The Real Reason I’m Not Married

In seminary they tried to scare us into dating carefully by telling us stories about girls who dated Dr. Jekyll and woke up the morning after to Mr. Hyde. I believe men have their own versions of these timeless bedtime stories.

While I’m sure this does occasionally happen—for there must be utterly messed up and even psychopathic people out there (quite a lot of psychopaths, if one believes all the divorcees who have assured me they were married to one)—I think those unexpected body-snatching marriages end pretty quickly.  But when it comes to wonky marriages that last, I suspect something different is going on. After years of watching my friends pair off and be married, I am prepared to advance the following hypothesis: I think people pick people who allow them to perpetuate their neuroses.

This is how the friend with the habit of always making her life more complicated than it needed to be wound up with the OCD guy. The friend who was afraid of her own strength and ambition married the guy who nixed it. And the friend who was always pretty sure the world was out to get her married a guy who apparently is.

While my hypothesis is most obvious in poor to fair marriages, I believe, with further study, that it can be extended into the healthier range as well.  Just because they’re happy doesn’t mean they’re not neurotic.

But therein, methinks, lies my problem. If marriage is about choosing another nut-job who complements or aggravates your nuttiness, what do you do if you’re not nutty? Yes, I’m saying it out loud:

I’m just too well-adjusted.

Go ahead, guffaw. But even my therapist said so.

Seriously, though. Maybe I’m not quite normal, but who is? And maybe my neuroses can’t be complemented by a partner. Indeed—perhaps they require being single. In that case, I’m as happily married as any of you out there. My neuroses are happy, healthy, and fostered by my lack of partnership.

At least I didn’t need a wig and three kids to accomplish that.

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Dating Scared

Personally, I don’t think I’m picky. The only times I ever turn  a fellow down for further dating is when something about him makes me want to hit him over the head with a mallet.

I should take the moment to explain that I am not a violent person. I do not enjoy watching violence. I do not enjoy taking part in it. Once, in an exercise class, the instructor suggested we imagine someone we hated in front of us to strengthen our punches. Her suggestion froze me completely. I just couldn’t bring myself to punch the person I was imagining. Sit down with her and explain, perhaps, why she was so completely detestable, with constructive aims, but punch her? I couldn’t do it. So when I feel like playing whack-a-mole with my dates, it’s a pretty serious matter. It means that, as a pair, we are definitely not marriage material.

But in the spirit of back-of-the-mag Wired articles, where the idea is more important than its likeliness, I present my take on the “picky single” phenomenon.

Mazlow defined the eternal discontent of mankind in a neat pyramid. At the bottom are basic survival needs, like food, clothing, shelter, safety. If a person doesn’t have these, his need to acquire them will consume his thoughts. He will find it nearly impossible to consider higher, more ephemeral needs when he’s trying to keep his navel from sticking to his spine. And as long as a person is at the base of the pyramid, simple things will bring him great joy: an apple, a sweatshirt, not being chased out of Grand Central during a snowstorm.

But once these basic needs are met with ease, a person is no longer content with his food and shelter. He becomes restless once again. He needs friends, he needs family, he needs people to love and who love him in return. He needs relationships. And once relationships are secured, he is still not satisfied. He needs fulfillment; something that gives his existence a higher purpose. Joy is no longer nested in an apple, and consequently, it is more difficult to procure.

So, one might posit, the more comfortable a person is, the greater his needs, and the more difficult they are to fulfill.

I think this is part of the reason for the alleged “picky single” phenomenon noted by the writer in this post.

Once, marriage was an essential institution for a number of reasons. But now, with men and women fulfilling their more basic needs (eg: for support) independently, marriage has moved up the pyramid.

Women are no longer satisfied with a kind man who will bring home the dough, play with her children, and use his belt strictly for holding up his pants. Men are not interested in a pipe-, slippers-, and child-bearing 1950s housewife. Nor are we satisfied with the contented, role-based marriages that go with these stereotypes. We seek a meeting of the minds—someone who will understand us, not merely sympathize; someone who will be an active partner in all aspects of life; someone we can love forever.

And yes, that’s demanding. And maybe it means we’re not marrying a lot of people with whom we could conceivably be contented. But we think it’s worth it, because we’re at the level of comfort where we can no longer be happy with anything else.

The author of the column presented her theory that singles are afraid of divorce and afraid of their own imperfections. I think that’s a more negative slant on my theory. We worry that we are not good enough to sustain the kind of relationship we want to have, and we worry equally about our partner. It makes dating a nerve-wracking experience. One vacillates between anxiety that the other person is not quite right to anxiety that one is not quite good enough. In between, one grows anxious that this ideal is unachievable, that one is too picky, and that one is doomed forever…

Does that make us commitment-phobic? Maybe. As one commenter said, singles aren’t afraid to commit—we’re just waiting for the right person. In other words, we’re afraid to commit to the wrong person.

Living at Home and Maturity (Mutually Exclusive?)

Conversation at an editorial meeting preceding the publication of Leonard Sax’s “Boys Adrift:”

Female Editor: “…and these guys are living at home in their parents’ basements for years until they’re 27—even 28!”

Female Marketer: “I lived with my parents until I was 34.” Awkward silence. “Then I bought a house.”

Female Editor: “Ah, but you had a plan.”

There is a general conception that living at home breeds immaturity. I, for one, have never understood how maturity, the emotional state of reacting to situations in a socially appropriate and adaptive manner, should be dependent on the location of one’s abode.

It’s not that living away from home doesn’t have its allure. The Independent has the ability to exercise many exciting options the Live-at-Home doesn’t, such as leaving breakfast dishes in the sink, vacuuming after 10pm, and snacking on leftovers whenever he or she pleases.  In short – the ability to live without being held accountable for one’s every action. I would not, however, go so far as to call this line of reasoning “mature” by any stretch of the imagination. “Independent” and “mature” are not and never have been synonyms.

Overheard:

Conversant 1: “I’m sorry, but a person isn’t mature if they’re living at home. Sorry to say it, but if Mommy is still packing your lunches—hello! Grow up!”

Conversant 2: “Because buying your lunch at Starbucks is really mature?”

Of course, living independently does throw one into situations that are likely to develop mature behavior. Such as, for example, choosing to wash the dishes because one desires cleanliness, and not due to authoritarian dread. But, although it may be more difficult to develop these behaviors at home, there is certainly nothing preventing the assiduous adult from doing so. Moreover, plenty of people living independently never take advantage of these opportunities either, preferring to eat off paper or throw out the dishes when the sink gets too full.

At the same time, I have to admit that my behavior is very different when I’m living independently. On my own, I do the dishes without reinforcement, clean up for Shabbos spontaneously, and even prepare a brown bag lunch for the next day. At home, well, a certain amount of reminding is usually necessary. And forget the lunch. That’s why God invented vending machines.

So, do I magically mature when I leave home and regress when I return? Unlikely. Rather, when I’m on my own I’m playing house. In my house. The systems that help things run efficiently are the ones that I compose after my own trial and error. I have a feeling of ownership for my little household that I don’t have at home. When I was a teen and tried slacking off, the parents would remind me, “This is your home too.” But they were wrong. I was just living there.

Popular psychology tells us this is normal. The best way to motivate and encourage participation is to create a feeling of ownership. Etcetera, etcetera. And this would have been a good enough excuse for me if I hadn’t spent some time working in an environment with a two-tier employee system. The upper tier was a management caste that made the decisions. The lower tier was a union caste that carried them out.

Observing the union workers, I was struck by how much they resembled children going about their assigned chores. They dragged their feet, cut corners, and complained. In fact, sometimes they even whined.

Manager: “So, you were supposed to replace the candiflange. Did that happen yet?”

Mechanic: “Nope. But I recommend using the ATK-984.”

Manager: “We discussed that last week and we decided to go with the ATK-779 instead.”

Mechanic: “Piece of junk.”

Manager:  “Did you order it?”

Mechanic: “Nope.”

Manager: “Why not?”

Mechanic: shrugs “Nobody told me to.” Manager looks astounded. “I just carry out orders.”

When I heard this exchange I was initially embarrassed for the mechanic. Here was a full-grown, middle-aged man with adult children, and he sounded like a sulky teenager. Yes, he was in a situation where he did not feel ownership and so on, but he was an adult. He had a choice about how to behave, and he was supposed to choose the mature way.

And almost immediately, I was embarrassed for me. Because I’m also a full-grown woman, and sometimes I sound like a union worker. In fact, I even refuse to do things that I insist are not in my contract—like washing chulent pots.  Shouldn’t I also be taking the mature route?

Does the fact that we have always abused the better nature of our families give us the right to continue doing so as adults?

So yes, I enjoy living independently, with all the privilege it brings. But there is no doubt in my mind that living at home provides unparalleled opportunities to develop new facets of maturity.

Because as long as I’m living in this house, why shouldn’t it be my home too?

 

(Note: this does not extend to chulent pots.)

 

Judging a Guy by His Face

I found this article fascinating. Not in the basic premise that living in a healthier country makes women less interested in macho men. Whatever to that. But rather, that you can tell how kid-friendly a guy is by his face.

In a small study led by psychologist James Roney at the University of Santa Barbara, 29 women were asked to look at photos of men and rate their masculinity and fondness for infants. (The men had already been tested for child-friendliness and testosterone levels.) The men who were rated as the most masculine generally had higher testosterone levels; the women also were generally accurate in assessing child-friendliness.

So, women, you ought to be asking for photos of your dates before you go out. It’s not about their good looks or lack thereof – just their masculinity.

Because, apparently, you can tell a guy’s testosterone level from his face (“testosterone [is] the hormone behind manly muscles, strong jaws, prominent eyebrow ridges, facial hair and deep voices”), and thereby how good a husband he’ll be.

In another study of 2,100 Air Force veterans, men with testosterone levels one standard deviation above the mean were 43% more likely to get divorced than men with normal levels, 31% more likely to leave home because of marital problems, 38% more likely to cheat on their wives, and 13% more likely to admit that they hit or hurled things at them.

Shades of Grey wrote a short story about not bringing your genes on a date.

Who needs genes? We just want your hormone levels.

I think that is going to become my weird shidduch question from now on.

“What’s his name? Where’s he from? What’s he doing? How do his testosterone levels compare to the  average?”

Sweep Her Off Her Feet

I received the following intriguing email a few weeks ago:

A friend, getting desperate at ever finding a good girl (yes, that happens to guys too), hatched a plan to kidnap a nice BY girl. He would use a friendly shadchan’s services to preselect the very best girl. Whisk her off to a carefully prepared New Mexico cabin. Adobe stucco, very picturesque. Treat her in a most kosher and cavalier way. And allow the Stockholm Syndrome to do the rest. Within 6 weeks he would deliver her back to the parents: safe, secure, and happily married.

There would be a few complications regarding lo signov, but we could rely on the few poskim who say shidduchim trumps  mitzvos lo sa’asei (everybody agrees that it trumps mitzvos asei). That’s it. Desperate times require desperate hishtadlus.
…Are you calling the police?

In the words of the king from Cinderella, “Love, ha! Just a boy and a girl meeting under the right conditions. So, we’re arranging the right conditions.” (Thanks, O.) But are these really the right conditions?

Bride kidnapping is not a new idea. Fiction is rife with such tales, most of them perpetrated by creeps, and generally unsuccessful—think The Phantom of the Opera, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Among the attempts at kidnapping that are successful is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but that’s a post-WWII musical, which have a reputation for presenting women as far more tractable than they are in real life. (One egregious example of this rewriting of reality is Annie Get Your Gun—in real life, Frank Butler was not a self-absorbed jerk [he stepped down to become Annie’s manager], and Annie had enough backbone not to be his simpering puppy. One wonders why they use the word “tribute” in their descriptions of the film/show. Tribute to who, exactly?

There’s a simple measure of how closely a movie/musical mirrors reality—it’s called the Bechdel test. There are three criteria the production must meet to pass the test:

  1. There must be two significant female characters (with names),
  2. They must speak to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.

Good luck finding a handful that fit. And yet, I know that many women speak to other women about things besides men. Are we still in parentheses?)

But this wasn’t an entry about film criticism. It’s about kidnapping women and hoping for Stockholm Syndrome to kick in. Truth is, even with Stockhold Syndrome, kidnapped women still try to escape. They just find excuses for their captor. Every few years such a case hits the news.

The best course may be the one outlined in the Restoration drama ‘The Conscious Lovers,’ by Richard Steele. There, the main character, a Mr. Bevel, takes under his wing a young lady shipwrecked and all alone in the world. He provides for her all the comforts a young lady needs: an apartment, a maid, and a piano. And he visits frequently to ensure that she’s comfortable. They both become secretly besotted with each other, but neither dares mention it for fear of offending the other with their presumption. But of course, in the end, with typical Restoration drama chaos, everything comes all right and they marry.

Kidnapping a woman immediately gives her reason to resent you. Rescuing her immediately gives her reason to like you. And as Maureen Dowd snidely states, “Women like firefighters because deep down, they all want to be rescued.” Sadly, shining armor is out of fashion these days. Think of the wide appeal of The Princess Bride; it almost certainly stems from its adherence to the knight-in-shining-armor-rescuing-damsel-in-distress model.

So for all desperate gentlemen considering this course of action: It would be far better to arrange for someone else to kidnap the woman, so you can go in and perform a daring rescue worthy of a Jewish thriller novel. On the long trek back to civilization (a kidnapping to the Congo or Amazon would be ideal), the two of you will doubtless bond. By the time you ring her doorbell, the only thing left to discuss will be “Should we send Bad4 a response card?”