Chapter 24. Marriage after love

Watching a 60 year old couple dancing happily or holding hands after many years of marriage is the most conforting thing.

I was watching my great aunts’ favorite tv show and there was this couple who had met 47 years ago at a ball and there they were, on a prime time tv show for retired people, performing together while looking into each others eyes. Normally this could be considered an example for all of us who struggle to just keep the same pace when the song starts.

This couple was nothing like that, they seemed to really enjoy each other and that is more than most couples can say nowadays.

Many couples stick together for the sake of their kids or for their own well being. They base their marriage on patience, mutual respect and understanding that their union, once sealed, must be preserved in spite of their own needs or feelings of boredom and apathy towards one another. They justify their marriage on religious or moral beliefs, whatever works. They enter the universe of marriage after love (by love here I mean infatuation). They find happiness on watching their project (family) grow in a safe environment. Because the truth is that family as a whole does better when the family sticks together pushing and pulling in the same direction.

Perhaps there are couples who are able to put all of this together while keeping the flame alive, those are the really blessed ones. But the large majority settle for the comfort of having someone else calling the same place home. To pick up the mail, to collect the kids, to help pay the bills, to look after the dog, to have lunch on Sundays when the kids are gone, to be better off, to go to dinner parties with other couples who are on the same boat, in short, to grow old more comfortably in a more bourgeois setting. Because there is something worse than being alone and that is to be alone and not have enough to make ends meet, and there is something worse than to grow old and that is to grow old alone.

So is marriage after love a matter of convenience or an act of love by itself?

In many cases we could say both. All human beings are looking for happiness and in many instances, that means personal satisfaction and convenience as well. Convenience sometimes means staying in an otherwise dead end marriage, they experience (as Charles Dickens calls it) the clash between the individual and society. They go with society, so that a mutual project can unfold, children can have the bigger house or take that family trip, to make sure that they go to a good university when they graduate high school and still have a place to call home.

If you are unable to settle for that conventional lifestyle or you don’t feel like doing the family/couple thing because you are more of an individual, or if circumstances force you to live your life differently, do not panic, you can be just as content, if not more.

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Chapter 23. Under the crocodile spell

Being infatuated is a state of grace. You can spend countless hours thinking about the other person. You die in anticipation to see him or her and you feel like you are floating. Nothing bothers you, you are at peace with the world and the only thing that matters is your obsession towards the object of your desire. They call it cloud nine.

We rush to call that feeling love when in fact is sexual attraction, infatuation. The same reason that makes you feel that that person’s body odour is pleasant or inexistent. We pay little attention to how important BO is when in fact, it plays a very important role in this thing that we call “love”. When you are “in love” you find your partners natural odour delightful and when you are “out of love” you find it disgusting. It is as simple as that so take good note of that sign.

They say love makes you not only happier but better looking. Whenever you are in love “you glow”, your teeth are whiter and you look great in all the pictures.

Perhaps you have to go back to those first days or months of infatuation to justify your relationship today. You may find yourself wishing to feel the way that you felt back then or you might have to admit that thrill is gone and you feel bored and anxious because you are lacking some excitement. Or the day might come when you have to admit that your partner has “fallen” for someone else.

Love is in that sense, ruthless. They say it plays by its own rules or lack thereof and that we must simply admit that it is the way that it is.

I recently read the following sentence “The death of love is life and life without love is death” and I am not sure if the author was referring to rational mature love or crazy infatuation. Perhaps humans have always felt confused and writers, when writing about love, have referred to both concepts indistinctively, which has caused great confusion amongst readers and what constitutes love.

Some people are more romantic than others and are able to live and preserve a romantic lifestyle. Others, like crocodile, think that romantic love is silly and unnecessary. They will feel infatuated because after all, they posess the animal instinct that it entails, but they will fail at developing romantic moments that go beyond sexual encounters.

Don’t try watching a romantic love movie with a crocodile. If by the end you are crying and feeling sad or happy for the main characters, crocodile will look at you and start laughing at your face.

“I am sorry for you. You are frozen for love” I said. “Maybe, but I’m a good fuck”.

Fair enough.

Chapter 22. Cooking for the in-laws

There are many things that a woman is supposed to know how to do, one of those things is cooking. For most people and for most guys too, eating favorite dishes is a very important and pleasant thing to do. But don’t be frustrated if you are not a good cook or if after many years together you sense that your partner prefers his mom’s recipes.

You can change that easily.

I happen to be a great cook myself and when it comes to food there is something that all guys love without exception: sandwiches. I love to eat, and since I have travelled all over the world, I have had the opportunity to learn about different ingredients and culinary methods. I have fun mixing and matching things and the best medium possible for that is the sandwich, an apparently simple but delicious dinner option.

So don´t try outdoing your mother in laws´stew or meatballs. Make awesome sandwiches instead that will make your home a XXI century home. Here are some winners:

The Reuben Sandwich: Rye bread, corn beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Make sure to toast the bread and serve it hot.

Ham & Cheese melts: A classic. Use butter to toast the bread (any kind) on a pan and add lots of cheese. Serve with ketchup.

Australian Delight: Two pieces of toast with mash avocado, vegemite (beef extract) fried egg and black pepper. Also makes a great brunch.

The Catalonian: On baguette put Iberian ham, fresh tomato puree (grated) and extra virgin olive oil.

The Fajitas: Strings of chicken breast on a pan with Mexican spices, three color bell peppers and onions cut in julienne sautéed on a pan and served on tortilla flats with melted cheese and avocados. You can add cilantro and fresh cream.

Serve any of the above with tortilla chips and salsa and a beer or wine and you will win the battle for good.

If you want to have some fun, make their baby love your fast food first and then prepare the Mexican option for your in laws when they come visit you. They will hate the spices,  you will seem really good hearted in front of your boyfriend and your in laws will never come back to your house for lunch on a Sunday.

Alternatively, you can show these recipes to your partner and have him cook for you.

Chapter 21. Brotherly love

Sometimes men might do things that seem completely ill intentioned to a woman and totally innocent and logical to them.

Imagine being a nice British girl from London proper and planning a vacation on a boat with your boyfriend, his five friends and their girlfriends. You might not like the idea at first. After all, you and you boyfriends´girlfriends don’t call each other sisters (according to Oscar Wilde, a woman has to call another woman many things before she calls her a sister) and your boyfriend’s friends are not your cup of tea either. There have been way too many the nights where you have been late for things that you had planned for the two of you just because they were having paints together at the pub after work.

Now imagine that after careful consideration, you decide to put together the vacation plan and you are off to a beautiful island with your boyfriend, his friends and your boyfriends´friends girlfriends. Not a bad plan considering that the boat belongs to one of the boys and that you and your sweetheart will be sailing the coast of Italy and France for almost two weeks.

Now imagine that your boyfriend spends most if the time getting drunk with his friends and disappearing to go meet and have fun with other women. Older women, foreign women, French women! As far as they were concerned, there were only Parisians on our boat.

Now imagine that your host, the owner of the boat, who is the only one single, invites those ladies from their boat over to his for drinks. Not only you had to go through the embarrassment of having to take your boyfriend out of another boat, now you have to put up with the presence of those other women on yours.

By the time the drama scene had happened Fifi and Flo had something special going on. No wonder why he thought that inviting us all over to his magnificent yacht was a good idea. Given the general mood I had my doubts, but since none of us had ever been invited to a boat like that before, we went. We had not had time to try the rooftop jacuzzi when we started hearing people fighting and shouting on the deck below. Minutes later, a member of there crew politely invited us to leave the boat.

“For your safety, madam, I have been requested to ask you to leave at once”.

The next morning, by the time we were waking up, their boat was gone. Hours later Fifi sent Flo a picture of himself with a broken arm saying that he had spent the night at the emergency room.

What did these guys have in mind when they thought that behaving the way that they did was a good idea? I ask myself. What had happened on the boat later on that evening? Probably it was very simple.  For men, in their mind, it was a matter of getting Fifi hooked up with a girl that evening and having some fun along the way. Then I assume some hurtful things about their respective girls were said, some other issues came up and they ended up getting on a fight. After all, Phillip was the owner of the boat and opposite to what the girlfriends might have felt, he could invite over whomever he wanted.

Younger guys (and some men also) feel like in such circumstances when your host and friend is the only single person, they need to help him get some. Their brotherly love towards one another is stronger than their romantic love at that point. That is why fraternities exists and a big part of what they teach. The problem is that guys fail to communicate their intentions to women because they assume that women would never understand the reason behind their actions, which is false. As a result of this assumption, they end up doing something really stupid that actually makes a women mad. Like hidding inside a bar and not picking up their phones when you are supposed to meet with them.

It is quite hideous.

Chapter 20. Getting stood up

Being stood up by a guy is a very humiliating thing, being stoop up by six guys is trully awful. Up until that point I did not know what it felt like to be stood up but I can say this: Not good. At least that evening I had been stood up as part of a group…although that fact did not make me feel any better to be honest, maybe only worse.

After that incident we decided two things: 1. we were not calling it at night and 2. we needed another drink. So we went looking for a nice place for us to sit down and forget about what had just happened. Of course we found a cool bar full of good looking people and younger women who had not just been stood up. All the tables were occupied. At that point I was annoyed.

Then, after some minutes of wait ,a group finally left and we ran to grab the table. We sat down and immediately ordered drinks and cigarettes. We barely spoke to one another. I drank my drink quickly and was ready to order another when the phone rang. It was Fifi announcing that he was coming over, or that they were coming over, Aurelie was not sure of what he had said…

My second drink had not arrived at the table yet by the time I saw the six guys back in the game. I was mad, very mad at them and I was not the only one but being the intelligent women that we are we decided that we were there on vacation to have a good time and that our evening would be a lot better if we hung out together. So after they apologized and invited us to join them at  bigger table we accepted. They were utterly funny and witty I must admit. Their goofiness was hilarious  and their British sense of humor made you want to listen to their jokes and perfect performances all night long. One of them, Myles, had this Huge Grant thing going on. Gestures, mannerisms, sense of humor, looks. I think that we all found him the most attractive of all. Except for his trousers which he wore way too high in the waist. Still, he had a very distinguish Brit thing going on his favor.

I was stuck with Michael, a.k.a. Prince Charles (don´t ask why). He was gentle but clumsy. He sat on my Michael Korss bag, broke the handle and said it was a fake. That made me incredibly angry. I can have normal or inexpensive shoes but don’t talk like that about my purses. In spite of this insulting moment, his conversation was enjoyable and the more we got to know them the funnier they became as a group.

Many hours later we were still having fun and decided to go back to our boat to continue the party. They preferred our boat they said. Sailing was “the real thing” they thought that it was absolutely amazing that six women had decided to sail, much more charming and adventurous than a yacht…so we were picked up in style this time by Fifi´s crew who took us all back to our boat in a magical high speed ride under the  Sardinian stars. As we were leaving beautiful Porto Cervo behind and we were getting around the cape I thought “You never know how things will turn out for you in the end”.

And yes, it is true because by the time we got to our boat we saw the silhouettes of at least five women standing on the windows of the guys´ huge yacht and I wanted to pull my hair, I understood the previous episode at that moment. The ladies were screaming and shouting from the far, not very ladylike I must say, they sounded really drunk to such point that one of them took a zodiac over to our boat jumped on it and started to hit Myles until his nose was bleeding.

What a great night.

Chapter 19. A wild night out

A wild night out starts when you are ready to party and a fifty year old security guard at a private resort denies you access to land through her pier.

Our sailing boat had such a small zodiac that it could only take two people at a time. It also had a power issue so taking it all the way around the cape to Porto Cervo’s Harbour was a bit risky, not to mention embarrassing. So the most sensible option was to get off at the residence desk in front of us, cross its garden and take two taxis to town. After all, we were only 2 km away.

Our problems began when the security guard (a fifty some year old Italian woman with the worst temper ever) decided that we were not using her deck. We had spent the last two hours taking turns to shower on the small vessel. We were happy to be there and excited about a night in town. By the time we were all ready to cross the private property, there were two residents still swimming in the private beach, who tried to give us permission to accomplish our plans by saying that they did not mind at all our trespassing. This upset the lady even more. She shouted a few things in Italian and lifted the bridge in front of our disappointed faces. Vaness, the only one in the group who spoke Italian, tried to convince the lady to let us in but nothing seemed to melt that woman’s determined heart.

The sun was setting and by the time the six of us were standing on the now isolated floating pier, the evening did not look very promising…

Being as gentle as usual, Jack suggested a plan B for us to make it to our date in town. He said that he could drop us off at the nearest beach. With the serenity of a middle age Dutch men he started to take us two by two on subsequent trips to the beach. It took him so long that by the time we were all dropped off it was dark and we had to find the group using the lights of our iPhones. With no shoes on and full of sand, we went on our way to find the main road.

The little path ended up at a busy road and off to the side there were the six of us, who suddenly looked as prostitutes looking for clients. This realization immediately made us laugh at ourselves. Since I was wearing a sequin dress they thought that I should lead the way until it got quite dangerous and we had to switch to he opposite side. We tried stopping some taxis at no avail and before we knew it, we had walked the two kilometers and were in Porto Cervo.

I stopped and shook the sand off my feet and pretended that the last thirty minutes had not actually happened. It had not been a very distinguished entrance. That is for sure.

After devouring a plate of pasta and some ice cream, (and in my case, digesting it all with a  fight on the phone with crocodile) we headed over to our date with the boys who had already texted the meeting point. Most of us had never met or seen each other before so putting together a group of twelve strangers and pretending to have a naturally flowing conversation was almost mission impossible. But drinks and small talk helped break the ice a lot.

They were cute well educated men with impecable British manners, or so we thought. After 45 minutes we were laughing and joking around, talking about going to the islands´ most famous club together and thinking that this was going be a great night out.

Then something extremelly odd happened. One of them got a call. He stood up and went inside, his friend followed him. Soon thereafter three other of the boys were also gone. We were now around a half empty table with Phillip the owner of the boat, who was sitting next to Florence and who she had already baptized Fifi just for laughs.

Twenty embarrassing minutes later we understood that these guys were not coming back outside, they were standing us up. Evidently that call had changed the course of the evening.

We said goodbye to Fifi who sincerely apologized for his friends behaviour and left.

What a great night.

Chapter 18. Meeting Fifi

“The guys on the next boat are checking you out” Our skipper announced. We had been sailing for 8 days around Sardinia, dealing with the Mistral winds instead of sunbathing pleasantly on the deck as we had planned so by the time we reached Porto Cervo we were ready to have some fun. Our skipper, a middle aged Dutch man with a bite, knew this.

“Yes, they are totally checking you out and from what I can see there are at least 6 guys aboard. It is a Dutch boat, look at the flag”.

He was right, the boat next door to ours was anchored at a close enough distance to distinguish the colors of the Dutch flag. My friend Cecile grabbed the monoculars and started to laugh histerically when she realized that our neighbors were holding monoculars too for the same purpose.

“I’m going over there” Frank said. “After all, we Dutchmen are supposed to say Hello to each other whenever they meet at sea, it’s a cultural thing”. Before we knew it he was off on his zodiac while Sonia, his girlfriend and assistant gave him “the nasty look”.

I was inside the cabin when all the commotion began. At the time, I was already having major problems with crocodile and I was taking sleeping pills that kept me groogy well until noon. By the time I woke up each morning, my girlfriends had already gone swimming back and forward to the nearest beach, they had played in the water with the paddle board and they had had their breakfast. I was the only Spaniard in the group, living up to the stereotype of “drama queen” I suppose. Even though I would join the fun late each day, I would add my 5 cents quickly. I felt so thankful to be woken up by their laughter and smell of fresh brewed coffee and brioche.

An hour had gone by and Frank was not back which was clearly upsetting his girlfriend Sonia. Being the good American girl that she was, she jumped on the paddle board and paddled as fast as one could possibly imagine all the way to the next door boat, a three deck yatch that put our tiny sailing boat to shame.

Despite the obvious differences, the sole  idea that there were six of us (six single ladies) on a sailing boat was enough reason to catch our neighbors’ attention and judging by their acrobatic jumps into the water from the highest deck of their boat I am pretty sure that they wanted to catch our attention too…

Sonia came back 10 minutes later with fresh news and her recuperated boyfriend. The existence of six single attractive boys on the neighboring boat was at that moment confirmed. Conveniently, there were six of us plus Sonia, the skipper’s girlfriend.

“I got there and they were already having whiskey and beer. These guys are party animals! Said Sonia. “They said they would love to meet you for after dinner drinks at Porto Cervo tonight”. She had not finished her sentence when we saw two guys jet skiing towards our boat.

“Hello ladies, if you are not too busy we would like to meet you later this evening, how does it sound?”. Aurelie, the groups’ spokeswoman closed the deal when she exchanged mobile phones.

And that is how we met Fifi.

Chapter 17. Towards the 7 year itch

Giving things up for someone you love is only ok to a point. If you love skiing and you realize that after being with someone you have not gone skiing in years something is wrong. Not necessarily with the other person (that is besides the point) but with you.

It is surprising how many women stop doing things they like to make men happy or to cater to a man’s needs or career. We think that our moment will come next, but years go by and most men never pass the ball. They are having too much fun playing with it, while we are just sitting there, watching them play, somewhat happy, somewhat proud, waiting for our turn. Then kids come into the picture and you pretty much disappear.

Some men are keen on letting you play their game (they ask you to join their hobbies, business, etc.) and this might seem fun at the beginning, you discover something new, your learn about their world and since their world fascinates you, you are willing to try whatever it is, even if that means running a half marathon in the middle of the night with no shoes on. But when it comes for them to play your games… not so keen. And this can go on for years, normally the first 5 to 6 years, coinciding with the time when we are making concessions and giving up personal spaces and things for the relationship to flow.

And what happens next? The 7 year itch. The prelude to the crisis.

You begin to really miss your former life, your former self and unconsciously become angry at the person that indirectly, in your mind, has prevented you from being yourself when in fact you only have yourself to blame.

I remember the exact moment when I first heard about “the itch”. I was chopping avocados in downtown Chicago at a friends’ house with a friend of a friend who happens to be a Telemundo channel star, so famous and influential amongst the Latino community that she even launched her own cosmetic line.

It was the 4th of July and we were making some snacks to take to the rooftop terrace to watch the air show. My friends’ friend absolutely gorgeous and talented, had divorced a few years earlier (I never asked her why and if she told me I don’t remember). She was interested in knowing if me and Prince Charming were getting along. From the outside it seemed ideal she said. Then she asked how long me and Prince Charming had been married. “Going on 7 years” I replied. “Well, you must be close to experiencing the seven year itch” What is that? “You’ve never heard about it? You will know soon”.

By the end of the summer I was on a plane, leaving Chicago and Prince Charming for good. I was done moving from place to place for him to advance his career. I was done waiting for the right moment to move back to Europe. I suppose I was done watching him play. I wanted my own game.

I often remember the itch conversation. How do couples get to that point?

My thought is that every time that we put ourselves second we are heading towards the 7 year itch. Every time we make our partner’s goal our goal and we say “It’s OK let’s do that and not this” we are corrupting an otherwise healthy relationship.

I met a friend at the mall the other day who said that she and her husband were in rough waters. She realized that she had not been skiing since their daughter was born. Yes, their daughter is 7 years old. It reminded me of myself because up until I left crocodile I hadn’t been skiing. I had not been surfing either. It just never seemed like a good time. Crocodile never showed any interest in my hobbies and there was always something else going on on  crocodile’s agenda.

Only recently I picked up skiing again, I took out my surfing board, I got up early with my son who had never been skiing to drive those two ours that it takes to get to the ski resort. I drove those insignificant five minutes that it takes to get to the beach where I can practice surf in the middle of the day, while my children are at school.

And guess what? It feels really good. How  about you go do that and I’ll do this?

Chapter 16. Back on the market

What happens to women when they are back on the market after many years married? How do you go from being Mrs. to being Ms. again? For guys is no problem at all. The day they walk out the door if not earlier they are ready to mess around with someone new. They move by instinct. For most women however is more of a process unless the woman was already infatuated by someone else.

Let’s say that by the time you end your marriage or long time relationship there is no other man in the horizon. It is likely that after a few months, your close friends (married or single) will start setting up dates for you to meet other people. That is typically fine because the meeting happens in a very controlled scenario. Normally your friends make a plan that facilitates the encounter and everything flows naturally. If after the first shared evening you think that the guy is cute enough you let your friend(s) know and they arrange for another plan that allows you to see the person again. You can do that until you determine whether or not the the other person is worth or really interested on a one-on-one date with you.

But there are other situations that arise that are much trickier for a lady who is not used to the dating scene, specially for nice polite women unaware of the unwritten rules of dating who are unprepared to deal with those male acquaintances that had been interested in them from a distance and now feel entitled to an opportunity. This type of guys will think that it is now ok for them to call you on your mobile phone in the middle of the day to “check on you” to offer you their support during these difficult times and to tell you that you can count on them for whatever you need when what they want in fact, is to get in your panties fast. You don’t know it yet but for them, you have the word AVAILABLE written all over your face.

Soon after I broke up with crocodile my entire town knew about it. Naturally, after a crocodile relationship two things can happen: either you seclude yourself at home with your children and feel that dating is inappropriate for you for the moment, or you hit the dance floor and start dating everything that moves like a headless chicken that doesn’t know where it’s going. Guys know this and most of them think that after a break up you will be in the second group.

Beware of the dog.

Chapter 15. Innovative Love

As an international business consultant and assistant professor on internationalization, I am obligated to keep up to date with business strategy and innovation. A former student of mine informed me of a conference on business management innovation presented by two Dutch professors and founding members of the HOLST Center, a non for profit institute in Holland that is able to operate with a 40 million Euro annual budget.

The institute receives funds from both the EU and private organizations that pay the institute to undertake research projects that lead to innovative ideas that could be marketed if viable afterwards. They are for example trying to introduce LED lights in running gear and fabrics, they have developed a system for doctors to keep track of when a patient takes their medication, they have put a microchip on wine bottles to know the exact moment when that bottle is uncorked. Great things.

My first question as the president of a Spanish non for profit organization that had to cease its activity in 2011 due to lack of governmental support is: Where do European funds end up in Spain? How do you explain that European non for profit organizations succeed at obtaining funds and in Spain whenever you ask for financial support for an idea with a huge potential it is never a good time for them to allow access to those funds? Five years ago most Spaniards had an idea of what could be the answer to the question, today they know for a fact that the answer to the question is corruption.

As I listened to the presentation and apply the new concepts and ideas to existing clients and scenarios, I can’t stop thinking about how these very same ideas affect human relationships, specially love relationships. The thought being that if we are able to innovate in the way that we manage an organization, we can learn how to be innovative when it comes to managing personal relationships too.

There are two types of innovation they say, strategic and operational. The first one creates a new universe, it responds to a need (old or new) that no one had managed to respond to before. The second one takes care of a particular existing problem, let’s say it is just a more creative improvement to the existing one that reduces the problem to its minimum but doesn’t necessarily make it disappear. A good example would be a patient with arthritis that goes see a doctor and the doctor prescribes a new treatment that will make the symptoms go away if the patient follows the instructions and does not interrupt the treatment. In a business scenario, operational innovation happens to increase the efficiency of a company, to increment its productivity, etc. but always in an existing scenario. Business consultants often work at that level. When a company wishes to increase its productivity or sales abroad (in my case I help companies gain business in the US) they call me. But most of our work happens at an operational level. What we consultants really dream of doing, where we can add more value, is at the other level. Help a company break with its past and create a new universe, a new market that allows for a more expansive economy.

But how do we apply these business concepts to love? I see it very clearly.

Let’s say that a couple is having problems getting along, they don’t understand each other, they are speaking different languages, they are standing in opposite poles. In short, they are about to break up.

She feels like the couple can no longer exist unless some strategic changes take place. She wants a new universe, she wants to forget about how they were doing things up to this point and start from scratch. She wants to innovate strategically. She wants a new universe for the couple.

He on the other hand thinks that the couple could improve just by changing the way that they operate. If they treat each other differently, if they improve (change) the existing arrangements, the couple will do better. He wants to innovate only at an operational level.

How do you think that this couple will end up?

If he doesn’t see the point of starting over from scratch they will fail. If she doesn’t think that a few specific improvements will do they will fail.

It appears that they only way that this couple could continue to exist is if they find a point in the middle. The same happens with companies.

Steve Jobs had an Strategy of his own. He would discard projects that were unlikely  to succeed. He would show up at Apples’s headquarters elevators and ask his employees: “What are you working on? If after listening to the employee for 2 minutes he felt that the project was not going anywhere he would fire the person on the spot and cease the project. No wonder why after a while, people would take the backstairs…

The same thing happens with relationships, even if you have spent many years working on it, if you feel like your relationship is not taking you anywhere, cease it, leave it. Let go.

Better things will come along, think of the iPhone for example, many projects had to be interrupted by Jobs I am sure for the iPhone to come to life.