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.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
Inside Walmart’s curious, possibly ingenious effort to get customers to build up their savings accounts
Late last summer, Dawn Paquin started keeping her money on a prepaid debit card from Walmart instead of in a traditional checking account. The wages from her factory job—she works from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., inspecting blades on industrial bread-slicing machines—now go directly onto the Visa-branded card, which she can use like a regular debit card, though unlike most debit cards, it is not linked to a checking or savings account. She made the switch after a $4 check she wrote to buy coffee for herself and a friend tipped her checking account below the required minimum and triggered $100 in overdraft fees.
This was before she got the factory gig, and she wasn’t working full-time. Paquin lives in Salem, Illinois, where, she told me recently, if you don’t have a college degree, your job choices are “fast food or factory.” Money was extremely tight. “I kind of had a bit of resentment about banks after that,” she said dryly.
Online communities like those on Tumblr are perpetuating ideas of "beautiful suffering," confusing what it means to be clinically depressed.
A few months ago, Laura U., a typical 16-year-old at an international school in Paris, sat at her computer wishing she looked just like the emaciated women on her Tumblr dashboard. She pined to be mysterious, haunted, fascinating, like the other people her age that she saw in black and white photos with scars along their wrists, from taking razor blades to their skin. She convinced herself that the melancholic quotes she was reading—“Can I just disappear?” or “People who die by suicide don’t want to end their lives, they want to end their pain”—applied to her.
The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a society so prosperous that people would hardly have to work. But that isn’t exactly how things have played out.
How will we all keep busy when we only have to work 15 hours a week? That was the question that worried the economist John Maynard Keynes when he wrote his short essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” in 1930. Over the next century, he predicted, the economy would become so productive that people would barely need to work at all.
For a while, it looked like Keynes was right: In 1930 the average workweek was 47 hours. By 1970 it had fallen to slightly less than 39.
But then something changed. Instead of continuing to decline, the duration of the workweek stayed put; it’s hovered just below 40 hours for nearly five decades.
So what happened? Why are people working just as much today as in 1970?
The Piano Man hasn’t released a new pop album since 1993. How does he continue to sell out stadiums?
For those of you who are sick of wondering, this is what happens at a Billy Joel concert: A mother tries to cajole her reluctant young son to twist with her to “Only the Good Die Young.” A 45-year-old man in a Billy Joel-themed softball jersey, sitting third row and visible to all, hoists aloft a New Jersey vanity license plate that reads “Joel FN” and uses it to air-drum to “Pressure.” Three 20-somethings on a ladies’ night out shoot a Boomerang of themselves swaying to “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” A sexagenarianin business attire uses a lull during Joel’s Perestroika-era ditty “Leningrad” to crush some work emails on his BlackBerry Priv. A 19,000-strong congregation—carpenter jeans and Cartier watches, Yankee caps and yarmulkes, generationally diffuse and racially homogenous—all dance, terribly and euphorically, to “Uptown Girl.”
The Supreme Court has ample reason to avoid deciding a case that could erode the Establishment Clause.
During argument in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer last week before the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan mused that the case poses “a hard issue. It's an issue in which states have their own very longstanding law. It's an issue on which I guess I'm going to say nobody is completely sure that they have it right.”
The court did not pay much attention to a question that logically flows from Kagan’s concern: Is this trip really necessary?
Does the court really need to jump into this dispute between a church and a state government—or is it a case where the two parties basically have already kissed and made up?
Missouri’s Constitution, as written in 1875 and readopted in 1945, contains a provision that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.” The Missouri courts over the years have interpreted this provision quite literally. As a result, a church named Trinity Lutheran in Columbia, Missouri, was denied a state grant to resurface their daycare playground with recycled rubber tires. (The daycare would have been eligible if it had been run by a separate church-affiliated non-profit; but because in this case the money would have gone directly to the church, the provision applied.) The church sued, and the case has wended its way to the Supreme Court.