The Metamorphosis Restyled: A Newly Single Man

So your wife left you, huh? You poor thing! Here, let’s dry those tears and get you started on the path to feeling better… and you know what that means: it’s makeover time.

Don’t worry, this won’t hurt. In fact, if you’re like most men, you’ll come out of this break-up relatively unscathed. And if you follow these steps, you’ll find an ersatz wifey to clean up after your messes in no time.*

  1. The makeover can’t begin until you finally reach the realization that she’s gone. To get to that point, you have to spend a weekend getting smashing drunk and telling everyone you encounter what a terrible, horrible, awful bitch you were married to. It’s not attractive, but: Camaraderie. It’ll come in handy.
  2. Use this camaraderie to ask all your friends if they know any nice girls. Realize everyone you know is still married. Download Tinder “just to see what’s out there.” Take a lot of selfies in poorly lit places and swipe right on every picture. Just in case.
  3. While you’re still not really “feeling it” — still sleeping on your friend’s couch because you trust that at any moment, she’ll let you back in — stop taking care of yourself. Spend all your free time either at work or browsing Tumblr to get ideas on what men should look like nowadays.
  4. Stop cutting your hair.
  5. Grow out your facial hair. Beards and man buns are in, you know, and all that money you’ll save on hair cuts you can invest elsewhere.
  6. Like in sneakers. Nike Frees. The brighter and more colorful, the better.
  7. And jeans. Dark wash. Just a smidgen too big.
  8. And white Hanes T-shirts and a couple of button-downs. If you’re the Oxford type at work, make these “casual” shirts the flannel variety.
  9. Join a rock climbing gym, where you will go and hang out on the weekends once you discover that alcohol isn’t all it’s cracked up to be now that you’re middle-aged.
  10. Realize that shit, you’re middle-aged. Dial down the age limit on Tinder. Swipe right but never ever contact anyone.
  11. Get a tattoo. A sleeve.
  12. Start rolling up the sleeves on your flannel to show off your tattoos.
  13. Let your beard grow as long as you can. Learn how to use hair gel and beard oil.
  14. Find ways to show off the abs and biceps you’ve got now that you’re climbing. Lift up the hem of your Hanes to wipe the sweat off your brow. Switch out your gym Tees for tank tops. Be confident in your belief that someone somewhere has got to be paying attention to you.
  15. Start drinking green juice and eating chia seeds and ordering the vegan option extra loudly in every restaurant you go to.
  16. Learn guitar. Or Tango. Or basket weaving. Whatever it is that attracts the ladies nowadays.
  17. Hit on all your female co-workers. And babysitters. Basically any woman who crosses your path. One of them will say yes.
  18. After she says yes, take her to her place. If you can, take pictures. On your phone. Make sure your ex can discover them, sit back and wait for the lawyer’s papers.
  19. Pack up all your flannels, say goodbye to your friend and his uber-annoyed wife, and move directly from their couch to your new girlfriend’s bed.
  20. Complain to everyone about how your ex keeps asking for alimony. Tell your new girl how terrible your ex was and how you had never ever done anything to deserve her insane bitchiness. Beg for sympathy without ever taking any responsibility. Bathe in it. Sympathetic righteousness gives a glow unlike any other.
  21. With all that money you’re saving by living off your new girlfriend, buy a bike. Not just any bike. A lightweight fixxie. White. With thin tires and no gears that costs about the same as a car.
  22. Delete Tinder. Neglect Tumblr.
  23. Shave.
  24. Get a hair cut.
  25. Throw away the flannels.
  26. Get a new pair of Nike Frees, this time black.
  27. Cancel the rock climbing gym. You never have time for that anymore anyway.
  28. Order a big, fat juicy steak. And a liter of beer. Now that you’re partnered up, realize your vanity really was taking up a lot of time and energy that you’d rather expend doing other things. Like planning exotic vacations with your new girl.
  29. Slip back into the old routine of being taken care of. Leave your laundry everywhere. Show up late for dinner. Remind your new girl how much you hated it when your ex nagged.

Congratulations, you’ve come full circle. You’re the same old asshole your ex left. This time, though, don’t fuck it up.

*Though not based on my own personal experience, 6 of 6 new divorcees I have met in the last year have gone through exactly this process. I can tell you: it works. Unfortunately.

How to Parent Like a German, According to Time

1. Hang your children off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit.

2. Huddle with all the German parents drinking coffee and don’t pay attention to your kids.

3. Ignore Amis screaming “Achtung, Nein!” like the lunatics they are.

4. Do not be stereotypically strict (whatever that means) but instead “place a high value on independence and responsibility.”

5. Do not join the free range parenting movement because you’re already free range (tell that to the local news media here, which has just discovered the free range trend).

6. “Don’t push reading.” Or, in other words, let your kid’s teachers teach them how to read at school.

7. Don’t freak out when your kid gets two (two!) breaks to play outside during 4.5 hours of instruction (well aware of all the studies saying kids’ concentration levels dip after 45 minutes and are at a bottom after 90.)

8. Let your kid light off  fireworks on New Year’s.

9. Let your kid walk to school without you. Worry about traffic and not kidnappings.

10. Celebrate the kid’s first day of school.

11. Go outside everyday (see 1).

How’s your ranking on this list (condensed from and based entirely on this truthful bullshit in Time Magazine)? I failed miserably. Those Ami lunatics screaming Achtung get me every time.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch, du Arsch?

Another day, another expat writing about her inability to fit in in Europe. If she were a Mexican writing in Spanish but living in the U.S., there would be an uproar. If she were Tunisian writing in Arabic but living in Germany, there would be people calling for her to go “home.”

Because this immigrant on a spousal visa in The Netherlands speaks English as her first language, however, she regards herself as “cute” and her readers — worldwide but for a website based in New York — see her life as exotic, unique. It’s not.

It’s not cute to not be able to speak the language of the people around you. These people whose lifestyle you’re proud to be adapting to are not exotic. You are not unique. Your life is not enviable.

I know because I’ve been there, been through all the stages of being a foreigner in a country I’d always fantasized about living in. I thought I was cute. I thought Germany was exotic, my life unique. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Unlike many “expat” women, I did not come here for love and have the great German-language-speaking husband waiting for me here to handle the bureaucracy. I am not a traveling spouse. I did not get a shit ton of money and offers of language courses because my (ex-)husband had made some brilliant career back home and a three-year stint abroad was the most logical next step in a globalized world.

Although we arrived in Germany right after the integration courses became mandatory for immigrants, I somehow managed to talk my way out of them (likely because I spoke mediocre German, studying for a year before I arrived). By nature of his German citizenship, my ex wasn’t allowed to attend them, although he knew less about the country than I did and could barely order in a restaurant when we arrived.

I’m saying this because the opportunities for language learning were not handed to us in the way that they are to many English-speaking immigrants and yet both of us managed to become fluent in German. We managed to learn not only how to speak but also how the culture and society works and though some things — like the necessity of wearing slippers indoors and keeping your kidneys covered at all times — still baffle, it broke down a lot of barriers here. Barriers in our own minds.

I’m saying this because the level of willfulness that many English speaking immigrants who come here willingly show in their refusal to integrate has reached its peak and its getting frustrating to read.

Despite having a load of German journalists on hand in the country, the Wall Street Journal has its English-language correspondent tweeting about an inability to understand the concept of airing out your apartment. EVERYBODY IN GERMANY UNDERSTANDS LUFTING, JUST ASK A GERMAN. Their expat blog published a bit on the Sunday quiet rules. THIS SHIT HAS BEEN COVERED ALREADY, THANKS.

Get out of your expat bubble. Take a German course. Talk to a German. Stop bragging about your inability to speak the language and therefore fit in.

I’m not saying don’t keep up with your English. I’m not saying don’t hang out with the other ladies from the American Women’s Club nor am I telling you to stop watching your movies in English. Some things need to stay as they are, and we all know the dubbing in those movies is terrible. But at least fucking try. Enroll yourself in one of those ueber-cheap, over-filled classes at the VHS. Get yourself a tandem partner. If you have kids, have them teach you the language they can more easily pick up. Stop telling yourself that you are “genetically unable to learn a second language.” There is no such thing.

And for heaven’s sake, stop assuming that just because everybody speaks English to you that they don’t think you’re an asshole. It’s cute when you’re a tourist but not a permanent fixture.

Resilience: Poise Under Pressure

My best friend is away this week undergoing some obscene psychological test in which she will be fake kidnapped and in real life have to trek through mountains with little food and no sleep and a bunch of soldiers at her back just so they can test her resilience. When I talked to her last week, she wasn’t worried about it. She’d lived in Afghanistan for five years, been around bombings and her acquaintances there have been assassinated and though some of that stuff shook her up at the time, she’s kept going back.

It’s a test of that new buzzword in Germany — resilience — and it’s one I’m sure my friend will pass with flying colors. Her issues are not issues brought on by hunger or lack of sleep or too much exercise and her mental health is more stable than that of anyone I have ever known. Her worries are far beyond those that will arise on this weeklong adventure.

A couple years ago, I met a guy who ran these tests — they’re common for development workers and conflict reporters — and he said he was always surprised by the people who cracked and the things that made them crack. The toughest looking guy might only endure two days before using the safe word while the smallest and frailest would be the most psychologically sound after a week spent shivering, despite getting physically ill from the lack of food. The test, he said, brought out some issues in people that they themselves didn’t even know existed and was a good barometer for testing who could handle the difficulties of living in a developing country or war zone. You get a score at the end of the week and that determines what kind of placement you can get — hardship conditions and all.

Ever since I heard about this test, I was curious about what kind of score I would get. I once got mugged and fended off the muggers with my bare hands. Usually, faced with some sort of difficulty, I am the first to stand up and create an action plan and get ‘er done as they say. But this test… I don’t know. I can handle a night or two without sleep. I took care of a newborn by myself, got through the year-long phase of no sleep. Combined with a lack of food? I think I would get unbearable. Or maybe not. Maybe in a foreign, developing, country, where my basic survival needs were not being met, my mental state of affairs would be a completely different story.

In the book, “Brief an Mein Leben,” a former German speechwriter talks about her stay in a clinic in the Allgau after having a breakdown that she attributes to Burn Out. One of her assignments as part of the inpatient program is to stay awake for 48 hours. She does so and finds herself gorging on food she would never otherwise eat and gets really excited about it — precisely the reason her doctor has prescribed this. I can’t remember the explanation but it’s something like, if you stay awake long enough, you strip away all of the societal barriers and those sub-conscious things that are ruling your life and you get to know yourself and your needs/primal urges better so that you may, as part of your healing process, focus on them. It’s these primal urges that Maslov said are the basis of our self-actualization pyramid. When they falter, everything else does, too.

pyramidofneeds

The idea is interesting to me: bringing all that psychological nonsense going on beneath the surface to the top so you can recognize your core physiological issues while also maybe figuring out your purpose — that thing that makes you endure all the stress and still wake up the next day ready for more. If you strip away all the societal norms, what are you living for?

Right before my friend left for her adventure, we met up for a lunch that left us both in tears. Not because of the insanity that she was about to endure. But because of the mundanity of our everyday lives and the bullshit stress that is a part of it.  Because we both know the things that we want to live for but can’t strip away all those societal norms or find a way for our dreams to conform to them. We know we can endure even in the face of the most absurd psychological stress and yet it’s this every day bullshit that is unbearable. I didn’t need to march barefoot through the mountains to know that.

Dear Divorcee: The Litmus Test

Dear Divorcee,

I wonder if it is common for both parties in a relationship to feel the other is selfish.  Any quick litmus test to find who is to be blamed?

Yours,

D

First off, I have to say I’m so appreciative to D for writing. It takes a lot of guts to write to a complete stranger for advice, and I’m really happy my readers trust me enough to write something so personal. Especially since there’s so much y’all don’t know about me, this stranger you’re asking for advice.

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before is my complete and absolute inexperience when it comes to romantic relationships. The one and only serious relationship that I had ended in divorce after years and years of struggle. Did I think during those years of fighting that Herr Lederhosen was selfish? Beyond selfish, he was egotistical, egocentric.

In his eyes, I was just as awful. And most of the time, when he called me these words, I believed him. Not only believed him, I believed these words to be something awful. Like you, D, I confused selfishness with something else, something entirely negative and unhelpful. But truly, there is nothing bad about selfishness, about thinking about yourself. It’s necessary to survival.

Show me any person in any relationship who is completely selfless and I’ll ask when they applied for sainthood. Because no one, ever, is entirely selfless. It’s a myth, and a destructive one, that you shouldn’t be selfish in your life or in your relationship. In order for you to live, to experience those things meant for you to experience, you have to be able to both know yourself and to express your needs. To think about yourself. That’s what being selfish is. Knowing who you are, who this self is, knowing what you need and want and also knowing what your boundaries are. Then setting those boundaries and sticking to them. That is being selfish and that is not bad.

I remember in one terrible blowout argument, after I told the Herr to get out and never come back, he opened that door with tears in his eyes and the look on his face hit me: “I am so selfish. I cannot continue in this marriage and for that, I am choosing myself over my partnership. How egotistical.” I felt awful. Still, I said to him, just as he was walking out the door: “I’m sure you can make someone else very happy. It’s just not going to be me.”

Ouch.

Not only the statement, but also the revelation… that I was putting my own needs for happiness ahead of our needs as a couple. It’s a falsehood that when we marry, we become first person plural and lose the first person singular. This becomes especially troubling for women when children come into a relationship. Moms often lose the “I” replacing it with “Mom” when really, once kids are involved, women especially need to be selfish, to remember their I. They need to get over the notion that they are sacrificing every part of themselves for the greater good of the family and get on with the selfishness required to maintain their happiness. That’s another story, though.

For every person, an acceptable level of selfishness in a partner is different, but that doesn’t matter, not if you know your partner well and you can agree on what her needs are and find ways to accommodate those needs without putting your own needs in danger. It’s called compromise and compromise comes when you are both selfish and still find ways to be together, to accommodate each others’ needs. Often, the problem we attribute to selfishness is a childish way of saying, “Me first. I want you to acknowledge my needs before your own.” The trouble comes when, in our partnership, those needs haven’t been made clear. And that’s most often what happens: our partners don’t often know what our needs are and how to accommodate them because we ourselves don’t know what our needs are or how to communicate them. Not until we’re in the midst of a battle, each accusing the other of being selfish.

What I needed and need from my relationship and my life most is to be happy. I need to write and need to work but I also need my alone time and my space. I need people in my life who are supportive and encouraging. I need you, as my partner or my friend, to understand that I don’t like to go out at night very often but when I do want to go, I really will have fun. I need stability, regularity, to be able to rely on you if you say you’ll do something. If you cancel on me too frequently or insist that I go to bars with you or beg me for attention when I am in writing mode or act like a moody son-of-a-bitch, then I have to be selfish and choose to not be around you. I have to put my needs ahead of our relationship because without these needs being met, I won’t be happy. And that’s my number one need: to be happy.

So my litmus test for you, D, is to test how well you know yourself. Make a list, what do you need, from yourself, from your partner, from your relationship. Think about it realistically — how can you get these things? Do you set aside one day to write without interruptions? Or do you tell your spouse, hey I don’t feel like going to the bar but dinner might be nice? And then you ask your partner to do the same. Do it at a time when you’re not fighting. Ask her, what do you need? How can I best accommodate that? And then be okay when she says, yo I need you to give me some space right now so I can clear my head. Know that these requests aren’t always about you, that your spouse is being selfish and accept that that’s okay.

Because in the grand scheme, the best way to view this word as if it were two self ish. Like just a little bit of self, not the whole way. Does that make sense?

And finally, to the blame part, I have this to say. In German, there is a word: blamieren. It’s a false friend for most English speakers. We would automatically substitute blamieren when we want to say blame. Ich blamiere dich. But that’s not right. The word for blame, vorwerfen, literally translates to “throw something at,” which is more apt. When I say, ich blamiere dich, I’m not saying, I’m throwing something at you (in this case, fault). Instead, I’m saying “I embarrass you.” And I think that although literally false, it’s technically true. Blaming someone is embarrassing. It’s shrugging off your own role in the communication that’s happening, when really, both of you are at fault. Always. That’s how it is in a relationship. It takes two to tango. And two to argue. And if your arguments are repeatedly doing that, repeatedly searching for blame, I’d say stop throwing it (fault) around. Just like you can’t strike out if a ball isn’t thrown, you can’t take the blame if it isn’t thrown. Stop the argument. It’s unresolvable.

Announcing Dear Divorcee

As the first divorcee among my friends, the trailblazer, if you will, I have somehow become the divorcing lady’s Ann Landers: a one-stop advice shop for everybody unhappy in their marriage. How did you find your lawyer? What are the German custody laws? Who do I get help from in finding a new flat? How do I get this asshole off my couch? All questions I wish I knew the answer to.

I have a friend who recently split from her husband. It’s normal: I’m middle-aged. I don’t go to weddings anymore and the birth announcements are coming less frequently. I am having conversations with friends about in vitro fertilization and retirement plans and impending divorces and all of this is happening before 8 p.m. on a weekend night. Anyway, said friend — we’ll call her Anna — well, Anna has been wanting to get divorced since before I even met her six years ago. She knew me when I was pregnant, knew that I hated my husband, counseled me on ways to get out of my marriage, supported me as much as she could during my split and all the while, she later told me, she was trying to plot the way out of her own unhappiness.

The most memorable thing Anna ever said to me: “It’s not about the 10 years you’ve got behind you. They’re lost. They’re gone. It’s the 20, the 30, 40 years ahead. Do you really want to be this unhappy the rest of your life?”

It was the first piece of advice that had resonated with me. Not: try a little harder, your marriage can be saved, as everyone else had been saying. No, Anna told me to either buck up or cut my losses. I realized later that she was giving me the advice she’d wanted to hear, something I couldn’t know at the time because I never knew how unhappy she was; where I pulled the plug, though, she pushed her chin up and plugged on. That is, until she left her husband a couple months ago.

Now she’s having a hard time getting out of bed. She’s staring down those 20, 30, 40 years ahead of her, looking at experiencing them all alone and it’s terrifying her. I won’t lie. The idea of being elderly and alone IS terrifying. The WNYC podcast Death, Sex and Money about living alone says everything that needs to be said about the matter. So when I ran into her the other day, looking ragged and admitting to having just rolled out of bed at noon on a Saturday (“I think I have to cancel Netflix so I can get some sleep at night,” she said to vehement nods from me), I gave her a bit of advice. Actually, I gave her a lot of advice. And it got me to thinking:

How many more Annas are out there, navigating their way through what most psychologists agree is one of the worst experiences of one’s life (just behind loss of a loved one, which on a scale of 1-100 is 100; divorce is 73)? How many people have hard questions about moving past what may very well be the simultaneously best/worst decision of their lives?

And so I decided, since I’m constantly doling out advice to people in real life, maybe I would make a habit of doing it virtually as well. So here’s your chance, people. Send me your questions (either via comments, which go through an approvals process or via email at mylifeinlederhosen at gmail dot com) and I’ll remind you of all the things you already know but weren’t willing to admit to.

The Meaning of (Mid-) Life

I had to go into the office yesterday for the first time in two months. I had two really important meetings, one with my agency and one with a client and you might think that with a lot at stake in these meetings, I could have been bothered to show up on time. I didn’t.

In Germany, showing up late is like thumbing your nose at someone and I guess, passive-aggressively, that was what I was doing. Not at the agency or the client, not directly. But it certainly was my way of saying that I find these meetings, this structure, this whole idea of my life revolving around work zum kotzen, as German Valley Girls might say. Work might bring meaning to lives. We might identify ourselves with our jobs. But as soon as we start making work the center of our existence, rescheduling other, more important things, then it’s time to rethink. Unless your job is saving the world. Or saving lives. We as individuals are not all that important. Our work is not as important as we make it out to be. No one is going to die if that interview with Manuel Neuer isn’t edited for grammar errors right this minute.

The rub of it is, though, every one of us is going to die. It’s the only certainty in life. And like us, that Manuel Neuer interview is eventually going to be filed in the annals of oblivion.

One of the memes that made the rounds last year that stuck with me was based on this book by an Australian hospice nurse, listing the five regrets of dying people. On the list: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Even before that book came out, I had made it my major goal in life to work as little as possible, especially while my daughter is young. I can do this at the moment. I am capable and well-educated and am damned good at what I do when I bother to do it and I have learned to live with/on little. For some reason, I have been able to sell my talents at a fair price very well and I have been able to negotiate the ability to do this from wherever I am at the time. Even after showing up late for very important meetings with very important people, people are buying what I am selling. This is a luxury, I know, but an important one for me to have.

You see, the reason I was late for that meeting yesterday? Because Diva needed extra cuddles in the morning. We had both woken up before the sun rose and we lay in bed together and she said, Mama, cuddle please, and when you think about life, about how fast the little ones grow up, how they won’t want these cuddles anymore soon, about how those cuddles are going to be the things you remember when your life flashes before your eyes, how can you say no? How can you say, yo sweets, there’s this meeting about budgets and editorial calendars that has to be taken care of at exactly 10 a.m. so let’s hustle on out of here?

I wasn’t thinking all of that yesterday morning; instead I was thinking, hey cuddling my kid is nice and fuck it if I’m late because: priorities. And I’m glad I got that extra cuddle in because as soon as I got out of those very important meetings in which nothing life-saving was accomplished and stepped into the elevator that would take me back down from the pie-in-the-sky world of work, I got a text letting me know the dad of one of Diva’s friends had died. A friend of mine, a woman not yet 50, a woman who only a few years ago could call herself a mother, is now a widow, and if that doesn’t make you rethink your life, your priorities, I don’t know what can.

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