Tag Archives: Relationships

Concise summary of true love for my demographic

This quote from very funny, newlywed fashion blogger Man Repeller perfectly sums up exactly what I’m looking for:

“Leandra: [S]eriously, I’m married to the most understanding human on this planet. We don’t have fights about these types of things and that’s why I keep pushing him because I feel like we’re at this stage in our lives where we can be so wholly selfish without having to wonder what’s going to be because, at the end of the day, we come home to each other. It’s not like I’m working really hard on the blog and also wondering what’s going to happen to my personal life.”

From Into the Gloss.

Isn’t that EXACTLY what calm is: predictability?


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Let the wrong one in

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one who’s nonthreatening to your pathetic self-worth and low self-esteem:

Hot or Not? Why Women Shouldn’t Pick Attractive Husbands

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Contempt of Course

Blah, blah, relationships, divorce, statistics, blah, predict, and then:

“Actually, some people have tried to measure these things — one psychiatrist, made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, claims to be able to predict divorce based on whether couples show contempt for each other.”

That’s interesting.  What do you think, kids?  Is contempt more deadly for a marriage than the factors listed in the original “yadda yadda statistics” article, like financial disagreements, religious differences, smoking differentials, etc.?

It makes a lot of sense.  The factors Daily Beast lists as statistically significant are all presumptively partner gaps.  Both partners are responsible for finances, for their religious choices, etc.

Contempt, on the other hand, suggests a state of inequality.  This is functionally one partner’s unwillingness to relate to the other.

Contempt can exist within any of those boxes, but it can also exist alone.  And what makes contempt unique is that it’s probably indicative of some underlying, pre-existing decision not to relate.  It’s the un-partnering.


From Jezebel.

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Google Buzz and the Creative Class

Not too long ago I had this great conversation re Richard Florida w/ a friend more interested in Geography than I.  I’m a strong “creative class” aficionado, committed to staying in the cities — and social life — that inspires.

The alternative, of course, is to find a place that relaxes (my friend plans to move w/ his immensely lovely wife to South Carolina, a place less attack-prone than DC) and admit that most of the creative class has moved to e-format anyway.

I’ve been in DC almost 3 years now, long enough that my cohort has begun to lose patience and abscond to where folks are perhaps more well-rounded than here.*  While I’m not sure I’ll stay in this city, I remain unconvinced that a thriving e-presence is actually as inspiring as spending time the old-fashioned way — “IRL” — with people who inspire.

Remember when you used to go outside to take pictures of butterflies?  Now you can stay at your desk and Google pictures of butterflies!

*It doesn’t help that I’ve been all of those years in law school!  I love the law and am more than fond of a lawyer or two, but see below a pretty prescient comment re this antithesis to the Creative Class:

ATL: During our interview, you said lawyers make for difficult clients. What are “lawyerly qualities” that make therapy difficult?

Lawyers are distrustful, which makes it very difficult to establish the “therapeutic join” that is necessary for effective psychotherapy. They have it drilled into them that they must be risk adverse – in other words, they must always be bracing themselves for attack, for something to go wrong, for someone to – for lack of a better word – screw them over. And lawyers are always blamed when something goes wrong. They are supposed to think of everything in advance, and be constantly vigilant for even the slightest risk. That’s antithetical to the psychotherapeutic set-up. In psychotherapy, you have to let down your guard and feel free to experiment with identity. It is key, in psychotherapy, that you explore feelings openly, which means saying everything – even things that seem crazy or scary or perhaps that you don’t really mean. I always encourage my patients to free themselves up and even get a little lost in themselves during our sessions. Sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way to someplace new.

What think, kids?  Are lawyers — and perhaps e-hounds — guarding themselves in a way that stifles creativity and :- growth?  Or are risk aversion and a commitment to the interwebs viable responses/substitutes in this brave new world?

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Together in the Same Direction

Check out  Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.  They’ll never replace Joan Didion in my heart, but there’s something about that grow-together, learn-together that tugs my heartstrings in such a satisfying way.

Patti’s book about her relationship w/ Mapplethorpe isn’t brand new.  But her references (the title “Just Kids” referring to tourists who declined to take the Bohemian couple’s picture bc by all appearances they were  mere raggedy kids) are certainly newer than “Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein,” the most parallel pop memory the NYT invokes:

Apart from a certain shared apprehension of immortality — complacent in one case, but endearingly gingerly in the other — the skinny 28-year-old on the cover of Patti Smith’s seismic 1975 album, “Horses,” doesn’t look much at all like Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. But because the shutterbug was Robert Mapplethorpe, who was soon to become fairly legendary himself, that exquisite photograph of Smith on the brink of fame is as close as New York’s 1970s avant-garde ever came to a comparable twofer. The mythmaking bonus is that the latter-day duo were much more genuinely kindred spirits.

What a lovely thought: A relationship dependent not on the romantic, but rather on a shared love of something great!

Writes Antoine de Saint Exupéry:

Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.

(“Love, it’s not gazing at one another, but rather to gaze together in the same direction.”)

Smith’s biography of a relationship predictably becomes a biography of an instant time and place.  From another, more recent review:

… “Just Kids” is the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: she’s always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed.

Patti found the muse she needed in Mapplethorpe (“We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed,” she writes).  And through her he gained some solid handhold:

[Smith’s job clerking at Scribner’s bookstore] left Mapplethorpe free to doodle while she earned their keep, which she didn’t mind. “My temperament was sturdier,” she explains, something her descriptions of his moues confirm. Even when they were poor and unknown, he spent more time deciding which outfit to wear than some of us do on our taxes.

The book outlines in exquisite detail the hard years, the romantic years, and leaves off where the fame and alienating kind of debauchery begins.  Part of the “gazing together” is towards celebrity in their midst:

Among the most charming vignettes is her attempted pickup in an automat (“a real Tex Avery eatery”) by Allen Ginsberg, who buys the impoverished Smith a sandwich under the impression she’s an unusually striking boy.

Finally, here are the last lines of the two NYT reviews, each evocative and lovely:

They sound like Hansel and Gretel, living in a state of shared delight, blissfully unaware of what awaited on the path ahead.


Peculiarly or not, the one limitation of “Just Kids” is that Mapplethorpe himself, despite Smith’s valiant efforts, doesn’t come off as appealingly as she hopes he will. When he isn’t candidly on the make — “Hustler-hustler-hustler. I guess that’s what I’m about,” he tells her — his pretension and self-romanticizing can be tiresome. Then again, the same description could apply to the young Smith, and we wouldn’t have the older one if she’d been more abashed in her yearnings. This enchanting book is a reminder that not all youthful vainglory is silly; sometimes it’s preparation. Few artists ever proved it like these two.

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Feminism and Inverse Evolution

To anyone who didn’t grow up in a comically-traditional household (did your Italian parents spank you w/ a wooden spoon?), word on the street is that men want a chase, while women need possession.  Also, ladies?  No one will buy the cow if you give away milk for free.

In some ways gender roles are set deeper than culture.  It’s not of habit that men hunt while women gather; men are physically more capable of throwing a spear and chasing game.  Women, with our vision more attuned to detail, with our ability to scatter focus, should spend our time collecting foods that don’t fight back or flee.

Feminism turns that instinct on its head.  As a community evolves we tend to lose our single-minded drive for efficiency, and begin delving into innovation.  It doesn’t matter that males traditionally hunt mastodons better; perhaps if some women join the hunt we’ll revolutionize the method.

Indeed, as a community evolves its members demand ever-higher needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.  Where 200 years ago it was enough to feel protected from the elements, now we want equal pay for equal work.

This par-raising instinct — like the drive to venture into art, to divide into social castes, etc. — represents a sort of cultural apex.  Here individuals have the best opportunity to experiment as individuals.  But abandoning efficiency as primary social drive arguably becomes a sort of harbinger for a community’s first move towards decline.

Three blog posts this week explored the sort of boundaries to this “inverse evolution” theory:

Remember that “go ahead and settle” article The Atlantic published last year?  Julia Baird rails back in Newsweek:

“I know this is an unpopular thing to say,” [Gottlieb, author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough“] writes, “but feminism has completely f–ked up my love life.” Um, I know why it’s unpopular: because it’s completely unfair. Feminism is a centuries-old social movement, not a self-help book—we can’t blame it for bad decisions we make about men. The problem, as Gottlieb sees it, is that women were told they could have it all, which meant not compromising in any aspect of life, including dating (which is odd because people who can’t compromise aren’t feminists, they are just generally unpleasant people). Then women got so fussy that they “empowered themselves out of a mate.”

Baird does not go so far as to argue that feminism has helped daters (not like Christine Whelan’s “Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women”).  But she defends feminism from accusations that deviating from traditional mores make traditional relationship models impossible.  Our parents’ generation taught us how to date, after all, and when we start rejecting some of their values it’s hard to know where to stop.

So feminism, while unnatural, doesn’t hurt potential partnerships.  From that defensive baseline, today’s blogosphere offers perspective on how beauty differentials affect an established relationship:

[I]n contrast to the importance of matched attractiveness to new relationships, similarity in attractiveness was unrelated to spouses’ satisfaction and behavior. Instead, the relative difference between partners’ levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives.

Doesn’t this remind you of that advice from my Italian father, that men prefer the chase?  When wives are more attractive — more desirable to their spouse as well as to other people — everyone is happier.  On its face this suggests that men are in fact happier when there remains an element of competition in their established relationship.

On the flip side, perhaps women simply need more physical reassurance than men.  Three years in a sorority house taught me a lot about feminine insecurity.  More attractive women need perhaps more active reassurance re their sustained beauty than the average gal.

Remember that classic Craigslist ad comparing the declining and appreciating aspects of men and women’s respective assets?  Women know men are visual, competitive creatures.  The “traditional” — as opposed to feminist, or “inverse” — urge suggests that wanna-be-wives focus on the parts that mates appreciate, while abandoning what might evoke more competition than warmth.

Another “inverse evolution” parallel might suggest that even banal urges may not come from potential mates at all.  Future breeders have to look wayyyy down the line to where they will be ready to settle down.  Today’s competition has less to do with landing a mate right now and more to do with fitting in with a girlie clique, avoiding the mean girls, etc.

Finally, Newsweek also published a “nature v. nurture” approach to Elizabeth Edwards’s plight:

If Elizabeth Edwards were behaving as evolutionary psychology says she should, she would not be separating from her philandering husband, former senator John Edwards. He, after all, merely slept with the help; he never pulled a Mark Sanford, who called his mistress his “soulmate.” Women are supposed to find only emotional betrayal upsetting; they’re not supposed to care if their mate shtups anything in a skirt (Elin Woods is therefore conforming to the stereotype of women being forgiving of sexual but not emotional infidelity if she, as reported, stays with Tiger; the very fact that his mistresses numbered in double digits suggests there wasn’t exactly a deep emotional commitment there).
Of all the ways men are from Mars and women from Venus, this supposed sex difference in jealousy is one of the most amusing. But an intriguing new study suggests that the gender gap in jealousy may be the result of something that is not at all hard-wired: the different ways boys and girls are raised.

Genetically it makes sense that respective genders react the way we do:

[I]f a woman sleeps around, then her partner might (unknowingly) be deprived of her reproductive services for at least nine months, and could wind up raising another man’s child—both of which hurt his own chances of reproducing, which is the currency of evolutionary success.  A man should therefore become much more upset by his partner’s sexual infidelity than by her emotional infidelity (developing a crush, for instance, but not acting on it).

In contrast, if a man falls in love with another woman, he might abandon his wife and children, putting them at risk, but meaningless extramarital sex is unlikely to lead to such a drastic outcome. A woman should therefore care more about her partner’s emotional infidelity than his casual hookups.

So approaching this from the “nature” (genetic hardwiring) point of view — the traditional perspective — politicians’ wives are doing what’s best to protect their investments.  Jenny Sanford should be more angry than Hillary Clinton.  Does a deviation from nature to nurture change anything?

Well, there’s pride.  Helpless women of yore would have found better incentives to forgive and forget, bc the alternative would have been devastating.  Today women crowd tomorrow’s trophy husbands out of graduate school.  Our rejection of traditional roles provides indignant leverage to reject old caveats attached to outdated mores.

Which begs the question: Has marriage followed mores down this inverse path?

Perhaps it’s because gender roles have evolved in a more inverse — or merely quicker — way than community’s relationship formulation (i.e., marriage, domestic partnerships, but certainly formalized) that so many couples diverge again from tradition.  Or perhaps one rship-member’s helplessness was a critical element after all in the formulation traditionalists know and love.

Formalization helps everyone though.  Formalizing forever-ship protects against the perils of balding and late-onset unattractiveness.  It ensures childrearing help.  And, if nothing else in this modern world, it tamps the spread of disease.

As usual everything comes down to pragmatism.  If you would like to participate in traditional roles — including parenthood — then traditional models work.

They may well be “caveman” instincts.  But it’s pointless to deny the community benefits that accompany the traditional model.  Instead, postpone the social apex and accompanying inevitable decline.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re moving forward or backwards; why reject nature for nurture at the expense of comfort?

It may prove satisfying to intellectualize the whole enterprise, but when it comes down to it everyone benefits from the same perks that benefited our grandparents.


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Michelangelo Phenomenon

What makes a relationship work is when both partners enjoy each other in the present and — equally important — each partner’s idealized mate mirrors the other’s ideal vision of him- or herself.

The Michelangelo Phenomenon adheres pretty closely to that latter part:

When you imagine your somewhat South-of-perfect spouse or partner as an idealized version of his or her self, you’re practicing what psychologists like to call the “Michelangelo phenomenon.” And rather than setting yourself up for disappointment when you finally realize your partner’s no Astronaut Mike Dexter, a new study of relationships says that creating an idealized vision of your loved one can actually help your partner become the person you want him or her to be.

It can be difficult to find a balance between future-looking pedestal-erecting and finding satisfaction in the here-and-now.

“To the degree that the sculpting process has gone well, that you have helped mold me toward my ideal self, the relationship functions better and both partners are happier,” Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University said in a statement. “And over the long term, I more or less come to reflect what my partner sees and elicits from me.”

This “chiseling” language encapsulates the phenom perfectly.  Under-ambitious encouragement comes off as lack of faith that a partner can improve at all.  Over-ambitious support reads as lack of appreciation in the present.

In other words: People should encourage one another to realize the best version of themselves, but this requires some established loving baseline.  Absent that loving-kindness (in platonic relationships) or reassurance (in romantic relationships) home becomes a hovel, support falls on deaf ears, and conversation grinds to a halt.

Gimundo concludes:

This approach doesn’t always work: for instance, if you’re hoping to turn Homer Simpson into Ned Flanders, it ain’t gonna happen.

“Even if partners treat us in perfectly loving, supportive ways, if the treatment is not consistent with the person we dream of becoming, we have to pay attention to those red flags,” said Finkel.

But if all your partner needs is a little bit of chiseling to get to the perfect specimen hidden in the stone, your gentle guidance and encouragement can help make that dream real.

“When our partners can chisel and polish us in a way that helps us to achieve our ideal self, that’s a wonderful thing.”

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