Some Know Your Rights materials I made. Hopefully find them helpful. :)
If you burn wood for heat, read this book. I was amazed at how much I learned, and I’ve relied on wood heat for a number of long winters. Read it twice if you are just thinking about burning wood. It’ll help you sort out whether you want a furnace, or stove; pellet or logs; masonry or metal, buy wood or cut it yourself, and so on. This is first-rate advice, pithy and to the point, up-to-date, well-written and insightful. The author is a professional chimney sweep and his instructions on how (and why) to clean your chimney are worth the price of the book alone.
The Woodburner’s Companion
2006, 176 pages
Available from Amazon
Does it make economic sense, then, to heat your home with wood? Yes, if you have more time than money, and yes, if you enjoy the work and ritual unique to this form of heat. Burning wood fits some ways of life in the same way that vegetable gardening and livestock raising do: it also saves money, but the savings are almost incidental to the satisfaction it can provide.
Is heating with wood ethical? It may not be if you live in an area plagued by air pollution. It probably isn’t if you live in an area with little forested land. It isn’t if you harvest and burn your wood irresponsibly. If, on the other hand, your circumstances permit and you decide to become a responsible user of the resource, wood burning can be an integral part of a contained and conserving way of live with positive ecological impacts balancing the negative.
Wood as the Primary Source of Heat
This strategy will fit a few more households than the first: you’ve got a back-up heating system, so you have more flexibility. Your stove won’t completely run your life six months a year, but you’ll probably burn nearly as much wood as will those in the first category, so your house, location and lifestyle need to be nearly as accommodating.
Wood as Supplementary Heat
Even if your circumstance make major reliance on wood heat impractical, you might find that a stove or fireplace stove which heats part of your house some of the time will give you substantial savings on your fuel bills and a good deal of pleasure and comfort in the bargain.
Wood as an Emergency Back-up Heat Source
I mentioned the catastrophic ice storm of 1998 earlier, but even the lesser power outages to which rural areas are prone can be uncomfortable or even dangerous in severe weather. A just-in-case wood stove and a small supply of wood can turn a wretched situation into a merely inconvenient one.
Instead of a round-the-clock fire maintained by periodic stoking and control of the air supply–the modus operandi applied to other serious wood heating equipment–masonry heaters rely on very hot fires–at time in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit–of short duration. Fires lasting only an hour or two heat a masonry mass weighing a ton or much more. The mass then radiates the stored heat for 12 to 24 hours, depending upon the weather. The extremely hot fires result in very clean burns.
A well-designed masonry heater, on the other hand, stores and radiates something on the order of 80% of the heat it produces. It does this by directing the intensely hot gases through a series of channels in the masonry mass. By the time the exhaust reaches the top of the chimney, it is almost cool, having left its heat in the masonry. The smoke does not deposit creosote if the heater is properly operated, because the fire is so hot that the tars and organic compounds are consumed in the firebox.
Price. Pellet stoves usually cost more than wood stoves, and the fuel isn’t cheap. As a national average, pellets currently cost about $3.50 per 40 pounds, or $165-$175 per ton. With 1 ton of pellets having the heat value of 1 1/2 cord of hardwood, fuelwood must cost $100 per cord in your area for pellets to be an economical fuel.
Keep the chimney inside. Chimneys that are in the house for most of their length stay cleaner, work better, last longer and return more heat to the house than do chimneys outside the exterior walls.
If you see 1/4-inch of creosote, you’ll know that the chimney needs cleaning, but the absence of creosote where you can see doesn’t mean that there’s none elsewhere.
Detection of a chimney fire is not usually a problem. It will likely announce itself with a prolonged roaring noise, smoke and odor in the house and thick, dark smoke and/or sparks and flames coming out of the top of the chimney. Some chimney fires are not so dramatic, probably because they haven’t enough fuel or oxygen to really take off, but all chimney fires are potentially destructive and should be taken seriously. To people who regard them as a harmless way to clean a chimney, I can only say that physicians used to bleed people who were ill, too; all of the available objective evidence indicates that both practices are foolhardy.
I don’t own a desktop computer, so I do all my typing on my laptop. The keyboard is great, except for one major flaw: the position of the touchpad. It is very easy to accidentally brush the touch pad with the palm of my hand or my wrist as I type, causing my mouse cursor to move to a random part of the screen. This is annoying and can cause typos.
I can awkwardly hold my wrists in the air as I type, but this is uncomfortable. I can disable the touchpad, but then I have to remember to turn it back on every time I need to click. Enter TouchFreeze.
TouchFreeze is a simple utility that disables your touch pad whenever you are typing. As soon as you stop typing, the touchpad turns back on. It is complete automatic. Although TouchFreeze does need to run the background at all times, it is very lightweight and won’t slow your computer. I have been using TouchFreeze for about a year, and I love it. It is a simple, elegant solution for a simple problem.
-- Sylvia Richardson
Free (donations accepted), Windows only.
During law school I had unfortunately accumulated a decent amount of credit card debt. This calculator helped me to pay down all my credit card debt in a short time.
The snowball method helps users pay down multiple credit cards in a way that minimizes the interest payments. It asks for details including interest rates, minimum payments, and any special rate sunsets and then asks how much you can afford to pay to each card. The spreadsheet will then give you the amount to pay to each card each month as well as showing you a graph forecasting the slowly diminishing interest payment you will be making each month.
I’m surprised its not already up here! (Pro-tip: this debt-reduction method, in conjunction with a negotiating session or three with the the banks holding your largest, highest interest rate cards, can save you a lot of money.)
-- Aric Bright
NPR’s top 100 science fiction and fantasy book included only 15 by women. Here they are, my new reading list. Correct me if I missed anything!*
15.Connie Willis – Doomsday Book
I haven’t done the calculations, but I suspect the numbers are similarly dismal for books written by authors of color, featuring female main characters, or featuring main characters of color. This list was a result of reader voting, and it has some sad things to say about awareness of and access to female-written speculative fiction. I’d like to combat that with y’all today, by sharing our favorite sci fi and fantasy novels written by women. Bonus points for female main characters, and POC, queer, or differently abled authors and main characters!
Lady Bee started us off months ago with her Ode to Cimorene, the main character of much-beloved Dealing with Dragons (and subsequent series) by Patricia C. Wrede.
I’d like to kick off this particular open thread with a recommendation of a book I just finished reading: Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. Written in 1993, it depicts a moving-toward-distopian near-future in 2024, in which a young woman must shape a community and fight for safety in a changing world. It was a page turner! You know those books that keep you awake reading for later into the night than you should? And then when you wake up the first thing you do is pick the book back up? Parable of the Sower is one of those. The main character, Lauren Olamina, is very intelligent, balances strength and empathy, has a unique perspective on religion, and navigates sexism and racism in an already-dangerous world in a way that is just so compelling. So compelling. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Parable of the Talents.
So, what about you? What science fiction and fantasy novels with women authors do you recommend?
How do you deal with that damn brother you love, but who's SUPER difficult to have a relationship with?
"Difficult" can cover all manner of things from substance abuse, untreated mental illness or just general jerk-itude (although to my knowledge jerk-itude is untreatable). There is no shortage of ways for your family to be difficult.
My brother's wild antics and hell raising have always made for some great stories. I was telling one of these tales a few weeks ago to a group of good friends and an acquaintance. The acquaintance scolded me, and explained exactly how to fix him — get him into a rehab, get him counseling, schedule an intervention, or cut him out of your life. Apparently it's very common for people who know nothing about you to give you advice (or so my friends with kids tell me). So I ignored her.
It's not the first time I've gotten this advice and it probably won't be the last. My little brother will be 23 this year he's had issues with alcohol, drugs, and just general defiance since he was 12 or 13. He has said horrible things to me, to my husband, and to my mother on different occasions. He has shown up to holidays drunk and late and a bunch of other stuff too (I try not to keep track). No matter what he does he's still my brother and I love him and I decided I'm not going to cut him out of my life (unless he cheats at Monopoly — then I'll never speak to him again).
Now that you know where I'm coming from I'm going to give you my advice for dealing with a difficult sibling or family member you want to keep in your life.
Set parameters for contact, make them clear, and make them something you can live with. I won't drive anywhere in the car with my brother if he's been drinking at all — but he knows why and he knows the deal. If he calls me for a ride that's the first question I ask him.
How strictly you set the parameters will probably determine how often you see the person. If you aren't comfortable with how much you're seeing them you might have to adjust your parameters. I know I won't see my little bro very often (maybe at all) if I refuse to see him when he's been drinking, so that's not my rule. I'll hang out with him, have dinner and if he gets rude or ugly I leave. As for those late night calls — I answer if I'm already up and if I see it the next day I return the call.
They are who they are (right now) and no amount of forcing, cajoling, arguing, or blackmailing is going to change that. People will tell you that you can force them into rehab or AA meetings by cutting off contact with them (cutting off contact is usually the consequence set up in an intervention). It might work, I've never done an intervention or threatened this because I know I'm not going to follow through. What I do know is that most rehab options are voluntary because people don't get clean and sober because someone else makes them. It's something they have to decide themselves and something they have to work at. You can't help them until they want to be helped (it's trite but true).
One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I think my middle brother (who had very similar substance abuse problems) might have died thinking I didn't love him. That he should quit drinking and get his shit together was the thesis to almost every conversation we had. So I don't end a conversation with my baby bro without telling him. I haven't given up my right as a big sister to attempt to boss him into another lifestyle, I've just accepted that he probably won't listen and let him know I still love him when he doesn't.
I have been called an "enabler" by some for not refusing to cut my brother off. I disagree. If I were buying him booze or drugs I would definitely be enabling and encouraging his self-destructive behavior, but I don't do those things. I'll buy him dinner or groceries from time to time, and I still buy him birthday and Christmas gifts. I think these are things an older sister who had a "normal" brother would do from time to time for her baby bro just starting out in the world. But this, like many things, is a matter of degrees and you have to decide what you're comfortable with.
Even though my brother has issues and I am almost constantly worried for him I still love him. His addiction is going to take a lot of things from him. One day (hopefully) he's going to wake up and wonder what happened to his twenties and as he gets older I think his future self is really going to regret some of the decisions he's made. But I'm going to work hard to not be one of the things that this takes from him. And it's worth it when I get a call at the wonderfully reasonable hour of 10 in the morning from a sober little bro asking for a ride to mom's house for a family dinner.
I want to make it clear that I'm not suggesting that anyone stay in an abusive (physically or emotionally) relationship. If my relationship with my brother took a turn in that direction I'd make the drastic changes necessary to protect myself.
So let's hear it with your advice. REMINDER: We're not here to bitch about our family members or compare horror stories — we're here to share survival tips for dealing with the drama.
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Commercial sports and recovery drinks get an universally bad wrap: they're full of sugar, unnatural dyes, extra preservatives, and are overpriced. Some critiques are fair, though if you're doing extended cardiovascular exercise, you do need additional carbohydrates in your blood so you don't hit "the … read more
Excellent points on this, and has a lot to do with how I feel about those relationships where folks are joined at the hip. Favorite part: The other thing is that he and I are very much our own people. We're not "two peas in a pod" or "two halves of a whole." We are frequently found no where near each other geographically, we have hobbies that the other is completely not into, and it's not unusual for me to say "no idea" if someone asks me where he is. I know he's alive and will be home tonight, that's all I feel like I need to know. "
Sorry, Cathy's Classic Aisle Runner. I'm marrying my fiance, not my best friend.
Let me be clear, if you are a person who feels that they will be marrying/have married their best friend, that's great! You do you, whatever makes you happy. But I'm a little weirded out how this seems to be the assumption now. Even when you look at all merchandise — all the cards and t-shirts and tote bags and aisle runners — the wedding industry seems to think that if you're marrying someone they must be your best friend, and that's just… odd to me. Obviously some people are marrying their best friend, but surely not everyone?
People never assumed this stuff when my fiancé was just a boyfriend. We were living together, running a house together, and everyone assumed that at some point we'd get married, but no one said anything about "living with your best friend." Admittedly the people saying this aren't people who know me super-well, but I just don't understand that leap.
My fiancé isn't my best friend. He's pretty great, but we weren't really friends before we dated, and my actual best friend has known me for almost twice as long as he has. She's the one who will tell me that sweater makes me look like a crazy cat lady, whereas my fiancé thinks I'm gorgeous in whatever I wear. (Not that that is a bad thing.) It's just sort of, two sides to the same coin. And, for our situation, I feel like for him to try and be both my partner and my best friend would be counterproductive. There's nothing major that my fiancé knows about me that my bestie doesn't, and vice versa. It's not the information that's different, it's the way it's processed…
My bestie can give me insight into problems that my fiancé can't, necessarily, because he's too close to the situation, and she can give me perspective. If he leaves his socks on the living room floor and my knee-jerk reaction is to freak out, I know that twenty years from now we're not going to point to the great sock-on-the-floor incident of 2013 as the low point in our relationship. But does it still tweak my nerves? Sure. In situations like that I can go to my best friend and say "Ugh, he left his socks on the floor again," and she'll just shake her head and say "Oh I know, my husband does that and it irritates me too." And then everyone wins. I feel vindicated because I'm not crazy, my fiancé isn't left going "WTF" because I went all She-Hulk over a pair of socks, and maybe later I go to him and mention it in a calm and rational way — or maybe not.
The point is my best friend is an outlet for this little stuff, sort of a staging area, if you will, for some of my feelings. It's not that my fiancé and I don't talk about our problems — he's a marriage therapist, do you really think he'd let me get away with that?! — it's just that sometimes I need to get my thoughts in order before I bring them up to him. And sometimes once I say something out loud it sounds so stupid that I'm able to just let it go, or realize that I may have been misunderstanding something.
The other thing is that he and I are very much our own people. We're not "two peas in a pod" or "two halves of a whole." We are frequently found no where near each other geographically, we have hobbies that the other is completely not into, and it's not unusual for me to say "no idea" if someone asks me where he is. I know he's alive and will be home tonight, that's all I feel like I need to know.
In general I reject the idea (we both do) that to be in a relationship or to be married means we have to be joined at the hip 110% of the time. Not that I'm like that with my best friend either, but it goes along with the theme that people seem to think that once you get married, suddenly this one person should be absolutely everything to you. I have lots of important people in my life — I consider it a blessing that I have so very many people I love who are important to me, and I, personally, have no interest in having all of those roles condensed into one person.
So yeah, my fiancé and I are a team — we make our house run as a team, we sometimes plan parties as a team, we make sure we have enough cash to pay bills as a team, and eventually, we'll parent as a team. He's my "significant other," he's "the dude I'm in love with," and he's a pretty boss roommate and life-mate, but he's not my "best friend" and I doubt he ever will be.
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This is a delightful idea!
Have sex twice per week: The minutes from our first quarter marriage meeting!
There was an agenda and minutes, practical discussion with open and honest communication, and recognition for achievements.
It may sound crazy, but this is our first step in always making our marriage a priority. Here's how quarterly meetings foster open and honest communication while strengthening our relationship…
Agendas are imperative to successful meetings. Not only does it guarantee you won't forget to discuss any important topics, but it gives an end time. Meetings that go on in perpetuity are THE WORST and you want this meeting to be fun, for the most part, and productive.
A week prior is a good time to start drawing it up: For casual meetings agendas can remain open for additional items right up until the moment you have to print them.
The most important action item in our case was goal setting. When setting goals it is important that they be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive. For two people who consider listening to the NPR Planet Money podcast together a relationship building exercise, it was very easy for us to come up with quantifiable goals. For our purposes, we brainstormed three ideas then selected one for implementation:
Because it is winter in Ohio and it is easy enough for us to default to homebodies, three was the clear winner. Item three is indeed specific, attainable since we have the means, measurable and realistic since there is a number involved (once per week), and has the built-in time-sensitive deadline of a quarter. Now for the next three months, one night per week, instead of sitting on the couch watching M*A*S*H we will be going out and doing stuff. What about the particulars? How do we implement? How much we can spend? What the other person does not want to do under any circumstances, etc. We will both keep open minds and give it a chance — it's just a three month commitment.
At the next quarterly meeting we will discuss what went wrong and right and if we want to implement this going forward. I would like to add that we are also free to have sex X number of times per week or go away for a weekend; we will just not measure it. All in favor say "aye." The motion carries.
Moving on to new business: wait. Old business comes first. It may not be as fun to talk about as shiny new goals, but that's partnership. The old business for our meeting consisted of the detritus of wedding planning. Some thank you cards remain and we set a goal to write two per day until they're done. As was mentioned with goal setting, a deadline is important. Yea, as long as everyone who gave a present gets a thank you it's okay, but what are your standards? Our standards are: we just want it done. Now let's move on to new business!
New business can be all new stuff that may happen until you die, but it's good to start with the upcoming quarter. What is happening in the next three months that affects your relationship? Our parents were a "new business" topic at our meeting: one is having surgery and the rest live in different places. Who can we visit this quarter? Does anyone need anything from us?
The one unifying characteristic to our entire meeting was this: Relationships First. The work being done on our house was irrelevant to this meeting. Focus centered on our relationship to each other then on the relationships with those who we love. Not everything got turned into an action item either. As with most meetings, some discussion was tabled for later in the week (we wanted to mull over which goal we wanted to set) and some was tabled for the next quarter's meeting. But how did we know this?
Something else that makes setting goals more effective: write them down. My husband was note taker and will be issuing minutes. (As an example: Our first quarter minutes can be found here.) We made a lot of decisions about a lot of things and we don't want to forget those. You can use the minutes to put reminders on your calendar or just do it the old fashioned way and stick it on the fridge. Just so long as you have a regular reminder of how important your relationship is to each other and that you are both making an effort to grow together.
All this being said, use your best judgment. What you discuss at your meeting, how and when you conduct them and everything in between is your business. You are not a publicly traded enterprise. I came to terms with marriage while I was engaged as follows: the state defines marriage mostly by how it ends, either through death or divorce. We get to decide what the existing, the living parts of marriage mean to us. We make the rules. You make your rules too. You are your own shareholders. Now go make some Action Items.
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by Elisabeth Snell, Writing Intern
K and I are eight weeks out from getting married, and there is something to do every night. We get home after work and have these rapid-fire conversations about whether you picked up the rubber lobster stamp and who is researching the morning-after brunch plans and please don’t forget the roast chicken for Jane, who is deathly allergic to crustaceans and will probably spend our entire wedding in bubble wrap. (I just had to stop writing this so I could write a note about the roast chicken for Jane.)
Eight infinitesimal weeks to get all this stuff done, eight weeks till we stand up and sign a wedding license in front of just about every person we know and love. Is my frenzied tone coming across? Because I am panicking, and not just about the gluten-free options, and boy oh boy, is our house fun these days.
I started crying on the way home from meeting with our clambake caterers the other night. (God, I hate sidewalk crying, but not as much as subway crying!) “We should have gone to City Hall like I WANTED,” I sniffed. “If we went to City Hall, it wouldn’t even be thirty seconds later that you’d be sad that your people weren’t there,” K said reasonably. Of course she is right, of course, but what if she’s not?
I suspect that this is normal, that everyone who is already on the other side of marriage has felt this way at one point or another during wedding planning. But what the hell do I know? A well-meaning friend said to me that I should enjoy every moment of wedding planning, even the hard ones! Because they’re all part of the two of us working on the most important decision we’ll make in our lives.
I almost choked on my tiny artisanal slider when he said it, because first of all, that’s the kind of thing that someone only says when they are not currently in the situation that the other is in, and then I felt so instantly guilty for not savoring every tender argument about our wedding website header. Like I single-handedly just let down all of the Corinthians who are patient and kind and not easily angered. I was already feeling a little baffled and isolated, when over the course of a month, I started hearing about one unhappy relationship after another. There was a week straight where I heard about people having relationship problems almost every day.
One night in the middle of all of this, K came home and cheerfully stepped out of her shoes in the dining room. She started shedding her clothes and casting them aside while talking over her shoulder on her way into the kitchen. This is nothing new. This is what she does every night. Usually I appreciate how hunky, albeit faintly ridiculous, she looks cooking dinner in socks and briefs. Not so, not so that night. Instead I remained sitting at the table, staring at her shoes. “There are going to be shoes in my dining room for the rest of my life,” I thought. And I couldn’t stop! Every tiny and not-so-tiny annoyance loomed large, and my lobster stamp worries were quickly eclipsed by an insidious terror that we were making a mistake by getting married, that we’re too different, that we’re not the right match.
So I did what I usually do about big, hard, scary things: I decided that it was better to silently process them on my own until I calmed down a little, in the hopes that they’d go away. I’m thirty-four, so that’s what, about thirty-two years of making decisions about communication and my emotions, and has this approach ever worked? Never.
A week or so later, we were headed home from work, and somewhere between Fort Greene and Flatbush, we started talking about the folks we know having problems or getting divorced. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, couldn’t stand talking around the lump of fear and worry lodged in my stomach somewhere. “K,” I confessed, “what if that happens to us. What if we’re making a mistake?” Then I waited for everything to splinter apart, since I’d finally said it out loud. Except all that happened is that K said SHE’D BEEN WONDERING THE SAME THING.
We talked all the way home, and my relief was so palpable that I felt instantly exhausted. Why haven’t we been talking about this stuff, with our friends and with each other, thus making the stuff so much harder when it finally bubbles up? So I’m formally announcing what my partner already knows—I’m going to marry her in eight weeks, and I’m damn nervous about it, and even though things are so much better since we talked about it, I’m still nervous.
But I’m going to stay the course, because K and I are on the Same Team. This is one of the core, articulated tenets of our relationship, one that became very clear when we started discussing the possibility of marriage. When we disagree, when we’re trying to figure out where to move after NYC, when we buy groceries and check the ingredients for rogue gluten, we articulate and embody that we are united. We have each other’s backs, and agree to support one another, in spite of when it’s hard and especially when it’s hard.
We are not a couple that immediately agrees on much, so it’s not really enough to just put this statement out there. It requires active involvement and is easy to forget, especially in the middle of an argument. There might be times where we love each other but cannot figure out how to like each other, and there even might be times we forget that we love each and wonder why the hell we agreed to this commitment. But, because we’re on the same team, we’ve agreed to stick around through the difficult stuff because we believe that the work is worth it.
When the wedding is all over, I want to remember the good stuff, while not ignoring the fact that wedding planning was really hard for us. How happy K looked when she brought home her suit, how much I loved picking out a fascinator with dear friends before we drank all of the margaritas in the East Village. How crisp and clear and cold it was that night on Cortelyou when I realized I was ready to marry K, and how I walked home simultaneously sobered and elated, and didn’t tell anyone, not even K, because I wanted just a few more moments before everything changed.
Photo by APW Sponsor Kara Schultz
One of the reasons getting engaged was so scary for me was because I bought into the prominent cultural narrative that adventure ends after marriage. It’s why I spent so much of the early parts of my marriage staying out too late in New York and drinking Red Bull Vodkas while playing Rock Band with people I was only sort of friends with instead of spending time with my husband. However, since getting married, I’ve discovered that my partnership is the very thing that makes me more adventurous, not only for the stability it provides while I chase my dreams, but also for the responsibility I feel to Michael to be my best, most fulfilled self. Today, Julia brings us the post that would have single-handedly swept away any of my pre-marriage jitters if it had been written any time before 2009. Take it away Julia.
In June my man and I got hitched. In July I got fired. In August, I will start five months of traveling through East Africa and Southeast Asia—alone.
While I tramp through Kenya, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, and half a dozen other countries, my brand-new husband will be staying at home in NYC, where he is still gainfully employed.
We married as two overachieving, workaholic New Yorkers. My best friend’s wedding toast even included a joke about my love of spreadsheets. But only a month later, without warning and completely against my will, I became an unemployed housewife.
Twenty minutes after getting canned, I had this conversation with myself:
“Self,” I said, “do you want to be an unemployed housewife?”
“No,” I replied. “I’m bad at doing the dishes and I’m bored already.”
“Okay. How about traveling to all the places you’ve always wanted to go? How do you feel about that?”
“That’s much better.”
So after being an unemployed housewife for all of twenty minutes, I pulled up Google Docs and started planning my new life as an International Vagabond.
Inside my head, I felt something like this:
“Self,” I said, “this will be okay. Your husband will be here. You will put your career back together. It will be okay, probably even better than before.”
And as an extremely independent gal, this shocked me, but I think it’s my marriage that makes it okay. There’s something about being married, knowing that I have a home to come back to and not just an apartment—something about that frees me up, gives me courage and confidence. I can go do my thing, and he will be here, and it’s okay.
Our wedding vows began like this: “I promise to share my life with you, while giving you the space to live your own life.”
When I said those words during our ceremony, I envisioned weekend or even weeklong trips apart, alone or with friends. Lazy Sundays lying in bed reading the news on our respective laptops, poking each other when we find something particularly interesting to share. Me roaming through art museums, which bores him to tears, and him heading off to play poker, which does the same to me.
But this is on a whole new level. We’ll be literally and figuratively thousands of miles apart.
And yet, I have absolutely zero fear. I’m not afraid of crippling loneliness or homesickness on the road (though that may well happen). I’m not afraid of the shiny new crop of twenty-two-year-old girls that descend on New York each fall (though if any of you flirt with my man, you will regret it). I’m not afraid that we’ll be spending the first months of our marriage on different continents. I’m not afraid of malaria, Delhi belly, hijackings, propeller planes, getting lost in countries where I don’t speak the language, my stalled career.
I’m not afraid because I know I have our shared life together. Even if my life is somewhat in a shambles and I need to run around the world to put it back together, it’s okay.
I will take chicken buses through Tanzania, visit NGOs in Nepal, sleep on the spare couch of a generous friend’s friend who is only an email address to me but who will become my friend. My husband will go about his daily routine in our apartment, feed our cats in the morning, walk to work on the route that we used to walk together, and hang out with our friends on the weekends. He will gleefully throw his underwear on the floor, play as much poker as he wants to, and sleep on whichever side of our bed he fancies—even diagonally like a starfish.
We will miss each other terribly and Skype. We’ll be grateful for the chance to create great stories apart so that we can share them with each other. We’ll be living our lives apart so that we can share them together.
Photo by APW Sponsor Corinne Krogh Photography
Love that this website will post articles like this!
Photo by Megan Finley
When my boyfriend first mentioned the possibility of getting married someday, I was taken by surprise.
"Sure, I'd marry you if it was legal," I told him. And he asked me: "Who cares if it's legal?"
We're polyamorous, and I've been legally married to my other partner for over a decade. But in spite of my longstanding support of same-sex couples who choose to marry even without legal recognition, and my deeply held belief that the state has no real business defining personal relationships in the first place, I had somehow never really considered that we were free to get married, too, regardless of whether or not the law would ever recognize it.
Once I began to seriously entertain the idea, it was a short leap to start daydreaming about the wedding. But as someone who's committed to challenging cultural norms, I was extremely hesitant to simply indulge those fantasies. I wanted to understand why I wanted a wedding, and to know I was doing it — if I did it at all — for the right reasons.
My boyfriend and I were already committed to sharing our lives together, building a family. Did I really need some kind of ceremony to solidify that? Would I just be buying in to social expectations, trying to make my non-traditional relationship appear more "normal" by getting married just like everyone else? Were my wedding fantasies still just a lingering product of all those fairy tales I had thought I'd rejected when I walked away from monogamy?
I thought long and hard about all of these things. But when I decided that I did want to go ahead with planning our wedding, it wasn't because I decided my motivations were somehow free of all social conditioning. It was because I finally realized that didn't really matter.
At the end of the day, I want to have a wedding for the same reasons I imagine most people want to have them, and for the same reasons I wanted my first wedding…
At the end of the day, I want to have a wedding for the same reasons I imagine most people want to have them, and for the same reasons I wanted my first wedding: to bring the people I care about together to celebrate a love and a commitment that already exist, to stand in front of my friends and family and declare that I love this person and he loves me and we intend to stick together for the long haul.
And yes, in this world where I constantly feel that this wonderful, healthy, happy relationship is seen as less real and less meaningful than monogamous ones, there is a part of me that wants the cultural validation of marriage, of declaring that this love is as real as any other. I used to worry that this part of my motivation was somehow inauthentic, as if I would be using my wedding to prove something. But I've since realized that this desire for validation is actually very human, something I should let myself off the hook for.
Instead of thinking of it as a kind of "giving in" to social constructs, I've come to feel that there's something wonderfully defiant about standing up and saying that neither the state or society can dictate whether or not we are fully committed to one another.
Of course, we're not naïve to the fact that many people will refuse to see our wedding (and our relationship) as "real" no matter what we do. And no matter how much we dislike that reality, we accept it. Ultimately, we're doing this for ourselves, not for anyone else. But if there's a little part of both of us who want to make some kind of statement, I'm okay with that. And if there's a little part of me that is still a little girl who wants to believe in fairy tales, I'm okay with that too.
Some people think that non-monogamy itself is unromantic, but I think my happily ever after just looks a little different than most. In fighting for relationships like mine to be recognized and accepted, I don't have any interest in un-romanticizing anything. I'm all for believing in true love, making commitments, declaring that love and commitment before the world. Rather than asking people to abandon old notions of love and commitment and family and romance, I'm far more interested in fighting for an expanded definition of what those things mean. I believe that we can take the old traditions and infuse them with whatever meaning we choose, as long as we are conscious and intentional about doing so.
Next summer, I'm going to marry an amazing man, who I am absolutely certain I want to spend my life with. I'm not sure how many people we can expect to show up, but I know that we will be surrounded by the friends and family who truly support us. And that, to me, is what weddings are really about.
REMINDER: On the Offbeat Empire, we support all consensual loving relationship structures. If you can't discuss polyamory respectfully, please do not comment. Comments that don't adhere to our comment policy will be removed.
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Love all of this, but she rocked one of my favorite quotes, and the ending line chills me: "Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female."
Dear Bridal Industry,
I will not allow myself to become caught up in your ideals of what a bride "should" look like. I will not become sucked into your standards of beauty, ones that are different from my own. I will not let you dictate to me what pretty is, and isn't.
Speaking of which, here are more things I refuse to do…
I will not let you tell me what to wear, how to fix my hair, or how I should do my make-up.
I will not spend nights in tears because I am not "beautiful enough," or "thin enough" for you.
I will not go on a crash diet.
I will not refrain from getting my septum pierced for fear that you will tell me it makes me look less-than-bridal.
I will not be ashamed of my lopsided breasts.
I am me. I look fine just the way I am, and I will not let you tell me otherwise.
When our wedding takes place, I will be fully present, and I will do so on my terms — not yours. When I fix my hair, it will look lovely to me and my fiancée, and we won't care if it doesn't look lovely to you. When I apply my makeup, I will gingerly avoid my multiple nose piercings so as not to irritate them, and I will love the way they look. When I put on my wedding dress, I will say to myself, "Self, you are pretty fucking hot, and you rock this dress." When I look down at my tattoo, I will remember that I have chosen to adorn my body with badass artwork that has meaning to me, instead of trying to conceal it shamefully.
When our wedding takes place, my fiancée will be fully present, and she will do so on her terms — not yours. She will fix her kinky hair the way she always does, and I will think it looks even more perfect than it normally does, even though she won't do anything different. When she smiles at me as we see each other for the first time that day, I will love the adorable gap in her teeth that makes her smile unique, just like I always do. When she puts on her suit, she will look beautiful and sexy and gorgeous and all the words that are only supposed to apply to someone wearing a wedding dress. When I walk down the aisle and see her in her Cho'Gath hat, I will smile because she was brave enough to partially cosplay at our wedding.
In some ways, my fiancée and I will fit into your bridal mold. But in many other important ways, we will not. And even though not everyone may think we paint the picture of beautiful, blushing brides, we will resist the pressure to be anything that we are not.
More important than that, we will love the way we look, and we will rock our own individual styles. We will be proud of who we are, and we will not feel less beautiful for it. Most of all, we will not shyly ask, tails between our legs, "Do you think I would look less pretty if…"
You see, Bridal Industry, we do not owe it to you to be pretty. We do not owe it to anyone.
Our mantra, instead, will be this quote borrowed from Erin McKean:
You don't have to be pretty. You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female."
On my wedding day, I will be beautiful in my own way, and so will my fiancée, and we won't owe you a damned thing.
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It's been the best and worst year of my life, starting when I got married to the most wonderful person I know. Then my husband and I packed up our respective dogs and moved from Wisconsin to Maryland; I returned to school after a 14-year hiatus, which led to the realization that many of my classmates were young enough to be my children.
Having no children of my own, nor friends or siblings with children, I seemed to have forgotten I was aging. There was no physical reminder growing up before my eyes. I have dogs, not children. Puppies become adult dogs, but they never tell you that you "aren't cool anymore," or have friends with parents who look ancient until you find out you share the same birth year.
While riding all of these challenging but mostly happy waves off the coast of my midlife crisis, I got a cancer diagnosis, and had to quit the now beloved program with the now beloved kids at school, and then, while recovering from cancer treatment, my dog was diagnosed with cancer, too. He died.
Loki was as much like a son to me as a dog could be. He was smart, inquisitive, and expressive; legendary for his comedic behavior with our Wisconsin friends. A Great Dane/Labrador mutt, he was human-sized and happy; he taught me a lot about love and how to get it by putting it out there. The loss of his presence is almost a presence itself, a phantom hole everywhere our tiny family goes.
It feels like a betrayal to consider the next dog, though I know there will be a next dog; I would have 50 dogs if there were enough hours in the day — if I had enough energy to give to that many relationships.
Eager, but ashamed, I was hoping to find some kind of timeline for adoption amongst my virtual and actual friends — a permission of sorts which would remove some burden of decision-making. It's so much easier when someone else tells me what I ought to be thinking — my reaction of agreement or disgust is at least a place to start.
It crossed my mind, a few weeks after Loki died, that I could march down to the SPCA and stroll back home with a new love. My former psychologist wasn't going to find out and frantically call me to suggest a meeting, and Loki was not going to appear, as if I am Macbeth, and go all Banquo's ghost on me.
I was not ready yet. But I went to the SPCA anyway, just to see what would happen, and felt worse, now bearing the burden of all the dogs I couldn't bring myself to take on.
I was surprised to learn that many people get a new dog immediately after the death of their old dog, sometimes on the same day their pet dies. Others are quickly given a new puppy by friends or family members who cannot stand by and idly wait for their beloved to get through their grief and return to normal. I understand the sentiment on the surface, the desire for a rapid recovery, the return of love, a warm, wiggly source of reassurance that life doesn't suck.
But as anyone who has dated someone who is recently single will tell you, the rebound is awful for the one being rebounded upon. The same must be true for pets, and worse, the new dog cannot possibly know how dear departed Spot used to manage his affairs, nor mount much defense of himself as he falls short of unnamed, monumental expectations. At least we humans choose to put ourselves into the perilous rebound; and better yet, we can leave when we've had enough of being seen through the haunted fun-house mirror of loss.
As Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed. states in her article, How Soon Should You Get a New Pet?:
The time to obtain a new pet is when you have worked through your grief sufficiently to be confident that you can look forward to new relationships, rather than backward at your loss.
As much as part of me wanted to rise above it, my eyes were still trained on my rear-view mirror, or, as my Freudian typing skills insist, my tear-view mirror.
We need to grieve, and, according to Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D, the Founder and Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, our culture, and, I would add, ourselves, would rather we skip it.
Mourning in our culture isn't always easy. Normal thoughts and feelings connected to loss are typically seen as unnecessary and even shameful… I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it… Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have with other people. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity, or the way you see yourself, naturally changes.
Awareness of this change in my self-identity has settled in, and for me, the sorrow is not only about grieving the loss of my dog, but all of the losses of the past year: moving away from all that was familiar, my perception of my youth, my belief that I can beat any obstacle by just trying hard enough. Some battles cannot be won.
My dog, my big furry friend, was in many respects an avatar, an embodiment of everything I loved best about myself from a time when I was the happiest I had ever been. Moving onward in my life, even for its intended and still expected happy outcome, also means the loss of all that once was, including, it seems, my Loki.
And yet. A new dog! A new life to invest in, a new dialog to open, oh yes, a new vicarious living partner. Loki was abandoned and starved before I got him, frightened to death, cringing at every quick move or raised voice. We worked on his self-confidence, and he bloomed before my eyes, a transformation arc I traced right along with him, through divorce and new friends, new marriage, returning to school, through it all, having a happy life. What will New Dog's story be, I wonder as I pore over the photos on Petfinder.com, what kind of adventure am I choosing? What kind of crazy fun are we going to find together?
When I am ready to meet New Dog, and I begrudgingly admit I will know when I'm ready, I will find him. He will come with his own particular bag of problems, because all pets do. Loki taught me his lessons by example and by needing my guidance. New Dog will provide a fresh emotional blueprint for me to understand and grow with. He will lead to me learning more about myself, the same person Loki loved, the same person who will be a New Person, too, shaped along with the New Dog, with everything we will live and learn together.
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I love movies. And so do most women who purchased 55% of movie tickets in 2009. But even though last year women comprised majority of the moviegoers, Hollywood has been slow on the uptake, continuing to produce movies that do not pass the Bechdel Test. If you do not know what the Bechdel test is, watch the short video below and prepare to have your mind blown (captions provided for the hearing impaired).
For more statistics on women’s presence in literature and film check out my IWD post.
So what’s socially aware feminist to do? Fear not, I’ve put together in no way exhaustive list of movies you can enjoy without betraying your feminist identity. Save the guilt for the pop corn (actually fuck guilt altogether, cut it out of your emotional diet).
Jenna is a waitress stuck in an abusive marriage with no escape. Her husband controls her life: he takes all the money she makes, drops her off and picks her up from work, so he knows exactly where she is at any time. Baking pies is her main coping mechanism. But when she gets pregnant, Jenna decides her unborn child deserves a better life than this and begins planning an escape plan.
Though it may sound depressing, the story is actually very uplifting and the film finds a very playful tone. The film manages to stay realistic without being bleak. Jenna is a delightful character, a strong woman. And did I mention Nathan Fillion plays the role of a delightfully awkward gynecologist? (Is there anything nerd girls love more than awkward Nathan Fillion? If there is, I haven’t found it.)
An Education is a story of 1960′s English school girl who starts an affair with an older man. It is a coming of age story in which Jenny struggles to find her place in the world, confronts gender roles and the hypocrisy of adults, and learns the value of education.
When Jenny meets David, a charming businessman, she is confronted with a choice. She can choose the life of domesticity, marry a rich man, quit her expensive private school and abandon dreams of going to Oxford. Once Jenny realizes that those who preached about the immense value of education are so quick to change their minds in favor of marriage, Jenny starts questioning everything she’s been told before.
The film takes place in post World War II occupied Germany. Lore’s parents are Nazis and they are taken to jail, and she is left alone to take care of her siblings. As she makes the journey through the occupied Germany to her grandmother’s house in Hamburg, she is forced to face the reality of fascist atrocities.
Lore is beautifully filmed and acted. Some scenes knock the breath right out of you. It also features a somewhat unexplored period in history, and it is really interesting to see those first post-war moments through the eyes of a child who was fed all the Nazi propaganda.
Before Jennifer Lawrence entered the world of Hollywood block busters, she starred in this Sundance Film Festival award winning movie. Winter’s Bone is another coming of age story that explores extreme poverty in the rural United States.
Jennifer Lawrence’s character Ree embarks on a quest to find her drug-dealing father in order to save her family from losing the house they live in. Ree demonstrates great courage and tenacity. The acting is great and the scenes evocative.
The Heat is this summer’s buddy cop comedy that stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in which an “uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord” (IMDB).
The Heat is hilarious and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. There is not even a love interest, can you believe it? Melissa McCarthy’s character is funny but never because of her weight. The movie address sexism in a funny, but not at all preachy way, and *spoiler alert* the bad guy gets shot in the balls!
Though some people find the war on drugs and the violation of civil rights depicted in The Heat disturbing, it is worth seeing if you’re looking for light-hearted entertainment that isn’t 100% testosterone-dominated.
As I was making this list, I noticed that all of the characters in these movies are cis straight white women. I’ve only listed movies that I have seen. It’s obvious to me that I need to branch out of my comfort zone and watch some movies that feature POCs, LGBQT characters, and people with disabilities. In the comment section please recommend some movies I can start with and I promise that the next list I write will be more inclusive.
Meanwhile enjoy these stories of women’s empowerment!
by Rachel Wilkerson, APW Writing Intern
The Laundry Goddess is so Hot Right Now
The domestic arts are hot right now, or so the trend section of every major media outlet would have you believe. There have been numerous articles in the past year about young women’s newfound desire to take part in traditionally feminine activities like baking, gardening, and sewing. The authors’ discomfort with the idea of rich white women spending time in the kitchen or at home with their children is palpable; each article has a tone of skepticism at best, and clear disgust at worst. Pinterest is always mentioned, as are the subjects’ tattoos. The articles always suggest (either subtly or outright) that these activities and the women who enjoy them are anti-feminist.
Imagine a young mother who stays home with her young daughter, who was breast-fed and cloth-diapered. Her husband is a creative professional and wears glasses and a fedora. When she’s not cooking, taking her daughter out to explore the city, or doing craft projects with her, she’s sewing all her daughter’s clothes and taking tons of photos of her in their pretty Chicago apartment. She used to work in an upscale children’s boutique, but now she has a side business making children’s clothes and accessories and selling them to wealthy moms in the suburbs of Chicago. You’re probably imagining a white woman with great hair taking loads of Instagram photos of her daughter and posting them on her requisite blog. And if you’re like many journalists, bloggers, and consumers of internet culture, you’re likely rolling your eyes at this woman who fills her time with such privileged endeavors.
But the woman I just described is not, in fact, a lifestyle blogger; she is my mother, and what I just described was our life in the late 1980s. To help you really picture her, I’ll add this: she was a lifelong tomboy who begged my grandma for years to let her cut her hair short. When the passage of Title IX allowed girls to play Little League with the boys in her hometown (there was no separate baseball or softball league for girls), she was the only girl in the entire city to play with the boys. Though she stayed home with me while my father worked as an actor in Chicago, she eventually began raising me on her own while attending school to earn her degree in education. She sewed my clothes when it was less expensive than buying them.
In the summer of 2011, she built my brother a rocket ship loft bed (after he outgrew the train bed with a working light she built him when he was a toddler). In the summer of 2012, she built a pirate ship deck off the back of her house all by herself. Well, actually, she did it with the help of my grandmother. My grandmother, who cross-stitches, sews, and cooks. Who did all the house cleaning and earned the nickname “the laundry goddess” when I was younger because she could always get the stains out of our clothes. My grandmother, who was first in her class at nursing school, who raised her three kids alone after her divorce in the early 1970s (and her fourth on her own in the 80s), who, at seventy-one years old, still works sixty hours a week.
I grew up believing that the domestic arts are important, special, and valuable. I’d always been incredibly proud of all of my mom and grandma’s talents, and felt proud of myself whenever I could follow in their footsteps. Until recently, that is, when I learned that taking after the women in my family or emulating the things my mom did during a happy time in our lives (and then having the gall to put photos of these activities on the internet) makes me a hipster. A hipster who also happens to be setting the feminist movement back fifty years.
Women’s Work as Radical Work
Last fall, I read Radical Homemakers, a book by Shannon Hayes that puts forth a feminist philosophy I don’t think most of us learned in our women’s studies classes. At the risk of overly simplifying the message, here’s a brief overview: Hayes argues that instead of relying on a man, modern women now rely on The Man—that is, to be independent from our male partners, we have become dependent on our employers who we know do not always have our best interests at heart. And in our pursuit of financial independence, we must rely on cheap convenience products that are bad for our health and the environment, and that are often made by low-wage workers. According to the book, radical homemakers
“… are not the brand of feminists seeking security through economic independence…. In most cases, they view ‘economic independence’ as an imaginary condition; if a wife, say, is reliant upon her husband’s paycheck, he, in turn, is dependent upon the vicissitudes or even the whims of his employer. They are both vulnerable if their life skills are limited to what they can do for a paycheck. They are more stable if the paycheck is only a small percentage of the livelihood, and life skills, increased self-reliance, community, and family networks supply the rest…. These homemakers have evolved a more sophisticated view of what constitutes an economy and they have surrendered a false sense of independence to embrace genuine interdependence.
“… It is only natural that many feminists, working in the context of a power struggle between the sexes, suggest that the only way to achieve equality is to exit the home. The trouble is, however, that everyone still needs a home… the power struggle that is alleviated when both husband and wife become working professionals is merely transferred to someone lower on the social ladder.
“For there to be true social egalitarianism, then the work of keeping a home must be valued for its contribution of the welfare to all.”
Radical Homemakers really does value the work of creating a home. It argues that we dismiss what has historically been considered “women’s work” as unimportant because of its association with women (and, perhaps more important, its association with poor women and women of color) when in reality, mastering the domestic arts actually has a lot of value on a personal, community, and large social and political level. The book isn’t arguing that women stay home to keep perfectly clean houses, organize playgroups for their kids, and make baby food from scratch while their husbands go off to work; it’s pushing families to become units of production (raising/growing/making their own food, sewing their own clothes, trading skills and homemade goods with other families, etc.) instead of units of consumption.
Consider that most of us buy our bread rather than making it making it ourselves. It would probably be cheaper and healthier to make it ourselves, so why don’t we? Because we don’t have time. Why don’t we have time? Because we have to go to work. Why do we have to go to work? Because we need to pay for our homes and cars. Why do we need two cars per family? So we can go to work. To pay for our bread. And all the other things we need to buy to offset the fact that we’re working so much and don’t have time to produce anything for ourselves. Radical Homemakers argues that we should spend more time making our own bread so we don’t have to work in terrible conditions so that we can pay someone else (who is also working in terrible conditions) to do it for us.
Radical homemakers care deeply about social justice, the environment, their health, and about many of the seriously broken parts of our culture and economy. So why does the dominant portrayal of them tend to make them out to be smug, clueless, and regressive?
Hipster Housewives or Women Getting it Done?
It’s impossible to discuss the neo-homesteading movement without discussing how it has been affected by the internet, and by the lifestyle bloggers who make the domestic arts the main focus of their blogs. As they document their days sewing crafts to sell on Etsy, growing vegetables, and homeschooling their children, they become the most visible proponents of this return to a DIY-heavy, simple life.
In a 2012 article for Bitch Magazine, “Better Homes and Bloggers,” Holly Hilgenberg wrote:
“For many, blogging is a relatively easy, low-cost way to share personal anecdotes and explore interests in an accessible medium… At the same time, there is something a bit uncanny about the genre. Click through enough of them and you’ll start wondering: How is it possible that so many women and their toddlers spent their Saturdays in blanket forts made from vintage quilts found at a swap meet? And does the world really need more Instagram shots of early-morning trips to the flower market? One may get the impression that the Stepford Wives have swapped their pastel sun hats and starched blouses for sewing-machine tattoos and Rachel Comey shoes. The pastels; soft-focus and color-saturated photo filters; optimistic, sunny tone; and tendency to address readers as ‘sweeties,’ ‘darlings,’ and other diminutives characterize many of the most visible lifestyle blogs. Coupled with the focus on domesticity and the home, bloggers start to resemble a contemporary, superwoman version of a stereotypical 1950s housewife. These women don’t just maintain squeaky-clean, camera-ready homes and adorable families, they also run independent businesses, wear perfect outfits, rock exquisitely styled hair—and find the time to blog about it.”
Rather than celebrating the fact that the most visible bloggers who are doing this also happen to be making a living doing so, thus getting paid for “women’s work” (something early feminists fought for), the authors instead dismiss “women’s work” and “women’s interests” as fluffy and unimportant. These articles always use white, middle-class women with children as the example of this new type of homemaker, and the authors (who are typically white, middle-class women with children) subtly hint that what they are doing is silly or just the latest trendy thing to do. The argument ”if taking care of your home is so important, then why aren’t men doing it?” is often used, which simply sends the message that if men aren’t doing something, then it’s not a smart, worthwhile endeavor. When these women are casually dismissed with the pejorative “hipster”—which is really just another word for “poser,” an accusation that makes most people bristle—the clear message is that they don’t really know themselves or care about what they are doing. They couldn’t possibly be growing their own food because they care about their health, or leaving the workforce because it can be exhausting and unfriendly to anyone who wants to have a life outside of her job. They must be doing it to be the “little wife” for their husbands, to get attention, or to “win” the competition between women.
The Bitch article and others like it makes the argument that these blogs support both a return to traditional femininity for all women and omit the realities of everyday life—dirty dishes, marital spats—in a way that makes the women reading feel insecure. Women reading are inclined to compare their lives to these bloggers’, and then feel inadequate when they don’t measure up. As Katie J.M. Baker wrote on Jezebel:
“I’d love to have home-brined pickles in my fridge, paper-mache globes dangling from my ceiling, and plants everywhere—but instead I have an old jar of martini olives (can olives go bad?), a lamp from Target, and dried-out flowers that have been sitting in a vase on my bookshelf for a month (thanks to a mixture of being lazy and thinking they look kind of cool). When I look at photos of beautifully-designed abodes, I beat myself up for, say, taking a month to order curtains online and another three weeks to actually put them up… as lame as it may sound, I can’t browse through more than a few ‘pins’ without wondering why I suck so much at being a ‘real woman.’”
If these women are skilled at anything, the argument goes, it’s the art of making other women feel bad about themselves. I do wonder if there would be so much pushback against these bloggers if they weren’t so pretty, so happy, so… popular. When a single, non-white, non-straight, or non-conventionally attractive woman cooks a Texas sheet cake for a loved one’s birthday and then blogs about it, we don’t think twice about gender roles. But when she does it for her man with her blond hair tucked out of her way in a top-knot? Well, then, she’s hurting the sisterhood.
So the question then becomes: why are we blaming the women who are doing something they enjoy (and, in many cases, are earning a living from it) instead of questioning why, exactly, one woman’s desire to make her own pickles is immediately taken as some sort of attack against the women who buy their pickles from the grocery store? That we perceive it as an attack on our own life choices is simply us buying into the false idea that anything a woman does is for others’ pleasure and not her own. And even though (unfortunately) mocking the girls we perceive as being too popular is nothing new, it’s possible we’re getting so caught up in our own insecurity that we’re missing a budding feminist movement. Perhaps our learned-in-middle-school instinct for taking down any girl that looks like she’s gotten too popular, is causing us to dismiss a group of successful women entrepreneurs.
I’m not saying I never get a case of the “whomp whomps” when spending too much time on Pinterest, but when that happens, it’s something I need to take up with my therapist, not the women whose homes are so damn photogenic.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t parts of this celebration of the domestic arts that aren’t problematic. In her new book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, writer Emily Matchar explores the neo-homsteading movement in depth. She unpacks everything from the realities of earning money selling your wares on Etsy, to the way the neo-homesteading movement brings together evangelicals and crunchy liberals. While I don’t agree with all of her arguments, she takes a balanced and informed approach to a complex topic.
Matchar argues that, for the most part, women getting more into the domestic arts as part of a focus on social justice or is not a bad thing. “New domesticity is, at its heart, a cry against a society that’s not working,” she writes. “A society that doesn’t offer safe enough food, accessible health care, a reasonable level of environmental protections, any sort of rights for working parents… New Domesticity comes out of a deep desire to change the world.” But, she writes, attempting to change the world through individual solutions rather than collective political effort is a problem.
“Gardening and making your own soap and home-birthing your babies are fine, but these are inherently limited actions. If we want to see genuine food safety, if we want to see sustainable products, if we want to see a better women’s health system, and if we want these things for everyone, not just the privileged few with the time and education to DIY it, then we need large social changes.
“This is not to say that many DIYers aren’t fighting for social change—many are. But the overall attitude of ‘Screw the government, I’m going to grow my own food and shop at the farmers market’ is still dishearteningly common against the kind of educated progressives who might otherwise be the best advocates for large-scale social change.
“…But unless you genuinely believe we’re going to return to the days of yeoman faring, the workplace is here to stay… If women cut back on their ambitions en masses, institutional change will never happen and the glass ceiling will lower. We need to be there to demand equal pay, mandatory maternity leave, more humane hours.”
And while she’s correct, I do wonder why we are so quick to call out women whose choices don’t make the world a better place for all women. (The recent backlash against Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer for her decision to end the company’s telecommuting policy comes to mind.) I think most feminists struggle when they are inclined to make a choice that is one of those constantly derided by Big White Feminism; I know I do. Not every choice is a feminist choice, but when someone takes my pride in my ability to frost a cake like a champ as some sort of evidence that all women just want to stay home and raise babies, it occurs to me that this has more to do with that person’s assumptions than my cake decorating skills.
Still, I agree with Matchar’s call to make the movement toward domesticity inclusive rather than exclusive. We can fight for change by going to the farmers market… and by advocating for changes to food policy that would make healthy, fresh food more widely available. We can sell our crafts on Etsy for extra cash…and not lose sight of the fact that a financial safety net is still crucial to survival in today’s world. We can, and I think many of us already do.
But in the meantime, we have to stop perpetuating the idea that “women’s work” is silly and inherently oppressive, and the idea that anyone who says she enjoys it is just pretending to like it in an effort to put other women down and get herself a husband. When we’re snarking on women for their love of baking, sewing, or gardening, we can apply the same test I apply to chores: Would it bother us so much if she were doing this for her mother? Will this skill help her survive the zombie apocalypse? Well okay then.
Being a housewife actually never crossed my mind when I was younger, because, unlike me, all of the housewives I ever saw were thin, white, well-off, and conventionally attractive. Anyone who thinks that I’m cooking to please Eric is quite mistaken; when I cook, it’s because I am hungry. I love my frilly aprons and KitchenAid stand mixer because they are reminders of the things my kick-ass feminist family members taught me to do for myself. They are not symbols of a secret desire to stay home and raise babies, but reminders of my mom’s and grandma’s lessons to stay strong and raise hell.
Photos from Rachel’s personal collection.
Biphobia in the lesbian community manifests itself in many different ways. Bi women call themselves “queer” or “gay” even when they feel that “bisexual” describes them better, because they’ll be more accepted that way. Lesbians refuse to date bi women. Bi women find their sexualities under constant scrutiny by their fellow queer women. There’s a lot more, too, which you should read about in Lucy’s post.
What I’d like to do in this post is explore some of the reasons why I think some lesbians are biphobic, beyond simple prejudice and fear of the Other. Note that I’m a lesbian myself, but I have had bi women as romantic and sexual partners, and I am appalled by the way my bi friends and lovers have been treated by my fellow lesbians. I hope that if we understand the root causes behind these harmful attitudes, we can work to change them.
1) Defensiveness and fear about sexual fluidity.
Our society demands that women be attracted to men. Adrienne Rich famously called this “compulsory heterosexuality.” However, there are some insecure straight people who are less threatened by bisexual women than by lesbians, because at least they’re still attracted to men, and obviously bi women end up with men in the end, because why would they choose anything else?
This is total bullshit, of course, but it does result in a lot of straight people pressuring lesbians into behaving or identifying as bisexual. I have faced this attitude approximately 327 times. “Are you sure you’re not bi?” these straight people (usually men) say. “Have you tried it with a guy? Women are sexually fluid, after all. You might find a guy you like.” I’ve heard this crap so many times that I don’t respond to it gently or calmly. I say, “NO. I am absolutely not interested in men, period.”
It’s not hard to imagine how this defensiveness might end up shifting from its appropriate target (straight people who think they know your sexuality better than you do) to people who are not at fault: bi women. There’s resentment, because bi women don’t experience this constant pressure to be sexually interested in men – they already are. But that doesn’t mean that bi women don’t face other kinds of awful shit from straight people, some of which lesbians don’t have to deal with.
I think another source of fear around sexual fluidity among lesbians is this fear that we may end up attracted to men someday. This happens sometimes. I know bi women who previously identified as lesbian but found later that they liked men too. That’s totally fine, of course. But I know that if that were to happen to me, I would face a metric ton of “I told you so’s” from every single smug straight person who insisted that I should be attracted to men. On some level, it would feel like those straight people were right about me, and that would be intolerable. That’s not true, of course. The problem isn’t that I’ve been told that I should be bi, but that anyone’s ever felt they had the right to tell me what my sexuality ought to be. Even if I were to identify as bi, those straight people would be wrong, and they would probably find some other aspect of my sexuality to criticize anyway.
I’m sure I’m not the only lesbian who’s thought about this. The idea that we might be sexually fluid and eventually identify as bi is scary, and some lesbians take this out on bi women, even though again it’s not their fault.
2) Internalized feelings of inadequacy.
This applies particularly to why lesbians are sometimes irrationally afraid that their bi partners will cheat on them with men. Part of this fear comes from the perception of bisexuals in general as sexually insatiable and incapable of fidelity. This false notion is damaging to bisexuals and their romantic partners. But it doesn’t explain the particular fear of being left for a man.
I think this comes from the false idea that sex with men is somehow deeper, more intimate, and more satisfying than sex with women (as I’ve discussed in this post). Even the word “sex” itself in common parlance refers to penetrative intercourse involving a penis. This sex act is perceived as the pinnacle of all sexual activity. This discourse about the primacy of sex with men comes from the same place as the belief that lesbians can be “cured” by the magical powers of the penis. It is unimaginable in our culture that a woman might have the option of sex with a man and sex with a woman and choose the latter over the former.
On some level, lesbians can believe that about ourselves too. If our partners are attracted to men, it can be hard for us to be certain, deep down in our bones, that we are good enough to satisfy them – so of course we have to be on the lookout for bi women leaving us for men.
But we don’t have to be afraid. We are good enough. If a bi woman chose to be with you, then trust in her choice. She wants you, and she will respect the monogamy of your relationship if that’s what you want.
This whole attitude of the primacy of sex with men also contributes to the perception that bi women looking for women as partners are doing so either to get attention from men or so they can have a threesome with their boyfriends. Again, it can be hard for us to believe that women can want sex with women for its own sake when men are an option.
I’m less equipped to speak to this, but I think internalized feelings of inadequacy about pleasing women sexually contribute to internalized biphobia as well. I’ve heard bi women who have more sexual experience with men than women express insecurity about their ability to please other women. Again, there’s a fear that they can’t be truly satisfying to other women. Unfortunately, this internalization of negative ideas is common to all marginalized groups, and can be one of the hardest forms of oppression to root out.
There’s an association in the lesbian community between femme expression and bisexuality. If you present someone with a butch woman and a femme woman and ask which one is lesbian and which one is bi, they’ll probably say the butch woman is lesbian and the femme woman is bi, because femininity is associated with attraction to men.
This is bullshit, of course. There are butch and femme people of all genders and sexual orientations. Still, the association exists, and there’s a lot of stigma, undue scrutiny, and hatred directed toward femme people of all genders and sexual identities. This hatred stems fundamentally from misogyny. Fear and hatred of women transfers over to feminine expression, no matter who happens to present it, and in the lesbian community in particular femmes are often viewed as “less queer” or “less radical” because of their gender expression. I think that femmephobia and biphobia are bound up in one another in the lesbian community.
You may have noticed something about all the observations I’ve made about the reasons for biphobia: they all come down to heteropatriarchy, the toxic structure of power maintained by misogyny and homophobia. That’s what’s so insidious about heteropatriarchy. It sows all these terrible ideas about gender and sexuality that we all grow up with and internalize, and these ideas turn us against one another when we ought to unite as queer women to fight the system that oppresses us all.
So excellent for anyone wanting to change jobs, or looking for a new job.
Recently I was searching through old email (for my mom’s blueberry torte recipe, if you must know) and I came across a bunch of old Listserv posts I wrote for a group of professional women in Chicago. One of the members had a corporate background and was interviewing at a non-profit and wanted to know things to keep in mind. Apparently I had many Thoughts about this topic. There is a ton of advice out there on how to do well at a job interview, but not so much advice for job seekers about using the interview to suss out whether this is the right employer for you.
Before we start, I want to set the frame a little bit.
1) Sometimes you have to take a job that you know will be a bad fit because you would prefer eating to not eating. Never, and I mean never, feel like you have to defend or justify that choice. However, for purposes of this post, I am assuming that a given job seeker has options and can choose to work at given a place or not. I realize that there is substantial privilege in that assumption. Mostly, if you have to take a given job, please know that we aren’t trying to add a victim-blamey “but you should have known it would be terrible!” on top.
2) There are crappy work environments & crappy bosses. But in this discussion, please do not denigrate any job title or function. Do not use the words “a monkey could do this job.” Are easy jobs necessarily terrible ones? Chances are, someone here does that job. Chances are, I’ve done that job. Chances are someone here would be grateful to get that job. One person’s boring is another person’s stable. We really have to get past the classist capitalist bullshit that assigns people value based on what they do, but as a society we are not there yet, so you referring to x job as crappy sends a message to a person that does that job that they are crappy.
3) Your job may contain some of the red flags listed here and still be perfectly fine. We all have a wish list vs. reality. Please, please, please do not feel like you have to argue that x is ok for you, therefore it shouldn’t be on the list. Some red flags, or a certain volume of them, are warnings, but at first they are just information and a reminder to remain skeptical and not invest until you know the full picture. Seeing one Ayn Rand book on a new date’s shelf won’t necessarily make you flee, but it will make you look harder at the bookcase to make sure it doesn’t contain every edition of every Ayn Rand book before you touch any part of yourself to any of their parts.
4) My professional background includes work at non-profit organizations (both big foundations and scrappy agencies, as well as 9+ years in academia), private corporations (government contractors, manufacturing, finance, health care, media). I’ve had a few long-term multi-year positions, especially during the first five years out of undergrad, and I’ve also worked short-term & temporary gigs for many, many companies and almost every size & type of office. I’ve worked in offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Warsaw, Bucharest, Prague, and Kiev. I’ve done some project management, budgeting, corporate communications, public relations, proposal writing, office administration, reception, tech support, light finance, training, human resources, recruiting, and database management. I’ve also waited tables and done telephone sales & tech support.
This is to say, I have walked into an office or a job for the very first time many, many times. I’ve had to look around and take quick stock of personalities and environment and learn the ropes, and only through much trial and error, I have developed a pretty good nose for sources of possible dysfunction and trouble ahead.
First thing to keep in mind when interviewing: They are auditioning for you, too. It’s easy to feel like a supplicant and see this only as a one-way audition. You are trying to get them to want you. Employers feed this narrative. It’s definitely easier & cheaper for them if everyone sees them as the ones with all the power, and in the crappy economy of the past few years they have had substantial power. But just like with dating, you want to put your best foot forward, but you are also looking for a situation that fits you. Be enthusiastic as you want to be (or need to pretend to be to elicit an offer), but remain skeptical and watchful. Hiring people and getting them up to speed is expensive and annoying for companies. When looking at a giant stack of resumes, potential interviewers are not carefully weighing every facet of your experiences and looking for ways you might be a good fit. They want to make the pile smaller, so they are looking to weed people out as quickly as possible. However, once they are inviting people from the small pile for interviews, they are most likely looking for reasons *to* hire. Keep this in mind, it gives you power.
So. You apply for a position and the company arranges an interview. We are assuming that the work is something you are qualified for and want to do, and the overall level of compensation and schedule is in the ballpark of what you are looking for. Now we are become spies, sifting and absorbing information about whether we actually want to work at this place.
Preliminary questions: Was it easy to schedule something with them? Were they polite on the phone? Did they give you an idea of what to expect? I once had a place call me to schedule and then cancel an interview four times. Then they called again to reschedule. I said “Sorry, I can’t rework my schedule again. Good luck filling the position!” If you don’t respect my time & can’t stick to a schedule for a one hour meeting when you’re trying to recruit me, what can I expect on the job? I once asked the Human Resources person scheduling an interview “Can you give me an idea of who I will be meeting with that day?” While names would have been good, even an idea of positions & # of people (Big boss? Interview by committee? Just HR for a pre-screen?) would have helped me prepare. She acted like I was asking for precious trade secrets, said snottily “We don’t give out that information,” and hung up the phone. Uh, okaaaaay? I went on the interview, which was ultimately fine, but I gleaned something about the icy & rigid corporate culture of the place from the initial exchange.
Once you’ve scheduled something, read the company website and learn about what they say they do and how they say things are going. Also read: Any recent media coverage. Google the people in charge and see what’s going on with them. Recent hires? Recent departures? Definitely dig around for some financial information and make sure you have an idea of how the place is funded and their overall financial health. Is how the company presents itself congruent with what you find out from other sources? If the place is dependent on state or grant-funding, what does the security & future of that funding look like?
This kind of due diligence will give you so much information, including:
Ok, let’s talk physical plant. Once you’re at the building, if the place has a parking lot, check out the other cars. Were they purchased in the last decade? Are they well-maintained cars that look like they are driven by well-paid happy people who can afford things like auto maintenance and car washes? No? You see only ancient, rusted heaps held together by duct tape and CLINTON/GORE ’92 bumper stickers? Interesting.
One possible takeaway: Ask for as much money up front as you can possibly get, because you are never getting a raise.
Look at the building itself & the grounds outside. Is everything maintained? Clean? Accessible? Climate-controlled? Pay attention to your gut reaction. The inside and office itself might be fine, but if the sight of the place instantly depresses you, it’s worth noting.
Once you’re inside the office, I want you to look at three things. Ready?
1) What are people’s computers like?
Are they ancient dusty beige hulks? Are there 10 million tangled cables coming out of them? Does the receptionist try to print out an application for you and spend 10 minutes cursing at the screen and apologizing? IS THIS A FLOPPY DRIVE I SEE BEFORE ME?
True story: I once worked for a small women’s non-profit as the office manager. We hired a development assistant to raise money at a salary of $32,000/year. Her computer was so old and slow that it would not interface with our network printer. The executive director was super-cheap about supplies, and would neither buy a new computer, a better version of a used computer, nor a $80 local printer that would connect to the existing computer. Part of this woman’s job was to create fundraising materials for mailings. You know, that might need to be printed at some point. Anytime she wanted to print something she had to email it to someone else to be printed out, which took forever, because her computer was too slow to do anything. She quit in tears of frustration after less than one month. Dollars raised = ZERO. So glad we saved that $80!
2) How are people dressed?
Dress codes vary so widely, and individuals also vary in their presentation, so this is more of a vibe thing than specifics, but what you are looking for is an idea of the overall dress code and culture and where & how you fit into it. Does it feel super-conformist and stiff, like you just stepped into Camazotz? Also, is there some indication that people can afford to buy a new pair of shoes and get a haircut every once in a while? It’s kind of like the cars in the parking lot – not something that directly affects you or is telling in itself, but it is an immediately visible factor that gives you a sense of how people are paid & treated & how they feel about work.
3) What is the overall vibe?
Are you getting popcorn lung from the breakroom microwave? Do people have giant piles of unkempt papers on their desks? (1 = a messy eccentric, 2-3 = a few messy eccentrics, everyone = there is too much work to do here and nothing is ever resolved or filed). Is it clean, safe, maintained? Does the lighting remind you of a David Fincher movie? If you had to sum the place up in one word, would that word be “dystopian?”
What does the place sound like? What is the energy level like? How do people interact with each other? I like a busy space with some bustle to it. I don’t like a tomb. I don’t like listening to yelling. I don’t like feeling like there is barely held in tension. I will notice if everyone is sighing, or everyone is clenched and tense. I will notice if it smells like weed, cigarette stench left over from the 1970s, or fear. I will notice if conservative talk radio is on in the background. I will notice if every sentence people say starts with “Sorry,…” or if everyone is just a little too happy to see me, like the dinner party scene in 28 Days Later. I really didn’t enjoy it when an interviewer with a filthy office, full of papers and plates with crumbs on, balled up my coat and put it on the floor under his chair because there was no place to hang it, and I decided that a man who could not summon a closet or a coat rack probably couldn’t be the boss of me about anything.
I know a lot of worthy places are strapped for funds, but working for a great cause will not offset the daily damage that a shitty computer, a messy, poorly-maintained environment, and completely demoralized coworkers will wreak on your morale. You’re not in love yet, this is just the first date, so please don’t discount your gut if it’s telling you that this place doesn’t feel good. Do not assume that you will be able to change dodgy things for the better after you start working there. Change happens, but it happens slow.
As for the actual interview, Ask A Manager has a ton of advice on searching for jobs and interviewing for jobs on her site, so I am not going to recap all of that here. I am going to tell you about THE job interview question that has given me the most insight about what I’m stepping into.
“Is this a newly created position or will I be taking over for someone?”
Newly created? You can ask them about their rationale for creating it, how they envision it working. “It sounds like this was created to fulfill a short-term need and clear some backlog, so may I ask how you see this evolving as x project ends?” “If someone does this job very successfully for several years, what kind of opportunity for advancement is possible?” or “What is the time-frame for advancement, if any?“, etc.
You’ll find out loads of stuff.
Will you be stepping into someone’s shoes? Cool. Where are they now?
Almost every interviewer will ask you why you left or are leaving your current job. They are looking both for facts (are they consistent?) and attitudes. Do you go all weird when you talk about it? Do you spend 40 minutes kvetching about every unfair & incompetent thing your old boss did and get very worked up and angry? Are there inconsistencies? Are all of your stories about how nothing is your fault? If you answer this confidently & consistently, it will set their mind at ease. If not, it is a red flag for them about you.
By asking where this job came from and about who used to have it, you are doing the same thing. Does the story hint at some giant drama that dare not be named? Does your potential new boss seem fair, thoughtful, and forthcoming when s/he describes what went down? If the person left for a better opportunity, does the boss seem supportive & reasonable, or does it become a lecture about disloyalty? Someone who can’t or won’t answer simple questions like these either hasn’t thought about it enough to be your boss or is doing some weird power play.
If you do get to talk to the person who used to have the job, listen carefully to what they say and what they don’t say. A person who had a good experience working with the boss will be very forthcoming, the same way a reference who really liked working with you will be forthcoming when the company calls to check on you. A person who had a bad experience will be cagey and vague. If you’re asking “What was the best thing about working for so-and-so?” and getting answers like “uh….The schedule…. I guess” the person is telling you without telling you, “I would cheerfully burn it to the ground.” Just because they hated it doesn’t mean you’ll hate it, but like the other red flags, it’s information.
One more from my NO!-files: If you ever hear a potential new boss talk about how “We’re all like one big family here!” or “We like to think of ourselves as a family!” in an interview, my recommendation is to run far, far away. In my experience that means:
Obviously this post is non-comprehensive, so tell us: What red flags and bad experiences have you run into during job searching? That unpaid “social media internship” that’s 40+hours/week? The dude who, per Twitter, told @Shinobi42 “I like to hire women because they’ll put up with my shit?” The interviewer that seems to have an office, but really just has his studio apartment with only the bed for sitting? (Recommendation: FLEE AT ONCE.)
Finally, in addition to Ask A Manager I would also recommend Work Made For Hire, Katie Lane’s site targeted to freelancers & creatives. It is excellent. Scripts galore.
I socialize a lot with straight men – in my experience, more often than my queer lady friends do. A lot of my fellow queers say that straight men have been awful allies to them and are too blinded by privilege. I understand that. Speaking for myself, though, straight men were my most valuable allies when I first came out in high school. They defended me from criticism and were there to bail me from my house when my family became too unbearable.
Sometimes, though, I have a very different experience with straight men who I get friendly with. After a while hanging out, my gender slowly shifts in their eyes as they learn about my queerness. I’m moved out of the category of “woman” into a third gender. The straight guys start to talk about “women” in a way that obviously doesn’t include me.
That’s when they roll out the welcome mat to the misogyny club.
“You should go to the whiskey bar down by the park,” says Dudebro, after a few drinks. “There’s this super hot bartender there. She’s a butterface, but she’s just so attractive.”
My eyebrows rise. “What’s a butterface?”
“You know,” says Dudebro. “Her face is like a 5, but her rack is a 10 and her ass is a 9. Are you a rack or a shelf guy? Sorry, girl.”
“I don’t relate to women in that way,” I say. “I view them as whole people, not a collection of parts.”
“Come on,” says Dudebro. “When a hot woman walks into the room, what do you notice first?”
“Her face,” I say. “Don’t you?”
Dudebro shrugs. “Eh…”
Did you look at my face, when I was a woman to you? Before you found out I’m a dyke? Did you rate different parts of my body? Did I become more human or less when I changed from a woman to a dyke? What do you want me in your club for? So I can validate what you believe about women?
That’s what I’m thinking. I don’t say it. I don’t know how to communicate with these men, who operate from such different basic assumptions from me that we might as well be speaking different languages. I’ve been through more variations on this scenario then I’m willing to recount here, but the basic story is the same: these straight men want to bond with me over a shared objectification of women, because my queerness has de-gendered me in their eyes, and that’s probably the only way they know how to relate to people who aren’t women. They can’t disentangle sexual attraction to women from objectification of women. Because I’m attracted to women, I must think the way they do.
I didn’t say this to your face, Dudebros, but I’m laying it out now: I have more in common with straight women than I do with you. We all have to deal with the same objectifying bullshit that you tried to invite me to join in on. My sexuality is different from yours in nearly every relevant way. Hell, your sexuality is different from my straight friends’, because sex to them is like improvisational ballet, a whirlwind of beautiful physical activity created in the moment, while sex for you is like that scene in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe when the cow comes up to the table and asks the diners which cut of meat they’d like to carve off her body for their meal, because she’d like to recommend her rump roast, she’s been fattening it up especially for them.
But there’s one thing I don’t have in common with you, Dudebro: I never objectify or degrade women. I don’t want to be a member of your misogyny club. Joining the club won’t earn me any points in the eyes of the patriarchy, because as a queer woman I’ll get the short end of the stick no matter what I do. Inviting me to be a member is not an act of friendship, but an act of emotional violence to me as a female-identified person and a feminist.
To wrap up, I’d love to hear from readers. Queer women, have you had this experience? Men, do you find that other men try to bond with you over mutual hatred of women in the same way I’ve described here? Straight women, have straight men ever tried to invite you to the misogyny club? Genderqueers and non-binary folk, do you find that men tend to assume you’re cool with misogyny because you’re not a woman?
Another good how-to-make-friends post!
By Rachel Wilkerson, 2013 APW Writing Intern
Over the past couple years I’ve found myself frustrated by the way our culture talks about friendships. Or, more important, by the way we don’t talk about friendships. While the dominant narrative seems to involve every woman having Best Friends 4-Eva who all know each other and hang out together every weekend (thanks, Sex and the City!), we tend to remove friendships from most discussions on relationships. I find it a little bizarre that we take for granted that every woman will have a best friend who will have the power to lift her up, and yet we don’t talk about making friends, keeping friends, or what to do when friendships start to hurt us. We also avoid discussing the fact that many of us just don’t have friends anymore because we’re all moving around too damn much. I, for one, would like to see more women’s magazines devote as much space to the topic of friendship as they do to romantic relationships. “101 Ways to Please Your Friends This Weekend!” “Exactly What To Say to Blow Your Friend’s Mind Tonight!”
In the spirit of giving friendships the attention they deserve, let’s talk about friend relationships… which are not so different from romantic ones when you get down to it. And if you’re thinking, “Well, shit, Rachel, I already struggled with that for years and now you’re telling me I have to start over? The rejection never really ends?” I’m here to tell you… yes. Sorry. But the good news is, we can take what we learned from years of being told by women’s magazines “How To Land A Man!” and apply it to the process of making new friends.
As someone who has moved around quite a bit in the past ten years before finally settling in Houston where I had no friends, I like to think of myself as the friend version of a pick-up artist. (But I’m far less creepy than the romantic PUAs, I swear.) Here are some things I’ve learned in the past few years about the fine art of friend courting.
1. Figure out where your potential friends hang out. When I was dating, I knew I would meet guys by going where the guys were. Sometimes this meant online dating sites, but more likely it meant bars, cool events, parties, etc. Similarly, when trying to make new friends, you can start by putting yourself in a position to meet other people who are your age with similar interests. For me, it’s been going to boutique workout studios and attending their workshops and social events; the smaller atmosphere makes it easier to bond with other people there, and, eventually, faces become familiar. If that’s not your thing, are there other classes where your potential peeps might be? I’ve found that Groupon/Living Social/etc. are good ways to find out what like-minded people are doing in your city. Even if you don’t buy the deals, you might discover new places to try out and meet potential friends. It might take some trial and error, but eventually, you’ll have that moment when you just think, “Oh! These are my people!”
2. Make your intentions clear. I’ve found the easiest way to make friends is to let people know I’m looking. Why is this such a taboo thing to say? Most of us are cool with telling people when we’re single or putting our relationship status on our Facebook profiles, so we shouldn’t feel awkward about saying we need to make new friends. There’s no shame in it. I’ve been set up with a lot of new friends simply because I’ve been open about my desire to make new friends. And when I meet someone new who I seem to click with, I’m now comfortable saying, “Oh we should hang out some time! I just moved here and haven’t met a lot of people yet!” So many women breathe a sigh of relief at that statement and confess that they, too, need to make new friends and have been struggling with it. I also often friend potential new friends on Facebook, which feels like the equivalent of saying, “What’s your number?” when dating.
3. Don’t be shy. I never went to a bar hoping to meet guys and then hid in a corner all night; I put myself in a position (at the bar, batting my eyelashes and sticking my tail up like Bambi) to hit and be hit on. You kind of have to do the same thing when making friends. Have an opening line, the same way you would with potential dates. Good starting points: jump into a conversation that you find relevant to your shared interests or just give a compliment. Once you’ve started up a conversation, friendship can easily follow. You tell someone you like her yoga pants… the following week, you overhear her say she’s attending the studio’s inversions workshop, you say you are too, suggest you meet a little early for breakfast because you’d like to be friends, and boom—now you have a friend date! And all you had to do was just be nice and friendly.
4. Come up with good friend date ideas. Unlike when I was dating, when I waited for the other person to ask me out and make the plans (and, if they didn’t, I just texted them something inappropriate at 1 AM to get the ball rolling), I had to be a bit more aggressive with courting friends. So don’t just say, “We should get together sometime!” Whenever a guy said that to me, I’d think, Eh. Whatever. Probably not going to happen. But if, after a long discussion about, say, sushi, a guy said to me, “We should get sushi sometime!” and then suggested his favorite sushi place… well, I went from interested to naked in no time at all. So if you hear about a cool event going on in town? Invite your potential friend. This will also help you nail down a date and time so it’s more likely to happen; I find that coffee and happy hour friend dates just always seem to get rescheduled.
5. Don’t expect sparks to fly right away. You probably went on a lot of bad or just “eh…no chemistry” dates before meeting a great significant other, so why would you expect that you’ll hit it off with every friend you meet? You won’t. But I’ve found that while sometimes it takes a little time to decide if you really click with a new friend, unlike in dating, you aren’t keeping yourself from meeting more friends if you “settle” for someone. So if it’s a no chemistry thing, hang in there, and if she invites you to group events (like, say, her birthday party), go! You might find that you connect with her friends more than with her.
6. Know when to quit. While I believe that making new friends is a worthwhile effort, it’s also a lot of effort, and, much like dating, your heart has to be in it. There have definitely been times when I’ve felt pressure from older friends or acquaintances to make new friends in Houston, and, frankly, this got under my skin much the same way it would if someone was constantly telling single me that I should find a boyfriend. After a year of courting new friends, I found that most days, I’d rather spend my limited free time video chatting with my old friends than going on a “blind date” with a potential new friend. Or, hell, wandering around Target by myself for an hour because that is a glorious Friday night for me. I now have a couple friends in Houston who I could call in an emergency or when there’s a new exhibit at the museum that looks interesting, and a bunch of childhood and college friends in other states who I talk to regularly thanks to modern technology.
But… everyone says that you find love when you stop looking and, despite the fact that I pretty much told anyone who would listen I was on a man hunt just before I met Eric, my guess is that friendship is the same way. So play the game if and when you want to, but don’t feel bad when you don’t. I mean, everyone knows a woman’s real best friend is her dog anyway; I have two and they love the same things I do (waking up early, grooming, growling at people who come near our food) and they call me every five minutes… just like a BFF should.
Photo by APW Sponsor Christina Richards
Confusing topic, and yet a passionate one. DDP gets it right once again at examining a tough issue facing us these days.
Avowed sex nerds are probably already aware that there are multiple schools of thought regarding the intrinsic moral value of sexual activity and sexuality.
Dear the rest of y’all:
Did you know that there are like, a billion different people who lay claim to two terms that are supposed to help us in the way that language does, by attaching an abstract value to a symbol called a name, except they often don’t help a whole lot because people don’t agree on what the terms mean so we have lots of fights about semantics, whether or not we disagree about what is morally good or bad? Those terms would be “sex-positive feminism” and “sex-negative feminism.”
On Wednesday, xoJane, which I often love, published a piece called “Unpopular Opinion: I’m a sex-negative feminist.” In it, the author rails against a perception of an entrenched feminist bloc dictating that everyone have all the sex, all the time.
Her tone is defiant. She throws out all sorts of things she is in opposition to, supposedly countering sex-positive feminists, without ever clearly saying what the hell she actually means by “sex-negative feminist.”
So I’m going to attempt to describe 4 groups that trade the two terms between them. Spoiler alert: I belong to one of the “sex-positive” groups.
So the groups are, roughly, as follows:
Not confusing AT ALL.
So groups 2 and 3 tend to argue with each other a LOT, which is fucking annoying, especially when groups 2 and 3 are arguing ABOUT beliefs 1 and 4, but talking to each other. People get prickly when they feel their terminology is being co-opted, especially… um… our people. nawmean?
But I also get prickly when someone is shitty about it as the xoJane author, because I sure as hell, for example, don’t believe in “compulsory sexuality,” or that sex is apolitical, or that we should not examine sexual politics. That is some straw bullshit.
That being said.
Like Christians who try and say “we’re not all like that” when confronted with all the virulent religious homophobes, if those of us in group 2 want to own the term sex-positivity, we need to make our voices heard. I’m trying to do that here, and I know a lot of the other kids here at DDP (and assorted ddppl) are, too. I have tried to acknowledge in each of my posts about sex, that not wanting to be sexual, or not wanting to do certain sex acts, are valid choices with no less moral value than yes wanting to be sexual or yes wanting to do certain sex acts.
In case I haven’t done a good job making it clear yet: I believe that not wanting to be sexual, or not wanting to do certain sex acts, are valid choices with no more but certainly no less moral value than yes wanting to be sexual or yes wanting to do certain sex acts. I consider that belief, and myself, to be “sex-positive.” Every sex a wanted sex*!
Most of what is going on is not conscious antipathy towards “sex critical” people, or people who are less likely to act in traditional accordance with/identify as “sluts.” I think most of it is just that those of us who are sluts are overrepresented in vocal feminist circles because we simply do not pass under the dominant narrative.
It’s the same reason that the stereotype of gay people forever, and the people who tend to come out at the youngest ages, still, are the very effeminate men and the very butch lesbians. They can’t pass– nobody will believe they are straight. So they quit trying to fake it.
A feminist woman whose desires are to be in a loving, long-term relationship with someone before she has sex, if ever, isn’t necessarily going to feel her sexuality examined and policed in the same way as a woman who would like to have a new partner every couple of weeks does. There is less social cost for the first woman to exercise her choices than the second women exercising hers. Woman #2 doesn’t pass, seeks out like minds, and ends up overrepresented among vocal feminists.
So what we end up with is less antipathy and more erasure of non-”sluts” in so called “sex positive” circles. We congratulate our friends effusively on their sexual adventures; we tell outrageous stories when we get together. Are we equally supportive of our less rambunctious friends?
Those of us in group 2 need to make sure that when we talk about a spectrum of sexuality, we don’t start that spectrum at “some.” The spectrum starts at none. Which is fine. And we should probably examine ourselves and our speech for the supercilious implication that having lots of sex is a more enlightened choice.
To ever get a meaningful yes, you have to support a meaningful no. And not no-with-a-social-cost. Just a value-neutral “no.” One of my fervent aspirations is to be able to interact with a partner who takes my questions as real questions (which they are) and receive honest answers. About sex, or if they’ll make me coffee, or anything.
“Sex positive” group 2 can and should do better. Real yes takes real no, so I support people who want to identify as sex-negative. But the “sex negative” kids could act a little less like they’re throwing mud and daring someone to chase them because they want to start a fight. ::cough:: that xoJane article ::cough::
*that could seriously apply to several different things.
Hey y’all. Lets talk about weddings. Traditional Christian weddings between a man and woman, to be specific.
Last week, I watched one of my best friends from my youth get married. She looked radiantly happy. The ceremony was short and simple, the vows sweet and funny. I was gratified by the lack of “you will obey your husband” talk, and their changing of the tired old “you may now kiss the bride” phrase to a more egalitarian “you may take your first kiss as married couple.”
All of this got me thinking—why, for the love of all things, WHY do we keep the traditional structure of wedding ceremonies?
When I see a bride being walked down the aisle by her father and getting handed to a groom, I see some pretty antiquated symbolism that’s hard to ignore. Say, for example, the transfer of property (the woman) from her father (a man) to her now-husband (another man). I mean, that’s what marriage used to be, right?
For whatever sexism and institutional/cultural inequalities still exist between men and women, I still think we’ve at least progressed past viewing marriage as a property exchange. So I don’t understand the hold up in more couples changing the rituals that celebrate their union to match what their union actually is.
When I say this to some of my friends, they splutter “because, well—it’s tradition!!”
Holy Audre Lorde everyone, our world had/has a lot of traditions that sucked.
We used burn witches. We used to say blacks and whites couldn’t get married. We used to insist that women wear corsets and hoop skirts.
Just because it’s tradition, doesn’t mean we have to keep it.
I don’t mean to make light of how important wedding ceremonies are to people. Weddings are about two people being so committed to each other that they will stand in front of their community and publicly make their vows. Friends and family bearing witness creates an accountability to the promises the couple makes to each other. That’s not something people undertake lightly (I hope), and the tradition and ritual that surrounds it can make people feel a sense of belonging and community.
But I keep having this crazy hope that people will think about what their actions and traditions represent. In lots of places, we’ve made such progress around defining what it means to be a family, and the kinds of people we will celebrate in marriage. Then I see traditional Western ceremonies and it’s like we’re forcing the clock back 60 years.
“But it means the world to my father to walk me down the aisle!”
I get that. I wonder sometimes, if I ever planned to have a wedding ceremony (I don’t) if my dad would be upset if he didn’t get to walk me down the aisle.
But in my perfect dream world, weddings would be about the people getting married and how they want to start their lives as a couple. In that world, parents would ideally be more concerned about how their children felt about their own weddings rather than the part they themselves get to play. Maybe it WOULD mean the world to my dad me down the aisle. But maybe there are other meaningful ways I could involve him in the ceremony. Maybe we can start our own traditions. And hopefully, he will understand.
Just for fun, lets think about more sexisms in wedding ceremonies!
-The woman’s white dress symbolizing virginity (there is plenty wrong with this and it’s covered well in Rosie’s True Love Doesn’t Wait)
-The tradition of the bride’s parents paying for the wedding (reminiscent of a dowry)
-The woman taking the man’s last name (or being introduced for the first time as “Mr. and Mrs. Man’s first and last name, so the woman gets to give up her ENTIRE personal identity!)
-The throwing of the boquet to the bridesmaids for all the women at the wedding, because getting married is only a ladywish! (one of the DDP editors called bullshit on this one because the garter toss for the men has a similar sentiment. But many people don’t do garter tosses anymore, which still creates a gender imbalance in the ceremony. What do you think? Sounds off in the comments!)
-The groom standing at the front while the bride joins him, symbolizing the woman leaving her life behind to join the man’s
So what to do about all of this? Whatever you want! It’s YOUR relationship and YOUR wedding, so take ownership. Maybe you AND your partner can walk down the aisle together. Maybe you’ll have both your parents walk you down the isle. Maybe you’ll hyphenate your last names or create a new one. Fuck, maybe you’ll climb a mountain with your partner instead of having an aisle at all. I don’t care, it’s your wedding. But please, I want you to see the symbolism in our traditions so you can make decisions based on what YOU value, rather than accepting the legacy that was left for you.
Okay...phew. I know that's a somewhat strange post title, but this project is fascinating and totally worth sharing, if not eloquently. The "Atlas of True Names" is a series of maps that substitutes the official names for cities, states, countries, and geographic areas with the meaning of their names in their original language....etymological … read more
Again, this is a perfect come-back line and also a great convo starter. AND its true - I used to never consider sushi a food and now I can't live without it.
To those unfamiliar, a bit of clarification: being polyamorous often involves a decision of when, or if, to come out. Like in any other coming-out situation, not everyone who is poly opts to come out, and some choose not to come out to everyone. For the time being, out of deference for my parents and their journey through cognitive dissonance, I'm not out to my extended family. Some people don't come out to coworkers for fear of discrimination. Some people choose to not come out at all.
In my years of coming out as poly, I was surprised to find that making "I am poly and have two partners" come out of my mouth wasn't the hardest part. (In actuality, it is almost exclusively relieving.)
And it's not watching the person's brain explode in reaction to my perceived fairy-floaty woo-woo liberal (in so many ways) relationship status. No, it gets tough when they respond.
Almost invariably, any monogamous person I come out to will spout a variation of, "Oh! I could never do that!"
Clearly this response indicates empathy. As Eddie Izzard put it, my disclosure surged through their brain, which spit out a terse "No information on this." So they went with what they could. I wholly appreciate this response, knowing that those who are actually rude or inconsiderate could say much, much worse.
Still, I was left with the question of how do I respond to such a statement?
A sheepish "Yeah…" didn't feel right — I'm afraid it might sound condescending or wishy-washy. Need something with more conviction. How about an elevator speech about how some consider monogamy a purely social construct? Nope, then I'm no longer relatable, and risk coming off as superior. And with my poor friend in a state of shellshock, the last thing I want to do is challenge them with, "Oh yeah? WHY?"
I knew what I wanted to convey: I wanted to maintain my dignity while putting them at ease. To show them that it's absolutely fine that they feel that way, and I'm fine the way I am too. Out of these desires came my trademark throw-away line, a lightly delivered:
"Oh, don't worry — I'm not asking you to!"
And that handles it for me. They know I'm not hitting on them, or recruiting (as a friend puts it, "poly-nating"). I have provided them a Scott-free exit from the subject if they want it. If that's the case, the look on their face tends to give it away, so I'll tack on "I just wanted to let you know!" and steer the conversation elsewhere. I let them know I'm around if they ever have questions, and that's that.
That response has been sufficient for a good long time. But recently my husband surprised me. In what is relatively against-type for him, he wanted a reply that facilitated a conversation and provoked a bit deeper thought.
He wanted to convey the monogamy-as-a-societal-norm idea in a way that facilitated conversation. Unfortunately this disqualified launching a copy of Sex at Dawn at their faces. So we put our heads together and worked it through.
For a while, everything we developed was too alienating or dangerously close to liberal shaming. (Thanks for that article, Ariel!) Out of frustration, my husband exclaimed, "They haven't even thought about it! I mean, I never liked the idea of sushi, and now I eat it all the time!"
And there it was. It fit perfectly with his general approach — light, humorous, non-threatening.
"Oh, I could never do that!"
"Yeah, I used to feel the same way about eating sushi. But I love it now!"
Comparing polyamory to nigiri — automatically, it's not that big of a deal! Provides a nice lead-in to deeper conversation, if the other person is interested. Either way, he feels good about that reply. We've developed two ways to honor the other person's feelings as well as our own.
We love you, monogamous friends! And don't worry if you couldn't be polyamorous — we're not asking you to.
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Love, love, LOVE this post. So well written, so much a part of my life!
One of the things that often surprises people is the fact that being queer, kinky, and poly doesn’t have to mean that someone is promiscuous.
“Promiscuous” is such an interesting word. My dictionary has two definitions for it:
- having or characterized by many transient sexual relationships
- demonstrating or implying an undiscriminating or unselective approach; indiscriminate or casual
Now, I’ve had quite a few “transient sexual relationships” in my time. Some of them were no longer than half an hour and others have included dates once or twice a year, over the course of many years. Sometimes, I’ll have a series of dates with the same person for a few months before we part ways, and other times we’ll develop a sexual connection based on “I’ll see you when I see you.” I think that most folks would consider the majority of these “transient.” At the same time, my approach has been anything but “undiscriminating or casual.”
I have high standards for what I want from a sexual connection, and I have high standards for the people I create those with. I expect people to come to it with an open heart, to be able to tell me their wants, needs, & boundaries, to be able to hear mine in return, and to find a way to have fun within those parameters. I require honesty around their safer sex and STI background. And I demand that they respect both my relationship with my partner, and the boundaries that grow from that. That’s a lot to ask for, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the question of our individual sexual preferences and kinks. Granted, I enjoy a fairly wide range of pleasures, but that doesn’t guarantee a good fit.
So I’m definitely not “promiscuous” by the second definition of the term and I think it’s pretty telling that the word is based on the assumption that having many sexual partners means not having a selective approach. I filter out a lot of people. It’s just that the circles I move through are full of folks who are tall enough to ride this ride, so I can have high standards and still have multiple partners.
When a friend jokingly told me that I’m easy, I instantly replied, “I’m not easy. I’m selectively convenient.” I don’t play hard to get, and that doesn’t mean that I’m easy. I expect a lot and if I don’t get it, I’ll start a conversation to see if that will change. If it becomes clear that I won’t get what I want and need, or that I’m not offering what the other person needs, I’ll disengage with as much grace as possible. On the other hand, once I know that things line up, it all becomes pretty straightforward. That’s where the “selectively convenient” piece comes in, because I’ll do what I can to make things as smooth as possible.
Being selectively convenient is sort of similar to how some dogs and cats operate. They’ll check someone out to see if they want their attention. If the answer is yes, they go all in. If the answer is no, they back off. And for some animals, the “yes” list is pretty small, but they don’t hold back from the people who are on it.
I think “selectively convenient” is a fine thing in any kind of relationship. If you’re monogamous, all that means is that your selection process is different from mine. For that matter, if you have multiple partners, you probably a have different selection process than I do because you have different needs. Within whatever structure you create, can you make your sexual relationship more graceful? Can you reduce the friction and increase the pleasure? Can you bring more flow to your sex? What would it look like to bring more ease to your sex life, to your partner(s), and to your relationship(s)?
If you want to figure out what “selectively convenient” means for you, start by thinking about what your selection process is. What are your wants and needs? What are your filters? Can you share them with a partner in such a way that they can hear it and respond? Are you open to their replies? And how will you talk with them to find the overlap between what you each offer and what you each want?
Those conversations take a bit of practice to manage with grace, especially when there aren’t a lot of role models for how to do it. Fortunately, there are some great resources that can help. Reid Mihalko’s safer sex elevator speech makes it easier to talk about your safer sex needs. Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up is great for anyone interested in having multiple partners because she interviewed folks in many different kinds of open relationships about what worked for them. I really like yes/no/maybe lists for figuring out what kinds of sexual pleasures might be fun. In many US cities, there are growing communities and social scenes where you can meet other folks who are exploring similar experiences. Even if you’re not looking for another partner, simply going to events and meeting other selectively convenient people can be a wonderful experience. And if you want some suggestions that are more tailored to your needs, you might consider working with a sex or relationship coach. That’s a great way to get some support and ideas that are specific to your situation and your goals.
Whatever your personal vision of what “selectively convenient” might mean, and whatever path you choose, think about how you’re holding yourself back. Then imagine what it would be like if you didn’t do that anymore. You’ll probably discover that it’s a lot easier to get there and the rewards are definitely worth it.
Homie Cassandra left this awesome comment on our post about long-term relationships. So of course we asked her to elaborate and turn it into an awesome guest post.
I loved the idea and 13 years later, when I started dating my husband, incorporated it on the anniversary of our first date.
So for our anniversary we have our "relationship summit" or our "State Of The Union" address. We talk about where we are and what we want and if changes need to be made. This can be anything from "I don't want children, and if you do I love you and don't want to deprive you of them, so maybe we should part ways" (dating anniversary #2), to "pick up your socks" (somewhere around wedding anniversary #3 or 4), to "I see recurring patterns that cause you suffering. And even though this isn't about me, I don't want to get to old age and still see you suffering. Will you please think about getting some counseling, for the both of us?" (last year).
But what's more important is the time when we come to "I want to stay married to you for another year." It really is optional. A few years ago when mid-life crisis hit my husband and I was afraid he was thinking about leaving I reminded him that he had re-upped for at least another 10 months and he owed it to me to hang and see if we could work it out. We did.
We shared this practice at our wedding, which was on our anniversary (which happens to be Valentine's Day). We even had a wedding "intermission" where we went off into seclusion to do the summit. It was a great opportunity to be alone for 15 minutes and to really center ourselves.
These are the big issues. Ones that can't be solved when things are heated and doors are slamming. Ones that won't resolve themselves with makeup sex.
I remember once talking to a younger person about it in our early years and he said "That's great. That means you actually talk about stuff." It may seem like an artifice but we do, indeed, talk about stuff. Usually over a nice dinner (before drinks). And it's not just limited to that once a year.
A few weeks ago, after I had a disturbing dream where my husband told me he was leaving for greener pastures, I talked to him and said "I don't want to be just the greener pasture, I want to be the greenest pasture. And I want you to think about it for our next summit." These are the big issues. Ones that can't be solved when things are heated and doors are slamming. Ones that won't resolve themselves with makeup sex.
So even though that teacher wasn't great she did teach me som'n. Wasn't about acting but it was about life. And though I still wouldn't thank her to her face I will spread her lesson. Think about it. It works for us. We've been together for 19 years now and married for 13 and I see a long future ahead. One that we'll live without feeling terminally trapped but with freedom of choice.
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