Talkin Bout My Generation

In some ways, I feel like I was born too late.  Not that I’m unappreciative of being born at a time when, as a woman, I could fully use my talents both in the workplace and at home.  Really, I wouldn’t trade that for the life that many of our mothers and grandmothers lived.  But when I think about the Gen X stereotypes–you know the whole extended adolescence, postponing adult responsibility thing–I’ve just never fit in.

I’ve been thinking about this recently since I picked up this month’s O magazine and read the article “Divorce Dreams.”  The author, Ellen Tien, writes about her “mid-wife crisis,” a time which she describes as “a period of high irritation that lasts roughly one to two decades.”  She’s talking about a frustration with the institution of marriage and the daily drudgery that often falls to women within it.  Her theory is that women today question the institution more, contemplate divorce more readily than did our mothers and grandmothers.  She posits that we Gen Xers, convinced of our ability to have it all have now discovered that

We can get jobs, get pregnant, get it done.  We can try–with varying levels of success–to get sleep, get fit, get control, and get those important Me-moments where one keeps a journal with thought-provoking lists that go “I’m a woman first, a mother second, a laundress third.”  We get upset; we get over it.  What we don’t always get is:  Why.

But here’s the thing.  I don’t think about divorce.  I’ve been married almost 18 years now, so I’m thinking I’d be eligible for that “mid-wife crisis,” especially if it’s going to last a good ten or twenty years.  And I don’t hold out that Adventure Guy and I have a perfect relationship.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t been the nicest person to live with lately, what with the stress levels at work right now. And he can be difficult to live with when he gets into a funk as well.  But, we’re married. This is what I signed on for.  According to Tien, that makes me a bit odd.

And it makes me think, not for the first time, that I might have fit in a bit better in some ways in a previous generation.  As Tien describes those women

At 25, they were ladies with lady clothes and lady hairdos–bona fide adults, the astronauts’ wives.  By 40, they were relics.

Okay, so I totally disagree with the “relic by 40” thing.  But I was a lady by 25.  I’d married at 22, bought a house by 23, become a mother at 25.  And, I probably dressed more “maturely” then than I do now.  After all, I was a teacher whose students were 17 years old; clothes were one way I set a standard for myself and for them.  If all that doesn’t make one a bona fide adult, I don’t know what does.

My mother says I was born old.  I’m thinking that Tien might agree.  But if that means I’m destined for a little less restlessness in my marriage and in my life, I’m okay with that.  Just don’t call me a relic.

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27 Comments

Filed under Marriage

27 responses to “Talkin Bout My Generation

  1. MK

    I just finished reading this article — it was left on my desk at work (I work on a consumer product dealing with sexual health) — and was curious where it had come from when I happened upon your blog.

    I am almost 40 and my wife (I suppose it would be my shoes in the way) is few years older than that. We met as adults–as a couple we straddled 30–and are by all accounts very, very happy to be married. My wife often tells me that I am her best friend, a comment I feel pretty proud of despite Tien’s assertion that it must mean my wife has no friends.

    We are both successful professionals with graduate degrees, had lived the “me” moments as single strivers for several years in big cities before we met. And, what Tien seems oblivious to or never really knew is perhaps the lonliness that can come from focusing on “me.” She thinks of marriage the way Manhattanites think of the suburbs…somehow so impossibly dull as to cause delusions.

    When I was single and living in NYC I knew lots of people who gathered for a weekly viewing of the shows “Friends” and “Seinfeld” together…reality immitating art? Anyway, there were always some folks who never sort of got that the characters were shallow and self-absorbed or that the shows ultimately had no place to go as the “friends” were simply marking mutual time until one or all found a more meaningful relationship.

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  4. Mary

    wish I could find a copy of this article Divorce Dreams, all my friends are talking about it – and they’ve all read it in dr.’s offices.
    darn, googled and nothing came up, emailed OMag and received the standard we may or may not answer due to volume. If you have a link, please pass it along.

    Mary/Toronto/Canada

  5. For some reason, the current generation seems to devalue the concepts of marriage. Reading her story, it sounds like her husband is a typical Aspergian (like me) and he’s probably typical of millions of other guys, too.

    Does she propose to abandon that for a life of searching and a hope that the next one will be better? Perhaps someone will do a study on that . . . what is the optimum number of mates to “try out” before settling?

  6. BB

    Ellen Tien has issues…I would hate to be her husband as she tells the world that she’s unhappy with her family life. She obviously doesn’t care for them and only cares about herself. Maybe she and Casey Anthony could be friends…they both don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves.

    I have little sympathy for people who have “lawyer and mogul” friends and are obviously well off, but still complain about their lives like they live day to day having to bathe in dirty water and squat-piss in a field.

  7. Gregory Heyworth

    Authorial amnesia is a rare disease, the ailment of the self-created victim who can no longer see herself in the mirror. And make no mistake, that is what Ellen Tien’s autobiographical essay is, a mirror absent the reflection, a portrait that projects a disgust with herself onto an image of a complaisant, happy-go-lucky man, and then forgets that it is a self-portrait. Her indictments of him are convictions of the woman she has become, all without the faintest awareness of how thoroughly she has blackened her own character.
    We are introduced to Ms. Tien vicariously in her first sketch of a husband whose good-humored attempts at lightening the morning mood are met with high dudgeon and un-caffeinated spite. Shouldn’t he know that in her house, levity among the minions is verboten before 10 AM? Nor with her arched eyebrow does there come any arch irony. What follows, rather, is a litany of petty vignettes, ugly not for the candid humor of a man’s unguarded encounters with his own body (how many times, we wonder, has she farted in bed while he smiles deafly, finding no criminal intent in misdemeanor) but in the poison of a too-detailed recollection of them. By the time he runs her over with the car, we have reason to suspect a method to his buffoonery. While Ms. Tien huffs post-accident about all New York gazing up her up-ended skirt, her male readers at least marvel at the magnitude of her self-delusion, reflexively reaching out their foot to an imaginary accelerator.
    But assuming that Ms. Tien is right and that there are indeed shuffling hordes of bitter wives across America diligently gathering the gaffes and peccadilloes of their husbands into their own Stasi files ready for divorce court, I offer a bit of masculine wisdom. Memory, for us, is not a trick of dream played upon the waking mind, but a conscious choice. What women see as forgetfulness of certain things is accompanied by a willed and generous unremembering of others. And that type of purposive forgetting, the opposite of amnesia, is the greatest gift a man brings to his marriage, and perhaps to human society. As Nietzsche reminds us, “it is possible to live almost without memory, indeed to live happily, as the animals show us; but without forgetting, it is utterly impossible to live at all. Or to make my point clearer: There is a degree of insomnia, of rumination, of historical awareness, which injures and finally destroys a living thing, whether a man, a people, or a culture.”

  8. Rudy

    She’s happily married, dreaming of divorce posted on CNN.com and I can no longer sit still.
    There are decent husbands on the other sides to these stories. Married for 22 years, at sixteen years she hit this time in her life. I am the guy that’s not into sports or hanging with the boys night out. I am into being a family, very close to our teenage daughters. I do pretty much all the laundry, dishes, clean the house. I even baked her a scratch cake to take to a ladies party with her friends last weekend.
    Some years ago I wondered why my six-figure salary wasn’t good enough. Why a guy working in the govt with clearences and trusted in every way by the Agencies after 911 couldn’t hold a candle to the very rich men her friends are married to (they are misserable and at my house crying about how shabby their husbands treat them – I am the opposite of them). Articles like Ellen’s promote women to question the good things they have. I have taken very good care of her for nearly 25 years. Classified now as “married for public appearances and for the sake of our daughters” what can I hope for in a couple years when the girls go off to college?
    A country song by Lonestar describes my situation.
    “She said “It’s just a woman thing” and pulled out of the drive
    I said not to worry I’m an understanding guy.
    I’ve heard that when you love someone, you gotta let em go.
    She hollered “When I find myself you’ll be the first to know.”
    I learned to do the laundry, feed the cat, and clean the house.
    I promised to be patient while she worked her problems out.
    When she packed her bags, her destination wasn’t clear;
    But I sensed that her intentions were honest and sincere.
    Ooh No news…”

  9. Gregory Heyworth

    Rudy, are we to assume you are Ellen Tien’s husband? If so, you are a saint.

  10. Rudy

    I am only married to one like her. Seems there are a few out there like me.
    I am so glad it wasn’t me that reached 40 and needed a sports car and 20-year-old blonde. I’m just Reliable Rudy as the marriage counselors call me. Maybe that was the downfall of the relationship. I won’t sit still for “visitation” with my daughters. Teen girls need their dad everyday – texting with both now. So Their mom can dye her hair blonde, go by another first name that doesn’t sound so “cute”, drive the Lexus I bought her to “keep up” with friends. We all know it’s a mid-life thing. My minister tells me I have the patience of Job. But then something told me I’d need that when I met her.

  11. Todd

    Very well realized and studied points. Very impressive, and I could not agree more.

    What masochist would be married to someone as spiteful and utterly lacking of shame for herself or her family baffles me.

    The world view of many of the younger generations (I am myself 27, so I’ve personally observed this) where people ‘get off’ as much from the temporary high of shopping for ‘themselves’ on credit, surfing a website, or simply talking with sycophants leads to the danger of individuals who have no conscious knowledge that what they are doing is causing their entire lives to be distorted by a smoky, pink shaded glass.

    Indeed, people like Ms. Tien would do well to visit the poorer countries of the world, where families still do their best to stay together and scrape together a living, instead of worrying about their next purchase at Prada or Gucci. These are places where the concept of ‘me’ is often put on the back burner in the endless striving for a better life for a family, and where those who struggle by themselves often end up sleeping alone in a gutter.

    I myself am happily married and have two children, and though I can not say life is always a paradise, I believe me and my spouse both find comfort in the fact that we will not be replacing each other for a new Apple iPhone (or the physical male equivalent) anytime soon.

    The human life without shared experience ends up being a vapid wasteland. If that is what Ms. Tien wants, she should get her marriage over with and go to this wasteland by herself, instead of dragging her husband and their entire lives into this black hole of thought.

  12. Bookworm

    For the person who could not find the article, go to cnn.com and type in “She’s happily married, dreaming of divorce.” I tried to include the link here, but it won’t let me.

  13. Just a guy

    I’ve got to admit a few things:

    1.) I gave up on CNN.com about two months ago.

    2.) When I went back, just checking it out to procrastinate doing something else, I read Ellen’s piece.

    I was so taken back by her demeanor that I googled for what else she had written, but thankfully got to this page. I can’t tell you how good it is to read what has been posted thus far. What I read, above, is not self-justifying dribble of people trying to not admit their lives are not great, but instead that life can be lived without ever becoming as … is selfish the word for the way Ms. Tien is?

    I’m a professional, and through work I’ve seen her story played out numerous times. All too often it isn’t pretty – and it’s just downright sad how delusional some people get that the grass IS greener. True, it works for a few people, but I can’t balance those cases against the misery I’ve seen people who live out their middle ages alone realizing that there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot better out there. It would be great if they were even happy alone, as opposed to the marriage they were in, but they aren’t.

    I think there are some self-indulgent people who just shouldn’t get married. Ms. Tien’s husband made a grave error and brought a desired lifestyle, via marriage and kids, to someone who he’s probably come to understand he shouldn’t have.

    Anyway, I just want to thank the people who have posted thus far. After reading her article I wasn’t looking for re-assurance; I was hit hard and kinda thought what she wrote must be the way it is in America now. It’s just nice to know that there are people out there who live via philosophies that would never even entertain approaching life and desires the way Ms. Tien does.

    For those who can’t find the link: http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/personal/08/26/o.divorce.dreams/index.html

  14. John Z

    I was married to such a woman for 15 years. My every expression of happiness and human foibles was the object of her disgust. I’m glad to see the responses here, as they affirm my belief in a healthy relationship – which, thankfully, I’m now enjoying.

  15. for those wanting to read it, it’s on cnn.com’s homepage today.

  16. Becky

    I read Ellen Tien’s article on CNN yesterday. It’s fine for someone to have different opinions than me on marriage, but her to go so far as to say that people who ARE happily married are “delusional” clinches my thoughts of her being miserable. She can’t even be happy for others. I want to read a follow-up story somehow to see how her summer has been. She comes off as thinking she is so much better than her husband, and that “oh I could leave him anytime” and something about being better to leave than to be left. I wonder if her husband LEFT HER?? Numero Uno: healthy communication does not exist in her marriage. Her husband, before the article being published, probably had NO IDEA how she has felt because she has bottled it up. That’s her own fault and she needs to take accountability for it.

    I am 26, college degree, great job and great marriage. After reading the article I went to my husband and told him how much I love him and am so grateful to have him in my life. We know that we’re fortunate. We’ve worked hard at our relationship and we asked all the tough questions BEFORE getting married because we take it so seriously. Ellen Tien must have been on cloud 9 when she got married, and had a rude awakening later. My marriage is a partnership, and my husband and I both feel that way.

    I wonder if she’s divorced now? Or just staying in it because it’s convenient. Her husband is not blessed to have her as a wife if they are still married, contrary to her belief. She is doing him no favor. He is missing out on a great lifelong companionship that I can say does exist. Does everyone have it? No. But to live a lie is ridiculous. She should get divorced, move on and find some inner peace (it does exist!). Oh, and the part where she said that if the husband is the best friend, then we don’t have any friends… Sorry my husband is my best friend and I have two other best friends and many other close friends. I must just be more creative with a better outlook on life. I am blessed to have my husband be my best friend, and her article just made me more grateful for having such a fruitful marriage. Does it have it’s tough times? Yes but nothing we can’t handle.

    Does anyone else know of an update in her life? If she’s still married? Or if she got counseling?

  17. Married to my best friend

    This phenomenon is not new. The Brothers Grimm identified this sort of self absorption centuries ago- they called women like this the wicked ‘Witch/Stepmother.’ With souls as black and bitter as the espressos they seem to prefer.

    ….my wife ‘helped’ me edit this and corrected me on several items where I was being a typical dumb man, utterly incapable of independent action….she’s laughing now, so all is good!

  18. HB

    More about Ellen and her poor husband:

    http://www.mahalo.com/Ellen_Tien

    Unfortunately, health problems and other life tragedies can often contribute to the disintegration of relationships.

  19. Gabe

    Sucks for Ellen. Looks like she’s seething with resentment. Not healthy…

  20. AJZ

    Ellen (I believe) is unable to make or sustain a commitment. This is one of the implied attributes of marriage; if not part of its absolute definition. (It is possible that) Subconsciously, she feels this is a “male ” attribute and therefore can or will not admit to it. Therefore she creates/identifies a complex web of faults in the one man she knows well, and applies them to “everyman”. She also has an internalized definition of “everywoman” to whom she speaks when she writes. I, of course, have no idea what I am talking about. It’s all idle speculation and mind reading.

    The insistence in the existence of gender specific attributes (with no allowance for variation) is the basis for her writings, and when you begin with a flawed assumption……you can come to pretty debatable conclusions.

  21. James

    As a recently divorced man with a 9 year old daughter, I took deep offense at Ellen Tien’s article. My ex-wife could have written that narcicistic, self absorbed tripe. For years she took no responsibility for her own happiness and relished in her role as victim to her surroundings. The best thing that ever happened to me was on August 9th, 2007. Her paramours wife walked into my office and informed me of her husband and my wifes ongoing affair. Her behavior during the divorce mediation was exactly what one would expect: Selfish.
    The real tragedy is a family was destroyed. It was destroyed for precisely the same reasons Ms. Tien autobiographically recounted: Sophomoric, self centered lack of personal responsibility.
    On the plus side, life gave me a mulligan at 45 years old. I plan on using it.

  22. Lordie

    Makes you wonder if Ellen Tien’s husband would want to be married to if she didn’t “put out”. She fails to ask the tell-all question: “How enjoyable am I to live with?”

  23. VJ

    I like to quote my mother: “She should have thought of that before she got married.”

    “I myself” am never-married. Ha ha!

    And childfree too!

    Ha ha!

  24. Geddy

    When you read the article link below from a few years before, it makes what she’s done to him even worse.

    http://www.oprah.com/article/omagazine/omag_200602_astonished

  25. Apol

    What a depressing article this was. After reflecting on it, I know SO many people that have been divorced or affected by divorce. We waited until we were in our 30’s before marrying. Had kids late 30’s, both got our careers started in our 20’s (while married and kid free) At this point in our lives, it feels like we are just gearing up. Busy with little ones, jobs, etc. It’s still new, 10 years in. I am scared that this will be me in another 10 years; but I don’t think it will be. Here is why: I took my vows incredibly seriously. When committing to him and God, it really should be FOREVER. Yes, if an affair or something detrimental surfaced that harmed my kids or me, I’d have to reconsider. Other than that, we’re in it for the long haul. If we go through a mid-life/wife crisis, we can do it together. Some people drop weight and approach mid-life saying, this can’t be it. Better get divorced and see if there’s anything better out there. Good Luck with that. At the end of the day, you’re not happy with yourself. It’s just easier to blame your spouse.

  26. Apol

    Meant to say while UN-MARRIED and kid-free.

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