Saturday, August 04, 2012

Hanna Rosin's observations on bad mom books and reacting to a caricature of the ideal mom gets me thinking,1

Remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful, and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses and inadequacies onto her children, is an active and loved member of the community who volunteers, she remembers to make playdates, her children's clothes fit, she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never too tired for sex.
Waldman develops this caricature with some degree of hostility. But why even bother feeling hostile? I've never met such a mother, and I bet you haven't either. Such a person doesn't exist, and if she did she'd also be ordering matching mother/daughter Pooh pajamas from the Disney catalogue and be really, really boring. So why do we modern mothers need to create her? And why does the culture devote so much attention to arguments between "good mothers" and "bad mothers"? Do you think it's because all of us are a little unsure where to stand, so we need clear markers—octomom, bad; Angelina Jolie breastfeeding, good?
I'm not a parent and so many of these things are curiosities to me rather than things to which I can relate.  
I have, however, come to a possibly curious observation as a single guy that most single guys who talk on and on about how they wish they were married are emphatically not thinking of how fun it will be to clean the kitchen.  I mean, I wouldn't wistfully talk about how wonderful it would be to clean the kitchen because nobody I've met in my life has ever said or probably even thought that, least of all people who have worked in the food service industry.  Who genuinely enjoys housecleaning?  Okay ... uh ... I know a couple of women who enjoy it just enough to get paid for it and they're pretty cool but they're also pretty unusual.  They do not, however, thrill to the idea of being the only ones to change their babies diapers.  I have noticed some not-so-very sidelong glances from these moms when dad tried to start a conversation with some company (me, in one case) to dodge a certain paternal "opportunity".  I may be a single guy but I know how to say "Let me think about this for a minute" as a way to give the guy's wife a window in which to remind her hubby that he does get to change diapers once in a while.  
As I was saying, many a single guy who has pined for marital bliss seems to be thinking of date night and sex and in some cases "emotional intimacy".  I have been more than a bit of a wet blanket on that topic because it seems to me you can obtain and maintain emotional intimacy with people in various ways without ever being married.  As a Christian it sometimes seems that in the United States there's this weird bill of goods that marriage is at this higher, more glorious plane of existence than other relationships.  A certain preacher or two will talk as though friendship within marriage is important, as though nobody in the world before this preacher somehow thought that friendship is important.  A certain person I know said the trouble with this kind of spiel is that the focus is still obsessively about marriage and not the actual friendship.  If you and your spouse are friends then the sex is better could be a deliberately unfair way to put it.  
I've pointed out to a single friend or two that the idea of "intimacy" in marriage can sound like it's spoken of as something that comes with the deal.  It seems to me entirely opposite, whatever capacity you have for intimacy (or incapacity) is what you'll bring into a relationship, not something you'll find in it.  If you were terrible at truly being a friend to someone before you got married you're not likely to discover how to be a good friend to someone just because you got married and decided at some point that friendship was an important way to sustain your marriage.  Lots of people were friends and eventually got married.  Presenting the mundane as a profound key to the universe making sense probably never gets old.  I myself have written that it is important to never underestimate the obvious.  
I've lived with some single guys for a while and a couple of the guys got married over time.  I'm not one of them, just to be clear, and I've noticed that there are concerns that the eventually-married guys took up that seems to have set them apart.  One of the concerns was to simply not spend all disposable income.  That may seem basic but it may be important to note.  Another was, well, housecleaning.  They tended to keep their places decently tidy, tidy enough that women were willing to set foot in the houses.  I've never been that sort myself.  
Another trait that I'm struggling to define is a sense of work, by that I mean these are guys who grasped that if a relationship is serious that life with the special someone was as much or more about working together than "just" playing together.  This is a quality that, honestly, I can't recall ever really seeing in the never-married guys I know, particularly not the most bitter never-married guys I've met. 
Decades ago Joan Didion wrote an essay on the women's movement.  She wrote that in what may be called by now second wave feminism there was this idea, and it struck Didion as a distinctly Marxist idea that, somehow, half the human species constituted an oppressed minority.  She set her sights on how this could be imagined and noted various situations in which women wanted to be rid of the ball and chain and maybe become a sculptor or a painter or a writer.  Didion noted,, in her characteristically dry and even brutal way that these sorts of fantasies are not all that prominent in the lives of actual consenting adults.  They were, however, the sorts of dreams and fantasies frequently expressed by children.  Didion concluded with the proposal that the women's movement in the 1970s had stopped being a cause and had started looking more like a symptom.  Didion got more than a bit of flak for that from some authors.  
Didion and Dunne nearly divorced but stayed together.  Didion's point, mundane as it is, was that the real world just doesn't live up to ideals.  Her use of the term "consenting adults" brought with it the observation that there will invariably be disappointments.  I could ramble on this for a while but I have other posts I'd like to write.  

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