The "marriage" trap

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by IfbReformer, Sep 5, 2003.

  1. IfbReformer

    IfbReformer
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    I just read this article this morning on msn.

    While I diagree with many things in it, I think it will provoke a lot of discussion.

    "The Marriage Trap
    A new book wrestles with monogamy and its modern discontents.
    By Meghan O'Rourke
    Posted Wednesday, September 3, 2003, at 5:01 PM PT

    The classic 1960s feminist critique of marriage was that it suffocated women by tying them to the home and stifling their identity. The hope was that in a non-sexist society marriage could be a harmonious, genuine connection of minds. But 40 years after Betty Friedan, Laura Kipnis has arrived with a new jeremiad, Against Love: A Polemic, to tell us that this hope was forlorn: Marriage, she suggests, belongs on the junk heap of human folly. It is an equal-opportunity oppressor, trapping men and women in a life of drudgery, emotional anesthesia, and a tug-of-war struggle to balance vastly different needs.

    The numbers seem to back up her thesis: Modern marriage doesn't work for the majority of people. The rate of divorce has roughly doubled since the 1960s. Half of all marriages end in divorce. And as sketchy as poll data can be, a recent Rutgers University poll found that only 38 percent of married couples describe themselves as happy.


    What's curious, though, is that even though marriage doesn't seem to make Americans very happy, they keep getting married (and remarried). Kipnis' essential question is: Why? Why, in what seems like an age of great social freedom, would anyone willingly consent to a life of constricting monogamy? Why has marriage (which she defines broadly as any long-term monogamous relationship) remained a polestar even as ingrained ideas about race, gender, and sexuality have been overturned?

    Kipnis' answer is that marriage is an insidious social construct, harnessed by capitalism to get us to have kids and work harder to support them. Her quasi-Marxist argument sees desire as inevitably subordinated to economics. And the price of this subordination is immense: Domestic cohabitation is a "gulag"; marriage is the rough equivalent of a credit card with zero percent APR that, upon first misstep, zooms to a punishing 30 percent and compounds daily. You feel you owe something, or you're afraid of being alone, and so you "work" at your relationship, like a prisoner in Siberia ice-picking away at the erotic permafrost.

    Kipnis' ideological tack might easily have been as heavy as Frederick Engels' in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, but she possesses the gleeful, viperish wit of a Dorothy Parker and the energetic charisma of a cheerleader. She is dead-on about the everyday exhaustion a relationship can produce. And she's diagnosed something interesting about the public discourse of marriage. People are more than happy to talk about how unhappy their individual marriages are, but public discussion assumes that in each case there is something wrong with the marriage—not marriage itself.

    Take the way infidelity became a prime-time political issue in the '90s: Even as we wondered whether a politician who was not faithful to his or her spouse could be "faithful" to the country, no one was interested in asking whether marital fidelity was realistic or desirable.

    Kipnis' answer to that question is a resounding no. The connection between sex and love, she argues, doesn't last as long as the need for each. And we probably shouldn't invest so much of our own happiness in the idea that someone else can help us sustain it—or spend so much time trying to make unhappy relationships "work." We should just look out for ourselves, perhaps mutually—more like two people gazing in the same general direction than two people expecting they want to look in each other's eyes for the rest of their (now much longer) lives. For this model to work, she argues, our social decisions need to start reflecting the reality of declining marriage rates—not the fairy-tale "happily ever after all" version.

    Kipnis' vision of a good relationship may sound pretty vague. In fact, she doesn't really offer an alternative so much as diagnose the problems, hammering us into submission: Do we need a new way of thinking about love and domesticity? Marriage could be a form of renewable contract, as she idly wonders (and as Goethe proposed almost 200 years ago in Elective Affinities, his biting portrait of a marriage blighted by monogamy). Might it be possible to envision committed nonmonogamous heterosexual relationships?

    Kipnis' book derives its frisson from the fact that she's asking questions no one seems that interested in entertaining. As she notes, even in a post-feminist age of loose social mores we are still encouraged, from the time we are children, to think of marriage as the proper goal of a well-lived life. I was first taught to play at the marriage fantasy in a Manhattan commune that had been formed explicitly to reject traditional notions of marriage; faced with a gaggle of 8-year-old girls, one of the women gave us a white wedding gown and invited us to imagine the heartthrob whom we wanted to devote ourselves to. Even radicals have a hard time banishing the dream of an enduring true love.

    Let's accept that the resolute public emphasis on fixing ourselves, not marriage, can seem grim, and even sentimentally blinkered in its emphasis on ending divorce. Yet Kipnis' framing of the problem is grim, too. While she usefully challenges our assumptions about commitment, it's not evident that we'd be better off in the lust-happy world she envisions, or that men and women really want the exact same sexual freedoms. In its ideal form, marriage seems to reify all that's best about human exchange. Most people don't want to be alone at home with a cat, and everyone but Kipnis worries about the effects of divorce on children. "Work," in her lexicon, is always the drudgery of self-denial, not the challenge of extending yourself beyond what you knew you could do. But we usually mean two things when we say "work": The slog we endure purely to put food on the table, and the kind we do because we like it—are drawn to it, even.

    While it's certainly true that people stay in an unhappy relationship longer than they should, it's not yet clear that monogamy is more "unnatural" than sleeping around but finding that the hum of your refrigerator is your most constant companion. And Kipnis spends scant time thinking about the fact that marriage is a hardy social institution several thousand years old, spanning many cultures—which calls into question, to say the least, whether its presence in our lives today has mostly to do with the insidious chokehold capitalism has on us.

    While Kipnis' exaggerated polemic romp is wittily invigorating, it may not actually be as radical as it promises to be: These days, even sitcoms reflect her way of thinking. There's an old episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Kramer anticipate most of Kipnis' critique of domesticity; Kramer asks Jerry if he and his girlfriend are thinking about marriage and family, and then cuts him off: "They're prisons! Man-made prisons! You're doin' time! You get up in the morning—she's there. You go to sleep at night—she's there. It's like you gotta ask permission to, to use the bathroom: Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?" Still, love might indeed get a better name if we were as attentive to the intellectual dishonesties of the public debate over its failings as we are to the emotional dishonesties of adulterers."

    I am interested to here everyone's commments.

    IFBReformer
     
  2. Dr. Bob

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    Excellent fodder for discussion. I would think it would resonate well with many in my group, as ifb'ers have historically placed great emphasis on the "role of women" in marriage.

    Many women still "assume the position", walking 5 paces behind, eyes lowered, dressed . .

    NO WONDER that many women think of marriage as a "prison" and that monogamy ain't what it's cracked up to me.

    Look forward to the discussion on the "trap".
     
  3. Pete Richert

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    my take on this wasn't so much suprresion for woman do to their roles as much as supression of both sexes do to the inherit evils of marriage. Basically, if you are in a long time mogonomous relationship you will be unhappy. Of course, the writer doesn't offer any alternatives, which I don't find suprising. I think the alternate already exists, just keep going in and out of relationships until your 35 or so. I believe this is already at work and these people arn't happy, indeed, they complain about not being able to have a long term relationpship!
     
  4. mozier

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    In addition to what was said above, many people today do not see marriage for what God intended it to be.

    A marriage is a blessed-by-God relationship in which a man and a woman give of themselves and find their fulfillment in each other. As the old jewish proverb goes, a man is only half a man until he is married. Same goes for women, I am sure.

    There is also a third partner in the marriage: God. As a couple brings God into their marriage, the union becomes even stronger.

    And finally, as Paul says, an unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse. I believe this to be true, for I have found that one of the reasons why I married my wife was to assist God in leading her to salvation. My wife is not a Christian, but I do believe that someday she will answer the call to salvation, and that I will be instrumental in that.

    These are my thoughts on the subject at hand, in addition to my opinion that Laura Kipnis is all wet.


    mozier
     
  5. IfbReformer

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    Dr. Bob,

    I too look forward to the various responses on this article.

    I will say this, that the article correctly points out that marriage being a prison works both ways - not just for women.

    It does not have to be, if we did things God's way.

    Since you already kinda of took up the womens cause I will chime in with the men's cause.

    Like men who have to as Kramer said ask their wives if they can go to the bathroom. I have seen couples where she really "wears the pants" in the family.

    He can't do anything without her permission and half of what he asks for she says no to.(This can be the same with a man treating a women this way as well).

    It is all about control, while I do believe that God clearly states that the man is the head of the wife and the home he still according to the scriptures should be considerate of his wife's needs and desires. He should not be a dictator.

    If the wife was looking to do whatever would make her husband happy, and the husband was looking to do whatever made his wife happy, and they were both doing this with God at the center of their marriage their would be no marital problems.

    I have been married a little over 9 years, and have 3 children and 4 child on the way. I say this to say that while I don't have all the answers(and never will) and believe I have learn some along the way.

    Whenever I am selfish and only thinking of my needs, my marriage suffers. When I put my wife and children's needs before mine it gets better. Notice I said "needs", "wants" are important to, but we cannot always fulfil those.

    So it is up and down, some days I am not selfish, and other days I am. Its the same for my wife.

    If anyone ever tells you marriage isn't work - they are telling you a big lie. It is work, but the reward is well worth it.

    And sleeping around with 50 different people will never give you the satisfaction that marriage centered around God will.

    IFBReformer
     
  6. Xingyi Warrior

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    Although I have a definite opinion on this, I don't have time to go into it now. But here is an article that was written by Vox Day, a Christian Libertarian, back in February that hits close to home concerning this issue.

    Read the Article
     
  7. DCK

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    I've never been married, so I can't speak from personal experience. But I certainly hope that a successful, loving, joyful, mutually fulfilling marriage is possible; and I think it is, if everything is submitted to God for His guidance and direction. Ideally, having a godly companion can make life sweeter and a bit less of a struggle. That's what I look forward to someday, Lord willing.
     
  8. blackbird

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    I tell you guys how to STAY married!!!

    Here it is--the secret to a long lasting marriage--this will put the "Till death do we part" back into the whole concept---here it is:

    STAY FERVANTLY IN LOVE WITH JESUS!!

    That's it! The more you grow to love the Lord Jesus Christ--the more you will grow to love your spouse!

    Brother David
     
  9. Caretaker

    Caretaker
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    Not alot of credibility here for my precious one and I only have 31 years together and we have a lot more years to go, God willing and the creeks don't rise. We married a year out of High School, and have three children, 6 grandchildren. We did not know our Lord when we married, but He came into our lives 5 years later.

    For me I seek to put Christ first, my wife second, my family third, my community fourth..

    By receiving the glorious love of Christ, we learn to truly cherish sacrifically and unselfishly. With the love of Christ in our hearts, united as one with Christ and each other, in love, purpose, and desire, we face trials with His peace and grace, with relationship unwounded.

    Course it seems like only yesterday that I first went courting, and I keep the courtship going, so I will let y'all know when I truly get the credibility of a long-term relationship. We still honey-mooning.. ;)

    A servant of Christ,
    Drew
     
  10. blackbird

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    Dad-gum, Drew! You are making Blackbird blush!

    Your buddy,
    Brother David [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  11. Paul of Eugene

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    LOL! That's what I tell my honey. "Honey", I'll say, "I'm not sure how this marriage is going to work out, until the honeymoon is over . . "

    Married in 1963.
     

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