I’m Over Forty And I Won’t Be Reading All Fours

I’m Over Forty And I Won’t Be Reading All Fours June 10, 2024

I should be rousting my sleeping children to clean my house and do profitable things with their lives, now that all the finals are done and the ballet shoes have been shoved in the cupboard. There is something about a house full of sleeping teenagers, though–it’s almost as nice as a house full of sleeping toddlers. I might as well sit here and let them be a while longer. Plus, there are so many interesting things to write about. On the one hand, I did take a gander at David French’s latest effort in playing the victim. And on the other hand, there is all the election news coming out of Europe. I think, though, that I can’t pass up this strange thing that a dear friend sent me. It’s about a novel that apparently is making all the middle-aged ladies rethink their whole lives:

It’s the talk of every group text — at least every group text composed of women over 40. Miranda July’s latest novel, “All Fours, is about a 45-year-old woman who upends her seemingly settled domestic life by checking into a motel a half-hour from her house for a few weeks, taking up with a younger married man and then experimenting with an open marriage. On her journey to self-discovery — and sexual awakening — she asks women she knows to share with her their true desires: Are they happy in their marriages? And if they’re not, are they going to do anything about it? What are the other possible arrangements for a life? In a sort of whisper network, women who have read “All Fours” are taking a page out of the main character’s playbook and posing these same questions to one another, opening up about their hidden fantasies and frustrations.

You will be shocked–shocked I tell you–to discover that the hidden fantasies and frustrations of forty-year-old women are pretty much the same as the last time the New York Times decided to write about them, which was how long ago? A few minutes? Is there anything more scintillating than a middle-aged woman’s hidden fantasies and frustrations? I mean, I can think of a ton of things, mostly because none of those fantasies and frustrations are actually hidden anymore. It’s pretty much all I hear about. If they were hidden, like a neat set of ankles sporting a pretty shoe, I might be able to imagine them being scintillating, but because we have to hear about them all the time now, they are honestly pretty pedestrian.

Anyway, this goes exactly the way you expect it will:

Ms. Delohery, who identifies as queer and is raising a 13-year-old with her partner, said the book had resonated strongly with her friends who are in long-term relationships. “I’ve been in my relationship for 10 years, and my friends have been partnered in similar ways,” she said. “We don’t want to escape our relationships, but what I saw in Miranda’s book is less about literally escaping monogamy and more about creating space within it to have differentiated experiences — a way of living with a partner where you are not defined by this sort of codependent, mind-meld partnership.”

How foolish and dumb that any people think they have to “literally escape monogamy.” I feel like you have to have buried your head so far into the zeitgeist to think it’s a bad thing, given all the relational and familial misery visible both online and in person, that you should, by all reasonable accounts, have completely lost all credibility, not be interviewed by the New York Times for your thoughts and feelings. But anyway, for those who don’t want to “escape” it, but still be as dumb and wicked as possible, they can “create space,” whereby they still blow your life all up. Because, apparently, it’s not possible to be properly differentiated in a relationship, you can only be properly differentiated by having sex with someone to whom you are not married. Adultery, in this new blighted age, is not rife with codependence and “mind-meld.”

I mean, it is possible. Plenty of married people are not codependent and are able to have their own thoughts and feelings and live regular, happy, productive lives without making spectacles of themselves. My gosh. This article is a study in fatigued and boring decadence.

“The other day she sent me a part where the narrator apologized to her husband for something, and was like, ‘Why is she apologizing?’” said Ms. Yoder, who lives in Iowa City with her husband and 10-year-old son. “I was like, ‘This is what we do as women. We say what we want, and the person we are telling it to gets defensive and pushes back, and then we apologize, and then we think what we want is greedy and wrong.’”

I mean, if you think that your not-hidden enough fantasies are things you should actually indulge, then you are greedy and wrong and you should apologize. But if you just wanted another cup of tea, but apologized about it out of habit, sure, you didn’t need to apologize. No one begrudges you another cup of tea. Another solid box of wine that you drink by yourself? You should apologize. Lying? Still apologize. Hating God? Yes, also apologize. Be horrible to your husband and cheat on him? Straight to apologizing.

Talking about the book led to conversations about what they want from life, including whether they actually want to do the traditional thing and marry. “The book kind of made me think that I don’t want to be in a relationship any time soon,” Ms. Bossard said. “I also think we all want to reread it in a decade to check in with ourselves.” “The character is just so determined to live the life she wants, the best, most interesting life she can,” she added. “We all toasted to that.”

That’s right, young ladies who are also, for some reason, reading this awful book, don’t get married. Stay by yourself for another decade totally wasting your time and then “check in on yourself” to see how you are. Keep raising your glass to the lonely futility of your life. You won’t probably ever really regret it, not when you’re sixty and sad that you don’t have any grandchildren or anyone who has to love you because you took the trouble to love them. Being alone in your dotage will definitely be a good time. Don’t worry about it.

“Sometimes it felt like we were trying to create a new society,” Ms. Heti told The New York Times last month. “We were talking about the ideas but also trying to live them.”

Sometimes it feels like ordinary people are so unbelievably dumb it’s hard for me to even. Sometimes it feels like I’m actually getting dumber myself just by reading America’s paper of record. Sometimes I think I really should throw my phone into the Susquannana so as to regain the meager intelligence I had before.

“All Fours” doesn’t endorse any one path forward. When faced with large questions about aging and desire, the narrator’s friends each have different ideas about what they want their lives to look like and how she should deal with her uncertainties. One woman in a 20-year marriage says her ideal arrangement would be to remain in the relationship but to date someone else on the side. Another woman, now married to her second husband, advises the narrator that you don’t have to hate your husband to leave him. A third tells her to just “ride it out” — “it” being the narrator’s doubts about her life as it stands.

I’ve been married almost 23 years now and I think no one should ever listen to these women about anything. If you don’t know what to do with your life, DM me. I can give you some good advice. Or, at least, better advice than this. Look, I know life is hard, and middle age, especially, is hard. I haven’t been enjoying it. In fact, I have hated–hated I tell you–every year since I turned forty. But the reason I’ve hated it isn’t because I’m unhappily married or oppressed by my children and the world and society. I haven’t needed to search out different ideas. In fact, I have needed to endure the long slog through the tumult of hormones that go away, the ordinary troubles of life, and being there as my children grow up and don’t need me in the same way. I needed God, more than ever, not illicit sex with strangers and self-indulgent wine binges. I needed to count other people as more significant than myself in the usual way, I needed to go to church, I needed to forgive my enemies, I needed to develop proper sleep hygiene, and I needed to figure out how to use a hair straightener. It wasn’t rocket surgery. It was called regular life.

In the end, it’s left ambiguous which path the narrator chooses — whether she continues to explore an open marriage, ends her marriage or pursues some other shimmering possibility.

Reader, the path she chose was dumb and bad and not a “shimmering possibility.” In fact, when she was promiscuous and committed adultery–open marriage forsooth–she broke her vows and deeply injured other people whom she should have cared about. Cheating on another person is wrong, even if you just really want to do it. Isn’t it dumb that this has to be written down? Like no one even knows it anymore?

I know I keep changing the word of the year, but I can’t help myself. Twenty-Twenty-Four is Dumb. It just is.

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