June 26, 2016

Are You Safe?

Imagine that you have gone out for dinner and drinks with someone you know. Perhaps he's a good friend. Maybe he's someone you've been dating for a while. He could even be your boyfriend.

Now, imagine that something goes wrong. Without realizing it, you have too much to drink. Way too much. Maybe you got carried away and didn't pay attention to just how many drinks you'd had. (Or is it possible someone tampered with the drinks?) In any case, you start to feel woozy, and before you know what is happening, you pass out.

What do you expect your friend to do?

What I expect is that my friend will check to see if I need medical attention. If I'm unconscious and he can't wake me up, I expect him to call 911. I expect him to be concerned for my health, and to do whatever is necessary to make sure I'm safe.

I expect him to do what any normal, decent person would do.

Unfortunately, not everyone is normal or decent.

You may have read about the case of Brandon Vandenburg, who carried his unconscious date into a dorm room and allowed her to be raped by three other men. He apparently found the assault quite entertaining, encouraging the rapists and taking videos of the incident. In the following days, he concealed evidence, and continued to cultivate a relationship with the woman, who did not remember being gang raped because she had remained unconscious while it was happening.

In addition to the pure evil of this man and the other rapists, there is the contemptible indifference of the bystanders who did nothing to help.

But this article isn't really about them. It's about the safety of women, especially young women on college campuses, where stories like this are all too common.

Sadly, it seems the best way to be safe is to trust no one.

Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.
  • Don't get drunk. Overindulgence is not healthy. When you're drunk, you don't exercise good judgment and you don't have control over your situation. Even under the best of circumstances, you will feel rotten in the morning.
  • I could say avoid alcohol altogether, but alcohol in moderation is not usually the problem. The problem is "date rape drugs" which can be slipped into any kind of drink, including plain water. To protect yourself, you need to be diligent with your drink. If you're at a bar, don't let someone get a drink for you. Go to the bar, watch the drink being made, and take it from the server yourself. Wherever you are, keep your hand over your drink, and take the drink with you when you go to the restroom.
  • If you start to feel lightheaded or ill, get help immediately.
  • Use a buddy system. If you and your friends are at the same party or event, keep an eye on each other and intervene if someone appears to be having trouble. If you are on a date or at an event without your friends, have a system of checking in with each other at regular intervals.
  • Have some money concealed inside your clothing (in case you lose your purse) so you can take a taxi if you need to get away from your date.
  • Don't be shy about calling someone, including your parents, to come pick you up.
  • Know the location of emergency services on campus, including emergency call boxes.

Even before you are on that date, taking those precautions, think about who you are going out with. It's not always easy to spot a bad guy, because people, even rapists, usually make an effort to present themselves in a positive light. But sometimes there are clues.
  • How does he treat you? Is he respectful? Does he make jokes at your expense? Is he prone to crude sexual remarks? Is he too grabby? Does he follow up on promises, or does he make cheap excuses? Does he make you feel good about yourself? What would your father or your best friend think about the way he treats you? Someone who doesn't respect you is not someone you can trust.
  • What are his friends like? How do they talk about women? How do they treat their girlfriends? Would you feel safe if left alone with one of them? While it's not always fair to judge people by the company they keep, the reality is that people tend to hang out with others who share the same values.
  • What do people who know him say about him? What do other women who have dated him say?
  • Trust your gut. If you just feel that there is something suspicious about someone, even without a logical reason, avoid that person.

And please, if you see something, say something. A bunch of guys carrying an unconscious woman is a bad sign. One guy, supporting an unconscious woman on the way out the door, is a bad sign. Anyone becoming unconscious is a bad sign. If you can safely intervene, do so. It may be helpful to recruit some friends to help you intervene. If you don't think it's safe or effective to intervene, call the police. Always be willing to call an ambulance or the police for someone who needs help.

Stay safe.

June 10, 2016

Mutual Support?

It isn't necessary to formally join a group to become part of a virtual community. Commenting on the blog posts that you enjoy or that make you think is a way to quickly begin connecting with others, people who have something in common or who have similar goals.

When I come across an online article that I think will be interesting or helpful to my followers, I'm eager to tweet it out, or to write about it in my blog (always with a link back to the original item, of course), so that great ideas will reach a wider audience. And I'm very appreciative of my fellow bloggers when they find something I've written worth sharing with their followers.

We support each other. We give credit where credit is due. It feels good.

I didn't feel quite the same way about an email I got this morning. It came from someone who started by telling me how fabulous my blog is. So far, so good. She went on to say that she had used many of my tips to build her blog audience. Um, okay, but did she ever give me credit? Apparently not. According to her, she just used my ideas to promote herself, and there is no indication she ever linked back to my blog, gave me a tweet, or even mentioned my name.

I took a look at her blog and, really, there's no evidence that she actually used any of my ideas. Most of her posts focus on a particular topic that I rarely write about. I think it's unlikely she'd ever heard of me before doing a little research to create a list of bloggers she wanted to contact. The purpose of her email was to flatter me into sharing her recent post in which she quotes and promotes a lot of "famous" experts.

There is nothing wrong with self-promotion. Like a lot of people, I have a book I'd like to sell, and I know how difficult it can be to get bloggers (who are inundated with requests) to write reviews. I empathize with creators who are struggling to be noticed. I have happily linked to infographics, accepted guest posts, written book reviews, and tweeted links.

I'm particularly appreciative of those who return the favor by linking back to me, reviewing my book, or giving me the occasional tweet. In any case, I prefer to support people who have something of value to offer, and who do it in a way that seems sincere and aboveboard.

I didn't get a feeling of sincerity from this email, especially when I noticed that it was sent and signed by someone whose name didn't appear anywhere on the blog that was being promoted. Yes, some successful bloggers have help (and that's okay), but the person writing the email didn't identify herself (or possibly himself) that way, claiming, instead, to be the author of the blog. A click on the Google+ link in the email made it seem that this might be a false identity. The blogger posing as her own staff member? A friend who'd rather remain anonymous? A hoaxster of some sort?

There is probably nothing terribly wrong with the blogger in question. But her way of approaching others doesn't create a good impression. She needs some solid tips on how to promote a blog. A first impression that fosters suspicion is not one of them.
UPDATE, June 24: A few days ago I was approached by someone who wanted to write a guest post for my blog. She claimed to have read and understood my guidelines, and proposed some possible topics that sounded good, so I gave her the go-ahead. However, when the article arrived, it was very disappointing. It was poorly written, and would have required a great deal of editing had I wanted to use it. Worse, the author had not used any of the originally suggested topics, choosing instead a topic that was clearly not a good match for this blog. She had included a link in her article (which is fine). When I checked the link, it turned out to be to the very same article that other blogger had tried to get me to promote a couple of weeks ago, the one I wrote about in the above post.

So, who is the author of this article, really? Her Google profile doesn't reveal much, except that she promotes weight loss supplements. I'm inclined to think that she's really the same person who wrote to me the first time, using yet another pen name, but there is no way to know. Whoever she is, she is going about this in a very misguided way.

June 1, 2016

White Wedding?

I recently learned an interesting phrase in Italian: Matrimonio in bianco.

Literally translated, this means white wedding (or white marriage). But it does not at all mean the same thing as that phrase in English.

When we talk about a white wedding, we are talking about a formal wedding in which the bride wears a white dress, with a traditional ceremony, followed by a reception.

In Italian, a white wedding is an unconsummated marriage.

In many cultures, the color white symbolizes purity. In the past, many people considered a bride's white wedding dress a symbol of her virginity, and the phrase "white wedding" was sometimes used to imply (or boast) that the bride was a virgin. Today the white gown remains a tradition. In theory, it is worn by a first-time bride, but in reality, many women marrying for the second (or third) time choose white gowns simply because they prefer the traditional look.

It's not clear to me if white (bianco) in the Italian matrimonio di bianco refers to virginity, or if it refers to coldness, the presumed frigidity between the partners. For comparison, another Italian phrase, settimana bianca (white week), means a ski trip, with white clearly referring to snow, but there are also a number of Italian idioms in which white has other meanings.

In any case, if you want to share your excitement about your upcoming white wedding with your Italian friends, make sure there is no misunderstanding. The Italian phrase for getting married in a white dress is sposarsi in bianco.

May 20, 2016

Parts of a Date

I saw this sign on the wall of a restaurant where Hubby and I had brunch last weekend.

There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered.

UPDATE: I have since learned that this was written by Judith Martin aka "Miss Manners". Whoever created this painting should have included her name as the source of the quote, rather than appearing to take credit for themselves.

May 10, 2016

Who Will Get Your Stuff?

My mother inherited a lovely set of sterling silver flatware from her mother. One day we were discussing her huge accumulation of possessions passed down through several generations, and she told me about the silverware. It happened to be the same pattern as a set owned by her cousin, and Mom wanted me to make sure that her set would go to the cousin after her (Mom's) death.

I wasn't sure this was possible. As her executor, I would have a fiduciary duty to dispose of her property in accordance with the law and the provisions of her will. I couldn't just give valuable things to people, even if I thought that was what she wanted, especially since I couldn't be sure that Mom's heirs would all agree.

My suggestion was that she give the silverware to the cousin now. That way, Mom could guarantee that the item would go to the right person, and she would get the pleasure of handing the gift to someone who would greatly appreciate and enjoy it.

So, Mom had lunch with the cousin and surprised her with the silverware. Everyone was happy.

Unlike many people, my parents created an estate plan, which includes their wills. While it doesn't cover every detail (like the silverware), it is clear about how their assets will eventually be distributed.

Without a will, the law decides what will happen to a deceased person's property. Often this means that things are not handled the way we would prefer. Few of us will leave estates as large and complicated as Prince's, but even modest estates may end up subjected to family feuds, exorbitant probate costs, and tragic, unintended consequences.

In one sad case that made the news several years ago, a man died, no doubt assuming that everything would go to his widow. Instead, investigators tracked down some distant cousins who had been completely unknown to the man. Because of the way inheritance laws worked in that state, the cousins got a large portion of the estate, forcing the elderly widow to sell her home. The cousins, who had never heard of the man until they were located by the investigators, could have refused to take the money, but they were greedy and felt no remorse for impoverishing a woman who had expected to remain in her own home and keep whatever she and her husband had managed to save. Because the law allowed it, they considered themselves entitled.

Not only is it possible for your property to go to relatives you'd rather ignore, if an appropriate heir cannot be found, your property will go to the state. Very few people would make that choice.

No matter how young you are, if you have a spouse and/or children, you need a will to protect their interests. In many states, you may also want to create a trust, which can make it easier and less expensive for your trustee or executor to distribute your property according to your wishes. Make sure you work with a qualified attorney, especially if your situation is complicated or if you plan to do something unusual, such as disinheriting someone, since unusual provisions often trigger challenges.

People sometimes shy away from estate planning, because thinking about their own mortality is uncomfortable. It's actually a painless process, just a matter of making a few decisions and doing a little paperwork, much of which is standardized. My husband and I took care of this several years ago, leaving us with one less important thing to worry about.