March 5, 2008: Features
Everything you wanted to know about money and ethics, relationships, fashion, and health PAW wasn’t afraid to ask
By Mark F. Bernstein ’83
Illustrations by Sean McCabe
Princeton alumni rarely shy away from expressing their opinions. Some even have made careers of it, dispensing advice in books, newspapers, on the Web, and on the airwaves. PAW contacted a few of Princeton’s best-known pundits and asked them about the topics they know best: health, fashion, relationships, and money. Here’s some of their advice.
Leonard Schwarz ’65 Money and ethics
Few things so excite the passions — greed, jealousy, lust, joy, sadness — as money, and few things excite such tortured ethical questions. That is why Leonard Schwarz ’65 and his wife, Jeanne Fleming, wrote Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check? (Free Press 2008), a guide to “dealing with all the trickiest money problems between family and friends.” Schwarz and Fleming also write a column on money and ethics that appears in Money magazine and on the CNN/Money Web site (www.money.com/rightthing). An English major at Princeton, Schwarz has an M.B.A. from Stanford. They developed their column on ethics after establishing a consulting business that provided jury research to law firms, and watching jurors apply values about right and wrong in reaching big-ticket verdicts.
My spouse and I have a joint bank account and pay all bills from that. Is it OK for me to stash away a little “mad money” to spend on myself without accounting for it to my spouse?
As long as the money is unequivocally yours and you’re not shorting the family pot. What’s the meaning of “mad money” unless it’s yours to spend the way you want?
I lent a friend $100 last month, and he hasn’t said anything about repaying me. What should I do?
Ask him for the money, and ask him sooner rather than later. If he seems surprised that you expect to be repaid, don’t be embarrassed to tell him that while a hundred bucks may be chump change to him, it matters to you. If he continues to stiff you, you’re going to have to decide whether it’s worth forsaking $100 for the privilege of being his friend. Maybe it is — after all, no one is perfect. But if you ever lend this guy money again, you’ll have no one but yourself to blame for the hole in your wallet.
I’m selling my house, and I know that a corner of the roof leaks. The buyers haven’t discovered this. Do I have to tell them?
One issue here is what the law requires, and that varies by state. To find out, ask your real estate agent. But regardless of the law, you should tell the buyer about the leak. The whole idea of disclosure, ethically speaking, is to inform people of anything about a property that they could reasonably want to know, given that they’re about to spend several hundred thousand dollars, at least, on it. In a scenario like this, it’s not even close. You wouldn’t want to be the buyer in this deal, would you?
I ate at a restaurant and the service was terrible. Can I reduce my tip?
Absolutely. The argument against tipping less than 15 percent is that tips are really the wait staff’s salary. But implicit in this argument is the assumption that you’ve received a reasonable level of service. If you haven’t, the waitperson hasn’t done his or her job. If you bought a vase and found it was chipped, you’d want the vase replaced or your money back. Terrible service in a restaurant is no different. You shouldn’t pay for it. Now, if it’s not the waiter’s fault — if, say, there’s a problem in the kitchen — that’s different. Then you should complain to the management, not take it out on the waiter.
Let’s call this the King Lear problem: I don’t approve of what one of my children is doing with his or her life. Can I reduce the amount that I leave that child in my will?
King Lear’s estate was his to do with as he wished, and your estate is yours. But why are you taking only your disapproval of your child’s choices into account? Why aren’t you considering, for example, how loving, helpful, and attentive the child is? After all, you don’t want to repeat Lear’s mistake.
I learn that I’m paying my cleaning person less than the other families in the neighborhood pay theirs. Should I pay more?
That depends. It’s certainly not right to squeeze people at the bottom of the ladder. So if you are taking advantage of your housecleaner’s desperation for work and the power your social status confers on you to pay her less than a market rate, that’s wrong. But what your neighbors pay, while perhaps a wake-up call, is not the defining benchmark. What others would charge to clean your home is a better indicator of a fair price.
A friend proposes that we go into business together. What are some things I should think about before I make my decision?
The single most important thing to do, aside from developing a viable business plan, is to assess the character and the resources of your prospective partner. Is this person completely honest and trustworthy? Can he or she afford to hang in there as long as you expect to if the business is not immediately successful? And is this person as committed as you are to making the business succeed? Good friends don’t always make good partners, so don’t let your heart and your hopes cloud your analysis.
Robin Givhan ’86
Robin Givhan ’86, the fashion editor of The Washington Post, won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, the first time the award ever was given to a fashion writer. According to the Pulitzer committee, Givhan’s “witty, closely observed essays ... transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism.” Givhan is less inclined to give fashion advice than to make keen observations on the fashion scene, no easy task when working for a newspaper read by politicians whose ideas of stylistic diversity can range all the way from blue suits to gray. Her criticism can be barbed: Givhan once disparaged a parka worn by Vice President Dick Cheney at a ceremony commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz as “the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snowblower.” Givhan joined the Post in 1995 but lives and works in New York to be closer to the fashion scene. “If there is one thing I can do it would be to convince [people] that when they get dressed in the morning, they are participating in fashion,” she once told CBS News. “Fashion is what you wear and how you want to present yourself to the world.”
Can one ever look fashionable wearing orange and black?
It is a difficult combination, but I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to look good. People who wear orange and black in the Princeton spirit wear it because of what it means to them. So sentiment trumps style.
You haven’t had your 25th reunion yet, but do you wear your class beer jacket to Reunions?
I haven’t had much occasion to wear it. I think it’s still in the back of my closet. People do sometimes talk about whether you can or should wear a Reunions jacket somewhere other than at Reunions. I think they’re akin to bridesmaid’s dresses. They are appropriate to the occasion.
When is it permissible to wear flip-flops in public?
If you are in the vicinity of a pool or a large body of water, it’s appropriate. Some people will disagree with me, but I don’t want to see that much of somebody’s unwashed feet in a public place or in a restaurant, unless it has a thatched roof over it.
What is acceptable as “business-casual” attire?
I think the notion of business-casual wear is dead, because it implied that there was a specific thing, and it was very hard to define. It started with young people coming out of college — particularly with those who worked at the dot-coms, where the atmosphere was very informal. The result has been less formality, but I don’t think business-casual attire did what it was supposed to do, which was to give people more freedom. Men just went from one uniform to another — khakis and a blue dress shirt.
Who are some fashion icons today?
I wouldn’t necessarily call her an icon, but I am interested in how [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi dresses. A lot of that is because of her being the first woman in that particular post and having to figure out how to present herself publicly in that role. I find that interesting. Years ago, when women first entered the corporate world in great numbers, you had all those navy suits with big shoulder pads and floppy bow ties. We’ve finally gotten past that, but every time women break a new barrier, you go through a period like that.
There once were a lot of “rules” about fashion — for example, no white shoes after Labor Day. Do the rules still exist?
Most of the old rules no longer apply, including the one about not wearing white after Labor Day. In some ways, I think that’s made it more difficult for people who are insecure about their style or about what might be appropriate in a given situation. Now that they have so many choices, they’re paralyzed with indecision. I would say the rules of thumb are simply to dress in a way that reflects who you are but that also respects others, as well as the solemnity or importance of the event. It is not all about comfort. Comfort is the excuse people use to wear pajama bottoms to the grocery store. To dress solely based on comfort is, I think, selfish.
As a man, I feel stuck in the button-down-shirt-and-khaki-pants rut. I’m not ready to wear purple, but is there anything easy I can do to liven up my look?
I don’t know why men make this so difficult. There are countless options to energize a wardrobe that don’t involve anything extreme. And frankly, what’s so scary about purple? A pale purple shirt with a pair of gray flannel trousers can look pretty wonderful. My advice would be to wear more color. Or to avoid all the usual suspects: Dockers, button-downs, and polo shirts. Buy a real pair of pants: flat-front, slim cut. Choose a spread-collar shirt in a pattern. Choose corduroys over blue jeans.
Alan Greene ’81
To hear Alan Greene ’81 tell it, his progression from a small Bay Area pediatric practice to “Children’s Health Hero of the Internet” (Intel’s description) was a simple matter of efficiency. In private practice, he says, he could see perhaps three families per hour. Over an eight-hour day, that meant only 24 families. “We love you,” Greene recalls his patients saying, “but we can’t get all our questions answered.” Greene’s solution was a Web site — the American Medical Association calls it the first physician Web site in the country. At first, Greene would answer one patient question a day, but the responses grew so popular that people pretending to be his patients would send in questions.
Then he decided to take on all comers, and the Web site www.drgreene. com now gets 50 million hits each month. Greene is the pediatric expert for WebMD and NPR’s The People’s Pharmacy, as well as the author or co-author of a half-dozen books, most recently, Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care (Jossey-Bass 2007). He also continues his medical practice.
I’m a germophobe. That can’t be bad for my child, can it?
We’re still figuring out how the human immune system works. We have learned, for example, that if children are exposed to animals in their first year, they have fewer allergies down the road. In the first year, your immune system is trying to figure out what’s normal. So if you are around the natural world, when you are later exposed to it, your body doesn’t overreact. Generally speaking, a diet for children that is rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent allergies.
Which are more environmentally friendly, cloth diapers or disposable ones?
It turns out, from an environmental standpoint, they are about the same. Disposable diapers end up in landfills, but it takes a lot of energy to clean cloth diapers and the soap can pollute groundwater. I think there is a slight benefit in favor of cloth diapers, if you use a safe detergent and an energy-efficient washing machine.
Should I buy those DVDs that say they will improve my infant’s intelligence?
Courses that purport to build a child’s intelligence are usually overkill. There is no evidence that they work. Those DVDs for infants that are supposed to build language skills — if you look at the research data, the more of those a child watched, the lower the child scored on intelligence tests. Children’s brains develop more in utero than they do during any other period of their lives — including at Princeton. What parents need to do for their children is provide a gentle routine and a safe environment.
What things don’t concern parents — but really should?
One thing would be the cleaning products in our homes. Most are quite toxic if swallowed, but the fumes also can be unhealthy. There are great products made from safe ingredients that are equally available. Another thing would be sunscreen for kids. Many sunscreens contain an estrogen-like chemical. It has no effect on adults, but there have not been any studies to determine what effects it might have on children before puberty. Zinc or titanium oxide would be better.
I read a lot about childhood obesity. What can I do to protect my child?
There are two problems. One, kids are less active than they used to be. Two, their diets tend to be less healthy. Between the ages of 6 and 13 months, kids happily will put anything they can find into their mouths. At around 13 months, this settles down and they don’t like new foods. That makes sense. They should only like stuff they liked in their mother’s arms. By 18 months, most of kids’ food preferences are already set. So it’s important to build their range of foods early.
Is it worth fighting with my child over bedtime?
You have to pick your battles. Sleep is very important for a child’s health. Growth happens during sleep. Still, I’m not in favor of battling over bedtime. Parents should work with the child’s natural circadian rhythms. The easiest thing to do is to coordinate clues that tell a child’s body that it is time for sleep. The biggest is light. Just making it dark will help a lot of kids, so I am not a big supporter of night-lights in children’s rooms. If you use a night-light, it should be extremely dim. Controlling temperature also helps. Our bodies tend to be cooler at night, so it helps to lower the temperature in your house. Think about it: We tend to go to sleep earlier on camping trips, when it is darker and cooler than it would be in our homes.
Emma Taylor ’95
All of what Emma Taylor ’95 writes is worth reading, but only some of it could be reprinted in a family magazine such as PAW. Taylor and her collaborator, Lorelei Sharkey, better known by their pen names, “Em and Lo,” write a column on sex and relationships that appears in publications such as Glamour and New York magazine and even in more staid forums such as the Financial Times. They bill themselves as the “Emily Posts of the modern bedroom.” The two also have co-authored five books and run both a Web site (www.emandlo.com) and a blog (www.dailybedpost.com). Taylor worked for a Web site hosting company for three years after graduation before landing a job with Nerve.com, where she met Lo. “We started out giving dating advice, but what everyone really wanted to know about was sex,” says Taylor, who is happily married, with a new baby. Over the last nine years, Taylor proudly adds, she and Sharkey “have become near-experts.” How, um, does one become a recognized sex expert? “By being really nosy,” Taylor explains. “You have to go out and ask people.”
I hear students talk about “hooking up” instead of dating. For the edification of our older readers, can you define that term?
“Hooking up” is an amorphous term that can mean anything from making out to full-on sex. In fact, I think part of the appeal is that it is so amorphous, because in general, hooking up tends to be of a casual nature, so the term lets you be vague about what happened. I guess “casual sexual relations” is as close to a definition as I can think of.
Does anyone actually date anymore?
I think dating has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence with online dating. Some people think online dating takes the romance out of things, but I think it has actually resuscitated the date. Before, dating had become a nebulous thing: You meet someone at a bar, you hook up, so it becomes a date. Now, with the online services, it is a date. You’re both clear up front that you are interested in each other and that you’re both single. It’s not a group hangout with friends.
Call me old-fashioned, but I worry that chivalry is dead. Is it?
I think women have become more comfortable about asking guys out, and that sort of thing. I don’t know if chivalry is dead. It’s more that women don’t expect guys to do all those things anymore.
So, is it still the man’s job to pick up the check on a first date?
Nope, not at all. Going dutch isn’t very romantic, though, so I think that whoever initiated the date should offer to pay. And then the other person can offer to get the drinks after dinner, or pick up the tab on the second date. Consider it a segue into suggesting a second date, in fact.
Are couples still monogamous?
We wrote about this once for the cover of New York magazine. No matter how you define monogamy, we found that people have figured out how they want to be with another person for the rest of their lives and do what they have to do to make that work. Some of the craziest swingers we met were still head over heels with their partners. So monogamy is not going away anytime soon.
How much information should I put about my personal life on my Facebook or MySpace page?
If you’ve only gone out on a few dates, be sure the relationship is going somewhere before you change your status on your Facebook page. Nothing can kill a budding relationship faster. In your 30s it’s harder: It’s embarrassing to announce your relationship status, but on the other hand, how can you leave the “relationship” field blank? If you do post the information, though, then you have to change your status if you break up, and that causes more embarrassment. It’s nicer to have some privacy when you’re mourning.
What’s a good, sexy gift to get for someone?
I’d say, just go out and celebrate. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Organize a romantic treasure hunt.
Is it acceptable to break up with someone with a text message?
I think that a text message is a pretty cold way to dump someone, no matter how brief or casual the relationship. It feels to me like breaking up with someone via a note scrawled on the back of an envelope — as if it were an after-thought. Maybe if you only went on one date with someone and you only kissed them good night and you don’t want to see them again, a text would be acceptable. But beyond that, you’ve got to upgrade to phone or in-person, depending on the length and nature of the relationship.
What was the dating scene like when you were at Princeton?
There were hookups and there were serious relationships, but I don’t remember much “dating” going on. I didn’t really do too much of any of it — I spent too much time at the Prince offices!
Donnica Moore ’81
Donnica Moore, or Dr. Donnica, as she is known on her Web site, graduated from Princeton with a major in biology; she had a particular interest in women’s health issues and intended to become a gynecologist. But her own medical problems — a childhood case of scoliosis that required several rounds of surgery — made it difficult for her to undertake the demands on a young physician. Instead, she went to work for a pharmaceutical company and soon found herself developing media expertise as the company spokeswoman. Her interest in seeking more funding for women’s health research led to her involvement with the American Medical Women’s Association, which elected her president. The day after her election, she was asked to appear on NBC’s Weekend Today Show, and she ultimately became a full-time spokeswoman for women’s health. Moore has made more than 550 television appearances, runs the Web site www.drdonnica.com, and is president of the Sapphire Women’s Health Group, a women’s health-care consulting group.
What health issues should women worry more about?
It isn’t about getting women to worry. It’s about getting them to take action. A lot of doctors are into fearmongering. That said, the No. 1 thing women should do is to put themselves at the top of their To Do list. Women tend to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own, so they’re more likely to make sure their partner takes an aspirin to reduce the risk of a heart attack than to make sure that they themselves go to the gym. They’re more likely to make sure that their kids’ vaccines are up to date than that their own are up to date.
Is there anything women worry about too much?
A very high percentage of women make a New Year’s resolution to lose 10 to 15 pounds. They’re spending a lot of time worrying about hitting an arbitrary number on the scale, rather than doing something about their fitness. If they spent more time even walking around the block, they’d be much better off. Obesity is the No.1 problem because it contributes to so many other problems. Yet we worry more about more obscure things, like the mercury level in the salmon we eat once a month. Mercury levels are important, but they’re not as important as fitness.
How do I reduce stress?
Stress doesn’t have to be distress. The best thing to do with stress is to use it for productive action. Try to figure out a healthy outlet. So working out would be a good way to deal with stress. Smoking and staying up all night are not. Our ability to handle stress changes as we age. It’s hard for Princeton alums to adjust to the fact that we’re not in college anymore. Getting adequate amounts of sleep is essential.
My child is entering puberty. Help!
As uncomfortable as it is, the sooner you start talking to your child about it, the better. And be sure to use the proper words for the anatomical parts. Answer whatever questions your child has with an age-appropriate answer. It has to be a correct answer, but it doesn’t have to be a complete answer. You’re really not helping your child by telling her that babies are delivered by the stork.
How should women approach menopause, especially given the seemingly conflicting information in the media?
Menopause is something that affects 100 percent of women who live long enough. So why would there be one “right” answer? There are many different approaches to menopause, and which one is “right” depends upon the individual woman, her symptoms, her other medical issues, her lifestyle, and her value system. It’s important for women to realize that when they read about estrogen in the newspaper, that it is not just one drug, but an entire class of medicines in different doses, combinations, and delivery systems. Women too frequently make medical decisions based on something they heard or read in the media without talking first to their own personal physician.
How long can a woman postpone trying to have a baby?
For most women, there is no “right” time to get pregnant. Still, there is a limit to when a woman can get pregnant, and that limit is not negotiable. Once a lot of women decide they are “ready” to get pregnant, they are ready today, and it can take time. That needs to be built into your decision, too. On the other hand, I often talk to women who are still in college and who put pressure on themselves to figure out how they are going to balance work and family down the road, without taking into account that there will presumably be another person in the relationship when they have to face those decisions. So my advice to those women is, wait. You don’t have to stress too much about it now. You know the old saying: “People plan. God laughs.”Mark F. Bernstein ’83 is PAW’s senior writer.