Category Archives: Relationships

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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Filed under Film, Relationships

Why Huma Can’t Leave, And Why She Should

Huma Abedin in presumably happier times



Let’s set aside ambition. Although Huma Abedin, the wife of Anthony Weiner – currently regarded as manna from heaven by late-night comics who regard Weiner’s continued sexting with his self-chosen handle “Carlos Danger” as unbelievable fodder for gags – is no shrinking violet, she lacks the rip-the-baby-from-the-breast mania of Lady Macbeth. Ambitious, yes. For herself, not so much these days, when she’s riding her husband’s soiled coattails.


Let’s also put away, for the moment, the history of embarrassed American political wives. Hillary Clinton was not the first First Lady – when can we alter that to the useful First Spouse? – to stand by her man. American political newspapers, television, and now Twitter-sphere have been littered with the wreckage of broken marital vows and betrayed hearts. Huma Abedin is following in those women’s footsteps in pronouncing herself “supportive” of her ridiculously immature husband – a bad move in the 21st century, as we will see below – but she need not. Jenny Sanford of South Carolina did not do so, thank goodness, after her then-governor then-husband was discovered not on the Appalachian Trail but in another nation entirely. In 2013, one need not follow a script dictating that one trot oneself out and publicly “forgive” the jerk one married years before.


So, back-burnering ambition and American custom, let’s look, instead, at Huma’s past. As therapists know, what we grow up with is incredibly influential in how we make decisions as adults.


Huma’s parents were from South Asia. Her father, Syed Zainul Abedin, born in India in 1928, received his first college degree from Aligarh Muslim University, southeast of Delhi, and later earned a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He was an Islamic scholar, founded the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (consulting and advising where Muslims are a religious minority, as in India), acted as a consultant to the Muslim World League, and died in 1993 when Huma was a teenager (her father was 48 when Huma was born in 1976).


Huma’s mother, Saleha Mahmood Abedin, was born in northwest India (now Pakistan) in 1940. Twelve years younger than her husband, she met him at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received a PhD in sociology in 1977. For many years she has taught sociology at Dar Al-Hekma College, a women’s college in Saudi Arabia.


Not long after Huma’s mother finished her PhD, the family packed up and moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Huma was two years old, and did not live in the US again until she attended college at George Washington University.


If it’s me reading the signs, here’s what we have:


Both parents from South Asia but with a desire to experience a purer form of Muslim life in Saudi Arabia. Willing to put their only child under the heavy strictures that Saudi Arabia imposes on girls and women. An Islamic scholar father, much older than his wife. Perhaps dictatorial, certainly deferred to. A man whose power was backed up by Saudi law.


In Jeddah, Huma’s father would have been entitled to up to four legal wives. There’s no evidence that he married anyone other than Huma’s mother, but no evidence that he remained monogamous, either. Considering his work, he might have been ridiculed by other men had he not taken additional wives.


At least one writer regards Huma’s mother as an “influential sharia activist” who has, in her writings, provided justification for the legal subordination of women to men, and appallingly, female genital mutilation (FGM), which pre-dates Islam (it was inflicted in ancient Egypt) and is slowly losing ground – due in part to its demonstrated harm to women’s reproductive lives. (In that context, it’s worth wondering if as a child Huma herself was subjected to cutting, and if her health has been imperiled as a result.)


In addition, Huma herself was raised, not in India, but in sectarian, dogmatic Saudi Arabia, with its strictures on females of all ages. It would be ridiculous to assume that she only experienced societal limits after menarche. In fact, Saudi girls routinely watch their mothers, aunts and older sisters being inhibited and punished, and they hear from friends about their own families. Secrets are kept, but the truth also emerges.


If in Saudi Arabia, Huma’s father had sexted a young woman, if he had promised her an apartment to be shared as a lovenest, if he had held lewd conversations with her (all of which Anthony Weiner has done, in an incredible display of hubris and power-wielding), how would Huma’s mother have acted?


What would Mommy do?


Mommy would have grinned and borne it. She would have let it go. She would have regarded it as one more thing permitted to husbands in a society where being male confers incredible license. She would have remembered that under Saudi law, divorce might see Huma legally snatched from her mother and deposited with her father, forever.


Most of all, Huma’s mother would feel relieved that her husband was merely using social media, not taking to wife a newer, younger woman who would perhaps turn the husband against the mother of his child.


All of the above help us understand why Huma has chosen a path that made the New York Post front-page, in its frustration, “What’s Wrong With You?”. If the Post were published in the Arab world, however, it might be blazoned with “Fantastic Job, Huma!” or “Setting a Good Example for Girls”. Even when her husband, at last count, now admits to sexting three different women since resigning from Congress, layering lie upon lie, and when according to polls his political stock among voters has taken a nosedive.


The problems with Huma’s approach go to the heart of why she ought to choose a different path: she no longer lives in Saudi Arabia, and she’s not married to a strict Muslim husband – though Weiner’s brash sense of entitlement and arrogance seem to fit him for the role. She lives in the US. She might have political aspirations of her own. If she does, she’s going about this all wrong. Huma is playing 21st-century politics with an old-fashioned game plan.


Plus, she’s setting her son up to be an abuser, and any future daughter (or daughter-in-law) to be abused.


As a Guardian reader commented: “… Would anyone out there want to see their daughter in Huma’s position, defending a man with zero understanding of his problems, shrugging off these incidents as if he was caught shoplifting instead of texting nude shots of himself to a young woman whom he not only wanted to set up in a Chicago apartment but declared his undying love for?” Answer: no, not in the US.


Huma, listen up: In America, smart women aren’t doormats. We don’t put up with abuse. You’re a very intelligent woman, but IQ does not equal EQ, and on this subject, you’re bog-standard stupid. In five years, or ten, or twenty, whenever you feel like running for office yourself, do you really think American women will praise the memory of your getting up there and defending your abuser? Puh-leez! We’re much more likely to say, oh, here’s that idiot, the woman who knew her husband sexted under the handle of “Carlos Danger”, who knew he lied about it, who did not insist on ongoing therapy, and stayed with him. And excused him, and encouraged us to excuse him, too.


Vote for Huma? Not on your life.


Do you get it? Gut the oldie-goldie behaviors you learned as a child. If your mother’s suggesting you stay with your abusive husband – when the rest of the US is aghast – figure out what you want. Do you want to run for public office? Want people to vote for you? The path you’re taking will not lead to success, not these days.


The New York Post suggests Huma might have a “pathological need to be publicly humiliated”. What she has looks like, instead, a pathological need to be regarded as a perfect wife according to outdated and harmful models, the models she learned as a child.


“When I was a child, I spoke like a child.” It’s time for Huma Abedin to speak like an adult. Otherwise, we the people will infer that she and her husband richly deserve each other.



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Filed under Abuse, Anthony Weiner, Cruelty, FGM, Guardian, Huma Abedin, India, Law, Menarche, Mental health, Mental illness, Misogyny, Muslim, New York City, News, Pain, Politics, Relationships, Sexism

Making It Harder


For children of a single mother – divorced, widowed, single by choice – who is the most dangerous person in their lives? That’s right, the mother’s boyfriend, partner or new husband.


For women parting from an abusive boyfriend or husband, often for the sake of their children’s safety, who is the most dangerous person?


The same guy. Particularly when he has a firearm. Even when there’s a protective order against him.


A commonsense approach to protective orders would suggest that police would disarm a person who presented a threat severe enough for a court to recognize it. That is what police would naturally do if threats were directed toward serving officers. At them.


Apparently, though, the lives of people who don’t wear a badge are less valuable.


Every month in the US, women are killed by an angry man wielding a gun. He’s not some deranged stranger they’ve never met. He’s the man they used to accept into their body, into their life and the lives of their children. Before, that is, he began his abuse.


Maybe he slapped, molested, raped her children. Perhaps he beat her, strangled her, put poisonous liquids into her coffee. She may have tried several times to leave, but fell into the “oh, baby, I’m sorry” trap. It might be that her religion encouraged her to stay with him, or her extended family. Maybe, deep down, she just didn’t believe she deserved better.


Now she does. She’s no longer willing to protect this maniac, no longer willing to subject her children and herself to the chamber of horrors that is domestic terrorism.


So she applies for a protective order. Sometimes, courts refuse to believe that a man is so abusive to people who are smaller and weaker than he. Shame on them!


Increasingly, courts are willing to believe that a man who seems like an upstanding citizen, a pillar of the community, can in private life turn into a monstrous Mr. Hyde. So they issue the protective order for a term of weeks or months. Distance is spelled out, times are detailed.


Yet they fail to take away from him the means to murder. They let him keep his guns.


He then uses them against his former partner. Often, rather than face prison, he kills himself after he murders. Result: two adults dead, orphaned children in shock and needing love, care, and therapy.


Voice after voice has been raised against this deadly loophole. Yet it remains. Too many angry men, too many with guns.


Consider this: if you were being stalked by a man with murder in mind, who might approach you anywhere – your work, children’s school, mall, church – would you want him to have a gun in his hand?

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Filed under Divorce, Domestic terrorism, Gun control, Mental health, Mental illness, Pain, Pain footprint, Protective order, Relationships, Risk analysis, Violence

Leaving the Torture Chamber


The door stands ajar


“Sure, he loves you, but not in a way that does you any good.”


It’s an either-sex thing: “Sure, she loves you, but not in a way that does you any good.”


Matches are strange things. So much of our past goes into whom we choose as a partner. Come out of a family that disrespected you, you’re almost inevitably going to choose someone who does the same. Unless you’ve done a lot of work on your perceptions and decision-making, a disrespectful person feels . . . familiar.


The height of disrespect is abuse.


Physical, sexual, mental, emotional. Gaslighting, for example, convincing someone they’re wrong or nuts (when actually they hit the nail square on the head) is as damaging as slapping them, and far harder to recognize as abuse.


People get caught in relationships where they’re being used and abused, and then give themselves unhealthy messages.


“I can’t leave.” “I need to stay.” “This is what marriage is.” “I have to be patient.” “He/she really loves me.”


Sure, they love you, but not in a way that does you any good.


You know what they love? They love control. They love having you around to abuse, to make them feel good. They love feeling powerful.


Who does that remind you of?


That’s right, torturers. Torturers – this includes rapists, since rape is torture – have control and power. They get to deliver pain. Their victim cannot leave until they say so.


Look, if you’re in a relationship where you’re being abused in any way, you may think you’re strapped to that table. You may believe the door is closed and locked. You may think you have no choice but to endure and persist and pray for the abuse, the lies, the other person’s control and power, to stop.


But you’re not tied. That door stands ajar. You can get up and walk out. Truly.


Yes, you need to ask other people for help, and you might have to walk out secretly. You might have to make plans and listen to others’ encouragement.


The table has no straps, you can slide off. You can walk out that door whose only locks are in your head. You can escape abuse. Any type of abuse.


And then work on yourself to make sure you never again select that kind of person to be around. The kind of person who whines and protests, “But I love you!”


Sure, they love you, but not in a way that does you any good.



Filed under Abuse, Communication, Gaslight, Morality, Rape, Rape is torture, Rapist as parasite, Relationships, Sexual assault, Torture

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

With a Little Help From Friends . . . If You’ve Got Them

You said it.

What do you like to do with friends?

Hang out, see movies? Play Ultimate Frisbee or Quidditch? Chat over coffee, go hiking, get your nails done?

Me, I like to talk over tea or lunch, walk groomed city trails or rural roads.

The reason I’m wondering, though, is that the other day I asked someone I had known for only three hours (over two meetings) what he liked to do with local friends, and in response he told me all about his typical day spent alone.

Translation: He has no friends. Not nearby, in any case, no matter how many he may fly across the country to visit once a year.

An adult without friends is an island cut off from other civilizations. Sure, island-states rarely get invaded, and they don’t need to secure their boundaries with high fences or mined approaches, but the other side of the coin is their isolation and lack of growth. It’s no accident that the Japanese tend to be xenophobic on their own turf, and that the Chinese temporary workers their farmers import for agricultural work were accepted only after intense pressure. Yes, Japan has a great deal to fear from China, which is larger, contains many more millions of people, and possesses a long memory of Japanese atrocities during World War II. Yet xenophobia, the fear of the stranger, the one who is different, is behind their wariness.

Without good, solid, smart friends, how do you know if you’re on the right route? How do you know if you’re not being hijacked by error if you don’t run it by your friends?

Notice I said “smart” friends. If your friends cream-puff you, they’re not smart, and they’re not very friendly, either. Good friends practice compassionate tough love. They’re concerned about your weight gain. They worry about your smoking. They hate to hear you talk rudely to your spouse, or abusively about him/her. They’re appalled at the licentious way you act when you’ve had a couple of drinks.

I’m not a big Bible-quoter, but here are two passages, both from Proverbs, indicating the importance and purpose of friendship: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (19:20), and “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (27:17). Substituting the inclusive “person” for “man”, and these words are as meaningful today as thousands of years ago.

Listen to good, intelligent friends’ advice, so you get smarter and don’t make mistakes, especially the same ones over and over — it was Jesus, after all, who said, “Go, and sin no more”, meaning “Get on with your life and learn from this, don’t keep making the same errors!” – so that you gain wisdom. And healthy friendship sharpens people, it makes them incisive and strong, able to cut through the ridiculous bullshit we’re surrounded by: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, “You deserve a break today”, “Just do it”.

Plus, according to research, good friends keep you healthier, give you a longer life, and even help you regard emotional bumps as less severe.

Good friends can help you become a better person. Having no friends means you stay stuck in no-progress land, thinking you’re growing when all you’re doing is spinning in place.

To grow, get friends. Good friends. Better friends, if the ones in your life are lax.

Make a friend. Be a friend.

Just do it.

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Filed under Friends, Isolation, Relationships, Xenophobia

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