Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The older I get, the more I realize my life is not about searching for love, or finding love, or falling in love. It's recognizing all the barriers that I've built up against it and learning to tear them down.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Out with the Old, In with the New

I have been making fun of Sean's car since approximately 46 seconds after he first picked me up in it. It wasn't horrible. It wasn't falling apart. It was paid for. But it also looked they way a child of four draws a car: a box, with wheels.

And over the years, we've laughed about how his car kind of suited him, the way mine suits me. I drive a Beetle (I'm on my 3rd Beetle since I met Sean 5 years ago, in fact). My car is fun, cute, curvy, and full of zip. I like to think it says something about me. It's not super practical. It's a two door with nearly no trunk. It's also a convertible, though this fact is irrelevant for 9 Canadian months out of 12. I love it to pieces.

Sean's car is more like Sean himself. It's big and comfortable and practical in every sense. He got a good deal on his Nissan Altima, paid it off quickly, and has driven it reliably for 8 years. But it's gray. And boxy. And what I would call "nondescript" meaning sometimes when I'm waiting for Sean to pick me up, I accidentally get into other, similar cars.

I get it. A car's a car. If it gets you from A to B, then who cares, right?
I think I used to believe that, but that was before.
Before I used to have a significant commute, for one thing.
And before I used to own a car, or even a driver's licence, which is probably telling.
Now that I have all of those things, I realize a car is not just a car.

It's a place where I'll be spending lots of time. There are some days I spend more time with Ruby (my car) than with Sean, or my dogs. So it needs to be comfortable. But it also needs to be something I feel proud about driving - this has helped turn a dreaded commute into something more enjoyable. I like driving my car. I like being able to scoot in and out of spots before other drivers can even get their signals on. I feel safe in her. I love how quickly she warms up in the winter, and I love how summer drives in to work can be repurposed into time in the sunshine. I love matching my lipstick to my car, letting my hair tangle in the wind, turning the volume up to 11 and taking a slightly longer route so I can drive by the water and feel the spray on my skin.

And I wanted the same for Sean. Not the exact same, maybe, but I wanted him to drive something worthy. And fun. And sexy, goddamnit. No more nondescript.

Because that's not my Sean. Yes, he's changed. And maybe some of that's because of me. But I think he's learned that there's more to life than being practical. We deserve to treat ourselves!
So I finally got him into a new car. A lovely new car. Which means his old one, which, defying family tradition, he did not drive literally into the ground, or have it gasp its last breath just as it chugs into the scrap yard, was up for grabs.

There are a couple of good options for donating your old vehicle. You've probably heard of Kidney Car - they will come to your home, tow away your car, and leave you with a tax receipt and a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that proceeds go directly to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, helping to fund research for kidney disease and bring awareness to organ donation.

Another good option is your local fire department. Fire department trainees use your old car to practice using the jaws of life. I had a serious car accident a couple of years ago, and I had to be cut out of my car. It's kind of a nice feeling to be able to give back to that - obviously, you hope you'll never need those services, but just in case, isn't it good to know they're prepared?

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Hidden Cost of Being a Woman

A curious thing happened in Paris - in the fanciest of places, I was presented with a menu. A menu I did not suspect was any different than the one being held by my husband but was, in a very important way.
Mine had no prices mentioned whatsoever; his did.

I didn't always notice this occurring, and perhaps sometimes it did not (my stomach doesn't vote by price, so I don't usually bother to check). But once I cottoned on to what was happening, I was intrigued.

What piece of tradition is this?

They're called blind menus or "Ladies' Menus" and operate under the assumption that since dinner is obviously the gentleman's treat, the lady need not worry her pretty little head over the vulgarity of price. This is a little silly since there are in fact prices listed on the man's menu, since presumably he may worry, but if his dinner companion doesn't know and goes ahead and orders the astronomically priced item, what is he to do about it except break out his credit card, pray that payment goes through, and order a salad for himself?

This sparked a little debate amongst my friends. Some felt it was a nice send up to chivalry. After all, you would remove the price tag from a gift that you give. Why not treat your special lady to dinner while doing the same? Of course, this places stress upon the woman too, because generally we'd like to be able to estimate the value of the gift so we know whether or not to accept it. We might, considering our companion's status and our own values, prefer to be able to make a choice in full knowledge of what it will mean to the bottom line, and not just at the bottom of our bellies.

And what happens if I've decided to treat him? What if we're splitting the bill? What if we're friends, or colleagues? How do you explain to HR a meal that goes way over budget -"Oh sorry, I'm just a girl and I didn't know!" And in the age of dual incomes and joint bank accounts, what does it even matter?

I suppose there are some people who couldn't enjoy a meal knowing its true cost, so maybe there's value in having one handy upon request. But when you're given one automatically, because you're a woman, what does that assume? What judgements are inherent? Obviously that I'm not paying. Maybe that I can't pay? That I'm not the head of household? That I don't have access to our financial statements? That I don't participate in budget making or breaking? That high prices would intimidate me?  What is the line between chivalry and chauvinism?

Have you seen these menus? Do they insult you at all?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Guilty As Charged

Sean and I are soon indulging in a sinfully decadent trip to Paris. All of our trips tend to be on the more sumptuous end of the scale, and I don't usually find myself apologizing for it. We've been to the best restaurants in New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Chicago, glutted ourselves like fools, paid with plastic having barely cracked open the billfold. But one place we're planning to visit in Paris has me sweating. Truth be told, it will cost us as much as our plane tickets did, maybe more. And I don't really balk at the price. We've done tasting menus all over the world now (2 very good ones locally - Atelier, and Le Baccarat), and they don't come cheaply, but the ingredients and service and the EXPERIENCE make it feel worthwhile.

It's not the dollars that concern me (or the Euros, in this case). It's the concept. It's the thought that a decade ago, that money, money for just one meal, would have seemed like a literal godsend to me. At a time in my life when I worked two jobs and still struggled to make rent, this one meal would have kept me housed for 3 months or more. It's more than I earned in one (two week) pay cheque for a long, long time.

And I don't know why it's this meal that's making me feel so wretched. We'll probably be at the restaurant for a good four hours, and we'll remember it for the rest of our lives. I've spent as much or more on excellent basketball tickets and didn't think twice. But maybe that's the difference - although I accompany Sean to see Lebron & Durant, the tickets are obviously for his enjoyment. But the restaurant? That's for me. We're both going to fill our bellies with caviar and champagne and black truffles. I'm going to look at that bread cart, with over a dozen selections waiting to be paired with just as many courses, and I'm not going to feel the guilt that I feel today. I'm going to feel joyful. I'm going to be happy and hungry and I'm going to heap it all on my plate in embarrassing amounts. And I'll do this knowing, in the back of my head, that some people, many people, don't have even a scrap at that exact moment, while I have so much.

Inequality is a strange and sickening thing and I wonder sometimes, worry really, what kind of person I am, morally, to take such part in it. Particularly since I've been on the bottom (realizing that the bottom for a Canadian is still a relatively cozy place). Fuck. I don't know if I've just talked myself out of this treat. Maybe I should. I don't know where the line exists. I don't always know how to enjoy something I feel I've earned while also feeling that many others work just as hard to earn far less.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unintentionally and Maddeningly Sexist

Last Sunday, we, like many couples, spent the day watching football. Notice I wrote couples. We still tend to think of sports as something a man watches alone, just him, his pork rinds, his beer, and his favourite recliner, or else with a bunch of buddies and half a dozen pepperoni pizzas. But those days are evaporating. Families do things together now, including watch football, and the NFL is the first to take note. They are actively courting female viewers and female fans because - shock! - that's a huge demographic, isn't it? If you want to keep expanding, you'd better not ignore the woman holding the remote. So they're making jerseys in smaller sizes, and making the players wear pink during breast cancer awareness month, and pretending to be mad when players hit their wives.

Football was never my thing, but it's one of Sean's favourite sports, and Sean is a sport junkie. He has no idea what's going on in the world unless I tell him, but he scours the internet for every written word about games played competitively. We don't watch a lot of TV, but he uses every spare moment to watch highlights on his phone or on his tablet. So I make an effort to watch the big games with him, and to bring him to see some of these games in person, a splurge he never considered before we met. And this year, to further bridge the gap, I joined a football pool.

Which means that last weekend, the conference championships, was a really big weekend for us. If you watched that first nail-biter of a game, Seattle vs Green Bay, well, I don't have to tell you how awful it was to watch. Sean and I both had our money on the Seahawks so of course they were down 16-zip at the half and didn't start playing football until the last 5 minutes of the game when they somehow came back but left too much time on the clock, allowing the Packers to tie it up and force it into overtime. Seattle rallied with a touch down to win the game, but not before wringing out just gallons of sweat from all the viewers at home.

Later that night, after the Patriots had deftly defeated the Colts, we got into bed to check out our standings in the the pool. Since I'd put my bets on all the right horses, I'd had an excellent week, topping off a pretty excellent season. Out of 186,077 players in our league, I somehow have managed to come out in the 99th percentile. 99th percentile, bitches! And I owe it all to Sean, who taught me everything I know about football, and who has struggled to remain somewhere between the 25th and 35th percentile throughout the season himself. Ouch. Why am I so goddamned good at this? I have no idea. I read what I can and I have no allegiance to players or teams. In fact, I drive Sean bonkers with my player assessments. He knows how good a guy is, what his stats are, how he played last year, and the year before that. I know if he's done a spread for GQ or dated Jessica Simpson. And I'm the one in the 99th percentile.

So the next day, Sean goes to work and inevitably ends up discussing the games with a male coworker who also was watching them enthusiastically. Sean was able to regurgitate to him some stats he'd read about the game - that the Packers had had a 96.1% chance of winning with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter (leading 19-7). They discussed the historic, unprecedented game in minute detail, and the season more generally, and the upcoming SuperBowl with glee. In fact, over the course of the conversation, the only thing that curiously did not get a mention was that Sean's very own wife had a super-stellar football pool record.

I've worked hard at that stupid pool, making picks every single week, and I'm proud of my record, which is way too good to be due to just chance, or beginner's luck, so when Sean failed to give me my props, I called him on it. He insisted that he'd just "forgotten" but I know damn well that if it was Sean's brother who had that kind of record, or his father, or his friend, or best of all, himself, he'd be boasting to everyone and might even consider reprinting his business cards. But his wife? She didn't get a mention. In fact, his wife doesn't come up when he discusses football with any other men, period. But forget about me? Forget about that 99th percentile? The guy who remembered that the Seahawks had just a 3.9% chance of winning that game? I don't think so.

But he assured me he didn't forget about me completely. In fact, during that same day of work, while heating up his lunch of leftovers, a female coworker commented on how good it smelled and he proudly told her that I'd made him a very nice meal the night before (during the first half of the Patriots game in fact) and that he was glad to have the remnants for lunch. So he remembers to tell people (or female subordinates, at least) I'm good in the kitchen, just not that I'm also really good at picking winners.

I told him that was a pretty sexist thing to do, and of course he balked. I will be the first tell you that Sean doesn't hate women, or want to keep them down. He's actually a pretty forward-thinking guy and doesn't mind when I out-earn him or out-run him or out-think him. But apparently there's a limit.

He thinks it's not sexist unless it's overt, but that's the worst kind of thinking there is. In fact, the worst kind of sexism is the kind you can't quite put your finger on, but happens all the time, to good people unintentionally keeping women "in their place", and that includes complimenting them on gender-stereotyped things, like cooking, and not on unstereotypical things, like football pools. This is called "benevolent sexism" and is a pretty dangerous thing considering people don't even realize when they're guilty of it.

So I'm calling out my sweet, sensitive, equality-for-all husband. It's not harmless just because it isn't intentional. And maybe individually these things don't mean much, but all of these slights add up culturally to a huge discrepancy that still exists today, in 2015. It's way too easy to reinforce a stereotype, and if Sean is any kind of barometer, it's hard to get someone from the dominant group to confront his own biases. We're all defensive about these things, but as citizens of this time period, and this shrinking earth, I think it's our job to be vigilant and aware.