Advice from the Trenches: Trump Trouble

hopeDear C;

I am still in a state of shock after the election. That first day I felt disbelief, then sank into a dark depression. After listening to Hillary’s concession speech, I felt comforted by her optimism and positive attitude. Then I went into a state of denial. Now I am newly filled with horror as I watch Trump’s cabinet fill.

I don’t know why, but this election has affected me worse than my last relationship break-up. It’s like watching a political version of Streetcar Named Desire. The Stanleys of the world once again managed to strap poor Blanche into a straight jacket and haul her out of the picture. Got any ideas on how to cope?

Stella Stunned

Dear Stella;

I’ve noticed that a lot of people are taking this election upset personally. It threw us all for a loop.

I think that women have been affected in a very deep way. The female sector stood behind Hillary in far greater numbers. We were counting on her to set the stage for equality in this country. How many times have all of us worked our butts off to reach a goal we were well qualified for, only to see it snatched from us by some guy who should have been waiting five years behind us? Watching Hillary go down on that last night was like a post traumatic repeat of every disappointment and unfair loss that women and minorities have ever faced. She won the popular vote, and the bastards still wouldn’t let her in.

I can’t say, “Don’t worry! Everything will be fine,” because a cold wind of fear exhales its sour breath throughout the land even as I write. Immigrants are nervous as hell. Students are staging walk-outs; citizens have taken to the streets in a frustrated show of unity over incredulous loss.

Like you, I’ve gone through stages. My first attempt at optimism was this: Trump’s own party is not behind him in his more extreme beliefs; he’s going to be surrounded at all times by a team of advisors who will stop him from acting like a boneheaded teen with an overactive Twitter account. Alas someone did talk him out of acting on his sweeping declarations to toss Obamacare out on its nose, but now that the inner advisory circle is forming, like you, my optimism is fading. The crew he is assembling stinks of bigotry, nepotism and intolerance. Trump could simply become a more sophisticated and presidential sociopath with the very best sharp, ruthless people working for him.

However, I do know this: Elections and campaigns come and go, presidents come and go. What can be accomplished depends so much on things we do not see. Behind the scenes there is probably a vast and well-oiled machine in operation with producers who view the comings and goings of national figureheads as dispassionately as they would the casting and tossing of reality show contestants. The visible crew are, to quote Poe, “mere puppets, they, who come at go at bidding of vast formless things that shift the scenery to and fro.” So perhaps having a braying donkey in the White House won’t affect things as much as we fear. And let’s look at the bright side — Trump can still be fired. If people continue to resist and pick apart the guy’s life, they may eventually find something to impeach him with. It’s a cheerful, warm thought, except it would leave us with Pence, a Christian Right who scares me almost more than Trump does.

There is one silver lining to be had. Now we know what we are dealing with. Those Trump supporters were always there, silently waiting for a charismatic leader to pull them out of the dark. There are people in this country who are so desperate for CHANGE that they are willing to take a quick detour through Hell, via Trump’s hot air hand basket, to get there. Up until now, we have been a country of suppression, discontent and disenchantment. Now we are shouting out loud.

There’s a lot we can’t control here. But there are some things we can.

This is the time to take our future into our own hands. We can sob, bitch or snarl about the election, but that just feeds the Hate Machine. It is always better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Tonight on the news I heard Mayor Elorza of Providence pledge allegiance with other officials across the country who have already vowed that their cities will remain sanctuaries for immigrants. Brown University made the headlines with protests. This is no time to quit. In RI, our very state motto is “Hope.”

So that’s my advice to you, Stella. Hope.

And enjoy the holidays.

Advice from the Trenches: Learning to Love Sugar

sugarDear C:

I read an article on diabetes in the last issue of Motif that really got me thinking. My son goes to a school that feeds the kids breakfast in the classroom every day. He can’t avoid it; not that he wants to. You wouldn’t believe what they give these kids! Everything is packaged and full of sugar, except for the occasional piece of fruit. And then they ask these tiny little people to sit still for hours! It’s infuriating.
There is a national concern about overweight kids, but in the schools, where kids learn habits that could last a lifetime, they are shoving nothing but sugar at them in a school breakfast program.
Is there anything I can do?
Mad Hattie
Dear Hattie,
I feel your pain. I do believe there’s enough scientific evidence regarding the health dangers and addictive qualities of sugar that school administrators should have better sense. But the fact is, the funds available for free breakfast programs are meager, and it seems much easier  to do what is fast and cheap. A little research could turn up some comparably priced whole food options,  but low-income schools are overburdened with problems and have inadequate budgets. They are not likely to give the sugar issue priority. If you want the breakfast program to be better, you are going to have to do more than complain about it.
There’s several approaches you could take. If you want to be immediate, you could send a breakfast you’ve made yourself in with your son and tell administrators that your doctor discovered a food allergy and your son could have a seizure if he doesn’t stay away from sugar and food additives. Unfortunately, this could also embarrass your kid, and he might trade with a friend. Giving your son his own lunch also doesn’t solve the problem for any of his classmates.
A better approach might be to take it upon yourself to find out who does the meal planning for the breakfast program and ask why they have made the choices they have. Some people don’t know any better and don’t even read labels. If their budget is the big problem and they are willing but don’t feel that they can afford better nutrition, see if you can find healthy alternatives for them. You’ve got a computer — if you take the time, you can find solutions.
The fact is, it’s not always cheaper to turn to sugary processed food. Oatmeal is far cheaper than prepared box cereal, and cooked oatmeal with fruit is delicious, sugar-free and has tons of protein. If prep time and cooking facilities are an impossible dream, instant can be made with nothing but hot water, using disposable paper cups. Quaker makes a blueberry instant oatmeal that is very low in sugar. Even if cold cereal is the only option, read the labels! Gluten-free Cheerios have almost no sugar, while Captain Crunch is sweeter than some cookies. If you want to go a step further, with some volunteer effort you may be able to add nutritious cooked food to the mix. Low income working parents seldom have time to help out, but grandparents do. Grannies often yearn to feel useful and it’s actually good for their health and mental well-being to feel they are making a contribution. Maybe you could get seniors from the community involved.
These are just a few thoughts. The point is, that if you don’t do something, no one else will. If this is important to you, and it should be, then don’t let poor nutrition thrive by remaining silent. The administrators of our schools need to realize that whatever they save on their food budget for breakfast is going to be swallowed by the repercussions these kids will face later on. Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are reaching epidemic proportions, and the cost to our society adds up to millions of dollars a year.
This is important work you could do to help improve the future of health in America. Don’t wait for change … create change. It’s the only way change will ever happen.

Advice from the Trenches: Neighborhood Stalker

stalkerpicDear C;

I have a stalker. Don’t laugh, I really think I do. It’s a guy on my street.

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost five years now, and I’ve been going for walks since I moved in. Lots of people around here wave when they see me, probably because they see me so much. I’ve talked briefly with a few of them, mostly people out with their dogs.

This stalker guy seemed friendly and normal to me at first, like anyone else in the neighborhood; maybe a little lonely. He did seem to be home most of the time. I think that he’s on disability or something, because I noticed him occasionally limping past my house on the way to the bus stop across the street. The only reason I ever even exchanged words with him was because he has a cute little dog he takes out a lot. The dog always runs up to me.

I never gave any thought at all to the guy, but then, about a year ago, he started making occasional comments that seemed a bit odd. He’d notice that I cut my hair, or comment that I hadn’t been by in a while. Once he even asked me if I’d lost weight. This made me feel like he was … I don’t know … watching me or something.

Then I started noticing him sort of lurking more often near the house. At first, I thought he was just going for the bus like he sometimes did, but then I realized he wasn’t getting on the bus. He was just going back home.

So now I’m getting nervous. Every time I see him and his dog, I cringe inside, but I can’t just walk by, because the puppy runs up to me. I want to simply avoid his street, but then I’d feel like I was letting him dictate where I can and can’t go. So I act like nothing’s wrong. But I feel creepy and weird and I wonder what is going to happen next.

Am I nuts? Am I worrying for nothing?

Intended Prey

Dear Prey;

Of course you aren’t nuts. The guy is watching you. He’s noticing details. There’s only two reasons he would do this — 1) he’s a private investigator working a surveillance job, or 2) he’s checking you out as a potential target. Target of what? That is the big question. And I doubt very much that you want to find out.

I taught self defense and there is something that I picked up from studying police statistics and victim accounts: In 99.9% of incidents reported, the attacks were not random. Every victim was watched first, whether for five minutes or five years. The victims often knew their attackers by sight. This guy is paying close attention to you. He could even know that he’s making you uncomfortable and he uses the dog as an excuse to see how close he can get despite your nervousness. It’s one way potential victims are tested.

Of course, he could be just a lonely guy who thinks he’s saying something nice to the woman who walks in his neighborhood. But the lurking? That’s not the behavior of a normal lonely guy. That’s the behavior of a stalker.

Here’s what I recommend: Stop letting this guy near you and do not walk anywhere near where you might run into him. It sends the wrong message. It says, “I want to keep seeing you.”If you don’t want him near you, then don’t let him near you. That’s what victims do. They sense danger, but don’t trust their own judgement. Afraid you’ll hurt his feelings? Please! This is some guy you don’t even know, and that comment about your weight? That is too personal. You have every right to nip this in the bud, and you don’t do that by smiling and playing with his dog.

If you see him hanging out near your house again, call the police. Tell them the situation and tell them that you feel uncomfortable. Ask them to check him out. That is their job. They are trained to deal with situations like this.

This protects you in two ways — 1) you are not subjected to more contact with someone who makes you feel creepy, and 2) now the guy knows that the police are watching him. If that’s not enough to keep him away from your house, I’d seek advice from both the police or an attorney. Does this seem unfriendly? Too freakin’ bad.You are not, as a woman, obliged to be friends with every guy who wants something from you.You have a right to your own boundaries. It’s time you drew the line.

Advice from the Trenches: Drop-Out Drudgery

dropoutDear C,

I am trying to decide if I should stay in college after this semester. I just don’t feel like I need a degree in order to do what I want to do, which is pottery. I love being creative. I am happiest in my space at a local share studio. I think I could sell what I do. And if it doesn’t work out, I’d rather work for a nonprofit than some corporation anyway. Also, I don’t have much money and running up my student loan isn’t going to help anything. I feel that the best way to develop as an artist is to work.

I remember you said that you dropped out of four colleges and freelanced for years without a degree. Doesn’t it seem like a reasonable move?

Stellar Stella

Dear Stella,

I never said dropping out was reasonable. I just said I did it. I used to do a lot of dumb things.

I have a question: Does “I think I could sell what I do” mean that it’s still just a theory? Have you tried selling your work yet? If you want to pay the bills with it, you really need to know more. I understand that you love being creative. I love being creative, too. But if you make a living off your art, it becomes less of a creative exploration and more of a business. You aren’t just doing pottery, you are chasing down jobs, meeting deadlines, pleasing clients, considering market trends, attending conferences and trade shows, developing promo materials, etc, etc. And all of it costs money. Most small businesses have to start with a loan. And it’s gotta be paid back, with interest. Suddenly art becomes something you HAVE to do. It stops being fun. Especially if you don’t know what the hell you are doing.

So, let’s say you go under. No problem, you say, you’ll work for a non-profit. Why on earth do you think you don’t need a degree to work for a non-profit? They are real businesses. Do you read the job postings? You need a degree for almost everything these days. I am not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s true. Back in the 1970s, you could go to trade school and get hired anywhere as a computer technician. Today, with so much competition, you need at least a degree from a technical college. True, you don’t need a degree to be an artisan with your own shop, but you will be competing with people who take business very seriously. Either they really know what they are doing or they have an agent or partner who does.

Here’s what I think: I think that if you were ready to drop out and make your own way, you wouldn’t be asking me. So, in answer to, “Is this a reasonable move?” I gotta say — maybe later … but not yet. If you are smart, you will test the waters before jumping off the deep end. Talk to people who make a living selling their work. Take notes. Observe trends. The market is constantly changing and different for everyone.You don’t all have the same style or the same audience. Identify yours. Get a booth at some art fairs and see how people respond to what you do. Learn as much as you can about this world you want to live in and see what opportunities are out there.You may find someone who wants to invest in you. You might realize you were out of your mind to even think about it. But you will know something. Right now you don’t.

As my Sensei always said, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” So I say, stay your course, Stella. When the time comes to jump, you won’t need to ask anyone.You’ll just sail off that cliff with a smile on your face and a carefully packed parachute on your back.

Advice from the Trenches: Urgent Care

urgentDear C,

I had a persistent rattling cough that wouldn’t go away and was so exhausted I could barely move. My primary care doctor was on vacation, so I went to an urgent care. The doctor there ordered a chest Xray and blood work, but before I even got the tests done, he tried to prescribe antibiotics, and then Prednisone. When I protested against both due to side effects, he said “no one would take anything if they read all the drug warnings” and sent me away with two kinds of asthma medicine. I don’t have asthma.

I brought the prescriptions home and put them on my shelf. I’ve been looking at them for a week and a half while my cough improved on its own. WTF?

Miss Gruntled

Dear Gruntled,

Is that a question or are you just bitching?

Let’s face it: The whole purpose of urgent care is to provide quick, standard treatments for a limited number of relatively simple problems that might otherwise send a patient to sit in the reception area of a local ER all night. These walk-in medical clinics have their place in crisis intervention. But if you expect personalized, holistic care, you be barkin’ up the wrong tree. What you get at urgent care is wham bam, thank you ma’am, “slap a bandage on it” treatment. If you have a more serious problem, they will refer you to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Urgent care has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, you don’t have to sit in an ER all night. And you don’t face the prospect of losing your house over a minor case of strep throat. On the minus side, you will probably never see this doctor again, and the attitude that UCs take toward drugs can be somewhat cavalier. If you come in with a slip and fall injury, there is a strong likelihood that the attending physician will dispense Vicodin like M&Ms, without bothering to ask about alcoholism or drug addiction in your past. The idea is to make you feel you have been “treated.” I’ve known urgent care doctors to misread x-rays, overlook allergies and overtreat with antibiotics. However, they are not promising much more. They promise to be friendly. They usually are. They promise to be fast, and they often are (comparatively speaking.) They promise to be cost-effective, and if you weigh their average charge of $155 a visit against the average ER cost of $700, there’s no argument. And let’s be honest — urgent care doesn’t promise to be the Mayo Clinic. So, to a certain extent, I can excuse their generalized indifference to the finer details.

What I have a harder time forgiving are the ERs that charge $700 for the same generalized indifference. “One Pill Fits All“ is pretty much the theme, whether you go to the biggest hospital in the state or the urgent care that sits next to a Taco Bell in a shopping plaza. And most people don’t really ask questions. They want a quick fix, so they take the pills. “The doctor told me to” is a phrase repeated ad nauseum from the mouths of consumers everywhere. But with the number of deaths and injuries from standard medical treatments rising every year, I have to ask: If your doctor told you to jump off a cliff would you do that too?

Many people would. Their health insurance covers it, after all. And what doesn’t it cover? Well, despite the fact that there was great speculation that the new Affordable Care Act would address the need for alternative therapies, neither acupuncture, chiropractic nor any other type of alternative care is available to those with income levels too low to afford co-pays. And the co-pays that accompany additional riders on policies with better coverage are unattractive when compared to standard western treatments.

What is the alternative? Move to a country with social medicine? People in Canada and England bitch about their healthcare too. The problem is, it’s all the same western medicine. If you want coverage for something outside the box, like traditional Chinese medicine or acupuncture, go to Taiwan. A standard health insurance policy for, say, a middle school teacher, costs about $9 a month and covers everything.

My advice to you is to follow the same instincts that led you to shelf your prescription. Remain aware. Don’t ever just take the pills. Do some research. Take care of as many of your own problems as you possibly can. In the United States of America today, it is not safe to close your eyes and sleep. At least, not in a hospital bed.

Advice from the Trenches: Off Your Ass

Dear C;

offassI’m back in school. I know this is a great opportunity and a privilege, but it’s also stressful as hell. Last semester, I felt like I lost myself while I kept up my studies and grades. I let my exercises and yoga slide. Not only that, I seemed to get sick a lot; I’d catch every cold and virus that blew through.

How can I take better care of myself when I don’t have any time? I need to have some kind of a social life, so don’t tell me to “establish my priorities” and go to the gym instead of down to the pub. I need some help I can live with.

Harried Harriet

Dear Harried;

God forbid I should suggest you establish priorities. What am I, your mother? But if you want some real help, I gotta give it to you straight: Right now, all you are doing is shooting yourself in the foot. If you keep it up, you may not make it through the next semester.

Sacrificing exercise in hopes of making better grades is a bone head idea. Research shows that when people stop moving, their brains get sluggish too. Recent studies by an international team of scientists found that, while physical activities can take students away from school work, this time out is a valid investment to improve academic performance. A single session of moderate-intensity exercise can improve grade performance, brain function and cognitive reasoning. In fact, a study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that college students who regularly participated in vigorous physical activity consistently had higher GPA’s (grade point averages) than their more comatose counterparts — 3.5 compared to 3.0. That’s a pretty significant difference.

You also mentioned that your health seemed to suffer. Students are famous for infecting each other through sheer propinquity. If a bug is going around, you’d better have a strong immune system or you are like a piece of walking Velcro to which every floating virus and bacteria will attach. Chosun University in South Korea recently conducted a research series that showed that long-term, regular exercise considerably improved the immune defense mechanism against infections such as colds and the flu.

I’m guessing that you chain yourself to a chair while you study. This is probably the direct cause of your repeated illnesses last semester. And this effect goes further than short term; even if you exercise a few days a week, if you spend six or more hours a day in a chair (and this is amazingly easy to do) you are far more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes as you age. Get out of the freakin’ chair! Hemingway typed all his books standing at a bureau because furniture makers hadn’t heard of ergonomics at the time. These days, it is easy to elevate a work station; there’s a ton of options on the internet. I use an old fruit crate to raise my own computer so I can work standing up.

If you want to get some exercise AND you want to hang out with your friends, there’s no reason that you can’t accomplish both goals at once. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “the pub” sounds like a place where you sit on your ass and drink. If the idea is to have fun, you’ll probably have a whole lot more fun if you go out dancing instead of flattening your butt on a bar stool. If you try grooving at the pub, in about 60 seconds someone will be bitching, “Hey, siddown! We’re trying to watch the game!” I suggest a gay bar. Things may have changed, but in my day, they always had the best music AND ventilated dance floors. Or go on a walking tour of the city while drinking out of a brown paper bag (did I just say that?). It’s a helluva lot cheaper.

If your friends just aren’t into it, that doesn’t mean that you have to be a slack head.Your school probably has work-out equipment available. Take a book and get some of your reading done on the treadmill or stationary cycle before you head out for a night with your pals. Trust me, you probably spend that same 25 minutes playing video games or scrolling through social media without even realizing it. Just do it at the gym instead of the student lounge or your dorm room.

Exercise is also a remarkably effective anti-depressant and helps to alleviate anxiety. Considering the stress that you are going through, putting exercise on the back burner in hopes of winning the paper chase is probably the worst thing you can do. It just turns you into a sick rat on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

You wanted some help you could live with. Now you’ve got it. If you were hoping there was a comfortable, pub-friendly solution, there just isn’t. I’m not saying that it’s easy … but if you opt to simply grit your teeth and soldier on, you are far more likely to find yourself in the infirmary than at the head of the class. Get moving!

Advice from the Trenches: Can I Trust My Instincts?

datingDear C;

I’ve made some bad choices when it comes to men. I know that it probably has something to do with the fact that my dad was an alcoholic, but that doesn’t really help. The thing is, these guys always seem great at first; they have interesting ideas and are a lot of fun. Then after a while, the problems start.

I’m drawn to men by instinct — I like something about them. How am I supposed to know that the guy is going to change? It just happens! So what do I do? Ignore the guys I’m attracted to and wait for someone I have no interest in to approach me? What do I do if I can’t trust my natural instincts?

Door Number Three

Dear Door;

Instincts aren’t just something “natural” you are born with. They are also something you develop through experience and awareness. If your present instincts are leading you to losers, you need to become more aware. What exactly are these problems that always start? They don’t just appear out of thin air. I’m guessing that there are many signs you are missing because you are acting on impulse, not instinct. Try using your head next time!

These men you are attracted to may not look the same or like the same music, but they probably all have personality traits in common. When you first meet someone, you can’t always know if they pay their bills on time, are habitually late or if every word that comes out of their mouth is a bald-faced lie. This is something you only figure out with time. So keep your eyes open and watch for clues. Here are a few tips.

* Every man is on his best behavior when he’s on the hunt. You can’t necessarily gauge his sincerity or judge anything about his normal habits from the kind of treatment you will get while he’s trying to talk you into bed. A guy will change his sheets, get the expensive wine and flatter the hell out of you when he’s making his moves. The way he treats you afterward is a lot more telling.

* Heterosexual men aren’t generally as emotional as women until they get comfortable. If a guy confides his deepest thoughts and secrets to you on a first date, it’s a good guess that he does this with everyone. Either it’s a tactic to make you think he’s sensitive or he’s a drama queen. Do you really need either?

* Is he willing to be seen in public with you and introduce you to his friends? Does he HAVE friends? Anyone who isn’t normally socialized is more likely to have unrealistic expectations of a relationship, or to look for a co-dependent relationship. Does the guy say he wants you all to himself? This isn’t flattering — it’s unhealthy. Are the two of you going to spend the rest of your lives in a locked room?

* Does the guy talk about past relationships and blame everything on the other person? Are all of his exes “crazy?” This says more about him than it does about the exes. After all, he’s the one who keeps picking them.

* Are there things about him that tweak your alarms, but you explain them away or fluff them over because you want things to work out and think he’ll change in time? The best advice I ever heard from a couples counselor was, “Don’t ever get involved with someone expecting them to change.” People don’t change. If he’s stimulating, but flakey, funny, but volitile, and hot, but flighty, he is always going to be flakey, volitile and flighty. After a while the stimulating humor is going to get on your nerves, and his good looks are just going to make you cringe every time he flirts with a waitress. No one changes unless they REALLY want to. And even then, it requires persistent, exhaustive effort to change the habits of a lifetime. Don’t take a guy on as a project, thinking you can fix him. That’s probably what your mom did.

If you can’t trust your current instincts, maybe for now you can trust this: Increased awareness will hone your instincts until you get to a point where you CAN trust them. Until then, keep a note pad on hand and keep your eyes open. The clues are always there.

Advice from the Trenches: The Buck Stops Here

Angry_womanDear C;

I am a graphic designer for a small agency. It is my job to handle the computer files and graphics on all of the jobs that come through. There are also several other professionals that need to be called in, such as printers and copy writers.

I have never screwed up a job with my own end of the work, but for some reason I am always blamed when a deadline is missed or there is a typo in the brochures after printing. Nearly all of the time, the delay was due to the printers being late or someone else missing the typo. I am not the printer and it isn’t part of my job description to check the copy for mistakes (the client is supposed to do this since they know all the information), but who does everyone yell at? Moi.

The problem is, I feel guilty every time this happens, even though I know it’s not my fault. And it doesn’t matter what I say, it always plays out the same way — I get to be the whipping boy. How can I live with this crap?

Bill Me

Dear Bill,

My question to you would be: Why ARE you living with this crap?

A psychiatrist I once worked with often said, “Don’t agree to things you don’t agree with.” It’s obvious that you agreed to this arrangement at some point, and it was assumed that you would continue to do so. I’m guessing that any attempts on your part to address the issue or say NO were hesitant at best and that you probably gave up after a few half-hearted tries. People who feel guilty are not the best self-advocates. I don’t mean to be harsh, but you have really done this to yourself.

And only you can undo it.

You seem to be have become a professional victim. The mistake you all make is to blame others for every injustice that is done. The problem there is that if someone else is to blame, they are in the position of power. Only they have the ability to change the situation. How can you do anything? You’re just an innocent bystander who has no control.

News flash: Until you accept responsibility for your own part in this, you can’t change anything.

So stop feeling guilty, and stand up for yourself. I have had experience with co-workers who have tried the same trick on me. The Blame Game is an old one. It has definable rules. One of them is: “If you don’t hold your hand out, they can’t slap it.” I’ve long since learned to keep my hands in my pockets.You should too. Don’t accept the guilt when they come around to dish it out.

A word of warning: It would be nice if, when we decided to finally assert ourselves, everyone would go along and applaud our incentive. But here is what is probably going to happen: everyone else will stomp their feet and try to bully you back in your box. Be careful. Don’t make the mistake of thinking self assertion means yelling louder or acting self-righteous. That just makes you look like a kid yelling, “Did not!” while the other guys yell, “Did too!”You could all go back and forth all day like idiots if that gets started. Here’s what I suggest that you try instead: a preemptive strike. The best way to ward off your fellow players in the Blame Game is to document and list exactly who is expected to do what, and when. They have traffic managers in ad agencies for just this purpose. Make everyone aware of, and agree to, the schedule before you begin the project. Then when someone screws up and they try to blame you, just point to the list. There’s not much they can say after that. It’s tough to argue with your own agreement.

Advice from the Trenches: Beating the Odds

happy manDear C,

I caught my partner masturbating in the middle of the night when I got up to use the bathroom. HE says he read online that it was good for his health and “keeps him young” if he does it daily. I am not sure how I feel about it. I certainly don’t want to have sex with him every day! In fact, once a week is really more than enough now that I’m working full time.

I can’t help wondering — is it true that it is good for his health? Or is there something wrong here?


Dear Concerned,

First, let me reassure you. Married men masturbate. Men are capable of having more orgasms than you can ever imagine. It is not unknown for men to feel the need three times a day … and the rate at which teen boys can get it up is somewhat awe inspiring.

However, let’s consider the “daily dose” idea. Yup, there is strong evidence that an orgasm a day supports prostate health. Orgasm has also been shown to help alleviate depression and anxiety, and improve overall immune functioning. But exactly how many orgasms are we talking about?

The jury is out on whether a lot of orgasms are good for you. I sense that it is a highly subjective, and age-related, matter. The fact is, many men reported having more energy overall when they reduced their weekly ration of Os. The head of the national soccer team in Brazil routinely bans sex before the World Cup competitions. In fact, it has been routine practice to caution athletes from engaging in sexual intimacy before events since the first Olympics back in 444 BC. But is such an extreme measure either advantageous or necessary? Some scientists suggest that abstinence could help some athletes concentrate better. However, scientists also dismiss the idea that sex the night before competition has a tiring effect on an athlete or weakens muscles. The punch line? I’d say that it’s pretty much up to the individual to decide which scientists’ theories they like better. After all, science has been known to change its mind about many things, including the idea that the earth is flat.

A better question here is why does your partner feel the need to hide his extracurricular activities from you? Do the two of you come from a religious background that prohibitions masturbation or threatens followers with dire predictions of premature blindness? Do you have a dim view of masturbation yourself? The practice is far more admitted to these days, but there are still quite a few women who are squeamish about it.

I think it’s good that this issue is out in the open. It might be the right time for you and your partner to see if you can take your sex life to a more adventurous level. Few relationships include daily sex, but having an appreciation of each other’s masturbation preferences can open up possibilities that can be quite intriguing. One of the reasons that lesbians have better female O technique is that they are so familiar with it themselves. How much does your partner really know about what takes you to the limit? And what do you know about him?

Quite honestly, my only concern here is the timing. There’s nothing abnormal about pumping iron at night, but if it is going on at 3 in the morning, I gotta wonder what else is keeping the guy up (no pun intended). It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

In summary: the list of benefits that orgasm can produce is pretty impressive. In addition to the stuff already mentioned, orgasms improve circulation, increase fertility in women, promote healthy hormone levels and spike DHEA levels to improve brain function and promote clear skin. They can even help cure migraines. And here’s an encouraging thought: If your partner is masturbating at home, he’s probably not having an affair. If you can’t imagine having sex more than once a week, I would not mess with the guy’s current methods.

Advice from the Trenches: Out of Time

notimeDear C;

I work days, from about 8:30 in the morning until 6 at night. My boyfriend doesn’t have to get to his job until mid afternoon so he gets up late and then doesn’t get home until after 10pm. It’s really becoming a problem because we hardly ever see each other. We got a cat a month ago and the cat gets more time with each of us than we do with each other!

I have been staying up way later than I’d like to, just so I can hang out with him for at least a little while. But I’m getting sleep deprived and starting to feel exhausted. I think things could get off track between us if we don’t figure something out. Got any ideas?

BTW — a lack of time seems to be the biggest problem we have; other than that, we get along great.


Dear Frazzled;

Problems are the litmus test of every relationship. Most couples get along great when everything is fine and the living is easy. But when a problem comes along, you really start to see what you, and that other person, is made of. Can the two of you work together to find a solution? Or does dealing with a conflict just push you apart? If this is a serious relationship and you have plans for the future, this is a good opportunity to test the waters; in life, you will always have problems.

Lack of time can just plain wear out the best of us. My son told me that when he was in law school, every student he knew who was in a relationship ended up getting divorced or breaking up, mostly because they couldn’t pay any attention to their partners; university gave them too much work. And just imagine what the addition of a baby, a major illness or financial catastrophe could do! This is good practice.

Now for some practical pointers. The number one rule of solving problems in any partnership is this: Don’t approach it from an emotional angle. The person who whines the most and can act the neediest does not deserve to win. If more couples ran their relationships like they’d run a business, there’d be far fewer divorces. You need to use both common sense and consideration. First, make sure you are on the same page. Do you both agree as to what the problem is? Do you both want to solve it? Good. Now start negotiating.

First question: Is this time crunch situation temporary? Or is it for the long haul? Sometimes, jobs are negotiable and can be changed without sacrificing goals. A time crunch might simply be a rough patch you are both passing through on your way to your real careers. But if this situation is permanent, ask yourself if you really want live with it. Many doctor’s partners don’t see their significant others for years on end because that’s the kind of time such a career demands. Same for truckers who drive long distance for a living. If you want a relationship with more sharing and togetherness, this question really matters.

Next, some practical considerations. Do the math, same as if you were an administrator planning office schedules. Who has the most flexibility? Are you both willing to negotiate? And do you want to do the same things in your down time or do you want to sit and watch a movie while he wants to go out dancing? It’s important to plan stuff you both enjoy in those moments of togetherness.

Let’s face it: Having everything you want, whenever you want it, is NOT the best way to learn and grow in a relationship. Dealing with difficulty teaches you a lot more. Real life throws a lot of crap at couples; if you are not of the same mind about where you want this relationship to go, it will become apparent. Sometimes one partner starts to realize that the person in the bed next to them is going to get cranky and selfish whenever a situation calls for compromise. And sometimes two partners realize they will both do anything they can to work out problems and stay together. The thing is, you never know what is going to happen until you start trying.

Do you two have what it takes for the long run?

I think you are about to find out.