Perspective: The world doesn’t need the example set by Bill de Blasio and his wife
“Avoid attachments” is not a recipe for marital success. Nor is dating other people while married
Bill de Blasio has a new song to describe his relationship with his wife. It’s called “Mango” and he played a bit for a New York Times reporter recently. “I don’t want nothing but you / Getting what you need / Even if it ain’t from me.”
De Blasio, who is separating from his wife but not divorcing as of yet, calls the sentiment “beautiful.” But what is beautiful about their new arrangement of living in the same house with your spouse while you’re dating other people?
One gets the sense from this excruciating interview that the former New York City mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, thought that their announcement would be met with accolades. Surely people will think they are so mature to be taking this approach, a kind of “conscious uncoupling,” as Gwyneth Paltrow once described her divorce.
After determining that they were both unhappy, according to the Times, “they exchanged written messages outlining ‘what we felt about the moment.’” Then they determined the rules, according to de Blasio: “what’s cool, and what’s not cool, and whatever else. One of the things we’re saying to the world is we don’t need to possess each other.”
I did hear one radio DJ calling the couple’s “if you love someone, set them free” plan to be “the opposite of crazy.” But most of the reaction has been that there was too much information from people who are not actually public figures any more.
Since they did decide to share, though, it is worth examining what messages are being sent by this public conversation about a 30-year relationship disintegrating. As the marriage rate has continued to decline, there are many young people in this country who don’t even know what marriage is supposed to look like — if they do, it’s from celebrities who can’t stay married for more than five minutes — and how husbands and wives are supposed to behave toward one another.
In this case, the couple both blamed the pandemic and the stress of being in the public eye for the disintegration of their relationship, but now that those are over, there doesn’t seem to be any going back. “I just want to have fun,” McCray said while assuring her husband, “It’s not that we haven’t had fun.”
McCray and de Blasio have two adult children, and the time after kids move out can be difficult for couples as they try to figure out again what connects them to each other. One of the side effects of our culture of intensive work and childrearing is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for thinking about our spouses. That being said, studies have found that couples are often happier when their nest is empty.
As The New York Times reported on a study from the The Journal of Advanced Nursing: “Researchers compared the women’s marital happiness in their 40s, when many still had children at home; in their early 50s, when some had older children who had left home; and in their 60s, when virtually all had empty nests. At every point, the empty nesters scored higher on marital happiness than women with children still at home.”
It sounds like that did not happen for McCray. And maybe there were some warning signs along the way — like before they were married, when McCray wrote an article about being a lesbian — but it also seems like the entire basis of the relationship was doing this as long as it worked and then not doing it anymore.
According to the Times, de Blasio “quoted two favored phrases of Ms. McCray’s — ‘Labels put people in boxes, and those boxes are shaped like coffins’ and ‘I never want to be stuck’ — and one prized by his brother, a Tibetan Buddhist: ‘Avoid attachments.’”
Avoid attachments? Really? These are the sentiments of teenage rebels or maybe James Bond, but they are not the way that adults should see marriage and family. Is this what they want to teach their own children about how to approach relationships? And what about all the other young people who are watching?
This is not the way we want our public servants to see their lives, either. De Blasio wants to say to the world, “We don’t need to possess each other,” but the world wants grown-ups who are married to be possessive — not to the point of abusiveness, but enough to be put off if the love of your life is sleeping with someone else in the bedroom next door.
De Blasio said he should have asked McCray more often “What makes you happy?” But frankly the questions both of them should have asked are “Why are we getting married?” and “What will we do when it’s not fun?”
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.