She’s happily married, dreaming of divorce

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Don't misunderstand: I would not, could not disparage my marriage (not on a train, not in the rain, not in a house, not with a mouse). After 192 months, Will and I remain if not happily married, then steadily so. Our marital state is Indiana, say, or Connecticut -- some red areas, more blue. Less than bliss, better than disaster. We are arguably, to my wide-ish range of reference, Everycouple.

Nor is Will the Very Bad Man that I've made him out to be. Rather, like every other male I know, he is merely a Moderately Bad Man, the kind of man who will leave his longboat-sized shoes directly in the flow of our home's traffic so that one day I'll trip over them, break my neck, and die, after which he'll walk home from the morgue, grief-stricken, take off his shoes with a heavy heart, and leave them in the center of the room until they kill the housekeeper. Everyman.

Still, beneath the thumpingly ordinary nature of our marriage -- Everymarriage --runs the silent chyron of divorce. It's the scarlet concept, the closely held contemplation of nearly every woman I know who has children who have been out of diapers for at least two years and a husband who won't be in them for another 30. It's the secret reverie of a demographic that freely discusses postpartum depression, eating disorders, and Ambien dependence (often all in the same sentence) with the plain candor of golden brown toast. In a let-it-all-hang-out culture, this is the given that stays tucked in.

This is the Mid-Wife Crisis.

Mind you, when I say Mid-Wife Crisis, I mean the middle-of-married-life kind, not the kind where you go to Yale to learn how to legally brandish a birthing stool. As one girlfriend remarked, it's the age of rage -- a period of high irritation that lasts roughly one to two decades. As a colleague e-mailed me, it's the simmering underbelly of resentment, the 600-pound mosquito in the room. At a juncture where we thought we should have unearthed some modicum of certainty, we are turning into the Clash. If I go will there be trouble? If I stay will it be double? Should I stay or should I go?

Read the whole article.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMarriage & Family

Posted August 28, 2008 at 9:32 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Nowellco wrote:

Hopelessness with a sense of humor….and that’s ok.
How sad.

August 28, 10:28 am | [comment link]
2. Chris wrote:

“Rather, like every other male I know, he is merely a Moderately Bad Man…..”

OK, that’s enough right there.  Either you don’t know enough men, or the problem lies with YOU, take your pick.

I found the comments section to be a good read.  Nice to see the strong support for marriage in a secular forum.

August 28, 10:31 am | [comment link]
3. julia wrote:

Unfortunately this is how many (male and female) view marriage and IMHO the root of the breakdown of this holy instituation.  Thank God for His view of marriage and those of us who never did buy into the romantic fantasy but who do buy into becoming one with Christ at the center.  Tripping over a pair of shoes is just part of living.

August 28, 10:42 am | [comment link]
4. Hal wrote:

This is wonderful—- that is, a wonderful exposition of the road one goes down when one deifies personal choice and personal gratification above all else.  As #2 points out, even to secular readers, the vision the author puts forward is deeply unattractive.

August 28, 10:53 am | [comment link]
5. Helen wrote:

This woman is going to be unhappy no matter what.  Guess what, my dear? - No matter where you go or what you do, there’s one person you won’t be able to get rid of: yourself.  Learn to live with yourself, and you’ll learn to live with others.  And you may even find joy!

August 28, 12:24 pm | [comment link]
6. paradoxymoron wrote:

If you believe the fashion magazines—which I devoutly do—even 50- and 60-year-olds are (lick finger, touch to imaginary surface, make sizzle noise) pretty hot tickets

HA!  Find your next man, who reads fashion mags and wants to settle down with a 60 year old fickle divorcee who walks away from her vows because of where he puts his shoes.  Good luck with that. Reap what you sow!

August 28, 12:31 pm | [comment link]
7. Billy wrote:

Reading to the bottom of the article, she finally comes to a decent conclusion, that she -  and all women and men for that matter - have choices and what they do with their lives are up to them, not dependent on others.  But, #4 seems right to me ... this is a purely cynical, secular and extremely self-centered view of the world, that can so easily be changed with a mustard seed of faith, hope and love.  It’s a pity that one who has such a clever writing style cannot use it in a more valuable way.

August 28, 12:49 pm | [comment link]
8. The young fogey wrote:

Pure mainstream middle-class… and right out of the pit of hell.


August 28, 1:38 pm | [comment link]
9. rugbyplayingpriest wrote:

feel sorry for him- he is married to a fantasising cynic!

August 28, 1:40 pm | [comment link]
10. Chris Molter wrote:

is a purely cynical, secular and extremely self-centered view of the world

Sadly, this is what my generation and I have been spoon-fed from day 1 (and it’s still the soup du jour if you can stand watching what passes for television)

August 28, 1:42 pm | [comment link]
11. Nikolaus wrote:

I’m sure glad the Ms. Tien is able to place her husband’s flaws under a public microscope.  Thankfully she herself is so obviously perfect.  Helen is quite correct, Ms. Tien is going to be unhappy in any state of life.

August 28, 2:44 pm | [comment link]
12. Will B wrote:

I hope her husband, Will, reads the article and beats her to the punch—so to speak—by kicking her sorry butt to the curb.  She needs to quit whining; take her own inventory; and get on with life.  How sad and how tragic that her thoughts are rooted in the notion that someone or something can “make” her happy.  No surprise that it was published in Oprahland!!

August 28, 2:46 pm | [comment link]
13. Observer from RCC wrote:

I tremble for our country.  When you take away religious belief as the foundation of society, this is the logical direction.  It is can’t result in a stable, healthy society.

August 28, 3:10 pm | [comment link]
14. C. Wingate wrote:

The thread of sarcasm through the piece is so strong that I went back and forth between reading it as black humor and as honest, well, whining. And, well, not that Ms. Tien is going through the trials of Job, but the comments here do seem too much to be those of Job’s comforters.

I do think you all need to get out and read more. You might start with Caitlin Flanagan’s articles in the Atlantic. It seems to me that the “sanctity of marriage” crowd needs to take more responsibility for the institution. There is no more isolating, less charitable response than what I’m hearing here: “her pain counts for nothing.”

August 28, 3:12 pm | [comment link]
15. Chris wrote:

#14, her pain appears to be mainly self inflicted.

August 28, 3:28 pm | [comment link]
16. Billy wrote:

#14, you seem to have hit the nail on the head without really meaning to do so.  “Her pain” as you call it is simply called “life” by most people and faith, hope and love help one live with that “life.”  She’s not being physically or mentally abused in any way.  She just lives with a man - Will - who is a human being.  This is not “pain.”  This is only selfcenteredness trying to disguise itself as feminine sophistocation of the 21st century.

August 28, 3:30 pm | [comment link]
17. Sidney wrote:

the kind of man who will leave his longboat-sized shoes directly in the flow of our home’s traffic so that one day I’ll trip over them

If, during their courtship, he had ever shown this kind of considerateness, she never would have married him.  Women never marry such pushovers.

August 28, 3:43 pm | [comment link]
18. libraryjim wrote:

I don’t dream of divorce, it’s not even on the radar screen. 

But I do dream of separate, week-long vacations: just me, no wife, no kids, no cats—camping and hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Ahhhh, one day!

August 28, 3:55 pm | [comment link]
19. C. Wingate wrote:

Yeah, Billy, and you know, the Buddha got that one right too: “life is suffering.” But if the best response we can give is, “tough!” then we have failed our savior.

P. D. James wrote an autobiographical sketch in the form of a year-long journal. At one point she writes that she became aware that her parents’ marriage was unhappy. And then she said, “of course their marriage endured—most marriages did in those days.” For herself, her husband came back from WW II insane from schizophrenia, and yet she wrote (and this is nearly all of what she writes of him, other than the circumstances of their meeting) that there was no other person that she had wanted to spend the rest of her life with. I have to admire her equanimity, under the circumstances. And I cannot bring myself to say (as I feel others are doing here in their comments) “and if you are so rewarded, go and do likewise, young ladies.”

And perhaps through all the sarcasm Ms. Tien is being misread. It seemed to me that she is writing of divorce as a temptation. When she is talking about the shoes, I do not think she is being entirely serious; but I do think she is being serious about how much such petty things can weigh on a household. In spite of my dogged opposition to divorce, I have to say that if we don’t give a better answer to the kinds of stresses that lead to it than “God says you can’t”, we deserve to be dismissed. Such talk is cheap.

August 28, 4:11 pm | [comment link]
20. montanan wrote:

A wonderful writing talent, expressing the consequences of our self-focussed ethos.  What she writes of is, I submit, the consequences of the self-empowerment we ‘laud and magnify’ culturally and the failure to give ourselves to God.  She has been deceived by the Deceiver and her daily drudgery is the life that deception has given her.  She deserves not our anger and scorn, but our prayers - she needs Christ.  Is it pain?  I think she perceives as pain this albatross of being married to ‘Everyman’; it is, however, merely the symptom of the illness - that is, her need to embrace Christ’s sacrifice.

August 28, 4:22 pm | [comment link]
21. Billy wrote:

#19, I’m not saying “tough” or “life is suffering.”  I agree she is writing about the temptation of divorce.  But what I am saying is that she has no real reason to be tempted - she’s not being abused; she’s not living with a schizophrenic from WWII, like P.D. James (my favorite author).  A mustard seed of faith, hope and love help us all deal with the “petty things that weigh on a household” ... they show us that such things are petty and not worthy of thinking extreme thoughts (like about divorce) as a result of them.  That mustard seed could help her to see Will’s shoes as one of the unique things about him that she loves ... not one of the things that she can cite in a divorce petition later on.  Faith, hope and love transform our attitudes about our lives.  Cynicism, sarcasm (and I plead very guilty to it) and self-pity and self-centeredness also transform our attitudes.  Time for her to have an attitude adjustment check, as we used to say in the service.

August 28, 4:23 pm | [comment link]
22. C. Wingate wrote:

Billy, how long have you been married? How many children do you have? I’ve been married for eighteen years, and have three children, all very bright, the last of whom has Down’s Syndrome. And there are times when the quotidian strains of getting the kids out the door, and getting the dishes done, and washing the laundry, and breaking up the fights, and dealing with the insubordination—it does wear on you.

I don’t think she is seriously tempted, actually. She makes a big thing out of the shoes because she isn’t serious about them; they’re just a stand-in for all the daily stresses that supposedly aren’t enough to drive one to do anything. Being abused is not a temptation for divorce; for any modern man or woman, it isn’t even a justification for divorce. Infidelity is likewise not a temptation for divorce (at least, if it’s your spouse who is being unfaithful). In those situations, women (and the occasional man) see divorce as an escape pod, and they gladly board it and pull the “eject” handle. Divorce is only a temptation when when it’s a choice rather than an opportunity. And I think that is very much her point; indeed she nearly phrases it in those terms. The issue is that it is (within her circle at least) an attractive choice. And my issue is that we disclaim any responsibility for it so glibly. I think the churches have made divorce attractive, not so much because we don’t teach about living together, but because we fail to supply the succor necessary to get past the rough spots.

August 28, 5:20 pm | [comment link]
23. Billy wrote:

#22, been married 38 years, raised two children, one of whom was legally blind and ADHD.  Believe me I know the day-to-day stresses.  I could not agree more that our church does not do enough to teach and help married couples with married life - we seem to be too busy with other social issues to help those in our own pews.  And our church has obviously approved of divorce on demand for pewsitters, as well as priests and bishops, and even remarriage on demand.  Prior to 1975, that was not the case.  Since then, it has been that way.  Wondered what changed in Scripture and tradition to make divorce so acceptable in our time?  But I digress.  I’m not sure you and I are disagreeing - Mrs. Tien raises a decent point about the everyday stresses of living with anyone (Everyman), but she fails to even think about this being a place where our Lord works, as well as in the more “serious” places like infidelity, abuse, or raising a disabled child.  This everyday place is where our church can teach and be much more than it is - like the spirit of the Isle of Iona, where in the tradition of St. John there was a prayer for every task of each day until days end.

August 28, 5:42 pm | [comment link]
24. Denise wrote:

I wonder what makes her think she is such a prize?

August 28, 8:17 pm | [comment link]
25. pwhite wrote:

Its so bad it nearly reeks of satire.  If it is not satire, then it is sad, indeed.

August 28, 11:03 pm | [comment link]
26. TACit wrote:

C. Wingate, thanks for your very thoughtful analysis.  There is much about this piece by Ms. (Mrs.?) Tien that is right on point, though her oddly gifted writing style can make it a bit hard to work out what she really thinks about it.  It occurred to me after reading it and all these comments that if motherhood and the married state received more support and less relentless disparagement from society, some of these thoughts might never even develop since others would come in their place.  It seems to me that the displacement of people, the nuclear family syndrome which by now has led to the extremely stressful situation of women in mid-marriage becoming carers, possibly at distance, for aging parents simultaneously with the family they started themselves, and on top of all that the expectation for women to be in the workforce, combine to drive thoughts such as those Tien expresses.  Most poignant was her short paragraph describing the walls of TV screen or newspaper that her husband erects between himself and their son - a desperately helpless feeling for any mother/wife.  It is not sinful for a woman to hope her husband will treat her as a prize, and their children as the apple(s) of his eye.  But society has largely dropped its role in fostering such supporting relationships.

August 29, 12:06 am | [comment link]
27. Larry Morse wrote:

Well and correctly said, Billy. I might add that this piece is what narcissism sounds like when it is thwarted in its ideal gratifications.

August 29, 3:40 pm | [comment link]
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