Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Answered! Life's 25 Toughest Questions

Is love ever forever? When do kids become adults? Why is the line you're in always the slowest? Mysteries of the universe -- solved. Advice columnist Jeanne Marie Laskas weighs in.

1. Can love really last a lifetime?

Absolutely -- but only if you chuck the fairy tale of living happily ever after. A team of scientists recently found that romantic love involves chemical changes in the brain that last 12 to 18 months. After that, you and your partner are on your own. Relationships require maintenance. Pay a visit to a nursing home if you want to see proof of lasting love. Recently I spoke to a man whose wife of 60 years was suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease. He came to sit with her every day and hold her hand. "She's been my best friend since high school," he told me. "We made a promise to stick together." Now, that's a love story.

2. Why do married folks begin to look like one another?

Watch any two people who like each other talking, and you'll see a lot of mirroring. One smiles, and so does the other. One nods or raises her eyebrows, and so does the other. Faces are like melodies with a natural urge to stay in sync. Multiply those movements by several decades of marriage, all those years of simultaneous sagging and drooping, and it's no wonder!

3. Can a marriage survive betrayal?

Yes. It takes time and work, but experts are pretty unanimous on this one. In her book The Monogamy Myth, Peggy Vaughan estimates that 60 percent of husbands and 40 percent of wives will have an affair at some point in their marriages. That's no advertisement for straying -- but the news is good for couples hoping to recover from devastating breaches of trust. The offended partner needs to make the choice to forgive -- and learn to live with a memory that can't simply be erased. Infidelity is never forgotten, but it can gradually fade into the murky background of a strong, mature marriage.

4. Why does summer zoom by and winter drag on forever?

Because context defines experience. As Albert Einstein once said: "When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour."

5. Do animals really have a sixth sense?

Or seventh or eighth! A box jellyfish has 24 eyes, an earthworm's entire body is covered with taste receptors, a cockroach can detect movement 2,000 times the diameter of a hydrogen atom -- and your dog's sense of smell is up to 100,000 times greater than yours (some dogs have been known to smell human cancers). It's safe to say that animals experience a much different world than we do.

6. Why does the line you're in always move the slowest?

Because you're late for your kid's band practice, and you curse your luck and envy those speeding by. Conversely, when you're in the fast line, unfettered by stress, you don't even notice the poor schlubs in the slow lane. Good luck rarely commands one's attention like bad luck. (See answer on buttered toast, "The Ultimate Test," below.)

7. By what age should you know what you want to do with your life?

Any moment now. This used to be a question the young asked. Now it's a quandary for baby boomers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that younger boomers have abandoned the American ideal of picking a job and sticking with it. Between the ages of 18 and 36, these boomers held an average of 9.6 jobs. That's a lot of exploration. The wisdom of elders in all cultures seems to be this: There's nothing to do with a life but live it. As Gandhi pointed out, "Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

8. Where do traffic jams come from?

Scientists are hard at work on this one, studying computer models of the physics of gridlock and inventing all new traffic-light algorithms. Some of them postulate that the rhythms of automobile traffic are influenced by the same cyclical forces that cause waves in the ocean. For the average commuter, though, it may be helpful to think of it this way: congestion. There are just too many darn people trying to do the same thing at once. (Flush every toilet in a single office building simultaneously, and see what happens.) All of this by way of saying: Buy a newspaper, load up some favorite tunes on your MP3 player, and take the bus.

9. When is your future behind you?

When you stop chasing dreams. So don't stop!

10. Do you have to love your job?

No. Love your children, your spouse and your country. Love your parents, your neighbor and your dog. Loving is too important an emotion to attach to the way you make a living. But it's OK to strive for satisfaction. According to a recent Harris Poll, across America 59% of workers say they are extremely, somewhat or slightly satisfied with their jobs, but a depressing 33% feel as if they've reached a career dead end. If you're among the latter and thinking about a new job, consider the fact that employees in small firms said they felt more engaged in their work than did their corporate counterparts.

11. Can a man and a woman ever just be friends?

For a short time perhaps. Making the friendship last requires that you find each other at least vaguely repulsive. Good luck!

12. When do you take away Grandpa's car keys?

Twenty-two states currently require frequent testing for senior drivers. The American Medical Association and the AARP, however, say safe driving has more to do with functional ability than age. True, seniors are more at risk for reduced vision, hearing loss and impairments associated with arthritis -- but all of these conditions depend on the individual. So when it seems to you that Pop is becoming a danger to himself and a danger to others, tell him straight. Point out that his reactions have slowed or his judgment is losing its edge. Suggest he not drive anymore. Be firm, but at the same time, don't treat him like a child. Allow him his dignity. Offer him a ride.

13. Do siblings who fight really end up liking each other?

I surveyed my older sisters, both of whom have vivid memories of how I tripped, pummeled, and whacked them with various large plastic dolls (hey, they started it -- they teased me!), and both confirmed my suspicion that nowadays they like me just fine. I sure like them. All the experts will tell you that fighting among siblings is normal. The key is how parents handle it. Rule No 1: Don't take sides. Never get into a discussion of who started what or what is more fair. Stop fights with a time-out for all offenders. My mother would send us to separate rooms. So we invented string phones and a pulley system to transport necessary treats and toys. And whatever we were fighting about was forgotten.

14. How do you know when to end a friendship?

As soon as you get that sneaking suspicion that it never really began.

15. Why do we turn into our parents when we swore we wouldn't?

Because really, when all is said and done, we admire them.

16. Can a half-empty person become a half-full person?

A current theory is that people have an "emotional set point." Some folks are just made happier than others. Pessimists will see this as bad news, believing it really doesn't matter what you do -- they are never going to be any happier. But there is hope -- as any optimist will see! Happiness has more to do with how you construe the events in your life than the actual events themselves.

17. When do kids become adults?

Biologically, it's happening earlier; emotionally, it seems to be happening later. Nowadays puberty occurs in females between ages 8 and 14, between 9 and 15 in males. A generation ago, when you turned 18, you were out the door and on your own. Now we see kids in the Boomerang Generation coming home to Mom and Dad after college, hoping for a hand with bills, laundry, meals and other responsibilities of adulthood. It's cute for a while, less adorable the older the kid gets.

18. Can a mother be friends with her teenage daughter?

No. Most teens aren't ready for anything close to a mature friendship. According to current research, the brain continues to develop into a person's 20s. Mothers often want to befriend their daughters; fathers, their sons. But this is not in anyone's best interest. Teenagers need to form identities distinct from their parents. That means: lots of privacy, even some secrets. It's usually easier for a teenage girl to befriend the friend of her mother, and it's usually best for the mother to leave it at that.

19. Does money really buy happiness?

No. Because happiness isn't for sale. Many people get tripped up by this one, amassing wealth only to find themselves cycling into a bottomless pit of unsatisfiable yearning. Turns out, joy and misery are not that far apart when it comes to very big wads of cash. Consider the case of a Kentucky couple who won $34 million in 2000. Thrilled to be released from the demands of their boring old jobs, they frittered their fortune away on fancy cars, mansions, all the usual stuff -- losing everything that mattered in the process. They divorced, he died of an alcohol-related illness, and she died alone in her new house just five years after cashing the winning ticket. When it comes to happiness, only people you love, and who love you, can bring it. If you have enough dough to buy yourself a luxurious yacht, but no real friends to sail with, you're sunk.

20. Can spenders and savers stay married?

Sure -- and they won't run out of things to talk about either. Disagreements over money are a leading cause of divorce, so experts advise lots of work around this issue if, financially speaking, you've found yourself married to your opposite. Tip: Always talk in terms of "ours" instead of "mine" or "yours," and work your strengths. The saver should be allowed to draft the budget; the spender gets to be in charge of vacations, celebrations and ordering extra toppings on the pizza.

21. Is money the root of all evil?

No. Greed is. Elvis nailed this one when he said, "Sharing money is what gives it its value."

22. What do you do if you see a parent berating a child?

Cringe. Take a deep breath. If you truly believe you can help the situation, approach as someone showing sympathy -- not as an accuser or member of the parent police. Empathize with the overstressed parent. Suggest that he take a deep breath. Tell him it worked for you.

23. Why is it so hard to say you're wrong?

Because it often involves saying, "I'm sorry," which is even harder. Throughout history people have found it easier to stop speaking to one another, punch, slander, shoot and bomb rather than apologize. Tip: Next time just say, "Whoops," and see what happens.
PLUS: If God Had Texted the 10 Commandments...

24. When should you reveal a secret you said you wouldn't?

It's a matter of damage control. Is the person who asked you to keep the secret in danger of hurting himself or others? If so, intervene. Otherwise, mum's the word.

25. Does the toast really always fall buttered-side down?

Scientists in the Ask Laskas Kitchen conducted a study for which they first toasted an entire loaf of bread, one slice at a time. They buttered each slice, and dropped it from a variety of heights ranging from tabletop to ceiling. Among their findings: A dropped piece of toast never lands on its edge; stomping your foot and yelling "Darn!" does not change a thing; and the floor in the Ask Laskas Kitchen is not nearly as clean as we'd like. Well, life's like that. Never as neat as you'd like it to be. But keep buttering your toast. And savor every slice you've been given.

Written by: Jeanne Marie Laskas
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