Sunday, November 29, 2009

On diamond desire, Lexus love, and related social diseases.

UPDATE, Tuesday morning, December 1. By contract, the Times has the right to syndicate my op-ed to other newspapers (we split any associated revenues), and for the past few days I've been getting Google alerts about these so-called "pick-ups." Today it ran in the Bergen Record (Northern New Jersey), and I love the photo-illustration/caption they used. Really drives home the point.

Again at 11:43 a.m. While it would be overstating to propose that the piece has "gone viral," here are two more republications, now, in the Austin American-Statesman and
the Albany Times-Union. The latter piece is a very nice condensed version, which shows that judicious editing can preserve the point and flavor of most longer pieces. (Or maybe it shows that some of us write things way too long in the first place...?)*

Incidentally, I don't normally pat myself on the back this way, crowing about it every time something is published/reprinted. But I see this as an "important" piece, or at least a point that very much needs making, and I'm glad that editors are allowing me to make it.


My Times piece on "vanity taxes" didn't generate the email response I'd expected. I'm guessing that people were just too busy out spending money to worry about how much they spent and what they spent it on
...and that they were unwilling to be lectured on it later. I sort of envision readers scanning the first few graphs, sighing heavily, muttering "Oh geez, who wants to hear this crap?", throwing the paper down in disgust and going online to purposely order something frivolous.

However, though I didn't get the expected response, the response I did get was expected. If that makes any sense. Let me 'splai
n (as Ricky Ricardo might have put it).

I have received a total of seven emails to date, two of which were attaboys (and both from men, interestingly) and five of which were snarky and critical of me in the extreme. I don't so much mind the ones that accused me of being a cheap bastard; although I don't agree with that general characterization (and I don't think people close to me would agree, either), I can certainly see how someone might arrive at that conclusion, based on a cursory reading of what I wrote. And I suppose you can't fault people too much for having grown up in a culture where advertising relentlessly sells the notion that you must give a woman a diamond in order to put That Special Smile on her face. Hell, never mind diamonds; have you seen those insufferable ads exhorting you to give your beloved a Lexus for Christmas?

But the scolds who argued that I have no soul or, more specifically, no romance in my s
oul... Those criticismswhich my editor warned me aboutnot only stick in my craw, but make me feel motivated to write a whole 'nother piece about love and romance. In fact, let me outline those thoughts right here and now, in summary form and in no particular order.

The fact is, if you have to shower your woman with jewelry (or other expensive gifts) in order to have her "fall in love with you all over again," then either you're with the wrong woman, or you're the wrong man. (P.S. In all likelihood she never loved you in the first place.)

Related: If the honeymoon ends after six months or a year for either participant, again, you're with the wrong person. The honeymoon does not have to end between two people who are ideally matched. That it so often does end in our culture is prima facie evidence that legions of us pair off with the wrong person. We settle. We mistake puppy love for true love. (For the record, you can be 25 years old and still succumb to puppy love or its close sibling, infatuation. When we're 14 we call it puppy love. When we feel the exact same thing at 25 we figure, "Oh, I'm older now, this must be the real thing." Uh-uh.) We go all warm and gooey for all the wrong reasons: looks, money, and so forth. And hey, believe me, I sympathize with what everyone is up against: In a world of 6 billion people, what are the odds of finding someone who's even close to an ideal match for you? Still, it is what it is.

True romance between two people who really belong together does not require external stimulation: rings, vacations, nice lingerie, etc. If now and then the partners want to indulge in some of that by mutual accord, that's one thing. But if it's a requirement to keep the flames burning, then the flames were short on fuel to begin with. If you are with the person you were meant to be with, you should never, I repeat, never, be bored, even if you spend your life sitting in a park feeding squirrels.

Oh, and then there was this gem (no pun intended) from one emailer: "An expensive ring is a symbol of your love and commitment."
Gag me/spare me. So I guess, then, poor people or other hard-working souls who can't afford diamonds are altogether excluded from showing (and reciprocating) true love and commitment, huh?

Please, don't anyone try to justify the tendencies I wrote about in the piece. It just makes things sound even worse.

* although why it says I wrote the piece originally for the Washington Post, I have not a clue.


Martha said...

Once again, I'm compelled to reference Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Jessica Rabbit about why she loves Roger: "He makes me laugh."

I, for one, had been puppy love (or any kind of love) free for about 20 years until just about this time last year when I fell head over heels in crush with someone sight unseen --min Australia of all places. Who was he? My copy editor. Which actually put a stop to two trends: 1. being at all impressed or interested in any guy at all and 2. giving a second thought to any copy editor period. Now I don't want to write another book unless I know he's on the receiving end of the manuscript.

Why did I fall in crush? At first, two reasons: He left my sentence fragments alone (clearly a discerning gent) and he laughed at my jokes (and told me so in little margin notes that were, at first, addressed to "Author" and then ultimately to "Martha"). Then I discovered I laughed at his jokes. And then I was a goner. Poof! There she goes, along with the good sense that God gave geese.

Alas, it is not meant to be. For a slew of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that my cats would die if they were cooped up in quarantine for months on end. (Believe me, I checked. See what I mean about poof?)

Overall the crush has subsided (except when I think about it) and I look forward to a lifetime of a long-distance friendship with him.

But, boys, the lesson to be drawn from my little adventure? You don't have to give her diamonds and pearls. All you have to do is notice her and go, "ha! ha! ha!" at all the (intentionally) funny parts.

And, if you are destined to be far apart, don't give her diamonds. Give her batteries. (Sorry, Steve, couldn't help myself.)

RevRon's Rants said...

Might as well acknowledge it, Steve... You're outgunned and outnumbered. When you have a population so effectively conditioned to respond to commercials that its collective eyes fill with tears at a televised ad for Hallmark greeting cards, there's no way you're going to compete using something as mundane as logic.

I have to admit that even though I can clearly see the manipulation in the ads, I still sometimes feel a tug of guilt for not being able to afford a grandiose gift for someone who means a lot to me. Those folks are good! :-)

Anonymous said...

I have to heartily agree here. I'm a lover of beauty and things beautiful, but I also am dismayed at the obsession we seem to have with what society deems 'worthy' of admiration and big bucks - "beautiful". (For instance, fake breasts are not, in my world, beautiful.)

My husband of 12 years made a point of picking out my simple engagement ring without my input, much to the dismay of the jeweler (it had one tiny ruby amidst a kind of filigree in rose gold. We've added one wee ruby for each child born).

It has no diamonds, of which I was thrilled. Not to mention, the ring is perfectly 'me'and my style. My husband felt if I did not like it, then I was not for him. Until I saw it, I feared my possible future husband had not paid attention to who I am, that the ring would be an over-priced diamond he could not afford and I didn't care to have.

We both passed a test that night.

And yes, we are never bored with one another. Challenged, frustrated, grateful, humbled, but never bored or regretful.

Good stuff,

SustainableFamilies said...

On tokens of affection. My parents gave me a locket when I was in middle school. I gave the locket to my daughter about four years ago. My daughter doesn't live with me. The separation between us is painful. An objects used to remind us of our love DOES NOT have to cost any money at all.

It could be a seashell your dad gave you a year before he passed away. It could be a picture of someone you love that you carry with you in your wallet.

I have a little elephant figurine that cost about 2 dollars. It's a mother elephant with a clear glass ball beside it. In the ball is a baby elephant. The mother elephant lost it's trunk very soon after I got it. If there isn't a symbolism there...

There was a study done recently that looking at a picture of your loved one relieved pain. I wonder of a small token of affection my offer the same feeling? A little fossil you keep in your pocket that your loved one gave you?

I read a story once that there was a man who placed a child for adoption. The day he signed the papers he had a quarter in his pocket. He kept that quarter with him every day, until it was warn smooth from him touching it whenever he thought of his lost daughter.

He gave it to her when she found him over twenty years later.

I think physical objects can remind us of the love we have for and from people who we might not be able to be with at times. But there is no reason that such objects should cost a thousand dollars.

Your analysis of unnecessary costs tacked on for the sake of making people feel rich, important, and high class is head on.

Anonymous said...

Just as most people tune out a lecture on their spending habits, they tune out a lecture on 'true love' and finding the person you're meant to be with.

Love means different things to different people, there is no irreducible state of love that is common to all.

And where does the 'meant for each other' come from? who dictates it?

Most longterm relationships only get to be longterm due to compromise, respect and accommodation of the other, flexibility of attitudes and goals and a common wish to be together. If you can manage that it is love, true and meant or not.

Anonymous said...

If only more women thought like this, Steve, it would be a lot easier for us men. Especially at this time of year. Ho ho ho!

sassy sasha said...

ligthen up steve! whats wrong with a girl wanting a little b ling from her guy?

NormDPlume said...

Not all relationships are romantic - a huge number are platonic, business-based relationships with employees, clients, customers and the like. And while a gift from Lexus is not appropriate, a gift from Tiffany & Co., or even Harry and David certainly is. A properly-timed (yet over-priced) gift can really give a company a huge return on their investment.

I hope all my competitors go the cheap route this year and skip the gifts - they will just make my business stand out. Four years ago - when everybody was making money - I didn't bother with Christmas gifts. But last year, when the recession hit, I was one of the few sending out gifts. And they paid off in a major way. My wife, however received a rather cheap, but appreciated gift: she came up with her top ten things she wanted done around the house (shelves; light fixtures; new faucets...) and I got them done by Valentine's day.

Martha said...

To Sassy Sasha:

There's lots wrong with it -- especially these days. If you want bling, get it yourself. What I would want from my guy is the knowledge that he doesn't have to mortgage our future just to please my little (very little) heart. There's no such thing is discretionary income right now.

I'm finding all sorts of interesting things to do with money that might one day be woo-hoo! money. Salvation Army. Doctors Without Borders. Noah's Wish. Maybe a bike ride someplace pretty.

And in the meantime, any guy who wants to tell me he loves me can do so by picking out a book he knows that I'll just adore.

Nothing says "I love you" better than "I know you well."

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:53, amen, man (or likely woman, no?)

Steve says:

If you are with the person you were meant to be with, you should never, I repeat, never, be bored, even if you spend your life sitting in a park feeding squirrels.

Oh, c'mon, Steve, seriously? I get your overall point, but are you really saying that one should never be bored?

Methinks this is a tad unrealistic and falling under the love myths category. Can anyone out there who has been married/partnered for 25+ years honestly say that they have never been bored, not even once, in the company of one's spouse/partner?

Occasional boredom (as well as other less pleasant experiences, such as irritation, etc.) is a natural part of life and any relationship. The fact that we expect fireworks and/or other forms of continuing excitement from relationships is one of the reasons they don't last, IMO.

BTW, did Roger really just say Ho ho ho!?

Now that's un-boring!;)

Anonymous said...

To NormD:

Shelves; light fixtures; new faucets... ain't cheap, especially when you factor in the labor. (And this sounds like a thoughtful gift, anyway, regardless of price.)

Jenny said...

I've been married to the same man for over 20 years now and can assure you there are definitely "boring" moments! But I'm tellin' ya, without boredom, how would we know what is not boring? Contrast, baby. Contrast. : )

WV: munglyth (huh?)

Anonymous said...


As the only single in this chat so far, I'd like to know where you draw the line between not requiring lavish gifts as signs of affection - to making sure a possible partner has the means available to look after me and our future children.

Although I agree with your point of vanity tax, I have to ask if there isn't something evolutionary going on ie women choosing men on the basis of expensive gifts (especially engagement rings) so they are sure their mate will be able to support their offspring.

Just asking.......


Steve Salerno said...

Londoner: Oh man. Oh man, oh man, oh man. (Or maybe: Oh girl.) I don't know where to begin--and I'm pressed for time.

Anybody else want a piece of this?

Anonymous said...

Londoner, yes, the motivation you describe is behind the women's desire to look for evolutionary fit mates, able to best provide for their offspring. Thus the (oft-criticized, but natural) need in women (in general) to look at the men's status and earning power before making any committments. It's a trade-off, as it were, for the men's need to look for beauty and reproductive abilities in females.

But what we see in our culture, and what Steve's criticizing (among other things, if I understand his points correctly) is the perversion of that need, where those attributes -- money and status -- are the only criteria for a relationship -- in which case the relationship is destructive and doomed.

Granted, I hope that one of these days Steve will write an equally scathing critique of the male often destructive desire/need to look at/for only physically attractive women.

One of these days... ;)

Martha said...

Londoner -- Take heart, you're not the only single in the group. Although it would be awfully difficult to pry my heart from Oz.

What I got from Steve's post is that this perversion (as Elizabeth so aptly calls it) is actually insulting to both men and women.

There's a lid for every pot -- even us super-annuated Bohemian pots who don't need no rings, too old to crank 'em out, and just want someone nice, thoughtful and witty to keep us, if not actually fascinated all the time, at least awake while we gum our way into our twilight years.

And when I read RevRon lament that he can't buy his lady love a bauble, I happen to know for a fact that said lady love thinks he's the cat's pajamas. Bauble or no.

Anonymous said...

Martha said:

don't need no rings, too old to crank 'em out, and just want someone nice, thoughtful and witty to keep us, if not actually fascinated all the time, at least awake while we gum our way into our twilight years

Now that's a model of a loving relationship I'd wholeheartedly endorse! (Shelves, light fixtures, and new faucets also wouldn't hurt. :)

Engagement Rings said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Martha said...

Hey Steve

You deserve to be congratulated! It's not every day that we have an original idea that we can write a whole opinion piece about. It's een less frequent that anyone takes notice (at least that's been my experience). And even rarer that it should go viral! So from one writer to another, good for you! Pat yourself on the back all you want. You deserve it.

Jenny said...

Congrats on the apparent success of the article, Steve! Gotta love the timing, too. T'is the season, you know. :)

Dimension Skipper said...

Via the Nov. 26th Washington Post here's...

George F. Will on The gift of not giving

It's sort of tangentially related to the whole vanity tax thingie in the way he presents it.

I particularly liked his line about grandmothers and kaleidoscopes vs. Grand Theft Auto.