Monthly Archives: May 2011

ashley wilkes was not risk averse

A fellow blogger had an interesting post over the weekend that involved the idea of people being emotionally “risk averse.”  Her post was about the man whom she loves — a married man who has decided to stay with his wife but doesn’t want to let her go.  She sympathizes with his plight.  She feels bad that he is so torn.  She understands and accepts his decision, as well as his waffling, even as she tries mightily to disengage herself and move on.  She wrote of her lover being “risk averse” in assessing his marriage, their relationship, and the options before them.

I wrote a comment to her post and then decided that it was really worthy of a whole post of my own, because I think it’s a concept with which we frequently wrestle, in lots of relationship settings unrelated to infidelity.  It seems to me that if someone cannot or will not make a choice related to a relationship, they are frequently labeled as being risk averse to a potentially difficult outcome.

It got me thinking:  What do we really mean when we say someone is risk averse in an emotional setting?  One professional hat that I wear is that of risk manager, so I fully understand and appreciate and value the concept of weighing costs and benefits, but I think we’ve begun to apply it as a pretty euphemism for a not-pretty behavior…

Remember Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind? Now, I understand Ashley… really I do. I’d probably be great friends with Ashley and spend hours in philosophical conversation with him. He’s basically a good guy and he has some interesting and poetic and romantic ideas.  But there is a reason he is not the hero of the book. This is because, quite frankly, he is a pansy (yes, I know there’s a better word for it, but I’m going with “pansy”). He spends the whole book wringing his hands and saying variations of “Oh my, what shall I do?” while Rhett Butler…. well… Rhett Butler is a man of action, right? He doesn’t dither, he doesn’t over-analyze. He acts. And we swoon. Every. Freakin’.  Time. That’s not to say Rhett isn’t complex, or tortured, or capable of being crazy in love, but just that he’s not an emotional coward.

And what of Scarlett? As strong as she is, she makes excuses for Ashley nearly the whole way through the book. She understands, she sympathizes, she tries to hold his pain for him. Until she finally realizes that it’s not that he’s loyal to Melanie; it’s not that he is such a great gentleman; it’s not that he’s smart; it’s that he’s too scared to do either the completely right thing or the completely wrong thing. So he dithers.

Today, we’d call Ashley Wilkes “risk averse.”

See my point? Now, I’m being kind of harsh here, I know, and I do honestly believe that “risk averse” can be appropriately applied in some emotional situations. When one has been terribly, terribly hurt, natural caution does (and should) emerge to make us much more calculated in our assessment of situations before we leap. But I’ve gradually realized that most people who call themselves risk averse have no greater reason for fear than most of us; they simply choose to hide behind it.

I have a friend who had her heart shattered a few months ago. She is, most definitely, risk averse right now. She is so wounded and cynical and frightened. But she has every reason to be… what happened to her was horrible and mean and she needs time to regain her confidence in assessing risk and her ability to take leaps of faith. And she will. This is a temporary, rational reaction to a very bad experience.

I’m also dating a man right now who falls into the risk averse category. Prior to his marriage, he was fearless (and I do mean fearless; I shudder at some of his stories). But his ex-wife is truly the stuff of a bad Lifetime movie… she is more deceitful and manipulative and calculating than I ever thought truly possible in real life; her diabolical schemes literally shock me.  But he loved her. He sincerely, deeply loved her. Bought her whole Brooklyn Bridge, and paid dearly for it in every possible way. Five years after their divorce, he is still gun-shy. Normally, I’d say man-up and get over it, but the more I hear what she did to him and to men since him, the more amazed I am that he’s opening up to me at all. But he is.  He’s trying.  He doesn’t want to be paralyzed forever by his fears of repeating one awful mistake.

I suspect that some readers might argue that maybe some people are just naturally risk averse and don’t need a specific reason to exercise extreme caution in their emotional affairs.  Perhaps.  But to that argument I fire back:  how is that different from emotional cowardice? Why do we grant this kind of emotional dithering a nice, almost-laudable label?  What happened to the value of decisiveness?  The idea of “strength of character”?  The concept of facing a fear head-on and deciding that we must overcome it and we must do so without a guarantee?  Show me an American hero — male or female — who was risk averse.  Just one.

So, my point to my fellow blogger was that maybe before we grant someone the sympathetic title of “risk averse,” it might be interesting to ask ourselves why.  Why is this person “risk averse”?  How is this behavior different from sheer emotional cowardice?  At what point does prudence become an excuse to wring our hands and say “Oh my, whatever will I do?”

I sincerely do not mean to be harsh toward those who are struggling through understanding their relationship or their capacity to be in that relationship.  What I am taking issue with is the Ashley Wilkeses of this world, for whom ongoing, drawn-out indecisiveness causes pain for themselves and others, and even wreaks havoc with their own life.   At some point, you’ve done enough thinking and it’s time to make a decision.  Or, as my one guy friend likes to say:  Grow a pair.

Because Ashley Wilkes was not risk averse.  Ashley Wilkes was  a pansy.

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why every mom in america needs to quit

I rarely do this, but today’s post is a complete plagiarism of a column that a friend (a male friend, I might add!) sent me last week.  I love it and I hope you do, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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WHY EVERY MOM IN AMERICA NEEDS TO QUIT
By Mel Robbins

Ladies, it’s quittin’ time.  Since when is a year’s worth of laundry worth a store-bought bouquet of flowers? And three hundred dinners prepared rates only a breakfast in bed?  Yes, your husband and kids are fantastic and you love them madly, but we deserve more – we deserve help!

This Mother’s Day, don’t stop at taking the day off. Just quit.  That’s what two women in my life did.

In 1978, Judie Robbins stood up at the dinner table in front of her husband and three sons and said, “Effective immediately, I am resigning as Chairman of the Household.” My husband is her youngest son — he was 8 years old at the time.

For years, she’d been asking for help from the family. She tried using an allowance as an incentive; she tested out becoming a tyrant.  Finally, she just settled into a long stint as a silent, resentful domestic servant. But Judie woke up one day and took a step that too few moms dare — she decided to assert her right to the pursuit of happiness.

No more laundry, no more dishes, no more making the beds – no more of any of that daily drudgery: packing the lunches, cleaning the house, taking care of the dog or organizing everyone’s social life. “I’ll buy groceries and make dinner on weekends,” she announced, “but that’s it.”

What followed was silence … and some nodding of heads. After a moment, everyone simply resumed eating, totally unfazed. They’d seen this kind of thing before – playing dumb was the best strategy. The boys cleared the table, sure that, once their mom calmed down, they wouldn’t have to repeat the chore.

But Monday morning, there was no breakfast ready, no lunches packed, and no clean uniforms ready for a week of football and soccer practices. Judie wasn’t even home to hear their complaints – she’d gone for a walk with a friend.  By day four, the Robbins household was gripped by absolute panic. You could see it in the boys’ eyes as they ate Cheerios again for dinner.

Judie volunteered instruction, teaching the boys how to run the laundry and the dishwasher, but she never took over. She stuck to her guns.

Every few mornings, the boys crept down three flights of stairs into a dark, damp basement to run another load of laundry. They packed their own lunches, made their own beds, and kept their rooms tolerably tidy. On weeknights they took turns cooking very mediocre meals for the family.

When I first heard the story, I thought my mother-in-law was a monster.  How could she have done that to her boys?  How selfish! I thought. A third grader doing his own laundry?  I’d never be a mother like that!  I’d take care of my kids!  I’d bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan!  I’d do it all.  How wrong I was.

Being a mom has always been tough. But when four out of five families have both parents in the workforce, motherhood is a thankless treadmill. There’s very little upside. Even as women improve their incomes, and outnumber men in the workforce and professional schools, we’re still stuck with the second shift at home. Only 20 percent of men share housework with their wives in dual-income families!

Why do we do it? Because for a while, our husbands and our kids truly need us. In the early days of starting a family, being a mother really does mean nourishing, cleaning, caring. It feels deeply satisfying, but we hang on far too long to what’s safe, familiar and common.  There’s also the fear if we’re not doing it all, we won’t be needed.  The fear is real, but the reality is that as moms we’re needed for much more than folding shirts.

Quitting isn’t about staying home versus working; it’s about living in a modern world and getting what you deserve.  Once our kids reach school age, we can afford to ditch the 1950s ideal of motherhood for something a little more 2011 – collaboration and empowerment.

Last year, I stopped saying I was fine and I quit. I’d just discovered a pile of clothes in the closet that my youngest said he’d put away. When I confronted him, he looked at me with the deadpan honesty that only a 6-year-old can pull off and said, “But mom, I like when you do all the work.”

The fact is, your kids (and husband) can help a lot more than they do. When I quit as Head of Household, I learned just how capable my kids really are. For my Lego-obsessed son, sorting and folding laundry is a game.  Turns out, my 10-year-old loves to cook dinner and my 12-year-old can create a family calendar while texting, doing homework and weaving a friendship bracelet. The hardest part is letting go of how you want everything done. The best part is once you do, you have a solid team in place and time to be with everyone, instead of slaving for them.

When I thought about it, I realized my mom, Marcia Schneeberger, quit too.  When I was in ninth grade, she announced that she was opening a business with her best friend and would need my younger brother and I to pick up the slack.  I put up a fight, layering on the guilt, but my mom stuck to her guns and we kids got it done.  When my mom’s kitchen store opened, I remember feeling so proud that Mom owned it and I forgot about the pile of laundry at home with my name on it.

Quitting made me a better daughter, a better wife and it has let me become the kind of mother who isn’t ticked off and cranky at the slightest problem. My kids are more responsible, and I’ve gained their respect, because they see me as someone who won’t let people run her over.

You need to be honest with yourself and your family.  You aren’t fine doing it all.  It’s driving you crazy, it’s turning you and your spouse into roommates, and it’s making your kids lazy. This Mother’s Day, why not get what you really want?

When your family wakes you up this Sunday with breakfast in bed and the promise of a “day off,” just take a moment to prop yourself up with some pillows, gather everyone around and make the following announcement: “Thank you very much for the gesture, but this Mother’s Day I don’t want a day off.  I want the year off.  I hereby quit as Head of the Household.  Thanks for making breakfast.  Now what’s for dinner?”

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was it worth it? (pt. 2)

A new friend wondered aloud recently if I would have the desire and commitment to fight for the kind of love and intimacy I claim to seek, or would I let fear and doubt strangle the possibility.  Because I respect his opinion, I gave his comment some serious consideration.

Every person leaves a marriage for their own, very personal reasons.  I left because I was dying inside.  My ex-husband was not a drinker or a gambler.  He didn’t sleep around or lie or beat me.  I did not hate him or think him an awful person. But there did not exist between us that magical connection that is as fragile as the finest, thinnest silk thread, and as strong as steel.  Our love was not capable of surviving the challenges and punishments inflicted on it by circumstance and time, and no amount of wishing that it was could change that.  That connection, that intimacy simply wasn’t there.

It took me many years to accept that this was the truth… to face it in my own heart and do what was best for both of us… to acknowledge that I could no longer pretend that what we had was enough…. to finally leave.

Divorce sucks.  Plain and simple.  I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, if I had one.  I lived through my parents’ horrific divorce, and I still wasn’t prepared for how painful and wretched my own divorce was.  There have been ample opportunities in the last couple of years to search my soul and re-examine my commitment to my decision, and plenty of dark moments of intense pain and grief that have seriously challenged that dedication.  Lots of tears and lots of peaks and valleys.  And time after time, I have sat across from a perfectly nice, attractive, interesting man and thought, “If I wanted this, I could have it.  But is it enough?”  And over, and over, and over again, I have answered no.

Deep down, in the very core of my soul, I know extraordinary love is possible.  I have felt it and seen it and tasted it in my own life, lost myself in it and surrendered completely to the possibilities inherent in it.  I have also witnessed it in my friends’ relationships, heard their stories, and seen their eyes sparkle with that magical connection that cannot be adequately explained, even after decades together.

Am I frightened of getting hurt again?  You betcha.  Does my flight reaction still kick in with an annoying regularity.  Yep.  But over the last few months, I have finally begun to really push back against these demons.  I know that they could very well rob me of the prize that I seek with my full heart, and I absolutely, resolutely, with every ounce of my Irish stubbornness, refuse to grant them that victory.  No, no, a thousand times no.

I know it won’t be easy to find the kind of love and connection that I want.  And once it’s there in front of me, I’ll have to step up and dig in and commit myself fully to the adventure it presents.  I know that I’ll stumble, that those old fears and reflexes will show up like the party-crashers that they are.  Hopefully my partner in that great journey will have the patience to love me through it as I show the unwelcome guests the door.  Hopefully he’ll understand that beating these demons is simply part of my journey and not a reflection of my commitment to my ultimate goal.

Perhaps I won’t find the kind of love that I seek.  Maybe I’ll reach old age and simply be one of those remarkable old ladies with a bevy of amazing, loving friends and a life full of smaller miracles.  But I hope not, and I intend to keep trying to be open, trying to be brave, for the rest of my life.

I met someone recently who, like a nudge from the universe, reminded me of the profound possibilities that exist in the realm of love.  Against all traditional definitions of what is “rational” and “smart,” I have embarked on a wonderful adventure of mutual discovery with this man.  I have no idea where it is going, and, yes, that scares me a little, but at the very least, I have discovered another kindred spirit who seeks the same thing I do.  We are out there.

I have told only my two closest friends about this new man, and their reactions have told me volumes about my own commitment to the kind of love I seek, because they are both completely unsurprised that, once again, I have signed on for the adventure.  Are they worried that I’ll be hurt?  Of course they are; they love me.  Are they supportive of me taking this risk?  Of course they are; they love me.  They understand that I will never be happy with less, and so they cheer me on as I press forward.

When I first announced that I was leaving my husband, my then-closest friend scolded me, saying, “Well, I sure hope it’s worth it!” I endured her scolds silently, knowing that I could never make her understand how I felt or why I was doing what I was doing.  And what she could never appreciate — not in a whole lifetime — is that it is already worth it.  I am no longer dying.  In the last two years I have learned how to live again.  Yes, I crawl into bed alone most nights, and yes, I am poorer than I once was, and yes, my future is wide open and uncertain.  But there is possibility.  There is a chance.  There is hope.  And there is me, standing in the middle of all of that.

So, yes, it was worth it.  A thousand times, yes.

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