Sunday, January 23, 2011

Portrait of a Failed Marriage

Of course, the story piqued my interest. It isn't every day that someone tries to tell you that divorce is therapeutic. Yet, that is what Lisa del Rosso claims in her Modern Love column today in the New York Times. Link here.

She adds that divorce has been therapeutic for her ex-husband too.

Oh, and that they are still together in an arrangement that resembles what young people might call: friends without benefits.

Before we get to this supposedly happy ending, del Rosso paints a full-on portrait of a failed marriage. Even if you do not buy her story about how divorce eliminated the negative emotions that she had allowed to consume her, it is instructive to see how and why a marriage fails.

As often happens in Modern Love columns, Lisa del Rosso is a writer. In the brief bio that she placed at the end of her column, she called herself a writer and a professor.

In truth, she is an adjunct assistant professor at NYU. If you have ever taught in universities, as I have, you know that “adjunct assistant professor” is not really the same as “professor.” To me it feels like a bit of resume padding.

For my own curiosity I looked her up on RateMyProfessors, and discovered, to her credit, that her students consider her a very demanding teacher and a very hard grader. Good qualities, by my lights.

And yet, one male student called her: “an intense feminist who hated all the men in the class.”

To me, that feels excessive, the kind of hyperbole that would flow from the pen of a disgruntled college student. On the other hand, feminist teachers have for some time now felt that they had to raise up the self-esteem of their female students at the expense of their male students.

In her column del Posto does not mention feminism.

Be that as it may, del Rosso’s column shows a woman who does not have a clue about how to conduct a marriage. To the point where you have to wonder what would lead her to expose her personal failings as openly as she did. Unless, of course, she felt that the failings were not hers, but her husband’s and the marital institution‘s. Which seems to be the case.

I suspect that her failure is ideologically-driven, and I had suspected, before looking up the student evaluations, that the ideology in question was feminism. After all, what other ideology tells women how to conduct marriages? And that has sabotaged more marriages?

Once upon a time, an aspiring playwright and teacher married a college drop-out who was working as a waiter. Lisa married Yash. If you care about power imbalances, you see that this one was tilted toward the more educated partner.

Given their different career paths, Lisa and Yash did not have any real opportunity to establish household routines. Del Rosso seems to believe that marriage is about accumulating common memories and sharing a past. I prefer to think that it is more about couple-based routines.

In fact, Lisa and Yash shared, and still share, lots of memories. Unfortunately, they could not function as a married couple. Reading the story, one comes away with the impression that they did not know how.

As del Rosso opens her column, one day Yash cracked the bathroom door. She does not tell us how he managed this or whether the crack created a peep hole in the door. She does tell us that the crack was visible on both sides of the door, and that Yash, having admitted that he had caused the crack, promised to fix it.

Del Rosso took the first initiative, and fixed the crack on the outside of the door. She expected that her husband would do the same for the inside surface.

He didn’t.

If you are analyzing this potentially combustible situation, you need to know that it is going to be a question of equality.

In a world where men and woman are equals, he fixes one side of the door and she fixes the other.

As it happens, Lisa begins by doing more than her fair share. She fixes one side of the door, even though she did not break it. More than that, Yash promised to fix the door and he has not. This places her on the moral high ground.

Knowing that she is entirely in the right, del Rosso seems to feel that this gives her the right to go to war against her husband. Apparently, she believes that abuse and harassment are what he needs to fix the door. If the first rounds do not get him to do as she wants him to do, she believes that he just needs more abuse.

If you have been brought up to see life in terms of grievances, you are always at the ready to pounce on a grievance and to show how ferociously you can fight for what it right.

Evidently, del Rosso has nary a clue about how to encourage or motivate someone to do something.

But she does know how to browbeat her husband and to subject him to withering criticism. Their class struggle, turned gender struggle, continues for three years. In the last phases, she is reduced to posting nasty messages on the bathroom door that attest to her husband’s inadequacy.

Somehow or other she does not understand why he has not given in. She sees it as a contest of wills, a point of personal pride, and she refuses to back down. In truth, her husband did not back down either. Someone with a less charitable soul might suggest that she is talking to her husband as she would be talking to a servant. The imbalance in gender power seems not to be consistent with the imbalance in social power.

We may argue whether marriage is always a struggle for power and dominance. Surely, many feminists believe that that is the essence of patriarchal marriage. Whether or not del Rosso believed in this ideological trope, she acted as though it was running through her veins.

At first, the issue might have been whether or not Yash was going to fix his side of the door. After de Rosso showed us her fangs and revealed her inner harridan, the issue became: would he give in to her demands? At that point, the dynamic of the marriage had been destroyed, along with conjugal intimacy.

To get down to basics, del Rosso is showing us how she sacrificed her marriage for a crack on a bathroom door. Did it never cross her mind just to let the matter drop and perhaps to fix it herself? Apparently, not.

If you are married or otherwise involved with another human being, it is always good to ask yourself whether the issue you think you want to confront is worth the trouble you are going to cause by confronting it.

I am old enough to understand that for to an ideologically-driven feminist, these are not trivial issues. From that we should conclude that women would do best to keep feminism out of their marriages, especially if they want to continue to enjoy conjugal bliss.

It is also fair to say that a zealot cares more for an idea-- here, equality-- than for the simple practicalities and compromises we need to make if we are going to sustain relationships.

But that was not the only point of marital contention. In describing another one, del Rosso shows us more of deficient marital skills: “On beautiful Sunday afternoons I’d ask him to go for walks with me in Riverside Park, and he’d always decline, saying he had work to do. Hours later I would return to find that nothing had been done, and we would have screaming fights standing in front of his computer. I felt as if I had become Yash’s mother, pleading, cajoling, praising, shouting.”

I don’t want to sound like a simpleton, but if you keep getting the same answer, you might think to stop asking the same question. You might also ask yourself whether the two of you might perhaps find another Sunday afternoon activity that you would both like.

As if it weren’t bad enough that del Rosso continued to harass her husband, she took his excuses literally and made it her business to hold him to them.

Each time she returned from a solitary walk, she checked up on her husband, to see how much work he had really accomplished. Legalistic to a fault, she never imagined that he might have been offering a polite demurral to yet another of her imperious demands.

When she found out-- horror of horrors-- that he had not been working when he said he was, she was consumed by rage and started screaming and shouting at him.

Apparently, she never imagined that he might have had a perfectly happy afternoon of peace and quiet, before his shrewish wife returned from her perambulation.

Anyway, del Rosso felt that his refusal to walk in Riverside Park had subjected her to a grievous wrong. If she had learned anything from feminism, it seems to have been: how to redress grievances.

Once she ran out of curses and insults, she decided that she could best avenge herself by having affairs. She does not say how many, but lets us believe that they were numerous.

As might be expected, the marriage of Lisa and Yash eventually met its fated end: divorce.

But, much to del Rosso‘s surprise, divorce was therapeutic.  All of a sudden, the rage that she had been stoking vanished, evaporated, and disappeared. It was like instant catharsis.

Indeed, if ever there was a bad message to send out over the media, this must certainly be it: divorce cures.

Let’s try to do better: if you want to sacrifice your life or your marriage to ideology, you should follow del Rosso’s lead. If you believe that marriage is a patriarchal plot to oppress women, then your ability to function within one would amount to a betrayal of your cause and your principles. Thus, there is a silver lining to dysfunction.

If marriage is a form of domestic servitude that has favored male masters over female slaves, then the right and proper response for a zealous feminist is to engage in open rebellion, the better to impose her will on her husband.

In marrying a college drop-out/ waiter del Rosso seems to have thought that she had found a man she could control. If anything shocked her senseless, it was the fact that Yash had just enough pride left to refuse to give in to her demands.

Today, Lisa and Yash are not longer married. In some ways, they are much improved. Therefore, she no longer feels the need to make her relationship into a battleground where she can rebel against the patriarchy.

In del Rosso’s words: “But we have both changed profoundly, I think; there are no more expectations, because the words ‘wife‘ and ‘husband‘ no longer intrinsically carry any. We are kinder, more accepting, more forgiving. We are no longer married but choose to be together still. He is the person I want to come home to, tell my stories to, share my life with.”

Apparently, del Rosso has managed to align herself with some of the commenters who found my advice against confessing extra-marital affairs to be seriously wrong.

So, she told her ex-husband about all the times she cheated on him. In addition, she succeeded in taking the humiliation to a whole new level by announcing it to the world on the pages of the New York Times.

Lisa has not given up on her effort to diminish, demean, disparage, and subjugate Yash.

Unfortunately, he seems to have become more compliant. She describes it: “Did getting divorced fix my marriage? Somewhat. Not totally. There are things we have not dealt with yet. I did tell Yash about the affairs and he has forgiven me, he says, unless he really thinks about it.”

Now the happy couple is living together, in a rather chaste marriage, because there is strictly no intimacy. As del Rosso describes it: “… I am no longer married to Yash: not for about a year and a half now. Yet I still call him husband, and he calls me wife. We are each other’s emergency contact. We share an apartment and meals, but not the bed. The bed sort of looms each night, but dissolves into nothingness, because the bed, or the lack of what goes on in the bed, is not discussed. Not yet.”

Apparently, it's OK to use the terms "husband" and "wife" as long as they don't mean anything, as long as it feels like you're playacting your way through your life.

As I said… friends without benefits.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: All Too Typical a Pattern

I've seen this pattern of behavior played out in two failed marriages and some other relationship; not necessarily my own.

The woman takes up an item to be piqued about and then builds on it. And, no matter what the man does, nothing will satisfy the woman. She has, for all intents and purposes decided to terminate the relationship. She's just looking for a rationale to feel good about doing it. And any children be damned....

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Woman, n., Then unfair sex. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 19th Century]

P.S. This 'problem' has been around for quite some time.....

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: The Verbose Slut from Duke....

....revisited.

This correlates well with that Owens' character from Duke U, discussed someplaces down the hall from here. A woman makes a public display of her poor character.

Now what is to become of her? Three guesses. And I suspect a name change, if she isn't using a false identity for this article already. Why? Because no man in his right mind will have anything to do with such a harpy.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. And if any man DOES get involved with her, only to discover her true identity later....via finding an article stashed away in her library....he should depart the 'effective casualty radius' immediately.

Anonymous said...

Forgot the tagline....

Never lie down with a woman who has more troubles than you.

Anonymous said...

TO: Pope Benedict XVI
RE: A Proposed Beatificant

...."… I am no longer married to Yash: not for about a year and a half now. Yet I still call him husband, and he calls me wife. We are each other’s emergency contact. We share an apartment and meals, but not the bed. The bed sort of looms each night, but dissolves into nothingness, because the bed, or the lack of what goes on in the bed, is not discussed. Not yet.” -- Lisa, as cited by Stuart Schneiderman

This Yash guy must have the soul of a saint for putting up with this abuse.

He should be considered for taking the first of many steps towards sainthood, provide, of course, that he is a Roman Catholic. As for how God view him....well...that's up to God. Isn't it.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[]

P.S. TO: All Others....

Whereas I referred to Owen at Duke U. as the Verbose Slut, the more I re-read this article about 'Lisa del Rosso', the more I suspect one should refer to her as the venomous slut. 'Red' indeed. Nothing but a bloody mess.....

Stuart Schneiderman said...

To tell the truth, saint is not the first word that would have come to my mind.

Nevertheless, I think you're on to something interesting. I do think that many people tolerate a very high level of abuse because they think that they are moving closer to sainthood or martyrdom, thus to spiritual transcendence.

This is interesting because it is better than to say that they are putting up with because they are masochistic.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Tongue in cheek or not, your remark hit on something that feels true to me.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: [OT] AGAIN....

....as I counseled Dr. Helen....

....you SERIOUSLY need to 'get away' from 'blogger' and get yourself to an environment where people are not going to have the comments become one of the 'disappeared'.

I made a comment in the 'anonymous' mode, some time back. Something in response to your disagreement with 'sainthood' for Yash.

BUT....it has not appeared here.

The 'blogger' environment has....with Google....'issues'.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth will out....]

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: The 'Sainthood' of Yash

He probably won't qualify. I understand the RC's are rather 'picky' about whom they would offer up to their congregation about that sort of think. It was all tongue-in-cheek.

On the other hand, he was living up to an admonishment of Christ....

Do not resist the evil doer.

Hence my comment about the possible difference between the way RCs and God treat Yash.

As another interesting 'juxtaposition' on this matter.....

....I went down the the basement to contemplate supper. Down there, the distaff is doing her weekend 'chores' while watching a DVD. It's a modern day (1999) version of the Taming of the Shrew.

In this segement, Cleo is singing a hit song at the high school prom, Cruel to be Kind.

And I couldn't help but see a correlation between this topic and the sorry state of 'Lisa' and 'Yash'.

And looking back at the 'levels' of difference between these two, I can't help but suspect that 'Lisa' was looking for a 'subject' in a sado-masochistic relationship.

Looks to me, based on what I see here, she found the proverbial 'happy hunting ground'.

And whereas Cleo reports her lover says being cruel-to-be-kind 'in the right measure'....I suspect that there's an underlying statement there about holding on to a 'good thing', as in someone willing to put up with abuse.

Does this have something to do with co-dependence? Or is there more at play here.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Domineering, coldhearted, vicious bitch seeks submissive, warmhearted, caring man for INTENSE love/hate relationship!]

David said...

Chuck...the 1999 film you mentioned must be "10 things I hate about you," which I thought was pretty good.

Kinda off-topic, but there's another film which transposes a Shakespeare play to a modern high-school setting..."O"...aka "Othello". I thought it was outstanding and reviewed it here.

Anonymous said...

TO: David
RE: [OT] 10 Things I Hate about You....

....was the movie I was referring to. Blogger did not 'allow' my first post, which had the link to the video from the movie. The paste-rewrite of the comment didn't pass that through.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Consistency is the hobgoblin of good user interface.]

P.S. Blogger is sadly lacking....

....but HEY....what can you expect from [Don't be evil] Google?

Anonymous said...

P.P.S. For the 'uninformed', i.e., 'ignorant', about Google....

....they worked hand in glove with the Communist Chinese to suppress freedom of information in the BILLION population of mainland China.

Don't be evil, my fourth-point-of-contact. Google IS 'evil'.

[One cannot serve two masters.... -- Some Wag, around 2000 years ago]

CatherineM said...

Some women don't just behave this way with me, but with women too. They will complain you never ask for their help. Then you ask for their help and they complain what you asked for was too much. Never happy.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schneiderman, I must say I am dumbfounded by your by your response to this woman's description of her marriage. I expected something more even handed along the lines of BOTH the wife and husband having unrealistic expectations of each other, and BOTH showing a lack of maturity and understand. Instead, you have written an unending assault on this women. Her chief crime seems to be that she is a feminist and a shrew who victimized this poor man. This is simplistic and insulting to women like me.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schneiderman, I must say I am dumbfounded by your by your response to this woman's description of her marriage. I expected something more even handed along the lines of BOTH the wife and husband having unrealistic expectations of each other, and BOTH showing a lack of maturity and understanding. Instead, you have written an unending assault on this women. Her chief crime seems to be that she is a feminist and a supposed "shrew" who victimized this "poor man". This is simplistic and insulting to women like me.

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: The Latest 'Anonymouse'

This is simplistic and insulting to women like me. -- Anonymouse

Talk about self-identification....

Foot meet shoe.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth will out....]

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I did, actually, give a lot of thought to his role in all of this. And if I had had any sense of who he was and what was going on in his mind, I would have happily said a few words about his responsibility.

I always try to be even-handed in these situations, and if I do not have to take a side, I do not.

The problem with the article is that she is clearly the one in charge. She seems to have married someone who is educationally beneath her and does know how to deal with him.

I would have been happy to say something about how he broke the bathroom door, but she does not share any information about it. I did say that I find it strange, but she is writing her own story and, in many ways, she makes herself not only the central character, but the only character.

It's all: I told him to do this; he didn't do it. I got more angry; I yelled and screamed and humiliated him... and still he didn't do what I told him to do, so I decided that I had to cheat on him.

He seems to have ADD and seems to be unwilling to do what she tells him to do. Ok. Is it the ADD or is it his rebellion against being told what to do? I cannot tell you, but I get the impression that he is being beaten down.

Do I think that he should have fixed the door? Of course I do. Should he have done it before she even mentioned it? Yes, I do. But once he hesitated and she started berating him, the dynamic of what was happening between the two of them became the central issue... indeed the only issue.

Do I think that he should have gone on walks with her in Riverside Park? Of course, he should have. Or, at least, he could have offered a better reason for not going. Or he could have offered an alternative. Or she could have offered an alternative. They could have had an adult conversation.

The picture she presents, however, is of her coming back from her walk, checking up on whether he had done what he said he was going to do, and then getting into a screaming fight.

At that point, his inadequacies become irrelevant when compared with her bad behavior.

Anonymous said...

If a woman is frequently disproportionately angry at her husband over minor things: Isn't this a sign that she really wants out of the relationship?

Hard to decode in some cases though--if she's a generally angry person and not only at her husband.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

You are right, it is very hard to decode. It would seem that a woman who is always angry at her husband, and disproportionately so, is looking for a way out of the marriage.

But it might also mean that she wants the marriage to correspond to her vision and fantasy, and is angry that it does not.

It might also mean that she believes that her anger will motivate her husband to become the man she wants him to be-- which does not happen to be the man that he is.

And she might believe, somehow or other, that anger is the only medicine that will work, so that when it does not, she thinks that she must increase the dosage.

Some people have a great deal of difficulty accepting that their approach has failed.

And then, there is the other possibility, that you highlight: maybe she is just angry at the world and is taking it out on her husband. Perhaps she has not received the recognition that she feels she deserves. Perhaps she wanted to marry someone else, but is settling.

Thanks for the stimulating comments.

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camobel said...

This can't have effect in actual fact, that's exactly what I believe.

Anonymous said...

This piece provides an interesting and insightful perspective, but it is a little hard to take seriously with the amount of mechanical errors present.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Of course, we would all be happy if you would point out the "mechanical errors." That way, I can correct them.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.