A couple of weeks ago, trapped on an extended airport voyage with a malfunctioning laptop, I purchased a copy of Lori Gottlieb's Marry Him. The article that inspired the book ran in The Atlantic, and indeed, when I was interviewing for my job, I discussed it with James Bennet. So it seemed like a better-than-average way to pass my enforced electronic hiatus.
Thankfully for me, it actually is an engaging read. Expanding on the themes she raises in her article, Gottlieb goes through a series of interviews and dating exercises. Out of these, she attempts to build her thesis: that feminism has made women too picky about their dating lives, and that they need to learn to accept a few flaws in their mate and settle down with a solid partner to raise kids.
Though the book is entertaining, she doesn't really prove that thesis. After several hundred pages, I have no doubt that Lori Gottlieb is too picky, and that this has adversely affected her dating life. But there's no real evidence that this is actually a characteristic common to most women who don't get married. And there's definitely no evidence that feminists are especially likely to stay unmarried; anecdotally, the feminists I know seem about as likely as anyone else to get married (lesbians aside, but hey, move to D.C., guys!).
But that is not the real content of the book; it's a sort of glossy layer appended on top of the real message to make it more relevant and edgy. Her real message she proves all too well, and I suspect that's why it drives young women nuts, as in this Emily Gould essay I came across yesterday. It is the same thing overanxious mothers have been telling their daughters from time immemorial: your looks matter, and they are a wasting asset. If you delay marriage too long, the men your age will find it easy to find a spouse; you will not. And unless you're a very rare sort of person, even if you're a feminist who has a fully actualized identity that needs no man to complete it . . . you will still want to get married eventually, especially if you want to have kids. She's urging an ugly sort of game-theoretic calculation on younger women still in the prime of their attractiveness. And she's absolutely right that some of those young women who reject her advice will eventually regret it.
This is a slightly sensitive topic for me to write about, of course--I'm a woman in her 30s who will, barring tragic accident, get married in six weeks. I guarantee that no matter what I write, someone will take issue with it. If I support Gottlieb, feminists will say that I'm somehow cozying up to the patriarchy; if I take issue, conservatives who accuse me of downplaying the dangers of playing the field too long.
I'm not exactly sure which side I come out on, actually. My anecdotal experience doesn't support Gottlieb's thesis. My dating prospects did not dry up as I moved deeper into my 30s (much to my surprise), possibly because I was a skinny woman with a baby face. I won't say, coyly, that I never really thought about these things because I'm too fabulous to worry; I did, and frankly I find it awfully hard to believe any woman in her late 30s who declares that it never crossed her mind. I decided I wasn't going to settle, because I suspected that if I settled down with someone who wasn't a good match, I'd have killed either him, or myself. Then as luck would have it I didn't have to--I met someone as ideally suited to me as is possible in this vale of tears.
But as many feminists have pointed out about Gottlieb's own work, the singular of data is not anecdote. Drawing on broader data, I can't say that Gottlieb is quite wrong. Feminists are right to say that women are bullied about marriage in a way that is harmful and demeaning. As I was striding through the airport with this garish orange cover in my hands, I realized somewhat ruefully that I would have been rather reluctant to carry it so prominently if I had not had an engagement ring on my finger.
But there's a tendency among some feminists, particularly younger ones, to take this laudable principle too far. I think Gould's essay is an example of this. There's an anger at Gottlieb that doesn't seem quite reasonable for saying that marriage is important, and women who want to get married are often going to have to make some hard choices. Gould implies that Gottlieb doesn't make the case that marriage is all that desirable for women, but in fact she does, quite well; it's the strongest analytic part of the book.
Gottlieb offers some pretty persuasive evidence that unless you're in a desperately unhappy marriage, you are better off being married, even if it's not to your soul mate . . . and that marriage is hard, even if your spouse is your soul mate. Yet Gould just sort of airily ignores this argument, even though it's really quite strong, and goes on an extended rant about Gottlieb's poor grasp of feminist principles.
I mean, I too am annoyed by Gottlieb's tendency to make sweeping generalizations about women, and to hold up men as a better example, when really, men just have more time to fix their mistakes. But maybe because I've spent a bit of time thinking about these choices, I see Gottlieb trying to convey, somewhat hamfistedly, not that women are "too picky" in some metaphysical sense, but that for women in their early thirties the clock is ticking in a way that it isn't for men--which means that being picky is risky for them. So when women are tempted to hold out for something better, they should think hard about how likely that really is.
For all Gould's equally anecdotal evidence that women "aren't picky enough", Gottlieb is simply mathematically correct; the dating pool shrinks faster for women than men, which means fewer high quality fish left in the sea. Gottlieb's also right that the women who ended up alone in their 40s are, in my experience, mostly pretty unhappy about it. (So are the men in the same position. But the dating math isn't so cruel.)
That women should have to think about these things, while men don't, is certainly unfair, and I understand why feminists resist accepting it. But not all unfair things can be rectified. As far as I know, there is no evidence that we can change men's preferences about age--it's a pretty common preference, and it hasn't shifted all that much in 50 years of feminism, even though preferences about other things, like intelligence and education, clearly have. And while we've had some limited success battling the biological clock, the women I know who have gone through fertility treatments universally say that it was an emotionally and financially draining experience. Worse, it doesn't always work--and two years of fertility treatments followed by no baby seems to be one of the most emotionally brutalizing things that can happen to you.
If these things can't be rectified--and I suspect they can't--then a feminist who doesn't want to spend her life alone may want to consider such factors as how many other men are out there who might be better than the one she's dating now. Gottlieb doesn't suggest you should stay with men who are useless or abusive. Rather, she's urging that you compromise on less important matters like waistlines and hairlines, so that you don't end up tempted to compromise on the big stuff.
Obviously, all this has a large element of Gottlieb working out her own anxieties in public, which makes most of us uncomfortable--and leads her to overgeneralize her own experience. It also takes an uncomfortably practical approach to dating. Feminists are no less prone than other women to resist thinking of romantic choices as pragmatic. Maybe more so, even, because relationships are supposed to be about self-actualization, not the prosaic projects of economic security and diaper-changing. Gottlieb's straying a little too close to Jane Austen territory . . . and even for her own time, Austen was overly brutal.
Maybe for that reason, I wonder how necessary this heartfelt cri-de-coeur really is, other than as therapy for Gottlieb. Few women in their 30s have failed to notice either the shrinking pool of available men, or the shrinking number of years they have left to reproduce. And women in their 20s mostly aren't emotionally ready to consider that yes, this could happen to them--or grapple with what that would really be like when all their awesome single friends are wrapped up in a few toddlers.
And in fact, most of them are right--they'll get married and have babies (if they want them) at some point in the next ten years. Some of them will have gotten lucky and met a near-perfect match, and others will have decided to settle, but either way, they won't have needed this book. The ones who did won't believe it until it's mostly too late.
But imagine that these critical few whom Gottlieb wants to save did take her (very) heartfelt advice. Would they make themselves better off? A lot of people, (including me) are not ready to get married at 26, even if they're with someone great. Perhaps college-educated people are more likely to stay married because they marry later, and are thus less likely to make rash and short-sighted choices with visions of wedding gowns dancing in their heads. If you assume--as I do--that the people who marry later tend to be the ones who are hardest to find a decent match for, then maybe settling wouldn't increase their chances of happiness. Maybe it would just increase the number of bitter, unhappy marriages in the world.
On the other hand, I suspect that if you're raising a couple of kids, even a bitter, unhappy ex-husband is often better than none at all. Gould and I can opine all we want, but neither of us has to assume sole support of a toddler. Whether or not Gottlieb should have done so voluntarily is a question for another thread. But assuming the toddler arguendo, I can certainly see why Gottlieb thinks she'd have been better off settling. The question, as with so much of the book, is how well that generalizes to anyone else.
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
“Trump’s wall is already under construction,” Wole Soyinka says. “Walls are built in the mind.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, once fled to the United States from Nigeria. Now the fickle winds of politics are pushing him in the opposite direction.
Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.
In its fourth season the BBC show turned its main character into a superhero, and lost everything that made it special in the process.
This story contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock.
Christopher Nolan is a truly brilliant British creative talent, which makes it all the more ironic that his work seems to have (at least temporarily) unmoored two of that nation’s greatest fictional heroes. In dampening the palette and tone of superhero movies so spectacularly with his trilogy of Batman movies, Nolan created a domino effect that stretched all the way across the ocean, transforming James Bond from a louche, debonair intelligence agent into a tortured, self-medicating hitman, compelled by the death of his parents to hunt down a series of increasingly psychopathic villains. And, as “The Final Problem” revealed on Sunday, Nolan’s influence has similarly transformed Sherlock. A wry detective drama with a twist has turned into a superhero origin story, complete with agonizing childhood trauma, terrifying antagonists with improbable powers, and a final showdown in an ancestral home burned to the ground.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Surfing the app on a trip back home can be a way of regressing, or imagining what life would be like if you never left.
My parents moved out of my hometown almost as soon as I left for college, and therefore I am obsessed with the idea of other people’s hometowns. Over any major holiday or break from a work schedule, hometowns become a sort of time travel, a way for people who have made adult lives elsewhere to return to their origin story.
Going home for the holidays can act as a kind of regression. Most of us know people, whether our friends, our partner, even our own parents, who suddenly turn into their teen or pre-teen self once they step foot in the house where they grew up. My mom used to say that whenever my dad got within 50 miles of his mom’s house, he suddenly became a teenage boy. Our hometowns become a kind of permission and hideaway, a place where we don’t have to be ourselves, where our actions don’t count and we get to be briefly less visible than we are in the adult homes we’ve made for ourselves elsewhere, the places where we expect ourselves to take action and achieve things and move upward through each day. For many of us, hometowns allow the luxury of a brief period of stasis, a rare few days of doing nothing.
How the FSB's loyalty to Russia's president made it the country's most powerful intelligence agency
It’s tempting to look to the playbooks and historical traditions of the late Soviet Union to explain the audacity of today’s Russian intelligence activity, from its meddling in U.S. elections, to apparently killing Kremlin opponents abroad. But these activities are not just products of old ways or new geopolitics. They also stem from a shift in the activities of Russia’s political police force, the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB). Originally established to protect the Kremlin’s rule at home, it has increasingly moved into Russia’s foreign operations.A new cohort of secret policemen, ignorant of the traditions of spycraft and secure in Putin’s protection, has fundamentally altered the nature of Russian intelligence.
Why some people are withdrawing from mainstream society into “intentional communities”—and what the rest of the country can learn from them
VIRGINIA— For the last eight years, Nicolas and Rachel Sarah have been slowly weaning themselves off fossil fuels. They don’t own a refrigerator or a car; their year-old baby and four-year-old toddler play by candlelight rather than electricity at night. They identify as Christian anarchists, and have given an official name to their search for an alternative to consumption-heavy American life: the Downstream Project, with the motto to “do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
As it turns out, exiting the system is a challenging, time-consuming, and surprisingly technical process. Here in the Shenandoahs and central Virginia, a handful of tiny communities are experimenting with what it means to reject the norms of contemporary life and exist in a radically different way. They seem to share Americans’ pervasive sense of political alienation, which arguably reached an apotheosis with the election of Donald Trump: a sense of division from their peers, a distrust of government. The challenges of modern politics—dealing with issues like climate change, poverty, mass migration, and war on a global scale—are so vast and abstract that it’s difficult not to find them overwhelming. But instead of continuing in passive despair, as many Americans seem to do, the people in these communities decided to overhaul their lives.
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.
Donald Trump advocated on the campaign trail for a $20 billion federal school-voucher program. But during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Education Department, said school choice should be a state decision. She framed school choice as a right for students and families. And she said during the hearing that she was committed to strengthening public education for all students.
While the Michigan billionaire has backed charter schools and vouchers, which let families use public money to pay for private schools, DeVos would not, she said, try to force states to embrace school choice. But a number of organizations, largely Democratic, that had raised questions about DeVos’s commitment to expanding charters and vouchers and about her family’s financial holdings and religious causes were unlikely to find much more of the hearing reassuring.
A list of the new pardons and commutations from the White House includes Chelsea Manning.
In the waning hours of his presidency, Barack Obama used his clemency power to commute the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army analyst who was convicted of espionage in July 2013 by a military court after she turned over a massive cache of defense and diplomatic records, then the largest single leak in U.S. history, to the organization WikiLeaks. Among the materials released by Manning was a video recording showing Iraqi civilians being killed in a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007.
According to a White House press release, along with abridging Manning’s 35-year sentence to end in May of this year, President Obama granted 208 other commutations and 64 pardons Tuesday, thus closing a second-term scramble to reduce the federal prison population and establishing him as the most clement president in recent history. Obama has issued the most combined commutations and pardons of any president since Harry Truman, and more than Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes combined.
The president-elect has yet to name a secretary of agriculture, a delay that has caused controversy and illustrated the difficulties governing will pose.
Three days before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated as America’s new president, just one Cabinet agency lacks a nominee to lead it: the Department of Agriculture.
The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America. In the process, it has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests.
Already, the delay in picking an agriculture secretary has caused alarm. “The lack of quick and decisive action on picking a new Secretary of Agriculture by the Trump administration has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president,” columnist Gary Truitt wrote recently in Hoosier Ag Today. “While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee.”