Learn About the Nature of Love [youtube.com]

Learn about the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love.

Helen Fisher is a Biological Anthropologist, a Research Professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site, Chemistry.com, a division of Match.com.

How to Set Boundaries With People You Love [jezebel.com]

by Anna North / jezebel.com

Sometimes you need a little space, even from the people you love. But these people — family, partners, close friends — can be the hardest to set boundaries with, because you don’t want to push them away. Below, some tips for establishing those boundaries without being a jerk.

Figure out what you need.

The first step to good boundaries is figuring out where to draw them. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How much alone time do you need? What level of closeness do you want with your partner, your family, your friends? Jane Adams, PhD, author of Boundary Issues: Using Boundary Intelligence to Get the Intimacy You Want and the Independence You Need in Life, Love, and Work, says,

The appropriate boundary in all important relationships is that ineffable place where you feel both close to and distinct from the Other. Remember that intimacy means allowing access to your interior world — your thoughts, feelings, fantasies, beliefs, etc — and risk that it (and you) may change. How intimate the relationship is and how much you trust the other person to treat that inner world respectfully — i.e., not mess with your head or hurt your feelings — determines how much of it you show them.

Boundaries will be different for every relationship and every person. If you’re not letting anyone get close to you, you might want to discuss that with a therapist. But there’s a difference between closeness and losing yourself, and defining that difference for yourself is the first step toward setting boundaries that work for you.

Talk about it.

Jo-Ellen Grzyb, co-author of The Nice Factor: The Art of Saying No, says a big mistake people often make is assuming their loved ones can read their minds. That’s (usually) not the case, and rather than requiring that the people you care about “just know” what you need, you have to tell them. And do it early — “the first time you feel it in your gut” that you need to say something, do so. If your girlfriend tries to talk to you while you’re on the phone, or you realize you absolutely need Wednesday evenings to yourself to recharge, speak up rather than stewing about it. If you delay too long, you’ll build up resentment, which isn’t fair to you or the person you care about, and will only make the conversation harder. However, there is one important caveat to this advice:

Wait til you’re not mad.

Grzyb says the time to discuss a boundary issue is soon — but not so soon that you’re actively pissed off. If you talk to your girlfriend the second she interrupts you, you’re likely to snap at her and unload feelings of annoyance that aren’t necessarily even her fault. After all, she can’t read your mind. Just wait for the next calm opportunity, and talk about solutions with a level head. And keep it simple and non-accusatory. Don’t say “you always pester me” — instead, say something like, “it’s hard for me to concentrate when I’m on the phone, could you wait til I’m done before asking me questions?”

Consider their needs too.

The thing about people you love is that you want them around. And any relationship that’s truly close involves some give and take. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, suggests that when you talk about boundaries, especially with a romantic partner, you talk about “how you can meet your partner’s needs too.” For instance, maybe you want quiet time when you get home from work to recharge, but your partner wants to spend time with you and talk about the day. You could suggest a half-hour of quiet time after work, followed by dinner together where you get to catch up. Cain says what’s important is “establishing protocols that will suit both people.” Once you’ve done that, you no longer have to talk about it all the time — you and your partner will have routines in place that ensure you each get what you need.

State a general preference.

One good way to talk about your need for space with loved ones is to make it about you, not them. It’s not that they’re annoying, it’s that you really need that half hour to yourself every evening. Cain says that especially for introverts, “it’s helpful to have these conversations through the frame of temperament.” Some people like constant social contact, others need more alone time — discussing your boundaries in terms of which kind of person you are can make your loved ones feel less accused. It also allows you to make general statements about your preferences. For instance, Cain says her friends all know she’s not very good about returning phone calls. She’s made it clear to all of them that she doesn’t like the phone much, so when they don’t hear from her, they know it’s about her, not them. So if, for instance, you can’t manage the twice-weekly phone date that your friend would prefer, let him know that you’re just not really a phone person. And …

Offer an alternative.

Sometimes setting boundaries can just be a matter of agreeing on how to talk. Grzyb points out that if you’re someone who doesn’t like getting a lot of texts, you could ask your most text-happy loved ones to leave a voicemail instead, so you can set up a time to talk. If you hate the phone, set up a coffee date. If a friend wants to unload the details of her breakup on you, but you’re already feeling pretty exhausted, ask if you can talk to her about it in a couple of days. Figuring out an alternative way to connect is a good way to show that while you care about someone, you also need to take care of yourself. And anyone who’s truly close to you should respect that.


Are Civil Unions For All The Wave Of The Future? [jezebel.com]

By Anna North / jezebel.com

That’s the argument one journalist makes after interviewing several couples in Illinois who chose to get opposite-sex civil unions. But don’t bet on these legal arrangements edging out marriage yet.

Writing in Slate, John Culhane says his interviews with some of the 148 straight couples who have gotten civil unions in Illinois since it became legal last June “reflect a cohort prepared to take the wrecking ball to marriage itself.” According to research by the Illinois clerk’s office, most straight couples who got civil unions had “personal or religious convictions against marriage” — some specified “solidarity with the gay community and/or support of equality, fairness, and inclusiveness,” while others cited discomfort with the labels “husband,” “wife,” or “marriage.” In his interviews, Culhane found several couples who chose civil unions as a statement in favor of LGBT rights — says one man, “until marriage is an option for everyone, it shouldn’t be an option for us.” He also found people who disliked traditional marriage and its implications — one newly married partner says having a civil union “keeps me from falling into any preconditioned behavior that I might have picked up. Calling [Leah] my partner, not my wife, helps me not to have any assumptions.”

Culhane sets up these couples as a harbinger of the death of marriage and the rise of the civil union, but I’m not so sure. For one thing, many reported discrimination — several had officials question their decision not to marry, and one clerk insisted that the male partner be listed as “Partner A” even though the law has no such requirement. For another, civil unions still don’t confer the same rights as marriage, and aren’t federally recognized — discrimination against gay couples ends up affecting straight couples who choose this option. Third, despite the much-vaunted decline in marriage, our culture remains obsessed with the institution as a marker of personal success — not to mention an opportunity for a big wedding. It’s tough to go against the grain, and if you’re a straight couple who’s ready to make a lifelong commitment, it’s going to be hard to give up all the legal and social benefits of marriage in order to make a point. The idea of progressive straights giving up traditional marriage en masse in order of more egalitarian arrangements is a nice one, but extending marriage rights to gay couples still seems like the better path.

No To Nuptials [Slate]


Why Marriage is a Declining Option for Modern Women [guardian.co.uk]

By Kate Bolick /Guardian News

In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track  relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behaviour, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.

The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time. (A friend who suffered my company a lot that summer sent me a birthday text this past July: “A decade ago you and I were reuniting, and you were crying a lot.”) I missed Allan desperately – his calm, sure voice; the sweetly fastidious way he folded his shirts. On good days, I felt secure that I’d done the right thing. Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. On bad days, I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?

Ten years later, I occasionally ask myself the same question. Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. A decade ago, luck didn’t even cross my mind. I’d been in love before, and I’d be in love again. This wasn’t hubris so much as naivety; I’d had serious, long-term boyfriends since my freshman year of high school, and simply couldn’t envision my life any differently.

Well, there was a lot I didn’t know 10 years ago. The decision to end a stable relationship for abstract rather than concrete reasons (“something was missing”), I see now, is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfilment above all else. And the elevation of independence over coupling (“I wasn’t ready to settle down”) is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother, who had embraced it, in part, I suspect, to correct her own choices.

I was her first and only recruit, marching off to third grade in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: “A Woman Without A Man Is Like A Fish Without A Bicycle”, or: “A Woman’s Place Is In The House – And The Senate”. Once, in high school, driving home from a family vacation, my mother turned to my boyfriend and me cuddling in the backseat and said, “Isn’t it time you two started seeing other people?” She adored Brian – he was invited on family vacations! But my future was to be one of limitless possibilities, where getting married was something I’d do when I was ready, to a man who was in every way my equal, and she didn’t want me to get tied down just yet.

This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place. I spent many a golden afternoon at my small New England liberal-arts college debating with friends the merits of leg-shaving and whether or not we’d take our husband’s surname. (Even then, our concerns struck me as retro; hadn’t the women’s libbers tackled all this stuff already?) We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.

That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not? One of the many ways in which our lives differed from our mothers’ was in the variety of our interactions with the opposite sex. Men were our classmates and colleagues, our bosses and professors, as well as, in time, our students and employees and subordinates – an entire universe of prospective friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, and even ex-boyfriends-turned-friends. In this brave new world, boundaries were fluid, and roles constantly changing.

In 1969, when my 25-year-old mother, a college-educated high-school teacher, married a handsome lawyer-to-be, most women her age were doing more or less the same thing. By the time she was in her mid-30s, she was raising two small children and struggling to find a satisfying career. What she’d envisioned for me was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up – and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.

In the 1990s, Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington, noticed an uptick in questions from reporters and audiences asking if the institution of marriage was falling apart. She didn’t think it was, and was struck by how everyone believed in some mythical Golden Age of Marriage and saw mounting divorce rates as evidence of the dissolution of this halcyon past. She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux.

What Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. She’d long known that the Leave It To Beaver-style family model popular in the 1950s and 60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.

For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church and community. It took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes. In the American colonies, wealthy merchants entrusted business matters to their landlocked wives while off at sea, just as sailors, vulnerable to the unpredictability of seasonal employment, relied on their wives’ steady income as domestics in elite households. Two-income families were the norm.

Not until the 18th century did labour begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women. Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognised, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks. But as labour became separated, so did our spheres of experience – the marketplace versus the home – one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort. Not until the postwar gains of the 1950s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.

All of this was intriguing, for sure – but even more surprising to Coontz was the realisation that those alarmed reporters and audiences might be on to something. Coontz still didn’t think that marriage was falling apart, but she came to see that it was undergoing a transformation far more radical than anyone could have predicted, and that our current attitudes and arrangements are without precedent. “Today we are experiencing a historical revolution every bit as wrenching, far-reaching, and irreversible as the Industrial Revolution,” she wrote.

Last summer I called Coontz to talk to her about this revolution. “We are without a doubt in the midst of an extraordinary sea change,” she told me. “The transformation is momentous – immensely liberating and immensely scary. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organise their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.”

Click here to read the rest of the article:


What does it mean if you don’t want to have sex? [io9.com]

Annalee Newitz — Famed sexologist Alfred Kinsey called them “group X.” Big Bang Theory calls them people who, like Sheldon, “have no deal.” But the one percent of the population who aren’t interested in sex call themselves asexuals, aces, or, more simply, people who would pick cake over sex.

Asexuality began to emerge in the public sphere as a sexual orientation in the mid-1990s, after a massive study in the UK revealed that 1.05% of people described themselves as having “never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.” Since then, asexuals began to form communities online and in person, trying to create a comfortable place for themselves in a world where sexual indifference is often treated as a defect or disease. Though asexual communities may have precursors in millennia-old celibate religious orders, there is a big difference between choosing celibacy for religious reasons and choosing asexuality because you like cake more than sex.

Asexuality is also a futuristic sexual orientation, represented more often in science fiction than other genres, which may be why some asexuals call the Doctor from Doctor Who their hero.

Unlike homosexuality, which has been stigmatized for centuries in many cultures, asexuality isn’t usually greeted with rage or disgust. Most often, say asexuals, the problem is that people don’t realize that asexuality is — as the characters in Big Bang Theory put it — “a deal.” Even when people do stumble across asexuality, there are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means.

Paul Cox, an asexual who is happily married to another asexual, wrote in The Guardianabout what it was like to go through puberty as an asexual:

When I was 13, my father gave me a book on sex education. I felt as if I was reading about a foreign culture; I just couldn’t see why anyone would go to so much trouble just to have sex. I tried looking at pornography on the internet. I wasn’t disgusted or appalled – it was just boring, like looking at wallpaper.

Masturbation was another topic of conversation in those days, and I did masturbate. It wasn’t a sexual urge for me, I didn’t fantasise, it was just something my body decided to do. People say about asexuals: “But if they masturbate doesn’t that make them sexual?” It’s hard to explain, but if you’re asexual you don’t necessarily feel an explicit connection between masturbation and sexual orientation. It’s just part of having a human body – a physical, biological process.

Later, Cox describes discovering the asexual community through the message boards at Asexuality.org, and at last coming out as an asexual. Once he realized he wasn’t alone, he began exploring what it meant to have relationships without sex. When he met his future wife through an asexual group online, he discovered that he wanted a romantic, long-term relationship.

And Cox realized, as many asexuals do, that a lack of sexual desire doesn’t foreclose the possibility of marriage. It just means that the marriage won’t be conventional. On their wedding night, Cox and his wife stayed up late with their friends playing Scrabble in the honeymoon suite.

Science fiction writers from Kurt Vonnegut and Karen Healey to Greg Egan and Elizabeth Bear have written about characters who identify as asexual, and the idea of becoming asexual for the good of a space colony is played for weirdness in Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix.Asexuals also romp through the post-human worlds of Iain M. Banks and Charles Stross.

I’d suggest there are two main reasons why SF authors have written asexuals into their future societies. First of all, many authors imagine that humans of the future will be completely liberated from the need to reproduce biologically, using seriously retrograde penis/vagina methods. Once the species can reproduce using biotechnology, we are freed up to explore the idea that maybe not everybody wants or needs to have sex, and so asexuals will become an ordinary part of any post-human society. The second reason I think that asexuality figures into science fiction is that asexual relationships themselves free humans from the traditional constraints imposed on romantic couplings. If you don’t base your most intimate relationships on sex, then you’re able to reimagine human intimacy in all kinds of new ways.

And indeed, this is precisely what asexuals are doing right now.

Over at Kitch MagazineHelen Havlak profiles Alexis, an asexual college student who is very active in online communities like AVEN (the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network). Alexis talks about how Doctor Who‘s time traveler is one of the heroes of the asexual community, because he has incredibly close friendships with people but seems mostly uninterested in sex. Havlak emphasizes that one of the benefits of asexuality is being able to embrace friendships as central emotional connections:

Overall, Alexis said, many asexual relationships don’t differ all that much from a “normal” sexual relationship. Open relationships do tend to be a greater presence on AVEN than in the general public, though, and many asexuals have more fluid life plans than getting married and having kids at a certain age. “Some people re-adopt that plan later,” Alexis said, “but on their own terms.”

One perk of identifying as asexual, Alexis told me, is that many people find that “discovering their asexuality liberated them from feeling like they had to be held up to certain standards, and it helped them become much closer to a lot of their friends, in that they started treating their relationships more like friendships, and their friendships more like relationships.” She clarified, “In a certain way, they try to remove the ‘just’ in front of ‘just friends,’ because no, a friendship does not have to be in any way a lesser kind of relationship than a romantic one. Society makes you think that your goal in life is to find a specific romantic relationship. And ultimately, we should build emotionally close relationships with everyone around us.”

Just as homosexuals are helping to redefine what marriage means, asexuals are helping to redefine friendship. And they are becoming a stronger, more visible group in the process.


And an interesting exchange of comments worth posting:

Or if you’re a transsexual, like me, sex is simply TOO dangerous. Better to be asexual and have close friends.
Can you explain why it’s too dangerous? No snark or anything, just trying to learn!
Let’s just say that when a guy takes an interest in me, that’s all well and good. Then I tell him I’m trans and the reactions run the range of “blank stare” to hostility and threats. Now I’m upfront about myself, because I want people who like me and I like them. I don’t want to leave anyone guessing or feeling misled or used.

But… a lot of trans women do not disclose. And many still haven’t had surgeries, or can’t afford them, or even don’t want them. Yet they like guys. And in their desire to have a love and validation they hold back a certain piece of info about their genitals. And when the guy finds out, well, bad things happen because the guy has a visceral homophobic reaction – even though trans women have NOTHING to do with issues of gay or straight, the male takes it badly.

You see, many trans women will seek out the most macho guy they can to validate their own womanhood. And it is in this wicked dance of omission that violence and murder occurs.

Guys shouldn’t be beating up trans women. They should just walk away. Maybe shout a few epithets. Their feelings are justifiable because they have been used for someone else’s validation. And I think this is one of the few times where a guy feels violated. And he has been.

The leading cause of death for trans is murder and suicide. But the murders are partly based upon deception in dating. Not deception about womanhood. But deception about that we have a unique journey and that means we shouldn’t settle for any macho guy who would like our ass (or like the ass that they imagine we have).

We’re deserving of love for who we are. But it takes a lot of internal work to get to that point.

The fear is that we’ll be alone if we’re truthful. But I’m not sure which is worse… being alone for living the truth… or being alone in a relationship always in fear of being found out…

Roll the dice…

For your brain, romantic rejection is the same thing as being physically burned [gawker.com]

Annalee Newitz — When your sweetheart dumps you, there’s a reason why it hurts so much. It turns out your brain registers the psychological hell in exactly the same way it registers physical pain.

A group of scientists used fMRI scans to study the brains of people dealing with being rejected, and compared them to the brains of people experiencing physical pain. They found that the exact same regions of the brain are involved in processing both experiences. For humans, social rejection is tantamount to literal injury.

Write the authors in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

We tested this hypothesis by recruiting 40 individuals who felt intensely rejected as a result of recently experiencing an unwanted romantic relationship break-up. Participants performed two counterbalanced tasks during functional MRI (fMRI) scanning: a Social Rejection task and a Physical Pain task. Briefly, the Social Rejection task compared Ex-partner trials, in which participants viewed a headshot of their former partner and thought about their specific rejection experience, and Friend trials, in which participants viewed a headshot of a friend who was the same sex as their ex-partner and thought about a recent positive experience they shared with that person. The Physical Pain task also consisted of two types of trials: Hot trials, in which participants experienced noxious thermal stimulation on their left forearm, and Warm trials, in which participants experienced nonnoxious thermal stimulation in the same area. Participants rated how they felt after each task trial using a five-point scale, with lower numbers reflecting more distress.

And indeed, they saw the same regions of the brain lighting up during both physical and mental tasks – specifically, “areas that support the sensory components of physical pain (secondary somatosensory cortex; dorsal posterior insula).” The researchers say that their work could shed light on why different kinds of social rejection can lead to physical pain and other ailments. Ultimately, they say, our brains reveal an intensely strong connection between emotions and physical sensations. An interesting area for future research would be whether witnessing somebody else’s distress also affects our brains the same way physical pain does – in other words, do we literally feel the pain of others?

Read the full scientific paper via PNAS