Sandra Tsing Loh’s unblinking (and, to some, too unapologetic) review of her infidelity and the subsequent breakup of her 20-year marriage in the July/August 2009 edition of The Atlantic asks, “Why do we still insist on marriage?” It is an interesting follow-up to Lori Gottlieb’s apology for settling in a March 2008 article in the same magazine about marrying “Mr. Good Enough.” Is the ever-sagging success rate of marriage in America due to our persistent optimism or our low expectations?
There is something snarky in the tone of The Atlantic to begin with (and we are subscribers in my house, so I say that without malice), which could be the source of my irritation. I am willing to concede, however, that the writers are tweaking my own optimism; perhaps I am annoyed because they are bumping up against some of my long-held values or ideals, dusty and banged up as those may be.
Still, I suspect the issue with marriage, divorce, and settling is, in part, a failure in the area of "knowing thyself" (which on my own snarky days I might rephrase as "growing up"). Powered by our pioneer and immigrant spirit, we spend our days looking outward, searching and exploring, often for Mr. or Ms. Right. There is nothing wrong with that, but I wonder if we would do better in many areas of our lives, including our relationships, if we spent a little time sitting with ourselves first. Perhaps the secret to a happy marriage is a mirror.
It is not enough to reevaluate our expectations and ideals, as Gottlieb correctly asserts is necessary when looking for a good mate. We must have the courage to look inward and to ask ourselves why we seek certain qualities in a person. Does he really have to have a full head of hair? Does she have to be a good housekeeper? Lie back on the shrink's sofa in your mind and ask, "And why is that important to you? What do you need in that?"