Find the Missing Concept

i miss you more than words So I finally got around to reading the Atlantic article "The Weaker Sex" by Sandra Tsing Loh on which James Taranto mused last month (last item, "Plenty of Fish in the Atlantic").

The article is purportedly a book review, but is mostly a long discussion of how Sandra and her female friends view their modern heterosexual relationships, as experienced by successful professional urban women attending an L.A. dinner party. With a focus on those cases where the woman is bringing more money into the household than is the man, something Sandra (probably correctly) contends is likely to become more common in the future.

Clue: all attendees are divorced save for Annette, who seems to be headed in that direction. Even non-marital relationships, like Sandra's current one, can be rocky:

My own culinary moment of truth came on a recent day of frustrating business calls and frustrating writing, plus an hour-long installation of a complex new HP all-in-one printer thingy while roasting a chicken while struggling to fix our enigmatic dishwasher, after which I sat down to dinner with my male partner—who had just cheerfully returned from the outside world—with one candle (I couldn’t find the other). I made the mistake of asking “How was your day?” and he made the mistake of responding, and as I watched his mouth move, I felt my trigger finger twitch and thought those awful words only a woman who needs a man neither to support her nor to be a father to her children can think: How long until I vote you off the island?

Taranto has his own description of Sandra's piece, which I suggest you read. He notes that the Atlantic runs a lot of articles that might be fairly classified as a "disquisition on distaff difficulties". His comment on the genre:

Perhaps these Atlantic pieces are assigned and written with only women in mind, and this columnist is the only heterosexual man who finds them interesting enough to read all the way through. Another possibility is that the magazine's actual editorial mission is to disabuse bachelors of any notion that it might be nice to be married.

So (as I said) I read Sandra's article. That makes at two heterosexuals, Mr. Taranto! Although I think my motivation is mostly I paid for the magazine, so I'm gonna read the darn thing.

I count somewhere north of 4200 words. But I got to the end, and noticed something. Or, specifically, the lack of something. In an article of that length entirely about intimate man-woman relationships, how many times would you expect to find the word "love"?

Thanks to Firefox's "Find" function, the answer, with emphasis added in each case:

  1. The word appears in the subtitle of one of the books Sandra reviews: The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family

  2. When discussing the other reviewed book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson, Sandra says: " I love the passage in which Mendelson talks about…"

  3. A quote from Mendelson's book: "Coming home is your major restorative in life. These are formidably good things, which you cannot get merely by finding true love or getting married or having children or landing the best job in the world—or even by moving into the house of your dreams."

  4. And, finally, in the second-to-last paragraph:

    Much more precarious is the road I’ve pursued with my Mr. Y [Sandra's term for an abstract sensitive, empathetic "feelings guy"]. If Mr. Y is what women (now economically dominant but still wanting companionship and love) are seeking, we’d better brush up on our Quicken and buckle up our tool belts. The non–Martha Stewart Living trade-off (and doesn’t it seem perfectly apt that Martha lacks a male partner?): as for the warm body in bed, men (at least some) are nicer to talk to than dogs, and if their domestic skills stink—well, many of ours are worse.

So: four occurrences, only two of them Sandra's own words. And only the last might conceivably be referring to romantic love. But it's not unlikely to be (as Harlan Ellison put it) a misspelling of "sex".

"I think that might be your problem right there."

[By the way, I think Sandra's 2005 Commencement Speech is one of the best I've read.]

Last Modified 2012-10-18 6:15 AM EDT