Category Archives: MUSINGS

New Year, New Hope

By Olivia Ford

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better (wo)man.”
Benjamin Franklin

First and foremost, a very happy New Year to all you STEM readers! It was a strange holiday season for me and, quite frankly, I’m a little relieved it’s over. Don’t get me wrong, returning home is nice, but sometimes that return brings on remembering that is less pleasant. Home cooked meals? Delicious. Parents bickering? Not so appetizing. Seeing your two closest friends? Wonderful! Meeting their boyfriends and hearing about how in love they are when you’re still single? Depressing.

Obviously, I’m really happy for both of them. One of my best friends, who lives down the street from me, has been dating someone since this summer and is convinced he’s the real deal. They’re considerate of one another, passionate about the same things and most importantly, she’s genuinely happy with him. It’s only when I put my single status in context to their relationship that I feel a little queasy.

See, my best friend is one of those girls who always seems to have a boyfriend. I’m one of those girls who are 22 and feel like they’ve never had a real boyfriend. She has an entire box of notes from boys, pictures of them together at dances, crappy drawings and Valentines from former admirers. I have a list of guys who I’ve had one-night stands with.

She and I met at the bus stop in sixth grade and I remember listening eagerly as she told me all about the boys she liked and who liked her. I was in the most awkward of awkward phases then and thought that surely it would only be a few more years of growing up before I caught up with her and no longer had to live vicariously through her stories. Well, joke’s on me because there I was this Christmas break, more than a decade later, sitting across from her and eagerly listening as she told me what it felt like to be in a comfortable and caring relationship.

It was a little hard to stomach. Eleven years later and am I still in my awkward phase? Will I ever grow out of it? Do some things just never change? My friend rolled her eyes when I expressed my self-concern and told me she was jealous I hadn’t put myself through the grief of so many break-ups and relationship hardships. “I used to be so upset all the time with these stupid guys who didn’t treat me well,” she lamented before adding, “Now I know, when it’s the right guy, everything is so easy. So easy.” I was happy for her triumph, but still wondering if I’d ever find my own right guy.

Still, the best part about the holidays is finishing all that Christmas-time reminiscing with a chance to start fresh again in the new year.

Today I came across a wish list I had made for 2011. It read:
1. A real relationship with someone who…
a. Is not gay (it’s happened before).
b. Is interested in spending quality time with me (i.e. not just on the weekends, or late night booty calls, or only wants to meet up at bars).
c. Doesn’t leave me wondering all the time.
d. Makes an effort.
e. I can laugh with, a lot.
f. Is good in bed.
2. A job I can handle and don’t totally hate.
3. An agreeable living situation.
4. A great birthday.
5. Hope for years to come.

Of that list, the middle three were certainly checked off, which only leaves the first and last one to carry over to this year. And, in the spirit of resolutions, maybe we can work on that last one right now: Maybe 2011 didn’t bring everything I wanted, but it brought me closer, and with hope, lots and lots of hope, 2012 will also.

On New Year’s Eve I went to a bar with my friends and found myself kissing a very handsome and laidback surfer from Argentina – not as the ball dropped, but a good 40 minutes after. Other guys had approached me earlier in the evening, but none that I was interested in. Midnight came and I hugged my friends, deciding that if how you spend the first minute of the new year is how you spend the rest of it, I’d be better off being happy alone than regretting wasting it making out with a guy who was no good. Then, lo and behold, twenty minutes later, I start talking to this really good-looking and nice guy who makes me laugh, a lot. He was just passing through and I doubt I’ll see him again, but still, I left the bar content with my first kiss of the New Year. Maybe my friend is right. Had I been in such a scramble to kiss someone at what I thought was the right time, I might have never ended up kissing the right guy that night.

Here’s to the new year. May it bring restored hope and many more worth-waiting-for kisses.

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Acquisition: The Circle Of Life In The Valley

By Kyle Strickland

Silicon Valley, with its multitudinous startups that make VC’s mouths water, is a breeding ground of cannibals. As Radiohead’s Thom Yorke might put it, “the big fish eat the little ones,” with large companies throwing down their cash weight to gobble up the competition or buy their way into new markets.
Last Friday it was announced that NICE Systems had acquired my current company, Merced Systems (unfortunately they won’t be renaming the new entity MICE Systems, to my dismay). I knew the announcement was coming up on that Friday because of a fellow employee’s intuition and smart snooping, but I had been planning on being in Park City for my dad’s birthday for a while and didn’t feel like sticking around for the shit-show that would undoubtedly ensue. I’ve been at companies when big news like this emerged, and I know an emotional and awkward atmosphere is inevitable. For instance, I was at HP when Mark Hurd, CEO at the time, resigned over a scandal with a humongous severance package (#goldenparachute) and saw the outrage in employees who have spent scores of their lifetime with HP. No work was done that day; all eyes were on the news and how it affected them.
The acquisition decision is very strategic and great for both companies, that much is true. In fact, my dad has been pushing both companies to do so for some time, since he is an independent IT consultant to both. But the news isn’t nearly as great for the people, many of whom lost their jobs as a result. Entire departments were let go instantaneously and are still expected to report for one more month. People who have been with the company for six years are gone, and few are happy about it.
During an acquisition, it is normal for only about one-third of the staff to remain through the merger. It is a trying period to survive with so much up in the air about new management structures, pay increases/decreases, job security and even job location. NICE, for instance, is headquartered in Israel. Who’s to guarantee you won’t have to move internationally to keep your job? Nobody.
For the people who have been let go, they depart only with a small stock payout and an even smaller severance. Acquisitions are great for the people that start the companies because they have large stakes in the company at a very small price; but if you just joined three years prior and have minimal stock options, you’re not about to see much of a profit from the merger. The original members are ready to retire, while others scrape together only a couple thousand to hold them over to their next job. It’s unfair, but timing and luck are everything if you want to get that big payday in the risky game of startups.
NICE is coming into the office daily now, and it will gradually impose its will and vision on the employees until they flee or succumb to the new way of life. The new reign means new everything, and it almost makes sense to get a new job where the headaches of uncertainty, changing management and possible relocation won’t follow.
For me, I am in a similar position as most. Lots of uncertainty enshrouds my job’s future, but it seems like I am in one of the few positions that our new parent company wishes to really hold on to and develop. We will soon see if they can offer me up something really NICE to keep me on board through this mess.

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Measuring The In-Between

By Olivia Ford

“The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists.”
H. Allen Smith

If I’m lucky enough to have anybody read this column regularly, you might be wondering, what ever happened with Mr. Times Square? Forget about all these guys from last year who fucked it up, what about the guy that’s supposed to be there right now? (And for those of you who need catching up or reminding, read about how we met here).

Maybe the reason I haven’t been keeping a detailed chronicle of what’s current is because I’m always better at understanding the things that have already passed, and hoping for what’s to come. The present is the icky in-between that I can’t quite put my finger on, at any given moment I’m trying to prepare myself for which category to place it in: Doomed past or hopeful future? Is this going to be the one that saves or destroys me?

This is all the more difficult of a fixation to relinquish when your present feels especially in-between things itself. Mr. Times Square and I are still going out on dates, but I don’t think we’re dating. We’re sleeping together, maybe even exclusively, but we’re not a couple by any means. We’re…well, I have no idea what we are, or if I should care, or if we should stop being whatever it is we’re not being.

Is it clear enough at least why I’ve been putting off writing about him for so long?

I’ve been telling my friends clued in to the situation that dating or not dating, the title doesn’t necessarily matter to me. Though I do feel like I’m at an emotional readiness in my life to settle down and commit, I’m still new to a big city and it’s no time to settle in that sense. Mr. Times Square and I hang out semi-consistently (once a week to once every two weeks) and that’s good enough for me right now. There’s someone to spend time with now and then, and to keep me from feeling completely deprived of male attention but not so time consuming a relationship that I’m failing to engage in other areas of my life.

Then again, I can’t help but feel there isn’t something not quite right about it. Am I settling for less than I deserve? Or letting myself be used as a convenient and glorified rebound fuck buddy? Am I letting him have his cake and eat it too, while I’m barely scraping the pan? In a very neurotic Bridget-Jones/Carrie-Bradshaw-at-her-worst attempt to figure out what exactly the problem is, I put our relationship on paper. I listed every date: when and where it took place, what I wore (irrelevant, but fun) and if we had sex after or not. Here were my “scientific” findings:

Mr. Times Square and I have been seeing each other for three months now. In this time we have gone out on eleven dates, including: three outings with his friends, two with mine, at least ten different bars (some nights included bar-hopping), two movies in theaters, four morning-after bagel runs and two actual sit-down breakfasts. We have never actually had a meal alone together aside from breakfast. More alarming, we’ve only actually had sex a total of six times.

It’s this last one that really struck me. In its defense, six times is probably a lot for both of us given the circumstances. I’m used to one-night stands, he’s still fairly fresh out of a long, serious relationship, and there’s something kind of sweet about us compromising in the middle. But considering we started sleeping together almost immediately, it’s a shockingly low number, one that I suspect gets banged out (pun-intended) by other couples in a period of a week or two, not three months.

Of course, there’s a lot of good stuff that can’t be listed objectively on paper. We have good conversations, similar tastes and interests and the sex itself is good. But let’s face it – a fuck every fortnight does not a relationship make.

So what to make of this uncomfortable in-between? Or is the real struggle to not make something of it at all? To just go with it for as long as I’m happy? Or is it to see that I’m not as happy as I’d like to think I am?

Quite frankly, my attempt to be objective and see things clearly has left me more lost than ever. For now, let me say, I know we are definitely not a couple. The comfortable “what are we doing tonight” feeling just isn’t there. Still, it’s far from the worst situation I’ve ever been in. In fact, compared to the worst, it’s actually quite good. Not the best, but a solid good. And while I do deserve the best eventually (as I hope everyone knows they do), let’s not jump to any conclusions or categorize the present as past or future quite yet. Who knows what that solid good will turn into? For now, let’s just keep our fingers crossed, look forward for the best to come, try to relax until then and for god’s sake, not make any more stupid lists to freak us out.

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Office BS, And Resigning Yourself From It

By Kyle Strickland

“Don’t let yourself get sucked into the bullshit – just write a column about it.”
Kyle Strickland

Offices are hard to adapt to, especially considering they are usually the first place you will ever spend 8 to 10 hours surrounded by the same people and seated in the same seat. Office lighting shies towards the level of one hundred miles from the sun, and the offices themselves are loud and full of drama, complexities and extreme annoyances. For instance, there is one guy near my cubicle who just started working; his laugh is far less enjoyable than listening to a horse fart from five inches away. It’s a terrible guffaw of epic proportions that outdoes Goofy on crack.

And then there is the girl who used to be sitting where Loud Annoying Laugh Guy now resides. Back when she was closer to my desk, I’d hear her sneeze about five times an hour. I started keeping track with little tick marks on a Post-It, and I swear I filled a Post-It a day before she moved her desk around the corner. Even though she is a cute little girl (by that I mean very short and probably older than me), it would ALWAYS throw off my concentration. The worst part is, though, that I still hear her. She’s halfway across the office, and it’s still right there in my ear.

I don’t mean to only focus on the surface-level annoying aspects of being corralled into cubes with other people. The real adjustments that office life forces one to make lie a bit deeper. Most obviously, the stakes have been raised over office life as an intern – your reputation is now affected by how much you play foosball. As an intern, you’re lower than low, but at least nothing really matters. As a new-hire scrub, I find myself anxious about how much of myself to reveal to coworkers and about how much work I am doing. Am I doing enough? Do I come off as a slacker (still)? Are they being honest with me? Are they talking shit about me?

This sounds kind of paranoid, but office politics at the company I work at are the most intense that I’ve ever seen, and this brings me to my next point – offices create competition in strange ways that undoubtedly leads to bitchin’ and moanin’. My office’s trash talk may not contend with that of an Oracle sales team, which are known for being cannibalistic, but I’ve already witnessed plenty of complaining and conniving that goes on behind backs on every team I’ve dealt with. I shudder to think what could potentially be going on around my backside. It may be nothing yet, since I haven’t done much to piss people off, but that day could soon come.

Building off of the sense that office people love to talk trash, I believe keeping your mouth shut is critical to surviving the office. There is a certain amount of common sense to this, of course, but I have to remind myself to take extra precautions because I never had to check myself in the past. Offices are like troops of gossip girls; anything you say will be held against you and transferred on to everybody you don’t want hearing it. Shit talking at work is not smart, no matter how much I know I would love to join in. I can’t stay out of all of it, however; sometimes it’s just too tempting, and I’m only human.

I recently heard a story about an employee who demonstrated exactly how not to exit a company, elucidating the “loose lips sink your shit” policy I’m describing above. We’ll call the employee Hank.

Hank had been putting in zero effort for a while, with no numbers on the sales board and no obvious attempt to fix it. He skipped required meetings and took extra days off and left early on a regular basis. It was too obvious that he was fed up with his job and was on the outs. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that he had no tenure and was slowly shooting himself in the foot in the event that he didn’t secure a new offer before getting axed.

When he finally got an unofficial offer, he acted prematurely, as though he was out the door, telling members of his team and acting free and giddy. When the manager asked what was going on (I assume in a very general manner), he replied, “Oh, so you already know?” The manager didn’t already know, but at that moment he learned for sure. Oops! That was dumb.

At that point, he had no signed agreement and left himself completely at the mercy of the recruiter offering the new job. It took an extra two weeks to seal the deal, but he finally got the offer in writing and was off. It could have ended up very badly, however; the offer might not have come and, had he stayed one more week, he would be fired, burning the bridges and the villagers’ homes at his current company in the process.

I’m not trying to say Hank is dumb, but I want to illustrate that what might be common sense to most from the outside is hard to remember when you’re on the inside of a job. Office life and teams of people are complicated social groups, and what annoys you and makes you pissed off, and what makes you whine and talk shit, can blind you. You have to be smart and remove yourself from the emotional involvement as much as possible, because at the end of the day it’s all about numbers. It’s a business. They’ll drop you just as fast as they hired you if they can make a valid case for it. Hank made that too easy for them, and almost got burned.

This brings me to my last point – something Jeffrey Gitomer wrote in his Little Red Book of Selling. He entitles one of the last sections of the book with an anonymous quote he read early in his career: “Resign your position as general manager of the universe.” It’s essential to uncomplicated life in an office – taking yourself out of everybody else’s lives will enable you to focus on your own. Other than learning from other people’s success and mistakes, it is not smart to actually get involved. Stay neutral, and only get in if you think that your personal values (or your ass) are on the line of being violated. It will disentangle you from the web of craziness that we call office life.

Unfortunately this won’t stop that guy from laughing, so I am going to have to find another way to get him to put a sock in it.

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Tough Love

By Olivia Ford

“When love is not madness, it is not love.”
Pedro Calderon de la Barca

If the family is a basic unit from which we learn all other relationships from – I’m screwed. There’s not a lot my family does right. We like to make fun of each other; in our home, mockery and sarcasm have comfortably supplanted genuine communication and affection. Where most people learn cooperation, I’ve acquired a deep respect for autonomy; and instead of support, self-sufficiency. We don’t eat meals together, we don’t share interests and the only thing we’ve managed to do consistently is forget someone’s birthday every year.

When faced with traditionally monumental familial occasions, we flail. Every Christmas we go see a movie. After opening presents, left with a full day meant to inspire bonding and warm feelings, we gratefully opt out for the manufactured gore and explosions of an action film instead.

And yet, there’s never been an absence of love. It is often obscured and more often realized as a last resort, but it is always there. When my parents dropped me off for my first year of college, my mom complained about everything. The four-star hotel my dad booked to impress her overlooking the downtown San Diego bay was a needless overpriced luxury. The cloudless skies and sun were making her pristine skin break out in a rash. I wasn’t even setting up my room correctly, every inch should be scoured with cleaning product before I could even consider unpacking.

It wasn’t until I erupted at lunch and asked her why she was being “such a bitch” that her guard finally collapsed. To me, the image of love is my mother’s exhausted, puffy, crying face in the booth of a mediocre Mexican restaurant, admitting she is afraid to be alone without me.

It’s no wonder I’ve had so much trouble finding love outside of my family. Broken love, buried love, belittled love is the best love I know. It’s the kind of love I thought I had found this spring.

One of my good friends, a notorious womanizer and cynic, shockingly revealed his feelings for me one night. He pulled me aside and, holding my hand to his heart, told me he had always had a soft spot for me. It didn’t matter that I had hooked up with his friends, it wasn’t about sex, he just wanted to be able to kiss me whenever he wanted. It was a moment so perfect it paralyzed me with fear. I would have been surprised to hear it from anyone, but especially from him, a guy who used to brag about making his girlfriend sleep in a separate bed after they’d had sex because “he didn’t like to cuddle.”

But I couldn’t give in right then and there. For me, it was too romantic to be love. Too easy. It wasn’t until he reverted to acting casually and making crude jokes with me that I felt comfortable seeing the hidden feelings that lingered between us. Only then did I let myself imagine a relationship born out of our mutual insecurities and hard exteriors. A real love, I thought.

There was a time when I encouraged my parents to overcome their own insecurities and indifference to romance. Though legally married for twenty-two years, they’ve spent the last ten as near strangers. It’s not just that they sleep in separate rooms; they have completely different friends, cultures and values. As their sole shared passion, I thought I might inspire a restored feeling of friendship between the two by suggesting my dad ask my mom out on a date. It didn’t go well.

My father called me after, quite upset, and blamed me for expecting too much of them. They had grown too far apart. They did nothing but fight. I was naïve and stupid for thinking things could be repaired. This was my fault.

Things didn’t work out much better for my own relationship. As soon as I made myself available, I found I wasn’t wanted anymore. The boy was seeing other girls again. All declarations of soft spots and admiration were forgotten.

When I brought it up, he told me he had no idea what I was talking about. He was drunk the night of his confession and didn’t remember saying any of those things. When I cried in the middle of a crowded room talking about it with him again, days later, he was equally curt and cold. I was making a big deal out of nothing. I shouldn’t be upset. We were too young to be in relationships. I was naïve and stupid for thinking otherwise. This was my fault.

I should have hated him after that. I should have shoved, spit or screamed at him – but to dismiss cruelty is too easy. The real torture lies in understanding it. I could no more easily hate this boy who rejected me, than my own dejected father. If my family has taught me anything, it’s that real love isn’t always pretty. We might say and do hurtful things to the people we care for most when it’s too hard to face our own vulnerability, but I never doubt that my dad loves me, even when he’s too broken to show it. And I still maintain that the boy I cared about is better than he allows himself to be. Drunk or not, the way he kissed my forehead that first night was too tender, too genuine and too unwarranted to have been born out of anything other than love. And his unfortunate retraction was too harsh, too cowardly and too uncalled for to have been anything other than fear for the feelings he professed.

Perhaps more important than how my disjointed family has taught me to recognize the strains of real love, is how I have learned to persist through them. When these two men berated me with their own self-loathing, I had the sense not to fight with senselessness. On both occasions I nodded my head through silent tears, accepting their hurtful words, because my love was real enough to know it was what they needed.

My dad has since apologized, but my friend has not. I suppose that’s what’s special about a father’s love; even in imperfect families it’s infinitely more reliable than any boyfriend’s. And yet, I refuse to dismiss the idea of that boy entirely. We no longer live in the same city and haven’t even been in contact recently, but I can’t help but wonder if he still thinks of me now and then, as I do of him.

The truth is, because of my family I’m able to look past the faults of a broken whole and salvage the beauty concealed in the pieces and details. We might forget birthdays, but they make the ones we do remember extra special. We might see inappropriate movies on religious holidays, but we do it together. And we might not always express ourselves openly, but we do care.

So, as far as relationships are concerned, I’m sure I’m bound to tolerate too much and hold on too long. Given the circumstances I’ve come from, it’s only natural that I trust in the frailty of imperfections. To me, love isn’t omni-benevolent. It’s a thing of consequence, it’s the thing that can only hold you by haunting you a little, and the thing that has the power to make you a better person, but more often makes you a worse one. My family has taught me these realities about love, and in doing so, have made me a person who loves fearlessly.

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Cheating Myself

By Olivia Ford

“All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.”
Scott Alexander

Infidelity has a lot of different meanings. It shouldn’t, but it does. One needs only to check a thesaurus to get a feeling for the range of different connotations the loaded word deviates between. They’re all there. The good (hanky-panky, liaison, amour); the bad (affair, cuckoldry, two-timing); and the ugly (disloyalty, falseness, deceit).

I have never cheated on a boyfriend, but quite possibly only because I haven’t been in very many established relationships. Part of me has to wonder if this too is only a symptom of the monstrous romantic disaster I’ve become. Because even if I don’t have a significant other of my own to deceive, I’ve at some point been involved in the deception of other’s who are more (and at the same time less) fortunate. What does that say about how much I value and deserve any level of intimacy?

There was a boy last year with whom I briefly entertained the idea of a fling with. He had a serious long-time girlfriend that I knew very well of, but somehow a flirtation began regardless. We were drunk one night, started dancing together and had lots of fun. When his friends left the bar without him, he asked if he could sleep in my bed, but nothing happened. Not even a cuddle. Then the next weekend rolled around and we found ourselves texting to see what each other’s plans were. We danced together closely the whole night again and I wound up in his bed with his arms around me. We didn’t kiss but the next morning he did roll over on top of me, as if toying with the idea of what could be done. Things ended when I blacked out one night and pursued his good friend instead (an Olivia Ford classic, it seems) and then the idea was toyed with no longer.

Yet another time, I slept with a guy who, although technically single, was secretly still hooking up with his ex-girlfriend. She had cheated on him with his best friend a year ago but wanted nothing more since then than to make amends and be with him again. Naturally, the offense was difficult to forgive. He refused to re-establish the relationship she had broken but was not above casual physical interactions now and then. When I found myself out with him and friends who had witnessed the whole debacle between the two, they drunkenly advised me, “Ugh. So what if you hook up with him? They need to get over each other. Seriously.” His ex-girlfriend, unfortunately, did not share this same sentiment. We were never very close at all ourselves but she and I shared a lot of good friends, and this was enough to make her hate me. At a bar she shoved me, threw a drink in my face and then sent me a text to inform me that I was a “skank ho” and should be embarrassed because he went back to her after sleeping with me.

They are now happily dating, and I am happy for them. It’s a more difficult situation to assess because while I was accused of home wrecking, it ultimately led to home making. His sleeping with me had enraged her to the equal degree of anger he felt when she had betrayed him, and so, wasn’t I instrumental in putting them on even terms? In that sense, perhaps the whole ordeal is a lesson in why not to cheat from her perspective. It was only after she groveled for a year and was subjected to a similar hurtful revenge that she was able to make it back into his good graces.

Most recently, my married 42-year-old boss has been hitting on me. I’m closer in age to his daughter than I am to him (yes, he has a daughter). Putting it like that makes things pretty clear about how I should and shouldn’t respond, but when he first came on to me, I wasn’t so sure. He’s stylish, foreign and I’ll be damned if there isn’t something alluring about a man with an accent who dresses in well-tailored suits. But those reasons for ruining a family are just as stupid and frivolous as the things he sees in me: someone young, pretty and un-tethered.

“Would it be crazy for me to ask you out?” he asked as he was leaving the office one night.
“I don’t know…” I said smiling. “That’d be very dangerous.”
“You’re right. But is that a yes or a no?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one with more responsibility and more at stake, so if anything it should be a maybe for you.” I tried to explain.
“Okay, goodnight then.” He said, nodding, seeming almost defeated as he quickly turned and went out the door.

It was one of those rare moments where I surprised myself by being so honest and saying something completely appropriate. It surprised me so much, in fact, that I suddenly wondered if it was the right thing. Should I have given him more? Was I too dismissive? Was I closing an opportunity I should be taking?

Of course any sane person would answer no to these questions, but I am not always so sane.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t want to, I just know I shouldn’t,” I texted him a few minutes later, reasoning that this would leave us on even terms.

As the week has gone on, however, I feel myself feeling sick over it. There is a drawing his daughter made for him taped up above his desk. He left his blackberry on my desk accidentally and I noticed a photo of his wife set as his background. Seeing these and recognizing his lies to those people, made me see the lies I’d been telling myself. Not only do I know I shouldn’t, there is nothing in that proposition that I want and nothing that will or should put us on even terms.

Infidelity isn’t wrong because it’s cheating on the other person. It’s wrong because, in most cases, what the person cheating wants is sex, and that’s too easy; too stupid. You can get sex from anyone, but to share a life together, that’s what’s hard, maybe harder than anything else. So if you’ve already found someone to do that with (and isn’t that great? Someone to brush your teeth with and read in bed next to, the things you can’t do with just anyone), why would you want to blow it all on a thing as stupid and easy as sex?

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Guest Post: Foreign Ex-Changes

By Karlie Massie

“We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love.  It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”
William Somerset Maugham

I met Steve at a bar in Vegas. His British accent resonated through the multitudes of drunken patrons and shot straight into my ears, engulfing me in blissful, undaunted attraction. I would be leaving at the end of the summer to study in England, so I knew we would have plenty to talk about. And that was all it took. Three hours, two cranberry vodkas and however many beers later, we were stumbling back to my hotel room hand in hand.

I never imagined that I would begin a relationship in Vegas, but it seems that these days, all bets are off. In a fast-paced world where meeting a potential mate online is never a taboo subject, relationships really can sweep you off your feet. Meeting Steve in Vegas was exciting and different, and completely spontaneous. Caught up in a whirlwind of emotions I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to know what it was we had begun. But I never stopped to consider that letting him sweep me off my feet did not guarantee he would catch me as I fell.

I grew up in a strict, conservative Catholic family.  My brother and I attended Catholic school for nine years, and for 20 years of my life I attended Catholic mass every Sunday. I always turned in my homework, I always liked polite boys and I always strived to make my parents happy. Monotony should have been my last name. Karli Monotony, the bane of originality. As I approached my 21st birthday, I felt a strong need to begin living. I wanted so much more for myself than I had previously allowed. I was a child of rules, of muted dreams, of boring weekends…and I was sick of it.

The weekend I met Steve I knew I was on to something different. Because we were long distance, he used to lovingly joke that we didn’t date – we vacationed. And so, in the name of avoiding monotony, I had begun “vacationing” a British man who I met in Vegas, who happened to live a state away from me and would be returning to England around the same time my semester abroad was finishing up. Steve was everything I wasn’t. He was loud and talkative; I was shy and timid. He believed in letting things go when the time had come; I could never let anything go, at least, not completely. Most of all, he lived for himself; I struggled to truly live, afraid that my actions would fail to meet the expectations of others. He was originality; I was monotony.

The first couple times I visited Steve I found a way around telling my parents. As I was living with them during the summer, I told them I would be taking a road trip with my friends and wouldn’t be back for a few days. Visiting him involved driving six-and-a-half hours from San Diego, California, to Phoenix, Arizona, in unbearable heat in a ’96 Volvo with no air conditioning. It turns out escaping monotony is an incredibly sweaty experience. To add to the discomfort, Steve had failed to mention that the Arizona police department decided to install cameras that take pictures of speeding vehicles on the freeway. That was the day I decided technology is also the bane of originality. Two weeks later I received a nice little speeding ticket from the Arizona police department, delivered to my room by a terrifyingly disappointed mother. Steve reacted to this news just as I had suspected he would, with light-hearted laughter. I tried to explain to him that this was the end of life as I knew it, my parents would quarantine me to my room until it was time for me to leave for my semester in England, and I would not be able to see him for another seven months. He softly calmed me down, urging me to begin standing up to my parents, as I was now an adult.

Five weeks later I was on a plane to Arizona. My parents told me the only condition was that I not drive in a car that could have broken down in the middle of the desert. So I listened, and thankfully was able to spend four days with a man I had come to love and admire, feeling as free as ever.

The day he dropped me off at the Phoenix airport to return home to San Diego, I was determined to say something spectacularly memorable. In the passenger seat of his used white Eclipse, I watched his right hand reluctantly turn the keys in the ignition to the resolute off position. I was in love with everything he had offered me that summer, and I needed him to hold on for another four months while I continued to discover myself in Europe. So, in retrospect, I did something embarrassingly cheesy. I carefully unhinged my favorite bracelet, shifted it from one hand to the other, and placed it in his. As I curled his fingers and looked up at him, I simply told him that I wanted him to keep it until next time. As I walked away trailing my suitcase behind me, I hoped that he knew he was keeping something more than just my bracelet.

Towards the end of my semester abroad, without much contact with Steve, I had become a self-diagnosed insomniac. I was struggling between beginning to understand that Steve was pulling away from me, and realizing that in a few short weeks I would be staying at his house in Manchester, England, with him and his family. This was previously agreed upon prior to my departure from the states, but I had never imagined that Steve’s knee-weakening proposal for me to spend Christmas with him and his family would turn into the only time I would have left with him.

The plan was to take a train from Oxford to Manchester once I had finished my final papers and packed up my life there. I watched a few of my friends leave for the airport with all the uncertainty that comes with transitions, and I felt terrified. Questions were what had kept me up at night for the past five weeks, and these same questions flooded my mind as I watched them go. Did he still care for me in the same way? What if he didn’t? Had he found someone else? Why hadn’t he talked to me in five weeks? At that moment, I envied Steve, because I knew he would have never allowed himself to be so affected by something that was out of his control. He would have let it go. But I was not like Steve; I still had hope.

We texted for a few days once he had arrived in England. My train had been canceled and I was staying in a hotel with some friends who had missed their flights due to the storm that nearly incapacitated all of Heathrow Airport in West London. As they watched and hoped for a break in the storm so they could return home, I silently cried in the bathroom. My fingertips grazed the eggshell colored walls as I sank to the depths of the bathroom floor. Everything was colliding together. The weeks of interrupted sleep and exhausting questions had become suddenly re-awakened by the storm. And the temporary peace I felt from the dwindling hope I had clung to before seemed extinguished now.

I had never felt more alone, lying there on the cheap linoleum floor of a bathroom that wasn’t mine, waiting to visit a man who wasn’t mine either. In the midst of trying to convert my monotony into originality, I had completely lost control of my own life. If it was up to me, and I mean the old me, I would have straightened everything out weeks before this. I would have confronted Steve with full force, calling him out on his bullshit, and I would have gotten angry. But as it was, and I mean as I had let it become, anger towards Steve was not even on my radar.

Once the storm passed I took a train to northern England where Steve picked me up from the Manchester station. The last time he had picked me up from the airport, in Phoenix, he hugged me until I was short of breath and then, for the first time, told me that he had fallen in love with me. This time, things could not have been more different. We exchanged a stiff hug and then he politely told me that it was good to see me. Just good to see me? My vision blurred so I refocused my eyes on the various cars filing out of the parking lot. Blue, silver, blue again. Suddenly I couldn’t stand the way the wind nipped at my cheeks, so I politely asked if we could get in the car.

I like to think that the storm characterized the demise of our love. That it was a big production, passionate and painful all at once. I could have stomached the thought of something like that, I could have labeled that an original love affair. But the truth is, our love resided within the dwindling patches of slowly melting snow. Rimmed with unforgiving ice, I still catch myself slipping on them every now and then. Because in the end, there was no originality in the way I let him string me along. None in the way, just one week after I had left his house, he changed his facebook status to “in a relationship.” And none in the way I let him calculatingly phase me out. I found that silence in the name of preserving originality is just self-destructive. The last week and a half I spent with Steve, he and I were polite and restrained. I mirrored his hesitant actions, not sure what else to do. A kiss on the lips became a kiss on the forehead, and he no longer looked me straight in the eyes. It was awful, and yet having admitted this, do I regret anything from the experience? Absolutely not.

During that last week-and-a-half I too had developed different feelings for Steve. He had failed me as far as supportive boyfriends go. While he assured me before I left for England that technology would hold us together, he was able to easily shut me out by restricting this same mode of communication. I began to resent him for becoming so isolated, but refused to truly acknowledge the growing list of reasons why he was not the amazing guy I had once loved. For this I can only blame myself. But I can also take away from this experience an understanding that only seems to reveal itself in the most distressful of times. Trust your gut. As far as relationships go, this is the only thing that reverberates through the darkness. Had I listened to mine, I would have found the answer to every question, and the courage to admit to Steve and to myself that both of us had changed.


Filed under THE ROMANTIC

Speaking Of Speaking Up…

By Olivia Ford

“Honesty does not always bring a response of love, but it is absolutely essential to it.”
Ray Blanton

Well, it’s happened again. New city, new guy, same old story.

Let’s call this one Mr. Times Square because that’s where we ended up on our first date. Pretty romantic, right? Even more romantic was that we kissed there, right in the middle of those infamous city lights. Less romantic, is that I haven’t heard from him since we slept together 12 days ago.

What really kills me is that I knew better. My friend who set us up warned me that he had just gotten out of a relationship and that I should just focus on being friends with him. He even mentioned it himself the night we did it, a three-year-long relationship that only ended a month or two ago. Apparently, nothing puts me in the mood more than emotional unavailability.

This is disheartening, not because I expected things to go very far (although, it is possible part of me hoped it would against the odds) but because the whole ordeal lacks a common decency that I have seen far too often this year. To be frank, and perhaps even crude, when did it become the standard to cut off communication with a girl after you’ve been inside of her? I expect this of the guys I go home with only hours after meeting them at a bar, but not from the ones who take me out on dates and introduce me to their friends and, worst of all, speak in the future tense (“My friend Louis, who I’m sure you’ll meet eventually…”). With them, the effect is so traumatic I start to feel as though my vagina is some kind of Bermuda Triangle. Men go in, but never come back.

And yet I realize I am just as much at fault for this. Friends tell me all the time not to give it up so easily. If men mysteriously disappear after I sleep with them, then why do I keep doing it? Why not hold out until I’m sure it’s the right guy? Well, a large part of me is unsure if I’ll ever know when it’s right. This time I only waited four dates and thought that was enough. If you scoff at my naivety, know that once I waited four years to sleep with a guy I liked and even then he blew me off.

Certainly, circumstance plays largely into this. While four dates might have been enough for a guy who seemed genuinely interested in me and didn’t just get out of a long relationship, the fact remains that Mr. Times Square and I are at very different places in our lives. In fact, we need exactly what the other is looking to get away from. After three years of commitment, he should absolutely be out messing around and having fun and not worrying about checking in with a girl everyday. But after four years of doing just that, I’d like to slow down for a while and get comfortable with someone.

I knew this all very well 12 days ago when I slept with him. In fact, I knew I should have said no. So why couldn’t I?

This question haunted me all the more when I heard something truly terrible. When I called my friend who set me up with Mr. Times Square to update her on his apparent change of heart, she trumped my petty drama by confessing she had been at the hospital all night with a friend who was raped. The girl invited a guy home with her but didn’t want to have sex with him, but he took advantage anyway. I know there are people who will say she is partly to blame. If they were drinking and she brought him home, what’s the big deal? Wasn’t she asking for it? The big deal is, she showed up in hysterics at my friend’s door in the middle of the night because at some point, she said “no” and he didn’t listen. The big deal is she spent hours at a hospital because someone felt it more important to have his way than to respect her body. The big deal is, there’s a big difference between casual sex and sex without consent.

Perhaps the hardest part for me to swallow was how similar I know this girl to be to myself. When my best friend met her, she called to tell me how we look and speak alike – how happy she was to have found the substitute version of me while I was away at school. But beyond any physical resemblance we may share, I’ve shared the same predicament. I can think of at least two times when I made out with a guy, decided I wasn’t that into it, didn’t want to go further, but slept with him anyway to avoid the confrontation and awkwardness of speaking up and stopping things. I know that our situations are not the same, but they also are not so different. After all, wasn’t there something in my unenthusiastic and hesitant demeanor that should have said “no” to the men in my situations? And is it because of girls like me, who don’t say “no,” that some guys stop listening for the word at all?

I’ve been telling myself for years that sex is no big deal. I hate the idea that our physical actions can’t be separated from their emotional weight. The number of people we’ve slept with isn’t usually the number of people we’ve loved – but maybe it should be. It wasn’t until I received that rude awakening of what betrayed intimacy looks like at it’s worst, that I was able to recognize its appearances in my own life. I like to think I’m ready for a relationship and that I deserve better than I’ve been given, but how can I expect more when I can’t even ask?

I’m not surprised Mr. Times Square hasn’t called me, because he disclosed his history with me. And it’s no surprise I’m upset, because I did not disclose my history with him. Because it’s not easy to say to someone that while they were deeply in love, I was sleeping around. Because it’s even harder to say “no.” Because that’d be confrontation and because apparently I’d rather let something unpleasant happen to me than make a big deal.

I do feel used and misunderstood, but mostly by myself. I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for myself and I couldn’t feel guiltier that someone who was was treated so cruelly. In a lot of ways, I feel like it should have happened to me, and I sincerely hope I learn to say no for myself before it does.

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this column, Ms. Ford has received word from Mr. Times Square and plans to be more upfront and honest with herself, and any participating parties that may come, about her readiness for intimacy.


Filed under THE ROMANTIC

Follow Me Up The Ladder

By Kyle Strickland

This is not a typical business column. It’s not a business blog, a sales site or a dry advice column on self-motivation. I’m not here to tell you what a textbook might, ladling terminology and tactics over you and promising, “If you plant them, they will grow.”  I don’t have that level of expertise yet. Instead, you’ll be shadowing a novice on his plucky path towards entrepreneurial-level sales.

Watching a young paladin start his quest, much like the soft and innocent Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, probably sounds like a huge waste of your time at first: Pft, I don’t got time to listen to this newb rant about his shits and his giggles. He hasn’t even started! There are hundreds of books by people who already made it, and I can get all of their secrets for cheap (instantly, nonetheless)!

Good point, italicized voice, but have you ever heard of context? Sure, you can instantly learn the methods successful people employed to make their millions. In fact, I am starting to read all of those books, and highly recommend the practice. But you won’t get to see the reality of how they did it; what they were up against; when they struggled, crying deeply into their high-thread-count pillows in their lonesome high rises. Once somebody has made it, they can’t go back and recreate the feeling their challenges wrought upon them and explain just what they did to get over them. But I can. Reading me, coupled with those professional books on business,sales and branding yourself, is a winning combination that will fill your veins with tiger blood.

Henceforth, you will find a log of the things I encounter, learn and apply in the business world, with special focus placed upon my newfound determination towards fast-paced growth in the career of sales. Trust me, it becomes addicting once you’re inside of it and can see your own potential. Just about everything in life is based upon sales, when you think about it. Like an Indian gazillionaire once told me: “Kyle, every day you are selling yourself,” (not for dollars on the corner, mind you).

It’s a very simple but true statement. Think about it – if nobody believes in you, how many people are going to do what you want them to? How will you accomplish anything if nobody will stand behind it? It’s not about coercing or manipulating; it’s about having an idea and showing everybody that it’s the best one going. Of course, if you don’t have any ideas or even a plan, sales is clearly not for you. Go learn accounting and punch numbers to eternity.

Here is one of my favorite scenarios to illustrate the everyday necessity of selling yourself: asking for money in college. I had to convince my parents to give me more money all throughout college whenever it would surprisingly run out mid-month. Did I use brute force or whine? No. I convinced them of the value their money would have on the level of grades I achieved. I showed them how it was an investment, and, let me tell you – I sold the crap out of it all four years. Even though this strategy bought me more beer than it did A’s, I was unwittingly living the valuable lesson that the Indian salesman put into perspective for me: everything you want to do hinges on how well you sell it to the people who can make it happen.

Visit S T E M every so often for more on the musings of The Professional, including the endless list of extremely successful entrepreneurs who started as sales guys, and the historical aspects of why my enthusiasm for business is surprising.

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By Kaitlin Perry

Yesterday, I played housewife. This morning, a 23-year-old man was stabbed mere feet away from my humble abode in the midst of a home invasion (he was the intruder). This afternoon, I slept ‘till 1:30 and watched the new CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls after I dragged myself downstairs and made some too-sweet coffee. What do these have to do with each other? They are prime examples of how quickly the circumstances in which you live your life can change, and thus I have been inspired to sprinkle words around yet again.

Though I ALWAYS played house when I was little, I never really saw myself as the “housewife” type. But then I moved in with my boyfriend, and we started cooking together and doing laundry together. But, the weirdest part about it? I loved doing it. I loved reorganizing the cupboard under the kitchen sink. I loved giving our kids – I mean…cats – a bath when I got home from work. I loved separating our clothes after I took them out of the dryer. I loved putting all of my boyfriend’s work in one neat pile by the couch. I loved getting into bed with him after we had finished tiring our brains out via books and the Internet. I loved it all, and it has become quite clear to me that life is most enjoyable at its simplest, cleanest and most organized.

But then I woke up to a phone call from him telling me that there was crime tape blocking off the street we live on. A quick Google search informed me of the botched home invasion attempt, and the warm, fuzzy feelings I had cultivated over the night were gone, replaced with feelings of disgust, confusion and sadness. The young man was reportedly trying to rob his friends’ home, in which they grew marijuana, but was stabbed as a result of what I assume was a means of self-defense. The image in my mind is grisly and disturbing, and the yellow crime scene tape makes me uneasy.

These types of occurrences make me wonder what it is in people’s heads that makes their lives simpler and more livable than others. Why can’t people keep to themselves and be happy with what they have? Lord knows I am often not as grateful as I should be for my closet exploding with clothes, my fancy laptop or my cell phone. I always want more, but I use honest means to get what I want. For that young man to be willing to risk his life over weed, or money, whichever it was that he was trying to rob the house of, must mean something beyond my realm of knowledge or understanding. I could never fathom breaking into the home of someone I knew, let a lone a stranger, just to satisfy my own need to have more. It simply baffles me that some people are able to rationalize that kind of behavior. It’s something I hate trying to think about, which is why I forced myself to go back to sleep after I read everything I could about the event.

Waking up at 1:30 p.m. without cable is always a bit daunting. Having to come up with something to do besides repinning a bunch of stuff on Pinterest is way more difficult than I thought it would ever be. Lucky for me all of the new fall shows are streaming online, so I watched 2 Broke Girls, starring Kat Dennings (who bothers me immeasurably) while eating steel-cut oats and drinking that aforementioned coffee. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. It was extremely hip (Peter Bjorn & John = theme song, Arcade Fire + Coldplay = first official music references) and perfectly witty. Plus, I’m about to become a real-life waitress and it was comforting to see Dennings confront her asshole customers in the opening scene. Hopefully some of my future customers will have seen this premiere and learned the proper way to treat the person giving them their food. Nevertheless, I was impressed and will be watching the show on every week, along with New Girl and Up All Night. It appears that I’ve graduated just in time to waste my nights away watching half-hour-long comedies as opposed to doing homework. I have yet to learn which activity teaches me more.

I have also developed a strange fascination with leopard print everything.

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Filed under THE INSPIRED