Entries in relationships (147)


Six Great First Dates

One of the vehicles on display for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston's exhibit Sculpted in Steel: Art Deco Automobiles and Motorcycles 1929-1940. February 23, 2016.

Most people default to coffee or drinks for a first date.


Meeting someone new for coffee feels like networking. First dates feel enough like interviews without having the accoutrements of an actual business meeting.

A first date over drinks makes dinner afterward feel obligatory, and you may not want to risk putting so much time on the line for a stranger.

Further, having drinks with someone can feel overly romantic, and when you meet someone for the first time at a sultry bar and you feel anything but sultry upon first real-life encounter, something already awkward—a first date—just ratcheted up eleventeen notches of awkward, where you’re contorting your body in such a way as to ensure they don’t get the idea for a good-night kiss later.

Take the following suggestions for great first dates from a—sigh—dating veteran:

  1. Visit a museum. Doesn’t matter the subject, a museum makes for a great first date. On first dates, I’ve visited mainly art museums, but science museums would work as well—as would quirky museums like the ones we have in Houston celebrating art cars and funeral history. (Yes, really.) You can spend the entire time talking in a museum—yet the setting makes it so you don’t have to talk nonstop, either. Even better, looking at exhibits together gives you something immediate to discuss with someone you don’t otherwise know.
  2. Go for a walk. I’ve enjoyed jaunts around a few parks and city neighborhoods in Houston; the movement keeps down jitters and the things and people you encounter provide good conversation fodder. Even better, you might run into a free performance of some kind—live music in parks happens on the regular. (Side note: Walks and bike rides fall on opposite sides of the good-idea list for first dates. Cycling’s single-file formation, speedier pace, and road or trail noise do not make for good conversation.)
  3. Take a dance class. Early in a date one late afternoon, a salsa dancing class struck up in the tea shop where my date and I had met. The instructors begged us to join, mainly because they wanted to move our table out of the way. Though I may not have jumped at a dancing date if offered, the lesson gave us an excuse to touch chastely, a lot of laughter, the challenge of attempting to learn something together, and a good story.
  4. Go shopping. I’ve only tried this at a bookstore, yet I figure a mall or a street market would prove just as good a way to get to know someone by discussing items on offer and getting a feel for your date’s purchasing habits. (Hey, can’t hurt to figure out the buying habits of a potential partner sooner rather than later.)
  5. Paint. These wine-and-painting-party places have had passed heyday, and I wouldn’t plan a party at one of them today. For a date, though, the activity feels perfect. You have a job to do, you sit together, you can flirt over painting styles, and the paints and water and aprons and easels lend a sense of play and childhood and allow you to let down your guard just a bit.
  6. Try trivia night. Though at a bar, and so technically in the category of “meeting for a drink,” going to a trivia night adds a little sense of competition—and you can see what kind of sport you’ve chosen to meet. If someone’s ego gets toasted by missing a question at a bar’s trivia night, or if they spew sarcasm at you for suggesting a wrong answer, knowing it first thing allows you to avoid a second thing.

Have any of these first dates turned into second dates? Not yet. The first date my last serious relationship and I had took place over lunch on a weekday. (Hey, low pressure—and therefore not bad as an option.) The first date for the previous serious relationship took place over dinner.

However, I met both men in the real world—not on-line. So perhaps that helped; we’d met and had some level of in-person conversation prior to our first formal date. Allow me to feel wistful for a moment: Sure seems like few people meet “organically” like that anymore.

Tell me about your best first date.


What I Think When You Hit on Me at the Gym

Me, stretching on the floor preworkout, as Ramona tries to smother me. Though you can't see what I'm wearing, you can trust her judgement in trying to put me out of my misery. June 2015.

Anyone who tries to flirt with me—in any setting—who has any intention of an actual pick-up needs to make his approach almost comically obvious. Take (or not, as I didn’t) the guy who hit on me in the parking lot while I was leaving the gym this week:

Him: “Beautiful car.”

Me, navigating out of a tight spot, windows down: “Thanks.”

Him: “Not as lovely as the woman in it, though.”

Me, thinking how nice a random act of complimentary kindness feels on a Monday morning: “Aww. Thanks!”

Long pause, during which I wiggle my car back and forth. I still haven’t thought to get a good look at the dude.

Him: “Maybe I could take you to lunch sometime?”

And yes, dear reader, it still took a couple seconds after this exchange for me to realize he had intentions beyond simply making pleasantries and exhibiting patience while I got out of the way.

In the scene above, I wore ratty maroon gym shorts, a gray tank top, a forest-green towel-as-cape, fuchsia sneakers with holes, and sweaty hair standing up a la Bart Simpson.

No one could call me an attractive exerciser.

Even after long road races for which I feel pride of accomplishment, I don’t buy the overpriced promotional photos. Actually, I try to position my race bibs so that the photographers can’t capture the identifier by which they’d horrify me via e-mail with visual evidence of what I look like exercising.

I can’t possibly imagine on any given workout day how someone could find me alluring.

Should I feel flattered that someone likes me in a sweaty, mismatched, frumpy, disheveled state, seeing it as an opportunity to wow him in the future? Yet if he likes me at the gym, will he like me not at the gym? What about a nasty gym look appeals to this man? And what does liking a nasty gym look say about him? Should I question this guy’s mental health? His judgement?


I met my last serious long-term relationship in an early-morning running group. (Yes, this means we met sweaty in the dark, which sounds a lot sexier than the reality.)

So maybe I should give fitness locales a little more credence.

Given how much time I spend in gyms and on running routes, meeting someone in one of these spots would probably make lifestyle-matching somewhat easier.

Yet wouldn’t this mean I need to put more care into my workout façade? And I don’t want to spend the time, effort, or money to look good during a workout. I just want to work out.

A conundrum.

Where did you meet your spouse, partner, significant other?


I Made It: Bring on 2016

Proof-of-life photo. Somehow, I managed to survive 2015. October 26, 2015. Houston, Texas.

Maybe every year is peculiar in its own way. A lot happens in twelve months.

Yet, unlike many other years I can remember, 2015 had soaring highs and lows. Amid a lot of intense, nearly overpowering craziness in my personal and professional life, I stood witness with all of you to mind-boggling insanity in the world near and far, from race relations traumas to the rise and entrenchment of terrorist groups.

Goodbye, 2015.

Each year, I set goals. In this process, I review the year past to look for successes and failures and to reset my thinking for the upcoming twelve months.

In review, working through my professional goals in 2015 took more bandwidth than I’d anticipated. Further, I had a few adverse-event surprises (maybe I’ll write about them someday, but not now, not in this post). Together, this double whammy knocked me off course in almost all life facets.

Including writing. I didn’t get back to it. At all. Not on this blog—obviously—or elsewhere. I can’t quite articulate why. I lost my writing mojo to intense stress and the concomitant mental exhaustion. Even today, it hasn’t quite come back.

Of course, we can only plan for so much. We can point our course in one direction and strive our best to head that way, despite buffeting from winds, weather, and sea monsters.

Although I didn’t reach my destination for 2015, I made good strides in some areas—progress I wouldn’t have made without a general direction in which to strive. I learned quite a bit in the process. I made some positive personal and professional changes based on my experiences. And though I got knocked down, I didn’t get knocked out.

And amid all the ridiculousness, the good and the bad and the crazy, some truly beautiful things emerged. As they will, when you pay attention.

Let’s focus on the good things.

  • The People. Circumstances in 2015 forced me to watch my friends and family step up in times of need—and I felt astounded and humbled by each person who provided physical and moral support. The people in your life influence your physical wellbeing, your happiness, your contentment, your fulfillment, and your personal and professional growth. Choose your associates wisely; all of us have limited time to invest in building relationships. And please: Tell and show the people in your life what you value and appreciate about them. We never have enough time to say and do the things we’d like to say and do.

  • The Work. I’ve nearly completed some large professional operational changes. I have a few finishing touches ahead, yet the heaviest lifting is complete. As with all changes, I wish I’d made these a long time ago. You know how it goes. Hindsight, 20-20, and so on. Having it mostly done, even later than I’d have liked, feels really, really good.

  • Service. At midyear, The Johns Hopkins University named me the chair of its Second Decade Society, one of the boards of its school of arts and sciences. I’ve had an incredibly rewarding experience that has deepened my appreciation for the institution. I’ve met some amazing current students, faculty, administrators, and staff; I’ve built connections with incredible fellow alumni; and I have learned more about my alma mater than I feel I’d known even as a student. As a result, I’ve gained far more than I’ve given, even though I’d intended the opposite upon accepting the role.

  • Ramona. The two of us? Still a dynamic duo. We beat the doctors’ timelines. Maybe she sensed that in this challenging year, I couldn’t face her departure; she rallied well after we sorted her medications. Yet I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that she will die, just like all of us. And I don’t think I ever will.

So what does 2016 hold?

Let’s hope for goodness and beauty. For us all.

This 2016, I’ll focus on loving more, experiencing more, deepening more. In the last few years, I’ve grown immensely professionally through some rough knocks. In 2016, I will stay the course to carry through the initiatives I put into play at work in 2015. Yet, now that the intense generative effort has gained the momentum needed to assume a life of its own, I’ll take time to nurture myself, experience a little more of the world, and appreciate ever more deeply the amazing people I’m lucky to know.

And maybe, in the process, I’ll find my way back to writing. Even a little.

Tell me: How does 2016 look for you?

P.S.—For all of you who read this and engage me in dialogue as a result, thank you. You enrich my world.


What We Expect from the Workplace

In an article I included for my last Friday Links post, Danial Adkison wrote about his high-school employment at a Pizza Hut in Colorado.

Since I read it, I’ve chewed on it.

Adkison’s manager, Jeff, created a second-family environment for his staff, replete with water fights in the parking lot, dinner and movies, rafting and camping, and softball. When Adkison applied to universities, Jeff paid for flights, hotel, car, and food when he took Adkison to visit Boston College.

Oh, and lest I forget: Jeff even paid for Adkison’s application fee (and its express-mail delivery).

Back when I worked as an employee, not an employer, I never sought a familiar relationship with my coworkers. Collegiality? Friendship? Sure. A coterie with which to spend a consuming around of time beyond work duties? No.

And I never looked to my bosses as parental or avuncular figures.

Yet I always had a strong family, even after my parents divorced. Further, I fall on the introverted end of the spectrum. I never gravitate to large-group activities. I prefer small-group and one-on-one interaction.

So when I first read Adkison’s article, I felt really out of touch.

Does everyone seek this sort of office environment? Does my mind state rest so far outside the norm that I’ve never realized it?

Would my team want this sort of workplace? We have plenty of group activities, but nothing like what Adkison describes, with all-day outside-working-hours hang-outs that include kickball.

And then I wondered: Perhaps Adkison’s environment felt so perfect because it came at a time when he needed cohesiveness due to a difficult home situation. The teenage years unmoor us all—and a challenging family environment only exacerbates them.

As with other life facets, could we seek different qualities from a workplace as our lives and mindsets evolve?

Perhaps defining your office culture requires looking at your employee mix and intuiting what it wants at this point in the average teammate’s life? Yet what if you have a lot of diversity in your staff—as you should?

I can’t imagine that with a strong group of friends and a set of engaging extracurricular activities—or with a wife and children at home—Adkison would have sought the same level of emotional fulfillment and camaraderie from his Pizza Hut team. Instead, perhaps he’d have sought to gain knowledge and enrichment and chances for leadership experience. In his off-work time, he’d have other priorities.

After all, even Adkison points out that Jeff, the manager, may have sought this type of team due to a recent divorce and the desire to create a family that he no longer had.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Perhaps these thoughts simply console me for not providing the level of personal involvement and extraoffice activities and engagement that Adkison describes as so fulfilling. Maybe I simply make excuses for not wanting to create a family feeling for my staff.

I care about them—don’t mistake me. And I love spending time with them. I count myself immeasurably lucky to get to work with every single one of them every single day.

Yet I assume that, like me, they have relationships and interests outside the office that they’d like to pursue after they’ve gotten the work done—especially over playing kickball with their coworkers on a Sunday evening.

Yet often I completely miss what people want from me—and that comes to employees especially. If they don’t articulate it, I completely miff it.

What do you think?

What do you seek from your workplace? What do you feel most people seek?


Friday Links #4: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted reading material on my coffee table. October 2014.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, each Friday post will feature fantastic articles, books, and blog posts that I’ve read since the Friday post before. The more good writing gets spread around the world, the better.


  • Atul Gawande writes beautifully. His articles in The New Yorker make me wish every profession had someone so insightful and eloquent. (Gawande is a surgeon.) Anything he writes, you should read. And his essay in the New York Times about how society—and medicine—could improve treatment for people in the final stages of life resonated for me. How can we do better by the people we love who face the end? How do we make their exits as peaceful and positive as possible?
  • Another article in the New York Times, a reflection on work by Danial Adkison, made me wonder about our expectations of the workplace. Do we all want it to feel like family? Or do we seek this type of work environment and these types of office relationships only when we lack a supportive, cohesive family outside the workplace?
  • I empathize with my friend Rebecca’s uncertainty about how to best deal with compliments. Everyone likes to receive praise, but so few of us know how to graciously take it. I’ve meant to comment on her post for a while, but I don’t have any truly solid advice. Do you?
  • In the New York Times, Ian McGugan wrote about the NFL’s lack of any strong incentive to change when it comes to cracking down on inappropriate player behavior to preventing concussions. Over years of crafty marketing, the sport has rooted thoroughly in our national consciousness, plays into the comfort of the familiar when it comes to rules and customs, and thrives through our natural human tendencies for brand loyalty—all of which weaken the winds that could turn over new leaves.

Do tell:

What have you read recently that I should read?