Modern Romance chapters 3-4

modern romance

The first posts in this series can be found here and here.

Chapter 3 deals extensively with online dating, but it begins with a general exploration of dating via advertisements in general. Ansari reviews the flop that was video dating in the 1980’s and discusses in detail the ways personal ads in the newspapers were used before that. In other words, he sets a stage to introduce how we got to where we are today, with almost everyone walking around with a virtual singles bar in his pocket or her purse.

Analyzing everything from the disparity in responses between men and women, the types of profiles that are successful versus those that are not, and the algorithms that are supposedly going to end with you meeting your soul mate, Ansari and his team dissect online dating from every angle to surmise why, in this age where the choices are almost innumerable, people are finding it harder than ever to meet someone with whom they genuinely connect.

He spends an unnecessary amount of time discussing Tinder, in my opinion, and not enough fleshing out the issues that come with people confusing real dating with online dating. He touches briefly on the issue of people never getting beyond the virtual to the interpersonal stage but it’s something he could have delved into a bit more deeply.

Chapter 4 was infinitely more interesting to me for a couple of reasons. The first is that the information in the preceding chapter is relatively well known already. The second is that chapter 4 delves into the psychological processes that make many people indecisive due to the overwhelming number of choices we have of everything from what toothpaste to buy to where to have dinner. More importantly, it gets into how this fear of making a choice for fear that something better may have been “just around the corner” short circuits people’s ability to choose a suitable mate, be satisfied with the choice, and do the necessary work to create the relationship they want rather than insisting that everything is ideal from the moment their eyes meet across a crowded room. He begins by recounting his parents’ experience:

My parents had an arranged marriage. This always fascinated me. I am perpetually indecisive on even the most mundane decisions, and I couldn’t imagine leaving such an important choice to other people. I asked my dad to describe his experience to me.

This was his process. He told his parents he was ready to get married, so his family arranged meetings with three neighboring families. The first girl, he said, was a “little too tall,” and the second girl was a “little too short.” Then he met my mom. After he quickly deduced that she was the appropriate height (finally!), they talked for about thirty minutes. They decided it would work. A week later, they were married.

And they still are, thirty-five years later. Happily so—and probably more so than older white people I know who had nonarranged marriages.

So that’s how my dad decided on whom he was going to spend the rest of his life with. Meeting a few people, analyzing their height, and deciding on one after talking to her for thirty minutes. (p.123-124)

From there he gets into an exhaustive but insightful discussion on the difficulties that come with today’s paradox of choice.

And of course, as has been discussed prior, when you move away from the desire for a suitable life companion to the search for the perfect soul mate, and couple that with the seemingly endless number of choices available, the tendency towards being overly picky is hard to resist.

Ansari mentioned people who saw someone they really liked but dismissed because they liked a certain sports team or had a different taste in movies or books. The list of things people turned away potentially good mates for were as likely to be absurd as they were to be genuinely deal breakers. Perhaps more so.

In the increasingly rare event that someone actually managed to go on an inperson date, there was then the choice of how to decide what would make an acceptable first date, and Ansari does a funny and witty turn at distinguishing between a boring-a** date and a not boring-a** date.  And how many people find that even if the first date wasn’t a slma dunk, they find that going out a second or third time can often increase fondness and knowledge of things in common not easily discerned in the high stakes pressure of a first meeting.

I took a minute to think back, and am pretty certain our first date would have easily fallen into the category of a boring, conventional date. Except it couldn’t have been too boring, because after the first date on Friday, we went out again the next night. But I digress.

The best part of these two chapters by far, was the research offered on the paralyzing nature of our choosy habits made even more finicky by having the Internet at our fingertips. I’ll end this one with a funny example from chapter 4, comparing his decision making process to that of his father when choosing his mother:

Let’s look at how I do things, maybe with a slightly less important decision. How about the time I had to pick where to eat dinner in Seattle when I was on tour in the spring of 2014?

First I texted four friends who travel and eat out a lot and whose judgment on food I really trust. While I waited for recommendations from them, I checked the website Eater for its “Heat Map,” which includes new, tasty restaurants in the city. I also checked the “Eater 38,” which is the site’s list of the thirty-eight essential Seattle restaurants and standbys.

Then I checked reviews on Yelp to see what the consensus was on there. I also checked an online guide to Seattle in GQ magazine. I narrowed down my search after consulting all these recommendations and then went on the restaurant websites to check out the menus. At this point I filtered all these options down by tastiness, distance, and what my tum-tum told me it wanted to eat. Finally, after much deliberation, I made my selection: Il Corvo.

A delicious Italian place that sounded amazing. Fresh-made pasta. They only did three different types a day. I was very excited. Unfortunately, it was closed. It only served lunch. By now I had run out of time because I had a show to do, so I ended up making a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich on the bus.

This kind of rigor goes into a lot of my decision making. Whether it’s where I’m eating, where I’m traveling, or, god forbid, something I’m buying, I feel compelled to do a lot of research to make sure I’m getting the best.

These are the people trying to pick their mates for life in 2017.

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Modern Romance: Introduction-Chapter 2

modern romance

This is a multi-part book review as I read Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and go through some of the obstacles he discusses as he juxtaposes courtship and marriage in the current era with the way it was done in times past.

The introductory post is here.

The introduction starts out with Ansari offering some background on how he came to be so highly interested in this subject. Namely, he met a woman at a party, they hit it off almost instantly (he even kissed her that night) and exchanged numbers. The next day he texted the woman and…nothing. With each passing hour his anxiety heightened and confidence withered.

And he realized how absurd his predicament was, and how different it must have been for the generations of young love seekers who went before him with far fewer choices and less technological interference. After using the incident as fodder for a stand up act, it resonated with his audience so much that it inspired him to go on a quest: How did people in previous eras connect and find lifelong love? How does this current complicated mess we have now compare to their experiences?

Because he was interested in a serious answer to his questions, one of his first acts was finding an sociological expert to help him figure out how to collect, sort and analyze relevant data. They started out by going to a retirement community armed with a box of donuts for a few weeks to sit and interview the people who lived there about how they found their husbands or wives. What he found was “remarkable”:

14 of the 36 singles I spoke with had ended up marrying someone who lived within walking distance of their childhood home. People were marrying neighbors who lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, and even in the same building. It seemed a bit bizarre.

To be sure that what he had discovered there wasn’t just a quirk, he checked the data of a sociologist from 1932 who looked through 5,000 consecutive marriage licenses on file for people who lived in Philadelphia:

Whoa: One-third of the couples who got married lived within a five-block radius of each other before they got married. One out of six had lived within the same block. Most amazingly, one of every eight married couples had lived in the same building before they got married.

Ansari thought it was just a city deal, but the trend in the 1930’s/40’s held everywhere he looked. He then explored the connection between adulthood at 18, and what is known today as “emerging adulthood”. That alone, even without the technological edge thrown in, changed the nature of how post modern people meet, fall in love, and marry.

Next Ansari spends some time discussing the differences of approach to marriage in our current era (the search for a soul mate rather than a companion), as I noted in the post prior to this one.  Things get even more interesting as the author explores the vast difference in the way people even go out on a first date to begin with.

The second chapter is titled The Initial Ask and is divided up into sections with such headings as:

  • The rise of the text message
  • Calling versus texting, in which women expressed a clear preference for being called rather than texted.
  • The Modern Bozo, where women shared with him some of the worst texts they have received from men
  • Phone world
  • The Science of Waiting, which was an excellent exposition on how technology has changed the way we wait for a response from others when we send them a message.

The section on waiting was interesting to me because Ansari is correct that in previous eras, waiting for a response didn’t produce anxiety because we all knew we had to wait for a response. Depending on the situation, it could take a few days to get a call back. Nowadays, the lack of a response within a few minutes can be a source of great anxiety.

Worse than that, were the people who shared with him that they deliberately waited longer times between responses for the specific purpose of demonstrating higher values, turning the whole thing into one big, angst ridden game.

Ansari hits some insightful notes on the inherent problems with the proliferation of choice in every area of life. However, for me the most disheartening part of his exploration in the first two chapters was the near universal agreement of the women of older generations on a specific train of thought.

They almost all said that although they loved their husbands and were grateful for their families, they felt compelled to encourage their daughters and granddaughters to explore life more and take advantage of all the choices available to women today. Do the things they wish they could have done but were not able to. This from women who had married at roughly the same age I had, between the ages of 20-22 (Nope, 18 year-old marriage was not the norm even back then). It made my heart sink, which doesn’t happen very often.

After sharing that bit of information with our daughters, whom I have encouraged that there is very little you can do your own that you can’t do with a husband (except fornicate), our oldest girl offered a tidbit:

These women have no idea how complicated all these choices have made life for the current generation. They think they missed out on something but most of them couldn’t tell you what. All they know is that the media and dominant culture told them they missed out, and so they believe they missed out even though they have no idea what they missed and wouldn’t have ever missed if no one had told them they missed it.

I think that’s how she put it.

I hope to tackle chapters 3-5 some time next week.

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, by Dr. Willie Parker. Published in April, 2017. 224 pages.

I used to have a master list of books I want to read, complete with a timetable for when and how I am going to read them. It never works out however, because I visit the library at least every other week, and every turn past the “featured titles” shelf has me leaving with some title which has piqued my curiosity and gotten me off the planned reading list schedule. This was one of those books.

I don’t even know how to review it because although I find the philosophy, theology, worldview, and conclusions utterly wrong headed at best (repulsive at worst), Dr. Parker is a decent writer who wove together a good story and kept my attention throughout this book. None of that however, diminishes the problems with his logic and processing of the Christian faith.

A black doctor who grew up poor in segregated Alabama, Dr. Parker was a fervent and passionate Christian from his teenage years onward, and still confesses Christ today. He held to Christian principles in practice even after becoming an OB/GYN physician, refusing to provide abortion services even as his compassion deepened for the women seeking abortions who came to the office he worked.

Because his theological and moral defense of abortion is hardly original, I’ll lay it out for you here as well a directing you to an interview Dr. Parker gave to Rolling Stone laying out his case. No need to add to the sales that the pro-abortion/feminist lobby will give to this book. It basically comes down to this:

He has a duty to extend Christian compassion to the women who come to him for abortion services by helping them end their unwanted pregnancies safely, and with little pain and complication as possible. They have as much right as any one else to fulfill their god-given potential and fulfill their dreams without having their lives thrown off track because of one mistake and a legal and societal culture who would judge them for it. Giving them their freedom and acknowledging their bodily autonomy is, in his opinion, the right thing to do.

Of course, as always happens when liberals want to justify the unjustifiable, Dr. Parker repeatedly cites parallels between the freedoms of the women seeking abortions in 2017, and the freedom of the former slaves and black Americans who suffered all manner of indignities in the South.

The first commandment of liberal theology: Every person who wants to do something immoral or unnatural and encounters opposition or delay is experiencing oppression equivalent to the descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. The second commandment is like unto it: True Christian love is demonstrated by a willingness to see to it that everyone has or is able to do what they need to feel accepted and good about themselves.

Like I said, despite Parker’s unassailable way with words and compelling story telling there is nothing new to see here. Gloria Steinem’s rave review does nothing to change that. I did learn more about the medical intricacies of abortion than I ever wanted to know, complete with mental imagery I won’t soon forget. I learned a lot about the legalities of the debate as well.

The most compelling parts of the book were Dr. Parker’s retelling of his life story, family history, and educational development.

 B+ for writing, D for philosophical content.

Final grade: C

Content advisory: In depth details on the procedures, nature, and aftermath of abortion in one chapter.

At My savior’s Feet: A Bible Study

I started this study on Monday, and when I am done with it six weeks from now, I may or may not offer a review. It is an exploration of the parables of Jesus.

You may notice that it is logged under the category, “My friend wrote this book!”. That is because a friend of mine, a flesh and blood friend, is indeed one of its authors. I am excited to dive into this and re-establish a steady morning routine that includes times of study. I read Scripture regularly of course, but it’s been a while since I committed to a sustained time of independent study. This is exciting on two levels for me.

The official start date was Monday, and there is a small fee for the full study. However, if you click on the link above you can get a free abbreviated version of the study’s daily verses.

Hello Mornings is an excellent site for mothers of many or any woman who likes tips and suggestions for fitting time in the word into your daily routine whether you have 5 minutes or 50 to do so.

Y’all know I plug my friends’ work, so… just go take a look, huh?

 

 

Write These Laws on Your Children

write these laws on your children

Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, by Robert Kunzman. Published in 2010. 240 pages.

When I ran across this book on the education shelf of our local library, I checked it out with a hearty bit of skepticism. Anytime a researcher is purporting to give readers a glimpse “inside the world of….[insert here]”, I expect that I am going to read a hit piece. I was pleasantly surprised.

Kunzman, despite his clear bias as a former public high school teacher, took pains to try (emphasis on try) to give homeschooling a fair shake and acknowledge the upsides as well as the potential pitfalls.

After what turned out to be a more arduous search for willing participants than he anticipated, the author spends significant time visiting with and chronicling the techniques, atmosphere, learning, and family environments of five Christian homeschooling families who live in various regions of the country.

The fact that the families who were willing to participate were scattered around the country was useful in the presentation of how the different families, despite their firm adherence to Christian faith, processed the delicate balance of homeschooling and the regulations or lack thereof in their particular states.

Of the five families he visited, only two of them had very large broods. One family, a Vermont pastor and his wife, were the parents of one child, a 12-year-old daughter. I appreciated the variety of family sizes represented rather than focusing on families of six or more since our experience “inside the world of Christian homeschooling” has been more in line with what Kunzman observed. While we certainly have very large families in our community, the vast majority are families of 3-4 children with “big” families such as ours being represented mostly by families of 5-7 children, and a scant few with more than that.

The families which provided the most comprehensive and satisfactory education experience in the author’s assessment included one of the largest families, as well as the family with one child. The other three families ranged in his opinion from adequate to what he considered outright educational neglect. Most of the families were like ours in that they were willing to begin to a la carte school subjects as their children reached the middle school years and beyond. Some of the teenagers were transitioning to community college as dually enrolled students while others would begin using public or private schools for labs and music instruction their parents were not equipped to provide at home.

There were a couple of families for whom this was not an option due to ideological or logistical reasons and unsurprisingly, they were the families whose children Kunzman felt were getting shorter educational shrift. This wasn’t in my opinion based on the information he provided, always  fair assessment.

My biggest problem with Kunzman’s assessment of homeschooling was his dogged and repeated insistence that because the children in the families represented were being raised with a strictly Biblical worldview, that somehow their ability to “think for themselves” was being short-circuited in a way that it wouldn’t be if they attended public schools. He frequently intimated that the public school environment is one where the free flow of competing worldviews and ideologies are offered for children to make up their own minds.

Public schools are every bit as ideologically rigid as devout Christian schools or Christian homeschoolers, and there is mountains of evidence to support the notion that colleges and universities are even worse. Nevertheless a couple of these “rigid patriarchal ideologues” allowed their teenagers to attend community colleges.

That he actually believed that public school are bastions of free thought, despite the parent attempts to argue otherwise to him, was a bit irritating. No one in the education monopoly seems to have a problem with student indoctrination into progressive ideology, which is exactly what happens. Students are probably less free to learn to “think for themselves” than they are in a Christian homeschool family.

In between the chapters where he spent time with the families -on and off over two years- Kunzman visited homeschool conferences and did interviews with officials at HSLDA. One short chapter dedicated to the suggestion that conservative homeschoolers are motivated by race also filled one of those spots, although Kunzman refrained from commenting except to note that three of the families he visited couldn’t have possibly been referring to race when they talked about the “public school environment” since they lived in places that were lily white.

The atmosphere at the homeschool conferences he attended was understandably very pro homeschooling and adversarial to the suggestion of increased accountability to the state to ensure that homeschooled students are getting a proper education.

Aside from his private conversations with the fathers of the researched families, however, there was little in the day to day schooling or curriculums which indicated that a conflation of Christianity and political ideology was a major part of their homeschool motivation. Kunzman found the same when he visited the churches of the families, which was refreshing to me because I have met very few homeschool families where politics is a major part of why they do this, or how they do it.

The book was more fair than I expected, and Kunzman did concede that there are public school turning out kids far less literate than the ones he felt -rightly so- were losing out on a good education. Overall, the book did a good job of asking questions as well as making me think about some things as we continue on our homeschool journey.

Grade: B-

No content advisory necessary.

The Righteous Mind

righteous mind book

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. Published in 2012. 448 pages.

The Benevolent Dictator took his kids to work today. It was allowed, so he did it just for fun and so that they can have some idea what he does all day. This means I have a bit of time to try and present a concise review of a book which tackles a pretty complex subject.

This book sets out to do exactly what its title implies, delve into the reasons and more importantly, the impulses, which send normally sane people off the deep end when the subjects of religion or politics are raised.

Haidt’s seminal focus is in the area of moral psychology, of which I understood little before I picked up his book. Nevertheless, many of his points resonated with me even though he clearly approached the topic through a very progressive lens. Even with this caveat, and with the additional note that this is not a Christian themed book, I still think Haidt did a sufficient job of presenting his case. His case can essentially be summed up in a few quotes.

“Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

As I read this book, I was keenly aware how often my reasons for even the most minor things were crafted after my initial instinct or emotional impulse had decided that it was the direction I wanted to go in or the argument I wanted to make.

“The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.”

Haidt uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider to describe this process, The elephant represents our innate leanings, whatever they are and on whatever they are based. Our conscious mind is the rider, which serves the purpose of articulating the rationale behind that which we already believe, or at least want to believe, is true.

“Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason.”

This hardly bears analysis for anyone who has faith in things beyond what we see. However, our culture and our psyches are complex and so:

“Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth.

Given that this is exactly what our culture has evolved into, an altar to reason, that is, it makes perfect sense that people are easily divided into vitriolic camps based on whatever their moral reasoning has deemed the true and right way.

The Internet makes this possible on a level that our grandparents could never have imagined. Even when one considers the assertion that our dogma is based on reality and science we quickly figure out how to manipulate even that. Kellyanne Conway took a beating in the media for the use of the phrase “alternative facts”, but she was closer to the truth than anyone was willing to admit:

“science is a smorgasbord, and Google will guide you to the study that’s right for you.”

This book changed the way I view Internet commentary and debate in ways I will never forget. It was very instructive on how we become relative experts and feeding our respective elephants to the point that we are not open to the truth even if it becomes abundantly clear. We simply hunker down and regurgitate our “well-established” and”factually supported” beliefs using those facts, and time devoted to collecting them as evidence that what we believe is true:

“People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything.”

To be sure, there were plenty of nits to pick in this book, but there was also lots to learn. This is the takeaway for those not inclined to go through the 448 pages:

“If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense.”

That includes me. And you too.

Grade: B-

gratuitous caveat: pretty sure Haidt’s an atheist, for those who care about it. There’s still some interesting stuff here, particularly in light of this age of constant debate and vilification of people who are different from us in myriad ways.