Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Do You Like Most About Being Single?

As my decade of being single finally draws to an end, I've been reflecting a lot on what I have enjoyed most about being on my own the last 10 years, and here is what I have so far:   

1. You wake up and go to sleep when you want to, without anyone else disturbing you;
2. You eat what you want, when you want;
3. You spend what you want on whatever you want;
4. You make your own plans on your free-time;
5. You can be as neat or as messy as you want to be at home;
6. You never wake up surprised that your favorite snack/drink is gone from the fridge;
7. You can plan whatever trips you like without the need to compromise; and
8. There are no arguments at the end of the day-- just peace and quiet.

Now while all of this may resonate with many and sound great, let's be realistic-- there is a reason why about 80% of Americans get married, and I highly doubt the motivating factor for most is to have kids or gain financial security.  The truth is that life is so much sweeter when you have someone special by your side.  If I am completely honest with myself and all of you, for the past decade, that special person has been my son.  He filled a void for me that would otherwise have been unbearable.   

I realize that many in the single scene either fall into the category of "empty nesters" or have not yet started a family, and so they will not be able to cope with the Dating Game the way I did the past 10 years, and for those my advice would be to find some other way to fill your emotional tank with love and joy.  The game itself does suck, that is just a fact-- it is full of people with different (sometimes quite dishonorable) agendas, and there is a lot of rejection and disappointment that you will have to endure until you find that right fit.  But quitting is not an option unless you are prepared to live a life in isolation.  So, you must persevere creating almost a Teflon coating over your heart so that all the outrageous insults and injuries you may endure do not stick to you as you continue moving forward playing 20 questions with as much dignity, integrity and grace you can muster.   

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What Skeletons Are In Your Closet?

In light of the whole Ashley Madison scandal, I am sure millions out there are now counting the days until their secret is revealed, especially those that used their government or military emails that now risk severe consequences not just personally, but professionally.  And then at the other extreme we can all picture a whole other camp of individuals relishing in the fact that these people that broke their sacred marital vows are now being exposed, in fact almost branded with a virtual scarlet letter.  Where you fall on this hotly debated topic depends a lot on how honest you are with yourself about the skeletons you have in your own closet.

No one is perfect, and since none of us are currently sitting in the position of ultimate judge or jury on any of the cases that may result from this unfortunate breach of online information, let's just take a moment to think about the current turn of events.  Over the last 10 years, modern technology has completely changed our lives.  The search for anything, including a sexual partner, is now possible with just a few swipes or keystrokes from the comfort and privacy of your own home.  And yet, everything is now captured digitally, and just about everyone around you now has a camera and immediate access to the internet, allowing anything to go viral instantaneously.  So, it is super easy to obtain just about whatever you want-- but it is also ridiculously easy to get busted.  This is the simple truth of our times.

Now, in the case of Ashley Madison users, at least they were being honest about their marital status.  In so many other websites, apps, or even just your local bar down the street, you will find complete liars that profess to be single, separated, or together but living apart-- ready to leave their spouses once the kids go off to college.  These unhappily married folks have been around for centuries, and will continue to exist long after this current scandal is forgotten for one simple reason: keeping a marriage together is hard work, and not everyone is up for the challenge of working through issues both in good and bad times, through sickness and in health until death brings an end to their holy union.

A lot of people delay the decision to divorce simply because of finances.  The reality is it is much easier to split expenses and live comfortably in a two-income household.  And as the years go by, and you are accustomed to a certain life-style, I find a lot of people try to convince themselves that they are better off with the devil that is known vs. the devil that is unknown.  Hmm.. while this is all true, it still begs the question, is this really a way to live?  But ultimately, while some of us may be incapable of making the choice of staying in a loveless marriage, there are others who may make a different choice for reasons that we may never fully comprehend-- and the fact is it's not really any of our business.

Rather than gossip about what others are doing in their marriages, I think a far better use of our time would be for each of us to open up that closet full of skeletons in our own homes, and focus on making peace with our past mistakes.  Give those old ghosts a proper burial so they will stop haunting you.  Make amends if you can with those still living, and going forward remember this old saying: two people can keep a secret only when one of them is dead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

5 Signs Your Relationship Is Dysfunctional

Are you wondering if your situation normal?  Lots of people ask me this question, and honestly I no longer know what is "normal" but to me the more appropriate question is this: does your relationship work for you?  If you are having your doubts, then obviously something is wrong.  Here are 5 common areas of concern:

1. Lack of Trust- This should be self-explanatory.  You simply cannot have a healthy relationship without trust and respect.

2. Lack of Commitment- Are you both committed to staying together and working through life's challenges?  We all suffer setbacks, illnesses, financial loss, and family drama.  The key question is will your partner be with you through the good times and the bad?

3. Conflict Avoidance- Let's be honest, very few enjoy conflict, but it is a part of life.  We all have different points of view and will not always see eye to eye with our partners, and yet you have to be able to talk candidly about your concerns and work through issues together.  Avoiding conflict and faking happiness will not work out in the long run, it never does.

4. No Accountability-  Do you check in with one another on major decisions, or do you each just do your own thing?  If you are truly part of team, then you cannot continue to operate as two separate entities.  You need to keep your promises to each other, and hold everyone in your household accountable for staying on task with the mission/vision/values you have established for your family.

5. No Results- We all have goals, and hopefully the goals you have established together with your partner are being met-- for example the goal to get married, buy a house, have a child, save for retirement, have "date night" at least once a week, travel twice a year, etc.  If those goals are not being met, you will find frustration, anger, disappointment and resentment are all going to build and the result of that will not be pretty.

All of these are common issues people face, not just at home but apparently also at work.  Patrick Lencioni wrote a book "5 Dysfunctions of a Team" dealing with the corporate world, and as I listened to an interview with him going through these points I could see the parallel between our two worlds.  Here is a link to a short video that explains his concept further:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Is Your Wedding Budget Realistic?

If you have been through this drill once before, then these numbers won't surprise you, but if you are getting married for the first time, prepare yourself for a little sticker shock.  The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is about $25,000.  You may wonder, how can this be?  Well, let's think about what costs are involved here:

1. Church/Synagogue- The fees for using a church or synagogue vary, depending also on whether you are a member or not, but for budgeting purposes let's just assume $850 including the officiant's fee.

2. Flowers- Depending on what you want this can get very expensive, but again for sake of simplicity let's use $600 as a place-holder.

3. Dress- Stupidly, I spent $1,000 on my first dress, which was a beautiful silk gown that was never worn again.  I'm not doing that this time around, but even so good luck finding a nice man's suit for the groom and a nice dress and shoes for the bride for under $1000, so let's go with that.

4. Grooming- Every bride I know wants her hair done a special way for the big day, plus makeup and of course you need a mani/pedi the day before, with tips this will run at least $150.

5. Rings- In addition to an engagement ring, you will need wedding bands.  I realize sky is the limit for some, but I'll just use $10,000 for the sake of this argument.

6. Music- Whether you get a DJ or band, I doubt you can get away with less than $400 unless your friend is giving you some steep discount.

7. Pictures-  Unless all you want is a selfie to show at the end of the day, you need to hire someone to capture the special day, but do you really need the whole day?  And how many people do you want on staff?  What is the final product you want-- a complete album or just digitals? Do you want one of the best photographers in the industry or are you willing to give someone relatively new to the scene a shot?  I've heard of people paying as much as $4,500, which I personally think is insane.  I'm going with $800 as a more realistic average number.

8. Rehearsal Dinner- Even if you do a low key BBQ in your backyard, with food and beverages you can easily spend $500 celebrating with family and out of town guests the night before.

9. Reception- Obviously the more people you are feeding, the more expensive the reception is going to be, so think long and hard about how many guests you really want at your wedding.  For budgeting purposes, even a small group of 50 people at $50 per person is going to cost you $2500-- not including any site fees you may have to pay depending on the venue.

10.  Stationary- You need invites and thank you notes, plus postage.  Let's go with $250 on the modest side, obviously realizing this will go up as the number of guests goes up.

11. Honeymoon- Hopefully you realize I have saved the best for last, and if you have followed the math thus far you are already $17,000 in the hole without taking into account the special trip that is all about you as a newly wed couple.  It is a trip you will always remember, and it is the one thing (other than the rings) that you will really remember when it is all said and done.

It is no wonder that so many couples are thinking twice about taking on all these expenses.  It is a huge upfront cost, but then again nothing worthwhile ever comes cheap or easy-- and just wait until the kids come!  Planning and paying for a wedding is intense, but it is an important right of passage. Working through the emotions and the finances of this event is just the first of many challenges a couple will face together.  Consider this a huge lesson in what matters most to each person and his/her ability to communicate and compromise.

There may well be times during the wedding prep where one or the other will be on the verge of a heart attack as these difficult discussions about budgets and family dynamics come up, but perhaps going in with a realistic budget as set forth above will help keep things calm.  And when in doubt, ask friends and family for a reality check, and with a little help from the village your big day should turn out just fine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do You Feel Like It Is Groundhog Day?

Remember that 1993 movie with Bill Murray, where he keeps waking up and the day keeps repeating itself? If you are stuck in a vicious cycle, it is normal to feel like you are starring in Groundhog Day. While the topic you may be arguing about is different, the same fight is going replay itself because the core issue remains unresolved.  Here is an example:

Day 1- you fight about the dishes in the sink.
Day 2- you argue about the clothes not in the hamper.
Day 3- you have a fit about the trash not being taken out.
Day 4- you get upset because there is not a single sweet text message sent.
Day 5- you get fired up when you find someone forgot to pay a bill, or pick up the dry-cleaning, etc.

By Day 6 you are in big trouble for one very simple reason-- for a relationship to be happy and healthy you need 5 positive interactions to one negative, yet in this scenario you have had 5 straight days of blow ups.  You don't have to be math genius to figure out the odds are now stacked against you, unless you can find a way to reboot.

To break away from a series of bad-spells, you may actually need to get away, maybe spend a day apart and do something you enjoy on your own.  You can vent to someone you trust if you need to, with the goal being to purge the negative energy.  Then, maybe try to get away together-- even if it is just a romantic dinner, a concert, movie, day hike-- whatever helps remind you of the love you share and the bond you have created over time.

Building on the positive energy, when you return to your normal routine, it is important to gently start to tackle the real issue that is haunting your relationship.  Brace yourself, because repair work is not easy.  You will need good communication skills and insight in order to work through rough patches in a relationship.  We all have them, but at the end of the day if you are committed to understanding one another and finding solutions together, you should be able to get past the bumps in the road.

At the end of the day, the issues that upset us the most are pretty easy to identify-- we all want our partner's empathy, attention and respect.  Bill Eddy suggests we remember this as "EAR."  With this in mind, go back to the fights about the dishes, the clothes, the trash or other chores and you can see that the real issue is about a lack of respect or consideration.  And it is human nature that when someone insults you, you become far less inclined to be nice to them-- you will either fight or flee, argue or shut down.  We have all been there, but unless you want to continue starring in your own version of Groundhog Day, you and your partner are going to have to find a way (together) to break the vicious cycle.