I recently read an article called “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” by Sandra Tsing Loh in the Atlantic. The author, an NPR science commentator with whom I was not previously familiar, had an extramarital affair and decided, on trying to piece the marriage back together, that the entire institution is outdated and that not only should she divorce, but no one should get married in the first place. I read it because it was described as “provocative” and someone whose opinion I think very highly of said that it affirmed her choice to not get married.
I thought the entire thing was a gigantic pile of steaming bantha pudu. Loh is a good writer, and I am interested to read her book on choosing a preschool for her child (the preschool phenomena in this country is, in my opinion, the most ridiculous and out-of-control nonsense I have encountered in other parents, and Loh’s decision to put her child in public school makes me curious), but this article failed to engage my interest and did not, in my opinion, do anything to make a case against marriage. All it successfully made a case against was Loh herself being married, and frankly only because she came across as a selfish shrew who was unsuited for partnership of any kind.
Here’s the basics: After twenty years of marriage, Loh has an affair. She breaks it off, and she and her husband seek counseling. She decides to stop pursuing reconciliation when she realizes that her husband does not excite her the way her fellow transgressor did. When she tells her apparently happily married girlfriends that she is divorcing, they take it as permission to give up on their marriages and confess that neither of their husbands will have sex with them anymore and they feel trapped in their marriages.
A few years ago I read another pro-divorce article, this one by a woman in my age group (Loh is more than a decade older than me) who had been married for a few years and liberated herself by kicking her husband to the curb and starting over again. And hey, so did all her friends! Starter marriages are all the rage! Unfortunately, I can’t find the article now. It might have been by the author of The Starter Marriage, but I don’t think it was.
These articles are being hailed as revolutionary and feminist. And I’m sorry, but that is just crap. There is nothing more feminist about ditching a commitment than there is about working hard to keep one. Neither is inherently feminist, though it is arguable that the latter is more mature. (It’s so circumstance-dependent that it’s honestly absurd to make a generalization either way.)
I’ve gotten a lot of grief over the years because I don’t call myself a feminist. My reasoning is simple: the word has too many connotations I don’t want to associate myself with, and furthermore is not adequately descriptive of my feeling that everyone is equal. Right now, though, I am going to put my feelings on semantics aside.
I think it is feminist of me to make my marriage a priority, to work through our problems and to consider my husband’s feelings and opinions equal to my own; to treat our relationship as a true partnership instead of putting myself first. That does not mean that I don’t look out for myself or that I in any way submit to my husband. Just ask him. Though I warn you that he will probably make a joke about blowjobs.
A few weeks before my 30th birthday, we hit a major crossroads. One day everything was fine and the next day we were maybe going to split up. There was an ultimatum involved, and neither of us believes in those. It was that bad. Both of us felt that it was worth salvaging; the terms of the ultimatum were met; we worked very, very hard at communicating with each other; our marriage is now, more than a year later, better than it has ever been.
That would not work for every marriage. Some people should get divorced. I really believe that. But the fact is that before a marriage ends in divorce there is a point where the partners have choices. Acting as though working on it is not an option is disingenuous and dishonest.
I wish Sandra Loh and the author of the mystery article would own their mistakes instead of trying to blame outside forces, i.e. marriage as an institution. Maybe their marriages truly did suck. Maybe ending them really was the smart thing to do. But to say that marriage itself is to blame? I’m going to need much better evidence than the whining of bored, privileged women.
Anyone who believes that everyone should get married is crazy. If you don’t want to get married, then for heaven’s sake don’t get married. But don’t you dare try telling me that I shouldn’t have.