Tag Archives: family

Introducing: Bridezilla

Reading articles about batshit brides who enamored over every detail of a wedding led me to pronouncing I would never, EVER earn the title “bridezilla.” And, yet, shortly thereafter my official engagement I’ve been called this at least two times – not yet once from my finance who surely has thought the term silently while watching me create a google spreadsheet of 20+ local venues to visit in order to find – THE ONE.

As a personal finance blogger, and someone who tends to toy around with compound interest calculators as a means to destress after a challenging day, weddings – as in, the modern American wedding with an average cost of $25k ($31k-$51k in my region) – are absolutely ridiculous.

$50,000 — over a 30 year period growing at 5% — amounts to $216k. Sure, that’s not enough to get one through retirement, but it’s an awful lot to spend on one 6-hour party. When down-payments for a starter home are $200k or more, spending any money on a wedding, no matter how high your income is (unless you already are financially independent) seems incredibly frivolous.

So far, we’ve done well to combat the frivolity of this phenomenon known as nuptials. I was verklempt when my man got down on one knee and, after going through a series of romantic gestures, asked me to marry him. When I noticed he had picked the $300 ring off my Pinterest, I took pride in being the type of future bride who didn’t buy into the “Three Months Salary” bullshit propagated by jewelry marketers – likely ones related to the same person who came up with “A Diamond is Forever.” The average cost of an engagement ring these days is $4000 — which is a lot considering most of America is in debt.

There was this little voice in the back of my mind, the little girl who dreamed of a fancier ring (not necessarily a diamond, but still, something above and beyond what I might purchase for myself) — and then I stopped that voice, told it to shut the fuck up, because the ring — beautiful, simple and unique — was perfect. And I wouldn’t want to be walking around with a $4000 sentimental target on my back for anyone who wanted to rob me. Ultimately, I’d rather have a house than a ring, so this was the right choice.

That doesn’t change the fact that the minute you tell people you are engaged the reflex of most Americans – male or female – is something along the lines of “let me see the rock.” Well, it’s a rock alright — a low-cost gemstone that may or may not be the one that we think it is. It was supposed to be peach but it’s actually clear which only bothers Bridezilla me because I feel like everyone “just knows” that it’s a fake diamond (which it wasn’t meant to be) and then I get nervous that others will look at it and think, oh god, does she not know it’s a fake? I was perfectly fine with a sapphire or alexandrite or something that didn’t look like a diamond, but when it almost looks like a diamond showing off your ring gets uncomfortable, so says Ms. Bridezilla.

The ring, however, is the least of the costs that go into having a wedding. Every ounce of my rational self is screaming ELOPE YOU DUMB IDIOT YOU! I’m definitely the type of girl that dreamed of having a large, fairytale wedding – but now that i’m nearly 32, I’m largely over that dream and much more practical. If I was paying for the entire thing myself, I’d be a whole lot of more practical – but with my parents wanting to foot the bill, I’m torn.

My dad – who worked his entire life in a job that he didn’t exactly love – was told eight years ago that he had two years to live from a very respectable doctor at Sloan Kettering in NYC. His late-stage prostate cancer had metastasized and while there were a number of treatments and trials to prolong his life, there was no cure. And, already dealing with numerous health issues, such as diabetes and morbid obesity, his prognosis wasn’t so optimistic.

Dad – as stubborn as he is – has lived much longer and is still kicking, knock on wood. Him and my mother purchased a condo in Boca which he’s now spending his days determining how to decorate – despite years of nagging me about getting married, he doesn’t seem to care too much about the wedding now. His response when I called to tell them I was engaged was “about time.”

My father has clearly stated, many times, that he has money put away for this shindig and that he’d cover the event. The budget, which was $30k, grew into $50k once I made a list of how much everything would cost (and this is with cutting out all of the items that would go into a dream wedding with a pricetag of about $100k.) He said $50k is fine.

I know he’s looking forward to his dream wedding. My mom’s mother made their wedding horrible, because she’s crazy. She wouldn’t let him invite most of his friends to the event because they needed to invite all of the Israeli relatives, and then not surprisingly those Israeli relatives didn’t show up leaving a lot of empty seats. If my finance had a large extended network of family and friends I’d almost  be ok with a large wedding, but it just doesn’t feel right to have a wedding with 30 people from his side and 150 from mine. That isn’t a wedding.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure someone like me where I am today in understanding finances can spend $50,000 on 5 hours – even if it’s not my money. To put perspective on that figure, for the last 5 years of my life I’ve been aiming to save $50,000 A YEAR after taxes, including interest from investments. It’s a lot of money, no matter how you slice it, and whose money it is.

Some of my friends say if your parents want to pay for the wedding, let them. But I’m almost ashamed of it. When I was 12 years old I had a lavish Bat Mitzvah which included custom-made t-shirts which I designed, musicians which included a band AND a dj, and a number of other items which led for one expensive coming of age ceremony. Back then I didn’t understand money at all. The party was fun and all, but it was ridiculous at the same time. How can a grown-ass woman rationally spend anywhere near $30k-$50k on one day? Well, this grown-ass woman might — but she’s still not sure.

I’m absolutely torn. The options seem to be accepting my parent’s gift and a world of compromise for throwing a party for 200 guests including many family friends/relatives who I don’t know that well, OR, paying for an event on our own which would be a lot smaller and cheaper. If we do an event on our own, most of the people I want to attend wouldn’t come, because it would be a smaller, less lavish affair. Maybe that’s not a terrible thing – but I feel like if you’re going to have a wedding to begin with, the point is introducing both families to each other – and with that, I would like to encourage a decent turnout from both of our sides. We have families across the country so a wine country venue with the promise of incredible dining and entertainment would do more to encourage an annual vacation vs a picnic in a park.

Yes, they say that whatever you do for a wedding, the people who want to be there will be. Those people don’t have tri-state area expectations. I definitely grew up in a culture where these fancy weddings are the norm. And, as privileged as I am to even be able to ponder what to do with a $30k+ budget, I should also just embrace the fact that my parents want to pay for this event – which will likely be a night that my finance and I will remember for the rest of our lives. So let’s just do this.

Even with a $50k budget (which is, again, ridiculous) there are still lots of cuts to be made. So a dream dress might be $10k. I looked on pre-owned wedding dress sites, where they sell one-night-worn dresses for 30% to 50% off. Well, buying a dress site-unseen for $5000 – even if it was a $10k dress – seems like a bad idea. Buying a used dress does intrigue me, however, since spending even $3000 on a dress to be worn one night is nuts, but spending $1500 on that same dress that was worn once makes a lot more sense (especially if you can resell it again, say, for $1000.)

At the moment, our decision du jour is the venue itself. Picking a venue and a date will make this a whole lot more real. My finance and I have similar ideas about what makes the perfect venue, but they aren’t always 100% aligned. We visited one venue yesterday that he adored – but it’s too expensive and honestly it was just not quite what I had in mind (paying $50k for a wedding which features fancy port-o-potties is not going to fly with my parents, and is also not on my preferred logistics list.) While we both love the idea of getting married outside in nature, I prefer a venue at the top of a hill with a view, he prefers one nestled in a valley. We both are hoping for some sort of water features — a lake, a stream, or ocean with dramatic cliffs. I prefer a venue where we are able to come set up in the morning, early, and he prefers one which enables late-night after partying well into the next day. We’re coming up empty handed.

All of this added stress should be fun, but planning a wedding is a lot of work. Yes, you can hire a planner (and I probably will) but that doesn’t solve everything – it doesn’t solve the issue of managing my parent’s expectations. If they are footing the bill, that will be another giant job on top of the FT job I already have, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to plan this shindig to begin with.

And I come back to thinking – isn’t this supposed to be a day about the joining of two people who are going to spend the rest of their lives together? Why should that cost $50,000?

 

 

Mother’s Day: Being Thankful for an Imperfect Mother

Now that I’m 31 and of age to be a mother, I acknowledge that age doesn’t actually poof make you mature enough to be a good mother. Mother’s are just little girls that grew up and made little creatures that they have to take care of – who then go on to become mothers (or fathers) more often than not before they have their own shit together.

I must be thankful that my mother was not a drug addict or alcoholic. She was not a thief, sex trafficker or Russian spy. For all this, I am grateful.

When I see a bunch of my friends post pictures of their mothers on mom’s day and say “thanks to my best friend” I have to wonder what it’s like to have that kind of figure in your life. Don’t get me wrong – my mom and I talk all the time. But we talk at each other. Not to each other. And, without a nurturing bone in her body, she never once was the type of mother who was “there” for me when I needed it most.

My mother embarrassed me time and again in my life in terms of oversharing my “accomplishments,” trials and tribulations to anyone who might be willing to listen – but the worst of it came from how she, along with my father, completely warped my world view and sense of self. I was trained from a young age that all that matters is being brag-worthy. That I’m inherently special and worthy of praise. Yet any shortcoming, any slight imperfection, was not something that I could work on and fix. It was just ignored. Replaced with some story of grandiosity which fueled my oft confused ego.

I’m grateful that despite my mother’s unyielding self-self-absorbtion, she doesn’t have an evil bone in her body. Her acts are just frustrating, inconvenient at best and nails-on-chalkboard annoying at worst. In the most meaningful moments of life, her only though is if she and the others posing around her look good in a photograph. She is just entirely void of the ability to empathize with others. Her own growth was stunted by her narcissistic mother, who is evil and selfish. My mother is selfish but not in the same way. She’ll put her needs above others but she won’t be angry at said others if their needs end up coming first. Her entire life since age 18 has been in an abusive relationship with my father. She’s never cried. Not even behind closed doors. Her emotions seem to have been stunted as a small child, and were never recovered.

There are worse mothers out there. Ones that go out of their way to use their own children. Ones who push their children to do things that they wouldn’t want to do otherwise. Even when I came out as bisexual she cringed but didn’t kick me out of the house (she hoped it was a phase.) And, in terms of being present versus not in my life, my mother was always there – I’m not sure if she was always there for me, but she was always there. Involved in the school PTA, all of my teachers and administrators knew her well. Everyone in the school knew my mother. Her entire identity, at least once I was born, was created by the accomplishments of her children. Without a sense of self, there became an impossible pressure on her kids to be special enough.

My mother did not teach me about love. My mother stayed when my father screamed and threw ice water in her face or when he grabbed her arm and threw her across the room. For all the effort my mother put into outside appearances in terms of dressing nicely and wearing makeup, she didn’t worry about my father’s repeated humiliation of her in public. After being out of the work force for so many years, she was too afraid to get divorced and have to return to the employed life. She enjoyed her life of shopping and lounging by the pool in the long summers and actively involved in her children’s schooling. She saw her own child getting beaten with a belt and said nothing, even though she knew this wasn’t right. She let her young child start to abuse her, because her child learned this was the only way to stop her chronic nagging. She was a victim, still is a victim, and was incapable of escaping the borderline personality disorder eggshells she walked on throughout her life – first with her own mother, and then her hot-tempered, violent husband.

I feel sorry for my mother. Sorry that she will always be incapable of having her own life. Sorry that she does not have the emotional depth to have a fulfilling adult relationship. Sorry that happiness in her life is defined by buying more and more things, even though she’s never actually happy. The normal state for her is anxious, constantly panicking about what needs to be done, yet never accomplishing much at all.

My great worry is that if I do have kids one day, I won’t be able to be a good mother. I know I will try to be more nurturing and caring, more there for them when they need it and out of the way when they don’t. I’d love to be the type of mother who one day, when my children are all grown up, is referred to as a close friend and confidant. I want to be a strong figure, with a satisfying career and sense of personal accomplishment, to show one example of a successful life and ideal, loving relationship.

And all the while I wonder who I’d be today if I was born to one of those mothers who – maybe is strict – but who knows what it means to love and care for her own children – to, outside of financial means, put her children’s needs ahead of her own, especially when they are young and most vulnerable. All of the crazy in my mind – the constant panicking – the inability to get things done without someone telling me I’m absolutely awful, and having to prove them otherwise – my recurring failure to lead a stable, normal life – or to stand up for myself when I should instead of burst into tears – is something that is so ingrained in me, I can’t shake it off. So much of that is due to my mother. My father had quite the influence as well, but since it’s mom’s day I’m writing about the female component of my parental pair specifically.

So as much as I miss my mother, I’m glad that I moved to the other side of the country. It makes me sad that as the years go by there will less and less time I can spend with her. It’s terribly upsetting that if I do have kids, she will barely ever see them – even though I imagine she’d be a better grandmother than parent, especially if my father isn’t around to scream and make for anxiety-ridden situations. I wish I could flip a switch and suddenly she’d know how to feel – how to care – how to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around her. I know that sounds awfully silly coming from someone such as myself who is also so self absorbed. But at least I have some awareness of the fact that this world isn’t all about me – or my future children – or my life. I’m just a speck in the infinite universe. I’m lucky and unlucky all at the same time, but more lucky than not all things considered. While some of what I have has been earned, most has been obtained through chance.

She would never be able to grasp that. She just doesn’t care about other people – or herself. She is driven by a relentless, all-encompassing need to have stories to tell about others who would want no part in the tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Thoughts on Ambition, Depression, and An Otherwise Ambivalent Life

When I was a child, I was remarkably judgmental. My parents raised me as such. For them, having grown up in households with parents who were not college educated, who were bluecollar workers or clergy, who lived only slightly above the lifestyle afforded by poverty, I understood their hatred of all things they worked so hard to escape. Although my town was quite diverse, as a child I always felt better than many of my peers. My parents created and reinforced this notion. I never felt better in the sense of actually liking myself or better in that I was able to make and maintain friendships, but I was told time and again that there is a large faction of others in the town, and while I was allowed to be friends with those people they were not like us.

To be clear, this was not a racial issue, as my parents looked down upon people of all ethnicities – though, of course others “like us” – Jewish families, typically got a pass. It was horrible, and yet at the time it made sense –  was our shared values of education and working hard to achieve goals, with a general disrespect for cultures that, by stereotype and outcome, didn’t have the same type of lifestyle. It wasn’t their fault, or at least it certainly wasn’t the fault of the children, and yet there was still this sense of sameness and otherness that pervaded our view of our town. It is how I, despite being miserably depressed and empty as a child, was able to find some solace in going shopping with my mother and purchasing hundreds of dollars in Nordstrom Brass Plum shirts and pants and skirts and dresses. It is how I managed to push myself harder to get where I am today, because deep down I was terrified of becoming one of “them.” I could never truly envision myself a starving artist or struggling parent. It wasn’t in the vernacular of my limited foresight. It was the only truth I knew, which now I know to be no more truth than any other dream or goal.

We were never rich, but my mother dreamed of great wealth and my father wasted away his life eating himself fat and working long hours to provide for our family so we could maintain our illusion of happiness in the shape of comparative success. My mother would frequently go on and on about how she wished she had married someone richer, not once considering returning to work herself. That was somewhat normal of a train of thought at the time. My father, meanwhile, earned a rather high salary for his middle management consulting role, and we lived a very comfortable life. My father liked to purchase “nice” things, although I didn’t always agree with his taste. My mother, for the most part, liked to purchase whatever QVC or the Clinique woman happened to be selling her. And I grew up with this painful sense of privilege compiled by the guilt of knowing none of it was deserved. Through each year, that guilt grew stronger. When my mother made an off-putting comment about a friend at school whose parents rented instead of owned, I cringed inside, knowing that criticism was completely unjust, especially against a child who had no choice to whom she was brought into this world.

I do believe that so much of your ambition is tied to how your parents wired you for reward. My reward came from meeting and surpassing expectations of this illusion of our stability and relative superiority. If I wasn’t to be a math genius, I was to be a great painter. I had to be something better than the others. I had to be special to matter to my parents at all. They certainly didn’t appreciate when that special came with a fragmented mind and a hyperactive, mess-creating child who longed so desperately for the attention and approval of others, unless, of course, this need for approval resulted in something they could brag about.

As an adult now, having been through enough sociology classes and life to know that everything that I thought was real as a child is a complete clusterfuck of a post-war generation and immigrant family mentality tossed down through the ages, I want out of this. Out of trying so hard to prove something to someone when no one is even listening anymore. Sure, my mother still shares every thing I post on Facebook as if I had won the freaking Olympics, with pride acceptable for a 12 year old daughter, perhaps, but not a 31 year old. And in my little puddle of psyche so empty and ambivalent I kick myself together trying to find the shape of a person who has some motivation, some drive, some reason to exist beyond merely existing or earning a paycheck. And I can’t find it. I can’t find anything that tastes real anymore, except the incredible and overwhelming love which my alter-ego of a boyfriend – warm, quiet, sensitive, needing no attention or approval – bequeaths to me in ample supply.

But one cannot live on love alone. And I often think if I didn’t have this love right now, I would be so fragile, I’d have nothing to keep me going. Thank god for his kind heart, his deep compassion for all the people of the world and all that is unjust and cruel. I am happy to have a safe place to go, wrapped in his arms, far from the judgmental warfare of my suburban family home.

I don’t want to just set out to help others when I’m not ready for it yet. One can easily do more harm than good. If I fuck up in business it’s terrible for sure but, at least in the communications side of things, a fuck up here or there never killed anyone. But to dedicate my life to helping others, I don’t want to do it for selfish reasons, because that won’t go over well. I need to find something deep within me, something so true, which I can become passionately obsessed with, something which can become my intention for life. It could be motherhood. It could be psychology. It could be design. It could be writing should I ever muster up a plot, realistic dialogue and the tenacity to draft more than eight pages. For someone who writes so much as I do it should be easy, but my stunted empathy has made it quite impossible to dream up others. I’m still trapped deep within myself, this little, weak, shell of a human being who attempts to claw out of her flesh to find her guiding light.

My Parents, My Aunt’s New House, and Taxes

If my father were to find out that I hadn’t filed taxes for four years, I would never hear the end of it. He would basically tell me I’m a horrible, disorganized person who is so irresponsible. I hear his voice now, sighing my name in judgement-filled disappointment. And that judgement would kick me straight in the stomach yet again, because I’d believe that there is something truly wrong with me, and that I’ll never be able to resolve my deep-rooted mess of a self.

But when it’s my own father who hasn’t filed the taxes, well, then the world is out to get him. He is being kind of enough to co-sign a loan for my divorced aunt who is attempting to purchase a house, and in order to do this they’ve asked for two years worth of back taxes documentation. Well, he doesn’t have that because while he’s paid what he believes he owes, he’s never actually filed for 2011-2013.

The reality of the situation is that both of my parents could be in very big trouble for not filing taxes. It sounds like he has actually paid the amount owed, but he can’t know for sure because he hasn’t actually filed and filled out the paperwork. My mother is concerned about this, of course, but whenever she brings it up with him he will go off on her and call her a jerk. He really likes to call her a jerk.

It’s so unfortunate for her to be in this spot where she has absolutely no control over the finances. If they were to be audited they could both be thrown in jail. Now, you could say that she should be more pro-active in ensuring her own taxes are filed on time, but my father keeps all of the financial information in boxes that even he isn’t able to find easily. He’s been procrastinating on filing taxes because everything is a giant mess. I wonder where I get this being a mess thing from, hmm.

To be “fair” to my father, he does have terminal prostate cancer, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend his remaining days doing taxes. Maybe in his mind, since the doctors told him he would die five years ago, he was putting it off so that he’d never actually have to deal with it. Who knows. It’s hard to task a dying man with filing paperwork to the IRS, but he’s lived much longer than the doctors have thought and he typically spends his days not schlepping up to Sloan Kettering in NYC watching television or napping.

I’m concerned about my parents, but there really isn’t anything I can do. My dad is so ridiculously stubborn and he won’t change that. He spent a good ten minutes yelling (over the phone) at my aunt’s loan officer because he thought that he only had to show two years of taxes for 2013 and 2014, and in fact they need 2012 and 2013. Well, he just loves to yell. He’s just so angry and I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more anger in his heart – no empathy at all for other people just trying to do their job – no concern for his own wife who he could be setting up for jail time. No, he’ll just spend all his time screaming at everyone else, because the whole world is against him, clearly.

What is a grown adult daughter to do in these situations? My mother is dealing with her own mother’s finances and taxes, which is quite ironic given she doesn’t have a handle on her own. My mother doesn’t get sad, ever – as the daughter of a narcissist herself she was not allowed to have emotions – but she is clearly frustrated by my father’s failure to just pay the taxes. She laughs it off with her nervous laugh, because her only emotion as far as I can tell is “anxious.” There is nothing I can do, but it upsets me that my father, even after all of these years, even after he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, even after his children have grown up and removed that stress from him, is still as bitter, selfish, and full of rage as he ever was. I’d like for there to be a day when he finally realizes that the world isn’t out to get him, that criticism can be constructive, that people deserve to be treated with respect. But that will never happen. I only get to hope that my parents do not end up in jail and my dad finally files the taxes.

My Parents, the Snow Birds

I never thought the day would come. Sure, all the other Jewish parents from the Tri-State area eventually buy a winter home in Florida, but my parents weren’t like that. They were just too east coast. They were too cultured. They were too… not that.

But, after a trip to Florida and dealing with the long cold winters, they’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge and purchase a winter home. Property in Florida is relatively cheap, so I don’t think it’s a terrible decision, but it’s just kind of unsettling to me that clearly it’s that time in life when this choice makes sense to them. I’m also perplexed by the amount of money they’re putting into fixing up the northeast house (and seem to be ignoring any set budgets) while now planning on spending half the year in a whole other state.

I’m not actually surprised by my mother’s interest in the half move – she loves her summers and long days by the beach and hates winters. She also grew up in Southern, California. But my father didn’t seem to be the type. I get that he has trouble getting around now so being in a place where snow and ice isn’t an issue also makes sense, even though his cancer doctors are in NY. This whole situation is rather surreal and yet another step in everyone getting older, myself included.

This also means that I will no longer be able to take a side trip to visit my parents on work trips, which most often occur during the winter months. It’s just the end of an era, and one that I wasn’t quite ready for, despite being over 30 and needing to get over this whole ironic nostalgia for my, in reality, quite unhappy childhood.

To Invest or Not to Invest?

Another surprise from left field – after offering to help front the money for my father’s credit card bill and have him pay me 50% of the interest they would charge, and him blatantly refusing such a preposterous suggestion, now he’s throwing around the idea that I should invest in their Florida condo. And he’s not joking.

The thing is, they have the money to pay for it outright, he just doesn’t want to pull his funds out of his 401k at the moment. And it wouldn’t hurt for me to have some investment in actual real estate. I haven’t run the numbers but logically it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Since I’d be investing in property owned by my parents, in the long run half of that property theoretically would be owned by me whether I invest in it or not. More importantly, though, is that if I were to purchase property in Florida for my parents to live in, the tax situation would get tricky. I’m not sure how it works – would I make them pay me rent? Pay me back for the loan with interest? Or would I just remain co-owner, or heck, buy the entire thing outright?

I’ve considered buying rental property before, but not property to rent to my parents. That just sounds overly complicated. And I’m not that interested in buying a condo in a 55+ community in Florida. The other piece of the puzzle is that while I haven’t been the best at saving liquid funds for a down payment of my own, if I put money into the property in Florida I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford a house of my own. So it seems like a really bad idea, even though it would provide the opportunity to diversify my portfolio a bit.

In any case, I have to get used to this crazy new world of my parents as “Snowbirds.” I’m not sure I ever will, but they sounded happy calling from the state, happier than I’ve heard them sound before. So that’s a good thing.

Feeling Lucky in Love

When you grow up with “everything” in terms of material possessions and funded hobbies up to the wazzoo, your mental health issues such as depression are thought to be pure youth melodramatics. But in my ripe old-ish age of 31, I’ve found what I was missing and didn’t know I wanted. I found this thing they call love. And like the many songs that have been written about how people search for love in all the wrong places and shapes and sizes only to find it isn’t what they expected at all, here I am, a girl who thought she could never find true love, knee deep in the definition of it.

Oh, he isn’t perfect, and I never expected perfection out of another human being. But both of us lacking parents with the ability to love in our childhood have found that we can pour out all this love we have to give, our sensitive souls smiling with each instant cuddling on the couch or waking up in each other’s arms. He’s turned me into a total softie. He’s taught me that the hollow space inside my heart doesn’t need to be filled temporarily with material possessions – that I could easily be happy living the rest of my life in a relatively small space with few items, if only I would be guaranteed the opportunity to spend that time with him, being terribly silly, immaturely mischievous, and at the same time spiritually whole in the glow of his calming, zen-like attitude towards the world which combats my east coast leather-like psyche turning it into mushy clay.

But having him in my life also makes me unclear of what I want, because just 10 years ago I could only be striving for some sort of “success,” which merely meant a story my parents could brag about to their friends and our family. I didn’t have anything I really wanted. Fame, sure, but even my lust for fame was fleeting when I realized I didn’t actually like being the center of attention, I just liked not being alone. So as this love of mine developed over the past decade I started to find myself and she wasn’t who I thought she was at all, for good and bad. She was a lot less ambitious. She cared less about being smart or rich or even beautiful. She suddenly wanted a life of stability over a life of restless leaping from story to story until her final breath. After running for so long all she wanted to do was stop and fall into loving arms. And that she did.

I like to work and to be creative and help create projects as part of a team, so I’m not aspiring to leave the workforce anytime soon. I just don’t care as much about wealth as I used to. I’d like financial security, to know I can stop work when I have kids and spend time with them if I want to; to be able to have choices. But I don’t need a giant house (thank goodness because unless I’m ultra rich there is no way to afford one here) and I certainly don’t need new cars or fancy clothes. Even my vacations tend to be more on the budget side, within reason, because I feel uncomfortable in any environment that is slightly luxurious.

All I want right now, and the me of 10 years ago couldn’t believe I’m saying this, but all I want right now is a family of my own. I want to have kids, I’m sure of it, and I want to be a mother who tries her best to be a good mother and friend to her children. I want a house big enough where I can go into another room to have alone time but not so big that it has extra space to fill with crap collected throughout the years. I appreciate interior design and aesthetics but I lean much more to simplicity than I did in the past. I may be splurging on face creams to deal with my starting-to-age skin, but beyond that, I don’t really have anything I spend on. I’m so busy working there isn’t time to shop or take fancy trips anyway, which is fine by me.

So love really changes a person… I know first hand. I see how my parents, never able to love, instead continue to try to find completeness in buying lots of stuff. My father — his collections of often not-so-great art, baseball figurines, books, DVDs, et al, filling up the house; and my mother, clothes and more clothes and then random contraptions QVC convinced her to buy. Stuff. So much stuff.

Relatedly, my dad called me the other day while I was at work – I picked up as my dad NEVER calls me so when he does I figure something bad happened so I should pick up. No, I forgot, the other reason he calls (it has happened once before that I can remember) is when my general region is on the news and he worries about me. Last time, years ago, it was because there was a very low tsunami risk on the California coast. This time it was the rain storm that was causing a little bit of flooding. I told him I was fine and I had to go, but he kept talking, because he doesn’t really care that I was at work or had to go, and he started telling me that he’s going to go ahead with the purchase of a winter home in Florida… which is fine by me, they can do what they want, but again, they just keep buying stuff, I don’t think any of it makes them happy, and it’s sad but they’ll never be happy because they’ll never know love. They can’t. They’re two narcissists who only can love themselves in a twisted sort of way.

But here I am, 31 years old, and I have this guy in my life who loves me for who I am. He’s been there through thick and thin. Literally picking me up from jail (after my first-ever and last-ever DUI.) Holding me through losing my jobs and being there as I moped through periods of unemployment until the next opportunity came around. He’s just this rock, this smiling, beautiful, charming, unlike anyone else in the world rock. It’s not that I can picture spending the rest of my life with him – it’s that I cannot picture “not” spending the rest of my life with him. We’re together now, the way couples are together, but I didn’t think that was something that I could ever be a part of. I thought that was reserved for people who were more mentally balanced, people who deserved such love. Yet I found it. And it’s worth more than anything money could buy. And for that, I’m forever grateful.

 

What is the American Dream?

The American Dream for my parents was to be able to achieve a lifestyle for their family and children better than the ones they grew up in, in the lower middle class. And they both achieved that dream — with upward mobility and college education they were able to obtain a comfortable upper middle class life with my mother staying at home to take care of the kids – my father worked long hours during the week as a consultant and traveled to maintain that lifestyle but he was still home on the weekends and, given there was no Internet, when he was home he was focused on the family. We ate dinner together. He tried to help me with my homework. Our family had plenty of issues, but on paper, and in front of our suburban house sitting on 3/4 acre, we were the American Dream realized.

On the train earlier today my mind drifted to the concept of the American Dream today. My Dream is to be able to afford a house, have a family, not work 10 hour days, have time to actually enjoy life, but still have a fulfilling career. I’m asking for too much because that’s not a realistic dream. To be successful at my current job I need to work 10+ hour days and often on the weekends, and forget about vacation. I’m not complaining, that’s just the reality of the situation. This sort of lifestyle is challenging but do-able without kids, I just can’t imagine being able to maintain this if I am to have a family in a few years. And then what?

I like working. I know I go crazy trying to be perfect at it and struggle to prioritize tasks and get the meaningful stuff done, but ultimately I’d prefer to work than not to work. And, if I’m going to work a job for income beyond paying the basic bills, I want to work a job that is interesting, challenging, and offers the opportunity to learn on a regular basis. However, that seems to be synonymous with working long hours and getting home after 8pm, passing out an hour or so later, and waking up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.

First world problems, I know. I should be so thankful that I have such a great job – and I am. I’m not even talking about “today,” more so – where this is getting me to in the next 10… 20 years of my life. From 30 to 50, who will I be? Will the next 20 years blur before my eyes as every second of my life is dedicated to work? That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it’s just the reality of the American Dream. Work hard and you can have it all, yes, have it all, except the time to enjoy it all. If you’re lucky you’ll have saved up enough to have some sort of reasonable couple of years of retirement before your body gives up on you.

Is the new American Dream five or ten good years of retirement in between working yourself ragged and being stuck in a nursing home? I’m sure that’s not how everyone looks at things. I just think I’ve actually advanced into a role today where I’m now seeing what it’s like to be a senior leader – and all of the responsibility that really goes into that – and the fact that you’re expected to be available 24/7 – and again, I think that’s ok now, but how would I do that when I’m a mother? I’m exhausted now and I have no other responsibilities. So how do people actually do this?

Maybe it’s just the lifestyle of working for a small company that I’d find challenging for the long term… or maybe it’s all executive roles… if you’re not fighting fires to save customers or get our the latest release you’re out mingling and networking. I never thought I’d have that kind of life… then again, I never thought I’d be in any sort of “business” to begin with. Business was for the boring people who followed the rules. But now, I’m just one of those boring people who attempts to follow the rules… and I want to somehow picture what my life will be for the next 20 years and prepare myself for this while focusing on helping my company win today, and doing whatever it takes.

But I’m scared… because I don’t want this to be my entire 30s and 40s. And either I’m going to get really good at it so I’ll never be able to step down from the opportunities on the table / or I’m not, and, well, it’s even scarier to think that I still have to figure out what I am actually good at… and know that it might be too late to pivot so drastically. For now, I’m focused on winning. But I wish I understood what my American Dream is.

Happy Birthday To Me… an Awkward Conversation with My Father

It’s past two a.m. on my 31st birthday morning. I’m already in this odd mood and exhausted, not in the mood for any sort of serious conversation. Unfortunately I started to doze off on the couch which meant at 2am I had to walk past my awake father in the kitchen who apparently had something he had to get off his chest. No, he didn’t want to wish me a “happy birthday.” What started as a somewhat kind “do you want to talk” inquiry launched into a tirade about how my father is upset that my boyfriend hasn’t proposed to me yet and that, at the same time, he hasn’t said hi or thank you to them in the time he has been at our house, which has now been a few days on and off.

I understand my father’s concern – and he’s expressed this many times before – but this time it was clearly more pressing for him. It made me quite uncomfortable. My response is always that I’m not sure I even want to get married and maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I have a good job. I can take care of myself. Etc, etc. My father, being of the traditional mindset (who refused to get a divorce despite it being obvious both him and my mother would be much better off apart from each other and who also pretty clearly hate each other and/or love themselves too much to ever love another person who doesn’t fuel their narcissistic supply) is freaking out that 1) I’ll never have children and 2) That I’ll have children out of wedlock and 3) That I won’t live the life he envisioned for me.

This may be fairly typical of parents from that generation, and I understand that he’s also looking at not having many good years left due to suffering from terminal cancer, so I try to be sensitive to this, but at this point I don’t know what to say. I want to just scream at him – what do you want me to do? You think starting over now, even if that was the right thing to do (which it isn’t – my boyfriend and I are going to be together permanently and already have discussed this) – how would starting over help matters any? Do you really think I’d be able to find another guy in this world who is as compatible with me and obtain a marriage proposal and jump into having kids before I’m too old to even have kids? It just doesn’t make any sense. Logistically, love aside, I’m best sticking with my current option if the end goal is grandchildren.

That said, I understand that he is upset that my boyfriend hasn’t said hi or thank you. What can I say, my bf is an odd duck – but so am I. He’s shy and he grew up in a household where social norms were far from the norms. While I have social anxiety and struggle to act like a normal human being I have learned, I guess thanks to my parents, how to fake it. They’re so good at faking it that they can convince people who don’t know them well that they’re an actual sane, lovely couple reaching their senior years. It’s amazing how my father is so completely delusional about many things – caring so little about his own appearance or other’s emotions yet being so overly paranoid about how other’s chose to live their lives. I wanted to shout “fine, if you have an issue with him then we just won’t visit again.”

At this point marriage is on my mind too, though, and I know in some respects my father is right. While I’m not sure I actually want to get married due to the marriage penalty taxes and huge potential losses in annual income, I’d like to think that at the least my boyfriend would have proposed by now and we can discuss it. Tomorrow is our 8.5 year anniversary. I know he’s been waiting on me to learn how to keep my stuff organized in our house (which is a huge challenge due to ADHD) so I have to hold up my end of the bargain before he puts a ring on it and we can discuss whether we want to get “real married” or “legal alternative to marriage married.”

Regardless, it’s going to be an awkward week at my house, to be sure. I just hope no fireworks are set off.

Her First Grey Hair… and Turning 31

“You have one,” my boyfriend exclaimed in a taunting manner. “I have one what,” I asked, half paying attention. “You have a grey hair,” he said, giggling, knowing that he was pushing my buttons just a few days before turning 31 (to be fair I’ve teased him re: his own grey strands for years now.) “WHAT,” I exclaimed, suddenly feeling the blood rush away from my face, breath stop, and the panic of time punch me smack in the stomach for the nth time this week. If turning 31 wasn’t enough god though to start the decolorization process of my hair as a gift for surviving another year.

Now that I’m about 31 and topped off with one silver grey hair (or, apparently, the start of one in about an inch of root) it’s very clear that in order to accomplish anything in the life of mine I must make haste. It’s so easy to get lost daydreaming about the meaning of all this and coming to yet another lapse of solid conclusion. I think back to the days when I felt excitement for the future, for moments, for all the ups and downs of life… and I try to swallow the memory of those days when there was true unfiltered anticipation and trepidation… today I’ve completely lost that part of myself. I look forward to absolutely nothing.

Maybe that is being my bipolar self yet again, perhaps I’m in a depressed phase. Or maybe this is just the way a rational person approaches life. What will the next thing that I look forward to be? A year ago I took a trip to southeast Asia with a friend and I was somewhat excited about that – it seems travel to new places is the only thing that really excites me anymore, yet I don’t like traveling on my own and I don’t actually have time to travel with work. Instead, I just am trying to be heads down, really focused on my job. I know I’m in such a fortunate place where I have a great position in a company where I actually am interested in the subject matter and I like the people I work with and I’m getting paid well. Everything is going so great. I should be extremely elated right now. But happiness is not what I feel. I feel the rush of saving money each month. The rush of knowing that I’m increasing my networth so one day I can be free – but even if I could actually accomplish financial freedom what would that actually buy me? I spent two months without a job and I was miserable and ready to go back to work by the end of the first week.

I am convinced that the next thing I’d be actually excited about is having children and seeing them grow up and go through their own phases of over excitement in discovering their new world. Yet I don’t see a life as a mother and life as a startup executive jiving together. I don’t think I can do both. Sure, some women can, but I’m barely able to handle such a high-pressure job without the kid(s) nagging for my attention and time. I’m pretty sure I’d fall completely apart trying to do both at once, even with the support of a future-husband who would be more than thrilled to stay at home.

And, of course, I shouldn’t rely on children to resolve this emptiness in my life, the hollowness in my heart. I don’t have time for hobbies but I’m sure if I had the motivation I’d figure out a way to make time. I don’t do well in a life without structure yet I’m terrible at making structure for myself. The days and months and years just tick tick tick on and on. Soon more grey hairs will pierce through my scalp, swallowing the vibrant strands which tease as the remnants of youth. Meanwhile I’m watching my always angry father fade away from his cancer and my mother continue to nag as she nags and all of life just slip past as I beg of it to stop so I can embrace it as fully as I once did, back when every moment meant more than it should have, instead of near nothing, a fractured fragment of its absolute worth.

Gone Girl: The Modern Marriage Commentary

The stories within a story of my life are endless. Take, for instance, my mother’s decision for us — my father, her, and myself — to go see the movie “Gone Girl” at the movie theatre for our family night activity together. I haven’t been paying much attention to pop culture lately so I didn’t know what the movie was about other than a wife’s disappearance. My mother had read the book so she had “a clue.”

If you plan to see the movie and/or read the book, spoilers ahead, fair warning. So the plot pretty much starts out with a woman and a man who supposedly fall in love at a time in their life when they’re young, self-entitled, horny, and everything is going right for them. But then the shit of life hits the fan – parents get sick, recessions crumble the economy, people lose their jobs, trust funds are tapped into – and the two lovebirds realize that they aren’t in a relationship with the person they wanted to be in the first place. The prenup just adds to the jealousy and drama once the perfect relationship falls apart. Because, as I took it, all of us are faking who we are when we’re dating and all of us say we’re not going to end up like those horrible married couples that nag and bicker at each other and have sex like route routine vs with passion and many of us do. Then one cheats with something newer and younger and more like the fantasy that they originally married, the other feels hurt, angry, and wants vengeance. For a moment they may even want the other partner to greatly suffer for the rest of their lives.. And there you have the plot behind Gone Girl, or at least the rational for it.

Well, going to see this movie with my parents, for those of you who follow my blog and understand my relationship with my parents and their relationship with each other, is a bit of a farcical plot line to begin with. Add to that attending the movie in one of those  newer “luxury” cinemas with the comfort seating and recalling chairs, and both my mother and father for large chunks of the movie falling asleep and beginning to snore quite loudly, and their golden commentary on the film afterwards, I couldn’t help but find myself cackling inside.

After the film was over my dad could in no way shape or form hide his disgust at the film. With my father there are no opinions that matter but his own. This time around I mostly agreed with him (it was a dumb plot line in terms of what actually happened and the constant elevator music to, I think, add a state of creepy and coldness to the film, was annoying as fuck, though I appreciated the social commentary.) Yet when my father has an opinion, he takes it personally. He even gets a bit angry or at the least annoyed – like, how dare anyone create a movie that’s so stupid that other people like that he has to see.

I must admit my favorite review from him of the evening was his frustration with the detective being female, as, and I quote, “that’s just not realistic.” He apparently has been annoyed for years with all the leading female detective characters souring the reality of his favorite shows like Law and Order. This conversation, of course, led into my mother noting that it is like how there are too many gay people on television these days – not that she has a problem with gay people – but there “just aren’t that many gay people” and that too isn’t realistic. I asked her to note a specific show where a gay person was written into it where it didn’t make sense (I’m waiting for her to tell me about some show in Rural Georgia where there’s a flamboyantly gay person who never gets threatened or shot, and perhaps that I could believe as unrealistic) but then she goes on to tell me she doesn’t watch a lot of TV these days so she can’t name a specific case, this is just in general.

Oh, my parents. At some point you just have to accept the crazy that is. My favorite part of last night was after the movie when we went to a cafe for dinner. Following our crepes my father ordered a pecan tarte. I asked if I could have a bite and he said ok. I noticed that there weren’t actually many pecans on top and tried unsuccessfully to secure one with the tiny piece I took off the site of the tarte. My mother then asked my father if she could have a taste. “Sure,” he said, as if it was rude of her to assume he might say no (but heaven forbid she just take it without asking, that would start a shit show.) My mother, knowing that any cut she takes will be horrible in the eyes of my father, asks him to cut her a piece. He, again in some sort of offended manner says “you cut your own piece.” She noted out loud that if she did he would say “she took too much.” He continued that she can cut her own piece and he wouldn’t get upset.

Ha.

She then initially takes a tiny bit of the tarte only to cut further into it about half way to get a piece with one of the few pecans on it. It does look like she took half the tart but I could see clearly that she just wanted to get the pecan. My father, of course, throws his hourly temper tantrum by saying something along the lines of “what the hell” and grabbing back the piece she cut with the pecan on it and leaving her with the original tiny piece she had cut. He then, as a peace offering, and to retain his belief that he’s a rational person, took a tiny pecan and put it on top of her tiny piece of the tart.

In reference to the film, I can’t imagine how my parents ever were the type of people who were young and in love. Was my mother just so beautiful and youthful when they met (she was 17 so maybe) that my father looked past her lack of ability to empathize with others? Was my father so stable and successful that by the time they got married my mother just looked past the fact that he smacked her glasses off her face on their honeymoon and broke them? I don’t know how these two were ever in love. Like the characters in the film they’re extremely self-absorbed people who instead of working together on communicating just make up their own stories, live their own lives. My dad was always opposed to a divorce — because it “hurts the kids” — while my mother was to scared to leave as she didn’t want to have to “work” another day in her life.

So here we are. Neither of them tried to frame the other for murder, though I wouldn’t be absolutely surprised if one day the result of my father’s explosive anger seriously injures my nagging mother. I’m surprised it hasn’t so far. Oh, there have been bruises and other pains, but nothing deadly. They seem to work together some how in their home of narcissism. One fight after the other after the other. It really is not pleasant to be here. I come back to spend time with family because logically I think that is what I should do. With my father dying and my mother getting older I don’t want to regret not spending the time with them – and I enjoy to some extent being in my childhood home for the few years left when it’s still in our family name. The rest of the visits are usually painful if not viewed as a sitcom and watched with an internal monologue of canned laughter.

I do worry about my own relationship and marriage – if I am to get married – and how that will play out in life. It’s easy to say that you won’t be like that, not a spiteful, angry couple, but as Gone Girl points out maybe we all turn into that a little bit. We’re so caught up in ourselves that we forget to care for the other. When times are good and there’s money and there’s security we can get through it, but then when the hard parts of life strike things start to crumble. I don’t want to be that way with my partner. I already hear the nagging going on in my head, we have our arguments, our moments of tension. I try to remind myself the value of the relationship is in the love itself, in the comfort, the partnership, the security. I can’t imagine a person in the world who could be a better fit for me and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. As long as I focus on building the financial life that I want, and to save the money now versus later, to get to a point where with the exception of a major financial meltdown in the markets, I don’t have to worry about his career.

That’s why I’m so neurotic and crazy about my saving. I don’t want to ever rely on anyone else to support my happiness or security. It’s the moment we rely on someone else to do this when love cannot be the center of a relationship, it’s money – and when money is the center of the relationship that relationship will undoubtedly fall apart.