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Monday, July 19, 2010


My kids were in their mid and late teens when their dad and I divorced. Both have now chosen to marry. My daughter, the elder, talked with me about her trepidations about death do us part as a vow because she knew from up close that it doesn't always work out that way. And she found her way through that, as has my son who is getting married in a couple of weeks. For them, it was completing the work of their own reactions to the break-up of their parents that allowed them to feel they could take on this kind of commitment -- in a way it was another step in separating from us.

This is excellent! My one nitpicky question is whether perhaps you mght have included some general remarks about possible unconscious motivations that ordinary people would likely freely offer, and at least list a few that you mght explore, before diving into the Talion law. Altho the latter is illuminating. Looking forward to part II.

X, great stuff, although it illustrates the combined attraction and discomfiture that psychoanalytic thought provokes in me.

Homo sapiens frequently makes decisions not apparently in his/her best interest, and as Daniel Gilbert has argued, we don't seem to be very good at predicting what will make us happy in the future. We smoke, drink, drop out of high school, commit crimes, have affairs, etc. How does one clinically go about deciding that a given instance of poor judgment derives from unconscious masochism? Can it be anything more than a narrative that the patient finds persuasive? (Not that that's a bad thing).


You raise an important question regarding interpretation. Are there ways to validate/invalidate interpretations of unconscious perceptions and beliefs? Certainly there are ways that have been proposed, but anything approaching scientific testing is probably not possible and never will be possible.

Still, I look at interpretations as hypotheses and I do work with a method that looks to patient response beyond manifest approval or rejection. The patient might manifestly agree with me entirely, but I may hear in the subtext that I was wrong. It happens often enough.

Uh-oh...This discussion sounds like more mother-bashing in the grand tradition of psychology. Is it possible that a woman's decision to submit to marriage could be construed as a form of unconscious masochistic self punishment?

Is it possible that we should examine the institution of marriage first of all, and the historical context of the subjugation of women by men, and ask if a bias exists both in Dr X and in the society which effects "punishment" through socio-economic means mothers in general and in particular single mothers--who are disproportionately african american and poverty stricken in the USA, where slavery started that ball rolling.

Of course, this "punishing" can be practiced more judiciously within marriage where it may be more intimately dispensed by the husband for his own talion.

If "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle", then what does a man need? To control a woman, by way of his wallet or by way of her womb? Just a few thoughts.

Obama and Clinton, to name a couple of recent examples, seem to have made rather a good use of their single-parent-"disadvantaged" status. Shere Hite's research speaks to the actual prevalence of such positive influences from single parenting both for the children and the parent. Most of the actual damage, when it occurs, is wrought by the prejudice and punitive attitudes of a misogynistic and patriarchal society.

Is it also worth asking whether the writer is perhaps concerned with her colleague's decision because on some level, of which she and you are blissfully unaware, she wishes she'd made a similar decision herself? Is it worth exploring the compensatory doubts which may underlie her conscious protestations of gratitude towards her mate for his indispensible role in her mothering?

Well first time commenter, greetings to you too. I can confidently predict that you'll feel even more self-righteously superior to me if you read Part 2, which will be up on Tuesday morning. Apparently you have concerns that completely overshadow anything I'm actually saying.


Your comment reminds me of something my mother (happily married 52 years until death to her only husband) used to say "Who know what evil lurks in the hearts of Man...only the Shadow!" from a radio show in her childhood. I don't doubt that there are all kinds of sinister elements in all of us, beneath many of our expressions of concern. However I find it interesting that your starting assumption is oppression, as if marriage was only about subjection of a woman to some brutish man.

Are you married? Do you have children?

I couldn't care less if Obama and Clinton are externally successful, they are not arguments for the superiority of single parenting. But perhaps that's because I don't consider them exemplary human beings. Both seem driven, compulsive and rather unhappy, and to have caused much misery to many. CIting them is like urging poor minority children to practice basketball instead of cracking the books in a charter school: the odds are against all the millions who devotedly practice becoming Michael Jordan.

There are often legitimate reasons for divorce, and occasionally it is better for kids than living in a war zone. But I have yet to meet a child who is glad their parents are divorced, or that their parents didn't marry. Parents often rationalize necessary, painful choices of their own to avoid the pain of realizing that they deeply hurt children they love.

I've worked as a youth minister and was a chaplain to troubled, institutionalized teens in youth, so I have perhaps seen too much of the damage that divorce and single parenthood do to children. It makes the whining and complaints of the kids of long married and sometimes conflict ridden parents look pretty minor at times. In particular, the girls sexually abused by their mother's boyfriends haunt me. And the children physically abused by a string of such boyfriends.

Kids have their own issues. But I would argue that marriage is still the single best place to raise children. Not perfect, because people are imperfect, but I am traditional and believe in things that you might consider bromides like "for the sake of the kids."

You really are very negative about marriage. "Submit to marriage? " That sounds more like something that Roissy PUA prophet might write.

How is it mother bashing to wonder about someone who doesn't want to commit lifelong to their child's father? After reading your comment, I realize again just how much fathers matter. Human beings are fallible, and life batters us at times, but plenty of marriages do last and provide loving havens for kids.

I am troubled by the way people trivialize fathers while (rightly) celebrating the strength and devotion of those women who have had to be the sole support of their households because of abandonment or male absence. Any mother might have to be a single parent (death, divorce can intervene). But I am old fashioned enough to think that ideally children need their fathers in residence, for good, to thrive. A live in boyfriend doesn't usually hang around as long as a husband. This is not good for children.

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