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.

Failure to Launch?

Terry-KathySarah-MatthewThe news that came out this week reported that over a third of 18 to 30-year-olds were living at home with their parents. The most typical reason given for this continued rise over the last few years is the difficulty twentysomethings are having finding adequate employment to be out on their own. What most people are unaware of is that, for the last quarter of a century, a sizable minority of twentysomethings have been living at home anyway, rather than moving out on their own.

For the last 60 years the desired pattern for American families was for children to grow up through high school and perhaps college, move out, get a job, get married, have children and establish their own new nuclear families. The majority of young people did that, so that the prevailing American family was composed of two generations – parents and growing children. However, the primary family structure throughout all of human history, until very recently, has been three or four generations living together on the same plot of ground so that you had young people being married and having babies and raising them, but living with their grandparents and frequently great-grandparents. In these cultures, children grew up and largely repeated the occupations and lifestyle of their parents, and inherited the property as the parents became too old to work or died. This type of continued extended family involvement over one’s lifetime fit well with the practice of having marriages arranged and approved by parents. Our typical American desire to pick our own marital partners fits well with the prevailing American pattern of a married couple moving out on their own, having children and starting their own new nuclear family.

Like so many social phenomena, there are pros and cons to having three or more generations living together. There’s certainly a significant economic benefit to be gained by having adult children living at home, instead of having to generate enough money to support a separate residence, with all the attendant expenses. There’s also the benefit of these new adults continuing to interact closely with their parents while the parents hopefully continue to have some wise influence on the decision making and behavior of their enthusiastic, and frequently risk-taking, offspring. Also, when babies are born and toddlers are around, it helps to have more adult hands share in the care and rearing of this next generation. If all the adults are seen as truly being adult and living responsible lives, the grandparents of these new children are likely to really enjoy having their grandchildren around as they grow up.

However, when the prevailing view in the extended family is that the twentysomethings are merely staying home to delay entering responsible adulthood, worry tends to be the order of the day, at least for the older generation which is aiding and abetting what comes to be seen as an extended childhood. This adds an unhappiness, which tends to erode whatever benefits might otherwise be gained from continued living together. Where each adult is seen as being responsible and productive, and where good communication and appropriate behavior exists, there’s a good likely the extended time together will be valuable for all.

In the movie, “Failure to Launch,” Matthew McConnaughy plays a twentysomething only son who loves living at home with his parents, is responsibly employed outside the home, and spends all his time and income enthusiastically pursuing entertaining activities with his friends and their adult toys, including having no intention, for the foreseeable future, of finding an appropriate mate and getting married. This worries his parents so much that they hire Sarah Jessica Parker to woo their son into wanting marriage. This wacky idea is then played out with comedy and drama, and some unexpected nudity, among the mother, father, son and girlfriend, with much reaction along the way from each one’s running buddies.

With each generation since World War II waiting longer and longer for first marriage, and yet getting education and going to work, this movie is simply one look at a real option that many twentysomethings are choosing, as they are delaying choosing a marriage partner and even, by delaying long enough, choosing not to become married at all.

Children Are Competent

baby on laptopA friend of mine, an energetic young grandmother whom I see frequently, shared with me something that happened to her mother the previous week. For a variety of reasons the story needs to be told. Here’s the story in the great-grandmother’s words.

“I am a great-grandmother in rural North Texas living with my granddaughter and husband and their two children, a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. We had recently moved into a home that was nice but needs repairs. I was babysitting on a particular day, the grandson was napping and I went to the restroom. I stepped on a certain part of the floor and it gave way and I was trapped. The next thing I remembered was my great-granddaughter rubbing my cheeks and saying, ‘Grandma, what’s wrong? ‘ over and over. I realized I was sitting on one leg and the other leg was down in the floor. So all this time the little girl kept asking, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I’m stuck. I need my phone.’ So she went to my room, dug into my purse till she found the phone, opened it and saw the red light. She crawled under my bed, unplugged the charger, brought the phone to me, then got up on the back of the toilet, plugged in the charger, pushed 911 and handed me the phone. I told the operator where I was and what had happened. Soon three fire departments, with about 10 firemen, showed up at my home. They pulled me up from the hole and we all went to the hospital.

My granddaughter is a very special little girl. She will always have a special place in my heart. As for me, I was fine when released from the hospital, nothing broken – just my pride. But one thing I know for sure, it would have been a lot worse if she hadn’t been there with me. This just shows little kids can do anything and learn anything if taught, but most things are learned just by watching.”

Obviously, this is a bright little girl. She had been taught by her parents how to use a phone. With no help from anyone she turns on the phone, uses the phone and takes pictures with it. The adults have long noticed how quickly she learns by merely observing what they are doing. The minds of children, even this young, are like voracious sponges soaking up the world they’re living in. It’s a mistake for parents to think little children won’t notice what’s going on, won’t think about it or won’t take it to heart. Like the parents of this little girl, we need to see to it that from a very young age a child knows important information, such as names and numbers, and how to perform any number of ordinary tasks that the adults can perform.

Kids learn constantly by observing the behavior of the parents and other adults. The combination of the examples we are setting for our children, coupled with our verbal instructions and explanations and allowing the children to begin to perform all the standard tasks as soon as they can exercise any ability in that direction, makes the fullest use of inquisitive young minds and adds a significant safety factor to the events of a child’s life.

Monogamy and Integrity

A Soldier And His MistressRecent events in national news have me reflecting on a point I make, that in America the ideal marriage form is monogamy not polygamy. Along with this, the American ideal is that these marital partners are not only monogamous in form but are faithful to each other during the entirety of the marriage. Throughout human history soldiers have been separated from their loved ones for extended periods of time and, with all the conquering going on, it was generally assumed that warriors would be sexually active wherever they roamed. However much Americans may be aware of this, we nonetheless embrace the ideal that our warriors, who are married, would remain faithful to their spouses back home even when separated for years and by many miles. For most nations, throughout most of human history, knowledge of what went on away from home pretty well shaped the expectations and acceptance of the people back home. That tends not to be true for most Americans. We hold our military accountable to a higher ethic.

It is by now not an unusual story, the derailing of a notable career in politics, sports, business, government and military due to marital infidelity. It is also a typical part of biographies of past notable figures in these fields having had extramarital relations for a long time without these misbehaviors hurting their career, since the media gave little or no attention to these goings on. In our media saturated world, there is very little privacy left to successfully hide sexual misbehavior for long, especially for those people fortunate/unfortunate enough to demand a media following. The price of fame is unrelenting scrutiny and, largely, the loss of privacy.

A typical phrase heard during times of political campaigns is that, “All politics are local.” This seems to apply also to the undoing of these well-known figures. By that I mean, these people are not brought down by the big issues in the world where they operate or by the enemies, at their level, that they have generated. Instead they are brought down by person-to-person jealousies, rivalries and bragging that thrust the misbehaviors out into the national spotlight. It has long been recommended, somewhat cynically, that whatever you do, don’t write anything down. Had you in times past written things down there was little likelihood, if you were careful, that you were in much danger of discovery. I frankly shake my head in amazement that perfectly bright, technically alert people not only write things down but write them in e-mails which seemingly go everywhere, to everyone, forever.

During my years at Florida State a new constitution was created which used the concept of, “Government in the sunshine,” requiring governmental boards to do their business in the open for all to see and hear, rather than the long-standing tradition of secretive meetings being held to keep the public from being aware of who was doing what. I am once again reminded of the working definition of integrity as behaving as you would behave if everyone was watching you. Doing so would save individuals a lot of personal pain and society at large a lot of turmoil and disruption.

Why Do I Write?

The author and his wife.One of the more interesting courses I took during my undergraduate years at Baylor was a sociology course on juvenile delinquency. In both lecture and textbooks Dr. Osborne led us through the history of juvenile delinquency and, one by one, through the prevailing explanations for why juvenile delinquency occurred. This meant considering the theories of what caused juvenile delinquency and searching out available research to test the accuracy of these theories. Later, using the same approach, we addressed the available ideas on what needs to be done to reduce the incidence of juvenile delinquency.

There are several things that I learned from this course, the first being that any course well taught can teach you a lot more than merely the content of the subject. The next thing I learned was that I was developing a powerful interest in social problems and a strong desire to do something about them. I was realizing that social problems are primarily people to people problems. I also realized that the best of theories only have so much to offer in explaining a social phenomenon and, however accurate a theory may be, it had to be linked with other theories to more fully explain what was going on in the real world of flesh and blood humans I also became strongly interested in collecting information – doing research – to see if a given theory accurately described what was really going on with people. It was clear to me that virtually everyone had an opinion about the causes of juvenile delinquency and the best solutions to the problem. I also realized that there were many interesting ideas to be offered on any subject and that the implementing of any idea probably impacted some other areas of society in ways not initially anticipated – the law of unintended consequences.

Working in construction during the summer of my high school years the contractor who directed the work of rowdy teenage males was some what a blue-collar social commentator. He liked to share what was on his mind, frequently stated somewhat tongue-in-cheek. One day on a break he said, “I know how to solve unemployment and juvenile delinquency at the same time.” We were obviously curious and he responded. “Send all the working mothers home. Giving these jobs to men will eliminate unemployment. Having mothers at home to raise the kids instead of having them run the streets will eliminate juvenile delinquency.” His implied cause of juvenile delinquency was that it came from children not being sufficiently mothered. I could see some truth in what he was saying from my observations of the world I was growing up in but instinctively believed that it was not so simple. I also instantly, and humorously, wondered where we would get all the men to suddenly become nurses, teachers, waitresses and secretaries. I also wondered if his plan would allow working moms to choose for themselves or simply require them to obey as they were told. You never knew with him how serious he was, since everything was said in good humor, and how much he was merely trying to discombobulated you.

By the time the juvenile delinquency course was finished, I had formed in my own mind the realization that many factors are associated with juvenile delinquency and that some seem causally related. I realized that accurate statistics tell you what is happening but not why it is happening. You have to supply the why. However, I came away with a conviction that remains with me to this day, that whatever are the causes of social problems, and you can count on a cluster of causes. A huge part of the causation and an even larger part of the resolution will be understanding what is happening in the family of origin and determining which strategies a society can embrace to most wisely respond to the needs of the family. It seemed to me that, if the world could be so ideal that all children would be born to parents who desperately wanted them and loved them and had the means to care for them, most of our social problems would be dramatically reduced.

Through the years of additional education and professional careers this conviction has grown stronger. I am writing the books I’m writing to inject as much sanity, wisdom and love into marriage and family relationships, to maximize the likelihood of all children being born with such an advantage in doing life. I’m also keenly interested in the way the larger forces of society impact the family for good or ill. As I develop my blog I will be recommending other resources that seem to me to be similarly motivated, and therefore offer additional help to people who are searching.

The Red Light District (not what you think)

For many years I taught a course on how to be more successful in selecting dating partners and ultimately marriage partners.Most of the people who took the course had had enough negative experiences in dating, hoping to find out what they were doing wrong. Most of these people had also read lots of advice columns and even relationship books hoping to become wiser and more skilled in the selection of dating partners and in having dating life be a wonderful experience rather than hurt and disappointment. Having been a psychotherapist for number of years, having taught thousands of college students and being familiar with the material available for someone searching for answers, I quickly came to believe that what was missing was basic information about how and why dating was done the way it was. I realized that most dating, romance and relationship books didn’t start with the basics but started at least at the intermediate, if not the advanced, level. It was rather like picking up a book to help you understand the American pastime of  baseball, only to read 300 pages about the selection of wood to make bats or what type of clay was best around home plate. Reading many books like this would hardly equip you to understand the game or to play it better. So, in this course, I started with the basic idea that the American method of mate selection is dating. This seemed obvious and yet is a recent phenomenon in the whole sweep of human history and is an especially American approach to this very important decision.

I have now written a book using the same basic concepts I used in teaching that course. My purpose is to make what I consider valuable information available to a much larger audience than can be reached by teaching the course locally. This book is also written to be easily understood without having elaborate explanations by an instructor. I use illustrations from real life and many quotes giving wise, and frequently humorous, perspectives on this most enjoyable segment of human life.

Since you will be picking your own dating partners, instead of skipping dating and simply having your parents pick a spouse for you at the appropriate time, it’s crucial that you become sharp in reading people as you meet them, in knowing who they really are in a very short time.I use the analogy of the traffic light to simplify categorizing potential dating partners and to understand clearly what is happening in the relationship as it develops. The red light means stop and go no further if a person has these characteristics. The yellow light means there are issues that the two of you need to share with each other in order to not cause unnecessary stress to the developing relationship. The green light means that things are proceeding as they should at this stage in the relationship and, with eyes wide open, you probably should continue as you’re going.

I also emphasize that, in the partner selection process, equals attract. This means that it is quite important for you to maximize your appeal  to the opposite sex in order to attract someone you would really be pleased with. This doesn’t require an enormous amount of work, just being clued in to upgrading your behaviors, to create a more appealing and competent you.

The book is written to appeal to people who are just beginning to enter the dating world, who likely see themselves as needing no help in selecting and attracting dating partners or in running a romantic life. People who are older than that probably don’t need to be convinced of the value of such a book, having experienced enough of life to know how complicated romance can be.

The electronic version is now available to all those who have e-readers. It is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc. It will also be available soon in print version.

Hope Springs

In the movie, “Hope Springs”, Meryl Streep plays a compliant, 30 years married woman who is longing to inject some romantic spirit into her life with her somewhat clueless curmudgeon of a husband, Tommy Lee Jones. While the movie probably doesn’t hold too much interest for the under 30 viewers, it probably hits closer to home with the middle-aged and older. I know how stereotypical it is for young people to be grossed out by the thought of their parents, or parents’ generation in general, being interested in romance, especially the physical side of it. That I have never had any difficulty realizing that romance can be rekindled among people who have been married many years, certainly long enough to have long since found themselves in a rut romantically, as well as not finding it surprising that older, even elderly, people could rediscover romance and sexual interest with an appropriate partner, is at least partly due to the fact that I grew up in Bradenton, Florida and that my dad was a minister. Bradenton always had a large group of retired citizens and, particularly, I remember Braden Castle, where small frame homes with minimum upkeep, set close together, divided only by carports, were filled with retired couples, mostly moving in from up north. These couples became close friends with each other and, as time passed, one person in each couple was eventually left widowed.

As these singles adjusted to their new lives, it was not unusual for romantic interest to spring up between a widow or widower. I well remember going with my dad to tie the knot for couples who were trying marriage yet again, after the death of their previous spouses. I remember how obvious it was that the bride and groom were in love, flirted with each other and were teased by their friends much the same as what I observed at the more typical weddings that Dad performed, where young people were getting married, with all the hope of a wonderful marital future. The friends of the widowed groom did the usual male to male teasing with sexual innuendo. Meanwhile the bride blushed and giggled as she and her friends talked about her truseau and as they teased her about what would happen on her wedding night. It was rather obvious to me that romance could be alive and well at any age. I’m never surprised that singles of any age could fall in love and I’m never surprised to encounter couples who’ve been married for decades, yet still have powerful romantic and sexual interest in each other. This was obviously true of my parents, from my youngest memories all the way through to the day Dad died.

I’ve worked with couples who have been married for many years, who long assumed that the romance and physical lovemaking were gone from the marriage, yet were able, rather like Kay and Arnold in the movie, to reignite their romantic interest in each other. An added plus to the time spent rediscovering the zest in their relationship was that, along the way, they got to know each other better than they ever had known each other, in various ways. While intimacy is frequently used with reference to physical intimacy, it is perhaps best understood as the degree to which you share yourself with another person, how fully you let yourself be known,rather than withholding or hiding, from the other person, significant parts of who you are, what you think, how you feel and what you want.

Fittingly,”Hope Springs” is a romantic comedy. I’ve long found that a key ingredient in budding romance, and certainly in re-creating romance, is a good sense of humor for each partner. You need to be able to not take yourself too seriously and to be able to extend to your partner the same generous acceptance. And it is infinitely better to be able to find humor in your partner’s oddities rather than gnashing your teeth about them.

It’s an interesting world.