Filling in the Gaps (aka Afterschooling My Kids)

A conversation in the car on the way to school yesterday with my kids, ages 9, 12, and 14.

Me: Don’t you guys know why the Confederate states seceded from the Union?

My kids: They didn’t like it? Because the Union sucked? Who were the Confederate states?

Me (groaning): Do you guys even know what the Confederate states were? Can you name any of them?

My kids: New Hampshire! California! New York! Canada! Something that starts with a V!

Me: Look, they were all in the South. Name some states in the South.

My kids: Alabama? Arizona? New Hampshire?

Civil-War

Naturally, by then I felt like banging my head against the steering wheel. And screaming. Or maybe both. Because  clearly, my kids – especially my older two, should know how to answer such basic questions about American history. But clearly, there are some tremendous gaps in their education.

US History

To truly understand my frustration in moments like these, you must know that I used to be a homeschooling mom. Not for long – I homeschooled my oldest in Kindergarten, and my second oldest in 1st grade. It was so important to me that my children receive a thorough, well-rounded education, and I once felt that homeschooling was the best way to provide that. I gave it up when they were accepted into excellent public schools, but in order to fill in the gaps, I continued to afterschool them for years to come.

Yes, Afterschooling. Ever heard of it? It’s pretty much like Mom homework on top of school homework. Sometimes it means supporting the subjects they are learning in school with extra enrichment at home. Sometimes it means studying something together which is not being taught at school (like the history of the Civil War, or geography, for example). Sometimes afterschooling means quick, ten-minute discussions in the car about social issues or dystopian literature. Sometimes it means a family project, like building something together, or exploring recipes or music from other cultures. And sometimes it is more formal. During school vacations, for example, I require that my kids spend an hour being engaged in something academic in order to earn television or video game privileges. They can do work from a workbook, or study something new on Khan Academy, or practice coding on websites like Scratch or Code.org.

loHomeschoolPC1

I realize that there are many critics out there who may see Afterschooling as excessive or silly, especially since my kids already attend great schools. Perhaps I should just relax and let my kids be kids, without having to spend so much time studying. But I see it differently. I want to raise my kids to be thinkers and lifelong learners, with a curiosity about the world. And, well, call me silly, but I also would like very much for them to know that New Hampshire is not a southern state, and that Canada is a completely different country, you know?

Where in the world

Where in the world is Canada?

And so, instead of banging my head against the steering wheel, I took a deep breath and gave my kids a hurried, ten-minute lesson in American history before dropping them off at school. And probably, after school today, we’ll take a look at a map and see exactly where the southern states are located. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will learn something new and useful – like the name of that mysterious state which begins with a V. (Now banging my head against the keyboard).

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45 responses to “Filling in the Gaps (aka Afterschooling My Kids)

  1. In 5th grade Macel had to write an essay about what caused the Civil War, and he wrote that the Southern slave owners wanted to keep their slaves and refused to give them up. He received an F. You see, in the South that is not the right answer.

    Marcus just finished the 6th book he’s ever read – I got him to read Into Thin Air, which I think he mostly enjoyed, and now he’s reading an alternative account of the same incidents on Mt. Everest, The Climb, by the Russian phenom high altitude guide Anatoli Boukreev, who sadly died in an avalanche two years later.

    I recently finished Cabeza de Vaca’s chronicle of the Narvaez expedition, and also read a wonderful book on the challenge of accurately finding longitude, an enormous scientific challenge that cost thousands of lives in shipwrecks throughout the age of exploration, when ships unexpectedly landed on rocks that the navigoators believed to be hundreds of miles away based on crude and inaccurate dead reckoning methods for calculating longitude. The math, science and design aspects are fascinating!

    I know that I’m hopelessly out of touch, and hopelessly biased because I grew up without a TV, but I think a lot of education comes down to reading. At Marcus’ age, in 9th grade, I had read hundreds of books, whereas he has read 6. And I didn’t learn to read early – in fact I didn’t learn to read until 4th grade! I read because after hanging laundry outside (we didn’t own a dryer) and chopping and stacking firewood and taking care of the other chores, reading was the only thing to do in my free time. There was no TV, no video games, no iPhone, no Hulu, no Roku, no texting, no tweeting, no group chats, no horror movies and no semi-nude videos to watch online. The kids now spend much of their free time engaged in those activities, which is normal because those activities are so visually tempting, so I don’t hold it against them. It’s not their fault they’re being bombarded with irresistable images that have a much stronger visual pull than the boring black and white letters on a page. (For a short video on how these striking images are made, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17j5QzF3kqE, of a model before and after). But the result is that my world view was broader and deeper when I was in 9th grade, and the breadth and depth continued to increase the more I read. I worry that without extensive reading, these kids won’t gain a firm grasp of history (or any other intellectual field of scholarship – the same type of time commitment is needed to gain a facility and familiarity with higher math and the principal fields of scientific inquiry). Of course, they are learning other skills and being exposed to other concepts – facility with iPhones and iPods and apps and making videos and uploading pics and so forth. But I feel the opportunity cost is huge, and the content is not nearly as intellectually rigorous! Ironically, the common complaint is “I’m bored,” but it’s precisely that lack of intellectual rigor that makes it boring!

    • I strongly agree that reading is a necessary way for people to expand their knowledge and understanding of the world, and of people, and of how the universe works. It opens our minds to so many ideas and cultures, and to history, both good and bad. I could really go on for a while about the benefits of reading, both fiction and non-fiction. It is very hard to imagine reaching 9th grade and having read so few books (including those required for school reading? Or just recreationally?).

      It is challenging to get kids — especially older boys, to read books. The world really has changed, and the instant gratification of electronic devices, video games, and easy wifi access is just too strong a lure. For that reason, my kids are only allowed to play video games or browse the computer on weekends, and only after completing chores, etc. For that reason, I still enforce screen time limits during vacations and require a period of reading and studying first.

      Unlike you, I think, I also feel that there are other methods of expanding one’s mind that do not involve reading books and are just as valid. I feel that by watching well-made films or documentaries, one can still learn a great deal and open one’s mind to new concepts or historical or scientific facts. My 14-yo may never choose to read certain lengthy books, but sometimes I can encourage him to watch the film version with me, and he still learns something new, and it can still result in great dialogue about history, or social issues, or controversial topics. So all is not lost on the ones who refuse to read.

      That is outrageous that his paper would receive an F simply for using an unpopular perspective. :/ Unless it was just very poorly written, that sounds like an issue of poor teaching, and as a parent, I would have had something to say about it. I was very surprised that my older kids didn’t know that slavery (and the impact on the economy of the South) was a main cause of the secession and the Civil War. They really do go to great schools, but apparently, have not been exposed enough to that aspect of American history to have retained it well. I think that here in Cali, students cycle through U.S. History again, more in-depth, in 10th or 11th grade. Still, I think that I will soon rent some Civil War era films for our family movie night (maybe Glory and Gettysburg), just to expand their knowledge and bring the history to life.

  2. Perhaps I am unfairly judging other mediums of learning! I’m defnitely biased in my perspective :).

    Marcus and Marcel certainly don’t choose to read in their free time. But the thought experiment I use is that if we were living in the 1700’s or 1800’s or even the 1920’s or 1940’s, would they read in their free time? I tend to think yes, because when I think of my childhood, I never chose to read or set out to become an intellectual or a lifelong reader or a lifelong learner. I didn’t have any conception of what those things meant – I didn’t even see the piont of reading, and that’s why I didn’t learn until 4th grade. I had no idea that there was this wonderful world out there filled with fascinating ideas and things I had never imagined – some of which scholars and philosphers had been writing about and thinking about and trying to figure out for a couple thousand years! The only reason I read was because there was nothing else to do in my free time, especially in the evenings after it was dark outside. And it was only through this fortuitous circumstance that all these worlds opened up for me.

    So I feel a sense of frustration in trying to convince them that there are all these really cool worlds out there that they know nothing about, and perhaps will never know anything about, unless the become readers.

    I wish I could take them to live in the country for a couple years, or down to Baja, with no electronics and a couple thousand books, so that in the evenings their only option would be to read. I feel like once they got hooked, it would become a lifelong habit. 🙂

    I don’t doubt that there is some merit in other mediums – particularly documentaries. Yet when I reflect back on all the things I’ve learned that had a big impact on me, I’m having trouble thinking of anything significant that I learned from a TV show or a movie that really stuck with me. But I can think of a couple dozen things off the top of my head that I’ve learned from books which had a significant impact on my world view and my intellectual understanding and appreciation of how the world works.

    During Champions League games, I’ve been seeing ads for a new Cosmos show hosted by Neil de Grasse Tyson on March 9th. Perhaps this will give me a more positive view of learning by TV! 🙂 🙂

    • I am absolutely a book lover. I agree that there are many things that a person can undoubtedly learn from books. But there are multiple issues here which I would like to address.

      For starters, there is the question of why you feel that it is so important to encourage the boys to read. You mention your own childhood experiences, and how you discovered that for you, reading was a way to open up new worlds. You say that, “…I feel a sense of frustration in trying to convince them that there are all these really cool worlds out there that they know nothing about, and perhaps will never know anything about, unless the become readers.”

      Now I am certainly not one to try and invalidate your own experiences. And in fact, my own experiences were similar, and continue to be. Through books, I have learned about so many different cultures, ideas, and histories. I have escaped into the stories of people, real and imagined, and often walked away with a new sense of wonder, knowledge, or understanding that I did not have before.

      But here’s the thing: I have had many similar experiences outside of the world of literature. Through music, through movies, through conversations with people who are different than me, through observing the world around me, through museums, through working with my own two hands. I can read until my head falls off, but books would never have taught me to appreciate such a wide variety of music from different places, times, and cultures. Even the best written descriptions could not substitute for tasting the rich flavors of foods from different cultures; or the pungent, spicy, and earthy aroma of walking through a grove of bay laurel and eucalyptus trees after a rainfall. A book can try to imitate a dialect or describe a character, but through video, that imitation can be brought to life through a real person; and I believe that many people connect more deeply with these 3-dimensional characters than with the 2-dimensional characters whom we writers do our best to create.

      I could go on, but this is already so long. 🙂 The point, however, is that while books are a wonderful, powerful tool for learning, or for opening up the world, or expanding the mind and imagination, I think that it is rather narrow-minded to presume that it is the only, or even the best mode of accomplishing those goals, especially since we live in a time when the world itself is so open and easy to access through a variety of means. I tell my kids that reading is very important. But to be true lifelong learners means to be open to exploring the world in a variety of ways.

    • Okay, next issue is the idea of learning by television. Well, this is a very subjective topic, because one person’s idea of what is worth learning about it different from the next person’s idea. Furthermore, as a former teacher, I know that people have different learning styles, so what may be one person’s worst way of learning may be the exact method that makes a concept click for another person.

      That said, let’s take a look at what one can learn or take away from the world of television: Techniques for cooking, gardening, decorating, fashion, and home repair; a multitude of historical, political, and social/cultural issues and ideas; current events, science innovations (including the ability to actually watch science experiments, see the latest developments in technology, etc.); nature (again, it is great to read about different animals around the world, but quite another thing to see how they move and hear how they sound, which books cannot convey).

      Now, i am one of those people who prefers to read fiction — something which is done more for pleasure and escape than for active learning. I enjoy a good story, sometimes solely for the human emotions the story manages to evoke within me. However, I enjoy looking at a fine painting for that same reason; or observing a beautiful scene while out in nature, or listening to certain types of music. They are not in order to learn a technique or history or facts of any kind, but solely for the experience of living that moment and feeling that emotion, or being struck with a resonating thought. I feel that movies and television shows can be admirable and noteworthy for that very reason. Because sometimes life is not about expanding our knowledge and growing. Sometimes it is just about experiencing the pleasure of a moment, and allowing the art created by nature or by another person to speak to our spirits in some way.

  3. So this raises a question, which I suppose thoughtful humans have been wrestling with for thousands of years: if you’re seeking a life well-lived, how do you separate worthwhile endeavors from ones that aren’t worthwhile, or are less worthwhile? Is it good enough to simply experience the pleasure of the moment? That philosophical approach could include teenage boys looking at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. It could also extend to pornography. Is all entertainment okay, or are there different levels that we could say are too trashy to bother with, and how would those lines be drawn? Or are some things so trashy that they’re not only not worth bothering with, but acively harmful (because, for instance, they objectify women or portray a view of relationships that is so distorted that it would be harmful for young men to grow up with that view of reality)?. Is the Cosby Show worth watching? The Jeffersons? Seinfeld? Cheers? Since life is already short, should we try to devote most of our time to the more worthwhile things in life? After all, we can only read several thousand books in a lifetime – if we waste an opportunity, the opportunity cost is an amazing book that we could have read. I hesitate to use terms like higher art and lower art, or high-brow culture and low-brow culture, because I don’t agree with a lot of those assessments. But I think that’s kind of the concept – some way of distinguishing things, especially with parenting, to teach kids and expose kids to the more meaningful ideas and art forms that tend to have deeper significance.

    It seems that it’s hard to draw any bright lines, and yet we all kind of know that reading Hamlet is more worthwhile than reading Danielle Steel.

    On a related note, it always bothers me when professional athletes sleep with prostitutes or are accused of rape (and sometimes pay off the victim rather than face prosecution). For example, I don’t see Wayne Roony in the same light after he was sleeping with a prostitute, nor Robin van Persie after the rape charge, nor Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema after paying for sex with an underage prostitute (she was Franck Ribery’s “birthday treat” – and, from a sociological perspective, it’s worth noting that Ms. Zahia Dehar hails from a lower-class, minority background, and thereby was arguably more vulnerable to exploitation). So I don’t want to root for these players or support them. But again, it’s hard to draw bright lines, difficult to make distinctions. I know what I disapprove of, but it’s hard to think of a systemic way to make fair judgments.

    • I think that is a great question, and fascinating to consider, since it has no definitive right or wrong answer, and is something which each must judge for him or herself. But it is an important question, too, especially for those of us who are raising children, or even questioning our own judgments of that which is right or wrong.

      When I used to consider myself a conservative evangelical Christian, it seemed as though nearly everything had a dividing line of right and wrong

    • Now to address your related note – the truth is, I tend to not even pay attention to celebrity scandals and knew nothing about any charges, etc. To be fair, I am more like to notice a rape conviction than an allegation. Anyone can make an allegation of wrongdoing, whether it is true or false. I prefer to leave it to the justice system to decide whether a crime occurred, rather than the court of the public eye, which often does not know the facts involved. As for who is sleeping with who, I pay even less attention to such things. If there was really a crime committed, such as sex with a minor, then I would consider that unfortunate. And yet, since I have no idea whether that is fact or gossip, I choose to ignore it. I leave the crime allegations to the criminal justice system. The only thing I want to judge is how well the team plays soccer.

      On Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 4:28 PM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:

      >

      • Okay, this is what I actually meant to respond:

        I think that is a great question, and fascinating to consider, since it has no definitive right or wrong answer, and is something which each must judge for him or herself. But it is an important question, too, especially for those of us who are raising children, or even questioning our own judgments of that which is right or wrong.

        When I used to consider myself a conservative evangelical Christian, it seemed as though nearly everything had a dividing line of right and wrong — politics, acceptable literature, music, or art. It was frustrating, because I could often see the good in the “bad” and the bad in the “good,” which made me feel like an outsider even within my own faith group. Perhaps that is why I am now very slow to judge ideas or ideas of expression as wrong, bad, or lacking in value altogether. Is pornography bad? For minors, whose minds and sexuality are still developing, and are not yet mature enough to discern on their own what constitutes a healthy expression of sexuality, clearly yes. But for discerning single adults, and for those who have some level of consent within their relationships about the use of pornography as a tool for one or both partners? If it is not harmful to their relationship, or say, supporting something illicit, like the sex slave industry, etc., then why not allow it? Can it cause people to have a distorted view of relationships or sexuality? Perhaps. On the other hand, I am an example of one who had very little to no exposure to such things and managed to develop a very strong aversion to sexuality and sexual expression of all kinds. Is that better or worse?

        When it comes to how we discern which television shows or movies or video games or literature is worthwhile, I think it is important to ask ourselves if there is something beneficial to be gained from it. To me, it is not important that I always actively learn something from a book, or a show, or anything else. Sometimes I learn passively — how certain people carry themselves or speak; timing of humor, acceptable or unacceptable social behavior as expressed through art (which often imitates reality). From the Cosby Show, I saw an example of a Black family that was well-spoken, functional, and affluent, which managed to negate so many negative stereotypes about Black families which many people had held before the show existed. Before I ever watched TV shows like Seinfeld or Friends, I honestly had no idea that there were so many people out there who engaged in casual sex while dating. It was mind-boggling to me as a young, conservative woman who had never even considered such a thing. Plus, these were the shows which “everyone” was watching, and so one may argue that, if nothing else, they were worth watching in order to engage socially and to stay culturally literate.

        How much is too much of one form of entertainment or another? Are some forms of literature, movies, or other forms of art superior to others, or do they hold more value than others? In a way, yes. When we turn to the classics, we allow ourselves to experience the art in its purest, most original form. We sharpen our brains by pushing them to think more deeply as we work our way through more challenging language, or plots, or musical scores, etc. I enjoy that aspect of the classics. It is amusing to see how many stories today are nothing more than reinterpretations of stories that were told hundreds of years ago. 🙂 But I think that this question all comes down to balance. No one lives by chewing on meat all the time. Sometimes, we like a light salad on the side, or plain bread, and an occasional rich dessert for a guilty pleasure. I am unimpressed when people say that all they do for entertainment is stuff themselves with knowledge by reading informative books. To me, that is no more balanced than someone only watching reality TV shows or reading cheesy pop fiction. I say, give me Hamlet, and then give me Danielle Steel for dessert. Give me an Ingmar Bergman film to make me feel, and then give me a Will Smith summer blockbuster to make me laugh at life. Give me a Bach composition to sing to my spirit, then give me a modern R&B song to which I can dance. Life is not all about how much I can stuff myself with knowledge, or how smart or knowledgeable I can become. To me, the well-lived life has a balance of the deep and shallow, the gray and colorful, the wild and the tame. Doesn’t nature itself appear to hold such a balance? Then shouldn’t we reflect that balance in our choices? We learn and we grow, we challenge our own thinking and we redefine ourselves. But then we sip wine, we dance, and we laugh at life, which should not always be taken so seriously. That, to me, is the ideal.

  4. And just to clarify further, when I think about trying to make distinctions and use good judgment, I’m not thinking of the really strong form of judging, like condemning people or believing that they will burn in eternal agony or anything extreme like that. All I’m talking about is trying to use good judgment to make informed decisions about what I want to support and what I’d like to present to the kids as good models for striving for a life well-lived. In my mind I have the ideal of “healthy body, healthy mind,” so I’d like the kids to have relatively healthy eating habits and healthy exercise habits (which I’d like to be based on fun rather than making exercise into a task – riding their bmx bikes, riding skateboards, going to the swimming pool, playing soccer with friends, surfing, snowboarding, going on camping trips to hotsprings, free running in the wilderness – basically just being active and outdoors and doing cool stuff that they like). And then the other side is the intellectual engagement, learning about science and the world of ideas and how fascinating the world is, and cultivating reading and learning as lifelong habits, and a sense of wonder and awe about the universe and respect for the environment that we’re so fortunate to enjoy(and so silly to pollute). It sounds so simple! 🙂 But that’s really all my goals boil down to :).

    • These values are probably easier to instill in one’s own children than in someone else’s children. I imagine that you have quite a challenge re-educating children who have been raised with a set of values so different from your own!

      I believe very strongly in the concept of influence by example. No matter what I say, my children will most likely end up doing what I do. This really motivates me to strive to live as healthy and balanced a life as possible. If I am a slob, they will likely grow up to be slobs. If I am lazy, or self-centered, or thoughtless, then there is a great chance that they will become the same way. And so I work hard to improve my own poor habits, because I want to instill good habits in them.

      I assume that this is working, because so far, my kids are pretty great. They appear to be healthy in every way. They do well in school (with occasional slip-ups, which we always try to nip in the bud immediately). They are becoming thinkers – especially my younger two, who observe and question many things. Just the other day, they were waiting in a local park for me to pick them up, when they came across a small fish flopping in the mud. They hypothesized that the fish had come from the nearby creek while the waters were high after a heavy rainfall. They placed it in a puddle and observed it. Then they scooped it up in a ziplock bag and released it into the creek. I love that they have such a sense of wonder and exploration. I encourage this by reacting with delight, by asking questions, and by offering resources or opportunities for further exploration. But I am careful not to overwhelm them with information or to rob them of natural wonder by turning it into something overly academic. That is my idea of balance.

  5. Yes, wonderful balance – so important in life. Not too serious, not too frivolous, lots of fun, lots of laughing, plenty of inspiration, lots of interesting things to learn, diverse positive experiences, all imbued with a great sense of wonder, exploration and delight! And modeling healthy behavior by example – also so important.

    BTW, the unfortunate situation with Ribery and Benzema is much more than gossip or an allegation. They testified in court under oath that they paid for sex with a minor. Their only defense was that they didn’t know she was a minor at the time. They were caught in a sting operation by law enforcement trying to crack down on human trafficking and underage prostitution (which young girls are frequently forced into). My concern in this type of situation is that I don’t want Marcus and Marcel to see me celebrating young men who engage in that behavior, because they look up to me, and they look up to the players I celebrate, and my attitude serves as a model for them as they try to figure out how they choose to live their lives. I wouldn’t want them to think that I would support the idea of them aspiring to have sex with attractive underage prostitutes as they grow into young men – that this is somehow cool behavior that I give my stamp of approval to.

    Perhaps it is because I’m hesitant in the ordinary course of life to draw bright moral lines (which I think are almost always dubious) or subscribe to religious dogma that there are occasional instances when such distinctions pop out at me. In the ordinary course my style is much more relaxed. For instance, I don’t have a problem with Marcel listening to Eminem or using curse words creatively LOL :). In a very general way I believe there are no rules in life, we simply have to take responsibilty for whatever actions we choose.

    • I’m afraid I don’t understand. I read on the BBC’s site that those two denied the charges, there was insufficient prrof, and the charges were dropped. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25964763 Is that an outdated story? Well, anyway, i see where you are coming from. And you are not alone – I have known many people in my life who have refused to listen to certain musical artists, or read certain books, or shop in certain stores, etc., all because they disagrre with the moral or political values of the singer, or writer, or company, etc. I can appreciate that as a personal ethical choice (as long as I am not being told that I must make the same choice or somehow be seen as less, which has happened, too).

      I personally do not feel that the sexual morality of an athlete is any of my business. If Wayne Rooney chose to have sex with prostitutes, well, that is a moral decision between him and his wife or partner, his own conscience, and his God. As long as it does not affect his ability to play soccer, it does not concern me. If my son were the type to pay attention to such things, I would simply remind him that even famous, talented people sometimes do things which we do not agree with. Admire the man for his skill on the field – not his moral choices.

      Clearly this perspective can change, depending on the severity of the player’s actions. But I imagine that if it reached such a level that would concern me, then that player would be in jail or suspended from game play.

      Speaking of soccer, are you following these Intern’l Friendly matches today? Great fun! Although the USA is not playing at their best…

      >

  6. That story is misleading due to it’s reliance on the technical legal elements of the crime, rather than what actually occurred. Benzema and Ribery testified to the court that they paid for sex and did in fact have sex with an underaged prostitute (whom they flew from Paris to meet with them). What they denied was that they knew she was underaged at the time. So they’re not denying that it happened or that they did it, only that they knew her age when it happened. Thus they deny that all the elements of the crime have been proven. On this basis, I’m not suggesting they should be convicted if it can’t be proved that they knew she was underaged, because “knowledge” is an element of the crime (in France it’s legal to pay prostitutes for sex, but illegal to pay under age prostitutes for sex).

    But that’s a separate issue than whether they in fact did it, and, further, whether we should be concerned about their behavior off the soccer pitch. I hear you that you are not concerned and you don’t regard it as any of your business.

    It’s difficult to deny John Stuart Mill’s argument that liberty should extend to all conduct among consenting adults, so long as it does not hurt other members of society. On that basis, perhaps we should legalize prostitution in this country, and continue the legalization of drugs, which I generally favor, although certain aspects of addiction do concern me. But as persuasive as John Stuart Mill is, and as wonderful as his writing is, and despite the fact that he’s a true genius, I do think there are reasonable aspects of the well-being of the community that might militate against such policies.

    I’m not particularly sanguine about the accuracy of the legal system, perhaps in part because I’m a lawyer and there have been so many cases that were later proved to incorrectly determine guilt or innocence. Many innocent people have been convicted (and hundreds of those have now been exonerated based on DNA evidence), and many guilty people have not been convicted. So I’m not content to subcontract my conclusions out to the legal system by saying that if someone is convicted, I’ll judge them negatively, but if someone is not convicted I won’t judge them negatively. I prefer to use my own best judgment in assessing what happened and whether I’m concerned, particularly in what I choose to expose kids to and promote as healthy behavior.

    Similarly, I’m not comfortable substituting what is written in a book for my own best judgment based on the available evidence – even if that book happens to be the old testament, the new testament, the koran, the book of mormon, what the buddha taught, the five classics of confucius, etc. Even though those books purport to tell us what we ought to believe and what we ought to condemn, I prefer to analyze the evidence myself and form my own conclusions.

    I certainly have my own biases, generally left-leaning although not always. I prefer to support companies that support access to affordable abortions, and I don’t like to support companies that oppose affordable access to abortion. And I like to support Patagonia because they support organizations that try to protect the environment and they promote environmental awareness. At the same time, I do believe in individual responsiblity and recognize that regulations are burdensome and create suboptimal economic outcomes, and I recognize that trade barriers and tariffs similarly create economic inefficiencies.

    I think I may have confessed this before, but I don’t really suport the USMNT. I feel like we already dominate so many aspects of the world, not only athletic but also militaristic and economic and geopolitical domains, that it’s nice that other countries are so much better than we are at soccer :). Spain, Holland, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Nigeria, Italy, Belgium, Ghana, Russia, Poland, Ivory Coast, Uruguay, Romania, Portugal, France and others are more skillful than we are and, for me, more beautiful to watch.

    • Here’s my thought – as I was neither a juror nor someone who at any point heard of those two athletes confessing to knowingly engaging in sex with a minor, then I have little choice but to form my judgment on the information provided by the mainstream press. Secondly, we’re talking about a girl who was very close to the legal age of consent, who admitted to lying about her age. Is it common in most cultures for a man to ask a woman to prove her age before engaging in sex? Perhaps that is what we should focus on here. Rather than say, “Oh my goodness, we should boycott the team!” Perhaps the more practical thing to do is use it as a conversation with our young men and women about the importance of honesty in such matters, and perhaps about the usefulness of checking for proof of age (although that can also be faked, and then what? Our young men will always be at risk of being accused of wrongdoing and having their names dragged through the mud?).

      I believe in liberty for adults to make their own moral decisions about their sexual behavior, as long as it does not harm others or have a negative impact on society (such as spread of disease, etc.). I don’t think that I would go so far as to approve of legalization of prostitution, however. Not only does it increase the risk of STD transmission, but it provides an easy temptation for committed monogamous partners to break their committments, which may likely lead to an increase in the dissolution of marriages and relationships. I don’t see that as being beneficia, for society.

      As far as judging people – I believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty, unless I have a really good reason to think otherwise (such as having actually observed the crime committed, or hearing / seeing evidence that makes it obvious what occurred, even if said evidence is inadmissible in court). I also believe that there are two sides to every story (such as a woman being arrested for hitting a man, when the truth is that the woman was the victim, protecting herself from domestic violence. If the aggressor, in his anger or need to control, makes the call to the police, it is the victim who will be arrested. Should the public then negatively judge the woman, because she is the one taken to jail? It is important to be aware of the bigger picture in order to judge a situation accurately).

      As for politics…ugh, politics. I have so few strong opinions on politics or religion, and it really bothers me when other people hold a great deal of strong opinions. I do not choose to support or deny my support to any person, group, or entity based on whether or not their political views are in line with my political views. :/

    • As for your betrayal…I mean, lack of support for the USMNT 😉 all I can say is to each his or her own, right? I mean, I follow the English Premiere League far more than MLS, so I would be a hypocrite for seeing you as somehow being an unfaithful American for not liking your national team. I choose to support or national teams, and am excited about the growth of soccer in our country. I have no more problem with the soread of soccer here than I do with the spread of baseball in Japan or basketball in Russia and Ukraine. I say – long live sport! The more our country finds ways to connect with the rest if the world in positive ways, by breaking down barriers, the better. 🙂 Our team may not be the greatest, but we are competitive enough to return to the World Cup, and we are ranked rather well overall, considering the small fan base within our borders. Whether one team is more beautiful to watch than another is clearly a matter of opinion, and so I will not bother to step on yours. 🙂

  7. I think if my spouse cheated on me, whether by paying someone for sex or obtaining it for free, I would feel bad for not satisfying her sexual desires to such a degree that she felt she had to go outside the relationship to be pleased. I feel like it’s my job to do a good job of pleasing my partner, and if I fail at that I would feel as bad as I would feel if I failed in other important areas of life.

    • Well, I am sure that many people would agree with you. However, I would not ever judge another person by that same standard, because once again, there is usually more than just one side to every story. Some men cheat because their wives withhold sex. Some cheat even though their wives try very hard, because their wives are perhaps unable to fulfill their expectations. Some cheat because, some may argue, it is within the human nature to seek variety, and perhaps in some, this urge is stronger than in others. Some cheat as a form of revenge or control (Do this for me when and how I want it, or I will find someone else who will). Some cheat simply because they are assholes (pardon the crass language, but it seems an appropriate word to define the type of man who seeks out sex with other women solely because he is lacking in judgment and self-control and cannot think beyond his own sense of self-gratification). I think that there is some truth in the idea that a couple within a traditional marriage should be responsible for meeting the sexual needs of his or her partner. For this, I endured 16 years of what I can only describe as a painful, one-sided, and traumatic experience, and did my best to find ways to make it bearable, because I held onto that strong sense of duty. I did things that I did not enjoy one bit, because of a sense of duty. I allowed myself to be used in this way, even though there was no pleasure or benefit in it for me, because I had been taught that, as a wife, it was not a choice, but something that I must do, as though I was nothing but a slave. I was relieved when my husband began to seek his pleasure elsewhere, because at last I had a legitimate reason to refuse to “fulfill my duty.” And today, I feel free and happy that I never have to do it again.

      On Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 11:51 AM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:

      >

      • These are all wonderful points – I agree that some people cheat because their spouse withholds sex, some cheat because their spouse tries but is unable to fulfill their expectations (and some people have unrealistic expectations, which I believe air-brushed models and pornographic images contribute to), and as you said, some cheat because they are selfish jerks, and some simply want variety, and some do it for revenge or control or as a manipulative threat to show that they can go elsewhere if the other person doesn’t do what they want them to do.

        You would be a wonderful scholar, and a wonderful law student, because you always see the counter-arguments and alternative points of view! :). Perhaps you’re also a natural agnostic, because you have a gift for questioning everything and poking holes in arguments and dogma 🙂 :).

        From an evolutionary perspective, it’s pretty clear that most humans across cultures are not typically monogamous over the course of their lives, and there are good genetic reasons for that.

        From a practical perspective, do you think you would advise your kids to experiment with sex before marriage so that they could get a sense of whether they would want to take on the responsibility and commitment of meeting their spouse’s sexual needs? It’s a pretty big responsiblity, when you think about it, and if you don’t know what you’re getting into, or whether you’re going to enjoy it, that could perhaps make it tougher as the years go by.

      • Undoubtedly, yes. As a young, conservative Christian, I married as a virgin, completely naive about what I was getting myself into. In retrospect, I think that it was very foolish to agree to commit myself to a lifetime of marriage without even knowing what sex was like and whether I would like it. Certainly for some people, it is something they can learn to like and do well, like cooking or playing a sport. But to me, it was less enjoyable than say, a dental procedure. If I’d had had the slightest idea beforehand, there is no way I would have gotten married.

        That said, my children have the freedom to choose their own religious and moral paths. If they end up feeling strongly about abstinence, then I will support their choices. If they choose to explore when they are adults, then I will support their choices. But when they are old enough and mature enough to make these decisions for their own lives, then I will at least share my personal experience, so that they may make more informed decisions. I can only hope that they will not be as foolish as I was.

        >

  8. I’m afraid the USMNT attitude really reveals a deeper lack of patriotism. I know we happened to be born in this country, and we’re lucky because it’s one of the better countries in the world right now to grow up in. But there’s no sense in which our skill or effort or intelligence led to use “deserving” to be born here. So when I look out at the world, I don’t feel any sense that I should favor people in the U.S. more than any other people. I feel that a person in Afghanistan deserves my love and sympathy and support just as much as a person in Chicago or a person in Barcelona. We all have our life stories and our hardships and our difficulties, and we’re all simply human. And we all happen to be experiencing this unusual experience of the human condition more or less simultaneously (especially from the perspective of the geologic time scale).

    Perhaps this sensibility has been reinforced because I’ve moved around a lot, in contrast to someone who, for example, has lived in Seattle her whole life and always rooted for the Seahawks because everyone around her did, and formed an emotional attachment to that sports franchise over others even though there’s no grand sense in which the Seahawks franchise is superior to any other NFL franchise or more deserving of our financial and emotional support.

    Similarly, I can’t square the equation that says one American life is worth more than one Iraqi life, or that “we” somehow should be opposed to “them.” How can one human be worth any more or less than any other? That seems like a primitive, tribal instinct, the “us against them” mentality that doesn’t stand up very well to scrutiny.

    Of course, that primitive, tribal instinct has led to untold killing, maiming, genocide, torture, rape and pillage, etc. But that’s another story!

    • I think that it is possible to be a patriot; to love one’s country and to embrace the history and best of the mainstream values of one’s nation without looking down upon or thinking negatively about countries or cultures outside of our own. Whether one is born in this country or another, I think that you will always find a range of levels of patriotism, from the die-hard, fundamentalist nationalist to the person who does little more than cast a presidential vote once every four years.

      One American life is certainly not worth more than one Iraqi or other life. The liberation of the American people is not more important than the liberation of people in, say, Sudan or Ukraine. And to be fair, I think that our national policy reflects that particular value – so much so that people of the opposing opinion feel that we overstep our boundaries, wasting dollars and troops to help people beyond our borders, instead of making those nations help their own.

      But again, I really do not enjoy discussing politics. Current events, ethics, philosophy — those are fine. But I find it exhausting to discuss political policies, especially when people feel very strongly about issues which mean little to me. :/

      Now the “us vs. them,” “in group/out group” mentality that has both built and destroyed civilizations…that is a topic I could get into!! 🙂

  9. It’s so interesting that you grew up as a very conservative Christian in the Bay Area. From the perspective of the rest of the country, it’s such a hot bed for liberal, permissive culture – the Grateful Dead, recreational drug use, homosexuality, etc. Now, if you grew up in a small town in rural East Texas, it would sound perfectly common LOL 🙂

    It’s a bummer that marriage was an unpleasant experience for you. It sounds like inexperience and naiveté, and also some simple bad luck, played roles in that result. It could have perhaps turned out differently in different circumstances and with a different husband, although maybe not – always tough to say. But even if the sex life was never going to be good, it sounds like the emotional life could have been a fair bit better, together with the levels of kindness, emotional generosity, companionship, and emotional connectedness in the relationship. It’s always tough when inexperienced young people marry – some people get lucky and happen to marry someone who ends up being a wonderfully compatible companion, but more often than not luck doesn’t lead to such a fortuitous result. And we simply don’t know ourselves well enough at a young age to be able to select the important qualities in a mate that would suit ourselves well in the long run, and for whom we would be compatible in marriage.

    It would also be nice if our culture were more supportive of people who choose to remain single, recognizing that they are poorly suited to romantic relationships for one reason or another. In England there used to be the concept of the lifelong bachelor, although the analog for women had much more negative connotations – the spinster. It would be nice if there were a term so that one could simply say to people, “oh, you’re married, nice, I’m a baxster” and people would know that you have made a choice to not embark on marriage and that you are content with that choice and you have no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship in the future. I do think many of us would be happier to not pursue romantic relationships, and instead have good platonic friendships. And it would be nice if there were a positive term that reflected that life path, rather than “single” which has the connotation that one is temporarily single and carries the assumption in our culture that one would prefer to be in a romantic relaitonship if one had the opportunity.

    • Well, I didn’t exactly grow up as a Christian. I chose to become one when I was in high school. I expressed my faith in a conservative way, because the friends I made along the way were conservative. Young people tend to copy whatever the in group is doing. My in-group just happened to be into modest dress, daily prayer, Bible studies, and marrying as young virgins. 😛 I guess that beats having an in-crowd who was into raves, Ecstasy, binge drinking, and risky sex, right?

      Yes, except for my 3 awesome kids, my marriage was pretty much a waste of 17 years. We really never connected on any level. But you know, whatevs. No tears shed. My kids haven’t appeared to have any trouble adjusting to the changes, either. I think that they can see how much better things are now, and they were used to me being the parent in charge anyway.

      I had to laugh when you mentioned that you wish there were a more reflective term to represent people who choose not to pursue romantic relationships. Of course there is. There’s a thriving asexual community on the internet, if that’s your thing. They are people who are quite into talking about how uninterested they are in romantic relationships. I browsed several of their sites before realizing I don’t belong there, either. Perhaps I need a site full of people who love the illusion of romantic relationships and sex, but have realized that the real thing actually sucks. It’s great to read and write and daydream about, but stupid and pointless to pursue in reality…like searching for the Golden Fleece or the Lost Isle of Atlantis.

      >

  10. Well, I suppose raves, ecstasy, binge drinking and sexual adventures work for some, LOL 🙂

    It’s funny, when my parents split up I felt like things got better too – kids are very perceptive, and being around unhealthiness takes it’s toll.

  11. It sounds like you’re kind of caught in the middle, between not wanting to have any romantic relationship ever again after a markedly unhappy marriage, and, on another side, kind of liking the daydream version of having a romantic relationship, but then immediately believing that it could never be possible in real life, and yet also not affirmatively desiring to be single for the rest of your life. You endured an unusually miserable, painful, one-sided, and even traumatic relationship, in which sex was less enjoyable than a dental procedure, and you felt relieved that you would never have to be romantically engaged again (although “romantic” can hardly be used to describe the reality of your marriage). Yet even that miserable experience did not entirely squash the ability to daydream of romantic possiblities in fantasyland.

    To analogize, a person who was locked in jail for 17 years would not be prone to daydream about going back to a better version of jail. And so the fact that you were trapped in such misery for so long, yet still retain the ability to have positive thoughts about the theoretical concept of a romantic relationship, indicates a psychological pull that could mean that being celibate and single the rest of your life wouldn’t be the most fulfilling path for you to choose.

    Here’s a bio and review of a book that may possibly be germaine to sorting through some of these issues:

    Dr. Debby Herbenick is the author of six books, a research scientist at Indiana University and sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute.

    Her books include: Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction (2009), Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva (2011), and a children’s book for all ages, a fanciful love story between a big strong bull and a butterfly titled “The I Love You More Book” (2011).

    Dr. Herbenick is the Co-Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University (IU) where she is an Associate Research Scientist. She is also a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction where she writes (and hosts audio podcasts of) the Kinsey Confidential column. She has a PhD in Health Behavior from IU, a Master’s degree in Public Health Education (also from IU) and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park. In addition, she is certified as a Sexuality Educator from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).

    Dr. Herbenick has taught undergraduate and graduate level human sexuality classes and lectures on a wide range of sexuality and relationship topics. In addition, she has written regular sex columns for Men’s Health magazine, Time Out Chicago magazine, Velocity, Cheeky Chicago, PsychologyToday.com, WebMD, and she has also written for Glamour magazine, The Daily Beast, and Gizmodo.

    Dr. Herbenick has provided expert opinion about sex and relationships for writers and producers of print and broadcast media including The Doctors, the Today Show, Tyra Banks Show, Discovery Health, Sirius Satellite Radio, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, LA Times, The Times (UK), Marie Clare, Men’s Health, Elle, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Glamour, SELF, Cosmo (US), Cosmo (UK), Maximum Fitness and The Guardian.

    In our sophisticated, liberated, Sex and the City age, women are eager to enjoy sex to the fullest. But for many women, it’s not quite that easy. In fact, Men’s Health columnist Debby Herbenick receives thousands of letters and emails from women across the country who admit to having less than spectacular sex lives—and they’re looking for advice.

    Herbenick is the kind of confidante every woman longs for—a sex advisor who is as approachable as a girlfriend and as knowledgeable as a sex education professor. At the core of her advice is the belief that sex should be fun, satisfying, and intimate—but first and foremost, it should simply feel good. From enlightening lessons on female anatomy to the complicated issue of libido to an overview of sex toys and positions, Because It Feels Good informs women about every aspect of sexual function, providing the knowledge they need to have the sex lives they deserve.

    • I think that’s a fairly accurate summary. And that’s a good analogy, too, as being married did feel like being in jail. I can feel positive about the theoretical concept of romantic relationships, but you must remember that I am a writer. I often retreat to a world of fantasy where unicorns, witches, and time travel are also possible and amazing. 😉

      I read the first book you suggested, plus one very similar to the second. I have read quite a few others, too, including at least one designed to help women overcome sexual fear or shame. I have read numerous psych guides, magazine articles, women’s forums, blogs, and help sites. I have kept my mind open to every idea and suggestion. I have tried many techniques. I could probably write a successful advice column for other people, because it’s all so easy in theory. But in reality, I felt paralyzed, like running away, turned off, grossed-out. (This was even at the beginning of my marriage, when I was young and enthusiastic and still thought I loved my husband).

      I think that maybe it’s like being an athlete. Some people are naturals at intimate relationships and sex, etc. Some people are average, or even mediocre, but can improve with age and practice. But some people simply aren’t cut out for it, no matter how much they practice or study. I think that this describes me. And not only sex, but the part where you have to share your inner and outer space with another human being. I’m not good at that. I am not a person who will make a suitable romantic partner for someone else. I will only disappoint them, because I can’t give what people expect.

      Anyway, it’s not really important. Sex and intimacy aren’t needs. They aren’t like air or food or shelter. Okay, so people think it’s pleasurable. Fine, well, reading and movies and baking and dancing and playing soccer – those things are pleasurable, too. Why is there a greater emphasis placed on sex? Sex is not that great.

      >

  12. Very nice description, that really explains it! Maybe it is like being an athlete, like technical mountain biking perhaps, where some people take naturally to it and immediately love it, and others may learn slowly and grow to love it, and others may enjoy it at whatever level they are even if they never get particularly good at it, while still others will simply not enjoy it at all. I like that analogy :).

    And then, as you point out, in addition to the physical aspect there’s the psychological dimension of sharing space with someone, which is always difficult and sometimes extremely difficult.

    Whether it’s important is another issue – I think most psychologists would say it is important, or at least love and intimacy are important (not necessarily sex). [Well, I just looked up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and he lists the most basic needs as “breating, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion.” And then he lists “sexual intimacy” again as a higher level need!] But I’m not sure that the need for love and intimacy are true needs for everyone, even though it’s probably true most of the time for most people. I could see it both ways, really. It would be rare for a person to go through life without ever forming any loving connections with people (after all, even someone like you who feels turned off and grossed out by intimacy did manage to get married and stay married for 17 years and have 3 kids!).

    Maybe it’s also interesting to think of the flip side of your conjecture that you’re not good at relationships and you’re not a suitable romantic partner for anyone because you will only disappoint them and fail to give them what they expect. The flip side of that is whether, among the enormous variation of human beings and the sheer billions of us who exist, is there theoretically someone who could be suitable for you, who wouldn’t disappoint you, who could meet your needs in at least a minimal way without trampling your boundaries? Not in real life, of course, but just as an imaginary possiblity :). I understand, of course, that that hasn’t been your life experience, but if you consider that you’ve probably only known fewer than 1,000 people well, and there are more than 7 billion people in the world, that means the slice of life that you have experienced is only one slice out of 7 million. And with 7 million other slices out there, it’s difficult for any of us to imagine how much variety there might be – there might be other people in other slices of reality who are very similar to you. In fact, when you consider that we all share the same human gene pool, it’s rather likely that there are other people out there who are similar to each of us.

    Not that any of this matters, of course!

    • Haha…and then perhaps there is a small subset of people who are filled with such panic and terror at the very idea of mountain biking that they run away and hide every time a bike comes into view and stay as far away as possible from bike trails. 😉

      I’m afraid that I side with the critics in regards to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In fact, I am amazed that it carries so much weight in scientific communities when his research was so subjective and based on a very small sample of mostly healthy white males. :/ As far as the bottom of the triangle, I can absolutely agree that food, water, air, rest — those needs are fundamental for survival. Sex is not. People do not die for lack of sex, nor is it necessary before one can focus on the next level of needs, like personal safety. How ridiculous! (From my own personal perspective, sexual urges can be easily repressed just by refusing to dwell on them. How’s that for effective Christian programming?).

      I can understand how love, intimacy, and friendship would be considered true human needs. It makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective, and as they are universal, it can’t be argued that these things are only cultural. And perhaps here is where I Maslow’s triangle makes sense, as the need for safety apparently must be filled before one can move onto that next level of seeking intimacy, love, or friendship. I do not feel safe seeking these things. Not anymore. It is like I mentioned before — losing my closest friends was an experience which left me broken in so many tiny pieces that I have not even come close to recovering, and I feel that I have nothing to offer another person but fragments. I won’t look to another person to put those pieces together, because that is not how healthy relationships are supposed to form. And I can’t put my own pieces back together, because there are too many. So I am just…stuck. And so I am focusing on learning to live like this — stuck in nowhereland. And as long as I repress all these non-essential needs, and I don’t allow myself to feel things too deeply, and don’t dwell on memories and nostalgia, and keep my focus on my kids instead of myself, then I can stay balanced. Not thriving, not happy, but not drowning and depressed, either.

      On Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 8:34 AM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:

      >

    • Okay, to address the last idea…well, supposing that were true in theory, that somewhere in this wide world, there may be some man who is Mr. Perfect-for-me and available and everything. Okay, then, my response is, so what? The chances of finding this person are extremely narrow, and I am far more likely to encounter the wrong person. But even if I were to meet such an extraordinary person (not likely), then what would be the point? To chase after a fairy tale? I read and write about terrific lifelong friendships and happily-ever-after romances, but I no longer believe that they actually exist — or if they do, they must be terribly rare.

      Anyway, I have little to offer anyone, and nothing but fear and panic about entering into any level of relationship or friendship with anyone at all. Better to simply allow people to pass through as they will and not get attached.

      >

  13. I agree, I’ve never been a big fan of Maslow’s hierarchy. Maybe he was just the first to come up with any half-way decent model in that area, and so people got stuck on it even though it’s obviously flawed?

    I’m sensing a very consistent theme here – shall we call it “pragmatic cynicism”? 🙂

    There is something appealing about consciously seeking to avoid drowning in depression and thinking/feeling too deeply. And one of the benefits of cynicism is that one is less likely to be disappointed 🙂

    I’m not sure that repressing all those non-essential yet all-too-human needs, and not allowing oneself to feel anything deeply, and not thriving, can be considered “balanced.” But if it works, it works, right? In a way, life is like an experiement, and we’re each allowed to try any approach we want to see how it turns out. I like remembering that :).

    • I can see how the hierarchy is a useful place to begin when assessing human needs, but you’d think that someone could have produced a more accurate version by now. Anyway, I guess that I am more likely to focus on the bare essentials of my personal needs, like food, shelter, and security. Those that do not require me to ask anything of anyone else.

      Pragmatic cynicism…well, I guess you’re right. At least I’m consistent, right? 😉 I am probably somewhat of a defeatist, too. If I accept that my dreams or goals are useless, hopeless, and meaningless, then there is a strange sense of freedom and peace in that acceptance. Like – why bother swimming against the current when you will probably drown anyway? Just let go, stop caring, and stop fighting. There. No disappointments. No fear or anxiety.

      As for suppressing non-essential “needs,” who knows? If I convince myself that friends, relationships, sex, and intimacy are things that I need, then I must also accept that I am a failure, because. I am unable to meet those needs alone, and unable to figure out how to allow others to meet them. Or, perhaps, I take the defeatist route — shrug my shoulders, and tell myself, “okay, you’re a loser. You’ve failed the life experiment thing. Whatevs. Stop caring…”

  14. Defeatist, yes! – that’s the other consistent strain that mixes with the pragmatic cynicism!! I can see how it works as a defense mechanism, too – as you alluded to, it’s similar to the logical solution that people who are perfectionists sometimes use to cope with their unrelenting standards by not trying: “if I try really hard to do X and don’t do it perfectly, then I’m a failure; but if I don’t even try, at least I won’t fail.”

    Sometimes I feel like I’ve failed at this whole life experiment thing, because I’ve not married and had kids. I think in other circumstances maybe I could have, but I haven’t been in the right situation at the right time to face such an enormous undertaking (and the prospect feels enormous and overwhelming to me in part because of my perfectionist tendencies – I really wouldn’t want to screw it up). Perhaps it’s well to accept some of these things that just aren’t going to happen in this life, and try to make peace with that.

    • Yep. Some people win. Other people lose. And that’s life. I can either whine and complain and feel sorry for myself, which gets me nowhere, or turn off the part inside of me that gives a damn and just accept that this is my lot in life. That gets me nowhere, too, but with a lot less suffering.

      BTW, don’t beat yourself up for not being married. I mean, having kids is great – really great, at least for me. But marriage is overrated. On the other hand, my opinion on this probably isn’t worth much.

    • Okay wait – maybe I shouldn’t say that marriage is overrated. I think that perhaps that depends upon what a person is hoping to get out of marriage. I think that there are some great ideals, like having a built-in best friend that never goes away (in theory), a reliable and committed sex partner (again, only in theory), and a teammate in co-parenting and household management. I imagine that a fair number of people achieve this kind of ideal situation. But I am no longer the type of person to seek the ideal, nor encourage others to do so, because one may be just as likely to encounter the contrary.

  15. I think I’ve found a pretty good simulation/replacement for not having kids by taking care of Marcus and his siblings. I didn’t get them when they were young, so I wasn’t able to do it the way I would have liked or give them the kind of values and manners that would have made the teenage years easier, and I wasn’t able to meet their needs when they were young so that they might need less re-parenting now. (Marcel was playing soccer last week, and a parent was yelling at him to hussle more, and he said “shut the fuck up” to the parent! When I asked him about it (after hearing from the parent), he explained that the parent was “really annoying” – what can you do with that kind of honesty LOL??).

    As for marriage, I think I’m in pretty solid agreement with you on most points. When I look around, I don’t see very many (any?) marriages that live up to the wonderful ideals. I see a lot of conflict, a lot of unhappiness, a lot of poorly matched couples, a lot of people under stress and strain because they’re not happy in their marriage and aren’t able to communicate fully or cooperate well or resolve conflict.

    I suppose there are some people who are genuinely, deeply happy in their marriages. But when I look around at friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and other people I’ve known over the past 20 years or so, I just don’t see very many (if any).

    At the same time, I do believe it’s theoretically possible for most people, if they’re really well matched and they’re self-aware and they meet someone who is similar to them who is also self-aware and they want basically the same things in life and share similar values and learn to communicate well and have similar levels of autonomy and ambition and energy and learn to cooperate …

    In theory, do you think it could have been different if you had met someone else when you were 18 or 20, or waited to get married until you were 28 or 30 (so that you would have known yourself more thoroughly and deeply and would have known what you wanted to look for more clearly in a spouse)? Or do you think that your childhood was so messed up and dysfunctional, being bullied and tortured and shunned and criticized and unsupported emotionally by the closest, most important people in your family dynamic, that no matter what the circumstance, marriage would have been hopeless? Or, then again, do you think that you were doomed from the very very beginning because of your genetic temperment – being timid, risk-averse, sensitive, intelligent, fearful, pessimistic, difficult, INTJ, etc.?

    • Yes, I can see how parenting someone else’s children could serve to fill a person’s longing to be a parent, and to pass on his or her culture, ideas, and values to the next generation. The genetic part is fun, but not everything. Just ask any adoptive parent. 🙂 I can also understand the challenge of stepping up to the plate when the children are older and less impressionable. I once considered foster parenting (years ago) and did a lot of reading to learn what it would be like.

      I have seen many happy marriages on the surface, but it is hard to trust those impressions. Just glance at Facebook, with husbands and wives publicly praising each other and gushing over how in love they still are after 25 years, etc. It is wonderful to see, and it makes me smile, but it is kind of like when I read about a happy marriage in a storybook. Things are not always what they appear to be beneath the surface, and social media is not a good way to evaluate the truth and depth of a person’s emotions or a relationship. I remember when my ex-husband wrote a gushing FB entry about me a day after we had had a huge argument, and the entry only led to another, bigger argument. But who sees that part?

      I think that it is not enough to say that a marriage will be happy only because two people seem so similarly matched. When I got married, I thought that my husband and I were similarly matched, at least in terms of faith, values, and ambitions. But eventually, mine changed dramatically, while his remained unchanged. And soon, there were arguments over which values to pass to the children, how they should be raised, etc. When I at last returned to the workforce, he was unsupportive — still expected me to fully fulfill the domestic role, and accusing me of being a bad wife or mother when I could not arrange after school care for the children or get all the laundry washed. It seemed to me as though he had this image in his head of what kind of person a “Good Christian Wife” was supposed to be, and he kept trying to shove me into that mold and not giving me the freedom to be myself.

      Would things have been different had I waited longer, or met someone else, or known myself better? The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe if I had met the type of man who was more intelligent than me (I did not realize at such a young age how important this was to me!); and less rigid, and more stable, and who had far more in common with me. Maybe then. But then again, maybe not. Maybe my introspective, highly-sensitive, and timid nature (not to mention the genophobia) make me the type of person who could never do well in a relationship. As for the pessimism and melancholy — that was not always me. If you were to ask anyone who used to know me, I doubt that those words would have even come to mind when describing me. I was friendly, bubbly, and positive. Light and sunshine, mostly. That was the old me. I miss her.

      On Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 12:33 PM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:

      >

  16. Different ending, but kind of an interesting story:

    My virginity mistake

    I took an abstinence pledge hoping it would ensure a strong marriage. Instead, it led to a quick divorce

    I was 14 years old when I married Jesus. Not Jesus, the Panamanian who worked at Six Flags. I mean Jesus Christ, the Lord. My parents sent me off to Baptist youth camp in Panama City Beach for the week, and I came home with a tan and a purity ring. I sat with my legs crossed, cramped in a theater with 200 sweaty, sobbing teens as our pastor described the unwavering bonds of sex and why it should only be experienced within the confines of marriage.

    The lyrics echoed in the background as he shouted about STDs and unplanned pregnancy from the pulpit. Cause I am waiting for you, praying for you darling, wait for me too, wait for me as I wait for you. One by one we each placed a ring on our fourth finger and made vows to an apparently bi-curious Jesus who took teenage husbands and wives by the dozen that night.

    I didn’t buy into a word of it. Jesus as my husband: Were they kidding? But that ring! Silver and engraved with entwined hearts – everyone I knew was wearing one and I’d finally been given the opportunity to get my hands on it. And it wasn’t just the ring. This was a movement with T-shirts and hats and the added bonus of superiority over kids in school who couldn’t keep their clothes on, those sinners. After an intense and very detailed sex talk with my mother , where she stuttered and I blushed and we both used the word “flower,” I was terrified of sex. That and the slide show in sex ed didn’t help one bit. So I scribbled Jesus + Jess on my Bible cover, and I casually mentioned my virginity in daily conversations. I committed to the idea hoping it would ensure a successful marriage. Instead, it led to my divorce.

    I don’t know many people these days who married still a virgin. But going to high school in the furniture capital of North Carolina, it didn’t seem so strange that I wore an engagement ring at the age of 19. People admired my decision to marry my college sweetheart and were enthusiastic about my goal of waiting until marriage to have sex. (He actually wasn’t a virgin, but he was willing to wait for me.) Over time, I’d watched my brothers and sisters in Christ lose sight of their celibacy around the time they felt the pull of raging hormones combined with slots of unsupervised co-ed time. But I pressed on in stubbornness until finally, the time had come to replace Jesus as my other half. Twenty may sound early to get married, but tell that to the girl who had her knees locked since puberty and the boy who spent years trying to convince her that just the tip didn’t count.

    The morning of my wedding day, I threw up. Everyone assumed that I was nervous about having sex. I wasn’t. But it dawned on me how much we hadn’t learned yet about one another. We had known each other for three years by this point, but there was so much unexplored territory. So what was I supposed to do when my “aha moment” came as a dress was heaved over my head by seven bridesmaids? Plus, my mother had mentioned no less than 400 times, this wedding was costing them a fortune; I was getting married, there was no way out.

    “I’ll give you a five-minute head start if you want to run,” my dad said with a half-smile as we walked up the aisle. I held onto his arm tighter, afraid my legs might just take him up on that offer.

    When I look back on my wedding day, I remember a passionate kiss at the altar. But after rewatching video footage, I see it was little more than a peck on the corner of my mouth and a long hug. Two years of halting wandering hands as they grazed under blue jeans, and the second we have the permission from God, we hug. These are what red flags look like; my rearview mirror is lined with them.

    Our wedding reception was filled with underage drinking and boys wearing their father’s suits. I danced to Top 40 with my friends; he got drunk in a corner with his. We met at the entrance of the country club just before midnight to be sent off through a sea of bubbles, to consummate our marriage. There is nothing that can kill a mood faster than my Colombian grandfather knowingly winking at the man I was about to sleep with. Except for maybe the dashboard covered in condoms, a send-off gift from my new husband’s grooms boys.

    He carried me through the door of the hotel room and immediately placed me down in a chair. If my 120-pound body wasn’t too heavy, the 30-pound dress covering it was. Rose petals were scattered on the bed surrounded by a dozen lit candles. I had never been more romanced and less interested in having sex. Was I tired? Was I hungry? Shouldn’t we have been pouncing on each other? I slowly changed into an ivory silk nightgown. When I came back into the bedroom, he was lying down, half undressed, completely hopeful.

    “Are you not exhausted?” I yawned into a pillow. “Is having sex tomorrow an option?” I asked, only half-kidding.

    “Really? You only get one wedding night, Jess.” Even then, I doubted that would be true.

    As he began to kiss me, my mind shut off. I felt his movements and I heard heavy breathing but I thought nothing, it was as if it was something that was happening next to me, or to someone else entirely. It didn’t hurt, I remember that much. Three minutes later when he finished he appeared pleased with himself and I was glad that it was out of the way. I smiled and asked if we could get something to eat. My wedding day began with my face leaning over a toilet and ended in a Waffle House.

    Then, as if Jesus were punishing me for moving on, I got a urinary tract infection on the second day of our honeymoon. I sighed in relief when the doctor told me that I should not engage in any sexual activity until I had finished the antibiotics. Seven days later, my wifely duties resumed and almost every time our clothes came off, my mind seemed to check out. I soon noticed that during those few-minute intervals of sex, my mind was focusing on something else, anything else.

    “Do you like that?” he would ask after light repetitive movements.

    “Yep,” I answered. Lettuce, milk, paper towels …

    “Are you close?” he was anxious to know.

    “Uh-huh,” I lied. Buy stamps, get my oil changed, send thank-you cards …

    This was not lovemaking. There was no bond, no sanctity – this was not the amazing sex I was promised from the pulpit. This was disappointment three to four times a week.

    Not long into our marriage, my mother coyly asked how it was going. I joked that there were some women who needed it and some who prioritized it underneath quilting. But I accepted sex as part of the gig and though it was regular, it was regularly awful for me. It wasn’t all his fault. I admit that I was not a willing student but he was no teacher, either. Our bodies wanted different things from one another, so what we ended up with was a horizontal battle. I would hear married girlfriends talk about the joys of make-up sex and continue to sip my coffee in silence. We would fight, and then have bad sex and then fight some more. Every flaw in our marriage and in him seemed much more miserable when combined with the possibility of faking orgasms until death did we part. There was no relief.

    Before we got married, I used to love kissing him. We would spend hours attached at the mouth because aside from occasional drunken foreplay, it was all we had. In our marriage, we stopped kissing because who needs kissing when sex is on the table? Me, I did. I needed assurance that some physical aspect of our relationship was working. And when I didn’t get that assurance I pinned it on myself. Maybe I was just that woman you hear about, who doesn’t particularly care for sex. She just slowly dries up until she dies alone. For months I believed that might be me and rather than try something different, he began to believe it too.

    Six months into our marriage, the idea of separating seemed more appealing than feigning headaches for the rest of my life.

    Had we had sex before our relationship transitioned into a contract, I would have known that there was no passion, no spark, nothing happening between our bodies. I would never have agreed to marry him because sex is a significant part of a relationship and therefore a significant part of our relationship was failing. With the failure of our sex life, I felt like less of a woman, no longer a sexual creature but more of a plant. Sitting there, day in, day out, wilting while I waited for someone to take care of me.

    Without having sex before marriage, I blindly walked up an aisle and committed myself to a man who didn’t know me and gave my long-held virginity to someone with whom I had no more chemistry than a second cousin.

    Soon after our divorce, he got remarried to someone who suits him better than I ever could have. And years later, I can confirm that I am not that woman who has no interest in sex. I don’t quilt. I haven’t compiled a grocery list in bed in years, and I now know that sex can be amazing … with a bartender who only knows your first name, a pilot you meet on vacation in Costa Rica and yes, with the right guy – sex in a marriage can be beautiful. The key is to figure that out before you find yourself walking down an aisle in a dress that costs more than the family car (my mother has since reminded me). It isn’t the most important thing when it comes to love. But for me, I learned that sex is important enough not to wait.

    Jessica Ciencin Henriquez is a New York City based freelance writer and author of the novel, “Lies I’ve Told My Therapist.” You can follow her on twitter @TheJessLucas.

    • Wow…nice! And very familiar experience (milk, lettuce, paper towels, haha). Here is what really struck me:

      “Had we had sex before our relationship transitioned into a contract, I would have known that there was no passion, no spark, nothing happening between our bodies. I would never have agreed to marry him because sex is a significant part of a relationship and therefore a significant part of our relationship was failing.”

      That is absolutely what I think when I look back today on making such a tremendous commitment to spend your life doing something with another person that you’ve never even done before. How naive!

      I bought into the abstinence movement. I was one of those eager Christian teens wearing the “True Love Waits” T-shirts and singing along to DC Talk and other bands singing about how great it was to wait for marriage. I believed that it was God’s plan, and that it was better to marry young and chaste than to burn with lust and give in to “sin.” And when I finally met the man who became my husband, well, he felt the same way. In fact, he didn’t even kiss me on the lips until we’d already been engaged for 8 months (and it was underwhelming…a real disappointment. But heck, we had a wedding coming up…too late to have second thoughts).

      Sex was never a beautiful experience. Not once during all those years. It always made me feel more distant and alone, and not close and bonded to my husband. I had to work very, very hard and tune out my partner to experience anything pleasurable, and even that was rare. Mostly, it was just dreadful. I shudder now to remember those times.

      Well, good for Jessica that she eventually had positive experiences with other partners. Perhaps it was easier for her, having only been married for 6 months. But I had to endure it for 15 of the last 17 years. I have never had to for more than 2 years now, and don’t miss it at all. I have never had any other partner, and honestly, the idea of exploring with some other partner is not at all exciting — it scares the hell out of me. (My mind thinks: It will hurt. I will be a disappointment. I don’t know how. I’m not a sexy person. It won’t feel good. There’s something wrong with me.)

      I’ve heard it all before. “It’s so great!” “It’s so special!” But it was not great, and it was not special. It was hell. And I feel like I was lied to, and cheated, and deceived by the Christian community who pushed such a lie on young, impressionable teenagers. So today, when other people talk about how “great” and “special” sex is, married or not, I am highly skeptical.

      And anyway, who needs it? Sure, I have a libido, but I also know how to ignore it and go about my merry way. It’s like craving junk food — not at all necessary to give into, and I’m better off for ignoring it altogether. I’ll bet that if more people experienced, say, stomach cramps and nausea every time they ate junk food, they would eventually learn to turn off their junk food cravings, too.

  17. I’m glad the article resonated with you. 🙂

    It strikes me that there’s a lot of variety amoung humans. If I tried to convince people that chocolate is the best things ever, and it’s heavenly, and you just have to try it, some people would taste chocolate and love it, while others would be totally disappointed. (I don’t even like chocolate that much myself). We believe that our own experience is more representative than it really is. So I suspect that for some people sex is a really great/important bonding experience, very “special,” and for others it’s simply not.

    There’s a company called Bridgewater that has an interesting philosophy: “Bridgewater’s unique results are a product of its unique culture. Truth and excellence are valued above all else. In order to be excellent we need to know what’s true, especially those things that we would rather not be true, so that we can decide how best to deal with them. We want logic and reason to be the basis for making decisions. It is through this striving to be excellent by being radically truthful and transparent that we build meaningful work and meaningful relationships.”

    • ” We want logic and reason to be the basis for making decisions. It is through this striving to be excellent by being radically truthful and transparent that we build meaningful work and meaningful relationships.”

      This is one of those philosophies which, to me, sounds great at first. And just a few years ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly. What could be better than being radically truthful and transparent — with oneself, with others, and with the world? But reality is often so very different from the illusions which we build for ourselves. Some things are better left unsaid. Sometimes the truth hurts people and tears down good relationships. Sometimes, people really do not value transparency or want to hear the truth. And so, if logic and reason are to be the basis of making decisions, then one must recognize that there are times for radical honesty and transparency, and times for tact and discernment, and perhaps striving for excellence means seeking the wisdom to know which is most appropriate in each given situation.

  18. I should have explained that Bridgewater is a financial investment firm. In that context, the high net worth individuals who are their clients probably want the entity investing their money to be scrupulously honest with them about where, how much, and why they are choosing the specific investments and overall investment strategy that they believe is correct. I think their idea of “truth” is that they will do their very best to understand the economic world as it really is – what the markets are doing, where they’re headed, and why. Basically they are commiting to do the best possible job they can to understand investing in markets like commodities futures and currency exchanges, and to acknowledge when they make mistakes. Truthfulness and transparency in this context is a relatively limited sphere of life.

    In interpersonal relations and other spheres of life there may be times when truth doesn’t work so well :). Although I suppose sometimes the problem is that there isn’t really honesty on the front end of a relationship, and then if one tries to be more honest later it’s prone to feelings of failure, disappointment, anger, rejection, etc.

    • Ahh…well now that makes more sense. 🙂 I assumed that you were asking my opinion of the company’s honesty policy as applied to interpersonal relationships. As far as business ethics are concerned, I agree that complete honesty and transparency with clients is the ideal ethical practice.

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