Volume 1, Issue 4: December 2017
Quote of the Month
Timeless insights from scientists, philosophers, novelists, and other wise souls
“I think marriage is like the music a jazz quartet makes when the musicians come together. The marital interaction is the music. As they interact, the two people create a third element, just like the music of the jazz quartet is a new entity, the fifth element produced by the four musicians. … To understand the music of the quartet, it helps very little to describe the personalities of the players. Even the solo work of the musicians will often not predict how much a particular quartet is, or is not, ‘in the groove’—that is, making beautiful music together.”
Five things I'm thinking about this month
1. I’ve been following an interesting discussion of the link between political orientation and family stability. In 2010, the law scholars June Carbone and Naomi Cahn reported that blue states (those that lean Democratic) have lower divorce and teen pregnancy rates than red states (those that lean Republican). Since then, scholars and social commentators have engage in a robust debate about whether Democrats or Republicans adhere more closely to behaviors linked to “family values.” This month witnessed several salvos in this debate, starting with Nick Kristof’s New York Times piece suggesting that “Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach.” Brad Wilcox and Vijay Menon responded with a Politico piece arguing that “No, Republicans Aren’t Hypocrites on Family Values,” which inspired a rejoinder from Carbone and Cahn. The arguments and evidence are worth considering in their totality, although it’s also clear that most of us will struggle to separate our interpretation of the evidence from the policy-relevant implications of that interpretation.
2. One of the most interesting new findings in relationship science this month comes from Yuthika Girme and her colleagues, who investigated fluctuations in feelings of attachment toward one’s relationship. Securely attached individuals—those who believe they are worthy of love and are comfortable opening up emotionally—tend to enjoy strong relationships, and they anticipate that their relationship will be stable over time. But such expectations appear to make them vulnerable to day-to-day fluctuations in their sense of security, with fluctuations predicting declines in relationship satisfaction over time.
3. If we expand the definition of “relationship science” to include interspecies relationships, another fun new finding comes to the fore. Research from Rob Found reveals that the ability of an elk and a magpie to develop a symbiotic relationship—with the magpie eating ticks off of the elk—depends on both of their personalities. Whereas bold elk reject magpie landings, shy elk are receptive to such landings. In contrast, whereas bold magpies are willing to risk landings, shy magpies rarely attempt them. Consequently, shy elk and bold magpies are especially likely to reap the mutual benefits of this form of interspecies cooperation. For a popular-press summary of this work, including a cute photo of a magpie hanging out on a grateful elk, see this New York Times piece.
4. I was intrigued to see some compelling stories in the mainstream media about love and forgiveness. Elizabeth Covington reports on her close relationship with her boyfriend’s ex-wife—despite the fact that she (Covington) became involved with him while he was still married. The ex-wife was graciously determined to build a broader family unit that was best for the children. In another piece, Marci Alboher tells about the sense of peace that emerged following a chance encounter with the man whose wife left him 12 years earlier to marry Alboher’s husband. “And that’s when we turned to a subject that once cut deeply for us both,” she reports, “though I can’t remember who asked first: Had our exes been physically involved before our splits? He didn’t know, and neither did I, though we didn’t think they had, at least not ‘technically.’ Most startling, though, was how it no longer mattered—to either of us. That once-scalding question had lost its potency. But it took seeing him and talking about it to make me realize that.”
5. The issues that have been dominating my thinking beyond all others lately revolve around the #MeToo movement. I’ve been horrified by the realization that so many women have silently endured sexual harassment or assault, and I’ve been awed by the power of the movement to give voice to so many of these women—and to hold the perpetrators responsible. The most central issues in this space revolve around making the world, and especially the workplace, safer for women. Of less significance is an array of thorny, but also important, issues revolving around whether it’s acceptable to pursue or date somebody from work (or in other contexts where power considerations are relevant), and, if so, how. Along these lines, this controversial essay from Allison Benedikt was eye-opening. This sentence offers a sense of her perspective: “The difference between actions that can get you married and actions that can get you fired can’t simply be whether or not the person you are interested in is interested back.” Every bit as eye-opening is the backlash Benedikt’s essay triggered, including this essay from Josephine Livingstone in the New Republic. This excerpt offers a sense of Livingsone’s perspective: “Soon after starting my undergraduate degree at Oxford, I also started a relationship with a man in his thirties whose job it was to teach me. He did not coerce me; we pursued each other. … The whole thing was extremely fun, we traveled together, I loved him a lot. We didn’t get married or have kids, but I don’t regret it at all. And I still think he did something wrong.” It seems clear that the old norms surrounding sexuality and romantic pursuit, especially in the workplace, were unacceptably costly to women, and I’m glad to see them crashing down. I’m intrigued to see how new norms develop. My initial sense is that no simple solution, such as requiring affirmative consent, will be sufficient to address the various complexities involved.
A dispatch from the mascot of the Relationships And Motivation Lab (RAMLAB)
We’ve had some fun adventures this month. Katie, Lydia, and Eli submitted an article and finished running a pretty crazy laboratory experiment. Eli presented ideas from “The All-Or-Nothing Marriage” on Fox News (#NotFakeNews) and at PopTech. After his PopTech talk, he had a fun panel discussion—mediated by the PopTech host Moran Cerf—with the relationships guru Esther Perel and the Bumble head-of-brand Alex el-Effendi. The panel, which is depicted in the photo below, discussed a range of topics, including hookup culture.
Speaking of “The All-Or-Nothing Marriage,” it has been racking up some nice accolades. For example: (1) the PBS NewsHour listed it alongside books like Roxane Gay’s “Hunger” and Elizabeth Strout’s “Anything Is Possible” as one of five recommended books of 2017; (2) Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global listed it alongside books like Esther Perel’s “State of Affairs” and Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies” as one of five books that will make you think differently about relationships; and (3) the Greater Good Center listed it alongside books like Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s “Option B” and Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” as one of their 13 favorite books of 2017.
Did I mention that the book makes a wonderful stocking stuffer?