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.

A fascinating read on the state of postmodern relationships.

I am currently reading comedian Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. At 1/3 of the way through the first chapter (which follows a hilarious and spot on introductory section), I am taking so many notes that I don’t know if I could possibly do this book justice in one review. So I’m documenting the book here a couple of chapters at a time.

Of course, this assumes that the remaining 250 pages will keep me as interested, amused, and in agreement as the first 28, and that is probably quite the stretch. I hope not however, because despite the clearly secular bend of the book, the first little bit is overflowing with truth. For example, this quote from Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, which is now another book added to my increasingly long “must read” list (I sure hope it isn’t a divorce apologist tome):

So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

Like I said, interesting book, so stay tuned for periodic updates as I blog my way through it.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better Than Before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin. Published in 2015. 320 pages.

I am in the process of re-establishing good habits that I allowed to waver over the past year, while also (and probably more importantly) working to let go of some bad habits. As I have been contemplating and making some pretty big changes of late, I stumbled upon this book in our local library. I was curious enough about the possible research and information to pick it up and give it a look.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the NYT best-selling book, The Happiness Project. I was not familiar with her work prior to stumbling upon this book. That’s a good thing. Had I been familiar with her claim to fame, I might have been inclined to skip picking up this book, which I found pretty insightful.

It wasn’t so much that Rubin broke any new ground here, as much as she put it all together in ways that made sense; to me at least. It is entirely possible that we are more open to and impressed by ideas that speak to where we are on a particular leg of life’s journey. However, even with that concession, I think this is a good book for anyone in the process of trying to establish new habits and break old ones.

The trick to breaking old habits, of course, is to replace them with something better and stick to that thing until it becomes a habit. What Rubin attempts to do here is assist her readers with identifying what strategies will work best for them as they embark on a new habit or attempt to break one.

There is, as there always are with these things, general standards offered by way of a quiz to help the reader categorize him or herself in ways that best narrow the strategies that will work for them.  In years past, I balked at these types of things mainly because the idea that I fit into a neat box offended my snowflake tendencies.

As I have grown older, however, I have come around to the conclusion that while none of us fit neatly into any particular category (an obsession with categories is unhealthy), human tendencies can indeed be roughly narrowed and quantified enough that we can all use some of this information to help us achieve the goals we wish to accomplish. What’s more, there isn’t anything innately wrong or ungodly about making allowance for the fact that we all have personalities within we much navigate as we set ourselves on solid paths in life. The problem comes in when we use this information as an excuse not to change we should rather than tools to help us change the things we need to address.

As I said at the beginning, this book isn’t groundbreaking. Since there is nothing new under the sun anyway, we could all save ourselves a lot of angst by understanding that people the saying the same things in what we perceive to be a new or more comprehensive way doesn’t make it new. It just means that they said it in a way we can identify with. Like Gretchen Rubin did.

You can read an excerpt of her book here.

What I figured out from this book:

  • Unlike my husband, and my father before him, it is not enough for me to be internally motivated to do better in an area of change course in another. I invariably run out of steam if I don’t set up the proper guardrails to keep me moving in the right direction. That reality doesn’t mean I’m a “bad Christian”, which is what I used to think.
  • I can use my husband’s (and to a lesser extent one of daughter’s) stronger internal push as a guardrail. For example, once I decided that potato chips with a side of tears are not the key to managing stress, I took a page from this book and said out loud, “I don’t eat chips.” If I pick up a bag, I can trust my husband to take it from me so as to help me not be a liar, which would make me a bad Christian.
  • Our kids saw a lot of themselves in the four archetypes. Even the 10-year-old rebel has shown some growth since we all took the opportunity to examine ourselves in light of some of the insights here
  • Habits are surprisingly tough, and habits are surprisingly fragile (p.160) I totally need to remember that. You’d think after a year of running faithfully and spending a crazy amount of money -at least for me- on a race, I’d turned into a runner for life. Didn’t happen, but the health gains I made as a runner were so startling that I am back at it, this time with the understanding of how fragile habits are.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Too much of it focused on eating and health issues when most people’s most entrenched habits are related to things other than diet and exercise. For instance, my hurdle at this point is managing my Internet time. Exercise and eating are quite frankly, secondary. I’m in decent health and my husband thinks I’m gorgeous even carrying 25 extra pounds. The mental and time drain lost online however…that’s worth addressing.
  • Given the time this book was written, I was surprised at the sparse amount of time given to some of the other things people deal with as habits.

The good far outweighed the bad, however, and even without specifically mentioning things like social media, smart phones, collecting clutter (NOT an issue of mine), mindless spending (also not an issue of mine) or other vices, the book’s tools are easily transferable to whatever one’s habit might be.

Grade: B

 

 

 

The Lost Art of Dress

lost-art-of-dress The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, by Linda Przybyszewski. Published in 2014. 400 pages.

This is a book I wasn’t quite sure how to review because there were so many angles to explore it from that I didn’t know quite where to begin. So I decided to simply give you all the rundown, add a few quotes, and offer my recommendation or lack thereof.

In the early 20th century, right up until the “youth quake” of the 50’s and 60’s there were a group of women in various areas of the fashion, education, and home economy sectors known as “The Dress Doctors”. With the full support and backing of the federal government and education system, they taught women and girls how to dress themselves properly.

When I say they taught women to dress themselves properly, I don’t mean an out of touch, overly sophisticated, or expensive approach to fashion. Oh no! These ladies were all about looking the best you could for the task at hand, within the budget you had available. No matter how small that budget might have been, these women could show you how to work what you had to your advantage without breaking the bank. In fact one of the largest chapters in the book is the one on thrift. In other words, The Lost Art of Dress could easily be considered the every woman’s alternative to another vintage fashion book I reviewed here, Wife Dressing.

It covers the perils of high heels:

“If you cannot walk more than a block in your shoes, they are not shoes; they are pretty sculptures that you happen to have attached to your feet. You could hang them from your wrists for all the good they are doing you in terms of locomotion. Better to put them on a shelf and admire them from afar.”

No, I’m not giving mine up. A spare of flats mitigates any issues for me.

They covered issues of proper fit, noting that just because a garment isn’t bursting at the seams doesn’t mean it fits properly. She reviewed the Dress Doctors notes on the combination of thrift, art and femininity. The range of clothing subjects they covered left no stone unturned.

Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, as the youth quake combined with the feminist revolution kicked into high gear, the Dress Doctors were suddenly obsolete. In chapter 5, titled, The Fall of the Dress Doctors, she expounds:

What were the leaders of the American Home Economics Association expecting when they invited “militant women’s lib advocate” Robin Morgan to speak at their annual meeting in 1972? They must have read about how she and a hundred other women had thrown their bras, girdles,curlers, false eyelashes, and wigs into a Freedom Trash Can at the Anti-Miss America demonstration in Atlantic City in 1968. Morgan was scheduled to talk about women’s liberation, and they got an earful: “I am here addressing the enemy,” she announced.

Morgan accused home economists of turning young women into a “limp, jibbering mass of jelly waiting for marriage.”

This, along with the worship of all things youth which quenched girls’ natural desire to grow up and wear grown-up clothes like their mothers, signaled the end of the Dress Doctors and their impact of women’s fashion.

Thankfully, the advice within the book is timeless and I highly recommend giving it a read. It’s a wonderful combination of history, style, beauty, culture, and practicality. We are lone overdue for a resurrection of something resembling the Dress Doctors.

Grade: B+

A worthy muse.

Muse: As a verb, to muse is to consider something thoughtfully.

Hearth recommended a reading of the introductory chapter of the book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. She has been heavily considering the increasingly divisive and vitriolic discourse which dominates political and religious discussion in our country and thought we might find it interesting. I did find it interesting, and am planning on reading the book sometime this spring. Yes, it is pushing other planned works further down the queue.

I am inviting anyone else who has an interest in discussing such a book to join me and read the book to completion by May 1. I will post a review of the book at that time. To -hopefully- pique interest, I am including a few quotes from the introductory chapter.

“This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so while we’re waiting, let’s at least try to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.”

“I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings. But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.”

“The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images that hogs the stage of our awareness. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”

Already in the introduction, I can find areas of disagreement with the book’s author, Jonathan Haidt. The point isn’t to promote the book as a solution to the problems. What I am hoping to find within its pages is a fairly detached exposition of the situation.

Even if it fails that test, I consider it a worthy muse.