Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mad Men: Season 7, episode 2: Sincerity and authenticity

Get me in a room!

Dion says that all the time. Someone, say Ken, says that a particular company is reportedly looking for a new agency and Don says, "Get me in a room".

Remember this?
The Japanese have a saying, 'A man is whatever room is in.' And right now, Don Draper is in this room.
That is Bert's answer to Pete's claim that Don Draper is really a military deserter named Dick Whitman back in the episode "Nixon versus Kennedy" in season one. It is significant now because Don Draper is not in the room. He is not in his office, he is not in the conference room. And if he isn't in the room anymore, who is he?

And it's not just Don who is worrying about the room they are in.
  • Pete and Ted are not in the room for the partners meeting so take part by teleconference.
  • Then Pete has a thing about working his way up to another office and how meaningless that seems in the new LA office. 
  • And Roger wants to know why they aren't in the conference room.
  • Don wants to know where Lou sat in the room where Don wasn't.
  • Joan is in a room where her identity is split between two jobs, she even has two doors.
Those people see their identity much as Bert describes it in the first season. If they can get into the right room, they are confident they can establish their identity through their performance.

Okay, let's take a break and talk about sincerity for a moment because sincerity has a lot to do with identity and which rooms you are or are not in. Here is a paragraph from a review of a recent book about sincerity.
Before he arrives at sincerity’s present-day rarity, Magill agilely traces his subject through the ages. The word first appeared as a description of objects. A sword was “sincerely” bronze, meaning pure. When, around 1533, sincerity first began to be used to describe people, it referred to faith. The definition broadened when, in the Elizabethan era, the birth of theater, along with the relaxing of sumptuary laws, meant that it was more difficult to tell sincerity by appearance.
The birth of theatre and the relaxing of sumptuary laws! If you aren't familiar with the term, sumptuary laws were laws that prevented prosperous merchants from dressing as well as the nobility. These laws are universal. They spring up in medieval Europe and in Japan, for example. Those two societies were pretty much unaware of one another's existence so neither can be said to have picked the idea up from the other. Both societies had an identical need: when trade started producing a wealthier  merchant class, laws needed to be passed so that it was possible to tell the real nobility apart from the newly wealthy merchants.

I trust that the relevance to Mad Men is clear? If you combine that with theatre, the notion of playing a role, and you have our central problem. Why is Don Draper really Don Draper? Because he is and he remains Don Draper year after year even though he "really" isn't, whatever that means.

If that is the problem, then sincerity can seem like a solution.



Do you have Jesus in your heart? That's a question about sincerity.

If you don't like sincerity, you can always try authenticity. That's Peggy's approach. Her need is not being in a room but to be in a relationship. It's not quite that she is no one without a man; rather it is that being in a loving relationship will validate her sense of self.

The two approaches to personal identity aren't mirror images of one another. Proving your sincerity is ultimately a matter of performance. If I ask if you are sincere, you can make promises but ultimately the proof is in your performance. If I ask if you are authentic, then your performance is no help. Think of Senator Elizabeth Warren having claimed to be aboriginal. She can't back that claim up by performing as an Indian. That performance would to undermine her claim and the better the performance was, the more it would undermine. Authenticity claims to be something that is left over when you peel away all the performance. It is something you have even when you aren't in the room.

What sincerity and authenticity both have in common is that they both rely on others to recognize us.

Sincerity works like this. The delivery boy can wear a Hugo Boss suit when he takes a package to the conference room and that gets him into the room with the right clothes on (and here you can see the point of sumptuary laws) but he can only cause confusion. To pull the trick off, he needs to get others to recognize him as legit. They have to recognize not just his right to be in the room but his legitimacy in a certain role.

Authenticity is what Peggy wants. Peggy needs to be loved because she thinks love is going to validate her sense of self. No, that isn't very feminist but it is in line with her character so far. If she is really going to change, she needs to see her identity in her performance and not in some hoped-for authenticity that needs to be validated by others.

If your Peggy, you are looking for something that feels deeper. I would argue that it only feels deeper. Peel away the cover, and authenticity is a cask of vapours.

Don Draper's guide to parenting

I think just about everyone misread what happened between Don and Sally.

What they miss is this: a good parent-child relationships has to be unequal.

There was a great kerfuffle a few years ago when some minor celebrity said she loved her husband more than her children. People told her they were going to turn her into social services so they would take her children. Really! The thing is that she was right, although I don't think she realized why.

A parent who gets their emotional needs satisfied through their relationship with their children is a bad parent. It's not fair to the child. A good parent gets their emotional needs satisfied through their relationships with other adults, preferably a spouse. That way they are always able to give more to the child. Paradoxically, loving the child less is the more generous and giving way to love them. Anything else is just narcissism pretending to be love.

I read various recaps and see people celebrating Sally as Don's possible salvation and I am filled with horror. That would be deeply dishonest. As I've said many times before, Mad Men is chronicling a cultural disaster; it would be awful to have it end being just one more example of that disaster like Oprah Winfrey. Don does not need Sally's love. I'm sure he appreciates it but he doesn't need it.

The really important detail here, and I haven't seen anyone else note this, is that the real problem for Sally is Sylvia. That, and not Don's lie, is what troubled her the most about going to the apartment. Don has let his daughter down and now he has a chance to show her he can be a good father. That, and not her approval, is what he really should be doing. On that reading, her saying she loves him is important because now he is back in that room at least.

And I know a lot of people are going to hate this but the key is that no one, but no one, respects Betty.

Related to the above, consider two lines. First line, Sally talking to her friends at school about the death of another girl's mother says, "I'd stay here until 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground." She is at the age where kids often transfer their primary loyalty from their mother to their father.

I know, "But, but, but feminism, Betty Friedan, the problem without a name!" Don't care, Betty is a lousy parent.

Second line, Sally and Don are arguing about one another's lies to the other. Sally, as everyone notes says, that is more embarrassing to catch Don in a lie than to let him lie to her. Don's answer is, "So you just laid in wait like your mother." And then Sally says, "Do you know how hard it was for me to go to your apartment? I could have run into that woman!" She means Sylvia.

Before I go on, note how casually Sally accepts Don's characterization of Betty.

Okay, now on to the real problem. That is what upsets Sally and not any of Don's other lies. She wants him to be a father and not another child like Betty. And that is problem he pulls off the road to solve.

But how do solve that problem?

They talk about adult problems. Sally gets to see that adults don't know the answer to everything. That's important because every kid goes through a stage of thinking that being an adult means knowing how to deal with everything. And now she sees that it isn't like that. And then Don plays a game of pretending they are going to dine and dash. That's a scared child's solution and it's what Dick Whitman would do. The key to actually being Don and not the Dick inside him, is not being like that. And Don shows Sally that he knows the difference. If I am right, it is seeing that that makes Sally feel better.

Bullets


  • I've said this before and I'll say it again, a good book to contrast with Mad Men is about is The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff. It's the story of a man who passed himself off as an aeronautical engineer despite having no training. It's a different story, which is why I say "contrast", and understanding how it is different helps to make Don's good qualities easier to see.
  • I read about thirty recaps over the last two days. This is something that, trust me, I will never do again. I did because I have begun to suspect that most are just glorified plot summaries. I now know that most recaps are just glorified plot summaries. I can't help but think that the real point of most recaps is to save people the trouble of actually watching the show.
  • This episode did not deal with race well. It didn't really deal with race at all. It flattered its audience and the audience are now patting themselves on the back for being so perceptive and wonderful and totally non-racist. I mean, it's not like good liberal New York City has the most segregated schools in the nation or anything.
  • Ginsberg's cruel joke about Peggy's loneliness when he suggests that "masturbate gloomily" is an agenda item for her Valentines' Day rang completely false. Even to have suggested that women masturbate in a general way might have only passed muster in 1969 if the remark were made in an all-male environment. To say so of a particular woman who was your boss would not have been acceptable even in a locker room.
  • Two telling quotes from recaps I read:
  1. I beg you, Matt Weiner, please don’t try to make Lou sympathetic by revealing his wife is dying of cancer or something: In a morally ambiguous world, it’s refreshing to have someone hate.
  2. This leads her to the offices of SC&P, where she runs into Lou, who is a piece of human trash who should be disposed of immediately.
The people who said those things, these are from recaps from the LA Times and the Washington Post, are no doubt firmly convinced that it is not they but others who are the haters. The second is the worst; what do you call it when someone Godwins themselves?


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mad Men: Time Zones

It was an entertaining episode. I've watched it three times in the last 24 hours and even the third time was entertaining. But will the final 14 shows be morally satisfying?

Hank Stuever, at the Washington Post, asks the question that most of us are asking in one way or another.
Perhaps “Mad Men” is crashing and burning before our eyes. It’s as watchable as ever, and also as unsatisfying as ever, as it veers toward the helter-skelter. What is its strongest theme? What question is it trying to answer? Who is the most important character here? Watching Sunday’s episode further broadens the field of possible (and wacko) answers, up to and including a sneaking suspicion that there is no such thing as Don Draper — even beyond his stolen identity. 

Wouldn’t that be something, for Weiner to reveal that Don was just a figment, a ghost? If any show has the right (or the courage) to pull the lever marked “it was all just a dream,” shouldn’t it be “Mad Men?” Because in every way that matters, it already is a dream.
I should say that I've often found Mad Men satisfying but I have no idea how Matt Weiner finishes this. Contrary to what most critics say, I don't think the ending of the Sopranos was much good and I thought the ending of Breaking Bad was deeply dishonest. In any case, Mad Men is a head and shoulders above those shows. I expect better from it.

Abandonment

When Peggy falls to her knees at the end, she looks up as if she were praying. That seems important to me. I've seen people break down in tears in real life. They turn down. If you are in an empty room when you break down and you look up, you're appealing to God and that remains true even if you don't officially believe in him.

The reason I find this show so compelling is abandonment. I've never minded being alone. I've spent a lot of my life alone. I spend hours each day alone working at my computer or iPad. I don't think about it and it doesn't bother me. What tears me apart me is abandonment. When a woman I loved cheated on me, many years ago now, the thing that tore me apart was not the sexual issues but the feeling of abandonment: the feeling that she didn't even think about me when I wasn't around.

The central theme of Mad Men is loss and longing. In one way or another, all of the main characters have had to deal with it. Freddy Rumsen says to Don,
You know, I've been there; you don't want to be damaged goods.
But you are damaged goods. If you think otherwise, it's because you haven't lived long enough. Your cross is coming. It isn't what damages you, though. It just makes you painfully aware of where the damage is.

Stuever's comment  also reminds me of the MacGuffin issue. Draper is the MacGuffin and that means that ultimately the story isn't his. Like Moses, whom he was compared to several time sin the first season, he is unlikely to enter the promised land himself. As Don explained Mohawk Airlines in season two:
That Indian. That's not about the majestic beauty of the Mohawk nation. It's about adventure. Could be a pirate, a knight in shining armor, could be a conquistador getting of a boat. It's about a fantastical people who are taking you someplace you've never been.
A fantastical people taking you somewhere you've never been. He didn't mention the Israelites but he could have. It's funny to think of Madison Avenue leading the revolution except for the fact that it's true. As I said four years ago, Don Draper turns the 1960s mythology on its head.

The most troubling scene in this episode was that between Margaret and Roger. As usual, Margaret is being aggressive, this time under the guise of being forgiving. The thought that worries me is, Does Matt Weiner realize this? Or does he see Margaret as doing something good that will liberate Roger? 

Like Stuever, I've sometimes imagined a fight club interpretation where someone, perhaps Don, turns out to have been the figment of someone else's imagination all along. I favoured Roger for the role of imaginary Tyler Durden myself in the first few seasons but his character has, unfortunately, been diminished the last few seasons. I say unfortunately because the old Roger lit up the screen every time he walked into a scene. The new Roger is pathetic.

Ultimately, though, a fight club interpretation wouldn't work for two reasons. 

First, it wouldn't work because Don isn't a monster. Last year saw Weiner pleading with people not to hate Don. His problem is that the critics want to see Don fail while the lion's share of fans want to see him succeed. The critics want him to fail—I think they will insist on it or they will write the finale off as a miserable failure. Most of the rest of us, however, like the guy and want to see him succeed.

Second, and more importantly, it wouldn't work because of the nature of the story it is. It operates like a founding myth. Think of the opening of this episode. Suddenly we have Freddy Rumsen, played by an actor who has about the same manliness status as Matt Weiner, speaking right at us, breaking the fourth wall as it were. Except, we know he's not precisely because it seems as if he is. Anything and everything in this show that seems to cut past illusion to reality turns out to be a dead end. This is a phenomenological life. You only have the impressions of things and never things themselves. But the impressions can be shared with others. 

Once upon a time, breaking down the fourth wall was seen as a daring thing to do. Mad Men is a show that insists that, no matter what you do, even when there is no camera, there is always a fourth wall. You can't change that. 

Matt Weiner on Don:
“There’s been a constant assertion about Don being out of touch, and that, by 1968, his style of advertising isn’t working anymore. I’ve never felt that,” Weiner says. “What I do feel, particularly last season, is that society has caught up to him. Identity issues caught up with society, which made the society more like Don. He’s never been MORE in touch. 
“The world is changing. That was the original intention of the show. And change makes everybody feel out of place.”
We might finish the thought by saying, he has never been more in touch except for right now.

Final thought: For melodrama to work, and Mad Men is melodrama, the characters have to end up going in the opposite direction of where they started. Don and Peggy have to turn it around. Now, as any Dickens fan can tell you, there is nothing to stop a character in a melodrama from turning it around only to crash even more.

Bullets

  • "This watch makes you interesting." That's actually a very bad pitch. It's too girly an approach for a man's watch. It's also very girly to want the guy who looks like Steve McQueen to take an interest in you because of your watch. The male sell is that interesting people wear this watch. You want to be an interesting person, so you will want to do the things, and have the things, that interesting people have. No one really believes that the watch alone will make them interesting.
  • Tom and Lorenzo say of Joan: "Power has actually made her more vulnerable, ironically." Why is that ironic? Isn't that what power always does?
  • In our not-that-there-is-anything-wrong-with-that department, we have Alan Silver the flaming queen reassuring Don that he shouldn't worry about all the interest he is taking in Megan is purely about money. Is it okay to laugh at gay men if you don't let on that that is what you are doing? By the way, when you Google, "Alan Silver", the first link to come up is a gay porn star. Probably just a  coincidence.
  • When Megan throws the February 1969 issue of Playboy onto Don's lap, she says, "Don't tear the ads out of my magazine". Is the point supposed to be that he tear them out oh his magazine instead? If it was, she would have said "magazines" plural. I think it's her copy of Playboy
  • Nixon's inaugural was January 20, 1969.
  • There is an irony in saying that Don is out of step and that is that well know that he and his type came back. Don became incredibly popular just seven years ago.
  • Roger would take the ugly celery garnish out of his tomato juice but he would not drop it on the white linen table cloth. He also would not wear that paisley tie.
  • In addition to loss and longing, the other Season 1 themes that were underlined in this episode were utopia (brought up by Rachel Menken in season one) and Nixon. I thought Neve Campbell's character was meant to recall Rachel.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tease me?

Something that happened this morning had me thinking about women who tease. There is a lot of fiction on the subject just as there is a lot of fiction about self-sacrificing chivalric knights.

Taking them in reverse order, the dark truth about the knight of the Provençal tradition is that women hate him. And the truth about teasing—not just sexual teasing—is that, outside of fiction, when a woman does it, she always means to say no. If you try to initiate something playful with a woman and she gives you a teasing answer—that is to say, enough to let you know that she knows what you are angling for without actually delivering even a partial thrill—what she is really doing is brushing you off.

The brutal truth is that she feels about you the way you do about panhandlers. If you live in the city, you know that feeling. The panhandler doesn't even need to open his mouth; you know what he wants and you'd rather just avoid it; he makes eye contact and you're already figuring out how to say no without being too brutal about it. She feels the same way about you; this is equally true whether "you" are  just some guy who wants nothing more than to make her smile or the man who will always love her.

It's the fear of that that brutality that keeps you both lying to one another and to yourselves. Even if, after much "teasing" she gives you something, the something you get is almost worthless because you know that she didn't want it. She just wants peace the way you just want to be able to go back to walking down the sidewalk with this panhandler behind you. You don't really care about the panhandler you give money to than you do about the ones you refuse; in both cases, the motive is to get past this moment.

A woman who is really interested in you will entice you, which is a very different experience from being teased. 

Everyone is doing recaps ...

... so I'm going to stop. I'll still write about each Mad Men episode but not for a few days. I'm going to take the time to watch the episodes more than once, read what other people have to say about it and research some of cultural references a bit before writing.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday round up

1. Two weeks missing

Two weeks ago, my internet went down. We somehow managed to zap the DSL modem and the Router at the same time. Anyway, I was down on Friday so no round up. The next week, I just couldn't bring myself to care enough.

2. Just stop it!

This is the just pathetic:
A study just published in the Journal of Bisexuality provides at least a partial answer about interest in specific types of threesome. Researchers Heather Armstrong and Elke Reissing of the University of Ottawa were interested in heterosexual adults' attitudes toward dating and hooking up with bisexual partners of the opposite sex. They asked 720 participants (a mix of Canadian undergraduates and non-students, ranging from 18 to 60 years old with a mean age of 21) about their interest in a threesome with two partners of the opposite sex across three different relationship scenarios—casual sex; dating; and committed relationship.
You know that you aren't dealing with a controlled sample when you see that they talked to 720 people between the ages of 18 to 60 years but with a mean age of 21!?!?!?! Seriously, what are the odds of your getting that sort of breakdown in anything even vaguely resembling a random sample?

Here is wild guess at what happened. The University of Ottawa is a downtown university. Now, if you sent someone out to do street interviews on campus, you'd get a mixture of mostly undergraduates with the odd person cutting across campus (there is a bus transit station on campus). That highly artificial environment could explain how they managed to get such skewed numbers.

No matter how they got the sample, it's useless and so is the study. If this was just incompetence, it might be excusable, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to suspect that the researchers and the people who published it at the Journal of Bisexuality just might have an interest in seeing certain kinds of results.

3. For what it's worth

A thousand people in the street,
Singing songs and carrying signs,
Mostly say, “Hooray for our side.” 
Buffalo Springfield                                                                                      

Apparently, it's worth little or nothing. Moisés Naím of The Atlantic has just noticed that street protests don't make a lot of difference.
Aerial photos of the anti-government marches routinely show an intimidating sea of people furiously demanding change. And yet, it is surprising how little these crowds achieve. The fervent political energy on the ground is hugely disproportionate to the practical results of these demonstrations.
Naím thinks the problem is that the protests aren't connected to any sort of larger organization capable of getting changes enacted. That is certainly true but there is another, more basic question, he ought to have asked and that is whether the the protests are actually indicative of anything in the first place. If thousands of people show up in the street to protest something, that merely tells you that thousands of people who probably don't have jobs but do have lots of leisure time came out. That tells you very little indeed. 

You cannot, in fact, even be certain that a protest indicates anything about even the views of the people taking part. Who knows how serious or informed they are. Naim cites one study that suggests that the answer is, "not very!" for a researcher who used social media to get 27,000 Danes to show up in downtown Copenhagen to protest for a non-existent cause.

It seems to me that is indicative of something about the liberalism of our time: it's a mile wide and a quarter-inch deep. Less than a quarter of Americans identify as liberal. That's a shocking number given that back in the 1950s most people did. The difference is not in the people but liberalism. The liberalism of our day is a shallow, empty thing.

4. Speaking of the 1960s

Leee Black Childers — yes, Leee with 3 e's — told Andy Warhol that he wanted to be a photographer. 
And Andy said:

"Say you’re a photographer, and you’re a photographer,’... And he pointed across the Factory to Candy Darling, who was one of the great drag queens, and he said: ‘Look at her. She says she’s a woman. She is.’ So from that moment on, I was a photographer.”"
The standard line on Don Draper is that he "stole" another man's identity. When white people take up the music, dress and other cultural practices of different ethnic groups they are accused of appropriation, which is to say theft. A while ago Ann Althouse, from whom I got the above, asked why it is that transsexuals are not accused of appropriating the identity of women. Are these distinctions between what counts as theft and not theft based on a consistent set of principles? And if there are rules are they good principles or stupid principles? "I will kick all short people in the teeth," is a principle of sorts after all.

5. Speaking of Don Draper

He didn't steal anyone's identity, not even in the sense that we mean when we speak of the financial fraud called "identity theft". He appropriates neither the original Don Draper's identity nor does he cash in on him. Don is looking to escape from, not appropriate. 

The Don Draper he becomes is nothing like the Don Draper whose name he assumes.

I think the show is really about family. It's about how your parents, your siblings and your spouse can trap you, without meaning to. (There are persistent rumours, by the way, that Matt Weiner's own family are not pleased with the show at all. Could it be that they think it is about them? They should!)

(Apropos of nothing at all, I have a feeling that either Rachel will return in the final season or someone like her.)

6. No I'm not looking forward to the final season

As I've said before, creators of TV series like Mad Men use the final season to return to their first vision. They start with their best but don't know there will be a second season so while they have a beginning and an end in mind, they have to stretch the middle. That complicates things.

If we look at Breaking Bad we can see the problem. The more that series stretched out, the less plausible Walter's belief in himself as a wronged man became. It became increasingly obvious that he didn't break bad but that he had always been bad. The accusation people make of Don Draper—that he is a sham and a fraud, through and through—was actually true of Walter.

Now that is interesting because it obviously was not the way his creators saw him. They saw him as a fundamentally good man who went bad and needed some for of redemption and they gave him that in the final episode. What they inadvertently proved was that there is something real about character and that a man becomes what he does. By the final season the original premise was no longer sustainable.

The case of Don Draper proves the opposite: that if you try to elevate yourself by adopting the traits and behaviours of people you admire, you will succeed. The longer the series has stretched out, the clearer that has become. But it is also painfully obvious that Matt Weiner doesn't want to believe that; his belief is that people can't change. So now he has to go back to the premise of the first season and ignore the evidence to the contrary that he himself assembled over the past six seasons.

Character counts and you could do a lot worse than following Don Draper's example.

7. In the beginning

If Jesus had never been declared God, we wouldn’t have Christianity. And we wouldn’t have the history of Western Civilization as we know it.
That's Bart Ehrman in a piece called "Why I am obsessed with Jesus". That's a dishonest title. He should have called it, "Why I am obsessed with Jesus even though I don't believe in him".

Now, here is the distinction you need to see. The above quote is what Ehrman does believe now. Here is what he used to believe:
For years — until about eight months ago — I thought the answer was simply that Jesus is the most important figure in the history of Western Civilization. So who wouldn’t be interested in him? And in who he really was?
Notice, the shift. The thing that matters is not who Jesus really was but what he was declared to be. 
Ever since my graduate school days in the 1980’s, I have thought that the historical Jesus is best understood (very) roughly as Albert Schweitzer had recognized: an apocalyptic preacher of doom who firmly believed that God’s utopian kingdom would arrive on earth within his disciples’ lifetime. I have spent a good portion of my last twenty years writing about this view, teaching it to undergraduates, and lecturing on it to public audiences. Part of my drive has been to “set the record straight.” Very few people outside the world of the academy seem aware that the majority of scholars think of Jesus as an apocalypticist. And that is important historical knowledge. So I have wanted to proclaim it from the mountain tops. 
I continue to think that this is the right understanding of Jesus. But now I see that this, in itself, is not the major reason I continue to be obsessed with him. The real reason was probably in the back of my mind all along. But it did not come front and center until I began writing my new book How Jesus Became God. Now it seems blindingly obvious.
Had Jesus not been proclaimed God, nothing like the Christian faith would have emerged. And we would not have our form of civilization.
And the obvious question is: Declared by whom? And there it gets rather tricky. Because to believe what Ehrman believes, you have to believe that this declaration happened very quickly. Otherwise, as he notes in the article at the link, the movement would have died out very quickly. That is actually understating the case. Their leader had been crucified and they ran away in terror. There were lots of other Messiahs crucified and otherwise dispatched by the Romans and all their movements died out. Something significant has to have happened right after the death of Jesus that turned things around.

And not only that, because of this thing, apparently a misunderstanding, all of history was changed. For the better!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Opposites explain: transparency, privacy and secrecy

I want to return to Esther Perel one more time. I discussed her previously here.

No virtue can be understood in isolation. By that I mean that you cannot pull a word like "pride", or "bravery" or "loyal" out and expect it to do the job of making us understand what is required to possess the virtues that go with those terms. Virtues can only be understood if we also have words for what it means not to have the virtue in question.

For example, consider pride. Pride is a bad thing if we oppose it to humility. But pride is a good thing if we oppose it to shame. Someone who does not care to protect their reputation is not a virtuous person. It is not humility to run yourself down by falsely claiming to be more evil than you are. It is even a problem to keep repeating your failures over and over again after you have confessed and made amends for them.

Given that, I think Perel's deepest and most important insight is what she has to say about privacy in marriage:
Transparency is the whole culture. The way a regular person tells everything about themselves on television. The way technology allows us to find out anything—99 percent of the people I see, their affairs are discovered through email or phones. But transparency is also our organizing principle of closeness these days. I will tell you everything, and if I don’t tell you it means I don’t trust you or I have a secret. It doesn’t mean I choose to keep certain things to myself because they are private. Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency.
I'm sure you can see where I am going. Transparency is a virtue if it is the opposite of secrecy. It is less obviously so if it is opposite of privacy. As Perel says, if transparency is not just a virtue but also "our organizing principle of closeness" we are going to have problems because our privacy will be destroyed.

That jars us because it doesn't strike us that husbands and wives should have privacy from one another. We accept and even demand that couples should have a shared privacy from the rest of the world but privacy from one another is another matter. Not much of it anyway. We all close the bathroom door when we go to use the toilet after all. Other things we aren't so sure of.

It's interesting to consider Mad Men in this regard. The first season episode titled "5G" was all about this issue. It treated privacy and secrecy as if they were the same thing and they are only ever used for betrayal or denial.

The key plot is the one where Adam shows up and confronts Don/Dick. Don says,
"Adam, that's not me."
Later, we find out that Don's privacy has a purpose that is not simply deception. Sitting at the coffeeshop, he and Adam have a conversation:
Don: "What happened to her?"
Adam: "Mom?"
Don: "She wasn't my mother. She never let me forget that."
Privacy is important because it goes to self-definition. It allows us to become something we ant to become. That something new might be good and it might be bad. The important thing is, you are allowed to do it. Your family, your friends, your past, they all can limit you. They don't have to but try telling them that. The people around you when you grew up, especially your family, want you to stay inside a certain personality. They don't want to let you be something else.

Your spouse too. It's safer for them if you remain within a certain set of parameters. They have a legitimate and active interest in who you are. You can't just change suddenly and you owe it to them to change in ways that will continue to make you strong as a couple instead of ways that will drive you apart.

It is, as Don would say, delicate. It has to be handled carefully. Those qualifications made, privacy is important and transparency is no virtue if it robs us of privacy.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The advice they give: Affair-proof your marriage/relationship in eleven steps

You have to love the stuff you find on the Internet sometimes. I just love the WikiHow page, How to Get a Man to Leave His Wife. In eleven steps! With pictures! This is so wonderfully perverse it is refreshing.

The key point to get here is that what is good advice on one side of the column, is equally good on the other. Think of it as double entry accounting: every credit must be matched by an equal amount in the debit column. Once you grasp that, you can see that this isn't a lesson for the woman having an affair with a married man, she is either a pathetic loser or she is a killer shark who is out to get what she wants. (That's a wonderful experience, by the way, I was once on the receiving end and it remains to this day the very best thing that ever happened to me.)  To get back to the point, any lesson of use to the other woman is going to be more useful for the wife. (Look at the ads on the page if you don't believe me: the top ad when I logged on was, "How to stop your divorce" Advertisers always know who the content is really for.)  I know, that seems like a crazy way to approach the problem but the sad truth is that you couldn't write an honest advice column to a woman in that situation because our culture will never accept that a woman in that situation might partially or even largely be to blame for her situation. We all, especially her, know that she is, but you can't talk about it.

The reverse isn't the case. Men are told over and over again that it is their fault if their wife cheats on them, loses interest et cetera. That isn't a problem so much as a powerful clue to how relationships actually work. More on this below.

Anyway, read the original and then come back.

Tick, tick, tick ...

Here is how to rewrite the advice for the other woman as advice for the wife:

Step 1

Original: Stop having sex with him

Rewrite: Stop using sex to mollify, pacify or cheer him up. He wants a woman who wants him. This is basic. Fail at this and you deserve to be cheated on. 

Step 2 

Original: Don't try to convince him or manipulate him to leave.

Rewrite: (you don't need my help on this one) Don't try to convince him or manipulate him to stay. Conversation won't help and neither will therapy.

Step 3

Original: Treat yourself as the prize.

Rewrite: Treat yourself as the prize. 

This is the whole lesson in one step. This can be hard for women to see because women and men operate differently when having affairs. When women have affairs, they tend do so with men whom they believe to have higher status than their husband. (They aren't necessarily right in thinking so, but that is what they believe when they start an affair.) I know, you wouldn't have an affair, but if you did, it would be with someone you saw as a step up in some way. Men don't work like that. We marry the woman we believe is the best we could want—you are the prize.  If he has an affair, it will be with a woman whom he believes has lower status than you. 

The lesson here is this: don't project your outlook onto him. The other woman is to be pitied not feared. As difficult as this is to grasp, he doesn't go looking for things you can't deliver better. He is firmly convinced that you are the best at giving him what he wants. You already are the top prize in his eyes. What he wants you to do is start acting like it really, really, really matters to you to be the prize.

Caveat: Which isn't to say that you can't make your worst nightmare come true. Stop believing in yourself and he will too.  If you start thinking of yourself as no longer worth pursuing, then so will he. What makes it hard is that to really think of yourself as a prize, you have to work at being a prize. You know, like you did back when you were dating? (BTW: The picture that goes with this step on the WikiHow site is worth a thousand words. Does it offend You? Too bad, for a man, marriage is a sexual relationship and if you didn't figure that out before getting in, you don't deserve to be married.)

Step 4

Original: Figure out what benefits he is getting from staying in the marriage. After listing some possibilities—children, money, emotional support, reputation, mutual friends, having someone to do stuff with, her cooking and cleaning—the original text goes on to make two rock solid points. "There is no point in competing with the wife in these areas. Don't make the mistake of wasting your time trying to be a better 'wife'." 

Rewrite:  Figure out what benefits he is getting from staying in the marriage. In case it isn't obvious enough, the lesson for the married woman is, don't try harder at the things that are already working for you. Don't make the mistake of wasting your time trying to be a better "wife". Now go to step 5

Step 5 

Original: Figure out what his wife isn't doing right. The original goes on to say, "Most likely the wife has emasculated him over time, and therefore he is no longer attracted to her. There are a lot of articles and books on what this means. Do your homework to find out how to make him feel more masculine (and you to feel more feminine)."

Rewrite: Figure out what his wife isn't doing right. Oh yeah, that's you.  I couldn't put it better than the original, so I won't try. I will add, however, that the key phrase here is, "do your homework". Don't sit around over-analyzing your situation, you need to look outside yourself for ways to make him feel more masculine and you more feminine. There are lots of books and articles. Read them!

Step 6 

Original: This means getting to know him as a person

Rewrite: Look back at step 5. See the bit about emasculating him? Getting to know him as a person, means getting to know him as a man with power. Power is scary because a man with power is capable of anger, destruction or of having an affair. You may think that you will be more comfortable if you convince him to surrender those things for "the sake of the marriage" but you're wrong. A man without power isn't a man anymore.

This is doubly scary because letting him take back his power puts you in a vulnerable spot. Marriage and affairs are not an either/or situation after all; he could do both; a man who has recaptured his power is man who is going to realize that it is in his power to have an affair. You may not want to be in a position where you have to live with the knowledge that the only thing keeping him from cheating on you is his continuing to choose not to. That is why the emasculation starts; it feels more secure if he has as many restraints on him as possible. 

The first step along the path to emasculating your husband is to treat his power as a problem to be solved. But if he can't cheat on you, then he can't be faithful to you either. Or, to put it positively, faithfulness is only possible for a man who is capable of cheating.

This would be so much easier if only depraved or damaged people cheated on their spouses. The disturbing truth is that good people, loving husbands and wives who are also good fathers and mothers, area capable of having affairs and sometimes do. The only thing you can do about it is to trust and trusting means being prepared for the possibility of trust being broken. He has to live with the same risk; you should get over it!

Step 7 

Original: Date others.

Rewrite: Well, no. Nothing will make it easier for him to rationalize cheating on you than your doing it first. But read the original text and you will hit this line, "Men like to compete." He wants to win you and no matter how many times he has won you in the past, he will not tire of doing it again. (Or, rather, he will not tire of it if you are following the others steps, especially step 1 and step 3.) Don't be scared of stepping out a little and being the sort of woman who other men might pursue. Hell, let them try a little and let him know they are trying.

Step 8 

Original: Don't be needy.

Rewrite: Have wants and not needs. Wants are sexy; needs are a chore. And yes, that is fair! Children and puppies have needs. Adults have wants. Be an adult.

Step 9 

Original: Don't be jealous of his wife or angry. It is good to feel compassion for her. It is not her fault. Don't be insecure.

Rewrite: Don't be insecure, jealous or angry. I appreciate that this may seem stupid at first. You may think, "I can't just turn my emotions off". And, no, you cannot but you can control and direct them. Direct your emotional energy elsewhere. Instead of being insecure, treat yourself as the prize. Jealousy is what needy people feel, desire is what a woman who is worth pursuing feels. Anger is a bit more complicated because there are different types of anger and the type you are most likely feeling towards your husband is resentment, which is the type of emotion we have when we feel like we cannot or should not retaliate. That makes you feel helpless and, again, needy. Feel your power and make him compete for you instead.

Step 10 

Original: Don't become his therapist or marriage counselor. .... Trying to "fix" things is a masculine trait. He has to do it himself in his own way.

Rewrite: Don't push solutions on him.  Instead, you should have the courage to be the problem or, if you prefer, challenge. Be like Russia:
"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." Winston Churchill
It doesn't matter if you hide your "national interest", nor does it matter how many chains and locked doors you put between him and it so long as you have a national interest and a strong one at that, and sex had better be part of your national interest.

Step 11 

Original: Don't confront the wife

Rewrite: Don't confront him about his "issues", or whatever other meaningless psychobabble you care to conjure up. If he is unhappy, the very last thing that he wants is to talk to you about it or, infinitely worse, argue with you about it. He doesn't want to justify his wants, he wants you to recognize them, treat them as legitimate and do something about them. 

Instead, try this: imagine he seeing a therapist who makes him feel at ease so that he can talk freely about what is missing from his marriage and you have bugged the therapist's office. If you want to make it really painful, imagine him telling his lover! The thing is, you can do it. Think about it! You already what he would say. You even know the things he feels but would never dare say to you.