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Who has the upper hand in dating, men or women? It might depend on whom you ask but there’s one thing I’ve been thinking about lately — how gals generally don’t have as much experience with rejection when it comes to dating as men do, although it may feel like it if they’ve been dumped, played or cheated on.

At an first-meet date with a man I met online recently, he was dis-
appointed that women don’t message men first. I reminded him that I had, indeed, messaged him, not vice versa, but he said it was a rarity. To prove his point, he’d set up a pseudo online profile as a woman — and immediately got inundated with messages from men.

“But probably not the kind of men you’d be interested in dating,” I told him. “Quantity isn’t quality.”

True, he acknowledged, but we got around to talking about how rejection — or lack of rejection — impacts the way men and women approach dating. I think it matters.

Masters of romantic rejection

Men risk romantic rejection a lot more than women do. As Mark Rosenfeld, a self-described dog lover, male stripper and dating coach — interesting combo, that — writes:

If a woman is unwilling to make a move on a man, she can sub-communicate to him she wants him to make one, without risking a real rejection. If that doesn’t work, a different man will try his luck. She can meet and get chatting to a lot of men, without having to risk a direct rejection. … For many men, confidence does not come naturally. Unfortunately, in dating, where men must risk rejection regularly to have success, confidence is required. This can be a huge, sometimes insurmountable, obstacle for some men to overcome.

The “sub-communicate” thing is exactly the advice many dating coaches tell women to get a man they’re interested in to make the first move — despite my online first-meet date’s desire to have women approach him first.

Dating coach Evan Marc Katz says if women ask men out first, it “can be taken as aggressive, desperate, and masculine. At the very least, it can signify a loss of power.” Instead he suggests women create an opportunity for a man to act on our interest and ask us out first — which, again creates a “huge, sometimes insurmountable, obstacle for some men to overcome.”

So some may not be able to do it and, guess what — a missed opportunity!

In explaining her BRUTAL (her emphasis) reasons why a women should never ask a man out, dating coach Ronnie Ann Ryan admonishes “strong, successful women (who) think gender equality means there’s no longer any reason NOT to ask a man out.” She questions a man’s inability to be confident in asking a woman out (which really doesn’t seem fair), and then advises that “letting the man pursue you works best. That’s the only way you’ll ever know if he’s really interested.”

And we’re right back to where we were. Missed opportunities.

Disadvantaging women

Ultimately, I think a lack of experience in rejection disadvantages women, who tend to react one of two ways if a date, or planned date, goes awry — either “he’s an asshole” or she takes it personally. (Of course, some men react violently to being rejected by women. That’s a form of entitlement that’s dangerous for everyone.) Some studies indicate that experience with rejection is keeping women from rising in their careers; could it also be keeping us from getting what we want romantically?

There’s got to be a healthier way to accept the fact that not everyone’s going to be into us and that’s OK. And that might take practice, some self-esteem and a healthy dose of humor while dating.

In exploring why women still rarely ask men out on dates — despite greater equality in many other things — associate professor of psychology Michael Mills found that both men and women are willing to have someone of the opposite sex ask them out, but much fewer women actually did it than men. In part, he explained it as “as an effort by women to protect their sexual reputation. By refraining from making first time relationship initiatives, women may be providing evidence to potential long-term mates that they would not make the first move with another man in the future, given their history of not doing so in the past.”

Still, as he notes, it’s tricky to rely on histories of what’s been done or not done “in the past” because men can claim that, too — right? If we want equality, shouldn’t women have to risk as much as men do?

We certainly don’t let men use the “but it is only natural” excuse to justify some of their more antisocial behaviors. Should we give women “a sexual inequality pass” because it is just one part of a natural courtship script? Or, should we encourage women to make more risky initiatives? Should men go on a “risky initiatives” strike? Should we ask women to “woman up” — put their fragile egos on the line, get some ovaries, get out there and start asking out men on first dates?

Well, I have put my ovaries out there and asked men out; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m a woman of a certain age, as was my online meet date. Could it be that the older we get, the more likely we’re willing to shed restrictive dating rules on who “should” do what first? Maybe.


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A few years ago, I broke up with someone I had been seeing for about a year. Because of age differences and life circumstance, we agreed from the beginning that it was not a relationship that was going to “go somewhere,” but we genuinely liked each other. So when it ended I said, “Let’s still be friends.”

That did not happen. When I ran into him about a year ago, we were friendly and had a good time catching up, but that’s that. No, “Hey, let’s get together soon” or promises to go grab a bite or a drink or take a hike. I already have lots of friends I can do that with — do I really need to do that with a former lover?

I believe that former lovers, spouses and partners can be friends after the romantic relationship ends — I’m a big believer in Katherine Woodward Thomas’ conscious uncoupling, which promotes ending relationships as they began, with love, kindness and compassion — but I’m not sure that needs to happen.

So, outside of the friendly relationship I have with the father of my children — because that really matters — it hasn’t totally happened for me, nor have I actively sought to make it happen, although I have maintained contact and have been friendly with some former partners.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong about it, but I am curious — why do people want to remain friends with their former partners?

Seven ways to keep your (former) lover

According to a recent study, it falls into seven categories:

  • sentimentality  — “we shared a lot of good memories” or “they were supportive of my goals”
  • pragmatism  — “they were able to provide me transportation to places” or “they had attractive friends” (and hmm on that one!)
  • continued romantic attraction — “I still had feelings for them”
  • shared resources such as a child, pet or an apartment
  • diminished romantic feelings, which made it easier to keep things platonic
  • “social relationship maintenance,” such as keeping a friend group intact and minimizing drama

As the study’s authors note in previous research, while it isn’t necessarily rare to stay friends, it’s a lot harder to maintain a relationship with a former romantic partner than it is with a friend of the opposite sex (and even that is almost always suspect), and that men were more interested in maintaining friendships for practical reasons and — no surprise! — sexual access. A kind of friends with benefits thing until someone else comes along. Not every woman can do that without feeling diminished, although that often has more to do with societal messages than the way we really feel.

One social experience researcher suggests that it may not be a good idea to become friends with former partners because those friends tend to be “less emotionally supportive, less helpful, less trusting, and less concerned about the other person’s happiness. This is especially true, not surprisingly, for former partners who were dissatisfied with the romantic relationship, and in cases when the break-up was not mutual.” That doesn’t sound like a healthy friendship at all.

Check your motives

That said, it can work if — and this is a big if that you may want to explore — “neither of you has ulterior motives … and if your friendship doesn’t interfere with your current relationships.” But the study acknowledges that there often are ulterior motives; we’re human after all!

A more recent study broke the romantic-partner-to-friend relationship into just four reasons: security (wanting his/her emotional support, advice, trust); practical (shared kids, pets, friends); civility (not wanting to hurt feelings) and you’re still crushing on him or her. Interestingly, unresolved romantic desires led to more negative feelings about a former romantic partner, but longer friendships. Go figure!

I don’t think there’s any wrong or right answer but if you have a child with a former romantic partner, maintaining a good relationship is really important for the children especially, but that doesn’t mean you have to be friends — or even be friendly — although the later would certainly help. As for being friends with your former romantic partner’s other former romantic partners? Hmm, all I can say is, do I have to???

Are there compelling reasons to remain friends with all your former romantic partners? I’m not convinced. Are you?

Rather than consciously uncoupling, do you you want to learn how to consciously couple? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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What do you want out of life, happiness or meaning?

I’ve been reading an advance copy of Eli J. Finkel’s The All-Or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work, which comes out this September. I’m excited about it for a few reasons, one because The New I Do is mentioned in it — thank you, Eli! — but also because it expands on the Northwestern University professor and head of the Relationships and Motivation Lab’s provocative New York Times op-ed of the same name a few years back.

In it he wrote:

Our central claim is that Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality — but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership. If they are not able to do so, their marriage will likely fall short of these new expectations. Indeed, it will fall further short of people’s expectations than at any time in the past.


I’ll talk much more about Finkel’s book when the book comes out, but one thing stuck me halfway through it — a discussion on research about those who seek happiness, defined as having a life that’s easy and pleasurable, and people who seek meaning, defined as those who think a lot about the future or who have strong tendencies to be a “giver.”

As he writes in his book:

In short, whereas the happy life is characterized by ease and pleasure, the meaningful life is characterized by generosity, deep engagement with difficult pursuits, and a coherent sense of how the self develops across time.

I hadn’t really thought about that before, so this past weekend, when I was on my annual backpacking trip with some of my dearest friends, book in tow, I asked them, “What matters more to you — happiness or meaning?”

Of course, they said they wanted both. But if they had to chose? Happiness, they said.

I’d like both, too, but when I look at what has really mattered to me over my life, it’s meaning. Having meaning makes me feel happy, even though Finkel says that the research indicates people who seek meaning are actually less happy (which makes me wonder how we are defining happiness).

Easy versus being ‘all in’

He cites the work of psychologists who describe two hikes along North Carolina’s Linville Falls. One is a challenging route that requires hikers to scramble onto giant boulders close to the falls but offers a total sensory and fulfilling experience; the other is a lot easier but hikers only get to see the falls from afar.

It’s like that with relationships, too, he suggests: you’re going to get different results if you look for something easy or go “all in.” So people who choose happiness view divorce favorably when things get tough; those who seek meaning see the rough patches as a path toward self-improvement. (That said, this happiness versus meaning approach seems to value longevity as the only measure of a marriage’s success, which is what’s getting us in trouble in the first place.)

I wasn’t surprised that my friends chose happiness over meaning: an easy, pleasurable life sounds awfully enticing. But it made me ask myself for the first time, what’s my priority in life, in a relationship? Of course I want both, too,  but again I will always choose meaning. Not that I want or seek romantic complications — I’ve had dramatic relationships and they’re exhausting. But easy relationships? They’re, well, a bit boring. I’d like to scramble on big, slippery boulders, alone or with someone, to feel alive. That makes me happy, research be damned!

What about you?

Want to find your own happiness or meaning in your marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

 


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Many people made fun of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s conscious uncoupling a few years ago. But it’s evident that they have influenced a number of other newly divorced celebrity parents who are raising kids together to put aside their anger and differences and come together for their family. (Sienna Miller even admits to doing the nightly bedtime routine together with former partner and father of her daughter, Tom Sturridge, while Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner take vacations together with the kids.

Could this happy co-parenting stuff happen before a couple gets divorced?

Of course —  a lot of couples have figured it out when it comes to parenting their kids. But many, many more have not and guess what happens? Conflict. And guess who suffers? Right, the kids.

Which is why one of the chapters on The New I Do is dedicated to a parenting marriage, a slightly different take on platonic parenting. But what both do so beautifully is this: anything related to the kids — from when and how to have them to how to raise and discipline them — is talked about and agreed upon. No surprises, no hidden agendas, no frustrations, no resentments  — well at least a lot less of all of that.

Merle Weiner, a law professor at the University of Oregon, proposes that the state should create a legal parent-partner status that binds parents — married, cohabiting, living apart, romantic partners or not —  with certain mandatory obligations in order to give their children what they need to thrive.

Whether you agree with any or all of the above, there is one aspect that is essential in making these sorts of arrangements work, and that is understanding your family-of-origin issues.

Now, there’s a new book that brings that conversation into the forefront, Parenting as Partners: How to Launch Your Kids Without Ejecting Your Spouse by Vicki Hoefle, a parenting coach and author. Her book is designed to help couples create a parenting plan — just as we suggest in The New I Do.

The beginnings of bad parenting

If you don’t want to end up like Jancee Dunn, who was almost at the point of divorce, as she writes in her new book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, because she and her husband  had “dreamy conversations” about their baby when they were pregnant, but never discussed  the day-to-day practicalities, then you might want to read Hoefle’s book. As she writes:

As tensions rise between parents, their ability to parent effectively is compromised, and as a result, both the children’s behavior and their emotional health are put at risk. Because we are a culture convinced that kids are the ones who need fixing (thankfully this trend is changing), it’s reasonable that parents place the discord in the home at the feet of the kids, rather than on the state of the individuals doing the parenting. With each passing year, parents grow further and further apart, until they are either sabotaging each other openly or have entered into a quiet battle of wills, otherwise known as a power struggle. Without a course correction, not only are the children impacted in a negative way; the marriage suffers enough that parents consider divorce their only remedy for an untenable situation.

As a woman who has raised two children in a marriage, truer words were never said.

Here are two things Hoefle nails: family-of-origin issues and the rise of more hands-on dads.

Giving dads respect

It’s true that today’s moms want dads to be more involved in their kids’ lives. But it’s also true that that means moms need to give dads an equal say in parenting decisions — and respect their say. As Hoefle notes, that doesn’t always happen, giving way to conflict:

What a shame to have lost our partner’s ideas and perspectives when ultimately we could benefit and celebrate the fact that we have someone who is as interested and committed to the raising of our children as we are — someone who is willing to go out on a limb and share a new perspective that could benefit the whole family.

Yes. Really, yes.

As for the family-of-origin issues, that can take on various dimensions, positive and negative. Maybe you don’t want to be like your mother or father so you actively choose to raise your kids differently. Or maybe you have such wonderful memories that you want to give your children the exact same experience. Well, guess what — your partner has memories of his/her own and may not feel the same. Now what?

Hoefle gives a great example when she talks about how a mom’s desire to greet her children with fresh-from-the-oven homemade cookies after school, just like her mother did for her when she was young, wasn’t shared by her partner. This can be devastating for the nostalgic mom and create a rift in her relationship. But Hoefle wisely observes that it isn’t really about the cookies; it’s more the feeling of unconditional love that she wants to re-create for her kids. That’s easy to understand. Except that feeling can come from other experiences that have nothing to do with oven-fresh homemade cookies, which, in fact, may be impossible to provide because both parents may be working and the child may be in after-school care.

“Many parents try to re-create with their children the positive experiences from their childhood but get stuck in trying to replicate the details rather than on capturing the feeling and meaning of the experience,” Hoefle writes. And that really is key — understanding what drives our behavior when it comes to the childhood we want to give our children, and our partner needs to do the same. And then you have to be in agreement about what that means day to day. That isn’t easy … unless you’re willing to go deep into that stuff.

Your kids are watching

But it’s worth it. Beyond the tension mismatched parenting expectations will cause the couple, it’s also modeling unhealthy behavior for your children:

Consider the messages you may be sending to the kids when the two of you work against each other rather than with each other. … Ask yourself, would you want your son or daughter’s partner talking to your child the way you are speaking to your partner or vice versa? If not, the it’s time to take this entire co-parenting plan seriously.

Preach it!

I know — it seems onerous to have to create a written parenting plan, let alone have to talk about such things. It is actually onerous. That said, it will be the greatest gift you can give your children, as well as yourself and your partner.

Want to see if a parenting marriage is good for you? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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A lot of people made fun of Mike Pence in April when it was revealed that the Vice President won’t eat alone with any other woman than his wife, Karen, or even attend events where alcohol is served unless she’s there, too. Others thought, oh well — that’s just evangelical Christians for you.

It would seem that few people actually thought that it’s a common practice — I certainly didn’t. But guess what; I was wrong.

According to a recent poll published by the New York Times’ Upshot, many Americans are a bit freaked out, or at least wary, of one-on-one situations with members of the opposite sex:

Around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

This has huge ramifications, mostly for women, who may (OK, are) shut out of certain opportunities at work and treated differently in many areas of life.

Easily misconstrued

I was shocked — initially. But when I reflected deeper on it, I realized how this has played out in my own life. Not that I have been afraid to be alone with a man when I was married or partnered, but how easily things were misconstrued by others. As Christopher Mauldin, a California construction worker, says in the article, “When a man and a woman are left alone, outside parties can insinuate about what’s really going on.”

Oh boy, is that true!

When I was a relatively new divorcee, I remember waiting for a girlfriend to meet me at a local watering hole. A man who frequented the same morning coffee shop I went to walked in, saw me and sat down for a few minutes to chat. Just then, a couple whose kids went to the same school as mine and whom I knew casually walked in, saw the two of us and stopped by to say hello. Innocent enough, but it was clear that a judgment had been made; I guess that’s who she’s schtupping.

More recently, back-to-back time spent with a long-time male friend became suspect because he and I are both currently single — cue the temptress-lothario scenario. Because a single man and a single woman obviously cannot be together without thinking about sex. Now, it may be true that one or the other, or both, are indeed thinking about sex. But thinking about sex without acting on it isn’t a crime or even inappropriate — even former President Jimmy Carter admitted to having lust in his heart. Isn’t lust for others generally part of the human condition whether you’re partnered or not?

The poll indicates young women are particularly wary of being alone with a man. Given the bad behavior of some men and women’s fear — sometimes irrational — of sexual violence, this does not surprise me.

Clare Cain Miller’s Upshot article mostly mentions how women are hurt by being excluded, and that is real and disturbing. But men are hurt, too.

Men — a constant threat

Men are suspect if they volunteer in classrooms, hang around parks while their kids play or try to join in a playgroup, typically made up of moms. As one stay-at-home dad tells Andrea Doucet, a Canadian sociology professor and author of Do Men Mother, “It’s kind of bad for men to be interested in other children.”

“I have encountered people who … saw me as a threat at the playground because I was a man,” writes stay-at-home dad and daddy blogger Chris Bernholdt.

When a SAHD tried to join the Burlingame Mothers’ Club a few years ago, he was turned down — although the club told him he could join if he was in a same-sex relationship. Why couldn’t he just join a dad’s group, or start his own? some asked. Once he complained to the press, he was finally allowed to join. Was the group’s initial hesitation more about maintaining a sisterhood or more about the fear of a solo man, away from his wife, being around a bunch of solo women, away from their husbands, which just might bring up thoughts of lust and sex? Hard to know.

But I am incredibly disappointed that this is happening in 2017 America, and not just in Middle Eastern countries where women must hide all parts of themselves lest a man get lustful — and of course it would be her fault.

It would be interesting to see if this fear of the opposite sex is occurring elsewhere, like Europe; I can’t find any research on it but it’s clear that Europeans generally have much healthier and relaxed attitudes about sex, and European women are eager to participate in public life.

Can men and women be friends?

Still, when it comes to why men and women seek opposite-sex friendships, it’s — as they say — complicated in a When Harry Met Sally kind of way: it’s a strategy men use to gain sex, women use to gain protection, and both sexes use to acquire potential romantic partners, according to one study.

But it’s clear the bigger issue, essayist William Deresiewicz writes, is our narrow definition of relationships — romantic or not — and the way we sexualize everything, even same-sex friendships:

We have trouble, in our culture, with any love that isn’t based on sex or blood. We understand romantic relationships, and we understand family, and that’s about all we seem to understand. We have trouble with mentorship, the asymmetric love of master and apprentice, professor and student, guide and guided; we have trouble with comradeship, the bond that comes from shared, intense work; and we have trouble with friendship, at least of the intimate kind. When we imagine those relationships, we seem to have to sexualize them. Close friendships between members of the same sex, after all, are also suspect. Even Oprah has had to defend her relationship with Gayle King, and as for men and men, forget about it.

I agree with him, and I can’t help but feel all of us are missing out by fearing being alone with someone of the opposite sex. And that’s exactly what’s driving it — fear. Will we ever get past that?

Want to learn how to talk about monogamy? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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I was sitting next to two women and hearing snippets of their conversation. The married one was uncertain and disillusioned in her marriage, full of complaints about her husband. It seemed as if he couldn’t do much of anything right: he didn’t do his share of housework or childcare, he always seemed to know when his favorite sports team was on TV but was clueless about anything related to the day-to-day goings-on of making their family tick etc. Her friend, a divorcee, was sympathetic.

The poor guy wasn’t there to defend himself, but the scene resonated with me because I’m in the middle of reading Laura Kipnis’ The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability and she addresses this very thing — women’s utter dissatisfaction with men and the friends who will indulge her:

As masculine failure mounts, female disappointment builds — though at least there are the consolations of female solidarity, meaning that when a woman vents about a man, another woman will invariably cheer her on with her own tale of frustration or disappointment, a comforting female-bonding ritual. What’s problematic about women’s scorn for men isn’t that it’s necessarily undeserved, it’s that it’s so steeped in disavowal. Disavowal not only takes a lot of useless intellectual effort that could be devoted to other things, but is self-deceiving. Self-deception is deforming.

Q: What is this crucial quality men are meant to supply, to plug up those fissures in female well-being? A: Whatever’s being asked of them at the moment. which is to say: more commitment, more sensitivity, more “I love you”s; more housework, togetherness, attention … What do women want from men? More.

Is that true? Do we gals  just want more?

Are single women upping the ante?

Women certainly want more from marriage, as studies have shown. We want a partner “in every sense of the word.” But what about women who aren’t married or who may not even be interested in marriage, or were married and are no longer interested in marriage but would like to have a romantic partner, either live in or live apart? Are women upping the ante on the men they date and become romantically involved with?

For sure, we want an employed man and even if he makes enough to support himself, we often want him to make more than we do. The later may matter more to women who want to have children, but at my age a man who can support himself is all that really matters for most — not all — women. Oh, and his man parts have to work. Really! And, we probably aren’t too interested in becoming a nurse with a purse.

I am recently back in the dating world and so a friend introduced me, via texts, to an age-appropriate man she’d met and thought was attractive. Fair enough. So, he and I spoke on the phone and within three minutes I learned about two huge purchases he’d just made, including a vacation home; within a half hour, I knew all about his house (huge and multistory), financial situation (well-to-do), the boat, the multiple road and mountain bikes, the six-figure sports car, and etc., etc. It really turned me off and I was hesitant to meet but I decided to be open minded. He was a nice enough person, but was either clueless, which is somewhat forgivable, or someone whose identity is wrapped up in his money and stuff, which is to be avoided at all costs.

Looking through some online dating profiles, I found similar disappointing displays of men’s wealth and stuff — with hopes (dictates?) that the women who contact them (or at least the ones they respond to) shouldn’t be overly controlling (I guess a little is OK?), or high maintenance, or high drama. I can’t speak for the controlling thing, but I can pretty much guarantee that if a man’s profile speaks more to his financial situation versus who he is as a person and what he believes in, he’s destined to attract women who want him for his wealth and stuff, and thus may indeed involve some maintenance and drama. I love my sisters but I also know how these things go.

Taking responsibility

It seems like some — many? — of us are still stuck in an unhappy mindset of wanting someone else to give us what we want, or think we need. Which, of course, just sets us up for disappointment and frustration — whether you are a “masculine failure” or are involved with one, or are a man whose self-worth is about glitz and stuff or are a woman attracted to that.

And that’s where Kipnis’ discussion of disavowal — our refusal to take any responsibility in our decisions — speaks loudly to me. I think it works both ways, though. Yes, women do want more from men. Men have their list of wants, too, and men who have power and money seem to want less of women (well, less drama and maintenance for sure, and often less ambition); more femininity may be fine, however.

Which means men and women have upped the ante. Shouldn’t men and women own up to that?

Want to get what you want from marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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Jay-Z just released his latest album, 4:44, and it’s gathering the same buzz as the last record put out by his wife, Beyoncé — not just for the music, but because of what they’re talking about. In last year’s Lemonade, Beyoncé alluded to her husband’s alleged infidelity — remember that video showing Beyoncé’s sister Solange physically confronting the rapper in an elevator after the Met Gala while Bey stands by? — with lyrics such as “How did it come down to this? Going through your call list,” and “This is your final warning / You know I give you life / If you try this shit again / You gon’ lose your wife.” In 4:44, an apologetic Jay-Z responds.

Maybe it’s a clever marketing call, maybe it’s a sincere public airing of the challenges of marriage and monogamy, maybe it’s both. What matters most is that here are two high-profile, talented people who are talking about some hard stuff, and who — given the recent birth of their twins — apparently haven’t let it tear apart their marriage.

Which is why all of us in a romantic relationship, or who want one, should be paying attention.

Rethinking infidelity

Infidelity has broken up a lot of high-profile marriages and long-term partnerships, as well as the marriages of everyday people. But some couples have worked through it, which is why therapists like Esther Perel, author of Mating In Captivity, and Tammy Nelson, author of The New Monogamy, suggest it’s time to rethink infidelity.

As a woman who was cheated on, rethinking infidelity in some cases (like serial adultery) may be easier said than done. Still, Jay-Z and Beyoncé may offer hope to those who are against divorce for personal or religious reasons, or who truly are regretful and want to make their marriage better, or who have young children and fear what divorce may do to them.

We don’t know why Jay-Z and Beyoncé are seemingly able to work through it, and neither Lemonade nor 4:44 offers answers. But Jay-Z offers some clues:

And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do
If they ain’t look at me the same
I would prob’ly die with all the shame
“You did what with who?”
What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate?
“You risked that for Blue?”
If I wasn’t a superhero in your face
My heart breaks for the day I had to explain my mistakes
And the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake

It’s clear that at some point, Jay-Z realized what he might be giving up — his child, Blue Ivy. Beyond that, he recognized how she would judge him (honestly, shouldn’t he be worried about losing his wife and how she would judge him? I guess not, because people can love their partner and still cheat on him or her). And she still may when she’s older. It’s now a part of their family story.

Infidelity impacts kids, too

Not to say that dealing with an unfaithful spouse when you don’t have kids is easy — I’m sure it’s not. When you have children, however, the infidelity doesn’t just impact the spouses — it impacts the children, too. And that gets everyone upset.

As I wrote before, there isn’t enough long-term data to understand how a parent’s sexual transgressions impact children as they enter adulthood. But, experts say, there are patterns similar to what’s seen in children whose parents are addicts or abusive. “It’s not just a behavior, it’s a whole dynamic of relationships,” says Azmaira Maker, a family therapy psychologist. And it begins to impact the kids before the actual infidelity is exposed.

A handful of therapists tried to analyze what Jay-Z’s saying in his new album’s songs. He seems truly sorry, many conclude. That’s an important step — remorse. But as therapist Sheri Meyers notes, after a confession and an apology “the next critical step is growing up and showing up strong and ready to face and repair the issues that led to infidelity in the first place.”

And that may or may not happen, and now they have three young ones.

Not every couple can survive infidelity

Many people may see their story as an excuse to say, “hey — this high-powered survived a very public betrayal and still put their marriage and children first; you can do it, too,” as if maintaining a troubled marriage no matter what is the only or best thing to do when you have children. It’s not; as most therapists will tell you, not every couple can survive infidelity and come out stronger and more committed (and didn’t Hillary Clinton get slammed for keeping her marital vows despite Bill’s multiple affairs?). So if you decide not to stay with an adulterous spouse, please — give yourself some slack.

After Lemonade was released (about the same time as Kanye West’s Life of Pablo), an article in the Atlantic declared that the two mega-stars were making marriage “cool” again by illustrating that:

‘Till death do us part’ really is an ideal worth striving for and that ‘For better or for worse’ can encompass some very bad things. But success also entails the effort to reach out beyond the self to something larger, not just community and religion but the well-being of children, who figure in both albums. Despite plenty of profanity and sex talk, these artists are modeling surprisingly conservative ideals about the seriousness and irreversibility of wedlock. They’re also proposing that culture can support attempts to live up to those ideals.

Except, as I wrote at the time, while I strongly believe couples should understand the seriousness of tying the knot, I equally object to the idea of marriage being irreversible, kids or no kids. Not only are those “surprisingly conservative ideals,” but they’re also perpetuating the shame-based model of marriage that we should already have moved past.

If nothing else, Jay-Z is once again drawing attention to how hard monogamy is, and if 4:44 makes us talk more honestly about that and about infidelity (and how a couple defines it) and  — hopefully — about consensual non-monogamy, then, really, we should listen. But decide for yourself what’s best for you. And as Beyoncé now knows — and you should, too — putting a ring on it is no guarantee.

Want to learn how to talk about monogamy? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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As a writer, nothing is more satisfying and affirming than when your writing positively impacts another person. Of course, the entire reason for writing The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels was to impact people — to make them think consciously about their romantic decisions. Which is why Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay this week was so gratifying — the University of British Columbia professor and author of the just-released book How to Fall in Love With Anyone, used our renewable marriage contract when moving in with her romantic partner.

As you can imagine, it got a lot of comments. Many were negative — but I would expect that. Trying something new and different is scary. Nevertheless, that’s what I wanted to address.

The contract reminded some commentors of the Roommate Agreement that Sheldon Cooper, of the popular TV show Big Bang Theory, created with Leonard Hofstadter that detailed their rights and responsibilities as friends and roommates, and that Sheldon attempted to create with his girlfriend, Amy. I never saw the show, but since that episode aired in 2015 and The New I Do was published in 2014, perhaps the show’s writers were inspired by our book as well. No way to know. In any event, the idea of a marriage contract dates back to at least the 1850s and they were always insisted on by the wives (and any woman who has ever lived with a man probably understands why).

Here are a few of the 286 comments her essay gathered that exemplify some of the main reasons people balk at a relationship contract.

It can’t shield you

Alexandra wrote:

Will your contract include what will happen when one of you loses a job, or has to deal with taking care of a sick parent, or gets cancer and faces insurmountable bills? Don’t get me wrong, communicating your expectations is a wonderful thing in a marriage, but you suppose everything you will deal with will be a routine matter, which can be solved by rational discussion. My marriage was tested when our first child died. There is no contract that can shield you from having to weather what life throws at you.

Alexandra is right — there indeed is no contract that can shield anyone from having to deal with whatever life throws your way. But that isn’t what the contract is for. It’s not a shield; it’s a baseline. So I answered her this way (which is similar to the way we address dealing with the unexpected in the book):

As the co-author of The New I Do, I understand exactly what you are saying, Alexandra — nothing prepares you for what life throws at you, and we mention that in the book. Much of life is unexpected. That said, having a baseline makes it that much easier to deal with the unexpected because you already explored it and perhaps agreed on a certain path, etc. When a crisis hits, no one even knows where to begin — it’s overwhelming. But a couple can certainly entertain the worst — what would we do if one of us becomes sick/disabled (open up our marriage, allow affairs, etc.? Would we have another baby if something happened to our child? What would we do if one of us lost his/her job and couldn’t find work? Exploring hard topics together is a great way to know your partner, and yourself, better.

Even if a couple discusses such things and puts it in writing, it still won’t guarantee anything. The contract isn’t a guarantee. But, because the contract needs to change as your life situation changes, it would, at the very least, force you to discuss the hard stuff. There’s no down side to that.

Sticking to the contract

Which leads me to Carmine. She writes:

Friends of mine had a marriage like this, everything spelled out and equally shared (especially finances.) Then they had children. After a few years, for various reasons, she realized that she needed to stay home with the children for a while. He insisted on sticking to the contract (especially about finances.) The divorce was very messy. Life is not always as rational as you would like it to be.

As I mentioned above, the contract must be tweaked as life situations change. The biggest life change in many couple’s lives is becoming parents. There’s so much to be discussed before you actually even start to get pregnant that there’s an entire chapter on it and a huge section in the prenup — I prefer to call it marital planning — chapter in the book. Carmine’s friends may have been able to avoid divorce, especially a messy one, if their contract detailed who was going to care for the kids. Believe me, that matters!

It’s not romantic

Jack’s comment names perhaps the biggest obstacle to creating a relationship contract: Romance. He writes:

I don’t think I could do what Mandy and Mark do, probably because I view it as unromantic and, frankly, it sounds a lot like Sheldon’s roommate agreement on The Big Bang Theory. But I developed a simple test for myself when I met a woman I really cared about. What drove me was the desire to be the best version of me I could be, to make her as happy in the relationship as I could. So I constantly ask myself one simple question: “Is this the best I can be?” Sometimes I simply have to admit that it’s not and change what I am doing or how I am doing it. So far it seems to be working. Or she is just a saint, sent down to save me.

Oh, Jack! I love romance, too! I’m really romantic, but to tweak a Tina Turner song, what’s romance got to do with it? I like that Jack is inspired to be the best person he can be for his partner; I believe that’s one of the best parts of having a happy, healthy relationship — being the best you you can be, not because you have to but because you choose to be. But that has nothing to do with romance. I want to be the best person I can be for my children and my friends, too. Because I care about them and love them. Romance, if we want to define it by the dictionary, is “a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.” I love excitement and mystery, but when it comes to committing myself to someone else, I will choose clarity, mutual consent and transparency to the day-to-day details that often destroy a relationship and leave the mystery to the parts that keep you attracted to him or her.

A woke relationship

That said, many readers got it. They understand how the good communication we always hear a relationship should have often gets misunderstood or ignored, and that just leads to frustration, disappointment and anger.

Zarvora wrote, “If I had read this when in my twenties, I would have dismissed it. At the age of 57, it sounds like genius.”

FirstTimeCommentor wrote: “A list is a clear way for both partners to know what’s most important for the other. Maybe it’s not romantic. Falling in love is romantic. Staying in love takes effort and communication is key.”

The Lorax wrote: “I find this incredibly romantic because it is way more dedicated to living with conscious commitment to each other every day than any artificial construct created by the wedding industrial complex.”

And Tom wrote: “I think their approach is brilliant. I too have been married 30 years and know from experience that mismatched/misunderstood expectations are the source of many conflicts. Often neither party knows what their own expectations are. Having a format and writing it down forces each person to think about what they really want, need and hope for longer term, beyond the heat of first love.”

Yes! To the readers who get it, thank you. To the readers who question the idea of a contract, well, it should be questioned. Everything related to love, romantic relationships and marriage needs to be questioned because, as the Lorax writes, questioning means you’re being conscious about what you’re doing. And that’s exactly what we ultimately want — to live and make decisions consciously. I don’t know any other way to do that other than questioning what you believe, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and exploring whether you’re doing it because you think you should instead of consciously choosing to do it.

What about you?

Want to learn how to create a relationship contract? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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Perhaps you grew up loving fairy tales, where the beautiful princess ends up living happily ever after with a handsome prince. Maybe you watch rom-coms where the guy and girl end up together despite impossible odds. Maybe you’re addicted to The Bachelor or The Bachelorette and what happens to the lucky couples. When love stories end predictably, how does that make you feel? How do you feel when they end unpredictably, like last year’s La La Land?

Maybe you’ve never thought much about it. Mandy Len Catron has. The English professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., loves love stories. Throughout her life, she  especially loved the love story of her parents, a meet cute between the new football coach and a cheerleader asked to interview him for the school newspaper. So when they divorced after three decades of marriage, when Catron was 26, she began to look deeper into her own nearly decade-long relationship, which was faltering, and what she thought she knew about love. In 2015, she wrote a Modern Love essay for The New York Times, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” — one of the most-read of the series — and now has a just-released book, How to Fall in Love With Anyone, part-memoir, part exploration about the love stories that we absorb and perhaps allow to dictate our ideas of what love “looks like.”

As she writes in her charming and engaging book:

For most of my life, I’d conceptualized love as something that happened to me. It isn’t merely the stories we tell about love that encourage this attitude, but the very words themselves. In love, we fall. We are struck, we are crushed. We swoon. We burn with passion. Love makes us crazy or it makes us sick. Our hearts ache and then they break. I wondered if this was how love had to work — or if I could take back some control. Science suggested that I could.

One thing she noticed when her Modern Love story, based on research by psychologist Arthur Aron, went viral was that people were eager to discover a “secret” to finding love:

[W]e prefer the short version of the story. My Modern Love column had become an oversimplified romantic fable suggesting there was an ideal way to experience love. It made love predictable, like a script you could follow.

Even Catron didn’t come to love her current partner until months after they tried Aron’s research themselves, when they’d gotten to know each other better. (As an aside, Catron and her partner used the questions posed in The New I Do to create a cohabitation contract that, she writes, “gave us a sense of control” as they merged their lives; Thank you, Mandy!)

Following the love script

We do, of course, have a love script of sorts — meet, date, fall in love, live together, marry, buy a house, have kids. It’s an outdated script; nowadays, many couples have kids first, or buy a house first while living together or apart, or never marry, or never have kids. The romantic script isn’t guiding us so well anymore — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is, as Catron beautifully explores in her book, we still buy into it. Our view of love is limited, something that her fellow UBC professor Carrie Jenkins explores in her book, What Love Is and What It Can Be.

In a recent Glamour article, Catron observes that, if we are going to continue to look to love stories to inform us, well, we’d better have access to better, more expansive and more diverse love stories.

What I wish I had as a teenager — and what I think we need more of in the world — are stories that avoid fetishizing love and attempt to reckon with it more honestly. Stories that widen our sense of what’s possible when you offer yourself to another person.

Yes!

I’ve not been as enamored with love stories as Catron has. Sure, I grew up with Disney fairy tales but I also grew up deeply influenced by the 1960s and the free-loving hippie culture. My parents’ love story, such as it was, didn’t seem all that romantic to me as a young girl: my dad’s sister ran into my mom in the elevator of a Bronx apartment, asked if she was single (she was) and told her she should meet her brother. She did, and six months later they married. It wasn’t until many years later, after my mom had died and my dad was in a nursing home and I was cleaning out their condo that I found letters written by men to my mom, responses to an ad her uncle had no doubt placed, looking for a husband for her. She was 19 at the time and an orphan, a Holocaust survivor with limited schooling and skills, an immigrant who most likely needed a husband because she couldn’t live with her aunt and uncle forever. It’s also when I found sweet love poems my father had written to her, acknowledging her “sad eyes.” But by then, I knew the reality of their love story — it was more complicated than romantic.

It’s true that I was the kind of gal who always had a boyfriend around and that the traditional love script was the only one I knew. But now, after I married and divorced twice, and have a pretty full life — financial security (more or less), a house, kids, a career, a group of amazing gal pals I call the Lovelies and on whom I can depend — the traditional love script seems unnecessary. Live together? Marry? Buy a house together? What for?

No guarantees

The gift, if we can call it that, of getting divorced after X-number of years of marriage is that it often makes us question the script that we put so much faith and hope into when we’re just trying to figure love out. Again, that’s not a bad thing; why wouldn’t we want to question it? But it’s not encouraged or even suggested when we’re young and thinking about romantic love and marriage — we often don’t understand that we have choices and there’s no right or wrong choice as long as we’re making it consciously. And that’s the problem. As Catron writes of her parents’ divorce:

Divorce was the wrong ending, one I hadn’t even considered possible. For so long I thought of romantic love as a virtue, a moral triumph, a reward for people who made good life choices. But my parents’ divorce suggested that there were no guarantees in love, not even for the best and most devoted among us, or those of us with the perfect story.

How true! There are no guarantees in love — or anything else, I might add, besides the proverbial cliche — taxes and death — so you can forget about divorce- or affair-proofing a marriage. You can’t. Just be kind, generous and loving, and hope for the best.

Still, Catron suggests we’d all be better off if our love stories weren’t so narrow and constricted. Not to say that we have to be relationship anarchists and make all relationships equal. But we might want to at least tell stories and show models of love that don’t look so predictable, that speak more to the way we actually live and love instead of some idealized and often unsatisfying or unsustainable version of it, stories that recognize that loving relationships are as varied and beautifully complicated as we humans are.

Which is why what Catron writes resonates with me more than anything lately:

Sometimes I wonder if I would’ve loved differently if I’d had more stories like these. If our love stories tell us how a life can go, it would’ve been nice to have had a few more scripts to draw from. Maybe then I would’ve spent less time worrying if I was doing love right and more time thinking about what exactly I wanted from my experience. In fact, I wonder what the world would be like if we all consumed more nuanced, diverse stories of love. Maybe we would stop thinking about love as something that happens to us, and start thinking about it as something we get to offer another person, thoughtfully and with generosity. Or maybe we’d just have more interesting stories about what it means to be human.

Well, there’s no way to know. Yes, we may have loved differently — in fact, we most definitely would have loved differently — but it doesn’t necessarily mean it would be better, easier or more fulfilling. But spending more time thinking about what we want from the experience — that’s key.

Imagine what it would be like if we saw love as “something we get to offer another person, thoughtfully and with generosity.” How would that change your view about love?

Want to have a marriage that’s thoughtful? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

 

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In a brilliant essay in the New York Times this past weekend, “America Made Me a Feminist,” former supermodel Paulina Porizkova wrote about how women are treated around the world, or at least the countries she’s lived in, and in America.

Moving to France after living in Sweden for a number of years, where women and men are equal, she was disturbed by how men treated her — even though opening doors and offering to pay for dinner seem innocent enough:

They seemed to think I was too delicate, or too stupid, to take care of myself. Instead of feeling celebrated, I felt patronized. I claimed my power the way I had learned in Sweden: by being sexually assertive. But Frenchmen don’t work this way. In discos, I’d set my eye on an attractive stranger, and then dance my way over to let him know he was a chosen one. More often than not, he fled. And when he didn’t run, he asked how much I charged.

American men, we are led to believe, are similar — they’re turned off by women who own their sexuality. Their loss!

But what struck me most in Porizkova’s article was an interpretation of female empowerment that I find disturbing — while French women promote wearing lingerie and acting like mistresses to keep their romances alive, there’s an ulterior motive:

In France, women did have power, but a secret one, like a hidden stiletto knife. It was all about manipulation: the sexy vixen luring the man to do her bidding.

It caught my eye because in Jo Piazza’s book How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, she also talks about how women manipulate men, sometimes because they were living in machismo societies but not always.

Gals, boost that male ego

More than a few women in Chile, France and elsewhere told her that wives need to boost men’s egos and be softer, if not quite submissive — a message American women hear a lot from conservative writers (I’m thinking of you, Suzanne Venker) and that’s overwhelmingly upsetting to feminists. But, as Piazza notes, those women had the power and influenced their — presumably unknowing — husband’s behavior.

“The word submission sucks. I will say at least right now, the male ego, it’s still a real thing despite the fact that I’m married to a feminist man,” she told me. “I think we can look at it in a different way. Everyone, whether a man or a woman, wants to feel needed in a relationship.”

Sure, everyone wants to feel needed in a relationship. Men have egos and so do women. But must stroking them be so manipulative? Is this really what women want to do, or think they should do? Wouldn’t we prefer to be honest (in a kind and loving way) instead of putting on some sort of act to boost our partner’s ego and get our needs met? Wouldn’t our partners prefer that as well? Or is this somehow a win-win proposition?

And that’s where it seems to get confusing.

Empowering femininity

Femininity and feminism are incompatible, writes Laura Kipnis in The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability. But, interestingly enough, she writes that femininity itself is as much of an “empowerment program for women” as “you go, girl” feminism is (and a case has been made that the sexual manipulation perfected by the femme fatale may be the most feminist move of all):

Appearances to the contrary, femininity was never about being some kind of delicate flower; it was tactical: a way of securing resources and positioning women as advantageously as possible on an uneven playing field, given the historical inequalities and anatomical disparities that make up the wonderful female condition. Femininity was the method for creatively transforming female disadvantages into advantages, basically by doing what it took to form strategic alliances with men: enhancing women’s appeal and sexual attractiveness with time-honored stratagems like ritual displays of female incompetence aimed at subtly propping up men’s (occasionally less than secure) sense of masculine prowess. Thus, lacking body mass, women made a virtue out of delicacy (often a rather steely delicacy); stuck with not just bearing but also raising the children, women promoted the sanctity of motherhood; deprived of upper-body strength, women made men carry things; afflicted by capricious hormonal fluctuations, women used crying as a form of interpersonal leverage; restricted from the public sphere, women commandeered domestic life; shut out of decent employment, gals adopted a “pay-to-play” strategy-men had to pay for sex, with dinners, rings, and homes. Men are also required to kill spiders. All this took some considerable effort: achieving what looks like a passive aim often requires large amounts of activity, as someone once said. (Okay, it was Freud.) The point is that femininity assumes that the world isn’t going to change and endeavors to secure advantages for women on that basis.

That seems kind of sucky, too. (Kipnis laments the fact that today’s femininity is always about women somehow being deficient, thus the never-ending advice on how we can be better.)

But, as Julia Serano writes in Ms. magazine, femininity doesn’t always — or even ever — have anything to do with men. Why can’t women be feminine because it pleases them and no one else?

I consider myself to be feminine — I love being a woman — but I’m also a feminist; what frees women frees men. I don’t believe I’ve ever taken part in the “pay-to-play” strategy; I’ve even killed some spiders on my own (or, more likely, released them into the wild)! At midlife, I date because I enjoy male company and sex — I’m not looking for anything more. Is my femininity manipulative?

Valuing femininity

But it is true that men do seem to value femininity. According to one study, “Men who perceived female partners as more responsive also perceived them as more feminine, and more attractive.” And, as I’ve written before, many men seem to prefer women who do what most women do well — nurture.

Some men — often the MGTOW guys — lament a perceived belief that American women aren’t feminine anymore (that darn feminism!); some say they prefer women from countries like Asia or Russia, believing they’re easier to please and more submissive. Honestly, guys, I’d been really concerned about that kind of femininity.

So my question is, is being feminine today somehow manipulative? And would men happily accept that manipulation if they got what they wanted out of the relationship — a sexy, giving, ego-boosting, nurturing “looks and acts like a woman” woman?

Want to get your need met without being manipulative or manipulated? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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