Preface: except for its final sentance this article departs somewhat from this column’s usual subject area.
Both Feverish Liaisons, Katie Roiphe’s review of A VINDICATION OF LOVE: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century By Cristina Nehring, and Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, Sandra Tsing Loh’s personal essay which makes reference to several books about mating and marriage are pretty down on marriage. “We have been pragmatic and pedestrian about our erotic lives for too long,” Cristina Nehring writes. She sees our modern goals of marriage, security and comfort as limited and sad, and quotes approvingly Heloise’s statement to Abelard: “ ‘I looked for no marriage bond,’ she flashed. ‘I never sought anything in you but yourself.’ ”…Elsewhere, Nehring interrogates our steadfast insistence on balanced, healthy relationships, our readiness to condemn doomed, impossible entanglements. She argues that it may in fact be a sign of health to enter into a relationship that is turbulent, demanding or unorthodox. She praises long-distance relationships, arduous relationships, relationships with men who are elusive, relationships the therapeutic culture adamantly opposes.
Nehring seems to champion what (in Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love By Understanding Your Personality Type) Helen Fisher (as quoted by Loh) calls The Explorer, a personality type who is the libidinous, creative adventurer who acts “on the spur of the moment.” Operative neurochemical: dopamine. Fisher’s three other types are The Builder–the much calmer person who has “traditional values.” The Builder also “would rather have loyal friends than interesting friends,” enjoys routines, and places a high priority on taking care of his or her possessions. Operative neurotransmitter: seratonin; The Director –the “analytical and logical” thinker who enjoys a good argument. The Director wants to discover all the features of his or her new camera or computer. Operative hormone: testosterone; andThe Negotiator –the touchy-feely communicator who imagines “both wonderful and horrible things happening” to him- or herself. Operative hormone: estrogen, then oxytocin. Explorers tend to be attracted to other Explorers, Builders to other Builders, but Directors are attracted to Negotiators and vice versa. I see myself as 45% Explorer, 35% Builder, 10% Director, and 10% Negotiator. My wife Shoshana sees herself as 60% Builder and 40% Director. Go figure!
Most of Loh’s essay describes her own marriage and its demise, as well as the intimate circumstances of her closest women friends who find themselves “reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches” and then ignored in the bedroom. Referring to Fisher’s book one of the friends has an ah hah! moment: “This is why my marriage has been dead for 15 years. I’m an Explorer married to a Builder.” Loh concludes her essay by speculating on arrangements that might replace marriage. One of the books to which she refers earlier in the piece isOpen Marriage by Nena and George O’Neill, but she dismisses it as a 70s fad. I’m disappointed that she did not discuss Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships which was published last year and this year’s One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry,Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love by Rebecca Walker which explore contemporary alternatives to traditional marriage. I hope some day a future essayist will refer to my and my co-author‘s work in progress I Am My Beloved’s: Jewish-American Couples Talk About Their Marriages whose portraits of successful marriages balance Nehring and Loh’s pessimistic takes.