Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Monday, August 30, 2004

A disclaimer

Since my father only got to see me and my sister on once or twice monthly visits, he was inclined to try to shove as much parenting as he could into that brief amount of time. The result was that he was inclined to pontificating endlessly about his beliefs, particularly those regarding marriage, love, sex, etc. If he had sons rather than daughters, I imagine that those lectures might have had a bit more variety in subject matter, but who knows? Anyway, I have no doubt that my desire to poke fun at and tear into these pithy one-size-fits-all advice columns, especially the ones on MSN, comes from having to sit through this as a teenager.

One particular thing my dad was always fond of saying was to be careful in who you pick to marry, as that person will be the source of 90% of the happiness or sadness in your life. It was always 90%, every time he said it. One day, just to fuck with him, I asked if it had to be 90%--would it be okay if it were just 50%? Or even 30%? (I was a teenager, thus the snottiness. Which I guess means I'm still a teenager, 'cause I'm still pretty snotty.) That threw him for a loop. And he reluctantly said then that he guessed that it probably was different for some people, that they may have something else that made them happy, but that still didn't change the fact that it was important to choose who you marry with care.

His intentions were good--he meant to impress upon us that marriage is a commitment and therefore shouldn't be entered into lightly. And that compatibility is the number one most important factor, which if you think about it, is a surprisingly progressive idea compared to the usual advice aimed especially at women about making a marriage work. But despite his good intention, the message that really got across was that "normal" people not only get married but that they make marriages that they are heavily invested in, to the tune of 90%. What about single people--how do they find 90% of their happiness or sadness without a spouse to provide? Well, in our culture we tend to believe that single people live empty lives. And what about people whose commitments to work, their families, their communities, art, whatever, just can't be crammed into that 10% Other category? When I goofed on my dad I opened a whole can of worms--suddenly we both had to consider the possibility that his daughter was not to grow up to be a "normal" woman, that my life might not be built around a heterosexual marriage, that I might be single, lesbian, or that any marriage I had might not be so insular.

All of this is a long way of saying that I don't intend to insult the happily married when I attack advice columns on how to find someone to marry, get that person to marry you and then keep the marriage happy once you find it. But I did manage to do it. It's just that I see those articles as a larger part of the cultural myth that making a happy marriage is the only path to a happy adulthood, especially for women. The mountains of material like this work mostly to make single people desperate, divorced people feel guilty, and people in unconventional relationships (which are not all that unconventional anymore) feel like weirdos. I've watched people I love get depressed over "failing" at marriage, some of whom "failed" at making a spouse understand that cheating is hurtful.

All this emphasis on long-term strategies to make a marriage "work" function to let us, the collective society that is, off the hook for our 50% divorce rate. We can say that people are just lazy, just not working hard enough at marriage, instead of looking at the larger issues that are causing so many people so much pain. The advice column I make fun of below might have good advice for some people, but mostly it's useless. There's nothing there about what to do when your finances are constrained and you have different ideas about what should be financial priorities, for instance. Or how to negotiate differing opinions on what married sex life should be. Last time I checked, those are problems #1 and #2 that make marriages unhappy.

Instead, we're given a bunch of impractical advice that's just going to cause frustration for those who are looking for help. The little "tune it up" thing did annoy me particularly--that would probably be the end of my relationship with my boyfriend if I tried to have summit meetings on the state of the relationship. Is it okay that we value each other for being low maintenance? Is it wrong that instead of having a long talk about any issue that arises we just fight it out or blow it off? If I wasn't so pig-headed, I could definitely see myself reading something like this and worrying that we were heading towards certain destruction because we weren't doing things the "right" way.

Of course, none of this seems to have come across in my weak attempts at trying to be funny about this advice column. Rest assured, I don't want people to be unhappy with their marriages. I just resort to a little mean-spirited humor now and then as a release valve for some of my frustrations with the modern cult of the insular marriage.

14 Comments:

Blogger Tara said...

I think it's a shame that you have to actually clarify that you don't wish unhappiness to other people just because you're critical of sexist advice columns!

So there's one little corner of the world that's not a constant source of affirmation for happily coupled people. They should make use of some of the extra emotional strength and support they supposedly get from their fulfilling and healthy relationships and deal.

8/30/2004

 
Blogger Elayne said...

To tell you the truth, I'm far more insulted by Tara thinking I needed some sort of clarification than by anything you said. What kind of crap is that about "extra emotional strength and support they supposedly get"? I'm sorry, I remember saying things like that - back when I was alone and thought I'd be that way forever and was very jealous of anyone who even dared to mention they were happy. I mean, how dare they? Like I said, I don't go around flaunting that I was lucky enough to have found my soulmate, but I don't need Tara's sneering condescension either. I've done nothing to deserve that.

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ولانها الشركة الرائدة والمشهود لها بالكفائه العاليه بما فعلته من

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