On Tindering, Tentatively

Note: Family members who are queasy at the thought of discussion about human sexuality/romance/all that jazz should not proceed past this point. I will take no responsibility for the intense burning in your retinas or the rise of Catholic guilt or the subtle reproaches of glaring disapproval emanating from you at future family gatherings, because you will not be able to say that I didn’t warn you. (It’s probably not going to be THAT bad, but I’m hedging my bets just in case.)

 

““Some people still catch feelings in hookup culture,” said Meredith, the Bellarmine sophomore. “It’s not like just blind fucking for pleasure and it’s done; some people actually like the other person. Sometimes you actually catch feelings and that’s what sucks, because it’s one person thinking one thing and the other person thinking something completely different and someone gets their feelings hurt. It could be the boy or the girl.”

And even Ryan, who believes that human beings naturally gravitate toward polyamorous relationships, is troubled by the trends developing around dating apps. “It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it. I think the same thing is happening with this unlimited access to sex partners. People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity.”

The above is an excerpt from an article in Vanity Fair about hookup culture. I’m nearing 28, and I’m smack-dab in the middle of a sexual revolution of sorts. I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while now, but I haven’t been able to put it all into words. And still may not be able to…but here goes:

One Thursday, I rolled into work in the morning and stood at my desk chatting with my work wife across the pre-fab bland blonde walls of our cubicles. “Oh god,” I said in dismay, “the feelings have landed.” Her face was sympathetic. “Really?” she said, and the discussion wound on, evaluating pitfalls and what it might mean to actually be having feelings. Feelings, we agreed, are the worst. Feelings make everything complicated.

I inwardly groaned when I realized I’d been infected with feelings for the person with whom I’d been sleeping. <— How horrible of a sentence is that? Dismay at the thought of actually liking someone? Distress because suddenly it’s not just skin contact and cocktails any longer? Panic because of the potential for disaster?

Of course there’s potential for disaster! The only things in life worth doing involve great potential for disaster! Not really, but for the sake of this argument, the ability to be vulnerable in a relationship is a risky move, but also one that has great potential for growth, etc. And that is important! The minute that we lose the ability to be vulnerable and to accept that this may end in horrible heartbreak and be the inspiration for the next “500 Days of Summer,” we’ve lost the most important part of human connection (besides the skin contact and endorphins, am I right?) and also a potentially lucrative screenwriting credit.

If we lose the ability to truly feel the emotions associated with romantic/sexual activity, we’ve lost the meaning, the depth, and in the end, the entirety of the relationship has been reduced to posturing and pretense, a superficial and ultimately narcissistic exercise in fleetingly empty satisfaction.

For me, life’s meaning is rooted in love and connection. There are all sorts of kinds of love, obviously, and I love them all. But there is something utterly fantastic about romantic love, and I absolutely appreciate the fact that I’m able to experience it, and would never want to lessen the impact that it has and can have on your life. It is profound. It is immense. It sears through you and shapes you. It’s beautiful, and deserves the utmost in care and appreciation.

We sit here in our digital age and wax nostalgic for the days of a simpler time, when men were gentlemen and they still called. Then we get on our apps and play the 2016 version of “Hot or Not” on Tinder while we wonder why we can’t find anyone suitable. We actively avoid getting involved with people, because we’re all too busy trying to evaluate all of our options, move upwards in terms of societal valuation of our scores, and ultimately….oh wait, what happens at the end of it? When happens when we’re not toned and fit and still hot? What happens when we are suddenly forced to rely on the content of our character? What then? What happens when the potential matches have dried up, the game has lost its luster and you’ve not attained any level of connection or progressed as a person?

There’s a lot to unpack here and I’m going to attempt to do that and then impart my wisdom (read: draw wild conclusions and dig in on them, because I can).

Here is the summary of what I’m going to attempt to discuss: communication, connection, cultural standards, the advent of the internet and its effect on sexuality and dating, expectations, exploration, and my goals/hopes/dreams (and so on, ad nauseum).

Where I’m coming from (while I may not be Raymond Carver, I’m still coming from somewhere…): I’m 27, have been actively dating since I was 15, and I’ve got over a decade of relationships and relationship failures (and successes) under my belt. It’s like the end of an NBA commercial I saw last night: “Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet.” Foreboding, yet mostly correct.

One of my favorite quotes from well-known sex columnist Dan Savage goes something like this: you date, you break up, you date again, until eventually you don’t break up. I’ve always taken this to heart – even if I go on my last first date when I’m 80, I will have tried. I will have built a body of experiences and relationship endeavors that will have led me to find the thing that I seek. I will have loved and lost and, perhaps most importantly, learned.

I have hundreds of great stories about dating. Some of them are beautiful, some hilarious, some cringe-worthy, and all of them comprise the library that is my experience and the lens through which I evaluate relationships or potential relationships.

I’m an excellent first dater, because I’m not into the superficial conversation that generally comprises a first date. I want to know all of the things, because in finding out the deeper parts of a person, you’re better able to assess their potential as a possible partner or mate. Part of it is my unwillingness to conform to the expectations of the date as an interview mentality, because it is and it is not – the dating part of it is the longest interview of your life, and should be embraced wholeheartedly – and part of it is because I’m fantastically curious.

But then I find myself quickly losing interest, because the men I’m dating just don’t have “it.” They’re bland. They don’t hold my interest. In the early moments, I’m able to mirror my own versatility and excitement onto them, because they’re still reflecting that back, but once the mirror drops, it’s often a letdown. Tobias calls it “the sparkle phase” – normal people refer to it as the “honeymoon phase” – it’s the endorphin-filled glittery time when things are still new and we’re all still filling in the gaps of unknown information with the things that we want them to be. Once all that subsides and the routines of normalcy land, we’re left with the actual real human person and we’re forced to cope with the fact that they might actually, unfortunately, be just like us – flawed, neurotic, normal.

I always say that I want to find someone whose weird matches mine, or at least, works with mine. If we can each understand each other’s negative qualities, or even real human qualities, and still respect each other, then we’ll stand a chance of succeeding. I love my friends unconditionally. I know their flaws. But the sum of their parts as a person obviously overwhelm those flaws. Besides, if they weren’t flawed, they’d be totally boring, and I’d never want that.

I’m intelligent, pretty enough in an unusual way, and not into the whole image thing. I’m dynamic; I like a lot of things. I’m not driven by physical attraction – well, obviously a little bit – but I find that character and authenticity are far more important to me than a chiseled jawline. I need to find someone who’s driven, intelligent, kind, dynamic, flexible, willing to deal with my inability to organize and my ADHD-driven conversational patterns, and a little bit wild (a lot wild, but not too wild, you know?). It’s hard to find that blend of adult/responsibility/adventure/intelligence. Really hard.

I want to find someone who respects me first as a person and secondly as a partner. I want to be an equal, not an object. I also want to find someone whom I respect, someone who pushes me to be better, but who genuinely adores all of the things that I already am. And someone who laughs at my jokes, because I love (my) jokes. I want to find someone who’s funny, and who appreciates humor’s importance in our lives. I want to find someone to share my life with, to have adventures with, and ultimately, to maybe grow old with. (Or at least a suitable first husband.)

I seek quality. That’s why Tinder is completely overwhelming. I have to just swipe right a few times, get about 10 matches, and then sort from there. I can realistically only date a couple of people at a time. I don’t want my dating pool clouded with confusion, cluttered like my car, and ultimately counter-productive.

I’m also diligent about the endeavor. I don’t want a one-night stand, not that those are terrible. I want to explore the possibilities with a person before I bail, but I also want to make sure that I’m not settling. And that’s part of the problem.

My friend recently used an excellent analogy about cheesecake. He posits that dating is like being at the Cheesecake Factory (if you’ve been living under a rock, it’s an entirely self-explanatory concept restaurant with oddly off-putting interior decoration). Cheesecake is great, but what about this fancy cheesecake? Or that one? There’s so many to choose from, how can you just choose one? (See that earlier quote from the Vanity Fair article – “psychosexual obesity.” Pertinent.)

Well….if you don’t want to get fat, you’ll probably have to settle for fewer cheesecake pieces rather than all of them (dear lord, imagine the lactose situation you’d have gotten yourself into). Also, if we’re approaching this analogy in the manner of this NPR article, if we wait and hesitate, then the cheesecake will spoil, or be purchased by other hungry cheesecake seekers. But then again, are we missing out if we get one cheesecake and not the other? Is there a better cheesecake? What if I picked the wrong cheesecake? Arrrrghhhh! The wrong cheesecake, the horror!

This is the crux of the problem now – it’s well documented that increased availability in choices leads to more indecision and increased rumination about regret. “What if?” becomes a standard follow-up line of thinking after a choice has (finally!) been made. It’s a Millennial conundrum. We’re standing with a seemingly endless array of options, and we’re completely stagnant, unable (or unwilling) to decide for fear of missing out or making the incorrect choice. Ha. But that’s the thing about choice…

In the days of yore (anywhere from agrarian societies to pre-Industrial Revolution…or maybe even as far as the early 1900s…), we had fewer choices. There were a limited number of eligible bachelors (or bachelorettes, if you’re into that sort of thing) available for mating, and it was expected that the pairing would be mutually beneficial, befitting of your social station, and lead to procreation for the sake of posterity and lineage continuation. The finality of the match was sealed, and that was that.

Then came everything that has come since that time, including women’s rights (pesky things, women…can’t live with them, can’t live without them), the Sexual Revolution, the advent and popularity of divorce for “irreconcilable differences” (those again), and the internet (which brought us Imgur, so we’re clearly coming out ahead). All of that has led to a massive paradigm shift, and with that, different expectations for dating, mating, and the like.

Being a modern woman, I am blessed with agency in the choices relating to my sexuality and partner preferences that past generations of women have not experienced. The importance of that agency is not lost on me. I am also blessed with a healthy sense of knowledge and self-assurance as it relates to sexuality (including health, preferences, subcultures, and practices, etc.). A lot of that is self-taught. I became incredibly curious about sexuality as whole and spent a significant amount of time ensuring that I was well-informed when it came to health, in particular, but also to the other elements.

When you think about it, human sexuality as a whole is fascinating. We’re blessed with the ability to create tiny people, but it’s about more than that. The entirety of the connection and endless possibilities for pleasure is amazing. We are truly #blessed to have been gifted with these fantastic bodies and the creativity to explore them to the fullest extent possible.

We are all over the board. We like what we like. We want what we want. One of my exes always used to say that he didn’t want limit his connections with other people. I hated the way he said it, but I get it now. I finally understand what he meant.

I understand that human beings aren’t necessarily wired for monogamy. We do want to maximize the potential for procreation; it’s biological and it makes sense. But much like the fight or flight response has been dulled in our softer survival situations (fire on demand, indoor plumbing, buildings, reduced threat of mountain lion attacks, etc.), I find that there are certainly evolutionary options to consider. I think that romantic love is the highest form of love – and creating, nurturing, and sustaining a relationship with someone is a highly intense and rewarding endeavor. It transcends the more basic animal tendencies of straight procreation and evokes the will power and high-mindedness of our human experience.

That’s not to say that it might not get boring. It might. I am finally coming around the idea of increased fluidity in relationships, but not so much so that I would want to be a non-primary partner. Or even have secondary partners to actively date in addition to the main, really. I know that works out well when it works out well, and maybe at some point in the future, I’ll be happily reporting back about the navigation of that territory. But for now – I’m looking for my person.

That determination to seek partnership may stem from my childhood – the whole broken home, divorce, not happy parental relationship thing – and my subconscious need to “correct” it. But it may not. I understand the argument that marriage is a social construct, and is actually entirely unnecessary. And yet, I would like to have a person. My penguin, my lobster, my partner, whatever you’d like to call them. I think of it as a permanent adventure buddy.

I’m also not freaking out about time. I have plenty of it. As we’ve progressed with women in the workforce, delayed age of bearing children (yay birth control!), and other more modern societal norms, we’ve seen the socially created and maintained institution of marriage become less of a focus. And for that, I’m grateful. Whereas I would have once been considered a spinster due to my advanced age (ha, the advanced age of 27), now I’m only just entering my prime. I’m free to happily explore my life without the intense scrutiny that once would have befallen my adventurous endeavors.

Do I want to get married someday? I think so. Do I want children someday? I think so. But I don’t know for 100% sure. And I’m definitely not going to settle for shitty cheesecake, so if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn’t, I can still have my life and my adventures and some cats. And maybe a turtle. Who knows what will happen. The possibilities are endless!

I do think that it’s interesting to see how the dating game has changed as a result of all of the influx of technology and lowered expectations for commitment. It’s not that people are doing different things than they’ve been doing for millennia, it’s that suddenly, there’s access to information, to media, to availability.

But – much as the Vanity Fair article points out that people seem to be “gorging” themselves as a result of our ability to sudden meet and connect with potential partners whenever, wherever, however – I think that much of it is a false speculation of the true breadth of the market. There are thousands of people using Tinder within a 50 mile radius of me. I know this because I didn’t log in to Tinder for a few weeks, and Tinder sent me a notification saying that over 3,000 people had “liked” me since I last logged in. Whoa. That’s a seemingly endless supply, and yet…it is a finite and ultimately poorly represented number.

(Think of the data that came out as a result of the Ashley Madison hack…think of the disparity and misrepresentation occurring within that small niche market. Not that it’s representative of dating sites, per se, but I think that arguably, we’re all operating with the false notion that this supply is constant, consistent, and infinite, which is not the right way to approach it. Think about all the times you’ve logged in to your account online only to see, ugh, the same people you saw before. Think about the resurfacing of past bad dates, or running into an ex at the grocery store. It really is all the same concept. It’s not practical to operate on that assumption of infinity.)

As far as maximization of potential, it makes sense for men to swipe right on (which is to say, choose or like) nearly any woman. Women tend to be far more selective when it comes to online dating, and so for every time I swipe right and immediately get a match, there are equally opposite experiences on the other end. I know this because I help one of my friends with his online dating game on the regular. It’s hard out there.

Sure, the article talks about the twentysomething males who are focused on maximizing quantity, and that’s all and well. I think it’s also interesting to see the disparity between how they describe their experiences and the reality that I’m seeing when I help my guy friend. Not that he’s not getting dates, but he’s not getting 3 dates back to back in a night. I’m sure if he stepped his game up, he could. But that seems like overkill.

To me, it seems like an exercise in narcissism. I think that’s part of my criticism of online dating as a whole, and I’m not trying to excuse myself from complete and mostly complicit participation in that. I like online dating; much like all technology, it’s been able to bring people together and connect likeminded people, but it’s also brought about some worrying behaviors that I argue aren’t just relegated to online dating, but representative of a significant set of societal shifts that have occurred since the introduction of reality tv, the spread of the internet, and the increased prevalence of social media. Those behaviors include: the devaluation of commitment and connection/relationships; increased objectification of women; decline of chivalry; significant increase in brevity of and expectations for interactions; increased pressure to conform to societal expectations and engage in performative interactions as a way to demonstrate value; decreased authenticity; decreased depth of relationships as a whole; and an overall decline in etiquette to include devaluation of self and others.

The women interviewed in the article seem to discuss the way that manners have become less prevalent since the internet became the way that we date, and I agree, but also disagree. I have strong expectations for someone I’m meeting offline that I’ve met online. If we’re going to meet face to face, I won’t do it as a booty call or hookup. I expect that they will respect me, value me, and treat me as I treat them/want to be treated. Anything less than that gets a non-response from me. That and grammatical errors. I demand consideration, and so I get it. Otherwise, I’m closed for business, no longer interested in being a potential partner.

The twentysomething guys indicate that women love receiving salacious pictures. They report that women respond positively. Ha! I nearly choked on my tea when I read that. I have a friend who regularly sends me unsolicited lewd photographs. To him, it’s an expression of his masculinity, and an attempt to demonstrate value through physical appreciation. To me, it’s an exercise in utter narcissism, and does very little for me or my lady parts. I could do without them (the pictures, not my lady parts).

I think that hookup culture is fantastic, to a point. Women and men are able to engage in consensual activities that are mutually beneficial. For women, we’ve been able to cull the herd in ways that mitigate the onslaught of messages and requests for dates, and for men, they’re able to connect with women who are actually interested in meeting/engaging with them. It’s fun, it’s less oppressive than dinner on a first date, and it allows for increased adventures and decreases in pressure.

However, if one is participating in this process as a means of genuine connection, then it requires firm assertions of expectations at the outset. If you’re unwilling to accept a certain behavior, then you can’t bend on your standards, because if you do that, you’ll end up regretful. If you’re unwilling to have a hookup with no strings attached, then don’t hook up. Don’t have the expectations of something else from the beginning, because your hopes will be crushed.

That’s why communication is important. If you’re clear with someone from the beginning, and regularly touch base along the way, you’ll find that your interactions will progress far more smoothly than if you approach from a place of deceit. The autolycan nature of dating is depressing, and the fact that people are willing to lie, mislead, and misrepresent then truth of their intentions is indicative of a general lack of respect for and objectification of their partners.

I recently flipped through the book, “The Game.” I didn’t have much time, and may end up reading it in its entirety at some point, but near the end, the author is writing about meeting up with a woman who he’d hooked up with on a prior occasion, and who had just ghosted him. (Ha, ghosted. My word of week this week.) He asked her why she’d done that, and she replied that she wasn’t interested in his peacocking behavior. He wrote that during their drinks (the second time, post-ghost), he had already used so much of his material (meaning his “game”) on her that he had nothing left and was forced to actually be himself.

Surprise, surprise! I had a smug moment of “duh!” towards him when I read that. Authenticity is something I seek, and any posturing/peacocking/overtly annoying false presentation is going to drive me to near insanity very quickly. I’m not going to spend time with someone (relationship or hookup, whichever) who’s attempting to persuade me of their value without any real substantive proof. Smoke and mirrors are only just that. I want to see the man behind the curtain.

There’s another thing that’s mildly annoying about our current paradigm shift towards consistently casual dating. You start hanging out, you like each other, you keep doing that, and it’s never clarified. And then, seven months down the road, when you’re wondering where this is going, the other person is still free to be like, “Oh we’re not together, we’re never going to be, what are you talking about, weirdo?” and suddenly you’re the crazy one because you got hurt/developed feelings, etc. It’s curious, how that works. Yes, of course, no one wants to jump straight into a relationship, but I’m not willing to rule out that possibility.

If there’s emotional entanglement, the potential for heartbreak exists and is present and it’s the responsibility of both parties (or however many parties there are – I’m imagining class action lawsuit level number of parties, ha), to ensure that honesty is at the forefront and that clarity is communicated effectively.

Of course, there are hard caveats to online dating and tindering and swiping and hinging and whatever else we’re doing, bageling and bumbling, drunkenly groping for love in the darkest parts of dingy bars. It can get increasingly depressing, very quickly. The approach and results for everyone are completely different. It’s all about attitude, or so I’ve concluded. If you approach with an open mind and clear intentions, your results will be exactly as you want them to be. If you’re disillusioned, desperate, or despondent, your takeaways will reflect that.

In short – life is short. There is something beautiful about the intersection of love and sex, and even in the two on their own. We all strive for something meaningful, even if we’re loathe to admit it, and in our technology advanced society, we’re able to seek and strive so much faster than before. It’s like in movies – I have this theory that we’re far less patient not only because of the instant gratification options available to us at any given time, but also because in movies and other media, for the sake of story progression, the waiting parts are cut out or merely inserted as a montage. We don’t get to see the waiting, or the stagnation, or the things that aren’t action or explicit or explosions, and thus, we have come to expect that our own lives will progress in the same way.

However, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If that were the case, I’d be montaging the hell out of my work week and speeding towards the action/explosions that comprise my weekends. (Of course then you miss out on the actual meat of life, and in speeding towards the ends of things, you miss the value that is the journey, blah blah, we all know that.)

It’s like everything – you get out of it what you put in.

I’m a part of a strange tide of children of divorce possessed with the unrealistic expectations for fairytale endings actively seeking our own connections in the world, unwilling to settle on something unless it’s “right,” and enjoying the hell out of the ride. Wherever I end up, whoever my person may be – if there even is one – I will at least know that in the course of my life, I’ve done the very best I can to attain adventures, tell fantastic stories, express emotions, and genuinely connect with people around me. If that’s not the best approach, I don’t know what is.

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On Periods and Parenting, Lightheartedly

We’re dog-sitting this week. Instead of the boxer-lab mix, it’s a tiny thing. Like a shiatsu or something. Her name is Lucy and she’s my mom’s old neighbor’s dog. Turns out, having multiple dogs is really hard. Having a small dog is even harder.

The cat, Carlos (Carl), hates dogs. He tolerates Acorn because Acorn isn’t curious anymore, and lately, I’ve been catching them touch noses in greeting. It makes me all fluttery inside in the best way. It’s like we’re inching closer to my dream of walking in one day to see them snuggling in a furry nap pile. Lucy, the small dog, is curious about Carlos.

Carlos is playing this cool. I’ve spent the last hour surfing the internet (job hunting, reading news, you know), and watching Carlos mess with Lucy. Carlos is sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the kitchen. Lucy is sitting on the floor, wagging her tail, intent on inching close enough to check him out. I assume in the animal kingdom this is some sort of mammalian verification program that can only be achieved through an extensive smell-valuation.

Every time she gets close enough, Carlos doesn’t seem to notice her. But I’m not stupid and neither is my cat. He lets her get close, then he rears up into Halloween-silhouette pose and emits a terrifying growl. She starts barking; he flexes his claws; she wiggles; he strikes. She does a calculated retreat back to my legs, just far enough out of his reach that he calms down and close enough to me that he’s aggravated. He’s currently glaring at her through the bars of his chair, eyes narrowed into greenish-yellow slits.

My money’s on Carlos. He’s savvy, suave, and supremely territorial. She’s way out of her league here, but doesn’t know it yet.

***

Of course I saw this on Facebook last week, forgot to click on it because I don’t watch videos in public, and finally got around to it today. Thank you for being seven days late on the news cycle, NPR! (That wasn’t a dig. That was a genuine thank you.)

It’s a 2:19 commercial for a pre-period prep kit for girls. It’s hilarious. It’s about a girl who doesn’t have her period yet and fakes it. Her mom, knowing that her daughter lied, throws her an insane “First Moon Party” complete with “vagician,” “uterus pinata,” and more. At the end, the daughter admits she lied and the mom admits that the party was her punishment and then presents her with the pre-period prep kit.

The commentary by the author misses the mark. It’s about how the ad is a refreshing change of pace from normally awkward and offensive vagina product marketing. (True.) But then she decides to talk about the ways in which the ad is offensive because it pits the mother and daughter against each other, portraying the mother as scheming to embarrass her daughter and the daughter as a spoiled tween. I didn’t get that at all. The video made me laugh out loud. I watched it twice.

I remember when everyone else was getting their periods, and of course, my late bloomer self just wasn’t there yet. I remember pleading with the heavens for a period before I started high school. “Come on, God, please, just don’t let it start when I’m a freshman.” I think that was a pretty reasonable request. Everyone else had it. And they concealed it poorly, carrying unnecessary purses to the bathroom with them, or making a show of putting something in their pocket, while I seethed with pre-pubescent jealousy and got back to coloring and praying for blood. (Game of Thrones really doesn’t have a whole lot on the horrors of middle school.)

When it finally came (right before high school, thanks for making good on that one God), I refused my mother’s offers of assistance and settled down to figure it out all by myself. Much like the first go at leg shaving (again, “I can do it myself, Mom” said more from embarrassment and the terror of coming adulthood than real attitude at her assistance), I failed pretty miserably for a while. The leg shaving was rough because I didn’t know how to just rinse the razor and so instead of slicing my legs like a normal kid, I cut the shit out of my fingers trying to wipe off the blade.

My parents were divorced, and my dad, being completely overwhelmed by parenting a girl child, mishandled the period situation terribly. He’d have female friends bring me pads and try to have some sort of talk, but at that point, I was well-informed about the situation at hand and didn’t want or need assistance. At least he tried, although I could have done without it. It’s not terribly complicated and later, I would discover a vagina community online and the safety of anonymous reading would lead me to a wealth of knowledge without the embarrassment of actual face-to-face communication.

Part of the struggle is going through it on your own, making realizations, and then adjusting behavior patterns as a result. It’s very much like the scientific method, except it applies to your life. Parents are sometimes necessarily the adversary just because they’ve been tasked with ushering their children into adulthood. The unwanted presence of help is often viewed as antagonistic, and whether or not the mom should have punished her daughter for lying to her, the whole thing is an adorable farce about a very thrilling time in a woman’s life.

I’m pretty sure my mom cried. It’s bittersweet. Your kid is growing up — something they so desperately want — and parents are learning how to nurture independence and let go — something they so desperately want to get right. I’m pretty sure it’s terrifying all around. Let’s inject some humor into it, because we can. And we should. Periods suck. Might as well have a laugh.

On Entitlements, Defensively

I’m annoyed (oh man, what’s new?).

One of my absolute favorite teachers from high school posted a Facebook status about hearing he could quit his job teaching because he could get government handouts that total more than he makes per year. Cue the slew of comments from people advocating for people who work and decrying the lazy poor. And for people only deserving to earn money for the work that they do, and comments suggesting that people are lazy, and we live in a sick country dependent on handouts.

This is untrue. How do I know this? It’s no secret that I work my ass off. But there was a time when I made significantly less than I do now. And during that time, there was a lot of panic. Sometimes, I’d stare at my bank account and wonder how I was going to make that last me the entire month, with rent, bills, insurance, and gas and food. It goes fast.

So out of curiosity, I checked out government assistance. (Food stamps, bitch.) And guess what? I made too much to qualify for ANY of the assistance programs. (Not just food stamps, bitch.)

I started babysitting. And then I started freelancing. And then I started working at Dairy Queen. And I also got a raise or three at work.

I’m frustrated by the ideas tossed around – many of them lack any sort of basis in fact. Granted, there are a multitude of programs that fall under the umbrella of government assistance. Stafford loans, unemployment, Medicare/Medicaid, etc. And yes, there are people who are ridiculously dependent on the government without the expectation that they should have to work for it. But there are also people who need the help that they get.

I’m frustrated that the dialogue here is so critical. I’m frustrated that instead of focusing on the cause of the poverty and need in our nation, we have created a system that doesn’t allow for equal opportunity, that has magnified the cyclical situation of the working poor, that divides our nation into socio-economic groups, and so on. We’re reaping the “benefits” of an economic clusterfuck that we’ve been complicit in creating.

I harp on this all the time, but it’s because I really do see it as a barrier to progress: our societal devaluation of various types of labor has created the situation we’re in and it’s simply not sustainable. Gone are the days when someone could begin a career and work up through the ranks of a company. They may not have been wealthy, but the idea of a pension and a comfortable retirement was possible. The dream of owning a home and putting food on the table was a reality.

Now, we are forced into a hyper-competitive (and unrealistic) model of unattainable career advancement. The white-collar workforce has become an oppressively elitist segment of society, neglecting to remind themselves that their luxury cars had to be built by a laborer – someone who possesses skills they themselves most likely don’t have.

Personally, I wasn’t cut out for manual labor (apparently a lack of muscles makes me unfit for jobs that require them). Or the daily grind of a statistician (lack of mathematical prowess and logical thinking disqualifies me). Instead, I work at a job that suits my own strengths. It’s high time that we reminded ourselves that any society needs variety – variety of skill sets and variety in life. But the fact that one person runs a company and another wires houses or fixes clogged toilets does not mean that any person is of any greater value than the next. (Trust me, no amount of luxury cars in a garage is going to fix your overflowing toilet. There’s no app for that.) (There probably is an app for that.)

The discussion now focuses on the stereotype that the poor are lazy, which is something I’d love to put to the test. Let’s take your $70k/year job and pay you $12/hour for it. Let’s say that what you do isn’t worth that much. Let’s see you have to deal with not only the aching muscles, but the condescending tone of customers that so much resemble you by day. (Yeah, I get this a lot at Dairy Queen – somehow, my uniform and position behind the counter make me open to belittling, yet when I pass these same people on the street dressed in my professional attire, they open doors for me and say hello. Curious, isn’t it?)  Let’s see how you cope. Let’s see how good you are at balancing your budget, at cutting coupons, at working 14 hour days to feed your family. After you’ve spent time being part of the working poor, I’d love to hear you talk about entitlements and handouts. (Better yet, I’d love it if you’d start your arguments with facts instead of conjecture.)

Oh, and while I’m the subject of entitlement, let’s tax the shit out of capital gains. Sorry. If my $14/hour job gets taxed at a certain rate and your millions in interest and dividends don’t count, I have every right to spit your own arguments back at you. Entitled? Yeah, I think I am. I’m entitled to same services you, services such as education, roads, and police. The services that my tax dollars pay for. The services that you expect but don’t want to pay for.

I’m not saying that our government or economy or society are in a good place. They’re not. They’re corrupt. They’re every bit as corrupt as the governments we criticize. But to attempt to deny people things that they are entitled to, especially if they work and work and still can’t make enough to make ends meet, is a travesty.

I urge you to reexamine the way the you treat other people. All people. Poor. White. Black. Rich. I urge you to think about the advantages that you had. My advantages? Education. I come from a family that put education first and foremost. And I was very lucky to have the help and assistance and support that I did. I want to use my gifts to give back to my community. I want to use my gifts to help empower all people – and to give them the gifts that I had, and ultimately, give everyone a chance to make the life they want.

I don’t support handouts to people who don’t deserve them, and I do think that often, the idea of handouts leads to a dependence on them and a perpetuation of a problem that couldn’t have been solved with assistance in the first place. But I think that everyone in our society deserves the chance to live a life that’s fruitful and happy. In order to create a sustainable future for all of our citizens, not just the rich white ones, we need to come together as a people and do some serious reevaluation of our principles. Perhaps some moral compass re-calibration is necessary, too.

Just a thought.

On Childhood Haircuts, Nostalgically

I was little. My mom knew I was going to cut my own hair. I’d been cutting the dog’s hair, cutting the grass, cutting everything in sight with my scissors.

One day, I came down the stairs and I had taken the scissors to my bangs. Instead of cutting straight across, I had cut them so that they were really slanted. I had this giant triangle section of my bangs gone. And there was nothing that could be done about it.

I hid the hair behind a chair in the empty upstairs bedroom that we used as an office. (My only flash of memory of this incident was thinking that if I put the hair behind the chair, they’d never find it.)

So, seeing this interview with two little girls in the aftermath of an unfortunate hair cut, I smiled. The 5-year old daughter of an NPR staffer cut her 3-year old sister’s hair. You should listen to it. Oh my goodness, they are so adorable.

 

A Little Love Goes a Long Way

After trying to explain to one of my grandmothers on Mother’s Day that the Church (big C) can get in the way of God, I saw this article today and thought of how much the world has to learn about who/what “God” really is.

I was shaken after leaving my grandmother’s house, and my thoughts went back through my life, turning over and over the interactions that may have driven my father’s side of the family to dislike me so immensely. I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s because I hang out with gays. (I asked Jacob last night if I was okay to drop the “the” and just say “gays”, and he said that since I’m a honorary gay, it’s okay.) They are so very uncomfortable about anything “gay” and my utter embrace of the culture may have offended them.

And as I was talking to my mom about how frustrating all of this is (not just the family hating me part, but also the family – and lots of other people – hating gays part), she said, “Katie, if more people had a Jacob, there’d be a lot less hate in the world.”

And my heart sort of melted. She’s not wrong.

I wish everyone knew how much their hate could hurt. I wish everyone knew what this little boy knows. God is love. God does love. God’s love is good.

For those of us humans who choose to embrace religion, it’s important to remember that actions speak louder than words. Professions of hatred, such as the ones by the Westboro Baptist Church, are not in keeping with the teachings of Christ. Whatever faith you embrace (or don’t embrace), use today to spread a little love. Set a better example.

Kid Told Westboro Protesters ‘God Hates No One’ Because, ‘That Is True’

Categories: ReligionNational News

01:40 pm

Josef Miles, making his own statement.

EnlargePatty Akrouche/Facebook.com/FeverDreamsJosef Miles, making his own statement.

“I just don’t like seeing those signs and I kind of wanted to put a stop to that.”

That’s 9-year-old Josef Miles’ simple explanation for why he held up a notepad that said “GOD HATES NO ONE” as supporters of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church staged another small demonstration featuring their signs that say God hates homosexuals.

His Mother’s Day Weekend action in Topeka, Kan., which we we reported about last week, won Josef fans across the Web after photos of him started to spread. Today, he and his mom spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin.

Josef’s mother, Patty Akrouche, told Michel that she and her son have often seen the Westboro Baptist protesters in Topeka, where the church is based. As we’ve said before, Westboro Baptist has gained notice in recent years for protesting against homosexuality, abortion and other issues outside the funerals of military veterans and celebrities.

Josef had in the past asked her about the signs, which feature an objectionable F-word when referring to homosexuals. Akrouche had told her son that the signs were using “a hate word” to refer to men who love men and women who love women.

As he reflected on that, Josef said, he decided that “I didn’t want everybody to think that Topeka has a bad image.” So on the day earlier this month when they came upon the protesters again, “I thought about it for a minute” and concluded that “God hates no one” would be the right thing to say.

Why?

Because “that is true,” Josef said.

Akrouche told Michel that “it’s a privilege and honor” to be Josef’s mom. She has better conversations with him, she said, than with many adults: “I learn something new from him every day.”

As for Josef, he felt “really brave and confident” that day (the Westboro protesters “were respectful,” by the way, according to Akrouche). And now he’s a little surprised by the attention he’s gotten. “I thought it would be just, like, ‘oh, that’s really great, good for you,’ ” he said, not something that would go viral.

Source: NPR

On Wine, subtly

I’m a huge fan of wine. More than that, I’m a huge fan of affordable wine. There are plenty of delicious Malbecs for under $20, so both my bank account and myself can remain happy. Ha, but sometimes you do get what you pay for. I’m looking at you, $4.99 bottle of Gato Negro.

The article below serves to validate my frugality when it comes to purchasing wine:

Most Of Us Just Can’t Taste The Nuances In High-Priced Wines

02:56 am

March 6, 2012

EnlargeiStockphoto.com
Research suggests that most of us don’t or can’t taste the subtleties of fine wines.

Have you ever splurged on a highly rated bottle of Burgundy or pinot noir, only to wonder whether a $10 or $15 bottle of red would have been just as good? The answer may depend on your biology.

A new study by researchers at Penn State finds that when it comes to appreciating the subtleties of wine, experts can taste things many of us can’t. “What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different,” says John Hayes of Penn State.

So what explains this? Part of it has to do with training and experience. But our ability to identify nuances in wine is also influenced by physiology in our mouths and brains.

“We evaluated hundreds of wine drinkers,” says Hayes, by having them sample/taste a chemical that measures their reaction to bitter tastes. He found that wine experts — people such as wine writers, winemakers and wine retailers — were about 40 percent more sensitive to the bitterness than casual consumers of wine. They have a more acute sense of taste.

Hayes says his findings fit with prior research on so-calledsupertasters — people who are more sensitive to the sweetness of sugar, the sting of chili peppers and the saltiness of chips.

The experts I reached out to are not convinced that “biology” is as deterministic as the research may suggest. “There may be some people who are gifted tasters,” Dave McIntyre, who writes about wine for The Washington Post, wrote to me in an email. “But I think it’s mostly experience.”

He says he’s taken the time and made the effort to taste many, many wines. “If you taste enough Cabernet Sauvignon you’ll learn to tell it from Merlot,” MacIntyre says. And over time, if you pay attention, he says he thinks most people will heighten their ability to detect nuances.

But for those of us who are not inclined to invest a lot of time in wine-tasting, should we pay attention to those wine reviewers’ ratings and scores?

A 90-point rating may tell us that an expert thinks the wine is a good choice. And the higher the point rating, the higher the price point. But what if the critics’ palates are not in sync with ours?

“Wine shopping can be confusing and overwhelming,” Katherine Cole, a wine writer in Portland, wrote to us. She says to some extent, the point ratings can help us narrow our choices. When you spot a bottle in your price range, and you see one of those “shelf talkers” (the term she uses to describe those little tabs affixed to store shelves) that tout a 90-point rating (on a 100-point scale), it can make the decision easier. “Oh, Wine & Spiritsmagazine likes this wine, so it must be good.”

Experts all seem to acknowledge that there’s quite a bit of subjectivity involved in reviewing wine. “Every critic has his or her own taste,” Cole says, “so the same wine might garner wildly differing scores from a variety of critics.”

All of this leads me to the conclusion, that yes, I’ll try to use experience as my teacher. But I’m not going to be ashamed by my affordable favorites. I may not have the most experienced of wine palates, but I’ve found plenty of pleasant $10-$15 Syrahs and Malbecs — two of my favorites — and I’m sticking with them!

Tags: food scienceflavor sciencewine

On Taste

Why We Like What We Like

Categories: Science and Culture

by ALVA NOË

Can we really taste the difference, or is it all just down to context?

EnlargeAFP/AFP/Getty ImagesCan we really taste the difference, or is it all just down to context?

Can you tell the difference between gourmet liver paté and dog food?

I mean, can you tell the difference by taste?

Many of you are probably pretty sure that you could, and also that you could tell the difference between a $100 bottle of a splendid vintage and some $5 schlock, right? But can you really? In a blind taste test?

Scientists have looked into these questions and the findings are, well, they’re disgusting. It turns out most people won’t notice the difference between paté and dog food, so long as the latter is suitably presented with the right sort of garnish. And as for our ability to discriminate wine, even experts may confuse a white wine with a red when it is served at room temperature in a dark glass. And we’ll enjoy soggy old potato chips, it turns out, if our chewing is accompanied (over head phones) by the satisfying sound of crunching.

What are we to make of this?

I think there is a temptation, when we learn of these studies, to feel that we have been somehow unmasked, exposed, revealed to be, well, inauthentic in our pleasures. After all, if we can’t really taste the difference between cheap beer mixed with vinegar and an expensive micro-brew, then surely this means that our preference for the finer stuff is, well, a pretension. Maybe the evolutionary psychologists are right and our preferences are really complicated strategies to display wealth and win sexual partners.

And of course we’re no better off when it comes to sex. We choose our sexual partners based in large measure on features that have nothing to do with the intrinsic “taste” of the sex acts themselves. If this were not the case, why would we care to have sex only with people of a given gender, or age, or appearance? Even blindmen care about how women they meet look. Why? — Could you actually tell whether it is your wife’s hand that you are holding, and not that of a perfect stranger, in a blind taste test, as it were? And what would it mean to you if you could not?

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we are frauds and fakes.

But this would be exactly the wrong conclusion to draw, and it turns, I believe, on a widely accepted but misguided conception not just of pleasure, but of perception itself. It turns on the idea that perceptual qualities are qualitative atoms whose occurrence is fixed by the intrinsic quality of our internal, presumably physical (neural) states. Taste, we suppose, is in the mouth. So if we can’t discriminate taste just on the basis of what is happening in our taste buds, then, well, we are making the difference up.

But this is crazy. Consider a different sort of case. The German word “Nein” and the English word “nine” sound exactly alike; the very same acoustic event can instantiate both words. And yet we experience them differently, at least if we know the relevant languages. Now this is a real difference, and it is one we genuinely perceive, but it is one that corresponds not to a qualitative atom, but to a qualitative arc. We are sensitive, in this case, to a context, to a flow, to a conversation.

And so with other perceptual qualities. Context matters, and so do our attitudes and expectations. My dad used to say that Chinese food tastes better with chop sticks. And he was right. Not because he was snob, or deluded, but because he appreciated that enjoying the food is wrapped up with a way of thinking about it, handling it, chewing it.

We can discriminate dog food and paté, red wine and white, holding hands with someone we love and holding hands with a stranger. But what we are discriminating, when we do this, is not neural events in the mouth or hand, but what we are doing. And when the wine expert, or the lover, describes what matters in the flavor, or the caress, he or she is not identifying marks or features of the intrinsic qualities in the nervous system that only the expert of the lover can discern; taste is not a kind of measurement. Rather, the expert is calling attention to features of the flavor and the action that are precisely there for us to think about and pay attention to. If we choose to. And of course we don’t have to choose to. People (individuals, but also classes and cultures) differ in what they choose to care about.

The cases I mention here are discussed by Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, in his insightful and provocative book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like. I like this book very much, and recommend it, and will return to puzzles it raises in the coming weeks.

source: NPR

On Working Moms

Working Moms Multitask, And Stress, More Than Dads

A Kansas City family prepares a meal together. A new study finds that working mothers log more hours — and get more stressed — than working fathers while multitasking at home. (This family wasn't part of the research.)

Allison Long/MCT /Landov

A Kansas City family prepares a meal together. A new study finds that working mothers log more hours — and get more stressed — than working fathers while multitasking at home. (This family wasn’t part of the research.)
A new study in the December issue of the American Sociological Review comes up with some findings that lots of women may feel they already know too much about: Working mothers spend significantly more time multitasking at home than working dads. And those mothers aren’t happy about it.
Researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Michigan State University looked at 368 working mothers and 241 fathers who worked outside the home. Turns out, the women were on overdrive, with some even describing the hours between 5 and 8 p.m. as the “arsenic hours.”
“The first thing they had to start worrying about is getting dinner, interfacing with their kids, getting done all the housework chores,” says sociologist Barbara Schneider with Michigan State University, who co-authored the study. “You could see from the data all the stresses and strains they felt as they walked in the door, and all the tasks” they felt they had to accomplish during those early-evening hours.

 

The working parents in the study wore watches that beeped randomly seven times throughout the day. Researchers wanted to know how much they were multitasking. So, after the beep, the men and women filled out forms that described what they were doing, what “else” they were doing, and whether they were happy, stressed or wished they were doing something else.
After gathering all the information, the researchers found that working mothers spent 10.5 more hours every week on multitasking compared with working fathers — typical chores like preparing dinner, doing laundry, maybe even doing some work brought home from the office, while also talking with their child and helping with homework.
Fathers, on the other hand, did a different kind of juggling. “When they’re multitasking, it tends to be more work related — so they might be answering a work call” while spending time with the kids, Schneider says.
As a result, Schneider says, the women reported much greater feelings of stress and being overwhelmed than the men reported. The men reported feeling pleased with their multitasking.
Psychologist Russell Poldrack, of the University of Texas at Austin, studies how our brains make decisions and process information. He says there’s a big difference between multitasking in the short term — answering the phone while driving, for example — versus multitasking over a number of hours, like the mothers in this study. These mothers were likely overloading their “working memory,” he says.
“Our brains can only hold so much information in working memory, and when we get overloaded, a different set of systems turns on in the brain — chemical systems that are actually related to the stress response,” says Poldrack. “And the neurons in our prefrontal cortex lose the ability to hold information in the same way that they can when we’re not stressed out.”
Understanding the biology behind being frazzled may not be much comfort to the average over-stressed working mother.
Which is why researcher Barbara Schneider suggests some big changes. While men in the study worked longer hours on the job outside the home than women, Schneider says, employers could be more creative in scheduling, giving men more flexible hours and more time at home so that child care and household chores can be more equitably divided.
Source: NPR

On Romance Novels

I swear I’ll get back to work after this….but….
I love historical romance novels. 
When I write one, Evan Stone (below) shall grace the cover. I’m sure he’ll say yes when I ask him….

Romance Novels, Hairless Chests, And 


by 

(published 10/3/2011 on NPR)
Sarah Wendell undoubtedly knows exactly what you’re thinking when you hear the title of her new book,Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels.
She’s been working at the web site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for years now, and she’s heard everything you care to say about what kind of a woman would actually learn everything she knows about love from romance novels. You’re thinking: This is how people develop unrealistic expectations and cannot form healthy relationships, and what’s the deal with the bosoms and bodices and pecs and roses and OH RIGHT, LADY, I GUESS EVERYONE IS SUPPOSED TO BE FABIO.
(It’s always Fabio in comments of this kind. Fabio is to romance novels as eating bugs is to reality shows.)
She knows. She’s over it. I’ve been reading Sarah for a long time — and, in the interests of full disclosure, we chatter back and forth on Twitter now and then about Downton Abbey and what books I should read next — and I can tell you, you have nothing snide to say that she hasn’t already been told. Probably many times. But she remains, as I said she was back in late 2009, one of the best explorers I know of the interesting aspects of things typically deemed lowbrow and unimportant, and this book is a great example.

 

Collecting comments from her readers and from authors, as well as drawing on her own experience as a reader and a blogger, she sets out to explore the relationship between what romance readers get from novels and what they experience in their own lives. She talks about the kinds of men you meet on the page, the kinds of conflicts that arise between couples, and the qualities that separate healthy relationships from unhealthy ones.
What Sarah ultimately identifies is not a one-way transfer in which books teach women (because it is mostly women) about romance. It’s more of a feedback loop. That’s the trick to the book’s title. If it were entirely, totally accurate, it would beEverything I Know About What I Already Think About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels. While her thesis is not that a romance novel indoctrinates readers into believing in certain kinds of relationships — that would be creepy — there’s a strong argument here that the genre helps readers identify and articulate needs and feelings they already have, as they notice what kinds of books and heroes they gravitate toward.
This is one of the interesting points about genre entertainment in general: when there are elements of formula, identifying which versions of that formula appeal to you is surprisingly enlightening. Which iteration of a hero, for instance, do you choose, and what does it mean when you do? Everything from personality to chest hair tends to be specified in great detail; you can pretty much take your pick.
I’ll give you an example. (You knew I would.) I’m a romance reader myself, but I almost never read historical romances, which are probably more numerous than any other kind. I don’t read the ones with the voluminous skirts and Lord Whomever and Lady Anne Blah Blah Blah whose father is the Duke or whatever happens in those books. (I don’t know. I think they mostly drink sherry?)
Instead, I am almost entirely devoted to contemporaries, which are books set in the approximate here and now, in approximately the culture and world I live in. I had never given a whole lot of thought to why that is, until I read this book and realized that for me, freestyle back-and-forth banter is so fundamental to any remotely affecting flirtation that the courtly love stuff — people who cannot speak of their feelings because IT IS TABOO — is too restricting. I am what I am, and nothing charms me like a good zinger. I don’t like status and manners interfering with everybody yammering a mile a minute. (See above: I am what I am.)
Other people are the opposite: they’re charmed by the restriction, and they find the unspoken things to be the most romantic. Corsets, in that way of seeing the world, are sexy precisely because they’re an obstacle. I prefer for the obstacle to be stubbornness and never shutting up. Potato, po-tah-to. But the fact that I feel this way is something I arguably learned and noticed from reading and then reflecting on these books. (None of which contain Fabio, I’ll just have you know.)
There are plenty of variations on the theme. Some people find possessive, aggressive partners (within reason) to be alluring, and some find them terrifying. Some people like a lot of overt reassurances that they’re loved, and other people like things to go unspoken. When you really, really love a book that does, in fact, have a lot in common with other books like it, it’s a kind of spelunking into your own tastes, not only in reading, but in reality. Not because you actually expect anything to go as it does in a book, but because individual elements jump out and make one book up your alley while another isn’t. Why … well, why does your brain see the book and say, “This one”? It’s not necessarily the book you learn from as much as it is the fact that you picked it.
The sex chapter, incidentally, works basically the same way. It’s less about “I read this in a book, so this is how you do this particular thing,” and it’s more about … well, let’s make it about handholding, just to keep things on the up and up. The analogy would be that the book would allow readers an insight like, “When I read about having my right hand held, that’s not sexy, but when I read about having my left hand held, that’s very sexy, so maybe I’ll ask the next guy to hold my left hand instead of my right hand.” There you go; you’ve learned something. Not about handholding, but about you.
Lest you conclude the book is entirely analytical, I will assure you that it contains Sarah’s trademark snappy, funny writing, as well as her tireless defense of the readers she’s met. One example:
Ironically, many people who disdain the romance genre and look down on the women who read it presume that reading about courtship, emotional fulfillment, and rather fantastic orgasms leads to an unrealistic expectation of real life. If we romance readers are filling our own heads with romantic fantasies, real men and real life won’t and cannot possibly measure up to our fairy-tale expectations, right? Wrong. Wrongity wrong wrong wrong. That accusation implies that we don’t know the difference between fantasy and real life, and frankly, it’s sexist as well. You don’t see adult gamers being accused of an inability to discern when one is a human driving a real car and when one is a yellow dinosaur driving a Mario Kart, but romance readers hear about their unrealistic expectations of men almost constantly.
It’s always refreshing when anybody cares about anything enough to put a title on a book that is guaranteed to draw the same angry snorts she’s been hearing for the last … oh, five or ten years. I am inspired to write a book called I Am Made Of Television, Slapstick And Jackie Collins Books. I owe no less.