Is marriage obsolete?

Sandra Tsing Loh is getting divorced after 20 years of marriage and two children, she writes in The Atlantic. In Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, she suggests that most of us should give up on lifelong marriage too.  Keeping romance alive is too much work for the modern woman.

Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance. Sobered by this failure as a mother—which is to say, my failure as a wife—I’ve since begun a journey of reading, thinking, and listening to what’s going on in other 21st-century American families. And along the way, I’ve begun to wonder, what with all the abject and swallowed misery: Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?

Tsing Loh, who wrote two years ago that women prefer food to sex, also shares the details of her friends’ sexless marriages. The hubbies cook, remodel the kitchen and chauffeur the kids but prefer internet porn or cooking magazines to sex with their wives. The wives are inspired by Tsing Loh’s divorce to consider dumping their “male kitchen bitches.”

The kids will do almost as well raised by a single parent as in a two-parent family, Tsing Loh argues, as long as there’s “domestic stability,” i.e., no new boyfriends and girlfriends moving in and out. Divorce is OK if you stay single?

Laura at 11D says Loh lacks credibility on the subject of marriage.

She breaks up her marriage and then writes a magazine article about why people weren’t really meant to be married. Hello! Credibility problems here!

Loh explains that she had an affair, which ended their marriage. However, people weren’t really meant to be married for so long. Her kids wouldn’t really miss having both parents at home anyway. . . . Her husband and her friends’ husbands weren’t so great in the sack. And the husbands are kind of girlie in the way they help out around the house. Why should a marriage be work? She fishes around for any explanation that will save her.

Those of us who enjoy being married never seem to get space in The Atlantic. Perhaps it’s because we don’t wish to share the details with a national audience. Too little information.

Once a performance artist, Tsing Loh has no such scruples. Nonetheless, in a few years, her children will be able to read about her boredom with their father in The Atlantic archives. However disguised, her friends will guess the identities of the pathetic Rachel and Ian and Ellen and Ron. Who may now be her ex-friends.

About Joanne


  1. Bill Leonard says:

    I have seen Tsing Loh perform. Her performances quickly grow tiresome, as do her neuroses in this article.

  2. I read that article as I subscribe to the Atlantic. I couldn’t stop thinking of that old joke: What’s the difference between sex, drugs, and rock’N’roll and wine, women, and song? About 20 years.

  3. Ragnarok says:

    What a narcissist! Feministae, awake!

  4. “…isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?…she suggests that most of us should give up on lifelong marriage too”

    Sounds like a selfish narcissist looking for “consensus” to justify her choice.

    From: married 39yrs, 2 kids, 4 grandkids and still going strong.

  5. I’m going to challenge her premise that it’s the husbands who aren’t interested in the wives. Though a popular plot line in sitcoms I believe the reality is the opposite.

  6. It seems to me that Sandra Tsing Loh is trying to give credence to her choices by advocating similar major life changes for others. After all, if it worked for her, it should be the right way to go for everyone. It makes me think she is insecure in her choice, and needs other people to validate her decision. Of course I’m a husband who does the cooking (always have–my wife doesn’t like to cook and I do), and we have been married over 20 years, so what do I know.

  7. Wow, no wonder some men are confused about what women want. Do they want husbands to share the household chore load (kitchen bitches,in her words) or, do they want macho men who earn all the bacon?

    Well, whatever. It’s certainly not Sandra’s fault if her marriage is less than satisfying. Let’s all do what Sandra has done then she’ll feel better about herself.

    I’m going to concur with the prior poster who said it’s more common for wives to loose interest in sex (ala sitcoms). Speaking casually with my own friends, this seems more accurate. But, then, we’re all stay at home mom’s/wives, so, maybe there is an inverse relationship between the amount of time spent in a kitchen and sexual desire. But, the celebrity chefs on the FoodNetwork all seem fairly masculine. Sounds like a topic for a government funded study.

  8. While I don’t know about this woman in particular, it is a constant truth in the world that some people make bad choices and don’t feel deeply happy and then work very hard at making sure nobody else is any happier than they.

  9. Marriage is hard work, however, I would not trade my husband for any guy in the world.

    This is yet another example of someone not wanting to take responsibility for their actions and wanting to make themselves feel better about the choices they have made (good or bad) by hoping that others agree with what she has written.

    Imo, there is almost nothing sexier than a man who can cook a great meal.

    ms_teacher who will celerate 23 years of marriage in August.

  10. okay, that should read “celebrate.”

  11. Let me see now….she writes that she prefers food to sex, has too much to do to take on the arduous task of working at her marriage, yet she has both time enough and, er, drive enough to have an affair. Getting divorced, you say? Shocking, that.

  12. Bill Leonard says:

    “Imo, there is almost nothing sexier than a man who can cook a great meal.”

    Bless you, ms_teacher!

    As it happens, in 1995 my high tech public relations position was eliminated. It took three years of hard job searching to learn that in fact white men in their 50s are the lowest totems on the hiring pole — at least in Silicon Valley.

    OTOH, since I was working out of a home office — I eventually went the consulting route, and haven’t worked for an employer since, although I now manage rental properties rather than pursue PR gigs — I took on the daily cooking duties. In the process I went from halfway decent cook to good cook.

    We’re now retired, and I still happily share cooking duties. And for the record, we’ll be married 43 years come early July, have two kids and three grandkids, and are quite happily married, thank you.

    Ms. Tsing Loh really is rather sad and pathetic. It’s a shame she seems to think her marital matters are a paradigm for the country.

  13. In a perverse way, her husband is lucky–he’s rid of her.

  14. I blame todays divorce rate on Romantic Comedy’s… too much to live up to in real life.

  15. SuperSub says:

    I blame today’s divorce rate on the hippies… too much emphasis on doing what makes you happy and not enough on responsibility to others.

  16. Tom in GA says:

    It is one thing to say “I don’t need a piano because I can’t play it well” and another thing to say “Pianos are irrelevant because I can’t play one well.”

  17. Homeschooling Granny says:

    “too much emphasis on doing what makes you happy and not enough on responsibility to others.”

    There is love, the noun, a feeling you can’t quite control and comes and goes but may come again.

    Then there is love, the verb, which is actions that are perceived as love, such as words of affirmation, acts of service, touch (including but not limited to, sexual touch), and focused attention.

    Guess which leads to long, satisfying marriages.

  18. dangermom says:

    Argh argh argh. It seems to me that quite a lot of evidence in our current society is screaming that getting rid of marriage is an incredibly bad idea in a whole bunch of ways.

  19. I’ve been married for five years. The initial roller-coaster feeling is gone, but something better has taken its place: partnership, friendship, warmth, laughter, comfort, security, and even more passion than when we first met eleven years ago.

    Tsing Loh is a lazy, selfish twit.

  20. Perhaps she ought to have spent more time working on her marriage and less time blathering away in the NY Times, the Atlantic, NPR, etc. trying to guilt trip those of us who’ve chosen not to enroll our kids in the government-run schools…

  21. Kirk Parker says:


    That’s ok, just think if you had typo’d it as ‘celibate 23 years of marriage’! 😉

  22. Will Power says:

    Sandra Tsing Loh may be generalizing too much from her own marital failure and may, in fact, be engaging in literary self-justification. But it doesn’t make her argument wrong.

    If she were in a happy marriage making this argument, we could call her arrogant for thinking that she was above the rest of us for whom marriage was doomed.

    If she were single, we could say what the hell does she know about marriage anyway?

    Essentially, no one can make her argument without being open to attack.

    There are many reasons why we should not dispense with the institution of marriage–Sandra Tsing Loh’s personal crisis isn’t one of them.

    On the other hand, everyone who affirms a successful marriage effectively destroys her argument.

  23. Tom in GA,

    Great comment. Thanks for making me laugh out loud.

  24. I imagine it’s difficult for a woman to feel sexual desire for a man for whom she has contempt. Yet in our society women in a thousand different ways are encouraged to feel contempt for their husbands.

    And the more contempt they feel the worse the sex will be, which will further increase the contempt.

  25. This article screams “Look at meeeeeee!”

  26. “Perhaps she ought to have spent more time working on her marriage and less time blathering away in the NY Times, the Atlantic, NPR, etc. trying to guilt trip those of us who’ve chosen not to enroll our kids in the government-run schools…”

    Her husband’s a musician on tour 20 weeks out of the year–what’s she supposed to do? Drag two kids on the bus? She’s not allowed to have a career?

    And Look at Me in a 1st person piece? Perish the thought!

    I really expected more from Joanne’s readers.

  27. Tom in GA says:

    Last time I checked there were a lot of people whose jobs kept them away for long periods of time or at least inconvenient periods of time who are able to remain happily married.

    I can’t believe an educator or any intelligent person would fall for the vignette proof…

  28. Ragnarok says:

    And Kate said:

    “She’s not allowed to have a career?”

    What absolute drivel! When you have kids, they come first.

    And spare me the progressive crap about “whole mothers” and similar tripe. THEY COME FIRST – if that wasn’t to your taste you shouldn’t have had them in the first place.

    I won’t bother getting into commitment to her husband and so on – that’s clearly as far beyond her as it is beyond you.

  29. Ragnorak – I know that my brothers and I came first in our parents’ lives. But my parents still had careers. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Mum and Dad were there when I had my operation, they devoted hours to our entertainment and edification, and Mum managed to run a company in partnership with another working mum, and to be chair of the Board of Trustees of our local primary school, and Dad managed to have a career too. In fact, although my Dad worked long hours, I reckoned from watching my friends’ dads that I saw as much of my father as they did of theirs, because my father never got absorbed in sports or some other hobby in which we kids weren’t allowed to share.

    And my parents are still happily married. My mum’s proud statement is that “The very first time I met your Dad, I thought ‘here’s a man I won’t get bored with. And I haven’t.'”

  30. Ragnarok says:


    As long as the kids do come first, we’re in agreement.

    What I object to is the self-centredness I see in so many people, justified by the latest shallow pop-psychological theory.

    And the losers are the children, who grow up thinking this is normal, and they then start the cycle all over again.

  31. I have very little respect for people who have failed (like Sandra in her marriage) and look around, saying that marriage itself doesn’t work and seeking out others who are all failing and living in miserable marriages too.

    Instead, she can look at successful marriages and reflect on what makes those marriages work.

    But she’s not doing that. She’s declaring marriages don’t work at all, and those of us who believe we have happy marriages are just in denial.

    I have more respect for a person who has failed, learned, and gets back up again, instead of pulling the rest of us down.

  32. Bill Leonard says:

    “I really expected more from Joanne’s readers.”

    And what, exactly, did you expect, Kate? That those of us who are and have been reasonably happily married for a period of time (43 years, in my case) and have raised children who turned out to be educated, reasonably well-adjusted, reasonably succussful adults, would nevertheless jump on the Tsing Loh bandwagon of rationalization and self-justification and neurosis?

    Her marriage failed, and from the evidence she presents, she is largely responsible — front and center, there is the furtive and tawdry extramarital affair, for instance.