Category Archives: Love

Going Un-Mobile

 On the mobile, even in the countryside

 

If you’re reading this, chances are you own a cellphone, what is called in many parts of the world a “mobile”. If it’s smart enough, you may even be reading this on a tiny screen. You probably rely on your phone to call and text, LOL and occasionally release TMI whenever you like.

 

Imagine losing the right to use your phone. Not dropping it in water, or misplacing it, or getting your mobile snatched by thieves. Your phone would still be right there in your hands. You just wouldn’t be allowed to utilize it, not for any purpose. Not to chat with friends, nor do a search, nor reserve a library book.

 

Unless, that is, you were married, indoors, and in the presence of your in-laws.

 

Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it?

 

Not in Patna, a village in the Indian state of Bihar.

 

For a long time, Bihar was considered the Mississippi of India, an extremely poor state with little social and economic development. Its situation has recently improved, and markers of growth – including law and order – have improved and accelerated. Bihari life is looking up.

 

In villages, though, the ancient system of panchayat holds sway. The word derives from the Hindi word for five, panch, and describes the committee of five elders that makes major decisions for the village.

 

Did I say five elders? Sorry, no. Five elderly men. Women have no role on a panchayat. And although the system has been described as “mediation”, panchayat members, unlike mediators, are not required to act as neutral facilitators. In fact, they bring their own history to bear on the problems presented to them.

 

That brings us to mobile phones. They’re incredibly cheap in India. Government ministers to three-wheeled taxi drivers use them. Even in rural India, almost everyone has a phone. Which means they have near-instant communication.

 

For teenage girls, that means boys, too. In Indian villages, where arranged marriages are common. The idea that adolescents might be able to set up dates and meet each other in private to talk is anathema. So the Patna panchayat has banned unmarried females from using mobiles at all. Not unmarried boys and men. Just girls and women who are unmarried. Bad enough, right? There’s more. Even if you’re married, as a woman in Patna you’re not allowed to use a mobile unless you’re indoors with family members listening in.

 

In Indian villages, married women live with their husbands’ parents, a system called patrilocality. So if you’re an adult woman, responsibly – for India – married, perhaps with children of your own, you cannot talk to your friends, your sisters or mother, even your husband, without your mother-in-law listening in and monitoring your conversation.

 

The Stasi would be proud.

 

When mobile phones first arrived in India, they were hailed by married men. While working in another city, at long last they could speak to their wives in relative peace. Plans, news about the children, romantic talk, even phone sex was possible without going through that stern controller of the landline, Mummy-ji.

 

The Patna panchayat’s diktat against female phone use is illegal, of course. Even in rural India, women have the right to communication. Local government officials, some of them female, are stepping up to protest and invoke the aid of higher-ups.

 

One can understand the panchayat’s concern. Five elderly men observe that things are not as they were in the days of their youth. For generations, Bihari husbands have left the state to work elsewhere, coming home occasionally for festivals and to sire children. Their lives in metropolitan areas were free of constraint. Of course many of them sought relationships with other people.

 

Now, however, instead of being kept secluded by mothers-in-law, their Bihari wives are talking to others. Some of these others, the women choose to meet. Occasionally, those meetings develop into relationships. Marriages break up, children are left to the grandparents, and emotional hurt runs very high. It’s a huge pain footprint.

 

The solution, though, isn’t in banning mobile phone use. The solution, one the conservative male  panchayat did not consider, is to recognize that arranged marriages aren’t always healthy marriages. Sometimes, too, people hurt each other. The one-two punch of physical and emotional passion hijacks the brain. They think only of their own happiness (although, as the saying goes, cheaters never trade up), not of the devastation left in their wake.

 

The solution is education. Start teaching children how good decisions are made calmly. That when you desperately want something, it’s probably the worst time for you to get it. That acting without regard for the feelings of people who care about you is infantile and self-absorbed and narcissistic. That children have to be nurtured, so if you’re doing the horizontal mambo with a parent of minor children, you’re hurting those kids, too.

 

If wisdom is healed pain, a mobile phone ban is a Band-Aid.  Real healing delves deeper.

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Filed under Cellphone, India, Infidelity, Libido, Love, Misogyny, Mobile phone, Texting

On the Run in Schengen Europe

He was her maths teacher — now he’s this 15-year-old’s captor

 

There’s a 15-year-old missing her math class at Bishop Bell Church of England School in Eastbourne, a pretty town right on the English Channel. She’s bunking her classes in history and science, as well, but it’s Megan Stammers’s math class that presents the real problem, because her teacher, 30-year-old Jeremy Forrest, has disappeared, too.

 

They left together, in what some English journalists refer to as an “elopement”. This is totally inaccurate. In order to elope, you have to be old enough to marry – Megan is not – and eligible to wed. Which Forrest is not. He already has a wife.

 

Forrest’s brazen actions (Megan, remember, is a minor, and I’ve written before about the enormous difference between adolescent and adult brains and decision-making capabilities) have captured the outrage of British parents. The story has been front-page news ever since last Thursday evening, when they ran for France, together. Picture of them on the Dover-to-Calais ferry – just a stone’s throw from Bishop Bell – have been posted. In them, the two stroll hand-in-hand.

 

There’s no question that Megan went voluntarily. She was not forced to go. Yet given her age, and the fact that her prefrontal lobe has not fully developed, what she made was less a reasoned choice than an acting-out of impulse. Really, what girl would make a sane, reasoned decision to betray a marriage, leave her parents without even a text message, and go off alone with a man fifteen years her senior, who has already demonstrated his unfitness even to teach by his reckless, opportunistic behavior? There you go.

 

(Notice to Megan, if you’re reading: Forrest is a jerk. He didn’t have the courtesy or compassion to divorce his wife before getting it on with another female, and as to choosing one of his students . . . sweetheart, that’s why laws and regulations prohibit that opportunistic behavior. Call your mum, now, she desperately wants to give you a hug and a cuddle.)

 

Now that the two are in France, they have the same opportunities in Schengen Europe as any terrorist or economic migrant on the run. As long as they stay within the Schengen zone, they can travel at will, as if they were going from state to state within America. No border control, no passports needed. If they stay out of sight of locals, they will stay out of the authorities’ reach.

 

(Notice to Megan: If you can’t even go out in the sun because of Forrest’s fear of being discovered, what kind of life is that? You might as well be a mole. That’s not what you were made for, truly. Call your mum. If Forrest has taken your mobile – for safety, of course, that’s what he would say, isn’t it? – do something drastic. Run to the police, throw trash out the window, scream with appendicitis. Anything to get other people involved.)

 

The worst fear of her parents is that with a noose slowly tightening about him, Forrest will harm the 15-year-old girl. That he will try to cover his tracks by destroying the evidence. A man traveling alone has more options than a man linked with a girl half his age. The police are careful to say they just want to assure Megan’s safety and make sure she’s returned to her home – at which, the morning before she disappeared, this warm, sweet, “never brought trouble to my door” girl said to her mother, “‘Mum can you look me in the eye?’ I looked her in the eye and she said, ‘I love you’.” This is not a case of a teenager escaping abuse at home. Instead, it’s misplaced trust. Trust misplaced onto a man who does not deserve it.

 

(Notice to Forrest: You do not have the right to harm Megan in any way. Let her go.)

 

Megan’s mother had absolutely no idea that Forrest was more to her daughter than a math teacher. And the school? Is the Anglican-run Bishop Bell Church of England School similarly aghast?

 

Not exactly . . . unless their shock is over a conflagration their administration imagined was at slow burn. It turns out that not only did the school fire a male teacher three years ago for grooming and assaulting two female students (one would think forewarned was forearmed!), but they knew as early as this past February that Forrest had crossed a line with Megan. A fellow student confided in a teacher that she had observed Forrest and Megan holding hands on a 10-hour flight back to England from Los Angeles. Some field trip that was.

 

Did the school investigate and discipline Forrest? They kept him under observation. Did they forbid him to teach or tutor Megan? Not at all. Did they – or any students – even inform Megan’s mother of Forrest’s excessive interest and behavior? No.

 

It was a classic case of MYOB – mind your own business. Keeping well away from the fact that the business of Megan’s mother is seeing that her daughter stays safe and healthy, the absolute bog-standard minimum of parental care, and that one can only accomplish that when one has complete information. You can bet that Megan’s mum investigated the safety of the vaccine before she allowed her daughter to be inoculated against rubella. It’s too bad that Bishop Bell declined to give her even basic details of an even more frightening potential risk to Megan.

 

As a fellow student put it, “We are really angry the school did not do enough to protect Megan. And now no one knows where she is or if she’s coming back.”

 

And a child shall lead them.

 

Until Megan is found, police all over Europe will search for her. Meanwhile, plenty of us ought to search our consciences. Do we know something that, if told, will avert harm? Especially to a child or adolescent? Recall that a truth omitted can be as harmful as a lie. Go ahead and open up, and insist that someone pay attention. Because attention needs to be paid.

 

(Notice to Megan: Your mum loves you. Call her!)

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Filed under Bishop Bell, Britain, Eastbourne, Love, Lovesick, Megan Stammers, Relationships, Schengen

Women’s Lost Libidos

The bonkbuster queen

 

Jilly Cooper was not a name I knew until today. In the UK, she’s a best-selling author. She writes bonkbusters.

 

That, too, was a word I didn’t know.

 

The OED – which added the word in 2002 – defines bonkbuster as “a type of popular novel characterised by frequent sexual encounters between the characters”, a definition that sounds repetitive, but then so is the topic. (The word’s inventor, a novelist named Sue Limb – you there, at the back of the room, no sniggering! – created it in 1988 after a publisher asked her to write a “big thick book with lots of bonking in it”.)

 

In the US, we frequently refer to such books as romance novels, although most of the romance occurs within the reader’s brain.

 

So Cooper can claim some familiarity with the concept of frequent sexual encounters, but what she says in today’s Telegraph is that, friends, it’s just not happening much anymore (not for adult women, anyway – do the research on sexual trafficking) because female libidos have been lost.

 

As in, they’re here somewhere, take a look round, love, maybe we’ll recapture them with this butterfly net.

 

Cooper, whose writing depends on that segment of the female reading public who feel a certain stirring at the sight of Rupert Penry-Jones or Johnny Depp, is understandably concerned.

 

“Doctors’ waiting rooms are absolutely brimming these days with women suffering from low libidos. Ours is now a terribly under-sexed society. I have talked to a lot of young women about this and they just don’t seem to do it any more. Honestly. I suppose it’s because we all have so many other demands on our time now,” she said.

 

Never fear, Jilly!

 

The recent publication of Fifty Shades of Grey (“While I have heard that it is quite poorly written, I am delighted that it’s giving a new lease of life to the genre,” said Cooper) has revved up the strategically located powerhouses of certain women.

 

But if I were Jilly Cooper, who is a marvelous-looking 75-year-old, by the way (check out her photo, above), I would get the Telegraph back on the line to come interview me pronto for the answer to those flitted-off libidos.

 

It’s not the demands on our time. How long does a decent bonk take? Thirty minutes, max? And then there are quickies and lazies and “just one shag before the kids need breakfast”. We spend more time in front of the TV or computer/iPad/Kindle screen.

 

It’s not our husbands, lovers or partners, most of whom would love to get more action. (If yours is not of that mind, quick, get thee to a counselor or divorce lawyer, because the jig really is up.) In any case, there are ED drugs a-plenty.

 

It could be mental or emotional illness, it could be stress. It could be anger.

 

But the most likely culprit? Fat.

 

The UK approaches the US in rates of overweight and obese people. This 2011 chart compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that in the US, the rate of obesity was 33.9%. One in three Americans is clinically obese. In the UK, the rate was 22.7. Both rates are said to be growing, as is the amount of food required to sustain such weights, and the resultant medical costs.

 

One thing about sexual desire, it’s propelled by “male” hormones in both men and women. Men have more testosterone, so they often have more desire. But women, too, need their little bit of male “zoom” in their bloodstreams in order to want a shag.

 

Excess fat doesn’t store sexy, manly testosterone. In fact, it stores its opposite number, the lady with the soft touch: estrogen.

 

Now, estrogen is incredibly useful. We can’t get along without it, none of us. But it’s a nurturing hormone (in fact, it’s infamous for nurturing malignancies, which is why alternative-medicine people put themselves on starvation diets in order to defeat cancer), not a wink-wink, let’s-get-it-on-tiger substance.

 

The more fat, the more estrogen.

 

The more estrogen, the more the natural hormonal balance in the body is disturbed. Raise the level of estrogen, and, male or female, your “male” hormone levels are swamped.

 

That wandering libido in women? (And, let’s add, overweight men.) It hasn’t disappeared. It’s been overwhelmed by a flood. With help from you, it can make its presence known.

 

Forget the butterfly net. Porn. Cyber sex. For increased libido, what you really want is a healthier, fitter body.

 

Weight Watchers, friends’ exercise groups, walking buddies. However you do it – it helps if you work with a friend – shed that excess estrogen. Build up your libido as you increase your strength.

 

Do it. For the sake of Jilly Cooper’s bonkbusters.

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Filed under Bonkbuster, Books, Health, Jilly Cooper, Libido, Love, Nature, Prostitution, Rupert Penry-Jones, Trafficking

The Anti-Bella

The next hero

 

Isabella was the number one most popular name for baby girls born in the US in 2011. Its popularity derives in no small part from Isabella (“Bella”) Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series, whose fifth and final movie will come out next year. From the books to the kitsch to the films, we’ve tolerated a surfeit of Bella-bilia for years, along with posters of the two hunks who head up Team Edward and Team Jacob.

Observers have agonized over the adoration of this Bella character, passive to an extraordinary extent (while she’s still human, anyway), who puts up with a stalker boyfriend (yeah, he’s also a vampire) and a boy who wants so desperately to be more than a friend that he cannot seem to leave her alone despite her lack of romantic interest. Her dad, the local cop, is oblivious to the very real dangers surrounding his daughter – her mom has remarried and conveniently moved to Florida. Dysfunctional, much?

Now someone’s nipping at Bella’s heels as the latest tween and teen admiration figure, a character who’s got more courage in her little finger than Bella on her best day, who can catch small animals to eat without needing vampire fangs.

Will the infant girl name of choice soon be Katniss?

The Hunger Games, the first book of a trilogy by Suzanne Collins — a trilogy hailed as “mesmerizing” – has been made into a film that will release on March 23rd. Whether the next two books in the series are made into movies depends on whether “Hunger Games” catches fire. I hope it does. Not just because it’s a great trilogy, but because I’d like young girls to be presented with a better role model than Bella. That’s Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss lives in a post-apocalyptic North America where a centralized government holds absolute power. Every year, each of the twelve districts in the country of Panem must send two children aged 12 to 18 – one female, one male – to enter the televised Hunger Games, a “Survivor”-style contest where death comes to all but one. Katniss volunteers herself as a replacement for her younger sister. As the Games’ contestants try to survive, making allies and enemies, avoiding traps and false promises, Katniss and Peeta (her district’s male entrant) manage to alter the rules and attract support where they least suspect it.

Katniss is a refreshing change from Bella. She doesn’t wait for events, she enters them. Bella’s vampire beau, Edward, saved her from a marauding truck. Peeta, the boy who claims to love Katniss, is just as stuck in the games as she is. No superpowers here. Just wits. Wits and a frenetic desire to live.

Yes, live. As a human, with all her pain, fear and hope. Contrast that to Bella, who wants to be morphed into a vampire in order to spend eternity with Edward, who would really rather she stay human. Excuse me? Is this the best Bella can do, hang around for eternity with the yummy Edward? Even Arwen the immortal elf did better than that, in Lord of the Rings.

So, yes, bring on Katniss, her bow and arrows, her love for her little sister (“Greater love hath no man…”), her fierce determination to retain her beating heart, her panting breath, and show the Capitol what courage is.

Perhaps by 2015, newborn infant girls will bear the name Katniss.

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Filed under Books, Film, Hunger Games, Katniss, Love, Suzanne Collins, Twilight, Vampire

Eat Drink Man Woman

One of the film's last scenes, with yet another set of stellar dishes

 

“It’s Sunday torture.”

Going to church? No, it’s the weekly dinner prepared by semi-retired master chef Chu for his three daughters in this lovely 1994 Taiwanese film by Ang Lee (perhaps better known in the West for directing Sense and Sensibility, written by and starring Emma Thompson). Although the daughters still live at home, their presence is mandated each Sunday at the table, which groans with gorgeous, delicious food made by their dad.

It is through his food that the widowed Chu communicates with his daughters and expresses his love. But it’s an act of increasing desperation: Chu is losing his sense of taste, a tragedy for such a master. It’s the physical manifestation of the emotional, for his taste for life is slipping, as well. His daughters are drifting away. He knows they must, but the pull is harsh. The eldest, Jia-Jen, teaches high school and has converted to Christianity. Chu’s best friend comments that Jia-Jen has found the right man for her in Jesus, but she yearns for a physical relationship and finally meets that in a fellow teacher.

The middle sister, Jia-Chien (of the three, she most resembles her dead mother), has a high-powered job as an airline executive, and is offered a transfer to work in Amsterdam. Her ex-beau has become a friend with benefits, yet Jia-Chien knows she’s stuck. She wants to take the Amsterdam job, but hesitates to leave her father . . . and then there’s the handsome troubleshooter who’s just sauntered into the office.

The youngest daughter, Jia-Ning, is still in school. She works part-time at a Wendy’s, where she meets a co-worker’s discarded boyfriend. Jia-Ning offers sympathy. The young man responds. They discover they share many interests. But how can she, as a youngest daughter, leave her father?

Then there’s the neighbor’s mother newly returned from America, who’s got her eye on Chu as a prospective second husband. Of all the characters in this film, she’s the least sympathetic. We laugh at her, though, and wonder: is she what Chu needs to put savor into his life?

This is a family film in the best sense. Much is unsaid, much misunderstood. Connections are made, lost, and remade. The three sisters discover (as the two sisters did in Sense and Sensibility) what each lacks in her life. As one sister says (the same line was used in S&S), “What do you know of my heart?” – an excellent question, as she finds no one can know her heart if she will not reveal it. Chu rediscovers his taste and his zest for life through a remarkable and unforeseen transformation.

For foodies, this wonderful, warm film carries an added bonus: the visuals of dumpling-making, fish-steaming, the construction of layered dishes and the deconstruction of chickens that later attain divinity by being smoked. The first long segment of food preparation took a week to film and involved Chu as well as the hands of professional chefs. You will never again look at Chinese food without recalling this film’s beauty.

If you haven’t yet seen Eat Drink Man Woman, do. Those two hours will become cherished memories.

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Filed under Ang Lee, China, Cooking, Family, Film, Love, Movies, Relationships

The Power To . . . What?

The power -- superpower? -- of touch

 

Every once in a while, I read pieces like the Washington Post’s “Date Lab”, where two individuals who have answered numerous questions about themselves – pertinent and im – are tossed together in a blind date orchestrated and paid for the Post. Then they’re interviewed. Following which, readers get to comment on the interviews, the daters themselves, and the answers they wrote perhaps months ago.

It’s a non-sexist, nominally non-ageist (most all participants weigh in with less than 35 years) endeavor that seems to attract more than a few extremely picky people. Well, what did you expect? They’re still young. Naturally they want (insert list of required traits here) in someone they’ll see for a second date. Yeah, not marriage or friendship, but second date. There aren’t many of those out in Date Lab Land.

Getting back to those questions. One I’ve always tuned into is: “If you could have a super-power, what would it be?”  Oooh, the possibilities! Oddly, one of the most popular – among men, at least – is the ability to be invisible. (Did I say they were under 35?)  Another, of course, is Superman-like flying. Spidey-style climbing comes up less frequently. In fact, comic book superheroes are woefully under-represented.

Here’s one I’d like to see more of (it’s mine, actually, but listen, this is a great idea): the ability to heal – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – with a single touch AND the ability to pass on the same talent and knowledge with that touch.

Who would you touch first? Your family and friends and neighbors and co-workers, sure, naturally. But then? How could you spread the health faster? You’d touch people who touch people (cue Barbra Streisand). Who touches the most people in a given day?

Nurses. Physicians. Teachers, especially of small children.

Let’s get creative. Police officers. Prison guards – especially because their clientele needs healing more than most. (I recently heard a female prison guard complain about the decades-old closing of American mental hospitals – thanks, Ronald Reagan – because, as she put it, “prison is just a mental hospital with a victim happening before entry”.) Cashiers. Restaurant waitstaff. People running for office – all those handshakes and hugs.

See where I’m going here? It’s the access to human touch that would get the world healed quickest.

A few weeks ago I got to know a woman visiting from China, and one thing we discussed was the American penchant for hugging in public, especially on-campus. Turns out there’s not much hugging in China. Certainly not between people who barely know each other. How about good female friends? She shook her head. No, not even there.

Considering the recognized benefits of healthy hugs between friends or lovers, I hope China discovers ways to encourage such hugs, and soon. Even without the healing touch, it would do a body good. It would do the corporate body, the Chinese population, good.

And when I get my desired superpower, it won’t take as long to bring uniform health to China.

Oooh, flight attendants! Add to the list.

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Filed under Date Lab, Family, Health, Hug, Love, Relationships, Spiderman, Superman, Superpower

The Snub Rub

So, who's snubbing whom?

 

Have you ever been snubbed? As in, cold-shouldered by someone for no good reason – like, you just shagged her husband? On the internet, www.dictionary.comdefines “snub” as:“to treat with disdain or contempt, especially by ignoring”. Another person, in a social setting, simply refuses to recognize your common humanity and the Miss Manners touch of decent, grown-up acknowledgment. If you hang out with people to whom glitz and glamour count for a lot, I bet you see this all the time.

 

Some years ago, a woman I knew and considered a friend literally turned her back on me at our children’s mutual preschool. The snub took my breath away. It also hurt. A lot. This was someone I’d trusted, to whom I had confided that my husband and I were separating. Her snub, I later understood, was a way of expressing fear (that her own husband would leave) and denial. It said more about her than about me.

 

Even though we volunteered at the same nonprofit, our relationship was never the same. I didn’t trust her. Why would I? At a low point in my life, she’d treated me with disdain and contempt.

 

What happens, though, in the mind of a person who snubs you without even being acquainted? This past weekend – and I’m going to make this as generic as possible – I was invited to an outdoor athletic event. The friend inviting me was also friends with someone quite integral to the event, and also well-known in the literary world. My friend had wanted us – her mutual friends – to meet for months. She brought this person over, introduced us, I extended my hand, said, “I’m so glad to meet you!” The other person shook hands but refused to look me in the eye, said not a word (not one!), and immediately turned to others, talking and laughing, and moved away.

 

This snub was breathtaking, too. It was “Mean Girls” times ten – especially because this person was born during World War II and is more than old enough to know better. People near me noticed and began whispering. I was stunned. Then hurt, for all of sixty seconds. Then I realized this person’s actions spoke of inner character, not of me.

 

And what does it say of affection toward our mutual friend? Here’s a woman the well-known person supposedly regards with affection, yet snubs someone she introduces. That says volumes about what’s inside, and it’s not at all pretty. It’s pull-up-the-rock time.

 

There’s the rub, snubbers. You may think you’re acting powerful or coy or better-than, or doing a one-up. But all you’re doing is displaying the skittering, darkness-loving creatures inside, the cruel, biting creepy-crawlies that end up attacking you. You, the human being, no more, no less. You, the person who puts on trousers one leg at a time and has the same needs for air, water, food as anyone else.

 

When you snub others, you’re really snubbing yourself.

 

How does that feel, snubber?

 

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Filed under Love, Relationships, Snub