Saturday, January 24, 2009

Advertising Your Bitterness to the World

"PROVE to me there is a decent man SOMEWHERE on this planet"
(Headline in a "Women Seeking Men" ad in craigslist)

Craigslist ( is a popular place for trying to sell a car, sublet an apartment, dispose of an extra ticket to a basketball game, or barter a video game collection for a used mountain bike. It's also a place where people try to find romantic partners or sexual hook-ups. In fact, I read somewhere that the various "Personals" categories get more hits than all other categories combined, although---big surprise!---men are nearly twenty times more likely than women to be checking out "Casual Encounters", and much less likely to be perusing "Strictly Platonic".

According to craigslist's criteria, the "Men Seeking Women" and "Women Seeking Men" categories are supposed to be for people seeking "dating, romance, or long-term relationships". Thus, they constitute the middle ground between friends-only and no-strings sex. Although I'm a happily married man, I read these ads from time to time to get a sense of what people say and how they say it. Given that I met my wife through a personal ad, I think that ads and online profiles can, if done right, be a good way to meet people---not the only way and not necessarily the best way, but a good way.

Of course, not everyone does it right. There are an incredible number of ads that say absolutely nothing about the people who wrote them; or that are little more than wish-lists to Santa ("... seeking someone slim, sexy, beautiful, and under 25..."); or that are riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors.

And then there are the ads that say too much about the people who wrote them. Although some ads are simply way too long (a good ad should tell the reader just enough to make him want to know more), others are of manageable length but send an unintentionally toxic message. The woman whose headline I quoted, above, is a good example. Her ad said that she has met nothing but liars, losers, and assorted lowlifes, and that she's tempted to give up on men entirely. It concluded with a paragraph that began (in all caps) "DON'T WASTE MY TIME..." (...if you don't have a steady job, if you live with roommates, if you bet on football games, etc.).

I'm sure this woman had plenty of reason to be frustrated, even disgusted. There certainly are a lot of liars, losers, and assorted lowlifes out there, and the woman clearly has enough self-confidence and self-respect to know that she deserves better. But by emphasizing her disappointments, her bad experiences, and her non-negotiable demands, the ad probably scared off the very people that she was hoping to meet.

Why would a guy who has a good job and a place of his own, a guy who's not a gambler or an alcoholic or a jerk, a guy who's sincerely interested in forming a stable relationship, want to contact this woman? A guy like that has options. Why should he want to invest time and energy on someone who has a chip on her shoulder? Why should he go out of his way to "prove to her" that he's not a loser like all the others? Keep in mind: all he knows about this woman is what she said in her ad. It's a lot easier for him to move on to the next one, which may have been written by someone emanating more positive energy.

The really sad thing is that the woman will probably never know that she's scaring the good men off. The lack of positive responses will only reinforce her notion that there are no good men out there, creating a vicious cycle of bitterness. I'm not saying that people should simply forget all the bad things that have happened to them, but they don't need to emphasize them, especially in a personal ad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Your Kidney or Your Life!

"He wants his pound of flesh. But he's not going to get it by way of the kidney."
(Lisa Bloom, CBS legal analyst)

I wish I could say I make these things up, but I don't. Every time I think I can say I've seen it all when it comes to divorce, someone comes along with a claim that trumps the others.

The lastest example of divorce litigants behaving badly is Dr. Richard Batista. The 49 year old graduate of Cornell Medical School, described in the press as a "prominent Long Island vascular surgeon", is mad at his wife. So much so that he wants her to do something that other doctors have said will literally kill her: he wants the kidney back that he donated to her in happier times. And if the divorce judge won't order that, he'll settle for $1.5 million as payment for the kidney.

Aside from the multitude of legal and ethical ethical reasons why Mrs. Batista should not have her kidney involuntarily ripped out, or have to pay big bucks for it---for starters, buying and selling organs is illegal in this country; and, clearly, the original kidney donation was...well...a donation, a gift, and the law never requires a gift to be returned---I have to wonder why the good doctor thought that such an outrageous demand would help his case, or enhance his career. He's reportedly fighting for increased visitation with his three kids---ages 14, 11, and 8. Well, he's certainly sending a hell of a message to them: "I hate your mom so much I'm willing to let her die on the operating table. But, I'll consider letting her live if she gives me a million and a half dollars."

And what about his reputation in the medical community? If you needed a surgeon, would go to him? If you were a colleague, would you refer patients to him? Ironically, his wife's attorney has described his demands as a publicity stunt. He's gotten plenty of publicity all right, but virtually all of it has been negative. What was he thinking?

And, for that matter, what was his own lawyer, Dominic Barbara, thinking? I practiced divorce law long enough to know that you can't always do everything your client wants you to do. Atty. Barbara should have said---sympathetically but firmly---"Doctor, I understand your feelings, but this is a terrible idea. At the very least, it will backfire. At worst, we could both be in trouble for ethical or even criminal violations." Of course, I'm assuming that Atty. Barbara didn't concoct this nutty scheme himself; if he did, he deserves to be disciplined by the state bar authorities.

There is something about divorce that turns otherwise reasonable, educated, accomplished people into maniacs. In almost every case I can think of, people on a mission of revenge have done far more harm to themselves than they hoped to do to their spouse. They wind up looking like fools, damaging their reputations, alienating their kids, spending a fortune on doomed-from-the-start legal battles...for what? The chance to make life miserable for their estranged spouse?

Trust me: it's not worth it. If the two spouses can't be civil enough to engage in divorce mediation or what's called collaborative divorce, they can at least be adult enough to recognize the reality that the marriage is over. They should turn their attention to their kids and to the future, and avoid saying things that will haunt them for years to come.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Five-Year-Old Spy

"An Omaha man has filed a lawsuit accusing his ex-wife of planting a recording device inside his daughter's teddy bear in order to spy on him."
(Associated Press story, 1/7/09)

I say in my book that, when it comes to marriage and divorce, I've either seen it all, heard it all, or done it all. But I have to admit that I had never imagined someone installing a recording device in a five-year-old girl's teddy bear that she brought to her father's house on weekend visits, in order to get evidence against him in a custody dispute. Several hundred hours of conversation were recorded over a six month period in 2007. It is unclear whether the little girl knew that she and her bear were acting as spies. My guess is that she had no idea.

To be sure, I know of quite a few cases where a divorced parent has tried to pump his or her kids for information about the other parent. Typically, the information sought has to do with the ex's boyfriend or girlfriend. "Did Daddy's new friend come over while you were there? Did she stay overnight? Was she nice to you or was she mean?" The questions can also arise over other issues. "Did Daddy bring you to Grandma's house Saturday? Did he stay there with you or did he just leave you there?" "Was Mommy drinking beer? Is she still smoking? Do you have to wake her up in the morning?"

Parents who do this kind of thing will always justify it. "I'm not going to send my child somewhere where it's not safe, or where he's being neglected." "That new girlfriend of his is nothing but a slut. I don't want my daughter exposed to someone like that." "Emily is always crying when she comes home on Sunday. I know something bad is happening there".

In these situations, the parent will not only pump the child for information, but will do it in a manipulative way. "Daddy's friend yelled at you, didn't she? She made you cry, didn't she? What else did she do? You don't want to ever go back there when she's there, do you?"

I'm not a child psychologist, but I do know that kids---especially pre-school kids---are easily manipulated. They want to please, and they don't want to see someone angry with them. They'll answer questions in a way that the questioner seems to want them answered, especially if the questionner is their mother or father.

It's all well and good that a parent is concerned for his or her child's welfare, but pumping a child for information about the other parent---or using the child as a spy---is about the worst thing a divorced parent can do. A child should never be put in that situation. Unless the situation is life-threatening (your child comes home from a visit with bruises, burn marks, or other visible signs of abuse), get your evidence some other way. If you think your child is being dumped off at the grandmother's most of the weekend, a private investigator can quickly confirm if that's true. If you think a particular person has caused emotional harm to your child, there are qualified child psychiatrists and psychologists who can interview your child in a non-threatening, non-manipulative way. If you think there's neglect or mistreatment going on, you can make a report to your state's child protection agency. If you want a judge to look at the matter and make changes to visitation orders, you always have that right, even if the divorce case is closed.

But never put the child in the middle. In almost every case, you'd be inflicting more damage than you're trying to prevent. And, if you put a recording device in your daughter's teddy bear, you'd not only be breaking the law, but killing your daughter's sense of innocence and trust. Nothing justifies that.