Lessons in Love and Life from Jonathan Franzen

“There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of.”

Once again, there I was on metafilter when I stumbled across something interesting.  Go figure.  This time, it was an excerpt from a commencement speech at Kenyon College (printed in the opinion page of the NYT) written by author Jonathan Franzen (Freedom) about technology and narcissism and love and life.

Franzen talks about the “liking” phenomenon sweeping the world, thanks to Facebook.  We all want to “like” things, and we want people to “like” us.  “If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are.”

Perfect

Image by -= Bruce Berrien =- via Flickr

We want to be loved for who we are, and yet we rarely show our true selves to people, especially at the beginning of a romantic relationship.  We try to be perfect, to be who the person wants us to be, or who we think the person wants us to be.  We don’t lose our temper when someone cuts us off on the road.  We cook gourmet dinners.  We obviously don’t burp or fart or poop, because we don’t do any of those things. We don’t get upset or have a bad day and eat a pint of ice cream to ease the pain.  We exercise regularly and have a clean house.

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

The big risk here, of course, is rejection. We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.

And yet pain hurts but it doesn’t kill. When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.

Read the rest of the opinion piece here.

Listen to the whole commencement speech here.

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Random Online Fun

I’ve mentioned my love for Metafilter before, and I’ll mention it again.  🙂

Here are some fun items I’ve run across in my catch-up from the last few weeks:

40 Things that will make you feel old.  No, really, this is a different list!  The Macarena is 16 years old!

Living in 258 square feet.  Pretty smart, actually, and I’m considering doing a dining table like his.  Also, I have one of those Carrefour bags that he pulls out 5:30 in!

Sci-Fi movies with Ikea instructions.  Gave me a good giggle.

And finally, for your viewing pleasure:  Pendulum waves.  Puts the Bellagio Fountain to shame:

You’re breaking me (and my scale)

I’m dating someone new.  Two months in, and it’s still that wonderful, fun, “I have a boyfriend!” mindset.  Everything is new, and you want to do stuff with this new person. You go out more than you did before.

Which means you spend more, eat more, exercise less, and have less time to do the necessary mundane things, like pay bills.

For me, especially now that I’m working again, I find I have absolutely no time to do things.  My kitchen and bathroom are a mess, I am running out of clean underwear because I can’t find time to do laundry, and I’m in danger of being late with my mortgage payment, because I haven’t had time to log online and pay it.  I also haven’t had time to blog, workout, or watch the Royal Wedding.

My new boyfriend has recently complained about putting on a few pounds, a combination of eating out more and having less time to exercise.  I’ve always encouraged him to get his workout in, but he recently asked me to help him eat less.  I told him that I’m naturally a nurturer, much like the mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  “Here, have the rest of mine, can I get you another cupcake, here just finish this off so there’s no leftovers.”  I’m doing my best to stop trying to feed him, though.

Another issue, which we’ve briefly touched on but not really discussed, is money.  Obviously, if you’re going out 2-3 nights a week, eating and drinking, the cost for two people (which he naturally is going to pick up most of the time) can get to be a little much.

All this is to say, dating can lead to financial loss, weight gain, and a drastic reduction of free time.

But sometimes it’s worth it.  🙂

(Note – I wrote this post longhand a week ago, but haven’t had the time to log in and post it!  I am safe from foreclosure, have done laundry, but still haven’t seen more than a glimpse of the Royal Wedding.)

Back to Reality

After six months of being unemployed, I have a job.  It’s not perfect – I’m basically a contractor – but it’s got its plusses.

It’s a job with a large, well-known, global, Fortune 500 company (one of the top 100 companies to work for).  People have left jobs with benefits to work for the company as a contractor, without benefits, for the chance to get their foot in the door.  It’s that big a deal.

I admit, I was quite hesitant at first.  Yes, it’s a foot in the door, but the pay was much less than what I was expecting, and it’s a contract position.  So, I might be unemployed again in a year, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to collect unemployment at that point.  And, of course, no benefits, which sucks.  But…it’s a job.  At least, that’s what  people keep telling me.  I’m trying to be optimistic.

I just finished up my second week, and I feel like I’m catching on.  I think my last job provided a good base for what I’ll be doing.  I’m comfortable with the ideas behind the job requisites, although some of the terminology still eludes me.  But each company has its own language dictionary.  I’m ready to jump in with both feet, if they’ll let me, and so far they have.

It’s funny what sticks with you.  When I sit down at my computer to log in, I automatically start typing my old password from seven months ago.  I’m putting everything in terms of what I know (this role at this company is like that role at that company), which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing.  It helps me understand it better, but maybe it’s the wrong understanding.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Getting up at 6AM again hasn’t been too difficult – in fact, it’s been surprisingly easy.  Surprising because while unemployed, regardless of how hard I tried, it was impossible to force myself out of bed before 9AM.

Finding time to do my own thing, however, has so far been surprisingly difficult.  Not sure why I’m so surprised by it, but I am.  Obviously, I don’t have as much time to work out, read blogs, watch TV… I had no idea there were tornados in Alabama until 2 days after the fact, and I’ve barely even caught of glimpse of Kate’s dress.  I’ve been doing the bare minimum on my smartphone, keeping up with email, some blogs, and facebook.  Not sure what that says about me…  (I have now downloaded the CNN app, so hopefully I can stay a little more up to date on the news. Of course, the new beau has also gotten me addicted to Stupid Zombies, so I’m not sure I’ll get much news reading done…))

Choose Your Own Adventure (via The Other Side of 55)

I used to love CYOA books, but no one else seems to remember them. I’ve written before about the road map of our life, and how if *A* hadn’t happened, then *B* and *C* wouldn’t have happened.  I’ve recently wondered how difficult it would be to write my own CYOA book – this post makes me really want to tackle it.  What if I had picked the other option in each major decision I’ve made?  Would I still have ended up here?

Choose Your Own Adventure Do you ever play the ‘What if?’ game with yourself?  You know the one I mean – “What if I’d travelled instead of going to college right out of high school?”  “What if I hadn’t married my high school sweetheart?” “What if I’d hung on to that cute little house [that’s now worth almost a million dollars]?” “What if I’d taken that job in [some exotic location]?” “What if I hadn’t won the lottery?” (just kidding).  What if … What if … What if … … Read More

via The Other Side of 55

Done with that

Getting over a person or relationship can be difficult. Turning emotions off and on is not the easiest thing for people, and I think that’s especially true for women. You love someone, and they’re now gone, and you’re still left with those feelings, wondering what happened, the victim of emotional phantom limb syndrome.

There was an episode of How I Met Your Mother in October that I very specifically saved and watched several times.  The episode focuses on things that are unfinished, including Robin’s issues with getting over her ex-boyfriend Don.  She hasn’t moved on from their relationship, hasn’t had closure, because “Don left so quickly that I never got the chance to have that final showdown.”

That’s very much how I felt about my last relationship.  I never got that final showdown, I never got that closure, and all those feelings and emotions were never really resolved. I kept feeling like if I could just talk to him one last time, get an explanation, that I would be able to move on.  No, of course not right away, but at least I could have some questions answered and stop thinking about them.   (For those who haven’t been reading my blog, I had a year and a half relationship with a man and he just vanished with no explanation.  I’m not going to link to those posts because I’m…well, done with that.)

Robin’s friends urge Robin to delete Don from her contacts, so she can’t call him again.  Definitely a good idea – I think we’ve all been guilty of a drunk dial or two.  (For the record, my way of dealing with this is to put an X in front of their name, so that when you’re drunk dialing and you go to the D’s for Don, he’s not there, and then you have to think about it for a second before remembering to go to X, and hopefully that moment of thought will help clear your head. Works for me pretty well.)

As Robin notes, and as I can attest to, it’s hard to delete that number.  It’s also hard to delete texts from that person, especially the ones where they say they love you, they miss you, they can’t wait to see you.  You hit delete, and the phone asks, “Are you sure?”  And you’re not sure.  “You’re not just deleting a number, you’re deleting a part of your life.  You know, all those memories, all those experiences, it’s like you’re admitting they’re gone forever.”

Robin deletes the contact from her phone, but she remembers the number.  “You can’t delete contacts from your brain.”  Robin says she will never have closure.  “One day Don and I are moving in together, and the next thing I know he’s on a plane to Chicago.  It just…ended.  And no matter how much I try to forget that it happened, it will have never not happened.  Don and I will always be a loose end.  We’ll always be…unfinished.”

But at the end of the episode, Robin once again calls Don, but she’s finally forgotten the phone number.  “Finished with that,” she says.  Because, eventually, you do get over things.  I know that.  I saved the episode specifically for that reminder, that eventually you do get over these things.

Although I spent pretty much all of last year dating, I knew I still wasn’t over things with my ex.  But around the end of the year, there was a very drastic change.  I went from not being over him to being about 90% over him.  It may have been a particular “mischievous” post I did in December.  It may have been my New Years Eve effigy – maybe throwing that thing and those thoughts in the fire really did work.  It may have been the end of a particularly crappy year and the new beginning the new year brought.  Or maybe it was just that enough time had passed.

If I was 90% over it on January 1st, I’d say I’ve gone up about a percentage point a month since.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be 100% over it, because of the breach of trust that was involved.  But it’s nice to be so close.

I just got a new phone.  I was going through my old phone, deleting things to clean it off, and I hesitated when I got to his contact information, his texts.  Was I ready to give it up?  For some reason, I was particularly attached to those texts he sent me just days before disappearing.  I always wondered how he could say he loved me and missed me and then two days later be gone, and not even care enough to give me the closure I begged for.  Was I sure I wanted to delete?

I wasn’t sure.

I turned the phone off without deleting.  I thought about it.  Why was I keeping it?  Why did I want that pain?  What good was it doing me?  Add to that, I’ve been seeing a great guy, and I can honestly say that I am (mostly) over my ex, and I am fully in this new relationship, with (surprisingly) very little bitterness carrying over.  I don’t worry that this guy will cheat on me.  I don’t worry that he’ll leave without saying goodbye.  I don’t worry that he will shatter my heart, even if he does break it.  And yes, there is a difference.

I had that sudden moment of clarity.  I turned the phone on.  And deleted all.  And when it was all deleted, I looked at the empty screen and smiled.

Done with that.

I forgot what that feels like

I talked about the quality of men on OkCupid in my last post, but to recap – I was pleasantly surprised.  Most of the men who emailed me had full and complete profiles, with very few (if any) grammar and spelling mistakes.  As with match.com, there were a few that I wasn’t interested in, but I started an email conversation with two particular men on the same day, a week after I signed up.

Seal emailed me, and his writing was clear and to the point.  He seemed like a pretty okay guy.

Arlington emailed me, and asked me my opinion on the Oxford comma.  I was sold.  (Pro, for the record.)

I had my first date with Seal on a Wednesday night.  It was very casual, and I enjoyed myself.  He was smart, and outspoken, and opinionated.  And all I could think was, “Oh, he and my dad would soooooo not get along.”  We were there for about 3 hours.  We walked out to the parking lot and parted with a wave.

My first date with Arlington came the following night, on Thursday.  We met for drinks, in a very crowded and loud bar.  He was quiet, but he had no problem talking.  We had a couple of lulls in the conversation, where we were both trying to figure out what to say, but once we started talking again we had no problem.  We spent about two and a half hours together.  We walked out to the parking lot, and parted with a hug.

Saturday rolled around, and Arlington and I went for our second date.  We went for dinner, and had intended to go to a movie, but my friends were throwing an impromptu bonfire.  It should be noted, I almost NEVER introduce these men to my friends before the fourth date, usually longer.  They don’t need a parade of men coming through their lives, in the same way kids don’t.  But…I felt sparks.  We had a blast at my friend’s house, he even did some singing on Rock Band, and we parted in the driveway with a quick kiss.

And I spent the whole drive home (even some of the time I was at a standstill on the interstate, with the car turned off) trying to get the huge grin off my face.

The next day, Sunday, I had a second date with Seal.  We went to a local hiking trail, and it was…fine.  He’s a nice guy, and very smart, and we have great conversations, but there wasn’t any of that sparkage I felt with Arlington.  We ended up running into my friends (the same friends who had met Arlington the night before), and Seal went on and on about how perfect we were for each other – We both like THIS and We both like THAT.  It was kind of annoying.  We parted with a hug.

That Wednesday, I made partial plans for a third date with Seal on Friday night, to go on a gallery crawl.  Then I had my third date with Arlington.  We went and played trivia, and had a great time.  And, wow, what a kiss.

I knew I needed to let Seal know that I liked this other guy more, but it’s such an uncomfortable position to be in.  I called him on Thursday and told him that, while I would love to go ahead with our plans on Friday, I felt I needed to tell him that I had met someone else.  And while I enjoyed our conversation and his company, I just liked…this…other…guy…um…more…

He was cool about it, and said he’d still like to do the gallery crawl, “as long as the other guy doesn’t mind.  And he can come to, if he wants.”  Oh, yeah, like that would be comfortable.

Here’s the thing that hit me.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone out with a guy and said, “He’s nice.  We had a nice time.  Good conversation.  Eh.”  And I would go on second dates with these guys, because, well, he’s a nice guy, and we had a good time.  And, you know, everyone says you need to give a guy a chance, that women expect too much, etc.  And I had started to believe that.

And then I felt what I think I should expect to feel.  Sparks.  That warm feeling in your stomach.  Not low down stomach, up high stomach, almost butterflies but not quite.  I can’t talk about him or our dates with smiling.  Writing this, I’m smiling.

I had forgotten what that felt like.  It’s a nice feeling.  And it’s now been almost a month, and I’m still smiling.

It’s a nice GREAT feeling.

Not too long ago, INRIS commented, “Now you’ve discovered you can feel good about a new guy.” No, NOW I’ve discovered that.  😉

The quality of men on OkCupid

After years of online dating, I have been regularly disappointed by about 90% of the men I’ve come across.  I have bitched about it more than a few times on this blog – horrible profiles, crappy pictures, awkward dates, boring men, awful emails, odd phone conversations, kinky sexting, discourteous men…I could go on and on.

As I discussed in my last post (or was it the post before that?), I have avoided free online dating sites.  I figured, if men who are paying for a site can’t put forth the effort to write a good profile or email, what can the free sites possibly hold?

Well, evidently they can hold a lot, or at least OkCupid does.  I received a few emails (not winks!), and I was immediately impressed by the length and depth (and good grammar and spelling!) of the emails I received.  Upon visiting the profiles, I was again impressed, for the same reasons.  Long, detailed, well-written profiles.  Who woulda thunk it?!  In all, I would say about 90% of the profiles I viewed (both men who emailed me and men I found with a search) were awesome.  Complete opposite of what I was used to, and a complete surprise.

Were all of them what I was looking for?  No, of course not.  But I didn’t get any of the creepy emails I was expecting, no propositions for illicit meetings, no scams or freaks.  The site wasn’t full of trolls.  I was…speechless.  I really couldn’t believe it.  You mean this free site was actually better than a pay site?  How much money have I spent over the years?!

A variety of questions on OkCupid

As I mentioned in my last post, I joined OkCupid, mostly because I was impressed by the algorithms and correlations they came up with on their blog.  They’re not afraid of being politically incorrect or offending people, because all they’re doing is running the numbers, so to speak, on information that users provide (their latest blog post is titled, “What if there weren’t so many white people?”).  They aren’t drawing conclusions, just pointing out trends.  And some of the trends are interesting.  I highly recommend following the OKTrends blog, whether you’re single or not.  I guarantee you’ll find it fascinating, especially if you’re scientifically minded.

So, yes, I signed up for OkCupid, loaded a couple of pictures, filled out the profile, which includes fun pieces like, “I’m really good at…” “The six thing I could never do without…” and “The most private thing I’m willing to admit…(I shower naked).”  You give your details, obviously – height, body type (which is far more varied than match, which I appreciate), education level, etc.

Then they have these questions.  They’re all user submitted, so the list is growing all the time, and I have no idea how many there are in total.  The question is presented, you are given several answers to choose from (you can only choose one), you can choose which answers you’ll accept from your match (you can choose multiple), and then you rate how relevant or important it is that they answer the question the way you want them to.  You can also add an explanation.

Example:

Q: Are you a vegetarian or a vegan?

A: Yes/No (you can only choose one)

Answers I’ll accept: Yes/No (you can choose one or both)

This question is: Irrelevant/A little important/Somewhat important/Very important/Mandatory (choose one)

Explanation: I tend to eat primarily vegetarian at home, but it’s not a conscious effort.

The questions can be really fun.  There are political questions (Is contraception morally wrong?  Which is more offensive, book burning or flag burning?  To you, is abortion an option in case of an unwanted or accidental pregnancy?), religious questions (How important is religion/God in your life?  Would you date an atheist? How do you feel about Scientology?), drug-related questions (Would you date someone if you knew they were a current drug user?  Do you think drug use with your partner can be a romantic activity?  Would you consider dating someone who grows marijuana for their own personal use?), drinking-related questions (Do you ever feel the need to get really drunk?  On average, which best describes how often you GET DRUNK?), dating questions (How much can intelligence turn you on?  What’s worse on a first date, no physical attraction or nothing to talk about?  Would you ideally like to be married in the next 3 years?), intelligence questions (Which is bigger, the earth or the sun?  If the price of an apple was raised 50% and then decreased 50%, making it cost $0.75, how much was the original price?  What is next in the series 1, 4, 10, 19, 31…), lifestyle related questions (Are you happy with your life?  How often do you tweet?  Are you an aspiring actor/artist/writer or other creative type?).

And sex questions.  Lots of sex questions.  Do you enjoy meaningless sex?  Would you consider performing anilingus on a partner who asked you to?  Would you consider meeting 2 people online, then arranging a threesome?  Do you enjoy giving oral sex?  Would you be disappointed if your significant other doesn’t want to receive oral sex ever?  Would you allow your partner to kiss you after performing oral sex on you?  Is your ideal sex rough or gentle?

And my all-time favorite question:  Do you know what sperm tastes like?

Here’s the interesting part.  As I said, you can answer what you want, when you want.  But, based on your answers, they do a personality profile, measured against the average of your demographic.  “You might be…more/less conventionally moral.  More/less old-fashioned.  More/less compassionate.  More/less kind.  More/less independent.  More/less spiritual.  More/less sex driven.  More/less kinky.”  And, as you might imagine, if you don’t answer the sex questions, they rank you as less kinky and less sex-driven.  But what if that’s not the case?

You can answer the questions privately.  Although, some of those questions I’m still not going to answer…

Then there are the tests.  Over 43,000 tests, actually.  Your Sesame Street Persona Test.  The Director Who Films Your Life Test.  The Which LOLCat Are You Test.  The How Low Are Your Sex Standards Test.  The If You Were a Beer Test (I’m a Guinness – as if there were any doubt).

It’s fun.  It keeps things fresh (says the girl who’s been on there for less than 3 weeks).  It’s different.  It’s free.

So, what is the quality of men on there?

Stay tuned.  😉

Algorithmic Dating

I’ve done plenty of online dating.  I’ve paid for match.com three times (twice using the 6-month guarantee, for a total of 30 months), for eHarmony once (for a six month period), and for chemistry.com once (for only a month).  In case you can’t do the math on your own, I’ve been on an online dating site for a total of over three years of the past six.  Out of that, I’ve had two major relationships, two minor ones, and a bunch of “three dates, you’re out” flings.

My last match subscription ended at the end of February, and I vowed that I was giving up.  On online dating, on dating, on life.  I thought, You know what?  I’m just going to be alone for the rest of my life, that’s just how it’s gonna be, and there’s nothing I can do about it. (Yes, I was in a fairly depressed state.)

But then, the next day, I got my optimism back and started thinking that I needed a fresh start.  (This is one of the reasons I sometimes wonder, half-jokingly, if I’m bipolar.)  I’ve been on match for far too long, and I’m giving up on it.  I was not impressed with Chemistry.com.  I had liked my time on eHarmony, though, so figured I’d give that a go.  Except, do you know how expensive it is?  And did I mention I don’t have a job?

I’ve always been against free dating sites, my thought being that you get what you pay for.  Also, I had pretty much assumed that sites like Plenty of Fish and OkCupid were mainly “hook up” sites, and that’s not what I was in the market for.  But one day in early February I stumbled across an interesting blog post over at the OKCupid Blog:  The Best Questions for a First Date. The people over at OKC wanted to know, “What questions are easy to bring up [on a first date], yet correlate to the deeper, unspeakable, issues people actually care about?”  Turns out, if you want to know if you’re date puts out on the first date, ask her if she likes the taste of beer.  If you want to know what they’re political leanings are, ask if they like simple or complex people.  And if you want to know how religious your date is, ask how much spelling and grammar mistakes annoy them.

I laughed when I first read the article, but I was impressed with the vast amount of statistics and algorithms OKC used to come up with the correlations.  I started reading some other blog posts that they did, and became fascinated.  The Mathematics of Beauty looked at the messages received by women vs. measured attractiveness.  They found that iPhone users have more sex, and that generally the more attractive a picture is, the more likely it is to be out of date. They found that “the MySpace shot is the single most effective photo type for women,” and that man should flaunt their chest and abs if they’ve got them.

You see, OKC gets all this information from a vast collection of questions that users are encouraged (but not required) to answer.  You can answer all of them, or ten of them, or none of them, it’s up to the user.  But, the more answers you provide, the more OKC will know about you as they try to match you with someone.  And, as you’re looking at people’s profiles, you can compare their answers to yours, getting a good feel for the person’s politics, outlook on life, intelligence, and sexual attitude.  You can see what they’re looking for out of life and in a partner.

So it’s kind of like a mesh between eHarmony (with the questions and the matching), and match.com (with the ability to search).

And I know this because I joined.

Stay tuned for a run down on some of the more interesting questions, and for my experience so far.