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q_pheevr sent a letter canceling his subscription to Atlantic Monthly.

This article caused this cancellation, and I was curious about the article, so I went and read it. There's also an interview with Gottlieb about the article; the interview is much less edgy in tone.

I had expected to find the article infuriating. I can understand why many people did. The largest problem that I have with it? Her assumption that women all want children if they're looking for a husband. But in both this and the earlier article the site links, it's clear that she generalizes a great deal from her own experiences -- and that she's not afraid to be pretty bluntly honest about those.

So, for the purposes of this post, I do not assume that all women want children; I certainly don't assume that you secretly really want children if you say you don't; why would I? My post deals with relationships and since it is somewhat personal, with children. Much of what I say is not relevant if you do not want children, and there are very good reasons for not wanting them -- none of which I cover here. Back to Gottlieb for a moment.

Buried in the article, and assuming you can get past the:

Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.

she makes a good point, which I think might get lost. That point being? In this society, we're conditioned to believe in our One True Love, and we want it desperately.

Raising children is not the same as marrying your "true love". Raising children is not about romantic love at all. Part of the reward of raising children is the process itself -- because we all change while we're doing it. But in this era of Hallmark TV children and instant food and clothing, it's long and grueling. And it's definitely not about each other.

And in this era, still marked by Hollywood and television romance & passion, what we're supposed to be searching for when we get married, regardless of whether we want to start a family or not, is romantic love. We're addicted to being in love. We're trying to find our soul mates, whatever that means, and isn't it kind of strange that in our very, very non-religious society, that has meaning at all? But all of that burning passion, that frenzied illumination -- what does it have to do with raising children? With holding a family together? With aging, and debt, and responsibility? In my opinion, not a whole lot.

I was married when I was twenty-six. I'm a bit of a geek, and I had disavowed romantic love, at the age of seventeen, as something that simply did not exist outside of hormones and neuro-chemical response. People often felt I was somewhat cynical, at that age; it's possible. But what I wanted was only something that I felt could be achieved. I'm a little engineer.

Let me now deal with the word settling, which Gottlieb uses so frequently, one wonders if she thinks it's a simple article. I dislike it because it implies that choosing a life that is not predicated on a perfect true love is somehow both inferior and second-class. What does it mean in the context of real life? What does it mean in the context of my life?

I know damn well that I am not a perfect person; I'm probably much less of a perfect person than most. I cannot realistically look for a perfect person to spend my life with because one of two things would have to be true if I were to do this: One, I would feel that, with effort, I could become a perfect person, and therefore be a worthy partner to the perfect person, or Two, the perfect person could somehow find and love the very imperfect me. I have no reason to believe that someone who's perfect would do this. In fact, it's my suspicion that they wouldn't really require the interdependence of a marriage at all, but that's a different point; the point really is: I do not believe in perfect people. I don't believe they exist. There was no way to talk myself into believing that they did, so I gave up trying.

So... what I felt could be achieved? Well, love. Not in love, but love; they are radically different things, to me. They can co-exist (because we do all have hormones), but I would never confuse them. At seventeen, I made a mental list of what love would look like in our less than ideal world. That list hasn't really changed all that much, and it follows.

1. Consideration
2. Mutual respect
3. Similar Values
4. Honesty

They all sound kind of tepid, I know. And they don't take into consideration (seventeen, remember) things like: Can hold down a job. Can take out the garbage. Can change a diaper and be polite to my mother when she's on a tear. Can walk a screaming, colicky, baby for 2 hours at 4:00 am. But my seventeen year old self reasoned thusly: if these things exist, you can trust the person, and love doesn't exist without trust. In love does. In love can exist without any of these things, so ... I didn't trust the concept of being in love. Not even when I was.

In fact, if you look at the list, you can probably match a lot of people in your life to those qualities -- your friends, for instance. I love my friends.

I married my best friend. It was a bit of shock to the rest of our friends at the time, and it was a bit of surprise to both of us, I admit -- but I already knew that I could spend a lot of time with him, because I already had, for four years of non-dating, no-interest-in-dating, life. I loved him. We had fallen in love, but what was important to me, at the time, was that I knew I could happily live with him if I weren't in love, because in love is tidal, not constant; it was certainly not the first time in my life I had been in love. He was consistently kind to children, and we had many of the same views; we weren't even sure, at the time, that we wanted children.

I think Ms. Gottlieb would classify this as settling. Maybe I had decided at seventeen that I would, in her terminology, settle, because at seventeen I decided that I couldn't believe in what she spent her early life wanting from another person.

I might have tried to build a household and a family with my friends. Because no matter what life you want, and no matter who you choose to live it with, you'll be building something that you hope is strong enough to weather storms -- and most friendships last longer than marriages, these days. There is a striking moment in the interview, in which Gottlieb recalls an earlier conversation.

You know, I was saying to a friend the other day, “I really want to find a guy who’s my best friend”—something ridiculous like that.


Why is that so ridiculous? And why does Gottlieb not consider other, alternate, households? She even hints at as much when she says:
But when I think about marriage nowadays, my role models are the television characters Will and Grace, who, though Will was gay and his relationship with Grace was platonic, were one of the most romantic couples I can think of. What I long for in a marriage is that sense of having a partner in crime. Someone who knows your day-to-day trivia. Someone who both calls you on your bullshit and puts up with your quirks. So what if Will and Grace weren’t having sex with each other? How many long- married couples are having much sex anyway?

You don't need to find a father for your children, but rather, a partner to help you raise them; I don't actually think you need to find a mother, either, if you can adopt. Gender doesn't matter. Commitment does. You don't need to be heteronormative. You don't need to be in love. But you do, I think, need to love. And you need to have mutual goals. But if you've made the commitment, planning for the future is its own joy; it's no longer nebulous; you can start to be concrete.

My husband, often called my long-suffering husband, is a fabulous father, and our family is the centre of his life. He is, in all possible ways, too good for me -- a fact I really didn't appreciate until we had two children. He is not, and has never been, a person for romantic gestures, but when disaster strikes and things fall apart all over the place?

He quietly, steadily, reconstitutes the world, and watching him pick up piece after piece with that sense of affectionate, tired determination, moves me to join him and to try to do the same, time and again. Sometimes it takes me longer. Sometimes he starts -- has to start -- without me. But he knows how to wait, and he believes in me, and in the end, that will always pull me through. I don't always understand what he sees in me, but that's not a bad thing; it keeps me humble. In as much as I am ever going to be humble.

I'm grateful that I stopped believing in The One, because had I been waiting, I would never have this life at all.

And in spite of the way in which the article is couched, I think some of what Gottlieb says, if you sift the words, is right.

Comments

( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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sartorias
Mar. 5th, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)
Well said.

It's frightening sometimes to get teens to define what "being in love" really means to them. When one gets past the hyperbole, too often one sees some disturbing ideas.
msagara
Mar. 5th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
It's frightening sometimes to get teens to define what "being in love" really means to them. When one gets past the hyperbole, too often one sees some disturbing ideas.

I think teenage love is hard because we're transitioning from a concept of love that is parental to one that is adult -- and the misunderstandings (because we have a lot of different parenting styles) that arise from this transition cause enormous amounts of pain.

Which is to say: The concept of love itself is still, at base, the idealized parental-non-conditional love, and on some level we have to learn to let go of that.
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janni
Mar. 5th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC)
You know, I was saying to a friend the other day, “I really want to find a guy who’s my best friend”—something ridiculous like that.

Which is why people who talk about "settling" tend to annoy me, actually--because inherent in the concept is this very notion, that you can't wait around for your best friend--that expecting your partner to be a close friend at all is somehow unrealistic.

And it's my own bias in part, because I don't understand how people build lifelong relationships with anyone who isn't a close friend, but I think calling this unrealistic leads to a lot of people getting into really unhappy marriages in the name of settling and realism, and then telling themselves this is just how the world is.

I don't believe there's only one right person--but I do believe there are some people you can be deeply happy with, some people you can just sort of manage to get by with, and some people you can't be happy with, and I think it's better to live alone than with anyone but the first kind of person.

There's no The One, but it's not the sort of thing where anyone who you can halfway manage with will do, either.
msagara
Mar. 5th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
And it's my own bias in part, because I don't understand how people build lifelong relationships with anyone who isn't a close friend, but I think calling this unrealistic leads to a lot of people getting into really unhappy marriages in the name of settling and realism, and then telling themselves this is just how the world is.

Yes! I should have said something about this, but it was already a long post -- I was talking with Thomas about the notion of settling and how irritating it is because at base it assumes you are doing this because you are a failure. And, by extension, the person that you are willing to settle for is an emblem of that failure, and an all 'round walking loss, as it is.

I cannot think that many long-term friendships would survive that kind of negativity, and it seemed to me that in her scenario, where friendship is never even considered that you really would be saying "If I can't have it all, I won't have anything! You, Mr. Nothing, marry me."

Edited at 2008-03-05 03:01 am (UTC)
(no subject) - rowyn - Mar. 6th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Mar. 6th, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
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janni
Mar. 5th, 2008 02:58 am (UTC)
He quietly, steadily, reconstitutes the world, and watching him pick up piece after piece with that sense of affectionate, tired determination, moves me to join him and to try to do the same, time and again.

I've discovered in writing fiction that I come back to this sort of character again and again, by the way. Forget alpha males, forget dark and broken, the boy (because I write YA) who quietly does what needs doing wins my heart every time.
shanrina
Mar. 5th, 2008 03:07 am (UTC)
I don't know if I want kids or not (although I do know I definitely don't want them within the next five years or so) and I've never really dated anyone, but for the most part I agree with you. My list looks a lot like yours, although I'd probably combine consideration with mutual respect and add a good sense of humor.

I don't believe in soul mates, though. I actually find the idea very depressing--in such a large planet with such a large population, there's only one person I can be happy with? Nope. I don't think so. I think there are a lot of people I could be happy with, and just because they may not be highly physically attractive (although I still can't understand how physical attractiveness determines anything beyond nice scenery) or they may not make a lot of money doesn't mean they aren't someone I could wind up being happy with.

I admit I could be completely off-base here because I've never really dated much and my longest "relationship" to date lasted about two weeks, but I've always just looked for someone I thought I could live with and be friends with and who could live with me (a "partner in crime," I guess). And since I haven't found anyone like that yet (although I must admit I haven't really been looking) I'd rather just stay single.

So that's my $.02, I guess.
earthgoat
Mar. 5th, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
Oh thank you. Thank you for articulating something that I've felt unable to truly articulate myself. Like you, I have always been suspicious of the One True Love concept and that that is what we should all Aspire To. You can love a person and despise them at the same time. Or you can love a person but not be able to rely or trust in them. However to say that, well it's some Toreador notion of tragic love and is so romantic...It makes me want to vomit. Love is not the be all and end all of relationships, at least not the romantic, spin-your-head type love that many describe. Thank you for explaining it far far better than I could.
jonquil
Mar. 5th, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
Whenever I'm asked The Secret (TM), I always say "I like my husband a lot." Which is the key of it. "in love" comes and goes, but "like" is pretty reliable. (I think my "like" may be the same as your "trust".)

And then when the baby gets colic, there's always "I dimly recall that I used to like this person once upon a time, and probably I will again..."
msagara
Mar. 6th, 2008 04:15 am (UTC)
And then when the baby gets colic, there's always "I dimly recall that I used to like this person once upon a time, and probably I will again..."

Oh, I've done that one! Although, to be fair, if he was home, I'd crawl under the bed and try to sleep -- but the early days were long.
canwolfshadow
Mar. 5th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)
For me, one of the things that you said resonated very strongly... There is no love without trust. They keystone of any sucessful long term relationship is trust. If you loose that, it gets very difficult to rebuild the relationship.
(Deleted comment)
ovirginsaint
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
I personally do not find anything wrong with a spouse or significant other being your best friend. You're choosing to be in a long term relationship with this person, they should, to some degree, -be- your friend. My husband often laments that we didn't meet each other sooner because he wanted a friend that he could trust and love and fall in love with.

Greatly OT, I picked up your book today, and I'm hooked already. <3 Somebody hid it behind a magazine rack at the bookstore, however, and that greatly annoyed me.
msagara
Mar. 5th, 2008 06:03 am (UTC)
Greatly OT, I picked up your book today, and I'm hooked already. <3 Somebody hid it behind a magazine rack at the bookstore, however, and that greatly annoyed me.

This is, of course, the type of OT that makes authors happy. Well, me, at any rate :D
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damedini
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:36 am (UTC)
I do find Gottlieb's blithe assumtion that she sheaks for every woman, and that she knows what is right for every woman, staggeringly parochial. I cannot imagine a woman, living in today's world and exposed to international media, could fail to comprehend that there are a plethora of enriching choices out there, of which (het)marriage is one, but nowhere near the only.
Romantic ideals are just that, best grown out of and replaced by the richer knowledge of adulthood, but such a cynical and grasping outlook sickens me.
Your concepts are much more in line with my notion of reality; in love is great, but finite, you have to have a stable base on which to build a life. Gottlieb's faint contempt is not that.
msagara
Mar. 6th, 2008 04:17 am (UTC)
Gottlieb's faint contempt is not that.

I think it's the contempt -- whether it's self-contempt, or maybe the glib/edgy tone that suggests it -- that doesn't work for me in that article.

But I can't think of a relationship (any) that survives that constant level of contempt, or eye-rolling, or can't-you-take-a-joke interaction.
ttallan
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC)
Your image of your husband-- now that was romantic.

"Settling", in my mind, is as much about accepting that we are not perfect as it is accepting that any potential partner will not be perfect. But based on my own experience I would phrase it differently: don't sweat the small stuff. Not coincidentally, I believe the same approach is necessary in building friendships as well as life partners.

(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous)
Mar. 5th, 2008 06:04 am (UTC)
I'm not totally sure, because my parents are both inveterate liars (or were, for all that I know or care anymore), but I think my mother and father married because of romantic love. Relatives do say that my parents knew each other for all of a few weeks before tying the knot.

Yes. Well.

Sometimes I wonder if my father realized that the romantic love trip was over, and that was why he started doing terrible things. I do know that my mother was ever searching for romantic love elsewhere after a certain particularly bad incident.

Anyways, I really don't suggest marrying out of romantic love. If only for the sake of not raising kids who'll believe that every relationship is a lie.

Makes it hard to get along in the world.

Although I think I now understand better the relationships that last. Thank you.
rosefox
Mar. 5th, 2008 06:57 am (UTC)
Being in open relationships pretty quickly cured me of the idea of the One True Love, but it took me a while to get away from the idea of the Many True Loves (Who All Ideally Love One Another Too). The oneness isn't the only insidious part; the idea of trueness is arguably worse. Among other things, I think it implies that people don't change, that the "true" relationship or the "true" love doesn't change, and that's a horrible horrible falsehood that can cause incredible damage, especially for young people who are changing all the time in very big ways.

I find that what I value most in my husband is that he is patient and kind. It's not just that I benefit from those things--though I do, very much--but that he teaches me how to be more patient and more kind, qualities that have not always come easily to me. One of the greatest compliments I've ever received from an ex is that after dating me, "kindness" went up on his list of necessary qualities. It took me ten years of dating, I think, before it even occurred to me that kindness might be an important thing to look for; now I don't know how anyone can tolerate relationships in which any party is unkind.
msagara
Mar. 6th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
I find that what I value most in my husband is that he is patient and kind. It's not just that I benefit from those things--though I do, very much--but that he teaches me how to be more patient and more kind, qualities that have not always come easily to me

Yes! Me, too.

Kindness often comes out of consideration -- but regardless, kindness is active, like gentleness; something that is done, rather than something passive, and something that can be learned.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 5th, 2008 12:43 pm (UTC)
My husband may not be my "one true love". But he is the love I chose. And I continue to choose to love him each and everyday whether I feel in love with him or not. I guess for me being in love is a feeling and feelings change day to day. Love is a choice and commitment that I have to made and am determined to stick by.
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