Thursday, June 25, 2009
Calling it as we see it ...
I was all ready to pick up and hurl the first stone Atlantic Monthly essayist Sandra Tsing Loh metaphorically suggested in her painfully personal work “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in the July/August edition of the journal, wherein she bluntly and unabashedly revealed her part in the failure of her 20-year marriage, and as a result questions whether the institution has outlived its usefulness in modern society.
Her question: When modern convenience and modern technology has not only freed us from the drudgery of work but also the statistical likelihood of an early demise, would it not seem logical that the idea of making a life-long commitment to another human being would also be rendered obsolete?
Recounting her own mid-life crisis and those of her female acquaintances she wonders why anyone would not only commit themselves to something that has a statistical rate of failure of about 50 percent, but also defend such an institution with such a defective track record so vehemently.
Perhaps, it's just habit; a foolish consistency of little minds. Or perhaps it's something else.
I found the piece, oddly enough, when I noticed my Web site’s hit counter leading hapless readers to my site and an identically titled essay critiquing another piece Tsing Loh wrote for the Atlantic a few years ago on the so-called Mommy Wars.
As I read her latest treatise, my heart was telling me that she is a woman who is going through one of the more painful, demoralizing, defeating moments in life; a moment that – while perhaps a construct of some antiquated system of social support – is no less tragic for a family’s individual members.
But my mind was agreeing with her.
In as much as I am one of the 90 percent of Americans who willingly went into a marriage knowing the rate of failure; knowing that there would be times when the “work” involved could eventually outweigh the value of the relationship; I also believe that if I had made such a decision in my 20s … even in my late 20s … I might not be married now.
Should we live with such mistakes for the sake of the children?
Tsing Loh makes an interesting, and seemingly logical point in her article that while statistics continually indicate two-parent homes are best for children, single-parent homes are not far behind. The problems, as she quotes the experts, comes when parents continually bring new paramours into the mix, wherein children are forced to bond or compete.
It makes me realize that where she’s standing isn't such a strange place to be. There’s no one way to live a life, even though there are socially accepted norms.
It seems to me we are naturally moving toward new understanding of these obstacles, too.
Even in a generation, it seems, we’ve slowed the process immensely.
By my calculation, Tsing Loh would have been about 27 when she married the man she’s now divorcing 20 years later. In some eras 27 would foretell spinsterhood. But today, a woman in her 20s is expected to see the world, and make her mark before she settles down. Ask Rebecca Woolf, writer and essayist, who found herself unexpectedly pregnant at 23, marrying her boyfriend and trying to work family life around her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Woolf has parlayed her journey into a memoir and a popular blog site despite worries that motherhood would more than likely derail her potential for career success.
And yet, only a generation ago, Woolf’s age wouldn’t have been an issue at all in the framing of family life. Many women had careers and marriage by the time they were out of college; 22, 23, 24 years old.
Now the 24-year-old mother is a unique and suspect being.
Still, I can’t see myself objecting to my children living with their love interests before marriage; in fact, I can more likely see the drawbacks of a more traditional scheme from my own narrative. Had I married the first (or second) person I lived with there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be in my third marriage as I sit here typing.
Yet, in as much as I agree with her theory, I am not ready to give up on marriage.
I’m not ready to file away the 50 percent rate of divorce under the heading of “failure,” any more than I would give up the experience I got from living with the two men I didn’t marry.
Perhaps, in time, Tsing Loh will realize that throwing marriage out with divorce is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.