Cruelty knows no bounds

In California, the Prop 8 folks have a new champion – our friend, the one and only Ken Starr, who has now introduced a court case to force gays and lesbians who were legally married in California before Prop 8 to divorce. To force them to divorce!!! I have to just express a little outrage at the incredible cruelty of the idea.

Never mind that Prop 8 is still winding its own way through the courts, and may be illegal. THIS case is going to the Supreme Court on March 5. How he managed that I have no idea. But just imagine… your mom and dad, your friends who are married, being forced to divorce. Imagine the effects on you, their children, their family and friends. Imagine the effects on their legal arrangements, their mortgages and bank accounts, their adopted children. Imagine how those with partners in the hospital feel, who can only wait and pray that their rights to visit and care for and make decisions for their loved ones aren’t taken away.

Really, imagine anyone being forced to divorce. ESPECIALLY couples who have, in some cases, waited decades for the right to marry their loved ones. All I can say to the Supreme Court at this moment, if any are listening, is… Have Mercy. You can express your views to the Supreme Court here. But don’t take too long…

It’s high time for a new law in this land. While I support gay marriage universally, I know that others don’t. Obama took a middle course in his inauguration night speech, so here is my proposal, until that day when love prevails and intelligent people decide that supporting stable families is a good idea:

1. Leave the issue of gay marriage up to the states, for now. Pass some form of civil union law at the federal level, if possible. At a minimum, repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

2. As part of the civil union law, require all states to honor legal marriages from any other state or country, and, upon production of a valid marriage certificate, provide any benefits to those couples that would be provided to any other married couple.

3. Invalidate any state or local law that would nullify any marriage in any manner or for any reason other than the two people themselves deciding to end their marriage.

No marriage should ever be involuntarily taken away from two people who love each other. That’s just the height of cruelty.

The changing face of marriage

A recent poll by the nonprofit Pew Research Center shows that the nature of marriage is changing to become less child-centric and more oriented toward “mutual happiness and fulfillment.” The top predictors of a successful marriage did not include any child-related issues, but were instead:

– faithfulness
– good sex
– equitable sharing of household chores
– economic stability
– common religious beliefs
– shared tastes and interests

Only one-quarter of adults said that the bearing and raising of children was the primary purpose of marriage. This is a major change even since 1990. Not ever having had children as a primary purpose of my relationships, it’s hard for me to judge exactly what this means to the American psyche and our social structure. But I do think it’s interesting from the standpoint of all the soul-searching I’m doing now about the purpose and structure of a primary partnership and whether marriage has any place in that.

Could it be that marriage as the tradition I’ve always known is going through a fundamental change, which may mean I’m not as far out of the mainstream as I’ve thought? Lately it seems in the discussions I’m having with others, there is a general agreement that we need more latitude for change throughout our lives. There needs to be some recognition that we are not the same people at 50 that we are at 25 or at 75, and our partnerships may need to grow, change, or even end and begin anew.

The cataclysmic tragedies we suffer as we learn that our life-long vows are inadequate perhaps could be alleviated by a shift in how we view marriage to begin with. Yes, this carries a risk that we will not be as committed to our partners – at least in theory. I am not sure whether this would really be true – something like whether or not teaching teenagers about birth control really leads them to have more sex.

Instead, I think it might encourage more realistic expectations of marriage and one’s partner, and perhaps less taking each other for granted and more open dialogue as we go along of what is working and what isn’t and what might need to change. This would have helped my marriage a great deal. An understanding that we have choices and may have several primary partnerships during the course of our lifetimes may actually make us work harder to keep one that we value, as well as free us mentally to move on and make the most of our lives and relationships if one is not working.

The further down the path of life I go, the more I think that an openness to change and flexibility are key to making the most of life and relationships. Of course, that’s the very thing that most of us are most afraid of, losing the one we love. Yet how often do we lose them, or end up having to walk away, because the need for change was not acknowledged?

Book Review – VoiceMale

I usually don’t read books about relationships or dating – they’re almost always written by and for women, and you have to wonder how well they really represent the man’s point of view. This book caught my eye though, because it’s written and researched by a man and entirely composed of the voices of men on topics like dating, relationships, marriage, sex, housework, fidelity… lots of interesting stuff. Here, I thought, was my chance to hear the real deal – and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the strengths of this book is that there are a large number of interviews with men of all generations, cultures, and socio-economic classes. It’s particularly fascinating to see how attitudes have changed through the generations.

Some of the most interesting findings for me:

– In first meeting a woman, men do look for looks – but not perfection. The interviews seemed to show that men more often picked out one or two special features of a woman, like a nice smile or beautiful eyes – and still saw those beautiful things in their wives decades later.

– In looking for a partner, the most important attribute is a positive temperament – optimism, cheerfulness, enthusiasm, energy, warmth. Complaining, sarcasm, picky eating – all turn-offs. Men are looking at the long-term here, to what a day-to-day relationship might be like. Of all the valuable information I picked up in this book (for a newly single gal) this one really stood out.

– Issues that most often derail a marriage within the first few years – sharing money, balancing family with outside interests, relations with in-laws, maintaining interest in sex. This last seems to be a product of the “love cocktail” or “honeymoon effect” – that heightened romance and passion that is present in the first few years (or months) of a relationship, which eventually settles down into something more everyday. Power struggles in general are also an issue as the new relationship gets sorted out. In previous generation, each partner had a sphere of influence within the marriage that was relatively well-understood. Now both partners are expected to be more equal, which means that just about everything has to be negotiated and they can’t just settle into previously defined roles. Husbands in successful marriages stated that the key to the first few years of marriage was in learning how to handle disagreements.

– Men frequently define their worth through work – especially after they get married and have a family to support. It makes no difference whether the wife is working too. Working hard is a measure of their love, as well as their own self-worth. So it is frequently baffling to them when their wives complain about feeling neglected and unloved. This is largely a matter of culture and the values instilled in them by their own fathers, and there is a generational conflict here as modern men struggle to balance the expectations of their modern wives with the values instilled in them by their parents. This was one of the major insights I eventually gained into my own marriage – it didn’t help me feel any better, but it did at least help me understand what was going on.

– Women are far more emotionally involved with sex than are men. A frequent misunderstanding between married couples arises when a couple has a fight and subsequently, the wife doesn’t feel like having sex. Men often believe the wife is punishing them by withholding sex, while the woman doesn’t understand how the man can expect her to have sex when she’s upset. It was very interesting to me that many men didn’t get the connection between emotion and passion, even after being married for decades.

– Both men and women reported far greater satisfaction in their sex lives when they felt that the household chores were equitably shared – a very interesting connection suggesting that respect and general household satisfaction are important to sexual enjoyment. Note the word “equitably” – equal division is not necessary as long as the partners felt that the arrangement was fair and mutually agreed upon.

– Long-married men do experience much greater frustration over lack of sexual interest in their wives than do women, especially in the “empty-nest” years when they may have been looking forward to greater opportunity for intimacy. However, no matter how difficult the situation, the vast majority of men who have been married that long opt not to have affairs. They’re not happy about it, but the value of the marriage in other ways is important to them. Overall and aside from these difficulties, married men are far happier with their sex lives than single men.

– Men feel closest to their partners when doing something active together, like a project around the house or a cross-country trip. Side-by-side togetherness feels far more comfortable and enjoyable than face-to-face sharing of emotions and talking. Doing things for their partner and just being there may be how a man expresses his love, rather than saying “I love you.”

voicemale.jpg
VoiceMale – What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework, and Commitment
Neil Chethik, 2006, Simon & Schuster

Relationships without Promises

More and more lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships without promises. Marriages involve promises, and frequently, they’re broken. I meant my vows to last a lifetime, and they didn’t. And what about those people who get married over and over… what are they thinking? Are they eternal optimists, not really thinking about what they’re promising, or not believing the words they do say?

I’m not sure I can make more promises like that and feel any degree of certainty around them. Yet, I want a meaningful, deep, loving relationship. So the question… can long-term relationships exist without promises, and if so, what would that look like?

There’s a certain maturity to not making promises… it means you’re constantly choosing to be in the relationship you’re in. Rather than trying to hold someone to you by making them swear a vow (or even letting them do it voluntarily) you know that they are always with you because they choose to be. Insecurity and fear hinders this, it seems there is always an internal push to obtain a promise, as if that holds any kind of security or safety. People break those promises all the time, and then are afraid to tell their partners, which leads to affairs, which leads to heartbreak. How much better if we could always know that we both are where we want to be, and if we start to feel that we’re not, we can talk about it and allow change into the relationship – or out of it.

There can also be an immaturity in not making promises, if it is abused by rationalizing that this means you can do anything you want to do. People are usually more sensitive when their partner breaks a promise or a rule they’ve agreed on, but it is equally true that even when there are no promises, a person can be just as hurt. Because we are emotional beings, it’s just not possible to say – it wasn’t against the rules, therefore, it’s OK for me to do it and you shouldn’t care that I did it. If it hurts your partner, it hurts. And usually if you honestly ask yourself the question, would this hurt my partner? you know the answer. And if you don’t, that would be a really good thing to talk over ahead of time, when it’s not a current issue :)

And then there’s the problem that those vows seem to make people complacent – because there’s a promise to stay together for life, there’s less of a push to work on relationship issues. This is really where I think the lack of promises could be a good thing – there is a need to constantly maintain the relationship – to check in that things are working, to talk over things that aren’t working, and to work together through any change that is needed. And to constantly leave open the possibility that maybe the best thing is not to assume that you should stay together your whole life. Couldn’t there be such a thing as serial monogamy – a series of deep and loving commitments that enrich your life while you have them? Why is it that we assume we should have the same partner our entire lives? Fear of change? Or something deeper?

What do you think? This is a deep and engaging issue for me right now and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts on the subject :)

Books of the week

I love books… I’m usually reading several a week, so I though it might occasionally be fun to review what’s been on the bedside table this week :)

feynman.jpg Perfectly Reasonable Deviations (From the Beaten Track) – This is another one of those books about Richard Feynman that I can’t seem to get enough of. He was a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who was also one of my professors at Caltech. I think I enjoy reading these books so much because he was such an interesting man, with a creative, sexy, and engaging mind, and when I was there he was in his last few years and was already suffering from intestinal cancer. Nevertheless, I was able to get to know him a little, enjoy a few of his lectures, and performed in at least one musical with him (playing the bongo drums, of course). This book compiles his letters over the years, and he was such a character that his personality and force shines through the letters. It’s a bit long, but quite a fascinating account of the world and its changes throughout the era when he was working on the atomic bomb, teaching at various institutions, winning the Nobel Prize, protesting cold war politics as it affected science particularly, and serving on the Challenger review committee. A+ (if you enjoy such things).

marriage.jpg The Marriage Diaries – This one I read in an afternoon when I was starved for some time to just read. The story revolves around a married couple who have more or less lost the thread that binds them and are beginning to realize it. For various reasons, they both begin to journal, and the book is entirely composed of journal entries. For a while, the wife is reading the husband’s journal on their computer network, and realizes he’s close to having an affair – though she never gets to find out if he actually does it, as he changes operating systems and passwords just at the crucial moment. She ends up having a brief affair more or less pre-emptively, and comes to regret it. I won’t say what happens in the end, except that it involves mermaids :D B – entertaining for an afternoon.

candy.jpg Strange Candy – This is a book of short stories by Laurell K. Hamilton. I’m pretty into her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series :) so I thought this would be interesting to pick up. She writes possibly the most erotic fiction I’ve ever encountered in print, and has an interesting noir take on a world where vampires, shapeshifters, and necromancers are legally protected classes but only just barely tolerated in society. The short stories include a few set in that world, but also some excellent fantasy work set in worlds from her earlier days of writing. I am only half-way through the book, so who knows what interesting new facets will reveal themselves. Strange candy indeed – reads like dark chocolate with a hint of espresso and orange peel. A for originality and a fine writing technique.