Monthly Archives: June 2012

welcome back, thomas murray… or shall I call you “TJ” now?

Nothing would make me happier than to never mention his name again.

But he leaves me no choice.

Thomas Murray has resurfaced.  A few days ago, I received this comment on the post “thomas murray, epilogue“:

Well, it was June 21st that I met “T.J.” Pennsylvania. He was very friendly and then overly friendly. Something uncomfortable about him so I googled him and found your very valuable information. He said he works for PPL in Allentown. Be careful and keep this info coming to protect our sisters out there.

Then, this morning, this appeared, from a different reader:

I thought you would like to know that he has surfaced in Pennsylvania outside of Allentown. He joined my singles social group (I am the leader) and immediately tried to charm some of the female members. We had a “funny” feeling about him, did some research and found your blog. I kicked [him] out of the group and warned the other groups he is a member of. Thanks for sharing this!

As the title of my epilogue post suggests, I had hoped that would be my last installment in the pathetic tale that is Thomas J. Murray.  But apparently, it is not to be….

It would seem that Tommy has been a very busy boy.  A few months ago, I received several emails from a couple of different women in the Virgin Islands.  The first was a woman who was involved with him and sickened by reading the blogs about his escapades.  I heard from her only once and have no idea if she continued the relationship.  The second woman had a friend who was involved with him and she (the writer) was suspicious and nervous about him, and somewhat frightened for her friend.   Sadly, the blogs that Jenni and I have written confirmed her suspicions, and her friend broke off the relationship, heartbroken.  The women appear to be separate incidences of Tommy mayhem (based on details provided in their emails).  Both asked that I not write about them at that time or in any detail.  So I didn’t.

But I wondered….

And now this.

So Tommy has relocated to Pennsylvania (What?!  No chateau in the French countryside as he promised me???).  I am a huge fan of Pennsylvania, as my family roots are there and I attended college there, but, let’s be honest, isn’t Allentown a little bourgeois for an international financier and renowned playboy?  I can only wonder what his new persona is.  Who is this “TJ” person?  What story is he selling the probably lovely and smart women he is romancing?  How long before he snaps?

He is apparently employed at PPL Corporation in Allentown, PA.  Hmmm… but what about his glamorous job ferrying around multi-millionaires vacationing at his “complex” in the Virgin Islands?  PPL is a respectable and reputable company — how in the world will he fuel his rum habit there?  Something tells me the salt of the earth folks in Allentown won’t be as impressed with his “I run with the bulls at Pamplona” schtick as the silicon bimbos vacationing in the Virgin Islands.

Oh Thomas, I can only hope that you will hit rock bottom soon.  That your wife discovered not only your transgressions but your true nature and booted you out of paradise.  That you will someday realize that you are not the smartest person in the room and women are not on this earth for your use and disposal.  That you will somehow become a good person, doing good deeds, and contributing in a productive manner to society.  And I hope that these things happen before you snap and become the monster of which I fear you are capable.

I have no idea why, after only two short weeks of correspondence, I was lucky enough to have discovered you and cut you out of my life. But I have thanked my angels many, many times, and prayed for the women less fortunate than myself who risked their hearts (and in some cases, their bodies) on loving you.  The only thing I can figure is that you came into my life just enough for me to become invested in the outcome of this story.  Because I am invested now.  I will keep writing, as long as you keep behaving this way.  Call it Catholic guilt. Call it the public servant in me.  Call it my sense of solidarity with other women.  Call it whatever you want.  You’re there and I’m here and I’ll keep writing.

Time to take a hard look in the mirror, my dear Thomas, and get some real help.  Put down the false personas and overblown stories.  Learn to be honest and authentic and real.

Please.

I would like nothing more than to never write another Thomas Murray blog post.

So stop giving me reasons.

“TJ” Murray

P.S. — If you arrived here looking for more information on Thomas, “TJ”, or Tommy Murray, please use the search function on my site and search Thomas Murray.  Good luck to you.

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Filed under dating, internet dating, relationships, thomas murray

please welcome our newest member

Last week I went to a concert with a woman I have known for 5 years and not spent more than 5 minutes alone with.  She emailed me, pretty much out of the blue, and asked if I’d like to go to this concert with her.  Her daughter had told her how much I love music (I’m famous among my daughters’ friends for playing my music loud and often and encouraging sing-a-longs in the car), so she thought of me when she realized she had an extra ticket.

Hmmmm…..

Turns out that was only half the story.

On the evening that we sat on the lawn, dining on Noodles & Co. prior to the show, she confided that she and her husband had just separated two weeks ago.  She had been in full agreement on the separation, but he had now announced that he wanted a divorce, and fast.  She was adjusting and processing all this information and her situation.  A whole new life was in front of her and she had lots of questions.  So, of course, since I was pretty much the first of our acquaintance to go through this (and therefore a veteran, right?), she called me.

I looked at my new friend (whom I’ll call “Gwen”), and was struck by the gulf of experience that lay between us.  She was mildly frightened, tentatively hopeful, and completely unaware of the emotional war zone she was about to wade into.  Gwen is a very intelligent, compassionate woman with two children and an 18-year marriage coming to a close.  She is not patently naive nor foolish, but it is nearly impossibly to appreciate what awaits you in Divorceland before you enter it.

I listened as she explained how it had come about and what their circumstances are now.  I saw her fervent hope that somehow this would be civil and they could still be friends, and I heard her enormous reluctance to do anything whatsoever that might anger her soon-to-be-ex-husband and threaten that future possibility of friendship.  I gently shared some basic framework of the road ahead and reminded her that she cannot control him or his feelings, and to take care of herself.

I didn’t share the ugly details of how disappointing it is to see your former spouse morph into someone you neither know nor respect.  I didn’t tell her how painful it can be to watch your children acclimate to their new normal.  I didn’t dismay her with tales of dating woes. Because she didn’t need to hear all of that.  She’ll find out soon enough.  Perhaps hers will be the divorce that is truly and completely amicable.  Maybe her children won’t struggle and dating won’t take the wind out of her.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Regardless, her future was not to be altered by my words, and I didn’t want it determined by them, either.

She relayed to me how someone close to her had cynically told her how horrible her separation and divorce were going to be and how foolish she was for thinking it could be otherwise.  My heart went out to her and I assured her that her story would be hers and her husband’s alone.  Not mine, not her other friend’s, not anyone else’s mattered.  Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Yes, divorce sucks.  There’s not much good to recommend the whole process.  But this is where she is now and scaring her silly is only going to make her situation worse.  None of us make our best decisions out of fear, so the longer she can avoid that particular zone, the better off she is. The other side — when she finally gets there — will be much better than where she is now.  But, damn, is there a lot of muck between here and there.  It’s kind of like having a baby:  if you really knew the pain of labor without the joy of the newborn, you might not have gotten pregnant that first time.  And the hard fact is that Gwen is already pregnant with her divorce proceedings.  There’s no going back.  Better to just hold her hand and remind her to breathe through it.

As the sun set and the opening act warmed up the audience, we talked about what her life might be like when it was all over.  I made her laugh and kept her focused on the possibilities in front of her.  She told me how much better she was feeling, and I was glad. We talked about the importance of female friendships and the need for community when going through something life-changing like this.

In the week since then, we’ve exchanged a few emails and I have noticed things that take me back to when I was newly separated.  The plot is so much the same, even if the story is unique.

Sometimes I am still surprised to realize that I am divorced — “What?!  When did that happen?!” — but then I look around me and the events of the last 3 1/2 years come rushing up to my consciousness and I remember that at some point, I joined this club.  It’s a strange club.  No one ever wants to join, or imagines that they will be a member someday.  And yet here we are.  Moving forward, glancing back, pushing on.

And reminding each other to breathe.

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Filed under divorce, healing, love, relationships, sadness, single mom

volunteer dads

Photo credit: Boulder Daily Camera.

When I was in kindergarten, I was a Bluebird.   It was a junior-level Campfire Girl, like a Brownie is for the Girl Scouts, but with blue uniforms and sashes.  I was abundantly proud of my uniform and of being part of my troop.  As a freckly-faced, redheaded, adopted, only child, with the only single parent in the whole school, fitting in did not come easily for me at that time, to say the least.

Our troop met at Mrs. Longo’s house for our meetings, where we would have the kinds of sugary snacks that my mom didn’t allow, then play games and do crafts.  It was all very exciting and grown-up, I thought.

One day, Mrs. Longo announced that our troop would be having a Father/Daughter Picnic. Everyone was very excited, but I was perplexed.  My dad had died before my first birthday, and I was uncertain of the protocol around a Father/Daughter picnic when one didn’t have a father.  I sat for a moment, feeling sad and confused and then had a great idea.  I approached Mrs. Longo and asked if my mom’s boyfriend could escort me to the Father/Daughter Picnic.  It made perfect sense to me.  He’d been with my mom for several years and was a lot of fun and liked me a whole lot.  I felt sure he’d be up for the job.

Mrs. Longo looked me, tilted her head quizzically to one side, and said, “But it’s a picnic for daddies and their little girls.  I don’t think boyfriends are the same thing, do you?”

Nearly 40 years later, I can still remember the way her brown hair was styled (in a 1960’s-style flip, even though it was 1974), the color of the carpeting in her den (burnt orange), and the way my mouth went suddenly dry.  “No,” I said clearly.  Then I turned around and walked out of the den, into the foyer, where I retrieved my little school bag, and then straight out the front door and the 1/2 mile home.  When I got home to my mother, I calmly explained what had happened.  And then I never went back to Bluebirds.

Some of us didn’t have the luxury of the kind of dad who married our mom, got her pregnant, and raised us.  When my birth mother sprung the news of my impending arrival on my birth father, she was met with a stammering confession that he actually already had a wife and four kids living in another state.  So much for  our happily ever after.

My adoptive parents certainly loved me, and my adoptive father didn’t want to die, but that was his destiny, and nobody could change it.  He left an amazing legacy a mile wide and twice as deep, but nonetheless, he is someone I know only through photos and related stories.  I wish I had had the good fortune to have known him, but our lives intersected for such a brief time, I can’t really say that I do.

But I was one of the lucky ones.  One after another, men lined up to fill the void.  To assume the role and all its attendant responsibilities.  My bear-like grandfather with his burly chest and loud bark, who allowed the six-year-old me to put rollers in his remaining hair and take pictures of it.   My mom’s boyfriend, Van, who taught me to build the best snowmen (and ladies — his even had boobs), and read me the Sunday comics in different voices for all the characters.  Countless uncles who doted on me and gave me advice and told me I was pretty and smart and wonderful.

And then, finally, there was my dad.  Insane enough to volunteer for the job when I was 13 and in real danger of becoming a bitchy, know-it-all teenager, he didn’t just tolerate my presence in his relationship with my mom, he embraced it.  He has told me, on more than one occasion, that he didn’t marry my mom in spite of me, but — in large part — because of me.   “You deserved to have a dad, and I knew I could be that for you, ” he told me a couple of years ago.

My dad didn’t tell me what to think, he taught me to think for myself, even when it meant that we had bitter political arguments.  He didn’t tell me what to do, he showed me how to make good decisions.  He taught me about consequences and apologies and changing a flat tire and cooking a cream sauce without burning it.  He gave me solid, honest advice about men, and never judged me for the unworthy ones — “All part of the learning experience,” he’d say.  During my first month of college, he sent me a box of condoms and pamphlets about AIDS and STDs  (I became the Safe Sex Dispensary for my dorm floor…), and after my separation, he sent me a care package of tools and related DIY books, because “Every single mom has to take care of herself.”  And when people tell me that I’m a lady, I know that it’s his influence they’re seeing.

When he left my mom, he refused to leave me.  I was confused, and angry, and would have let him go, but he stayed in touch, even when it fueled my mom’s anger and cost him in more ways than one.  As the years went by he continued to introduce me as his daughter, and kept me in his will (even over my step-brother’s strenuous objections), and wrote me long letters in his perfect penmanship about the books he was reading and the boats he was sailing.

We have talked plainly and openly about the irony of our relationship and how it confounds a lot of people.  But to us, it makes sense.  I am his daughter and he is my dad.

I opened my local paper today and discovered an editorial opinion piece poached from the Seattle Times — my dad’s local paper — along with the cartoon drawing posted here.  And I took a moment to be thankful for all the men along the way who worked extra hard to make sure I know what it means to have a father.  To all of them, wherever they are now, I say thank you from the deepest, darkest parts of my heart.  Not every guy will sign on to change the life of a little girl who is not even his own, but the ones who do re-define “Dad.”

Here’s the op-ed piece:

It’s Also the Day to Remember the Fathers Who Stepped In.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Filed under love, men, parenthood, single mom

the deal.

My friend Annie got back from a short vacation last night, and before we even put our children into their respective beds, I had unloaded on her the detritus of a stressful week.  The expense and hassle of purchasing three new appliances, one of which has flooded my laundry room (twice!).  The predictable but still painful family arguments around the disposition of my aunt’s belongings.  A disagreement with James.  Essentially the stuff that is life, but a heavier burden when carried alone.

I remember once when I was a small child and my widowed mother had very little money, our dishwasher flooded the kitchen for the second or third time in as many weeks.  My mom sat on the kitchen floor, amidst the soapy mess, and sobbed.  Overwhelmed and lonely, she couldn’t move until there weren’t any tears left.  Then she fetched some towels and began the frustrating process of sopping up all that water, as I perched on the stairs and watched.

I have thought a lot about that day this week, as I’ve mopped up my own soapy messes.  Twice.

Nearly every marriage has some big parts that really work.  For me and Bryce, it was the rough times.  Unlike some couples, we were at our best when facing a challenge together, shoulder-to-shoulder.  Whether it was Sabrina’s serious health concerns or Bryce’s dual lay-offs in one year, we just braced ourselves and carried on, in sync.

One of the shames of divorce is that you have to divorce the whole person.   You don’t get to pick and choose which pieces of them you’d like to never see again.  The baby goes out with the bathwater, so to speak.

Since I left Bryce, I have not had another relationship that felt as reliable or solid as that one.  I miss that in my life.  I really do.  But in the absence of that particular kind of comfort, I have discovered a nearly-as-good substitute in my friends.

Sometime early in our friendship — before I’d even left Bryce — Annie and I fell into a certain unspoken deal with each other:  if one of us needs someone, no matter the time or inconvenience, the other is there.  We have each had moments in which we’ve dropped everything at work, or plopped our children in front of a movie, or told a date that it would “just be a minute” so that we could attend to whatever small or large crisis had exploded in the other’s world.  Sometimes there have been tears, sometimes curse words, sometimes desperation, and sometimes anguish.  Sometimes we have come through for each other better than at other times, but we have always been there.

A few years ago, I couldn’t have appreciated this in the same way, and I didn’t ask it of my friends then, either.  But when, after many, many years, you suddenly find yourself without someone solid to lean on in the dark or difficult times, friendships take on a different quality.

When I was in my 20’s and still believed that I was Superwoman, I had a therapist ask me where I unpacked my load.  I had no earthly idea what she meant, but it sounded vaguely sexual to me and I was embarrassed by the question.  What she meant, of course, was simply where was I safe enough to let it all out?  To allow all my deepest fears and hopes and dreams to get some air.  At that time, I had no answer for her.   Her question has stayed with me for all these years.

I realized this week that it is still a question I struggle with, but the closest I come to that safety is with my female friends.  With a few of them — like Annie — I don’t have to be always smart or always accomplished or always fun.  Sometimes I’m not any of those things.  Sometimes I’m frustrated and overwhelmed and sad.  And I thank God that I have people in my life who can handle me that way.

I am constantly amazed at how much better I feel after talking to a friend and unpacking my heavy load.  It’s enough to give me the strength to re-pack it and carry it for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet the washing machine repairman.  Again.

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Filed under divorce, friendships, marriage, relationships, single mom

how well do you know your vagina?

Even before I start, let me say that I can only imagine how many hits this post will receive, given that any post that even remotely touches on sex always skyrockets to the top of my ratings and claims the top spot for far longer than it generally deserves. But since we’re all (mostly) mature adults, I will continue…

When I was 21-years-old and living in England, I was on my lunch break one afternoon and alone in the office.  As I was leafing through some British version of Glamour or Cosmo or a faux Mademoiselle, I turned the page and was confronted with a double-page spread of vagina mugshots. One hundread to be exact. One hundred thumbnail photos of other women’s vaginas, all lined up neatly next to each other under the title “How Well Do You Know Your Vagina?” My jaw literally dropped. I turned the page quickly, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I snuck a peek back at the vaginal mugshots and proceeded to lose the better part of the afternoon learning more than any middle school health class had ever taught me about vaginas.

It was like intellectual porn, really.

There were lots of fun facts and figures (none of which I remember now), and all kinds of historical details about chastity belts and venereal diseases and the like. But the section that really arrested my attention that hot summer’s day was the part of the article that discussed how unique vaginas were and how very few of the 100 women pictured on the preceding pages could correctly pick out her own from the line-up. The magazine article lamented the fact and credited it to the repression of female sexuality.

At that, I looked up and wondered… Could that possibly be true? Of course we could pick out vaginas, right? We’d know our hands in a second. Our lips. Probably even our ears. And vaginas are at least as important as those, right? But then it dawned on me. I hadn’t ever really seen mine. Not really. Not the way it looked in the mugshots – the full-on, legs-spread version. And if I really thought about it, it had never occurred to me that they would all look so different. I figured they were mostly the same, perhaps with some minor variations, like a knee or an elbow.

Now, being that I was a young woman determined not to be sexually repressed, I was aghast. But I reassured myself what I was in the clear majority, according to the article. And actually (I triumphantly reminded myself!) as an American, I was probably in an even greater majority in my home country, given that we Americans hold the dubious honor of being the most sexually repressed Anglo society. So there!

But it still bothered me.

A few nights later, over Indian curry with some girl friends, I mentioned the article and asked them nonchalantly if they thought the statistics cited were surprising.

Girlfriend #1: That’s bollocks. Some twit who’s never seen her vagina wrote that article to justify her own prudishness.

GF #2: Agreed. It’s rubbish if you ask me I mean, who HASN’T seen theirs?

<general scoffing around the table as I took a quick bite of Naan and changed the subject>

Well, you can bet that I got very well-acquainted with a small compact mirror and my own pink parts later that night. Like hell was I going to be the only one of our acquaintance who couldn’t pick her vajayjay out of a line-up, should the need ever arise.

I had forgotten about that magazine article until recently. One morning I woke up, rolled over, grabbed my iPhone and opened my email to find this photo:

Credit: Elephant Journal. http://www.elephantjournal.com

It was attached to a story in one of my favorite online journals – Elephant Journal – about the latest craze in cosmetic surgery: vaginal reconstruction known as vaginoplasty. What?! I had never heard of this! Yet again, I was behind the proverbial eight-ball as far as vaginas were concerned!

You can read the article yourself here, but the nutshell version is this: women across the country are paying between $10,000-15,000 for designer vaginas. Apparently, the most desirable vagina is one with thick, full outer lips (or labia majora, if you’re the clinical sort) and small, tight inner lips (or labia minora). So, apparently, not all vaginas are created equally beautiful; someone, somewhere decided that there is a particular standard of vaginal beauty, and this is it.

Huh.

Okay, so maybe I should have been comforted and found some way of peacocking my privates around town a la Britney Spears, but instead I was just dumbfounded and more than a little appalled. I mean, really… is this what we’ve come to? We’re now judging and classifying women by the most private piece of our anatomy? Pitting us against each other – yet again! — in the continued, futile competition to be the perfect woman? How sad is that?

First I wondered whom decided on the ideal standard? The article indicates that this “perfect” vagina strongly resembles the standard exhibited by the ladies of the porn industry. After a moment’s confusion, I realized that this makes perfect sense. Women are watching porn in ever greater numbers – porn that is created by and mostly for men. And, for most women, it is our only real opportunity to see a vagina other than our own up close. So it stands to reason that more porn watching by women would result in a female curiousity about what other women look like down there and what men might prefer.

The next logical question is why would the male porn executives (do you suppose it says that on their business cards? “John Smith, Porn Executive”) favor this particular look over some other? Beauty, we know, is a standard that is (thankfully) forever changing to some extent. But, as study after study shows, within cultures, at any fixed time, there are very strong and consistent ideas of female beauty, and many of those ideas are rooted in biological drives of which we aren’t even aware. Large breasts suggest a nursing (and therefore) fertile woman. Same goes for a high waist to hips ratio. So, no surprise to discover that the porn pussy resembles a healthy, fertile young woman’s vagina. From older friends who speak plainly about these things, I have learned that as we age, and particularly as we go through menopause and lose estrogen, the inner and outer lips of our vaginas lose their fullness and elasticity, becoming elongated and darker. Therefore, vaginas that seem to resemble those characteristics of a post-menopausal woman (even in very young, nubile women) may be subconsciously associated with older, less fertile women.

So, yes, it appears that men (speaking very broadly here), might have a preference for a particular “look” in vaginas. This is not entirely news to me. Having a very curious nature and no real filter for probing questions with my male friends and lovers, I have conducted, over the years, my own informal survey of male preference of intimate female body parts like nipples and vaginas. And my highly unscientific survey supports the idea that there are, indeed, some very broad preferences.

Okay, so that’s the science (including my own, less-than-sound brand), but here’s how I think it works in real life: most men are simply happy to be given access to the castle. The location and structure of the moats and turrents are really quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things. As the Elephant Journal article makes plain, just because men may have a preference doesn’t mean that that preference will determine (or even influence!) their decisions about dating or having sex with a particular woman. One man even told me about how his ex had such long and protruding inner lips on her vagina that she would have to carefully tuck them into a bikini bottom. My mind boggled at this, and while he acknowledged that it was certainly not his favorite part of her anatomy, he’d been very attracted to her and loved her very much. So, bottom line, yes, he noticed, and no, it didn’t really matter. Was he relieved to discover I was built differently? Yes, but he definitely wasn’t dating me for my vagina any more than he’d left her because of hers.

I think the appearance and character of intimate female parts is, for men, probably similar to penis size and shape for women. Do we notice? Absolutely. But excepting the extreme ends of the spectrum, it doesn’t influence how we feel about the guy we’re with. Like eyes and hands and smiles, it may be – or not – something that we particularly like about our man.

So why are women spending so much money to get a designer vagina then? Typically I try to refrain from judging other women for their cosmetic surgery choices. Having not lived in their shoes, with their experiences, I do not feel qualified to cast a verdict on the wisdom of their nose job or breast augmentation. And, should I choose to have anything done to alter my body, I would not want other women weighing in with their opinions.

But.

TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?!?! Seriously, people?

The breast thing, the nose job, the tummy tuck, the liposuction, the chin implant… I get it. Honestly, I do. This, I do not, though. While I can recognize that perhaps I have never encountered the unique humiliation of disrobing and being concerned about the appearance of my vajayjay, I still have to imagine that – not to be a broken record – but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Is there a man (or woman, for that matter) out there who stopped sleeping with a woman because he didn’t like the look of her vagina? Perhaps, but I’m really doubtful on this one.

But then I have to wonder if the male reactions are subtle and the guys valiant in their efforts to conceal some element of surprise or disappointment, and I cannot imagine how much that would surely suck.  I suspect that the ex with the protruding lips must have received some less than favorable reviews at some point in her life… enough for her to ask the man I know whether they bothered him. So, obviously, there was some uncertainty or insecurity there. That I get. That I understand. And that I wholeheartedly sympathize with. Given the extremely long list of things that women worry about as we disrobe for the first time, adding something that intimate (and heretofore unchangeable) to the list is just a crying shame.  Ugh!

Finally, I wonder at our choice in idol. Why, again, are we making ourselves over to look like porn stars? Are the women getting this cosmetic vaginal surgery the same ones who are getting the double F cup size on purpose? Or are these women who are otherwise just like me and have decided that they need a porn pussy to be pretty? Usually major beauty definition shifts are credited to bona fide celebrities (See Cindy Crawford for curvy models and Angelia Jolie for full lips). But in this case, we’re talking about emulating young women who’s biggest achievement thus far has been to star in a porn movie under a fake name that would likely make her father put a bullet in his head. I don’t really get it.

But I guess it’s the only model women have at this point. Until more female celebrities start following Britney’s lead and allowing us all a glimpse at their vajayjays, we can only go with what we can see, I suppose. Still, it seems a shame. I’m sure amongst the top 50 female celebrities, the variety of vaginal types would be quite diverse. By revealing themselves that way, they could likely set at ease millions of women nationwide and stop all this ridiculousness before it goes any further. But I don’t expect to see Jennifer Aniston opening her legs for Cosmo anytime soon.

Now that I think of it, if the female celebrities do decide to take a stand for vaginal beauty, I think that all their male counterparts should disrobe publicly as well. Just as a show of solidarity, of course. Definitely not because I’m curious and like seeing hot men naked. I’m just sayin’.

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Filed under dating, relationships, sex

the relationship we all want

My friend Katrina has a new boyfriend.  He is polite and well-mannered.  Easy-going and easy on the eyes.  Masculine, strong, and self-reliant.  Attentive and sweet and funny.  But — you knew there was a catch, didn’t you? — he’s also “country,” and that’s causing some mild hesitation on her part.

Being “country” is something of a Southern phenomenon.  In Katrina’s part of the world, being country means being a little rough around the edges, a little less polished, and in possession of an accent that offers living, breathing proof that the word drawl actually does have three syllables.  Country people not only use the ubiquitous Southern-ism of “y’all” but take it one step further with words like “yonder.”  Who still says “yonder” you ask?  Southern country folk, that’s who.

Tim and Katrina first met online, and Katrina went on their first date with the  “oh why the hell not” attitude, where you’re pretty fed up with the whole dating scene but you might as well go out as sit through another episode of Sex In the City. Tim surprised her. He caught her off-guard. She wasn’t prepared to like him, but she did. A whole lot.

As they began spending more time together, I could sense that she was holding back, intentionally down-playing their relationship. When I confronted her about it, she admitted that she was feeling a little bit nervous about introducing Tim to her friends. What if they didn’t like him? What if they thought he was too country for her and therefore wrong somehow?

Okay, so some of you are reading this and scoffing or judging her, but let’s remember where Katrina came from: We grew up together outside Washington, DC, in a leafy suburb of accentless upper-middle class families. Everyone we knew went to college, as had their parents before them, and many attended Ivy League universities. Ours was not a town of conspicuous wealth, but upward mobility was expected and usually attained. There were no “country people.” Anywhere. The men of our acquaintance wore well-tailored suits and ties to work with shiny shoes and brief cases. They drove sedans, played golf, and many of them had photos of themselves with the President on their study walls. Grammar and spelling and manners were non-negotiables.

Like most children, we didn’t realize until we were nearly adults that the expectations and mannerisms of our childhood were not universal. But unlike most children (and certainly most children in our neighborhood), we began bucking them early. In fact, our first loves were small town boys from a working class steel town 5 hours away. They smoked and drank and drove muscle cars. We giggled at their accents and they teased us about our prissiness. It was a mutual fascination that proved how strongly opposites can attract – at any age.

But in the pre-internet, pre-cell phone age, those relationships existed in the incubator of that small town we visited whenever we could. Rarely did the boys come to DC to see us. Our lives intersected, but did not integrate. So, we never really had to face the question of how to create a life with a person so distinctly different from us. And when we got older and began the earnest search for a husband, the expectations of our childhood came back in full force and guided us strongly toward the successful, well-educated, acceptable men we married…. and later divorced.

The lessons of our earlier years and the outcome of our marital decisions are not lost on Katrina. She recognizes Tim’s value and the ephemeral “rightness” of her earlier choices. But she is still struggling with how to integrate someone so different from her life into her life. What will her friends say? God forbid, what will her mother say??

But then I reminded her of something: Most of us don’t value the relationships we see around us based on the individuals in them, but based on the quality of the relationship those individuals create and share. In other words, at this age, when we think of the relationships that we envy, it isn’t because he’s so this or she’s so that, it’s because of how great they are together – how they treat one another, the energy exchanged between them, the love that is obviously shared. In my life, I am surrounded by several relationships that I admire and not one of them is in that category because I would want to be with that particular guy. No, they captured that status because I value relationship qualities that they demonstrate as a couple.

So, my point to Katrina was that, when her friends meet Tim, see how he looks at her and treats her and values her, and see how she relaxes with him and can so freely be herself and adore and be adored, they won’t see his pick-up truck or hear his accent. They’ll be too busy cheering that she’s finally found an awesome guy who is worthy of her. And any “friend” that is focused on his country-ness probably has enough relationship problems of her own that Katrina should steer clear of that individual’s opinion anyway.

Who knows where Tim and Katrina will end up. Maybe the novelty of the attraction will wear off and they will discover that they are truly opposites, without much in common. Or maybe they’ll find that the surface differences conceal a deeper understanding and a shared value structure that will enable them to go the distance. Either way, whatever happens between them yonder in the future will likely have nothing to do with his twang.  And everything to do with whether they have the stuff that makes the kind of relationship we all want.

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