Anonymous Mailbag

It’s Tuesday, rejoice, the anonymous mailbag is here to rescue you from the doldrums of work or school.

As always you can email your questions to claytravis@gmail.com, anonymity guaranteed.

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Okay, here we go with the anonymous mailbag:

“Hi, Clay – I live in an area popular with visitors, so old friends drop by from time to time. That’s usually a good thing, but here’s my predicament:

An old friend is coming by soon with her husband and her high school-aged son. Or, rather, he apparently used to be her son. He is now “trans.”

I will be honest: I don’t know how to handle that. As he has grown up, he’s always been a boy. There has been nothing to the contrary. I’m frankly shocked by this news.

I can provide you with my own bias: I’m a middle aged gay man. However, I did not fully accept that and identify as such until my early 20s. I frankly think that kids now are being urged into various “identities” at too young an age these days. I think that my friend’s son could perhaps be one of those kids.

In other words, as much as I will enjoy seeing my old friend, I feel awkward about the whole “trans” thing, because I don’t think it’s appropriate for such a young person to assume an identity like that, years before adulthood.

So how do I relax and be hospitable about this, when I am deeply uncomfortable about it?”

Well, I don’t really see how the gender of this high school kid will impact you on this particular visit. Your friend is visiting because the two of you have a good relationship, not to serve as a counselor for her child’s gender-related decisions.

Now I’d certainly feel differently if one reason — or the primary reason — for this visit was because you’re gay and your friend believes that makes you a good resource for her transgender child. If that were the case I can understand your reticence to get involved in giving life advice particularly when, as you state above, you believe kids are making too serious of decisions about their identities at too young of ages.

But there’s no suggestion that’s what is going on here.

Personally, I have no problem with an adult deciding to identify as a different gender, but I think it’s crazy to be giving hormones to high school kids to adjust their gender. I mean, you can’t legally go to an R rated movie until you’re 18, drink a beer until you’re 21 or rent a car until you’re 25 in this country, but we’re letting people chop off body parts at 16 or 17? That seems utterly insane to me.

Especially when, as anyone who has been a teenager knows, that’s a period of your life when many kids try on different identities as a way to figure out what they want to be like as an adult. Maybe that guy who is dressing all in black is going to be goth for the rest of his life, but maybe he’s also going to completely abandon that identity as he gets older.

We just don’t know.

But for this visit you aren’t being asked to espouse your worldviews on transgender related issues, you’re just trying to be a good host for an old friend and her family. I’d just ignore the changed gender and treat it as a non-issue. Because, again, I don’t see how this should really influence their visit with you.

If, however, they want to engage you on this issue and you get drawn into a big discussion about transgender rights, I’d just say what you said above to me in your email. That in your experience people have plenty of time to figure out what makes them happy and your own life experience was such that you didn’t know yourself well enough to make decisions like this until you were in your twenties and fully grown. Then you can gently caution any teenager about making drastic decisions about their identity while they are in the throes of adolescence.

I think that’s perfectly good advice no matter who the teenager is.

As a general rule for the younger people out there reading this right now, I think making drastic lifestyle changes is generally a sign of unhappiness. You don’t like where your life is like right now so you decide that if you make a big change you’ll feel differently than you do now.

It’s a cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true: happiness is mostly internal, not external.

But in your particular situation here, just because you have friends staying with you doesn’t mean you agree with all of their lifestyle choices. I’d just welcome your friends the same way you always would.

“I have been having arguments with my friend group (most of them are in relationships or married while I am single) recently about the idea of a prenup. My stance is that everyone should get one. Their response is always along the lines of “Well, if you need a prenup you must not really love the person you’re marrying!”

That is all well and good, but the fact of the matter is half of marriages end in divorce. So when you see people getting screwed over in divorces, you know that at one point they thought they didn’t need one because they never thought divorce would happen to them.”

I think only rich people need prenuptial agreements.

Most people are not rich, however, so I don’t see the point of getting a prenup if you have relatively limited assets.

For instance, I’m rich now, but when I got married, I wasn’t. Neither was my wife. So what would have been the point to getting a prenup back then?

If, however, I were still single today and had the exact same assets, I would 100% get a prenup if I were getting married today.

But, again, I think there’s only a tiny pinprick of people getting married that need to be considered with this.

What’s the cutoff point on whether I’d get a prenup? I think you’d need to have a million dollars, or close to it, in assets to want or need a prenup.

Otherwise it’s just kind of insulting. “Oh, you think I’m marrying you for your $150k condo and your BMW? Imagine the wild life I can live when we get divorced and I get $75k in assets!”

Plus, it’s also important to note that many people have things wrong here about what a divorcing spouse is entitled to. You get to keep property that’s in your name at the time of the marriage. In other words, if you get married and divorced in a year and you have, let’s say, a trust fund worth $10 million, your spouse doesn’t get half of that trust fund.

What someone is entitled to is the increase in the value of assets — or newly acquired assets — that arise during the marriage. So if, for instance, you own $250k in stocks in your name, your husband or wife isn’t entitled to half that if you get divorced after a couple of years.

For people with truly substantial assets sometimes it can be hard to figure out what increase in value should be connected to the marriage, which is why it makes sense to draft a prenup in those situations.

But for the vast, vast majority of couples getting married there’s truly no point in a prenuptial agreement at all.

I think the idea of prenups in popular culture is far more discussed than the relevant number of times they are applicable.

“10+ years ago (you know, when the world was going to hell, just like it still is today), if you would have asked me what would be normalized first, polygamy or the transgender/LGBT/pronoun stuff we have going on today, I would’ve bet big money on polygamy. Why? Because “love is love is love” and how old, outdated, and religiously-bigoted is just having one significant other. Hell, I figured there’d also be arguments for marrying pets and such before the gender-related issues of today. But for whatever reason, polygamy didn’t gain the traction I thought it would have by now. 

Do you think this will be the next big social thing? Do you foresee a time when polygamy will be normalized and mainstream (beyond, for example, sister wives)? Can’t some of the arguments regarding who can love who be taken to their logical conclusion, i.e. more than one person?”

The best argument in favor of the government prohibiting polygamy — aside from moral concerns — is that polygamist couples frequently feature young, powerless, underaged women who don’t have the wherewithal to consent to the marriages they enter. These marriages then often become controlling, trapping young women in powerless relationships, where they don’t have control over any decisions in their lives.

It’s also the case that polygamous marriages are frequently drains on the federal and state government because the men and women involved often produce many kids who their finances can’t support, causing a drain on our tax dollars when it comes to supporting them.

Having said that, if a wealthy man (or woman) decides he or she would like to be married to multiple men or women and the adults involved in the relationship all consent, I don’t see how you can argue that should be impermissible in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage.

In other words, I think the logic underpinning the legality of gay marriage would support the rights of men and women to engage in multiple partner marriages as well.

I’m not saying I’m either for or against it, but I’d also wonder what the data reflect here. How many people would be interested in these kinds of relationships and what would the impact be on the children involved? Do they grow up with more of the attributes of a two parent family — which has been shown to be the most healthful way to raise children — or do they grow up with more of the attributes of a single parent family — which has been shown to be much less healthful for children? (By the way, people always respond to data like this by citing their individual circumstances as if that disproves the data. I’m not saying that single parent children can’t be wildly successful, I’m saying that as a group it’s been proven that children do far better ON AVERAGE in two parent families than in one parent families. So as a country I think we should be encouraging two parent households instead of one parent households.)

I also think it’s an interesting point for discussion, would it be better if, for instance, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, one of the richest men in the world, had ten wives and ten families he supported — all of whom he could easily give the best financial support to — or is it better for those nine additional women, who aren’t his polygamous wives, to be married to less successful men and have less resources for their children? I don’t know the answer, but it would be interesting to see the data.

Does the strain on the father’s time render these effectively ten one parent homes or does the support structure and the financial assets create positive benefits for the children?

The additional complicating factor here is this: what happens to the men who don’t end up with wives in these scenarios? (I think the way polygamy would tend to work is men would take multiple wives more often than wives would take multiple husbands. Furthermore, if women are taking multiple husbands than there are no additional children, since a single woman can have far fewer children than a family of multiple men married to women could.) In theory if the most successful men had more wives then the least successful men would have fewer wives to eventually marry.

So does that work as a net drain to society because these men would lack partners, which could make them less beneficial to society since, again, as a general rule, marriage tends to civilize men and make them engage in less risky behavior.

I just really have no idea what this would end up looking like from a societal perspective.

It might well be that even if it were legal it would be so uncommon that it wouldn’t really impact society very much, if at all.

But it is a fascinating question to contemplate.

And it was the subject of a pretty fascinating show on HBO, “Big Love,.” which presented the idea of polygamy through viewing a likable family struggle with their family life. But it’s also interesting that that show, airing as it did a decade or so ago, didn’t really drive anyone to begin advocating for the legality of polygamous marriage. Whereas, for instance, I think it’s fair to say that a show like “Modern Family” did have an impact in making many people feel gay marriage should be legal.

Why is that?

My belief is that many in the public find it easier to handle a couple, regardless of sexual identity, committing to each other for life than they do a man with multiple wives or a woman with multiple husbands.

Polygamy feels like more of a jump in general than gay marriage did.

“As the king of facts over feelings, but also a happily married man, I thought you might be able to shed some light on this situation.

I am a recent college grad who is now in law school. In my undergrad days girls were easy to come by if you know what I’m saying, but now I am struggling to get any kind of action when I go out to the bars. I am still 22 and decently good looking. I’m not sure what the issue is, but none of my attempts at seduction have been working, and I am getting desperate. How do I flirt/ pick up girls as a college grad and current law student? Thanks!”

I would think putting yourself out there as a law student would be a great play on sites like Tinder. So if you’re trying to meet strangers I’d suggest taking that angle.

But if you’re having trouble meeting girls in real life, why aren’t you interested in the girls you actually know from law school? Most people don’t end up dating total strangers, they date the people they go to school with or work with or meet in social settings other than the bar scene.

I’d suggest exploring those avenues over focusing on picking up girls in bars.

“I currently work for a healthcare software company in Denver making $80k a year. My wife is a nurse at a local hospital and makes around $70k a year. We just had our first child a few weeks ago and my father-in-law flew into town to enjoy some time with his first grandchild. While out here, he shared with me that he wants to start a franchise, like a Popeyes/Zaxbys in the area he lives in Ohio. It doesn’t have to be one of these franchises but it’s his preference.

The town he lives in doesn’t have either franchise and the population is around 50,000. He wants me to run the entire operation and he will supply all of the capital. His hope is that we will be successful enough to have 5 separate stores, if not more, over time. We have researched costs associated with the investment so we are familiar with what we are getting ourselves into. He is very easy going, isn’t someone who micromanages, and would give me free reign of operations. He has owned rental properties in the past but he poorly mismanaged everything and ended up losing money. That’s why he asked me to run the show. 

With that said, I’m about to graduate with my Master’s in Finance in December and I was looking to take another step forward in my healthcare career. However, the idea of running my own business has always been a dream of mine. Plus, the easiest part, the funding, is taken care of if I choose to move towards starting this franchise. The idea of moving from Denver to Ohio doesn’t bother me since the cost of living has me paying out the ass on the home I own, in which I have a considerable amount of equity. So, should I ditch my healthcare career and give this opportunity a shot?” 

Does your wife ditch her career too and become a stay-at-home mom or would she find a new nursing job in Ohio?

I think that matters here as well because you have to factor in her lost income in your projections as well.

Having said that if you’ve got a master’s in finance then you should be able to look at both of these options and put them on a spreadsheet to see what the potential risk/reward is here much better than I can.

It would seem to me that the potential rewards in the franchise business are substantially higher than at the job you presently have now.

But you already know that.

So it seems like you’re asking for permission to take this gift from your father-in-law and go into a business you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to start at the present point in your life.

If you think working with him won’t be a struggle, I don’t see any reason at all not to do it. Especially when the payoff is much better than what you’re doing now.

Good luck.

Send your anonymous mailbag questions to claytravis@gmail.com, anonymity guaranteed.

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