Tropes: My Wife Left Me

Here is a trope that I would be happy to see the back of: using "my wife left me" as shorthand to convey the concept of an intense, all-consuming personal project. Most recently seen in the Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter prologue:
I papered the basement walls with printouts of old photographs. Time lines. Family trees. I wrote into the early morning hours.

For the first two months, my wife was concerned. For the second two she was suspicious. By the sixth month we’d separated.

Look, here is the thing: yes, sometimes intense personal projects split relationships apart. Sometimes people -- of any gender -- decide that they feel like they are the only person trying to make an existing relationship be a relationship. Sometimes they choose to leave. Sometimes this happens, yes. I am not denying that.

But this trope -- which I have seen many, many times -- is almost universally employed with the framing that it is a woman in a different-sex coupling doing the leaving. And since we are naturally inclined to side with the male artist being left, given that we are after all in the process of experiencing (and hopefully enjoying) the work that his wife left him over, it instantly casts the individual woman doing the leaving as an antagonist to the very existence of the work we are reading. A woman tried to prevent this art from existing, says the trope-deployer, but I stuck with it for your sake, dear reader. And, no: I reject the attempt to position me into an antagonistic relationship with a woman I don't know for the sake of a framing device.

Additionally, since this is most frequently employed against wives-leaving-husbands, it reinforces the stereotypes that:
  1. Men are the only ones who create Serious Art.
  2. Women are preoccupied with silly daily things that distract from Serious Art.
  3. Women do not understand or appreciate the importance of (and sacrifices made for) Serious Art.

I reject all of that. Period.

There is a better way to say "I became increasingly involved with my project, even to the point of neglecting relationships of all kinds and possibly even to the point of self-harm" (or whatever the author wishes to convey in any case) that to reach for the tired-and-harmful "my wife didn't understand my art".

(Note: I think, based on the nature of the prologue and the cursory research I did on the author prior to this post, that the entire framing in this case is fictional: I don't think Seth Grahame-Smith was given the lost diary of Abraham Lincoln by a vampire named Henry, so I'm dubious that his wife subsequently left him over the ensuing project that followed this encounter. But whether it is fictional or not, however, I find the trope equally harmful when deployed in this way.)


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