When You Come From Different Countries

Reader: After reading your post about religious and political differences and raising children, I was wondering what you thought about cultural differences and being from different countries. How did you and Jennifer decide where to live and have children? Would you ever go back to New Zealand?

Athol:  Well we did have a plan at the time we got married. Being structural thinkers even then, we realized that the exchange rate between New Zealand and America was very much in America’s favor. So we figured if we ever had to switch countries it was going to be much easier to move from America to New Zealand, rather than from New Zealand to America. As things have turned out, the exchange rates have stabilized somewhat and housing in New Zealand is more expensive than America and any advantage we imagined is gone. Oh well, it was a best guess anyway.

We also figured Jennifer was going to struggle a great deal without her family around, while I’m fairly resilient in that aspect. If we moved now, she’d be fine though. We’re family now. Overall, it’s worked out very well for us. We moved to a middle sized town in Connecticut and then have moved twice within that town since then. So I’ve lived in New Zealand until I was 24, then in America for 18 years .

The good points are that people are the same where ever you go. New Zealand and America are English speaking, Western, democratic, capitalist countries, and there are more differences inside the countries, than between them. If you have money and a job you’re okay, if you’re broke and uneducated you’re not having a good time. So moving here was fairly easy for me.

There’s always a nice little edge to things between you when you’re from different countries. You’re always just a little bit unknown to each other, though the longer we’re married the less those little moments happen. We don’t hear each others accents anymore. It’s kinda fun to be from different countries.

Both kids love New Zealand… though they’ve only been on vacation, so it’s not a true understanding of the culture. They like that they have a mixed heritage. Also they have both been very healthy kids. Cross breeding for the win. I’m totally serious on that point. I think the separate countries deal plays a role in still being attracted to each other.

It also makes for a great destination for a major family trip. There’s a natural drama and excitement to see the other half of the family and you get an insider’s vacation experience rather than a touristy one. The kids get to play with their cousins and meet aunts and uncles and whatnot. It’s a BIG trip. Very memorable. Photos and albums and whatnot. I think it rounds the kids out more.

The bad things creep up on you slowly. We only have one set of grandparents close by for babysitting and visiting. When something bad happens in New Zealand… I can’t really do anything but know about it. I basically lost contact with everyone I knew there for ages upon ages until finding people on Facebook a couple years back. I didn’t realize how losing my entire social network was going to affect me. Looking back I realized dad could have probably made a few phone calls and seriously helped get me a pretty decent starting position somewhere. For a long time I was behind Jennifer in earnings and that was just weird to me.

The most important thing you can do is make a decision to be in one country or the other and just stick with it. There’s good and bad in every country, you’re just picking your poison. If you try and ping-pong between the two places it’s hugely expensive and unless you’re moving for a juicy promotion, you’re hurting your career advancement. Plus moving really screws with the kids.

The separate country marriage is a double or nothing gambit. If it’s good, it’s really good. If it’s bad, it’s really bad.

In-laws are critical. We both have understanding and good parents. I think if either set was nutty it would be vastly harder.

Being similar to each other is important. Aside from the differences in country, Jennifer and I are quite similar. It’s not good to be exactly the same as each other, but some differences are fun and create a little friction that keeps things fresh. But too much different and you run out of common ground and stop relating to each other.

In terms of going back to New Zealand… maybe. I’ve been back three times now and it’s always a really good, but slightly odd experience for me. Like I stumbled into Narnia by accident or something. We might retire there or something. We’ll see. We’re actually looking at a potential move to Dallas in about 2018 when the girls are in college.

Anyway… as long as we go together… we’ll always be home.  (Jennifer: happy mushy sigh…)

 

Jennifer:  The girls are minor celebrities at school every time they go on a trip to New Zealand.  They have a wider appreciation for the world, and understand that not everyone lives the same way.  It’s the little things that they pick up on too…like loving being somewhere where they could walk to town to go to a restaurant or shopping (the whole cafe culture thing…love it!), and the fact that their cousins could go to school with no shoes on and not get in trouble for it!

 

 

 

Girl Thinking About Having Coffee With Plate Spinning Ex-Boyfriend

Plate Spinning = The practice of a single guy keeping multiple women in a soft harem arrangement. Initial effort to get each woman up to speed and spinning on the end of his… er… stick… and then consistent occasional effort split between them all to keep them all up in the air for him.

Anyway…

From the forum… behold the hamster wheel doing this…

Sparrow:  Yesterday was…a trip. This is a bit disjointed; I’m in an emotional tailspin and just bought a bag of cookies. I could use some advice. Even if the advice is: Sparrow, you’re an idiot. And, wait, you acted like that? And, what is your SR again? Just, please, if you do think I’m being that silly, please tell me why I’m being an idiot and not just “yep. Silly birdie.”

Some background: I once dated what is commonly referred to as an asshole alpha. I (unknowingly) shit tested him into beta. I kept breaking up with him and we got back together three times in three years. To this day, I’m not sure if he’s emotionally abusive or has some kind of Cluster B issue. I think it’s a strong possibility, but I also know that, especially towards the end, I was being a bitch. After last breakup, I spent a fair amount of time apologizing because I figured out I was a bitch. Including once, memorably, on my knees. Yes, I did the whole submissive posturing thing. Apology accepted. Then I went abroad for a year (and got more religious over the period of time). Thought I was done with the cycle. During that time, my former best friend carried on an fwb situation with the fellow at the same time he was e-mailing me asking to make up.

I know I handled a lot of it badly. We started dating when I was 19. This was the second guy I ever kissed. Aside from all the emotional stuff that went on, the physical stuff (sort of sex?) was…Really Good. Ok, so I pretty much went from 0 to 500 in this relationship, and have no real basis of comparison, but as far as I can tell, sex type stuff was really good for both of us. Emotionally: good to ok to godawful. Chemistry: through the roof.

Eventually, sort of made up with the friend. She asked me to be a bridesmaid at her June wedding (she’s engaged to a different guy). *sigh* I said yes. Except, she also wants my ex boyfriend in her wedding party. The guy is a starving musician trying to make it big and currently has a harem of six, not counting the ONS. She asked me to play nice. So, Monday, we were all in the same place at the same time. I’m so much on edge that I can barely think straight, but I did my best to be friendly. Boy tries to give me (and assorted other female types) a hug before he goes; I take a step back. Boy asked if he could call me to get a cup of coffee next time he’s in town.  I said: ok.

I called later that night because I wanted to understand what his intentions were. After some phone tag, he said he missed having me as a friend in his life and would call about the coffee next time he were in town. Except…we never did well as friends. That’s one reason why we kept getting back together.

So I’m confused. Is he actually serious about the coffee? I’m a bit skeptical about the friend bit, but he’s also incurably honest. Is he trying to gloat? Be friends? Add me to the harem? Get back together? And how much are regular awesomely good sexytimes worth? I don’t know if you want to label this as, “idiot hamster can’t step away from alpha,” or “ex-stupidity,” or, “bad relationship cycles,” or “what’s the worst that could happen?,” or “men and women can’t be friends” or “Sparrow thinks about sex too much” or “get out and date other guys” or what. I’d just like to know what you guys think is going on. Help?

Athol:  Oh coffee…. why are you so delicious?

It sounds like you have a lot of attraction for him, but it never sounds like it was a good relationship with him. You can’t be his friend, because you’re attracted to him and he isn’t remotely interested in just being your friend, so it’s always going to escalate in the direction of the bedroom. You may have tested him into Beta at the end of your last try with him, but if he’s spinning six plates these days, I doubt he’s going to revert to that for you. So your relationship options are (1) A 4th round of a really bad relationship, or (2) don’t have a relationship with him.

Anyway, I’d write more, but I’ve had this song waiting in the wings for the correct post for THREE YEARS.

Oh and @ your girlfriend… having the prior (?) fuck buddy in the wedding party. Stay classy girlfriend.

Religious and Political Differences: How to Raise the Kids?

Reader:  I’m sure you’re busy so I’ll try to make this brief. Girlfriend, mutually in love, happy relationship (not quite 1.5 years), talking about marriage and eventual children. Nearly all points in your Chapter 28 are met beautifully. Important differences: 1) I’m strongly libertarian, she’s stubbornly liberal; 2) I’m agnostic leaning toward Christianity, she’s Jewish and, well, Jews don’t do Christianity (so she says). Neither one of us are severely politically active. We prefer to keep our beliefs to ourselves, so these differences have been minimally problematic in our commitment-free, children-free pre-marriage state. But when it comes time to raise children and lead a household, I intend to inculcate my children with my values. On fundamental issues, I don’t see where I can bend and I don’t care to. However, encouragingly and impressively, she is beginning to come out of that reflexively liberal mindset in which she was raised.

But what to do? Shall we accept that maybe not everyone in our hypothetical future family will be on the same political and spiritual boats? Should we give it more time and see whether we come to see more eye to eye on things?

From your own experience and your nearly limitless opportunities for observation of others’ relationships, how divisive do you think such differences could be in the long run? I’m sure the right course varies greatly from case to case, but what questions would you consider? What are some specific points she and I could examine together to figure it out?

Thanks for any help. Of course, your contributions to a sane perspective on relationships have already been valuable help.

Athol:  Well you also have to understand that you will both change too. When I met Jennifer I was the guest speaker for a Christian retreat weekend. Now I’m an atheist. Jennifer has softened her religious views over time too. For all you know you’re going to going to turn into a Zen Buddhist Republican fifteen years from now. Then what?

If you can agree together to educate your children in knowledge of both faiths – Jew and Christian aren’t that oppositional in terms of content – and then allow them to choose, then that’s the solution. The kids are going to choose what they want to do anyway. Your job as parents is to educate, not to “win”. Nothing like forcing it down their throats to make them rebel against it.

You’re actually going to find the basic behavioral approach to parenting the most effective anyway. “When the mess is cleaned up… then we can go to the park.”  “If you throw a tantrum, you don’t get rewarded for it.”  “Sometimes when you’re good, we’ll randomly reward you.”   That isn’t a religious or political thing. Works for everyone too. Works for cats, dogs and killer whales as well.

You’ll find as the kids get older they will make their own choices. My youngest is mildly interested in church, mostly because she likes being part of a group of nice people. My oldest actually has a highly negative reaction to religious services, believing everyone around her is having a mass psychotic episode and is genuinely made anxious by it all. Which considering it was a Lutheran service was pretty funny. I can’t say we’ve done anything differently for either one of them either.

Hope that helps.

 Oh… seems like she’s a go to more seriously consider marrying if this is the worst issue you can dream up.

Oh yeah… trust me on this one too. By the time they are teens, the only moral / religious / political issue you’ll really care about in relation to your kids is that they don’t start having babies in high school.

 

Empathy and Helping Others: Capacitor vs. Conduit

Comment on yesterday’s post, You Can’t Fix Their Problem.

J:  Very true, Athol.  The Strengthsfinder test shows Empathy as a strength.  To me it feels more like a weakness, because I feel other people’s emotions as if they were my own.  I’m 37 and still trying to figure out how to put my empathy into action without hurting myself.

Athol:  Undeveloped empathy is a pain in the ass and a classic trait of Nice Guys fast tracking the Betaization approach to a sexless marriage. And trust me… I get it. Someone else hurts and you feeeeeeeel it inside you. You just feeeeeel you have to do something and help them. Or you will feeeeeel awful. There is a solution though.

 You have to learn the difference between being a capacitor and a conduit or empathy will drain you into a lifeless, negative, depressed person very quickly. I don’t often talk about personal energy as I think it might be a side tracking concept for many people, though it’s definitely a vital “under the hood” reason of why the MMSL approach works. In this case though it’s the direct issue at hand so gotta talk about it.

In short, everyone has some sort of energy level ranging from high to low. People with higher levels of personal energy are more attractive than people with lower energy. Half the point of advising physical exercise when running the MAP is simply to raise the energy levels of the person. You end up looking and feeling happier and more attractive. Both the looking and the feeling are positive attractors.

We all know some down in the dumps person who never does anything but complain and we all like to route ourselves around dealing with them if possible. Likewise we all know some bright, perky, active and happy person who is active and engaged with the world that we like to seek out. Unless of course we’re the depressed grumpy person… because who can stand happy people when you’re unhappy. People of like energy levels tend to seek each other out. Half the point of the MAP is to raise your energy level so that your spouse raises theirs.

Incidentially, that raised energy level for people running the MAP often pays off in unexpected ways. People running the MAP to fix their marriage often report that things have gotten better at work, with their kids, the house is cleaner, they finally finished some other stalled project and so on. Fixing any problem in your life also helps fix every other problem in your life in a minor way too.

Anyway…

Personal Energy = your time, effort, money and mood.

A capacitor is something that can gain a positive charge and then release it… but once the energy is released, it’s delepeted of energy and needs a new source of charging. A conduit is simply a waypoint for an external energy source to flow from one point to the other.

When you feel emotionally moved by someone else’s problem and seek to solve it, if you act like a capacitor, you are using up your personal energy to create and maintain a solution. Basically energy moves from you to them. It’s a one way trip and while they can be better off for it, you end up being drained. Plus, because you are the source of their solution, they will return to you for yet more of your energy. Helping people can create unintentional dependency as you become part of their energy system.

When you try and solve a problem as a conduit, your job is simply to make yourself available as a tool for them to solve their own problem, using their own energy. You’re providing knowledge, advice, insight… basically providing a connection. You’re there to help remove blockages from their energy system. Sometimes you do use your own energy to jump start another system, but that’s to get it running under its own power again, rather than you continuing to power it.

So if you are particularly empathic, the solution isn’t to withdraw from the feelings of other people’s problems. The solution is actually to widen your scope and find out everything about the person and the problem at hand. Try and see the big picture of what empowers them as individuals and as a couple. What the true deep needs are. Find out the history of the relationship… what things were like when it was good… what was happening when things went wrong. If you can see the relationship/problem as an entire energy system, very often the blockage point is easy to find. Sometimes there’s more than one. This is why I ask for information on the entire relationship history, all the medical issues and medications, the emotional shock points, is there someone outside the relationship siphoning energy off the primary relationship? Then you’re looking to reconnect the relationship over that broken area, rather than you trying to resupply power to the entire thing from the outside.

So widen your scope. Open yourself further to your empathy and experience the total landscape of emotions and actions in others. Once you identify the problem area… let the other person solve the problem. By solving their problem for them, it makes you tired and them dependant on you.

And to be quite blunt, some people are just energy vampires. Just keep demanding they solve their problem… sometimes they will, but mostly they just start leaving you alone. Either way, you win.

Oh and hey…

May the Really Really Weak Force be with you.

 

You Can’t Fix Their Problem

Somewhat based on a conversation with my youngest daughter.

Some of us are just wired to have more empathy for others than usual. If you’re one of those sensitive types, when someone else is in pain, it’s easy to get sucked into the situation emotionally and want to save the other person from their problem.

The truth is though that most people don’t actually want to solve their problems, they just want to talk about them. So when you get hooked into the emotion of their problem, their problem might not end… even if it makes them unhappy. So if them being unhappy makes you unhappy, you might be unhappy for a long time.

Most times the other person already knows what they need to do to start solving their problem. When I help people with their marriages, about half the time the person asking for help tells me that they had already started doing what I was going to tell them to do. I talk about getting in shape a lot and often people had already started that a few months before finding me online. People don’t always need more information, they just need to get into action and start working with the knowledge they have.

So your friend that moved away to a different state and doesn’t have any new friends where she moved… she already knows how to make friends. She just needs to start doing it. Say hi to someone. Invite someone over. Say she wants to see a movie and ask if anyone else wants to come. It won’t fix overnight, but she could get started. She just chooses not to. There’s nothing you can really do to make her change her mind about that either. One day she’ll just be tired of her choice and change her mind and start making friends again. If you’re going to be unhappy until she makes friends, you might have a long wait until that happens. You won’t be able to have any control over when that happens either.

Just offer your advice and maybe she follows it, and maybe she doesn’t. Either way it’s her choice and her outcome. Her friendships or lack of friendships don’t directly affect you on anything but your emotional level based on your empathy. What you’re really reacting to is being able to feel what it’s like to not have friends yourself. You’re imagining what she’s feeling and it feels real to you. Unfortunately she’s probably only telling you the “complaining and just talking about the problem” aspect of her life. I bet she never tells you about the time school was fun, or she had a good time at the mall with a new friend. I suspect that when she really gets happy with her life, you’ll probably never hear from her again.

There’s always going to be people around you that are unhappy and having a bad time of things. Every day of the week, someone at school is going to be having a terrible day. Feeling hurt, lonely, mad, lost and confused. You can’t save everyone and you can’t make everyone happy. One of the things that you risk by always being the one who will listen to people’s problems… is that people will seek you out to tell you their problems… because people like telling their problems to people who will listen. Mostly because it makes them feel like they are doing something about the problem, when they aren’t.

In my case it’s fine that people tell me their problems because that’s all part of what I do. Even then, most of my advice can be summed down to “Stop putting up with that crap, and do something about it.” Even doing the wrong thing in a response to a problem can often solve it better than just complaining about it. Action beats talk every time. It’s not so much that talk is bad, but that it covers up the lack of action so the negative energy of problem continues. Actions carry a far more positive energy, which is why even the wrong action can somehow work to solve a problem anyway.

Also at school there are people who are paid to look after the kids. There’s teachers, nurses, counselors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, crossing guards and a principal. It’s not your job to ensure that all the kids are fine 100% of the time. If you see a real problem, just report it to one of the people responsible for the kids. Rather than worrying about it yourself, you can do far more good for a kid in real trouble by telling a teacher – that’s your problem solving action. It’s your job to get to school on time, get good grades and complain that there’s too much homework.

The truth is that most people in the world are pretty selfish… which is just fine… because it means that they are pretty motivated to take care of themselves. You need to have a little faith in the selfishness of people. Left to their own devices most people try and make the world a better place… if only their little part of the world.

So. Do what you’re meant to be doing. Report the bad crap you see to the adults. Have a little faith that the universe will unfold as it should. Oh and clean your room.