The Sally Field conundrum

Remember back in 1985 and Sally Field’s “you like me!” acceptance speech? Every time I or anyone else uses that phrasing, I think about that speech. I do not watch award shows, but I do tend to read about them after the fact. And now that nearly every pop culture moment is available online somewhere, it’s not hard to replay it over and over again.

We are in the midst of a minor  hiring spree at my full-time job. My responsibilities have grown and expanded in my 18 months with the firm, and the firm itself has nearly doubled in size. These are very good developments, and even good changes and growth can be a challenge to adjust and manage. Trying to design my own role, to keep the some of the lesser responsibilities I enjoy and balance those with the higher skills and experience management role I have grown into is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. Bosses – all 4 of them – have wish lists of the type of role I play within the firm, and not all of the tasks are going to make the cut, because I am just one person with the same working hours as anyone else. On top of that, I am the most vocal proponent of work-life balance, and in an office full of ambitious type A lawyers, I could almost begin to feel like a slacker with my 4 day work week. Almost.

I have a young receptionist that I like very much. He is attending college as well as working full-time, but he is quite intelligent and hard-working and has sharp focus and attention to detail. While I would like to promote him into another role where he assists me on higher-level and greater detail data entry type of work, he lacks some of the experience I could acquire if I sought out a particular accounting assistant skill set. The best thing about my present receptionist, though, is he is eager to learn, asks intelligent questions, takes notes, and learns from mistakes. He gets bonus points for majoring in business and turning his attention and studies toward accounting, so at least he grasps the basic debit and credit concepts. On top of that, he thinks I’m just the bees knees as far as bosses go and actually really likes me. While those are definite points in his favor, more than that he is delighted to learn from me and quickly grasped that when it comes to results, I almost don’t care how he does it as long as the final product is verifiably correct.

So we sat down yesterday to talk about the administrative jobs he does now, that I want/need to delegate to someone else, and what sort of job description we should write for the person we will hire. And it is a “we” project, because there are aspects I will be depending upon him to train the newest staff admin. By the conclusion of our working lunch we had come up with a new job description for the new receptionist I will hire and the promotional position he will be moving into and new hourly rate he will be earning beginning June 1. Now all we need to do is find the right employee to fill this job.

That I have a positive working relationship with bosses, coworkers, direct reports is very important to me; we must work so closely together it would have some measure of impact on my mental state to have to interact with a negative vibe day after day. That said, I work with professional folks who conduct themselves accordingly; even if they hate one another the focus is primarily on the work and getting it done. But we’re human, and stuff leaks out, tempers flare. I have too much respect for work/life balance to want to have to be in any sort of toxic workplace.

The way things have been evolving or devolving with long-term friendships the last couple of years have been hard for me. I am someone who values relationships and honest communication, yet at the same time, I do not nag or belabor a point of disagreement. I respect other people’s sovereignty and ability to make their own choices, even if I strongly disagree. Others are not quite as benign in their interactions, and I have been pushed and what feels like ridiculed for my own changing lifestyle choices, unfortunately to the point of having to distance myself from friend I/we genuinely enjoyed.

Last night during a text exchange another friend told me that I take life far too seriously and that I need to lighten up. Frankly, it landed as a cutting blow with a very sharp and precise scalpel. In truth, I am kind of a serious person and always have been. I have my impulsive moments, but I have regretted them so routinely after the fact that it has taught me to be more restrained and to be much less impulsive, be more thoughtful before acting. Same situation with spontaneity – I am a planner and being spontaneous tends to cause anxiety and discomfort.

It has long been a point of deep insecurity that these qualities make me an extraordinarily boring person with no sense of humor.

My more confident self now understands that is not precisely true, but being hyper-responsible is not really as exciting or fun to be around as a high-energy, no boundaries, fearless sort of soul. If there were not more serious, practical, responsible folk in the world, how could we appreciate those that are impulsive, spontaneous, and seemingly so much more fun to be around?

One of my dearest friends is my polar opposite in personality, in that he is a complete extrovert and thrives on social interaction and being around people. He is the guy who can talk to anyone about anything for an extended length of time and come away feeling energized by the interaction. He is a big personality sort of guy, yet he’s also very thoughtful, responsible, and more conservative in values. He might be someone who is gregarious and makes acquaintances faster than the average person gains weight eating without restraint, yet because of the generosity and expansiveness of his social need he is also far more accepting and understanding of differences in we more introverted sorts.

I think my Sally Field conundrum is that friendships I have retained and maintained for many years are now falling away because my life and lifestyle are changing. We are all getting older, our parents are getting frailer or are gone, our children are grown and leading independent lives of their own. M and I – we planned for this time period with eager anticipation and are enjoying these empty nest years at least as much as we did the child-rearing years. Our priorities – taking care of ourselves – are very different than they were even 10 years ago. For so many of my friends, their lives and desires are not so well considered; they had not given a lot of thought beyond what it meant to be a mother or a daughter. For many, their has been shift from working and caring for their children to working and caring for an aging parent and/or grandchildren. What they see as selfishness on my part – exercise, full-time job, self-employment business, working on our home – I see as a natural shift in my priorities.

I am also starting to understand they may like me less now because my life is far more about me and M as a couple and what we can do to enhance our life together. There are a few happy marriages and committed relationships, but far more long marriages are ending and affairs emerging or ongoing middle aged singles when they wish to be part of a couple. And truly, it is easier to bash and bully a genuinely happy friend in serious pursuit of her own uniquely personal objectives than try harder to fix your own problems.

Understanding is one thing, acceptance quite another, but anymore, I am about there, even if it is with sorrow and resignation. These friends are people I have known a very long time, some most of my life. I got through my divorce, hands-on mother years, the death of my child, the troubles with M with their help and support. I have been there for them through their own marriages and relationships faltering and failing, through the trauma of troubled children and drugs, the deaths of parents. We have celebrated graduations and weddings and births, mourned deaths and the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. It just seems so strange to me that we could get through all that and find ourselves at odds over something like healthier lifestyle choices.

Inside, I have to believe they still like and love me in reciprocal ways I feel the same types of affection for them. But our lives are different now and continuing to evolve and to change, and perhaps some distance and separation will bring more clarity about what is real and what is important when it comes to friendships.

At the same time, I know change is just part of life. I am more philosophical about it, less insecure and tense about being non-friendship material. I have met some lovely women (and men) through the gym and other groups I have casually participated in with regard to diet and nutrition. It is refreshing and invigorating to meet new folks, to be exposed to different perspectives and experiences. At my base I am kind of shy, and it seems to take some effort on my part to put myself out there and truly engage with others in any sort of meaningful way. Not so long ago I was so deeply insecure I felt certain everyone had a negative view of me and had this irrational urge to take steps – any steps – to alter that viewpoint. What a waste of energy to even consider or care about, and I shake my head at my own silliness. Nowadays, I always hope that people I like and enjoy like me in return.

Because I am kind of a serious person; I like relationships to be respectful, positive, and harmonious. And I am not going to apologize or ever again feel regretful about this aspect of my personality.

 

Pause, reset, trust

I had a meeting scheduled with my bosses yesterday to discuss our recruiting efforts. After what happened on Friday with two hand-picked candidates asked us to meet with (and turned out to be kind of awful people), I was bewildered and confused by the process. Their reaction when I tried to discuss it muddied the waters further as well as left me feeling completely disrespected and on the path to demoralized.

Sunday the scheduled meeting was moved into the afternoon and a management meeting scheduled instead – which is just me and the partners, versus the 5 of us, 2 supervisors, 3 seniors.

The situation was unfortunate, because it made me wonder who these men were and what had happened to the cooperative, creative bosses I had earlier in the week. While I am not a shareholder in this firm, I am typically included and consulted with regard to management of the firm. To be shut out and shut down so completely is awful; had they physically reached out and slapped me I would not have been more shocked and surprised.

And as if they had physically assaulted me, it gave me enough pause to stop and really consider my options and alternatives if this is the way things are going to be moving forward.

My ways of processing things is partly analysis of the situation, it’s possible reasonable (and unreasonable) explanations, and figure out what must happen to make restore peace in my fiefdom that is my day job. While I really love the staff and the role itself, if I wanted to work in a compartmentalized corporate conglomerate where I am a mere cog in the big giant wheel I would have chosen another type of firm. If it took 18 months for the partners’ Dr. Jeckyll to transform in Mr. Hyde, experience tells me the time span between future transformations will evolve into a briefer and briefer pattern.

After leaving my prior employee-based position, I swore not to put myself into another position where I am cleaning up the messes resulting from lack of communication and poor decision making. If I am in a role where I am supposed to be managing something to manage firm resources and personnel, I need to either be part of the solution or my job becomes a cancer that takes over my life.

This weekend, I decided we would resolve this issue or I would be turning in my notice. Sounds extreme, I know, but in truth I have a thriving part-time self-employment business and am routinely having to turn away referrals from existing clients because I don’t have time to take on a lot more new work. While making money is really nice – I am a capitalist at heart and do appreciate my opportunities to make lots of bucks – it is not worth sacrificing my self-respect or feeling undervalued and unappreciated. That said, I am not someone with an over-inflated ego; I so nor believe myself indispensable and beyond reproach for my skills and work habits. I am well aware that everyone is replaceable and there are literally dozens of equally to more qualified candidates out there. But whether those other candidates bring the same level of care and compassion to the work, I have no idea. I do think my empathy coupled with practicality, skill set, and willingness to be fair and balanced in dealing with people – maybe it’s less common.

M and I had discussed this extensively over the weekend, and I had a few in-depth conversations with other friends who are in similar lines of work. I needed a gut-check to ensure I was not massively overreacting. But at the end of the conversations, I would probably still be inclined to walk away if this was the new world order at my firm. Love the people, actually really like and respect the partners as well, but I cannot and will not work with my role and priorities being altered without any discussion or notice.

With this all settled for me, I went into the meeting with a clear head and an open mind. I had my hopes – an explanation at the very least – and was not completely disappointed by the outcome.

There was a genuine apology for their brush off. There was opportunity for me to vent my feelings – primarily anger, disappointment, and betrayal. I felt set-up, walking in blind with a couple of candidates they already knew or were at least familiar enough with to invite to meet with us. No debrief? No advance warning? Or was it the candidate set-up with extended hopes and expectations?

Uncomfortable silence around the table when I laid it out for them in black and white, and I was dimly reminded of reprimanding my kids in their youth. Unanimous agreement all around the process had been botched and that the candidates were unlikely to be a good fit with the type of firm they have created and the professional atmosphere they want to foster.

The why of it all still eludes me, other than the concern of adding more female professional staff looms large in their minds. I point out that yours truly is female and a manager, even if I am not an attorney and even if my male bosses dis me from time to time. However, I agree that another female hires would be beneficial. Alas, finding the most qualified female for the jobs we are seeking to fill has been a challenge as well. In addition to that, our willingness and ability to accommodate the time and schedule requests of the lady lawyers we have extended offers to have been rejected. Not our fault.

But before we dug too deeply into the actual recruiting part of our meeting, I wanted to wrap-up the communication aspect of our discussion.

Bosses agreed they botched this introduction and also agreed it might have been partly an unconscious and on purpose choice to test our mettle. Nope, I did not like that, at all, and we were very nearly back to square one.

Of the 4, all have been married and divorced at some point, although all are presently single right now. I am older by more than a decade and have been with M for more than a quarter century and know quite a bit about trust, betraying trust, and what it takes to rebuild once broken. Just in case you’re curious – it was not infidelity on either side, so much as my child victimization and M sharing it with our counselor without my permission or even telling me first. That lack of communication nearly ended our marriage, and it took a long time and therapy to recover and rebuild.

While their behavior is small-ball in comparison, it is serious enough that I did figure out my options and whether resignation was a viable one. I do not threaten ever, and I did not give them a “my way or the highway” ultimatum speech. What I did say – I am a professional in my own right and in my own field, and I am always straightforward and honest with them about my thoughts, ideas, opinions. This is their firm; they can run it however they see fit. However, if my role in it is as they have described and up to this incident acted like it was what they wanted, the game playing and mettle-testing must cease. Immediately. Tell me it is none of my business. Decide to alter my job description and explain to me that they are implementing changes to my duties and role. But do not treat me like an unknown quantity they cannot or will not trust enough to use her best judgement. Because despite what they thought they were doing or what they intended, this is the ultimate outcome of their misstep.

They are smart men; they got the message loud and clear. There is no double-secret probation, no hoops they must jump through to make it up to me. But my expectation of being treated like a professional was crystal clear.

After a rough day with all that yesterday, it was good to have some space from them and focus on my self-employment workload today.

Life is long and relationships of all stripes complicate everything. But we will sort it out, work it out. Our first big fight; time will tell how it shapes our future.

The discipline of predictability

For the second day in a row, I woke up/got up late for my morning gym practice. Yesterday was okay and even practical. This morning was just another episode of shaving sleep and paying for it by not dragging myself out of bed with the alarm.

On the surface and for most everyone this is not a big deal. So I am late to the gym a couple of days out of 365 and perhaps have to either cut my practice short or do a briefer, quicker List. The normal person rationalization of why this is not the end of the world as I know it is understandable and possibly even warranted; I have used it myself countless times with other people and even with myself in similar situations. However, it’s a dangerous and slippery slope, one I know all too well. While substance abuse and alcohol addiction are far more serious conditions, my adherence to routine is critical to my ongoing success in getting regular, consistent doses of exercise. My regular routine is not something I take lightly, and even 2 days of not heeding my alarm and getting myself up and out the door is cause for concern, even if it is only an eyebrow raise and resolve to get to bed on time and not allow myself the luxury of shutting off my alarm and not immediately getting out of bed.

The last 2 days have also brought forth other deviations from the norm as well. Once upon a time and not all that long ago, deviations from The Schedule would have sent me into a dizzy tizzy panic and set a wrong tone for the practice and the balance of my day. I am pleased with myself for just rolling out of bed and having a back-up plan, knowing that today’s List was 6 exercises long and could be comfortably completed in an hour with the 10-15 minute warmup prep. While mildly fretting about being late, my backup to the backup plan would be to ruthlessly cut post-workout dawdle time after and run through the shower and workday prep if needed. Today it helped knowing the List of the day was the glute-focused 6 exercises and that and warmup could be comfortably completed in 75 minutes. Comfortable to breathe a small sigh of relief that my personal sky was not falling.

Except for the second time in these 2 mildly challenging days, I was thwarted by other members who are blissfully ignorant of my schedule and Lists and pursuing their own exercise/fitness agendas. Yesterday it was a couple of small things – the benches I am familiar with and feel comfortable using were both occupied, so I returned to my little room space and used the bench in there. Then, while working my final 2 blocks on the cable machines, I had another member wanting to use the straight bar I had carefully collected and hoarded for my final exercise. Rather than giving up my bar upon request, I said I would do my sets and then relinquish it, maybe 5 minutes? He was agreeable to the compromise and I simply switched the order of the last block. Problem resolved, I did not go away from the encounter feeling like an unreasonable, spoiled, entitlement Princess.

Shortly after relinquishing that and returning to the rope for my new final tricep exercise, I have another guy wander over to use the other side of the cable machine and he had extreme (to my nose) personal hygiene challenges. Held my breath to finish my set and then abandoned my cable post for the sanctuary of my little room and a substitute bench tricep exercise. Yep, waving my full-on Princess flag yesterday and not apologizing for it, either.

This morning, there was a couple using the squat machine (first block on today’s List) and another guy using the Freemotion machine (second block), so I retreated to the other side and got to work on block 3. This involved going back and forth between the assisted chin-up/dip machine (only using it on the legs) and the adductor machine. Another member had apparently been using the same 2 machines, because she glared at me while I was using the adductor machine and used some other shoulder-focused machine nearby. When I returned to the chin-up/dip unit, she plopped down on the adductor machine. Used it, rested, texted, used it again, texted more … and on and on and on. So I finished all 4 of my sets on the chin-up/dip machine and then gave up on the adductor and returned to the now vacant squat and Freemotion machine. I went through the sets of the List, even if I did not do it in the precise order dictated by the List.

I really do not understand her attitude and hostility; maybe she needed coffee? If she wanted either of the machines I happened to be using all she needed do was ask, not glare at me in passive/aggressive malevolence. I am among the nicer, more simply intimidated in the gym, and at worst I would have tried to work out a reasonable compromise, but just as likely I would have fallen over trying to get out of her way.

Again, I am pretty pleased with myself for not falling off the edge and into a complete and total spin cycle of gym crazy. But it bothers me that people cannot ask or explain politely what they want or need with regards to equipment.

But oh well. Other than disorganizing my List for today, no lasting or lingering harm done.

It’s curious to me how rigid I have to be to get this far on my exercise track. I console myself that if changing habits is really hard, getting myself up and off the couch is worse in the difficulty range.

Just lately, I am feeling some degree of backlash for my choices. Yes, I spend more time than the average bear at the gym or the yoga studio; it is a choice for a healthier me. It is a choice I made without completely understanding the implications and consequences, yet I have zero regrets about it. How could I possibly regret it? My diabetes is under control without the use of medication. I am stronger, fitter, perhaps the best shape of my life thus far, and I have barely dipped a toe into the health and fitness pool. Mentally as well, my confidence has increased and my positive outlook expanded as well. But being less available to listen and sympathize and being the rah-rah cheerleader for various friends is not an unreasonable trade-off in my opinion.

That said, the last month was challenging in this regard. Because I get up so early and work the way I work, my time is somewhat limited and constrained. Even M, who lives with me and has watched and applauded me in my better health efforts has lately taken to subtle sabotage. With the change in seasons and a recent injury, M has not been on the same early morning running schedule. Consequently, he stays up much later, which is fine, but when I have to sleep earlier to ensure I get enough sleep, M is awake and pursuing his own hobbies, which he wants to share or to show me on his iPad. When I need to be going to sleep to get up at 3:45 to 4 a.m. to get to the gym on time.

We had a conversation about it this morning while I was getting ready for work, and M have come to an agreement to ensure I get enough sleep and to the gym in a timely manner. He gets it. He’s been right here with me and had not really realized how the impact of our adjustment in schedule. It’s sort of insidious and creeps up into our lives without either of us really recognizing that it is occurring until I am tired and frustrated and having a meltdown because of it.

A couple of my friends are having a really tough time in their lives and in need of friends and support. I do my best to return phone calls and texts in a timely manner, to be a good and supportive friend. However, I am the first to admit my life is different now, my availability is not as it once was. When their resentment and frustration leaks out into our interactions, I have grown up a little in that I feel me taking care of me is the best thing I can do for anyone else in my realm.

Until this last year, I would say my predictability resulted from the habit of a lifetime. I have wanted to be a good person, to be perceived as a good person. I value kindness and compassion toward other people, and those are qualities I have tried very hard to cultivate and grow in my own methods of dealing with others. For the most part, I am a pretty good person. I try very hard to take care of those I care for and about, often to my own detriment. I suppose after so many years of my being a go-to person for many of my friends, my stepping back and being more judicious in protecting my time and availability is a change of pace.

The balance can be awkward and challenging, particularly for those resistant to change. In the last month I have had some candid and frank conversations with a few people about the way my life is progressing and the conscious choices I am making. It’s partly why I am headed back to TM’s office, to reconcile my choices with the hardening attitude I have had to take toward others.

I am okay with being this level of selfish. I am okay with how hard-hearted and “changed” I appear. Heck, I’d be very good if there was an intervention on the topic rather than some veiled and not-so-veiled statements that I am self-absorbed and narcissistic in my pursuits. The statements have been hurtful, and my own self-confidence still unstable enough to make me wonder if I am doing the right things at the expense of other aspects of my life.

But I don’t think so. I am still kind. I am working on balance in all things, including the types of relationships I have with other people. My husband, my family, my tribe either understand the shift in my priorities or we have an honest conversation about it. The rest of those who dwell in my realm, I want them to continue to matter to me. I do not need them to be 110% behind me, rah-rah cheering me on and out of bed every morning, but I do need them to no sabotage my efforts and to understand that taking care of me makes me a better, stronger, more capable, more supportive friend.

Despite what it may sound like here on the blog, I am not terribly preachy in real life. I suggest to friends troubled by depression or anxiety or worry that they get some physical exercise. But since I myself am just now feeling respected for the work I have done in the gym by a select group of friends who pursue crossfit or other trendy exercise programs, I understand how difficult it is to get off the couch and get started.

It has occurred to me more than once that this pattern of behavior is repeated throughout several of my close friendships. If the problem occurs and I am the common denominator, the problem quite probably begins and perhaps ends with me.

Considering that, I am also likely the driving force behind my current conflicts with these various friends. I own that. My behaviors and my habits from childhood until now are well documented and ingrained. There has been little discipline involved in that level of predictability. Changing the habits of a lifetime is hard, and not everyone is willing to step up and do what I am striving and trying so very hard to do right now. I own that, too.

At the end of this level of navel-gazing and introspective mucking around in the mud and the muck that is my messy way of thinking and processing, I own that I have courage and willingness to try to be better and improve my overall health and quality of life.

No amount of frictioning with family and friends or sleep shaving or gym crazy or fear and intimidation of interacting with other members is going to take that away from me.

Life changes and choices

My son got married yesterday. And my daughter and I had a rare coffee date on our way to getting our hair styled. Wedding hair is kind of overrated, but it was fun to have the amazing curls for a little while and kinda/sorta keep them glued in place for the better part of the day.

C got married in April, a simple courthouse affair followed by dinner that evening with immediate family members. It was what she wanted and perfectly suited them. Since, then, though, she and A have been asked numerous times by lots of different people about when they plan to start a family. Truth is they have already decided against having children, although the reasons why are no one else’s business. I am not a pushy or prying parental unit. There are some limits – I like to know when my kids have to go to the ER for something wrong, even if there is nothing I can do, or no need for me to rush down there, I just like to know – but as a mother I want my wonderful children to be happy. What path that takes is their choice, not mine.

With G’s wedding yesterday and other conversations woven into the fabric of my life, the conversations about life’s bigger decisions come up fairly regularly. And I welcome that. I am glad to be someone people talk to about what they think, how they feel.

G and K have no plans to have children either. K’s mother asked me yesterday how I feel about their choice, because her other daughter is also leaning toward childless by choice, about perhaps never being a grandmother. I did not have an immediate answer that satisfied her, because honestly, I do not think being a grandmother is a role I aspire for in this life. Truth is, it’s not about me or about her; we have had children and are mothers. Becoming a grandmother is a decision well outside our realm of control.

My sister-in-mother-in-law-hood then said something kind of jarring to my ears: that not planning to have children felt a bit “selfish” on the part of her daughters.

I hate when the word “selfish” is used to describe choices that are different or disagree with what we might desire for those we love.

K’s mother was not part of her life for majority of her upbringing and most of her life to date. They began the slow process of building a relationship several years ago, but obviously K does not enjoy the same level of depth and shared memories that I have with G. My theory is that K’s mother would like a do-over for being a mom via being a grandmother.

And it’s okay to have that kind of regret and desire. And it’s probably okay to voice it to your very intelligent daughters who think for themselves and have their own futures mapped out to suit their own, personal visions of pursuit of happiness. But please, do not ever label these very bright and promising souls as selfish for having different dreams and ideas about what their lives should or should not include.

K’s mother was a single mother, and the girls have different fathers. She did not raise either, because of addiction issues that have only been addressed and handled in the last half dozen years. Life choices made as a young woman have a lot of far-reaching consequences, and her life now is not and easy road. I am not someone who judges; I know we all make mistakes. She takes responsibility for those choices now, even though it has cost her dearly in terms of the life she lives now and the relationships with her daughters.

I was a single mom as well. My kids’ dad and I divorced when G was 2 and C was 3, and while I tell myself now that it was the only way, in truth it was a terribly selfish decision and a consequence of very stupid, very immature thinking and choices. We were only 20 and 21 when we married, flipping the calendar into 21 and 22 later that year. I was 23 when my oldest child was born, and I was 29 when our divorce was finalized after almost 9 years of marriage and 3 children.

I was insanely young and stupid. My xH was not a terrible person, but we married too young and for the wrong reasons. As parents we were not terrible parents, and we had a lot of local support from our parents and families. However, when our marital problems became so overwhelming I had to do something. I wanted to separate and seek counseling; he got angry and hit me repeatedly in the face and chest. In front of our children, the oldest of whom was just 5. Marriage was over with the first blow. While I did not call the police or report it – he was my kids’ father and I was still young and very naive – I served him with divorce papers 2 weeks later. It was probably among the more humiliating things in is life to have his family and our friends see me with blackened eyes and split lip.

Thing is – it was a choice I made, one I do not regret but now understand had many far-reaching implications and consequences for my children. Those 2 years after the divorce were hard, particularly the first 8 months when my xH refused to pay child support until wage garnishment orders were issued. I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches during those lean months so my kids could have nutritious food, and I very gratefully accepted my parents’ “care packages” of groceries with fresh fruit and things the kids loved. For about 6 months I shared my 2 bedroom apartment with another single mother and her 2 children, just to ease the burden of rent and food and for mutual help with childcare. I did a lot of growing up in that time.

By the time I met M, things had stabilized at home. I was making more money. My xH was paying child support and for his half of day care regularly and actually seeing the kids on Sunday afternoon to Monday morning. Looking back, if it were not for my parents and xH’s parents willingness to host the kids for an evening each week or pick them up from daycare so I could work overtime I’m not sure how we would have survived. But we did. We lived in an apartment, went the park on Saturday with a packed lunch, never ate out, rarely bought clothes or shoes (my mom loved getting the kids stuff from the store where she worked), and essentially budgeted and was very careful with my earnings.

During the bad times I wondered if I had made a mistake, if my kids were going to grow up and into Very Bad People because I was a single mother. I was exhausted all the time, and craved alone time to just sit and relax and do what I wanted. The stability of a 2-parent home sounded like nirvana compared to being a single parent supporting 3 children on my own, day after day after day. I had many nights of second guessing myself and wondering if I had been supremely selfish breaking up the family unit for my own happiness. And really, how happy was I barely making enough to money to share an apartment with another woman and 5 children? Not very happy, but continually tired and run down and wishing for a different life than the hamster wheel I boarded when I left my xH.

Know that, knowing what I know now about how hard it is to be a parent of good and normal kids under the best of circumstances, I have to wonder why anyone would choose to become a single parent on their own. Or why anyone who does not wish to be responsible for a child of their own would allow themselves to be guilted or forced into that lifestyle.

This is not me being judgmental, but having an adequate, stable income to support a child seems like a minimum standard requirement to be a parent. Yet I just today was reading a blog written by a grandmother about her minimum wage employed daughter and her unemployed boyfriend and their 4 week old daughter. Mom is deeply in debt herself yet has been helping keep this little family afloat. Yet say anything other than “oh, how cute!” about her granddaughter and you’re crucified and labeled a horrible, insensitive, judgmental person. Yet be responsible, choose the childless path, and you are labeled as selfish or not really ready to make that decision. I mean, what if the man/woman of your dreams wants children? In my very logical mind I imagine the man/woman of the a childless-by-choice type person’s dreams is someone with similar values and desires for the long-term lifestyle.

My kids – all 4 of them now – all enjoy children. Their priorities rule that out for themselves, though. G and K have bigger financial goals they wish to pursue that include careers and travel and perhaps an earlier retirement. For C and A, there is the issue of hereditary health conditions for a child of their own, and right now, they are very selfish with enjoying their jobs and having the time, energy, and resources to pursue their own projects and dreams. Whatever their choices and their reasons, they are deeply personal and no one else’s business, yet there are countless insensitive relatives and friends inquiring as to what their plans are for expanding their family.

I guess I just don’t get it.

Even M and I have been labeled “hedonistic” in our tendencies to pursue our own interests as empty nesters. Are we only valid citizens if we are parents and eventually grandparents? Is procreating the only measure of our worth? How awful, small, and narrow that point of view. Honestly, there are times when I think some people would prefer us to be even more boring in our habits and pursuits than we are right now. Or at least until we have grandchildren or incurable health problems. Managing my chronic condition and trying hard to pursue a health lifestyle is hedonistic and selfish according to the judgment of some we know. Not people we respect. Not people we even consider friends. More like family or friend of friends or acquaintances.

Hedonistic? Us? Makes me laugh.

Honestly, I am terribly boring. I work. I exercise. I hang out with M, my friends, chat with my family and my friends, write my blog. Probably my life looks pretty much like millions of other lives. Blogging about it adds a facet where I get to download my thoughts and catalog the adventures in my life.

I have very few regrets about decisions and choices in my life. But, I have suffered and endured the consequences of those choices, and hopefully I have learned a lot from the experiences. What I now know, personal choices are just that, personal. What else I know, being a single parent is very hard, so choose your partner in such an important endeavor wisely and make the decision consciously. Having children, or not, is a concept that anymore seems to be hard for people to accept as not something up for majority vote.

I’m a big fan of personal responsibility and personal choices about the direction of our individual lives. I (eventually) learn from my mistakes, and I am grateful for that. Gratitude is a good. Being thankful feels natural for me. For so long I had so little; I learned to be thankful for the smallest things I earned that made me happy.

Blogging still makes me happy. It’s good to have a safe space to sort my head and its loose-leaf thoughts out.

Rare bears

I had lunch with gal pals today and it was so much fun. We had to reschedule from Saturday because there is a new grand baby and while she really, Really, REALLY wanted to have dinner with us, there is a new grand baby. Even those without children of their own, and me without any plans for grandchildren in my future understand her excitement to meet the newest member of the family. So we moved it to late lunch today and all got to ooh and ahhh over the handsomest 3 day old I have seen maybe ever. Or at least until another friend has a new baby or grand baby, of course.

We had a great time, talking, laughing, catching up on the summer so far. There was much commiseration on my search for a new dress for G and K’s wedding – I just ordered numbers 11, 12, 13, and 14 last night and hopefully one of them will work out. I am actually still waiting for number 3 to be delivered – it’s lost somewhere in Nordstrom’s order department – but with less than 2 month left I need to stay on top of this.

From that, though, our conversation veered off in a different direction, about manners and behaviors in society today. My attitude toward this dress debacle is admirable to my friends; they would not be so understanding or let it go with K’s aunt. Perhaps I am just not that territorial about wedding matters, but while I might prefer she wear something else because I had my dress first and I am mother of the groom, her wearing the same dress is simply not important enough in the bigger picture for me to pick a fight over it. Besides to make it into that kind of issue, I become “that mother” and add to K’s stress, and because K is stressed and upset G will be upset. So I will just keep ordering dresses and hope something sticks. The search has been rather amusing thus far. Of the dresses that fit and were maybe appropriate, M’s opinions on the subject have been hilarious. From the “goth girl prom dress” to the “you’re not quite old enough” to the “OMG, honey, no, just no” comments, M can be always be counted on to be honest in his opinions about stuff. He is careful to never say anything like “it makes you look fat” or anything equally controversially destructive (M likes his happy wife, happy life, after all), but if I ask I am always prepared for an honest assessment of why he likes or dislikes something.

I have long believed we are basically pretty nice, decent people. We love our family and that includes our tribe. We care about our community, especially our own tribe and its members. If need arises we are happy to share and help if we are able. To the public at large we tend to be polite and gracious, although I know the triggers that snap the restraint on our patience and our tempers are different for each of us.

Some of my close friends through the years have had difficulty understanding how I could be so blasé about M’s blunt honesty in things that could or should impact my vanity. Over time they have come to understand this is not something M does to intimidate or be cruel to me; I ask his opinion when I am not sure about something, and if he hates it, then it tends to sway me more definitively in that direction. However, there are things I like that M has not particularly cared for and voiced that opinion, but I overrule him and wear it anyway. Always I would always rather he be straightforward and honest (qualities I value in those whose guidance and opinions I value and depend upon), and since I happen to like clothes and shoes, I can accept that we are going to have differences of opinions. Like all things in the marriage or any functional partnership, sometimes you have to prioritize and negotiate or compromise, something we tend to do pretty well with, even if neither of us are crazy about the process.

I do not think we are exceptionally great at marriage or being married people, more that we are just a lot more transparent and painfully frank about the struggles we have or do face. In fact, if there is anything that makes me or M or us unique or differentiates us from our peers, it is the fact that we are exceptionally honest and open. While he sometimes has a lot of difficulty believing this to be true, M does not know everything, he is not the decider of everything good or bad, tasteful or not, and he has needed to learn that a little bit of flexibility and open mindedness can go a long way. I, on the other hand, periodically cannot understand why he just does not let me have my way when I really want to have my way. Negotiate? Compromise? Why doesn’t he just lie down on the floor and let me walk all over him? Oh, that losing respect for the spineless yes man … yes, there is that to consider as well.

So yeah, our imperfect marriage partnership works because we understand each other’s humanity. And forgive. And laugh, a lot. Because otherwise I would have smothered him with a pillow long ago. Trust me on this – I know just which one I would use, too.

There are moments, and today is an excellent example, when my friends react as if negative girl is still behind the helm in my brain. My brushing off the kudos for how well I am handling the dress debacle (it is just a dress, after all; if I can’t find something else suitable in the time remaining I will suck it up and be twinsy with the insensitive, tone-deaf aunt) as well as my sharing my cash and prizes for the winning wager are viewed as me undervaluing myself. I do not see it that way at all.

Maybe it is just things I think little of – the dress issue, giving away my winnings from a fun little bet with close friends are just examples that came up today – are viewed as kind of unusual behavior to my friends. They have known me a very long time, and I have always tried to be generous when it is appropriate. For prizes, they gave me booze (never ever been a drinker) and sugar (diabetic fresh off medication). Would it not be stranger if I hoarded my booze haul and ate an entire box of Godiva and Sherri’s berries all by myself? The first is nonsensical behavior and the second would simply be rude behavior. But because they know I am someone who is more likely than not to share good fortune, they got me things I love or that they love to give, and it was simply perfect. And they knew this when they made good on paying up.

My cash prizes go to next block of training sessions, so I told them how much my evolving shoulder muscles thank them. Apparently my butt is looking good, too, and let me just say, it’s good friends who ask you to stand up in a restaurant and turn around so they can critically examine the evolving shape of your ass and hamstrings and tell you honestly they are looking perkier. And because they have all had at least a couple of glasses of wine, they ask your server for her opinion as well, assuring her that only an insincere answer will impact the size of her gratuity. Our server was kind, smart, and quick thinking, and said she so sweetly she had no basis for comparison, having just met me, but I looked very nice. I assured her that she was my newest bestie for being so diplomatic.

Yes, it was a fun and gleeful lunch.

The conversation, for all its gaiety and raucous laughter, focused a lot on how lost the art of civility and basic human decency anymore. Several of my friends are dating, or have been dating in the last 5 years, and their horror stories mirror what I read in blogs I follow regularly. Of the 7 of us present, 5 have young adult children, 2 have never had children of their own (but tend to be doting aunts and friends to children). Online dating has certainly done a lot of revolutionize the process of meeting people, and maybe it’s the optimist in me that thinks things have not gotten terribly worse through the years so much as the basic character flaws and issues of human interaction are magnified by the internet.

C is married, G is less than 2 months away from getting married. Both met their spouses through mutual friends, although I know both have experimented with online dating. I mean, they are 29 and 30; I would be stunned to hear they had not. It is difficult for me to imagine my son, or any other guy in my tribe, ghosting a woman he met online, or using flattery and such to get her to sext with him or send him sexy photos of herself. They are simply not players, or it is extremely unlikely they would be part of my tribe. As for the ladies, these are among my most honest and straightforward of gal pals, each trying valiantly to be honest about who they are and what they are seeking. I can easily imagine them fudging or ignoring the “how much do you weigh?” if they liked the guy, but more easily imagine a calm response of “why do you ask?” and weeding out the men who have a preference for tiny, petite, stick figures. These ladies are not the type to send an older photo of themselves that show them 20 lbs. lighter than they are today. I mean, they genuinely hope to meet someone fun, someone compatible; why bother trying to pretend to be something they are not any longer?

Yet they have all be shit upon by rude, thoughtless men who trifle with them in a cycle of texting and flattery and silence. There have been many seemingly positive first meetings or first dates and then radio silence. Even if they themselves did not want to pursue a second date, the lack of civility and game playing boggles the mind. No wonder people are becoming so cynical.

My friend who just returned from Zurich was talking about someone she met in France, a very nice associate she has chatted with off and on for the last year about business-related issues. They met for drinks and then spent 3 days together, him wining and dining and showing her all the beautiful features of his city. She liked him very much, had a memorable time with him, but he lives in France, she lives here, so there is very little hope for the conventional happily ever after type relationship. But he has kept in touch and continued to treat her kindly and with respect, something apparently kind of rare in her hometown dating adventures. It has softened her harder stance against her former boyfriend and his irresponsible actions (and to his credit, the break-up was a wake-up call to do a better job managing his life).

And it makes me hugely sad. And then it makes me really angry. And it’s not something that just happens to women, either. Men in my social circle tell me their version of horror stories – women they meet online that look nothing like their photos, or worse, lie about who they are, what they are seeking, the state of their lives. It is so disheartening, and reminds me that if anything were to happen to M, I’d probably never have sex again because I could not trust or believe anyone I might meet. For me to become somewhat jaded just listening to the dating stories, I can only imagine how my single friends manage to cope.

I don’t think I am the only person wondering what has happened to common civility. I also do not think it is just younger generations who are afflicted with insensitivity and self-absorption when it comes to relationships of any stripe. It just seems to be becoming normal to be rude, to lie, to be disingenuous in your interactions. Everyone else does it is a flimsy excuse for being a cad or a bitch.

Anymore, it seems that it is a rare bear that someone is genuine, caring, and acts in a responsible manner toward others in his/her interactions. I must be a connoisseur of rare bears, because my tribe is full of them. And while I say this a lot it does make it any less real or true: I am the lucky one to have such great examples to associate with and to emulate.

And for once there was no argument about paying the check; I gave our server my credit card in advance and she just brought it directly to me to sign the bill. And that is the way I love to win one of our friendly wagers – share the purse with my friends, retain sole ownership of bragging rights forever.

Happy Sunday everyone!

We are responsible for our own happiness, right?

This is a bit of a venty and ranty post not directed at any particular readers here. It is as if my recent paragraphs of thoughts lately on my own codependent tendencies in response to others I hold dear having a lot on their plates has past the point of simmering and into the boiling over and making a mess. The single person who inspires this particular post does not even know I blog. But even if she did, and read this, it’s more a reiteration of a rather intense conversation we had today just after another long-time friend’s wedding reception.

It was an imperfect ending to a joyous cake occasion. And let me just say, after months of no cake, the tiny little slice tasted amazing. I think the heavens open and choirs of angels sang directly to my tastebuds.

Yes, I think my eyes may be glazing over in memory of that wonderful sugary deliciousness. Back to my own emotional kitchen.

We are back to the old backstory of cheating husband and trying to pick up the pieces and reconcile. Okay, that’s not my reality, and I am the first to admit to being potentially terrible friend in this regard. However, I think that if you are still so angry at your H for his poor choices and so distrustful of him now when he is trying to repent and demonstrate regret for those poor choices, maybe reconciliation is not the wisest path at this moment in your lives. Maybe separation and working with a professional therapist from 2 different corners is a better use of time and energy.

She says they cannot afford 2 households and that is the first step toward divorce. In her anger (understandable), she is not letting him get off so easily. She also feels unemployable after 20 years as a stay-at-home mom. Then she used the dreaded “d” word – she “deserves” her life and lifestyle and not having to try and reenter the workforce because of a mistake he made. He screwed up; he needs to fix it.

As anyone who knows me can imagine, that landed like a lead balloon.

We can agree that he screwed up, because he did, big time. No matter what the circumstances, even I at my liberal understanding best cannot fathom or condone cheating on your partner. Leave them, then go off to be with whoever has caught your fancy, but don’t be a douche and sneak around. If you fear leaving your partner will be insanely hurtful, do you really think finding out she’s married to a douche who cheats is somehow better and going to hurt less? Lust must dramatically lower the emotional IQ of a cheating spouse.

Thing is, they both pay for his mistake now in various ways, and it seems an impact of the decisions about how to move forward characterize how those payment transactions unfold. If the choice is divorce, then it becomes more a financial transaction than an emotional one. If they choose to pursue reconciliation, it is primarily an emotional transaction with gutting the details of the affair as well as the real and perceived circumstances leading up to that destructive action as well as what is required of both of them to heal this terrible breach. However, trying to reconcile requires negotiation and new agreements, and I certainly do not believe anyone gets a free pass to be continuously disrespectful and abusively angry to a partner based on prior bad behavior. Not that he does not deserve such treatment, but it does not seem helpful in the long-term solution. Nor does the straying spouse get away scott free and with a fresh start as if they had all debts discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Nope, whatever choice gets made after the affair comes to light, the conversation is just beginning even if the topics are very different. And if reconciliation is the goal, hashing it out in therapy seems first order of the day.

I understand bad things befall good people and that recovery is incredibly hard. How we respond/react to and live with the hardships in our lives can be defining for us as an individual. We cannot control anyone else’s feelings or actions, but we control ourselves and choose who we become for the days that come after.

And I also I understand I say this from my safe place of a long and faithful marriage. We separated for a time during a really bad patch, and yes, we were both free to pursue and date others during that time without marital penalty and M and I have stuck to our agreement that what we did on our own time during that separation remains separate. It is not ammunition to be fired at or fuel to be tossed on the fire of any fights we have had since that time. From that perspective and experience, I am 99.99% sure I am the one who would be leaving if such an event were ever to come to pass in my own household. I would also potentially be the one paying alimony, and while it would suck eggs to be in that position, I am simply not the type to emotionally beat the shit out of M in retaliation for hurting me, breaking my heart, betraying my trust. All 3 have been done to me over the course of my life, and in each instance I walked away rather than trying to extract revenge, so I feel confident in saying it is simply not my way. Far better for me to never see M again after such a great fall.

Despite all that, despite my philosophical outlook and privately held opinions on their union, I am most insulted and upset about her abandoning any and all personal responsibility for her present and future happiness. She has put me in the awkward position of feeling like a terrible, unsupportive friend. Her H cheated. From her perspective, he needs to not only actively participate and repair their marriage, he needs to continue to grovel and scrape and accept her punishment for his terrible deed until she decides he has suffered enough, as has she. And he needs to make it up to her, forever apparently. Their marriage is presently at an impasse, because she’s dreadfully, desperately unhappy and he is not doing enough to make her feel better.

Try as I might to gently or directly bring up her responsibility and personal stake in her own long-term happiness, she is adamant that he hurt her, he took away her joy, he needs to restore it. She is so adamant that I started to wonder  when she believes individual happiness becomes someone else’s responsibility? Is it the moment you become engaged? The day you marry? Maybe the minute you realize you have fallen in love?

No question, no doubt that M makes me smile and laugh and my life infinitely sweeter and better. He makes it easier and more desirable to be the better version of myself for myself. But, I cannot hold him responsible for my happiness, and I kick back hard when he has suggested in the past that I am so key to his ability to thrive as a person. Of course I do not want to hurt him. Of course I want our marriage to remain healthy and strong. Absolutely I want more than anything for him to be happy. But it would be unfair of him to be so dependent upon me for happiness and joy and feeling like life is worth living. I want to enhance his life, not be his whole life. I’d be crushed and smothered under the weight of that responsibility.

I know my stand on financial independence – I always want to be capable of caring for myself, no matter what – and the older I get the more conscious I become of the trend of emotional dependence. Sometimes it’s real as in the young adult children of helicopter parents (my most recent experiences at work with difficult employees has scarred me forever), and sometimes it’s related less to the emotions involved than to the financial strings attached.

But I also recognize that I cannot help someone so entrenched in their pain, that by continuing the conversation I am only enabling them to burrow deeper into their safe trench. Trainer J recently advised me to “drop the bombs and walk away” when it comes to these types of situations, and I had to take it to heart and put it into action today. To the best of my recollection, I said the following: “H is not responsible for your happiness. If your marriage is floundering from his horrible choices and mistakes, perhaps it would be realistic to discuss and evaluate your healing as well as legal options with competent professionals.” And with that I hugged her and walked to my car and drove away. She tried to protest, or say more, but I put out my hand in a “gotta go” motion and did the kindest  thing I could in the moment, which was walk away from an unproductive conversation.

There have been a dozen or more unread texts and 2 unplayed voicemail messages since then. I will get around to them eventually, just not right now. I need some distance and a decent cooling off period between now and the next rendition of reading/listening to her point of view.

This is one of those reasons why I am glad I blog, to examine our conversation from a more level-headed, less emotional perspective. I don’t know that I am more right or more wrong that she is, but I have a clear and practical vision of how my life is and what changes I can make to improve the less satisfactory parts of it. If I am incapable of taking action or refuse to get off the couch to try, then I hope and pray I stay quiet and don’t bitch or whine about my choices to others. Depression and emotional distress comes in many forms, and I am self-aware enough to recognize my limitations. I make plenty of mistakes from reacting rather than slowing down and thinking choices through, and because of that I try not to do anything, make any decisions when I am in a compromised state of mind. Always it is better to try and slow down and think about the consequences of my actions, and it is not something I can possibly teach to anyone else. I have also learned how to ask for help from others, and to seek out professionally trained experts when I sense overburdening my family and network of friends with the new day, same issues loop.

Somehow, this exchange matters to me in my own emotional growth and courage to be my authentic self. Somehow, I feel as if I just trashed a long friendship in a fit of exasperation. Somehow, it is as liberating (if yet another long friendship is on the curb) as it is frightening.

I have always been open and direct about what I think, how I feel, yet I have also been willing to soften the delivery to avoid making big waves in the tiny little pool that has been my life. In this instance, I do not feel as if I were too harsh or too hard. However, I am a little concerned over what feels like dwindling patience … but not really, not as genuinely as I probably should be if I am truly feeling some regret. I can feel my emotions locked in battle for balance, to right my codependency wagon and allow me to be a supportive and encouraging friend without allowing myself to be sacrificed on the altar of another person’s problems. The one thing I know to be absolutely true about enabling? The more you do it, the worse it gets. The enabled party continues to need, and to take, and to unintentionally suck the life right out of me, and to never truly understand what sort of injury I have incurred.

And the responsibility for that injury is mine and mine alone.

This liking myself, improving my level of self-respect and confidence – it is surely is not for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. When I embarked upon my quest for better health, I had no idea what unusual paths and forms it would take. I remain committed and glad I got started, and on this there is no second-guessing or worry that I made mistakes.

Or maybe I am developing a deeper understanding of that #sorrynotsorry hashtag. I know I do not live in a vacuum, and I know life is complicated, no matter where you land on the mentally/emotionally balanced and healthy scale. This is not my brand of crazy I’m struggling with today; this is my brand of healthier choices expressed. And I do feel happy about that.

Financial freedom vs. financial empowerment

I found this line in another budget/finance forum I follow. Being in my mid-50s now it seems a bit late to be contemplating financial freedom (aka early retirement) right now, but I find it curious the trend and thinking from others far younger and better planners than I have ever been.

Financial empowerment, however, is intriguing. It spells a wider variety of choices and freedoms than being enslaved to a job for the paycheck. For us it meant M could retire early, and here we are, 6+ years later and both pretty happy with the low-key lifestyle we have carved out for ourselves.

There was a comment on this post that also got me thinking about such matters:

Good for you, Janelle! You really seem on top of things. I am curious though…it sounds like you employ a veritable team of experts to help you achieve your personal improvement goals. What percentage of your income do you allocate to these professional services? Also, in a long-term marriage, how do you find time to nurture your relationship in between all the personal goals? What kinds of things do you do together?

My village of experts does not exactly come cheap, and her question is a valid one. Training with J, once I realized its value to me, became a consistent line item in the monthly budget. While I only have to revisit this every 4 or 5 months (sessions are purchased in blocks of 40), I budget it out because I am a planner and I have every intention of continuing. Unless he fires me, of course. Or moves to Dubai to work at the most expensive private gym in that country. Or perhaps goes into some witness protection-like program for super nice guys who become entangled with bunny boilers. (Hey, it could happen.)

TM and RD are healthcare expenses. Since I have an HSA-compatible insurance plan, I contribute the maximum to our HSA every year and hope not to have to use those funds until our much older and grayer years when healthcare is projected to consume a lot of our retirement cash. However, the money is there and ready to be spent if needed now to pay for healthcare expenses, including sessions with TM or with RD. Both are also generous with their off-the-clock time, as is J, so I do get extra help as needed. I endeavor to not take advantage of their kindnesses towards me. Thus far this year, I have not had to make withdrawals from our HSA for services received, and hopefully the trend continues.

The real way I manage the luxury of such paid expertise is by increasing my income whenever it feels like we are approaching a pivotal tipping point and something must be sacrificed in the budget. I have taken short-term projects just to pad self-improvement funds, because I am not the only consumer in my household. While I am training with J and working with RD and TM, M is running, running, running in the mountains and shoes and socks and clothes and packs and supplements and gas to get to where he goes to run canyons and such adds up. As I said, I am a planner, and I craft our monthly budget so funds are squirreled away year round not just for my training but also for summer’s peak running expenditures. And if I need to work harder, bill more hours, I let it be known to my network of clients and business contacts that I have time available in my schedule if there are special projects or other work that could be done now versus later in the year. One way or another, opportunities for cash flow come up and the money leak is plugged. In worst cases, I use our savings to cover the shortfall that tightening our belts on expenses cannot overcome.

So essentially I am not above hustling to generate more income for our self improvement luxuries. I also think the money I save on not having to buy insulin and diabetes-related medications and supplies will easily cover my sessions this year with TM and RD, including the gift cards I get for them as thanks for their off-the-clock time investments in me. I know all members of my village have choices in how to spend their personal time; that they choose to share some of it with me is extraordinarily generous of them.

As for our long-term marriage and nurturing our relationship along side our personal goals, I think that’s a big part of what strengthens us – room to pursue our individual objectives to become the better, stronger, faster versions of ourselves. M gets up at 3 a.m. and goes running every single day, usually straggling in around 8:30 as I am preparing to leave for the office (on the days I leave the house for work). I am up at 4 a.m. for the gym on weekdays, by 6 a.m. on weekends. Other than sleeping in together, there is not much else we would likely be doing at those hours if we were not pursuing exercise. Ours is also a very simple, low-key life. We do chores around the house together, we grocery shop and cook and run errands together whenever possible. Mostly we live the normal life of a middle-aged couple – we hang out, talk, pursue things that interest us, and are present with each other. Ours is not a big, flashy, social media worthy exciting lifestyle; we simply enjoy our time and strive to make the most of it.

Over the course of my adult life, I have found that financial stability allows me to sleep restfully. Financial empowerment lets M be at home and unfettered by the responsibilities of a job that ends up having a negative impact on his nervous system. Financial freedom seems to have past us by, seeing as I am probably within 10 to 15 years of actual retirement, and in all honestly does not interest me much. If not working, what else would I be doing with the majority of my time? I can only cope with so much travel – I feel better when tethered to our home – and my hobbies and outside interests would be less enjoyable if I spent large chunks of time pursuing them. Maybe I will feel differently in 10 years, or even 5 years. But for right now, it is best for both my emotional and mental health that I continue to toil at paid employment.

Fortunately I have always liked my jobs and gotten a psychological boost from work, so our present arrangement suits us and our marriage. Working at the law firm provides benefits and the human interaction I enjoy and thrive upon. Self-employment gives me the flexibility and more control over our monthly income in the present and funds our long-term plans. Right now I have the very best of both worlds. If there was something I was missing and really wanted, I would be working on mapping ways to make it happen for us. As it is, we do not feel especially deprived or as if there is a large crater of emptiness in our world.

I feel very spoiled, I admit. But I also work really hard and do not take our simple lifestyle or anyone present in my/our life for granted. I make sure to say please and thank you and try to help others when and where I am able. My kids are grown and living their own lives, and I love, Love, LOVE that we are as close and so much a part of their happily ever afters.

Ours is a good if simple life. I have no strong desire to pursue more outside the objectives I am presently chasing. And personally, I think that is a huge bonus – to be happy and satisfied with all that I have.