Can You Truly Be Friends With Someone You Have Never Met In Person?

In our world of social media, insta-stories, snapchat and all of the other mediums available, it is easy to connect with people all over the world.  This means that we can develop relationships with people who we have never met in person.  We can directly message them, follow their lives on social media, and possibly even take it to the next level and talk to them on Skype or FaceTime.  Yet if we never actually meet in person, can we really consider these people our friends?

In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to have developed a group of followers on social media who I interact with regularly.  In some cases I look forward to their posts, they tell me they look forward to mine, we comment on each other’s musings, and we feel like we have some sense of each other’s daily lives.  I feel like I relate to them because of the things they post, and I feel like we have some sort of connection.  Often they inspire me to do better, cheer me up,  and remind me of what truly matters.

On my own social media, I often post about what is going on in my private life which recently included a broken finger. surgery, flooding and a new office location.  My followers congratulated me on the positive, cheered me up over the negative and sometimes even made me laugh.  They reminded me that they cared, even if we have never met in person, and I felt some sense of support reading their empathetic comments.  In contrast, I have friends who I have known for years, who are not on social media, and who I haven’t had much contact with in the last couple of months, who know of none of these significant developments in my life.  They didn’t have an opportunity to offer support or encouragement because they were unaware of the events going on in my life.  Ironically, the latter group are people I definitely consider friends, whereas the former group, I question what category to put them into since I have never met them in person.  Is one group more my friends than the other?

Ultimately what I think it comes down to is how one defines a friend.  For me, a friend is anyone who I feel a connection with who brings something positive to my life, and with whom I enjoy having contact.  The form of contact doesn’t matter.  It can be online, or in person, however, I must confess that I can only feel a really strong connection with someone who I have met in person.  There is something deeper when you can look someone in the eye, feel their energy, observe their body language, hear the tone in their voice and sense their aura.  The only form of contact where this type of connection can be made is in person.

This brings me to one of the dangers of online connections.  In my view they aren’t enough.  If someone isolates themselves from connecting with people offline and only has virtual connections, they will be missing something in their lives. Virtual friendships can compliment real life friendships, but they cannot replace them. So, can you truly be friends with someone you have never met in person?  My answer is yes, but a virtual friendship is different than a friendship in the real world.

 

Knowledge Is Power

All too often people stay in bad relationships out of fear of the alternative.  Fear of not having enough money to live.  Fear of never finding love again.  Fear of having less time with their children.  Fear of the unknown.

Fear based decisions are never good ones.  Knowledge is power and while we never have a crystal ball, relationship decisions can be made a lot easier if we take the steps to gain knowledge to empower ourselves. This can be as simple as setting up a consultation with a family law lawyer to find out about your rights.

Many family lawyers offer free 30 minute consultations, but even if you have to pay for the consultation, it can be money well spent.  A consultation can clarify for you what you are likely to gain and lose both financially and with respect to your children, if you walk away from a relationship.  Acquiring knowledge can better help you make a decision about what makes the most sense for you.  The consultation is confidential, so your partner doesn’t even need to know that you spoke to a lawyer unless you want him or her to know.  Most importantly, a consultation will help alleviate your fears, put to bed any misinformation you have heard, and if you ultimately plan to leave, it can provide you with a valuable plan or roadmap to put you in the best position possible after separation.  In addition, a consultation doesn’t obligate you to do anything.  You are empowered by having the knowledge of your rights, but you don’t have to make any changes unless you choose to do so.

Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events, and part of what contributes to the stress in uncertainty.  This is what keeps so may people trapped in unhealthy relationships.  While a family lawyer can’t tell you whether you will find love again, (and chances are you probably will), a lawyer can answer many of the other questions surrounding the uncertainty of divorce so that you can empower yourself and live your best life.

Why Shared Parenting Should Be The Norm After Divorce

What two factors determine how well children fare after divorce?   Mom and Dad.  It seems like it should be a no brainer that having a good relationship with BOTH parents is critical to children’s well being.  Yet many judges still favour mothers in cases where custody is being ordered by the court.

A recent study by Linda Nielsen, a Professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, found that the effects of conflict between divorcing parents may have been exaggerated and that minimizing conflict may be less important than other factors when it comes to custody.  High conflict does not necessarily mean poor outcomes for children.  What does matter most for positive outcomes for children according to Nielsen’s study?  The quality of the parent-child relationship, with both the father and the mother, trumped everything else.

This provides a strong argument that shared custody should be the norm unless it is a situation involving abuse or neglect.  The love and support of both Mom and Dad is much more important to children’s well being.

Here are some tips for parents that make a shared custody arrangement easier on everyone:

  1.  Don’t talk about the other parent negatively to your child.  If you need to vent, find a friend, write in a journal, call a family member.  Don’t vent to your child.
  2. Be willing to put your child’s interest first by accepting that for certain life events. your child needs both his or her parents there, and you can tolerate the presence of your ex for a few hours at a graduation, an important game, a wedding and other important events in your child’s life.
  3. If your child is having difficulty with something in the other parent’s home, encourage your child to talk about it with the other parent.  Don’t put yourself in the middle of something that shouldn’t involve you.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Let little things go and don’t make a big deal out of something that your ex did that in the bigger picture really isn’t that important.

Shared custody benefits children in many ways.  It’s about time it becomes the norm.

Is The Long-Term Monogamous Relationship Dead?

With high divorce rates, less people marrying and the easy access people have to meet others through the internet, one must wonder whether marriage and long-term monogamous relationships are becoming extinct. I sometimes wonder if by the time my children are 30 whether marrying or finding a life long partner will even be something that is considered important.

Let’s look at the reasons why people married historically. The biggest reason in the past was to create a family unit. Marriage meant a commitment which is something most people value in choosing someone with whom to have children. In 2017, however, many people don’t view marriage as necessary to show a commitment and the common law union has become more widespread. In addition, a small number of people believe that a commitment isn’t even necessary for the purposes of having children with someone. The high divorce rate, and the number of single parent households has also shown that a married couple is not necessary to raise happy, healthy children. Research has shown that children of divorce fare just fine if it is handled properly. For all of these reasons, marriage is no longer viewed as something necessary for the creation of a family unit.

Another reason for marriage in the past was for economic stability. In 2017, however, many two income households are struggling and marriage does not provide the same security it once did. Long-term marriages that break-up can be especially costly where spouses see their net worth cut in half after years of hard work and saving. More and more, people do not want to expose themselves to this risk so they don’t want to marry or re-marry in midlife. Some couples do stay together for financial reasons, often leading miserable lives, co-existing in the same home, but essentially leading separate lives.

Now let’s look at the modern day phenomena that work against marriage or a long-term monogamous relationships. With the invention of the internet and online dating, people have fast, discreet and easy access to a wide range of others looking for everything from marriage to a one night hook-up. Cheating has never been easier. Being a player, a serial dater, polyamorous or just simply content with casual relationships has also never been easier. It is easy to feel like you can always do better and are settling by just picking one person to spend the rest of your life with.

In 2017 we also live in a society that wants instant gratification. There isn’t value placed on working hard, paying dues, and putting others first in the me generation of today. Any long-term relationship is going to have its ups and downs. It will require some level of work to stand the test of time. People today want “good vibes only” and don’t want any negativity. They view relationships as something that should be easy and fun, and if this changes, they see it as time to move on. Commitment to someone isn’t valued the way that it once was.

Another factor working against long-term relationships is the rise of women in the workplace, earning their own money and not being financially dependent on a man. Many divorces these days are initiated by women who are unhappy in the marriage and know that they have the means to stand on their own feet. They don’t need to tolerate a bad marriage the way prior generations of women did because they are not financially dependent on their spouses.

There is no doubt that the decline of marriage and long-term unions has created problems and a cultural change. It isn’t all bad news though. In prior generations, many people led miserable lives feeling stuck in a marriage that brought them down and did not meet any of their needs. People also stayed in abusive or neglectful relationships too. Nowadays, most people realize they have options and choices to do what is best for them. Ultimately, we all deserve happiness, and there has never been a time of more options and choices. We must be careful though, as Margaret Atwood, put it, “We are a society dying…..of too much choice.”

5 Tips To Help You Refresh and Renew Your Relationship This Fall

September is a month of new beginnings and renewal. This feeling of a fresh start in September stems from our childhood days of heading back to school. While we are feeling committed to making positive changes in our life, what better time could there be to take a serious look at our relationship with our partner and to re-commit to making our relationship healthier and stronger?

In an era where over half of all marriages are ending in a divorce, it is time we look at what we can do to make a relationship work, rather than end. Here are some ideas to help you renew your relationship:

1.  Commit and Re-commit: A successful long-term relationship requires both parties to make it a priority, even when you have children. Be careful not to be so busy putting your children first all the time that you completely neglect your partner. It is easy to lose yourself in your role as a parent and forget what it is like to be a man or woman outside of being a parent. It is important to make time for each other without the children to connect emotionally, physically and spiritually.

2.  Take Ownership of Your Role in Things: In times of challenge or difficulty it is easy to resort to the blame game of blaming the other person and taking no ownership of your own role in things. This is never helpful. Instead, ask yourself, how am I contributing to this issue and what can I change in my behaviour that will facilitate a resolution of the problem? 

3,  Show Appreciation Regularly: We all like to be appreciated and all too often we feel taken for granted. Do your best to consistently acknowledge how much you appreciate your partner and what he or she does.

4.  Be Creative: Schedule date nights no matter how busy you are and come up with creative ways to be spontaneous and spend time together. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, connection does.

5.  Communication: No relationship is successful without good communication. If this has been lacking in your relationship, re-commit to sharing your feelings with your partner more regularly. No one is a mind reader, and many misunderstandings occur when we expect our partner to do or say things and they don’t.

Relationships aren’t always easy and there is no magic solution to staying together. Regularly practising these ideas won’t save a bad relationship, but they will help a mediocre one improve.

 

Love And Money: Are You A Gold-Digger If You Say Money Matters?

As a family lawyer, the two biggest concerns most clients have is whether they will have enough money and whether they will ever find love again.  Love and money are at the core of so much of our lives.  When couples divorce, money is often a major issue.  It is also at the centre of many fights in a marriage.  If money is such an important matter in marriage and divorce, one wonders whether it is also important when couples are only in the dating stage.  My answer to this question, is YES money does matter when you are dating.

In an ideal world money wouldn’t matter at all. If we didn’t need money or there was lots of it to go around, dating, marriage, and divorce would be very different.  Realistically though money is a scarce resource, some people have more, some people want more, and some people will do just about anything to get their hands on it.

Money definitely complicates relationships. In modern dating who pays for the date has become much more complex than it used to be in the old days where the man always paid.  Now who pays is a complicated affair that can result in resentment, bad impressions and the end of a potential romance. I have female friends who still expect the man to always pay, and if he doesn’t it’s a deal breaker.  Conversely, I have male friends who think it should be 50/50, and if the woman feels differently, it is a deal breaker for him.  There are no clear cut rules on this and everyone has an opinion.

Who pays for the first date may not be as big an issue as who pays for multiple dates, activities and potentially holidays as a couple moves into the relationship stage.  If both parties have similar incomes or a similar net worth it may be more straightforward,  If one party earns substantially more than the other or has a much higher net worth, should this person pay more often? Does it matter if this person is male or female? If the party with more money likes to enjoy a higher lifestyle, does he or she have to forego dining at fine restaurants and going on luxurious vacations with the other party unless he or she is willing to pay the full tab?  When you are in your twenties and haven’t accumulated much wealth yet, these questions aren’t as much of an issue.  However, when you are in midlife or older, they can be very real issues which is why I say that money DOES matter in a relationship.

There are some people, though, that place too much emphasis on money.  We are all aware of gold-diggers whose main requirement in a relationship is that their partner has money and will financially take care of him or her.  There are many people out there who are willing to settle into a bad or loveless relationship just because the other person has money.  If someone is wealthy, it is amazing how often they are deemed more attractive despite how they look, act or treat their partner.  As a woman, I loathe to say this, but the reality is that women are more often guilty of doing this than men.  I have been advised countless times to give a wealthy man a chance even if I am not attracted to him.  While I think money is a realistic factor in a relationship, it is definitely not the most important or decisive factor.  I think that men or women who place too much importance on money will inevitably end up in an unhappy relationship.

The rise of the gold-digger has also given rise to marriage and cohabitation agreements. As a family lawyer, I recommend these to clients who have assets to protect, but it certainly can take the romance out of a relationship to be discussing what should happen if the relationship ends.  It can also give rise to resentment and power imbalances. As a society though, we have reached a point where people are more willing to risk their heart being broken than they are willing to risk losing money if a relationship goes bad.

With the importance placed on money and protecting our assets, I can’t help but feel that we are losing out on romance. 

As relationships and marriage take on more of a business-like approach, we are losing some of our connection with our partner by keeping a wall in place to protect ourselves. I know these are strange words coming from a lawyer.  It is a reflection of the modern world which leads me back to the question asked in the title to this blog: are you a gold-digger if you say money matters?  My answer:  NO!

If you would like some legal advice on how to protect yourself financially, contact me at leanne@leannetownsend.ca for a consultation.

Is It Ever Ok To Settle In A Relationship?

We all want to find that person who sweeps us off our feet, makes our heart race, and gives us butterflies in our stomach.  I certainly dream of the fairy tale where I meet my perfect Prince Charming and live happily ever after. But is this realistic when you are in midlife and have been married before?  If you have someone in your life who adores you, and you enjoy his or her company, but he or she is not your Prince or Princess Charming, is it “settling” if you decide to be with him or her for the long term?  Is it ever ok to settle? These are difficult questions in modern day dating and it is worth exploring the answers.

There are a number of definitions of the word “settle”, but this one offered by the Free Dictionary seems the most appropriate in the dating context:  “to accept in spite of incomplete satisfaction.”  As we go on date after date, with a checklist or mental vision of what we are looking for, we would be settling according to this definition if we choose to be with someone who doesn’t completely satisfy us on all levels.  We would be “settling” if we didn’t feel a strong emotional, mental and physical connection to our partner.  Is it realistic to expect this level of connection with someone and can we still be happy with something less?

The modern dating world with the easily accessible and wide range of daters available through online dating and other avenues. makes it difficult to pick just one person without feeling like you are settling.  It gives rise to the grass is always greener syndrome and helps create unrealistic expectations of what we may be able to find.  It becomes easy to approach dating with a glass is half empty philosophy where instead of focusing on the positives of our partner, it is easy to look at their shortcomings and where they don’t meet our ideal, and to believe that “someone better” will come along.

If we have someone in our life who treats us well, loves us, but doesn’t excite us, it is easy to ask the question, “is this as good as it gets?”  The response to that question may be yes or it may be no.  In a world where so many of us have unrealistic expectations about love and relationships, we may be setting ourselves up to always feel like we are settling.  On the other hand, I would be the first person to say, NEVER SETTLE….not in love, in life or anywhere.  The goal is to be a realistic non-settler.  Know what you are looking for and insist on finding it, but make sure it really exists and isn’t some magical unicorn from Neverland.   No partner is perfect, so don’t look for this, but at the same time we all deserve to find that person who puts a smile on our face, makes our hearts race and gives us butterflies in our stomach.   The person who does those things does exist, and whether you are 20 or 50, and whether you have never been married, or you have been married several times, you owe it to yourself to hold out until you find that person.

The key is to understand that happiness is an inside job and not to look to any relationship to make yourself happy.  If you are truly happy with yourself and with your life, when you meet the right person you will know.  You will NOT be left wondering, “is this as good as it gets?”

The Good Vibes Only Relationship

Let’s be honest.  No one likes a Debbie Downer. We all appreciate positivity and good energy.  This is especially true in the dating world.  We want our relationships to be fun and to complement our already stressful lives.  Modern day daters, in particular, seem to only want relationships that are fun, light, easy…..”good vibes only.”  While “good vibes” are definitely important, “good vibes only” should not be what we strive for in a relationship.

We all love to be around positive people.  Positive energy is contagious.  In the dating context, positive energy is attractive, draws others in and makes people want to be around you.  Many modern daters have been hurt or burned by a past ex.  The last thing most people want is to introduce a new Negative Nelly into their life.  This has led to an increased desire for casual, fun relationships with no commitment, obligation or expectations.  It’s what I refer to as the rise of the “good vibes only” relationship world.

We live in a world where people don’t really want to commit to anything….not a relationship, a job, not anything long-term. It is the immediate gratification world.  If something becomes difficult or challenging, we want to quit it and move on to the easy, light, fun, next best thing.

With the creation of online dating, it has become easier and easier for daters to meet new people and be able to block, drop or “ghost” somebody with whom they no longer want contact.  If Sally or Sam is starting to complain or assert needs, it is easy for Ted or Tina to drop them, and find somebody “more fun”.

The problem with light and fun, is that it can also mean superficial.  Deeper connections with others are only formed when we allow ourselves to open up, be vulnerable, and do the thing many modern daters dread…..talk about our feelings.  And because life sucks sometimes, our feelings might occasionally be negative. It isn’t realistic or healthy to force ourselves to feel positive all of the time.  To lead a healthy lifestyle, we need to feel a full range of emotions including the negative ones such as sadness, shame and fear.  If we can’t tell our partner that we are feeling some of these emotions, we can’t ever truly get really close to them.

It is no wonder that there are so many disconnected, lonely people in this world.  When we can only have relationships where we put our best image forward and hide any negative or insecure feelings, how can we possibly feel connected? Having a mantra or relationship criteria like “good vibes only” forces us to suppress our negative feelings and never deal with them.  It also creates a world where everybody thinks that everyone else’s life seems so wonderful. We feel like we are failing when we struggle and can’t share our struggle with anyone for fear of being considered too negative and dropped. We also can’t assert our needs because our “good vibes only” partner will then see us as being too clingy or demanding, and they will quickly move on to someone else.

Of course, when we are in the very early stages of dating “good vibes only” makes sense.  We don’t need to divulge our life story and deepest insecurities to someone we are just getting to know.  It seems though that there are many daters who just bounce from one light, casual relationship to the next with no interest in really connecting and getting to know anyone. While that may be fine as a short-term strategy, I can’t see how anyone can achieve long-term happiness if the extent of their relationships with any partners is a light, non-committed, “good vibes only” meet-up, hook-up or fling.

Approaching relationships on a “good vibes only” basis is cowardly.  It protects you from getting hurt. We need more risk takers…..the ones who are willing to take a chance on opening their heart, being vulnerable, asserting their needs, and discussing feelings, both positive and negative.  Faking positivity all the time for fear of being alone can’t lead to a happy, fulfilling life.

Welcome To The Online Dating Buffet Where You Can Sample An Endless Array Of Dishes

Online dating is changing the world of relationships and dating.  The good news is that if you are all about casual fun, the opportunities are greater than ever to find someone who shares your interest.  The bad news is that if you are looking for an exclusive, committed relationship you will have to work a bit harder to find it.

The online dating world is essentially like a buffet at a restaurant. People go up to the buffet and they sample a variety of dishes, they go back a few times more, trying different things, maybe having seconds of a dish they particularly liked, but never just picking one dish only and sticking with that.  It’s the same with online dating.  Everyone wants to meet different people so why just commit to one person when someone more attractive, more fun, more accomplished, more whatever, may come along tomorrow?

Just like at the buffet table some of the dishes are spicy, some are sweet, some are bland and some are just plain disgusting.  The dishes come in all shapes, colours and sizes.  The variety is endless.

The buffet of potential dates has created a situation where everyone is afraid to settle on one person.  In our instant gratification world, every one wants a fun, light, easy, “good vibes only” relationship. If someone puts expectations on another or voices dissatisfaction with something in the relationship, they are instantly disposable, and easily replaceable at the online buffet.  It’s easy to dispose of someone you never really took the time to get to know.  But isn’t it worth getting to really know someone?

I can’t help but feel that as a society we are losing out bigtime when everyone treats others as if they are disposable and no one takes the time to develop a deeper meaningful connection, a connection that makes you want to be committed to just one person and to work out differences. It is impossible to have a deep connection with someone that you have only met a few times.  Deep connections are necessary for fulfillment and leading a happy life.  If we are creating a society where people aren’t making these types of connections anymore, it is no wonder that depression, anxiety and addiction are prevalent problems.  At the root of these conditions is often a feeling of being disconnected and alone.

The buffet problem has become so prevalent that even people like myself, who are looking for an exclusive relationship, find the pull of a return visit to the buffet table hard to resist.  Tomorrow’s chocolate mousse might be better than today’s crème brulee. The vast array of choices makes it difficult for almost everyone to settle on one person without feeling like they are actually just “settling”.

This poses the question: what do we do?  How do we develop deeper, meaningful connections with a partner without feeling like we settled?  This is where we need to work on ourselves. We need to value deeper connections with those in our life, and let go of the thrill or excitement of meeting someone new, and the constant quest for something better.  We need to feel content from within so that we aren’t seeking validation externally.   We need to stop with the “grass is always greener” mentality, and feel content with what we have.

Through working with my own coach, I have developed a great toolbox for learning self-validation and self-love so that external validation becomes less necessary. If you are interested in learning more, please email me at leanne@leannetownsend.ca for details.

The Perils Of The Modern Day Wonder Woman: Can I Really Be A Hot, Fit, High-Powered, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Lawyer, Wife And Perfect Mother?

Wonder Woman was created in the 1940’s as a comic book heroine who was set for high adventures, excitement and romance. Fast forwarding to 2017, the modern day wonder woman has a high powered career, is a fabulous mother who home cooks healthy, vegan, gluten-free meals grown from her organic garden, keeps a clean house, is extremely fit, practises yoga, is a sexy wife, and looks fabulous. This woman still has to be a fictional character as no woman can manage all of this at once, but yet for many of us, this is the model we aspire to be like. What’s worse is that we beat up on ourselves, and other women, for not being able to attain this standard. This must stop!

As women, how many times a week, or even a day, do we feel like we aren’t measuring up to this unattainable standard? We feel less than, not good enough, and like we are constantly disappointing our family, our friends and ourselves.  Where does this pressure to be perfect come from and how can we stop it? Social media made it even worse as it has become easier to compare ourselves to the other Wonder Women who are posting about their fantastic lives with fantastic photos too.

The reality is that if you are managing to excel in your career, or motherhood, or fitness, or cooking, you are probably doing better than most. It isn’t a competition though and we need to stop competing against each other.  We need to be more supportive of one another.

In some ways it seems to me that younger women have much better boundaries and a better understanding that women shouldn’t be expected to do all of this.  It is often women who are over 45 who I find struggle the most with trying to be all things to all people, and putting their own needs last. Women in this generation grew up with the women’s movement and many sought careers outside the home. It seems though that changes in the division of labour on the home-front didn’t accompany the changes in the work force at the same pace.  Many of these women still perform all the household and childcare tasks of prior generations while balancing a demanding career.

Younger women and younger men seem to have a better understanding that one person can’t do it all.  The modern day man helps around the house, helps with the kids and is expected to do so.  Middle aged women can learn a thing or two from their younger peers on this front.

The best thing we can do to help facilitate change about the expectations of women is to support one another.  We need to recognize that most women are doing the best that they can, and they are usually brutally aware of any areas where there is room for improvement.  We don’t need to judge each other, and more importantly, we need to be willing to be honest and authentic about our own struggles, and stop putting on the perfect Martha Stewart or Gwyneth Paltrow façade that we are juggling everything to perfection.  If we start to get real and honest about the impossibility of being a hot, fit, high-powered lawyer, who is a perfect mother and wife,  who grows her own organic vegetables, and cooks, as well as eats, a healthy, gluten-free, vegan diet , we will then make progress.

If you are having difficulty juggling everything in your life, coaching can really help you establish priorities and boundaries.  Contact me at leanne@leannetownsend.ca for details.  I’d love to help you be your best and create the life you desire.