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The Case Against Marriage

By Madeline Holler |

datenightThe week started out so sweet, so nuptially positive, so, so, in looooove.

Sunday’s NY Times Style Section had a little write-up of the First Couple’s “date night,” complete with mini-lecture: if they can, you can. Two young girls, a yappy dog, 16 years of marriage and the free world financially collapsing in his lap, yet this president — this man of married men! — cleaned up and went out of town for a little overdue “Michelle time.”

Women seethed with jealousy (supposedly). Men balked (at least this guy did). Cupping longtime partner’s chin with one hand, dialing the babysitter with the other, we American marrieds agreed to try harder.

Then The Atlantic’s July/August issue showed up at week’s end and dumped a cold, wet bucket of futility all over the smoldering passion of the Obamas.

Happy marriage? No you can’t, says Sandra Tsing Loh. The writer, performer and NPR commentator, is, after 20 years of marriage, divorcing. And someday, she hints, you will too.

In “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” Loh takes to the books to figure out modern marriage, why Americans keep doing it and which couples are the odds-on favorites for lasting marriage.

Americans love marriage way more than our European counterparts, she gleans from Andrew J. Cherlin’s The Marriage-Go-Round. And we love divorce even more. But really, you can’t have the latter without the former, right? Still, our committment to committment (and the ending of it) is the push and pull of our belief in marriage and tendency toward individualism. That, and it’s easier own a home (tough to share, however).

So what else, what else? Sex, people … sex is a problem. Married couples aren’t getting it on enough.

Loh illustrates this point with a tour through her own group of friends, whom, after reading about, you’ll also not want to have sex with. One guy won’t touch his wife because she’s too fat, yet he cooks up rich, delicious risottos for her and the girls-night-out members. Hmmm, perhaps Freud would like to weigh in?

No. But Helen Fisher, author of Why Him? Why Her? would. Fisher divides personalities into four types, plays connect the dots with who is attracted to whom, and evaluating combos can possibly last — all of it tempting you to reexamine every relationship you’ve ever been in and every married couple you’ve ever known. Take away: Explorer-Explorer bad; Builder-Builder good (like Golden Anniversary good).

All this to what end, really? A divorce as with Loh? “Michelle time” with your betrothed? Do whatever you feel like, Loh concludes from the books. Have the affair, like she did. Work on the relationship like she didn’t. Stay together. Break up. As for the kids, just keep your new relationships out of their faces and easily bonded hearts and, really, they’ll be juuuuuust fine.

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Photo: NY Times

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “The Case Against Marriage

  1. ann05 says:

    Is there a link to the Loh article you reference?

  2. Twyla says:

    She sounds bitter. I think the secret to a long standing relationship is having both partners wanting to take it to completion. Both must believe marriage is forever even when it is hard work.

  3. Brent says:

    Yes, I read this Loh article last night in my copy of the Atlantic. Disappointing. Maybe she should write “a case against self-absorption to the point that you let it invert your priorities and destroy your life.”

  4. [...] First, shower length. On average, as has always been rumored, women take longer showers than men, but only by two minutes (14 vs. 12 minutes). My guess is it’s the legs — when we bother to shave them. I wonder what role showers play in marriage. [...]

  5. leolabeth says:

    @ann05 No linky yet.
    @Twyla Tsing Loh has been one of my favorite writers for more than a decade. Because of that I am willing to assume she may be on to something essential to raising children in the 21rst century. However, we have much to learn about avoiding the demonization of women who “let” their children’s fathers do much of the mothering.

  6. Cookie McBrde says:

    No matter how many esteemed authors she name drops, the article is is still nothing but a sad pseudo-intellectual rationalization for her own failures as a spouse and a human being.

  7. Marj says:

    I’m not sure what the point of the article is. All marriages fail? Even the ones that don’t? Marriage is bad, no matter how you look at it? Europeans are too cool to waste time on something as stupid as marriage? Whatever. I’m quite happy with my marriage, and my parents have been married for almost 40 years and still hold hands in public and have tickle fights on the couch.

  8. Brent says:

    Bravo Marj and Cookie. I felt the same way. Talked at length about this article with my wife of 22 years. We concluded that the author is just rationalizing her own failure. She took up with another lover, betrayed her husband for who knows how long until it all unraveled, and made the conscious decision not to reconcile. What’s so new about that? Deceit, dishonor, betrayal, bitterness, and self-centered immaturity – masqueraded as some essential observation about the twenty-first century – that’s what the article was about. I want to continue to be inspired to reach for the virtues of honor, honesty, integrity, kindness, and self-less concern for my partner. If I need a rationalization in order to accept failure I can find them on my own.

  9. [...] Sandra Tsing Loh’s divorce was no doubt emotional for her, her husband of 20 years and their two children. But I find myself particularly concerned about the others who have been shaken to the core by the writer/humorist/performer’s Atlantic magazine confessional bombshell: her readers. [...]

  10. Clark Savage, Jr. says:

    Loh’s self-absorbtion makes me sick.
    And this is going to hurt her kids for sure.
    Worst of all, her radio rants are not even funny, or insightful.

  11. [...] seems about once a year some writer makes a case against marriage. Most of these stories talk about the odds of a marriage failing (about 50%) and how monogamy is an [...]

  12. [...] seems about once a year some writer makes a case against marriage. Most of these stories talk about the odds of a marriage failing (about 50%) and how monogamy is an [...]

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