Research Says: Leave the Kids, Take the Trip

Taking a trip without your kids may feel like you’re trying to escape, and that’s okay. Escape. Your relationship thirsts for it.

Thinking of leaving the kids to take a trip with your partner, but anxiety has you second-guessing?
Run over that stop sign in your brain, call the in-laws to babysit, and go.
According to current research conducted by Travelocity, 56 percent of couples claim that travel is vital in keeping that “spark” flickering in their relationship. However, only 31 percent of couples surveyed have been on a couples-only getaway.
Parenting often feels like you’re stuck in the dugout, you and your partner never getting a chance at bat. In this monotonous phase in a relationship, the study reported that couples only spend about six hours a week together marked as “couple time.” This then leads to only seven minutes per day of “romantic time.”
Being teammates in this parenting game is vital, but we often forget to look at each other the way we used to. The sex, if it’s there at all, is often scheduled, rarely spontaneous. Between picking up the kids, homework, meal-prep, and emptying the dishwasher, finding time – real time – with your partner is tough. Taking a trip may feel like you’re trying to escape, and that’s okay.
Escape. Your relationship thirsts for it.
My husband and I found ourselves in a similar rut. It was nothing drastic, but working out and grad studies always took precedence over date nights. We knew our marriage needed a drink of adventure.
So, we packed up our bags, phoned the grandparents, and headed to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to hike, explore, and eat and drink with the locals. We wanted to hike Hogback Mountain to view the Caribbean-blue waters of Lake Superior.
We ended up getting lost and heading 90 minutes in the wrong direction on the North Country Trail. Mosquitos swarmed us, and there were times when we wanted to quit. But we didn’t. We used the teamwork that we’ve exercised so often in parenthood and challenged one another to make it to the top of that mountain – for our marriage. It was the “spark” that our relationship needed.
Research conducted by the U.S. Travel Association claims that 77 percent of couples who travel together reported having a vibrant sex life. “Couples who take time to vacation alone together at least once each year report happier, healthier relationships overall compared to those who do not travel as couples,” says Pam Loeb, principal of Edge Research. These trips don’t have to include a pricey plane ticket. See what your own state has to offer and explore.
I’m not so sure how comfortable I feel about reporting on sex. (I have three brothers who still think the stork delivered our babies to the doorstep.) But this trip did increase our spontaneity, which, as we know, can help in the bedroom.
One rainy afternoon, we sauntered into a local bar, did shots with the locals, danced on a floor scatterd with peanut shells, and got a ride home with the bartender by 5 p.m. We would never have thought to be so liberated with our kids in tow, or even in our own town. In other words, it wasn’t just a vacation without the kids. It was a vacation for us.
Having the ability to be this free felt like a gift – one I will look forward to when I’ve grown old and have wrinkles all over my body.
We’re more than just our kids. Get out of that dugout and take your partner with you. Traveling will add not only to your sex life, but it will strengthen your teamwork, your bond, and your communication as well. It’ll remind you that life can be lighthearted again if you let it.

New Research Shows That Dads Can Also Experience Postpartum Depression

With an upsurge of dads now playing a key role in raising children, more men are experiencing postpartum depression.

For many, the first days, weeks, and months of parenthood can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Stress, hormones, and learning to juggle the many responsibilities of taking care of another human being can wear us down and impact our emotional well-being. Many women may feel a bit “blue” during this time, while some face a serious mood disorder known as postpartum depression.
According to the American Psychological Association, up to one in seven women experience postpartum depression after giving birth. It can last for many weeks or months if left untreated, and can make it very difficult to get through the day, let along care for a baby. Most people realize that women are at risk of experiencing postpartum depression, but new information warns us that dads are at risk as well.
With an upsurge of dads now playing a key role in raising children, more men are experiencing postpartum depression, also called paternal postnatal depression. Experts from the University of Southern California found that 10 percent of men report symptoms of depression after their child is born, which is twice the typical rate of depression in males. These symptoms can include feelings of isolation, irritability, fatigue, low motivation, weight gain or loss, changes in appetite, inability to experience pleasure, and even outbursts of aggression or anger.
Over the past few years, several studies discovered that men have biological responses to fatherhood, particularly with fluctuating testosterone levels. These changes are thought to be a result of men adjusting to childcare priorities. For example, testosterone can drop due to sleep deprivation and stress, which are quite common when trying to manage a newborn.
Now a new study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior by a team of researchers from University of Southern California, University of California at Los Angeles, and Northwestern University found that after the birth of an infant, decreased levels of testosterone in men were linked to an increased risk of postpartum depression. On the other hand, fathers with higher testosterone levels reported more parenting stress, and their partners reported more relationship aggression from them. The same study also revealed a surprising link: When a father has low testosterone, the mother reported fewer symptoms of depression herself.
The results were announced after researchers reviewed data from 149 couples with new babies who were part of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development’s Community Child Health Research Network. Fathers’ testosterone levels were tested by taking saliva samples when their infants were nine months old. Both parents were also asked about any depression symptoms they noted at two months, nine months, and 15 months postpartum. They were also asked about relationship satisfaction, parenting stress, and partner aggression.
This new research is so important because it shows how both parents can suffer from depression while trying to care for an infant. Many men may not realize that they are struggling because of an actual change in their hormone level. They may try to be the strong one and not admit to the feelings they are battling on a daily basis. It is critical that dads speak up and get help if they are struggling with postpartum depression not just for themselves, but for their entire family. Depressed dads are more likely to physically punish their children and less likely to read and interact with them. Sadly, this behavior can result in kids with poor reading and language skills, in addition to behavioral problems.
Fortunately, postpartum depression is treatable for both moms and dads. If you or someone you know is struggling with the symptoms, contact your physician who can suggest antidepressants or direct you to a therapist. Talk therapy has been proven to help those suffering to work through their emotions and identify effective strategies for managing their moods. You can also find support by contacting Postpartum Support International and the Postpartum Health Alliance. Exercise, a healthy diet, mindfulness meditation, and restful sleep are also good remedies for balancing mood and hormones. Do keep in mind, however, that experts are now advising against treating postpartum depression in fathers by providing testosterone supplements because too much of the hormone can trigger aggression and end up adding to the family’s stress.

Love Is Sweatpants and Take-Out, Actually

I’ve recently made a commitment to look out for the little things – those things that happen on a daily basis that show me just what love is.

When my husband and I first started dating, I was one of those hopeless romantic types. You know, the kind that grew up watching Disney movies and rom-coms involving Prince Charming, happily ever after, adorable meet-cutes, gigantic, suspenseful, highly emotional grand gestures, perfect lines at the perfect moment, so on and so forth, et cetera.
Ah, that warm fuzzy feeling.
That whole, “oh-my-gosh-that-perfect-guy-is-so-perfect!” paired with a hope that one day, you might have someone bulldoze through crowds of people at a busy international airport to stop you from getting on that plane so that he can perform a heartbreakingly beautiful soliloquy about why you two belong together.
I still watch rom-coms. And dang, I still love ’em.
But, to be honest, my husband and I rarely do big, romantic gestures. We have a mutual agreement about it. Despite that, I used to hold that against him. I used to get all passive-aggressive about it.
For instance, a holiday like Valentine’s Day would come and go, and we wouldn’t do anything because “we” didn’t believe in it. But I’d still feel a little shortchanged. Poor guy. I mean, come on. How’s that for unfair?
The truth is, I used to be all about the grand gestures, the big demonstrations of love, the utterly romantic, perfectly crafted moments that take your breath away.
It’s funny though, because 10 years and two kids later, I’ve come to see love and romance in a whole different light. Flowers and chocolates are all well and good, but I’ve recently made a commitment to look out for the little things – those things that happen on a daily basis that show me just what love is.
They’re everywhere.
Love is in that extra hour of sleep you didn’t even realize he gave you until you woke up feeling just a little bit more human.
Love is in that secret look and the stifled laughter you exchange when your toddler says or does something hilarious and maybe borderline inappropriate.
Love is in the fresh bottle of cold water that magically appears by your bedside lamp every night, because he knows you get thirsty when you get up to nurse the baby every two hours.
Love is in the realization that it’s been an entire week and you haven’t washed a single dish because he has just taken care of it.
Love is in putting away the laundry your partner spent time folding, because folding laundry is no easy feat when you have an assistant who’s under three feet tall and considers “folding” to be synonymous with “throwing.”
Love is in that moment when you’re in separate rooms trying to get the kids to sleep, and you unexpectedly get butterflies in your stomach because you’re excited that you get to hang out with your best friend soon.
Love is in that conversation on the couch in your sweatpants eating Pad Thai out of a box while you exchange stories about things your children did and replay videos of them being adorable even though they’ve only been asleep for five minutes.
Love is in those times you irritate each other and then realize that being annoyed at each other is really no fun and that you miss your buddy, so you suck it up and say you’re sorry.
Love is in the empathy he shows when you both know full well that, in this particular instance, you really are just being hormonal and maybe, possibly, mildly irrational.
Love is in the effect of that text message he sends telling you he’s coming home early.
Love is in the realization that, actually, you’re just as excited as your toddler to see him walk through that door at the end of each day. And not just because it means there are now more adults on duty to tackle the troops, but because your person is here and he makes you happy.
Love is in his acceptance of your obsessive hygiene standards, and when he uses your designated kitchen sponges in line with The System without making a fuss.
Love is in that moment when you’re trying to put your child to sleep, and just can’t anymore, and he comes in and takes over the bouncing, the shushing, the comforting. And you sit on the edge of the bed just watching him love your baby.
Love isn’t always in the big moments. More often than not, it’s in those numerous, seemingly inconsequential, in-between moments that punctuate a day. The moments that are prone to pass you by without you noticing them because you’re too busy waiting for the string instruments to start playing and the fireworks to shoot into the sky.
So take stock. I guarantee you’ll be surprised. You may find that love has become so ingrained in your life together that it infuses your daily actions and decisions – those things you do that are no big deal, but when examined closely, stem from your love for each other.
I’d take that over flowers and chocolates any day.

7 Ways to Resolve Parenting Disagreements With Your Partner

Instead of yelling and screaming, here are a few tips to help resolve issues smoothly the next time you find yourself in the middle of a heated discussion.

Whether it be a simple disagreement about what your child can eat for dinner or a near relationship ending blow-up about how to discipline your kids, conflict is inevitable when it comes to parenting.
There’s so much to discuss, and it’s rare that two people will agree entirely. Instead of yelling and screaming, here are a few tips to help resolve issues smoothly the next time you find yourself in the middle of a heated discussion.

Avoid using broad statements

Never say never. The saying also stands true for arguments. The thing about saying “always” and “never” is that it’s rarely ever true. Using such sweeping, broad language can cause unnecessary drama and ultimately, damage.
Instead, try using sayings like “I’ve noticed that recently you’ve let her stay up later than I’m comfortable with.” Using gentler language can promote a softer reaction and help you reach a peaceful agreement.

Stick to the topic

There’s a tendency to bring up past issues and grievances during an argument that may have nothing to do with the disagreement at hand. Focusing on the issue in question and trying to resolve that alone instead of dredging up the past will make it easier to come to a resolution.

Allow space and time to process

You know that old saying: Never go to bed angry. Forget all about it. Sometimes, sleeping on an issue or choosing to walk away and discuss something at a later time allows you time and space to process your emotions. You could wake up with a new, fresh perspective that makes room for a simple solution.

Use “I” statements

Instead of placing the blame on your partner and leading with statements like, “You never do anything in the kitchen,” or “You’re never home,” try leading with “I really appreciate it when you do the dishes,” or “I love spending time with you.”

Validate emotions

Sometimes, a person simply needs to be heard and validated. Validating emotions and your partner’s point of view can be helpful when resolving disagreements. Try saying “I understand where you’re coming from,” or “I can see how you would feel that way.” Practicing empathy is critical when it comes to conflict resolution.

Pay attention to timing

Timing really is everything, especially when it comes to talking things through. Choose a time to talk about issues when you and your partner both have the time and the energy to work things through. This can often mean tabling a discussion until the kids are asleep and you’re able to focus.

Understand that you both offer value

Each of you has different strengths you bring to the table. Recognize that you both have unique gifts to offer your children and play those up. If one of you has more patience at bedtime, designate that person as the official bedtime parent. If the other loves cooking, take advantage of that passion and allow him or her to spend some time getting creative in the kitchen.

Could Drinking Together be the Secret to a Long-Lastingly Happy Marriage?

A recent study suggests when older couples participate in concordant drinking (drinking together), the negativity within their relationship decreases.

If you and your partner drink casually together, keep going. Your relationship may just withstand the annoyance of your spouse.
A recent study found in The Journals of Gerontology suggests that when older couples participate in concordant drinking (drinking together), the negativity within their relationship decreases. Essentially, partners get on each other’s nerves less. Their outlook toward one another is more positive and drinking together increases their ability to live harmoniously. They even have more in common outside of the home.
On the flip-side, those who participate in discordant drinking (where only one spouse drinks), suffer from an increase of negative feelings within their marriage. Simple offenses, like forgetting to empty the dishwasher, rarely go unnoticed.
Specifically, the study shows that this amicability is significantly greater among wives. The study went on to say, “Further, wives are often referred to as the barometer of the marital relationship and thus may be more affected by discordance or concordance in alcohol use.” If they aren’t in-sync, women tend to sense when things are “off” within the relationship. So, when a woman drinks with her partner, she is more likely to shrug off her partner’s daily blunders.
As we live with our partners over the years, it is no surprise that we start irritating each other. Sometimes it feels as though our best friend has evolved into a roommate – one who leaves the dishes in the sink, forgets to pick-up the milk on the way home, or throws his or her dirty socks on the family room floor instead of in the laundry basket. The study claims that drinking with your spouse can help alleviate all of these small grievances that have the ability to pile up – just like those dishes in the sink.
In result, concordant drinking couples may spend more time together and enjoy more leisure activities together. They take trips together, run races, take on watersports, and enjoy other pursuits that bond people together. Not to say that discordant drinking couples don’t share in these activities – it’s just not as likely.
Furthermore, the study says that “Discordant drinking couples may use more destructive conflict strategies.” They may banter on a more regular basis. So, if one drinks and the other doesn’t, the impact is not the same. This explains my parents, who have an imperfect, yet strong marriage of almost 46 years. My dad is 13 years older than my mom. Oftentimes, she plays the role of nurse and maid more than wife. She does not drink. My dad, on the other hand, drinks leisurely at 82 years old. My mother puts on that black and white referee uniform daily, nagging my dad for his fouls and wanting to eject him out of the house.
According to the study, maybe my mom should start drinking a couple glasses of wine in the evenings. Perhaps she wouldn’t want to blow the whistle at my father as often. And my dad, well, he should continue to drink his small doses of red wine and Scotch because it’s helping him live harmoniously with his wife of almost half a century – giving him the ability to shrug off his wife’s protests.
Neither I nor the study recommends picking up a heavy drinking habit with your partner, but if you enjoy a couple of light-hearted cocktails, don’t stop. It just may continue to toughen your marriage as you journey through the sometimes-murky years together.

I'm Thirty-Five Years Old and Finally Dating

We “hung out,” “hooked up,” and “did things with other couples,” but my husband and I never dated each other. Until now.

I know y’all opened up this post hoping for a juicy tidbit of suburban scandal. Prepare to be disappointed:
Yes, I am dating.
I am dating my husband.
We are 35 years old and we are just now getting the hang of “dating” each other. We have been “together” since we fell madly in love many moons ago, girating on a ratty old couch to J Lo and Ja Rule. I simply could not resist his bleached blonde, Eminem-like, spiky hair once we locked eyes across a smoke-filled frat house living room. From those initial alcohol-induced moments our budding romance moved along at warp speed.
We spent each and every second together, partying, studying, and hanging out with friends. We became friends, lived together, got jobs, moved into apartments, moved into houses, and moved around. We had four kids, saw less and less of each other, resented each other, recommitted ourselves to each other, worked on ourselves, worked on one another, had some more kids, got a dog, fell apart, and rebuilt.
All within the span of about 15 years.
Do you know what we didn’t do during those 15 years?
We never dated.
We “hung out,” “hooked up,” and “did things with other couples,” but we never dated each other. There was no getting dressed up and anxiously waiting to get picked up at the door for an evening out because those younger years were our broke college years. Neither of us minded though – we were having fun and enjoying each other’s company.
We got married straight out of college and our wedding was a bona fide party because that is what happens when you get married in your early 20s. Kids followed shortly after. We went to prenatal appointments, kids’ birthday parties, and school events, but still we didn’t really date.
A few times a year we managed a holiday party or anniversary dinner out, but these unicorn evenings were few and far between. Unfortunately for us – and probably due to the lack of dating practice – these nights usually ended in soaring expectations of wild sex and bellies full of booze and food. Of course fights and hangovers followed and the rare date nights faded out even more with intense work schedules and the addition of twin girls, which rounded out our total number of children to four.
Still we didn’t seem to mind the extinction of together time because we literally had no time to think. We have spent 10 years in “go mode” and I think that perhaps somewhere in the middle of this mode your brain turns certain parts of emotional consciousness off.
Then about six months back we hit a marital wall. I suppose that after so many years of sub-par communication and emotions locked into survival mode it wasn’t exactly a surprise that we found ourselves sitting on the couch having a come-to-Jesus talk about where we were and where we were headed. We needed to air out our years of pent-up grievances and lay out our needs simply, clearly, and concisely. Because we didn’t spend those formative years talking and communicating (Lord knows we spent it doing all sorts of other things), we maybe missed the whole “know what your partner wants” component.
So yes there was hurt, tears, feelings of betrayal and resentment, and all sorts of other things that you never really imagine yourself feeling when you fall in love at the tender age of 19.
But like a couple of middle-aged Phoenixes we seemed to rise from the ashes and rebuilt our marriage.
Along with The McCarthy Marriage 2.0 came dating. We are about six months into dating one another and I have to say a number of positive aspects have come along with this newfound addition to our marriage.
We talk. We go out and have dinner and talk for hours. We don’t always talk about earth-shattering things, but that is okay. Sometimes it is glorious to sit back and realize that for once you have nothing pressing to discuss.
We get the family management done. Date nights are not always filled with lipstick, cologne, and high heels. Sometimes we just need to leave the chaos of our home and get shit done. We have to organize our thoughts, sync our schedules, and figure out how our little jigsaw life is all gonna shake out. It isn’t sexy, but it sure is necessary and really so much easier to do over beers and fries.
We get dressed up … for each other! I won’t lie. It is kind of nice to look at one another and think to one’s self, “My, my we clean up nice don’t we?” How many times does that man come home to find me in baggy sweatpants with stains on my shirt and sporting a frizzy mom bun? Far too many to count. If I am being completely honest, which I am known for, I think there are entire months I don’t even look at my partner. It isn’t because I don’t love him or find him attractive, it’s just that I stop prioritizing the marriage.
Date nights seem to reset this sector of my brain.
Sometimes we go do things and find ourselves (gasp!) having fun. Man, it is far to easy to find yourselves in the trenches of life missing out on the fun. In our case we found ourselves having fun, but only having family fun. Our kids became the center of our universe and the epicenter of our fun. Watching them have fun was automatically our fun. While there is certainly nothing wrong with watching your little ones enjoy life, it feels good to have our own separate, partner fun.
Practice makes perfect. Now that dating is becoming a more regular thing the expectations for the evening are not outrageous. We now know that date night is going to happen more than twice a year and we can relax a bit and simply enjoy our time together without forcing ourselves to go overboard.
I have to say that I am enjoying the dating scene now that I am 35 and I hope that as the years go by we can keep it up. All that time I thought it served zero purpose, but it turns out I was gravely wrong: Dating your partner is important.

Research Shows Body Confidence Could be the Key to a Satisfying Relationship

Regardless of pant size, it’s confidence in her body that predicts a happy relationship.

“New studies” can run twice around the entire internet while the fact checkers are still getting out of bed and suited up. In that established tradition, a new study with an intriguing finding started making the rounds in January of 2017.
It started out with a headline on a Spanish language Argentinian site: “Study Confirms that Chubby Women Make a Man Happier than a Skinny Woman.” The article was then picked up by several English language sites.
Now, to be honest, the study has been rated “unproven” by Snopes. The department of psychology and the two doctors referenced in the article don’t seem to exist.
Still, there could be some truth in the idea expressed in the headline, and I’ll tell you why:
First of all, who has time to be in a chirpy cheerful mood when you’re starving? It just makes sense that women who aren’t hungry are less irritable and therefore better company. (Only half joking when I say that.)
Second, body confidence. Constantly worrying about how you look, if any muffin top is showing, how much weight you’re gaining, how to lose the weight, what’s on the approved list to eat, what’s not – it all adds up to a lot of stress and anxiety. What that study might have measured, and then decided was the result, was women who are comfortable with their curves.
Women who are secure about the way they look are probably a lot less tense, not to mention more interested in sexy time. Nothing kills your libido like the certainty that no one wants to see you with the lights on. That certainty can also kill a relationship. In this case, confidence really could be the key.
Have there been any actual studies done on how body confidence affects a relationship? Yes. “Body Image and Marital Satisfaction,” by Andrea L. Metzler & James K. McNulty, April 2010, is a notable one. Even better, inside the write-up of their findings Metzler & McNulty cite dozens of other studies on the subject.
The clear findings: Women who have a positive body image also have happier partners.
So does this mean only chubby women can make a man happy? No. Does it mean only skinny women are bliss material? Again, nope. Regardless of pant size, it’s confidence in her body that predicts a happy relationship. What the 2017 “study” got wrong was trying to link that happiness to one body type.
The good news to take home is that if you are satisfied with the way you look, everyone wins. Embrace your appearance, because when you do it makes you and your relationship happier. It’s sometimes hard to have that attitude – Lord do I know the struggle. After three pregnancies the confidence does not come easy. It’s worth working on it to be that happy partner, though.
Confidence is sexy. Science says so.

Spiraling Out of Control and Toward Infidelity

I want to tell him about how my marriage is broken and how numb and disconnected I feel. I wonder how I let it get so far.

5:05 a.m. My eyes open. A faint pearly blade of light squeezing past the blind. The distant metallic scrape of a moving tram.
I lie here in the dawn’s dimness, my dreams still lingering.
“I am a happily married man, and I am not looking for any other arrangement. I would ask that you please do not contact me again.”
I reach for my phone.
The last words of his last message haunt me. It seems impossible that it is “over,” even if our relationship was only ever a virtual one.
“What time is it?” my husband murmurs beside me.
“Early,” I say.
He reaches for my phone.
“I’m in the middle of an email!”
He reaches for me instead.
With a grunt of frustration, I fling his arm off me and get out of bed.
6:14 a.m. I am preparing lunch for my three-year-old daughter – marmalade sandwich, sliced banana – when I hear the soft ping of an incoming email. I pick up my phone. Feel the familiar sting when I see that it’s not from him.
I stand, staring out the kitchen window at the long shadow of the neighboring apartment stretching across the river’s waters. I wonder how I let it get so far. How it became all consuming. I think of the hours spent scrolling through his messages, especially the ones where he said he understood me.
“I get you,” he would say. “We’re on the same page.”
He was a marketing executive for an agency I write copy for, or at least I used to, and our contact, at first, was purely professional. But I quickly became drawn to him – and I thought we shared a connection.
My daughter is standing at the kitchen entrance. Tousled blonde hair, unicorn PJs, her stuffed monkey doll dangling from her hand. Swamped in my thoughts, I hadn’t heard her coming down the hallway.
7:04 a.m. My husband is running late. And he has to drop off our daughter at kindergarten on his way to work. I sit down to try and help put on her sandals.
“I’ll do it!” she says defiantly.
She fumbles with the sandal strap. I reach over and raise the prongless buckle. She realizes I am trying to help and squeals with rage, yanking her sandal off with both hands.
“For God’s sake!” my husband says impatiently. “Why didn’t you just let her do it?”
I flip him the bird behind her back.
7:10 a.m. My daughter’s pouting face is the last thing I see as the lift doors seal.
7:11 a.m. I turn on my laptop. Elsa from “Frozen” is my user icon – something I set up to make my daughter happy. What would it be like to have Elsa’s power? How long would it take before I turned my husband into ice?
I scan The New York Times, The Australian, The Guardian. My pulse begins to slow. I am breathing calmly again.
8:03 a.m. I get in the shower and stand there, feeling the cold needles of water hitting my breasts, causing my nipples to harden. I vaguely consider directing the nozzle between my legs, but the indeterminable time of concentration required, face grimacing, desperately trying to break through the barrier just feels like too much to bear.
8:21 a.m. After I get dressed, I check my emails again. There’s nothing. Apart from two that require follow-up: chasing up photos, editorial change requests.
I’m researching something on my laptop when I get distracted by a piece of clickbait in the right-hand column: “Toxic Liver – 30-second quiz”.
It takes six minutes.
8:53 a.m. I am finally ready to start on my article. As I go to open Word, my cursor hovers over the YouTube icon.
I used to watch the marketing executive on YouTube. The same clip. Over and over again. He was part of a discussion panel on the future of advertising. I’d watch with the volume down, admiring his profile, his jawline, the way he made slightly unshaven seem so neat and tidy.
I would touch the screen and watch the rise and fall of his chest. I would imagine I could feel his heartbeat beneath my fingertips.
I check my emails once more. Feel ground down by his absence.
11:15 a.m. I have a phone interview with a psychiatrist. It’s not the one I used to see. I need quotes for the article I am writing. It’s about how our modern addiction to smartphones and social media can be a social barrier for many.
“There’s no doubt that devices have been a wonderful aid to society,” the psychiatrist says to me. He is a professor. He specializes in obsessive behavior. I love the drift of his voice, the deep thoughtfulness in each pause. “But for some people, they have become an overly important part of their lives.”
Listening to him triggers a need inside me to unburden myself. While he talks, I want to tell him about how my marriage is broken and how numb and disconnected I feel.
“What would you say to someone who can’t get to sleep because they keep compulsively checking their phone?” I ask.
“It’s likely to have a cost in terms of your normal circadian rhythm,” the psychiatrist replies. “And it’s likely to have a cost the next day, because you’re going to be less efficient. When you look at those costs, the benefit of knowing you’ve got a message at eleven o’clock at night doesn’t really look very beneficial, does it?”
2:12 p.m. I finish another page of my first draft. I reward myself by checking the marketing executive’s LinkedIn profile. I pay for a premium membership so he won’t know each time I look at it.
It hasn’t changed from yesterday.
3:42 p.m. “You need glasses.”
I nod. It’s true. But I really came here to take my mind off the marketing executive.
“You can’t focus,” the optometrist says.
He points to a large poster on the wall. It’s a drawing of a detached eyeball, sliced-in-half. “The human lens continues to grow throughout your lifetime,” he says. He traces the eyeball with his finger. “As the lens gets bigger, the ciliary muscle, which wraps itself around the lens, has more difficulty changing the lens’s shape.”
“Is that why I’m finding it hard to read at night?” I say.
“Yes,” he says.
He puts a heavy, black trial lens frame on my face. He pops two lenses in and stands back, looking at me.
“Better?” he says.
4:07 p.m. I take the long way home. I walk past two souvenir shops, a pub, a real estate agent. There’s a tall model in the window of a new high-rise being built. I continue on past the supermarket, the bottle shop, past Condom Kingdom, Cold Rock.
I think about how, even during the strongest grips of my infatuation, I knew, deep down, how stupid I was being. It was like my mind had flipped back to my adolescence, swept up in a high school-like crush, as if the marketing executive was a movie star or rock idol or something.
I feel ashamed now as I remember the way I would pore over his press releases, searching for any secret messages he might have embedded in them for me. How I’d seize on code words like “open communication” and “rapport” as evidence that he was interested.
At the time, I thought he was just being discreet. Which was very gentlemanly of him. He had the interests of the company to think about after all. And I knew he’d need to break it gently to his wife, to let her down easy.
But when he put out a special release for a startup company called Firmest Bond, I knew that he was ready.
I dashed off an email to him. Aware only of my words, my quickened breath, the click of chewed nails on plastic keys. I gushed out my feelings. “I haven’t felt this way toward another human being,” I wrote.
“Ever,” I wrote.
The following morning he broke it off with me.
I hear the squeal and clank of an approaching tram. The low west sun searing brightly off the sloping window. The thick metal fender.
I have a sudden impulse to step out in front of it.
4:43 p.m. I am standing on the balcony, looking at my phone. As a breeze blows in from the river, I check Facebook again, even though I know he’s defriended me.
6:23 p.m. A sludge of mushed peas. A soggy crust, black with Vegemite. Corn kernels floating in the dregs of the milk cup.
I plunge the dishes into the suds. Scrub them vigorously with the blue brush with the flattened white bristles.
As my gloveless hands chaff in the almost scalding water, I glance over the kitchen half-wall at the blue Lawson-style sofa. The back of my husband’s thinning black hair. My daughter’s little blonde pigtails.
Sitting side by side. His arm around her shoulders. Watching “Ben and Holly”.
8:58 p.m. After cleaning up, bathing my daughter, dressing my daughter, and reading her bedtime story after bedtime story until my voice is hoarse and she has fallen asleep, I am feverish with a desperate compulsion to claw back my self-esteem. I am not revolting. There are other men who would have me.
I go into the bedroom.
My husband is lying there in his chequered boxers and faded T-shirt, reading an old copy of The New Yorker.
I slip off my underpants.
“Hey – ”
I start kissing him. Roughly.
I feel him between my legs. I reach down. I arch back.
He lasts 30 seconds.
My hair is dangling into his eyes. I won’t let him get away with it.
I keep going. Furiously.
I’m almost there…almost…no…yes…no…
I imagine the marketing executive beneath me.
I’m there.
Merciful. Sweet. Oblivion.
When my breathing slows, I sense my husband waiting.
I can feel his heartbeat tremor against my breasts.

The Challenges of Keeping Your Maiden Name

Deep down I knew that of the three options – my last name, his last name, or ours hyphenated together – the choice was made, eras ago.

In June of 1932, Amelia Earhart sent a polite but resolute letter to the New York Times, asking that they please stop referring to her by the wrong name. As the world’s first female aviator and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart was famous in her own right. Her sensational professional achievements, and the attention that ensued, made her a living legend, yet to her frustration, the press continually referred to her as Mrs. George Putnam, which would have been her married name had she not broken with tradition. In her letter to the Times and in subsequent public comments on the topic, Amelia Earhart said she loved her husband but felt marriage was an equal partnership, and any career merit should be attributed to the one who attained it. The print media acquiesced and mentioned her as Miss Earhart from then on.
While Amelia Earhart certainly wasn’t the first woman to keep her surname upon marriage, she was one of only a handful to do so until the late 70s, when customs – backed by legal, social, and economic factors – began to change.
Before I got married, I never considered taking a man’s name. Growing up in the post-Steinem era of feminist policy, I was grateful to those who fought for my rights and felt it was my duty to repay them by keeping my name intact. Abdicating the part of me that held my family history in favor of someone else’s seemed an unnatural and unnecessary sacrifice. I had just as much invested in my identity as my husband did in his, and no one expected him to change – so why should I? Looking through the thick scrim of idealism that only the young possess, I could not foresee a situation that would erode my conviction, and for the first few years of married life, when it was just my husband and me, this was true.
By 2001, the year I got married, nearly a third of American women kept their maiden names in either a personal or professional capacity, so, unlike Amelia Earhart, whose defection from convention was newsworthy, my decision followed a well-established path and the obstacles I encountered were minor. They were things like, explaining to my dad why I didn’t need a new driver’s license, telling my grandmother that, no, this didn’t mean I planned on getting a divorce, or writing two distinct names on our tax return – inconveniences, really, that reflected generational expectations more than anything else.
When our daughter came along and it was automatically assumed by every institution in existence that she would bear my husband’s name, my notion of curbing inequality with a surname crumbled like a dead leaf. Amid the frenzy of a new baby, I hadn’t the gumption – or the energy – to counteract the patriarchal tradition. In my sheltered naïveté, where identity was limited to the confines of a husband and wife relationship, I hadn’t given serious thought to what we would name our child, beyond selecting a timelessly traditional yet unique prénom, and certainly hadn’t planned preemptively. Perhaps I was in denial, because deep down I knew that of the three options – my last name, his last name, or ours hyphenated together – the choice was made, eras ago. I could have pushed for our daughter to have my last name, but weighing effort against outcome using the metrics of our ancient paradigm, I chose the path of least resistance and let the system win.
If all this sounds melodramatic, my attachment to a name (which, if we’re being factual, belonged to my father, not mother, and is itself a resounding endorsement of male dominance) I concede. I will go further and admit it’s an argument wrought from those with privilege, already: those with money, education, a position in society. But I maintain that the importance of a name cannot be overstated. Names, like words, shape our impression of the world, and names shape the world’s impression of us.
Since 2001, the number of women keeping their maiden names has risen only slightly, and the focus for attaining equality seems to have shifted to more procedural plights, like maternity leave, equal pay, and healthcare. As a political issue, women see greater impact from their efforts elsewhere, and likely recognize the futility of changing our entire system of familial nomenclature. Unfortunately, to keep your name or take your husband’s will always be either an awkward stay or a sticky transition, but, really, it’s what we do after that, that counts.

How to Get on With Your In-Laws

Getting along with in-laws can be a chore. Remember the following do’s and don’t’s during their visit and afterwards.

Marriage, or the start of living together, brings much happiness, but it also brings the dreaded in-laws. The announcement of their first visit releases millions of butterflies in the pit of your stomach and you instantly go into overdrive in preparing for the upcoming nightmare.

Just stop and breathe, and again.

To get through this visit, and the many more to come, remember the following do’s and don’t’s during their visit and afterwards.

1 | Don’t hold your new spouse accountable

Always remember we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. Just because the in-laws have views, opinions, and manners different than you and your new spouse does not mean your spouse is responsible for this. He or she may be just as offended as you are but has learned to go with the flow.

2 | Do be nice

We reap what we sow. If we approach a situation with negativity, chances are people will respond in kind. Smile at your in-laws instead of frowning at their behavior. Remember, their visit will end and things will go back to normal. (Unless your in-laws have moved in, then you may find little comfort in this article and you might need to find a new place to live.)

3 | Don’t make negative comments about them to your spouse

Criticizing your in-laws in front of your spouse might make you feel better but not your loved one. We take criticizing our parents personally as it can be seen to be an indirect criticism on us. After all, we are a product of our parents.

4 | Do debrief with your spouse

Talk to you partner about things that mattered to you after the visit is over. Talking about it might give your spouse an opportunity to understand your perspective and help you work through some of the negative emotions.

5 | Don’t sweat the small stuff

If you can ignore their annoying behavior, do so. Hopefully the visit is short and life will soon return to just you and your spouse.

6 | Don’t be afraid to set guidelines

Try and do this in a calm manner, without confronting them or showing anger. For example, if your dog does not get fed scraps from the table, say so. “Please do not feed Charlie food from the table. It doesn’t agree with him and instills bad manners that last long past your visit. Thank you.” Please and thank you still go a long way.

7 | Don’t offend easily

This goes hand in hand with getting to know your in-laws. Sometimes we can take offense too easily, particularly when none is intended. You’ll need to get to know your “new family” to understand the fine nuances in communicating with them. What you find offensive might be considered funny in other households. Remember the original mantra, take a deep breath in and out, and again. It’s amazing how deep breathing can get you through the most stressful situation.

8 | Get to know your in-laws

Remember Shrek’s words, “They judge me before they get to know me.” Don’t judge your in-laws too quickly, take time to get to know them. It took time to get to know your spouse, your friends, and acquaintances. Give your in-laws the same courtesy and get to know them before you judge them.

9 | Do be yourself

Just like you need to get to know your in-laws, they need to get to know you. Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Building relationships on unstable foundations is never a good idea. Your spouse loves you, chances are your in-laws will like you too. What they won’t like is someone pretending to be something else.

10 | Do celebrate when the visit is over

There’s nothing wrong with being pleased about the in-laws leaving. At the end of the day, you married your spouse, not his or her in-laws.

If you follow some or all of the suggestions offered here, your relationship with your in-laws should be a relatively good one. However, if it turns out to be a disaster and the relationship is a fractured one, try and keep your sense of humor. Remember, there’s always someone worse off than you.