Genes, Culture, And The American Female

As you know, my therapist Dr. Hare has agreed that I may post some of the issues we are dealing with relating to my little Manhattan life. Except for her name, everything else is very true. This from our latest e-mail exchange:

“Dear Dr. Hare,

I am so sorry that I had to cancel this week’s appointment. It always takes me a little, or rather, a little too long, to settle in again when I am back in the city.

Copyright 2007 Jens Haas -

Last night I went to a dinner party near Broadway and 85th. Had to. You know how much I hate parties. Mostly brainy, Upper West Side intellectual types. Quite a contrast to the Italian mountain folks I’ve been dealing with recently. There was a well known New York art critic present who could actually make or break (well, maybe not break) my career with a stroke of a pen. Literally. He’s retired, but still rather active – his verdicts are all over the place. Well, instead of promoting myself and sucking up to him, I seriously started a debate about Pop Art and was my dismissive self re contemporary photography. Which he of course finds – as he told a charming and increasingly mystified woman innocently standing next to us, with an odd, indulgent smile on his face – “so interesting, but maybe a little pornographic” (I kept thinking, every man needs a good friend who reminds you to shoot yourself once you hit an age where you find parking lots pornographic). While we both hated each other right away, I actually enjoyed that at some point he got upset enough to leave the party prematurely. Another bystander later tried to tell me that things hadn’t gone all that bad, but he was in denial – it was truly horrible.

Then, and this is why I’m writing to you, there was this young woman (apparently she had just graduated) who kept telling everybody how much her fiance is going to make in his first year as a dentist (USD 185.000, according to her). She really seemed excited about this and oddly reminded me of the old man talking about the parking lots. Now, there are many things that I don’t understand about women, and I certainly don’t understand the last thing about American women – especially those from well to do backgrounds: Why do they spend the first 18 years of their lives consuming approximately 1000 movies about “true love”, cry their hearts out watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Sleepless in Seattle” even if they’ve seen those a hundred times before, then get a great western education in some ivy league college to sharpen their minds – and then marry someone for his salary? Is this a case of genes winning over culture? I do see the inherent logic of course, but I still want to understand all this more fully. (I am aware that this is kind of a practical question, and a general one too. You may not be interested to go there. Still, the issue bothers me quite a bit.)

Copyright 2007 Jens Haas -

Also, recently I’ve picked up an old habit and started to take pictures of animals again.

Hope to see you as soon as things calm down a bit. I do appreciate that I can write to you, as of course you know.


“Dear Jens,

the subject of American women tends to come up with all my patients from overseas – men who in some ways love the US, but simply cannot get around the fact that they could never see themselves loving an American woman. Which of course causes great psychological turmoil, so no need to worry that you are raising the issue. For how can anyone consider coming to this country for good if there is no prospect of love?

However, here are a couple of points. First, it may seem pedantic to remind you that, according to your own – rather nebulous, I admit – account, you do have a girlfriend. Perhaps this is why you are presenting the issue as theoretical and academic, rather than practical and immediately pressing. But be that as it may (and I repeat what I have said before: I am not sure whether you are being completely frank with me when you mention this ominous girlfriend, who supposedly is, of all things, a philosophy professor, this being a detail which does not make your story any more plausible).

Second, and somewhat more to the point: Go and spend some time with American women, and you shall come to appreciate one of the deepest truths ever – we love what we know. European men have come up with what seem to me rather wild constructions (the ‘victory of genes over culture’, in your case) in order to mask an experience which all of us find bewildering and unsettling: encountering what we don’t know and don’t understand. More than in landscapes and buildings, this experience shocks us when it concerns other human beings. And worse than anything, other human beings whom we would like to think of as potential lovers! You think you see an overly materialistic outlook. But really, believe me, you simply see something you don’t know. Only time can heal this, and this means, only time spent here, rather than with your European mountain friends.

So I hope you settle in fast, and shake off the memories of by-gone cultures, seemingly still alive in the Alps! I find your shots of animals lovely (I know that’s not what you like to hear, but after all, I’m not an art critic), and I do admit that they make me see things a little from your point of view. But I worry that they are part and parcel of your escapist tendencies.

Let’s talk soon, and as long as you don’t feel like you’ve regained your inner balance, perhaps it is better to stay away from the big shots of the art world. You may need them! And like us American women (yes, I live here too!), you might come to see them differently at some point in the future.

Speak soon,

Dr. Hare”