I told you you'd be jealous
This is where today's post would go if Typepad hadn't eaten it

In which I get all old-fashioned and huffy

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.


Kate P

Man, I missed that tweet. (Stupid multiple job weekend.)
"DON'T BE SELFISH." Yes! I know I say this a lot, but of all people, my political science professor once said in class, "Love ultimately is sacrifice." That's likely to hit home a bit more for people who follow Christ, but it probably still works otherwise.

There's feminism, and then there's extreme feminism. . . some days, I really wonder what extreme feminism has done to marriage, the family, education, and the cost of living--and the real cost to women.

(That Jenny Sanford line cracked me up.)


AMEN, SISTER! Love is CHOOSING to put another person's needs and wants before your own. It is a CHOICE to be selfless EVERY DAY. I agree, there are definitely situations where divorce is warranted, but many times it is just the product of two people who don't want to put their partner's needs and/or wants before their own. Love is a sacrifice. That's the way it is.

Very well said, Maggie! (This is coming from an old fashioned kind of girl, married to an old fashioned kind of guy....)

Amy J

I have no churchy in my life but:
1) Marriage is forever. You make your choice (unless it is the aforementioned Jenny, etc), and you stick with it.
2) Respect is another key I think.
3) The expression "It takes two ..." applies, you must work together.
4) I am no so in on the selfless, but on the compromise. Selfishness = bad, but to me selfless = bad too. COMPROMISE.

Ha! How about that nonsensical drivel, sorry. Will try harder next time.


I haven't read any of the links (want to!) but you hit it right on. "BE A GROWN UP." LOVE THAT. Also: It isn't Supposed to be Easy, people! Love -- well, maintaining it properly -- is hard work! No one tells people this.


I am going to have to respond by Actual Blog Post, but I agree. I absolutely agree.


I actually read that essay . . . last week? When? I don't know, but MSN had a link to it, so I read it. Most of it. And I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU!!! I found thw whole thing appalling. So let me lend what little authority 13 years of marriage and watching my brother go through a divorce after 14 years of marriage brings and say, "Yes! Selfishness is at the root of all divorce." I'm not saying there aren't cases where divorce is the best solution (my brother's would be an example); but it was only the best solution because his ex-wife had no desire to put the kids or the marriage, let alone him, first. It was all about her, and she was the one who wanted out even though my brother was willing to go to counseling and work through the many extra-marital affairs (with people of both genders) she had had. Okay, oversharing there a bit. Anyway, thank you for writing this post. This is a discussion that our entire society needs to be having a lot more often. It is unfortunate if anyone casts dispersions at common sense and decency just because only the "churchy" people are the ones talking about it.


I can see how you start off each putting the other first, but then one person starts letting the other do more and more, until really only one person is putting the other first, and the person who is being selfish doesn't want to change.

I read that article assuming there was more behind the reason for the divorce than what the author wrote about. I can imagine being the wife left at home 20 weeks out of the year, asking my husband to put in more time at home but him choosing not to, and after 20 years of that, I don't know that I would be willing to make an effort to rekindle the marriage either. I can see how after 10 years of that, you would "fall out of love."

I do agree with you that husband and wife should both put the other one first, but I think that is much, much, much harder said than done.

J. Johnson

I have been married for 16 years. The first 9 years he was still on active duty, and we were together maybe 1/2 waking hour each day. The last 7 years, his job takes him out of town quite frequently. It is never easy, and there are times that I ask him to request work in our home area for a while so we can see him, yet sometimes he is not able to do that.

I say all this because to show that I understand what it is like to be left behind. However, we cannot fathom divorcing each other. Yes, there are the moments when we might think about it, but we take our marriage vows seriously. We promised to never leave each other, and at our hardest moments, that is what we call on to hold it together.

Of course, a sense of humor (however morbid) does help. We always say there is noone with enough patience to put up with the other and his bad habits! My mother hates when I say that why should I divorce him and make him happy when we can stay married and I can make him miserable, but my husband cracks up every time. (I don't say it often - just when there is a gas explosion in the house!) It is sometimes easier to get a divorce than to work out a situation, which is so sad.


You are right on! I wish more people felt/thought this way. As someone who is about to get married (in 25 days), I don't know if I have enough experience to say these things either. All I know is I couldn't get half way through the first page of that article. My parents got divorced and to this day, my mom regrets it (was her decision). I am just hoping that my future husband and myself can put each other first. I realize that marriage, and love for that matter, mean sacrifice.


I totally thought the same thing about that particular line. I interpreted it as, "I don't have time to work on my marriage, I have like, TOENAILS to paint and stuff." How shallow.

I thought the whole article was really self-serving and a sort of weird public justification for whatever shit she's getting from people in real life.


I think there is a too quick impulse among us these days to quit as soon as it gets hard. My marriage has had it's very rough points and we considered divorce. In the end, it was worth it to us to hang on and work at it. We've been together for 10 years (in September) and he spent 3 years of that on duty in Korea, plus probably a year at various training school. (We're active duty Army). It is really hard to make a marriage work when there is a lot of absence. Really hard. It's do-able, but you have to want it. When I read this article, the author seemed to make clear that she really doesn't want it. And so I think she did the best thing. (And has a pretty good attitude toward the parenting arrangments, it seems). I too assumed there was a lot going on under the surface of her marriage and thought that simply admitting to her affair was pretty courageous.


Well said!!!!! I think the advice of "don't be selfish" is probably the key to happy marriage.

Salome Ellen

I typed a comment, and my script blocker ate it. Basic point -- you're right about the selfishness. (28 years married next month.)


I totally, TOTALLY agree with you. This is exactly the issue. The whole article was selfish and read as a bitter attempt at justifying her behavior. And then I wonder if I'm just naive and ridiculous and that's why it came across to me this way. But I really think that's what it was.

HOWEVER. I do not give Jenny Sanford special exemptions on ANYTHING, but only because she came out and said that GAY MARRIAGE is to blame for her husband's extramarital affair. Did you read about that? She says that the advancement of gay marriage has eroded the values of the traditional marriage and made her husband think it was OK to cheat. Because NOBODY had affairs before gay marriage, CLEARLY.


To respond to the above commenter, I would counter that selfishness may be at the root of all *marital problems*, but from my current perspective in dealing with a crumbling 13 year marriage (that my husband wants to fight for more than I do), utter fatigue may be the cause for actual *divorce*. I could relate to the author's comment about just not having the energy for any more self-helpness or however she worded it. To continually fight to save something when you struggle to even like the person (heart sinking when they enter the room) most days when your every logical thought tells you YOU SIGNED UP FOR THIS (hello marriage vows) is utterly exhausting. Unless you've been there you just don't really know I think. My husband had a one-afternoon stand with a stranger (it was sought out and planned out, a clandestined meeting if you will with the help of the internet), and that is really only a small part of our problems (the other part being a textbook cycle of emotional abuse/honeymoon phase/more emotional and verbal abuse). When kids are involved and you have a spiritual background and family telling you divorce is wrong wrong wrong (but oh we do want you to be happy!)....it's exhausting fighting for something you feel is right for moral reasons, but feels so wrong for your soul :(. I'm to blame for some of the problems--especially now since I have the walls built up when he's decided to try to save things. People change, and I know I have. I wish I felt about him like I did before life got in our way, but I just don't. And I'm exhausted. Have I mentioned that??? ;)


I almost stopped reading the article at "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." Please. Where were you WHILE things were going downhill and where was your ENERGY then??

I like that line in Meet Joe Black when he says: "What's wrong with taking care of a woman? She takes care of you." That's how Adam and I approach marriage too. Each trying to put the other first. And it doesn't always work right. But we're on that track, and forgiveness is (relatively) easier when intentions are pure.

I would hope that we'd be able to trust each other enough to put each other in check before the Selfish moved to Marital Problems status.

Formerly Gracie

Much like you, I dry-heaved and eye-rolled my way through STL's article.

It seems like another classic example of someone who screws up, then blames the whole world for it.

In this case, fidelity didn't work for her, so the entire institution of marriage is wrong... and I just don't buy it.

The "things" that's missing in this article (and many others like it) is the taking responsibility for one's actions, for one's life, for one's issues. I would suggest that some people just need to grow up.


OK, I just found out that the Jenny Sanford gay marriage thing wasn't real, apparently? And I emailed you about this but was afraid I'd have shocked someone in the comments. See here: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/the-jenny-sanford-gay-marriage-wrecked-my-family-joke-not-funny/news/2009/07/01/4025


I'm agnostic. I was raised agnostic. So I don't have the churchy in me. But I absolutely have the "sick to death of this selfish culture."

I agree with you 100%. Married four years, so not long, and I'll admit sometimes I want to throw him out the window . . . but I want to throw most of my family members out the window at times. That's what family is.


I got married at 19 almost 20 and my husband was 23. We've been married for 4 years now and are expecting our first child. When we got married everybody said that it would never work. Well now that we've been obviously happily married for a while, we have friends who keep saying that they wish they could find their "soul mate" like we did, and that we were so lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. We both worked our butts off trying to make our marriage work. I agree with you on the selfish thing. But I also feel that it has to do with our cultures facination with the concept of soul mates. I think that many "soul mates" take their respective partners for granted, and don't work as hard on their marriages because they think that they are guerenteed to be together forever. In the world we live in there is no such thing as a guerentee, no matter how well suited to each other you are. Best advice we ever got for our marriage was to do something each day that shows the other person that you love them. We both try really hard to do that. But make no mistake, having a good marriage is WORK. Ask any older couple whose been married 50-60 years and they'll tell you the same thing.


I am running out the door but can't wait to come back and read the comments plus the links. I read the Atlantic article and am still digesting. Thus far I think Katie sums up my feelings best about wanting to sometimes throw the huz out the window. As in, no one pisses you off like family, but also no one loves you and makes you happy like family. Anyway. Marriage talk is FASCINATING.


YES. I read the article when MSN linked to it and only read the whole thing out of pure morbid curiosity. Now, I only have 3 years of marriage experience, but I TOTALLY agree with your version of what should ideally happen in a marriage. Also, I notice that I am happier when I'm making sure that my husband is happy. Much happier than when I'm worrying about what he is or isn't doing to make me happy.


I agree with you totally on the "ME ME ME" attitude of our society (a few hundred million overgrown two-year-olds, perhaps?), and though I'm still single I do my share of observing those around me. The relationships that have fallen are usually those where one partner doesn't seem willing to sacrifice/give of themselves/share the load. I think our media-frenzy culture does young people a disservice by focusing entirely on googly-eyed Being In Love (with Sparkles!) and very little on finding a partner in any deeper sense.

I don't think this selfishness is limited to marriage - you hear the arguments all the time from those who've been caught speeding/are upset about bans to reduce second-hand smoke exposure/want to eat all the fast food they can and expect for their future medical bills to somehow get covered ... it's "My Right" and all that.

Sarah in Ottawa

I couldn't get past the first page in the article (I followed your twitter link) because I was so nauseated by the selfish justification. Like all the previous posters, ITA with everything you've said. WORD!


Amen. great post.


I think that anyone who thinks divorce is an option will get one eventually. I know that after 8 years of marriage, there have been many moments when I've thought getting a divorce would be easier, make me happier, etc. However, when my husband and I went through premarital counseling, the pastor asked why we thought our marriage would last, and we said that we were committed and stubborn enough to know divorce wasn't an option. Funny, how LOVE wasn't even in our response. I absolutely agree with you, with the exception of infidelity or abuse, suck it up! I recommend the following movies for those needing to believe that there is media out there about making it work: The Story of Us (my personal favorite), Fireproof (a little corny, but still good), and Marley and Me (have tissue ready).


I also REJECT!
We have a cheesy bumper-sticker type statement that we repeat in our marriage (and we've seen divorce in every single way possible): our marriage is not 50/50 ... it's 100/100 (as in, we BOTH give 100 percent). It's working. And yes we get that "old-fashioned" crap all the time ... is that a wacked out way of saying that we purposely avoid anything that might damage our marriage in any way and choose to put each other first? LIKE, DUH.


You are spot-on! Good post!


I just stumbled upon you and am a new fan ... I couldn't agree more with your disdain for people being too selfish to bother being faithful to their partners.

I am UNchurchy and "new-fangled," but I feel the same way. If you love someone and commit to someone ... then DO IT. COMMIT. Geesh.

I can understand how people might have a hard time with the concept of putting others before themselves IN GENERAL (like people in line at the supermarket or the bum on the street because, let's be honest, sometimes that is hard), but the person you have chosen as your spouse? Unbelievable.

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