Quoted in the NYT Sunday Style Section
In Jan Hoffman’s piece in tomorrow’s New York Times on the Obama’s date night rituals, I’m quoted to put it into sociological context. And as a native New Yorker who reads the Style Section first when the paper arrives, this kind of exciting.
This is a prime example of what sociologists call “individualized marriage” — where personal fulfillment, romance and novelty are the mark of a successful relationship, not just duty to family and social roles. When “love and mutual attraction” are the #1 things we look for in a spouse, you’ve got to find a way to keep that magic alive, or the relationship ends.
The importance of “date night” for long-married couples is increasingly touted as important by relationship experts, and I think it’s terrific that the Obamas are making time for each other. If the First Family is held up as a model of how all American families should act, then the Obamas are playing this perfectly from a relationship-health perspective.
Interestingly, as well: We didn’t really know this much about the relationships of previous presidential couples. We knew about the duty and social roles aspects of the family — Jackie holding hands with her children, JFK with Bobby on his knee — but we didn’t get a lot of glimpses of them out on the town, a deux, and that’s because family was the more central aspect of a successful marriage back then, not the individual couple’s relationship. When the Kennedy’s where in the White House, the mate preference rankings still listed “dependable character” and “emotional stability” as more important than “love and mutual attraction.” Now times have changed.
The Obama’s public date night is indicative of how “open” we all are about our love lives — and how important it is to be seen as still “in love after all these years.” A successful marriage used to be one that produced well-adjusted children and didn’t end in a nasty divorce. Now, a successful marriage has to be both those things, plus still sexually fulfilling, exciting and heart-poundingly romantic 15 or 20 years in. That’s a tall order, and perhaps one that put unrealistic expectations on our fragile bonds, because now, if we DON’T have those extra romantic bells and whistles in our relationships, we’re more likely than ever to wonder if the relationship isn’t working, if he’s not my soulmate, and to end the union to search for that thrill with someone else.
But I think we need to have a balance: Date nights are great. Married couples need alone time and romance. And yes, if the nation might has some romance envy about our glam First Couple, we should all do something about it. Put your heels on, grab a sport coat and go out on the town. Or have a picnic in the park (it doesn’t have to cost a fortune). But don’t assume just because your spouse doesn’t fly you in a private jet to New York City that the romance is gone.
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