AT NORTH FARM
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
Hardly anything grows here,
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,
The sacks of meal piled to the rafters.
The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;
Birds darken the sky. Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?
~ John Ashbery
Who’s “traveling furiously toward you”? Who is it who wants you so madly? The suggested answer, the one according to all the critics, I hate to tell you, is not Love but the Angel of Death — or, if we drop “Angel” with all the beauty usually attributed to angels, then it’s death itself. The D word, normally avoided and called by euphemisms such as “passing.”
But is it really the Big D? Surely “he” would know where to find you and how to recognize you. So perhaps it’s the “imperial messenger” from Kafka, traveling from the capital and the dying emperor to deliver a message to you, a unique and supremely important message that somehow, as always in Kafka, keeps coming but never arrives. Still, we think of it “sometimes and always” — and with mixed feelings.
But let me go against the truism that all poems are about mortality, and suggest that the furious rider it is NOT the Big D. I suspect that what is at work is a half-conscious association of
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes
with a typical romantic plot of a lover speeding toward the beloved. It’s the archetype of true love overcoming all obstacles, blizzards and desert heat and so on. (For those who know the famous Russian song: Yedet’, yedet’, yedet’ k’ney, yedet’ k’dyevushkye svoyey — he’s riding, riding, riding to her, riding to his beloved.) And what do we want most? To be loved, deeply loved — to be the great love of the one who’s our great love.)
Jung said that a writer who uses archetypes speaks with a thousand mouths. And what archetype do we have here? That of a man in love, traveling as fast as he can to the woman he loves.
He doesn’t stop to eat or sleep. That’s the energy of love. In a way, that’s what we MUST believe if we are to carry on with all the idiotic chores of living. We must believe that someone somewhere cares enough about us that if called, he’d drop everything and travel toward us at full speed.
Once it was mother on whom we could count like that. Later it’s the romantic partner, the life partner. Or, if we aren’t so lucky, an imaginary lover. But we have to have someone we can imagine riding furiously toward us, through blizzards and narrow passes.
Of course that’s just the first three lines. We now have the difficult task of making sense of the rest of the poem.
The second stanza presents images of agricultural abundance, or even excess — even though “hardly anything grows here.” Is something biblical going on here, some mythologizing of a piece of desert as the land of plenty, of milk and honey (since “the streams run with sweetness”)? Don’t ask. Take it in but don’t try to make everything fit.
The milk set out at night invokes the folk custom of leaving an offering to the fairies (or goblins, or “little red people” in Polish folklore) — guardians of the house who perform all kinds of useful tasks while we sleep. Rilke mentions leaving milk to the spirits of the dead. Regardless, it’s meant as a duty — or at least a courtesy toward the unseen world.
Or maybe the poem isn’t meant to be coherent, but to evoke certain emotions and give certain pleasure nevertheless, especially in the first stanza. Ashbery does make use of an archetype, even if he subverts it with uncertainty
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
~ and then shifting into an assertion of barrenness, and ending on “mixed feelings.” Thus, the romantic archetype is subverted, but its presence in the first three lines has already worked its magic. We are enchanted by the image of someone traveling furiously toward us, bringing a gift. Our secret great longing is to be the beloved.
As Ray Carver put it
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
~ “Late Fragment”
We must imagine Sisyphus as happy not only because he’s striving toward a goal, but because he knows what it’s like to be beloved.
Barn and clouds, Minor Martin White, 1955
“What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul.” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
DALI’S TAROT: THE FOOL
“~ There are two motifs which Dali used throughout the deck: the butterfly and the linear figures. Both motifs can be seen in The Fool, shown above. On the left is the figurative image of a person raising a staff above the Fool's head. The staff reflects the shape of Hebrew letter Shin. The figure is also painted in red which may represent the element associated with this Hebrew letter: Fire. A blue butterfly can be seen over the belly of the rider, and a pattern of butterfly wings can be seen in the blanket which covers the horse. "The intellectual plane is symbolized by butterflies, expressive of irrationality and the alienated soul, the consequence of fickleness and disorder." The Fool himself is not identified, but appears to be a depiction of either a saint or Don Quixote. The "prophetic meaning" given for this card is the expiation of disorder.” ~ Rachel Pollack
THE PAST IS NEVER COMPLETE
“The past is not static, or ever truly complete; as we age we see from new positions, shifting angles. A therapist friend of mine likes to use the metaphor of the kind of spiral stair that winds up inside a lighthouse. As one moves up that stair, the core at the center doesn't change, but one continually sees it from another vantage point; if the past is a core of who we are, then our movement in time always brings us into a new relation to that core.” ~ Mark Doty
Core? What core? Basically I can't quite believe that my past was what it seems to have been. It's not “in character.” So much was sheer accident and desperation, way too stormy for the quiet life I always wanted. And if I didn't have my poems as testimony, I might just refuse to believe certain things happened because they don't fit my values, my intelligence, etc.
But then -- considering my parents and WWII -- who am I to complain that my circumstances didn’t fit my personality . . .
My two best friends also report being completely astonished by what their lives have been. We like to joke that if at twenty a psychic accurately foretold us what lay ahead, we would have laughed our heads off (or maybe run out of the room screaming). Who knows, maybe it’s true for a great number of people . . . whose lives may seem staid, and yet, for all we know, might have contained all kinds of storms and catastrophes.
BORGES: THE PASSING OF THE PAST
“Events that fill up space and reach their end when someone dies may cause us wonder, but some thing—or an endless number of things—dies with each man’s last breath, unless, as theosophy conjectures, the world has a memory. In the past, there was a day when the last eyes to have seen Christ were closed; the battle of Junín and Helen’s face each died with the death of some one man.
What will die with me when I die, what pathetic or worthless memory will be lost to the world? The voice of Macedonio Fernández, the image of a brown horse grazing in an empty lot at the comer of Serrano and Charcas, a stick of sulphur in the drawer of a mahogany desk?”
~ Borges, “The Witness”
It’s somewhat odd that a famous writer would be asking this, since presumably his most significant (or colorful — I love that brown horse grazing in an empty lot) memories are preserved — be it in a changed form — in his writing. Not that this work will live forever — Homer, Dante, Shakespeare are great exceptions.
But should be really worry about being forgotten, or some precious (or pathetic and worthless — but it’s never worthless if it’s ours) memory being lost to the world when our personal memory ceases? I think for most of us the point is not any kind of “legacy,” or where we stand with the world as witnesses to history. The point is rather to take a little time to ponder which memories first come to mind — right now, in this mood and moment,
at this stage of life.
It may be very important to Borges to be symbolically "holding hands" with the ancient statue, a symbol of cultural continuity. But we also know that the statue, which might stand here for the "world's memory," doesn't know or care. Yet that's too harsh: what counts is the collective cultural memory of humanity, and Borges was eminent enough, both unique and universal enough, to have added a crumb of richness to that cultural memory.
Another image of Borges in Palermo, 1984 — he’s completely blind at this point.
~ “Futterneid = Food-Envy
The feeling when you’re eating with other people and realize that they’ve ordered something better off the menu that you’d be dying to eat yourself. Perhaps you were trying to be abstemious; now you’re just in agony. The word recognizes that we spend most of our lives feeling we’ve ordered the wrong thing. And not just in restaurants.” ~
I have to admit that I often suffer from Futterneid . . . By the way, “Futter” is a coarse word, more like “feed” for animal (“fodder” sounds like a cognate in English). In any case, looking at the marvelous dishes that others have ordered reveals to us that we just don’t love ourselves enough. On the other hand, we may also be deluding ourselves about all those other dishes — they are not always better than what we ordered. After all, who knows how many others are looking at our plate (not just the literal plate at a restaurant) and thinking they blew it, and should be having what we are having . . .
Heck, I can’t even go to a taco truck without lusting after what others are having.
Osias Beert (1580-1624): Still Life with Oysters. That insect (I hope it’s just a fly, not a cockroach) on the bread totally takes away your appetite, doesn’t it? The elegance of the glassware, the luxury of oysters — all annihilated by an insect.
THE ANSWER LIES OUTSIDE (OUTWARD FOCUS)
I was reading the summary of Abraham Maslow’s work over the morning coffee, and this item in the description of self-actualizing people suddenly blazed:
~ “Problem-centeredness (focus on questions or challenges outside themselves — a sense of mission or purpose — resulting in an absence of pettiness, introspection, and ego games)” ~
There is was: “the answer lies outside.” It was one of my crucial discoveries when I analyzed my success ending depression. We are constantly bombarded with “The answer lies within.” I an early blog I dared to propose that “the answer lies without.”
That’s it — having a purpose in life automatically resolves a myriad other problems. When a larger meaning is born, those problems become irrelevant — they are transcended instantly.
I re-read the statement about self-actualizers, simplifying it:
~ Problem-centeredness — focus on questions or challenges outside themselves — a sense of mission or purpose — resulting in an absence of introspection. ~
Yet the therapeutic tradition favors self-centered analysis of one’s childhood and rarely addresses the sense of purpose in life — Viktor Frankl’s “Search for Meaning” is the one exception that springs to mind.
I wish I could find that early blog, but I’d have to comb through a dozen. A quick search yielded this (the writing is my own):
“Be a gazer at the world, not an obsessive gazer within.” I owe this motto to Larry Levis, who pointed out that bad advice was often given to beginning poets, to the effect that the source of poems is introspection. Look at the world, Levis insisted. Not that introspection is forbidden, but that looking at the world is likely to result in richer poems. Likewise, bringing other people into a poem will often enlarge and improve the poem.
Introverts do not need to be told to “look within.” They do that on automatic. The harder part is learning to look at the world. As with so many “good for you” things, it’s a matter of establishing a new habit.
Training myself to "gaze at the world" rather than listen to my thoughts — even just daydream while driving instead of really seeing the road, the trees, the sky — was one of the best things I've done in my life. I didn't really try to suppress thoughts about, for instance, a bad relationship I had in my twenties; those thoughts simply didn't occur when I looked with true interest at trees, buildings, people's faces — anything “out there.”
The brain has the so-called default mode network: when we are not focused on a task we begin to daydream and experience drifting thoughts. When the default network becomes highly active and excessively connected, the result can be depression or another mental disorder. Cognitive training involving intense focus on something external acts as a corrective. The brain can rewire to pay attention to the right things.
I keep pondering the wisdom of the statement I heard a long time ago at a science conference: all mental disorders stem from paying attention to the wrong things.
Someone familiar with my early writing about conquering depression could easily object to the foregoing: “Wait a moment! Your life-changing insight wasn’t: here is my newfound purpose.”
That true. My insight was: “It’s too late in life to be depressed.” The first step was to realize that I didn’t want to waste what little time remained on idiotic brooding about all the catastrophes of the past.
Then things followed on automatic, i.e. on the unconscious level without conscious clarity. I am now trying to recreate the process on the crude, conscious level — to present a sequence where the process was by no means Step 1, Step 2, etc. But let me try anyway:
Step One was deciding it was too late to be depressed (I also call this “being cornered by mortality” — it’s enough to ask oneself, “How many good years do I still have”?) This led to Step 2: diving into productivity to replace brooding. In my case, productivity meant writing.
I instantly knew — don’t ask — that the new writing could not be introspective. Instead, I could write book reviews and movie reviews. I could search out and analyze poems for the Poetry Salon. I could surf health news and find something at least mildly provocative, e.g. Alzheimer’s is auto-immune. This kind of writing may not sound like a great purpose in life, but it was a modest being of service. At least I wasn’t spending my days brooding and loathing myself.
Perhaps purpose “purpose in life” is too grand a phrase to start with. The healing lay in external focus. And in prose, since prose is more like sketching — a craft. A painter doesn’t need inspiration to start sketching. A poet and writer can always write some good-enough prose — a book review, for instance, especially if she’s done scores of those.
Step 3 was simply a refinement of Step 2, productivity = writing. I got better at the blog-type writing, and could even start thinking in terms of purpose. I wanted to nourish my readers in a certain way. “Ending on beauty” became very important. Striking images became more important. I stepped up to being unapologetically intellectual in an anti-intellectual culture, and more radical and outspoken.
At the beginning I had strict “no-thinking zones.” I simply didn’t allow myself any conscious thinking on certain subjects, knowing that a tide of immense sadness might turn into a tsunami. As I grew emotionally stronger, I didn’t have to be on guard against introspection quite as much. Even so, I realized that my insights about my life, my own past included, usually came on their own when the time was ripe. Generally they were not the product of introspection.
I am presenting this strictly as my own process, not as a universal prescription. I was very lucky to have already developed the skills that would serve working with an external focus. Others have reported success throwing themselves into work of a different sort, e.g. volunteer services, animal rescue, or devoting themselves to music. It’s still external focus as I see it — just the details differ.
“Works works” — especially the kind of work you love doing, so love and work are combined.
Time spent with cats is never wasted ~ Sigmund Freud (allegedly)
PUTIN’S AND TRUMP’S WAR ON MODERNITY IN THE NAME OF PAST “GREATNESS” AND “TRADITIONAL VALUES” VERSUS HUMAN RIGHTS
This is where Putin sees a kindred spirit in Trump, with his flailing against political correctness and his defense of Christmas against a fictitious threat. “Traditional values” becomes a catchall term for an imaginary past—which goes a long way toward explaining Trump’s seamless symbiosis with the American Christian Right.
Putin has declared victory in his war on modern culture, which gives him the right to call himself the most powerful man in the world. But, of course, that description has generally been part of the definition of a different job — the one to which Trump has in fact just been elected." ~
Not that anyone liked Nixon — but omg, look at the intelligence in that face! OK, call it “cunning” — it’s still a subtype of intelligence. You felt he could outwit the Soviets, masters at their games of manipulation.
WORLD WAR I AS A “HOLY” WAR: SPIRITUALISM, SECULARISM, ZIONISM, AND ISLAM
~ "In his masterful book, “The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade,” Philip Jenkins argues that WWI was not only a “thoroughly religious event” but an event which drew the global religious map as we understand it today.
The religious character of WWI has often been seen in the polarization of either extreme secularization or extreme spiritualism. One view sees the Christian church as morally compromised by the conflict — Jenkins himself noting a 1916 poem describing the “church dead or polluted.” Frequently, 1914 is viewed as the tipping point to the secularization of the 20th century.
The other view is ascribed to spiritualist sightings of angels in “No Man’s Land” or in the post-war fascination with séances. Jenkins moderates these extremes through a global examination of religion both before and after the war. While he does not dismiss secularization as a trend within western Christianity, he contextualizes the European response and suggests it was more the exception rather than the rule.
As soldiers rallied to the colors to defend their nations, so did churchmen stand ready to drape those soldiers in religious iconography. Pastors readily painted their enemies as being in league with the devil while also clothing their soldiers in the language of the martyrs. Germany depicted their soldiers as crusaders defending their homeland, while the Allies saw religious significance to their capture of Jerusalem. As the war dragged on and seemed to unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, clerics easily saw their figurative specter galloping across the globe as well.
What might be most jarring for American readers, steeped in the Jeffersonian ethos of separation between church and state, was how readily American churches adopted this crusading rhetoric. It was not a militarist or politician who declared that he “would have driven my bayonet into the throat or the eye or stomach of the Huns without the slightest hesitation,” but a Methodist minister. Jenkins traces how these close associations discredited religion. This led to gradual secularization and two wildly different trends. In Germany and Soviet Russia, the religious aspirations and rhetoric became affixed to the new “secular messiahs” of these two regimes in the post-war period. The collapse of the old church-state model, however, laid the groundwork for Christian Democrats and Catholic politicians to chart a future along a non-national path of European identity.
It wasn’t just Christianity but all of the Abrahamic religions that were changed by the war. The religious center of Christianity began to shift towards Asia and Africa. In fact, Africa may become the largest Christian continent in the world by 2030. As much as the Christian map expanded it also contracted during governmental persecution of Armenian and Russian Orthodox religious enclaves.
The war was a double-edged sword for Judaism. Zionism became practicable with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and acquired the enthusiastic support of American evangelicals who, even today, see the state of Israel as fulfilling God’s providential plan. But the war also laid the groundwork for the Holocaust in the establishment of the “stab in the back” myth within Germany and the spread of “Protocols of the Elder of Zion” by Russian émigrés fleeing the Soviet Union.
Lastly, modern Islam is a byproduct of the collapse of the organized caliphate. Separate from an organized state, Islam was refashioned into a force of colonial resistance and political mobilization. This new-fashioned Islam would help create the state of Saudi Arabia and whose legacies extend today to the caliphates proclaimed by ISIS and Boko Haran.
Jenkins writes, “Most Western observers [of the time] viewed affairs in Africa and Asia as colorful irrelevancies, and that was particularly true in matters of religion. Except for a handful of specialized academics, why should anyone care about the fate of Christianity outside its natural home in Europe and North America, or pay the slightest heed to the historical dead end that was Islam?
A century later, such disregard looks very blinkered. So much of the religious history of the subsequent era does in fact focus on those twin facts: Islam, and Christianity outside the Euro-American sphere. So much of that story, in fact, is a continuation and sequel of the turmoil that began in 1914. Those from below would not always remain in the humble places that the empires assigned them.”
Philip Jenkins firmly establishes that WWI did not just reshape the political landscape, but it created the religious world we exist in today.” ~
~ The war was fought by the world's leading Christian nations, who presented the conflict as a holy war. Thanks to the emergence of modern media, a steady stream of patriotic and militaristic rhetoric was given to an unprecedented audience, using language that spoke of holy war and crusade, of apocalypse and Armageddon. But this rhetoric was not mere state propaganda.
Jenkins reveals how the widespread belief in angels and apparitions, visions and the supernatural was a driving force throughout the war and shaped all three of the major religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—paving the way for modern views of religion and violence. The disappointed hopes and moral compromises that followed the war also shaped the political climate of the rest of the century, giving rise to such phenomena as Nazism and communism. ~
~ “Sounding like a medieval priest galvanizing eleventh-century Crusaders, a twentieth-century Yale theologian urges his countrymen to “buckle on Christian armor and take their place in the fighting ranks” of doughboys up against German heathens. What is more, Jenkins finds such religious rhetoric in the mouths of countless combatants on both sides of the Great War.
In Germany, Russia, Britain, America, and the Ottoman Empire, readers hear fervid sermons urging attacks on devilish foes and promising divine deliverance to righteous warriors. Jenkins recognizes the incongruity between ancient scriptural phrases and modern weaponry—machine guns, mustard gas, tanks, and airplanes. Yet he finds the archaic language of godly violence pervading even officially secular France and infecting even America’s most liberal clergy (one of whom calls for the extermination of the German people!)
Readers see how political and ecclesiastical hierarchies join forces in rallying their followers with holy-war appeals, but they also see how the war incubates apocalyptic and superstitious popular beliefs that fracture the elites’ orthodoxies. Indeed, in what was once Christendom, these fantastic war-born beliefs incubate the pseudo-religious impulses of Nazism and communism, and in the world of Islam, they foster a dangerous new extremism. An astonishing chronicle of intense piety inciting acts of terrible carnage.” ~ Bryce Christensen
Martin Schongauer, Temptation of St. Anthony, 1475
I agree that if religion disappeared we would still have all kinds of problems. But with religion out of the way, especially the part that justifies violence and supports nationalism, we would have less insanity to deal with, less passionate viciousness, less killing in the hope of being rewarded in paradise — and more mental space for common sense . . . maybe even a shimmer of understanding that we are all human, and can help one another to make this world closer to paradise.
Around 1488, Michelangelo was said to have created a painting based on the Schongauer print (which circulated throughout Europe, including Italy)
GODS AND KINGS (the movie): SLAUGHTER OF THE EGYPTIAN FIRSTBORN (EVEN THE FIRSTBORN CALVES)
~ “In the Bible [the killing of the Egyptian firstborn] is presented as a triumph. Indeed, God is supposed to have deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to ensure that it happened. Exodus 11 reads:
‘So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.
. . .
The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you — so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.’
The film essentially depicts the same story, but shows the impact less as a righteous demonstration of God’s wrath and more from the perspective of those whose children were killed. (Even Moses, in the film, is mortified by God’s plan.) As the implications of this mass killing, like that of the flood and other purportedly righteous slaughters, are often overlooked, it will be interesting to see how religious viewers respond to watching these aspects of the story depicted.
Which isn’t to say the film was dismissive of the Hebrew god.
Scott seemed, for awhile, to try to walk a tightrope between “maybe God is real” and “maybe there’s a rational explanation for it all.” Moses begins as a skeptic to religion entirely; and, after his conversion, attributes his own ideas to God when questioned. Indeed, Moses’ first vision of the messenger of God only comes after taking a tremendous blow to the head.
But, in the end (mainly due to the killing of the firstborn, where no rational explanation can be provided), you are left to conclude that God is real. Petty, mercurial, tyrannical even; but real. Fair enough, as it’s a religion-based movie; but I doubt the depiction will appeal to religious viewers. The implication that God was real, but a real monster, was not particularly satisfying to me, either.
The movie seemed to get tangled between two threads, ending up half-way between being a secular take on religious mythology and a full-blown religious movie. I can’t say that I liked it, but it’s progress at least to see decent screen time given to the less savory aspects of these cherished Bible stories.” ~
Eventually we'll have a fully secular take on religious mythology rendered in the movies. I marvel that I am witnessing this trend. Decades ago, practically no one dared to refer the bible as mythology (esp the first five books). Certainly no movie makers, even if they themselves were atheists or agnostics. And now we are witnessing a quiet revolution. Oddly enough, this is happening at the same time as religious wars in the Middle East.
Yes, I can see that OT was needed at the beginning, and I also agree that some stories are fascinating, but to be constantly dragged down by retaining a cruel god? At some point, OT could have been gradually mentioned less and less . . . I realize that what motivates my willingness to part with OT, no matter the literary treasures, is that in childhood I suffered so much because to me the real god, the one with power, was actually the mean old man. Not for a moment did I entertain the notion that god was good. God was evil but we had to praise him, constantly praise him -- Hitler, Stalin, North Korea. Godzilla as The Beloved Leader. It just seemed awfully close to home.
Julian Jaynes was ahead of his times with his explanation of the origins of religion in thoughts being interpreted as hearing the voices of the gods. Neuroscience has yet to truly catch up with the whole realm of “hearing voices.” It’s possible that Jaynes was a genius, dismissed because his neurological explanation was too destructive to religion. That the brain can generate just about anything is well known, but with billions caught in the delusions of wishful thinking, and atrocities committed in the name of inerrancy first of the bible, and now of the Koran and the Prophet, it may take another century before it becomes common thinking that all religions are man-made. (Imagine if religions came with labels:
Made in China; Made in Pakistan.)
Bernhard Strigel: Saint Mary Salome and Her Family, c. 1520/1528. I can't resist the hat worn by Salomas, Mary Salome's father to her left. I guess such hats were fashionable in the 1520s.
UNHAPPY MARRIAGE AND HEART DISEASE (ESPECIALLY IN WOMEN)
~ “We’ve all heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but we’ve all heard wrong. Justin Wolfers of Michigan State points out that the divorce rate has steadily dropped since the '80s and estimates that roughly two-thirds of today’s marriages will survive.
That sounds like a good thing, but is it really?
Despite plummeting divorce rates, only 17% of marriages are happy ones, according to Dana Adam Shapiro, in a survey cited in You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married): Looking for Love in the Age of Divorce. More than half of the therapists who commented on Shapiro’s survey agreed that estimate is more or less accurate.
Together, Wolfers' and Shapiro’s findings suggest that more people than ever find themselves in unhappy marriages, but are sticking with them.
Some good will come of this tenacity: Fewer kids will live in broken homes. Fewer singles will struggle with their finances. Fewer men will die prematurely from bad eating habits and poor lifestyle choices (married men live longer, healthier lives than single men). And these benefits of married life might partially explain why people are staying together despite being dissatisfied with their mates.
But individuals might think twice about toughing it out if they were fully aware of the consequences of living in stressful marriages—at least, for the female half of each couple.
It turns out that the health benefits of staying married—even when unhappy—fall disproportionately to men. Sociologists Hui Liu and Linda Waite discovered that marital stress, particularly in older couples, correlated with greater incidence of cardiovascular disease in both men and women. But the correlation was much stronger in women. The researchers speculate that women bottle up negative feelings more than men, producing more stress and more damage to their cardiovascular systems.
Liu and Waite go on to point out that health effects of negative marriage quality increase steadily with age, indicating that cardiovascular damage from chronic martial stress may be cumulative. It may progress steadily as the unhappy marriage continues.
For the (apparently) growing number of women who find themselves in stressful marriages, these findings have a profound implication: The sooner women leave stressful marriages, the less cumulative damage they will do to their bodies. (Single women, it turns out, do not suffer from being alone nearly as much as men.)
On top of that, by leaving an unhealthy marriage, women have the opportunity to get into relationships that will improve, rather than degrade their health. According to recent research in psychoneuroimmunology, loving relationships promote stronger immune systems, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and lower heart rate and blood pressure. In other words, leaving a bad marriage—at least for women—can take away a negative while adding a positive.
This doesn’t mean that unhappy women should immediately call a divorce lawyer. Reaching out first to a marriage counselor who might help turn a stressful marriage into a supportive one is usually a better idea. But the sad truth is that more than half of all couples who go into counseling eventually split up, and even after “successful" counseling, marital stress often does not go away. Neither do the cumulative negative health effects of stress." ~
Portrait of a close-knit couple
Ford Madox Brown: The Last of England, 1855
Note how the husband and wife are firmly holding hands — they are in it together; they will help each other survive. The woman is also holding the baby’s tiny hand — it’s all we see of the baby, hidden under the shawl against the cold.
ending on beauty
The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece,
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.
Delos: The Terrace of the Lions