Monday, January 9, 2012

Food for (Monday) thought

The Most E-Mailed Article from the New York Times when I logged in at work today, in true Monday-morning fashion, was the first-person essay,"Alone Again, Naturally."

(Subheading: "Why Men Can't Stand to Be Alone After a Divorce or Break-Up."   Accompanying photo: woman in 1950's-era headscarf, hands on the wheel of a convertible, chin up, mouth grinning.  Author:  Dominque Browning, 60-something divorced former magazine editor and essayist author of a book called "Slow Love," which is to "engage with the world in a considered, compassionate way, appreciating the miraculous beauty of everyday moments, and celebrating the interconnected nature of life.")

An excerpt, which focuses on a "revelation" the author had after slipping on her patio and cracking her tailbone:
"Most single women I know really love their lives.
Sometimes we suffer pangs of loneliness, sometimes we ache for the companionship of that mythic soul mate, but mostly we cherish our independence. We love doing whatever we want to do, when we want to do it.
Women alone eat breakfast at 11 if we feel like it, lunch at 3 and dinner never if that’s the way the day is winding down. Single women do not worry about cooking unless we want to. And we don’t want to unless we like to.

Single women love not having to get permission to spend our own money on a 10th pair of black boots or a painting or a wood stove.

We love not being judged, not being criticized, not being hemmed in. We love the give and take of making our own decisions. We love putting things down on a table knowing they will be there when we return. And eventually, we come to understand that there is no reason to curl up on “our” side of the bed while we sleep. We no longer have to take sides. We can sprawl across the expansive middle.

Single men could not care less about any of the above lifestyle features."
Later, Browning states: "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."

Oh boy.

This is an opinion piece and Browning is opinionated ... and she's happy in her later-life singleness.  I related to her points on the benefits of independence .... but the article is prone to broad and relative overgeneralizations on gender differences. As an essayist she is paid to be provocative. Naturally, such bald statements about what single men want or don't want brought out vehement responses -- from both men and women -- to the point where the comments section was shut down. For example, from a Brooklynite named Fred:
"i'm certain i missed a lot of meaning and nuance here, but this is one of many stories i've seen in the last two years by female authors writing about how wonderful it is to be single or alone. but if its so great, why is there a market for articles about how great it is?  shouldnt everyone who is alone just know that? is there a benefit to preaching "alone-ness" to others, as if there's some sort of promised land to which they should aspire? or, maybe its not great, maybe its just one of many possible human conditions, and there is a need for us to explain it and thereby make it more ourselves. "a man needs marriage like a fish needs water", vs "women do not walk around alert for danger" and "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle". sounds awfully bitter. where does the bitterness come from? and why the need to preach the gospel of alone-ness?"
Browning also writes a Slow Love Life blog .... where, in that meta way of this time in history, she analyzed reader response to the Times article -- which in and of itself engendered another level of discussion and response.  Her freedom to self-edit and known voice here seem to allow for greater nuance in conclusions -- and the admittance that, as we all know, no qualities are exclusively gender specific:
"Men are hard work. Women are hard work. (But that can be someone else's essay.) People are hard work. Relationships are hard work. They are wonderful work, too, when many things click along; the motivation is there when the nurturing is in balance. Someone made a point in the comments below that what I'm really talking about is the difference between people who give and people who take. We all fall along a spectrum, with some of us at either extreme; and temperamentally, the mix has to be right for the giver not to feel taken advantage of--or smothered, or the taker not to feel neglected. It is so simple, in a way, and so difficult in reality. Until that magic moment when it isn't hard, it is wonderful.

And I think that's what we all want. And often, we settle for less, because of fear of loneliness or fear of the unknown condition of aloneness.

Better to come to a relationship from a place of strength and security."
Hmm. Better. An apt assessment of what makes relationships work:  when the balance between giving and taking is agreed upon by both parties. The last line also resonated. In my interactions and discussions with MSF these last months, he often asserts that feeling safe, secure and loved within a relationship is really the crux for making it work. It's one of the reasons I like him and, yes, what truth. The times I have been unhappy in love -- in current situation but, of course, in countless others from my past -- have all in some way circled back to insecurity and indecisiveness; pinpointing that source has been hugely helpful in informing my reactions to the ups and downs.

Happy Monday, y'all!

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