Would You Watch White House Contenders Dance and Sing?

Picture this: You tune into a presidential debate, knowing you should, knowing it’s your civic duty, but also knowing all you’re going to get is a bunch of canned responses from politicians who’ve been practicing their speeches. Will you learn anything new? No. Will you get anything you can’t get watching the “biggest debate gaffe” highlights the next day? Nah.

But then they wheel out a piano and a microphone, and they tell the candidates it’s time to tear it up.

With American debate formats in desperate need of a shakeup (and more viewers), here’s what I propose: Steal the best part of the Miss America pageant and add a talent competition.

Performing arts moments from politicians have provided some of the most authentic human moments of the past few decades. In 1974, then President Richard Nixon showed off his piano skills accompanying diva Pearl Bailey; Bill Clinton won points by playing his saxophone on TV; and Barack Obama is known for singing at crucial moments, whether on the campaign trail or while delivering a eulogy.

“It speaks to the idea that what we want to see in political candidates is some element of spontaneity and surprise, because we so rarely see that,” says Alan Schroeder, a presidential debate expert and professor emeritus at Northeastern University. As for a debate with a performance element, he says: “I think people would watch it in droves.”

Of course, such a competition would disadvantage certain candidates — those who never cultivated any performing talent. But the playing field is always unequal: Some candidates are better-looking than others, some are smoother than others, some are quicker on their feet. Any debate format disadvantages some people. Besides, as Miss America has shown, it’s OK to get creative about what the talent is. In 1955, Miss Maryland packed a suitcase onstage, so if Joe Biden wants to break out a University of Delaware cheerleading routine, that wouldn’t be too far-fetched. Or maybe he’s got some secret shredding skills.

Another drawback is that a talent competition would take up debate time without giving the voters much meaningful policy information. Unless someone sings a song about “Medicare for All” (which would be a tacky move and against the spirit of this exercise), it’s just a way for certain candidates to charm voters. But if it brought in more viewers, it could potentially keep them around for the substantive parts of the debate. And forging a human connection with voters is a key aspect of the presidency as well. “I think those moments endear politicians to the audience,” Schroeder says. “I think it humanizes political figures who can seem so dry and furious all the time.” As for who might be disadvantaged in such a contest, Schroeder says older and more traditional politicians might struggle to break out of their shells, but he thinks Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg might really shine in a talent competition.

Of course, to really test candidates’ skills, the challenge should be that they have to put on a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical together without fighting — but perhaps that might be seen as pandering to voters from the Sooner State.

In case the debates really do adopt this approach — please, please, please think of how much more watchable they would be — here are a few suggestions for how they could catch the public imagination. Some of them are easy: Buttigieg is such a talented piano player that he’s joined the South Bend Symphony Orchestra (and Ben Folds, when he performed with them) onstage. Sen. Bernie Sanders released a short folk album in 1987, and while it’s mostly half-spoken Sprechstimme, it’s still incredibly heartfelt.

Michael Bloomberg has appeared (always as himself) in several films and TV shows, including 30 Rock and Law & Order, so perhaps he can do a monologue — something folksy, like Our Town. And we will personally pay whatever must be paid, and make any deal with any devil, to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s one-woman-show retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life (Bailey can cameo).

Forget Amy March. Meet May Alcott

If you’ve been following the Little Women discourse surrounding the Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig film, you’ve noted that much of it revolves around the rehabilitation of Amy March. Played by actress Florence Pugh, this nouveau Amy abandons the unremitting petulance of past cinematic Amys, instead forging a strong-willed feminist character in her own right. The bones of her story are the same: The youngest of the four March sisters, Amy burns Jo’s precious manuscript, goes to Europe to study painting, only to abandon her avocation and marry the hot (and wealthy) boy next door — thereby dashing the dreams of nearly everyone who’s read the novel or consumed any of the adaptations since Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was first published in the late 1860s.

But Little Women was based on Alcott’s actual family, and each of the March sisters has a direct analog in Meg (Anna), Jo (Louisa herself), Beth (Emma) and Amy (May). And while Amy the character may have been set in stone by her writer sister, the real May had a lot more to say for herself.

Amy, in case you haven’t watched the movie or read the book, travels to Europe with her rich aunt with aspirations of becoming a painter. But in the book’s final chapters, she decides that “talent isn’t genius, and no amount of energy can make it so.” She opts instead to marry well.

Also unusual for a woman of that era, May stayed single well into her 30s. 

But here’s what actually happened to May, born eight years after Louisa: Already an artist when the books were published in two volumes, as Little Women and Good Wives, she created the original illustrations. A year after the second volume was released, she left for Europe, funded by her sister’s new fortune derived from Little Women, in pursuit of her painting dream.

Rare among women at the time, says Azelina Flint, a scholar at the University of East Anglia who’s written about Alcott’s life and work, May characterized herself as an artistic genius at a time when women could study art but were almost never accepted as serious talents. “Bronson Alcott [Louisa and May’s father] expected everyone to sacrifice their artistic ambitions to support him, because he’s not willing to work. Louisa never writes the work or novel she wants to because she’s writing to support her father and mother,” Flint says. “May is the one to say, I’m not willing to pick up the slack and I’m going to have my artistic career and be very unapologetic for that.”

But unlike the fictional Amy, May did not sacrifice art for love. Instead, she spent a decade living an audacious, creative life overseas, even writing a guide for would-be female artists — Studying Art Abroad, and How to Do It Cheaply. She worked in London, Rome and Paris, where she paid for private art instruction since women were barred from the prestigious state-run École des Beaux-Arts. Even May’s private instructors refused to allow her to sketch naked male models due to her gender — so she hired her own, an African man whom she drew partially clothed. Her teacher would come to compliment both the painting and May’s strongly held abolitionist views. In contrast to the self-absorbed, only mildly principled Amy captured by Louisa, May was vocal about fighting both racism and sexism in her life and her art. Her painting of a Black woman, La Négresse, was striking in that its subject was shown not as a servant or a minor part of the composition but as its main subject, her complex human emotions clearly expressed in her eyes. The painting was included in that year’s Paris Salon, a celebrated art exhibition, alongside works by Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Also unusual for a woman of that era, May stayed single well into her 30s. She wrote to her mother in 1877, at the age of 37, that she had probably missed her chance at romance — but that she got “more satisfaction from my painting.” And then, soon after her mother passed away, May met Ernest Nieriker, a Swiss banker who played the violin and was 16 years her junior. She was charmed that he supported her artistic ambitions — a weird parallel to Jo March’s romance with Professor Friedrich Bhaer in Little Women — and after a whirlwind romance, they married and moved to France.

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Twenty-one months later, May was dead at 39. While her death is often blamed on the birth of her only child, Lulu (named after Louisa), the cause has been disputed. It could have been meningitis or a brain tumor, Flint explains, based on the symptoms recorded in family letters.

After May’s death, Lulu — in keeping with her mother’s wishes — was sent to live with Aunt Louisa, who adopted her, and stayed until Louisa died eight years later.

Despite her too-short life, May Alcott Nieriker was able to live it as she desired — and would reportedly get annoyed by questions about the similarities between herself and Amy. Of course, it was the success of Little Women that funded May’s initial trip to Paris and the journey that would lead to who she was meant to be. The latest film iteration of the story may expand the spotlight on Amy, but her personality and fate are still defined by her sister who held the pen.

Little Women is written from Jo’s persecutive,” Flint says. “I’ve always thought it would be really interesting to see it written from Amy’s perspective.”

The Badass Rogue Who Cross-Dressed and Dueled Her Way to Infamy

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Meet the badass women that history forgot — but we didn’t. Check out the rest of this OZY series here.

How many duels do you think you could fight in a single day? A glimpse at one badass French swordswoman in action offers a possible answer: three. After attending a royal ball dressed as a man, and romancing and then kissing another woman on the dance floor, she was challenged by three men. She proceeded to take them on one by one, and to best all three.

If you can believe it, that’s not even among the top three most improbable stories about Julie d’Aubigny, aka Mademoiselle Maupin, the renowned daughter of a clerk in the court of Louis XIV. While it’s hard to know how many of the stories about d’Aubigny are true — even her real name remains unclear, with some accounts calling her Émilie, others Madeleine and some simply “la Maupin” — legends about her have survived, reminding us that even in the 17th century, some people are born to impress.

When an audience member questioned her gender … d’Aubigny ripped off her shirt in front of him.

“What’s most dizzying to me is the pace of her life,” says Kelly Gardiner, author of Goddess, a fictionalized account of d’Aubigny’s life. “Most of the more astonishing events happened before she was 20.” While researching Goddess, Gardiner visited every known location of one of d’Aubigny’s most notorious exploits and pored over primary sources for information about her wily subject. What she found: a woman who flouted social convention, class, gender, marriage and the law.

Born around 1673, d’Aubigny was taught fencing by her father, an assistant to the Count d’Armagnac. As a teenager, she was married off to a pretty boring guy who bestowed her with one of her famous names: Maupin. Predictably, d’Aubigny, who was having an affair with d’Armagnac, didn’t stick around. Instead, she found a fencing expert, known as Séranne, and ran away with him. The couple traveled the countryside, showing off their fencing skills to the public. When an audience member questioned her gender — she was just too good at sword-fighting to be a woman, you see — d’Aubigny ripped off her shirt in front of him.

Her next known lover was the daughter of a merchant, who ended up sending his girl to a convent to keep her from the insatiable d’Aubigny. She promptly enrolled in the convent too. While Gardiner hasn’t found evidence for the following story, it appears in most accounts of d’Aubigny’s life: She and her lover disinterred the body of a recently expired nun, put it in the lover’s room and set the convent on fire before fleeing.

Then, as now, body snatching was a non-non: After failing to appear in court to answer charges of kidnapping, body snatching and arson, d’Aubigny was sentenced to death. All that, and the affair with her convent girlfriend didn’t even last. One appeal to the king later, thanks to the Count d’Armagnac, and d’Aubigny was freed, after which she moved to Paris and became an opera star known as Mademoiselle de Maupin. She was “received with raptures,” according to Robert Malcolm’s biographical sketch of d’Aubigny in his 1855 Curiosities of Biography, which also claims that later in life, d’Aubigny reunited with her husband and eventually saw a priest to receive the last rites. The move to Paris happened around 1690, which would have made d’Aubigny just 17.

While an opera star, d’Aubigny continued dueling. Aside from the three duels in one night, which saw her sentenced to death again and pardoned again, she wound up in a duel with the Comte d’Albert. Stories vary — in some, the count doesn’t realize that his opponent is a woman; in others, he’s a crude would-be Romeo — but the outcome is always the same: D’Aubigny wounds the count, then allegedly nurses him back to health, thus beginning a lifelong friendship. All this dueling, though, was still illegal, so d’Aubigny fled to Belgium, where she became the mistress of the elector of Bavaria. When he grew weary of her and offered her 40,000 francs to leave, d’Aubigny threw the money back at him and, according to Malcolm’s Curiosities of Biography, “kicked him down stairs.”

By some accounts, d’Aubigny spent time as a maid in Madrid before returning to Paris, where she fell in love with the famously beautiful Madame la Marquise de Florensac. The couple reportedly played house for two years, until the latter died suddenly. While d’Aubigny’s cross-dressing and open affairs with women were exceptional for the time, Gardiner notes that they weren’t unheard of — there are records of lesbian couples living together, and other women also lived by the sword.

After her lover’s death, d’Aubigny, still in the opera, lived for another few years, likely into her mid-30s. The exact cause of her demise is unknown. Most contemporary accounts of her life, Gardiner explains, were written by men offended by her actions and by the fact that d’Aubigny always won. She also inspired an 1835 French novel, Théophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin, in which a character named Madeleine de Maupin seduces both a young man and his mistress while in various disguises.

“She was a star,” Gardiner says, noting the difficulty of parsing fact from fiction when it comes to d’Aubigny. Many of the stories were told in “tabloid pamphlets, posters and newssheets,” stories that people sang songs about in the streets and taverns. Rumors quickly spread, Gardiner adds: “Imagine trying to make sense in a few hundred years of news reports written now about performers.”

Audio produced by Meradith Hoddinott
This story was original published in May 2017.

Love in the Roaring ’20s

It’s a curse to live in interesting times, but if we must do it, we might as well have a little fun. Welcome to the new decade, the 2020s. A century ago, the 1920s saw the invention of modern dating, when men and women stepped out together to the movies instead of chaperoned meetings. So the 2020s have a lot to live up to.

Get ready. Throughout 2019, we examined what may be coming down the pike in the world of love, sex and relationships.

This Is Your Brain on Drugs

Nobody’s advocating that we go back to arranged marriages, but there’s something to be said for not waiting to get hit by lightning. That’s part of the work of Brian Earp, an Oxford ethicist whose forthcoming book delves into the science behind drugs, like MDMA, that make you feel love and the possibility that we could manufacture those feelings in the coming years. Of course, that’ll plunge us into a debate about what reality even is, what it means to love someone, whether destiny exists. But Earp’s research could have even stronger implications for falling out of love — if you were able to stop having feelings for an abusive partner, or even just an ex you need to stop Instagram stalking, would you?

Get Your Heart Out of Your Face

To a certain extent, finding love will always have a physical component. But with the huge increase in online dating, it’s easier than ever to dismiss people based on looks — never mind running out of a restaurant when you see a Habsburg jaw, you just have to swipe left. That’s why some apps, with varying degrees of success, have been attempting to take photos out of the forefront of app dating. The problem so far has been that it’s hard to scale such interactions, and it doesn’t have the same gamified feel. Instead, it’s the hard work of really feeling a connection to someone — and the attendant real feelings if or when the relationship ends. “All this is focused on the conversation and getting to know each other little by little, incorporating the realism of the bond of all life: the emotion, the intrigue and the game of seducing someone,” says Juan Alonso, founder of photophobic app If Not You, Nobody. The 2020s may be roaring, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a slow ride.

Beautiful women using a mobile in the Street.

Source Getty

And When It Ends …

Have you ever looked around at couples on the subway and thought, “Wow, all these people are probably gonna break up”? It’s true! But have no fear: A new industry is rising and it involves curing heartbreak.

It may never rival the wedding industrial complex, but it’s going to do its damnedest. In the future, when you get dumped, you’ll sign up for breakup bootcamps (already popping up across the world), you’ll go on retreats and download apps that give you advice on how to mend. Will these work as well as therapy? Depends on your therapist. Couples will even engage in specialized concierge services to help them unravel their finances and retirement plans. Whatever the state of your heart, you can count on an industry arising to take advantage of it (and maybe even help you).

Interesting times, indeed.

When MDMA Was the Secret to a Happy Marriage

[Denise and Blake] find themselves as youngsters in fresh young love, and explore the various dimensions of courtship. They are enthralled with each other and deeply connected.… Later, Blake experiences Jesus, Buddha and other dignitaries joining them and supporting them.

That’s the story of a troubled couple finding that they could reconnect (and become higher beings, but that might have been the drugs) as a result of an ecstasy-fueled therapy session. It’s also just one of the accounts recorded by Myron Stolaroff, a pioneering researcher who studied the benefits of MDMA (aka ecstasy). In the 1970s, a decade before U.S. law cracked down on MDMA as a Schedule I drug (classing it as offering no medical value and presenting a high risk of abuse), dozens of therapists used it to help people in troubled marriages relate to each other differently and rediscover their love.

While it’s now mostly known as a rave drug, MDMA has long been famous for opening the mind, allowing users to see the world with greater generosity and love. Which is, admittedly, exactly what you need when navigating a long-term relationship, one that may be beset by stressors and lacking the early euphoria of infatuation.

MDMA was first synthesized in Germany in 1912 during a search for a drug to stop bleeding, but it remained largely ignored and there’s no evidence it was tested on humans before the 1960s. Even then it failed to make much of an impact until American biochemist Alexander Shulgin rediscovered it in the ’70s and turned doctors and therapists on to its potential. Before the U.S. government nixed further use, some estimate that half a million therapeutic doses had been administered. That included couples and individuals who took the drug to get to know themselves better or to boost creativity.

Before MDMA was made illegal, in 1985, a study was conducted; it was published in 1986. The study found that subjects who were couples who had taken the drug resolved personal issues and enjoyed enhanced communication with each other, which in some cases lasted for years.

While MDMA hasn’t had the image rehabilitation of marijuana, or even of mushrooms, some continue to advocate for more research to be done. They point, for example, to recent studies showing that MDMA can be useful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

People found themselves more empathetic, receptive and emotional in the relationship long after the drug trip had stopped firing their neurotransmitters.

And the potential benefit for couples is perhaps something science should go back to. “[People on MDMA] don’t have the same level of fear response. They feel more relaxed, so they can tell each other things they might not otherwise be able to talk about,” says Katie Anderson, a lecturer at Middlesex University who has studied MDMA use in couples therapy. During her research, Anderson has spoken not only with couples who professed love or became engaged while on MDMA but also those who worked through more difficult moments, discussing open relationships or sexual fantasies they had previously been reluctant to talk about. “There was one couple who spoke about infidelity, and this came out when they were on MDMA together,” Anderson says. “So it’s not always this beautiful, serene utopian space … but pretty much everyone I spoke to said that even if difficult things have come up, they were glad.” Some couples talked about cleaning their apartments, lighting candles and setting aside time to take the drug together to enhance their experience — date night, but with psychedelics. One of Anderson’s interviewees likened it to a “really amazing, once-in-a-lifetime holiday.”

My love, my first source of comfort

In fact, Anderson says, many of the people she talked with found themselves more empathetic, receptive and emotional in the relationship long after the drug trip had stopped firing their neurotransmitters. “I learned so much from these conversations with couples,” she says. “I took lots of these things away with me and used it to improve my own relationships.”

MDMA-based treatments for PTSD are currently in Phase III trials, and the next step — if the trials are successful — will be a push for the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify MDMA from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug, meaning it would be roughly on par with Tylenol No. 3 (with codeine) and could be prescribed as medicine. That could happen as soon as 2021 — meaning the 2020s could potentially bring couples therapy back to the past.

“It definitely looks like it will become federally approved in the States [to treat PTSD],” says Anderson. “But in terms of any other uses, I really don’t know. I can’t see it.”

We’ll keep an open mind.

OZY Asks You to Fall in Love Weekly

We all fall — and, let’s be fair, we all crash sometimes. But those love stories are more diverse, weird and fascinating than even we realize: Everyone feels love, sure, but there are as many manifestations of that love as there are spiders.

As the co-editor of OZY’s Love Curiously, I’ve had the privilege to spend months thinking about the best ways to tell humanity’s love story. And today, you can see some of those amazing stories here on our homepage, giving you a chance to catch up with pieces you may have missed and fall in love alongside them.

We began our series with OZY’s first investigation, a groundbreaking and award-winning piece that uncovered the bureaucratic nightmare that keeps people with disabilities from staying in happy marriages. But not all our news was dark: We also covered the rise of romance tours around the globe, the Asian heartbreak industry and the struggles of dating apps aimed at helping you choose a partner based on personality rather than attractive photos.

Beyond those trends, we brought you a panoply of true love stories from around the world and across the centuries. There was the woman whose husband was kidnapped by pirates, and she had to save him, and then there was the man whose obsession with a woman who never loved him spawned a gruesome shrine and a Florida tourist industry. And don’t forget the philosopher who spent his life contemplating love but never quite got the hang of the real thing.

There are also tales of public sex, terrible secrets and one mom whose sons’ time in prison inspired her to become Texas’ queen of prison weddings. But, and we guarantee this, absolutely no spiders.

Swipe Right for Your Perfect … Roommate (You Hope)

Swipe. Swipe. Swipe.

Gabrielle, 19, into cheese. Mohammed, 26, always on time. Eddy, 32, has a profile picture that’s a caricature of himself and insists he is both “healthy” and likes nightclubs.

Whoomies, the app they’re on, isn’t really like Tinder, but it’s among a slew of apps that have sprung up in the past five years worldwide that use the swipe feature as a gateway drug for those accustomed to the functionality of the world’s best-worst dating app. The only difference is you won’t find a hookup. Instead, they’re promising to use artificial intelligence to find you a roommate or a place to live.

It makes sense. People who claim romantic chemistry can be arranged by algorithm are probably awful at dating — you can spark with someone who has totally different interests than you — but finding a roommate requires a little less magic, a little more practicality. Still, there’s a human aspect to it — one these apps are eager to capture as they show early signs of success.

We wanted to create a platform where you can find apartments, but also where we can understand who you are.

Alexandre Assal, co-founder, Whoomies

There’s Barcelona-based Badi, which last year obtained $10 million in funding. RentHoop, which launched in 2016, links up with Facebook profiles of subscribers to help you find your roommate. New York-based Roomi, which launched in 2015, won $11 million in funding in 2017. RentRoomi in India has expanded to eight cities since it was founded in 2016. And Whoomies, a France-based platform that launched in 2017, has since spread to London and has tens of thousands of subscribers.

“We wanted to create a platform where you can find apartments, but also where we can understand who you are,” says Whoomies co-founder Alexandre Assal.

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Roomi App

These startups are hoping to grab a slice of a fast-growing global co-living market. In the U.S., the supply of co-living housing options is expected to grow by 84 percent compared to 2018. In India, the co-living market is estimated at $12 billion. And it’s no coincidence that they’re trying to borrow in part from Tinder, still one of the most popular apps among millennials, the age group — out of college, city-bound but not yet considering moving in with a partner — that most of these apps are targeting.

Yet they’re also looking to go one better. “In our feed, we have more than one person at a time you can swipe through. We want you to be able to encounter the ecosystem a little bit faster,” says Eric Saleh, co-founder at Circle for Roommates. “Dating is not necessarily time-sensitive.” With roommates, you might need to jump on a match quick.

Profiles on apps like Circle, Whoomies, RentHoop and Badi ask you about yourself as Tinder does, trying to match you up with someone who has compatible characteristics (and the same move-in date). Some of the apps, like Circle, encourage users to pay a small fee to get verified (the site runs a background check) in order to maximize their number of matches. It’s something Saleh says is especially important to young women looking at the prospect of living with a relative stranger. It gives such apps a leg up on say, Craigslist, which is still where many young people in some cities look for rooms to move into, but which doesn’t do any similar verification.

The apps work both for people looking for a co-living option and someone to pair up with, as well as for those with a room in their current apartment to find an occupant for.

There are definite difficulties in incorporating a Tinder-style approach into finding an apartment. First of all, while some turn to Tinder hoping for long-term commitment, many are just swiping for casual fun — and will be back there next week, tomorrow or later that night. Those looking for a place to live are planning to make a more structured commitment, and once they’ve found a match, they are unlikely to return for a significant period of time. By then, they may be relocating to a city beyond the reach of some of these apps.

Young women friends drinking coffee at apartment window

In the U.S., the supply of co-living housing options is expected to grow by 84 percent compared to 2018.

Source Getty

Finding a co-living fit is also more complicated than the simple act of swiping. If you’re looking at a roommate, sure you care about their personality — but you might care more about the specific apartment they’re proposing to share. While RentHoop began as a swiping, Tinder-style app, it’s now evolved to be more of a carousel instead of a swipe-left-to-consign-them-to-oblivion model. “Instead of swiping on someone to indicate that you’re interested in them, you message them directly,” says Paul Burke, RentHoop’s founder and CEO. He says the edits were largely based on his own experience using the app to find a roommate in Los Angeles and the information he found he needed and cared about.

Still, the approach is working for many of these firms. Circle will soon expand from New York and LA to work in D.C. as well. Whoomies has made the international jump to London after expanding all over France. They’re also hoping to expand services: Whoomies in particular hopes to help young people overcome France’s notoriously twisty tenant laws.

Because a Parisian lease gives tenants an enormous amount of power, landlords often demand a guarantor who agrees to pay their rent if the tenant refuses to or can’t. For many, that’s their parents — but without family support, tenants can find it difficult to find such a guarantor. Whoomies, its founder envisions, could be that guarantor — not just helping people find a personality match to live with for a year and beyond, but actually helping people get leases even in cities where the housing market becomes ever tighter.

Gifts for Your Most Anxious Friend

It’s not just you; everyone is feeling it. And by “it” we mean “crushing and terrible anxiety” about the state of literally everything. A study in 2018 found that nearly 40 percent of Americans said they were more anxious than a year earlier. And let’s not get started on the anxiety induced by limited resources for getting help for anxiety. Fun!

The holidays are just as likely to be a source of anxiety as a balm to it. What if they hate your present? WHY IS EVERYTHING SO EXPENSIVE? If you mention that Santa isn’t real within earshot of that child, will you scar him for life? Is your flight home to see your mom killing the last penguin?

But perhaps, through the magic of gift-giving, you can help the people around you feel slightly less anxious. Try one of these gift ideas on your anxious friends, parents, co-workers and any friendly neighborhood journalists who you suspect after reading this intro may need to work on their own anxiety.

A Weighted Blanket

The scientific evidence for these blankets’ effect on anxious people is a bit sketchy, but they’ve become a huge hit anecdotally, with people reporting that the 10 to 30 pounds of weight (distributed across a whole blanket) helps them sleep better and feel less stressed out.

“Think of it as a swaddle for adults, just as you’d swaddle a baby to calm and comfort them,” says Mark Wynohradnyk, the brand director of weighted blanket heavyweight Gravity Blankets. But before buying, maybe feel out the potential gift recipient by asking casual questions like, “If you felt a weight on you when you woke up, would you assume you were being attacked by a ghost?”

A Bug Out Bag

Look, there are big reasons people are more anxious these days. We’re destroying the planet, and society could collapse and we’ll all have to live in the subway (the surface will be too hot!) and fight each other for the most delicious-looking rats. Anyway, when a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe hits your hometown, you’ll want an emergency kit to go, aka a Bug Out Bag! Echo-Sigma has a variety of ready-to-go emergency bags (including one comfortingly called the Get Home bag). The complete emergency kit costs $600 and comes with three to 10 days of sustenance, a water filter and various other things you’ll need to survive — in the subway or wherever.

The only problem with delicious candy CBD is that your gift recipient might be tempted to go above the recommended daily dosage.

CBD Snacks

CBD is renowned for its stress- and anxiety-fighting effects, and since it’s now legal in a lot of places, you can likely gift it to your friends with a minimum of fuss. But if your gift recipient might be nervous about being seen as a drug enthusiast? Not to worry, these CBD gummy bears are easy to disguise as regular gummy bears (while still containing 25 milligrams of CBD). They’re also vegan! The only problem with delicious candy CBD is that your gift recipient might be tempted to go above the recommended daily dosage. Tip: Also give some regular gummy bears too for when that craving hits multiple times a day.

Finding Love in a Photoless Place

Everyone who’s ever used a dating app — or ever dated, period — knows that looks matter. Aside from the usual front-and-center photo (and the myriad online guides to choosing the best angles and lighting to increase your chances of a connection), there are dating sites that require you to submit a photo to be judged before you’ll even be allowed on.

Of course, your face isn’t all you have to offer. And if we’re going to date via app (which most of us have decided to, just like we decided Twitter and Love Island were good ideas), it’s reasonable that those preferring to be judged by their hearts rather their faces would look for a different way to date.

A growing band of apps are emerging to offer just that. Taffy shows you photos of a person — but only after you exchange 10 messages. Lex, which launched in November, is for members of the queer community, discourages participation from straight men and has “a zero-tolerance policy for creeps.”

We believe in love. We believe in the true, crazy and wonderful love.

Juan Alonso, Appetence co-founder

Appetence required that you get to know someone before being shown their photo. It’s in the process of transforming into another app, If Not You, Nobody, with similar principles.

“We believe in love. We believe in the true, crazy and wonderful love,” says Madrid-based Juan Alonso, Appetence’s co-founder.

With the app’s new approach, two would-be daters will engage in a flirtatious game of learning about each other, during which their profile pictures are slowly revealed. The app’s website is now taking sign-ups for the beta test.

Some apps haven’t survived. Twine, which launched in 2013, showed only a blurred version of your Facebook profile picture until you chose to reveal that photo to whomever you were sparking with via chat. The following year, Twine’s parent company, Sourcebits, was sold and founder Rohit Singal had to shut down the project. Still, it was hardly a waste of time. “I continue to get emails from people who got connected via Twine and even got married, so I am sure there is merit to this idea,” Singal says.

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Appetence, for those who believe in “crazy and wonderful love.”

Source Appetence

Singal cautions that such apps will never go “viral as something like Tinder,” adding, “It can’t be grown like a typical Silicon Valley startup with huge capital infusion, but something that is to be done organically.” Such dating apps, he says, have to move slowly to find their niche.

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The Lex app, for the queer community, has a zero-tolerance policy for creeps.

Source Lex

That’s exactly what Personals — an Instagram account since shut down and released as dating app Lex — did. “Writing a personal, sitting down to write something, it just slows down the process for you,” says Kelly Rakowski, who founded the Instagram account in 2017. “You have to be more mindful … than with these other dating apps. What do I want to say? How do I want to present myself? What am I looking for?” The account began as part of Rakowski’s own Instagram, then became so popular that it needed its own account. The wait between submitting an ad and seeing it online could be weeks.

“I don’t get all the stories, but there is a hashtag, #MetOnPersonals, and people DM me to say they met their person on Personals,” Rakowski says. “Just yesterday, someone came up to me and said they just got out of a one-year relationship with someone they met on Personals.”

One of the only such apps still extant in its original form is Taffy. Blurry profile pics are topped with catchy headlines (“posts”), which serve as the main conversation starters. After 10 lines of chat, you can see peoples’ —unblurred — photos and then opt to ghost them, if you’re that kind of jerk. The main complaints in the reviews focus on there not being enough members and having to sign up via Facebook (which is no longer a requirement as of the relaunch earlier this year). Still, those who love “slow dating” seem to really love it — all part of the gradual process of building community.