“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Ah, the juiciest Commandment. If everybody followed this one, where would Jerry Springer’s career be? Where would most of daytime TV be? Come to think of it, most of our entertainment seems to revolve around breaking this one, so obviously it hits a sore spot for a lot of us, even the folks who aren’t married. But should it be enshrined in law?
The first and most important question is, what exactly is adultery? Don’t be too quick to answer that one. Throughout history and in different jurisdictions, even in the U.S. today, the definition can vary. In North Carolina as recently as 2010 it was as simple as premarital sex. The penalties for adultery have historically ranged from the well-known shunning (think of a certain scarlet letter) to the much more serious and permanent stoning deaths that have occurred in some countries even into the 21st century.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being a libertine (I am not; I am a libertarian, big difference), I would like to point out that I am simply arguing against making adultery as such a criminal offense. So far as I see it the government has no presiding interest in the goings on in private bedrooms. But there is a role to be had for the government relating to this Commandment, one that is both simple and just.
I asked before, “what is adultery?” My answer would be, “a violation of the marital contract.” Now that may sound to some to be somewhat akin to the famous definition of pornography (“I know it when I see it”), but in fact it is much more direct and simple than that. Each couple, when they marry, takes certain vows, and in so doing they enter into what is commonly accepted (one might even refer to it as being common law) as a binding contract. Those vows may differ from couple to couple, but that does not make them any less binding than if my lease is different than the lease you have with your landlord. In the same way that if I have a dispute with my landlord, we can choose to resolve it privately, or either one of us can choose to take it to court.
Viewed through this lens, the role of the government becomes not one of deciding what does or does not constitute proper behavior, or even what does or does not constitute a proper marriage, but simply one of performing two tasks the court system is eminently and explicitly designed for: determining the validity of a contract, and adjudicating the proper performance of contractual obligations. If “forsaking all others” was a part of the marital vows (as it commonly is, in some form or other) then adultery would be a violation of that contract, and would be grounds for a termination of that contract, presumably with favorable terms to the aggrieved party.
In this world I envision, so-called immoral behavior would not, shockingly, go up. I say “so-called immoral behavior” because I’m a big believer in expressed preference. I’ve known too many people who talk a good game about their morality but don’t live it, and often those are the same people who want to pass laws to force others to live by that same moral code. What I believe is that if you think something is wrong, don’t do it. It really is that simple. Note that I didn’t say it was easy, but then the right thing rarely is. Still, as I was reminded in a talk recently with the Anglican Anarchist, we were given free will for a reason. If you aren’t free to choose to do the wrong thing, there is no value in doing the right thing.
If the government is not dictating morality, it is up to us, as individuals and as a society, to determine what morality is. We can preach it in our churches, teach it in our homes, argue it in our coffee shops and town squares, and when and if we decide to marry, we can draw up the contracts that suit us as individuals and couples best, without someone else deciding for us what our marriage will mean.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume I’m going to offend some folks with this post, most likely some of the same people I offended when I addressed my issues with feminism, but I’d like to state for the record that I am not blaming feminism for this one. I am blaming cowardice and stupidity. If you are offended by anything I have to say in this post, I will gladly address your concerns, but I wanted to get that out there first.
So I recently found out that the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill has removed the word “freshmen” from official documents to adopt more “gender inclusive language”. Point of fact, according to the linked article the policy change occurred in 2009, but then I don’t stay abreast of every action I find idiotic in the world, just the ones that come knocking on my doorstep. It’s not even that I find this terribly shocking in and of itself, since this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of something like this happening, it’s the fact that something like this is still happening in 2009.
Look, I love the English language, and I get as much as anyone that words have power. I use them every day, in my job and in my hobby (you’re reading the latter right now, if I haven’t offended you too much already). But there has to be a point at which we say that while words have meaning, there is such a thing as reading too much meaning into words. I realize the deconstructionists out there will disagree with me, as will certain others, but where do we draw the line?
I cite as an example, and the reason I say “why is this still a thing?” the exact same joke I made when this whole question of language use first came to my attention… back in 1993. That’s right, about twenty years ago. At the time I was joking about the word “humankind”. Obviously this word is offensive, as it contains the word “man” and is meant to refer to all homo sapiens. Therefore we should change it to hupersonkind. However even this is offensive, as it contains the word “son”, which is still gender discriminative, as well as making assumptions about family roles. That simply won’t do. We should therefore make it into “huperchildkind”. The word “kind” may remain as it is an affirmation, and something we should all strive toward being.
Ridiculous? I should say so. And that was my point. Any attempt to change a word simply because it contains within it a masculine form which, within the established rules of the English language is the gender-neutral form, is just that: ridiculous. I’m not aware of attempts to change European languages that default to masculine and feminine forms for inanimate objects, although if those exist I would consider them equally silly. The rules of language may be arbitrary, but they exist and we follow them because they work. Taking offense where none is intended or necessary is just looking for excuses to be angry at the whole damn world for not bending to your whims, and frankly there are better windmills to tilt at.
This is not to say I oppose all attempts to make language gender-neutral. While I abhor such ludicrous neologisms as “actron”, I freely accept the interchangeable use of the gender-neutral term “actor” being applied to men and women who ply the same trade, and a magician is equally as talented (or not) regardless of gender. There are also times and places where gender differences are useful in one’s title; or perhaps you are one of the folks who don’t care if you are served by a masseur or a masseuse. None of these, however, are relevant to the issue above; that is simply a matter of cowardice and stupidity, blindly flailing about in a craven attempt to please all and offend none. The end result is often the exact opposite.
Words matter. They have power. They have meaning. They can be used for so many things, to create joy or sorrow, to enlighten or spread ignorance and fear. So long as we give in to the forces who would take away our words in the name of cowardice and stupidity, all we have left is
Dear Karl Marx,
I have a question about blind dates. I haven’t been on the dating scene in a long time, and I’m not sure how to handle things. I’ve heard that the guy is supposed to pay for dinner, but I’m still struggling to get out from under some pretty horrendous student loans, and I can’t afford to be taking out a lot of girls I don’t even know, especially if things end up going nowhere. On the other hand, I don’t want to look cheap. What’s a guy to do?
Struggling in the New Economy
It is truly disheartening to hear that even in this day and age the forms of capital are being used as a symbol of control in relationships rather than existing as a means to advance a fellowship of well-being and understanding. Ah, well; such is the way of the world until society is changed. In the meantime, I would advise you to reach out to those of your contemporaries who are of a similar understanding, building those relationships that you can gradually and with time, rather than with displays of bourgeois largesse. Perhaps meet her for a cup of coffee and discuss common interests so you can get to know her as a person; if she truly is a part of the struggle of the proletariat, she won’t mind going dutch.
Dear Thomas Jefferson,
I’ve got a serious problem and I’ pretty sure only you can help. I was at a party a few weeks ago, I got kind of drunk, and I ended up hooking up with this girl. Thing is, she wasn’t my girlfriend. I feel awful about it, but I don’t know what to do. I haven’t told my girlfriend about it, and I’m wondering if I should. I really love her, and I think she’d forgive me, but would it be right?
Too Much Southern Comfort
Dear Southern Man,
When you choose to overindulge in spirits, there is a race to determine whether you run out of wisdom or honor first; the only certainty, as you have found, is that you will lose. In this instance, your impulse to unburden your conscience to your long-suffering significant other is not one born out of compassion, but rather one of guilt and further self-indulgence. The only course of action open to you at this point is to bear the knowledge of your misdeeds alone; keep your own counsel on this matter of impropriety, and let history be your judge.
Dear Sigmund Freud,
I’ve been with this girl for a while now, and things are getting pretty serious. I’m starting to think she might be The One. But how do you tell? I mean, I’m talking about making a commitment for the rest of my life. How can you be sure about something like that?
Ready to Make the Leap
It is understandable that you are hesitant about such a major life change, and decisions of such gravity bring a great deal of internal strife to everyone. Before settling on a course of action, explore your motivations; consider what might be driving you to take your relationship to this new and deeper level. Is it this girl in particular that makes you feel ready for a lifelong commitment, or are you simply responding to a suppressed need yet unfulfilled? While you’re at it, take a good look at her mother, because that’s what you’ll be married to in twenty years.
Dear Abraham Lincoln,
I’ve been married for a few months now, and I’m worried our life has gotten to be kind of routine. I want to mix things up a little bit, try to get “out of the rut”, but I’m not sure how. Do you have any suggestions of some fun, adventurous things we can do together?
Looking for Adventure
Dear Citizen of the Republic,
While I certainly respect and admire your desire to preserve the union you have with your wife, I wonder if you have given full thought to the many options available to you. While the drive for glory may seem attractive now, it soon pales before the simpler pleasures of hearth and home. May I suggest instead a special night in? Cook your new wife dinner; make some light conversation; perhaps a game of charades. Going out on the town is overrated.
Dear Mr. Napolean,
I had this guy I really liked and I thought he liked me to and I had a friend who was supposed to ask him if he liked me so I could find out if he liked me like I liked him but instead she asked him if he liked her and now they’re going together and I’m sad. Even worse all my other freinds arent talking to me because I said she was a poopyhead. What should I do?
Dear Mademoiselle Jennifer,
I also understand the pain of betrayal; to feel as if you are the emperor of the world one moment and a mere exile from all that you know the next. But fear not! With sufficient effort and planning, you can stage a coup d’etat against those who rule your current circumstances, and once again take your rightful place in your social circle. Make use of what you know about those who stand against you, and do not hesitate to spread their most shameful secrets to the world. Press your advantage ruthlessly, and crush them utterly. Do not forget that this is war; you do this not out of revenge, but to teach a lesson to others who might be tempted to stand against you, and to prevent further battle in the days to come.
There’s a girl I go to college with that I’d really like to get to know better. We take a few classes together, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask her out yet. I’m not sure if she’d be interested in me, and I’d be devastated if she turned me down. Should I go for it, or should I just try to stay friends?
It is well that you are in college, for the pursuit of knowledge is in itself a part of the path of virtue. It is however only one part; self-knowledge, the cultivation of virtue, and filial duty also play their roles. If you are a true gentleman, what woman would refuse you? You say you have classes in common; surely that is something you can use as a place to start a meaningful interaction. Failing that, try taking her father out for a round of golf.
In a recent post, I seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy regarding some stated opinions about feminism. One opinion I explicitly did not state was my opinion regarding abortion, as I felt it was at best tangential to the issues I was discussing at the time. It is a weighty and emotionally charged issue, and I did not want it to distract from the other issues I was trying to raise. However, it is also an issue worthy of serious discussion and debate, and I feel the time has come at last to lay out my position.
Before I begin, I want to make a few things clear. While I will do my best to discuss the matter as rationally and dispassionately as possible, that does not mean I am in any way immune to the emotional freight attendant to it. On the contrary, I am as invested as anyone in the matter. That having been said, I believe that any issue worthy of being debated as a matter of law, or even being considered as a matter of law, should be addressed as rationally as possible. The purpose of the law, in my view, is to allow us the time and distance to make decisions in a manner we would not and cannot in the heat of the moment.
All the necessary provisos aside, if it’s not clear from the title of this post, let me be clear now about my position: I am in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Before the gasps of shock or hateful comments begin, I ask that you read on to understand my reasoning; it is not something I came to by chance, nor did I simply go with what “feels right”. Like most everything else I believe, I started from the same base libertarian principles I have held for a very long time, and moving forward I have come to what I believe is the only logical conclusion. Also please note that I do not see it as an unlimited right, something else born out of those same libertarian convictions and that same logic. I welcome anyone to challenge me on the logic, or any point of fact, but please reserve points of faith for yourself, as I assure you that you will not sway me.
The first point I begin with is the fact that there is, indisputably, at least one person in this situation, a person who must be addressed, and that would be the woman in question. I know this might seem redundant, but sometimes it seems to me as if people who speak of a “right to life” have forgotten the existence of this person, or that she also has rights. Or does she? On this point, I turn to Murray Rothbard:
Let us set aside for a moment the corollary but more complex case of tangible property, and concentrate on the question of a man’s ownership rights to his own body. Here there are two alternatives: either we may lay down a rule that each man should be permitted (i.e., have the right to) the full ownership of his own body, or we may rule that he may not have such complete ownership. If he does, then we have the libertarian natural law for a free society as treated above. But if he does not, if each man is not entitled to full and 100 percent self-ownership, then what does this imply? It implies either one of two conditions: (1) the “communist” one of Universal and Equal Other-ownership, or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another—a system of rule by one class over another. These are the only logical alternatives to a state of 100 percent self-ownership for all.
I highly recommend reading the entire piece, as Rothbard explores the full (absurd) implications of each of the two positions he lays out, as well as building a strong defense for the notion that every person has an ownership right in their own body.
Having established that there is at least one person who has rights, we are left with the question of whether we as a society have a right to violate her right to self-determination. I do not deny that there are times when we can do so in the name of a greater justice, but those times must be in extremis, and most often are done so when there is a direct and credible threat to the life or property of another person. This is of course the assertion of the pro-life movement; that abortion is in fact a threat to the life of a person, and should therefore be banned. Let’s test that assertion, shall we?
One slogan that is often resorted to is “life begins at conception”. Perhaps, although that’s not saying much. Any single-cell organism qualifies as being “alive”, and we do not ascribe the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to every living creature on Earth. According to the Constitution Society, “[u]nder Common Law existing at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, “natural personhood” was considered to begin at natural birth and end with the cessation of the heartbeat.” However, they do go on to note that “technology has created a new situation, opening the way for statute or court decision to extend this definition and set the conditions under which personhood begins and ends.”
So that’s not definitive, although I do think it gives some guidance. Even if technology has pushed back the boundaries of what could be defined as “personhood”, I don’t think that any rational person would call a sperm a person, and yet there are rational people who would declare a zygote a person. I have to admit I don’t understand this. By the same standard, I wouldn’t deny that a fetus one minute before birth is as much a person as a baby one minute after being born. So where do we draw the line?
Ultimately I have to go with the concept of “personhood”, and the best definition I can attach to it in a very real, philosophical and moral sense for myself: the idea of a singular, individual consciousness that exists separate from another. This requires that the fetus be able to exist viably ex utero in order to be ascribed the rights of personhood. While I understand that development is not constant in all cases, and I am not up to date on the latest science on when that point is, I am fairly certain that moment is not at conception, but it is sometime before birth. In the same way that we draw a line to denote when someone becomes an adult regardless of individual development, so must we do so here. Because that’s what the law is: a set of boundaries that we as a society have agreed to in advance.
If anyone reading this has gotten this far and is still discomfited by my suggestions or finds them lacking in some way: good. So do I. This is not an issue we should be addressing with laws and courts. This is an issue we should be addressing with empathy, personal discussion, and the greatest respect possible. The simple fact is that no matter what side of the debate you are on, you have to acknowledge that no one considers abortion lightly, if at all. But trying to control another person by force is not the answer; denying a woman her right to self-determination will not win the day.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot more internet chatter about feminism, which I can only take to mean it’s on the rise again. This wounds me greatly, as I had hoped we lived in a Post sort of world. You know, post-racial, post-gender, post-political, Post brand cereals, whatever. But I guess that ship has sailed, and we’re right back to having the same arguments that we’ve been hashing over (and failing to reconcile) for decades.
So what does this mean for me personally? To be honest it means I’ve had to confront my own patriarchal misogynistic tendencies. Yes, I admit that I have them. Of course I have them. C’mon, I was born in the mid-seventies and educated in public schools. I’m lucky I can even spell “patriarchal misogynistic tendencies” let alone admit having them. And I do. But just like paranoid schizophrenics can still have enemies, misogynists can still be right from time to time.
Here’s my favorite example: I’ve had a crazy ex-girlfriend or two. Now don’t get me wrong on this; I actually have several exes, and for most of them I hope I hold the place of “pleasant memory”, and I more likely hold the place of “bullet, dodged.” Most of those ladies I don’t even think of anymore, and while I may have in my callous youth said some unkind things about them I at least have enough class to regret it. But the fact is I do have one or two truly crazy ex-girlfriends. I even have objective witnesses of both genders to back me up. But here’s the problem: everything I’ve seen in the feminist orthodoxy says that’s wrong. That somehow I’m as much to blame as they are, if not more so, simply because I was a willing participant in the relationship. Boy, that’s not blaming the victim much, now is it? Only I can’t be a victim, because of my gender. That’s one.
My next favorite is things like quotas, preferences, and government set-asides. There are plenty of these designed to help women get ahead in school, in business, and in civil service. Setting aside the question of their efficacy, I wonder about their essential morality. Is this just? Is it right to single out one gender and favor them over another? And if so, for how long? Sure you may feel you are correcting some sort of societal imbalance, but when there’s no limit set the assumption is that injustice is either endemic to society or the individuals that comprise it (which are basically one and the same). With women graduating from college at higher rates than men and getting more advanced degrees than men these days, have we reached the day we no longer need these set asides? If not, will we soon? Will we ever? That’s two.
And hey, for the third issue, let’s go for a hat trick of issues that all tie together: divorce, custody, and child support. Despite the great gains that have been made by women in the workplace and men in the home, the default assumption that is near impossible to overcome in any divorce proceeding is that a man should support a woman “in the style she has become accustomed to”, and if there are kids they will almost always go to mom unless dad has absolute iron-clad proof she is a drug-addled child molester. In that case the kids will probably wind up with her parents. Fathers without custody will be tasked with child support (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that) and hunted down like the dogs they are if they miss a single payment (a bit draconian, but hard to argue with), and in the rare event a mom doesn’t have custody she has to… well, how often are they ordered to pay child support? And when was the last time you heard the phrase “dead-beat mom”? And please don’t feed me some line about women being “nurturers”. Remember, we don’t assign gender roles in this classroom. So that’s three.
Last but not least is a real touchy one and the one I expect to catch the most hell over, but I feel the need to say it since nobody else will. First a clarification: I am not taking a stance on abortion here. That’s another post entirely. I do have an opinion, a strong one, but I don’t want to cloud the issue with that argument. Let’s simply take as given that Roe v Wade is the law of the land. So women have the right to decide, once they are pregnant, whether or not they will have a child. What right do men have in this arrangement? If he disagrees with her choice, either way, he is powerless. Completely at her mercy. He can beg, plead, persuade as best he might (and please don’t suggest threatening because I will gladly see a man in jail for that), but he has no recourse before the law. If you believe that is fair, turn the situation around. Put a woman in ANY situation in which she is bound for almost twenty years by a single decision that a man makes on her behalf, even if he is bound by that same decision, and tell me that it’s still fair. Here’s an alternative: let him surrender his parental rights if he doesn’t want the child. It’s not everything, but it’s more than nothing.
Life’s not fair. I get that. But why is it that women get to cry “life’s not fair” and call it a movement? Why do men have to stand by on the sidelines and simply accept the slow chipping away at our dignity and all the good we have in order to make the world an acceptable place? There is injustice in the world, this I understand; that is a fact that is not limited by gender, ethnicity, or politics, and we should all stand against it. But robbing from Peter to give to Paulina does not create a better world; injustice is not the answer to injustice; misandry is not the cure for misogyny.
I’m sure everyone has their own guidelines for what makes a good relationship. Between two friends of mine I have heard the entire spectrum, from a simple “am I as happy with this person three months in as I was the day we first met?” to a test that runs to several pages (I am not making this up). For myself, I long ago developed my own simple guidelines that have worked exceptionally well, and that I am at last ready to share with the world. They are as follows:
- Can I wake up next to this person without flinching?
- Can I put up with their shit?
- Can they put up with my shit?
Now, before I catch any grief over these questions, allow me to point out that this is the Dating Rorschach Test™. What you get out of it is what you put into it. Let’s take it one question at a time and you’ll see what I mean.
Can I wake up next to this person without flinching?
I’ll admit it, when I first came up with this question, I was about 15, and it was my entire standard for dating. And yes, it was all about looks. But then, as I got into my early twenties, it took on new depth and dimensions, like carefully leaning over and checking her ID, hoping not to wake her while I make sure I won’t get arrested- well, anyway, the point is I grew as a person. By the time I met the woman who would become my wife this question took on some real meaning. Will I still have self-respect when I wake up? Can I seriously see myself discussing matters of import with her? Does she fulfill my intellectual and emotional needs as well as being beautiful? (Hey, I never said I stopped being shallow). So what do you need in order to be able to wake up next to someone without flinching?
Can I put up with their shit?
I added this one in when I was about nineteen or so, after a string of short, tumultuous, and painful relationships that seemed to have one common thread: wacko girlfriends. I was absolutely convinced that every single girl I had dated to that point was batshit crazy. Quite the coincidence, and if I had any concept of basic probability I would have seen the flaw in my logic, but it took another few years for me to sort that one out (see below for that). The one good thing that came out of it was that I was able to recognize that, if I was going to sustain any kind of relationship, I was either going to have to find the perfect woman who had no flaws whatsoever and then convince her that she wanted to date me, or I would have to learn to live with another human being’s imperfections. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, even I didn’t have the kind of hubris necessary for option A, so I went with B. I know this doesn’t sound like much of a leap, but seriously, I’ve seen a lot of “adults” who still need to pick up on this one, so cut my younger self a little slack. The key, I realized, was to find someone whose craziness was compatible with mine, or that I at least didn’t find too noxious.
What does this mean for you? Whatever you need it to mean. Does leaving dirty socks on the floor drive you crazy? How about owning too many shoes? How do you feel about Friday night being “hangin’ with my boys night”? Or saying “whatever” and walking away being considered a perfectly acceptable way to end a conversation? Think about it, because what seems cute now might getting annoying a year from now, and what’s annoying now will drive you batshit crazy a year from now. And after almost a decade dating and married with my wife, I can say this is one of the most important points to consider. The other one is…
Can they put up with my shit?
So it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I figured this one out. As one Demotivational poster points out, “The only consistent feature in all of your dissatisfying relationships is you.” I finally realized that it’s not enough for me to be happy with the person I’m with; it might be within the realm of possibility that it’s just barely a chance there could be some fraction of a notional option of a thought I could be somewhat close to less than perfect (I’m able to acknowledge my flaws). Put another way, I’m an acquired taste. I may even have the occasional annoying habit, like leaving dirty socks on the floor, according to my wife. Although I still swear that was the dog. That we didn’t get until we had been married for a year. He has a time machine, like Mr. Peabody. He’s been using it to get me in trouble for years.
The point is tolerance in a relationship is a two-way street. We always think of relationships as being about love and respect and sex and sunshine and rainbows and all that jazz, but the reality day to day is that more often than not relationships are about listening to somebody tell the same story you’ve already heard a hundred times and I really don’t care about your level twenty barbarian honey but you go ahead and tell me anyway if it’ll make you happy and- sorry, got a little carried away there. What was I saying? Oh yeah. The point is relationships are about living with another person, in close proximity, every day, hopefully for the rest of your life. That’s a recipe for friction more often than happiness, which is why you need to find someone who can tolerate your bad habits, whether it’s leaving dirty socks lying around, telling the same stupid stories over and over, or blaming it all on the dog.
The Dating Rorschach Test™
So there you have it. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have your own standards for finding a mate. But at least I can say mine worked for me. And in the end, that’s all I ever wanted out of it.
My friends want to throw me a bachelor party. Knowing them, it will involve strippers, booze, drugs, the works. I promised my fiancée I would stay away from that kind of stuff, but I’m really tempted to go, and I’d hate to let the guys down. What should I do?
I am unsure how to advise you in this instance, for your status in this world has much bearing on the matter. Are you a common man, or are you a prince? For it is well known that those actions which are considered most virtuous in a common man are in fact a vice in a prince, and that which would be vice for the lowest laborer is in fact raised to holy virtue when undertaken by a prince. Be you of the lower classes, stay true to your course and all will be well. Be you my liege, I pray you, indulge yourself.
Dear Adam Smith,
I’m meeting a girl for a first date, and I’m not sure what I should bring. I know tradition calls for flowers and chocolates, but do modern ladies still go for that sort of thing? Or would I just come across old fashioned?
Lonely and Confused
The women of this age are as they have always been and as they shall always be, a part of the broader tapestry of our economic fabric. To deny that is to deny the truth of what makes all nations mighty. If you would impress and woo the lady, I would suggest you show her that you care for your nation by supporting the lifeblood of the nation: commerce. Support the florist, the chocolatier, yea, even the dressmaker and the milliner. In this way you shall prove you are a great philanthropist as well as a mighty provider.
My girlfriend and I have been together for over two years, and we love each other very much. I’m thinking about proposing, but there’s just one problem. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s had this dream of a big church wedding. I’m agnostic, and both of my parents are atheists. I just don’t see that working out. Can you help?
In Love but Not In Church
Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent. Every church is a stone on the grave of a god-man: it does not want him to rise up again under any circumstances. Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves? It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages. Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.
What I’m saying here is just rent out the local VFW Hall.
My boyfriend cheated on me a few months ago, and I just can’t seem to let it go. I still care about him, but I can’t get past this, and it is ruining our relationship. Should I forgive him or should I move on?
What you fail to understand is that your concerns are not real. They are simply the shadows of old wounds that you cling to out of fear of losing the illusions you have lived with all your life. Throw off the shackles of your fear, and acknowledge that which torments you is naught but a specter cast by the flickering light of a neon vacancy sign. Do not turn your anger on those who would drag you into the light of truth, but rather on the one who has in truth earned it, and kick him to the curb.
I feel as though my life has been spiraling out of control lately, and I just don’t know what to do. I am looking for some sense of balance, but I can’t abandon my wife to withdraw from society and meditate in nature for a lifetime. Is there some weekend course I can take to achieve enlightenment quickly?
Seeker of Truth
Dear Ineffable One,
While in days past the search for the Tao could take a lifetime, modern society no longer has the proper respect for the venerable sage. Where the strongest oak will break in a hurricane, the supple reed will simply bend. So too does the Eternal Tao adapt to change. If you seek to understand the Way, simply wear an outfit from JCPenney while eating a sandwich from Chick-Fil-A. In this way you will know balance.
Dear Sun Tzu,
My name is Jenny and I am eight years old and there’s a boy I really like and I don’t know if he likes me back and I don’t know how to ask him if he likes me and I was wondering if you could tell me how I should ask him. Thank you very much for you help.
Dear Jen Ni,
The strong warrior charges in like an ox; the wise warrior is subtle and flows like water. To gauge your opponent’s intentions, send your most trusted lieutenant forward on a scouting mission to determine where he lies. If conditions seem favorable, I would suggest you send a missive of alliance, stating your intentions indirectly yet plainly, constraining your opponent’s choices to those that you would find most favorable: “Do you like me? Yes_ Very Much_”
I’ve been privileged to work in and around offices for the better part of the last twenty years, and in that time I’ve developed somewhat of a philosophy on appropriate office decorum. I call it a philosophy because, like most kinds of philosophy, it doesn’t seem to have any place in the world today or really any bearing on the world as it actually exists. But I’m going to share it with you anyway. Attire, attitude, and behavior; made simple, these are the three elements to appropriate office decorum. The subtleties and complexities of each are what seem to elude so many people in the modern American office.
First let’s cover attire, and I chose that wording deliberately. Ladies, I’m looking at you. Hell, I can’t help it, it’s not like you leave me many other options. I have no idea when it became de rigueur to wear the most revealing outfit you can get away with (or can’t…), but believe me when I say you aren’t doing your career any favors. Look at it this way: when you are delivering that presentation you spent weeks putting together, do you want me paying attention to your work or your – ahem − assets? Think about it, because the choice you make will define how you’re viewed for a long time to come.
Guys, don’t think I don’t have something to say to you as well. Just because “Casual Friday” has turned into “I Never Have to Wear a Suit Ever Weekday” doesn’t mean you can get away with murder. Buy a button-up shirt, consider wearing khakis now and again, and make damn sure you actually DO own a suit that fits and looks good, because the day is going to come you have an important meeting and you want to look like you showed up for it. On that note, keep a neutral tie in your desk. It doesn’t take long to put it on, and it dresses up almost any outfit. Even a basic button down shirt and jeans looks better with a tie.
Here’s a couple dressing hints that cut both ways. First, if you aren’t sure how to dress, overdress a little; people will rarely fault you for it, and they will always fault you for being underdressed. Besides, some of the best advice I ever got was “it’s a lot easier to take off a jacket you don’t need than to pull one out of thin air when you do need it.”
Next, LOSE THE DAMN FLIP FLOPS. Yes girls, that includes you. I don’t care how cute they are, they’re impractical and unprofessional. Guys who wear flip flops to work deserve to be hauled off to the nearest stocks and beaten on their improperly protected feet. Grow up, frat boy. Only one step up from this noxious practice is people who wear sneakers to the office on a regular basis. When you own the company you may feel free to wear whatever you want. Until then, try putting on some adult shoes when you leave the house in the morning.
The next step is attitude. When I was younger I used to do some acting, and there was an adage that went something to the tune of “leave your baggage at the stage door.” This is a wonderful notion that was never respected but often should have been, and would benefit the world of business greatly. Because here’s the great big secret of business that they never tell you in school, and I’m going to share it with you right now, so pay close attention: nobody cares. Not a morning person? Guess what cupcake, nobody cares. Boyfriend broke up with you? Sorry sunshine, nobody cares. Feeling hung over from partying all night? Sing it with me in the key of C, nobody cares!
What’s even worse is that most of the time even if somebody seems like they care, they’re just being polite, which gives you the false impression that it’s okay to bring your personal problems to work with you. It’s really not. This isn’t a therapy office, unless you work in a therapist’s office, in which case you aren’t getting paid to be in therapy so please wait your turn. The proper attitude at work is one of engaged interest. Try to show up every day ready to be an active participant, whether you really feel it or not, and give it an honest effort.
Finally, proper office behavior. I could do an entire post on proper (or improper) office behavior and still not cover even the most offensive behaviors. So I’ll just touch on the ones that bother me the most:
Gossip is not a valid means of communication. At best it is confusing and misleading. At worst it is divisive, cruel, and hurtful. If you don’t believe me, ask any girl over the age of five. I’m not saying don’t chat with others, and I understand that some information has to be kept in confidence. But consider it like this: would you say what you just said to anybody who has a right to hear it to their face? If not, then why did you say it?
Use your indoor voice. If I can hear you from down the hall, you are speaking too loudly. If I can hear you from the next room, you are still speaking too loudly. If someone can hear you from down the hall and I am sharing an office with you, you won’t be speaking at all very soon.
Forming cliques. I know some people say this is inevitable, and maybe it even is, which is a sad statement about the nature of humanity. I like to believe that those people just aren’t considering all the facts. For my money a clique is a group of people who shut out others and begin to make important decisions (either socially or politically within the organization) amongst themselves. If there’s no chance for anyone else to get into this group, that makes it a clique. If others can join over time, it’s just folks who have known each other a long time. It’s a fine distinction, but where cliques are poisonous, forming long-term associations gives longevity to an organization.
Careless office romances. Note that I said careless office romances. Truth is any careless romance is bad, it’s just that when you work in the same office you have to run into each other every day, which makes it that much worse if things go south. Not to mention the car pool gets awkward. You can still have romance at the office, just be smart about it.
Don’t whine. Trust me when I say nobody’s job is anywhere near as much fun as you think it is. Even the guy whose job it is to play with puppies all day is probably allergic by now. If you think someone else is getting to do everything you want to do, maybe they are. They also have to do all kinds of things you either don’t want to do or have no idea how to do, mostly owing to the fact that you’re too busy whining about how you don’t get to do the “fun stuff” to bother learning it. There’s also a zero percent chance anyone will want to work with you when their perception of you is the guy who won’t do the things that need doing, but instead will always have his eye on the things he wants to do.
So what is proper office behavior? Put short, do what I did: find someone you want to be and try to be like them. Don’t ignore their flaws, just don’t emulate them. If you ever find yourself growing out of that role, find a new role model. And no matter what, don’t wear flip flops to work.
I’ve already given guys a blast of bile for their pathetic attempts at making women the source of their perpetual dating woes, so I feel it’s only fair that I turn the petty hate machine (dodged that copyright bullet!) on the gentler sex. One of the biggest issues I have with women, and this is not all women but a significant enough minority to be worth mentioning, is the ones who engage in the following pattern:
- Date “the wrong guy”.
- Insist on making an issue out of it/complaining about it. Loudly.
- Go back to him for more. Repeatedly.
- Finally break up with him.
- Rinse and repeat.
“How do I always find myself in this position?” is a refrain I have often heard. Let me answer that bluntly: by opening your eyes after you have already put yourself in that position. No, I’m not trying to blame the victim here, I’m trying to get everybody, men and women alike, to start taking responsibility for the choices they make and the consequences of those choices. Let me play Jacob Marley for a moment and introduce you to the Ghosts of Your Choices Past, Present, and Future. They may help shed some light on the reasons you end up reliving the same “relationships” over and over.
Going to clubs and bars to meet men. I’ve heard that women go to clubs to dance and have a good time. This is a foreign concept to me and every straight man in existence (I can’t speak for the gay men, although the ones I have known generally favored clubbing as a means of picking up guys as well.) That’s the first strike against meeting someone at a club; you’re there for two completely different reasons. You may want to meet someone to hang out with; he’s there to meet someone to hook up with. Even if you are both interested in more than a one night – if that – stand, consider the environment of a club. It’s crowded, loud, dark except for the flashing lights, and oh yeah, you and everybody else is likely to be drunk. So your expectation is that… he’s going to be charmed by your rapier wit? The depth of your knowledge on the Crimean War? Or the tattoo of Mickey Mouse on your thigh? Speaking of which…
Dressing like a whore. Dave Chappelle covered this one already in Killin’Them Softly, so I’m just going to quote him verbatim: “The girl says ‘Oh uh-uh, wait a minute! Wait a minute! Just because I’m dressed this way does not make me a whore!’ Which is true. Gentlemen, that is true. Just because they dress a certain way doesn’t mean they are a certain way. Don’t ever forget it. But ladies, you must understand that is fucking confusing. It just is. Now that would be like me, Dave Chappelle, the comedian, walking down the street in a cop uniform. Somebody might run up on me, saying, ‘Oh, thank God. Officer, help us! Come on. They’re over here. Help us!’ ‘Oh-hoh! Just because I’m dressed this way does not make me a police officer!’ See what I mean? All right, ladies, fine. You are not a whore. But you are wearing a whore’s uniform.”
Showing no respect for yourself. This goes well beyond where you go or how you dress. This goes into how you approach your entire life. Simply put, when 90% of your time in a given situation is misery, and you stay in that situation, you are not respecting yourself. I don’t care if this is a relationship, a job, a housing situation, time with a “friend” (why do we even need the term “frienemy” anyway?), or anything else. No, life is not perfect, and sometimes you have to suck it up. But just because 10% is great does not justify the other 90% being misery. Stand up for yourself, treat yourself right, and don’t let others treat you differently.
Showing no respect for the men you date. Ever wonder why you can’t keep a good man? Take a look at the way you treat them. There are women who take advantage of men, use them as walking credit cards, ignore their emotional needs, dump on them all the time, screech at them and deride them. My favorite is the physical abuse double standard. “Gentlemen don’t hit ladies.” “It was just a little tap.” “Oh, get over it you big baby.” And then they wonder why he left. Here’s a hint: spend one day letting a guy treat you the way you treated him. Be honest. See if you can make it a full twenty-four.
At the end of the day, you picked them. Here’s a hint: if you have ever uttered the words “you’re a nice guy, but…” to a guy who has asked you out, you are part of the problem, not the solution, and I’ll tell you why. Option one is you lied to him. He’s not a nice guy, you would never date him, and in fact you are looking for someone to recue you at this moment. Unless you are in fear for your physical health, this is a cheap cop-out. Option two is that you do mean it, he is a nice guy, but you just can’t see yourself dating him. But then you really don’t have a good answer for the follow-up question; you think you do, but you don’t, because you ask the same question yourself in a different form all the time.
Here’s that question, and you need to think about it in solitude, when you’re not under emotional pressure from some guy trying to hook up with you: “Why?” Why can’t you see yourself dating him? You just admitted he’s a nice guy. Or to flip it around, you so often ask “Why can’t I find a nice guy to date?” There he is. He came to you, and you turned him away. But you said yes, time and again, to the guy who was bad to you and for you.
Life is not simply what happens to us as we are passive recipients; life is the result of our active choices. As Geddy Lee sang, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Your love life is the same way. It does not happen to you; it is the accumulation of the choices you have made, and will continue to be exactly that. When you want to have something better, you will need to make it for yourself, or at the very least recognize it when it comes along.
Today I want to reach out to the lonely guys. The ones who sit by themselves, pining away for the perfect girl who just hasn’t noticed how perfectly perfect he is for her, and one day they will live a perfectly perfect life together that will be just perfect. You know who you are. Chances are you think you’re this girl’s best friend; hell, she’s even told you so on more than one occasion. It just kills you a little more inside each time she does, but that’s okay, because someday she’ll see the real you, and dump that asshole boyfriend she keeps going back to. Yeah, it’s gonna happen. Any day now.
I’m here to tell you some truths you need to hear, some things you may not have heard before or maybe you have, but I say them in a way you haven’t heard them before: I say them with love in my heart, because I was you, once upon a time. Yes, my friends, I was that guy. If you don’t believe me I can provide more than a few character witnesses, but suffice to say I had my angsty teenage moments that stretched into years, and I finally found the cure.
Here’s what I want you to do: put down the half-caff latte. Step away from the copy of “Say Anything”. Drop the composition notebook full of shitty love poetry that you refuse to show to anyone anyway because “they just don’t understand you”. Understand this: you are not John Cusack, and life is not a romantic comedy. Two hours from now you will still be lonely, she will still be with him, and nothing will be different.
Now here are some of the unhelpful things you may be used to hearing, along with the typical responses (which happen internally more often than not):
Them: “You just need to be yourself.”
You: “Who else am I?”
Them: “You just need some confidence.”
You: “How am I supposed to do that?”
Them: “You’ll find the right girl… eventually.”
I’m going to address these one at a time, as they are generally a mix of (as you have guessed by now) hopeful optimism and outright deception. Let’s start from the top. First off, who you need to be depends on what you want. If you keep getting rejected time and again by women, maybe “being yourself” shouldn’t be the top of your priority list. Instead, consider being somebody else. For instance, consider being someone who doesn’t come across as creepy. Also, being someone who has a job, doesn’t live with his parents, owns a car, understands basic hygiene, and has some concept of social graces can do wonders for you. Assuming you already have all of these going for you, you can move on to the next item on the list.
Confidence. Ah, that old canard. Maybe the problem isn’t confidence but communication skills. Here’s a phrase to practice while looking in the mirror: “Yes, actually.” Use this phrase the next time the girl who thinks you’re “best friends” asks something like “Are you asking me out?” or “Did you think this was a date?” or “Wait, are you straight?” You’ll be amazed at how quickly it will change the dynamic of your relationship. Most of the time it will end your relationship, but at least you will be confident about where you stand on getting a date with her. Ever. Oh, and while you’re looking in the mirror, how about comparing your wardrobe to that “asshole” she’s dating? Is he wearing the same kind of clothes now that he was wearing in the seventh grade? Are you? If the answer to one of those questions was “yes”, I bet I can guess which one. (Unless he’s a hipster. If she’s dating a hipster she deserves him.)
Finally, you’ll meet the right girl when you stop chasing after the wrong ones. Everybody has heard that women can smell desperation, but nobody has any idea what that means. Well, lucky you, I’m going to give you a little hint. WOMEN ARE NOT STUPID. If a woman sees you panting after every other woman around and asking them all out, getting shot down by each in turn before you deign to ask her out, do you really think she’s going to be grateful you finally got around to her? Conversely, if you hang on her every word, doing everything she asks of you all the time in the hopes she may grace you with just a morsel of her attention, why should she give a damn about you?
So what do all these things have in common? Respect. Respect for yourself, and respect for the woman you want to have in your life. When you respect yourself enough to hold yourself to that higher standard, others will see it and want you for who you are. When you respect others enough to clearly communicate your wants and needs without being needy and without treating them like objects or simply placeholders, you come across as confident. And when you see women as intelligent partners in meaningful relationships, not simple conquests or objects of worship, the right girl will find you.