Jeannie Gaffigan is a Role Model for Modern Women

The Jim Gaffigan Show debuted on July 15, proving that the public is interested in the daily mishaps of a father of five who hates hot pockets and loves bacon. Despite Jim’s steady rise to popularity in recent years, fans knew little about his wife except that she was a “Shiite Catholic” who could “get pregnant looking at babies.” Until now. The New York Times featured the elusive Jeannie and millions discovered what a quiet powerhouse she is. She wrote, edited, produced, and helped create the Jim Gaffigan Show, down to the “crumbs on the table”—while taking care of their five children in a two-bedroom Manhattan walk-up. As she told the Times, “I didn’t understand that it was going to be 80-plus hours per week for three months, and my kids were going to have to come to the set, and my house was going to have to be like Downton Abbey.” Jeannie’s close involvement with her husband’s popularity stems from her deep background in the arts.

After marriage, Jeannie relinquished her life in theater and became fearlessly dedicated to furthering her husband’s career. She was the writer behind many of his most famous hits: “She channeled her comedic sensibilities into Jim’s voice, helping cultivate his brand as a father, a die-hard food enthusiast, and an all-around genial guy. While Jeannie worked in the background, Jim became the king of the clean comics,” the Times noted. Although she allowed her own career to take a backseat (read: “gave it all up”) for her husband, Jeannie offers modern women a lesson about what it means to have it all.

“Behind every good man is a good woman,” the saying goes. While some might find this flattering, to many modern women, this is an irksome idea, a relic from a past where women lacked opportunities equal to men. Why should the woman be behindthe man? Modern women out-distance men in many areas, graduating from college athigher ratesout-earning men in most jobs, and getting married at a record-high age of 27. Most of my friends in New York City are single and ambitious. We secretly huddle in booths and confess that we are afraid of commitment. We thrive on being independent, pursuing our careers, traveling the world, writing a book or two; after all, we are encouraged to Lean In. Conversely, women who desire to stay at home and raise a family face shame for “taking up space” in elite Ivy League universities or getting an MBA or medical degree. In pursuit of equality, our culture seems to encourage women to pursue complete autonomy instead of acknowledging the value of men and women pooling their resources.

It’s understandable. High-achieving individuals want to make a difference. As Professor Clayton Christensen explained in his 2010 Harvard Business School commencement address:

“When people who have a high need for achievement . . . have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement.”

Every individual wants to feel like they are living a fulfilling life; 90% of millennials want to use their skills for good and over 50% are willing to take a pay cut to enter employment they really care about. No one wants to be insignificant, but the confusion about needing to choose between work or family lies in a misunderstanding of power vs. influence.

Many people think that to have influence, they have to be the public face of something. But often, the face is merely the talking head for the committees, speechwriters, advisors, and hosts of people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to advance the message. As Jeannie Gaffigan said, “I’ve been able to have complete creative fulfillment in this relationship without being the front person.”

If we had a better understanding of the value of all types of roles—including the less-public ones—we would put less pressure on ourselves to conform to society’s expectations. Women would feel the freedom to maximize their unique potential in whatever unique situations in which they find themselves. As Stephen Covey counseled, we should operate within our own “circle of influence” to be the most effective.

This is precisely why Jeannie Gaffigan is a role model and a breath of fresh air for modern women. When asked why she gave up her career, she says, “I’ve also been able to have five kids. . . . [I]f I had said, ‘I need to go my own way,’ I would have taken the resources away and split the resources, instead of pooling the resources. . . . I care more about Jim’s career, his material, more than anyone else in the world except him. We’re on the same team, and we’re going for the same thing.” As Jeannie Gaffigan illustrates, influence can be found anywhere, even at home with the kids.

This article first appears on Acculturated by yours truly. 

Bachelorette Viewers Got 4 Things Right About Sex

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The finale of the 11th season of The Bachelorette is near, following a whirlwind of angst, cringe-worthy make out sessions, and extravagant dates. This week, viewers clutched their popcorn and waited to see what would happen as Canadian Kaitlyn Bristowe narrowed her pool of suitors from three to two during the much-awaited “Fantasy Suite” episode. Historically, the Fantasy Suite episode was infamous as the moment when the couples are finally granted their “off-camera” time to do whatever it takes to seal the deal—which in most viewers minds means, have sex. Monday night’s episode was a little anticlimactic, however, because Kaitlin had already slept with one of the candidates, Nick Viall.

Instead of supporting Bristowe in her search for love, millions of viewers were up in arms for weeks after Kaitlyn got intimate with Nick prior to the Fantasy Suite episode. On a show where just about anything goes, including on-camera stripping, making out with dozens of suitors, and endless emotional drama, why was this such a big deal? Despite the desensitization to hypersexual behavior, millions of viewers evidently still believe a few things about the meaning of sex:

1.) Sex is a distinct type of behavior: Hooking up and promiscuity is commonly justifiable as long as it is mutually consensual. But if everyone believes this, why would millions of people get angry and call Kaitlyn a slut after she slept with Nick? None of the men or the viewers were offended when Kaitlyn made out with multiple men, or went on exotic getaways, or had deep heart-felt conversations with her suitors.

The body is not just a tool for use; it is our true self. When two people have sex, they are intimate in a way few other behaviors allow; they give their whole selves to someone else. When Kaitlin slept with Nick, she gave herself to him completely.

Bachelor Nation wasn’t upset because Kaitlyn eschewed the rules set in place by game show producers. Their reaction revealed that quite a few people still believe that sex is a distinct and presumably meaningful activity compared to other romantic interactions.

2.) Sex is more than a casual activity: The hookup culture is everywhere; 91% of college women say the hookup culture defines their campus experience. While not everyone participates, promiscuity barely raises an eyebrow amongst young adults.

Sex is often considered just another casual activity that two people can do together. Similar to playing tennis, two individuals use their bodies to interact and enjoy each other’s company, almost like a sport. Sexual behavior is commonly described in athletic terms; for example, men call sleeping with someone “scoring.”

But sex is not tennis. Following the hookup with Nick, Kaitlyn—while upfront that sexual intimacy was a “big part” of a relationship and deeply important to her—suddenly experienced regret, saying, “I felt guilt… What did I do? I didn’t mean to hurt anyone…. All of it was bad.” Bachelor Nation mirrored Kaitlyn’s reaction, affirming that millions still believe that sex is more than a casual activity.

3.) Sex has a deeper meaning: Sexual behavior is commonly trivialized. In the hookup rulebook, one should “expect nothing more.” It shouldn’t mean anything, but to the millions of viewers—including the men Kaitlyn is dating—it does.

Following Kaitlyn’s hook up with Nick, however, the other guys struggle to trust her. Shawn B feels betrayed and questions whether Kaitlyn is trustworthy; she tells him, “You have to trust me and I don’t think you do.” The men are accustomed to having her disappear on getaways with other guys. Why would Shawn, for example, or any of the Bachelorette viewers bat an eye if she sleeps with someone, too? Why would Kaitlyn tell Shawn B she “went too far” with Nick, unless sex meant something more? Shawn’s jealousy and the viewers concern was rooted in a belief that having sex with someone else takes the relationship to another, deeper level.

4.) Sex belongs within a certain context: Pop culture often promotes no-strings-attached sex. Conversely, major world religions—and even the rare modern celebrityoften argue that sex belongs within the context of marriage; such views are often dismissed as “old-fashioned” or “out of touch” or “too obsessed with rules.” So why did modern Bachelorette viewers pause when Kaitlyn had sex with whomever she wanted to?

Because Bachelor Nation viewers still intuitively believe that certain rules exist for sexual behavior, among those that there is a right time and place for sex (even if it is the producers of a reality TV show who are setting the rules).

Why did Bachelor Nation make such a big deal out of Kaitlyn and Nick’s having sex before they reached the Fantasy Suite? Because it was a big deal. And that shatters the fantasy that no-strings-attached sex is the only thing viewers of pop culture are looking for.

This article first appeared on Acculturated by yours truly. 

It's Time to Change the Conversation About Giving It All Up "For a Man"

Moving for a man? Feminist

"I always vowed I would never move anywhere 'for a man,'" Ashley, a 28-year-old New Yorker, said. "Yet, here I am taking two months to move to Virginia to be closer to my boyfriend."

In an age when women are encouraged to "lean in" with all of our might, the idea of putting careers or vibrant lifestyles on hold and moving for a romantic partner seems like a relic of the past. Women today are outpacing men in college enrollment, out-earning men at work and marrying at the record-late age of 27

With that independence should come the ability to make whatever life choices we want. But a modern woman can get the creeping feeling that making concessions for love — especially ones that involve leaving a job and changing zip codes — is one choice that runs counter to her proud, independent feminist beliefs. 

But guilt or judgment over choosing "love" or "a man" may miss the point. As women like Sheryl Sandberg prove, prioritizing love and relationships is actually one of the most empowering decisions any woman — even the most career-driven among us — can make.

Booking a guilty trip: After two and a half years of long-distance dating with a military man stationed in Virginia, Ashley knew that in order for her relationship to last, she was going to have to take the next step. He had another four years left in his service; for things to work, she'd have to move.

But, as the founder and CEO of her own communications company, Ashley is as ambitious as they come, and moving required giving up the high-energy professional environment she thrives in. Running through a nervous checklist in her mind, Ashley wondered, "If I give up something for another person, am I being weak?"

"I debated for months about whether or not the move was right for me," she said. "I sought counsel from business advisers and other similar women entrepreneurs who had moved for their significant others — turns out, there are more than I thought."

Slate tackled the guilty internal debate had by such women in a series called Best Laid Plans. "Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren't achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts," the site wrote in the series introduction, one explanation being "husbands' careers taking precedence." 

"When Michel went on the job market, we had been together for a year. I made a big deal out of feeling like I couldn't move somewhere with him ... I felt like I was too old to say I moved somewhere for my boyfriend," one woman named Leah told Slate. "I worry that [following him to D.C., where they now live] is anti-feminist, but I think about how I'm glad." 

That worry reflects a human reality, and not just a female one: We are, as Bad Feminist writer Roxane Gay called it, a "mess of contradictions." For women, that mess includes wanting to be independent while also wanting to be taken care of, or wanting a growing career while also wanting love and family. Submitting to the latter needs, Gaysays, can make one feel like a "bad feminist."

But, as she writes in her book by the same title, submitting to the "bad" choice is human — and in fact, sometimes it's not only the happiest choice, but the smartest one. As author Ayelet Waldman argued in her 2005 New York Times essaybeing a "bad mother" by loving her husband more than her kids was in fact the best thing for the family: It makes her a happy, fulfilled human who needn't pin all her desires and passions on her children, which only made her a better mother.

Prioritizing the "bad" choice over the "good" one was the best decision she could make for both.

Giving up to gain something more: Jennifer*, 25 and a lifelong New Yorker, faced the dilemma when she found out her long-term boyfriend was accepted to Yale Law School. "We had a series of very real conversations about what kind of life we wanted to have, if it included each other, and the sacrifices we were willing to make for each other," Jennifer said. The pair got engaged and Jennifer pivoted her career plans, joining her now-husband in New Haven, Connecticut.

"Some of my friends think I made a very traditional decision to follow my husband to school," she said. "However, I would argue it takes a bold, powerful, strong woman with a sense of self to take the risk of moving to a new place where her partner would be busy studying and in school all the time." Next year, she'll follow him to New Orleans, where he landed a clerkship for a federal judge.

Melinda*, 27, had a similar challenge when her boyfriend's job transferred him from the east coast to San Diego. Her friends warned her of making the jump on his terms and "not relying on the boyfriend emotionally," she toldMic. But the truth was, she was excited at the prospect of living in California. Ultimately, she said, the decision was for herself and her own happiness — not his. 

As for Ashley? "I gave up my dream apartment in the swanky East Village with my best friends, my fast-paced lifestyle and packed social calendar, and limitless opportunities for ordering Thai food from Seamless," she said. Being the best ambitious, determined and fulfilled professional she can be ultimately relies on a strong foundation of personal satisfaction and support. 

More importantly, she said, the career will eventually fade and what really matters will come to the fore.

"As I imagined looking back over my life," said, "I knew that my relationships would be the most meaningful." 

There's nothing anti-feminist about that.

* Name has been changed to allow subject to speak freely on private matters.

(I was interviewed for this article on Mic.

Fall in Love With A Real Person, Not an Idea

I was in high school and everyone was doing it. That is, making a list of the qualities our Mr. Right must possess. Forget the clichés–these lists went beyond merely tall, dark, and handsome to include minute details: adventurous yet patient, ambitious yet family man, chiseled like a Grecian god with, of course, the heart of a lion. After a painstaking hour of scribbling, I held up my full sheet and thought to myself, “He’ll have to be a deity.”

This was years before Lori Gottlieb conceived “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”. At my first glance at this book, I could feel my skin crawl as though someone were scratching their nails on a chalkboard. Settle? But what about my education, my dreams, my full passport, and big life plans? Wasn’t I supposed to find someone to match or better me, to keep my standards high?

Settling is a word that implies lack, as if suddenly I would be hooking myself to the ol’ ball and chain – a bleak prospect. Furthermore, settling has often resulted in unhappy and damaging relationships. And by the way, doesn’t everyone yearn for a love that draws us out of ourselves into a grand adventure?

Still, while settling might not be the answer, neither is the list of qualities.

The list reveals something telling – women often fall in love with an idea and not with a concrete person in reality. In this interview, Ms. Gottlieb explains her reasoning behind advocating that women “settle.” According to her, women sabotage their own happiness when their expectations extend beyond reality. For example, she shares that women are more likely to magnify trivial details (such as an odd Austin Powers impersonation) and overlook important issues (such as shared values) when evaluating a potential long-term romantic partner. In a survey, she asked whether women would be happy in love if their mate possessed 80 percent of their ideal qualities. Ninety-three percent of women replied in the negative.

Furthermore, when asked about what could be some reasons behind why a woman wouldn’t go on a second date with a prospect, women listed upwards of 300 various items that would hold them back. The “red flags” in question were often small concerns, such as “he wore a brown belt with black shoes and had funky style.”

And we women complain about the “lack of good guys” and “no dating.”

A recent Pew study observes that in 2010 only 44% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married. If marriage is something we truly desire, perhaps Ms. Gottlieb is on to something: it’s time for an attitude shift. Authentic love isn’t the result of a checklist about the precise specifications of our date’s fashion sense. Maybe it’s time to stop intellectualizing our idea of Mr. Right and look at Mr. Right Here with a more realistic eye.

Let’s take a minute to give some honest thought―what are those qualities that make for relationship satisfaction within a long-term relationship or marriage?

This article was written by me and first appeared at Verily Magazine.

 

 

Online Dating: Just an Endless Merry-Go-Round?

On a shuttle headed to the airport, I met a kindred spirit. She was an intelligent, successful former-pageant-model-turned-spokesperson forMiss America. Naturally, the conversation drifted to our love lives. She told the tale of meeting an attractive prospect through Match.com and dating him for a few months. He met her family, accompanied her to church, and the future looked bright. Until: “I’m just not ready for commitment,” said he. As quickly as he had arrived, he vanished into the fog of former faces that she had dated. “I just don’t understand why he was on a dating website, then! Wasn’t that the whole point?!” She wanted long-term commitment; he didn’t.

People everywhere are logging into an online world in search of that “it” factor. But the rise of online dating in recent years has altered the landscape of romantic relationships. According to the 2011 study, “How Has Internet Dating Changed Society?”, low quality marriages are being destroyed and the bar is raised when defining a good relationship, but people have become more disposable. While the results are clearly a mixed bag, it’s important to understand how virtual relationships alter the climate of commitment so that we can still achieve our hopes for love.

In the recent Atlantic article, “A Million First Dates,” Dan Slater takes a candid look at how online dating provides a wider access of meeting people, creating a perception of abundance. In the face of a litany of new prospects, dating becomes a numbers game-the “mass mailer approach” to love. When click after click provides access to a world of romantic possibility, young adults experience the “FOMO” syndrome, or “fear of missing out.” One can almost hear Bono singing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Slater questions: What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

Sure, it can be easy to be allured by the prospect of “what-if”; if you’re not looking for looking for another lap around the track, try these tweaks to help you focus.

Firstly, as my friend learned, it’s important to clearly state your expectations when evaluating a potential relationship. If your Mr. Perfect is looking for holiday arm candy and you’re hoping for a year-round commitment, find this out sooner rather than later.

Secondly, if you have found someone interesting, consider deactivating your online profile. Nothing is so distracting as getting notifications on your phone while heading home from a great date stating that “Ben26457” sends you a wink.

Thirdly, speaking of phones, am I the only one who doesn’t like them out during a date? I’ve seen phones resting on the table too many times to count. It sends the message that “I’m here with you, until things get boring and then I’ll be elsewhere.” Dan Slater describes one gentlemen who fielded texts from prospects throughout a dinner date. Put yours away and be present. The simple act of courtesy speaks volumes.

Finally, with the ease of meeting people online, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that one should have a gut feeling instantly whether this is “it.” And while sometimes this happens, don’t underestimate the value of a second look, or fail to remember that compatibility is something that is created together.

With so many prospects, does online dating make it more difficult to fall in love? Maybe. While online dating can be a helpful tool to start an interaction, take care to navigate the waters thoughtfully when getting to know a real live person. Behind the smiling face and pleasantries, the favorite movie and elite hobby, there’s another beating heart searching for that same “it” factor.

This article was written by me and first appeared at Verily Magazine. 

How Disney Sabotaged Our Love Lives

It has been a been a roller coaster month of romantic headlines, from conscious uncoupling to Dancing With the Stars' crowd-favorite, "Disney Night." Watching the night of dancing princesses vaguely reminded us of our childhood hopes for a romantic fairytale ending with a perfect other half. Yet, facing the contrast between young dreams and the reality of another broken marriage was a harsh wake-up call. Let's face it; navigating the path to romance often ends in hotel heartbreak. Why might this be?

As millennial women, we were groomed for a white knight fantasy. From childhood favorites such as Snow White to adult rom-com staples such as How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days or Sleepless in Seattle, the media perpetuates a romantic storyline in which compatibility and lasting romance is something effortless, built on chance, sustained by good looks, fun dates and electric sexual chemistry. These story lines shape our expectations for romantic happiness. It is not enough to find someone with whom we are mostly compatible, who would make a good parent, with whom we could learn and grow wrinkly; now, we expect a perfect fit and an easy, instantaneous "connection." In short, we want a soul mate. But it is this desire for a soul mate that is actually the undoing of our happy ending.

A "soul mate" is defined as one who is ideally suited to usperfectly completes us, one with whom the relationship feels easy and natural. With them, a relationship is just "meant to be," à la . A survey of young adults conducted by the National Marriage Project found that while 84% of young adults report finding a marriage partner "very important," a full 94% of young adults say they would like to marry a soul mate, and 73% of people ages 18 - 29 believe that there is a soul mate out there for them.

Would it be a fairytale to find someone who could complete us, with whom we will waltz off into the sunset? For many millennials, the answer is yes, especially in the face of rising divorce rates and dramatic transformation in the marriage and romantic landscape.

In recent years, marriage has shifted away from its historical role as a civic institution bonding parents to children to now being commonly understood as an institution nurturing emotional satisfaction, attraction and sexual chemistry between individuals. These differing values alter the timeline and selection of a long-term mate. A 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the average age of first marriage has reached historic heights, hovering at around 27 for women and 29 for men, reaching into the mid-thirties for many adults in big cities. That delay is not because our generation is afraid of marriage, but rather, that we are terrified of divorce. So we postpone marriage, trying to secure "forever" by testing out the "temporary." Cohabitation is thriving, with over 7.5 million unmarried couples living together, up from about 450,000 in 1960. A full two-thirds of 20-somethings agree that this is a good way to avoid divorce.

We heard that those who get married later and possess a college degree have fewer divorces and more stable marriages. So we spend our twenties trying to find ourselves through travel, accumulating degrees and building a career. Marriage will be the capstone of our achievements, and nothing less than tying the knot with a soul mate will suffice. But the tragic irony is that soul mate thinking makes us increasingly likely to divorce. A study of 1,400 married men and women shows that people who hold soul mate orientations are 150% more likely to end up divorced than those who do not.

The widespread cultural belief in "soul mate ideology" undermines our chances at happiness because it makes us passive receivers of idyllic romantic expectations. Further, it fosters self-centeredness; one rarely longs to be a soul mate for someoneelse, which would require effort. For this reason, believing in soul mates is one of the most dis-empowering belief systems we can adopt. As millennials, we pride ourselves on actively pursuing the life we want to live, rather than simply accepting whatever hand we are dealt. We are innovative, passionate, proactive and not afraid to take risks. Yet, there is a disconnect when it comes to our desire for lasting love. Though there are prospects around us, we forgo taking the concrete steps needed to build happy compatible relationships because we do not "feel a spark." We are passively waiting on the sidelines for love to "happen," and then wonder why it is so difficult.

Compatibility is something co-created through intentionality and conscious choice. It involves mutual sacrifice, effort and commitment for the sake of the other's benefit. A recent study found that of the couples who demonstrate above average daily generosity, 50% of them report being "very happy" in marriage; among the low generosity scores, only 14% can say the same. As studies indicate, selflessness is required to create mutual compatibility. It is not instantaneous, nor does it usually begin with true love's kiss.

We both know from experience that there are some you naturally connect with and others you do not. This is not a call towards forced attraction or companionship. But, our romantic futures should not be placed in the hands of blind chance. It is time we roll up our sleeves and shift our expectations from unattainable perfection to realistic romance, one that accounts for imperfection. We must understand that work in a relationship is a necessary key to success, rather than an indication of imminent failure. We will be letting go of a tired plot line that sets us up for disappointment and embracing an active role in our own unique story.

How refreshing to know that we do not have to be perfect to be lovable, and that our romantic success is not solely dependent on finding the "right" fit, but instead built through cultivating daily moments of generosity, sacrifice and conscious coupling.

This article was co-authored with Joanna Hyatt and first appeared on the Huffington Post