Alain de Botton on Marriage, Happiness, and Compatibility

Alain de Botton is one of my favorite modern-day writers/philosophers. This week, he has an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” Alain de Botton is incredibly perceptive in his interpretations and unravelings of love and happiness:

But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.

This paragraph resonates with me especially:

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

For those of you unfamiliar with Alain de Botton’s other writings, I highly suggest checking out The Consolations of Philosophy and his novel, On Love. I’m looking forward to reading his latest novel, The Course of Love, when it comes out in June 2016.

The Male Deficit Model and Friendships

Do men suck at friendships? Or, at least, are they worse at being friends than their female counterparts? Research suggests the answer is yes. This Men’s Journal article provides an excellent overview:

The Male Deficit Model is based on 30 years of research into friendship and relationships — from Mayta Caldwell’s and Letitia Peplau’s 1982 UCLA study, which found that male friendships are far less intimate than female friendships, to a 2007 study at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, which reported greater interpersonal competition and lower friendship satisfaction among men. A just-completed report from California State University Humboldt, meanwhile, holds that the closer men adhere to traditional male gender roles, like self-reliance and a reluctance to spill their guts, the worse their friendships fare. “Since most men don’t let themselves think or feel about friendship, this immense collective and personal disappointment is usually concealed, sloughed over, shrugged away,” writes the psychologist Stuart Miller in his opus, Men and Friendship. “The older we get, the more we accept our essential friendlessness.”

What’s the key to healthy aging? Good diet and exercise, right? Well, perhaps another factor outweighs them all:

That’s because nearly all research into healthy aging has found that the key to a long, happy life is not diet or exercise but strong social connections – that is, friendships. Loneliness accelerates age-related declines in cognition and motor function, while a single good friend has been shown to make as much as a 10-year difference in overall life expectancy. A huge meta-study performed in part at Brigham Young University, which reviewed 148 studies with a combined 308,849 subject participants, found that loneliness is just as harmful to health as not exercising, smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and alcoholism, and fully twice as bad as being obese. Still more startling is a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that looked at 2,230 cancer patients in China. Social well-being, including friendship, turned out to be the number one predictor of survival.

Some of this stems from the fact that isolated people tend to exercise less, eat poorly, and drink too much. But some researchers believe that loneliness has a negative health impact all on its own. In numerous studies over the past 30 years, John T. Cacioppo, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and the pioneer of the biological study of loneliness, has found that lonely people have chronically elevated levels of the stress and fear hormones cortisol and epinephrine. In a 2007 paper published in Genome Biology, Cacioppo even demonstrated a correlation between loneliness and the activity of certain genes associated with systemic inflammation, elevating risk for viral invasion and cardiovascular disease.

And yet the capacity of men to combat loneliness – and improve their health – by building strong friendships seems to be steadily eroding. Cambridge, Massachusetts, professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz, writing in The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century, point to a current tendency among adults to build stronger, more intimate marriages at the expense of almost all other social connections. In a study of contemporary childcare arrangements, Olds and Schwartz found a deep sense of loneliness among many parents, especially men. “Almost every father we spoke with explained that he had lost contact with most of his male friends,” they write. And lest you believe family is company enough, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging showed that family relationships have almost no impact on longevity. Friendships, by contrast, boosted life span as much as 22 percent.

Read the rest here.

On Hard-Won Lessons in Your Single, Solitary Years

Happy New Year!

I’ve cast this blog aside for the first few days of the year, spending some vacation time in Florida and working on building new relationship(s). To that end, a lot of what I have been reading online almost seems to come my way as something that I was meant to read, confirming my beliefs/values. Perhaps the best example is this Modern Love story in The New York Times, on what being single for many years teaches you:

Being a single person searching for love teaches you that not everything is under your control. You can’t control whether the person you’ve fallen for will call. You can’t force yourself to have feelings for the nice guy your best friend fixed you up with. You have no way to know whether attending this or that event — a co-worker’s art opening, a neighbor’s housewarming — will lead to the chance encounter that will forever alter your life. You simply learn to do your best, and leave it at that.

Ringing endorsement here:

Relationships are work, but so is being single, and I became pretty good at it.

The perspective in the story comes from someone older than me, but I sympathize with this:

Most important, I’ve realized I never needed a long boyfriend résumé for the experience. In the 20 years before I met Mark, I learned a lot of hard lessons: how to be a self-respecting adult in a world that often treats single people like feckless teenagers; how to stand at cocktail parties while my friends’ in-laws asked me if I had a boyfriend; how to have warm, friendly dinners with strangers I had met online as we delicately tried to determine whether we could possibly share our lives together; and how to come home to an empty apartment after a rotten day at work.

A wonderful way to start 2014.

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(hat tip: @jennydeluxe)

Atlas Hugged: A Dating Site for Ayn Rand Fans

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the rise of niche dating sites. It’s pretty interesting, especially the description of Atlasphere, a dating site for fans of Ayn Rand and Objectivism:

A growing number of niche dating sites have popped up to serve people who think they know exactly the type of person they want. These includes Farmers Only, whose 100,000 users may have been attracted to the site’s tagline, “City folks just don’t get it.” More recently, GlutenFree Singles launched for love-seeking wheat-free folks.

Atlasphere founder Joshua Zader, 40, of Phoenix, says niche sites are more efficient than broader sites such as OKCupid or Match.com.

“If you assume that maybe 1 out of 500 people is a serious fan of Ayn Rand’s novels, on a normal dating site you have a 1 in 500 chance of someone sharing the same basic values,” he says. “On the Atlasphere, every profile shows you what you want,” he says. The 10-year-old site has seen a spike in membership in recent years—it has more than 16,000 dating profiles—after two “Atlas Shrugged” movies were released, says Mr. Zader, a Web developer. User handles include “Atlas in Arlington” and “ObjectivelyHot.”

He founded the site after attending Objectivist conferences, where the “open secret” is that most people are there to meet potential partners. “You shouldn’t need to fly to a conference to meet people with your values,” he says.

The site was efficient for Mr. Hancock’s now-wife, Stephanie Betit-Hancock, 33. Her now-husband messaged her 12 hours after she first put up a profile in 2007, and proposed after dating long-distance for six months.

Ms. Betit-Hancock, a schools special-needs coordinator, says she had been “kind of freaking out,” wondering how she’d find someone “rational” to date. She met a man at a meet-up group for fans of libertarian former congressman Ron Paul, but “he couldn’t explain why he supported Ron Paul and why the ideas behind his policies made sense.”

Mr. Hancock, an engineer, says he specifically wrote his profile to “scare people who weren’t serious Objectivists away.”

Read the rest of the piece here. There’s also GlutenFree Singles and Farmers Only dating.

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(via @mims)

A Feminist’s Daughter Finds Love in the Kitchen

This personal essay in The New York Times struck a chord with me because I had two separate conversations over the last two days on these two themes: work-life balance and the definition of feminism.

Yet children do not stop needing what they need, even when their parents are fighting for justice. And if you do not attend to them or find a loving substitute, they will suffer and may hold it against you. Even if you have never felt stronger and more truly yourself. Even if you love them.

Because of my history, I know how much the mundane care of children matters. That is why I stop work when the school day ends and greet my daughter with a hug. I may be tired, stressed out or grumpy; I may bemoan the confinement, the repetition, the career limits. But I do it anyway. I pull away from paid pursuits and open myself to the opportunity to delight in my daughter.

My delight comes freely, inspired by a leggy girl with rich brown eyes who has just come home. But our time together is about more than delight. When I hand her a snack and look into her face, seeking the stories of her day, I intend for her to feel how much she matters. She matters more to me right then than anything I could be doing without her. And we will not have these afternoons forever.

When she told me on Mother’s Day that she loves what I do in the kitchen, I realized why I love it, too. For as I stir and chop and bake while she studies, sings, draws, chatters, rides a scooter and does an exceptional job of being young, I am drinking in some of the pleasures I missed.

Worth reading.

The Trouble with Portrayal of Female Beauty in Books

A thoughtful essay titled “A First-Rate Girl” by Adelle Waldman gave me pause this morning. She writes about our perception of female beauty in every day life compared to how novelists portray female beauty (in short: they don’t get it):

I have a friend who dates only exceptionally attractive women. These women aren’t trophy-wife types—they are comparable to him in age, education level, and professional status. They are just really, notably good looking, standouts even in the kind of urban milieu where regular workouts and healthy eating are commonplace and an abundance of disposable income to spend on facials, waxing, straightening, and coloring keeps the average level of female attractiveness unusually high.

My friend is sensitive and intelligent and, in almost every particular, unlike the stereotypical sexist, T & A-obsessed meathead. For years, I assumed that it was just his good fortune that the women he felt an emotional connection with all happened to be so damn hot. Over time, however, I came to realize that my friend, nice as he is, prizes extreme beauty above all the other desiderata that one might seek in a partner.

I have another friend who broke up with a woman because her body, though fit, was the wrong type for him. While he liked her personality, he felt that he’d never be sufficiently attracted to her, and that it was better to end things sooner rather than later.

Some people would say these men are fatally shallow. Others would say they are realistic about their own needs, and that there is no use beating oneself up about one’s preferences: some things cannot be changed. Those in the first camp would probably say that my friends are outliers—uniquely immature men to be avoided. Many in the second camp argue that, in fact, all men would be like the man who dates only beautiful women, if only they enjoyed his ability to snare such knockouts. In my experience, people on both sides are emphatic, and treat their position as if it is obvious and incontrovertible.

To me, these stories highlight the intense and often guilty relationship that many men have with female beauty, a subject with profound repercussions for both men and women.

You’d think it would also be a rich subject for fiction writers—after all, our attitudes about beauty and attraction are tightly bound up with the question of romantic love. But, in fact, many novels fail to meaningfully address the issue of beauty. In a recent essay in New York, the novelist Lionel Shriver argued that “fiction writers’ biggest mistake is to create so many characters who are casually beautiful.” What this amounts to, in practice, is that many male characters have strikingly attractive female love interests who also possess a host of other characteristics that make them appealing. Their good looks are like a convenient afterthought.

This is, unfortunately, sentimental: how we wish life were, rather than how it is. It’s like creating a fictional world in which every deserving orphan ends up inheriting a fortune from a rich uncle. In life, beauty is rarely, if ever, just another quality that a woman possesses, like a knowledge of French. A woman’s beauty tends to play an instrumental role in the courtship process, and its impact rarely ends there.

When a novelist does examine beauty more closely, the results are often startling. Two of my favorite male novelists do not fall into the trap that Shriver delineated. They are clear-sighted and acute chroniclers of the male gaze.

Read the rest here. I haven’t read the books mentioned in the piece, but this line made me laugh: “So begins one of contemporary literature’s worst relationships.”

Speed Dating was Invented by an Orthodox Rabbi

A brief but fascinating piece in The New York Times on how speed dating was invented:

At a matchmaking event he organized in 1998, Rabbi Yaacov Deyo brought along a gragger, the noisemaker Jews use during Purim. That night, in a Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Beverly Hills, the Orthodox rabbi twirled his gragger to signal when it was time for the single men and women present to switch partners and spark up a conversation with the next stranger. “We thought 10 minutes for each date, because that was just an easier number to use in a busy coffeehouse,” Deyo says. This entirely practical measure would inspire matchmakers all around the world — Jews and Gentiles alike.

Weeks before, Deyo invited a group of friends to convene in his living room and brainstorm about how he could best serve the local Jewish community. This being L.A., Deyo’s group included several entertainment-industry people, including someone who produced game shows. The rabbi and his think tank decided that Jewish singles needed to identify marriage partners with maximum efficiency, and they designed a wacky game in which participants would table-hop their way through a dozen dates in a night. Soon they began their experiment (under the auspices of American Friends of Aish HaTorah, the nonprofit group that employed Deyo), using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the singles and their responses on feedback cards. Within a year or so, the speed-dating idea had gone viral, with imitators around the country.

After he and his friends trademarked SpeedDating, they began the process of filing a patent. But as the trend exploded, Deyo realized he had lost control of the idea…

I hope this is a trivia question some day!

There’s a funny quote about Atlanta in the article.