Optimists Make Better Lovers

They say relationships are hard work, but what, exactly, is a couple supposed to toil at? Buying each other more stuff? Giving each other more back-rubs? Paying someone to assemble their IKEA furniture so as to avoid the inevitable mid-Ektorp bloodshed?

A new paper suggests that the answer might be much easier: Just be optimistic about the future of your relationship. In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Edward Lemay, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, found people who predicted that they would be satisfied with their relationship in the future were more committed to their partners and treated them more kindly in the present-day.

To study this rosy-hued element of relationships, called “forecasted satisfaction,” Lemay performed a series of experiments. First, he had participants rank how highly they scored across a series of previously established metrics of relationship commitment: how satisfied they are currently; how much they’ve invested in the relationship already (such as buying a house together, for example); and how good they think the alternatives to their relationship are (essentially, whether they think they could do better). They also answered a questionnaire about their expectations for the future of the relationship, responding to questions like, “I expect that I will be happy with this relationship in the future.” It turned out their sunny predictions for the future correlated strongly with how committed they were, over and above those other factors.

Then, he asked 200 couples to record their feelings about the relationship each day. Those who said they expected to be happy with their partners in the future were more committed on any given day. Finally, he had another group of couples come into the lab on two different days, about a year apart. Those that were more optimistic about the future during their first visit became more committed to each other over the course of the year and were more accommodating of each others’ needs. The couples’ friends also said the optimistic forecasters seemed more committed to each other. Lemay also filmed the couples arguing about something they disagreed on, and independent raters said the optimistic forecasters had nicer, less-destructive fights.

“People are on their best behavior when they think this relationship will be a happy one in the future,” Lemay told me.

Interestingly, predicting future satisfaction isn’t quite the same as being satisfied currently. You could, for example, be in a long-distance relationship at the moment, but expect that an upcoming move to the same city will boost your relationship happiness levels. According to Lemay’s research, it’s thinking about that happy ending that keeps people committed.

So what to do if you simply aren’t a very optimistic person, in love or other domains? For those Debbie Downers dating Nattering Nabobs, Lemay suggests a behavioral hack. Simply think of something you believe will improve the quality of your relationship, like going on a date or vacation together. Do that thing, and you might just start seeing a brighter future for your partnership. Believe you’ll live happily ever after, in other words, and at least romantically, you’ll start living happier today.

The Unfortunate Reality of Dry Shampoo

There’s a common pattern with socially constructed beauty norms. Society insists women do a ridiculous thing to look good (see: unnaturally small waists; looking awake and vibrant 24/7; heels as standard formalwear.) Women, being people, clamber to find short-cuts to accomplish said thing as easily as possible (see: corsets; makeup; removable heels.) The arms race continues until the norm goes away (see: menswear-for-women) or a harder-to-imitate beauty trend emerges (balayage).

You can see this dynamic at work in a newish, miraculous, terrifying innovation called dry shampoo.

The stuff is the best friend of the lazy-yet-vain. When sprayed onto hair, it soaks up oil, giving the impression of freshly washed and styled coif in seconds. Since I discovered dry shampoo a few years ago, I have regularly slept in for an extra 15 minutes while the rest of the world climbs groggily into their showers like a bunch of chumps. (Well, everyone except Jim Hamblin). Then, I would get to skip the blow-drying and heat-styling in which chumps of the female persuasion often engage—another 10 or 15 golden snooze minutes. With just one product, I was able to add another reality TV show to my rotation read more books for work.

When I woke up, I would tip my head upside down, spray on the shampoo, shake my head a bit, flip it back over and grin at the reflection of my fluffy bouffant, in a move I like to call the Grimy Laker Girl.

“That’s disgusting,” my boyfriend would say. “You know people stopped cleaning themselves with powders in like the 18th century, right?”

I ignored him, since he didn’t even own body wash until he met me.

How Often People in Various Countries Shower

I would look and smell clean when I was anything but. At first, the dry shampoo was just a stop-gap until the next day, when I would cleanse myself with actual water. But eventually my dry-shampoo days started outnumbering the regular-shampoo ones. Some mornings I would even do my trusty “15-minute Dumbbell Blast” routine and then head on into the office, my head coated in a thin patina of rice starch and “clean fragrance.”

I started recommending dry shampoo to busy and tired female friends, in the conspiratorial tone that Not-An-Actresses use in infomercials. “Feel my hair. FEEL IT,” I would demand. Then, the big reveal: “I haven’t showered since Tuesday.”

Gradually, though, I began to notice something disturbing. The two sides of my hair looked like they were slowly drifting away from each other at the part. Granted, it’s hard for me to tell when my hair is thinning. I am half Scandinavian, and nowhere is this more evident than my scalp, which, with its sparse, wispy growth, conjures the snowy white tundras of Lapland.

Still, a few dozen strands would defect from my head and onto my fingers each time I showered. It was a lot, even for me.

“Does my hair look thinner to you?” I asked my boyfriend one morning.

“Hmm, yeah maybe,” he said.

Figuring he has expertise in this area (he’s basically bald), the next morning I anxiety-Googled “dry shampoo hair loss.”

I saw a lot of headlines like, “Is Your Dry Shampoo Making You Go Bald?” (Reader, the answer is never “no.”) I also found a terrifying photo, posted on Facebook by a woman in Belfast, showing a bald spot she believes was caused by over-using dry shampoo. “Dry shampoo caused me to now have this bald patch on my head, (which I still have and it may or may not grow back, but nothing can be done),” she wrote, somehow summing up the fears of all of womankind in a single parenthetical. “Just wash your hair people!”

Of course, the problem with the wise woman’s counsel is that I’ve previously read (and written) about how showering and shampooing too often is also not good for your dreads. Damned if you ‘poo, it seems, damned if you don’t.

To get to the bottom of this, I unscientifically polled 11 hair experts and dermatologists about how frequently, if ever, I’m supposed to launder my hair, and with what.

According to them, women have fallen prey to a mass delusion that dry shampoo is actually shampoo. It’s not, in that it doesn’t clean your hair. It soaks up excess oil, and in the process, it irritates your scalp. That can lead to hair loss, as can the clumping that dry shampoo and other hair sprays sometimes cause.

“[Dry shampoo] deposits substances to coat the follicle that can build up,” Sonia Batra, a dermatologist in Los Angeles, told me. “The resulting inflammation can weaken the follicles and increase shedding. These products can also cause hair follicles to stick together, so that a hair that would normally shed during brushing may take two or three strands along with it.”

The good news is that only three of my respondents asserted definitively that yes, dry shampoo makes hair fall out. Sadly, the bar they set for its depilatory potential was pretty low. One hair stylist said all it would take is using it three days in a row, while a dermatologist advised against three days per week, consecutive or not. Dhaval G. Bhanusali, a dermatologist in New York, drew an even harder line, saying dry shampoo on more than two days per week would be excessive. Several people noted that, whatever they do, people should avoid dry shampoos that use talc, a substance found in baby powders that has been at the center of several cancer lawsuits involving Johnson & Johnson.

Sigh, first canned soups, and now this? Must all time-savers be secretly harmful? I asked the experts how often, then, we should regular-shampoo. Their consensus was every two days or so. Or even more often, if you, like yours truly, have very fine hair that starts to look like the unctuous coat of a baby sea lion about three hours after you step out of the shower.

Oh, and the idea that you can somehow “train” your hair to “adjust” to less-frequent shampoos—a dream of mine since I read this Hairpin article five years ago—is a myth, according to my killjoy respondents.

“Cutting back on how frequently you shampoo won’t necessarily cure an oily scalp or cause your scalp to produce less oil. You either have an oily scalp or you don’t—just like your complexion,” said Rebecca Kazin, an assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins.

It’s time for me to set a trend that can compensate for all this bleak news. I hear models are shaving their heads, y’all. Get on it.

A Brief History of Skimpy Clothes

Aniya Wolf wanted to look like her best self at her prom, but herself nonetheless. And for her, that meant wearing a dark suit and bow tie.

Wolf wore pants every day in the halls of Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Why should prom be any different? But shortly before the big night, her family told a local news station, the school sent an email reminding families of the dress code for prom. It was literally a dress code: Girls could not wear pants to the event.

Wolf wore a suit anyway, and, she told the station, was sent home. (In a statement posted on Facebook, the school said the dress code was established months ago.)


With that, Wolf joins the annual cavalcade of teens who find themselves ejected from their proms for objectionable garb. Cosmopolitan’s round-up includes girls who said they were barred this year for showing too much back, too much leg, too much chest, and anything below the mystery sin-zone known as “the top of the armpit.” In a post that was shared thousands of times on Facebook—and has since been deleted—a girl in Maryville, Tennessee, said her friend was told to wear the vice principal’s jacket over her dress. “Us big girls gotta cover up,” a teacher reportedly told her. (A representative of Maryville City Schools has said there was no specific prom dress code.)

Of course, dress codes aren’t limited to prom. Year-round there is much wringing over the garments of public-school kids. When we asked our readers about their strangest school dress codes, many wrote that the rules seemed to unfairly target girls—specifically, everything on the female body that lies roughly north of the trachea.

One reader said necklines had to be “no lower than two inches below your collarbones.” Many others described the commandments around tank-top straps:

Dana Owens At a public school in the south — for girls: no sleeveless tops

Laura Anne Galway In the 6th grade I was told I wasn’t allowed to wear sleeveless shirts, because my “shoulders would entice the boys.”

Jyoti Deo No spaghetti straps in, of all places, Florida! Guess shoulders pose a danger somehow. *smh*

Some schools settled on two inches, but others banned sleeveless shirts altogether. Definitely outlawed, in many places, was the wicked “spaghetti” strap. (In my high school, this rule gave rise to an enterprising style choice: A contraband tank-top worn over a white t-shirt. Man, consider yourself stuck to!)

The prom dust-ups made me wonder, was it always thus? Should teens today rage against the cleavage-measuring machine, or should they thank their lucky Snapchats they don’t get busted for wearing “draped fabrics,” like some of their foremothers did?

The answer is a little of both, and it depends on how you view teens’ role in society. Are they mini-adults who should be spared the oft-embarrassing choices made by their underdeveloped prefrontal cortices? Or are they fully autonomous beings, whose clothing decisions are as valid as anyone else’s?

There were always dress codes, especially in schools. But they weren’t always written down—and they weren’t always set by school administrators directly. When they were enforced, however, they have always seemed to affect women disproportionately.

Until the early 20th century, not everyone went to high school. When that began to change, around the 1920s, high-school girls’ clubs would create “dress standards” for the students. But their biggest concern wasn’t naked shoulders or cleavage—it was “dressing in an undemocratic way,” said Linda Przybyszewski, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. Students were worried about peers “wearing fancy clothes to school to show off your money.”

As Przybyszewski writes in her book, The Lost Art of Dress, in the early 20th century a prominent group of female fashion writers essentially taught women of all ages how to dress for any occasion.

These women, whom Przybyszewski calls “The Dress Doctors,” wrote hundreds of pamphlets and books that women read in their home-ec classes and 4-H clubs. The Doctors schooled women on what was suitable to wear at different ages, how to be thrifty while still being stylish, and that “fad” stands for “For A Day.” One of their rules was that there are six distinct occasions for dressing: school, business, housework, sport, afternoons, and evenings. Each required specific cuts and fabrics—hence all the “dressing for dinner” we see on Downton Abbey.

Proms were college affairs until about the 1930s, and their dress codes entailed unspoken social norms. Dress standards started to be written down only in the 1950s, when people began to have just one thing they wore all day—and wanted that thing to be comfortable. The early 1950s saw the emergence of op-ed writers complaining that women don’t own formal coats anymore and go outside with bare legs, according to Deirdre Clemente, a historian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who focuses on American fashion in the 20th century.

Around that time, “young people stopped caring as much about stuff like, ‘my mom will get mad at me,’” Clemente said.

The Weirdest Dress Code Rules at Your School

Mostly, dress regulations were enforced on women, people of color, and those from lower socioeconomic strata, Clemente said. State colleges were thought to have more boundary-pushing rebels—and thus, more codified rules—but at elite women’s colleges, students were left to police themselves.

For teens, dress codes were more restrictive because, in an era before legal abortion or cures for many sexually transmitted diseases, schools worried about girls getting “attention they couldn’t handle,” Przybyszewski says. But that didn’t extend only to revealing clothes. Administrators also worried about anything that seemed too mature. One rule talked about “draped styles,” the kind with lots of swooping fabric that gathers to accentuate curves. It “looks like you made a dress out of a bedsheet because you were caught somewhere naked,” Przybyszewski said.

Some teens embraced, or even perpetuated, strict dress norms. In the early 1950s, a nationwide group of Catholic schoolgirls calling themselves the SDS—Supply the Demand for the Supply—successfully petitioned department stores to stock dresses that fit their modesty standards. Saying they sought to “dress in a manner in which Mary would if she were a young girl of today,” they prompted stores to advertise their wares as “SDS-approved.” “You don’t have to be strapless to be in fashion,” one ad read.

People largely adhered to these sartorial rules, in Przybyszewski’s telling, until the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. School dress codes took aim at many of the hip trends of the day, like sheer blouses, skirts with slits, and skirts shorter than the middle of the knee. Oh, and no pants for women (too sloppy). For men, there was a prohibition on “contour-fitting trousers”  and “outlandish-colored trousers.”

The battle between cool kids and administrators raged, and it hasn’t subsided since. Przybyszewski takes the view that’s because “kids today have no practice dressing up.” They don’t go to teas, they don’t have SDS-approved department stores, and they don’t have the Dress Doctors guiding them every step of the way.

“I’m kind of shocked when I see things that a sex worker would wear on a 13-year-old,” Przybyszewski said.

To Clemente, the ongoing uproar over teenage style choices signals something very different. “It shows that adults are still trying to control American youth,” she said. “We’re still fearful of young people using clothing to express individuality.”

How Much Have Dating Apps Changed Sexual Mores?

Last week, Olga covered a data release from OkCupid in which the company compared responses they received from users in 2005 to those collected in 2015:

Though not as rigorous as a truly random survey, the data hint at changing views of sex, love, and gender norms among online daters in the U.S. Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people have become more sexually conservative in certain ways. For example, fewer people now say they would have sex on the first date.

One reader doesn’t think we should draw any broad conclusions:

This data could just be reflecting the changing dynamics of OkCupid. That app, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, JDate, Christian Mingle, and eHarmony all have specific demographics they target and base their advertising on appealing to those demographics. A decreased number of OKC members willing to sleep with someone on the first date could just mean OKC has surrendered that market to PoF and Tinder, rather than indicating anything about the habits of Millennials generally.

This reader is on the same page:

Online dating has become much more mainstream in the last 10 years.

So it’s much more likely that rather than this data showing that people’s sexual mores have become more conservative, we’re really just seeing the online dating pool become more representative of the general population’s dating pool.

Also, as far as gays go, it’s important to remember that gay men use other apps for sex. For gays, OkCupid is about finding people to date—not hook up with—so of course it’s going to skew toward looking like more gays have conservative sexual mores. For what it’s worth, as a gay living in NYC, I have never—not once in 10 years—met a gay man categorically against sleeping with someone on a first date.

That reader’s point about online dating becoming much more mainstream is punctuated by Rob’s piece last week showing that the percentage of online daters between the ages of 18 and 24 has tripled in the past two years. This reader makes another key point:

The answers OkCupid collects are self reported, basically under duress. You know your answers are going to be seen by potential mates, and that skews them towards “what you want others to think about you.”

For more reader discussion along these lines, check out this Notes thread of people talking about how online dating “saved their lives.” Contribute yourself via hello@theatlantic.com. And there’s a free-wheeling sex discussion among readers in this moderated forum if you’re interested. One writes:

I don’t think people have changed all that much in their thoughts on sex generally. I think we’ve changed the way we talk about it. Talking about it has become less and less taboo.

Such talking applies to messaging as well, as this reader can attest to:

I just got an OKC message that said “Excuse me if I’m being forward but do you want to fuck.” And so it goes. Also, I will not be fucking that guy this weekend.

But I do enjoy a good one-night stand.

Leaving the Closet to Become an Adult

Last week, our video team revived our long discussion thread on adulthood by producing a series of person-on-the-street interviews in Manhattan (re-embedded above). We still have a ton of your emails and are trying to post as many of the best ones as we can. One of the most common themes for the question “When did you become an adult?” is financial independence, namely from parents. Here’s reader Michelle, age 38:

Great question! I felt like an adult at age 26. For the earlier part of my twenties, I rarely lived at my family home, but I searched out opportunities to live for free—friends’ homes, non-profits that offered housing, jobs where you could live on-site. But at 26, I got a studio apartment in a big city and paid rent through my own efforts. Living alone for the first time was my entry into true adulthood; financial independence and self-knowledge occurred in those rocky but wonderful years.

Megan Von Bergen gets a bit more specific with her marker:

One of the first times I really felt like an adult was when I started paying my first utility bills, during graduate school. This was my very first apartment. Paying bills was something I’d seen my parents do, it was something I was never involved in, and so to take responsibility for a mundane task made me really feel like an adult.

Ironically, for the first few weeks, this made me really excited about paying bills.

Stephen Grapes, on the other hand, isn’t quite there yet:

I don’t think I’ve become an adult just yet. I’m a 21 year-old American student who lives almost entirely off of my parent’s welfare.

For the last several years, I’ve felt a pressure—it might be a biological or a social pressure—to get out from under the yoke of my parents’ financial assistance. I feel that only when I’m able to support myself financially will I be a true “adult.” Some of the traditional markers of adulthood (turning 18, turning 21) have come and gone without me feeling any more adult-y, and I don’t think that marriage would make me feel grown up unless it was accompanied by financial independence.

Money really matters, because past a certain age, it is the main determiner of what you can and cannot do. And I guess to me the freedom to choose all “the things” in your life is what makes someone an adult.

Here’s another thing from Lauren Oliver:

When are you an adult? When you make your own doctor appointment.

Yes, there are defining moments in life that will make you feel like an adult: having kids, owning a home, holding a steady job, marriage, or experiencing deaths of loved ones, divorce(s), and career loss. All of these experiences are part of an adult’s life. But what is an adult? An adult is when one has full responsibility for him/herself. Bills are paid by oneself, appointments are made by oneself, confirming holiday plans with family members is done by oneself. Once this occurs, in my opinion, is when one is an adult.

“It’s nice to feel comfortable in your own weirdness; it’s maybe even the most important thing.” That’s my favorite line in this reader roundup, from Tom Schroeder, a 25-year-old grad student:

I began considering myself an adult shortly after moving into my own one-bedroom apartment about a year ago, at the age of 24, roughly two years after becoming financially independent from my parents. This probably says a lot about my personality, but it wasn’t until I lived alone and felt full ownership over my living space that I felt comfortable forming healthy routines.

I finally began learning to cook, for example. I kept my apartment clean for once in my life. I began to feel like a competent host. I no longer dreaded coming home, because there was no longer the question of whether there’d be any roommates around that I’d have to justify my actions, schedule, or company to.

It’s nice to feel comfortable in your own weirdness; it’s maybe even the most important thing. It’s easier without witnesses.

I’ll be moving away soon, so I had to abandon my beloved apartment in the summer to find a temporary room in a house with some friends. It’s the best thing I could have found for my circumstances, but I feel myself backsliding—between having housemates and existing in a more or less transient state, I’m cooking less, avoiding my own home, and living more messily and less healthily.

In short, I feel less like an adult living here. But I now know what to look for so I can get back on track when I arrive in my new home.

One more reader, who prefers to remain anonymous:

When I was a child, I thought adulthood was when you went to college. You were “completely on your own.” You took the classes that you wanted, you made the friends that you wanted, you ate what you wanted. You were the only agent in your successes and infrequent failures. Besides, you were 18 years old—that was pretty old to a 9 year old. You had to have been smart and mature and nice at that point. You had to have been “grown up.”

When I entered college, I realized how woefully naive that idea was. I was supported by my parents since they paid my tuition as well as room and board. Without them, I would have nothing.

With that, I mentally crossed off the sole agent bit. The other bits would be crossed off one by one, as I met many people who weren’t very smart or mature or nice or “grown up” and I came to realize that doing whatever you wanted did not equate a sense of adulthood. Eating Subway sandwiches at 4 AM on a Tuesday night, drunk out of your mind, when you have an 8 AM class is not a roaring affirmation of your maturation.

When I was in graduate school, still being supported by my parents, I thought that having a job and living on your own made you an adult. Actually being responsible for your own day-to-day life had to have meant something. You truly were on your own. How much more grown up is that?

Now that I have a job and am getting closer to moving out of my parents’ house, I am coming to realize that there is closer of a truth in that idea. I do feel better and more “grown up” about myself handling the finances in my life. Except that there are all these technicalities that come with that sense of financial independence.

For example, the cellphone plan. Adults pay for their cellphone plan. Except … do adults stay in their family plan? By doing so, I pay $44 a month as opposed to about $100 for unlimited data, talking, and text.  That’s some financial responsibility right there! Especially since it makes my parents’ cell phone plans cheaper as well. But after I pat myself on the back, I find it hard to ignore the feeling of embarrassment that my mommy takes money out of my checking account to pay for my cell phone every month. Is it better to pay more to get rid of my hot cheeks?

I know that it is a very Millennial thing to say (and thus unfashionable in certain circles), but I also don’t want my identity to be tied to money so closely. I had hoped my sense of adulthood would be connected to feelings rather than decimal points and commas in an online statement.

Am I an adult now? Who am I? I am 23 years old. I have a job. I am moving out soon to live with a significant other of nearly three years. I have two degrees and I am hoping to pursue a third. On paper, I am on the cusp of maturation. But I still am insecure. I over-analyze things to death and, while I argue that I am a realist, I am probably enormously pessimistic. I am anxious about small things and large things, and the gaps in my knowledge about basic things (still have not learned how to change a tire, how do I do taxes without an accountant, how do I know if I want children one day-oh God, the list is endless) deeply troubles me.

On a good day, I would say I am 60 percent of an adult. Since today is an okay day, so I am about 40-50 percent of the way there. At least I am making progress.