Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hit the Road Jack (or Jill)

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Lee, who founded Becky's Fund, which is a local non-profit that not only promotes awareness of domestic violence, but also seeks to prevent it through education seminars and outreach programs.  I could not agree more with her that a huge problem we have today is that there isn't a good understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.  What we see on tv is not real, and educators as well as parents need to make more of a concerted effort to teach children good relationship/life skills.

The fact is one in four women will experience some sort of abusive episode with a partner.  Whether it is verbal or physical abuse, no one should have to live this way, and yet, unfortunately many people don't realize what a vulnerable position they are in until things are really bad. 

Over the years, I have seen so many people fall into an incredibly vulnerable position.  By allowing one person to control all the money and not having any of your own credit cards or bank accounts, you are leaving yourself in a very precarious situation if things go awry.  How will you ever be able to survive on your own in case of an emergency? When one person holds all of the economic power in a relationship, the other one is left in a very weak bargaining position.  No one should ever let him/herself get to this point.  The best place to be is always being in a secure enough place where you can either walk away or tell the other party s/he needs to leave if s%*t really hits the fan.

My goal is obviously to have people work through issues, and I understand that intimate relationships are always complicated.  Both partners will have to give and take at different times, and ideally a couple will be able to master the art of skillful negotations and reaching compromise.  But it is an art that not everyone can master, and when things get nasty, you need to be able to have an escape plan.  How can you exit safely when you don't have any of your own resources?  Luckily, there are some great shelters and advocates that can help a person get to a safe location.  But instead of being in a reactive position, it is so much better to be proactive.  Always strive to maintain enough independance through your own education and economic resources to be able to say "hit the road Jack!"    

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blending Traditions

Inter-faith and inter-racial marriages are the new norm in the 21st century, but it would be naive of us to think that these unions  no longer face unusual challenges.  Many of my friends have strived to blend their traditions, but not without some very difficult discussions with extended families, who of course will want to weigh in-- especially when children come into the mix.

I am all for mixing things up, but I do think that couples need to have some serious discussions about how they will handle religion, and passing on culture, heritage, and language skills to their children.  These are not the kinds of talks you want to put off until after a child is actually born.  Rather, before you ever walk down the aisle, you need to have a candid discussion with your partner about the things that matter most to you about your own beliefs and culture. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Redefining Sexy in the 21st century

I haven't read Sandberg's book "Lean In" yet, but I did catch her tv interview about it, and I've seen some of the backlash she's gotten for certain opinions she's expressed.  Well, the lovely thing about being an American is that we are all entitled to freely express our opinions, and I give her props for talking about a tough subject while many other women just grin and bear it.  Among the many points she made, I particularly want to emphasize one that may not be getting enough attention-- she is dead right when she warns that a key to success is the life partner a woman picks, and actually that applies to both sexes.

Back in the day, women generally stayed home and married guys, who were good providers.  Guys were encouraged to find good eye-candy that could produce cute babies.   Some have still not outgrown that old-fashioned mentality, but thankfully the women's lib movement has totally changed the game in the last 50 years, so women no longer have to rely on their good looks or a good provider to come rescue them.  All of these changes have profoundly impacted human relationships on many levels, including how women view other women and how men view women-- not just in the workforce but outside the workforce.

Most women I grew up did not go to school to get their MRS degree, and most guys I know today are no longer interested in just nabbing the prettiest girl they can find. Faced with mounting pressures in the workforce, more guys are looking for a good intellectual counterpart that can share in the responsibility of providing financially for the family. To put it bluntly, having a functioning uterus is no longer enough in today's world, and those of us trying to prove that we are so much more do have a hard time understanding why some of our female peers opt not to "lean in" and instead step aside and let the old boys network continue to function the way it has for centuries.

Despite all the progress women have made, the stats are pretty clear that we still have a ways to go.  Just a few months ago Marie Claire did an issue about women in Congress.  Even though we make up 51% of the U.S. population, only 17% are in Congress, and only 217 have held office compared to 11,279 men.  The National Assoc. of Women Lawyers also did a study a few years ago that confirmed the retention rate of female attorneys at firms sucks, with less than 15% ever making equity partner.  The number of women that make it to CEO positions of large companies is very similar, so really there is no need to debate this issue further-- the numbers speak for themselves.

So back to Sandberg's point, given the opportunity to lead, women do need to continue to make an effort to step up to positions of power-- not just because we want to prove a point, but because only in leadership roles can we redefine a company's attitude towards work-life balance.  At the same time, by proving we can hold are own in the workforce and share in all the burdens of managing a household, we are alleviating some of the pressures while proving to our life partners how strong of an asset we are to them.  We can have a deeper bond with our partners if we demonstrate that we understand their pressures because we are experiencing the same thing, and as a team we can all work together for the greater good of the family.  Being able to have high-level discussions and demonstrate strong economic prowess is the new sexy-- and if you throw in a nice meal and some racy lingerie every now and then, that is just a bonus.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shacking Up

As a girl, I was always warned about guys, and why would they "buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?"  Fair enough, but on the other hand, wouldn't you test drive a car before buying it?  Shacking up is a great way to figure out whether in fact you are good roommates, and yet it is not a perfect indicator of success. 

I'll admit the first time around, I lived with my now ex-husband for 3 years before we married.  So what does that tell you right there?  We were able to co-exist just fine for over a decade, and yet it still didn't work out.  The second time around, with kids in the mix, there was no way I was house hunting or discussing any cohabitation arrangements without first getting engaged.  I wasn't opposed to having fun, and there was plenty of that, but without a ring, I simply was not going to get serious and explore future options.  This attitude certainly helped to clear out the commitment phobes that crossed paths with me, but of course it now leaves this big question unanswered: how will we manage living together?  With less than 3 months to go before the big wedding day, we are both taking a huge leap of faith, and all we can do is hope for the best.

The best way to summarize the difference in my attitude is to say that as a single person, my mistakes were mine alone to deal with, and since I like riding roller coasters, I knew it would all be okay.  The first time around, I let my heart lead me, and playing house together helped to calm me down and let me feel confident that we were a good fit, it just sadly didn't work out as a lifetime arrangement.  The second time around, I was not the only person to consider in the mix.  Little ones are more fragile, and some really hate roller coasters, so it simply wasn't going to be okay for me to let my heart lead me once again.  This time, I led the search for a life partner with my head, and I weighed the pros and cons of a family merger well before I ever got engaged. 

The last six months as an engaged couple have had tons of challenges, and planning the logistics of a wedding and our family merger have tried the best of us at times, but the fact that we've gotten through it all reassures me that we are a strong couple.  I also think that knowing that failure is not an option here, we are committed to working through the issues that arise-- what is the alternative?  We've both suffered enough from the tragic demise of our first marriages and never want to experience that again.  Hopefully those around us will support us in this goal, and if not, they need to step aside.

In the end, I think the choice to shack up is a very personal one, and it really depends on the situation.  I don't see much of the downside when you are single, except that the refrain is true-- why would anyone buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?  Perhaps having a time limit of how long you are willing to play house would be a wise thing to do, and always be prepared to walk away if things are horrible.  Plenty of people can be great lovers and yet terrible roommates.  If you happen to find that gem that fits both roles, then you should naturally want to move things forward in a timely manner-- however you choose to define that.  With kids, it is all a bit more complex, and there is where I really want to emphasize that you proceed with far greater caution, and try your best to do no harm.  As parents, we have this added duty to protect our young, and sometimes that means cooling your jets, not letting yourself get swept up in emotions, and playing the role of a model citizen who does what is right.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Honeymoon Tips

Here is the link to my segment on planning a honeymoon & other wonderful trips.  Teresa at Honeymoon Islands did a fantastic job of sharing great trips!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Recipe for Happiness

Recently, as a school project, my son had to write recipe for happiness.  I chuckled as I read his ingredients, which included doughnuts, video games, and a comfy couch-- oh to be young again and have such simple wants...  Expectations have definitely gotten a lot more complicated after four decades of being on this Earth, but if I had to prioritize and write an honest answer to what makes me happy, I think I would say my recipe for happiness includes (i) time to enjoy my family and friends, (ii) time for myself, and (iii) working on interesting cases and projects, all while feeling financially secure. The last part is truly key, and one that I perhaps did not recognize for some time. 

Most of us that grow up poor, never want to experience that again, and it is a deep-seeded fear that many will carry for a lifetime.  And yet, for those of us that came of age in the 80's and 90's there was this amazing period of time where so many got rich fast-- either in the tech boom, the housing boom, the Wall Street boom, you name it.  There were plenty of jobs and during these golden years many of us took for granted that there would always be plenty of money.  And then came the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the recession where I saw many got laid off.  One bubble kept bursting after another, and then we entered into the Great Recession, and for the first time ever I got to see first-hand along with all my fellow GenXers, the precariousness of our economic situation.  Moving forward, I don't think any of us will under-estimate the importance of financial security, for without it, it is very difficult to enjoy life and truly pursue happiness.

So how does this relate to love?  Well, because in the beginning, couples rarely talk about money, and no one likes to really bring up the issue.  People's visions are clouded during the honeymoon phase, and often they'll ignore major red flags.  Once married, a lot of couples just want to jump to having a family, without thinking through the financial consequences of that decision.  Yet there are major financial considerations to be made-- how will the household expenses get paid?  How much do you plan to set aside in savings?  What is a realistic budget?  Can you afford to live the lifestyle you envision together?  You are not just living in the present, but building a future when you become partners.  If you don't share the same dreams and goals for the future, what are you doing together? 

There are many reasons that couples divorce, but among the top 5 in my experience is their different attitudes towards money.   I'm not saying you marry for money, and thanks to the women's lib movement no professional woman needs to do that.  What I am saying is that you shouldn't ignore the money.  Being with someone that jeapordizes your sense of safety and security is simply an unsustainable situation.  So, as sad as it may be, I have to say that when you are putting together your own recipe for happiness, make sure you take off those rosy-colored lenses and do an honest assessment of the financial soundness of your merger.  It's much better to do it on the front-end, than to come to me for damage control in a divorce setting.   

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Game of Life

This week, I got to enjoy a snow day with my son, and he wanted to play the board game "Life."  I never played this growing up, but I wish I had-- the very first thing you have to decide is whether you are going to college or go straight to pursuing a career.  I got to explain to him the consequences involved with those 2 choices, mainly that if you go to college you will probably earn 50% more than your peers that don't get a Bachelors degree, but you also will walk out with $100,000 of debt (that is the prescribed amount in the board game).  He asked me whether that included law school, and I had to laugh before explaining that this would be an additional $100,000 investment, and for doctors it is more like $200,000.  His eyes grew wide as he took in those numbers, and I can't even imagine what the price tag will be when he's actually ready to make some of these choices.

Lately, whenever I lecture at the law schools, or on panels, or students contact me through various connections, I feel like the bearer of bad news, and I hate being in that position.  The reality is that government jobs are incredibly difficult to obtain now, non-profits are having a hard time getting funding, and firms in the private sector have slashed their workforce numbers and salaries.  There really isn't a pretty picture to paint here, and this month's DC Bar Magazine confirms that I am not alone in my perception of this harsh reality. 

Rick Schmitt's feature article for the DC Bar is entitled "Price and Perils of a JD: Is law school worth it?"  I would encourage anyone contemplating a legal career to read this first before making any decisions.  For those who have already taken the plunge, my message has been focused more on keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box when it comes to potential jobs.  But I think the focus really needs to be on getting to young adults in college, or sooner before they take on the hefty debt that may last them a lifetime.  High school counselors and college advisors all screen for your strengths-- but do they talk to you about the perils of a profession?  The stress, the prevalence of depression and anxiety among your peers?  I think I would have remembered if someone had once warned me that less than 15% of all women will ever make equity partner at a firm, and I know I would have gulped if someone had told me that over 40% of female lawyers will at some point face a bout of depression.

I happen to love what I do, and I do not regret the choice of becoming a lawyer, but I realize I am in the minority.  If someone were to ask whether I want my son to follow in my foot steps, I have to be honest in saying no.  The shark tank is full of brilliant people, and I love that, but competition is steep and the games never end.  Who would really wish that for any child, unless you know you have a gamer with nerves of steel? So, if we continue to rely on schools focused on prestige to help our kids formulate their career choices, I don't see this situation getting any better.  Instead, I think it is up to parents to talk to their kids about various life choices and help them develop a game-plan that will work for your own family. 

Life- it is a game.  So, pick your alliances wisely; take a realistic look at the resources you have available; maximize the use of your strengths and don't ignore your weak spots.  Planning ahead and strategizing is the key to success-- and if you can do so as a team and not as an individual, you have a far better chance of achieving a favorable outcome.    Since you never know how far you get, make sure to have fun along the way, but be smart.  That is the message I hope we can all convey to the next generation.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Planning for a Honeymoon

This week, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Teresa from Honeymoon Islands, which is based in Virginia.  (This segment of Making It Last will air March 6 & 7.)  For years, Teresa has been helping couples plan "pop the question" trips, honeymoons, destination weddings, babymoons (the last trip before the baby comes), second weddings, family-moons (where the whole blended family goes away together) and anniversary trips.  By traveling all over the world, and checking out the various resorts, she's developed relationships with the various service providers across the globe and therefore has a wealth of information to assist couples in planning the trip of their dreams.

It was fun to reminisce with her about some of our past adventures, learn about the latest travel trends and hear about some of the amazing trips she's put together for her high-end clients.  Sharing some of these ideas will hopefully help others dream up their ideal honeymoon, however, it may also leave many flabergasted by how some of the wealthiest members of our society spend their free time.  Even I was shocked to learn that for the right price, you can arrange to have the Sistine Chapel closed for a private tour.  I guess that just confirms that everyone, including the church, has its price.

Unfortunately, great excursions are rarely cheap, but many seem to suffer from the common problem we refer to as having "champagne taste on a beer budget."  I see it all the time in the divorce world, but it was interesting to have Teresa address this same issue in her own industry.  Apparently, most couples blow their budget on the wedding and don't leave enough for their honeymoon.  Now that is truly silly because let's face it-- what will you remember?  At the end of the day, the wedding is just a big party you are hosting, and it is full of stress and drama.  Meanwhile, the honeymoon is exclusively yours to enjoy, while you relax and bask in the newness of being married.

The biggest take away I got from my interview with Teresa is that people should be simultaneously researching the wedding and honeymoon details.  This way, you can budget accordingly, and if you need to make cuts, my suggestion would be to cut the guest list.  If you only feed 100 versus 200 people, that alone will probably save you $10,000 or more.  Particularly in this economy, I think people will understand if you keep the wedding size small, and if they don't-- do you really care?  True friends will want you to have the experience of a lifetime.  Give yourself that luxury, and allow yourself to enjoy at least one vacation dream come true.   

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Rat Race

My alma maters and athletic trainers built me to be a machine.  At age 25, they sent me off into the rat race.  15 years later, after swimming in DC's shark tank all this time, managing not to drown or be eaten alive, there are a few things I want to share with others as food for thought. 

First, what is the point of the game?  Some of us are natural born gamers, and we just happen to enjoy the thrill of the game.  But we really need to think about the actual point in the game and what we will define as a win.   Is it simply how much you have in your bank account at the end of the day? Is it how much fun you had and how many toys you got to play with along the way?  There is no right or wrong answer, it's whatever works for you-- but make sure you define for yourself what success means and then go for it.

Second, I've seen way too many people, who've gotten caught up on keeping up with their peers.  Let me be clear without revealing any confidences, you truly have no idea how people are financing their lifestyles.  If you could see what I see, you'd be shocked.  So don't worry about those around you, just do your best to stay grounded in your own life and try not to live beyond your means.

Third, all work and no play makes for a very dull existence.  It is a tricky balancing act that we have to continually struggle with in life, but you can't just spend all your time focusing on work and worrying on saving for the future.  On the other hand, most rat racers tend to share the motto work hard, play hard.  I dig it, I've lived it-- however, with the economic downturn, a lot of us have had to rein in the idea of playing hard or redefined how we play.  Between these two extreme views, you need to find a happy medium, and always remember- you can redefine the rules of engagement at any point, and you can always opt out.

In the end, the rat race is not for everyone, and I truly believe that some of us were just born and bred to be in it, yet few of us were ever taught to think about the end-game.  The dealers in this game want you to keep thinking of success the way they define it, and they want you to live by their rules.  But we do have choices and free will, and that is our power.  Embrace your own power and f*!k the rat race.