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Allan and I had met when we worked together at a magazine in Boston (full disclosure: this one), where I was an assistant and he an editor; two years later, he quit his job to follow me to New York so that I could go to graduate school and he could focus on his writing.

After the worst of our breakup, we eventually found our way to a friendship so deep and sustaining that several years ago, when he got engaged, his fiancée suggested that I help him buy his wedding suit.

Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognized, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks.

But as labor became separated, so did our spheres of experience—the marketplace versus the home—one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort.

Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. And the elevation of independence over coupling (“I wasn’t ready to settle down”) is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother, who had embraced it, in part, I suspect, to correct for her own choices.

She’d long known that the Leave It to Beaver–style family model popular in the 1950s and ’60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.

What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices.

I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

Once, in high school, driving home from a family vacation, my mother turned to my boyfriend and me cuddling in the backseat and said, “Isn’t it time you two started seeing other people?

” She adored Brian—he was invited on family vacations!

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