Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

squeaking by…

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Can someone please tell me why the Washington Post thought that this story ("Squeaking by on $300,000") deserved to be on the front page of Sunday's paper?  It's not a terrible story, not like the Times' claim that pot bellies are hip, but I don't think it qualifies as serious news by any standard.

It's clear that almost everyone the reporter talked to was totally unwilling to be quoted for the record.  That probably showed good judgment — it's hard to imagine any possible upside to being featured in this story.  It made me wonder what Steins was hoping to get out of it, since she struck me from the article as being more or less sane and having some sense of perspective.  She has to have known that she's going to get trashed by a significant share of the people who read the article.

Moreover, it's not at all clear to me that Steins is really all that affected by the recession.   Ok, so her bonus is less.  But if she's pulling $50,000 a year out of savings to make her budget balance, it sounds like she'd still have a hole of $30,000 to $40,000 even with her usual bonus.  Her real problem is that she and her ex-husband bought a house that she just can't afford on her own, even with very generous alimony/child support.   And she bought him out in 2006, close to the peak of the market.  If the real estate market was better, maybe she'd downsize and get out of the hole. But it also sounds like she doesn't want to move her kids out of their school.

Fundamentally, I thought this article mostly illustrated the logic to the 60 percent solution.  If your fixed expense are such a high fraction of your income, you can squeeze the little things to death — not buying a fancy cell phone for your kid, going longer between hair colorings — and it doesn't fundamentally change the big picture.  Unless Steins has enough savings to keep pulling out $50k a year for the next decade, she needs to bite the bullet and go after the big things — the house, the nanny, the second car.


Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I finally got a chance to watch Milk on DVD, and thought it was terrific.  I knew that he was a gay politician and that he had been killed, and that was about it.  Having learned a little about him, I now want to know more — after watching the movie, I added The Times of Harvey Milk (which is a documentary about him) to my queue.

If the movie is portraying him fairly, Harvey Milk was a natural-born politician, able to talk to almost anyone, able to bring people together, able to make people have hope in spite of themselves.  Watching the scenes of him leading crowds, knowing what was coming, was almost unbearable.

One of my favorite professors in college used to talk about "Dante's influence on Virgil" meaning that after the Inferno, no one ever looked at the Aeneid the same way.  In the same way, Milk's story resonates differently today, in the age of Obama, with half a dozen states recognizing same-sex marriages, than it could possibly have resonated in 1984, when the documentary was made.

In the movie, Milk insists that all of his friends have to start coming out to their families and straight friends, because once your image of "the gays" is replaced by the face of someone you know, it's hard to hate.  It made me wonder how the equality movement would be different if AIDS hadn't hit the gay community so hard during the 1980s.  HIV/AIDS forced people out of the closet who would have stayed quiet otherwise.  And it's certainly hard to imagine that the right to marry would have become such a central focus of the gay and lesbian movement if the bathhouse culture of the 1970s had continued on.

I highly recommend the movie if you haven't seen it yet.

Write to Marry

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

This post is part of the Write to Marry blog carnival, organized by Dana at Mombian and Mike at PageOneQ.

I’ve been listening to the podcast of the Writer’s Almanac on my way to and from work and today I heard that last Thursday was the 7th anniversary of the iPod.  It made me gape, because they’ve become such a ubiquitous part of our lives that it seems unimaginable that they didn’t exist that recently.

Five years ago, the idea that same-sex marriages would be be legally recognized in the United States would have seemed unimaginable to me, such a far off possibility that it didn’t seem like a fight that was worth taking on.  And then Massachusetts opened the doors, and San Francisco followed and I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures of all the happy couples.  And the world shifted.

There’s been some bumps in the road since then.  Four years ago, I was worrying about the referenda against same sex marriage and their impacts on the presidential election, and trying to remember that February warmth.  Two years ago, I was knocking on doors trying (unsuccessfully) to stop a hateful amendment to Virginia’s constitution.  This blog carnival is focused on stopping California’s Proposition 8 which would take away same-sex couples right to marry.

But I truly think the world has changed.  People have seen the couples lining up to marry in California and Massachusetts.  And they’ve seen that the sky hasn’t fallen down.

I’ve posted this poem before, but it seems appropriate again:

Why marry at all?

By Marge Piercy, from My Mother’s Body

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magneta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth’s curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

TBR: Mating in Captivity

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

This week we’ve got a guest reviewer for the Tuesday Book Review — my husband.  HarperCollins sent me a copy of Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence to review, but before I could get around to reading it, T. had borrowed it.  So I asked him if he wanted to write the review….

Esther Perel’s book, Mating in
Captivity, takes on the tricky intertwining of love and romance.  Just
by addressing the divide, by saying "Love is not the same as romance,
caring is not the same as passion," the book accomplishes a worthy and
important goal (in ways that I’ll return to at the end of the review).
The whole book returns, frequently and powerfully, to supporting that
central claim.  It gives the appearance that the central claim needs to
be hammered home with great force.  Personally, I agreed on page xiv of
the introduction (well before page 1 of the book proper).  That said,
I’m sure there are many people more thoroughly indoctrinated in the
idea that romance and sex can only possibly be good as a reflection of
deep, world-shaking love.  For them, the whole book (and several
re-readings) might not be enough to quell the arguments instilled in
them by parents, friends and culture.  They might need every argument
in the book in order to believe a message that is (quite frankly)
freeing and relaxing to embrace.  So I don’t object to the 220 pages on
the subject, even though a snappy pamphlet might have served me better.

Sadly, while Perel’s arguments for her central point are compelling,
once she steps beyond that central point, the effort to convince
suddenly fades away.  She seems to think that the central point is,
itself, the argument for all the others.  "(a) Love is not romance *and
therefore* (b) understanding and closeness are sexual turnoffs," for
example, is asserted with pretty much no convincing argument.  I don’t
agree that (a) implies (b).  In fact, I don’t agree with (b) at all.
But the idea that emotional intimacy and passion are mutually exclusive
is the foundation of more than one of her chapters … chapters that,
therefore, I pretty much had to write off as a loss.

The "central insight surrounded by dubious pronouncements" is a
pattern that I’ve seen before, in self-help books.  Indeed, this book
so strongly resembles a self-help book in both tone and structure (with
chapters deliberately assigned to the various troubles that can afflict
your sex-life) that it was quite remarkable to hear, over and over
again, that Perel has no advice for what you -should- do, only advice
for things that you -shouldn’t- do … or at least shouldn’t do as a
knee-jerk reflex.  It was like reading a book that purported to be
about keeping your house clean, but which in fact only said "Don’t let
clutter accumulate on your tables, or your shelves, and don’t let the
floor get dirty, and don’t pour orange juice on the piano."  Those are
all behaviors to avoid, but it doesn’t tell what behaviors to put in
their place.  Like a demolition crew taking down an old building, Perel
gleefully tears down aged and rickety structures … and then, like the
demolition crew, she packs up and goes home, leaving the job of
building something new to the reader.

I find this immensely surprising, and more than a little
disappointing.  The central message of the book (as I said above) is
that "Romance is not love, nor love romance."  Romance and sex are
their own emotional field, and while the technical aspects of the act
have been … ahem … adequately explored in many fine books, the
emotional aspects of passion have long been overshadowed by those of
love.  We don’t talk about how it feels to be wanted, because we’re
supposed to be talking about how it feels to be valued and trusted.
But I pretty well understand how it feels to be valued and trusted,
whereas I’d like to spend some time talking about how it feels to be
wanted:  That strange combination of egotism and desire and fear that
can result from someone making it clear that they desire you.

Perel claims that there are no common factors that all people feel
about romance.  It’s totally unique, and there’s nothing in the
experience of one person that would apply to another.  But I don’t
think that passion and romance are completely unique to each couple.  I
think that there are powerful commonalities, patterns in the ways that
we think and feel about sex and romance and desire.  Not everyone gets
turned on by the same things, but the feeling of getting turned on is
universal.  Not everyone fears the same things, but the way fear can
both suppress and magnify lust is familiar to everyone.

That’s really interesting emotional territory, and I wish the book
had explored it.  As I said, I think that the initial message of
"There’s something there to be explored" is immensely important.  I do
appreciate being handed the keys to the kingdom, being told "There’s a
whole internal world here, just waiting for you to turn your mind to
it!"  I’d have been a lot happier, though, with the keys to the kingdom
PLUS an artful map of interesting destinations for the curious

The divorce myth

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

It seems like talk about divorce is popping up on a bunch of parenting blogs, from RebelDad to the Business Week Working Parents blog.  I just don’t have the energy/time right now to write the long thoughtful post I want to about divorce, so I’m just going to put out some links and initial thoughts.

The main point that I want to make is that the number that often gets tossed around about divorce rates — that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce — just isn’t true.  It was a projection based on looking at what if the increase in divorce rates in the 70s continued at that pace, and in fact, the divorce rates have fallen since then.  Moreover, the most significant trend is that the divorce rates have fallen much faster among more educated individuals than among less educated individuals.

For example, of the women with at least a 4-year college degree who
married between 1990 and 1994, only about 17 percent were divorced
within 10 years.  For women without a HS degree, the figure is nearly
40 percent.  I don’t think either the decline in overall divorce rates since the
1970s or the increasing class gap in the rates has penetrated into the
general consciousness.

[For those of you interested in the research: Here’s a powerpoint presentation by Steven Martin that goes through the analysis, and here’s the full paper of his research on the "divorce divide".  And here’s a paper by David Ellwood and Christopher Jencks that talks about it in the context of single parenting more broadly.]

I think it’s a good idea to think about the future and to take risks into account when making your choices. But I don’t think the Leslie Bennetts of the world are doing people a favor by trying to generate hysteria over the risk of divorce, especially for highly educated women.

Some craziness, some joy

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

I’ve heard some interesting stories lately about the complications that are arising because same-sex marriages are recognized in Canada and Massachusetts, but not the rest of the US. 

My dad got a letter to the editor published in the NY Times last week, in which he makes the argument that government should get out of the marriage business entirely.  As I wrote when Shannon made a similar argument last year, I think it’s an elegant solution in theory, but think that there are circumstances where government does need to treat two people who have made a family together differently from roommates.  So whether you call it marriage or not, the problem still exists.

But there is a power to the word "marriage" and to the legal piece of paper.  My friend Kristie put her wedding on YouTube.  The video is about a minute long, and makes me cry.

Freedom to Marry has an ad campaign out celebrating the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia.  40 years from now, will the current mishmash of laws seem as bizarre as Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage does now?

Please vote

Monday, November 6th, 2006

Please vote.  Please please please.

I’ve got a little bubble of hope that’s been trying to come out, and I keep pushing it down because I don’t want to be too disappointed.  I can still feel what it tasted like in 2000 when the initial Gore lead disappeared somewhere around midnight, and the sick feeling in my stomach in 1994 as the size of the Republican win became clear.  I’ve been obsessively checking the Post website and Not Larry Sabato, even though neither has anything particularly interesting to say at this point.  While individual polls point in different directions, they’re all within the margin of error.

I’m going to head to bed soon, because I’m getting up early to volunteer at one of the local polling places.  I’m actually volunteering for the Commonwealth Coalition, rather than Webb, because I really don’t think that anyone is going to show up at the polls not knowing who they’re voting for in the Senate race, but I actually think that handing people the full text of Ballot Question 1 might sway some votes.  And then I’m going to vote myself, and then head into work, and then come home and obsess.  If you’re in the area and want to come obsess with me, you’re invited.

I think it’s going to be a long night.  If the Dems lose most of the close Senate races in the East, it could be over early, but otherwise we’re all going to be waiting for the Montana results to come in.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more races were close enought to require a recount.  (The Post suggests that Missouri is the most likely state to have problems.)  So we may not know Wednesday morning who is in control of the Senate.

Hey, Bill Clinton just called me.  Well, sort of.

How about everyone posting tomorrow after they’ve voted and saying what the lines were like, etc?

Failure to launch

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Via Shawn Fremsted at Inclusionist, I ran across this article by Theda Skocpol reviewing two books about the GI bill (free but annoying registration required).   Skocpol notes how unusual the GI bill was in providing assistance to young families:

"But unlike most other U.S. social programs, the G.I. Bill focused its largesse on young adults at just the moment when they were building lives for their families. Usually, we spend money on the elderly, who have earned the nation’s support after a lifetime of work."

The article made me think about Strapped, by Tamara Draut, which I reviewed earlier this year.  Draut talks about how the changes in the economy — the increased cost of education, housing, and child care — particularly pinch young adults right when they’re trying to start families.

The key point, I think, is that it was the 50s and 60s that were the anomaly, not today.  One of the reasons that, in most of history, men have married younger women is that men were strongly discouraged from marrying until they were able to support a family, and there was no expectation that they’d be able to do at a young age.  Older teens and young adults were expected to work, but they typically contributed their labor or earnings to their families of origin.  And when times were bad, as in the Great Depression, people married later.

So we’ve got this perverse combination of an economy that all but requires higher education for success (even though a college degree doesn’t guarantee a good job, as Lauren will attest), an educational system that is dependent on student loans, and an expectation that young adults should be able to make it on their own.  There’s no historical precedent.

The 50s

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

In the comments on Tuesday’s post, Kai Jones asked what’s the basis for comparison for the claim that risk has increased over time.  The answer is, of course, that mythical era, the 1950s.

At a meeting I went to last week, Brink Lindsey from the Cato Institute had a great line — "The right and left share this strange nostalgia for the 1950s.  The left wants to go to work there, and the right wants to go home there."  Ouch and touche.

Dave s commented that the rigid family structure of the 1950s was itself a form of risk for women, due to "the uncertainty and absolute dependence on men’s behavior choices of women in the suburbs."  I think there’s certainly some truth to that, although there’s a complicated set of interactions:

  • Women who divorced suffered much more severe financial consequences in the 1950s than they do today because of both massive discrimination in employment against women and underinvestment in education.  BUT, far fewer women experienced divorce.  Women were more likely to suffer financially due to the death, disability, or indolence of their husbands than from divorce.  (See, for a case study, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.)  Germany today is probably the place that most resembles America of the 1950s in this regard.
  • Women who divorce today are far less likely to be absolutely destitute as a result.  Compared to never-married mothers, divorced mothers are far more educated, and have more employment history.  But divorced women still experience major drops in their standard of living.  And, especially if they try to minimize disruption for their kids by staying in the same house/schools, they’re quite likely to wind up in bankruptcy.
  • What’s new is that men also suffer significant financial hits from divorce.  Katharine Bradbury and Jane Katz have shown that as wives contribute an increasing share of family incomes, divorcing (and widowed) men are more likely to be downwardly mobile due to divorce.

The economics of the 1950s clearly contributed to the social structure in significant ways.  Men married far younger than in the past, mostly because they could afford to support families at earlier ages.  And large numbers of families could afford to live on the income of one breadwinner for one of the first times in history (while married white mothers didn’t work very much outside the home in the early 20th century, families often relied on the labor of older children).  I’m not seeing an argument for causality in the other direction, but I’m sure someone could come up with one.

The fine print

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

I spent a couple of hours yesterday knocking on doors for the Commonwealth Coalition, which is the main group that is organizing against Virginia’s anti-gay marriage (or anything that might vaguely resemble gay marriage constitutional amendment).

Mostly we were IDing voters on our side to target get-out-the-vote efforts, but we were also trying to raise the issue for people who might be undecided or not have heard about the measure.  Our strategy was mostly just to hand people the full text of the amendment and ask them to read it:


Question: Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state:

"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."?

That second paragraph is so overreaching that you could just see the gears turning in people’s heads as they read it.

Here’s an ad that makes the same point.


I tivoed the Webb-Allen debate this morning but haven’t watched it yet.