Monday, March 17, 2008

Still not getting it

In my last post, I discussed an essay by American feminist Lori Gottlieb. She is a single mother in her 40s, who very much wishes that she had successfully married.

To her credit, she now admits that autonomy is not the overriding good it is usually held to be within feminist thought. However, she is still disastrously wrong in her approach to marriage.

She suggests to women that it is better to settle rather than to hold out for Mr Right. Her concept of settling, though, is overly drastic. It doesn't mean accepting someone who is imperfect but whom you can nonetheless love. Rather, she thinks of settling as accepting a loveless relationship, but one in which the work of raising a family is shared.

Here is a selection of her thoughts on settling:

Marriage [is] more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring non-profit business ... The couples my friend and I saw in the park that summer were enviable but not because they seemed so in love - they were enviable because the husbands played with the kids for 20 minutes so their wives could eat lunch ... So if you rarely see your husband - but he's a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own - how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One ... when I think of marriage nowadays my role models are the television characters Will and Grace ... So what if Will and Grace weren't having sex with each other?

She goes on to write that she should have thought of marriage in terms of its "cold, hard benefits" and then she asks this disconcerting question:

By 40, if you get a cold shiver down your spine at the thought of embracing a certain guy, but you enjoy his company more than anyone else's, is that settling or making an adult compromise?

I wonder what the "certain guy" would think of such an arrangement.

Lori Gottlieb has rushed straight from holding out for a super perfect Mr Right, to pondering marriage to someone she doesn't even want to touch. There's much ground in the middle she might have considered.

For instance, in her essay Lori Gottlieb recalls that she spent her youth waiting for a "soul mate", a man with whom she felt a "cosmic connection" and a "divine spark". The instinct here is a fine one, but it needs to be tempered so that we don't end up searching for an idealised spiritual category rather than a real person. Lori Gottlieb tells us that she once:

dated someone who appeared to be highly compatible with me - we had much in common, and strong physical chemistry - but while our sensibilities were similar, they proved to be a half-note off, so we never quite felt in harmony, or never viewed the world through quite the same lens.

This idea of being "a half-note off" and not viewing the world "through quite the same lens" is what you would expect if you are searching for an idealisation; it's as if we were looking for the perfect "other gender" of ourselves - something which doesn't exist.

It's a similar situation when it comes to the romantic ideal of rescue. There is a female instinct to want to be saved by a man who sweeps them up, marries them and causes them to live happily ever after. In a tempered form, this instinct mightn't be such a bad thing; many men do have the corresponding impulse to play the rescuer role.

But a lot of women don't seem to temper the ideal; they believe literally in the "happily ever after" and are disappointed (or made angry or discontent) when a man doesn't deliver the perfect salvation which is not in his power to distribute.

I suspect that intellectual or creative women like Lori Gottlieb are more susceptible to pushing romantic ideals to their ultimate ends, rather than focusing on what might really be experienced.


  1. "Marriage [is] more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring non-profit business" That's rich...coming from a woman who has never actually been married. Not totally untrue, but she has no wisdom to offer here.

    She still thinks love is an emotion that just kind of hits you and causes all kinds of dizzying intoxications. The absence of such emotion means cold shivers to her. That is infatuation and not the basis of a strong marriage.

    Love is an action. We can only experience it by doing - by putting someone else's needs and happiness before our own. Until she is ready to do this, she will never understand that difference between true love and the feelings that accompany an intense physical connection.

    I'm not saying infatuation/lust has to be absent from marriage. But it is nothing more than an ephemeral emotion and cannot be the sole basis of a lasting relationship. She will not be able to always experience that sensation with one man. It is those times, when true love kicks in.

    It is this outlook that makes her so unmarriagable. She'd be more likely to divorce when hit with the reality that marriage is and always was mostly mundane. I find it to be beautifully, refreshing mundane but I think she(or just women like her) would see this as a unique sacrifice only on her part.

    Apparently, she thinks she is so dazzling any man would be permanently hypnotized by her daily presence and she is entitled to the same. This is an unfortunate view sold to many of our women and daughters. One that is sure to set many up for disappointment if they hold on to it in adulthood as she has.

  2. "dated someone who appeared to be highly compatible with me - we had much in common, and strong physical chemistry - but while our sensibilities were similar, they proved to be a half-note off, so we never quite felt in harmony, or never viewed the world through quite the same lens."

    I've read this quote over and I still don't really understand what it means? I'll readily admit that I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but what exactly does being a "half note" off entail? It has no meaning? Why didn't she at least provide some example? Instead we have to take her tripe at face value.

    It sounds like some sort of empty fluff that a woman would spout off in order to reject a perfectly compatible guy because he isn't perfect.

    But honestly, she's a forty year old single mom. The only positive is that since the kid was conceived with a turkey baster, there is no other father in the picture to threaten any somewhat interested men.

    But men will be settling for HER, not exactly the other way around.

    It sounds cruel but she might as well resign herself to a life of singledom. She used up the best years of her life on casual relationships and she's now paying the price. The good men are either married or so jaded that they will never marry again.

  3. Serves the feminazi bitch right. No decent man would go anywhere near the thing, and she will be condemned to the sad life of a spinster. She wants the benefits of marriage without making any of the sacrifices or putting anything into it.

    Poor child is going to grow up as well, having to cope with the fact that its mother decided a petri dish and a test tube would be a better father than a real man.

    Once again, though, consider her position. Aged in the 40s, her looks would be well and truly on the decline, her world view is misandrist feminism which would scare any man off, and she's a single mother who spent most of her life sleeping around. There's far better options out there.

  4. Dear Mark,

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  5. Off topic, I found this interesting: 'Being voted unsexiest woman alive hurt so much', says Sarah Jessica Parker

    And in Wiki, one of her co-actors in Sex And the City said:

    "The show is a valentine to being single. ... Being single used to mean that nobody wanted you; now it means you're pretty sexy and you're taking your time deciding how you want your life to be...and who you want to spend it with."

    I didn't watch more than a few minutes of that show, but I'm guessing men voted her unsexy, not so much because of her average looks, but because her "man-eater" character was a turn-off.