Saturday, November 22, 2003

Sidebar stuff  

Nearly every blog on the web provides links to other blogs. That's one of the essential components of a blog. That's one of the defining characteristics of a blog. Philosophies about how to decide which links to display vary widely. Some bloggers will link to anything that catches their fancy at a particular moment. I don't do that because it tends to result in 50 to 100 or more links, which doesn't help readers find anything useful. Other bloggers link to sites that link back in return. If I followed that practice, I'd only have four links in my sidebar (Peachwater, The Bible Archive, The Noble Pundit, and Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS)). Others restrict their links to sites that also deal with the blog's main topic. I'd have an empty sidebar if I did that. So I, personally, just link to blogs that I regularly read myself and provide links to other sites that I enjoy and/or find useful.

The top three links in my sidebar fall under the heading of Blog Role Models. These are blogs that I want to emulate in some way. I read Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping every day. He is a Methodist minister (not Buddhist, despite the title) who served in the Army for a number of years. He writes about current events from a Christian perspective. His usually focuses on military issues, in which he has a fair level of expertise. I look to him as a role model because he writes well, prolifically, and with authority. He also shows humility, always making a point of setting the record straight when he has been wrong about something.

Martin Roth doesn't write quite as regularly—two or three times a week—but his posts are invariably insightful, educational, and well-written. Mr. Roth is also a Christian. He lives in Australia and came to Christianity through Buddhism, a background that gives him an interesting perspective.

Heal Your Church Web Site, aka HYCWS, probably doesn't offer anything of use to most people who visit The Happy Husband. I list it because it made me realize the possibilities of a Web-based ministry and inspired me to begin this site. Every post there offers absolutely practical information about running a Web site, particularly a church Web site, and I hope that this site will someday accomplish its purpose half as well as HYCWS does.

I found HYCWS while looking for resources to help me improve my own church's site. I found Martin Roth through a link at HYCWS. I found One Hand Clapping through a link at Martin Roth. That's why bloggers link to each other, so we can all share in the good stuff and form a sort of community.

I have recently begun reading a few other sites that I'm now adding to the sidebar. Stacy—a wife, mother, and devoted Christian—keeps a journal that chronicles her "walk through marriage, parenthood, servanthood and the family of God." Her site is called K.I.S.S.—Keep It Simple, Stupid. I found it through my referral logs. I don't know how she found this site, but I'm glad she did because I enjoy reading hers as well.

StateDog is a more traditional-format blog, serving as a place for blogger Blake to write about whatever comes into his head. I don't usually care much for sites like this as they usually seem to be directed at close friends and family members. But Blake often has something worth sharing with the world, sometimes even about marriage and family issues.

I mentioned Fragments From Floyd in a post earlier this week. I've begun reading Fred's posts every day (Fred lives in Floyd County, Virginia, hence the name) simply for the stunning amount of creativity and joy for living that he expresses. And he has a cool dog.


11/23/03 Update: It has been brought to my attention that there are now two other blogs that link to The Happy Husband: :: blogging: mccord style :: and Martin Roth(!). Also check out this post's comments and see some of the biggest ego-boosters most encouraging things I've ever heard.

Marriage links for the week  

Really not much in the way of news this week. Here's the meager sampling.

The secret to a happy marriage? Separate kitchens.

Financial betrayal can hurt a marriage as deeply as sexual betrayal. It doesn't have to mean the end, though.

One couple's memories of the day JFK was shot include their wedding.

Friday, November 21, 2003

The trouble with critics, Part 3  

Today I conclude my response to Laura Kipnis's article, The Trouble With Marriage. See Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't read them yet.

And then there's the American mantra of the failing relationship: 'Good marriages take work!' When exactly did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of coupledom? Is there really anyone to whom this is an attractive proposition, who, after spending all day on the job, wants to come home and work some more? Here's an interesting question: what's the gain to a society in promoting more work to an overworked population as a supposed solution to the travails of marital discontent?

At this point I begin to wonder what sort of lifestyle Ms. Kipnis would promote over marriage. Is there any ongoing situation in life that does not require work? Any meaningful relationship that functions with no effort from the people involved? Is the single life one of blissful relaxation? Does a hippie commune's existence automatically guarantee the mutual respect and cooperation of every one of its members? No. Life requires effort, sometimes difficult effort. To complain of this, or to expect anything else, betrays a misguided and egotistically entitled attitude.

Sometimes, marriages break. Sometimes, they require fixing. Every day, they require cultivation. You can call that "work" if you like and compare it to a factory shift, but take if from an ex factory worker: it's not the same. The work you put in at a factory (10- and 12-hour shifts in my experience) earns you a paycheck at the end of the week. The work you put into a marriage earns you a devoted partner and a lifetime of joy and contentment. Yes, it's work. But it's worth it.

What if luring people into conditions of emotional stagnation and deadened desires were actually functional for society? Consider the norms of modern marriage: here is a social institution devoted to maximising submission and minimising freedom, habituating a populace to endless compliance with an infinite number of petty rules and interdictions, in exchange for love and companionship.

Perhaps a citizenry schooled in renouncing desire - and whatever quantities of imagination and independence it comes partnered with - would be, in many respects, socially advantageous. Note that the conditions of marital stasis are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate. And wouldn't the most elegant forms of social control be those that come packaged in the guise of individual needs and satisfactions, so wedded to the individual psyche that any contrary impulse registers as the anxiety of unlovability? Who needs a policeman on every corner when we're all so willing to police ourselves and those we love, and call it upholding our vows?

I guess this argument hinges on definitions. What is freedom? If it means doing whatever you want whenever you want in any way you want, then marriage does not offer freedom. In fact, no private or public institution, no personal relationship, no government, and no religion in the world offers freedom by that definition. It occurs to me that I may be setting up my own straw man here, that perhaps this is not actually Lipnis's definition of freedom. But I don't know how else to interpret her statement that marriage is an "institution devoted to maximising submission and minimizing freedom." Living with, or even near, another person requires compromise. It requires investments of time and effort. Our government recognizes this, so it has given us reams of "petty rules" to maintain peace in society. Every married couple recognizes this, and decides where to leave the toothpaste, how to load the dishwasher, etc. That's not just marriage—that's life.

Marriage succeeds when a wife lives in submission to her husband and a husband devotes every ounce of his energy to his wife's well-being. My wife and I strive for that ideal. We are each other's slaves, so to speak, and we are benevolent masters who want the absolute best for each other no matter what the cost. That means I don't live for myself. That means I sacrifice my desires, up to and including my own life if necessary. That, to me, is the definition of love, and the essence of freedom. Without marriage, I would not be free to love my wife and experience the true joy of real intimacy.

In this respect, perhaps rising divorce rates are not such bad news after all. The Office for National Statistics blames couples' high expectations for the upswing in divorce. But are high expectations really such a bad thing? What if we all worked less and expected more - not only from our marriages or in private life, but in all senses - from our jobs, our politicians, our governments? What if wanting happiness and satisfaction - and changing the things that needed changing to attain it - wasn't regarded as 'selfish' or 'unrealistic' (and do we expect so much from our mates these days because we get so little back everywhere else?). What if the real political questions were what should we be able to expect from society and its institutions? And, if other social contracts and vows beside marriage were also up for re-examination, what other ossified social institutions might be next on the hit list?

I'm not sure what to say about this, because I'm not exactly sure what Lipnis is trying to say or how the body of the essay has anything to do with this conclusion(?). A few thoughts:

Kipnis's objections to marriage seem to stem from her view that marriage doesn't make people happy. She is correct in her premise, but wrong in her conclusion. Marriage doesn't, and can't, make anyone happy. Neither a husband nor a wife has the ability to bring about a condition of happiness in a spouse. Happier is the best we can hope for. A person experiences true happiness or, as I prefer to call it, joy when he or she understands the purpose of life and then works to fulfill it. The full implication of that is a topic for another post, and perhaps another blog. I will say, though, that I have explored/read/discussed/experimented all sorts of things in an effort to find that purpose. Here's what I've come up with, in a nutshell: Love God and keep His commandments, love your neighbor, and don't waste life by living it for yourself.

Laura Kipnis is the author of Against Love: A Polemic (Pantheon) and a professor at Northwestern University, Chicago.

Curt Hendley is a happily married man (5 yrs., 6 mos. as of this post) who has written several technical manuals for Dell OpenManage server management software that no one will ever read.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The trouble with critics, Part 2  

Today I continue my examination of Laura Kipnis's anti-marriage article. See yesterday's post for the first part. I meant to provide a disclaimer yesterday: Laura Kipnis holds a couple of advanced academic degrees (her Northwestern University bio lists them as a BFA, an MFA, and an independent study program at the Whitney Museum) whereas I hold a bachelor's degree in journalism, which took me seven years to obtain. She approaches her topic from an analytical, academic (though I might also add slanted) perspective whereas I address it based on life experience and anecdotal observation. That could account for many of our differences of opinion.

Let us contemplate the everyday living conditions of this rather large percentage of the population, this self-reportedly unhappily married majority: all those households submersed in low-level misery and soul-deadening tedium, early graves in all respects but the most forensic. Regard those couples - we all know them, perhaps we are them - the bickering; the reek of unsatisfied desires and unmet needs; a populace downing anti-depressants, along with whatever other forms of creative self-medication are most easily at hand, from triple martinis to serial adultery.

No doubt these conditions do exist in many homes. Unhappy people often self-medicate with whatever is at hand, be it pharmaceuticals, alcohol, pornography, or multiple sexual partners. But these are all symptoms of individual and specific problems needing attention, not an institution needing annihilation.

Yes, we all know that domesticity has its advantages: companionship, shared housing costs, childrearing convenience, reassuring predictability, occasional sex, and many other benefits too varied to list. But there are numerous disadvantages as well - though it is considered unseemly to enumerate them - most of which are so structured into the expectations of contemporary coupledom that they have come to seem utterly natural and inevitable. But are they?

This touches on an important topic. If I could give advice to every young couple contemplating marriage, I would tell them this: "Before you marry, you need a good reason to do so that does not include the phrase 'because we're in love.' If you base your marriage on 'being in love,' then your marriage will fail because that feeling does not last. If you base your marriage on something of actual substance, then that feeling can grow into something more wonderful than you can imagine. But 'in love,' if that is all you have, falls apart at the first serious conflict."

That's just sort of a sidebar. Kipnis gets to her real point in the next paragraph.

Consider, for instance, the endless regulations and interdictions that provide the texture of domestic coupledom. Is there any area of married life that is not crisscrossed by rules and strictures about everything from how you load the dishwasher, to what you can say at dinner parties, to what you do on your day off, to how you drive - along with what you eat, drink, wear, make jokes about, spend your discretionary income on?

Is there anything, any endeavor in this entire world, that does not include rules and strictures to somehow govern our behavior? Any activity, any situation, any and every bit of our lives that involves contact with other people carries with it rules of etiquette, if not law, regarding acceptable conduct. True, as long as I live with my wife I have to take her feelings into account with nearly every decision I make. If I get the urge to drink a gallon of vodka and sing Dont' Worry Be Happy at the top of my lungs for four hours, I resist. That may be "unnatural," but anything else would be uncivilized. If we do away with marriage because it does not allow us to act in any way we please, then we must also do away with society in general.

What is it about marriage that turns nice-enough people into petty dictators and household tyrants, for whom criticising another person's habits or foibles becomes a conversational staple, the default setting of domestic communication? Or whose favourite marital recreational activity is mate behaviour modification? Anyone can play - and everyone does. What is it about modern coupledom that makes policing another person's behaviour a synonym for intimacy? (Or is it something about the conditions of modern life itself: is domesticity a venue for control because most of us have so little of it elsewhere?)

Replace the word marriage with academia in that paragraph and you have a better question. The truth is that selfish people, married or not, are by definition self-centered and behave in ways that benefit themselves and hurt others. Kipnis' argument here is begging the question. Marriage doesn't make people selfish and controlling. Selfish and controlling people make marriage miserable.

Then there's the fundamental premise of monogamous marriage: that mutual desire can and will last throughout a lifetime. And if it doesn't? Well apparently you're just supposed to give up on sex, since waning desire for your mate is never an adequate defence for 'looking elsewhere'. At the same time, let's not forget how many booming businesses and new technologies have arisen to prop up sagging marital desire. Consider all the investment opportunities afforded: Viagra, couples pornography, therapy. If upholding monogamy in the absence of desire weren't a social dictate, how many enterprises would immediately fail? (Could dead marriages be good for the economy?)

I believe this is what professional debaters call knocking down a straw man, assigning an indefensible argument to an opponent in order to argue decisively against it and score an easy victory. "…mutual desire can and will last throughout a lifetime"? Is that really "the fundamental premise of monogamous marriage"? I have never in my life heard anyone make that ridiculous claim. In fact, I would bet that every happily married couple will tell you that desire ebbs and flows, that sometimes you like your spouse and sometimes you don't, that sometimes you pursue sex with real gusto and sometimes you just don't feel like it. But love and commitment infuse real joy into a passionate relationship and keep a couple content when desires cool.

Kipnis also seems to be implying here that the main purpose of sex is physical gratification—a common but fundamental misunderstanding. Sex in its purest and most satisfying form is a physical union between two people who share their entire lives with each other. Active love and unshakeable, exclusive commitment in a marriage inspire desire.

I will finish this tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The trouble with critics  

Today, I am attempting my first fisking. For those of you not up on the latest Internet lingo, a fisking is a point-by-point examination (usually the form of a refutation) of a news article, opinion piece, or blog post.

Last week, I came across an article written by Laura Kipnis, a professor in Northwestern University's school of communications. In it, she tries to make the case that marriage should be abolished for the good of society. When I first sat down to type out my response, I wrote things like "What's WRONG with you??!!! Are you UTTERLY INSANE or just COMPLETELY STUPID?!!" I realized that such language on my part would not have been helpful for anyone, including me, so I waited a few days and resumed my task once I was a little calmer.

Here's the article, originally published in The Observer, 9/7/03. I found it at The Age, 11/15/03. Kipnis's words are indented. My comments are not.

Laura Kipnis has provoked a storm in the US with a new book attacking marriage. Here, she explains why monogamy turns nice people into household tyrants.

Marriage: The new blue-light case of the week. Everyone is terribly worried about its condition: can it be cured? Or has the time arrived for drastic measures - just putting it out of its misery? Euthanasia is a dirty word but, frankly, the prognosis is not so great for this particular patient: a stalwart social institution is now scabby and infirm, gasping for each tortured breath. Many who had once so optimistically pledged to uphold its vows are fleeing its purported satisfactions. In the US, a well-publicised 50 per cent failure rate hardly makes for optimism; in Britain, too, the Office for National Statistics report that divorce has reached a record high at around 15 per cent. But this lower figure goes with a drop in the number of weddings - at their lowest level since the reign of Queen Victoria; this should mean fewer divorces, since not getting married in the first place seems the best way - these days - of avoiding this sorry (often expensive, usually ego-damaging) denouement.

I should first say that I have no idea what Kipnis means by "blue-light case." A google search for the three words together resulted in a few links to her article on various sites and a few Web sites selling a decorative PC accessory. In this context, however, she seems to be comparing marriage to a terminally ill patient who has no evident quality of life and no evident hope of recovery.

I have tried to find a reliable source for the divorce rate in the United States, but no one seems to agree on how many marriages actually end in divorce. The Straight Dope has a seemingly logical examination of the issue of figuring divorce rates. Suffice it to say, the 50 per cent figure is unreliable.

Avoiding marriage may be the surest way to prevent divorce, but in no other sense of the word is it the best way.

Certainly, there are happy marriages. No one disputes that and all those who are happily married can stop reading here.

Here is the crux of the problem. Good, happy, and fulfilling marriages do exist and always have. I'm in one. I know people who love being married. There are people I don't know personally who visit this blog because they love their spouse. I'll also go so far as to say that I am at heart a selfish, prideful man who would prefer not to compromise on even the smallest point. But still I have a good marriage and the love of a wonderful woman, however selfish, prideful, and averse to compromise she may be as well. I maintain that if I can do it, anyone can do it. Or at least this: If it's possible for some, it's possible for many, if not all. Even if most marriages fail, that's not a matter of statistics—it's a matter of human will. Statistics are irrelevant.

Additionally, there is always serial monogamy for those who can't face up to the bad news - yes, keep on trying until you get it right, because the problem couldn't be the institution itself or its impossible expectations. For these optimists, the problem is that they have somehow either failed to find the 'right person', or have been remiss in some other respect. If only they'd put those socks in the laundry basket instead of leaving them on the floor, everything would have worked out. If only they'd cooked more (or less) often. If only they'd been more this, less that, it would have been fine.

The failure of serial monogamy has less to do with feelings of guilt or mismatched fate than is does with unrealistic personal expectations stemming from an inaccurate concept of marriage. I've written before about how media mis-shapes popular ideas about romance and relationships. Anyone who expects a long-term relationship (marital or not) to resemble anything they see on TV, which I think most people do, will find more disillusionment than fulfillment. Anyone who believes that there is one and only one "right person" in the world with whom a successful union can be formed will never find that person. No one is perfect, and no two people match perfectly.

The fact that most people have egregious misconceptions about marriage does not necessitate a demolition of the institution. It simply indicates that older generations must educate younger generations more effectively in the ways of life, love, and relationships.

And what of the growing segment of the population to whom the term 'happily married' does not precisely apply, yet who none the less valiantly struggle to uphold the tenets of the marital enterprise, mostly because there seems to be no viable option? A 1999 Rutgers University study reported that a mere 38 per cent of Americans who are married describe themselves as actually happy in that state. This is rather shocking: so many pledging to live out their lives here on earth in varying degrees of discontent or emotional stagnation because that is what's expected from us, or 'for the sake of the children', or because wanting more than that makes you selfish and irresponsible. So goes the endless moralising and finger-pointing this subject tends to invite.

In times past a couple might have stayed in an unhappy marriage for lack of viable options. That probably is still the case in some instances. But modern society is full of legal and socially acceptable alternatives to traditional marriage (not many healthy alternatives, in my opinion, but they exist nonetheless). These days, most couples who remain unhappily married have very good reasons. They may want to restore their marriage, knowing that a difficult stretch of time does not necessarily foretell the imminent end of the world (see Todd's story, for instance). They may want to honor the commitment they made to one another. They may want their children to have a stable home and are willing to work through their conflicts to give it to them. Many parents, after all, put their children's well-being ahead of their own, no matter what the moralizers and finger-pointers might say.

I will continue this tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Where I'm from  

Through a series of links I can't begin to reconstruct, I came across a nice blog the other day called Fragments ~ from Floyd. It's pretty creative stuff. One post from last week particularly caught my attention. It was called Where are you from?. In it, blogger Fred (Floyd is the Virginia county where Fred lives) links to a beautiful and touching poem called Where I'm From by George Ella Lyons, then issues a challenge/assignment for readers to write similar poems based on their own experience and background. In his post, he even helps out with a sort of fill-in-the-blank guideline/template to help out the non- and timidly-poetic among us.

I wrote my own and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Where Curt's From
I am from books,
from teddy bears and little red wagons.
I am from the oil-covered roads in the sandbox.
I am from the honeysuckle bush,
from the bois d'arc
and its sticky, brainy fruit.

I am from hunters, from farmers, from storytellers and singers,
from Joe, and J.C., and Curtis, who (I) never knew.
I'm of the frigid feet, the weak eyes, and the strong heart.
I'm of the doodle, june, and lightning bugs.

I am from the snake snapper and the road builder,
from peanut butter crackers and chocolate-covered pretzels.
I am from washer pitchers, rocket launchers, and arms that emanated infinite love.
I am from treasure chests, from toy barrels, from loving kitchens,
and from sloping yards and vibrant trees that dropped nuts as well as leaves.

I'd love to see what others can come up with. Check out Fred's template as well as what other people have written. I also would like to encourage you to take some time to write your own and e-mail me with it (happy-at-atimelikethis-dot-net), and let Fred know about it as well (fred1st-at-swva-dot-net). If I get a couple of these poems from readers, I'll set up a special page and post them here on this site.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Searching  

I got the weirdest hit from a search engine yesterday. The search terms were:

how what is fair in a divorce , when the couple is 52 years old and have been married for 30 years with 2 grown children who live at home and the mother does not work. the father is having an affair.

The search engine hits I usually get are things like happy husband, happy wife, happy divorces, how to make a husband happy, that sort of thing. I've also received hits from searches like nicknames for boyfriends and girlfriends, wild hair cause, allison peed herself, etc. Never anything quite so painful as this, though. The search came from Yahoo, which listed this site as the 28th hit. I'm not sure whether to feel sad because people conduct searches like this, or hopeful because in their searches they actually visit a site whose tagline is "…celebrating marriage in a hostile world."


Update
11/19/03—I have a new weirdest search: "successfully transforming your husband into a lady." I'm speechless.