Watch Out For Love’s Changing Landscape!

Right after the new year and just before Valentine’s Day, I always like to get the feel of what’s going on with love and marriage across the nation,  and to make a few predictions for the coming year.  Here they are: Love in 2012.

1. Everyone of all ages will be dating like mad.  An unprecedented 110-million singles in America means that they—not married people–now make up the majority of households. And they’re dating! Millions of adults of all ages—30s through 70s–are  between marriages, against marrying, or on the way to remarriages.

 2. We will become increasinglystarry-eyed about marriage, even as we become increasingly disenchanted, skittish and cynical about it. It is a psychological fact that we long for, and idealize,institutions that promise safety and security. The military. The church. Marriage. Anything that was once reliable but is now increasingly fragile, and even endangered, is a prime target for our nostalgia.  I predict that, even as we divorce more often. sooner and more bitterly, we will increasingly  long for the “good old days” when marriage lasted forever. Because it so rarely does. Continue Reading →

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How Do You Categorize a Love Story?

It’s always strange when you finish a book, to see how it fits into the categories offered by publishers.  My three nonfiction books were, one by one, total misfits: Each is a serious book about women, or women and men, with the academic approval  I’d hoped for but with commercial appeal that made them popular, too. So, that’s a problem: Should they appear under the heading, “Women’s Studies”? Not really. That’s a bit more for academic books. “Commercial Nonfiction”? Better. But, as with “Self-Help,”  usually reserved for prescriptive books, not so much for thoughtful, less made-to-be-popular ones.  Nobody knew what to do; each was a Genre Problem. I don’t say this because they were so fabulous that no one could possibly fine the right category, but because they blended categories, or straddled them; they crossed genres.

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The Perfect Man

Big news in the Daily Mail Reporter: In a study of 2,000 British women, the search for Mr. Perfect seems to be a complete bust. “While many chaps have positive attributes, the majority are deeply flawed,” the hard-hitting study reveals. “In fact, in [this] study…. most ranked their partner as only 69 per cent perfect.”

NO! You mean….men have FAILINGS?  YES! says this study! And they are really really horrible ones, too, like “failing to make an effort with their partner’s friends, criticizing their driving and….” get this killer of a flaw: “ the inability to multi-task.”

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Achievement

That women are now the majority of the workforce is not a terrible thing. So how come, with every new achievement of women, there is a corresponding outcry about the “end of men!”? When did anyone ever cry “The end of women!” throughout all the previous centuries during which men were the majority of the workforce?

I know men aren’t thriving right now, for a host of reasons beginning with the economy and including a dramatic sea change in social structure. But when coverlines (and here I mean like the Atlantic’s) undermines one gender’s success by linking it to the other’s failure, they’re playing an old power game that women have no interest in: The If–you’re- not- one- up, you’re-one-down idea of power.  For one thing, women are not at the top of their game just yet: It’s worth remembering how very few women are really at the top (for more about this, see Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg’s wonderful TED talk on YouTube). And while women may be outnumbering men in the workforce, they aren’t being paid the same salaries as men.  As it stands,  women will reach the age of sixty and have accumulated a million dollars less than men of sixty who have had exactly the same job.

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Fun

For a survey I was conducting some years ago in a woman’s magazine, I asked readers:What do you think the primary purpose of marriage is? Among the options offered were the obvious ones: To have a family. Monetary stability. Settling down. Sharing a life. I offered one, though, that stuck out in this roster of noble reasons for wedlock: “To have fun.” Of the 5,000 respondents, twenty-four percent checked that one.

I’d expected some resistance to the pleasure option, since, if marriage isn’t sobering, sanctified, and serious, what is? Ever since the Puritans turned the pursuit of happiness into a frenzy of righteous self-improvement, Americans have opted for betterment over pleasure. We are suspicious of enjoyment for its own sake (pleasure has to improve our blood sugar levels). It’s as though what’s good for you long ago won out over what feels good. But what was special about these readers who chose what we called “The Pleasure Marriage” is that, when I interviewed them individually some time later, they were still having fun. Their marriages, of the ones I was able to find out about, were the happiest.

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Hindsight

One of my favorite authors is the late Carolyn Heilbrun, whose wisdom about women still moves me when I pick up, as I often do, “Hamlet’s Mother,” or “Writing a Woman’s Life,” two of her books. The title of my blog, InHeynsight,  is a rewriting, but not a rethinking, of her words—words I used as a chapter epigraph in my book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife:

 “Men tend to move on a fairly predictable path to achievement. Women transform themselves only after an awakening. And that awakening is identifiable only in hindsight.”  

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Prenups

A woman who appeared on my cable show not long ago revealed, when I announced that fifty percent of all American women will live with or marry a man with children, the following (familiar, alas) story.

She’s close to retirement and has been saving for years. Her adult son doesn’t need money, so her small stash supports the household she shares with her boyfriend of five years, a twice-divorced man  whose money mostly goes to his two young children by his second wife. My guest agreed to this arrangement, feeling strongly that his children should be his first priority, and that they could manage their household expenses together.. BUT, she says, “in  this protracted downturn, none of his money goes to our household; it all goes to his (second) ex-wife’s. I’m wondering where to draw the line. He does, after all, live here. He did, after all, make a financial commitment, albeit a small one, to our life together.”

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Ambivalence

A group of young men were complaining to me the other night about their live-in girlfriends. “In three months, my fiancée has been home nine nights out of sixty-two,” Elliott said. “The other nights she’s playing tennis, learning French, seeing her friends.”

“That’s terrific,” I said.

“What’s so terrific? I never see her.”

So I got to thinking about the difference between a man’s desire for more “space” and a woman’s. We ‘ll readily call his “commitmentphobia,” “intimacy problems” and “terror of dependence.” We (make that I) champion hers as “autonomy,”  “independence” and “growth.” I think it’s because for so long, a man’s “I need more space,” was a creepy code phrase for “I’m outtahere.”  A woman, though, tends to mean that she needs more independence, more room for growth and self-expansion within the relationship. 

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The End of Marriage? No Way.

Marriage was once immutable, like forests and wild animals and clean air.  It was as inevitable and reliable as the tides. But it isn’t inevitable anymore, nor reliable. With the majority of the people in the United States now single people, not married ones, we’re looking at a clearly more fluid entity when we look at marriage. But, just as I hated that Atlantic cover that asks us to conflate the rise of women with the end of men, so do I hate being told that the rise of single people means the end of marriage. It doesn’t. Marriage is alive and well and being entered into by more couples now than it ever was, thanks to gay marriage. Has it changed? Yes. The forever marriage we aways idealized has gone the way of clean air, and the kind of wife we’ve always always idealized—the perfect one that made more wives unhappy than it did happy, may be mercifully gone. Because here’s the thing those scary magazine and newspaper headlines forget to say: Women changed marriage. We changed it intentionally.  

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Love, Lives and Scare Tactics

A very long piece in The Atlantic this month has pointed out several things we’ve been talking about in my books and blogs for over a decade. Which only illustrates the extreme disconnect between what has been going on statistically in this country for years and what the culture wishes to deny. The author of this piece, “All The Single Ladies,” Kate Bolick, tells us many things, among which are that marriage has changed. That women, who are on the ascent in the workplace, no longer need men to put a roof over their heads, which frees them to choose men for emotional rather than strictly financial reasons.  That many men, who are not on the ascent in the workplace and aren’t earning as much as they once did, are not as traditionally “eligible” as husband material of yore…which means choosing a husband for financial reasons isn’t a winning proposition. That traditional marriage was predicated on the men-as-provider; women-as-nurturer model, and if we still have a yearning for that model, we have a decidedly shrinking chance of getting it.

First, notice how The Atlantic entitled its two major articles this year regarding women’s ascent in the workplace and the shifts in the marriage landscape. The first was “The End of Men?”, and this one, “All The Single Ladies.” Both are Scare Titles, reminiscent of newspaper headlines in the 80s that sent those women hoping to find husbands OUT of the workplace and back into the home, while  recapitulating the preposterous idea that if women do well, men plummet. Continue Reading →

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