Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creeping Up on Marriage O'Clock

A long but provocative article on the shifting roles of women and men in society.

“The transformation is momentous—immensely liberating and immensely scary. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organize their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.” 

. . . . Even more momentously, we no longer need husbands to have children, nor do we have to have children if we don’t want to. For those who want their own biological child, and haven’t found the right man, now is a good time to be alive. 

. . . . [On the other hand, my] spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment.

Take the high-powered magazine editor who declared on our first date that he was going to spend his 30s playing the field. Or the prominent academic who announced on our fifth date that he couldn’t maintain a committed emotional relationship but was very interested in a physical one. Or the novelist who, after a month of hanging out, said he had to get back out there and tomcat around, but asked if we could keep having sex anyhow, or at least just one last time. Or the writer (yes, another one) who announced after six months together that he had to end things because he “couldn’t continue fending off all the sexual offers.” And those are just the honest ones. 

Read it here.  Be forewarned that it contains some crude language and frank talk about sex. 


ex-new yorker said...

This is only kind of on-topic to this part: "how they organize their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down." But have you noticed that "single" now means "not in any sort of 'relationship,'" not "unmarried." For a long time I thought there was a very clear dichotomy, at least in terminology, between single and married, and even an engaged person was still single, though obviously not likely to be for long. (Not that "fiancee" means what it used to either...) Now you're considered temporarily not single once you somehow determine that you're dating someone exclusively. Oh... unless it's an open relationship, I guess.

Anonymous said...

My recurrent thought in reading this was one I have often: we seem to have forgotten what love is. People sample one another like chocolates in a box, going on to the next for any or no reason at all. The author says she's been in love before and will be again. From all that I can tell, by "love" she means some combination of infatuation and an itching groin. That sounds crude and unpleasant, but I meant it to be because I can't describe the effect her words have in any other way. This is what people seem to think love is, and being "out of love" is being bored, or restless, or having come to the point where the supposed loved one isn't doing or being everything you'd wanted. I'm deeply saddened by this and despair of doing anything about it because we don't even seem to have the language with which to talk about love or commitment anymore. I could say much more, but I'll settle for this one thing because it chaffed my pelt particularly: why is a man referred to disparagingly as a "player" when so far as I can tell there is no difference between a faithless, uncommitted man and a faithless, uncommitted woman? These are terrible times in which to raise a child, particularly a boy child. I don't know how you keep your sanity.

JMB said...

I'm a child of the 70s too and she makes a good point about the "Free to Be You & Me" album. I spent a good portion of my childhood listening to that dribble.

I do think that there is some luck involved in finding the right person to marry who actually wants to marry you back. I don't know why I seemed to have found a good spouse and somebody else doesn't, or the one you married turns out to be a big fat loser. Life is hard, and sometimes things don't go as planned.

I guess the heart of her story is that you can't really plan your life and you aren't really in control, as much as you think you are.

Pentimento said...

Very thoughtful comments. I agree that negotiating love, sex, marriage looks very, very demoralizing. I think you're right, JMB, about not being able to control everything, or even most things. Luck plays into it, but, pace the author of the Atlantic piece, so does compromise. For instance, if I decide that marriage and family are what's most important to me, I must compromise my career ambitions, and vice versa. If I decide that marriage and family are what's important to me, likewise, I'm going to have to show up in situations where I might meet like-minded partners, and those partners may not have other qualities I admire, like whatever else the author thought was missing from the relationship she ended at 28. I don't blame her -- I've been her, though, in my case, it was usually the other guy ending the relationship. Oh, and JMB, I was raised on Free to Be . . . You and Me too, and I loved it as a child, but then I also loved the folk Mass. I think that what the author hasn't done fully is admit that we really do have to compromise if we want to work towards ensuring certain outcomes. You really can't have it all, at least not all at once.

Pentimento said...

Indeed, I just read on someone's Facebook wall (the source of perhaps at least some wisdom): "Just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have." Giving up our fantasy ideals of love may be, as women, one of the most important steps in our being ready, if that's the right word, for marriage o'clock.

JMB said...

I loved the folk Mass too and Godspell. To this day I can belt out every song in order. Almost like Led Zep IV and Harvest Moon.

I agree with your point that you have to make a commitment to find commitment, but it sounded like she did date and put herself out there. And although she can't quite articulate what was wrong with the relationship that ended when she was 26, there must have been a good reason for it to end.

I had two serious boyfriends before I met my husband. I probably would have married either of them if they had asked me. But they didn't. So although it's murky now why we broke up (and sometimes I did and sometimes they did and it went back and forth) I believe that it was a grace from God, that my destiny was with someone else. Although I didn't see it at the time that way.

Charity said...

This is so embarrassing to leave an off topic comment, but I am desperate. I love your blog and often even when I don't have a chance to read, I love to listen to the music links. I was just thinking about how you would be the one to have a really great recommendation for a performance of "Ave Maria" to model after if one were to need to sing such a song. Too bad I can't just ask Pentimento, I thought. But wait, I can leave a terrible off topic comment. Please, do you have any suggestions? I once was in the music world in college, but left my dreams behind. Now, many years later, my sister has asked me to sing at her wedding. Is there a performance of Schubert's "Ave Maria" you would recommend to an amateur for study and imitation? Any guidance would be so appreciated!

Pentimento said...

No problem, Charity. Tell me what kind of voice you have -- soprano or mezzo, light or heavy -- and I'll find something for you. I assume you're doing it in Latin?

dmv said...

In case anyone needs a refresher on the meaning of love:

Or I guess there's always 1 Jn 4:9-12, which, while not nearly as adorable, is perhaps more important to remember: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."

And 1 Jn 4:19: "We love, because he [God] first loved us."

If the love of the Father is manifested in our world through the gift of His only Son, and it is because God loved us that we love (that we are even able to love), then "true love" must be unmerited gift. Not "compromise." Not reciprocation for what we've received (after all, "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven" (Jn 3:27), and what is given us from heaven is through grace and the infinite mercy of God; how could we possibly ever reciprocate that?). Pure gift.

Charity said...

Oh thank you! I'm mezzo. Not sure if I have a light or heavy voice. I will make a guess and say light. Yes in Latin.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, DMV. I myself could use a refresher on the meaning of love practically every minute of the day. In Kate Bolick's Atlantic piece, however, she sets forth a watered-down definition of true love not as the gift of God, but as a *deserved* gift -- cf. the essay's opening, about breaking up with her boyfriend. Sine we and all of our efforts are only pale reflections of the love and actions of Christ, the idea, for a woman, of true love from a man as a deserved (and easily attainable) gift is problematic. Did you read the article? The compromise I referred to concerns the "having-it-all" conundrum.

Pentimento said...

Charity, you can't go wrong with Dame Janet Baker. Look on Youtube. The best performances of the song, in my opinion, are those that are sung with simplicity and a certain amount of restraint. You don't want to give it all away at once. Keep in mind that the original text in German is not the Hail Mary prayer, but a gloss on it spoken from the perspective of a young girl, who refers to being exiled in a barren wilderness. There's a beautiful line of text that says "O Virgin, a virgin calls to you!" It's a song of great faith in the Virgin sung from a position of total spiritual poverty. It might be good to keep that in mind when you sing yours. Sometimes at weddings people get too bombastic with it. I hope it goes great!

dmv said...

Pentimento: I did read it, and I thought that the author has a wholly deficient, but wholly typical, view of what love is. But I was more or less agreeing with Anonymous (second comment) and proposing a touchstone. [And now that I'm finishing this comment, I feel I should mention that I'm commenting at such length because love is my favorite thing to think and to talk about.]

I would say, first, that the idea of love as a deserved gift is problematic for anyone, men and women alike.

Also, I was totally not clear in my first comment, which I realized as I re-read it. I think human love is always and everywhere a gift of oneself to another.

Of course, it is a gift from God, insofar as every moment of our existence is a gift from God, not to mention all the many others gifts He gives us. But that wasn't what I meant to emphasize. I meant to emphasize that just as the Father gave to us His only Son, unmerited and as a free gift, and just as the Son gave and continually gives Himself to us, unmerited and as a free gift of Himself, and just as the Father and the Son spirate the Holy Spirit and pour Him out on us, unmerited and as a free gift, and just as the Holy Spirit gives Himself to us, unmerited and as a free gift, because God (the Most Holy Trinity) is love, so I think we're called to give of ourselves and, indeed, to give ourselves to others, unmerited and as a free gift. And just as "the one whom God sent . . . does not ration his gift of the Spirit" (Jn 3:34), so we too are not meant to ration the gift of ourselves.

Of course, we do ration the gift of ourselves to others. Or, rather, we often don't conceive love to be a gift of ourselves at all. In this respect, I think we follow the model of the the ancient Romans (the pagan ones, I mean), who used to say, with respect to their gods, "do ut des," or "I do so that you may [or will] do." They had a contractual view of worship. They perform sacrifices or provide offerings in temples, and in return their gods do x, y, and z. I think that's broadly how we conceive of love towards one another, even if we have (hopefully) moved beyond that in our love and worship of God. [1/2]

dmv said...

To give an example: think of what we mean when we say we feel like we're being used; or, as another example, think of how we typically expect our friends to reciprocate our concern and interest in them. People quickly tire of caring for and doing things for others when those others don't show care or concern in return. We feel slighted and hurt even if the friend does reciprocate, but out of proportion to our care for them. That's not how God loves us. You're right, of course, that our efforts are pale imitations of the infinite love God has for us. But we're meant to be conformed to Christ, and blessedness is a share in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity. The divine life of the Most Holy Triniy is infinite, unbounded, perfect love. We're meant to take up our cross and follow Christ, who manifested that love in the world for us. So, I'm saying, we're meant to pour ourselves out for each other, without expectation of return, without demand (even implicit, even unacknowledged demand) that I do, so you will do.

But we're fallen. Indeed, the rupture of charity, and the loss of sanctifying grace, is what sin is (see the Catechism §§ 1849-51). So there are any number of obstacles to our giving of ourselves freely and unmerited, without expectation of return, to others. But that doesn't change the fact that that's what we're called to. Such free, unrationed gift of ourselves is what it means to love another person in Christ, and, as I quoted earlier, "we love, because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19). We can only do it with the help of grace, in particular (but not exclusively, of course) the grace we receive in the Eucharist, which itself is Christ's continually renewed gift of Himself to us. Nonetheless, we are called to cooperate with God's grace, which to me means (among other things) that we are called to give ourselves to others freely, as gift. Or at least to try, though we routinely fall short because of our condition in the world. All this also explains why the communion of saints is so important and so powerful for us and for the world. Look at a modern example: St. Maximilian Kolbe. There has been a lot of debate and controversy about whether he's properly considered a martyr. To me, that doesn't matter, because what he did was true love. Indeed, it was the heroic love of one of God's saints. [2/2]

Charity said...

Your perspective is invaluable. I'm so glad to have a performance style to aim for, and Dame Janet Baker's recording on Youtube is exquisite and haunting. Now, to see if my sister would be interested in having the original German lyrics... Thanks so much for you help!

Anne-Marie said...

I've only read part of the article so far, but what strikes me most forcefully is something that I've often noticed on advice columns: the assumption that in the normal course of life you spend your early adult years having various kinds of fun, deliberately not settling down, and then later on you get serious and that's when it's time to start thinking about marriage. It baffles me that so many people fail to realize how inimical to marriage this pattern is. Not only does it put you in the company of people not serious about marriage, but it builds up habits in you that will make it harder to be a good spouse.

I am so thankful that I married young and avoided all this. But I tremble for my children.

Mac said...

This issue of the Atlantic has been sitting around my house for a couple of weeks now and I've found myself not wanting to open it because I don't want to read this story. The general drift of it seems pretty clear, and for some reason I find this and similar appraisals of the state of love & marriage very depressing. I haven't sorted out why, as I've been out of the game and happily married for over thirty years. It may be partly because my grown children are struggling with it now. And partly because I don't see how a society can survive if such fundamental things are so unstable.

Makes me think of the haunting Patty Griffin song, "Mother of God":

Something as simple as boys
and girls
Gets tossed all around and lost
in the world.

ex-new yorker said...

Mac: I read your blog now & then and your commentary about this kind of thing (even just in comment boxes sometimes) is very... relatable to me, even though I'm sure our life experiences have been very different (I am a female born in the late 1970s, for just one thing). I remember reading you once writing that you were experiencing a "horror" of the trivial way sex is treated in media/mass culture/whatever -- I am pretty sure the word was horror. Presumably this horror also extended to how people often treat it in their personal lives. I've somehow always consciously maintained that awareness (which I think must be one of the written on the heart things, but very commonly obscured, willfully or otherwise -- I'm sure quite often the latter) that sex has to be a huge deal, if there's any kind of God at all and He linked it to the creation of new human beings, not that the horror always obviously governed my behavior. It was just somehow comforting to see that "horror" stated by someone else, and someone male.

Enbrethiliel said...


Pentimento, I first read this article after it was linked on Susan Walsh's blog. (She is the older lady whose focus groups with young women Kate Bolick sat in on.) I thought you'd be interested in the general "Manosphere" reaction to it.

Pretty much all Walsh's male commenters agreed that if Bolick had really wanted a boyfriend or even a husband, she could have had one a long time ago; but she would have had to come to terms with the fact that the kind of men she could get (for marriage, not just for no-strings sex) might not be the kind of men she would want. That is, she has overrated her own appeal to men, while the type of man she thinks she deserves could actually do much better than her.

It was not commitment-phobic successful men who kept her from getting married, but her inflated sense of her own worth.

In other words, it is as you've said here, Pentimento: we do have to compromise.

Anne-Marie said...

ex-new yorker, Eve Tushnet says that one of the questions that drew her to Christ was "why does sex matter?"