Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Housewife's Lament

As always, letters to advice columnists only give us a sketch of what is going on in an individual’s life. The woman who writes this letter to Carolyn Hax is ready to redefine her marriage, as something like an open marriage. Apparently, responsibility is too much for her, so she yearns for independence. For the record, she has two children under twelve.

If one were to hazard a guess-- it’s all we can do here-- one would suggest that she took a few too many courses in Women’s Studies or has watched too much televised dramatized feminist propaganda. These shows have not, as they would wish, changed the institution of marriage. And they have certainly not improved women’s lives. But they have created unrealistic expectations and have fomented discontent. 

Surely, there are other alternatives, but it seems clear that the woman in question does not understand what it is to be a wife. In truth, she does not seem to be a very committed mother, either.

An alternative explanation would have it that she has done too much therapy and has been persuaded that she needs to follow her desires, to do what she really, really wants. Note the last sentence in her second paragraph.

Anyway, she opens by saying that her husband is a very nice man, who does his chores and is a Good Person. Obviously, she wants out. Huh?

Apparently, said husband is not quite as exciting, not quite as dramatic as the life she had been led to expect in her women’s studies courses.

Let’s take a look at her letter, with a few comments:

I have a nice husband: responsible, holds a good job, does most of his chores around the house regularly, is a reasonably good dad, and is a Good Person. And I'm so restless and unappreciative of that right now.

Evidently, he ought to become less of a Good Person and more of a prick.

Maybe it's the pandemic, but I honestly feel like it's deeper, and it's been brewing for a while. If you asked me what I want, it would be this:

1. Stay married, but see other people from time to time. (I don't have anyone in mind. I've never cheated. Not even sure I want to. But seems fair to be open to this.)

Seriously, what does it mean to say that it would be fair to be open to cheating… thus, to an open marriage. Fair to whom?

2. Live together in separate bedrooms, but sleep together from time to time.

We know nothing about their sexual relations, so we do not know what this means. Many couples do sleep in separate bedrooms, so it is hardly an outrageous thought.

3. Co-parent but travel independently and often. I'm a writer and I long to spend a month in different locations, just to soak up the sense of other places. My husband never travels unless I plan and direct the entire thing, and that's exhausting.

She does not tell us whether she is a working writer, a compensated writer or someone who keeps a diary. Does she recognize that co-parenting will take her husband away from his job-- the one that supports the family? Apparently, she does not? Again, too much feminist propaganda.

4. We'd be a family at holidays and other important events in our kids' lives, to disturb them as little as possible, but we wouldn't hide that our marriage is different from their friends' parents'. We'd be together when we're together but live independent lives, schedules allowing.

Obviously, her new options would seriously disrupt her children’s lives. She does not seem to care about that either.

The couple’s friends and their children’s parents would certainly not look kindly at any of this. The result will be some level of social ostracism. And, of course, her children would feel abandoned.

This is probably the most honest I've been about these selfish thoughts, and I can see this being hard on our kids, both under 12. I doubt my husband would consent to this. I don't know if I should indulge this line of thought or start shutting these ideas down.

— I Want an Independent Life

At the least, this shows how dreadfully awful it is to pretend that these are honest thoughts, and that there is some special virtue in such honesty. True enough, she understands that they are perfectly selfish thoughts-- why is that something that she ought to indulge?

At least, she knows that her plans would damage her children. She does not very much care. As for indulging these thoughts-- where did they come from?-- or shutting them down, the correct answer is to shut them down.

Of course, that is not the way Hax sees it. The columnist goes into full homewrecker mode in her response, disgracefully so.

It’s counterintuitive, given you’d be banishing these thoughts as a way of recommitting to your husband — but if the marriage in its current form leaves you agitated and emotionally starved, then you’re going to find some other way “out,” be it divorce or distance or bickery contempt.

So it is an act of love for this Good Person you chose to try to reshape your marriage into something that enriches you both — and teaches your kids how to coexist without gritting your teeth.

Abandoning home and hearth and children is not an act of love. It will not enrich, but will impoverish everyone involved. Hax is amazingly clueless here.

Unfortunately, Hax imagines that if the woman does not act on some of her delusional beliefs, bad things will happen. It recalls a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s last book, Talking to Strangers, where he offered some thoughts on suicide.

He addressed an interesting psychological issue-- if a person wants to commit suicide and the means are not readily available will he seek other means or will he simply abandon the idea? Is suicidal ideation a wish that will necessarily lead to action (as a Freudian might imagine) or is it an hypothesis that will be tested according to whether, to use Gladwell’s example, the Golden Gate bridge has suicide prevention netting.

Gladwell shows that the former, Freudian position is wrong, and that people who want to commit suicide are capable of shutting down the idea when the voice of reason intervenes, or better, when reality seems to be rejecting the idea.

This tells us that this discontented feminist ought to abandon these absurd thoughts or else should reconsider the belief system that the culture has drummed into her mind. 

Hax does not see it this way. She looks at the list of options and chooses No. 3-- that is, for the woman to betray her husband, to abandon her children and to run off to satisfy her Wanderlust. This counts as a perfectly deranged piece of advice. So, take a look at it.

Since you have a wish list already — thank you! — choose one item promising the most relief for the least disruption. No. 3, yes, as soon as it’s safe? Since it’s milder than 1 and can even preempt it? Frame it for your husband as (you hope) a healthy expression of a fundamental — perfectly normal and okay! — difference between you two. See if he’ll embrace it.

There is nothing normal about abrogating fundamental responsibilities to care for children. Whatever is Hax thinking?

Families often manage business travel. If you do your same share of the work, just differently — vs. dumping it all on him — then this could tell you how much independence your well-being requires, whether he can be open to or (ideally) better for it, and whether this “difference” alone creates a more sustainably happy household.

Trust it, talk it, try it, add/subtract as needed. Good luck.

If the woman runs off, she and her husband will not be doing the same share of work. Besides, keep in mind, it seems likely that husband is doing most of the providing for the family. 

Unless she is a travel writer, which seems unlikely, she ought to be capable of writing from her home base.

Hax wants to know how much independence her well-being requires. That is clearly not the issue. Ask yourself this: How much betrayal will make her happy? That is more to the point.

And how much damage will she do to her children by abandoning them? How much well-being will she garner when she measures the consequences of this foolhardy and reckless action-- on children whose security depends on her presence.

She is an adult woman, a wife and a mother, with adult responsibilities. The fact that she only has a minimal sense of what these roles involve speaks ill of her. The fact that Hax entertains them for an instant speaks worse of her.


Sam L. said...

"2. Live together in separate bedrooms, but sleep together from time to time." Restless leg syndrome, anyone. You're dreaming of being in a fist-fight, and you're fighting while asleep? Separate sleeping would be wise.

"Of course, that is not the way Hax sees it. The columnist goes into full homewrecker mode in her response, disgracefully so." Hax, "the Hatchet", strikes again.

"There is nothing normal about abrogating fundamental responsibilities to care for children. Whatever is Hax thinking?" My guess is Hax has never been married, and doesn't want to be. I see her columns are run by the WaPoo, my second-least-favorite rag, behind the NYT.

Anonymous said...

It's like Hax is a parody column, her "advice" is so utterly ridiculous.

n.n said...

Conventionally, the man is tasked to earn taxable income, and the woman has a predominantly capitalist orientation (i.e. retained earnings and growth, not limited to development and maintenance of household, children, community relations), and, as adults, a couple reconcile their equal representation and distribution of their union, family, and secular assets, with, perhaps, some set asides for personal use.