Thursday, January 24, 2008

Men, Women and the Dating Minefield

I've seen my lady friends (and lady relatives) make mistake after mistake, and when they're about to make those mistakes, it's too late to talk them out of it. Women are emotional creatures, as are men, and as they say, love is blind. So I have to stand helplessly by as they walk blind into the dating minefield.

So I decided to list some warning flags as I see them. Now, understand that these are not all the warning flags you'll ever see - they're merely the most common ones, and the ones that are more or less easy to recognize when you have your eyes open for them. And they are not necessarily hard rules that if broken will result in tragedy. They are merely conditions that should be interpreted as raising the probability that you're headed into a problematic relationship.

  • Two or more of your friends have a bad feeling about it. This is probably the most reliable warning flag you will ever get. Here is why. Nobody with any sense of self preservation is going to relish telling you that they don't like your new guy. They know it's dangerous to say anything at all; those of us who have made that mistake will avoid making it again. It's just too likely to damage a good friendship, and the odds are so great that it won't slow you down anyway. So if two of your friends work up the nerve to gently suggest that you might want to be careful, that is a huge warning flag, with a siren to boot. You can safely assume that they see something you missed. Again, this does not mean you should break it off immediately - but it does mean you need to step back and think really hard, and really objectively. You should also consider your experience with your friends: have they displayed wisdom in the past? If so, consider all the more what they say.
  • You met him on the internet through a dating service or chat room. Now, everyone knows about this one, and if you tell any of your friends "Hey, I met this guy on the internet..." you will immediately see a reaction that should throw cold water on your warm cockles. Sure, some people meet on the 'net and find true happiness. But most don't, and there is a reason that internet dating has such a bad reputation. Let's examine that. Obviously, you don't know anything about the other person except what he tells you. And it is well-known that predators lurk in the world wide web, telling you whatever they think you want to hear. There is no reason for them to tell you any negative information about themselves, and in fact they have a strong incentive to lie to you. But here's the big reason: unlike in real life, you don't get to hear outside opinions about a person because you don't know any mutual friends. There's nobody to give you a warning until you already invest yourself in him emotionally. So sure, you could meet Mr. Right on the 'net, but the sheer odds are against it. Use extreme caution.
  • He seems to be a wonderful match in the things that are important to you - especially religious faith. Now, this could almost be a subset of the above flag on internet dating, but actually it's relevant to real life dating, too. Here's an example. Suppose you're a devout Christian. You're not going to keep that a secret, are you? You're going to make it clear from the start that that's a deal-breaker. Now, you meet a guy, and he not only agrees with your Christian views, he leads with them. Now, this will seem like an odd thing to say, because of course we want to be compatible in our religious beliefs, but when somebody goes to an unusual amount of trouble to convince us of their sincere Christianity, watch out! Hucksters and predators are notorious for using that way of gaining our trust. The bum looking for a handout to buy wine, the salesman trying to get you to invest in some ripoff scheme, the guy selling Bibles in the film Paper Moon, and of course the guy who wants to date or marry you because you have money, or at least a good income. They do this because it works. Faith is a strong emotional tag, and from the predator's standpoint, has the additional benefit of our desire to believe that God is taking care of us. But be careful not to let this flag weaken your faith in God. God will not let you down - people, however, will often let you down. That is why we were told, in Matthew 10:16 -- "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
  • You've been divorced more than once. If you've had two or more divorces in your life, you have my sympathy. Divorce is hard. It's tough. It's damaging. If you've had three or more, something is wrong. Either you're attracting the wrong kind of person, you're attracted to the wrong kind of person, or you're doing something that's in serious error somewhere in the process. You should err on the side of caution - waaaay on the side of caution. I would recommend paying close attention to any clues you may get from your friends or family. Watch for the above flags, and take them very seriously. Get reliable counseling. And for goodness sakes, insist on a long engagement. Be patient.
  • He's married... for now. This flag is always reliable. If he is a decent person, he will not show any interest in dating while he is still married, no matter how bad the marriage, no matter what he may say about it. I can almost guarantee this: if you cuddle up with such a person, you will find yourself taking his wife's place in more ways than you ever want to, including his stories about what a horrid woman he's stuck with. Ignore this flag at your peril.

Now one more thing. You may think that love is the most important thing in a marriage or dating relationship. The problem is that none of us can accurately gauge "love" when we're in it. It's so hard to define, and it's so easily confused with physical attraction. But there is a quality that any of us can tell when it's there or when it's not there, whether on our part or somebody else's. That quality is respect, and it becomes quite useful when you understand that you cannot have love without respect. Do you sometimes find yourself feeling a mild contempt for this person? Chances are you don't love him. Do you sometimes find that he fails to respect you? Maybe he doesn't love you.

Be careful. Love is a many splendored thing, but it can also be a many splintered thing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The evolution of racism

That attack on Ron Paul by Jolly James got me to thinking.

We live in a time when a racist remark will not only end your career - not only will the mere accusation of a racist remark end your career - but an accusation of a remark being maybe sort of kind of racist will threaten your career. And I had no idea that "kid" or "fairy tale" could be racist. Maybe "kid" is sort of like "boy," but this is all beyond me.

I know several people (well, I know them online - most real people don't know or care) who used to support Ron Paul with enthusiasm, but turned a quick 180 when the newsletter scandal was "exposed" yet again. They seem to understand that Paul never wrote those words, simply because they had heard him enough and read him enough to know he couldn't have been the source. But they quickly say they can't support him because if he couldn't oversee a newsletter with his name on it, how is he qualified for president? This astounds me. You're disqualified from holding office because you trusted the wrong people with a cheaply printed rag? I've trusted people when I shouldn't have. But I learned the lesson from it when it bit me, and I am quite sure that Ron Paul learned it too.

So I observed a little, as I often do when I am puzzled, and I notice that those who did this 180 are young - in their 20's, maybe early 30's. And I suspect (note the word suspect) that this has more to do with avoiding the stigma of failing to condemn racism than it does with a sincere, honest belief that Ron Paul is too incompetent to run a country because he didn't fully supervise a newsletter decades ago.

How the world has changed; and it didn't do it overnight. We didn't have a country full of people suddenly wake up one morning and say, "I was wrong. Black people aren't inferior, and shouldn't be treated as property, and segregated and not allowed to vote. I will change my ways and be a better person." Somewhere in the transition, many people had to struggle with what they had been taught and shown by example, and then figure out that it had to stop.

When I was a young lad, I attended a family reunion and had the pleasure of talking to a nice little old lady, frail and slow, who had been born in the 1800's. She shared two family stories with me which I enjoyed more than many of the others, because they were so vivid and so far in the past. It seems I had two slave owners in my family tree. The first was a plantation owner, and therefore was probably the only rich person I've ever been related to. But he was different. His policy was to buy slaves and immediately free them - and offer them employment on his plantation. Other land owners thought that was a little nuts, but I'll bet he was richer in many ways than his neighbors. Nevertheless, I think maybe it took a little courage to do things a different way.

The other one was not so rich. He was walking home one afternoon, and came upon a man beating the living crap out of a little boy, whom he "owned," and therefore assumed the right to discipline as he pleased. My ancestor asked him why he was doing that, and asked him to please stop it. "He ain't worth two bits! You want him, I'll sell him to you!" So he bought him, for the price of 25¢, and took him home to take care of him. The story is that he intended to find out how to draw up the papers to free him the next day, but the boy died of his injuries before morning.

Now, my elderly story-teller used the word "nigra" as she related it, and by today's standards, she would be accused of racism, as the word is too close to the N word (which must never be spoken except on a rap song). I don't know how racist she actually was, but she no doubt had some viewpoints that had carried over from the late 1800's, when she learned most of her world view. But she was a kind woman, and gentle, and soft spoken.

My earliest memories are from the 1950's, when I was five years old in Savannah GA. My friends gave me my earliest experiences with racism as it existed then. A person who drank a soft drink from a bottle the wrong way was accused of "nigger-lipping." In fact, you shouldn't even drink straight from the bottle, because "you never know if a nigger might've drunk from that bottle sometime." One was told to be careful, or a "nigger might get you." We didn't have to be cautioned not to play with the "colored kids" - they weren't allowed anywhere near us, and none of us ever even thought about it. (This wasn't my parents saying any of this, by the way). What you have to realize is that segregation was the prevailing thought. Anyone suggesting that it ought to be different was way out on the fringes, and it would have taken a great deal of courage to say such a thing out loud - such attitudes could get you beaten up, or it could ruin your career. It took courage to express such things.

On to the 60's. Now I'm a teenager living in Texas. Racism in Texas is weaker, and a person would no longer be criticized for suggesting that blacks ought to be treated no differently than anyone else. He might get an argument, yes, but he would get one back in most company, at least in the circles I ran with. Now if he suggests that a mixed marriage might be a good idea, he would be thoroughly criticized, so that would take some courage, but the topic seldom comes up.

The riots in LA are still to come. We consider Bill Cosby's comedy albums to be the best stuff ever, and we want to be like him. The first TV kiss between a white man and a black woman (on Star Trek) is on its way, and I see the scene and don't even notice its significance for some reason. (I guess it took some courage for the producers of the show, but apparently it didn't hurt William Shatner's career. He would have to wait for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds for that).

A few years later. I get my first job with a paycheck and deductions. I work as a bus boy in the Airmen's Club at Sheppard AFB. Now, the club isn't supposed to be segregated, but there is a room just off the main room but angled so that most of it isn't seen unless you stand in the doorway. The black airmen congregate there. Now, here is where you younger bloggers will have no memory of the way things were. There were riots in those days. There was white on black violence, and there was black on white violence. Either way, there were angry people on both sides of the color divide. And some nights, nobody wanted to go into that room, because it was full of angry young black men with lots of beer bottles on their tables. My co-workers refused to go, and it fell to me to cruise that room with my bus cart. So I went in and we all held hands and sang Kumbaya together.

Like hell we did. I bussed the tables, and I was scared. Really scared. I heard "Clean up that puke you little white f---!" Now, my point is not that it took courage to go into that room, though I assure you it did. My point is that it took courage to hold onto race-tolerant attitudes. It took courage not to absolutely hate them. If you don't believe that, wait until you fear for your safety or your life and see how much love you can work up for your fellow man.

Fast forward a few years, to the 80's or 90's. It's so much easier these days, when I can work in the same place as black men, when I have their backs and they have mine, when we can be in the same play at the community theatre and forget our lines and bail each other out so the show goes on. I can have a genuine friendship with a mixed-race couple and nobody cares about it. Things have really improved.

Fast forward a little further, to this century. A blogger, one of my favorites, changes her mind about Ron Paul because of those damn newsletters, feels betrayed by him, turns against him, does that 180 I was talking about - even though he is the only man running who shares her political stance. And she gets a comment complimenting her on her "courage" and honesty. Courage? COURAGE?? For sitting at a nice warm keyboard in 2008, when racism is on the fringes, when racism will ruin your career, when even the mere suggestion of what might be considered maybe sort of kind of racism will ruin your career or get you beat up?

The world has changed, indeed. But it was a relatively fast evolution, not a revolution, though taking place in one lifespan, and I think it's a little late to cash in on having courage for being open minded. I think maybe these days it may take more courage to risk being a target of race baiting bigots like Al Sharpton or Louis Farrakhan or James Kirchick. Maybe with a little more evolution, we can achieve tolerance without demagogues.

Note: I am not accusing Becky of claiming to have courage. It's more like the person leaving the comment is implying that, as he attempts to practice his special brand of patronizing for political purposes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Ron Paul youth brigade

Want to know what the Ron Paul youth are like? Learn about them in the New Republic online.