We are at a party in a charming old house with hidden staircases and secret rooms everywhere, and even though we do not know each other that well the conversation is flowing at a level far past small talk. In-between the food and the dancing he tells me something which surprises me, even though it shouldn´t:
“I have, an uncomforting amount of times, experienced that when a woman is about to come it´s like as if she restrains herself and then ends up not coming at all.”
When his comments actually shouldn´t have surprised me, it is because women in our culture aren´t raised with the notion that being horny is okay, natural, freeing, acceptable etc. So, to avoid being a non-woman, some women hold back in such situations. On the other hand, it is completely expectable for a man to be horny. It is actually so expectable that if he does not react with an boner as soon as breasts are in his presence, he is not a real man. One can even risk demasculinizing a man by saying to him that he is sweet. Because a real man is cool, strong, funny, smart, but not sweet, and if he is sweet, he will be considered friend-material - which naturally is less than true. Being sweet is actually just being kind, thoughtful and caring, and that has never made a man unattractive. On the contrary.
The assumptions are not only wrong; they are also limiting for both sexes and thereby also our society. Sadly, there is an infinite amount of such assumptions, which again and again are the reason why we miss out on original contribution to our shared creativity and innovation, because people either tend to constrain themselves or allow them to be constrained by others. Craftsmen are practical but stupid. Academics are snobs and do not know a screw from a hammer. Teenagers are hysterical and egocentric. Elderly are week and angry. Brown people are gang members. Women who uses a headscarf are supressed. Continue the list yourself.
Categorisation is practical. It helps us make fast decisions. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman has shown that we, as humans, use two systems when thinking. System 1 is based on intuition, while system 2 is based on analysis. System 1 is effective because it helps us make fast decisions based on experience and knowledge, which again leads to categorisation of the world around us. And yes, it may be effective when it comes to decision and navigation strategies but again and again it has also shown to be quite fallible.
People are not machines, who always react and responds to what they are programmed to be. Our species development is based on the fact that there has always been some who rebelled against the categories and therefor created new ways to react and find their place in the world. Paradoxically, this is what later on becomes the new categories, which others want to become part of and in that way ends up being its own antitheses.
Currently, we live in a time where we need loads of creativity and innovation if we are to manage the situation, we for made ourselves. And at the same time, we have never before been so interdependent of each other globally. The corona virus is a perfect example. But the world is burning on many other areas too. To mention some: The necessity for the Black Lives Matter movement, #MeToo and the risk that Trump will be re-elected. EU´s global influence and The United Kingdom’s exit. The Chinese citizen and nation surveillance. Russia's cybertroll factories and North Korea's possible nuclear weapons.
So, there is plenty of serious and scary matters, which we most certainly should attend to, and we do. But when the chock effect wears of, and it becomes part of our daily life, they become subordinate to us and the people who talks in a quiet zone, dogshit in our backyard, noisy co-workers and MAMILS (Middle Aged Men In Lycra), who whiz past us on the road, catches our attention and gives us palpitations and a desire to release all of our aggressions.
We experience the categories we are put in every day. The problem with that is that the categories tend to exclude us and inhibit our development as a community and as a species. That is why we, as individuals, should maintain a critical view on the categories we meet in our everyday life. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to take action on the matter this year, which we already have done to some extend by sing-along sessions on the patios, shopping for strangers, adjusting learning methods and traveling within own boarders.
The first half of 2020 came with a crisis of which none of us can predict the outcome. And now, when we are back from our summer holiday, which for many of us has been outside the normal category, we can use the training from the first half of the year to make the second half a strength.
By thinking across categories one can create new terms which can help us create a new world. A world where women may also be horny, and men may also be sweet.
Published in Jyllandsposten 10.08.2020
By Emilia van Hauen
Women have been controlled by their beauty, sexuality and sociality in thousands of years. This has naturally limited their self-perspective, relations and their contribution to society. #MeToo showed that all three things were more about power than lust and love.
In 2019 all women should form unit in a new movement: The Unruly Women’s Club, which would be an advantage for the whole society.
“What do you think about a boy who kisses a lot of girls?”
The girl is in 7th grade and I asked her the question because she asked what sociology was. She looked down shyly and mumbled that she doesn’t know.
“What do you then think about a girl who kisses a lot of boys?"
“That’s not good!” She answered quickly.
“See, that can be answered by a sociologist,” I replied, “because why is there a difference in whether or not it is okay for a boy and a girl to do the exact same thing?” The light behind her confused eyes was blinking. “Do you think that is fair?” I asked. She shook her head. Bingo! I might have recruited a future member to The Unruly Women’s Club, so that she in the future can be spared of feeling wrong, shame or a lack of worthiness, which unfortunately follows a lot of young women.
The phenomenon unruly women were spoken of for the first time when women wore bell hats and danced Charleston. It happened due to the first wave of feminism and allowed a woman to be sexually free, intelligent, and on some occasions, self-sufficient. Which is why she at that time was provocative on nearly all parameters where women otherwise were controlled.
But when a 12-year-old girl says that the same behaviour by a boy and a girl is to be looked at differently and to the disadvantage for the girl, how unruly are women actually today 100 years later?
Not enough apparently. Otherwise a movement such as #MeToo wouldn’t have become as big as it did in just one year. On far too many areas women still haven’t taken control over their own sexuality, beauty and sociality, and as long as women are controlled by restrictive and outdated norms about how women should behave, express themselves and be perceived, and what they must strive for and contribute with, society misses out on a great deal of creativity and sociality. This could innovate us all into a new age which is both environmental and socially sustainable. This is essential because the human species grows at an explosive speed.
And yes, I am starting with the little girl in 7th grade, who apparently has learned that girls aren’t allowed to (want to) kiss a lot of boys.
Sexuality is our vitality and creativity
Women’s sexuality has always been subject for social control, because it basically is about having power over the next generation, which in wider terms equals power over society. But people’s sexuality is a lot more than just sex! Any psychologist and sociologist will tell you, that it actually is bound to our vitality and creative energy. Basically, it is about our ability to be original, brave, untamed in our creativity, sensual and in contact with a greater force that transcends our prosaic life - which artists are the best examples of. If we are to experience both a high quality of life and contribute in the best possible way to the community, it is crucial that we have a free and unlimited access to our sexuality/vitality/creativity. The less stung, the more creativity and originality to solve the problems of the world together. So, unruly women, do not just do it for themselves; they do it for the sake of the world. And then they should also own their lust for the sake of their own entertainment and pleasure.
But this is not enough.
Beauty is visibility
Because women should also be more unruly when it comes to beauty. When Angela Merkel appeared in a low-cut dress for the opening of the Oslo Opera her abilities as chancellor were questioned. Since, she has mostly been wearing squared suits and looks like a palet of pantone colours. Once again, the perspective is wider than just looks. When a woman does not let herself shine in a free presentation of herself, but accepts to be limited in her attempts to express herself because she tries to live up to some stiff ideals about how a woman should present herself to be socially acceptable, she does not only limit her personality and assumes a shame that is unnecessary. She limits her own visibility. Today visibility is a direct mean to influence and power, which the “influencers” on social media is a clear proof of. When our visibility is frowned upon, we do not only loose the possibility to take our place in society but also our credibility and thus power. So more unruliness here, please.
But this is still not enough.
Women are not just the biological reproductive gender; we are also the social reproductive gender. This can be seen in an extreme form when a mother kills her daughter to maintain the honour of the family and a certain social order in the society. Women are often expected to be more responsible for the social environment than men are in the communities they are in. Likewise, are the expectations towards how selfish a woman is allowed to be much narrower when she chases her own goals instead of nurturing her relations. Many women choose to adopt this constraining expectation of own worth and thereby limit their own needs instead of expecting an equal distribution of social responsibility. So here, too, there is a need for both more equality and unruliness.
Unruly women create a stronger and better society because they simply contribute more. At the same time, they give themselves a mandate to live more true to their own needs and abilities and through that, create a better and funnier life for themselves. #MeToo gave us a consciousness about the lack of female unruliness. The Unruly Women’s Club is the next step in a movement, where both sexes are truly free to contribute to a common, well-functioning, and innovative society that includes all kinds of diversity and humanity.
Published in Jyllandsposten 30.12.18
By Emilia van Hauen
Suddenly, she’s standing there – in my office. Tall. Blond. Leather pants. With an insistent, inciting energy. And many laughs, the one after the other, while we quickly establish a wavelength. As if we were continuing a conversation we had not previously begun.
She’s come along to pick up one of my books that cannot be purchased any longer. However, I’ve got a few copies laying around, and this becomes the starting point of a journey into each other’s worlds. We share an interest in the ‘us’, in the ‘we’, in the others plus myself. Relationsare what we are both standing upon. What we are both standing in. And soon, we’ve come to create a connection that establishes a bridge between sociology’s many narratives and Mille Kalsmose’s wild world of expressions, and impressions, which inevitably penetrate their way into the viewer. The participant. The other person.
When I visit her in her home, a few days later, what comes to light is how Mille is able to create works that construct the statistics related to our modern imbalances and discontinuity into forms which, in feathers and in colors and in other forms of materiality, simultaneously reflect the frustrations and the longings for coherence that are seated in our flesh and in our minds but have not yet been put into words. And also how she, in an utterly un-Scandinavian way, is a veritable well of universal sensuousness that slides its way in under all our rational reservations and fills us up with subtle liveliness.
I’m thrilled. And we keep in touch. In the one moment, she’s in New York City. In the next, she’s in Hong Kong. In the third, she’s in a third spot. But we keep in touch.
In the West, we’ve never been more pressured. Inside. Insane quantities of stress, anxiety, depression, suicide, insomnia and loneliness mirror the machine-logic of effectiveness and binary measurability that have been allowed to dominate human ambitions for much too long. And that have alienated us in our relation to the world. In our relation to ourselves. The absence of ontological security, the absence of certainty in our own being, which our relations and our contributions ought to be providing us with as a matter of course, have become elusive factors. And we’re suffering. And there’s longing …
… for sensing ourselves as a part of a larger context. A stable larger context. A meaningful stable and larger context. Once upon a time, we were eminently qualified members of the deeply rooted communities into which we were born, and where the hierarchies, the rules and status were givens, from the moment of our birth. This provided tranquility, common strength and social and creative limitations. Today, however, we’re floating around in free neo-tribal communities with rules that we’ve got to adopt ourselves, tasks that we’ve got to create ourselves, and we’re being borne forth by a common faith in each other. It’s beautiful. Marvelous. Creatively exploding. But also very very vulnerable and volatile.
The next time I visit Mille, she has wonderfully set this into form in her artwork.
We’re sipping tea. Sitting in the kitchen. Laughing. That’s something you do a lot with Mille. And suddenly she tugs at me, beckoning me up, and wants to show me the first traces of a new piece that she’s busy developing.
From the second that my gaze opens up to behold the art work, I’m lost. In love. Enchanted. This precursor to the work, Collected Minds,speaks in every way to the woman, the author, the mother, the sociologist, the daughter, the priestess and the witch in me. In front of me, a frame. A sharp metal frame. Hard, square-shaped, clean, quadratic, and standing. Resting in itself. With a golden softness that mirrors the light and the dreams, while it bears a fleeting crispness in the leaf-weight pieces of paper that have found their homes in each their own quadrants. An altogether particular number of families in the safe society, which the frame bears for them. The perfect amalgamation of the feminine and the masculine. A sacred wedding of archetypes which is telling, in a perfectly balanced way, about both the limitation and freedom with which we human beings today populate our lives.
It is as if the stories, the longings and the dreams were flying off from the pieces of paper and the metal, and are kissing me tenderly on my forehead, like a soft breeze of humanity in all nuances. And I reach out – and forward – and want to feel the paper, want to touch the brass, and I know that works of art are only finished and ready when we humans have touched them with our souls. But already now, it is more alive than many of the people who may one day come to place their lives inside this construction of community and relationships.
If I could, I would have this work inside my home. And every day, fill out a leaf with stories about the people I meet. Oh, I would also place my own stories about love and betrayal, about successes and failures, about relationships won and lost, inside them, and my diary about our existential conditions would take on a materiality that could touch, palpably touch, those who were reaching out in order to feel Paper&Metal in perfect harmony.
But I cannot have this work standing in my home. So, instead, it has moved into my consciousness. It has become a part of my soul cloud, which I visit when I am seeking refuge from the prose-like character and absurdity of everyday life. Because here, there is a human chaotic order in life’s unruliness and this gives space and tranquility at one and the same time.
Mille has spoken. About the glaring lack of relationships in her upbringing. And about her attempts to create the same kind of metal frame around her relational affinity by setting up rituals. She has a need for this symbolic reality-creation, which can bring about calm and a sense of domesticity inside her. But this is something the modern human being possesses. Because we are living in a community of popcorn brains and acid hearts. This highly praised individuality is being articulated, celebrated and worshipped. But instead of liberating them – that is to say, us – it is turning people into single-flying pieces of paper that wither away into nothingness.
Collected Minds captures these pieces of paper, giving them a home and a tribe, and the heart is soothed and the mind gets calmed, and in this way an antidote to the modern society’s homelessness is created. Over time, the work will come to be an archive of the Universe’s souls, woven together into a common DNA-strand of eternal life.
If we want, this can become the domicile of the modern ritual, which weaves all our stories together into a common tale about humanity and accordingly becomes a library of brother-sisterhood. A portal opening into the greatest longings, the largest rendition of this incarnation, and perhaps into the next incarnation, so that the art work is not only of this world, but also spans across timelessness. Because we humans are, first and foremost, relations. Without the others, we are nobody, and our energy will disappear forever, out into the darkness. But here it gets inlaid with love, inside the crisp pages, and preserved forever by the golden steel. For relations are the first that we meet and the last that we leave. And this is something Mille understands.
She also understands that aesthetics is not merely about superficial beauty. It would be so superficial to believe this. The modern person believes all too much in rationality and forgets that it is our sense faculties that assess whether something is healthy, is good for us – or not. That’s how it’s been since we got hearts that beat. For this has always been a survival strategy for humanity: both to express oneself in such a way but also, and to an even greater degree, to orient ourselves around aesthetics. As it do make us wiser, sharper, change our emotions, fortify our senses – and even our immune systems, and it can create a bridge between people. And more than that, it can quite simply bring forth communities that share behavior and history. And that transcend any language, any thought, any tribe, because we share our sense faculties before we share anything else, and this serves to make us alike.
Aesthetics is constituted by stories about people. And that’s precisely what Mille is creating every single day. While she is simultaneously creating the future. For she is putting form on that which zeitgeist has just been breathing down our necks – and if we open our eyes, if we open our senses, we can hearwhat the works are telling us about who we are on our way to becoming …
translated by Dan A. Marmorstein
Sociologist Emilia Van Hauen (whom I also work with), says it brilliantly when she says that; “Neo-Tribal Networks build on trust to the project rather than survival as we have navigated and structured our relations around for decades.” With bound communities build around hierarchies, fixed sets of rules and commandments were very practical if you had to survive as a bigger group. These structures were at the same time limitations to how much the individual or a society could develop. “For the very same reason the bound communities are also very excluding: if you do not fit in and do not do as you are expected to, you will not be granted permission to come in. And if you rebel against what are already a part of, you risk punishment or exclusion,” says Van Hauen. She mentions the military as an example of modern-day, highly functioning bound community “where there are clear commandoes and an obvious hierarchy, that simultaneously upholds fixed rules for who is supposed to do what and at what times”.
This is cited in an article with the brilliant artist Mille Kalsmose, who is internationally acknowledged. It is part of an interview in the art review journal Artland - and you can read the whole interview here where she tells her fascinating story. Know her works better here
A summer holiday with daily tours on a nudist beach gave me some thoughts about nakedness and life quality.
Illustration: Rasmus Sand Høyer
When I was young, I once had a boyfriend who was very upset by the size of his ... equipment. Yes, sorry, hope you didn’t get something wrong in the throat, but just a moment and you'll understand why I started the article in this way. For it was in fact an unusually beautiful model not belonging to the category “Small”.
But he felt bad and had terrible complexes over it, and I wish that I had had him with me on my daily walks during the holidays, which I just got back from. Every morning I went through a nudist beach, where everything hung loose and could be looked at, and I named it quickly “Balls-and Sausage Beach”. Of course I mostly looked out at the water, but occasionally my eyes stuck in a breast, a penis, balls or a pussy and many times I had to hide a smirk behind my sunglasses.
Smirk, not because it was embarrassing, but because every time I was surprised by the unlikely diversity of what I saw. I love the fact that certain body parts are available in all shapes, sizes and colors, with and without hair, with or without wrinkles, with or without fillings.
And dimensions are certainly not an obvious feature, because I looked left and right breasts that just as well could belong to two different women, so different were they in size. I saw balls, which were MUCH longer than the penis, and it was not because they sat by a cocktail size sausage.
But it was not only the normally hidden parts of the body, which I got free insight in. It was as much the rest of the body, which quite clearly was shown with a different freedom than on the beach, where I came from. Big hairy beer bellies, man boobs, oiled shiny butts in every imaginable design, men with stretch marks, women with cellulite the most incredible places, several layers of meat in the back, navels that fell out and in, women with narrow hips, so they looked like men from the rear, and women with wide hips, so they got a bottle figure, men with narrow hips and a birds chest, men with soft hips and full beard.
Almost everything you can imagine, plus a whole lot more, filled my field of vision in those weeks. I stored it as a tribute to the human biodiversity and not the least to the freedom of body. Occasionally I also had to turn my face rapidly toward the sea, when a naked man with hairy butt stuck it high in the air in a unobstructed view to everything, because he wanted to correct his towel. Or a woman who practiced yoga and thus initiated the rest of the beach in her internal anatomy. It was simply too exposed and intimate for me, but I could at the same time do nothing else than enjoy the fact that they dared doing it in the open. Being so free in their bodies.
All of this is only interesting because different studies show that only half of the Danes are satisfied with their body, while about 25 percent are totally dissatisfied with it. If I had had my boyfriend then with me on the beach, I'm sure he would have been much happier with himself. He would discover that he certainly had nothing to be unhappy about, which could have given him many years with a slightly better quality of life.
Studies that concern this topic are normally related to women and their self-esteem. Women's social status and value are culturally and historically much more linked to beauty than men's is and therefor it is perhaps logical that women's self-esteem is generally lower than men when it comes to their appearance. Voxmeter made together with Dove a survey among Danish women aged 15 to 60 years, which showed that more than 50 percent have a negative view of their own body, which means that 44 per cent of them find that their self-esteem will be reduced, while 31 per cent will be in bad mood due to it. For 22% it does affect the sexual life negatively, 17 per cent feel diminished compared to other people, while about 16 percent are seeing their quality of life deteriorated.
In the case of young people it is really problematic. According to a study from Sex and Society from 2010, 12 percent hate their bodies and 16 percent are dissatisfied with it. When you dig into what they are most dissatisfied with, you see this ranking:
1. Stomach (42.6%)
2. Weight (39.7 percent.)
3. Hair (31.9%.)
4. Body shape (30.3%)
5. Sex organs (29.3%).
And it is precisely here that the article title finds all it’s real value: If all young people came on a week's stay at a nudist beach, it would with no doubt do wonders to the way they value their own bodies – and indeed their partners body as well. It is really chocking that almost one-third are dissatisfied with their own genitals!
Today many young people don’t shower after sport activities and at the same time there is such a free access to porn, where it is often the more streamlined (read: surgically corrected) bodies that are shown, and for men the generously grown penis scale that will be exposed, so that alone gives them a fairly wrong reference to start comparing their own (or their partners ) body with others.
Just five days on a nudist beach, where they will be exposed to all types and forms of human bodies, would probably help them to get a more positive and free view of their own bodies – and thereby find greater joy of life and not least confidence in themselves.
It is probably unrealistic. But wouldn’t it be nice, if they already from the beginning had a wider view at the human body, so that they understood it as a tool for enjoyment rather than an object of embarrassment?
The adults could also learn quite a lot of it here, so in other words “just go out there naked and be happy”. And maybe even giggle slightly down into your towel, because yes – there might be some funny moments where some bodies will surprise you !
Free translation by J.Valckenaere and Emilia van Hauen of the article originally published in Jyllandsposten 31.07.16.
Emilia van Hauen (born 1966  ) is a Danish cultural sociologist (MSc Soc. From University of Copenhagen 2001), HD (A) from Copenhagen Business School, lecturer , trend consultant and lifestyle commentator on television, newspapers and magazines internationally. She is on of Scandinavia’s most sought-after keynote speakers and most quoted sociologists on the topics of current trends and social tendencies and phenomena.
Emilia van Hauen is the author of five books. Her latest, Ladycool: Your Gender is a Strength, Use It! became a national bestseller, as did her previous publication, Goodbye Egoparty, which explains why we should embrace the communities that we are part of. From 2009, she is an ambassador for CARE Denmark  and the Danish Heart Association ,
Go to www.emiliavanhauen.com for more articles or bookings for lectures and more.
I knew from the start that this would happen. It's completely inevitable. I knew it had to happen, if things went well. And they have. Because now it's happened.
We were laughing at something together, something funny, silly, light – and then I look up at the boy who for thirteen years has been my little boy and it dawns on me that this isn't the first time I've looked up to him. I don't know why I'm only realising it now, but at the very moment I realise it, my heart breaks, opening a bottomless pit of sorrow that will never be filled by the pride and happiness and admiration I also feel, and I know my inner landscape has been forever altered. A new topography of sharp, unexpected peaks of opinion and hazy lakes of secret emotion emerges within this childhood world: opinions that distance him from me and emotions I can no longer access. This world where I used to be his most important guest.
He's getting further away from me.
And he'll never, ever come back to me, not in the way that's always been the way between us. The way we shared our lives. And he's just the last in a series. The other two are already past this point, and there aren't any more of them to come. I know that. That thought by itself rushes like a panicked ghost into the new pit of sorrow and abandonment, and I wonder – as much as I don't want to – whether it really is too late for just one more, because otherwise I'll never again bury my nose in his neck or drown myself in his childish scent or feel him surrender to me utterly, unconditionally; I'll never again be the person he drops everything for, running to meet me as he shouts Muuuuuum!! and beams from ear to ear.
Now I'm a mother who's smaller than all her children.
Who suddenly one Saturday discovers she's been left alone, because they've arranged to meet their friends. Elsewhere. That Saturday evening I had turned down invitations, because of course I wanted to be home the weeks my boys were staying. Of course. But now the living room is empty, and a new, strange kind of loneliness coils around my feet, creeping slowly up and up and up until it tightens around my breath and I think I mustn't let it cast me down, because this is just how life goes. Then my phone pings.
A text from him. With hearts.
The loneliness loosens its grip and retreats into its darkness. I smile a giddy smile and start to move again, into the bathroom to get ready for the dinner I turned down, stumbling almost accidentally over my own reflection as I mechanically draw lines around my eyes. There's still sadness in them. But behind it is a spark of curiosity.
Yes, I miss feeling his little hand clutch mine – oh yes, I miss him sitting on my lap and tickling him until his laughter brightens everything – but I'm just so proud, so happy and thrilled and elated and joyful that he's about to take on the world, to contribute to it, in a way that's all his own.
Yes, I'm about to lose him and his brothers. But what's happening is what has to happen. I'm on my way to being unnecessary. That's the best thing a parent can aim for. Only once you're unnecessary is your task a success. You've helped create a human being who can take care of himself and make his own unique contribution to the world. And there is no greater gift than that. But irrelevant? Never, I hope!
Recently I was at a Swedish spa when I noticed an older man who was thinning a bit on top and thickening a bit around the middle. Actually, it wasn’t so much him I noticed as the fact that he was arm in arm with a stunning young woman with long blonde hair and appropriately positioned boobs. ‘What the hell does she see in him?’ was my instinctive reaction, before I immediately answered my own question by concluding that he must have money. Loads of it. Later in the day I saw them leaving the spa – and getting into the smallest car in the carpark.
Gorgeous young women who marry rich and powerful men are traditionally called trophy wives. Their most important role is to make their husband seem wealthy and virile, or – to sum it up in a single word– powerful. You’re left to read between the lines that she’s selling her body and youth in exchange for money and social protection. Probably because she’s either too lazy or too stupid to work hard and earn the same luxuries for herself. Basically she’s a spoiled cow whose only talent is for manic, credit-card-draining spending sprees and giving other men a hard-on.
But it’s not like that these days. The equal rights movement has left its mark here too: not only have trophy wives undergone a serious upgrade but they’ve started demanding trophy husbands!
Julianne Moore, Emma Watson and Michelle Obama are just three examples of women who in many ways embody the modern trophy wife. Intelligent, talented, funny and in touch with their emotions, they have strong careers of their own, and they either are or want to be fantastic, caring mothers. They’re good-looking, too, but in that indefinable way that signals class and self-respect. No longer just a pretty accessory, they’re an interesting and important sparring partner for their husband in every aspect of life. There’s so much more to them than their looks: they’ve got good heads and hearts.
Such exemplary she-creatures naturally want a husband who can match them. A traditional trophy husband is a powerful man who earns a lot of money, owns big cars and houses, with great business connections and a seat at the head of the table in the boardroom.
Mr Trophy Husband 2.0 has to look good, keep fit, have an interesting career, be a great dad and – not least – a caring partner. If he’s also good with his hands (around the house, at the stove and in bed) then that’s a definite plus.
A modern ‘trophy person’, in other words, is a well-rounded human being who is successful in all areas of life. And that sounds more than a little stressful. Yet it’s perfectly in line with contemporary notions of what constitutes the perfect life, notions that despite taking a beating in the media – and on moral grounds – are still going strong, if buried a little deeper. If you look around you, it’s not unusual to see men and women trying to have it all, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. I do it myself. It’s almost unthinkable that I wouldn’t commit to a career while also setting myself new challenges and goals, trying to be a conscientious and affectionate mother who’s closely involved in her children’s lives, doing my (limited!) best in the kitchen and going to the gym several times a week – then also taking care of my mental health, plus sinking time and energy into my relationship and paying attention to my appearance. These days we expect to be able to have it all, simply because the possibility exists. And perhaps here we could usefully tone down the whole trophy thing.
In its original sense, a trophy is an object you keep to remind yourself of a victory or a particular achievement. It might be a prize, the stuffed head of an animal or the spoils of war. Although if you start thinking about exhibiting your husband’s handsome head on your living-room wall then you may not get the applause you’re looking for from trendy lifestyle-magazine editors. Not even if it was a good copy made of harmless materials (although that could be funny). Today the spoils of victory are a strong, healthy constitution, a Zen-like mindset, a fit body and a social life with both close relationships and cherished ambitions.
A trophy was also originally an item captured in battle, which would then be dedicated to Zeus on the spot where the enemy had turned and fled. Do modern trophy husbands and wives occasionally feel like turning and fleeing from themselves, I wonder? I think so. It might explain why I’ve gone on a yoga retreat to Lesbos twice just so I can get some peace and quiet, and to practice forgetting myself and my deadlines. Although that kind of trip can very quickly seem a bit trophy-esque, since it’s all about finding inner balance and flashy, trendy yoga and blah blah blah… you see, it’s not easy! Maybe we should just give up on the trophy part and simply be true to ourselves – being loved for what we are instead of what we can deliver. Like the man at the Swedish spa with the tiny car and the (presumably) devoted wife…
Will I be missed?
A hospice nurse once told me that this is the sentence she hears most often from people on the threshold of death. And it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.
Will I be missed when I die?
We all know it – that the most important thing in life is to be loved, and therefore missed when we’re no longer around to love or be loved. That’s the massively, howlingly banal truth, unless you happen to be starving or homeless.
And yet… the way we’ve organised modern life, this idea has stiff competition from an array of other areas where we’re expected to perform. For two years I have been lecturing on modern society’s relationship with success and failure, and I have identified fourteen areas where we take for granted that we will be sweepingly successful. And where the bar for success is much higher than ever before…
In no particular order:
These fourteen areas are a generalisation, of course. On top of that, everybody has individual interests. Like gardening, for instance. Or golf. Or brewing beer. Try glancing over the list again. Did you end up out of breath? Certainly I find it pretty exhausting! It just becomes so obvious that the ideals I’m (subconsciously?) trying to live up to are completely impossible. But despite that I’ve still never felt compelled to drastically reduce the complexity of my life by packing up my bike, moving to the woods and living in my wellies. Quite the opposite: I keep thinking I’d be better off if only I had more of a handle on my priorities. Which means I’m constantly falling behind on my own life. And my own understanding of myself.
It’s the curse of modernity that we’re amazingly good at setting ourselves up to fail! On several levels, in fact. Purely in terms of everyday life, most of us are used to putting more tasks, meetings and social events into our calendar than we can (or can be bothered to!) manage, so day after day and week after week we shift things we ‘should’ have done further into the future. Sound familiar? I once took a ‘time optimisation course’ (and why was that, I wonder? J) where the teacher told us that we should leave forty percent of the time in our calendars empty if we wanted to accomplish everything we had planned.
If there’s one thing that’s worse than the daily grind it’s our dreams. We live in an age where we’re all expected to dream big. And big can never be too big. If you can dream it, you can do it! they say, so in our hyper-individualistic era we dream for all we’re worth! The unfortunate consequence is that many people feel thoroughly unfulfilled. Rather like failures, in fact. Not just in a calendar-related way but in terms of identity. And that’s a problem! Because, in reality, those same people often have pretty great lives. Maybe not of the so-glam-I-need-to-Facebook-it-now variety, but good, stable, well-ordered and meaningful lives that make the small difference we all dream about.
So I think we need to overthrow the tyranny of success, under which far too many of us live! For a start we can enjoy all the things we actually have managed to achieve and experience, feeling grateful for the people who bring love and companionship to our lives. Then we can begin to make our dreams more realistic. We can’t all be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian or Kanye, Aung San Suu Kyi or Gandhi, Serena Williams or Djokovic, Oprah or Steven Colbert, can we? So stop eternally waiting for the wow-factor and the four million likes; instead dream a happy dream about your next job or your next trip. And enjoy the fact that you’re already a very lucky little so-and-so!
Over forty percent of all marriages end in divorce. Does that sound high? Or is it actually quite low, given that modern society’s ideal person is constantly in flux – and that the impossible dream is for both partners in a marriage to develop at the same time and in the same direction?
My lowest point wasn’t when my husband and I were sitting in the living room and finally spoke the words out loud. It wasn’t when we gathered the children together, two days before I moved out, to tell them that their lives were about to undergo a drastic change. That it wasn’t anything to do with them, and that we would never be separated from them. None of those awful, ugly, heart-breaking, conscience-pricking moments were the worst thing about the whole sprawling process.
It was when I was standing by myself in the DIY store on the afternoon of 27 December, buying forty removal boxes. I had never felt so alone. So abandoned. So completely torn up by helplessness, anger, grief, fear, regret and love. Inside me was nothing but an endless darkness, and I still don’t get how I was able to go through with it. Buying the boxes, I mean. And the divorce.
What was it about that day and that moment? I have no idea. I really don’t know. It would be easy to fall back on a rational explanation about how the removal boxes symbolised the incarnation of all our lost hopes and dreams, which now had to be hidden away and moved out because we didn’t share them any more. Or that it was the unexpected culmination of a story that for the last eighteen years we had written together, and now all of a sudden I was standing there alone, without him to share my sorrow. Moving house, usually a joyful event, became in that moment a flight from something instead of a journey towards something new. If that was the reason then it might make sense for my low point to fall at that precise moment.
But a lack of sense and meaning is exactly what makes a divorce so unreal. And so painful.
I mean, love can’t just stop. Not real love. It doesn’t make sense for real love not to last forever. That’s what we believe in our culture. But… is that even a realistic possibility? For some people, yes. But for many others, real love has an expiration date. We change, develop, move on; we become different people with different values and different goals and different needs than when we first met. And the paradox is that in some cases the other person is one of the major reasons why we develop and move on, so the fact that we’re together and influencing each other is also the very reason why we grow apart, no longer needing what we have to give each other.
So does this mean that the love we share isn’t real? No! It can be as real as it gets. As right. As beautiful. As good. And yes, you may well fight for many years before throwing in the towel. I don’t know any couples who really wanted things to be over. But when hope is gone, most people give up. The decision brings incredible pain, and an unnecessary feeling of shame.
And this is where I think that we in the modern world face – perhaps – our greatest challenge. The idea that a marriage is only a success if it lasts until one of the partners dies. For many people this is an impossible dream, because the practical and idealistic notions don’t support the project. In fact, they do the opposite!
Our age demands of us that we change and develop constantly. As the old joke goes, if you’re not going forwards you’re going backwards. But when it comes to marriage, in many cases the exact inverse is true. When we develop, the risk that the marriage will fall apart increases dramatically. After all, how likely is it, really, that both partners will develop at the same time? And in the same direction? They may communicate well and they may try to share the same dreams, but the risk is still high that both people – or one of them, at least – will head off down a path the other person cannot follow. Or match.
Divorce hurts. I don’t believe in ‘amicable’ separations. Ours was, yet just writing this piece hurts like hell. But perhaps divorce would be less painful if we didn’t add to our sorrow about giving up on a relationship with someone who has been the most important person in our life by also telling ourselves that we’ve failed to live up to the dream of eternal love that defines our society’s notion of a successful marriage. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to cope with the thought that we’ve failed in some fundamental way because we loved not ‘until death do us part’ but until the death of our love.
Since nearly half of all marriages now end in divorce, it would be helpful for both adults and children to begin establishing new norms about what constitutes a successful marriage. It would also be beneficial to society. Not only would it get rid of the sense of shame that many people – both children and adults – experience at having to give up on a marriage and on the nuclear family, a social construct that is still considered the ‘right’ one, but you could also enter into a marriage with the clear expectation that quality rather than length is most important, and that a marriage that ‘only’ lasts a few years can actually be a huge success if it also broadens the horizons of your heart, kicks your personal development up a few notches and makes you happier than ever before.
Now that’s real love in a real marriage.
We are seeing a shift in the spirit of the age. After 30 years of intense focus on personal potential, we are now turning to the purpose of personal life. Where our personal self-development was once the priority, it is now about making a difference and engaging in the service of the whole. Welcome to “The Great Age of Collective Creation.”