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Weekend reads: Come together
The modern family: A tale in two essays
It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. A time to slow down, bake lots (pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin muffins, biscuits), and take long walks with family at Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks. And, of course, come together for a feast.
Also: A time to ponder why The New York Times thinks families are so outdated.
Yesterday the paper ran another tedious opinion piece on modern families. In it, the novelist Amy Shearn recounts how divorcing her husband set her on a path of self-actualization, full of leisure time to sleep, read, write, and eat whatever she pleases.
This, she’s convinced, is an ideal state of being. And one she imagines all women aspire to:
Every divorced woman I know is happier post-marriage, even the ones who didn’t instigate or want the split. This isn’t unusual: A 2007 study found that women aren’t as “negatively affected” as men by a divorce. Despite women being likely to experience a more significant dip in income, the researchers found that in the first years post-divorce, “Life satisfaction is significantly more positive for women” than for men. Imagine that.
The essay — as the excellent Phoebe Maltz Bovy points out at her Substack — belongs to a genre of tired, pseudo-feminist missives that view spouses and kids as giant drags on time and energy. (Plus, men are incapable of picking up their own socks, grr!)
Maltz Bovy wonders: “Who is this for? Who is having these conversations?”
She has some thoughts:
Why did the author, a mother of two, divorce? “I realized that my soul was no longer aligned with my husband’s, much less the whole project of straight monogamous marriage.” In plain language, what does this mean? It’s impossible to know. But it gestures at something all the progressive well-educated lady-sorts are meant to nod along approvingly with. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we all lived in a commune! It takes a village! Love has no limits!
I, too, suspect that the essay was written for a tiny class of wealthy women, likely living in Brooklyn brownstones, who barely believe what they are saying themselves — but who’ve sleepwalked into a set of opinions that play well on Twitter.
The reality is that most women aren’t into the idea of spending weekends alone, at loose ends, lying around and eating bad takeout.
The entire enterprise, it must be said, is built on a doomed fantasy of single life.
The bottom line here is this: Does anyone really, truly want a friction-free life?
Because that generally means that it’s devoid of other human beings, as Maltz Bovy also points out. And that is not liberating — it’s just lonely.
To my mind, the Times essay is best classified under the umbrella of “luxury beliefs,” a term coined by Lean Out guest Rob Henderson:
In the past, the elites demonstrated their upper-class status through luxury goods, through their dress and appearance. My claim is that now people do it through their luxury beliefs. These are unusual, or novel, or bizarre ideas that are often at odds with conventional opinion. If there’s a belief that’s widely held by ordinary people — like marriage is probably a good thing and stability for children is probably a good thing — then a way to distinguish yourself as a member of the upper class is to hold a belief that’s against that. It signals, “I’m a sophisticated member of the educated class.”
You know who doesn’t take families for granted? Those who’ve been without one.
Which is why another essay, published today at Common Sense, is the perfect companion piece for the Times essay.
Bethany Mandel — who’s expecting her sixth child in a few months — isn’t buying what the Brooklyn feminists are selling:
The anti-natalists run a wicked good PR game. Even among mothers, the “wine mom” content is what rules social media: with kids portrayed as tiny dictators and mothers feeling the need to booze or hide in bathrooms in order to make it on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis.
Mandel offers an alternate view on family — one gained through painful experience:
I grew up moving around New York State: mostly on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes, an only child of a single mother. She was a social worker for group homes for profoundly disabled adults until she was sidelined by her own disability when I was ten, at which point, we started living on her Social Security disability payments. Growing up with my mother and her rotating cast of live-in boyfriends, I had basically no connection to my small, extended family on either side of my family tree.
I cut off relations with my father when I was seven, and my mother died from complications from lupus when I was sixteen. My mom was Catholic, and pretty religious, my dad Jewish, and not at all. Judaism is matrilineal, and I’d decided to convert before meeting my husband. At our wedding, we didn’t split the aisle into groom’s and bride’s sides, lest the minuscule size of my family be glaringly obvious, an extremely painful reminder of who was missing …
From the loss of my parents, I decided to bring forth into this world a lot of life. And that’s what my home is filled with: life. Life, and also two bunk beds, two cribs, bulk packages of wipes and multiple sizes of diapers from Costco, and more half-broken plastic toys than I can count. I learned from my parents how truly short life is, and how incredibly valuable it is, and that instead of trying to optimize for money or quiet or “me-time,” I should do what brings me deeper happiness and fulfillment.
Those who’ve lived without close family ties — as many have, with the collapse of the nuclear family in recent decades — understand how core a human desire it is.
And how strange it is to pretend otherwise.
Stay tuned, Toronto writer, editor, and podcaster Phoebe Maltz Bovy will be on the Lean Out podcast this week to talk about her recent piece for The Spectator, “So much for #MeToo.”
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