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Books: Hasta la vista, baby

Books | A new so-called self-help book promotes family crack-ups

Issue: "Ashcroft 2000?," Oct. 11, 1997

Seventy-five percent of all divorces are instigated by wives. At least part of the reason why is evident in a new self-help book for women that has hit at least one major bestseller list and was recently given major news magazine treatment as a counter to Dan Quale's family-values campaign. Cutting Loose operates with the premise that divorce is good for you.

The author, Ashton Applewhite, set her husband free after reading Susan Faludi's feminist bestseller Backlash. She decided her husband was too insecure since she was the breadwinner in the family. So out she went. These days, her two kids split their days between two Manhattan apartments. Now Ms. Applewhite says she's got a great new boyfriend and she looks and feels great. Now she wants to inflict her happiness on the rest of the world with this diabolical book.

According to this author, too many women are locked into bad marriages by peer pressure and the religious right. "Women who have ended their marriages have had to learn to take care of themselves," Ms. Applewhite says, "and this newfound independence makes them confident and happy."

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Cutting Loose is 250 pages of encouragement for middle-aged women to dump their husbands. There are more testimonials in here than a month of infomercials, with anecdotes from dozens of cheerful divorcees. Plus lots of practical tidbits on dealing with lawyers, manipulating child custody arrangements, and finding new relationships after the settlement.

The people quoted in this book say things like, "I learned a lot about myself"; "You have to believe in yourself, to start believing that you are something"; and "That little voice is really never wrong." The all-justifying ethical principle of the book is sheer pragmatic selfishness.

Ms. Applewhite opposes anything that would have a wife submit herself to the good of her family, much less to her husband. She treats ordinary domestic crises as emotional war games. Ex-wives never did anything wrong-except trying to please their spouses. Anything a wife does to save her marriage is treated as a pointless exercise in self-flagellation.

Ironically, serious marital problems are given little attention. Physical abuse is only covered for a few pages and adultery isn't even in the index.

Naturally, the big guns are saved for anything remotely pro-family. Ms. Applewhite shoots at anything that looks like a target: Promise Keepers, old sitcoms, the long-dead Moral Majority, Alan Keyes, Newt Gingrich, even the book of Ephesians. It's "the guilt-inducing message of the religious right that divorce is the facile refuge of the self-indulgent," she says. Ironically, her book only heaps up evidence for that very impression.

Instead of the church, the author prefers the confessional of the therapist. In her world, divorce is just a therapeutic amputation. Divorce is merely an individual act done to break up a contractual arrangement between two parties. I don't feel happy. I want a change. I'm cutting the cord. And don't give a second thought to the mountains of evidence on what divorce does to children and the other social pathologies that it breeds, from the economic plight of single parents to the awful loneliness and estrangement that brands our culture.

At least the book makes plain the worldview that is ravaging today's families. Even among Christians the divorce rate isn't pretty. And with the rampant individualism that infests even the evangelical church, many Christians have doubtless gone along with Ms. Applewhite's reasoning.

If the church had held against this tide-teaching the permanence of marriage and the dynamics of biblical relationships-nostrums like Ms. Applewhite's would seem absurd. As it is, they seem tragically close to the cultural mainstream.

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