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Friday, May 31, 2013

The Official 2013 Wedding/Friendship Matrix

There's nothing like the wedding season to find out just where you rank in your friend's life. Will you rate an invitation to the engagement party? Are you supposed to plan the bachelorette night? Will you make the cut for an official wedding invite, and, if so, are you on the A-list (first on the wedding guest list) or on the D-list (included only after the happy couple's top three choices for your slot have declined the invite)? And, most important of all, do you feel that your soon-to-be-married friend is worth the expense of an airline ticket, hotel room, rental car, wedding present, new outfit - all to get 5 minutes of face time and a fuzzy first dance photo on your iPhone that you immediately post to Facebook? You need answers, so here is the Wedding/Friendship Matrix!

Inner Circle: You're in-the-know, almost like a wedding chief of staff. You're close friends with the bride or groom, and you were probably among the first few to ask, "is this The One?" when your friend started dating this person. You were among the few to receive a phone call directly from your friend within the first 24 hours of their engagement. You know the wedding colors, the wedding theme, and the first dance song. You've given up your weekends in order to accompany the bride or groom to select their wedding dress or wedding tux, and to lend your taste buds to wedding cake selection. You stay behind to help clean up after the engagement party, and you meticulously plan the bachelorette night. You're definitely in the wedding party and you can bustle the bride's wedding dress in your sleep! You'll remember her purse with the lip gloss, her phone, and her mini roll-on perfume, and you'll hoist up her dress when she has to pay a visit to the ladies room. You'll dance like it's "Flashdance" with the other bridesmaids and you'll mug for any camera pointed near you. You'll always have extra bobby pins for the bride and when the last dance is danced, you'll dash back to the hotel for a quick change so you can arrange for the after-party at the hotel bar, and you'll wake up early enough to join the newlywed couple and their family for the day-after brunch.

Expect to be invited to: engagement party, bachelor/bachelorette party, bridal tea, rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony and reception, wedding after-party, post-wedding day brunch

Supporting Cast: While you might not be in the Inner Circle, you orbit around the Inner Circle. Maybe you're a super-close co-worker with the bride or groom-to-be, or you're a sorority sister or fraternity brother who grab beers together after work, take in a baseball game, and are invited out to celebrate each other's birthdays. You might not have been there when the groom was picking out the ring, but maybe you were there when your friend introduced their significant other to the group. You don't know how to bustle the wedding dress, in fact, you're not in the wedding party, but you're sitting wedding party adjacent at the reception and you can smile knowingly through the toasts with all of their inside jokes. You'll hit the dance floor HARD, and you'll get several rounds of shots going. You'll know not to let boozy Aunt Rita anywhere near the gin, and you'll stay long after the cake cutting. 

Expect to be invited to: bachelor/bachelorette party, wedding ceremony and reception, wedding after-party, post-wedding day brunch

The Fringe: If you're working The Fringe, then, chances are, you're an old friend who possibly knew the bride or groom-to-be during elementary school or high school, before a job opportunity caused one of your families to move away. You've reconnected over the years, thanks in large measure to Facebook, and there have been the occasional Fourth of July barbecues and other large events with a cast of thousands on the guest list (including a high school or college reunion). Your invitation to the wedding, then, is really a tribute to the ghost of your friendship past, and, as such, you can just sit back and enjoy. You'll have zero responsibility, and if there's a buffet with a top shelf open bar, then live it up. Just don't go overboard or you'll never eat wedding cake in this town, again!! As for seating, while you obviously won't be in the Inner Circle seating or in Supporting Cast seating, the bride or groom will try to logically place you - so you may just end up at a table with the other Fringesters. One thing is for sure, in The Fringe, attendance at the wedding is OPTIONAL!!! (that was my Oprah voice:) So if the flights and hotels are economically out of your reach, opt for something nice from their gift registry and a heartfelt card.

Expect to be invited to: engagement party (if it's back in the "old neighborhood" where you grew up and where your Fringe friend and his/her Fringe mom and dad still live), wedding ceremony and reception, wedding after-party

The Outer Limits: Have you ever received an unexpected wedding invitation in the mail from someone you sort of know? Well, welcome to The Outer Limits! Friends who occupy this realm are either surprised that this relationship even exists, or they're annoyed that they're not already in the Inner Circle. You've got the worst seats for the cake cutting, but you're close to the kitchen or the bar or the bathrooms or the exits. Your table is comprised of you, your date, and 6 empty place settings, or a rogues' gallery of oddball cousins that don't even fit with the bride or groom's families. Do yourself a favor and don't go. You'll save yourself the aggravation of forced, canned laughter over the tedious, insidery toasts, and you'll save the happy couple from having to constantly ask each other for the next 50 years or more of their married life just who in the hell was that couple at the cousins table!! As for the gift, don't get the most expensive item on the gift registry. Hell, don't even go for the mid-priced items. 

Expect to be invited to: well, nothing. 

I hope this helps and happy wedding season!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The "Here We Go Again" File: Newlyweds and Reality TV

Not so long ago, in late summer of 2003, the world (well, at least the part of the world that watched MTV) was introduced to former boy-bander Nick Lachey and his wife, pop princess Jessica Simpson. She was the buxom "dumb blond" known as much for her purported virginity and controlling daddy/manager as her singing chops, and Nick was the level-headed, down to earth chap who tolerated Jessica's naivete bordering on idiocy. He laughed at her, we laughed at them, and after 41 episodes of their televised marriage (and 3 years of their ACTUAL marriage), the pair filed for divorce. And while the two have moved on to other partners, the damage was done, and soon, like lambs led to the slaughter, other couples signed up for their 15 minutes of fame and reality TV marital curse was born.

Bravo's "Real Housewives of Orange County" launched in 2006 (a.k.a. the year that Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's divorce was finalized) and a whole new crop of husbands and wives were spilling the inner workings of their relationships on basic cable. By the end of the first season, marriages were on the brink, and now, seven years later, all of those first season Orange County marriages have ended. In fact, in successive iterations of the  "Real Housewives" franchise, reality TV marriages from Beverly Hills to Atlanta to Washington, DC, New York, New Jersey and Miami have continued on the fast-track to reality TV divorce. 

So, we've all learned a valuable lesson, right? 

Marriage + reality TV = bad news

Apparently, I'll need to adjust the learning curve because Bravo debuted a new show called simply, "Newlyweds: The First Year" which puts four newlywed couples in front of the cameras for the first 365 days (and nights) of their marriages. There's John and Kathryn, the former independent city gal who left the mean streets of Manhattan for the life of a stay-at-home wife with a honeymoon baby on the way. Tarz and Tina - he, a tech entrepreneur and she a Bollywood actress looking to have a baby before her biological clock stops ticking. Blair and Jeff - the handsome gay couple overcoming Jeff's painful rejection by his family. And, lastly, Alaska and Kim - the A&R rep for a music label and his stylish stylist wife, torn between the east and west coasts, and struggling for control in their marriage. 

So why would anyone sign up for this? What would possess two people who have committed themselves to a partnership eternal to allow cameras access to every fight, every pregnancy test, every eye roll, every empty toilet tissue roll, dirty bath towel, and unintended slight? I don't have an answer, but, for those of you with dreams of spilling the beans about your marital habits on camera, DON'T! 

Look, I'm a married woman and I have lots of friends who are married, as well, and the one thing that a marriage definitely doesn't need is an audience. Your marriage is not a play, it's not a movie - if it was, you'd have better writers and your choice of actors and actresses to stand in as a body double for some of those close-ups. Like Ben Affleck's Academy Awards acceptance speech, marriage is messy, in that there generally are no clear-cut winners and losers. There is commitment and love and partnership, and they form the boundaries within which the chaos and challenges of lives lived together exist. A camera is not a silent, objective witness that can settle your domestic clashes, but the couples featured on reality TV treat the camera as such. Instead of building love and trust and good communication with each other, reality TV couples argue their case before the camera, and, once the episode airs, before the social media universe. True intimacy is destroyed as viewers line up behind Team Kim or Team Alaska. 

Now, if you think that I'm anticipating an epidemic of more reality TV-induced divorces, I'm not. But, I am concerned that the bad habits of reality TV might have filtered into our everyday lives. Pay a visit to YouTube and you'll see thousands of videos in the "promposal" genre, an adolescent off-shoot of the unique proposal phenomenon that has been going full-steam over the past few years. This isn't cute - it's a cry for help that you shouldn't click to view. I'm just saying:)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Swirl: What "Scandal" and Olivia Pope Say About Black Women and Interracial Relationships

This week, the cast of ABC's top-rated political drama, "Scandal", was on an all-out media blitz for the series' season finale. During one of the stops, to Bravo's Watch What Happens, actor Tony Goldwyn, who plays the role of hunky President "Fitz", was asked by host Andy Cohen what it's like to be lusted after by millions of middle-aged black women, to which Goldwyn responded with that easy Fitzian grin, "Exhausting."  In fact, over the course of numerous interviews about "Scandal", Goldwyn, as well as series lead Kerry Washington who stars as Washington "fixer" Olivia Pope, have all remarked about their surprise at the explosive reception of this show by television audiences. Black women, in particular, are drawn to the show, and have a particular kinship with Ms. Pope, who is a fearless, intelligent, articulate strong black woman who gets to also show her passion and her vulnerability. In a sea of neck-rolling, eye-rolling, weave-heavy reality TV "stars", the fact that Olivia Pope isn't the typical black woman we get to see on TV makes her even more special.

But even more curious to us black women is the smoldering and forbidden love relationship between Ms. Pope and President Fitz. That it's 2013 and the only consistent black/white romantic story lines we see on American TV are "The Jeffersons" reruns, and the newly-canceled ABC sitcom, "Happy Endings" might have something to do with it. Yet, I think there's something more to our fascination with black/white interracial romance in general, also dubbed, "the swirl", and Olivia Pope and Fitz in particular. One of the fiercest battles that black women have faced has been around standards of beauty. Does my kinky hair make me pretty or ugly?  Am I less desirable because of my darker skin or my thicker lips? To bring the analogy to the music world - am I a Beyonce or a Kelly Rowland? Enter Olivia Pope - rocking her fierce press and curl, brown skin and plush lips. And there, admiring her, loving her, is Fitz - a handsome white man who happens to be the President of the United States. Not since Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker in the 2006 motion picture, "Something New", have we seen anything approaching a relationship like this between a black woman and a white man on film and TV.

In the annals of black/white interracial relationships, high profile black men and white women couplings have become almost the norm in professional sports, drawing knowing, frustrated sighs from black women. But when a white man chooses to date, and even marry, a black woman, then attention must be paid. Think about it this way: this man could have dated and married a white woman, whose attributes are seen as the standard for beauty in western civilization, but he chose a "sister"!!?? When it was revealed that Brad Pitt had once dated Robin Givhan, you would've thought that it was VE Day 1945 for black women. Here was a legitimate Hollywood heartthrob who had dated a black woman, had taken her out in public. Actor Robert De Niro - a certified A-lister - is the patron saint of black women with his gorgeous black wife, Grace Hightower, by his side. These relationships provide validation, but validation of what?

At the core of everyone is the need to feel loved for who you are. In the fictional President Fitz, we see a white man who loves a black woman for all of who she is, and not despite those things. Who loves this black woman more than he loves his white wife. And even though the crossing of this great racial chasm is rarely voiced by the characters on "Scandal", it permeates how the audience receives the show, and how a particular segment of the show see themselves in Olivia Pope's shoes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Living Life On Purpose

I'm sure that every parent who read Angelina Jolie's powerful essay in Tuesday's New York Times hugged their own children just a little bit closer. Almost every parent feels that deep sense of connection to their children, but they also feel something more all-encompassing - a deep sense of purpose. A parent might have the world's worst boss, but they tough it out in order to provide financially for their children. You might suffer a two-hour, one-way commute to work if the neighborhood in which you live is in a highly coveted school district that provides access to the special programming needs for your child. These are the choices that you make for a life lived with purpose.

As someone who is married and child-free, I used to think that all of my friends with children, living lives deprived of sleep/sex/money while raising your little ones, had it easy.You have a living, breathing reason to get out of bed every morning (and in the middle of the night, sometimes). You may hate your job/boss/commute, but you love your child, and so with that deep sense of purpose you suck it up and smile when that pint-sized person hugs you and calls you daddy/mommy. Purpose puts you on a flight with a five-year old so that you can visit Disney World and lunch with the princesses. Purpose makes you put on a pair of cargo shorts and become the den mother to your daughter's Brownie troop. Purpose makes you dash out of the house on Sunday mornings in order to get your 4-year old to the Sunday school class that she adores. Purpose, literally, puts you behind the wheel of an unflattering minivan so that can play chauffeur for your three kids and the grind of Saturday sports clinics/swim practices/ballet lessons/karate classes. Want to question your existence?? Try finding the time!

For the first 20 years of my life, I was consumed with getting into the right college and then getting into graduate school. My purpose, then, was about making my parents proud of me and having fun with my friends. But, what happens when you don't have any purpose? Well, it ain't pretty, I can tell you that. It's a bit like walking through a fog, a very dense fog.

The first time I felt this was when I was in seminary. I was single, in my early twenties, and I was discovering that a career in the clergy wasn't for me, while all around me were dozens of my classmates who were happily vibrating with purpose. I had some serious purpose-envy! I felt hollow and lost, and as my old college friends began to find their professional footing and started pairing off, my life felt more episodic and chaotic than ever. They were planning conferences and weddings and what was I doing? From there followed what looks like a parabola, with peaks of purposeful periods followed by steep valleys where I was left pondering the meaning of my life. When I met the man who is my husband, I don't know what I was more excited for - finding a man I loved who loved me, or having someone in my life who needed me.  I had a renewed since of purpose in my life, but was it enough?

Over the past year I've grappled, again, with this question of purpose, so instead of looking at my friends who are parents, I looked, instead, to my unmarried and child free friends. For them, purpose takes many different pathways. Some have found their purpose in their job, working in fields that serve to benefit their community. A dear friend of mine who was trained as an actor chose to become a registered nurse, allowing him to heal body, mind and soul. Another friend is working to find the link between rogue proteins and the diseases they may cause in order to find cures for everything from heart disease to Alzheimer's. Other single friends of mine devote their free time to volunteering with outreach groups who assist those who need a helping hand, or serving on boards of nonprofit groups that seek to solve the crises of hunger or domestic violence or early education. And some find their purpose in taking care of their aging parents.

So where had I gone wrong in my search for purpose? I had assumed that purpose would just come to me, that there would be husband/children/family and, aha!, there would be my purpose. But to live life with purpose means that you live life ON purpose. Finding your purpose is not random, as I had thought. It is, instead, opening yourself to that deep feeling of love and joy that connects us each to one another. I do have purpose in my life. It might not look like it does in anyone else's life, but that's the thing about purpose - it is as unique as we are.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hope, Love and Purpose: Angelina Jolie and the Meaning of Life

This past Mother's Day, I sat in church and listened to Bishop Edwin F. Gulick, Jr. of the Episcopal Church deliver a sermon about baptism. In it, the Bishop referred to the three gifts of the rite of baptism - hope, love and purpose. But with today's revelations from actress Angelina Jolie about her double mastectomy, I think that hope, love and purpose are also the gifts of life lived in relationship to one another. For the millions of women who are mothers who read Ms. Jolie's New York Times op-ed, that her children were the reasons why she made the painful choice of a rigorous three-month course of surgeries came as no surprise to them. And for the millions of us women who are not mothers, we, too, understood. While outsiders looking into our lives may choose to define us by our large breasts or our long legs or by our rock hard abs, we can only be truly defined by the choices that we make for those we love. Philosophers, poets, and musicians have rung their hands and exhausted countless dictionaries to find the meaning of life, when really, all they ever needed were three words - hope, love and purpose.