Tag Archives: advice

International travel with a baby

Over the years, I’ve blogged quite a bit about travel. Before we were parents, Al and I were pretty big travelers. Al has been to 100 countries (!!!) and we’ve done quite a bit of international travel together, including extended stints in South Africa and the U.K. But since having Lucia, our travel has pretty much come to a grinding halt. I did take Lucia to California to visit my family when she was ten weeks old, but traveling with a tiny newborn is a far cry from bundling a wriggly, restless toddler onto a plane. Tiny babies are adaptable little lumps who can sleep anywhere. Toddlers, on the other hand, are whirlwinds of activity and opinions and demands, who don’t deal particularly well with sitting in one place for extended periods of time.

For many parents, myself included, the idea of packing up one’s toddler and all of her attendant things (travel crib, travel bath, travel stroller, car seat, toys, books, spoon, sippy cup, snacks, etc., etc., etc.) and flying anywhere — let alone overseas — is enough to induce heart palpitations. But Al and I decided to go for it, anyway, our cardiac health be damned. We just got back from an almost three week trip to the United Kingdom to visit Al’s family, and it went… surprisingly well? I’m still kind of shocked we all survived without at least one of us being institutionalized/arrested, but we did!

Here are a few things I learned and tips that we found useful in our travels with baby. As with all things parenting (and all things travel), your mileage (and/or kilometrage) may vary.

  1. Take an overnight flight whenever possible. Here’s the thing: you want your kid to be asleep as much as possible on the plane, because an awake baby on a plane is a bored/restless/whiny/uncomfortable baby on a plane. On the way to Scotland, Lucia slept the entire flight, because the flight took off around 7 pm (her usual bedtime). Of course, the flight was only six and a half hours, and Lucia usually sleeps 12 hours a night, so she was an utter disaster once we landed, but having her sleep the whole time on the way there was nice.
  2. If your kid’s going to be awake on the flight, pack lots of snacks. Normally, I have Lucia on a pretty strict schedule. She gets up, goes to bed, and eats meals and snacks at the same time every day. She has two designated snacks during the day, one at 10 am, and one at 3 pm, and I don’t let her graze or pick at things between meals. However. On the long-ass flight back from the UK to the US, during which Lucia was awake for six out of the seven hours we were in the air, I gave that kid as many snacks as she wanted. Oh, you’re bored and whining because we have read every board book we packed six times and you’ve thrown all of the in-flight magazines on the ground and ripped the barf bag to shreds? HAVE A SNACK. I gave her rice cakes and rice puffs and cheese and bananas and whatever else I could find and it was wonderful because it kept her occupied. Pro tip: give your toddler a snack cup like this and let her slowly pick up and eat small snacks like these. It takes forever and it keeps her quiet (at least, until the snacks are gone). Another pro tip: give your kid something to eat or drink (a straw cup is ideal) during takeoff and landing or pressure changes, because it helps relieve the pressure in her ears.
  3. Take more diapers than you’ll ever think you’d possibly need, and pack a change of clothes for both the baby and yourself. I learned this the hard way when I flew with Lucia to California. She had a poop explosion in the airplane lavatory — the less said about that, the better — and I’d only brought diapers and wipes with me into the lavatory (rather than her entire diaper bag with the extra onesie). Consequently, I had to walk a half-naked baby back down the aisle of the plane in order to change her clothes and get a new shirt for myself (yes, it was that bad). People were nice about it but, you know, my advice is to go ahead and bring the whole diaper bag into the lavatory with you. In general, it’s always good to have extra diapers and wipes when traveling because you never know what kind of delays you’ll experience, and Lord knows babies’ digestive systems don’t always cooperate with our best laid travel plans.
  4. Pack smart. I spent a long time thinking about what to bring with us to the UK, given that we wouldn’t be able to borrow baby stuff from anyone there (since Al’s cousins’ kids are all older) and we didn’t want to deal with renting or buying stuff there. Here is our packing list, which was barebones, but ended up working out well for us: a super-light, super-portable travel crib (which we put in Lucia’s suitcase); her stroller base; her infant car seat (which we clicked into her stroller base); our Ergobaby carrier; a select number of board books and toys (maybe four books and three toys); a portable, battery-operated white noise machine; clothes for various weather situations (but not too many); travel packs of Dreft; baby spoons; weighted straw cups; a silicone bib; a silicone feeding mat; the aforementioned puffs; a jar of Crazy Richard’s peanut butter, and, probably The Most Important Thing, three lovies. Next time, I probably would have packed more puffs and board books and skipped the feeding mat, but pretty much everything else was essential.
  5. To counter jet lag, expose your kid to lots of sunlight during the day, do your best to replicate the home routine, and hope for the best. We had a remarkably easy transition with Lucia once we were in the UK. She only had one Bad Night (and hoo boy, was it a doozy), and slipped right into her normal schedule of one two-hour nap during the day and then twelve hours of sleep at night. I am not sure if this is normal, but I’m not questioning it. However, since we’ve been back in the US, she’s been waking up an hour earlier than usual in the morning (ugh), which I am assuming is jet lag and will go away. I hope. I pray. Because Momma doesn’t like getting up at six unless there’s a Royal Wedding on TV.
  6. Just do it. Al and I are really happy we took Lucia to the UK. She got to meet tons of family, see new places, and have new experiences (including petting lambs, playing in Soft Play areas, and trying meringues). The trip was really good for her, and for us. Yes, there were rough moments, and a lot of hauling around of baby gear. But it was worth it. If you’re debating whether or not to travel internationally with your kid, don’t let the daunting logistics or fears about time changes hold you back. You’ll all adjust, and it’ll be fun. Do it.
Lulu in Exmouth, UK

Lulu in Exmouth, UK

What are your best tips for international travel with a baby? Am I missing anything key? Would you let your baby pet various farm animals that may or may not be carrying weird, farm-animal-borne diseases? Because I did! (And yes, we spent a long time having our shoes disinfected by the Agriculture people in the Philadelphia Airport).

Sound Advice Thursday: Should I go to law school?

Dear Steph,

I just finished my junior year of college. I wanted to reach out to you to ask about your experience with law school and with law as a career. I get that you didn’t find law as a career to be particularly rewarding — could you elaborate a bit? I’ve always had law school in the back of my mind as a main post-grad option, but I’ve increasingly become skeptical that it’s the right path for me after reading insights like yours. I find it really inspirational that you left law to write. 


Law School or Bust?

Dear LSOB,

This is a question I’ve gotten many times, in some form, over the years, even before I ever left the law to pursue writing, and I always wonder how to phrase my answer (which basically boils down to: “don’t go to law school unless you have a REALLY good reason”) while still getting across the fact that I actually really liked law school. So let me take a crack at it here.

First, I’ve written before on this blog about my experience of law school in the context of being a woman at Harvard Law School, and I blogged about my time in law school on my old blog (here, for example, and here). If you don’t feel like reading my archives, the basic gist is that I (mostly) loved law school. There were things about it that were highly annoying (see, e.g., 90% of the people), and three years of studying/writing papers could get monotonous (as I illustrated here), but mostly, I really enjoyed it. Law school, for me, was often intellectually engaging, challenging, and, turns out, fun.

No, seriously, I REALLY liked law school. Steph, circa October 2006.

No, seriously, I REALLY liked law school. Steph, circa October 2006.

Keep in mind, however, that I was in law school from 2006-2009 and I secured a job with a firm before the economy completely went to hell, so when I graduated, I was looking at a completely different job landscape than kids who are graduating from law school now (turns out that law graduates are now experiencing a “jobs crisis,” even graduates from top law schools). My experience was also helped by the fact that I was not gunning to be a Supreme Court clerk, so I made time for clinicals that interested me, language classes, salsa dancing, cooking, and hanging out with my now-husband, all of which helped to make my three years at HLS feel fun and easy. If I had been chained to my desk, trying to get on law review or trying to get all A+’s, I might be singing a different tune right now.

So here’s my first big piece of advice about law school: don’t go unless you’re POSITIVE you want to be a lawyer and know exactly WHY you want to be a lawyer. This is what I used to tell Harvard undergrads when I was in law school and was a pre-law tutor at one of the colleges. I’d beg these kids to please please please please not look at law school as a “fall-back” option. There are many reasons why law school is probably the absolute worst choice for a post-undergrad fall-back option, including the huge expense, the crazy debt you will probably rack up, the dwindling job market for lawyers (see the frightening Atlantic article cited above, and this article about how almost half of 2011 law grads can’t afford a house), and the fact that MANY people who go to law school end up not liking either law school or the practice of law (or both).

Consider that if you get a job after graduation (which is no longer a guarantee), there’s a decent chance you’ll go to work at a firm. Which means billable hours. Which means, unless you really love what you’re working on, your life is not going to be much fun, especially when you’re first starting out. Sure, I have friends from law school who are the kind of lawyers who go to court and get to say “Your Honor” and “may I approach the bench” and stuff, but they are the exceptions. The vast majority of my friends work at corporate law firms and have terrible, soul-crushing hours. Just like I used to! And the only way to make those soul-crushing hours worth it is if you’re doing something you care about. Period. Otherwise, life’s too short.

This probably won't be your life.

This probably won’t be your life.

This might be.

This might be.

As you’ve gathered, being an attorney was most definitely not my cup of tea. I did it for three years and then I got out, and I’m approximately 1000% happier now. The lesson here for you is that it’s possible to go to law school and hate being a lawyer, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean I regret going to law school. I enjoyed it, plus it was the right (and well-reasoned) choice for me at the time. I happened to have a crisis of disillusionment with what I was doing (human rights law) midway through my time at HLS and switch horses midstream, which contributed to me ending up at a law firm, which I hated, so there are lots of individual circumstances that affected my experience both as a law student and as a lawyer.

Here comes my second piece of general advice: WORK for a year or two once you’ve graduated college, rather than going straight to law school. Save some money, experience life a little bit, and then reevaluate and see if law school is still something you’re interested in. You can even do what I did, which is to apply to law school when you’re in college and have easy access to professors for rec letters, etc., and then just defer for a year or two if you get in. But really, I think it’s better to just apply to law school when you think you want to go. Everyone I knew at HLS who had taken more than a year off before law school (including my husband, who took three years off between college and law school) was happier, better adjusted, and more focused, because they tended to have entered into law school with clear ideas about what they wanted to do post-graduation.

If you think law school is something that you’d really like, and you’re sure you want to be a lawyer and have a type of law in mind that you think you’d like to practice, I’d strongly recommend working as a paralegal first and getting a sense for what the lawyers’ lives are like and what the work is like. If you can work as a paralegal in the type of practice area you’re interested in, all the better. I worked as a paralegal for a year in Brazil before going to law school, but the horribleness of the lawyers’ lives/work didn’t dissuade me because I wasn’t planning on working in a firm after graduation (but, guess what — I did end up at a firm, anyway. Oops!).

When all is said and done, whether or not to go to law school is an individual decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to sit down and consider what actually makes you happy.  What do you enjoy doing? What interests you? Do your skills and interests match up to a realistic/attainable job within the law? There’s no rush here, so take your time, think it through, and then make the most informed decision you can make.

Best of luck,




Sound Advice Thursday: the lying colleague

Dear Steph,

I’m in a bit of an awkward situation. Somebody I interact with on a professional level recently lied to me, like, to my face, and as the tarnished words came out of her mouth, her eyes were totally giving her away. The lie was so stupid and insignificant and most of all, I can’t understand why this person did this, especially considering that in less than 12 hours, it would be so obvious that she lied, and not just to me. I was going to let it go but I’m so curious to find out why she did this and whether she thinks I’m stupid or was it just a childish mistake? Should I confront her since this is work related or just let it go and pretend it didn’t happen? I saw her last week and it’s crickets between us because of this elephant in the room. 


Somebody Make This Stop

Jiminy Cricket has had it up to here with this sh*t

Jiminy Cricket has had it up to here with this sh*t

Dear SMTS,

Liars are the worst, right? We’ve all come across people who, for whatever reason, can’t stop themselves from fibbing, even about stupid, inconsequential stuff. I once knew a guy who used to lie about everything — everything — for seemingly no reason. He’d tell us tall tales about what he got up to over the weekend, the women he supposedly charmed, the victories he’d won — but he’d also lie about petty things, like what he ate for dinner last night. My only conclusion about this guy and his propensity to — embellish, let’s say — was that he just could not help himself. Lying was like breathing for him. I think it probably had something to do with attention-seeking: every story had to be inflated or polished in order to make the storyteller sound grander, braver, smarter, or wittier, even when the stakes were low. I wonder if this same thing is going on with your colleague.

You didn’t say what your colleague — let’s call her Judith — lied about, but there are a bunch of reasons why someone might tell a stupid fib at work. Maybe she messed up and was embarrassed to tell you about it. Maybe she had told the same lie to someone else and was trying to be consistent. Maybe she was trying to wrangle an advantage for herself by withholding information from you. Whatever the reason, Judith lied, and now you’re left wondering why.

But let me ask you: would knowing why she lied really make things better? And, assuming it would make things better, do you think she would actually tell the truth if you confronted her about this? The thing about liars is that, well, they lie. So if you back Judith into a corner and ask her “Why did you lie to me about [x]?”, chances are, she’s gonna lie to you about her reasons for lying to you. I suppose it’s possible that she’d come clean and ‘fess up to her dishonest ways and beg for forgiveness, but the odds are low. And if she did tell the truth, well, then you’d know, I guess, but there would be no guarantee she wouldn’t lie in the future. To paraphrase 3LW, liars gonna lie.

So what do I recommend? Unfortunately, since you say the lie was about something inconsequential, this is one of those situations where you just have to let it go. I realize this is easier said than done, but I think it will save you some grief when dealing with Judith in the future. Instead of maintaining a chilly distance with this woman — which she might very well be oblivious to — I say treat her normally, but keep your sensors up around her. That is, forgive, but don’t forget. In a professional context, it pays to be wary around dishonest people, so be careful with the information you share with Judith, take whatever she says with a large grain of salt, and, to the extent possible, verify what she tells you with someone else, if you must rely on the information she gives you. Realize that if she lied to you once, she’ll probably do it again, and proceed accordingly. But maintaining an awkward silence with her is not going to help matters. Better to just act professionally but keep your guard up for future fibs.

Good luck!


Help me by letting me help you

Guys, no Sound Advice Thursday today because, alas, no one sent in any questions this week. Not to be your college girlfriend who threatens to kill herself if you break up with her, or anything, but I will have to discontinue Sound Advice Thursdays if no one seeks my Sound Advice. So this right here is basically the blog equivalent of your dad yelling into the backseat, “Don’t make me turn this car around!!!” Because I will, you guys. I will turn this thing around.

I'm obviously the dad in this scenario.

I’m obviously the dad in this scenario.

Please send all burning questions — I know you have them — to stephanie.early.green [at] gmail [dot] com.

In the meantime, please feel free to peruse some of the past Sound Advice that I’ve so lovingly doled out, including:

And many more!

See you next Thursday.

Sound advice Thursday: The mean girl

Dear Steph,

One of my long-time friends (let’s call her Alice) goes to my school and is in my “group”. But no one really likes her, including me. One of my real best friends (we’ll call her Charlene) says she doesn’t like Alice, but doesn’t stop hanging out with her even though she gossips and says really mean things about her friends (including me!). But when Charlene is with the rest of the group she says we should talk to Alice about not being friends but she still doesn’t do anything about it! I think she feels bad for Alice because she really doesn’t have any good friends.

Don’t get me wrong, Charlene is really nice and we are really close but she won’t stick up for her other friends when Alice says mean things. Alice always seems to make up with our group because Charlene remains friends with her. Alice always makes drama (she usually lies about stuff) just to get attention. I don’t want to be mean but I don’t know what to do!


Stuck with a Mean Friend

Dear Stuck,

You didn’t say how old you are, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess between thirteen and fifteen. Am I in the ballpark? I’m taking this wild guess because I recognize your complaints from my own torturous middle school and early high school days, when my “friends” were the source of 99% of the pain and drama in my life.

First, let me offer you some perspective, just to get it out of the way: this too shall pass. In a couple of years, all of the drama that Alice caused will be a distant memory, and someday, she’ll find you on Facebook and you’ll be like, “Oh, Alice. I wonder what she’s been up to.” It will all seem so distant and petty and you’ll probably feel a little sorry for her, remembering how unhappy she was in middle school.

Middle school can be rough. Believe me, I know.

Middle school can be rough. Believe me, I know.

But I know very well that a reminder that “in a few years, none of this will matter” is not helpful in-the-moment advice. So here’s what I suggest for right now. First, build an invisible wall in your mind between you and Alice. This wall will keep out all of the drama, the gossip, the silliness, and the pettiness that Alice seems to thrive on. When she tosses a tentative drama grenade toward you, just let it bounce off the wall. If she tries to engage you in gossip or a fight, just don’t engage. Leave her and her nastiness outside the wall. Shrug your shoulders, change the subject, leave the lunch table, whatever it takes. Don’t let yourself snap back at her, or argue with her, or defend yourself against her. Just let her words bounce off the wall. I can assure you that refusing to play Alice’s games will save you a lot of heartbreak and angst down the line. Also, it will drive her nuts, and, let’s be real, that’s kind of fun.

My second piece of advice is to stop worrying about what Charlene does. It doesn’t really matter if Charlene is friends with Alice, or whether she defends you or not, or if she’s two-faced, or whatever. It would be wonderful if Charlene could be brave and stand up to Alice when she’s trash-talking you and your other friends. But the fact is, many teenage girls aren’t brave. They’re concerned with making sure people like them, and the need to be liked often clashes with the urge to do the right thing. It doesn’t mean Charlene’s a bad person. It’s just that she, in this particular instance, is weak. The backbone it takes to stand up to gossip or mean talk is something that Charlene — and the rest of your friend group — will hopefully develop in time, but you can’t force anyone to do the right thing now. Save yourself some grief and allow yourself to be friends with Charlene without requiring her to defend you or be mean to Alice in the process.

Another option to consider is getting new friends. This doesn’t mean abandoning your old friends, but it means expanding your friend group to include people you might not have hung out with before. One of the most exciting things about getting older is meeting new people. Fresh blood, in the form of new friends, will make your life more interesting and it will give you an escape hatch if the Alice business gets out of hand. If you make some new friends, the next time Alice is being a douche, you can just get up and go sit with someone else.

And here’s the truth about Alice: she’s unhappy. I know this because I knew girls like her in middle school, who went around sowing drama and discord because, secretly, they were miserable. Happy, well-adjusted kids don’t feel the need to stir up trouble with their friends. So try to think of it this way: Alice is unhappy, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Instead of becoming absorbed in the daily saga of Alice and her evil machinations, focus on other things, things that make you happy: sports, clubs, hobbies, whatever. When I was a freshman in high school and going through a rough patch with two of my friends, I got really into photography. Years later, I barely remember those girls’ names, but I still have all the cool photos I developed in the dark room.

Remember, things will brighten in time. In the meantime, you do you, and don’t worry about Alice or Charlene.

Good luck,


Sound advice Thursday: The bad first impression friend

Dear Steph,

A good friend has been interviewing for jobs for quite a while and is feeling very defeated. At first, family emergencies kept coming up, so it was okay that she hadn’t been offered a full-time position. Now, after about two years of being under- and, at times, unemployed, her stress is starting to take a toll on her relationship with her boyfriend and friends (including me). How can I gently suggest that she solicit some outside help on her interview skills without insulting her? I am confident that is where the problem lies.  She’s capable and has a great work history, but I fear the first impression she makes in an interview is likely holding her back in such a tough job market. How do I broach this topic with her?


Kid Gloves

Dear Kid Gloves,

You want the best for your friend. You love her, you care about her, and you want her to succeed. And you want the best for your friendship, but it sounds like you’re not sure how much longer you’ll be able to tolerate your friend’s toxic stress. So, as a caring friend, you’re well within your friendship rights to suggest to your friend — let’s call her Francine — that something might be amiss in her approach to job-hunting.

I’d lead with the fact that you care about her and want her to find a job she loves and will succeed in, because you know how much her current state of un/der employment has been weighing on her. (Maybe leave out the part about how her stress is driving her significant other and all of her friends batty, for now). Then, be straightforward without being insulting. Say something like, “Francine, you know what I read online just yesterday? That the number one reason people end up not getting a job in this economy is because of some tiny mistake made in the interview.” (It’s okay to lie here.) Emphasize that interview skills are a thing that lots of people have to work on, not just her — maybe say something like, “I know when I started interviewing, I had no idea what I was doing, and then I got some great feedback from a colleague about [x], [y], and [z]” — and suggest that she speak to someone in the industry she wants to break into about what’s expected in an interview, and what makes a potential candidate stand out. At the very least, she can google “common interview mistakes.” Maybe point her toward this article, or this one, which highlight some mistakes that she might be making unwittingly, like bringing a drink into the interview, or failing to do proper research on the company with which she’s interviewing.

Hint: don't wear a bad wig and an old fashioned flight attendant's uniform to your interview

Hint: don’t wear a bad wig and an old-fashioned flight attendant’s uniform to your interview

Another possibility is that Francine’s resume might not be as sterling as you think. Does she have unexplained gaps in employment? Maybe the last two years of fruitlessly searching for a job are the reason she’s not succeeding. If so, she should consider some of these tips for how to fill in gaps on one’s resume, and how to address periods of unemployment in an interview.

The bottom line is that you don’t really know why Francine’s not succeeding. But letting her know that you care and are willing to help — either by running a mock interview with her, or directing her to someone who can, or reviewing her resume — is an important gesture. If she gets defensive, give her time to cool down — she’s probably a bit embarrassed. It’s tough not having a job at a time in life when most of your friends have careers. Hopefully she’ll give the whole thing some thought and take your advice to brush up on her interview skills. If not, then it’s out of your hands: she’s a grown-up. But I hope for her sake, and for your friendship’s sake, she works on her skills and lands her dream job. Good luck!




A guy’s response to my flirting advice (and my response)

After publishing yesterday’s Sound Advice Thursday about whether flirting in public places is welcomed or dreaded by women, I received a really thoughtful response from a guy I know, disagreeing with my advice and giving me another perspective on the issue. I’d like to share his comments and then offer my own response today. Here is what he wrote:

As a single guy, I’ve got to disagree with your post on flirting. The guy didn’t ask if he should have straight-up asked her out, he was just asking if he should have engaged her in conversation to see if that was even a possibility. After a friendly hello and some meaningless chat about the weather, the elevator or some recent news story, the guy would have known if she was open to anything more. If an attempt at conversation by a guy constitutes hitting on a girl (and not merely a prelude to hitting on), and you think the rule should be that in non-bar settings only women should initiate flirting, then you’ve effectively limited all flirting/hitting on to bars and parties. Girls almost never make the first move; and when they do, it’s more in the line of showing receptivity to a move–like smiling–than making an actual move like initiating conversation or, even more rarely, asking the guy out.

As a guy, it takes more than a bit of courage/confidence/irrationality to flirt. Guys get rejected a lot. And you’re basically telling any guy who is just the slightest bit shy or reflective or analytical that the voice in the back of his head is right, she doesn’t want to talk to him, and he should just move on (leaving the field to the most cocky/clueless/socially illiterate).

Some people, like drunk lecherous 60 year olds, will always be socially clueless. But that’s not the situation we’re dealing with here. We’re talking about two 20/30-somethings of presumably comparable backgrounds. It’s a totally different dynamic.

It seems to me that everyone, both men and women, as part of growing up, should learn to take a chance with talking to a stranger, how to politely turn down an unwanted romantic request, and, finally, how to take a hint. And if everyone focuses especially on the last one, then I don’t see the harm in a few more conversations about the weather that don’t go anywhere. Anyway, just a guy’s perspective.

This is an interesting perspective and this guy, let’s call him Fred, makes some valid points. First of all, I agree with Fred that the guy in the original post probably wasn’t considering asking out the woman at the elevator bank after zero build-up; in other words, the interaction probably wouldn’t have played out as: guy smiles, girl smiles, guy says, “Hey, wanna grab a drink sometime?” I get that. And if the guy’s dilemma was actually, “Should I have spoken to this attractive woman at the elevator?”, my response would have been, “Sure, why not?” I would never tell a guy not to speak to a woman at all; what am I, the Taliban? However, I interpreted the situation in the original post as hinting at an extra element of sexiness/flirtation that would go beyond mere chit-chat. Otherwise, why would the guy have felt conflicted enough about it to ask his friend for advice?

So perhaps my original advice needs a bit of clarification. As I wrote yesterday, I think innocuous chit-chat is perfectly fine in public places. Guys, go ahead and strike up a conversation with the lady waiting for the metro or standing in front of you at the deli. Ask her if she prefers prosciutto or parma ham. Knock yourself out! But take her cues and act accordingly.


Body language is key!


I know men are fairly literal, so let me give an example of an appropriate conversation and an inappropriate conversation. In this scenario, a man and a woman, both in their late 20s/early 30s and of approximately equal attractiveness, are standing in line at the local cheesery.

Appropriate interaction:

Guy: Have you tried the washed rind yet? It’s to die for.

Girl: (Smiling) I’m actually turned off by mold on my cheese. I’m more of a gouda girl.

Guy: Gouda’s awesome. Can’t go wrong with gouda.

Girl: That’s what I think!

Now, at this juncture, it would be appropriate to continue this light, friendly conversation, and at the end of it, the guy, if he has any social skills whatsoever, should be able to tell if the woman is interested in him or not. And yeah, maybe I’ll relax my original position and say that in this scenario, since the woman was receptive to the man’s cheese chat, it would be appropriate for him to ask her, “Hey, want to grab a slice of emmenthal sometime?”

However. Here’s an example of an inappropriate interaction:

Guy: Have you tried the washed rind yet? It’s to die for.

Girl: (Smiling) No.

Guy: It’s amazing. You should really try it.

Girl: Hmm. Yeah, I’ll have to give it a whirl. (Turning back toward counter)

Guy: Hey, want to grab a drink sometime?

See the difference? She smiled both times, right? But in the second example, she was just being polite. She wanted to be left alone to consider her cheese options. She didn’t want to split a wedge of manchego with this guy. She engaged him in a couple of seconds of conversation because women are socialized that it is rude not to chat with someone who chats with you, even if you find them repulsive. But then, women expect men to uphold their end of the bargain and to know when to back off. I suppose, as Fred said in the last paragraph of his response, the fundamental thing here comes down to a man’s ability to read social cues and not to assume that any show of friendliness on a woman’s part means she is digging him. In other words, speaking broadly, men need to cultivate the ability to take a hint.

Men are maybe not the subtlest.

Men are maybe not the subtlest.

I agree with Fred that people should take risks in talking to strangers; in fact, I was trying to say that yesterday, that men should feel free to chat about innocuous things with women they find attractive. I also agree that women should learn to politely reject romantic overtures that they find unwelcome. But therein lies the difficulty. Women in our society, as I mentioned above, are socialized to be sweet and nice and open, whether they are romantically interested in a man or not. It’s very difficult to strike a balance between exuding this socialized sweetness and sending a firm signal that one is simply not interested. In the struggle to reject a man “politely,” women may often come off as welcoming or receptive to the man’s overtures. The difficulty is that women are taught to be subtle, while men are uniquely unsuited to picking up subtleties. Women who tend toward a more direct approach when rejecting someone, to get the point across with little ambiguity, are accused of being “rude,” “cold,” “b*tchy,” etc. So really, women can’t win, can they? And perhaps men can’t win, either.

But all is not lost! I still stand by my original advice, to the extent that men should take cues from women and not immediately take things to the sexy place. But part of cultivating safe, friendly public spaces is allowing men to feel safe in being friendly to women, too, and that includes saying hi, remarking upon the weather or the news, and seeing where things go. So, guys, go ahead and say that it sure is cloudy outside. And ladies, if you think he’s cute, smile back and remark upon the density of those cumulus clouds, and see where things go. Who knows, maybe this chit-chat could be the start of something beautiful.

Sound advice Thursday: When is a smile just a smile?

Dear Steph,

Can you settle a debate for me? I have a work friend who thinks he should have said something to (read: hit on) a woman who smiled at him at an elevator bank and then got on the same elevator. I strongly disagreed with him, lest we render the elevator bank, too, an unsmiling space (along with public transit and the mall and sidewalks and whilst driving). Who’s right? Was the woman’s smile at my friend an invitation to be hit on or was she just being friendly?


Let’s Keep Elevators Safe

Dear LKES,

I am answering your query as a public service announcement. Here it goes: men of the world, please do not hit on every woman who smiles at you. Sometimes a smile is just a smile. I am firmly on your side on this one, LKES, and I’ll explain why.

It seems to me that one of the fundamental things that some men don’t understand about women is that, in general, when a woman is out and about, minding her own beeswax, she does not wish to be hit on. Sure, a friendly smile or “good morning” or an innocuous comment about the weather are all fair game at the elevator banks or at the bus stop or in line at the post office. But interpreting a stranger’s friendly smile in a public place as an invitation to hit on said stranger is crossing a line. The problem is exactly as you stated it: if a woman gets hit on enough times after smiling at strangers, she will stop doing it as a self-protective measure. And that’s bad for everyone. I happen to think that large swaths of America, particularly the big cities, are unfriendly enough as it is. We don’t need even more of a chilling effect because women are afraid to smile at strangers lest they be flirted with and made uncomfortable.


A couple of qualifiers must be noted. First, it could be that the woman your friend saw at the elevator wanted to be hit on. Perhaps her smile was the opening salvo in a would-be flirty back-and-forth, and she was disappointed when your friend didn’t promptly ask her out on the spot. But you know what? It’s 2013 and if a woman is interested in a man, she can take the initiative to strike up the conversation. In fact, I’d argue that this should be the default in public spaces that are not generally intended for flirting: if the woman carries the conversation into the flirty place, then the door to hitting-on-age has been opened. If she keeps it to a smile and a nod, or a comment about the weather, follow her lead. Got that, men? Of course, this rule doesn’t necessarily apply to places where people go, generally, to be hit on: bars, clubs, fetish parties, what have you. But in non-sexy places like the office elevator bank, let the woman take the lead.

Second, the line between flirting and friendly conversation can be blurry, and the level of discomfort experienced by the flirtee is going to depend on that individual’s tolerance for being chatted up by strangers. For me, that bar is usually quite low. And I’m speaking as someone who has been hit on in an elevator in an office building on SEVERAL occasions, including once late at night by not one but two men in their 60s, wearing business suits, who reeked of booze. I wasn’t disgusted, exactly, but I was a little offended that these two drunk codgers thought that a) I’d be interested in one or both of them, and b) that slurred come-ons were what I really wanted to hear as I rode the elevator to the lobby after a long day of work.

Probably not gonna happen.

Probably not gonna happen.

Anyway. This isn’t about me. This is about creating public spaces that feel both friendly and safe. I happen to enjoy a lively conversation about the weather, and I am all for innocuous, harmless chit-chat to strangers. But please, men, don’t assume that a woman’s smile is always the equivalent of “hey, big boy.” We’re just trying to be friendly.




Sound advice Thursday: To Long Distance or Not to Long Distance?

Dear Steph,

I’ve been dating a great guy for about six weeks. However, he is about to leave town for about a year, traveling around the country for his job. We really like each other, and he keeps telling me about his plans to come visit, and has requested that we keep talking, emailing, and texting — but with no labels or commitments — just keeping in close touch. I do want to keep in touch with him, but I’m worried that making these plans to visit and talking all the time will make it harder for me to move on. What would you do in my situation?


Long Distance Dilemma


This distance actually seems doable.

Dear LDD,

Oh, the trauma of the modern dating world: everyone’s so gosh darn mobile these days, aren’t they? In the underrated 2010 movie Going the Distance, Drew Barrymore and Justin Long play a couple facing a similar dilemma to yours: they have been dating for six weeks (!) and have really fallen for each other, but for Drew’s career, she has to move across the country. They make the choice to try to hack it as a long distance couple, and – surprise! – it’s incredibly difficult. Given that it’s a romantic comedy, there’s eventually a happy ending. But in reality, long distance relationships (LDRs) often fail. My golden rule is that LDRs only work if and only if: 1) both people are really committed; and 2) there’s an end point in sight.

What your beau is suggesting is not, in fact, a long distance relationship; rather, it’s long distance torture. He wants to keep talking – so that he’ll be perpetually on your mind, even though you can’t see him – but not make any commitment to each other. I can’t think of a worse idea, frankly. What, I ask, is the point of staying in touch with someone you really like when you’re not in a relationship with that person? It sounds heartbreaking, frustrating, crazy-making!

I’m of the strict school on this, I’m afraid: I think you need to cut it off and save yourself a lot of heartache, my dear. If your romance with this chap is meant to be, when he ends up in the same place as you, then you can date and live happily ever after. But for now, if you’re not going to commit to each other, you both need to have the freedom to meet other people, which means not constantly speaking to one another and getting in one another’s bizniss. Think about it: if you meet another guy you like – someone who lives in your town – you might not even realize you like him if you’re still talking to the first guy. And how will you explain to the second guy that you’re in close correspondence with a dude you dated for six weeks but are not involved with anymore? Messy, messy. Keep it clean, and break things off.

I’ll leave you with the words of the ever-wise Wayne Campbell: “I say hurl. If you blow chunks and she comes back, she’s yours. But if you spew and she bolts, then it was never meant to be.” Okay, maybe that advice is not dead-on, but you get the idea. Be strong, my friend!

Best of luck,


Sound advice Thursday: Where should we live?

Dear Steph,

I live with my fiancee in a city where I am not happy but we both have jobs. I have been offered a job in another city where I previously lived and was much happier; however, it would be fairly difficult for my fiancee to find a job there. I’m fine with supporting her because I love her, but I worry that she will be unfulfilled in this new city without a job. Even though my career will be better and I will be happier, I worry that we will be weaker as a couple because she’ll be unhappy, resentful, etc. Obviously, this is a complex issue with a lot of considerations, but based on what I’ve written, what do you suggest?


Rock vs. Hard Place

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Dear RVHP,

This is a toughie. I don’t know your situation beyond the slim paragraph that you’ve written me, but here are the basic facts as I see them:

1. Right now you both have jobs but one of you is unhappy;

2. If you move, only one of you will have a job and one of you may be unhappy.

Based on these barest of facts, it seems that your current situation might be better than the future situation — but then again, it might not. The problem is that so much is unknowable here. Will your fiancee be able to get a job in the new city? If not, will she definitely be unhappy? How long will you live in the new city? Will you definitely be happier there? What if your job there falls through?

Given all the uncertainties, it’s impossible to predict what the final result will be. So, since I can’t tell you what to do based on predictions about the future, I’ll just suggest some factors to consider as you think things over.

1. Jobs are hard to get. Right now you both have jobs, but if you move, only one of you will have guaranteed employment. Can both of you survive comfortably on one salary? Do you want to? Does she want to?

2. Jobs are important. Some people thrive on a fast-paced career. Others (ahem, me) are fine with leaving prestige behind but still need to have satisfying, fulfilling work. But pretty much everyone needs to feel that their days have value. It may seem fun now for your fiancee to be a stay-at-home-lady, with no job and no responsibilities, but I suspect the fun of that will wear off quickly and she will want to find something – a job or volunteer work or a project – to occupy her time and make her feel like she has a purpose. Consider how long an arrangement in which you work and she sits around the house, bored, will be sustainable, and what types of opportunities are available to her in the new city.

This probably won't be your fiancee's life.

This will get old.

3. Relationships are a two-way street. Despite what ABC’s The Bachelor would have us believe, in actual relationships, both parties have an equal say in where the couple will live and work. In the Bachelor, the lead always picks his fiancee based on whether or not she’s willing to drop everything and move to his hometown and “fit into his life,” as if she were a lamp or a duvet cover. Turns out, real relationships don’t work this way, and thus, you and your fiancee need to talk – a lot – and figure out an arrangement that will work for both of you. It’s the truth that committed relationships involve compromise; in fact, I wrote here about the balancing act my husband and I achieved when we decided to come to South Africa for his job. As it turns out, before we moved here, we were both afraid that I’d be unhappy, isolated in a city with a bad reputation. As it turns out, though, my husband is the one who has struggled more here. As I said before, you just don’t know how these things are going to turn out before they happen, which is why it’s important to talk and understand one another’s needs.

4. Flexibility is key. It’s important for your fiancee to know that she — not the job or the city — is your first priority and that if things are horrible for her in the new city, you’ll listen to her and figure out together a way to make things better, whether that means moving back to the old city, or commuting, or living apart, or whatever works for both of you. This is how you will prevent resentment from creeping in to your relationship: by listening, compromising, and realizing that human relationships are The Most Important Thing in life, period, and that sometimes, other things might need to fall by the wayside to make those relationships work.

I realize this advice might sound a bit vague, but hopefully you can use it to spark a conversation with your fiancee about what you both want, and to feel your way toward a workable compromise.

Good luck!

~ Steph