Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Pair Bond and the Chiiiildren.

I went for a run today, a baby-jogger run (i.e. harder than your average hilly run, and sometimes complete with whining soundtrack). Coming off of the flu, a vacation, and a lot of travel for business, I found that the work part of the phrase work-out kept passing across my giant movie screen - it started hurting less than two miles in. Nevertheless, at one point, another runner turned onto the road I was running. Suddenly, my focus was no longer on the discomfort I was feeling with every stride.

Me to Thomas: "Ahh, aren't we lucky? It looks like we now have a mark (drawn out to indicate the presence of a new word for his lexicon). Now we have someone we can try to chase down and pass. And if we're successful, it will feel so good that we'll forget how our fitness has deteriorated."

Thomas: "Muh."

Me: "Very good. Let's get him."

Alas, my running foe turned off again before I could pass him. (I was gaining, though.) This scenario reminded me of the usefulness of competitive instincts in physical conditioning. Though being competitive is a direct result of the quest for status, and it is often the cause of serious interpersonal problems in life, it isn't always bad - it pushes me to work harder than I might otherwise. And, to expand the concept a bit, I think many of the caveman proclivities that I usually denigrate and recommend harnessing are actually useful in the right contexts. The pair bond, particularly where kids are concerned, may be another example.

Yesterday on Michael Medved's radio show, the discussion was centered around an article in the Northwestern periodical, The Oregonian, entitled: "Single mom a sign Rose court grows with times." Apparently, each year for the last 75 years, during the Rose Festival, a Portland senior has been chosen as the Queen of Rosaria. This year the Queen is Rosa Montoya, a single-mom with a 7-week old daughter. Not surprisingly, Medved was appalled that a girl in such a situation would be honored in such a way. I'm inclined to agree with him, but not for the reasons he gives.

Make no mistake, there's some substantial liberal diversity/tolerance/devictimization sentiment behind this Rose Queen selection.

Chet Orloff, director emeritus at the Oregon Historical Society and a member of the festival's centennial committee, thinks Montoya's election is good for Portland.

"It's a recognition of something that's quite realistic," he said. "Girls are having children in high school. Getting that out into the realm of something as traditional as the Rose Festival is healthy."

Medved disagreed. He stated that getting pregnant as a single teen is sign of poor character, and that it should not be praised or promoted as anything other than that. In my view, that's a bit overboard. Kids are kids, which means they often to do stupid things. They have time horizon problems, so it's hard to think of them as bad people (Isn't that what people who accuse others of having character problems are really saying?) when they get themselves into predicaments involving pregnancy. To me, the real test of character is what they do after they learn they are pregnant. Every situation is different, so I can't say which course of action will be the right one. However, I think it's safe to say that most all situations will offer a hard right and an easy wrong. Which is chosen says much more about the character of the teen than the fact that he or she is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But the character issue is not my main concern here. Given the liberal penchant for upending tradition, should we not entertain the notion that the pair bond is archaic and on its way out (or that it should be)?

Is the notion that a standard step along the path through life is getting hitched up to one person nothing more than our caveman machinery driving the bus? It's hard to say. Evolutionary psychology would seem to suggest that the monogamous pair bond is unnatural. Though the best female strategy in ancestral times entailed selecting males who had good genes and who would make good fathers, there's really nothing to suggest that females should have stayed with their childrens' fathers forever. But...this is not the ancestral world.

We have tens of thousands of years of culture that has shaped the way these caveman (or cavewoman, in this case) tendencies translate into behavior. Our genes push us toward love because it promotes reproduction and caring for our offspring, but our culture pushes love towards long-term, monogamous (at least on paper) relationships. Like I said, it's hard to say. Maybe it's better to just ask if it makes sense.

Those who are distressed that single parents are not honored nearly enough would seem to be suggesting that two-parent families are no better. Here we see shades of the theme behind multiculturalism - things (cultures, lifestyles, etc.) should not be thought of as better or worse, just different. Are they right? I think not, but not for moral reasons. I think this is a practical matter.

An Urban Institute article entitled, "Poverty among Children Born Outside of Marriage," says:

Children born outside of marriage are more likely to have a mother who did not graduate from high school than are children born to married parents. They are also less likely to live with a mother who works full-time year-round. While 44 percent of children born to married parents have a mother who is fully employed, this is true for only 26 percent of children born outside of marriage. Similarly, a third of the mothers of nonmarital children do not work at all, compared with only a fifth of children born to married parents.

What we can take from this is that being a single parent is a huge financial risk. A shocking revelation, to be sure. Having been raised by a single-mom, I can personally attest to this - my mother worked two jobs well into my college years. In the end, it seems like the usefulness of the pair bond in modern society revolves around the issue of children. If two individuals have no intention of having children, it seems hard to say that long-term monogamy is anything more than a persistent cultural relic. But, the moment kids come into the picture, it becomes a pragmatic extension of the natural propensity to provide for offspring. In that context, genetic love in the hands of monogamous cultural norms is a good thing, a better thing.

Notice I've never said the couple should be heterosexual. As the primary component of this equation, at least in my mind, is financial, I don't think the sex of the parents is relevant here. What is relevant is the probable consequence of having a child out of wedlock. On that, there are mountains of statistics that make it quite clear that kids do better in life when they have married parents. It's one thing to honor someone for overcoming hardship - one hopes this is what's really behind Rosa's selection as Rose Queen - but it's something different altogether to honor someone just because she's a single mom. If anything, the difficulties of being a single mom should be in the spotlight. Rosa should not be congratulated for raising a child on her own. If she must be foisted upon her peers, it should be as an object lesson in what not to do.

We can't (and shouldn't even consider) ridding ourselves of the caveman need for love, especially where children are concerned. Therefore, given that our culture has discovered that long-term, monogamous pair bonds are the best arrangements for harnessing love where children are concerned, we find ourselves in another situation where the caveman mind in the modern world isn't a problem at all. Sometimes, I guess, enlightenment means nothing more than knowing that the old way is still the right way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so totally agree with you! I have two daughters, both in their mid-30s. One is married and has two children. The other, single and *financially successful* chose to listen to her biological clock and have a child and is quite overextended both in time and money. She's a very organized and solid-citizen type and has family nearby, but it's still a struggle.

Idiot zgrrl

3/23/2005 07:49:00 AM

Blogger highlonesome said...

Hey caveman-

I admire you. I haven't updated my blog in a while. i need a well intentioned fellow to get on my case I think.

Anyway, here's a highly politically incorrect site you may be interested in:


There's a lot there. Suffice it to say, it delineates the two parent family as a characteristic and pre-requisite of civilization as opposed to a socity. Some good stuff there if you relax and breathe deeply.

3/23/2005 09:24:00 AM

Blogger alice said...

EC, I shared with my daughter the high points of the post which featured your friend and his square-toed shoes . The comments of the young men who frequent this blog were eye-openers. Even though she doesn't live at home I have tried to keep tabs on what my daughter experiences in her relationships with boys. I’m sure she doesn’t tell me all the details, but I told my mother nothing.

Your latest post brings me back to the sentiments I expressed in those past posts... females being ultimately responsible for offspring, while males can be as irresponsible as they wish, or rather as they can get away with.

Into the mix I will throw another charming trend, cohabitation without benefit of marriage. It actually has achieved a mainstream approval that I find very disturbing. My dad used to call it “shacking up”. I now call it the same thing

I have told my dear daughter that if she ever lives with a guy who she isn’t married to I will never want to meet him. My friends laugh at what they call my unrealistic stance on this, but I don’t care and I will carry through on my threat.

To me shacking up is yet another example of young women giving up their power. They let these young men move in and share their beds and demand absolutely nothing in return. And of course there are often children involved. I know a young woman who has two children and lives with the dad, but isn’t married. I guess she doesn’t want to make that big commitment. I guess she needs to think about it some more.

This kind of behavior used to be deviant, but it is now totally accepted by most except perhaps the very religious. It makes me sick to my stomach.

As you said at the end of your post "sometimes the old way is still the right way.".... even if they don't do it that way on "Friends".

3/23/2005 06:59:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Here, yet again, we will differ, Alice. I happen to be a big fan of cohabitation, especially as a test bed (oops, a pun) for marriage compatibility. It's one thing to know someone well on dates or the occasional sleep over. It's completely different to see each other day in and day out and to deal with the logistics of maintaining a shared domicile. Long term relationships are about a hell of a lot more than love. Living together is a great way to find out if there's a real fit. I will strongly recommend it to Thomas.

But maybe we're talking about something different here.

"They let these young men move in and share their beds and demand absolutely nothing in return."

Sounds like your hangup is freeloading men. The cohabitation arrangement I'm familiar with is more egalitarian - shared costs, and both parties bring furniture and such to the place. And, let's be honest, by the time living together comes up, sex has been part of the relationship for a while.

So how is the girl giving up her power? If anything, she has more than she would if she were just dating, considering that it now costs the guy money to break up with her.

3/23/2005 10:26:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You go, Caveman! That last comment was great--I couldn't have said it better myself.

3/24/2005 02:59:00 AM

Blogger alice said...

"Long term relationships are about a hell of a lot more than love. Living together is a great way to find out if there's a real fit."

This is the popular rationalization for shacking up. Marriage is not about whether or not you can live together happily. It is about making the commitment to do so.

While I have not made any studies on this subject and have not read any either, it is my intuition that this type of trial relationship doesn't sort out any of the issues upon which a good marriage is based. In fact it is the antithesis of the type of attitude necessary to make a marriage work. Commitment is the key and if there is always the possibility of hearing "oh well, this just isn't working for me, send my mail to my mother's, here's the key, see you later, still friends, right?" the kind of growth necessary for a mature relationship can't happen.

In addition, the acceptance of this kind of provisional relationship has led, I believe, to the decay of the family and has had an adverse affect on children. I would venture to say that many women become pregnant while “living with” their boyfriends. And because the couple hasn’t found out if the relationship is a “real fit”, many of those children do not live in a secure home environment. It is curious that despite the myriad forms of birth control, the rate of born out of wedlock children is on the rise. Can this be the subconscious desire of women to be in a committed relationship and to make that happen in a subversive way?

Whether or not the male is a freeloader, the female still stands to lose more. This is because of that old problem of a woman wanting to be loved and cherished more than anything else. This desire is biological in nature and has taken on the societal trappings of courtship and marriage. I don’t believe that a woman can truly be satisfied in a provisional relationship. It is the male who is perfectly satisfied to do so, because of his nature. As I have said before it is the female’s role to hold out until the male is willing to make the commitment. Lately, she has been convinced that she is just like a guy, that she doesn’t need to feel special. Her nature just won’t comply.

I think that we as humans have a need to formalize relationships, especially those which affect the most basic and important unit, the family. That is why marriage exists. Where there is no public statement of intent, the relationship loses credibility and definition. Other people don’t know how to regard the relationship. Is it serious? Is it merely convenience? Should we be happy? Can we count on this?

Now some will say that it is no one’s business. I say that it is everyone’s business how our society structures itself. And while marriage, like capitalism, is not perfect, it is the best thing we’ve got.

3/24/2005 11:01:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

"This is the popular rationalization for shacking up. Marriage is not about whether or not you can live together happily. It is about making the commitment to do so."

If marriage is not about living together happily, then what's the point? You seem to have this grand idea of marriage as an institution, an institution that people should have the character to commit to and live up to. Putting aside that most people don't see marriage as a forever thing (more than half end in divorce), I can't relate to marriage being anything more than the public merging of two people who have decided that they would rather face life as a pair than as individuals.

Why does it have to be more than that? Obviously, as my post discusses, marriage has practical advantages when it comes to kids, but at the end of the day, it's about a partnership between two people.

I'll acknowledge that taking it seriously is a good idea, and that the benefits associated with hanging on when times are hard and working at it probably far exceed the benefits of walking away and trying again. But I'm not ready to look at marriage as the litmus test for character. It's a practical matter *first*.

That's why it makes good sense for engaged couples to live together. If they've made a serious mistake, they get the chance to find out before long-term damage is done. Help me understand how it makes sense to expect someone to pick the right person without living with them or suck it up if they get a bad apple. Sounds like marriage is the most important thing - not the happiness of the people involved.

The bottom line is that long-term commitments *of any kind* are best made with good information. Cohabitation is a great producer of information about that special person. It seems like harsh puritanism to make it out to be character flaw if you decide this is what you want to do.

3/24/2005 11:06:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Hey Lonesome - write something, would you?! This post every few weeks crap isn't cutting it. You can't stick your toe in the blogosphere and expect to get anything out of it. Dive in. It's deep.

If you're wearing yourself out by boiling the ocean one post at a time, try lobbing an opinion or two about what's going on around you. Those pieces are easier and they offer little glimpes into who you are and what your life is like. That's what makes Lileks so irresistable.

Remember, blog is short for web log, as in captain's log. Sometimes it's boring, but something's got to be said.

How's that?

3/24/2005 11:15:00 PM

Blogger alice said...

"If marriage is not about living together happily, then what's the point?"

You misquoted me to make your point. I said that marriage is about the commitment to live happily together. To go into a trial relationship sells the commitment down the river because of its provisional quality.

It is interesting that you say engaged couples should live together. Can I assume by that that you would like to see some kind of formal agreement before cohabitation takes place?

"Help me understand how it makes sense to expect someone to pick the right person without living with them or suck it up if they get a bad apple."

Help me understand how you can date someone for a while and not realize they are a bad apple? What exactly do you find out by living with them that you can't find out otherwise?

and...do you know there was actually a time, not so long ago, when to live with a person of the opposite sex without benefit of marriage was considered the lowest type of lifestyle? Somehow those folks were able to pick partners without "living with" them. And at that time the divorce rate was very low because that too was not accepted. Could there be a correlation?

3/25/2005 09:29:00 AM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

"To go into a trial relationship sells the commitment down the river because of its provisional quality."

Is the commitment - the size and hardship of it - the only thing that matters here? Do people who get married two weeks into the relationship because of "love at first sight" and then stick it out for 40 years till one or both of them dies enjoy a place at the top of the totem pole?

As relationships are, in my view, the most important things in life, I see relationship commitments as situations that require rational deliberation. I'm not saying you analyze it to death, but regardless of how you *feel*, I think you should have some deal-breaker standards. Some people require partners who are secure in themselves. I do.

I need to know that my wife knows who she is and likes, no, loves herself. The problem is that many people are *very* skilled at hiding their insecurity, especially in love relationships.

For example, suppose a person has adopted a fair amount of "game" and does well in the early stages of a relationship, where it's all show. If the other person becomes enamored with them, that contrived confidence can actually be extended quite far. Cohabitation actually minimizes the amount of time it takes to discover insecurity. This is because you can't be on stage at all times. On the other hand, the two could just take the plunge and live with the results.

If they did, we could appaud their character, but not, in my view, their judgement. These things are too important to get hung up on keeping "commitment" sacred. Even when there's a perfect fit between two people, there will plenty of opportunity for demonstrating the character that is revealed through the voluntary hardship that comes with commitment.

"and...do you know there was actually a time, not so long ago, when to live with a person of the opposite sex without benefit of marriage was considered the lowest type of lifestyle? Somehow those folks were able to pick partners without "living with" them. And at that time the divorce rate was very low because that too was not accepted. Could there be a correlation?"

In my lifetime, I've seen more bad marriages than good ones. I've seen people who wouldn't get divorced but hated each other. I've seen kids who grew up learning that the relationship between a husband and wife is a cold, logistical one that is utterly devoid of love. This is a case where prudish tradition harms more than it helps. Had many of these couples cohabitated before getting married, the results would have been different. The individuals would have been more discerning in their choice of mates, which would have been nothing short of positive. Again, having more information in the process is better for everyone. Cohabitation is an essential component, in all but rare cases.

3/28/2005 12:00:00 AM


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