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The secret to a happy marriage may mean living apart together in separate master suites, a recent Wall Street Journal article declared.

Not everyone lives in a “4,700 square-foot Tudor home” or wants to, but without a doubt, more people, especially older people (like — *sigh* — me) are interested in having a room — if not a whole apartment or house — of their own. 

Those who are divorced, widowed or never-married who want romantic relationships later in life are “motivated by the desire to remain independent, maintain their own homes, sustain existing family boundaries, protect the relationship and remain financially independent,” a recent study states.

But, as my co-author and I detailed in The New I Do, couples can choose that arrangement from the start of their marriage. Granted, this is a hard concept for many to wrap their heads around. They have questions. So, I have answers to the top three myths people have about live apart together (LAT) relationships, or what my friend Sharon Hyman calls apartners.

Why even get married if you’re going to live apart?

People get married for a lot of reasons, not just love although most of us like to think that’s the main reason — or should be the main reason — to wed. Although love is the No. 1 reason for hetero couples, according to the Pew Research Center, following closely behind are lifelong commitment, companionship, kids, having the relationship be recognized by a religious ceremony, financial stability and, finally, legal rights and benefits (same-sex couples overwhelming cite the legal rights and protections). I don’t see “to live together” as a top reason, do you? OK, in honesty, it’s probably just assumed. At the same time, all the stated reasons for marrying can be achieved while also living apart from your spouse.

What about companionship, you may ask. Well, there are many ways to interpret companionship. Does it mean being around someone 24/7? Does it mean sharing the same space? Can you have companionship while also maintaining a certain amount of freedom?

As Esther Perel has written in Mating in Captivity, love longs for closeness, desire thrives on distance:

Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.

So, yes, you can have companionship without being smother by the day-to-day realities of living together. Just ask any person whose spouse is deployed overseas or who spends days at a time at the fire station. And, let’s not forget that companionship is available from our non-romantic partners — friends, family, co-workers. They key is finding a happy, healthy balance that works for you as a couple.

Living apart together is only for the wealthy

This is a common perception but misguided one (on a few levels). Let’s assume that when you met your partner, he or she was living alone. So were you. In other words, you both had your own places — so nothing’s changed, right? Even if one or both or you had roommates, you’d still have roommates.

Why continue to have roommates when you can just move in together? Good question. Except your relationship with your roommate is not the same as a relationship with a romantic partner — you’re not sharing the same bed and you don’t have the same expectations from him or her or them. It’s often the heightened expectations from our romantic partners that cause a lot of resentments, frustrations and anger.

Nevertheless, I can hear you say that you’d save money if you moved in together!

That’s most likely true, but there are ways to afford your lifestyle that don’t crimp your freedom in the same way, such as getting a roommate (if you don’t already have one) or Airbnbing your place or a room if you really need the cash. In other words, if saving money is the compelling reason to live together, there are creative ways to work around it.

But the much bigger issue is this — are you only moving in together to save money? Because your financial situation isn’t the best reason to move in together; you should only cohabit if you’re prepared to live with your partner 24/7 and all his or her peccadilloes, and not because you want to save money. If that isn’t what you’re prepared to do then it’s better to continue to live apart and get creative.

People who live apart more likely to cheat

Yes, it’s true: people who live apart from each other cheat. But, guess what — so do people who live together, right? Given the rates of reported infidelity (since it’s self-reported, the percentages are sketchy and clearly not everyone admits to being a cheater), it’s obvious that living together doesn’t prevent anyone from having an affair — ever. But does living apart make it “easier”? It seems like it could; after all, there is a lot more time spent alone, often in separate places, and it would be a lot less complicated to hide any extramarital shenanigans. Plus, people might love the freedom but also get lonely.

As we wrote in The New I Do:

LAT marriages help people cope with the uncertainties that come with romantic relationships. You are basically forced to contend with your insecurities, and for many, that leads to greater introspection and self-awareness. While those choosing a long-distance marriage may not end up having to deal with an affair any more or less than those who live together, they do tend to think about it more. And because of that, addressing monogamy and infidelity may be a more frequent conversation between those couples, which cannot hurt and actually can help. Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: are you marrying or are you married to someone you trust, and is that person worthy of your trust? And, are you offering the same? Because if you can’t trust your partner, whatever living arrangement you have isn’t going to change the situation. It isn’t how you live (together or apart); it’s whom you live with.

In fact, as we note in our research, couples who live apart feel happier in their relationship than couples that live together, and feel more committed and less trapped. But for me, this sentence says it all: “It isn’t how you live (together or apart); it’s whom you live with.”

You can’t raise kids while living apart

Wait — isn’t this a fourth myth when I’ve only promised three? Not really, because this is obviously a much longer discussion, one that could be a blog post on its own — or a book. We address this at length in The New I Do. But as a teaser, divorced people do it all the time — they raise kids together while living apart. So do people in platonic parenting partnerships and, as mentioned above, those with spouses who are deployed overseas or live for days at a time in fire stations. So if you want to be married and have children, don’t think you can’t do it while being a LAT couple. You can; you just have to want it enough to find a way to make it happen.

Want to learn how to live apart together? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow on Twitter and like on Facebook.


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Scarlett Johansson recently declared in a Playboy interview that monogamy wasn’t natural, which may or may not be why she’s divorcing her husband of barely two years, Romain Dauriac. The couple have a child together, 2-year-old Rose, and according to news reports, it appears as if they are heading toward a nasty custody battle.

None of this is new or unusual — haven’t we seen that with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their six children, and Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry and their daughter? But what makes this a bit different is that while Pitt and Aubry were both hands-on, equal partner working dads, Dauriac gave up his career as a magazine editor and manager of a creative agency to stay at home with Rose in his native France.

Financial and career risks

In other words, Dauriac did what many women have traditionally done, and often still do — or are expected to do: give up their careers to care for their kids. That often comes with some real financial and career risks, especially if the couple then divorces, but often divorced moms end up with full or partial physical custody of their children.

Now, more men are doing what Dauriac has done, and what is unknown is whether the courts will see him as the primary caregiver; even though it seems pretty apparent, who knows? Johansson is asking for residential custody of Rose, but because Dauriac lives in France (she’s been splitting her time between France and L.A.), well, let’s just say it’s complicated.

But is Dauriac’s story a cautionary tale for would-be stay-at-home dads? The Telegraph’s Martin Daubney

Now, it will all be about lawyers proving who was Rose’s “primary caregiver.” This standard tries to determine which parent has been responsible for meeting most of the child’s daily needs, such as feeding, bathing, playing, waking and putting to bed, making doctor appointments, arranging for child care, and so on. Faced with a raft of skilled lawyers propelled by an endless torrent of money, for Dauriac the outlook is stormy. … In an age when equality is expected, and even demanded of dads, it’s a tragic footnote that the family courts seem stacked against them.

And, as he mentions, the majority of divorces are filed by women.

Is he wrong?

The complications of being a stay-at-home dad

Dads have historically been hurt by the legal system when it comes to custody. This is troublesome to me. But is that what’s really preventing men from becoming stay-at-home dads, as Daubney suggests?

Hmm …

It’s true that more men are at home caring for the kids than ever before — there are about 2 million stay-at-home dads — but, and this is a big but, the largest number of stay-at-home fathers, 35 percent, are at home because of illness or disability, according to the Pew Research Center, not by choice, versus 73 percent of stay-at-home mothers, who either are choosing to be at home (presumably with the blessing of their partner) or who have had to opt out for any number of reasons (the cost of child care perhaps).

Not too long ago, a Gallup poll indicated a huge proportion of men — 76 percent — would chose to work out of the home than “stay at home and take care of the house and family” while just 51 percent of women said the same.

So it’s not as if there’s a huge amount of men clamoring to be stay-at-home dads. At the same time, the majority of women (well, 56 percent) say they would rather be at home — although their reasons may be less about the blissfulness of being at home than the realities of the juggle and struggle working women face. If we didn’t make less and have to deal with sexism and etc., maybe that would be a different reality. But then again, men who stay at home often face their own stigma.

Fear of getting screwed

Which gets me back to my original question — is the fear of being screwed by custody courts why

Want to learn how to create an equitable marital plan? (Of course you do!) 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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We’re approaching the time of year when high school seniors start getting acceptance letters from colleges and universities, a nerve-wracking time for sure.

But increasingly, seniors are taking a year off before starting high school, known as a gap year — most famously of late Malia Obama. Research has shown that teens who take a gap year benefit from having a fresh perspective and an energized focus on their education when they start college.

But which should kids have all the fun? Which is why I suggest that as the kids leave the nest, whether for college or a gap year, their parents should take a marital gap year, too.

Huh?

Challenges of the ‘second half of marriage’

While some couples enjoy their empty nest as a time to travel and reconnect as a couple without the distraction of raising children, the reality is many long-married couples fall apart, finding themselves strangers with nothing to say to each other and years of built-up resentments.

It’s hard for some to navigate what authors David and Claudia Arp call “the second half of marriage” — the years that come post-kids — as evidenced by the divorce rate among baby boomers, which has jumped by more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. They’ve raised their kids, their job is done. They’re still “Mom” or “Dad,” but that role is no longer the dominant one. Who are they now?

“People think that when spouses grow apart, it’s because there is some big conflict or major divide. That’s not necessarily true,” according to Eli Karam, assistant professor at the University of Louisville’s marriage and family therapy program. They withdraw, he says.

So, couples can either divorce … or they can take a gap year off from their marriage to have a fresh perspective and new energy that they can put toward their union. But you can’t wait until the kids leave to talk about this and plan for it.

Karam suggests that couples create a long-term strategic plan, what we call in The New I Do a marital plan, one that couples would tweak as their life changes — like when the last kid moves out. They should ask themselves what they want their marriage to be like once the kids are gone, would they move or downsize, what types of experiences would they want to share — or not, he says.

Tweaking the marital model

And perhaps how much they’d like to shake up things — like Lise and Emil Stoessel. By the time their youngest went off to college, after 20-plus years of marriage, the couple were barely talking to each other. They could have divorced, but instead they decided to become a live apart together couple, or apartners. It saved their marriage, they say, and Lise wrote a book, Living Happily Ever After, Separately, to help other couples consider LAT as an option.

Becoming a LAT is just one of many options. Some might want to open up their marriage, others may want to travel separately or study or work abroad, or — well, the possibilities are endless.

Of course, the Stoessels made their arrangement permanent — they didn’t just take a year off. If they had planned for their life post-kids, perhaps a gap year would have been enough.

In The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey That Brings You Home, author Cheryl Jarvis details the stories of 55 women who took time off their marriage — about three months — including herself. The empty nest often hits women hardest because they’re typically the main caretaker. It’s not just a gal thing, though — men need a break, too.

But, you may be asking, won’t that just make couples feel even more disconnected? Shouldn’t couples be taking that time to work on their marriage and do things together? Sure, maybe, if that’s what they both want. Except one person might be ready to retire and the other isn’t, or both are ready to retire but want different things from retirement, or — as is often the case — by that time, the marriage is beyond the point of re-creating, and they’ll either stay together, miserably, or divorce.

Sometimes, it takes doing something bold and perhaps scary to get out of the marital rut.

A gap year is actually a great way to work on a marriage because each person would have time to do some critical self care and growth and, just like gap-year kids, might be re-energized, and have a new perspective and perhaps even a new appreciation for their marriage. After 15, 20, 25 years of marriage, that just might be what helps a couple make it “until death” — happily.

Want to learn how to re-create your marriage? (Of course you do!) 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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Gals, how are your orgasms? Maybe the better question is, are you having any?

Women are experiencing an orgasm gap, evidently. Well, not all women — just hetero women. They’re behind every other group who’s happily getting off, including lesbians, bisexual men and women, hetero men and gay men, according to a new study.

Hetero men were most likely to say they usually or always orgasm during sex (95 percent), followed by gay men (89 percent), bisexual men (88 percent), lesbians (86 percent), bisexual women (66 percent) and, finally, heterosexual women (65 percent).

This is depressing news.

So, which women are having  frequent orgasms? The ones who get lots of oral sex (OK, well, duh), have longer sex (ditto), are in a satisfying relationship, ask for what they want in bed, praise their partner when he or she does something amazing, flirt with their partner, wear sexy lingerie, are open to new sexual positions and anal stimulation, act out fantasies, talk sexy and express love during sex.

They also kiss deeply and are manually or orally stimulated — ideally both — in addition to vaginal sex.

None of this comes as a surprise. And, this isn’t the first study to uncover the orgasm gap. But, still — why the gap?

A matter of control

Granted, some of it’s out of our control. If our partner doesn’t have the stamina to give us a good half hour or so, we gals lose out. And a satisfying relationship takes more than one person.

But a lot of it is actually in our control. Wearing sexy lingerie? No problem. Teasing and flirting with our partner, acting out fantasies, talking sexy and being open to new things? Why not? Asking for what we want?

Well …

And that’s where I think it comes to a grinding halt. For whatever reason, hetero women have a hard time asking for what they want — and not just when it comes to sex. They have a harder time expressing their needs and wants when it comes to divvying up chores and child care duties, too.

And who ends up suffering because they don’t speak up? You don’t need me to help you figure that one out.

Asking for what we want

So, why don’t we (I’m a hetero woman, thus the “we”) speak up? Is it our fault?

Yes and no. Yes, women can and should speak up. Yet as economics professor Linda Babcock and author Sara Laschever note:

The evidence is overwhelming that this a problem for which our entire society is to blame — that it is a socially constructed problem rather than something innate to females or just a blind spot women don’t recognize. As a society, we teach women that it is not appropriate or “feminine” for them to focus on what they want, assert their own ambitions, and pursue their self-interest — and we don’t like it when they do. From the time they’re very young, girls are taught to focus on the needs of others rather than on their own. The messages girls receive — from their parents and teachers, from the books they’re given, from the movies and television shows they watch, and from the behavior of the adults around them — can be so powerful that as women they may not even understand that their reluctance to ask for what they want is a learned behavior, and one that can be unlearned. They often don’t realize that they can ask for something they want, that asking is even possible.

Beyond that, many women have a complicated relationship with their body: “Many women are dissatisfied with their appearance and weight, are less satisfied with their appearance than men and are more likely than men to be self-conscious about their bodies during sex. Body dissatisfaction interferes with ability to orgasm,” the study indicates. We’re even unhappy with the way our genitals look. (OK, granted, many men stress about the size of their dick, so there’s that.)

Those bad messages mess things up for us, which is why bi women miss out on orgasms, too; they internalize negative societal stereotypes.

Our lovers can’t solve that for us, although we can believe them when they tell us how  much they love us just the way we are (assuming they aren’t turned off by our body).

And neither can Addyi, the “female Viagra.” But knowing what turns you on and how to express it to your partner works wonders, says psychologist Antonia Hall, author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life.

Turn ons and turn offs

First, we need to know what turns us on. This involves some curiosity and exploration. There’s no downside to this. Learning to speak up for what we want? That takes practice but it’s so doable once you know how to start.

As far as I know, the study doesn’t address monogamy. As I’ve written before, there’s really nothing about monogamy that works for women sexually (although it’s nice to have a partner around to help raise the kids, which is less about sex than about being a parent). We need novelty, and if we don’t have it, well … Which is why we are cheating about as much as men are.

But having an affair doesn’t guarantee more or better orgasms, and that’s really what we want.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now that’s hard, which means we could all use some good self care. I can’t think of more loving thing to give ourselves this year than orgasms — lots of them. Speak up and make them yours!

Want to learn how to talk about monogamy? (Of course you do!) 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’ll admit it — I was not happy that Donald Trump became our 45th president. Give him a chance, many said, and I was willing to do that. But as he began surrounding himself with racists and bigots, and as one dangerous nominee after another was confirmed and one important program after another was dismantled, it’s became harder and harder. 

Every day since he took office, I have awakened to a “what fresh hell is this?” and it’s making me anxious and depressed. Oddly, there is something about Trump’s language and actions that feel all too familiar — he lies, and then tries to convince us that he’s telling the truth and everyone else has it wrong, aka #alternative facts and “fake news.” Lately, he’s even begun calling respected news outlets such as the New York Times and CNN “enemies of the people.” As a 30-plus year journalist, that is absolutely not true.

Still, his behavior reminds me of what it’s like to live with a cheating spouse.

It isn’t pretty.

I might have been oblivious to my former husband’s former affair if it weren’t for what might have been an innocent comment made by a mutual friend — that he heard he’d been hanging around so-and-so bar. There was a quick denial, but the look on my then-husband’s face and his reaction made me think, “Hmmm.”

I started looking into things — phone bills, credit card statements, emails, etc.

Deny, deny, deny

But even when I found things that seemed suspect and asked him about them, he denied everything and turned it back on me — I was being paranoid, suspicious, distrusting. When I found even more incriminating proof, he just amped up the denials and blaming. Soon, I began to question my own thoughts; was I making this up? Was I overreacting? My gut kept telling me no, even if he kept telling me I was.

Long story short, he’d been having a long-term affair with the bartender. Even when I finally had undeniable proof, he kept up the charade until I demanded we go to counseling.

I actually was willing to work on the marriage, mostly because our kids were still young, 9 and 12. But ultimately, through counseling together and separately, I realized he has trouble with the truth.

And so does Trump.

Trouble with the truth

Many people, including me, believe Trump is lying about many things, including his ties to Russia, but let’s just look at a few lies we know to be lies. In his embarrassing press conference last week, he insisted he became president with the largest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan. When a reporter called him out as being incorrect, he said, “I was given that information.” But it’s wrong information — a quick Google search is all you need — and to continue to repeat bad information is lying.

Then there’s was the leaks-are-real-reporting-about-them-is-fake thing. It’s impossible for both of these to be true. It’s like a cheating spouse who is caught cheating but tells you that you are wrong to know what you know.

Huh?

Then there’s constant calling out of the media as fake news. We all know that, yes, there’s been a lot of real fake news recently; thankfully, it didn’t influence the election. But to call the New York Times, CNN, CBS, NBC “and many more” fake news is a lie. Again, it’s just like when a cheating spouse puts the blame on his or her spouse; It’s not me, it’s you! And the more the cheater keeps repeating the lie and defending himself, the more the other person begins to doubt herself. It’s crazy-making. This is called gaslighting, a term psychologists use “to describe the use of deflection and distraction and blame by one person to hide some truth, or to benefit in some way, at the cost of another.”

Which is why Trump’s talk feels so familiar to me.

So if you’ve never experienced adultery, now you have a glimpse of what it feels like. If you have, well, I’m sorry; welcome to the club. Except, it’s easy to know what a cheating partner wants — to continue have sex or whatever with the affair partner. Thus, he or she will continue to lie and manipulate to keep the affair going. We really don’t know what Trump actually wants to do as he lies to us, what his motivations are. It’s easy to imagine the worst while hoping for the best. But I’m listening to my gut — as I did with my former hubby’s affair — and honestly, I just don’t think it’s going to be good for us. Plus, I was able to see the bills and receipts that left a paper trail of deception; this is why it’s so important to see Trump’s taxes.

How can we continue to trust someone who continually lies to us and never apologizes — or even acknowledges a mistake, let alone works to correct it or build trust? I don’t know about you, but I long ago made a vow to myself — no more liars in my life.

Cheating = abuse?

Some people call cheating abuse; I do not. A one-night stand is not abuse. It isn’t the affair per se that’s the problem — it’s what happens after the affair is discovered, if it ever is. But the gaslighting, lying and manipulation that come with the discovery of serial cheating is most definitely a type of emotional abuse and highly destructive. Still, for those who believe all infidelity is abuse, I would guess they’d say Trump right now is abusing Americans.

Many people, including therapists, advise people to walk away from serial cheaters and liars. But, as Esther Perel notes, there are many ways spouses can betray each other beyond just affairs — denying sex, being neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning and insulting — all of which can be is as damaging, and sometimes more, as physical abuse.

We have a president who is lying to us, for reasons unknown (to us, anyway), as well as being contemptuous, demeaning and insulting. Is this a partner we can truly trust? Is this a partner who is bringing out the best in us?

Want to learn how to talk about monogamy? (Of course you do!) 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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Oh, Suzanne Venker.

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If we are to take the new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll on marriage to heart, then Americans are still stuck in some sort of happily-ever-after rom-com version of wedded bliss.

But like a lot of polls, the ways questions are phrased, what gets asked and what doesn’t, and who gets asked and who doesn’t have a lot to do with whether the poll means something or not.

Which means, sorry 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair — your poll’s a major fail.

Take, for example, the question: What is the main purpose of marriage today? Fifty-three percent  of those single, married and divorced or separated said it’s to mark commitment, while 23 percent said it’s the best environment for raising children (interestingly, more divorced or separated people agreed with that — 29 percent — than married people). Still, a good number of singles and divorced or separated people said it didn’t have much purpose at all; even 15 percent of married people agreed with that.

According to the two news organizations, the poll was conducted by telephone last year from Oct. 26 to 30, with a random sampling of 1,016 adults nationwide. Clearly, those 1,016 people  just don’t understand that being married gives couples access to more than 1,100 federal perks and legal protections, and more at the state level. That matters (just ask same-sex couples why).

But the rest of the poll? Well, the questions asked don’t offer much when it comes to understanding what people really think about marriage.

Is marriage an accomplishment?

Here are the answers offered to the question about how the respondents feel about hearing about a couple who has been married for 50 years: “Wow, what an inspiring accomplishment” or “Yikes, they must be so tired of each other.” Not surprisingly, 91 percent agreed with it being an “inspiring accomplishment” versus 6 percent with the former. It’s inspiring!! — but does that mean those couples were satisfied, fulfilled, loving, kind, generous and basically happy? There are probably a lot of other more revealing questions that could have been asked, but — oh well — not this time.

Then comes the question about the biggest threat to marriage. Twenty-six percent of all those asked say jealousy, followed by poverty (19 percent) and the boredom (18 percent). Interestingly, divorced/separated people rate boredom as the biggest threat (22 percent) followed by poverty (21 percent) and then jealousy (18 percent, which ties with the internet). When in doubt, I’d say always go with the people who have experienced marriage and divorce, not those who have never been married and those who currently are. You may not get smarter in love after divorce, but you do learn a few things.

Does marriage make people jealous?

But, what about that jealousy? Why are married people jealous? Could it have anything to do with a sense of ownership marriage creates? Could it have anything to with the expectation of monogamy? Honestly, what makes people in relationships jealous? If you ask me, sex and sexuality are up there. You can look at some of what women on Cafe Mom are saying, but when you distill it down it typically has to do with trust, our own insecurities of being lovable or not, and monogamy. The Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes poll doesn’t take into account whether we like monogamy, are good at it or are freely choosing it, nor does it acknowledge that for the most part, many of us don’t question it or even talk about it with our partner (and for those of you who do, and continue to do so — it’s an ongoing conversation — many kudos!) It just asks, how do you feel about monogamy? How we feel about something doesn’t mean we behave that way.

Since monogamy is a societal expectation, of course a huge number will say it’s fundamental, although I find it interesting that the young — 18 to 34 — and the “old” — 65 and older — say monogamy’s not realistic. Perhaps there’s hope, although that probably doesn’t mean we will agree to consensual nonmonogamy; it more likely means that we will continue to be serial monogamists.

Other options than marriage?

But the bigger question is, what other options do we have? Cohabitation still isn’t as respected as marriage is (at least in the States — I’ll be writing about cohabitation elsewhere soon), but if it were, would marriage still matter; single people are still stigmatized, divorced people are damaged and few of us are relationship anarchists.

Which is why studies such as the latest by the Institute for Family Studies, which touts the benefit of marriage over cohabitation when it comes to family instability, bother me: there’s no way to know if the couples who cohabit would end up divorced if they wed or if their kids would be worse off if they stayed together — and perhaps subjected their kids to abuse, conflict, addiction or other dysfunctions. There’s no way to know, those questions are never asked, no studies compare the outcomes of kids in intact but dysfunctional families versus families that break up (happy, healthy relationships generally don’t end; only the unhappy, unhealthy ones), and etc.

So, I’m not sure what we can learn from from this poll or any poll that’s so generic. I don’t think it offers any more insight than, say, what can be learned from the polls I present here. Nor do I think it will change anyone’s attitude about or behavior within a marriage. But, maybe I’m wrong. Please answer my poll — 😉 and set me straight!

Want to individualize your marriage? (Of course you do!) 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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This past week has gone from high to low, from the pink pussy-hats seen atop people at the women’s marches across the globe — 3 million-plus in the U.S. alone — to the swift crackdown on our reproductive rights. The image of a handful of white men surrounding President Trump’s desk as he revived — and expanded — the so-called global gag rule was sickening. Even if you are anti-choice — as those who marched on Washington this past week are — this should still be disturbing as the rule will impact organizations fighting such things as AIDS and malaria — maybe even human trafficking — while also providing for maternal and child health across the globe. This will cripple their efforts.

Then there was Texas State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republ-
ican who proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, saying it would force women to be “more personally responsible” for their sexual behavior.

As if that wasn’t enough, House Republicans introduced HR 586 — a personhood bill that declares that life begins at fertilization, and thus zygotes and embryos have the same “right to life” as human beings.

I’ve written about personhood before and it’s really dangerous; not only would it make getting an abortion akin to murder, but it could also criminalize women for their actions while pregnant, such as drinking or smoking pot (even for doctor-ordered medical reasons) or cigarettes, or engaging in certain risky sports or careers.

Men matter, too

All of this presumes that women and women alone are somehow responsible if something goes wrong in a pregnancy, or even if she gets pregnant. In truth, reproductive health depends on more than one individual; as some academics involved in developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) warn:

There is a long history of society blaming mothers for the ill health of their children. … fathers and grandparents also affect descendants’ health. Studies suggest that diet and stress modify sperm epigenetically and increase an offspring’s risk of heart disease, autism and schizophrenia. In humans, the influence of fathers over mothers’ psychological and physical state is increasingly recognized. So are effects of racial discrimination, lack of access to nutritious foods and exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment.

In fact, one bioethicist/political scientist says, “men have a moral duty to use contraception if their behavior — past, current, or future — could harm the potential fetuses and children who result from their unprotected sexual behavior.”

Hello, personhood people?

And as some researchers state, “birth defects are more often associated with paternal rather than maternal DNA damage.”

Still, the emphasis is always on women. Why? Well, we have historically been the property of men, which is why society still believes it has “a greater right to regulate and control the female reproductive body than the male reproductive body.”

Sorry, guys, but not any more.

Making men ‘personally responsible’

I know I am not the only woman who says, enough. I am so tired of men telling me what I can and can’t do with my own body — especially since no one is requiring anything even remotely similar for men. Don’t they need to be “more personally responsible” for their sexual behavior, Rep. Tinderholt (who, by the way, has been married five times, had a restraining order against him by one wife and who admitted marrying once for “insurance reasons”)?

Yes, they do. If men are going to continue to believe that they have rights over women’s bodies, especially when it comes to sex and reproduction, then we women must reciprocate. Guys, it’s time for you to be more “personally responsible” when it comes to sex and reproduction.

An article about a “male ejaculation bill” proposed by female legislators — isn’t sperm intended for “procreation only” and shouldn’t be “wasted” on pleasure? — and published in the Burrard Street Journal scared some people who didn’t realize it’s a Canadian satire magazine.

But, that got me thinking. It’s time to start regulating and controlling men’s reproductive bodies. So here’s what I propose:

  • Every man 15 and older would be required to take out a $1 million (or more depending on history, genetics, etc.) potential-pregnancy insurance plan, which would cover the cost of raising a child as well as all pregnancy-and birth-related costs as well as IPV and other unforeseen problems (see below).
  • Every man 15 and older must go through DNA testing and agree to have his DNA on file, in case paternity is ever questioned.
  • Every man 15 and older must pay for his own condoms and wear them each and every time he has sex, unless he and his partner are both attempting to get pregnant. If he refuses to wear a condom — ever — even if his partner uses her own birth control, he will be subject to a fine and/or prison.
  • Every man 15 and older must pay for his partner’s birth control, of her choice, or be subject to a fine and/or prison.
  • Every man 15 and older must undergo monthly drug tests. If he impregnates a woman and had drugs in his system  — which damages sperm and can potentially lead to birth defects — at the time, he would be subject to a fine and/or prison. Same with booze and cigarettes.
  • Every man 15 and older would be screened for a personal and family history of IPV, STDs, mental illness, addiction, developmental disabilities, diabetes, cancer and other health issues, and undergo counseling. He would not be able to impregnate a woman unless she signed a waiver indicating she is aware of the dangers of having a baby with him, and agrees to waive her rights, or he would face a fine and/or prison.
  • If a man is employed in a workplace that is known to have carcinogens or other risks, he must find other employment and wait until health testing clears him before he can impregnate a woman. If he does not, he will face a fine and/or prison. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, he may still face a fine and/or prison, and/or his insurance will kick in (see above) as he could have chosen to have a vasectomy and continue working in his risky workplace.
  • If a man is engaged in risky sports/activities, he must stop doing them before he can impregnate a woman and continue to avoid them until the child is 18. If he does not, he will face a fine and/or prison. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy and he continues to engage in risky sports/activities that would interfere with his ability to care/provide for his child(ren), he may still face a fine and prison, and/or his insurance will kick in (see above).
  • It would be illegal for men over age 45 to impregnate a woman, naturally or artificially, as the baby would likely at a much greater risk of having autism and/or ADHD as well as Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia; men between 30 and 45 would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis after genetic testing, and may be rejected unless his partner signs a waiver.
  • Any man who impregnates a woman through rape would be responsible for paying for all her pregnancy-and birth-related costs, from medical bills to lost time at work to  postpartum depression treatment, and then be responsible for raising the child by himself, even if he is incarcerated, unless the woman wants full- or part-time physical custody, or face a fine (that covers all expenses for her and the child, through college) and/or prison.
  • Any man who impregnates a woman — whether his wife, girlfriend, lover or a one-night stand — must pay half of all her pregnancy-and birth-related costs, what’s known as preglimony, or face a fine equal to the amount plus damages.
  • Any man who engages in Intimate Partner Violence against a pregnant partner would be imprisoned on the first offense; compensation to her would be provided by his mandatory insurance plan (see above), which may also require more insurance if there’s a personal/family history of IPV.
  • Viagra would be an out-of-pocket expense no longer covered by insurance: any man who asked for a prescription would be required to prove he actually needs it. A Viagra prescription may be denied for reasons other than for pregnancy.
  • If a man’s porn viewing is interfering with his partner’s sexual life (based on her testimony), he would be subject to a fine and/or prison (for repeat offenders).

I don’t expect any of this to happen anytime soon — if ever. But at least we can change the way we talk about sex and reproduction; clearly we must stop seeing sex and reproduction through a gendered lens. If hetero people are going to have sex, which may lead to pregnancy, intended or not, we must hold both men and women accountable. (Here’s yet another area in which same-sex couples have busted through our heteronormatively narrow-minded thinking about having and raising children).

That’s what I came up with, but there must be more ways society can, and should, regulate and control men’s reproductive body. Please — feel free to submit your suggestions. And then let’s make it happen!


We are approaching Valentine’s Day, the most romantic time of the year, according to many. It’s when we buy a card and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes, and profess our love to our one true love.

But what if you have two true loves?

If you’re Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia who has a husband and a boyfriend, you realize you don’t fit into what most of us think love looks like. You feel like a rebel, although that isn’t what you want to be. It’s just that society doesn’t offer many options for people like Jenkins.

Loving two people at the same time must not be “true” love — as if any of us can come up with a definition of love to satisfy everyone’s conception of love.

So to explore this crazy thing we call love, Jenkins has been spearheading the Metaphysics of Love Project, a three-year interdisciplinary investigation into the nature of romantic love; I attended the first workshop a few weeks ago. And she has just published What Love Is and What It Could Be. This is one of those books that makes me go deep into my own beliefs about love, along with Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks and Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships by Meg-John Barker.

It’s essential reading for anyone who has romantic love, wants to have romantic love or had it and felt its sting, and even those who have no interest in it because they, too, are rebels in a society that believes everyone should have romantic love.

Biology or social construct?

Jenkins explores the two views of love — that it’s biological (relying on the research and writings of Helen Fisher) and that it’s a social construct, more about social institutions, practices and traditions, which vary across the globe.

Is love both? Is it neither? Is it some combination of both? Is it something entirely different? Does it matter?

It does matter because, as she notes, “love is an extreme sport and we don’t skydive without parachutes.” We can get incredibly hurt by it, not just emotionally but also physically — in fact, love can kill us — but so much of what we are told through rom-coms, Hallmark cards, relationships “experts” and a lot of other societal messages is that love is a big, beautiful mystery and there’s no way to explain it, nor should we. That’s a problem. Once you put love on a pedestal, you can’t critique it, leaving us vulnerable to making bad decisions. Plus it can lead to misguided thinking, such as women are “naturally” more monogamous, and once we get into what humans are “naturally” or “biologically” geared toward, we are entering dangerous territory, especially when it comes to things like marriage, reproduction, gender and sex.

So we actually need to think about love; we can’t overthink it, but we can and should question it, Jenkins tells me as we sit in a sushi restaurant on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in Vancouver, rather than just accept the romantic script. In fact, it’s a form of self-protection and self-advocacy:

What I really worry about is this idea I call it the romantic mystique — that romantic love is mystical and incomprehensible and wonderful and you shouldn’t try to figure out what’s going on with it, there’s nothing you can change, it is what it is and there’s nothing you’d want to change because it’s perfect. I’m really pushing back on that. You really do need to think about it. You are defenseless in a really extreme situation if you don’t think about love and what it is and what it’s doing, how it interacts with our decisions, our big life decisions.”

Love is not the same as marriage

There are also societal messages that the best or only “real” love is always tied to one person forever, often a sexual partner and often a partner we marry. Which doesn’t leave much wiggle room to include poly people like Jenkins, or people who are in committed relationships but who aren’t married and don’t want to be, or people who aren’t having sex, even if they’re married, or who can’t marry, or any other variations on the theme. Which, she says, either turns you into a rebel or makes you unhappy.

One of the things the book is trying to do both model and explain the value in rebellion, against norms, against traditional life expectations, and one of the serious constraints and norms that needs challenging is what I call amatonormativity, that you’re supposed to be in love with someone. You’re supposed to be in a relationship, you’re failing at life if you’re not in love with someone. And one of the people that hurt the most is those singles at heart.”

Jenkins isn’t trying to define love, as hooks is. “Whatever love is, it’s not something we’re going to be able to put in a little box with a bow on it and give it a tidy definition, and any attempt to do that would misrepresent the phenomenon, which is messy,” she says. But she has a theory about it — that love has a dual nature and when we love we’re like actors; we, the actor, are our biology and the role we play is the social construct. But even that, she says, is just a theory — one that she hopes will be challenged because it’s important that we think about it for ourselves.

This is not a process that ends. It’s more like a muscle you train, and once you’re strong in it you keep being as aware as you can be. But it’s very easy to let that muscle whither away from lack of use because we’re told not to use it. We’re told not to think about it. Love will just happen to you, out of the blue, it will literally just come at you and when it comes, you won’t have to think about it — you’ll just know. That’s a phrase we hear a lot; you’ll just know, and this is not helping anybody.”

No, it’s not!

A better version of love

Still, where does it leave poly people like herself, or asexuals or people who don’t fit the current love mold? Jenkins believes we have a collective responsibility to make romantic love “a force for good,” to make it “a better version of itself.” We can slowly stretch the “rules” of love, which we’ve already been doing; we’ve accepted interracial love and same-sex love. What’s next?

As Jenkins says, we must “keep broadening the social role of love until it no longer imposes any substantive constraints.”

And that would actually make love a lot more loving.

Want to create a more loving 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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The Weeknd, the 26-year-old Grammy-winning singer who recently started dating Selena Gomez, is pretty sure he wants to have kids. But he fears marriage. 

“I feel like I’m the kind of guy that would have kids before getting married,” he told GQ. “The first thing would be kids. Marriage is scary to me, man.”

As a woman who has been married and divorced twice, and who is also a mom to two young men, he has no idea how scary being a parent is! Really.

His comments came out around the same time philosophy professor Laurie Shrage wrote an article in Aeon on the need for co-parenting contracts, basically tying a parent to a child and not his or her romantic partner — if there even is one. Shrage wrote:

(A)kin to a public marriage contract, we need an official ‘co-parenting agreement’ and associated civil status, which not only enshrines the rights and responsibilities of each parent in respect of their children, but also sets out the principles by which they relate to one another and make decisions. Although children benefit greatly from having the ongoing support of several adults as they grow up, they don’t necessarily need this nurturing from people who commit to marriage. Their parents simply need to cooperate effectively, to respect the relationship the other has with the children, and to contribute in comparable ways to caregiving and family finances.”

This is something I have written a lot about, most recently in the wake of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce and how that’s impacting their six children, and when I interviewed law professor Merle Weiner about her idea for making parent-partnerships legal. And, of course, in The New I Do.

Why the fear?

To be scared of marriage and not of the responsibility of having a child seems kind of crazy to me — until you start to figure out what might make someone more afraid of marriage than being a mom or dad.

The first thing that comes to my mind is money, as in how much a man might stand to lose if his marriage ended in divorce and there’s no prenup. Since The Weeknd is worth about $55 million, that’s a real consideration.

A few years ago I interviewed Daryl Motte and Seth Conger, two longtime friends who ran a now-defunct irreverent dating advice blog, We’re Just Not There Yet, that produced a book by the same name. The young men — one was a millennial at the time, the other a GenXer — told me are just not there yet when it comes to marriage, and a big part of that was fear of the D-word: Divorce.

But, again — marriage isn’t divorce, and not every marriage ends in divorce. In fact, the majority don’t (unless you’re over age 50 in which case a good half do, but that still gives you a 50-50 chance).

And since so many more women are breadwinners or have money and property of their own before tying the knot nowadays, spousal support (aka alimony) is on its way out. In any event, couples can always get a prenup — even a postnup. So, there’s no excuse.

So, what’s so scary about marriage?

Maybe it’s because it limits your freedom, especially sexual freedom if you don’t have an open marriage.

Maybe it’s because you are always accountable to someone else.

Maybe it’s because we fear infidelity.

Maybe we fear we’ll fall out of love.

Maybe we fear we’re doomed to replicate our parents’ marriage.

Maybe it’s too much work.

Maybe all of the above plus other things — I don’t know.

Age of anxiety

I didn’t spend too much time thinking or worrying about marriage, even after I’d been divorced in my 20s. I foolishly thought I was smarter the second time, but …

Still, I don’t remember any of my friends in my 20s and then again in my 30s feeling as much anxiety as young people do today about the thought of getting married.

Maybe we live in much more anxious times, perhaps fueled by the overload of information on the internet and social media. Or the multimillion-dollar wedding complex. Or maybe because divorce is easier to get (thankfully) and a lot less stigmatizing than in decades past. Despite that, divorce seems to weigh heavily over would-be-brides or grooms’ minds; no one wants to go into a marriage with the idea that he or she will get divorced, but everyone is aware that it’s a reality.

But to imagine that having kids would be easier? No, no, no, no no; in fact marriages can (and do) end and you don’t ever have to have contact with a former spouse again, but you will always be connected to your kids. And contracts like the kind Shrage proposes hold each co-parent accountable toward that child. So, yes, they would have to communicate and always put their child’s needs first — married or not. Once you have kids with someone, you are forever tied to that person or as law professor Patrick Parkinson has written, “The experience of the last forty years has shown that whereas marriage may be freely dissoluble, parenthood is not.”

Someone please tell The Weeknd that.

Want to individualize your marriage so you have nothing to fear? 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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