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.

Howdy Partner: Six Reasons We Prefer The Term “Life Partners” Over “Husband And Wife”

One of the most frequent questions I receive from people pertains to why Rene and I prefer to be regarded as “Life Partners” as opposed to husband and wife.  If you want a quick correction from me, just call Rene’ my “wife.” I’ll show you. The label makes me cringe.
Whenever I tell people about my “Life Partner,” Rene’, they automatically assume I am hooking up with a gay Spanish dude.
I do find it ironic that as gay people are fighting for their right to call their same sex partner husband or wife, I prefer we all call our significant other a “Life Partner” as it rings more genuine, authentic, and is an accurate description of what most of us really are, or perhaps, should be.
However, I am not out to change anyone or to convince one that “Life Partner” is the superior term, cause who am I? I believe two people should call themselves whatever they would like to call themselves according to their belief system. Do you like the terms husband and wife? Awesome. Have at it.
So why do Rene’ and I prefer the term Life Partners?
This is a very reasonable question.
I have done some light research (read: a google first page search with shitty key words) into the origins of the terms husband and wife and the findings were ambiguous.  No matter, I hold a fairly strong opinion that finding out the origin of terms (which is nearly an impossible task, by the way) is essentially irrelevant as words are constantly evolving and changing. Does it really matter how it once was used? I suppose at some level it could be interesting, but for no other reason than for brain candy, and for some bullshit perceived credibility.
What follows are the six basic reasons we prefer the term “Life Partner.”
The terms “husband” and “wife” reek of unevolved, centuries-old notions of people ownership.  Just as they used to pronounce a couple “man and wife,” giving the man his identity and leaving the woman to be known only in terms of her relation to the man, justifies that language must constantly evolve as humans constantly evolve.  We no longer have bondservants, spinsters, or bastards, in the same sense we used to have them. Let’s move forward and evolve our language choices in step with our social changes. I am unsure why the gay community fights for the “right” to be referred to in such an archaic term. As stated, I like their term much better.
The term “Life Partner” identifies us first and foremost in terms of our individual self and not the other. Please do not get me wrong—to share your life with somebody and to share it lovingly and honestly is a joy unparalleled in life. Yet we enter the world alone and we leave the world alone. It is our individual self that we must deal with first and foremost; we are “selfs” that come into a sort of union with another—which part should we identify as? That is a personal decision. We would rather see ourselves as Jimmy first and Rene’ first versus what we have together first. She is Rene’, she is not MY wife. When one says “my husband” or “my wife,” they are suggesting, in essence, that the other is a possession. At least when one uses the term, “my Life Partner” it carries a connotation of complete egalitarianism. Think about it, if someone called the other “my life husband” or “my life wife” it would seem rather odd; because most of the time it is not for life. “Life Partner” dares to proclaim that you are in this for the long haul. A lot of “life husbands” or “life wives” are now referred to in a different term, “my ex.”
If we are to create labels that are going to define us, that label should reflect the nature of the arrangement.  Rene’ and I have a partnership…that is precisely what it is. Just as in any partnership, business or otherwise, you have an agreement and each accepts certain roles in said partnership. Since our arrangement does not include many of the conventional roles of husband and wife, we use a term that more accurately defines who and what we are. I am off to teach in London for the Fall of 2014. Is Rene’ going with me? No. She intends to visit, yet our partnership allows for extended periods away from one another. Like, if you love someone set them free man. Peace. Dude.
Marriage is a failing institution as most end up in divorce. Why label two people coming together in a committed relationship something after failure? If we labeled other things after failure, we would call our cars “Edsels,”movies can now be known as “Ishtars,” and our presidents can be labeled, “Jimmy Carters.”
We both question all cultural conventions and do not want to carry on traditions for the sake, of, uhm, well, tradition. Culture is a man-created (and I do mean primarily people with penises, yes) construct that is as viable to error, prejudice and bullshit as any existing ideology.  In fact, culture is one vast ideology that constantly needs to be reexamined and questioned. We were both very young in the 1960’s and barely of elementary school age, yet we both possess very strong “hippie like” sensibilities. We question everything and do not accept cultural convention because that is what “the man” says to accept. So, in a sense, we use the term to convey our overall disposition towards life in general.  So, yeah, part of us does it just to be rebellious assholes.
“Life Partner” does not recognize the gender of the individuals. In a show of solidarity with the gay community, why use a term that identifies the gender of the individuals choosing to do life together? I love it when I call Rene’ my Life Partner and people assume I am gay. To break century old traditions, changing language is a good start. It will be a beautiful day when one says they have a Life Partner and one will not know the gender of the other…or even care. We are all humans in need of each other. One planet, one people, bitches.
The term “Life Partner” implies a tacit understanding that partnerships are flexible and negotiable whereas husbands and wives have to live up to rigid expectations.  I have heard it said that the country of Mexico was considering enacting “marriage contracts” in which participants agreed to specific terms. After a period of time, they could contractually sign an extension or opt out. I like this idea…though I am not sure the Catholic Church in Mexico is too hot on it. If we see ourselves as partners first and foremost, it relieves one of the traditional burdens of husband and wife. When one says, “I need to go home to the wife,” versus, “I need to go home to my Life Partner,” I hear something very different.  The former implies this is a burden placed upon him by a demanding bitch, while the latter carries a connotation of mutual respect.
At least that is how I hear it.
Hey, call yourselves what you want to call yourselves.  I am just relieved because from now on when I get the question, I can answer with, “read all about it at jimmysintension.com.”

Jimmysintension The Podcast: Special Guest Lindsey Johnson (with a word or two from Jordan)

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Family friend and wonderful conversationalist Lindsey Johnson was over on Friday to ask me a few questions about Communication Studies and I asked her if she would want to guest on a podcast. Without hesitation she agreed. On went the headsets. Jordan later chimed in a bit. Join us as we talk about the field of communication, the dating scene, marriage, jealousy, sex, among other fascinating topics.

Jordan’s blog can be found at www.hashtaghologram.com.