Birds of a feather may weave a cozy nest, but who says they need to tie the knot?
Psychologist Lorin Lindner peers inside a dark cage and looks around for Pilot, a mature gentleman cockatoo in his mid-70s. There he is, up high on his perch, warming his delicate salmon feathers under a heat lamp.
Outside, the eucalyptus leaves rustle gently in the night breeze. Pilot, half-asleep and elderly even by human standards, looks perfectly docile. So it is a surprise to learn that not so long ago, he pecked his own mate to death.
“It can happen when mismatched pairs are forced together in captivity,” says Lindner.
We’re in Serenity Park, the parrot sanctuary she founded at the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles a year ago. Set in a 20-acre rose and herb garden, it is a place where war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder can help care for the rescued birds, which are often badly traumatized themselves. Highly intelligent parrots, just like humans, have unique sexual and social needs, something many owners neither know nor care about.
“People are still getting parrots simply because they match their living room furniture,” says Lindner.
After feeding her 30 or so feathered friends their dinner, we retreat into Lindner’s small on-site office/hut. The decor is basic, aside from the myriad parrot posters on the wall. Stickers on the fridge say things like “Condors, not Condos,” and pinned to the wall is a reminder to say “good morning” and “good-bye” to the birds.
Aside from the odd squawk outside, the atmosphere is peaceful. You’d never guess one of L.A.’s busiest freeways was less than a half mile away.
Lindner herself is slender, with wavy brown hair and an au naturel style. Her wide hazel eyes glow, especially when she talks about animals, and chocolate. Lindner pulls out a bag of chocolate treats from the freezer and retells a joke about marriage made by former KISS frontman Gene Simmons. “He said something like ‘if marriage is an institution you are committed to, then that’s not something I want to be part of.’” She giggles, adding, “I don’t often quote Gene Simmons.”
Lindner, 50, is one of three children. Her mother, a homemaker, died when Lorin was a teenager, and her father ran several successful sporting goods stores. By the time he passed away, he had two grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He would have liked for Lindner to have added to the brood — but knew and accepted that was not his daughter’s chosen life path.
“I knew from a very young age that I did not want children,” says Lindner. “From there, I started questioning the other norms in our society, marriage being one of them.”
As a psychologist, she listened to many tales of infidelity, and saw 20-year marriages collapse over one indiscretion.
“Since I saw so much dishonesty in traditional relationships, I wondered why I should participate in that kind of facade,” she says. Concepts of marriage and uninterrupted, lifelong monogamy, in her opinion, ignore our natural biological programming.
“The societal pressure to marry and have babies is still so strong, even though there is little established social and scientific evidence suggesting it is the best choice for humans today,” she says. Even parrots, which usually mate for life, are not always as faithful as you’d think. “Females may have a partner who has built her nest and will raise her chicks with her, but DNA testing has found that the father is not always her mate.”
Even if Lindner did ever decide to marry, one wonders how she’d ever find time. On top of running the sanctuary and working with homeless veterans, she has a small private psychology practice, teaches psychology classes at Santa Monica College, and sits on the board of four nonprofits.
By focusing so much of her energy on human rights, animal rights and environmental causes, does she even have time for romantic relationships?
Of course, she says. “But some people keep themselves busy like a whirling dervish in order to avoid intimacy. If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I think that may have been the case with me in the past.”
Lindner asserts that just because she identifies herself as single, that does not mean she is unable to engage in complex, intimate connections with people.
“I’m in the most intense and deeply connected relationship I’ve ever had right now,” she tells us. “But does that mean I have to get married? No.”
Lindner is part of a growing network of adults choosing not to procreate, partially because of concerns about overpopulation. She has been involved with groups like Zero Population Growth and VHEMT (the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement), which grants certificates to members who undergo vasectomies.
Sound a little extreme? “Not really,” she laughs. “All you have to do is choose not to breed. Even if you’ve already had children, you can still join, so long as you choose not to have any more. The human race is displacing other species by the thousands. Why should we think of ourselves as the most important species on the planet?”
Lindner would like for women to be relieved of the invisible, ubiquitous pressure to marry. She says that even in a post-feminist age, it seems many women are still silently ostracized if they dare to remain single.
“I’m so sick of being asked if I am going to be next,” sighs Lindner. It’s undeniable that unlike the word “bachelor,” “spinster” still carries those negative, Eleanor Rigby connotations. Why is that? Lindner says it’s because females who are independent or self-sufficient present a threat to mainstream society.
“Think about it,” she says. “Men work hard to get the money, to get the car, to get the woman. They are contributing to the economic machinery of this world, in order to have sex. Women feel pressure to secure the relationship through marriage, and men go along with it. And the cycle continues.”
It is a cycle that exists in the animal kingdom as much as it does in human society. Female birds, for example, will often only mate with a male once he has built her a spectacular nest of twigs and twine, and devoted all his energies toward her during mating season.
That’s what happened with Sherman and Corky, a handsome parrot pair that have been together for several years. They screech wildly and in unison as Lindner approaches, seeming very much in love. “See, they have a lasting relationship, and they didn’t need a wedding ring,” says Lindner. “So why should we?”
And with that, she bids them good night.