Saturday, June 4, 2016


 Melk Abbey, Austria

In reply to Zbigniew Herbert’s “Why the Classics”

In the mirror in a cheap motel 

I peeked shyly, afraid
we’d look ugly, two heaving
animals. Instead I saw

our bodies glowed,
rocking and cradling
in the room’s drowsy dusk,
our skins’ faint light

lacing our outline,
our curves and hollows
fused against the hum
of the freeway that divides our lives.

I used to think sex
had to do with power.
In the mirror I saw
two creatures clinging

to each other, pale and
mothlike, printed on the dark.
A famous poet said that’s not
important, the classics

are important, not lovers
in cheap hotels. Instead
in the mirror I saw
the lovers are the greatest

classic, while empires fade
and fall.

~ Oriana © 2016


“It’s one of the things we are most afraid might happen to us. We go to great lengths to avoid it. And yet we do it all the same: We marry the wrong person.

Partly, it’s because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others. We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.

Our partners are no more self-aware. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to understand them. We visit their families. We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.

For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.

What matters in the marriage of feeling is that two people are drawn to each other by an overwhelming instinct and know in their hearts that it is right. Indeed, the more imprudent a marriage appears (perhaps it’s been only six months since they met; one of them has no job or both are barely out of their teens), the safer it can feel. Recklessness is taken as a counterweight to all the errors of reason, that catalyst of misery, that accountant’s demand. The prestige of instinct is the traumatized reaction against too many centuries of unreasonable reason.

But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.

We make mistakes, too, because we are so lonely. No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable. We have to be wholly at peace with the prospect of many years of solitude in order to be appropriately picky; otherwise, we risk loving no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.

Finally, we marry to make a nice feeling permanent. We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us: Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before, with the prospect of dinner in a risotto place a little later. We married to make such sensations permanent but failed to see that there was no solid connection between these feelings and the institution of marriage.

Indeed, marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.
We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.

This philosophy of pessimism offers a solution to a lot of distress and agitation around marriage. It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal.” We should learn to accommodate ourselves to “wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.


My life’s wisdom on relationships: it’s not about finding someone who is a perfect fit, but about becoming a loving person. Re: perfect fit — I'd like to add that there are people with whom I feel comfortable being myself —  with whom I seem to become "more myself" — and those with whom a mask is needed, a narrowing of personality rather than an enlargement. You have to censor yourself, pretend, put on a false persona — as with an elderly relative whom you don’t want to offend. The fit is good enough when I feel I can be completely myself.

But I think the wisest part of this particular article is the statement that it's very important what the person is like when there is disagreement. In other words, the key is “conflict management.”

This reminds me of Marcus Aurelius: “Today you will meet someone who will annoy you.” But de Botton goes beyond that, to remind us that we too will annoy someone. This is the start of wisdom and humility: to know that it’s not just our partner who will inevitably keep frustrating and annoying us — we will annoy our partner in equal measure, without meaning to.

It takes a while to learn how not to escalate those unavoidable petty annoyances, to swallow one’s ego and not have to be right every time, to forswear the urge to punish and engage in blame games, nourishing resentments for years. It’s not always mutual. Sometimes the husband (it’s generally the husband, especially the “dominator” type) is convinced that he has a happy marriage, only to have a rude awakening when the wife suddenly asks for a divorce.

I wonder, though, if we had known at the start about all the disappointments and annoyances ahead if we’d ever have the motivation to get married — and if we didn't, we'd miss the joy of that magical first year, which for many people is the best of life.

Someone estimated that only 17% of marriages are happy. It’s not unusual for married people to admit they would not marry the same partner if they could to to it over again (and for women to admit they would not have had kids). Conflict resolution, sure, but also some people are mismatched to start with, and after that first year when a lot of sex covers up a lot of incompatibility, the differences only grow and grow. In any restaurant one can see couples so bitter and depressed it's scary. 

But past a certain age there is fear and inertia. Perhaps "speed dating for seniors" would be a solution — for both of them, while still married on paper. It would let them dip their toes in what it might be like to interact with someone else (getting rid of some delusions, too — there is no ideal “soul mate”, no “twin flame,” no savior — to change partners is to change problems).

(But am I sure? Perhaps it’s an inevitable part of life to keep on dreaming about “The One.” As long as it’s not obsessive, a fantasy relationship with a perfectly fulfilling partner is just part of our secret life, a bit of private imaginary joy. “But my fantasy relationships have always been satisfying,” a friend once said with perfect seriousness, after reflecting on the fact that she’d never known lasting love.)

And maybe Margaret Mead was right about the need for three different marriages as we go through the stages of life.

But speaking of stages of life, another phenomenon — and de Botton obviously doesn't have the space to write about everything — is that every few years it's a different marriage. Even a mismatched marriage can grow better and more cooperative as the partners’ good traits also deepen.

Maybe it all starts with accepting our own flaws. If we learn not to be harsh on ourselves, to understand that no one (not even ourselves!) is perfect, we probably won't be harsh on the partner. I also think that we don't have the right to punish the partner. Nothing so sad as couples locked in warfare -- already past eighty, but still trying to "win" that unwinnable war.

And yet I want to return to my idea that marriage is a pact of non-abandonment. “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” — nothing surpasses these vows. This is the foundation of the dignity of marriage: we don’t abandon the person because of a diagnosis of cancer, for all the suffering it’s going to cause us too. We hold hands when one of us is devastated by having just lost his or her job. The thought that someone will be there for you in the hour of your greatest need is the sacred flame at the very heart of marriage. 

Duchamps: The Bride, 1912


“John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other. With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects' blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

The disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.”

The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

Gottman wanted to know more about how the masters created that culture of love and intimacy, and how the disasters squashed it. In a follow-up study in 1990, he designed a lab on the University of Washington campus to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. He invited 130 newlywed couples to spend the day at this retreat and watched them as they did what couples normally do on vacation: cook, clean, listen to music, eat, chat, and hang out. And Gottman made a critical discovery in this study—one that gets at the heart of why some relationships thrive while others languish.

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner's ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.

For the hundreds of thousands of couples getting married this month—and for the millions of couples currently together, married or not—the lesson from the research is clear: If you want to have a stable, healthy relationship, exercise kindness early and often.

We’ve all heard that partners should be there for each other when the going gets rough. But research shows that being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality. How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship.

In one study from 2006, psychological researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues brought young adult couples into the lab to discuss recent positive events from their lives. They psychologists wanted to know how partners would respond to each other’s good news. They found that, in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Active constructive responding is critical for healthy relationships. In the 2006 study, Gable and her colleagues followed up with the couples two months later to see if they were still together. The psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. Those who showed genuine interest in their partner’s joys were more likely to be together. In an earlier study, Gable found that active constructive responding was also associated with higher relationship quality and more intimacy between partners.

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.


I especially like the part about being there for the person not only in hardship, but also for sharing joy. This is not obvious, but it makes sense.

And the part about making a “bid” for connection, even if it’s just “Look at that pretty bird that just landed near the patio!” Perhaps we’d prefer to be alone with our thoughts and not be interrupted, but we do need to respond. That’s also part of the marriage (or relationship) contract: when a partner speaks, we respond.

The vast majority of marriages are unhappy. We should accept this as a fact and seriously try to figure out the causes. Is it something about our culture, or is marriage simply a disastrous institution bound to make most couples unhappy? 

Jan Bogaerts, Still Life with Cherries, 1937

“We hate those we love — or loved. People expressed the most ill will toward those they are closest to on a daily basis — acquaintances, friends, family, exes. Even within the family, the “nearest and dearest” arouse the most hatred — fathers especially, followed by mothers, in-laws, sibs. Curiously, very few hate their own significant others — just 1 in 100 — but far more hate a friend’s boyfriend or girlfriend.

Ex-husbands are among the most hated, especially for women between 28 and 32 years of age. Also in that elite company are co-workers. Far more women than men name “a friend” as the most hated person in their lives.

The good news is that hatred is uncommon. Over a lifetime, people say they hate about five people on average. Men are more likely to report feeling hate as they get older, peaking in the late 30s and then declining until the late 50s. But most of us don’t experience hate on a regular basis. Indeed, most people say they never feel hatred at all.”


Nothing surprising about parents and siblings being the most common hate objects. However, I am surprised that hating the boss isn't mentioned. As for hating one's lover, that too happens -- mostly in the mixed form of love-hate. The abused partner is bound to feel at least some hate -- or anyone who feels trapped in a bad marriage or relationship.

Most people may SAY they never feel hatred, but I doubt if they are telling the truth. I was definitely an intense hater when I was young. Being in a subordinate position was practically enough to provoke hatred of the dominator. Oddly enough, I didn’t actually hate my bosses — I only despised their incompetence. I knew I could do a better job, and I resented the high salaries they were getting for doing so little and so badly.

I'm relatively free of hatred now. That’s probably due mainly to having autonomy at last. I have momentary flare-ups of hatred after being mistreated, or remembering how someone ripped me off — but after a minute, the emotion is gone. Maturity taught me to shrug off such things, and put my energy into appreciating the good things while they last. Life feels less intense now, but the rarity of hatred is a positive development. Now and then I enjoyed the huge energy of hatred, a wave of it rolling through my body, but mostly it felt bad. I’ll take tranquillity any time.


Arthur Chu had an interesting article in the Daily Beast: “Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds.” He states that men are still growing up with the idea that the right woman = princess = a prize they win or “earn.” In Chu’s words: “The overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive?”

Chu replies that the frustrated man is then likely to become misogynous. But I could hardly go on reading about misogyny, struck as I was by the idea of woman as a reward. And I remembered a young man I met in college. He said he had a girlfriend. Then he added with great bitterness: “But she has a big chin.”

When you look at fairy tales, you see the disastrous situation at the extreme: the princess, sometimes in a beggarly disguise (hence the “Cinderella complex”), or imprisoned in a tower, simply awaits the prince, who has to prove his valor in order to win her like a prize in a contest. Or, to dignify this with the vocabulary of Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey, the hero has to overcome many obstacles to be rewarded with love. He must show himself worthy of that prize by killing dragons.

Campbell admitted that his lectures on The Hero’s Journey often ended with women in the audience asking, “But what about the woman’s journey?” This puzzled Campbell. His standard reply was that a woman doesn’t go on the hero’s journey. She waits for the hero to win her through heroic deeds. She is his prize. Campbell noticed that women were very disappointed to hear this. He’d say, “Don’t you understand that you are this GREAT THING, the hero’s REWARD?” This was news to the women; no, they didn’t understand.

I think I understand why they didn’t understand. The culture does not value the feminine. There is the expression “a real man”; a young man needs to prove that he is a “real man.” I heard that expression countless times; I can’t think of a single time when anyone praised a woman for being a “real woman.” We wouldn’t know what it means. It’s not a cultural ideal.

On the other hand, there is the expression “a trophy wife.” It’s not unusual for a rich older man to marry a good-looking young woman, and show her off much as he’d show off a sports car. The trophy wife can indeed be seen as a prize that he’d won. But that situation is hardly the cultural ideal. The woman tends to be stereotyped and despised as a gold digger, and the man is likely to be seen as an old fool who was taken in by her. The very word “trophy” does not carry the same positive connotations as “reward.”

To be a prize or trophy, a woman has to be young and beautiful. The most common compliment that woman past thirty begin to receive is being told that they look younger than their age. This storm of compliments becomes a hurricane after a woman turns forty. Turning forty becomes a crisis because that’s the expiration date for a woman as prize. In the past it used to be sooner. A woman who didn’t manage to get married by 25 was regarded as an old maid. So there has been progress, but the basic assumption persists.

I suspect that the idea that a man has to “earn” a beautiful woman was also stronger in the past. It was one way to manipulate men into enlisting in the military. “Only the brave deserve the fair” — I am thrilled to come across this saying only in old novels and historical movies.


Getting back to Campbell’s surprise that women didn’t understand they were “this great thing, the hero’s reward” — what surprises me that a man as brilliant as Campbell didn’t see that a lot of women struggled with low self-esteem. I had a low self-esteem, so of course I never thought of myself as a prize to be won. Reading the article reminded me about a relationship I had at 26. That young man, who definitely saw himself as a winner, did seem to perceive me as a prize that he was bound to win if only he persisted, got top grades, a good job etc (in fact that was my one and only chance to marry a college professor, ostensibly my dream — but I’d have to leave California for Columbus, Ohio. Was there any man for whom I’d leave California? Nah. That was pretty eye-opening).

Yet for a while he seemed absolutely sure I’d marry him. I interpreted the situation more or less correctly: his self-image as a winner made him over-confident. But I didn’t quite have the right label for myself in that relationship. Now I have that label: I was to be one of his big prizes, one of the rewards for his hard academic work and being such a good boy.

The child he’d have with me would also be a prize: no doubt bright, the kind of child that it would be joy to take to the museum of natural history, say, and share in the wonder of seeing a dinosaur skeleton for the first time. In retrospect I feel it was a compliment that he wanted to marry me and be the mother of his child; a compliment, yes, but an uncomfortable one, from someone who also said, “I'm not as conservative as you think; I’d allow my wife to work.” (I don’t mean to stereotype him: later he understood and respected the fact that I wanted not just “a room of my own,” but a whole “life of my own.” By that time he seemed to understand that was the way of educated women; they were complex people with their own lives. “No man can own you,” he said.)

Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, I just wasn’t attracted to him, and for me it was a minor relationship, though one that taught me an important lesson about being loved when you yourself are not in love — how very uncomfortable that is. I decided that between loving without return versus being loved without being able to love back, I’ll take the unrequited love any time. Ah, life’s ironies. This complete mix-up of mythology versus reality. For his younger self, the unnecessary suffering because of the false premise that anyone is a prize to be won or lost, rather than a struggling and imperfect human being with a journey of their own.

I have a feeling that a lot of women had rather low self-esteem back when the main job open to women was being a secretary (speaking of which, the young man who tried to “win” me, a Ph.D., ended up with a church secretary). The overwhelming majority of women didn’t see themselves as a prize. They saw themselves as inferior and inadequate. They would never be beautiful enough, poised enough. They’d never be Miss America.

I wonder if we’d have been happier if we thought of ourselves as being “that great thing,” a prize to be won by a hero. Since attraction is mostly non-rational and it’s the unconscious that decides, it’s not about “winning” anything, and definitely not about “deserving." You either are attracted or you aren’t, for reasons that are mysterious, since they reside in the unconscious. Attraction happens or it doesn’t happen. We invoke “chemistry,” and that may yet turn out to be correct. Some speculate that chemical signals are being sent and received, something like scent, but we can’t consciously detect them.

Or maybe the answer lies in our early years. The relationship with our parents is certainly important, but I doubt that it determines everything. Rather, perhaps X reminds you of your favorite cousin, while Y reminds you of someone you absolutely detested in the fourth grade. But Y finds you terrifically attractive, again for reasons that have little to do with who you really are. Meanwhile you pine for the aloof X. It’s a mess that can make you wonder if someone up there has a perverse sense of humor.

That mess is completely irrelevant to my present life, and I feel very lucky that it’s irrelevant. Once creative work became the center of my life, a lot of nonsense dropped away. The work became the real reward, and I myself — my unique experiences that could be turned into poetry — became my own prize.

For some women I know, this happened when they became mothers: they became empowered, adult. Giving birth gave them a sense of accomplishment; furthermore, to the child they were the boss, so they gained confidence from that too. For other women, as for me, it was discovering their vocation or some activity or cause where they could excel and be of service. Sure, at some level the yearning for the ideal mate still lingers, but that fantasy (the Prince is not so much a prize as a Savior, perhaps a heavier trip) is no longer central.

If we must think in terms of a reward, then the life we have right now is the reward — even though there will be times when it will feel more like punishment. Only maturity knows that love is not so much a feeling as a behavior: we show in a myriad ways how much we value both those who are special to us and people in general. We learn the pleasure that comes from giving and kindness.

And just as important, I think, we learn about the importance of luck, the power of circumstances. We don’t see ourselves and others so much in terms of winning and losing, as if hard work would inevitably make us “winners.” It’s not about winning or losing. The “winners” may end up paying a big price and the “losers” may actually turn out to be quite happy. And being loved — being loved by the right person, that is, someone we genuinely like and feel comfortable with —  is a lot more important than having a girlfriend or spouse with a perfect chin.

Life is a lot more complicated than any fairy tales — both good and bad, all intertwined and constantly changing. The marriage as it is now is not as it was in the beginning, nor will it be the same five years from now. It could be said that every five-six years we are in a different marriage. The spouse changes, we change, the marriage changes. It’s fascinating to stay with the same person long enough to see this unfolding. It’s marvelous to work through the stage of power struggle and get to the stage of cooperation — now there is a real reward!

But mainly, rather than try to control life and win prizes, we learn to make the best of it. Pardon the cliché, but it’s true: maturity arrives when we learn to count our blessings. They are surprisingly numerous.

Image: Botticelli, Dante meets Beatrice, 1450. Dante’s princess married someone else, a rich banker. The only other thing we know is that she died at twenty-four.

Tangentially, Dante’s Beatrice comes across as a surprisingly unpleasant person: a scold, a dominatrix. Why would anyone imagine his princess as a shrew? I suppose that some people’s love fantasies may have a masochistic element. The church taught self-loathing: you are a sinner; of course that pure saint, Beatrice, would despise you. She deigns to act as a savior, but has to administer a severe tongue-lashing when the two first meet. Just . . . has to. Besides, being shamed and humiliated is good for you. Still, one wonders about Dante’s mother and/or wife (his actual wife, Gemma Donati, with whom he had five children — not his imaginary beloved).


Jesus was definitely not a Catholic. In fact, the historical Jesus was probably closer to a Jehova’s Witness.

From an Amazon review of Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth”:

Erhman believes, quite convincingly, that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet in the Jewish tradition of his time. Jesus believed and preached that God would soon intervene and destroy the forces of evil, bring in his good kingdom on earth, and install him on his throne. There is just one problem. Jesus was wrong. In fact, he was mistaken about a lot things. People don't want to hear that, Ehrman points out.

The difficulty, Ehrman believes, is that this historical Jesus is obviously far too historical for modern tastes. Ehrman is right. Out of the context of his time, the overriding message of Jesus is preposterous, leaving anyone grasping for a meaningful faith nowhere to go, no inspiring message to believe in. Jesus the wisdom sage or Jesus the social revolutionary, for example, might offer solace, guidance, and hope but a Jesus predicting the end times leaves us only a corpse.


This is precisely the problem: the “historical Jesus is obviously far too historical for modern tastes.” In fact, a question arises as to the sanity of Jesus: today he’d be discussed as a case of paranoid schizophrenia with the “Messiah complex,” fairly common in schizophrenic delusions.

So no, the historical Jesus is not the chocolate Jesus who’d fraternize with kindly atheists. And here we are already visualizing a surprised atheist entering heaven together with her atheist dog.”

A part of this blog that may be of special interest is the rise of feminism coinciding with the supportive “god within” — as opposed to the external “god of punishment” (GOP).

By the way, Jehova’s Witnesses don’t believe that we “go” anywhere after death. Rather, they accept apocalyptic Judaism’s idea that death is a dreamless sleep from which a small minority (presumably only JWs) will be resurrected when the Kingdom arrives. Ancient Israelis did not believe in a disembodied soul. Life began with the first breath, and ended with the last breath — but Yahweh could breathe the breath of life into a dead body.

One mushroom a day keeps cancer away: ERGOTHIONEINE

Regular mushroom consumption (approximately 1 button mushroom per day) has been associated with a 64% decrease in the risk of breast cancer (this common mushroom variety is best used cooked, rather than raw, because it contains the toxin, agaritine, which is reduced with cooking).

The best news about mushrooms is a powerful micronutrient called ergothioneine. Ergothioneine is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which mushrooms have in very high concentrations. Cooking actually releases this powerful nutrient from the mushroom cells. Mushrooms also have high levels of polyphenols that give them a higher antioxidant level than green pepper and zucchini.

ending on beauty


I love the opening poem. The Picasso painting is perfect.

Favorite sentence in the marriage article: "The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement.”

You described this in two words, “conflict management.”

The vast majority of marriages are miserable but is it better than single and miserable? The grass is always greener on the other side.

It is also interesting to note that the vast majority of murders are the ones that are “nearest and dearest.”

A man can perceive a woman as a real human being AND a prize.


I have to agree: a caring, supportive partner is in fact a a big prize to have won in life. For the sake of the argument, in my essay I used the definition of “prize” that’s closer to “trophy” for display and ego-stroking purposes. Hence the example of the young man complaining that his girlfriend has a big chin. With maturity we usually know better what to value in a partner, and how lucky we are to have a relationship with more benefits than drawbacks.

An excellent point about victims of murders being usually among the “nearest and dearest.” Well, plenty of opportunity for anger, which can turn to homicidal rage.

It was different being single and young and poverty-stricken — then I could really see the benefits of marriage and the startling freedom it provided: I could work or not work, I could take  classes or just go to various lectures and workshops in town, etc. At the same time, I absolutely loved living alone; I could never erase the knowledge that I deeply preferred solitude. If I happened to have enough income to live on without toiling full-time, there is no way I would have remarried — a sickening confession, but the vast majority of women perfectly understand the economic factor in marriage — though a husband can also provide other benefits, like being a handyman (a good handyman is harder to find than a good lover — how is that for a shocking statement!).

And I know some married writers, both men and women, whose now-retired spouses want to travel all the time, and require “companionship.” The writers “grin and bear it,” knowing there is a price for everything. And the travel-loving spouse may still provide various benefits the writers enjoy. As long as there is no secret hatred . . .  (now there’s a touchy topic: secret, decades-long hatred in marriage).

But then writers and others who are “married to their work” are not typical of people in general. One needs to try out marriage to know if one likes not just living together, but living together in a more committed fashion (a marriage is a legal and economic contract) — and of course it’s never perfect. And thank goodness we have divorce. And pets. Surveys have found that many people prefer their pets to their spouses. This surprises no one.

Still, it’s striking that nowadays, probably thanks largely to Social Security and reverse mortgage (i.e. sufficient income), widows do not generally remarry, even when they do have the opportunity and aren’t yet too advanced in age. Even more striking is the very existence of the expression “the merry widow.” Funny that we never hear about the “merry widower” but we do hear of men who die within a short time after the wife’s death. It’s also telling that there is no “marriage advantage” for women in terms of health and life expectancy.

Perhaps we should face the fact that it’s not about marriage per se. Our great desire is to be loved, and to be secure in being loved — not to have to fear abandonment. 

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