Thursday, February 09, 2006

What's Wrong With Us?

We date. And date. And date. But why can't we get to the next level? What's wrong with us? Glad you asked. Because now there's a book. Says author Jillian Straus of her new book, Unhooked Generation:
This book explores why so many of us face a rocky, detained, or pit-fallen road to long-term commitment. Why is the search for love so difficult for us, and what can we do about it?First I will take you through my own story as a typical thirtysomething single, urban professional. Then I will examine the cultural factors uniquely affecting this generation, what I call “The Seven Evil Influences,” that undermine our relationships every day. Through the stories of single men and women I will explore how these influences make us look at potential partners, how they confuse the dance by which we court each other, change how we perceive commitment, and pose real obstacles on the path to romantic fulfillment.
I'm tired of these books: what's wrong with us, why can't we, why isn't he into's enough to drive a person mental. Or, as it's known in the scientific parlance: the week before Valentine's Day. There'll be more. Because there's always more. And it's only February 9.


VJ said...

Geez, a fresh new post yet to be despoiled! So let's get started. I actually looked for some Amazon reviews of this book, and they've yet to come in. From the sounds of it, it's not anything earth shattering or that we've not all heard before.

Which brings me to an unusual thought. First I would like to thank all of you to contributing mightily to our economy. I mean there's a new internet dating site every week or so, promising the world and the glowing future, and most of the restaurants in most of our major cities would go bankrupt w/o you. Truth be told, in the new Bush economy, it's just about the only sure growth industry left.

Still we are talking about playing to people's most deeply held desires and dreams for a happy marriage & family, and none of these things can actually be bought or secured with any amount of cash. What you get are 'introductions', chances at the game, but not the goods themselves. Because the 'goods' are us. And humans, well they've been tricky business since forever.

And lets face it, since the dawn of time we've been facing down 'evil influences', only some of which have serious impacts on marriages. I mean most mafia dons seem happily married, and they've got plenty of 'evil influences', right? So not even reading the book, here's some of my guesses at some important evil influences.

1.) Time pressures in a new economic regime that uniquely does not allow for much family time, even for married folks. This makes it doubly hard to meet someone if most of your week or weekend is covered up in work. Yes, we actually used to have most weekends free, and have more real leisure time for most people. Now we have many people working 2-3 jobs just to keep up with expenses. This kills romance.

2.) Along with time pressures, is the double whammy Catch 22 of money pressures. [See the new book 'Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead' by Tamara Draut.] Never before in our history have a succeeding generational cohort been poorer in real terms than their parents, yet this will undoubtedly be the case for this 20-30 something generation, again for a host of complex political economic reasons. So kids today are even more pressed for money and more in debt than their parents would ever dream of during their time as singles or young adults. This remains a serious an ongoing problem.

3.) TV. Yes, we are being entertained to death, and it's amazing that only grandpa's can see this perhaps.

But seriously, we used to take pleasure in each other's company, for conversation and for friendships. Yes this still happens, but it's typically and ever changing cast of characters due to our increasingly mobile habits to migrate to the job or for schooling. So what little real leisure time we have left at the end of the day is usually spent in front of the 'boob tube', these are now our most frequent and consistent longtime companions. And truth be told, most of the time what's there is far more amusing than what's on the outside, which is another persistent problem of technology. Whereas good 'ol dad got by in 25 years on a handful of good solid jokes, Leno/Stewart/Letterman have a bevy of funny writers who can crack a smile once or twice a night in almost anyone. Think about that. Who or what can match such ready wit or amusement? We have this at our fingertips.

4.) A revolution of rising expectations. Ask any historian, this is the start of big trouble. We now imagine that we can create the perfect marriage and thus the perfect life if only we choose better than our hapless parents, who after all, only had the US Post and carrier pigeons to communicate with. But better, more frequent communication with even a more vast array of suitors will not cure what the rabbis of generations past would call 'a problem of the human condition'. Indeed I think they'd scoff at this central fallacy. You can find the 'perfect mate', but he/she may not remain the same (no one ever does), they may not be right for you at all times and for all things. In fact we can more or less count on that happening. We can not perfect human nature. We barely can improve upon it with much work and effort.

Yet seemingly we have plenty of people waiting around for that 'perfect' tall 5'9"- 6Ft. wonderful, good looking, healthy, well employed stranger from a good family. It can happen for you. It just might not happen soon, and that's part of the problem here. There's the problem of 'settling' and then there's this eternal struggle with the universe that tells us 'we can't always get what we want', at least in humans. That's life. It's just not in 'dating'. So postponing getting started on parts of your life waiting for the perfect proposition from Mr. or Ms. prefect will not solve this problem.

Mr. or Ms. perfect will not remain perfect for all time. Trust us on this one. There will be disasters. Unaccountable reverses in fortunes. There will be health crises, miscarriages, tragic deaths, gambling debts, dark hidden secrets, openly acknowledged failures & disappointments. Sure there will be the giddy heights of success and quiet satisfactions of surviving, but sometimes this comes at great cost and invisible sacrifice.

We live in a world where these truths are being hidden so successfully by most of the media that people have a hard time reconciling themselves to the 'real world'. It's not TV. It was never easy. It's almost never perfect, but we get by fine. We learn, we grow. That old shmedrick in the corner used to be someone's dearest love, but she's departed now. That single mom is about the most successful person I know, but she's still single. Have heart folks. These things can work, we need patience & sympathy for each other and for the blasted human race. That's the only way we can come out alive & ahead. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

Chutzpah said...

I agree. I'm sick of all these "how to's" and "what not to do" and "what's wrong with you" books. Just remember, Valentine's Day is a pagan holiday and the price of chocolate goes down on the 15th!

Anonymous said...

VJ ... as usual ... you are RIGHT ON again. The basic problem is that most of us are looking for Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, and we have been led there by the media. Most of us just do not have the ability to stand back from the media images and hype, understand that "Sex in the City" is a fantasy, and FOCUS on what is really important in life.

It is very interesting how people met and matched just 30-40 years ago. There was no internet dating, less glitz and glamour and sex in the media, less emphasis on all the superficial things that we see nowadays, and you know what ... divorce rates were much lower.

The secret is all about lowering one's expecations ... NOT about compromising one's beliefs and NOT about compromising quality. People years ago LET THEMSELVES FALL IN LOVE. They didn't expect instant chemistry on the first date ...especially on a blind date. They were patient enough to let things develop.

I read a post on another blog recently where someone complained about having to sit for 3 hours on a date with an "ugly" guy ... guess he didn't turn out to look like his pic. You know what? Too bad. Dating is a numbers game. If you can't manage to sit through a date with someone for an hour or two or three like this and then move onto the next one then you shouldn't be dating. If you begin to sift out people by pre-judging even moreso from their ads ... thinking that this will eliminate the "ugly" ones, you are only narrowing down your options, and maybe denying yourself of meeting someone wonderful.

Just my 2 cents.

Blogger S.

VJ said...

I'm not talking exactly about 'settling'. People just have to decide for themselves what is truly important to them. Is that average looking short guy across the table a decent, kind hearted soul, who is still funny and reasonably healthy and well employed? He's a real catch, but it may take someone until 30 something to come to that conclusion. By that time he'll be long married & with a few kids. I used to say this was the devolution to the 'attraction of Chartered accountancy' or CPA's. Ditto for that 30 something single mom with a solid career who's intelligent, kind, considerate and takes care of herself. No doubt a good catch for some lucky someone.

Still many younger women blanch at the prospect of being married to a CPA or a plumber or an HVAC guy for that matter. It's almost a sure recipe for a boring & 'unexciting' life they think. They envision something more regal or grand. And yet most of the richest folks in my small town are, yes, CPA's, plumbers and the local HVAC (Air conditioning etc.) guys who own their own shops. Nice little earners who make their own hours and yes, vacation often in exotic places. Who knew, right? They're good family guys, nothing too fancy, none of them 'intellectuals' in a traditional sense but they do well and manage to enjoy themselves while doing so.

Time and time again I find people in their 20's and early 30's often have wild expectations, that even if they remain carefully hidden or unconscious are just not satisfied with the 'ordinary'. They're better than all that and they deserve more. We all want that razzle dazzle, that Hollywood ending, the big production number, the drama that comes with a fine romance, a passion the world could hardly contain. Friends I'm hear to tell you on behalf of humanity everywhere that this is a fallacy. These high drama encounters might be enduring, but most families are a bit different.

We often imagine a world that does not exist anywhere but in our dreams imaginations. This is lovely, but it sometimes can hinder us in our daily lives. Yes, reality is often lacking in serious entertainment values. (This is what kids are for, but I digress). It's the soul of the person that needs capturing and some exposure. Once that is glimpsed at, what do they do? What do they think they'll do? Are they reliable, sound in judgment, above board and not wanted by either the police or their creditors? These are all excellent signs and questions to ask. Ask the same questions and expect the same answers as if you were rich and in need of a decent CPA.

These are the folks that are good marriage material. They are often not the most exciting people in the room, but they know their business, and are confident in their assessment & tasks at hand. They may not often provide the necessary laughs and serious entertainment at parties. They typically don't look like Hollywood idols either. Just like normal folks. Which is the point. There's more simple 'normals' in the world than the truly exceptional people.

But each of us is exceptional in many different small and wonderful ways. But we are not commonly exceptional in many aspects of our lives that will be immediately apparent to others. The mom with a mind for serious math may not be the life of the party. The man who plays Chopin etudes and Bach preludes might be a hit with the geriatric set down at the nursing home, but no place else. Both may be shy and retiring and deeply afraid of rejection based on their 'average' looks. But most will eventually find someone who appreciates them for all the special magic they possess. It takes time, patience, understanding, and self knowledge. You have to come to know what's ultimately important to you. Regretfully, this sometimes takes decades to come to a place where you'll be comfortable with your choices and know what you want and can accept from another.

Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

Anonymous said...

VJ ... I agree completely with most of what you say. However, let's not mince words here. People seem to not want to use the word "settling". I guess that's fine. But to be honest, that's what it boils down to. Yes ... people who are into their 30s/40s have to settle. The key question is settle on what? Do I advocate completely compromising your standards, forgetting about commonality, and ending up with an invitation to unhappiness and divorce? Of course not.

But speak to many people who didn't get married until their mid-late 30s and you will discover that many of them had to go through a maturation process ... and reached a point of reckoning. A point where they realized that they may not find Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, and where they realized that if they continue to try ... they will never realize their dreams.

Many people are surprised with who they end up with. My assertion is not to compromise major standards. But you don't have to marry someone in order to date them and have patience IN dating them to see if you can fall in love. There is no one who will show up to 3 or 4 dates with someone with a pair of handcuffs.

As you put it, it boils down to coming to grips with what is really important in life and what qualities are really important in a mate ... and his/her potential for long-term, marriage, and possibly fatherhood/motherhood. Placing so much emphasis on a picture, on being 6" taller in height, on facial/body features, on being Ivy educated, on "making my knees weak when he walks into a room", on "you need to be able to keep up with me", on "you need to be able to be with someone independent", "you must live in Manhattan" ... I could go on and on and on ... will not get you in a successful LTR unless you're extremely lucky.

You gave plenty of good examples. That guy who is out of her age range or who is only 2 inches taller than her may have some compelling things in terms of sense of humor. That guy who sounds a little reserved on the first phone call may turn out to be the life of the party when he shows up ... or even 2 or 3 dates later! That guy who looks just average in a head shot may be at the gym every day and may have a killer body. But you will never find this out if you use internet dating as too much of a screening device or if you aren't patient enough once you start to date someone to give yourself a chance to fall in love ... and this is exactly what lots of people do (and I don't mean to limit it to women by my examples). You just never know when that magical element of chemistry is going to rear its head ... or exactly what elements of appearance and personality will cause it to happen ... until you give someone (where there is reasonable commonality or interest or attraction to start with of course) a chance. This is exactly the problem. Too many people have pre-established notions of what it will take to create chemistry between two people. The ones who have reached that "maturation point" have opened up their minds to the possibility that they may not know for sure.

Dating is a numbers game ... but if you don't play the numbers, you can't win. "Settling" is allowing yourself to play the numbers.

Blogger S.

Needsabetterjob said...

It is obvious that assuming that eveyone is well groomed, dressed well, making themselves as attractive as possible, both physically, spiritually, then they should not be having this much difficulty in attracting someone else. Now if they are attracted or not is another level, but to consistently be on this level or saying I am not attracted to anyone, I feel is a problem that must be solved. I only say this bec. I know several men who for many years, date extensively, and one way or another, nothing works out.

To be solved, it must dealt w/ in a new way. To continue to apply ideas that have not worked for more than 10 years is foolish.

VJ said...

I agree with much of what S has to say above. But let's be very specific here. I'm talking about what should be happening in the minds of folks in their 30's-40's. This is when the rubber meets the road for this select group. No matter how you find yourself here, it's a critical time to be getting serious about your intentions and desires. You want a child & a family? Look for guys who want that too. You want a child and a family with a movie star looking millionaire with plenty of time on his hands to woo you 'properly'? Then get in line early, say at 25. Like Blogger S says, it is a numbers game to some extent, but especially so at these ages.

No one was meant to be 'dating' for 2 decades. Not really. It's soul draining pure drudgery to be doing this in your 30's and to have never married. It's scary, time consuming, painful and lacking in most serious entertainment values much of the time. Things often begin to go south health wise quickly after this, and most folks know this. There is the smell of desperation about the prospects of ever finding someone, but this is possible if only we open our hearts to search widely enough. And not under rocks either.

I really think part of the problem is that people are just too occupied for much of their 20's to actually take this seriously. By the time they hit near or around 30, they find suddenly that they've been not connecting with guys/gals their age for years, or that most of the likley prospects have married or have moved on.

So most if not all of my remarks are geared to this slightly older population. The 2nd chance daddies. The older single moms. The divorced but ever hopeful bunch, all looking for love. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I just caught Dr. Phil on the CBS Morning Show (perhaps, Esther, his recent book on dating is a good topic for a separate thread). He was on being interviewed with one of his "students" (a beautiful blonde).

He basically said (to paraphrase) "women need to look for someone who makes them feel like they want to feel ... NOT someone who fits some preconceived package of requirements". He specifically mentioned tall, dark, and handsome. He said that it's fine to have a basic idea of what you are looking for, but that's where it should end.

His student was asked if she had altered her dating behavior after being coached by Dr. Phil and she answered yes ... saying that she specifically had always turned down guys who weren't very good looking ... and saying that now, she is willing to give someone who didn't fit that "preconceived notion" a chance.

Remember, there is no obligation. You don't have to stay on a date where you are miserable. You don't have to commit to go out with someone a 2nd time. And even if you do go out 2 or 3 times, there is nothing that obligates you to touch or kiss anyone, to go out a 4th time, or to do anything else that you don't want to do. Concentrate on trying to have a good time, get past the awkwardness and jitters that someties accompany first dates, and seeing if you can be friends. If something more is meant to be, it will happen ... if not on those first few dates, eventually.

I don't know how many of you respect Dr. Phil ... he is generally known to be a pretty wise person. But his characterization this morning of what needs to be done is a great, concise summary of how to expand your possibilities ... and increase your chances of meeting someone.

And VJ ... once again you have shown how wise you are with your comments.

Blogger S.

The First Date Chick said...

My $.02: For me, it all boils down to finding my peer. There are no set seven sins, no cure-alls. Just a search that will hopefully end some day.

VJ said...

Geez, I never thought of that FDC. I always wanted someone a bit different, yet better than I was. And my search did not take anywhere near 10-20 years either. Of course my wife was not exactly searching at the time either. It made things a bit easier. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'