Looking at the World Through Jesus Goggles, or How Christians Inflate Their Personal Importance Because Jesus Loves Them

“God spoke out loud to Grandma when I was five to tell her to pray for me. I was chosen to be a missionary, and God told her that her prayers were essential to molding my heart to that service. Mom and Grandma fasted and prayed for me one day a week from then until I came back from my years of service in Africa.”

This was part of a Mother’s Day letter my uncle sent the extended family. He had a couple of other examples showing how his ultra-godly grandmother (my great-grandmother) impacted him, all because she had been told by God that he was special.

The letter made my mother cry. I thought that the tears were caused by a mixture overwhelming religious feeling and nostalgia for her mother and grandmother, both reasons I have seen tears trail down her cheeks, but Dad had a different take on her waterworks.

“Hell, no,” Dad told me. “She feels left out. God didn’t think she was special enough to talk to Grandma about her, and nobody fasted and prayed for her.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “In a few days, maybe she’ll be angry, but right now, she’s just hurt.”

According to my uncle, my grandmothers did not tell him about their divine message or prayer and fasting until much later in the story so they didn’t influence his path or get in God’s way. Fair enough. I’ve read enough mythology, including the Christian Bible, to know changing any god’s plan is usually a mistake. It’s a rare tale where God steps back, looks around, and compliments someone on a plot twist they caused.

When my children were small and we attended church regularly, I had a friend who believed her elementary-age daughter had been chosen by God to become a lawyer in the coming culture wars. My friend had seen it in her prayers, and a Bible study about some of the bad girls of the Bible showed her that her young daughter’s “rebellious heart” was God preparing the girl to fight for Him instead of against him.

I never heard God’s plans for my friend’s sons, but I know about the summer camps and special attention the girl got because of her “future.” Since I no longer attend church, I am not up on the latest chatter, but the last I knew, the daughter was married to an accountant and staying home full-time with their children — and never had any interest in law school or religion.

My experience could be shrugged off as an anomaly. Two anecdotes are not proof-positive. I will happily concede that many Christians’ understanding of the gospel focuses more on servanthood and loving their neighbors as opposed to being specially chosen for a mission from God.

However…the idea that God loves each of us individually, knows how many hairs are on our head, and we are chosen to share that message by any means necessary is woven throughout modern Christianity. A look at American politics offers evidence (consider the Virginia legislature’s opening prayer, for instance) and the most recent blog post on Joel Osteen’s website.

God loves everyone, but some people just a smidgen more.

When people look at the world through Jesus goggles, they approach it with assumptions that other people may not have, which often leads to them being baffled when other people see a situation without those inherent biases.

For instance: we are all born sinners. Without even considering the specifics of “salvation,” the idea that even little babies are born not simply with the potential to sin, but already stained with sin is embedded in most branches of Christianity. Some denominations push that concept less fervently than others, but my fairly-liberal United Methodist Sunday school class had a very uncomfortable conversation about whether unbaptized babies who died would go to Heaven. The most strict understanding of salvation says that unbaptized babies cannot go to Heaven, and a majority of my former Sunday school class agreed with that.

Now consider what happens when that belief runs into a grieving parent. Or when Christians comfort anyone who has suffered a loss. Assuming that the deceased was “saved” by acknowledging Jesus as Savior is much kinder than assuming the deceased is in Hell…right? Never mind that the assumption includes the ideas that the grieving person believes in Heaven, Hell, being saved, and all the rest of the braided web of doctrine.

Consider how the belief that we are all sinners plays out when talking to LBGTQ, poly, or others who are outside of traditional gender, sex, or relationship norms. “You’re a sinner” sounds incredibly judgmental (and it is). However, it is a simple statement of fact for people who believe everyone is a sinner unless renouncing “evil” and “being saved.” In many Christian’s minds, telling someone he/she is a sinner may be the opening to a discussion about their faith, including the idea that everyone is born a sinner…but how many people stick around for the rest of the discussion after being judged?

Christian privilege leads to the assumption that everyone they talk with is familiar with Christian mindsets and doctrine even if they do not practice Christianity. When they say, “You’re a sinner,” they expect that non-Christian friends hear the unspoken part: “I was too, and we all are.” The idea that many of us do not know the Christian context — or we reject that belief set — apparently does not occur to the true believer — or at least, not to the ones who I have discussed this with.

And that leads back into why (some) Christians feel special, and may honestly not realize how self-aggrandizing they seem to people who are not viewing the world through Jesus goggles. My uncle has told me (and all of Facebook) that while Jesus was on the cross, the names of all the people he was dying to save was running through his mind. Knowing that Jesus was thinking of you, personally, specifically by name — how much more special could anyone be?

All that ties in with the email my uncle sent my family. Through his Jesus goggles, my uncle was sharing the wonderful work that he accomplished as part of God’s plan, which happened because of the faithful devotion of my great-grandma and my grandma. In my uncle’s view, it was a Mother’s Day email focusing on how hard those women worked and prayed to support him in fulfilling God’s plan.

God did not need my grandmas to pray and fast for my mom and aunt to be good mothers or employees, or for my uncles to be devoted husbands and hard workers. Nope, that’s the routine stuff. My uncle’s “homage” to his foremothers was, at its core, all about how special he was.

It has been more than a week since mom choked up telling me about my uncle’s letter. Dad was wrong; mom is not angry about the letter or the mindset behind it. Instead, she’s carrying a print-out of the letter around to remind herself to listen more closely to God in case there is someone “special” that she needs to support by regular prayer — -other than her children, her grandchildren, and all the rest of the crowd she prays for daily.

I am still pissed that my uncle made my mom cry, that his story made her feel less than chosen by God for special things. The fact that mom is wearing the same Jesus goggles and accepts that implication does not excuse my uncle’s myopia — just as Jesus goggles do not excuse Christians for assuming everyone shares their beliefs and assumptions about how God (for those who believe in god in any form) and the world works.

Now I am working on my Facebook post to let the world know how it is clear that God chose my mom for amazing things. And yes, she will cry again — but this time, they will be happy (and embarrassed) tears.


Savior, Martyr, Enabler: The Good of the Many vs The Good of the Few…or The One

The Kirk/Spock Conundrum in Relationships, Families, and Life

“Don’t be a martyr,” I was recently told during an uncomfortable discussion about time and priorities. I choked back a quick denial. Was I being a martyr? I was trying to do what was best for everyone involved, but I knew it was not what I wanted. But being a martyr — no, that was not me. Of course not.

After years of uncomfortable self-examination, I understand that the “be a good helper” and “do unto others” training of my childhood contributed to my morphing into an enabler, at least for some people in some situations. My mother, a loving, giving woman, developed a tinge of bitterness in her old age about situations where she made unappreciated sacrifices. I had seen first-hand that enabling can grow into bitter martyrdom, and I did not want that to happen to me. I (try to) articulate my needs and make sure I have as much self-indulgence as I do sacrifice, which my mother still cannot do. Not being bitter about my choices has been a priority.

I was adamant. I was not a martyr. In my experience, garden variety martyrs hold their sacrifice over other people’s heads, expecting acknowledgement that they suffer, or at least take back seat, for the greater good. I did not have that attitude. If I was making a decision for the greater good — the good of the many — I was accepting it is logical and fair to do what benefits the most people. If it was a decision that I owned and choose, there was nothing to hold over anyone else. Or so I told myself.

Like many well-trained enablers, saviors, and martyrs, I knew the literature: my Sunday school teachers and grandmother often reminded me that the last would be first in Heaven (Matthew 19:30, Mark 10:31, and Luke 13:30 — when three of the Gospels say the same thing, it’s a home run homily). 1 Corinthians 13 taught that love does not keep score, that it goes to any length to serve the Beloved. Despite no longer being Christian, the early training remains.

In my mind, I was Spock choosing to die in The Wrath of Khan, confident that his choice would ensure a better life for many people. Without intending to be melodramatic, my working to accept boundaries and time limits that did not fulfill my needs would make schedules and emotions run more smoothly for other people — and since I do not like drama and I avoid conflict, I do get some pay off for that choice. Ensuring that my desires do not complicate anyone else’s lives or possibly even make anyone else aware that I might have needs that were not being acknowledged was an acceptable choice. Instead, focusing on being grateful for the time I have with my partner and considering the importance of our relationship instead of jockeying for more time and attention would be better for everyone. That’s logical.

That is, in fact, the Spock model of martyrdom. I just did not want to accept that label.

When I consider the conversation and the context, that was probably not how I sounded. As I rewatched The Wrath of Khan, I had a eureka moment: Spock does not experience human emotions. Being a truly selfless martyr is only possible in two situations: first, when you believe that you will be rewarded in the next life (like religious martyrs) or when you are completely emotionally detached from the situation, personalities and consequences of the situation. Because I was setting up a situation where I did not expect eventual rewards, and I am emotionally invested in this relationship and our discussion of time, priorities, and attention, I was on the edge of martyrdom when I offered to accept terms that do not meet my needs. Since I still did not want to accept that label, I looked for other options.

I started scouring journals, books, and websites. I learned about the Karpman triangle, victim, persecutor, and rescuer, and after playing through a variety of conversations and situations, I decided that I sometimes play rescuer — or savior — for some situations and people, but not to a dysfunctional level. I have victim moments, and the occasional time as a persecutor, but the Karpman triangle was not the paradigm I needed to consider how to stall any martyr impulses I feel. David Emerald’s Empowerment Triangle (creator instead of victim, challenger instead of persecutor, and coach instead of rescuer) offered possibly useful ideas about how to treat the Karpman triangle and other times I tend towards saving or enabling, but again, not quite what I needed in this situation where I was bordering on being a martyr. My communication within my relationship was not toxic. I was just having trouble trusting that meeting my needs was important enough to potentially disrupt other people’s lives.

For a bit, I considered whether I might be a savior. I tried on the idea that I was saving the peace and making my partner happy by finding solo, non-intrusive ways to deal with my needs. That sounded superior to being a martyr. Being a savior would have downsides, of course, but going above and beyond to help — that is like Jimmy Carter, building houses for poor people. Rosa Parks, taking a stand for civil rights. Maybe my willingness to put my personal needs aside was the act of a savior. Eduard Ezeanu’s piece on The Savior Complex assured me that no, I was not usually a savior. I do not feel that I am better than other people because I do unappreciated things for people, and I am quite good at making sure at letting people know when I have done something that I think is noteworthy. There are not many ways I hide my light under a basket. Like any recovering enabler, I have moments when I have to consciously remember “You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.” But that is where enabler and savior intersect. Being a savior is not my home base even though there are times I choose to be helpful.

Here is the script from my childhood that still sometimes drives me: I should not cause problems by articulating needs and wishes; if I am possibly the source of an issue, I must immediately solve the problem (which includes my discounting my needs, wants, and emotions) or risk having the other person decide our relationship is not worth the hassle. For years, I saw myself as the cause of problems, in the way, and something of an afterthought or inconvenience. Being helpful was the way I tried to counteract those feelings. I sometimes assume blame that is not mine to shoulder, and work to solve problems that are not mine to solve. While in my professional life I am good at teamwork and I know my value in the workplace, in my personal life, negotiating and compromising sometimes confound me.

Thanks to years of hard work and patient people, as well as the influence of a couple important books (including Brene Brown’s and Harriet Lerner’s books), these childhood beliefs have lessened their impact greatly. My partner understands that old belief patterns surface sometimes and has been a vital part of my re-learning. However, new situations and insights mean sometimes revisiting previous emotional ground, and the suggestion that I was going Joan of Arc definitely called for some thought. Hearing the word “martyr” used in connection to what I thought was a good faith solution to an ongoing issue was one of those triggers for revisiting previous ground.

In the process of thinking all this through, I admitted to myself that sometimes I guilt people, which intersects with being a martyr. I want to claim that I never intentionally do it, and I try to be sensitive to times that I may be doing it, but I was raised by an award-winning, unabashed travel agent for guilt trips, and my ex-husband used guilt like a scalpel. It is a pattern I can fall into, so vigilant awareness is important.

Other times, a private pity party may seep out as martyrdom. Social media, email, or texting (sometimes when I’ve been under emotional or physical stress or had one too many shots of whiskey) turn what should have been a quiet dark night of the soul into a more public discussion. In those cases, I stand by saying I was not being a martyr; I was having what should have been an emo evening, which would have disappeared when the sun rose, but instead, I invited others to my pity party. That shows poor judgement — but there are times it has lead to discussions and healing that I had not realized I needed. As long as that is a once in a while rarity, I can live with it.

Then I found Oprah.com. In an article called “How To Stop Being a Martyr”(by Martha Beck, not Oprah), I found some ideas that hit hard. I tried to argue with the subtitle: If you’re chronically overextended, underappreciated, and very, very angry, there’s a simple solution: Stop playing the martyr. I was not chronically overextended (well, not since my kids grew up), I knew I am usually appreciated, and I did not feel angry at all. Anger is an incredibly rare way for me to feel. However, as I was arguing with the article, one example stopped me cold: “Over time, Sandy learns that it’s not safe to express her feelings, and that people value her only when she does things for them.” Bingo. Much of the other discussion in the article did not quite fit, but that one line echoed. It was uncomfortably close to the “Spock logic” that surfaces under duress.

The article offered a way to filter through martry-like reactions: “When you finally find someone who doesn’t say “What about me?” but “Tell me more,” you may flounder in the unfamiliar space of truth. You’ll be tempted to filter the other person’s response through your dysfunctional lens. She doesn’t mean that. I’m a disappointment. At this point — get ready, martyrs — you can cut right through this misery by saying exactly what you’re thinking. As in, “I’m afraid you don’t mean that, and that I’m a disappointment.” Then, really listen to the answer. If it seems kind and honest, with no hidden agenda, you may feel disoriented. That’s because you’re finally stepping offstage. Keep going. Keep speaking up. What are you feeling? What do you want?” To me, admitting that I feared I was a disappointment, feared that I was too much of an inconvenience, sounded as scary as anything Stephen King has ever written.

The conversation that started this introspection was weeks ago. The other person probably does not remember the brief comment that started my thinking and researching. Because of the nature of our relationship, I do not fear the hard conversations. Choosing a polyamorous lifestyle ensures that conversations about time, attention, and priorities will be a common topic, and sometimes that is a more emotionally fraught issue than is comfortable.

Now, though, I understand that unlike Spock, I am emotionally invested in the outcome of our conversations, so if I am not aware, I could perch on the ledge of martyrdom. What I intend as accommodating, supportive, and giving sometimes comes at an emotional cost. I can choose the emotional cost by ensuring that my needs are met in some way instead of discounting them. I can own my feelings and trust that I can have healthy, helpful conversations about them. Being grateful for the relationship or situation and all the people involved, focusing on the big picture instead of the specific issue helps too. I am emotionally invested in my family, my relationships, and my life. That means I cannot become Spock, doing what is good for the many or the one while dismissing its impact on me.

God Is (Not) Trying To Get My Attention

God is apparently trying to get my attention. There is a problem with that: I don’t believe He (or anything like the common concept of God) exists.

I grew up in the church. I spent my weekends playing guitar while my enthusiastic youth group sang, and I taught Sunday school classes for both adult and children. A large portion of my social life revolved around my church family. Going to church with my mom and sisters was an expectation that I never bucked, and my kids attended with me until they were nearly grown. Church was an important and special part of my life.

However, for much of the time, I was pretending. Searching, if that sounds better. Most of my friends accepted even egregious Biblical paradoxes and historical impossibilities as somehow true. I was told more than once to pray “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) so that God would replace my questions with faith. Even though I wanted to believe that God existed and cared about each person individually, I didn’t. Einstein might have said “God doesn’t play dice with the universe,” and Jung claimed there were no coincidences, but…well,…those blithe quotes had contexts that were not nearly as breezy.

Even when I “believed,” I didn’t accept that God cared what I studied in college or whether I wore jeans to worship service. I was appalled at the idea that having cancer would be blessing from God in any way, and I was baffled at the assertion that a blizzard that trapped my youth group in another state was God’s plan for saving people the strangers we witnessed to strangers who took us in — all things my friends could positively applaud as God in action.

As I got older and studied more, learning more about mythology, other religions, the origin of the Christian Bible and my own denomination, I accepted that I did not even believe there is sentient force advocating for us, a proto-God, especially not an anthropomorphized, we are built-in-His-image sentient being. Reading about goddesses and the feminine divine did not expand the concept of “God” enough to reassure me that God’s in heaven — which, incidentally, I do not believe in, either.

I continued attending my church, however. I liked the people there, and I felt good about many of the socially-oriented ministries it sponsored. I played devil’s advocate in study groups and represented the liberal interpretations of faith in my Sunday school class without telling them that I didn’t actually believe any of it. One minister approached me about my “crisis in faith,” but overall, staying in the church was easier than admitting to myself and others that I did not believe God existed, not even in the remote “intelligent designer” sense. I was comfortable pretending that I was searching.

But the last few years, changes in the church, society, and myself made it clear that I had to be honest. When I left the church, I lost a community — people I had been close to for much of my life — because their social lives and mine did not intersect outside of a church context, and none of us made the effort to build a non-faith-based friendships. My social life and my connection with my community as a whole suffered because I quit pretending.

That leads me to the odd experience I had last week. While driving home from a solitary out of town shopping trip. I was throwing a serious pity party for myself about how few friendships I have, the type of friends who you make plans with, have traditions and regular events with. I have people for dinner, and friends who are there if I need someone, but this is the first time in my life that I have not had a tribe, for lack of a better word.

Anyway, I was deep in feeling sorry for myself while driving, and I was considering if I should go back to Sunday school, with the caveat that I don’t believe, but I basically care about the people. I was thinking about whether Sunday school would make a difference in my social connectiveness, when my phone rang.

It was my Sunday School teacher. I haven’t talked to her in nearly a year. The class is going out for dinner in two weeks, and they wanted to make sure I was invited. I immediately said I will be there, and we chatted for about a half hour.

If I had any inkling of religion left, I would see the timing as divine intervention. As I was considering whether I need to return to church for social reasons, my phone rang and it was my church. I’m still amused by the coincidence.

But there are no coincidences — that was drilled into me for years. Everything that happens is God trying to communicate with us. Decades of indoctrination and quasi-belief do not fade easily, but at this point, I can appreciate amusing irony without feeling the hand of God slipping into my head. Or so I thought.

Then yesterday I was driving home again, and I clicked on my podcast app to hear the next Freakonomics podcast in the series I was listening to. Apparently I misclicked in the dark at a stop light and choose a pagan podcast by mistake. It was short, entertaining and thoughtful, so I kept it on. As I pulled into my driveway, the hosts of the podcast closed with what they called their guiding principle: There are no coincidences.

At this point, any of my Christian friends would emphatically argue that God is trying to get a message to me. Some of my “spiritual but not-quite-Christian” friends would probably agree. My couple of pagan/New Age friends would earnestly suggest that I draw the energy I need towards me, so even if I do not want to attend church, I may need those people in my life.

But what do I believe? Years of experience, research and thought is not canceled out by an ironically timed phone call during an isolated pity party. There is no Charleton-Heston-esque whisper luring me back to the faithful flock. Deciding I believed again, or even allowing myself the easy luxury of pretending to believe again, would have some psychological pay-off. Sinking into the structure of Sunday morning church, maybe even joining a church choir — that would be easy, and I have faked it before. The story of my faith being renewed by a phone call would light up my congregation, or a new congregation if I changed churches (which, as a former United Methodist, I would have to do because of their current LBGTQ issues). I could be an inspirational anecdote!

But..I do not have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, and I do not believe the B-I-B-L-E is the book for me. Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt is a terrific morality tale, but impossible. And me walking into a church as if I’m returning back to my true faith…that is not happening either, despite a phone call inviting me to dinner.

The Scariest Line in Cinematic History: “Take Me to Bed or Lose Me Forever!”

Creepy clowns and manics in hockey masks may make some people tremble in fear, but the most terrifying moment I’ve experienced in a movie theatre was while watching the movie “Top Gun.” Maverick and Goose are partying at the bar, then it happens. Carole, Goose’s wife, shouts, “Hey Goose, you big stud — take me to bed or lose me forever!”

Oh my god. She said…what? I froze. I didn’t want to watch. In the split second before he answered, I imagined Carole’s flirty demand being used as a punch line — or worse, ignored. When Goose answered: “Show me the way home, honey,” I started breathing again. I laughed at myself. What straight man would turn down Meg Ryan?

That was in 1986. Carole was played by 25 year old Meg Ryan, the perfect blonde girl next door. Of course she could dare a man to turn down her attention with the ultimate threat. Even though I was roughly her age, I was quite a few pounds heavier, with heavy breasts and chunky thighs. I excelled at ironic sidebars, not flirty come-ons.

That’s how I remember it, at least. I recently found pictures of myself from around that time, and I was surprised by what I saw. My dark hair was glossy, my skin was luminously pale, and there was a sparkle in my eyes that apparently disappeared soon after the picture was taken. The oversized flannel shirt I was wearing caught my attention. I was more buxom than Meg Ryan, but not heavy. Not even chunky. All the raw material was there for me to be as appealing as any of my friends, as any of the girls I envied. All I was lacking was confidence.

As one of the girls who hit puberty earlier than my peers, I grew up self-conscious of my shape, equating my 5th grade C cup bra with being fat, hence undesirable. Throughout my adolescence, I was certain that anyone who looked me over was judging my weight, not appreciating my curves. Wearing boxy shirts, often mens shirts, a size too big was my way of hiding.

In ways, I was lucky. In the article “The Risks of Earlier Puberty,” the American Psychological Association pointed out the potential issues girls face when they develop younger than their peers. I was younger, but not exceedingly so, and I already had an established image as a nerd; while some bullying took place, big shirts and finding a group of church friends who were quite prudish made it easier for me to create a non-sexual identity despite having a build that could have been sexualized when I was too young to understand.

Those factors also made it easier for me to end up in a sexless marriage. My relationship did not start out that way, but within a handful of years, we could go months without even a hug. The longest we went without any intimacy or physical contact was nearly two years. Tthere were years where I was lucky; maybe once every month or two we would trip the light fantastic…for ten minutes or so.

By the time I was in my early-30s, after not losing some baby weight and spending the vast majority of my time as a caretaker, I believed I wasn’t sexy enough or skilled enough to entice my husband to bed. On the rare occasions I tried to initate sexy-time, I was shut down quickly. It was more clear than ever that the Meg Ryans of the world could taunt men that they would be replaced if they didn’t treasure the chance to enjoy playing. I was not from that tribe. I was more the “they also serve who only stand and wait” part of woman-kind. Men fall over themselves for the Daphnes of the world. No one notices the Velmas. I believed the messages, both spoken and unspoken, that I was undesirable.

Picture from https://www.themarysue.com/daphne-and-velma/

That is not where the story ends. I stayed in the marriage far longer than I should have, but I did eventually leave, and I dealt with the issues that led me to stay in the marriage so long. I discovered people who found me appealing, even sexy, and encouraged me to explore that. Ironically, even though I was overweight, droopy, and no where near my prime, I discovered men who liked “Velma” types — and that all I had been missing was confidence that I could be accepted and desired.

“Sexy” is a mind game. I needed to learn that. Body image is a mind game, too. Right now, I am physically In better shape than I’ve been in a couple decades, but I am on the far edge of my 50s, heavier than my doctor thinks I should be, and there are days — even weeks — when sexy eludes me.

Curvy women who dress to be noticed catch my eye; even now, I don’t have that kind of confidence. Plus size women unselfconsciously dancing in public are heros to me. I haven’t done that since college, long before I started dating my ex. Despite feeling worlds more confident that I am desirable, the girl who is hiding her curves from the public is still part of me. It’s not the part that holds the power, but it is still there, lurking in the shadows.

Near the end of “Top Gun,” Kelly McGillis teases Tom Cruise with Meg Ryan’s line, but instead of flirty fun, she delivers it smolderingly hot. Even now, I’m not in a relationship where I could confidently challenge my love to “take me to bed or lose me forever” right that moment, but I’ve learned to use my words and state my needs with confidence that I’m desired. Usually… Sometimes. Even though I haven’t mastered Ryan’s flirty yell or McGillis’ smoldering whisper, I have found my voice.

On Turning 60: Delicious Decadence

“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all things that make you want to live to be a hundred.” —Woody Allen

I had a very slight hangover this morning. Because I have only rarely had a hangover, I had been at work an hour before I realized that my headache and slight nausea were probably from a girls’ night out that lasted longer than usual–the fact that we skipped supper in favor of appetizers probably accounted for the impact of the wine.

In other words, the list of crimes I committed against my body last night include drinking alcohol, not eating vegetables or fruits, sitting for a prolonged period, exposing my hearing to loud background noise, staying up way past my bedtime, and relishing fried cheese sticks with an amazing dip. When I consider the entire day,… well…unless a leaf of lettuce on a grilled chicken sandwich counts as a veggie serving, I went the entire day without vegetables. My step tracker accuses me of walking fewer than 6,000 steps yesterday, too, which is almost certainly accurate; I spent my day at a desk. It also points out that the previous night, I got about five hours of sleep. I had lost track of time while reading, so yes, I went into my day of debauchery without a good night’s sleep.

I think yesterday was a very good day–except for my body.  I engaged in work that I find fulfilling, I spent time with friends, I laughed and chatted, I texted flirty things to a receptive partner, I sang along with music as I did a bit of housework, and when I did go to sleep, I slept well. That’s a win, right?

Maybe. It depends on who I listen to. Three years ago I decided that I wanted to adopt a healthier lifestyle, so I researched how I should change my eating and exercise patterns (or lack thereof). Even though I was good at research, I understood credible sources, and I had friends and family with professional expertise, I was overwhelmed with information overload and conflicting advice.

The process of sifting through information to figure out what worked for me and the seventy pounds that I have lost (and maintained) is a different part of this story, but it does influence my attitudes and fears as I consider my reaction to entering a new decade of living–one that feels like a threshold (at least symbolically) past middle age.

Or, as Woody Allen implies, do I need to give up everything that makes life enjoyable if I want to live a long life? Some of the most reputable information I can currently find urges that I cut sugar as far out of my diet as possible to lessen the chance of Alzheimer’s (which runs in my family), and other information suggests I can keep my arthritis at manageable levels if I am devoted to an anti-inflammatory diet. In other words, the way I eat is antithetical to a long, healthy life.

I grew up believing mashed potatoes and red meat were required at every supper, and that adding pie to the menu qualifies as fine dining. That is not how I eat now, but I have never made a meal out of steamed fish with a kale salad. If I ever start a church, communion will be brownies and whiskey. Eating like the experts (whichever experts are popular at the moment) tell us to does not come easily to me.

The pile of supplements my parents take daily are their talisman against poor eyesight, arthritis, dementia, stroke, and high cholesterol. My mother used to love both tea and chocolate, but at the recommendation of a magazine article decades ago, she completely gave up both in hopes that she would avoid breast cancer–something no one in my extended family has suffered from.  She seems to accept Allen’s premise that living to one hundred requires giving up everything that makes living that long worth it.

Or does she? My elderly parents both have hobbies that they are devoted to, family that they engage with regularly (constantly, some grandchildren might claim), and love going on the occasional weekend getaway, although they hobble around for a few days after overdoing it. My father’s quest to find the “dark web” both horrified and amused the rest of the family–and his browser history suggested that he found at least a few corners of the internet that probably are better left alone.  

If I define “the things that make life worth living” in terms of sugar, wheat, and other “vices,” prevailing opinion says that yep, Woody Allen is a herald of wisdom. Popular belief does not account for variables, though, including basic genetics. Stories of ninety year olds who chop wood and smoke cigarettes make the news every so often, and my Facebook feed has more than once brought news of a younger, health-conscious friend who passed away suddenly. Simply eating right and exercise is not a guarantee of a long, healthy life.

I have fifty-nine years of making some good choices, some bad choices–living deliciously and living deprived. When I was in college, a friend explained to me why he had become a vegetarian: when he reached old age, he wanted to be as vibrant and active as his eighty-five year old great grandfather. I knew plenty of eighty-five year olds. They  were the “gripe about young people and go to prayer meetings” type of old, not the type that spent Saturday evening dancing at a Detroit Jazz Club with his grandson. Since my friend knew a different type of elderly person than I did, he may have made better long-term choices than I did, thus creating a completely different old age than the one I anticipated. Maybe.

This is the point where I could have a heart-warming, inspirational epiphany about starting today to make the rest of my life active, happy, and healthy. I could make a color-coded plan to hop out of bed every morning to do yoga and cardio, eat a plant based lunch, and do some strength training before going home for a small dinner of legumes and veggies. (Confession: I have created plans like that more than once, and yes, with full color-coding. It can be a good re-set, but I’m not the type who can make that a lifestyle.)

Experience says that I could follow the plan with enthusiasm and gusto for…um….three days. Maybe five. Then I would start feeling guilty when I fell short, and a deprivation mindset would take over. At that point, the Woody Allen paradox would be in full force. That is not the way for me to create the type of life that makes me happy to wake up.

Part of my fear of old age includes my assumption that I am likely to experience physical and/or mental decline to the point that I will not find joy or meaning in life. Typing that sentence was almost physically painful as I pulled the words this way and trying to hide the depth of my fear in big words and complex phrasing.

Here’s the basic truth: in the last decade, I have made previously unimaginable changes–both rediscovering parts of myself and reinventing myself. As I watched the TED Talk about the Blue Zones project, I got excited as I considered ways Dan Buettner’s research might apply to my life.

And that excitement, more than any chart of goals, intentions, and restrictions, shows me that I even though I’m uneasy about tiptoeing towards sixty, my future is not about depriving myself of things that make life worth living. It’s about maintaining excitement about something.  Balancing my intake of vegetables to sugar and exercise to sloth becomes more important–and probably more instinctive–when I know there is something worth living for. Allen’s quote might have the right idea if the causal relationship is flipped: If you can find a compelling reason to live to one hundred, the specifics about how to do that are easier.

On Turning 60: New People

“Y’know. Emily, whenever I meet a farmer, I ask him if he thinks it’s important to go to Agriculture School to be a good farmer…Yeah, and some of them say that it’s even a waste of time. You can get all those things, anyway, out of the pamphlets the government sends out. And Uncle Luke’s getting old–he’s about ready for me to start in taking over his farm tomorrow, if I could…And, like you say, being gone all that time … in other places and meeting other people . . . Gosh, if anything like that can happen I don’t want to go away. I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones. I’ll bet they almost never are. Emily … I feel that you’re as good a friend as I’ve got. I don’t need to go and meet the people in other towns.”  Thornton Wilder, Our Town, Act 2

“I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones…I don’t need to go and meet people in other towns.” The first time I heard George impulsively decide that he was not going to agriculture college, I was astonished. George’s decision reeked of fear of losing the life he knew, not passion for Emily. I lived in the 60s & 70s version of Our Town, and I could not wait to graduate from high school so I could hit the highway in search of adventure. That’s how I remember it, at least.

Because I have spent decades working with teens, George’s assertion that he knows all the people he needs to know feels tragic. Usually, young people are eager to find what is out there beyond their backyard. Even accounting for the massive differences between the time period of the play and now, I cannot imagine voluntarily choosing such a narrow, limited life.

Now that I am living back in the same Our Town setting that I vowed to flee, I am reconsidering the issue of old friends vs new people with a range of nuances and related topics that Thornton Wilder could not have imagined. Thanks to Facebook, people who I have not seen in person since high school graduation know that I had roasted parsnips last night. People I have not seen since I stopped attending the church we grew up in have enthusiastically approved of the color I recently painted my bathroom. Some of them live miles away, some in the same town we grew up in, but very, very few of my “old friends” are friends of mine in any sense beyond the “Facebook friend.” Our shared history is simply that: history.  

My Facebook is littered with friends from previous jobs, previous towns, previous relationships–the detritus of past phases of life. When I am looking for someone to go out to dinner, or I find an event that I’d like to attend with a friend, very few of these people are who I reach out to. We tacitly agree that we are “friends,” but in a historical sense. For a significant portion of my friends list, Facebook is a museum of people I used to know.

The people who I do socialize with, who I text frequently or play board games with are for the most part well within my comfort zone. I have known them for quite a while, often from work or family connections. At this stage in my life, it is easy to hang out with the people who have been woven into my life for years. I could become complacent, comfortable in my niche.


My small town is literally smaller now than it was; since I was in high school, we have lost about a third of our residents.  I do not know everyone–not even close–but at this point, I will be surprised if an opportunity for a new romantic relationship or potential good friend pops up in my own backyard. As my “old friends” move closer to their children who left the area or retire to more scenic vistas, my social scene becomes more limited, which is something I am already starting to experience. In very concrete ways, I have friends, but no tribe, no web of relationships that weaving a barrier between me and times of loneliness.

Better yet, new people mean new stories, new ideas, and new opportunities. As much as I enjoy my old friends, we know each other’s dance steps too well. We can laugh before the punch line and anticipate the gossip. Having new people keeps our conversation and our minds vibrant.

My great-grandmother lived with my family for the last decade of her life, and in that time, the only new people she met were my siblings’  and my friends as they tromped through the house. My parents, active octogenarians who routinely share family gossip on Facebook, have not added anyone into their social circle in decades unless the person married into the family.  When they were younger, though, all of them left the security of home to meet new people and see what the world had to offer. They were not George Gibbs, too wary to see what was past the county line.

Right now, I have plenty of options for connecting with others if I simply reach out.  Facebook, Twitter, dating apps, and participating in a variety of activities could has kept a flow of new faces in my life, people who might fit into the fabric of my life.  

In Our Town, George is a broken man, widowed young at the end of the play. If I were to write a sequel to Our Town, George would be old well before his time, stymied by his inability to move past the old and embrace–or at least sample–something new.  One secret to loving life, to staying engaged mentally and physically, is to be open to new people. My challenge to myself is simple: Don’t be George. That is not the path to an interesting, fulfilling future.

On Turning 60: Wrinkled Souls

“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” Samuel Ullman  

Wrinkled souls. That phrase caught my attention. Over the course of my career, I have worked with teens and young adults, and the phrase “wrinkled souls” called specific faces to mind–the students who had given up (or never had) hope. The teens who believed that the moments they were living right then, regardless how stunted and dismal, were as good as their lives would be.

These are not the wrinkles of sages, earned through a lifetime of living. The wrinkled soul Ullman summons is the person who does not see anything ahead that is worthy of enthusiasm. There is nothing  joyful to anticipate, no good surprises in germinating for later, no beliefs or ideals or passions to lead a person to a life worth waking up for.

When I Google images of enthusiasm, my screen floods with pictures of action: pumped arms, wide smiles, jumping.  The face of enthusiasm is energetic, and even the teens I knew with wrinkled souls had moments that might read as enthusiastic, times when they made a touchdown or passed a test. That was transitory, not enough to build a life of enthusiasm. It takes years of disappointment to wrinkle a soul; some transitory successes do not replenish a depleted soul. Reaching those teens, those cynical, disheartened people, takes more faith and hope than I have been able to summon for a while, but throughout my career, I have seen young people with wrinkled souls find something worth the energy of believing in and caring about. When that happens, it’s magical.

I can analyze what factors probably contributed to the wrinkled souls of the teens I worked with, what traumas and situations caused them to have belief systems that lead to hopelessness. The analysis is not as easy when I turn the mirror towards myself.

I have reached the age where old friends start conversations with “Remember the time…” more often than they used to. Listening to my peers grouch about “young people” is too common, too, as I wonder when my friends became so wrapped in their successes that they apparently do not see the mess we have made of the world. Bit by bit, their enthusiasm and belief in the future seems to be drying up, and preserving what they have here and now is their prime directive.

Everything I said in the last paragraph–hell, the previous few paragraphs–is abstract and vague. Bloodless. People with enthusiasm, people who have ideals they focus on, things to anticipate–they drip with the elixirs of life. A soul can’t wrinkle when it’s fed like that.

I know senior citizens whose souls are overflowing. People who are still learning, acting as if they have another three or four decades before nature will slow them down. One couple I know bicycled the Canadian Rockies when they were in their sixties, and I recently chatted with a man in his seventies who is working on memorizing all of Shakespeare’s sonnets; he performs them locally every chance he gets.  Even though I have been told by multiple people that grandchildren are what make life worth living when you are older, I can look around me and find examples of people who create enthusiasm for their own projects and goals, too. Finding the passion to harness into action as I hit my next stage of life is the challenge. Right now, I am so invested in this stage of my life that I have trouble seeing the next part as vibrant and….well….juicy.

When I was in college, I drove an Oldsmobile that needed oil constantly. Everytime I put gas in, I would pop the hood, pull out the dipstick, wipe it off and reinsert it, then pull it out again to see if I needed to pour in a bit more oil.  As I am approaching this next stage, I wish there was a soul dipstick, a way that I could check every so often that I’m keeping my soul well hydrated. I will, eventually, have to accept wrinkles on my face. Wrinkles on my soul, though…not if I can help it.

Intention, Priorities, and Wibbly-Wobbly Time: Actions Tell the Truth

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”
~ The Rolling Stones

This past week, I saw my boyfriend five out of seven days. Less than four hours of that was just us alone. The rest of the time, we were surrounded by people, much of it in passing at a workplace. Still, between weather and vacations and illness and schedules, I’m happy that I saw him that much. None of the time was “special,” but then again, all time together is special, isn’t it?

My children are grown, and I recently went to a once-in-a-lifetime concert with one of my kids. I had more “special” time with her than just the two of us have had together in years. The fast food we ate while driving home following the concert as we excitedly rehashed the performance was more of a communion between us than the more expensive, restful lunch we ate the following day.

All time together counts, having time together is always a gift, but all time is not equal.  Talking about anything as ineffable as the quality of time will offer flawed generalizations, but recognizing that there are differences, that all time is not equal, is a starting point.

A few years ago, I was delighted to learn about “ordinary time.” In the traditional Christian calendar, ordinary time is the time between Advent and Lent, then the time between Lent and Advent. For Christians, it is the time between their big holy seasons. It is called ordinary time because the weeks are counted in ordinal numbers, not because it is blah or boring. However, in real life terms, it is the daily stuff. It is the going to work, having lunch, doing laundry, watching Netflix as the kids do the homework time. It is nothing special, but it is the building block of life — the sort of time that seems like no big deal until it is gone. Those of us who have suffered a loss or change — -a death, children moving out, roommates leaving — we realize then how routine minutes gave life its texture and meaning. Ordinary time is not flashy, but it is essential and has magic and meaning of its own.

But It is not kairos time. Kairos, the youngest child of Zeus, was the god of opportunity. Kairos time is the exactly perfect moment, the special time wrapped in glitter in your memory. The family vacation to Disneyland, the overnight get-away without the kids, the date night with no urgent texts or messy emotional moments marring it, the deep conversation that reaffirms your connection, the cudding with no alarm clock ticking — those are examples of kairos time. Kairos time is what we tend to count as more important. It is the time that means something special, that feels as if  it reaffirms the priority of a relationship. Kairos time feels damn good, but ordinary time is the base creating kairos time.

Because I am in a polyamorous relationship, time is a topic. My boyfriend and everyone we are involved with is committed to creating lives that make room for loving other people, trying to accommodate at a minimum, everyone’s needs–and ideally, at least once in a while, people’s wants.. However, some parts of our lives, hence our time, are still non-negotiable. Laundry needs done, floors need mopped, cars need taken in for oil changes, and children need attention and love.

Those of us who work to live out our belief that love is an unlimited resource and multiple relationships can be healthy for everyone involved know the truth of that: balancing everyone’s needs, drives, and emotions involves conversation and calendars at least as often as condoms and cuddles.

When time together gets out of balance, it can be very difficult to remember–even to believe–that people’s intentions are to find time to be together. That gets even more complicated when the people involved are trying to figure out what kind of time is needed. Is an ordinary afternoon enough, or is a date night or get-away called for–if and when possible? Just as people have different needs and expectations, so do relationships.  Finding the balance, then keeping it as close to balanced or figuring out how to re-balance is a challenge to some degree for all the poly people I know.

But that’s not different than other relationships. People who have multiple close friends, or multiple children, or parents and in-laws all have times that they talk about how to balance time and recognize that ordinary and kairos are different. That’s why being with the grandkids on Christmas Eve “counts more,” in a sense, than spending a random evening in January watching television with Grandpa does. That’s why a friends’ get away to a bed and breakfast in wine country is more of an event than grabbing lunch on a weekday with the same friends. Issues with balancing ordinary time and kairos are not the exclusive realm of poly relationships.

We can insist all we want that we intend to pay attention to those we love, that we intend to show how important they are, but the action of making time shows our true priorities–and having a balance of ordinary time and kairos time requires planning, commitment, and conversation. Saying “all time is special” may philosophically be true, but in terms of showing that a person is a priority, recognizing the balance of ordinary time and kairos time each person, each relationship, needs makes the difference in how well all the relationships function. It is easy to feel jealousy instead of generating compersion when feeling ignored or unneeded.

Time has another trait worth noting here: it keeps on ticking. Whatever is happening now, good or bad, will change. Karios time will end, ordinary time will segue into a different type of ordinary time. Unbalanced priorities can be discussed and worked on correcting, but there won’t ever be “the answer.” Creating the best relationships possible based on the unique needs of everyone involved takes communication, patience, and more than a touch of self-awareness. For me, thinking through the differences between ordinary time and kairos, and how I emotionally respond to perceived imbalances help me quell the gremlins and focus on compersion, trusting that joy, like love, is an unlimited resource.

Terror and Wonder: 60 Days till I’m 60

“How do I confront aging? With a wonder and a terror. Yeah, I’ll say that. Wonder and terror. “ Keanu Reeves

In sixty days, I turn sixty years old. That statement of fact can be wrapped in a variety of internal subtext: numbers don’t mean anything, I’ll only be a day older than I was the day before, sixty is the threshold of senior citizen, and a whole list of other responses and emotions. Whatever bow I wrap around it, the fact stays the same. I will be sixty in sixty days.

Point out all the examples of vibrant old women you know: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Betty White, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda–all worthy role models. When I was twenty, I was not walking paths similar to what they were (or walking runways, either), and their bodies and lives at fifty were radically different than mine at fifty. As inspirational as they are to me, my sixty won’t look like theirs, and my seventy or eighty won’t, either.

My images of old age come closer to home. My great-grandmother, a bitter shut-in, lived with my family from the time I was ten. She died after I had gone away to college. My grandmother spent her last few years in a nursing home, often fractious from the ravages of dementia. Woven in my history is the daily experience of living with failing bodies and minds. My twenty wasn’t like theirs, either, and my fifty was worlds away from theirs. Trusting that their experience will not be mine is logical, but believing that means fighting a creamy emotional filling that I digested decades ago.

When I was a child, Andy Griffith’s “Aunt Bea” was old. I am currently two years older than Frances Bavier was when she began that role. Later in my life, The Golden Girls were heralded as full of life “older women.” At the beginning of the series, the sexy, fun older woman, Blanche (played by Rue McClanahan), was seven years younger than I am now.

I can offer evidence that culturally, I’m not really that old. A coworker suggested that my latest attempt at learning computer programming should be a countdown clock to the arrival of the Dungeons & Dragons-based game I recently supported on Kickstarter. Would an old person do that? I’m planning another solo tent camping trip this summer somewhere that I have never gone before–the “girls” I go out think that is foolhardy and dangerous. Right now, I’m in better shape physically, emotionally, and financially than I was at age fifty. (Rereading this paragraph, my gut reaction is “Methinks I doth protest too much.”)

However..I see the crepey skin on my neck. I debate if (when) I will stop fighting nature and let my salt & pepper hair take over–and I know there is not much pepper left. The night Peter Tork died, I had a couple shots of whiskey in his honor as I listened to “Auntie Grizelda.” President Kennedy’s death and Watergate are embedded with my worldview, and both the invention of birth control pills and the bafflement as my college friends were among the first AIDS victims are bound with my sexual history. I cannot ignore that the Baby Boom is going out with a whimper, and I am part of the last cohort.

So how am I confronting this? Just like Kenau Reeves said, with Terror and Wonder. Turning sixty is not bad. It is not good. It just is. Finding out what my sixty will be–since I can’t be Rita Moreno and I don’t have to be my bitter great-grandmother, will only have as much terror and wonder as I accept.

I process events and emotions through writing. For the next sixty days, I’m going to use a variety of quotes, memes, poems, songs—who knows what all I will find–to consider and process what lies ahead. I’m tossing these words out on the wind, hoping that maybe, just maybe, in hopes I’m not the only one looking head with terror and wonder.

The Cold Equations: Opportunity Cost in Low-Key Sexual Harassment

When I was in junior high, girls who stopped for a drink of water at the intersection of the hallways were asking for “it.” The drinking fountains were a constant wheel of fortune: would I be able to lean slightly to get a drink without being groped? Every girl I knew was a potential gropee in that game; I still believe that — hopefully — only a small percentage of the boys were gropers. When possible, girls monopolized the fountains for the three minutes between classes, seeking safety in numbers.

The teachers across from the drinking fountain regularly shoo’d the “clumps of girls clogging up the hallway,” as they referred to us, down the hall. These teachers could see when several girls were crowding around the drinking fountain, but claimed they never saw the boys’ hands snake around to grab our breasts or shove their fingers between our legs as we bowed for a sip of water. After a few attempts at reporting the assaults and finding that our teachers were unwilling to do anything as simple as stand by the drinking fountain to make the point that no one should touch anyone else, we quit reporting it. Those teachers — two popular male teachers in their first few years of teaching — made it clear that continuing to complain made it likely that we would be labeled paranoid, sex-obsessed snitches.

Telling our mothers led to problem-solving, like the idea that we should get a hall pass during class when the halls would be relatively empty to get a drink instead of doing it during class changes. As far as I recall, going to teachers or principals was never suggested. Learning to navigate low-key harassment was part of growing up, apparently.

That was more than 40 years ago. I rarely contemplated that facet of my early teen years, and when I did tell that story, it focused on annoyance that the teachers would not do anything. Until the cultural discussion of #metoo started, I did not consider the water fountain groping to be sexual assault. In my mind, it was not even sexual harassment. It was boys being boys, and we could either figure out a work around or tolerate it. It did not happen every time, and it only lasted a moment — and sometimes, if I turned fast enough, I could “accidentally” elbow the offender in the gut with a fair amount of force.(And yes, the teachers did usually notice elbowing. I once was forced to apologize for my clumsiness to a groper. It was still worth playing the odds to see if I could nab the culprit.)

The past week, though, I find myself in a vaguely similar situation, which has me re-thinking other times when I either failed to create boundaries or chose to not enforce them. I again find myself in a situation where I could shrug a man’s behavior off as an example of “men being men,” with no malicious intent or ability to learn better (following the old dog/new trick theory of learning), or decide on a course of action to ensure it does not happen again.

Stated that way, the decision sounds obvious: take action to ensure it does not happen again. The flow chart is not that clear, though. Trying to make sure it does not happen again offers three branches:

  1. Tell the man in question that his groping, then forced kiss was inappropriate and he needs to both apologize and be warned that if anything like that happens again, our friendship is over; I’d give excellent odds that this option would include snarky comments pointing out that we have played and flirted occasionally, so do I expect him to read my mind about when he should not try to initiate something? (Hint: when I have my coat on and am getting out my keys, I’m signaling that I’m leaving. That is not code for “abruptly stick your hand up my shirt while you grind against me.”) Knowing him, the sarcastic comments would happen every so often, so this would not be a one-and-done discussion, unless the done refers to our friendship.
  2. Tell the man I’m having health issues and any sort of sexual activity is not possible for the foreseeable future; he was sympathetic when that was true earlier, but he checked with me every regularly to see if the situation had changed and I could play; that got old — and I got better, so our relationship was again physical at times; hoping that my situation would change would be reasonable, so the topic would be raised again. And again.
  3. Tell him that I’m in a new relationship, and it is monogamous; history shows that he would accept this reason with no future hassle as long as I occasionally mention my new boyfriend. Another advantage to this is that it does not upset any social groups or change our friendship in any fundamental way — we could still be in touch, still chat about common interests, even go out to dinner sometimes, all with a high degree of confidence that he will keep his hands and his suggestions to himself. Because we live in different cities, this option is viable. We don’t have common friends who would know any differently. The downside: it is a lie, even if it is for the greater good of preserving our friendship in a drama-free manner.

This sort of consideration, playing through the opportunity cost of each option, may seem like overthinking, but similar conversations with female friends over the years make me believe this thought process is not unique to me. A friend in an abusive marriage spent weeks talking through possible approaches to dealing with or escaping from her husband. Another friend in a supervisory position played through a variety of ways to tell a new hire that his compliments on her clothing and appearance were crossing a line. There are consequences for not letting boys act like boys — especially when the “harassment” is as low-key as a breast squeeze and bruising kiss from a sometime lover or getting bumped into in a hallway so that the man involved (possibly accidentally…more than once) cops a feel. “That doesn’t really hurt you,” I was told when expressed dismay that I again got bumped into by an older man. “Maybe he got a cheap thrill, but you’re ok,” was my partner’s reaction.

Thanks to #metoo, we are now telling some of these stories, and we are having discussions about definition and degree, consequences and consent. My generation should have started those discussions when we were inventing disco, I know, but somehow the buzz about Saturday Night Fever involved surprise that Travolta could dance, not that the movie was a sympathetic portrayal of a character who attempted rape after some moderately stalk-y behavior.

Discussion of these topics, however, should not imply agreement on them. One friend said that choosing to work in an environment with men means you deal with their behavior without whining — she admitted that an extra heavy staple gun that she kept on her desk has fallen on the feet of men who leaned over her desk in an apparent attempt to look down her shirt or crowd her too closely. Friends applauded that as a brilliant solution, far better than reporting the issue to HR. “No reason to get a reputation as a tight-ass,” one of my friends said. None of the stories we told involved “real” sexual assault or harassment, just the daily stuff that happens.

Several of my friends who have both sons and daughters have told me how much more concerned they are about their sons than their daughters. “His career could be derailed with an unjust accusation,” a friend said. When I asked about her daughter, she shrugged. “My daughter knows how to deal with life,” my friend said. Both statements are true — but that does not make either of them right.

Most of my friends and I were born at the end of the Baby Boom or soon after. Our attitudes were formed after the birth control pill changed the sexual landscape, and before AIDS changed it again. None of us have the same mores and expectations that we did when our hair was styled like Farrah Fawcett’s, but those experiences are still part of our history. The man who recently groped me is slightly older yet, part of the Howdy-Doody section of the Baby Boom. He’s enlightened, but only in comparison to the norm through his college days. Even though times have changed, history comes through.

I hope — no, I believe — that my grown children and their friends would frame all of these experiences differently, and their flow chart of options would include either more honest options or the willingness to walk away, damn the consequences. I am also confident in saying that most men, most of the time, are aware of social boundaries and operate within what is appropriate in given situations. Men do not want to be “that guy,” and most of them aren’t.

As I thought about my junior high water fountain situation, I realized that as far as I know, none of the girls told the boys — the “nice” boys, the ones we knew were not the gropers — what was happening. Our cousins, brothers, boyfriends — I think it is very possible they didn’t know. Maybe they saw a girl get groped at the fountain once or twice, and shrugged it off as an anomaly. Maybe they heard a friend brag about touching a girl at the fountain and laughed at the obvious fiction. I have to believe that most of the boys I counted as friends in junior high would have been embarrassed and appalled if they knew that was a fairly routine experience for the girls in our class. Probably. Maybe.

So what am I going to do — if anything — about my recent experience? I don’t know. The idea of controlling the situation so he doesn’t have the chance for a repeat groping, like our mothers suggested about the water fountain, may be the path of least resistance and the most honest. On the other hand, I’ve always liked the name Tod. He could be a forest ranger who writes poetry during his stints in the fire tower. That could work.