in the past 12 months, i have heard from 6 friends that their marriages are on the rocks. 2 are already in divorce proceedings, with one just recently filed. the average of these unions is 15 years “old.” all of them involve children and all of them started with the intention and maturity of seeming adults entering a life-long union. many with examples of longevity despite the friction of their own parents’ marriages and challenges overcome; and some with the specter of their own parents’ divorce looming.
i knew one couple about 13 years ago where one of the spouses, who was about 28 at the time, uttered disappointment that the marriage wasn’t more like those in the movies. the sex wasn’t as passionate or as spontaneous. i had been married myself about 3 years at that point and i’d known my beloved about 6 years and we had recently introduced Thing 1 to the world. so while i was certainly no newcomer, i was neither sagacious. but i was crushed by all our naivete. i remember thinking, “she’s hot, he’s hot. they seem to be in love.” but i also had my suspicions. i didn’t think they’d make it; it had all the markings of an ill-advised union. for starters, i couldn’t find the church and we missed the ceremony entirely.
i will never profess to have any answer. each human being comprises billions of cells and atoms and myriad streams of DNA. then they have their personalities and preferences and interests. then we tack on the early-to-mid 40s, hell, the entire decade frankly, and a lot of that changes; perhaps even some of the DNA. (spend enough time in the sun or on a tanning bed …)
the one thing i do believe though is that people seem to be the same people they were when they first courted or married. they just suppressed it perhaps. i know i am just as neurotic and also as calm as i’ve always been — it’s just that now i feel safer to express both. i have learned to trust people and myself enough to know that being calm is OK and it doesn’t mean you’re dead. and feeling neurotic is OK because it doesn’t mean you’re dying. these are choices. they come with age.
i have a good friend who used to say that she never wanted her husband to see her: 1) plucking her eyebrows, 2) clipping her nails, especially the toes and 3) ever in the bathroom — doing anything. she used to say that violating such a compact would “destroy the illusion.” while i laughed and mused with her about the lengths she’d go to enforce the contract (the more we talked about it, the most uproarious our imaginary constraints on our spouses) and the punishments as consequences, we both agreed that sooner or later, the bathroom restriction was going to be hard to enforce.
“what if you slip in the tub or fall in the shower?” i asked.
“nothin’ doin. i’ve got feel like a frog. they stick to everything.” she said.
“well, then i can understand your need about maintaining the illusion…” i said, looking away.
returning to the conversation i said, “what if you get sick? or pass out?”
“with him around? hasn’t happened yet; doubt it ever will. i simply won’t allow it. i’ll get one of those medic-alert bracelets… do you think Coach makes one?” she laughed. they have been married almost 18 years and she’s one of the funniest people i will ever know and her husband has a wonderfully dry wit. they have three kids and although i haven’t asked, i’m pretty certain he’s seen her in the bathroom.
but that’s the point. these mates of ours get to see us at our best, our worst and our most human. sometimes those qualities are one in the same and if we’re rational, we don’t mind.
in all of the stories i’ve heard from my friends, all of them have been from the female perspective and while i’m not into taking sides i have to say that the positions i’ve heard seem to hold water not only because i’ve seen the behaviors myself but also because they are so similar across the board:
1) exchange for a newer model
2) doesn’t love me any more
3) takes the meds on the business trips but doesn’t use them at home
4) is threatened by my recent awakening to myself (which can actually be empowering to the unit)
5) is bored
over the winter i read “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. it’s a semi-cautionary tale about a creole woman who comes of age during a summer when i’m guessing she’s in her mid 30s (which happens to be the age when a woman’s libido apparently hits it peak, hence all the cougars running around i guess). her husband is indifferent to her, her children bring her joy, but she feels ennui, so she sets off to rediscover herself. the story is set in the late 1800s and it’s delicious from a female point of view especially when considering the time of the world; Chopin’s stance is quite on the vanguard. the ending is tragic because our heroine feels trapped and the freedom she chooses is unbearable.
the thing is: everyone feels evolution calling them. as a rule, women are not programmed to leave the pride. so the men do.
divorce, despite its sentiment of commonplace in our society, is still stigmatized. my lovely friends who were considered “safe” by their single or divorced friends when they were still married are now threats to them in their own hunts for a mate (despite the fact that many of my friends are no where near ready to meet anyone). to their married friends, they are considered threats because they are supposedly available and constantly in heat (which is rubbish) to their own unhappy husbands. the friends they started out with may not be the ones at the finish. many of my friends are so far away from considering another relationship that the mere idea of getting to know another man is patently absurd.
but the time will come.
and what of the divorced dads? according to my friends who know other dads or husbands, some of them are flirted with, suggested to and generally the recipients of slightly less-than torrid overtures by the supposedly unhappy still marrieds.
i used to think i wanted to set up all my single or divorced friends and marry them off. i don’t know anymore. i have two friends, neither of whom have been married, and i consider setting them up, but i know too much about both of them to do that to either of them. but maybe they’ll find bliss through me. … mmmmno. i’ll let destiny set them up.
i wonder what some people think when they get married — i know jennifer aniston and brad pitt thought that if it didn’t work out that they could always get divorced. i read that somewhere.
my parents have been together since before the dawn of man (1962). i know they have weathered their share of ups and downs; they have their own ghosts, some i will never (gladly) know about and some wonderful stories. they are partners. same with dan’s parents (1955) – those two are like turtle doves. they had 6 kids, several moves, and all sorts of great stories and their own share of woes and ups and downs.
my dad says, “you just deal.” he doesn’t understand this (my) generation of people who bemoan and cry and run to a therapist. “you deal. you get up, you get dressed, you go to work and you come home. you don’t cheat, you don’t screw around. you fix what you can about yourself and you try again. you buy nice things, go to nice places –together– but you just … be a man.”
i hear him, but i also recall several of his vintage who did screw around, some publicly. i recall several of his vintage whose wives became so depressed they never left their homes. and those wives scorned who dared to go on their own: they were castigated or definitely gay or Hester Prynne’d; you know, rational and fair things like that. so to me, sometimes, “just doing” doesn’t do it. the just doing it has to be done as a team.
i was talking to dan about this the other day and i said, “i fart. i get sick. i can be a total crab. i am unpredictable. i have false grandiosity. i become priggish. i feel insecure. i change my mind and am opinionated. i can look like medusa in the morning and my breath smells. i can’t brush my teeth without my contacts on and i often miss my hamper. you snore and i nudge you. i don’t punch you. i think i look way better with mascara, but not the next morning. i think i’m fat and i’m too hard on myself sometimes. i hate it when people interrupt and i get so angry sometimes i have to leave the room. i wish i were taller. sometimes you piss me off. you fart. you get sick. and oh! unfinished projects! sometimes i piss me off. i hate/love my home…. what do people think there is that’s better out there?…what the hell…? i mean… seriously?!”
far be it from me to suggest that what’s supposedly “bad” in life is something we have to endure, but every human being farts. i’m just sayin’…. i have friends whose spouses have died prematurely from a disease or a car accident or a cruel twist of fate and even with all their warts and farts you couldn’t find more bereft surviving spouses. i mean, these people were people: they drove them up the wall and they loved them anyway and have suffered inconsolably.
i know a couple marriages that were on the rocks just before 9/11/01 (one in NYC) and after that, they managed to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. they are going on 17 years. i also know a couple that renewed its vows about 11 years ago and they still aren’t speaking to each other.
i am sad for my friends and for their marriages. i don’t know all the details and the attempts and counseling and if there is mental illness involved or outright deceit or personality defects that were never disclosed, but to me, short of someone committing crimes (and i mean really bad crimes), i want to say things can be worked out. everyone has to bring their little red wagons filled with all their stuff and prepare for show-and-tell.
i’d bet in a lot of wagons we’d find a lot of stuff that we got as we tried to fill The Holes. The Holes in our spirit, The Holes in our hearts, The Holes in our souls. The Holes from hurts we endured as children. as adolescents, as adults, as parents that remind us of The Holes we got when we were little. if we don’t figure out where The Holes are, what caused them and how to fix them, then we fill them with stuff (actions, feelings, actual matter, porsches, lovers) that doesn’t matter and the thing we’re looking for that we think will fill The Holes only makes The Holes deeper. we can chalk it up to age, or to feelings of emptiness (The Holes, anyone?). some people simply can’t bear the thought of doing The Work to learn about The Holes. you can count on it: the cycle will repeat. the marriage might have been a “stuff” too — and that can be a bitter pill.
what, spouse who’s run out steam after 20 years thinks that another model won’t fart? that he won’t have anxiety? that she won’t get sick? if we end up with a 24-y-o good luck with that. “classic rock” becomes “n’sync” or “menudo” and your mutual appreciation for politics boils down to the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice award rant by Jack Black. want to talk about technology and how it has changed our lives? go for it – try to marvel over the rotary dial to touch tone metamorphosis or talk about 8-track to simple cassette to CD to MP3. you can talk about fruit. it hasn’t changed. lightbulbs have, so that’s out. cars too… you’ll have a better conversation in the mirror. i’m not knocking the 24-34 year olds. they’re best for themselves. they’re the gold mine demographic according to Nielsen and we’ve ALL been there.
remember you at 24 after college and in your new digs or your parent’s house. remember your roomates, your landlord. the car payments and the new job. the early days with the credit cards and how you might have thought they were free money? and how nervous you were and insecure and hoping that someone out there would find you and love you and accept you for who you are. someone you could trust, grow old with and fart infront of.
the pain of divorce is real. the effects of it on our children are hard. it is hard on our friends. growth can come of it, but not without cost.
it’s all about the farts. if you can fart infront of your wife or your husband and she or he doesn’t beat you up for it; you’ve already won the lottery.
at my house we call them toots. Thing 3 has the worst — SBDs (silent but deadly).