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Inspired Relationships

In Defense of Marriage

In my recent web-travels, I stumbled across Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” article, complete with subheading ‘The author is ending her marriage, isn’t it about time that you did too?’ I am deeply disturbed, and I’m trying to put my finger on why. I’m not usually a ‘I’m-going-to-write-a-letter-about-this!’ kind of person. I do not generally have the emotional reaction to pieces of writing that I do about this particular essay.

Loh is going through a divorce, which is obviously a painful and difficult time for any couple. In courageous style, this is playing out in her column in The Atlantic where she writes a desperately honest account of the internal struggle she faces with this divorce. She is also rationalizing her situation to her audience, spouting research and facts and case studies that support the reason why she is divorcing and why she should (and we all should) never have married in the first place… and Sandra, I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.

The article is at its essence a no-holds-barred assault on the concept of lifelong marriage (and indeed lifelong relationships) – calling it antiquated and obsolete in today’s society.

To give you some background, Loh has been married 20 years. She describes herself as “a 47-year old woman who’s commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued.” She has confessed to an affair and takes responsibility for that, but not without shooting from the hip a barb of blame towards her husband who though is “a good man” did in fact “travel 20 weeks a year for work”. During a counseling session following her confession, she came to the realization that she “did not have the strength to work on falling in love again in my marriage. In women’s-magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage. And as Laura Kipnis railed in Against Love, and as everyone knows, Good relationships take work.”

Which is not to say I’m against work. Indeed, what also came out that afternoon were the many tasks I—like so many other working/co-parenting/married mothers—have been doing for so many years and tearfully declared I would continue doing. I can pick up our girls from school every day; I can feed them dinner and kiss their noses and tell them stories; I can take them to their doctor and dentist appointments; I can earn my half—sometimes more—of the money; I can pay the bills; I can refinance the house at the best possible interest rate; I can drive my husband to the airport; in his absence, I can sort his mail; I can be home to let the plumber in on Thursday between nine and three, and I can wait for the cable guy; I can make dinner conversation with any family member; I can ask friendly questions about anybody’s day; I can administer hugs as needed to children, adults, dogs, cats; I can empty the litter box; I can stir wet food into dry.

Which is to say I can work at a career and child care and joint homeownership and even platonic male-female friendship. However, in this cluttered forest of my 40s, what I cannot authentically reconjure is the ancient dream of brides, even with the Oprah fluffery of weekly “date nights,” when gauzy candlelight obscures the messy house, child talk is nixed and silky lingerie donned, so the two of you can look into each other’s eyes and feel that “spark” again. Do you see? 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.”

Who are you kidding, Sandra? Do you really, honestly believe that it will be easier to do these things on your own? That it won’t be hard enough just coping with your situation, living in your U-haul storage unit and mourning the loss of a 20-year chapter on your life? That you have the strength for that but you don’t have the strength to work on rekindling your romance?

Please understand that I’m not opposing your divorce, you are welcome to live your life as you choose, but it’s the reason I can’t wrap my head around, Sandra. There has to be more to it than that. If you had said you’re unable to wake up to your husband every day and live with the guilt that comes from adultery? I understand that. If you had said that you simply don’t see the point of going to the effort of rekindling a romance with a man you no longer love? I understand that too.

But to say that you love your husband and that, well, you would to work it out… but really, you have better things to do with your time (or you “can’t be bothered) is unreasonable. Perhaps if you spent more time early on in your relationship on the “Oprah fluffery of weekly date night” concept, your relationship wouldn’t be in the state it’s in. Perhaps if you spent time with your husband when it counted, the “work” it would take to get it back on track would be negligible. And to add insult, you are not only expecting us to buy it, but encouraging us to think the same way!

I’m sorry to be harsh, Sandra. But as a married woman I am taking your attack on the institute of marriage personally. As the owner of a date night website, I am taking your dismissive attitude towards couples spending time together personally. Perhaps a little maintenance over the years wouldn’t have gone astray… 20 years of shit is, absolutely, a lot of hard work to clean up. If you left your garage uncleaned for 20 years, but still piled more and more crappy broken furniture and boxes full of old cooking pots in there week after week, I’m betting you wouldn’t want to clean that either.

Go ahead and ridicule people who tell you ‘Relationships are hard work’ – scoff and tell us that marriage should be EASY and that notions of spending time together, being communicative and constantly building trust and intimacy over a lifetime are all false concepts – but how dare you advise your readers to never get married in the first place, to abandon all hope of reconciliation in their own troubled relationships in favour of divorce? How dare you.

You are more than welcome to go about your daily business, being quietly against marriage… just don’t try and convince the rest of the world that we’ve been duped by some antiquated concept or way of living.

For anyone out there that is against marriage – I am okay with that. I respect that. I know that it is just a piece of paper. But it’s a fundamental passage of society for a lot of people and families and I think that Loh has crossed the line by purporting that it should be gotten rid of… to be replaced by… what, exactly, Sandra?

If we don’t have marriage nor long-term relationships to look forward to (because let’s face it, you’re undermining those as well) as a passage of society should we, as small children, look forward to the day we grow up, have our first “four year fling” (one theory from Loh by way of Helen Fisher – coincidentally, she mentions, four years is around the same time it takes to birth and raise a child out of infancy) and resulting fling-produced child, then once dopamine levels have naturally petered out, go looking for our next four year fling and co-parent for our next child? Do you think that at the end of a four-year relationship, it wouldn’t be a difficult task to simply separate your entwined lives and move on in search of more happy hormones? Ridiculous.

Sobered by this failure as a mother—which is to say, my failure as a wife—I’ve since begun a journey of reading, thinking, and listening to what’s going on in other 21st-century American families. And along the way, I’ve begun to wonder, what with all the abject and swallowed misery: Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?”

Quote all the theories you like – that there is no land to tend, therefore marriage is obsolete (we are still social creatures and we still need support systems around us – a stable core family and good friends are the essence of that, we don’t hang in family structures just to tend land and milk cows) – that it seems ‘natural’ for us to have only four-year stints because after that our hormones run out anyways (first of all, you can actually raise your own levels of all these hormones again after they have depleted… oh wait. That might require work on your relationship. Sorry, scrap that. Aside from that, when was the last time you gave into your purely biological instincts without rational thought put in behind it? Newsflash: Humans have brains and the gift of rational thought.), that we should tend our children in tribe-style in houses full of women and let the men drop in every now and then to “fix shelves” and “provide sex”… Ack, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

In short it seems, Sandra, that the “working on the marriage” thing really gets to you. All through the article, you’re all about the “again with the working on the relationship”, insinuating blatantly that marriage should be a walk in the park and if it’s not, then to hell with it and divorce.

Did you not work at your successful career, Sandra? Was it not work bringing up your family? Why do you expect that your relationship should require no attention whatsoever to tick along… did you watch too many Disney movies as a child? People don’t just live Happily Ever After. Happily Ever After requires some attention. And if you were never prepared to put it in, then no, you shouldn’t have gotten married. But you can’t blame the institution of marriage, just because your own marriage failed. I think the blame needs to lay elsewhere.

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Author |

Writer, dating columnist, wife, coffee addict, foodie, fashionista... Melburnian through and through. Muser, dancer, blogger, tweeter. Likes to get her head on telly now and again. Sleeper, dreamer, a sucker for romance. And of course... a cheap date.


2 comments for “In Defense of Marriage”

  1. Posted by A. Berk | August 20, 2009, 2:30 pm

    THANK YOU. I thought the same thing when I read her ridiculousness. THANK YOU.

  2. Posted by james | October 10, 2009, 2:17 pm

    How sad this loh woman….chooss to have an affair then tries to justify herself and using a public forum to do so.I feel for her soon to be ex husband.

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