My husband says I'm too late on the Sandra Tsing Loh story , but I disagree. There's always room for another exploration of sex, love and marriage, especially from the distaff side.
So for anyone too busy with chauffeuring, feeding, shopping for, scheduling and entertaining children while paying bills, placating creditors and keeping house on a tight budget while writing, researching advising and attending meetings (many meetings) and, last but hardly least, maintaining a scholar-vixen persona—this one's for you. In the July/August edition of The Atlantic, Loh announced the end of her 20-year marriage and sought to cast its failure in a broader context.
Loh's NPR commentaries are smart but cloying—winking at listeners as she pretends, in tightly scripted shtick, to be one of us. But The Atlantic piece belies her humble pretensions. Loh is going for the grand theory of sexuality, trying to synthesize religion, sociology, evolutionary biology and hormones in the hopes of making her family drama into a stand-in for SOCIETAL SHIFTS. But she succumbs to the hopelessness of the task, ending on a sour note (imagine Albert Camus as a couples counselor) that pits love against marriage.
Unlike earlier commentators who castigated Loh's selfishness and assailed her privileged perspective, I appreciate what she is trying to do. She wants to call up the crazy demands, conflicted roles and really inconvenient truths that plague 21st century unions as a way to justify her own choices. Loh doesn't pull off the grand synthesis, but she makes a noble effort—especially in comparison with the stories lamely spun by some of her fellow adulterers. Take John Ensign or Mark Sanford, for example. During a recent appearance on Rachel Maddow's show, author Jeff Sharlet noted that Sanford used the King David story to justify why he chose not resign after his extramarital affair became public. (According to Sharlet, Sanford believes that “normal rules” don't apply to those whom God chooses for leadership.) Ensign, like Sanford, learned all he needed to know about God, politics and moral behavior at the Washington DC Street townhouse of The Family, ground zero for conservative Christian politics.
The story waiting to be written is a variation on what Loh attempted and, in her wake, commentators across political and cultural lines have addressed. A more dispassionate journalist might have better luck pulling on the various social, cultural and religious threads that make up the tapestry of contemporary relationships. What do women want? Who exempted politicians from rules that the rest of us follow? Why exclude gays and lesbians from an institution that its current practitioners treat so cavalierly?
The story begs for an ethical/spiritual lens because it takes on the narratives that provide meaning and structure for our lives. Is there really only one kind of relationship that promotes happy, flourishing human beings? Even if there is, how do we justify privileging that particular domestic configuration over others? What makes a good society? And, maybe most important, how do we raise the next generation to be less neurotic than our own?