Relationship Advice: The Fig Newton Syndrome

During a break-up, it is natural to sift through your memories to see if there were early warning signs that the marriage was in trouble. This is an understandable process, as our minds try through hindsight to make logical sense of things. It is a way to deal with the pain of having something so central to your life no longer exist in quite the same way. Of course the relationship still exists, just as a brown dwarf star skulking around the galaxy can still technically be considered a continuation of the once-glorious star that got too hot and exploded all over everything, leaving only a hollowed-out flickering remnant of its former self. Unfortunately we now have to count on the brown dwarf star for financial help with our daughter’s college, though now that he has been exposed as a fading ember of the man he once was, the chances of him being true to his word are fading just as rapidly.

Searching posthumously for the early signs of collapse is tricky, because in any relationship there are difficult spots right from the start, disagreements, misunderstandings, and simple events that in retrospect can seem fraught with meaning. What is more, the defining moments that stand out in one person’s mind as a perfect crystallization of all that was to come are going to be very different from the moments that occur to the other person. But since you are now separate people and don’t have to put up with the other person’s clearly erroneous and narcissistic view of your former marriage, this should not trouble you.

There is a difference, however, between moments which exemplify a particular character trait and moments which warn of impending collapse. Just because a single moment teaches us something profound about our partner doesn’t mean that revelation will lead to the break-up of the marriage. As it happens, I have an example of each of these from the early days of my relationship to share with you now. Read the rest of this entry »


Sex and Revolution

Oh good, I was hoping the title would get your attention. If you have been following along, you now know about the Briefcase Test, a handy way to measure the feasibility—and sanity—of any religious or social group you may come into contact with. But that is not the only tool you will need in order to stay sane here in California.

The story I am about to relate happened a few years ago in the midst of my divorce. Divorce is a process I recommend highly to those who wish for something even more painful and longer lasting than childbirth. It is an excellent way to change your life completely—provided, of course, that you survive it. And some of the biggest challenges you must survive during a divorce are those moments when what had been a jumble of half-conscious thoughts and suspicions suddenly comes together in your mind to form a shocking new picture of reality. The force of truth in those moments can lay you flat. Read the rest of this entry »

Does Your Religion Pass the Briefcase Test?

I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, a country that is a beacon of liberty and religious tolerance for the rest of the world. I am all for freedom of religion too, yet there are some religions that I have a very big problem with. Specifically, religions that hold truck with locked briefcases. Read the rest of this entry »

The Three Most Important Words in a Relationship

The next time you are out with friends, try this fun game: ask what the three most important words in a relationship are. A few of your friends will pick “I love you,” and some cynics may even choose “I’m leaving you.” But neither would be right. I know this, because I have scientifically tested almost all three-word combinations, and can definitively say that the three most important words in any relationship are, “While you’re up.” Read the rest of this entry »

California’s Coastal Villages: A Primer

I live in one of Northern California’s quaint yet tattered coastal villages. I happen to love cold, wind and fog, which is why it works out so well for me. Northern California’s beaches are very different than the beaches you see down in Southern California. People actually die in the surf here on a regular basis because of what we call “sleeper waves,” big waves that come out of nowhere, snatch up random people, and play with them until they are worn out and can’t make it back to shore. This is a place where even PETA would lobby in favor of saving the poor oppressed humans against the heartless cruelty of the ocean.

Ours is a sleepy little town, mostly. During the week it is especially so, as the residents get up, go to work, and stay inside their houses once they get back home. Dogs are walked, children are heard but not seen, smells of cooking and woodsmoke intermingle with fabric softener as you stroll down the streets. There is a mixture of neighborhoods here of course, from the high-priced homes around the golf course to the trailer park down by the water, but in general people go about their lives in relative peace and harmony. Read the rest of this entry »

How Juvenile Fiction Predicts Relationships—and Divorce

My favorite books growing up, the ones I happily read over and over, were Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, a five-part mythological mystery adventure series set in post-war Britain and Wales, where a small troupe of plucky kids overcomes an ancient evil with the help of their Merlin-like great uncle. I would read all five books in order, savoring each one, then after spending a bit of time reading other books (to see if they were anywhere near as great), I would go back and read them again.

Having favorite books as children is important as we develop adult relationships. In college, one of the standard questions I asked new acquaintances was what their favorite books were growing up. If their eyes lit up and they started jabbering wildly about their most beloved books, I knew that we could possibly be friends–though maybe not best friends if they thought My Friend Flicka was the best book they’d ever read. Yet friendship was still possible between us because we shared an essential type of imagination, whereas with those who didn’t love fiction as a child it was not. Read the rest of this entry »

How Nora Ephron Ruined My Life

My ruination at the hands of Nora Ephron began in 1978, when as a high school senior in Oakland I was able to take classes at UC Berkeley. This was a tremendous boon not just educationally but recreationally, as there were security guards constantly patrolling our high school parking lot, looking for rebellious teens such as myself who might try to cut class and leave school early. Now, thanks to my special UCB privilege, I could leave anytime I wanted and they just waved me on. That was a huge improvement in my life thus far, and not anything Ms. Ephron should be faulted for.

I decided to take English 1A first, to get a required class out of the way, and strode into Wheeler Hall one afternoon to look at the print-out of all the TA’s who would be teaching different sections. I chose a cheerful-sounding woman who didn’t list any Shakespeare in her required reading list, because how bad could that be? Read the rest of this entry »