Monday, February 16, 2015

Follow Up: Is Nate P. a Misogynist?

I recently read an interview with Adelle Waldman, author of of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. entitled "A Certain Type of Male Thinking". It was quite interesting to hear her comment on her own book and her writing since then.

Perhaps most central to the public reaction to the book was the general disgust among women with Nathaniel P. as a character and their question, "Is this how men really think?" Waldman admitted she had done almost zero research for the novel because the questions she needed to answer were those that almost any man would not answer honestly, probably even to a therapist, much less a woman. So she took five years to decipher the inner life and feelings of men who found themselves lukewarm about a woman, then interested, then deeply in love, and who eventually became distant and lost interest in her. Most notably, she insists that the reason for this frequent trend in male behavior is not "commitment phobia" as many women are apt to believe (and often place blame on men for their failed relationships). I think Waldman recognized that something far more complex was happening in the inner life of a man for him to fall in and out of love with a woman. Not only that, but she does a terrific job of uncovering the gradual psychological process that drives this shift.

Even though it has been some time since the original hardback publication of the book, Waldman says she still enjoys debating such questions as "Is Nate culpable?" and whether or not he ends up with the right woman (not Hannah, his gentle girlfriend whom he becomes cold to, but a sort of airhead he can feel free to act out his pornographic fantasies with as well as express anger openly with). However, the girl he ends up with may be more suitable to his needs and temperament, as well as his--I would argue--debatable level of misogyny.

Is Nathaniel a misogynist, or is he simply a representative Millennial male? Perhaps many feminists would argue that he is both, or that both categories almost entirely overlap. But for better or worse, young women will be encountering these kind of men more frequently, so for them knowledge is power. It behooves women in their twenties and early thirties to read this book, albeit with a critical eye, while reserving judgment (keeping in mind their boyfriends and male friends as counterexamples). Men and women alike will benefit from this read and it will surely spark discussion between them about the way they relate to each other. I have an optimistic view: to me Nathaniel P. represents a subset of Millennial males in most ways, although his characteristic thought patterns may sometimes be almost universal in others. His character is by no means a one-size-fits-all archetype. 

Therefore, take heart, young women! Don't read all of Nathaniel's qualities into every guy you meet or date. And please try to empathize with him. You may discover a whole lot of humanity and some gutsy qualities , good intentions, and virtues. As Waldman said in her interview, Nathaniel P. is representative only of a "certain type of male thinking", yet it is better for women to "know what we're dealing with rather than to be deceived." 

~ Trevor Swett

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. : a Profile of the Millennial Male

Adelle Waldman's debut novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. received widespread critical acclaim, and she was heralded as a modern-day Austen, defining the new social and sexual mores of our time. Her fine eye for the subtleties of relationships between men and women in this brave new world is unparalleled. While Nathaniel P. might be interpreted as a feminist critique and skewering of the Millennial male's ineptness in romantic life--and indeed many critics have portrayed it as such--Waldman displays so much empathy for Nathaniel as a character and as a man beset by challenges for which modern culture has left him ill-equipped and poorly socialized that the reader is apt to view him in a sympathetic light.

Is he a coward? A rake? Does he lack the capacity to love? These qualities might be inferred by his female friends and perhaps quite a few female readers based on his treatment of women in the novel. Yet they are hardly the truth. The truth is he feels vulnerable and disconnected in many intimate situations with his girlfriend and ex-lovers, he fears and often rejects his own feelings of intimacy with women, he is rakish often when emotionally troubled or tempted by an ex, and he does have the capacity to love, yet it is buried under so many layers of cynicism and bravado that serve him as a fortification against feeling deep emotions.

One reviewer, Allison Amend (author of A Nearly Perfect Copy) wrote, "Nate is so convincingly drawn you'll want to hug him, lecture him and shake some sense into him simultaneously." Hannah, Nate's girlfriend and primary love interest--we follow the course of their relationship from start to finish--seems to be a most eligible young lady. Almost universally regarded as "pretty and smart" or "smart and pretty" she seems to be Nate's ideal type, and he hones in on her quite ardently.

Pride and Prejudice begins with the "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Times have surely changed since the days of the early 19th century's British landed gentry. If we were to rewrite this sentence for Nathaniel P., a Millennial "up-and-coming" writer of the bohemian set in contemporary Brooklyn, it might read: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man who is making a modest living as a freelance writer in Brooklyn must be seeking to get laid with hot, bookish chicks." Like many Millennials, Nate is renting an apartment in a big, desirable city in a gentrifying neighborhood, working multiple jobs with no stable means of income, and unable and uninterested in home ownership (economics suggest he would only be able to live in some place like Utah or Oklahoma if he took this route anyway). Marriage or even the possibility of "settling down" without marrying seem light years away. It is an undeniable fact that Nate's paltry housing, low income, freelance job and deep devotion to writing as well as a drive to advance his career, and the lifestyle of living in a huge, permissive and anonymous city all effect his relationship with Hannah and his attitudes toward women, sex, and romance.

But neither is Nate's character the sum total of the sociological factors effecting him. Waldman explores his deep psychological makeup, from his early encounters with the opposite sex, to his new intellectual elitism in college and his friendship with the brash, intelligent, yet strident Jason.

I have never encountered a female writer to write so fluently from the male point of view. Waldman's insights into the male psyche are astonishing. The experience of reading this book was like talking with a lifetime friend who is honest enough to expose both your strong points and your weaknesses, yet still love you no matter what. You feel your friend often understands you better than you understand yourself. By relating to Nathaniel P., his struggles, often heroic, sometimes disappointing, we get a better understanding of ourselves as men. Not only that, but Nate is the quintessential Millennial man. Not a mover and a shaker, but an up-and-comer, just like you and me. He's making his own way, but the going's tough. And he's confused, very, very confused. Bombarded with dissonant opinions, especially concerning dating and romantic advice (the two primary unsolicited advice-givers are mainly his friend Jason, the macho intellectual meat-head, and Aurit, the thoughtful, yet doctrinal feminist who blames Nate for making "poor" decisions). The voices Waldman gives her female characters are as finely-tuned and diverse as her male ones and sometimes serve as foils. One finds that, in addition to a thorough character study of Nathaniel's psychology, worldview, and M.O., the emotional range, perspectives, and attitudes of a broad spectrum of women are simultaneously explored by their reactions to Nate (mainly those of his ex-lovers and female friends).

I recommend The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. to any woman looking to understand their boyfriends, husbands, companions, dates, lovers, or male friends better. It should also be required reading for any man who needs to examine himself and find a better path to intimacy that ultimately he knows or will discover he craves.

~ Trevor Swett

Friday, February 13, 2015

How Many Millennials Does It Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

1. one to Tweet about it.

2. one to re-Tweet it.

3. one to photograph it for Instagram and edit the photo to give it "cool lighting".

4. one to share it with all their Facebook friends (close friends, acquaintances, and strangers), so that everyone can know they are currently screwing in a light bulb and exactly in which trendy part of town they are doing it.

5. one to upload a Youtube video of the process.

6. four hundred people to comment on the Youtube video, while actually spitting vitriol at one another and arguing about other totally unrelated topics.

7. twenty people to "heart" the Instagram photo in a cloying love-fest.

8. one to develop an app that rates your "light-bulb-screwing-in ability" and markets in-app purchases to you of "virtual light bulbs".

9. one to get a clever picture of their friend messing up while screwing it in and make it into a meme that attracts 4,000 viewers, most of whom leave stupid comments not worth reading that many people will read anyway.

10. ONE to physically screw in the light bulb.

11. another one to congratulate him or her for accomplishing it without resorting to Wikihow or Yahoo Answers.

TOTAL: 4,429 Millennials to screw in a light bulb.

~Trevor Swett

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Scary Side of Life as a Millennial: Big Data Knows When You Go to the Bathroom

I was shocked (and appalled) when I read this article.

I plan to write a detailed blog post about its implications soon... meanwhile I think I'll try and build up the courage to delete my Facebook account. However, I think there's still a cost/benefit question to be posed here; Facebook does provide a great deal of utility for keeping in touch with friends and locating those we haven't seen in years. Might we do that by other means if we weren't so lazy/reliant upon on it? Of course! When I heard from a news report that Facebook's newly required separate messenger app included software that gave FB "super permissions" that allowed it access to your personal data on your phone, I deleted the app. Nevertheless, I have since reinstalled it because I have a friend who moved to Mexico City and it is the best way I have to keep in touch with him. For better or for worse, Facebook is something we Millennials have grown up with, at least since our college days, and most will probably have a hard time letting go of it, even given an overwhelming reason to do so.

Perhaps most disturbing is the extensive harvesting of even the most private data by Facebook and its cooperation with the NSA, the CIA, and other federal security agencies that just so happen to be spying on our nation's own citizens. My friends, any notion of "privacy" and the separation from private and public life are relics of a bygone era. For all intents and purposes, Facebook now knows when you have your "morning miracle".


Why So Many Millennials Hate Online Dating, Yet Keep On Doing It

     Dating should be fun, right?

Stop the music--cue the record needle scrape!

Say WHAT?!?

Sure, maybe back in the day... pick her up at eight, drive down to the diner for some milk shakes--strawberry and vanilla--and head on down to the drive-in movie theater to watch a re-release of Gone With the Wind. Maybe you'll get to first base when Clark Gable kisses Vivien Leigh.

But in today's strange world of first dates with people you've met online, the guiding principle seems to be that timeless line Gable utters the film: "Frankly, my Dear, I don't give a damn."

Because online daters have no solid previous connection to each other (least of all, in most cases, a personal introduction by a mutual friend--although some apps allow you to find or see people with whom you share friends on Facebook), there is little at stake in the first meeting or online interaction. It is thus easy to cut bait at any time, a choice many people may make at any stage in the process. In my experience, very many people are willing to go out for coffee or drinks and see how things go on a first date. After all, they are online for a reason. Yet making it past the first date to the second might be almost as difficult as passage from East to West Berlin during the height of the Cold War. The barrier to getting from A to B can be as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall.

Why is this? Given zero previous social ties and lacking any standing relationship with the other person, it is super easy to write them off! I found this out the hard way in the hard-knock dating scene of New York City, where it felt like if you hadn't yet made a killing by selling an ingenious app to Google, gone to a top Med or Law school, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro by age twelve, or cured a vicious disease with a miracle vaccine, you were likely just an average guy (read waste of space) who didn't deserve the time of day. During these difficult times, I seemed to get enough first dates, but was quickly and thoroughly dismissed as an obviously unfit mate.

I seriously considered rewriting my OkCupid profile like this to see what kind of new replies I would get... How would you respond to me with this self-description, ladies???

I have an I.Q. of 202, which occurs which occurs in approximately ONE in 10,881,400,000 people. As I am writing this there are approximately 7,290,250,000 people alive on earth. Statistically, I should not exist. I have invented an app which I sold to Google for 4.7 Billion dollars. I have climbed Everest 7 times, and stopped at least twice each time on the way to call my mom to make sure she wouldn't worry about me. I have founded a worldwide foundation that fights for human rights, ending poverty and disease, and preventing ethnic cleansing and violence against women and children. I hold boxing titles for championships in the United States and Europe, and have defeated the Ukrainian boxer/former presidential candidate Vitali Klitschko both at boxing and at chess, at which he is also a prodigy. Jay-Z has publicly acknowledged that I am cooler than he is, and also that I am a bigger man. He also added in a comment to The Source magazine that I am "his boy." Not sure what that means, but I like it!

I could go on and on about my many accomplishments, but I AM MORE INTERESTED IN GETTING TO KNOW YOU!        :-)

All kidding aside, I did find New York to be a tough dating market. One fellow dater described her theory for why the scene was as bad as this: 1. People are way too busy. and 2. Everyone thinks they can do better.

I would say these two obstacles could get in the way in any major city, but since I've moved to DC I've found people to be more approachable and accepting on dates. I've generally had a much better time going out, and it doesn't feel like the girl is sitting there judging me against a check-list of ideal partner qualities she has in mind. Down here, people are genuinely interested in relating to each other, and don't tend to leap to judgmental conclusions very quickly. I've heard similar stories from friends who have had much better luck dating in other cities where people are more "relaxed" or "down to earth"--Chicago, for example.

So, the problem I had been blaming alternately on myself and alternately on "OkStupid" or whatever app I was using at the time, turns out to be a problem with neither me nor the dating platforms, but with the Millennial social milieu and how we, myself included, utilize these dating resources. The more we can focus on relating before judging and giving each other a chance before writing each other off, the more likely we will be to forge meaningful and successful relationships.

~ Trevor Swett

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Who are the Millennials?

There are no exact dates defining the birth years of the Millennial generation. The Pew Research Center gave tentative dates between 1981 and 1997. A May 2013 Time cover story dated Millennials as those children born between 1980 or 1981 and 2000.

One online commentator referred to the term Millennials, previously often coined Generation Y, or the immediate successors to Generation X, as “a dumb way for baby boomers to other-ise the generation that they’ve saddled with all the world’s biggest problems.” I would have to agree with this statement, particularly as it pertains to the unsustainable mess of Social Security and Medicare entitlements, which Millennials will pay for all their lives and then inherit without benefit when the funds dry up. It is true that the Boomers have put off the burdens of the world's biggest problems for future generations to deal with. From global conflicts to climate change to sovereign debt, they have acted consistently in this manner. Not to mention the financial crisis, largely caused by Boomer's irresponsibility and greed, that led the country into the sinkhole of the Great Recession, which struck just as many Millennials were finishing college or entering the workforce. But enough about politics and playing the blame game! Who really cares about that stuff anyway?

The point is that the Boomers have somewhat lazily and broadly stereotyped and denigrated their children's generation, a generation that they, as parents, were chiefly responsible for raising. Yet, the Baby Boomer's are also trying to understand Millennials, a generation so vastly different from their own, in the way a parent tries to understand his or her own children. There is still love and compassion behind this effort because many of the good-hearted Boomers have good intentions, yet are perhaps still seeking to mold their children in their own image. They may find it hard to stomach the change that is occurring so dizzily around them. Indeed, if I as a Millennial am frequently confused by and find it hard to keep up with the rapid social, cultural, political and technological changes that occur at warp speed in my world, I can hardly imagine how my parents feel! When their primarily source of news and information is the PBS New Hour, it's hardly surprising that they feel disconnected from their children's worldview and values. Indeed, many probably suspect that their Millennial brats have not developed these humanistic traits that make them citizens of the world and not just world class Candy Crush players.

The Baby Boomers had relatively tranquil childhoods during an era of quiet prosperity and social, familial stability. All that changed with their coming-of-age during the Civil Rights Movement and their suffering through the horrors of Vietnam, which included the Draft, a life-threatening menace so terrible that it is almost unimaginable to one of the Millennial generation, except perhaps to the men and women of our armed services who have faced combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bob Dylan's famous song and lyric of 1964, "The Times They Are A-Changin' ", might have been the mantra of a generation. And the times did change. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 due largely to the mobilization of activists in the African-American community and growing sympathy among whites. In 1965, the United States began deploying regular combat troops to Vietnam. The war escalated to its peak in 1968 with the Tet offensive, a campaign by the Viet Cong that failed in its goal of overthrowing the South Vietnamese government but succeeded in convincing the majority of the American populous that their country was losing the war. Protests against the war grew even stronger. Cries of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" rang out.

1968 was a horrible year. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th and large-scale riots erupted in major cities across the country. Bobby Kennedy's assassination followed on June 6th. In May 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen fired 67 rounds over 13 seconds at a group of unarmed college students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four and wounding nine. A student strike of 4 million young people shut down high schools, colleges, and universities across the country in response to the incident. Public opinion continued to shift against the war. By the end of the prolonged Vietnam War, Baby Boomers had lost trust in government. Moreover, they had grown up in a climate of turmoil, violence, protest, and civil disobedience.

Through the tumultuous nightmare of that era, a new culture emerged, largely as a result of the Boomer generation's efforts and a power shift. The Draft was abolished in 1973, and although President Carter later created the Selective Service in 1980 for the event of an emergency crisis, conscription was in effect dead. The Women's Movement continued to gain further ground by leaps and bounds, as did the efforts to attain equality for people of color. The Baby Boomers had weathered a true storm, but through their determined efforts to push for political and social change, they emerged victorious.

Now, how could such a generation fail to recognize the innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship of its children's generation? Perhaps because the Millennials are fomenting an entirely different form of change than the Boomers. Or maybe the Boomers have witnessed such drastic social, economic, and political change in their lifetimes that what's going on now seems like a flash in the pan...

Also why do Boomers seem so ready to "saddle" our generation with "the world's biggest problems" without regret? Perhaps they've thrown in the towel--having gone ten rounds in the ring in their youth through the hard-knock times of the '60s and '70s. Perhaps they are resting on their laurels and looking forward to a well-deserved retirement. However, psychological research has shown that in old age people feel the need to give back to their communities and leave a legacy for loved ones, family, friends, and for those causes and institutions which they hold dear. Although they may make a major contribution to a great, "world-changing" cause late in life, it is most likely to be a financial one. I certainly don't feel like if I were in my late fifties or my sixties that my top priority would be to tackle the World's Biggest Problems. I'd do what I could, but I'd probably be exhausted from a long career and ready to "hang up the gloves" as the Spanish saying for retirement goes. If I'm like most people, I'd be far more likely to make a contribution to my local community--to stay active in my local church or synagogue, to work part-time at something I enjoy, to teach, to volunteer, etc.

However, I think there is an element of amnesia here. The further one gets from one's past, the more inaccessible and sometimes rose-colored it becomes. In the past two decades, Baby Boomers have enjoyed a level of economic prosperity unprecedented in American history (until the Great Recession rocked the boat for a couple of years). Since the rise of the PC, the Internet, AOL, and Netscape to the Tech Bubble to our current age of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and mobile devices, Boomers have embraced new digital technology as a means to huge financial returns in the Stock market and the creation of wealth. Has the dizzying ascent into a more wealthy, technology-driven economy created a new matrix of social values? Certainly a carry-over from the 80's "Greed is good" ethos, the rise of technology since the 90's made the dream of more exorbitant wealth more attainable for many Americans and sent the overall economy up, up, and away.

So, here's a theory: because the Boomers control the majority of capital, they are free to underpay Millennials. Unless a Millennial founded a start up and was very smart about how he financed it, he is unlikely to be paid commensurately relative to the value of the service he provides. Why is this? His company may be controlled by Daddy Warbucks at Venture Capital Firm X, who has the money but not the skills to do what his young partner provides as a technological entrepreneur. So, he may if he so chooses employ a team of digitally savvy slaves to do his dirty work while he rakes in millions of dollars in profits. There a subset of Millennials that is an under-paid class of hard-working programmers, graphic artists, web designers, social media experts, digital marketing innovators, etc. that are not paid according to their knowledge and experience. This concept could be extended to dozens of other skill-labor industries beyond the tech sector!

Yet despite Millennials being their underlings and making them tons of money with innovations their own generation did not come up with, there seems to be a certain distaste for Millennials among the Boomers. They have been called "slackers", "entitled", and the "Boomerang" or "Peter Pan" Generation for moving back in with their parents (during the recession and afterwards when jobs were scarce) and delaying adulthood if only in their self-concept. One of the questions this blog will attempt to answer is the extent to which these labels accurately describe a broad subset of the new generation, or whether they are simply pure stigmatization of the Millennials by older generations.

Here's another theory I would like to suggest. The Baby Boomer generation fomented change through massive sociopolitical movements such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Liberation Movement, and resistance to the Vietnam War. From their efforts and the terrible crucible of world events, a brave new world emerged. Yet when the dust cleared they could see themselves as survivors who eventually built an America on their own terms. Not only were they survivors, but they were agents of change whose united action totally revamped a nation socially and politically.

The Millennial generation has tried, and so far, basically failed to change America for the better through politics alone. Political gridlock in Washington is practically taken for granted. Obama has entirely renounced his early promises to "reach across the aisle" for bi-partisan cooperation (not that Republicans have been so open to it anyway). How many "Change We Can Believe In" posters from Obama's first campaign lie embarrassingly stashed in even the most ardent democrats closet or behind a bookshelf? The fact is, the "Change", the "Hope", the Pie-in-the-Sky--whatever it was that captured the American imagination in Obama's first electoral campaign of 2008 (I too fell victim to this)--DID NOT come. The political movement that had been galvanized especially by the Millennial generation crowned a leader that failed to follow through on the promise of "Change". Thousands of young people had campaigned tirelessly for him across the country; how devastating when the leader you believe in so deeply fails to deliver the revolutionary change he promised so fervently. Might you feel... Betrayed? Disillusioned? Perhaps become more cynical about politics?

Unlike their parents' generation that catalyzed change politically in the face of drastic social upheaval, Millennials have been working for change in a time of less social dissonance and through more apolitical means (this may all change in the wake of Ferguson and escalating racial tensions). Many Millennials have incited change through involvement in social-entrepreneurial ventures (entirely unlike the flamboyant but necessary demonstrations of the '60s and '70s). Author David Burstein has called Millennials "pragmatic-idealists" for their approach to social change; recognizing the need to work within and outside current institutions, they also understand the need to create new institutions (a case in point would be the charter school movement).
Thousands of Millennial college graduates have joined organizations like Teach for America and New York Teaching Fellows every year to address educational inequality. Many become career teachers and educators. Yet they choose to do so within organized programs that are designed to strategically address the challenges of inner-city and disadvantaged schools in an organized, structured way. The socio-entrepreneurial approach to tackling the deficiencies of our educational system is a novel innovation of our age, and Millennials are spearheading this movement. From the Baby Boomers perspective, perhaps it is difficult to comprehend the social impact Millennials are having for the good because it is usually not within the context of unified political pressure like the social movements of the Boomers' youth but within new, disparate socio-entrepreneurial endeavors with varying missions and goals that seek to tackle problems from the ground up.

Is the Millennial generation failing or succeeding to build a world on its own terms? Will we be able to have it our way, like a Big Mac... like the Boomer generation did..? ...Is that even the right thing to aspire to?

Will Millennials continue to be more effective at making progress through socio-entrepreneurial innovation and technology, or will they recalibrate their political prowess as well? Has political apathy set in after the disillusionment with Obama, and if so, will it continue? How will Millennials confront questions about race, gun violence, and police power in the wake of the events in Ferguson and other flashpoints around the nation?

The earth is shifting underneath our feet...

~ Trevor Swett