Early this morning, when my husband forgot his insulin, I brought it to his office. I had a hat over my greasy hair because I'd just woken up, and he said playfully, "You should cut off your hair. You'd look so cute."
Then I was back home later this morning, working on yet another article, when suddenly I got up and went into the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror for a full minute, maybe longer, thinking, It's so annoying how it gets knotted every time I wear my coat. Which is all the time, because it's winter.
Dominique Browning wrote about her hair in The New York Times. She told the world that her hair is sexy. She's 55. It's gray. It's long. She feels the world's disapproving eye on her, even as it reaches out bony fingers to stroke a wafting strand.
Being a middle-aged woman with long hair is rebellious, she says. There's a rule: Women are supposed to cut their hair at a certain age. They're supposed to do it quietly, complacently and stylishly. And then their friends will all say, "Oh! You look lovely!" and exchange approving looks.
There's a rule for young women, too: We're not supposed to chop all our hair off. Which is why when stars like Emma Watson, Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley do it, it's so newsworthy that nary a pop culture magazine misses the chance for a cover shot.
I went into the other room and got the scissors with the blue handles. I came back into the bathroom and before I had the chance to think, I cut off a huge chunk of my hair. In the front.
I kept cutting. I felt great. I was grinning at myself. The more I cut, the better I looked. The better I felt.
After a while, I took a break and washed it and dried it. The drying part took approximately a minute. My mom called. We talked about how our weeks were going. I mentioned that I was cutting my hair.
"Oh no," she said. "Professionally, I hope?"
"No, right now. While we're talking."
"Are you joking?"
"Nope. I'm definitely cutting it right now."
There was a bushy patch that the headset was obscuring.
"You know you have a job," she said, and then, "or several."
"Your scare tactics aren't working."
She burst out laughing. "Fine."
I've thought about cutting my hair for a while. But then I thought, There's the wedding. I can't have really short hair in the pictures. And then I thought, It's the winter. I'll be cold. And all along, I thought, I should really lose a little weight before I do it, because short hair looks better on skinny people.
Which is why I'm glad that I just did it. As soon as I finished, I ate a bunch of Fig Newmans (those things are really not at all healthy, even though they have "organic" written on the packaging), and I wondered why I hadn't done this sooner.
Later, I watched a documentary about New York City preschools, and all the teachers and administrators over 40 had short hair. All the young, stylish moms had long hair. When I went out to meet my husband (who was very impressed) and a friend for dinner, I noticed that I was the only young woman in sight with really short hair.
I laughed triumphantly to myself.
And then one day I was bored and recently broken up with and a friend said, "Why not just get taken out to dinner by some guys who think you're awesome?" And so I signed up for OKCupid.
About a week later, I went on my first date with a Man From the Internet. I fell madly, wildly, hopelessly, deliciously, fantastically in love. And then I married him. Well, some stuff happened in between. But a little over a year after we met, we got married.
Leading up to the getting married part, everyone in the world asked us how we met. Actually, they will continue to ask us that for the rest of our lives. And for the rest of our lives, we will say, "Online." Until one of us decides to get creative and says instead, "Three hundred feet under the surface of the ocean, during an arctic diving expedition." Or wimps out and says, "At this party my friend was having."
When I tell people that we met online, some of them look suddenly uncomfortable. They're clearly wondering if anyone has loved me enough to warn me that I probably married a serial killer. Or maybe they just can't think of anything to say. Because it really isn't romantic. Young people seem unsurprised, and occasionally encouraged. My husband's 93-year-old grandmother thought it was magnificent. "Well, why not?" she declared.
Online dating has endured a lot of stigma: only ugly people do it (if this were true they wouldn't need their own specialized site), only desperate people, only painfully shy people. And serial killers. We know all the stereotypes.
But the online dating industry is experiencing enormous growth and success. It's gotten quirkier, more fun, and more specialized. You can suggest a date at Howaboutwe.com and see who wants to go on it with you. You can find a date through your salad topping preferences at Saladmatch.com. If you're disabled, you can be completely upfront about it on Dating4disabled.com. There's something for everyone, and practically everyone knows it.
So when we submitted our wedding announcement to The New York Times, they accepted the part about meeting online without question, even though they were completely unwilling to use the word "blogger" to describe what I do. The article they wrote said something about me "writing on the Web." Some things on the Internet are apparently more legitimate than others. And meeting romantic partners is one of them.
I asked some people I know to share their thoughts and experiences about online dating. The responses were fascinating, hilarious and fabulously blunt. Most of the people I talked to thought online dating was pretty solid, if a little frustrating. They said things like:
My first round with OkCupid was an interesting experiment. Determined to sample as much of the online dating community as possibility, I became a serial dater, going on one or two dates every week and constantly messaging new people at the same time. Unfortunately, the guys I went on dates with either didn't look like the pictures they posted online, were way less interesting in real life than their online personalities led me to believe, were WAY more into me than I was into them or were just really boring. I quit OkCupid after I couldn't deal with the constant mediocrity anymore.
I decided to rejoin last fall, though, feeling more confident in what I was looking for and in how to avoid the pitfalls I had encountered before. I had a few dates that ran the gamut from bad to seemingly promising, but nothing panned out. Two weeks ago I decided to meet up with one of the guys I had been in touch with (he messaged me first, which is always nice). Our online conversation did seem really promising, but I had had that experience in the past, only to discover that the real-life interaction fell short of the digital one. In this case, however, things totally clicked. We've seen each other almost every day ever since, and I couldn't be happier. I've realized that meeting people online (just like in real life) is totally random. You really, truly never know who you are going to meet.
-- Rachel, 24, Brooklyn
I started Internet dating around 16 or 17, well before it was cool. I am not really sure why I started -- I guess it seemed easier to do than asking people out in real life, and I was getting to that point where I was kind of tired of everyone I knew in high school. I was able to date a few girls in high school who lived one or two towns over. I was also able to date people completely different from anyone I knew, which was a major boon at the time.
I guess the major appeal of online dating, besides the ease, was the fact that I got to choose what the people I talked to looked like, and what sorts of things they were into. I could basically pick and choose desirable traits, something that was much harder in real life. I could meet people with similar hobbies, tastes in music, movies, books -- you name it! I have always been an outgoing person, but I am also a homebody, so meeting people out was always something I didn't want to do. If I met someone at a party, it probably meant they liked to party. I don't, so online dating was a way to find other homebodies with similar hobbies and interests.
I had my first LTR from the Internet at 18. We dated for about two-and-a-half years. After that, I mostly dated girls I met in college, as there were so many people that I didn't need to use the Internet anymore, although I still did from time to time. Once college ended, though, it was a different story. Meeting people is much more difficult in the real world, so Internet dating was a pretty easy fall-back. I mostly use Craigslist and OkCupid, although both aren't as good today as they were three to four years ago.
I would say at this point I still do online dating because it is easy, and I am good at it. I am fairly skilled at getting responses, can attract attractive people, and love interacting with people who share my pop culture interests, so for me the Internet is the way to go. I would say the only major downfall is that most girls my age on OkC are not very interested in a relationship -- they are more down with casual dating. I was fine with this for a few years, but these days I want something more serious. Alas, the kind of people looking for serious relationships online tend to be clingy, desperate and well, overweight -- not my types at all!
-- David, 25, California
New York City is its own beast. I have been online dating on and off for the past year-and-a-half. That's scary. I often liken online dating to online shopping. It's fun at first to browse by size, color and style. But after a while, the sea of sweaters, pants and v-necks just blend together. After several months, I realized I had honed my profile-reading skills and could quickly spot the "I love to laugh and have fun"(who in the world doesn't? I think it's safe to assume people like to laugh and have fun. Maybe those sociopaths who DON'T like it should include that on their profile. It's more revealing.), "I am looking for a girl who is just as comfortable in jeans as in a ball gown" (umm... ok. this is just stupid), "I don't really read books" (what?! why would anybody admit this?!?!!?), or my personal favorite, "I'm just a laid-back, cool guy" (aka, "I'm not ready for anything serious"). Then once in a blue moon, you actually make it to an in-person date. I think I've met seven guys in person, two of whom I ended up dating for a few months. First there was the guy who brought along another girl (clearly a date as well ... wtf?), then the guy who told me on our second date that he was ready to be married and what did I think, then the guy who wouldn't take me out for a meal (I felt bad later when I realized he couldn't afford it), the one who admitted his "roommates" were his parents and his cat, and so many others. The ones I liked seemed to go "poof" on me after a few dates. And I admit, I did it to a couple of them too. It's just so easy in online dating ... why make a purchase when you can keep shopping for something better? All that said, most of them seem to be decent guys, just not right for me. I like to think that if (and when) I do meet somebody truly great, we will both want to "stop shopping," because who WANTS to continue to go on first dates?! Hopefully one day I will have a "happily ever after," until then, I will keep on clicking, and keep racking up the hilarious stories!
-- A, 26, New York City
Some people thought it wasn't that great:
I think the concept of using technology to help find ideal dates is something that will be very useful once the process gets improved. Right now, though, I think it lends itself to superficiality. Creating a pair of fake profiles really showed me how much looks/good pictures are more fundamental than the content of the actual profile. Even on sites that do a decent job of "matching" you to potential dates, the first things to come up are their photos. In addition, superficiality happens more naturally because the format of "not actually being present in front of the other person" allows people to deliberately misrepresent themselves (in large-scale or small-scale ways).
I'm not sure how it is for women or gay men, but until the concept becomes more popular, online dating for straight men seems to be impractical unless you're living in a fairly large city. The options for anywhere else are very limited -- there isn't a large enough group of people (or at least of women) on the sites to give an adequate set of prospects whose personalities match what you're looking for. On the other hand, if you're looking for somebody and have very simple/basic interests ("She must love Jesus and the New York Yankees, and be capable of birthing a child"), it's already an excellent tool to help you find somebody.
-- Chris, 25, Michigan
I just joined Match .com and wish people would write back sooner. I want to date or meet someone now! Plus, only one guy that I liked has responded to me. The other seven guys aren't interested. Other men have "winked" at me, and most of them I'm not attracted to. I thought this would make my life easier, but not yet. A long time ago, I met a man on the Internet and we dated six years. He lived 600 miles away and we had a lot of our relationship on the telephone. I swore I would never meet anyone on here again, but trying to meet men in my age range is very difficult. The younger you are, the easier it is.
-- Lianna, 53, Long Island
I heard some truly absurd stories:
One of the earlier hilarious messages came from an undergraduate boy with stringy blond hair who immediately began berating me for my literary taste, either by dismissing my choices or suggesting I hadn't actually read the books listed. He ended by telling me, "By the way, rich, blond, Upper Manhattan, Columbia, I can no longer conceal that I LOVE U and if you don't respond to this message by falling in love with me I will take my life at dawn."
The other really priceless encounter came one night when, suddenly, a message popped up that said, "Are you wearing pantyhose?" I immediately shut off IM and checked the dating profile of the person who had messaged me. His name was eroticawriter13. He looked 40, claimed to be 29, and began his profile by insisting: "You don't know what I look like" (untrue, there was a picture); "I could be gorgeous or hideous" (definitely hideous); "That doesn't matter; what matters is that I'm an erotica writer. I don't do pornography, and have no interest in relationships, having been burned too often before. No, I write erotica. As I am a straight man, my goal is to arouse a woman. As I am an erotica writer, I do not seek to get off in turn." The rest became fairly rapidly obscene. A little further down, he adds that he doesn't like fat women, and that he likes reading the sorts of things he writes about, namely, "married and cheating, desperate for sex, sex for a promotion or raise at work, incest (I am not into it but simply the concept), and nearly anything involving legal adults." I quit shortly thereafter, partially out of fear of meeting eroticawriters1-12.
-- Liane, 26, Manhattan
One guy I met online said he was going to my community college and ended up dropping all of his classes to get into mine (creepy). Another met me for lunch and said since I talked to him first I had to pay (once we had already eaten -- hard to do for him with only five teeth in his mouth). Another was just a major sleazebag. I met my husband a month later at the gym -- no plug-in required.
-- Erika, 27, Kansas City
At one point, I was juggling so many guys from my online dating site that I had to write their names on a white board to keep track. To give you an idea of an average date, I will tell one of my many bad first date stories. I met up with a sort of normal-seeming guy who didn't have very much to say. I knew as soon as I met him that there wouldn't be a second date but I was trying to be friendly and spent the date talking about my life and graduate work. I was talking and talking, and then finally I stopped and said, "OK, now you tell me something interesting about you." He did not skip a beat. It was as if he had used the line a thousand times. "Well," he said, very pointedly, "the most interesting thing about me is that I don't have a spleen." He went on to explain that most people don't realize how important their spleens are. And that his immune system isn't that great. The spleen dialogue went on for quite some time before I was able to come up with an excuse to cut the date short. I'm engaged now, to someone I met in grad school. Online dating was not my thing. Waaay too many dates like that one.
-- Emily, 24, California
There were sweet stories:
I met Adam the night my grandfather passed away. I was extremely close to my grandfather, and it was absolutely devastating for me. After spending the evening with my parents I came home to my apartment, where my roommate was out for the evening. I knew I needed to talk to someone, but I didn't feel ready to talk to anyone who knew me well because I thought I'd break down. So I decided I would play a game I came to call "Who is Funny Looking on JDate?" where I would go through JDate profiles and find uncomfortable pictures that men had posted of themselves. I saw Adam online and I somehow ended up talking to him. We met five days later after I returned home from my grandfathers funeral. I believe I got someone really amazing out of a really sad experience. In a way, I think my Grandpa had a plan to have a new biggest fan in my life :)
-- Samantha, 26, California
And then there's this story: A love story that captures so many of the particular quirks, complications and thrilling possibilities of the online dating world:
Darren and I joined the site at around the same time last September. He was one of the first guys who messaged me and was the first I went on a real-life date with (likewise, I was his first real date). I was immediately attracted to him from his profile. His pictures looked cute and I was impressed by his writing, values and accomplishments (he's a grad school professor). I remember calling my best friend swooning after our first few dates and asking whether I should take my profile down and/or talk with him about being exclusive. She and other friends advised me to keep my options open and "not put all my eggs in one basket" -- which made sense to me, even though I was really excited about Darren and didn't really want to date anyone else.
Over the next month, I went on 6 more first dates. I meticulously screened through lots of messages and set a pretty high bar for replying, and I must say that I was impressed with all of the guys I went out with. Most were the kind of people I would be friends with in real life, but I just wasn't attracted to any of them.
Except for one. The last guy I went on a date with -- I'll call him Josh -- was surprisingly charming. I didn't have as much in common with him as I did with Darren, but there was definitely a spark, and the fact that we had fewer similarities made him seem particularly intriguing. I was immediately conflicted at the idea of dating two guys at once and, when I agreed to a second date with Josh, was sort of hoping that date #1 was a fluke and that I wouldn't like him after a second date. The opposite happened -- date #2 was also great. At the end of the night I awkwardly admitted to him that I was a torn about continuing to see him because I was seeing someone else that I also really liked. He was very understanding and didn't seem bothered by it -- I think he was pretty confident in himself and just assumed that I would choose him in the end.
After date #2 with Josh, I took my profile down. I was now dating two guys that I liked a lot -- one of whom I had been dating for a month -- and I simply could not add anyone else into the mix. Though most people would call me lucky for dating two guys that I really like (most of my single friends can't even find one!), I felt awful about it. I also felt the need to have an open talk with Darren. I started the convo by telling him that I took my profile down. He replied that his was still up (which I knew) but that he hadn't been on any dates or pursued any women since we met (which I didn't know). Then he asked whether I had continued to date, and I admitted that I had. "Anyone you liked?" he asked. I replied "Well ... to be honest, one guy that I sort of like." From there, he got really quiet and uncomfortable, and when he left that night, I could tell that I had upset him.
I kicked myself for listening to my friends and continuing to date other guys. I didn't think I had done anything wrong -- and I still don't -- but seeing how it hurt Darren's feelings made my heart sink. Over the next week, I saw Josh once more to confirm my gut instinct that I really wanted to be with Darren, then I broke up with Josh. He was definitely surprised, and I felt bad, but we had only gone on three dates, so I knew he'd be okay.
Darren and I had a bit of a rough patch after that happened. He was not happy with the fact that I had continued to date other people, and asked why I couldn't just wait to see how things worked out with us. We talked it over at length and ultimately he understood my perspective. It wasn't just that we had never discussed being exclusive (something that I had been waiting for him to bring up, since I didn't want to be the first to suggest it). It's also that women tend to be pursued online and men tend to do the pursuing. He hadn't proactively pursued other people, and neither had I -- I simply replied to some guys who had pursued me. If the tables were turned and a horde of women had continued to pursue him on the site, my guess is that he would have acted the same way I did. As in real life, the asymmetrical gender roles in online dating can create a weird dynamic. One of Darren's male friends, who is really down on the online dating scene, told him that even when he goes out with a "high-quality" woman, he doesn't get excited because he assumes she has five more dates lined up already.
Anyway -- in the end, we got over it pretty quickly and our relationship continued flourishing despite the blip. Darren unofficially moved in to my apartment in mid-December, and we were engaged a few weeks later (~3 months after our first date). It has certainly been a whirlwind romance, and I must give credit to online dating for helping me find the man of my dreams. I really do believe that dating is just a numbers game -- there is someone for everyone out there, and you just have to expose yourself to enough people to find the person for you.
-- Julie, 26, California
So there you have it: the truth about online dating. You might get bored with all those identical profiles, you might get propositioned by a guy who calls himself eroticawriter13. You might have a bunch of mediocre dates with some very normal people. Or find too many awesome people to choose from. You might be creeped out. Or be incredibly surprised. You might meet your soul mate.
"No," I said, "I am the bride."
Why would I be there on behalf of the bride? Is that a common thing? Do friends of the bride traditionally scope out the gowns and then send a quick text? "it's super bride-y in here! come check it out!"
But whatever. An honest mistake. Until I took one of my bridesmaids with me to help me pick a veil. As soon as we walked in the door, the saleswoman turned to my friend and said, "When's your wedding?"
"My wedding," I said, suddenly possessive of it. "Um, I'm the bride."
The florist thought my friend was the bride. The caterer thought another one of my bridesmaids was the bride. The woman who fitted my maid of honor and me with strapless bras for the wedding mistook her for the bride and then asked me sympathetically if I wished my breasts were as big as hers.
"Not really," I said. "Although they're very nice."
The bra was priced at an astoundingly high sum. I said something.
The bra-fitter said, "It's a lot cheaper than the surgery."
Months went by, and not a single vendor correctly identified the bride. I considered for a split second investing in one of those T-shirts with the word "bride" spelled out in plastic rhinestones. But I was a little afraid the DJ would glance uncertainly between my mother and me and finally say, "Wait ... Are you borrowing the bride's shirt?"
I can't explain it. I'm not horribly ugly, I swear. I don't look very much like a man. I don't look too young to be getting married.
My father suggested that I am too assertive. Maybe the bride was supposed to be, well, blushing. Does blushing mean quiet? I am neither. I began to think that I had too many blond bridesmaids. I look very Jewish. Are Jews not getting married these days? Are Jews dying their hair blond before they get married? Clearly, I was missing something.
My bridesmaids wore beautiful evening gowns to my wedding. They each picked a strikingly different style, though the color was consistent. Some were strapless and daring. Some were classically graceful. Some were ruched and edgy. I wanted everyone to feel sexy. I'm weird like that.
Before we started planning our wedding, my fiancé and I watched an episode each of about five bridal shows. In Bridezillas, a woman was threatening her bridesmaids that unless they gained weight fast, they were out. They absolutely had to be heavier than her.
OK, that's just TV. But even real life gets dramatic around weddings. I was supposed to be a friend's bridesmaid and she got angry at me a few weeks before and broke it off. I'd said something that made her think I was judging her weight (of which there was not very much). I was demoted from a bridesmaid to a regular old guest. My mother and I were having a prolonged and passionate fight over the invitations, which were already months late. I was saying I would just draw something and take it to the copy shop. She was saying that if I did that she would no longer consider me her daughter. And there was the matter of a $1,000 platter of cheese that had somehow crept into the section of the budget titled "essentials."
I thought I was handling everything reasonably well. And in fact, I was. I didn't break down. I didn't throw any tantrums. I cried a little, for only an hour or so, locked in the bathroom after an afternoon at Kleinfeld, where the woman who was selecting dresses for me brandished a fat sheaf of Internet printouts in my face and hissed, "This is how a Kleinfeld bride prepares! This is what the last bride brought with her!" She, and probably that well-prepared bride, had been on "Say Yes to the Dress" (which is filmed at Kleinfeld) many times. She had no patience for an unbridal-looking girl who had failed to fantasize in detail, or even a little, about her gown.
I held it together. I stood in the fitting room of another wedding gown factory with my arms up for an eternity, getting the dress I chose pinned while other women in other white dresses were praised effusively for their exquisite beauty.
On the day of my wedding, I thought I looked truly beautiful, reflected in the many mirrors of the little bride cave in the basement of my venue. Who could ever mistake me for anything but a bride? I had a big white dress. I had a long, glittering veil.
I walked up the stairs. I walked down the aisle. Everything was gorgeous and perfect and thrilling. And then it was over, and I never had to be a bride ever again. I forgot about how all my bridesmaids looked more deserving than I did. I forgot about how even my boobs weren't the kind of boobs a real bride would have.
And then, just a few days ago, my videographer sent me the clip of the wedding. You know, that very artistic summary of the event, with some sweet or sassy music playing in the background as you and your new husband grin in slow motion at each other and then lean in for a tender kiss.
In the video, the background music was a song written and performed by my maid of honor, who hates performing. I am a professional singer. I had written and performed a song at the wedding as well. It was a love song for my husband, of course. It did not make the final cut.
The camera skipped from my husband and me, dancing, to my maid of honor, performing the song, and back. There I was, for a split second, my mouth open, and then, quick, back to the maid of honor. In fact, the camera returned to her so many times during the brief segment that it began to look like a music video for her new hit single. I stared in disbelief at the screen. My lovely blond friend, generous bosom bursting out of her daring strapless gown, played and sang on the stage as my wedding revolved happily around her.
The video concluded with my husband and me, seated off to the side, wildly applauding the conclusion of her song. I was cheering and beaming at her, twitching a little with excitement or possibly emerging Tourette's.
"No," I said, to my computer. "No, no, no."
That was it. The very belated final straw. I called my mother, and I had something that sounded a lot like a tantrum. "Doesn't he understand that this is MY wedding?" I was yelling about the videographer. "Isn't there some sort of rule? Doesn't everyone know that you're supposed to focus on the bride?!"
It was embarrassing. It was immature. The videographer was really a likable, talented man who hadn't meant any harm. I was furious in a way I hadn't been throughout the entire process. I was acting exactly the way the producers hope the brides will act on their reality shows about how ridiculous brides are. I was ridiculous.
But, damn it, I was the bride.
And I am demanding a new video. Because, seriously: Enough is enough.
So maybe it's not a classic story, but it's a fantastic one, and Dayna and Robert Baer make it come to life in "The Company We Keep", their new book about life and love in the CIA.
Though this is the first book the couple has written together, Bob Baer 's memoir, "See No Evil", was adapted into the movie "Syriana", which starred George Clooney and Matt Damon. And no wonder-- He's kind of the superspy you might imagine if you tried to imagine a super spy (and I, of course, have tried). Dayna, much newer to the job, is just as ready for action. Flying across the world on a moment's notice? No problem.
Their friends have names like Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Hamad Al Thani and "the Black Prince." Their friends sometimes can't remember whether they spent $10 million on property in Maine or Colorado (what? Those American states all sound the same!). Dayna finds herself taking a princess lingerie shopping, and standing on guard in the hair salon behind a queen, one hand on her Glock.
Yet life in the CIA isn't all romance and international adventure, and the Baers find themselves struggling with some of the same issues that everyone faces when they decide to start a family. The Company We Keep puts a human face on the shadowy silhouette of that almost mythical figure: the international covert operative.
Want to know what it's like being a spy? MyDaily did. And we got to talk all about it with Dayna Baer. She was a lot less mysterious than anticipated. Maybe we should send the CIA an application?
MyDaily.com: So, we're all wondering, how much is being a spy like the movies? I've been watching Nikita way too much. Did you ever do anything like her, or like James Bond?
Dayna Baer: You know, it's so funny because the book really, really well describes the reality of it. There's just some really boring and tedious moments and bureaucracy, and then there's some really exciting fun things. A lot of it is the training. You get trained to death, and then the times that you actually get to use your training are so few and far between. People always ask, did you ever kill anybody? No ... I never killed anybody. But yes, I carried a gun, and sometimes I was really happy that I had that gun on me.
So no incredibly sexy outfits?
I didn't wear a ninja suit and I didn't do any wheel kicking. But you do wear a lot of disguises, and sometimes it's a little like acting.
Did you get to make up your aliases, or characters, or were they assigned to you?
Some of them are made up, because you want to do something that you're really comfortable with. You think, "I'll be like my friend so and so." Or sometimes you use hobbies or things that you're interested in in real life. I had friends who were private pilots, so sometimes when they were working they'd say, "I'm a pilot," and like I said in the book, I'm from LA, so the movie industry's familiar to me, so I often said that I was a location scout. Because it's easy to be anywhere in the world with a camera, and everyone loves movies.
Well, Bob's been a writer for a while, and he's always loved writing. I eventually went to law school, and all lawyers are frustrated writers -- I was really emotionally moved by our adoption, so that sort of spurred it on. I also sort of hoped that just by telling the reality of it, it reflects what it's like, because there are so many people and families who spend their whole lives in the CIA, and there are sacrifices along the way. And it's just a different life. There are lots of rewards but lots of sacrifices. Just because of the culture of the job. You can't say what you do. You can't share what you do. Especially case officers. They spend their lives overseas.
What about your family and friends? Did they know?
Um...no. Not for a long time. Not until a long time after we'd already left the CIA.
So what did you tell people?
My friends thought I worked for an international moving company. Because you have to explain why you're gone all the time. And my parents thought I worked as a civilian for the military.
Someone I was talking to said, "I must have a really whacked out family, because I could keep that secret from them." I think that on some level my parents knew that whatever I did there was some security to it. On some level they just knew not to ask.
What was your job description in the CIA?
I was considered an operations officer. I have a feeling that that title has changed since then. I did support operations, which sounds really nebulous. I did security operations.
What about Bob?
Bob was known as a "case officer". They are actually the ones who go out and handle the people, like the foreign nationals that are doing the spying. They recruit them. If they want some sort of secret documents or something, they'd go out and find someone in a foreign country who could get that document for them.
As an operations officer, a lot of the time I was supporting the case officers. Bob would go some place and stay for two years. working in a country and making contacts, whereas I never went some place for two years, but I was constantly like, 6 weeks here, and then 6 weeks somewhere else.
What was your life like before the CIA? Did you fantasize about the glamorous life of a "international woman of mystery"?
(Laughs)...No. I was in graduate school at UCLA and I was studying social welfare and working with gang kids, and it was all really different from my suburban upbringing. It was at that time that I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to work for the FBI or the CIA?" I saw the recruiting posters on campus. Like any graduate, I applied lots of places, and it just sort of -- all of a sudden the CIA called.
What was that like?
You sort of know they're looking into you. I did an interview in LA and was flown to an interview in DC. It takes over a year because they have to do such a long background investigation. So you sort of know you're in the pipeline. And then one day they just call and say, "Hey, we're ready to hire you." I had a job by that time, I was working as a social worker, and I thought, "Why not?"
So Bob. He sounds kind of like the quintessential superspy. But you say in the book that it wasn't love at first sight. How did you resist?
I just thought he was crazy when I first started working with him. I didn't know what his reputation was, but I realized after working with him for a while that he's so dedicated to what he was doing, and all his not playing by the rules and not playing it safe got him results...
It's also very attractive to have somebody that's so into what they're doing. So after a while I was just like, "Huh ...This guy's pretty interesting."
Can you give our readers a brief overview of where you were and what you were doing when you met Bob?
So we were in Sarajevo and he was managing an operation that was tracking Hizballah, and i was assigned to his operation. It was like, "OK Bob, here's your support." There was a team of us helping him. And the very first time I met him, we were at some restaurant at the river and he was smoking a cigar and hanging out with some locals, speaking the local language. He's a very friendly guy.
It was the end of a war, so there were no hotels. He had found this house that had extra rooms, and I had to move in there temporarily. Everyone asks if we had some sordid affair, but nothing happened between us romantically until we were back in the States. There was just no time for messin' around.
I love the way you put that. Even after you got back to the U.S. and left the CIA, you both ended up in Iraq, with ABC News. What was it like, being in Iraq right before US troops arrived?
Um ... it was scary. We were actually in the Middle East, we were going between Jordan and Syria, with ABC News, just waiting until it was safe enough to actually go. We had been asked to go in and wait out the war with some of Bob's tribal friends, and there were a lot of other journalists doing that.
I guess it didn't seem completely real to me, until the tribal people we were going to stay with -- their house was bombed and all the women and children and men we were going to stay with were killed. It really shook me, because they were people I had met and people Bob had known for years and years. So we did go in, but it was scary. You drive in a convoy. And you just don't know what's going to happen. We got there just as the statue of Saddam came down. We were driving around the country and you'd hear gunfire. But at that point all the news organizations were there. So safety in numbers.
What's life like now, living with your ex-spy husband and beautiful adopted daughter? Do you ever miss the adventure? Do you have any habits that you retained from life in The Company?
I think we do. You're so used to get-up-and-go, to seeing a new place, having some new adventure. So it's hard to stay in one place. We have this run-down cabin in Colorado and this place in Berkeley. Bob stays very involved with political things and still keeps many, many connections overseas. He did a documentary on suicide bombers. And you know, we get our chance to get out--- but now we also have this little three-year-old girl. But that's all completely worth it. This is a different adventure, which I'm sure every parent would say!
She's skis. She skis on her own. And she plays ice-hockey and just goes everywhere with us.
And you always have something to talk about at dinner parties.
It's always a topic of conversation. There's lot of things you can't talk about, though.
Speaking of that, did the CIA have to review and approve this book before publication?
Oh yes. They did. That's their job. We worked with them a lot. To make sure there was nothing that was classified in it.
So what you're saying is that we didn't get the full story ... and we never will.
Yeah ... probably.
We'll just have to wonder.
It's not like we know everything either. It's very compartmentalized. Just because you work there doesn't mean you know all the secrets. It's need to know and you only know the stuff you need to.
Kate Fridkis blogs about body image at Eat the Damn Cake and education at Un-schooled. She lives in Manhattan, but can't seem to ever dress very fashionably. She is also, somewhat randomly, the cantor at a synagogue in central NJ, but not undercover.
And those guys may be right, to an extent. Colleges have infamously lowered admission standards for males, young women in major cities earn over fifteen times more than their male peers, the number of "choice mothers" (single women who choose to have and raise a child on their own) is rapidly rising, and couples who are planning a family report a strong preference for baby girls.
Generation Y, which Hymowitz refers to as "preadults," is poised to take over the world. Or ... make that half of Generation Y. Twenty-something women far outnumber their male counterparts in practically every arena that counts. They may even be better at brushing their teeth. Actually, that's pretty much a given.
So where does all this leave guys?
Sitting around a crowded living room strewn with beer cans, playing Halo 34 with their buddies, obviously. (What? You don't think we'll get to Halo 34?)
In other words, failing to man up. And, strikingly, it may be the first time in history that they've had that luxury.
Kay Hymowitz investigates why. A Wall Street Journal excerpt from the book, titled "Where Have the Good Men Gone?", attracted an enormous number of comments, some of them irate, with many commenters accusing Hymowitz of...um... being mean to men. In her Daily Beast response, Hymowitz explained that she definitely wasn't blaming pre-adult men for being confused. Just look at dating. Young women may be earning more, but they still tend to want the guys to pay. Or maybe they're not exactly sure what they want. He pays on the first date and then we split? He pays on the first two dates and then I offer? We split everything, always? Unless he's annoying. Let's just see how funny and fascinating he is first.
MyDaily couldn't wait to find out what's really going on with 20-somethings. We wanted to learn more about the so-called "child-man" and his world. Because, after all, it's our world, too. And it'd be nice to have some decent guys in it. It turned out there was a lot more to the story:
MyDaily: What inspired you to write this book? Did you expect it to be so controversial?
Kay Hymowitz: I was inspired for three reasons. One, I had three children who were either in their twenties or nearing their twenties, and it seemed that they were confronting a very different culture and economy than I encountered at their age. Two, I was aware that something very new to human experience was happening with women, as in, having women who were more educated, earning more (as single, childless woman are) and by all counts more ambitious than the men who were their peers. Three, I started to wonder about this persona that was so popular in the media; the kinda goofy, schlubby young guy. Who was he appealing to and why was he so prevalent? Why were we getting all these movies with stars like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler?
About the controversial aspect of it -- I think the original excerpt that appeared in the Wall Street Journal gave an impression of the book as more anti-male than it is.
Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy with the publicity, and I don't mind people arguing about it, as long as I can get my two cents in.
OK, so since they're at the heart of your book, what exactly is a "pre-adult"?
Pre-adults are young, educated, single people between the ages of about 21 and 35, approximately. Sociologists have come to the conclusion that we are witnessing a new life stage. Most of them refer to it as "emerging adulthood." I thought that a better term was "preadulthood."
It's a new stage because people are reaching the usual milestones of adulthood later than they have in the past. And those milestones, at least in this culture, are usually considered to be independent living, marriage, and children. So those things are happening late, but there's something else that's different, which is that we have this enormous group of young people living on their own, usually in the city (because that's where the jobs are), and creating their own subculture. People have married later at other points in history, but what's different is that they were not able to live on their own or with roommates, because they didn't have their own money, and so they had very little social presence.
What is a child-man?
So the child-man is the young guy who finds himself in this new era of preadulthood and doesn't quite feel himself a man, and is of course not a child, but is still very attached to many of his adolescent pleasures, and hangs out a lot with his bros. He's the audience for a lot of the new media that have arisen to entertain him. And I'm referring to Maxim magazine, plenty of cable channels, and characters played by Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler.
I see the child-man as representing a continuum of characters. On the one hand you have the most noxious versions, like Tucker Max (lest we forget or try to pretend that he doesn't actually exist -- he's selling a million copies of his book about drinking, hooking up, and his bathroom exploits). And then we have the nerds and geeks who are just not quite comfortable with women, who are still a little boyish in their relations with the opposite sex. And then you get another type, which is kind of passive or listless. The guy who just isn't sure what he's supposed to be doing next. The best representation of that is a fictional charter created by Benjamin Kunkel in the novel "Indecision." I don't believe the character is completely fictional...
So the child-man can take varied forms.
What are some of the major characteristics of this day and age that make it possible for pre-adults to exist?
I see most of the background for preadulthood as lying in the massive economic changes of the last thirty years. I'm not talking about the recession. I'm talking about the arrival of what economists sometimes call the "knowledge economy." That economy requires a lot more education. It's a particularly dynamic economy, meaning people change jobs a lot, they move between cities, and from country to country. It's difficult to have a wife and children when you're moving that much.
In addition, of course, women are also pursuing careers, and their own careers require a lot of moving and education. If in the past a man had to move, let's say, to England, his wife would simply have come along with him. That's not as likely to happen these days.
In what ways are women "better at" the knowledge economy than men?
Y'know, it's not a scientific fact that men's and women's brains are so different. But -- women have been attracted to the sorts of jobs and activities that are well-represented in the knowledge economy. For instance, there was an enormous expansion of careers in communications and media. Women are very highly represented in television production and journalism. There was a huge expansion of jobs in what some people call the "design economy," because the consumer is much pickier now, and has much more choice about everything from handbags to iPod cases to gourmet potato chips. And all of that has to be packaged, branded , and designed. And there's every reason to think that women are at least men's equals in all these fields and possibly even better.
Do you think there's something biological going on here?
I do suspect that there are differences between men and women. I do think that biology is having an impact on the conflicts that I'm describing.
I think one of the reasons that women seem to be maturing faster, or at least are ready to settle down faster, is that they have a biological clock ticking in their ear. And I think that creates a different dynamic in the scheduling. I can't tell you the number of men who have said, "I'm a guy, I can wait until I'm thirty or forty." Women don't have that luxury and it changes their thinking.
Speaking of biology, what's the deal with dating today? You suggest that everyone is confused about what everyone else wants. And guys, especially, are confused by women's mixed signals.
Women want, and I'm sure to a great extent are getting, a gender neutral workplace. They want to be treated as equals. When it comes to dating, however, it's not as clear what equality means. A lot of women, and men for that matter, hang on to fairly traditional expectations about the rituals of dating. Women still want a guy to ask them out on a date. There was a post on The Frisky called "Ask me out on a damn date," which captures the frustration that some women have. On the other hand you've got men saying, "OK, we're supposed to be equals, why am I supposed to pay for the date?" She might be making more. So there are all these "ghosts of manhood past," as I call them, that are flying around these interactions, where there are no scripts and no rules.
The point being that there used to be these obvious rules. And it made things simpler for everyone.
It's not my goal to revive those rules. I'm merely describing what happens when cultural norms evaporate. Most people will figure it out. They're probably going to be attracted to people from similar backgrounds, and they'll share expectations.
But for many people, it's a source of confusion. Especially for men who are less socially agile, the "beta" guys. They don't have a script and they don't have a clue.
You say that child-men aren't necessarily born out of the supposed "crisis of masculinity", in which men feel threatened by women's progress. Instead, they're kind of just opting out. But they're often ironic about it, or at least aware of what's going on. Am I getting that right? That seems a little encouraging, at least.
That's my reading of it. But my reading of the child-man is that he's not saying that "you goddamn women have to behave the way I want you to." It's more, "I don't get what I'm here for." Remember that they have heard from when they were quite young that fathers were nice to have around but really optional. And they grew up observing that.
This is very, very different from the way most young men have grown into adulthood. And I'm talking historically and cross-culturally. Men knew that they had that social role to play.
And here I'm not just being descriptive, I'm being prescriptive: I think we have, as a culture, been too dismissive of the male role in the family.
And what do you think we can do about that?
I don't know that anything can be done. I wanted to start a conversation both about the novelty of this new stage of life and some of the problems that it's causing.
I think for women the issue is, if you do think you're going to want to marry and have children some day, it probably is a good idea to give that thought as much attention in your twenties as your future career. The way I see it, your twenties are a time to be accomplishing two major tasks: One is finishing your education and establishing your career, and two is moving towards finding the person that you want to settle down and raise a family with. So that means you need to take your dating life more seriously.
But if there are no good guys...
I think they're out there. I think they get grabbed up. And there are plenty of good guys who are waiting, simply taking advantage of this new stage of life.
So you think the child-men of today will grow up one day?
Yes. Absolutely. I think most child-men will grow up. And they are growing up. I hear stories all the time of the Maxim-reading-beer-pong-playing-frat-boy who turns out by thirty to be a mensch of a guy. But the danger is this: that guy, if he's waiting until his early thirties to become a mensch, the women who are his age are in a different place than he is. Also, to get back to the biology, it is simply a fact that men have an increasing pool of available women as they get older, and women have a diminishing pool. And that's just math. On average, men are more interested in younger women, but not older women.
Another bit of math affecting preadulthood: 58 percent of our college grads are women, which means a great deal of women are going to have a hard time finding a college-educated spouse. And many women don't want to marry "down." Will they do so in the future? I suspect that a lot of them will decide to simply have children on their own.
So men will continue to feel increasingly left out.
This could be a vicious circle, where an increasing number of college educated women will be having children on their own, which is another way of saying to men, "You really aren't necessary." Which will lead to more bad behavior on the part of men.
That paints a sort of depressing picture of the future...
I think these trends are unfolding slowly. However, a lot of the work I've done has been on the breakdown of the family, particularly among lower-income people. And when doing that work, I've concentrated mostly on the effect of marital breakdown on kids. In this book, I'm also suggesting that this can have a very big effect on men.
Is there a way that this future can be avoided?
One thing we have to do, and this may seem a little abstract, is we have to pay a little more attention to how our boys are doing in school. To have over 50% of the college educated population be women is terrible for men, horrible for women, and bad for society as a whole. So we need to figure out what's turning boys off school and try to equalize those numbers.
I think we also really need to have a more serious discussion of fathers in children's lives. We've wanted to embrace all sorts of families. But we have to think about the message we're sending to men about their role in family life.
I think the sexes are interdependent. We like to tout our independence.
So true. OK, so to finish up: What do you hope your readers will take away from "Manning Up"?
I hope they'll take away an understanding of this very strange new world of the 20-something. I hope the book will start discussions about the role of marriage and childbearing in our lives and how we're going to help the sexes figure out how to negotiate this new period where people are marrying later and having children later.
And can I just clarify one thing. I'm not saying everyone should marry at twenty-one. I'm not arguing for earlier marriage, I'm arguing for earlier mindfulness about it. Which is a little different. Also, people make the mistake of thinking it's either career or marriage. And it's not.
Kate Fridkis blogs about body image at Eat the Damn Cake and education at Un-schooled. She also writes for The Huffington Post. She lives in Manhattan, and having married young, is not a pre-adult. She is also, somewhat randomly, the cantor at a synagogue in central New Jersey.
Why I Secretly Worry About Being a Grown Up