Bringing Relationship Skills into the Office

Not to toot my own horn too much, but in general I am a good communicator. Thanks to a lot of therapy, hard work, and a mom who likes to talk, I've learned to say how I feel in pretty clear, concise ways. This makes relationships of all kinds a bit easier for me. So, I should have known when my co-workers wanted to confront our supervisor about some office ridiculousness that they'd put me in charge of it. Awesome. Actually, the conversation went really well, and I'd like to share what I think helped.

Before sitting down, I had consulted the other people in the office and narrowed down our concerns into two over-arching, interrelated themes: communication (logistical) and feeling valued (emotional, stemming from the logistical). I decided I would outline these and then give everyone the opportunity to elaborate individually about their particular concerns or situation.

Once I brought my supervisor in, I began by stating the obvious--conversations like these are awkward, and I was feeling somewhat uncomfortable as a result. But we all agreed that it was for the health of the organization and for our individual well-being as employees to discuss some problems we had been encountering consistently over the last few months.

After opening, each employee took an opportunity to share and provide specific examples and then our supervisor responded. At the end, we developed a plan of action for how to proceed and discussed a system for addressing future problems.

I think this is a good model for effective communication in any setting, and I learned most of it from conversations with SCL. To summarize:

1. Clarify the problem before talking. Write it down and read it back to yourself. Keep it short and clear.
2. Explain why the conversation is important (i.e. "I really care about this relationship/office/you.")
3. Lay out the issue briefly and follow up with specific, recent examples. Going back months or years only makes the problem worse. It's better to refer to something that happened recently and is fresher in both of your minds.
4. Give an opportunity for the other person to respond. Keep an open mind and be prepared to hear suggestions for how you could do things differently or more effectively.
5. Design a plan of action for how to address the issue and what to do if things do not change.

Being a Daughter at the Holidays

My mom and I like to touch base on Gchat at least once during the day, and this morning was no different. But unlike most chats, this one left me feeling a little more than bitter about the holidays and my role as the only other woman in my immediate family.

Our family is pretty big on gift giving--not so much spending a ton of money, but rather everyone buying everyone else a present. We don't have a ton of people to do this for, but it does get expensive, stressful, and time consuming especially now that my brothers and I are getting a little old for this. I have both a doctor and a lawyer for siblings, so there is literally nothing I could buy them that they need. And one of my brothers has the tendency to buy himself whatever he wants at the drop of a hat. Last year I found him the perfect gift (a Flash Gordon t-shirt) only to find that he had ordered himself one the day before. How can I buy gifts for someone who constantly buys himself ones?

On to my real frustration: stockings. Yes, we still do stockings in my family. It's something my mom loves to do, and we all enjoy getting them. But, things have changed over the years. It used to be that my mom did them for everyone (expensive!), but then I started taking over hers because she figured I would do the best job. Cool, I don't mind. I keep my eye out for things during the year. Not a big deal. But, this year SCL is coming home with me (a big yay), and she reminds me that I have to do a stocking for him. So, that's two stockings I have to do. Daughter: 2. Sons: 0. And I doubt my mom would even consider that if I'm doing one for SCL, maybe he should do mine, too.

And, need I say that I am the youngest sibling with the least amount of cash? Yet I'm the one expected to do my mom's stocking because I'm a girl. UNFAIR. It's turning what should be a joyful thing into a really infuriating one. It's not just about the money either. It's about the time, energy, and creativity required.

I don't want to turn into a humbug, but why don't the men have to contribute to the stocking frenzy? Why is it just assumed that my mom and I should have to put all of the thought and energy into the holiday season?

The Game

SCL and I are still on a mission to find mutual friends and things to do together. So, despite my only attending it once while I was an actual student, we are seriously considering attending a showing of The Game here in DC. The Yale-Harvard game, that is. Read: worst football you will ever subject yourself to.

But, The Game isn't all that bad. My second year of grad school I decided to actually go to The Game, mostly because my Harvard (boo! hiss!...just kidding) friend was visiting. I didn't really give a shit about going, but she insisted. And my brothers would have given me hell had I not attended the only important sporting event at my school at least once. So out of guilt and a little touch of hospitality, off we went.

Now, SCL and I weren't dating at the time, but we were flirting a little. We'd been at a Halloween party a few weeks before and he'd admitted that he thought I was hot. *smile* So needless to say that when he showed up and sat on my row just a few seats down from where I was, The Game got much more interesting. At half-time my friends and I decided we'd had enough (we were getting our butts kicked BIG TIME), and that we'd pass on the second half of what was a terribly painful performance on the part of Yale's football team. Instead we opted for a meal at the very luxurious Chili's, and imagine my delight when SCL, despite having to drive 6 hours home that evening, decided to join us for lunch. I'll never forget he ordered a margarita--a margarita in freezing cold November at lunchtime. It would take another four months and another big game (this time college basketball) to bring us together, but I still consider that our first sort of date.

Tomorrow it will have been two years since our first Yale-Harvard game. But this time I'll be warm (we'll be watching indoors--yipee) and cozy, next to my partner. And maybe we'll ditch it again at half time for some Chili's.

Feminism and Difficult Choices

"Feminism is not simply about making sure women have choice. Feminism is the work of making sure that the hard choice do not fall disproportionately to women."
--My brilliant feminist friend L

I love having smart, articulate friends who just *bam* hit me with brilliance. Defining feminism is one of those things we feminists love to sit around and argue about, and we usually agree to disagree and continue on working for justice. But, when I got this in my inbox yesterday, I found myself saying, "Yes, yes, yes!"

I do believe there is such a thing as being paralyzed by possibilities. When I was graduating from graduate school, I heard a resounding, "You're young! You can do anything, anywhere you want!" Does it not occur to those who says such things that not having parameters can be terrifying? It is isolating, overwhelming, and exhausting to try to review endless possibilities.

Progressive women (and men) are striving for new models of relationship, career, and family, turning the more traditional roles on their heads and using their creativity to arrive at new solutions. Things like job sharing, hyphenated or combined last names, and referring to one's partner as "partner" are all evidence of this. But it doesn't mean that it's easy to move into new models. And, when the new model fails, someone bears the brunt of the breakdown.

In the corporate world, there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of equalizing responsibility and access for women and men. For instance, I work at a women's rights organization, but just yesterday my co-worker wastold she has to use vacation time to attend a parent-teacher conference, something that is not a problem for other co-workers. What kind of model for "healthy family" are we setting? At the same time, I think I am guilty of holding women's organizations to a higher standard when really all organizations should appreciate the value of family and life outside of the office. AND, employees should experience an office culture in which is it is acceptable for both men and women to take advantage of a family leave policy.

Why should women be the ones advocating for these options when they benefit everyone?

We live together. Now what do I call you?

Disclaimer: I know the title of my blog is "Grad-Student Girlfriend," but that's only because of the cute alliteration.

Language is really important to me. What you call things does matter, and frankly, I think there aren't enough words to describe relationships--romantic or otherwise. The ways couples are living out their relationships are varied and complex, and yet the language we have is not. Many couples are choosing what SCL and I have--to be committed partners living together but not (yet) married. But, what do we say when we're introducing each other to other people that expresses that commitment but isn't TMI?

Option 1: Boyfriend/Girlfriend. Do not like this. Too tenth grade. Too big of a spectrum ("My girlfriend and I started dating a month ago.") Doesn't connote commitment.

Option 2: Partner. Like this. Feels awkward with some people. Not culturally relevant for our families. Kind of sounds new-agey/hipster. Kind of sounds like we're not ever planning to marry (we are).

Option 3: ???? Are there other options?

Obviously these cultural cues aren't what is most important to us, but it is frustrating not to be able to shortly articulate what we are: committed adults who love each other, share our lives together, and support one another. Hopefully others can see that in our interactions, but it does not make me any less frustrated.

What are your thoughts? How do you get around this language barrier?

I came home from New Haven...

And SCL had made me a cake. Not just any old, box-mix cake either. A delicious, rich, full of dark chocolate masterpiece.

I should go out of town more often. :-)

Wedding Dress Weekend

Our good friends L and J got engaged about a month ago, and I was thrilled when L called to ask if I'd join her for a weekend of wedding dress shopping. Um, of course! It's given me an actual reason to look at bridal gowns online and watch episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress." I did both of these things before, but now I have a very good excuse: research.

It's so cute to see them both so happy, and I have to give J a lot of credit because last night he was watching the shows right there with us. He doesn't seem at all bored or annoyed by any of it, the way that some men can be. None of this "I'll just show up, you do this rest" nonsense. They are really modeling partnership in the decisions they're making.

It's really nice to have friends striving to have the same kind of partnership that SCL and I work towards.

Now it's time for lots of pouf, sparkle, and lace!

Why there should be an E-Harmony for friends

Nothing made me feel more at ease about moving to a new city than knowing I got to take a friend (aka SCL) along for the ride. I knew I'd have someone there with me to go through the same bouts of crappy days and awesome ones. That really is a gift. I know there are people yearning for that kind of companionship, love, and stability and do all kinds of things in the hopes of finding even just a little of what I've got (remember the shopping bags?). I am a lucky woman indeed.

Before moving, SCL and I had a common group of friends because of grad school, but now that we're in a new city--and need I remind you that he's in grad school and I'm in the non-profit world--it's hard to make friends as a couple. First, my wonky friends at work are just that--my wonky friends. Love 'em, but they're mine and we tend to do women-only events. Second, SCL doesn't have that much time to spend with his classmates, and despite being in the same program, they don't necessarily have a lot in common outside of academia. Third, it is highly unlikely that these two groups of people would ever come in contact with one another, and well, I don't think we'd even want them to.

So, how does one go about making couple friends? I feel like I'm too desperate and will scare off anyone remotely friendly who seems like they'd be fun to hang out with. We did have success a few weeks ago at a gala for a domestic violence organization when we were seated next to a young couple who had just moved from Boston. He works for the FBI; she's a human rights attorney. They seemed fab, and we're having dinner next Sunday. I'm excited, but I can't help but also feel nervous--like we're going out on a friend date. What if they don't like us? What if we don't click? What if they don't want to go out on a second friend date? We'll never find real friends. *Wah*

One thing SCL and I have discussed is how to expand our social activities to ones that we can do as a couple. We both love ballroom dancing. We both went to Yale. There you go--those two things are probably enough to find us a whole slew of friends. But it's still hard. I'm tired of walking into a room and only knowing a person or two, having the same "where are you from? what do you do?" conversations. It's exhausting--and I'm the extrovert of the pair! But I guess just like before the move, I will be bringing a buddy, someone to stand awkwardly with, someone to latch onto, someone to share laughable, horrible, or laughably horrible stories with afterward.

We just have to go for it. Anyone want to go out on a friend date?

Sharing is Hot

Sometimes I wish I were a more practical blogger, like my friend Karen over at Living Well on Less. She has a fantastic blog today about the benefits of sharing a car. My first thought was, "Oo! Oo! That's something SCL and I do! Yay I'm doing something smart financially." I don't know if any of you read financial blogs, but most of the time, they depress me and make me feel like I'm not frugal enough. These feelings of inadequacy can only be alleviated with chocolate or new shoes. So, I don't really read them much anymore. I'm contributing to my IRA, consolidating student loans (finally came through!), and not going into debt. And SCL and I are still on track with our budgeting. We're even building up a balance in our joint account; imagine that!

But, Karen's post had me thinking about sharing and how it can help your relationship, not just financially but in other ways, too. Sharing a car means 1) less gas money needed 2) one parking permit rather than two 3) one insurance policy instead of two. We also just drive less in general. But, sharing a car means another shared space that we have. Most of the time spent in the car is together time for us, driving to an event or going to the grocery store. It reminds me of being a little kid and having good conversations with my mom when she took me to my millions of lessons every week, bless her.

Sharing, I'm learning, is about having another person in mind, not just splitting things in two. Whether it's the last piece of pizza or the first one to get into the bathroom in the morning, we try to be mindful of the other. Honestly, I think SCL is better at this than me, even though I'm the one with siblings (though to be fair, I have two older brothers, and if I wanted the last of anything, I had to snatch it when I had the chance. Survival mode, baby.) But, I'm learning to be better at sharing. Trying to better anyway.

Sharing also means a lot more work sometimes. Every time I do laundry, I complain that there are way too many white undershirts to clean. (WHY DO MEN HAVE SO MANY WHITE T-SHIRTS????) There are more coffee mugs to wash, more hair on the bathroom floor to try to vacuum up with little luck, less time for the DVR to record all of my favorite shows--and believe me, there are a lot of them.

This will be the first year we're sharing on holidays. We'll spend Thanksgiving with SCL's parents and Christmas at my house. Even harder than sharing is being shared, I think. It's another lesson, another opportunity to grow together, and more than anything, I'm thrilled to finally be sharing the holidays with the one I love.

How He Met My Mother

My mom has always told me, "Want to know how a man will treat you? Look at how he treats his momma." Too true. I would add my related new-found wisdom:

Want to know when you've found a great man? He treats your mom just as well as he treats you.

SCL and my mom had only met each other briefly right at the beginning of our relationship when I was finishing up grad school. She'd obviously heard a lot about him from me, but they hadn't had much time together. When my brother surprised my mom with a plane ticket to DC for her birthday, I was excited to see her (it'd been nearly a year!) and even more excited for her to spend time with SCL.

Now, my mom likes to talk. A lot. To anyone. About anything. SCL, on the other hand, is more on the quiet side, so I was concerned about how he might feel having someone talk at him 24/7 for the entire weekend. But he was a great sport and was patient, even when he heard the same story about my nephew for the third time. (By the way, no one thinks your child/grandchild/niece/nephew is as cute as you and some of your immediate family members do.) Each morning he made us all coffee, brought it in on a tray, and sat down with us as my mom talked, resisting the urge to open up his laptop and escape into cyberspace.

The real gem of a moment, though, was when Mom and I decided to go shopping, one of our favorite pastimes. After making a trip to DSW and obtaining some really cute, but very heavy rain boots, we were trying to figure out how we were going to make it through a trip to Nordstrom when we were bogged down by all those bags. I thought, "Hmm...maybe SCL will come get them." Now, he had already dropped us off at the mall earlier and had planned to pick us up later that afternoon. So, we were requesting a third trip to the mall just to pick up our bags. And you know, when I called him, he actually thought it was funny that we'd bought too much stuff to carry. Fifteen minutes later, there he was in the car, ready to unburden us of our shopping weight. He did later confess that he felt a little silly carrying in big DSW bags into the building.

What a great one I've got.

More than Roommates: Pulling Ourselves Out of a Comfortable Rut

Some time has passed since I reflected on living with SCL. It's been just under four months since we moved into our cozy little 1-BR apartment, and I'm realizing that other than a few reflections here and there, I've essentially hijacked this blog to bitch about my stupid job. That will not be the case today!

Before we moved in together, one of my friends cautioned me that one of the challenges of living with your partner is that it's easy to slip into patterns of being roommates. There are many reasons for this, I've learned. It's easy to take the other person for granted when he's there all the time. It's also easy for your together time to be by default whenever you're both home at the same time, even if you're just watching tv or doing separate activities. And, there's the added pressure every weekend of trying to figure out what you want to do together--and everything is expensive and a pain in the ass to get to and you end up just watching a pirated movie on your tv. Of course, this is all hypothetical.

A few weeks ago, SCL and I realized that we'd quit doing the things we loved to do with each other and that we'd both let our relationship slip into one of roommates. On my end, I got tired of talking about how shitty my job was and so ended up not sharing much about my life at all. My guess is SCL thought I wouldn't care much about what he's reading for class and so he wasn't sharing how we felt about school. We weren't communicating in meaningful ways and we weren't investing in our relationship. It's scary how quickly we fell into this bad pattern. Luckily we recognized it and are working to turn things around.

How are we doing this? For one, we talk about our days for a solid block of time once we both get home. This takes precedence over fixing dinner, checking email, whatever. Some days may be longer than others, but we share our days with each other, no matter how boring or dreadful they were. We have started working out together in the mornings. This is something we used to do when we lived in CT, and now that we live in a building with a gym on the top floor, we have no excuse. It's amazing how much better it is to work out next to your partner. I won't lie; getting up early sucks, but it sucks to get up no matter what time. So, we might as well do something that feels great and helps us as a couple. We have added an additional $50 to our "fun" account each month. Investing in ourselves by doing fun things together is something we both feel is worthwhile. We've moved some of our other budgetary things around, so neither of us is contributing more to the monthly budget than we were before. Related to that, we have been going out together more. DC is a fun city with tons to do, and who better to explore it with than with SCL?

Relationships are tough as hell, especially as they change. But I'm thankful that we've been able to talk through what's been going on, admit our mistakes, and change things.

How do you keep from just being roommates?

Patience vs. Complacency: Anyone know the difference?

I've been thinking about this a lot today. Waiting for something to happen or for things to fall into place can either be an act of patience or complacency. Maybe the difference is the expectation: patience assumes something for which one is waiting whereas complacency is settling for things not changing.

Here's the back story to this. You may remember how I almost got the job of my dreams a few weeks ago. Just when I was beginning to get over that, I found out that one of my colleagues, who has been fed up with the nonsense in our office for a long time, has found another position and will be leaving at the end of the month. Truth be told, I'm jealous that she got what we both wanted--a way out--and nervous about what will happen when she does leave. I'm predicting a serious shit-hits-fan moment, which will leave the rest of us remaining to do a lot of dirty work.

I feel like I've been waiting, waiting, waiting since I graduated college, and damnit, I'm fed up! In my head at any given time I'm thinking one or several of the following things:
  • I don't know that I like working in DC or that I will ever get where I want to go if I stay here.
  • I really want to be doing more independent work.
  • My bosses are going to freak out when my colleague leaves.
  • I really want to be a minister/get my license to be a pastoral counselor/work in a Faith Based Organization/be an event planner.
  • My organization is taking advantage of me by not paying me what I'm worth.
The thing is, there are days when I feel okay (aka complacent) about my job, but never good, much less great. So, what do I do in this period of discerning/waiting/trying to learn patience without becoming too discouraged?