An extended reflection on the rewards of marriage from the author of Fruitful (1996), itself an eloquent polemic in defense of bearing and raising children.
The essential message here is that marriage is hard but worth the work. The summary may seem pat, but the discussion is not. As befits the author of a feminist classic (Up the Sandbox, 1970), Roiphe pokes at all sides of the marriage bed. Why, she asks, considering current sexual freedoms, greater economic opportunities for women, and the high divorce rate, would people today want to enter what is still viewed as a lifelong commitment? Because, she believes, a gratifying marriage “assuages our loneliness” and tempers the sharp edges of character without distorting individual essence. “Twoness” matters. In addition, marriage creates a workable framework in which to have children, clearly the most significant experience in the author’s life. Roiphe is not against divorce, which ended her own first marriage, praising it as a release “from what Milton has called the ‘God forbidden loneliness’ of marital unhappiness.” Arranged marriages also receive measured approval; the author beams on fictional Bridget Jones’s ultimate choice of the man Bridget’s mother had in mind all the time. (It seems hardly coincidental that Roiphe had three unmarried daughters when she wrote this book.) Living together is problematic, she concludes, because of the emotional injuries that lie in store when a couple breaks up. However, Roiphe doesn’t neglect the pitfalls of marriage: the danger of merging into your mate, boredom (sexual and otherwise), tensions caused by children, midlife crises, the minefield of expanded families—all are given due thought. Unfortunately, her provocative deliberations are undermined by a rambling style punctuated by occasionally inexplicable references, such as one to Louisa May Alcott’s husband. (Alcott never married.)
Established Roiphe admirers will add this to their collections; those exploring the complexities of marriage will find an idiosyncratic expression of familiar views.