SEPTEMBER 13, 2012, 3:41 PM
Would You Take a Pregnancy Test in a Bar?
By CHRISTINA CAPECCHI
If you make a beeline to the stalls, you might miss the pregnancy test dispenser fastened to a
wall in the women's restroom of Pub 500 in Mankato, Minn. There, with the swipe of a credit
card, for a $3 fee, you can use a nearby toilet and learn whether you may proceed in good
conscience with the martini you were about to order.
It is the first bar in the world to sell pregnancy tests, according to Jody Allen Crowe, 56, founder
of the nonprofit Healthy Brains for Children, which aims to reduce the occurrence of fetal
alcohol syndrome. (Some experts disagree with Mr. Crowe's zero-tolerance stance.)
Mr. Crowe installed the dispenser on July 17, two days before the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention released a survey showing that one in 13 pregnant women reported consuming
alcohol. Of those who said they had, nearly one in five admitted to binge drinking during that
time, knocking down four or more drinks in succession.
"It's an epidemic," Mr. Crowe said. "The amount of prenatal exposure to alcohol is really not
something people talk about because it's such a guilt-ridden type of discussion."
While it may seem more apt to vend pregnancy tests in Vegas than Mankato, a college town in
southern Minnesota, Mr. Crowe says the classy pub is a fitting location because the women at
highest risk of drinking during pregnancy are professionals with disposable incomes and a
proclivity for wine at dinner. They have college degrees and their household incomes exceed
$50,000, according to a 1998 report in Obstetrics & Gynecology. And, with nearly half of
pregnancies in the United States unplanned, they may be in for a big surprise.
In its first month of use, Mr. Crowe said he sold a few dozen pregnancy tests through the
dispenser, which only accepts plastic. His mission is to prevent prenatal exposure to alcohol, but
locals see as many benefits in the anonymity and the affordability. At $3 a pop, the vended test
costs a fraction of the price many drug stores charge. Mr. Crowe's goal to install the dispenser in
other public places - gas stations, fitness centers and malls - aligns more squarely with those
perks. And with pregnancy tests often cited as the most shoplifted retail product, a case can be
made for providing a new acquisition venue. (Whitney Purvis, who starred on MTV's reality
show "16 and Pregnant," made headlines this spring when she was arrested for stealing a
pregnancy test at a Wal-Mart in Georgia.)
The proprietor of Pub 500, where Mr. Crowe was a regular patron, needed only 30 seconds to
agree to a dispenser. "We thought it was a strange idea at first but very quickly came to the
realization that this could be beneficial," Tom Frederick said. His wife, who is trained as a labor
and delivery nurse, gave it her blessing. "It's all about protecting a child."
Mr. Frederick emphasizes that the tests aren't strictly for students at close-by Minnesota State
University. "You can have a husband and wife practicing the rhythm method and not quite sure
and - well, here's an opportunity to check." High-profile community members, he added, may
appreciate the discretion.
Mr. Frederick said he fielded one inquiry from a 14-year-old from a neighboring town. "That
kind of wrenched my heart a little bit."
For some members of the bar staff, the buzzed-about dispenser has become a badge of honor. "I
think it's cool," a blond bartender said on a recent Friday night. When you need to know, she
implied, you need to know. "Who hasn't been there?"
The pink-and-white dispenser can be a jarring site, puncturing illusions of a romantic double-line
moment. "I would not want to come to a bar and take a pregnancy test," Ixia Leyva, 28, said
while in the Pub 500 restroom. "That probably means you don't care and you're going to drink
anyway, so it's pretty pointless. Maybe a condom dispenser - that's smarter."
"It just seems like something you should maybe already know before you're in a bar," added 29-
year-old Sarah Hein.
Meanwhile, Sarah Krueger, 21, saw the value. "At least you have the accessibility," she said.
"You don't have to go behind the counter it's right here. You don't have to run and hide."
Also a fan: Eric Harriman, 31, a local perched at the bar. "It's putting awareness at the point of
consumption. I'm surprised it hasn't been done before."
The Mankato Free Press reports that the Pub 500 pregnancy test dispenser will be featured on the
CBS television program "The Doctors" later this week.
The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage
By TARA PARKER-POPE
A lasting marriage does not always signal a happy marriage. Plenty of miserable couples have
stayed together for children, religion or other practical reasons.
But for many couples, it’s just not enough to stay together. They want a relationship that is
meaningful and satisfying. In short, they want a sustainable marriage.
“The things that make a marriage last have more to do with communication skills, mental health,
social support, stress — those are the things that allow it to last or not,” says Arthur Aron,
apsychology professor who directs the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State
University of New York at Stony Brook. “But those things don’t necessarily make it meaningful
or enjoyable or sustaining to the individual.”
The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem
counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?
Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the
emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage
itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners
who make their lives more interesting.
Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam who died last January, called it the
“Michelangelo effect,” referring to the manner in which close partners “sculpt” each other in
ways that help each of them attain valued goals.
Dr. Aron and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey,
have studied how individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experiences, a
process called “self-expansion.” Research shows that the more self-expansion people experience
from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.
To measure this, Dr. Lewandowski developed a series of questions for couples: How much has
being with your partner resulted in your learning new things? How much has knowing your
partner made you a better person? (Take the full quiz measuring self-expansion.)
While the notion of self-expansion may sound inherently self-serving, it can lead to stronger,
more sustainable relationships, Dr. Lewandowski says.
“If you’re seeking self-growth and obtain it from your partner, then that puts your partner in a
pretty important position,” he explains. “And being able to help your partner’s self-expansion
would be pretty pleasing to yourself.”
The concept explains why people are delighted when dates treat them to new experiences, like a
weekend away. But self-expansion isn’t just about exotic experiences. Individuals experience
personal growth through their partners in big and small ways. It happens when they introduce
new friends, or casually talk about a new restaurant or a fascinating story in the news.
The effect of self-expansion is particularly pronounced when people first fall in love. In research
at the University of California at Santa Cruz, 325 undergraduate students were given
questionnaires five times over 10 weeks. They were asked, “Who are you today?” and given
three minutes to describe themselves. They were also asked about recent experiences, including
whether they had fallen in love.
After students reported falling in love, they used more varied words in their self-descriptions.
The new relationships had literally broadened the way they looked at themselves.
“You go from being a stranger to including this person in the self, so you suddenly have all of
these social roles and identities you didn’t have before,” explains Dr. Aron, who co-authored the
research. “When people fall in love that happens rapidly, and it’s very exhilarating.”
Over time, the personal gains from lasting relationships are often subtle. Having a partner who is
funny or creative adds something new to someone who isn’t. A partner who is an active
community volunteer creates new social opportunities for a spouse who spends long hours at
Additional research suggests that spouses eventually adopt the traits of the other — and become
slower to distinguish differences between them, or slower to remember which skills belong to
In experiments by Dr. Aron, participants rated themselves and their partners on a variety of traits,
like “ambitious” or “artistic.” A week later, the subjects returned to the lab and were shown the
list of traits and asked to indicate which ones described them.
People responded the quickest to traits that were true of both them and their partner. When the
trait described only one person, the answer came more slowly. The delay was measured in
milliseconds, but nonetheless suggested that when individuals were particularly close to
someone, their brains were slower to distinguish between their traits and those of their spouses.
“It’s easy to answer those questions if you’re both the same,” Dr. Lewandowski explains. “But if
it’s just true of you and not of me, then I have to sort it out. It happens very quickly, but I have to
ask myself, ‘Is that me or is that you?’ ”
It’s not that these couples lost themselves in the marriage; instead, they grew in it. Activities,
traits and behaviors that had not been part of their identity before the relationship were now an
essential part of how they experienced life.
All of this can be highly predictive for a couple’s long-term happiness. One scale designed by
Dr. Aron and colleagues depicts seven pairs of circles. The first set is side by side. With each
new set, the circles begin to overlap until they are nearly on top of one another. Couples choose
the set of circles that best represents their relationship. In a 2009 report in the journal
Psychological Science, people bored in their marriages were more likely to choose the more
separate circles. Partners involved in novel and interesting experiences together were more likely
to pick one of the overlapping circles and less likely to report boredom. “People have a
fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr.
Lewandowski says. “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier
and more satisfied in the relationship.”
April 14, 2012
The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage
By MEG JAY
AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then,
Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended
by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.
When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce
lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed.
Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got
married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”
Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half
century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than
7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least
once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been
attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current
economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s,
you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.
In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and
now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You
would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could
find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in
together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.
But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and
especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with
their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative
outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.
Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors
were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has
become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by
individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some
of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.
As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how
she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies
reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”
“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together,
so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was
a quick exit.”
She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to
sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by
rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they
want to live together and what it will mean.
WHEN researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken —
even unconscious — agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward
marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone
commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower
levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and
women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are
for a spouse.
Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too
often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only
to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit
card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you
feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like
that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.
Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for, or change to, another option once an
investment in something has been made. The greater the setup costs, the less likely we are to
move to another, even better, situation, especially when faced with switching costs, or the time,
money and effort it requires to make a change.
Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs. Living together can be fun and
economical, and the setup costs are subtly woven in. After years of living among roommates’
junky old stuff, couples happily split the rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment. They share
wireless and pets and enjoy shopping for new furniture together. Later, these setup and switching
costs have an impact on how likely they are to leave.
Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her. “I felt like I was on
this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said. “We had all this furniture. We had
our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was
like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”
I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that
would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed
to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates.
Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming
the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as
a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.
The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening,
however, according to a report released last month by the Department of Health and Human
Services. More good news is that a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly
two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.
This shared and serious view of cohabitation may go a long way toward further attenuating the
cohabitation effect because the most recent research suggests that serial cohabitators, couples
with differing levels of commitment and those who use cohabitation as a test are most at risk for
poor relationship quality and eventual relationship dissolution.
Cohabitation is here to stay, and there are things young adults can do to protect their
relationships from the cohabitation effect. It’s important to discuss each person’s motivation and
commitment level beforehand and, even better, to view cohabitation as an intentional step
toward, rather than a convenient test for, marriage or partnership.
It also makes sense to anticipate and regularly evaluate constraints that may keep you from
I am not for or against living together, but I am for young adults knowing that, far from
safeguarding against divorce and unhappiness, moving in with someone can increase your
chances of making a mistake — or of spending too much time on a mistake. A mentor of mine
used to say, “The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one,” and in
our era, that may mean before cohabitation.
Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of “The Defining
Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — and How to Make the Most of Them Now.”
February 10, 2012
Love You! Now, the Difficult Stuff ...
By ERIC V. COPAGE
AS Valentine’s Day nears — always prime time for engagements — marriage experts advise
asking some unromantic questions after posing the big romantic one.
Surprisingly few newly engaged couples seem to have these frank discussions, some of which
can serve to avoid painful misunderstandings later on.
“Courtship-dating-romance is a process of collecting information about each other, sifting
through it to decide ‘Should I continue with this person?’ ” said Marty Klein, a marriage and
family therapist in Palo Alto, Calif. Once people decide they are in love, he said, too often they
will duck tough conversations for fear of undermining what they see as a magical connection.
“People are afraid of this — it’s a biggie,” said Rachel A. Sussman, a clinical social worker in
New York. “Remember that ‘make believe’ and ‘happily ever after’ are Hollywood concepts,
and there is absolutely nothing magical about a divorce.”
So, what issues should couples, both gay or straight, discuss before walking down the aisle?
“Companies have a mission statement so customers can see what the values of the company are,
and so its purpose is clearly communicated,” said Nancy B. Irwin, a psychotherapist in Los
Angeles. Those about to marry should, too, she said.
“For instance, couples assume they know what roles they will play in their marriage, when in
fact they may be talking about something totally different,” she said.
Dr. Irwin said it was not uncommon for one person to have Donna Reed-era attitudes about men
being the providers and women being in charge of the home. This may come as a surprise to
their partner, leading to fissures in the relationship.
Amy Schoen, a life coach in Rockville, Md., said, “A couple’s relationship values have to be
aligned for it to go the distance.” She suggested, however, that couples avoid making an
agreement too businesslike, and opt instead for the scented candle approach of writing what she
called a “relationship vision statement.”
If having children is high on the list, couples should be very clear with each other about this goal,
marriage experts said. With many people marrying later, there are matters beyond sorting out
how soon they want to start a family. For example, some will face fertility issues. How couples
deal with the related stress and expense can make or break a marriage, Ms. Schoen said.
“Fertility treatments — donor eggs, genetic testing, sometimes whether to use a surrogate — can
go into the six figures,” she said. “And then there is the question of adoption. I’ve seen marriages
break up over this because the partners were not on the same page.”
Others counsel that couples ought to have frank discussions about how they would handle having
a child with physical or mental disabilities.
“Most people only think of the best moments — the fairy tale where every family member is
totally healthy,” said Kami Evans, a yoga instructor in Westport, Conn., who works with
children with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and similar conditions.
The consequences are so significant that the partners have to be perfectly in sync about how their
lives will be affected.
Since sex is a predictable stumbling block in a long-term relationship, Ms. Sussman suggested
that engaged couples ask each other, “How would we handle it if we find ourselves dissatisfied
sexually with one another, or if we find ourselves physically attracted to someone else. And how
would we make it better?”
“It’s a difficult dialogue,” said Ms. Sussman, who noted that in her experience, male gay couples
tended to talk more openly about this issue than straight and lesbian couples did.
While agreeing with this approach, Dr. Klein, the family therapist, suggested a positive spin:
“How do we stay sexually engaged with each other?’ ”
With the economy in prolonged distress, some experts advise couples to share their credit
reports. People have been burned by not knowing their spouse’s financial situation, said Ms.
Schoen, noting that “a friend was engaged to someone who was five figures in debt, but she
never knew it.”
But how can one raise this issue without causing a level of distrust in the relationship? Dr. Klein,
the author of “Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It,” said
that demanding to see the report in black and white is a bad idea.
Why not just ask a general question about the person’s financial health, he said, adding, “If the
other person lies about this, you have bigger problems than his or her credit.”
How you ask this and other questions is crucial.
“Make sure to set a tone that is conducive to open dialogue,” said Ms. Sussman, who is the
author of “The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or
Divorce.” “Start off by being reassuring to each other and understanding that the goal is to get to
know each other better.”
Nowhere is this more important than if you plan to marry someone who has been divorced.
According to Linda Mainenti-Walsh, a matrimonial and family lawyer in Denville, N.J., asking
to see a copy of the divorce complaint and settlement agreement goes a long way toward finding
out “misconduct during the marriage, such as infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, verbal and
physical abuse toward the spouse and/or children and sexual deviancy.”
“Divorce settlement agreements will reveal assets and obligations to his or her former spouse and
children that may impact you and/or your marriage,” she said.
Dr. Klein, however, cautioned that this is one demand that “represents the depth of mistrust.” A
better route may lie in simply asking, “What happened?”
Yet with so many first and second marriages ending in divorce, Eric Marlowe Garrison, a
clinical sexologist with practices in Richmond, Va., and New York, said that before tying the
knot, couples should go as far as discussing how they might untie it someday.
“You want to consider this now, while your heads are clear and not full of anger or confusion,”
Mr. Garrison said. Topics might include living arrangements (do they sleep in the same room or
even the same house pending the divorce), which friends or family members might they turn to
for advice, or what lessons have they learned from previous breakups.
Frederick Woolverton, a clinical psychologist in New York and an author of “Unhooked, How to
Quit Anything,” begged to differ.
“Marriages are not made better by premarital agreements,” he said. Nor do prenups lead to better
divorces. “To go into a marriage hedging one’s bets, as it were, goes very much against the
emotional tenets of marriage: faith in self and other, faith in the union of self and other.”
Of course, many people bring unresolved problems into a marriage.
“Far too often, couples are trying to avoid the fate of couples they do not admire, like your
divorced parents,” said Hal E. Runkel, a marriage and family therapist in Norcross, Ga., and
author of “The Self-Centered Marriage.” “We usually end up similar to whatever we focus on.”
Mr. Runkel’s answer: Name two couples that you admire and would hope to emulate.
“Discussing who you’d like to follow may also reveal some very interesting expectations.”
Diana Kirschner, a psychologist in New York and the author of “Sealing the Deal,” said the
advantage to this line of inquiry is that “it shows you what your partner wants to create in your
“If the ideal couple are workaholics and hardly see each other, that tells you one thing,” she
continued. “If it is a couple who spend a lot of time with each other working on their
relationship, that tells you something else.”
In a similar vein, Arielle Ford, the author of “Wabi Sabi Love: The Ancient Art of Finding
Perfect Love in Imperfect Relationships,” suggested that those preparing for marriage ask each
other, “Who should I have on speed dial for the days when I just can’t figure you out? What
could be more important than having someone who can give you insight into your partner, such
as why their hot buttons are hot?”
Having a go-to person is a good idea, Dr. Woolverton said. “When you’re overcome with
feeling, an outside source can offer a fresh perspective.”
Helpful? Perhaps. But Dr. Klein noted that this is no substitute for direct communication.
“When you can’t figure out your mate, talk to your mate,” he said. “If she or he isn’t in the
mood, just wait. Unless your kid’s hair is on fire, it can always wait a day or two.”
Gregory A. Kuhlman, a psychologist who directs the master’s program in mental health
counseling at Brooklyn College, said, “It’s actually misleading to imply to couples that their
happiness and success will be based on general compatibility.”
He said that with the exception of several red flag areas — compulsive behaviors like gambling
and drug use, lack of disclosure of sexual orientation, violence and the desire to have or not have
children — “It’s less important that couples agree than that they have compatibility in their
approach to conflict.”
“For instance, if one is a super avoider and the other is confrontational, there will be friction in
the marriage,” said Dr. Kuhlman, who with his wife, Patricia Schell Kuhlman, runs marriage
training programs at stayhitched.com. So, the most important question is, what is your conflict
management style, and how do you accommodate it to your partner’s?
“In the end it is not going to be any of these items that determines a couple’s happiness,” Dr.
Kuhlman said. “It’s going to be whether they can maintain an overall positive atmosphere and
sense of teamwork in their marriage. It’s inevitable that friction produced by their normal
differences will challenge this, and they must be intent on managing these positively and
When asking difficult questions before marrying, couples should adopt a tone conducive to an
open dialogue, experts advise. And do not ask them all at once.
“Many of these items are not at all romantic to discuss,” said Gregory A. Kuhlman, a
psychologist. “But this is far outweighed by the value of understanding each other better.”
Some partners will shut down when uncomfortable questions are asked, yet others “are happy to
be open books,” said Nancy B. Irwin, also a psychologist. “If your partner wants some privacy
— as opposed to secrecy — you might want to honor that.”
Here are questions that should be asked before your wedding day:
What is our “mission statement” as a couple?
To what extent are you willing to go to have a family, medically?
What will we do if we find out our child has severe disabilities?
Who should I have on speed dial for the days when I just can’t figure you out?
Can you name two couples that you admire and would hope to emulate?
How do we stay sexually engaged with each other?
Will we share our credit reports with each other?
Should we have an exit strategy for the marriage, and if so, what would it be?
If married previously, why did it end and what did you learn from that relationship?
What are our conflict management styles, and are they compatible?
SEPTEMBER 24, 2012, 3:42 AM
Who Wants to Marry an . . . Entrepreneur?
By SARITHA RAI
"Varun, you tell me one thing ya, if you behave like this, which girl will marry you?" an 'Aunty'
asked Varun Agarwal in distinctive Indian aunty-like language in his book, "How I braved Anu
Aunty & co-founded a Million Dollar Company."
Further along in the narrative, which Mr. Agarwal says is a true account of his life although it is
published as fiction, his mother sobs as she tells her friend, "I don't know what to do. Who will
marry him?" She then drags him off to see a counselor.
All this because Varun Agarwal, who is now 25, wanted to become an entrepreneur when he
finished college, shunning the socially accepted career route favored by the sons and daughters
of his parents' friends.
In Bangalore, a city at the forefront of many social changes in India, the young are leading a
vibrant start-up culture that has taken root over the past few years, much to the dismay of a
generation of parents.
According to these elders, respectfully called "Aunty" and "Uncle" in India by the younger
generation, the natural progression after college is to work for a short time, to get an M.B.A., to
land an even better job with an established company and culminating in an arranged marriage.
Entrepreneurship and arranged marriages are rarely an ideal match, however. So things often
come to a head when young adults reach what many view as a marriageable age.
Pavan Sondur, 26, founded Unbxd last year, a company that sells search products for online
commerce. He describes himself as "not a hot favorite" for an arranged marriage. "This is a
country that glorifies those who land high-paying jobs straight off the college campus," he
said. "India does not appreciate struggling young entrepreneurs."
His parents, who are trying to arrange his marriage, believe that he ruined his personal life when
he decided to found a start-up, he said. He finds it particularly confusing because his parents,
who both have doctorate degrees and who are professors at an engineering college in Belgaum,
north of Bangalore, fell in love and married without parental consent.
Mr. Sondur said his once rational parents changed after he started his venture.
"My mother thinks she should help me since I'm unlikely to find anybody on my own; she
believes no girl would want to marry an entrepreneur," Mr. Sondur said.
Mr. Agarwal, meanwhile, chose to chronicle his rebellion against parental and 'Aunty' pressure
in his fast-paced, irreverent book, which has sold 30,000 copies and is currently in a third
reprint. His company, Alma Mater, which sells logo-adorned merchandise for colleges and
schools across India, is three years old and financed by angel investors.
But on the home front, there has been no letup in the demand for him to get a "stable job."
His mother wanted to find him a match from the family's Marwari community, a conservative
trading clan from Rajasthan, in northwest India, that now values salaried professionals too, he
Mr. Agarwal's entrepreneurial turn, however, dimmed his chances of an arranged marriage
within the community, he said. "Parents of prospective brides strike me off the list when they
find I am a start-up guy," he said.
"They want a safety net for their daughters," he said. "They feel I could not provide her a nice
house or a luxury car as I don't have a job and banks will not give me credit."
In contrast, Mr. Agarwal's older brother took the tried-and-tested route of an engineering degree
followed by an M.B.A. overseas and was deemed a catch by his parents' friends. A marriage was
arranged and he and his wife moved to Canada.
It is not just parents that are wary of entrepreneurs. While India has no shortage of smart people
to start up businesses, the education system does not encourage independent thinking, problem
solving or risk-taking, said Rohan Murty, the son of Narayana Murthy, who co-founded the
outsourcing company Infosys.
"Perhaps society at large should encourage us to think, question, differ and ultimately build our
own convictions," said Mr. Murty, who is studying embedded computing at Harvard University,
where he is a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows.
Women entrepreneurs face matrimonial hostility of a different order, said Naadia Mirza, 26, the
founder of The Dottedi, an event management and experiential gifts company. Ms. Mirza, who
has met the families of about 20 prospective grooms, has tired of listening to rote
responses: "Our son is successful, so you may not need to work so hard for a second income,"
for example, or "You will want to find a regular job when you start a family."
"The perception is that entrepreneurs are headstrong, and that is not a womanly virtue in an
arranged marriage situation," she said.
Ms. Mirza recently paid off her student loans, bought herself a flashy new car and treated herself
to jewelry. But marriage remains elusive, and relatives have warned her that she may soon have
to settle for a divorced man in his 40s.
The start-up obstacle does not spare employees, either, and sometimes leads to comical situations
at Unboxd, Mr. Sondur's company. One employee faces regular ignominy at work when the
family members of prospective brides troop into the office to ferret out his personal details, Mr.
"They want to know if this company really exists, what is his job title, what is his salary," Mr.
Sondur said. "This happens a couple of times a month." While it is not company policy, Mr.
Sondur said he had started revealing the employee's salary range in the interest of seeing him
Meanwhile, Mr. Agarwal said he had recently met and become romantically involved with a
young woman from the northeastern state of Assam. They want to marry. His parents are not
happy about the match, and he has not met her parents.
He prophesied nervously, "They will reject me not because I am a non-Assamese, but because I
don't have a regular job."
Saritha Rai sometimes feels she is the only person living in Bangalore who was actually raised
here. There's never a dull moment in her mercurial metropolis. Reach her on
SEPTEMBER 23, 2012, 8:00 AM
‘I’m Spoiled, but I’m Not a Brat’
By MARIA YAGODA
While growing up, I would routinely choose to play Pokémon over doing the dishes. The fact
that I had a choice never struck me as strange. While I certainly had chores - cleaning my room
when it became unlivable, walking the dog I had begged for, attending the piano lessons my
parents had paid for - I had very few household responsibilities. You could say I was spoiled.
And thanks to the recent discourse surrounding my generation's upbringing, I've just discovered
that I'm one of millions of 21st-century American kids who have been shielded from hardship by
I don't dispute this claim. Being in an upper-middle-class suburb in the 21st century, my friends
and I spent our summers attending field hockey camp and after-school hours laboring at SAT
prep. I've never worked an unpleasant job out of necessity, though I will say that I worked on an
organic farm in France one summer, feeding goats and making crêpes. But I'm fairly certain that
While I was never forced to listen to classical music in my crib, I include myself in the category
of the over-tended-to. My parents taught me that my ideas mattered (even when they were dumb
- hot dog chocolate chip cookies were disgusting) - and they did everything they could to make
my life easy and carefree. When I convinced my parents that I needed the baby doll that fake-
urinated, of course it was under the Christmas tree.
This has plunked me straight into what the writer Sally Koslow has termed "adultescence." I'm a
college graduate on the verge of 22, and I still feel like a child. One day last week I did my
laundry, and all of the white things turned pink. My parents, by relieving me of the burden of
household chores, freed me up to do other things like read, write bad poems or watch television
(the last being an unintended consequence of their scheme). Yet this "freedom," in turn, left me
deprived of some very fundamental, grown-up skills, like cleaning my clothes without changing
But the current spoiled-youth storyline is missing something crucial. Every single one of the
hand-wringing essays I've read concentrates exclusively on children like me: the products of
privileged upbringings. Maybe not the one percent, but the fifteen percent. Yet the young people
who didn't go to theater camp, who didn't fly to France to work on organic farms, who didn't
prep for the SATs, go strangely unmentioned.
Spoiled children, in themselves, aren't dangerous or problematic; there will always be children
who have their needs (and more) taken care of by their parents. Rather, spoiled children become
toxic to society when they are unable to acknowledge their privilege. The more-organic-baby-
food-eating children of my generation who can say, "Yes, I'm spoiled," the better. Those who
believe in the naturalness of their economic and academic entitlement prove the most
problematic, as they will come to see themselves as superior, even more deserving, than those
who were dealt worse hands as children. My peers who oppose affirmative action, for example,
insist that admission to college should be based purely on merit, not skin color.
What they fail to realize is that their "merit" was nurtured by their circumstances - math tutors,
parents who bought them books, free time to join every extracurricular because they didn't need
A friend recently told me, "I'm spoiled, but I'm not a brat," making a crucial point in this debate.
We can't help being spoiled; our parents did that to us. But what our parents can also do to us is
instill a sense of social responsibility and humbleness that will prevent us from becoming adult
brats. Part of my avoidance of "brat" status, I believe, comes from having attended public
schools, where I learned alongside a socially and economically diverse group of kids. My parents
also preached to me the importance of social activism and political involvement: dragging me to
rallies, encouraging me to volunteer and constantly reminding me how fortunate I was to grow
up where I did.
Admittedly, even as an early 20-something, I must constantly fight the brat impulse. I recently
sent a text message to my mother asking if she could send a care package with candy to my
Brooklyn apartment. I still have trouble mustering the energy to take out the trash. But I'm
working on it.
Fortunately, no matter how spoiled you are as a child, you learn how to function when you're
forced to live by yourself in the world. Because the real world can't sustain the spoiled lifestyle.
If you don't take out the trash, the mice will come for you. If you can't take public transportation,
you'll spend your life savings in cabs. And if you act like a brat, everyone's going to hate you.
September 21, 2012
I Was a Welfare Mother
By LARKIN WARREN
I WAS a welfare mother, “dependent upon government,” as Mitt Romney so bluntly put it in a
video that has gone viral. “My job is not to worry about those people,” he said. “I’ll never
convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” But for me,
applying for government benefits was exactly that — a way of taking responsibility for myself
and my son during a difficult time in our lives. Those resources kept us going for four years.
Anyone waiting for me to apologize shouldn’t hold his breath.
Almost 40 years ago, working two jobs, with an ex-husband who was doing little to help, I came
home late one night to my parents’ house, where I was living at the time. My mother was sitting
at the card table, furiously filling out forms. It was my application for readmission to college,
and she’d done nearly everything. She said she’d write the essay, too, if I wouldn’t. You have to
get back on track, she told me. I sat down with her and began writing.
And so, eight years after I’d flunked out, gotten pregnant, eloped, had a child, divorced and then
fumbled my first few do-overs of jobs and relationships, I was readmitted to the University of
New Hampshire as a full-time undergraduate. I received a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant,
a work-study grant and the first in a series of college loans. I found an apartment — subsidized,
Section 8 — about two miles from campus. Within days, I met other single-mom students. We’d
each arrived there by a different route, some falling out of the middle class, others fighting to get
up into it, but we shared the same goal: to make a better future.
By the end of the first semester, I knew that my savings and work-study earnings wouldn’t be
enough. My parents could help a little, but at that point they had big life problems of their own.
If I dropped to a part-time schedule, I’d lose my work-study job and grants; if I dropped out, I’d
be back to zero, with student-loan debt. That’s when a friend suggested food stamps and
A.F.D.C. — Aid to Families With Dependent Children.
Me, a welfare mother? I’d been earning paychecks since the seventh grade. My parents were
Great Depression children, both ex-Marines. They’d always taught self-reliance. And I had
grown up hearing that anyone “on the dole” was scum. But my friend pointed out I was below
the poverty line and sliding. I had a small child. Tuition was due.
So I went to my dad. He listened, did the calculations with me, and finally said: “I never used the
G.I. Bill. I wish I had. Go ahead, do this.” My mother had already voted. “Do not quit. Do. Not.”
My initial allotment (which edged up slightly over the next three years) was a little more than
$250 a month. Rent was around $150. We qualified for $75 in food stamps, which couldn’t be
used for toilet paper, bathroom cleanser, Band-Aids, tampons, soap, shampoo, aspirin, toothpaste
or, of course, the phone bill, or gas, insurance or snow tires for the car.
At the end of the day, my son and I came home to my homework, his homework, leftover
spaghetti, generic food in dusty white boxes. The mac-and-cheese in particular looked like
nuclear waste and tasted like feet. “Let’s have scrambled eggs again!” chirped my game kid. We
always ran out of food and supplies before we ran out of month. There were nights I was so blind
from books and deadlines and worry that I put my head on my desk and wept while my boy slept
his boy dreams. I hoped he didn’t hear me, but of course he did.
The college-loan folks knew about the work-study grants, the welfare office knew about the
college loans, and each application form was a sworn form, my signature attesting to the truth of
the numbers. Still, I constantly worried that I’d lose our benefits. More than once, the state sent
“inspectors” — a knock at the door, someone insisting he had a right to inspect the premises.
One inspector, fixating on my closet, fingered a navy blue Brooks Brothers blazer that I wore to
work. “I’d be interested to know how you can afford this,” she said.
It was from a yard sale. “Take your hands off my clothing,” I said. My benefits were promptly
suspended pending status clarification. I had to borrow from friends for food and rent, not to
mention toilet paper.
That’s not to say we didn’t have angels: work-study supervisors, academic advisers and a social
worker assigned to “nontraditional” students, which, in addition to women like me, increasingly
included military veterans and older people coming in to retrofit their careers. Faculty members
were used to panicked students whose kids had the flu during finals. Every semester, I had at
least one incomplete course, with petitions for extensions. One literature professor, seeing my
desperation, gave me a copy of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin to read and critique for extra
credit. “But it’s not a primer,” he cautioned. (Spoiler: she walks into the ocean and dies.)
With help, I graduated. That day, over the heads of the crowd, my 11-year-old’s voice rang out
like an All Clear: “Yay, Mom!” Two weeks later, I was off welfare and in an administrative job
in the English department. Part of my work included advising other nontraditional students,
guiding them through the same maze I’d just completed, one course, one semester, at a time.
In the years since, the programs that helped me have changed. In the ’80s, the Basic Educational
Opportunity Grant became the Pell Grant (which Paul D. Ryan’s budget would cut). In the ’90s,
A.F.D.C. was replaced by block grants to the states, a program called Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families. States can and do divert that money for other programs, and to plug holes in the
state budget. And a single mother applying for aid today would face time limits and eligibility
requirements that I did not. Thanks to budget cuts, she would also have a smaller base of the
invaluable human resources — social workers, faculty members, university facilities — that
were so important to me.
Since then, I’ve remarried, co-written books, worked as a magazine editor and finally paid off
my college loans. My husband and I have paid big taxes and raised a hard-working son who pays
a chunk of change as well. We pay for sidewalks, streetlights, sanitation trucks, the military (we
have three nephews in uniform, two deployed), police and fire departments, open emergency
rooms, teachers, bus drivers, museums, libraries and campuses where people’s lives are saved,
enriched and raised up every day. My country gave me the chance to rebuild my life — paying
my tax tab is the only thing it’s asked of me in return.
I was not an exception in that little Section 8 neighborhood. Among those welfare moms were
future teachers, nurses, scientists, business owners, health and safety advocates. We never
believed we were “victims” or felt “entitled”; if anything, we felt determined. Wouldn’t any
decent person throw a rope to a drowning person? Wouldn’t any drowning person take it?
Judge-and-punish-the-poor is not a demonstration of American values. It is, simply, mean. My
parents saved me and then — on the dole, in the classroom or crying deep in the night, in love
with a little boy who needed everything I could give him — I learned to save myself. I do not
apologize. I was not ashamed then; I am not ashamed now. I was, and will always be, profoundly
A writer who was the co-author of Carissa Phelps’s “Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the
Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time,” and is at work on her own memoir.
ptember 21, 2012
He’s Playing Our Song
By MARICLARE LAWSON
ONE Monday night in May three years ago, I was waiting outside Enid’s, the best macaroni and
cheese joint in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for yet another mystery date to arrive.
Lately I had been binging on bad blind dates. Since moving to New York for college 14 years
earlier, I had looked for love in the cracks and crevices of every wrinkle of the five boroughs.
From Friendster to Nerve.com to Craigslist’s Missed Connections, I had tried everything short of
leaving the area.
Oh, wait: I also flew to meet a stranger in Georgia for the weekend.
Now I was at love’s rock bottom. I had spent my 20s wracked by adolescent anxiety and felt
paralyzed by the length of my singlehood.
It took me years to learn that dating drunk was not the way to connect with a soul mate or
myself. I always had to be Mary times 10: 10 beers, 10 shots, 10 bars in one night. Mary alone
just wasn’t enough.
When I got sober at 27, my social skills with men reverted to how I’d been at 16, when I was too
self-conscious to talk to anyone I liked other than the shy pianist who took me to the junior
When students lined up for the National Honor Society induction ceremony, I noticed this
mysterious accompanist hunched over the piano like Schroeder from “Peanuts,” curly hair in his
face and oversize sweater hanging off his skinny frame as his arms ran up and down the keys. As
the principal babbled on stage, I recognized the song he was playing. It wasn’t classical; it was
by the Cure.
He was my first love, though you would never have known it. I used to sit in our high school
auditorium and watch him play the piano at the base of the stage.
For school musicals he would man the lights and I would usually play the role of some two-bit
whore. There I’d be, prancing around the stage in a leotard, fishnet stockings and high heels,
singing about the “wages of sin” while in real life I had never even been kissed.
“On my back all day! Earning Satan’s pay!” I would belt out as he toiled in the booth, dimming
the lights because there were nuns in the audience. I thought if I stared hard enough into that
booth as I sang, he somehow would know I was singing to him.
I started lobbying hard for him to ask me to the junior prom. And by lobbying, I mean telling
everyone — cast and crew, director, teachers, the band pit, the 60-year-old wardrobe stylist —
that I wanted him to take me.
When I knew the wheels were greased, I made my move: I offered him a ride home from
rehearsal. We sat quietly in my parents’ ’89 LeBaron convertible as exhaust fumes leaked in
through the dash. It may have been nerves or inhaling the exhaust, but I felt the world around us
fade to white.
“So, are you going to the prom?” I asked coyly.
“Are you going?” he asked back.
“I hope so.”
“Has anyone asked you yet?”
“Well, do you want to go with me?”
And so I had my first date.
My mother and I took the train into New York from Connecticut to find a dress, something we
had never done before. In a SoHo boutique I found a metallic number with Asian detailing that
made me feel like a superhero. I popped on a black velvet beret and a hot-pink feather boa, and
my dream look was complete.
May came sooner than I expected, and suddenly there I was, back in the dress. I actually looked
pretty. It may have been the first time I really believed that. Soon there was a knock at the door,
and in walked my musical genius in a plaid jacket and Converse sneakers, carrying a sunflower.
It was the cutest thing I had ever seen.
But I couldn’t talk to him. There were so many words swimming in my head but none came out
of my mouth. I was afraid if I said the wrong thing I might spoil the illusion. We posed for
pictures on my lawn standing six feet apart and looking in different directions. Finally we got
into the LeBaron and I drove us to the banquet hall.
Once we arrived I was too freaked out to do anything with him, so I busied myself with prom
duties: affixing labels to the disposable cameras, going out to buy the prom song on cassette
from Strawberry’s music store, taking pictures with any and every person there. Hours passed. I
couldn’t even look in his direction, though at times I caught glimpses of him sitting alone at the
table scribbling on a napkin, drinking coffee.
Finally I managed to go over to him and try to make up for abandoning him the whole night. “Do
you want to dance?” I asked.
“Please, just one dance.”
And that was it. I had blown the whole thing. I tried to find the words to say how much I liked
him and how sorry I was, to no avail. I drove us home in silence. There was no after-party, no
looking at the stars and definitely no good-night kiss.
I didn’t see him that summer, and by senior year we had stopped saying “hi” to each other in the
hallways. I missed him and the dream I had of us being together. Because I was certain he hated
me I retreated into my own head. Instead of talking to him about the prom — about anything — I
He didn’t show up to graduation and seemed to vanish from the face of the earth. I tried to find
him over the years, looking him up on Google, searching for where he lived and what he was
doing, but he didn’t seem to exist in my world or any other.
Until that Monday night in Brooklyn 14 years later, when he walked around the corner to join me
for some macaroni and cheese at Enid’s.
A month earlier, a friend whom we had sat with at the prom posted a photo of that fateful
evening on Facebook, tagging me. When I clicked on the notification, there we were. Then I saw
that his sister had commented: “My brother would kill you for posting this.”
Here was my chance. I messaged her and asked, “How is your brother anyway?”
Turned out he had just returned from a European tour with one of his bands and was living in
Brooklyn. I looked up the band on Myspace and sent them a message, a short note about how the
keyboardist and I had gone to the prom together in high school, and by any chance did he
He e-mailed the next day. He lived a few blocks away in Greenpoint. We both loved the same
diner, rode the same train, sat in the same park to people-watch. We made a date for Monday
TO sit across from a stranger I already knew felt both familiar and unbearable. I wanted to flash
forward to the part when we already knew everything about each other, but in fact we knew
nothing about the adult versions of ourselves. This time, though, we had a hard time shutting up.
In the last 14 years he had graduated from music school and was playing all over the world.
After living in Boston for a decade, he had moved to Greenpoint and was touring with a few
bands that had shows in all the clubs I went to. We shared foggy memories of high school and
vivid memories of our dating 20s. But unlike my blind dates of the last decade, I didn’t have to
be anyone other than myself with him. He knew all my secrets that first night, some from when I
was 16, and some from 14 years later.
As the waiters closed the restaurant, stacking the chairs and rolling the front gate halfway down,
my prom date and I decided it might be time to wrap up our reunion. We hadn’t been in school
for a long time, but with him it still felt like a school night.
“This was really fun,” he said. “We should totally hang out again.”
I was thinking the same thing. And just like that, our days of awkward first dates were over. I
had spent my whole time in New York bouncing from one rejection to the next, believing I was
unlovable. Which made no sense to my prom date because he told me there was someone loving
me all those years. Him.
Within six months we had moved in together. At our wedding last August, nearly two years later,
my 7-year-old niece showed up in a metallic dress with Asian detailing, and my nephews
surprised us by wearing tuxedo T-shirts and plaid shorts. I carried my own sunflower. It was the
cutest thing I had ever seen.
Mariclare Lawson is the creative director at Cramp My Style, a creative agency and television
production company in New York.
Follow Modern Love on Facebook for reader and editorial
September 21, 2012
By HENRY ALFORD
YOUNG love burns bright. But fast moves drop jaws. Consider the perturbations of Taylor
Swift this summer.
Just weeks after the 22-year-old singer was first spotted with her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conor
Kennedy — a student at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and a son of Robert F. Kennedy
Jr. — Ms. Swift looked at houses for sale near the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.
(Some publications reported that she plunked down $4.9 million for one across the street from
Mr. Kennedy’s grandmother Ethel Kennedy.)
Then came the news that the two lovebirds crashed a Kennedy wedding at the Fairmont Copley
Plaza in Boston. When Victoria Kennedy, the bride’s mother, saw Ms. Swift at the ceremony,
she introduced herself and, lest the singer upstage Ms. Kennedy’s daughter, asked her politely to
“It was like talking to a ghost,” Ms. Kennedy told The Boston Herald. “She seemed to look right
When the objects of our affections act in a manner that seems overeager or even presumptuous
(or when we ourselves act that way), bells start to ring. Are these the pealing bells of a Swiss
mountaintop village that’s perpetually awash in a goldenly caramel light, or are these the
ominous tollings of a hunchback pulling a rope?
The actions of courtship are particularly difficult to parse when viewed through the prism of
etiquette. What strikes one person as lovely (“You bought my mother flowers!”) strikes another
as pushy (“You bought my mother flowers?”). Undoubtedly, a thoughtful, optimism-fueled
gesture can, in the right context, make the heart throb, as if to signal the recent ingestion of much
But some of us have seen the narrative of overeager love play itself out so many times that a
crust has formed over us. The setup and denouement seem never to change: Gatsby buys a house
across the bay from Daisy, and it does not end well; Johnny Depp emblazons his arm with
“Winona Forever,” and it does not end well.
Bob Gutowski, who works for the New York County Defender Services, remembered a man
named George whom he had dated for two weeks in the 1980s. One night, while sitting in
George’s apartment waiting for him to return with dinner, Mr. Gutowski was surprised when
George’s roommate slid onto the couch next to him.
The foreign-born roommate said, “George really like you!” Then the roommate “looked around
in the manner of a Hitchcock villain, as if to make sure that we were absolutely the only two
people in the room, and happily dropped the bomb: ‘George have presents for you, in the closet!
For Christmas!’ ”
Suddenly dry-mouthed, Mr. Gutowski replied, “But it’s only September.”
Shelagh Burke, a textile designer in Swampscott, Mass., said that her sister once brought a new
college boyfriend to her family’s house on the Jersey Shore. When, just before dinner, her
mother asked the boyfriend to get some ice, he replied, “Will do. By the way, what’s for dinner,
Mom?” and then called her Mom for the rest of the weekend.
Paul Bartoloni, a New York City hair stylist, recalled that while traveling through Paris in the
1980s he met a young man named Fédéric and had a whirlwind two-day romance. When it was
time for Mr. Bartoloni to push on toward Italy, Fédéric suggested he tag along, saying: “I
am finished with Paris. I am finished with my family.”
Palpable in these three courtships (all of which broke off shortly thereafter) is a lack of caution,
and perhaps of empathy, on the part of the overeager lover. What fuels this heedlessness? While
the giddiness inherent to new love is a compelling culprit, some would point to larger forces.
Laura Kipnis, the author of “Against Love,” a polemic about the cultural constraints that inspire
wrongheaded notions of love, suggested that society may put such a premium on marriage or
couplehood that lovers are inspired to overreach.
“Love has become practically inseparable from the question of ‘who you are’ at the same time
that all the codes that used to govern courtship have evaporated,” she said. “Everyone’s left to
make his own rules. Big mess.”
The overeager tell a different story.
“I always overdo,” said Flash Rosenberg, the artist-in-residence for the New York Public
Library. “It started back in college. As soon as I’d sew a custom cowboy shirt for some sweetie,
he’d worry that I was getting the wrong idea, and leave me, keep the shirt.
“I’ve done animations, portraits, photographed events, created luxury photo books: all successful
ways to maintain my independence. Something about creating an original work of art frightens
the pants on a guy!”
She added: “How awful it would be if I had all these rambunctious feelings for someone, then
had to fake acting cool. Eww. That’s so ‘The Rules.’ I’d rather express how I feel than get the
In Ms. Rosenberg’s eyes, feelings of kinship or even love manifest themselves as artisanal gifts.
She offers up her generosity without expectation. That said, such a worldview seems to have had
its consequences. Ms. Rosenberg finds herself crossing out the word “Single” on forms and
writing in “Independent.”
“The sensation of meeting someone who makes me want to make art is such a passionate way to
spend the day — and night — alone,” she said.
Amber Leigh Salisbury, a motivational speaker in Atlanta and “love coach” who has toured with
Tony Robbins, suggested that one effective way for lovers to detect and negotiate expectations
and imbalances in ardor is by playing “the question game” while dating. Each person is allowed
to ask the other any question.
“But you have to keep it playful,” Ms. Salisbury said. “And you can always answer, ‘Pass.’ ”
It was during a round of the question game in the summer of 2005 that Ms. Salisbury’s new
boyfriend at the time, Andrew, asked, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” She
explained that she was crazy enough the previous year to have flown to Assisi, Italy, to plan a
wedding: the flowers, the music, the food. When the wedding planner she hired said,
“Sweetheart, tell me about your fiancé,” she confessed, “Oh, I haven’t met him yet.” At which
point the woman shook her head and moaned, “Bella, bella, bella ... .”
Ms. Salisbury married Andrew in 2006 in, yes, Assisi. She said two things kept him from
running, screaming, when she told him about her trip to the wedding planner. First, she self-
deprecated when she told the story (“I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you this ...”). More
important, she did not implicate him in the wedding scenario.
“He said I was the first woman who didn’t make him feel like she wanted something from him,”
If certain headstrong acts like Ms. Salisbury’s weren’t so successful, it would be much easier to
dismiss them all as some strange hybrid of delusion and presumption. But sometimes the bells
peal brightly even in the most unlikely quarters.
Ms. Kipnis said that a boyfriend once asked her on their third date: “if I wanted to go with him to
the Jersey Shore for a week the following month, as some friends were lending him their beach
house. My first thought was, ‘My God, we barely know each other, and who knows if we’ll even
be speaking in a month?’ On the other hand, this was July, and I knew I’d be desperate to get out
of town mid-August.”
“We’re still together three years later,” she reported, “so obviously now I admire his
Circa Now is a new monthly column by Henry Alford, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and
the author, most recently, of “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?”
September 20, 2012
Searching for a Companion, With a Smile and a Sign
By ALEX VADUKUL
His life, to anyone who comes across him as he sits in Union Square Park, is not exactly a
Adam Orna is single and marriage-minded. He makes $55,000 a year, plus benefits. He is a
marathon runner and a vegetarian. And he is not shy about any of it, putting all of these details
on a board, along with his crystal-clear motive: “Please Date Me.”
Mr. Orna, a 39-year-old postal worker who lives in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, said
that he felt time was slipping away, and that he no longer wanted to wait for companionship to
find him. He took his search to the streets — Seventh Avenue, in the fashion district, is another
common destination — in July after growing distraught at the prospect of turning 40 alone.
“I decided, after trying everything, it was time to advertise myself,” he said.
The bar and club scenes never paid off. Neither did a dating Web site. So he decided to try
something different, something that at worst could be a conversation starter.
He sometimes wears a nice suit, sleeves rolled up, and hands out roses to women. “Hello
beautiful, care for a rose?” is a frequent opening, as is a friendly wave accompanied by his
boyish smile. Women tend to ignore his advances, but he is polite and soft-spoken, never
handling rejection badly. That resilience is a good thing, for rejection tends to come in bunches.
Last Sunday, Mr. Orna sat in Union Square Park, near its northwest entrance. His hair was neatly
combed, and he wore his gray suit, but he did not have his customary roses. (He did not have
time to buy any.) Families and couples walked past him. Some smiled at the sign, as if it were a
playful joke. Others appeared more concerned.
A man, preparing to leave the park’s playground with his family, called out to Mr. Orna.
“How’s it going?” he asked. “No good?”
“No luck yet,” Mr. Orna replied. “I’ll keep trying.”
Outside of Mr. Orna’s listening range, the man, his wife and her friend voiced their opinions.
“I don’t know what his motives are,” said Christine Minas, who said she initially thought Mr.
Orna’s board was a piece of art.
“Really?” David Valazzi said. “And you’d trust someone online?”
“Desperation is not attractive — you want what you can’t have,” Mr. Valazzi’s wife, Carol
DerSarkissian, said. “But you know what? Some woman will be fed up and want someone nice
and stable. Someone who doesn’t want to play games anymore, and maybe that’s who he’s
Mr. Orna had introduced himself to her, she said. “I told him I’m married and have two kids.” He
gave her a card with his information — he keeps a small stack of them in his shirt pocket — and
said she could give it to a friend.
In an era where nearly anyone’s background can be checked on Google, perhaps there is some
logic in Mr. Orna’s rather public methods. (For Mr. Orna, a search yielded his running
background and newspaper articles detailing a teenage indiscretion: an arrest for which he
received community service.)
At his post, Mr. Orna dutifully greeted passing women and ignored the occasional pedestrians
who laughed at him. “It’s like fishing,” he said. “Some days you get something. Some days,
He expanded on his reasons for creating the board. “There have been nights I’ve cried I was so
lonely,” he said. “You’ve got a good job, good hobbies, but what good is it if there’s no one to
share it with?”
“And so you turn,” he pointed to the sign, “to desperate things.”
When an excited woman approached him, there seemed to be promise. “Yes. Yes. I love it,” she
exclaimed. Then she asked, “Can I take a picture, please?” She snapped a photo. He got up to
introduce himself. “I like your ring,” he told her, but she was already walking away.
Mr. Orna prepared to leave as evening approached. He had given out over a dozen cards, greeted
many women, but had not gotten one number. He said he would try again in the coming week.
“Don’t wait for it to fall into your lap,” he said of companionship. “Go out and pursue it. It won’t
fall into your lap. Trust me.”
THE BRIDGE: Get Your Hand Out Of My Pocket
By Darryl James
The lady was smart, pretty and in very good shape. We had been dating for a few
weeks and I was enjoying the conversations with her.
We talked about our goals in life and we shared a great deal about ourselves with
each other. We both recognized that sharing up front can prevent confusion later on
down the line.
We began talking about what we really wanted in relationships when she went there--she said she
wanted a man who was "generous." Now, the word itself may seem innocent enough, but let's really
take a look at what it means.
When a woman says that she wants a man to be generous, she is typically referring to the dating
process-she wants gifts, and she wants to be courted in a lavish manner.
We're not talking about some third world nation where women are denied employment and treated
as property, we are talking about so-called "independent women" in the good old U.S. of A, who
fought and still fight to be treated as equals with all the rights that men have-except in dating.
As an independent woman, you should have no problem picking up the check or at least paying your
way. Otherwise, stop saying that you are independent, and stop saying you want a good man. What
you want is a sucker and your honesty will be appreciated.
As far as finances are concerned, anything above wanting someone to carry their own weight is
In addition, there are so many other things to be concerned about that have value, that finances
should be last on the list, because at the end of the day, when the conversation turns to finance, most
men are turned off.
Being single and dating gets rough enough without all of the confusion of financial expectations.
For any rational adult, it makes no sense to expect someone to spend money to entertain your grown
behind. That's like saying you want all of the fun but none of the responsibility, and it's a poor way
to begin a relationship.
A few years back, I was dating a woman who I really believed could have been my soul mate. We
communicated beautifully, we were both from Chicago, and we liked the same things. We both had
the same method of accepting the things about each other that were divergent from our own
individual experiences. However, there was one thing that she presented that I ultimately could not
She couldn't stop begging.
Yes, I said begging. It wasn't that I didn't have the money. I was making plenty of cash, but at every
turn, she was asking me for money to go out, money to buy new shoes, money to buy birthday gifts
for friends and money to spend at the mall.
That thing that was most disturbing was that she didn't even ask for bills or other necessities, she
would ask for trinkets and trash just to see what she could get.
It's even difficult sometimes to sit at a bar and exchange conversation without the expectation of
drink purchases. Why would any otherwise self-respecting woman want to diminish herself to a
common "drink whore?" Be offended, but if you are selling your conversation and/or company for
the price of a drink, this is what it amounts to.
There is already enough stress involved in trying to merge two individual personalities, which may
be divergent based on religion, education, in addition to gender. Add finance to the mix and it's all
It's just sad to watch beautiful sisters who claim to want a real relationship start things off with a
focus on avoiding financial responsibility.
Here's another horrible example: One of my close friends in Chicago was scheduled to meet a young
lady at a local hangout for drinks. Each time they went out, she created diversions when it was time
to pay, or simply stared at the check, leaving him to pay. Once, he asked her to split the check and
she claimed to have left her money at home. Outside of her difficulty with paying for her own
entertainment, she was actually a nice young lady and my friend liked her very much.
He arranged to meet her again and purposely arrived after she did. She had already ordered a few
drinks and food. My friend sat down and ordered water. He declined any food, but otherwise,
maintained the same kind of conversation as on previous dates. When the check came at the end of
the evening, his date slid it across the table in front of him.
Quick-what would YOU do? Here's what my friend did: He politely slid the check back to her and
stated: "I didn't eat or drink anything, so you should go ahead and take care of it." Her reply: "Why
would you ask to spend time with me, if you don't want to treat me like a lady?"
Ladies, if there is a cost for your time, please make that clear up front. Perhaps some men will
simply offer you a flat fee to get right to what they desire. If you are not for sale, you should take
the price off of your company.
Now, here's the sad part: When I write pieces like this and give such examples, some sisters say that
it's only the circles I run in, but those circles seem to be all across the nation, because not only are
my brothers lodging numerous complaints, but many of my honest sisters who pay their own way
are aware of the offending behavior as well.
The bottom line is that no matter how you couch it, coming after a man financially is unattractive.
Phrase it as "generous," but if you expect to be paid for, then you are practicing a form of
prostitution. Don't be surprised or angry if you get some of the same results.
Dating is an expensive venture and difficult to launch properly. In my lectures, my most salient
piece of advice to single women is to be unafraid of initiating contact and open to sharing the
financial burden of dating.
The dating process should allow two people to get to know each other, ostensibly before making a
commitment. A relationship is about partnership and dating should not be any different. In fact,
since dating may not turn out to be anything permanent, there should be no substantial financial
investment. At the end of something that doesn't work out, both people can walk away
So, ladies, please focus on a man's character, not his wallet, and maybe you will find something to
have and to hold. When you approach a man keep your eyes on the prize.
And keep your hand out of my pocket.
Sustainable Marriage Quiz