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.
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.