Archives for November, 2011
It hurts to be rejected or excluded. Even rejections that might objectively seem impersonal and inconsequential can be upsetting. For example, if you play a ball-tossing game online with two other people and those two others start tossing only to each other and excluding you, that’s upsetting. In experiments using that ball-tossing game, no one is using real names or photos, and there are no rewards or punishments involved. Still, getting ostracized is unnerving.
I love food, and a day of indulgence such as Thanksgiving is my idea of a celebration. On the other 364 days, I savor healthful foods. I’m already looking forward to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when I’ll have a few friends over for seafood, veggies, and fruit. (OK, desserts too.) I grew up in an Italian family where we all shared the food-related work: My mother cooked and everyone else ate. I didn’t learn much about cooking until I left home and had to fend for myself. A friend changed my life by giving me a subscription to Bon Appetit as a birthday present. I was surprised and delighted to discover that it was possible to make truly delicious food that was quick and easy to prepare. (My mother and grandmother made ravioli and tomato sauce from scratch. That was our traditional Thanksgiving first course, to be followed by the turkey and all the trimmings.) When I first started cooking, I never served anything to guests without pretesting it first. Now I have more confidence and I like to experiment. I’ve collected dozens of cookbooks; I often flip through them for ideas, rather than for recipes to follow unwaveringly. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, it is rare for me to discover a cookbook that offers new and tantalizing dishes that are not just plain weird. My latest such find is Stephanie Bostic’s One Bowl: Simple and Healthful Recipes for One.
For a long time, I didn’t really understand why diversity was important in any deep sense. Sure, I believe in equal opportunity as a basic tenet of fairness in America, and that was reason enough to want to see all different kinds of people in classrooms, neighborhoods, and boardrooms. What I did not get was how people who are not like everyone else can see things in profoundly different ways. They ask different questions, offer fresh interpretations, and notice what’s missing or misleading in the conventional wisdom, in the popular media, and even in academic writings.
Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks created a stir with the title of his new book, Is Marriage for White People? Then, in a subsequent essay in the Atlantic magazine, he took his provocation a step further by suggesting that marriage is also for rich people. Banks does not think that marriage should be primarily for white people or rich people. Quite the contrary. He believes that African Americans and poor people, as well as people who are less highly educated, are missing out by not marrying at high rates.
At the heart of Kim Kardashian’s grandiose wedding and wee little marriage was something meaningful. Under the guise of a celebrity spectacle, the bride was modeling something utterly ordinary about the place of matrimony in contemporary life. For Kim Kardashian, the highlight of her married life appeared to be her wedding. All of the planning and hype built up to that. The special that E! showcased and will probably continue to run over and over again is called Kim’s Fairytale Wedding, not Kim’s Deeply Fulfilling Marriage. Sure, most people’s marriages last more than 72 days. That brevity is unusual. What is not unusual – among the marriages of thousands of ordinary people – is to find that happiness peaks around the time of the wedding.
If you are a young single person, look out! Your parents and grandparents, along with others their age, may think of you as self-centered slackers who need to grow up already. They think you are narcissists, the “me generation.” Actually, they are wrong. Here’s why their perceptions are so distorted. “Kids these days!” When people of a certain age express that exasperation, they are not talking about children. They are rolling their eyes and tut-tutting about those who have graduated from high school and should be on their way toward a conventional path though adult life. The problem is, the older generations are judging the younger ones by the standards of their own times, and the young adult years have changed dramatically in a short time.
“Sometimes I want to be single.” That’s what a reader wrote to the author of a “Love Letters” column, in an exchange that drew a huge response (for example, more than 1100 comments and a special segment on Boston’s NPR station). What so many people found intriguing about this reader who wondered whether single life suited her best was that she was in a long-term relationship with a person she described as “an amazing, wonderful man. We have a fantastic relationship. Communicate well. When he kisses me, I still get goose bumps. When he walks into the room, I am always mesmerized by him.” But here’s the rub:
How do you feel about walking into a restaurant on your own? I don’t mean just a fast food restaurant, but a real, sit-down-and-take-your-time sort of place. If your answer is not entirely positive, how do you explain your negative feelings? Are you worried about what other people might think of you if they see you eating alone? When I first started doing research on single life more than a decade ago, one of the first sets of studies I conducted with my colleagues was designed to address the question: What do other people really think of you when you dine alone? The research was very careful and systematic. It was never published, though, because all of my predictions turned out to be wrong. The ways that solo diners are judged turned out to differ hardly at all from how couples or pairs of friends or groups of three people are viewed.
Many single people lament the pressures from their parents to get married. Recently I read a welcome twist on that old story. A mother wrote to an advice columnist because her 30-something year old daughter started calling herself an “old maid” in the making. The mother was not asking how she could turn up the heat on her mate-seeking daughter. Instead, she wanted to know how she could be supportive without conveying the impression that she agreed with her daughter’s self-criticism.