Why Do Men Cheat?

The recent Ashley Madison scandal, where 38 million user’s emails were exposed, revealed fascinating results. Only 20 million of these men actually checked their inbox. Half the people who signed up to the website catering to spouses who want to cheat got cold feet. Almost all the users checking their inbox were men. The number of women who checked their inbox? 1,492. Most of these accounts were either prostitutes or employees of Ashley Madison paid to write fake profiles and fire off a few messages.

RELATED: Toeing The Line: Why Foot Fetishism Is So Popular

There are thousands of couples all over the world in anguish about this data leak. Wives should take comfort that signing up to the Ashley Madison account was almost a guarantee her husband didn’t cheat. It was statistically impossible with so few real women on the site. Still, 38 million men wanted to. They filled out a profile. They searched for women in their area. Then they kept searching, looking for anyone to get in touch and after a brief interaction with a fake woman (who faded on them) they de-activated their account. It’s actually sad, when you think about it.

In the book, The Truth about Cheating, by M. Gary Neuman, his surveys revealed interesting data:

  • 1 in 2.7 men will cheat, and most of their wives will never find about it.
  • 92 per cent of men say that affairs aren’t primarily about sex.

If it’s not about sex, what is it about? Anecdotally, psychologists say it is men’s fear of intimacy. But what does that mean? Men are frightened about revealing what, exactly? Men stray because they feel a loss of connection and don’t know how to get it back. The resentments that simmer from unfulfilled promises, addictions, and job losses etc. Men are frightened to reveal to their wives they feel like a failure and this fear permeates everything. An affair is a quick affirmation they can connect with someone. A quick respite from feeling so alone.

How are women contributing to this fear? Few people talk glowing about their spouse without throwing in a little slight. Maybe it’s a heavy nod when other wives complain about their husbands. We find it almost impossible to live without judging the crap out of our husbands. Men are guilty of this, as well. We think our spouse will make us happy and when they don’t, we blame them for it.

The unhappiness starts with the thought – it shouldn’t be this way. Then it grows into – I don’t have to put up with this. Then it takes hold with – he has to change. We’re all doing it. What would life look like if we removed the thought ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ and simply lived with our reality? I don’t mean staying in an abusive relationship, I mean seeing events without reacting. Finding peace in it. Having the thought – it is this way. My theory is if you find peace with yourself you can have a perfect relationship, even if only one person is happy. Your peace is everything.  Ending a relationship when you’re at peace is also, well, quite peaceful.

When you remove the thought – it shouldn’t be this way, something happens. You are available to talk about reality without judgement and intimacy gets a chance to happen.

Are You Studying For A Job That Won’t Exist In 20 Years?

A recent report has been published by the non-profit group, Foundation for Young Australians, which reveals sixty per cent of Australian students are training for jobs that will not exist in the future or will be transformed by automation.

  • 44 per cent of jobs will be automated in the next 10 years.
  • 60 per cent of students are studying for careers that won’t exist.
  • Young people will have an average of 17 different jobs.
  • Over 50 per cent of jobs will require significant digital skills and yet our young people are not learning them in schools.

The results show that 40 per cent of jobs have a high probability of being susceptible to computerisation and automation in the next 10 to 15 years. Jobs in administration will be the first to go. If the job requires system and data analysis, as in tax preparer, the job has a high probability of not existing in the future. Bank tellers, legal assistant, loan officer and cashier are all jobs most likely to be automated.  Even market research and sales research are jobs that will be replaced with machine-learning algorithms. With self-driving vehicles on the horizon, taxi and truck drivers will go the way of the VHS machines and local video stores and become defunct.

However, those jobs which require a high degree of personal collaboration will remain. Nurses, doctors, family therapists, curators, addiction counselors, high school teachers and of course, computer system analysts – they will be busy programming the software that automates jobs.

Young women looking at job forecasts should consider engineering (mechanical, electrical, environmental and computer programming), scientists and medical professionals are the most likely to have jobs in twenty years. As the population ages, jobs in senior care will also grow. There is a concern about the number of women studying the sciences, which according to the American Society for Engineering Education, hovers at just under 20 per cent. The number of women pursuing Master’s degrees in engineering is a fraction higher at 23 per cent. Overall, it’s still very low.

Ten jobs that are the most likely to disappear:

  1. Credit Analysts: 97.85%
  2. Milling and Planing Machine Setters Operators and Tenders Metal and Plastic: 97.85%
  3. Procurement Clerks: 95%
  4. Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders: 98.04%
  5. Tellers: 98.28%
  6. Umpires and Referees: 98.29%
  7. Loan Officers: 98.36%
  8. Timing Device Assemblers and Adjusters: 98.49%
  9. Tax Preparers: 98.71
  10. Telemarketers: 99.02%

Ten jobs that are the least likely to disappear:

  1. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: 0.31%
  2. Occupational Therapists: 0.35%
  3. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: 36%
  4. Dietitians and Nutritionists: 0.39%
  5. Choreographers: 0.40%
  6. Physicians and Surgeons: 0.42%
  7. Dentists: 0.44%
  8. Elementary School Teachers: 0.44%
  9. Medical Scientists: 0.45%
  10. Education Administrators: 0.46%

Image via huffingtonpost.com

Nanny: Friend Or Foe?

I was a nanny for ten years. Here is what I know about what makes a good nanny and how to find one.

1. I would recommend using the standard nanny sites to search for a nanny. Your friends won’t refer their great nanny to you. Great nannies are hoarded and kept secret because they are precious. Families don’t want to share their nanny, even if she only works part-time for them. Sharing a nanny means she might not be available at all times and availability is everything. Your friends are not giving up the glue that makes their family work. Great nannies are bragged about but never shared. You are on your own.

The exception to this rule is when your friend no longer needs the nanny because the child has started school. Then you must leap onto this nanny with the full force of your being and lock her down. She comes recommended from someone you actually know. This is gold. It rarely happens.

2. You will know within days of approaching your nanny on-line if she is reliable. How quickly did she get back to you with a message? Did she leave a succinct voicemail? Did she make herself available for an interview, at your convenience? Was she on-time for the interview? It will feel effortless when it’s working.

When it’s not working, you will feel your blood pressure start to rise. That’s because a complete stranger is about to enter your private sanctuary and care for the most important thing in your life. Without you being there. A great nanny feels like a relief. A less than great nanny makes you want to back-peddle on the whole concept of going back to work. Watch your thoughts around the nanny: that is your intuition talking to you.

3. How do you feel about the nanny in your home? Is there a sense of ease about her in your life? Do you actually get along? Does she listen? Are you listening to her? Do you get a niggling feeling she is judging your life? Does her life contain a lot of drama? Remember she is going to be firmly planted right in the middle of yours, do you feel safe with her there? Does she have a know-it-all attitude about childcare? Is she listening to how you approach raising your children and want to follow suit? Does she try too hard to stress her professionalism? Does she behave as if this is a filler job, while she finishes her degree? Does she complain about a previous family not working out?

When you interview a range of nannies, you are inviting a mix of people. Some of them will give you an ‘off’ vibe. That ‘off’ vibe is there for a reason. This is an unskilled profession and often, the people you will interview are unemployable. I say this as someone who has more experience than most – I have worked with over twenty families, often full-time. I have experienced the good, the bad and the awkward.

  • I have replaced a nanny who confessed to drinking the parent’s vodka and then re-filling the bottles with water. A nanny who launched an unfair dismissal suit against a family when a two-week trial period didn’t result in a job. A nanny who slept with the children’s father. Yes, I have replaced one of those, too.
  • I have only ever wanted to sleep with one father in ten years. As it turned out, he was already having an affair. You can imagine my disappointment. By rights, it should have been me.
  • I never said I was a great nanny.

4. How comfortable do you feel with your nanny and your husband? Dig deep on this one, there is only one good answer: very comfortable. She will be right in the middle of the kitchen, occasionally making your husband cups of coffee in the morning and sometimes it feels like there is another housemate living with you. Remember what happened with housemates back in the day? They slept together and it ended disastrously. Pick a nanny you would never think twice about. It’s easier than picking another husband.

5. Do your children and the nanny get along? I have interviewed for dozens of families and half the time, I didn’t get the job. The smart mothers recognized what was happening right away: I didn’t click with their children. The truth is – it’s a gamble. Some children I had an affinity with and other children irritated me. I still did the job, but the children I had an affinity with got a warmer experience. It wasn’t the better behaved child I was drawn to, either. It was that ephemeral ‘click’. Does your child have a tantrum when the nanny arrives for her interview? Pay attention to that. Does your child try too hard to perform? Notice that as well.

Your mother bear instincts are going to be on over-drive and they have to be. Listen to every thought that runs through your head, even if it seems paranoid. It is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Your nanny will spend hundreds of hours with your child, often years. The nanny will shape the way your child feels about the world and themselves. I appreciate when parents want a two week get-to-know-each-other trial period. It gives the nanny a chance to work out what the parents expect of them. It gives the parents a chance to work out if the nanny is crazy.

6. Once you have made a decision on a nanny, I have to tell you: the better you treat the nanny, the better the nanny is with your children. I don’t just mean financially. When a parent has treated me with consideration and respect; I extended that same respect towards their children. It’s wonderful to hear a heart-felt ‘thank-you’ after a day with a child. It can be a lonely job and these small considerations make it feel like we are all in it together.

Image via Baysidenannies.com

Is The New Marriage An Open Marriage?

“We’re in an open-marriage,” is the kind of announcement that would have once silenced a dinner party. Now the more likely response is a few polite inquiries about how that actually works and what the arrangement is. Or perhaps even, “does this mean I can now flirt with one of you and have an affair?” The rise of on-line dating profiles gives us a window into people’s sexual preferences. In fact, some dating websites ask the user to specify their interest in monogamy at the sign-up. Are they strictly monogamous, mostly monogamous, non-monogamous or in an open relationship? If the user wants to connect with other people on-line, they must choose where they lie on the spectrum of monogamy. It sparks the questions; what am I, really?

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It is common to see a profile of a couple seeking a third person to join them. More often, it is a photograph of a single person who states right up front they are in a loving, open marriage. Deeply committed to each other, but non-monogamous.

Marriage has existed before recorded time, as an alliance between families to secure their wealth and property. The Bible states very clearly what a marriage is and the Catholic Church put a stop to multiple wives or the common practice of a man ending a marriage when the woman proved infertile. So what is marriage now, with such a high divorce rate? American Sociological Association in Chicago found women initiated 69 percent of divorces compared to just 31 percent of men. Women want to be married more than men and yet they initiate the majority of divorces. The number one cause for divorce is infidelity. What the studies haven’t specified is if the man was cheating, or the woman. Nor does it tell us if they are getting a divorce because they wanted to cheat. For some people, finding out their spouse has an on-line account in the hope of meeting someone for an affair is cause enough to end a marriage.

The data leaked from Ashley Madison, the dating website for married couples who want discreet encounters, revealed 38 million paying accounts world-wide. These discreet encounters are presumed to be with other married people, although accidentally meeting your own spouse on-line while you are both trying to cheat would make a good film. 85% of Ashley Madison users are male. That’s a lot of husbands.

Part of this discrepancy can’t be explained in the easy conclusion that all men are dogs, but a more complex picture emerges when we consider women find it easier to meet men in the real life to have sex with. It might be women who no longer want to have sex with their husbands which initiated the man’s interest in seeking sex elsewhere. After all, women’s sexual appetites are more likely to wane after childbirth. For some women, it’s after a year or two of marriage and the consensus is – women have lower sex drives. The alternative many couples, the open marriage, might be because women are even less suited to monogamy than men. It’s not sex they want less of, just sex with their husbands.

We are seeing a new shift in the concept of marriage, as women can now leave their husbands and not get stoned to death in the local square by the tribal leaders. Perhaps the New Marriage is one where the husband agrees to his wife having extracurricular affairs, because it increases her sexual activity with her husband? Or perhaps they have an agreement about one affair a year for both of them? Will monogamy no longer be the assumed sexual preference among married couples? When a woman tells her friend she has found out her husband is having an affair, rather than the usual words of consolation, the standard response might become, “Was that part of the agreement you had or not?”

Image via weddingsonline.in

Tax On Tampons: Should We Boycott?

Australia’s states and territories have decided not to remove an unpopular tax on female sanitary products.

RELATED: Chauvinism or Chivalry: Can Feminism Go Too Far?

Australian sanitary products attract the 10 per cent goods and services tax (GST) because they are deemed non-essential. Condoms and sunscreen, however, are tax-free as they are more essential to a person’s well-being. Should Australian women challenge the government’s decision by holding a public demonstration, boycotting sanitary items and letting the blood run free?

Hundreds of women bleeding through their pants and on the backs of their dresses would change the government’s decision in the length of time it took them to run back to their parliamentary offices in horror.  Very few women are that brave and it’s a shame, because bleeding into our underpants is something we do every month, unless you are a perfect person who would never let that kind of thing happen.

When I was at high school, we had a standard ritual among the girls. One friend would stand up, turn around and say, “Check me” and we would check the back of their dress for blood. Having an accidental bleed was the worst thing that could happen to a person and the “Check me” ritual was constant. We were vigilant. I didn’t get my period until year twelve and I still demanded a check in case it accidentally burst forth during math.

One of the great horrors of my teenage years was watching my sister walk down the aisle of a crowded bus with the tell-tale circular red blotch on the back of her school dress. In my mind, I raced slow-motion through that aisle in order to throw myself over that public disgrace. I once saw a girl at school with this blotch, a girl who never seemed to have any friends and hence roamed ‘unchecked’ down a hall. I grabbed her and explained she had a blood stain. She laughed and said, “You’re lying.” I had to secure both her arms and plead my seriousness, “There really is a stain.” Her face froze when she realized she had passed to the other side. She had become The One Who Bled.

I haven’t really loosened up about this. Where did we get the idea a sign of our fertility was public death? We all have our accidents. I once met a boyfriend’s parents for the first time and then promptly bled onto their kitchen chair. I did what anyone facing imminent disgrace would do and flipped the cushion when no one was looking. Not every woman is quite so paranoid. I shared a house with a woman who regularly hung her permanently-stained white undies up on the hills hoist, for all and sundry to see. I was mortified someone might think they were mine. I was also impressed she didn’t care.

In April, Harvard grad and drummer for M.I.A, Kiran Gandhi, ran the London Marathon while menstruating. Before the race, she got her period and not wanting to run twenty six miles with a tampon inside her, she decided to skip it. The period blood ran down her legs and as she crossed the line with her friends, her arms held high in the air to celebrate their achievement, the world’s media collectively wretched. She broke the unwritten rule and it launched a new movement: the Free Bleeding movement.

I suppose it is the equivalent of our mothers burning their bras, only less hygienic. She made a wonderful point, though. What we can’t see, can’t be discussed and therefore, the Australian legislative authorities can tax what they consider an optional item. Who wants to go first and bleed on the steps of parliament? It would rather stand there naked with a tampon string tucked neatly inside of me. That is how confronting the idea is. But should it be?

The Problem with Spanx

Women pay 200 dollars to wear a beige body suit under their clothing. Basically it sucks the fat in or as women tell themselves, ‘smoothes out the skin’. If you put your arm around a woman wearing one, it feels like there is a thick bandage under her dress. That’s when her head spins round, because she knows the jig is up and she blurts out, “I’m wearing Spanx!”

I don’t care what women do to their bodies if it makes them happy. But Spanx denies us the pleasure of seeing what real bodies look like and that is too bad. Have you ever had a man tell you he thinks the fat around your belly is delicious? He wasn’t lying to you. I remember the first time I saw a woman with a little pot belly on screen was in the French film, Betty Blue. I was a teenager who thought only perfect beauty makes sex ‘sex’. A man had his head between her knees and as she gripped his hair, I thought ‘she’s got fat on her stomach and he hasn’t thrown her off the bed in disgust and walked out. How can that be…?’

I once had a boyfriend suggest I do something about the little mound of wobbly flesh on my stomach. He wasn’t lying, either. That’s the thing I’ve noticed about men, if you asked ten of them if your bum looks big in those jeans, you’ll get the same response, ‘of course not’, but they are having ten private thoughts. Based on the various things I have heard men and lesbians say over the years, I can only conclude people’s preferences are based on a kaleidoscope of memory/mummy/media-images…and how they feel about the words coming out of your mouth.

‘I like a woman with fat on her arms…I am not a boob man…I like it when they are so ripe, they’re bursting out of their clothes…Large breasts intimidate me…She has to be skinny, because I’m fat…She has the most beautiful breasts I’ve ever seen and I’m not a boob man…She has great glutes and over-developed trapezium…’ Okay, this last comment was said to me as I walked in front of a perfect stranger. I said thank-you, because the attention to detail seemed flattering. Then I went home and looked up ‘over-developed trapezium’. Not really a compliment.

If you’ve ever been to a Korean baths, then you have seen the moving tableaux of what women really look like. Hips and breasts and cellulite and flesh everywhere, dipping in and out of the pool. I remember seeing a woman with so much hair – it looked like a black Pomeranian had bitten her pubic bone and stayed there. We don’t get to see these shapes in magazines or on television because actresses wear Spanx. Every single one of them. Yes, even her. And her. They are moving product and they understand the job description. They can also be found at charity events liberating women from the oppressive Hijab, whilst shallow breathing in their Spanx.

My concern is – could Spanx bring the animal kingdom to its knees as people take home a skinny and find out she’s a boom-boom? The banging and wrestling sounds from the bathroom, as she tugs the body suit off and stuffs it into her purse might be the give-away. The problem here is the guy who went out looking for a big-bottomed beauty walked home empty-handed and now boom-boom is in the double-bind of having to pretend she’s a skinny, without any clothing on. I believe you can ‘think yourself thin’ but not five self-hating minutes in a dude’s bathroom. She fudged the details a little and hoped he wouldn’t mind. But in that fudge, denied herself the chance to find someone who loves her body as it is.

Instead of thinking the entire sexual mating game is getting played out on your torso – I hope women realize the pre-occupation with perfection is a much bigger turn off. It might be the moment he put his hands on your hips and discovers the surgical bandage. What we really respond to in other people is their self-esteem. We see them as they see themselves, for the most part. And self-esteem is one of those things that is hard to get and easy to lose. Personally, I have found the very best way to develop self-esteem is to reduce those moments in the day where you hate yourself. I’m going to go ahead and suggest flailing around on a bed, squeezing loose flesh into a body-length corset, isn’t a self-loving moment.

When I look at a woman’s body, I look at how she gets in and out of a chair; her core strength. You’re noticing it, too. If a person heaves forward and grasps the table to get up, either they are nursing a back injury or have zero core-strength. Unconsciously, I think I’ll have to let this one die by the side of the road, she won’t make it.

I don’t really think that, but my issue with Spanx is it does nothing for muscle tone and injury prevention. It’s like the guys at a gym wearing weight-lifting belts. These belts reduce their intra-abdominal muscles and unless they are representing their country in the Olympics, make them look like a numbnut. I guess they look in the mirror and see Mike Tyson winning the heavy-weight division but if you need a belt to squat the weight – it’s too heavy for you. It’s also impossible to flirt with a man wearing one and I have tried.

I heard a story about a woman at a wedding who drank too much, went to the bathroom and as she wrestled out of her Spanx, fell over and knocked herself out. Her sister had to escort her through the wedding reception, blood pouring down her face. That kind of walk of shame can echo through the next decade. The other problem I have with Spanx is they now come with a pee-hole, which seems worse.

Vivienne Walshe is an Australian playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been highly awarded and published by Currency Press. As an actress she appeared on The Secret Life of Us and many other television shows and performed in plays at the Melbourne Theatre company, Sydney Theatre company and Queensland Theatre company.

What do you think about Spanx – friend or foe?

Beauty Tips for Women Who Can’t Be Bothered

I am not pretending I have better things to do with my time than pamper myself. I just don’t find a $200 intensive facial relaxing, because my mind drifts towards the money I would save if I had stayed home and picked my own pimples. I want to look gorgeous and do nothing about it, that’s all. When I meet women with beautiful skin, I ask them what their secret is and if it requires zero effort, I manage to integrate it into my bare-minimum beauty routine.

We spend most of our time over-washing our hair and it reacts by pumping out more oil, which is quickly stripped away by aggressive shampoos and skin cleansers. Do less. I haven’t washed my hair with shampoo for months. I rinse it with conditioner and it has never looked so good, but I have curly hair. Straight hair needs to be washed as the oil travels down the hair, but no more than once a week. Stop using flat-irons and don’t heat the curling wand so high it could brand cattle.

Don’t wash your face in the morning. Cleanse it at night and leave it alone in the morning. Your face might feel wonderful when it’s been scrubbed clean, but it damages the skin to strip it of natural oils twice a day. I got this piece of advice from Selma Hayek and she is not only smoking hot, but has access to better dermatologists than you or I do and better dermatologists give better advice.

Sleep on your back. You might rail against this one, ‘I can’t fall asleep on my back!’ Shut up. Rolling your body over is not that hard to do. If you sleep on your side, you might have noticed in the morning – wrinkles start on your face and travel all the way down to your décolletage. I met a woman who looked twenty years younger and she gave me this fantastic tip, requiring zero effort. You will get used to sleeping on your back. Tuck pillows under your knees if that is more comfortable.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It really does hammer the skin.

The sun is not your friend. I remember watching a British comedy series when a character cried out, “I’m getting wrinkles around my eyes like an Australian woman!” Take Vitamin D, instead. Wear sunscreen and a hat. I wear a hat, scarf and driving gloves in the car. I have been told I look like a Korean Grandmother. I would wear a full face mask and body suit if I didn’t think it would scare people.

Try to drink at least a couple of glasses of water a day. If your urine looks like it has leaked from the rods of a nuclear reactor, you’re dehydrated. Drink herbal tea if water bores you too much.

Don’t pluck your eyebrows. Fashions will come and go, but eyebrows leave when they have been over-plucked and they don’t grow back. Trim them if you are worried you look mentally ill. Elderly women have to draw fake brows on and we think it’s something old people like to do. They do not. Imagine trying to hold your hand steady when you’ve got the shakes. They were gorgeous Mods once and over-plucked them. Eyebrows give your face youthfulness. If you have a monobrow, then you might want to pluck it but personally I think they look cool. Like Frida Kahlo.

Buy the softest toothbrush you can find. If you are too harsh on your gums, they get offended and recede. People don’t talk about their gum transplant and not because they don’t happen, but because they did it to themselves and the punishment was horrifying.

Black women age very well and the secret is they have been covered in butter and coconut-based moisturizers from the time they were born. Dry flakes of skin appear as an ash on their dark skin and hence, the constant moisturizing. Have you seen what Tina Turner looks like at 73? Moisturise.

Try to reduce sugar, pasta, bread and rice as much as you can. Just don’t tell anybody about it because no one wants to hear about what you’re not eating. Seriously, I’d rather listen to the dream you had last night.

The darker the vegetable – the better it is for you. Always reach for the darker vegetable when you’re shopping; the red onion; the cherry tomato; kale. Find a way to love the kale.

Put olive oil on anything you reasonably can. Occasionally, I’ll stop drizzling it on my salad and start drizzling it on my face and hair. Get into it. Wear a bib. The olive oil needs to be fresh and have a green tint. Preferably local, as olive oils from Italy and Spain vary so much in quality. You will know when you taste the real thing because it stings the back of your throat and makes you want to cough. A single cough olive oil is very good. A two-cough olive oil is even better.

And let me know what your beauty secrets are requiring zero effort. Because there is always room to add something new, when you’re putting zero effort in.

What are your beauty tips for real women? Tell us in the comments!

Vivienne Walshe is an Australian playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been highly awarded and published by Currency Press. As an actress she appeared on The Secret Life of Us and many other television shows and performed in plays at the Melbourne Theatre company, Sydney Theatre company and Queensland Theatre company. 

How Americans See Australia

As an Australian, it would be fair to say Americans hardly think of us at all. We are quick to call them culturally insular for this oversight, but consider the fact they have 320 million people of their own to consider. We see them through the kaleidoscope of American TV, and they do much the same thing with us. Steve Irwin is largely responsible for the perception of Australia as a land filled with poisonous animals. There is some residual fear they’ll be met at Arrivals by a gigantic spider and stabbed through the heart. Most people have seen the Australian version of Kath and Kim and they like our accent. They’ve heard of Tim Minchin and they’ve listened to ACDC. They say we never stop complaining about how expensive video games are in Australia and they admire our liberal use of the c-word. Then they usually say the c-word aloud. They say it just the once because they’ve always wanted to try it out. I usually nod and don’t bother explaining we’re not that liberal with it.

They say they would like to visit but don’t expect they ever will. And this is where the conversation gets wistful.

They ask about healthcare… ‘Is it true you have socialised medicine over there?’ They ask about long waiting lists and people dying of cancer, unable to access oncology doctors in time. No, I tell them, if it is urgent enough treatment will begin right away. That’s when they sit back in their chairs and start blinking. The TV show, Breaking Bad, ran for five seasons in the US as Walt raised the money to pay his medical bills by cooking meth. I like to tell Americans if they made the show in Australia it would go something like, ‘You have lung cancer.’ ‘Well, I’d better get chemo.’ End of season. Walt could have received subsidised chemo from a less reputable doctor his health insurer covered, but his wife wanted the best. There would still be deductibles and leave without pay, putting them in the red.

Healthcare is expensive for the self-employed, but often covered by an employer in the US. They take poorly paid jobs, ‘with great benefits.’ The major benefit is their medical bills will be covered by the employer. If they need to see a specialist, they’ll be assigned only those doctor covered by their insurer. If they want an expensive procedure like an MRI, the doctor will weigh a patient’s request against how much money it will cost their practice, should the health insurer not cover it. The patient will seek a second and third opinion, because they know treatments get denied because of the expense. The doctor bills the health insurance company at inflated rates to cover their own personal liability costs, in case they get sued for malpractice. Everybody is doing advanced math. When I call a doctor in the US, I haggle with the receptionist. “How much will he do a blood test for…What if I pay cash?” Usually, I do it on-line and pay a doctor I’ve never met in Texas for the referral.

The next line of enquiry is about college. If you have watched American TV, ‘saving for college’ is a plot device that comes up a lot. According to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2012, the average US student graduates with $24,000 of debt. That is a four-year bachelor’s degree, a Master’s program can run it into six figures. Over 40% of people paying back loans are between 30 and 50 years of age. 17% are over 60.

The debt is a mix of government and private loans and here is where it gets ugly: the interest rate varies between 3.8 to 10 percent on these loans. These loans cannot be defaulted on, even with bankruptcy. Americans watched on television as houses slid into the canals of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and I heard one woman say, “And you know, they are still going to have to pay back their student loans.” If you are injured and receiving a government disability cheque, they will garnish this income. If you default on your student loan and your future employer runs a credit check, you might not get the job with a poor credit history.

But the taxes are low. The food and petrol is cheap. It has to be. It is the most wonderful place to visit for the diversity and the natural beauty and their courage, which looks a lot like cheerfulness. I admire the cheerfulness of the old man packing my grocery bags with his gnarled hands. It’s not what he expected to be doing at his age, but cheerfulness is the enemy of entitlement. It says, I’m getting on with it.

So they see us funny and laid-back. Our humour is blunt and we take the piss, which sometimes confuses them. Making fun of an American is a bit like teasing the girl with an anxiety disorder. She looks bewildered at first and then her feelings get hurt. And they see Australia as a place they wouldn’t mind living but can’t afford to visit and they hope to get here someday and know they probably won’t.

Vivienne Walshe is an Australian playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been highly awarded and published by Currency Press. As an actress she appeared on The Secret Life of Us and many other television shows and performed in plays at the Melbourne Theatre company, Sydney Theatre company and Queensland Theatre company. 

Weight Lifting for Women: How To Get Toned Without Bulking Up

I have been a writer for most of my adult life and it comes with one professional requirement: Spending most of one’s adult life alone and sitting in a chair. And so I have been spared a lot of the water cooler conversations women might have together at work. I have no idea what women actually talk to each other about at work, but I’m imagining conversations might turn to food and fat and diets.

I’m basing that assumption on the fact that my mother works in an office and discusses weight and its imminent loss with me all the time, and has done for the last 25 years. “I’m cutting out caffeine, sugar, alcohol and dairy!” she told me last week. “Why live?” was my response and last week, while the rest of the family tucked into a glorious meal of traditional Mexican seafood soup, she scraped at a container of hummus with a rice cracker.

When I told her I didn’t think it was appropriate to bring the tub of hummus to the table and scrape at the corners of it, she sulked and ate it over the sink. I have to admit though, she is terrifically and cheerfully thin. My body, in the meantime, was taking me from place to place okay and when I did put on weight, my mother would have to point it out because I hadn’t noticed. She would try to put it delicately at first, “You’re putting on a little bit of weight,” and in case I hadn’t got the message, she would add, “I’ve never seen you this large.”

So I would head out the door for a sluggish, painful jog at night and when gasping with breath, wonder at how it had only been 10 minutes since I’d left the house. It wasn’t a ‘relationship with my body’ one hears in yoga class that I was having. I was a head my body carried around with the hope that in return, I wouldn’t let it get too fat.

And then something happened to change my head and my body’s life – I started dating a man whose body looked like it stepped off the pages of Men’s Health Magazine. He would peel off his clothing and walk towards the bedroom and it was so laughably perfect, in the back of my mind I would be thinking – no one would believe what I am witnessing right now, even if I posted it on Facebook. Which would be in bad taste, so I can’t do that.

A body this perfect, I soon discovered, requires a bit of work and healthy boyfriends enjoy the company of healthy girlfriends and so I listened without much enthusiasm as he explained how I could get a body this hot. Weight lifting. The last time I considered weight lifting was at high school when another school girl mentioned she had tried lifting weights but it was making her arms too bulky. She peeled back her school jumper and that’s when I turned around to look at her and indeed, her arms did look thick. Nope, I thought, not doing that then. I’ll just keep eating apples and diet coke and see how that goes.

The boyfriend explained that engaging the whole body in a single movement, ie. lifting a bar bell over one’s head, or holding a plate against the chest and squatting, will transform the whole body rather than lying on the ground and doing sit-ups. Movements that use every muscle get one’s heart rate up and strengthen the core and the elusive six-pack is simply a result of having more muscle than fat, all over the body. I wouldn’t get bulky, he promised, but stronger and leaner. If that was something I was interested in…What I was interested in was keeping the hot boyfriend, and lifting a few weights over my head seemed like a small price to pay.

Because I am someone who doesn’t like to be told by their boyfriend how to lose weight, I decided to join a gym and talk to a professional, instead. A personal trainer took me for a tour around the facilities. “See these people on the tread mill, wasting their time,” he said. “They’re here because they’ve put on weight and they are shocking their system by running for an hour after which, their body is going to store fat in the awful event that it happens again.” Okay, so how do I not do that, I asked. “Warm up for 10 minutes on the treadmill and then follow me.” He took me, dear reader, straight into the weight room.

“Muscle feeds on more calories than fat and so if you build muscle, your metabolism is raised and it will stay raised for the next 24 hours. If you want to lose weight and get toned, walk towards the weight room and stay here.”

The weight room, I discovered, doesn’t have a lot of women in it. But the few women in there weren’t Chinese Olympic Swimming Team bulky, but lean and defined. My approach to learning the various techniques was to eagle eye what somebody else was doing and when they moved off the machine, to copy them.

Now I have my own routine and what looks like the beginning of a six-pack. At least when I scrunch forward and tense my stomach, there is definitely something brewing in there. My arms and shoulders are strong and my glutes have a roundness that will keep the dreaded Anglo-Saxon pancake arse at bay. And the greatest benefit of all is that when my mother asked me what diet I was on, I shuddered my head as if it was out of the question and replied, “I lift.’

The very best approach for finding your way around a weight-lifting room is to hire a personal trainer for a session. After which, they will try very hard to coax you into seeing them regularly and if you are like me, you might have to blurt out your after tax income so they will stop hassling you.

After your five to 10-minute warm-up, when you enter the weight-lifting room on your own, head towards with the machines. Ultimately, you will move off the machines when you have developed your muscle strength, but they will keep your movements stabilised at first. I walk over to the machine and I study the stick figure animation. I am not pretending to know what I’m doing and there’s a chance I could get it wildly wrong and nobody wants to be the one doing star-jumps on top of a bench press.

  1. Position yourself inside the machine and make sure your back is straight. If you have to curl or hunch your back for any exercise, you are doing it wrong.
  2. Adjust the weight so that there is some resistance, but you can do 8-12 repetitions before you become fatigued. If you can do 30 reps without fatigue, it’s time to increase the weight.
  3. Rest between sets or move to another machine within a minute or two. Your heart rate has spiked and you will want to keep it high. Be careful not to go too fast. The aim is to engage as many muscles in your body at the same time, even with the simplest exercise.
  4. If the machine has been racked with heavy weights which will require you to lift them off, I usually find another one that’s less intimidating.
  5. Create your own circuit by moving between three or four machines.
  6. Try to eat a small meal before your work-out and a snack as soon as you have finished. The faster you can eat that snack afterwards, the less muscle ache you will have tomorrow.

I lift weights for 45 minutes, twice a week and my body is toned but still very curvy. If I work out more than that, I start looking like Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour. The greatest benefit of all is the word ‘diet’ never crossed my lips. The more I ‘lifted’, the more proteins my body wanted to eat. Carbohydrates didn’t feel as nourishing, anymore. And when people are struggling to put their luggage into the over-head cabins, I really enjoy that moment when I offer to help and plop that sucker in with the greatest of ease.

Vivienne Walshe is an Australian playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been highly awarded and published by Currency Press. As an actress she appeared on The Secret Life of Us and many other television shows and performed in plays at the Melbourne Theatre company, Sydney Theatre company and Queensland Theatre company.