Senator Barbara Boxer: Don’t Compromise in Love

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For August, Senator Barbara Boxer, author of The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life, shares lessons learned over a lifetime in public service. This week, she reveals an early heartbreak and the lesson it taught her.

My mother taught me that it wasn’t important to have a huge number of “friends” around you.

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“If you have only one friend, and she or he is truly a friend, count yourself lucky,” she said. “What’s important is to make sure those you confide in, those you spend your time with, those you care about, truly care about you too.”

I remember a particular case in point. In high school I was stuck on this guy named Oscar. He was an unusual choice for me: a foreign-born student from Eastern Europe. I knew that he had a very troubled life and that somehow was appealing to me. So I asked my parents if I could invite my new “boyfriend” over for dinner.

“Mom,” I said, “I don’t think he’s ever eaten steak in his life!”

Food was always a way to show affection for my family and my mother was pleased to share our bounty. My father was less enthusiastic, but he always was when I told him I had a boyfriend.

Let me be clear: we were far from rich or even in the middle of the middle class. Anyway, Oscar started to come over on a regular basis and began eating us out of house and home. I loved it until he started acting weird. He became jealous if I even talked to another boy and made fun of the fact that I was co-chairman of the Boosters, a group that cheered on our not-so-winning high school basketball team.

“Why do you care about this silliness?” he said. “You are spoiled rotten by your parents.”

Now maybe he was right, but my life was warm and I was surrounded by love, and I didn’t understand why he felt that I was being spoiled. I began to doubt myself and was having a very hard time dealing with his criticism and cynicism. Through it all I still liked him, but wound up confused and mad at myself. So, you guessed it, I took it to my mom.

She had a simple solution.

“If any person in your life doesn’t really care about you, hurts you, especially if you have shown them love, then walk away and walk away fast,” she said. “Why do you need it? What good does it do you? I know you feel bad for Oscar because his life isn’t as good as yours, but if your warm family life makes him jealous, well, that’s his problem. He doesn’t understand that there’s a big difference between being spoiled and being loved.”

There she was again: giving me advice I would have had to pay an analyst thousands for if I couldn’t follow her wisdom. I told Oscar we should break up because I was too young to have just one boyfriend. He didn’t argue, just looked sullen, as if he expected it. He walked away. As he did, I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from me. Maybe it was lifted from him too.

So, yes, find good people who truly care about you, give them your love and support, give them respect, but expect it back. Otherwise, take a hike. Get away. Find real love, real friendship.

No wonder when I was eleven I wrote the following rhyme to my mother. I found it in her jewel box after she died:

Ill always love my mother. She is so dear to me.

And when a good thing happens

Shesalwaysthere to see.

She makesdelicioussuppers

That I just love to eat

And when she tucks me in at night

It really is a treat.

And so when you give out medals

My mom deservesthe prize. She is a wonderful person

In everybody’s eyes.

Excerpted from The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life (Hachette Books), by Barbara Boxer.

Don’t Make Me Spend My Holiday Weekend at Your Wedding

Holiday weekends: They’re filled with many dreams — dreams of all the errands you’ll finally get done, how many lazy hours of Netflix you’ll catch up on, and exactly how much Seamless a human can have delivered over a 72-hour period. They’re truly bursting with possibilities.

But an evil force threatens the serenity of those weekends as we know it and it’s the dreaded holiday-weekend wedding. Oh, yes. There are couples among us who would have you believe that paying through the nose to spend your precious mini-vacation doing the hustle with their uncle Larry is something a person actually wants to do. And guess what, if you don’t want to do that, you’re a bad friend who never really cared about them to begin with.

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It’s time for some hard truths.

Holiday-weekend weddings are very, very bad. They can sap your bank account and your sanity even more so than regular weddings, require way too many joint activities with strangers, and are often impossible to attend. I love you, and I want to be there for your big day, but I also have very few holiday weekends a year, and I don’t want to use one of them for your wedding.

I love you and I want to come to your wedding. I also have very few holiday weekends a year, and I don’t want to use one of them on your wedding.

First of all, it’s generally much more expensive to travel over a holiday weekend than other times of the year. When you factor in the already exorbitant cost of flying, the added bucks can put potential guests in a financially perilous position. And it’s not just air travel — hotels and rental cars can cost more too. I really want to come to your wedding but I also really want to pay rent.

And traveling over a holiday weekend comes not just with added financial costs, but stress as well. Airports are crowded, rental-car places are overburdened, and don’t even get me started on hotel check-in. I once attended a Memorial Day weekend wedding in Vegas and the check-in line at the Bellagio literally snaked out the door. Into the Vegas heat! I think I cried, but I’m not sure if it was tears or sweat. I know it’s kind of a goofy thing to complain about — first world problems and all that — but the woman who finally checked us into our room said the previous weekend was a breeze. Empty counters as far as the eye could see! Penny slots for the taking! Craps tables teeming with opportunities!

But nope. I was stuck in the seventh layer of Vegas hell between a bachelor party filled with men exclusively wearing backwards baseball caps. For what team? I don’t know. Probably Satan’s.

And then there are the forced activities of holiday-weekend weddings. I know people think it’s so awesome that you’re spending your holiday with them so they want to make sure it’s action-packed. That’s nice but I don’t want to spend three straight days with a bunch of people who are mostly strangers. Those packed itineraries make the long weekend akin to summer camp from hell. I once had to kayak down a murky river in the sweltering September heat with a groomsman I didn’t know — for three godforsaken hours. Do you understand how terrifying kayaks are and how much I hate them? I fell into the water twice and as soon as we got back, I had to head straight to a necklace-making tent for the next fucking activity. I left that wedding with about 50 mosquito bites and a bunch of ruined swamp clothes.

I don’t want to spend three straight days with a bunch of people who are mostly strangers. Those packed itineraries make the long weekend akin to summer camp from hell.

My long weekend could’ve been spent staycationing in my apartment with my beloved dog and my even more beloved air conditioning, which brings me to my next point: One of the best ways to spend a holiday weekend is slipping into your pajamas Friday night and not peeling them off until Tuesday morning. Add in a steady diet of Netflix and candy, and it’s the perfect way to bliss out for an uninterrupted stretch of “you” time. You know how normal weekends never feel like they contain enough downtime? That’s what three-day weekends are for.

On the flip side, lots of us have long-standing holiday weekend obligations that are nearly impossible to get out of. Memorial Day with mom in Maine and Labor Day at the lake are familial traditions that are generally considered too taboo to break. I might really want to come to your wedding but it might also fall during a completely untenable time.

And that old chestnut of “The people who really love you will show up no matter what!” is totally unfair. I might really love a person and want to see them get hitched but I often have preexisting holiday-weekend plans with other people whom I also love. That puts me in a tough position. You still need to do what’s right for you but don’t discount my love just because I have a non-refundable Airbnb booked in Hawaii for that weekend. (This is a true story, BTW. I chose Hawaii and wish I could say I was 100 percent great with my decision, but I was also a little sad because I missed the wedding of a great friend from high school. Luckily, another buddy was able to Skype me in for the ceremony so I still got to cry when I saw her walk down the aisle.)

All this is to say, again, I love you very much — but I don’t want to go to your holiday-weekend wedding. I’m pretty sure many other people don’t either, so do us all a favor and plan it for one of the many weekends that isn’t a government holiday. Or don’t! Whatever! It’s your life, and my opinion doesn’t really matter, and you are obviously totally fine with people talking shit behind your back about how inconsiderate you are. JK, JK, JK.

But really. Please stop.

These People Don’t Want to Have Kids Because of Climate Change

Last week, Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, a non-binding agreement among 194 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate other “climate-resilient development.” It’s just one of many decisions the current administration has made that’s put the environment in danger. And decisions that accelerate the rate of climate change have some people questioning whether they should have children.

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Many adults in their 20s and 30s grew up with an awareness of protecting the environment, whether it was a Sesame Street segment telling them not to waste water, or learning about deforestation from National Geographic. “My first memory of worrying about the environment is from when we learned about greenhouse gasses in 7th grade science class,” said Victoria, 28. “I had heard of acid rain before then, but as a kid I didn’t really connect that to the environment or global warming in a broader way.”

“I was definitely the kid that made sure things got recycled and whatnot. I watched a lot of Discovery Channel when I was young, and I feel like I was really interested in environmental issues from a pretty young age,” said Zach, 27, who now works for a charity federation for environmental organizations in Washington, D.C. And for many, awareness quickly turned into anxiety. “As a kid I would stress about water conservation and recycling. I still do, really,” said Kyle, 24.

Studies show that millennials are having fewer children than their parents’ generation, and there are many reasons for that. Student loan debt and not having a guarantee of parental leave make having a child an expensive endeavor, and it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to admit you just don’t want to have kids. But some admit fear over the future of the planet is influencing their decision-making.

Zach said there are many reasons he doesn’t want kids, but as a teenager, he began doing research on climate change. “I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a good chance I would live to a ripe old age, given what we had done to this planet,” he said. “It just didn’t seem fair to bring a kid into a world that they would likely suffer greatly in, and be tasked with dealing with the immense fall out, even in a wealthy global behemoth like the US.”

“I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a good chance I would live to a ripe old age, given what we had done to this planet.”

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Victoria is on the fence about having children, but says the state of the environment “makes me feel super conflicted about bringing anyone into this world.” Kyle also says there are a lot of factors, but “the climate change aspect I had only considered recently.”

There are two arguments that typically come up when people discuss climate change and children. One is overpopulation, and whether or not it’s a legitimate threat to the planet. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, which sparked the Zero Population Growth movement. The idea was that adding more people to the planet, who would use resources and energy and space, would only accelerate our demise. Thus, people needed to commit to having smaller families, or no children at all.

“Realistically I don’t think that one child makes a difference either way, even though in other circumstances I don’t behave this way,” said Victoria. “Like, I never take shells from the beach because if everyone did there’d be no shells left. And I always vote, even though I know that my one vote for Hillary in California really didn’t change anything.” One child may not make a difference, but like with shells, it can add up.

But the more pressing issue for many who decide against children is the ethics of bringing a child into a world that is suffering. While estimates on just how much we’ve messed up the planet vary, the consensus is we have, in fact, messed it up. Back in 2007, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it was “too late to avoid global warming,” and most agree we need to take drastic measures, fast, to protect the planet.

“These days I honestly feel like it would be irresponsible and morally bankrupt to bring a kid into the world!” said Leah, 28. She and her husband have been thinking about having children, but she’s been more reticent, given the state of the environment. “I feel like the recent shift and fear has been more of my issue than his, and we haven’t really fully reconciled that yet.”

“I don’t think that children born today will have the luxury of continuing to put off action on the climate,” said Zach, “and I feel they will be the first generation―in this country anyways, obviously there are places that are already suffering huge effects from erratic/extreme weather and rising oceans―to bear the brunt of the damage we have caused.” And to bring a child into the world knowing their future will likely be threatened by the climate seems unfair at best, and cruel at worst.

“If I had any confidence whatsoever in national leadership that prioritized climate change, I would feel much better about everything, and about the prospect of having children.”

The Trump administration isn’t helping either, and Victoria says that her thoughts on having kids might be different if Trump weren’t in charge. “Having this clown in office really, really does feel like we’re coming up on the end of the civilized world,” she said. “If I had any confidence whatsoever in national leadership that prioritized climate change, I would feel much better about everything, and about the prospect of having children.”

The issue of having children on a planet where the ice caps are melting boils down to optimism about our ability to make things change. That, or assuming the next generation will “save the world” the way our parents said we would

“I don’t think a child of mine would live to grow up. I don’t think your children will,” wrote Kate Schapira on Catapult about the subject. She struggled with telling her mom about her and her husband’s decision, made in the wake of Trump’s election. “One reason I didn’t want to tell my mom about James’s and my decision not to have children is that I didn’t want to tell her that I’d given up on the future. But who am I to set myself up as a prophet, even a failed one?” Having children requires us to divine the future. And, in some cases, to hope we are wrong.

5 Women on Telling Their Moms They Don’t Want Kids

Having a child is a deeply personal decision. It’s also one that is complicated by societal (read: patriarchal) pressures–women are socialized to be caretakers, to believe that motherhood is an inherent part of womanhood. (There’s an entire slogan on Etsy saying that “only the best moms get promoted to grandmas,” as if a child’s choice to have children is a comment on one’s parenting.) Still, can you really tell your own mother to stay out of it?

Bea Arthur, a therapist and psychologist, says it’s important to understand where parents are coming from. “Being from Ghana, family is really important in our culture,” she says of her own parents, “so if you have kids, your kids take care of you because there’s no social security. So my mom is like, ‘I just want someone to take care of you.’ I know where they’re coming from, but that’s the only way they understand emotional support.”

She cautions not to confuse the goal of acceptance with validation. “This generation was encouraged to be very expressive, and they feel like ‘you need to hear me and validate me,” she said. “And parents are from different generations, different worlds it can feel like. So you need to see how you can talk to each other and relate to each other beyond these conditions. Can you still love each other, even if you don’t agree with what the other one wants?”

Some moms will recognize that having children is a personal choice. For Jill, 30, who is single and genderqueer, the conversation has been relatively easy. “She’s always been very understanding and accepting of my position about having kids, even though I know she’d love to have a grandchild. But she always reiterates that it’s 100% my choice, and has told me that it’s better to regret not having kids than it is to regret having them.”

Kat’s mom was also supportive, even though “there might have been some surprise, because I enjoy kids generally.” But she advises spinning the news as a positive choice you’ve made about your own life, rather than an experience you’ll be deprived of. “Moms like knowing their kids are happy. If you can show her you’ve made a choice that makes you feel excited about your future and content in the present, she’s likely to get on board.” Arthur agrees, saying if you “lead with why it’s about for you, and why it’s not about them,” and that you’re telling them this because you value honesty in your relationship. They may not take it as personally.

“It would probably help if we all worked a little harder to keep each others’ context in mind.”

But for moms who do take the choice personally, it’s important to remember that their reaction is Not About You. When Haley brings up her and her partner’s disinterest in parenthood to their mothers, she says it’s usually met with an eye roll or anxiety about not having grandkids. But she says firm, hoping her mother will realize that “no one is out here choosing to not have kids because they want to spite or victimize their parents, or because they don’t like children. Children are expensive, heart-wrenching, lovely, fulfilling nightmares. They aren’t for everyone, even perfect adjusted adults who generally like children.”

In general, though, understand that you may not agree. “It would probably help if we all worked a little harder to keep each others’ context in mind. The world that I’m in is very different than what my mom was navigating when she had my sister and I,” said Alison. And it’s possible to help your mother deal with her disappointment or shock without succumbing to pressure. “You may not be able to keep your mom from guilting you over your choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one for you,” says Haley. “Be gentle with moms, and yourself—everyone’s lives look different.”