Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Settle vs. Compromise

Voice-over narration:

In a world... where single women in their late 30's/early 40's have passed up plenty of good men...

I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but feminism has completely fucked up my love life... It's not that I would give back the gains of feminism for anything... It's just that I wish I hadn't tried to apply what I believe to be 'feminist ideals' to dating. p. 43

"...I want a husband and a boyfriend!" p. 279

What's so hard to accept about loneliness and desire for connection? Is there really something wrong with our self-esteem or our values if we want someone to share the literal and metaphorical driving with? We're so worried about 'settling', but then we find ourselves unhappily "unsettled"-- living in our single-person apartments, eating takeout for dinner in front of the TV, and hoping for a guy to show up so we can 'settle down.' (p. 59)

"Since when is getting 80% considered settling?... We create these fantasy men-- he's going to have this kind of career, this color eyes, be this age. How specific can you get before you rule out almost everyone?" p. 266

"...women generally have higher expectations than men...With women, the word "butterflies" came up again and again, but guys didn't use that word. Guys would say, 'I knew this person was the right person when we'd been dating for six months and she had to go away for a week, and when she was gone, I missed her so much. I thought I felt happier when she was around. I realized how important she was.' Women talked a lot about chemistry and fireworks." p. 279.

"So which is it-- do you want exciting, or do you want comfortable? What do you want long-term?" p. 283.

"He ordered tap water. He took the subway to meet me. He didn't even take a cab at night. He's cheap." In fact he was tall and handsome and wealthy, so I just said, "He may not care about bottled water or cabs, but if they're important to you, maybe he'd understand that...These are things you can discuss if you ended up liking each other. At least go out with him again." But it rubbed her the wrong way. She wasn't into it. p. 98

"The best husbands are the ones who have these unseen qualities, the kind of things you'll see over time, like kindness, patience, generosity, and honesty." p. 195
"That's an idiotic dating strategy...He's known her a week. How does he know he wouldn't like you better?"... I tried to feel reassured by my friends' comments, but instead they made me respect Sheldon more: the thought of 'better' didn't seem to occur to him. He had no so-called dating strategy. He was an ethical guy who didn't sleep with one woman and go on a blind date with another... p. 89.

"There was a lack of correlation between what people said they wanted on the questionnaire, and what they actually picked when they met a real, live person." p. 116

It did seem hypocritical-- I wanted men to accept me for who I was, but I wasn't willing to accept them for who they were. In the past, I'd always focused on what compromises I'd have to make to be with someone else, but I didn't seriously consider the second part-- that being with me wouldn't be winning the lottery either.... Like most women, I had friends constantly telling me what a great "catch" I was, that any guy would be "lucky" to have me, and that I should never compromise when choosing a mate." p. 126

"The culture tells us to approach dating like shopping-- but in shopping , no one points out the shopper's own flaws." p. 27

I'd mention the couch metaphor, and while my younger single friends had trouble understanding why this made me so happy ("He's like an old couch!?" they'd ask), my older married friends were delighted. p. 309

"Was it love at first site? It wasn't then-- but it sure is now." Anne Meara p. 195
Anne Meara has been married to Jerry Stiller for 55 years. Incidentally, they're Ben Stiller's parents.


That is how I would organize the trailer if the latest book to capture my attention were made into a movie. The provocative title is a bit misleading: Marry Him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb.

It's not really about "settling," a word that offends a lot of people. It's just about having more realistic expectations. It's about compromise, something that everyone does, all the time, if you interact (successfully) with other human beings.

Gottlieb, a 41-year-old single mother who had a child on her own, wondered why she and so many of her friends were having so much trouble finding the right man to marry. The endless supply of boyfriends they had in their 20's had disappeared, replaced by short, balding, divorced guys in their 50's. Now they regret having let so many great guys go for shallow or trivial reasons.

As one of those guys who plenty of women passed over when I was younger, a part of me feels some vindication at reading this book. But another part of me takes it to heart. Although I'm not the exact audience for this book, I know that there's a reason I'm 40 and single. I, too, need to have realistic expectations.

This is one of those books I could write hundreds more words about, but I think I'll let the "trailer" speak for itself. There are lots of thought-provoking points, anecdotes, data, and quotes about dating, relationships, and marriage in the book. Read it yourself if that kind of thing appeals to you. Discuss.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bad Aunt

"I'm not a very good uncle."

This is a common refrain of mine. Sometimes I have to admit it sheepishly to single women who I have a crush on. It's not a very endearing trait-- being a bad uncle.

Not me

But is it true? It's not like I'm mean to my siblings' offspring. I don't insult them or beat them or tell them Santa died of a broken heart because they were wicked little urchins. My biggest offense is negligence. I just don't really take much interest in them.

One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. "Oh, no," I said. "Disneyland burned down." He cried and cried, but I think that deep down, he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late. -- Jack Handy
Also not me

I've always thought this makes me a bad uncle because every childless single woman I know absolutely dotes on her nephews and nieces. They can't wait to spend time with them, take tons of pictures of them, smother them with presents and auntly love.

Me... not so much. I'll be there for the occasional baseball game, school play, cross-country meet, or birthday, but compared to my single childless female friends, I'm as active in my siblings' children's lives as a neighborhood dog.

But I realized something recently. Not living up to my female friends doesn't necessarily make me a bad uncle, all it makes me is a bad aunt.

I can live with that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Innovative Disagreements

I've been roped onto a committee at work in charge of planning a staff development activity for our division.

The topic? INNOVATION!!

I suggested to the other committee members that instead of doing the same boring thing we always do, like hiring a monolithic speaker, we do something different like show fun, varied, and educational Youtube videos (1-3 minutes each) to illustrate the different ways people approach innovation.

The response from one of the committee members? "But we're supposed to hire a speaker!"

The irony was not lost on me: A committee in charge of presenting INNOVATION was resistant to a new idea.

I collected about 15 different videos on Youtube, and many of them emphasized how corporate culture crushes innovation because people are afraid to be wrong or make mistakes.


Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who seems to be your exact opposite? Like, every idea you have they shoot down, and vice-versa?

That's what this meeting felt like. She thought my ideas were boring. I thought hers were.

One video in particular I thought was really clever and insightful:

She said it was boring and stopped watching halfway through.

It's four minutes long. Four minutes! And it has cool drawings and interesting ideas about creativity and sharing and collaboration. And turtles!! Who doesn't like that?

It's not actually turtles doing it, but two "slow hunches" joining together for a new idea. Still... they look very happy.

Maybe I'm a nerd.

But I don't think it's too much to ask that people who work AT A COLLEGE get interested in diverse presentations and be open to a free exchange of ideas, which is what the video itself is talking about.


This story does have a happy-ish ending. My colleague/nemesis did come up with some good ideas that seemed in the spirit of innovation. We were able to compromise in a way that made most of us happy, I think.

For our upcoming staff development we'll still show some videos and do other activities that may or may not fall flat.

And we all learned a valuable lesson about teamwork, sharing, and corporate platitudes.

Most importantly, we learned this:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Library Enforcer

When I got to work Monday morning, I wondered what the over/under would be on the number of times I'd have to ask students to turn down the music on their headphones this week. I put it at 15.

It's a part of my job that I hate, but even more than that, I hate having to listen to that tinny, chirping beat emanating out of their ears from 30 feet away. People may be having a conversation at the same decibel level, but that doesn't bother me like the headphone music does. It's like a bee buzzing around your face. And really, if I can hear something buried in your ear from that far away, IT'S TOO LOUD! (This is not a big brother thing. I don't give a damn about your hearing. I just don't want to have to listen to your tiny music in the library.)

Toronto Transit agrees with me.

So I tap them on the shoulder, make eye contact, and do the universal sign for turning down the volume-- twisting my thumb and forefinger around an imaginary knob. When they remove the headphones and look at me, I say with a smile on my face, "Could you turn that down a little? I can hear it all the way over there." And point over to my desk.

They might get annoyed or embarrassed or incredulous, but they all comply. Sometimes they ask, "You can hear that?" as if I am some super human with canine hearing. Yes, sadly, I can. And I get really tired of having to ask people to turn down their music, but if I didn't do it, the library would be overrun with competing headphones blaring from every direction.


The only other policing I have to do in the library is about food. Since our library renovation, we now have an upstairs lounge with vending machines where people can eat and drink. But the main floor, with the computers and computer lab, is still off-limits for eating.

Not our sign, but I wish it was.

So when I see someone with food at a computer, I have to ask them to take it upstairs to the 2nd floor.

Which is what happened today. A student walked past my desk on her way to the lab with a (personal-sized) pizza she'd just bought at the campus Subway.

"Um, I'm sorry, but there's no eating in the computer lab," I tell her. She says, "Okay, I'm just going to put it in my bag." I'm not crazy about this idea, but what can I do? If she really puts it in her bag, she's not eating it.

Twenty minutes later, I go into the lab to attend to the printer, and what do I see? Pizza Girl, with the pizza box in front of her, chewing on something. (The pizza box is closed.) I say, "I told you there's no eating in here, and I see you eating. You'll have to take that upstairs."

She argues with me. "I'll put it in my bag and won't eat any more. I'm not hurting anyone." She's working on a group project with some other people. "I've been here since 10:00 this morning." (It's about 3:00 pm.)

"I understand that," I say, "But there are places on campus where you can eat and places where you can't."

I leave the room, fuming. The pizza in the room bothers me, but worse than that is the fact that SHE LIED TO ME. When she did that, she made this a power struggle, and now I have to be an asshole and call her on it. I'm not hurting anyone, she says. But she is. She's hurting me.

She's forcing me to defend a policy that, while I agree with it, certainly brings up some grey areas. A water bottle? Yeah, okay, I'll look the other way on that. But a fucking pizza? In the computer lab? I can't ignore that. I'm not in the mood to get into a policy debate over why we don't allow food in the library. It's been debated by faculty, staff, and administration for years. The decision was made. I'm enforcing that decision.

Two minutes later I go back into the lab. The pizza box is still sitting there, closed, while she works. I tell her, "Look, I can smell the pizza in the room. If someone else comes in and smells that, they get the wrong impression. You need to take it out."

She continues to try to argue with me, but thankfully, the guy she's working with is very reasonable and says they'll leave. He's polite and asks about the lounge area upstairs. (Unfortunately there are no computers up there.) Finally they pack up all their things and leave, and he apologizes for causing trouble. I'm thankful that he was there, or the situation might have escalated.

I came away from it feeling like the trollish little nazi who kicked some diligent students out of the library.

But seriously... pizza in a public computer lab? Isn't that common sense?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things I Want You To Know About Eva Gabrielsson's Book

Stieg Larsson wrote some great books, and like the main character in his Millenium/Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Mikael Blomkvist, he was a tireless activist, leftist, feminist, and overall muckraker. According to his widow, Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson was not the same person as his alter ego, but Blomkvist was the journalist Larsson wished he had been.


That's one interesting thing I learned from Gabrielsson's book, "There Are Things I Want You To Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me.

Sadly, the book is more interesting as a primary source than as a literary work. The writing is as tortured and confusing as the title. It brings up more questions than it enlightens. Like, why are the first eight words of the title in quotes?

It's hard for me to get a handle on the tone of the book. I wanted to like her, and I really want to feel for her. She was Larsson's companion for 32 years. They never had kids or got married, but lived together for 30 years. When he died suddenly (of a heart attack at 50 years old), just before the first of his three (already written) books was published, she was not only left without the primary presence in her life, but it also lead to a dispute over his estate and the rights to his works with his father and brother.


I can't imagine how devastating and heartbreaking his sudden death must have been for her. And it sounds like his father and brother betrayed her and Stieg, trying to capitalize on the work of someone who, although closely related by blood, they did not understand very well. Because Larsson and Gabrielsson never married, she didn't get the rights to his works.

Brother and father Larsson. I have to admit, it's hard to look at this picture and imagine evil greedy Swedes.

It's a messy, complicated situation.

And yet, there are things about "There Are Things I Want You To Know..." that just bug me. It seems to ramble in lots of different directions, address questions I never had, as if she is responding to a heckler I can't hear. As if she's presenting a case to a jury, but we're only hearing half the conversation. There's a defensive, secretive, disjointed tone that you often get from crazy people.

Let me stress here: I don't know any of these people. I don't know Stieg, I don't know Eva, I don't know his father or his brother. All I have to go on is what Eva's written in her book. I obviously defer to her about what Stieg was like and what he would have wanted. And it's certainly within the realm of possibility that his father and brother are greedy relatives who just want to cash in on his work. I'm just saying that the narrator of her book comes across, sometimes, as an unreliable character. She puts details in the book that seem irrelevant, and then leaves out things that seem important.

She writes a lot about how their life together influenced his crime novels. She lists people, places, and things from his real life that appear in the books. She stresses all the things from the books that she has a personal connection to, as if to tell the jury, "See? I was important! He made a reference to me here, and here, and here!"

But one big question she never addresses, one I kept having, was Mikael Blomkvist's relationship with Erika Berger, an unusual but very close "open relationship" with a married woman. How much of that was fiction? Blomkvist is a commitment-phobe who gets a lot of women, but Gabrielsson never addresses this side of Larsson's alter ego in her book. It is a conspicuous omission. As if she is saying, "There are things I don't want you to know about Stieg Larsson and me."

And then there are the strains of anger and revenge throughout the book. Gabrielsson has a disturbing fixation on revenge. Granted, she says this is how Stieg was, and in that, I'll defer to her. She even goes so far as to perform an ancient Norse revenge ritual on some mysterious enemy of Stieg's, whom she never names, nor does she explain what heinous thing this person did. It's a bizarre chapter and makes for bad writing. Someone did something horrible, and they knew who they are, so let me tell you in detail about the ritual I performed.

I understand that she objects to the Stieg Larsson industry that has cropped up since his death. It seems to go against so much of what he stood for, and that must be painful for her. I'm sympathetic. On the other hand, I'm torn, because if it weren't for that industry, I might not have been exposed to his books, which I really enjoyed.

If nothing else, Gabrielsson's book has piqued my curiosity. I have to admit I haven't read anything else about this story, or even reviews of her book, before writing this post. I could be missing lots of stuff. Now I'd like to read what other people have written about Larsson, to see what a good writer and real journalist has to say about the situation. (There are a surprising number of biographies about him. The story behind his books seems almost as amazing as the ones he wrote.) I accept that, as Eva says, these people never knew Stieg, but maybe she is simply too close to him to present a coherent story.