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Sunday, September 30, 2007

A HOT!, HOT!, HOT! Topic

As most of you know, every Monday, MSN.com publishes another one of my Suddenly Single Match.com columns. These can always be found at:

http://msn.match.com/msn/article.aspx?articleid=8581&menuid=7&lid=428

Many of these columns hit a nerve! A recent one generated tons of orders for my book, “Don’t Bet on the Prince!,” Dr. Gilda’s Guides, and my Personal PHONE and Personal E-MAIL Dialogues. In addition, hundreds of you sent me your comments. Because these comments might benefit others in the same situation, I am reprinting
the question and my answer, along with a few valuable insights from you, my readers. Of course, I am keeping all names confidential. I look forward to your comments on this Blog.

THE COLUMN--AND MY RESPONSE

Dear Dr. Gilda,
My divorce is almost final. My husband had an affair and has been living with the woman, but he has been calling and asking me if there is any hope for us. We have a three-year-old son. His girlfriend recently discovered he’s been calling me. He told her he is still in love with me and that he wants to make our family work. I’m scared to jump back in because I don’t feel I can trust him after he cheated on me. Our final divorce hearing is only a month away. Do I give him a second chance, or do I go ahead with the divorce and see what happens after that?
- Wanting to Do the Right Thing

Dear Wanting to Do the Right Thing,
It’s natural to distrust your husband after he betrayed you. And to make the situation more painful, he’s been living with the woman he left you for. This is bad enough, but there are a few other concerns I have about your future with this dude:
1. This guy is unable to be alone. He left you, moved in with the other woman, and as soon as the passion wore off, he decided his new fantasy-land wasn’t what he thought it would be. (No kidding, fool!) So now he wants to return to someone he knows is a sure bet.
2. Why are you considering taking him back? Is it because you’re lonely, or do you really love the sucker? Are you afraid of being single again, or are you convinced the two of you have a real chance at making the marriage work this time?
3. What will make things different the second time around? He left you once and saw few consequences for his actions. He might repeat his little vacation from you, convinced you will take him back again.
I don’t believe you should consider a makeup from your breakup before you get counseling. This is your life—and a three-year-old child is watching! I suggest you proceed with the following:
1. If, and only if, you begin counseling at once, try to postpone your final divorce hearing for six months. By then you’ll have a better idea about your own motives, and you’ll have a sense of whether you want to be with this man again.
2. Begin socializing with girlfriends. See more of the world than you’ve been accustomed to. The more you expand your horizons, the easier it will be for you to make a wise decision about your future.
3. Have some deeper conversations with your husband than you’ve ever had before. Hear his explanations for his bad behavior. Listen as though you were an outsider. Do you buy his excuses?
You have the power now because he’s begging. Don’t rush! As my Gilda-Gram says, “Take time to breathe. The tortoise in you can always catch up with the hare.” Besides, the more you mull over the consequences either of single life or of a re-commitment, the more anxious to return to you your husband will be. That’s just human nature! But it doesn’t mean his hopes and pleas should sway you. This is a crucial decision—take your time and make it the right one.

A FEW COMMENTS FROM READERS

Dear Dr. Gilda,
Another reason to hold off from renewing the physical side of the relationship with the straying husband is that doing so starts the waiting time for filing for a divorce all over again. This means that under most conditions the wife would have to wait the entire period of time before even filing for divorce again. I know this is the case in Maryland, where the waiting period is a year, I believe there would be a similar result in some other states as well.
An attorney practicing family law in Maryland
I did not know this aspect of the divorce law. I asked the attorney whether this was the case in all States. This was his response:

Dear Dr. Gilda:
Yes, I think the same does hold true in MOST other states. However, the only way to be certain would be to look in every State's Family Law statute and applicable Court decisions to see if a reconciliation resets the divorce waiting time back to the beginning (aka "destroying the status of an existing voluntary separation").

It used to be worse in Maryland. Prior to 1972, merely an offer of reconciliation could reset the divorce waiting time back to the beginning. In 1972, the Legislature amended the Family Law statue in Maryland to prevent the making of a reconciliation offer from resetting the divorce waiting time. It is possible some of the more conservative States still observe this Neanderthal theory.
Regards!

Another reader wrote how the same law hurt her friend:

Dear Dr. Gilda,
I read your column today. In many States, if a woman is divorcing her husband on the grounds of infidelity, she must not have any sexual contact with him or there will be serious financial consequences to her settlement. One of my friends had a moment of weakness and allowed her "soon-to-be-ex" to spend one night with her. This turned out to be an event that had been planned well in advance by the husband and his attorney to change the playing field on the divorce settlement. The judge decided that his infidelity did not bother my friend enough to give anywhere near the alimony she was asking for because she was willing to allow him back in her bed, no matter how brief it was. This may not be what the husband in your column is up to, but it may well be the case.
Thank you for listening.

Another reader offered her own experience to the reader who sent me the question:

Dear Dr. Gilda,
In your Suddenly Single column your reader wanted to know if she should give her cheating husband a second chance. I have some advice for her. I have been there. If this couple is fighting and bickering on a steady basis, then they really do need time apart. My husband figured out that life wasn't so “green" on the other side. If this guy is calling her, then he's having second thoughts, and that's good.

We started out being really hateful to each other at first, and then as time passed, our conversations got nicer. We always told each other we loved each other. You can't just cut off your feelings. After a few months of talking regularly, we actually became friends, probably better friends than before. It felt like the "stress" was off, and we could communicate much better. Like your reader, I had also filed for divorce, and we were a month away from mediation. As our friendship grew and we were able to talk without the hurt feelings, we would meet at open public places and chat. He wanted to reconcile, but I was skittish. We finally made an adult decision that we hoped would help our family. We will be celebrating our 17th year wedding anniversary this month.

It's not easy to forgive and forget, and YES, there are times you wonder, but that's the chance you take. I wish your reader all the best in her very tough decision.
A Woman in Her Shoes.

A male reader, however, thought my question-writer ought to show her husband she means business, and go through with her decision to divorce after all:

Hi, Dr. Gilda,
I just finished reading Suddenly Single. And I liked most of your suggestions. The one thing I think that you're dead wrong on is in the postponement of the divorce, which is a month away. And for six months yet!

I'm a guy, and it’s rare that I'll take the girl’s side of the story. In this case, however, she should go through the divorce to its absolute finality. He needs to know that she can make a decision. Guys don't respect woman who can't decide. I can tell you that I don't. Make the decision, and the situation is clear in his mind. He screwed up. Pure and simple. The consequences have to be clear in his mind. Divorce. I lost her.

Now it’s clear he has to earn back her trust. Whether he gets her back or not is irrelevant. It’s about earning, and if he has to earn it, he'll appreciate it more.

The divorce has to be final.
Thank you.

This is just a small sampling of comments I received. For sure, it is challenging to dissect love from your other emotions. To simplify your situation, and clarify your decision-making, follow this Gilda-Gram, a new Commandment for you: "Thou shalt not fornicate whilst thou litigates." From the legal advice we received, and from other comments above, make whatever decision you make out of strength. Consider the reasons you’re leaving. Consider therapy and mediation. But while you’re considering, sleep alone!
Love,
Dr. Gilda

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Not Your Mother's Mothballs!

As Spokesperson for Match.com, I recently attended the annual AARP convention in Boston, where I participated in a panel titled “Love at First Click.” To be precise, love at first click is impossible, just as is love at first sight. However, LUST from the get-go is a definite maybe—and it could pave the way for more to come—if you keep your head in reality.

When some of my friends heard I would be speaking to AARP-ers, they teased me about seeing a bunch of old people. For those who think this organization consists of mothballed seniors biding their time until the inevitable, think again. There were 30,000 participants on site, and those I saw were distinctly vital and thirsty for ways to increase their longevity. Of course, those I actually addressed also had a determined desire for love.

Our room had every one of its 200 seats filled, with bouncers outside to prevent fire code violations by love-anxious trespassers. When it was announced that there were a few vacant seats still left, a woman called out, “Fill them with men.” Another chimed in, “And be sure they are willing to drive at night!” These folks were hardly what anyone would call “old”!

Online dating has become the best way to meet folks with whom you would not ordinarily make contact. The moderator met her husband on JDate, and the Black couple on the dais with me connected on Yahoo, while they only lived a few blocks from each other. I discuss the ups and downs of Baby Boomer love on my weekly Match.com Suddenly Single column, posted on MSN’s Dating & Personals page (http://msn.match.com/msn/suddenlysingle.aspx?lid=413). For this group, the one thing that stands out is their concern, not about aging per se, but about the stereotypes placed on them because of their age.

The participants in the room shared some of their Online dating horror stories, along with their love connections. Of course, the lure of the anonymous behind a computer screen can camouflage many sins. One of the funniest, yet unfortunately true, cautionary tales of Online romance is the country music video by Brad Paisley, called “Online.” Jason Alexander from Seinfeld directed the video, and also enacts a geeky social outcast, who mouths these lyrics:

I work down at the pizza pit,
And I drive an old Hundai.
I still live with my mom and dad.
I’m 5’3 and overweight.

I’m a Sci-fi fanatic,
Mild asthmatic,
Never been to 2nd base.
But there’s a whole ‘nother me
That you need to see.
Go check out MySpace.

‘Cause Online I’m down in Hollywood.
I’m 6’5, and I look damn good.
I drive a Maserati,
I’m a black belt in Karate,
And I love a good glass of wine.

It turns girls on that I’m mysterious.
I tell ‘em I don’t want nothing serious,
‘Cause even on a slow day, I can have a three-way
Chat with two women at one time.

I’m so much cooler Online . . .

I get home, I kiss my mom
And she fixes me a snack.
I head down to my basement bedroom
And fire up the Mac.

In real life, the only time I
Ever even been to LA
Was when I got the chance with the marching band
To play tuba in the Rose Parade.

Online I live in Malibu.
I posed for Calvin Klein, I’ve been in GQ.
I’m single and I’m rich.
I got a set of six pack abs that’ll blow your mind.

When you got my kinda stacks, it’s hard to get a date,
Let alone a real girlfriend.
But I grow another foot,
And I lose a bunch of weight,
Every time I log in . . .

I’m so much cooler Online . . .

This song is funny, but the video is a scream because of its honesty. Since most people would like to think they are “so much cooler Online…,” there is a lot of truth bending in tender e-notes. Much of it concerns pre-meeting self-descriptions, where men are conditioned to boast about their success, and women feel compelled to brag about their looks. To prevent the continuation of prefabrications, I recommend that people meet in person as soon as they believe there is a connection to explore.

Back to reality, a man in our audience said he chose to meet a psychologist he conversed with Online. When they were face-to-face, she volunteered that she was really 3 years older than the age she had posted. He said he’d never see her again because she had lied to him initially. After I asked him, he said he would still have chosen to meet her, even if she had posted her true age. But now her lying was something that would stand in his way—forever. Participants complained that every Online site requires they post an actual number for their age. If they lie, they are dishonest, which they know is a romance derailer. But if they tell the truth, they fear being passed over. At the end of the discussion, a good-looking man in a baseball cap approached me. He, too, had a grievance about this age business. He said he would like to go Online, but couldn’t because of the necessity of revealing that number. He shocked me when he said he was 80! He was in great shape! He said, “You see, your reaction matches that of everyone else. I date 60-year-olds. But if I want to meet new people Online, once they hear my age, they steer clear.”

What is this thing we call “age”? I myself question this all the time, especially being in the business I’m in. One night at New York’s Elaine’s, some drop-dead gorgeous male model walked in, as people turned their heads at break-neck speed. He looked twenty-something. He took his seat with a bunch of guys, and everyone returned to their private conversations at their tables. Before I knew it, baseball great Keith Hernandez came over to me and whispered in my ear, “Doc, my friend wants to meet you.” I said, “Who’s your friend?” He said, “That guy over there,” pointing to his young pal, the same male model who made women swoon. I said, “Keith, the guy’s a little young for me.” But Keith said, “Oh, don’t worry, he loves older women.” I had never thought of myself as an “older woman” before. I didn’t know whether to thank Keith or slap him. But I invited the guy to my table, and we flirted all night. I told the story on the Fox News Channel a few nights later, and explained that I had recently been out with someone 60. I guess that makes me a loose woman when it comes to age! But the truth is that I enjoy men with whom I have a deep spiritual connection—into which age does not enter.

At a time when 60 is the new 40, why are we all still hung up on stereotypes? Plenty of people may be missing out because of their pre-conceived notions. For centuries, it’s been okay for men to date much younger women. These days, years after Cher and her twenty-something “bagel boy,” Demi Moore and countless others have thumbed their nose at convention by being with younger men. A fifty-something friend of mine with a 3-year-old grandchild is dating a man with a 3-year-old toddler! When Mary Tyler Moore married her physician husband 18 years her junior, she attributed it to a meeting of their souls that surpassed all else. Coincidentally, I observed this couple’s interaction while I was waiting for a plane in a private airline lounge. Amid the quietness of the room, I was taken aback by a loving man asking his wife, “Honey, would you like me to get you some coffee?” She said she didn’t want any, and they took their seats. When I looked up, I saw who it was, and I watched them. They had already been married for years, and their interaction was tremendously respectful and loving. Age never entered into that equation.

Singles are forever complaining about the difficulty of meeting someone wonderful. I told this AARP group, “Everyone who wants to be married gets married.” A lot of folks took issue with that proposition. Out came my Gilda-Gram: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always go where you’ve always gone.” I exemplified one of my clients who left a marriage to an abusive, alcoholic, who was also a wealthy man. Now on the prowl again, she would only date guys with money. The problem was that some of her castaways were terrific, far nicer than her ex, and good future marriage material. As I told her, and I told my audience, “She had some reassessing to do.” The Black woman on the dais chimed in, “During my search for Mr. Right, I even experimented with men outside my race.”

Many daters are still stuck in old habits and tastes. No matter what our age, no matter what our goal—dating or otherwise—if we get out of the box that we ourselves constructed, we get out of our own way. We can all take a page from the AARP participants who traveled to Boston from across the country, all in quest of MORE. If you’re one of those people stuck in your past habits, mindsets, and preconceptions, ask yourself, “Who’s really donning the mothballs?”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Big WOW!! for Kenny Chesney & Sugarland

It was just a few days before Labor Day. New York City had pretty much emptied out for the holiday. But Madison Square Garden was filled to the brim for the Kenny Chesney Flip Flop Summer Tour! I was a guest of Country Music Television, my favorite channel in the world for music. In fact, some mornings, I choose to “dance” to CMT on my home treadmill instead of work out at my gym that doesn’t carry the network.

As an expert on relationships of all kinds, Country Music has become my chosen tool for therapy in my work. I quote the words of the artists in my books, columns, speeches, and on air because we can all identify with their life struggles of misery and mourning, and we all want to learn better survival mechanisms. I’m probably the only pop culture shrink who incorporates this music into her work. Moreover, since I’m a New Yorker, many of my friends think I’m especially strange for loving these down-home messages. But to me, they are raw and real. And as an educator, I know that this sort of rich honesty helps souls heal.

For the disbelievers, there’s a tune called “Songs About Me,” by Trace Adkins, one of my favorite artists. It’s a story about how he meets some guy on the red eye. Spotting his guitar, the guy asks him what he does for a living. When Trace replies that he sings Country Music, the man says, “I’ve never been crazy ‘bout that twang and trains and hillbilly thing.” Trace gives him tickets to hear his concert. After the performance is over, the guy shouts to him, “Man you were right. It was like you sang those songs about me and who I am, songs about loving and living and good hearted women and family and God…” That’s why I love Country Music—and why I use it in my work.

The Chesney concert was especially moving because the Garden was filled, despite New Yorkers’ resistance to this genre. With all the hooting and hollering beneath the cowboy hats, I could have imagined I was in Nashville. Kenny was wonderful, sensitive, a genuine showman, and HOT.

Opening for Kenny was Sugarland, whose song, “Settlin’” is one I have quoted a lot to people who “drift” through life. The lyrics open with, “I ain’t settling for just getting by…” and concludes, “I ain’t settling for anything less than everything.” As writer, Somerset Maugham, said, “If you expect only the best, you very often get it.” Sugarland’s words help me remind people to goal high. I use this message in my work with teens, adults, and even corporate leaders.

This group’s music was always fun for me to listen to, but seeing lead singer, Jennifer Nettles, perform wowed me! That woman has more energy than an electric current. She jumped and jived across the huge stage, a sight her videos have not captured, and her performance was magnetic and overwhelming.

I had to leave the concert a bit early, to board the chariot waiting for me outside (I wish I could say it was a horse!) As I exited, I walked smack into Sean Hannity, who had just finished his TV show on the Fox News Network. I told him that Kenny was fabulous as expected, but Jennifer Nettles surprisingly blew the audience away. I said I was sorry he had missed that—because he’s such a big Country Music fan, and I think he would have gotten a charge out of the Sugarland surprise. I hope he’ll include this group in his next Freedom Concert!

It was a starlit summer night, and the ride home was quiet and peaceful. I was feeling effervescent from the evening’s excitement. In bed, when I finally pulled the blanket to my neck, it was midnight. My voice was hoarse from my own singing and shaking, and I hoped it would mend before my TV appearance the next day. I remained silent for a while, breathing deeply, grateful to have had this magnificent experience. Thank you, CMT!!—with a special shout-out to Neil Holt, Senior Vice President of Ad Sales for CMT and TV Land, who really knows his audience and what they want, Denise (Dee) Mendoza, Executive Assistant to Neil Holt, who has officially become my Dee-vine Intervention, and Molly O’Connor, Manager, Integrated Marketing, CMT.com, beautiful redhead, with whom I shared the spirit of the music as we danced out of our seats.

Country Music gives me the gift of gratitude, gratitude that I am alive to soak in extraordinary experiences and special people like this. I am also grateful to have found this medium, which adds so significantly to my work. Thank you, Country, thank you, CMT!