Unmarried, with Children


I stayed up way too late last night reading Sandra Tsing Loh’s piece in the latest issue of the Atlantic — “The Case Against Marriage.” (As of now, I can’t find a link to it.) I was aghast to learn that her own marriage is over. Though I’ve never met Tsing Loh, the past five years I’ve been reading her, I’ve felt a strong kinship with her — both of us are writers (quit laughing), and, for a few years at least, both of us had two daughters and husbands we hardly saw.

Tsing Loh admits she had an affair, followed by the realization (in therapy) that she didn’t want to try to fix her marriage.

…I realized…no. Heart-shattering as this moment was — a gravestone sunk down on two decades of history — I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together. In women’s magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage.

What disappoints me about Tsing Loh’s otherwise heartfelt and painfully honest essay is not her extra-marital affair, or her unwillingness to work on her marriage (to each his own). But rather, her inability to further illuminate the circumstances of her own marriage’s demise — her husband’s constant traveling schedule for work, and their lack of adequate childcare to cover the needs of two full time working parents. These two stressors are responsible for many a wayward marriage. And if her piece had pursued this path further, there would no doubt be a sea of nodding marrieds’ heads in unison.

Unfortunately, Tsing Loh’s typically witty, always original, and often brilliant writing, returns to the stale and often touted argument that it’s the institution that doesn’t work, not the individual circumstances of one’s own partnership.

[H]ere’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage — or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.

Whether this is, or isn’t the truth is irrelevant. I just wished she’d stayed the course of examining her own marriage — which was infinitely more interesting and relatable. Regardless, I’m pulling for her and the new form her family is taking.

*     *     *     *

I’m making out, over at skirt! Have a great weekend.

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11 thoughts on “Unmarried, with Children

  1. I’ve always wondered how she made it work when her husband was living in Vegas and she and the kids were in Van Nuys (I believe that’s where she lives).

    I wish the best for her-she’s hella amusing on the radio-but the whole “every marriage sucks because mine fell apart” attitude is both trying to listen to AND it fuels my now growing fear of committment (not in and of itself, but because I am terrified of being cheated on at this point). Also part of me thinks her therapy based realisations are just extremely selfish while the other part recognises that you never know what’s going on inside a marriage and maybe her husband isn’t someone worth making it work with (too selfish himself, requiring her to constantly sacrifice whilst giving little back).

  2. PS-I just read the skirt! piece. Hilarious. We had those conversations with my parents for many years and went through what I call the traditional “Progression of Pets”. Goldfish –> reptiles –> small rodents. They were all cool at first but then the shiny would wear off and they’d become a burden we were stuck caring for until demise. FINALLY, my parents got us a cat when my sister and I were in high school. Since they’ve had a couple of cats and have turned into my parents’ replacement children. Your kids are still very little though, so it may just be like having even more children.

  3. The irony here, is that I’m rarely one of those people who defend the institution of marriage. (Though personally, I’m big into monogamy and commitment.) I just think Tsing Loh was really onto something here — how difficult it is to coparent and remain committed to a relationship when one spouse isn’t physically present for a good bit of time. I wish she had explored this aspect more. I feel a little bit like she ducked that very valid point simply to make a sweeping, quasi-feminist generalization.

  4. I also just read the article and am still digesting it. But you definitely helped me with the digestive process, when you said “Tsing Loh … returns to the stale and often touted argument that it’s the institution that doesn’t work, not the individual circumstances of one’s own partnership.”

    As to investing effort into fixing the relationship, Tsing Loh says “I did not have the strength”. What is wrong with this picture? She complains that the engines of passion would no longer start, and yet admits that she had skipped some routine maintenance and wasn’t willing to pay for repairs. And then, in effect, she blames the auto manufacturer for making cars that stop running.

    I too went through a divorce, and I remember just how rambling and incoherent my thinking was during the first year or so thereafter. It takes several years, perhaps a decade, to put it into context and find some inner peace. Ms. Tsing Loh’s article sounds rather familiar, in that light. I recall trying to blame the Roman Catholic Church for our breakup. Then I tried blaming her. Then me. Oh, and also my family. And her family.

    In the end I realized that life today is an exhilerating but risky proposition. Our bodies, our minds, and our institutions were designed for slower times. Modern life provides incredible opportunities for the Jeffersonian “pursuit of happiness”, but also provides incredible risks and pitfalls. My marriage in effect hit some turbulence in a high-speed world, and broke apart. Sounds like the same thing happened to Ms. Tsing Loh. The same thing also happens to careers, business ventures, spiritual lives, governments, theater companies, most any human venture.

    Perhaps my ex-wife and I could have done some things differently; perhaps we can take some lessons from what happened. Perhaps our institutions need some added flexibility. But in the end, the truest wisdom is to realize just how little you can say, other than “it happened; I’m still here, and I’ll try to learn from and make the best of this gift of life, whether that does or does not involve marriage in the future”.

    In sum, not one of The Atlantic’s better articles. But Ms. Tsing Loh has previously contributed many wonderful writings, so I suppose that they owe her some uncritical white space, disguised thinly as a book review, as to contribute to her recovery process.

    Thanks much for the “digestive enzymes for thought”.

  5. It bothers me when people (especially women) make that sweeping generalization that marriage doesn’t work because, hey look! Mine sucked! We didn’t survive! It hurts too much and no one should do it because mine failed! That makes me insane. Some of us LIKE being married. Some of us work very hard at it. Some of us don’t regret one second of it, despite the heartache, emotional hurt, strain, arguments, stress, etc.

    You know, she is an intelligent woman but I think her emotions are replacing rational thoughts at this point. Life sucks. It hurts. It’s stressful. Relationships suck. They hurt. They are stressful. And relationships are part of life. She just comes off sounding bitter to me.

    Just my two cents. But then again, I’m happily married. If I were in her shoes I doubt I’d feel the same way. But then again, We have one salary, I refuse to live apart from my husband and I don’t cheat on him.

  6. Clearly I have never been married, nor do I plan to be in the near future. So, of course, anything I say on the subject is purely a patchwork of vicarious experience. Having said that, I do agree that Tsing Loh is being more emotional than rational and though this is understandable, it does little to strengthen her argument.

    I’ve always believed that the only two people who can fathom a relationship, of any kind, are the two involved in that relationship. No one else can probably understand what her marriage was like, other than her partner; no one can feel what they felt or struggle as they struggled. But, equally, it is unfair of her to assume that the state of her marriage is akin to the state of any other ended marriage and, therefore, akin to marriages in general. Other people’s experiences don’t apply to her, and she similarly shouldn’t try to attribute hers to them.

    I have never read any of Tsing Loh’s articles, so I’m not sure what, if any, sense of responsibility she feels as a writer. But, I wonder if she’d say the same thing to someone face-to-face; someone who’s holding on to the last shreds of their marriage and IS willing to work on it, and wants her advice. Would she have the guts to say the same thing, or is print form just an easy way out so she doesn’t have to deal with the fall out?

    Thank you for commenting on this. I think a lot of people are willing to just generalise that marriage is pointless and not worth the trouble, which really seems like a cop out.

    As for the pets over at skirt!- good luck trying to get the girls to stop asking; I’m STILL asking my parents now. Although, they could probably teach you a thing or two about winning that argument for the next 20 odd years.

  7. Once again, Shilpa, you sound far older than your years. You may, in fact, be the youngest person I know who understands the intricacies of marriage.

  8. Well, I read the article at Borders while I was out picking up my Economist and I wasn’t terribly impressed. It rambles all over the place (making several stops at “Everyone I know who is married is also miserable”) and then ends abruptly. I think she felt she had to make some sort of statement about her divorce (as her family is often a big part of her writing and Loh Life stuff) and so she drew this up as her Divorce Announcement. I also think part of it is that her public persona is humourous-maybe she felt compelled to keep this in the same style as the rest of her work? I don’t know. But the article was flat.

    However, she was SUPER SUPER hilarious on the Loh Life this morning.

  9. After you mentioned it, I went and read it last weekend. I had a splitting headache while I did so (not, I should add, because of the piece), so I don’t know that I was spot on here. But I found this article to be lacking in real substance.

    While I appreciate that sometimes marriage doesn’t work and I understand that this is obviously difficult to handle, the conclusions she was drawing from her experiences seemed to make very little actual connections.

    Her bitterness seemed at odds with the statement that she herself was the one who was unable to work on the marriage. It seemed incongruent and only served to make her article appear to me disorganized and kind of (I hate to say this) dull.

    I guess I think it could have been more appropriately thought out to have much more impact on me than my resounding “meh.”

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