Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is It Real or Fake Friendship?

One local fellow wrote that he was glad we are “friends” on facebook.com. We have met at public meetings and I would talk to him, but it is very true that we are not friends in real life. Since his profiIe was up on facebook, I sent a friend request. In “fake life” we are now “friends”.

What kind of friends are these people? I see references to “online friends” and “cyber friends”. There are poems about cyber friends. Websites designed to help you make netfriendships. There is no expectation of knowing these people in the flesh. I know I’m not nearly the first person to wonder about this, but every day I see more ads and ways to connect online. To me it always seems like a waste of time, or a way to stop the loneliness, or an addiction to interacting. Even so, sometimes you do become closer to these people online, but is it really a friendship?

In my life around town, I know a lot of people, talk to a lot of people, and refer to a lot of people as friends. Because I volunteer in so many places, I have people to interact with in real life, so I’m having trouble processing these new cyberfriendships. Why do people do it? Is it a hopeful sign that we constantly want to reach out to strangers in this world? To me it feels like we are on a path to the oneness of death by joining together beyond the physical world. Now that’s too heavy, but this internet world does swirl around me. It can also disappear with the push of a button.

My disapproval seems to be at the falseness of the online friends. It’s like some type of hobby where you collect things, except in this case it’s people’s profiles. You learn things about people that you wouldn’t if you were say … just neighbors. Sometimes the information is too personal and directed at others but you are exposed to it. Most of the time people are putting their best foot forward or simply promoting themselves.

Online friends can give advice but they aren’t going to be able to help you move or water your plants when you are away. You can exchange ideas but the friendship isn’t real. These new kind of relationships depend on the amount of time you can spend on the laptop, as it sits right here on the counter while I dash around doing chores. Sometimes it feels more like an addiction which is usually when I stop.

Will I be better friends in real life with my “friend”. We’ll see.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The One and ONLY One Requirement for a Spouse

This week I have decided that there is one and only one criteria when picking a spouse, the quality of the sex. Society deems it acceptable to go outside the marriage for every other facet of matrimony but not sex, so you had better make sure it is good.

The public really frowns on affairs and prostitution which is very evident in the media frenzy concerning former Gov. Spitzer this week. He apparently admits to both. You just can’t, can’t, can’t go outside the marriage for sex. Think about it, for everything else it is perfectly fine.

If your spouse doesn’t like to talk, you can talk to a friend. Why stop at one friend? Find a bunch. We all have cell phones. I always wonder who everyone is talking to when they almost run me off the road. It can’t always be a spouse. You can also depend on family members like siblings, mothers, fathers, or aunts. Talking with a trustworthy individual about all sorts of personal subjects is completely acceptable. You can have a best friend in your corner to support you in everything that you do. Society will not blink an eye at the relationship.

If your spouse won’t support your career path, then find a mentor, depend on a coworker, or get a counselor. Recently I even read an article on “work spouses”. People actually admit that they are very close to someone of the opposite sex at work, confide in them, go out with them, watch each other’s backs, discuss everyone else at the office, and basically share everything. I’d never been in one of these, but I think about Jim and Pam on “The Office”. All said and done, this type of relationship seems to be accepted by people.

How about if your spouse is a terrible cook? What about if you both hate to cook? If you are really rich, you can hire one. There’s always the possibility of takeout every night or going out to eat. Fast food restaurants or prepared meals from the supermarket are also extremely easy options. You needn’t marry someone who can cook.

Same goes for cleaning. You can always hire a cleaning service. Both spouses can be pigs.

You may not agree on financial matters but there really is only so much money, so you are forced to work these problems out.

If you belong to different political parties or religions, it’s alright to go your separate ways and follow your heart. Want to play a sport that your spouse hates? Go right ahead and join a team. You can watch sports with your friends too and yell your head off. If you love books, join a book club. Thank goodness for ipods if you like completely different types of music and you can always go to a concert with a fellow fan.

Society really doesn’t care.

You do have to agree on whether to have children or not but there are countless instances of infertility or accidents that change people’s plans. This one is not entirely up to the couple but there should be agreement, or at least nieces and nephews you can borrow if need be.

Thinking about having kids, brings me back to sex. You can’t go elsewhere for this one, so it sure better be knock your socks off as in “I never imagined it could be this excellent in my wildest dreams.” It’s the one and only thing you must exclusively get from your spouse so no other criteria matters when getting married.

Believe me, I never thought I would say this because it sounds so shallow and purely physical. Since sex really is the most absolutely awesome thing you can do, why wouldn't you make it your number one priority for your entire married life when you know you can’t get it anywhere else?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

One Small Way

Last year, my friend Christine gave me a book, Through the Eye of the Storm by Cholene Espinoza. She buys them by the case and gives them away because all the proceeds go to building a community education center to serve the Katrina survivors in Mississippi. The book is written by a phenomenal pilot who witnessed the devastation from the hurricane and was moved to action to help rebuild a community. Along the way she makes many discoveries about herself. The faith and strength of this book continues with me each day. Quite frankly, I’m in awe of these women. Amidst the overwhelming feeling of despair we all feel about Katrina, they are making a difference in one community.

Last year at my Episcopal church, I was talking in my usual way. I found myself suggesting that it would be great to have a coffee house. We should fling wide the doors of our parish and invite the community to perform. We had never had a coffee house at the church nor had I ever organized one, but I love music and thought that everyone would have a good time.

Ideas flew around and we decided to collect donations for Richmond, South Africa, a community living in poverty. Three women from our parish who work in medical fields were going to travel to meet this community and hear their needs. All the better if my fun little coffee house can help someone. We wound up raising $1,800 and collecting a few hundred dollars worth of items that the women would take on the plane with them to make sure they were not stolen during delivery, which happens. The idea was to have a fund so that when they came back with a clear understanding of what they needed, we could help.

In life, I’m just the inspiration and the organizer. I do events in my sleep. I haven’t spoken to the women since they returned two weeks ago. Last week one gave me a small African instrument because of the coffee house, but that has been the extent of my contact.

Some of the items we collected were for a sewing business. We gave them supplies so that they could sew and sell. Many international programs have been established to help people move toward self sufficiency in developing nations.

At their presentation this week, I was listening to the stories about the people, the conditions, and the facilities. The sewing shop was not great and had substandard machines, but the women were dedicated and trying to earn a living. They need three sewing machines and a press. The women from my church told them to buy them.

They made this announcement in the middle of the presentation, amid pictures that showed smiling women displaying their work, a report that they don’t have a bathroom, and the fact that the shop is next to a very busy liqueur store.

They are going to use the money to buy sewing machines. I was overwhelmed to know that far away in the desert in South Africa women are going to be able to sew to earn a livelihood with machines bought with the money from my coffee house idea. It was a powerful moment. In a tiny, tiny way I understand how Cholene Espinoza feels reaching out to help. The world is filled with problems and it’s not much help, but we will make a difference to these women and their families.

What should they sew that will sell here in the United States? They make pillows and placemats. Someone suggested baby bibs. What ideas do you have?

Monday, March 10, 2008

I Finally Know Someone Behind the Myspace Mask

Today I discovered a myspace account. It belongs to a friend who is married with a kid. It states that he is Single and a Leo. He used a different name “Hugh” but the correct hometown. I don’t think he’s THAT much younger than me but let’s not quibble about that claim. There’s no picture.

For those women out there who have myspace accounts, you may know about the propositions. Often they are from men without pictures that want to start an email correspondence. Some are from places far away and some are from your metro area. I’ve always suspected that the ones that live far away are not that far away.

I wonder about these men. I’m very clear about being married but my husband always says that I’m worth a shot by these guys. They “like my smile”. Think I’m “intelligent like them”. I seem “fun and full of life”. They really would “enjoy talking to me”. One even admitted to a bad marriage and thought mine might be bad too. At least he was honest about wanting to have an affair. My suspicion was that he was someone I knew.

I’m in it for the bands. Really! My niece set me up so I could follow and promote bands. I was a college radio station disc jockey. I love music and wish we would have had myspace twenty years ago. But hey, the internet has killed college radio stations. Every single person has access to all the music so we don’t need someone to play all the new, unknown stuff for us. Come to think of it, thank goodness we didn’t have the internet because I loved that microphone!

Back to my friend with the fake myspace. He hasn’t touched it in more than a year. What did he try? Did he send a few messages? Did he just think about it? It’s not like Facebook where you need to have an account to see other people’s pages, plus he lied so there’s more going on.

All marriages have their ups and downs. I know his wife and have a feel for their marriage. It’s just so engrossing to finally have proof about one of these myspace guys. Was he drunk late at night? Why hasn’t he erased it?

To me, myspace is like being out at a bar, which is probably why I love it so much. There’s a band, a bunch of people who want to have a good time, and someone sends over a drink. Sorry, I’m just here for the music and I’m married but I understand because I look like I’m having a good time. No harm done.

However, I've been naïve about all of my extramarital affair options on such sites as: http://www.marriedcafe.com/, http://www.housewivesmatchonline.com/, http://www.discreetadventures.com/, or http://www.meet2cheat.com/.

With statistical claims that 60% of married men and 40% of married women admit to having affairs, this is big business.

If you are truly interested, why not just go full force with one of these sites? Why even bother with myspace? Will it be more real if you find the woman on your own and start a cyber dialog? Can you justify it by saying that it “just happened”? You “weren’t really looking just chatting online”?

I’m not going to mention the myspace find to him, but I’m curious. I considered asking to friend him so he knows that he has been found out, but he might take that the wrong way. I finally know one of these guys!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

That Must Be a Murdered Body Over There

When I was out running a couple of weeks ago, I saw clothes in the woods and my first thought was that it must be a dead body. Now, why would I think that? I wondered if everyone would think they were seeing a dead body.

Today someone must have forgotten a jacket on a log and I thought the same thing. The thought is very matter-of-fact with no emotion attached. We live in a nice suburban City and there really is no reason to be thinking there are dead bodies lying around.These are those quick, instant thoughts that slip out before you even know it. Where do they come from?

As I jogged along, I remembered that when I was five they found a dead man’s body in the lot next to my house. No identification on the body. No one knew who he was. My father explained that it was probably a mob hit, no big deal. They killed him over in New York and dumped him in the lot next to our house in New Jersey during the night because they could loop around the ramp straight back to New York.

When Tony Soprano drives out of the Lincoln Tunnel and gets on the NJ Turnpike at my exit, his fictional route passes about 200 feet from my childhood house. I love this TV sequence and study every detail everytime. It might have been a mob hit!

Is this why I think dead bodies will turn up during my nice run through the neighborhood? Why do we have these crazy first thoughts pop into our minds when we least expect it? In this case, I really think I was so young that I accepted the situation as normal.

Have you had such strange first thoughts? Do you understand why you have them?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Did She Just Threaten Me?

This morning I was waiting for our PTA President to finish talking with the mother who is chairing a school activity. I would step outside then back in again while waiting to wave to my son's class before school started. So I overheard parts of the conversation and was REALLY glad I wasn't having it!

The PTA President is a warm and caring woman who I consider a friend. She grew up in Puerto Rico and reminds me of a girl from my childhood. When I was in grammar school Addie would exert a great deal of time trying to get me to look better. She was very open and honest and pulled you right in. By the way, it never worked. I was hopeless and just didn't care about what I looked like.

So here is our volunteer President who is a very special, caring person and she's being told in a forceful voice that if this Chair doesn't get exactly what she wants, somebody else can chair the event next time.

I was reminded of the kids yelling at each other "If you don't do it, I won't be your friend anymore!" We try to teach the kids that they shouldn't threaten this and now a parent is doing it!

We all get caught up in our projects and work. Her overreaction indicates just how dedicated she is to this project. The President continued to talk to her and explain and look for a way to make the situation better. We all know I admire talking to stop negativity.

After the Chair left, the President wanted to know if the proper word was "threaten". Was that a threat? Yes it was! This issue is far from over and no doubt will take up some official meeting time.

As a volunteer, you don't need people threatening you. You need team players with positive attitudes. It's this type of situation that gives PTAs a bad reputation! Please take a step back before lashing out at a fellow volunteer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Are You Like a Cartoon Character?

During a conversation with a friend today, he blurted out that I was Peppermint Patty. I always thought I was Lucy. He didn't think so.

Since I always had good grades and was never an athlete, I never considered myself like good old Patricia Reinchardt. Also, I notice everything about everyone so I'm not so clueless about others, and their names (Chuck), and whether they are dogs or human, or how they are reacting to me.

How am I like Peppermint Patty? I can see that people would call me "Sir". My family thinks I would be the first one kicked off Survivor because I would start telling everyone the best way to do things (but they say "boss everyone around on how to build the shelter"). For Pete's sake, I'm just a mom in their lives, and that's my job. Friends do seem to follow me around. I definitely had a Marcie in my life from time to time. Also I enter a situation like "Chuck's" baseball team and do immediately work to improve it by being pitcher. As we know, I was a tomboy and was friends with all the guys. Actually dating is an area where I was completely clueless like Peppermint Patty. At least one really cool guy apparently tried to get my attention for a long time. I didn't notice until he took drastic and direct action.

How well do you know yourself? Are you like a cartoon character? My friend is not like any of the Peanut characters. He's not like any character I have ever known. What about you?


Image from www.snoopy.com

Monday, March 3, 2008

Perhaps It's the Little Proactive Actions

At a Christmas party last year, I was talking to someone I had just met in the kitchen. He had lived in our City his whole life and worked for the same company for over 20 years. Hearing first hand accounts of the olden days is something I enjoy immensely.

The hostess came in the kitchen and warned, "Oh, be careful talking to her. It will all seem good and you will be happy and she'll talk you into doing something and you won't even know it." He won't even know it? Apparently when I talk to people we share ideas and you leave excited to take some action. I will have tricked you into doing something you think you want to do.

(Now I'll confess, I had just suggested that he and his wife attend an event I was planning. She was right.)

For over two months I have been thinking about this comment and how I interact with people. I don't think I am pushy, but I get excited talking to people. I love talking to folks and finding common ground or new perspectives. I'm not judgemental and actually seek out different opinions. My goal is to always understand where someone is coming from and why they are acting or speaking as they do. I accept people for who they are.

So what does this mean in daily life? Do I inspire people to do things for the common good? The world is full of books and theories about how people should interact, how we can engage them, and what it will take. What does it take?

My experience always results in the same answer - personal contact. Reaching out to someone and talking works. In the conversation you can find agreement and a course of action.

Take for example the day I voted. I knew the person in front of me but had not seen her in almost five years. We recognized each other but didn't remember names. Of course we did not admit we didn't remember names but we didn't.

She and her husband were making comments about the line to vote which wasn't that long but usually there is no line at our voting place. There was some griping. I had to break up my sons who were arguing while we waited on this line I didn't expect.

I could have just thought, "How terrible she is complaining." but I didn't. I asked where her kids were. They're in private school so they had school that day. I explained that they really needed Election Judges to work the polls. They were short on volunteers. This is why there is a line and for the general election it will be longer. I always want to be a judge but can't because I have no one to watch my kids who go to public school. They don't have school on election days because we use the buildings to vote.

She said she could be a judge because she realized her kids would be in school for the next election. She laughed and it was so cool to see someone think about being part of the solution.

Personal contact is the way to motivate people to improve a situation. Judging people and complaining about them will not help. Although I have been worried about the impression I make on others, I don't believe I'm wrong to help people see a different way and challenge their perspectives as I try not to bneg.