Does Where You Meet Matter?

Online dating is here to stay. That much is clear. But is meeting someone online the most promising way to meet a mate? Just how well do relationships started online fare?

Researchers at the new Austin Institute for the Study of Family & Culture, where I’m a senior fellow, analyzed nationally-representative data from the 2011 “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” (HCMST) survey that addressed those questions. In a research short you can read in its entirety here, they conclude–mirroring much of social science–there’s no simple answer, but there are conclusions to be made. Humans, they are complex.

Basically, the data has lots of couples, many of whom met well before the Internet age. One should expect them to stick it out longer than more recently-fashioned pairs. So while it appears that meeting online is the least likely venue to succeed (for two years), it looks like those who met online more recently don’t look that much different from those who met in more traditional ways–in church, at work, at a bar, etc.

By the way, the Austin Institute has several other interesting posts of late, on the gender gap in church, polling support for same-sex marriage, and the politics of marriage and divorce among younger Americans.

Roman Bracketology

So it all comes down to this week, for Catholics. And in a at least one significant way, to Protestants as well, since the pope is arguably the central figurehead promoting religious freedom for all. Catholic performing artist Matt Maher issued a call last week for all Christians to pray about the conclave. I concur. Of course the response broke out into the standard Protestant-Catholic quibbles. Enough. As Benjamin Franklin asserted to his Declaration cosigners, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves in discerning imminent doom. Suffice it to say that there may be some religious freedom issues ahead.

I was a wee lad when I learned of Pope Paul VI’s death, and have only the vaguest recollection of it. I don’t remember at all the conclave that ended in John Paul I’s September papacy, or the election of John Paul II that shortly followed it. Most of us of course recall the last one, in 2005. But these things don’t happen very often, on average.

In a previous post, I listed this baker’s dozen of names as likely candidates: Robles Ortega, Tagle, Dolan, Schönborn, Bozanic, Turkson, Braz de Aviz, Betori, Filoni, Gracias, Erdö, Pengo, and Onaiyekau.

I had my reasons and oddball permutations and criteria, and now it’s time to tweak that list a bit, pare it down to an Elite Eight, and wonder some more aloud. I will not pick a winner. I am confident, however, that I will be a winner. I’ll be content whatever the College of Cardinals conclude, confident that the Holy Spirit is behind it all, and resting in the notion that the Church will not fail, regardless of any particular papacy or scandal. (May there be fewer of the latter in the future.) So below I offer eight solid more-or-less likelys.

Having read far too much news about the matter, I emerge with a sense that there are 2-3 emerging interest groups (or power blocs, or whatever you want to call them), including those central to the Secretariat of State (led by Tarcisio Bertone), and those wishing to see considerable reform. The Americans appear to have their game face on, and are an organized bunch, so much so that they’ve been asked to stop giving press conferences, even though they most certainly are not the likely source of leaks.

And the leaks appear to be continuing, such that one most wonder—I will instead presume—that they either are intentional, aiming to shape the conclave’s decision-making toward some particular end, and/or that they will meet with a firm resolution to reform the sort of organization that seems to be foster more leaks than a cheap tent in a Florida summer shower.

I would suspect that the sum total of all this will be that the first vote could be a major eye-opener for the cardinals, revealing multiple interest groups. That may not be uncommon. What happens next, of course, will be fascinating but unknown.  Although a conclave’s machinations are supposed to be kept quiet under pain of excommunication—the grand-daddy of ecclesial punishments—re-creations of the last conclave’s dynamics suggest otherwise. And that was a pre-Twitter world.

Be that as it may, my guess is that the voting will likely conclude either late on Wednesday, March 13 or more likely on my dear wife’s birthday, March 14. That would be kind of cool for her. But if we awake on Friday to no new news, then that will signal more mystery still, at which point it’s time to toss the brackets and pray even harder.

I will wager nothing on the name of the next pope, although tradition holds that we’re probably due for another Pius here soon, if not a Gregory or a Clement. But tradition isn’t always hewed to, as John Paul I displayed in his use of the first dual name, or the resignation of Benedict XVI.

Now, on to Roman Bracketology. My Elite Eight include: Tagle, Braz de Aviz, Turkson, Ouellet, Dolan, Scherer, Ravasi, and Scola—all of whom have reasons why they might emerge as a favorite, and reasons why they won’t. My rector thinks it’ll be an Italian, and he’s been Catholic a lot longer than me. Since deference is nearly a Catholic virtue, I won’t think of suggesting he’s wrong. He does note, importantly, that speaking lots of languages matters a great deal here, and that some cardinals, like my beloved archbishop from New York, do not do that as well as some others. I see no obvious front-runner. Long-time student of the Vatican John Allen doesn’t either:

It seemed clear in 2005 that the opening rounds shaped up as a yes or no to Ratzinger. Today, while there are a number of figures perceived as plausible, there doesn’t seem to be a single point of reference.

Allen goes on to discuss four likely “camps” or—if not that organized—interests: governance, pastoral, Third World, and evangelical. In keeping with my rector’s inclination, Allen notes why a preference for an Italian may win out (and why it might not):

In the past, when cardinals would talk about “governance” it was often code for an Italian pope, on the assumption that Italians carry a special gene for ecclesiastical administration. The recent Vatileaks scandal, however, seemed to highlight the worst of petty Italian squabbles, and may have taken the edge off the preference for an Italian candidate.

And if relative youth and evangelistic outreach is valued, look to the thrilla from Manila. (He also speaks fluent Italian, which apparently is a near-must.) But there’s much more to this vote than youth and evangelism, especially since the former signals less extensive experience with governance and in Rome than is probably preferred.  Who knows? (Well, at least Someone does.)

Rest assured, however, that while selecting the next head of the Church is not about checking boxes and pleasing irritated apostates, the mainstream media thinks it is, and will quickly praise, then investigate, then pummel the next Holy Father for his ideological and geographical and ethnic shortcomings, whatever they are. Pay them no attention. Or as little as possible.

This will be an interesting and exciting week!


Shining like the Sun

Although there are perhaps more timely subjects to tackle here this week, including the dueling, David vs. Goliath SCOTUS amici briefs on marriage, my thoughts largely return to more personal matters. I recently lost a 53-year-old friend to cancer—courtesy of a more pressing and ultimately fatal pulmonary embolism—and continue to learn of another family friend’s struggle with the same brutal cancer that ended my father’s earthly life 13 fast years ago. So as Winter turns to Spring, I am mindful of those for whom it is their last here among us fellow travelers.

Lent is about dying. For most of us, this amounts to a half-hearted dying to self. And yet there is a good soberness to Christian practice, a counter-balance–a remission perhaps even–for the fixation on fictions of “life” and entertainment that go on unabated around us, and often in us.

I’m still reading Thomas Merton’s fine autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. I find his description of the late 1930s and early 1940s particularly insightful, as he and the rest of the nation watched the temperature in Europe rise, with slow-brewing angst and trepidation. Merton, a mystic and penitent, described his sentiments upon receipt of orders to register for the draft:

…it was enough to remind me that I was not going to enjoy this pleasant and safe and stable life forever. Indeed, perhaps now that I had just begun to taste my security, it would be taken away again, and I would be cast back into the midst of violence and uncertainty and blasphemy and the play of anger and hatred and all passion, worse than ever before.

What he stated next, however, haunts me in a Lenten sort of way.

It would be the wages of my own twenty-five years: this war was what I had earned for myself and the world. I could hardly complain that I was being drawn into it.

Would that I could live that wisdom when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself or hostile toward others. My daughter and I were blessed to hear Cardinal Dolan offer a short homily about a year ago on magnanimity, an under-discussed and under-practiced virtue. Most of us don’t even know what it is. To be magnanimous means to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity toward others. I see it in Dolan, as I secretly hope his fellow cardinals perceive it in him as well. I see it far too infrequently in myself.

Merton captures this sense of magnanimity elsewhere, in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, where he palpably senses the intimate connection between love of others and his own growth in grace:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers….We are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous….It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Shining like the sun. I’ve walked my own campus lately with this phrase in mind. It is a moving, bewildering phrase. I’m not there yet, but I am grateful for those who have, who do, and who will help show us how to do that. Some are long dead, some are dying, and some haven’t even been born yet. Such is the Church.

I have witnessed magnanimity, and more often heard of it, in our family friend who is dying. He won’t likely agree. (Indeed, my father felt similarly unworthy as his own mortal life’s end approached.)

Together with Merton, Dolan, my dad, my father-in-law, the Stumberg family, and plenty of others: they remind me that amid conflicts hot and cold, culture wars, family fueds, and our own internal battles, our call—our sole purpose in life—is to become more like Christ, to be generous, to radiate love and peace to those around us; to fight, but to fight fairly; to love, and not to hate; to listen more than talk; to bring order to chaos; to stand firm in hope, and yet to honor the dignity of persons when we do. I am hoping some of my observations of it rub off.

To DS: while your body wastes away, you are shining like the sun, because sanctity is not so readily fashioned in ease as in endurance, not so efficiently in tranquility as in suffering. You have let your light shine before men, and now it’s our turn to praise your Father in heaven for it.


The Suicide Rate has Risen: What Predicts Suicide Ideation?

With the news of troubled country music star Mindy McCready’s death from suicide, a month after her baby’s father did the same, some public attention returns—as it does with regularity—to this painful topic. According to a February 13 New York Times article, the suicide rate in the US has climbed by 12 percent since 2003.  Another Times article, this one from February 1, claims a 31 percent increase in the number of suicides in the U.S., from an estimated 80 a day in 1999 to 105 a day in 2010. (A rate need not increase as rapidly as an estimated number, given population growth.) Some of the increase is due, quite likely, to the economic challenges of the past several years.

While suicide is of course incredibly personal, thoughts of suicide are nevertheless predictable, albeit not with great precision. What predicts suicide ideation? (Of course, there can be a significant divide between thinking and doing; I recognize that.) I use data from the nationally-representative New Family Structures Study of 18-39-year-olds to predict which respondents said “yes” when asked:

During the past 12 months, have you ever seriously thought about committing suicide?

Just under seven (7) percent of young-adult Americans responded “yes” to this question, so that’s our baseline. Who said they had thought seriously about suicide in the past year?

  • 11% of unemployed respondents
  • 10% of respondents currently on public assistance
  • 9% of women and 5% of men
  • 25% of respondents who said they had been touched sexually by a parent or adult caregiver
  • 3% of respondents who said they’ve served in the military
  • 4% of currently-married respondents
  • 15% of currently-divorced respondents
  • 11% of currently-cohabiting respondents
  • 25% of respondents who say they drink alcohol “every day or almost every day”
  • 19% of respondents who self-identified as “100% homosexual (gay)”
  • 5% of respondents who self-identified as “100% heterosexual (straight)”
  • 26% of respondents who self-identified as “bisexual, that is, attracted to men and women equally”
  • 5% of whites, 8% of blacks, and 11% of Hispanics
  • 10% of high-school dropouts, 3% of college graduates
  • 25% of respondents who say they view porn “every day or almost every day”
  • 16% of respondents who said they were bullied for “a long time” while growing up
  • 7% of respondents who said they were bullied “occasionally” while growing up

In a more complicated logistic regression model predicting suicide ideation, with a variety of control variables, some of these measures fail to remain significantly associated with suicide ideation. Here’s what a more complex model reveals:

Depression (measured here as a short form of the CES-D index) is a—and perhaps the—key predictor, as we would expect. Religious service attendance exhibits a modest protective effect. Physical health is a powerful predictor of less ideation. While income didn’t matter, reporting greater household debt increases such thoughts. Living in a gay-friendly state predicts less suicide ideation. (I won’t unpack this much here, although I suspect it has something to do with greater mental health resources in more liberal states). Having been molested by a parent or adult caregiver remains detrimental, even after a host of control variables, as would be expected. Oddly enough, so does porn use, especially daily users. I won’t make much of that here, other than to suggest that persons with compulsive sexual behaviors often tend to be psychologically less healthy than those who are not.

All of us know someone who has taken their own life. Lots of us know many, sadly. What it’s more difficult to discern, of course, is just who is thinking about it, and what we can do for them.

Here’s a good resource to have nearby: the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It states: “By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.”