The Women Rethinking Marriage and Family Life Because of Miranda July


It’s the talk of every group text — at least every group text composed of women over 40.

Miranda July’s latest novel, “All Fours, is about a 45-year-old woman who upends her seemingly settled domestic life by checking into a motel a half-hour from her house for a few weeks, taking up with a younger married man and then experimenting with an open marriage.

On her journey to self-discovery — and sexual awakening — she asks women she knows to share with her their true desires: Are they happy in their marriages? And if they’re not, are they going to do anything about it? What are the other possible arrangements for a life?

In a sort of whisper network, women who have read “All Fours” are taking a page out of the main character’s playbook and posing these same questions to one another, opening up about their hidden fantasies and frustrations.

“I’ve been talking about it more days than not with my friends,” said Caitlin Delohery, 43, a writer and content consultant who lives in Portland, Ore. “We’ve been texting about it, and we’ve met for coffee and drinks to talk about it.”

Ms. Delohery, who identifies as queer and is raising a 13-year-old with her partner, said the book had resonated strongly with her friends who are in long-term relationships.

“I’ve been in my relationship for 10 years, and my friends have been partnered in similar ways,” she said. “We don’t want to escape our relationships, but what I saw in Miranda’s book is less about literally escaping monogamy and more about creating space within it to have differentiated experiences — a way of living with a partner where you are not defined by this sort of codependent, mind-meld partnership.”

Rachel Yoder, 45, an author whose book “Nightbitch” takes up themes of motherhood and creative freedom, said she and her best friend had been sending each other screenshots of passages from the book.

“The other day she sent me a part where the narrator apologized to her husband for something, and was like, ‘Why is she apologizing?’” said Ms. Yoder, who lives in Iowa City with her husband and 10-year-old son. “I was like, ‘This is what we do as women. We say what we want, and the person we are telling it to gets defensive and pushes back, and then we apologize, and then we think what we want is greedy and wrong.’”

In an effort to have more vulnerable conversations about these themes with women her age, she has been encouraging her new writing group to read “All Fours,” too. “I want to start hearing about what is going on for them in midlife, because I think it’s fascinating,” she said, “and I want to talk about what is going on for me in midlife.”

One of them has taken her up on her offer. They will have a phone call soon to talk about the book.

“The book is a doorway to a conversation about these things that are on our mind, things that we have been feeling and not been able to put into words,” Ms. Yoder said.

While many middle-age women say they feel this book is for them, younger women say it speaks to them, too.

Dakota Bossard, 29, who lives in New York City and works in e-commerce, read the book on her way to Tulum, Mexico, for a group trip that was supposed to be a bachelorette party — until her best friend, the bride, called off her wedding.

“Nothing dramatic happened with my friend; she just realized this wasn’t the life she wanted,” she said. “I was reading about this character taking back her agency in such a remarkable way while I was watching my friend do that in real time.”

Although Ms. Bossard didn’t know anyone on the trip except the bride, she decided “All Fours” was too powerful and pertinent not to share. One night, when they were in the Airbnb drinking champagne and margaritas, she read a saucy part of the book, in which the narrator’s lover changes her tampon, to the room. “They were so blown away by it that I read it out loud again the next night,” she said. “Collectively I think we were all thinking about that scene all weekend.”

Talking about the book led to conversations about what they want from life, including whether they actually want to do the traditional thing and marry. “The book kind of made me think that I don’t want to be in a relationship any time soon,” Ms. Bossard said. “I also think we all want to reread it in a decade to check in with ourselves.”

“The character is just so determined to live the life she wants, the best, most interesting life she can,” she added. “We all toasted to that.”

In real life, Ms. July had similar conversations with women around her age as she wrote the book, including with the writer Sheila Heti and the artist Isabelle Albuquerque.

“Sometimes it felt like we were trying to create a new society,” Ms. Heti told The New York Times last month. “We were talking about the ideas but also trying to live them.”

“All Fours” doesn’t endorse any one path forward. When faced with large questions about aging and desire, the narrator’s friends each have different ideas about what they want their lives to look like and how she should deal with her uncertainties. One woman in a 20-year marriage says her ideal arrangement would be to remain in the relationship but to date someone else on the side. Another woman, now married to her second husband, advises the narrator that you don’t have to hate your husband to leave him. A third tells her to just “ride it out” — “it” being the narrator’s doubts about her life as it stands.

In the end, it’s left ambiguous which path the narrator chooses — whether she continues to explore an open marriage, ends her marriage or pursues some other shimmering possibility.

Ms. Delohery said she had found the conversations with her friends about the book refreshing because they pushed her to think about alternatives to a settled, monogamous lifestyle.

“I’ve experienced an opening up and getting more creative about what the second half of life looks like,” she said. “It feels like we are all expanding the way we think.”



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