It starts with love

Recently I have been recapturing my glory days. Around the time I had two kids under the age of five, my mom asked me how I was doing. While I felt like things were going pretty well―I love my family and my job―I found myself saying, “I am totally happy and grateful and all that jazz but I feel like I am treading water. I don’t know what I’m missing, but I am missing something.” A few days later she called and told that she wanted to buy me a membership at the local tennis club. I hadn’t even picked up a racquet in 15 years! I had all the excuses: I was too busy, it was too expensive, I would be terrible. But she persisted (mother knows best) and encouraged me to do it anyway. Well four years later I have reclaimed my youthful love for tennis (and trophies). As it turns out, it was just what I needed.

Tennis TrophyNow, I don’t spend all my time playing tennis of course. I also spend a lot of time thinking about relationships, and what it takes to make them work. It turns out that everything you ever wanted to learn about relationships, you can learn from tennis:

In tennis love means nothing (actually zero). It’s not that love isn’t important, it’s that that is the starting point for everything else. If you want to play, you’ve got to start with love.

Tennis is a sport where you have to actually win (or lose) the final point. Time doesn’t run out―you keep playing until it’s over. That means you have to be committed. You can’t just wait it out, you have to engage.

In tennis, you always have a chance to come back. Because time never runs out, you’ve always got a chance to make things right. You can start doing things differently. If your groundstrokes from the baseline aren’t working, come to the net more. If your powerful returns aren’t getting you going, try lobbing. Just like in relationships you can try something new/different.

Tennis is fun. Or it should be. If you’re not enjoying yourself, take a deep breath and remember what you love about it and try again. Relationships are the same deal. If you’re not feeling good about things, pause and remember the good stuff and see if you can get back there. And if you can’t, it’s ok to lay down your racquet and play another day.

I love what I’ve learned from tennis and am so appreciative that I have come back to it. It has reminded me of who I am (and want to be) at my core―a powerful woman who starts with love in everything I do.

Wisdom from the Biebs?

Sometimes, when I’ve been working on a particularly challenging project, I like to reward myself by watching a video from Urban Dance Camp . (Seriously, if you have not checked them out, do it now, I’ll wait.) That is how I came to love the dancing couple and choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid. So when I heard that they did Justin Bieber’s new video, I had to check it out. No surprise I loved the dancing but I was also struck by the lyrics. They are actually pretty wise.

Love Yourself lays out a pretty solid checklist of when you might consider walking away from a crappy relationship:

Lyrics Takeaway
For all the times that you rain on my parade Not cool – you want your partner to throw you a parade, not rain on it!
My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone When people who love and care about you don’t like your partner that may be something to listen to.
And when you told me that you hated my friends
The only problem was with you and not them
Honestly if your partner doesn’t like your friends, they may not actually like the real you either. And why would you stay with someone who doesn’t like you or wants to keep you away from your friends?
And every time you told me my opinion was wrong
And tried to make me forget where I came from
Having differences of opinions is fine, but telling someone they’re wrong or to forget their roots isn’t great.
For all the times that you made me feel small
I fell in love. Now I feel nothin’ at all
Your partner should build you up, not break you down. No wonder you fell out of love!

 

When your relationship makes you feel this way, it’s a pretty good idea to move on. And “you should go and love yourself” is a pretty good way to end things.

Way to go, Biebs!

Why I’m not giving my son advice on how to talk to girls

Arguably one of the perks of being a dad is the constant stream of opportunities to give fatherly advice.

Advice columns are one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The best ones are like miniature ethical treatises—perfect for a lapsed philosophy major with a short attention span. And who doesn’t like giving advice? To be human is to be full of opinions about what other people should do.

So my son’s first attempts to talk to the girl he has a crush on? A golden opportunity for an advice enthusiast. But I’m passing it up, at least for now. Here’s why.

It turns out that 99% of what I want him to know before his first date isn’t anything new. It’s the same stuff we have been practicing since he was a baby. Love yourself and be open to loving other people. Be kind. Respect people’s boundaries. Pay attention. Use your words.

If I were to make a list of the absolutely critical information straight boys need about dating and relationships, you could boil it down to one feminist principle: Girls are people. (There are lots of variations on the theme: Girls are people, not prizes. Girls are people, not shiny objects.) Special coaching on “talking to girls” seems to me to violate this principle. Girls are people, not aliens.

Of course, that doesn’t make telling a girl you like her for the first time any less excruciating. My palms get sweaty for him just thinking about it. But that isn’t because girls are “girls.” It’s because liking someone and wanting them to like you back is intensely vulnerable. In this TED talk, Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as risking connection, and the courage to take that risk as the key to intimacy and joy.

The awkwardness is essential, and there is nothing I can say to guide him around it. Even worse, there is no advice he can follow to protect himself against heartbreak. Like all the other times I have watched him leap into the unknown, the best I can do is admire his courage and offer him a place to land.

Let’s talk about sex, ba-by

I just watched the trailer for Daddy I Doa documentary about purity balls. What’s a purity ball, you ask? It’s basically a wedding-like ceremony where teen daughters pledge to their fathers that they will remain a virgin until they are married. There are so many things about this that get me riled up, like haven’t we moved past the idea that girls belong to their fathers until they can be married off?

In the trailer, some of the men talk about how they of course wouldn’t tell their daughters how to have safe sex, because they shouldn’t be having sex at all! It’s this way of thinking that is driving support for abstinence-only sex education. But we know abstinence-only sex education is not very effective at lowering teen pregnancy and STI rates.

When I was growing up in the South, this kind of thing was happening. I remember one day in homeroom, we all had a little slip of paper on our desks with the purity pledge on it. The teacher didn’t make us sign it, but she did ask that we take it home, talk with our parents about it, and seriously consider signing it. I was creeped out by it, but at least it wasn’t a substitute for the small amount of medically accurate sex education that we got in school.

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These purity balls and pledges send messages that girls shouldn’t have sex (boys will be boys), girls bear the burden of this responsibility (because, boys will be boys), and girls’ virginity is more important than boys’.

But an even bigger problem is that it leaves a gaping hole in the conversations we should be having with our kids about healthy relationships. As much as we might want to stick our fingers in our ears and sing lalalala, the teens in our lives are (probably) making their way around the bases with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Let’s give them accurate and complete info about sex. And I’m not just talking contraceptives and STIs here. Let’s tell them that sex is about pleasure. Let’s tell them that there’s no shame in feeling what they are feeling (whether they’re wanting to have sex or not). Let’s talk about the things you should look for in a healthy relationship like love, respect, and trust and how that should apply to the sex part too. Let’s talk about how powerful they are that they get to make smart, informed choices about their bodies. Let’s talk about that.

Love Like This

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I have been doing domestic violence work for a long time. Over the years, I have come across lists of the “red flags” or “warning signs” of abuse many times. These lists are helpful for sure. But you know what I’ve rarely come across? A list of what to do in relationships. I’ve seen definitions of healthy relationships, and even some concrete tips for how to get there, but not a whole lot. It got me thinking that we have spent so much time figuring out what an abusive relationship looks like and explaining that to folks, that we rarely take the time to talk about how to have a good relationship.

Healthy and fun relationships don’t just fall out of the sky (wouldn’t it be great if they did!), you have to work at it. So we’ve created something that we hope will help us share how to Love Like This (not like this). We’ll do that by illustrating some typical situations that occur in relationships and giving examples of how to deal with them in a healthy, loving, and respectful way, as opposed to an abusive, controlling, or coercive way. And bonus: it’s filled with cute illustrations of cats—true story.

Check out our Love Like This series and share with us how you are doing with your healthy relationship skills.

Asking outMaking a moveKeeping in touch vs. keeping tabsJealousyFighting fairBreaking up

The Angel Band Project

Last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to hear The Angel Band Project, featuring Jennifer (Jen) Hopper and Norbert Leo Butz. The Angel Band Project began as a benefit album after the rape and attempted murder of Jennifer Hopper and the rape and murder of her late partner, Teresa Butz.angel-band-projgect-blog-pic

Jen has a voice, a beautiful one. She will tell you her name, share her experience, and sing until you are moved to tears. Jen is extraordinary and I am resisting the urge to write a whole lot more about her. What I do want to share instead is how amazed I am by the love and support Jen’s friends, family, and people she’s met along the way have provided her. It shows in Jen’s love for them.

When I worked on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, I repeatedly saw the critical role friends and family played in the lives of people experiencing domestic violence. They were often the first—and sometimes the only—person that victims turned to for help. I learned the importance of strengthening our communities’ response to violence.

As I’ve gotten to know Jen in the past year, I’ve been reminded what an honor and privilege it is to love people in our lives and our community. My message today is simple: love the people in your life, make a difference to them, and find ways to support and play a role in efforts to end violence against women.

 

Empezando bien (A good start)

womanatsunrisePosadas, Noche Buena, Navidad, Año Nuevo…¡cuánta celebración en tan poco tiempo! Tiempo para disfrutar en familia y con amigos queridos. Tiempo de reflexión y entrega. Tiempo de dar y recibir amor. ¡Me encanta ésta época!

Sí, ya sé que estas pensando, que las fiestas no fueron tan relajantes y que la familia a veces no es tan fácil, y que no descansaste como pensaste…pero podrías imaginar que éste ambiente de amor, de reflexión, de entrega, fuera possible y durara todo el año y no solo se intentara en una “época”. Imagina que tuvieramos el hábito de deternos y reflexionar más seguido, tomarnos el tiempo de conocernos, de saber que nos hace felices. Que aprendiermaos a escuchar nuestro yo interno y estar dispuesto a sanar todo lo que nos permiten vivir en paz. Porque el chiste de todo esto es vivir en paz, no crees?

Se que no es algo “sencillo” de realizar pero estoy segura que no es imposible. Es algo que require acción, no únicamente desearlo. Te invito a que este año que inicia comiences el hábito el tomarte el tiempo necesario para reflexionar, para descansar, para evaluar donde estas y a donde vas. No podemos mágicamente crear paz en nuestro corazón y a nuestro alrededor sin hacer algo al respecto día a día, no podemos mágicamente erradicar la violencia y vivir en un mundo de paz sólo con un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Todo lo que vale la pena tiene un precio, require una acción y un verdadero compromiso de nuestra parte. Iniciar con hacer las paces con uno mismo y amarnos tal cual somos. Este es mi propósito de Año Nuevo y probablemente requerirá acción constante y atención diaria a mi persona.

Felíz inicio de Año y mis mejores deseos para una vida mejor, empezando por uno mismo. Ahora sí, a trabajar en mí para ser ese cambio en el mundo que tanto quiero.

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Posadas, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year…so much to celebrate in so little time! A time to enjoy with family and dear friends. A time for reflection. A time to give and receive love. I love this season!

I know what you are thinking—that the season was not exactly relaxing, family are sometimes not so easy, and you are not as rested as you wanted to be. But could you imagine if this atmosphere of love and reflection was possible all year long and not just for one season? Imagine that we had the habit of stopping more often to reflect, taking the time to know ourselves and what makes us happy. That we could learn to listen to our inner self and be willing to heal all that does not allow us to live in peace. Because the point is to live in peace, isn’t it?

I know this is not as simple to do as it sounds, but I’m sure it’s not impossible. It is something that requires action, not just wishing for it. I invite you this New Year to make a habit of taking time to reflect, rest, and evaluate where you are and where you’re going. We cannot magically create peace in our hearts and around us without doing something about it every day. We cannot magically eradicate violence and live in a world of peace with just a blink of an eye. Everything worthwhile has a price; it requires an action and a real commitment on our part. It starts with making peace with ourselves and loving ourselves as we are, unconditionally. This is my New Year’s resolution and it will probably require constant action and daily attention.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a better life, starting with yourself. And now I’m off to start working on myself to be that living change that I want to see in our world.

I married my partner

I married my partner of 20+ years December 9th, at Seattle’s joy-filled city hall. Families, friends, and friendly strangers gathered to cheer on the newly married couples as they descended a grand staircase. It was quite a party.

Getting married is an ambivalent thing for me, as I have been shut out of that institution for a long time. And I’ve seen the very painful, dark side of marriage in my professional life. Let’s face it, the history of marriage is one of women giving their bodies, emotional support, and physical labor to men. And still to this day, this idea and the support it gets in society narrows women’s choices and harms children—in some marriages. So why would I want to participate?

Photo by  joseanavas
Photo by joseanavas

It’s complicated, because marriage is complicated. Our society uses marriage in multiple ways: as a symbol of love and commitment; as a way to access certain legal rights; and to define an economic relationship and expectations. And, historically, as a way to enforce gender roles that give men/husbands the upper hand in decisions about money and priorities in the family. At the same time, marriage is evolving, and extending marriage to same sex partners is part of a long history of changes we’ve made to marriage so that it reflects our current reality.

Since I’ve been in my relationship for over 20 years, getting married didn’t carry quite the same weight as it did for my parents. They were excited to live together for the first time, be independent of their parents, and finally “go all the way.” Um, that all happened a long time ago for me. What motivated me was something my parents and straight friends didn’t give much thought to: having protections and rights that only come with marriage. I wanted to be ensured I could be at my partner’s side if she should end up in the hospital; have the ability to make medical decisions if she were incapacitated; and know that if one of us dies, our assets will transfer smoothly to one another. Marriage makes the legal world out there safer for us and our daughter. So our marriage was a pragmatic decision.

But I was surprisingly moved as well. I think I had willfully ignored all the ways in which marriage symbolizes positive things in our culture: love, hope, the caring and kindness between people. My jaded cynicism was tempered by the joy that broke out when the voters legalized marriage equality. Watching LGBTQ couples celebrating their marriages gave me more hope for all of us, because it happened in spite of the challenges a homophobic culture places in the way of LBGTQ people creating healthy relationships.

For that reason, I think my marriage and other gay marriages may have something to teach everyone. They are part of the ongoing evolution of marriage from a system of ownership and entitlement to an institution that nurtures healthy love, human potential, and beloved community. As a very wise friend of mine (who married her beloved of 40 years) says, “everyone benefits and is honored by extending civil rights for all, and from recognizing and embracing the power of love and justice.” We are all uplifted when we extend dignity to those who have been denied rights.

Of course, and very importantly, the other thing that gay marriage gets us is gay divorce. This is a good thing because no community is immune to violence, control, and just plain old dysfunction. Ending a complex and long term relationship requires assistance, protection, and justice.

I’m happy to be married. I am moved to have my state and city celebrate and recognize my relationship and those of all my LGBTQ friends. I am relieved to have the rights and protections that come with marriage. And I’m glad to know that if I should need it, I can get a divorce as well. Because no one’s marriage should take away a person’s ability to make their own choices, follow their dreams, or protect themselves and their children.