Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy post-Valentine's Day post, then?

I don't want to be accused of wimping out or caving in, so we'll call this a...clarification.

By now I've gotten a fair amount of email off-blog with regard to my post on Valentine's Day cards. In fact, between the continuing feedback from the eSkeptic piece and the feedback—maybe I should call it fallout—from yesterday's thoughts, I think it's fair to say that my inbox has been as close to bursting at its digital seams as an inbox can be. And as my use of the word fallout would suggest, though the reaction on the blog itself has been divided, the 9 emails were overwhelmingly critical. If not scathing. Almost to a person, my critics, of both genders, felt that my timing and taste were abysmal, and that I'd desecrated (one writer used that very word) the only day each year that's set aside for all of us to indulge in an unabashed celebration of the "love experience." That same writer went on to say, "Though each of us individually have birthdays and anniversaries in our private life, this is the one and only day when everyone everywhere gets to focus on the magic of love. You chose to focus on the negative, to the extent of making jokes about killing your mate! How sick and sad is that?...." And those were the kindest things she had to say. I heard, also, this morning, from a woman who's about to get married for the second time. She said her first marriage had been very bad—abusive—and that my portrait of "marital hopelessness" had given her pause, and almost reduced her to tears.

This may strike some of you as odd, and may even cause Michael Shermer to formally revoke my standing as a skeptic, but yesterday's post was meant in a playful spirit, and I apologize to those who were troubled by it—all the more so because it's not really in tune with my own feelings on love and relationships. I hinted at this in that one line yesterday about remaining "optimistic" about love, but clearly that line got swallowed up in the tenor of the post as a whole. (And please let's also keep in mind that I was taking aim primarily at the card-writing set, not love itself. As a political pundit might say at this point, "It's the cards, stupid!" I wasn't down on love; I was down on Hallmark.)

You see, I happen to be a romantic; a man who believes that in matters of the heart, belief is, truly, everything. You have to be able to sustain your belief in love (or suspend your disbelief) even in the face of life experience that would normally erode that confidence. It's true that most of us who've been married for any length of time are going to give our marriages mixed reviews; that is my quarrel with cards that make it sound like it's all been a bed of roses, when it hasn't. However, it's a grave mistake—maybe not logically, but emotionally—to allow yourself to fall into the trap of making cynical predictions about the future of the marriage to which you've just given those mixed reviews. (And there is no basis at all for assuming that any given new relationship is doomed to fail. Every pairing is unique to itself.)

We'll call this part "Steve's Self-Help Manual on Love and Marriage": The stresses and strains and temptations of latter-day life being what they are, you have to go into each day of a relationship believing to your core that the bond is unshakable and permanent. If you don't have that core-level belief, you'll find ways of undoing the relationship (or will more easily allow it to unravel on its own). Does that contradict my established position on other areas of "belief" and "PMA"? Not really. I don't think so. Love is a pure emotional state. It has no real-world correlative, which is to say, it's not like believing that you can dunk a basketball when you're 4-foot-11 and you've never been able to jump more than 6 inches off the ground, or believing that you're going to be the next president when you have no money and no political background and seven felony arrests, and your husband is a registered sex offender.* The belief in love is its own reward, the lack of belief its own penalty. (Note to my more cynical fans: You can all gag together now, if you wish. It's just one man's opinion.)

Which is a long way of saying that if I gave the impression that love and marriage aren't worth it, or that people on the threshold of making a serious commitment shouldn't bother because all relationships are destined to collapse into Thoreauvian despair anyway...none of that was my intent. Yesterday's post was more like a winking gag between a bunch of well-worn middle-aged folks at a party, all of whom have had a few drinks, and who think it's "cute" to skewer their spouses just a little bit. But then they take their spouses' hand in the car on the way home, and they still mean it when they say "I love you" before turning off the lights at night.

* No wisecracks about Hillary Clinton here.


Anonymous said...

Please do not post it, but:

Bad Steve! How could you be so cruel? What kind of a man says such mean things about love and marriage?


Having chastised you properly now [;-)], I must say that I'm shocked (shocked, I tell you) by people's offended responses to your hilarious (and so true) post. Goodness gracious...

I do not think you owe anyone an explanation, much less an apology (for what?).

Anonymous said...

Steve, forgive me, this is the silliest thing I've ever read on your blog, and I've been following it for almost two years. The V-day thing was BRILLIANT.

I can almost feel your discomfort in writing this as I read along, the way you delicately dance through the sentences. Are you really saying that 9 separate individuals, all of whom presumably have functioning brains, contacted you independent of one another to complain about your blog? That is truly hard for me to take. What are they doing on Shamblog in the first place? Doesn't Harlequin Romance have a discussion forum?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Steve. Consider yourself redeemed.

Steve Salerno said...

(Look at these first two comments, folks. In such diversity of opinion, I suppose, was the genesis of the phrase, "Different strokes....")

Anonymous said...

Bah. The reading comprehension skills of my, alas, fellow Americans have fallen into a near-fatal state. Obviously those excoriating you for yesterday's post need remedial reading 101.

Hey, maybe Hallmark card do a card for that!

Anonymous said...

You have told us in the past that you don't like the 'believe and you will achieve' mantra. I however do to some extent. I'm a teacher in the United Kingdom and I specialize in working with teenagers who are underachieving. They get sent to me and I ask them 'why do you think you are failing in school?' and the most common reply is 'I'm stupid'. If I get this sort of reply, I normally have to change their belief systems (hate using those words, sounds too new age)and once I do change their belief systems, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy and go and achieve excellent grades. I do believe their is power in changing your beliefs.

Anonymous said...

If anyone uses your blog as an excuse not to get married, that person should not be getting married and has much bigger problems than your views on marriage. They should be doing some soul searching about themselves and what they expect out of marriage, because they obviously have doubts and confusion around the institution itself. No offense Steve, but I do not take your blog as the Bible or Koran. I take it to be your observations and experiences and nothing more. Seems like people have problems with your holiday blogs, because you had another reader who could not read your blog around Christmas. I would have told those "e-mailers" to go whack off, because it was my blog and I have a right to my opinion. I think it is audacious and rude when people e-mail you about your blog off the blog. That's like someone coming to my house and knocking on my door to say, "I don't like your lawn." Who the hell told you to look at it? Let's say you did write a nasty blog about love and how you thought marriage sucked-so what? It would still be YOUR opinion and you are entitled to it. If a person disagreed, that person could blog you and you could post the blog, nix it, or debate it. It would still be YOUR choice. Again, this is YOUR blog and you have the RIGHT to your views and ideas.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon No. 3 (the teacher), I'm not dismissing believe/achieve in all cases--though I do "believe" that self-esteem-based education has been a tragic nightmare for American scholastic achievement (kind of ironic, no?) I try to document those failures in various places on this blog and in my book.

Look, it's true that some people--teenagers in particular--have a terribly pessimistic (if not nihilistic) mental attitude that could benefit from remediation. I don't think anyone would argue to the contrary. If someone thinks he's "stupid," and he isn't, he's probably going to benefit from having someone correct his faulty self-impression. My problem with most of the gurus of Belief is that they present it as the be-all-and-end-all, an almost push-button panacea. And that it's not. Yet they're getting very rich by selling that message to gullible/desperate people.

Your PR Guy said...

I haven't read your V-day post, but it sounds like you tried your hand at a bit of satire and it backfired. Which you warned us of at IU.

There is one point on which we disagree. You wrote, "Love is a pure emotional state." But love is an action. What I mean is that our choice to love manifests itself in our behavior toward our spouse or significant other. To think of it as an emotional euphoria is to doom it to failure immediately.

I may have taken this out of context, or you may just written that statement off-the-cuff. Nonetheless, if satire was your aim in the V-day post, I would have stuck to my guns and given those angry 9 a lesson or two in satire.

Steve Salerno said...

NOTE re the "new" post from Elizabeth, now at the top of the list, above, because it was actually the first one sent: Although she initially asked me not to post it, she later agreed to let me do so.

Anonymous said...

I just got an off-beat question I would like to have you answer. Does having high IQ mean that you are more likely to succeed in life?

Sorry about the question. I know its not about the topic of discussion.

Anonymous said...

The question on I.Q.
I am going to assume you are speaking of monetary success in regards to I.Q. and the answer is no. Many psychopaths and prisoners have high I.Q.s Monetary success is usually obtained through hard work, luck,sometimes talent, and maybe the most important part, social ability and connections.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I just had to weigh in on the high IQ comment. Though having a high IQ doesn't preclude one from succeeding in life, if by "succeeding" you mean succeeding financially, the two don't always equate because to succeed financially requires a great deal of good business sense--i.e., strong common sense--along with native intelligence, and it usually also requires excellent people skills. There's absolutely no guarantee that someone with a high IQ will have either common sense or people skills, much less both. Also, I think people with high IQs often fail to succeed financially because they tend to have many, many interests, which keeps them from the single-minded focus that often guarantees financial reward. However, this doesn't mean that a very bright person with numerous interests and passions doesn't "succeed" at having a wonderful, fulfilling life!