Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Emotional Overload

After 27 years, my brother finally got to spend a week getting to know his big sister and little nephew. We were thrilled to have him visit us and show him around DC. We got to take in many of the sites, and do fun things that we have missed out on all these years. It was an incredible, life-altering experience, that will last with me forever, but I understand that to fully process what just happened will take some time.

My situation is perhaps a bit extreme, but many of us in our lifetime will have an incredibly emotional experience that will require us to slow down from our normal routine way of life in order to allow our brains to think through our feelings and any new information gleaned from the situation at hand.

It is sadly my experience that men do not allow themselves much time to decompress. Most men I know simply unwind by watching a movie in silence or vegging out in front of the tv. Meanwhile, women are much better about planning trips to the spa, a Girls Night Out with friends, making time to go to the gym, write in a journal or just pull out a box of tissues and have a good cry. But, in relationships with men, they often want to talk about something upsetting right away, they can be very clingy, and often they suffocate a relationship by not allowing the other the space he needs to work things out in his own head.

For relationships to thrive, I think it is important to understand that we all process information and emotions at different rates and in a variety of ways. We need to be sensitive to each other's needs, be honest with one another when we need space or time on our own, repect our differences and encourage our partners to be kind to themselves, without passing judgment on how we may each choose to unwind.

My brother and I are not wired the same, and I think many people were concerned about how we would get along this week, but by being open and honest with each other about our needs and respecting each other's boundaries, we got through an incredibly emotional week together with a far deeper sense of understanding and love than I ever could have imagined.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Importance of Sharing Stories

One of my friends told me the other day how much he admired my courage in sharing my story about finding my family. Without hesitating, I responded that it had nothing to do with courage-- to me there is no other justification for the long and difficult journey I had to travel unless I could live to tell the tale and hopefully inspire others in their own lives.

Throughout life what I have enjoyed the most are people's stories. You have all taught me so much by sharing your experiences with me. Granted, in my professional life, I hear some of the sadest tales ever, and yet I am filled with hope as my clients manage to put the past behind them, overcome their sorrows, and look to the future with the promise of better days ahead. I think my own father said it best, "life is not easy, but you have to keep fighting." Recently, my own brother told me the same thing.

In order to find the strength to keep moving forward, sometimes we all need a little help and inspiration. I used to think I had to be a self-sufficient island, but I have humbly learned these past few years that I cannot do everything alone. We need each other-- both to share in moments of joy and help cope with life's sorrows. By sharing our stories with others, we can hopefully gain a better understanding of one another and learn from each other's mistakes and success stories. Our stories bind us, and together we can help make the journey that lies ahead seem far less daunting and lonely.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Moment of Shear Bliss

I have previously stated how life in my 30's has been full of bittersweet moments. To be honest, these kinds moments have occurred ever since I went off to boarding school at age 14. I was so excited to go to Andover, yet sad to leave home-- especially my grandmother. Each graduation thereafter was marked with sadness at the thought of leaving my beloved learning institutions, even as I was enjoying the sense of accomplishment with the receipt of each new diploma. When I got married, I was happy, but also nervous, and the same was true when I had my son, with each new job, etc. But for the first time in ages, I've been given a moment of shear bliss-- after all these years, I have finally connected with my brother.

It is hard to imagine what it must be like for a 27 year old man to learn all of sudden that he has a half sister across the Atlantic. All of the sudden, just when he probably thought he had things figured out, I have entered his life and made him an uncle in the process. Having had just 2 months to digest this news, as we developed our connection via emails, Skype and Facebook, he then took the biggest leap of faith any man has ever taken in my lifetime-- he bought a ticket and crossed the big pond to come meet me!

Thankfully, I was able to shed my tears prior to his arrival at the airport. That first hug was the most amazing moment in my life, and in that instant it confirmed what I had suspected for some time. Unlike any other man that has entered my life before, where I have had to determine if it was worthwhile creating a friendship, partnership, or professional relationship, this one does not have to worry about me passing any judgments-- by the very fact that he is my brother, he has my unconditional love.

These days, we are all so cautious, and while I do believe that it wise to think before acting, it is also important to make sure we don't over-analyze things. Some people worry so much about situations that they become paralyzed-- utterly unable to make any decisions or changes in their lives. My brother could have easily said that he would see me during the holidays or whenever I am visiting his country, or he could have sat around for months letting the news sink in and cautiously allowed our relationship to build over time via emails, calls, etc., but instead he went full steam ahead and got on the first flight he could manage to come and meet me, making me in the process the happiest woman in the world. Perhaps we should all take a page from his book!

Monday, June 20, 2011

10 Signs That Things Are Getting Serious

Watching love stories unfold is always so fascinating.  After the first few dates, if someone is true partner material, s/he will start getting introduced to friends. Assuming all goes well on that front, people will start committing the person's life story to memory, and there are always some tell-tale signs that things are indeed serious, such as:

1. You start seeing each other every weekend, or on a a regular basis that works with your schedules;

2. You admit that you are an "exclusive item" abandoning all other options;

3. You buy your partner a tooth brush and s/he gets his/her own towel at your place;

4. You clear out a dresser or make room in your closet for the other person's clothes;

5. You start shopping for things the other person likes when you are at the grocery store;

6. You give that person a set of keys to your place;

7. You start "playing house" spending so much time together, you practically live together;

8. You go on vacations together and coordinate holidays;

9. You introduce that person to your family;

10. You start talking about forming a life together.

If there are kids in the mix, this whole situation is a lot more complicated. For parents that are dating, I suggest waiting at least 3 months before you introduce your kids to someone you are seeing, and you need to carefully consider the consequences of having someone move in without being married because there is really nothing worse for a child than forming a bond with someone, and then suffering a loss because things did not work out between the adults.

As a general rule, I think for those in their 30's or older, after a year's worth of holidays, birthdays, vacations, etc. you should have a pretty good sense of the viability of the relationship, but of course, there are never any guarantees. For those in their 20's, however, I would double this timeframe--at least, and the reason is that in your 20's you are still figuring out your career situation, what you want in life, who you are, and where you are heading.

In the end, the point should be that the relationship progresses naturally-- it should not feel forced. Women, much more than men, have a tendency to set deadlines, put pressure on labeling the relationship, talking about where things are heading-- and that is not necessarily a bad thing-- but I would encourage men to be more forthcoming in sharing their true opinion on these topics rather than go along with things to keep the peace.

When it is worthwhile, it won't feel like a sacrifice to "settle down." With the right person, you won't worry about losing your independance, rather you will feel lucky that you have found a team-mate to help build a life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Filling the Void in Our Lives

Throughout the years, I have encountered so many people who have tried to fill certain voids in their lives with shopping, drugs, alcohol, expensive trips, affairs or amassing fortunes. I too have been guilty of trying to find ways to avoid the emptiness, which is created whenever we lose someone special to us either through a parting of ways or death. After such an event, it is natural to feel a hole in your heart, but rather than avoid the source of the pain, what we need to do is identify the problem and try to find a solution.

The one thing I always craved in life was having a family. When I got married and had my son, I thought I finally had it all. Little did I realize that as my son would grow, all the unresolved issues from my past buried deep inside me would rise to the surface and require my attention. Seeing my son with his father made me realize, quite painfully, what I had missed in my own youth. Then, as he began to ask more questions about the family history, it became clear to me that I would have to find a way to get some answers.

Opening Pandora's box has been quite an experience, but I am eternally grateful to my son for sending me on this quest, where I got much more than what I had originally bargained for-- my goal was simply to learn about the past, never once allowing myself to think about a possible future with anyone. Finding my family, has filled a huge emptiness in my life that I never admitted to anyone, even myself.

The journey is rarely easy, and may in fact be quite painful, but if we can find the strength to tackle the painful issues in our lives as opposed to trying to bury them, I believe we stand a far better chance at finding true happiness.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day, From an Different Perspective

For years, Father's Day was just like any other day to me. Only after I became a mother did I truly begin to appreciate first-hand the bond between a child and his/her father. After my divorce, for many years this holiday brought up mixed feelings for me-- I was so happy my son could enjoy having his father in his life, yet so sad that we could not all stay together as an intact family.

Whatever feelings the holidays may conjure up in my clients, I always counsel them to encourage their minor children to acknowledge their fathers on Father's Day, along with every other holiday, by getting a card at a minimum, and if possible a gift. In the end, no matter how much some might resent their ex-spouses, they have to admit that they once loved that person and as a result of that love a child was produced.

This Father's Day, for the first time in ages, there are no mixed feelings for me. I have finally found the answers to questions that have plagued me for a lifetime. By understanding my maker, the one in whose image I was created, I have gained tremendous ground in becoming more self-aware, and more importantly for the first time in my life, I have found true acceptance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rebuilding A Life Post-Divorce

Most studies show that it will typically take a person 2-5 years to rebuild his/her life after a divorce. During that time, most will re-marry-- in fact 75% of men once married will do so again, as will two-thirds of women. Unfortunately, some will just jump into a relationship without taking the time to grieve the loss of their first marriage, or think about what when wrong and what should be done differently the next time around.

For those of us who are used to being in a relationship and sharing our every day lives with someone, it is all too tempting to just want to be part of a unit once again, but there is some merit to reining in that desire to make sure you are making the right choices. Having figured out the parts of my past life that I really want back versus the parts that I do not miss, I am now very clear on the partner I need to find in order to rebuild my life.

Many thought that I would have been remarried by now, six years post-divorce. To be honest, I would have thought so too, except I now realize just how elusive that perfect trifecta (smart, cute and kind) is among available men in my age bracket. But, the numbers do support the probability that most of us will find a second chance at married life, and in the meantime I recommend taking the time to think about what matters most to us and adopting the mantra "better to be alone than in poor company."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dealing with Divorce and Depression

In law school, I wish I had taken a class in psychology that would have given me some tips on how to help my depressed clients. Instead, I learned this skill using the "trial by fire" approach. Over time, I learned that the dependant spouses without any new love prospects waiting in the wings would be the most likely to come into my office suffering from depression. There are plenty that might never have had an episode of depression before, but when faced with the traumatic event of a divorce, they could develop what is termed "situational depression."

I am not a psychologist, and although I have read many psych books, attended numerous seminars, and worked with some of the best mental health professionals in the DC Area over the past decade, it is simply beyond my abilities to act as a therapist for my divorce clients. I can, however, recognize the symptoms of depression, and will often encourage individuals to seek the advice of a mental health professional. Before making any referrals, I do try to normalize the feelings by explaining to people that is quite common to experience some depression when they are:

1. under stress;
2. dealing with loss;
3. experiencing financial pressures;
4. feeling alone/lacking a good support group; and/or
5. unsure about the future.

Going through a divorce can throw anyone off, but especially those who have not learned good coping skills for dealing with their feelings of stress, anger or insecurity, they will need a patient and wise soul to guide them through this time of turmoil. The beauty of my job is watching this metamorphisis-- I always remember the first meeting, where my clients are filled with dread and sadness; then I see them work through some of the most difficult challenges in their lives and find the courage to move ahead. Some may think my job is depressing, but I find it fills me with hope as I see people each day find the strength to confront their worst fears, and conquer them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Learning Impulse Control

These days, certain politicans have been making headings due to their issues with impulse control, but the truth is based on what I have seen, we could all use a lesson on learning to rein in our emotions. Especially with the rise and speed of modern technology, we have to make ourselves stop and think of the consequences of putting something in writing, posting things on Facebook, or sending lewd pictures via the internet, Twitter, etc.

Here are 3 questions we should ask ourselves before communicating something in the heat of the moment:

1. Does this really need to be sent now? If the answer is no, then wait until your are a little calmer.

2. Can I stand by this statement? In other words, will I embarrassed if this message is read by others?

3. What is the point of sending the message? Make sure there is in fact something worth saying, otherwise don't bother.

Quite recently, I met a woman who wanted her ex to know exactly how poorly she thought of him, and despite everyone's recommendation that she not send an email, she was convinced that she had to this for her own sake. I guess if she felt it had to be sent, that she could stand by her comments, and that it served some purpose, then she did the right thing, but if she thinks it will at all resonate with him, I am willing to bet he will only think about it long enough to hit "delete." He has already moved on, and so should she. As one wise observer remarked, in the end, what we all need to preserve is our dignity.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Having a "Think Tank" is Key

I am usually a pretty decisive person, but I have to admit that post-divorce I have had a number of occassions where I question my ability to prudently judge a situation or person. It is at these times when I am eternally grateful to my core group of friends that I lovingly refer to as my "think tank." When I am ambivalent about a choice that needs to be made, I try to subject the question to a number of my trusted peers, and then I weigh their comments carefully before making my own decision. I may not always adhere to the majority opinion, but I appreciate hearing the pros and cons from different perspectives, as it helps me make what I feel is a more informed decision.

Many of my clients have complained of being filled with self-doubt or uncertainty as they try to navigate unchartered waters by themselves, and my advice is always to have them rely on a core group of friends that can provide emotional support and lend a sympathetic ear during this difficult phase in their lives.

For those who are used to being independant, it may take some time before the idea of submitting things for peer review starts to come naturally, but I think the sooner a person can grow accustomed to this, the better. Life only gets more complicated as we get older, and having people with different expertise weigh in with their suggestions on how to address a problem just expands the possibilities for finding the best solution.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Learning to Let Go of Outcomes

Let's face it, attorneys tend to be control freaks: we like telling our clients what to do; we monitor carefully our schedules and calendars; we edit our clients' emails and choose their words for them; we prepare the case in our own way; in a courtroom we ensure the rules are followed; and meanwhile, the people most emotionally invested in the case cannot speak unless specifically addressed by the judge or counsel. While these skills might serve us well at work, they can be quite detrimental in our personal lives.

Funny thing about life is that it does not always like following someone's plan. My first real lesson in this respect was with my son. It is very hard to accept (especially as a control freak) that a "due date" is not actually set in stone. In the beginning of my pregnancy, no one could tell me if it would be a boy or girl, whether he would look like his dad or me, whether I would need to go on bedrest, have a C-section, or when my water would break. I kept wondering what I would do if the latter happened while I was in court or in a client meeting-- thankfully, all that worrying was unnecessary, as it wound up happening at the hospital. But the point was, I had to learn to just accept that all these things were completely out of my control.

Since my son's birth, lots of things have not gone according to my plan, including most notably my divorce. To me, that was the most humiliating public admission of failure-- not something most overachievers are comfortable with; meanwhile, everyone around me got hit with the impact of the economic crisis, showing me that we are all susceptible to having our best laid plans torn to shreds by the whirlwind of life.

I am always going to be a planner at heart, it is simply in my nature. While I cannot control the world around me, I will continue to control my own schedule and the cases I handle, but thanks to life's lessons and my trainings in Mediation and Collaborative Law these past few years, I have learned to facilitate conversations, encourage clients to determine their own settlements, and in many ways, I have learned to let go of various outcomes. For those who have come to know me as a reformed control freak, I am happy to report they appreciate the softer, gentler side of me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Taking a Break from Dating

The other day, one of my friends commented that based on the surge in my essays on dating he thought I was having a lot of fun these days. I burst out laughing as I admitted to him that only by taking a break from the whole scene could I finally gain some perspective.

After any long-term relationship has ended, I always believe it is best to take some time off to think about what went wrong, what worked well, what could be done differently the next time around with a new person. I also find it helpful to allow some time for grieving before jumping into anything new.

We all have different pressures in our lives, but for most people work and family tend to be their primary focus, so it is completely normal to take a break from dating whenever these two focal points in our lives require our attention.

During these breaks, I like to look at patterns. It is quite telling when you can pick up on common traits your past partners shared. Tying back these qualities to those exhibited by your parents is also a worthwhile exercise. Our parents were our first role models during our early years, then our friends and teachers. We build up a tolerance for certain traits based on past experiences-- and that is not always healthy or wise.

I have also found it useful to be aware of some of my occupational hazards. For example, as a divorce lawyer, I have a high threshold for tolerating drama. While that might be great in my professional life, it is not something I want in my personal life. Also, as my brother aptly pointed out, I tend to have a "savior complex" that comes in quite handy at work, but really should not be called into action by my partner.

Ultimately, if used constructively, breaks from dating can be a wonderful time to figure out what is working for you, and what's not. Taking a time out to develop a new plan for future dates or to implement a change in yourself is healthy. Determining the right amount of time can be tricky, but I will venture to say 3 months as a general rule of thumb is long enough. If your friends are telling you it is time to get back out there, that is always a good sign, however, in the end only you will know when you really have your game back.