Author Archives: Emily

Getting our Religion: When relationships are like cults, and other mysteries

Last relationship article for Industry, just found as I dust off this blog. The original had more explicit details about said religion, but had to pull back. Ah, culture reporting, how I’ll miss you?

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getting our religionI saw a play recently, a solo performance about one woman’s time in a certain popular and celebrity-focused religion—one that has been much in the news over the past year. The performance was manic, self-effacing, and very funny. At one point she mentioned, almost in passing, that she’d been drawn to the church after a series of personal setbacks, including the breakup of a relationship. Well, of course. The salient detail leapt out of the surrounding scene and established itself as a vaguely formed question: Why do people get religion just when they are the most disappointed by life?

Was it simply a consolation for loss, or does the upset applecart of expectations serve some useful purpose—do setbacks motivate us to something greater than ourselves and our piddling desires? Perhaps in the dashed hopes of material success (which either falls flat or doesn’t do what you thought it would) spiritual rewards are all that are left.

relationships not so different

For some relentless (or so they think) rationalists, religions and cults are as good as synonyms. Similarly, good relationships and dramatic trainwrecks are of the same species.

Religion’s significance in people’s lives has decreased in modern life, so maybe now weird cults and idolized relationships are replacing them.

The former often have brutal indoctrination techniques using techniques of sensory deprivation, for example, to create malleable subjects. A charismatic guru type puffs up and then flattens young recruits’ self-importance, often tangling romantically with devotees.

relationships like cults

There’s…

  • Indoctrination from early ages
  • Possibilities for isolation, you-and-me-against-the-world thinking
  • Potentially controlling dynamics, both aggressive and under the surface
  • Resistance to learning how relationships work to learn how to “do” them better, and instead a reliance on emotion, instinct and magical thinking
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • A certain smug condescension toward outsiders

The proof is not just a guess. Looking through the average ladymag, incredibly heavy marketing techniques surround love, religion, inner peace, etc. Ecology: Save the World! Business: Get Rich Today! Cosmo: Find your Soulmate!

Lastly, similar to cults, relationships are easy to get into, and hard to get out of. When we do leave a dominating relationship, we find we have all this extra free time and energy (and sometimes money). Our focus, now free from obsession, can be self-directed, motivated towards something personally meaningful.

cults natural/temporary

We both crave and fear this kind of total devotion in love and life that relationship brings. We want the greater meaning but dread having to own up to the process. Likewise, the difference between the awe we feel for the state of love and for god is so slim at times as to make their objects indistinguishable. In early country songs, religious songs were always about love and love songs were usually about murder.

As for any expectation of rescue, we can’t help a little pining for Love or God, periodically.

Most of the rewards of life are to be had on more solid ground, in the details, where we live. Everyday needs and challenges are met, and we get closer to each other like a fabric worked over time.

But one day again, it’s not enough; we want something of greater significance. Challenge and conflict over comfort and stability. Lofty goals are hard not to want, but age tempers the impulse, brings them down to earth. Maybe old-fashioned religion (the sudden call to God when, “I never do this!”)  and the tendency to fall crazy in love is the balloon we try to float off on, to keep things moving.

The disillusionment of material success (gained or lost) provokes bouts of spiritual or emotional growth, however crazy their tactics may seem.

Originally posted in Industry magazine’s September 2016 issue.

 

Hack Your Love

hack your love online datingWhen I ask about it, many people describe their experiences dating online with a kind of tired resignation, the same way they feel about keeping up with a million different online offerings. We even have a new word for ennui in this new universe: FOMO (“fear of missing out,” for the grampses). But there are ways to make the process easier, more productive, and even enjoyable….honest, though, like certain waxing techniques, the effort’s never going to be completely painless.

 Be Yourself (No, really!)

Take some time to make your presence be consistent with your personality. OkCupid found that the people who received more 5-star and 1-star reviews were more likely to be contacted than those who mostly received 3 stars. This suggests that it’s better for people to have a strong reaction to you for your own particular quirks. So for pity’s sake, don’t be generic. Flaunt your big nose rather than hide it, talk about your penchant for shower balladry—it’s far more interesting to people than a banal “I like music.” A Note on Pictures: First, have more than one, and from more than one angle, with at least one showing more than just your face. Include an action shot, perhaps doing something you love. Unless you are looking for a co-dependent Peter Pan, don’t have a ton of bar pics with friends, and though you should definitely be you looking your best, your pics should also look like you. Don’t post a 19-year-old pic if you’re in your 50s.

Hone that Chat-Craft

I can only observe from the woman’s perspective, but many men don’t really try to engage us in a real way. They use the same tired come-ons and clichés, thinking maybe women don’t immediately know what they’re doing (working the numbers game). They sometimes they use the comfortable distance of the online experience to vent frustration. To this I say, relax, and step away from the computer. As in any interaction, the first one to get angry loses. Treat every new interaction as an opportunity to meet someone new. Ask questions, and listen.

Hold Yer Judgment Horses

Perhaps it’s crass to put everyone on a reductive rating scale, but everyone does it, especially at first. And it’s worse online, but try not to get too enamored or too dismissive of anyone before meeting. If you have a rapport, move on to a real-life meeting as soon as possible. You’ll find out much more quickly what the person’s about. Plus, people are a lot more forgiving in person than online. If someone isn’t interested in meeting in real life, it’s a sign they may be using the site for validation or as a pass-time.

The Ultimate Hack

The best E-modifications to make are to your own attitude. Check your baggage, and use the feedback you’re getting to turn what can be a time-suck into a useful place to learn. Though we are doing all this with a goal in mind, it still pays not to be too goal-oriented. Have fun, try different approaches (and talk to different people) and remember that most people are just as curious, insecure, longing, and interested in making a connection as you are. Then…limit your time on any site, get off the computer and go do something worth sharing!

This essay first appeared in Industry magazine’s Spring 2016 issue.

hack your love online dating

boomer marriage

Boomer and Bust

boomer marriage

The love generation keeps on splitting up. Ah, capricious age!

For younger generations, who are getting married less often and later in their lives, the divorce rate keeps going down. It is Boomers (those who came of age in the 60s and 70s) who are tipping the statistics toward that notorious 50% mark.

Since these people have lived together a lot longer than I can say, I will reserve judgement. When Gen X hits their 50s they may go through a wave of divorce, too. It’s a side-effect of people living longer.

But. Does it not seem  inevitable that the original “Me Generation” should be choosing freedom over sta(b)le relationships, even late in life when it’s probably a bad move financially?

What’s behind the uptick in Boomer divorce?

Perhaps it’s just a misguided, old-fashioned attempt to avoid the realities of the onset of old age and death. Sorry, can’t really figure out a way to sugar-coat that one.

Read along in Industry this month. Thanks to my parents for playing along, and not accusing me of intergenerational warfare, and to my brother for originally asking me to “Debunk this 50% divorce rate myth!”

Read Boomer and Bust at issuu.com

Home Economics 101

My latest Industry column talks about buying a house and being self-reliant, and all the ways that we actually need help regardless of our claims to independence.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 7.41.10 PMAfter years of not really thinking about it, living off myself by necessity, I was talking to a girl I’d just met at a meditation retreat while doing kitchen duty. As I was talking about my career I listened bored with myself as I expressed frustration with the going rates for writing. “It helps to have a boyfriend who is generous,” I joked. “I wouldn’t want to live off any man, though,” I assured her.
She smiled and said, “You shouldn’t worry about it.”
“I’m not worried,” I said. Instead, I was annoyed, but wasn’t sure why.

Through a turn of fortune I went back to work for myself right after buying my first house. Fortunately I got a good deal, because six months later my position at work was downsized, and I was not only house-poor but also unemployed. Conjuring ways to maintain my dwelling under difficult financial circumstances was a fascinating disjunction – on one hand I clung to my home is an indispensable statement of individualism and identity, but on the other hand I needed help in order to keep it. I had to ask for and receive help from more people I’d ever thought possible, and had accomplished more with their assistance than I ever could have alone. Parents, friends, random acquaintances helped me discover what looking for, buying, financing, and taking care of a house was about. Plus, with the addition of a roommate, I was better off than when I was renting, and the commitment to one place was not a tether as I feared it might be, but instead made me feel grounded and actually freer.

Continue reading in Industry Magazine on Issuu.com here .

 

Even Relationship Writers Get the Blues

Screenshot 2015-12-18 15.19.04

Some times I have a hard time figuring out what’s fair game in my relationships to write about. I don’t really poll everyone to find out if they want to be portrayed in my writing, but whether it’s the age or if they are starstruck by the idea of their own thoughts being published, most people don’t mind. They like to talk about their (love) lives and everyone has opinions.

With my personal dealings, in general I tend not to get into the details too much, to protect the feelings of people involved.

But though I confess I have often felt a pang about writing authoritatively on relationships when my own ongoing relationships seemed so confusing, I have been able to separate from my own experience enough to know when I’m onto something more generally true. Much of this perspective comes from talking to people, when they’re interested, about the topics I’m seeking to cover, letting it bounce off the hive mind. I don’t like acting the expert, anyway. But I had to separate my writing from my life more decidedly when I went through a particularly bad breakup. I would not be able to write about it for a few years.

I share part of my story here in the Nov/Dec issue of Industry

Do We Touch Enough?

Do We Touch Enough? | Industry New Jersey | September/October 2015 | On the Science and Visceral Thrills of Making Contact

 

From the article, excerptified:

I was reading somewhere that societies in which people touch each other socially are happier than those in which social touching is more shunned. It is an idea that makes intuitive sense, because of my knowledge of the inherent niceness of touching.

University of California at Berkeley researcher Dacher Keltner writes about pioneering 60s study by Sidney Jourard. “[He] studied the conversations of friends in different parts of the world as they sat in a café together. He observed these conversations for the same amount of time in each of the different countries. What did he find? In England, the two friends touched each other zero times. In the United States, in bursts of enthusiasm, we touched each other twice.” Meanwhile, in France, people touched each other 110 times, and in Puerto Rico, friends touched 180 times.

Touching communicates things often more quickly than other means. Dr. Keltner (and Dr. Matthew Hertenstein) conducted a study in which people touching through barriers, trying to convey in one second an emotion. The responder then had to guess at what the person touching was trying to convey: among them anger, fear, happiness, sadness, embarrassment, love, and gratitude. People touched through squeezes, pokes, taps, tickles and strokes. The easiest feeling to convey to someone by touch alone was compassion.

Studies have also found that athletic teams do better when they are socially bonded through touching, like high fives and chest bumps, and that babies grow more slowly when isolated from touch in incubators.

We have a taboo against social touching, although it could be called a pillar of social development.

Since I’ve learned about this I’ve noticed the phenomenon of touching more, and automatically became more touchy with people.

Read on…

Entertain-men

Entertain-men The ideal first date and venues to steer clear of | Industry | July/August 2015

I had my first real date at the ripe old age of 19.

I can’t remember Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 2.40.12 PMwhat we talked about now, but conversation flowed. He was hot, tall, blond, with tribal tattoos ringing around his arms. I’d never been so into anyone. The date didn’t matter, the mediocre pizza, or what we did, but the gamble paid off, and we liked each other.

“I was wondering if you would go out with me,” he’d flatly asked a few days before. I thought it was strange for him ask not for a date exactly, but to “go out.” But I felt a little flutter in my belly, and couldn’t stop smiling and twisting at my hair as I agreed, yeah, we could “go out.” I might have cringed, but the straightforward approach is all that has ever worked with me ever since.

In school, it was much more loosely defined hanging out that dominated our social lives, ironically past any ideas of traditional courtship. So for me it was hard to press on past the contrived nature of the situation. I felt weird, he and I, sitting across from each other over dinner, because we could have had fun at a car impound or in a rainstorm, and ever since I’ve been convinced that non-structured is very often the best recipe for early interaction.

Still you have to do something on a first date, even if you don’t want to call it a date.

Keep reading…

Staying Summer

Staying Summer | Industry | June/July 2015 | How can a relationship stay strong, yet maintain the vitality and newness of its early season?

There is a bodice ripping illo here, due warning.

Summer can be a challenging time for relationships. By the end of winter we’ve seen a lot of each other. Most break-ups happen in late winter/early spring, and most new relationships are begun in the fun and loose summertime months. It makes sense. We go out more, see friends, meet new people.

Looking around for the next thing is pretty much epidemic in the 21st Century. That concept used to be confined to stuff (a new phone, a car), but has spread to intimate relationships. There just seems to be less brainspace to take care of what we’ve got, yet somehow more to devote to what we don’t, and when it comes to relationships, that’s bad.

So how do we get that “new” feeling without continually trading people in?

Read more here. Thanks to those I interviewed and other helpful suggestions from astute readers.

 

 

 

The Forever Thing

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.27.56 AMThe Forever Thing | Industry | March 2015

New column is up over at Issuu.com.

I love the title. It sounds like the warm bath feeling of love. In reality, the formalized dance of the dating scene is a joke.

And, ironically, as we get older and have less finite time, it takes longer to know someone. More of our time is in the past, adding to our history, and the more just information there is to digest about the other. I spent lots of early relationships looking for that climax and denouement, the forever thing. Now, forever unfolds gradually.

Excerptified.

Still, I liked having a couple of guys on the go at once, for once. It was like applying for lots of jobs, so it didn’t sting as much if I didn’t get one. Maybe that downgraded the individual jobs in my mind a bit. It was successful, though, in that it short-circuited something in me. In the past I would just get so excited about a person, it seemed perversely automatic. Now I was forcing myself to be patient. My former self would’ve seen me as soulless or holding back.

One morning I woke to a rattling thought; “What if they’re both wrong, and I’m setting up a binary in my head… can’t see anything because I’m only comparing them with each other?”

Later that day, over a cup of coffee, my mom sighed. “You know, you don’t owe anyone anything.”

I looked at her strangely. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Read the rest of Forever here.

This is my last column for Industry for awhile, I’m taking a break from relationship writing. Gotta let that ground go fallow.

It’s been amazing growing as a writer alongside this mag! Also, Julianne Moore looks great on the cover this month. Those eyes…Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.51.16 AM

Thanks to everyone at Industry for this opportunity!

To Cheat…or Tweet?

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 12.45.47 PMTo Cheat…or Tweet? Infidelity in the Age of Social Media, for Industry Feb 2015. I’m arrested by an online confession, a particularly pitiable example of a lonely woman’s sexless marriage. At first glance it’s a tempting glimpse of one road onto the highway of cheating and/or divorce.

 

 

A lot of the commenters telling her to leave seemed like obvious romantics at first, but they had one major thing in common—they were women who had for the most part experienced the same thing, and they had left and were happier. The other commenters were far more practical in their responses, especially the men; those ranged from the hard truth (he’s gay, or he’s cheating, catch him in the act) to somewhat defensively pointing out that asexuality is a thing.

I couldn’t decide on any particular judgment. All I knew (thanks, internet!) was that there were many like her, and that in her article she hadn’t bothered to come up with any of her own solutions, even theoretically. She hadn’t left him nor suggested it. So if she was not gearing up to leave her husband, getting some psyching up from the online chorus, why was this woman even writing? Maybe this confession was a temporary solution in itself, or maybe she wanted another suggestion of escape.

My first instinct, therefore, was to give her the out that she seemed to be courting, and comment—that she should get a lover, not least because divorce is so obvious…and high risk. Marriage is often not what we thought, but of course nothing is. I couldn’t help but think of a man (actually men) in a similar situation, just cheating, doing what he needs to do for himself, not railing on a blogging community site about it. So why shouldn’t she?

I started to wonder about the passivity beneath her anonymous advice-seeking. Was she just venting, or genuinely seeking help? Maybe she was asking permission to do something she wasn’t yet consciously considering? If so how does her “audience” help and/or hurt the process?

Read the rest on Industry’s site.Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 12.34.48 PM

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I just hit the send button on my next column. Writing feels belabored, with a million words coming out wrong and me trying to tease a thread that is at times obscure at best. It is especially so when I can’t find the joy. Then it’s just work, confusing work. I guess I could consider myself a professional, in light of the fact that a deadline and editor means I’m doing it, regardless of how it feels.

It’s just a bit painstaking, lately, which is uncomfortable. I feel as if I’m continually peeling back layers of received thought and language. I am unlearning. But it seems I’m writing variations on the same theme over and over—about autonomy in our relationship with the world, or the real and the counterfeit. I mean, how long can a relatively clueless person like myself write about relationships, trying to convince others of my idealistic notions? Who am I trying to persuade? Some things I will never know, and some things I can only describe to people who will never see things the way I do.

Emily Space Baby Pictures JPEG

This is me as a baby. I already had the penchant for staring off into space.

“What are you thinking about?” my family would ask when I was a little older. “Life!” I said.

Well, here’s to finding something to stare at this weekend aside from the TV.