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.

 

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.

sitting kills book

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. By Dr. Joan Vernikos. Published in 2011. 150 pages.

This is another one of those books I stumbled onto while perusing the shelves of the local library. Just as its title implies, this is a little book which explores the science of how gravity, and our use of it benefits our body in terms of health and longevity. I found it fascinating because it the findings of the studies Dr. Vernikos unveiled were an education of gravity that I was pleased to get a refresher on.

It’s not a secret to anyone that sedentary living is damaging to our health and vitality. This is as common to us as our knowledge that the sky is blue. What this life scientist from NASA found however, is that the commonly proposed solutions -30 minutes or more of exercise, 3-5 times per week- is ultimately not the long term answer to the dilemma.

It’s not that time in the gym is without benefit. It certainly is and even improves health metrics on a few levels, including weight and obesity related disorders. It just isn’t the magic elixir we’ve all been lead to believe when it comes to long term health and vigor. To achiever that, in addition to good genetic fortune, requires a life that is active more often than not, and takes advantage of the inherent benefits of gravitational pull on those who stand and move more than they sit and stew.

The gist of the book is that if you spend most of your time standing and acting with the effects of gravity in mind, you increase your chances of being able to do things like stand up from a chair on your own at 90, if you live to see 90, of course.

The interesting thing about this book is that a lot of the tips and tricks the author recommends -as a result of the studies they’ve done at NASA on the effects of gravity on the human body- are things that are easy to do but that many of us don’t do. I was shocked to realize how often, for example, I unconsciously use a small amount of leverage such as my hands to get up and down from a seated position until I started making a point of doing as the book suggests, and getting up and down without using any leverage at all.

A lot of the research overview in this book (because I don’t expect many of my 10 readers to actually read this) can be found here:

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals (pdf)

We have been fortunate in our life to have been surrounded by plenty of lifelong friends and family members who have lifestyles and mobility that defy what our culture has been conditioned to expect when we reach a certain age. As I read this I was almost immediately reminded of the couple who run the ministry to the homeless and needy at our church. Our entire family works alongside them so we get to spend a lot of time with them.

The wife is 61, the husband 71. They are on the move -physically- almost constantly. They can’t sit still if there is something to be done, even in their own house. Their energy level is something the average 40 year old American would envy. They are textbook examples of what Dr. Vernikos describes in this book. I am standing as I type this review, which is actually not unusual for me, but I am certainly inspired to make better use of the inherent work our bodies experience from gravity simply because we’re standing up.

Lots of science in this book. I liked it, but it’s not something everyone will want to sift through. Luckily the second half is an action plan any person can skip right to and begin to make use of.

Not a literary masterpiece, but that isn’t the point. I learned a lot.

Grade: B

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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