Why I Wanted A Sweetheart Table

I work full-time and so does my husband. We both travel for work regulary, me throughout the state and him all over the country. While we both are dealing with our professional lives, we had to juggle family and wedding planning. To add fuel to the “busy fire” I was in the last semester of an MBA program scheduled to be completed in May, mere weeks before the wedding. Now if you’re at all familiar with Type A personalities, you know that I couldn’t just graduate. I had to graduate with a certain GPA. I mean what’s a B anyway? So you can add “a crap ton of studying, homework, presentations etc.” to my already long list of commitments. Do you know what’s missing from that list? Time with my husband. I guess it’s time to stretch out my days to about 26 or so hours to make my schedule work.
As I anticipated, as the wedding date got closer, we saw each other less, we talked about us less, and we got alone time even less. In the beginning, we ran a lot of wedding errands together. But the busier we got, we had to split up to be more effective/efficient. We would talk on the phone more than we talked face to face. It was frustrating because it seemed as though we got so focused on planning this one-day party that we didn’t work on our relationship as much as we should have.

So the sweetheart table was my way of saying: “This day is not more important than you. I’ve missed you and I want time alone with you. And now that the planning is over, you have my undivided attention just like you deserve.”

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Marriage is a Business

“When a man loves a woman…”

Did I get your attention? Good. That’s kind of what I was going for. Now that you’re here, I can get something off my chest that I’ve been carrying around for a few weeks, maybe months.

Nothing makes my ass itch like when I see someone, usually on social media make a comment along the lines of: “marriage is just a pice of paper.” If you’re wondering why someone’s simple opinion (which they are entitled to) would bother me so much, allow me to explain. The issue isn’t their opinion, but the sheer ignorance that their opinion exposes.

Marriage does not define the quality of your relationship. Marriage does not validate your relationship. Marriage =/= together forever. Marriage =/= will never leave me. Marriage does not translate to loyalty or honesty. HOWEVER! If marriage is just a piece of paper, so is your social security card, your paycheck, your health insurance, etc. Yet, I see none of these same people giving up on these things in droves. If you do, please call me because I have a bank account and routing number they can deposit all those unwanted “useless pieces of paper” checks.

As a married woman, my personal relationship with my husband is not dependent on the piece of paper we picked up from city hall for $25 on a warm June afternoon. But you know what doe depend on that piece of paper? Him giving me health insurance, me giving him dental.

Me knowing that, although he can leave, he has a responsibility enforceable by courts all over the world, towards me and any children we might have.

The security and piece of mind that, knowing we are each other’s beneficiaries of death benefits brings. Because if one of us drops dead, the immediate loss of income will not leave the other one homeless.

The $25 “piece of paper” allows us to be each other’s surrogate, which is crucial in a family of 2 working adults. He can legally speak on my behalf and I can do the same for him. That way, if I have a work obligation and can’t be present for something important, his word becomes as good as mine. Not because our relationship is superior to anyone else’s. But because our obligations became as intertwined as our interests.

So is marriage just a piece of paper? Of course. As long as you keep ignoring the financial, social, health, and legal benefits it affords us.

What I Wish I Knew

Group of teenagers sitting in classroom with raised hands.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you graduated high school? Anything you wish the grown folks would have shared with you before they let you loose? If you’ve made countless mistakes that you followed up with an exasperated “Well, it’s not like anyone ever told me…”, I encourage you to add to this list and prevent some other naive teenager from falling prey to the harsh realities of our cold cruel world.

  1. There is life after high school. In 2012, the average life expectancy in the USA was 78 years old. The 4 years of high school do not even register on the scale of all the living you have to do. Don’t get overly consumed by high school happenings or do things in that short period that will negatively impact your future.
  2. Be nice to your teachers. You’ll need letters of recommendation.
  3. Most high school relationships don’t survive high school. Of those that do, most don’t survive past the first semester of college. So don’t sweat it if your crush doesn’t like you back.
  4. Have an idea of what you’re interested in. College is too expensive for you to explore and experiment.
  5. If you don’t know what you want to do, take some time off. You’ll be better of having a gap year that costs you very little rather than have a $35,000 10 month party freshman year.
  6. Hold on to your friends. The older you get, the harder it is to form long lasting meaningful relationships.
  7. Save while you’re young. Whether it’s student loans, paying for your own health insurance, weddings, having kids, friend’s bridal showers, getting older also gets more expensive, thus making it harder to save.
  8. Work as hard as you can. The older you get, the less energy you’ll have. You will also want to spend time with your significant other and your kids. If you want to be a workaholic, now is the time. Get a second job, go to grad school, put in the extra hours at the office to get a promotion. You’ll never have this much time on your hands again.
  9. Live at home as long as your parents will allow it. What you’re losing out in “freedom” (read, being out late, never cleaning your room and not having boys over), you’ll make up for in killer retirement savings, a nice down payment for a starter home, bonding with your parents at a different level and having a better quality of life (home cooked meals v. ramen).
  10. Don’t drink as much as your friends. Your liver and your wallet will thank you. You’ll also like having better skin than they do.
  11. 1 in 4 STD diagnoses are in people aged 15 to 24 (CDC). Think about that next time someone you don’t know gets a little too touchy feely at a party.
  12. Get internships; ideally, paid ones. The more people go to college, the hard it is to get a job without experience. Internships will give you a competitive edge.
  13. Work while you go to school. You will need money saved up in the event that you can’t get a paid internship. It will also give your parents a break from your constant nagging about not having any money.
  14. Understand your student loan package. Don’t let the word “aid” in term “financial aid” confuse you. Not every line item is free. Know what you have to pay back.
  15. Stay away from private loans if possible. You do not have the same protection as federal student loans.
  16. If you go to college, be vocal. It’s your last chance to express yourself in a safe environment without being punished for your opinion. Once you start your career, you’ll never be allowed an opinion again. You can, and will likely get fired for saying something someone didn’t like.
  17. College is school, not an experience. College may have been an experience 30 years ago when tuition was one-eighty-seventh of what it is today. You’re in school to learn and get a degree. If you want an experience, don’t waste your parents’ money or take on debt for that. Volunteer at your local  soup kitchen.
  18. Grades don’t matter. If you have 5 years of managerial experience and a track record of increasing company profitability and efficiency by at least 10% annually. Otherwise, prepare to excel.
  19. Exercise. Your metabolism will slow and bad habits die hard. By the time you realize you don’t fit in your favorite jeans, you’ll be be out of shape and will have to work twice as hard to lose the weight.
  20. Learn to cook. Eating out is ridiculously expensive and can be bad for you. Eliminate the temptation by learning to make some of your favorite, tastiest dishes.
  21. Financial ignorance is costly. Take a financial education class. There’s so much to learn.
  22. Take a self-defense class. Especially if you plan on living in the city. Even more so if you’re a woman.
  23. You don’t have the benefit of growing up without social media in the 90s. Be careful what you share. The internet unforgivably immortalizes everything.
  24. Visit a doctor regularly. The longer problems go undetected, the more harmful they become.
  25. Learn to let go of toxic people, even if you’re related to them. Your well-being is more important than people’s hurt feelings.

What do you think of the list? Do you have any advice of your own to add? That’s it for now, but I certainly will add to it as I run into more “I wish I knew” moments.

Say ‘No’ to Celebrity Worship

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#LEMONADE

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Beyonce fan or not, you know that this past weekend she released a new album. Whether or not you watched the accompanying video, you know that it was on HBO, you know it was star-studded and that it was the height of artistry. After all, it is Beyonce. Everyone is talking about it. She’s incredibly talented, brilliant and hardworking. She managed to transform herself from a Houston girl’s group lead singer to a half-billion dollar entity. She’s such a shrewd businesswoman that her public image is more of a brand than just a person. If you have any doubt about her appeal, say something negative about her and watch her fans destroy you.

While I’m no stan, I like Bey. You see her work ethic and you think “hastag, life goals”. She routinely position herself to capitalize on everything happening in our world. She’s incredibly raw and honest in her artistic expressions, willing to step away, even if momentarily, from the “all is well” rhetoric so prevalent in the media today. She has managed to keep her privacy while still showing pain and realism in her art. Bey is somehow both “King” and relatable. Out of this world and one of us. All at the same time. Her enormous success has granted her the power to control her image and access to her in general. But today, I’m not here to talk about Beyonce. Because she already has it figured out. I’m here to talk about those who haven’t figured out their own lives, but are busy on a witch hunt for Becky with the good hair.

Although it has not been confirmed that she’s even speaking about a specific incident, there has been a lot of speculation. For the sake of this argument, I’m going along with that, and dismissing the possibility that she’s speaking in general terms on behalf of other women.

I’m starting to realize that some people love these celebrities more than they love themselves. Here’s a woman who has a healthy and lucrative outlet for pain, speaking her truth.  She’s calling out the cheater. She loves herself enough to let him know she’s over the BS. In other words, she’s handling it and doing it well. How many of the women who have no vested interest in the relationship have the courage to confront their own abusers or their own cheating partners with the same gusto they’re attacking the alleged homewrecker? How much better would their lives be if they dedicated a fraction of their “stanning” efforts to self-improvements? How many of them are in healthy relationships if they’re paired up at all?

When you are so busy worshiping people that it interferes with your ability to love yourself, you don’t have time to appreciate their substance and learn from them. So say no to celebrity worship. Your time is better spent admiring them, studying them and attempting to replicate their success. Work on yourself. Live your own truth. Take back your power. Bey’s got it covered.

Are You an Enabler?

The older I get, the more I wonder if we really know what love is. Philosophical questions such as “what is love” are entirely too complex for us to tackle in a single blog post, or even in one lifetime. But I think there are some characteristics of love that most, if not all people, can agree with. For instance, we want those we love to prosper and be their best selves. We want them to succeed in all aspects of live. Our definition of success varies based on life experience and personal values, but we also know that no one can succeed if they aren’t doing things the right way.

However, if we want people to succeed, why aren’t we giving them the tools needed to improve their lives? How often have you witnessed someone engage in self-destructive behavior and wondered why none of their loved ones intervened?  Societal changes have fostered an environment that has eroded the sense of personal responsibility. We have been so busy coddling each other over the last century that we have swung the pendulum so far from being supporters into being full blown enablers. Our definition of love now includes accepting and defending pathological behavior that is harmful to everyone, including the perpetrators and the enablers.

The worst example I have of to illustrate this concept is a 60-year old woman I know who works a menial job, and has done so her entire life, who cashed out her 401k early (subjecting her to all kinds of absurd penalties) to pay for an attorney for her son for 1000th time in his life.

We aren’t talking about a mother’s love for a child whose life was unexpectedly ruined by an unfortunate brush with the law. This is a career criminal with a mile-long rap sheet at the state and federal level, who once again, for the umpteenth time since he was 15 was arrested for criminal activity.

Some people reading this might say “mother’s love”. My response to that will be a list of all the ways she has over-extended herself to repeatedly buy his freedom over the years: getting a 2nd job, getting a loan, tapping into the equity of her house, cashing out her 401k.

Her unwillingness to say no to him and demand that he do better has only destroyed his life but hers as well. It all goes back to loving yourself and setting adequate boundaries knowing that you cannot offer what you do not have. And sometimes, divesting from what does not benefit you may require you divest from a relative. Even if it is  your own child. Because there is a point in your child’s life where they become responsible for their actions and their own well-being. You have the right to prevent them from becoming parasites who threaten your very existence. Allowing that is against basic human survival instinct.

This behavior may be fine for someone with deep pockets like the mother of Affluenza Kid, but it doesn’t work so well for low and middle income Average Janes.

This is why, no matter what your definition of love is, you can’t know how to love someone else until you learn to love yourself.

 

Spot the Player

If we were to play a game where you were faced with a group of men, and you had to pick which one of them you thought was most likely to cheat, how confident are you in your ability to successfully identify them? If your answer to that was anything but “what an absurd question.” You’re already losing at dating.

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In the high stakes game of love, there is no easy or full-proof way to measure someone’s faithfulness based on appearances, looks, age or other superficial trait. Cheating is ultimately a matter of character first and foremost and second, it is a matter of respect and the value the other person puts on you.

I am inspired to write this post because if you google the word cheating at any point, you will find a number of articles that will tell you how to spot a cheater, how to know a man or woman you’re already with is cheating, and why people cheat. However, from personal experience and what I have witnessed with my friends who have been victims of cheating partners, I want people to realize it’s just not that simple. Well, one of the aforementioned situations are simple: those who cheat do it because they are selfish and disrespectful people who put their basest needs above the relationship. But the who and the how is not so clear.

I got a call from a friend who told me that she recently found out her boyfriend was cheating and she subsequently ended the relationship. As she tells her story, it is hard to play the hindsight game claiming she should have known somehow that this man, who is an older, busy professional, with very little time on his hands, would have the level of immaturity, the desire, the energy and the time to juggle not 2 but 3 women.

What is the profile that we typically draw of the typical cheater? Immature, doesn’t know any better, is not ready for a relationship. S/he is secretive, always lying, has no time for you. All of these attempts at placing the cheater in a box completely disregards the fact that some people are sociopaths who are fantastic liars and won’t break a sweat under pressure. We disregard that someone’s lifestyle may afford them the opportunity to cheat undetected.

This man who is a road warrior and traveled constantly for work, did not have to lie about where he was going. He can and did sleep with women in other parts of the country while on business trips. He had plenty of time of his home based girlfriend during the weekend because his weekday girls were in other parts of the country. He didn’t have to juggle the business trip bed buddies either. He lives a thousand miles away, so you should expect him to be unavailable most of the time.

She invested her heart and energy into a relationship that was going nowhere with a man bent on wasting her time and her love because she thought she could spot a cheater with the age-old tips and tricks of the dating “experts”. What she should have done was heed the warnings of those who knew him. She should have questioned why his marriage ended. She would have gotten much more information from his past behavior than she did from his willingness to entertain her on holidays.

Why?

Because old habits die hard.

Because I later found out that he dated another friend of mine who dumped him for the same reason 5 years ago.

Go Dutch

I’ve been talking about money a lot lately. This wasn’t intended to be a money blog but we usually gravitate to what we know. As someone whose goal is to make a comfortable, financially independent life for herself, and who works in the banking industry at a more macro level, money happens to be one of the things I know best. However, an opportunity came my way to talk about relationships after I stumbled across a Facebook post on a newly launched app. Now, it would be just my luck that this also ties into money somehow. However, this is mostly about the social aspects of money and its link to romantic relationships.

The Founders of “Go Dutch” (left to right: Alexandria Willis, Olamide Bamidele and Alysia Sargent). Photo Credit: ChicagoInno

Three black women from Chicago launched an app that matches people who want to go on dates but want to split the bill in half. The idea is that the woman gets to show that she’s self-sufficient & the man will know that she’s not just looking for a free meal. Sound noble right? It depends on whom you ask.

I hope you have some time on your hands because this could get long. However it’s a complex issue that has both gender and racial implications and it would barely scratch the surface and do it justice if I were to only summarize it.

I’ve been on dates where I’ve split the check both ways as well as dates where the man has paid. I never do the check dance. If I reach for my wallet, my credit card is coming out. However, those dates usually meant different things and my purpose was to send a specific message in each situation. Usually a guy who I don’t want to see again for any reason of my choosing, will not be allowed to pay for my half of the dinner. The generally accepted practice in our society is that friends split checks on a fun night out. If you’ve proven yourself to not be worthy of any other type of relationship beyond a friendship, it’s only fair that I pay for my share of the meal. There’s no sense in making you invest in me when I know very well that I have no intention in giving you anymore of my time.

However, when it comes to a man who I think has the potential to be a real life partner, I firmly believe that he should demonstrate both his willingness and his ability to provide for provide for a family. Regardless of the advancements that women have made in the workforce, it does not change the fact that 1) we still do not have true pay equality and 2) women remain the child bearers. Childbearing and childbirth leave women physically and emotionally vulnerable for up to a year. Women can be bed ridden during their pregnancy and may even die in childbirth. Is it really absurd to want a man who is a good provider? How can a man be trusted to provide for a wife who is forced to stay home until she gives birth if he can’t afford a meal? Should she work until her water breaks? What if she dies during childbirth? How will he take care of the child if he can’t pay for movie tickets?

Now, everyone’s definition of a date is different. A woman dating a man making minimum wage shouldn’t expect regular Smith and Wollensky dinners. The nature of the date should reflect the socio-economic profiles as well as the tastes of the involved parties. Where the date happens or how much is spent is not relevant. A man could take you to the neighborhood pizza place and still show you a good time. But if he can’t pay for 2 slices and 2 cans of Coke on his own, he might not be ready to be in a relationship.

Due to this, I am particularly distressed that the founders were black women. It’s an accomplishment to see women, particularly women of color, in the technology sector (even if they didn’t code the app themselves–they might have, but I’m not sure). But at the same time, it is bittersweet. It’s hard to see that black women have once again lowered their standards. We are raised to “give a brother a chance”. Don’t get another brother locked up even if he hit you because there are enough of them in jail. Don’t ask too much of a man because he may still be working on himself. To give a more visible example, I’m sure you’ve seen this picture of the POTUS and the FLOTUS, pushing this idea that Michelle “gave a brother on the come-up a chance” and in return he made her First Lady.

These memes are everywhere and the simple minded folks who like, share and comment “YAAASSS!!!” on these posts completely ignore the fact that the Prez was a Harvard Law student who was already on a path to success when they met. Instead, they want to promote the practice of taking on a damaged man with no goals or plans, and sticking around until he figures it out. A man shouldn’t be a project. If I want a fixer upper, I’ll get myself some real estate. After years of saying: “Who cares if he lives with his mother? So what if he drives your car around and plays video games all day? So what if you have to pay his bills?” why wouldn’t 3 beautiful and accomplished black women think they don’t even deserve for a guy to give them a meal? No other cultural group teaches their women to aim this low. This is a case where being pro-black is more about doing what’s good for the men rather than the community as a whole. This post here talks about how pro-blackness often excludes women.

Paying for a date is more symbolic than anything. If we go out once a week, I’m clearly feeding myself just fine during the other 20 meals I’m going to have when we aren’t together. Evidently, I’m not looking for a handout. I’m looking for a man to demonstrate that he absolutely wants to provide for me even if he doesn’t have to. Does he have to pay for every date until we get married? No, because I’m certainly not going to wear stilettos and little black dresses until then. But there is a courtship phase that we must both prove ourselves. No amount of progressive literature can ever erase the aforementioned biological differences (pregnancy) and our country’s refusal to becoming more family friendly by refusing to pay for maternity leave.

I’ve always maintained that some of the concepts of third-wave feminism have done little to improve the social standing of black women. And I’m being generous with this description. The launch of Go Dutch is a materialization of my assessment. With the out of wedlock birth rate of black children being higher than 70%, we already have generations of black men who don’t marry at the same rate as their non-black counterparts, normalizing the fact that black women have a permanent baby mama status, to the point where this has become a racially coded term. We are now going to normalize the fact that black women can’t even get a meal out of a guy who wants her to entertain him. This is not progress, it is not empowerment. This is damaging.

While I am fully aware of the fact that not every woman wants to be married, it doesn’t change the fact that people who are married live longer healthier lives (source 1 and source 2), and have better economic standing. With SINGLE black women having a median net worth of nearly nothing, why would the average black woman be discouraged from positioning herself in a way that would likely improve her socio-economic standing and life expectancy? It’s bad and worsening as you can see here and here. I am not standing on some morality soap box attempting to regulate people’s sex lives. I am, however, tired of pretending that people raising kids alone are not emotionally, financially and physically stretched to the limit. The seemingly small incidents that we dismiss as outliers can quickly become pervasive social issues that erode our communities from the inside out, and do nothing to improve our lives.

Before I wrote this, I talked to my husband about what was going through my mind and he said: “But if I care about you, it’s not a big deal if I pay for something. I want to buy you a meal.” If you have a man like that in your life, hug him. If you don’t, find one. Because soon enough, you’ll end up with a guy who doesn’t think he should have to do anything for you. Because rather than it being a small gesture of care, paying for a date will soon be considered something that suckers do.

When it comes to the notion of standing by a man who does not demonstrate the characteristics of caring for the woman in his life, my advice to women is as follows:  your loyalty should be to your children and ensuring they have the best possible lives. If dating, marrying and procreating with a man who can and wants to do things for you hurts another man’s ego, that’s fine. You have no duty to cater to any adult male you did not bring into this world. I wish someone would have given that advice to these ladies. Maybe they could have channeled their greatness into doing something that improves the overall quality of black women’s lives, rather than something that will only lowers the standards of what my beautiful sisters should hope to get.