I was born in 1953, which by most any account makes me a member of the Baby Boomer generation. I’ve always been proud of being part of the generation who came of age during the 60s and the 70s. To one degree or another, we were generation who was either a participant or a witness to the civil rights, peace, woman’s and the back to the earth movements. I admit to harboring feelings of superiority over the generations that have followed.
Therefore it was much to my chagrin and surprise that it was the baby boomers who earned the moniker “me generation”. Mistakenly I thought the X generation with their emphasis on security and material success was the “me generation”. However, apparently when Thomas Wolfe coined the phrase in the 70s he was describing the baby boomers culture of budding narcissism.
Discarding the idealism of the 60s the baby boomers embraced the new culture of self development. Emphasis on personal growth, personal satisfaction and personal success was complemented by a political movement that stressed rugged individualism and trickle down economics. It was a confusing time that left a lot of us wondering; What happened? People started jogging, listening to disco, being over concerned with personal diet, building McMansions and pursuing the almighty dollar. This era was epitomized politically by Ronald Reagan’s conservative spin and in literature by Tom Wolfe in his novel Bonfire of the Vanities. Following suit popular psychology and self help gurus began touting personal empowerment. We were encouraged to pull our own strings, correct our stinking thinking, and through positive thinking and goal oriented behavior achieve our dreams.
That is all well and good, and perhaps it was right for the time, but I believe we dropped the ball relationally. For generations, breaking bread together was a social highlight of the day. Eating was just as much or more about enjoying others company as it was about nutrition. The drive for personal growth has left us eating our lunch sandwich in the car on the way to the gym. grabbing a breakfast yogurt out of the fridge to down during our first spare moment of the morning, and enjoying a nutritious salad while our nose is stuck in a social media device for dinner. Meaningful conversation at mealtime has been watered down, eliminated, or worse yet viewed as an annoyance or a time waster. Dining alone is no longer viewed as sad; rather, it is often preferred. Tom Paxton in penning his great song Victoria Dines Alone didn’t see this coming.
Women are more than ever primary players in the workforce. While women continue to fight for equal pay and to break the glass ceiling in corporate America, occupationally they have made progress. Currently there are more women enrolled in college than men, and they have made significant in roads in the fields of law and medicine, among others. Many men have welcomed women into the workforce, recognizing that a gender balanced team is a better team. A diversified workplace is a healthier, stronger, and more productive workplace. To follow your dreams is a birthright.
With the change in the workforce, the traditional marriage with the husband, the breadwinner and the wife keeping the home fires burning is more and more an arrangement of the past. Additionally the recent Supreme Court decision has affirmed the right of a person to marry the one they love. Marriage has been redefined. However leveling the playing field for women and minorities is not a threat to the institution of marriage..Nor is equal opportunity the enemy.
The civil rights movement has improved the lives of us all, but it has been used as a distraction. People desperate for an explanation of why life has become increasingly isolating and economically difficult often romanticize the past and take the low road blaming others who are victims of the same predicament. This thinking is so prevalent that it has crept into our most personal of all relationships. .
It’s not the woman’s fault, nor is it the man’s fault, to borrow a line from Mother Jones magazine,”. It’s the inequality stupid”. It is standard today for partners in marriage to have to work 40+ hours a week to keep up with economic demands of maintaining a middle-class lifestyle.. With competing careers and limited emotional resources marriage often morphs into a two-person race. Parents have to work through whose occupational demands are more important on any given day.
This results in a type of one upmanship. My meeting is more important than your meeting. Or my job is more important than your job. This type of differentiation puts us at odds with the person we love the most, and puts a serious wedge in the partnership. Often in order not to be two ships passing in the night, couples have to make dates with each other to have time to simply sit down and enjoy each other. The end result is often two people sharing responsibilities and living in the same house alone. So what’s the answer? We have to stop looking at each other as the problem and start viewing each other as the solution. The first step is to change our personal behavior.
Terrence Real in his book The New Rules of Marriage speaks of relationship empowerment. This turns the new era of the isolated, competitive partnership on its head. His golden rule is,” What can I give you to help you give me what I want?” A successful marriage demands more than just standing up and cultivating the self. It demands standing up for and cultivating the love inherent in the relationship. He continues to points out, we are initially drawn to partners who we feel consciously or unconsciously will help heal our emotional wounds. This works well initially while both partners are on good behavior, but soon we make a mess of it. Terrence Real points out“a good relationship isn’t something that you have but something that you do” and that you keep doing minute by minute throughout your life. His strategies for a loving relationship include:
Shifting from complaint to request
Speaking out with love and savvy
Responding with generosity
Empowering each other
He contrasts this to the losing strategies of:
Needing to be right
Controlling your partner
The losing strategies breed a relationship doomed to isolation, resentment, and despair. His strategies for a loving relationship promote cooperation, companionship and healing.
It’s not us against them or men against women..That’s a bunch of nonsense. Were all in this soup together. Our primary relationship with our significant other is to be cherished. It is true staying afloat is difficult. The middle class continues to shrink. But refuse to buy into the distraction and isolation of a “me against you”attitude. It is the inequality inherent in American society that’s the problem so lets stop blaming our neighbor let alone our spouse.
t’s been said,”Before you can change the world you have to change yourself”.Marital and family relationships based on generosity, mutual empowerment, and love can make a difference now and forever. So take time for and be generous to the person and people you love. Break bread together. Be an active participant in nurturing the success of the people you hold most dear.
We will take on the economic inequality later. Let the revolution begin.