committing to stay connected

It seems to me that there is a really large group of people (young professionals? academics? anyone with specialized career training? Americans? anyone in the globalized world?) who have moved far away from all their family members and close friends to attend the right schools and get the right jobs (or any job at all). After each completed degree or career segment, we've moved again, and even when an individual stays in one place, most of their friends move away. We are geographically separating ourselves again and again from the people we love. All that moving around has its benefits, of course. We've experienced different cultures and climates; we've met people that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to; we know people in every state in the country and many countries around the world. But all that moving around also has its drawbacks--we are often isolated and lonely.

I have some really good friends here, and if I really needed help, I'm sure they would come through for me. But still, I feel like my support system is not here; it is spread all over the country. I've lost the real connections I had with some of the people who have impacted my life most profoundly, and I think that is a tragedy. And that has had detrimental effects on my mental state, my physical health, and my quality of life.

It seems to me that there was a point in history when community emerged on its own. There was a time when close proximity=close relationship. Neighborhoods were communities, and you lived in the same community throughout your life. But things are different now. You probably don't even know the people who live near you. Furthermore, there is something powerful about relationships that last over decades, spanning life changes and hardships, and when those relationships wane because of distance there is a loss. Given that this is our plight (re: geographic separation), we need to be pro-active about preserving relationships across distance. It seems to me that we now have to really make a commitment to be able to stay closely connected to one another.

Social media seems an obvious solution to this problem. And you all know that I'm a huge fan of social media. So, yes, I think social media can help. As long as your family and friends post about themselves, social media can do a pretty good job of keeping you informed on the major events and even the mundane details of people's lives. Social media can even be a tool for dealing with culture shock, so it does definitely provide some real form of connection. However, social media does not necessarily adequately fulfill the need for close relationships that I am discussing here. Perhaps it can for certain populations, but I think that the way social media is commonly used, it does not provide the sense of a personal support system that isolated people really need.

Therefore, in an attempt to address this problem in my own life, this fall I have made commitments with 9 friends and family members to communicate on a regular basis (and I am working on making a few additional commitments). Several of these commitments take the form of a promise to email each other on a specific day each week. With one friend, we committed to a weekly email plus one piece of snail mail each month. With my brother, it is a weekly video chat. With another friend, it is a video chat every other week. With another friend, our commitment is that we can't end one phone conversation until we have scheduled our next one. The plan is that these commitments will last for years to come.

I put these "pen pal dates" in my calendar as appointments that are just as important as class or meetings. (The first few commitments were email and snail mail, so calling these friends my "pen pals" seemed appropriate. The commitments have now moved beyond only writing, but the name seems to have stuck.) For me, putting the commitments into my calendar has been a really important move. I save time in my day to fulfill these commitments, and I have shifted my thinking to see these commitments as an important part of my self-care (just as important as eating, sleeping, and exercising). Staying connected and maintaining relationships is a useful and important way to spend my time.

I can already tell that these commitments are improving the quality of my life. I feel much more connected and whole than I did six months ago. My outlook is brighter, my ability to deal with frustration is greater, my thought life is not consumed with worrying about my career, and my stress level is lower. What is more, I feel loved. Not that I felt unloved before, but now I know that I am loved. I know that there are people who would worry if they didn't hear from my in a week. There are people who care about how my week has been, and I care about how their week has been.

Interestingly, when I approached each of these people to propose these commitments, in almost every case the person responded that they had been feeling isolated too. Almost every one of them told me that they had been needing to establish better connections. Isolation seems to be an epidemic, and I think that we need to do something to combat it.

If you are also feeling isolated, I would encourage you to make some commitments to stay connected with people. Be honest with yourself and your pen pal about your time/schedule, and don't over commit, but also be willing to see these commitments as important ways to spend your time. Do you think you'll try to make some commitments with people?

Or if you are already doing something to prevent isolation, I'd love to hear how you commit to maintain relationships with people far away. What has worked for you in the past? What hasn't worked?

wedding vows that do not assume the woman is property

Many, many things about weddings really bother me. So many of the symbols and rituals of traditional wedding ceremonies are left over from the age of women-as-property being passed from one man to another... and K & I are just not on board with that (as I'm sure you can imagine). So, in 2009, when K and I decided to get married, we wanted to be sure to do it our way. We wanted to demonstrated our respect for one another as equals, as well as our commitments to feminist and environmental ethics. Because of that, our wedding looked nothing like any wedding I'd ever witnessed.

We and our 11 guests stood in a circle on the beach in Santa Monica, and each element of the "ceremony" was carefully chosen to say, demonstrate, or honor something or someone in particular. The most important element of the "ceremony" was our vows, which we wrote from scratch over a number of weeks. We wanted our vows to be almost like our constitution, and on each of our 3 anniversaries, we have reread the vows to evaluate our efforts at abiding by these promises... and perhaps promised to redouble our efforts about some parts of them. These vows demonstrate our commitments and our perspectives of the world. According to K, "These vows are a public expression of what we want our lives to be."

These vows are not perfect, but we think they set up a framework for building a relationship that both feminists and environmentalists can support. We think these vows give a realistic plan for nurturing a healthy relationship between equals....and they seem to be working well for us. (And K is just really awesome.)

Question Time!

What elements of traditional wedding vows (or wedding ceremonies) have you found troubling? Are there any elements of our wedding vows that you find troubling (it's ok to be honest!)?

What elements of traditional wedding vows (or wedding ceremonies) have you really liked and found meaningful? Are there any elements of our vows that you really like or find meaningful?

limiting work hours?

This week I have been thinking a lot about how to achieve some balance between work, personal/familial necessities, and fun/relaxation. I think that my generation (Millennials) has blurred the lines between work and other aspects of life almost completely....and I am undecided about whether I think that is good or bad (for us and for the world). In this post I will point out some of the reasons I believe this burring is happening and then to offer some reflections on why it might be either good and bad. I believe the cause of this blurring has several dimensions.

First, Millennials have grown up without boundaries between their school and social lives. Facebook (and the internet as a whole) has done away with the idea that you can have separate spheres of relationships in your life. Instead, you must present yourself, in your entirety, to all audiences. Unless you are meticulous about your privacy settings, your Facebook profile is the same to all of your "Friends"-- your aunts and uncles, your best friends, your teachers, and your students. Zuckerberg engineered Facebook this way intentionally as a way to bring about "radical transparency." In summary, since our online lives do not have work/play boundaries, neither do our offline lives.

Second, we live in a world where capitalism rules supreme. Success is measured by your salary, the cost of your suit, and the brand of your car. Or, if you aren't quite there yet, success is measure by how many classes you can teach in a semester, whether you shop at the J.Crew Outlet or at Goodwill, and whether you can afford to go out to eat on Saturday night. Either way, the point is that your worth as a person is determined by your participation in capitalism...and if you aren't making much now, you are working toward that goal. Furthermore, your health only matters if it makes you look hot, because that sells. Your mental stability only matters if it means you can be more productive. Your relationships only matter in so far as they are called "networking" and can get you promoted.

Third, we inherited an expectation that we could have it all. A few articles have been written about this alright. Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a really good one in The Atlantic. You should read it. Her point is that we have been told by the feminists and powerful women before us, that we can have everything-- success in our careers, loving partners, well behaved children, own a beautiful home, and have enough money to vacation at a beach every year. So, we went out after those dreams. And since our self-worth was riding on it, when we learned that those things were hard to obtain, we just worked longer hours or took an extra job.

Fourth, just as Millenials began entering the workforce, the nation faced the worst recession in living memory. This resulted in pushing people to more firmly believe that they would need to work more hours for less pay in order to get (or keep) a job. And Millenials absorbed this message more than most. We didn't yet kids and our schedules were fairly open, so we jumped in to any job we could get with all we had.... because if we didn't, we thought we wouldn't have the job for very long...and we were probably right because everyone else was also willing to work far too long for far too little.

Thus are perhaps some of the causes of this blurring the boundaries between work and personal life.... but is this blurring good or bad?

The above description seems to suggest that it is bad. Here are some reasons this blurring might be bad:

  • We might get in trouble at our jobs for being unprofessional in our personal lives.
  • People in the past may have been able to say, "I failed at my career, but my life as a whole was still successful because of...." But when there is no longer a separation between work and the rest of life, we might judge our whole lives based on the success or failure of our careers.
  • Our physical, mental, and relational health is ignored, or at least drastically undervalued. And we therefore find ourselves with stress related health conditions.
  • We are constantly disappointed in ourselves for not being able to have it all.
  • We work constantly.... every hour of every day. And if there is an hour where you can't or don't work, you feel bad about it.

 

But I didn't really intend to write the above description with a negative slant, and my more thoughtful reflections are more ambiguous. Here are some reasons that this blurring might actually be helpful and good:

  • It offers us a chance to be our authentic selves with everyone. We no longer have to put on our professional persona at work and our nurturing persona at home. We can be an integrated persona in both places. My students can see my in my sweaty running clothes and know that I am a whole person with whom they can relate. And my (hypothetical) children could see me use my intellect and professionalism at home. All audiences can see my whole person, and I think that is good.
  • There is flexibility between work and personal life so that if one needs to take precedence at a given moment, it can. Staying home for a sick child or stopping work to go to yoga may not be such a big deal.
  • Success can be defined in a multi-demensional way that includes various aspects of life. Winning a professional award or getting a promotion is great, but maintaining a close friendship for ten years or getting a new personal best time for a half marathon is also great.
  • If we stop thinking about work as a separate part of life (re: drudgery that must be endured) then maybe we can enjoy our work more thoroughly. We can see work as a part of life that does not need to be minimized, but a part of life that we love (and ideally would do for free).

 

I have a lot more to say about these topics. I'm now thinking about possibly redefining what I mean by "work".... but for now, I think I'll stop. And I'd like to hear from you:

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