Demands lead to threats, experts say, then to violence and shame.
What’s happening behind the scenes at the sites and apps you know and love and hate, along with a couple that may not be on your radar (or phone).
Credit Brian Rea
On this week’s podcast, Rosie Perez reads “The Accidental Older Woman,” about a writer who, at age 40, finds herself involved with a 20-year-old.
Modern Love: The Podcast | The Accidental Older Woman
This week, Rosie Perez tells Robin Grearson’s story of falling into a relationship with a man half her age.
The author, Robin Grearson, is a nonfiction writer living in Brooklyn. Stay tuned after the reading to catch up with her and hear reflections from the Modern Love editor Daniel Jones.
Ms. Perez stars in the NBC series “Rise” and admits that she had her own period of dating much younger men.
In December 1995, they saw each other at the Wee Burn Country Club, where both their parents were members. “Chris was so warm and I felt completely comfortable. Our rapport was so natural,” she said. “I was charmed by him, and thought, ‘What an interesting person.’ That night I went home and broke up with the person I’d been dating for six months.”
That week she sent him a Christmas card. He wrote her back, stating that if she was going to be in Connecticut, they could go to a movie. She came for a visit. They talked all night. A month later they started dating again, this time for real. Eight months later, Mr. Van Munching proposed at Smith Point, a beach in Nantucket. Five months later they were married.
What They’ve Learned
Mrs. Van Munching: Chris is the perfect combination of funny and together. I grew up in an insane family where we flew by the seats of our pants. Chris always has it together. He knows where everything is, and that’s incredibly comforting. I could be 100 percent myself with him. I couldn’t do that with others in the past. I’ve learned that sometimes, somebody can bring incredible love out of you.
We have short hand because we had known each other, and where we came from. He knows my crazy and I know his, and we’re still O.K. with that. He’s the most thoughtful, warm and sensitive person. We complement each other. I’m introverted; he’s extroverted. He keeps charge of the calendar. He makes the social plans with the wives in town because he knows that overwhelms me. He tells me when to show up and the appropriate ensemble. He anticipates things. He reads my signals without me having to say it. He knows when I’m hungry or guilty what I haven’t seen my parents enough.
Marriage taught me it’s the small kindness that you do for each other that makes a huge difference. They accumulate. You might think they’re insignificant, but they add up and make this big thing. He sets the table. He knows my favorite sandwich and sometimes just shows up with it. He draws a bath for me.
I didn’t think I would need someone. I thought I’d be alone. Not in a sad way, just because I’m independent. I never thought there was a missing piece, but there was. I never thought I would love someone so completely. I’m still surprised by it. He’s the only person I could have ended up with.
Mr. Van Munching Kim was unlike anyone I’d known. She was sophisticated and worldly. She had a beautiful smile. She still does.
Proposing was the best decision I ever made. It was a leap of faith because we are so different. I’m Type A, and she’s not. I’m practical and pragmatic; she’s more thoughtful, is able to understand people’s motivations, and has empathy. I went to school for business; she went for the arts. I’m so grateful we’re not both type As or Type Bs. Then we’d never get anything done. Our differences bring out the best in each other. She cooks; I clean. If we both clean then no one cooks. We are not overlapping. We each play to our strengths. We’re both strong personalities but no one is pushing to be in charge. That removes all friction and keeps us together. In 21 years we’ve had only two serious fights. The rest are over wallpaper or dishes, and no one cares at the end of the day. I know there are people who are dismissive of their spouses. We don’t do that. We really talk it out and if it’s unimportant we let the little details go.
Being married has taught me how to be a good person, a good man and a good spouse. When you’re single, you act out of your own motivation. We are an us. A single unit. I put our needs and wants ahead of myself, and that has made me grow up and consider things in a much better manner.
She is a never-ending source of love — for me, for our son, for us as a couple. We laugh. A lot. I love to see her laugh. I’ll sneak up and say something in a silly voice, or randomly quote movies from the 80s, and that makes her laugh and that makes my life.
“We were kids when we met,” said Mrs. Knoebel, who is from Utica. “We were friendly and we became lovers, and it grew into something more. Five months after living together we were a couple. A year into the relationship he asked about marriage. I wasn’t ready. We were countercultural. Then I got pregnant and I lost the baby. I realized I didn’t want to live this way, I wanted to get married.”
What I’ve Learned
Mrs. Knoebel: I wasn’t ready to get married, but things happened, and life had other plans. I proposed, and David said yes. Many times I thought this isn’t working. But I was blessed with two beautiful girls. They kept me together.
Marriage is hard. I’m the difficult one in the relationship. I was always running to get to some other place. I thought I’d never measure up to my own expectations. I set the bar too high, but David loved me. He had faith in me. That was very liberating and I felt stronger.
I learned you can be still. That it’s O.K. to depend on someone. That when David praised me I should realize it’s not to flatter me, he really means it. I learned to see what David saw in me, and that helped a lot. He’s very generous and devoted and selfless. He’s a wonderful father. His love and security keep me here. I’d be lost without him.
My life began with David. It took a long time to realize that. I’ve learned a lot about myself by being with him. When I come home and he’s not there, I have an empty feeling. I’m attached. I realized I needed the structure of the marriage, and to be recognized as part of a couple. We complement each other and have achieved a balance because we are so different. I’ve learned you can’t run away from things. I didn’t want to be conventional, but it helped me in the outside world to say I have a husband and a family. Our love is really deep. It’s carried over into our children and their spouses and their kids.
Mr. Knoebel: I was 26 when we got married. She was 22. These were the Joni Mitchell years. We don’t need a piece of paper. Marriage was not the goal. We were going to live together and prosper. Then the parents got involved and both gave the same advice: Get married.
We didn’t exchange rings at the ceremony, or for the first 15 years. Our daughters bought us them. It’s the only piece of jewelry I can bring myself to wear. It’s a symbol of commitment and I’m shy of symbols that reflect society at large. Laurie is the same. That I can wear this ring and feel that way about it, makes it all that more significant. We both wear them. It’s a connection to each other.
We were two hardheaded people learning to cooperate, and that was a learning process. Stepping back was hard to learn, but I did. She challenged me. I learned I wasn’t the one to make all the decisions. Even now I have to stop and remind myself I’m not the only one here. I also had to let her be her. She thrives on big projects; I don’t. I’m a solo worker so I learned to lend a hand and get involved. I don’t want to be left behind. I learned I want to share what she’s doing. I learned that it’s fun to work with a partner I love. I found I could do both.
She’s a fascinating woman. Her kindness, her willingness to go the extra mile, with me and with others, are things I love. I’m never sure what’s going to come out of her mouth, but it’s usually something I’m glad to hear. I was not lonely before I met her, but I discovered how great a partnership could be. I didn’t feel incomplete before I met her, but I did feel more complete, and that feeling has continued through the years.
An earlier version of this article misstated the ages of the couple in two instances. Laurie Goldbas was 20, not 21, when she met David Knoebel, who was 24, not 27. When they married, she was 22 and he was 26.
It’s a signal that the man may make not only a good friend but a good parent, she said.
“That’s the bottom line message that women get when they see a man with a dog: He’s capable of nurturing, of giving without receiving a lot, of caring for another. He’s made a commitment to this animal,” Dr. Fisher said. “And one thing women have needed for years and years is a partner who could share the load, be responsible, care for them if they’re sick and show up on time.” (Just for the record, Mr. Morrill is happily married and not in the market for a relationship).
Gay men and women with pets can communicate the same character traits to potential mates, who will evaluate and appreciate them in a similar manner, said Daniel J. Kruger, a research professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who studies human mating strategies. “The kind of benefits you see in terms of increasing the perception that someone is reliable and caring — I think those are generalized across everybody,” he said.
There’s ample research to demonstrate that the messages sent by dog ownership influences others’ judgment and behavior.
One study that asked volunteers to rate people based on photographs found that they ranked someone as happier, safer and more relaxed when they appeared with a dog.
In another series of experiments, men had more luck getting a woman’s phone number if they had a dog with them, and both men and women had more luck panhandling when they had a dog with them.
Another study found that when women heard vignettes about men who acted like “cads” who were uninterested in a long-term commitment, they rated the men more highly if they owned a dog.
For single people who own pets — and more and more young singles do — pet ownership may even make or break a relationship, according to a 2015 survey that Dr. Fisher and her colleagues conducted among more than 1,200 Match.com pet-owning subscribers. Among the findings:
■ Nearly one-third of respondents said they had been “more attracted to someone” because they had a pet.
■ More than half said they would find someone more attractive if they knew he or she had adopted a pet.
■ Most respondents said they thought their date’s choice in pets said a lot about their personality.
■ More than half said they would not date someone who did not like pets.
Women tended to have stronger opinions on many of these matters than men, the Match.com survey also found.
“Women are generally more discerning than men about their mate choices,” said Peter B. Gray, an anthropologist who was the lead author of the survey report. “They want to know if this person is a good fit, and this may be one way to assess whether someone is telling the truth and is the right fit in a large, anonymous society.”
Another interesting finding from the Match.com survey was that roughly two-thirds of respondents over all said they would judge their date based on how he or she responded to their own pet. “That people might let a cat or a dog influence the most important close relationship in their life — that’s phenomenal,” said Justin Garcia, an associate professor of gender studies at the Kinsey Institute, who is also a scientific adviser to Match.com and a co-author on the paper.
But as more young adults postpone marriage and children and remain single for longer, he said, they may view their pets as one of the more stable and long-lasting aspects of their life.
Whether dog owners truly are more empathetic and nurturing than those who don’t own pets is harder to ascertain. In a series of studies, two Canadian researchers, Anika Cloutier and Johanna Peetz, showed that pet owners certainly believed their pets had a positive effect on their romantic relationships. They also found a correlation between pet ownership and higher relationship satisfaction.
Ms. Cloutier acknowledged that it’s hard to know what comes first, the dog or the personality traits that make someone likely to commit to a relationship, and that the links could reflect reverse causality. “It could be that couples who are more committed and already feel very positively about their relationship are those that decide to invest in the relationship to the pet,” she said.
And beware the cynics who might misuse this information. Frat houses have for years used the trick of adopting baby animals, from puppies to baby chicks to kid goats, to draw visitors. Men or women could similarly “borrow” a friend’s dog for an afternoon walk to lure potential mates.
But ultimately, Dr. Fisher comes down on the side of pet owners, who must devote a lot of time to their animals. In a world full of messages, not all of them necessarily honest, she said, dog ownership is generally “a real honest message.”
Young people are radically changing how we think about violence, consent and gender. Antioch College is where much of the conversation started.
We don’t live in a world where people marry their first kisses, said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert based in San Antonio. “Lots of people date lots of people these days,” she said. “We might have dated people at one time or another and now they are our neighbors, our dentists, our friends.” Online dating and the fact that people are marrying older have only added to this reality.
What this means for couples getting married is that when it comes time to draw up the guest list, more people have to decide whether they will include past relationships or hookups in their festivities.
This can be a tricky, sensitive issue for both the couple and the past partner, according to Ms. Gottsman. “There really aren’t any definites,” she said. “It is subjective based on the feelings of the couple and the circumstances.”
Paul Hwang, a 24-year-old Marine at Quantico, married his wife, Rayliene Hwang, on July 7, 2017, in an apple orchard in Sacramento. He had met her through a close male friend who had dated her. Despite that tricky situation, they were still friends, and Mr. Hwang asked him to be his best man.
“I’ve heard of a lot of weddings where it’s like you went on one date with this person, so you can’t invite them,” he said.
“But for me, even knowing that they probably had a sexual relationship when they were dating, it is in the past. You can’t hold someone accountable for what they did. A kiss is just a kiss.”
Rachel Sussman, a marriage and relationship therapist in New York, said a good test for deciding whether an ex should be invited is whether that person has been part of the life of the couple.
“Most couples when they get engaged, they’ve been dating for two, three or four years,” she said. “If someone all of a sudden says, ‘I want to invite this person to my wedding,’ and their fiancé hasn’t met him or her, that’s weird to me.”
Even when the bride and groom are certain about their decision, it can be an emotional choice for the former partner.
Mr. Hwang’s friend ended up choosing not to come to the wedding after there was a misunderstanding about the date of the wedding. Ms. Hwang said it was probably for the best. “I think it would have been a diss if we didn’t even invite him at all,” she said. “But maybe it would have been a little awkward if he was there. I told him some intimate things about myself.”
Cristina Garcia, a 38-year-old dietitian and wellness consultant in Austin, Tex., who is happily married with children, was shocked when her high school sweetheart hand-delivered an invitation to his wedding. “I knew he was dating someone and they were serious, and I was happy for him,” she said. “But I never expected the wife would be cool with inviting me to the wedding.”
She attended and found the experience baffling. “The doors opened, the bride is there, and he was looking for me,” she said. “Our eyes locked. Then they continued with the ceremony, and I congratulated them after and watched them do their first dance. Maybe it was his version of closure.” She added that it was a moment she will never forget for her entire life.
Then there are the people left out of the festivities.
Jessica Birch, a 33-year-old special education teacher in Manhattan, felt isolated when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of an ex-boyfriend from college who ended up dating and later marrying a mutual friend. “We were all part of the same clique in our rowing club,” she said. “It was similar to any club where you have both guys and girls. You all just end up dating each other at some point.”
She found out she wasn’t invited to the wedding when other mutual friends inquired whether she was going. “I played it off not like I wasn’t invited but that I couldn’t make it,” she said. “I saw all my friends at the wedding on Facebook. It really sucked.”
While couples shouldn’t invite an ex to their wedding just because he or she may feel left out, there are some motivations that are more respectful and more kind than others.
“Are you all friends now and the bride or groom is just jealous? If that’s the case, that is a sign of bigger problems to come. That person is going to be jealous of co-workers and family members down the line,” Ms. Gottsman said. “If you’re making a declaration that this is a fresh start for us, we are keeping it limited to close family and friends, that is different.”
Of course, not every situation with an ex is tricky. When Laurel Niedospial, a 33-year-old freelance writer in Chicago got married on June 17, 2012, she had no hesitation about inviting her ex-boyfriend, who was already married to her close friend, to the wedding. “It’s funny,” she said. “I stopped thinking about him as an ex-boyfriend years before that.”
He ended up being useful. When there was miscommunication with the wedding planner about making arrangements for a s’mores bar, her ex picked up the skewers and ran the whole station, helping guests spread peanut butter and marshmallows on their graham crackers.
She had no doubt that she made the right decision in what could have been an awkward situation for others. “There were no feelings there,” she said of the former romance. “He managed to save the day.”
He offers a variety of love hacks because he doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions for relationships. He suggests picking whichever hack appeals and starting right away.
Touch Your Partner
Holding hands can win you points even when you don’t mean it, as demonstrated in an experiment with couples who watched a video together. Some people were instructed not to touch their partners during the video, while others were told to touch in a “warm, comfortable and positive way.”
Afterward, the people who had been touched reported being more confident of being loved by their partner — and this effect occurred even when the people knew that their partners’ actions were being directed by the researchers. Their rational selves knew that the hand-holding wasn’t a spontaneous gesture of affection, but it made them feel better anyway.
Don’t Jump to Bad Conclusions
If your partner does something wrong, like not returning a phone call, don’t over-interpret it. Researchers have found that one of the biggest differences between happy and unhappy couples is their “attributional style” in explaining a partner’s offense.
The unhappy couples tend to automatically attribute something like an unreturned phone call to a permanent inner flaw in the partner (“He’s too selfish to care about me”) rather than a temporary external situation, like an unusually busy day at work. When something goes wrong, before drawing any conclusions about your partner, take a few seconds to consider an alternative explanation that puts the blame elsewhere.
Picture a Fight From the Outside
In an experiment with 120 married couples in Chicago, Dr. Finkel periodically asked questions about their marriages over the course of two years. During the first year, their satisfaction with their marriages declined, which unfortunately is typical.
At the start of the second year, some of the couples were instructed to try something new when they found themselves in an argument: “Think about this disagreement with your partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved; a person who see things from a neutral point of view. How might this person think about the disagreement? How might he or she find the good that could come from it?”
Again, that little exercise made a big difference. Over the next year, marital satisfaction remained stable in those couples, whereas it continued to decline in the control group that hadn’t been instructed to take the third-party perspective.
Make a Gratitude List
Once a week, write down a few things your partner has done to “invest in the relationship,” as the participants in one experiment were instructed to do. Other participants were instructed to list things they had done themselves to invest in the relationship. The ones who patted themselves on the back subsequently felt a little more committed to the relationship, but the ones who wrote about their partners’ contributions felt significantly more committed — and also, not surprisingly, a lot more grateful toward their partners.
Accept a Compliment
One of the most common factors in failed marriages is the “rejection sensitivity” of one partner. People with low self-esteem have a hard time believing their partner really loves them, so they often preemptively discount their partner’s affection in order to avoid being hurt by the expected rejection. Eventually, even when they start off with a loving partner, their worst fear comes true because their defensive behavior ends up driving the other person away.
In testing ways to counteract this anxiety, researchers asked insecure people to recall a specific compliment from their partner. Giving a detailed account of the situation and the compliment didn’t have any effect, apparently because these insecure people could dismiss it as a lucky aberration: “For once I did something right.”
But there was a notable effect when people were asked to think about the compliment abstractly: “Explain why your partner admired you. Describe what it meant to you and its significance for your relationship.” That quick exercise helped them see why their partner could really care for them.
Celebrate Small Victories
When your partner tells you about something that went right in his or her day, get excited about it. Ask questions so your partner can tell you more about the event and relive it. Put some enthusiasm into your voice and your reactions. Researchers call this a “capitalization attempt.”
When researchers studied couples who were trained to use these techniques in their evening discussions, it turned out that each partner took more pleasure from their own victories, and both partners ended up feeling closer to each other. By sharing the joy, everyone came out ahead — and in true love-hack fashion, it didn’t take much time at all.
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.