it’s not the money

The romantic euphamism is doing a Kickstarter project related to his comic, and it has been wildly successful, funded 1,000% over its original goal in the first 8 (out of 30) days, so you can rest assured that I’m not writing a post about it because he, like, desperately needs more support:

(If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s crowdsourcing site to fund creative projects. If you’re an artist with a creative idea that needs funding, it’s a fabulous tool.)

I just wrote a post about being a highly educated woman and the impact that has on my relationships – or at least on the way my relationships are perceived. And, ya know, I’ve got a jobby job, I go to an office and I write annual reports and I sit on committees. My life looks pretty grown-up, all things considered. I have benefits. A retirement plan. And here I am with this guy who makes his living DRAWING A COMIC STRIP. And you don’t have to tell me that comics aren’t just Dilbert and Garfield, I totally know, but really. Take that one home and introduce it to your mom, who’s been worried about you for the past 6 years while you floundered in singledom. It just doesn’t SOUND very promising.

(Actually my mom really likes him.)

So here I am, with my jobby job and my biweekly paycheck, attached to this person who, let’s face it, doesn’t have a retirement plan. And then along comes Kickstarter, with its financial exhibitionism….

Kickstarter looks like it’s about money, right? With its percent funded statistics and its system of pledges and rewards.

But the money part of it is a mask for the substance of the experience.

And I’m telling you, the substance of the experience has been kind of a turn on.

His creativity, his humor, his excited commitment to the project are all things I love about him, and there they all are, posted in public. And there are 700+ people in the world ready to pay for that creativity, humor, and excitement, to get something they would eventually be able to get for free. Why? Well there are people who commented along the lines of, “I have no idea who you are and never read your comic, but your Kickstarter is so funny I had to back it.”

They all share a little fragment of what I experience every day.

I have watched the Kickstarter for 7 days. I have created Excel spreadsheets to analyse the performance of various incentive levels relative to Kickstarter’s averages. It’s been a fun project to work on together – me doing all the mathy part, him doing all the creative part. And I’ve been dazzled all over again, brand new, like I was when we met.

It’s not the money, it’s the brilliant. It’s the funny. Long before we met, I wrote that humor is my number one mate choice characteristic. Well, now I let a professional comedian walk my dog.

Thinking about sex and relationships is part of what I do for a living, so I can’t help considering the larger meaning of my individual experience.

Could it be that the narrative that women are turned on by money be a misconstruction (by the men, who create the narrative), boiling the intelligence, humor, social abilities, and creativity of a guy down to the monetary reward that might, but doesn’t usually, go with it?

Could the standard “evolutionary” thinking that female humans are seeking a “provider” for their offspring be totally off-target, and actually what female humans want is not a provider of food and shelter, but a provider of inspiration, intellectual engagement, insight, humor? (Could it also be that what women want is context dependent? Why yes, I think so.)

My brother is a creative genius too, but only recently has he been able to make any kind of a living out of that work. And my dad, in his way, has that arty vibe. And both of them were supported by organized, intelligent, and (cultural conditions permitting) educated women.

No no. It’s not about the money. It’s the brilliant. It’s the funny.

22 responses to “it’s not the money

  1. OMG, YES. . . . my friend & I had this discussion a while back that there are no soulmates, except that, clearly you can have lots of soulmates in your girlfriends, which means you don’t have to get EVERYTHING from your romantic partner. Which means you can pick a partner who lights you up & still have your community of chosen family (soulmates) . . . & essentially it’s one big win. But this post explains that whole conversation so much better.


  2. “Could the standard “evolutionary” thinking that female humans are seeking a “provider” for their offspring be totally off-target, and actually what female humans want is not a provider of food and shelter, but a provider of inspiration, intellectual engagement, insight, humor?”

    Well, kinda. Because . . .

    “Could it also be that what women want is context dependent? Why yes, I think so.”

    I do too. But not really. Or, that is, it is context dependent, but that the context is closely related to the economic model in which the couple exists. “What women want” is entirely dependent on how they get paid — that’s the relevant context..

    In a tribal hunter-gatherer or herder/fisher culture, the biggest issues a woman faces when it comes to raising offspring is food security, so the male who is most adept at providing protein is the favored selection. He passes his protein-gathering genes to their offspring, and those qualities associated with them (usually big manly muscles and a willingness to endure danger and hardship in pursuit of his goal) became the primary sexual attractants for humans . . . for about 100,000 years. If a man could kill a tiger and bring you a dead antelope at the end of the day, he had something to offer you, and you had a vested interest in supporting him in a domestic sexual partnership.

    Then came the Age of Muffins, the Agricultural Age. When grain crops made food security a much-less-pressing issue, then Physical Security became the primary allure for women. Men who can provide not protein but all forms of security — physical, food, and social — become the providers-of-choice. Needless to say, the same attributes that allow a man to be a good protein provider are far less useful for being a carbohydrate provider. The former needs to be strong and fearless. The latter needs to be shrewd and adept at administration . . . and own a lot of land. Unfortunately, our bodies didn’t quite catch up to our economies, so we spent roughly 5000 years trying to make the shift in thought away from “Big strong and fearless” towards “shrewd administration”, with only limited success, when the Age of Muffins ended and the Age of Steel began. But if you had a good work ethic and a good knowledge of how agricultural economics worked — and your daddy owned some property — then a man had a lot to offer you, and you had a vested interest in supporting him in a domestic sexual partnership — a monogamous and exclusive one, because he wanted to ensure the paternity of the offspring he was supporting, and so law and social mores required at least token monogamy and placed a lot of shame on bastardy. As a woman, the more successful the partnership, the higher your social status, the better positioned amongst your all-important female peer group, the more likely that your offspring would inherit wealth from your husband and be able to care for you into your elder years.

    In the Age of Steel, the Industrial Revolution, the economy changes yet again, and the primary issue for women when it concerns their offspring is Financial Security. While women can earn enough to support themselves without the need for a husband thanks to urbanization and industrialization, the most important thing a woman could do to succor her genetic legacy is to make sure that she and her children have plenty of money. While she can make her own, the optimal arrangement for maximum advantage to offspring is a two-parent income. Since throughout most of the Industrial Revolution the well-paying and dangerous heavy industrial jobs went to men while the less well-paying clerical and light industrial jobs went to women. The inequity is dramatic enough to compel women to continue marriage for the sake of their offspring, and then encourage their male mate to improve his legacy and the security of her and their offspring through the use of financial instruments such as Life Insurance and home ownership. And when birth control and more liberalized divorce laws became available late in the Industrial Age, then hypergamy became far more attractive, allowing a woman to pursue financial security for her and her offspring through a string of provider males (serial monogamy), ideally each better-positioned to give her and her offspring the maximum social advantage. If a man had a good job and a good bit of savings or financial expectation, then he had something to offer you, and you had a vested interest in supporting him in a domestic sexual partnership . . . until a better deal came along. The idea that serial monogamy’s affect on your offspring could be detrimental is easily brushed aside by the clear material advantages of hypergamy.

    Now we have the Age of Thought. Thanks to computerization and the internet, a large number of people can make a living basically by trading electrons around. In the 21st century we have more people thinking for a living than ever before. In that arena, women actually perform better than men due to the social nature of the internet and commerce in general. With the decrease in heavy industrial jobs where masculine strength is an advantage, men and women are forced to compete in the same work sector for the same jobs. Women in a post-industrial economy no longer require the assistance of a man for the raising of children, because they can provide their own financial security and outsource previously important aspects of parenting through a network of service providers. With social welfare programs in place, legacy financial issues become much less important, even “saving for college” becomes moot, and there is no longer a social necessity for having a permanent man in your life. Now what does a man have to offer you? Laughter? Wit? Humor?

    After 100,000 years of grinding progress out of the savanna and into civilization, at the zenith of human culture men have gone from being fierce protectors of our women and children to being their court jesters. Our ability to defend, to protect, to preserve, to provide, to build and to innovate, none of them have actual value to women any more. Our only value lies in our ability to entertain them. And once we don’t, any longer, then the post-industrial male gets recycled, put back on the shelf, traded for something more amusing but just as temporary. If children resulted from the union, he’s unlikely to gain custody or even a meaningful role in parenting them. More likely he is cast in the role of uncaring and distant father.

    If men have nothing to offer women but their wit and humor, then permanent interpersonal relationships have no economic incentive to survive in a post-industrial society. And without economic incentive or strong cultural mores encouraging such relationships, then the fulfillment of the emotional yearning for a stable partnership that so many women claim they want is utterly illusory. With divorce so easy and so readily encouraged, then marriage is no longer a commitment, but a temporary understanding.

    It is far more advantageous for men, in the post-industrial economy, to eschew the danger implicit in entertaining just one woman in a relationship in favor of entertaining himself with many women. And the unsatisfied yearning for emotional connection that usually comes from men only after a long intimacy and the close contact involved in a stable long-term relationship will be harder and harder to come by as men are presented with far more appealing and less fickle options — from video games and internet porn to anonymous sexual encounters to paid escorts or one-night-stands. The idea that most men will seek out a long term partner for emotional reasons, without consideration of the economic impact of his choice, is a fallacy mistaking feminine values for masculine values.

    Men in aggregate simply have no interest in investing emotional and financial interest in a non-permanent relationship (unless the sex is just too righteous), especially one predicated on the mere whim of interest in his ability to entertain her. Just as a woman in the early days of the sexual revolution, presented with reliable birth-control, easy community-property divorce, and the prospect of other women’s wealthier husbands turned to hypergamy and serial monogamy in overwhelming numbers, now men presented with free porn, sophisticated videogames, compelling sports and politics, and a culture that encourages hook-ups with younger women as a matter of course are choosing to opt out of the possibility of a relationship altogether in favor of the far less-complicated and less-dangerous life of personal fulfillment.

    Think about it from his perspective: you weren’t attracted to him because he could protect you, he could support you, or he could bring you security. His every effort at masculinity is in vain, as your attraction to him is based on his ability to amuse you. So the moment he stops making you laugh, he knows he’s done. He can be replaced by a good book or a Comedy Central marathon. Oh, he can offer you plenty of other soothing beta-type support, but the fact is in this day and age you can find that anywhere, and even hire it by the hour. Your relationship is utterly dependent upon your willingness to be entertained by him.

    Fair enough. I’ve heard that before — “I want a man who can make me laugh!”. “It’s not the money”, you say. And I’m certain that you feel confident enough to base your relationship on such an ephemeral thing as his ability to entertain you. And it’s quite possible that romantic euphemism may eventually be able to exist in a relationship wherein his masculinity isn’t challenged by his partner’s obvious objective success, compared to his; where his attempts at amusement-for-hire can rise to the level of your career’s contribution to sex education and gender studies in the eyes of your peers and parents and society at large. He might be able to handle being the permanent junior partner in the relationship and hang on to the idea that you are both “equal partners” when it is clear that objectively, on paper, and in the perceptions of everyone around you, in many real ways you are not.

    But a far more likely scenario is that he will come to resent the difference. He’ll feel that your success not only outshadows his own, but outshadows the possibilities of his future success as well. When he realizes that at his most successful he still would not be able to match your rank and social position as a professional academic, something is going to ‘click’ in his brain, and suddenly it’s not going to be as much fun being funny around you any more. If you have a fight, there’s no compelling reason keeping you together — and he knows that. He knows that you are loyal to your career first and foremost, and that he has no hope of becoming more important than that, likely ever. He knows that you are a respected academic whose partner is under a certain amount of scrutiny by her professional peers, which mandates a certain level of and type of behavior, and if he feels a desire to depart from that he cannot do so without risking your relationship. In other words, at this point he’s probably maxed out how far the relationship can realistically progress. Whether that’s enough to feed his masculine ego is up to him, of course. But most men would have a problem with it. Understanding that he’s not “most men” (most of us aren’t), I can still say with a degree of certainty that he feels at least the echoes of all of those things in his heart. The days when he could count on an eventual permanent relationship are pretty much gone, and the day when women placed a value on masculinity are gone, and all we’re left with is jokes.

    So hang on to your romantic euphemism, Emily. And I hope he continues making you laugh. Because under the current culture, that’s pretty much all he has to offer you, and when he stops making you laugh . . . well, I think you can write the rest.

    • I’m gonna make a new rule I think. No comments more than double the length of the post they’re commenting on. This one is nearly triple. I think this comment is longer than ANY post I’ve written in two years of blogging.

      I try to keep up with the comments, but dude. There is just no way on earth I’ll read this – particularly because the last paragraph (the only one I read) is so very condescending (and inaccurate).

      • I did, and you were the wiser, Emily. It´s evolutionary psychology bable of the kind easily found around the manosphere, and it sounds quite resentful of the fact that women are not economicaly dependent on men anymore. Because of COURSE, if the men are not providers and women don’t need them for shelter, food and protection, then men are just entertainment. After all, it’s not like women have feelings for men, or want someone fun, intelligent and nice to share their lives, or like sex with men for it’s own sake, or some other absurdity like that. No, women will only truly invest in a relationship if there are economic rewards. How come you never wrote a post on THAT, Dr. Nagoski?

      • @Alex: It’s not resentful of women not being economically dependent on men any more . . . it’s looking at the ramifications of women not being economically dependent on men anymore, and why those ramifications are not universally acclaimed as a Good Thing. But there’s no going back, only forward.

        And it’s interesting that the “feelings” for men you ascribe as the reasons women stay with them lacking another compelling reason you list “Someone fun” (entertain me with amusement), “intelligent” (entertain me with your insights), “nice” (do not make me not entertained by making me cross with you), and “liking sex for their own sake” (entertain me with your sexual prowess). They all boil down to the same thing, entertainment. If a man fails to keep a woman interested through his entertainment antics, she usually finds enough other fault in him to move on to the next one. It might be a positive indication of “true love”, but in terms of a foundation for a lasting commitment, relying on your mate’s ability to entertain you indefinitely might not be the most reliable indicator of a long term happy relationship. But that doesn’t mean that plenty of women make that mistake.

    • Wow, can you believe this guy? 2,000 words of unexamined assumptions, smugness and unsupported assertions, ending with an insult to the blog’s author.

      Emily, congratulations on the euphemism’s artistic success and your ability to share in it (with spreadsheets, awww)! And congratulations to your brother, too – I sing Balkan, Turkish and Georgian music and research diaspora communities (though not their music, sadly). I didn’t know a 3-disc compilation of the music of the U.S. Ottoman diaspora existed, but I’m very happy to discover it does!

    • And when birth control and more liberalized divorce laws became available late in the Industrial Age, then hypergamy became far more attractive

      Wait, I thought I was supposed to be marrying up for economic security so I’d want to stay with the guy. Now you tell me hypergamy is so I can leave? But making more than the guy is also so I can leave? Why do I get this funny feeling that you just don’t want me to have any autonomy in how I run my life, because oh, no, I might leave my husband?

      • The determination to exercise the hypergamous impulse is affected by a number of factors, economics being a prime one. Usually a couple begins a married life early, when the female’s sexual capital is high and the male’s is low. In those terms the male is largely measured by his potential, both economic and personal. If he does not perform well in both, then the hypergamous impulse is activated, and the female begins looking for a better match quickly before her sexual capital falls too far.

        If a woman “marries down”, and the man in question has no real economic potential, then his only hope is to maximize his ability to comfort and entertain her — he has non leverage in the relationship beyond that. He cannot provide for her. He can care for her only to the extent that her resources permit (not his). And he can, indeed, provide the kind of comforting support that makes it very difficult for a woman to activate her hypergamous impulse without incurring a lot of social blowback.

        So what usually happens is she starts finding fault in other ways, rationalizations other than his ability to provide that make him “not the one”. That could be just about anything. His jokes won’t be funny any more. The endearing qualities he used to have are annoying, now. Her friends start to whisper that “she could do better”.

        In the meantime, her poor fella has to face a male culture where being dependent on your woman for your livelihood (or at least being unable to provide for her) is considered profoundly emasculating. So he’s not considered a success by the women in the couple’s life (except as a housekeeper/court jester) and he’s not considered a success by the men in the couple’s life unless he can manifest an appropriately powerful presentation to his male peers.

        Yes, it’s complicated. But that’s romantic life in the post-industrial world.

    • “the male who is most adept at providing protein is the favored selection”


  3. I did read Ian’s post, and I liked it. I liked that it pointed up how, from some perspectives at least, the tables have fricking well turned and men can be for women’s entertainment. Yay. And in return those men get companionship, financial support, sex, fun and Excel spreadsheets to help them realise their passions and dreams. Ian, I’m sorry you’re so fed up about all this, but from my side of the fence it’s great. For the first time in a very long time it’s OK for a woman to earn more than her partner – or to be the only earner – and both of them can be happy and unembarrassed about it. The individual characteristics of a couple can mesh without having to worry about who is fitting what gender role. Thank you Emily for posting on this topic.

    • It’s okay . . . for the woman.

      But what about the men? Do our feelings in the matter count?

      ‘Cause that’s kinda my point. Because men are decidedly NOT “happy and unembarassed” about earning less than their women. Oh, a tiny minority are, for various reasons. But the majority of men whose women out-earn them are not, indeed, happy about it, even if they feel relief at not being the sole breadwinner. Indeed, it can put some severe strain on a relationship, strain to the point of breaking. And this happens quite a bit. No, men in general are not happy about this. Relieved, perhaps, but not happy. Hence the struggle to revalorize masculinity.

      It would be interesting to see a longitudinal study of female-dominant family economics and how well couples where women out-earn do long-term against both couples where men out-earn consistently and where there is general parity in income.

  4. Nathan Williams

    I just want to say that it’s been totally cute watching two people I’ve “known” online through their work, over the years, getting together and being together.

  5. For the record, I don’t care so much if A Man Is The Provider these days because guess what? Women usually end up having to learn to provide for themselves these days ANYWAY. We spend longer single, we learn to support ourselves because we have to. Also, this is not an era where women aren’t allowed to work and only have to marry for security. We do not live at Downton Abbey.

    Now, I had one deadbeat ex-boyfriend. Yes, it was irritating that he didn’t like working or schooling and pretty much wanted to be a stay at home mom even though he had no children. And yeah, he’d whine about how he should be the provider so I could stay at home (note: I don’t WANT to stay at home, I’d go out of my mind), and I’d roll my eyes and think, “Then how’s about you hold down a job for longer than three months?” And he was soooooo emasculated because I was the one with a regular full time job and had to pay for everything. But really, whose fault was that? Uh, that would be his for choosing to be a deadbeat.

    At this point, I want a dude who can financially support himself. He doesn’t have to provide for me and the imaginary children, he just has to take care of his own shit.

    Also, Ian, that was really offensive and rude to Emily. GEEZ, man.

  6. Mathy Part would make a good band name.

  7. What did your stat analysis say about the “I will eat a POUND OF BACON for $666″ award level?

    Also, I’m really curious about the rest of the analysis. Maybe that could be another kickstarter reward level, if he gets more than $X then he releases the numbers on how he can CRUSH ALL KICKSTARTERS!

    • It’s math anyone can do, using the number Kickstarter has published. On average, successful kickstarters have 1% of their pledges and 8% of their overall funding from pledge levels around $500. Of course, he didn’t know that when he made it a pledge level – it was a joke; I for one was SURE there was no way anyone would blow that kind of money just to make him eat bacon.

      In case you’re interested, my model predicts that the gigantically successful Order of the Stick kickstarter is on pace to break a million in its last 2 days. OotS is exceptional in that the mean contribution is $80; the mean overall at Kickstarter is $40.

      Kickstarter is full of numbers the way the Tycho Monolith is full of stars.

  8. So… I’m a guy and I find these posts by this Ian fellow to be absolutely ridiculous. I’m dating a wonderful girl who’s majoring in biology, is aspiring to be a researcher some day, and is pretty much guaranteed to one day be earning much more than I aspire to earn. And you know what, that’s okay. I’m passionate about my interests, about what I want to study, and I hope that we’re both going to graduate from college and pursue our own passions.

    This idea that I’m going to feel “less of a man” or whatever because she’ll be earning more than me is silly and a very old-fashioned view of relationships. My girlfriend admires my talents and I admire her abilities as well. Saying that “Our ability to defend, to protect, to preserve, to provide, to build and to innovate, none of them have actual value to women any more” is bullshit. She is still going to admire what I do and what I create because she’s not going to be looking at the dollar sign attached to it; she’s going to see the hard work and creativity.

    “Marrying down”? Hahaha! We’re not in Victorian England, dude. And to wrap up my response to this silliness, my girlfriend might not be dependent on me economically, but she depends on me for other (more important) things. I listen to her, I comfort her, I share my life with her, and one day I hope to be a good husband and father. None of that has to do with entertainment.

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