Category Archives: Marriage and Relationships

On Nihilism And Love (And How Nihilism Enhances Love)

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Whenever I talk about nihilism, it’s usually in the context of how it could effect an emerging generation or as an excuse to talk about one of my favorite cartoons. I try not to incorporate it into too many discussions, mostly because nihilism has some pretty sullen connotations. Whether you believe it or not as a philosophical principle, discussions about it can get pretty depressing.

Considering the underlying premise of nihilism, which is that life and existence has no inherent meaning, that’s somewhat unavoidable. At the same time, though, nihilism can provide a revealing context. Due to its inherently harsh nature, it can cut through the empty rhetoric and needless complications that overly complicate a subject. That can be exceptionally useful for a concept as broad and powerful as love.

Yes, I am going to talk about love and nihilism. I promise it’s not going to get as depressing as you expect. If anything, I believe that love and nihilism are a potent mixture that, when framed properly, can actually enhance both concepts.

Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m an unapologetic about my fondness of romance. I like to think I’ve made that abundantly clear. However, the more I write about love, the more I notice how often love gets twisted and contorted into something that undercuts its fundamental value.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional fairy tale romance that makes love seem like this unstoppable force that is ordained by angles and guided by unicorn magic. That sort of thing has its place alongside stories of giant robots and superhero movies. In the real world, though, pursing that kind of love is like pursuing actual fairy dust. It’s woefully unrealistic and potentially damaging to someone’s psyche.

That’s where nihilism can provide an important filter, of sorts. At its core, nihilism strips away the magical thinking people ascribe to certain phenomena, be it love, honor, friendship, or happiness. From a purely nihilistic point of view, love is just another manifestation of brain chemistry within a larger manifestation of social dynamics.

On paper, that’s pretty cold. If it were incorporated into a fairy tale or an erotica/romance novel, it wouldn’t come off as very romantic. If you take a step back and go beyond what’s on paper, though, that nihilistic insight actually reveals the larger complexities of love.

To illustrate, think back to some of the most iconic love stories of all time, both classical and contemporary. Look at the epic love of Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose from “Titanic,” or Superman and Lois Lane. These are all held up as romantic ideals, the kind that make real world love seem inane by comparison.

However, applying a little nihilism to these narratives and something happens to these ideals. The strength of all these epic love stories is how passionate the characters feel for one another and all the obstacles they overcome to be together, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. That makes for an epic tale, but nihilism exposes a major oversight.

If we’re going to look at love as just a series of chemical reactions in the brain between two people, then we cannot overlook the other reactions surrounding it. To do so would mean ignoring real, tangible manifestations of reality. Since that’s the only manifestation that nihilism acknowledges, it has to accommodate those other feelings alongside love.

This is important, in terms of expanding love, because it establishes that it’s just one of many potential feelings that may manifest within the brains of two individuals. The mechanisms are the same. It’s just brain matter interacting with other brain matter. Sure, that reduces the biology of love to brain chemicals, like any other emotion, but at the same time it incorporates into all the other emotions in play.

In the cold, unfeeling world of nihilism, the mechanisms of love don’t carry any greater weight than the mechanisms of hate, happiness, sadness, and annoyance. While that’s bad news for fairy tales, it’s good news for love in a real world where love spells don’t exist and true romance rarely forms from a single kiss at the gate of an airport.

In that world, the basic brain chemistry of love can’t be enough. It’s necessary for two people to also get along in the sense that they can relate to one another, interact with one another, and deal with one another on a day-to-day basis. Those mundane, unromantic factors are rarely part of an epic love story, but an important part of a healthy romance.

When we conflate the meaning of love to the level of an old Beatles song, we undercut those less fanciful aspects of love. We focus only on those moments of intense passion that find their way into romance movies. Some, like my favorite romance movie, do a better job exploring other moments. Most though, along with music that blurs the line between love and obsession, don’t send that message.

That kind of love gives the impression that it’s the most meaningful experience anyone could have. It becomes the primary goal of every individual, seeking that special love that somehow makes them feel complete and content. To not have it is to be denied your very reason for being. It’s something you should dedicate every ounce of energy to, even at the expense of every other pursuit.

That romantic ideal shatters under the weight of nihilism because in that worldview, nothing matters to that degree. The very notion that anything would matter that much requires self-delusion to an egregious extent. Again, it’s a cold way of looking at the world, but it reveals the true tenants of a healthy, fulfilling love.

By mixing love and nihilism, love can no longer be that one feeling that gives someone a sense of purpose. That’s because, in the world of nihilism, nothing gives anything or anyone inherent purpose. Everything is just there by the random chaos and exists only temporarily, only to eventually perish at the eventual heat death of the universe.

Sure, that means that love can no longer be eternal or everlasting like a typical Disney movie, but that’s actually a good thing if love is to have any value. By rendering love a finite, temporary feeling, it becomes more precious on the basis of its rarity. The fact that it is so temporary is what makes it a powerful feeling to those who experience it.

It also leaves room for all the other feelings that go into a strong, healthy romance. Things like growing together, learning from one another, and complementing each other become part of an ongoing process that two people experience. For some, it can last a lifetime. For some, it can barely last a day.

In the long run, they don’t have inherent meaning in a nihilistic world. Whatever meaning love ultimately has is dependent on those who experience it. That means people can’t just rely on the fact that they’re in love and expect it to solve their problems. It means they actually have to work on preserving that meaning they’ve created in a cold, unfeeling world.

To some extent, that gives love true value and not just the inflated value portrayed in movies. By looking at love through the lens of nihilism, it’s possible to understand it for what it truly is, in relation to other experiences that sentient beings share. It’s no fairy tale, but it’s real in that we feel it and because we feel it, we give it meaning.

As a lover of romance and telling sexy stories, I find that uniquely inspiring. We can’t rely on an unfeeling, uncaring universe to give meaning to our love lives. We, as finite and fragile beings, have to do that ourselves. Those willing to take love as it is and not what we wish it were are better able to craft that meaning. If we can make it sexy along the way, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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Filed under human nature, Marriage and Relationships, philosophy, romance

When Your Lover Uncovers Your Porn Collection (And What Their Reaction Reveals)

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I talk a lot about taboos, double standards, and various gender quirks. I don’t just do that because it highlights significant disparities among people trying desperately to get along and/or make love to each other. I do it because it offers some fascinating insight into the conflicting mentalities that drive such conflicts.

A lot of those conflicts, however, are on a larger, more impersonal scale. A typical couple, be they heterosexual, homosexual, or something else entirely, can only do so much to impact larger cultural forces that they had no role in choosing, propagating, or subverting.

These forces, from our approach to marriage to the assumptions that guide our understanding of romance, usually only effect individuals and couples indirectly. We’re all somewhat at the mercy of what our culture has built for us and we can only do so much to guide it forward.

However, there are a few lesser-known aspects of that culture that we can influence on a day-to-day basis. One such aspects involves porn and whatever porn collection that you or your significant other might have, be it hidden or not. I’m sure just mentioning it has made certain individual’s tense for various reasons that I won’t state outright.

Regardless of how you or your lover feels about porn, it exists and it exists in a big way. It’s also a huge multi-billion dollar industry. The fact it’s so huge is a telling sign that both you and your lover have probably consumed it at some point. It’s also very likely that anyone claiming that porn is immoral has probably consumed it as well.

Despite this prevalence, porn is still immersed in taboos and quirks. I don’t want to focus too much on those, since I’ve already touched on a few. The ones I want to focus on have to do with how those in a romantic relationship react to it. That reaction, in many ways, goes beyond double standards and reflects something deeper about our concept of relationships as a whole.

Most people probably don’t need much imagination to surmise how their lover would react to their porn collection. Whether or not it’s a secret, there’s this underlying sentiment about someone in a relationship who consumes porn. That sentiment usually manifests in two scenarios. This is the first and probably most basic.

A woman casually walks by her lover’s desk. Their computer screen is open and so are a wide number of files. Curious, she takes a closer look, only to find out that there’s a sizable collection of pornographic videos on the computer. She’s utterly shocked at just how much content there is.

There are videos featuring extreme, hardcore scenes. There are videos featuring bondage, S&M, and various fetishes. When her lover returns, she is outraged. She sees this level of porn consumption as an affront to their relationship and demand that the files be deleted.

This isn’t just a basic thought experiment. This sort of thing does happen in real life. A part of what inspired this article were stories like this one where a woman kicked her husband out of the house after finding some porn on his phone. Granted, her reaction was extreme, but it reflects a similar sentiment.

There are those who, when they find their lover’s porn stash or just part of it, see it as an insult and an affront to their relationship. They see their lover’s desire to seek another sexual outlet as proof that they aren’t enough and their lover isn’t attracted to them anymore. For some, it can be fairly traumatic and for understandable reasons.

Now, I didn’t specify the gender of the person who voiced that outrage like I did in the scenario. I did so because I don’t want to generalize too much. From a purely anecdotal perspective, which is admittedly flawed, women are more angered by their lover’s porn consumption than men.

Again, that’s a generalization. It also says nothing about how homosexual or transgender relationships couples react to porn. I honestly had a hard time finding research to that effect. However, I found plenty that indicated how common porn consumption is among couples and how reserved many are to admit it.

That leads me to the next scenario, which isn’t as common, but is a bit more colorful. It involves a different kind of reaction for a couple that probably has a very different dynamic from the first, but that dynamic is key in understanding the implications.

A man casually walks by his lover’s desk. Their computer screen is open and so are a wide number of files. Curious, he takes a close look and discovers a sizable collection of pornographic videos. For a moment he’s shocked, but then he’s impressed at the sheer breadth of the collection.

There are videos featuring lesbian couples. There are videos featuring bondage, S&M, and various fetishes. When he confronts his lover, it’s awkward and a little funny. However, he’s also genuinely intrigued by this side to his lover and says they should talk about it so as to re-evaluate their outlook on their sex life.

It’s not nearly as dramatic, which is probably why it doesn’t make the news as often. Again, I was vague with the gender dynamics here and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying the person in the scenario was a man. I get it. That’s a general assumption fueled largely by existing cultural expectations.

Men are okay with porn. Women are a bit more sensitive about it. Not everyone is like that. Some women don’t have a problem with porn and even enjoy watching porn themselves. Some men don’t care for porn and are genuinely averse to it. Everybody has their own attitudes towards it.

That said, there is this prevailing sentiment that men are anxious about revealing their porn habits to their significant others and women don’t like the idea that their lover has a sexual outlet other than them. In both cases, there’s an anxiety over what this means for them and the relationship.

To some extent, porn consumption and learning that your lover consumes it undercuts the romantic script that we think we have to follow. Within that script, two people are in love. They only desire one another. They’re only attracted to one another. Anything that might diver that attraction must be a bad thing. Porn does all of that and then some.

In that context, it’s understandable why some would react harshly to their lover’s porn collection. It shatters the romantic ideal they once assumed. Suddenly, their love is not on part with Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship is not some epic romance. The idea that they’re still sexually aroused by other people makes it seem less special and less meaningful.

At the same time, such a reaction has more distressing implications. If someone is  disgusted by the notion that their lover is sexually aroused by something other than them, then that implies they somehow own their lover’s desires. They own their ability to have sex and be intimate. The idea of owning another person to that extent goes beyond love and into the realm of obsession.

In that circumstance, even a stray thought anyone has towards someone other than their lover is an affront. Given the many indications that humans aren’t entirely built for monogamy and the high divorce rate, this is wholly unrealistic and a little scary and it sets unreasonable expectations among couples that are bound to disappoint.

There are, indeed, certain cases where someone’s porn consumption is detrimental to a relationship. However, from a pure numbers perspective, those instances are the exception and not the norm. From a pure betting perspective, there’s a good chance that your current lover or future over consumes porn. How you deal with it will likely reveal the strength and/or weakness of your relationship.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, Uncategorized

The (Possible) Timeline For Human/Robot Marriage

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It wasn’t that long ago when the idea that same-sex marriage would be legal in all 50 states and over two dozen countries around the world seemed outrageous. In fact, you’d only have to go back 25 years to be in a world where no state or country recognized same-sex marriage as a legitimate marriage.

That kind of societal shift is pretty remarkable. Considering how long it took for women to get the right to vote and for racial segregation to dissolve, the legalization of same-sex marriage felt downright sudden. It didn’t just reflect changing attitudes towards homosexuality and sexual minorities, in general. It showed that society was capable of expanding its idea of love, romance, sex, and family.

Granted, that did plenty to upset the regressive, ultra-conservative crowd. Some are making a concerted effort to re-institute bans same-sex marriage and there are still plenty of anti-LGBT organizations out there who work to undermine marriage equality, even at this late stage.

As it stands, though, their fighting a losing battle, both in terms of ideology and in terms of shifting demographics. At this point, it’s fair to say that they’ve lost and same-sex marriage is here to say. However, there may be another marriage-related issue brewing and it might be even more of a game-changer than same-sex marriage. That’s because this issue involves sex robots.

I’ve already done plenty of speculation about how robots may affect our sex lives, our emotional health, and even our concept of family. However, I’ve yet to take a step back and assess the implications of sex robots on a larger societal level. That impact is difficult to predict, if only because human society is so unpredictable.

Few could’ve predicted the rapid adoption of same-sex marriage. I imagine it’ll be even harder to predict the impact of sex robots, if only because there’s no precedent. Humans have never lived in a world where functional, intelligent sex robots are part of society. Sure, some eccentric person will try to marry a sex doll every now and then, but that’s a novelty and not a legal, recognized trend.

Difficult or not, I am willing to make one prediction that I’m fairly confident will happen. Save this page, mark this date, and carve it in bedrock because I strongly believe that this will be a real controversy that plays out at some point in my lifetime.

Marriage between humans and robots WILL happen and it WILL be legalized at some point in the future.

To be fair, I am not the first person to make this prediction. People much smarter and more informed than I am have made similar predictions. The general consensus is that by the year 2050, human/robot marriage will be a legally recognized union. It won’t just be some eccentric oddity reserved for the socially awkward. It’ll carry the same legal, social, and emotional weight as any marriage today.

I’m willing to be a bit bolder with my prediction, though. I’ll go so far as to say that human/robot marriage will occur far sooner than 2050. I’m not ready to put a date on it, but I do see it happening sooner than most expect. I also expect there to be plenty of controversy. It’ll likely be more heated than the one surrounding same-sex marriage.

Like same-sex marriage, though, it’ll happen. Humans will marry robots. Men will marry female sex robots. Women will marry male sex robots. Some men will marry male sex robots and some women will marry female sex robots. I’m sure there will even be plenty who marry sex robots who blur the gender line in ways that’s hard to imagine without getting too kinky. It’ll still happen and it will be legally recognized as marriage.

I’ll give a moment for social conservatives and extreme reactionaries to stop shuddering in horror. Take all the time you need. To that crowd and anyone else concerned/scared of this possibility, I can offer at least some solace in the sense that this isn’t going to happen overnight. However, the factors for it to eventually happen are already manifesting.

For human/robot marriage to happen, a number of things need to occur first. There will need to be progression of events, some of them social and some of them technological. As those events occur, though, the path to human/robot marriage will become clearer. In simplest terms, this is the timeline for how we’ll navigate that path.

Step 1: Robot intelligence must advance to a point where they have a sense of self and identity.

Step 2: Robots must gain some level of citizenship status within a society, which must also happen in conjunction with a change in what constitutes identity in a non-human context.

Step 3: Robots and humans must start forming intimate personal relationships, romantic and platonic, that closely mirror those between other humans.

Step 4: The relationships between humans and robots must gain some level of acceptance as a legitimate, non-taboo kind of relationship.

There are probably more detailed steps in between, but I would identify these steps as the most critical. So far, none of them have been achieved. While I’m aware that Saudi Arabia recognized its first robot citizen in 2017, I see that as more of a symbolic gesture cloaked as a PR stunt.

The robot they recognized, Sophia, is not the kind of robot people will marry in the future. This robot, which is pretty advanced by most standards, doesn’t quite meet the criteria necessary for sentience. It’s unlikely that she would be able to pass the Turing Test consistently or carry out the personal, physical, and emotional attributes of a spouse.

At the moment, human-level intelligence in a robot has not been achieved, let alone the kind of intelligence necessary to have a sense of self and will. We’re still quite a way from a robot that will one day ask whether or not it has a soul, which may end up being the moment we find out whether artificial intelligence becomes an existential crisis.

In the human/robot marriage timeline, though, we work under the assumption that the robots we create for uses beyond sex or labor will share a desire to form intimate connections. Granted, that’s a pretty lofty assumption, but one I think is already manifesting with the rise of the sex robot industry.

The fact sex robots are a growing industry and a growing controversy already reveals a desire, at least from the human part, to form an intimate connection with machines. If that desire finds its way into robots and artificial intelligent systems, then it’s likely those machines will seek connections too.

I believe that, as soon as there’s a robot or an intelligence that has such desires, the first and most critical step in the human/robot marriage timeline will be fulfilled. After that, it may only be a decade before humans start marrying robots. It may happen even sooner than that simply because digital evolution is so much faster than biological evolution.

It’s hard to say how close we are to creating that kind of intelligence. Even the most advanced sex robots today and the most advanced AIs aren’t quite at a level where they gain a sense of identity, but I believe we’re closer to that point than most realize. There are some who say robots will never advance beyond a certain point, but there are others who say it might reach that point by 2029 at the earliest.

If history is any guide, those who tend to claim a technological feat is impossible are usually proven wrong and look downright stupid through the lens of history. Those who are insanely optimistic about also get proven wrong too. For the most part, the achievement happens somewhere in the middle.

I won’t predict when robots are capable of human-level intelligence, but I believe it will happen before 2050 and it probably won’t happen all at once. Technology never does. At some point, though, we will find ourselves living in a world where non-human intelligence is part of our lives and it won’t seem like a novelty. It’ll be our new normal.

As happened with other minority struggles, it’ll take a while for robots to gain the kind of legal status necessary for a legitimate marriage. It’ll be controversial and probably end up being a major political issue. However, given the economics of robotics along with the intimate connections we’ve already forged, I believe robot citizenship will eventually happen and must faster than we expect.

Once that intelligence finds its way into a body or form with which humans can share intimate relationships, then human/robot marriage doesn’t just become possible. It becomes inevitable. We’ve already had people marry their phones. Is it really such a stretch to imagine that they’ll marry an intelligent robot capable of forming intimate, loving connections? I think it’s not just possible. It’s inevitable.

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The (Fragile) State Of Modern Chivalry

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These days, you can’t go more than a few days without hearing someone complaining that chivalry is dead, dying, or some elaborate patriarchal conspiracy to keep women in their place. A few are even arguing it’s part of some matriarchal conspiracy to control men. The very concept of chivalry is in a precarious state is what I’m saying.

Now, I’m somewhat hesitant to write about this because in my experience, both in real life and online, it brings out a lot of mixed sentiments. I’ve met men who resent it. I’ve met women who are outright offended by it. No matter how I approach it, there’s no way to avoid rubbing certain people the wrong way.

Hesitation aside, I do feel compelled to talk about it because the idea of modern chivalry, the kind that involves common courtesy and not the medieval kind that made high school English class so frustrating, is kind of personal to me. That’s because I had awesome, loving parents who went out of their way to teach me and my siblings the manners, attitude, and mentality that go into modern chivalry.

They may not have built their entire parenting strategy around it, but I like to think that them emphasizing it was part of a larger life lesson. It’s one that effects me to this day. I still make it a point to hold doors, pull out chairs, and address people as sir/ma’am. If I don’t, then I feel like I’m not showing the respect I want.

It may not sound like much, but I find myself wondering and worrying about the state of this gender-driven quirk. Some of that worry stems from how relevant those vital lessons my parents taught me are today and whether they’re losing relevance with each passing year. That might just be a byproduct of me getting older, but it does concern me, if only because I feel there’s a lot of gender-driven conflict these days.

To understand why, I need to give a little background as to just how my parents instilled an appreciation of modern chivalry in me and, as a bonus, demonstrate why they’re so awesome. While both my parents were big on teaching me and my siblings manners, my father was more focused in emphasizing courteous behavior.

As a kid, I remember more than one occasion where we would go out somewhere and my father told me to hold the door for women and/or total strangers coming up behind you. It wasn’t just for women either. He made it clear that if you have a chance to hold the door for someone, you do it and you be a gentleman about it.

I only remembered why it was so important on the occasions I forgot. There was this one time when I was around 10-years-old that my parents took me and my siblings to the mall. I, being an overly excited kid, ran out ahead to get inside. In doing so, I forgot to hold the door for a woman and her daughter. My dad did not approve of that.

I vividly recall him catching up with me, grabbing me by the arm, and telling me that if I’m going to run out ahead like that, I damn well better hold the door like a goddamn gentleman. Remember, I was only 10 at the time and my father was holding me to higher standards than that. At the time, I was kind of annoyed, but as I got older, I came to appreciate that lesson.

There were probably other similar incidents. My dad, who I know occasionally reads this site, can probably remember plenty of others like that. I hope they’re still relatively few because as I got older, things like holding doors, pulling out chairs, and saying sir/ma’am became second nature to me. It got to a point where I really didn’t think about it.

Then, in a more recent incident, I had an encounter that kind of worried me. I was walking around my neighborhood. I then make my way into a fast food restaurant for a quick lunch. Since an older woman was behind me, I held the door for them. She smiled and thanked me. I replied with a simple, “You’re welcome, ma’am.”

It was that last part, though, that got a stronger reaction. She was genuinely surprised when I said “ma’am.” It was a pleasant surprised, though. She even went out of her way to thank me for being so courtesy, claiming she doesn’t hear that sort of rhetoric much anymore.

Now, this was not some old woman longing for the good old days, mind you. This woman didn’t look that much older than me. It really caught me off-guard, mostly because I was just doing what my parents had taught me to do all my life. It also kind of worried me, too.

That’s not the first time something like that happened. I’ve said “sir/ma’am” to strangers before and gotten strange looks, both from older and younger crowds. I’ve noticed the older women, though, are the ones that react most often to it. They tend to react most positively as well. Women who are around my age or younger just smile and shrug it off, as though it’s no big deal.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. I understand my experiences are purely anecdotal and it’s unreasonable to make broad generalizations about society, as a whole. However, the more reactions of this sort that I encounter, the more I worry that the value of modern chivalry is declining.

That worry, though, is not akin to some old man longing for the good old days. I understand that the good old days are never as good as we remember. I feel a more pressing concern is how this attitude reflects the growing tension between genders that seems to fuel so many conflicts, these days.

I’ve talked about a few of those conflicts, including the absurd ones. A part of me can’t help but wonder whether the lack of a reaction I get from younger women on my chivalrous acts reflects a distressing trend in attitudes towards men, in general.

I worry that recent scandals, trends in feminism, and even a few trends in men’s rights activism are conditioning people to just assume the worst in men, even when they demonstrate good conduct. Assuming the worst in any situation is usually the first step towards falling into a nasty cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

In that context, there’s no behavior, chivalrous or otherwise, that can convince anyone that they’re just trying to be polite. I hold a door for a woman with those assumptions and she won’t see it as good manners. She’ll just see it as some elaborate effort to get into her pants or somehow draw her into a system of patriarchal oppression.

The assumptions are just as bad for the men. I hold a door for a man, or just get seen holding the door for a woman, and the assumption is I’m trapped in some radical feminist agenda that seeks to turn all men into weak, submissive, beta-males. Again, it overlooks the mere possibility that it’s just the kind, courteous, polite thing to do.

I sincerely hope this is just empty concern on my part and the observations I’ve made are just a byproduct of growing cynicism. I also hope that the current state of gender politics doesn’t reduce the concept of modern chivalry to an agenda. Just acting like a decent human being to other people, regardless of their gender, should never be an agenda.

It’ll be interesting to see how the current social landscape evolves over the next several years. How it sees and interprets modern chivalry will reveal a lot about the direction we’re heading with respect to how men and women relate to one another. If every little action suddenly becomes part of an agenda, then I imagine it’ll get a lot harder to just show common courtesy to someone.

I hope it doesn’t get that bad. I sincerely hope that the lessons my parents taught me about showing good manners and common courtesy are just as relevant in the future as they are now. If I ever get around to having kids, I intend to teach them those same lessons.

Some things just don’t need to be part of a gender-driven conflict. They can just be an overly-formal way of showing respect to one another. Call it what you want, be it modern chivalry or just not being an asshole to someone. There’s still a place for it in any society and I believe there always will be.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, Marriage and Relationships, romance

How To Do Romantic Sub-Plots Right (And Why Some Fail)

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This will probably surprise no one who regularly visits this site, but I love romantic sub-plots. In many cases, they’re my favorite part of a movie, TV show, or comic book. I’ve made my love for romance in general fairly well-known, but romantic sub-plots offer a special kind of appeal.

Now, when I say romantic sub-plots, I’m not referring to the stories built solely around romance, like many of my novels. I’m referring to stories that are primarily presented as another genre, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or a blatant “Die Hard” rip-off, but include a secondary romantic story that runs parallel to the main story.

Sometimes, that story is subtle. Sometimes, it becomes a major catalyst for other parts of the main story. Sometimes, it just adds a little melodrama in between all the bigger, flashier conflicts. Watch pretty much any prime time show on the CW these days and you’ll see examples of every kind to some extent.

As much as I love these sub-plots, though, they can also be frustrating. For every romantic sub-plot I felt was handled well, I can think of five others that were horribly botched. On one end, you have the rich, balanced love story of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. On the other, you’ve got the inherently toxic love story between Penny and Leonard in “The Big Bang Theory.”

There’s so much variety and diversity to romantic sub-plots that I could spend an entire weekend going through all of them. However, for the sake of making a more concise point, I want to focus on what makes a romantic sub-plot truly compelling. Regardless of genre, medium, or scope, a good romantic sub-plot can really enhance the overall plot.

Like every other sub-plot or storytelling tactic, though, romantic sub-plots are prone to all sorts of tropes, cliches, and traditions. Some are more useful than others. However, some can create obstacles and pitfalls that derail an otherwise promising romantic sub-plot.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on all the mechanisms that go into a good romantic sub-plot, I do know plenty of others out there who are far smarter than me and far more capable of explaining the subject in a more comprehensive way. They may not be experts either, but they know how to get the point across.

That’s where wonderful YouTube channels like Overly Sarcastic Productions come in. I’ve referenced it before in previous discussions about strong female characters, but it also provides other extensive breakdowns of various tropes and does it in a colorful, entertaining way, sometimes literally.

One such video in their Trope Talk series covers romantic sub-plots and the breakdown here is the best I’ve seen to date on what makes a good and not-so-good sub-plot. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it. If nothing else, it should put some of your favorite and least favorite romantic sub-plots into a larger context.

There’s a lot of fast-talking, broad-based breakdowns of this trope, which the narrator freely admits she doesn’t fully understand. However, she demonstrates that she understands enough to point out what not to do when pursuing a romantic sub-plot on a fairly basic level. I want to go beyond basics.

The video singles out a few TV shows and cartoons where the romantic sub-plot falls flat, such as “The Legend of Korra” and “Castle.” In both cases, the sub-plot is very shallow in that it’s built entirely on the fact that a straight male and a straight female character work closely together. As such, they become romantically entangled.

Therein likes the most glaring problem, though. Just being two characters who work together is seen as sufficient to justify the sub-plot. As a result, there’s no effort to build meaningful chemistry between the characters. In some cases, there isn’t even an effort to establish whether they’re romantically compatible with one another.

This is probably the most common, not to mention the most annoying, problem that arises when romantic sub-plots enter a story. The sub-plot is given the bare minimum in terms of depth, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks as to why these two should be together.

This happens a lot in the superhero genre. Romantic sub-plots and soap operas are the cornerstone of some of the most iconic superhero comics, TV shows, and movies. One of the most epic examples, the Dark Phoenix Saga, is set to become a movie next year. However, I would argue that the superhero genre is most guilty of this common shortcoming.

Take, for instance, the first “Iron Man” movie and the romantic sub-plot between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Never mind the fact that these two characters don’t have much of a romance in the comics. The first movie and the two successful sequels that follow do plenty to establish Tony and Pepper as the primary romance of the story. However, it does little to show why these two belong together.

The same thing happens with Thor and Jane Foster in the first two “Thor” movies. Unlike Iron Man, the comics establish a more robust romantic history between these two. The movies, however, do little to drawn from this history. They rely solely on the fact that Thor spends a little time around Jane, she’s attracted to him, and that’s all that’s necessary for the romance to unfold.

Again, it’s shallow in that it relies too heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps of chemistry and compatibility. For any functional romance, those gaps are pretty big. Just getting together is only a small part of that process and the story around it. Movies like “Thor” and “Iron Man” give the impression that just being around each other long enough is sufficient. These characters don’t have to actually work on their romance.

Compare that to the much more developed romances in the superhero genre, such as Barry and Iris in “The Flash” TV show. In that romance, just getting together isn’t the end of the story. It’s just part of it. Barry and Iris actually work, struggle, sacrifice, and even argue at times, but that’s exactly what makes their relationship so meaningful.

Outside the superhero genre, there are other ways the romantic sub-plot gets derailed in a way that’s more annoying than entertaining. I think “Friends” was one of the worst offenders with Ross and Rachel because almost the entirety of the sub-plot was built around them struggling to get together. Sure, the process of two people coming together can be compelling, but that can’t be the whole story.

Movies tend to struggle with it even more, but mostly due to logistical reasons. There’s only so much romantic development you can squeeze into a two or three hour movie. However, it can be done. Despite being brief and tragic, the sub-plot of Sarah Conners and Kyle Reese in the original “Terminator” movie showed that it is possible for a romantic sub-plot to be meaningful within those limitations.

Far more often, though, movies try to rush a sub-plot or outright force it. That’s part of what makes any romance hard to take seriously. In a movie like “Jurassic World,” where you have two very different characters in Claire and Owen, it really has to be forced because outside the plot of the movie, it’s hard to imagine these two having a meaningful relationship.

In some respects, that’s a good litmus test for any romantic sub-plot. If you can’t see the characters involved functioning outside the plot of the movie, then chances are the romantic sub-plot is fundamentally flawed. It’s easy to imagine iconic couples like Superman and Lois Lane, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Allie and Noah in “The Notebook” enjoying a functional relationship past the final credits.

Even for couples where it’s harder to picture them outside a conflict, it helps when a romantic sub-plot still puts in extra effort to make the romance believable. While this is a challenge in movies, TV, and comics, I’ve actually seen this handled a lot better in modern video games.

Romantic sub-plots are important elements of popular games like the “Uncharted” series. What makes that sub-plot effective, though, is how much time and energy is put into establishing why a man like Nathan Drake would be with a woman like Elena Fisher. It even goes out of its way to show how these two characters create a genuinely functional relationship towards the end.

While it might be a bit of a stretch, I would also cite the “Mass Effect” series that I’ve praised before in how well it handles romantic sub-plots. Now, it’s a stretch because the game is structured in a way where the player can choose a particular romantic sub-plot or choose to not have one at all. That makes the story a lot more fluid than a movie or TV show, but it still manages to create depth for a sub-plot.

That depth shows, regardless of which romantic sub-plot the player chooses. Whether it’s Shepard and Liara, Shepard and Ashley, or Shepard and Garrus, the game provides opportunities for depth and development. If you follow the sub-plot through to the end, the romance has genuine dramatic weight.

In the end, that’s the most important impact of any romantic sub-plot. When done right, it adds greater weight to the overall narrative. It creates an emotional dimension that goes beyond just achieving a goal or surviving a conflict. It fleshes out the emotions, passions, and desires of the characters involved.

Conversely, it can really disrupt the plot when done wrong. I’ve already covered how the worst love triangle in history derailed the X-men movies. Talk to any “Star Wars” fan and they’ll probably say the poor romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme was the most disappointing part of the prequels not named Jar Jar Binks.

To some extent, a romantic sub-plot is a gamble. It stretches the odds, but it also increases the payout. When it fails, it can fail pretty spectacularly. When it works, though, it can make for some of the most dramatic, passionate moments in a story. As an unapologetic romance lover, I say it’s a gamble worth taking.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, human nature, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, movies, romance, sex in media

When Robots Become (The Perfect) Parents

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Talk to anyone who has been reading superhero comics as long as I have and they’ll tell you the same thing about Superman. A big part of who he is comes from his parents. He is the beacon of truth, justice, and the American way because he was lucky enough to get adopted by the best possible parents that anyone could hope for, alien or otherwise.

In comic book lore, Jonathan and Martha Kent are the gold standard by which all parents are measured. Like Superman himself, they embody an ideal. They reflect just how great an influence that good, loving parents can have on someone, even when they happen to have god-like power.

With that kind of parenting, a being who could move an entire star with only his breath can become a selfless hero. Even in the real world, the value of great parents is well-documented in science and even in the animal kingdom. When the value of something shows in both comic books and adorable animals, that’s a clear sign as to just how great a force it can be.

Now, I’m going to bring sex robots into the conversation. There’s just no easy way to transition to this part of the conversation so I’m not going to try. I’ve talked about sex robots before and I’ve done my best to make my points salient. That’s just not possible in some instances and this may be one of them.

The development of sex robots is happening, despite the concerns and outright opposition of some. As I write this, there are companies working hard to develop perfect robot lovers. Some have made more progress than others. Given the size of the sex industry, there’s just too much money to be made.

Beyond the sex part, though, these robot companions are poised to do even more than just make love to us in ways that’ll make us feel like Superman. With further advances in artificial intelligence, especially in terms of emotional intelligence, it’s not that far-fetched that these robot lovers may one day raise our children too.

The principles are already in place. We can already grow sperm and eggs in a lab. With further refinements, you won’t even need a doner in the future for producing a child. You could, in theory, just select the genetics you want with the traits you want. Beyond having a lot of kids that will look like Brad Pitt and Taylor Swift, you wouldn’t even need a surrogate once artificial wombs become sufficiently refined.

These technologies are in development and it’s entirely possible that there will come a day where an individual, be they man, woman, or something in between, doesn’t need a second person to produce a child. They don’t even need sex or doners. They only need the right tools and the proper biological material.

While that may ensure that the human race can propagate if making babies with sex falls out of fashion, there’s still the matter of caring for these children once they’re born. Technically, a society that produces children like this would be an entire society of single parents, which is already prone to all sorts of pitfalls.

That’s where the sex robots can come in once more, albeit without the sexy parts. If a robot can learn, through artificial intelligence, how to give someone the utmost love, care, and affection as a romantic partner, then why can’t they also develop similar skills in terms of parenting? In theory, a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could grant every child the same parenting that the Kents gave Superman.

Think, for a moment, about the traits of a good parent. Recall the best traits your own parents displayed that, while you might not have grasped them as a kid, you came to appreciate as an adult.

  • A good parent protects and guards their children from danger and corruption
  • A good parent teaches their children right, wrong, and how to make good decisions when the line between the two isn’t clear
  • A good parent is there for their children, providing an emotional anchor during times of duress
  • A good parent guides their children into become a functional adult, both through unconditional love and through occasional discipline
  • A good parent cherishes the trust their children have in them and, in turn, learns to trust them back as they grow
  • A good parent is always there for their child in times of crisis and loss, providing the unique comfort and strength that only they can give

There are probably plenty more traits of good parents I can list. There are just as many bad traits I can cite as well. In terms of pure logistics, there aren’t many of them that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence couldn’t match or exceed.

In principle, an artificial intelligence that’s more advanced than an average human would be even better at protecting and informing children than even the best human parents. At the moment, we’re still struggling to teach ethics to AI. With sufficient refinements, though, there’s no reason why a robot parent armed with advanced AI couldn’t embody the same ideals as the Kents.

There’s also no reason why that intelligent robots couldn’t always be there for a child in some form. Kids are already getting cell phones at younger and younger ages. Kids are even starting to learn from robots in some areas. The current generation of kids may be uniquely equipped to trust, love, and cooperate with robots on a personal level.

They may not be entirely on board with trusting robots to raise their own children, but the foundation is already emerging. The more young people interact with robots, the more comfortable they’ll be incorporating them into their lives, both as lovers and as parents.

At the moment, there’s a lot that robots can’t do in terms of parenting. You could probably say the same thing about sex robots in terms of being ideal lovers. The tools and incentives are there. It’s just a matter of the technology catching up to the concept. I predict that sex robots will probably come first and not just literally. Some are already predicting robot marriage within a few decades.

Shortly after that, though, I think it won’t be long before those same robots start having babies of their own and begin raising those children. While that may seem creepy, if not downright dystopian to some, I think it could actually work to the advantage of robots and humans alike. It may even help us avoid a Skynet scenario.

By loving robots and forming intimate relationships with them, as we’ll likely do with sex robots, we give ourselves and the advanced intelligence behind them a reason to cooperate rather than control. If we learn to love sex robots and teach them to love us back, then there would be no reason for them to enslave or destroy us. If we start raising children with them, then that provides an even greater reason.

Just as children help forge closer bonds between parents, raising children could help strengthen the bond between humans and robots. It already happens now. It starts with sex. Ideally, that eventually leads to children. Those children help create a family. As long as that family is bonded by love, support, and cooperation, why should it matter if some of those members are robots?

Such a scenario is still probably a long way off. I doubt I or most of the people reading this will live long enough to see it. The seeds may already be sown, though. Robots are evolving rapidly and children are already bonding with them. With advanced sex robots not that far off, the way in which we approach raising children may change radically in the coming decades.

It’s going to be a transition, that’s for sure. It’s probably going to be prone to many complications, protests, and outright resistance by some. However, if the end result is every child having parents as perfect as the ones Superman had, then the future of our sex lives and our children are very promising.

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Filed under futurism, Marriage and Relationships, sex robots, sexuality

Gender Equality, The Market For Sex, And How Prostitution Affects Both

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How do you put a real, tangible value on sex? I’m just not talking about the hourly rate charged by a prostitute. I’m talking about the kind of value that allows us to quantify an experience in terms of resources, market, and exchange. Sex already has an inherent value in that we need it to propagate our species. Just how far does that value go and how much does it affect our society?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that sex is the second oldest universal currency in the history of the human species after food. People have been using sex as a currency for millennia and not always in the sense of formal prostitution.

Parents marry their daughters off for dowries. Spies have used sex to extract valuable information. Then, there are teenagers who have sex in hopes of gaining popularity. This sexual exchange goes on all the time in the real world and in any number of movies. Call it prostitution if you want. Hate it all you want. It still happens.

The mere fact that it keeps happening, despite the best efforts of repressive governments, shows that the value of sex does a lot to drive our society. For better or for worse, the pursuit and exchange of sex is one of the most powerful driving forces in the overall human experience.

Given the extent of this driving force, it’s bound to affect how the genders interact with one another. Whether it’s ancient patriarchal societies or western democracies, the exchange of sex has an impact on how people relate to one another. It’s for that very reason that it’s worth pondering what happens when the value of sex is skewed.

This is where it really helps to look at the market value for sex in a libertarian context. Technically speaking, the free market approach is consistent with how sex was exchanged in the hunter/gatherer days of humanity. In that sense, it serves as a baseline of sorts for the market value of sex.

With that context in mind, sex exchanged for certain reasons by a particular gender will have a certain value. A man paying a woman for sex has one value. A woman paying a man for sex has another. A man paying multiple women for multiple sex acts over the course of several nights also has value, albeit a more elaborate one.

That payment doesn’t always involve money, either. Sometimes, the payment is in the form of loving intimacy, not unlike the kind I describe in my books. Sometimes, the payment comes in the form of a particular experience or fantasy, like groupies having sex with rock stars. The key to this exchange is that it is done freely and everyone involves gets the value they seek from it.

Ideally, that’s how the market for sex is determined in perfect libertarian world. Unfortunately, that is not the situation the sexual marketplace faces. Multiple social forces that include the law, social stigma, taboos, and media influences all coordinate to skew the market value for sex. As a result, it skews gender relations as well.

In fact, I would argue that the market value for sex has become more skewed over the past few years than it has in the past several decades. The emergence of the anti-harassment movement and the increasing stigma on certain aspects of male sexuality is inflating the sexual market in some places while crashing it in others.

At the moment, most people would agree that female sexuality is more valued than that of males. Beautiful women are used to sell pretty much everything from shampoo to fast food. It’s no secret that men seek the company of beautiful women. Their company is highly valued, both in terms of money and social standing. The late Hugh Hefner understood that better than anyone.

That’s not to say attractive men don’t also hold value. There’s a reason why men like George Clooney, Chris Hemsworth, and even the Old Spice Guy are celebrated and pursued. However, their sexual market value has less to do with how they look and more to do with what they can do. None of them can bear children, but they have unique skills that make them desirable.

Where the market gets skewed is when that libertarian free exchange gets taxed, so to speak, by a potent mix of laws and social norms. If you’re a beautiful woman, you rarely have to pay for sex. Even if you’re marginally attractive, chances are you don’t have to hire a male gigolo. So long as you’re not actively pursuing someone like George Clooney, you can probably put yourself out there and let the sex come to you.

The taxes, in this case, tend to hit the men seeking sex. Under the current law, they have only a handful of options with respect to seeking sex. They need to convince a woman to freely have sex with them without overtly paying her, which would get them arrested. That often involves indirect payments in the forms of dates, adulation, flirting, and attention.

You could claim that those indirect payments are still akin to prostitution, as some have argued, but that’s where the market gets even more skewed. In that situation, where there’s no option for a simpler exchange involving money and sex, the value of female sexuality doesn’t just go up. The cost for men goes up as well.

For most other goods and services, this creates the kind of premium that makes certain things harder for more people to purchase. There’s a reason why only rich, successful people have Rolex watches, stretch limousines, private jets, and gold-encrusted smart-phones. That makes sense for the luxury crowd. With sex, though, that premium has some unique caveats.

For most people, the desire for a gold-encrusted smartphone isn’t there. Most people can see these expensive yachts and fancy cars from afar. They might even admire them. However, admiring something isn’t the same as desiring it. Most people don’t desire a 100-foot yacht and all the responsibilities that come with it. Nearly everyone desires sex.

Regardless of your gender, you can’t turn off your sex drive. Every effort at doing so has resulted in some pretty damaging effects. People are still going to want sex. For those who lack the beauty, social skills, or charisma to get it, there are only so many ways of going about it. When some of those ways are restricted or hindered, there’s a disparity of unfulfilled desires and that disparity can breed problems.

At the moment, that disparity primarily affects the vast majority of men who aren’t rich or as attractive as Ryan Gosling. They have the same sexual desire that men have always had, but their outlets for that desire are fairly limited, more so now than ever before.

That’s not just because prostitution is illegal and simply being caught with a prostitute is subject to significant stigma. Female sexuality is so valued in wake of the anti-harassment movement that simply attempting to get sex carries a higher risk of being labeled a creep, a harasser, or worse. Women have the power to ruin a man’s life, even if the sex is consensual.

That power is directly linked to the inflated value of sex. By keeping prostitution illegal, the access is controlled and the cost goes up. That’s because, by having to operate in a black or gray market, the cost of doing business is subject to the black market premium. Anything on the black market is going to come with greater risk. With greater risks come greater costs and not always in terms of money.

In a sense, prostitution laws and limiting access to sex by a particular gender puts greater power in the hands of those who are wealthy and can subvert the base market. There’s a reason why rich, powerful people can hire prostitutes with relative impunity while the vast majority of those arrested for prostitution are poor or disadvantaged.

Again, if you’re attractive and have easy access to various resources, those laws don’t affect you. If you’re not, whether you’re a prostitute or someone seeking their services, you can be singled out and arrested. In that market, the value primarily benefits those at the top and I’m not just talking about rich people.

There are plenty of others who have a vested interest in inflating the price of female sexuality and limiting sexual outlets for men. It’s the high value of female sexuality that puts many women, from Hollywood to feminist circles, in greater positions of influence. That’s not to say it’s a full-fledged conspiracy. Like any form of market manipulation, though, it’s a way for certain people to maximize their value.

That manipulation may very well be escalating with the expansion of the anti-harassment movement and increasing efforts to regulate the porn industry. These efforts promise to further skew the sexual marketplace, making it so that those of limited resources will have to pay an even higher price to get sex.

The effects of that disparity are hard to predict, but the signs are there. The existing double standards that assume female victimization and male aggression are only compounding the cost of pursuing sex. At some point, the market can only stay inflated so long before it crashes.

Once again, I want to make clear that I’m not claiming there’s some feminist conspiracy looking to control all forms of male sexuality. In my experience, humans are exceedingly limited at carrying out conspiracies and history has given plenty of examples. That said, I do think those who benefit from female sexuality being more valued have a strong incentive to cling to that value.

In any market, those who have an advantage will work hard to maintain that advantage. That’s why I believe efforts to curb prostitution and the porn industry will escalate in the coming years. However, history also shows that sometimes, those efforts can backfire horribly.

Prostitution isn’t going away anytime soon, but efforts to control it will continue to skew the sexual marketplace and gender disparities, alike. If there’s one consolation, though, it’s that inflated markets have a tendency to correct themselves over time. It may take a while for the sexual marketplace to balance out, but so long as the human desire for sex remains strong, our collective libido will find a way.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, sex in society, sexuality