1. A great story coming out of Modern Love this week, from Christie Tate, who talks about her ongoing conflation of relationships with accomplishment and success. After serially dating addicts and abusers, she starts going to a therapy group, and slowly comes to grips with the really vital ingredient: vulnerability. With the help of her group (and her therapist), she met her husband with whom she has a healthy marriage. Except for when her husband beat her at Scrabble. Losing at Scrabble, she soon realized, became an abreaction of sorts, a lens into all her previous ways of looking at love:

I had been trying to succeed at love the same way I’d found success as a student and a lawyer, through sheer effort and perfectionism. At work, vulnerability led to failure, but in love, vulnerability is the only way forward. I got that, but it’s one thing to understand and another to do. I kept going after one inappropriate man after another, never allowing myself to be truly known.

Her therapist, in a move of grace, offers her a game of Scrabble in their next session. The only exception: that they play with their tiles showing. She realizes that this openness to losing/failure was what had healed her in the end.

Therapy was no longer a refuge for my unmet needs and long-buried rage. Now it was where I deepened my capacity to love and attach in all my relationships, especially with my therapist, the first person I let love me in all my messiness. My relationship with him set the stage for every healthy relationship I now had, especially the one with my husband. I had come for the humbling and the learning. I would stay for the love.

When we finished our game, I snapped a picture of the board with my phone.

“You crushed me,” I said.

He smiled. “I believe we crushed you together.”

2. We’re thinking about the kids a lot this time of year, but as you’ve come to know, it’s not as though we ever aren’t thinking about kids a lot. And this is the takeaway from James Astill’s ruminations at his children’s swimming lesson time every week at the local pool: to sit there “is to marvel at American ambition, positivity and derring-do.” And yet, while the swimming lessons are exemplars of our American flair for the exceptional, Astill (an Englishman) is not so sure the tendency carries over into his children’s courses. What Astill points out in the gap between academic grit and swimming glory is the real American darling in the mix: self-esteem. American children, more than children in any other country, have an over-confident sense of agency, which may make American kids more superficially self-sufficient, but on the whole, it is a deception:

The self-esteem movement is drenched in the language of mutual respect; yet encouraging in children an inflated idea of their accomplishments is not respectful at all. It is delusional.

Why, you may ask, does the self-esteem culture not riddle American sports as it does American schools? The answer is that it does, in the form of an all-must-have prizes attitude; but competition mitigates the effect of that. And in my children’s swimming lesson, the most important compe­ti­tion is with the water itself. If their instructors had focused on making them feel good about swimming, instead of on making them swim, they could have drowned.

And while we’re on the subject of parents and children, and expectations and self-esteem, this one from the California Sunday Magazine is worth your time. From the “Teens” issue, it is one mother’s story of what it is like with a teenage daughter in the house, with accompanying comments/corrections from said teenage daughter. In one section, Elizabeth Weil (the mom) describes how proud she is to see her daughter rockclimbing, doing impressive physical feats she would never have the gall (or interest) to try. In the commentary Hannah (the daughter) writes:

My mom is also omitting the part where I was not able to do the final move. It is a weird experience to have your parents praise you for something you believe you failed at. It’s nice to have someone look past the technicalities of whatever you are doing, but it also feels like you aren’t being listened to, or maybe you’re not explaining yourself well.

It’s a winsome read, and though I’m not a parent, it graciously depicts the lost-in-translation moments that happen when parents earnestly want the best for their children, and yet can’t help being children themselves, foisting up their own treasures and secrets to life that they want to be confirmed in the people living closest to them. Sound familiar?!

And one more parent story, though of a completely different (God-given) nature. An amazing story of not just adoption, but grace being the end of the law…:

3. A plethora of tech-phobic thinkpieces to round out your weekend. This one, from Vanity Fair, talks about social media as a modern-day snake oil cure-all, and one that we’ll look back on in a few years and say, like doctors once promoting cigarettes, “What were we thinking?” Writer Nick Bilton seems to be seeing the shift happening already:

One of the problems is that these platforms act, in many ways, like drugs. Facebook, and every other social-media outlet, knows that all too well. Your phone vibrates a dozen times an hour with alerts about likes and comments and retweets and faves. The combined effect is one of just trying to suck you back in, so their numbers look better for their next quarterly earnings report. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s earliest investors and the company’s first president, came right out and said what we all know: the whole intention of Facebook is to act like a drug, by “[giving] you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.” That, Parker said, was by design. These companies are “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya has echoed this, too. “Do I feel guilty?” he asked rhetorically on CNN about the role Facebook is playing in society. “Absolutely I feel guilt.”

Add this one in, too, from our guru Polly, who discusses the “religion of self-hatred” that is all too often officiated by Instagram.

Social media is packed with smart, creative, openhearted people who want more from life than our culture seems prepared to provide. But you have to pay close attention to how social media functions in your life. When you use it as a way to escape your real life and real feelings, obviously it will start to eat you alive. And when something that’s not yours and not 100 percent real slowly starts to feel more real than your actual life, it can evolve into a way of hating yourself and proving to yourself that you’ll never amount to anything. What starts out inspiring turns into a weird ritual of self-hatred.

There’s also this one on techno-moral-panic. And this one, from Science of Us, regarding the same Instagram-makes-me-hate-my-life phenomenon, from a psychological lens.

As it happens, this is probably something many of us feel insecure about. A new study led by Cornell University researcher Sebastian Deri claims that most people believe that other people have richer and more active social lives than they themselves do. This finding contrasts with the general principle by which people are quick to self-flattery: Studies show we typically rate ourselves as smarter, happier, healthier, more moral, and safer drivers than our counterparts. And yet when it comes to our social lives, we’re more likely to believe the grass is having way more fun on the other side.

4. Sufjan Stevens released a new song this week about Tonya Harding and, in doing so, wrote a sort of love letter to her, too, calling her “a true American hero,” someone who “shines bright in the pantheon of American history.” I had no idea that Harding made sex tapes, had a brief career as a boxer, was in a band, raced vintage automobiles, and once revived an 81-year-old woman in a poker bar. What Sufjan captures in his letter (and song) is a woman publicly reviled and ridiculed, who had a traumatic life from the get-go, but who also moved through her suffering with “dignity and grace,” in a King David sort of way. I like the song, too.

5. Funny, funny. This one from the Washington Post: Starbucks’s Christmas Tree Frappuccino tastes like broken promises and Thin Mints. And this one: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (2017 Version). Which begins like this:

WOMAN: (singing; a bit coy) “I really can’t stay…”

Music stops abruptly. Man stands up and begins walking to coat rack.

MAN: OK, I hear what you are saying and fully respect your decision.

WOMAN: (surprised) Oh…

MAN: While there was no intention to initiate any sexual behavior, I understand that even without you saying the word “no” your lack of consent is implied for any possible “chill” following our “Netflix.”

6. Finally, from the folks at Hidden Brain. While we’re certainly in that month where shopping guides and closeout deals are all you see on the internet, what comes with that is the boycott/ ‘buycott’ moral expression of the holiday, a kind of economic activity that may make us feel powerful, but is really just a way to satisfy our own “rightness,” to varying degrees of success.

We might think that we use money mostly to satisfy economic needs, but Paharia has found in her research that we often aim to satisfy psychological ones — whether that means driving a fancy car to show off our social status, or buying coffee at the local shop instead of a chain to express our moral values.

But while we do use money to support causes we believe in, we are often selective about when we express those beliefs — and when we ignore them.

STRAYS:

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