Read This If. . .

You enjoy iconoclasts, craft beer, and independent businesses—Dick Cantwell’s Beer is Immortal (Allecia Vermillion).

You think we’ve ruined kindergarten. The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland (Tim Walker).

You wonder what makes dogs happy. Hint: The answer is in their tails. The secret lives of dogs: Emotional sensor helps owners understand their pup’s feelings (Michael Walsh).

Looking for Love—Introducing the Romantic Love Score

Maybe you know someone like my 29 year old friend who recently sent me a great email.

“My life is pretty darn good right now,” she wrote, “but I would still like to find a special friend with whom I could start a family.” Thinking who better to offer some inspiration, she told me she had a good job, some decent friends, but no real prospects when it came to romantic love.

And so I tried.

First, I celebrated her refreshing “If it happens great, if not, I’ll still lead a fulfilling life” attitude. People desperate to find someone to “complete them” stand little chance of forming a healthy, balanced, long-term relationship based upon mutual respect.

I also affirmed her desire to marry and start a family because my wife and daughters have definitely enriched my life. Mostly for the better, intimacy amplifies one’s joys and heartbreaks. For me, and most people in healthy committed relationships, that’s a trade-off worth making. Over and over, year after year.

I think about my friend’s prospects for romantic love almost exclusively in sociologically terms. Let me explain by way of what I’m labeling one’s Romantic Love score. Your RL score is similar to a house’s Walk Score. A walk score is a number between 0 and 100 that realtors assign to every house for sale. The higher the score, the easier it is to walk to stores, restaurants, parks, etc. Our current home has an abysmal walk score of “5” meaning you better pack some food if you’re walking to the grocery store.

A Romantic Love score is also a number between 0 and 100. The higher your score, the greater your likelihood of meeting someone special with whom marriage and children are possibilities.

Walk scores are determined by sophisticated computers, Romantic Love scores are determined by my amazingly brilliant analysis of a few things you send me. First and most importantly, a map of your typical week showing me exactly how you spend every hour of every day that you’re awake.

From that map, I determine the potential for casual friendships to evolve into something hotter and heavier. Work is obviously a big chunk of time and that could go either way depending upon how consistently you interact with colleagues around your age, but you’re outside of work time is most important. If you spend evenings reading alone, your RL score will be far less than if you participate in a book club or two. No one is ever going to come wave at you through your window while you’re wrapped in a blanket, after dinner, in your favorite reading spot.

Similarly, it’s one thing to run in the pitch black at 5a.m. alone and another to run after work or on the weekends with a group sponsored by a local running store, maybe even one that meets up afterwards to continue socializing. And it’s one thing to lap swim by one’s self and another to join a masters swim team and workout a few times a week with the same 20-30 people. Ditto with cycling. Better to attend the same spin class with the same 10-15 people than to just cycle alone all the time.

The second stage is doing things with your small group friend(s) outside of the regular activity—going out to dinner, weekend get-aways, etc. Traveling with small groups of friends for a weekend or week increases the potential for sparks of mutual interest and admiration, thus raising your RL score.

Don’t force participation in activities that you don’t naturally enjoy in the first place, just be more intentional about doing them with others. Small groups whom you interact with at least twice a week. And then be intentional about each group. After a few weeks or month, evaluate the potential for meeting someone special, and don’t hesitate to switch one small group activity for another.

My wife was a second year teacher in rural Southern California when she was 24. All she did was work, then exercise at a fitness center, and then watch the NewsHour while eating dinner. There were hardly any single people in her community so she decided to take her RL score into her own hands. She quit her job and moved to Santa Monica and looked for a teaching job there. Right away she started attending the same church I was attending. My roommates and I at the time hosted a bible study in our home.

She showed up one summer night with her roommate who she knew a little bit prior to her move. After the bible study I asked her if she wanted to go get some frozen yogurt (Rico Suave). About 6-8 of us ended up going. After that I was smitten and asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner and by then any resistance to my charm offensive was futile.

The take-away is small groups aren’t magical. At some point you have to be more intentional than might come naturally and take initiative to move from acquaintance to friend to more special friend. In the simplest terms, being more intentional might mean saying, “I like you.” And then assessing whether the feeling is mutual. Obviously, there has to be reciprocity. Romantic love can’t be forced, there has to be some chemistry.

Second, I need a list of all of your close friends who are aware of your desire for a special friend and consciously thinking about mutual friends who might be a decent match. This is the “social capital” subsection of your overall RL score.

Third, I need an honest self-assessment of how flexible you are. Not with regard to values, you should never settle for someone who isn’t kind and doesn’t inspire you to be an even better person, but in terms of age and level of education. The older you are, the more you need to consider someone younger or older than you, and if you’re a female, quite possibly someone with less formal education. Obviously, the more flexible, the higher your RL score.

Fourth, I need an honest assessment of your relative selflessness. Since selfish people typically lack self awareness, you’ll need to solicit the help of close friends and family who know you best. Ask them, on a scale of 0 to 10, zero representing a “no hope narcissist of Donald Trump like proportions” and ten representing “Mother Teresa like selflessness”, where would you rate me and why? Long term committed relationships depend upon mutual curiosity and consideration, active listening, and patience. The more selfless, the higher your RL score.

I am now accepting submissions. Every Pressing Pauser is interested in learning more from your particular situation so don’t be bashful. If I share what you submit I’ll do it so discreetly no one will ever trace any of the deets back to you.

My friend’s RL score? Currently hovering in the high teens, but she’s committed to changing that. Hope I get invited to the wedding.

Related read. [Note: The reader’s top ranked comments are every bit as good as the essay.]

The Art of Getting Along

It’s irrational given my fitness mindedness, but I think of parking as a zero-sum game. It’s important to me that I get spot “A1” way more often than you. Towards that end, over the years, I’ve developed amazing brake light antennae and unparalleled, cat-like reflexes. In short, I have mad parking lot game.

Rewind to last week when I pulled into our local grocery store and saw car “A1” begin to back out. As I waited, I noticed a vehicle coming towards me from about 75 yards away. The evil driver timed it perfectly, used A1 as a shield, looked down to avoid eye contact, and swooped into MY spot.

No. You. Did. Not. I honked a couple of times to get her attention before slinking to the back of the lot, my reputation and psyche in tatters. Maybe I should let the air out of one of her tires I thought to myself.

Upon entering the automatic doors, I shot her the evil eye. “Are you mad at me?” No shit Sherlock. “Yes I’m mad at you. I was sitting there waiting for the spot and you didn’t even look at me as you pulled into it. I was waiting for it LONG before you.”  “We we’re both waiting for it,” she replied, which made me chuckle. And then I walked away. Only to have her pursue me into the produce section where she said, “I’m sorry for that. I don’t like when people do that to me, so I’m sorry.”

Well shit, I never could handle curveballs! Totally disarmed, I calmly said, “Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Forget about it.”

A few days later at work, I watched one colleague totally lose it while interacting with another while we worked through a vexing problem. I mean totally lost it. In terms of the substance of the debate, she was mostly in the right, but I realized that didn’t matter one bit, just like when I walked into the grocery store and overreacted to a lost parking spot.

Our anger was so disproportionate to the situations that we became more than half responsible for the conflict. The take-away. Careful consideration of peoples’ feelings is more important than being in the right.

That’s what I learned last week. This week I’m going to try applying it.


Maybe I’d have better luck running errands on my bike. Photography by JEB.

The End of an Era

It’s always dangerous when my posse can’t make a run. Like this morning when it was just Tupac and my thoughts.

The more I thought about my best work friend of all time, Mike Hillis, leaving for another job, the more sad I became. When my dad died suddenly from a heart attack at age 69, many of his co-workers wrote beautiful letters about what they most appreciated about him. It’s unfortunate they weren’t able to communicate those things to him directly.

Depending upon the department’s leadership, faculty composition, morale, and overall vibe, I’ve enjoyed some of my 18 PLU years more than others. Throughout the roller coaster ride, my close friendship with Mike has been the only constant.

We did lots of good work together—published curricula; built a grad program; taught innumerable teachers throughout the state; and more recently, provided the department with competent and caring leadership. A treasure trove of fond memories. Like being in Oslo one winter together and teaching some summers in Yakima, WA. Our Yak routine: each morning, while Mike ironed his pants, I’d watch the Tour de France until the last minute, then a Starbucks quick hit, then a co-teaching marathon, then dinner at one of Mike’s favorite craft breweries.

Except for the pleat in his pants, his injury plagued Windows PC, his inveterate reading, his gardening and home brewing genius, we were incredibly similar—introverted, ill at ease with the academy’s self importance, family-oriented, philosophical, and sports-minded. Any day now, he will again overestimate how many games the Mariners will win this year. What an irony if they make a playoff run this season now that he’ll be surrounded by Giant/Dodger/Angel fans.

I don’t know what I’m going to miss most, maybe his sense of humor. He’s a great story teller which was especially nice when we were driving around the state. In high school he was a much better running back than he was a student and his older brothers and him nearly drove his poor mom crazy. He has Jon Stewart-like antenna for hypocrisy and is quickest to laugh at himself. I shudder to think what it’s going to be like to not hear his laugh fill our office suite anymore.

Or maybe I’ll miss his human decency the most. His love of his family, his positive regard for everyone, his modeling teaching and leadership excellence.

Or maybe it’s his humility. In part, I did this to myself because I told the search committee, “He has no ego.” What a privilege it’s been to work with someone who is more focused on doing good work than who will get the credit for that work.

Or his resilience and preternatural calm. Mike’s been passed over here for promotions and came in second elsewhere. Major props to California Lutheran University for resisting a self-promoter and instead choosing humor, human decency, and humility.

Mike couldn’t be more deserving of this opportunity and he’s going to flourish if he avoids sunburn.

Thanks Mike for your friendship, with a nod to Robert Frost, it’s made all the difference.

I’ll be okay, eventually. I hope.

Are Women Smarter Then Men?

The seven minute video story at the bottom, about a group of friends in Chile, is a true joy. Do yourself a favor and start your week with it. How wonderful that these women have been friends for six decades. And I love their quirky personalities and exquisite taste in baked goods. Best of all, the beautiful “punchline” at the very end.

The Good Wife has had a similar group of close friends for close to two decades. To the Chileans, the Olympia Coffee Klatchers are mere pups.

For decades, in Ybor City, FL, Mother Dear has spent almost every Saturday morning enjoying Cuban coffee and cheese bread with the same girlfriends.

Big Sissy has been walking her Northwest Indiana ‘hood with the same few girlfriends for decades.

Increasingly, positive psychologists are telling us what we already instinctively know. Life is most meaningful when lived in community.

In fairness, some men make time for one another. My closest friend at work has helped lead a raucous book club in Tacoma, WA for the last 20-30 years. Of course, when Oprah learned about “Gower”, they were invited onto her show. And Older SoCal Bro gathers for coffee with a few male friends most Saturdays. And I run with the same group of male misfits a few times a week. We’ve had women members, but we’re so uncouth, they don’t last long.

Despite some evidence of male bonding, I can’t help but conclude women are more intentional, and therefore smarter, about investing in friendships. Why is that?

Once a Week Write Down What You’re Most Thankful For

We tend to take the most positive aspects of our lives for granted—good health; family; friends; a roof over our heads; freedoms; or warm, sunny, weekend days in October. It’s especially important that family and friends feel truly appreciated, because when they feel unvalued, those all important relationships suffer.

If you don’t stop to count your blessings on occasion, you’ll probably succumb to negativity. My friend is right when he says, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Curse the darkness with any regularity and people will avoid you. When that happens, negativity usually spirals downward.

University of California, Riverside psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky studies “happiness interventions”. Her research team asks, what if, with just a few behavioral adjustments, we could maintain a high level of happiness throughout our days, our years, or even our entire lives?

Here’s an interesting experiment of theirs. One set of volunteers was asked to keep a gratitude journal once a week, while another was asked to do so three times a week. Those who counted their blessings once a week exhibited a marked increase in happiness–but those who did so three times a week displayed no such uptick. Lyubomirsky speculates that for the latter group, gratitude became a chore, or worse, they ran out of things to be grateful for. The initial burst of happiness was thus deflated by monotony and irritation.*

While pondering this research, and writing this, I’ve been thinking about my mom. As is true for all octogenarians, her health isn’t what it used to be and my dad’s sudden death almost two decades ago was an understandable blow to her happiness. I can’t truly walk in her shoes, or understand why this author wants to die at age 75, but I’m confident even she would benefit from starting a gratitude journal.

Scratch that. Especially she. The more challenging one’s life, the more important it is to account for every last blessing. Starting a gratitude journal is an admission. An admission that gratitude doesn’t come naturally, it requires intentionality.

As always, I appreciate your reading.

* as described by Mark Joseph Stern

Life After Work

As is often the case, I’m confused. One day last week Ron Lieber, a Times blogger, summarized research from The Journal of Consumer Research that finds older people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences—like a library visit or an afternoon spent gardening—as they do from extraordinary ones. Then, on the same day, with stories of extended trips to exotic locations, the Times David Wallis’s published a contradictory article titled, “Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road”.

Wallis writes that between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of retirees traveling abroad rose to 13 percent from 9.7 percent and about 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses in 2013, about 48 percent more than 10 years earlier. Wallis illustrates this trend through examples of people like Lynne Martin, 73, a retired publicist and the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World”:

Three years ago, Martin and her husband sold their three-bedroom house in Paso Robles, Calif., gave away most of their possessions, found a home for their Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, and now live in short-term vacation rentals they usually find through The Martins have not tapped their savings during their travels, alternating visits to expensive cities like London with more reasonable destinations like Lisbon. “We simply traded the money we were spending for overhead on a house and garden in California for a life in much smaller but comfortable HomeAway rentals in more interesting places,” Ms. Martin said by email from Paris.

Another couple in the late 60s sold their house, bought a Recreational Vehicle, and started volunteering full time for two nonprofits. So far, they’ve repaired damaged homes in 28 different states.

One of the older vagabonds, or Wallis’s term is better, itinerant baby boomers (IBB), said, “I used to dream about all the places I would go as soon as I was old enough to get away. But then. . . life happened.” That’s probably the key variable, whether older people have pent-up wanderlust.

Wallis explains that many IBB’s are traveling on the cheap, volunteering for nonprofits and organic farms in exchange for room and board or finding free places to stay through which puts its membership of people 50 and older at about 250,000. Given the manner in which most retirees are traveling, maybe the two pieces aren’t completely antithetical after all.

The common thread is that retirees are choosing experiences over material possessions. Listen carefully everyone under 50 and you’ll hear the collective, “Ah shit, why did we accumulate all this crap?!” Personal finance researchers tell us one-third of seniors have nothing saved for retirement. It’s a good thing ordinary experiences prove so fulfilling in later life.

Both pieces were short so an important subtopic was left out, just how similarly retired partners think about how to spend the last chapters of their shared lives. I know many couples think differently about their idealized post-work lives. What to do when one person wants to see the world, and the other, the backyard?

I’m the opposite of the IBB who dreamed about all the places to go. I’ve been very, very fortunate to travel and live all over the U.S. and on three different continents. Don’t tell the Good Wife, but I’m content to walk, swim, run, cycle, and drive throughout our hood, our state, and the Western United States and Canada. She wants to travel to Spanish speaking countries so I should probably renew my passport. I will take one or two or three long distance trips for the team. But I’d be just as content taking the labradude for a walk in the woods.