Day 50: Greetings, Earthlings.

Day 50 already? I don’t feel a day over 49.

Today I bring you a different sort of post: it’s a survey, really, one suggested by Dr. F, her idea being that I might use my blog to poll my readers, with the aim of resolving a dispute we had during this morning’s session.

I think you’ll find that it’s a particularly apt poll to be conducting on this St. Valentine’s Eve, Friday the 13th. Unlucky for some.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I want to mention that this is not the first dispute of this nature that I have had with Dr. F. We quite often have these minor conflicts in which I say something that I take to be self-evident and intuitive, which she then treats, on the contrary, as eccentric and peculiar. The effect is sometimes to make me feel as though she is a benevolent alien, one who is curious about the ways of Earthlings but also deeply perplexed by their behavior.

For example, a while ago we had a conversation in which I was telling her how I often turn to other people if I’m feeling depressed. It went something like this (I may have taken a little poetic license at the end).

D-R: Yeah, so I guess I talk to my family or close friends when I’m feeling depressed.

Dr. F: And why do you do that?

D-R: [Caught off-guard by the question] Why? Uh, well, umm, I suppose it just makes me feel better to talk to someone about it?

Dr. F: Does it make you feel better?

D-R: Uhh … yes … usually.

Dr. F: And why do you think that is?

D-R: [Exasperated] I dunno … sometimes it just helps to talk to someone when you’re having a hard time, you know?

Dr. F: [With a puzzled expression on her face] Does it?

D-R: [More exasperated]: You’re making me feel like confiding in my friends is some weird aberrant behavior. I mean, don’t you ever confide in your friends?

Dr. F: What is this “confiding,” you speak of, Earthling?

D-R: Well, it’s to tell someone you trust something, probably something intimate, perhaps something that you’re worried about …

Dr. F: And this “confiding,” is it common among Earthlings?

D-R: Well, I thought it was, but now I’m not so sure … maybe I just took “Bridge Over Troubled Water” too metaphorically [trailing off] …

Sometimes I feel that psychotherapy’s premises invert the principle of Occam’s razor, in that psychotherapy assumes that the simplest explanation (e.g.: I talk to my friends because it gives me comfort to do so) is also the least likely. Instead, psychotherapy employs a principle that I’ll call Freud’s pomade. Instead of opting for the simplest explanation, shorn of all unnecessary postulates, the psychotherapist opts for the luxuriantly ample explanation, the pomade making each tendril glossily visible. So, for example, I actually confide in my friends, the psychotherapist muses, stroking his well-pomaded-beard, because I’m still seething over this argument I had with my father when I was eleven, and confiding in my friends is my way of proving him wrong. I’m not snidely implying here, by the way, that psychotherapy is misguided to assume that the simple explanation is wrong. Occam’s razor has always struck me as a ridiculous principle.

But let me get to the subject of today’s dispute. I made an offhand observation that I did not imagine to be controversial. Dr. F. reacted with shocked surprise.

My offhand remark was that my attractiveness will diminish as I age.

I did not say this with the remotest intention of disparaging myself—or women older than I am—in any way; it was a matter-of-fact statement and I was careful in choosing the word, “attractiveness.” I know countless beautiful women over 40. But by “attractiveness” I did not mean beauty or cleverness or wit; attractiveness is the quality of attracting attention from others. Attractiveness is, by its very definition, other-directed. So, all I meant is that it seems reasonable to assume, given the society we live in, that a person, especially a woman, will become less attractive, especially to men, as she ages.

The youthful, beautiful Dr. F incredulously asked me for evidence that this was true.

Honestly, I didn’t feel that I needed evidence; this was, once again, one of those situations where I felt like she was saying, “so in your world, Earthling, women are valued for their youthfulness?” [1]

But she persisted and in fact she said, why don’t you use your blog to canvas your readers?

I said that I could just do some research on the internet, but she specifically wanted me to find evidence that among my peers and acquaintances this holds true.

Well, I decided to indulge her, but I also couldn’t resist seeing what more general data came up. So, I found this, for example, on Nate Silver’s website

It’s just a bunch of statistics from the dating site OKCupid, but here’s the upshot:

on average, until a woman turns 50, the men she will find most attractive will be around her own age; when she turns 50, she will, on average, begin to find men about 5 years younger most attractive.

Until a man turns 50 (and, presumably, afterwards too) the women he will find most attractive will be 21. The end. Period.

So here’s where Dr. F would chime in and say that just because there is this gulf between heterosexual women and heterosexual men on OKCupid, it doesn’t mean that my community of peers reflects that same trend.

And, she has a point, because my readers belong to a very exclusive (what are there, 26 of you?) demographic, a terribly sophisticated, enlightened, and, yes, feminist demographic, one that cuts across regions and even nations. Tell me if I’m right:

1) You listen to NPR or Radio 4

2) You read The New York Times or The Guardian, probably online

3) You have eaten kale some time in the last week

4) You have heard of Simone de Beauvoir. You may even have read something by her.

5) You have traveled outside the country you were born in

Am I 5 for 5?

The point is that this enlightened group of readers may not reflect the cultural biases of the culture at large. That is, in fact, what I want to discover. My hypothesis is that, on average, if you, dear reader, are a man with a female partner (or a man whose most recent partner was female), then she will be (or will have been) younger than you; and if you are a woman with a male partner (or a woman whose most recent partner was male), then he will be (or will have been) older than you. If you are woman partnered with a woman or a man partnered with a man then the general statistics suggest that the age range between you and your partner will, on average, grow larger as you age (no time travel necessary).

What will this survey prove? Well, obviously it will prove nothing at all scientifically because it’s not a scientific experiment. But I suspect it will persuade me that in my peer-group, heterosexual men more often pair off with women younger than themselves, and that, therefore, it is simply a statement of fact for a woman in that peer group to observe that she becomes less attractive as she ages because, inevitably, the pool of men who will be attracted to her shrinks.

So, will you help Dr F and me to resolve our dispute?

If you’re willing, in the comments section, please write your sex, age, and what you do for a living; and please provide the same information for your partner (whether current or most recent). [2]

For example: 85, female, neuroscientist & 21, male, layabout.

Remember that you can always use a pseudonym if you don’t want your real name to appear on the site. Also: although this site is not completely private, it isn’t generally indexed by search engines. Alternatively, you can just email me. Alternatively, you can completely ignore this request and I will still think that you (yes, you) are the BEST of all my readers.

Feel free to poll others as well as or instead of providing your own details. But don’t lie in order to mess with me! I am genuinely curious and, also, I really want to win my argument with Dr. F.

Oh, and P.S. This is not about me feeling insecure about my appearance! I felt like that when I was a teenager but I think I look PERFECTLY FINE now.


[1] Here, also, I should note that I’m not snidely implying that Dr. F’s baffled-alien posture is misguided. If it’s part of the point of psychotherapy to cultivate an awareness of your most deeply ingrained behavioral patterns, then imagining that you’re explaining them to an alien is quite helpful, actually.

[2] Why do I want to know your profession? Because Dr. F. speculates that academics are anomalous; she essentially thinks that my point of view has been irrevocably distorted by spending my life around other academics. And, let’s face it, she’s probably right about that.


12 thoughts on “Day 50: Greetings, Earthlings.

    • Francine! I knew I could count on you! Also: look at you, Ms Cat who Got the Cream.

      Thus far I’ve had one other submission, by email. The statistics provided were as follows:

      43, male, English prof, and 44, female, artist

      Hmmm. So I think we have to tally the score thus far, based on this email submission, as: Dr: F: 1; Duck-Rabbit: 0.

      I’m not sure how to factor in Francine’s stats except to say, way to go, Francine.

  1. Francine says:

    I had to think hard about what on earth my alleged career is. “Layabout,” as suggested above, seems to apply as well. I personally think women start to look their best in their 40s. Or so I hope. And I think the statistics for same-sex relationships suggest that larger age gaps are more common. Who knows. Cheers from icy Boston!

  2. Paul K. Anonymous says:

    79, male, Emeritus Professor (i.e. I don’t do anything for a living any more–just live like my hero, Squire Western). Trophy wife, 78, is devastatingly attractive retired M.D..
    Urgently recommended reading for Duck-Rabbit: Susan A Clancy, ABDUCTED: HOW ;PEOPLE COME TO BELIEVE THEY WERE KIDNAPPED BY ALIENS (Harvard University Press, 2005). Watch out for those fantasies about Dr. F. You’re either on the brink of a dangerous delusion OR (more likely) in the hands of a real alien from a creepy planet populated by shrinks, and in that case on the brink of a dangerous voyage . . . .

  3. EHA says:

    37, female, english prof; 43 (I think…I had to ask–and now said spouse is all “what are you doing? why won’t you tell me? this is how marriages fall apart!”), male, aquaculture biologist

  4. Claire says:

    Female42, tv producer (feels very much like a LRB would like to meet column at this point) male43 animation director (that’s all, folks!).
    I’m with you – I’m sure within enclosed realms attractiveness won’t go away, and definitely won’t be age defined – many a party where the 80 year old sparkles brightest; but in general, on the street and in the mirror, it will go.

  5. I’m beginning to feel vindicated. On the other hand, I am also realizing this is really a lose-lose situation. That is to say, either I lose the argument with Dr F or my belief that age can and will wither us, dear ladies, will be confirmed, which is not exactly a cause for celebration.

    On a different note: I miss you Claire, Francine and anonymous male English Prof, 43, married to artist! Wouldn’t it be grand if we could pick up some wine and stinky cheese at the Wine and Cheese Flask and sit around a table together like we used to? (Not that I wish myself back in grad school, even if it did mean that I could regain the dewy glow—let’s be honest, more of an oily sheen—of my twenties).

  6. Claire says:

    I saw this yesterday (before I caught up with your blog), and it had caused me to ask myself: what is it infer from my extroverted sharing of emotions and experience? Still haven’t come up with a clear answer but it’s apparent it’s not a tendency universal to all earthlings. Introverts as well as Martians get no succour from sharing, apparently.

  7. Tamsin says:

    F, 41, artist/ early years teacher (presently stay-home-parent, juggler of 3 boys and childish husband); M, 42, First assistant camera-man.

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