Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking for "the one?" Or just a date? Your calendar is your friend.

From the studies I’ve come across that give me pause, I relate the following for your consideration:

According to a study from researchers at the University of Toronto and Tufts University, there is something to be said for the fertility cycle a woman experiences on a monthly basis and her ability to perceive a likely mate. Not unlike my most recent post, the idea that we’re wired somewhat similarly to animals is not lost on me. Here’s the story:

Three different kinds of experiments were conducted. In the first, forty women were shown individual photographs of eighty men. The pictures showed men of similar attractiveness, all with similar emotional expressions. The only question the women had to answer – based on intuition and perception alone - was to identify the sexual orientation of each man. (Half of the subjects in the photos were self-identified gay men; the other half were straight.) The results: women who were nearest to their peak ovulation time could more accurately assess each man’s sexual orientation.

Next up: this time, women viewed individual photographs of two hundred women, half of whom self-identified as lesbians; the other half as straight. Surprise! (Or not.) There was no relationship found between a woman’s fertility cycle and her ability to identify the sexual orientation of the women in the photos.

Finally, forty women were again asked to view photos of men and identify the subject’s sexual orientation. This time, half of the women read a story that described a romantic encounter and the other half did not. Priming the pump, so to speak, seemed to help. Turns out the women who read the story could more accurately identify the gay men and straight men in the images.

So what have we learned? That biology – in straight women anyway - is formidable and undeniable. And that a good romance story is not to be taken lightly. I wish the researchers had conducted the same three tests with lesbians viewing all the images. I wonder if the results would change or if biology – irrespective of sexual orientation – would result in more accurate assessments of men at least, by every woman at a certain point in her fertility cycle.

I love this kind of stuff. Science has given us thermometers and ovulation kits that will help us conceive a child. Science has helped sell millions of boxer shorts to men who want to keep the boys cool on a daily basis while trying to father a child. It has developed early pregnancy tests that will help us start tracking a pregnancy from Day 9.

But who could have imagined this? Something as natural as a released or about to be released egg could help women identify a potentially willing candidate for fatherhood from an array of photographs. Conversely, it also somehow helps women determine which men would be disinclined to show any interest in her fertile state. And, not for nothing, turns out to be absolutely inconsequential when viewing women and trying to identify sexual orientation.

Let’s sum up – I’ve said this before and I stand by it. Women just aren’t that complicated. When we’re ready to conceive a child, biology can help us identify a likely partner which is kind of awesome. It can help us dismiss those men who are disinterested in our sexual selves, which - let's face it - can save us a lot of heartache in the long run.

And maybe best of all: it proves that a sister is a sister is a sister. : )

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Men will be women. Kinda sorta. : (

As regular readers of this blog know – go ahead, raise your hands, all nineteen of you!! – I tend to collect bits of information I come across in my everyday reading, scanning, stumbling across kind of way (in other words, random facts) with the goal being that they will somehow coalesce into some reasonable commentary or response that feels somewhat cogent and thought-provoking. I don’t promise this will be one of those times but here we go.

In May, I read the summary of a study about the “precarious” status of manhood today. Researchers at the University of South Florida found out the following: It’s important to men that they look like and are perceived as men by everyone around them. And the more they care about this, the more horrible they’ll feel when they’re perceived otherwise.

Psychologists Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello conducted research that included the following: One group of men was “forced” to exhibit a feminine behavior; one group was not. The task at hand: Braids. The “feminine” group was forced to braid hair; the other more gender-neutral group braided rope. Fine. Lovely.

When the tasks were completed the two groups were given a choice of what to do next: hit a punching bag or do a puzzle. You know what’s coming, right? The results were tabulated in a few ways. The hair-braiders “overwhelmingly chose the punching bag.” Even better, when all the men (both hair and rope-braiders) had to punch the bag, the hair-braiders hit it harder. Finally, when everyone had to braid hair but not everyone got to punch the bag, the ones who didn’t get the chance “evinced more anxiety on a subsequent test.”

Fascinating. Why the activity of braiding hair meant that men chose to not only hit a punching bag to validate their testosterone, but hit it even harder than others when they did so is mystifying to me.

The authors’ conclusion? “Aggression is a manhood-restoring tactic.” Which seems to beg the question: is participation in “feminine” activities a manhood-robbing tactic?

In fact, further research indicated that gender is not biologically based, but more of a social circumstance. Men can “lose” their manhood by social transgressions. Women lose their womanhood by menopause.

You know what I mean. Think about it. How about the man couch? Or the man chairs?? The ones outside dressing rooms in department stores where men sit and look appropriately bored and uncomfortable and out of place while shopping with their wives or girlfriends? The one where the looks on their faces says:
“Idon’twanttobehere -
Ican’tstandbeinghere –
Shemademebehere - IfitwereuptomeI’dbeplayingrugbyorfootballorpokeranddrinkingjackandcoke - No,Ididn’twanttoholdherpursebutshemademedothat,too.”

Those seats are like fabric-covered estrogen drips.

Other tests and measurement tools used by the researchers concluded that the harshest critics of men were other men, not women. In other words, women don’t care how often you braid your daughter’s hair: you’re still a man. And a helpful one at that. Men – not so much.

In fact, turns out that being around his daughter – or his son for that matter – makes a man just a little more feminine. It’s true. A Northwestern University study, co-authored by Professor Chrisopher W. Kuzawa and doctoral candidate Lee Gettler (along with several other contributors) concluded that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels. Put another way: proving you can be a dad makes you more of a mom. Weird, right?

I’ll pause here so everyone can take a breath.

We can thank nature for this. In other species – maybe in humans, too - the male needs testosterone in huge quantities to compete with the other males for a mate. The winner gets the female, then they mate, then they have offspring. Following that blessed event, what the researchers call the “mating related” activities – it’s been too long; I can’t even remember what these are in men - may conflict with being responsible for the brand new litter, so the testosterone level of the new animal dad drops.

I get it. This happens in the animal kingdom, not during happy hour at Dave and Buster’s. In the immortal words of Joseph (not John) Merrick and Jerry Seinfeld: I am NOT an animal!! Since men don’t have to smash into each other with their horns, or drive off competitors for a female’s affection with aggression using paws and jaws – not overtly anyway - here’s a question for human males: do testosterone levels drop because men become fathers or do men become fathers because they have low testosterone levels to begin with?

The former. The same study showed that men who had higher levels of testosterone were more likely to become fathers, but like physics tells us: for every action there is an equal reaction, or something like that. Once these guys are dads, their testosterone drops – by a lot. And even more if they are really involved dads.

That’s super, right? “Nope. Not changing the baby, honey. It makes me feel too weird.” Good lord – just what women need. A husband who feels like his manhood gets threatened by a newborn’s diaper.

And just to make the whole situation more acute, the biggest drop in testosterone is right after the newborn baby comes home with the parents. Sure, the drop is temporary but everything makes more sense now. How many new moms have ever had the feeling that they have two new babies at home? The researchers state that men are preoccupied with the “many emotional, psychological, and physical adjustments” that come with being a parent. Unfortunately, women don’t have that kind of time. We're preoccupied with wondering if we’ll pee just a teeny little bit every time we sneeze for the rest of our lives. Oh, and caring for a newborn.

The silver lining? (Yes, guys, there is one.) A lower testosterone level means you’re better protected against chronic diseases as you age. So the good news is you’ll live longer. The bad news is you may feel like your grandmother while you do.

In conclusion, ...I know – you’re confused. “How can she reach a conclusion without really saying anything yet?” It’s a gift, what can I tell you. I turn to someone much more eloquent than I; someone who knows whereof he speaks: Adam Carolla. In his hilarious book, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks, he writes:

“It used to be that a fella would at least have the dignity that when he was driving with the missus and the car wouldn’t start, even though he didn’t know what the f--- to look for, he’d say, “Pop the hood.” He’d stand there and stare at the engine for a while, set his cigarette on top of the air cleaner, and yell, “Try it now.” Of course the engine wouldn’t start, but at least he looked like a man. Now the guy says, ‘Call Triple-A. I don’t want to get my cuticles dirty.”

“It’s the same thing with fighting. Guys used to have stories where they said, “This SOB spilled a drink on my old lady [Renee aside – old lady is annoying but sadly accurate and the thing is, you know the guy who said it meant it with great affection somehow] at the bar, so I got in his face and said, “ ‘If you’re looking for trouble, you found it. You’re in for a world of hurt.’ ” Now dudes tell stories that go, “I honked at a guy and he got out of his car so I called 911. But I got a busy signal, so I locked myself in and hit the OnStar button.”

I guess what I’m wondering is this: if it’s true that testosterone drops when a man becomes a father…if it’s true that doing something that feels and looks “feminine” makes men want to hit a punching bag…where does that leave us? Doesn’t this prove that it’s both biological or societal? Maybe men are much more sensitive than any of us ever imagined and women are much tougher and less prone to psychological influences than any of us ever imagined. Maybe we’re all just ‘evolving’ into gender- neutral versions of humanity.


PS Thanks for visiting and if you enjoyed this post, and felt a moment of connection, you can read more like it by "following" the blog (upper right) or joining me on Facebook here. If you didn't enjoy it, and felt I needed a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, you can do the same and continue to shake your head in disbelief. : )

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The surprising aftermath: comfort

I can't quite think about this day yet - and as much as part of me wanted to watch and remember the events of ten years ago, another part of me didn't. Not sure how many other people felt that way.

Ten years ago, they were 10, 10 and 11. Old enough to be aware, ask perplexing questions, witness our own confusion and retain the memories of a country in shock. And now at 20, 20 and 21, they have virtually grown up recognizing and living with the reality of a world of terrorist activity.

As I cherish and recognize the amazing young men my sons have grown into, I recall this piece they inspired, written in November, 2001. I hope it offers a moment of comfort.

Thank you, boys.

Over the past few weeks, a time that will be forever mourned in our nation and around the world, you’ve taught me that innocence still exists, that understanding and compassion do not come with an age requirement and that life does indeed go on.

This year, on a Thanksgiving that will take on a very different tone across the country, I’m especially grateful for you, my sons. You held my hand, rubbed my arm, or simply inched a little closer on the sofa, not completely understanding the depth of my sadness on September 11 and the days that followed. You served as silent witnesses to my own pain and confusion.

But somehow you knew that touch was a good thing, that closeness would matter. You felt my tears as I hugged you a little more tightly than I had the days before, and you offered 10- and 10- and 11-year-old comfort. You couldn’t know how many nights following September 11 I looked in on you as you slept, silently thanking God for the miracle of you.

Through you, I can still see hope where grownups feel despair. A promise of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, while the world swirls in seemingly endless threats and anxiety. I sense innocence and uncertainty about what happened and what’s to come; surprisingly mixed with an unceasingly kid-like attitude of frivolity and optimism. Is it possible to remind someone of the future? That’s what you do everyday.

When you’re my age, will you talk about this event with your own children and add: “I have a clear memory of your grandmother crying, watching TV and trying to explain it to me.”

Will you remember your teachers, quietly gathering in the hallways of school, trying so desperately not to betray their horror and anxiety to their students? Will you tell the story of one teacher, returning to the classroom with her eyes red, looking at her class and saying, “Do you all know how much you mean to me?”

Will you forever hold the mental image of your father and me, leaning on each other in church on Sunday, September 16, as we ended Mass with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner?”

Through the endless, hysterical quotes you throw at each other from your many “Calvin and Hobbes” books, your enthusiasm for football and basketball practices for the Christmas concert coming up, the almost-every-Saturday morning “can we ride our bikes to…?” questions, and your restless anticipation of the Harry Potter movie and the half-dread you feel in case it’s not quite “right,” you remind me that the world goes on and we will somehow help each other through.

You helped me understand that sometimes “Shrek,” not CNN, is what we need to get through the evening.

The good stuff has not disappeared. Thank you, boys, for helping me appreciate that "stuff" for the gift it truly is. Babies are born and new parents praise their miracles. Young couples marry and celebrate with family and friends. And sometimes, just sometimes, you have glorious fall Sunday afternoon come along for the perfect flag football game.

When you confronted me with the “What happened today?” question on September 11, I had no ready answer. I’m not sure who did. But maybe I do now.

What happened was this: September 11 gave me the chance to tell you again how much I love you. How thankful I am to have you in my life. How simply by being here, you’ve helped restore my perspective and my priorities, and have reminded me each day about what matters.

Monday, September 05, 2011

I'm shuffling off something alright, although I don't think it's to Buffalo.

Nothing like Buffalo, New York as the summer begins to wind down. Just 324 miles later, I’m virtually in Buffalo, with Canada so close I can almost touch it.

The bad news: my August was off just a bit – missed my minimum but about 1/10th of a mile. I hadn’t missed a minimum since being sidelined in April with my bad sciatic nerve.

The good news: I ran a week of August in the heat at the shore, and wasn’t quite able to track my mileage as carefully as I usually do. When that’s the case, I estimate down. So maybe I really did hit my minimum but who knows.

I still had my 26-mile cushion to see me through. So by the numbers, for anyone keeping track.

Through August:
326 miles in

124 to go

4 months to do it

That’s only 31 miles a month – which is considerably lower than my stated monthly goal of 37.5

Or 7.75 miles a week

Or just under 2 miles, four times a week

You know what that means. One of two things will happen:
Come December 31, I’ll have overshot Toronto by about 30 miles and end up in someplace called Barrie, Ontario; or have taken it easy, not unlike the hare in the fable, and after all this time, missed my number completely.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to ask the obvious question: why? What does this all say about me or my life at this time? Why, after more than half a century on the planet, and more than thirty of them as a full-fledged adult who is wholly responsible for her choices, did I choose this particular challenge at this particular time?

I think I alluded to this is a previous post but I keep coming back to it: control, and the inevitable flip side – lack of control. Because the further I run, and the longer I keep at it, the more I realize that the neat little columns of numbers in the little grid, with the monthly totals and the boxes that highlight the miles ahead or miles behind and those indicating miles logged vs. miles to go may all be perfectly calculated, clear and unambiguous. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some comfort and sense of accomplishment in the measureable, the indisputable nature of numbers. But understand this much as well: they’re perfectly meaningless.

But even at that, they are also one other thing: perfectly and completely within my control. No one else runs them, no one else logs them and no one else adds them up each month. And all of that has to count for something, right?

Wrong. Today’s lesson, one that took only eight short months to learn: Control is an illusion. Chaos is reality. This seems to be a very big deal for me these days.

Let me back up a little bit here. (I know I’m going off track here but so be it. I never promised a strict narrative.)

My sons are young adults. Their paths into adulthood are divergent and at this point, anyway, appear not quite as clear cut as some others have taken. And – utter honesty here – not as clear cut as I would like them to be. I suppose that had to be okay with me – has to be – because I can’t control that kind of thing.

The phrase “waiting to exhale” comes to mind. Is that something all parents do at least once in a while? And then when you let it all out, is it nothing more than a respite until you have to take the next deep breath and hope for the best?

We’ve all heard about the legendary roads not taken. I’m here to tell you that we seem to be on nothing BUT the roads not taken these days in my house, and no one is more surprised than I. It feels like I keep pointing down a familiar path, saying, “This way! I’m sure this is the way!! Follow me!” Two of my sons peer down it and understand why I like it. They consider the route then shake their heads and say, “Nah…I’m going this way instead. I’ll be okay.”

The confounding thing is: they could be right. They really could be and I try to remind myself about that maybe thirty or ninety times a day. I could be wrong and if I am, I wonder: What happened to my certainty? I was always a Point A to Point B person. What I was certain I could control all these years was myself. That choosing X + Y + Z for my life, then adding in some A, B and C would land me here: in a place of love and logic; where things (and people, yes, even people with all their quirks and personalities and peculiarities) moved along in a mostly predictable way to a mostly predictable outcome.

You remember today’s lesson, right – about control? Yup – it’s an illusion.

I spent the better part of two decades as a parent modeling and demonstrating the kinds of actions, behavior and beliefs I held dear. What kinds of things? Same as most people I would think; maybe more than some; less than others. Like what? Well, it was important that our family found time to connect each day over dinner and for many, many years we did just that. Even throughout high school, through the activities and obligations that pulled us in different directions, we fit in many family dinners. And when we had the time, we often found ourselves lingering for hours at the table. We attended church together, and then discussed the sermon on the way home.

We created traditions large and small together. We read books, played music, traveled. We cheered every soccer, basketball, football and baseball season. Holidays included large and mostly intact extended families. We took in zoos and museums and amusement parks; we attended concerts and plays and ballgames and festivals. As they grew older, they picked up some of my habits: like flipping to the last page of The New Yorker each week to check out the cartoon, and later, read the caption contest each week. I made them read Catcher in the Rye. They loved it on their own.

Me: Do me one favor. Do not marry a woman who doesn’t love Catcher in the Rye.
Son: Why?
Me: Please trust me. Just don’t.

In living every day, I thought I shared what I value (working hard to do your best) and what I didn’t (tattoos). At different points along the way with my children, at various age-appropriate and situation-appropriate times, I shared selected stories of struggle and sadness from my own childhood. I talked of my own family life as a girl and as a young woman, to help my sons understand a little more about who I was and why I believed certain things. [It wasn’t all a complete downer. I thought I used my own stories judiciously to illustrate some choices, some circumstances and some lessons that could perhaps be passed along and learned by my children, without them having to endure the pain.]

Turns out, none of that seems to matter. Lessons without pain may just be another illusion.

At this point, it feels like I should take a cue from Margo Channing and buckle my seatbelt for the bumpy night ahead. And I have to ask, as I lurch along with the ups and downs: what do you do when your view of “the future” veers out of your control? Maybe you realize, slowly and wincing with no little pain that much of it wasn’t in your control from the start.

And that staying on the road together, with its bumps, holes, hills, ditches and sharp turns, is really what matters. Staying on the road. I have to believe it smooths out; that at some point it has to come out somewhere, and you’ll all be okay when it does.