Marriage Crisis


The details uncovered by investigators portray Alix Catherine Tichelman as a callous, calculating killer. Her mugshot reveals piercing, haunting eyes. And her social media trail portrays a troubled soul who battled addiction and body image issues.

The 26-year-old California call girl was indicted yesterday for allegedly leaving a Google executive for dead on his yacht after injecting him with a fatal dose of heroin.


Alix Tichelman of Folsom, Calif., confers with public defender Diane August during her arraignment in Santa Cruz Superior Courton July 9, 2014, in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, police found Forrest Timothy Hayes, 51, dead on his yacht — named “Escape” — in the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. The yacht’s security cameras show Tichelman injecting Hayes with heroin. He slips into unconsciousness, but she doesn’t call 911. She did, however, collect her belongings — the heroin and needles— casually sidestepping Hayes’s body. “At one point, she steps over the body to finish a glass of wine,” police said, adding that Tichelman did one last thing before fleeing the boat: She closed the blinds, ensuring that no one would see the body from the outside.

She showed no regard for him,” Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark told the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Tuesday. “She was just trying to cover her tracks.”

Hayes and Tichelman met, according to investigators, through the Web site “Seeking Arrangement,” which promises to help “Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it.”

According to news reports, Hayes worked at Google’s innovation lab, where “moon shot” projects like self-driving cars and Google glass are dreamed up. An obituary written by his family describes Hayes as a beloved husband and father of five who enjoyed spending time with his family and on his boat. On a Web site that has since been taken down, friends and family shared fond memories of him, the Associated Press reported.

Tichelman’s life online tells a different story, not of a loving family but of destruction and an intense self-loathing disguised as bravado with a bustier and sultry makeup (check out her YouTube makeup tutorial at the end of the story).

 “Selling my soul would be a lot easier if i could find it,” she wrote on Twitter in July 2012. “I have always been attracted to the darker side,” she said in an interview with fetish magazine fiXE, according to news.com.au. “My parents said by the time I was there I was an intense child, and already liked horror movies.”

She appears to have struggled with addiction for years. On her Instagram account, she posted a photo in May, 2013 with the tagline: “My eyes are red red red … combination of the glitter eyeliner and the medical grade I’ve been smokin on.” And in a note titled “heroin” posted on her Facebook page almost exactly a year before the alleged murder she wrote:

this private downward spiral-this suffocating blackhole
makes you feel so warm inside,
yet makes your heart so cold.
each day takes it’s toll,
your thoughts become emotionless,
your soul feels too old.
the demons whispers to me ever so lightly,
he never let’s go of his hold,
taking everything from me,
I’ll end up dying alone.

In another note titled “Thinspiration,” she revealed a struggle with body image and possibly child sex abuse: “I will be thin and pure like a glass cup. Empty. Pure as light. Music. I move my hands over my body – my shoulders, my collarbone, my rib cage, my hip bones like part of an animal skull, my small thighs. In the mirror my face is pale and my eyes look bruised. My hair is pale and thin and the light comes through. I could be a lot younger than twenty four. I could be a child still, untouched.”

In photos posted on her Facebook page in 2012, Tichelman vacillates between skinny and emaciated. In one of them she boasts “size zero … no more size two for me.” She idolized Kate Moss, who also appears several times in her timeline photos. Her Facebook and Instagram photos, a combination of provocative professional model shots and sexy selfies, reveal a scantily clad split personality: a goth in fishnet thigh highs, a pinup girl in panties, heroin chic.

Tichelman doesn’t say much about her family. The notes section of her Facebook page includes a novel-in-progress about a girl named Kat (her middle name is Catherine). It’s not clear whether it’s autobiographical, but the tale tells of an alienated teenager who turns to heroin to escape a broken home where an alcoholic mother entertains “random men.”

Alix Tichelman

According to USA Today, Tichelman’s parents now live in Folsom, Calif., where her father Bart is the chief executive of a tech company, SynapSense Corp. He took the job in November 2012, a year before the alleged murder, after working with Renewvia Energy Corp., a solar power project developer in Atlanta. Tichelman was living in Folsom at the time of her arrest but previously lived in Atlanta, according to her social media accounts.

Two years ago, she posted often about a boyfriend named Dean, who gave her a black and white diamond ‘promise ring’ on June 22, 2012. There are pictures of the them together playing with baby monkeys.

In her last post on Jan. 11, 2013, she counted among her blessings “a great boyfriend, nice house, monkeys, loving family … doesn’t get any better than this I don’t think.”

USA Today identified the boyfriend as Dean Riopelle, 53, who died Sept. 24, 2013, after a heart attack, according to a newspaper obituary. Riopelle owned a nightclub called “Masquerade” and was known as “Monkey Man” because he raised monkeys on his property, according to an Atlanta indie weekly

The details of Tichelman’s tale continue to unravel. Investigators suspect she was involved in an incident in another state similar to Hayes’s alleged murder on the yacht. Santa Cruz police arrested Tichelman on the Fourth of July after an officer posed as a potential client willing to pay $1,000 for her sexual services. She appeared in Santa Cruz Superior Court on Wednesday on eight felony and misdemeanor charges including manslaughter and prostitution. Her arraignment has been postponed until July 16. Assistant District Attorney Rafael Vazquez said the investigation is ongoing and more serious charges may be filed, the AP reported.

Of all the story lines to emerge from l’affaire Petraeus, surely the following three are widest of the mark:

First, the idea that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is a victim of America’s puritanical mores.

Second, the idea that, whatever the legal fine points, an FBI investigation involving a mistress accessing an email of a CIA director does not become a de facto investigation of the director.

Third, the idea that a CIA director can have a private email account, wholly personal and separate from his job.

All extramarital affairs are human tragedies. That would be true even if this one involved a factory worker and secretary cheating, not two high-profile, high-achieving West Point graduates. The difference is that the pain and injustice are even more monstrous for the innocent spouses and children here, because their private humiliation is playing out across our front pages and television screens.

At its core, however, the scandal that felled David Petraeus has public dimensions only tangentially connected with sex. An affair that was truly private might be buried quickly and quietly. Now that the affair has been broadcast to the world—beginning with Mr. Petraeus’s own resignation statement—honor itself requires honest answers to awkward questions that affect the public trust.

These questions start with the basic: When did this affair begin? Initial reports suggested that it started in Afghanistan, where biographer Paula Broadwell spent much time with the general. Now his friends are telling reporters that the affair began after he joined the CIA in September 2011.

Let us hope this is true. We must hope so, first, because if his affair occurred while he was still in the Army, it is a crime under the uniform code of military justice. We must hope so, too, because if the affair started before he took over the CIA, the truthfulness of his statements to investigators during the run-up to his Senate confirmation might be called into question.

Ask former Clinton cabinet member Henry Cisneros or Bush Homeland Security pick Bernard Kerik about the consequences of making false statements during confirmation checks. They can be grave. At the public level, the more candid the general is about his affair, the more credible he will be when he speaks about Benghazi.

The same goes for the email. On the face of it, that a man in his position would send as much “private” email as has been reported seems extraordinary, given that every foreign intelligence service on the planet would love to know those emails’ contents. In addition, Ms. Broadwell apparently had classified documents on her computer.

The FBI says it is satisfied that these documents didn’t come from Mr. Petraeus. But they did come from someone—and it would be good to know who. We ought to know more about how exposed that information is, especially if it was traveling the world through Gmail. Quite apart from questions of sexual intimacy, we ought to know, too, whether the privileged access that Mr. Petraeus gave his biographer allowed her to get (or encouraged those around him to give her) information she ought not to have had.

Above all, Mr. Petraeus’s affair raises questions about what the general was telling Congress and the public about the mess in Benghazi that saw four Americans killed. We know Mr. Petraeus can be direct when he wishes. We saw that with the unequivocal CIA statement denying that anyone in the agency ordered anyone not to come to the aid of those under attack in Benghazi.

Less clear, alas, is the CIA involvement in the spin put out by the White House: that the attack on the consulate was the work of an out-of-control mob enraged by a video blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. News reports in the aftermath of the attack suggest that Mr. Petraeus backed the White House line when he briefed Congress.

Finally, there is Americas “unrealistic” attitude toward sex. David Gergen complained about this view on “Face the Nation” on Sunday: “I think we have to be understanding that as the saying goes the best of men are still men—men at their best.”

Depends on what you mean by being “realistic” about sex and human nature. Citizens who accept positions in government that give them access to sensitive information—myself included, when I went to work for the White House in 2005—are asked highly intrusive questions about marriage and adultery. The questions involve less moral judgment than a practical recognition that sexual intimacy is more than a physical act; it leads to emotional entanglements that can take even the most judicious of us to reckless and irresponsible places.

All of which relates to the question of the week: Given what we know now about the consulate attack in Benghazi, we need to find out whether Mr. Petraeus’s personal troubles influenced what he said to Congress. In short, America still needs to know what Mr. Petraeus’s unvarnished view of Libya was, and is.

 

*Text by “The Wall Street Journal” (Editorial); November 12, 2012

In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a reporter who, confronted with living the same day over and over again, matures from an arrogant, self-serving professional climber to someone capable of loving and appreciating others and his world. Murray convincingly portrays the transformation from someone whose self-importance is difficult to abide into a person imbued with kindness.  It seems that the Nietzschean test of eternal return, insofar as it is played out in Punxsutawney, yields not an overman but a man of decency.

But there is another story line at work in the film, one we can see if we examine Murray’s character not in the early arrogant stage, nor in the post-epiphany stage, where the calendar is once again set in motion, but in the film’s middle, where he is knowingly stuck in the repetition of days. In this part of the narrative, Murray’s character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again.  He has no expectations for anything different.  In this period, his period of reconciliation, he becomes a model citizen of Punxsutawney. He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance.

The early and final moments of “Groundhog Day” offer something that is missing during this period of peace:  passion. Granted, Phil Connors’s early ambitious passion for advancement is a far less attractive thing than the later passion of his love for Rita (played by Andie MacDowell).  But there is passion in both cases.  It seems that the eternal return of the same may bring peace and reconciliation, but at least in this case not intensity.

And here is where a lesson about love may lie.  One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day.  But his love lacks the passion, the abandon, of the love he feels when he is released into a real future with her. There is something different in those final moments of the film.  A future has opened for their relationship, and with it new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far.  Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced.

There is, of course, in all romantic love the initial infatuation, which rarely lasts.  But if the love is to remain romantic, that infatuation must evolve into a longer-term intensity, even if a quiet one, that nourishes and is nourished by the common engagements and projects undertaken over time.

This might be taken to mean that a limitless future would allow for even more intensity to love than a limited one.  Romantic love among immortals would open itself to an intensity that eludes our mortal race.  After all, immortality opens an infinite future.  And this would seem to be to the benefit of love’s passion.  I think, however, that matters are quite the opposite, and that “Groundhog Day” gives us the clue as to why this is.  What the film displays, if we follow this interpretive thread past the film’s plot, is not merely the necessity of time itself for love’s intensity but the necessity of a specific kind of time:  time for development.  The eternal return of “Groundhog Day” offered plenty of time.  It promised an eternity of it.  But it was the wrong kind of time.  There was no time to develop a coexistence.  There was instead just more of the same.

The intensity we associate with romantic love requires a future that can allow its elaboration.  That intensity is of the moment, to be sure, but is also bound to the unfolding of a trajectory that it sees as its fate.  If we were stuck in the same moment, the same day, day after day, the love might still remain, but its animating passion would begin to diminish.

This is why romantic love requires death.

If our time were endless, then sooner or later the future would resemble an endless Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney.  It is not simply the fact of a future that ensures the intensity of romantic love; it is the future of meaningful coexistence.  It is the future of common projects and the passion that unfolds within them.  One might indeed remain in love with another for all eternity.  But that love would not burn as brightly if the years were to stammer on without number.

Why not, one might ask?  The future is open.  Unlike the future in “Groundhog Day,” it is not already decided.  We do not have our next days framed for us by the day just passed.  We can make something different of our relationships.  There is always more to do and more to create of ourselves with the ones with whom we are in love.

This is not true, however, and romantic love itself shows us why.  Love is between two particular people in their particularity.  We cannot love just anyone, even others with much the same qualities.  If we did, then when we met someone like the beloved but who possessed a little more of a quality to which we were drawn, we would, in the phrase philosophers of love use, “trade up.”  But we don’t trade up, or at least most of us don’t.  This is because we love that particular person in his or her specificity.  And what we create together, our common projects and shared emotions, are grounded in those specificities.  Romantic love is not capable of everything. It is capable only of what the unfolding of a future between two specific people can meaningfully allow.

Sooner or later the paths that can be opened by the specificities of a relationship come to an end.  Not every couple can, with a sense of common meaningfulness, take up skiing or karaoke, political discussion or gardening.  Eventually we must tread the same roads again, wearing them with our days.  This need not kill love, although it might.  But it cannot, over the course of eternity, sustain the intensity that makes romantic love, well, romantic.

One might object here that the intensity of love is a filling of the present, not a projection into the future.  It is now, in a moment that needs no other moments, that I feel the vitality of romantic love.  Why could this not continue, moment after moment?

To this, I can answer only that the human experience does not point this way.  This is why so many sages have asked us to distance ourselves from the world in order to be able to cherish it properly.  Phil Connors, in his reconciled moments, is something like a Buddhist.  But he is not a romantic.

Many readers will probably already have recognized that this lesson about love concerns not only its relationship with death, but also its relationship with life.  It doesn’t take eternity for many of our romantic love’s embers to begin to dim.  We lose the freshness of our shared projects and our passions, and something of our relationships gets lost along with them.  We still love our partner, but we think more about the old days, when love was new and the horizons of the future beckoned us.  In those cases, we needn’t look for Groundhog Day, for it will already have found us.

And how do we live with this?  How do we assimilate the contingency of romance, the waning of the intensity of our loves?  We can reconcile ourselves to our loves as they are, or we can aim to sacrifice our placid comfort for an uncertain future, with or without the one we love.  Just as there is no guarantee that love’s intensity must continue, there is no guarantee that it must diminish.  An old teacher of mine once said that “one has to risk somewhat for his soul.” Perhaps this is true of romantic love as well. The gift of our deaths saves us from the ineluctability of the dimming of our love; perhaps the gift of our lives might, here or there, save us from the dimming itself.

 

* Text By TODD MAY, NYT, FEBRUARY 26, 2012

 Todd May is Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University.  His forthcoming book, “Friendship in an Age of Economics,” is based on an earlier column for The Stone.

For adolescents, Facebook and other social media have created an irresistible forum for online sharing and oversharing, so much so that endless mood-of-the-moment updates have inspired a snickering retort on T-shirts and posters: “Face your problems, don’t Facebook them.”

But specialists in adolescent medicine and mental health experts say that dark postings should not be hastily dismissed because they can serve as signs of depression and an early warning system for timely intervention. Whether therapists should engage with patients over Facebook, however, remains a matter of debate.

And parents have their own conundrum: how to distinguish a teenager’s typically melodramatic mutterings — like the “worst day of my life” rants about their “frenemies,” academics or even cafeteria food — from a true emerging crisis.

(Dr. Megan A. Moreno has studied college students’ Facebook postings for signs of depression. Some showed signs of risk.)

Last year, researchers examined Facebook profiles of 200 students at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Some 30 percent posted updates that met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for a symptom of depression, reporting feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, insomnia or sleeping too much, and difficulty concentrating.

Their findings echo research that suggests depression is increasingly common among college students. Some studies have concluded that 30 to 40 percent of college students suffer a debilitating depressive episode each year. Yet scarcely 10 percent seek counseling.

“You can identify adolescents and young adults on Facebook who are showing signs of being at risk, who would benefit from a clinical visit for screening,” said Dr. Megan A. Moreno, a principal investigator in the Facebook studies and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sometimes the warnings are seen in hindsight. Before 15-year-old Amanda Cummings committed suicide by jumping in front of a bus near her Staten Island home on Dec. 27, her Facebook updates may have revealed her anguish. On Dec. 1, she wrote: “then ill go kill myself, with these pills, this knife, this life has already done half the job.”

Facebook started working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2007. A reader who spots a disturbing post can alert Facebook and report the content as “suicidal.” After Facebook verifies the comment, it sends a link for the prevention lifeline to both the person who may need help and the person who alerted Facebook. In December, Facebook also began sending the distressed person a link to an online counselor.

While Facebook’s reporting feature has been criticized by some technology experts as unwieldy, and by some suicide prevention experts as a blunt instrument to address a volatile situation, other therapists have praised it as a positive step.

At some universities, resident advisers are using Facebook to monitor their charges. Last year, when Lilly Cao, then a junior, was a house fellow at Wisconsin-Madison, she decided to accept Facebook “friend” requests from most of the 56 freshmen on her floor.

She spotted posts about homesickness, academic despair and a menacing ex-boyfriend.

“One student clearly had an alcohol problem,” recalled Ms. Cao. “I found her unconscious in front of the dorm and had to call the ambulance. I began paying more attention to her status updates.”

Ms. Cao said she would never reply on Facebook, preferring instead to talk to students in person. The students were grateful for the conversations, she said.

“If they say something alarming on Facebook,” she added, “they know it’s public and they want someone to respond.”

While social media updates can offer clues that someone is overwrought, they also raise difficult questions: Who should intervene? When? How?

“Do you hire someone in the university clinic to look at Facebook all day?” Dr. Moreno said. “That’s not practical and borders on creepy.”

She said a student might be willing to take a concerned call from a parent, or from a professor who could be trained what to look for.

But ethically, should professors or even therapists “friend” a student or patient? (The students monitored by Dr. Moreno’s team had given their consent.)

Debra Corbett, a therapist in Charlotte, N.C., who treats adolescents and young adults, said some clients do “friend” her. But she limits their access to her Facebook profile. When clients post updates relevant to therapy, she feels chagrined. But she will not respond online, to maintain the confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship.

Instead, Ms. Corbett will address the posts in therapy sessions. One client, for example, is a college student who has low self-esteem. Her Facebook posts are virtual pleas for applause.

Ms. Corbett will say to her: “How did you feel when you posted that? We’re working on you validating yourself. When you put it out there, you have no control about what they’ll say back.”

Susan Kidd, who teaches emotionally vulnerable students at a Kentucky high school, follows their Facebook updates, which she calls a “valuable tool” for intervention with those who “may otherwise not have been forthcoming with serious issues.”

At Cornell University, psychologists do not “friend” students. At weekly meetings, however, counselors, residence advisors and the police discuss students who may be at risk. As one marker among many, they may bring up Facebook comments that have been forwarded to them.

“People do post very distressing things,” said Dr. Gregory T. Eells, director of Cornell’s counseling and psychological services. “Sometimes they’re just letting off steam, using Facebook as something between a diary and an op-ed piece. But sometimes we’ll tell the team, ‘check in on this person.’ ”

They proceed cautiously, because of “false positives,” like a report of a Facebook photo of a student posing with guns. “When you look,” said Dr. Eells, “it’s often benign.”

Dr. Moreno said she thought it made sense for house fellows at the University of Wisconsin to keep an eye on their students who “friend” them. Students’ immediate friends, she said, should not be expected to shoulder responsibility for intervention: “How well they can identify and help each other, I’m not so sure.”

Tolu Taiwo, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, agreed. “I know someone who wrote that he wanted to kill himself,” she said. “It turned out he probably just wanted attention. But what if it was real? We wouldn’t know.”

In fact, when adolescents bare their souls on Facebook, they risk derision. Replying to questions posted on Facebook by The New York Times, Daylina Miller, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, said that when she poured out her sadness online, some readers responded only with the Facebook “like” symbol: a thumb’s up.

“You feel the same way?” said Ms. Miller, puzzled. “Or you like that I’m sad? You’re sadistic?”

Some readers, flummoxed by a friend’s misery, remain silent, which inadvertently may be taken as the most hurtful response.

In comments to The Times, parents who followed their children’s Facebook posts said they did not always know how to distinguish the drama du jour from silent screams. Often their teenagers felt angry and embarrassed when parents responded on Facebook walls or even, after reading a worrisome comment by their child’s friend, alerted the friend’s parents.

Many parents said they felt embarrassed, too. After reading a grim post, they might raise an alarm, only to be curtly told by their offspring that it was a popular song lyric, a tactic teens use to comment in code, in part to confound snooping parents.

Ms. Corbett, the Charlotte therapist, said that when she followed her sons’ Facebook pages, she used caution before responding to occasional downbeat posts. If parents react to every little bad mood, she said, children might be less open on Facebook, assuming that “my parents will freak out.”

Dr. Moreno said that parents should consider whether the posts are typical for their child or whether the child also seems depressed at home. Early intervention can be low-key — a brief text or knock on the bedroom door: “I saw you posted this on Facebook. Is everything O.K.?”

Sometimes a Facebook posting can truly be a last-resort cry for help. One recent afternoon while Jackie Wells, who lives near Dayton, Ohio, was waiting for her phone service to be fixed, she went online to check on her daughter, 18, who lives about an hour away. Just 20 minutes earlier, the girl, unable to reach her mother by phone, used her own Facebook page to post to Mrs. Wells or anyone else who might read it:

“I just did something stupid, mom. Help me.”

Mrs. Wells borrowed a cellphone from her parents and called relatives who lived closer to her daughter. The girl had overdosed on pills. They got her to the hospital in time.

“Facebook might be a pain in the neck to keep up with,” Mrs. Wells said. “But having that extra form of communication saves lives.”

Liz Heron contributed reporting.

 

 

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My friends Farhad and Mahnaz are the quintessential Iranian couple. They are both engineers with a shared passion for hiking and movies and have been smitten with each other for six years — but Farhad and Mahnaz can’t afford to get married because even a one-bedroom apartment is beyond their reach, despite their both having decent middle-class jobs.

This reality has preyed on their relationship, compelling them to consider leaving Iran. And they blame the government for their situation.

iran_real_estate_0608

“We aren’t lazy, and we aren’t aiming for anything so high,” says Mahnaz.

These days, the phrase “marriage crisis” pops up in election debates, newspapers and blogs and is considered by government officials and ordinary Iranians alike to be one of the nation’s most serious problems. It refers to the rising number of young people of marrying age who cannot afford to marry or are choosing not to tie the knot.

By official estimates, there are currently 13 million to 15 million Iranians of marrying age; to keep that figure steady, Iran should be registering about 1.65 million marriages each year. The real figure is closer to half that. (See pictures of “The Long Shadow of Ayatullah Khomeini.”)neda_agha_soltan_05


Why does this matter? Because Iran’s government cannot afford to further alienate the young people that comprise more than 35% of its population. The young are already seething over their government’s radical stance in the world and its trashing of the economy, and their anger easily expresses itself politically.


As they decide how to vote in Friday’s presidential election, young people like Farhad and Mahnaz are likely to base their decision in part on who they think will address the problem closest to their heart. (Read “North Korea Wipes Out Iran [EM] from the World Cup.”)

Iran used to be a society in which people married young. In a Muslim culture that viewed premarital sex and dating as taboo, this was pretty much a social imperative. My mother married at 28, and in the 1970s that meant she had brushed up against spinsterhood. But today, Iranian women are attending university in unprecedented numbers — they account for over 60% of students on Iranian campuses — and typically enter the workforce after graduating. This has turned their focus away from the home sphere, made marriage a less urgent priority and changed women’s expectations of both marriage and prospective husbands. (See pictures of “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Iranian Paradox.”)

With young people pursuing more liberal lifestyles and shunning the traditional mores of their parents’ generation, the marrying age is steadily climbing. This terrifies Iran’s religious government, which still peddles the virtue of chastity and views young people’s shifting attitudes toward sexuality as a direct threat to the Islamic Revolution’s core values. “The sexual bomb we face is more dangerous than the bombs and missiles of the enemy,” said Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari, head of Iran’s National Youth Organization, late last year.

neda_agha_soltan_06

Unfortunately for the government, the mismanagement of Iran’s economy — with its high inflation, unemployment rates and soaring real estate prices — has deepened the marriage crisis, and with it the resentment among young Iranians. (See pictures of the global financial crisis.)

Amir Hekmati is a determined 31-year-old civil servant from Tehran’s Narmak neighborhood. He earns the equivalent of $500 a month and has saved assiduously. He’s also managed to secure a loan from the ministry where he works and a small sum from his parents, but even with that he can’t muster enough to buy a studio apartment in an outlying district of the city. Two women he admired turned down his marriage proposals on the grounds that he did not already have his own place. “If women would just agree to be girlfriends and date, we wouldn’t be forced to pursue marriage in the first place,” he complained.

Hekmati’s experience is typical of young Iranians, who are finding themselves increasingly priced out of the marriage market. During the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, real estate prices have soared across the country, but especially in Tehran, where they have risen as much as 150%. Economists have blamed the spike on Ahmadinejad’s disastrous economic policies.

The President flooded the economy with capital through a loan scheme, cut interest rates 2% and embarked on huge state construction projects that drove up the price of building materials. Those changes prompted many investors to move out of the stock market and the banking system and into real estate, which was considered a safer bet. Apartment prices in the capital more than doubled between 2006 and 2008. (See pictures of health care in Iran.)

The real estate boom was a disaster for middle-income Iranians, particularly young men seeking marriage partners. And many of those who have married and moved in with in-laws are finding that inflation is eating away at their savings, meaning it will take years, rather than months, to get their own place. The resulting strains are breaking up existing marriages — this past winter, local media reported that a leading cause of Iran’s high divorce rate is the husband’s inability to establish an independent household. Many others are concluding that marriage is best avoided altogether. (See the Top 10 Ahmadinejad-isms.)

Ahmadinejad’s government response to the crisis included a plan, unveiled in November 2008 by the National Youth Organization, called “semi-independent marriage.” It proposed that young people who cannot afford to marry and move into their own place legally marry but continue living apart in their parents’ homes. The announcement prompted swift outrage. Online news sites ran stories in which women angrily denounced the scheme, arguing that it afforded men a legal and pious route to easy sex while offering women nothing by way of security or social respect. The government hastily dropped the plan.

As Iranians head to the polls on Friday, Ahmadinejad faces the prospect that the very same broad discontent with the economy that propelled him to victory in 2005 could now help unseat him. Samira, a 27-year-old who works in advertising, recently became engaged and is among the millions of young Iranians who are eyeing the candidates through the lens of their own marital concerns. “Ahmadinejad promised he would bring housing prices down, but that didn’t happen at all,” she says.

If left to their own salaries, she explains, she and her fiancé will never be able to afford their own place. That’s a key reason they’re voting for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leading reformist candidate, who has made the economy the center of his platform. Like many young Iranians, they hope a new President will make marriage a possibility once more.


* Text By Azadeh Moaveni; NYT , Jun. 09, 2009