I have been suffering from an overabundance of topics to discuss and not enough time to do it in. But I keep seeing articles and advice that address the idea of “safeguarding a relationship” by offering advice that dehumanizes our partnerships, prop up oppressive systems and essentially keep us stuck in the default mode of maximum effort for minimal fulfillment.
The inspiration for this piece was the gut reaction I had to this post:8 Rules Guaranteed to Prevent Infidelity To be clear, this advice doesn’t just appear on Christian Right pages but is found anywhere that people are fed on a diet of fear and suspicion, righteousness and possession. The jealousy, the resentment and the potential pain of an intimate partner cheating on us are well known to all of us, including those of us non-monogamous folk. However, seeking to control, to safeguard, to protect against any potential, possible, imaginary threat no matter how minor or insincere, is just another way of avoiding responsibility for creating trust, sharing honestly and openly with your partner and honoring boundaries and consent.
Healthy relationships are founded on a basis of equality
Oppressive beliefs are not a good basis for healthy intimacy
I believe that no matter how someone identifies or what they believe, that there are some basic relationship best practices that can be found when we start from a place of equality. The problem is and always will be that these best practices require us to engage with the best in ourselves, not always easy when lustful impulsiveness or rigid social conditioning urge us to do otherwise. Good relationships require thoughtful personal reflection, sincere vulnerability, and cooperative resilience toward a shared vision of the value of each person in that relationship.
When we fail to manifest these qualities in relationships, we invite our partnerships to be judged on default values. Threats are more likely to occur when your relationship is in default mode. Since needs and beliefs were never discussed, shared or revealed, what motivation does someone have to invest in the other person if all they’re getting is a pre-constructed ideal not built for them? Likewise, controlling your partner’s every communication and action to “safeguard” the relationship is the bigger threat to the relationship, a tactic that is easy to adapt into coercive control.
A healthy relationship understands that there is a balance between real life and the safety of the relationship. But treating your relationship like it’s a precious and fragile egg becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – eventually, it will break, no matter how careful you are. Because guess what? People aren’t things meant to be locked up and protected; people need the freedom to grow, learn and develop. Successful intimate partnerships recognize that each person is whole and valuable just as they are. The future is a cooperative scheme toward shared success and fulfillment.
Shame, judgment, and fear are toxic to growth and fulfillment. This includes the institutionalized shame of misogyny, the presumption that every woman is a temptress or that no man can control himself. Advice that relies on preserving rather than dismantling oppressive structures is suspect. The status quo only “worked” because people were forced to accept it, or suffer extraordinary consequences by the courts (by limiting the allowable circumstances for divorce), through family structure (by disowning kids who come out as queer) and public policy (limiting the rights of wives, daughters, mothers and sisters so they are dependent on men for basic survival – this was central to Jane Austen’s work)
For a while I’ve been tagging things with #RelationshipReboot because so much of the advice we’ve been given, not just by the Christian Right, but by magazines, talk shows, movies & books, has been built upon a framework of possession, of a right to “what’s mine” and protecting my right to “my man”. I just don’t believe that. I have never operated very well in a framework of ownership over others. What right do I have to dictate to my loved ones how they should live their lives? It’s not to say I haven’t been that self-righteous little princess before in my teens, but I outgrew it once I realized how amazing and precious the individual human experience is. Each person has a right to their own autonomy and consequences, their own choices and successes. I learned to listen and honor my partners by making affirmative agreements that speak to the commitment we each have to support the best in each other.
So, this will be a long post because I want to take some time to reframe these examples of toxic advice. I want to reframe the issue, reboot the core ideas at play and spin alternative advice that recognizes and honors consent and human dignity. To pull the shame and suspicion from the values and goals at play and find a better way to cope. Simple, affirmative commitments that we can make to be better at our relationship agreements.
Default Toxic Advice #1
Column Advice #1: I never meet alone with a woman other than my wife.
Column Advice # 5. I give “side hugs.”
Column Advice #6. I don’t engage in ongoing dialogues with women on social media
If someone cannot control themselves in having a conversation with a member of their preferred gender, no matter whether it’s in person, online or otherwise, that should be deeply concerning. Period. Maintaining personal and professional boundaries is a cornerstone of building trust, an essential component of a healthy relationship, no matter the context. If there is a heightened danger that someone cannot maintain or honor reasonable boundaries, there’s a bigger problem at play here.
Part of the problem with these suggestions is the presumption that all human contact with a member of the preferred sex is always sexualized. Handshakes aren’t any more or less sexual than a hug is – I’ve had men give lingering handshakes, holding both of my hands in theirs as they stroked my fingers or palm in a way suggesting way more than a simple hello. A hug can comfort someone in emotional distress and is a signal of friendship. Touch is a basic human need. These rules declare that the only person allowed to provide touch is the spouse, a pretty heavy job for one person alone, particularly if they are stunted in any way in how to express love and compassion through touch. It sexualizes a basic human need making it inaccessible anywhere else, and shameful to want to share with anyone else.
Much of this specific advice is rooted in the appearance of impropriety rather than the actual engagement of it. If a spouse is so suspicious of a professional lunch or a personal coffee, the marriage is already in trouble. There is nothing to safeguard because basic trust hasn’t even been established or was broken by past infidelities. Lunching alone with a member of the preferred gender isn’t the issue – trust and integrity are. There has either been a breach of trust or a failure to provide it in the first place. If fear of what others might think comes into play, perhaps there is already a reputation for not adhering to commitments that would cause others to jump to that conclusion.
At best this advice is performative, not reparative.
Relationship Reboot Practice 1:
I maintain and respect appropriate boundaries with others
Relationships are built on trust. There is no better way to create trust than to:
- Recognize that we each have a right to set boundaries for ourselves;
- Demonstrate through actions and words that you not only recognize but will work to honor yours and others’ boundaries;
- Be accountable for the commitments we make to others.
One of the things I’ve loved about my relationship with Warrior is that I know that when he hangs out with others, even if there’s an attraction that he’ll maintain his boundaries and our agreements. Likewise, when he was a practicing therapist he and I both know that there are distinct mechanisms, consequences, and laws in place that protect both him and his clients from inappropriate behavior.
Likewise, even though I stay friends with a lot of my exes, my partners know that I have my own personal code about how I’ll choose to engage that person in the future. Meeting with a married man is no more or less dangerous for me than meeting with a single one. Having coffee with a potential business partner isn’t more or less dangerous to my relationship than going out to drinks with my law school classmates. By maintaining good boundaries around my various interactions, staying consistent with what my partners can expect from me, I’m able to maintain the trust they’ve placed in me as well as signal to others what our interactions should consist of.
Finally, every day affords us an opportunity to model good consent practices. We have the right to refuse a hug. It’s okay to say “I’m not a hugger” and move on. It’s okay to refuse to go to coffee with a fan if they make you uncomfortable. We all have the right to both say and hear the word “No” without any further explanation. By honoring the boundaries of others, and ourselves, we create space for others to feel safe, to be more authentic and less suspicious of their trust in us.
Toxic Relationship Advice #2:
Column Advice #2. My wife gets copied on all of my text messages.
Column Advice #3. I share ALL my passwords.
This advice not only violates some pretty serious personal and professional boundaries, but this advice could also violate some pretty serious legal boundaries if taken too far. It violates the consent of everyone involved – the person on the other end of that text pouring their heart out about their father’s cancer diagnosis, the employer who has liability for HIPAA, the client who uses text to confirm their appointments. The potential for exploitation, abuse, fraud and identity theft with this advice is very serious and should be avoided at all costs.
What is really at issue is here is transparency, an accountability measure for trust. I think in our hearts, we all want to be honest and transparent, but little white lies can stack up over time and make truly innocent situations, such as calls with the neighbor about her father’s cancer diagnosis, seem suspicious. And as tempting as it is to give your partner 100% access to everything in your life to prove your devotion, this is dangerous for two reasons:
- No one else consented to your partner having THEIR information
- There is significant potential for legal liability or at least illegal shenanigans to take place as a result of this
It will backfire because transparency and honesty have to exist together. Requiring a partner to give passwords doesn’t guarantee that they haven’t built yet another profile under a different name. Nor does giving full access guarantee that something won’t be taken out of context. This strategy will backfire in a big, spectacular way.
Relationship Reboot Practice #2:
My priority is to keep my partner relatably informed of the important people, events, and situations in my life.
Why do I say “relatably” informed? Because this is about giving your partner the level of transparency and honesty that you need from them. If you want to know if your partner is viewing porn, it’s important then to share information about your own porn habits. If you want to know who from work is “just a friend” then you model this by providing them with the same information. And all of this can be done without invading someone else’s privacy or violating professional confidentiality policies.
I would much rather have my partner tell me, “Our neighbor, Sonia, is having a hard time, her father was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I’m lending her support over text after losing my own father to cancer a few years ago” rather than invading Sonia’s privacy with an unprecedented level of access to Sonia’s words and feelings.
And if you cannot believe your spouse when they tell you “oh it’s just a friend”, the more worthy investigation isn’t into their personal texts and messages but into an examination of why you cannot trust them. Is it something they’ve done or something that has gone unhealed in yourself? Either way, full access to passwords won’t give you what you’re looking for – just more fuel to the panic you already started with.
Toxic Relationship Advice #3:Stay away from any material that has any hint of sexual content so as to not be tempted to view anyone else as sexually desirable than the person you are permanently partnered with.
Column Advice #4. I don’t watch porn or sexually-explicit content.
His next line is “porn is an act of mental infidelity” and he goes on to spout the normal, tired and debunked statistics on porn and porn addiction. These beliefs are rooted in some very flawed misunderstandings and misdirections about sex, attraction, and masturbation. These beliefs are built upon a premise that sexual desire for anything or anyone other than who you’ve chosen as a lifetime partner is shameful and weak, rather than normal and expected. And the judgments that are delivered because of these beliefs manifest in harmful ways that can damage rather than enhance a person’s ability to sexually bond with another. It incentivizes secrecy.
Yes, there are some whose porn viewership has reached a level of damaging, addictive behavior, where say, they are viewing it at work or instead of going to work. Again, it comes back to really recognizing and understanding boundaries. But if that’s the case, the compulsive pattern is the bigger issue, not the porn itself.
Relationship Reboot Practice #3:
I am comfortable sharing my intimate experiences, sexual fantasies, sexual values and feelings with my partner.
Instead of cutting it out entirely, use this opportunity to further the intimacy and trust to discuss sex, including porn habits and expectations with your spouse/significant other. Understand what are your own values around this, and be honest with yourself and your partner. Make choices together about works for you both. I know plenty of monogamous relationships that successfully integrate porn viewing into their sexual lives and have no infidelity concerns. Likewise, if your relationship cannot survive an honest conversation about sex, avoiding it will only make the issue grow more unsustainable. Discussing fantasies, experiences, values, wishes, disappointments go a long way toward eliminating the influence of shame in your relationship, making it more authentic, full and healthy.
Our happiest relationships should allow us room to grow, to be authentic, to be recognized and heard. Healthy relationships are robust, resilient, restorative, repairable, and redeeming. If it cannot withstand the storms of say, having lunch with a female work colleague, is it really worth saving? If a small whiff of attraction can dismantle your relationship so easily, will building additional walls really be worth the time either of you will invest in building new buttresses and moats?
At some point, if you’re constantly playing defense and cannot seem to let go of the rules, the suspicions, the fears, the jealousy, you have to look at what it is you’re really protecting here and ask “Is it really worth it?”
It’s 9:45 pm here on October 11th. I got home late and am making an ambitious (for me) dinner of shepherd’s pie. So as I wait, I think back on another marginally bad day. It wasn’t horrible, it just was angsty. And most of the angst was mine. I was impatient, unorganized, forgetful and foggy all day. And it wasn’t until later in the workday, when I was beyond the point of salvaging it that I finally realized why I was so on edge.
Today was National Coming Out Day
For the past 10 years I’ve been flirting with various forms of outness, to varying degrees. And to the point where I’m essentially out to everyone except extended family. Even professionally to some degree it’s been know how I identify. Especially over the past year or so I’ve become far more comfortable with being out.
But today it was scary and triggery. It brought back memories of a workday interrupted by a call from a friend telling me that a website had posted my online journal and that it was circulating among my colleagues and the press. It brought me back to the pacing through the hallways going mad from the ringing of the phone. It brought me back to 8 months of unemployment and 10 years of trying to scrape my way back to believing that I deserved to make an earning even close to what I was making before. It brought me back to the rumors, the panic attacks during the evening news, the fear, the cowardice, the ignorance, the victimhood, and especially the punishment. It brought me back to a night where I was as close to suicide as I’ll ever get and breaking down as a last-ditch effort to ask for help before I could finish the act.
I didn’t come out on Facebook today like I had wanted to. I have family who, as well-intentioned and loving as they are, tend to call my parents over every minor quip I post. As much as I love my parents, my coming out isn’t worth them having to field phone calls from worried family members and clueless friends. The choice to come out is mine and not theirs.
So, instead, I came out on Twitter, reminding all 686 followers of who I am.
Those things are some of the easiest things to identify things about me. It’s what most people care about when they talk about coming out. But identity is such a rich and powerful blend of concepts, stories, and aspirations that simply saying I’m bisexual, polyamorous, kinky, queer, Chicana, femme, Mother, wife, lover, educator, lawyer, spiritual, and geek is just a superficial part of the story. Some of it is the sensational part of the story because ooooh—bi, poly and kinky–that’s out there. But it’s just scratching the surface.
There are other aspects of identity that go beyond the census items of nationality (American), race/ethnicity or income. There are the aspects of self that evolve over time but create the refinements of self that truly identify us closer to our core. Those aspects of ourselves are just as precious and vulnerable, worthy of being spoken as personal truths.
So tonight, I define more of who I am. Coming out as the woman I truly am at heart:
I am a public servant. I have always been drawn to government, politics, and the business of policymaking. But moire than anything I have been drawn to a life of being in service to the public in some capacity or another. Right now I provide direct services through a nonprofit,. but in the past, I’ve served in capacities that were more about the public good than my own advancement.
I am half white and half Mexican but identify as Chicana. This is very important for me to distinguish. I love both of my families, but the Mexican half of my family was the most influential in my upbringing. My dad’s family valued education but watching my Mexican grandparents’ pride when my mom earned her master’s struck a chord with me. It told me the legacy that was going to be passed to me to build upon. It is a responsibility that I take seriously. My father’s family is full of intelligence, accomplishment, and distinction–my role with them is less to carry on their legacy and more to just not fuck it up. But what I accomplish for the Mexican side of my family, like a law degree, creates a path for others to follow. I’ve already helped one family member with his law school application and LSAT prep. We rise together.
That said, I am also very privileged. Because my last name is white, my skin is light and freckled and my hair turning gray faster than my more indigenous parts of the family, I’m a dead ringer for your standard, run-of-the-mill white girl. That’s not what I feel inside and so I get somewhat defensive during conversations about race. I am so eager to relate to people that I end up ignoring my privilege, the same privilege that makes it easier for me to be heard. It has been an uphill battle for me to remember that my story isn’t more important than anyone else’s, particularly those who don’t get the benefits that come with passing for white, cis, het and able bodied.
I am bisexual and married to a man. So another privilege I carry is that I at least am always perceived as heterosexual. I’m not, of course, and that’s where some mental health issues come into play for many of us–being misidentified, ignored and rebuked within the LGBTQ community (mostly getting derision from the Ls and Gs) creates an insidious amount of hardship as we try to navigate our way through the world.
I am bisexual and I have known it since I was 12. But to the outside world, I had a fairy tale wedding and lived happily ever after. And while I love my husband dearly, part of why I love him is that he’s never had an issue with me living my life as fully as I am able. He’s always given me support and encouragement, to pursue what makes me happy–including exploring my attraction to women and non-binary/gender nonconforming folk. Ultimately this is aided immensely by being polyamorous–we negotiate the terms of our marriage and it decidedly doesn’t look at all like the heteronormative ideal. And I am happier for it.
Finally, I’m coming out as a visionary within the Catholic meaning of the term. Again, from the age of 12, I believe I was called to something powerful. This calling initially spoke to me through the images and rituals of the Catholic faith–I was strong in my devotion to the Church at the time (see, I still capitalize it). But as I grew into the woman I am, I recognized that Catholicism at its core no longer fit with the calling that I was given. It was just too large for such a narrowly-defined faith structure. So, I departed from the Church. I still miss it sometimes–going to Mass and adoration, praying the rosary, the cleansing I’d feel after confession. It is like my hometown. I’ll always have a connection to it. It’s part of my story. But it’s not where I choose to live now–I have moved on. My calling is what matters most to me, not ascribing to any one issue of faith.
With all of that said, I have an update on the shepherd’s pie: I burned myself making it last night which is why this is posted late. i’m doing better today–but I guess I also need to add clumsy to the list of identities that I have.
Note: I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job. Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue. This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Therefore, I reject the notion that people who receive cash assistance just won’t do anything else to survive or to help themselves. And frankly it’s comments like yours, usually founded on false assumptions and skewed “facts” that cause people to not reach out for help when they need it the most. I do believe these programs need adjustments and in some cases a huge overhaul for improvements, but I suspect we may be coming from vastly different viewpoints here. I want programs that provide better benefits, that cover more people and provide more meaningful interventions than what we currently offer. We should be helping more people and not fewer. I refuse to believe that we cannot or should not take care of each other.
But before anyone can suggest HOW to make changes, I believe there needs to be significant discussions about pinpointing and defining the actual problems.
In order to even do this much, we must…
- Dismantle the abusive and dehumanizing myth of “welfare queens”. This will help isolate any actual abuse and identify unchecked errors that need to be remedied. But more importantly, this disintegrates the angry & racist welfare narrative that has prevented empathy in both policy makers and voters. This old narrative perpetuates a righteous indignation too enamored with its own false sense of superiority to have a meaningful conversation about the issue itself. Let’s be real, the “welfare queen” is a myth. An exaggeration. A lie. A damaging lie told by Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail which incited an indignation founded in racism and sexism. It was a formidable tool in getting white voters (the more likely voters) on board with his political and economic agenda. A tall tale that has outlived its maker and needs to be put to rest so that we can approach poverty policy from a place devoid of stigma and shame.
- Next, there needs to be a long discussion about the true nature of poverty itself and the reasons it persists around the world, much less in a country as prosperous and abundant as ours. This includes describing the very real biases that people hold about poor people, the disabled, the elderly and children born into poverty including class and wage inequality as well.
- Likewise, we must include conversations about the cultural values of personal generosity, survive vs. thrive, the role of charity in society, the pursuit of profits, sustainable outcomes, autonomy in personal or family decision-making, the role of sacrifice and hardship, and well, our values about humanity as a whole.
- We also need to critically re-examine our assumptions about marriage and family so that it better reflects the cultural and economic realities of Americans today. Many children are growing up raised by grandparents so that the parents can work, go back to school or get back to health. Likewise, many households are deciding to invite roommates or even the ex’s family to stay with them as a means of creating intentional community to provide better financial and emotional support to all involved. Yet, rights do not always flow in the direction of reality. This requires a critical examination of where our policy and legal assumptions about family need to be updated and retooled.
- We need to have a conversation about our policies that promote: access to affordable health care (including substantial mental health care), keeping people in their homes, access to justice, availability to improve or access social capital, education equity, and of course, the economic cost-benefit of a living wage. This also should address access to higher education, safe and affordable options for day care for working families and the cost of caring for our elderly.
- We must also reconcile our hypocritical messages about children and families in the United States. We must encounter head-on the cultural disconnect between our agendas on abortion, prenatal counseling/care with our utter disregard for a child, the mother and the family unit once the child leaves the protective cocoon of the womb. This includes critically assessing access to all family planning options, including sexual health education, birth control (including condoms), and screenings for STIs and cancer so that they are either completely free or covered fully by insurance providers and Medicaid. Include too foster parenting, availability for adoption, equality in education, access to nutritious foods, clean environments, support for parents through all stages of a child’s development up through college, remedying the pervasive cycles of abuse and violence and creating opportunities for higher education including student loan forgiveness.
- We must rewrite the myth of the American Dream which perpetuates a cultural standard of “with just some good, old fashioned hard work, you are able to have everything you need”. Great, good. But it’s not true for everyone. Many people who are poor work hard too, often in multiple jobs; then they encounter tragedy or loss and are right back where they started. Therefore, we must recognize that our policies and indeed our national narrative that distinguishes between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. We draw these distinctions in all of our communities—people who are either worthy (usually those who are like us) and those who are unworthy (not like us). A rather exaggerated and selfish example of these distinctions is detailed here: http://www.snopes.com/katrina/personal/volunteer.asp . (“WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I HELP PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES!” has become our new national anthem ).
- And finally we must confront our history and our disappointing present policies that promote and enforce gross disparities in wages and living conditions based on a pervasive culture of sexism, cis-sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism and racism. We must recognize and come to terms with how privilege operates in our public policy landscape much less our personal lives.
Without these conversations, meaningful change cannot even begin.
Without widespread recognition of that there is a powerful and enduring cycle of poverty, the status quo will endure.
Without a significant policy shift that places an emphasis on meaningful interventions at all levels and entry points to poverty there will be no change.
I reject the welfare myth that assumes that those on government assistance are lazy. This myth permeates because it gives fuel to the righteous indignation that many feel toward the poor. Anger that is sparked by assumptions and judgments based on someone’s appearance (clothing, jewelry, phone, car, furnishings, etc.) or a news article (urban legend) that highlights one instance of welfare abuse, which leads people to a panicked conclusion that there is widespread fraud within the system as a whole.
We assume laziness is the answer, but laziness doesn’t belong only to the poor. You know who else is lazy? You are, Mr. can’t -be-bothered-to-introduce-myself-properly Man. You know who else? I am. Ms. Didn’t-put-my-laundry-away-and-left-it-in-the-hallway Woman. You know who else? The guy who pays for fast food on the way home. Or the woman who took the elevator one floor up instead of the stairs. Or the teenager who played video games instead of mowing the lawn. Or the couple that decided to sleep in and let the kids watch TV all morning. Or the politician who took a week off to unwind at his favorite resort.
Let’s be real, each of us makes thousands of decisions every day many of which could be characterized as lazy. Yet it seems to be the national pastime to review and critique those decisions in order to be deemed “worthy” enough for our help. Since when do we have such special insight into anyone else’s life that we get to judge them for every imperfect result they have experienced?
But guess who we judge for their choices more than anyone? Celebrities and the poor. Funny mix, isn’t it? Well, no one is going to question whether you spent that $8 on a wheel of cheese; however, if you’re poor that’s cause for someone like you to automatically dismiss them to the “undeserving” zone and loudly confront them in line at the grocery store: “how DARE tyou spend ‘hard-earned taxpayer money’ on a luxury item such as cheese!?! The ungrateful sods.” No one is going to question whether you ate a donut for breakfast, but if Jennifer Lopez does it, it’s on grocery stands for the next week. “The fucking cow.”
Yet, dehumanizing suffering and tragedy and ignoring a desire for autonomy and dignity is a very easy way to let yourself off the hook from feeling anything and taking responsibility for the contribution you’ve made to the system that created this mess. Demonizing entire classes of people is an easy way to dismiss the problems of the world while giving yourself a congratulatory handshake for all your “hard work”. Achievement unlocked: Douchehattery 101. But all of this is just another method of playground bullying except this time you don’t have to see them cry when you do it.
Sorry, but that is not the world that I am here to create. I do have ideas and I do have critiques, but they involve better targeting of our resources combined with an expansion of aid available for longer periods of time. All of these are based not in anger or prejudice, but in empathy and a recognition of the realities of poverty. Maybe it comes from the years of working with individuals and communities that astonish me with their creativity and resilience. Maybe it’s from my struggle to survive the overwhelming bills and debt when I was unemployed.
Maybe it just comes from being someone who believes that generosity is a virtue and that each person is deserving of dignity and respect. Maybe it’s because I believe that we’re all in this together.
Note: I wrote this post originally in August, before my husband lost his job. Now that we are on food stamps and Medicaid because of our mutual lack of employment, my reasoning and rationale behind this post is even more personal than it was before. I have added references to my own experience in blue. This is intended to be a multi-part commentary. Links at the bottom to subsequent posts.
Unemployment is an income maintenance program. This has an absolute requirement to look for work. Basically if you are offered a job, you must accept it if it falls within certain category requirements or equivalents, even if the job pays less than what you had been earning before. It’s put up or shut up.
But on a larger scale, tell me how this scheme allows people to create their own destiny? There’s no holding out for a better offer. You cannot refuse a job. If you do, that safety net is gone and you’re on your own. Never mind the impact that unemployment has on a resume or what taking a job isn’t your dream job does to your attractiveness to future employers who are looking for a consistent and solid work history. Remember, employers don’t look fondly on any gaps in work history but they also want to see a gradual increase in responsibilities and achievement, something you can’t create when you have a temp job for 4 months.
And if unemployment required you to take a job A earning 25% less than your expected pay grade then in your next position Employer B is likely only going to offer you a modest bump up from your most recent all-time low. It can have a very clear ratcheting down effect that makes it that much harder to get back to your pre-unemployment potential. This, I can tell you from experience. I still haven’t broken the glass ceiling of my all time low to get back to what I was earning in my dream job 6 years ago, despite my qualifications and knowledge. A stint of unemployment longer than 3 months, can destroy a person’s bargaining potential for years to come.
But the mantra is “any job is a good job”, right? Sure, any job is a good job, particularly when it’s a step up from having no job at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or a long-term solution to crippling debt. It doesn’t mean it will pay enough to feed your family. It doesn’t mean that your children escape the detrimental effects of poverty. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have significantly improved your chances of escaping poverty.
In Denver County, for a typical family of 4 to survive (2 adults/2 children), the adults would have to be working in jobs that pay an equivalent of $19.65/hr ($40+K per year). Sounds reasonable, right? But that’s the living wage, the actual cost of what it takes to live in this county. The level of income they would need to qualify for most levels of aid (and to fall below the poverty line) is roughly $10.60/hr or $22K a year, still significantly below the wage they would need to earn to make ends meet. Working a minimum wage job (at $7.25/hr, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) gives that family $15K to live on and pretty much automatically qualifies them for aid.
So, in order to make enough to get out of poverty in Denver county (let’s not include the debts accumulated in order to make ends meet or get utilities turned back on), they would need to be in one of the following types of positions: Management ($45.62/hr), Business and Financial Operations ($29.75/hr), Computer and Mathematical ($38.14 /hr), Architecture and Engineering ($35.93/hr), Life, Physical and social Sciences ($30.20/hr), Legal ($33.05/hr), Education, Training and Library ($21.37/hr), or Healthcare Practitioner and Technical ($30.13/hr). (Information courtesy of MIT’s Living Wage Calculator available here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031)
Do you notice any trends here?
That’s right, all of these are positions where one needs at least some post secondary training/education, significant work experience or a college or post-graduate degree. If they are in a position that requires only a high school diploma with little to no additional training, they are more likely, if not absolutely assured, to fall below the poverty level.
Add to that anecdotal evidence of people who are looking to go back to school so they can improve their chances—only to subsequently be let go or have their hours reduced for daring to utter or even investigate that dream. Employers have a lot of power to be as choosy, bitchy or negligent as they want. Not all jobs are created equal or provide an equal opportunity to advance or maintain a living. And in at-will states, you can basically be terminated for any reason.
[Oh and another little tidbit that I noticed on that site is that a single parent with two kids pays about $2000 more in annual taxes than a 2 parent household. Hence, a clear argument for the inequity applied to same-sex households with children and that disproportionately could land a same-sex household below the poverty level. Fortunately, the reversal of DOMA will help remedy this situation but not completely.]
Another cost of poverty that you may or may not have considered is the constant stress that comes with wondering where the next paycheck is going to come from. Sure, if you believe the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) children living in poverty may or may not be going hungry each day. But you still have rent to pay, right? You still have electricity to keep on? And in this day and age, you still have to choose whether internet is a good idea to pay for as you try to find a job or complete online classes. Stress creates a whole host of health issues that, if left unchecked, could significantly lessen your chances of maintaining stable employment and thus ever escaping poverty.
Finally, let’s also consider those who are living just outside the poverty line. In my example above, it’s the difference between those making $22K and those making $40K. Quite a large number, if you think about it (two full-time, minimum wage earners with two kids fit here). These are people who are just one car wreck or one illness away from complete financial catastrophe. Even the family with $40K a year is hovering in that danger zone.
Think about what causes people to enter poverty. Think about the traumas, disasters and crises they may have experienced. The death of a spouse, a chronic illness requiring daily medications or treatments. The special needs child who requires constant care. The snowstorm where they slid into another car and totaled their vehicle. The lay-off. The divorce. The hurricane.
This isn’t laziness. This is life and it is threatening to eat us alive every day.
Sometimes you meet some winners on OKCupid. Earlier this month I met one the winners out there. The self-assured, confident guy who is also sensitive, caring and intuitive (putting it lightly). I have no idea how well that connection will turn out, but I’m willing to let it settle in a bit to see if it moves forward.
Then you meet some true assholes. In fact, I’ve held off responding to most messages in the past few years because frankly I just don’t want to spend much time slogging through the waste of messages that I get on a daily basis. There was a time I replied to each and every one of the stupid messages I got, but now I’m much more comfortable with the delete and block feature. First impressions count. I put a lot of thought into how I approach someone before I rattle something off to them in the hopes they will reply back. And if it doesn’t seem to fit, it’s not a biggie. It means we likely weren’t going to hit it off in the first place.
However, every now and then, a message arrives and sometimes you have no choice but to relentlessly make fun of it. I’m not normally a fan of mocking someone’s effort to find a special love, but sometimes the approach is so filled with hubris and presumptions that it begs to be publicized so we can point to it and make an example of it.
And in this case, this message from…let’s call him Timmy6917 (apologies to anyone with that username) was so arrogant, misguided and off-the-mark, that I felt obligated to spend a day researching my response which is posted below.
See, Timmy made three very crucial errors:
- He never once introduced himself, asked a question or even pointed to some commonality that might explain why he contacted me;
- He trotted out a lazy, conservative trope about welfare to a woman who is very clearly far left of center politically;
- He describes himself as “intelligent” and “sharp” in his profile, which sort of begs the question–who is he really trying to convince?
I needed to make sense of the rage I felt when I read his messages so I researched and I wrote. I wrote 8 pages and could keep on going. Writing out my thoughts on an issue that deals squarely with poverty and policy “suggestions” that rely on prevailing myths about poverty, I felt the need to expand even my own privileged horizons on this topic. It was more cathartic than I ever thought it would be, or so I tell myself to justify the full day of work and sleep that I lost to this project. It brought me back to a sense of pride for my political prowess. All knowledge is worth having, I suppose.
Disclaimer: I did not actually send the following message to Mr. Timmy as he forever shall be known. No, instead, I posted it as information for myself and my Facebook followers, many of whom know this subject far better than I can hope to emulate. What Mr. Timmy got in reply was a curt notice that he failed to state an argument with his conclusion and that anyone who hopes to be a partner with me must demonstrate a minimal amount of kindness, respect and humanity. I told him blatantly that the problem is not abuse of the welfare system, but rather limited and narrow viewpoints that shame those who live in poverty. I have since gotten a reply from him, but haven’t read it because…well, I’ve already wasted enough time on someone that I never, ever want to meet much less fuck.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not entirely sure what your basis is for the conclusions you’ve drawn. You say Medicaid “is easily one of the most abused programs available”. Okay? Abused in what way? Is it abused by the administrators of the program, those who receive benefits or the doctors/companies providing services? And by cash programs, it would depend on which cash program (I’m going to assume Federal) that you’re talking about. TANF? Unemployment? WIC? Disability? Is your beef with the federal program itself or the state administration of these programs? Or is it a state program you have an issue with?
But I hope to god that you’re not basing any of these broad opinions on the oft-debunked yet relentlessly persistent myth of the “welfare queen”.
Tonight, I watched a portion of the State if the Union address. I was inspired, particularly at the end where the President called upon the courageous acts of valor and the tragic ends found by so many children and families. I was so moved that i cried. I cried for those hearts and this country. Where did we go so wrong?
Afterward was the inevitable mocking of our President by pundits and armchair activists alike. The accusations that Obama is stepping outside his authority (he’s not). but the ones that really got to me were the many, many messages i saw on Facebook that again, push for more guns, more ammo, more ways with which to “protect” ourselves. It’s not just the message that is discouraging, it is the rage with which it is delivered. Read the rest of this entry
I absolutely loved this post and have considered writing one of my own for quite some time. I’m probably going to end up sharing way too much here, but you know, I believe in authenticity. I believe in honoring one’s own truth. I believe in honoring each other’s journeys so I share a little of mine.
I remember the first inkling I had that I was attracted to women was when I was in 6th grade…in Catholic school. I was heavily Catholic. Believed in and practiced the Church’s teachings to the fullest extent possible. Believed with my whole soul. And back in the early 90’s, bisexuality wasn’t really a thing yet. Not like it is now. I chastized myself heavily for even looking at other girls, for thinking anything sexual about them at all. Read the rest of this entry