You’ve probably read Philip Weiss’ recent profile of Zbigniew Brzezinski in TAC in which he quoted yours truly a few times. But for some reason, Philip didn’t pick up my brain for his new cover story in New York magazine, “The Secret Lives of Married Men”, The trouble with sex and marriage. It’s an informative and entertaining piece. And I particularly liked these somewhat conservative observations on the Human Condition:
Susan Squire, the author of a forthcoming history of marriage called I Don’t, told me that marriage wasn’t made to handle all the sexual pressure we’re putting on it. For one thing, the average life span is far greater than it was 100 years ago; what is marriage to do with all that time? And in days gone by, marriage was a more formal institution whose purposes were breeding and family. Squire says that cultural standards of morality have changed dramatically. In ancient aristocracies, rich men had courtesans for pleasure and concubines for quick sex. In the Victorian age, prostitution was far more open than it is today. America is a special case. By the early-twentieth century, she says, the combined impact of egalitarian ideals and the movies had burdened American marriage with a new responsibility: providing romantic love forever. Squire says that the first couples therapy began cropping up in the thirties, when people found their marriages weren’t measuring up to cultural expectations.
“Marriage isn’t the problem; it’s the best answer anyone’s come up with,” Squire says. “Men and women are equally oppressed by expectations. Expectations are ridiculously high now. Nobody expected you to find personal fulfillment and happiness in marriage. Marriage can be very satisfying, but it’s not going to be this heady romance for 40 years.” Marriage involves routine, and routine kills passion. “What does Bataille say?” Squire continues. “There is nothing erotic that is not transgressive. Marriage has many benefits and values, but eroticism is not one of them.”
A long and supportive marriage may be more valuable than a sexually faithful one, Squire says. “Why does society consider it more moral for you to break up a marriage, go through a divorce, disrupt your children’s lives maybe forever, just to be able to f— someone with whom the f—— is going to get just as boring as it was with the first person before long?”
I suppose that these words of wisdom could apply also to “nation building.” There is something boring and unsexy about fixing your own neighborhood or helping your own poor. Which explains why Bush is so, so “envious” of soldiers serving “romantic” missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Foreign intervention as a form of adultery?
And enjoy my latest film review.