Sunday, April 29, 2012

What Happens When Non-Planners & Planners Date?

Honestly, I have no idea how it is that I married a non-planner, but I guess back then in my 20's I thought his spontaneous nature was just so cool. Obviously that did not last, and right after my divorce, I specifically avoided that personality type-- until I slowly came to appreciate the more laid back guys. So, what is the secret to having a planner successfully date a non-planner?  The answer is simple: you need to meet each other half-way.  You need to appreciate each other's view points and more than ever, you need to communicate effectively. If you don't, this is a recipe for disaster.

Let me explain the mind of a planner-- we like to look at our calendars and see that there are things we can look forward to-- not just days in advance, but weeks in advance. My planning abilities come in very handy at work, where I have to schedule court, client meetings, trainings, etc. Being a good mom also requires planning in order to set up playdates, fun trips, summer camp, doctor's appointments, etc. Many of my friends have also enjoyed the benefits of having me (aka Julie Macoy Cruise Director) take care of dinner reservations, show tickets, etc. So, what is the downside? The downside is that if I ask someone to check their calendar and send dates, I am sorely disappointed when it doesn't happen.

It's taken me a while to appreciate the negatives to being a planner, but overtime I found that I'd packed my schedule so tight that others would get frustrated having to wait a month to get on my calendar.  Often, I had to turn down certain last-minute opportunities because I was already over-committed.  Basically, I wasn't leaving any room for fun, spontaneous things to happen (and this is exactly the fear that non-planners have about planning too far in advance).  What this meant was that those awesome laid back people that I found so cool were not in my life as much as I wanted (and needed) them to be.   So, to get them back in my life, I had to learn to chill out and not plan so much.  Trust me, it can be done, but this is still a work in progress for me.

What non-planners need to understand is that those of us that like to plan, when faced with a lack of response or cooperation, can quickly assume that we either don't rank or that the other person is being non-commital. Neither one of these is pleasant, and it raises the following question: why should I stay? In dating, when so many people focus on screening for reasons to leave a relationship, my main point is those that plan are equally focused on finding a reason to stay.  If you can't meet us half-way with our desire to plan, it just won't work.

Dr. Chapman (author of 5 Love Languages) is right that paying attention to your partner's love languages is key, but I'm going to go one step further-- you cannot lose sight of the personality type you are trying to work with because that plays a huge role in what you need to focus on as well.  As Einstein said, you cannot expect a fish to climb a tree.  Just as planner isn't going to stop planning, a non-planner will not all of a sudden turn into Julie McCoy.

Non-planners that fall in love with planners have to be patient with us-- a genuine planner is not one that is trying to control you or get you forfeit your way of being.  It's just that we are wired completely differently-- the plans give us some predictability, and that is what we really crave.  The chaos is scary.  So those that are a bit more laid back need to teach us not to fear the unpredictable--  and if you choose your words wisely and act in a consistent manner, it is your reassuring presence over time that will win over the planner.

So, not only do I think planners and non-planners can date, they should date-- and together they can learn a lot from one another.  It is simply about meeting half-way in these cases; I have seen it done, and I think that if you appreciate each others' strengths, you will be just fine.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Normalizing The Divorce Process

Sadly, it is my own experience with divorce that has helped me understand the emotional side of what my clients are going through, and I try to share some stories with them to make sure they realize what they are going through is actualy quite normal. The fact is, if I am allowed to do my job properly, the legal aspects of the divorce can be dealt with quite quickly-- we just gather up all the relevant information, generate options for a solution, and try to reach an amicable settlement that everyone can live with, preferrably without resorting to court except for an uncontested hearing. Picking the right attorney to perform this amputation in your life is the key to coming out with a nice clean cut that can heal quickly versus going to a butcher that will leave you scarred for life. The emotions I see cover a whole spectrum-- some are in complete denial, or so detached that they are void of any emotion. Some are incredibly immersed in sadness or anger. Many are anxious, mainly because there is a complete loss of control in the beginning of the process. Separations raise a lot of fears: fear of the unknown; fear of being alone; fear of being poor; fear of losing your identity. It is such a scary time for people, which is why they need to find an attorney they can trust, who is not going to try and rape and pillage the family while encouraging a "War of the Roses" scenario. Knowing your rights and obligations is the first step to reducing some of the fear of the unknown. Coming up with a plan also tends to reduce stress. Understanding what kind of budget you have to work with and setting realistic expectations of what kind of process you can afford is critical to a successful outcome. Don't let the fees get out of control-- don't ask for services outside your budget. Know that every call, email, letter, court appearance and meeting is going to be charged-- attorneys are service providers, and we charge for our time. As a result, you have a huge incentive to not drag things out, to try to be reasonable in your proposals, and to let us wrap things up quickly for you-- but that is separate from dealing with the emotional divorce. To be honest, it took me years to recover from the disappointment of a failed marriage. There is probably no greater public admission of defeat, and many do not take it well. Also, towards the end of a marriage, it is quite common for there to be a complete lack of intimacy, and this can leave you feeling quite empty and wondering if anyone else will ever find you interesting again. So my non-legal advice is this: after you have wrapped up your legal affairs, go have some fun. Enjoy going on dates and racking up compliments. Buy some fun lingerie, travel and let people put you up on a pedestal. You need to feed your ego for a bit-- it is a normal and necessary part of the healing process. Don't let others pass judgment-- do what you need to do to rebuild your self-esteem. Unless you are a public official or nun, who cares what you do when you are not on duty as a mom or dad? As long as you don't break the law, mislead or intentionally harm others in the process, get out there and find fun ways to get over a divorce hangover. :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Can't Expect a Fish to Climb a Tree

One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is that you shouldn't "judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree." I often start my work day with a reminder of this quote, and it ends this way as well. People often complain that typical male behavior is for them to want to have their cake and eat it too-- well, let me just say that plenty of women seem to suffer from similar delusions.

Most GenXers grew up with mothers still spending a lot of time at home, maybe working part-time jobs, but generally speaking the fathers were the ones primarily responsible for financially supporting the household. Until quite recently, therefore, men were primarily judged based on their ability to provide for their families, and generally speaking, the best providers won bragging rights for getting the prettiest brides and producing beautiful families. It was so simple back then, and my male peers sadly grew up with this as their model for what makes a good marriage.

For better or worse the fact is that the traditional family model is rapidly dying out, and now that women have fully entered the workforce at all levels in masses, so we place much less of an emphasis on a man's ability to provide, and instead give much more weight now to a man's ability to be a good companion-- one who comes home at a reasonable time, shares in the household responsiblities, and communicates with us in an effective, loving way.

Here is the deal- some may still just want a good provider, and if that is your primary criteria in a mate, then you have to accept that in order to be a great provider, that person will probably have to work his/her butt off, and will NOT be readily available to spend quality time or be emotionally available. Those that value spending quality time and sharing more of their emotions, are probably going to make certain sacrifices financially in order to enjoy more of life. The key take-away point here is that we cannot all operate at 100% in all areas of life-- it is just not humanly possible. If I am giving 100% of myself to work and being a mom, then I am not going to have much time left for much else-- other friends, family, time alone, or quality time with a significant other.

There is only so much time in a day, and we are not machines, much to the chagrin of some employers out there. Finding work-life balance is a never-ending quest, and you have to accept that you will never be able to make everyone happy, this is why it is important to have your priorities straight. So many people throw away their relationships because they are unhappy, and they blame those around them for their unhappiness. But maybe, just maybe before tossing aside their partners or friends, they should ask themselves whether their expectations are actually realistic. Taking a good look within is not easy, and we are typically reluctant to see ourselves in a bad light. It is indeed so much easier to fault others than to find fault in ourselves, but here is another favorite saying that I have heard quite often, yet only quite recently embraced as a fundamental truth: true happiness is not based on any external factors, you will only find it within your own heart.

Once you find your own internal joy, you will find it so much easier to love a fish simply because he is a good fish.  One person cannot be your everything-- nor can you be that for someone else.  We all have our limitations, and the key is actually accepting the love someone is capable of giving.  If you want more, then you need to hold out for more, don't blame someone for his/her inability to be something that you want.  It is a guaranteed recipe for disaster if you expect a fish to climb a tree, and to be blunt the fault there lies entirely with you for setting someone up to fail.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dealing with Commitment Phobia

When you have suffered some unfortunate setbacks in past personal relationships, it is normal to feel a bit anxious about making another mistake, and to carry with you some sadness from the losses already suffered. These two things combined can lead someone to become a bit of a commitment phobe. Signs that this is happening will be readily apparent to those around you, who will find you are routinely testing limits. Once you can recognize this behavior in yourself, if you want to make a change, there is hope to modify this self-destructive behavior.

We all have concerns, but in order to address them, we first need to identify them. I find lists really helpful, and they are often a great reminder that I am not deviating from my intended mission. Knowing exactly what qualities I appreciate in someone is a good reassurance that I am not making some crazy decisions based solely on emotions. After you have done this, ask yourself 3 questions:
(1) do I trust this person?
(2) do I respect this individual?
(3) do I see us together 6 months from now?

 Assuming the answer to all three questions is positive, then only you can work on calming yourself down and allowing yourself to enjoy the ride. If you can't answer these questions positively, you have to figure out whether it is worth the effort to try and work through the emotional obstacles you are facing or if you are better off bailing and starting the search all over with someone else. A true commitment phobe will continue to bail-- it is basic human nature after all to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But, someone who wants to break the crash and burn pattern will find a way to stop this dysfunctional behavior-- s/he will find a way to try and work through issues rather than ignore or avoid problems. Running away is just a temporary fix to our discomfort, but never a long-term solution. Eventually, if you are lucky, you will find someone that inspires you to stop running and teaches you to enjoy the comfort and joy that comes with commitment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Making Plans and Setting Boundaries

Some time ago, a male friend told me this story that his father had once shared with him-- it was about a father and son bull looking down at a field full of cows and the young bull wanted to run down the hill to mate with them, but the father stopped his and said, "why run when you can walk?" Well, my response to him was that women are not cows-- we are not all built the same, and some of us are surrounded by a field of bulls, so one of these days it may behoove him to run.

I am a planner, as are most women I know, but I understand that life doesn't work out according to all our plans. Case in point: I was planning to enjoy single life in my 20's and marry in my 30's, which is what most of my friends have done. Instead, I was with my husband throughout all of my 20's, and have spent most of my 30's navigating single life. Having now experienced both worlds I can honestly say I prefer being in a committed relationship, and for the decade ahead, I am prepared to give up the dating game. So now of course, the planner in me kicks back into gear- because if you are going to exit the game, you need to know what you can live with and what you can live without. You need to clearly define your non-negotiables and realize those qualities in a mate that matter most. And you also need to consider how much time you are willing to invest in a relationship that may be fun, but as an unclear future.

I used to think that boundaries were bad-- that they might make me too rigid and inflexible. Throughout the years (and lots of research) I have learned that boundaries can actually be good-- if the purpose is to protect us from getting hurt, and we don't use them as insurmountable barriers to wall off others. It is also helpful I think to explain our goals and concerns with our partners, because honestly wouldn't you want to know sooner rather than later whether you are both heading in the same direction? Understanding each other's vision is never a bad thing, and if you are not on the same path, who knows whether an open discussion may lead you to find common ground? It is worth a conversation at least, and then only you can decide if you need to reset your boundaries and/or expectations for how long you can accept the status quo.

Change is not easy for anyone, and in fact it is particularly scary for some, but it is a necessary part of life. For relationships to prosper, they need two individuals willing to evolve, respect each other's boundaries and make plans together. Living happily ever after and growing old together does not just happen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Looking at Life from a Child's Perspective

Today I got to weigh in on the radio about Brad Pitt's recent engagement to Angelina Jolie. Time always runs short, and there is so much that we did not get to cover, but what I found most interesting about their desire to marry was that they realized this is something that really mattered to their children. Until now, they are part of the 40% or more of children in the U.S. whose parents are NOT married. While we as adults may not think this matters so much, clearly it can and does have an impact on our children.

What does marriage really mean? With divorce rates so high these days, and so many states denying this right to gay couples, many adults minimalize the importance of a piece of paper that certifies you are now officially recognized as a committed couple. But the fact is, it does mean something to be married-- to say that of all the people in the world, this is the person you have chosen as your partner, and that you want to stay with until death do you part. Now, it may not work out that way, but expressing publicly that profound depth of your love is an amazing statement that about 80% of Americans will chose to make at one point in their lives.

Love may not be everlasting, but when we produce children from our unions, we take on an obligation to not just provide them with their basic necessities, but also life skills that they will carry with them even once we are gone. So when we divorce, it is our duty as parents to minimize the pain for our kids, and to continue to provide them with hope. Those of us who are lucky enough to find love again post-divorce, have an additional duty to teach our kids that relationships are hard work, but they also provide the most rewarding experiences in our lives. To be able to show a child that life doesn't always work out according to our plans, but that we move forward despite setbacks and never lose hope in love, that to me is the best gift ever.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Learning Acceptance

This past weekend, I had the honor of attending an Andover/Abbot event at the Cosmos Club in DC. It was very interesting to hear the varying perspectives of women that graduated from the '50s through the present. One thing everyone agreed on was that the educational opportunities, coupled with the friendships formed during those formative years in boarding school, have served them well in life. The importance of pursuing excellence was also a common theme, which of course, has left me wondering how often this blessing may also be a curse...

When you grow up surrounded by over-achievers, all striving to be the best, that becomes all you know, and yet most people are NOT wired that way. When all you want is perfection, and no one teaches you that the majority are just hoping to get by making a decent living at work so they can enjoy their time off the clock, you wind up having a rude awakening when you leave the Ivy League towers and enter the real world. Life is full of imperfections, and those not taught to appreciate that early on, are going to have a hard time adjusting-- both professionally and personally.

The best life lessons are sometimes learned from our mistakes, and not our successes. In the last few years, when all has not turned out according to my plans, what I have managed to glean is that life is full of surprises, and sometimes we may not be able to appreciate right away why we are better off having some plans go awry. Both in my personal and professional life, it has become clear that accepting others the way they are without trying to change them and appreciating what they bring into my world has completely altered the way I view life-- all is not black and white, right or wrong, a success or failure. Enjoying the fluidity of the relationships in my life, things ebb and flow more gracefully. I accept that I was wrong in applying a rigid view of things, and I appreciate the beauty of the new prism by which I have been taught to enjoy those around me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Separate the Movie-Version from Reality

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me my life should be made into a movie, I would be really rich right now. It is the classic story line: poor girl from a broken home proves she has potential both in athletics and academic life; she gets a scholarship that completely changes her life; amazing work and travel experiences follow, but nothing seems to fill this void that she feels until she finally goes on a very personal journey to find her father and extended family. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a G-rated Disney movie, and yet real life is so far from picture perfect.

In our minds, we all tend to have a movie we are working on, but the reality is that the other characters in our real life may not be reading from the same script. If you find yourself routinely disappointed by others, you need to separate out that movie version of things from what life is really like-- the only one you can control in life is yourself, not those around you. People don't have mind-reading abilities and may not know what it is that we want from them, so unless we clearly communicate our needs and expectations to those with the actual ability to help us fulfill these desires, we are bound to be disappointed by those around us. To have healthy and satisfying relationships in life, we need to be realistic and leave the movie-making task to those in Hollywood.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting Rid of Self Doubt Post-Divorce

A common problem among divorced people is that we are plagued by self doubt. If we could screw up so royally on something so important, how can we ever really trust our own judgment? I've been grappling with this for years, and in my very nerdy way, went on to research some of the best regarded books about relationships from those considered to be gurus in this field. I can now easily recite all their theories, but applying them, well that is a whole other story...

Identifying and conquering our deep-seeded fears are not easy. I thought once this happened, the doubts would all subside. Little did I realize that as a self-defense mechanism, I've been laying land mines all over the place- designed to detonate before anyone came close to my most sensative wounds. As the land mines started going off, I was forced to face my biggest challenge yet-- I still have not forgiven myself for all those perceived failures that I've been carrying around like stones that weigh me down.

Someone recently gave me the book "12 Steps of Forgiveness," and it suggests that sometimes these grudges we hold fall away like stones, one by one; other times, they can all come crashing down at once. I guess in this case, the path to forgiving myself has gone at a snail's pace over the last seven years since my marriage fell apart, but for the first time in ages, I feel like I am ready to let the past go.

To be at peace with yourself is the best gift you can give yourself. Remember that no one is perfect, and the best we can do is learn from our mistakes. Once we can accept ourselves for who we are, and forgive any past errors, I truly believe the self doubt will melt away. Rebuilding our own confidence in the judgments we make with respect to our partners is critical to moving forward and finding love once again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Getting Second Opinions

Why is it that in the financial world and medical field second opinions are so common, and yet when it comes to legal issues people are so reluctant to have someone do an outside independant assessment of the situation until sometimes it is too late? Too often I see people hire a general practice attorney to work on their divorce matter, and then I am brought in almost at the end to try and fix things. I have no doubt that if these people were dealing with doctors or financial advisors and lost confidence in these professionals, they would have sought out another professional sooner, and I wish more people would do the same when it comes to their divorce matters.

Consults are so inexpensive-- and fast. They usually take an hour, with the client describing the situation in about 30 minutes; then the attorney explaining the law and options in the remaining 30 minutes. One-time consults can be used to review documents, like prenups or Separation Agreements, before they are signed. We can flag issues, offer suggestions and strategy, and often times prevent major mistakes from occuring-- like waivers of certain rights that may not be undone once a contract is finalized.

There is a lot of information available online these days, and I am all for people saving money and doing as much as possible for themselves, but often in my head I hear myself say "penny wise, pound foolish" when people come to see me to try and fix a mess that cannot be easily corrected. So, before you finalize any contracts, or if you find yourself losing confidence in the attorney you have hired, go ahead and get that second opinion. You probably will spend more on fuel in one month than it will cost to have the peace of mind from an expert on an issue that could impact the rest of your life.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Meeting the Parents

The first time I met someone's parents, I was 16 and super nervous. In boarding school, you could go months without meeting someone's parents, even though we might have been eating breakfast, lunch and dinner every day together at the dining hall for months. I know this is not normal, and it probably explains why I can go from 0 to 60 in record speed with relationships that intrigue me, but the point I am trying to make right now is that in the beginning it was weird to meet someone's parents.

In college, soon after I started dating my husband, I met his parents, and over the next twelve years, they did a great job of acclamating me into their world. Divorcing their son severed that connection, and it was not easy to adjust to that reality, but the fact remains I am eternally grateful for all that they taught me and their warmth throughout the years that I was part of their family.

At age 39, I never would have imagined I would have to go through the silly exercise of meeting someone else's parents, or introducing that man to my family. What makes it even stranger of course is the fact that I just found my father and his side of my family, so this was the first time ever that daddy's little girl was bringing anyone home for approval.

The beautiful thing about meeting parents later in life I suppose is that we are confident in oursevles and what we have accomplished thus far. We also have to recognize that our parent's approval no longer carries the same weight that it once did earlier in our lives. As we mature and understand ourselves better, including what we need and cannot tolerate, it really only helps make things easier if our parents like the one we are with, but it should not make or break a relationship.

Luckily for me, in an on-going series of good fortune, my family did enjoy the person I have been spending a significant amount of time with lately, and I enjoyed meeting his parents. The fact that everyone can roll with the idea that I'm a divorce lawyer by day, who blogs about love at night is really quite amazing. More importantly, that they can accept that I'm quite public, while they are all so private is a true testament to their trust and love.

In the end, meeting the parents is not an insignificant step at any age, and it should be given proper weight and consideration that has to be held in balance with the significance of the existing relationship. Having low expectations will help curb disappointment, but even better advice is to go in prepared-- some of us give great weight to first impressions, rightly or wrongly. So dress nicely, be polite and think of it as an opportunity to learn more about your love. Your partner will love you just for trying your best-- it is not about the final outcome, here it is all about the effort. Go for the A in effort!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What to Even Say?

A year ago, I flew to Miami to take a DNA test and meet my extended family. Flying down by myself was really hard, and it was even harder to keep it together while knocking on a stranger's door not knowing what to expect when I walked through that doorway. One of my friends described it best when he said, "you went down that rabbit hole all by yourself not knowing what to expect." It was a lot like Alice in Wonderland last year-- a journey into bizarro world with no one around to ground me, and that is how I learned the true meaning of true inner strength.

Looking back, I have no regrets and could not be happier with how things have turned out. I still have my brother's first email, entitled "what to even say?" It is so hard to believe it has only been a year since he has been in my life-- he is the most amazing and beautiful man I have ever allowed into my world, and now it just seems like he's been a part of it for far, far longer than just a year.

So here I am, one year later, heading back to visit my family-- and this time, I am not making the journey all alone. I never would have predicted this part of the story, but indeed somewhere along the way I lucked out over the past few months and found someone I might actually want to introduce to the Miami clan. In some ways, it is so weird-- it is like I am 15 years old and bringing home my first date for dad's approval. On the other hand, it really isn't nerve racking because the worst has already happened. Having already weathered 38 years without my dad; 27 years without my brother; and the last 7 years recovering from a very heart-breaking divorce, all I can say now is that in life, we have to make the best of the cards we are dealt and never lose hope that the best is yet to come.