“Men and Women Can’t Be Friends”

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This morning a wonderful thing happened. It was a small thing.

The kids had the day off school, so I dragged them to my 8:30am Camp Gladiator workout in the park down the road. They didn’t want to go, but it was a beautiful day, and they could play soccer or run around the playground adjacent to the basketball court, where we were exercising.

I like Camp Gladiator (CG, to those in the know) mostly because of the nonjudgmental, fun atmosphere. There is no talk of “bikini bodies” or “go hard or go home.” Everyone’s there because it keeps them active, both physically and socially. It’s like P.E. for adults; The burpees or deadlifts or whatever usually come in the form of light-hearted games.

This morning, at the end of class, this guy, whom I know reasonably well since we both attend CG regularly, offered to show me a stretch for my perpetually tight back. I was definitely interested, but he hesitated for a moment, then said, “I’m going to touch you now if that’s okay.” Then, (and this is key) he waited for my response. It was totally okay if he touched me to show me the stretch, but I really appreciated being asked.

To understand the personal significance of this, I have to take you back to my college days. I have always liked men, not just to sleep with, but as friends too. I enjoy the different perspectives they tend to offer from my women friends. But in my early 20’s I discovered something best illustrated with a scene from When Harry Met Sally:

Harry: No man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally: So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail them too.

Sally: What if they don’t want to have sex with you?

Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

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Men and women can’t be friends.

Sadly, I found this to be true. It seemed that guys thought my simply making eye contact with them was an open invitation for copulation. They sometimes got angry when I engaged in polite conversation and then rebuffed their attempts to stick their tongues down my throat. How dare I be such a tease.

So I eventually stopped being nice to male people. I wore Doc Martens, big baggy t-shirts, baseball caps and an “I will end you if you talk to me” look on my face, fondly referred to in certain circles as the “kill your mother” look. If Meghan Trainor had been around back then, “My name is ‘No,'” would’ve been my theme song.

I was resentful and angry. One boy, Mike, befriended me my freshman year in college. I was clear with him from the beginning that I wasn’t interested in anything beyond the platonic, but I guess he thought if he hung around long enough I’d cave. He eventually quit talking to me altogether — as in wouldn’t acknowledge my existence if we were in the same room.

Another, Andrew, lived on the same floor of Jester Dormitory (that infamous living space designed by a prison architect) as I did. Again, I was clear from the beginning about my expectations. Again, when he discovered I was for real about not having a romantic relationship with him, he got mad and stopped talking to me.

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Don’t let the pretty sunlight fool you. Jester looked and smelled like a prison.

I’m not saying I didn’t want to get touchy-feely sometimes. I had my share of spontaneous makeout sessions back then — some drunken, some sober — and I enjoyed them. I just didn’t appreciate that so many guys thought they were entitled to my body. I did encounter a handful of outliers. James and I were friends. He wanted it to be more than that, but he respected my boundaries and hung out with me anyway. He was the exception that proved the rule.

The good thing about being in my 40’s is, now I can be friends with men without the assumption it’s leading somewhere. It also helps that we live in a neighborhood of mostly married people with families; most of us are off the market and have kids that make us too tired to have affairs.

Because of my history, which I suspect is a shared experience for a lot of women,  I appreciated this small act of respect — asking if it was okay to touch me. And I was glad it happened in front of my oldest son, glad he saw what respecting another person’s physical boundaries looks like and glad he could see that men and women can have platonic friendly relationships.

I hope that the next generation, my kids and their peers, will grow up in a world where this kind of thing is the norm — where they won’t feel compelled to write about it because it’s not noteworthy. But for now, I just want to say, “thanks” to Nick who laced his arms through mine and lifted me off the ground this morning to show me how to take better care of my back… but asked first.

When Your Kid Fails…

Little girl in climbing gear stretching out handYou know how sometimes you feel like you are the Best Parent in the World? Yeah, today isn’t one of those days for me.

My oldest decided to try out for the select basketball team in our area. He’s always loved basketball, and he’s pretty good at it. But in the midst of soccer season, he neglected to even pick up a basketball prior to the tryout. I still thought he’d do okay, though.

The day of the tryout, he came to me practically in tears. He said he didn’t want to go; he wasn’t interested in playing basketball anymore. This turned into a long discussion, and we eventually ferreted out that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to perform. On the one hand, it’s good he has Jason and me as parents — Jason understands the psychology of sports, and I (sort of) understand the complexity of Jack’s anxiety. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I upset him more by discussing all those emotions at one time, and Jason is sometimes at a real loss as to why Jack feels so intensely.

We talked him into going the tryout. And he didn’t do great. The kid I saw on the court was not the one I watched all last season in recreational league. This new kid was reserved, nervous and not giving his best effort. Normally, Jack is pretty competitive. He dives for loose balls and blocks bigger opponents without a second thought.

He didn’t make the team. Worse yet, most of his friends did. Despite his feeling ambivalent about playing for the season, he was crushed. He didn’t make excuses; he realized this was less about his talent and more about attitude and work ethic. My heart hurt for him.

I did my best to comfort him and reminded him to learn from this experience. There will be more tryouts to come. I told him failure is a part of life, and it’s how we grow. In my head, though….

I was berating myself for not signing him up for that basketball clinic earlier in the year. I was angry at myself for not making him eat before the tryout, even though he insisted he didn’t want to. I felt like I failed right along with him. He’s 10, right? I’m supposed to know these things.

When my cooler parenting head prevails, I know this experience was good for him — that it will only make him stronger and smarter in the future. It’s just that as his mom, I have the intense urge to shield him from pain. I finally understand why it made my mom so nervous whenever my sister or I tried out for anything.

We will move on. Odds are, when Jack gets home from school today, he will already be mostly over it. My oldest kiddo is sensitive and emotionally complex like me. He’s also tough, and I like to think he gets that at least partially from me as well.

Maybe it’s good I didn’t make him practice before or make him eat or whatever else I think I could have done to change the outcome. Maybe this lesson, this version of falling down, will teach him how to get back up again. Hey, maybe I learned something too.

Can You Be Pro-Life AND Pro-Choice?

 

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Work together, people!

I’ve always thought of the pro-life/pro-choice issue as polarizing, and in today’s political discussion, it sure feels that way. Recently, however, I realized something: it doesn’t have to be.

When I was in high school, I used to roll my eyes as my guy friends argued and postured with each other. Their classic argument:

Guy 1: I’m stronger.

Guy 2: No, I can swim faster.

Guy 1: No, I’m stronger.

Guy 2: But I can swim faster!

They thought they were in disagreement when they weren’t even expressing two opposing viewpoints. It was ridiculous; they were defensive and insecure and/or just liked to argue.

Similarly, the pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints don’t have to be diametrically opposite from each other. You can believe that life is sacred and still believe in a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion. But really, whatever you believe about the legality of abortion, I bet there are a few things — vitally important things — most of us on both sides of the issue can agree on.

No one is like, “Yeah, abortions are awesome. SO much fun!” Even those of us who believe they ought to be legal see it as a last resort. What I’d much prefer is that we dispense with arguing with each other and start talking about what we can do to support women during their reproductive years to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancy — something we can do through improved health care; more robust, consistent sex education; and access to birth control. What would happen if we took all the energy we spend shouting, “Get your laws off my body,” and, “Abortion is murder,” and used it to solve those issues?

We can all stand around with our signs, our chants, and our self-righteous rhetoric, or we can talk to each other like rational adults and actually DO something to improve outcomes for women of all races, religions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses. We are all in this thing together, and I do mean ALL of us — not just white people or women or straight people or able-bodied people — every last person on this earth. Let’s finally act like it.

Adventures in Ragnar

 

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Post-race, with our medals/forks/spoons/bottle openers/saws

Several months ago, my friend Jasmine said, “Hey, let’s put together a Ragnar team!” I’d had a couple of glasses of wine, so I said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea! What’s Ragnar again?

Ragnar is a 24-hour trail relay race. Eight team members take turns running three different loops at three, five and seven-and-a-half miles. I’d maybe run five miles once when I committed to this, so I was way out of my comfort zone. And as our team came together — a formidable group of marathon runners and Crossfit champions, I began to worry about holding up my end of the bargain. We each had to submit our “10K road pace,” and since I’d never run a 10K, I guessed. I was quite obviously the weakest link, which made me uncomfortable.

I’ve been pretty good at almost everything I’ve ever done. Yes, I’m a coordinated, talented person, but what I realized as a part of this all-star team was that I gravitate towards things at which I can excel reasonably easily — activities where I can be in the upper echelon of ability. Being more introspective than I was in my younger years, I decided that being the weakest link was good for me in a “get comfortable being uncomfortable” kind of way. I did repeatedly make sure no one was intent on winning this thing. My goal was to complete my loops without hurting myself, especially considering two of my loops would be run in the dark.

We drove out on a Friday towards our destination, ironically named “Comfort, Texas.” It was pouring down rain, and we were all worried about spending 24 miserable hours wet and cold, sloshing through the mud. I was nervous but excited. It was an adventure.

As we got settled in our camp with a ridiculous cache of gear and supplies for one short day, I chatted and got to know some of the team members I hadn’t met yet. I began to feel reassured, as everyone seemed concerned about getting through the course sans injury, and no one was obsessing over their times.

My first loop was five miles. I was so jazzed, I made my typical, rookie mistake of starting off too fast. Then, half a mile in, that adrenaline abruptly ran out, and I was all, “Oh shit, I can’t do this!” But then I slowed down and hit my stride about a mile or so in, and it wasn’t so bad. The Hill Country views were gorgeous.

Back at camp, the rain was holding off and we were all grateful. Between legs, we sat, ate, drank coffee, told stories, stretched, laughed and slept as best we could. We also poured over Jasmine’s sophisticated spreadsheet which predicted our times remarkably accurately. I napped before my second leg, which started around 9:30pm. It was just three miles of smooth trail, so even though it was dark, it felt like a cakewalk.

Flash forward to 4:30am. I’m outside the ready tent, waiting for Laura to return. I am sleep deprived and standing in duct-taped rain boots in eight inches of squelchy mud, watching the screen that will alert me when Laura is a quarter mile out. People are sitting around a bonfire making s’mores to my right. Wonder Woman is playing on a big screen. I can’t hear the dialogue, but I keep drifting from the alert monitor over to the movie, where I get transfixed by Gal Gadot for a while before I remember I’m supposed to be watching for Laura. Runners keep returning, yelling for their next teammate: “Drew! Where’s Drew! Has anyone seen Drew?” (My guess is that Drew is fast asleep in his tent.)

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Duct tape is the best.

Laura rolls in from the 5-mile loop at 5:25am, and I take off for my last and longest run — 7.5 miles, in the dark, on little sleep, after having already run farther in the past 16 hours than I usually do in a week. I got my mind right. I intentionally started off slow, and I told myself to just make it to the one-mile marker. When I saw that one, it was time to shoot for mile 2 and so on.

I was tired. I tripped a few times and almost fell. I walked a lot because of fatigue and fear of stumbling over rocks and tree roots. The depth of the trail terrain was washed out in the glow of my headlamp. I felt cautious and also peaceful out there in the quiet night.

Mile 5, over halfway there.

Mile 6.5, one mile to go.

Mile 7, almost to the quarter-mile gate.

As I ran the final stretch around 7am, there were no people cheering at the finish, as there were earlier in the light of day, but I honestly did not care. As I approached the ready tent, suddenly it hit me. I did it. I wasn’t sure I could, but I did. And tears welled up behind my eyes. I tamped them back down, though, because it seemed embarrassing to cry over seven miles, amongst people who regularly run 26.

We finished up about 24 hours after we started. We were delirious and relieved. We broke down camp, hauling our gargantuan amount of gear up the hill to the parking lot in an ox cart, pulled not by oxen but our own, achy selves. On the way home, when it started to rain for the first time since we drove in, we stopped for food. I have never seen eight adults devour Whataburger so fast.

 

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It was exhausting, and I questioned my sanity at times, but it was also really fun. The bonding you do with people in a situation like that speeds the friendship process. It’s hard to put on airs when you haven’t showered in 10 miles and are so tired you barely remember your own name.

I noticed something else, too. The day after we got back, a Sunday, I was in a calmer, better mood than I’d been in a while. Perhaps it was hangover endorphins or maybe a much-needed break from the daily routine, but even a day later, all the stuff that had been worrying me — politics, the kids’ education, my career path — didn’t seem like such a big deal. Someone find me a new race before this wears off.

P.S. This part is probably only interesting if you ran the race:

Thanks to our captain, Jasmine, who got our team together and organized us right down to the minute. Thanks to Tammy and Josh for bringing the bulk of our gear and getting there first to get a good camp spot. Thanks to their daughter, Lucy, for being a good sport and shoveling mud from the walkways. Thanks to Laura for suggesting we stay up and shotgun beers all night (and then thanks to her for not actually doing it.) Thanks to the bad-ass Elizabeth for being a perfect tent mate. It’s not often you meet someone who knows all the requisite tent etiquette. Thanks to Christy for driving us and doing the very last leg of our race. Thanks to Tad for doggedly doing most of the packing up and hauling back to the parking lot. We made a good team, y’all.

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Sorry for the Inconvenience

emotionalIt’s been a long time since I felt this low. But such is the nature of the beast known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. I can go along fine for six months, and then for no apparent reason start sliding down into that moody hole again. I cope with it a lot better than I used to.

I used to try to repress those feelings — that “I just dropped my keys and it makes me want to cry” sensation. And just like most contents under pressure, it would eventually erupt into a violent, volcanic spew of uncontrollable sobbing and an inability to accomplish anything at all.  I’d go through a good patch and think I had this PMDD thing licked, so I always felt blind-sided when it began its molten rumblings again.

Now, no matter how long it’s been, I’m not surprised when it shows back up — dismayed, yes, but not shocked. I give myself some space to do the things that help a little — journal, meditate, drink ginger tea and cry some. If I do that, let it out a little when I feel it coming on, I can avoid the big eruption that sprays fallout all over my family (mostly Jason).

This is where I am this morning — trying to take care of myself. The hard part is this: there are people who expect things from me today. There are deadlines and things I promised I’d do, and I hate disappointing people. I hate rescheduling things and asking for extensions. And the emotional state I’m in right now makes it even harder to do so because it requires a grand effort to talk to anyone coherently.

I’d like to have a sign:

Temporarily out of order. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Or maybe a more modern,

Website down for maintenance. Please try again later.

If you’re reading this, and you’re my friend, just know, if I don’t text you back today, please excuse me. It’s not you, it’s me…honestly.

Politics, Ugh. But Still…

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I’m feeling a little bummed. I’ve spent probably an ill-advised amount of energy debating other people on Facebook over the past few days. I normally stay out of social media arguments. They have a tendency to devolve into name-calling, personal attacks and a lot of unnecessary exclamation points. But recently, I’ve come across a handful of people online who are willing to have civilized intellectual conversations, even though our politics don’t agree.

It’s mentally exhausting.

It wore me out supporting my point of view with informed commentary and research, and it was good for me. It’s easy to engage in e-shouting and spouting violent solutions to get rid of the opposition. It’s much harder to have an actual dialogue involving a well-thought-out exchange of ideas, where you are forced to take a look at your own beliefs and why you have them.

It’s no secret I lean liberal.

And it’s easy and comforting to submerge myself in my liberal compatriots, where we all like each others’ posts and it’s a big love fest. Comeraderie is great, for sure, but the challenge of those who don’t agree is too.  During the online conversations I chose to participate in over the weekend, I learned why some of my conservative friends think the way they do, and I was prodded into putting a critical eye to my own beliefs.

I didn’t change my mind; neither did they. But we (or at least I) came away with a better understanding of people. Most of us want to do what we think is right; we just don’t all agree on what that is. Talk about the American way. And those that are willing to open their minds and hearts enough to have honest conversations with those on the other side of the issue, those are the people we need working for us.

Vice puts it this way:

Political discussions seem to go one of three ways, whether online or off:

  1. Everyone agrees with each other because we’ve built social circles that don’t include anyone who doesn’t share the same views as the rest of the group.
  2. People get very angry.
  3. People with opposing beliefs speak to each other in a way that is productive. Each explains his or her viewpoint, and both walk away understanding the other side a little bit more, even if they haven’t changed their minds.

It rarely goes the third way.

I’ve seen politicians and the general public alike resort to yelling threats and personal attacks at each other. I get the frustration; it’s human. But…

if we can take our egos out of it for just one conversation, imagine what we could do together.

Image credit:  Lorenzo Rossi

UNLEARN: Forgetting the Concept of Fat Bias

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Adipose tissue, a.k.a., fat cells — We need them in order to live.

Your legs are big, and they have a lot of fat on them.

My ten year old said this to me, conversationally, as we were lazing on my bed, along with his brother, one evening. He noted it as a scientific observation, completely devoid of judgment….and then, of course, I felt insecure for three days.

I got over it, and I didn’t get nearly as upset about it as I would have, say, ten years ago. He was actually doing what my goal is for myself and humanity in general — not equating “big” or “fat” with bad, not equating them with anything, in fact, except what the words literally mean.

My adult brain, of course, had to feel bad about itself for letting the legs get big and fat. Then it had to rationalize it with my age and eighty-seven other aspects of myself and life. And it had to work REALLY hard at getting back to the place where “big” and “fat” are not judgments.

Then I had a proverbial “Ah ha” moment. I realized that all this association we have with fat as negative is completely learned from societal cues. So learning not to assign self-worth to the constitution of one’s body isn’t so much about learning as it is unlearning.

My kids didn’t have to learn that fat’s not bad. They were born observing things, not judging them. We all know the story of the little kid (maybe it was yours) who loudly points to someone in a store and says “Look how fat that person is!” It’s super embarrassing for all the adults.

The child is not being judgmental; she is simply noticing something that is outside her average experience. She may be amazed, but she’s not assigning worth (or lack thereof) to this person who happens to be bigger than anyone she’s ever seen.

I’m not suggesting you encourage your kiddos to point and yell when they see a person who is bigger or fatter than most. We as a society aren’t there (yet), and it’s unkind to throw people’s probable insecurities in their faces in public. But do understand that it’s the adults who are doing the judging and being embarrassed in this situation. The child is simply giving voice to an observation (most of the time, unless she’s already picked up on the damaging and mistaken message that fat is inherently a negative thing.)

The bottom line is this: fat is not bad. Fat is just fat, like skin or hair or eyeballs. And it is not a learning process to get there. We have learned wrongly, and as adults, we need to do two things:

  1. Prevent our children from learning the self-esteem crushing concept that fatness somehow reflects on a person’s character, work ethic or worth.
  2. This is asking a lot, but it is vital and it is a journey; you’re not going to do it right now, but you can start working on it. Start reflecting on your own deeply-seated beliefs surrounding fatness: UNLEARN.

Want to read some real talk about fat and how society insists upon shaping a false, negative and demeaning narrative around it? Go here. Virgie Tovar knows.

Oh, and P.S.: Do NOT comment on this post with anything like “You’re legs aren’t fat!” or “You look amazing!” Because that is completely not the point, and it would diminish the point I am trying to make. This is not about me and my self-esteem; it’s about incorrect and practically universal damaging social concepts.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_inbevel13′>inbevel13 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>