Let’s Each Pick a Theme!

A much more attainable self-improvement plan!

One of my favorite bloggers, Anju, who writes This Labyrinth I Roam, was reading my blog recently, and noted my general disdain for New Years Resolutions. I haven’t done them in years, because I hate starting off the year by setting myself up for failure.

According to this article, based on a survey, the success rate for resolutions is 35 percent. I’m guessing it’s even less than that. Would you really answer honestly to some random surveyor when you know you’ve been eating snickers bars instead of salads as resolved?

In response to my resolution aversion, Anju sent me a link to this wonderful 6-minute YouTube video that actually gives me hope for a more attainable self-improvement plan.

I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch it yourself, but in a nutshell, the concept of themes was presented, and here’s how it works.

If you want to make some positive life changes, rather than make a resolution, set yourself a theme. Instead of an inflexible goal with hard data points, such as losing x number of inches around your waist by the end of this calendar year, make it a broad theme such as “Health”. Who cares about hard data? Self-improvement is the ultimate goal, and there are a variety of ways to reach that goal. Some of them may not even have occurred to you yet. Allow room for you to trend upward in a whole host of ways.

At various times throughout the day, month, or year, you will find yourself at a crossroads that will require you to make a decision. If you have a theme such as Health, and one branch of that path is healthier than the other, you will be more apt to take that healthier path if you have that overarching theme in mind. You might do several different types of healthy things in the course of that journey, setting yourself up for an upward trend of success without undue pressure, rather than feeling like a failure if you don’t meet a specific target.

So pick a nice broad theme, such as “Adventure” or “Gratitude” or “Family” or “Learning” or “Transition”. Choose something that resonates with you; something that you want more or less of. That theme will then adapt with you, based on circumstances, and no guilt will be involved. You’ll start noticing more opportunities that relate to your theme, and hopefully you’ll take advantage of them.

Isn’t that a nifty idea? And the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to last a year like a resolution. You can have a theme that lasts a season, such as “The Winter of Compassion”.

After giving this concept much thought, I have decided that my themes for the foreseeable future will be Health and Boundaries. I have been pursuing better health ever since I got married and realized that I have a lot to live for. I’m really proud of my progress so far, and would like to continue that progress. So I suspect that theme will be with me for quite some time.

The other theme, Boundaries, is something I’ve been working on sporadically for a lifetime, but I’ve noticed since moving to the Pacific Northwest that my desire for boundaries is often challenged. These challenges cause me a great deal of confusion and self-doubt, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it.

It’s healthy to set boundaries. In the long run, the people around you will appreciate them. It’s nice to have a clear map of what is acceptable in someone’s life and what is not. For example, please don’t smoke in my house. That’s a simple one. Another one is please don’t spontaneously call me after 9 pm unless someone is dying. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

But here in the passive aggressive Pacific Northwest, people would much rather die than be perceived as being pushy or hurting someone’s feelings. Heaven forfend you actually speak up and assert yourself. Most folks out here are hardwired to bite their tongue, bottle things up, and not make waves. So when you violate someone’s boundaries here, rather than making those boundaries clear so that you can have better encounters moving forward, they’ll tolerate the intrusion, resent you for it, and then most likely distance themselves from you, and you’ll never understand why.

Here’s a prime example: Since I’ve been pursuing health, I’ve been trying to avoid eating sugar. Culturally, especially on holidays, people love to make cookies and cakes and the like, and it’s assumed that you are then obligated to eat these things, even if you don’t want them.

But I truly don’t want them. I do not resist these temptations easily. Overall, I think it’s much kinder to thank someone in advance and set the boundary rather than have them waste their time and money every year making me a fruitcake that I’m only going to either throw away or re-gift. That way everyone is on the same page, I’m not forced to keep track of my lies, and we can all focus on spending time with one another instead.

Also, I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the re-gift concept under these circumstances, because wouldn’t I just be passing the involuntary weight gain on to someone else? What right do I have to do that? And I hate wasting food, so throwing these things out pains me.

And yet a Pacific Northwest friend of mine is convinced that this kind of open communication is rude. He’d rather take in all the chocolate and cheesecake and smile gratefully, in order to let someone maintain a tradition that they may actually find to be a hassle in the first place. You’ll never know if you don’t communicate. They might even delight in helping you achieve your goal, because that’s how true friends are.

My friend, by smiling and remaining silent, then has to resist the temptation of eating the stuff and take the time to dispose of it one way or another, all so he won’t insult someone who probably wouldn’t be insulted in the first place if open, honest, polite conversations had taken place. Personally, I’d be annoyed if I spent all that time and effort to bring you joy, and then discovered I could have much more easily done so, year after year, by bringing you some fresh asparagus from my garden. Trust me when I say that my outspoken self is rarely hit with the sentence, “Why didn’t you say so?”

Isn’t open communication better for all concerned? You don’t have to be rude or pushy about it. My friend claims that by setting boundaries, I’m trying to dictate the behavior of other people. Poppycock and codswallop, I say. I’m not telling people they can’t bake cookies for themselves or anyone else. Knock yourself out. I’m just saying that while I appreciate the thought, please don’t make any for me.

Because I know me. I’ll eat them, feel sick afterward because I’m no longer used to sugar, and beat myself up for the rest of the day. So, yeah, this is a boundary for me, and I don’t think that those who truly love me will be offended if politely asked to respect it. Feel free to party with the Cookie Monster as much as you like. No judgment here. I’ll still love you. But in the mean time, let’s both treat each other with consideration.

If you think you have to be walked over in order maintain a friendship, then deep down you already know that you’re not being loved.

True story. I know a couple who ate cranberry sauce every thanksgiving for decades. They both hated it. They were only choking the stuff down because they each assumed that the other one liked it, and they were trying to be polite. What a weight was lifted off them both when they finally actually spoke up!

I am sick and tired of this vague, passive-aggressive fog that floats over this part of the country and makes it harder to form solid friendships. I’m tired of being confused to the point of feeling like the East Coast turd in the West Coast punchbowl.

I plan on embracing ways to define my boundaries. I will do so in a courteous and loving manner whenever possible, of course, and I will acknowledge the kind sentiments and cherish the people behind them. I will do this because I believe that in the end, healthy, sincere communication saves everyone a lot of time, energy and drama, and that is a gift to all those concerned. (And if my friend doesn’t like my new theme, then he better buckle up, because this is going to be a bumpy ride for him.)

I also want to stop struggling with saying no to things and with putting my foot down rather than being taken advantage of. I hate confrontation, but if an anti-vaxxer tries to insist that he should be able to come into my house without a mask, I am perfectly within my rights to draw a line in the sand, and if, as a last resort, I have to get hostile to do so, I should not feel the least bit guilty about it. That bit of self-improvement is out of my comfort zone, and might require more effort on my part. Pardon my dust. I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

So now I have themes. I feel better already. It’s nice, in this unpredictable world, to have some boundaries that you can count on. And if I construct those redoubts myself, then one day I’ll look up and realize I’ve created a comforting sanctuary, indeed, and one where all loved ones are quite welcome.

So, wish me luck! And I’d love to hear about your unique theme in the comments below. As my dear and inspiring friend Carole likes to say, “Onward and upward, into the future!”

If your current theme is gratitude, then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Importance of Having a Plan

Doing nothing is also a choice.

I spent many years, several decades actually, just spinning my wheels and getting absolutely nowhere. I didn’t really expect I’d ever have it better than I did at the time. Deep down I thought I didn’t deserve it.

I tended to get into relationships with men who reinforced my inertia. They were either extremely content with the status quo, completely devoid of ambition, or they had such low self-esteem or such pessimism that they couldn’t look beyond their current survival struggles. It was like living in quicksand. The longer I marinated in it, the more hopeless I felt, until I could barely work up the energy to try to improve my life anymore. There didn’t seem to be much point.

But a little voice inside me was never quite willing to give up on my hopes and dreams. A few times I really did try to formulate a plan that I felt really good about, but the men in my life didn’t buy into my ideas, and certainly offered none of their own. Or worse yet was the one who pretended to buy in, but then sabotaged my progress every chance he got.

I kept being dragged deeper into the quicksand by relationships and obligations and emergencies and hopelessness and bills, and I couldn’t see a viable way out of it. I had all but resigned myself to just letting the mud close over me to sink into oblivion. But that persistent little voice kept telling me that this was wrong.

I’d like to say that a plan got me out of the quicksand, but it wasn’t that easy. I basically just jumped and hoped that there would be something to grab ahold of at the end of my trajectory. (Unless you call moving to the other side of the country where you’ve never been and know nobody an actual plan.) That jump could have ended in disaster, but for once luck was on my side.

So yes, I landed in high cotton, as they say in the South, but I knew that luck comes and goes, and I couldn’t just status quo my way through the rest of my life if I wanted things to remain this good. I needed to have a plan. No more sinking into the quicksand that was my life. I need a map. I needed a destination. I needed a compass point.

And let me take a moment to make it perfectly clear that I’m not talking about some goal to become rich or famous. Money doesn’t equate to happiness. Fame is a fleeting illusion.

No. It’s much more important to figure out what will give you satisfaction in life, and then determine a way to get to that place. And no two people will ever have the exact same goals, but it’s really important to know what you want before you get into a relationship, and have an open and honest discussion about that, so that you can make sure your goals are compatible (and also that the other person’s exist in the first place).

So how do you plan to reach your goals? Not by sitting there and wallowing in self pity. If you want to live in another place, how will you make that happen? Do your homework. Research the cost of living and the job market in that area. Apply for jobs. If you want to change your career, how do you do that? Do you need more education or training? Can you seek out a mentor? If you want to live a healthier life, how do you plan to make that happen? If you feel that the people around you are toxic, how do you plan to change your crowd? What do you want your life to look like after all your kids have grown up and left home?

I am so glad I’m now in a relationship where we’ve agreed on our goals. We’re both working steadily toward them, in tandem, and we adjust them as we go along, also in tandem. You can’t predict what the future holds, of course, but you can influence it by either doing something or doing absolutely nothing. Make no mistake: doing nothing is also a choice.

Once you have goals, you have purpose, and you have something to look forward to. And since life is, after all, the journey, it’s nice to be excited about that journey. It’s what gets me out of bed every morning.

I’ll now leave you with an amazing meme that I saw the other day. It says, “What if it turns out better than you could have imagined?”

To that I say, lucky me, it already has. Much better than I imagined, indeed. Life is what you make it, and it’s good.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Bite-Sized Goals

I like the goal posts to stay put.

This strange year has taught me much about the goals that I set, and how I achieve them, and how I handle disappointment.

After I put a little free library in front of my house in the summer of 2019, my goal was rather vague but nevertheless sincere: I wanted to promote literacy in my community, especially among children. Nothing sets you up for success in life as much as becoming an avid reader from an early age. And I also wanted to pass on my love of reading to younger generations.

With that in mind, I cast about for ideas on how to draw people to my little free library. I started a Facebook group for it. I talked about it on our community page and on Nextdoor.com. I tried to set up a geocache, but there’s one nearby that refuses to move, so my geocache isn’t allowed. Drat.

Most of all, though, I wanted to make it a pokestop on the Pokemon Go application. Children love the game, and they’re drawn to pokestops within the game. I downloaded the app in August, 2019 in hopes of suggesting my library as a stop, and discovered that you can’t nominate stops until you’ve reached the highest level in the game, level 40. So my goal switched from nominating a stop to reaching level 40 so I could nominate a stop.

Every time I would advance a level in that game, I would get so excited. I was one level closer to achieving my goal! Yay, me!

But then, one day when I was around level 25, I opened the game up to discover that someone else had nominated my little free library as a pokestop! And just like that, I was cast adrift, doomed to wander the planet devoid of a goal. Woe is me.

That’s when I realized that having the goal was the thing. And having someone else achieve it for me was not nearly as satisfying. Time to set a new goal.

But who was I kidding? By then I was hooked on Pokemon Go, so I altered my goal to help feed my addiction. I decided I would still get to level 40, and make other little free libraries pokestops. Oh, and make my drawbridge a pokestop, so I could play at work. Yeah. Because with a pokestop right outside my front door, I now knew the luxury of playing at home. I may as well have that at work, too.

I had been obsessed about reaching level 40 for just over a year. Then one day, while at level 39, I found out that the good folks at Pokemon Go had decided to lower the level at which you could nominate pokestops to level 38. Woo hoo! I had arrived!

But I also kind of felt like I had been punked, or at the very least, someone had handed me a cheat sheet. Again, not nearly as satisfying. But did I start nominating stops? Heck yeah!

Now I’m waiting to see if my nominations will get implemented. New goal. They say it could take anywhere from a few days to several months. Every day, I eagerly open the app to see if they’re there. So far, nothing.

What to do while waiting? I still wanted to reach that highest level. Just to say I did. I soon realized that “just because” goals are never as much fun as regular goals.

And then, just the other day, I reached level 40. I was alone. The game does not provide you with the level of fanfare that one might expect after racking up, I kid you not, twenty freakin’ million points, but there you have it. Goal achieved.

And that same day, I learned that they’re raising the top level to 50.

I’m not sure how to feel. I’m not sure what I want to do. Now I know that I don’t thrive when deprived of closure.

But I’m going to apply my learning somehow, some way. For example, I know now that I am most happy when I’m working toward a goal. I’ve learned I need to break my goals into bite sized pieces, because gigantic goals, once achieved, can be a massive let down. I’ve learned that the goal posts can move, and that’s okay, but I’d much rather that they stay put. Short term goals are much more apt to stay put. But most of all, I learned that when I find myself adrift, I can always pick myself up and create a goal to get me heading in the right direction once again. And that’s all the closure one can expect out of life.

Who knew one could achieve so much personal growth from a computer game?

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! Now, there’s a goal for you! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Failure to Completely Alter My Life

Baby steps I can do. But this…

Due to various health issues (I’ll spare you the details), someone recommended a book to me that she purported would change my life entirely.

Boy, she wasn’t kidding. In order to be cured of all my ills, I must do the following, immediately, and all at once:

Do some form of sweat producing exercise for an hour a day, and completely avoid the following foods for the rest of my life:

  • Sugar.

  • All processed foods, including anything in a box, bag, or can.

  • Breads.

  • Cheeses.

  • Condiments.

  • Processed and smoked meats, including bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and sausage.

  • Mushrooms.

  • Pasta.

  • Melons.

  • Potatoes.

  • Dried fruits.

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Gluten.

  • Fruit juices.

  • White rice.

  • Cashews and Pistachios.

  • Breakfast Cereals.

  • Soda.

  • Alcohol.

Upon reading this, I got tears in my eyes and immediately ate a pint of ice cream and fell into a deep, dark depression, as is my wont in moments of despair. Because I know me. There is no way I can pull this off. You may as well ask me to chop off my head and replace it with that of someone else. It’s too radical a change, it’s too overwhelming.

It’s a set up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s all good advice. I’m sure it would be life altering. But it’s too extreme. It’s too all-at-once. And my medical condition isn’t life threatening. It’s just annoying. So the incentive isn’t the kind I’d need to completely do away with every single thing I normally eat, with the exception of salad (without dressing) and other veggies from my garden, and then be expected to get my starving butt off the couch to jog for an hour a day.

I know I’m sounding like a whiney little kid, but am I alone in this? Could you do this? Right this minute?

Apparently this must be done all at once or it won’t work. So… it’s not going to work.

Baby steps I can do. I already don’t drink alcohol or soda. I already hate corned beef. And I eat much healthier than I did 10 years ago. But this… it’s insane.

So, in essence, I bought a book that makes me feel worse about myself than I did before, and I still have the health issue. This does not make for a successful health plan. There has to be a better way.

I’m not asking for things to be made completely easy. I’m willing to make certain sacrifices. I don’t think all life solutions should be to take a pill and continue with your bad habits.

But baby steps, you know? I can’t run a marathon when I’ve barely learned to walk. You can’t expect me to quit my job, move to the country, and eat pine trees, while building my own log cabin. Tomorrow. Or even next week. And anyone who expects that much of me is part of the problem.

The first step in designing a healthy lifestyle system is that it should be at least remotely achievable. Otherwise you’re just selling low self-esteem. Thanks, but we’re already full up on that, here.

sisyphus

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

What Do You Want out of Life?

Access to pizza delivery is right up there for me.

For the bulk of my life, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t able to give a definitive answer. There are just too many possibilities. I found this question particularly stressful when I was between the ages of 15 and 29. I remember feeling as if I were at this great crossroads, and there were so many directions I could turn that I had absolutely no idea which way I should go.

Jeez. No pressure there.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that I shouldn’t be focused on what I wanted to turn myself into. Instead, I should focus on what I wanted out of life. What do I need to be happy? Once I knew that, I could then formulate a plan to achieve these things. My becoming would be a natural outgrowth of my desires.

I’m not talking about material things, here. That’s not high on my list of priorities. Not that there is any right or wrong answer to the big question. If things are what you want out of life, you will take a very different journey than I will, and that’s okay.

What follows are the things I want out of life.

  • Serenity.

  • Contentment.

  • To love and be loved.

  • At least one decent travel opportunity per year.

  • Producing something that will last. A legacy, of sorts.

  • Leaving the planet ever so slightly better than I found it.

  • The opportunity to learn and grow as well as teach.

  • Peace and quiet.

  • A good night’s sleep more often than not.

  • A good hard laugh every once in a while.

  • Self-expression.

  • Access to pizza delivery.

So, dear reader, what do you want?

Serenity

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Making an Entrance

Carpe Annum, dear reader!

This is probably rather short notice, but have you thought about how you will be entering 2019? Think of it as a crowded room. How you enter it will make a difference as to how the year-long party will go for you.

Will you enter with energy and enthusiasm, or sneak in the back way and hope no one notices you? Both are legitimate ways to get from this year to next, but they’ll probably yield wildly different results. I suppose it depends on what you want to get out of the months to come.

Personally, I’ve never seen the point of getting roaring drunk and entering the year with a head splitting hangover. To me, that seems like starting yourself off thirty yards deep in your own endzone. But hey, we all make choices.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that you attend a great big New Year’s Party if you don’t want to. I never have. I’m a lot more low key than that. I’d rather not walk into 2019 feeling awkward and uncomfortable. That’s not a precedent I want to set.

No, I’m talking about the party of life in general. Do you have a plan? Do you have goals and intentions? (Forget about resolutions. How many people do you know who have stuck to those?) No, I’m talking about attitude. I’m talking about expectations. I’m talking about seizing the year!

I plan to enter this year with gratitude, joy, and anticipation. I want to have a wide open heart so that all my hopes and dreams can flow freely. I want this year to be one of hope and happiness.

So, Carpe Annum, dear reader! I hope you enter the year with a clear vision. I hope that you take some (measured) risks and have some adventures, and that this year yields everything you wish it will.

wicked_witch_of_the_east
Talk about making an entrance.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Ambition

It’s what makes life worth living.

It never occurred to me that going to college wasn’t mandatory. My mother had been drumming it into my head since the age of six. You will go to college. College was the next grade after 12th. That was what one did.

I don’t know why, but it shocked me that everyone didn’t feel that way. Many of my high school friends never went for higher education. They had other goals in life. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong with that.

It wasn’t until I met someone with no ambition at all that I realized how important goals truly are. This guy will probably always live in the same city. He’ll always have the same job, and the same struggles. He is so stuck in the past that he never looks toward the future. He works toward nothing. He looks forward to nothing. He never gets excited about anything. He has absolutely no imagination. He doesn’t want anything because he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He never takes risks because he is too afraid of failure.

He is the most boring human being I’ve ever met. Being in his presence is depressing. I feel sorry for him. But I also have no respect for him.

Ambition is what makes life worth living. Striving for something is why you get out of bed in the morning. And your goals don’t have to be financial. That’s no yardstick to use to measure your life. Accumulation of stuff is meaningless. You goals should be about achieving something, or going somewhere, or creating something, or checking something off your bucket list. Those goals should be unique to you.

I’m not telling you what goals to have. I’m just saying, for heaven’s sake, have some. Otherwise, what’s the point?

ambition

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The Winnowing

Getting married teaches you who your friends really are.

Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.

I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.

I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.

I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.

Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.

I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).

But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.

So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!

I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.

And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.

winnowing

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12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

I’m getting married for the first time at age 53, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. But I’d like to think that my age is a plus. I’m not impulsive. I believe in doing my homework. I am all about looking before I leap.

Lord knows I’ve seen enough marriages fail to get a strong sense of what kills them off. It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It also helps to know the other person’s hopes, dreams, and expectations in advance, and decide whether you’d be willing to help them achieve them.

Here are a few things you may wish to consider talking about ahead of your big day:

Money. This one is huge. Is one partner bringing a mountain of debt into the union? It’s only fair to bring this out in the open. How will you handle finances? How much credit card debt can you tolerate? What level of discretionary spending are you comfortable with? What are your plans, if any, for retirement? What are your expenses? How will you cope with financial emergencies? What are your long term financial goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Children. Do you both want them? How many? Do you already have some? Who has custody? What is your philosophy regarding discipline, and child-rearing in general?

What goals do you have for your future? Do they align? If you want to travel and your partner simply wants to retire and watch Jerry Springer all day long, that’s a problem. What do you consider to be a successful life? What is most important to you in terms of a future? Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to have? What types of vacations do you like to take? What are your priorities? What are your expectations?

Sex, Intimacy and Fidelity. It’s okay to be who you are. But it’s only fair that you spell it out. If one person is asexual, and the other expects a high degree of intimacy, that’s a problem waiting to happen. If your philosophies regarding fidelity don’t align, it’s a recipe for disaster. If one person hates public displays of affection, and the other feels rejected if her partner won’t hold her hand, this is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Is pornography a big part of your life or do you have any sexual habits that your partner might find unusual? Discuss what you need to feel loved and sexually satisfied now, or your marital ship will sink like a stone.

Individuality. You don’t have to be joined at the hip. You don’t always have to like all the same things that your partner likes. You don’t even have to have all of the same friends. Becoming a football widow isn’t a big deal if you have interests of your own. Are you both comfortable doing things alone? If you have different expectations in terms of togetherness and attention, it’s best to work that out now.

Vices. If you smoke and your partner does not, you should find out if that will become a deal-breaker. If you have a drug addiction, your partner has a right to know. How much do you drink alcohol? How much is too much? You should even put your quirky habits out there. One person’s quirk might be another person’s intolerable oddity.

Health. Does your partner take health as seriously as you do? Are there any ticking time bombs with regard to family health history that you need to be aware of? How will you cope with a medical catastrophe?

Religion. What are your spiritual philosophies? Atheists and Fundamentalists can marry, of course, but they’d have to be extremely tolerant of their differences. If one is expecting the other to make a dramatic, very basic shift, and the other person isn’t willing to do so, then that will be a problem. Also, what holidays are important to you, and how do you celebrate them?

Politics. I’ve seen couples thrive in spite of political differences, but if politics is a huge part of your life, it rapidly becomes a definer of the content of one’s character. And in this current atmosphere of division, it’s not like you can ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will you be willing to agree to disagree on the issues? It’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with expectations that your partner will change and come to his or her senses.

Family. Unfortunately (or luckily, as the case may be), when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family, too. Everyone has a few nuts in the family tree. Having insane in-laws is not necessarily a problem unless you discover, to your horror, that your spouse expects said crazy relative to live with you in his or her dotage. Will you be okay with that? What does family obligation mean to you? Best to figure that out in advance.

Communication and Conflict Resolution. How do your resolve disagreements? If one is a shouter and the other tends to withdraw, you’ll never be able to meet in the middle. It’s all about respect. Talk about issues before they get out of control. Listen to what your partner is saying. Nip things in the bud as often as you can. Don’t stuff things. Don’t get hostile. Don’t just hope things will go away on their own. Take the initiative. How do you plan to talk things out?

Cleanliness. Can you tolerate your partner’s level of clutter? Can your partner stand your obsessive compulsive need for a spotless home? And how will the cleaning tasks be divided? This is 2018. You can’t assume that both of you are on the same page regarding basic chores. Talk about it.

Communication about all of the above is key. It’s important to know as much as possible about the foundation on which you are building your relationship. A solid foundation leads to a long-lasting home.

Are there any other topics that I’ve overlooked? Please share them in the comments below!

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Beware Abundance

I absolutely love buffets, so I try to avoid them. I am frugal by nature, so when I’m charged a fixed price in an all you can eat situation, I tend to try to get my money’s worth. In other words, I gorge myself. I don’t think I’ve ever left a buffet without feeling slightly sick to my stomach and at least moderately ashamed.

Abundance is not something I’ve experienced very often in my life, so it’s not surprising that I tend to overdo. It brings out the worst in me. I can’t imagine who I’d be if I lived in a constant state of abundance. I suspect that this is why the super rich are, for the most part, despicable human beings. If they exhibit even a shred of decency, they’ve no doubt had to work extremely hard to maintain it.

When you have to work for what you need, you appreciate it much more. When you aren’t completely sure you’ll get what you want, it inspires you to strive toward your goals. Achievements are so much sweeter when you’ve actually had to achieve them.

It’s the struggle that defines us. I don’t think pride is such a bad thing when you’ve seen a hurdle and have managed to clamber over it. Yay, you! Victories are all the more delicious for having been hard-won.

I have much more respect for those who try and don’t always succeed than I do for those who have had everything in their lives handed to them on a platinum patter. For most of us, life is not a buffet. But there’s a certain dignity to being figuratively lean and hungry, all while maintaining your integrity.

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