All Breakdowns Cost . . . Not Just Marital Ones


A Telegraph story quotes UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud about couples cohabiting without being married: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.” He promises to support marriage (by which he really means heterosexual unions, as being more likely to produce children who need looking after) and reduce payments to single parents – most often, of course, female parents.


It’s awfully nice that Lord Freud cares so deeply about children. Would that the rest of the Conservative Party did. If only they had not removed the benefits that married couples received, years ago. If only, too, they acknowledged that marriage, even heterosexual marriage, in undergoing a revolution. It will never again be the 1950s-style union the Tory Party would like to recall, even those Tories who have no memory of the 1950s because they were born after that era.


Caring for children, giving them loving guidance, is an essential task of society. So why do the UK and US make it so difficult?


The BBC reports here that many parents are paying more for childcare than they are for their average mortgage. Another report here points out that London parents, in particular mothers, cannot afford annual childcare costs of approximately $18,000, so they are leaving work – at a time when many politicians blame non-working parents. Whether there are two parents or one paying hardly matters, when the issue is the high price of quality childcare. Is Lord Freud addressing that? Hardly.


In Sweden, many parents are unmarried and stay that way. It is not marriage that keeps them in the home and caring for their children – it is the sense of family, of responsibility and partnership, which are supported by Swedish national policies.


When bad marriages create pain, why keep them intact? It is not just spouses that suffer from the evil actions of the adult they’ve married. Children suffer, too.


As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father repetitively beat his mother. He has never forgotten. “As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him. Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument.’ Wrong. Wrong! My mother did NOTHING to provoke that — and even if she had, violence is NEVER, ever a choice that a man should make. Ever.”


Now that he is, as he says, “an old white man” who will be listened to, he has been speaking out against domestic violence because that kind of breakdown costs. His work for Refuge, a nonprofit that helps women whose husbands and partners mauled them, is proud and essential work. Yes, Sir Patrick survived. He has done well. How many others have not? How many former children never got over the trauma of their parents’ treachery? How many perpetrated violence themselves?


That, Lord Freud, is a family breakdown.


There are married parents who stay in the home and abuse and rape children, either hiding it from the other parent or threatening the spouse with murder, mayhem, deportation if word leaks out.


That is a breakdown of the family.


What about the parents – heterosexual, married – who subject their daughters to the horrors and continuing pain of FGM? Who beat their children for talking to a friend of a different religion or caste? Who arrange marriages of underage children to people they have never even met, often much older than they? Who perpetrate or condone dishonorable killings of their own children?


Lord Freud, what more horrible evidence of family breakdown is there?


You think this does not cost???


In terror, in mental illness, increased violence, suicide, intergenerational conflict, arrests, lawsuits, trials, convictions, prison time? In fear, blame, shame, in children wondering where help lies, whom can they trust, dare they tell a teacher?


We understand. For you, money is the only counter, and your party does not want to pay for other people’s children. We get it, you think it essential that both biological parents care for all their children within the context of a legal marriage.


But seriously, Lord Freud, the lack of marriage is not the problem here. It’s the lack of structure. The lack of hope. It’s a society that has turned its back on loving guidance – both of those words equally stressed. It’s condoning violence within the home, financial shenanigans that remove jobs, unlimited immigration (and in the UK, giving immigrants benefits no other society allows, simply for arriving) that pits very different cultures against each other. It’s the lack of respect for schools and teachers coupled with an economy so shaky that no one knows when they might be downsized or sacked, where entrepreneurship is sometimes the only logical answer.


It’s not the lack of marriage alone. If it were, Sweden – with its thousands of unmarried yet diligent parents – would bubble with unrest.



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Susan Patton, Wise Up!


Susan Patton and Princeton — the college whose female undergrads should be grabbing guys.



The “Princeton mom”, Susan Patton – whose younger son is still in attendance there – has struck again.


Her latest salvo is aimed at the same people: Princeton undergraduates who happen to be female. The message is the same: grab your male classmates while you’re still trying to figure out college, so you can make a happy marriage and lots of babies!


Susan, Susan, Susan. Wise up. Get real.


Slate has a wonderful article here on who should feel more insulted by your words, women or men. Turns out, it’s a tie. Your assumptions on what make us tic – we of either sex – are breathtakingly limited and absurd, and it truly makes us wonder what your own marriage was like to a man who did not graduate from Princeton and therefore, logically, did not share your adoration for the place.


Look, it’s a wonderful university. Garners all sorts of awards. Lists on its faculty eminences like John McPhee. But it’s not the only fabulous college in the US, and its students are not uniformly going to reshape the world or even – I realize this is heresy – make the best spouses and parents.


While I admire your ability to turn yourself into a quotable brand, your message is lacking in substantial ways.


Is that sort of inattention to detail really worthy of a Princeton grad?


Here are a few things you manage not to address in your plea to female students:


Not every male at Princeton is interested in getting attached so young in life. Most of them, I warrant, are not. They don’t yet know themselves well enough. They are not yet prepared to take on the challenges of the roles: partner, husband, father. They want a chance to stretch their wings, try things out, and, yes, meet other women, as they grow into emotional maturity. Their parents may want that for them, too. I certainly would.


(In fact, male Princetonians’ parents ought to be unhappy with you, too. You’re turning their sons – human beings with feelings – into commodities to be grabbed. Did you consider that?)


So, even if a woman happens to coax one of these guys into marriage, he won’t be happy. Is that what you want for him? For them? For your own unmarried son?


Another thing, Susan. It may come as a shock to you, but statistically speaking, a number of female undergrads are lesbian. A certain different percentage are heterosexual but uninterested in having children, and perhaps even in marriage – at least, traditional marriage. So your message is based on a segment of female undergraduates, not all of them. And, hey, how about unmarried female grad students, whom you don’t mention at all? Are they past their prime? Incapable of married happiness, ever, even if they meet a kind and loving man?


Now, let’s get into those fictional heterosexual marriages between two Princeton alums who met while they were under the age of 25, recalling that that’s when brain experts say the frontal lobe finally matures, meaning a crucial choice made before that time could be the immature decision of a still-under-construction brain.


We know that Princeton students are not angels. (We know that, right?) So, again statistically, a certain percentage of those marriages you laud will suffer the pain of alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, violence, abuse of various sorts, shall we go on? Marrying a Princeton guy is no guarantee of a happy marriage. Your opinion that had you married a fellow student, your life would have been blissful, is but a fantasy. Your life may well have been worse. (If you survived domestic violence and abuse from your ex, I’m so glad you left. But it wasn’t his education that incited his attacks, it was his attitude.)


Even the best, most ethical, of Princeton men can change over time. Had you married one, the two of you might by now quite naturally have grown apart and have led separate lives while technically staying wed. Or a man may reveal a secret his wife simply cannot accept. That he is gay, for example, or he gambles online with their retirement money, or he sexually abuses children. His status as a Princeton alum will not transform a superficial, “lookin’ good” marriage into one both spouses find vibrant and healthy.


The woman who marries a fellow student who plays football or soccer (all those headers) for Princeton may find herself, years later, with a smashed jaw caused by her husband’s concussion-induced brain changes. Or a Princeton alumnus might, in two decades, demonstrate the start-up symptoms of early-onset dementia. In neither of these scenarios does the diploma prevent tragedy.


It’s impossible, too, to discover all the skeletons in the family closet before marriage. People run this risk every day. Oops, there’s a paternal history of infidelity. Gosh, there was some horrible abuse decades ago. Oh, that addiction gene! Even in premarital counseling – you do support that, don’t you, Susan? – people hide family secrets, especially from someone not yet a member of the family. No Princeton years, however, will camouflage the truth when it finally reveals itself.


Just as you advise, I wed a college classmate. We should not have married. Aside from our children – wonderful, bright, loving people – and despite extraordinarily similar educations, we really had little in common. That included our unspoken views of our union. One of us saw it as a marriage of convenience, the other was all-in. I leave it to you, Susan, to winkle out which was which. The point is that despite our age at marriage (mid-20s) and formal education (nearly identical grad degrees), we really did not know ourselves that well, and hence we were ill-matched. Our shared alma mater was nothing – repeat, nothing – but mutual acquaintance and history.


Susan, that coveted Princeton diploma no more guarantees a high-quality person than a degree from the local state university. Quality guarantees a high-quality person, and that can only be discovered over time, through the myriad decisions a person makes in relationships and in the daily choice to love, and to do a good job at it.


Be kind to your daughter-in-law, hug your sons, and stop telling female undergraduates what to do with their valuable hearts and lives. Like all of us, if they choose to marry they deserve the best possible spouse . . . and “best” for each woman will not necessarily bear the label, “Made in Princeton”.


Most importantly, Susan, it’s time to wise up.



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The Miami Dolphins, Bullying, and Misogyny

Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins


The official report of the team of attorneys hired to investigate allegations of bullying within the Miami Dolphins has finally appeared, and it is scathing.


Some writers are calling for Richie Incognito – the main perpetrator of offenses against Jonathan Martin and also the leader of two henchmen in a triad reminiscent of Harry Potter’s student tormentors, Malfoy, Goyle and Crabbe – to be cut from the team (he is now suspended) and eliminated from the National Football League (NFL) forever.


The report, here in its entirety, makes for fascinating and repellent reading.


Because the attorneys investigating the Dolphins interviewed hundreds of people, many of them witnesses to vocal abuse, they were able to acquire an overview of Dolphins’ culture, Dolphins’ attitudes . . . attitudes which were markedly different, especially on the offensive line where Martin and Incognito both worked, from other teams’.


At one point, a defensive lineman suggested to Martin that he join the “D-line” to release him from the bullying of Incognito and his pals. Yet leaving one set of players to join another on the same team would not have saved Martin from Incognito – it might have accelerated the abuse. Incognito was well-known among the NFL as a man with character flaws. While he played for the Rams, Incognito was fined $85,000 for four of his 38 on-field infractions and named “Dirtiest Player in the NFL” by The Sporting News in 2009. At least three teams had already refused to hire him based on his behavior both on and off the field, and the Dolphins had gone to the trouble of attaching a special character clause to his contract.


Beyond the personal interviews, the report’s authors also relied on the expertise of a psychologist, William H. Berman, Ph.D., “an expert in matters relating to workplace dynamics, interaction and culture, and interpersonal dysfunction within workplace relationships”, and on published works on bullying. What they found will surprise no one who has been bullied by sadistic teammates, work colleagues, or spouses and family members: many victims “go along to get along”. That is, they commonly try to maintain a cordial relationship with their tormentors, hoping that this will reduce the severity of bullying. Both Martin and Incognito referred to their relationship as “bipolar”, meaning at times it could be friendly, at times abusive. Still, the one does not cancel out the other, and survival mechanisms must not be allowed to negate abuse.


A “bipolar” relationship is never a friendship, FYI.


So I am happy for Jonathan Martin. This report helps dispel some of the bad feeling surrounding his leaving the Dolphins after a “last straw” moment. It will also tell fans who criticized him for weakness that, in fact, he had stood all he was going to, had suffered from it, and realized that assaulting Incognito – which Martin wanted to do – was not the answer.


The text messages and emails which the investigating teams pulled as hard evidence – some of which are quoted – show the degrading nature of Incognito’s thoughts and actions, and every right-minded person will reject the notion that these horrors were banter, that they were “fun”.


So, yes, I am happy for Martin, who blamed himself, thought he was at fault, and emotionally lashed himself, especially for failing to stand up to disgusting, abusive, violent, sexual remarks with regard to his sister and his mother.


Now, about misogyny.


It’s a type of bullying, too. Reading Incognito’s vile comments – they make me hope women view him in the future as a carrier of plague – it’s clear that he was reducing Martin’s sister and mother to the status of containers or slaves. Since Incognito is white and Martin is black, the stark dreadfulness of Incognito’s emailed and texted remarks is even more obvious.


But reducing any human being to a series of interlocking parts, without soul or brain, is just as humiliating. It is just as offensive. It is just as bullying.


And there, I’m afraid, Martin and Incognito are more alike than Martin would prefer. Several times, Martin refers to women he’s met or hopes to meet at bars, at parties, at strip clubs (places where women are seen as collections of parts, not as people) in derogatory terms. Repeatedly, he reduces them to simple objects. He fails to respect them, he fails to acknowledge and empathize with their humanity.


What do his mother and sister have to say about that aspect of their beloved son, beloved brother? Are they ashamed of his behavior? Or are they in denial, claiming that men will be men?


Once upon a time, the Dolphins were in denial.


From the beginning, I never doubted that Martin was bullied by Incognito.


Yet Jonathan Martin, like Incognito, like the other bullies, like other football players and fans – and, in fact, men everywhere – needs to rein in his own behavior and teach himself that degrading remarks about anyone, even women whose names you don’t know or recall, are just as much bully behavior as Incognito’s calling him the N-word.



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Missing In Action: Concentration


Using this inhibits concentration.


A recent newspaper article details plans to teach schoolchildren a skill they should have learned at home: how to concentrate.


Every US, Canadian, and UK kindergarten teacher knows that the class coming in will contain children for whom English is a foreign language; children who do not know their basic colors, or numbers up to 10; children of all socioeconomic levels whose households are so poor in spoken language that by the time the kids reach five years old they have heard 32 million fewer words over the course of their lives than their age-mates in language-rich families.


That children begin school on an unfairly tilted playing field is well-established.


Until recently, however, children began formal education with varying degrees in their ability to concentrate. Kids whose parents frequently read aloud to them exhibited more understanding that some things – for example, listening to the teacher’s instructions – had to be attended to with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of attention. Part of a kindergarten teacher’s job is to help all students learn school-time norms: keep your hands and feet in your own kind and friendly space; raise your hand for help; use your “indoors voice”; share the materials offered in class so everyone gets some.


But teaching concentration? That, it appears, is a new task for everyone in school, with regard to every student.


Why, you ask. Two words: social media.


It’s not just Facebook anymore. In fact, FB is old hat. Now it’s . . . well, the list gets longer every day. And ever younger children are fooling around with computers, tablets and smartphones, even if they have to borrow them to get going.


I use that expression – fooling around – on purpose. As students dive deeper into social media, as they email and text and tweet, not only do they use up time and energy, they adapt their brains to the rapid-fire joys of social media. What goes out the door is concentration, the ability to focus on one thing for a long time. The kind of absorption you see – okay, used to see, hopefully still do – on the faces of children building with Lego or observing a country stream and its myriad animals. The sort of raptness that differentiates the human brain from those of cognitively lighter-weight animals.


It is a profoundly human ability to concentrate on a single attractant without the expectation of being fed. A leopard may focus on a wandering animal, but only in order to minimize its dash. If the prey moves closer, the leopard will need to expend less energy on a shorter run. A primate sitting beside an insect mound with a stick to insert and pull out full of crawling aperitifs looks like it’s concentrating, but again, it is in the service of food.


Naturally, parents need to teach concentration at home. If they fail to do so, teachers must, because every child deserves the opportunity to learn deeply, to discover profoundly, and to feel as though the time spent in concentrated observation and study is its own gift.



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Rom-Coms to the Rescue!


A scene from Don Jon


Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the news that romantic comedies can save your relationship!


This news, heralded in multiple places, comes as a shock to many men, who routinely put down the films their girlfriends and wives like. It boosts the usefulness of rom-coms far above the CGI trappings of movies like the Transformers franchise. And the comparison that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character makes in the movie Don Jon, that romcoms are like internet porn? Not even close, man.


Honestly, though, not all the movies couples watched were romantic comedies. On Golden Pond, for example, is a story about family. And that’s the point.


Here’s what the study, at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, involved, according to The Express:


“Participants in the study attended a 10-minute lecture on the importance of relationship awareness and how watching ­couples in films can draw attention to our own behaviour. Then the 174 couples watched the 1967 rom-com, Two For The Road, about the joys and strains of a 12- year marriage.


“Afterwards, each couple met to ­discuss what they had seen and make ­comparisons with their own ­relationship. As ­homework, they were given a list of 47 films, from ­classics such as Gone With The Wind to the ­latest ­adaptation of Leo ­Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, to watch each week during the study and then discuss.


“Films included some obvious romances and tear-­jerkers such as A Star Is Born (1954), ­Indecent Proposal (1993), Steel ­Magnolias (1989) and The Way We Were (1973). There was the odd comedy ­surprise like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), and the oldest film was Made For Each Other (1939).


“Professor of psychology Ronald Rogge said: ‘People have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong. You might not be able to get your husband into a couples’ group, especially if you are happy, but watching a movie and having a discussion about it, that’s not so scary.’”


So while romantic comedies were part and parcel of the assignment, the real focus was on watching films about relationships, and then discussing them with regard to the couple’s own relationship. In other words, “Talk, people!”. Those conversations resulted in a reduction in the divorce rate from 24% to only 11%. Couples engaged in the study were less likely to divorce. Whether they had healthy, abuse-free marriages, however, was not researched. All we know is that they were half as likely to file for divorce.


Still, it’s worth a shot, right? The study in its entirety is online, including the list of films. Go ahead, check it out, keep Netflix busy. It could be a lot less expensive – counselors, attorneys, anguish, kids’ emotional pain, time, money, and so on – than divorce. And you can do it yourself!


For married heterosexual couples, this is the ultimate DIY.



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First Comes Love. After That?


Marriage. Or, as in The Princess Bride, mawwige


We pretty much think we know what marriage is. It’s that time that happens after the wedding, be it ornate or a few mumbled words in a registry office, the months and years together. Sometimes apart. With children or not, through choice or impossibility.


We often think it’s a man-woman thing. Or a woman-man thing. In some places, it can also be a woman-woman or man-man thing.


Among people of certain religions, it can be a man+multiple women thing. Much less frequently does it involve one woman and more than one man, although anecdotal evidence out of India and China indicate that such marriages, usually involving brothers, are increasing and will continue to do so as the “lost girls” phenomenon (abortion of female fetuses) continues.


A lot of people, like this Washington Post columnist, think marriage is a state to be desired for all single people. Tell that to the women assaulted and murdered by their husbands, or the spouses of both sexes married to the insane, the emotionally cold, the manipulative, the sociopathic.


Marriage does not carry the cachet it did a generation ago, and with good reason. As divorce became easier, it grew apparent that what we need is a better way to be matched with a loving spouse.


It’s no wonder that in some Western societies, people intentionally have children before they marry. Sometimes they never marry. Swedish children are more likely to be raised by two unmarried parents than American children are to be raised by two parents still married to each other. As we know in rearing kids, healthy presence counts.


This Australian article mentions the thoughtfulness that the current crop of young-and-in-loves bring to the question of to marry or not.


“Australian Institute of Family Studies senior researcher Lixia Qu attributed the decline in the divorce rate to the fact more than 80 per cent of marriages were preceded by couples living together these days and couples marrying later in life. ‘People are quite cautious nowadays about marriage,’ Ms. Qu said. ‘When they do get married, they’re older, they’re a bit more mature, they’ve experienced a sort of weeding-out process.’”


They’re also doing less hormone-driven thinking. In the US, studies show that the divorce rate is higher where people are encouraged to marry young and have children right away. When they wait, they are more likely to have healthier marriages.


The Guardian interviewed 20 young adults from different nations to learn their takes on marriage. Yes, no, maybe so? Their responses varied from “oh, yes” to “probably not” and several stops in between. What was most interesting were their approaches. Thoughtful, measured, and in this era, with a definite eye toward economics.


Which is not to say that the heart has no say. Indeed it does, as well as a concern for both spouses’ well-being. This lovely article lists ten alternative wedding vows, genuinely meaningful ones.


“I promise to nurture your goals and ambitions; to support you through misfortune and celebrate your triumphs” – that’s #6 on the list. What a fantastic promise to make and to keep.


As the reasons for marriage have altered through the centuries (who in contemporary Western society marries in order to connect adjoining parcels of land? – a common course in the Middle Ages), so our taste for marriage waxes and wanes. If parenthood is no longer as important as in the past, if remaining with a partner is the most essential thing, including tax advantages, emergency care and passports, then we will still marry. We will still risk. Perhaps we will weigh the risks and marry not from obligation or temporary passion, but out of a loving friendship.


While searching for a photo, I found this lovely statement:
“If I had my life to live over again, next time I would find you sooner so I could love you longer.”


Says it all, really.


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It’s All in Your Brain

Female brain


Male brain


By now, we’ve all read the research. Female human brains operate more efficiently between left and right hemispheres, male brain operate better within each hemisphere. Got it.


It makes sense that different sorts of people have slightly different ways of viewing the world, so that together they can combine their skills and come up with new ways of solving problems or attacking scarcities.


There is some talk that we need to decide which is more “human” than the other, which is sort of like asking if a long fibula is “better” than a short one (the fibula is one of the bones that extends from knee to ankle). For running, maybe. For being human, makes no difference.


Absent injury or disease, people develop the brains they are supposed to develop. Intra-hemisphere competent or inter-hemisphere competent, they’re both human.


What scientists have not yet measured are the brains of other primates. Orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas. Measuring those, we might find that female/male brain function differences in other primates are even more profound than ours.


We will probably never be able to measure past hominids’ and humans’ brains. Neanderthals may be forever lost to us, which means we will not discover how those women’s brains differed in function from male brains.


However, we can make a guess. Because long ago societies were very much restricted as to gender roles, most children’s brains formed along expected lines. This is proper for a girl, that for a boy. Prescribed roles echoed stereotyped perceptions of ability. Thus we could expect even more gender difference in brain functioning of past hominids and human than we see in ourselves.


Oh, brave new world, that has such people in it! The more we evolve to resemble each other, the more differences seem to matter.


Here are the individual differences that truly matter: how we treat each other. Do we create pain or do we heal it? Do we teach or do we destroy? Can we be trusted or not? Do we use our brains to fear and castigate, or do we use them to esteem other people?


Let’s stop focusing on inherent adult brain differences, and start focusing on what individuals, female and male, actually do with their brains.


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