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“A place to live is also a way to live.”

 

From the buzz around Kate Bolick’s book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own to the unfortunate language Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy used in writing the opinion legalizing same-sex marriage, of the unmarried being “condemned to live in loneliness,” the state of singles — and let’s be honest, mostly single women — has been on a lot of people’s minds.

So it couldn’t be a better time for social psychologist and tireless singles advocate Bella DePaulo‘s latest book to arrive on bookshelves, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century (Atria Books/Beyond Words). Golden_Girls

There are more than 124 million single Americans, by choice or chance, outnumbering those who are married. Clearly, the vision we have of the nuclear family, living with a white picket fence somewhere in suburbia, is outdated.

Given that that’s today’s reality, one has to wonder: How are single people living? Do they have community? Are their needs being met? Are they really living in loneliness?

DePaulo, an avowed “single at heart” and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, wondered about that, too. Her quest to find the answers led her on a multiyear cross-country journey to meet with singles as well as couples who had found creative ways to live — from multigenerational homes to cohousing communities to couples “living apart together” (LATs) — and were eager to share how they did it and why. Their stories, and her book, offer an illuminating exploration of how people are creating their most authentic lives. (For full disclosure, I am included in DePaulo’s book as someone who chooses a LAT arrangement).

I spoke with DePaulo about her findings; here’s an edited version:

Q: The inspiration for the book came from a blog post you wrote that got a huge response. Why was it so important for you to write this book?

A: What was telling about that blog post was not so much the number of people who viewed it or commented, but the tenor of the discussion and the way it continued over time. Readers reacted to each other’s stories by saying things like, “Your comment brings tears to my eyes.” The discussion continued beyond my Living Single blog where it started, as readers sent emails telling me how they lived and how they wish they could live.

Those reactions by themselves would not have been enough to inspire me to write a book. What really caught my attention were all the stories in the media about the innovative ways people were living. Some stories were so unique and unexpected, they did not fit into any obvious category.

Q: You talk about “lifespaces” and “lifespace literature.” What do you mean by that?

A: I coined the term “lifespace literature” to pull together and name all the different discussions I had been finding in so many different places. It is about the lives we envision and then build around our places, our spaces and our people. It incorporates the people who are important to us, and our own psychological relationships to places and spaces and people. It recognizes that a place to live is also a way to live, and that we have never had as many choices as we do now.

Q: You devote whole chapters to seniors, who are eager to avoid the nursing homes most of us equate with aging, and single parents. Why?

A: They are on the vanguard of innovation and what they dreamed up incorporates every possible point along the spectrum of togetherness to separateness. I think the seniors were motivated by seeing so many of their elders end up in institutions and vowing never to let that happen to them. They wanted to be in charge of their own futures. When they did not like what they saw around them, they created solutions they did like. The lifespaces of the single parents were amazing, too. These parents found so many ways to re-imagine home and family for themselves and their children that they were never really raising their kids on their own, even if they were living on their own.

Q: You mention early on that people seem to want time with others and time alone. In what ways has our traditional ways of living failed them?

A: For such a long time, many houses and neighborhoods and zoning regulations were all developed on the model of nuclear families living in single-family detached homes out in the suburbs. But the U.S. is not a nation of nuclear families anymore. Sometimes our families are expanding — when aging parents or grown kids move in with the generation sandwiched in between. Today’s adults, though, want their privacy as well as their opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. Another example is the growing popularity of house sharing among adults who are not related to each other. In all of these examples, people are looking for something beyond the standard design that includes just one master bedroom. Often, each adult (or set of adults, in the case of couples) wants their own private space, preferably with its own entrance.

Sometimes standard designs miss out on our craving for togetherness, such as when massive apartment complexes stack one unit on top of another, with nowhere but elevators and hallways for people to meet. That’s changing, too, as more buildings add what they sometimes call amenities — gyms and rooftop gardens — when the real appeal is more about creating opportunities for people to run into each other and socialize.

Q: What surprised you most about what you discovered?

A: How innovative people were, and how brave they were when the lifespaces they created pushed against the norms and expectations that everyone else lives by. One example comes from single people who really want to have kids, but do not want to raise them as single parents. Instead of looking for a romantic partner, they look for a parenting partner – another adult who is just as committed as they are to raising kids. There are now registries for finding parenting partners, such as Family by Design and Modamily.

Q: What inspired you most?

A: I was so taken by the creativity of the people I interviewed. I was also moved by many of their personal stories, which sometimes started at a time in their lives when they were feeling great pain and confusion. Yet years later, the way they dealt with their pain resulted in an amazing accomplishment that not only solved the problem they had faced in their own lives, but the comparable problems faced by so many others.

One example is Carmel Sullivan, who reached an emotional low point when a divorce left her raising a young son on her own. Even after she moved to L.A. to be near family and friends, she felt lonely. Then it occurred to her: She should find another single mother with whom to share a home and a life. The mothers would have each other for company and to help with the kids, and the kids would have friends right under the same roof. She posted a notice with a local rental service. Right away, 18 single mothers answered, and one was a great fit. Carmel reasoned that if 18 single mothers in just this one local area were interested in living with another single-mother family, how many might be interested in the entire state or the whole country? That was in 1999. Today, Carmel’s idea has resulted in a site called CoAbode, where about 70,000 single mothers from all across North America are registered so that they, too, can find another single-mother family and create a new 21st century double-family household.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing needs for the needs of the ever-burgeoning singles population, especially as they age?

A: What so many single people want as they age is the ability to maintain their independence for as long as possible. For people who are living alone and love their own place, they want to be able to stay there. But as the years go by, they may not be able to do everything on their own anymore. I’m in the living-alone category myself, and so I was really delighted to discover the Village movement, a membership-based organization that helps seniors get help with many of the practical needs of everyday life (rides, errands, household tasks) and have access to social events, too.

Even seniors who do not live alone may need extra help. For example, seniors sharing a home, Golden Girls-style, may need more than what their housemates can give, or more than they want to ask them to give. So many of us, regardless of whether we have a spouse or grown kids, are going to need that kind of help

Q: How should that be accomplished — public policy, private arrangements or some combination?

A: We need much more investment in alternative organizations and lifespaces that seniors find much more appealing, such as Villages. We also need to develop a caring infrastructure. For example, we need more care workers and we need to train them better, pay them better and treat them better. And we need to find ways to make such care accessible and affordable to more of the people who will need it.

Another different example of something that needs to change is zoning regulations. When solo dwellers or empty-nesters welcome relatives to move in with them, they often want to renovate the garage or add accessory dwelling units. Sometimes, those plans bump up against codified prohibitions. Unrelated adults who want to share a place often face regulatory deterrents, too. Some of the laws on the books had grown out of fears of, say, raucous college students, making it difficult for five gracious 60-somethings to move into a big house that they are going to care for lovingly.

Q: If there’s a take-away from your book, what is it?

A: As I write in my book, “There is no one blueprint for the good life; we can create our own lifespaces. What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces, and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.”

Interested in exploring a LAT relationship or parenting partnership? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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The Ashley Madison hack is still topic No. 1 in the media — from divorce attorneys predicting a “Christmas in July” boon to their business, to potential extortion threats and suicides because of the sensitive information leaked, to continued shaming of those whose names were found on the site’s database — and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon.  Ashley Madison

My heart goes out to every spouse who has just discovered that his or her wife or husband had been using the site — no one is ever prepared to discover a spouse’s infidelity. I sure wasn’t. Although all infidelity isn’t the same a one-night fling is not the same as a long-term affair, or multiple one-night stands — the discovery is the same.

But even if you are, thankfully, one of the many people whose partner is not part of the leak, it doesn’t mean that you can ignore the Ashley Madison hack and its fallout. In fact, rather than ignore it, you should embrace it. It’s the perfect time for you to sit your partner down, look him or her straight in the eye, and start a discussion — not about infidelity but about monogamy. Yeah, monogamy. Before you do that, however, you need to have a heart-to-heart with yourself and figure out how you feel about monogamy.

  • Are you good at it?
  • Have you ever been bad at it?
  • How many times have you been bad at it?
  • Do you like it?
  • Has it been hard? When and why?
  • Do you willingly choose it?
  • If you could have an open or monogamish partnership, would you want it?

Granted, these are hard conversations to have with ourselves let alone our partner. And, let’s face it — we lie to ourselves, too.  But it may be among the most important conversations you will ever have if you want or already have a romantic relationship.

When I spoke with The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating author Eric Anderson a few years back on why monogamy is failing men, he told me that the assumption of monogamy puts everyone, men and women, into a sexual straitjacket:

The way cheating men see it, it’s either cheat or don’t cheat, but telling their partners they want sex outside the relationship, or telling their partners that they actually cheated, is viewed as a surefire way of achieving relationship termination. It’s very important to remember that when men cheat for recreational sex (I’m not talking about affairs here) they do love their partners. If they didn’t love their partners, they would break up with them.”

Which is why you often hear professions of love from people who have been caught cheating. Many of us want commitment and a safe, loving place to come home to and still have some wild sex on the side.

And, that may be more of us than we think. Just look at how infidelity has impacted your life — have you experienced it with a partner or within your family or among your friends or co-workers? Despite a certain number of duplicate accounts and fake accounts, there were 33-plus million people on Ashley Madison — that’s an awful lot of people. And there are many people who are cheating the old-fashioned way, with co-workers or one-night stands while out of town, without the help of AM. What does this  tell us about monogamy, sexual fidelity and traditional marriage? According to a recent study, the chance of someone getting some on the side while in a committed relationship ranges between 46 percent and 76 percent. As study author Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier says, “These numbers indicate that even if we get married with the best of intentions, things don’t always turn out the way we plan.”

Exactly.

So, what to do, what to?

To me, it seems pretty clear — talk about monogamy. Talk about what you like about it and what you don’t. Talk about what scares you about consensual nonmonogamy. Read about people who have explored consensual nonmonogamy or, if you can, talk to them. Question your own beliefs about monogamy. How many people do that?

While doing research for The New I Do, one of the couples that opened up their marriage told me:

For a lot of people, it doesn’t even occur to them that they can be anything other than monogamous, and they get into a situation and then realize they maybe feel differently. I also feel monogamy can be dangerous even without sleeping with other people. Just having a sense of your own sexuality, being attracted to other people, being able to flirt with other people; when you can’t do that, it just shuts down a part of you. It changes who you are in your marriage and so long-term, that can be really damaging.

That’s true. It’s really hard for some people to talk openly and honestly about their attractions to others, about desire and fantasies, sex and pleasure. Yet because we can’t do that, we cause each other and ourselves a lot of pain — as much pain as those who are cheating, maybe even more. I am saddened by the continuing comments to a post on sexless marriages on The New I Do blog that’s more than a year old. Suffer, cheat or divorce are their only options — they think. Who will help them realize, no, there’s another option — consensual nonmonogamy? Why is that not even being presented to them? Why isn’t it accepted if they choose it?

So as the painful fallout from the Ashley Madison hack continues, think what would happen if more of us admitted, openly and loudly, that we struggle with monogamy. There would be less pain — whether from acting on desires or not acting on desires — and  a lot less shame. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Interested in learning how to have an open marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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Evidently, love is dead. At least, that’s what far too many websites and magazines stated when rockers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale called it quits after 13 years of marriage and three kids. But then again, the same was said about Kermit and Miss Piggy as well as Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner and, well, just about any celebrity couple some of us felt close to for whatever reason.

A couple decides to split (and happy, healthy, satisfying marriages generally don’t end), and all of a sudden there is no love for them, for us, for anyone. Ever. Love is dead! Although we know that they and most likely a lot of other heartbroken people will eventually find love — or loves — again. Which kinds of shoots a giant hole in the theory that love lasts forever — or that it at least should last forever, if we just work hard enough at it.   Oscar Wilde

Maybe it can. Maybe love can last forever. But why is a lifelong love so important? Why do we consider lifelong love to be the best kind of love, especially since most of us fall in and out of love with several people before we find someone we actually might want to be in love with for the rest of our life — if we even want that at all? Is there any research that indicates love that lasts forever improves us in any way — makes us smarter, more resilient, more creative, kinder or a better person? Not that I know of. Yet each time we have a loving relationship that ends, we actually learn more about ourselves, others and the world.

Surely some of us have fallen in love and stayed with people who were not worthy of our love and who were unable to return love. To make ourselves feel better we tell ourselves that it wasn’t real love even though it may have felt like it at the time — it just might not have been a mutually healthy, sustainable love.

Maintaining love for the long haul isn’t easy. After the initial passionate, crazy-in-love phase, we tend to have what’s considered a comfortable love, which is probably good because no one can sustain that intense phase for very long — we’d never get anything else done. But to make that comfortable love last means we need to compromise, as philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Zeev writes:

We give up a romantic value, such as romantic freedom and intense passionate love, in exchange for a nonromantic value, such as living comfortably without financial concerns. Nevertheless, the more the combined score of attraction and praiseworthiness decreases, the greater the compromise, and the more we yearn for the road not taken – the one with romantic freedom or a different romantic partner. … the problem of romantic compromise, and hence of our inability to be satisfied with our own lot, has increased to the point where it is the major obstacle to achieving or sustaining profound love at all.

There’s nothing wrong with compromise. But what if we’re “satisfied with our own lot” for a while — like, say, for three or four years, while we’re figuring out the whole marriage thing, or longer, like the 18 or so years that we’re raising kids together? If we had deep satisfaction and happiness in creating and maintaining those romantic relationships, but then realized we wanted to experience “romantic freedom or a different romantic partner,” why would that be seen as a bad thing?

In Against Love: A Polemic, Laura Kipnis brilliantly speaks to what marital compromise means when marriages are lasting 40, 50, 70 years or more (and let’s not forget that marriages in colonial days lasted about 12 years — think about that!).

Ever optimistic, heady with love’s utopianism, most of us eventually pledge ourselves to unions that will, if successful, far outlast the desire that impelled them into being. The prevailing cultural wisdom is that even if sexual desire tends to be a short-lived phenomenon, nevertheless, that wonderful elixir “mature love” will kick in just in time to save the day, once desire flags. The question remaining unaddressed is whether cutting off other possibilities of romance and sexual attraction while there’s still some dim chance of attaining them in favor of the more muted pleasures of “mature love” isn’t similar to voluntarily amputating a healthy limb: a lot of anesthesia is required and the phantom pain never entirely abates. But if it behooves a society to convince its citizenry that wanting change means personal failure, starting over is shameful, or wanting more satisfaction than you have is illegitimate, clearly grisly acts of self-mutilation will be required.

Ouch! But she is right. Although we have had no-fault divorce for a long time, there still is a stigma about divorce: Divorce = failure. Why? Recently, Astro Teller, Google’s Captain of Moonshots (yes, that’s his real title!), and his wife, Danielle, wrote a book, Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce And Marriage, about what we get wrong about lasting love:

 Up until the point that you get married, the dominant narrative in our society is that (A) true love exists, and (B) everything is worth ditching in exchange for getting true love. … Once you are married, that barrier evaporates. The narrative is, true love, if it exists at all, by definition exists with the person you said ‘I do’ to.” After that, you are expected to finish what you started, heart’s compass be damned. Your spouse may change, cheat, or cease to love you altogether, but a promise is a promise.

A promise is a promise. And so even if you have been unhappy, perhaps denied sex for years, stay together and … success!

According to journalist Iris Krasnow’s book, The Secret Lives of Wives, women get pretty creative to stay married, as has Krasnow herself, married 27 years, despite “boredom, disgust, loathing and malaise throughout her marriage.” As she says:

All we want to do as human beings …  is to love and be loved and to feel worthy … We want someone in our lives we can count on, who loves us back, that we can trust and who will go the distance with us.

I don’t doubt that many of us want that (although I’m not convinced we should expect it, especially if we are not particularly lovable people), but perhaps the question should be who will provide that for us? Must a romantic partner or spouse be the “someone in our lives we can count on”? And must it “go the distance”?

When I look at my own life trajectory, my friends, much more than my boyfriends or my two husbands, were the ones whom I could almost always count on, who love me as much as I love them, who trust me as much as I trust them, and who have gone the distance with me. I’m not sure if my first husband would have done that — regardless, I was unable to do that for him — but it was pretty clear my second husband was not.

But, you know, I don’t have sex with my friends and I enjoy male companionship and I enjoy all that romantic relationships have to offer — yes, including sex. I’ve had quite a few romantic relationships in my life. None has lasted “for life” — my second marriage lasted 14 years but we were together for almost 17 years, and the relationship that followed lasted about eight years. I was very much in love and very much committed in both those relationships, as well as many of my other romantic relationships, including my latest relationship, which is nearly a year old. I have indeed experienced all the wonders and joys of deep love a few times in my life — including my decades-long friendships.

Do those relationships not count?

Interested in finding a loving relationship that works for you? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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It was an unusually honest and emotional baby announcement, especially coming from Mark Zuckerberg. Recently, Facebook’s founder announced (on Facebook, natch) that he and wife of three years, Priscilla Chan, are expecting a baby girl. That was the happy part. Then came his frank confession of how hard it had been for them: Mark Zuckerberg miscarriage

“We’ve been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way. You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”

All of which turned the Internet into a tizzy with confessions about everyone else’s experiences and experts weighing in how often miscarriages happen — a lot, actually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 1 million miscarriages in 2009 and more than 23,000 stillbirths yearly in the United States — each one a heart-breaking, lonely, devastating experience. I had one before my first child was born in 1990, so I know the feeling well. And because women are delaying childbirth and miscarriages are more common as women age, this is likely going to be a reality for many more couples.

Zuckerberg is right — it’s a lonely experience even though it impacts so many of us. And, for the most part, we haven’t been talking much about it, so I applaud his decision to be so open about the experience.

There are many stigmas around miscarriages. There still is a belief, from others and from  moms-to-be themselves, that it’s somehow the woman’s fault — don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t get stressed, eat meat, don’t eat meat, be a vegetarian, don’t be a vegetarian, it’s karma if you previously had an abortion; there are so many ways a woman can feel responsible for a miscarriage. As if that weren’t enough, the personhood movement is creating some unique and scary challenges for pregnant women. But, in fact, most miscarriages occur because of genetic abnormalities in the pregnancy. This is actually a good thing even though it’s still devastating for the couple.

OK, maybe you’re a woman who doesn’t blame herself for a miscarriage. You’re in a happy, healthy relationship with your partner. Still, you experience a miscarriage. Now what? A miscarriage impacts a couple — hugely. According to a 2010 study, couples that experienced a miscarriage were 22 percent more likely to break up compared with couples that gave birth. The rate jumped to 40 percent for those who experienced a stillbirth. There are some caveats, though — those who tended to break up more were cohabiting versus married couples, the mom was young and the relationship was less than a year old. Plus, affluent couples were more likely to stay together, so don’t expect a Zuckerberg-Chan conscious uncoupling any time soon.

But, why? The study didn’t look into things like how a mother’s depression, chronic illness or substance abuse might lead to a dissolution, or even how the quality of the relationship might be a factor — really important discussions. But it’s clear that people have different ways of handling grief, shame, anger, sadness and frustrations, and that alone can tear apart a couple — even if they didn’t experience a miscarriage.

There is a lot more that can go wrong beyond miscarriages and stillbirths once a child is born. Autism, Asperger’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, bipolar disorder, cancer — there are any number of things that can challenge a parent’s idea of what raising a child will be like. And because couples are having kids later, we’ll likely see more of that, as well as fertility issues. Infertility can greatly impact a marriage and infertile couples may be three times more likely to divorce.

What’s particularly important about Zuckerberg’s announcement is that it came from him, not his wife — past studies indicate that men often don’t make the connection to fatherhood until they physically can hold their baby, and that the reaction of a woman’s partner is huge in how a couple moves forward. Millennial men are without a doubt changing the relationship and marital landscape. So, I have hope.

Still, anyone who is thinking of having kids might want to have some conversations with his or her partner about death — what his/her experience of it has been, how did he/she grieve, what emotions are still unresolved — as well as conversations about fertility — what if we can’t have a baby the “old-fashioned” way? — and the possibility of a special needs child. True, you can’t predict and be prepared for every scenario. But, as we say in The New I Do, talking about the hard stuff will lead to more indications that you and your partner are on the same page … or not.

Interested in knowing how to have hard conversations about fertility and babies? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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Should you ever hire a beautiful woman?

That seems to be the issue behind some of the discussion around allegations that Ben Affleck has been dating — or at least having inappropriate meetings — with Christine Ouzounian, the nanny who has been taking care of the three children he and Jennifer Garner have together.  hiring beautiful women

When Ouzounian was hired to take care of Violet, 9, Seraphina, 6, and Samuel, 3, the couple were supposedly dealing with a trial separation. But, she was released from her duty, allegedly by Garner, while their family spent time together in the Bahamas shortly before the couple announced their split.

And so of course Ouzounian — an attractive 28-year-old — is now being portrayed as the “reason” the couple broke up. Believe what you want to believe — maybe there was something inappropriate, maybe there wasn’t — but what I’m having a hard time with is the “well, duh” attitude some people have about hiring an attractive woman to work for you.

It’s disturbing on a number of levels.

Some people have noted that if you play with fire — ie, hire a hottie when you’re in some sort of marital hell — you get what you deserve (and of course this would be directed at Garner, who probably “should have known better” and hired an “ugly” nanny to care for her kids while she and Affleck were sorting out things. I guess the same could be said for Oma Thurman and Sienna Miller, both of whom had hottie nannies whom their men fell sway to.

I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone, but shall we revisit the whole love child thing between former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mildred Patricia Baena, who worked for his family as a housekeeper for more than 20 years? Baena would probably not be described as a hottie, as Ouzounian has been. Nor would have Marsha Garces, who worked as a nanny for Robin Williams and first wife, Valerie Velardi, and later became Williams’ assistant — then wife.

It reminds me of the scene in Tom Perrotta’s wonderful book Little Children, in which Kathy, wife of the Prom King who suspects he’s cheating on her, takes one look at Sarah, his alleged lover, and decides, nah, she isn’t pretty enough so therefore he must not be cheating. Except …

Clearly looks alone are not enough to make dads want to chase after the hired help.

So what does it mean?

I am reminded of a study that indicates that men get kind of stupid when interacting with beautiful women. So, there’s that. Except many of these men already had beautiful women, and as we know, beauty alone will not keep a man from straying. So, there’s that. And while a recent study indicates that oxytocin may help keep people monogamous because the hormone helps create trust, nannies who want to keep their job must have the trust of their employers — they’re watching their kids, after all. Maybe all those hormones, and a few others, got their signals crossed. And so, there’s that.

But, it also may just come down to this — they’re nearby. If you’re frequently around attractive people who might be a good — or perhaps even better — replacement for your current partner and all his/her issues, well, why not?

And, to be fair, it isn’t just men who indulge in such shenanigans — let’s not forget that Heidi Klum got a bit too close with bodyguard Martin Kirsten, whom she eventually had a relationship with, while she was separated but still married to Seal.

It really doesn’t matter who’s doing whom. What does matter is that people default to a “should have known better” attitude when hiring attractive women, with some “experts” advising moms that they should pay attention to the potential seductress nanny. In truth, attractive women are both more likely to get hired and also more likely to be seen as incompetent. Either way, beautiful women can’t quite win. Or maybe they can.

Should people “know better” than to hire an attractive nanny? What about a beautiful waitress? Secretary (now there’s a cliche)? Teacher? Manager? Tenure-track college professor? Associate attorney? Journalist (and maybe I should be worried that I’ve never had a hard time getting a job!) Where does it stop?

I don’t believe there’s “a special place in hell for husbands who bang their nannies.” I do hope there’s a special place in hell for people who do really egregious things and intentionally harm others — Bernie Madoff, Enron, Countrywide, Pfizer and many more come to mind.

The sad part of this is that Violet, Seraphina and Samuel have now lost someone they care about at a time when they need all the support and love they can have. A divorce, even one as allegedly mindful as Garner and Affleck’s, is hard on kids.

Some women are attractive. So are some men. But if you can’t trust your spouse or yourself around a beautiful person, that’s not his or her problem. Look in the mirror and act accordingly.

Interested in having a marriage that won’t be threatened by a beautiful nanny? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 

 

 


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Perhaps you saw the recent Huffington Post article, “I want to be single — but with you.” It’s likely you did because it was shared more than 27,000 times, liked by 168,000 people and garnered almost 900 comments. Being single together

The gist of the post by Canadian writer Isabelle Tessier is this — she wants to have all the joys of a com-
mitted relation-
ship but without giving up her freedom and her sense of self that being in a relationship often takes away, or at least diminishes, and without the drudgery of being together 24/7
. She writes:

I want you to have your life, for you decide on a whim to travel for a few weeks … I don’t always want to be invited for your evenings out and I don’t always want to invite you to mine. Then I can tell you about it and hear you tell me about yours the next day. I want something that will be both simple and at the same time not so simple. … I want to make plans not knowing whether or not they will be realized. To be in a relationship that is anything but clear. I want to be your good friend, the one with whom you love hanging out. I want you to keep your desire to flirt with other girls, but for you to come back to me to finish your evening.

Is Isabelle being selfish, as many of the commentors suggested? Or is she realistically seeing the dark side of couplehood? After all, marriage has been called a greedy institution — it sucks up time you could be spending by yourself, with friends, with relatives, volunteering, exploring and growing.

When I wrote “Want to stay married? Act like you’re divorced” a few years ago, I distinguished the difference between acting single within a relationship — single people have a lot of expectations, typically unrealistic, about marriage, and that does more damage than good — versus acting divorced, with all the benefits of expectation-busting hindsight. I firmly believe the latter makes it feasible.

But, Isabelle doesn’t necessarily mention marriage, so it’s unclear in what context she wants to live her life fully. But live it fully is clearly what she wants.

Can Isabelle have that? Perhaps, especially if she becomes a LAT, Living Alone Together. It’s one of the models we identified as working for many couples in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, and it’s one I know a lot about; my mom up and moved away from my dad for about 10 years to establish a life of her own several states away, making her a marital renegade. And, although it was not some well thought-out plan but rather a slow lifestyle choice, I, too, have chosen to live apart from my partner (with a new partner now, but still …)

As one can expect, Isabelle’s post garnered some flack — everything from she doesn’t know how to commit to her wanting her cake and eating it, too, to being “attachment phobic, juvenile, narcissistic” and everything in between — because a good number of people don’t like alternative views of what something “should” look like. It’s really hard for many people to envision something different than what they know. Worse, they don’t even want to question, well, would this be better? No, even people who probably jump at the latest technological gadget still fall for a relationship that looks like everyone else’s.

Standing up for her vision of freedom is Salon writer Rachel Kramer Bussel, who says:

What I see is a woman being practical, both about what she wants, and what’s realistic. … She’s talking about trusting someone enough to not need to monitor them or your relationship status. … she wants to know that her partner can handle themselves while they’re away, and that she can too, and that maybe in their separateness, they will learn things about themselves they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, in the same room.

And according to recent research, that’s likely true; couples that live apart feel happier in their relationship than couples that live together, and feel more committed and less trapped. When you live apart, you actively work on that commitment and trust; it’s never taken for granted. That’s the kind of work relationships need — not “date nights.”

And there are a lot more of us than one might think.

My friend Sharon Hyman, who is making a documentary about people who choose that lifestyle, wonderfully named Apartners: Living Happily Ever After Apart, has started a Facebook page for like-minded people to share stories, discuss issues and research, and explore out-of-the box approaches to love, whether unmarried or married. Please join us.

Maybe Living Apart Together isn’t quite what Isabelle wants; after all, she says “I will want to go home with you. I want to be the one with whom you love to make love and fall asleep.” Ah, but that happens in LAT partnerships, too. Just not every night.

Interested in having a LAT marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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I imagine this week’s news — that AshleyMadison.com, the website that encourages affairs, was hacked — has caused a certain amount of angst among the website’s 37 million-plus subscribers, many of whom are married or in committed relationships. Infidelity relies on secrecy, and with hackers demanding that the website and and its partner site, Established Men, be shut down or they will release “all customer records, profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies, nude pictures, and conversations and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails,” secrets are about to be spilled — although shutting down the lucrative website is not likely to happen.

InfidelityOn social media, some called the hack karmic justice; others gleefully celebrated what they see as shaky morals. One tweet— “Praying for all the victims of the Ashley Madison hack. This must feel like a total betrayal of their trust.” — was retweeted 769 times and favorited 1,353 times.

Nobody likes a cheater. In fact, 91 percent of Americans say that infidelity is morally wrong. But, that doesn’t stop us from indulging anyway; while infidelity statistics are sketchy because they’re self-reported, some think as many as 70 percent of married couples are cheating. A recent study indicates that 77 percent believe infidelity is more common today, and 37 percent of divorced adults say cheating was the cause of their divorce.

OK, fine. But, should we be publicly shaming those who stray? Should we have to face the scorn of society like the adulterous Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter for our very private sins? That’s the question — a good question — Nicolas DiDomizio

The truth is, nobody deserves to be lied to, and being cheated on by a trusted partner can be a genuinely traumatic experience. … But one thing that’s also becoming more and more universally agreed upon is that cheating is complicated, and it reflects all sorts of private realities that anyone outside the relationship can never truly understand.

Publicly shaming people for getting some on the side “is both cruel and unnecessary,” he says. Plus it’s likely that a percentage of AshleyMadison.com members are in consensually non-monogamous partnerships — do they deserve to be outed to relatives, co-workers, neighbors, employers for what is essentially an extremely private matter and happily agreed-to arrangement?

Yes, cheating is complicated. Just ask Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel, who asks us to reconsider infidelity.

I look at affairs from a dual perspective: hurt and betrayal on one side, growth and self-discovery on the other—what it did to you, and what it meant for me. And so when a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair that has been revealed, I will often tell them this: Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?

As bad as infidelity may be, let’s not forget that there are many ways to betray a spouse:

I have a lot of people who come to my office who think that they are the virtuous people because they haven’t cheated. They have just been neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning, insulting, but they haven’t cheated. But betrayal comes in many forms.

My poll indicates that many people believe withholding sex is as much of a betrayal, maybe more, than having an affair. And with a post on The New I Do website from last year on sexless marriage still attracting comments by unhappily married people in that situation — many who feel their only options are to suffer, divorce or cheat — it’s clear there’s a bigger discussion.

But for now, the discussion is this — should we be publicly shaming people who cheat?

Interested in creating a marital plan that addresses infidelity? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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In light of a few things that happened of late — the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage for same-sex couples, the addition of the word cisgender into the Oxford English Dictionary, the rise of the transgender movement, with Germany leading the way for parents to register their baby as something other than just boy or girl, the increase in stay-at home dads and egalitarian marriages, universities recognizing a third gender, the desire by some to be called they versus he or she, the declaration that 2015 is the year of the gender-neutral baby, it’s clear we are moving toward a society that is busting up traditional views of gender and what men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers look and act like.

It’s a postgenderist‘s dream come true.

According to postgenderism — the belief that “men and women should use advanced gender neutralbiotechnologies to reduce the gender gap and create entirely new opport-unities for sexual expression” —  we’d be much freer to explore both our masculine and feminine sides if our bodies and personalities were no longer constrained and limited by gendered traits. It’s clear that gendered expectations make many of us, especially married women, unhappy. We are increasingly seeking equality in all aspects of life, from work to romantic partnerships.

What if we actually were a gender-neutral society? Would women still earn less than men in the workplace? Would we still expect men to be breadwinners and women caretakers (and as much as we say we want that, we still fall back into gendered roles)? Would work-life issues still be seen as a woman’s issue and not a family issue?

I recently stumbled upon the name of woman I’d never heard of, Shulamith Firestone, a futurist who was instrumental in the 1970s cyberfeminist movement (I didn’t even know there was one). Firestone believed artificial wombs and other reproductive technologies, including gender selection and IVF — both of which are in use today — were a way to free from the burden of being baby makers. While there’s nothing quite like holding and smelling your baby straight from labor — and I’ve done it twice — in some ways, that makes sense. Pregnancy and childbirth are still incredibly dangerous for women, and not just in developing countries. And let’s not forget the incredible dictates women are under when pregnant — from what they eat and drink and do (including the rise of the personhood movement (shudders) — and the postpartum depression many suffer from. There are also many things than can go wrong for the baby, too, beyond premature birth.

Not only would ectogenesis — the process of growing a fetus outside a human body in an artificial womb — save women and babies from those dangers, but just as assisted reproductive means have allowed the rise in fatherless births and mothers by choice, it would also make it much easier for men — gay, trans, hetero, whatever — to have children without needing a surrogate. As transhumanist presidential candidate (yes, there is one) Zoltan Istvan notes, we are closer to making this a reality than some might think.

I just can’t help but wonder if this is what it will take to finally free us from the gendered roles many heteros gravitate toward once they wed, but especially once they become parents. I am much messier than the two men I married, yet I was the one who was expected to keep everything clean and tidy. And when I became a mom, well, guess who took time off from work when the boys were sick or needed to get to the doctor or dentist.

For the record, I am not promoting ectogenesis, and the transhumanist movement is, well, scary and unappealing to me. I am loath to think that we might have to rely on technology to create a world that’s more equitable for women while also freeing men from the shackles of our narrow views of masculinity. But in many ways — from our thinking, choices, actions and science — we are already moving toward gender neutrality. The question is, how far do we want to take it and what are willing to do to achieve it?

Interested in individualizing your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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With all the fake divorce alerts certain media want to put out there — everyone from Brad and Angelina to Ellen and Portia to George and Amal to the seemingly forever-divorcing Will and Jada — it was hard to give any weight to rumors of Ben and Jen splitting until they announced it last week, a day after their 10th wedding anniversary (financial reasons? Perhaps). Ben Affleck divorce

And while no one wishes a divorce on anyone — unless it’s a dangerous situation — divorce is sometimes the right thing to do, even if there are young kids involved. But not all divorces are equal; there are some acrimonious divorces that last for years, damaging everyone in their path but mostly the kids (the attorneys are usually happy, though). Then there are divorcing couples that should be applauded in how they’re handling their split. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are one such couple.

Here’s what they are doing right:

They are not the first couple to part kindly. A year ago Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin famously uncoupled consciously, and despite the snark and sneers from people who were clueless about the concept (and perhaps about a lot of things pertaining to divorce when you have kids), they, too, have put their kids first. Now divorced, Gwen and Chris live across the street from each other so their kids, Apple, 10, and Moses, 8, also can see their parents easily.

While Ben and Jennifer could have just as easily transformed to marriage into a parenting marriage, it’s unlikely they needed to stay married to lessen divorce’s financial impact given their multimillion incomes. That isn’t always the case for unhappy couples. But that doesn’t mean those couples have to stay miserably together “for the kids.”

When parents transform a marriage into a parenting marriage the form of the relationship changes but they are still able to do their No. 1 job well — raise their kids. San Francisco psychologist Valerie Tate and her husband no longer have a sexual or romantic relationship anymore, but they remain married and in the same home with their 11-year-old son, who benefits by not having his life upended.

“It was like a shift in what we were fighting for,” she told me. Rather than to keep fighting for their romantic lives — not that they didn’t try — their focus switched. Now they’re truly putting their son’s needs first by still giving him the stability, consistency and relatively conflict-free home he needs to thrive, as well as their love.

I am not a fan of our celebrity-driven culture. I don’t know what most celebrities can teach us about a healthy, meaningful life, including Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.  But this time, we can learn a lot.

Interested in creating a specific kind of marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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It’s been a monumental week. If you have one of the masses who welcomed allowing same-sex couples to marry, then the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday was a blessed decision. Coming right before Pride celebrations across the country, it made the yearly event even that much more proud and colorful.  happily unmarried

So it was hard for heteros who welcomed our LGBTQ friends and family into this new era of marriage equality to even think about raining on their long-awaited and well-deserved parade. But as we read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writings, it was equally hard for some of us — the unmarried — to ignore the thick lump that grew in our throats. According to Kennedy:

“No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. … Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness.”

Whoa. Where do we even begin with that?

It once again speaks to the incredible matrimania — a great word coined by social psychologist, author and tireless singles advocate Bella DePaulo — that’s prevalent in this country. And it also speaks to what society tends to think about the unmarried — we’re somewhat less than. Unmarried because you’re divorced? You have issues and don’t know what commitment means. Unmarried because you haven’t found your “soul mate”? You’re too picky,  damaged, high-maintenance or needy, or you’re too obsessed with FOMO (fear of missing out), or you were too selfish focusing on your own needs and career. The only unmarrieds who seem to escape much of society’s wrath are the widowed, but even they are not above judgment — “It’s been two years; shouldn’t she move on already?” “Well, he sure didn’t wait to partner again; his poor wife’s body is still warm!”

But the worrisome part of Kennedy’s wording is the belief that those who are unmarried, by choice or chance, don’t have much going on — we’re just “condemned to live in loneliness.” Never mind that we — and that includes me — have full lives that involve family, friends, neighbors and community, and that involve activities, passions, sex and love. Aren’t we done seeing singles as people to be pitied?

Evidently not.

Just as disturbing is Kennedy’s lofty version of marriage. While marriage may — may — hold the promise of “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” it often falls woefully short, especially in fidelity (Ashley Madison anyone?) and, let’s face it, even love. Given the distressing comments by people who are in frustratingly sexless marriages, many marriages may indeed be less about love than sacrifice — sacrifice of one’s sexual needs. I don’t think that’s what Kennedy meant but still …

And then, despite however well-meaning he may be, Kennedy slams single parenthood:

“Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children’s best interests … Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life.”

Yes, recognition. That’s huge. And while marriage often offers “stability and predictability,” it most certainly does not guarantee that children within those unions will have the kind of environment that is indeed in their best interests. Many kids are raised in emotionally, physically or verbally abusive households, and let’s not forget that numerous studies indicate that kids who grow up in a high-conflict family suffer as much as those whose parents are divorced, and that they do often better if their parents split.

But being a single mom is no bed of roses either — 69 percent say single moms are bad for society (no word on how bad single dads are despite the rise in single fatherhood, but don’t hold your breath).

And what about kids being raised in unmarried but happily cohabiting partnerships, like Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson? They are very clear, as is Goldie Hawn, who has been living with Kurt Russell for 32 years and raised four children together — it’s intention, not marriage per se. Kids don’t need their parents to love each other, nor do they need their parents to be married.

Rebecca Traister wrote an insightful article in New York magazine’s The Cut in response to Kennedy’s writings, with the unfortunate headline Marriage Equality is Also a Win for Single People, which clearly it is not. While much of what she says is true, it is not same-sex couples who have turned traditional marriage on its head. As sociologist Stephanie Coontz beautifully explains, heteros have. In fact, same-sex spouses may get sucked into the specialization that marital laws tend to encourage. And while she writes that, it’s revolutionary to be “fighting for marriage to be about love and companionship — and not about a strictly gendered economic or social power construct,” she misses the point that same-sex couples already had love and companionship — what they wanted, and needed, were the legal and financial perks and protections marriage grants them.

It’s true when she says the numerous social movements have allowed us to “live these full, varied lives without being anyone’s wife or husband.” But, it isn’t about that; we’ve had freedom since the women’s movement.

What the unmarried don’t have, however, are the legal and financial perks and protections married couples, hetero and now same-sex, get — even if we are rising kids, too, or caring for elderly parents or a disabled sibling or lover (and the best person to follow and read on this is Bella DePaulo).

Is that right?

Interested in creating a specific kind of marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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