Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Love is in the air (and newspaper pages)

Romance, or the lack of it, seems to be a popular topic in the news lately. It is the subject of two articles posted on one on the inevitability of divorce, from the Hartford Advocate, by author Annabel Lee, whose name strongly suggests a pseudonym; and the other on the evolutionary psychology of romance, from the LA Times.

Lee, in her article, says that marriage is doomed because people are living longer, which allows them more time to grow disenchanted with their spouses. "Marriage is a naturally polarizing process that causes one person to detest, over time, what the other person loves," she writes. And the factors that might have kept past couples together -- children, warfare, disease -- no longer have the same weight.

After predicting, Nietzsche-like, the downfall of marriage, the author spends an equal amount of time lamenting the life of a divorcee -- "Divorce, like death, is a crossing-over, into a terrifying, mortifying land from which you never return, even if you remarry." She argues that the legal ramifications of divorce must be made more equitable and sensible, and bemoans the inequitable dating prospects for divorced men and women. She feels that divorced men are better off than divorced women when it comes to judges' rulings and the newfound singles scene.

Why are we so impatient to get divorced and seek someone new? Is it truly the passage of time that is at fault? Should we consider deleting the words "from death do us part" from marriage vows? Are all differences inevitably irreconcilable these days?

Last week, the Boston Globe Ideas section may have provided the answer. In an interview with columnist Joshua Glenn, Sonoma State sociologist E. Kay Trimberger discussed her new book, "The New Single Woman," and shared some thoughts on today's singletons. One statement is revealing: "Thanks in part to the activism of feminists in the 1960s and '70s, women today are urged to settle for nothing less than an egalitarian marriage with a soulmate," Trimberger says. "This cultural ideal is dominant -- so it's very difficult to convince yourself that another arrangement is good enough."

The cultural perception of the institution of marriage has shifted from a communal-based one -- a couple who will bring children into the society -- to an individual-based one -- two people who are more of a partnership, less a corporation. It's now about finding two people who match up well with each other; children have become incidental. And perhaps my generation will introduce a new concept to this country: in addition to couples divorcing from each other, we may also see parents, unhappy with offspring who are not living up to their standards, divorcing from their children. You read it here first.

Meanwhile, the LA Times article describes research into why we choose the romantic partners we do, and whether or not biological imperatives play a role. Evolutionary psychology suggests that science is important. Men prefer physically attractive women, women like men who can take care of them. These statements are backed up from findings that when choosing mates, our male ancestors "gravitated toward youth and physical attractiveness — markers of fertility and health." However, "females, for whom conception meant pregnancy and the need to care for a child, were more selective, searching for long-term commitments from males with the resources and willingness to invest in them and their offspring."

The article cites a number of complications: females aren't wholly monogamous, and it seems that men and women today prefer partners who are well-rounded, not partners who are merely good-looking. One scientist, Geoffrey Miller, contends that the human mind serves the same purpose in men and women: it's a means to attract the opposite sex. Miller's book, "The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature," we learn that "traits such as musical and artistic ability played no clear role in helping human beings survive, but instead enhanced their reproductive success." As an artist, I was interested -- and not a little gladdened -- to read this.


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