Perils of Modern Love

Today I told my son’s preschool teacher that my husband and I are separating. Her advice, being divorced herself after 30 years of marriage, was to do anything in my power to hold on to my man.  She said that it’s just too hard to find a decent man these days so I should stick with this one because at least he brings home a decent paycheck.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received this advice (always unsolicited), and every time I’ve heard it I’m left feeling incredibly sad. Sad for the woman saying it, sad for the men I know who don’t fit that bill, and sad for all the other men I know who are wonderful in so many ways but handicapped by their inability to love and partner with someone.  I’m not a man-hater and this is not a post about what a-holes they all are. I love my husband; he is a good person and loving father. I feel sad too that, despite our mutual desire to share a life and years of work to that end, we simply are not good partners to each other. Yes marriage is work, but doing the work doesn’t guarantee success.

At first, I dove in to the hard work of marriage. I made compromises and met him in the middle. But years later I looked around and realized that the middle was nowhere to be found and I’d compromised so much I hardly recognized myself. I missed me. Like a best friend who moved away and only called occasionally, I missed me.  So I stopped working on my marriage and started working on myself. I hoped this might benefit the marriage, but in many ways it just shined a brighter light on all the broken parts.

I can’t know what the future holds but I know that the type of thinking expressed by my son’s preschool teacher is part of what got me into this mess in the first place. I don’t want something I don’t want just because their isn’t anything better out there. For me, being lonely in a relationship has always felt lonelier than actually being alone. I hate what the separation means for our kids and I’m doing everything I can to lessen the impact for them. But I also can’t raise our boys to believe that the example we’ve set is what love and partnership is.

Today I read a fantastic article by a writer named Brendan Tapley* about how it’s time for men to step it up in the relationship department.  Tapley talks about growing up with 3 sisters and having been both fascinated and horrified by the endless and repetitive relationship advice women’s magazines dole out. He summarizes the headlines of these columns as:
“Why You, Woman, Must Improve Yourself Constantly in Order to Have a Relationship With a Man, Any Man, No Matter How Unworthy He Is!”

Tapley points out that, with good reason, women today have a “profound lack of faith in [men’s] ability to love them, lighten their loads, and be true partners.” Tapley says the 3 things men must do to create lasting and meaningful relationships with women are:

1. Stop using the “I’m just a guy excuse” for thoughtless behaviors such as “forgetting her birthday or being selfish in bed. The ‘just a guy’ defense invariably shifts the burden of thoughtfulness, introspection and conscience–the very acts of love–to the woman.”
Form and maintain meaningful friendships with other men. According to Tapley, “from an early age many men are trained to go without loving gestures from [their] first male role models: [their] dads.” Tapley says that this withholding of affection creates the idea that to be manly is to survive without love and, therefore, the very act of behaving lovingly feels emasculating.
Let go of the macho bullshit (I’m paraphrasing here). Tapley writes, “As women have become bread winners, started families solo, and grown to expect their best connections to come from other women, modern masculinity has responded by narrowing itself.”

This article resonated with me and reverberated my rejection of the preschool teacher’s advice. I love my two sons way too much to saddle them with these same emotional handicaps. I don’t know what is ahead for me in love and marriage, but I do know that I have some skills. I have the skill to love with zeal and compassion. I have the ability to be happy most anywhere at most anytime. And I have the skill to create a life dictated by my deepest beliefs and desires. Hopefully, I also have the ability to pass these skills on to my boys.

Soundtrack provided by Nancy:

*Brendan Tapley’s article “Man Up!” appears in the Dec/Jan, 2011 issue of BUST magazine.  BUST is a smart and feminist version of all the other girly magazines we’ve suffered through.

© Jennifer Sparklebritches and Poop In My Hair, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to  and Poop In My Hair with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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10 responses to “Perils of Modern Love

  1. Jason Holden

    Just wanted you to know that I feel for you. Having been through this same thing loosing yourself in a relationship. It always gets better there are great guys out there and you are the shit! If you ever need me for anything let me know. Much love J

  2. Rachel Klemmer

    I can relate so much to what you are going through! My first marriage failed for most of those same reasons you are separating. Hopefully this will just be a huge eye opener for your husband and he will change and you guys can work this out. You will find your path. You’re beautiful, kind, intelligent, witty and fun! What ever you do, it will be okay…just trust your own instinct….no one knows you better than you so take your own advice!

    Much Love,

  3. Jessica Nugent

    Thank you so much for sharing such intimate feelings…I can relate in so many ways to what you are going through and you so eloquently expressed it here Jen. You posess more than ‘some’ skills – you are an amazingly funny, intelligent, empathetic, bright, loving woman! I love ya Jen.

  4. aliesha

    Your timing is impeccable. I love you, I love how you make me think, and I’m so honored to call you friend.

  5. Dianna

    First of all let me just say that I love you for being you all of these years! Now on to your insightful, heartfelt writing. I am proud of you and saddened at the same time. Saddened because it seems too many of us are faced with having to choose partnership or companionship. I regularly am the listening ear for girlfriends who clearly have chosen companionship in the name of mostly their clocks ticking! I have for a long time been thankful for that not being my reality (who knew getting knocked up as a teenager would have served me so well!) ( : Here comes my unsolicited advice… Remain open to the possibilities and provide grace to your husband. Maybe during this time of self reflection he will be reminded that he married you for who you are not who you could adapt to be. Sending hugs and love from sunny Los Angeles!

  6. Julie

    Wow, Jennifer… how bold and smart to share all this with us in your blog. It’s so refreshing for you to just come out with your truths in detail, so no one is left wondering what might be going on… It kind of eliminates the possibility for gossiping and misreading the situation. I hope to see you soon….coffee/tea???
    Thank You,

  7. Judy Wenger

    Okay, I admit that your entry makes me very sad. I am always sad when relationships don’t work out. Something drew you two together, so how did it go so wrong?
    Have you tried counseling? You are a smart woman and I know this is not easy. I respect all you have shared so eloquently. I am available anytime for lunch or coffee. I love your writing.

  8. Sometimes I feel selfish for wanting such authenticity from my marriage, because the truth is I have already been blessed with great love and friendship in my life. Thank you all for your words of support and, yes, coffee soon (o:

  9. sarah bastida

    Beautifully truthful and wonderfully vulnerable. You speak so many truths about male oppression and the women who try, but cannot fix a relationship with someone experiencing their own internalized sexism. You are wise and strong to love yourself more and a genius mother to show your sons how to love yourself enough to do the hard things in life. I’m not going to say that there really are those men who figured it out in the world, you know that. You just keep falling back in love with yourself. Good for you Jen, what an amazing example of one BAD ASS woman.

  10. This is good!
    That “form meaningful relationships with other men” bit of advice may be good, but difficult in reality.

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