Friday, October 07, 2005

Happy New Year!

I spent the first night Rosh with the rents, we were supposed to go to temple but were too lazy we. We said some prayers. It was Thanksgiving all over again when Mom made this enormous feast including turkey. The tradition is brisket but Dad stopped eating meat 8 years ago. Of course we had apples dipped in honey and Dad bought this enormous raisin Challah. I think that was about 3 pounds. BS called to say hello.

Over cheesecake I told her I was mulling the marriage option while Dad worked on the Tivo. For some reason it was recording professional wrestling.

After swallowing a forkful of Junior’s Mom began to interrogate me.

“So you want to get married? Found anyone?”
“But let’s say you do. You marry the guy have three kids and live in a brownstone in Brooklyn. You are keeping house and taking care of the kids while he is out working at his practice. Are you going to be happy?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“No guess. Yes or no.”
“Yes I will be happy.”
“Then one day you are at a dinner party when you meet the most wonderful man. A man that you completely connect with. For lack of a better word he is your soulmate and you are meant to be together. But that ring on that finger tells you can’t. What you do you do?”

“Are you saying I am going to be cheating on my husband? Ohmigod! That is such a horrible thing to say.”

“Alright, let’s switch it around. Let’s say your husband finds his soulmate at a party.”

“Jesus Christ! Mom I don’t want to hear this.”

“No. You have to hear this. You have to understand what you are involving yourself in.”

“What I understand is that you are trying to sabotage my marriage before it even happens.”

I went over to Dad who was still working on the tivo but obviously heard everything.

I asked if he needed help.

“No. I think I know what happened. The maid must have been trying to record her soap operas. I found a lot of Spanish programming.”

Then he began to dig into me.

“Y’know , my goal was after law school? I wanted to be a successful divorce lawyer. I figured it was a great line of work to be in since you have a guaranteed market share. Then I worked for a firm that specialized in divorce. What I witnessed made me switch to corporate.”

“Dad, don’t start.”

He ignored me and kept going.

“A divorce lawyer has to delegate a process that has to determine the worth of somone’s time and effort. The value of a child is put into a formula to determine how much it would cost provide for them. Sometimes I wonder how a child would feel when they find out they have been converted to a number. A monetary amount.”

I rolled my eyes. He caught me.

“Sweetie.” He started to say in his dry lawyer tone of voice “We are not trying to hurt or sabotage you. All we are trying to tell you is that nothing is a quick fix.”

On the second night of Rosh we spent in Connecticut with relatives from my Dad’s side who I barely see. They brought out a brisket. I put my mind into neutral. I just looked pretty and spoke when spoken too. I was still thinking about what my parents said.

This morning I got this email from my mother telling me to read this article on this woman’s who’s marriage slowly dissolved in front of her face.


Why I'm Divorced
...and why you're next.

by Annabel Lee - September 22, 2005


Why, in an era when men and women can barely achieve détente, in a First World where everyone suffers from attachment disorder, are we still ponying up for marriage? On the HBO series Six Feet Under a show I adore because all the characters behave abominably at all times, yet never manage to have more than a millisecond of funmen and women can't stay married or remain faithful from one week to the next. We're not quite that bad, we HBO viewers, but we're getting there.
I'm no historian, but it doesn't take a Paul Johnson (author of A History of the American People ) to tell us why it's so hard to stay married. We live too long. Marriage is a naturally polarizing process that causes one person to detest, over time, what the other person loves. Only after a couple divorces do they move back toward the center, where their interest in one another began. (I knew a man who left his wife because of the endless chintz and throw pillows. I went to visit him once in his new Bauhaus apartment, but he couldn't really talkhe was too distracted by trying to choose the right tassels for his new Salamandre curtains.)

There's no incentive to stay married and wait for our children to grow up and come work in the family business, because they won't. If we're really, really lucky, they'll place a few calls and drive us to the nursing home. There's no hardship significant enough to keep us dependent on each other. No famine, polio, Indians. If the hardest thing in your life is that your husband won't pick up the dry cleaning, are you likely to hang in until death do you part? Surely not, when at the first sign of disappointing behavior helpful friends and therapists pipe up: "You can do better." Mutual funds do better, not humans. But why stick with the dope on the next pillow when there are Kate Winslet and George Clooney on cable to fill the twilight hours? And there's no sexual inequity to keep one party in line. In the bad old days, one person--the woman--took all the shit. Now who ya gonna call?

Call me insightful, but I began to suspect that my own marriage was in trouble after we passed the five-year mark with no sex. By that time my husband had replaced the glass door on his room--he'd moved to the other side of the house some years before--with a solid wood door, so he could have sex with himself in private.

Still, the dinner parties, the 50th birthday invitations, and the East Hampton guest-cottage invitations continued unabated, so other than no sex, no discussion and no more children (my husband drew the line at one), I thought we had an OK marriage. The couples we socialized with didn't seem all that much happier. They were constantly arguing about whose turn it was to do an undesirable thing, or the mess, or the children, or the money, and my husband and I had too much sense for any of that. Whenever I sniffled to the women in these couples about the lack of sex in my marriage, they said, without exception, "God, are you lucky. All my husband thinks about is sex."

That didn't sound like such a bad situation, but as I've learned, by inserting the well-placed question into many a casual conversation, most married couples are sexually incompatible. People with strong sex drives tend to admire and marry people who basically disapprove of sex. People with low sex drives are intrigued by people with high sex drives. Sexual opposites attract and then go on to torment each other 'til murder or divorce, whichever comes first, do them part.

So it wasn't the lack of sex that ended our marriage. It was the lack of sex in our friends' marriage. We had acquired a new chew toy, a married couple of our same age and education level, who by happy chance were practically neighbors. I got nowhere with the wife: She was one of the sex-haters. But she and my husband spent many a chaste hour together, gardening, driving to Costco in Torrington, and acidly badmouthing their spouses. The husband was like me: good-natured, a bit naive, impulsive, sexually frustrated. He confided all his secrets: the two guilty affairs that ended in taxis; the office crushes and late night phone calls and just-shy-of-full-penetrations. One night, while the two cold halibut talked mulch at the dinner table, the husband and I went outside for a walk. He'd been drinking, so he kissed me. I became enflamed and, within a matter of days, enraged. Why didn't my husband kiss me? The personal, which is always felt to be obscurely deserved, became political: undeserved. Aggrieved, I became a voting bloc, a teamster. And we all know what happened to the teamsters.

When I informed my husband that I had decided to go to New York City and take a lover, separating out the part of our marriage that didn't work, my husband informed me that he didn't care for this idea. He informed me that he would prefer to get a divorce. And, as you probably know, when one person wants a divorce, the other person gets that divorce, too.

Just as the itsy bitsy spider climbs up the spout again, marriage, in the land of Brad and Jen, causes divorce. Not just half the time. That washed-out statistic is from our parents' generations. Statistically speaking, my still-married cohort has at least another 30 years to get divorced before it starts dying off en masse. Let's see what the numbers look like then.

I repeat: Marriage causes divorce. And if you think a bad marriage ain't fun, wait until you get in bed with divorce.

Divorce, like death, is a crossing over, into a terrifying, mortifying land from which you never return, even if you remarry. It's the death of a civilization, the one the two people created out of their affinity for Shaker chairs, Pottery Barn lamps, 2 percent milk, and parties of six moving in tank formation across the living room to the dinner table. It's death to all the couple's secrets, which get rewrapped and regifted to the lawyers. And, of course, it's your children's initiation into what psychologists call "splitting": never again will one parent be good without the other parent being bad.

Something to bear in mind before you leave your spouse is that where you just happen to liveand my generation was always geographically promiscuous becomes absolutely vital. Why? Because as soon you start the divorce process, your children become potential wards of the state, and theoretically the state could be held liable if anything happens to the kid. So it's an insurance issue. If, as is my case, you happen to live two miles from the neighboring state of New York, and you were wondering whether to move across and start a new life in the wake of the devastation--forget about it. Unless you have sole custody, you're not going anywhere. Like fresh meat or lettuce from Nicaragua, your child may not be transported across the border.

Of course, there are winners and losers in divorce. One person--generally the one who remains more amusing at a dinner partykeeps most of your friends. One persongenerally the one who had more all along--keeps most of the money. And one person--sorry, girls, but it's the Lucky Sperm Club--generally gets at least one more crack at the whole sorry business, and can experience the profound geriatric delight of more children by a younger spouse.

But all of the above, while incomparably hurtful, shouldn't come as any great surprise if you have a brain in your head. The surprising thing about divorce in the 21st century, assuming you married in order to provide children with some (ha!) stability, is the custody battle. These days, even in heterosexual marriage, Heather has two mommies, and the male mommy is not going to let the female mommy walk off with the kids. Early in the process, my few remaining female friends (you figured out I wasn't the dinner party catch?) downplayed my chance of losing custody. "You're a great mom," they said. "The courts don't take children away from good moms. You'd have to be a heroin addict to lose custody." Uh, ladies? Wrong, wrong and wrong. Men who can barely keep their children's names straight are going after custody and getting it.

It's not that the courts don't know who the asshole is. They do, and that's why he's getting custody. A veteran divorce lawyer in Winsted, a woman in her 60s, explained it to me quite succinctly one day, as we sat waiting for our motions to be heard in the courtroom. "Judges are awarding custody to men because they know that mothers will hang around for any scrap of time with their children, whereas men, if they don't get what they want, will walk. And then the children lose their father."

In our case, it wasn't a judge. It was the so-called "family services" officer appointed by the court, who, after meeting with each of us twice, decided that my husband should have custody of our 7-year-old boy. I could visit my child once a week and on alternate weekends. The son only I had wanted (my husband didn't want a boy), the child toward whom I had self-administered possibly carcinogenic fertility shots, the child toward whom my husband had contributed a mess in a cup, the child who had lived inside my body for 10 months, the child I breastfed and diaper-changed and lullabied--I was now entitled to visit?

There's a lot of jawing about the good divorce these days. About putting the children first. Having put the children first throughout your entire marriage, it may come as a shock to learn that "putting the children first" means writing yourself out of the picture. Show me the parent who believes his child would be better off living full-time with the other parent, and I'll show you someone on life support. So the lawyers get richer. And more power to them, I say, because without my very expensive divorce lawyer my son would still be trying to remember where he'd met me before.

As a recent New York Times magazine article pointed out, a good death depends on your really, really wanting to die. But who wants to die? People say they don't want to be kept alive artificially, but when their organs start to shut down, they panic and call 911. Wouldn't you? Similarly, nobody enjoys going through a divorce; it's very unpleasant. A good divorce seems possible only if you had a really, really, great marriage, in which case you wouldn't be divorcing. "The parties hate each other," wrote the family services officer in his treatise on my marriage. Stop the presses!

Yes, like marriage only more so, divorce is full of nasty, nasty surprises. Injustices, outrages, and strange noises coming from the boiler room. There's nobody to help you flip the mattress over so it will last longer. I have learned to use a drill, strap a canoe onto the roof of my car, assemble a bike rack and live without sex (marriage turned out to be such good practice!).

But there's a good side to divorce. Apart from death, you've gotten the whole thing out of the way. You're soaring, solitary, perhaps, but high, high above your peer group, circling like an ever-so-patient bird of prey while you wait for the inevitable divorces of all your friends. Like Lasik and fiberoptics, we divorced people--we're your future.

For several years after my divorce, I interviewed candidates for the position of second husband. I crept into that Filene's Basement of the heart,, and its Internet brethren, where love means never having to say you weren't warned. If you thought you were dating the enemy before, consider these first-date opening salvos: "The judge was a woman, my ex-wife's lawyer was a woman, it's a total conspiracy against fathers. So of course that thieving cunt got full custody." Or: "The kids are doing great. Of course, I have custody, because my ex-wife is a [insert mental illness here]." All that foam coming out of her mouth at the altar and you just noticed?

Remember the ones you didn't marry? The ones you just couldn't imagine spending the rest of your life with? Well, they're back, with less hair, more attitude, less money, more paunch. And when you don't tilt your chin in just the right way, time's up! Because there's another one, Online Now! Chat Now! The illusory horn of romantic plenty has never been so full.

And it's extraordinary how many people on Internet dating sites bill themselves, evidently with no irony intended, "hopeless romantics." I guess they're the people who enjoyed Must Love Dogs --and really, you can't blame them. When your daily marital reality has never managed to produce even a moment of John Cusack or Diane Lane, who doesn't need pulp fiction? Movie producers aren't stupid; they're married, too.

So, when people ask me, as they often do, why I haven't remarried, I've learned that the correct answer is a wistful smile and a girlish shrug.

"I guess I haven't met the right one yet," I say.

And neither have you.

I am still trying process this. All I am thinking now is prenup.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

PP, I may just not be understanding something here. How can you be thinking about marriage when there's no one in your life? Don't you have to first meet a man, then start dating him, figure out if you like him, let alone love him, and a lot of other stuff before you can actually consider getting married? There's nothing abstract about marriage. It's very real.

5:35 PM  
Blogger J.Green said...


You obviously don't understand the mindstate of someone like PP. As someone with much experience with people very much like PP, let me explain.

PP views marriage much as you or I would view a profession. For example; I decide to be a lawyer. Once this decision is made I proceed to write my LSATs, apply to law schools, finish law school, write the bar, join a firm and then voila I am a lawyer and I have achieved that goal.

To her marriage is very much the same. Once someone like her "decides" on marriage, they then get themselves in physical shape, then make it known to friends and relatives they are ready to settle down, date a few men who fit the qualifications (ostensibly Jewish, a professional/successful entrepreneur, from a decent family), and after finding one who fits the quals and has also decided on marriage they have a beautiful marriage. And thus the goal to become married has been fulfilled.

I realize for many people looking at marriage in this manner seems to be backward. I am trying to deal with this issue as we speak, since I seem to fit many girls like PP's quals.

I'm not judging PP for thinking like this, mostly because i truly don't care. But if you are reading this blog and feel a little "lost" as to her train of thought, maybe this will help you understand her.

To her and girls with her state of mind marriage is in fact an abstract concept, maybe even a goal. This concept has time limits, restrictions and such.

Hope this helps, and PP please don't take this as an insult and correct me if I'm wrong.


2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moral of the story - White people are just plain silly.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God. I am absolutely petrified now...what a terrifying article!

1:49 PM  

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