Advice: To Enroll, Or Not To Enroll

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

When I first graduated high school, I spent a little over a year in college and then–can you guess?–I met a boy, fell in love, dropped out of college, got married, and started having babies. I always sort of imagined going back to school, but I put it pretty firmly on the back burner and never really pursued it when I was younger.

Now, I am 54. The babies are grown and living their own lives, and the thoughts of school are tugging at me more and more. It would be a bit of a tight struggle financially since we don’t really have any savings, and my husband is recovering from quadruple-bypass surgery so I have other serious demands that I can’t neglect. Should I put the pipe dream of getting a college degree to bed? Or is there hope for me that I can get there some day?

Signed,

Not a Co-Ed

Dear Co-Ed

P: I think it’s time, since you’ve gotten your babies raised and your life organized to stop defining yourself by what you’re not. I would argue that it’s time for everyone to stop defining by what they’re not, but we’re talking to you.

I’m sorry your husband has had quadruple bypass surgery. That’s serious. But you heal from it. Pretty soon, he’s going to have a full time job on his hands getting himself back in shape. And that job, with a lot of loving encouragement, is his job. Because if he doesn’t embrace it, he’s not going to thrive.

And Terri and I are encouragers, but we’re not a Magic 8-Ball. You tell me. Do you want to get this done? If so, there’s hope. If not, there’s probably not a lot.

B: Ahhh, the dilemma of the non-traditionally-aged student.

One of the many allures of college is that it is always there. It is always a possibility. Schools don’t go away, they don’t discriminate according to age. All you need to do is get in, right?

Provided your life evens out, the doors on your time are thrown wide open, and it’s easily affordable, right? Because that’s how it is with every major life event, especially things like home ownership, or babies. You can only embark on these new adventures when everything is perfect, and easy, and not messy. Right?

P: You’ve done what women do. You’ve put your family at the center of your life. My guess is you don’t really resent that; there’s nothing you say that sounds that way.

But you are aware that you’ve deferred your dream.  You’re only 54. You’ve got time to get your degree and do something you’ve always wanted to do. Something else you’ve always wanted to do, because I get it, you wanted your family.

B: The thing is, there’s never going to be one perfect time to hie yourself back to college and hit the books. You saw that; even when it was theoretically the “perfect” time for you to be in college (right after high school), it wasn’t the perfect time for you, as your personal priorities at the time ended up falling elsewhere. And that’s OK. For my own reasons, I didn’t set foot inside a college classroom until I was 26, so right after high school wasn’t right for me, either. It is what it is.

P: School is an investment, both in your future employment and in your self esteem. Both of those are worth a lot. And it is not a great thing to defer your dreams forever. You don’t want to resent these people you love, to whom you have given important time in your life, because “they’re” holding you back. So far, I don’t know that they are. But your children aren’t any more important that you are. They don’t need a college degree at your expense. And you’ve raised children, so you don’t need to sit home and wait for more to raise.

 And then there’s a final sobering truth. Your husband had serious heart surgery. Hopefully he’ll step up to the responsibility of caring for himself and live a lot more years.

You’re 54. What if something happens to him today? What are you prepared to do. Isn’t it better if you have that degree in hand and get some work experience under your belt for all involved?

Hopefully, you’ll work because you like your field. But if you have to work, whether for finances or for sanity, you’re going to be a lot happier to have a job you worked for and an education you’re proud of.

I’ve got to hope that a man you’ve loved enough to defer your dreams loves you enough to now make them happen…

So you tell us. Are you a co-ed, or not? I confess, I hope you are. Terri?

B: Ann has covered the feel-good end, so I am going to talk about practical concerns here.

Ann is right; we are encouragers. Should you go back to school? Thirty-plus years is a long time to harbor a wish. It’s never left you. You should, absolutely, go. Ann has covered all the (excellent) reasons you should go, including the positive effect it will have on your self-esteem and that it can help you safeguard your future, particularly if your husband doesn’t have an easy recovery from his surgery. But I will offer up a few caveats.

Start slow. Can you take a class or two, part time? That way you can ease into the budgeting of your time, and get used to having to make time to study, or read, or write, instead of having a full class load and a household to manage. Why make yourself drown if you’ve got a part-time lifeline?

Look into financial assistance. You’ll surely be able to get federal loans. Look into scholarship eligibility. There’s a lot of college assistance money floating around out there that goes unclaimed. You can start by looking at the Federal Student Loan website, which also has a page about scholarship searches. Go here for that information. State universities are generally less expensive for their in-state residents, so look into your state system. And, some schools do offer need-blind admission, so if you can get in and can’t afford it, the school will pick up some, perhaps even all, of the bill, depending on the policy in place at the individual college. Those schools tend to be highly competitive (think Stanford/Wellesley/Princeton), so you’d better be ready to run hard if you go that route.

And for heaven’s sake, buy used textbooks whenever possible. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars if you don’t think you need to be the first to crack the binding.

Particularly when you’re in your first few classes, expect everything to take longer than you think it will. You may be perfectly smart and capable to handle the class work, but you need to re-learn how to study. How to take relevant notes. Your learning style may have shifted, too. I used to be a much more visual learner; if you told me something, it often went in one ear and out the other but if I read it, it stuck. Now, I am much more adept at auditory learning. Things may have shifted for you. Be open to that.

And I bet it’s been decades since you’ve had to write a persuasive paper, complete with documentation. Give yourself the room to have to re-learn how to write. Every college has a writing center/tutoring system of some sort. Take advantage of it.

Non-traditional learners are an increasing presence on campuses across the country, and many schools have put support programs in place for older students, like yourself. These are students who have outside demands and external responsibilities…like a husband who’s recovering from bypass surgery. Older students, quite simply, have different needs. You may want to look at schools that embrace their non-traditionals. Not that going to a party school wouldn’t be a hoot, but you may find that you’d fare better in a place with more age-consistent peers.

Dive in deep into the classes you don’t love. You’re not a math person? That’s fine, as long as you take down your walls before you enter the class. You may take lessons away from those classes that you could never have anticipated (I’ll tell you about my astronomy class, one day). And if you’re going to go to college and get a degree, you’ll have to take classes you won’t love. So choose to get the most out of them that you can. You’re paying for it, so why not?

Study what you love. You’ve waited more than thirty years for this. Don’t stifle your interests now. Be the co-ed you’ve always wanted to be.

Happy studying!

Happy studying!

The Graduate

½ ounce Amaretto di Saronno
1.5 ounces Southern Comfort Bourbon
1.5 ounces pineapple juice

Combine the ingredients with ice and mix well. Garnish with a pineapple wedge or cherry.

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Advice: Boyfriend vs. Woman-Brain

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My sister (who is 27) and her boyfriend (25) have been together for a little over six years now. They enjoy the same things, share a lot of the same views, and enjoy each other’s company. They have one major issue, though, that threatens their relationship. To sum him up, he is a chauvinist, and his attitude has caused an emotional block between them.

When they argue, and I mean really argue, it’s because of his inability to show affection in public and in private and his inability to even try to understand her feelings. He says her “woman emotions” are caused by her “woman brain”. I am not making those words up. He feels that when she comes to him about things that upset her about their relationship, he doesn’t have to acknowledge it or sympathize with her because she is a woman. Women are born to be over-emotional about little things, so he shrugs off her problems and chalks them up to the “woman brain”. They recently had a two-hour argument about how he has a man brain and she has a woman brain and how they are both “made to only care about what their brains tell them to care about”. She has mentioned going to therapy; he won’t entertain the idea even for a second.

When my sister got involved with him six years ago, she made the classic mistake and thought that he would change with time. Now they live together and are seriously considering buying a house together. My sister has, generally, chosen to ignore how she felt about his unresponsiveness to her feelings. But now that they are looking to do something huge, she’s thinking about their relationship more and more. She is envisioning their future in a more realistic way and asking herself: Am I ok with him not treating me as an equal? Am I ok with his lack of affection? Can I see myself marrying him regardless of all these issues we have? Her answer as of late is no. No I can’t. No I’m not ok with these feelings.

On the other hand, she thinks of how many wonderful times they’ve had together. She knows that aside from these issues, he truly does love her. He’s done things for her that he wouldn’t consider doing for anyone else. He goes out of his way to do things that he thinks will make her happy. They’ve been through a lot over their six-plus years together. She loves him just as much. In his mind, their relationship is rock solid. In her mind, he needs to take her feelings more seriously and better try to understand and try work through their issues instead of dismiss them.

At this point she feels like she’s ready to tap out of this relationship. She’s tried and failed so many times to try to get him to understand her point of view. She is afraid that his “always right” mentality is too deeply ingrained in him, and that change isn’t possible. She worries that if she leaves him, he will be alone because no one else will put up with him. She is scared to think of how her leaving will affect him emotionally. She’s been crying herself to sleep wondering what else she can do to salvage this relationship.

Signed,

Worried Sister

Dear Worried and your Sister,

B & P: What’s the first rule of Relationship Club? Don’t do anything permanent with a partner if you think you’re ready to tap out.

What’s the second rule of Relationship Club? Don’t do anything permanent with a partner if you think you’re ready to tap out.

No houses, no babies, no joint checking accounts. Got it? Please, tell me you’ve got it. Tell me your sister gets it. If she’s thinking about leaving, then having to extricate herself from a 30-year mortgage isn’t going to make anything easier.

B: There’s so much to talk about here. What I want to start with is: What your sister is responsible for, vs. what she is not responsible for.

What she is responsible for: Being true to herself and to her heart. Making sure her needs are met. Creating a home that is a safe haven.

What she is not responsible for: Whether or not her boyfriend will find anyone to put up with him if she leaves. This sounds like she’s trying to talk herself into staying.

P: Good one, Terri. Here’s the deal. In some ways the important question has been asked and answered. As is so often the case, we ask the first part of the question. And we don’t admit even to ourselves that there was a second part to the question. When the young woman asked her boyfriend, in the face of his hurtful denigration of her feelings, if he would see a counselor with her, there was an attached phrase that she had in her heart: if you want this relationship to survive. She may have been afraid to admit that’s what she were saying (she may not have known it was lurking below the surface), but it was there. He knew what the repercussions of saying no were, as well. So she’s asked, and he’s answered, the question she wasn’t quite willing to say out loud.

Does he want to be in relationship with her? With all of her, with all those lovely messy emotions that make her a joy and a delight (and ok, sure, since none of us is perfect, probably occasionally irritation) to be around? He has said he wants only a part of her. After this investment of time, it’s hard to hear. And they know each other so well; they grew up together. But let’s be clear… This will not be about her breaking up with him. He has already said he doesn’t want to be in relationship with her. Because she has emotions. This is a very important thing to remember.

B: Regarding the idea of a “woman brain”, I will say this: women are taught, early on, to be nurturers and caregivers, so it doesn’t surprise me that as your sister projects into her life she would also project into his, and worries about him as a result. This is the only allowance I will make. Caring about him is one thing. Making his asocial personal habits her own problem is entirely another.

Mostly, talk of a “woman brain” gives me an eye twitch. It’s dismissive. It’s hurtful. And as you’ve rightly pointed out, it puts up barriers in a relationship, where there ought to be free flowing communication.

P: Now it may be that this guy really doesn’t have relationship skills. There are people who don’t. And I’m very sorry for him. And I hope that there is a wonderful woman who has no expectations whatsoever from the man with whom she is in relationship. Sadly, there seem to be many women totally willing to accept whatever can be given — or who have the same way of relating.

Sister, if you stay with this man, you are going to have children together. (Let’s just skip the fact that you’d have a wedding he’d be totally uninterested in.) What would it feel like to have a young son look at you and dismiss you with “oh, that’s just Mom’s woman’s brain talking…”  That’s not what you want to hear from your children, nor is it a model to be celebrated in raising a male child.

And what happens when your blindingly bright and happy little girl gets shrunken into a shadow of herself because her father (and her brother) disrespects not only the mother but also the baby girl? You owe your future children a bigger chance than this.

B: There are three components to a healthy relationship. There’s Partner 1, and Partner 2. And there’s a separate entity that is the relationship, which needs to be its own thing and should be a harmonious blend of Partners 1 and 2. This is also important to remember, because it means that each partner is a whole, distinct, functioning individual that exists independently of his or her relationship; what they are not is subsumed by it. If they start to diminish or lose themselves inside the relationship, it goes out of whack. Your sister can’t point out the lack of harmony any more plainly than by saying, “I think we need counseling”. By not “entertaining the idea” of counseling—or more plainly, by not responding when she asks for help—your sister’s boyfriend changes the dynamic of the “relationship” entity. By disregarding her request for harmony, by choosing his own status quo over her needs, he effectively makes the relationship all about him. That can happen on occasion; we are selfish creatures and can’t always respond nobly to every request put upon us. But always? Every time? And for something this big? So that she lives in a home where the votes are, basically, always, two against one? No. That’s not a partnership. That’s having a roommate with benefits. We’ve come a long way from the idea that “he doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t hit you” are parameters by which to judge a relationship. That doesn’t mean indifference is acceptable.

When your sister’s boyfriend says her feelings come from her “woman brain”, it’s…well, it’s probably technically true, as she is a woman, and she has a brain, and she’s using it to analyze her world and determine what is acceptable and what is lacking. It’s lazy, at best. It’s manipulative, in that it’s a statement engineered to make her think her concerns aren’t real but rather, childish ones generated from her gooey, emotional girly-center. As I am working on limited information I will refrain from saying that it’s emotionally abusive. But it’s uncomfortably close, in that it’s belittling. Would you remain friends with someone who belittles you? Why give someone who does that access to your heart?

(P: And body. Why let him in your body?)

B: Amen, Ann. As all evidence has pointed in this direction for the past six years, we can reasonably assume that the idea that he will change is little more than a fantasy. Imagine yourself with him in five years, or ten. Or twenty. Imagine the children Ann talked about before. Would you be willing to handle his dismissiveness if you had a problem regarding one of your children? Are you willing to carry all the emotional weight of the relationship alone? Because he’s not participating in it and he’s made it clear he’s not interested in learning how to do so. Her choices are: stay, and accept the status quo, and develop more fulfilling emotional relationships elsewhere. Stay, and continue to beat her head against the brick wall. Or go, and find someone new.

P: We all have this hazy, fluffy idea about “Love” and what it means to be in relationship. But real love is neither hazy nor fluffy, and requires work and communication between the participants. Even when we’re with our soul-mates—should there be such a thing, and that’s another question—we’re not just loving the other, we’re learning about the ways in which we are capable of loving. Your sister and this guy learned a lot together. She may have learned all she can learn from him. That’s not a horrible thing, that’s just a thing. Your sister deserves to be loved for who she is, by her partner. She also deserved to love herself, because right now she’s shoving herself into an awfully tiny box. And the current beau should be loved for who he is… since he’s not willing to change. She can love him for who he is — but she can’t have an intimate relationship with him, because he’s not interested in or capable of having one with her. She may think she’ll crush him if she leaves him. And I know it’s scary to be on one’s own. It takes a while to learn the joys of singledom. But she’s doing him no favors by living with him out of pity and fear. That’s soul crushing for both of them and not worthy of her gifts. She needs to honor herself. She needs to be honest, with herself and with him. She needs to keep growing. Twenty-seven is way too early for her to stop her growth process.

B: Your sister and her boyfriend have both grown up within the parameters of this relationship (it look like it started when they were 21 and 19, respectively). It can be exceedingly difficult to learn (or un-learn) behaviors when they’re mostly all you’ve known in your adult life. Difficult, maybe. But not impossible. And learning requires the desire to change and the willingness to listen, neither of which has been demonstrated by your sister’s boyfriend. I understand not wanting to start over, not wanting to “waste” six years, but that idea of wasted time is just an imaginary construct. Consider it a six-year-long educational process into how she does and does not want to be treated by a life partner. Since change is unlikely and the only reaction your sister can govern is her own, then she needs to start asking herself if she’s really ready to make big life decisions with this guy. Will she be more, “it’s OK, I have my friends and my life”, or will she be gritting her teeth internally and saying, “So…this is my life now. I can do this.” If she looks into her future and sees Option B, then she might want to consider an exit strategy.

P: The notion that you’ve wasted time here is silly. Our twenties are when we practice relationship. We try things on. We try things out. They fit. Or even after years of trying, they don’t. At a certain point in your life, you no longer want to wear the jeans that you have to lie on the bed to zip up. The relationships of our young adulthood are a lot like that. They’ve both learned a lot. They’ve loved each other as best they were able. That’s not nothing! But that’s not necessarily enough to build a life on. She now knows she knows how to love people. She even knows how to love people who are difficult to love. But no one needs to embrace an empty future and yoke very different lives together forever. Life’s about keeping growing and keeping going. He’s already told her he doesn’t want to be in THIS relationship with her. She has to hear that that’s what he said. Will he deny it? You betcha! Why take responsibility for his life when there’s her silly “woman’s brain” at work? Terri and I will probably both need to get new enamel for our teeth about that one. I think she needs to thank him for their time together and for all they’ve shared and let him know that she’s accepted his decree that he doesn’t want a future with her.

B & P: And for God’s sake, don’t buy that house!

bnp napkin sisters boyfriend

Seriously. Make no couples-only life-decisions (house, baby, etc) until all this is resolved.

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Advice: Everyday Struggles of my Mixed-Race Relationship

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I have been with my boyfriend for two years. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we love each other and are committed to our relationship. We have one major stumbling block, though.

We are a couple of mixed race. He is a white man in his late 30s, who has not had a ton of experience trying to understand a life outside of the one he was born into. I am a black woman in the city, and I feel like my identity is tightly wound around my culture, race, and politics. The fact that we hold such different views that stem from our racial backgrounds has caused a lot of fights between us. As a result, we don’t really talk about…well…me. My background. My experiences. He doesn’t give himself a chance to get to know this part of me and what I am about. And he’ll say things occasionally—generalizations in response to a news event, for example—that I think are problematic and even insulting. It’s ignorance on his part, not racism, mind you. He likes to say that race isn’t an issue because we’re all one race, which is nice but not how it is in reality.

Otherwise, he is a fine man. He’s smart, and thoughtful, and a positive force in my life. But I feel like I am at odds with my politics and my personal background. I understand that he doesn’t want to talk about it, particularly because we fight so much as a result. But I am torn. Can you please help me?

–Rock and a Hard Place

P: Oh, how hard. On the one hand you really have so much to celebrate and on the other hand, you’re not being recognized and supported. No wonder you’re confused and a bit, if not betrayed, at least let down. I wish the solutions were quick and easy, but you know in asking that they’re not. What’s great is that you have a clear idea what’s right and strong about your relationship… that’s going to help!

So what’s first? The dynamic may be the most fixable thing. You know a lot about how you feel, although I think you could know more about what you want and need. But there are ways to get to that. I hope you live in a large city where you can find a therapist who knows these issues. If you can say what you want and need without the drama, he’ll either have to listen, or you’ll have to realize that you are not getting everything you need in relationship and then explore your options.

B: My initial reaction—and I think I would have this reaction regardless of the other problems you’ve presented in this letter—is please please please, stop justifying your partner’s terrible behavior. He’s not a racist, he’s just… I can understand why he doesn’t want to talk about it, because… Remove the justifications. He is ignorant. He won’t talk about your life experiences with you. Period.

These are problems.

P: Now, Terri and I, loud women ourselves, don’t ever expect to be limited to a genteel “Oh, my” when egregious and outrageous events happen in the world. Nor should your anger be limited—or worse, squelched—as truths are finally being exposed regarding race and American society, truths that you live every day, and are callous and painful.

It pushes your face, your heart, your very being into realities you may otherwise be able to look away from. Anger, Rage and Fear seem like fairly straightforward responses…

B: One of the things we tend to forget in the day-to-day of a relationship is that we need to be able to talk. Safely. I don’t mean without threat of physical violence (well, of course I do, but I always mean that. If there’s threat of physical violence get out now, because that’s an entirely different letter) but rather, with the intent to be heard and recognized. You and your partner don’t always have to agree on the topic of conversation and you don’t always have to end up with consensus at the end. But you need to be able to feel safe enough, with your partner, in your home, to make yourself heard, particularly about difficult topics that form and inform you as a person. Unfortunately, difficult talks are often overlooked in favor of general companionship (if you don’t talk about THESE THINGS, you get along just fine) or the sense of security a (generally) stable home life provides. And—we’re being honest here, so I’ll say it—dating suuuuuucks. Sometimes it seems easier to stay with the (mostly) nice person in order to not have to start all over again in the squicky waters of the dating pool.

However.

P: I think you need to make sure you have a good support network. Get some clarity about your needs, and remember, you and he are breaking ground. You deserve for him to understand that you carry an unfair and un-asked-for burden as a result of your color and our institutionalized racism. He needs to hear you, that’s true, but you deserve to process this with someone who understands only too well.

B: It doesn’t sound to me like he is allowing you the latitude to speak safely to him in your own home. This is infuriating for several reasons, not the least of which is it’s invalidating. If he shouts you down over your statement that the black community faces different challenges than the white community, and that there’s a systemic problem, he’s part of the problem. The argument CAN be made that for him, his culture and background is important, too, so you need to make sure you celebrate that. Which is great. But he’s not allowing you to incorporate your life into his. Which is not great at all.

He can’t remove the reality of your life because he doesn’t like it, and putting his hands over his ears to “La la la I can’t hear you” into silence doesn’t change your history and experiences. And “We are all one color”, while groovy-sounding on its face, often strikes me as an irresponsible approach to the social problems that affect our communities of color. There IS  a difference that people see, and react to, and make assumptions over, and kill people because of, and that hasn’t gone away. If only we were a post-racial society, then he could say that all he wants and he’d be right. And on a cosmic level, he is right. But on a practical, when-you-take-social-attitudes-and-demographics-into-consideration level, “we’re all the same” is myopic, dismissive, and not terribly helpful, at best.

P: How’s that old chant go? If you’re not outraged, you’re part of the problem. To be joined to that other old chant: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

It’s great that people are increasingly willing to engage in mixed race relationships. It’s a sign that things are changing. Life is different. Love does matter. And/but/however, if your beloved is not going to be part of the outrage and the solution, he’s part of the problem that oppresses and outrages you.

You can’t expect mixed race relationships to thrive without acknowledging the realities of this society/country/world. Just because you’re with him doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work harder at work to prove yourself or that you’ll automatically get a cab when you’re alone in the city. It’s no news to you that, as a black woman, you’re endangered.

B: I don’t want you to think we think he’s a bad person, or that he doesn’t love you. I’m sure he’s (generally) very good to you. But he may only ever think in terms of individuals and not be capable of looking at the big picture. It may be all he’s got. What are you prepared to do, if that’s the case?

P: He needs to start reading. And I think you should be able to ask him to go to a workshop like The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s “Undoing Racism.” He needs to go, not with you, but on his own, as a man who wants to understand and support your life and your struggles, personal and political. As a man who wants to make the world better. He’ll hear things differently there.

And I think you deserve a partner that recognizes both how threatened you are and how wonderfully, ragingly powerful — and who works to change the threat and support your power.

In fact, you get to make demands not just of your partner but also of your friends.  And here’s the deal, if you have kids, your kids are going to be mixed race and that means they’re going to have a rougher road than white kids. He needs to do it for any future kids as well. A quick check of stats makes that only too clear.

B: Try and imagine yourself another two years down the line. Two years of not speaking with your partner about what’s in your heart, or of hearing him make statements that are “worrying and insulting”, and swallowing the rebuttal. And another five years, and another ten. Can this status quo continue? Or will something have to give?

You’re writing a letter in search of advice, so my bet is, something’s gotta give. Not speaking to one’s truth, and swallowing responses, causes people to wither. Ann is right; you deserve to thrive. As do we all. The best relationships give us space to grow and express ourselves, not stifle who we are as we justify our partner’s inflexibility.

P: Dominant society’s not excited about shaking white privilege loose. But love demands more. I’d say I think decency demands more, but at the moment we’re looking at your relationship. Love demands your asking. Love demands his going to work.

You say he’s a wonderful man. That ought to help him let go his fears about recognizing his own racism and start dealing with it. It’s a lot to ask you to understand he’s probably afraid of confronting this, but he probably is. But if your relationship is going to thrive, if you’re going to have a chance to thrive in this relationship, if he’s going to love the powerful, angry woman that you are, he has work to do. And you are well within your bounds to ask for that work.

B: I need to say this, because it’s something that we’ve danced around during the course of this letter but haven’t said out loud yet. One of the most difficult things about love and relationships is, sometimes, love isn’t enough. Sometimes, you may love someone, and she or he may be a wonderful person in all these ways, but for whatever reasons, you can’t make it work. That may happen here. He may not be capable of meeting you where you emotionally live, you may not be capable of always having to live according to his rules. It’s heartbreaking and too bad but ultimately, that’s OK. Someone being worthy of love, and someone being worthy of your love (when taking all of you into account) can be two very different things.

P: He fell in love with you. That means he gets all of you, and doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts of you he wants to know about, or not. This is a time of turmoil and change and, hopefully, progress. I hope he wants to be part of the change. You have great faith in him. I hope he can trust that enough to do the work.

Good luck. And may the upheaval you’re experiencing in your relationship lead to something better, safer, saner, and infinitely more satisfying.

bnp 13 napkin

Home is no place to feel like you have to walk on eggshells or be anything less than yourself.

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Advice: Threesome: One Too Many?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My boyfriend, “Bob”, and I, are in a committed relationship. We’ve been together for the past nine months, living together for six. Yes, we moved fast. For the most part we are super-compatible. We’re good at dividing household chores and bills, we are supportive of one another, and our sex life is great. I can picture us spending the rest of our lives together.

However. Bob has a sexual bucket list, and at the top of that list is having a threesome. He almost nags me about it, because it mentions having a threesome every week, more than once a week. He’ll even make a point of showing me which of my friends and co-workers he’d like to invite in as the third person at the party. Bob says he can only picture having a threesome before we get married, because having one after we’re legal would be “weird”. Before we get married, after we get married, the fact is I’m not really comfortable with having a threesome, and I don’t expect that to change. What do I do? Should I give in and have one with him, because it seems like it’s so important? Do I let him find two other girls to have one with, even though I know I won’t be OK with it?

–Just Me In The Bed

~~~~The Bartender and The Priestess Respond~~~~

P: Here Terri, hold my shawl and my drink, will you? Because I’m going to need both my hands to pull my hair out, k?

I barely know where to start on this all kinds of bad…

See the thing about coupleness, as I see it, is that sexual bucket lists become a couple’s sexual bucket list. And a bucket list is sorta wow, that might have been really interesting to do, but damn, life interfered.

Presumably no one in Mr. Threesome’s life has ever thought it was their job to satisfy this fantasy… which is to say, so far he’s failed, but he thought maybe you could pimp his dream for him? Nice guy.

B: I want to echo Ann and emphasize that as far as couples go, a “sexual bucket list” is one that should be mutually shared by the couple. It’s not that all sexual exploration has to stop once you commit to another person. It’s that the exploration should meet both partners needs OR, at the very least, doesn’t jangle one partner’s “Ick” reflex. When that happens, the other partner needs to be willing to let that “Ick” thing fall off the table. So if you were interested in having a threesome, by all means, you should, as a couple, go for it. But you’re not.

Because the thing about sex, despite the idea that clothes can be thrown off with reckless abandon and it’s just skin, is that you are, at that time, vulnerable. You are, literally, naked. You are—especially as a woman—literally opening yourself up to someone else. You are as physically close as two people can be. If you’re not going into the bedroom joyfully (or at the very least, with open-hearted acceptance), then you shouldn’t go.

P: And actually, this is really the first thing, which makes all the other discussions sort of moot? You’re not interested. No means no. Anything else is coercion. Coercion/Persuasion to do something you don’t want to do doesn’t really fall in the partnership model, it falls in the sexual assault or maybe just harassment model.

B: Yeah, Ann, I agree. I’m more than a little alarmed by Bob’s war of attrition. Mentioning his desire to have a threesome, repeatedly, and pointing out desired partners…do you find the ground getting a little uneven beneath your feet? Does it knock you off balance a little? It should, because trying to wear you down that way is manipulative and unsettling. He’s hoping you’ll finally snap; All right! Enough already! Let’s go bang Susie from accounting!

P: For real? WORK??? He’d like you to waltz into your work place, where presumably you have a career that’s important to you, and not to him, btw or he wouldn’t be asking you to screw it up, and solicit someone for sex? Someone, who would then have all sorts of private information to hold over you. This looks like a great idea if you’re working on a program how to derail your career in a couple easy steps. There are reasons we don’t have sex at work. Almost all of them are valid.

The cards say: don't bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

The cards say: don’t bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

B: Absolutely. Repeat after me, dearest: BOUNDARIES, please! I’m concerned about Bob’s willingness to point out his desired partners from your pool of friends and co-workers. Work is not the place to look for kink playmates. That’s what Craig’s List is for. Are you supposed to view everyone in your life as a possible sex partner? Or more than that, as a sexual threat? Are you supposed to feel jealous or possessive or “maybe this is the one?” every time you’re around another attractive woman? That doesn’t lead to sexual autonomy or healthy decision-making. That’s a constant stressor, and will find its way out in overreactions, or a poor work environment. Stress will out. If you did agree to a threesome, insist that he stop pointing out which members of your social circle he’d like to sleep with and engage in finding third partner as a couple, and insist that it’s someone who’s independent from the rest of your lives.

P: Yes, it was early to move in, and that’s a problem because you need to know someone a while to know whether or not he’s going to start lobbying for you to do something you really don’t want to do “for him.” Because what’s going to happen when you say no, I’m not interested?

What will happen when you say, no, in fact, I’m not interested in a man who puts his fantasy above his real relationship?

B: I’m not sure if you’re actually engaged, or if you’re projecting into your future engagement. Regardless, you speak as though you’re looking at a lifetime together. Here’s the thing: if you’re going to function within the parameters of a committed relationship, then you need to behave as though you’re in a committed relationship. That means respectfully attending to your partner’s feelings, and reaching a mutual consensus. That does not mean filling your own desires by the grinding emotional erosion of attrition. Bob says a post-marriage threesome would be “weird”. But you’re committed to one another right now, right? This is supposed to be the testing ground before marriage. This isn’t supposed to be, “You are my one and only, baby and I know a threesome isn’t your thing, but…what about her?” Question that “but”. What if “but” never happens? Will there be resentment? Will there be cheating? Will there be more coercion, even if it’s “weird”? You need to find out just how important this is to Bob. Or, on the flip side, if you do agree to a threesome, you need to ask yourself if you’ll feel OK, or resentful, or betrayed. Depending on your perspective, a threesome can be an opportunity for you both to explore a sexual avenue, safely, together. Or, you can feel like you agreed to let your boyfriend sleep with someone else while you had to watch. (Would he be OK with if your threesome was with another man?) Or, since you already said you don’t think you would feel OK if he went forward with a threesome without you, you can feel like you undermined your own set of principles by letting him do what he wanted.

P: Oh, and this… those people who are really anxious to be part of a threesome, it does double their sexcapades and partners. I’d be wanting some good info on a person I was going to do a bunch a things to that I didn’t want to do… cause probably boyfriend wants to watch… because there’s nothing hotter than two chicks who so aren’t into each other pretending to get off for a guy…

What if he likes it and wants to do it again? Do you say no then? ‘cause now you’ve done something you had no interest in doing with someone you work with who now knows everything about you and you have to leave your apartment AND your job.

B: You know, I see people all the time, at the bar, drowning out the aftermath of bad decision-making. Ask yourself how your relationship with Bob is, overall. Yes, you said you’re both good with chores and responsibilities and have a good sex life, and those are all important, but does he make you feel respected? Cherished? Secure? Free to be who you are? And the same goes for him. Perhaps he’s just a different person with a different set of values. The question is whether or not you can make your values mesh. If the answer to that is no, I’d recommend taking some time to strongly consider whether or not he’s the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It can be hard to extract yourself from a relationship, and we often put up with more than we want because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And it’s hard to accept that you can love someone but not be able to make things “work”. Adding one more person into your bed won’t ease this sort of contemplation.

P: Feeling beleaguered or harried or resentful or compromised or unfulfilled is no way to start a life together. This question bothers you enough to write in about it. Is this, potentially, a deal-breaker? If it is, then let it be your dealbreaker, and make peace with it. It’s your body, and it should be your decision how to use it.

B: If you feel that engaging in your boyfriend’s bucket list threesome would empower you in some way, then go for it. But if you feel like this would be damaging or compromising, then stand behind your beliefs. If he can’t accept your sexual boundaries as part of the marriage package, then maybe it’s time to take a different path.

Sex Rx?

Sex Rx?

Thanks to Deb Slade for Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to Dale and the good people of the Lewisburg Hotel for the swanky location!

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If you have a question for us, please email us at bartender priestess @ gmail. com; human non-Spambots, please remove the spaces.

What’s That Thing On Her Head?

I know, I know. I like to start the week off with a recipe, but I don’t have one. Mea culpa. I plan on getting into the kitchen later to do some cooking so I can share it all with you, but it was a weird weekend and when I did cook, I didn’t have the luxury of time to take photographs. Which is a little bit of a drag, but, silver lining! I’ll be forced to make yummy food all over again.

In the meantime, I want to present you with….this ad. I have carried this ad with me for years, it’s survived two moves, through Texas and back east to my little home in central PA. After a decade of puzzlement, of staring at this ad and shaking my head, I confess I am no closer to comprehension than I was ten years ago. I’ve spent more time trying to understand the mindset of the advertising agency that gave this the green light, than I have most pieces of abstract art. I still have no idea what this ad is getting at. Ok ok ok, here. Feast your eyes. (Identifying details removed. Mostly. :))

Hey...what's that thing on her head?

Hey…what’s that thing on her head?

In case you’re staring at this ad in stricken disbelief–which is totally understandable–I will explain. This is an ad for stores that sell jewelry. A jewelry mall, if you will. Glamorous, high-end jewelry, not the “Buy three pairs of earrings, get the fourth free” kind that I usually buy. And the model, in her LBD and thick golden rope of a necklace, is wearing a cat on her head. A cat. On her head. Here’s a closeup.

Shmexy.

Shmexy. Hey, wait. Is that terror I see lurking in her eyes?

Indeed, this is certainly all I’ve imagined and more. I know that when I think about which lovely lady ought to get the fancy jewelry, it’s almost always the one wearing an animal on her head. 

Only opposite. “Give in to the luxury”, the ad says. But how does wearing a cat on one’s head indicate “luxury”? Or something that should be given in to? I fight the urge to accessorize with my cat every day, and I feel like I’m a better person for it. Because if she were wearing pajamas–and you know I’m right here, people–she would be a crazy cat lady. This should be instant birth control. Instead, this ad was meant to create allure.

Herein lies my befuddlement. I don’t understand. I mean, if I want to buy shoes I don’t look for someone with an egret perched on her head so I can think, “Oh, wow, that must be a great shoe store I can’t wait to shop there.” Maybe I just don’t grok high-end jewelry in this way, but…why is this lady wearing a cat on her head? And what does that say about…oh, good Lord, about any and everything that’s weird about the advertising business?

Please, internets, if you can explain, I would be most grateful.

Donatella Versace, please stop the madness

I’ve always sort of looked at the pictures of Donatella Versace slightly at an angle.  I couldn’t look straight at them, because I always found her distorted, surgically altered features were an assault upon mine eyes.  You know what I mean?  Then I found this picture.  Behold!  Young Donatella Versace.

Found at messynessychic.com

Holy. Shit. She’s gorgeous.
Found at messynessychic.com

This is the face she could have carried forward as she aged.  This was what she would have had to work with so that she could age gracefully.  If she still had this face she would be a beautiful older woman.

Instead, howevermany surgeries/injections/nips/tucks/peels later, this is the face she has (ironically) paid a lot of money for.  Presenting, haute couture’s reigning…

…uh…

OK, seriously, she looks like a half-orc.

Half-orc. Photo taken from becauseiamfabulous.com

Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys.
Photo taken from becauseiamfabulous.com
Quote taken from the orc Ugluk, in “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

Ladies, please.  Please please please.  Stop the madness.  “But there’s so much pressure to look good!”, they say.  People.  Guess what?

YOU WON’T LOOK GOOD.  This doesn’t look good.  Do you want to look good?  Love yourself enough to take care of yourself and figure out what makes you happy and do it and for Chrissakes quit smoking (especially if you’re concerned about your skin!) and hydrate/moisturize/be careful in the sun.

Someone said to me a long time ago, “You earn the face you wear when you’re older.”  That idea stayed with me.  Donatella Versace (and so, so many other adherents to the elective-surgery-go-round) have earned these…bizarre…misshapen…stretched faces, from thinking they could beat the process.  How can you justify surgery that’s supposed to make you “look better” when life as an orc is the result?

One More Thing About Miley Cyrus…

I know, I know.  I’m sure we’re all sick of Miley Cyrus and her twerky ass, but I just feel like I have to say this…

…and I can’t believe I’m saying this…

…but I think we need to give her one tiny break.

Just one.  Let me explain.

It’s not that I think she’s so totally awesome that she gets a pass because OMG how can you not love everything she does?  No no, I assure you.  I’ve said since seeing the VMA performance that’s caused the avalanche of media hooha that the thing I’m most offended by about her performance is that she’s making bajillions of dollars and can’t fucking sing.  She is a testament to the magical properties of auto-tune, and will keep any skilled vocal-mix professional working for years to come.  (Miley Cyrus: Job creator.)  They claim she wasn’t auto-tuned for the VMAs.  Go on, go watch it again and play the “count the flat notes” drinking game.  Every flat note, take a shot.  You’ll be knackered before the song comes to an end (and if you play through Robin Thicke’s part of the performance, put 911 on your speed dial to counter the inevitable onset of alcohol poisoning).

It’s because, if people had been paying even a tiny bit of attention, there wouldn’t be a public outcry for a national fainting couch to combat the epidemic of swooning from the shock of Miley’s ladyparts being so vigorously and unapologetically diddled on stage.

I took this picture from somewhere off this blog http://jennytrout.wordpress.com/, though God help me I don't remember exactly which page because I've been reading it obsessively the past few days.

I took this picture from somewhere off the blog http://jennytrout.wordpress.com/, though God help me I don’t remember exactly which page because I’ve been reading it obsessively the past few days.

I was talking with my boyfriend the other night and he said, “Someone asked who came up with the choreography for Miley Cyrus’s performance.  Apparently, it’s taken pretty directly from her video.”

Oh, really, I thought.  How ’bout that?  Re-enacting a video (at least in part) at the VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS.  I guess I didn’t see that coming.  I feel so naive.

So I watched her video for “We Can’t Stop”, which was of course the song she sang at the VMAs.  Here it is.  I’ll get back to this in a minute but please, for the sake of the rest of this article, pay attention to what’s going on in the video.  Feel free to watch it without the sound on.  It makes it easier.

Well all right.  There you have it.  They totally pulled parts of the video for her performance.  The giant furry costumes.  Some of the dance moves.  Her goddamned tongue, which I’m pretty sure she can do push ups on.  It also, for the record, included:

  • what looked like fingers being sliced off a hand
  • copious twerking
  • a guy shooting smoke out of his crotch
  • enough with the tongue, Miley
  • abundant ass shots and spread eagled bed writhing
  • girl on girl food wrestling, booty smacking, and at least one boobie fondle
  • oh, yeah, and then she licked that doll’s face

My point is: this was all in the video which has been released for months, so people freaking out about virginal Hannah Montana suddenly becoming sexually supercharged is…well…inauthentic at best and hypocritical at worst.  Clearly, they’re not paying attention to the same things their kids are paying attention to, or else they think that whatever happens in the confines of a three-minute music video can’t ever possibly translate into live performance.

Whatever.  This is why child stars develop substance abuse problems.

But then it gets even more deranged, because Miley didn’t get as much shit for her own performance as she did for her participation in Robin Thicke‘s song, “Blurred Lines”.  Here’s the video, if you’re unfamiliar with the song.  Please notice the plastic clothing on the models, in relation to Miley’s VMA costuming.

God, I hate this song.

For Thicke’s part of the performance, Miley Cyrus ripped off her stupid, stupid furry bear onesie and revealed her vinyl bra and panty set, so she looked shiny and almost-nude.  Which kind of emulates what the models were wearing.  But that finger, good God…what about that giant foam finger she was waving around at the VMAs?  Why was Miley Cyrus just a protective vinyl barrier away from flicking her bean on national TV?  In front of the children?  Wearing that godforsaken foam finger?

OK, point #1: this wasn’t the Kid’s Choice awards, this was the VMAs.  It wasn’t a show for kids.  (Waaah!  But it was prime time!  So is CSI, American Horror Story, The Bachelor, Supernatural, America’s Next Top Model, Bates Hotel, and Californication.  These are all shows that have weird/questionable subject matter that isn’t necessarily kid friendly.  Especially that show about modeling, which I’m sure has helped fuel plenty of eating disorders across the country.  Don’t let them watch it if you don’t like it.)  

Point #2:  It’s the music industry, which is a carnivorous beast that thrives on sex and the blood of the young.  What did you expect?

And point #3:  That finger?  The hyper-sexualized content?  It’s in Robin Thicke’s video.  Not that one.  This one.  The other, unrated, way naked, kid-unfriendly version of “Blurred Lines”.

(I warn you now, this is not safe for work, for kids, for mother, for the good of all humanity.  Watch at your own risk.)

Please note that this video features:

  • Plenty of topless models in nude-colored g-strings and white platform sneakers
  • What’s up with that lamb?
  • Fully clothed men, because of course they can’t be seen as vulnerable/exposed/not in charge
  • That. Fucking. Finger.
  • Mylar balloons spelling out that Robin Thicke has a big dick

So once again, they were re-enacting a video.  Robin Thicke’s video, not Miley Cyrus’s.  It may have been the unrated one but still, these videos have been released since March 2013.  The world has had six months to hate on the goddamned finger and they focus their anger NOT on Robin Thicke, the person who inflicted it unto the world but rather, on the young woman who performed it with him at a live show.  They may as well hate the models who danced in the unrated version, because clearly they were the ones in charge of artistic direction.

Was it over the top?  Sure, I guess, though the entertainment industry as a whole is pretty well known for its decided lack of boundary/sense/taste and there’s not much that shocks me anymore.  When performers are as untalented as Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, it’s no surprise that they have to become giant media gluttons just to keep the spotlight.  Outrageous behavior distracts from the fact that they’re untalented hacks.  I don’t care who Miley Cyrus grinds her ass up against, or who Robin Thicke has to simu-bone for attention, though I do care that these two performers are being held to entirely different standards for doing essentially the same thing.  Yes, yes, I know, RT is a man and we all know it’s OK for guys to swagga into a room dick-first but if a woman is overtly sexual?  Whoooooooooooooooore!  I feel kind of bad for Miley and her overt sexuality.  You know when a baby discovers his feet?  And then his parents put little jingly socks on him and he waves his munchkin feet around and sticks them in his mouth and can’t keep his hands off them because they’re all fresh and new to him?  That’s exactly how I view Miley Cyrus’s relationship with her vagina: it’s like she just found it and can’t stop (see what I did there?) pointing it out to everyone.  I blame Disney.

So please.  Don’t stop buying Miley’s albums because she committed some very public self-canoodling with a prop from one of Robin Thicke’s videos.  That’s unfair, and doesn’t focus on the source of the behavior, which (I will spell out) is Robin Thicke, or at the very least RT’s artistic director.  And don’t not buy RT’s albums because he’s a misogynistic tool.  Instead, I beg of you all, to do this: don’t buy their albums, because they CAN’T FUCKING SING.

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