Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Valentine's Tips for Women

V-Day is less than two weeks away, and while guys are busy making dinner reservations and arranging for flower deliveries that will cost them 3 times the normal rate, it is indeed a good girlfriend's duty to figure out what she can do for her significant other. Here are some suggestions:

1. tickets to a sporting event;
2. a framed picture of you together;
3. bake something special for him;
4. book an activity together;
5. get him an article of clothing or cufflinks;
6. make him a CD mix;
7. guys like toys-- electronic gadgets like an ipad, games, etc.; or
8. lingerie that you get to model and he gets to enjoy.

Let's talk about option #8, because the rest are rather self-explanatory. Now some guys are very specific about what they like or don't like to see on women. If this is truly a gift for him, then it is not about what you like-- it is about fulfilling your partner's fantasy. Some may be a bit shy about telling you their preferences, and you may have to take them shopping with you or pull out a Victoria Secret's catalog, but making the effort is key.

The importance of sex in a relationship cannot be overstated. It is about intimacy, connecting, and sharing something incredibly private. When this starts to fade, you cannot ignore this problem. As a divorce attorney, I have heard hundreds of guys complain that the sex fizzled and soon after their marriages fell apart. So ladies, you can either let them start to fantasize about someone else, or you can be their fantasy chick. If that is what it takes to keep your guy, I think the choice is actually quite simple.

For those in the DC/Bethesda area, I highly recommend Sylene's in Chevy Chase. Maybe we will run into each other in the next few days... On that note, go have some fun shopping!!!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Valentine's Tips for Guys

Guys, Valentine's Day is coming up and I get most of you are dreading it.  What is meant to be a fun holiday, for some, is filled with pressure to make this a super special day.  I'm all for minimizing stress, so here are some basic tips:
(1) unless you are planning to cook, make a dinner reservation now, don't wait until the last minute if you plan to get into any decent restaurants on V-Day;
(2) get a card and either a box of chocolates or flowers- no need for both, but you have to show some basic knowledge and respect for certain traditions; and
(3) dress nicely for the big day- no need to break out a tux, but shower, shave and put on a nice clean outfit before your date.

I am not saying these are bullet proof tips, but hopefully it is enough to help you stay in your sweetheart's good graces.  (And feel free to point out to them the blog I wrote with tips for women of V-day).

Now, for those of you dating high-maintenance women, let me just be clear that these types tend to fall into 2 categories: (1) those of us that recognize we are high-maintenance and (2) those that are oblivious to the fact that they're high maintenance. If your girlfriend falls into the latter category, I honestly cannot publicly share my comments on that subject so I'm leaving on your own to deal with that situation. But, those of you with girlfriends that fall into the former category are actually in luck-- especially if you are just willing to ask for guidance.

Those of us that know we are not easy to shop for will gladly help you out. The way I see it, being a good girlfriend means trying your best to make your partner's life easier, not more difficult. I am happy to clue people into what I like, or even better, I am happy to skip the gift-giving dilemma all together and just do something fun. An activity will never get lost or stolen, it cannot be returned, exchanged or re-gifted. If you are spending quality time, bonding and making fun memories with the one you love-- what could be better?

So, just to recap, if you stick to my 3 basic suggestions above, you should be safe. If you are feeling lost, ask for some suggestions. If someone rips your head off for not being clairvoyant and figuring out the perfect scenario, consider that your Valentine's gift-- the best clue ever to run away while you still can!

The Rise of Dating Coaches and Matchmakers

Valentines' Day is right around the corner, and for some it will be a fun holiday to look forward to while others might decide to wear all black and cringe at the sight of all the flowers, chocolates, and ads for over-priced dinner specials that will be inevitable that day. If you find yourself in the latter category, you should at least take solice in the fact that you are not alone. That said, maybe it is time to look at changing some things so that V-Day may actually be a fun holiday to share with a significant other?

Let's face it- technology has increased our dating options significantly, but it has also created a lot of challenges. Options can seem limitless for some, and competition is steep. Understanding how to navigate the various dating sites, create an appealing profile, respond to emails, texts, FB requests, etc. may be a bit daunting, especially for those just re-entering the dating scene after a long hiatus. Luckily, where there is a need, solutions always seem to appear- in this case they are professionals known as dating coaches and matchmakers.

This weekend, I had the honor of meeting one of DC's best matchmakers, Michelle Jacoby. She clearly cares about helping her clients find that perfect match. For those that don't enjoy games, find dating to be a chore, have limited time and/or feel lost in the whole process, it is nice to know there are people with just the right skills to help make this phase a little more manageable. Dating should be fun, not scary. Some may simply need of a refresher course in the skills required to make dating more enjoyable, and the solution may just be a few clicks away with a quick Google search. For those in DC, check out: www.dcmatchmaking.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finding that Rock

When I first got divorced a friend told me that I would soon find myself swimming in shark infested waters. I shot back, "lucky for me I'm a really good swimmer." We were both right-- I found lots of sharks over the last six years, and I proved to be a great swimmer. But sometimes people can get so caught up in the dating game, that I worry whether they will miss out on the right opportunity when it comes along because they are just so into the games. If you are having fun with the game, how do you know when it is time to quit?

I finally think I've figured it out-- you know to quit when you find the one that makes you want to stop playing the game. When you know the rules and choose to break them anyway; when you know how to play it safe and instead decide to go out on a limb; when you find that rock that grounds you-- the option to explore alternatives becomes totally unappealing. Hold on to those rocks- they are rare.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Finding the Right Balance When Sharing Information

In my professional life, I am not allowed to share my client's information with others. Maintaining attorney-client privilege is a cardinal rule. In my personal life, I am of the belief that sooner or later the truth will come out, and I would prefer to just say it up front so there are no surprises later on. But not everyone is this way, and most of my non-lawyer friends are quite comfortable talking about work, politics, current events-- anything but themselves. It makes sense when you are slowly developing a friendship, and you can build trust over time-- but what about in a dating situation?

There seems to be a bit of a chicken and egg problem-- when do you really open up? Once you are in love? Well that seems silly, because how can you really fall in love until someone has truly opened up? Finding an appropriate balance with respect to sharing information is hard work, but if it feels like you are hiding a material fact, then I think it is clear that needs to be shared right away. Furthermore, you want to make sure the level at which you are both sharing information is somewhat equal-- if one person is sharing everything, and the other one is keeping the conversation at a light and fluffy level, this should be setting off some red or yellow flags for both parties.

In the end, the rate at which a couple will share information depends entirely on the two personalities involved-- some move super fast, others go at a glacier's pace. Some say things move faster when you are older because you have a clearer sense of what you want and can't stand. That said, the more you have been burned, the more likely you might be to cautious going forward. There is no magic formula for any of this, you just need to find the right balance for your own situation and enjoy the ride! It is the journey, not the destination, that makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Gay Marriage Movement

On today's radio show, it was really cool to talk about the gay marriage movement. Until 2004, no states recognized same sex marriages. Now, 6 states permit gay marriages, including: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, NY, and Vermont. My adopted hometown, DC also now recognizes this union between same sex couples, and it seems Maryland is soon on its way to joining us!

The right to marry is such a fundamental right-- and it has major legal significance in someone's life. It impacts a person's ability to social security benefits, veteran benefits, Medicaid, hospital visits, family leave, retirement interests, estate claims, and even immigration status. To deny someone the right to marry someone of the same sex grossly prejudices that person's right to equal treatment under the law and due process. It certainly impairs that person's ability to pursue his/her happiness, and honestly it seems grossly unfair that in this day and age 41 states can continue to have statutes or constitutional amendments specifying that they won't recognize gay marriage--- even when over 50% of the U.S. population is in favor of permitting them this right.

Just to be clear- no state is going to obligate a church or any clergy members to perform a marriage they don't agree with-- what the gay marriage movement is trying to accomplish is recognition of civil marriages. If there is enough support throughout the states, hopefully eventually we can get Congress to revisit the Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996, and strictly defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and a woman. 45 years ago, the Supreme Court finally recognized as a fundamental right the recognition of inter-racial marriages. We have certainly come a long way since then, and so I hold out hope that the gay right's movement will one day soon succeed in opening the hearts and minds of most Americans, who fundamentally agree in the right to live and let live.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Taking a Page from Celebrity Divorces

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly word can spread that a celebrity couple is splitting up-- I guess thanks to Twitter, Facebook, etc. news is traveling faster than ever these days. Sadly, these celebraties have barely had time to process the news themselves, and meanwhile they need to face the media and camera crews each and every day while they grapple with major personal disappointment and humiliating facts about their break ups. This is definitely a time when I believe there is a lot to be said for anonimity and being just your average Joe Smith that lives next door. But, unlike the everyday divorce clients that might revel in airing their dirty laundry and dragging out negotiations or litigation in court, I have to say celebrities know how to end things swiftly and keep things confidential.

First, celebrities tend to marry with prenuptial agreements that clearly define what is marital versus non-marital property, and they tend to have alimony waivers or clear caps on length and duration. The only things you cannot cover in a prenup because of public policy concerns are child support and custody, but with more than ample resources to assist in dealing with these issues, most celebrities are able to work these issues out without court intervention. Just in case there are disputes, we have even started to include provisions that any issues in a divorce will be dealt with in the Collaborative Process or mediation in order to maintain confidentiality in these cases.

Second, much more than the average person, celebrities tend to realize that life will go on and there will be plenty of other options for them in the future. Part of their biggest challenge in fact is they are surrounded by temptation on a daily basis. A break up is just a temporary set back, but it does not usually mean to them that their entire world is over. This is actually an incredibly healthy way of thinking, and I wish more people could adopt this attitude during their divorces.

Third, people with fame and fortune know all too well that money cannot buy happiness and love. Their struggles are different than those of the average person, but when it comes to relationship difficulties, they suffer in just the same way as anyone else does-- except that their struggles are out there front and center for everyone to see. I wish this wasn't the case, especially for the sake of their children, but I understand that it is dirt that sells, and so long as there is a demand, there will always be tabloids. Luckily, these celebs are smart enough to hire great lawyers that know how to end things quickly and quietly, and that is why you rarely see the details of their divorces beyond what is required for purposes of finalizing a divorce with the courts.

When I commented about celebrity divorces last week on the radio, the news about Heidi Klum and Seal had not yet hit the press. I am truly sorry for their loss, but I can only hope like many that have come before them and had to deal with this experience, that they will manage this sad episode in their lives with dignity and grace-- outside of the media spotlight.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Do You Define a Girlfriend/Boyfriend?

For some people, labels are important-- they want to know where they stand in a relationship and somehow having a title seems to provide some comfort for them. I am not big no labels, except for perhaps 1) fiance, 2) spouse or 3) partner, which signify a real long-term commitment. Short of those three terms, what difference does it make if you get introduced as a friend or boyfriend? Isn't it understood by those that see you together expressing some sort of affection? Once you have had the exclusivity talk, what about using the term FWEB (friends with exclusive benefits)?

Perhaps my hang up is that a true boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is one where you both get each other- you understand how the other person thinks, how they will react to certain things, their likes/dislikes, how they handle conflict and communicate when things are difficult. All of this takes time, and this timeframe will obviously vary depending on the frequency with which you see someone. Demonstrating a genuine interest in getting to know someone is not something you can fake, and once you achieve that comfort level, it is not that easy to just walk away. To me, that is when one can really merit the title of boyfriend/girlfriend. But that is just my opinion, and everyone has a different definition. Bottom line is it is okay to have the talk about titles, and it is okay to have a difference of opinions. Just have the conversation and make sure you are both on the same page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Things We Do For Love...

This past weekend, for the first-time ever, I strapped on a pair of skis and went down a snow-covered mountain. I was not allowed to do this when I was younger, because no one wanted me to risk an injury while competing nationally as a gymnast. Years later, I decided I was not much of a cold weather person, and as the years past it just never really occurred to me do try skiing-- until now. Turns out my son loves the snow, loves the cold, and seems to have no fear. I also have a couple of great friends that enjoy the sport, and they all somehow convinced me to try skiing at 39. It wound up being one of our best trips ever!

As a parent, I had prepared myself for the sleepless nights, stinky diapers, sick days, child care issues and educational expenses. What I had not prepared myself for was having to deal with much of this by myself-- I had never contemplated taking my son to Disney or Bethany by myself. Never thought I'd be hooking a worm for him while taking him fishing, climbing a tree to retrieve one of his toys, or wiping out while hurling myself down a mountain, and yet all this and more has become my reality over the last several years. None of this was planned, but maybe it had to happen this way so I could learn that true love may indeed have no limits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Lot Can Change in Just One Year

It is hard to believe how much can transpire in just one year. This same time last year, while putting away my holiday decorations, I came across my uncle's business card, which he had given to me 20 years ago when we first met. Who could have ever guessed that after all these years I'd saved that card, that his restaurant would still be open, and that he would still be working there?

Last year when I reached out to my uncle, I was essentially an orphan. I had no idea if my father was even alive or if any of his relatives would be open to meeting with me. The fact that everything worked out the way it did, and that we could all spend our first family Christmas together is nothing short of a miracle in my eyes, and I am so glad my uncle lived to see his amazing act of kindness come to fruition.

Obviously I cannot predict what will happen in the case of others that might decide to go in search of their biological parents or reach out to some estranged family members, and I am certainly not trying to provide false hope by sharing my story. The point I want to make, at least for today, is that a lot can change in just one year. By going out on a limb, and letting others into our lives, fate may just surprise us with a story that actually has a happy ending. In my case, after all this time, for however brief a moment it might be, I actually got to become daddy's little girl.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Juggling Priorities as a Single Parent

Being a single parent is not easy; luckily I have a good co-parenting relationship with my ex-husband, and we do our best to work together to cover for the other when something comes up. Putting aside scheduling issues, however, the fact remains that when you are a single parent the entire responsibility of managing your household falls on you. Balancing the demands of work with those of your children are your top two priorities. Sometimes, that leaves little room for much else, yet if you are ever going to find a second chance at falling in love, you are going to have to make time and allow for a third priority to come into play.

When juggling multiple priorities, I think seeing them as fluid makes a lot of sense. In other words, the order of priorities may change over time given the competing demands at that time. Reassuring our children that no matter what, they will always be a priority is the key to helping them learn patience, and actually the sooner they realize that the world does not entirely revolve around them is a good life lesson.

Just as we have to teach our children to be patient, sometimes we may have to help our partners acquire this virtue. Meeting someone later in life is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is the need to let go of a lot of images we have in our heads about what it should be like when you fall in love. When you are young, without kids and an established career, it is so easy to make someone you like a priority right away. That simply isn't realistic as you get older. Perhaps embracing the notion of a slow, steady burn-- especially if you are a single parent is far healthier than that dream of instant fireworks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Finding Marital Bliss

The February 2012 issue of Psychology Today has the best cover-- with a bride holding hands with a chimpanzee. The feature article by Rebecca Webber is entitled "Are You With the Right Mate?" She does a great job of explaining that it is quite natural at some point in every marriage to question whether you made the right choice. Sooner or later the honeymoon period will end, and that cocaine-like high stemming from infatuation will fade-- that is when reality sinks in. When that moment hits, having realistic expectations is truly key.

As Ms. Webber explains in her article, it is not possible for one person to have all their needs met by simply one relationship. While it is essential to share core values, it is actually quite healthy to have some different interests. Respecting each other's need for personal space and time with others is an important skill to making marriages last. Happily ever after does not mean you have to be together 24/7, in fact I see that as a recipe for disaster.

The best quote in the article (in my opinion) is the following: "Marriage is not about finding the right person. It's about becoming the right person." Learning to communicate, express disappointment appropriately, resolve conflict and adjust our own expectations is a work in progress, and it is HARD. The payoff, however, is amazing-- to have a solid partnership with someone that you love, trust and respect is the best reward married life can bring you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Levels of Forgiveness

In March, I will be giving a presentation on forgiveness. For those that have followed my story over the past year, it might seem like I am an incredibly forgiving person, but I certainly would not describe myself that way. I have always believed, however, in trying to live without carrying any regrets.

In a competitive environment, it is simply natural that colleagues will not always rally to give someone proper credit for their endeavors. Faced with economic challenges, companies will generally focus on bottom lines and ignore the human element in their decisions. Friends that may become too busy in their own lives may fade out of yours, or perhaps more high maintenance ones will resent you when you become less available for whatever reason. Even our own relatives that do not know how to properly express disappointment or frustration may act out in a way that might force you to cease all further contact. These are all unfortunately quite common occurences in life, and in order for us to move on without regret, we need to find a way to forgive-- it is really just a question of degree.

I have learned throughout the years that I can quite easily forgive someone a minor transgression and continue with the relationship exactly in the same way. There are other transgressions, however, that will force a complete reconfiguration of the relationship, and each one of us has the right to make that decision for ourselves. Occassionally, there have been times when someone has won my forgiveness in a totally unexpected way-- like when my son runs into his room after he knows he has crossed the line, and 10 minutes later comes back out with a drawing that just makes me melt. This past year, it was the same with my father-- he did not win me over in one day, but rather with his words and deeds over the course of several months, he proved to me that I was far better off with him in my life, and that is how we got to where we are today.

To forgive is not easy, but we do all make mistakes. Some cannot be undone and will never be forgotten, but holding grudges and staying angry does not make the situation any better. Choosing to forgive someone, at whatever level, is actually an incredibly empowering feeling. My divorce clients that realize this sooner rather than later tend to have a far less stressful time during the divorce, a far easier time adjusting to single life, their children are far more well adjusted than those from an angry divorce, and they are far more apt to fall in love again and find a second chance at a balanced life with a new partner. So in the end, I think finding the ability to forgive is actually the best gift you can give yourself.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Some Dreams Do Come True

Never in my life could I have anticipated all that transpired in 2011. For someone who takes great comfort in sticking to a plan, a year full of surprises was not easy, yet each step towards my family reunification this past year led to a greater level of understanding and awareness beyond my wildest dreams.

After 39 years, I finally got to have my first dance with my father. Christmas Day, for the first time ever, I got to exchange gifts with my beloved brother and enjoy a wonderful meal surrounded by relatives that share some of my same features, characteristics and quirks. Something that so many of my friends have taken for granted all these years-- the gift of a family bond, has finally become my own reality.

This past year I learned an incredibly important lesson: life is unpredicable, and sometimes you have to let go of the outcome and just enjoy the journey. Meanwhile, my son got to observe first-hand that the best gift does not come in some package under a tree. We now have a family to share life with, and that unconditional love could not be purchased with any sum of money.

My message going forward into the new year is that we should never lose hope-- dreams do come true. Things may not happen according to our time-frame, but if I could reunite my family after all these years, anything is possible as long as we are willing to make some tough choices and face some of our greatest fears.