If Philip Nobel were more of an asshole, I would be less depressed right now. When he agreed to talk to me about his Elle article "Danger Man" — an account of leaving his wife for a younger woman which both Tatiana and I criticized last week — I was sort of hoping for an unremitting narcissist whom I could cheerfully skewer. Nobel does have some bad ideas (implying that his detractors are unsophisticated in their judgments), but he also has some good ones (everyone should read the divorce code before they get married). And his thoughts about marriage and relationships are the same ones lots of learned men and women have been touting lately. Thing is, these thoughts need some serious work.We started off talking about the article itself, which he says he wrote at the suggestion of Elle editor Amy Goldwasser. Other than what he calls "the little Jezebel shitstorm," he says responses have been mostly positive. A female friend of his told him that his detractors were just afraid, that "the mammal brain's first response is 'Oh fuck, that could happen to me.'" Which, to be fair, is true. Lots of women are afraid of getting dumped for a younger model, and when someone does this, we're not exactly going to be thrilled. But if that someone is our friend, Nobel thinks we owe him a little more. "The only thing I wanted was to be treated as me," he says, "to be treated as an individual case." He also says that those who thought his actions were classic untrustworthy male behavior were themselves reverting to cliché, lapsing into a "limited way of looking at the world, one that doesn't allow for humanity." Of course, it's entirely possible that Nobel's friends actually did see him as him, and just didn't like who he'd become. There's a whole post in Nobel's reactions to his friends' reactions, but we wrote that post last week. What's more interesting — and more troubling — is Nobel's view that "there's a poor fit between societal institutions and biological fact." He thinks "maybe there's something wrong at the structural level with the whole idea of state-sanctioned monogamy" if so many people have trouble sticking with it. It's not a new idea, but Nobel takes it to sort of a new place, suggesting that Jezebel spearhead a "marriage strike until the institution could be fixed." "What would fix it?" I asked him. He said it wasn't "the introduction of loopholes that would allow infidelity," but as to what the solution actually was, he was more vague. He mentioned the need for a "critical discussion," the fact that marriage is not a panacea, the fact that the happiest couples he knows seem to live apart. But he also said, "I believe in love, and I believe in children, and I believe in commitments, and I believe in lifetime commitments." The guy is a cynic and a romantic! And he's not alone. It's hip to criticize modern marriage, to state, as Nobel does, that the conflation of childrearing with "romantic love and all matters of the heart and mind is a relatively recent societal occurrence." Esther Perel says exactly that in her 2006 interview with Salon; Susan Squire makes a similar claim in her new book I Don't. But both of those women are married, and it's certainly not yet hip to forgo marriage entirely. Nor is anyone offering us any particularly good ways to decouple love and child rearing, or excitement and commitment, or emotions and economics, or any of the other potentially conflicting aspects of modern American marriage. What we're left with is just what Nobel's friend identified: fear. Fear that we'll never get married, fear that our marriages will suck, fear that our husbands or wives will leave us, fear that we're doing it all wrong. Nobel doesn't have the solution to any of these fears. I'm sure hoping someone else does, because I for one, am stumped. Danger Man [Elle] Earlier: Elle Writer's Ex: "It's A Strange Luxury To See Someone Else's Version Of Your Life" Elle Writer Didn't Plan To Be The Poster Boy For Male Recklessness
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