Making waves
Orbiting versus empathy

Connections, work, and decisions: men and family

There were two articles in the New York Times that caught my interest this morning: Jane Gross's article When the Beard is Too Painful and Lois Uchitelle and David Leonhard's 7/31 article on Men Not Working.  Jane Gross's article deals with 40 to 60 year old "gay" men who still want to maintain their marriages and families, while having a homosexual relationship. Men not working talks about middle-aged men who are unemployed or underemployed while seeking for work that pays the bills and is meaningful to them. What is interesting is the role of women and family life in each of these stories.

In the Men Not Working article, they talk about how up to 60% of the out-of-work men in the US are divorced, separated, widowed, or never  been married. It quotes sociologist Kathryn Edin:

“What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything,” Ms. Edin said. “They are just living without attachments and by the time they are 40 or 50 years old, the things that kept these men from falling away — family and community life — are gone.”

There is an implicit connection between men working and the stablizing force of women and family life. How many times I've seen or read about a man working to gather the wealth to marry his beloved and start a family. This is the story of Heathcliff and Cathy of Wuthering Heights, the entire institution of bride price, even going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh. To civilize Enkidu, Gilgamesh first entangles him with a women, Shammat. Are women and family life the main gateway to human connection for men?  Are women really forces of production instead of seduction, contrary to how they are portrayed? Although, Shammat achieves her productive means through seduction, which is interesting.

Jane Gross's article only complicates the situation. Again, it addresses the small percentage of heterosexually married gay men and their desire to maintain their social and emotional connections to their wives and children as well as the emotional connection to their homosexual partner/lover. She quotes a man struggling with his "Brokeback" marriage:

One support group member, Steve T., is a Long Island doctor, married to his high school sweetheart and the father of three school-age sons. He said he felt the sting of judgment when he tried a group for gay fathers. “They thought my desire to stay married was part of my denial,’’ said Dr. T., who would do almost anything to keep his family together and his suburban lifestyle intact, even after telling his wife that he is gay.

Its not working out for Dr. T, whose wife has asked him to move out even after trying to accept his duo-lifestyle, but it demonstrates the complexity of the various human connections needed to keep people whole. The article goes on to describe the loneliness and isolation that some of these men find as they struggle with the gay dating scene. Beyond claims of false consciousness of these men based on the assumption of gay denial, is there something else there in the desire to maintain those connections as a source of meaning as well?

I think we need more flexible models for types of human connections in the dyad romantic relationship. I keep thinking about the movie Normal with Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson, about a 50ish midwestern rural man who decides to have a sex change. After kicking him out of the house, inviting him back, and he preparing to have the surgery, they both end up staying together because they've loved each other for over 20 years. The nature of that love shifts and changes but you still love the person. Why does it have to be only one way or another?

 

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