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When Andrew Dice Clay announced that he was divorcing his third wife, Valerie Silverstein, recently, I had to do a double-take on his reason:

“The word ‘marriage’ was putting a pressure on our relationship and since we filed, we’ve been more in love and have had more respect for each other than ever before.”

OK, maybe that’s the kind of thing that we should expect from “America’s most controversial and outrageous comic of all time,” which is how Clay describes himself. It certainly is confusing and perhaps controversial. Divorce to save marriage

But it also speaks to bigger issues that fall under the umbrella of the word “marriage” and that couples may not be fully aware of when they say, “I do.”

Let’s start with the idea of being a wife or a husband. As I’ve written about before, how marriage is experienced depends a lot on whether you’re the wife or the husband. Even though there are more ways to be a married couple than ever before, including blended families and families in which the dad stays at home and mom’s the breadwinner, we still tend to fall into gendered expectations when we heard the word “wife” — she’s responsible for the home and kids, even if she works outside the home full time — and “husband” — isn’t he the provider?

Since women tend to do more of the emotional care-taking in a relationship — which rarely gets acknowledged let alone appreciated — women often feel overwhelmed.

And the men? According to Helen Smith, author of Men On Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream — And Why It Matters, husbands don’t fare much better — when men marry they lose respect, they lose out on sex, they lose freedom (well, women do, too), and they could lose it all if they end up divorced.

Speaking about sex (because I like to), we assume when a couple gets together that they will be monogamous. As Susan Pease Gadoua and I write in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebel, there are few healthy models of non-monogamous relationships — you’re either cheating or you’re promiscuous, so few couples that tie the knot are openly, honestly and consciously choosing to be monogamous. Monogamy is a societal expectation, one we internalize., but it really should be seen for what it is — a choice. Some people just don’t do well with monogamy, try as they might. But try to tell a potential romantic partner that, and …

Then there is the whole taking each other for granted thing that often comes from living under the same roof. You don’t have to be married to experience that, either, as Susan Sarandon mentioned when she split from longtime partner Tim Robbins:

“I thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily. I don’t know if after twenty-something years that was still true.”

Yet when you are around someone, even someone you love deeply, little annoyances can build into bigger ones and before you know it, one or the other of you is angry and resentful.

Finally, there is the happily-ever-after fairy-tale version of marriage that’s sold to us, of finding The One — someone who will fulfill all our needs and desires, while also being an equal partner, etc., etc.

There’s no way to know if any of this applies to Clay and his wife (and since she’s wife No. 3, Clay at least should be well aware that marriage is not a fairy-tale!) They split, they say they love each other  and they plan to be together forever. Will removing the weight of being married really change that?

As therapist and author Jane Greer brings up:

“(M)arriage in and of itself can carry weighty assumptions about what each partner expects from the other person, and that can sometimes create resentment and disappointment if one or the other partner is not living up to them. What starts out as a choice with you wanting to please your partner can turn into a demand with you feeling like you have to, and it can feel like an obligation which can add extra stress. … While marriage remains the traditional path, it is not the only one. What matters most is how devoted and bonded you are to your partner and that you continue to choose to be with him or her.”

I agree with Greer — what matters, ultimately, is whether you feel “devoted and bonded” to your partner and that “you continue to choose to be with him or her.” You don’t have to be married to experience that. In that light, getting a divorce to remove the expectations that the institution and society place on it makes sense, despite how convoluted that sounds. But what we propose in The New I Do sounds better to me — if you are unhappy with the marital contract you have, change it. Each of us has the power to create the romantic relationships we want. Rather than divorce or “work” on your marriage — which is expecting something different to suddenly occur by having a date night or having more sex, etc.,  despite being stuck in the same marital model — why not reinvent it?

If your marriage isn’t working, do something different. Andrew Dice Clay did, although divorce alone won’t make a relationship better.

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There are lots of different reasons why couples call it quits but no matter how or why, all divorced people have one thing in common — being asked, “So, why did you get divorced?”

It isn’t necessarily a bad question: sometimes the answer helps people gauge their own relationships. Often, the answer illuminates the divorced person’s character and “issues,” especially to a potential new love. As a journalist I’m used to tough questions, but that one is particularly awkward for me because of how I have to answer: “Which time?”

I have been married and divorced more than once — twice, in fact — and that alone is enough to give many people pause, without even knowing the whys. They’re quick to assume what they consider the obvious, that I must be pretty crappy marriage material because I “failed” at two of them. Perhaps I fall for the “wrong” kind of men. Or, more likely, something must be very “wrong” with me. Or I don’t understand what commitment in a marriage means. Maybe all of the above. divorcee_remarriage

Serial marriages aren’t that uncommon, especially among celebs — Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Larry King come to mind. But, we know that the rich and famous are not like us — we expect all sorts of marital drama from them, and are more surprised by a marriage like the late Patrick Swayze’s, who was together with wife Lisa Niemi for 34 years before he passed away.

Still, even they’re not exempt from raised eyebrows.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s rocky marital history — he’s now on wife No. 3, Judith — was well known when he he threw his hat into the presidential ring in 2008. “I’m a human being. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect,” was how he explained things. Poor Judith, however; her admission that Rudy was her third husband set the tabloids on fire. That’s why she waited until after he announced his intention to run for president to mention it. She feared judgment; she “failed” two marriages, after all — what’s wrong with her?

Which is why I find answering “So, why did you get divorced?” so awkward.

People tend to blame divorces on the women, just as surely as they notice a messy or dirty home and fault the wife for her shoddy housekeeping. Aren’t wives the ones who say “I want a divorce” two-thirds of the time? Don’t women have unrealistic expectations about marriage? Aren’t unhappy wives who want a divorce selfish for putting their needs before their children’s? And aren’t all ex-wives psychos, gold-diggers, princesses and all-around b-words?

OK, some are. But most aren’t.

All people who have been married and divorced a few times are suspect, but women perhaps a little more so — just like women who sleep around are considered sluts or cougars while men who do are called, well, lucky. And about 20 percent of us marry more than once.

I feel a lot like Rudy when it comes to explaining my first marriage. I wed just a few months shy of my 21st birthday, a Starter Marriage (which we talk about in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels)what did I know? “I’m a human being. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect.” I married way too young for all the wrong reasons because I didn’t have any reason other than, “But we’re in love!” That’s not enough to sustain a marriage.

When I married again several years later, I thought I was a much more mature and self-aware woman. Evidently not, although somewhere between 60 percent and 70 percent of second marriages end so the odds were stacked against me anyway. But that marriage lasted 14 years and gave me two wonderful children. Although I didn’t want to be a cliche — a 40-something divorced mom — stuff happened and we couldn’t work it out. So we split, our own version of conscious uncoupling because we’ve been kind to each other and ourselves so we could co-parent our boys well.

It’s easy to point the finger at the ex — once. But if you’ve been married and divorced several times, people are onto that game. Just like it takes two people to make a good marriage, it takes two to make a troubled one. So I’ve spent a lot of time since my second divorce looking at what I’ve brought to the marital table and why, and what I want to change. Now I truly am a more mature and self-aware woman.

Which, obviously, makes me poised to be The Perfect Wife. Too bad I’m not going for marriage No. 3.

  • Have you been divorced more than once?
  • What kind of comments have you heard from people about that?
  • Do you believe people who are divorced more than once are somehow damaged?



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Loss. There’s been so much of it lately it’s become my most despised four-letter word. The death of my mother in 2010 and my father last year, resulting in the loss of contact with my only sibling (this is probably a healthy loss, however, but a loss nonetheless), the loss of an eight-year relationship late last year and now the sudden loss of my beloved dog, Harley.

In my late 50s, I am sliding into the age of loss — there will be more of it ahead and I’d better get used to it. Harley

My parents were in their 80s when they passed away; their death should not have been a surprise and it wasn’t. I just wasn’t ready, although I was in a good and loving place with both of them when they died. Same with Harley, who at 14 was geriatric; my first dog, Teddy, died at 15, just a year older than she, and I had to put my dog Forest (yes, I was a hippie) to sleep when he was only about 6 years old. But the discovery of Harley’s tumors and the gut-wrenching decision to put her to sleep that same day, just this past Sunday, was so sudden and unexpected that it caught me off guard.

Ah, but when does loss arrive when we expect it, when it’s convenient for us, when we’ve said all we’ve wanted to say to a loved one — how we’ve messed up, how we’re sorry for any pain we caused him or her, that we forgive any pain he/she caused us, how much we loved and treasured him/her. And perhaps a request not to mourn, but to celebrate all that was wonderful and giving and kind and loving and good between the two of you. I have to think that happens, but rarely. A loved one goes away, and we are left with trying to sort out our complicated feelings and regrets, sometimes still holding anger and resentments. But it’s too late — we’ve lost the chance to have our say, to make amends, to come to resolution, to ask “Why?” Now what?

That’s why I repeatedly tell my kids how much I love them, how proud I am of them, how sorry I am for my failings as a mom. Just in case.

Living with the reality of loss and death — and our absolute fear of that — can keep us from getting close to others. I remember reading Irving D. Yalom’s wonderful book Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy in which he outlines the  fundamental fears that drive most of us to seek therapy (and that cause us the most angst). One is the fear of the finality of death and the recognition that, yes, we are born alone and will die alone. That fear often leads us to keep others at a distance so we can “avoid” the pain of loss, instead creating barriers that keep us from actually creating meaningful and authentic relationships with our loved ones, which in turn amps up our anxiety about dying alone. Talk about a vicious circle!

But you can’t quite do that with a pet or with your children. I think relationships that put you in the role of caregiver demand that you do what you have to do, even if you fear that they could be gone any second. My dog would not live without me feeding her, walking her, caring for her. How could I keep her at a distance emotionally? Same with my kids, especially when they were young and so needy. (Granted, there are terrible parents and pet guardians in the world.) It’s not that way with the people we fall in love with, however — they can and do live without us, despite our beliefs that they can’t (or that our absence will leave some permanent hole or scar in them). They often find new love and while it may not be the same love, it can sometimes be better.

That is why marital vows feel somewhat like an illusion and create an aura of permanence when there is none. People break promises — and a marital vow is just a promise after all, an intention — all the time. We would like to think that we can guarantee that things will stay the same forever, that just because we call someone “my husband” or “my wife” means we don’t have to care-take the relationship, or that  if we do X, Y and Z we can somehow divorce-proof or affair-proof a marriage, but we can’t — not unless we can control a partner’s actions and none of us can do that. Loss is part of the equation of love. As soon as we learn to be comfortable with that, embrace it even, the more authentic the relationships we’ll have.

“I war against magic,” Yalom says. “I believe that, though illusion often cheers and comforts, it ultimately and invariably weakens and constricts the spirit.”

So much for romantic fairy tales about marriage and love.

A recent study confirms that illusion is dangerous to love — wives who are overly optimistic about their marriage have the steepest declines in marital satisfaction, have lower self-esteem and are more stressed and physically aggressive toward their hubby.

The illusion that we can love fully and deeply without the possibility of loss, of things changing, weakens and constricts us, and makes us approach our romantic relationships with fear. Everyone loses.

I didn’t worry about losing my dog — I just loved her and cared for her because I both had to and wanted to. Her loss is devastating, but at least I can say that she was loved — and I felt her love, too. That alone is precious.

  • How comfortable are you with the reality of loss?
  • Does fear of loss keep you from being fully present in love?




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I am not a single mom — I’m a divorced coparenting mom who has had 50-50 joint physical custody, and even that has had its share of challenges. When I think of single parents by choice, I shudder a bit. I just can’t imagine beginning responsible for a baby or child 24/7 all by myself (unless I was rich and could afford all sorts of support). Single mom by choice

Yet when I talked to Fertility Planit founder Karin Thayer, a single mom by choice who wanted a partner but things just didn’t work out that way, she shared with me what another single mom by choice told her — it’s easier. Consider:

  • You can do things your way.
  • There’s no conflict in the house (well, wait until your kids become teens!)
  • You don’t have to compromise on parenting styles, immunizations, circumcision, etc.
  • There’s no romantic drama.
  • There’s no chance of divorce, custody battle and lingering bad feelings.

The list goes on and on.

In an article in Slate two years ago, Jessica Olien, who was raised by a single mom (whose husband split and was in and out of his daughter’s life, wrote that she really doesn’t want to have to deal with the complications of a romantic partner:

Being a single parent by choice would mean not having to deal with another person’s sets of demands or expectations of what child-rearing means. I wouldn’t burden a child with the emotional baggage of divorce or the highs and lows of an unhappy relationship. It would just be the two of us and a supporting cast of extended family. … Perhaps all of this sounds selfish to some people, but there is no conclusive evidence that I would be giving a child any less possibility for success than a kid with two parents, as long as I am mature and have the financial means.

(And not wanting to “deal with another person’s sets of demands or expectations” sounds a lot like why many people would rather connect to technology than other people).

But there have been many other articles, whether on the Huffington Post or Parents or the Daily Mail — typically by divorced moms but there are many single or divorced dads, too — who insist it’s easier to raise kids alone. A Babytalk poll that asked who has it harder, single moms or married moms (assuming you are not poor) seems to back up that theory: Almost two-thirds of all the unmarried moms agreed that it’s sometimes easier not to have a husband:

Sixty-two percent believe they bicker less with their better halves over how to raise the kids; 55 percent are glad they don’t have to worry about working on their marriages, too; and 38 percent feel freer to follow their own dreams.

All of that sounds sort of intriguing. Since studies indicate how damaging parental conflict is to kids, the thought of raising children in a conflict-free house sounds more than intriguing — it actually sounds preferable.

Still, if you don’t have help or a good support system, it just has to be exhausting to be a single parent with no coparenting help, and even those who chose that admit to it. That’s why more people are interested in coparenting arrangements that don’t involve romantic love or even a live-in partner. As odd as that may sound, you do not have to love your coparent to raise healthy, happy kids together (just ask any divorced coparenting mom or dad). Kids just need a stable, secure and loving (to them) environment. While gays and lesbians figured this out years ago, it’s starting to catch on with heteros, thanks to websites like Modamily, which connects singles who want to have a child together but that’s it.

Modamily’s founder, Ivan Fatovic, is among the speakers at Friday and Saturday’s Fertility Planit Los Angeles 2014 conference. He’ll be talking about how coparenting as two singletons works. Susan Pease Gadoua, my The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels co-author, and I also will be at the conference, talking about the stresses of life after baby — which is even harder for those who have struggled just to create a family — as well as how to renegotiate your marital contract to a Parenting Marriage, one of the marital models in our book. It’s similar to the Modamily model, except our Parenting Model is within the confines of marriage (because our book is about redefining marriage).

As for solo parenting, I am extremely thankful that I had my former spouse around to coparent our boys — the time they spent with their dad gave me a much-needed break to refuel and focus on my own needs (and clean the house after a week with two boys!). It also helped financially. More important, the boys had their dad around, and I believe fathers are important.

What about you?

  • Would you become/are you a single parent by choice?
  • Would you rather parent solo? Why/why not?
  • Can financially secure single parents raise healthy, happy children?


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The news this week was that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay front man Chris Martin are splitting, or as they put it “conscious uncoupling.”

In a joint statement, the couple that married in 2003 said:

“We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

So what’s conscious uncoupling? According to Paltrow’s lifestyle guru Dr. Habib Sadeghi: conscious uncoupling

“A conscious un-coupling is the ability to under-stand that every irritation and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify a negative internal object that needed healing … From this perspective, there are no bad guys, just two people, each playing teacher and student respectively.”

It isn’t too hard to guess what their divorce might look like; if you’re doing anything consciously, that means you are putting thought and care into your actions  — and that is exactly what should happen during a split (and conscious coupling is what Susan Pease Gadoua and I promote in our book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels). And if there are no “bad guys,” no one’s pointing fingers and laying blame. That matters a lot because study after study have confirmed that it’s parental conflict — not divorce per se — that hurts children, and the couple have two, Apple, 9, and Moses, 7.

What I like about the idea of conscious uncoupling is that does not have the stigma of “failure” attached to it. People tend to see a marriage that ends in divorce as a failed marriage even though not every ending is a failure.

And, sadly, people still say they feel a sense of shame if their marriage ends, and some 46 percent of those who do divorce feel they face “daily judgment” from others because their marriage ended.

I did a Google search to learn more about conscious uncoupling and stumbled upon Katherine Woodward Thomas, creator of a five-week conscious uncoupling program and evidently the woman who created the concept. She says we need to rethink the heartbreak we feel when a romance ends:

“The problem is that we’ve all been taught to end our relationships in ways that often guarantee just these kinds of painful results. … The end of your relationship doesn’t need to be a painful ‘breakup.’ It can simply be a completion, and it can also be a wonderful transition into the next stage of your life . . . and your next relationship.”

Few would say that divorce is “wonderful,” but it’s true that it can lead to a happier, healthier life. After all, many men marry again successfully and many women focus on nurturing themselves after years of care-taking kids and husbands and find new partners as well. There shouldn’t be any shame or sense of failure for turning an ending into a new beginning.

While it’s always hard to divorce when there are young kids, Paltrow’s and Martin’s emphasis on being good co-parents is also essential, and it’s much, much easier to do that if you can be kind and loving to your former spouse. And it looks like that’s how they’re handling it.

I imagine some may make fun of their conscious uncoupling; for some reason, Paltrow is unpopular in some circles. But I love the idea of conscious uncoupling and wish more people would think that way, not only for their own sake, but also for their loved ones.

  • What do you think of conscious uncoupling?
  • Could you end a romance with compassion for your former partner?
  • Do you see every breakup as a “failure”?

Photo © holwichaikawee/Fotolia.com

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My The New I Do coauthor Susan Pease Gadoua and I gave a workshop on dating at the Marin Teen Girls conference this past Saturday, and the room was packed. Fifty high school girls had gathered and they had questions. Lots of questions, smart questions, about sex and friendships and boundaries and cheating.

I haven’t been a teen girl in more decades than I’d like to admit, but I sure remember those confusing days. My heart ached for them a little.

It was clear that they were looking for black-and-white answers so they’d know, but of course the world is many shades of gray (beyond 50, if you ask me), especially when it comes to love and relationships. And that became evident when one girl asked if it was OK for girls to ask a boy out.  shoud women ask men out?

Susan said nope; she believes men like to pursue women, and in her experience whenever she made the move it failed miserably.

I disagreed, sorta kinda. I have often approached a man who seemed attractive, whether in person or online, and flirted in the hopes that there would be mutual attraction and some sort of indication that we’d talk more and/or meet. (Granted, I was so shy as a teenager I doubt I would have been able to have pulled that off well, if at all.) If I have to wait around for attractive men to somehow find me, I feel that I’m losing potential opportunities to get to know men I might be interested in and who might be interested in me. It limits my mating pool, so to speak.

That said, I have not nor would I directly ask a man out; all I do is create the opportunity for a man to take the initiative. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, and that’s OK. I haven’t lost much by trying.

But it did get me thinking — do men still want to be the ones who pursue women or would they be relieved to have an attractive woman make the first move?

Dating coach Evan Marc Katz says absolutely not:

Women asking men on first dates can be taken as aggressive, desperate, and masculine. At the very least, it can signify a loss of power. So I wouldn’t recommend that you ever utter the words, “Would you like to go out with me?” to any men.

He suggests women do exactly what I have done — create an opportunity for the man to act on your obvious interest.

At Psychology Today, Jen Kim says you should feel free to what feels comfortable for you:

If your gut tells you that a guy is interested, but really shy, then follow your intuition. Each potential date is different—so while you may feel comfortable about asking Jim out, you may not feel the same way for Mike. What does comfortable mean, exactly? Typically, it means you are relatively certain his answer is going to be “yes”.

eHarmony suggests that there are times when a woman should make the first move:

It is actually good practice to step up and take the initiative, which can translate to different aspects of your life. Keep in mind that asking a man out on a date does not imply that you are an insolent tart. In fact, it sends a confident message that you know what you want and are able to ask for it.

And that — the ability to take initiative — is something women can be pretty bad at, mostly because we have been raised to be pleasers. Men say they like confident women, but I guess we can’t be too confident!  Yet, I think women would benefit by experiencing some of the rejection men face all the time when it comes to dates. And it’s nice to have a little more power in our mate choices.

If seems somewhat ironic to me that a conference that was “empowering” girls (sorry, I just hate that word) to be all they can be with all sorts of positive messages — Go for it! You can do it! You are awesome! — also lets them know that there actually are limits to that empowerment, sorry. Telling girls they shouldn’t be bold with a guy they like perpetuates old gendered stereotypes that will keep all of us trapped. No wonder why girls — as well as boys, women and men — are confused.

So, where does that leave us?

I don’t know. You tell me …

  • Men, do you want women to ask you out? Why/why not?
  • Women, do you ask men out? Why/why not?
  • Are we perpetuating gendered stereotypes with the messages we tell our sons and daughters?



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Your friend tells you he’s getting divorced. You’re shocked because he and his wife always seemed like the perfect couple. You’re worried for them and their young kids, and their divorce causes you to reflect about a lot of things you’ve observed about marriage.

You know enough from your own parents’ divorce how unhappy things can be for the kids, how emotionally and financially hard it can be for one spouse or the other, how even a “good” divorce can be fraught with complications once new loves arrive on the scene.  Divorce affects community

Beyond that, they’re the third couple in your circle of friends to divorce in the past year. You start to question your own marriage — are we next? Are we being blind to our own issues, not so different from those of our friends? Are we truly as happy and committed as we say we are, or others believe us to be?

You feel somewhat helpless but anxious: What do you do? What should you do? What can you do, if anything? Still, you know that some marriages can’t — and shouldn’t — be salvaged.

We wed in a great public display of love and commitment. Divorce, however, is a totally private and personal event. But, is it really?

Perhaps not, suggests M. Christian Green, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and a former lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. Divorce doesn’t just affect a couple and their immediate family; friends, neighbors and entire communities are impacted as well, she writes in “There But for the Grace: The Ethics of Bystanders to Divorce,” an article in the Institute for American Values’ newsletter, “Propositions.”

Green suggests it may be wrong to view divorce as merely a personal choice with limited impacts. In looking at “the public effects of the divorce revolution, its implications for both the moral formation of individuals and the well-being of society, and what, if anything, organizations of government and civil society should do,” divorce might be better seen as a decision that has far greater implications, she says. Like other so-called private actions, divorce may have “wider, sometimes unintended and unanticipated, effects on surrounding communities and the wider society,” she states.

Do others who witness a divorce experience a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment? Does this witness produce bystander anxiety? Does it produce something like survivor’s guilt? How does witnessing the divorce and family disruption of others affect the bystander’s own worldview when it comes to normative images of marriage, family, society and self? Extending the circle of bystanders even further, what effect does the witness of divorce have on society as a whole? Has the divorce culture produced a kind of cultural trauma?

It’s clear the “divorce revolution” is impacting 20- and 30-somethings, especially men, many who are delaying or avoiding marriage altogether. According to a recent Pew study, although 69 percent of unmarried Millennials say they would like to marry one day, many struggle with having a solid economic foundation first, which they believe is essential.

Green cites studies that suggest divorce is somewhat contagious, not in a disease sort of way, but in its ripple effect — one couple’s divorce can influence divorce among siblings, friends, neighbors and even co-workers. In addition to “contagion” theories, there’s the “generational dimension” — adult children of divorce tend to divorce, too.

Finally, she says, the breakup of a family may be no different than other trauma, such as war, terrorism, genocide, natural disasters and unemployment, in a child’s eyes. Green suggests our current definition of cultural trauma — although “controversial and contested” — is broad enough to include divorce. A child of divorce may experience the same economic deprivation, relocation, shame, guilt and memories that “shape moral formation” as those who have experienced other traumas.

(Of course, relieving people from the shame and guilt associated with divorce is one of the reasons Susan Pease Gadoua and I are writing The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Romantics, Realists and Rebels. Why must there be shame if you’re in a bad marriage? Why must there be guilt if your marriage should not last lifelong for any number of reasons?)

But in Green’s eyes, all of us are impacted by divorce, even if it’s not our own.

“(W)hen we bring research on divorce into conversation with rich, emerging bodies of work on social contagion and cultural trauma, we see that bystander effects, while indirect and diffuse, may be no less real or consequential, and that they beckon us to individual and collective reflection on the broader effects of the ‘divorce revolution.’”

Does that mean we, as bystanders, have a right to ask more of those who may be considering divorce? Should couples think beyond their own needs and desires when they weigh the pros and cons of dissolving their family? Should bystanders — you, me, bosses, friends, neighbors and family — have any say in a couple’s divorce?

It would seem somewhat crazy to tell a friend or even a sibling that his divorce is not only causing you distress, but that it also may put ideas into your spouse’s head, which may lead to your own divorce, thus impacting your kid’s “moral formation” — and could he please just give counseling one more try? After all, his divorce is none of our business.

But, perhaps it is.

What do you think?

Photo © tene/Fotolia.com

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I caught up with a friend over coffee recently, and we eventually got around to what was going on in our love life. The last time we saw each other, he was wrestling with the desire to have kids of his own one day and his relationship with a wonderful woman whose kids are older and isn’t interested in having any more, and I was with the same partner I’d been with for eight years, which recently ended.

What happened, he wondered.  intimacy

Among other things, I told him, we’d flat-lined on intimacy.

“Only women talk about intimacy,” he answered, adding that his girlfriend (they are still together) has told him she also wants more intimacy.

It reminded me of a conversation my then-partner and I had  a few months before we split, in which I expressed the same thing.

“What is intimacy?” he asked me.

As I sat on my friend’s cozy couch, I wondered if my friend was indeed right, that only women talk in terns of intimacy. Are women the only ones who understand intimacy and have a higher need for it? Or, do women tend to overanalyze relationships?

According to the dictionary, intimacy means a “close or warm friendship or understanding; personal relationship,” “a feeling of being intimate and belonging together” and “sexual relations.” All of those descriptions seem somewhat vague, making me realize that what I was asking for wasn’t more sex (we were doing just fine), getting warmer (we were affectionate although there was no PDA) or belonging together (we didn’t live together but we were committed to the relationship). What I wanted was a feeling of “we” instead of “you and I” — an expansion of the idea of belonging together — but I’m not sure that’s universally understood when people talk about increasing intimacy. But that was what I wanted, and I wish I had expressed it that way as opposed to the vague idea of intimacy.

Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher acknowledges that men and women define intimacy differently:

To women, intimacy is talking face-to-face — a behavior that probably evolved millions of years ago when ancestral females spent their days holding their infants up in front of them, soothing them with words. Men, however, often regard intimacy as working or playing side-by-side. Sure, they might discuss a bad week at work, even troubles in their love lives. But rarely do they share their secret dreams and darkest fears. (When they do, they often use “joke speak,” camouflaging their feelings with humor.) And men almost never look deeply into each other’s eyes.

Beyond differences in how they define intimacy, men tend to score higher on a Fear-of-Intimacy Scale. One therapist observes that men who have had previous relationship trauma, have OCD, paranoid or depressive symptoms, or who have secret addictions often fear going deeper in relationships.

Others say society doesn’t support men’s vulnerability:

Because men are taught to be competitive, strong, never cry and not show emotion they may either buy into this wholeheartedly or consider all intimacy creating activities as weak and stupid or they may feel like a fraud for having feelings and sensitivity at all. Men will carry feelings of inadequacy to the grave rather than admit how they really feel.

I have known some men who have deep friendships with other men, not just sports or drinking buddies but men with whom they can reveal their true selves, warts and all (and I always gravitate toward men like that). Clearly, some men are able to be intimate with other men although those men are few. Sociologist Lisa Wade has found that “adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships.”
Men, she says, want the same level of intimacy as women do and define it the same way: “emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them.” But they aren’t getting it.
To get it, guys will have to be willing to “confess their insecurities, be kind to others, have empathy and sometimes sacrifice their own self-interest,” she says. In other words, take risks with other men.
If they’re able to do that, just think how it will also improve relationships between men and women (let alone be happier).
    • Men, are you able to be intimate with men?
    • With women?
    • Women, have you had trouble finding men who can be intimate?
    • How do you define intimacy?

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Should women make men wait to have sex?

There’s been a flurry of discussion lately about that lately, first with the release of a video “The Economics of Sex” by the Austin Institute, a new academic initiative that conducts research on family, marriage and relationships (you can watch it below).  I am quite leary about the institute’s agenda as one of the researchers is none other than Mark Regnerus, who admits to using bad data to support his theory that gay parents and marriage is bad for kids. How much should we trust the institute’s research? women seduce men

Then dating coach Evan Mark Katz, whose advice I generally agree with, posted on Facebook and followed up with a blog post on why women should make men wait for sex. He links to the video and writes:

(W)omen teach men how to treat them. And if, due to equality, birth-control, libido, societal acceptance, and insecurity, many women are willing to have sex with men who don’t call, pay, commit, or make an effort, then those women are essentially teaching men that they do not have to behave well to procure sex. … My advice is not to tell men that they shouldn’t sleep with women; it’s to tell women that you must have men make a greater investment in you as individuals before having sex. … You want to find out if a man is serious about you? Wait to have sex with him. If you don’t – because you’re a liberated woman who can have sex whenever you damn well please – don’t be too surprised if a decent percentage of those men never call again.

Then he advises anyone who cares to comment that he will not accept “comments about how you slept with your boyfriend on the first date and he became your husband. The many exceptions don’t disprove the rule that giving men sex without demanding better treatment is not the best idea.”

Before I get into my own thoughts about why the video and Evan are wrong — and they are — economics professor Marina Adshade, author of Dollars and Sex:How Economics Influences Sex and Love, had a few things to say on her Psychology Today blog:

The underlying message of the video is that only when women begin to police each other’s sexual behavior will we see men committing to long-term relationships. And, even worse, if women are not policing each other’s sexual behavior then we are directly responsible for the fact that the current generation of young men are “floundering”. [Cue image of man playing video games.] “Men only behave as well, or as poorly, as the women in their lives will permit” and, according to the Austin Institute at least, it is the responsibility of women to see the women who are allowing these men to behave poorly are punished for their permissive sexual behavior.

Slut-shaming, anyone?

Here’s what I believe the video and Evan don’t get — not every woman wants to have a man commit to her, not every woman who has sex with a man wants that man to commit to her, and sometimes, women just want to have sex. Random, casual, no-strings attached sex. I know, strange, right?

Women should not have to police each other. Nor should they have to police themselves unless — and this part is essential — they know that they are unable to have no-strings-attached sex without feeling diminished, used and ashamed. If a woman knows that about herself, Evan is 100 percent right — she should not have sex with someone until she’s getting her needs met and feels secure enough in the relationship. But to advise women across the board that there’s some universal “rule” about not “giving men sex without demanding better treatment” is casting judgment on women who enjoy casual sex, and they know who they are. In the video and Evan’s view, women are unable to “give themselves sex” as a gratifying act of physical intimacy. Nope, it’s just a tool for us to catch, manipulate and keep a man.

If there must be a “rule” about such things, why not advise women to take responsibility for their sexuality and their actions with each and every potential sexual partner they meet — Do I want to have sex with this man? Why? When?

Obviously, a woman would be ill-advised to sleep with or even go out with a man who is mistreating her. But a lack of commitment does not equal mistreatment, sorry.

So, what does this kind of thinking say about men? Not every man wants to sleep with a woman right away, and not every man who sleeps with a woman right away won’t want to keep seeing her and maybe even commit to her (and, despite Evan’s insistence about not wanting to hear the exceptions,  the marriages and long-term relationships that resulted from first-date sex, it has happened to me and many other women, “rule” be damned!). It perpetuates the stereotype that all men are sex-obsessed horn dogs who want women for one thing only — to get in her pants — and that once they get it they walk away and only demanding commitment will somehow “tame” them. That is a bad, sad way to see men. I have raised two fine young men, and they and men in general deserve better.

According to this theory, women will only get men to commit by holding out. Because obviously, men are too stupid to decide that they might want to be with a woman they find attractive regardless if she’s putting out or not. No, sex is the carrot to dangle before him and once he has it, he’s locked in ladies!

Oh, please!

If a man runs right after he has sex with a woman, let’s face it — he’s not a man we’d like to keep around anyway.

This kind of across-the-board advice speaks to the confused state of sexuality in our culture, especially female sexuality. As journalist Daniel Bergner points out in his fascinating book, What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, society has repressed female sexuality, which is as “base, animalistic and ravenous” as men’s — maybe even more so.

What that video and Evan want to do is put the chastity belt back on all of us. Yeah, well, not me, and I suspect not for a lot of other women, either.

  • Do you believe women should make a man wait for sex?
  • Do you believe women should police each other’s behavior to get men to commit?

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The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman recently was shocking and sad. The news that he was evidently involved with another woman before his sudden death from a heroin overdose was just as sad, but perhaps not shocking.

He leaves behind three kids he had with his long-time girlfriend Mimi O’Donnell, who may or may not have kicked him out of their home because discovery of the other woman (although news reports indicate she was trying to keep his heroin use away from their young children).  Unlocking a secret

I just can’t imagine the devastation of losing a loved one and then discovering a secret, like an affair. It’s bad enough grieving your loss when all of a sudden you’re confronted with a harsh truth that makes you question everything about your former spouses and your life. Your pain — and anger — amplifies. And, that probably happens more often than not given that more people are cheating and I’d have to guess that there are a lot of unsuspecting spouses.

One such spouse was Julie Metz, who discovered after her husband’s sudden death that he was involved with five women, including a “good” friend of hers. She confronted every one of them, and eventually made peace with them (although moving away from her former home and her “friend” helped), which she details in her 2009 memoir, Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal.

The morning I found out, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I couldn’t ask him anymore to tell me. I felt whoever these women are, they know something that is going to tell me what was going on in my marriage. I felt I really needed to find the truth because it was going to be the only way I could get any closure.

Royal biographer Ingrid Seward had a similar experience when she found texts on her late husband’s cellphone. Then she went through his computer and discovered the truth behind the many times he told her he would be late, or having dinner with a friend or didn’t come home at all.

For days I tried to knit the pattern together. Nothing was left untouched. I went through his pockets, his mobile phone bills, his desk, his drawers, his restaurant receipts. It all fitted together into one grotesque pattern. My husband was a serial adulterer and there was nothing I could do about it: no questions I could ask him, no argument I could have with him, no explanation he could give me, or pleas he could make for forgiveness. He was gone.

In Jane Isay’s latest book, Secrets and Lies: Surviving the Truths That Change Our Lives, she chronicles the stories of people who were confronted with devastating things they never knew about their family. She describe the hardship of the Finder, the person who unearths the truth, and the Keeper, the person who creates the secret. Her book is a plea for honesty, and she admits “At least I know” was the saving grace for her as she dealt with the secrets she discovered and kept hidden. A shared truth, she writes, gives you strength.
I don’t mean to say that everybody should tell everyone every secret. But I think facing the truth is not as bad as some people fear. And I have come to believe that the energy soaked up by denial can be put to more creative and loving use.
There are probably secrets in every family; there are in mine (well, in my family of origin). Do you really want to know? Can you face the truth?
  • Have you discovered secrets after the death of a loved one?
  • Are you a Finder or a Keeper?
  • Would you rather know or not know?
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