Yesterday I Tweeted some despair over this essay by Sandra Tsing Loh, whose essays I normally like so much I flip to them first. It's about divorce, I believe, although it would be easy to conclude it's about something else entirely (perhaps it's just STL's longwinded and hardly-to-the-point justification of her extramarital affair?) and I would hardly blame you if you didn't even get halfway through. I considered putting it down, many times, but read on out of morbid fascination and disbelief because, again, I flip to her (or Caitlin Flanagan, I do so love my modern feministy essays) first.
More people responded to that Tweet than any other Tweet I've Tweeted, agreeing with me that it was Depressing As All Hell. I didn't expect people to click the link, let alone read the entire article and respond, so I was kind of surprised, and also curious about what we think about divorce. Or, rather, marriage in the first place.
(Then Charlotte sent me links to a few other articles: Here's Ross Douthat responding to STL and Christina Nehring's new book A Vindication of Love, and this New York Times piece that bounces from Jon and Kate and the mortification of Jenny Sanford into a heap of marriage stats. Then Jess sent me this link about Old People Lovin'. Read those too.)
But I feel like something is missing from those articles, from the stats, from the musings on the predicaments of middle-aged fallen-out-of-love women, and that would be a a conversation about SELFISHNESS. I feel like they've skipped over the concept entirely, and we are fooled into thinking this is simply what Ross Douthat calls "a post-sexual revolution paradox — namely, that the same overclass that was once most invested in erotic experimentation ended up building the sturdiest walls against the passions it unleashed."
You know, I don't even really know what else to say about it. How's that for critical thinking?
I reject the idea of these "companionate marriages" as much as I reject the idea that we need to uphold some standard of "passion" inside marriage to make it worth having. I don't know enough about the history of marriage and What It Is For (seems like everyone has a different answer for that anyway) in order to convincingly get up on whatever soapbox I'm constructing here. But when I read these pieces all I see is "me me me". Which is completely contrary to my understanding of marriage. Which is "serve serve serve".
Ideally, and we are talking VERY IDEALLY, you put your husband first and he puts you first. How else are you supposed to survive? How else are you supposed to get through anything? We rarely succeed at this, but I think as long as you are trying and he is trying and you have elements of forgiveness and grace and perseverance and love, you can make it work. I realize I am only speaking from six years' experience, and without any Major Challenges marriage-wise, so it's entirely possible that I know nothing of which I speak. And I once had someone who, after spending an hour telling me all about the man she lived with for nine years before she realized he was never going to marry her, look at me curiously and say, "You and Phillip seem so... old-fashioned." AGREED! But still. I honestly do not see how else you do it.
I am also speaking with absolutely no experience of divorce. Both my parents and Phillip's parents are still married to each other, and I have yet to encounter that special kind of awful that is friends getting divorced. I have several friends with divorced parents, and I'm never sure if they were relieved or devastated. I think a lot of times there are good reasons for divorce, that it IS the best thing.
But divorced because your husband travels 20 weeks out of the year and one day you decided to have an affair, even though you "don't generally even enjoy men"? No. This is screwed up.
It's true, my churchy side informs my picture of what marriage should be, and not everyone is churchy. It's true that perhaps putting each other first sounds suspiciously like that really awful "wives shall submit to their husbands" verse (WHICH WE SHALL GET TO AT A LATER DATE) but the second part of that is "husbands, love your wives" and this system doesn't exactly work unless you are both on board. So let's just boil it down to lowest common denominator, shall we? DON'T BE SELFISH!
And dudes, I fail at this every single damn day. Every single HOUR even. Phillip will not want me to share this with you, but HE DOES TOO. Fact! It happens! But I cannot even IMAGINE the depths of selfishness I'd have to reach in order to write the following sentence: "Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance."
ALSO. I do not want to hear about how women never take time for themselves and never find out what they really need and gosh they just spend their whole lives give give giving and one day they wake up and decide they're going to chuck it all and go rent a Tuscan villa with a conveniently hot winemaker living across the street. No. I reject that too. CATEGORICALLY REJECTED.
Anyway. I nervously await a slew of emails and comments telling me that I am wrong and/or biased and/or blinded by the churchy and/or have no business discussing this due to aforementioned lack of education and experience. Although possibly it's more likely no one will have anything to say because DUDE what is she TALKING ABOUT when is she going to post BABY PICTURES. But you know, I'm pretty firm on this subject. Suck it up. Be a grown up. Put someone else's needs first. Be aware. Talk about it. Don't let it get that far.
Unless you are Jenny Sanford, in which case you have my permission to express mail your husband and his things to Neptune.