Sap Sucker

Is it just me or is there an abundance of tear-choked moments stuffed into the holiday season?  That isn’t a rhetorical question, it could very well just be me; I can get choked up by a simple heartfelt thank you for a door held open.  Sometimes even the smallest gestured can work their way into my emotional wiring, but I’m talking about the larger scale sentiment all around us.  There seems to be a global conspiracy to up the sap factor around the holidays.  Maybe its longer nights to fill with romance.  Maybe it’s the hot chocolate and warm layers thawing the chill of apathy.  Maybe it’s the excess of spiked eggnog or the excess of family that drives one to drink spiked eggnog.  Whatever it is, I’m all for it.

I heard a study about how risk-takers gravitate to spicy foods as a way to challenge themselves through controlled physical pain. They literally play with fire.  Similarly some people enjoy watching scary movies as a way to experience risk on an emotional level, toying with the adrenaline rush of jump scares.  For me the thrill is from indulging in the flood of feel-good propaganda that studios and advertisers mainline into our collective psyche.  There are the coffee commercials with a surprise homecoming on Christmas morning.  The hero’s victory against overwhelming odds.   The swell of triumphant music as the underdog confronts his fears.  Hearing Inigo Montoya declare “I want my father back you son of a bitch” before running through the duke.  Forest Gump promising Jenny that he knows what love is.  The five minutes that Allie stirs from Alzheimer’s fog in the Notebook.  90% of Love Actually.  And don’t even get me started on the patriotic reunions with soldiers surprising their kids with an early leave from the military.  It’s relentless.  And wonderful.

Of course all of this stirring emotion is purely hypothetical; certainly a grown man such as myself would have nothing to do with such sappy cinema unless he lost a bet with his girlfriend or the batteries on his remote died.  Men are taught from an early age that nurturing is a feminine trait, and sappy sentiment needs to be abandoned in order to better focus on professional superiority, beer consumption and baseball stats.  My dad knew when and where to find a sporting event on TV at any time, any day of the week,… though this is when there were only 12 channels to choose from.   I don’t remember watching many rom-coms in my youth.  The closest thing to romance I ever saw were the soap operas like General Hospital and One Live to Live.  Originally I was just drawn in by the thin layer of intrigue with Robert Scorpio and the WSB spy agency, but it evolved into a shared experience with my mom, who enjoyed updating me on the story-lines I missed while in school.  This gateway drug grew into an over developed sense of romance, having experienced none of it during my awkward adolescence I settled for living vicariously through John Hughes films and Lionel Richie songs.  Even though I primarily related with the weirdos and loveless, I could get behind any happy ending (even the pretty dude from 16 Candles,… for Samantha’s sake).  That’s all anyone really wants, a happy ending,… errr, not the kind they give you in a sleazy backroom massage parlor, but the ones we experience in the collective darkness that leaves us feeling better than when we first walked in,… ok, that’s not helping.  Moving on.

As I get older, it is increasingly difficult to have the same optimistic view I did as a kid.  When I was younger I could imagine taking on the role of the hapless hero, and winning the girl through gutsy determination and honest empathy.  I had a lifetime of adventures still to play out and any one of those could land me in a comedic situation where an amazing woman falls right into my lap,… face first, after sliding down a muddy hill ahead of pursuing smugglers.   It could happen.  Or so I thought.  These days, with the exception of the 40 Year Old Virgin you don’t see many movies with a nerdy middle age dude scoring a romantic victory for the team.  Instead watching those same movies today I either realize just how old those sexy actors have become, or I ask myself if I could honestly outrun smugglers at my age or find the romance in our predicament after breaking my tailbone off that mud slide.  I look with a more critical eye at the wildly improbable serendipity of these magical movie moments.  Relationships sparking from a chance encounter or an unlikely friendship that blossom into an enduring, meaningful partnership.  They make love look so easy when it’s not.

According to George Strait, and a few others, “love is everything” and if love is “everything”, then what is love worth? What would you give for love?  What would you give up for love?  In the movies the characters make sweeping soulful sacrifices in the name of love.  They perform grand gestures and displays of affection right after a stirring musical montage where they struggle over whether or not love is worth the effort,… and then concur with George’s assertion.  In reality though how does this play out in our day-to-day lives?  What if we don’t have the PTO hours to stage that stunning mid-week surprise?  What if don’t we have enough left in the monthly budget to fly off to Paris or suddenly abort a planned solo trip, rushing back into the arms of our soulmate without regard for our checked luggage?

I consider myself a romantic.  I will go further than most to find a meaningful gift or struggle for days to pen the perfect sentiment that can’t be captured by Hallmark.   Sometimes though that’s not enough.  Sometimes in a relationship it’s simply a matter of “what have you done for me lately” where previous gestures either fade into memory or set an unreasonable precedence towards future expectations.  “Thanks dear for yet another pair of earrings,… now, have you taken out the garbage yet?!” Despite our best intentions sometimes the sentiment alone isn’t enough.  And perhaps it is this very thing that makes the Hollywood fiction so appealing.  The necessities of life and years of practicality may have tarnished the glamour of the fairy tale ending as it applies to me, but I still enjoy reveling in it vicariously; it is the epitome of romantic optimism.

So whether it’s a perpetual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, the National Anthem sung in tribute to Boston Strong or 9-11,  Zac Brown singing “for the stars and stripes” while showcasing active soldiers or even a simple toast at the next family feast, enjoy the stirring in your heart and the lump in your throat.  Be thankful we are alive to experience these emotions and carefree enough to embrace them; Grab that happy ending anywhere you can find it.

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Poster Child

While entering a therapy session to discuss the crippling heartbreak from my last love I was greeted by an “inspirational” poster on the wall which said, among other things, “If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love”.  While I appreciated the sentiment, and desperately want to cling to that kernel of optimism, I have some issues with the core concept.  First off, the cheeky little poster also stated in rather simplistic fashion “if you don’t like your job, quit”.  In theory that too has merit, but on a practical side there’s no mention of what’s to be done in the aftermath.  Like how the hell are you going to support yourself after telling off your boss and burning bridges like kindling?  Does this poster realize how competitive job interviews can be?  Is he offering to maintain health benefits for you and your little dependents via Cobra installments?  Is the uppity little poster going to help make your house payments if you can’t find a more fulfilling role in the next month or two or three?  I understand, for the sake of brevity and liability my new friend is keeping it simple, stupid.  Alternately he could have said “if you don’t like your job, consider seeking out vocational training in another career, going back to night-school to learn some valuable new skills or dusting off that resume and exploring your options in the job market.”   While this may be a more appropriate rendition it’s not quite as catchy and wouldn’t leave sufficient space for the bit about finding true love.

Now, getting back to that bit and how doing the things you love will somehow attract your soulmate; does this mean that literally my heart’s desire is already frolicking around doing those things I enjoy so I’m bound to run into her eventually or simply that if I’m knee deep in enjoyment I will radiate magical pixie musk which will drive the love of my life straight into my arms?  Either option does have its appeal, except when you consider that a great many of the activities I enjoy are either individual pursuits or extremely male dominated.  Creative hobbies like writing, drawing or sculpting are generally done while tucked away in one’s fortress of solitude.  Sure, there are groups out there that do those sorts of things but those groups are mostly organized at senior centers for retired folk available to meet at the community center every Monday at 2pm right before hitting the early buffet at the Golden Corral.  Sorry, not quite the demographic I’m going for at the moment.  And then we have gaming which certainly doesn’t exclude woman, but finds them in a severe minority.  Their attendance can have the same effect as dragging a slab of BBQ ribs through a health spa, enticing the assembled flock to descend on the object of their desire with a feral mix of hunger and desperation.  I’m sure this prospect sounds absolutely delightful for the average woman.  I honestly wonder how many women that do attend these events are there on their own accord without having lost a bet or just being lost in general.  A few of those voluntary individuals must be of the serious hardcore variety and even that could be potentially problematic since I’m a moderate in all things; finding someone devoutly passionate in one of these interests could end up being more off-putting than appealing.  This is the reason I’m often attracted to those who have other views and interests outside my safety bubble so I can avoid falling towards extremes.  TEDTalk speaker Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it more directly stating that “it’s the people not like us that make us grow” and that freedom is a key component to a successful relationship.

While I can appreciate the idea that you’ll find love once you stop looking, what are we to do with the here and now?  What about all the motivational speeches of living in the moment and finding your happiness in every ray of freaking sunshine?  I’m not getting any younger here people.  Am I supposed to waste my remaining years and my remaining hair follicles passively sitting back with the expectation that ‘the Universe will provide’?  If I followed Mr. Poster’s advice and quit my job would I stop looking for a new gig assuming one will come my way when the time is right?  Of course not.  As my uncle reminds me, job-hunting is a contact sport; the more contacts you make the better your chances of success.  Shouldn’t that philosophy apply equally to love?  Does finding the perfect woman equate to finding the perfect job? If Mr. Poster is to be believed we shouldn’t be compromising on either decision, but realistically how many of us have perhaps taken an imperfect job over the prospect of having no job at all?  (Am I the only one raising my hand here?) If we extend that attitude to a partner the wrongness of it does scream out, and probably accounts for many a failed rebound relationship.  So, we don’t want to compromise and we don’t want to wait.  What now?

For the time being I can understand that we should find our own happiness and embrace that, regardless of whether we’re singular or plural.  We can make changes to the one person we have power over, ourselves.  Certainly, a happy, fulfilled person will be perceived as more attractive.  We can work on the sex appeal of self-confidence and the serenity of inner-peace, all the while trying to ignore those random pretenders out there that seem to radiate a healthy optimistic vibe regardless of their true state of being… those are the ones you don’t know whether to hug or kick in the shins.  How dare they act so damned chipper while I’m struggling to maintain my happy peaceful aura?  Can’t you see I’m working here… you miserable shin-less vibe-radiating optimist!

But I digress.

Honestly, the only open path right now is towards recalibrating.  Hell, the opening sentence alone is proof enough that I should not be inflicted on another partner; I should probably be able to at least think about my previous relationship without hyperventilating before I consider signing up for another.  That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  Meanwhile, the dating sites can continue to run on auto-pilot in the background while I work on my “happy” in a non-violent, non-shin-kicking fashion.  This should keep Mr. Poster quiet, not overtly offend the Universe and still leave me some lingering hope that a miracle spark will ignite my pixie musk into a screaming fireball of passion… just so I can quote that last line in our wedding speech.

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Harmonic Cupid Matching

From the male perspective, online dating is a completely different game.  In the predatory barroom setting typically the male has the dominant role of hunter,… or so I’ve heard.  In my lifetime I’ve probably engaged in this sort of bar scene drama less than a dozen times back in college and even that was under duress because friends and roommates, driven by alcoholic delusion, were convinced that their boyish charm would score them some dance floor groping if not a full-fledged one night stand.  And since misery loves company I came along for the ride and was therefore blessed with the opportunity to bear witness to their drunken failure and inevitable shame.  But despite me and my friends’ lack of success I was able to observe how the game should play out by individuals more dedicated to the craft. The perfectly puffed up male swaggers confidently over to well-positioned and well-manicured female and engages in some level of inane small talk for the sole purpose of stalling for time while they mutually assess their sexual attraction; the woman evaluates his potential as a lover, a provider, and his ability to make her friends jealous while the man evaluates if she’s at that alcoholic sweet spot safely between “willing” and “passed out”.

Ok honestly, what do I know?  I just admitted very little experience with this whole process so maybe I’m just jaded and there really is some soul-searching being exchanged out on the floor.  My point, though, is that the role of the male in these situations is still very clear, regardless of the depth of conversation or the sexual end game.  When this moved into the online dating realm the gender roles remained the same.  Everyone fills out the same profile information, posts the same self-portraits in the bathroom, and pads their preferences with the same white lies – guys pretend to not be couch potatoes, gals pretend to be really in to sports, and everyone pretends to enjoy marathons.   But after all that it’s typically the guy that initiates the first contact.  For the woman this plays out with them receiving a stack of invitations from a variety of suitors from which she can choose one or simply ignore the lot.  For the man this plays out with them firing off introductions in a shotgun pattern hoping that something will hit and trigger a random spark.  Sure you can spend all your time combing through profiles hunting for your perfect woman, but chances are a dozen other Romeo’s before you have already filled up her inbox with the same attempts at witty banter and romantic propositions that you were so proud of just moments before.  After a week of the virtual cobwebs you realize that your perfect woman, who the site promised was a 92% match with you, is not going to be writing you back much less bear your children or share matching rocking chairs on the porch of the retirement facility.  “Ok”, you think, “how about this one, she’s an 88% match?!”  This process continues until you find yourself, late one Saturday night, after one too many rum and cokes, writing to a 65% match that is 10 years, 80 pounds and 120 miles outside of your acceptable range, then waking up the next morning with a hangover and a vague recollection of the romantic promises you made to this mystery woman only to reach the sad realization that she too has chosen not to respond.

Having exhausted my pool of prospects in this manner I start to consider perhaps it’s not me (of course, how could it be); perhaps I’m just not on the right site!  In this age of online dating the variety of sites that has cropped up is staggering.  Now days I can sign up for a specific site based on my age, race, religion, occupation (at least if I’m a farmer) or even my chemical composition.  This all sounds like a fantastic idea until you consider that any restrictive classification only further limits the pool of available prospects.  Think about it; you can fill out as many questionnaires as you like detailing your preferences and ideal qualities but if there are only three 40+ year old, Jewish farmers in the Sacramento area how meaningful is any of that amassed information really going to be?  It’d be like if I walked up to a vending machine looking to score a package of peanut M&M’s only to have it spit out a bag of stale trail mix with carob chips because that was the closet match.  Did I benefit any from finding my own personal vending machine?  I could have stepped into Costco and ended up with the same bag of trail mix but at least I would have had more options for substitution.  I could have settled for a jumbo bag of Goobers,… like that night I had one too many rum and cokes.

So am I bitter because the online dating world isn’t magically dispensing the girl of my dreams?  Wasn’t that subliminal marketing promise?  Isn’t it written somewhere in the cosmic small print that your efforts will be rewarded?   Ok, so maybe it is just me.  Maybe if Gerald Butler felt he needed online dating to meet the perfect woman he too would find a flooded inbox filled with provocative propositions.  Maybe that’s the part I’m bitter about.  Why can’t I lie down and be the proverbial prey for a while?  I want the woman to abandon the old fashion traditions and take some initiative damn it.  I did find one site that was basically the online equivalent of a Sadie Hawkins dance; it’s all about the woman being in control and initiating the selection process.   This sounds great in theory but doesn’t it come down to the same principle; woman having the ultimate power of selection over multiple suitors.  I guess the only real difference is I enter into the process accepting my passive role as the bag of Gooblers.

Either way I’m getting the impression that online dating is not the magical panacea I once thought it to be.  Just because we’ve transitioned to a virtual bar scene doesn’t make it any more glamorous or me any better suited to navigate it.

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Five Houses

My first house was snug, and shiny.  We arrived with empty arms.  We left a few years later cradling a toddler and dreams of more.

My second house was large, and promising.  We made it a home and grew a family.  And grew apart.  Several years later I left with a broken heart and a broken family.

My third house was a renovation.  It started with tears and welcomed love.  It was my shelter in a storm of transition.  I left two years later, my heart soaring for a new beginning and a new family.

My fourth house was idyllic, and pristine at the start.  We exploded into it with passion and fury.  It was a struggle to endure and more so to let go.  I left three years later with a broken heart and another broken family.

My fifth house is a blank slate.  It starts with tears and my arms wide empty.  I hope it fills with love.

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Quit It

“Nobody likes a quitter”.  This was the sentiment my mother instilled in me from an early age.  She identified what she saw as an emerging pattern during my childhood years that became cause for concern.  It started with Boy Scouts, after a poor showing at the Pinewood derby.  My dad didn’t have time to help me build my car and neither parent had the time or inclination to attend the event, missing the dramatic moment when my car lost a tire in the first race and flew off the track as I watched in horror.  For soccer I lasted a bit longer with maybe 3-4 seasons under my belt before realizing I wasn’t developing as a top-tier player, a fact I’d be reminded of daily when picked near last for scrimmage teams.  I saw no point in torturing myself or my teammates any longer so I opted out around the time I started middle school.   As the years passed I would go on to quit religious school following my Bar Mitzvah, the clarinet right before starting high school, and the cheesy karate class at the local YMCA almost immediately.

My mom called me a quitter, with nary a word minced or a feeling spared.  She said it had to stop.  I had to quit being a quitter.  The question is “when is quitting really quitting and when is quitting simply stopping”?  You can’t do everything forever, there’s not enough time in the day to continue on with every activity you’ve ever attempted.  There are some things you are just not well suited for.  You need to find your passion, something you have an affinity for and want to pursue indefinitely.  If you start something like martial arts or gymnastics what’s the acceptable endgame; earning a black belt or a regional championship, or do you shoot for grand master and Olympic medalist.  If you eliminate the option to “quit” what is the point at which you can say ‘I’ve given this a fair shot, I’ve learned what I can, I’m gonna move on’?

We can all agree that some things are good to quit.  We quit jobs we’re fed up with.  For Lent or New Year’s Resolutions we quit bad habits.  Smokers try to quit all the time with mixed success.  Actually in the case of smoking you have the opposite problem, where quitting isn’t even close to the endgame.  Every day you might be tempted to surrender the struggle to quit and just pick up the bad habit all over again.  You essentially quit quitting.

With all of that in mind, how does the concept of “quitting” apply to relationships? When is quitting really quitting and when is quitting realizing you are not the perfect match you once hoped for?  There are many opinions on the subject especially when it comes to divorce.  On the one side you’re advised to “stay together for the kids”, and told to work through the conflicts because “you made a commitment”.  On the other side you’re offered “happiness above all else” and “you only live once” as friends try to help you move on.  Blind commitment to a relationship seems to leave no room for the potential of a mismatch, whether it takes you seven days or seven years to discover it.  Certainly this sentiment can be overused and exploited as flimsy support of the male polygamy, but I’m talking about honest heart-felt relationships where a deal breaker surfaces for either party or someone simply falls out of love.  How much should you work through it in an attempt to keep the relationship alive and at what point is it time to cut bait and move on.    What is a valid reason to quit?  What differences are too different?  What offenses are too great to overlook?

A sense of commitment is the secret of a successful relationship.  Having a long view perspective on the relationship reduces stress and conflict in the daily grind.  If you can focus on the “we” and “us” in the long-term rather than the “you” and “me” of the short-term you will naturally approach hardships differently.  A national survey stated that 73% of couples sited “lack of commitment” as the major reason for divorce.  But what about conflicts with preexisting commitments; a friend they can’t stand, an in-law that doesn’t approve, or a child they don’t understand.  This leads to worse of all possible endings, where the love never quits.  The expression “sometimes love isn’t enough” sounds like a weak excuse until you’re grappling with it firsthand.  Conflicts with kids and parenting can cause a rift in a relationship that is elsewise resilient.  Can you justify breaking an earlier commitment to make a new commitment work?  How do you quit a relationship you don’t want to leave?

Oprah’s frequent guest, Gary Zukav, spoke of relationships in terms of growth and spiritual connections; a spiritual partnerships is a relationship between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.  Each is responsible for their own spiritual growth but if the relationship should reach a point where one person is no longer able to grow then the relationship should be terminated.  Thus Mr. Zukav wisely provides a logical end point; when either person stops growing spiritually within the confines of the relationship.  Sounds great in theory but spiritual stagnation may be a difficult metric to measure. How do you separate stagnation from the many spiritual wounds a struggling couple may naturally inflict?

I become paralyzed in indecision, over thinking the whole dilemma but unable to ignore my mom’s voice in my head calling my childhood self a quitter.  I want to make sure it’s not true.  I want to be sure that quitting isn’t a faulty personal trait but a natural expression of free will.  There are plenty of things I didn’t quit.  I never stopped drawing. I never stopped gaming. I never stopped writing.  Some things, the important things, you don’t quit.  I will never stop loving my kids no matter what happens and I know I’m capable of a relationship I won’t quit.

I think in the end we never really know if the decision to quit is right, until after we’ve made it.  If quitting was the wrong call, we feel the strangling of our hearts almost instantly.  If quitting is the right call we feel a lightness in our hearts as it soars with relief and release.  Sometimes that choice is taken from us, and quitting is the only option. Either way we must continue forward.  We must continue to live, and to grow.  We will make mistakes and we will learn, hopefully, from those mistakes.  We must quit torturing ourselves for quitting, even if it was a mistake.

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My Bedeviled Angel

A lot of people persistently struggle when it comes to personal fitness, and in recent days I count myself among their ranks.   On one shoulder I have the ripped Angel with the 6-pack abs sipping the kale smoothie and on the other shoulder I have the pot-bellied Devil chugging malt liquor.  In my world Angel typically wins out in the war on workouts; Devil has a better chance asking me to not shower then asking me not to work out, so instead he contents himself with sabotaging my shopping list and convincing me that the 2g of protein in the Peanut Butter Crunch, twice that of most breakfast cereals I’ll have you know, is a healthy source of protein for growing muscles, so thank you captain.    Angel, satisfied that I’m at least eating my vegetables, settles for a palm slap and a guilt inducing head shake whenever I have a chocolate chip cookie to “cleanse my palate” after dinner.  Left to my own devices I manage to keep them both in check and come out on the healthier side of the scale.  It is, however, a fragile balance easily disrupted by outside influences.  I once dated a girl that newly discovered you could order French fries with a side of gravy, providing a slice of Thanksgiving any day of the week.  Needless to say Devil was giddy with delight and Angel almost passed out while frantically Googling cardiologists.

One of the more serious external threats comes from the wee folk,… not the leprechauns pushing brownie bits samples at Costco but my precious offspring with narrow diets and youthfully unclogged arteries.  These little Devils have no problem feasting on the “bacon platter” for breakfast (that would be a platter stacked with only bacon).  They suck through Otter pops faster than a chain smoker.  They refuse to touch any food tainted with the smallest fleck of green down to trace amounts of dehydrated parsley found on the wildly unhealthy garlic bread.   They are the demon spawn of Domino’s pizza forsaking colorful vegetables and unprocessed proteins.  Worst of all is the fact that the little Devils require so much nit-picky care for the preparation of an acceptable meal that it leaves little time for alternative arrangements and just a bitter choice between choking down dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets with everyone else or working on a healthier alternative through dinnertime and scarfing it down between doing the dishes and chasing down little Devils for bath time.

Parental time management takes the greatest toll on the Great Expectations that is self-improvement.   Most successful workout routines fall into the time range of 45-90 minutes.  Trying to ease your P90X fitness guilt with a handful of sit-ups and a vigorous dash to the mailbox doesn’t fill the void.  I need extended activity; A prolonged cardio burn like running the bleachers at a football stadium which is problematic in the limited circumference of my current dwelling.  Inside this apartment everything is literally a 10ft radius from my desk.  When I had my Fitbit functioning in the previous house I could easily hit my goal of 10,000 steps just from multiple round trips up and down the stairs and delivering laundry to the four corners of the homestead.  It’s hard to make up that difference when time and space are so limited.  I need to either fill all free time with additional gym trips or multi-task when little ones are around, doing speed rounds of sprint tag with alternating pull-ups on the money bars between pursuits as lava monster.  Maybe I can install a giant hamster wheel out on the balcony.

I know some of it is inevitable; we grow up and then we grow out.  Our metabolism naturally slows down over time regardless of how much spice we spike our foods with.  Diets have to adjust to accommodate changes in our aging body and our fading activity levels.  At some point we have to realize our food intake no longer aligns with our daily calorie burn.  Continuing to eat like we’re teenage athletes makes as much sense as keeping those size 30 jeans believing that one day we’ll once again have the waist of a 20-year-old.

By this point my personal Angel, who was meant to be the model of health and virtue, is on the verge of surrendering.  When the Devil upends Angel’s kale smoothie and pokes him the belly like the Pillsbury Doughboy he no longer seems to mind.  I suspect his becoming a little too chummy with his devilish counterpart and the temptations being whispered in his ear.  It’s only a matter of time before he’s stretched out on a recliner during 8oz curls and using the devil as his serving wench.  Time for more stretchy pants.

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Market Placed

Nothing makes you question your ranking in this game we call Life more than a hefty dose of judgement.  Not the simple parental judgement like you never measured up to your sister or you never fully committed to the clarinet but the self-imposed judgement that comes with putting yourself on the market.  Be it the job market or the dating market we open ourselves up to a level of critique that is tough not to internalize and impossible to ignore.  I’d like to think that I have a fairly solid sense of self, with a complete awareness of all my strengths and weaknesses, but then people keep telling me otherwise, so who’s a guy to believe?

While I’m certainly not in a good space to start dating again my return to the job market got me thinking about both pursuits with a classic exercise in “compare and contrast”.  With that in mind here are a few random thoughts about hunting for love vs hunting for jobs;

  1. When hunting for jobs you can proffer an impressive assortment of references and recommendations. When hunting for love it’s typically best to keep a separation between past and present partners.  Not to say all relationships end badly but few leave with a burning desire to fluff you with flattery in front of your next potential mate.  Likely any offered “constructive criticism” would be light on constructive and heavy on criticism.
  2. I’ve never been fired from a job, but I’ve certainly been “let go” of a few relationships. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was a corresponding concept of “collecting unemployment”; some form of lesser relationship provided temporarily to tide you over until a full-time position could be secured.  You did your time, you paid your dues, why feel guilty about getting back from the system?  Sure now that I write it down it sounds like state-sponsored prostitution but it started off as an inspired concept,… kinda like the Shake Weight commercials.
  3. There’s no negotiation for better benefits at the start of a relationship; Terms are typically vague or left unspoken. Benefits are offered spontaneously and generously during the initial vetting period… then drop off gradually with each subsequent anniversary.
  4. Relationships typically don’t require relocation and any required travel is usually a good thing. Invasive TSA screenings are more easily tolerated when you’re just hours away from umbrella drinks at a beach-side all-inclusive.
  5. Both markets offer convenient shopping sites online to assist with finding a good match. These sites help facilitate the connection starting with an email inquiry, moving to a phone screen and then finally to an initial meet and greet with the team.  Luckily neither one scores you with a Netflix rating system after the relationship is terminated.
  6. There is no “technical challenge” or “white board coding question” in a relationship, though you have to wonder if woman would approach prospects differently if there were; “you did a solid job in the cuddling and listening portions of the exam but we felt you lacked the depth of experience we’re looking for in the bedroom, so we’ve decided not to go forward with this relationship.” To which you’d think, with smug satisfaction, that it’s probably just as well since she had an annoying habit of speaking in the third person.
  7. When hunting for jobs working with a recruiter is a perfectly acceptable shortcut for finding the right position. When hunting for love though the idea of matchmaker feels old fashion and typically ineffectual in the long run, desperately misplacing you with only the small handful of leads they have at hand regardless of compatibility… ok, maybe they are exactly the same as recruiters.
  8. When hunting for jobs I feel I’m often competing against a much younger generation. When hunting for love at least you can target woman of the same age range. You’ll still be competing against a younger generation but woman will either be more subtle about their preferences, won’t show up in your search criteria or will be listed on a cougar-centric site that you’re too old to register for.
  9. Taking it a step further, when hunting for love we can be specific about not only age, but social class, faith, race and sexual preference. When hunting for jobs, all that crap would be illegal, at least on the employers’ side.  I do still have every right to steer clear of the faith-based radio stations and health care providers however, not because I have anything against them as an organization but because my digital resume would likely be blocked by blasphemy filters.
  10. When saturating the singles scene you very much want to find the perfect harmonic match. You want to be the “one”, without question.  When trolling the job market I’m not so hung up on such minutia; if we both compromise our idealistic views and settle in for a complacent yet mutually beneficial relationship,… I’m ok with that.

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Halos and Mickey Eyes

It was a typically beautiful spring day in Southern California; the skies were a clear, deep, blue and the soft morning breeze kept the heat at bay.   We had just entered the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, and paused to take our iconic picture in front of the Mickey flowers with the train depot backdrop.  I was filled with a sense of joy and nostalgia to be back on the sacred ground that held so many cherished childhood memories.  I turned around to share this joyous moment with my beloved children only find my six-year-old blubbering in tears.  She had been excited about the park in the days leading up to the trip and even moments before but apparently something had gone terribly wrong in the time it took to walk the 100ft from ticket booth to photo opp.  I leaned down to try and make out the soft mumbles between pitiful sobs. My sad little princess proceeded to tell me “there are no rides here, I want to go home”.  And thus our adventure began.

It was at the moment that I realized vacations are a lot like past relationships; regardless of the amount of grief you may have experienced at the time, it all falls away when you look back through the tinted glasses of nostalgia.   I read that for woman they describe a similar “halo effect” after giving birth.  Moms don’t actually forget the pain of delivery despite urban tales, but rather all the positive sensations that flood in following birth leaves a predominantly positive impression of the experience as a whole.  That, to a far lesser extent, is what happens on vacation.  Inching along perpetually winding lines in the heat of the afternoon sun for 60 minutes at a stretch feels downright torturous at the time, but once you finally board the boat and enter the swampy preamble of the Pirates of the Caribbean all that melts away and you’re left with the distilled thrill of Imagineering magic.

Of course when small children are involved the long lines become the least of your concerns.  I think I spent half of my time walking through the park backwards trying to wave my daughter along at a forced march; “Come on, keep walking. Yes, it’s a pretty butterfly.  No, you just had cotton candy.  Yes, there’s another bathroom just up ahead.  No, we’re not shopping for a toy.”  Though I must admit for all my impatience with her slothful speed she was the model of patience through those torturous long lines.  The questions “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” were not uttered a single time in the park.  Lyft rides, yes, but park, no.

The requests that were ever-present were standard trio of hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger was easily squelched with a backpack stuffed with store-bought staples, and thirst was managed by selling a kidney and investing a small fortune in bottled water.  But it was the fatigue that was hardest to deal with.  As an adult I’m thinking of vacation as an investment in fun and I had planned to suck every last once of fun out of the experience.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  What I’m saying is if it was up to me we’d be scurrying about the park from the minute it opened to ten minutes after it closed, having selected the most remote attraction as the final ride of the evening with a fleeting hope that we’d get locked in.  We’d stagger home, collapse into a dreamless stupor and wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again.  With kids though I have to demonstrate a bit more restraint, lest my slothful rearguard become an unconsciously sack of potatoes.  Not only do we need to take breaks between rides but we also take mid-day breaks where there’s no expectations of movement or agenda and they can just veg quietly by poolside or bedside.  Once I see how much this recharging helps I realize how much we are taxing those little legs with an average of 25,000 steps each day; unless I want to do over a third of those steps with an unconscious sack of potatoes riding on my shoulders the down time is a minor concession.

Even with the rest stops we manage to rack up sufficient park time and all in all it turned out to be a really great trip; Ethan had memories of visits past and so got to enjoy the parks from a fresh teenage perspective while Emma had the height and the spirit to try every ride on our list, many for the first time.  After trying a warm up coaster in ToonTown we even tried her on Thunder Mountain.  This was quite a step up in intensity and I was worried it might be too much for her.  I needn’t have worried though; about half way through the ride I looked back to make sure she was doing ok and found her with arms waving in the air and a fierce smile shining on her lips.  The only hitch in the ride selection turned out to be the Matterhorn and the upgraded animatronics of the yeti; the previously laughable fuzzy dude originally only made a couple of appearances shifting stiffly from side to side.  Yeti 2.0 was transformed into a more terrifying threat jump-scaring around every turn.  Emma did not appreciate that one bit, and even Ethan thought it distracted from what was already not a thrilling ride.  I still liked it and one miss wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent the final day exploring California Adventure.  At the suggestion of seasoned park goers we made our first stop at Fast Pass kiosk for the new Cars Ride (Radiator Springs Racer).  At the time we arrived, about an hour after the park’s initial opening, the Fast Pass reservations were already backed up to 6pm that evening.  Since we all had flights out later that night this was to be the last ride of the day.  Making good use of the Fast Pass system is key to optimizing your time in the parks, allowing you to alternate waits in the traditional lines with guaranteed slots in the express lines.  Even with the unexpected crowds filling the park on those non-peak Monday and Tuesday we still managed to hit most of the rides on our wish list, including two trips on the new and improved Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain).  As the day wound to a close the only hold outs on our list were Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story Midway Mania.  What we did have though was a final golden ticket to one of the most popular new attractions in the park.  We returned to Cars Land a little early which was good because even the Fast Track lane was backed up beyond the ride entrance.   Progress was slow going and time ticked onward at a pucker-inducing rate; we still had to get out to the shuttle, back to the hotel, get a ride to LAX and catch the last flight for Sacramento.  As panic started to creep up the line finally surged forward and at last we were sitting in one of the shiny Car characters, looking around at the beautiful set design and anxiously awaiting the green light to race off into the desert scene.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until finally the announcement was made; the ride was out of service with no estimated repair time.  The lights dimmed, the musical score silenced and the power flickered as they rebooted the Disney magic.  We filed out with the rest of the stunned crowd with a palpable sense of disappointment.

The chaotic ending made for a fitting bookend to the opening drama, since everything in between was filled with a wonderful collection of new memories.   We didn’t get that final thrilling new experience to instill a lasting halo effect, but all the bumps along the road way will still melt away with nostalgia to leave vacation memories I hope my kids will cherish for a long time,… until they can bring their kids and have them burst into tears in front of the happiest place on Earth.  Seriously?!

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Tales from the Mid-point