Rationalization of Affairs: A Sign of Personal Moral Confusion

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As I discussed in my previous article America’s Love Affair with Adultery, parents who have affairs are harming their children. The consequent divorces that arise as putrid bubbles from this murky muck of moral confusion and irresponsibility pop and blow up children’s lives, causing even more damage.

There are those who try to justify and rationalize their affairs and lack of commitment. They attempt to delusionally self-soothe with affirmations that they won’t hurt their children by their misconduct. Even very bright people can fall into this trap. Sandra Tsing Loh is one of them. Her recent essay Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off starts with the irresponsibly audacious words “The author is ending her marriage. Isn’t it time you did the same?”

Did Loh Think of Her Daughters?

Why did she write that? Well, I’m not absolutely sure she did. An overzealous copy-editor may have penned it to grab readers’ eyeballs. But if she did write it, I suspect it is not simply because she’s a radio personality for National Public Radio (NPR), an author, and a stage performer of darkly comical material about families who knows how to grab attention.

It’s probably in part because she wants to make herself feel better about her extramarital affair that has lead to the disintegration of her family. Her 7 and 9 year old daughters apparently weren’t an important consideration at the moment she hopped in the sack with some unspecified person and thereby punched the accelerator to the floor while turning the family steering wheel towards a cliff overlooking the dark canyon of divorce.

Not The Kind of Person You’d Expect to Blow Up Her Family

I wouldn’t have expected such irrational and irresponsible behavior from Loh. She’s not just a typical Los Angeles area resident from the state of Californication, she’s a graduate of Caltech, one of the top science and engineering schools in the world. Just getting admitted to a school of that caliber is a rare achievement. Graduating from it with a degree in physics is even more rare and an indication that she must have some considerable intellect. Reading through her Caltech commencement address from 2005, I was sufficiently entertained by her witty and self-deprecating comments that I might even buy a copy of her recently released book Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting! that humorously documents her travails attempting to find the “perfect kindergarten” for her older daughter. And as a gesture of kindness to her daughters, maybe my mention of their mother’s new book will indirectly help fund the psychotherapy that the family is going to need due to the affair and divorce.

Reading through Loh’s essay, I feel an uneasy mix of revulsion at some of her statements and admiration of her writing skills and humor. I have the distinct feeling that maybe Loh has lost her objectivity about the damage she is doing to her family. She blew it. And she blows it again because rather than admitting to her mistakes and trying to make things better, she tries to rationalize away her errors.

Loh expends some effort to spin Andrew Cherlin’s writings from The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today to rationalize her inability to maintain her marriage. She seems personally torn by the demise of her marriage, yet convinced that marriage is unsustainable in part because modern married men won’t “put out” to sexually satisfy their wives.

She lists reason after reason of how even “perfect husbands” who cook and clean and care for children plus work to provide an income for the family aren’t worth the effort of maintaining a relationship. It’s bizarre. Amidst this general insanity, thankfully she does at least manage to deliver one of the major messages that parents having a pattern of unstable relationships is bad for children. She also conveys how Americans’ claim to religious faith is totally at odds with the typically American narcissistic sex-fiend pattern of unstable relationships, lack of commitment, adultery, and divorce.

(from Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off)

In World Values Surveys taken at the turn of the millennium, fewer Americans agreed with the statement “Marriage is an outdated institution” than citizens of any other Western country surveyed (compare the U.S.’s tiny 10 percent with France’s 36 percent). We are also more religious—more Americans (60 percent) say they attend religious services once a month than do the Vatican-centric Italians (54 percent) or, no surprise, the laissez-faire French (12 percent). At the same time, Americans endure the highest divorce rate in the Western world. In short, although we say we love religion and marriage, Cherlin notes, “religious Americans are more likely to divorce than secular Swedes.”

Chaotic Parental Relationships Lead to Future Psychological Problems

It’s disheartening that Loh’s daughters won’t finish their childhoods with a stable home environment as they might have if their mother had been more responsible and put them first. She seems to regard them as her little princesses suggesting that she does love them, but her “gift” of a divorce is going to be more damaging than her delusional thinking indicates unless she’s willing to put in some serious effort to remediate. Let’s hope these princesses get a substantial amount of their training as future queens from somebody who is more child-responsibility-oriented than their mother was at her parental nadir.

As down as I am on Loh’s “to hell with it” attitude towards her family, she could do a lot worse to them than her affair and divorce. Let’s hope she doesn’t become one of the many parental alienators bent on destroying her ex, a miserable situation that is typified by instability and conflict that is psychologically traumatizing to both children and the target parent.

She shows a glimmer of hope in this area by mentioning her husband’s many positive qualities and her hope to co-parent for her children’s benefit. I got the sense that at some level perhaps she would be amenable to reconciliation with her husband after all, but perhaps that’s just me being optimistic hoping for the best outcome for the kids. Then again, maybe she’s just trying to make nice with her husband because writing bad things about him in widely read publications might not go over so well in court.

Loh acknowledges amidst her sexist assumptions about child-rearing that perhaps today’s men can do a better raising children than today’s women:

(from Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off)

Or best of all, after the breast-feeding and toddler years are through, let those nurturing superdads be the custodial parents! Let the Type A moms obsessively work, write checks, and forget to feed the dog. Let the dads then, if they wish, kick out those sloppy working mothers and run effective households, hiring the appropriate staff, if need be. To a certain extent, men today may have more clarity about what it takes to raise children in the modern age. They don’t, for instance, have today’s working mother’s ambivalence and emotional stickiness.

The assumption that men can’t raise small children because they don’t have breasts is the same infuriatingly sexist crap that many divorcing mothers use as an excuse to argue that their ex-husbands shouldn’t get to see the kids because it will interfere with breast-feeding. Yet despite breast-feeding being so important to them, they can’t bother to pump to deliver mommy’s milk to daddy who despite his size-deficient Y chromosome is perfectly capable of warming up the milk and feeding it to baby in a bottle as he’s already done it many times prior to mommy going on her affair and divorce rampage.

Beyond the rationalizations of problematic behaviors and minimization of her responsibility for them, Loh’s writing has sprinkled signs of mental health issues ranging from habitual use of intoxicating substances to homicidal thoughts about her father:

…. I had an entirely manageable life and planned to go to my grave taking with me, as I do most nights to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book. …

…given my confessed extramarital affair, avowed childhood desire to see my father explode into flames…

Reading this, I couldn’t help but ponder how bad her childhood was. Thanks to the web, I was able to find out a little more about it from Barnes & Noble:

(from Aliens in America)

Born to a Chinese father and German mother, Sandra Tsing Loh tells dark comic tales of the improbable blending of her parents’ cultures in their middle-class Southern California home. The first sketch recounts the saga of two successive stepmothers who come to reorganize her childhood home. In the second, the family travels to Ethiopia for an affordable vacation complete with new friends (German tourists) and economical transportation (a bus). Finally, Loh provides a glimpse into her teenage love life with its trials and tribulations.

While it doesn’t sound like she was an abused child, perhaps her problems with her marriage stem from an invalidating childhood with chaotic parental relationships. She seems very aware that this is not a good situation for children. Alarmingly, her busted marriage may cause her children to have future mental health and relationship problems, too. I hope she’ll find some way to minimize the negative impact of her mistakes on her daughters. Their father can’t say “mommy messed up” to their daughters without risking the start of a trek down the parental alienation road to hell, but she certainly can.

This is an opportunity for her to step up to the plate and be the adult parent by admitting to her daughters that she messed up and that she hopes they can learn from her mistakes. But that may have to wait for a little while longer, when the kids are a bit older. For now, she needs to help them through the divorce process. If she’s reading this, she might consider buying a few of the excellent books discussed in our article Divorce Books for Kids as they are definitely suitable for kids of her daughters’ ages.

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Further Reading

America’s Love Affair with Adultery

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Sandra Tsing Loh Got Divorced – Therefore Marriage is Bad

Sandra Tsing Loh reveals affair and anti-marriage stance

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