Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Am Married Tomorrow

M. Keith Chen at Yale offers a fascinating study about the different effects of languages that do distinguish between present and future, such as English, and those that do not, such as German:

Speakers of languages that do not distinguish between the present and the future save more money, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese, according to Chen’s findings.
I often try to get students to think about their future marriages now, to plan as strategically for their family life as they do for their careers.

The example Chen uses is Morgen regnet es - "morning raining is" - as the German equivalent of "It will rain tomorrow."

I may get students to try saying "I am married tomorrow" to see if that gives them a more future-oriented view of family life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Symmetry of Sexual Fantasies

I put this out tentatively, and would welcome correction as well as comment.

One of the most common sexual fantasies of men is of the nymphomaniac, a woman with an endless desire for sex.

One of the most common sexual fantasies for women is of being ravished, particularly by a bad boy.

It is very puzzling why women, who hate rape so much, and want decent men to marry, would have a fantasy like this.

It is also puzzling, though not puzzled over as much as it should be, why men, who fear sexual comparison and want loyal women to marry, would have a fantasy like this.

I think I have been looking at these fantasies the wrong way.  If I ask "what's in it for the fantasizer," the potential appeal is a little clearer.

Women want to feel irresistible, and wish their sexual attraction to be enough to not only draw a strong man, but to tame him, to overcome his resistance to commitment.

Men want to feel free to have sex with a woman without judgment, commitment, or, importantly, injustice.  They do not need to deceive a nymphomaniac that they are more committed to her than they really are.

And here is where the symmetry breaks down.  Women might fantasize about taming the ravisher and marrying him.  Men are not likely to fantasize about marrying the nymphomaniac. She goes on a different list than the potential wife.

[And no, I do not think these differences are the result of socialization, nor can they be simply abolished by social engineering.  Civilization teaches us to self-control our actions much better than it can change our fantasies.]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Schep Naches" is a Wonderful Gruntled Idea

The Yiddish expression schep naches is commonly used to describe the pride parents and grandparents feel at the achievements of their offspring.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, in Myths of Happiness, says it can also be used to mean a general sense of "deriving pleasure from the experience of others."

In this sense, she writes, we can use it as the opposite of Schadenfreude.

Deriving pleasure, or calm contentment, from the experience of others seems to me a fine way to make my life, and my community, a happier place.