Friday, June 17, 2011

Organic yoga arugula Park Slope strollers

It's obviously only a matter of time until the NYT allows comments - and comments there shall be - on this Styles article that hits, oh, just about every possible Styles mark: coastal, upper-middle-class, well-educated, blah blah, couples who divorce, in an era when only the plebs are supposed to do that. Bad parenting, in this post-post-post-"Mad Men"-era society! Where there were Styles clichés left out, author Carrie Bradshaw - no, Pamela Paul - threw them back in, adding "yoga" and "organic" for good measure. Oh, and of course, those profiled come across on a superficial level as saints, but between the lines as privileged fools. You know what? I don't believe there's a "Pamela Paul." I think this was some excellent work on the part of the paper's Style Article Generator.

Anyway, I've taken the bait. (Maybe I'm homesick, who knows. No Park Slope parenting in Paris. Still very much try-not-to-drop-the-cigarette-ashes-onto-the-head-of-the-kid-in-the-stroller in these parts.) So:

-Obviously, you don't know the personal business of the other playgroup parents, so yoga moms, fine, should not be so judgey of the few among them who divorce. Maybe there was nastiness behind the organic-sustainable curtains that you don't know about, and the split really did have to happen. But even if not, even if the parents divorced for no good reason, for god's sake be civil with acquaintances.

-But maybe it is reasonable that people are judgey about divorce when there are young kids involved, in a way that would not have been as reasonable back in the day. It's not just about peer marriage vs. traditional gender roles, as Paul suggests. It's about choice of spouse. If you felt you had to marry in order to have sex, or if there was no effective birth control when you were young and single, then there's a heck of a lot better of a chance that you ended up with someone you were never that thrilled about to begin with. If you go into marriage knowing what else is out there, knowing, even, that you've been happy living with your future spouse for years already, then perhaps it is more embarrassing to divorce, all things equal, than if things don't work out between you and the guy who took you to the soda shop a few times before your wedding.

-The divorced parents quoted say a variant of, 'It's like they think it's bad parenting to divorce when your kids are young.' And the author is on their side. "[S]plitting up with tender, vulnerable children in the mix is seen as a parental infraction." At which point I'm like, yes, all things equal, it is bad parenting to divorce not long after having kids. Divorce should absolutely remain legal, and is sometimes unavoidable - again, with individual cases, best to avoid pronouncements about the avoidability or not of their divorces, exception being if they choose to brag about their infidelity in the Vows, in which case judge away. But without speaking to any individuals' situations, yes, all things equal, it is a nice gesture to your young children to stay with your spouse, if at all possible. Nicer, even, than remembering to get the organic carrot purée from the Co-op.

-"A common belief is that if the divorce is done properly, the children benefit more from the separation than from living in a family with a compromised marriage." Common among... recently divorced parents interviewed for this article. I know, I know, why look for Science in a place like this.

-But wait. Is the article about divorced parents? No, it's about Mommy Wars. How's this for a nice parenthetical? "(Indeed, according to many divorced men, now more involved in their children’s lives than their predecessors, they do not feel the same level of scrutiny.)" Indeed, maybe cutting a few of the superfluous mentions of organic milk would have made room to unpack the gender dynamics of this in the article's three pages.

-Requisite Dan Savage worship: While I think Savage is a bit too optimistic, if we want to call it that, about how easily the typical straight (or gay!) couple might set up an open relationship, while I think he greatly exaggerates the extent to which couples even want such relationships (skewed, perhaps, by political scandals, and by the fact that it's those not happy in their relationships, or who want affirmation in their non-monogamy, who call him), he does have a point about how, if it's a choice between splitting up a family and negotiating some kind of not-quite-monogamous set-up, the latter probably has its advantages.


PG said...

“The No. 1 reaction I get from people when I tell them I’m getting divorced is, ‘You’re so brave,’ ”

OK, wincing, because I have said that to friends who were getting divorced. But I think it is brave to say, "We are making each other unhappy and we don't have to live that way." Stasis and entropy are so much easier than forcing a rupture. Honestly, how many never-gonna-get-divorced couples have you seen making nasty, miserable little digs at each other? I think a lot of marriages that supposedly fell apart because one spouse had an affair (whether sexual or romantic) were probably already in that "Neither of us wants to admit that we've failed" stage, and the Other Person merely provides an impetus toward action.

Admittedly, none of my female friends making up that 11% of college-educated folks getting divorced in the first decade of marriage had children, so the spouses' preferences were the only ones to consider. I have a male friend who divorced with a kid, but in far more 1950s-esque circumstances (i.e. unintentionally getting pregnant and getting married because of the pregnancy).

The factors you note that might increase negative reactions toward divorce apply just as much to divorces without children as to divorces with. It is genuinely confounding as to how people who date, even live together, for years before getting married can't make it work once they had a legal status as a couple.

And neither of my friends who divorced without kids had what a South Carolina court would consider "grounds" for divorce -- no physical abuse, adultery, substance abuse, desertion -- which I think might be another distinction between the high divorce rates of yesteryear (and possibly those of less-educated and lower-income folks) and those of today. For example, among socioeconomic groups in which violence is not abjured and law enforcement is regarded with some suspicion, there are statistically more incidents of domestic violence, quite often with both spouses striking each other. Among people who are poor and unemployed, it makes sense that more would engage in substance abuse or would desert their burdens. In contrast, the socioeconomic elite of the college-educated (admittedly a large elite, but still less than a third of adults) seems more prone to divorcing due to irreconcilable differences, aka "We're getting divorced before one of us becomes so miserable that s/he is tempted to desert, hit or cheat on the other."

Anyway, in the absence of knowing that one of the parties provided a "ground," I don't like to judge people for divorce. Of course, we don't know why most of the people divorcing in the article did so (within three years, one of them is already remarried with a new baby...). Maybe Ms. Monet's husband would have met the mental cruelty standard of New York; maybe they haven't had sex in 5 years and he's addicted to porn (not a substance!); maybe he kept pushing her to do things sexually that she didn't want.

In a world with the option to divorce amicably (i.e. without citing grounds that will be public record and that make explicit whose "fault" the divorce is), most people, especially those with children, would prefer that option.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"Anyway, in the absence of knowing that one of the parties provided a 'ground,' I don't like to judge people for divorce."

I agree, and hoped I'd made that clear in the post. I don't think there's any point in judging individual couples, a) because you don't know what went on, really, and b) because, unless these are people you're close with, or unless they've announced how proud of themselves they are in the Vows, it's none of your business. I do, however, think no-fault divorce plus civility are perfectly compatible with pooh-poohing, as a general rule, divorcing without a damn good reason shortly after having kids with one's spouse, or, for that matter, shortly after marrying someone with young children.

As for couples without children, I can't really get myself worked up about this, any more than I can re: unmarried but monogamous relationships (assuming the partners could legally marry - if not it's tough to determine which might be marriages but for the law) that end after many years. Depressing for the former couple, but gives both a chance to make it work with someone else. I mean, it may be baffling that a couple with a long history of premarital getting-along wouldn't make it work, but if no child's present, it's just baffling for others, depressing for the adults involved.

Britta said...

It would be interesting to see divorce statistics after the first 10 years. My own anecdata is that when I was in college we had several family friends who divorced their spouses after 25-30 years of marriage (including a different college roommate's whose perfect WASP family spectacularly imploded our junior year), which is right about when their last kid left for college. These were highly educated, high income baby boomers who did marry for love and shared interests rather than convenience, so while gender roles might not quite be where they are today, I feel like our parents' marriages weren't predicated on strict gender roles. The pattern seemed like it was initiated by the women, but then both of them quickly trading "up" in some way with new partners (i.e. the woman marrying richer, the man marrying younger).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Interesting indeed, but it wouldn't really matter in terms of the judgement of others, which is apparently the great fear of these women, or, in more neutral terms, the question of their "parenting." Once "custody" ceases to be an issue, once a kid's old enough that his own relationship choices make far more of an impact on his life than those of his parents, once the kid's two decades away from his organic-carrot-puree days and close to his graduation from Yale, assuming nothing financially gets in the way of the kid graduating on time, this is back in the realm of what happens when a couple without kids gets divorced.

"[...] I feel like our parents' marriages weren't predicated on strict gender roles."

I don't know how true this is of that entire generation. My anecdotal sense is it varied greatly by subculture, and that the two-career peer-marriage norm is something from the last decade or so. I can't say I've looked into this recently, though.