The Crushing Burden of Having a Real Life

John Hawkins talks about a little kerfuffle that emerged over remarks made by Kay Hymowitz:

“Before [today], the fact is that primarily, a 20-year-old woman would have been a wife and a mother,” author Kay Hymowitz told the crowd of about 100 for the Manhattan Institute in New York City. Men would have been mowing lawns and changing the oil in their family sedans instead of playing video games and watching television. In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment, Hymowitz says. “They didn’t live with roommates in Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Dupont Circle in D.C.

Hey, I didn’t have a roommate when I lived in Dupont Circle.  All 400 square feet of that place were entirely mine!   And I’ll have Kay know that I broke up my Madden playing and television watching with at least 20-30 minutes of work on my dissertation per day.  Hmmm, maybe that’s why it took me five years to finish it.

In all seriousness, this is a fairly innocuous statement, or at least it is for those of us who don’t have a secularist perspective on happiness.

Cue the angry liberals.

Amanda Marcotte, famed for a writing style that makes Maureen Dowd look like George Will, as well as for her way TMI-laden posts about her sex life, is none too pleased:

I think it’s important to remember that no matter how much huffing and puffing and rationalization goes on, a great deal of conservative ideology can be summed up as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”. Or even just the fear that someone might just be having fun, at least without clearing it with the authorities first that they’re the right race and income level to feel pleasure.

…I often find myself wondering, and today more than most days, how things can get this bad. It seems to me that if wingnuts put a tenth of much effort as they do into resenting others into improving their own home and sex lives, they’d be too busy being happy and blissful to give a f*ck what anyone else is doing. It’s just basic logic, and I wonder why not just do the math and go for it.

As Hawkins rightly points out, the irony of this statement is that studies show that “married people are happier than single people, religious people are happier than non-religious people, and conservatives are happier than liberals.”  I would also point out married people have more sex than single people, so if anything conservatives are the ones pushing people to more fulfilling sex lives, an observation I heard Alan Keyes make when he was running for President in 1996 (before he lost his mind).  Evidently in Marcotte’s world the only good sex to be had is when you get good and loaded at some slimy bar in the downtown DC, take some random stranger to your bed, and never see the guy again.  Boy that really sounds joy-filled to me.

It also never ceases to amuse me when I hear religious conservatives derided as being uptight about sex, the implication being that we’re not getting laid enough.  Yet, at the same time, we’re mocked for having such large families.  Hey, geniuses – how do you think we got those large families?  Biology may not be your strong point, as evidenced by Andy Sullivan’s deranged rants about Sarah Palin and the maternity of Trig, but try to put two and two together.

As dumb as Marcotte’s rebuttal is, Matt Yglesias takes the cake:

Hymowitz’s argument, essentially, is that not only has feminism opened up new doors of opportunity to women, but it’s helped contribute to the growth of a society in which young men are less crushed down with family and household obligations and are spending more time enjoying themselves. Except she means this as a bad thing! In both cases the conservative conceit seems to be that a decline in human suffering is a bad thing because it leads to a corresponding decline in admirable anti-suffering effort. John Holbo memorably dubbed this Donner Party Conservatism.

I’ve bolded the key part because it is the perfect distillation of the modern secularist mindset.   According to Yglesias, having a family, owning your own home, working for a living and doing all those things that human beings have been doing for thousands of years is “crushing.”  His idealized life is the very one that Hymowitz is mocking.

Well excuse me Matty boy.  I’ve lived the single life in two of the hippest places to be single: New York and Washington, DC.  I’ve done the going to he bar and hanging out until 2 in the morning thing.  I’ve done the burden-free existence, replete with video games and other time-wasting activities.  I’ve lived in the studio apartment in the center of the city.  Now I live in suburbia with my wife and 2 children (one of them on the way), going to bed at ten because I have to get up at six in the morning to go to work.  Okay, so I still get to play video games, but that’s only because I have a two-year old that insists on it.  Only now when I’m done playing I’m going to have to change a dirty diaper and get a very hyper little girl to go to sleep.  And I wouldn’t exchange my current life for my former life if you gave me an additional 400 feet for that studio apartment.  Am I happier now?  It’s not even close.

Maybe it’s just me, but I do not find having real responsibilities to be crushing.  A crushing existence is a loveless life seeking out another lay and waking up at noon before writing a blog post that will be forgotten by the time the Jets are up 42-0 on the Pats in Madden. If that’s what you prefer, Matty, I guess you can knock yourself out.  I’ll put my joy up against yours and we’ll see who the real enemy of happiness really is.

23 Responses to The Crushing Burden of Having a Real Life

  • MarylandBill says:

    Great post Paul. After three years of marriage and two of postnatal fatherhood, I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade my current life for the life I lived prior to my wife. There are some things I miss… mostly involving the freedom to practice my hobbies (Irish Music and Amateur Astronomy) for long hours at a stretch. That being said, I have gained so much more. Its amazing how much it lifts you up at the end of a long day to see your two year old not simply glad to see you, but positively eager. My wife greets me with a smile and a kiss; my son is practically doing back-flips.

  • Dan Tracy says:

    “are less crushed down with family and household obligations and are spending more time enjoying themselves.”

    Yes, it is all about the self. Others are viewed as crushing obligations.

    Hardly enlightening…truly materialistic and de-humanizing.

  • “I think it’s important to remember that no matter how much huffing and puffing and rationalization goes on, a great deal of conservative ideology can be summed up as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”.”

    If Ms. Marcotte is going to steal from Mencken his famous line attacking the Puritans, someone should send her a copy of his tome from 1918 In Defense of Women. She could read it to her cats.

  • T. Shaw says:

    If Yglesias were to lose his inanity writing gig at whatsoever rag/site (I don’t waste eyesight reading), he’s qualified for an entry-level job flipping burgers at Mickey D’s.

    Comprehensive ignorance backed up by uncompromising arrogance.

  • Phillip says:

    “I am married, have raised 11 children, have 2 jobs, and to top it off a third job is that of a parish priest (Anglican).”

    So does that mean you have fewer parishioners than children? :)

  • M.Z. says:

    It is a bit reductionist to think either position must be normative.

    To take but one example, the Church doesn’t proscribe stealing because stealing isn’t pleasurable. It proscribes stealing because it is harmful to society.

    It is somewhat humorous to see those commenting making the error that they are criticizing: treating what is pleasurable as what is good.

  • A crushing existence is a loveless life seeking out another lay and waking up at noon before writing a blog post that will be forgotten by the time the Jets are up 42-0 on the Pats in Madden.

    ah yes. i remember those days. then it all changed…when i got call of duty ;)

  • Art Deco says:

    a 20-year-old woman would have been a wife and a mother,” author Kay Hymowitz told the crowd of about 100 for the Manhattan Institute in New York City. Men would have been mowing lawns and changing the oil in their family sedans instead of playing video games and watching television. In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment,

    She is treating adolescent marriage (which was abnormally common ca. 1955) as if it were an abiding norm.

  • Art Deco says:

    In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment, Hymowitz says.

    Are reading science fiction, amateur astronomy, gin rummy, poker, bowling, and skeet shooting ‘empty entertainments’? My father did them all while working and having four children.

  • SB says:

    She is treating adolescent marriage (which was abnormally common ca. 1955) as if it were an abiding norm.

    Do you mean that in earlier eras, people commonly got married before their 20s?

  • Gail F says:

    The common age for marriage has varied a lot over the centuries. Sometimes it was before the 20s, sometimes the early 20s, sometimes after — depending on class, prosperity, and social situations (war, disease, etc.). But it was rarely as old as it is now. What the author didn’t realize is that, whatever age people used to get married, they ALL had adult responsibilities by the time they hit their 20s. What we ought to wonder is, if people for pretty much all time have had adult responsibilities by the time they hit their 20s, why do we all think people that age are not mature enough to do anything?

  • Donna V. says:

    I am single and in my 50′s, which makes me the proverbial maiden aunt. When I was younger, I made bad choices – dated men I shouldn’t have and turned away ones that (in retrospect) I should have given a chance. Well, that was dumb of me, but I can either spend my time berating myself and wallowing in self-pity (which I have done from time to time, but then I snap out of it) or I can try to make myself useful and to be a good Catholic, a good aunt, a good friend, a good sister, etc. On one hand, I sometimes hope to meet a good man; on the other, I am so set in my ways at this point, I think living with someone again – even a roommate- would be difficult to adjust to!

    What I certainly know is that the single life, as defined by Marcotte and Matt Yglesias, gets very dull by the time you hit your mid-30′s. Paul, I also had a postage stamp-sized efficiency in DC (over the course of a dozen years, I lived in all 4 DC quadrants and Maryland and Virginia) and downed many a pint at the Dubliner and Irish Times and Tune Inn, but it gets really stale, unless you’re stuck in permanent adolescence. I haven’t been in a bar in years.

    The insidious thing about remaining single is that one becomes becoming very self-absorbed by default, simply because the time and energy which would be spent on a spouse and kids is deflected back on yourself. I knew quite a few never-married and divorced and childless people in DC and while I felt more at home with them than I sometimes do around couples with children (who can sometimes unwittingly make single people feel like circus freaks), it struck me very strongly back in my ’30′s that we older singles were all way too wrapped up in me, myself and I and in a way you can’t be if you’re a decent spouse or parent (let us not forget that marriage and parenthold is no cure for the terminally narcissistic.)

    So if you don’t have a family’s need to focus on, the next best thing to do is to do volunteer work, get involved in the Church, in the lives of your siblings’ children (the biggest reason I moved back to Wisconsin was because it bothered me that my nieces and nephews didn’t know me and I didn’t know them) – something to get the focus off your own navel.

    It sounds like Marcotte and Yglesias are perfectly content to contemplate their own navels. It seems to me that’s a great way to end up bitter and angry in middle and old age.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    A few years ago at St. Matt’s there was a course on the Theology of the Body, and one subject that came up was the vocation of the single life. Not all are called to Holy Orders, and not all get married. So there is a vocation to be had for the single, and that seems to me to be what you’re talking about.

    For Marcotte and Yglesias, well, they seem to have a different interpretation of what that vocation entails.

  • bmmg39 says:

    Mr. Zummo, please allow me to share my own response to Kay Hymowitz. It’s not like the others you’ve addressed here, but it wasn’t favorable to her original column in the least.

    “I’ve grown tired of these gender stereotypes and hurtful generalizations.

    It seems as though Hymowitz et al paint all unmarried males with a broad brush, as if to suggest that any man/guy/male (choose your term) older than 30 who is still unmarried simply MUST be out ‘playing the field’ or ‘sowing his oats’ or whatever other sickening phrase is used. She seems to think we’re all like the character portrayed on television by [sigh] Charlie Sheen, moving from one ‘hot babe’ to another, free of commitment or marriage and family aspirations. It does not seem to occur to any of you that some of us have just been alone (romance-wise) throughout our lives.

    Many of us have never found a romantic partner, let alone a spouse. I myself have always wanted a very G-rated, non-sexual romantic relationship with someone, but it just hasn’t happened, though I’m now well into my 30s. (I’m not looking for sex of any kind.)

    I hate my birthday and cannot watch films or plays with romantic themes without feeling miserable. I have difficulty sleeping at night. And now, on top of the loneliness and despair, I have people like Hymowitz suggesting, without ever having met me, that I must be some frat-boy lothario or Good-Time Charlie. Such words are hurtful — insult upon injury.”

  • Mike Petrik says:

    “She is treating adolescent marriage (which was abnormally common ca. 1955) as if it were an abiding norm”

    Art,
    I love you man, but the notion that 20 year-olds are adolescents is just plain mistaken (and that is the most generous adjective I can think of). And from an historical perspective, marriage in the late teens or early 20s is not abnormal so at all.

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