Saturday, March 20, 2010

He Said, She Said

A pair of articles in the Times today illustrate a lot of the shallow thinking which pervades modern divorce and perpetuate its many problems. About halfway through writing my commentary, I suddenly became aware that the two unrelated divorces concerned could very easily be the same divorce seen from the two poles.

He Said

In Divorce and separation: a man's view, Fiona Macdonald-Smith "talks to" Steve Davies, author of a handbook for divorced fathers. "Talks to" is the newspaper's phrasing, I guess that "interview" is too pretentious or something, but the article is entirely presented in his first-person, with no quotes and no indication that his words are passing through a woman's mental filter unless you read the blurb at the end. But we shouldn't be surprised as these days men cannot speak for themselves and must do so through a woman, especially in the mainstream media.

Indeed, this may go a good way to explaining "his" very first sentence:
"The trouble with men is that we don’t talk."
The article starts with an apparently self-delivered put down for men. Sigh. Listen, girls, hasn't it ever occurred to you that there are very good reasons for this, and quite possibly not the standard canard that men are supposed to tough out difficulty in silence? We are a gender that likes to fix things when they go wrong, not immediately get all emotionally incontinent. Talking, for us, is often an exercise in collaborative problem solving. If nothing can be done, then bellyaching achieves little more than the partial venting of emotion. You might think that's the best way to go about it, but we have other ways too, such as sports and getting slammed with our mates, or, God help us, thinking. We don't like insoluble problems, we like to fix things, so even listening to our friends complain about your behavior towards us makes us want to help him shake it off and deal with it, i.e. take action, not endlessly theorize about your motivations and emotions. The inability to act makes us all uncomfortable. Learn that.

Predictably, Davies' interviewer reports that his primary source of advice on how to deal with the situation comes from his mum. The temptation to launch into snide comments about being a mummy's boy is strong, but here I'll give you this, you do sympathize well and a mother is unlikely to put her son down. Plus she's a pretty good line into the tortuous female psyche that often surfaces under these circumstances.
"If there had been no children ... [involved] ... it would have been a clean break. But when you have children, it means your relationship has to continue."
Actually, no. When you have children, you have to continue the relationship, she doesn't. Most of the time, she's got the kids anyway. If she doesn't want to make any effort at continuing the relationship "for the sake of the kids" there is precious little to stop her. Indeed, if she really wants to terminate contact between you and your children as well as with herself, it is in her best interest to create as much trouble as possible. Why? Because the divorce industry's benighted attitude towards conflict in a divorce involving children is to insulate them from it as much as possible. This means cutting your contact. The more conflict she creates, the less you see of your children. Really, check it out. If you think some women won't do this, grow up, ask around.

Of course, this leads into Davies' interviewer's next line: "I would say to any divorced man, don’t get angry." I can't argue with that, because male anger is viewed as something pathological, even when it is entirely and magnificently justified. The people in the court do not live in the same world as us. Male emotion is to be repressed or it will be used against him, no matter how great the provocation. Her? She is expected to emote like there's no tomorrow at every possible opportunity. If she gets upset, everyone will start looking for someone to blame. That's you.

We're advised to keep a diary "it may be useful in court". Yes, it might, but it probably won't. She is expected to behave completely irrationally. Recording this and telling the court is really just annoyingly irrelevant, most of the time. But what the hey, keep a diary if it makes you feel better.

In any article about divorce, we've got to find space for the claim that life afterwards is just marvelous, everything is just great and this is no exception: "it's a fantastic life. You can devote yourself entirely to your kids when you have them — and have quality time for yourself." It might have a silver lining, guys, but it's still a cloud. We find out about that in the next paragraph: "Eventually I sent her an e-mail, saying: 'I give up. I’ll see Lauren when you want me to see her.'" And with that he abdicates any possible authority he might have regarding her (not his) daughter and any hope of a natural parental relationship with her. He becomes forced to bend over backwards to make sure he's available when her mother feels like letting them see each other and to never do anything which might threaten his severely compromised relationship his daughter. He becomes no more than a favored uncle, or a slightly masculine girlfriend (he describes her relationship with her as "fabulous"!).

Then there's

She Said

in which Justine Picardie favors us with her opinions on: "Divorce and separation: a woman's view". No intervening interviewer here. And no problems with limited self expression either, as her article is three times the length of his, even though each paragraph could quite easily be reduced to a single sentence. The first, for example, boils down to her shock at the divorce. The second paragraph condenses to "there's a lot of it about", and includes an obligatory and irrelevant celebrity culture reference. One divorcing Hollywood couple does not a social trend make. But in case we're led to think that she doesn't understand the logical fallacy of argument from anecdote, she's quick to discuss the statistics. Er, well, she refers to them anyway. Oh, OK, she rubbishes government statistics as "notoriously unreliable" which are apparently "like habitual philanderers". Geddit? Oh never mind.

The particular government statistic she cares about is an apparent drop in the frequency of divorce, but completely fails to observe the accompanying drop in the incidence of marriage, but never mind.

Eventually, we get to the kids, assuming you've been able to wade this far through all the emoting (all the while remembering that it is supposed to be men's weakness to avoid). Of course, there is no mention of the need to work to maintain a good relationship with them. That is a given. But to give her her due, I have to recognize her claimed desire to have them understand that their absent father still loves them, even if it does segue into a stream of weepy tales about how devastated she is, albeit without direct reference to the culprit.

(Don't miss the obligatory comment on how she has to work to pay the mortgage. No parallel comment on child support. If he wasn't paying, I'm sure there would be, and if he is it is important that it not be recognized just to make sure where our sympathies should lie.)

Really, though, sarcasm aside, I can relate to her general state and how it must have disrupted her life. I have and continue to feel my own pain at what I am going through, but as a man I have long since recognized the pointlessness of expressing it. My sympathy drops to a new low, however, when I come across "the anecdotal consensus is that more women in their 40s are being abandoned by their husbands", which is nothing more than gossip dignified by its presence in a national newspaper. Perhaps she needs to be reminded of the very real fact that the majority of divorces are now initiated by women (at a ratio of 2:1 in the US, I'm not sure about the UK).

In the inevitable upbeat finish, we learn that she has many divorcee friends whose lives have begun again "as well as sustaining the deep bonds of parenthood" and for all this statement's gender neutrality and from its content, I have a deep suspicion that there are not many fathers amongst those friends. She believes that upon divorce is when it is discovered "what it might mean to be a grown woman, rather than a longstanding wife". Implication: being a longstanding wife is not compatible with being a grown woman? Conclusion: divorce is painful, but worthwhile?

I agree with her that divorce is a terrible thing, especially when you are the one being divorced rather than the one doing it. But in the face of the grotesque advantages that women and mothers now possess when placed in that situation, I can only see all the breast beating which constitutes the vast majority of this article as so much manipulation and show for the crowd.