The Kind of Article I’m Starting to Hate

There is a certain kind of article/blog post that I’ve been coming across more and more these days, and each time I read one, I know I should just click away, but I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And just as assuredly as the flame can burn the moth, this kind of article draws my ire.

It’s the “What Not To Say” kind of article.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. What Not To Say to a Disabled Person. What Not To Say to a Working Mom. What Not To Say to a Stay at Home Mom. What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Miscarried. What Not to Say to a Mom With Lots of Kids. What Not To Say to Thin People. What Not to Say to Fat People. What Not to Say to Parents of Kids with Special Needs. What Not to Say to Girls…To Teens…To Pregnant Women…To Recovering Alcoholics…To Survivors of {fill in the blank}…actually, you can fill in whatever you can think of, I’m sure there’s an article somewhere on it.

They always sound so helpful at first, because yes, of course, we want to say the right thing when someone is facing a particularly difficult challenge. We want to empathize. We want to be helpful. We, by and large, want to avoid being assholes.

Of course.

But notice this kind of article I’m referring to is not a “What TO say” article. It’s not advice that tells you what will be helpful. By all means, tell me what I can do to best serve you in your need. Yet, far too many of these articles only focus on lashing out against the words of the uninformed and possibly judgmental.

The effect is, instead of telling you how to help, it basically tells you to shut the hell up. Because when you’re actually faced with a grieving person, can you really remember the full list of 10 Things You Must Not Say you read that one time last October? No. So you are left, mute, with nothing but the awareness that it’s all too easy to say the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the spirit in which these types of articles are written. We all face our own challenges in life. Our struggles are as unique as each of us, and we respond in different ways. What helps one heal or step up may not be useful to another.

The thing is…I don’t feel that other people owe it to us to understand us perfectly. Yes, people often say the wrong things, but how often do they really have bad intentions? If they haven’t been in our place, on what founding do we have the right to expect them to know how we feel? More often than not, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is just trying to make you feel better. It may be a clumsy attempt. It may even be the opposite of helpful. But isn’t it worth anything that they’re trying?

Of course, there are some people who really are just being hateful, but I don’t think they’ll be won over by a “What Not to Say” article either. They’re not the intended audience – the real audience is the well-meaning commiserators. Just like it would be ungracious to throw a Christmas gift back at someone simply because it wasn’t what you wanted, I find it ungracious to judge others for a failed attempt to be kind. Even words that sometimes sound like judgment are really just awkward, clumsy attempts to try to protect you – a motivation based in love, not hatred or contempt.

Yes, there are better and worse ways to comfort people, to converse with them, to let them know you’re there. Many times, there are no words that can help a person heal or deal. Maybe even most times a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on are worth more than any thousands of words.

But the world does not owe us perfectly eloquent grace or perfectly clear understanding. Each person who loves us is a gift. Each loving intention is its own kind of grace. Embracing them all with loving kindness can do far more to help us heal than focusing on how they fell short of our mark.


California is so friggin’ scenic

As I write this, I’m rocking out to Fun.’s “Some Nights” and “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Those two songs have become the soundtrack to my trip home and the epic time we’ve been having with our friends. The latter was playing while we were folding pinwheels and making bouquets out of succulents. And the bride and I grabbed each other and belted out “Home, home is whenever I’m with you” as we danced in celebration of their union and our reunion.

I’m going to remember that forever.

Toby & I drove down the coast route, the Pacific Coast Highway, our favorite way to get from Santa Barbara to L.A.

We had the top down on the convertible. The ocean was candescent with greens and blues. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.


I asked Toby what top three qualities he appreciated most in people. He said an adventurous spirit or drive, self-sufficiency, and being unpretentious about who you are is what he valued most.

My top three are: loyalty, compassion, and an approach to life with a healthy sense of humor.

What are your top three?

Travel has expanded my definition of home. It’s not one place or one scene or one idea. But it’s a large, beautiful home. And my heart overflows.


The Melting Years {A Bigger Picture Moment}

My sister is thirteen years older than I am. When I was very wee, she played second mother to me, helping my parents feed, bathe, and clothe me. She helped babysit when my parents worked, in a way, sacrificing a good portion of her youth to take care of little me.

By the time I was old enough to develop a relationship with her that I could remember beyond snatches and glimpses, she was graduating high school, moving out, living with friends, and getting married. She was trying for babies while I was watching The Lion King.

Her first husband was a long story, so I’ll skip to the part where she moved back closer to family, where she has been ever since. But by the time this happened, I was the one moving out, going to college, and falling in love far away.

There was love. Always a tremendous amount of love between us, but little else in common with so many years, life experiences, and differences in the way. We would spend holidays together, with the whole family, laughing and joking. But we didn’t share thoughts, or clothes, or inside jokes like other sisters might, and neither of us likes talking on the phone. There were a few breaches in the age wall – like when she found a new man and started asking me for dating advice, and when I went through a major breakup for reasons much like her earlier divorce and I stayed with her for a week as I nursed my wounds – but still, 25 and 38 make for different people and different life phases.

But then she got remarried. And I got married. She had a second baby, and I was maturing enough to start playing aunt, albeit still from a three-hour drive away. I poured love into her babies as proxy for all the love I couldn’t express to her when I was younger.

And now she’s come to visit and I’m discovering there are no awkward pauses. No shuffling. No wondering what to say or what to do. I’m showing her my home in the country of her birth. I show her the markets and restaurants I love, and watch with a smile as she buys up more food than anyone can reasonably be expected to eat. I laugh as we both reach for the same purses, home decor, and hand-carved goods at the night market. We whisper back and forth about prices and conspire over whom to buy from and how much to bargain down.

We sit by the pool, sharing guavas and dreams, and I’m discovering 33 and 46 aren’t so different after all.

The years, they’re melting away.

*     *     *

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” 
- Author Unknown 

 What moments stole your breath away this week? 

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up HERE!

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Pinnacle Moment {Lenae}

We’re back! Hope you all had a Thanksgiving so yummy it induced a cozy stupor! This week we have a touching story from Lenae at Just Lenae. If you don’t already know this woman, you should because besides being warm and funny, loving and thoughtful, she and her lovely family are on the move. To Azerbaijan. (Where?!) (Yeah, I had to look up how to spell it.) And they’re doing it right smack in the middle of Christmas craziness. So you should follow her on this new adventure – I’m sure it’ll be quite the roller coaster indeed. Anyway, she took time out of the craziness to share a moment that changed her. I hope you’ll take a moment to pull up a chair and join in the conversation.


From Lenae, titled: My Walk With Red

It was meant to be a weekend visit, when I drove up the California coastline to the small Oregon town where my great-grandparents lived, all those years ago.  I was on the cusp of turning 19, with long, black hair I still hadn’t learned how to style, and grand, vivid hopes for all I hoped to accomplish after I left for the Air Force in a few months.

My great-grandpa wasn’t doing well.  His health had been spotty for years, but it had recently been on the downward decline long enough that my dad urged me to go see him in the rehabilitation home he’d recently moved to.  Just in case.

I don’t remember much about the 6-hour trek north.  I sped along the redwood-lined highway I knew so well and reveled in the freedom of my solitude.  I littered the floor of my parents’ car with empty Mountain Dew bottles and rotated through my favorite CDs.  As for what awaited me once I arrived at my destination, I had no expectations or heavy thoughts about it.  I was enshrouded in a bubble untouched by serious illness or death, moving lightly in self-assured naiveté.

It was a bubble that dissolved easily enough the moment I stepped from the cool, Oregon fog into the rehabilitation home.  It smelled as most medical facilities do –stuffy, sterile—and all sound was eerily muffled and hushed.  I was not prepared for the sight of Grandpa Red, as he’d always been called because of the copper-hued locks of his youth.  He was emaciated and unshaven.  He stirred instantly at the sight of me.

I had great affection for Grandpa Red, but my memories of affection from him were mostly hazy, rimmed in his characteristic sarcasm.  He wasn’t gentle; if he wanted to hug you, he pulled you in under his arm and more likely than not gave you a noogie.  He served in the Seabees during World War II, and filled the Navy-stereotype beautifully with entertaining, salty language.  He listened to Rush Limbaugh in the shop behind the house and enjoyed fishing.   He taught me in part how to have the grand and vivid personality I was carefully stoking for myself.

Yet the man in the hospital bed was neither grand nor vivid.  He was a remnant of the person populating so many of my memories, already faded.  Somewhere in my subconscious I recognized that this, truly, was a farewell visit, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around that reality just yet.  I crossed the room and perched carefully in a chair beside him and did something I couldn’t remember doing since I was a very little girl: I held his hand.

I don’t remember if we traded any polite remarks.  Frankly, I don’t remember anything about that interaction other than how very warm his hand was, and that he startled me to my core by asking if I’d attended church yet that week.  “I’ll be at church on Wednesday,” I offered him shakily, information he wouldn’t know because we’d never discussed my budding faith.

“Will you pray for me, Lenae?” he asked.

After a very long pause –because now I was attempting to wrap my heart around the reality my mind had already recognized—I promised him that yes, I would.

Mortality is an interesting, twisted object to try and hold in your hands.  I’d always been very precocious, very mindful of the darker aspect of the humanity I was a member of, but this meeting with my great-grandfather shattered any perceptions I’d built of my awareness.  I was a typical 18-year-old in that I was quite sure I knew exactly what I was doing… about everything.  And of course, nothing will tear up the roots of false confidence like confronting death.

The rehabilitation center he was in was not ideal.  My great-grandmother was fretful and alone there, pacing the halls of the home they shared not far from the beach.  But I wanted to leave.  I wanted to return to the warm security of the car gliding down the highway, and sing my heart out and slam down junk food and think of how cute I’d look in an Air Force blues uniform.

In the end, there were a few things that compelled me to do otherwise: compassion bred beneath an umbrella of intentional parenting; a heart leaping and jumping in new faith, and ideas of what vibrant service and selfless love actually looked like.  I quit my job back in my hometown to stay there in Oregon, and help my great-grandparents.  The ensuing weeks were an education in one of the most grand, vivid transitions of life – as it were, the exit from life.  It was a privilege to dole out medication, to hear tales told one last time, to observe gratitude delivered in unchecked fullness.  It was shattering to be present for the physical breakdown of a body that was, at a time, strong and streamlined.  I held those warm hands that grew ever warmer as he –we—neared the end, and it seemed he was burning the truth of existence into my soul.  I’d never shared anything very deep with the man, but I was honored to be there with him as he grappled with the inevitable questions we weigh as we contemplate being no more.  I was humbled to be able to pray with him, blessed to see evidence of a peaceful heart just hours before his breath came and went and then did not come again.

It was not graduating from high school or taking the oath at the end of military training that propelled me into adulthood: it was this – the overwhelming, breaking, final walk I took hand-in-hand with my great-grandfather.  I felt in his grip all the love he was never able to convey in words, and when my eyes had cleared, I looked up to the see the sunrise of eternal life as I’d been unable to view it before.


I hope you enjoyed this moment, and that beautiful juxtaposition she created between youth and death. I hope you’ll join us once more next week, for the conclusion of our series. Thanks so much for connecting with us along the way!

you capture – inspiration

Last week, Beth asked us what inspires us. For me, without a doubt, the answer is relationships.

Our relations with others: how we see others, how we treat them, how we act because of them…

Even our relationship with ourselves: identity, culture, spirituality.
Love, or hate.

I am fascinated by all these things. In my own life, I seek to resolve problems between people and even within themselves. I often find myself in that kind of role and I love it. Part teacher, part confidante, it gives me a sense of meaning in my life. When I’m  not counseling others, I search for and rediscover my ever-changing self. When I am full of something to say, I put it into words, into food, and into comfort.

Some might call it naval-gazing and maybe it is, but I find the better rooted I am in myself, the better suited I am to help others. Therein lies the joy.

I have a little system for all of this right now, but that system is about to go into shock, for on Monday we move to Thailand. The next time I participate in You Capture, it will be from the other side of the world.

See you all on the other side.



the day i {almost} walked away

I almost don’t even know where to begin with this story. All I can say is, if I had a chance to write an open letter to fellow graduate students, I would have a lot to write about. I’ve tried to be as professional as I can with any discussion related to my academic life, but, here now at the end, it’s no longer just professional. It’s personal. It hits deep. It, in some ways, has defined me.

Today, Friday, September 10 is my deadline to file my dissertation. The stakes if I miss the deadline? Two quarters’ worth of tuition… roughly eight grand that I’d have to pay up front and out of pocket because no more student loans for me. I’d been working on my fifth chapter since May and as of Monday of last week, it had already been through at least three major overhauls (And let’s not even get into the fights I had with the computer labs that were never open due to furloughs and management changes and that no longer have the program I need, only a trial version that is lovely enough to crash every time I try to do anything remotely useful on it, and even when I caved and bought the dang program it still didn’t work. Let’s just say that being a student at a public university in these times of economic woe is not fun.)

So that Monday, I had just finished a major overhaul and could see this deadline looming and was praying everything would pass muster. What I hear from my committee that Wednesday night is that I still fail to grasp how to present this kind of information (though until that email, nobody had really told me either). The recommended changes are not few. I begin to freak out because in all this process I have felt like I’d been wandering in the dark without any guideposts, only guard rails to bump into when I’ve gone the wrong way. But it’s no longer May. It’s now a week and a half from my deadline, and I’m trying to work while bouncing between houses living out of suitcases because our apartment decided it was also a good time to get an all-invasive mold infestation, and what I hear is that I still just don’t get it. So I sent a couple of worried emails asking what to do, where do I stand, and is there any hope of the goal in sight.

And I wait. Sickened, tired, and nearing the end of my capacity. (I’m really giving you the Cliffs Notes version of this saga.) Then, Friday, a week before my deadline (and a day before I was also supposed to leave for a very good friends’ wedding) I get an email back saying basically, what you’re going through right now? This pain and drama? You brought it on yourself.

And I broke.

I had already been sobbing my way through the week, and these words pushed me over the edge. The picture from Wednesday’s post? That is from this day I’m talking about here. (I realize I’m not painting a very good picture of my committee right now. In this process there have definitely been times when I could and should have communicated better with them, and there are times when I wish I had gotten a little more clear communication from them. They are actually very helpful and kind people, concerned for the well-being of their students. And they put in major hours trying to help me get done before my deadline. I really did ask a lot of them here at the end. I think, just when it comes to crunch time, lack of communication results in major frustration, on both sides.)

I stared at that email. I walked away from my desk, wandered through the house and into the garden. I was floating. I was detached. I cried and I crumbled and I fell. I was done. Simply done. I had no more left.

And yes, objectively, those words are truth. I decided to pursue this degree. I decided to try for this deadline. I’ve made mistakes along the way. I am responsible. I made those decisions as best as I could with what I knew at the time. But they are indeed my decisions.

But when you’re hurting, to be told: you deserve this? It broke me. And if it were up to only me, I would have walked away right then. I would have looked back on the past years’ worth of time, money and effort, shrugged, and walked away.

I sat on the porch swing. The sun shone down and twinkled on the glass panes and the flowers. It was such an ethereal moment. As much as I hurt, sitting there in the garden with nothing left but tears, I began to find a shred of myself again. I found that, underneath everything that had died, there was one tiny little beating pulse left. I couldn’t go a step further by myself. No, I couldn’t do that. But if I were to have any hope of trying one more time, I would have to do it with someone by my side.

I called my parents and told them I was coming home.

I called my dear friend and shame-facedly told her I couldn’t come to her wedding. She understood. Oh my god, she understood.

My hubby and I packed up our things and drove down to my parents’ house. The minute I saw them and my mom said, “my baby”, I found my center. I felt whole again. How is it I’m thirty years old and still can go home to my mom and dad and find my center? I don’t think that will ever change, and I don’t want it to.

My mom is such a fighter too. I told her the whole story and … well, you just can’t be around my mom and not be infected with her fighting spirit. It wasn’t long before I picked myself up out of the dirt and pulled my boxing gloves back on and got back into the ring.

We worked through the weekend. It was so blessedly fortifying just to have my mom in the same room and my dad pacing about. I sent emails to my committee, working hard to clear up our problems of miscommunication and to honestly own up to my part in where things went wrong. I sent more emails to clarify what I could do to make things right. Meanwhile, my parents fed me and cheered me, steered me straight, and told me they knew I could do this. When I told them I was broken, they said there’s no such thing. Failure doesn’t exist. My husband went off to the wedding with only a bag of goodies I had put together for the bride in my place. At 5 p.m. on Sunday, I thought of her walking down the aisle, and then went back to work. At 6 p.m. on Sunday, I got texts saying they were officially married, I cheered, and went back to work.

And finally…finally… midnight on Monday I had it done. I tweaked a few things early Tuesday morning, and sent it off with a prayer.

Then, I got an email back in response to a question I had about something seemingly minor, and the response was…everything you just did? You now have to do over again.

This is Tuesday. Deadline is Friday.

I couldn’t believe it. But still I worked. I still had some fight left in me and I chugged and chugged to work something out. I didn’t have to redo everything after all, I just had to add a little bit extra to acknowledge the issue that needed attention. And after much scurrying of emails and flurrying of typing and fixing and fretting, one day before the deadline I got the go-ahead to file.

I made it. It’s done. It tore me down, stripped me of everything: strength, pride, ego, even my sense of self. I did get lost along the way. For a long time I was lost and became someone I didn’t really recognize. It was a very dark place. But then I went home and found myself again.

It’s only when you’re stripped of everything that you find out who you really are and what you’re made of. Me alone? Might not be enough. But I’m also my love, my family, my husband, and my amazing friends who reach out and understand.

Circumstances don’t define us. At any moment, our lives can change and we can choose to walk in any direction. What defines us is the direction we choose to walk in.

I choose to walk in the direction of love.

I just happened to pick up a degree along the way.

Join in with everyone trying to find the bigger picture in life.

On Having The Courage To Leave

Having the courage to leave an abusive or dead-end relationship is hard. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. It’s hard to face down fears about what the change will bring. As a reader wrote to me,

“I do fear being alone and I also fear I won’t do better. But recently I don’t like the man I see or how he treats me and I am now deciding should I stay or should I go?”

Here is my response [slightly edited for privacy and clarity, as it was part of a much longer conversation]:

I’m really reticent to tell people how to live their lives, especially knowing so little about you and your life. The advice I’m going to give here is going to sound very strongly like I’m telling you to leave him. But I believe very much that people can only do things when they are ready to. Otherwise there will always be some regret or lingering doubts. It’s better to act when you’re ready and have no regrets than to wonder (and potentially end up back in the same situation and draw out the pain). The advice I give is based solely on what you’ve given me here too. The truth is, nobody knows the truth of a relationship better than the two people in it, even if they can’t see themselves clearly. Even if friends and loved ones can spot a dead-end relationship from a mile away and in the end they’re right, the part of the truth that really matters is what the two people in the relationship can see.

Ok, so here is my advice, such as it is.

I would say “don’t be afraid to be alone”, and “you can totally find someone better”, and I definitely want to cheerlead you on. But that runs the risk of sounding like empty platitudes and doesn’t give you much practical advice. The only thing I think I can really do is say you need to confront those fears, for two reasons. One, if you truly confront them you’ll probably find they are empty threats. And two, confronting them means looking really closely at yourself and you’ll probably find those fears are actually symptoms of something deeper about yourself. Confronting fears is scary, scary business. But it is SO NECESSARY. And SO SO REWARDING once you get through it. I cannot possibly overstate how deep the rewards are and how fulfilling it is to do this.

It might help to think out would happen if these two fears were realized. If you were alone, if you couldn’t find someone else…what would that look like? What part of it is actually scary? Is there a reason (maybe something from your past) that makes you believe you need to fear this? Then maybe take a look and assess: are those scenarios actually likely, are they actually frightening, are there really no other options? Would you really feel much more alone without him than you already do now?

It is scary and takes real courage to end a long relationship. We tend to sympathize most with the person who gets dumped, but being the one to leave takes real courage too. If you come to a point where deep in your heart you know it’s over, I know it’s scary, but have the courage to be the one to leave. You might find the pain of the relationship ending is not nearly so bad as the pain of it continuing. You might feel suddenly free, like a huge burden has been lifted: one you had no idea was so heavy until you got out from under it.

When I went through a difficult time in a relationship, I made a conscious choice. I decided that I would rather be alone than in a relationship that caused so much pain and made me feel so badly. I didn’t want to have to fight so damn hard to be happy. I was too effing exhausted to put up with any more b-llsh-t. I made a promise to myself (and eventually to my now-hubby) that if I was going to get in a relationship again, it had to be REAL. For real. No lies (to each other, but most importantly to ourselves), no false hopes. Just love, respect, and honest effort – with a few laughs along the way.

There, really, is the key: find whatever it is that will make you happy, and is real. Do whatever it takes that makes you feel honestly good about yourself. It is your life to live. Live it without regrets.

A Letter From A Reader

A while back I posted an article on passive aggressive behavior and manipulation: its symptoms, its effects, and how to cope. One reader responded with her own situation, and we have since had long discussions on how to change the situation she is in. I am sharing her initial letter here (with some edits, for privacy) and my response, in the hopes it might help another who shares the same problem.

Here is what she wrote:

“So interesting to read your own personal take on pa [passive aggressive behavior].  I have been dealing with this for 4 years now and I am mentally exhausted, feel alone a lot and tired of him always trying to prove me wrong so he can claim victim. He buys me things and then gets mad that he did so he slowly punishes me for it and when I question him about it he says it’s my attitude. It’s extremely frustrating and tiresome. Childlike. I always have to run back to him and call first. He will ignore me until the end of time. He is shut down constantly, shows no emotion but is aggressive in the bedroom. And when I show emotion he is like a stiff board. When I am crying he does not even ask why. He told me as a kid he never got any recognition. You did as you were told, end of story. He uses his money as a control mechanism. If he doesn’t like what I do or say he withdraws his financial support for me and he also withdraws himself. And once again I have to crawl back to him. He’s pathetic. If I tell him I like something he will say he doesn’t and say he likes something else. And his tone is nasty. I am always on eggshells when I want to discuss something with him. He charms the world, but those closest to him he treats like dirt. It sickens me to watch him turn on the charm to others and then turn around to me and have a different tone or barely speak to me. If I make suggestions he will never be accepting but may attempt them later on and then tell me he tried something and claim it as his. He doesn’t trust anyone. I always wonder if I am being taped or on a camera or my computer is bugged. It’s a horrible way to live. He only tells me select information and doesn’t give much details. His communication is close to zero. He punishes me all the time by ignoring me and I cannot ask him for anything for thou shall not receive. It’s bizarre. Very confusing life.”

Here is what I wrote in return:

Oh honey, I can’t help but think you must be feeling so very trapped. Thank you for sharing your burden with me. I don’t know your man, but from what you’ve written here, it sounds like he craves power and control. Maybe because he never felt he had any as a child; that his needs went unrecognized, even at times most important to him. And so he turns that on others because he feels it is owed to him. But of course that is just misdirecting his anger, and turning him from victim to perpetrator.

But I truly believe that everyone has a right to two basic things in a relationship: honesty and to be treated with basic human decency. Maybe that really just comes down to one thing. And it sounds like the kind of relationship you’re in as it stands right now is just not sustainable. It will only wear you down more and build greater resentment in you, changing who you are. Then you have to think: is that the person you want to become?

If the answer is no, you have two options. You can cut your losses and run (which I imagine others close to you have already suggested). Or you can try to make something better of it. I imagine you probably love this man a lot (or else you wouldn’t have hung around for 4 years, right?), so there must be some good you see in him. But here’s the kicker: NO ONE CAN CHANGE A MAN WITHOUT HIS CONSENT. We women love to try. But it must be his decision to change. You can change a relationship. You can change yourself. But only he can decide to be a better man; a stronger man. And strength doesn’t come from power over others; it comes from power over one’s own demons. And in his case, if he is to change, he has to decide that love and happiness is more important than power and control. It’s not an easy decision. If you’re going to change this relationship, you have to make it clear to him that he cannot have both. It’s already true: the more power he tries to exert, the less love and happiness there is in the relationship. But he clearly doesn’t see that. To him, that little bit of power gives him a thrill that makes it difficult to see how little true and pure happiness there is. And to communicate this to him properly, you really do have to be prepared to leave and be prepared to accept the possibility that he might choose power instead. You can’t issue an ultimatum: that will only play into his power games. It really just has to be a simple truth: that you are done with the way things are. And that you would rather be on your own than be abused. For that is what it is: abuse.

If you choose this road, I’m not going to lie: it’s not going to be easy. It takes time and commitment. He might beg forgiveness and try all kinds of ploys to get you back. But trust must be earned, and he must earn your trust that you are more important to him than anything else in this world, even himself. He must be willing to face everything it is that he does to try to assert power and control, and he must be willing to give each and every one of them up. You both have to come to terms with what things you do (i.e. what he does to assert power, and what you do that gives him that power) that have allowed the relationship to get to this state and both must commit to changing that. Maybe you can do this on your own, maybe a therapist might help. And remember, actions always speak louder than words. He can say whatever he likes to you: the true test is how he acts. Trust your gut: it knows how to protect you if you listen to it.

I’m sorry to put this in such stark terms. But if you take a step back from the day to day and look at the grand picture, relationships really do come down to some very basic things. But I know (oh my god, trust me on this, I really do deep-in-my-bones KNOW) how painful and difficult this is. If I were with you in person, I’d take you in my arms and give you the deepest hug I could, treat you to your favorite dessert, and just listen to everything you had to say until you ran out. And then I’d hug you some more. In lieu of all that, I hope these words help, for whatever they’re worth.

I wish you strength and courage and hope. And most of all, love.



Stay or go, the choice is never easy. In our culture, we focus a lot of our empathy on the person who gets left behind. But leaving is painful and takes courage too. If you are in an abusive, or just plain dead-end relationship, and decide it is time to leave, please check back in tomorrow. I will have a post on having the courage to say good-bye.

a weekend away, away

This weekend, T and I went up to the Bay area to visit friends. Well, okay, it’s a longer story than that. A couple of our very closest of friends, Nuala and Garren, have been living in Marrakech (yes that is Morocco!) for the better part of a year. (Wait, hold on, I think I have photos of them. Oh yes, here they are.) But they’re back in the States for a couple of weeks for a graduation and a wedding and so we went up to visit them at a BBQ they were holding. I LOVE both Nuala and Garren’s families to pieces (and I’m including friends who have been friends so long they have become family in the word “families”). Oh, the stories! (And oh the cream puffs! I think I must have eaten about 6 of those…) And long after the BBQ was over, we were still there, even though everyone’s eyes were drooping like melted ice cream, because, well, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to say good bye again.

Through the weekend, we stayed with T’s boss…which is another interesting story. For, how often does your boss live 300-some-odd miles away? But we stayed with him and his girlfriend and I really enjoyed that. Not only are they both really nice and interesting people who introduced us to more kind and interesting people, I really enjoyed seeing his office and their amazing home space, for I felt like I got to know them a little bit, in a really nice way. Plus the bonus of seeing him embark on a new enterprise – it’s exciting! I’m happy for him and gives me the vicarious little thrill of feeling like I’ve brushed up close to greatness. (I’ll just say, it’s the film industry sort of greatness.)

I had planned to take a lot of photos for this week’s You Capture (the theme is fun) – and really with such a fun weekend, how could I miss that opportunity? But…miss it I did. Because we were having so much fun I was totally absorbed in really special moments, I couldn’t even think about hiding behind a camera. So I’m hobbling together something a little silly with what few photos I do have.

The weekend was filled with special moments like hugging friends who have been a year and a world away.

Like meeting an old friend’s new baby.

Like exploring new sites and living new experiences.

And rediscovering old ones.

Like stumbling across vintage suitcases in a thrift store:

Complete with old tags!

And silk scalloped lining

And falling in love with all their nooks, crannies, and corners

And sweet old vintage stickers

Oh, and by the way…can I just say? $3.99 each.

It’s the bees’ knees, baby!

But now we are home, with lots to do, for it is my 30th birthday in less than a week! And…did you see my sidebar, just to the top on the right there?

We’re up to 76% of the way to my goal! I’m nearly brought to tears with the amazing people in my life, with their generosity, their love, and their support. It’s the thirtieth year of my life, and I feel I have so much.

I have so much.

On Passive Aggressive Behavior & Manipulation

Cch! Gawd, what a jerk!I was browsing around my stat reports for my blog – it’s always fun to see what Google search words bring people to my site. I was a little surprised to see a lot of people come across my blog through some variation of key words that involve passive aggressive behavior and manipulation. But then I guess it makes sense because I know I have mentioned passive aggressiveness on my blog before. It is one of my pet peeves, most especially because I, myself, am prone to it and have worked hard to change that about myself. We hate most in others that which we despise in ourselves, right?

Upon seeing how many people find me through those key words, I began to realize it’s probably an issue a lot of people struggle to cope with, most often because they have a loved one who is passive aggressive and they don’t know how to deal with them. I know when I faced this issue, there are a lot of sources online that voice complaints about the behavior, but offer little practical advice on how to cope. So I thought I would put together my own article on passive aggressive behavior.

Why Passive Aggressiveness Sucks:
Passive aggressive behavior is problematic for two reasons. First, it is dishonest. It allows the aggressor to hide instead of confronting problems with courage and integrity. Second, because it is dishonest, it is also impractical. Rather than dealing with problems honestly, it ends up either creating more problems, escalating current problems, or hiding problems until they get too big to handle. Or all of the above. It therefore makes it nearly impossible to resolve issues. Meanwhile bad feelings fester. Fester, fester, fester. Rot, rot, rot. (Ten points for naming what movie that comes from.)

Signs You’re Dealing With Passive Aggressiveness:
So assuming we all prefer not to fester and rot, the next step is to figure out how to identify passive aggressiveness – either in ourselves or in those we love. Because it is by nature passive, it is often disguised as something else, so it can be hard to identify. But once you’re aware of how it operates, it can become pretty easy to spot.

I think there are two principle characteristics that guide passive aggressive behavior. 1) It seeks to deflect attention away from the real issue because the aggressor fears direct confrontation about the real problem, and 2) It seeks to deflect blame away from the aggressor so they can tell themselves it is not their fault.

What does this look like? Passive aggressive manipulation can manifest itself in many ways. Here are some of the most common ones:

Tit for tat scoring: This looks something along the lines of “Look at everything I’ve done for you. You owe me this in return.” Of course people should give equally in love and one should be wary not be taken advantage of. But I’m talking about a particular attitude here. If you approach love in a way where you keep a tally sheet of brownie points and who owes whom what, chances are you’re not approaching love in an honest, open and giving way. This behavior hides the fact that the aggressor does not feel comfortable simply asking for love. Instead they resort to a power dynamic where they give first, so they feel they have the right to make a claim in return. That way, if the other person does not give in, he or she becomes the ungrateful party and the aggressor can feel comfortable in the myth that they have the moral upper hand.

Self-martyrdom: This is the one I’m most prone to doing because I grew up around people who use this a lot. But there came a day when I discovered how toxic it is and I vowed to myself I would try everything I could to not do this. Self-martyrdom is when you don’t want to do something, but go along with it anyway – but you pretend it’s because you’re doing it for the other person. Usually it’s accompanied by a statement like “Whatever you want to do” or “If that’s what you want, fine by me” – except that it’s not fine by you. It deflects attention away from the fact that you are unwilling or unable to simply state what you want, but it absolves you of responsibility because you tell yourself you’re doing it to make the other person happy, you’re being accommodating, you’re not rocking the boat. Meanwhile, you do things to sabotage the situation. You might drag your feet or put up barriers so what the person wanted doesn’t actually happen. Or you might put on an air of suffering to send the other person the message that you’re doing this for them even though you don’t want to, so you try to make them feel guilty for being so selfish. Really, it is the self-martyr who is being selfish, for though they are giving, they are not giving openly and with love. If the giving is genuine, then you genuinely are pleased just to see the other person happy. You do not carry any hard feelings about it.

- Smoke and mirrors: This tactic is a particularly difficult beast to deal with. When this happens, the aggressor actually creates a problem that really isn’t a problem to direct attention away from the true problem. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, I have a real, true life example to illustrate (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent):
Sally’s mother always loved horseback riding and she wanted her daughter to share that love. Ever since Sally was little, her mother got her lessons to ride. But as Sally became a teenager, she decided she didn’t want to ride anymore and she was tired of always being pushed by her mom to ride horses. So one day when Sally was supposed to go to a lesson after school, she went with a friend, Jessica, to play by a creek. She missed her bus home and therefore was too late to catch her lesson. She lied about missing the bus and told her mother the bus had been late. She asked Jessica to confirm the lie. When Jessica got home, she told her own mother the truth, but asked her to lie to Sally’s mom if she called to check with her about Sally’s story.
So you can see, the lies just escalate. Now look at the problem from Sally’s mom’s perspective. Clearly she is facing a problem with her daughter where she wants her daughter to do something, but Sally doesn’t want to do it. But the problem is, she has no idea that this is the real problem. She just is upset her daughter missed a costly lesson. Even if she discovers the lie, then she is going to be focused on the fact that her daughter is lying to her, but she won’t know why. In truth, Sally simply lacks the courage to honestly tell her mother how she feels. So she creates a different problem—showing up too late to go to her riding lesson: a problem that she may find less daunting to confront so that she doesn’t have to face the real issue—that she doesn’t share the dream her mother has for her, something she probably feels both angry and guilty about. But what is the result? Total confusion. Not problem solved.

- The Hapless Victim: This card is most often played by the incredibly insecure. This is the “I can never do anything right” card. This person is constantly waiting for someone else to do for them what they are too afraid to do for themselves, usually because they fear failure. And yet, they almost invite failure because it provides further evidence they need help. They can point to it and say, “See? I was never capable in the first place. You should never have made me do that.” It gives them an excuse to fall on their sword and it absolves them of responsibility for themselves. But the truth is, they did not put in an honest effort. Meanwhile, you are tempted to do for them because it would be easier, faster, and invite less trouble. But the more you give in to this manipulation, the more you end up feeding their comfort in the insecurity blanket.

So What Do You Do?
If you are dealing with someone who is behaving in a passive aggressive way, there is really only one thing you can do: refuse to be manipulated. If they behave in a way that you can tell in your gut is just not honest (and I think our guts are pretty reliable when it comes to these things, especially with repeated offenses), the only thing you can do is to call them out on it. Try really hard not to get angry with them. Most often, the aggressor does not even realize they are acting in a manipulative way. Remember principle #2? They are busy convincing themselves that they are the victim here. They’re not only lying to you; they’re lying to themselves. Just try to calmly point out what they are doing and ask them to tell you what it is they really want. Understanding them can at least help build tolerance. But honestly? You’ll probably be lucky if they can take a step back, reflect, and tell you openly what they want. Still, you can refuse to let them have power over you. You are the captain and steward of your own emotions. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to insist on speaking honestly. After enough times of this strategy not working, the aggressor will have to find some other way to behave to get results they want. Hopefully, they’ll come to honesty sooner rather than later.

What if you recognize these tendencies in yourself? Well, for one, congratulations for being willing to be honest with yourself! That is an incredibly difficult thing to do! But as hard as it is to break old habits, having the courage to face your own faults is probably the hardest part. Once you realize what you’re doing, it becomes incredibly easy to spot when you do it again. And you know what? It’s okay if you slip up – as long as you face up to it when you do. It is okay to come back and say, “Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t say what I wanted to say. This is what I really meant.”

One Last Point:
One of the keyword searches I came across in my stats was asking something to the effect of: can two naturally passive-aggressive people be compatible? Well, yes, they can be compatible. The question is: can they have an honest, open and healthy relationship; one that strengthens and supports, rather than weakens and undermines? The answer there is yes too. It is possible to change your behavior. It is possible to overcome your natural tendencies. But it does require commitment. If you can recognize these symptoms in each other, you can agree to be committed to helping each other move past your fears. You can agree to help each other face problems with courage, knowing you are doing it together. You can commit to helping each other find true happiness. It’s not about acting perfectly wisely all the time. It’s about just being honest, even when you are afraid.

Facing problems in relationships is tough (Oh my god, is it tough). And it gets even more difficult when we become hijacked by fear or pride. But when it does get tough, all you have to do is focus on this one thought: I would rather be happy.

Have you dealt with passive aggressiveness in your life? How did you cope with it?

*Image courtesy of

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