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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Cohabitation Conundrums and Pet Peeves

Okay, so you've been seeing someone for a while, presumably happily. Then one of you gets a bright idea. Possibly you both think it's one of those lightbulb moments, and that it's brilliant in its simplicity. Perhaps it doesn't even pop up as an idea per se, but rather a talking point in a conversation, and somehow you wander off the beaten path into "Destination: Insanity," where no one in the relationship has ventured before. Maybe one of you thinks the other needs a frontal lobotomy, and vows to run away at the first opportunity.

For the sake of argument, however, let's assume both parties in a relationship are happy enough together that they actually want to share living space, and that when the idea floats into the nearby airspace no one is swatting at it like a pesky mosquito. That being established, now what? Do you scout the apartment listings and hire a moving company?



Well, first things first. Determining whether or not it actually is a good idea is probably an idea destined for induction into the Brainiac Hall of Fame. There are a few question that need to be asked here:
  • How well do you know each other? It isn't necessarily about how long you've known one another, but how well. Some people can be dating for a year and barely know one another - for three reasons. One, they hardly spend any time talking, or in each other's company. Two, they don't talk about anything in-depth that will allow any mutual knowledge. Three, they've never had to face any difficulties as a couple and have no idea how their partner processes those situations. Screaming fits might not be desired.
In other words, do you have any idea what it's going to be like to be around this person all the time, and are you absolutely certain you're not going to end up in jail for killing them at some point down the road?
  • Are your goals for the future compatible? Let's face it. Many people romanticize relationships and picture a moment of church bells and stale cake to be smooshed into one another's respective faces. There's nothing wrong with that, if that's what you both want. If only one of you is cherishing those dreams, you're more likely to be smooshing dog crap into the upholstery of their cherished La-Z-Boy.
You need to talk about every single deal-breaking dream you've got, whether those dreams involve an infestation of rugrats, ball-and-chain ceremonies, or trips around the world to look at that exact spot where Ghandi went on a hunger strike. When I say deal-breaking, I really mean that. We all have them. We each have many dreams, but not all of them are things that we absolutely must have in our lives before we die. Sometimes there are compromises, but quite often there aren't.
  • Are you spiritually compatible? Spirituality is often only an issue if you're planning on having the aforementioned ankle-biter invasion. If one of you is a Catholic and the other is Hindu, or even if one of you is an atheist, you could experience a few "Holy crap!" moments once the short humans with the overly large heads arrive on the scene.
Discussing how you intend to raise your children, and what portions of your faith you wish those children to adhere to, could save you major arguments in the future - not to mention a divorce and court hearings. If you're not willing to compromise on the faith of your children, you absolutely must choose someone who is either of the same faith, or who honestly does not care what faith is chosen for their offspring. Do not assume because someone is an atheist that they don't care if your kids practice Judaism. They may be dead-set against it.
  • Are your daily habits compatible? If you're even considering cohabitation, you're probably not against pre-marital sex, so let's assume for now that you've managed to get some nooky during the whirlwind that is known as courtship. Leaving aside sexual compatibility for the moment, which is a book in and of itself (but I'm willing to tackle it in a paragraph a little further down anyway), we need to figure out if Person A puts the cap on Exhibit T, and Person B puts the seat down on Exhibit L. If you're doing the hunka-chunka, and are considering sharing a residence so that you can presumably do the hunka-chunka on a more regular basis, you've probably spent a night or two together. If one of you is running off ten minutes after knocking boots, it does not bode well for the success of your future cohabitation.
Toothpaste tubes and lavatory lids aside, maybe your schedules conflict in such a way that would make regular bed-sharing difficult, or one of you is a neat-freak who gags at the site of slovenly socks. Is your partner a sports nut that screams so loudly at the television that the neighbour's rugrats have gone deaf? Maybe you bring your work home with you all the time, and your partner acts more like a frat boy who has to smoke a bowl with his bros.
  • If you already have your own children, do they get along with your partner and any children they have? Do you get along with your partner's kids? This one is a biggie. You can't take your potential future step-child to the pound if there are incompatibilities here, much as you might think it would do them a world of good. Plus, they may go so far as to bite you if you try.
Kids really make things complicated when they aren't shared offspring. You have to deal with every one of the above-mentioned issues with your partner's kids, on top of dealing with whether or not you actually like the spoilt little buggers. You can ooh and aah all you want over your partner's kid, and put up a good fake front, but you need to be completely honest with yourself about how likely it is that you'll be able to stand being around them for longer than ten minutes.
  • Do you have compatible pets? Pets usually aren't as bad as kids. Having said that, they do come with their own set of issues. Some animals are grumpy. Some are predatory and/or jealous. If one of you has a pet snake, and the other a pet mouse, well...you get the idea. Cats and birds are known adversaries, and it's not always the cat that comes out the winner there - just ask any parrot owner.
Introducing pets is a very delicate process, assuming your pets can't be kept separate or in cages at all times. If it's done right you can still have problems if you don't continue to keep an eye on the situation. However, if it's done wrong the damage can be permanent. The introduction has to be done cautiously, and only two pets at a time. Both animals need to be fully controlled by their owners, and the experience needs to be a relatively pleasant memory for both creatures. In other words, don't allow one animal to chomp down on the other and try to shake the life out of it. Have treats handy to distract the animals. Both animals need to feel secure, and know that there's no threat. Sometimes it's best if you just allow animals to get used to one another's scents first, without physically introducing them, if there's a real danger of one animal attacking the other. Swap their blankets back and forth for a few days.
  • Are you financially compatible? Money is a major bell-ringer for some. If one of you is frugal and the other spends more money than they earn, it's a big bone of contention when you're pooling your resources. That, of course, is something else that needs to be determined before shacking up with your new love slave. Are you sharing funds, keeping things separate, or a combination of the two? This is not the time to be making ass-you-me type decisions. If you do you can find that ass handed to you in court if you neglect to pay your portion of the rent because you thought it was 'our' money and not 'yours' and 'mine'. Yet another issue with money has to do with large purchases, no matter how you choose to handle your funds. A sofa or bed is a joint purchase, generally, but they're nothing compared to a house. For that matter, are you willing to even consider the purchase of a house? In this day and age, that's more of a commitment than most marriages.
In the vast majority of polls conducted, sex and money are two of the biggest reasons people fight. I can't help you with your sex life - mostly because I don't want to know what weird things you might be getting up to. I have my own weird things to contend with. Money is one area where advance communication can make a world of difference, though. If a compromise is reached before a decision ever has to be made, and both parties follow through on their agreements, all's well that ends well. If not, expect your own bell to be rung a few time - or even your ears from all the shouting that's going to go down.
  • And finally, are you sexually compatible? No, you're not supposed to actually answer me. You're supposed to carry on that conversation with yourself and your partner, and leave us innocent folk out of your bedroom Battle Royale. Have you been truly honest with your partner about what you like and don't like? Have you shared the secrets that you intended one day to foist upon them? Are you happy with the ways things are going there - and if you're not happy, are you and your partner working toward a solution?
Now this is just my opinion, but then it's my blog and I'll have a potty mouth if I want to, but I do not think it's a good idea to move in with someone (or especially to engage in the matrimonial legal tangle) when you have never had sex with them. Sex being one of those really big issues that people fight about, it makes perfect sense to me to figure out whether or not it's something you're likely to fight about. We all have those times when we'll argue about almost anything in a relationship, but a complete lack of sexual compatibility will result in mind-blowing fights rather than other mind-blowing activities, and quite possibly some nasty insults that your ego might never recover from. Getting your freak on is necessary if you intend to be anything more than friends. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. If there's no sexual chemistry or activity, you're nothing but friends. That's fine if you've spent forty or fifty glorious years together and things have petered out (no pun intended - okay maybe it was), but if you're just getting started and there's nothing there you've got serious problems and you're not actually involved in a romantic relationship.
 If, after all this insanely boring self-reflection, you still think it's a good idea to share living space, there remains the possibility a frontal lobotomy is in order. Maybe not, though. Maybe it'll be the best thing to happen to you. Nobody can answer these questions for you, but if you're not asking them of yourself you're probably going to end up wishing for that frontal.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Screaming Memes and Thriving After Rape

There are some things in my life that make me proud - no I don't care about deadly sins. If I've done, or have been a part of, something that is truly important and worthwhile, I'm proud of myself for standing up when others have not. One of those things is my involvement with various advertising campaigns - either in support of victims, or for educating people to prevent more people being victimized. Such was the case yesterday when a new meme was created from my contribution to the RAINN Day campaign and Unite Against Rape. This particular campaign is geared toward stopping rape on college and university campuses. They asked for suggestions on how campus rape could be prevented, so I sent in an e-mail.

Well, they apparently liked what I sent them, because they decided they would create several memes quoting my suggestions. This is the first of the series with my quotes:


I'm very grateful to them for including my blog URL, but even if they hadn't I would still have sent in my suggestions. Being a part of something like this is a huge deal for me. RAINN is a very big organization, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the United States, and I've gone to their website in the past to research rape statistics for various articles I've written.

UniteWomen.org isn't exactly a poor relation in the activism arena, either. According to Wikipedia it has 21,000 members. I have become friends with a number of the members, including those that run it, and I have to say they're a wonderful bunch of women. In some cases I was Facebook friends with them long before I realized they were even a part of it. They did a meme of me a few months ago, with their Stand Against Rape campaign, where we were all standing for the Steubenville rape victim to let her know she wasn't alone and it wasn't her fault. It turned out I was friends online with the woman who actually created my meme, and I had no idea until a few days ago.

So, yes, I'm quite proud to be a part of this campaign, and to be associated with such a great group of people. +RAINN helps so many victims with their hotline. +Karen Teegarden of UniteWomen.org, as well as +Renee Davis, +Shannon Fisher, and +Sarah W. Chamberlin, do outstanding work with these campaigns, and I have nothing but respect for the care and effort they put into helping women. They don't just get involved in rape-prevention and awareness campaigns, either. They get involved in the political arena as well, fighting legislation that is detrimental to women, and there's been plenty of that going around in 2013.

Obviously, considering my childhood experiences, rape prevention is a topic that is very dear to my heart. I  know very well that you can not only survive the experience, but thrive and have a normal life eventually. That doesn't negate the damage that's done in the meantime, however. Being raped means that you get a portion of your life stolen from you and you lose the person you were. You never get that person back - the person that you would/should have been, had you not been raped. That life is completely stolen from you. Most people who have been raped, and I include men in this because I've known some that it has happened to, lose many years of happiness and productivity to misery, anger, fear, depression, self-hate, shame and guilt. Those are years that they can never get back.

My own experiences happened during childhood - starting around seven or eight, and right through thirteen. I've only been truly okay for approximately the last ten years. No more flashes of things that happened, no sick feelings coming over me at odd times, and no bad dreams related to it. Basically it took me about twenty years to move beyond being raped to the point where I could really be a happy and whole person. Life is too short to allow people to steal twenty years from anyone. Penalties for rapists should match the damage that they've done, yet most rapists do not spend anywhere near twenty years in prison. The largest percent of them are never brought to justice at all.

Then there are the people who never really do get over being raped. It's worse when it's a family member you're supposed to be able to trust, such as my own situation where it was my grandfather first, and then my half-brother. The ones who are forced to endure the company of those family members, by way of family  gatherings, have a much harder time dealing with it. I was lucky because I never saw my grandfather after the age of fourteen, and then he died. Many years passed between occasions where I saw my brother, I haven't seen him in years, and I will probably never see him again. I don't have to worry that I will be cornered somewhere and something unwelcome might happen. All of that is over and done with for me, and knowing that has helped me make peace with the past.

I don't use the term 'survivor' for myself. I've never liked it. It implies that I'm just getting by in life, doesn't it? I feel like I'm thriving, not surviving. Spending almost six years as a single woman, up until very recently, I kept myself company and enjoyed the silence. I'm comfortable and at peace with the past. It can be done. People who have been raped can come back from it to live an amazing life. What I went through strengthened me to the point where there is very little I worry, or stress out, about. What I went through didn't damage my attitudes toward sex, thankfully. I never became overly sexual, and I never became fearful of it so that I didn't want it in my life. I'm open-minded and have no problem talking about it. It's a natural and enjoyable part of life, and what was done to me did not take that away from me.

If there is anything I would share with the world when it comes to being subjected to rape, it would be to tell those who are victimized that there will come a day when you can be happy again. You really can. I know I am...after a lot of hard work. It was totally worthy everything I went through, however, to end up exactly where I am today

Monday, 4 November 2013

Beyond My Wildest Dreams, By Any Name

As mentioned in other blog posts, I'm 42 years old. I've been through three marriages, spectacularly failing at them all. At my age I had serious doubts that I would even find a relationship that would work for me. However, a good friend of mine gave me a kick in the ass a number of weeks ago and told me I shouldn't give up on relationships and love, or blame myself for the fact that I hadn't done so well on the marriage front. Since he knows a lot about my personal history, including a really rough childhood, he told me with some knowledge and authority that I was just doing what I needed to do at the time, in order to find what I needed in my life. I took those words to heart, and despite a hiccup or two I ended up finding success with online dating.

I say success (though there are no guarantees) because I found something I think is pretty incredible. Almost miraculous, in fact. Not just something, but someone, with whom I seem to have everything I ever wanted or needed. My only problem is that I can't get enough of being around him.

When people talk about love and relationships everyone has their own ideas of what would be the best for them, and what they value most in a potential partner. Some want companionship more than they want anything else. Some want lots of sexual chemistry. Some want a potential spouse and/or someone to have children with. None of these things are necessarily right or wrong - they're simply what we feel we need.

I'm not sure I really knew what I was looking for in a partner; I just knew there were a lot of things about me that a man would need to accept. I have a strange lifestyle, much akin to that of a vampire from what I've been told, and it's not something I can change - nor would I want to.

There are so many things I didn't know I needed, though, and so many more things I didn't realize were even possible. For example, I had no idea that I could be truly calm just lying in someone's arms, despite having chemistry that brings me to my knees (I mean figuratively at the moment, just in case there are perverts other than myself who are reading this). I've never been able to turn off my brain and just relax while being held, but now I don't even have to make an effort at it. I didn't know I could talk to someone for 8 or 9 hours in a day, or spend 12 hours in their company and the two of us would still be talking. I didn't know I could be held and know without a doubt that I was really wanted there.

I guess what I didn't know was that I could really focus on someone, to the point where I'm not thinking about the million other things I need (or want) to be doing. I began living in the moment, because the moment became vital.

Something else slammed into my consciousness within the last 24 hours. It was a confidence I didn't know I could achieve. Like so many people I see the physical flaws in myself far more vividly than others see them. I found myself able to make jokes about them, knowing they just didn't matter. Suddenly years of self-consciousness about certain things evaporated and I said to hell with it - I wasn't going to let those things be anything other than a punchline. It wasn't a conscious effort, though. It just came from hearing the right words at the right time, from the one person I needed to hear them from. Not that real confidence comes from someone else - it's more that the words made me think, and then something shifted inside of me.

When you can be with someone and really feel that the 'worst' things about you are not the glaring issues you thought they were, it's an unbelievable gift that can never be taken away - no matter what the future holds.

I had no idea how important it was to me to find someone capable of comforting me, either. Having lived so long without that, it never occurred to me that I should expect it, so I guess I didn't allowed myself to want that from a partner. I actually got some bad news a couple of weeks ago, when I discovered that I might have been responsible for the death of my ferret. I had no idea how seriously my actions would impact him, and it devastated me. Nearly 7 months after his death I still grieve for Stimpy every single day, and to learn that I might have killed him with my ignorance was a devastating blow. Instead of being shrugged off when I needed a shoulder, though, somehow I was given exactly the words I needed to hear, again from the one person I needed to hear them from. He took away so much pain with a single sentence. I doubt he even knows the impact he had on me at that moment.

Love isn't a declaration given to you in three words. Love is what is breathed into a relationship at every significant moment. It's there when it is needed. Love is when you can't keep your hands off of someone even when sex isn't the intention - you just need to touch them. Actions are love. Love is the way you live within a relationship. It's just there. Being cherished, respected and accepted is something you can feel. Three words can't express or contain what love is meant to be. People say it all the time, without living it.

Finding someone who makes you feel like this begs the question, "Why couldn't I have found you years ago?" In my case I know the answer to that question. Some things have to happen just the way they happen. Life prepares us for these moments so that we can see them when they come to us. Some of us learn the lessons early, and some don't. Until we learn the lessons, though, we don't recognize what may be right before us. Twenty years ago I looked for completely different things. The choices I made twenty years ago were the wrong ones, but nothing would have derailed those choices without me experiencing the results. I made the same choices over and over, getting the same result. Finally I changed what I was doing. What I looked for was completely different, and lo and behold I found it.

Even five years ago I would never have been wise enough, or experienced enough in my own life, to value what's important to me now - the things that I've found that make me so happy. At that time (for the first time in my life) I wasn't running from one relationship to the next. For once I took time away from all that to live and be quiet within myself. I didn't need company, because I enjoyed my own. I was as surprised as anyone else when I signed up for a dating site a while ago. I knew I was ready to be involved with someone again, but whether or not I was ready for the dating world was another issue altogether. I can only be grateful I didn't have to endure that many first dates before I found the man I had learned to look for. Everything I get from our relationship beyond that can not be trivialized as icing on the proverbial cake, though. They aren't mere fluff to decorate the surface of our relationship; they're vitally important even if I didn't know I needed them.

It's a beautiful thing to feel utterly safe with someone; safe in the way that you can share details of your soul and know those secrets will be respected. Being safe with someone can open up the floodgates of our emotions. We can bring things to the light of day that we never dared express before, and shining a light on them can be a huge relief when we see they aren't as dark as we thought they were. Fear of judgment is no longer an issue. You know your secrets will not be used against you at a later date.

No matter what happens, my world has been rocked. Just knowing that these things are possible has made a permanent change in how I look at relationships. Life is like that, though - if you allow it to be. It teaches you new and wonderful things all the time. You just have to be open to the possibilities.