In the past few days, on my own website, my life has been reduced to vanilla pudding. I am dull, devoid of passion, pedestrian, the human equivalent of a “yawning chubby house cat,” says Meghan, summarizing Cristina Nehring’s new book Vindication of Love , the caged bird who forgot how to sing. This is because I am trapped in something that goes by the clinical name of “companionate marriage,” and worse, I like it.
Unlike Sandra Tsing Loh, I can not load my possessions into a trailer and head for the open road. I can not even easily spend an evening giggling with my girlfriends without a lot of complicated pre-arrangements. Unlike Nehring, I can not swoon for the mustachioed stranger without a whole lot of baggage coming down on my head. All I can do, apparently, is bark at my husband to pack the lunches and shove him out of my bed to make room for the whimpering children. In the feminist choice between security and passion, they all say, I have picked the wrong side.
I protest. This “choice” is less something that plagues the whole of womankind than an affliction of artists, and it reappears in various forms. It strikes me as a subtle variation on the equally false choice between madness/creativity and sanity/dullness. For every great suffering artists she names (Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath), I can name you a happily married one (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Joan Didion).
Nehring writes that in shying away from any power difference, women give up the erotic and the mysterious. There is something to that. But the fact is, for women the power difference came with too much pain: a chador, suicide, or in the case of David Pogue’s wife, a lifetime of acting as his social secretary with the small reward of being publicly declared “sainted.”
When we, the “smug marrieds,” as Bridget Jones called us, accept the term “companionate,” we have already lost the fight. It sounds like a Japanese rent-a-friend, a new brand of artificial sweetener or at best, a highly technical term. If some people choose to think of their marriage as “work” and child-rearing as a “profession” that’s their loss. There is a great amount of mystery that flows through a lifetime of love, both for your husband and your children. There is, believe it or not, also terror, and passion, and all the ecstasies Nehring describes. I too have been derailed by love and hospitalized by love, as Nehring has, but I am happy to leave that behind. She can keep her hospital room. I’ll take the lifetime of bliss.