How to stop fighting about dirty clothes

I guess you might call this Housekeeping Week here at Yesterday you got tips on bathroom organization. Today another guest poster will offer tips to help you stop fighting about dirty laundry. I met Sarah Welch while we were both waiting to be interviewed for the 10! Show in Philadelphia. We have a lot in common. I’m guessing her house is a lot cleaner and more organized than mine. But, hey, it’s not a competition and she’d be the first to tell you that. Sarah is the co-author of Pretty Neat and the co-founder of

Yes, honey, there is an inside to the hamper

By Sarah Welch

I have a problem.

My dear husband seems to miss the point of hampers entirely.

Perhaps that’s unfair. What he seems to miss is that there’s an inside to the darn things.

When he sheds his clothes for the day, they always end up on top of, hanging over the side of, or balled up next to…but never in…the laundry basket.

Invariably when I go to toss clothes of my own into the basket, my biceps get a little workout as I struggle to lift a lid weighted down by several pairs of jeans and fleece jackets. A baseball cap often flutters to the floor landing next to some balled up boxers or smelly socks.

It’s a constant source of frustration.

I’ve tried ignoring the problem, gently reminding him of how hampers work, removing the lid, lobbing dirty socks at him…wailing and gnashing my teeth.

All to no avail.

It’s not that he’s trying to make me nuts. He simply doesn’t see the basket as anything more than a flat surface, despite its cylindrical shape.

And the occasional floor dropping? He doesn’t “see” those either.

In the scheme of things, it isn’t that big of a deal. It only affects our room, and it only takes me a few seconds to either deal with or work around. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a significant source of marital tension.

To be fair, my tendency to shove groceries willy-nilly into the fridge and pantry drives him equally batty.

Like it or not, our individual organizational tics can create minefields in our marriages. The little things, like dirty dishes that never make it into the dishwasher or dirty clothes that never make it into the hamper, are the cavities of our unions. Little holes that, if ignored, will eat away and eventually rot something once solid.

The key is to catch your organizational cavities before they cause serious damage.

Stop complaining & fix it already.

Tired of complaining about my husband’s clothes-dropping habits and hearing him grumble to me about what a mess the fridge was, we agreed recently that we needed to stop whining and do something about it. Complaining is so darn impotent; there’s an inherent resignation in every complaint that things will not change.

We both needed to figure out ways to trick ourselves into doing things we didn’t think we liked doing, such as putting the groceries away neatly and yes, getting clothes inside the hamper, on autopilot.

It turns out the fix for his hamper-myopia was relatively simple. We put a little basketball hoop right over the opening and, voila, it was transformed from something he just didn’t see into a fun game he plays twice a day. I have to admit I really enjoy the thrill of sinking a sock from across the room now too, something I’d never have experienced if it weren’t for his shortcoming.

Addressing the grocery pit ended up being simple too. I created some pretty stickers to indicate where items should go, and can now not only put things away faster but shave minutes off of meal prep every, single, day. Not a bad thing. I also love seeing him smile whenever he opens the pantry.

The bottom line is: actions speak louder than words. Nothing says “I love you” more powerfully than addressing the one or two tiny little things you do on a regular basis that make your spouse nuts (and not in a good way).

So what about you? How do you currently handle your organizational differences? How might your union be improved if you stopped complaining about each other’s organizational tics and actually thought creatively about how to solve them with minimal effort?

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Gretchen Rubin Dishes About Her Marriage

A few years ago, several publishers turned down the opportunity to publish Project: Happily Ever After(that’s my new book in case you are new here) because they said it was too similar to The Happiness Project, at the time a soon-to-be published book by Gretchen Rubin. The Happiness Project went on to become a #1 New York Times Bestseller and be translated into several languages.

If I was an enlightened human being, I would have been happy for Gretchen’s good fortune. I would also have been happy for her readers who were benefiting from the spread of her message and able to improve their lives as a result. I wasn’t. I’ll admit: I was filled with envy. I wanted what Gretchen had.

Flash forward roughly two years. My book is about to be published. A friend asks me if I’d like to join an author’s group. Gretchen is a member of said group. Gretchen and I trade emails. Gretchen says she’d like to read my book. I mail it to her. She says she loves it. We meet for coffee. We become friends. I feel guilty about ever feeling envious of her. And we agree that our books are similar in the following respects:

* They have many similar words in the titles.

* They are both memoirs with a “project” theme.

And that’s it. Her book is about happiness. Mine is about marriage. You could read both and never feel as if you just had a deja vu moment (unlike the folks who read my Facebook feed and who have deja vu moments all the time because it’s broken and always feeds the blog posts in twice). Several people have told me that Project: Happily Ever After has saved their marriages. I’m telling you that The Happiness Project just might save your peace of mind. It’s coming out in paperback. You can find out where to preorder it. Gretchen is giving away a free copy of her Happiness Paradoxes to everyone who pre-orders. To get it, just email her with “I pre-ordered” in the subject line.

What follows is my interview with Gretchen about marriage.

1. How has the Happiness Project (the book and blog and not the actual year long project) impacted your marriage? Does writing about happiness lead to marital happiness?

Absolutely. One of the main goals of my happiness project was to have warmer, more romantic, more light-hearted atmosphere in my marriage, and that has truly happened. It’s a sad fact about a happiness project that you can only change yourself, but when I changed, my relationship changed, and my husband changed. We’re a lot more patient with each other, more affectionate, better about doing the little annoying tasks that the other wants us to do. Also, we “catch” happiness from each other, and as I boosted my happiness, it lifted my husband’s happiness as well.

2. You worked on nagging in the book. That’s a big one for a lot of readers here. What do you think was the most effective technique you used to get yourself to stop doing it?

Alas, the most effective technique was…to do a task myself. I realized that I was nagging most about assignments I gave to my husband, without much regard to whether he thought they were tasks that needed doing at all. For instance, I realized that he didn’t care about sending out family Valentine’s Day cards, so he didn’t want to help. Valentine’s cards were something that was important to me, not him — so why did I get to make him help?

3. What is your favorite piece of marital advice?

Before I got married, someone told me, “Leave something unsaid every day.” That’s good advice!

4. Is there anything you do for your marriage every day?

I give my husband a proper hello and good-bye. I have a little conversation, give a kiss — not just a “Hey” shouted from across the room while I’m busy checking my email. I do the same thing with my daughters, too, and expect them to do the same. We call this “warm greetings and farewells” as in “Come on, I need a warm greeting.”

5. During those frustrating moments in marriage, what do you tell yourself to help yourself get back to a positive place?

I try to keep a sense of humor. This is so, so hard for me. But if I can joke around, or talk in a more light-hearted way, it makes me calmer and more constructive. I suspect that my husband has figured out that if I’m angry, he should wait for a few minutes before engaging, to let me my better instincts kick in.

Gretchen has offered to give away one free copy of the Happiness Project to a PHEA reader. I will choose the winner from the comments this Saturday (2/26) using In the comments, let’s discuss: What can you do to boost your happiness without the help of your spouse?


* POOF BOOKS reviewed PHEA saying, “While the book does indeed have a happy ending, boy it was a heck of a ride to get there.”

* I will be on WBFF Fox 45 Morning News in Baltimore this Friday around 9:20 talking about marriage. I understand that viewers will be able to call in and ask me questions. If you live in the area, I’d love to hear from you while I’m on air.

* I finally cracked the 100 site mark for the PHEA virtual tour!

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The Antidote to Pride

The Karma Series, Part 3

Most Westerners see nothing wrong with having a little pride. We use the phrases “I’m proud of…” and “I pride myself on the fact that…” without thinking much about them. We hang diplomas, certificates, awards and other signs of our success on our walls. And we strive for things that set us on a higher level than others—important sounding job titles, important sounding degrees, important looking cars and houses, important looking shoes and purses, and so on.

We think of pride as one of the keys to a healthy sense of self, and we think of a healthy sense of self as one of the keys to happiness.

In Buddhism, though, pride is thought of as one of the obstacles to a happy, peaceful existence. Pride gets in the way of compassion, and compassion and cherishing others are what Buddhists say lead to a happy and content life (more about compassion  tomorrow). When you embrace pride, though, you see yourself as higher than others and you value your happiness over the happiness of others. When you embrace humility—the opposite of pride—you see yourself on the same level as others, and you value their happiness just as much as you value your own.

Let me tell you, I struggled with this teaching for a long, long time. There was this one part of me that was all like, “I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I AM special, dang it. Just look at all of those bestsellers that I’ve penned. I deserve to be treated with respect. I’ve earned it.”

And then there was this other part of me that wondered, “If I embraced this and if I allowed myself to see every single person as equal and deserving of happiness, how would it change my life? If I embraced humility and brought it with me to every interaction, how would it change my career? Would I be happier or just that much more frustrated and downtrodden?”

The Great Humility Experiment

Buddhists see hardships and suffering as gifts that allow them to practice and strengthen their spiritual skills. Well, it didn’t take long before life gave me a gift that allowed me to practice the skill of humility.

I was working on a huge, long-term project with a team of people. Each person on the team had thoughts on how the project should be done, and most of these thoughts diverged. One person would suggest I write one way. Another would suggest I do it a completely different way, and a third would suggest something that was even more different than the second.

Even worse, the minds of all of these various people kept changing.

As a result, I would write something. Someone would ask me to rewrite it. I would. Then someone else would want it rewritten a completely different way. I would do it. Then that someone would change her mind and there I was rewriting the dang thing yet again. It seemed as if I was writing all day and all night, but that I never truly got anything done. I kept cranking out words only to delete them and start over again.

I don’t even want to get into what I thought about all of this because I like to think of myself as a professional, and the thoughts that occupied my mental continuum during this time of my life were anything but professional.

Anyway, while all of this was going on, I was going to my Buddhism class and I was learning about pride and humility. I asked myself, “What can this situation teach me about humility? How can I learn from this? How can this hardship make me a better person? Can embracing humility help me to survive this horrific experience?”

To embrace humility, I visualized a monk. He had a shaved head. He was skinny. He wore orange robes, and he had a big teethy smile. In my visualization, it was this monk’s job to build a series of cement steps. Each morning he would pour the cement and smooth it out. Each afternoon his boss came, inspected his work, and said, “These are the worst steps I’ve ever seen. Get rid of them and start over.” My imaginary monk would smile, bow, and say, “Yes, sir. Of course. Right away! I’m sorry that my steps have caused you suffering.”

And then he would happily jackhammer his recent creation and start the whole process over again.

In my mind, this monk was the antithesis of pride and the epitome of humility. He happily built the same step over and over again. He treated his surly boss with nothing but compassion.

He was filled with love, happiness, and peace. He always smiled. He hummed as he worked. He was lit from within.

I visualized this and I visualized this and I visualized this.

You know what? Eventually the rewrites stopped bothering me. Eventually I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting recognition for my writing. Eventually I stopped struggling. I stopped thinking things like, “I deserve better” and “why don’t these people recognize my worth?” I stopped should-ing and I stopped if-only-ing. I stopped fretting about who was right and who was wrong.

I shed the negative mind chatter and emotional angst.

Instead, I embraced the process. I accepted the situation as an opportunity for me to grow. I allowed this God forsaken project to teach me lessons about communication and interpersonal skills. I allowed it to teach me lessons about forgiveness. And I allowed it to teach me lessons about compassion. As a result, I began doing a meditation during which I wished happiness to every single team member on that team.

You know what? Doing so brought me peace.

And it wasn’t until I got on the other end of it—until I’d fully embraced humility—that I could look back and see that the pride would have gotten me nowhere. I could have fought for what was fair. I could have raged against the machine, right? I could have told off a few people. I could have argued for more money.

I could have whined.

I could have done any number of things.

But none of that would have brought me happiness, and none of it would have improved my career, either.

In the end, the one thing that I needed was the one thing I was most scared to do – let go. I had to let go of my sense of importance.

The Antidote to Pride is Humility

I wish I could say that I was cured of pride, but I’m not. I’ve received many gifts over the past few months, and most were gifts that helped me strengthen my humility. Let me tell you: I wanted to regift a few of them. I seriously tried to tell the universe that these gifts had been bestowed on the wrong person–that someone else needed to be taught about pride more than I did.

And then I realized that even that was being prideful.

I’ve had to shed my sense of self-importance over and over and over again.

It’s something that I might just have to work on for the rest of my life.

But each time I embrace humility, I find myself happier and more at peace. You might find the same is true for you.

And, now, my dear readers, I humbly ask you a question. I decided to write this series because I’ve learned so much from the karma project, and I wanted to pass what I’ve learned onto others. It was never my intention to offend. I did hear from a reader yesterday, though, who told me that he finds this series offensive to his beliefs as a Christian. I’m curious if there are others who feel the same. I’ve been trying to write about topics that seem to cross over and are embraced by all religions, and I’m avoiding topics (such as reincarnation and karma) that do not cross over. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can comment here or email them to me:

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What is the Story of Your Life?

This post was inspired by the awesome Julie Roads

I’d already crossed everything about this blog off my Monday to-do list. Marriage Improvement Monday: Done. Check. Over. Time to move on to the other stuff—the stuff that I actually get paid to write.

But first a hot cup of Procrastination Tea was in order. And, heck, I can’t write much while sipping tea, so I figured I might as well read a few blogs until my tea was done.

That’s when I read Julie Roads’ post, “Telling Stories” in which she talks about how she wrote the story of her life before that story actually happened. By writing it out, she made the story come true.

(Her post, by the way, was inspired by Chris Brogan’s post about story telling.)

Julie inspired me. After I read her post, I had a thought. It was this, “I have goals. I have a book coming out. I want certain things to happen. What if I wrote the story of what I want to happen before it actually happens? What if I published that story on my blog—before it ever took place in real life?”

You want to know what I thought about that? It was this, “Sounds absolutely terrifying.”

Well, you want to know what my imaginary boyfriend Seth Godin said to that? It was this, “If it’s terrifying, then it must be worth doing.”

So I’m going to do it. My book Project: Happily Ever After tells the story of how 12 marital improvement books saved my marriage. It will debut in January. Before the book debuts, a much different story will be unfold.

The Story of the Making of a Story

This story’s main character was once a 5th grader who aspired to be a science fiction novelist, but who was told by her teacher that she couldn’t write. She was once a newspaper reporter who wanted to write for the New York Times, but instead chickened out and went into book publishing instead. She’s now considered one of the country’s top ghostwriters of books, but now she’s got words of her own to put between two covers.

She’s helped more than 15 authors face that scariest of days. It’s called this: Book Release Day.

Now she’s facing her own scariest of days.

She’s worried. She’s finally written a book in her own voice and with her own byline. Is her voice boring? Is her story boring? Is her writing boring? Will the book flop? Will she walk away from this experience feeling like a failure?

Those, folks, are just some of her fears. Oh, let me tell you, this girl has got fears.

She has fears about the horrific indignity that could ensue if her hair looks greasy when she appears on TV to talk about her book. She has fears about her hands shaking and her face turning beat red when she gives speeches about the book’s story. She has fears about her friends buying the book, but then avoiding her for days, months and even years because they fell asleep on page 1 and are too embarrassed to see her and tell her that.

Thankfully for our fearful, neurotic main character, this fairy tale includes a sidekick. His name is Tim Brownson, and he is the knight in shining armor behind the story about the story. (Confused about that? I think I might be, too. Bear with me).

Tim is a life coach. He recently ran a promotion for 6 months of free life coaching. I told Tim all about my neurotic fears of failure. He felt so sorry for me that I won the contest. During the next 6 months, he’s going to transform me into the most confident author who ever published a book. And he’s going to single handedly make sure that:

  • I become immune to those stupid people who are going to write reviews on amazon about how my book is “stupid” or “boring” and “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
  • I become so fearless that I will ask super duper famous people to read and blurb my book, and I will think it’s their sad loss when they say, “I’m much to busy to read a book, especially your book.”
  • I either learn how to style my hair or just stop worrying about it already.
  • I overcome my quivering lip and pounding heart so I can calmly walk on set of The Daily Show, tell Jon Stewart that he is the hottest man alive (next to Tim Brownson, of course, and next to my husband), and even crack a few jokes that do not include the words “fart” “blowjob” or “poopy.”
  • I get over my fear of rejection and write an essay about how this blog saved my marriage, and send that essay to the New York Times for publication in “Modern Love.”

Tim, you see, is going to be the clichéd wind beneath my wings. He is going to make sure I do not chicken out. If I check myself into an insane asylum, he’s going to march on over there and he’s going to check me right back out again.

He’s going to make me face each and every fear I have about publishing this book.

And I am going to publish the story of how he manages to pull that off right here, on this blog.

The first chapter opens next week. Monday marks my first session with Tim. During that session Tim is going to help me face my fears about an upcoming journalism conference, one in which I will be speaking about the future of publishing and trying to force myself to network. I believe he said he would be mailing me some Xanax.

On Tuesday, I will write the story of what Tim tells me I should do at the conference. This story will be a story about the future, and about how the conference is actually going to go before it actually happens. Then, I’ll check in here a week later and let you know how the real story turned out.

You with me? You up for writing the story of your life before it unfolds? Do you think there is any merit to doing this? Wish me well, and leave a comment.

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How to Blow Negativity Out Your Nose

Blogging sister Julie Roads recently wrote about traits she wished she could surgically remove from her being.

About those traits? I have a lot of them: fear of failure, fear of appearing weak, fear of being a burden to others, fear of rejection, negativity, fatigue, cravings for things that are not good for me, worry, fear of other people thinking that I have lost a screw.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m sure you have your own list.

During the past few weeks, however, I’ve made quite a bit of progress at letting go of most of these fears. I’ve done it by blowing them out my nose.

I learned how to blow stuff out my nose during a meditation class I attended just before my vacation. It was at that class that my teacher explained the theory behind Black and White Breathing. Black and White Breathing is simple. You close your eyes. You bring your awareness to your breathing. Whenever you have a distracting thought—I’m not doing this right….Crap, I forgot to get the milk….I have so much to do tomorrow, but I don’t think I can get it all done… I hope my husband doesn’t want to have sex when I get home tonight—you mentally turn that thought into black smoke, and you blow that smoke out your nose.

Then you imagine all that is good in the world – love, peace, compassion, understanding, patience, orgasms and so on – as white light, and you inhale that light.

Now, I’ve been doing this Black and White Breathing thing for about a year, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really got the point of it all. What can I say? I’m dense like that. But once I got the point, it was a huge life shift for me. I started doing it repeatedly throughout every single day. Here are some examples:

  • We’re driving to the airport. Traffic comes to a standstill. We turn on the radio and find out that there is a four-car pile up and that the road is completely blocked off. My thoughts start going to the We’re-Going-to-Miss-Our-Flight-and-I’ll-Never-Get-to-Go-On-Vacation-and-If-I-Don’t-Have-A-Vacation-I-Am-Going-to-Die-From-Stress place. I breathe that thought out my nose as I say, “Whatever happens is what happens.” I breathe in my nice white light. Suddenly I could care less as to whether or not I catch my flight. (We did catch it, by the way).
  • We’re in Florida and we’re on our way to a restaurant to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. My husband is driving. His mother is in the backseat with me. His father is in the front seat. My father in law and mother in law are backseat driving, and it’s vicious. Not a second goes by without one of them telling my husband that he’s in the wrong lane, not turning at the right place, or going the wrong way. My husband is getting more and more tense. He ignores them, so they raise their voices. I’m thinking, “Gee this is quite uncomfortable” and “well, isn’t he getting a taste of his own medicine” and “wow, now I know where he gets this from.” As the tension in the car rises, I close my eyes and breathe the tension and negativity out my nose. When we get to our destination, I hug and kiss my husband. His entire demeanor changes, and now he’s able to deal with his parents civilly.
  • I’m having dinner with a group of people. An acquaintance makes an anti-Semitic remark. I’m half Jewish. People often forget this because 1) I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays 2) I practice non-Jewish religions such as Buddhism 3) I apparently don’t look Jewish. None of that makes anti-Semitism hurt any less. I think about sticking a fork in this person, but then I quickly breathe that anger out my nose. I wish I could say that I said the absolutely most perfect thing—the thing that would make this person realize that Jews are human beings just like everyone else—but I did not. Still, I’m quite proud of myself for not sticking my fork in anything that wasn’t on my plate.
  • As I’ve mentioned, I’ve experienced a long siege of mildly annoying events, the most recent of which was getting the stomach flu and spending Wednesday night in the bathroom and Thursday in bed. I initially worried about a lot of things—the vomit that I got on my bathrobe, all of the work I had to do but could not get done, and how to make breakfast for my 5 year old when I could not get out of bed. I blew it all out my nose. My 5 year old not only entertained herself, but she nursed me, putting “Get Well” stickers all over my shirt and bringing me Gatorade from the fridge. My husband came home from work and not only fed her and took her to school, but also cleaned the bathroom and brought me more Gatorade. My bathrobe still has vomit on it. I’m considering tossing the thing. But everything else worked itself out, no worrying required.

Oh, things I’ve blown out my nose these past few weeks. I’ve blown away worries. I’ve blown away cattiness. I’ve blown out my envy, anger, frustration, fear and more. Now, whenever I have a negative thought of any kind, I ask myself, “Is this thought going to get me anywhere? Do I need this thought?” If the answer is, “No,” I blow it out my nose. Blowing negativity out my nose does not stop life from being a struggle. Bad things still happen. I still get sick. I still get locked out of hotel rooms. People still say hurtful things. Not everything works out as planned.

But turning such struggles into smoke and blowing that smoke out my nose helps me to stop obsessing about the things I cannot change, so I can focus on the things that I can do something about.

Try it and let me know what you think.

How do you deal with negativity? Do you have techniques for overcoming worry, fear, anger and other negative emotions? Share them here, so others can learn from your experience.

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How to tell a friend from a frenemy

What makes a true friend?

One of my Facebook friends recently friended one of my real-life friends. My real life friend said, “You were the only friend we had in common, but I still wasn’t sure if I should accept the friend request.”

I replied, “Oh, don’t assume a Facebook friend of mine is a friend of yours. Remember: on Facebook, Eddie Murphy is my friend.”

It’s true. I’ve friended a number of celebrities on Facebook, just to see if they would accept my gesture of friendship. They all did. That doesn’t mean these celebrities are my true friends, though. In fact, I’m not really friends with many of the more than 300 people who have friended me on Facebook. This is not to say that I don’t like them or that I no longer wish to have them as friends on Facebook.

It just means this: my definition of “friend” is a little different than Facebook’s definition of friend. My definition has evolved over many years, years filled with numerous friendship breakups and disappointments. My definition was particularly fine-tuned during my quarter life crisis in my 20s and my post-partum depression in my mid 30s—both times when I found myself nearly friendless.

To me, a friend is more than someone I know. It’s more than someone I do things with. It’s more than someone who hangs out with me. It’s more than someone who went to school with me or who has lived with me. (Note: most people who have lived with me don’t consider me a friend. I’ve learned from many years of trial and error that I don’t make the best of roommates. In my perfect world, my husband would be my next door neighbor. We’d still be married, but we’d live next door from one another and would rarely sleep together in the same bed. This, however, is a topic for another day.)

The characteristics of a true friend

My true friends are people who know that I am a type A workaholic and who find this endearing. They know I tend to dream big, take on too much, and occasionally suffer the consequences in the form of burn out. When I’m sick, tired, and in need of a self-esteem transplant, they rarely say, “I told you this would happen. I told you that you were working too hard. See where this led you?”

No, they don’t say this, even though they might think it. Instead they give me the self-esteem transplant I need by reminding me of all I’ve accomplished and all that I will accomplish soon—once I allow myself to just take a few days off already.

These are people who know that I think parenting is quite boring and who do not judge me because of it. They are intrigued that I’m willing to tell just about anyone about my sex life, but they are not appalled.

They are capable of giving me an honest assessment of any given situation, but they know me well enough to not offer that honest assessment until I ask for it.

In three words: They get me. In seven more words: they love the woman that they get.

Who is a frenemy and why?

Frenemies (a combination of the words “friend” + “enemy”) are a different story. Despite the term, frenemies are not necessarily bad people. Most are capable of being wonderful friends, just not with you. A frenemy is someone you hang out with—either by choice (because you mistake the person as a friend) or by accident (you work with them, they hang out with your other friends, and so on).

Someone is your frenemy if:

  • You feel tense when you think about the person.
  • You can’t relax when this person is around.
  • You have a hard time being yourself around this person.
  • You don’t enjoy this person’s company.
  • You are in dire need of a self-esteem transplant whenever you see this person.

It doesn’t matter why these things are true. It’s possible that this person is competitive with you. Maybe he’s always trying to get in the last word and one-upping your every story. Or perhaps your frenemy is a gossipy backbiter who will make fun of you as soon as you leave the room. She could also be one of those controlling types, the type of person who is always spouting off unsolicited advice. Perhaps this person is negative or sarcastic or any number of other characteristics that you worry might be contagious.

Yet, it’s just as possible that this person is perfectly nice and wonderful. You may be at a complete loss when you try to figure out why this person rubs you the wrong way. Her very presence may make you feel uncomfortable, but she’s not doing it on purpose! In fact, she may think you are the cat’s meow and desperately want to be your friend.

It doesn’t matter why someone is a frenemy. It just doesn’t. You can spend your time second-guessing yourself and feeling bad about your odd dislike of this person, or you can just do what I do. Trust your instincts. If you chronically feel badly whenever you are around this person, she’s not a friend. She’s a frenemy.

Friends don’t let friends hang out with frenemies

You do not have to pretend to be friends with your frenemies! This lesson took me a long time to learn. For years I hung out with people who did not make me feel good about myself. Then, one day, I asked myself, “If I was on my deathbed, would I want these people to visit me?”

The answer, of course, was no. During my last moments of life, I want to feel good. I want to be able to say whatever I want and be whoever I want. I want to be able to play my 80s rock and pop music and not worry about what the people around me think. I want to wear my fleece. I want to be able to crack my most off color, so-not-politically correct jokes.

I want to be me, and I want to feel the love in the room because I am being me.

It would be a small gathering, but I’m okay with that because everyone at this gathering would be my true friend.

Here’s the thing: you never know when you are going to die. I like to think I will have some warning, but who knows? I might be out at a gathering, have an aneurysm burst, and, just like that, my final moments will be upon me. Do I really want to be with a frenemy in that moment? No, of course not.

Refusing to hang with your frenemies does not make you a snob. It does not make you mean. It makes you you—the very you that your true friends love, honor and respect. Most important, it makes you happy.

How do you define a frenemy? How do you define a true friend? Do you hang out with your frenemies? Leave a comment.

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Yes, my child, Santa Claus is still flush

The other day, my 4 year old discovered the Toys for Tots bin at our grocery store.

“Mommy! Over here! Over here!”

She almost dove into the thing.

“No honey. Those are not for you. Those are for needy kids.”

She turned and frowned. Then she declared, “But Mommy, we’re needy.”

“Um, we so are not,” I said. “What makes you think we’re needy?”

“Because you’re always saying that we can’t afford stuff!”

I laughed so hard that egg cartons shook off the shelves.

Then I felt distraught, because, in that moment, I realized two things. One, I’d co-opted nearly every phrase my parents had ever spoken when I was a kid—the very phrases I’d sworn I would never ever in a million years say to my own children. “We can’t afford it” had become as comfortable to me as “Because I said so.”

It was a distressing realization indeed.

Two, I’d been lying to my child. Truth be told, we could afford most of the things she asked for. After all, she’s of the age where she loves little plastic things that are made on assembly lines in China. They have names like Preyus and Skyrus (from Bakugan Brawlers), Treeko (from Pokemon) and Optimus Prime (from Transformers). Most are available at Target for somewhere between $6 and $12.

I usually have about that much in my pocket at any given time. So why do I tell her “we can’t afford it,” when we really can?

It’s complicated.

First, like the rest of the world, we are on a pretty tight budget at the moment. We’re not eating out. We’re on a clothing-shopping freeze, and my husband knows that he will have my blessing to go on another ski trip when hell freezes over.

Second, I firmly believe that my daughter already has too many toys as it is. I’m not quite sure where they all came from, but they seem to have taken over every bit of floor space in our home.

The day she stops whining about “clean up time” is the day I start dolling out money for plastic things from China upon request.

Finally, I would like my daughter to learn the values of sacrifice and generosity, just as I did as a child of the 70s. In case you no longer remember, the country was in pretty dire straights back then, too. My parents could only fill their gas tanks on even or odd days — I no longer remember which. My parents bickered nightly about where Dad might apply for work were he to find he no longer had a job. For instance, during one argument, I vividly remember Mom yelling, “We will move to Newark New Jersey over my dead body.”

Thankfully, Dad’s company decided to keep him around. I’m glad Mom is still here with us.

Anyway, during the 70s, my father kept the heat so low that one could make Popsicles without the use of the freezer. We also kept the lights off most of the time, and I don’t believe my father bought a new pair of underwear or socks during the entire decade.

During those years, new toys only flowed into our home on three very specific occasions: Christmas, birthdays, and when Nana (our maternal grandmother) came to visit.

Did all of this penny pinching and frugality ruin my childhood? Deep emotional scars were certainly inflicted when we were the last family in our neighborhood to get cable, but I was able to heal up and move on once, as an adult, I earned enough money to pay for my own individual psychotherapy sessions.

Other than the cable trauma, I remember the recession years as warm, loving, and happy ones for our family of five. I may not have had the Hungry Hippo game that every single one of my friends had, but I had hot food for dinner every night and parents who loved me.

More important, my parents bequeathed many values during those years. They taught me the value of hard work. I learned about giving back and about generosity. I learned how to sacrifice and do without. Who needs heat where there’s flannel? Who needs cable when there are books? Who needs toys when one can antagonize one’s brothers?

I discovered that happiness has no monetary value. It cannot be found in things, but it can be found in family, friendships, and community.

How do I explain all of that to a 4 year old?

I can’t, so I’m going with the phrase that my parents taught me. “I can’t afford it” works for the 363 days a year that are not her birthday or Christmas.

On Christmas, however, our needy little child will wake to discover that while her parents are strapped for cash, Santa Claus and Grandma are certainly not. She’ll find any number of wrapped pieces of plastic from China under the tree, because Santa and Grandma are both as flush as it gets.

Do you ever say, “I can’t afford it,” when you really can? Do you limit your children’s toys? Leave a comment.

Scientific research proves how Santa delivers gifts to the entire world in just 24 hours.

Consider donating to the Toys for Tots, so truly needy children can have an awesome Christmas. Learn about the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

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