Review posted September 20, 2017.
W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 192 pages.
Maybe I shouldn’t have picked up this book. My own marriage ended badly. I tried hard to keep it from falling apart, but finally figured out that if one party really wants to get out, one person can’t knit it back together by themselves. Now I’d like to get married again – and this book reminds me of that. It also reminds me that I don’t actually want some nice man to get divorced just so he’ll be available! I don’t actually want the sort of man who doesn’t try hard to stay in his marriage. And I don’t wish divorce on anyone. So in a way, thinking about what makes a marriage isn’t necessarily a place I should go right now!
But – the book was so much fun! And really does speak truth. Though I agree with the author that you wouldn’t necessarily want to point out these truths at the wedding of a dewy-eyed bride and groom. They’ll find out soon enough.
Here’s how she explains the book in the Introduction:
Now in the second decade of my second marriage, I can’t look newlyweds in the eye and promise they’ll never regret marrying. (Well, not sober. Maybe this is why weddings correlate with binge drinking.) I adore my husband and plan to be with him forever. I also want to run screaming from the house because the person I promised to love all the days of my life insists on falling asleep to Frasier reruns.
“The first twenty years are the hardest,” an older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was joking. She was not.
And this is why I don’t give wedding toasts – because I’d probably end up saying that even good marriages sometimes involve flinging a remote control at the wall.
She’s got some good insights.
The main problem with marriage may be that it’s not better than the rest of life. Suffering occurs in marriage because we think it will be different – purer, deeper, gentler – than other relationships. We expect our partners and ourselves to be better – more patient, more faithful, more generous – than we are. We believe ourselves exceptional, first in the depth of our passion and then in the breadth of our failure.
I like this take on it:
By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being – what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.
But most of the book isn’t just musings. It’s also stories – stories from her own married life. And these stories do lead to musings, and truths, and some good thoughts about what marriage has to offer these days. She doesn’t offer a particularly religious perspective, so I wasn’t sure I’d really think I’d find them applicable – but she does offer a practical perspective. What does marriage do for you? This is worth thinking about, and she approaches it in a humorous way.
She finishes the Introduction this way:
Such are the thoughts I keep to myself, sitting in rented folding chairs, watching friends begin their married lives. To the newlyweds, I say congratulations, and I mean it sincerely. To say out loud the rest of what I’m thinking would be bad manners. And so I’ll say it here instead.