Uncle Yarv #12: tradwife edition

"A communist who might find my book very interesting."

LaTonya from Beirut writes:

I am a mid thirties Midwestern housewife with 2 small children and a third on the way and a Gray Mirror subscriber. I am a retired software engineer and I play board games, D&D, and paint miniatures with my husband and our friends. Sounds like the kind of partner your subscribers are looking for?

We’ll, when I met my husband, I was 24 and as liberal as they come (as was my husband).  I was the child of a Unitarian and a Reformed Jew, I had a degree in Art History and was working on a comedic novel of “alternate art history”. At that point, most of my existence had been status seeking and I was still supremely bad at it and uncool. I had ignored my natural tendencies toward mathematics and science largely because status seeking was the only way I knew to attract men, and I was a little desperate. 

Just before I met my husband, I was dating an Economics professor (my only lover before my husband, I told you I was not cool) who had just escaped SF and a bad marriage and was fully indoctrinated into the cult of polyamory. He was a lovely person, but a broken person. I definitely credit that relationship failure in opening me up to the possibility that the best men I had known were already paired off by the time they were in their mid 20s.

I met my husband at the high school graduation of a friend. My husband had just graduated from high school also and had turned 18 only a few weeks earlier. He too was from a family of “nobles” (much more noble than mine). He was introduced to me as “a communist who might find my book very interesting”. About 6 months later I invited him and his friend to a performance art party through Facebook. He responded that he would come, but if there would be drinking there, he would probably hit on me. I was a little surprised at the boldness of this young kid, but I was flattered and appreciated the humor.

After the party, I offered to give him a ride back to his dorm. We ended up talking in my car for 3 hours in his dorm parking lot. He was intelligent, refreshingly positive about life, and he had a great sense of humor. We took things a little slow (at least when it came to expressing how attached we were), but I knew within 2 months that he was what I wanted. 

The first few years weren’t perfect. We had to learn how to not fight. We had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of Less Wrong and UR and other things to read before we got to where we are now. 

He introduced me to video and board games and encouraged me to explore math, science, and computers. Now that I was married, I no longer felt as much desire to signal. It was always a means, not an end for me. I went back to school for math and computer science, but dropped out to go work at a Silicon Valley startup. 

We have watched as things have gotten palpably worse for people like us. Finally, a few years ago we decided to return to the Midwest (which my husband calls Dixie, even though we are far north of that line). We chose to live the life of the yeoman. Remote jobs help. We homeschool. We grill. I am not the perfect wife, but I am malleable in ways that mean I can live a good life. 

I knew that my husband was the one for me when I observed him change his mind based on evidence. He completely changed his opinion on something just by me presenting good evidence. I had never been with a man like that. So many of the men I had dated had opinions solely based on their identities “I believe x because I am that kind of person”. I had spent all my time trying to fit in aesthetically with the guys that I wanted to date. I realized that my husband was more than the ticket to a certain status level. He would grow, become a better version of himself, and bring me along for the ride.

Imagine the amount of courage it takes to choose an 18-year-old when you’re 24. This is almost exactly the age gap between me and my first gf, except that I was 20—and had just dropped out of grad school, not graduated from high school. (To be fair, he also had much better pickup skills—and it sounds like a ritzier background.)

LaTonya mentions a great tip for a marriageable person: someone whose mind you can change. To form a strong bond, both partners must be malleable; the pressures of life as a couple will clamp them to fit tightly, establishing a shared experience of reality.

Practicing narcissists, the people who “believe x because I am that kind of person”—which is always the kind of person they want to be, less often the kind they are—are not malleable. They are fragile. If you push on them, they snap.

We are all narcissists, to a certain extent, but our culture trains it into us—status seeking, as LaTonya said. She didn’t want to write a novel because she wanted to write a novel. She wanted to write a novel because she wanted to be a novelist. And poetry written in this spirit is, needless to say, even worse.

Whereas not only did LaTonya and her husband learn to fit each other and establish this shared reality, their shared reality actually moved—politically, all the way across the spectrum. That’s actually kind of incredible.

It means they loved each other, not each others’ narcissistic characters—so their ideas could change, because they were just ideas and not D&D character traits. Even at 18, communism was an idea he believed in, not an identity that defined him. So he could put it down with confidence that this did not make him a hollow and empty person. This is the kind of person who is capable of personal and intellectual growth, so we have to say LaTonya chose wisely with this cocky little kid.

There is a common thread between this and the last success—they are both completely deracinated, post-traditional people inventing wisdom for themselves. It is true that a good, old-fashioned, well-aged religion, lived in for many generations, is an excellent source of wisdom. But you can actually make wisdom yourself, in your own kitchen, out of mere intelligence and experience. That’s rarely the cost-effective way to do it, but for many of us deracinated people it is the only way. (Or you could convert to a tradition—but don’t do this unless you mean it.)

Okay, I think I have enough emails from guys for this episode of Uncle Yarv. Girls only! We started with no girls and we’ll finish with girls only. You will get a response, in some random order, if you sent me an email. I may not post any more episodes—we’ll see.