“Miss Lonelyhearts” columns are one good way to keep track of the zeitgeist, or at least part of it. Partly due to their anonymity, people write in to strangers like Abigail Van Buren and say everything from pouring out their hearts and souls to asking advice about the accepted method of installing a roll of toilet paper. So the letters are sometimes interesting and so are the responses by “Abby” or whomever. And, if one were inclined to read them, all those letters and all those responses would give a pretty fair idea of the tenor of the times about certain subjects.
Now, most of those “Miss Lonelyhearts” columns are written by and for women. Most of the letters come from women and most of the responders are women as well (“The Loved One” and Nathaniel West’s “Miss Lonelyhearts” notwithstanding). So the part of the zeitgeist revealed by those columns tends to be the distaff side of things. Men aren’t very well represented because they don’t tend to write in.
For my money, some of the columns give pretty good advice. Much of it is common sense, but often enough, that’s all people need to help them through whatever difficulty they’re inquiring about.
Then there are some advice columns in which it looks like it’s the advice giver who needs help as much as it is the letter writer. Here’s Exhibit ‘A.’ (Huffington Post, 1/25/12).
It’s written by one Iris Krasner and I find myself wondering who’s gone more totally off the rails, her or her advice seeker, Cindy from Dallas. The piece is all about love (or the lack thereof), marriage and what makes a marriage work. Krasner touts herself thus:
My conclusions about the see-saw between hate and love come not as a psychologist or as a minister who counsels her flock. I am an author of five relationship books, including The Secret Lives of Wives, to whom women tend to tell all, about joy and sorrow and cheating and lying, about hot sex and no sex – and lots of dish in between.Hmm. Maybe a little training would help Krasner notice a few obvious things, not only about Cindy, but about herself.
It seems Cindy recently emailed Krasner asking advice.
“Help! I hate my husband.”Sounds like bad news indeed, so Krasner asked her a few questions to get some details about just why Cindy hates her husband, and that’s where it gets interesting. In the entire article, Cindy actually describes her husband in just two places. Here’s one:
[H]e’s a gentle man and a hands-on father. I have never been suspicious of him being with other women. He makes a good living, and that has enabled me to stay home with the kids.This is the guy she hates? She has children with him, he’s a good father, faithful to her, a good earner whose earnings allow her to do what she wants which is be a stay-at-home mom. Cindy goes on to say that she finds him sexy and enjoys sex with him although it doesn’t happen very often. Again, this is the guy she hates, so you’re probably wondering what her husband does that is so awful that it overwhelms all those other positive attributes. Get ready for it; here’s the one negative thing Cindy told Krasner about her husband:
My husband chews his food loudly.Yep, that’s it. And the remarkable thing is that Krasner, the writer of all those “relationship books,” doesnt’ quite notice. Oh, she seems to grasp the fact that Cindy’s husband could be worse and gets Cindy to see that too, all of which is fine. But here’s what Cindy’s problem is that Krasner manages to miss:
Anyone who says she hates her husband and goes on to describe him in quite glowing terms, doesn’t hate her husband, she hates something else. In Cindy’s case it’s boredom; she describes herself as “bored.” Well, here’s some unsolicited advice for her: your boredom isn’t your husband’s fault, it’s your fault. If you don’t want to be bored, do something that interests you. Get a career, go to school, start a non-profit to combat misandry in popular culture. There are a billion interesting things out there in the world to do. Find one and do it.
But the fact that Krasner missed the obvious isn’t the worst part of her piece. The worst part of it is that she and Cindy agree that a husband is responsible for his wife’s emotional wellbeing. Of course there are things husbands can and should do, or refrain from doing, that can understandably affect how their wives feel. But Cindy’s husband’s got those covered.
What Krasner never lets on about, is the fact that Cindy needs to start acting like an adult and take responsibility for her own emotional state. No, neither Krasner nor Cindy grasps the concept that, if Cindy’s unhappy, she just might have something to do with it.
What Krasner does advise is that Cindy shouldn’t go looking for love elsewhere. That’s probably a good suggestion, but the reason she gives is that the next guy would probably be worse than her husband. In other words, it’s the man’s job to make the woman happy and, as luck would have it, Cindy’s husband is doing about as well as can be expected, so she should stick with him. Nowhere in the piece does the concept appear that a wife might look to herself to cure her own emotional ailments.
In the same vein, nowhere in the piece does either woman mention that Cindy’s husband may have gripes too. He almost certainly does. For example, he may think to himself, “I’m a good husband, a good father, a good provider, but Cindy’s never satisfied. It’s as if she hates me.” But the idea that anyone in their relationship suffers but her never registers with Cindy or relationship guru Krasner.
Given that absurdly skewed view on male-female relationships, it’s no surprise that Krasner’s description of marriage would make the the most passionate person hesistate before tying the knot.
What wife among you hasn’t occasionally sucked down too much wine to numb the pain of grinding against the same person, in the same house, every day, for weeks, months, years?Well, all I can say is that, if that’s your understanding of marriage, stop giving advice on relationships and make an appointment with a qualified therapist.
No relationship is all sweetness and light, but if you love someone, you want that person to be happy and give what you can to make it happen. That said, there is a line beyond which you are unable to make a difference in the other person’s life, health and well-being. Apparently, neither Cindy nor Krasner understands that. From her description of him, Cindy’s husband is doing a fine job of being a good husband. If Cindy hates him, she’s the one with the problem, not him. In fact, here it is:
When we got married I imagined this great life we would have together and instead we seem to always be fighting, about the kids, about the fact that he is so remote, about the stupidest things.”I’m sure everyone fantasizes about an ideal life together when they marry. But adults understand the difference between fantasy and reality. The fantasized marriage is the one in which everything works easily, no jagged edges, no hurt that’s not effortlessly salved by the balm of perfectly like-minded individuals. Adults understand that even the ones we love the most are different, autonomous people from ourselves, with their own wants and needs. Only children hate the other because he/she doesn’t give them what they want.
And that, as they say, is the bottom line. Cindy’s not behaving like a grown-up. She’s bored and all she can imagine is that it’s her husband’s fault. Krasner essentially agrees but cavils that hubby is better at doing the job of ensuring his wife’s happiness than are most men.
My guess? Back in the day, Dear Abby would have set Cindy straight in under 100 words. But these are different times and, if columns like this one are any indication, not better ones.