ADVICE FROM DAD {& MOM} – WHEN DID “LOVE” BECOME A FOUR-LETTER WORD?

*Of any article I’ve written thus far, this is the one I would like you to read.  It’s lengthy, but I truly believe this subject is worth taking the time to reflect upon.  I feel that this article is equally pertinent to men and women.  All comments and opinions are welcomed and appreciated.

It was getting dark earlier everyday.  I hate the time change.  It’s as if that extra hour or two of darkness each evening resulted in too much thinking; I began a forced evaluation of the year that had almost passed.  I was sitting outside as twilight approached and I could feel the heaviness of the evening and chill in the air settling around my shoulders, swiftly isolating me from my surround and transforming my thoughts into something sharper and a bit more painful.  I raised my glass of wine deliberately to my mouth as I heard my father say, “Want company?”  I made out the figure of my mother holding two more wine glasses behind my dad’s large, comforting shadow.

How do they always know when I’m over-thinking?

I welcomed the interruption and attempted to quickly shake my mood to no avail.   My dad asked what was on my mind, while my mom patiently awaited my answer with a slight smile on her face.  Twenty-eight years old and I still welcome any kind of parenting they have to offer… especially when accompanied with the buttery comfort of the wine and the thin, dark veil of the sky to mask my embarrassment.

I started to laugh and cry at the very same time.  I had been thinking about the relationship I had ended earlier in the year and the string of hilarious {and unsettling} dates {if you can even call them all “dates”} I had been on since.  I knew that ending the relationship had been the right decision, so that wasn’t the cause of my strife.  I knew that the Brit who possessed a devilish wit {sadly, it was only when he drank excessively} and the tall, dark, and handsome foreigner {who ended up being more vampire than man} were just two men in the sea of many.  I searched frantically for the words to explain my complex emotional reaction and came up with this over-simplified {and over-dramatic} sentence: “Does love even exist anymore?”

I don’t know what I had expected of my parents.  I guess I thought they might laugh.  Maybe just jovially state, “Of course it does!”  They did neither of those things.  Instead, we sat and had an important discussion.  Moments of the interaction were confusing and frustrating… especially as I shared my viewpoint with them and found, each time I hoped they would disagree with me and reaffirm my faith in the kind of serendipitous love that I had been certain would come stumbling my way, that they were just as worried as I was… not just for me, but for each and every one of you reading this.

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, how about some Fitzgerald? I blame {and thank} my father for my F. Scott obsession.  Now, here you are:
I fell in love with her courage. Her sincerity. And her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in… I love her and it is the beginning of everything.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald {when writing about his love for his wife, Zelda}

Damn. Courage? Sincerity? Flaming self respect? When is the last time that you heard a twenty-something {or even a thirty-something} speak about his or her affection for another in this way? Although I’m in the tail-end of my own twenty-somethings, I have never heard such ardent admiration pouring from the lips of a peer {or written in ink from their pen… or typed across the cold, harsh screen of their computer}.  I don’t believe this is because love is no longer alive and well.  I don’t think this is because chivalry is dead.  I don’t think this is the result of some obscure band of militant feminists who demanded their right to a higher wage and, in the process, murdered the masculine presence in this country.  I’ve heard a variety of arguments and viewpoints on why love is impossible to find and I don’t agree with any of them.  Neither do my parents.

Before I place the blame on who exactly I believe is killing love, I think it’s important to discuss where our idea of love comes from.  The initial conversation with my parents focused on generational differences that shape our understanding of love.  A myriad of influences from our childhood to present day create our idea of love {and ultimately commitment, family, and other important social constructs that stem from our base understanding of love}.  Love and our understanding of love is found most readily in the arts {film, music, art, etc.}.  We [meaning me… and you, the reader] come from a generation of harshly worded music, as opposed to the lyrical musings of Frank and Billie… or even the heat and bass of Barry White.  The television influence of Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a far cry from the message of family and morale that was transmitted weekly on Leave It to Beaver.  Films like Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are now referred to as  “classics” {and with good reason}.  Love {of the healthy, committed, and steadfast varietal} is something that we have to find in “rom-coms” or “chick lit” or some other unattractively abbreviated and sexist genre.  However, this only contributes to a misunderstanding about love… it doesn’t cause it to disappear altogether.

This horrendous pop-culture/lack-of-culture phenomenon that we are currently subjected to {along with a lot of other things like education, the economy, and a million little variables} has resulted in something that my dad calls the “too cool” generation {and, though I hate to admit how right he is, he is spot on}.  I am, admittedly, disgusted with being a member of the “too cool” generation.  Too cool to try.  Too cool to care. Too cool to put together some kind of a workable sentence. Too cool to have an opinion.  Too cool to read.  Too cool to work.  Too cool to love.

I’ve been guilty of being “too cool” to discuss love countless times in the past.  I’ve most definitely been guilty of being “too cool” to admit that I want to be loved, that I have felt love, or that love is important to me.  It’s as if “love” is the only four-letter word that isn’t “cool” to use in a conversation.  Though I can’t control the actions of our generation, I can reject the “too cool” mentality {and I was able to do so with the priceless advice and support of my parents}… and so can you.  The first step is being able to discuss love without cringing, laughing, blushing, stuttering, or acting as if you are unaffected by its existence.  So, I’ll go first…

My understanding of love at twenty-eight goes a little like this: Love is the single most terrifyingly wonderful emotion that a human being can experience.  It results in some kind of vertigo, mental and emotional rhythms that cause the heart to race, the mind to blur, and the skin to flush.  It requires a vulnerability that can only be experienced by the most courageous of beings.

Love, when it goes awry, can result in tremendous pain if left unrequited and even more tremendous pain if it appears to be requited but such reciprocation is later found to be undermined by a drifting fog of lies.

And what of love’s most desirable form? What of love fully requited and honored? In that vein, love produces the most beautiful sense of fulfillment, completion, and sense of worth.  Now, those are all things I’m not supposed to say… and definitely not supposed to write.  Love provides fulfillment? Haven’t I been a member of the chorus touting independence, self-reliance and a sense of completeness achieved solely by personal achievement, high self-esteem, and a sense of self-worth? Of course.  However, as my parents explained, there is a whole lot of “self” in those words and, without the balance of love {which can be oscillate between selfish and selfless… and should oscillate in this way}, you will be a raging {and very lonely} egomaniac {I hate to picture the retirement homes of our generation filled with angry, single, narcissistic old folks}.

My parents and I agreed that at the root of love there is something inexplicable… love exists without the ability to rationalize it.  It just exists.  You can either accept its existence or deny its existence.  Basically,  for love to disappear {back to the question that I asked my parents: “Does love even exist anymore?”}, humans would have to deny something innate: a silent pull toward meaningful connection and the desire to feel accepted in one’s entirety.

And, after much thought and conversation with two very wise individuals {thank you, mom & dad}, that is exactly what I believe has happened.  Humans, namely those in their twenties and thirties, are consciously denying something that they are feeling.  They are refusing to accept the emotional reaction that occurs when you plow headfirst into love.

To put it bluntly: we are the generation that is killing love.  To sum up the wisdom my parents imparted, there seem to be two fatal flaws present in our generation that present a direct blow to one’s ability to love and be loved: entitlement and fear.  It could be stated just as easily and synonymously that sloth and a general lack of anything resembling courage are at fault.  Put either way, I believe that love has been lying dormant because she is waiting to be coaxed from her patient, dark resting place by someone worth a damn.

Not a knight in shining armor.  Not a damsel in distress.

You. And me.

So, let’s get rid of any sense of sloth we may have and courageously throw our trepidatious nature to the side.  Here’s a two-step plan to get back to love {thank you, parents, for helping point these things out}:

1. Do Away With Entitlement/Laziness

Entitlement and laziness {or sloth} frequently manifest themselves in similar ways.  Look for a lack of ambition, work-ethic, responsibility, and accountability {in yourself or others}.    If you possess these qualities, you are directly affecting your ability to love and be loved.  Love takes work.  It takes a certain level of commitment and effort.  If someone is unable to pull up their bootstraps and make something of themselves and the life they have been given, then they sure as hell don’t have what it takes to manage the unrestrained fire of love.

Laziness and a sense of entitlement have led to the following common problems that immediately deter or destroy the presence of love:

          a. The Generation of Calculated Disconnection.  Lazy people all over the world are now able to simply use their fingers to type a half-witted text message to say, “Hey.”  A man can avoid asking you out in person by “friending” you on Facebook.  A woman can learn about a man through his Instagram account instead of through face-to-face conversation.  A million singles can propagate the cycle by engaging in a current dating trend like Tinder.  The meaningless text chatter and plethora of social media photos now available can lead to a period of limbo full of stale conversation and a feeling of complete disconnection.  It looks something like this: weeks of text messaging may occur at sporadic intervals.  Perhaps they “like” a photo or status update.  Maybe, if they are up to it, they send you a photo or two along the way with a moderately amusing caption.  Maybe {oh, they must be really into you} they send you a link to a YouTube video of a band you mentioned that you liked.  This may go on endlessly without even hearing the voice of the individual on the other end of the communication.  Often, you will never meet up with this individual as neither of you will initiate any actual plans {see Death of the Date below} and your texting will slow in its frequency as you each realize that you are engaged in the same faux-conversation you have had a hundred times before with a hundred other people.  Love demands that the mind, as well as the heart, be engaged.  Without conversation, an expression of genuine interest in another, or some form of face-to-face interaction, the mind of Love remains idle and she remains unengaged.

          b. Death of the Date. A date involves some kind of preparation.  The first step is setting a date for the date; this involves asking another human being about their schedule and then analyzing your schedule and then finding a date and time on the calendar that works for both of you.  A date used to involve the gentleman calling the woman to ask her out {or asking her out in person} and, after she answered in the affirmative, said gentleman would pick the woman up at her home.  This situation doesn’t seem to happen much anymore.  Now, a man may ask you to “hang out” via text message {or something equally casual and non-committal}.  This can lead to weeks of texting about the idea of the two of you getting together without any solid plans in mind.  If you actually succeed in agreeing on setting a date, you then meet at a location that is relatively equidistant for both of you.  This guarantees that neither individual is putting in more effort than the other and, perhaps, they will even split the check.  There is very little about this process that is romantic or instills a feeling of positive anticipation.  After going on a series of “dates” that have occurred in this manner, I found that I had begun to refer to them as “meetings” {without the slightest… okay, maybe the slightest… sense of irony}.  The butterflies, giddiness, nervousness, and anticipation that I know are supposed to accompany a date have fled the scene using swift, tiny steps, hoping to go unnoticed… but I noticed.  And, I would go so far as to say that you notice it, too.  Dates are supposed to involve some kind of romance and forethought. Dates should involve opening of the car door and any other doors that may present themselves.  Dates demand a little extra time to pick out your outfit or smooth your hair.  A proper date is peppered with witty conversation, flirtation, and some quality interaction {and, perhaps, a glass or two of wine}.  All of these things require effort.  Someone who is lazy cannot {or will not} put in this kind of effort {and they certainly won’t possess the skills necessary for the dizzying conversation that the heart demands}.  Without this kind of effort, love fails to spring from her hibernation.  Instead, she sighs, lazily rolls over to her other side, and curls up to sleep awhile longer.

          c. How Laziness Kills Love. Love demands action, not a period of delayed interaction or intentional inaction.  Action is the only thing that will rouse Love from her slumber. Love demands forethought and attention.  Without these things, Love will remain in hiding.  Individuals are settling for this form of unfulfilling interaction because they think that’s all there is today.  Or they think someone else should be putting in the work for them {i.e. entitlement}.  Or they think that love will just wander their way {i.e. laziness}.  Or they are just too afraid to make any kind of affirmative move… which brings me to point #2.

2. Boldly Overcome Fear/Lack of Courage

Love, as stated earlier, is an absolutely terrifying emotion and the journey towards experiencing love is full of unpredictable and potentially painful experiences.  Love is not for the meek.  For love to come to fruition, one needs to possess a kind of courageous vulnerability.  To be this brave, you must be completely comfortable with you.  Essentially, this means that you have some form of self-worth that stems from living a life in which you have put a good deal of effort and amassed a sense of value and purpose.  In other words, it means that you have completed Step One {outlined above} and are not lazy or entitled.  Action calls Love to rise, but you still have to bravely open the door and let her come inside… and that is not easy.

Fear and a lack of courage have led to the following problems that vanquish Love quickly:

          a. Lack of Initiation or Lack of Follow-Through {Attention: Men}.  It has become unclear who is supposed to do the “asking out.”  Before, it was cut and dry: the man did the asking and the woman did the accepting or rejecting.  I’m a forward-thinker, but I still struggle with asking a guy out.  I think that’s because the man should still be the one doing the asking {yes, I said it.  Guys, step up and do it}.  The problem is that men now require so much coaxing, coddling, and finagling to get them to actually initiate a date.  They’ll hint at it.  They’ll seem to flirt with the idea.  But they’re looking for some kind of affirmation {like saying “Yes! I would love to go out with you!”} before they have actually asked.  The need for constant affirmation is the holding cell of Fear; Love views Fear as unstable, unsafe, and unsettling.  When Love senses insecurity {like a glaring fear of rejection} she hides because she knows that only the bold can truly handle what she has to offer.  Even worse than a lack of initiation is a lack of follow-through.  Let’s say you make it through The First Date.  It seems to have gone well.  The man mentioned repeatedly how much he wants to see you again.  He texts you consistently for the next week and doesn’t set a date.  He’s waiting for you to initiate the follow-through.  In the face of this instability, Love runs back to her hiding place.  {Clarification: after a few dates, I’m all for the woman initiating a date here or there… however, the beginning stages are controlled by the man.  Read The Thrill of the Chase for information supporting this}.

         b. The Demise of Sexual Morality {Attention: Women}. When talking to my father and mother about their younger years, they stressed the point that women who failed to get attention sought to draw attention to themselves through their sexual promiscuity; it was something that was not respected.  Sadly, by today’s standards, being “easy” is not unusual in the slightest.  It is not unusual for a woman to be taking birth control or for a man to have a condom in his wallet “just in case.”  Though it may seem unfair, I still believe that it is up to the woman to lay down the standards that she will accept.  That means turning your back on the cultural onslaught of our oversexed generation and drawing your own line.  It means refusing to be someone’s “just in case.”  It takes courage to remove yourself from the fray, but love refuses to exist among the hodgepodge that propagates the fray.  As my father always says, “You attract what you project.”  Be courageous enough to hold your ground and demand self-respect.  A man worth his salt will make his way to you.  You’ll know it’s him because he’ll also refuse to stand alongside the masses and will respect {and applaud} your boundaries.  Boundaries of this kind allow Love a safe haven in which to grow; without these boundaries, Love will flee or, even worse, she will be trampled into a jaded quasi-existence.

          c. The Inability to Use the Word “Love.”  Our generation seems to have a problem exchanging a sincere “I love you.”  People feel the stirrings of something that they assume might be love and they push it to the side, attempt to ignore it, flat out deny it, or run from the individual stirring this feeling within them.  They don’t want to say “I love you” and be met with the painful silence that screams “unrequited.”  However, in refusing to acknowledge the presence of Love, the greatest pain has already occurred: the denial of one’s own stirrings of love.  If you are unable to tell another that you love them {and, sadly, this seems to be quite common in our generation… riddled with excuses our peers will say I don’t even know what love is or I’m not in love or Does love even exist anymore?… oh, yeah, guilty of that last one}.  I’ve mocked love through my writing {read Why Falling in Love is a Stupid Thing to Do} and it’s harmless, right?  On further inspection, I don’t think that it is.  Love poems, love songs, love letters… I’m talking about the really good stuff… need to be embraced and accepted.  It’s good to be able to laugh at your foibles in The Game of Love, but it’s not healthy to deny your ability to love or to disallow yourself to love.  It takes an extreme amount of courage to open yourself up to these feelings and to the sentiment “I love you” {arguably the three scariest words in the human language}, but without the words to convince Love to stay, she will retreat and leave you just as suddenly as you had found her.

          d. How Fear Kills Love. Love demands that someone brave lead the way.  Once action rouses Love, Courage must take her down the path that she demands.  It is a path not yet forged and likely entirely unexpected.  It is not for the weak.  It is not for the fearful.  Without an extreme bout of bravery, Love won’t make it past the starting gate.

3. The Solution.  Start with you.  Erase any sense of entitlement and banish laziness.  The more responsibility you take for your actions, the more self-respect you will have.  Self-respect is contagious.  It will affect your friends and those around you.  Soon, entitlement and laziness will disappear from your life and social circles.  Remember the words of my father: “You attract what you project.”  Next, be brave.  Tremendously brave.  You want to end up with someone brave, don’t you?  Don’t shy away from conversations with those you trust {like your friends and family} about your desire to love and be loved.  The more comfortable you get with the topic, the more comfortable they will get with the topic.  You don’t have to turn into some kind of love-touting lunatic.  Just be honest with who you are, at your very core, and what you desire.  The dark hiding spot where Love is resting her head is within you.  It is up to you to gently awaken her.  I don’t know the next step… perhaps it occurs when you encounter a similarly positioned individual, one whose mind and heart are open and ready to take on the challenges {and rewards} of Love.  If you remain open to Love and committed to her, I believe that others will do the same.  I would love if our generation was known for carrying on a Legacy of Love, as opposed to one of Sloth and Fear.

I don’t want to be a part of the generation that was too scared to love.  Do you?

ADVICE FROM DAD – “BE BRAVE”

My dad and I were sitting outside about half an hour before the sun began to set.  The sun was cutting sharp lines through the trees in front of us.  After bouts of laughter, we settled into a comfortable silence for quite some time, a kind of silence that I’ve always relished sharing with him.  Something about that moment became instantly profound and beautiful, as if my father’s wisdom and kindness were shown to me in the serenity of our surround.  It struck a chord that caused my mind to churn with thoughts that had laid dormant.

My thoughts centered on the “pressures” on women today. Countless conversations with my beautiful-precisely-as-they-are-inside-and-out-girlfriends swirled over and around each other in my head becoming a symphony of false and dangerous thinking. I heard their voices :

“I’m 25, I should have a better paying job by now.”
“I’m 30, shouldn’t I be married already?”
“I’m 35, I’m supposed to have children soon… but I don’t have the job I should have and I haven’t found the right man.”
“If only I were prettier/thinner/richer, then I’d be happier/I’d be married/everything would be perfect.”

I’ve been guilty of mulling over similar thoughts in the past; however, something about it never sat well with me and, with my rejection of this mindset, I had begun to feel alienated in my way of thinking.  It was as if I had initially drunk the Kool-Aid, but then I decided to spit it out.  I owed this rejection of socially imposed desires {things that others tell us to want, but that we may not actually want if left to our own devices} to my father.  Without him, I, too, could have careened swiftly down that rabbit hole.

Eventually, it was as if my own thoughts were so loud that my dad must have heard them.  My father turned his gaze from the calm before us and looked at me.  I caught his eye and he raised his eyebrow.  With that simple gesture, he released all of the thoughts that were tangled in my mind.  I began to speak slowly then all at once.  Words began pouring out of my mouth, while tears stung my eyes {a vulnerability, be it human or just very female, that I find myself afflicted by at the most inconvenient of times}.

“You raised me this way,” I began, “And I’m grateful for it… so grateful for it.  But it feels heavy, as if I have some kind of an obligation out there.”

He nodded at me to elaborate.  I wasn’t making much sense and I hoped that if I continued to speak that the words would find their way.  I felt so much like a child.

“There is so much that I want to do, Dad.  It’s as if it’s tearing at me.  I love my life right now more than words can express so I don’t want to sound ungrateful at all…  but I feel like I’m living by a very different set of expectations than a lot of other young women.  You raised me to create my own belief system. You raised me to be curious and you taught me to question everything.  You’re the reason that I don’t do well with direction and authority…”

He laughed.  There was nothing condescending in it.  He laughed like he was proud.  So I continued.

“You raised me to think.  You raised me to be…” I began to falter, searching for the word, “You raised me to be myself.”

He smiled and said, with his gentle firmness, “You’re brave. I raised you to be brave.”

With those words, something in me untied.  The knot I’d been feeling, the feeling of being driven in a different direction, a direction charted by an internal compass that rejected external demands, the feeling of wanting to give that same freedom to all of my friends and all of their friends and every woman that I knew, completely made sense.  The pressure that I had been feeling was simple: it was time to be brave.  I thought of the Robert Frost quote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

My dad then discussed the pressures that he saw placed on me {and other women} and he began to absolutely demolish them… restructure them… and turn them on their heads until I was able to clearly see what he had already grasped about my life and the lives of so many women: the “expectations” were absolutely ridiculous.  He explained that it takes unwavering courage to walk your own path in life; to be yourself, you must first be brave.  I realized, through my father, that I was not alone in my thinking; if he understood it so clearly, there must be other young women who felt precisely the way that I had been feeling.  Through sage advice, he unknowingly gave me a new list of expectations.  They’re paraphrased, but I wanted to share them with you in the hopes that they can become some of your new expectations {or that they offer you the liberation to create your very own}.  The bottom line is clear, as each expectation could be rewritten simply: Be Brave.

5 Expectations That Have Been Obliterated, Restructured, and Rewritten for Today’s Independent, Intelligent, Driven, Funny, Curious, and Brave Female

Old Expectation: There is an appropriate age at which to attain certain goals. A lady ought to be married before she hits 30 and have children shortly thereafter.
New Expectation: There are no timelines or deadlines to apply to your life.  Your obligation is to live your life on your own terms.
Each and every person {male and female} on this huge globe of ours has a very different life path, so there’s no way to apply a one-size-fits-all structure to your life.  What if you want to make a huge career shift at 29? What if you want to travel until your head explodes with all of the rad experiences you’ve gathered along the way? What if you want to experience your second {or third or forth…} childhood and you don’t see it involving children of your own yet {or ever}? What if you’re entirely single… and entirely happy about it? Any and all of these attitudes are fine.  As are wanting to get married and having children. You have to listen to what is already engraved on your own internal compass.  It takes bravery to set your own timeline {or to throw any idea of a “timeline” out the window}.  I’ve always loved the quote, “Be the hero of your own story.”  Well, be the heroine.  This is your story.  Maybe your white knight will come galloping into your life, but maybe you’ll be surprised and be your own knight in shining armor. To be a heroine, you must be brave.

Old Expectation: You have to look like the women on the cover of Cosmo to be considered attractive. You look nothing like her at all, you say? Well, best of luck out there in the world because you must be one horrifying beast of a woman.
New Expectation: You are attractive when you possess internal beauty and come to the determination that you are beautiful.
It is only when you are alive, on fire, and ready to be a brave force of a woman that you become indescribably attractive.  The key to this kind of beauty is that it’s been brought to life.  Your face, eyes, movements and attitudes will become lit from within by your internal beauty and take on a power that they didn’t have before.  If you are not internally beautiful, anything externally attractive about you will be like the surface of the lake: beautiful upon first glance, but covered in ripples with the slightest disruption.  It is this inner beauty that will allow you to recognize your external beauty.  It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you look in the mirror and recognize that you are beautiful, this beauty becomes instantly recognizable to the rest of the world. Your beauty can be found in the way you carry yourself with your shoulders thrown back and your head held high.  It can be seen in the quiet intelligent gleam in your eye. It can be the way that you walk, the tone of your voice, or in your mischievous smile.  When you let your inner beauty animate your outer shell, you will be more than attractive; you will be captivating and your beauty will stand the test of time. To be this attractive, you must be lit from within. You must be brave.

Old Expectation: You must have a large bust, a tiny waist, and curvaceous hips to be physically desirable.
New Expectation: An appealing figure is one that is strong and able.
A body that is being put to use, well and often, will end up finding its most attractive shape, naturally.  If you focus on your health, embrace your sense of adventure, and love the body you have been given, then you’re likely an incredibly sexy woman.  If you let society dictate whether or not your body is appealing, you are leaving your physical appeal up to the fickle hands of time and tabloids.  Use your body for all it’s worth.  Get outside and run.  Drag your friends on the dance floor until you’re all giggling and sweaty {hot} messes.  See nature the way it was intended to be seen and trek through some unfamiliar terrain.  Try something new, something that scares you, something that requires you to be brave. To do your body justice, you must explore and jump and run and dance.  You must eschew the lying voice of the media.  You must be brave.

Old Expectation: His interests should become your interests so that he stays interested in you.
New Expectation: Forget about whether or not he loses interest… You will lose interest in your own life if you don’t develop interests of your very own.
Do not change for a man.  Create your own world. A woman without her own interests, passions, quirks, and curiosities is not much of a woman at all.  Find what makes you come alive and do it.  You must first open yourself up to this world to find what makes you tick.  This is a wonderfully terrifying thing to do, so you must be brave.  Do you find yourself drawn to a time past? Rock some vintage clothing and listen to music from that era.  Do your fingers itch with the need to create? Grab a canvas/a pen/paper napkin and paint/write/doodle until the itch has been scratched.  Do you want to know about other countries and cultures? Learn a language and buy a ticket.  Do you like to get lost in the labyrinth of your imagination? Curl up with one book after another until your mind can take no more.  Once you have created your world, welcome others into your life with a kind of cautious invitation.  If you do allow a man to come into the complex, intricate, and varied world that you have cultivated {and, trust me, once you are this fascinating you will have your fair share of curious men and suitors}, only commit to him if he can commit to making your world larger, not smaller.  The human experience is far too grand to enter into a partnership that fails to expand the world of the other.  To create your own world, you must be brave.

Old Expectation: Do what others tell you.  Obey the mainstream.
New Expectation: Do what you tell you.  Be brave.


{image found via Pinterest}

ADVICE FROM DAD – “INEPTITUDE IS NOT AN ATTRACTIVE QUALITY”

When I was young and would ask for help putting together a new toy, my dad would smile and say, “Ineptitude is not an attractive quality.”  At the time, I didn’t truly grasp the meaning of the definition of “ineptitude”… I just knew that if these words came out of my dad’s mouth, it meant that I was putting together my new toy on my own.  In retrospect, I was never on my own.  My dad was always just around the corner and, if I truly needed help, after I had truly put in the effort, my dad would teach me how to correctly finish my project.

As I grew, the mantra was repeated.

“Dad, how do I find ‘x’ in this equation?”
“Kiki, you can figure it out… ineptitude is not an attractive quality.”

“Dad, do you know where the Band-aids are?  How deep is a cut that needs stitches?”
“Old girl {don’t worry, it’s a term of endearment}, you’re fine… ineptitude is not an attractive quality.”

“Dad, does the car have enough oil in it?  I want to go on a road trip this weekend.”
“Daughter, why don’t you go and check it? Ineptitude is not an attractive quality.”

You get the idea.  And, soon, so did I.  It took awhile  {I earned straight A’s in math…. learned to butterfly bandage a deep cut on my own… and now know my way around a car}, but I then thought I realized the lesson my dad was trying to teach me.  And so I approached him with my theory.

“Okay, dad,” I began, “I figured it out.  Your generation was different… Women could rely on the institution of marriage.  They could rely on the man’s income and skill to be taken care of.  Nowadays, divorce is rampant and a woman has to be able to stand on her own.  Also, men aren’t into the same submissive, brainless types that permeated the 50s.  So…” I paused, feeling triumphant, “That’s why you tried to instill in me that ineptitude was not an attractive quality! Right?”

He laughed and smiled, the corners of his sage eyes crinkling a bit.  “Not really, Kiki.  I just think you are special and beautiful.  I won’t always be here to help you {that part made me get teary}.  This life is only truly yours when you can take care of yourself.  When you rid yourself of the inability to help yourself, or ineptitude, the world becomes a larger, more accessible, and more wonderful place.  You will feel confident navigating this world and setting the rules and boundaries for your own life.  And, yes, that strength and independence will attract the right kind of man; the kind that appreciates, encourages, and values your will… and respects your right to your own life.  So I suppose what I mean is that ineptitude is not an attractive quality to the right kind of people: those who value confidence and strength, the type of people that you should be associating with.”

I realized that I had much to learn… and so the discussion continued for numerous hours.  Here is the Cliff’s Notes version of some of the more powerful points my father made.

First, a definition.  Ineptitude {n}: 1. unskillfulness resulting from a lack of training 2. having no qualities that would render it valuable or useful {so, to avoid being inept, one must have a skill set that comes from training or preparation and it is only then that they will have qualities that render them valuable and useful.  And, yes love, you want to be valuable and useful.  These are the reasons {thanks to my wise papa} exactly why you want to be anything but inept.

1. People are Rarely There to Help When You Need Them. When I first heard my father say this, I was immediately defensive.  “Dad! You’re wrong.  People are generally good…” He cut me off.  That was not what he meant.  What he meant was that when the blender broke, a car tire went flat, or my computer broke down, I would likely not have someone directly at my side at that moment.  I would likely be alone.  He wanted me to be able to feel calm, confident, and able when a stressful situation arose.  He stressed the importance of being able to “stand on [my] own two feet.”  For it is only then that a person becomes able; and being able means that an individual can make an impact {see number 3}.  You, Cupcake, should be able to stand firmly on your own two {pedicured/perfect/adorned with adorable high heels} feet.  You and I both know {and, apparently, so does my father} that you are more than able… and you were born to make an impact.

2. You Must be Able to Take Care of Yourself to Truly Take Care of Others. This is a total and complete truth.  For the full truth, read this article: “It’s Your Life, Too.”  My father is infinitely wise.  If, at some point, something scary/unpredictable/random happens and it involves your friend/family member/husband/boyfriend/child and you are the only person there to help them… but you are not a capable person {you are, instead, a sadly inept person}… how are you to help them?  You will likely crumble under the stress of the situation if you are not prepared.  You will not be prepared if you have not learned to first deal with stressful situations as they pertain to you as an individual.  You are, in a word: inept.  This is certainly not an attractive quality to people around you as they cannot rely on you or feel safe or trust you.  Ineptitude diminishes your value to others and your value in a relationship.  Also, ineptitude causes stress… which causes wrinkles {and not the happy smile/laugh-line type of wrinkles}… and you, sweet thing, do not want to muddy up your face {which is a woman’s story} with stress induced lines.

3. More Opportunites Await Those Who are Able. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that more opportunities are created by those who are able.  Someone who feels confident enough to take on the world alone and feels that they can handle what the world throws their way will not hesitate to do something courageous.  It is only through preparation {or being adept as opposed to being inept} that one is courageous; and it is only through being courageous that one is able to make a meaningful impact on the world {as everything cowardly and easy has already been done}.  It takes a courageous {prepared and able} woman to chase her dream, start a business, present an idea, create something, or make any kind of meaningful contribution to her own life, the lives of those around her, and the world.  Living without courage is like living half-asleep.  Ineptitude results in a nothing more than a half-lived life.

4. Until You are Independent and Happy On Your Own {Adept}, You Will Not Experience Genuine Love. You’ve heard it before, “You can’t love someone else until you truly love yourself.”  Guess what? It’s true.  It is a similar concept to not being able to take care of another individual unless you can take care of yourself, but it is slightly different.  The difference is this: loving yourself means valuing yourself, respecting yourself, acknowledging your right to a full/adventurous/fabulous/varied life, and feeling confident in exactly who you are {even that “who” changes daily… exploring the different facets of yourself is a part of loving yourself}.  To do this, you must be an adept individual who is prepared, confident, and knows her self-worth.  You have to allow yourself to be exactly who you are and to be adept, not inept, at living as yourself, as an independent individual, before you can allow someone else to truly love you.  If you do not know yourself, you cannot expect someone else to know/love you.  In fact, it is impossible because not knowing yourself means that your true able/informed/prepared/explorative self is lying dormant.  Love is not something that lies dormant; love is something constant and yet fluid, true and piercing, and exciting.  Love does not survive in a dormant environment; it can only be smothered there.  You must be complete, able to navigate this wondrous/crazy/inexplicable world, before you can navigate the world of love.

5. A Man Who Wants a Weak Woman is a Weak Man; a Weak Woman {One Who is Inept} Will Inevitably End Up with a Weak Man. A weak man is one who is limited, both in perspective and ability, and who therefore limits the perspective and ability of his partner.  To limit the ability of his partner, he must find someone who he can control.  A woman who can be controlled usually has a somewhat low self-esteem and almost no trust in her ability to take care of or provide for herself.  She believes {consciously or sub-consciously} that she will find someone to give her life direction and meaning.  This can cause a woman to end up with a man that take the scope of her potential life experience and limits it to a life experience that is controlled and, therefore, restricted and incomplete.  This was one of my father’s greatest fears… that either of his two daughters would ever allow themselves to be controlled by a Weak Man; a man who would limit their right to a full and varied life.    An adept woman, one who removes all traces of ineptitude from her life, is a strong woman.  A Strong Woman recognizes her right to a fabulous life in which she makes the decisions for herself, in which she sets her own rules and boundaries, and in which she controls the scope of her life experience.  A Strong Man, one who is confident, secure, and able, will be attracted to this type of a woman.  A Strong Man will settle for nothing less than a Strong Woman.  A Strong Woman knows that she has the power to make the decision of allowing the Strong Man to be a part of her life {as he is able to make the same decision in regard to her being a part of his} and the two strong and adept people expand one another’s life scope as the other’s strength and adeptness makes the partnership much stronger.

A couple of months ago, I was setting up a surround sound stereo system and I found myself tangled in about one hundred wires.  I took a deep breath and thought, “Ineptitude is not an attractive quality.”  After a few hours and a permanent crease in my brow from the furrowing I had done while peering at directions that must have been written in Korean, I was untangled and my sound system was fully {and correctly} wired.

When I finally brought my dad into the room to show him my wiring abilities, he literally beamed.  He turned to me and said, “Good job, baby.  You’ve always been this way… Remember when you were a kid and used to put together your own toys?”  I smiled… wondering if he fully grasped that it was he who had taught me independence, self-reliance, and strong will at such a young age.  I responded, “Come on, dad.  Don’t you know that ineptitude is not an attractive quality?”

ADVICE FROM DAD – “THE THRILL OF THE CHASE”

Best. Dad. Ever.

I am typically not a proponent for rules… especially when they come from my father.  Throughout the years, he has given me “advice” (his word… I always felt like they were more like “rules”) about how to deal with the opposing (ahem… I mean opposite) sex.  I have made my fair share of mistakes while breaking these fatherly tips… and, much to my chagrin, I found that most of what my father taught me was absolutely correct.  Here is a bit of his wisdom  (condensed for your use) that I have gathered from age 4 until now.

1. Do not be readily available. An available woman is a desperate woman.  Think of it this way… if he asks you if you are available later that evening and you say, “Yes!” you either a) had no plans (boooooring) or b) had plans and broke them to hang out with him (bad move, woman).  Either way, you come off as lonely/uninteresting or desperate (by immediately making him a priority), respectively.  Now, I’m not saying the three-day rule (asking you out three days in advance) needs to be instated.  That is likely highly impractical in our time of instant gratification and the text message.  However, he should have the respect to ask you for your time a minimum of 24 hours in advance.  If he doesn’t, he either thought of you last minute (clearly you are not a priority to him) or he doesn’t respect your time and schedule enough to plan (just slightly) ahead.  So, be busy.  Book your week solid if you feel like it.  If he asks you out, he’ll realize you’re worth the wait.

2. Do not pursue him. This notion may seem out-dated, but it’s not.  It’s actually spot-on.  One of my favorite quotes is from The Second Neurotic’s Notebook and was penned by Mignon McLaughlin: “Men enjoy being thought of as hunters, but are generally too lazy to hunt.  Women, on the other hand, love to hunt, but would rather nobody knew it.”  It’s true.  A successful woman… one with a career, wonderful friends, a killer sense of humor, ridiculous intelligence, varied interests, and style to-die-for (much like you, kitten)… likely feels that she should also get to control the success and outcome of her romantic relationships.  Not so.  The interesting part about romance (and, trust me, my inner feminist is punching me) is that the man must, when it comes to the game of love, take the lead.  The second you attempt to chase him, you become unattractive.  The explanation of this has yet to be found; it’s just something that is a fact.  So, take a deep breath, quiet your controlling nature, and be patient.  Maybe he isn’t too lazy to hunt… you just hadn’t given him the chance.

3. Set boundaries. Men, though wonderfully fascinating and oftentimes stupor inducing creatures, have the ability to behave much like a toddler.  Just as a child will continue sneaking an extra cookie after dinner if nothing is done about it, men sneak the extra cookie in life.  Now, you should certainly not be controlling.  That is not only unattractive… it’s just wrong.  People are individuals and should not be controlled… however, guidelines or boundaries as to the kind of treatment that you will or will not accept is necessary.  It shows that you respect yourself.  And, my love, I hope that you do respect yourself.  The behavior of the male might not be malicious, it likely isn’t, but it may bother you.  Let’s say that he cancels on you at the last minute.  In his mind, he’s thinking, “We’ll just reschedule.  No big deal.”  In your mind, you may be thinking, “Does he have any idea that I spent the whole day thinking about this?  I got an extra workout in, got a manicure, bought a new dress and some new lipgloss, and shaved my legs for nothing!”  And then you respond, aloud (or via text) “Sure. No problem. See you soon!”  No. Absolutely not.  You also shouldn’t respond with all of your internal frustration.  Just put your little foot down.  State that you understand that life can get in the way, but that you don’t appreciate being cancelled on and you hope that it doesn’t happen again.  If it happens again, you have your answer.  If you’re worth it to him, it won’t happen… and you also have your answer.

4. Spend ample time apart. Though it is easy and, surely, tempting to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment together when you are in the first throes of an interlude with a man do. not. do. it.  Seriously.  The fastest way to kill a flame is by smothering it.  Give your flame a little room to breathe.  By having your own life, separate and apart from him, you will never run out of things to talk about.  You will never become stale or predictable.  You will also remain just as fabulous as you were before you met him (read Why Falling In Love is a Stupid Thing to Do as a warning).  You will become sick of one another if you fall into a routine/rut too quickly.  Try to spend at least twice the amount of time apart as you do together (if not more).  Do this for quite some time.  It’s part of the thrill of the chase.  It goes back to the idea of letting him hunt.  You don’t like being prey? Don’t think of it that way.  Think of it as being a catch.

5. Be mysterious. Have you ever been talking to a man about your day and watched his eyes glaze over?  Odds are high that you were sharing far too many details (what you ate, the dilemma you were in over choosing the leopard top over the silk button-down, what your friends said, etc.).  It is not that what you are saying is unimportant to him.  My father always explained to me that men are “point people” (a nice way of saying that they’re always thinking, “Get to the point.”).  He does want to know about you… the important things.  Leave the trivial things out.  Talk about the little things with your girlfriends or your mother (or both).  They actually enjoy hearing about those things (or at least have learned the ability to feign interest).  Give him the big picture.  He’ll likely start wondering what else you did that day.  He’ll ask questions.  Summation: everything comes down to the hunt.  Let him find out about you.  Don’t just offer information.  If he wants to know, he’ll ask.

6. Men hate being pressured. I don’t know what is in the biological (hay)wiring of some women, but I wish it wasn’t there.  Some women bring up children, marriage, love, commitment, plans six months in the future, or all of the above within the first few months (weeks! or days!) of getting to know someone.  Watch the aforementioned someone run for the hills.  Or at least stop calling. Or returning calls.  This pressure is entirely unnecessary.  It’s horrible (like poison) for your hopes of a potential relationship (or at least a healthy one).  More importantly, it’s horrible for you.  So much of that pressure that women put on men comes from the pressure that they put on themselves.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.  The second the ride becomes unenjoyable you can recognize it (pressure free) and disembark.  Look at relationships as experiences, not contracts.  When the experience feels good, stick with it.

The bottom line is simple, though it may seem antiquated or barbaric: men are hunters.  Today’s men might not be the most adept, skilled, or even able hunters… but that’s likely because we don’t let them do the hunting.  Take the reins in regards to your own life… but consider allowing him to take the reins in your relationship… at least sometimes.

ADVICE FROM DAD – “IT’S YOUR LIFE, TOO”

Best. Dad. Ever.

This morning, I was talking to my father.  Well, more like talking at him.  It wasn’t much of a conversation, as he wasn’t participating.  This was due to the fact that I decided to talk about everything and nothing while he was watching a Chicago crime drama on television.  When his turning up of the volume didn’t stop me from continuing, he hit pause (ah, the wonders of modern television… and unrelenting daughters).  I was smack dab in the middle of a sentence when he hit the pause button and, as the television volume disappeared, the end of my sentence stood out starkly in the silence: “…it’s my life, too… You know?”  The rest of the story was irrelevant.  My dad looked at me in the way he does when I know I should listen up… something wise was about to be imparted to me.  He said, “Yes, I know it is.  Do you?”  This didn’t fit into the context of my story at all… he clearly hadn’t been listening.  But maybe he listened exactly when it really mattered.  My thoughts began to blur as I became overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he was asking me.  Did I treat my life as my own? Or did I treat it as the property of others?

My dad began to talk about all of the stresses and pressures on young women today (how does he know this stuff?).  He harped on the fact that while we are independent and strong, we cannot ignore the presence of our maternal instinct.  I didn’t like the term “maternal,” so he explained it as being a care-taker.  I couldn’t deny this… I tend to try and take care of the people that I care about… as I’m sure you do, as well.  This is generally a positive quality, but the potential pitfall of the care-taker instinct is that it can absorb you to such a point that you become lost in it.  My father cautioned me about spending too much time trying to help others because, at a certain point, he said it could become detrimental to myself.

I looked at my father, puzzled.  He continued, “You know the feeling.  It’s as if you are weighed down by the sheer force of the other person’s gravity… so much so that they remind you more of a black hole than a human being.”  I understood what he was saying.  And I thought about it… Why don’t we leave when things get to this point? It’s simple: because we care.  So we stay.

I asked my dad what someone should do in this situation.  Isn’t it selfish to leave?  Shouldn’t you try and help the other person?  If they are at a hard place in their life, don’t they need you?  If you care about them, isn’t it the right thing to do… to stay?

My dad’s answer wasn’t cut and dry. However, I broke down his response into five tips to keep in mind when dealing with every relationship in your life… whether you be a sister, daughter, girlfriend, mother, wife, or friend to that person.  Here are the elements of my daddy’s wisdom that I wanted to share with you.

1. You can’t take care of someone else, unless you take care of yourself first. When you get on an airplane, if you are a parent, they tell you that if the emergency masks drop from the overhead compartment you are to put your mask on first… before you put the mask on your child.  This is something that parents need to be told because it is a parental instinct to take care of the child first.  However, a parent becomes useless to the child if the parent has no source of oxygen.  The same goes for us in relation to the people we are trying to care for.  As my dad put it, “In life, put your oxygen mask on first.”  Do what you need to do to take care of you.  Only then will you be a benefit to others.

2. Someone who cares about you will take the time to understand when you have taken on too much. You are fabulous.  You live a life that is fabulous and ridiculously busy.  You have a social calendar that is full, a career that doesn’t quit, you stay in shape, eat right, are always dressed to the nines, volunteer when you can, and are always, no matter what, there for the people that you love.  Get real.  Yes, you are fabulous. And, yes, you can do all of these things (some weeks you are a total Superwoman), but you can’t sustain this level of perfection all the time.  Learn to hit the pause button.  The people that truly care about you will understand this. They will give you time, space, and may even offer to help out if they can.  These people are the Keepers.  Cherish them.  They are v.a.l.u.a.b.l.e.  They love you.  However, some people will not react this way.  Some people will still want your time and energy or won’t care (or seem to care) one bit about how you are feeling.  These people are selfish (see number 3).

3. Selfishness is forgivable… but only to a point. It is human nature to occasionally suffer from bouts of selfishness.  Notice the use of the words occasionally and suffer.  This is because a good person should strive to avoid being selfish on a frequent basis and should recognize that it is a condition that they are suffering from.  It is not a healthy state to be in… selfishness is the equivalent of a self-obsessed egocentric psychological rut when it becomes prolonged.  The idea that the world revolves around you all the time is a sad way to live (and I assume you will end up very lonely).  If someone is consistently (always) selfish, save yourself some time and skip ahead to number 5.

4. Look at the balance in the relationship… if it’s one-sided, make a serious adjustment. Look at the other person’s use of the words “I” and “me” in your conversations.  Does the other person use these words more frequently than the word “you”? Also, trust your instincts.  Women too frequently second-guess their emotions.  Don’t.  If it feels like you are always giving and the other person is always taking, guess what? You’re right. If it’s one-sided sometimes, that’s natural.  Stop and think: is the focus always on you? You are selfish (look again to number 3… and, do yourself a favor: change).  Is the focus always on the other person? You can either pull back and let the other person re-stabilize the relationship (they may recognize the imbalance, as well), you can clearly communicate that you need adjustments made, or (and, let’s face it, some people will always be self-centered) you can do yourself a favor and get out of the situation (see number 5).

5. Learn when to walk away. We women are a tough breed.  We have been raised to never quit and to never give up.  These are both wonderful tenets to believe in, unless you are refusing to give up on a situation or relationship that is consistently bringing you down.  My father wanted to send a little reminder to all of you beautiful women out there getting walked on, feeling overwhelmed, taking on too much, being underappreciated, being used, or who are just plain tired and need (deserve) a good old-fashioned spa day… Put your foot down (stiletto and all), get your chin up, and focus on you.  And make sure that you can walk in those shoes… because you need to walk away from this person. Quickly.

Though it’s March, by the end of the talk with my father (in which he spoke and I attentively listened with a Chicago detective frozen on the television screen in the background) I had another New Year’s resolution for myself (… it’s never too late to be resolute!)… I would learn to put myself first.  And I would have to understand that there was nothing selfish about that.  I hope that you can do the same.

Advice From My Dad… “YOU’RE WORTH IT”


It was a Sunday. I was visiting with my dad.  He was sitting in “his” chair and watching the game.  As I rose off the sofa to get a cup of coffee, he asked me to stop for a second.  This was unusual for two reasons:

1. He talked to me right in the middle of a football play (never happens) and

2. He said it softly with no demand in his voice, which was a bit unsettling.  He had something to tell me.

He began, “I don’t want to interfere in your life and I feel happy that I am able to observe as much of it as you currently allow me.  I feel that you know a lot about who you are and that you have a pretty good grasp on things.  [Yes, he truly does speak like this.]  However, I want to make sure you’re on track with… dealing with men.” [This is where I held my breath… A thousand things raced through my mind… I prayed that my dad was NOT going to talk to me about sex… I paused and looked up at him.]

He continued, “Remember what you are worth.”

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