The problem with monogamy.

Reading between the lines.
Sept. 3 2003 8:01 PM

The Marriage Trap

A new book wrestles with monogamy and its modern discontents.

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While it's certainly true that people stay in an unhappy relationship longer than they should, it's not yet clear that monogamy is more "unnatural" than sleeping around but finding that the hum of your refrigerator is your most constant companion. And Kipnis spends scant time thinking about the fact that marriage is a hardy social institution several thousand years old, spanning many cultures—which calls into question, to say the least, whether its presence in our lives today has mostly to do with the insidious chokehold capitalism has on us.

While Kipnis' exaggerated polemic romp is wittily invigorating, it may not actually be as radical as it promises to be: These days, even sitcoms reflect her way of thinking. There's an old episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Kramer anticipate most of Kipnis' critique of domesticity; Kramer asks Jerry if he and his girlfriend are thinking about marriage and family, and then cuts him off: "They're prisons! Man-made prisons! You're doin' time! You get up in the morning—she's there. You go to sleep at night—she's there. It's like you gotta ask permission to, to use the bathroom: Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?" Still, love might indeed get a better name if we were as attentive to the intellectual dishonesties of the public debate over its failings as we are to the emotional dishonesties of adulterers.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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