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For years, hundreds of thousands of readers have enjoyed Judith Viorst's poetry and prose on the challenging, sometimes hilarious subject of marriage. Now, in this ...
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For years, hundreds of thousands of readers have enjoyed Judith Viorst's poetry and prose on the challenging, sometimes hilarious subject of marriage. Now, in this thought-provoking new book, she helps married couples of every age and stage figure out how they might create a grown-up marriage.
Blending interviews of married women and men with the findings of couples therapists, the truths offered by literature and the movies, and a bemused exploration of her own marriage, Viorst illuminates the issues couples struggle with from "I do" to "till death do us part." She examines marital rivalry, marital manners, marital sex (not always with the person to whom we're married), fighting and apologies, and the boredom and the bliss of ordinary everyday married life. All aspects of marriage -- from the early years when we wonder "Who is this person?" and "What am I doing here?" to divorcing or almost divorcing, marrying again, growing older and old together -- are explored with honesty, humanity, and humor, with a rueful recognition of how tough it is to be married and -- if we can make it -- how precious it is.
Viorst's insights into what it takes to stay married -- a commitment to preserve and defend our marriage against all attacks, including our own; the recognition that courtesy and charm, like charity, begin at home; the honoring of each other's good intentions and good will, even when we don't get what we need; the adaptations and compromises; the just plain dumb luck and the hard, hard work -- have something to offer everyone, even the most abidingly married among us. Fascinating, funny, and perceptive, Viorst's Grown-up Marriage will enrich the lives of all her readers.
Chapter One: Why We Get Married
The dread of loneliness is greater than the fear of bondage, so we get married. -- Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave
Most of the women of my generation probably married too young to have grown acquainted with the dread of loneliness. Most of us were taught, however, before we left our teens the dread of unmarriedness. One of my aunts, who remarkably got a Ph.D. in physics at a time when most of her peers went no further than high school, was perceived by my mother and father and other relatives as our family's tragic failure because she never achieved a husband and kids. Another of my aunts, who was seen as a lesser tragic failure because, although divorced, she at least had been married, was still an object of pity because she needed to earn her own living instead of being supported by a man. Earning a living was something a woman aspired to be relieved of. A solid middle-class marriage was a marriage in which a woman did not, thank God, have to go out and get a job.
So we married because, for a woman, there was no higher attainment. And we married to be taken care of financially. We also married in order to have safe sex, which -- had we been pressed -- we would have defined as sex that wouldn't make getting pregnant a vast catastrophe. We also -- most of us -- married to get pregnant and raise a family. Of course what we said was that we married for love.
As for the men who married us, why did they do it? Why in the late 1950s were men, at the average marrying age of twenty-three, in a rush to become our economic providers? Part of the answer, I think, is that they were brought up in a culture that equated becoming a man with settling down. Maybe no one whispered words like "breadwinner" or "responsible" in their ears, but most of them knew what they were supposed to do. "A young college-educated bourgeois male of my generation who scoffed at the idea of marriage for himself...laid himself open to the charge of 'immaturity'...," writes Philip Roth in My Life as a Man. "Or he was just plain 'selfish.' Or he was 'frightened of responsibility.' Or he could not 'commit himself'...to a 'permanent relationship.'"
And so these young men committed themselves, receiving in return the approval of society plus -- very important -- sex on a regular basis. Of course what they said was that they married for love.
We all meant it -- well, most of us meant it -- when we said we married for love, and we knew what kind of love that ought to be: Romantic love. And lustful love. And tender love. And giddy love. And you are my one true love, my destiny. And love-song love. And movie love. And happily-ever-after love. And baby, baby, you belong to me, so let the beguine begin because I've got you under my skin. Dreamy, steamy, now-and-forever love.
We all married -- well, most of us married -- for love, for some version of Sinatra and Casablanca love, for a love that would light up our lives and cast out fear, for a Romeo and Juliet love (except with a better ending), for a love that the poet John Donne once wrote "makes one little room an everywhere." And if our feelings were, as they doubtless were, a bit naive, a bit adolescent, I don't intend to disparage them, for there can surely be nothing sweeter than a man and a woman marrying for love.
And most of us did. But whether we consciously knew it or not, most of us also married -- let's be honest here -- for the sex, the kids, the security, the approval of our community, and marriage's other pragmatic benedictions. There were plenty of reasons to marry back in my day. But that was then. Why get married now?
Now that the state of unmarriedness isn't the disaster that it used to be. Now that women are raised to be economically independent, and actually want to go out and get a job. Now that unwed sex and unwed living together seem to be widely tolerated, and even unwed parenthood no longer shocks. Now that two people who love each other can freely, and some would say fully, express their love without doing something drastic, like getting married.
Why not simply live together as long as love survives, without insisting on "always" and "forever"? Why accept the constraints, the obligations, the routinization, the rut of marriage?
Especially when so many marriages fail.
Certainly, with 45 percent of first marriages ending in divorce, marriage today is a high-risk occupation. For those who have divorced once and those whose parents have divorced, it is even riskier. Divorce, the experts tell us, occurs more often in second marriages than in firsts -- the current figure is 60 percent of the time -- which surely says something dismaying about our ability to learn from past experiences. Even more dismaying are the statistics on children whose parents have divorced: compared to the children of parents who have not, the chance of their marriage breaking up is currently said to be two to three times greater.
Some of these children of divorce are, not surprisingly, wary of getting married.
"I want to be sure we won't mess up the way you and Mom messed up," Don explains untactfully to his father, who has asked him why he hasn't yet married the woman he has been living with for five years. She is a perfectly lovely woman, Don says. She is everything he wants, but how does he know if he's always going to want it? Living together until he feels 110 percent sure seems to him more prudent, right now, than marrying.
Even without the shadow of divorce in their personal history, those now considering marriage seem a lot more cautious than my generation was. (The New York Times reports on a wedding in which the vows excluded "till death do us part," on the grounds -- the bride explained -- that "we didn't want to make any promises we couldn't keep.") That caution may help explain, in part, why the median ages for marrying today are the oldest that they've been in American history- -- twenty-seven for men, twenty-five for women. Maybe people are trying to wait until they harbor no doubts, until they are 110 percent sure.
Sure that what they want now they'll want ten years from now. Sure that their differences aren't irreconcilable. Sure that there aren't any deep, dark secrets. Sure that this is love, not infatuation. Sure that they won't -- like their mothers and fathers -- be stuck for life in an inert, juiceless marriage. Sure that, good as this seems, they won't be missing out on something even better.
Christy, pushing thirty-five, has been telling me about Benjamin, a man she describes as pretty close to perfect -- warm and smart and funny and reliable and crazy about her and just as eager as she is to start a family. The trouble, Christy says, is that while she's very fond of Ben, she isn't what she'd describe as madly in love, though the men she's been madly in love with had no interest in getting married and would have made really rotten husbands and fathers. Ben, she's completely confident, would make a great husband and father. And her biological clock is ticking away. Isn't it time for her to say that this is maybe as good as it's going to get? Isn't it time to stop holding out and get married?
I didn't know how to answer her, although I was tempted to say, Marry the man today and start a family. I didn't know if not being madly in love was code for he doesn't thrill me in bed. I didn't know if, by letting Ben go, she'd miss out on motherhood and always regret it, or if, by marrying Ben, she'd miss out on passionate love instead and regret that more. I once watched a woman decide to marry a man with whom everything worked except the sex. She believed they would figure that out eventually. But they wound up getting divorced because she solved the problem with sex by engaging in adultery. Then he found out.
|1.||Why We Get Married||5|
|2.||The First Shocks of Marriage||29|
|3.||Marriage and the Families||47|
|4.||How Kids Change the Couple||71|
|5.||Ordinary Everyday Married Life||95|
|6.||Marital Sibling Rivalry||117|
|8.||Making War, Making Up, Making Do||163|
|9.||The Divorce Option||187|
|11.||Growing Older Together||233|
Will I ever get married?
Is the end of my searching in sight?
There are lamps that I'm waiting to light,
Waiting to light them together.
Will I ever get married?
There are secrets my heart yearns to speak
To that someone who seeks what I seek,
And wants to seek it together.
The world is full of short-term lovers
Who don't even know your middle name.
I want to cuddle under the covers
Year after year after year after year
With the same...
With the same man.
Will I ever get married?
Will I ever be somebody's wife?
Making dinner, love, babies, a life,
Making a life together.
There's you and you, and then there's this third thing
Which is the marriage. To it may you bring
The finest strivings of the human heart.
The "I," the "me," the "mine," the self apart
Must yield some portion of its separateness
And say a risky but unguarded yes
To this third thing, this marriage you create....