Stranger Danger

strangerdangerMy mom told me everything I needed to know about strangers when I was little.

“Don’t get into their cars, no matter who they say they are, or what they promise you,” she said to me, hands on my shoulders, looking me straight in the eyes. “That’s how they get you, and you don’t want to get got, do you?” she asked, but I knew it wasn’t a question. It never was a question. I nodded my head. I didn’t want to get got.

So… if strangers are so bad, how come it’s the people we know who do the most damage to us? You’ve probably heard the horrendous statistics that get trotted out every once in a while to prove that people we know are more dangerous. You’ve undoubtedly read the startling anecdotes of those who were horribly mistreated by those who claimed to love them. It happens all the time.

And yet we still teach our children that strangers are the bad ones. It’s easy to say, of course. It was easy for my mom to say, and it’s easy for me to say too. Because if we don’t know someone they might have it out for us. They might also be boy scouts who really just want us to have our choice of free ice cream from the back of their windowless vans. Everyone knows windowless vans are cheaper than ones with windows.

The problem is that anyone might have it out for us. You know how life goes. We end up places we never dreamed, with people we never knew before. Remember that all those friends you made were once strangers. If you hadn’t ever talked to them you wouldn’t have these amazingly three-dimensional souls you would give your lives for in a heartbeat. Well, that you would give your lives for if it was absolutely necessary anyway, if you couldn’t offer something else as an alternative.

Strangers aren’t the problem, although my mom, and your mom, and your Aunt Sally couldn’t have possibly known that back in the day. We are taught to fear the unknown, but isn’t it also “better the devil that you know,” and all that? There’s this carefully constructed dichotomy that keeps us in constant fear of those we haven’t known for XYZ years, but that also makes us wary when people we know do things that are out of character for them. It keeps us on edge, at least these days, because the world is full of crazy. That’s what the kids say these days. The world is full of crazy.

When you’re a kid, strangers are perceived as people with giant lollypops who hang out at the street corner across from your school, not Uncle Ted, even though you’ve never met Uncle Ted before. These days strangers can be people who Facebook message you because you’re “friends of friends.” Don’t ever assume that just because someone is Facebook friends with someone you know that you can trust them. Not everyone has a stringent screening process, and/or cares enough to keep those who they don’t know standing at the gate.

It’s a new world these days where “full of crazy” could be so subtle you could miss it if you happen to blink one day. It’s a time when everyone is suspect because no one is suspect, when life can throw you curveballs and you’d be hard pressed to distinguish them ahead of time from the fastballs that always rain down on you. I know I’ve been hit more than once by a few of both persuasions masquerading as just another experience, but they turn sour quickly. Or maybe they were sour all along and I just didn’t realize it because I was too busy giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe I should have listened to my mother a bit closer all those years ago. Because, now, as an adult, I realize there are way too many strangers in my life. There are way too many people who I don’t know, but who I assume I do. There are far too few who I can honestly say I know beyond the shadow of a doubt I would give my life for. You know, if there was no alternative available. Stranger danger? Well, that’s tricky, but so is trusting people in the first place.

Just… well… you still shouldn’t get into windowless vans.



Missing the Show

relationship-problemsAfter 14 years together I suppose it’s easy to get into the routine, to forget about the small things, and for the little resentments to fester because we’ve gotten into a routine, because we’ve forgotten about the small things, and because we know life isn’t what we expected it to be. And then I blame myself while she blames herself, each of us certain that we’re the reason we’ve fallen into a rut. It would be so easy from there to just throw up our hands, to call ‘FOUL,’ and give up on ever thinking things will be better.

But we haven’t done that. Instead we’ve begun looking inward, but also communicating those thoughts and feelings to each other. You see, that’s the one thing that can doom any relationship, the lack of communication, and we realized we weren’t talking, really talking to each other. It’s still hard to admit now because I always prided myself on communicating, but those things that are hardest to do are usually the most fulfilling precisely because of that difficulty. Every relationship goes through ups and downs, but we should never forget about the show.

What’s the show? Well, it’s alive and well at the beginning of the relationship. You know the butterflies you got when she called and you heard her voice? Remember the first time you held her hand, the electricity that flowed through both of you at that smallest of contacts? At the start it’s easy to remember the show, to do the small things because everything’s brand new and inherently fascinating. If the love is what brought you together, then the show is the glue that holds you there with each other, and helps you grow.

communication-problems-relationshipToo many people say that love is enough, that you don’t need those actions, but the actions — the show — is what translates the love into something you can truly see and appreciate. I’m not saying that the things she gets or does for you are more important than the love she feels for you. On the contrary, they’re just the outward display of that inward affection. A simple kiss when you come home from work, or her just asking how your day was, a surprise date night when you least expect it, or that book you wanted but never asked her for, that’s the show. And too often as relationships progress the show gets left behind.

We need to show us each other how we feel, and often, because we are all only human. We have doubts and insecurities, even with those who have been there for us and with us. It’s the nature of being human, but too many of us won’t admit to it, instead letting those insecurities pile up until we don’t trust our partners or ourselves. There’s that communication piece again, and one part of communicating is showing that you still love and appreciate the other person you’ve chosen to share your life with.

A friend asked me what she should do for her husband’s birthday, and I told her to think about what truly makes him happy and give him that. She said he didn’t have enough time with her, that he often complained about her being too busy for him, so she set up her schedule so it was free the entire day, and they spent it being lazy, just basking in each others’ company. He said afterwards that it was the best day of his entire life. That’s the show, the ability to understand the other person’s needs and give that to them, knowing that they will do the same for you. It’s the give and take, the outward shining of that inner glow.

And it’s beautiful.


Hey You! Get Your Damn Hands Off Her!

a7f1a1256ec18322b0af3cd17ef96cdcKelly has been dating Brad for six months, and pretty much every time they’re out in public other guys are obviously checking her out. It’s happened to her since puberty hit, so she hardly even notices it anymore, but Brad gets pissed off every single time it happens. The problem is that he gets pissed off at Kelly instead of at the guys who are eying his girlfriend. He’s bitten his tongue every other time, but after they go shopping at Kohl’s one time he can’t hold it in anymore.

“Why do you encourage that?” he asks once they get back to her place one day.

“What are you even talking about?” she counters, staring him down.

“You know what I mean, with all those guys,” he spits out, voice elevated.

“I haven’t done anything with any of those guys,” she says.

“But you wear those short skirts, and you smile at them,” he accuses, on the verge of tears.

“You smile at people too,” she answers, hurt. “Do I question your intentions with each smile?”

“It’s different for girls,” Brad maintains.

“Why? Because short skirt means prostitute?” retorts Kelly.

“I didn’t say that,” he quickly answers.

“You didn’t have to,” Kelly responds sadly. Because she knows where this conversation is going. In fact, she knows where the whole rest of their relationship is going, and it’s not to a place with waterfalls and butterflies. She sighs and tunes Brad out as he continues to rant on.

Trust. It all comes down to trust. Kelly and Brad don’t have it. Well, Kelly trusts Brad, but Brad obviously isn’t there yet, or maybe he never will be there if he thinks Kelly would even consider doing anything with anyone else. Of course Brad is also an ass, as evidenced by the above conversation, but that doesn’t change the landscape really. The biggest problem is that trust can be earned, but if someone has mistrusted before it can be impossible to build any kind of foundation with someone new.

trustSo Brad is jealous, and it wouldn’t have mattered if Kelly had worn baggy sweatpants to Kohl’s, he would have still doubted her intentions with those shiny guys who seem to like looking at her. He’s looking for a fight, and so he’s going to find one come hell or high water. Eventually Kelly will realize that she can’t change this about Brad and they will go their separate ways. Hopefully at some point Brad can go to therapy for his trust issues, but Kelly shouldn’t have to be his therapist. No one in a relationship should be another person’s therapist. No one in a relationship should have to “fix” the other person’s problems.

Kelly deserves someone who will be able to trust her. Everyone does. Having someone constantly looking over your shoulder, judging every single move, that’s not a relationship. That’s a paranoid stalker, someone who needs constant validation, and who still can’t accept the truth when it’s in front of him. Luckily for Kelly she hasn’t been seeing Brad that long, but for some people coming to a realization like that can take an eternity, then there are so many other factors to consider that can change the decision. That’s why trust is so important in any relationship, and why squandering it means losing out on a big opportunity.

But that’s not Kelly’s fault, and she shouldn’t have to pay for whatever happened to Brad in the past. If she stays with him, though, he will eventually start a fight with one of the men who smiles at her, accusing them of sleeping together. She’d be better to avoid that scenario now rather than later, even if it means giving up all the positive qualities of Brad, because odds are he won’t change. They hardly ever do, not after trust has been broken. Not after short skirts and smiles that could be interpreted oh so many ways.


Gift Horses Have No Mouths

The siege of Troy.

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” This would be good advice if you were a resident of Troy, or if you were given a horse that looked a little sick around the withers. It could definitely turn out bad for you in either situation. The phrase means, of course, that you should doubt people’s motivations, regardless of whether or not they appear pure. I completely disagree with that.

Yes, I know that there are many people out there who are less than genuine, who smile in your face while they talk about you behind your back. And I know that you shouldn’t trust anyone who tells you to “trust me.” But I can’t help giving people the benefit of the doubt. Does that make me weak or too trusting? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t want to imagine a world where I was constantly on guard.

I know a lot of people who live on the defensive, always getting themselves ready for those hordes of Greeks to pour out of the body of that enormous horse. And do you know how they always look? Frazzled, as if they’ve been fighting an ongoing war for the majority of their lives. Continue reading “Gift Horses Have No Mouths”

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