What’s A Young Woman To Do?

Imagine you’re a heterosexual, twenty or thirty-something female, wanting a romantic partner, even a husband, maybe even children, but you spend more time looking at screens than interacting with male friends. Realizing the folly of your ways, you unplug a bit, stop taking your phone everywhere, start changing your daily routine so that you’re Instagramming less and talking to people your age more.

Then you read this essay titled “How Abusive Relationships Take Root” and learn:

“Roughly a third of women in developed countries report having been in at least one abusive relationship, defined by a partner or ex-partner who ’causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors,’ according to the World Health Organization.”

What do you do? Throw in the towel? Benedict Carey, the author of the essay, has an answer. Pay really close attention to warning signs.*

“The hallmark signs of the male abuser are well known to experts. He’s jealous. He exhibits a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. He can be cruel with animals, to children. But often there are subtler, more incremental steps in the development of an abusive relationship, among men and women of all orientations.

‘It often starts in a very insidious way,’ said Patricia Pape, a psychologist in private practice in New York. ‘He says, ‘Don’t put Sweet-and-Low in your coffee, it’s poisonous.’ ‘Then, ‘When you wear that nail polish, it makes you look like a fallen woman,’ and ‘That skirt is too short, it’s too revealing.’ Or, ‘I don’t think you should see her, she’s not good for you.’ ‘You wind up in a situation where he’s telling you what to wear, what to eat, who you can see, how to behave.’ Each small adjustment made by the victim reinforces this control, Dr. Pape said. One of her patients had a husband who, when the couple was out at a public event, would insist she not look around at the crowd, as he felt it could be seen as flirtatious. ‘It came to point that when she walked around, she would look down,” Dr. Pape said. “It changed how she walked.’

In this case, as in so many others, no single request was offensive on its own — at least, not early on. Each person in a relationship makes room for the other’s quirks, to some extent, male or female: that’s what couples do. It’s the incremental ceding of control on one side that can prime someone for abuse, therapists said.”

The incremental ceding of control. The incremental ceding of control. The incremental ceding of control.

When he says, “Don’t put Sweet-and-Low in your coffee, it’s poisonous,” your inner voice has to say, “F*ck you.” Get up from the cafe table, walk out, and don’t turn back. When he says, “I don’t think you should see her, she’s not good for you.” “F*ck you, I will always choose my friends.” Nail polish makes you look like a fallen woman, f*ck you. Skirt too short, f*ck you. Swear too much, f*ck you.

At the same exact time you have to remind yourself that most men are not prone to dictating what you put in your coffee, that they don’t care who your friends are, what color your fingernails are, or how short your skirt is. Most men are not jealous, do not have Jekyll-and-Hyde personalities, and are not cruel to animals or children.

In fact, #MeToo headlines and popular culture depictions aside, a lot of men are secure, psychologically healthy, even kind and considerate, and they dig whatever friends, color of fingernail polish, and clothing make you happy. They willingly cede control to all-important things like what you put in your coffee. And they listen, consider your feelings, and seek to make most decisions together. They conceive of romantic love as a partnershp. Lots and lots of men.

So you overcome your understandable uncertainty and take chances with male friends, sharing more and more of your deepest thoughts, assuming that they are of the kind and considerate variety until they prove differently. At which point you promptly drop kick them and start all over again.

*I will be using this passage in future writing seminars. Brilliant illustration of specific details.

Looking for Love—Introducing the Romantic Love Score

Maybe you know someone like my 29 year old friend who recently sent me a great email.

“My life is pretty darn good right now,” she wrote, “but I would still like to find a special friend with whom I could start a family.” Thinking who better to offer some inspiration, she told me she had a good job, some decent friends, but no real prospects when it came to romantic love.

And so I tried.

First, I celebrated her refreshing “If it happens great, if not, I’ll still lead a fulfilling life” attitude. People desperate to find someone to “complete them” stand little chance of forming a healthy, balanced, long-term relationship based upon mutual respect.

I also affirmed her desire to marry and start a family because my wife and daughters have definitely enriched my life. Mostly for the better, intimacy amplifies one’s joys and heartbreaks. For me, and most people in healthy committed relationships, that’s a trade-off worth making. Over and over, year after year.

I think about my friend’s prospects for romantic love almost exclusively in sociologically terms. Let me explain by way of what I’m labeling one’s Romantic Love score. Your RL score is similar to a house’s Walk Score. A walk score is a number between 0 and 100 that realtors assign to every house for sale. The higher the score, the easier it is to walk to stores, restaurants, parks, etc. Our current home has an abysmal walk score of “5” meaning you better pack some food if you’re walking to the grocery store.

A Romantic Love score is also a number between 0 and 100. The higher your score, the greater your likelihood of meeting someone special with whom marriage and children are possibilities.

Walk scores are determined by sophisticated computers, Romantic Love scores are determined by my amazingly brilliant analysis of a few things you send me. First and most importantly, a map of your typical week showing me exactly how you spend every hour of every day that you’re awake.

From that map, I determine the potential for casual friendships to evolve into something hotter and heavier. Work is obviously a big chunk of time and that could go either way depending upon how consistently you interact with colleagues around your age, but you’re outside of work time is most important. If you spend evenings reading alone, your RL score will be far less than if you participate in a book club or two. No one is ever going to come wave at you through your window while you’re wrapped in a blanket, after dinner, in your favorite reading spot.

Similarly, it’s one thing to run in the pitch black at 5a.m. alone and another to run after work or on the weekends with a group sponsored by a local running store, maybe even one that meets up afterwards to continue socializing. And it’s one thing to lap swim by one’s self and another to join a masters swim team and workout a few times a week with the same 20-30 people. Ditto with cycling. Better to attend the same spin class with the same 10-15 people than to just cycle alone all the time.

The second stage is doing things with your small group friend(s) outside of the regular activity—going out to dinner, weekend get-aways, etc. Traveling with small groups of friends for a weekend or week increases the potential for sparks of mutual interest and admiration, thus raising your RL score.

Don’t force participation in activities that you don’t naturally enjoy in the first place, just be more intentional about doing them with others. Small groups whom you interact with at least twice a week. And then be intentional about each group. After a few weeks or month, evaluate the potential for meeting someone special, and don’t hesitate to switch one small group activity for another.

My wife was a second year teacher in rural Southern California when she was 24. All she did was work, then exercise at a fitness center, and then watch the NewsHour while eating dinner. There were hardly any single people in her community so she decided to take her RL score into her own hands. She quit her job and moved to Santa Monica and looked for a teaching job there. Right away she started attending the same church I was attending. My roommates and I at the time hosted a bible study in our home.

She showed up one summer night with her roommate who she knew a little bit prior to her move. After the bible study I asked her if she wanted to go get some frozen yogurt (Rico Suave). About 6-8 of us ended up going. After that I was smitten and asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner and by then any resistance to my charm offensive was futile.

The take-away is small groups aren’t magical. At some point you have to be more intentional than might come naturally and take initiative to move from acquaintance to friend to more special friend. In the simplest terms, being more intentional might mean saying, “I like you.” And then assessing whether the feeling is mutual. Obviously, there has to be reciprocity. Romantic love can’t be forced, there has to be some chemistry.

Second, I need a list of all of your close friends who are aware of your desire for a special friend and consciously thinking about mutual friends who might be a decent match. This is the “social capital” subsection of your overall RL score.

Third, I need an honest self-assessment of how flexible you are. Not with regard to values, you should never settle for someone who isn’t kind and doesn’t inspire you to be an even better person, but in terms of age and level of education. The older you are, the more you need to consider someone younger or older than you, and if you’re a female, quite possibly someone with less formal education. Obviously, the more flexible, the higher your RL score.

Fourth, I need an honest assessment of your relative selflessness. Since selfish people typically lack self awareness, you’ll need to solicit the help of close friends and family who know you best. Ask them, on a scale of 0 to 10, zero representing a “no hope narcissist of Donald Trump like proportions” and ten representing “Mother Teresa like selflessness”, where would you rate me and why? Long term committed relationships depend upon mutual curiosity and consideration, active listening, and patience. The more selfless, the higher your RL score.

I am now accepting submissions. Every Pressing Pauser is interested in learning more from your particular situation so don’t be bashful. If I share what you submit I’ll do it so discreetly no one will ever trace any of the deets back to you.

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.

Related read. [Note: The reader’s top ranked comments are every bit as good as the essay.]

Paragraph to Ponder

From Roman Krznaric in The Wonderbox:

The idea of passionate, romantic love that has emerged in the West over the past millennium is one of our most destructive cultural inheritances. This is because the main aspiration—the discovery of a soulmate—is virtually impossible to achieve in reality. We can spend years searching for that elusive person who will satisfy all our emotional needs and sexual desires, who will provide us with friendship and self-confidence, comfort and laughter, stimulate our minds and share our dreams. We imagine somebody out there in the amorous ether who is our missing other half, and who will make us feel complete if only we can fuse our being with theirs in the sublime union of romantic love. Our hopes are fed by an industry of Hollywood screen romances and an overload of pulp fiction peddling this mythology. The message is replicated by the worldwide army of consultants who advertise their ability to help you ‘find your perfect match’. In a survey of single Americans in their twenties, 94 percent agreed that ‘when you marry you want your spouse to be your soulmate, first and foremost.’ The unfortunate truth is that the myth of romantic love has gradually captured the varieties of love that existed in the past, absorbing them into a monolithic vision.