Larry Crowne

julia and tomMost movies are not only fiction but take place with plots and occurrences and even locations that can’t exist in the real world. While these diversions can certainly be highly entertaining I tend to be drawn to movies that either tell the stories of what real people experience or at least tell a fictional story not unlike the real-life experiences of millions of standard folk. These are the movies that pique my interest and are most likely to delight me.

“Larry Crowne” is such a movie, a land of opportunity story similar to the real-life experiences of millions of Americans. Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is a divorced 20 year Navy veteran proudly working in a big box store for which he takes ownership by his loyal enthusiasm. Set years ago during the great recession, Crowne is “downsized” out of his job. Like so many millions of others at that time he’s upside down on his house payment and unable to find a job even with his enthusiastic pursuit. His next-door neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) directs him towards getting a college education by handing him, and trying to sell him, a (free) local community college schedule.

Larry enrolls in college and upon a dean’s direction enrolls in three courses: speech, writing and economics. His brain expands as he seriously jumps into his courses. He develops real skill in speaking to an audience in, “The Art of Informal Remarks,” taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), who is burned out both with teaching and with marriage (you can see part of where this is going, since it is a romantic comedy).

In Dr. Matsutani’s (George Takai) economics class Larry gets a wake-up call about his real financial situation and the wise though unpleasant moves he must make. Among many economists’ terms he learns to use, the phrase, “a strategic foreclosure,” has practical utility. His social life expands as he encounters a wide variety of folk so typical of what one encounters today in thousands of community colleges across the land, from kids not even clear why they are there to middle agers who are desperately focused on redirecting significant areas of their life trajectory.

The movies that please me most usually have some memorable quotes that get my attention. Here are some examples.

Larry bemoans having two years ago at his divorce bought his wife’s half of the house at its pre great recession value, and Cedric responds:

“I told you how to avoid divorce lawyers. You get married and you stay married.”

On the subject of his life trajectory being completely overturned by these events beyond his control:

“You are starting over. Manifest destiny has led you someplace else.”

And in response to the nonsensical reason Larry was given as to why he was let go:

“The man wanted you gone.”

In tough love verbal prods from fellow faculty member and friend Frances (Pam Grier) to Mercy, trudging through divorce and career disillusionment,:

“There’s not a woman in the world that has not been standing where you are right now.”

And

“When a man shows his true colors that’s when a woman has to make the decision to go or no go.”

From Larry, speaking of the delightful free spirit Talia who has so uninvitedly impacted his life for the better:

“She’s a unique bundle.”

Larry responds to Mercy’s late-night inebriated poor impulse control:

“It’s now time for both of us to do the right thing.”

And then when much later she thanks him for keeping that to himself his response is:

“I can keep a secret.”

Mercy, “Gentlemen do”.

In Larry’s speech to the class he gives a very appropriate George Bernard Shaw quote:

“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, art into pedantry. Hence University education.”

In addition to making money, movies are made with a variety of motivations. If one of the goals of this movie was to, almost stealthily, stimulate in the viewer an interest in the possibilities offered by your local community college, then it is highly successful. I found it a light, very enjoyable and refreshing movie from beginning to end. I love the very optimistic message that wherever you are in life, if your body and mind can still function you can redirect and create a far better life for yourself. And in the process you can influence others in the same direction. Way to go Lance Corona, er, Larry Crowne!

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Married At First Sight, S’more

jaciyn ryan

As you watched the installments of “Married At First Sight” which of the couples did you think had the best chance of creating a successful marriage, which did you think would fail and what were the things you observed that led you to those expectations?

For an American-style marriage to have the best chance of being successful it must have three things in addition to true romantic love (more on this later). Each of the marital partners must be sane, stable and mature, or as the famous phrase puts it, “of sound mind.” There must also be a natural compatibility with a significant overlap of common interest and views.

Lastly they must be able to communicate openly and honestly with each other and consistently use those skills in continually building a deeper relationship as well as resolving issues that most certainly will continue to arise as time passes. You look at each of these four areas when performing an autopsy of a marriage that has died.

davina sean

True romantic love consists of physical sexual attraction, idealization of the other person and some time spent in a relationship to see that these two remain strong or perhaps increase. Where either partner finds the other one physically disappointing or unappealing there’s a good likelihood that true romantic love will be a long time in coming if it ever does appear. Likewise if the character traits a partner attributes to the other in the flush of sexual excitement turn out not to be true then the disappointment will likely end the appeal.

If there is lust and idealization but as time spent together unfolds there is less joy at being together or outright desire to avoid company there’s little hope for the future. Many are the times that at least one partner has reached this place fairly early in the relationship, being ready to end it, only to find they have already become pregnant.

Marriage is not for children or for those in emotional turmoil. It is for those who have successfully dealt with the issues created in childhood and adolescence and are now firmly rooted in adulthood. It is for those who are comfortable in their own skin, who have come to terms with the insecurities growing up tends to give us.Also, marriage is for a free agent, unencumbered by emotional entanglements in a previous relationship.

jessica ryan

For those who haven’t become this stable the stresses of making the intimate relationship of marriage work will generally prove overwhelming. Also, people who have not yet matured in the ways described above will invariably be looking for marriage to cure their problems since the early rush of romance makes one feel accepted, understood and loved. What marriage will most likely do is simply set the unresolved issues in sharper relief.

It is readily understood that two people being compatible means that they get along well together, work well together. Most likely there are common interests and common sociological factors such as age, socioeconomic class and education level. In this way similarity is a large factor in compatibility.

What is less understood is that compatibility is one of many personality traits and that people vary significantly on how easily they are to be compatible with a variety of people. The more approachable and more accepting of others a person is the more likely he or she is to be able to be compatible with a larger group of individuals. The more demanding the criteria for someone else being acceptable and the more rigidly these criteria are applied the smaller the number of people with whom compatibility can occur.

A significant contributor to compatibility can be real differences between people if each find the differences intriguing, fascinating, bringing different strengths to the relationship and being sources of mutual banter. It is a real warning sign is one person in a relationship typically seeing a partners differences as being wrong or inferior and pressuring the partner to change and “be like I am”.

For any relationship, business, friendship or romance to have a thriving future there must be communication, some sharing of thoughts, desires and feelings among the parties involved. All the differences in these areas will be causes for misunderstanding, confusion and friction, since all individuals are so different one from another. Failing to share what one wants and why one thinks that’s the better way to go virtually guarantees a partner misunderstanding and attributing inferior motives, becoming emotionally upset and more readily giving up on the relationship. Most marriages that end in divorce could not only have continued but also have been much more vibrant to the individuals involved had they possessed better communication skills and never threw in the towel on trying to connect on all the important issues of their life together. As it has been said, when you are talking about the relationship the conversation is not just an aside, the conversation is the relationship.

In watching couples’ relationships unfold as you have in “Marriage At First Sight” you can likely peg where the good intentions ran off the track. It was lacking in one or more of these four criteria for a successful marriage: true romantic love, stable individuals, strong compatibility and ceaseless effective communication. How do you see it?

Married At First Sight

nametagWouldn’t you rather have a team of four human relations experts choose your marital partner for you rather than go through this daunting task yourself? In the second season of “Married at First Sight” now on the A and E channel, four experts- a sociologist, a psychologist, a sexologist and a spiritual counselor- spend long hours scrutinizing 7000 applicants to select three women and three men and pair them into three couples who agree to be married on the arranged marriage date when they would for the first time see each other or even know the name of their partner as they approach the altar.

This would seem to be setting our “select your own partner through dating” culture on its ear and returning to the millennia tested arranged marriage cultures typical of so many societies around the globe. At first glance this is a fascinating experiment with competent professionals applying their best skills at selecting and matching marital partners. Surely they can do a bang up job of this. As I’ve said elsewhere, Americans have long been exporting our mate selection through dating institution around the world, with little hard evidence that our marriages are more successful than the traditional arranged ones. Could this be the wave of the future? Could this approach produce more successful, more stable marriages than the way we’ve been doing for the last few centuries?

For years in Dallas I taught a course designed to aid singles in making wiser choices in the mate selection dating game. The people who need this information most are those who have not yet made their first marital choice, older teens through younger twenty somethings. Yet most of the people who took the course were in their late 20s and up, licking their wounds from a failed marriage or two and frustrated with their ongoing dating experiences. When teenagers or early 20s came they usually were brought by a parent who wanted them to gain wisdom hopefully avoiding making the same mistakes the parent had. Apparently when we are in our teens and early 20s we are bulletproof in the area of romance just as we are in all other areas of life. We need no help. We just want to have fun. We have all the necessary wisdom.

In watching the first segment of the new season I was struck by how similar the six people selected by the experts are to those who attended my classes. All were in their upper 20s through mid-30s and from their reports had been single for two years or for seven years indicating marriages or at least long-term live-in relationships after teenage years and prior to being cast out again into the cold world of singlehood.

Another critically important point is that these six people – and likely most of the 7000 who applied – are specifically looking to find a mate and get married. This is in sharp contrast to so many people in the same age range today who are not interested anytime soon in getting married or are specifically deciding to avoid it. The most natural marriages are between two people who have very similar sociological backgrounds, such as similar age, education, subculture and even geography. The strength of diversity tends to show up in psychological or personality traits, where the differences in temperament, interest and skills tend to bring real benefits to the union, where this complementarity adds real strength to the partnership. This is contrasted with the typical arranged marriage culture where the sociological factors are very nearly identical except that there is typically a significant age gap, with the woman marrying soon after puberty and the man having more years to establish himself as an adult prior to marriage. Each of the couples in this show are virtually identical in age.

One of the most profound differences between picking a mate through dating and having a mate picked through arrangement is that arranged marriage cultures traditionally do not put high emphasis on or expect romance and strong physical arousal in each other’s presence. Such an emphasis is typically seen as being shallow and even to potentially add an instability factor to the relationship. Yet in our culture being physically and emotionally in love with your partner is virtually the holy grail to be sought in order to guarantee a fulfilling marriage. In our movies and stories, to be married for any number of practical reasons unconcerned about physical and emotional chemistry is downright un-American.

My brief viewing of this first installment of the new season displays the thinking of our four experts in applying their best insight to selecting the best matches. They seem to have given real emphasis to selecting mature and stable individuals and to pairing partners with promising similarities. They seem much less certain of what will be the chemistry that will be generated beginning at the moment each partner for the first time lays eyes on an individual he or she has promised ahead of time to marry, trusting that the experts who arranged it can make the right choice.

It will be fascinating to see how all this plays out in successive installments. As time moves on will each couple be pleased to have turned this much of their future over to recognized professionals? If the experiment comes to disappointment for any couple will it be because there were unrecognized immaturities or personal demons that prevented one or the other from being a viable marital partner? Will it be because there were differences too great to be successfully negotiated? Or will it be because of the inability to effectively communicate the vast differences that seem always to be between two human beings, even those who on paper seem so right for each other?

Late Life Love

latelifeloveThe new movie “The Age of Love” by Stephen Loring explores the dating and romantic desires of singles over the age of 70 where a number of senior citizens are filmed giving speed dating a try. Many younger people will find it surprising and some even gross the idea of people of this age deliberately moving into the dating scene attempting to experience again the thrill of romance and perhaps mate selection. I find nothing surprising about this.

As I’ve written elsewhere I grew up in Bradenton, Florida where retired couples lived in large numbers and where remarriage of widows and widowers was an regular occurrence. My father was a minister and I would sometimes go to the weddings and join in the festivities. It was clear that the romance and the affection, to say nothing of the teasing and banter, between bride, groom and friends was essentially the same as I typically witnessed at the weddings of young people being married for the first time. I have never found it surprising that romantic love can be rekindled at any age. I have never found surprising that romantic love between a husband and wife could last for a lifetime. It clearly did with my parents.

I’ve also never found it offputting to realize that physical attraction and affection could be enjoyed among people decades beyond their prime in youthful beauty. Perhaps the older we get the less picky we are. Perhaps physical beauty as traditionally defined just becomes less important with each decade as deeper qualities become more valued. After all, aging doesn’t occur suddenly but is a process that takes decades, decades to allow for the gradual adaptation to change.

A point that I’ve frequently made is that dating is the American way of mate selection. It is seen as an individual’s right in America to choose one’s own dating partners. We are not an arranged marriage culture where permission of family members is required for dating and marriage. All young people cherish their individual rights to choose in this area without undue meddling from those around them. I have however frequently found that when senior citizens reenter the dating world their adult children have a real difficulty extending to their parents the same rights they claimed when they were teenagers and young adults. Many times it seems too challenging for the adult children to not intervene to block a budding romance of a widowed parent.

The practical reasons given for such concern are hardly surprising. By this time in life financial arrangements for retirement have long been established. There is a real fear on the part of the adult children that reckless financial decisions could be made by a parent under the influence of a new romantic partner. In more extreme cases there is even the fear for the physical safety of an aging parent in a new relationship.

Less practical but much more emotional reasons are often at the heart of the adult children’s opposition to a single parent dating. Even where one parent has been dead for some time the child could see it as an act of betrayal or unfaithfulness to the dead partner to seek love with another. Such dating could also awaken rather childlike feelings of having a mother or father’s affection taken away by a rival. There is also the fear of simply introducing a new complication to the already established extended family structure and patterns of interactions.

This is only a quick look at what can be a very complex phenomenon that most extended families will have to deal with at some point. These late life romances can frequently bring with them some real emotional and practical challenges. The more adult and rational all parties can be in discussing each one’s real concerns about these situations the greater likelihood that the extended family will simply become stronger and better meet the emotional needs of all. This is enormously more desired than using power plays, ultimatums, threats and withdrawal of love. The healthy way is to stay engaged, with everyone hearing and taking seriously the concerns of each other family member. No one has the right to dictate one adult to the other and should not try. Yet each is connected to the other frequently by decades of relationships that are precious and hopefully endure for a lifetime.

Trying To Make You See I’m Right

arguing coupleOne day reading an old issue of life magazine I came across the brief story of a woman driving along a city street when a drunken sailor stepped in front of her car. She slammed on brakes, came to a screeching halt and jumped out of the car to find witnesses to prove she wasn’t at fault. Fortunately for her a few city officials happen to be standing there including two traffic judges who witnessed the reckless behavior of the sailor. Unfortunately for her they also witnessed that she was driving on the wrong side of the street and gave her a ticket. The sailor was apparently unharmed and wandered on his way.

What’s my point? Frequently in couple therapy where the wife goes on, usually with much frustration and even hurt about the husband’s irritating, irresponsible, selfish and in general not smart marital behavior, the husband’s response is to go on about equally bothersome behavior of which the wife is guilty. They are giving me a live demonstration of how they attempt unsuccessfully to resolve issues in their marriage. They’re also giving an illustration of why they fail to achieve meaningful changes and merely add to the collective anger moving them toward the destruction of their marriage.

It usually occurs to me as I’m listening to the wife complain about the husband that almost any wife would have the same complaints if she were married to that man. The smart thing obviously would be for him to pay attention to her problems with him and use these as suggestions for self-improvement from someone who perhaps knows him best. Chances are that a lot of what she finds infuriating about him would be pretty much what his boss, fellow workers, friends, parents and siblings would echo. But instead of perceiving them as wiser courses of action his response to her complaints about him is to essentially say, “Well you’re not perfect either.”

The wife’s strategy in responding to her husband’s complaints is the same strategy he’s using. Don’t give any credence or validity to his concerns about you. Change the subject. Turn the spotlight of criticism on him. As long as they continue like this the marriage is heading down a bad road.

Each one of them is feeling very helpless, so troubled is he or she at being unable to get any cooperation from the partner. It also is interpreted that my partner doesn’t really love me. Each feels there’s nothing I can do to turn this marriage around.

Fortunately neither one of them is helpless to change the marriage. Either one can without any argument, capitulation or disagreement, without any request for cooperation, simply choose one of the items on the partner’s irritation list that is easiest to change and change it. I don’t mean change it briefly for a day or two to see if he or she will notice and reward you for it. You’re not doing this to win an argument. You are doing this to change the relationship for the better. Pick the next easiest-to-change behavior and do the same thing. Noticing will be done whether it’s voiced or merely pondered for how long is the change really going to last and what’s the meaning of it. This is empowering, moving you from helpless to effective in creating a better marriage for yourself and your partner and any children you have.

You are likely changing something that makes you more companionable, perhaps more likable and even more efficient. You get the benefits elsewhere in your life as well. You are not losing the power struggle with your partner; you are moving beyond it to a more mature strategy. You are stepping up your value as a human being… value to yourself and to the others whom your life impacts. Step up your game, not your arguing.

Dating Insight From an Arranged Marriage Mom

momIn a delightful post in NYMag.com, Beejoli Shah portrays the challenges a young person faces in America when she comes from an Asian culture of arranged marriages such as her parents had back in the 70s. The first thing that struck me was that her mother seems to have accepted her daughter choosing her own marriage mate through the American institution of dating. Beejoli then humorously portrays herself as a very boy crazy girl growing into a  romance obsessed young lady, all the time sharing her travails with her mother. Her mother somewhat surprisingly seems to be the very model of a mother who keeps the lines of communication fully open between her and her adventurous daughter by restraining herself from attempting to berate or control her high-spirited daughter. Rather, at the appropriate time, mom shares pithy observations about the realities singles face in the American find- your- future- mate- through- dating world. Mom’s advice seems amazingly spot on through the years of her daughter’s delightedly becoming fascinated with first one exciting male then another. It seems that Beejoli needs to learn everything by experience, with mother by contrast seeming to have the uncanny ability to learn all the same lessons, not by having to personally experience them, but by keen observation. I call that wisdom.

Even though daughter doesn’t seem ready to accept mom’s advice before diving headlong into the next questionable relationship, she shows great wisdom in keeping open the lines of communication with mom and in willingly recognizing each time mom’s observations prove eerily accurate. Parents who come from arranged marriage cultures face a real challenge in how to respond to their own children being so strongly influenced by the dating and mate selection behavior of their American peers. Beejoli’s mom seems to portray one of the more successful ways of responding to this powerful challenge. Perhaps mom should also be writing a blog, obviously being of help to dating singles but also likely offering some real understanding and support for other parents, especially those in arranged marriages, navigating these treacherous waters with their adventuresome children. Can we hear from mom?

Mate Selection in Today’s China

ChineseMarriageThe institutional marriage has forever been alive and well in China, where parents select the bride or groom for their adult child, with romance being of little or no concern in the selection process. The parents instead consider totally practical items such as age, education level and earning power, and, according to Shan Shan Dong and Julia Zhou in a February the fourteenth NBC News article, the physical height of a potential mate. However, the companionate marriage seems to be the wave of the future even in conservative, traditional China where conformity, obedience and responsibility have always been the major cultural norms.

Like other cultures around the globe being influenced by Western ideals of love, romance and the freedom of the individual to choose his or her own marital mate, even China is not immune.

It’s not that the factors so important to the parents are unimportant to the children. It’s just that their emphases are on communication, having fun, romance, waiting for God’s leadership and not at all being in a hurry to end singlehood and become married.

Also, as in America, the age at first marriage has been increasing rapidly as of late, as people are spending more years living the independent young adult lifestyle, influenced more by peers than by parents or the old ways of doing things in general. This is especially true in the large urban areas such as Shanghai.

This is a good example of how American and Western thinking in general is having a profound impact globally on the lifestyles of ancient societies. It could also be seen as what just naturally happens when there’s now freedom in a society for young people to seek opportunity, education, jobs brought on by industrialization and technology and freedom to be interacting with and influenced by peers, while spending much less time with parents and the older generation. When liberty begins to permeate a traditional society, people just naturally use the opportunity to avail themselves of the new freedoms available to them.

The older people are when liberty comes their way, the fewer decisions can be influenced by this freedom since so much of life has already been set. The young people growing up with such freedoms give themselves the right to choose individually what to do with all the various choices in life, most obviously in the choices involved in dating and marriage.