Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marry the man today, and change his ways tomorrow.

Want to read something chilling for Valentine's Day? How about a case for settling for Mr. Good Enough? And here's an interview with the author, Lori Gottlieb, which is actually easier to stomach than the article.

There are a couple of good points that I won't bother to enumerate, but many things bug me about her article. For example: the awesome statement that if you've reached 30 and you're not married and "you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous." I'm sure Gottlieb's right--I mean she's obviously in a position to know what every woman in the Western world thinks and believes about life partners and more specifically about marriage. But what bothers me the most is that she never considers that there are other ways to construct a supportive and harmonious life besides settling for Mr. Good Enough.

In fact, the author dances close enough to this issue to raise it properly, but then doesn't. She says that her relationship role models are Will and Grace: "What I long for in a marriage is that sense of having a partner in crime. Someone who knows your day-to-day trivia. Someone who both calls you on your bullshit and puts up with your quirks. So what if Will and Grace weren’t having sex with each other?" Okay then if what you want is the "infrastructure in place to have a family"--in other words, a long-term child-rearing relationship--how about opening up your definition of family a bit? How about living with your best friend, or with a few like-minded people, and sharing household expenses and childcare, and having people to depend on and talk to at the end of the day and go to bat for you when you need it? Why wouldn't that be an awesome alternative to legally binding yourself to some dude who is kind to you but doesn't turn your crank intellectually, emotionally, physically? Or if you meet a dude who wants to be your babydaddy and share in childrearing and be a supportive friend, move into a duplex and pay the few hundred bucks or whatever it costs for both of you to have legal guardianship of the kid.

I remember years ago when I was doing research for something or other, I came across this article about a modern-day "Boston marriage," that Victorian term for two women who opted out of the usual kind of marriage in favor of living together independently and supporting each other's artistic or scholarly pursuits. "At least in theory," says the author, "the Boston marriage indicated a platonic, albeit nerdy relationship" (though the platonic thing certainly wasn't always the case). I was surprised, I guess, that I didn't know anyone who was doing this, or that I hadn't really considered it myself before. I'm talking about me at 26 or 27 with ALL kinds of education and liberal thought: it hadn't ever occurred to me that you could do something besides 1) get married, 2) cohabit romantically, 3) be single, or 4) have a roommate. But, you know, intentional non-romantic partnership is another option for homelife, just like an intentional community is.

Dudes could most certainly do it too--like hetero life-mates Jay and Silent Bob.

I like seeing people I love partnered up and I love my Brit and I have certainly been privy to many more good marriages than bad ones, but I have zero patience with the wedding industry, the relationship self-help books that instruct women on how to get someone to propose to them, and magazine articles that say "tick tock, ladies, maybe it's time to shed your idealism." I don't know about you, but I would much rather spend my days happily crafting in a shed and socializing with my friends and family than know that I have settled for someone and/or that he has settled for me. Your marriage is going to be at the center of your life and it's going to define you forever and you're going to have to work at it, so you'd better be sure it's a good choice and not just the lesser of two evils.

(If you'd like some more things to think about before you "settle," maybe check out this post and thread from last summer. You won't like all of it. I didn't. But there certainly is a lot of food for thought.)

My boyf is going to read too much into this, but he shouldn't and I am going to post it anyway. Kisses, all of you.


  1. This article bothered me terribly and I'm glad to see so many bloggers talking about it and analyzing it rationally. I just can't imagine that women actually still think this way - it's like they're still trapped in a Cathy cartoon (which we all know is the WORST cartoon on the page).

  2. Lengli, if you look at all the fearmongering among interested media and retail outlets--the ones who stand to gain from sales of dresses or magazines or books or whatever--it's not surprising that women still think this way. The basic message we get every day from every ad for every thing, and from pretty much any popular narrative, is that we aren't good enough. Why, therefore, should we demand more from our lives? Why should we work toward the extraordinary, and I mean the really personally extraordinary? We're lucky if we can manage to be hot enough to attract suitors. O I don't even know where I was going with this. Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Oh yeah, and I think this author is going to take an unbelievable amount of flak for this article. Rightly so.

  4. Oh it's absolutely the case. I cannot even count how many times on commercials and TV shows you see the pretty, in-shape wife who has "settled" for the fat and lazy husband. It is something that I really have been wanting to write on for quite some time because there's a whole generation growing up that is scarcely aware of the feminist movement and it frankly scares me to death.

    The author (and the Atlantic) has been taking tons of heat since this was published - my favorite critique is residing at Old Hag.

  5. I only read the first page, but for me she lost all credibility with the sentence "Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child)." That just bothers me. A child is not an extension of a husband.

  6. That article made me so sick that I can't believe I read the whole thing. It was like drinking poison. Lori Gottlieb should be guilt-ridden and horrified at herself. Her approach here makes housewives of the nineteen fifties seem independent and free-thinking.

  7. I skimmed but was grossed out as if I'd devoured. Bleah.

    And Maven, I am thinking so much about the solitary life, with interests and friends and occasional suitors or whatever. I lived it fairly successfully, but I didn't quite realize it was a viable long term option. I've got a lot of questions now for the depths of myself about which is the better deal. I do so want to be loved, but I'm not sure what I'm willing to give for it.

  8. Also, how pointless is it to take seriously the plot lines of sitcoms? It may be based on reality or have parallels, but in the end, it's fiction. (It took me years to stop looking for William Hurt's character in Children of a Lesser God.)

    And this is kind of off topic, but if parenting is so desirable, why do so many on-purpose parents have nothing good to say about it? People like Lori G. go on and on about the puke-stained clothes and the babysitter meter ticking and being too tired to read. Augh, the whole article just unraveled me.

    I think the settling talk is interesting--knowing where to draw the line and identifying priorities--but jeez, what a setback this article is.

    P.S. I bristled at Twisty's marriage manifesto too, but I am shocked by how much I deeply, deeply agree with her on damn near everything. It's an interesting time to be human.

  9. I know--I loved that all her examples came from sitcoms. Hello, there are other narratives in the universe in case you are interested.

    The really interesting thing about Twisty's post is, actually, the comments. If you can get through them. Even just reading a few. I was kind of surprised at how many self-IDed happily married women said that if they had it to do over again, they would never have gotten married or had kids.

  10. My grandmother got married and had children (obviously, since she is my grandmother), but it was a tough call for her, even back in the 1940s in rural Virginia. She let the marriage license lapse twice and waited until she was 28. It is a testament to my grandfather's patience and understanding of her that he just waited, quietly and respectfully, for her to make her decision.

    Once committed she committed fully and she loved us all fiercely but she always resented her lack of options and the lack of support available to her to make her own life as she would have possibly preferred.

    At almost 38 years of age, I have yet to find being single and childless depressing, sad, or pathetic. I take great delight in my married and the children of my friends—married or not—and even greater delight in coming home at the end of the day to a space that is all mine.

  11. I must say that reading all these brilliant comments is as uplifting as the article was depressing.

  12. Her logic is flawed, but worse is her smug tone that if you disagree with her, you're in denial. I say we jump her, rip off her wig and flush it down the nearest toilet. That'll show her not to mess with the Queen!

    (Sorry. I just came from your most recent post, and I'm all Beyonce'd up.)

  13. I love this. Thanks for standing up for me and people of my ilk (single women totally opposed to settling).