To say my review of this book is much belated would be an understatement. Michael Sebastian, a writer on men's issues who made his name on the Return of Kings website where he created some of the most engaging content, had sent me the PDF copy of his 'guide for traditional men and women' prior to the book's release on Amazon. I'm glad to say I finally got around to reading it.
182 pages in total, it isn't an incredibly long read. The book is divided into 14 chapters, beginning with more political topics such as the 'war on marriage', and then moving into more advisory territory such as 'how to cheat-proof your marriage'. In the end, it is more accurate to describe this as a self-help manual than anything else. It has a casual tone, and Michael brings to bear his own experiences with his own marriage, and personal observations of others throughout. The anecdotal nature of many things may be relied upon a little too much, but it adds something of a personal touch which helps the text avoid feeling overly heavy. It should be said however, at times the conversation comes across as too casual, as if we were shooting the breeze at a bar somewhere.
One of the strongest portions of the book in my opinion, was the section on divorce.
“While our culture paints a rosy picture of life after divorce, the reality for most divorcees is not as glamorous as our culture claims. Divorce is one of the most significant destroyers of wealth. A bad divorce can drag on for years. Legal fees, time away from work, therapy bills, and expenses associated with relocating all drain finances. Any equity that the spouses built together will be (at least) halved and prospects for retirement will also have to be re-evaluated”
Of course, in trying to make people more responsible in their choice of wife or husband, speaking frankly about the true nature of divorce and what it entails today isn't a bad move. Sebastian provides sound advice for those who feel divorce may be a risk, beginning with pulling the plug on mass media which normalizes the act, but then he goes on to point out something I has never considered, that just being around divorcees may be a negative influence on a marriage.
In speaking of how men view marriage, he writes:
“So all men have these contradictory desires. The wholesome desire is to be committed for life to one woman. The other desire is to have commitment free sex. Good men are smart enough to realize that the lifetime commitment will yield greater happiness so they discipline themselves to remain faithful to one woman.”
I agree with the general point, but the use of 'happiness' here seems ill-advised and utilitarian. It may be possible for a man to experience more happiness as a sexual drifter (this is impossible for women), depending on his own disposition, but this may be tempered by feelings of duty to conform to societal expectations which are wholly reasonable. What produces the most good may not necessarily correlate with what produces the most happiness. Marriage is supposed to be happy, but good men should see other kinds of value in it.
Other pieces of advice seem obvious but as he points out, are forgotten by many, such as not exposing your spouse to temptations by taking them to places which may arouse such feelings. In addition, he tackles the issue of communication pretty well.
“The use of “always” and “never” is not just referring to the person’s behaviour, it is also implying that they are insensitive and selfish for “always” or “never” doing a certain thing. If your goal is to have a constructive conversation, leave “always” and “never” out of it.”
Sebastian also talks about the role of faith in marriage, and how ritual informs and anchors family life. He speaks of 'servant leadership' on behalf of the husband who strikes the balance between provider and authority. All of this is explained well, and doesn't leave off the discussion of how this role influences one's children. He advises parents to teach their children the value and importance of marriage, not leaving it for someone else to do either in school or on television. This includes both literal teaching, and demonstrating by example. Children who see dysfunctional marriages are unlikely to grow up with a positive view of the institution. I must concur that in many ways, the recovery of marriage will have to start at home, and not in some academy.
Overall, Sebastian's advice on everything from shared finances to physical upkeep is both personally informed and in most instances sound. However, there is something crucial missing. There is no systematic citation, and as such, even when Sebastian brings up useful studies to bolster his arguments, they are simply left hanging on the page, with only the most casual reference to their source. Even with a self-help manual, proper referencing is vital to instilling credibility in a work, and especially one which already draws much from anecdotal experience. Nowhere did I doubt what was being said, but others might.
I enjoyed reading 'Staying Married in a Degenerate Age', and it illuminated some things that I had never considered before. Those looking for a deep analysis of marriage, its challenges and triumphs, may find themselves wanting more from a book that at times feels too safe, too surface-level, but as a quick read for those who want to safeguard their long-term relationships, it's not a bad place to start.