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Archive for the month “December, 2015”

We Need to Get Rid of Wedding Gifts

Now, from looking at the title, I don’t want anyone to think I’m a hater. This blog is called 29 to Life, so I’m speaking from the perspective of a 33-year-old woman, with mostly good friends also in their 30s.

A lot of folks are getting married and I’ve been attending a bunch of weddings over the last few years, and what’s really annoying me now is grown people, not young 20s, but grown people have gone beyond wanting better new stuff as seen in their registries, but to asking people straight up to crowdfund their honeymoon.

I’ve decided registries have become the adult version of the Nickelodeon Toy Run, but the products just show up to your house instead of you running through the store.

On top of that, to make sure everyone is able to give a gift according to their budget, I’ve seen a “tiered” approach, where the bride and groom have registries at Target, then Macy’s, and then Crate and Barrel or Williams Sonoma or whatever high-end place.

So I was telling some friends that most people who have destination weddings these days don’t even ask for a gift because of the expense of the guest’s travel and lodging. And that’s cool.

But getting to my original point. I actually don’t mind younger people just getting out of school or couples seriously just starting out and trying to build their home, actually having registries. I think it’s nice to help people start off their union in their new homes in a smooth way with the items they need to make their house a home. It totally makes sense.

I’ve been reading some articles to see where all of this came from, and that was the original premise. People used to be very young when they got married, so usually the gifts were given for that purpose or it was part of a young woman’s dowry.

There were even baskets for the bride, filled with items she’d need to help keep house that she’d take with her on moving day.

Totally functional. But this exercise of giving gifts in value based on how much your plate may cost at the reception, or people telling folks they have to get items from the registry only, defeats the true purpose of gift-giving. Which truly comes from the heart.

I do have an interesting suggestion that if people wanted to give me gifts, aside from money.

I think people think of the wedding so much, people don’t think of the marriage. The mundane days. The days where you need to power through. And on those days, it wouldn’t hurt to reach into your bridal bucket for the following things:
Let’s be real. These are things I think are awesome and as a 33-year-old with too much crap anyway in my house, I’d want:

1. Housekeeping Services. For any busy couple, this would totally come in handy. Modern couples should be sharing the load, and to be able to hire a housekeeper to do the heavy lifting, that could totally kill a potential argument about a dirty dish left in the sink.

2. Babysitting Services. This one is going to go with number 3. If you’re good with kids, you may want to help the couple out when they are in need of a date night. It’s a relief, when the village of loved ones step in to help take care of the little ones.

3. Gift Certificates to Restaurants and movie theaters. Once again, busy modern couples don’t always feel like cooking, and enjoy going out every now and then. Treat the new couple to a few dinners and movies, so they can switch it up from Netflixing and chilling.

4. Subscriptions to Plated or Blue Apron. There are a lot of cool subscriptions to places that give you all of the ingredients to make great restaurant quality meals at home. Some couples really enjoy cooking together. Give them the chance to try something new without spending hours in the grocery store trying to find that one random item that doesn’t seem to be in the aisle that actually makes sense.

5. Couples Massage treatments. Now, I was irritated by couples who ask for this during their honeymoon, but I think it’s a great gift for AFTER the honeymoon is over and when the reality of life sets in.

6. Couples Therapy. You may think it’s totally personal, and bordering on rude. That’s only if you think therapy suggests folks are in trouble, rather than working on maintenance. But if there were gift certificates for that, I think it’s a cool idea, if the couple isn’t sensitive and open-minded. It may be a good idea, just like a physical or a teeth cleaning to start off with couple’s therapy to get a tune up on the goals of your marriage, to have a third-party remind you of your expectations you have of one another and to just explore ways to grow. I’m studying public health, which lives and breathes by prevention. So why not apply the same to your marriage. It’s a big deal.

7. Plane tickets to cities where out-of-town friends and family live. Now, I think this is a super dope idea. I love visiting my loved ones and it always revitalizes me. But I’m used to traveling solo, which is less costly. My sister tends to not travel as much because it’s expensive traveling with a family. There’s nothing like the gift of quality time. If it seems like you never see the couple, now they have no excuse you paid for their ticket! They just need to take the time off. (Now you know how close you are to the couple, so I don’t recommend this for everyone. LOL)

So yes, it’s time to get with the times on both ends. Older, established couples should be marrying each other and not married to the idea of antiquated registries, trying to live out their dreams of getting cool stuff that they wouldn’t buy for themselves. Instead, we should rethink our gift-giving for couples, and really give gifts that would help couples get closer and keep their sanity after this life-changing event. Houses that you don’t have to clean, will make the loving last longer… so I’m told… wink!

 

I’m not the only one. Check out these articles.

From Slate

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/weddings/2013/06/wedding_present_etiquette_let_s_do_away_with_wedding_registries_and_give.html

From Racked.com

http://www.racked.com/2014/6/12/7592833/wedding-registry-history-chest-dowry

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Sweet 2016

With only a few weeks left of 2015 left, it’s really not too soon to discuss the New Year.
2015 was dope. I was able to visit three different countries this year, which is something I keep pinching myself about. I started a new job and despite academic ups and downs, I’m still in the game. I hope to walk in 2017, unless there’s a winter ceremony. We’ll see.
Anyway, the love department was pitiful, so maybe. Just maybe 2016 will present me with a new worthwhile situation.
But 2015 was a year of truly doing me. It was unexpected.
I took more chances, I said no to things I didn’t want to do and I followed my gut.
I even put myself in an 8 week grueling exercise program and managed to lose 15 pounds. I felt good about the skin I’m in. I did gain about 4 pounds back, so I’m not trying to have that, I’ve got more work to do, but the point is, just like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, or The Wiz, I’ve got all of the tools in me to do whatever it is I need to do.
There were victories this year, and there were defeats. But I appreciated the journey. I took time to give myself some props just as much as criticize and analyze all the stuff I did wrong.
So, I have no resolutions. I want to do what I did in 2015, but on a larger scale. Challenge myself more, love myself more. Rest. Travel. Learn a thing or two or three. Feel good about my decisions and then keep it moving. Not agonize over every little thing.
Let’s make it a Sweet 2016! Cheers!

Accidental Pioneers

As of late, I’ve been getting into a lot of conversations about love in modern times. I’m interested in reading funnyman Aziz Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” but, I’m also afraid that his use of real statistics will make me feel even more off balance about the future.

I may have mentioned this earlier, but it seems to me that “traditional” relationships the follow the traditional life cycle works well or seemingly works well in situations where the power structure (vis-a-vis) the key breadwinner is the male.

This is all anecdotal. But especially in the black community, I’m finding that people who are working class and lower middle class who aren’t highly educated pair up faster. The people who live in smaller communities away from major cities are also linking up. (Google DC and Dating… all negative results) They will either marry young, or they have kids from previous relationships and have come together. There’s struggle, but they stick it out.

Throw the military into the game, and you have several young, married couples and that’s across ethnicity. It all boils down to choices. The young people who often enter the military are doing it to advance their life, because they have limited choices (some are actually really patriotic or do it out of family tradition). They may not have higher education, but it’s still the one place where you can rise, regardless of your pedigree, and get training, benefits and support yourself. The military promotes structure, and values marriage.

If you are successful and in a large city, you assume your options are endless and that you will get the best of the best. But you’re competing with everyone else who thinks the same exact thing.

I do think if you’re living in a smaller community away from the noise and distractions of a big city, people are focused on different kinds of activities that lend themselves to the ideal of family and friends and when you meet those kinds of people who share those values, it’s easier to connect.

There was a huge culture shift when I lived in the south. Since there weren’t any really great clubs, or you literally saw the same people all of the time, I found myself enjoying barbecues with my friends and visiting some beautiful parks and recreational facilities to just lay back and enjoy a beautiful view. When your mind and body has time to rest and relax, I think you can be more vulnerable. The pace of life seemed terribly slow. Too slow.

The hustle and bustle of urban living makes us harsh, and it makes us impatient, always on alert and skeptical and looking for the new restaurant or show coming to town, because there always is one. You expect change, you expect variety, you expect to show up someplace and be entertained, you expect instant or near instant gratification.  This isn’t to say I’d find my bliss in a small town, but living in a major city provides a lot of competition.

Even my friends living in smaller cities find themselves with a different view on life than other residents, which makes it a bit harder to connect. So there are all kinds of caveats here.

I used to scratch my head. Here I was with all of these beautiful, intelligent friends, and folks that I went to high school with in my boring ass town, or people who could be labeled as hood, who may have already had not just one, but multiple kids in tow, were getting married.

I knew I didn’t want the type of men they had because I didn’t feel like they’d stimulate me, or they had kids, but I did notice a common thread.

These guys may have not had a lot, but they were hard workers. It seemed like they may have learned some tough lessons and wanted to get it right once they met a good woman. They were accepting and they knew when to stop acting like they had every option in the world and bet on a sure thing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, my very-well educated friends tried to listen to the don’t settle noise and they chose dudes who they thought were like the men I mentioned, but they were not. They wound up attracting losers who had no problem with living off of them, and having them take care of their kids, bringing absolutely nothing to the table. They almost always had something negative to say about their previous relationships and that it was always the other person’s fault.

So, it is kind of baffling that the first type of man who I mentioned doesn’t end up with the educated woman, but at the same time it’s not.

That first type of man, needs to be the man and doesn’t want to compete or feel like he’s competing. He’s going to be sensitive about his woman making more than him. So I think he avoids dealing with these women on purpose. Strong women will attract scrubs, but it doesn’t mean you should say yes to them.

At this point in the game, I think love, socioeconomics and power (or at least the perception of power) go hand-in-hand and that’s what’s keeping me and my friends single. There’s an invisible caste system, and the stronghold of patriarchal society that’s a barrier to our societal advancement in areas of marital love. Men have to play a role in normalizing women’s equality in business and at home and be more comfortable with the blurring of traditional lines instead of being perfectly fine with a second income, but still not helping enough at home or with the children. That’s today’s man’s new conflict. He’s either going to implicitly protect patriarchy or he’s going to readjust his home and make serious and real room for his wife in not only financial decision-making (which men do seem to be good about), but in home and child care as well (still seen in the eyes of many as the woman’s job).

There’s a little old song that says, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Need and the ability to lean on another person and even trust them to do the right thing in your best interest does take your relationship to a deeper level and will get you there faster.

I’ve seen this several times when I’ve dated educated black men, it’s far more difficult to get them to open up, and be vulnerable. Just like us, they do not want to exhibit weakness, but they want to keep you at arms reach.

At this point I feel like dating is more about convincing someone to care about you with the least amount of effort and emotional risk on your part. And that’s where we’re fucking up..

We can drain our bank accounts and give ourselves heart disease over start-ups and professional aspirations that we wholeheartedly believe in, but we can’t break a sweat for love.

It’s too risky.

We can build just about anything.

But loving someone is the ultimate in unpredictability, and we just can’t do it. We see it as this impossible moving target.

How are we a generation of fearless innovators and boat-rockers when it comes to everything else, but absolute punks when it comes to love?

I do think on both sides, if both parties are highly educated and they make good money and have been able to take care of themselves, it’s difficult for two semi- to very successful people to be vulnerable enough to depend on, another person. They know how to fail and succeed on their own and take the praise or take the wrap, and these individuals can accept either. But it seems there’s another standard these people, male and female, have for their partners.

Deep down we want our partners to be exactly how we want them to be with little or no effort on our part. On top of that, we want our partners to accept us fully and be in love with us flaws and all.

There, I said it out loud. That’s what we say when we are adamant about not settling. And while I hate the S- word, people in a difficult economic situation, don’t have many choices, therefore they settle strategically for survival. If you’ve ever had to struggle, you dream about the things you want, but you are realistic about it. With the resources you have, you have to get the things you need first, and then make that stretch.

I honestly think that all of the sisters and brothers who have those “hood love” relationships, at their core they understand and practice that without even thinking about it. People who may have struggled financially, especially in their youth, know all to well about broken promises and the pain of going without. The act of consistency is much different from the promise of it. And I think two people who share that kind of background can far more easily get on the same page and fight for their relationship.

You have to get creative to make things happen for yourself, and you protect your loved ones and your family. You share so everyone has something. It’s communal.

It’s very different if you grew up in another type of situation where you had your own room, barely had hand-me-downs if at all, and could tell your mom she forgot your favorite name brand cereal and she’d pick it up the next day.

I’m not saying well-to-do people can’t love or don’t know how to love. That’s ridiculous. We are all humans.

But I think for me, as an educated, self-sufficient black woman, we may have ascended humble beginnings, but with that ascension we naturally want more. We demand more. We feel betrayed that after all of this hard work and sacrifice to make ourselves better, and make our families proud, and after all of our positive choices, we don’t get the prince charming.

We’re given different messages depending on the weather. Settle, don’t settle. Be more of this, don’t be that. You’re intimidating.

We struggle with having the traditional values instilled in our families about sharing and responsibility to our loved ones, while in our professional lives, we are playing the individual success game, by totally opposite rules. There’s a conflict in the spirit of successful black women. We are suspended in between worlds. No other generations of black women have been where we are, and that’s why they are no fucking help whatsoever and why our conversations around relationships include more questions than answers.

Our mothers and grandmothers want us to find love, and even though they got married young, they knew it wasn’t easy by any means, and they may secretly envy our independence. That’s a whole other post.

And our largest struggle isn’t finding that right man, it’s reconciling that conflict and making peace that we are living in a strange time of duality. Our largest and most awful reality is that we have to wing it. There’s no one before us to tell us how to do this because we are the pioneers in a new terrain, with very different challenges. No one else, no matter how much we respect them are going to have the answer for this. Sorry.

We have to stare down and grapple with:

What is it to be a woman in a relationship?

What is it to have the most power, education and financial freedom of any generation?

What is tradition?

What works for me?

Who is the type of man to help me define and refine our relationship just based on us and our unique history, experiences, strengths and weaknesses?

I think that’s why the conversations between us and our mothers and aunties and grandmothers are so difficult. A lot has changed within just one generation. Our mothers and aunties and grannies may have stayed in marriages that we would have left or avoided altogether, but economics and opportunity or lack thereof made those women work with what they had.

Love will always be about love. But marriage, it’s the day-to-day operations, the sausage-making that keeps us accountable to one another. Marriage is the teeth-cleaning and the oil change, it’s the practical and necessary maintenance of a union. It’s often not glamorous, it can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but it can heal, make you better and make your execution of love run healthily.

But I’m still not sure how the hell I’m supposed to even get there.

 

Family Financial First Aid: When You Know Better, Do Better and Pass it on!

Nothing can make you feel more empowered and in control as understanding your finances, making solid decisions and watching your money grow.

Nothing can make you feel as out of control, inferior and in panic and chaos as NOT understanding your finances, making poor decisions and feeling like you’ll never get out of the hole.

I’m not wealthy, I’m not rich. I really don’t have a whole lot in my retirement, but I’m proud of the time I made up in my 20s in the last couple of years.

I realized that upping the contributions to my 401k at my last job was a smart thing to do. I’ve changed two jobs in about two years, and when I left each job, I rolled my 401k investments into an IRA.

When things got funky with my financial aid this past semester (don’t even get me started my blood pressure has finally returned to a normal state), even though it was part of my “last resort,” borrowing money from my IRA was an option that saw me through a tough time.

I grew up in a middle class family, but my parents– neither of them college grads, but who did better than their parents, did not have a financial education. They winged it.

While my dad is a very intelligent person, he fears credit cards and hates debt of any kind.

My mother, also a very intelligent person, had addictions to store credit cards, as evidenced by our bi-weekly trips to the local department store to pay her bill, and the harassing calls after she lost her job.

So once I got a job and was given an application in high school, I got a credit card and quickly built my credit line to the point where as a college junior I had a $5,000 limit. Being young, dumb and at Howard, where the most fashion-forward folks go to get educated, I surprisingly didn’t squander my good credit on clothes. It was actually footing the bill for spring break to book planes and hotels for me and my friends and paying for my boyfriend’s car repairs (because how else will he get to work?).

In my early 20s, the joy of getting a full-time job after college and seeing larger checks in a low cost-of-living state had me living beyond my means and depending on overdraft protection, acting like it really was my money.  I assumed the overdraft fees as just the cost of doing business and kept it moving without a care .

It took a very, very long time and a five-year financial education program to help me improve my credit and pay down my debt. It was a proud moment to be eligible for a good credit card again, and in comparison to the last time I purchased a car, to go from having an 18% interest rate for a used car about 5 years old to an 8% interest rate the next time I purchased a same year model, brand new.

That’s where the feeling of being in control and accomplishment kicks in. But that feeling had to come from making some big mistakes, and then doing what it took to correct them.

I didn’t necessarily fear credit, but I needed to learn that it was a tool. Unfortunately, my father’s mindset that all debt is bad didn’t help, and neither did my mother’s habit of paying a card off, so you can just get more stuff, in a constant never-ending cycle didn’t shape the best habits in me either.

I am, however thankful for having friends who discuss stocks and watch stock tickers on the news and discuss them with their parents casually as if they were discussing sports scores. And I’m slightly jealous of the edge those financially-conscious parental gave my friends, that I just didn’t have.

Like my parents, who surpassed their parent’s earning potential, here I was with a college degree, but financially, I was winging it too. Having to figure it out on my own.

One of my best friends has been buying and selling stocks for years and her parents taught her to do so. At 33, I finally asked her for help today, mentioning how I admired that in her household discussing finances is as normal and healthy as saying good morning. And she’s excited to do it and already looking up some educational classes around the next time I visit home.

It never hurts to ask for help. We are often shrouded in silence when it comes to matters of money, because we don’t want others to know how much we have, or don’t have. I was particularly interested in investing more aggressively, because I want to replenish the funds I had to take from my IRA, and while I put aside money from my paycheck to pay it back, as a single, childless person, who isn’t in her 20s anymore, my window is closing to be as aggressive as I could have been if I started thinking about money more seriously in my 20s.

While some of my friends still live at home with their parents because it is so expensive, I realized I was pouring my money into high rents in the DC area for the last decade (and paying off my college-incurred debts for half a decade), and they were learning how to be aggressive with their investments, taking advantage of the financial power staying at home with the ‘rents can provide, so they can eventually leave the nest and afford to maintain.

Having a household that talks about money openly is healthy. We have to remove stigmas around modest living or what the reality of your financial situation is. It takes hard work and discipline, but building good financial habits is something that’s crucial to your future and that of your family.

I appreciate everything my family has done for me, so I’m not knocking them at all, but I can’t help but wonder what other kinds of goals and dreams my parents could have accomplished if they had the tools.

From time-to-time, my father asks me about how much I make. I now artfully avoid it after the one year I told him, and his eyes widened and said, “You’re almost catching me.” Yes, I do think my dad is trying to be in my business, but I also think it’s a matter of him feeling like some financial progress is being made and his baby girl is secure and successful and that hopefully, by some chance I’m making better decisions than he did. Sometimes he says it outright, relieved that I’m an adult to be able to really understand his point.

While my parents have never asked me for money, I do care about their lives as they enter their golden years. A part of me wonders that because I am still single and without a family of my own, and geographically closer than my sister, who does have a family, will I have to really step up for them and how will I be prepared to do so in a way that is respectful and commensurate with how wonderfully they provided for me, knowing some of their financial sacrifices and missteps will contribute to how comfortable their retirement years will be?

I don’t know the answer to all of those questions. And as a family, we’ll have to work together to figure them out.

What I do know is unlike my parents, I have way more access to information than they ever did.

The Internet is a great equalizer. Just this morning, I’ve read several Forbes articles on how to get started with the stock market and I’m energized and excited. There’s so much to learn and I’m mature enough to get help and figure out how to make my financial future and that of my family’s a whole lot brighter.

 

 

 

Women, You’re Dating Each Other

A guy friend of mine who I very recently reconnected with after a few years blew my mind with an observation he made over drinks.

I’m still single, he’s still single. We probably met a good ten years ago, but stopped speaking after a perceived slight on my part. We didn’t discuss that.
But we did talk about the world of dating, how things have changed between our parent’s generation and how awful going to the club is, but how “Netflix and Chill” and online dating is contributing to our social downfall.

He lamented that our generation’s dating fails are connected to one thing our parents had on a regular basis, that we lack.

House parties.

He said that house parties were unpretentious. There, you got social, you danced with people, you met a few new people outside of your social network who were friends of friends, there was good food and drink. Who wouldn’t want to warm up and get friendly in that kind of environment? Anyone in attendance was already vetted by someone in the room that you know.

I agreed. I couldn’t think of the last time I went to such a party. The best ones were probably in college. The closest thing in my adult life were ones I’ve thrown on a far smaller scale, and a wine party hosted by a couple I know, that was mostly attended by other couples and was quite awkward for me in the beginning.

I digress.

He also made my ears perk up when he said, let’s face it. Most women are actually dating their friends and don’t realize it.

I blinked. I needed him to elaborate, so he did.

“Look, y’all go to the movies, out to dinner, to the theater. And y’all all look so nice too, but out with your girlfriends. Great restaurants everything. Y’all even go on vacations with each other. Y’all don’t need to date a man because you’re already doing it with your friends. At the club, you dance with each other and get mad if a man wants to break it up and ask one of you to dance.”

I had to laugh.

He was absolutely right. I’d just come off of an extraordinary trip to Belize with some girlfriends, and it’s not unusual to hit up my friends to go out for a nice meal or see a movie.

I was complaining a few weeks ago, that being a part of a support system for a crew full of single women was tough and could be emotionally draining.

It felt like I was pulling double duty, doing things for some of my friends that I think boyfriends should do, right down to helping each other move, fix things, hunt and remove rodents and insects, or helping each other shovel out our driveways in the winter.

Sisters are doing it for themselves, but it’s kind of worrisome.

We’re leaning on each other a lot, and there is a void of protection and security and companionship a man provides.

I was getting worn down from helping my friends recover from bad breakups, health problems and other issues.

I wanted my friends to have a man, so he can help carry the emotional load and just give my friends that dose of male stability they are yearning for. Not long ago, I even prayed a prayer, saying, “Lord, I don’t even need to be first. I can be last. But give my girls the partners they need and deserve.”

My male friend went further to explain that this is a female phenomenon.

“You don’t see groups of guys out with the same frequency of women going out together.”

I had to agree. My friends won’t ever be a substitute for a real date, but if there are nice things you want to do and you don’t want to sit around at home, you will invite your homegirls. Usually, those really cool things that would make a great date, you still want to go, whether you have a man or not. On three occasions, I’ve bought tickets to some really great concerts that I invited men on dates to, and I was either stood up, or we fell out by the time the concert came around. So, I’d invite a homegirl to join me, because I’m still going.

So by my male friend’s description, I have been going on a lot of “dates” with my friends. However, there are times I have really, really, really wanted and needed the company of a man and some flirtation. My friends can’t give me that, and I can’t give them that either. Do I tell my friends they are beautiful and awesome? All the time. But there is a difference and a tingle you get, when the right man hands you a well-timed compliment.

I’ve joked with some friends that honestly, it’s almost like we’re in a relationship anyway, the way we support and come to each other’s rescue because at the moment, there are no men to do so, or no “Steady Freddies” that have come along. But then my joke didn’t feel so funny when I really started to think about it.

I found myself getting angry. I was angry that so many women have to lean on each other when they are sick, tired, sad, mad and in-between.

I’m thankful for my village, but there needs to be more diversity. By diversity I mean penis. Penis support.

So what say you? Are you unconsciously dating your friends? Be real!!

In a land far away on another social media thread, I peeped that people said, this post made sense, but I had no solutions.

I don’t have solutions. I was sharing a really funny observation and perspective I hadn’t considered. It had some truth to it. So, Sway, on this one, I don’t have the answers.

I do think women shouldn’t sit at home and twiddle their thumbs. There’s so many great things to do and see. Waiting for a date (and sometimes your company is awful) isn’t the look. Pick who you want to spend time with and go and most importantly, have a great time, whether you’re with your homegirls, homeboys, boo, undercover lover, hotline bling…

Oooh, back to answers. I’ma go with my friend. OLD SCHOOL  HOUSEPARTY!!!

More specifically to my life, maybe for me, myself, personally, I should try to get my guy friend to take me on a date…

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