What your parents' relationship means for yours

On September of 1986, my mother’s aunt set her up on a blind date with my dad. Once divorced, he was almost eleven years her senior. My mom, who was 29 at the time, took one look at him and started running — literally running — away. Had her aunt not lassoed her back and gotten her to go on the date, I wouldn’t be here today. And my parents wouldn’t have an almost 30-year marriage.

By all accounts, this sounds like a success story. In fact, considering that the divorce rate hovers at around 50% (and is higher for second and third marriages), people assume that if your parents are still together, you must have the secret to a good relationship embedded in your DNA.

But just like any relationship spanning 30 years, my parents have had conflicts to which, inevitably, I’ve been witness. The success of their marriage doesn’t hinge solely on their continued partnership, but rather the constant conversations and compromises that keep them on the same page.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: "I was 25 years old when I went to prison, and 40 when I was released."

I was 25 years old when I went to prison, and 40 when I was released.

I am one of five children. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and lived in the projects. My mother was college educated, but her husband got her hooked on drugs. Ever since fourth grade, I’ve been trying to make money, go to school, and feed everyone. I always knew how to fend for myself.

When I got arrested, I was working and going to school full time. I had a four-year-old son. I was a first time, nonviolent offender accused of interfering with a federal investigation. The verdict came back in a heartbeat: a 240-month sentence in a federal prison. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a lifetime.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.

Craigslist Confessional: "She sat down with her husband and told him she was in love with another man."

Three years after my divorce and during a particularly bad bout of loneliness, I found myself looking through the personals ads on Craigslist. The subject line—“seeking attention”—caught my eye.

She was in her late twenties, and married. This gave me pause because I didn’t want to get involved in anything messy, but I figured it’d be a one-time deal. So I agreed to meet at her house and within minutes, we became physical. Afterwards, we just talked. We had amazing chemistry. She’s smarter than I am, attractive, passionate, and just…well, better than anyone I’ve ever met before.

We saw each other a few more times after that. It didn’t feel like what we were doing was wrong, but it wasn’t long before mutual romantic feelings started developing. I enjoyed being able to lavish attention and gifts on her, and although I tried to resist being pulled into another relationship, it was clear that we were having an emotional as well as physical affair.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published. 

On living with parents as an adult...

If you’d have told me years ago that after graduating from college, I’d have to move back in with my parents, one word would have jumped to mind: regressive. This, of course, followed by a brief-but-vibrant mental montage from Step Brothers of John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell — who play 40-somethings still living with their parents — fashioning a DIY bunk bed in their childhood bedroom to make room for activities. I equated living with my parents post-grad with a permanent, self-imposed failure to launch. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

A 2016 Pew Study found that 32.1% of adults between 18 and 34 live at home with their parents. The most preferred alternative was cohabiting with a romantic partner, trailed by people who had “other living arrangement(s)” — those living with a family member other than their parents, or with roommates or in group quarters. 

N.B.: Although I have friends who've done so, I lived in a huge group house with friends after college--thereby narrowly avoiding the death by overfeeding that would have been living with the Bala's. 

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

 

Craigslist Confessional: "It felt so shameful to tell anyone that my sister had died of an overdose"

My mom called me at 7:30 that morning. I was still in bed and dragging my feet after a long night. She asked me what I was doing and I didn’t tell her the truth because I didn’t want to feel guilty about not having started my day yet. And then she told me. It was very point blank, really. There wasn’t very much emotion in her voice. And I kept telling her: “shut up, just shut up.”

The last year of my sister’s life was very painful. She’d always had trouble with addiction—mostly alcohol—but then she started dating this guy who got her into heroin. He was the one who called 911. The police called my mother. And I called my other sister. That’s how everyone came to know that she’d died, except my niece—her daughter—who was only three at the time. She says things like “mommy’s an angel” but I don’t think she really understands. I think she’s still waiting for her mommy to come back.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published. 

Craigslist Confessional makes Quartz's list of most powerful personal essays of 2016

Craigslist confessional: "One look at me, and people think I'm privileged

By Helena Bala

“I let people see what they want—the picture of me that’s easiest to digest. It’s neater than the truth. There’s so much criticism directed at millennials nowadays that any whisper of a complaint draws out mass accusations of entitlement—even where it doesn’t exist. It’s all about the bootstraps stories and the easy narratives of people who struggled but then they just pulled themselves together and made it.”

This is an amazing list of essays. Please read the rest here.  

What's behind our fear of change?

I quit my job two years ago. It became official on the day after my 26th birthday. When I went to pick up my office belongings with my friend Emily, I found that my key fob had been deactivated. It was a rude awakening to the reality of my decision. Emily will tell you about the look on my face then, the pallor and sheer panic that overtook me. I kept repeating, over and over: What if I’ve made a mistake?

This wasn’t a decision I had taken lightly or in response to a potent quarter life crisis. No, I’d really thought this through. So why was I freaking out? Well, it had suddenly become clear that everything was about to change in a major way. Because despite having evolved in many ways, humanity still has trouble embracing change.

There are three reasons that we fear change. The first, and in my opinion, most important, is that humans fear the unknown. The second is that, at our very cores, we’re creatures of habit. Sure, you may enjoy finding yourself in a different city every weekend, maybe at a different job every other year. But that’s a pattern in itself. We take solace in the predictable.And third, we fear failure and loss. What if, by making a change, we’re starting down on the long road towards failure?

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: "I gave myself to my children completely--but I never thought they would hate me."

I’ve seen my son, Alex, twice since the divorce five years ago. Once, for his high school graduation; the other, when I pulled up to my ex husband’s house to drop off Anna, our younger daughter. Alex was mowing the lawn. He saw my Volvo round the corner, and he ran into the house. His reaction was visceral.

I was a good wife right until the very end. We were fighting a lot, my ex and I. The kids knew it, too. Alex was old enough to understand; Anna was on the cusp. We were getting ready to sit down to dinner that night. I think I was at the sink, washing lettuce for the salad. My phone kept ringing and ringing, but my hands were wet so I didn’t go to pick it up.

That’s when it all fell apart. My ex wanted to work on our marriage. At the time, I didn’t. I’d been seeing Brad for a couple of months and things were going well. When everything blew up, I felt—weirdly—special. I was getting a lot of attention. I felt wanted, worth fighting for. But I didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. I wanted out of the marriage. I was excited by how new and good things were with Brad.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published. 

Stress Eating: Why Do We Do It and How to Stop

I am an expert stress eater. I munch on something when I’m bored, when I watch TV, when I’m worried about work, and then I snack some morewhen I feel bad about having snacked too much. There’s a paradox that bothers me about my tendency to stress eat: I’m otherwise pretty health conscious. I try to work out every day, and I force myself to make healthy food choices. But I often eat even though I’m not actually hungry.

I can tell that some of you are probably already thinking: well, I don’t have a problem with my weight, so I don’t have an issue with stress eating. Maybe some of you aren’t even aware that you engage in stress eating at all; I wasn’t, until I started researching this article. Consider this: as many as half of Americans eat to manage stress. Simply being thin doesn’t mean that you don’t turn to food for emotional comfort; if you’ve ever reached for your favorite ice cream for solace after a bad day, well, stressed spelled backwards is desserts. I’ve been there, too.

What is Stress Eating, Anyway?

Stress eating — also called emotional eating, or mindless eating — is really common. The feeling of hunger is part psychological, part physiological. Physiological hunger is what you feel when your body needs food for fuel. Psychological hunger, also called hedonic hunger, is when we eat for pleasure.  It’s your body and mind’s way of pacifying, through food,whatever feelings are causing you distress. This often takes the form of “comfort food” high in sugar, carbs and fat.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Fear 101 and Why Trump Won

Many Americans have spent the last couple of days in a state of shock — wondering how exactly it is that we find ourselves here, with a candidate that has defied the odds, the polls and a majority of the American public to become President-elect.

I wish I could say, in good conscience, that we couldn’t have seen this coming. I wish I could chalk this up to an anomaly, or a “rigged system.” But we truly haven’t given Donald Trump enough credit. Had we done so, we would have seen that his win is a result of a stunning constellation of factors, carefully choreographed by a man who capitalized on the American electorate’s biggest weakness: its fear.

Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions and one that — along with pain — plays the biggest role in self-preservation. When we’re children, fear keeps us from trusting strangers, from sleeping peacefully in the dark or from trying to pet a barking dog. As adults, our fears are quite different. A 2016 survey found that Americans’ top five fears are government corruption, a terrorist attack on the United States, not having enough money for the future, personally being a victim of terror and government restrictions on firearms.

Right out of the gate, Donald Trump addressed the fear of government corruption by distancing himself from the establishment candidate — “crooked Hillary” — and reminding us that he is a successful businessman, not a politician. In doing that, he not only placed himself decidedly against the other candidates, but also with the voting public. I’m one of you guys. Already, he addressed the fear that people have of the American government, their disenchantment with and resentment towards an elite that — they feel — doesn’t have their best interests in mind.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

This is why you feel like an impostor

It’s 4AM, and my Whatsapp springs to life in a flurry of sudden noise and activity. Texts from Kate*, my best friend since high school, populate the screen.

K: Why do I always feel like I’m five steps behind?

K: I just did a prototype of the same exact shirt that some guy is wearing on the Sartorialist’s Instagram.

K: I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing half of the time.

K: …like I’m a kid who just can’t keep it together.

K: My apartment is dirty, I have two internet subscriptions that I have to cancel but I haven’t gotten around to, and I’m running around trying to be professional when really, I don’t know what the hell is going on…

Here’s the thing about Kate: She’s spent the better part of the last decade living in Milan (thus the texts at an ungodly time), working for some of the biggest names in fashion. In the last month alone, she’s designed suits for Ryan Gosling, Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and George Clooney. It’s safe to say she’s a brilliant designer and she lives for her job. But texts like these have been coming worrisomely often.

And it’s not just Kate. In my last two years as the furtive ear behind Craigslist Confessional, one of the sentiments I hear most often, from millennials especially, is that they feel like their success is undeserved, accidental and likely mercurial. Unsurprisingly, there’s a name for that feeling: impostor phenomenon.

So what is impostor phenomenon? Why are so many of us suffering from it?

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Craigslist Confessional: "When it comes to picking our partners, there are no coincidences."

I grew up in Southeast Asia in the 1980s, while the Soviets and Afghans waged a brutal war next door. My childhood is filled with events that seemed normal at the time, but in retrospect, they’re horrific. I remember going to the market and watching my mom fend off Afghani orphans who offered to carry her groceries for spare change. I remember the first time my friends brought over a box of bullets and asked to store them in our fridge.

I remember those tense few months when my father stood trial for crimes he did not commit. I remember—more than once—walking down the street or being on a crowded bus and feeling a strange hand grope my private parts. I remember learning that my sister had been raped, and then that my best friend had been raped, too. I remember, but I want more than anything to forget.

Back then, violence was everywhere. Ghoulish predators hid in crowds, getting their hands on whatever they could. Religious repression seeped through our society’s safety net and made victims out of thousands of young girls. But nobody talked about it. Hush, my mother told me. Cover your head, that will stop them from looking at you, we told each other when something happened.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published. 

From Last Week: I see my own kids four days a month, and I have no idea who they are anymore

When I think about my dad, I think about how different it was when I was growing up. Was providing for and raising a family simpler and easier back then, or was he just better at it than I am? I don’t know; maybe both.

When I walk into my school in the morning, the first thing that I notice is the smell of the freshly polished linoleum floors. For me, there’s a sense of power and pride that comes along with walking into an empty school in the early morning, before the kids crowd the halls. My tiny office is located in one of the back halls, next to a chemistry classroom. I’m pretty sure that it used to be a broom closet at one point, but I can’t complain. We’re perpetually underfunded and we teach a very tough student population.

I’ve seen a lot here. The most common narrative is babies having babies. When they come to my office with that deer in the headlights look of sheer immobilizing panic, I make sure to tell them that they have options. I help as much as I can—financially and otherwise—to get these kids on the right track. I come up with money that I don’t have, knowing that I will never be repaid. I spend time with them that I should be spending with my own family, and I want to tell them that having kids can be a blessing, but how can I?

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From Last Week: I was nearly date raped

The frat house basement smelled of vomit, mold, stale beer, and body odor. I immediately regretted going and would have walked back to the dorms had Ashley, my roommate, not dragged me to the back room. Ashley was nice and, incidentally, the only friend I’d managed to make my freshman year. She was my lifeline, and I felt that I needed to keep up our friendship.

She handed me a questionably colored drink called jungle juice and I sipped it slowly.  It was my first alcoholic drink, ever, and I made a mental note to pace myself, not to get drunk. And somehow, even though she was the last person I wanted to think about, my mother’s voice came floating into my head: you’re not here to drink and have fun. That’s not what I’m paying for. You’ve got to get your GPA up so that you can get a good job…

I grew up listening to the familiar refrain about so-and-so’s kid, the doctor, or so-and-so’s kid, the one who works for Goldman Sachs. It seemed preposterous, even then—before I’d decidedly failed them—that my parents would expect such things of me. Did they not know me at all? Weren’t they as tired of being disappointed as I was of disappointing them?

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I started throwing up so often, and so violently, that the scar on my hand had no time to heal

I have a blister on the knuckle of my right hand’s index finger. This blister is the traitor that threatens to expose me—and I’ve often wished that I’d been more careful about how I’d acquired it. But now that I look at it—I mean, really look at it—I’ve decided that it’s not really a blister, but more like a slight callous—a patch of skin that is a little rougher and less lined than the rest of my hand.

When I first started throwing up after meals, I was probably sixteen or so. That’s when I noticed that my weight was becoming unmanageable, and that I wasn’t as skinny, as popular, or as cool as the rest of the girls I hung out with at school. I wasn’t really pretty, or really witty, or really smart. And I couldn’t control any of that, although I planned to get my nose done as soon as I turned eighteen. But my weight I could control.

I started dieting the summer of my sixteenth birthday. I ran three miles every day on the treadmill at the local gym. One day, as we were going up the stairs to watch a movie in our living room, my dad—who had been trailing me—said something offhand about my calves. He said that he could tell I was working out.

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From Last Week: I was sixteen when he raped me.

I was sixteen when he raped me. I got pregnant, and my parents told me I had to marry him. My dad was an elder—a leader in our community of Jehovah’s Witnesses—and everything in my life seemed very black and white. I knew what was expected of me, and I knew I had to date and marry someone of the same faith.

I remember that conversation with my father. He told me I should not have put myself in that situation, and that I had to marry Kevin. Abortion was not an option. I was still a Witness at the time, and I believed that if I got an abortion I would go to hell, and there would be no way to redeem myself.

So we went to the courthouse and got married. I stayed for two years, and I got pregnant again. I had my second child, and when she was six months old, I packed up my car in the middle of the night and I drove us all to a homeless women’s shelter. And that was the first time in over two years that I felt I could breathe.

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From Last Week: I think my wife knows I'm gay. I've told her a million times.

My wife and I have these conversations all the time. Usually, they’re formulaic—each fight is the same, covers similar bases, jumps through the same emotional loops, and has the same ending.

“I am who I am, I am who I am, I am who I am.” I’m not sure how many times I’ve yelled this—I’ve screamed it, I’ve whispered it, I’ve cried it. I feel exhausted and beaten, and yet what I say seems to make no difference to her.

She usually tells me I’m confused. “You’re confused,” she’ll say again. “You’re just confused; it’ll be fine. It will pass, honey.” She’ll try to placate me, try to bind my eyes shut, and try to tell herself that this will all go away.

I wince when she calls me honey. Can you believe that? My own wife, and her kindness hurts me, but that’s because I’ve stopped believing that it is kindness. I think she’s trying to manipulate me into staying. We always sit in this living room for hours upon hours and it never goes anywhere.

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