Volume 2, Issue 11: November 2018
The All-Or-Nothing Marriage
Quote of the Month
Timeless insights from scientists, philosophers, novelists, and other wise souls
“I don’t care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special”
Five things I'm thinking about this month
1. As a teenager in the 1990s, I never quite understood why the privilege and responsibility for initiating a romantic or sexual relationship should rest with men more than women. In 2003, when I used online dating for a not-so-hot minute, I was surprised to find that the norm persisted into the new millennium. I tried an online dating site run through The Onion (the satirical newspaper), where $25 got you 25 “credits,” each of which allowed you to contact a new person. Seemed reasonable to me, but I learned that their service also provided the option of a “collect call,” which allowed users to contact a new person who then had to spend the credit to reply. Also reasonable, but a norm emerged where women were much more likely than men to use the collect call option. The caveman logic behind that norm was sufficiently foreign to me that I never replied to a collect call. Anyway, that’s the background I brought with me to this New York Times article encouraging women to be romantically and sexually assertive. “Until it is no big deal,” argues the author, “for a woman to say, ‘I want,’ as well as ‘I don’t want’ — until heterosexual women no longer feel the need to wait for the man to propose or to invite us to the prom or to kiss us on a beautiful summer evening when we want to kiss — we leave ourselves at the mercy of men’s desires.” Amen to that—and Kudos to Bumble for helping to change the gender dynamics in dating.
2. One of the splashiest articles in my Twitter feed this month is this Atlantic article reporting on the rather shocking decline of sex, especially among American teenagers. By almost any reasonable metric, we’re living in a sexually liberated time—the widespread availability of contraception and approval of sex outside of marriage, the pervasiveness of casual dating apps like Grindr and Tinder, the emergence of an influential sex-positivity movement that has developed a moral case for sexual pleasure and nonmonogamy, etc. “Shame-laden terms like perversion,” observes the author, “have given way to cheerful-sounding ones like kink.” And yet: “From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent.” This trend extends into adulthood, as the emerging generation of American adults are projected to have fewer lifetime sex partners than their parents’ or their grandparents’ generation. And, overall, the average number of times that an American adult had sex declined 13% from the late 1990s to 2014—from 62 to 54 times. Nobody’s exactly sure what’s driving this “sex recession,” but there are some intriguing possibilities. Easy access to online pornography (especially for men) and vibrators (especially for women) makes it easier to quell sexual urges through the low-hassle option of masturbation. The broader appeal of digital technologies, including Netflix and its ilk, increase the opportunity cost of sexual pursuits. Stronger norms against sexualizing the workplace have made it more difficult for people to meet partners on the job. In any case, we do know that fulfillment in the sexual domain is a strong predictor of life satisfaction, so the rapid decline in sexual connection is probably something we’ll want to keep an eye on.
3. I’ve been delighted to see Monica Lewinsky opening up about the indignities she endured after her affair with Bill Clinton went public. Writing for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky built on her powerful #MeToo article from February with a new article this month about the process of excavating memories from “the Lewinsky scandal” (henceforth called “The Clinton Affair”). This excavation was literal—it involved endless hours of sifting through the “memorabilia” from that era—but it was also psychological. Lewinsky was heartbroken by the end of the affair, and then she was also publicly skewered beyond all reason. She was left, even decades later, with a deep sense of grief: “Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as ‘That Woman’—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire.” All signs suggest that Lewinsky is successfully reclaiming her life story, one in which she is doing well and doing good. (Her TED talk, The Price of Shame, is essential viewing.) Let’s hope these efforts are moving us closer to an era in which women cease to bear the overwhelming brunt of the blame for sexual indiscretions.
4. I’m a longtime fan of the New York Times’s “Modern Love” column. I particularly enjoyed this adorable article in which Mark tells the story of how he bonded with Ashley over her fragile rabbit Judy. The story is lovely in its entirety, but this is my favorite part: “Our friends and family advised us that international travel with rabbits sounds like an avoidable torment, and of course they are correct. But so what? Love entails plenty of those. Opt out too often and you opt out of the thing itself.”
5. It’s taken a while, but one welcome development in the wake of #MeToo is the serious engagement of perpetrators. In one sobering article, the New York Times invited men to reveal cases in which they had, in high school, behaved toward girls in ways they now regret. The Times reported eight of these stories. They’re devastating to read, primarily because of the damage these men did but also because of the guilt they’ve carried over the years. “I have never forgotten the look on her face,” reports one man. [S]he seemed at once hurt, disappointed, indignant, and bewildered. Seeing her expression, I was seized with remorse for what I’d done, although I had not the courage to confess and apologize, then or later.” In a related piece, Lori Gottlieb asks, in her “Dear Therapist” column in the Atlantic, whether it’s possible, or even reasonable, for such men to apologize. She offers sage advice for anybody seeking to do so. The advice includes making sure that the apology focuses on the victim’s well-being rather than your own desire for absolution, taking full ownership and blame over your inappropriate behavior, and being aware that the victim might be furious that you’ve contacted her (or him).
A dispatch from the mascot of the Relationships And Motivation Lab (RAMLAB)
The RAMLAB is heartbroken by the untimely death of our beloved friend Devah Pager.
Devah, 46, arrived at Northwestern the same year that Eli did (2003) and became one of the greatest sociologists of her generation. This New York Times obituary helps to convey the importance of her research (and this other NYT article places her alongside legends like Ida B. Wells in a group of extraordinary women who changed how we think about race), but nothing can capture her radiant warmth or her effervescent spirit.
She is survived by her wonderful husband Mike and her adorable five-year-old son Atticus (Ajax)—and by a countless array of loving friends and admirers.