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.
What looks at first glance like an opening up of possibilities is actually an attack on the human imagination.
You might not like what I’m about to say about the multiverse. But don’t worry; you’ve already had your revenge. If there are an infinite number of parallel universes, there will be any number of terrible dictatorships, places where life has become very difficult for people who like to string words together. Somewhere out there, there’s a society in which every desperate little essay like this one comes with a tiny, unremarkable button: push it, and the author will be immediately electrocuted to death.
Maybe your hate is more visceral—you already know I’ll die some day, but you want to see it happen; you need to see me groveling. You can if you want. Fly upwards from the plane of our solar system, keep on going, through the endless huddles of galaxies, never forgetting your purpose, until space and time run out altogether. Eventually you’ll find yourself in another universe, on a damp patch of grass and broken concrete, unwatched by whatever local gang or galactic empire rules the city rising in foggy shapes beyond the marshes. There, you’ll see a creature strangely similar to yourself, beating me to death with whatever bits of scrap are lying around.
Hillary Clinton has her problems, but Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency.
On one hand, there’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who oversaw “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, the site of a deadly September 11, 2012, terrorist attack.
As pay TV slowly declines, cable news faces a demographic cliff. And nobody has further to fall than the merchant of right-wing outrage.
Updated at 12:05 p.m.
October 7, 2016, will be the 20th birthday of the Fox News Channel, and at the moment, the network is experiencing the soap-operatic highs and lows typical of any teenager on television. In many ways, the summer of 2016 may go down in Fox News history as the company’s nadir. Its founder and leader Roger Ailes has been dishonorably dispatched, the remaining executives are dealing with a flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits, and one of its most public faces, Sean Hannity, has ignominiously remodeled himself as a gutless Trump whisperer.
And yet Fox News’ fortunes are ascendant, at least in the most quantifiable sense. The network’s annual profit in 2015 soared by about 20 percent. For the first time ever, Fox News has been the most-watched cable network among both primetime and daytime viewers for several months, with a larger audience than its nominal rivals, CNN and MSNBC, combined. Led by “The O'Reilly Factor,” Fox News doesn’t just have the best-rated news show on cable television; according to The Wrap, it has the 13 best-rated news shows on cable television.
Why did the company trend a false article about Megyn Kelly?
Oh, Facebook. Just when the company seems to have avoided the responsibility of being a news organization (and all the attendant controversy), it finds itself back in the editorial muck.
Last week, Facebook made a surprise overhaul of its “Trending Stories” feature, the sidebar that highlights some of the most popular news stories on Facebook. Where the company had previously provided a short, human-written summary of the news at hand, it now only described the story in a one or two-word phrase: “#Toyko2020: Japanese Prime Minister Appears in Surprise Performance During Rio Ceremony,” became just “#Tokyo2020.”
Facebook’s decision to simplify the feature seemed like an attempt to wriggle out of editorial responsibility: What had been a messy human-led process would now become an algorithm-guided one. The company also laid off the 26 employees who had run the feature—19 curators and seven copyeditors—with little warning on Friday, according to Quartz.
In the primaries, he avoided policy debates by promising to build a wall—but the general election is forcing him into specifics.
The biggest political story of the last week has been Donald Trump’s flip-flop on deporting undocumented immigrants. This Sunday on CNN, Mike Pence filibustered his way through the subject for almost seven minutes before Jake Tapper finally declared, “You did not address the issue” and moved on. Chris Christie on ABC and Kellyanne Conway on CBS were no more coherent. The Daily Beast summed up the morning with the headline, “Immigration Flip-Flop Leaves Trump Campaign Flailing on Sunday Shows.”
But focusing on Trump’s “flip-flop” misses the point. Trump’s real problem isn’t that he’s changed his position on immigration. It’s that he’s trying to formulate one at all.
What the commentary of the last few days has generally overlooked is that while immigration was key to Trump’s success in the Republican primary, Trump never actually offered an immigration policy. To the contrary, his success rested in large measure on his ability to avoid one. Trump’s strategy on immigration, as on other key issues, was to cut through the Gordian knot of public policy with aggressive, quick fix solutions. Terrorism? Ban Muslims. ISIS? Bomb the hell out of them and take their oil. Loss of manufacturing jobs? Slap massive tariffs on companies that outsource American jobs.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
Marketing ditties once had a distinctive, hokey sound, but today’s advertisers have ditched them for standard pop songs.
Most Americans can recite their share of jingles. Perhaps they can’t remember their partner’s cell phone number, but they know every digit required to reach Empire carpet. Or every word of “I’m a Toys ‘R Us Kid.” Or that the best part of waking up is Folgers in their cup.
And yet, despite its effectiveness, the jingle has become a relic of the mid-20th-century commercials it once dominated. Today’s pop songs and yesterday’s classics have effectively replaced the jingle: A Kanye West song plays in an ad for Bud Light Platinum, Lady Gaga’s “Applause” is a party anthem for the Kia Soul’s spokeshamsters, and a Bob Dylan track helps advertise Victoria’s Secret. Amid all this, Oscar Mayer decided to retire two of the most popular jingles of all time, “My Bologna Has a First Name” and “I Wish I Was an Oscar Mayer Weiner.” In 2010, the company announced a new ad campaign, sans the old tunes. “What we did not want to do was write jingles,” an ad exec told The New York Times.
What to do if you’re a Hillary fan seated next to a Trump supporter at a wedding
When America is finally great again, they’ll make the latte with soy milk like you asked.
All those political cracks, not to mention earnest proclamations, mean that for the next 10 weeks, many casual interactions run the risk of erupting into full-blown partisan warfare. It’s more of a danger for those with family members or close friends who support opposing candidates and views. But on Facebook, hot-button scuffles can break out between almost anyone. (I recently witnessed a college friend who lives in Europe arguing about gun rights with a random guy from my high school in Texas, whom I myself have spoken with only a few times in person.)
One reason Americans find the other side’s views so inflammatory is that increasingly, they view their political party as more of a tribe than a checkbox. “People start seeing themselves or their political views as the main representation of their values, and what is right and wrong,” said Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Economics hasn’t been able to explain irrational choices. Can neuroscience?
Humans often make bad decisions. If you like Snickers more than Milky Way, it seems obvious which candy bar you’d pick, given a choice of the two. Traditional economic models follow this logical intuition, suggesting that people assign a value to each choice—say, Snickers: 10, Milky Way: 5—and select the top scorer. But our decision-making system is subject to glitches.
In one recent experiment, Paul Glimcher, a neuroscientist at New York University, and collaborators asked people to choose among a variety of candy bars, including their favorite—say, a Snickers. If offered a Snickers, a Milky Way and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Snickers. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Snickers, the choice became less clear. They would sometimes pick something other than the Snickers, even though it was still their favorite. When Glimcher would remove all the choices except the Snickers and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.