Does Love for “Radical Self-Love” Work Both Ways?

Would fans of literati divorce essays love it if a dude wrote one?

This past September, Lara Bazelon used the New York Times to inform the public that “Divorce Can Be a Radical Act of Self-Love.” Apparently unaware that she was not making a new argument, Bazelon spent her essay explaining why the things she enjoys deserve more of her energy than her husband and children. The idea was recently echoed by Honor Jones, writing at The Atlantic that the accumulation of crumbs in her house was sufficient reason to move out of it. She is now happier caring for her crumby kids only part of the time.

Social commentators argued that a man writing the same things—that he left a wife and kids just because he felt like leaving more than he felt like staying--would not be similarly promoted by publishers of repute, or praised by the reading public.

Consider the following (hypothetical) essay. Would the New York Times publish it? Would commentators cheering on Honor Jones cheer on Virtue Bob? How does it sound to you?

I Needed Me More Than My Wife and Kids Do

by Virtue Bob

Every kid figures out at some point that 90 percent of the things he’s forced to do have no purpose and make no one happy. Parents explain that, well, he’s pretty much right, but that’s how life works. Going along to get along now will eventually allow him to have the freedom he wants. So, what it comes down to is that I wanted to my parents not to have lied to me.

We all go along to get along. Sit through classes that will never do us any good, take abuse from narcissist coaches, bow and scrape for our grandmas’ superstitions, act like the boss is wise and qualified, listen to the idiot run his everlasting mouth.

Marry the girl who wants you to marry her. Have the kid she wants to have. Have the other kids she wants to have. Drive that midsize SUV. Wear that sweater. Take those photos.

I don’t deny that there are reasons for these things. Stability, duty, civilization. The common good. But you have to wonder: why must the common good fuel itself with the dismal lives of a countless host of chumps?

I married her. She was (and is) beautiful, smart, accomplished, hardworking, likeable. We had the kids, and she is, as the saying goes, a great mom. She gives them every minute she can, which, of course, is not many. She has no time, she spares no expense, she does no wrong.

Needless to say, the house was low on oxygen. Marriage teaches you about yourself, and here’s what I learned: I am an aerobic life form.

Killing something is never good. The world is full of people who take up the fundamentally wrong task of killing for the good of their fellow humans. Butchers slaughter cattle; animal lovers become veterinarians and put down animals every day. Soldiers kill invaders. Obstetricians halt the continued growth of whatever we’re calling the things that grow in the human uterus.

Mothers and fathers kill marriages. It’s never good. But it’s for good.

In this case, it was the father. I take full ownership. She did not cheat, she did not beat me up, she did not run up millions on the credit cards. Bedroom: no complaints. She is not an alcoholic or mentally ill; at least, no more than everybody is. She just wasn’t a person I could live with any more. Our life wasn’t a life I could live any more. It wasn’t a life. It was just one damn response to stimuli after another. Work is work, you come home tired, you need some space, there is no space. There is Lego robotics and the oil change and talking about flooring and Mom’s one hour at the gym (including commute! So careful!). There is picking the restaurant, two weeks of remote school, Connect Four getting evacuated onto the breakfast bar six times in 20 minutes. The lawnmowing, the trimming. The dog’s meds. The “Guys’ Night Out!” trip to Sport Clips with two crabby kids.

I don’t blame the crabby kids. I know exactly what their life is like. Do this stupid thing you hate. Do that stupid thing somebody else wants done. Do the stupid things everybody has to do and no one knows why. Follow your dreams right after you fulfill everyone else’s.

To be clear, I also have not done the bad things that she did not do. All services were reciprocated except, by definition, the moral authority. Only one of us could have that. Only one of us could pull the trigger. It wasn’t good.

But it was for good.

It’s good to breathe.

It’s good for kids to have a mom who has space to do things her way.

It’s good for kids to have a dad who isn’t flailing, fading, turning blue, seeing black.

We’re both still here, we’re both still here for them. We share time and we have changed as little as possible besides our marital status. I would like someone to explain how the hell it is less stable for kids to have two stable parents.

I put on my mask first so I could breathe to put on their masks. I’m not the only one.

I don’t want my parents to have lied to me, and I am done lying to my kids. They are not going to think that a happy family looks like what we looked like. I am not gaslighting my daughter into dreaming a fairy tale she’ll find out is a nightmare—for someone, if not for her. I am not feeding any more bullshit to my sons about how life works. I want them to breathe free, to be free. I’m their father. It’s my job to show them how.

Honestly, it sounds publishable to me. To reduce the moral ambiguity for the woke, we could make the dude a trans woman or a lesbian.

is coauthor of LadyLike (Concordia 2015). She has written for a variety of websites, magazines, and books. Her day job is housewife, church lady, and school mom. 

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