborative Divorce will certainly help preserve more of the family's wealth than going to court.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Gift of Love and Inner Peace

It has been 3 months since I reconnected with my father, and my half-brother has now had a little over a month to get used to the notion of having me as a big sister. Whenever people ask me how it is all going, I am just beaming with joy as I share the latest updates. The best part is knowing that there is this whole network of people that actually care about me, and want to share their stories with me and hear how things are going here in DC.

I sent my brother a care package the other day with some silly things; I created a mini wedding album for my aunt, who seemed sad that she'd missed that day in my life; and I just recreated a baby album covering my son's first 7 years for Father's Day. None of them expected any of these gifts, and that is what I appreciate the most about them all-- they do not expect anything from me, but simply because I am family, they love me, and I whole-heartedly reciprocate the sentiment.

As all this is settling in, my son asked me to explain "inner peace" after he heard the term while watching Kung Fu Panda. He actually picked the best time to ask that question, and without hesitation I said, "inner peace is hard to find, but it is when you can let go of all your anger/disappointment and just enjoy a heart full of love." He asked me if I have found inner peace, and I honestly told him that it took me 38 years to find it, but by discovering my family, I have finally been able to let go of all the past disappointments and enjoy the discovery of unconditional love. The journey was certainly long and difficult, but to hear my dad say, "I love you" after all these years, is truly priceless.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Keeping Scorecards on Dates

As a joke a while back, someone got me a note pad labeled "Rate-A-Date" where I could keep score for dates based on various categories. I was not particularly fond of the actual categories or the format, but I did like the concept, so I'll admit that over the years I have kept my own scorecard for each person that I've dated, and I recommend that anyone in the dating world should do the same.

Whether we openly admit it or not, we all keep some running tally of points someone is earning or losing based on how they act on a date. Of course we all remember the first impression- was this person punctual, appropriately dressed, well-mannered? Then we start to decipher how easy it is to get along with the other-- does the conversation flow easily? Do we share the same sense of humor? Was there any chemistry? In addition to all these questions, I would suggest that it is important to note the level of involvement in coming up with a plan (date, time, activity) and the level of follow through after each date.

We all take off points for different things, so I won't even try to come up with a list of pet peeves-- let's just accept that mine would be several pages long.  The thing is, in the past, I would have told you that you have to pick your battles, and that you should not be too harsh in your score-keeping, but now I think I would say the opposite-- if seemingly little things keep nagging at you, don't ignore your feelings.  Don't try to rationalize away your concerns.  Sometimes, it is not so easy to get a full view of the big picture problem, but something deep inside is trying to tell you that there is something off-- and if that is really how you feel, go with your gut.

Now, if you really like someone and there are some issues that perhaps can be chalked up to a misunderstanding or mis-communication, then I think it is only fair to warn someone that they are hitting one of your buttons.  Something that might not seem like a big deal to you, may be major to someone else, so just address the issue by asking questions, without passing judgment.  People will be far more open and less on the defense about their views if you appear to genuinely show curiosity about how they feel or think about a particular topic.  And in the end, it may be that you just agree to disagree-- as long as you each stay true to your own values and can work out solutions to issues, you don't have to see everything exactly the same way.

In the end, especially in the early stages of dating, I think you should keep it simple-- try to adopt a 3 strikes you are out rule. It is not meant to be harsh, it is supposed to just keep the game moving along.  If someone is getting on your nerves early on, that is not a good sign.  You should not have to keep convincing yourself to give someone another shot.  If you are not impressed after the 3rd date, what makes you think you will be impressed after 3 months, unless you just want to keep things casual, have some fun, but even then I promise you this person is going to keep getting on your nerves and the shelf life of this FTF relationship will have a limited shelf life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Knowing Your Own Deal Breakers

For those of us that enjoy learning about another person, and like sharing stories, playing 20 questions is just plain fun. For others, I realize this exercise is just plain torture. So perhaps to minimize the pain, I can offer a few tips:

1. Know your own story ahead of time-- have the answers ready for basic questions about your background, family, work, hobbies/interests, and future goals.

2. Have your questions ready- what answers will best help you determine if this is someone you are interested in seeing again?

3. Be aware of the top 5 characteristics you are looking for in a partner.

4. Understand your own dealbreakers-- these are things you cannot negotiate on.

Learning my own dealbreakers took me a long time, and sometimes I cannot decipher right away whether someone has a trait I'm not willing to tolerate. You cannot always tell within the first few dates if someone has a house in complete disarray, suffers from depression or other emotional issues, is an addict, player, or compulsive liar, or maybe is a financial disaster. There are some things that simply can only be discovered over time.

Usually, people are on their best behavior during the first three months in dating, which is why it is called "the honeymoon phase." As the glow starts to wear off, I encourage everyone to look at their partners carefully-- there might be some traits you thought were dealbreakers, but now you have learned to compromise on certain points. That shows growth and progress, but if there are other traits that you cannot ignore and live with, be true to yourself. Do not delude yourself into thinking you can change another; you can only change yourself. If someone has hit a true dealbreaker of yours, you need to be able to walk away-- preferably not just by leaving a sticky note or sending a one line text.

Monday, May 23, 2011

June Weddings

When I was a little girl, I was a flower girl in a wedding. That, to me was my day to be a princess. I was in a beautiful dress, everyone was complimenting me, and my job was simply to drop rose petals along the way. Meanwhile, I was totally oblivious to any drama around me. Two years ago, these memories came rushing back when I saw my son running around the Fairmont Hotel in DC waiting for his cue to play his part as the ring bearer at my friend's wedding. He was just as clueless as I was at his age as to the magnitude of the event we were about to witness.

At my own wedding, I was so stressed by the prospect of having to rely on so many strangers to carry out various key tasks that would make the wedding come together, that the night of my rehearsal dinner, I lost my voice. So in the end, while everyone actually did show up to perform his/her own part in the wedding day, it was I that barely managed to say "I do" the two words formally required to complete the ceremony. After that, I realized that it no longer mattered whether everything was perfect, as long as everyone had some fun.

I have lost count at this point as to how many weddings I have attended, and I rarely remember the flowers, the invitations, the toasts, the food, the bands or even the venues (all major sources of arguments for months leading up to the big day), but I always remember the bright smiles of the brides and grooms as they walk down that aisle together for the first time as husband and wife, or when they have their first dance.

Ultimately, my theory is that it is not a real wedding unless there is some drama. The only ones that will be truly oblivious of this fact will be the children, the rest will just all find it a source of mild entertainment. So, as long as the bride and groom do not lose their voices or tempers at the alter, who cares what else happens?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trying to Make Sense of the World

It has taken me years to get my son to the point where he can now walk, talk, eat, shower, dress and entertain himself for a while, but now that we finally have the basics covered, life is really getting interesting. Every day I get bombarded with serious questions about life, as he clearly starts to try to make sense of the world around him. Of course, little does he realize that this is going to become a life long mission.

As I try my best to provide answers that will help my son understand his surroundings, I am reminded of all the wonderful teachers I had in my own childhood that helped shaped my ideas. I am also grateful for the lessons provided by my peers. My best friend from boarding school once told me, "the best thing about you Gina is that you not only learn from your mistakes, but from all of those around you." She is right, I spend a lot of time observing and trying to learn from the mistakes of others, and in the past decade I have seen some of the most brilliant people in DC make some of the worst mistakes in their personal lives. That might seem odd, but it is actually quite easy to explain-- these people are methodical and logical in their work-related decisions, but their personal life decisions are based on emotions. Unfortunately, when we make decisions based on our emotions, we are not thinking with the front part of our brains, which govern logic.

I am not trying to advocate that we become a bunch of emotionless robots-- honestly, I think what makes life so interesting is the way we each express ourselves and our feelings. As all the Shakespeare plays illustrate, life is the great stage in which our passions our played out. This is of course, a much easier lesson to teach to a seventeen year old versus a seven year old, but at any age the point that needs to be made is that human beings are complicated creatures, and we do not all have the same emotional or intellectual capacities. We may never make sense of those around us, but what we can do is try to give ourselves enough time to understand our own thoughts and emotions, find the best ways to express them, and somehow find a way to protect our inner tranquility while enveloped by the chaos created by others.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In Dating, Timing Is Everything

We have all heard the saying "timing is everything," and no where is that truer than in dating. How long it takes you to respond to an email, text or phone call are all taken into consideration, and will play a factor in the other's willingness to move things forward and/or make time to see you. Then, once you have moved beyond the initial phase of drinks, dinner, an activity together, seeing where you each live, and you have developed a predictable pattern for interacting, the timing of certain delicate conversations will also be critical. You don't want to have the exclusivity conversation too soon, but if the thought of seeing other people is no longer of interest, and you want to make sure that the person you are dating feels the same way, then you do need to bring this up-- but before you do, you should make sure you choose your words carefully and think about the overall situation.

If you are dating someone that is recently divorced, they are probably not interested in jumping into a committed relationship right away. Respecting the other's position, and being understanding, is critical in any relationship. I believe those that are forced to commit to an exclusive relationship before both parties are ready to do so are doomed. Most of us hate ultimateums, and love is really something that has to be freely given-- you cannot demand it of anyone.

To successfully navigate a relationship with another, there has to be a meeting of the minds. Too often I see people try to dominate their partners, shove their own wants/needs ahead of everything else. Dominating, narcisstic control freaks seem to be in high supply-- and those traits may serve them well in their professional lives, but I assure you that will not be the case in the dating world.

Sadly, the longer people are out establishing their careers, and the more successful they become in their professions, I believe the greater the odds that the power they achieve corrupts them, and the more likely they are of losing any sense of humility. This in turn, makes dating later in life that much harder, but I would urge people to remember the saying "better to be alone than in poor company."

In the end, remember that life is not a race. Enjoy the journey, and wait for the right one. While you patiently wait for that moment, make sure you find some good friends, who can share in the laughter as you recount the stories of all the freaks and pscyhos that will cross your path.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's In It For Me?

It may sound like a harsh question: what is in it for you? Yet, it is a totally legitimate one-- in just about everything. We work for compensation; we derive pleasure from the relationships we choose to maintain; we volunteer for causes we care about. It is a perfectly normal part of human nature to ask ourselves this question before we take on a task or decide to alter our status quo.

Lately, so many have asked me this question in the context of trying to understand why after 38 years I would risk opening Pandora's box by seeking out my father. As my dad himself stated so bluntly, "someone had to break the ice after all these years. I never would have done it, but I'm glad you did." Well, it actually felt more like I'd broken through a glacier with bear hands, yet I am glad I did it too, especially given how it has all turned out, however, I did not do it entirely for me. Yes, after all these years I wanted to understand what happened between my parents, and I wanted to know basic information about my family, but really I did it for my son's sake, so he would not have to carry on a life sentence wondering so many things the way I did all these years.

We all have our reasons for doing things, and we all have different motivations. In my life, I have found the greatest inspiration is my son. For him, I found the strength to open up the deepest wound I silently carried all these years, and now to him I owe the greatest thanks for helping me find my family and internal peace. Not only do I feel it, but everyone around me has noticed a difference-- there is a tranquility within that I never had before; it is like I ran the marathon of my life, and I can finally allow myself to take a break.

There is a beautiful truth in life (which I was reminded of today while watching a cartoon with my son): when in your darkest hour, you can find hope from within, that is true inner strength. Six years ago as my marraige unraveled, I felt like I was living a modern-day version of the Story of Job. But now I realize that perhaps I had to lose it all in order to want to find my own family, and in the process I also found myself.

Playing the Numbers Game

The past several years, I have heard a lot of people talk about how dating is all a numbers game, and then I have had others say you can't get too hung up on the numbers, you just need to find one. Well, while I agree with the latter point, I also think it is worthwhile knowing the former by running an analysis. So here it is:

Only about 9.5% of us Americans have a graduate degree, and only about 15% of U.S. households have an income greater than $100,000. While there may be some that fall into one category but not the other, let's just assume that 15% of the population have shared interests and values, such as higher education and a certain standard of living. To keep my math simple, I am going to proffer that half are men, the other half women (although there are various statistics that show that there are greater percentanges of women graduating with higher degrees these days). This leaves professional women with only 7.5% of the male population as potential candidates if they want an equal partner, and obviously the longer you wait, the less of them remain on the market. By the time I factor in geographic desirability, chemistry, desired age, etc. I realize I am down to probably less than 1% of the U.S. population, maybe even less if a true math genius took the time to calculate this accurately for me.

Needless to say, the numbers analysis can be very disheartening for a lot of professional women. In the end though, it is important to remember two things: (1) better to be alone than in poor company; and (2) dating is a lot like the lotto-- you can't ever win unless you play the game.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Is Your Love Language?

The other day, some of my friends were talking about "The Five Love Languages" written by Dr. Gary Chapman. According to his theory, there are 5 ways in which most people register another's expression of love: (1) Words of Affirmation; (2) Quality Time; (3) Receving Gifts; (4) Acts of Service or (5) Physical Touch. If you go to www.5lovelanguages.com you can actually take a quick test to assess your own love language.

It was of no surprise to me that what matters to me most is quality time, and what matters to me least are gifts or acts of service. I am used to being quite independant and getting my own things, much to the chagrin of many past dates, but time spent together is what I treasure most, and sadly it is so hard to find these days. Juggling work and family obligations leaves us all with very little spare time, yet I firmly believe that when the right one comes along, we will make the time.

For those who have already found their life partner, it might still be worth exploring how you express your love versus how your partner wishes you to show your love, because the two may not be the same. Learning what the other one needs and perhaps adapting your behavior to help meet that need is perhaps the greatest act of kindness, which will benefit both parties. This can also be applied in a parent-child relationship. For example, my son takes our quality time for granted right now, and he is not a big fan of hugs, but I know he loves receiving words of affirmation. Trained as a gymnast/dancer, who was always criticized by coaches and judges on a quest for perfection, giving compliments is not something that comes naturally to me, but because I realize my son needs words of praise, over the past few years I have transformed my vocabulary into one full of accolades.

Transformation is not easy, and it will take time. Be patient with yourself and others as you try to learn each other's love languages. There will undoubtedly come points of frustration-- that is normal. Enduring relationships of any kind are usually quite challenging, but just keep in mind that the best things in life rarely come easily.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Working Backwards

Over the years, my friends have dubbed me "Julie McCoy Cruise Director." For those of you who did not watch The Love Boat, she was the one in charge of planning events on board the ship. I have always enjoyed having things to look forward to, so it is my way of creating an incentive for getting through a rough week or whatever period of time is involved. Also by planning ahead, I can work backwards to figure out the steps necessary to get to my desired outcome.

I do not expect everyone to be as much of a planner as me, and quite honestly I love those that are more spontaneous and easy going. However, in my professional life, I am often amazed at how little planning people have put into their own retirements or their children's college education. Doctors, lawyers, CPAs, you name it are all over-extending themselves paying for fancy cars, huge mortgages, nice vacations, and meanwhile they are putting next to nothing aside for a rainy day.

Working with financial planners all these years has taught me the value of their services. They are able to generate calculations that predict what college will cost in ten years, or how much you need to have in retirement to continue to live a reasonable lifestyle. It may not be numbers we want to hear, but I think it is better to have the information and try to figure out remedies now versus waiting until it is too late.

In cases involving nasty custody disputes, I always encourage people to look into the future-- to try and picture a child's college graduation or wedding, and to try and set as a goal the possibility of being able to attend such events with their former spouse, without causing any drama for the child on these special days. Of course everyone always wants that, but then the point I need to stress is that you need to lay the ground work ahead of time so that when the day actually comes, that hope can become a reality.

Some people find the future so scary and unpredictable, that they just want to focus on the day to day tasks at hand. I see points in the future as goal posts, and the sooner we can visualize them, the sooner we can plan a way to achieve our goals.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Preserving Memories

For each year of my son's life, I have an album with pictures from the various events that transpired throughout his life. Now we get to look back at these albums together and remember our favorite moments at the beach or celebrating special occassions and holidays.

As more people have come to rely on digital photos, I find that fewer people are actually printing out photos. They tend to share them via email and post them on Facebook, which is fantastic, but what happens if our computer systems crash or Facebook dies out or the formats we currently use change and somehow these pictures get wiped out?

I also have a pet peeve about the reliance of texts and emails, for the very same reason. These days so many people communicate electronically, and of course I can see how amazing it is to have instant communication, but I worry about the loss of memories. How many people actually print out emails of love?

During my Spring cleaning process, I have enjoyed reading old love letters or poems written by past loves, and finding pictures of them now brings back fond memories of those youthful days, long gone. I am convinced I would not have saved these things digitally, and that would have been a significant personal loss.

In the end, I am not trying to promote a hoarding complex, and I certainly hope everyone enjoys the benefits of modern technology. I just want to suggest that for our own sake, for our families, and for the generations that come after us, we may want to actually hang on to just a few keepsakes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Road That Lies Ahead

These past few weeks, as I have been working to recreate some albums for my family by sorting through old pictures and boxes of sentimental keepsakes from my days in high school, college and law school, it has felt a lot like a trip back in time to a part of my life when things were a lot less complicated. No one warned me that life in my 30's would become so difficult-- so many responsibilities to tackle while trying to balance work and home life, while also finding time for myself and dealing with setbacks or losses. But I take solace in the fact that if I have come this far, against all odds, then surely I can handle whatever lies ahead.

Some of my friends are feeling a bit lost about how to navigate life now that there is no roadmap. So many of us took comfort in knowing that there was a plan- you get through school, get a good job, get married, buy a house, and form a family. Most of us in our 30's have diligently been crossing these things off our list, but now we realize that there is not a strict timeline or plan for what should happen next. This can be a great source of anxiety for some, but I see it as a great opportunity to now truly be the masters of our own destiny.

I have no idea what lies ahead, but taking a look into the past has brought me great comfort. Looking back has helped remind me of all the wonderful people that crossed my path all these years, and reading all the loving letters and post cards from friends from years ago has helped reassure me that the best part of this long journey we are each on is that we do not have to travel it alone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Amicable Splits

Today we learned that Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger have agreed to an amicable separation. Some are shocked that this could happen after 25 years together, others just do not understand how there can be any amicable divorces. Of course, I am not suprised by either possibility as this is part of my every day life.

In my experience, the top five reasons people split are as follows: (1) lack of communication; (2) bad conflict-resolution skills; (3) they grow apart, pursuing different interests or goals; (4) intimacy issues; (5) an irreparable loss of trust and respect. Realizing that these issues exist often takes time, and then many try to ignore the problems or just hope that it is a phase that will go away shortly. As time passes, many are willing to stick with the status quo in order to avoid change-- it seems transitions are not just a challenge for toddlers. Unfortunately, as is true with any problem that does not get addressed right away, these issues just get worse. Small communication issues eventually lead to a complete break down in conversations; on-going battles that end badly lead to resentment; if you do everything separately, eventually someone will ask why even bother staying together? Intimacy issues left unattended will lead someone to go astray; and if you lose trust and respect, the next thing to happen will be to fall out of love.

People tend to focus a lot on the symptoms of a bad marriage-- like an affair, and they often mistake that as the reason for a divorce. For those of us that are in the divorce business, we see it differently. Luckily, there are many incredibly mature, insightful clients that are able to see the actual causes for the breakdown of their marriage, and they can also appreciate that they want to end their partnership in a respectful, dignified fashion. In fact, the statistics show that 33% of all couples will choose a Cooperative/Collaborative divorce, whereas only 20% of all divorces are considered high-conflict. That leaves the other 47% to fill in the spectrum in between, and it is my sincere hope that with the right guidance, they will gravitate as much as possible towards a collaborative/cooperative divorce.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Taking Love For Granted

As children, most people grow up believing they can count on the love of their families. Regardless of what happens, most people believe their families will always be in their lives. Perhaps because of this view on family love, after the honeymoon phase is over, a lot of partners start taking each other for granted. But as a wise psychologist friend once told me, "love is like a plant. If you do not water it and give it sunlight, it will die."

I have seen more than my fair share of death and destruction in relationships. It is an unfortunate reality of life, and sometimes a necessity when we need to cut out sources of pain in order to survive. As a result, I would suggest that a far healthier approach to take in love is to let go of the notion of unconditional love. If we accept that all relationships are conditioned on maintaining a certain level of mutual respect, trust and shared interest, then perhaps we can keep ourselves more in check to ensure that we are fulfilling our part of the bargain.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Remembering Our Past Lives

Twenty years ago, I retired from the competitive world of rhythmic gymnastics. Those who knew me back in the 1980's remember me traveling around the country, spending summers at the Olympic Training Center or in Sofia, Bulgaria with the World Championship team. It was an incredibly time-consuming endeavor, and I learned a great deal about discipline, routines, planning, etc. Unfortunately, between my academics and gymnastics, I have very little time for much else in my life.

At 18, when I left gymnastics behind to focus on my studies at Georgetown, a huge part of my identity was lost. For years, all my trophies, ribbons, photos, certificates of achievement and various newspaper articles remained in sealed boxes. I guess it was too painful for me to go through these things. Yet somehow, in the past few weeks, as I have been trying to explain my journey to my new family, I finally found the will to go through all the boxes and organize all these amazing momentos from my past life as an athlete.

As I culled through all the newspaper articles and photos, I started to remember fondly all the people that came into my life during those years. I have no idea where any of these individuals are now, or what they are doing, but I am so eternally grateful for the time we spent together.

Throughout this cleansing process, my son has asked me a lot about this past life of mine. It must be so funny to him to see his mom in this different light. Meanwhile, I have actually found it quite entertaining to re-live some of those moments and share stories about what life was like back then. For those of you who saw Black Swan and thought that was intense-- let me just say that was nothing compared to what I saw and experienced in the world of competitive sports filled with judges, score-cards, and nasty team rivalries.

In the end, I learned a lot from my years as an athlete, and a lot of the skills acquired back then have definitely served me well in my professional life, but I cannot say I wish the same for my child. There is something to be said for sleeping in on a Sunday, playing Wii or some board games at home, just heading to the park and having a spontaenous meet up with friends. It took me years to learn to appreciate having some down time, and to respect that not everyone needs or desires such an intense level of activity.

The beauty of taking this trip down memory lane is that it has truly allowed me to measure how far I have come in life. Twenty-five years ago, the New York Post did a feature story about me pursuing an Olympic dream. I never made the cut to go to the Olympics, and I wondered for many years if I had disappointed everyone around me. The fact is it really should not matter-- I only need to ask myself whether I am disappointed in where I am in life. Today, the only regret I have is that I did not seek my family out sooner, but rather than dwell on the time lost, I prefer to focus on the future, and all the great material I have just uncovered for my son and his uncles to make fun of me.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dating Professional Women

There seems to be a major disconnect between what guys think professional women in their 30's want, and what professional women in their 30's actually expect from men. So, without turning over the complete playbook, in the spirit of helping bridge the gap, let me share 5 helpful tips:

1. Chivalry Should Not Be Dead- We all know that women are graduating at the same, if not greater rates than their male counterparts in most colleges and graduate schools. Also, thanks to Title IX, we can play any sport we want. Of course we can open our own doors, and pay for our own drinks, but that does not mean we should on a date. When we are "off the clock" most of us actually want the guy to drive, open the doors, say something nice about what we are wearing, pay for the first few dates, and yes, make the first move.

2. Plan Ahead- Those of us with intense jobs tend to have crazy schedules. So, last minute offers to meet up may just not work, not that we don't want them to, it is simply that it is not possible.

3. Communication is Key- If someone is used to a fast-pace situation during the day, it usually means that this carries through outside of work. In other words, waiting days to respond to an email, going MIA ("Missing In Action") for a week, or never responding to a text, is just not going to go over well. Furthermore, after a date, most of us still believe it is the guy's duty to send a follow up message.

4. Honesty is the Best Policy- Don't try to sugarcoat things with us. Remember, to prove ourselves in the academic and professional world, we have learned to roll with the punches. If you want something casual, just say it. If you want to keep your options open for awhile, no one should fault you for that. If things are not working out for you, we may be willing to try and work on things, or we may agree that it is best to just move on.

5. More than Just Eye Candy- Most women appreciate being admired for their beauty, but professional women also want recognition for their brains. It is hard to keep conversations "light and fluffy"; it is just not what made us who we are- rather it is precisely our ability to talk about books, politics, religion, individual rights, and public policies that have shaped our careers and lives. For this very reason, few of us can tolerate dating guys that can't go deep on these topics, or who just want a trophy wife.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Joys of Motherhood

Given that Mother's Day is just a few days away, I want to share a poem that I wrote for my son to help explain why motherhood itself is the best gift he 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,

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

7 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations

We all have moments in our lives when people will disappoint us, or we feel hurt by them, but not everyone is capable of having difficult conversations to confront the issues before it is too late. Here are some tips I have learned throughout the years thanks to countless seminars, psychology books, and my Collaborative experiences:

1. When dealing with people that are upset, it is best to remember keep your statements brief, informative, friendly, but firm. Bill Eddy refers to this as BIFF statements.

2. When someone is emotionally flooding, they only retain 25% of what you are saying, so try to keep the message clear and simple.

3. We cannot un-do the past, so there is no point in dwelling on it. Instead it is more productive to focus on the future.

4. Look at the positives-- try to look at resolving conflict as an opportunity for growth.

5. Keep focusing on your "I" statements; in other words, you want to express how you feel and what your perspective is on a situation.

6. Try to avoid attacking a person- they will simply react badly. If you truly want to invite an open dialogue, you need to make it clear that what you want to do is understand each person's perspective.

7. Weigh the pros and cons to having the dicussion versus leaving things alone. I often tell my clients and friends that they need to pick their battles. In each situation with friends or family, we need to do a cost-benefit analysis-- the cost of doing nothing & letting more time pass without any resolution can have incredibly severe consequences.

Ultimately, despite my best efforts, sometimes people cannot have these difficult conversations, but at least I can look back and know that I tried to invite the dialogue. I don't believe in living with regrets, and I do believe that most people are well-intentioned, it is just that we do not always see things the same way. What may seem like a minor thing to one person is huge to another. Making the effort to understand one another's perspective, and to forgive one another for past mistakes, goes a long way in building strong relationships.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Answering the Question "Who am I"?

Life's journey is about discovering and defining ourselves, and hopefully finding the answer to the question we will so often be asked by others we encounter, "who are you?" Obviously, this answer will change depending on the stage of life we are in when asked the question. I will suggest that most from ages 10-20 are focused on their studies and figuring out what they want to do for work. In our 20's, it is normal to focus on building our careers and having some fun, especially when you finally have achieved independence and earned some real spending money. In our 30's, I find we tend to focus inward-- on buidling our own families and striking that perfect work-life balance.

While I have generally had a pretty good idea of who I am, and the direction I wanted for my life, I do not think it has ever been clearer to me than now. As my new-found family tries to figure me out, I have been quite amused by some of the questions asked, particularly by my brother, such as what was I like growing up, am I religious, or am I a "card carrying feminist"? The funny thing is, my own son is starting to ask some of these same questions, and it is really for his sake that I am so glad I have these answers ready. For children to find their own identity, they need to understand their parents, and then they can hopefully take from each one the characteristics they wish to emulate.

When asked which of my values I hope my son will have when he is in his 30's, here are my top three: (1) education; (2) family; and (3) a sense of community. I hope he never loses a thirst for knowledge, that he will not only want to form his own family, but also maintain the family connections already in place for him, and that he will want to be a contributing member of society. Thankfully, if he ever needs to further explanation or proof about my commitment to these ideals, there is quite a paper trail showing who I am: I got a scholarship at 14 that changed my life forever. I went on to become a family lawyer in the nation's capitol seeking to promote the importance of education, children's rights and a women's ability to pursue her own dreams.

Whatever someone decides to do with his/her own life, we have to find a way to accept each person's right to choose, and as parents we have to be able to let our children find themselves. Once we reach the point in our lives where we are able to accept others as they are and ourselves for who we have become, that is when we are in the best position ever to find true love.