Marriage as Another Country

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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87 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Maribou and I met over the intertubes.

    We read each other’s posts for a year before talking on the phone, and talked on the phone for a year before meeting in person. She came out in February for less than a week, I went out to Montreal in May and we were engaged before we had spent 10 days in each other’s presence. We were married before we had spent a month in each other’s presence. We wrote each other every day.

    And our first year of marriage was spent trying to figure out who in the hell this other person was.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      Congrats! My wife and I met the same way and spent a year reading each other on the site, then a half-year reading each other’s emails, and another half-year talking on the phone every night before visiting back and forth for a while. We did get engaged fairly quickly (every married couple says that), and probably would have been married quickly, but her parents said, “If you love each other now, you’ll still love each other in a year or two”, so we moved in together and went through all of that stuff while I was trying to understand Canadians in general. I think that year of adjusting to cohabitation was harder than actually being married.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Dude, I would roll over and panic because there was someone in the bed.

        I got married.

        Plus there was the whole thing of dealing with her as someone I knew intimately in the mental sphere but had no idea how to cook for, for example. We’d go grocery shopping and we realized that we didn’t know if the other person was a white or wheat, mustard or mayo, turkey or roast beef. We’d be able to give each other’s arguments about the Nature of God… but had no idea when it came to the most mundane things.

        It was like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was completely upside-down.

        It was lucky that we ended up loving each other. Well, luck and being really, really, really, really, really stubborn.

        When I see two folks end up not wanting to be married, I can’t help but wonder how much of that was sheer luck (and part of me wonders if a little more “stubborn” wouldn’t help).Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

          Oh, let me see, what did we fight about when we moved in together?

          I did the laundry the first week and shrunk every sweater she owned. She has a tendency to leave out the milk after having cereal- don’t get me started on how weird the Canadian milk bags are. I washed the dishes and did the pot lids with Windex, because, you know, they are glass, before putting them back on the shelf. Oh, there were plenty of things. Most of which are funny now, and I have to say that about 95% of our pet peeves about each other never changed. I just realized it’s easier to put away her milk every day than care about it.Report

    • North in reply to Jaybird says:

      Wow, that’s almost exactly how the husband and I met twelve years ago now. That’s crazy!Report

  2. gregiank says:

    Marriage, like most of everything, is always different for everybody but if we want, we can listen and learn, we can visit that country. Okay that kills that metaphor but empathy and listening and making human connections are all about bridging the potential gaps that could separate all of us. I thinks its up to us whether we see each other as essentially separate, alone and unknowable or the opposite.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to gregiank says:

      Okay, yeah, I definitely don’t want to suggest that other people’s marriages are essentially separate and unknowable, especially because that would make my wife’s job impossible. I just want to say that you do have to do that work to understand them in every case because they’re all unique. How to save the metaphor? Okay, well, you can come to understand what it’s like to be a German if you’re not a German, but you’ll have to make the effort to reach that understanding. They have their own ways and their own language to learn.Report

      • gregiank in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I’d also add that my work now is entirely with people who are divorcing and are fighting over custody of their children. There are people who divorce sure as hell looks like the right thing to do. Some people describe bitter fighting everyday for years. Lots of kids have told me they were glad their parents divorced since there is no more fighting and they are actually happy.

        For every story like yours and Jay’s there is a story like a couple i worked with. The wife said she never really liked the guy she married, however one day he took her snow machineing. He was reckless and they were in an accident where she was injured. While they were loading her into the ambulance he was so upset, remorseful and wanting to help she fell for him. They married, had kids and spent a few years developing a bitter hatred for each other that carried over past their separation. They had little in common, didn’t like each other, had very different values and were miserable.Report

        • Simon K in reply to gregiank says:

          Divorce is like bank bailouts. We’d really like the people involved to act as if it wasn’t an option and do everything they can to prevent it, but when it comes to it, there clearly are cases where everyone is better off if it happens.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to Simon K says:

            Right, I mean, I’ve got plenty of friends who tell me it was the best thing in the world for them when their parents got divorced. I’m not saying divorce is not often better than being married for some people. I’m just saying that, in a lot of cases, the problem isn’t that people got divorced too easily- it’s that they got married too easily in the first place.Report

            • Simon K in reply to Rufus F. says:

              Yeah – which is what we’re trying to deter by frowning on divorce. But it doesn’t work because people don’t discount the future correctly – marriage seems like a good idea so they don’t think hard about the consequences of being married to someone (eg) they don’t really like. Possibly the answer is – to strain my analogy to breaking point – some kind of marital equivalent of capital requirements.Report

            • Pat Cahalan in reply to Rufus F. says:

              “I’m just saying that, in a lot of cases, the problem isn’t that people got divorced too easily- it’s that they got married too easily in the first place.”


              I’m a non-practicing Catholic, who married a Lutheran. Since I have clergy in the family (who was going to be performing the ceremony), we went a did the “Catholic Engaged Encounter” weekend to be in the good graces of the church and all that.

              The weekend was actually very interesting, but what I found remarkable was that in the exercises, well over half of the other couples hadn’t given the topic much thought at all. Including, to my great surprise, the exercise on children.

              I spent half of the time there wondering how many of the other couples were going to make it. You’re getting married in 5 months and you haven’t discussed joint checking accounts, who manages the pocketbook, how you’re going to handle impulse purchases? You don’t know if the other person actually wants to relocate back to Nebraska to be near your parents? You’ve never *met* their parents? You don’t know if you want children? (Dude, you better wake up, she just said she wants at least three).

              Kitty said when we left, “Aside from the very short amusing part of having a celibate priest discuss the intimate nature of marital relations, I thought that was actually really interesting, but I was surprised how many other couples hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to actually *live* together for 40+ years…”

              Sure, lots of marriages can make it through those muddles. It certainly helps if you at least can talk to each other, which I’ve noticed is a big advantage that some of the Internet-enabled relationships have. Still, it seems like a lot of people get married because “that’s the next thing to do on their life list”.Report

        • mark boggs in reply to gregiank says:

          Which is ironic. “Cause people talk about how to make divorce harder, but it almost seems like if you made marriage a bit harder to get to, you could make divorce a bit less prevalent. Or am I up in the night?Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to gregiank says:

          I’m sorry to learn that you’re a moron like Sarah Palin who uses the term “snow machine”.

          I mean, everyone says she’s a moron because she said “snow machine”, so I guess it stands to reason that you’re a moron too, right? Because there’s no way that everyone could be wrong.Report

  3. mark boggs says:

    You nail it with the thought that every marriage is one to itself, with certain things that may be similar but many things that are probably dissimilar to other people’s marriages. Having said that, I believe that same thing applies to divorce.

    I have the good fortune of having been divorced in all but the papers being signed for the better part of a year. Yeah, divorce would leave scars. On me, my children, my parents, her, her parents, etc. From a personal standpoint, it ended up making me a stronger and better person. Because it was either that or literally die.

    Now, I certainly don’t advocate the buffet inclusion of divorce as a lifestyle choice like one would add condiments, but I also don’t know that it *has* to be the catastrophic thing many of us imagine it to be. On me, my children, my parents, her, her parents, etc.Report

    • mark boggs in reply to mark boggs says:

      Oh, to clarify, I’m still married and live with my wife (of 15 years) again and have for the last 8 months. We’re making it work. But I just wanted to add that, having seen the other side of the fence has made my view of marriage – and divorce – a bit different.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to mark boggs says:


        I definitely don’t want to demonize divorce-as-such. I just want to normalize what people call the “rough patches”. It obviously wasn’t comparable to your situation, but my wife and I went through a phase where either we would change every aspect of our life, or get divorced, or commit suicide at age 40. If separating wasn’t unfeasable, we might have done that, and in a lot of ways we did split up for a bit, while sleeping in the same house. Changing everything was very painful, but after the pain, things were actually better than they’d ever been before.

        The thing is that, while we were going through that shitty phase, which felt to us like utter failure, every older couple I knew told me, “Oh yeah, I know all about that. Let me tell you about the time when me and my wife hated each other and wanted to split up. But, in the end, we got through it”. Nobody ever told us that before we got married. Oh, we heard some stuff about marriage being work, but not that it can be really bad and then, gradually, get better again.

        An interesting idea a therapist friend of ours has is what he calls a “symbolic divorce” for when your old marriage dies and a new one begins. He says that every couple goes through symbolic divorces and they can hurt as much as the real ones without having the same outcome.Report

        • mark boggs in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Yeah, our counselor has called it a sort of re-creation. That you need to reinvent your marriage constantly to take into account how things change.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to Rufus F. says:

          “The thing is that, while we were going through that shitty phase, which felt to us like utter failure, every older couple I knew told me, “Oh yeah, I know all about that. Let me tell you about the time when me and my wife hated each other and wanted to split up. But, in the end, we got through it”. Nobody ever told us that before we got married.”

          Yeah, I found that interesting as well. People don’t talk about how they got their marriages through the rough patches with single people.

          After I got married, I found out a lot more about some of my friends’ and relations’ marriages than I knew prior to getting married.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            After I got married, I found out a lot more about some of my friends’ and relations’ marriages than I knew prior to getting married.

            How true this is! We’ve had similar experiences.Report

  4. I could re-write this with all the strange shit people said when my wife was pregnant with our first child — as if becoming a father was going to be the end of all freedom and happiness in my wife, and responsibility for another being was the worst fate that could befall a man.

    All the coolest things that have happened in my life happened after I became a father, often times with one or both of my children present and helping. I feel sorry for people who let these tropes about parenthood (or marriage) thoughtlessly fall out of their mouth.

    And I avoid being around them.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Tony Comstock says:

      We have much better friends since leaving Toronto [although, we also now have much better friends in Toronto, so maybe it was just that crowd].

      Feelings about having children might be based in class or region. When we lived in the city with lots of white-collar friends, I could imagine them saying nonsense like you heard about children. Now we live in a very blue-collar town and all our neighbors ask us why we’re not having kids and why we’re married if we’re not having kids. Nearly everyone here has them before 30.Report

    • All the coolest things that have happened in my life happened after I became a father, often times with one or both of my children present and helping. I feel sorry for people who let these tropes about parenthood (or marriage) thoughtlessly fall out of their mouth.

      Tony, same here. And I’ve only been a father for three and a half years…Report

      • Sam MacDonald in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I must be doing something wrong. I have a lot of kids by today’s standards, and nothing “cool” ever happens to me. That’s not to say I don’t love my kids or enjoy their company in most circumstances. But cool?

        A lot of really, really cool stuff happened to me from, say, age 17 until I got married in my early 30s and started having kids. Things at college. In bathroom stalls. At the Preakness Stakes. One morning I woke up and there was a tiny Chinese guy laying on my couch in a tuxedo. I found him passed out in a ditch I was about to fall into, and probably saved his life by picking him up out of the snow and carrying him home. Then things got weird. THAT was cool.

        Those things don’t happen anymore. Rather than pining for those cool things, I like to think that I just got older and de-prioritized cool like, like most people do.

        Maybe I am just curmodgeonly about cavalier uses of the word “cool.” It’s a great thing to have a talk with a baby girl, or to toss a ball to a kid you are teaching to love football. But are these things cool? People who are actually cool don’t get to do those things in most cases. So I feel like the least I should do is allow them to have exclusive claim to the label.

        To say that my life now is cool seems a lot like saying that a girl is pretty because she’s nice. Well… not necessarily.

        I have no idea why I have such strong views about casual uses of the word cool. I know its weird. But I suspect it has something to do with my early hatred of the phrase “Be cool, stay in school.” Staying in school is a good idea. It’s great for your future earning potential. But it sure as hell ain’t cool.


        • An incomplete list of “cool” things that have happened since I became a father:

          Built and launched a 25′ schooner. Sailed it many times with my pre-school aged daughter.

          Made a good film about 9/11.

          Created and distributed a series of films of critically and financially successful films organized around the principle that sex can be depicted in a way that is humane, erotic, and cinematic. A guiding light has been to make something my daughters won’t be ashamed of when they are old enough to understand the work.

          Bought and then cruised a 38 sloop through the Abacos, with both daughters (8 and 2) as well as wife, dog and cat.

          Have had my work banned or otherwise prejudiced by various Western Democratic governments.

          Brought same boat to the islands and where we cruised and learned SCUBA with eldest and wife.

          I don’t know what your definition of cool is (the tuxedo guy episode seems pretty cool), but the above seem pretty cool to me. So does talking with a baby girl (your own or someone else’s) or playing catch.

          Or not. YMMVReport

          • Sam MacDonald in reply to Tony Comstock says:

            I will admit that all of Tony’s deeds rise to any reasonable standard of “cool.” But it’s also clear that most people do not do such things. Especially after having kids.

            And I stand by my guardianship of the word. I am sitting here with my two-year-old girl right now. It’s great. She’s awesome. I love her a lot. But it’s not cool. Pizza is good. Chocolate is good. But that does not mean that pizza tastes like chocolate. I like shooting guns, largely because they are loud and obnoxious and powerful. But I see no use trying to define everything else I like as loud and obnoxious and powerful. One time I studied really hard for an important test and did well on it. That was the right decision. I am glad I did it. But it was the opposite of cool. The other times I blew off the tests and drank a lot of beer: that was the cool thing to do.

            I am hoping to cordon this very useful word of for proper usage. We all have our own specific definitions of cool. But generally, working hard and being a responsible parent and getting to work on time are not “cool.” I am sure there are some counterexamples (“I work at a place where it’s my job to drink beer and fire guns!”) but generally speaking… it should mean more than “I did something right” or “I like that.”

            As mentioned, I have neither an explanation nor a defense of this particular foible of mine.Report

            • Boegiboe in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

              Hmm. Cool used to mean having sang-froid, being even-tempered, not being prone to overreact emotionally, that sort of thing. I once studied all day (12 hours) for a placement test for a class I had never taken, and I passed it and didn’t have to take the class. I consider that one of the coolest things I ever did.

              I still can’t tell what you mean by “cool.” Do you mean “rad,” which in my day meant the kid version of “iconoclastic”?Report

              • Sam MacDonald in reply to Boegiboe says:

                Well, like many things such as camp, “alternative,” and all the rest, it’s usually easier to define “cool” in terms of what it’s not. Iconoclastic is a pretty decent start as, in a sense, it can be understood to mean “not like those other people.” Generally, if you are thinking about whether you are cool, you are not. Also generally, if old, well intentioned people are telling you to do something, it’s not cool. If they are telling you not to do something, it’s cool. Don’t you remember, “Be cool, stay in school”? Or the Christian Rock performers who did a nice job of mimicking a style of music or a certain fashion?

                Not cool.

                And this is why it matter: People lie. Especially to their kids. Junior is not doing his homework. So some genius says, “Wait. I have an idea! Let’s make multiplication tables COOL. We’ll have someone do a RAP! Look out, MIT!”

                The problem resides in the fact that memorizing multiplication tables is not cool at all. Instead of lying about it, I’d prefer to tell my kids: “Look, let’s be honest. That sucks. Do it anyway.” Might as well. They KNOW it’s not cool.

                Other lies include: smoking pot will destroy your life. Instead of that, how about, “Yeah. Smoking pot is a lot of fun. And it’s cool! But listen, jerkface, you are an idiot and you can’t handle it. You have other things to do right now. I am in charge right now. Or at least I try to be. So I am doing my best to make some rules and enforce them.” Blah blah blah.

                So. Let’s try our best to be honest. I know “cool” is hard to define other than through examples and counterexamples, a la Sontag’s Notes on Camp. But just because it’s hard to define doesn’t mean you can apply it to everything you like. I mean, I like peanut butter. And I like quaint things. But I don’t think I insult peanut butter by insisting that “quaint” is a poor adjective to describe it.

                Parenting is great. But not cool.

                I will stop now.Report

        • Anna in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

          Your definition of cool made me laugh. In general, I would define cool as an experience or event that is worthy of a story shared at a particular time. What I thought was cool in my teens, differed from my 20s, 30s etc. My teenage daughter told me her friends all think I’m cool – the reasoning is definitely that of teens (a mystery to me). It was once “cool” when I shared that while spending all night waiting in line for concert tickets, my friends and I were bored and started riding around in a shopping cart, took it through the drive-thru and were refused service because I wasn’t in a car. I don’t think that it is cool now, just a funny story. If I share it today, to people in my age bracket, the reaction will be much different than when I first told it. Frankly what was cool then, is not what is cool to me now. I think even the simple acts of watching my child’s excitement when she wins a race, or the first time she got that I or my husband were being sarcastic was a personally cool experience, maybe not story worthy cool, but definitely something that sticks with me in a positive way. So it isn’t a de-prioritization as much as a classification. Evidently, hoards of teens think Justin Beiber is cool, as is wearing big hairy boots with shorts in the summer – you get the picture.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Tony Comstock says:

      Yeah, I’ve noticed this at various points – getting married, buying a house with my wife, and having a baby. People start trotting out all these weird ideas, that in many cases aren’t even true for their relationship. I’m fed up with assumption that men don’t do anything in a relationship (with a woman – apparently gay men are exempt) without somehow having been tricked or forced into doing it, in particular.Report

      • Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

        I should have said – my wife is pregnant with our first child right now, and I’m really looking forward to becoming a father. I’m obviously nervous, but I’m also convinced its going to be a fulfilling experience. People keep putting a downer on the whole thing by telling me we can’t possibly be ready, and how horrible the experience is going to be.Report

        • Tony Comstock in reply to Simon K says:

          A thought.

          When I was just in college my best friend decided he needed to walk across the country. Along with another fellow he walked from the Pacific Ocean in Oregon to the Atlantic Ocean in Massachusetts. Naturally it was and still is a big experience in his life, but over the years he’s learned to be *very* cautious about who he talks to about it because he’s found that in most cases either he ends up unsatisfied or the other person does, or both.

          In 2000 I came back a trip to Africa. I was there to make a short doc, and like my friends walk across the country it was and still is a big experience in my life. And also like my friend, I learned that its not something I talk about with just anyone. Honestly relating the experience I had seldom results in satisfying interactions, so if people find out that I’ve “been to Africa” I underplay it and/or response with tropes that I know will result in a non-unsatisfactory encounter.

          Maybe these markers — a wife, a house, a child — are simply too important to be discussed with real candor with everyone we encounter, but must also be acknowledged; and so we end up with these weird, deprecating cliches as a way to avoid something worse.Report

          • Simon K in reply to Tony Comstock says:

            That’s a very good point Tony. I had a very similar experience to yours coming back from Ethiopia and really wanting to tell people about the experience, but finding the responses of people who hadn’t done the same thing really hard to deal with. They were so focussed on the sort of abstract deprivation you see on TV it was just incredibly hard to explain the actual human experience. As you say, people feel they have to say something to acknowledge the importance of the life event, but can’t really talk about it with the kind of candor that would be satisfying.

            I hadn’t related this to the marriage and children thing, but now you mention it I’m pretty sure you’re right that that’s what it is. Makes me feel better about the people who’ve been doing this, so thanks!Report

        • Mike Farmer in reply to Simon K says:

          Simon, it’ll be the greatest experience of your life. I have two grown sons, and now one granddaughter — the granddaughter is like the crowning experience — she’s like a perpetual miracle of energy and change. I can be tired and half-depressed, but when I pick her up and start the playful back and forth, I forget everything but her.Report

        • mark boggs in reply to Simon K says:


          You’re never “ready” to have children. So you go ahead and do it anyway. You’ll be fine.Report

  5. Mike Farmer says:

    My wife and I divorced, stayed apart for two years, then re-married. I tell everyone we were so mentally unstable on one else would have us, so we had to re-marry. I get in the same converstaions about marriage and I am like you — what they say doesn’t fit — I bought my wife a table-saw two years ago — we buy and remodel homes now that there are no kids at home, and she loves to mess around with big tools (hee-hee)Report

  6. Aaron W says:

    I think it’s all too easy for people to get married in the first place, which makes them do it for all the wrong reasons. They should really add a waiting period for marriage just like for buying a handgun. That, and perhaps set an age limit at 25… in my experience, people change a LOT between 18 and 25, so that makes any relationship formed during that time perhaps not stable enough to really last. (Although I have seen exceptions to this)Report

  7. Trumwill says:

    That, and perhaps set an age limit at 25… in my experience, people change a LOT between 18 and 25, so that makes any relationship formed during that time perhaps not stable enough to really last

    Yeah, though that’s a product of culture as much as anything else. Take a trip to Utah and you see a whole lot of healthy marriages started at extremely young ages. A huge difference is that Mormons seem to begin preparing you for (and directing you toward) marriage and adulthood at (by our standards) young ages.Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Trumwill says:

      As a resident, but non-mormon, it strikes me that the familial pressure and the pressure from the religion “make” these marriages work and last. Not always, but more than the average.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to mark boggs says:

        I dated a Mormon girl all through high school and I was impressed that, whenever her family had problems, the church was there for them, and whenever one of them was hurting the rest of the family with their behavior, the church was firm but fair in its admonitions. I read the Book of Mormon, didn’t find it believable, but have always been impressed by the Mormons I’ve met. I always ask people, Have you ever met a Mormon who wasn’t a genuinely nice person? Because I never have.Report

        • Tony Comstock in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Also Mormon girls fuck like wildcats until they go off to college.Report

        • mark boggs in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Have you ever met a Mormon who wasn’t a genuinely nice person?

          Yes. But it’s like any other group of people. Nobody has a monopoly on not being assholes. Take my extended family, for instance. Ba-dum-dum.

          And Tony, there is a saying out here that as long as it’s oral, it’s moral. Not sure how accurate it is, but there ya go.Report

        • North in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Not be a negative nancy but nigh on every Mormon I’ve met has been a douche. The first (a co-worker) proselytized me furiously and then when I informed her of my homosexuality declared I was destined for hell and wrote me off. She also hoarded cans of food in her office (is that a Mormon thing?).

          The other outstanding one I met leaped immediately from my homosexuality (it had been mentioned by a mutual acquaintance) to assuming that my Father had sexually assaulted me when I was young. That particular conversation almost ended in a brawl.

          Perhaps Minnesota and Nova Scotia have a particularly intemperate breed of Mormons, or possibly I just have bad luck.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to North says:

            Colorado Mormons are much more like the ones on that South Park episode, in my experience.

            It’s not hoarding, it’s preparing. I believe that the Mormons are post-millennialist (if they believe in a rapture at all). They know that they need, at a minimum, a bug-out bag hidden anywhere they’re likely to spend the day. When it comes to their houses, they have about a year to two years of stuff stored, canned, put aside, and so on.

            The zombie apocalypse was the best thing that ever happened to Mormonism because now they can make jokes about the zombie hordes when you ask why they have 20,000 rounds, 400 gallons of water, and 18 months worth of canned goods in a closet in the basement.Report

            • mark boggs in reply to Jaybird says:

              Yes, most houses here have immense food storage closets and they are well stocked.

              North, I certainly understand the sentiments as homosexuality and Mormonism are not typically a healthy mix when it comes to discussion. In defense of them though, I have met some awesome people who happen to be Mormon. My boss, for instance, might be the finest human being I’ve known.Report

              • North in reply to mark boggs says:

                Mark, I understand that and certainly I’d never assume that a few douche Mormons represent the populace in general.

                That’s interesting about the preparedness thing. So Mormons are probably especially prepared in the event of zombies eh? Another point in their favor there I imagine.Report

              • mark boggs in reply to North says:


                I have to admit, being non-religious and markedly more socially liberal, I tend to get rubbed the wrong direction far more frequently living here than I have other places.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to mark boggs says:

                I left Mormonland more (socially) liberal than I entered it, for sure. I also gained a new appreciation for my wife’s aversion to organized religion. As an Episcopalian, I didn’t fully appreciate it before (she was Catholic).

                That being said, it’s hard not to admire many of their social institutions and the like. It’s just really obnoxious to be on the outside of it. My wife and I figure, by virtue of heredity, our kids are going to have enough social problems as it is. No need to add “not a member of the insular, majority religious group” to the equation.Report

          • Trumwill in reply to North says:

            I used to work for the company owned by the bishop (priest-equivalent) of one of the local churches. When the bishop discovered that the company’s legal counsel was gay, he was fired on spot (no ambiguity as to why; he was “an abomination”). Just a month before, layoffs had resulted in the other two lawyers being laid off and he was all that was left. Until they found a replacement, the company had no lawyer.

            The whole thing went over like a lead balloon, with even many Mormon coworkers objecting to it on fairness grounds. Salt Lake County is passing (or has passed?) a law on housing/employment discrimination, which the LDS Church itself seems to have signed off on.Report

            • mark boggs in reply to Trumwill says:

              Yes, the *abomination* thing seems to definitely be more of an institutional phenomena than it is with any particular individuals. This year, during their annual conference, they rolled out one of the ancient members of the 12 Apostles or some such equivalent in their hierarchy and he gave a real good speech about teh gays that was rather inflammatory. Attracted a bit of attention.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to Rufus F. says:

          I find Mormonism very impressive in some respects, but my wife and I couldn’t wait to leave the Mormon West. They act… differently… when they’re a majority.Report

          • mark boggs in reply to Trumwill says:

            Amen and that’s no shit. Find a dictionary definition of provincialism and there will be a picture of Utah.Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to Trumwill says:

            IME, faith-linked people act differently when they’re in groups than when they’re not, period

            Put a bunch of Catholics together outside of church on Sunday, and they will say and do things that they won’t do at work or even at a family dinner when non-Catholic in-laws are sittin’ at the table. This generalizes to larger populations and behavioral mechanics, too, I’d wager.Report

  8. E.D. Kain says:

    Rufus, this is why I read this damn blog. Posts like this. Good stuff, thanks.Report

  9. DensityDuck says:

    I think that you’re reading way too much into other people’s attempts at chatty banter. “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is a pretty standard observational-humor fallback in conversations with people who don’t know and whose name you’ve already forgotten.Report

  10. Reading the comments to this post, I wonder if there isn’t just an unspoken consensus on what is appropriate to talk about (with other couples). Tony mentioned his friend’s walking across the country and his own trip to Africa. Simon K mentioned his trip to Ethiopia. These are the kinds of unique experiences that members of the lay public would likely be unable to provide thoughtful commentary on. I’m sure we all have experiences like this, and these experiences come to define us more and more as we become adults and the pursuits that occupy our time become more and more specialized and unique.

    At the kind of “adult” party Rufus mentions – which I admittedly haven’t really experienced so much since none of my friends are married and I’ve lived abroad most of my adult life in self-selected communities of expats (linguistics and travel seem to be the safe topics when meeting new people) – weather and sports probably don’t have enough legs to be anything more than just brief supermarket exchanges. Religion and politics are off limits (and usually best left to the face-saving relative anonymity of LoOG threads anyways).

    What does that leave to talk about at adult parties? Adults are pretty boring and specialized creatures. If someone asks me how work is going, what would I say? “Oh, I’ve been swamped writing these letters on behalf of various Japanese modern art museums requesting to borrow some pieces from MoMA, the Met, and Fogg for exhibitions planned in 2011,” while factually correct seems like a socially obtuse answer for a variety of reasons: the person to whom I’m speaking would probably have no clue what I’m talking about leading to potential awkwardness; the other person might also really hate modern art, assume I love it (I don’t), and judge me a pretentious idiot; or, the worst possible scenario – he might be intrigued and demand a full explanation, which I’d be hard-pressed to give, again for a variety of reasons.

    Knowing these Pandora’s boxes can be opened, it’s much better to be entirely circumspect and simply repeat tropes that seem friendly while not giving away any information that might get me in trouble. (Incidentally, my attitude towards dancing has always been similarly cynical.) In short, conversations at these kinds of peer parties just seem like scripted functions of manners or ettiquette. Probably very few people want to be there in the first place outside of having the opportunity to impress their peers and maybe get ahead in the social pecking order.

    I think the strange awkwardness that comes with small talk about marriage could be due to the fact that it is totally private and the information it contains is necessarily privileged. People turn to pleasant tropes for reasons of manners or etiquette. Perhaps a lot of the awkwardness that comes from even people’s best attempts at pleasantries is rooted in the ongoing paradigm shift in gender roles, where “safe” topics have become fundamentally unsafe.

    And I don’t mean to ruin the light tone of this post with any attempts at serious cultural critique, but this stuff actually interests me!Report

    • You haven’t ruined anything. This is a thoughtful response.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      Yeah, I agree- you’ve pretty much nailed the subtext of these parties and given a pretty good idea of why they are the way they are. It’s also really interesting to note that gender roles have changed leaving people cliches as safe conversation. I should also have mentioned that the most awkward parties I’ve been to are the ones in which my wife and her girlfriends from university get together to catch up and I am trying to make conversation with their husbands. Chris Rock has compared those sort of get-togethers to play dates for husbands!Report

  11. “I think the strange awkwardness that comes with small talk about marriage could be due to the fact that it is totally private and the information it contains is necessarily privileged. People turn to pleasant tropes for reasons of manners or etiquette. Perhaps a lot of the awkwardness that comes from even people’s best attempts at pleasantries is rooted in the ongoing paradigm shift in gender roles, where “safe” topics have become fundamentally unsafe.”

    This brings to mind the graph that James Fallows posted about the continuing rise in filibusters since the late 60s, and my thought that right before our eyes, and perhaps not very thoughtfully and with unprecedented speed, we are reweaving the moral fabric that was torn apart in the Social Revolution. Consider this passage from Phil C. Boldger:

    “Staring with the two desks, some more ambitious suggestions crept in, such as a proposed voyage from the Moselle in France to a West Indian Island, via the Rhone, the Mediterranean, and the Canary Islands. We didn’t delude ourselves that a Bolger Box, even a long one, was the best possible vehicle for this enterprise; only that is was capable, that the modesty of the investment advance the plan, and that the box was ideal for the in-port living between passages. The shallow and compact boat could take choice berths not accessible to more conventional cruisers.”

    “I don’t have much respect for the architecture of Le Corbusier, but his “machine for living” concept is stimulating if you study, more than he ever did, how people can, should, and do live. If you try to disguise a machine like this, say by raking the ends or breaking the sheer, you produce a box with unconvincing concessions to style that only emphasize that you’re ashamed of it.

    “I’ve been thinking that one of these boats might make a surface for a mural painting — say, an arctic seascape on the starboard side and a tropical beach to port. Or a fleet of vessels, or a crowd of people. The long, horizontal shape fits subjects hard to adapt to the usual proportions of a picture frame. The frame itself, the boat’s profile, is suggestive. As a child I was fascinated by the carved and gilded Victorian frames on the painting in my grandfather’s parlor. It’s a healthy exercise to call up from memory the art objects that I enjoyed before I was taught by academic critics to despise them.”

    Similarly, we’ve been taught to despise small talk as being insincere or even duplicitous, when in fact, if one is reflective for even a moment (as in this lovely comment above) one realizes that small talk is a much needed social lubricant/buffer, and that artfully and thoughtfully practiced it can even be a source of pleasure.Report

  12. Mike Schilling says:

    ’ve heard that not watching television is fine, but telling other people that you don’t watch TV is pretentious

    What’s really pretentious (and which I see all the time) is someone saying that he doesn’t watch TV, but having strong opinions on everyone else’s favorite shows.Report

    • The funny thing about it is that it has nothing to do with sophistication. I just don’t have the attention span to follow most television shows.Report

    • The big thing I used to see would be talking about how you didn’t watch TV, though you did watch them later on DVD and acting as though watching year-old TV added to your sophistication level. People do that, and still talk about it, though I don’t think there is the air of superiority that there used to be. Actually, I’m not sure “I don’t watch TV” has nearly the heft it used to since TV started getting its artistic due.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Trumwill says:

        I think the way to come off as a poseur is to say you only watch William Shatner shows, and those only in the original French.

        The other thing about TV now is that you have to pay for it even with the basic channels, so, you know, being really cheap plays a big role in us not watching it.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:


          When our cable bill hit $60/month for *BASIC*, I hit the roof. Maribou and I sat down and talked and it turned out that I only watched Chowder and she only watched in a blue moon with a drink in her hand (“Oh my gosh! One of the Boys is on!”) so we called the cable company and yelled for a while and they said “Okay… $40.”

          This calmed us down for a month but they increased a fee of some sort so our bill went from $41 to $43 and we canceled that day.

          The day after that, a co-worker asked me if I had watched something or other on HGTV and I looked down my nose at him and said “Oh, I don’t *HAVE* cable.”

          It felt good.Report

  13. Lisa Kramer says:

    Great post, Rufus. I’ll have a more complete response as soon as I have a free few minutes to organize my thoughts….Report

  14. Boegiboe says:

    “Lemme tell ya something, sweetface. I’ve been married at least four times, to four different men. They’ve all been named George Edwards, but, believe me, the man who is waiting for me down the hall is a whole different animal from the boy I married, back before there was dirt. … Every ten years or so, George and I have faced the fact that we have changed and we’ve had to decide if it makes sense to create a new marriage between these two new people.” Anne Edwards, in Maria Doria Russell’s, The SparrowReport

  15. Aaron W says:

    This is really late to the game, I know, but I understand the logic of this post. I am in a relationship with a man who is already legally “married” to another man in the state of Califnoria in the year of 2008. What makes it weird was that I was in the wedding before it happened but they were not having sex before or definitely after the wedding. In fact, my current partner asked me to be sexually exclusive with him two months after he got married to his supposed husband. Not that we should mock the idea of marriage, but how have straight people so polluted this ideal? I know gay people who have been together for 30+ years… why shouldn’t they not be married?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Aaron W says:

      Straight people have just had more time to pollute the ideal (I like to call it “tinkering” though). To be honest, I’d need a graph to fully explain your situation there, but if it works for you and all the people involved, that’s all that really matters.Report