By Andrew Solomon. A more appropriate title would’ve been “The Many Shapes Of Love”. The most challenging thing I’ve read in a long time. Socially and intellectually. This multimedia version from Solomon’s website will save you from googling the main characters.
I’ve been married a long time. It’s weird to think my parents and many of their peers made one of the most consequential decisions of their lives when they were still teenagers. And that many in my generation did the same in our early 20’s. Young adults today have the good sense to wait a little longer.
In hindsight, I made a good decision, but I’m not so sure the Good Wife would say the same because I have so many faults. The most obvious being the girlfriends on the side.
Don’t judge, a lot of men do it in different corners of the world. Monogamy is hard.
Recently, I ditched a girlfriend of seven years for a new, younger vixen named Blanca.
Blanca has an endless number of endearing attributes, most importantly, electronic shifting and amazing gearing range (48/35, 10-28). Also, she’s incredibly balanced and willing to go wherever, whenever.
If the first few months are any indication, it’s going to be a long, beautiful relationship.
By Roz Chast and Patricia Marx in The New Yorker.
This one hits awfully close to home:
“Marriage is one of you secretly turning the thermostat up and the other secretly turning it down, and so on, and so on, until one of you dies.”
Even better than your fave romantic comedy.
The coolest things about being a famous blogger are annoying your friends with tongue-in-check hyperbole, having readers from lots of other countries, and having people tell you they enjoyed a particular post.
But the coolest may be what happened after I posted “Looking for Love—Introducing The Romantic Love Score” four years ago.
I ended that post this way.
“My friend’s RL score? Currently hovering in the high teens, but she’s committed to changing that. Hope I get invited to the wedding.”
The friend, actually a former student, the one who inspired the post, really took it to heart.* She made lots of changes to her life, some I assisted her with, like what used car to buy, and she committed to updating me on the results every six months. I awaited each update with great anticipation.
Then she went silent. For a year. Last I had heard she was dating someone she liked a lot, but I did not know what to make of the delay. Turns out, she was busy falling deeply in love. And planning her wedding.
Here’s part of what she just wrote:
“The wedding was held in my hometown Lutheran church. We kept the wedding invite list very short. To be honest, we felt uncomfortable asking people to travel to PA knowing that it was a significant cost (in more ways than one) with limited time with the person(s) you are celebrating. We had about 50 people in attendance and it was perfect for us.”
Typically considerate of her, but I sure would’ve loved being there, but maybe it was best I wasn’t since the two pics she included in her recent message nearly brought me to tears.
Her crediting my post and subsequent encouragement with helping her make more friends and meeting her husband moved me.
If you know someone like my friend pictured below, full of life, but wanting to share it with someone special, consider forwarding the aforementioned link to them. The more weddings, the better my daughter’s photog business.
*Ironically, I never had my “former student” in a single class. We met while making S’mores one night at a First Year student retreat. We hit it off and she ditched her small group for mine. Following the retreat, we talked off and on during her remaining three and half undergraduate years. She gets the credit for staying in sporadic touch since then via email.
1. The Quick Therapy That Actually Works. Referred to as “microtherapy”.
“Effective solutions are crucial because Americans—stressed out, lonely, and ghosted by Tinder dates—are in desperate need of someone to talk to. The data suggest that most of the Americans who have a mental illness aren’t receiving treatment. About 30 percent of psychotherapists don’t take insurance. Quick interventions offer ‘something, when the alternative is nothing.'”
Research findings are hopeful, but skepticism is understandable.
“Lynn Bufka, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association, says that these types of brief interventions could be just a first step toward the treatment of various mental-health woes. They might be enough for some people, while others go on to get more intensive therapy. But. . . for more severe issues, such as bipolar disorder and major depression, a quick dose of therapy is unlikely to be enough. ‘These kinds of interventions are probably more likely to be beneficial before full-blown symptoms or disorders have developed.'”
“If students can’t or don’t want to spend money on their own smart speaker, Saint Louis University’s Echo Dots offer a way to bring voice assistants into the dorm without any added cost to the student, since the project went through the capital funding process and wasn’t funded by tuition increases.”
I’m calling bullshit on this. There is an opportunity cost. Money that is being directed to Echo Dots is money not being spent on something else like physical plant maintenance and that money for physical plant maintenance will come from students. I’m also very wary of the wholesale adoption of any technology. Maybe my thinking will change, but right now, if I were an SLU student, I would not want an Echo Dot.
A Greek-American who has lived in Santorini for 12 years laments:
“‘People treat churches like selfie studios. There’s one in front of my house and people used to ring the bell every three minutes or climb up on the roof for their fake wedding shoots. I’d get woken up at 6am by people traipsing across my terrace.” His frustration at the crowds has led him to start hanging ‘respect’ signs around Oia that state ‘it’s your holiday… but it’s our home’.”
As if that’s not enough.
“The constant building and flood of tourists create tons of rubbish, which is all dumped illegally. Santorini still has no proper waste-management facilities, so all the empty water bottles, coffee cups and restaurant leftovers go into a huge dump which doesn’t meet EUregulations. Leakage is free to infect the surrounding earth, water and air.”
Alexa, find me someplace free of deranged photographers.
The headline is misleading since the focus is on opposite-sex best friends.
This makes sense to me:
“Alexandra Solomon, an assistant psychology professor at Northwestern University and the instructor of the university’s Marriage 101 course. . . wonders whether the correlation between negative attitudes toward opposite-sex friendships and negative or violent expressions of jealousy could be due to participants’ personal beliefs about gender roles.
It speaks to a bit of a rigid, dichotomous way of thinking—I suspect there’s a layer in there about how much [the subjects] endorse traditional gender roles. . . . A woman with more traditional ideas about gender might feel threatened by her boyfriend’s female best friend because. . . ‘she may have this idea that I ought to be your one and only, and I ought to be able to meet all your needs. If you love me, then you’ll only turn to me.‘ A man with similarly rigid or traditional ideas about gender roles, she added, might feel territorial or possessive, as though his female partner belongs to him and only him.”
The more important, relevant question is about the potential for opposite-sex friendship more generally. I’ve long been intrigued by the tendency of friends to congregate in same sex circles at social gatherings. Even opposite-sex friendships of multiple decades seem relatively superficial. Opposite-sex friends seem to bump up against an invisible wall as if friendship is a zero-sum game. It’s that wall that intrigues me the most. More specifically, why the wall?
This was a hard read. Seemingly, my favorite app has no regard for the common good.
An easy read. :)
“In the United States, nearly 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. Another 10 to 15 percent of couples separate and do not divorce, and another 7 percent or so stay together but are chronically unhappy. In other words, more than half of the people who decide to marry, presumably driven by passionate love, wind up unhappy. The odds are worse for couples that marry before age twenty five.”
If that is not depressing enough:
“And there are very few things worse than a bad marriage. Being in a bad marriage will increase your chance of getting sick by 35 percent and shorten your life span by an average of four years.”
The obvious take-away is choose very, very carefully, but I can’t imagine any couple in passionate love saying to one another, “WAIT, before we consider getting engaged, we should read and think about David Brooks’s marriage advice.”
Brooks’s best paragraphs on marriage highlight Tim and Kathy Keller’s insights:
“In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller describe how the process of improvement and elevation happens. First, you marry a person who seems completely wonderful and mostly perfect. Then, after a little while—maybe a month or two, maybe a year or two—you realize that the person you thought was so wonderful is actually imperfect, selfish, and flawed in many ways. As you are discovering this about your spouse, your spouse is making the exact same discovery about you.
The natural tendency in this situation is to acknowledge that of course you are a little selfish and flawed, but in fact it is your spouse’s selfishness that is the main problem here. Both spouses will also come to this conclusion at about the same time.
Then comes a fork in the road. Some couples will decide that they don’t want all the stress and conflict that will come from addressing the truths they have discovered about each other and themselves. They’ll make a truce, the Kellers say. Some subjects will not be talked about. You agree not to mention some of your spouse’s shortcomings so long as she agrees not to mention some of yours. The result is a truce-marriage, which is static, at least over the short term, but which gradually deteriorates over the long one.
“The alternative to the this truce-marriage is to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s. Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it,” the Kellers write. ‘If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.'”
Jives with my experience.
Man did I hit a wall a third of the way through David Brooks’s Second Mountain. Despite it weighing two pounds, I could not pick it up. Instead I watched The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, Billions, and went full New Yorker.
But since I keep thinking I may use a chapter of it in my writing seminar this fall, I have begun reading it again, Part III in particular, titled Marriage. The first of the five marriage chapters is “The Maximum Marriage”. At the risk of creating cliche-i-cide, this is the idea that you should never settle in marriage, instead you should go ALL IN with a soul mate who completes you.
I have several problems with Brook’s marriage advice. The first is that he failed at his. Of course this doesn’t disqualify him, assuming a greater degree of reflection and vulnerability than he shows. He alludes to being the problem and explains that his ex-wife and him have an agreement not to talk about the dissolution of their marriage, perfectly understandable, but then it’s probably best not to present oneself as an authority.
Brooks is newly married to his former research assistant, a much younger woman for what it’s worth. When reading him wax poetic about maximum marriage, I can’t help but wonder what went wrong, why, and what about the references to the “art of recommitment”?
I also have questions if not concerns about the concept of “maximum marriage”. Recently, an acquaintance gave up her will to live a few weeks after her lifelong husband unexpectedly died. That’s an extreme example, but surviving partners of long-term maximum relationships or marriages often struggle with how to live without their “soulmates”. Brooks makes passing references to “autonomy” when that concept, in my opinion, deserves more attention.
Brooks also breaks down the “stages of intimacy” in the manner of someone who gives too much credence to every social science article he reads. He slights the mystery of intimacy and the organic nature of how two people create intimacy and sometimes decide to team up for life. In addition to describing intimacy in too linear a fashion, he doesn’t offer young people any practical advice on how best to answer the innumerable questions he suggests people considering marriage ask themselves.
Sometimes I suggest, based upon my experience backpacking in Southern Mexico in 1986 with who would become the Good Wife on 7/11/87*, that the newly in love backpack together in a developing country. I promise you’ll learn more about one another in a month than you probably would in a year. How do they make decisions? How do they spend money? How do they deal with sketchy hostels? How respectful are they of others? Are they quick to laugh or humor impaired? And most importantly, are they kind and are you a better person as a result of their friendship?
It’s funny isn’t it, the Humble Blogger giving the New York Times writer a hard time about his book. But why quit now. Brooks quotes other people way too much. Half the time the quotes do not have the intended effect, I’m often left thinking “huh” even after a second reading, and the incessant quoting compromises his voice. Of course I’ve already argued he’s not the most credible person on the topic, but his consistent leaning on others doesn’t solve that dilemma, for me, it only adds to it.
Also, despite Brook’s fealty to all things social scientific, a glaring oddity is that he never mentions the role money often plays in failed marriages. I can only speculate that’s because his ex-wife and him never lacked for it and most of his friends and acquaintances are similarly well-to-do. How does he spend fifty pages giving marriage advice without even touching upon financial compatibility?
So why, given my criticisms, is Second Mountain a best seller? In fairness, there’s good mixed in, but I suspect a large part of it is professional reputation. Given his previous writing, and his very high profile, he gets the benefit of the doubt from most readers. Oh, Brooks is often insightful, so this must be too.
*don’t feel bad if your “Happy Anniversary” card arrives late
Three years ago, in light of our 30th anniversary, I promised the Good Wife a trip to a “Spanish speaking” country. It only took three years to pull of. The GW has always had a passion for languages, Swedish, Amharic, Spanish in particular. Sad isn’t it, that she married such a language loser, but she has to take responsibility for focusing exclusively on looks.
A week or two before the trip, while loitering in the kitchen, she said to me, “Being in Spain with you is going to be sexy.” Hubba hubba! All of a sudden the long distance flights seemed more manageable. But then I regained my senses and said, “Yeah, except for the fact that you invited our daughters.” Correcting the record, she smiled, “Ah, that was your idea.” What the hell was I thinking? Probably that their schedules would never allow it. They happily proved me wrong. We never should have taken them to live for short stints in China and Norway when they were young.
Here are the sordid details you so desperately want. The four of us shared small apartments in Madrid and Seville for eleven days. I was sick as a perro for about a third of the time. In the end, I’m sorry to report, there was very little hanky and next to no panky.
But all was not lost.
David Brooks in a recent piece, The Moral Peril of Meritocracy, contrasts first and second mountain life. He writes:
“If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second is about shedding the ego and dissolving the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution.
On the first mountain, personal freedom is celebrated — keeping your options open, absence of restraint. But the perfectly free life is the unattached and unremembered life. . . .
So the person on the second mountain is making commitments. People who have made a commitment to a town, a person, an institution or a cause have cast their lot and burned the bridges behind them. They have made a promise without expecting a return. They are all in.”
“Over the past few decades the individual, the self, has been at the center. The second-mountain people are leading us toward a culture that puts relationships at the center. They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one.”
I may finally be approaching the base of the second mountain. Why do I think that? Because when the GW asked me what my favorite moment of the trip was, I wasn’t quite able to tell her. Instead, I told her my second and third favorites.
My absolute favorite was witnessing the wave of emotion that came over her as the trip drew to an end.
The last morning in Seville, I rallied and we went for an aimless walk through our neighborhood’s ancient, narrow streets. Eventually, we ended up at the outdoor window of a tapas bar in a small, beautiful, mostly empty plaza. We ordered dos cafes con leche and waited at an outdoor table. Sipping our drinks, she started to cry. “This is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to sit with you at an outdoor cafe and just enjoy the moment.” Later that morning, the tears continued as she declared her abiding love for the whole dam fam. I can’t remember ever seeing her happier.
That made the lengthy planning process, the marathon plane flights, the expenses totally worth it.
How are two people supposed to peacefully co-exist given their different childhoods, insecurities, unique worldviews, and imperfect listening? How given all the uniqueness and flaws each brings to the equation?
We’re often surprised by people we know, or think we know, who decide to divorce, but maybe the more pertinent question is how does anyone stay together long-term?
Why are the Good Wife and I getting along better than normal these days? Because the kitchen is clean and clutter free a majority of the time. I have decided the foundation of successful long-term intimate relationships is a clean and clutter-free kitchen.
Being on sabbatical, I am spending a lot more time in our kitchen than normal. It’s a very nice kitchen and I like spending time in it doing dishes, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the espresso machine, putting groceries away, preparing food. The GalPal always pitches in too. The twenty-three year old temporary resident, no so much, but our games are so strong, we compensate for her twenty-three year oldness.
Eventually, the sabbatical will end, and my time in the kitchen will be drastically reduced. At which point, all bets are off.