Reality TV bites

The societal effects of sex and violence in the media have been debated for quite a few years now, though the topic doesn’t dominate the headlines the way it used to. I remember that for a while, advocates of uncensored artistic violence took great delight in quoting writer and actor George Plimpton: “If television violence causes violence in the streets, why doesn’t television comedy cause comedy in the streets?” It was a pointed and humorous question, but I think Mr. Plimpton and those who invoked him missed the point. Comedy breaks out in the streets every day, in the same way as music and dance, and it traces directly back to popular media.

The attitudes, speech patterns, and comedic sensibilities of my generation tend to mirror those of the characters in Friends, Seinfeld, and Saturday Night Live. I had friends in high school who could transform themselves into Wayne and Garth in a matter of seconds. For a period of time, it seemed that everyone in the country identified other people by their method of talking (low, high, close, projectile, etc.). And Ross, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, and Joey can take credit for taking the word “so” and transforming it into a negative superlative (“That is so not the point”, “You are sooo not funny”). People imitate what they see on television. The fact is undeniable.

Not that, in the case of comedy, there’s anything wrong with that. Comedy is for making people laugh, and if repeating “Now, isn’t that special?” ’til the wee hours of the morning makes you laugh, more power to you. TV comedy provides an actual benefit for people who have no sense of humor of their own. They look to funny people to learn how to be funny. And since we all see the same funny people on TV and learn from them, we all understand that brand of humor, which means we can all communicate humor effectively and make each other laugh.

Reality TV is a different animal. It has its defenders, its rabid fans, and its critics (none who have devoted a Web site to their criticism, apparently), and they have all had their say, so I will not debate its general merits. I will say, though, that I worry about the effect reality shows will have on relationships.

With divorce becoming more and more common, many children grow up without seeing how a good relationship works, without a real relationship role model. What they see now is a group of shows in which a bunch of men/women compete for one man’s/woman’s attention, in which cameras follow couples on dates, and in which it’s assumed that if you spend enough time stuck on an island or in a house with someone, the two of you will eventually have sex. I can see where a 20-year-old college student might go on a date and imagine a witty graphic popping up in his car whenever his date says something weird. He might say something shocking for the benefit of a non-existent camera, or start an argument because conflict plays better than chemistry. Those tactics never end well on TV, and they will never end well in real life. But if that’s the only model some people have, that’s how they’ll think relationships are supposed to work.

I have some advice for all the single people out there: Don’t look to Shipmates for an idea of how to act on a date, don’t look to The Bachelor to find out how to attract someone, and for goodness’ sake don’t model your courtship after anything you see on For Love or Money. The best way to learn about relationships is to find a happily married couple, see how their relationship works, and focus your efforts in that direction.

Reality TV shows are a plague upon mankind.

From what I hear.

I never watch them, of course.

I am so not interested.

Beach Adventures

I don’t like the beach. I have several reasons for that:

  • Even on the best days, the water’s too cold and the sand is too hot.
  • Sand thoroughly permeates everything you take to the beach, which means that you can’t carry food, a camera, shoes, or bodily orifices.
  • I’m a poor swimmer, and ocean waves scare me.
  • All the decent beaches are crowded, and all the non-crowded beaches are crummy. And I can’t stand crowds.
  • I have fair skin, I burn easily, and melanoma runs in my family.
  • Those Charles Atlas ads in my childhood comic books still haunt me.
  • Walking on sand reminds me of how it feels to run from monsters in a nightmare.
  • I just don’t like the beach.

For sheer majesty and awe-inspiring beauty, I prefer mountains. I can stand at the bottom of a mountain and feel an overwhelming sense of age and absolute permanence. I can hike halfway up a mountain and feel a sense of wonderful accomplishment when I look back over the ground I’ve covered. I can hike to the top of a mountain and look out over the land and see more of the earth than I can from anywhere. Nothing about a beach even compares.

But even more, I love plains. I never have a stronger sense of security and well-being than when I’m in a place where I can see ground meeting sky in every direction. In such places, there is a palpable sense that God is in control, all is right with the world, and I can really let loose with an Aerobie.

My wife, however, likes the beach.

This has never been much of a problem, since for most of our marriage the closest beach (on the Gulf of Mexico) was 4 hours away, nasty, and constantly strewn with dead jellyfish. Now, though, we live 15 minutes away from an exceptionally well-maintained beach on the Atlantic ocean and I have difficulty devising daily reasons not to visit it during the summer (the $8 entry fee has been my best friend). I had avoided it successfully for most of the summer, but last Sunday I broke down and took her, paid the $8, and trudged through the sand to where some church friends of ours had staked a spot.

A couple of people had guitars, so we sang some praise songs and told each other how God is working in our individual lives. Our pastor was there, and he said a few words to encourage us. We were able to talk to friends, play catch with a frisbee (which doesn’t fly quite as far as an Aerobie), and enjoy each other’s company.

When we got in the car to leave, my wife had a look of divine contentment on her face, expressed with a beautiful smile. Her smile lights up her eyes, accentuates her cheeks, and melts my heart. As long as I have that, I can do without the mountains or the plains.

Off-topic: My good friend Dave Judi

I have never had any kind of meaningful conversation or correspondence with a famous person or had even a brush with notoriety. I took a stab at it recently, though. Dave Barry has a blog in which he, for the most part, comes up with funny ways of describing weird things on the Web. He doesn’t find these weird things himself, though. His alert readers find them and send them to him. He always acknowledges a person who sends him any link he deems significantly strange enough to post in his blog. So when I came across a horrible story in The New York Times, I immediately sent it to him, thinking that the world would soon see my name in pixels.

It didn’t happen, but I did exchange a few e-mails with his assistant, a nice lady with a healthy sense of humor rare in these serious times when an Ashton Kutcher movie passes for comedy. Anyway, since this is the closest I’ve ever come to talking to a famous person, I thought I’d post it (with her permission, of course) even though it has nothing to do with marriage.

From: curt hendley
Subject: Holy freakin’ buttload of fatalistic irony!
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2003 12:48:52 -0400 (EDT)

Dear Dave,
I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this. It was on the home page of The New York Times’ Web site (as of Aug. 14, 3:45 p.m. EDT):

Withering heat is being blamed for hundreds of deaths across Europe, and perhaps 3,000 deaths in France alone, where refrigerated tents had to be erected outside the city to accommodate the bodies.

The full story is at The New York Times.

curt hendley


From: judi smith
Date: Mon Aug 18, 2003 10:41:10 AM US/Eastern
To: curt hendley
Subject: Re: Holy freakin’ buttload of fatalistic irony!

Curt –

The best address for blog-related stuff is; I sent this one along to that address already. Thanks for writing.

(As for your story: Wow. Somebody call Alanis! THAT’s irony.)

judi smith
Assistant to Dave Barry


From: curt hendley
Subject: Re: Holy freakin’ buttload of fatalistic irony!
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 23:44:03 -0400

Thank you for forwarding my message, and thank you for understanding the irony. I tried to share this with a few of my coworkers, and they all said, “Three thousand people died from the heat? That’s horrible!” Some people just don’t appreciate morbid and humorous reversals.



From: judi smith
Date: Wed Aug 20, 2003 11:45:08 AM US/Eastern
To: curt hendley
Subject: Re: Holy freakin’ buttload of fatalistic irony!

i guess it’s my on-the-job training ;)

judi smith
Assistant to Dave Barry

A big THANK-YOU to Judi for taking time to deal with me and for giving me permission to post this.

‘Till something do us part

Ancient kings had to have enormous families for political reasons. Brigham Young had to have 20 wives in order to maintain any semblance of credibility with his followers. But the rest of these people who followed their lead apparently just don’t understand the concept.

And speaking of people who don’t get it, here’s something Larry King said in an interview with The Financial Times:

“I just like diversity,” he says. “The girl I liked at 20 was not the girl I liked at 30. And in the culture I grew up in, if you fell in love, you got married. I fell in love when I was 20 and 30, and I got married. It didn’t work out, and I paid what I had to pay.” He says the “diversity” has probably made him a better person, and he prefers it to being married to the same person for 50 years, having to make endless compromises. But he’d rather not be judged by the number of his marriages: “I don’t make a judgement about people who’ve been single all their life.”


Of Soul Mates and Kindred Spirits

I found an article (Can’t
find your soul mate? This is why
) on the Netscape
Network today that began with a shocking statement:

It’s easier
for women to find their soul mate than it is for men. That is the surprising
conclusion of a study by researchers at New York’s Adelphi University,
who blame the disparity on the "intimacy gap," reports Reuters.

Not so shocking, of course, because (and forgive me if I’m
stereotyping) a woman wants a soul mate more than a man does. Not that a man
doesn’t want a soul mate, mind you. It’s
just something that the typical man doesn’t much think about.
(See Dave
‘s classic treatment of the subject. It’s
much more insightful than anything I can say about it.)

Actually, the ease with which you can find a soul mate depends less on your
biology and more on your definition of "soul mate." If
you think a soul mate is a specific person born with specific traits that fit
perfectly with your personality, preferences, and life ambitions, then you
will probably never find that person. You may, if you’re
lucky, find one or two people close to that, but I consider such a person a
spirit rather than a soul mate. Even if your perfect kindred spirit exists,
you would be hard pressed to find him or her in a world of six billion or so
people. On the other hand, if you have a more realistic—though
not necessarily diminished—expectation of a soul mate, your
chances of meeting him or her increase exponentially.

To me, a soul mate and a kindred spirit are completely different. You are
born in agreement with a kindred spirit. When you meet him, you automatically
him. The two of you, when you meet, feel like you’ve known each other your
entire lives. You can go years without talking and never miss a beat when you
see each
other again. You like the same things, share similar feelings, laugh at the
same obscure and nonsensical jokes, find excitement in similar places, and
are just
different enough that you can like each other even when suffering debilitating
bouts of self-hate. A soul mate, on the other hand, is someone completely different
from you. When you meet her, you may take an immediate liking to her or you
may not. But eventually, you grow into each other so that the two of you are
bound to one another. Your souls, in effect, mate. Kindred spirits bring out
the best in each other. Soul mates make each other better than either of them
could be on their own.

In short:
kindred spirit=safe harbor friend
soul mate=intimate, lifelong companion

I don’t know for
sure that the concepts of kindred spirit and soul mate are mutually exclusive.
I have one of each in my life, but my soul
mate (my wife) would never suffice as a kindred spirit and my kindred spirit
(a male friend from college) would never work out as a soul mate. So, to answer
the question posed by the Netscape article, if you can’t
find a soul mate, it may be because you’re searching for
a perfect match of personalities or settling for a safe harbor friend rather
than recognizing
the radical intimacy that’s possible when two different
souls mate.

Marriage links this week

College journalist J. J. Babb learns how his (her?) parents have made their marriage thrive for 25 years. A good example of how a strong relationship benefits the children it produces.

Anniversaries in the news
Mildred and Carl Albright of Norcross, Georgia celebrate 60 years.
Ruth and Wally Brown have been married 60 years, with a big, happy family to show for it.
Bill and Fon Ezell went on their first date when they were in 9th and 7th grade, respectively. They’re celebrating their 50th anniversary by driving across the country in a 50th anniversary model Corvette.

CBS correspondent Steve Hart periodically throws a dart at a map and pokes his finger into a phone book to find an interview subject on the theory that Everyone Has a Story. Here’s a story of a wonderful kind of love. Check out some of his other stories by following the links at the bottom of the page.

In a column in the Washington Post, a young Pakistani woman living in the United States ponders her conflicting feelings about arranged marriage.

Money problems ruin way too many marriages.

Marriage rates are declining. This may be why.

Thoughts on Communication

Yes, this is a trite subject. Everyone from Dr. Ruth to Oprah has told us that “communication is key.” More often than not, that sounds like a rationalization for the female urge to prattle on endlessly about feelings and a condemnation for the lack of such an urge in men. But I do believe it is absolutely vital in any intimate relationship. You have to tell your wife when something bothers you. Just as importantly, you have to tell her when something pleases you. This goes for personal interaction, life in general, world views, everything.

Personal communication is very difficult for me. I communicate fine with groups, but with individual people I have to make a conscious effort. Let me illustrate with a true story (I have to give you some background in order for this to make sense, so bear with me). My nose is chronically congested. Even when my allergies are not flaring, I usually breathe through only one nostril at any given time. When I lie down on my side, all of my congestion drains into the nostril nearer to the floor and I breathe through the nostril nearer the ceiling. That’s the background–here’s the story. When I lie in bed facing my wife, sometimes she kisses me on the lips. When she does this, she tends to rest her nose on top of mine, thereby closing my only open nostril so that I can’t breathe. She did this for a period of months, and I recoiled every time she did, because I like to breathe even during kissing. I used to get so frustrated with her. Finally, one night I thought (quite forcefully), “Why does she keep doing that? It’s so uncomfortable!” At that moment, I realized I had never told her about my single-nostril breathing and how her kisses nearly suffocated me. So I told her, and now when she kisses me she’s careful not to cut off my air supply.

My point is that one simple bit of communication would have saved me months of frustration and potential anger had it occurred to me to actually tell her about my problem. I could go on, but it boils down to this: Tell your wife how you feel and she won’t have to read your mind.

Brainteasers and unconditional love

The other day while browsing through the archives of Dean’s
I came across a fascinating little nugget of a post called The
Brainteaser That Changed My World
. I love brain teasers,
and this one was especially intriguing:

You find yourself on a game show called "Let’s
Make A Deal." The
game is very simple. There are three doors: door #1, door #2, and door #3.
one door is a million dollars. The other two doors contain worthless joke
prizes. All you have to do is pick which door you want to open, and you get
is behind it. But you only get to open one door. By simple math, then, you
obviously have a 1 in 3 chance of picking the correct door and becoming an
instant millionaire.

pick a door. As soon as you tell Monty (the gameshow host) what door you
want to open, he stops and says, "Okay, you’ve made your choice. Now, I’m
going to do what we always do here on this game. I’m going to open one of the
other two doors for you that I know has a booby prize." And he does so.
Then he asks, "Okay, now, would you like to stay with your original
guess, or would you like to switch to the other door that’s still closed?
You only
get one shot, so do you want to stay with your original choice, or switch?"

the question: is there any compelling reason to switch doors?

Of course not,
I thought. Why would you switch doors? They both have a one in three chance
of being correct, or maybe even a one in two chance, but neither
has a clear advantage over the other.

But then I had an epiphany and thought, “Yes,
by all means switch doors.” Given
that you initially choose one door out of three, the door you choose clearly
has a one in three chance of being correct. The removed door has a zero in
three chance of being correct, which means the third door (the only other door
must have a two in three chance of being correct. Nothing could be more obvious,

I explained the problem to a few coworkers, and they all thought I was
insane for insisting that it’s best to switch answers. Dance with the
one that brung ya, they said, especially when there’s no reason to switch
partners, which there’s definitely not. When faced with my irrefutable
logic, they said I was arguing semantics, which doesn’t apply to mathematical

I don’t remember the last time so many people told me I was

I came home and shared the story with my wife. She too came to the conclusion
that switching has no advantage over sticking with your first answer, but nevertheless
agreed to help me do a practical test. Before we could perform an experiment,
I was able to pick the brain of my father-in-law, a computer programmer who
has a degree in math. I thought surely he would agree with my conclusion. But
said the same thing everyone else did: “I see what you’re saying,
but I still think you’re wrong.” I should note, however, that my
mother-in-law agreed with me. I love her.

Anyway, Mrs. Happy and I set up the
experiment. I took three playing cards (taking the place of the three doors,
which we don’t have), one of which was the
ace of spades (taking the place of the million dollars, which we also don’t
have), and placed them face down. She chose one. I removed one of the other
two that was definitely not the ace of spades. She then changed her choice,
over the remaining card, and marked down whether her first choice or second
choice was correct. We did that 100 times. The first choice turned up the ace
35 times,
and the second choice turned up the ace 65 times. Basically, the first choice
has a one in three chance of being correct while switching will win you the
money two out of every three times. So basically, I was right and everyone
but my mother-in-law
was wrong.

Here’s my point: My wife supported me and didn’t try
to make me feel stupid even when she thought I was dead wrong. She always left
open the
that I had come to the right conclusion and even took time out of her busy
day to help me perform a tedious test of an inconsequential problem, because
it was
important to me. That, my friends, is a good wife.

I love being married

I live in a culture that is hostile to marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. It celebrates weddings, yes, but it also celebrates divorces. Why wouldn’t it? We hear more about happy divorces than we do about happy marriages. And even bitter divorces serve to reinforce the idea that marriage makes people miserable—just think how much worse off those pitiful people would be had they stayed married.

I’m married, I love being married, and I love my wife. I think marriage is a divine gift, the natural state of mankind, the only condition in which all but a very few people can live full lives—the first thing in creation that was not good was man’s aloneness.

It’s difficult, though, because we have no comprehensive set of rules, no manual to cover every situation, no way for both my wife and me to be happy with each other all the time. On top of that, our entertainment media tell us that married people are bitter, bored, and trapped in an existence with no variety, sex, or passion. (Last week I heard a character on a TV show say, “Do you think it’s a coincidence that monogamy rhymes with monotony?”) And then I see the real-life marriages of my friends, family members, and acquaintances fall apart every day, while the new national pastime is finding unique and humorous ways to complain about spouses. It almost seems like a societal conspiracy to discourage contentment.

I’m hoping now to begin undermining the conspirators. On this blog, I plan to celebrate marriage and to communicate things I’ve learned about being married, but mostly to encourage and be encouraged by others who might feel oppressed by the pervasive negative sentiments in our culture.

Marriage: It’s a beautiful thing.