The Emergence Of The Man-Boy, 7 Million and Growing Fast

Over the last decades, I have noticed an interesting and upsetting phenomenon—adult men who live their lives as boys. They never become self-sufficient men.  

Everyone has the right to choose their own path.  Not everyone has to be ambitious and driven. However, traditionally, men have felt a responsibility to be self-sufficient and productive. To be clear, I’m not lambasting alternative lifestyles.  For instance, the househusband or the man who gives up a traditional job to care for an elderly parent.  These folks are productive members of society. I’m talking about boys who never grow up.  Individuals who choose to live a dependent and responsibility-free life where they contribute little to others or society.  These people have always existed, but their numbers are growing.  Nicholas Eberstadt,  the chair of Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, notes the following:

Over 7 million men, ages 25-54 (prime working years), are unemployed and are not looking for work. To put that number into perspective, that is more people than the combined populations of Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, San Franciso, and Orlando.

Individuals with only a high school diploma are overrepresented in this group, and those without a high school certificate represent an even higher number.

Forty percent of this group has some college, and one-sixth has a college degree.

If you are foreign-born, you are less likely to be in this group.

This lack of employment is not strictly due to outsourcing jobs, lack of low-requirement jobs, economic downturns, or the automation of jobs. 

This lack of employment is not due to lack of education as there are 11 million job openings, and many have minimal requirements, such as showing up sober and being on time.

African Americans are overrepresented, while Latinos and Asians are under-represented.  Therefore, if you compare whites to non-whites, the numbers are pretty much a wash.

You are less likely to be in this group if you are married or in a situation where you are responsible for children. A married African-American male would be underrepresented in this group.

This non-working, non-job-seeking group is four times larger than those unemployed and looking for work.  However, this group is not measured in governmental statistics on unemployment. 

The 7 million number does not include institutionalized individuals, such as prisoners. 

You may ask what these individuals do with their time.  The answer is not much.  They don’t seem involved in their communities and are not helping around the house. Most list their main activity as screen time, but this statistic is not defined further. The average time spent in front of a screen is around 2000 hours/year, equivalent to a full-time job. 

These folks survive on the charity of others: family members, wives, and girlfriends.  About half are on some sort of government assistance. However, this is difficult to quantify further as there are many different types of assistance and disability programs in the US, and no comprehensive clearinghouse collates these numbers. 

Although their financial resources could be considered penurious, their basic needs are being met.  In fact, they would be considered well-to-do if you compared their economic status to unemployed individuals in the 1800s. They have enough to get by.

In summary, there are over seven million men who, during their prime working years, choose not to work.  This number continues to grow at an alarming rate and is independent of factors such as the loss of jobs due to automation or outsourcing. Some individuals may have valid reasons for their lack of employment, but it is a choice for many others. These individuals don’t contribute money or labor to their homes or communities and drain resources that could be used for others. 

This work refusal trend started around 1965 and has increased monthly by about 0.1%/month.  If you plot the numbers, it is a linear increasing line independent of economic changes. In other words, since 1965, there has been a steady linear increase in the number of men who are no longer in the workforce and are not looking for a job. 

During my years as a psychotherapist, I sometimes treated these individuals.  Additionally, I treated teens who seemed destined to adopt this non-productive lifestyle.  Here are four examples.  Identifiers have been changed to protect these individuals.

Billy was a 15-year-old high school sophomore.  He did the absolute minimum in school and barely passed despite receiving many resources. He didn’t like to socialize and had no friends.  He spent most of his time on his computer.  Billy denied being depressed or having anxiety issues.  When asked what he liked to do, he responded, “Nothing.”  When I tried to engage him on any topic, for instance, what kind of music he liked, he denied any preferences.  He appeared quietly angry and very passive. He was an empty individual.  His parents said he didn’t cause any problems at home; he refused to participate in any family activity and preferred to isolate himself.  There was no suspicion of drug or alcohol use. 

John was a 19-year-old college freshman. He was in advanced math in high school and declared he was a math major in college. I saw him after his disastrous freshman year, as he had failed his classes, including math.  He said that all his teachers were “terrible and incompetent.”  He didn’t feel motivated to return to school but didn’t want to get a job either. He admitted that he had gone from occasionally smoking marijuana in high school to using it multiple times a day in college, now that he was away from home.  He was convinced that the marijuana enhanced his thinking ability and helped him be more creative. When I told him that it was likely that the marijuana was doing the opposite, he became angry and left treatment.

Joe was a pleasant 29-year-old man living with his parents. Joe went away to college but flunked out.  His parents then sent him to their local community college.  He said he was attending class, but it was later discovered that he would leave the house and roam the streets instead of going to school.  Joe’s parents then found him various jobs through their contacts, but he would get fired due to lack of work or attendance. He did some socializing with his high school friends but spent most of his time online. His parents wanted to sell their house and move to another state. They did not want to take Joe with them.  Joe said he wanted to be responsible and find a job but never attempted.  He talked about making big money by starting his own YouTube channel but never did. He wanted to live independently but never made any effort to make that happen.  Joe said all the right things but never acted on any of them. His parents eventually moved, and Joe went with them.

Jimmy was a 59-year-old single male who was superficially friendly and chatty.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of rock bands from the 70s and 80s and tended to use up much of his sessions talking about them in an avoidant strategy.  He reminded me of a 12-15 year old boy.  Jimmy had substance use problems but had no access to street drugs or alcohol as he lived in his 85-year-old mother’s basement. She took care of him. Despite my stern warnings about their dangers, he was committed to getting high and frequently snorted organic solvents.  Although he presented as a friendly guy, he had a dark side.  His mother was hospitalized for a week, and Jimmy quickly moved from the basement to the first floor, destroying much of the house over the seven days she was away.  In addition, he ran up his mom’s credit cards to their limits.  When his siblings found out, they kicked him out of his mom’s house.  How did Jimmy react?  He thought that he was treated unfairly and that his siblings were mean. At the same time, he asked his siblings to fund an apartment for him. They declined his request.

In these examples, none exhibited a psychiatric disorder, such as major depression, bipolar illness, psychosis, or significant anxiety, that warranted medication treatment. Two had substance abuse issues that added to their symptoms. Although most were happy to engage in sessions, their efforts represented more appeasement than actual work.  Generally, they were not confrontational and (at least initially) presented themselves as passive victims. Although some said they wanted more out of life, they were unwilling to do anything to make that happen. I often felt that they told me what they thought I wanted to hear to shut me up.  They said the right things, but their actions suggested otherwise.  None were treatment successes. 

Psychotherapy requires work on the part of the patient, and sometimes that work can be difficult.  These folks wanted more but did not want to work to change.  What was interesting was that, in some cases, it would have been just as easy to do the right thing, but they chose a path that led them in the opposite direction. For instance, it probably took more work for Joe to hide out instead of attending class, and Jimmy couldn’t explain why he destroyed his 85-year-old mother’s house—the woman who was providing him with food and shelter.

Why does this lifestyle exist, and why are the numbers increasing?  I can only speculate, but it is likely due to multiple reasons exacerbating common issues.

It is reasonable to believe that qualities like ambition and drive exist along a spectrum.  There are highly ambitious folks and those that are less so.  The same can be said of intelligence, whether we are talking about academic intelligence or social intelligence.  Likewise, we can say the same about dependency needs, social skills, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, and other factors.  

It also must be accepted that many expectations placed on men are neither fulfilling nor rewarding. Many men work in jobs that can be mind-numbing or even degrading. They must deal with repetitive or dangerous tasks as they navigate ridiculous work policies and cruel supervisors.  

If you take several conditions from the preceding two paragraphs, you could imagine a scenario where it becomes easier to retreat from societal expectations.

Those situations have existed since the dawn of society, so why are we seeing a steady increase in these man-boys? This could be due to changes in society in general.

The recent blockbuster movie “Barbie” continually hammered home the idea of the patriarchy, the foundation of our society. The movie emphasized that this system promotes the domination and oppression of women.  I firmly believe that women should have the same rights as men, but I also believe that such a simplistic explanation is insufficient to define a society. Women have always held positions of power, and men often defer to women.  However, the 1960s brought a more rapid equalization that continues today. Two factors contributed to this change: equal rights and the birth control pill. More women had a chance to earn a living outside the home and were less bound by the social constraints of the past.  This allowed some men to become more dependent.  This was a good thing in some situations as some men could assume productive roles they were formally banned from.  However, it also allowed others to check out and allow their significant other to support them.

Recent times have brought an ever greater need for workers to be skilled and intelligent.  The media promotes glamorous jobs and fabulous lifestyles. High-paying, lower-skill jobs, such as unionized factory work, are disappearing.  The above can result in a “why bother” attitude.  This is especially the case since many of these individuals have found alternative ways to support their basic needs. 

There are some easy ways to experience an alternative reality that seem a better option than real life.  Drugs, video games, porn, and other outlets are widely available and can counterbalance the pressures of dealing with the real world.

Male-focused clubs and fraternal organizations are on the decline.  In the past, almost everyone belonged to a church or temple.  These groups had expectations for their members to be responsible citizens.  Men were taught to be the breadwinners and protectors. The power and influence of these large organizations is diminishing. 

The institution of marriage is on the decline. It was not that long ago that it was considered odd not to be married.  Fewer people are getting married for a variety of reasons.  Marriage provided social pressure for men to be productive. Men who are married are less likely to drop out of society.

Statistics demonstrate that men responsible for children are more likely to be productive.  We know that more individuals are choosing not to have children or are delaying having children. This presents a different problem for society but also contributes to dropouts.

More men are choosing an isolative lifestyle that doesn’t include women. Since 2008, the number of men under the age of 30 who are living celibate lives has tripled to almost 30 percent. These individuals do not have relational pressures to be responsible. 

Higher education costs have become astronomically high, creating an impossible barrier for some to overcome. Although ⅙th of men who drop out have a college degree, 5/6ths do not. 

The bottom line is that it has become easier to live a passive, unproductive life, and it has become harder to live a self-sufficient, contributing life. Depending on your personality, it is reasonable to drop out of society as many can figure out ways to fulfill their basic needs.  At the same time, they can find alternative reality options that numb any remnant desires to grow up. Drugs and alcohol have been long-term solutions.  However, many time-wasting activities are now available in the ever-expanding digital age.

Once a person drops out of society, re-entering becomes more difficult or impossible. It is well established that men who stop looking for work are much less likely ever to re-enter the workforce than unemployed men who are actively searching for a job. 

Our continued social and technological changes have allowed some men to remove themself from productive lives, and that number is escalating at a linear rate over time. Traditional techniques, like psychotherapy, seem less effective as many individuals are not invested in making change.  Additionally, no consistent governmental programs are designed to address this serious problem.  This is likely since these men live under the radar.  They are sitting on their couch connected to a video screen, not causing havoc in society. In some cases, tough love works; in others, it doesn’t.  Supporting family members are often angry and frustrated with these dropouts.  However, in many cases, they feel responsible for their well-being.  A feeling promoted by these individuals who often present themselves as the victim or at least helpless. 

Seven million men and growing.  A disaster that is happening right now and right before our eyes. A disaster that no one seems to be paying attention to.

Handicapped Camping

When Julie had her surgery three months ago, we knew that the operation would severely impact the nerves in her right leg.  Although the neurosurgeon did a good job, those nerves were impacted, and it was unclear how well she would be able to walk. Weeks in a rehab hospital, plus ongoing outpatient physical therapy, have helped her.  However, I believe her determination has played an equal part in her recovery.  With that said, most of the time, she requires a stiff leg brace and a rollator/walker to get around.

Six weeks ago, my sister and her husband offered us their Labor Day weekend camping slot.  At that time, we weren’t sure if Julie could get into Violet the campervan as Violet’s chassis and seats were high.  Before we accepted their offer, we attempted to get Julie into the passenger seat.  She got in using a step stool, plus her pulling power and my pushing power. We accepted the camping slot and hoped for continued improvement.

DuPage County has beautiful forest preserves, walking paths, and parks.  Fifteen minutes from our front door is the county campground where we were going.  There, you feel like you are deep in the country even though DuPage County has nearly a million inhabitants. 

I love to camp in Violet the campervan.  Julie has camped with me, but she was always mobile.  This would be our first attempt camping with her wearing a brace and ambulating with a rollator.  As you can imagine, even the simple task of going to the bathroom could present impossible problems.

In addition, I had removed everything from my camper’s kitchen as my friend, Tom is building me a new one.  That will likely be another post once it is completed.  However, I also had to reload some kitchenware to make the trip workable. 

I often camp alone and can do all the necessary tasks on a camping trip. When I travel with someone, I customize plans and buy special foods to make their trip enjoyable. For instance, when I camp with my son Will, I make elaborate dinners as I know he enjoys them.  Likewise, when I camped with Julie, I ensured I had what she liked to eat. Planning, shopping, and preparing takes quite a bit of time.  

I didn’t have it in me to do all of that this time, as I didn’t know the trip’s outcome. It could be possible that we would get to the campsite only to have to turn around. I had no idea how she would walk on grass and gravel roads. 

Instead of going out and buying food, I went with Julie at the start of the trip to buy simple microwave meals.  Violet has a little freezer compartment and a small microwave. If we had to turn back, I was sure the kids would happily eat our purchases.

We arrived at the campground and drove to site 40, a beautiful spot in the woods. Our first mission was to get Julie out of Violet and into a camp chair.  Her rollator is designed for hard, smooth surfaces, and it was an effort for her to get from Violet to there. However, she succeeded.  I brought her a cool beverage, and she opened a novel.  However, I was still concerned about the rest of the weekend.

We successfully got Julie over to a camp chair.
Right behind our campsite were woods.

As I noted earlier, I’m comfortable doing most things when Julie camps with me, but that was not a good idea this time. My goal was to help when I knew that help was needed and be on alert at other times. Julie needed to see what she could do for herself.

Our first challenge was a trip to the bathroom, which was about a block and a half down a gravel road.  Normally, it is a simple task. However, the rollator’s small wheels were not designed for this type of terrain, and it was a slow process. Despite our lack of proper equipment, we made it there and back without a fall.  A triumphant success. 

Julie has camped with me enough times that she knows how to do many tasks, from turning the passenger seat into Violet’s cabin to powering up the AC inverter for the microwave. I let her do whatever she could, and she found ways to accomplish her goals. She was an asset on the trip and not another responsibility. 

Julie did what she could, sometimes modifying her behavior. Note how high the passenger seat is on Violet.

Our first night was quiet, with food, books, and nature-watching. We discussed attempting a walk the next morning. I thought we would try walking a few blocks on the even-surfaced paved forest preserve road, but Julie had other ideas.  She wanted to hit a hiking trail. There are many hiking trails in the forest preserve where we were at.  Most are nicely maintained, but they do have some ups and downs.  I was familiar with one trail, the McKee Marsh trail, that is flat.  It is roughly 3 miles from the parking lot, around the marsh, and back to the car.  I knew that would be too far for Julie, so I started the mileage tracker on my Apple Watch.  Could we walk a mile?  We planned to walk half a mile in and then back, yielding a mile trip.  We knew the rollator wouldn’t work, so I pulled out my trekking poles, adjusted them to Julie’s shorter stature, and gave her a quick lesson in their use.  We started off.

Trekking poles were a great aid for Julie.

It was a beautiful morning, and we were in a beautiful location.  People would pass us with a hello.  I think folks were especially friendly as Julie’s brace was visible.  Some offered words of encouragement.  I kept warning Julie that we had gone past a half of a mile, then one mile, then a mile and a half.  She wanted to continue. By then, the only option was to complete the loop. We soldered on, and the trekking poles were a great success.  I couldn’t believe that we hiked 3 miles!  Julie could barely walk a few months ago. We rewarded ourselves with ice-cold Coke Zeros from Violet’s fridge.  A fantastic success.

McKee Marsh is a beautiful spot and very flat.

If you have ever camped, you know that keeping your campsite neat and tidy is imperative.  Keeping things organized isn’t difficult, but it is a constant quest. Naturally, I did my thing, but I let Julie do hers, and she continued to help.

Our evening ended with a surprise visit from a friend, followed by a campfire.  I admit I’m not very good at starting campfires with damp wood.  I know I should split the wood to get at the dry insides, but I’m clumsy with an axe.  I got a fire going, but it was not the blaze I had hoped for.  Does anyone want to teach me axe skills?… Warning: Keep your feet far away from me when I’m swinging. 

We had a little fire.

Our Monday started leisurely with me making some coffee.  I asked Julie if she wanted to try another hike, and she said she did. This time, we chose a path with more ups and downs- a big challenge when you have walking issues. We broke camp, drove to the parking lot outside the archery path, and started our journey.  It was clearly more difficult and pretty exhausting for Julie. We planned to walk a mile out and a mile back.  On the way back, Julie’s leg tired, and she had a few near falls.  However, the trekking poles saved the day, and she was able to turn potential crashes into simple missteps. In the end, our total distance was 2.25 miles. Julie had walked over 5 miles during our camping trip, which was amazing.

I made us some coffee to start the day.
Hiking along the Archery path, which has more inclines and declines.
A beautiful wooded area along the path.
We “discovered” this little stream.

This trip taught us several things.  First, Julie could do many camp maintenance activities by modifying them.  She also improved at climbing into and out of Violet’s campervan. At times needing no assistance. However, the most impressive win was that we could hike on paths.  I don’t think it will be possible for her to hike on a traditional hiking trail; however, beautiful walking trails are everywhere, including National Parks.  This trip showed us that she could go on a more extensive camping trip and even do a little hiking.  Nothing would stop me from hiking more difficult trails independently, as I have been doing that for years.

The only significant problem I faced had more to do with my 6’3” bulky frame.  Violet’s bed is a tight fit for two.  I always take the edge of the bed, allowing me to hang my legs outside the bed when necessary.  This time, I felt I should give Julie that spot due to her mobility issue.  That meant I was stuck between her and the van’s back door. I could not stretch out completely; I could not hang my leg outside of the bed. This led to leg cramps and, even worse, a feeling of akathisia, or restless legs. I didn’t sleep well, and I’m not sure what to do in the future. I’m hoping that Julie will improve enough so that the next time, she will be able to take that inside position.  At 5’6”, she is more suited for it.  Otherwise, I’ll need to come up with a Plan B.

Our trip was a resounding success, well beyond my wildest expectations.  Kudos to Julie for all her hard work and amazing trail-blazing abilities.  

Is Curated Information Destroying Society?

As a behavioral expert, I am interested in how social media impacts society. My last post explored dating apps and how they have the potential to negatively change the way men and women interact with each other.  

I had no experience with dating apps and had to rely on other sources to understand how they worked. This effort led me to watch dozens of videos created by men and women describing their experiences with dating. The more videos I watched, the more similar content was provided.  Soon, the majority of my feed centered around modern dating.  When I watched female-created content, I was delivered more of that.  When I watched male-created content, that was what was emphasized.  

Female-created and male-created content dramatically differed in their messaging; both were negative toward the opposing gender.  It was almost as if I watched a sports competition between two teams, each strategizing how to “win” the game.  I thought a relationship was about working together to reach a goal.

A lot of the content created for women centered around what jerks men were or how to manipulate a man to get what was wanted.  Much of the content for men focused on how evil women were and why one should give up on dating. 

When I repeatedly watched a specific opinion, it made sense to me.  In other words, it became my reality.  This was especially true for the male-oriented content, which should be no surprise, as I’m a male. The same talking points were repeated continuously, so plausible ideas became actual truths in my mind.  An opposing opinion was never given, so there was no counterbalance.  

The content drove me to watch more videos in a process addiction fashion.  This was especially true if the presenter told dramatic stories or had salacious content.  What would break the pattern?  Watching videos that presented the opposing viewpoint or just pausing my viewing and questioning what I had watched.  Anytime you have a stream of information that purports their viewpoint is completely correct and the opposing viewpoint is absolutely wrong, it is time to pull back, pause, and think. 

I have seen this phenomenon in many other areas.  If you are an anti-vaxer, you will be fed content that confirms this belief.  The same can be said if you believe that the earth is flat or that the theory of evolution is a lie. Mistruths become truths if the presenter sounds plausible and you are not given a balanced view. 

Interested in a particular religious belief?  You are fed content that supports that opinion.  Interested in rejecting a particular religious belief?  You are given a stream that supports that.

Some of the most egregious examples of selective content are the cable news channels, which bring high-production value, professional presenters, and skilled writers into the equation.  It makes no difference to watch conservative Fox or liberal CNN; both are biased and designed to rile up the faithful with “us vs. them” rhetoric. These channels focus on politics, as this is low-hanging fruit.  The other side is always “destroying America” in a never-ending stream of drum-beating crises. Viewers become zealots blinded by half-truths weaved by skillful storytellers. 

Curated information may be useful when you have a neutral interest, such as cooking, gardening, or home repair. But it can be dangerous in areas that should be cut and dry, like medical information. The COVID pandemic was weaponized as a political tool using misinformation and curated information. However, other examples abound.

I have a mild case of eczema, and several years ago, I researched that topic by exploring websites and platforms like YouTube. I was able to find good data.  However, most of the information was poor, and some was even dangerous.  Outdated and false information was presented with the same veracity as established medical facts. Some presenters hawked dangerous diets or tried to sell their unverified cures to others.  Websites pushing nonsense products abounded. All of this false information could lead someone to a worse outcome.

Free services are not free. Cable news networks, YouTube, TicTock, Facebook, and others have only one purpose: to make money for their shareholders. Likewise, many content creators make their livelihood by the number of subscribers that they have and the number of views their videos receive. It is known that people will view longer the more dramatic the content is. Content creators understand that a simple, biased message is more engaging than a complex, balanced presentation of the same issue. This creates a feedback loop where viewers watch content and become biased, forcing the creator to become even more biased to keep their viewers engaged. 

These avenues are dumbing down America and, more importantly, creating an environment of clones, individuals with robust beliefs based on incorrect or incomplete information.  Once a person goes down a particular rabbit hole, it becomes easy to drink the Koolade completely. A disenchanted teen becomes a white supremacist. A person negates known medical treatments in favor of options that shorten their life. A man or woman refuses a healthy risk to find a new relationship. A person believes they don’t need to address climate change. An individual views a person with an opposing political view as someone to be destroyed.   

There was a time when a select few controlled the destiny of the masses.  They determined what was fact, even if there was no credible basis for their opinion.  Often, their views served their needs and benefited them by giving them wealth and power.  If you didn’t believe in their talking points, you could become an outcast, consigned to prison, or threatened with eternal damnation. We called that time the Dark Ages.  Hundreds of years ago, we moved past that blackness and entered the Renaissance, a period of significant social change and cultural, artistic, political, and economic rebirth. 

As time advanced, so did our tools, and we moved into the Age of Enlightenment, where reason superseded superstition.  We could test beliefs, proving some and disproving others. Enlightenment was followed by Romanticism, a countermovement that emphasized emotions over logic, and so it goes.  As humans, we cycle in a forward and backward pattern. We are again entering another period where facts are rejected in favor of conspiracy theories, false beliefs, and biased opinions.  

It is tempting to say that we should wait 50 years for the pendulum to swing in the other direction. After all, we have seen this pattern throughout our history.  However, the luxury of time is no longer on our side.  Our greatest strength as a species has been our ability to work together towards a common goal, and our greatest weakness has been to find differences between us that have led to conflicts and destruction. 

We are now in the information age and should be reaping the benefits that such knowledge could afford us.  Sadly, our ability to gain information has become a tool to spread poor information and false information, moving us toward conflict and destruction and away from cooperation and growth.  I’m unsure if our society has another enlightenment in us before it is game over.

Is Tinder Killing Your Soul?

Are you finding dating apps like Tinder and Bumble stressful?  Does using them make you feel worse about yourself?  Do they make you feel lonely, angry, or undesirable? Have you decided dating isn’t worth it yet wish you had that special someone?  

The following is NOT politically correct. It is not intended to be balanced. But there is truth in what I’m writing. It is your right to disregard everything in this post.  However, if it makes you mad or you need to be enraged in me, I would respectfully say that this piece is stirring you up and possibly exposing you to some realities that you would rather not think about

I will be citing “case studies” in this post.  These stories are based on real people but have been modified to protect their identities.  Some case studies are composites of several individuals.  

The general premise of this post is that dating apps are not bringing people together; they are pulling them apart.  They commoditize men and women into objects accepted or rejected by arbitrary identifiers. I am basing this writing on statistics, my career as an expert in behavior, the thousands of people I have known through my psychotherapy work, and many hours of delving into social media on this topic.  Am I correct in my assumptions?  I think so; otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this post.  Do you have to believe everything that I say?  That is up to you. 

As a species, what is our main purpose?

Like every other creature on this earth, our purpose is to make more of us; it is that simple. Making babies is more important than writing the world’s greatest novel, making the most money, or landing a spaceship on Mars. If we didn’t have babies, our species would be extinct in less than 100 years. Organisms that have problems reproducing quickly disappear.   

Why are there two different sexes?  

Have you ever noticed that banana-flavored candies don’t taste like bananas?  They once did, but something happened. Banana flavoring is based on the Gros Michel variety of bananas. Before 1950, the Gros Michel banana variety was the banana that everyone ate. Members of all banana varieties are clones; in other words, all bananas from that variety are genetically identical. Since all the banana plants were genetically identical, they had no resistance to Panama Disease, a fungus that attacked the plant’s roots. Because of this disease, all Gros Michel banana plants perished. 

The bananas we eat today are of the Cavendish variety and taste very different from Gros Michels. Are Cavendish bananas clones?  Yes.  Could a different emerging disease wipe out all of the Cavendish bananas?  Yes.  There is a reason for genetic variety.  

Biodiversity allows a species to adapt to environmental changes and to new diseases. Most organisms have a way of sharing genetic material, which increases their biodiversity. Bacteria do this by conjugation; one bacteria fuses with another, exchanging genetic material. Many plant and animal species do this by having two sexes, a male and a female, as do humans. 

Many of our cousin species, like the Neanderthal and Denisovans, have perished, so what is necessary for a species to survive?

The best way to continue our species is to ensure that infants mature into adults so they can reproduce and produce more babies.  There are a few ways to do this.  

Females are incentivized to choose the strongest, healthiest mates as this will increase their likelihood of having strong and healthy children. However, superior males will have many females competing for their genetic material, so their most productive strategy would be to impregnate as many females as possible. Many infants may perish in this case, but their larger overall numbers will mean some infants will survive.

A male and female can also form a partnership, providing greater resources for their offspring.  As medical technology has advanced, the likelihood of a child becoming an adult has increased; it now makes more sense for a couple to have only a few children so that a greater portion of their resources can be devoted to them.  

Who created the nuclear family?

In the 1990s, I formed a medical clinic with two other doctors that still thrives today. What was its secret to our success?  Partnership.  The three of us respected each other and liked each other.  We each came to the table with different skills.  Dr. R loved business and all of the intricacies of running one.  Dr. S was great at PR.  I was good at problem-solving and all aspects of technology.  Naturally, our various roles would sometimes cross into another partner’s domain.  However, by mostly sticking to our roles, our lives were easier. No one fought to gain control.  We worked as a team to ensure that our enterprise and families would thrive.  

A healthy nuclear family isn’t that different from a partnership.  But what was the gender that developed this concept? I can only guess, but I assume that females did.  Males have several avenues to reproduce. As child bearers, women are vulnerable during their pregnancy and the ensuing years needed to raise fragile infants and children. Men can have many offspring during a period; women typically have only one. Having a partner to protect and provide would dramatically increase the survival rate of a woman’s children. Naturally, such a partnership would have to offer something to the male.  A mating partnership allows less successful males to reproduce. This increases bio-diversity in the population. In addition, partners provide emotional and physical support to each other.  Together, they would be much more successful than apart.  In the right situation, a partnership of this type benefits all members. 

Just as in any partnership, some work better than others.  However, this doesn’t mean that the concept is irreparably flawed. Younger individuals sometimes assume that all traditional marriages are dictatorships where men are kings and women are slaves. There are good and bad marriages, just like most things in life.  Let’s look at some successful and unsuccessful relational partnerships.

Joanna was a 23-year-old female who came to my office severely depressed.  She was almost vegetative in the presentation.  She wore a dress reminiscent of pioneer days, and her hair was pulled back into a bun. 

Her husband, who was 12 years her senior,  wanted to attend the session, but I told him we would have more success if she came in by herself. He reluctantly agreed. She revealed that she belonged to a very conservative Christian sect where husbands were the absolute rulers of the home. She married at 18 and immediately became pregnant.  By 23, she had four small children, and her husband was demanding they have more.  He said that birth control was against God’s plan. She was completely overwhelmed with her parenting responsibilities and the many household tasks that she had to do.  He wanted me to fix her quickly so she could continue her work and pregnancies. I saw Joanna only three times. On our third meeting, I gently mentioned that it was OK for her to have her own feelings. I assume she told her husband what I said, as he terminated treatment. Her faith and the Bible were used as clubs to push her to the point where she felt she had no hope.  

Terry was a 45-year-old married male who had a kitchen remodeling business.  I was seeing him for severe ADHD, which was only partly treated with meds.  He was scattered and forgetful.  However, the meds helped with his impulsivity. Despite his limitations, he was creative and good with his hands.  In addition, he was very likable. As long as he was doing physical work, he could stay focused. However, he was terrible with all the ins and outs of running a business, including billing.  His wife was much more focused, and in addition to raising their three children, she took over the office role of their remodeling company.  She answered phone calls, made appointments, and, most importantly, did the billing. Terry sometimes felt that his wife was a nag; at other times, she thought he was irresponsible.  However, these were only blips on the radar, and together they had a successful marriage and thriving business.

Jerry was a 48-year-old attorney.  He married his wife when he was in law school, and they had a child within their first year. Times were tough as they had little money.  His mother watched their child while his wife worked.  After working outside the home, his wife returned to childcare duties. Jerry spent his time going to classes and studying. Jerry graduated from law school and got a job with a firm.  However, they still had to endure years of hardship. Their mutual sacrifices paid off when Jerry became a partner.  They now have a very comfortable and secure life.

Bruce was a high-level executive who had to travel for business frequently. His wife was very pretty, and felt she was not getting her deserved attention. This resulted in a long-standing affair with one of Bruce’s colleagues, who Bruce considered a friend.  Despite attempting marital therapy, no progress could be made, and the marriage dissolved in divorce.

I grew up in a working-class Chicago neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s.  Most wives stayed home, and most men worked to support their families.  Men were regarded as the “head” of the household and were expected to provide for their families.  Women were in charge of raising the kids and household duties.  However, despite the saying, “A woman’s work is never done,” wives weren’t toiling 24/7 as this was the era of automatic washing machines, frozen dinners, and television.  Every family differed, but women had a strong voice in decisions in the families I was most familiar with.  

In some families, the dad may have been more dominant; in others, it was the mom.  Most dads worked 9-5 jobs and were off on the weekends.  Yet, they were able to support their families financially.  It was common for a working-class family like mine to own a house and a car and always have food on the table. Couples stayed together during difficult times due to societal norms and religious pressures.  Sometimes this was a mistake.  In other instances, they worked through their problems and strengthened their relationship.

Despite enormous pressure to marry, some individuals remained single.  I had two single uncles and two single aunts in my extended family.  These individuals weren’t ostracized; they held a special place in our family.

Roles were restricted for both men and women.  A man that allowed his wife to support him was considered a bum, and a woman who shirked her parenting duties was a bad mother. There were always outliers, professional women and males, that could only manage part-time work. Classicly, the man provided and protected, and the woman supplied nurturing, caring, and other things. Both provided labor. Just like in a good business partnership, roles could cross.  My father made some of the meals in my family, and my mother was better at solving complicated problems. To quote “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,”  “The man is the head of the household, but the woman is the neck and the neck turns the head.” If you grew up in the 60s or 70s, you know there is truth in this sentence.

In 1960, the birth control pill became available, and women had control over pregnancies for the first time. Some conservative groups and religions opposed the pill, but the cat was out of the bag.  This was also a time of escalating efforts to improve women’s rights. A woman didn’t have to be a housewife to succeed, and roles started to change positively and negatively. Adult children moved away from their homes, and the usual ways of meeting potential partners weakened. Entrepreneurs saw this as an opportunity and eventually developed dating websites and apps. Over the last ten years, dating apps have become the de facto way to meet someone.  This has led to the commoditization of individuals and relationships. Stereotypes have emerged that allow for easy categorization of individuals.  Men and women are sorted into bins, dehumanizing them into things.  Here are some common categories of men and women.

The Man-Boy

Matt was a 61-year-old married male who had worked up to a middle management position in his company.  His wife also worked. They were both solid citizens who tried to raise their children well.

Matt’s son failed multiple attempts at the local junior college. He lived at home in his childhood bedroom and worked part-time as a waiter.  He did not contribute to the house and spent countless hours playing video games in his bedroom. He had a high position in his video game’s guild and was a man of pretend power in the cyber world. He had zero motivation to do anything else.  Matt was concerned that he would still live in Matt’s house when he turned 30.  Matt’s son was still living with them when I retired.  His son was over 40 at that time.

There have always been men who have been unable to make it in society.  However, changing roles has made this category more prevalent.  Man-Boys are men who want to live the lives of adolescents.  As long as someone else is caring for them, they are OK. A parent, girlfriend, wife, or even a friend with a couch is fine if they can play and not work. Guilt and shame are absent and are replaced by a sense of entitlement that they deserve to be taken care of. 

The Boss Babe

The definition of a boss babe varies quite a bit.  In general, it defines a very assertive/aggressive female who has to always be in control and run the show.  Females may view the category positively, while some males view it negatively, thinking these individuals are toxic.  A quote like, “I hope she likes her single life with her cats.” is one example of how some men view this subtype of woman. 

Chads and Tyrones

Susan was married with two daughters.  She had a devoted husband and a stable lifestyle. She suffered from depression, and her husband was always available to take her to her appointments. He was very supportive and understanding of her limitations. Over time she recovered and got a job.  Here, she reconnected with a man named Jim, whom she dated in high school.  He was separated from his wife, and they started to talk to each other.  Her relationship with Jim became an emotional affair and then a physical affair. Jim was fun, unreliable, and unpredictable. She felt that she had to work to get his attention. She fell head over heels for Jim and couldn’t spend enough time with him. Susan pushed for a divorce, telling her husband she never loved him. This devastated him. She took half of the family assets and bought a condo. Jim quickly moved in, and it was an exciting time, at least for a while. Jim lost his job and was unmotivated to find a new one.  He became increasingly critical of Susan and told her that it was her fault that he was unhappy and unemployed. The harder she tried to rekindle their spark, the colder he became. The honeymoon was over.  Suddenly, her former husband looked pretty good, but he had moved on. 

Chads and Tyrones are a diverse group of men who are highly desirable to many women but bring little real value to a relationship.  They include bad boys, men who are hard to get but fun and irreverent. Perhaps the cute lead guitar of the local bar band or the handsome dude at the club who asked for your phone number. A young Chad or Tyrone doesn’t have to be successful; he needs to be exciting.  These folks frequently play the field, but some may form a relationship with one female.  However, those relationships are often filled with imbalance, heartache, and infidelity. 

Older Chads and Tyrones are often successful, rich, and good-looking men. They bring everything to the table except commitment. Older Chads typically choose younger women, much to the anger of the older women. Another word for an older Chad is “Dusty.”

Women seem attracted to both groups, which may be partly due to scarcity psychology.  It is a challenge to “catch” one, making the chase exciting.  However, once the chase is over, the difficulties and pain begin.  

The Simps

A very derogatory term used by both men and women to describe men who are willing to do anything for a woman, despite being treated badly or ignored by her. Women can use Simps to get things they need, but they are never considered serious contenders for a relationship.

The Nice Guy

I knew Sara for many years.  She was a good person and had good values.  She was smart and was a student in a science field. I don’t like to categorize people, but it is necessary to do so for this example. Sara was average in looks.  She was 5’5” and had an average build.  If I was to be honest, she was probably a tick below “average” due to a prominent facial feature.

Bill was 5’10” and had a pleasant but unremarkable face.  I knew Bill for two years; he was a genuinely good guy.  Bill was in my medical school class but was a licensed pharmacist before being accepted into med school. Bill was quiet; I wouldn’t say he was shy; he was more thoughtful.  He was very bright and came from a solid Chicago family. Bill was a kind and loyal man who wanted a girlfriend.  

I played matchmaker and brought the two of them together.  I wasn’t sure how Bill would react to Sara, but I felt Sara would think that Bill was a catch. A first date was arranged.

The day after the date, I talked to Sara. “Well, how did it go?” Sara said she wasn’t sure about Bill. Bill picked her up on time and brought her flowers and a little box of candy.  He took her to an expensive restaurant and treated her with respect and interest. I consider myself a nice guy, but I have never done all that on the first day. Sara wasn’t interested.  Why?  “He was just too nice, too eager, too accommodating.”  WTF?

By the way, Bill married a nice nurse, had kids, and lives happily.  Sara married a bad boy who was arrogant, meanly sarcastic, and dismissive. I lost touch with her after she married and moved to a different state.

For some reason, many women don’t like to date nice guys and consider them boring or too predictable.  There seems to be a change when they decide that it is time to settle down, and there are videos where women talk about “settling” for a reliable, nice guy.  Who wants to be a plan B?  Not most men.

The “10s”

Let’s be honest; most of us look average and have imperfect bodies. Good looks are distributed along a bell-shaped curve. True “10” level people represent only 3-5% of the population.  However, countless women on social media say with certainty that they are “10s” in appearance. Most men would likely rate them between 4-6. They also state they must be treated like a queen and deserve a 666 man (defined next).  It is a common belief that women like to date “up.” In other words, they like to date someone of greater status. When you think you are a 10, what do you look for, a 10+?  

The 666s

I was treating John for anxiety.  He had attended law school and passed the bar. He spent a year working for a law firm, but it was a place of abuse, and he left that job.  However, he was using his expertise to review legal documents and was making a reasonable living. John was practical and ambitious. He was forward-thinking. He deliberately lived at home to pay down his student loans but expected to get his own place in a year.  He continued to explore lawyer jobs, but he was also investigating getting a graduate degree that he could use with his law degree.  John was a nice man.  He had a good build and a better-than-average face. He wanted to date but could not get a single swipe on dating apps.  He felt it was because he was 5’8” in height, as many profiles said that a man had to be at least 6’ to be considered. John had all the attributes to be a good partner and a successful man, he just wasn’t there yet, and no one wanted to take a chance on him.

Many women on social media will say they will only date a 666 man.  What does that mean?  

The man has to be over 6 feet tall (85% of men are under 6 feet), make a 6 figure income, often asking for yearly salaries between $250,000 and $1,000,000 (the average man makes around $45,000), and have a six-pack or in other words; they need to be a male “10” (less than 3% of men).  These guys are also referred to as “high-value men.” 

Are those men on dating apps?  Absolutely.  However, these high-value men don’t need an app to find a date.  Many use apps as a cost-effective option for free physical connections. A connection may consist of a one-night event, or a match may be chosen to be “Tuesday” in their weekly rotation. 

The 304s

This goes back to an old calculator trick where you type these numbers and then look at the display sideways.  Like most of these categories, it is an objectification of a human into a thing. In the day, these women would be called party girls. Today they may be referred to as having a “high body count.”  This is not a complimentary term and is a red flag when men seek a serious relationship. Men refer to a 304 as “The village bicycle; everyone gets a ride.”  Some women may cite their liberation and note that they want to do the same things men do.  I’m afraid that this is a delusional belief. Chads may have a high body count, but most men don’t.

Chads claim they can secure a 304 at a moment’s notice, and with an endless selection, they often do that.  Although average men may signal approval of this behavior in locker room talk, this is pure bravado.  I have known men from all walks of life, from laborers to world-class scientists.  Overall, men view such behaviors as destructive, immature, and distasteful in a fellow man. On average, men do have more sexual partners than women in their lifetime.  However, the difference is much smaller than you think.  

If a 304 sees a 666 regularly, she will likely fall for him rather than vice versa.  Once again, our animal selves are to blame.  Both men and women release a hormone called Oxytocin during sexual activity.  However, it impacts them in different ways.  In men, it improves their ability to find competitive relationships.  In women, it facilitates kinship and connection (love).  

The Dusty (an older Chad)

This is an older man who may be good-looking and has high resources.  They often date much younger women.  Older women frown upon their actions, saying that these men are manipulative, insecure, and need to control naive younger women. There are videos of older women counseling younger women not to do this. In reality, both men and women in this scenario benefit from this relationship. However, it is more transactional in nature and usually temporary.

The Trad Wife

This is an Instagram trend of women vlogging that they like being traditional housewives.  They post videos doing things like making dinner. They sometimes dress up like an idealized 50s mom. The amount of hate thrown at these women by other women is horrific.  They are called everything from pawns of patriarchy to promoters of the neo-Nazi movement.  Liberation means everyone can do what they want, including being a Trad Wife.

The Self-Sufficient, Financially Secure, Independent Woman

Similar to a boss chick.  However, this category varies greatly.  Some very angry women shout on Instagram that men are useless and that they don’t need them for anything.  That’s fine, but why are they making a post about it?  

Other women will use the above or similar terms at the start of their dating profile, thinking it is an asset. This would be a desirable characteristic on a man’s profile but is pretty neutral for men when viewing a female’s profile. That is not to say that men don’t appreciate a woman who is smart and hard-working.  However, that can be revealed later in the dating process for most men. In the extreme, this can be a turn-off for some men noting, “I don’t want to marry a bro.”  

The Militant Single Mom

For many years I was a single dad raising a daughter.  It was tough as I navigated unknown areas, like braiding hair or buying a party dress. I can do many domestic things, but I still can’t sew on a button, and yes, I have tried many times; they just kept falling off.  Beyond tasks, there were also time restrictions and extra responsibilities. There were days when I couldn’t go to work and times when I couldn’t go on a date because I had to care for my daughter. 

A group of militant single moms on social media tout their demands for anyone who wants to date them.  They expect more than a dinner and a movie. If they take time away from their parenting, they want “an adventure.” They expect any prospective date to accept that they will never be number one and must fit into the single mom’s schedule as she deems fit. They say that it is the responsibility of the date to pay for any babysitting and pay fully for the actual date.

Remember, the average man earns $47K a year.  Does the above sound like a good deal?  Are men biting on this offer?  If so, can someone tell me why?

The Passport Bros

Sam is a traditional man who came to America from a European country over 15 years ago.  He has a good mastery of English but still has a heavy accent. He attends church every Sunday and partially supports his parents, who came to the US around the same time. He has outside interests, likes to cook, and raises bees for honey.  He is a naturalized American citizen. Sam is a skilled tradesman who can get dirty but makes a good living. Overall, he is average to nice looking and on the short side, around 5’ 7” tall. He wants to marry, and he wants to have children. He is looking for a traditional partner and is willing to work hard to support his family, but he needs his wife to agree to take care of the home and their children as he works long hours. He will pitch in when needed. He tried to date American women.  None of them would give him the time of day.

In desperation, he explored meeting foreign women and traveled to an Asian country. There, he met a woman, and they hit it off.  Beyond romance, she had her own motivators as she was escaping poverty and wanted a better life. After many trips back and forth, they married.  They now have three kids and are going strong.

For some reason, there is tremendous animosity toward men seeking foreign brides.  Often stating that these men are creeps and pervs who exploit defenseless women.  It seems like both Sam and his wife benefited in different ways and that they have forged a solid relationship.  What is wrong with that?

The Queens

I moved to the western suburbs in 1989. I had ended a relationship before my move, and I wasn’t ready to date again.  A woman I knew suggested I attend a social group called “Young Professional Singles.”  They met monthly and would go on fun group activities. I’m a pretty shy guy, but I thought I would give it a shot.  I knew the group’s ultimate goal was to pair up people, but I also felt it wouldn’t hurt to go on fun outings. The title “professional” was pretty loosely interpreted.  This was not a group of doctors and lawyers; just about anyone could call themselves professional.  People were professional retail clerks and professional office workers. The men and women in the group were average-looking and in the 30-40 age range. After the formal meeting and introductions, there was a social time. I was the new kid on the block, so a line of women was waiting to talk to me. I started talking to one lady, and within the first few minutes, she asked me a very odd question, “Do you own your own house?”  I was taken aback, was I being vetted?  I quickly ended that conversation and started to talk to the next person.  Like the first one, she asked me if I owned my home. What??  I wasn’t asking these women to marry me. I wasn’t asking them out on a date. Yet, I was being analyzed to see if I was acceptable. I couldn’t imagine asking something similar to one of them on a first meeting.  I slowly meandered to the door and left, never to return.  

There are many videos of women telling other women that they are queens and deserve to be treated as such.  They deserve a 666 man who buys them anything they want and worships them.  What do they bring to the table?   They are told that they only need to bring themselves. Really?

Apps like Tinder force people to become objects, characters that often have negative connotations.

In a perfect world, we all should be allowed to be who we are.  One size does not fit all, but rigid expectations do not change as social mores change.  Why are people who want more traditional relationships considered neo-Nazis or creeps?  We all should be allowed to be who we are without having to deal with the condemnation of others.  

Who has it easier, men or women? Life is hard for both. We are sold a bill of goods that tells us happiness is about stuff.  Buy more, have more, be more happy. Humans are now used to fulfilling their own needs rather than working as a team to form something greater.  Long-term studies all point to healthy relationships as the key indicator of happiness. Those relationships can be traditional or non-traditional. A healthy connection requires work and is always a two-way street.  Dialing up a 304 or plotting how to get a 666 is a sad way to live, a life where people become just one more object to possess and toss away when the next shiny penny appears.

The late Norah Vincent was an author who wanted to explore the secret lives of men.  She was tall and had a body type that allowed her to pass, and she spent months learning ways to speak, walk, and express herself as a man.  She even found a method to paste artificial stubble on her face. 

Women have preconceived notions of the privileged life that men have at the expense of women.  During her 18 months as a man, she joined a blue-collar bowling league, went to a men’s therapy retreat, tried to pick up girls, bought a new car as Norah and her alter Ned, and did other things that she thought typical men did. What would being a privileged male in a patriarchal society be like? It was bound to be fantastic.

How did the tough, blue-collar men treat their new bowling league member, who was a bit effeminate and a terrible bowler?  They welcomed him and allowed him to improve.  As they became emotionally closer to him, they kidded him in the good nature way that men show affection. As “Ned,” she formed friendships with some of them outside the bowling league, and they shared the traumas and stresses they were going through. These weren’t privileged men; they struggled to make it through life just like their female counterparts.  The struggles may have been different, but they were struggles nonetheless. Working in a blazing hot and dirty factory while your boss berates you is not a life of patriarchal privilege. Men do it because they have no other options and must support their families. 

Yes, the world is mostly run by powerful old white men; they have privilege. Who is next in line?  Powerful women. Where does the average Jane or Joe belong on the power meter?  They are not even pushing the needle. 

Norah was also aware that men respond differently to situations than women, which could be one of the reasons the two sexes can be so confusing to each other.  Are men from Mars and women from Venus?

She tried to pick up women as a man and was shocked at how stressful it was. She thought that men held all of the cards.  Many men have stopped trying to introduce themselves to women; the cost is too high.  Yes, there is the fear that they will be labeled a predator, but their reluctance is more due to potential humiliation. Chads know they will likely get a phone number if they approach a female.  Average guys must build up their courage and take deep breaths. When Nora, dressed as Ned, approached a woman and started a conversation, she became instantly aware of the disgust that that woman visibly projected onto her.  It was humiliating and soul-crushing to be judged as a creep and a perv. Best not to ask.

One area that troubled her the most was the sense of aloneness that men have to endure. Women are excellent collaborators, supporters, and communicators.  Men, not so much.  She found this aloneness particularly difficult, and her experience is not unique.  Trans men have noted similar feelings as they have transitioned from their female life to their male life. 

The bottom line is that life is hard; the limitations imposed by our roles bind us. However, our society is stronger by being inclusive and welcoming diversity. Should women be allowed to be astronauts? Of course. Should men be allowed to be hair stylists?  Yes, indeed.  Both men and women are capable of being flexible if needed. However, the idea that we can and should do it all is a fallacy, and that is just how it is. We all only have so much bandwidth. 

There was a TV commercial in the 1980s of a woman dressed in a business suit, wearing high heels, and holding a 12” skillet as she gyrated to, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget that you’re a man…. I am woman, W-O-M-A-N!”  The ad was so ridiculous that it became a running joke and, in many ways, hurt the woman’s movement as it suggested that women are supposed to be excellent mothers, great leaders, skilled lovers, fantastic entrepreneurs, Michelin-level chefs, and much more at the same time.  Tell that to a single mom who works at Walmart, as she tries to get her kids dressed and off to school on time.

During my professional life, people called me “Doctor.”  Beyond treating patients, I trained other doctors, was an assistant professor at three medical schools, and was the chief resident of my residency program. I was the medical director of medical programs.  I have lectured to hundreds.  Along with my partners, I formed several successful businesses. I won a national award and was named an exemplary psychiatrist. I saved lives.  Sounds pretty glamorous to the uninformed.  However, I also worked at least 60 hours a week, was responsible for others I had little control over, and constantly worked in my “spare time.” I had to ensure I was doing my best work while making enough money since I was the sole support of my family. 

Have you ever had to go to the bathroom but had to hold it for several hours because you can’t free up five minutes for yourself? Have you ever gotten devastating news that made you cry, but you had to turn off your feelings because a patient was coming in the next few minutes, and they needed your full attention? Have you ever been up most of the night and still had to work a 12-hour high-pressure shift? I have and a lot more.  Observing a role from the outside makes it easy to cherry-pick the good and ignore the bad.  The grass isn’t always greener in someone else’s backyard.

So what is my role now that I’m retired?  Am I enjoying my life on my yacht?  My role has changed due to several reasons.  Who is cleaning our toilets?  Me.  Who makes meals?  Me.  Who does our grocery shopping?  Me. I also protect and support my ill wife and meet her needs as her driver and in any other way necessary. I am there for my kids. Naturally, I’m still responsible for all the “manly” household jobs I did before I retired. Life is complicated.  

Was what I was doing before more important than what I’m doing now?  I think the opposite: I’m providing the most important people, my loved ones, with what they need to live their best lives. In turn, this gives me my best life. Does doing such basic work suck sometimes?  Sure.  However, what I did before was a lot more stressful, and now I can go to the bathroom when needed.  Folks,  life is work; stop blaming others for your unhappiness.  Change what you can, accept what you can’t, and pray to know the difference.

So what is the bottom line regarding social media and dating apps?  For many, their emergence has been destructive, not liberating. A small percentage of privileged men and women do benefit from using them.  Others make money by telling followers how to live their lives on them. However, for many, these avenues lead to self-doubt, rejection, loathing, and unhappiness.   

The birth rate in the US is down 20% since 2007.  One-third of men aged 20-30 are now celibate, some involuntarily and others by choice. Men are afraid to ask a woman for their phone number.  Some are afraid to open a door for women or treat them in any way that could imply that they are a patriarchal creep. I have always been a person who compliments others.  I may tell a guy that it looked like he has been hitting the gym or a woman that her new haircut looks awesome.  I never thought much about it.  Now, I need to have second thoughts.

The marriage rate is at the lowest level in 120 years.  Almost half of marriages will end in divorce.  When examining stats on a second marriage, almost 70% will end in divorce. Divorce is initiated by women 70-80% of the time.  Many men feel that the legal system treats men unfairly in divorce. Some say that the legal system is so favorable to women that it encourages them to leave a marriage when times are tough. Others say, why bother?  Some men have retreated into the manosphere and avoid connecting with women. They no longer see women as a positive in their lives; they see them as giving little and demanding much.  Likewise, there are many videos of women shouting that they don’t need men for anything, including making babies. Men staying away from women, women avoiding men?  What is happening?

Let’s go back to the first few paragraphs of this post.  Men and women often seek different things in a relationship, but most women prefer masculine men, and most men prefer feminine women.  Is that such a shock?  If you are a woman, do you want a man who will provide for and protect you and your children, or do you want a weak man you have to support and protect?  If you are a man, do you want a wife who is here for you, supports you, and is proud of you, or are you looking for someone to make you feel like a failure, weak, and unloved? 

To claim that traditional men are Neanderthals and traditional women are Stepford Wives shows a high degree of ignorance and misunderstanding. 

We have more choices. Marriage or even committed relationships are not for everyone, but some people want them, and they shouldn’t be shamed.  It’s OK to be single.  It’s OK to live an untraditional life. However, it is impossible to cherry-pick all the positives from various lifestyles while rejecting their negatives.  Get real. 

Apps like Tinder work well for the real “10s” of the world who want to hook up.  However, 95% of people who use them are not 10s.  Women swipe right only 14% of the time.  Women have a match rate of 10%, but that low number looks pretty good compared to the match rate for men, which is less than 1%. If you are a three or perhaps a five, your match rate is likely close to zero.

It is as if we have fewer choices, not more.  A woman can’t be a Trad Wife; they must be a boss babe.  A man can’t want to be a dad and a male role model; he has to be angry and celibate. 

People should stop connecting to social media and using apps like Tinder and Bumble.  However, that won’t happen.  However, something needs to change in our society, which continues to polarize groups into black-and-white categories, objects to be purchased and discarded once they lose their novelty. 

On Being A Caregiver; On Caregiver Burnout

Julie and I were driving home from a breakfast get-together with old friends. We had a pleasant visit, but it seemed like she was miffed about something. Eventually, it came out. Our friends wanted an update on Julie’s cancer treatment, and Julie felt that she should have had talking rights on the topic. Instead, I added some facts here and there, partly because my medical background clarified the information and partly because I was trying to lessen the burden on Julie. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. How was it that my good intentions were so misunderstood?

Generally, I don’t need to prove my point, but I want the other person to know where I’m coming from. I don’t believe in mind reading in a relationship; I’m happy to tell someone why I did or said something or how I feel about their behavior. I told Julie I didn’t intend to take the spotlight off her and described my rationale. However, as the words came out of my mouth, I had an epiphany. This wasn’t Julie’s cancer; it was our cancer. I’m not implying that I had the tumor, surgery, or post-operative care. However, her illness has impacted our entire family, and it has impacted me. As her primary caregiver, I am affected on multiple levels as we go through this cancer journey.

I know some of you are squeamish when it comes to personal disclosure. You should stop reading now. For the rest of you, let’s explore this topic.

It has been almost a year since Julie developed symptoms. A year filled with appointments, procedures, pain, more procedures, and disability. It has been a year of changing future dreams and modifying present expectations. It has been a year of worry and fear. 

Our family’s geist is one of rational acceptance. As serious as Julie’s condition is, it is not our nature to gnash our teeth and focus on the negative. We move forward methodically as we navigate the labyrinth of doctors, hospitals, and procedures.  

Julie has worked hard and has made progress. However, there are limitations to what she can do. Her progress bar continues to move to the right, and I am proud of her efforts. However, it is not all rainbows and unicorns. 

My retired life has been constantly redefined as I have worked to discover the right balance of tasks and activities to give me a sense of purpose and pleasure. Generally, I have been successful in this pursuit. I do many of the household tasks. This hasn’t bothered me as I felt I still had control over my days and enough free time to pursue my interests. Life was good.

However, this changed with Julie’s illness, and the delta of that change has moved exponentially since her surgery and all of the limitations that it has created.  

Below is my schedule for this week. Julie can’t drive now, so most of the blocked times consist of me transporting her from point A to point B. Any additional scheduled appointments are there to meet the needs of other family members. Some of those obligations are in temporal conflict with Julie’s appointments. Additionally, this schedule does not include any of my tasks inside and outside the house. If you are a housewife or househusband, you understand the magnitude of managing a home and a family. Note there are no appointments on the schedule of my activities. There isn’t any time for them.

It would be nice to present myself as Saint Michael. All giving, forever sacrificing, never self-serving. However, my life is not an episode of “Touched by an Angel.” To be honest, I feel resentful. I’m not bitter towards Julie or the cancer. I’m resentful of the situation that I’m in, where once again my days are scheduled with little to no time for me.

My intellectual side rationally deals with this situation. My Catholic side makes me feel guilty that I have any negative feelings. But my emotional side wants to scream, “This isn’t fair.”  

Julie is coping in her own way, normalizing her situation by returning to life before cancer. Before cancer, her schedule would change constantly, as would her activities. She continues to replicate that flexible pattern now. I completely understand her position in principle but not in action, as it directly impacts me. Finding out that her schedule has changed the day before can sabotage any plans I may have made for myself.

I am a natural caregiver, but I understand that I also need to care for myself. I’m aware of the phenomena of caregiver burnout. A syndrome that includes depression, isolation, irritability, apathy, fatigue, and other symptoms. Thankfully, I’m not there. However, I need to be vigilant. A burnt-out caregiver is useless to anyone, including the identified patient.

My symptoms consist mainly of the above resentment and feeling sorry for myself. As with most things, I am facing those identifiers head-on.  

Being a guy that likes predictability, I must know where my responsibilities lie. I accept that  I need to drive Julie to her appointments. However, last-minute changes are only OK if there is no other option. This is especially true with Julie’s work schedule, which has become a moving time target. I’m approaching this issue with truthful discussion. Once Julie is driving again, she can alter her schedule as she sees fit, but I need to know when I’m doing something and what I’m doing. 

As far as self-care is concerned, I have had to modify my goals. I can’t go on a trip or even be away for a few hours. Those options are currently off the table. However, I need to explore new things and be creative. Recently, I had three hours between a drop-off and pick-up. It wasn’t practical for me to return home. Instead, I found a new path to go on a hike that turned my time into a pleasant 3.5-mile walk. I brought one of my old cameras I hadn’t used in a while. It was fun to relearn its controls as I scanned the area for interesting pictures to take. I had a little time left that allowed me to visit a family member who lives close by. A potentially soul-crushing three hours of sitting in the car became an enjoyable and creative adventure.   

This Fuji X100S is over ten years old-ancient for a digital camera. But, like me, she still has a lot of life in her. Rediscovering her as I explored her dials and wheels was great fun.

McKee Marsh is a beautiful area 15 minutes from my home. I thought I knew all the local paths but missed this one. It was like discovering a new world.

Yet, there are things that I have to let go of. My friend, Tom, has a wealth of knowledge, a treasure trove of tools, and a creative mind. I wanted him to help with a simple modification of Violet the campervan’s kitchen. Tom developed a much grander idea that I found very exciting. Cooking in Violet over four years of camping has given me insight into my current kitchen’s limitations. Tom offered to rebuild my kitchen completely. He had a break in his schedule this week, and this idea could have become a reality by week’s end. It was a fantastic idea and a generous offer, but my schedule is filled with other tasks. No new kitchen for Violet. Ouch.

I will find solutions and get through this tough time. However, I know I’m not the only person in a caregiving role; others are also being pushed to their limits. The identified patient should get the lion’s share of concern, love, and caring. But the immediate family of that person also suffers, and sans illness, they are impacted in many of the same ways. 

As caregivers, being honest with your feelings and doing a daily self-assessment is imperative. What is my mood? What is my energy level? What is my level of interest in things that I usually enjoy doing? How do I feel about the identified patient? What do I need to modify? What do I need to change? What do I need to say? Direct communication is always better than acting out resentment.

Pushing until you burn out helps no one, including the identified patient. Life can sometimes be challenging. However, there is always some way to improve almost any situation. Respectfully and honestly communicating with your loved one can differentiate between isolating angrily or working as a team. 

As Julie, the kids, and I progress in our journey, I’m sure there will be many twists and turns, ups and downs, good times and bad times. Such is life, but I am determined to make it work by clear communication, a realistic understanding of our limits, and modifications in any behaviors damaging our progress.  

Lastly, caregivers need love too. A kind word, a pat on the back, and an affirming nod can boost us when we are ready to throw in the towel.  



These thistles are everywhere, beautiful in their own spikey way.
A common milkweed on the verge of opening up its petals.
McKee Marsh is… well, it is a marsh.
This bench under a tree moved me. Not sure why.

Inflation, TipFlation, and ShrinkFlation-The Trifecta Of Doom

Julie wanted a Coke on the way home, so we decided to stop at McDonald’s. I ordered a few food items but no meals. The drive-through display flashed, “Small Vanilla Shake Surcharge.” As we pulled forward, The screen blanked for the next customer. “Did you see that?” I asked Julie. “Yes, what was that about?” She responded. I asked the attendant; they had no clue. No receipt was offered. I called McDonald’s corporate. They noted that franchise operators set their prices. I wondered if this was why that McDonald’s stopped offering receipts a few months back.

Once a month, my siblings get together for breakfast. We meet at a local chain restaurant called “Honey Jam.” The food is average, but the location is convenient for all parties. The prices have steadily escalated, so I no longer get my usual breakfast there. Still, spending (with tip) $40-$50 for two simple meals is commonplace. Our last meeting was on a Sunday morning, typically a crowded time. We were surprised that the restaurant was half empty. Breakfast has always been an inexpensive way to go out for food. However, spending $50 for average food that can easily be cooked at home is having an impact. 

My sister went to a nicer restaurant with some of her friends. She ordered a sandwich and coffee. Her bill was almost $40, and it included a surcharge. Why a surcharge? No one knew.

My sister-in-law got her haircut at an expensive salon. She also noticed a new surcharge that no one could explain. My sister reports that many women are going more “natural” by not spending money on dying their hair. How much of this is due to costs?

Car prices have gone up dramatically in the last few years. I bought a new Ram van 2018 for $27K, and a similar 2024 van is now selling for $47K! Dodge/Ram/Chrysler vehicles have increased by around 50% since 2019, and other manufacturers’ prices have exceeded inflation. Many auto builders have stopped making sedans in favor of SUVs and Trucks, which have a higher profit margin.  

A friend bought a loaded GMC pickup that cost over $100K. He got 3-year, zero-percent financing, but his monthly payment is over $2,700! The average cost of a vehicle is now over $60K. Ford’s CEO stated that Ford would continue to focus on these expensive vehicles, leaving the average consumer in the dust. Car manufacturers and dealers have reported huge profits, but that is because of massive surcharges on vehicles (often called a “Market Adjustment”) and fleet sales. Multiple sources say dealer lots are overflowing with expensive SUVs and trucks. People can’t afford them.

Car repairs have also gone wild. I just had several repairs on my Ford, they were around or over $1000, and none involved engine work. One was to replace a single wheel bearing, and the other was to replace two pipes that were part of the exhaust system. I now see an unexplained surcharge when I take vehicles for repairs at Ram/Dodge and Ford.

Increased grocery prices are compounded by shrinkflation. A box of 8 cookies now contains 6. Two packages of a Costco meal are needed to feed a family instead of one. Loaves of bread are smaller by a third. I made a bundt cake using my mom’s 1960s pan the other day. It now takes two cake mixes instead of one to fill the pan. Essential foods like eggs, pasta, and beans have all jumped in price.

Tipping is crazy. In the past, you tipped a person who provided personal service to you, like a waitress. Then it expanded to other service industries. Now, everyone wants a significant tip for doing very little. This point was illustrated by trips to a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a Stan’s Donuts. Both establishments charge a premium price for their products and expect a 25% tip at checkout. That is for putting a scoop of ice cream in a cup or a donut in a bag. I have heard shaming stories when clerks roll their eyes and walk away when a customer doesn’t tip enough. 

Despite being a retired professional, I have had to take significant steps to cope with these increases. My cars are older, but no new vehicles are in my future. Over the last year, I have found myself dining out only if there is a significant reason, like a celebration or a specific get-together. I now have second thoughts about fast food; when I go, I omit or downscale items. I’m not alone, as McDonald’s CEO noted that fewer people are ordering french fries, possibly in an attempt to reduce their bills.

I have deliberately tried to grocery shop wisely. I am partially or wholly supporting five adults, and food is costly. I am buying more basic foods and less convenience foods. I am making a solid effort to use our purchased foods and not let them spoil. I am cooking more from scratch and keeping my menus simple. Yet, I still spend hundreds of dollars a week on groceries. 

I am trying to drive less by planning my errands accordingly. Before I go anywhere, I think, “Do I need to do this now, or can I tag this on to another chore tomorrow? 

I need some basic yard work done. I am allergic to grass, and I’m also not tolerant of heat. In the past, I would pay someone to do this work. However, this weekend I be operating the garden clippers. 

Admittedly, my household budget strain has gone up. Julie has not been able to contribute to household expenses, and William has returned home from college. Both of these situations have had an impact on our living costs. I’m a person who loathes being in debt, so I’m more conservative than many with my fixed income. I’m able to keep my head above water. However, I worry about those earning low wages or surviving on Social Security. 

I was raised in a financially conservative culture. If we didn’t have the cash, we made due. My parents were credit card free until I was out of college. The first time I went out to a sit-down restaurant was in 8th grade when my uncle took my parents and me. My father only bought one new car, a lower-end Ford. We mainly had used cars, and if the repair was simple enough, my dad did it. My mother repaired our clothing using a sewing machine with thread tension issues (it constantly broke the thread). She didn’t buy a new sewing machine; she found ways to make the malfunction happen less often. Any vacations were a bonus and very simple. There was no such thing as a yearly family trip. 

There were some negatives to this forced frugality. When I turned 18, I went to the dentist, only to find that the lack of childhood attention left me with many cavities I had to pay to fill.

However, there were also positives. I have no brand loyalty; one catsup is as good as the next. I can do some repairs around the house. I can cook from scratch and enjoy economy foods like casseroles. I don’t feel compelled to “Keep up with the Jones.” I feel secure in myself. I don’t see things or possessions as the royal road to happiness. Instead, I see learning, connections with others, and creating as my tickets to well-being.  

Yet, all of the above financial issues do stress me. I think, “Yes, I can handle this now, but what about the future?” Others who have not adopted habits of frugality are stressed more than me. How do people survive on minimum wage or social security alone? It seems impossible. Do they run up their charge cards? Do they ignore basic needs? From my vanlife experiences, I know some have become involuntary van dwellers. To choose to live in a van is fine. To be forced to live in a car is not great.

It saddens me that we have become a two-tier society of rich and not rich. I live in an affluent suburb where it is clear that these increases have little real impact on those who live in our financial bubble. However, they are not the majority.

We have a service economy, but fewer can afford services as prices increase. The higher-paying blue-collar jobs that ranged from factory work to truck driving have evaporated with anti-union pressures and competition from abroad.  

If we stay on this trajectory, the only reasonable conclusion is that we will return to a simpler time: smaller dwellings, public transportation, simpler foods, and more DIY. In itself, that is alright. However, likely, things won’t stop there. All we have to do is to look towards Europe, where energy and food costs have risen to the point where some people have to decide on one or the other. As the separation of wealth escalates, will we become a third-world country?

A Less Expensive Way To Get Into Photography

Photography is a fantastic hobby that affords high levels of variety and creativity. There is an art to taking a good photo; some ability comes from study, but most come from practice.

Why use a separate camera in a world of good cell phone cameras? A decent dedicated camera will capture a higher-quality image than the tiny sensor on an iPhone. However, that is only part of the reason. More importantly, a high-quality camera gives the photographer control over the image. What is in focus, and what is not? What part of the image needs to be perfectly exposed? Should a fast-moving object be frozen, or is it preferred to have it show its speed by having it blur in the image? These and many more possibilities move a photograph from a snapshot to an interesting image and sometimes a work of art.

Enthusiast and professional-level cameras allow the photographer such control. However, new high-end cameras can cost thousands of dollars for the camera body and much more for a collection of lenses. Spending $2,000-$10,000 on a hobby that may not hold interest over time is not in a new photographer’s best interest. The good news is there is a solution, as older cameras are affordable and allow a new user to gain the skills necessary to take magazine-quality images.

Three years ago, I produced a YouTube video emphasizing that all semi-professional and professional cameras made in the last decade produced images that could be used for just about any current professional photo need. Some instances are so demanding that the shooter could be compelled to buy the latest and greatest. However, there have always been workarounds to get those amazing shots using a little thought and technique.

That is not to say that cameras haven’t improved over the last decade; they have improved in many ways. Newer cameras have amazing focusing, but older cameras had focusing, which was very good. Newer camera sensors have better dynamic range and low-light performance. However, those two improvements are only important in certain circumstances. Most cameras do an excellent job of capturing what the photographer intended.

Newer cameras may have convenience features, like a tilting screen which can make low-angle shooting easier, but if you don’t have one, you just have to bend down. The one central area where cameras have advanced is their ability to shoot videos in addition to stills.

The Nikon D90 was released in 2008 and was the first DSLR camera that could also shoot video. This was revolutionary at the time but primitive by today’s standards. The D90 was only able to capture 720p video in 5-minute increments. Another milestone was in November of the same year when Canon introduced the 5D Mark II, a camera capable of recording 1080p video for 12 minutes. The Canon 5D’s capabilities were so astounding that it was used to film TV shows and theatrical movies. Camera models introduced after that improved these features and were entirely capable video cameras. The one problem was that their video’s automatic focus could have been better, requiring the videographer to focus the camera manually. In 2013 Canon introduced dual pixel autofocus, which improved autofocusing of video dramatically. Other camera manufacturers have since introduced their own autofocus algorithms making focusing video as simple as pointing and recording.

Recently, many newer cameras can record video in 4K for extended times. Significantly, their ability to follow focus on their subjects has gone from abysmal to spectacular. Some newer cameras include more professional features like zebra striping and focus peaking. However, many of these features are unnecessary for the casual videographer or the individual who wants to shoot still images.

In 2008 Panasonic introduced its first large-sensor mirrorless camera, the Lumix DMC-G1. Over the last 15 years, all camera manufacturers (except Pentax) have switched to a mirrorless format. This has allowed for more computer-driven features like face detection focusing and amazing burst shooting rates.

However, all the functionality needed is present in older cameras, from excellent photo quality to enough controls to allow any level of creativity. The lack of computer-generated functions can improve the skills of a budding photographer as hands-on controls allow for the best understanding of the processes needed to obtain the best image. It is better for a photographer to understand and modify controls than expecting a computer to use some algorithm.

If you are interested in photography, knowing how to use a camera is more important than having the latest, greatest gear. Remember, digital cameras from the last decade have been good enough to take spectacular photos seen on everything from billboards to National Geographic.

If you are new to cameras, the following primer will help you understand some camera specifications:

Sensor Size

Semi-pro and professional digital cameras have image-capturing sensors much larger than your phone’s. These larger sensors are more capable of capturing an image in low-light conditions. Typically, they also have a better dynamic range. Dynamic range measures how many levels can be discerned between black and white. The greater the dynamic range, the greater the ability to see nuances in a photograph. For instance, excellent dynamic range lets you see details in shadow areas.

Sensor sizes in professional cameras come in three sizes. The sizes from smallest to largest are called Micro 43, APS-C, and full frame. There is no standardized naming convention in these three sizes.

The largest sensors (full frame) are typically the best in handling low light and have a better dynamic range. It is also easier to produce a sharp subject with a blurred background, as you may see in some portraits. The lenses of full-frame cameras have to be bigger to accommodate the larger sensor; because of this, both cameras and lenses typically cost more.

Smaller sensors (Micro 43 and APS-C) allow a smaller camera body and lenses. Lenses can cost less because they use less glass. How much a lens magnifies, an image is measured in mm. A lens with a 16mm equivalent focal length will give an ultra-wide view, while one with a 200 mm equivalent focal length will zoom into a subject. Smaller sensors have a multiplication factor when using lenses. For instance, a 200 mm lens will produce an image equivalent to a 400 mm lens on a micro 43 (2x crop) camera and 300 mm on an APS-C camera (1.5 x crop). This can be useful when you need to get maximum telephoto magnification.

All three sensor sizes can produce excellent images. I would choose a sensor size base on other qualities. For instance, if you take many flash-free images in a dark venue (like a nightclub), a full-frame camera will likely do a better job. If you want a smaller camera body and lens, buy an APS-C or Micro 43 camera. Street photographers and hikers often prefer smaller cameras, as carrying a heavy camera can be a drag.


If you want to go beyond “pointing and shooting” and become proficient with controlling your camera, you will want to have specific controls easily accessible on the camera body. I like physical controls, but some cameras have easy-to-access controls on a screen, which can also work. If the controls are hard to get at, for instance, hidden in menus, you will be less likely to use them. Having accessible controls IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE of a pro camera. Being able to control a camera quickly will give you the greatest flexibility.

The practical goal when taking a photo is properly exposing the image. There are many ways to do this, each impacting the end result differently. Becoming familiar with these ways is the most important technical thing a photographer can do.

These are controls that you will often adjust.

Shutter Speed
Cameras can expose the sensor to light for various lengths of time. A fast shutter speed freezes motion, and a slower shutter speed allows more light to hit the sensor.

This is how wide the opening of a lens is. A narrow aperture gives a great depth of field. In other words, everything in the image is in focus. A wide aperture gives a shallow depth of field, so only the subject of interest is in focus, separating the subject from the background. A wide aperture is also helpful in dark situations when you want to have the maximum amount of light with the quickest possible shutter speed.

This refers to how sensitive the sensor reacts to light. A low ISO will give the clearest picture. Using a high ISO may introduce more noise to a photo but may allow you to capture a photo in a dark setting that you couldn’t otherwise.

These three parameters (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) impact the amount of light hitting the sensor, and together they create what is called the “exposure triangle.” Depending on the situation, you may adjust one or another. If you adjust one setting, the camera will change the other settings automatically to achieve the correct exposure. Cameras also allow you to override all these settings by placing the camera into manual mode. This is used in certain situations but beyond the scope of this post.

Exposure Compensation
This handy feature allows you to override the camera exposure settings while still utilizing all of the camera’s automatic settings. Let’s say you photograph a person standing against a bright sunlit window. The camera’s light meter will read the entire scene, meaning that all the light from the window will cause the person to be under-exposed. You can use exposure compensation to increase the exposure so that the subject is properly exposed.

The above controls are the most important and will allow you enough control over your camera to do anything.

Extra features

Metering Modes
Multi-zone metering tells the camera that you want it to register all of the light seen by the camera and then average the metering for the entire scene. Multi-zone metering works in most situations. Sometimes you can use spot metering to register just a portion of the image you want perfectly exposed.

In most cases, I leave my camera in multi-zone metering, and if I need to compensate for the exposure, I use exposure compensation.

Focus Modes
You can have most cameras focus on a single point (let’s say a person’s face), or you can have a camera track a person or object that is moving. Different cameras have different abilities to track moving objects. Semi-pro and professional cameras from around ten years ago are very good at tracking, and newer professional cameras are excellent at tracking.

Focus Points
Some early cameras only had a single focus point in the center of the frame. Pro-level cameras may have 30 or more points that help with tracking. Some very modern cameras may have thousands. The Canon 5D Mark II (introduced in 2008) is an excellent camera with only nine focus points. The Nikon D300 was introduced in 2007; it had 51 points and is excellent at tracking subjects. Many pro photographers only use the center focus point on a camera and then shift the camera to recompose the image once they lock in the focus. A lot of focus points are good when you are trying to track a moving subject.

Burst Rate
You can set a camera to take a single shot or continuous shots as long as the shutter button is pressed. Different cameras have different burst rates. Cameras designed for sports or wildlife have very fast burst rates.

Hot Shoe
This is a mechanical attachment for an external flash. Many high-end cameras don’t have a built-in flash so that a hot shoe can be handy. Flashes (also called speedlights) are often specific to a particular camera brand. However, they can often be used manually on just about any camera in a pinch.

Eyepiece (Viewfinder)
Although not absolutely needed, an eyepiece allows you to hold the camera up to your eye when you compose your image. This lets you steady the camera and helps you see your subject on a sunny day. Some consumer cameras lack an eyepiece and only have a view screen on their backs.

Image Stabilization
Most modern cameras have a camera shake-prevention feature. Newer cameras often have it built into the camera body, whereas some designs have image stabilization built into the lens. Both work well enough for most situations.

Bonus Features
Cameras have all sorts of bonus features that may make your life easier. These features are optional for a beginning photographer.

Tilty screen
The view screen can be tilted in several directions. Different models allow different amounts of tilt. This can be useful if you take many photos from a low angle. However, you can also crouch down.

Double Card Slots
All cameras use memory cards. Some cameras have two slots, so the image is still secure on the second card if one card fails. This is great if you tend to be a worrier, but it is optional if you practice reasonable techniques. For instance, never remove a memory card while the camera writes an image to that card.

Fancy cameras have many other features that allow you to fine-tune an image. These extras are great if you know how to use them, but unnecessary in many situations. Discussing these high-end features is beyond the scope of this post. However, most are niceties and not necessities.

How Many Mega Pixels?
In most cases, this is a moot point. Don’t worry about it for your first camera. High MP cameras produce huge image files that clog up your hard drive and slow down your editing software. 16-24 MP is just fine. However, a pro camera with as little as 12 MP can take beautiful photos.

DSLR or Mirrorless?

DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) is a type of camera that was the dominant camera for professionals for many years. DSLR cameras are based on a camera design that was first introduced in the 1930s in film cameras. These cameras have a mirror system that directs some of the light to the camera’s eyepiece. When you take the photo, the mirror is moved so the light can hit the film or sensor. Although this sounds clumsy, this system has been perfected over generations of cameras.

The first digital mirrorless cameras were point-and-shoot cameras. These used tiny sensors and basic designs. These consumer cameras have almost been eliminated by smartphones that can take photos that look as good.

Enthusiast large sensor mirrorless cameras were first introduced in a Micro 43 format by Panasonic in 2008. The first mirrorless cameras could take excellent photos but had limitations in other areas. For instance, they used a focusing system called Contrast Detection Focusing, which could hunt and peck and was slower than the system used in DSLRs called Phase Detection Focusing. However, more recently (depending on the camera model), mirrorless cameras have not only gotten as good at focusing as DSLRs, but in some ways, they are better as they can detect specific things like a person’s eye to focus on.

What Camera To Buy

There are many choices. I will list some cameras offering good controls that allow new photographers to improve their skills.

These cameras are at the low end, offering a high-quality camera at a very low price. Naturally, there are more advanced cameras between these models and new camera models. I’ll give you inexpensive options, but these are only some possibilities, even within this low price range. These are cameras that I have actually used, so I have confidence in them. Use these examples as a starting point in your search.

Some of the best bargains are used DSLR-type cameras. Mirrorless cameras are all the rage, so good DSLRs are plentiful on the used market. Their lenses can also be had inexpensively. The downside is that these cameras tend to be larger and bulkier. However, they have fantastic battery life and pair well with larger lenses, as the camera and lens feel more balanced together. Pro-level DSLRs have a lot of external controls, which is a huge plus.

Older mirrorless cameras take great pictures but may focus slower or more inaccurately. Newer mirrorless cameras have fantastic focusing that goes beyond DSLRs. However, for the best features, expect to pay thousands of dollars. There are decent mirrorless cameras from a few years back that are inexpensive and do a good job.

One of the great things about pro-level cameras is that you can change out the lenses. DSLR lenses are plentiful and less expensive than newer lenses for modern mirrorless cameras. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, you can buy older lenses for mirrorless Micro 43 cameras at reasonable prices.

Lenses come in two types, prime, and zoom. A prime lens is fixed at a particular focal length, whereas a zoom lens can “zoom” to many different focal lengths. Prime lenses can be smaller as they are simpler in design, and some consider them sharper as they are specialized to do a single job. However, many zoom lenses can be sharp too. Lenses often come in a consumer version and a pro version. A pro version may have better optics and, importantly, be built more robustly. However, consumer lenses can be much cheaper and often do a good enough job.

A decent zoom lens in the 24-70 mm or 24-150 mm range can give a photographer many options. More expensive lenses often will allow more light into them. An “F-stop” rating notes this, with lower numbers being better. For instance, a high-quality lens may have an F-stop rating of F2.8 over its entire range. In contrast, a consumer lens may have the same zoom range but an F-stop rating of 2.8-6.1, meaning that as you zoom in, the lens lets less light into the camera, and you will need to compensate by adjusting the camera’s shutter speed or ISO. However, consumer lenses may be a good choice for a new photographer as they are less expensive while still being very versatile.

There are some excellent consumer lenses in primes. Their construction may be poorer than a pro lens, but they can have low F-stop numbers and good optics. Some photographers will only use a single prime lens for their photography needs. Street photographers often like a 35 mm equivalent lens for street work; portrait photographers might use a 50 mm or 80 mm equivalent lens. Of course, others may use a zoom lens; there is no right answer. There are many specialty lenses for particular uses. For instance, macro lenses are used to photograph tiny things, and tilt-shift lenses are used in architectural photography. However, these are optional for the beginning photographer.

You will need to buy a used lens along with your camera body. Consider buying a 35 mm prime or medium-range zoom, like those above. You can always add more lenses later.

Lens mounts are specific to a camera brand and type. A Nikon-compatible lens won’t work on a Canon camera, and vice versa. Lenses for some brands that sell both APS-C and full-frame cameras can be specific to the sensor size. A mirrorless camera also uses a different mount than a DSLR camera within the same brand.

When you choose your camera, ask Google for the lens designation. You can also go to a reputable camera site like, type in the camera model number, and ask for compatible lenses.

What lens mounts are compatible with a Nikon D7100?

Answer: DX or FX format

What lens mounts are compatible with a Nikon D700?

Answer: FX format

What lens mounts are compatible with a Canon 60D?

Answer: EF or EF-S format

What lens mounts are compatible with a Canon 5D Mark II?

Answer: EF format

What lens mounts are compatible with an Olympus OMD-EM1?

Answer: Micro 43 format

What lens mounts are compatible with a Sony A6000?

Answer: Sony E format


Almost all professional photographers use software programs to improve their photos in many ways. You don’t need expensive subscription software like Photoshop or Lightroom. It is easy to start with the free software that may be included with your computer. Apple’s photo software is surprisingly powerful for basic editing. I currently use DxO Photo Lab for most of my editing, but I could do about 90% of my photo editing using free Apple software.

Some recommendations

This list is not all-inclusive. These are starting point recommendations. Go up a newer model or two for more features and better specs. However, these cameras can still take professional-level photos in most situations. I have bought used cameras listed on eBay with good results. However, it can be risky, especially if you are unfamiliar with cameras. You may blame yourself when the camera is faulty. Therefore, sometimes it is wiser to spend a bit more and go with a reseller like or a camera shop like or when buying a used camera.

Here are some low-cost options in no particular order:

The APS-C a6000 is a very capable camera. It uses more of a menu system instead of physical controls for some settings. Introduced in 2014 at around $650.00 (Body only).
The full-frame D700 is a legend of a camera. Photographers feel that it is one of the best cameras for portrait photography. It has ample physical controls. It was introduced in 2008 for $3,300.00 (Body only).
This Micro 43 camera was introduced in 2016 for around $2000.00 (body only).
The full-frame Canon 5D Mark II was released in 2008 for $2700.00. You can pick up the newer and more advanced 5D Mark III for around $500.00.
This full-frame Nikon was introduced in 2012 for $2100.00.
This full-frame camera was released in 2012 for around $2,100.00.
This APS-C camera was designed for sports and wildlife. It was introduced in 2009 for a cost of $1700.00.
This APS-C camera is the successor to the 7D and was introduced in 2012 for around $1,700.00. It is a monster when it comes to sports and wildlife.
This APS-C camera was introduced in 2013 for around $1,200.00 It is a good all-around camera.
This APS-C camera is a classic. It was introduced in 2010 for $1,100.00.
This APS-C camera was introduced in 2007 for around $1,800.00. It is built like an absolute tank. I will never sell mine. Its successor, the D500, is an absolute sports and wildlife beast and can be had for around $700.00.

Dr. Mike, Escalating Inflation, And The Poor

I have been fortunate to have made a good living. I’m also a planner who saves for the future. However, the recent price increases have taken my breath away. This financial strain has been exacerbated by other factors, including Julie’s illness and inability to contribute to the household income.  

I’m not asking for sympathy; I’m confident my financial state is better than the majority. I’m able to pay my bills and still live a good lifestyle. However, I find myself cutting back and returning to how my parents lived when they raised a large family on a single income. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it is certainly different from the retirement of doctors who lived a generation earlier than me. I ask myself, “If I need to cut back, what about all those less fortunate folks than me?”

In the past we had a cleaning service, now cleaning is done “in house.” I do the heavy lifting, and the kids pitch in.

In the past, I never thought about the cost of groceries. Now, I am a careful shopper. Food items, like steak, have become a special occasion treat. I’m very aware of other cost factors, like food waste. Still, food costs continue to rise, and every product I buy seems to suffer from shrinkflation. Eight cookies are now six cookies, a loaf of bread is ⅔ rds its prior size, and so it goes.

I am shocked by car repair costs. I have three vehicles, one for me, one for Julie, and one for the kids. Still, we are often short of a car. Our cars range in age from 5 to 15 years old. I am not considering buying a new car as the cost of new vehicles has increased dramatically over the last four years. Inflation rose by 21% during that time, but brands like Dodge have increased their prices by almost 50%. The average cost for a new vehicle is around 60K, and many cars are loaded with extras, leaving those prices in the dust. A friend spent over 100K on a very nice pickup truck. It has many bells and whistles but is still a pickup truck.

We have decided to go the repair route with our mostly reliable cars. The repairs we have been making have not involved the engine or transmission. Instead, we replaced tires, fixed sensors, and replaced external components (like the exhaust system). I have spent nearly $7000.00 on these repairs in the last two months. Parts and labor have increased, and repair shops now charge a random service fee. Why?  Who knows.  It is cheaper to repair than buy new, but I still had to come up with 7K to complete the jobs.

Our HVAC system is old, and several weeks ago, it failed during some of the hottest days of the summer. It is getting replaced today. When I had a system installed years ago, it cost me around $4000. The system that I’m replacing it with is nothing fancy. It will do the job, but no one would consider it top-of-the-line. It will cost me $8,300, and that is with a discount. 

Gasoline prices continue to fluctuate, but they are much higher overall than in the past. Utility costs are also higher, with some, like internet service, forever creeping up.

My house insurance policy was sold to a different carrier, and the premium increased by 50% in one year. My car insurance is also on the rise.  

Going to a restaurant used to be a regular occurrence in our household. Now we go as a special treat or for a particular reason. Breakfast was always an inexpensive option, but it is now common to spend close to $50 when Julie and I go out to our monthly Sibling Breakfast. My sister went to a nicer restaurant for lunch and ordered a sandwich and coffee. Her bill (including tip) was almost $40! When she looked into the bill, she found an added hidden surcharge. Why? A friend took his wife and son to a local restaurant in a strip mall; his bill was over $150.  

Beyond actual cost, other charges are also rising. I bought five donuts from a donut shop, and the bill was almost $14. The clerk placed the donuts in a bag. He never talked to me or made eye contact with me. The “suggested tip” for this task was 25% when I checked out. Now, even buying donuts is becoming a special treat.

I have choices. If I want a donut, I will buy one. I can take my family to a restaurant. If the car needs service, I can get it fixed. Yes, I feel the pain, but I can still do it.

What about all of those people who are less fortunate than I am? Those numbers are not small.

The American dream has been to work hard and succeed. When I was growing up, it was possible to have a decent lifestyle on a single income. My father worked, and my mother stayed at home. We owned a simple house; we had a car. The seven members of our family always had food to eat. Yes, money was tight, and sacrifices were made. However, we are all able to attend university and advance ourselves.  

Now, a family can have two full-time earners and only one or two kids, and they still struggle. Expectations are high, with constant pressure to buy. Advertisers hit consumers on all levels, from formal ads to social media to psychologically targeted campaigns.  

Families use credit cards as part of their income stream because they have no choice. The average interest rate on a credit card is over 24%. I have good credit, but if I took a cash advance on my credit card, I would have to pay 30% interest. That is a juice loan. It becomes another significant burden if you rely on a credit card to live.

I sometimes hear well-off individuals complain that increasing the minimum wage will destroy the country and close small businesses. I’m sure there is some truth to this, but there is also quite a bit of exaggeration. In 2020, Illinois’s minimum wage was $9.25/hour, which was raised to $13/hour this year. If you work 40 hours a week at $13/hour, you will make approximately $26,000/year. Living on $26,000/year in 2023 would be very difficult, even if you were single. If you had other responsibilities, it would be impossible. Many minimum-wage jobs don’t include health insurance. Those that do offer health insurance sometimes limit their employees to work just under the time required to get health insurance. If you do have health insurance deductibles are on the rise, so many can’t afford to use their health insurance because they can’t afford the deductible.  

Earners in Illinois do better than their surrounding states. Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa all have a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, less than $15,000/year if you work 40 hours/week.

The gap between the poor and the rich widens as the middle class slowly disappears. As income differences become vast, understanding the plight of lower-income earners becomes unrelatable to the rich. I can hear this echoed in people I know with statements like the poor aren’t working hard enough, the government is too generous with social programs, or health insurance is a privilege instead of a right. The classic, “I had to earn my fortune,” doesn’t do much for a struggling single parent trying to raise a child on $10/hour. Such individuals often forget they were gifted with many benefits that may have included a higher education or various family resources.

I wasn’t raised in a wealthy family, but it was a family that strongly promoted education. Sacrifices were made so that all of us could go to college, and there were enough resources available (with struggle) to make that happen. My family is intelligent, and this also helped us achieve our goals. We all “made it.” However, what we struggled with is different from what many struggled with. What if you aren’t academic? What if you have accruing credit card debt? What if you had to drop out of school? What if the father/mother of your children abandoned you and the child? What if… There is no simple answer to equality.

I do believe that individuals should benefit from hard work, a higher education, or additional training/skills. I am delighted that I could attend medical school. But there is something wrong in a society that sees an obscene gap between the rich and the poor. How many people live from paycheck to paycheck? How many people can’t even do that? Yes, consumerism has caused people to live beyond their means, but that is only part of the problem. When individuals can no longer afford food, something is wrong. Rich people complain that homeless tent dwellers are overtaking their neighborhoods. Do they think that these people want to live in a tent? Not every tent dweller is a drug addict or a free spirit.  

My sister has a friend who lives with her husband in a gigantic home in a wealthy suburb. Her conservative friend denigrates immigrants, the poor, LGBTQ, and the like. How did her friend become so fabulously wealthy? She married the right guy, who inherited a boatload of money from his family. Good for her, now if we could all do just that.

The US introduced a Federal Income Tax at the turn of the last century. Many wealthy Americans supported this tax as they saw the social unrest caused by the inequalities of that time. The rich feared losing everything, so losing a little made sense.

Life for people experiencing poverty improved, and a sizable middle class developed. Social programs were instituted, labor laws were established, unions were formed, and opportunities expanded. Looking at my extended family of siblings and cousins, we all immensely benefited from these changes. If social changes had not happened during the first half of the last century, we would not have been afforded the opportunities that we were given. We would have become laborers, or factory workers, instead of the doctors, university professors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and business owners we became. Think about how we contributed to society just because we were given a chance.

Such opportunities are drying up for people in the new millennium as the gap between rich and poor widens. Are we returning to the early 1900s? What will the result be? It won’t be suitable for any of us.

The RTR is a gathering of van dwellers, many of who live the vanlife due to economic hardship.

Amazon Shopping Secrets From An Official Reviewer

A while back, Amazon contacted me and asked me to become an official reviewer. I like comparing things, so I agreed.  Amazon selects items that may interest me. I can select or reject these items to review.  Sometimes their selections are spot on; at other times, they are so far off that I wonder if their computer is melting down. For instance, I have been offered breast pumps and African American hair extensions.  

Third-party sellers use this review program to get high-quality reviews of their products, as a single review can mean hundreds of sales. Based on this, most officially reviewed products should be expected to be good.  Why would someone want a bad review?  Despite this, I still will get an occasional clinker. 

Getting involved with the review process has educated me about some potential review scams from third-party sellers.  Below, I’ll list some of those impressions and my personal verdict on product categories that I have had the chance to examine.

It is estimated that at least 40% of reviews on Amazon are fake.  There are many ways to get fake reviews.  One common way to pay for a fake reviewer is to write a product review.  Some folks write reviews on products as a side hustle. For a few dollars, a product can get a 5-star review on a product the reviewer has never used.

Some fake reviewers will purchase a product and write a positive review.  They use their funds to buy the item, which the seller then refunds in exchange for cash and a free product.  The seller can get a “Verified Purchase” badge on their review.

There are large overseas organizations where a seller can buy a block of reviews or even have bad reviews removed.

In the past, it was easy to spot a fake review based on a lack of details or poor grammar.  This is getting harder as scammers now use AI-generated reviews, which can seem real.

There are other ways a seller can buy a “Verified Purchase” review, but those methods are beyond the scope of this post.

Another way to scam the customer is by updating the item’s product description.  They may sell a good product at a reasonable price.  When they have gained enough positive reviews, they will use the product update function on Amazon to change the product completely.  You can tell if this is the case by reading the original reviews.  Watch out if you bought a computer, but the original reviews were for a crockpot.

Sellers will pair items under the same listing. They may sell an inexpensive but high-quality charging cable and have an additional expensive but unrelated item in the same listing. Buyers may review the charging cable at 5 stars, and the overly expensive item will also seem highly rated.

Some sellers hire groups to trash another seller’s product to gain market share.

Naturally, Amazon is trying to eliminate these problems, but it is harder than you think.  As a consumer, your best option is to read a random sampling of the reviews to see if they are legit. 

Are there a bunch of reviews that use very similar language?  Caution advised.

Are there many reviews that all highlight the exact same points? Caution advised.

Are there reviews that consistently use very bad grammar?  Cautioned advised.

Are there reviews so generic that they could describe any item? Caution advised.

Does the product page list two unrelated products?  Caution advised.

Are the reviews clumped, many written during a short time period?  Cautioned advised.

Do the reviews talk about a completely different product?  Caution advised.

I like to look at the poor reviews on a product I’m considering purchasing and compare those poor reviews with the 5-star reviews.  Sometimes it is clear that the poor review was because the customer didn’t know what they were doing. Other times there are clear indications that the 5 -Star review is fake.  

At this time, I have reviewed hundreds of Amazon products and have come up with a few conclusions.  

Clothing items:  This category has been the most variable of all product categories.  At times I have discovered bargains.  I have reviewed many products that were as advertised. However, I have found many sub-par articles of clothing.  Common problems were that they were missized or poorly constructed.  I have also reviewed clothing where the material was of very poor quality. A greater concern has been products that initially seemed to be of good value but failed after moderate use.  I reviewed a winter coat that I liked.  However, the zipper became increasingly difficult to latch within a month or two. If the manufacturer had used a quality zipper, it would have been a great coat and a good value.  However, the crappy zipper significantly downgraded the product.

Linens, etc.:  Here, you get what you pay for, and sometimes a little more.  Cheap towels are cheap. More expensive ones are decent. Bedding is often constructed OK, but check out the dimensions. I have gotten quilts and blankets advertised for a king mattress that would be more suitable for a queen.

Electronics/Computers: I have been happy with many of these items.  However, if you buy an inexpensive item, don’t expect it to be premium.  You can get a mini-computer for a couple of hundred dollars which will work for simple computing. However, it won’t do high-demand tasks like video editing or gaming.

Kitchenware: I have been satisfied with many items I have reviewed.  I have tested many small appliances and other items, from plates to cookware.  If you read the description carefully, you will likely get what you have ordered. If you buy a set of pots and pans for $20, expect to get junk.  However, I have reviewed many off-brand items that were less expensive than the brand name that were as good. Many kitchen items are made in the same factories as the more expensive branded items. Your mileage may vary.  

Tools/Outdoor stuff: Many of these items are as described.  Cheap tools won’t be as good as branded ones, but they will do the job for a DIYer like me.  I would say the same for outdoor implements. 

Camping/Fun items: Most of the things I have reviewed were good.  

Items to consider avoiding:  These are not items that I have reviewed in my official capacity. Instead, they are items that I purchased over the years. Personally, I won’t buy cologne/perfume as I have gotten counterfeit items in the past. I would say the same about other popular branded/designer items.  

Final tips: 

An identical product may be sold under several different names at vastly different price points.  

Check the color choices of a product, as some colors will be significantly less expensive than others. 

Make sure you calculate the cost per ounce when buying consumable products.  You may find that the larger container is more expensive than the smaller container (which is counterintuitive).  

Caution, when a seller uses unfamiliar measurements to describe a product.  For instance, centimeters instead of inches. At times this is an honest mistake, but at other times it is used to confuse the customer.  

Sometimes a discontinued product will be ridiculously expensive, even when the updated product is cheaper.  

Sometimes a seller will sell an item at a cost many times its MSRP.  I’m unsure why; I’m guessing they hope someone will mindlessly click and buy.

Happy shopping!


Teaching Kids About Money

Today, I’m going to blog about money. Precisely, how to be rational with it.  This is not an investment post or a guide to cryptocurrency; instead, it focuses on raising kids to view money sensibly and what happens when our emotional brain interacts with our financial brain. 

Julie and I have irrational beliefs about money, which have lessened over time.  Julie has had concerns that we will not have enough money despite evidence to the contrary.  My irrational feelings are odd.  I always panic a little when it comes to paying bills. This is despite the fact that I completely pay out bills every month. I also feel guilty when I have a large charge card statement, even if the purchases were absolutely necessary.  I experienced that phenomenon this month as my charge bill was multi-thousands of dollars.  Did I buy a super-expensive item? No.  Did I book a trip? No.  The bills centered on additional costs due to Julie’s hospitalization, various expensive car repairs, and buying items to equip our home for Julie’s disability. The only splurge was that I bought more prepared meals from Costco, as I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to cook multiple meals from scratch this month.  FYI, I always totally pay off charge cards, including last month’s. 

We recognize that we approach money oddly and have worked to give our kids a more balanced view of spending and consumerism. It is clear that they don’t have the same hangups as we do and that they approach purchasing sensibly.

My kids don’t seem to have a strong attachment to things or status items. I can’t recall a single incident where one of them had to have something because of social pressure. They seem to make most purchases based on rational reasons. They don’t seem to need to “Keep up the Jones.”  They are secure in themselves and don’t see purchasing things as a way to prove their worth.  Of course, they have their interests, and they do purchase things.  However, they think carefully about what they buy.

Let me give you one recent example.  Son, William, loves his Airpods, which we gave him as a birthday present several years ago.  However, they are now malfunctioning and need to be replaced. He knew Prime Days was coming up, and instead of making an instant gratification purchase, he waited a few weeks for that sales event. Several different models of AirPods were available, and he evaluated value vs. features. He chose the model that best met his needs, in this case, the one at the mid-price point.

So, what did we do to raise our kids this way?  

Educating about money. We started to teach them early about money. When they would come with us to the grocer, we would compare the prices of items, sometimes using a calculator for more confusing purchases. 

Demystified advertising. We taught them that the primary purpose of advertising was to make you feel bad about yourself and to offer a solution in the form of a product or service. We looked at how advertising went well beyond commercials and could be found in everything from product placement to Instagram posts.  

Meeting needs.  If our kids needed anything, we made sure that they had it.  This was for needs, not wants. They never felt insecure about not having what they needed.

Bucking the trends. Styles, trends, and even colors frequently change to get you to buy more.  Last year’s fabulous grey is today’s cold, impersonal color. You can’t avoid trends, but you can be more sensible in how you approach them.

Delaying gratification. Does saving and buying a better product make more sense than getting a junky item now?  Can you wait until your birthday or Christmas and get the item as a gift?

Credit card sense.  No one gives you money for free.  Credit cards are traps if you don’t pay them off every month.  If you can’t do that, don’t buy the item. Who wants to pay decades of minimal payments for a nice meal that has since gone down the toilet?

Taking ownership. We are willing to buy a replacement phone for our kids, but what if they want a more expensive model?  Is it important enough for them to pay the difference?  If so, by all means, they should get it.  They were often happy to settle on the lesser model they got “free” from us. 

Buy less, but buy better.  Value is more than getting the lowest price.  A product that performs better or lasts longer is a wiser purchase than buying something that quickly breaks or doesn’t do the job.  Often the best value is a mid-tier item, although rarely it makes sense to go for a top-of-the-line item.  Designer items are almost never worth it.  

Julie gifted me a top-of-the-line Kitchen Aid mixer in 1994, which has been used constantly since then.  It was worth every penny.  However, I have a mid-tier Instant Pot.  It doesn’t have all of the programs and features that a top-tier model would have, but it is built the same and does exactly what I need it to do.  

Their money vs. our money.  When it comes to unnecessary purchases, the attitude change is amazing when it involves who is paying for it.  When kids control their money, they are much more likely to choose wisely or not buy an item. 

Emphasizing brand disloyalty.  A brand-name product may be objectively better, but a house brand may be good enough.  Humans build preferences based on familiarity rather than rationality. Heinz Catsup is a good product, but many house brands are also good; they may just have a slightly different spice formulation. Being flexible allows for getting the best value.

DIY when possible, pay when needed.  I have shown my kids how to fix stuff and make basic things. However, for some items, it makes sense to pay someone to fix them.  Always balance the repair cost with the product’s future longevity. 

Being a skilled person. One of the reasons that I have spent so much time with my kids cooking is so they would feel comfortable tackling any cooking task.  They are not forced to buy crappy fast food or go to expensive restaurants. If you have basic skills, you also have more choices.

Making rational, researched decisions. My kids are academically gifted and were accepted to top universities. However, excellent schools one tier down wanted them and were willing to pay them to attend as their test scores and grades would boost the school’s rankings.  We researched the topic and determined that attending an excellent but less prestigious school would not impact their future opportunities. They all decided to go with practical rather than expensive choices and left college debt free. We did have college funds for our kids, but they would not cover the entire cost of room and board at a prestigious university.  All of them graduated college with money left in their college funds.

Money and stuff do not equal happiness. Of course, you need money, but there is a point where additional money does not make your life better. Excessive stuff can be a burden rather than a blessing.  It is better to look for balance in life.  

Self-esteem comes from within. We focused on building their self-esteem vs. focusing them on external things (like being popular or having stuff) as the source of feeling good about themselves. 

Finding one’s style. We also had them look rationally at ways to be conservative with their cash.  Yes, some people save a lot of money by clipping coupons or spending countless hours trying to get the best deal, but is that something they want to do?  Perhaps yes, likely no.  There is an intersection between effort vs. gain.

So what is the TLDR?  Teach your kids about money.  Teach them that stuff alone does equate to happiness.  Teach them what the concept of value means.  Build self-esteem. Allow them to think differently from some of their peers. Give them appropriate control and decision-making around money issues. 

You may find the writings of U of C economist Richard Thaler interesting.  He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017 based on his theory of Behavioral Economics.  Thaler’s work rebuked former theories that assumed humans were rational when making financial decisions. Most humans use shortcuts in financial decision-making, often making erroneous decisions based on emotional biases.  Here are some ways emotions get in the way of making rational money decisions.

Sunk Cost Fallacy.  People use an emotional balance sheet when making money decisions. If they have invested in something, they sometimes do irrational things to justify it.  A simple example would be paying for a movie that turns out to be terrible. The money is spent, so many will waste 2 hours of their lives to “get their money’s worth.”  Much better to get up and leave. 

This rationale can be costly.  Let’s say you buy a used car that turns out to be a lemon. It is a constant source of financial and emotional stress, but you have already invested in the purchase price and expensive repairs.  The repair bills keep coming, and now you are spending much more on the car than it is worth. Some will continue to “throw good money after bad” because of this concept.

Companies exploit Sunk Cost Fallacy to get you to buy more.  Did you pay $120 for a Costco membership?  Folks will overspend there to ensure they got their money’s worth for the membership.  

Endowment Effect.  We make financial decisions based on whether we already own something.  Let’s say you found a poster in your basement.  The poster doesn’t do much for you; you would never buy it. However, you discover that it is rare and worth $2000. You decide to hang it on your wall instead of selling it.  Your ownership of the poster changes the way you view its value. Your emotions have prevented you from selling it for  $2000 despite the fact that it doesn’t improve your life.  

Mental Accounting. Money is money; there are no different types of dollars, but we don’t see money that way.  Let’s say you get a nice cash birthday gift or you win a small Lotto prize.  People are more likely to spend that money on frivolous or unnecessary things.  Money is fungible; a dollar is a dollar.

Transaction Utility. This involves the pleasure that we gain from getting a bargain.  It is often used to manipulate someone to buy something or to buy more.  Inflated MSRPs are a good example.  You go into a store to buy something and are convinced to do so because the store’s price is much better than the item’s fake MSRP.  Some people can become addicted to getting a bargain and fill their house with items they don’t need or use because it gives them that little dopamine rush.


Money is something to get us what we need to survive and enjoy life.  However, we are often manipulated to see stuff as a way to achieve status or happiness.  People go into debt to keep up with the Jones with the resultant stress caused by unnecessary purchases. If we could separate our emotional and financial selves, our lives would be better.  However, many want our money and will use known manipulations to make us believe we should overspend.  In the end, those are the people laughing all the way to the bank.



Making coffee instead of buying a cup can save you significant cash over time.

Random thoughts and my philosophy of life.