Another Walk Down Memory Lane: Cheating Revisited

I was perusing through some old blogs I have written (I am in my 8th year of blogging) for the purpose of finding out how some of my views have changed and evolved over the years -if at all. One particular blog that caught my eye concerned the subject of cheating, and not in the classroom exam or tax evasion sense, rather in the relational sense.

This particular blog entry received a lot of feedback…so perhaps it is time to revisit.

Since I wrote that entry back in August of 2015, a couple of things strike me. First off, it has been one of the longest blogs I have ever written -meaning I attempted to take some painstaking steps to truly be understood and not misinterpreted. Secondly, not only did I receive a lot of comments on the blog itself, it raised a lot of conversations in my “non-blog,” real life, as well. In fact, a WHOLE lot.

I would encourage you to read it if you have not done so. But, if not, I now provide you with the “Reader’s Digest” version (google it kids).

It is clearly a subject matter that not only has a lot of emotions attached to it, yet also a high level of relevance as well. It is an issue that has affected most people in some way, shape or form. If we ourselves have not cheated or been cheated on, I am certain all of us know many who have.

If I were to summarize my general argument contained in that entry nearly 5 years ago, the 4 bullet points would be as follows:

  • Cheating is a hugely emotionally volatile issue. Many “victims” of cheating cannot discuss it without feelings of deep hurt and anger. It is a trigger. It is difficult to look at the issue apart from our emotions and discuss it purely rationally. I understand this.
  • Cheating is absolutely pervasive. It happens more than we could possibly imagine and we can never know the real number of this highly secretive activity; yet a bit of logic suggests it is astronomically high.
  • In rare, “though protesteth too much” form, many of those who are most vocal and intolerant of cheaters, likely struggle the most with it. I do not say they cheat (though likely do) they just really want to.
  • Finally, I ask why do we harbor such gross intolerance over a behavior that most everyone struggles with at some level? Many people would rather divorce or break up than to work through the psycho dynamics of “cheating,” which, I argue, is a natural human propensity. Unfortunately for most, cheating is a deal breaker. I find this very unfortunate.

So Has My Position Changed Since 2015?

Yes, somewhat, and now I am a bit more nuanced in my thinking as I do so see some value in attempted monogamy. I now would liken the goal of monogamy to anything in life we strive for, even while confronting the strong probability we will not achieve it, though not due to a lack of effort. Back in the day when I ran marathons, I trained very hard full well knowing I was not going to win, but that did not stop me from trying. Attempting to win made me a better runner. More on this in a moment.

Cheating, Jealousy and Salience

I realize that at the heart of this issue lies the correlating ideas of honesty, healthy communication, betrayal, and….

Jealousy. A shit ton of jealousy. Perhaps even the very existence of cheating is driven by a very unhealthy feeling of jealousy.

Jealousy may be to cheating what overeating is to obesity. Without the former there would be no latter.

Yes, if a loved one promises you they are going to do, or not do, something and violate that something, it hurts. Yet, it only hurts to the extent we give that violation salience (meaning the level of meaning and importance we attach to it, in the sense that, “everything is what you make it”). If your loved one promised they would stop and pick up a loaf of bread on their way home from work and forget to do so, I doubt many of us would harbor deep, ill will towards that loved one. Unless, of course, we gave the act of picking up a loaf of bread great salience in the relationship. And that is our choice. And how we react to anything is ultimately our choice.

The reality is that most of us give the issue of cheating an extremely high level of relevance. It is an issue that stands out above all other potential issues in a relationship.

And it is this salience of “cheating” of which I am most fundamentally concerned.

Because we give this “violation” so much centrality, we will continue to propagate dishonesty, feelings of betrayal, jealousy and hurt.

At the core of such propagation, lies many myths surrounding the human condition. The myth of monogamy as “natural” (no need to repeat myself if you read the original blog); the myth that we are robot-like and lack real human emotion and drives; and, finally, the myth that attraction is self-generated and we are responsible for those in whom we find ourselves attracted (oooo….perhaps the notion of attraction should be my next blog….I am fascinated with it).

In addition, mainstream culture makes the mistake of assuming it. Like every other issue in a relationship, the idea of striving for monogamy (or not) must be a discussed and negotiated aspect of any mature relationship. As an old acquaintance, Cara, once told me when explaining her divorce, “We were in an open relationship. He just forgot to tell me about it.”

Now Back To My Change.

As previously stated, I am not suggesting AT ALL that striving for monogamy cannot be a great discipline and, in many cases could be the gold standard for many couples (conceding that every relationship is different and we must honor the uniqueness for every couple to define their relationship in their own way). It may be the striving after monogamy that keeps us separate from most other animal species. I absolutely concede that there may be a lot of value in attempting it…perhaps this is where I differ most from 2015 Jimmy.

Now, that said, the problem lies not in our attempt to pull-off a feat that is quite unnatural (monogamy), it is our reaction when one engages in an act that is very natural (an extra relational affair). Rather than ending a relationship for attempting something many would consider quite noble, perhaps we should recognize the virtue of attempting it. Or at least we need to be understanding of it. Or, dare I suggest forgiving of it? Hell, maybe we can use it to make us stronger, to help redefine our relational identity and objectives. Yes, navigating the waters of trust building and reconciliation can be very, very difficult yet we can hope that our love will overcome the transgression of a human acting like a human.

Why? Who knows? You may be the next one to succumb to your human instincts. And who will need understanding and forgiveness then?

Alright, I know most of you reading this probably disagree with me. Say what you want, at least I’m somewhat consistent. Now check back with me in another 5 years for, “Cheating 2025.” At this rate, I may be pushing celibacy.

 

 

 

Sisters

I was born and raised in a home at the address of 1014 N. Evergreen Street, Burbank, CA.

With my two sisters.

Today it went up for sale.

Of course any house can be sold to anyone with the necessary funds, though the memories will always be owned by those of us who resided within it.

There were many wonderful memories of 1014 to be sure, far too many to count, yet certainly many memories that were far from idyllic. In fact, I wish I could put some of those memories on the multiple listing service as well, as, one might say, I enjoyed the safe haven and reprieve of functional family enclaves…amidst a vast sea of dysfunction throughout my childhood.

Those memories would be nice to sell with no contingencies.

I never had any doubt for a second that both my mother and father loved me very deeply. Yet as every child eventually figures out, parents are just regular kids who had some fun and together created a younger kid. Not a lot of skill needed. They are not trained professionals, nor necessarily adequate at the job of parenting. Raising children is an occupation that all must learn on the fly- you learn the art of parenting as you go.

We all start as novices. You just go with the best you can with what you know. We may need an official license for constructing pools or building houses, yet nothing required for building human beings. And, I get it, that would be weird, not to mention highly impractical.

My dad was a good dad yet far from a perfect one, a novice to be sure. Though to understand any person one must understand the novices from which they came.

By all accounts, my father’s father (my grandfather) was an abusive, mean, angry, tyrannical bastard who did horrible things to his family, or so I have been told –I never met the man myself. How horrible was he? Legend has it that, so horrible, my grandmother and her family fled across the country, from Buffalo, New York to Southern California- as far as one could go in any one country- to escape the horrors of this supposed monster.

To illustrate, apparently he died in the mid-1960’s and his grown children literally threw a party to celebrate his passing. I would say that is fairly credible evidence of horrible. My entire life I have not heard one redeeming word about this man.

So, when I can recount a handful of my horrible childhood memories, and dozens of wonderful ones, I do so acknowledging the history my father endured from his childhood and the nightmare he had to live day in and day out. We all feel sorry for the man with no shoes until we meet the man with no feet…I may be shoeless though my father had no feet. I could only imagine the failing novice of my father’s grandfather. Oh shit, no legs?

I can recall on a couple of occasions when me and my two older sisters, Marybeth and Julie, only a few years apart, youngest to oldest, would watch as the only stability we had on a drunken Friday evening, my mother, would uncharacteristically imbibe and become part of the problem as she and my dad fought to the verge of physical aggression.

I distinctly recall me and my sisters huddling in a darkened corner of the room hugging each other and crying, having no idea what was going to happen next as we heard the screams and crashes in the other room. We were scared little children who only knew we had each other, all nearly preschoolers, to depend on and have any confidence in.

At these times, we had no one but each other, as our parents were busy bowing to the gods of alcohol and the immature outbursts of aggression.

Thankfully these episodes were very few and, somewhat, far between – and would be followed the next day with grand remorse by both parents.

Why do I write of such dysfunction? I do not write this to solicit pity or elicit sympathy. Hell no. I know many people who had it far worse than I as their childhood makes mine look like the Brady Bunch on steroidal whole milk and extra sweetened cookies. I’m now an old ass man who has done just fine with his life. I write this because this helpless and fearful feeling is now coming back to me…granted in a more stable and refined kind of way.

My rarely imbibed mom passed away October 18, 2017, and my dad is still hanging in there as he clings to life at a 24-hour healthcare hospice facility in Northridge, California.

Me and my sisters, Marybeth and Julie, are once again huddled in the corner as we, together, navigate the unfamiliar waters of caring for and losing parents.

We, fortunately, all have wonderful and loving support structures- solid partners, friends and children. We are not alone by any stretch. Yet there is something that all the support structures in the world cannot provide what we siblings can provide each other: the history we share of knowing what it feels like to be scared, terrified in fact, and without parental protection…and now never doubting we are there for each other.

We, through meetings, phone calls and text messages, are huddling and crying in the corner once again. Not as many tears this time around and not a literal huddle, though we can look into each other’s eyes and detect that all too familiar gleam of childhood vulnerability once again. Regardless of age, some vulnerabilities are just really hard to shake.

Sibling relationships can be very complicated. My sisters and I have had some very difficult and elongated rough patches over the years. Very rough in fact.

Though nothing as rough as knowing we children are closely becoming the only ones left of our nuclear family.

Eventually, it will be just each one of us alone. We all die alone. I’ve never heard of a casket built for two.

I was born and raised in a home at the address of 1014 N. Evergreen Street, Burbank, CA.

With my two sisters.

Today it went up for sale.

(images are of 1014)

 

He Said, She Said

“He who only knows his side of the argument, knows very little of that.”

This paraphrased quote, borrowed from utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, speaks to the idea of the importance of counter arguments. It is impossible to render a verdict until both sides of the argument have been provided and explained, no matter how strongly one may feel about an issue. Many of my students have changed their minds over an important matter after they were forced to argue the opposite side of their (seemingly) preferred position.

I would contend the same holds true in our interpersonal relationships. That is to say that when a friend is having trouble in a relationship and are explaining this relational strife to you, I would extend this idea that he who only hears one side of the story, does not know the story at all, or, at the very least, very little of it.

So when someone recently was explaining to me the plight of their friend who was “screwed over” by their now ex-husband, my first reaction was as to whether or not they had heard the ex’s side of the story. Exasperated that I did not immediately just buy into the “victimhood” and plight of her friend, we just decided to drop the conversation. What she wanted to hear was, “That no good, dirty bastard!” Of course he may be, yet I have lived long enough to know a scorned human being is rarely an objective one, perceptions jaded by the scabs of deep wounds.

This is not to suggest I believe such people to be lying, rather they are experiencing the situation through hurt and prejudiced senses, lacking the ability to perceive their own personal responsibility, if there is indeed some to be found, and, in my experience, there usually is some.

This is not a gender issue. I have heard a myriad of men speak to the misery unleashed by their former significant female other and I refuse to believe such a demonization until I have heard what their now-nemesis and former lover has to say; after all, men and women typically have different antennas. However this is only if I am requested to render a conclusion at all. Often times I just sit silent and think to myself what the other he or she would have to say…most frequently no response neither requested nor necessary.

Same for the “he said, he said” and “she said, she said” crowds. Hell, even for the “they said, they said” relationships.

All of us human beings just love to fill-in-the-blanks of unknown, missing and incomplete information.

Or…

Perhaps in our quest to empathize with those we love we forsake THE truth for the sake of HER or HIS truth?

Could it be both sympathy and/or empathy are superior to truth seeking?

Ah, my place, tensionland.

Rene’, my partner for over 40 years, and I have always said that if one of us declared in a court of law the 4 or 5 worst things we have ever done or said to each other in these past 4 decades, we would both be able to paint a pretty awful picture of each other…without uttering one single lie and no trace of perjury to be found.  40 plus years is a hell of a long time to be picture perfect for your partner. To catch someone and declare them guilty in their few worst moments, when thousands of best moments abound, is both inaccurate and unfair. And if you know what I think of my partner, that is fairly eye opening.

I must admit to being skeptical towards one who feels the need to express their ill will towards a former lover at all in the first place. Why? Are they seeking said empathy? Or trying to abdicate their personal responsibility and personal poor behavior over their role in the dissolution of the relationship? By painting a horrible and terrible picture of a former partner are they attempting to justify their own poor choices?

I would contend it is frequently the latter, and perhaps, at times, the former. Maybe both.

Does empathy outweigh truth-seeking?  One could argue THE truth will likely never be known in any case, so why not love on and console a hurt loved one? Or does truth-seeking keep both parties responsible for their role in the failed relationship, hence coming to terms with their own reality and culpability? This may provide a good opportunity to look in the relationship mirror at our own shortcomings.

Of course, the answer to these questions is purely on a case-to-case basis, while one “empathy vs. truth seeking” size does not fit all.

In any case, before we go ahead and demonize anyone, we may want to hear the other side of the story, as he who only knows one side, knows very little of that.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Haters

Criticism: The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

There are essentially two types of criticism. The first is the type of criticism that focuses on thoughts, ideas and arguments. I like this. This blog is devoted to that level of criticism. The second is the type that criticizes people and their character. I do not like this. Not a fan.

If I do not particularly care for someone, well, first off, I would probably never tell the person unless there was a compelling reason to do so. Yet if I had to tell them, for whatever reason, I would focus on their behaviors, thoughts and/or ideas that I find problematic…not their character or assuming motivation for what they do.

I am a professor. I am professor with an opinion. I am a professor who openly and freely shares his opinion.  I am a very outspoken professor who invites criticism. I actually enjoy being criticized -in the argumentative sense- and challenged. I seek it. How on earth are we ever going to discover new ideas and thought forms unless we continually challenge the status quo thought forms around us? Criticism is not only acceptable…it is sorely needed for a culture to evolve for the better. Just ask Plato or Socrates.

Given this, it does not take a math major to deduce just how much criticism I get…and I love it.

The great majority of people are really wonderful in terms of their feedback towards me -positive, supportive, understanding, and, above all, quite civil and polite. I was evaluated by my peers and students this past semester and every comment received was positive in nature. I was very pleased to earn a stellar evaluation in every sense. Yes, I, like most people, need positive affirmation in my life…it feels good. It is really nice to know you are making a difference in people’s lives as you contribute to the cultural conversation.

Yet there will always be a minority of people who do not just personally criticize, they hate…in fact, they are haters. dear-haters-i-have-so-much-more-for-you-to-be-mad-at-be-patient

If you would like to see a sampling of haters, go to nearly any youtube video and read the comments. Many are mean, spiteful and angry…and, frankly, I am not sure why.

I have had my fair share of haters in my day and I totally get it at one level. In a world full of different personalities, there will be inevitable clashes…I totally get not liking someone, being irritated by someone, completely disagreeing with nearly everything someone stands for…I get that part. I have a, fortunately, very small group of people in my life that I feel this way towards. And, guess what? I rarely think about these people as they are not worth my time and energy for me to do so.

It is the proactive hating part I just do not get. Who the hell has the time?

I suppose in one sense the day you have haters is the day you realize you have achieved something in life.

One of my favorite comedic bits is Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrity Mean Tweets in which celebrities read very hateful tweets about themselves written by others in a very self-condescending display of spiteful humor. It is fairly simple to conclude that individuals who put themselves out in a public way will be criticized, even further, hated by a small number of people who actually have time and energy for such gross negativity.

I was discussing this idea with Rene’ after she insisted I delete a very hateful comment that someone posted on this blog. I did publish it at first though she opined that it goes against the very nature of this blog -which, she correctly contends, is based on arguing thoughts and ideas- and not being mean spirited and, well, hating. After further reflection she was right, so I deleted it. Wanna hate and be mean? Go to ratemyprofessor or youtube…or find another blog to hate on. (In an ironic twist it does sound as though I am hating the haters, does it not?)

She mentioned a passage from a book she is currently reading by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear who has a different take on those who criticize or even hate:

Pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order. Thus, people will stick you into all sorts of boxes. They’ll call you a genius, or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender, or a want to be, or has been, or a hobbyist, or an also ran, or a rising star, or a master of reinvention. They may say flattering things about you, or they may say dismissive things about you. They may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or mere weekend musician, or mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever. It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that – let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing… or even their comprehension… in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

Hmmmm…I like this. I suppose haters are simply ones trying to make sense of their own lives and need to vilify selected others in order to do so. Thus it says far more about them then it can possibly say about you. I suppose we should not put too much stock in either high praise or the hate as people need both their villains and heroes, deserved or not, in order to make sense of their own existence.

So civilly criticize away people! I believe it was the motor city madman, Ted Nugent, who once said, “If you are not making waves, you’re not paddling hard enough.”

I like that. I think that is pretty good advice for all of us. And maybe, just maybe, you can have haters as well -in case you don’t already. And then you can have the honor of knowing you are instrumental in the making of someone else’s personal narrative.

Thoughts on Achievement, Real Achievement

As an observer and critic of culture in general, I strive to lead a consistent and rational life while frequently asking the question, “why?”—most often in relation to cultural customs. For example, if you were to sneeze in front of me I would not say “god bless you,” “bless you” or even “gesundheit” simply for the reason it makes absolutely no sense.  I have no power to bless you and even if I did, why would I do it simply because your body reacted to some dust up your nose?

I have no interest in perpetuating old wives’ tales and medieval customs.

There is another strange cultural custom which is the central thesis of this blog ….and please do not think I’m a dick (too late?).

I am at the age and stage in life when many of my children’s friends -not to mention my students who are in a similar age range -are getting engaged and/or pregnant.  I find the reactions to those individuals who announce this news –typically met with congratulatory joy and perhaps tears of happiness – rather strange and unreasonable.

Is getting married and/or having kids something we must congratulate one for doing? If so, why? When you consider most people who get married probably should not (have you seen the divorce rate?) and those who are having babies probably should not, what is there to be happy about?

Getting married is EASY. Super EASY in fact.  I have blogged before concerning marriage and divorce while opining that it is FAR more difficult to get a permit for a swimming pool in your backyard than it is to sign your life away to someone for the rest of your life.  This is ass backwards my friends.

Getting married is easy, yet staying married is one of the most difficult ventures a human being can make in life. Why congratulate someone for the easy part? If forced to congratulate someone, why not congratulate those who have made it through the most difficult parts –and stayed together?

Babies? In most cases they are super easy to make -very fun to make in fact.  I have no interest in congratulating anyone for achieving a successful union of the sperm and egg after an enjoyable romp in the hay. Again, that is easy since it does not demand intelligence, hard work, discipline nor much effort at all. Being an effective and loving parent is SUPER hard…it takes time, effort, and money to the point that you are now living one hundred percent for someone else.

If we must congratulate someone, let’s at least congratulate those who have successfully raised happy and productive human beings that make our culture a better one.

Yet, I would not even want to do that. Why not?  I believe strongly that we should recognize and congratulate those who have done something extraordinary in life and deserve recognition.

And here is what I am NOT saying: We should not recognize, show support, or give encouragement to these people through formal ritual…conversely, I think it is great. Yet, we must recognize it for what it is and it is not an “achievement.”

Perhaps it would be a good idea to also give recognition to those who opt not to get married and not to have kids as well. After all, they certainly will not contribute to the divorce rate nor will they raise potentially delinquent children…not to mention they will certainly not add to overpopulation.

Staying together and raising productive children should be the norm in society and does not make someone a hero if he or she accomplishes this basic cultural function. The more we congratulate and hail those who are doing what we all should be doing to operate as a functional society, the more that normal activity becomes the rarity.

Conversely, rather than hailing those who achieve the norm, perhaps it would be a better plan to shame those who do not.

My stomach turned when I saw the following meme:

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Special? Special is defined as, “distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual.” Really? I suppose the underlying assumption is that you have to be out of the ordinary and “special” to be a good father -thus the average guy does not stand a chance while the norm is most fathers are not “dads.” Sad.

I have never murdered someone nor have committed a crime. Should I be congratulated and honored?  Or should I be seen as one who exemplifies the norm of society? No pat on the back necessary.

I want to save the fuel in my congratulations tank for those who have worked really hard and gone above and beyond to achieve an objective.  Someone who earns a college degree, opens a successful business, volunteers to help those in need or perhaps lands a great job or promotion that they worked very hard for are just some of those achievements that are worthy of honor and congratulations.

The last time I congratulated myself was the day I received a letter in the mail informing me of my newly achieved tenure.  I was proud of that accomplishment because all the work leading up to that moment flashed before my eyes -the difficulty in obtaining the degrees, the years of part-time, low paying work to build up my resume’ and the many obstacles I had to climb over to get to this new place.  As far as being a responsible citizen who pays his taxes, loves his kids and generally obeys the law (speeding not being one of them) I am pleased with these things yet I am not proud of these things.

Yes, getting engaged or having a child is certainly a marker and milestone yet it can be a very good or very bad milestone…as in, “the day I walked down the aisle was the beginning of the end.” Again, I am not suggesting we do not recognize milestones, rather let us see them for what they are, markers, that may or may not mark something special.

So as I question culture and its customs, perhaps it is high time we stop congratulating what should be the norm and save our compliments and felicitations for those who have really earned it.

 

 

Marriage

If you had an opportunity to start a business yet you knew going into it that you had a 90% chance of failure, would you start it?

Unless you are either overly optimistic or just plain dishonest, the answer would be a resounding no. Sure you might be the lucky 10%…yet not likely.

Yet, for those who are looking to get into this business of marriage, this is the approximate chance your marriage will be successful.

Allow me to explain.

While doing some research on marriage and divorce, I noticed some very interesting facts (a midst some very complicated and difficult-to-decipher statistics). For example:

  • Indeed it may seem at first glance somewhat counter intuitive, the states with the highest divorce rates, as of 2012, are the conservative, “bible belt” states.  For example, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Mississippi have the highest divorce rates of all states in the US, hovering around 4.8 divorces, per year, per 1000 people –translating to over around a 50% divorce rate over the life of the marriage (I did not count Nevada with a whopping divorce rate of 5.5 divorces for every 1000 people because, well, it’s Nevada and people get drunk, marry, divorce on any given weekend).
  • The lowest divorce rates in the US are by far the more liberal, educated states. For example, the lowest divorce rates in the country are New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois -which has only 2.4 divorces, per year, per 1000 people.
  • The lone curve ball concerning the above data is that the lowest divorce state in the US is Iowa with only 2.2 divorces, per year, per 1000 residents. Go figure.

Now, trust me on this one, there exists mountains of information concerning marriage and divorce statistics, odds, etc… So please allow me to summarize as simply as possible the greatest influence in whether or not a couple will divorce:

By FAR, first and foremost: Education. Sociologist Steve Martin calls this the great divorce divide. Couples with a Bachelors Degree or higher are 30% more like to stay together since 1970. On the other hand, couples with little to no higher education are 6% more likely to divorce since 1970.  Education matters and we could theorize for days as to why…including the fact that those that can stick out an education through thick and thin are far more likely to stick out a relationship when times get tough. In addition, those with an education typically get married at an older age and, statistically, make more money –all things that help a marriage survive. According to National Affairs:

This growing divorce divide means that college-educated married couples are now about half as likely to divorce as their less-educated peers. Well-educated spouses who come from intact families, who enjoy annual incomes over $60,000, and who conceive their first child in ­wedlock — as many college-educated couples do — have exceedingly low rates of divorce.

Other very important factors concern where you live, age when married, income bracket and whether or not your parents are divorced.

So here is my mathematical marriage disaster equation: Odds of getting divorced: 40-50%. Odds of remaining 50-60% remaining true to their marriage vows (read: cheating): Half? 30%? Odds of remaining 30% being truly happy and content in their marriage? 10%? 15%?

This leaves, pending on how nitpicky you would like to get with these numbers, approximately a 10-15% chance of having a fruitful, happy relationship till death do you part.

I believe, by virtue of anyone’s fuzzy divorce math, marriage in 2015 is a total failing institution.  Of course the US is not as bad off as some other countries, Belgium, for example, has a 71% divorce rate –compared to anywhere from 40% to 55% chance of divorce, over one’s life, in the United States.

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And here is what I am not saying:

I am not saying we should do away with marriage, no need to throw the bridal baby out with the nuptial bathwater –I am saying we have a very large social problem and we need to somehow fix it. I do abide by the notion that divorce is a terrible thing for families and society at large. It is a major problem. Thus, when society has a major problem it is in all our best interests to try and solve it.

Yet, I ask, is divorce just an inevitable path for most? Is there anything we can do about it? Not surprisingly, as one who has been pondering this social plague for many years, we do have some possible solutions.

1. Make divorce very difficult to obtain. It used to be very difficult to divorce in the United States –until September 4, 1969 when California Governor Ronald Reagan, who divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman in 1948 when she accused him of mental cruelty and, essentially, wanted to clear his name, signed the first no-fault divorce legislation in the US (a decision he reportedly later regretted). Prior to no-fault divorce, spouses seeking divorce had to prove that their partner was at fault for the marriage breakdown -essentially stripping the couple of power and giving it to the individual. Accepted legal grounds for divorce included (but were not limited to) physical or mental abuse, abandonment, insanity, or lack of sexual intimacy.  There are strong arguments for and against n0-fault divorce –though one thing is for damn certain: Divorce rates skyrocketed after this legislation was enacted –doubled, in fact. The biggest jump in divorce rates has nothing to do with a lack of morality or religious affiliation, for example, it all has to do with how difficult or easy the process is to get a divorce. I say that society is far better off making it very difficult, though not impossible, to break a lifelong vow.

2. Make marriage very difficult to obtain. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to put a pool in your backyard, you must pull permits, adhere to strict codes, pay thousands of dollars, all the while being continually inspected by city officials. Want to get married? Walk down to the courtroom, fill out a piece of paper, fork over a few bucks and DONE. Or, better yet, just drive to Vegas. What does it say about our society that it is easier to commit to one person for the rest of your life in an ironclad contract then it is to put a pool in your backyard? If we make divorce difficult to obtain, we should also make marriage equally as difficult.  There are two things our society has completely ass-backwards that we treat with high esteem –two things that any two dumbasses can do: Get married and have children. Why do we celebrate an act that, eventually, makes society a far worse place with its terrible ending? I say we treat those wanting to get married with suspicion and doubt. If you want to really achieve something in this life, get a college degree or start a successful business…making ill-advised commitments and spitting out kids is easy –discipline and self-motivation is not.

3. Marriage contracts. The thing I love most about the idea of marriage contracts is that it forces two people to sit down, negotiate issues and make a plan: The things every couple should do, though, typically, do not. Marriage contracts can come in a variety of forms, including options, buyouts, consequences, finances, time limits, you name it. A customary contract would be a 10 year-deal –at which time two people can sit down and discuss renewing, or not. Do I think marriage contracts are ideal? Hell no. I do believe contracts may dull the sting of two people separating because is there no expectation of “till death do you part.” At the very least marriage contracts do not place unreasonable expectations on a couple…though choosing to not extend a contract may be emotionally difficult for some, at least all things were discussed and laid out prior so there are no surprises. It is not coincidence that professional athletes in their final year of their contract have, by far, their greatest and most successful years? Why would it be any different for relationships that are about to expire? If my contract is about to expire and I want I want to renew? You better believe it is extra time at the gym and a myriad of wonderful floral arrangements on the daily.

4. Do not marry. There is a part of me that wants to make the claim this is the easiest and best route because, as they say, the number one cause of divorce is marriage–so let’s just stop doing it. However, I do believe there is hard wiring in the majority of human nature that drives each of us to pair up with someone and do life together. Therefore we can stop calling it marriage though I believe the partnering phenomena will continue regardless. With the advent of common-law marriage, also known as sui juris marriage, informal marriage, or marriage by habit and repute, where a couple is legally considered married without ever officially getting married, doing away with marriage would have little benefit. Thus, we can stop getting married yet good old Uncle Sam will just automatically do it for us. I, for one, believe the government should have nothing to do with the act of marriage. Of course part of the overall declining divorce rate is due to the fact fewer people are marrying and, if children are not involved, perhaps this is a better route for many to take, common-law marriage be damned.

5. Consider different types of marriage options. Why do you think the more conservative, Christian states have the highest divorce rates? Because, for them, there is only one type of marriage and, for them, divorce is a superior option than thinking outside the marriage box. I could not disagree more. Divorce sucks. There exists plenty of different marriage options outside of traditional ones; so many, in fact, any couple can modify and customize their marriage to make it work best for them. I have met people in freedom-based, polyamorous, child-centric, convenience, open, practical, etc…arrangements that work best for their particular situation. Of course I completely disagree with having only one traditional marriage option….but perhaps that is another blog for a different day.

As a society we can rule with reason or we can rule with emotion. Emotionally, to reconsider the fundamental, traditional act of one of culture’s cornerstone events, marriage, is unthinkable and unbearable, despite what our reason might suggest to the contrary. Of course most of us would rather keep doing what is familiar.

Thoughts? Please discuss.

Cheating

Today, as I blog on the subject of relational cheating, I must say upfront what I am NOT saying: I do not encourage cheating, I do not condone cheating and I would strongly encourage you NOT to cheat on your partner. I blog today as one who is objectively looking at what I perceive to be a problem in society (and please argue with me on these perceptions!) and make some, perhaps, unpopular observations concerning the nature of relational cheating. I am trying to understand cheating and its role in society.  I am one who likes to look at what is happening without moral judgment -which tends to cloud productive and objective thinking.

Let’s get this party started, ya cheatin’ bastards.images

There is a fundamental rule I have learned in my lifetime: People are going to do whatever the hell they want to do and very little can be done to stop them.  As a society, we set up certain punishments and incentives to discourage or encourage certain behaviors with some degree of success, yet, I would argue, these punishments and incentives are not as effective as we might want to think or want them to be a great deal of the time.

Our prisons are filled with people who murder, rob banks, molest children, etc…in spite of the fact we have set up strong punishments for such people. Conversely, our government has set up certain financial incentives to save additional money in certain programs, Roth IRAs for example, yet millions do not take advantage of such programs while our savings rate as a nation is one of the lowest in the world, around 4.5% in 2013, 16th out of the 28 countries in this study.

Thus, we can conclude that for some, neither punishments nor incentives are necessarily indicators that behavior will be changed or altered. In terms of infidelity, obviously the threat of divorce or being the family pariah is not a strong enough punishment to dissuade many from cheating. In the end, the human being will act like a human being regardless of consequences. Why? We are getting there…

I blog today on an issue I once blogged about a couple of years ago–the fact that many people always have and always will cheat in their relationships. I do not want to sound like a broken record and simply rewrite what I wrote in my blog of nearly two years ago. In that blog I focused much more on people’s self-righteous indignation towards cheaters (and you will get a strong dose of that in this blog as well…at least I’m consistent), mainly directed at a website whose sole purpose is to make cheating “safe and easy.” Today I want to address the human condition of why people, of both genders, cheat, and offer my observations of the cheating world.

Today I begin with 3 fundamental questions: Why do people cheat, how many people cheat (an impossible number to figure out with great precision) and what, in fact, constitutes cheating -at least for the sake of this blog. I will work off a few basic assumptions that you may or may not agree with:

  • First off, though there are many reasons people may cheat, the primary reasons are sexual fulfillment, new emotional connections and newfound excitement in an otherwise mundane and dull relational existence. It simply spices up the main course meal of life. Many who cheat are still very much in love with their partner.
  • Secondly, the assumption is that A LOT of people cheat, much more than what we may currently think. Of course this is not a stretch as a contemporary “cheating” website was recently hacked and threatened to expose the name of all 37 MILLION, yes million, users. When one considers this is only 1 website of many, is it farfetched to conclude A LOT of people cheat, perhaps MOST people? I do not think it is. When you consider that most people who do cheat do not get caught and sure as hell are not going to tell anybody, the number of  cheaters -again, a number we can never be entirely sure of- is astronomically high. I am sure there are many more people cheating on their taxes than have ever been caught cheating on their taxes. Most of us might hate to admit it though cheating, can be argued, is a fairly normative human behavior.
  • The final assumption, for the sake of this blog, is that any physical intimacy -be it a one time make out session or ongoing affair- though certainly different in scope and potential fall out, are all considered cheating at some level in a traditional arrangement.

My first observation is this: When most people engage in a particular somewhat normative behavior, why do we demonize it and not simply accept it as part of the human condition? Maybe “cheating” is just a human being being a human being. Perhaps a more accurate term would be “human exploring,” as in, “She is one of the most notorious human explorers I know.” Homosexuality was once considered a disease, transgendered people were mentally sick and women were considered inferior to men. We evolve as a people when we let go of our biases and see reality for what it is -and it first comes with accepting the behavior of those (seemingly) different from us without judgment. Many evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and psychologists contend it is monogamy that goes against the grain of human nature, not cheating.

“But, wait Jimmy, I am human and I do not cheat.” Thank you, oh omniscient one. I’ll take your word for it…though read on. To this I respond that I am human and am not gay…though a lot of humans are. I am human and I am not asexual…though a lot of humans are. I am not into S&M…at least not tonight…but a lot of humans are. The human experience is vast and diverse -simply because someone does not share my personal proclivities does not make them any less human and certainly not any more or less moral.

My second observation concerns the indignant responses society has toward cheaters, errr, explorers (I promised you I would get there!). My thought is “thou protesteth too much.” Human beings tend to get the most riled up over issues they personally struggle with the most. Since most people have explored -or at the very least have had thoughts of exploring outside of traditional set-up- it is no wonder we project our own personal frustration onto others who have been caught. Our reactions may be generated by inward jealousy for those who have not cheated yet would love to, or, for those who have cheated it is just creating self-righteous theater to make you look like a monogamous hero. Just like the angry senator who consistently votes against gay rights only to be caught with a young male intern in a compromising position…same type of hypocrisy.

I am currently reading a book, Modern Romance, by Comedian Aziz Ansari…who wrote this book along with a number of respected academics and relational researchers. In the portion of the book dedicated to cheating, in particular the very high prevalence of it contrasted with the reaction of disgust towards it, he opines, “…when it comes to sex and relationships, what we believe in theory does not line up with what we do in practice…When you compare this level of disapproval with the data on the actual prevalence of cheating, it paints a strange picture. Do we really believe that all these masses of people who engage in affairs are moral monsters? That makes quite a lot of monsters. It seems that we reluctantly accept the act of cheating in our own lives while still condemning the practice at large.”

Preach it Aziz. Perhaps the only thing worse than a cheater is a hypocritical cheater.

When faced with a wall of insurmountable facts and data, humans tend to poo poo such evidence if it makes them feel discomfort or flies in the face of what they so desperately want to believe. Most prefer a shallow and unrealistic romance with illusions over and above a deep relationship with truth -and the truth is cheating is well within the realm of normal human behavior.

My third observation concerns a troubling traditional marriage contract between two people that forbids either of them to “explore” EVER and under no conditions. Why? Do we now own the other person upon commitment? I hate to go all 1970’s on your asses though we had a saying back then that suggested, “If you love something set it free.” Yes, technically it is “cheating” because most of society has drafted an unreasonable and unrealistic contract for the majority of people. Therefore the primary problem lies in the untenable contract much more than in the human beings who are just acting like, well, uh, human beings.

Or does it?

I am not convinced that hoping and aspiring to a very difficult goal, some might say a nearly impossible goal, is necessarily a bad thing. Yet, I am not saying it is a good thing either. To aspire to an objective that separates us from other animals, keeping our baser instincts controlled and intact may be a very positive venture for society in general, particularly the family structure. Yet, the downside is pretty strong as well…by aspiring to something that is very difficult to achieve and then being devastated when it is not realized comes with a very painful emotional price tag -not to mention lawyers fees and court costs. Ahhh…the tension. Still, in the end, I would say the costs of such aspiration outweigh the potential rewards of it.

I understand that many people have been hurt by the behavior known as “cheating.” I contend that it was not the “cheating” that was devastating, rather the above-mentioned social constructs we have created that placed certain expectations on certain types of relationships. Perhaps if we rid society of this expectation, cheating would become exploring (I know I am using that word a lot and do not care for it all that much…but the English language does not have word for a “cheater” that is not laced with hate and vitriol…let’s think of one kids) and we could all calm down and accept the human animal for what it is. In other words, we could become much more European -53% of the French believe exploring to be morally acceptable. Or Chilean, 33%. America? 16%. Americans are notorious for preferring devastating divorces over empathy and understanding…lawyers are thrilled.

In most of my courses the examinations are taken online with open books and open notes. I instruct my students that it is impossible to cheat…you can use anything you wish and you can even take the test together as a group. The confused students, who are conditioned like Pavlovian mutts to finding creative and inventive ways to cheat on exams, are often disarmed and bewildered. As the professor, I am relieved of my burden of detecting, finding and calling out cheaters. It’s nice. As a result, my classes often get together as a group in our library, collect their books and notes, open their exams together and then discuss and argue communication concepts for about an hour…it is a beautiful thing to see students working together in this way. I believe that they are learning FAR MORE than if I stuck with a traditional method of examinations.

I think you get the analogy.

The goal in my courses is student learning –nothing more, nothing less. I never want convention to get in the way of student learning. For most of us, I believe our goal in life is to be happy and fulfilled yet often our convention may get in the way of those simple goals. I am not talking about a relational free-for-all, rather a basic understanding and acceptance of how human beings operate- and it’s high time we stopped the self-righteous moral outrage.

So people are going to do whatever they hell they want to do. Can we all just accept that fact and move forward and act accordingly?

Relationship advice author Dan Savage, in his book American Savage, sums up my sentiments quite nicely: “I’m not saying that being cheated on by your spouse is not a big deal, or a violation, or a betrayal. It is all of those things. But if more people understood how difficult monogamy is over the long term, and how common cheating is, and if people were encouraged to assess the actual particulars of a particular adulterous incident rather than seeing all cheating as essentially equal…maybe more marriages would survive the nearly inevitable infidelity.”

Smart guy, that Savage.

I realize arguing that “cheating” /slash/ exploring as a fairly normative behavior and should be accepted as such is a very unromantic, nontraditional, and an uncomfortable position to take. Ironically I am in no way promoting cheating…I just want to look at reality, as uncomfortable as it may be, and help save relationships. The choice seems rather simple, we can either keep aspiring to a lofty goal and continue to be devastated or we can identify the true human condition, stop aspiring and accept the human being for what it is.

There you have it. My longest blog ever. I try to keep my blogs to a thousand words…I guess I cheated, errr, explored.

 

Relationship Survey: Please Take A Minute And Provide Us With Your Response!

A student of mine is currently doing some original research in regards to relationship type measured with satisfaction. This is a very quick one minute survey. We would really appreciate it if you could contribute this blippet of time for the sake of academic research. Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to take it. Thank you in advance for your assistance! All responses are 100% anonymous…guaranteed.

www.relationship-satisfaction-survey.com