Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules

Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules

3.6 23
by Pamela Haag
     
 

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“Inthis timely and thought-provoking analysis of modern coupledom, PamelaHaag& paints a vivid tableau of the ‘semi-happy’ couple. Written withwit and aplomb, this page turner will instigate an insurrection against ourmarital complacency.” —Esther Perel, author of Matingin Captivity

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Overview

“Inthis timely and thought-provoking analysis of modern coupledom, PamelaHaag& paints a vivid tableau of the ‘semi-happy’ couple. Written withwit and aplomb, this page turner will instigate an insurrection against ourmarital complacency.” —Esther Perel, author of Matingin Captivity

Writtenwith the persuasive power of Naomi Wolf and the analytical skills of Susan Faludi, Pamela Haag’s provocative but sympathetic look atthe state of marriage today answers—and goes beyond—the question many of us are asking: "Is this all there is?"

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

After second-wave feminism won many important battles, the movement resigned itself essentially to nonexistence. Now Haag (Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism) reveals what she feels is the stark truth of the modern marriage: the ground gained by feminism is a loss for women-and marriage. In the so-called "Post-Romantic" age we are in, married men and women occupy a relationship category more similar to friend or partner than lover. The needs of children dominate (to the point that Haag suggests that they are the true "spouses"). Both partners may work; alternately, liberated men (who Hagg comically calls "Tom Sawyers") may stay home or take supplementary wage-earner roles, enabled to discover their true callings (a la Revolutionary Road's Frank Wheeler), and watch their wives bring home the bacon (and fry it up in a pan). Affairs are often tolerated; indeed, they're presented as part-problem/part-solution. Hagg gets to the bottom of the existential dilemma, focusing on what she calls the low-conflict/semi-happy marriage, likely to end in divorce (60% by her estimates). Throughout her initial analysis she is spot-on, but when discussing the desirability and viability of open marriages, her sharp, erudite style drifts. But her gained range from heartbreakingly tragic to fascinatingly awkward; Haag has her capable finger on the pulse of the American marriage.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

BookPage
“[Haag] wittily and meticulously explores what sets apart those who suffer quietly in their semi-happy marriages from those who take action-whether that action is working to improve the situation, splitting up, retreating to a man cave or having an affair.”
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“Pamela Haag takes a fresh look at the state of our legal unions.”
USA Today
“The perfect book club choice.;. . . Free of the inflammatory politics and cultural baggage that usually accompanies the topic.;. . . It does make you reflect on modern mating habits. It’s fun.”
Glamour
“If you’re coupled up—or want to be—you’ve got to read this.”
The Times (London)
“Provocative.”
Washington Post Book World
Marriage Confidential is so rare, such a pleasantly charming pearl of great price . . . You learn something, but you hardly notice because you’re having such a good time.;. . . Flat-out brilliant.”
TODAY
“[A] fun, interesting read.”
Bella DePaulo
“I read it voraciously. . . . [Haag] is thoughtful, engaging, unconventional, and amusing.”
Today
"[A] fun, interesting read."
Huffington Post
“Fascinating. . . . Couldn’t be more timely or relevant.”
Date Night Magazine
“A fascinating journey through the evolution of marriage.”
Mail on Sunday (UK)
“The chances are, this book describes your marriage. . . . It’s also an entertaining read.”
People
“Haag’s well-researched provocative study will get you thinking.”
"Great Summer Reads" People
“Haag’s well-researched provocative study will get you thinking.”
"Great Summer Reads" - People Magazine
"Haag’s well-researched provocative study will get you thinking."
Laura Kipnis
“A startlingly honest and surprisingly funny account of marital discontent…. Avoiding comfortable bromides and rejecting the usual clichés, Haag reports on how married people really live these days…. This is one of the few books around with something new to say about the travails of modern love and coupledom.”
Debby Applegate
“Brilliant. . . . Marriage Confidential is both laugh-out-loud funny and gasp-out-loud shocking, and nothing less than a Feminine Mystique for our time. Mark my words, your marriage will change after reading this book.”
Esther Perel
“In this timely and thought-provoking analysis of modern coupledom, Pamela Haag paints a vivid tableau of the ‘semi-happy’ couple. Written with wit and aplomb, this page turner will instigate an insurrection against our marital complacency.”
Linda Hirshman
“The personal is political after all. This first big history of the marriages of the post-feminist generation tells a riveting story of how socially empowered women-including many who opted out-and their mates are still struggling to find happiness in their personal lives.”
Stephanie Coontz
“[Haag] doesn’t shy away from controversy in discussing how some marriage ‘rebels’ try to breathe new life into their relationships. A candid and thought-provoking read.”
Library Journal
This keen study of contemporary marriage balances the juicy exposé for a popular audience implied by its title and the serious, footnoted analysis suggested by the author's credentials as a Ph.D. historian and former director of research for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. Accessible to lay readers with an understanding of such key terms as "melancholy" and "queering," Haag's book considers how some spouses are now changing the rules of standard secular marriages, including the division of labor in careers and parenting, family relationships, living arrangements, and, centrally, sex. While options for what Haag calls the low-conflict, semi-happy marriage are generally limited to unsatisfying lifelong monogamy, unsanctioned extramarital intimacy, or divorce, she proposes a fourth marital path—that of ethical nonmonogamy, which incorporates intimate relationships outside the marriage under conditions mutually agreed upon and consented to by the spouses. She argues that the societal outrage this sort of arrangement might provoke can be likened to past outrage over interracial marriage. VERDICT A solid choice for women's studies and marriage studies scholars and professionals, this could also be a provocative, intriguing option for book discussion groups.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus
Kirkus Reviews

The question that engages historian Haag—what's happening to the institution of marriage—gets a complicated and sometimes murky answer.

The author, former director of research for the American Association of University Women, interviewed dozens of people, conducted online surveys and perused scholarly literature and contemporary newspapers and magazines to discover what marriage means to people today. As her subtitle indicates, her view is that society has entered the post-romantic marriage era. The romantic paradigm of marriage, in which marriage was entered into for love, is being replaced by a new cultural view, just as traditional marriage, in which marriage was needed for status and procreation, was replaced by the romantic view. In this post-romantic era, she finds that low-conflict, low-stress, semi-happy marriages are common, and she proposes that alternative ways of thinking about marriage are needed. Through the stories of individuals whom she calls marriage pioneers, she illustrates some of the pressures exerted by such factors as work, parenting and sex, and shows how some couples are changing the rules and choosing to look at and handle such matters differently. For example, where monogamy was central to the romantic marriage, in the post-romantic marriage, extramarital affairs are often no longer regarded as deal breakers; where romantic marriage was presumably "til death do us part," the post-romantic marriage may be term-limited. Post-romantic spouses may be more like best friends or congenial companions, and rather than constituting a twosome, may be part of a more open network of colleagues. In other words, in this post-romantic era, marriage may be losing its special place and becoming more like other kinds of relationships in people's lives. Haag's use of couple's stories (including some from her own marriage) to illustrate trends makes the book an easy read with a low jargon quotient, and readers looking for parallels to their own marital situations may well find them here.

Despite a title that seems ripped from a tabloid, this is a serious examination of contemporary marriage and a fruitful source of discussion material for women's groups.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062079558
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/31/2011
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
396,582
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Marriage Confidential


By Pamela Haag

HarperCollins

Copyright © 2011 Pamela Haag
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061719288


Chapter One

THE DILEMMAS OF A SEMI-HAPPY MARRIAGE
Why We Settle for Ambivalence
Josie is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I've known her
for years now, and she lives in a New England city. She is perceptive
and brave, an accomplished nonprofit executive, confident
and perky in appearance and disposition. Josie and some of my other
friends would occasionally play a game of metaphoric description: "If
this person were a tree, what kind would they be?" and that sort of
thing. The animal Josie evoked was always a playful, clever, outgoing
one—an otter or some such.
When she was in her late twenties, Josie got married, although not
formally in the eyes of the state, since her partner was a woman. She
had two children, adopted with her partner, Rory. What she prized in
this relationship was having a home base, and a sense of security not
always present in her childhood. Once, early in her marriage on a new
spring evening, she gazed out the window at the meadow and river
across from her house and marveled to us that she couldn't believe this
was her life; it was so true to the domestic idyll she had dreamt of.
It didn't stay that way. When the children arrived, with their usual
chaos, her marriage became a matter of "surviving another day," she
lamented. Her home became a place where she felt alone, where Rory
didn't make the effort to connect, physically or emotionally. They took
pride in never raising their voices or arguing in front of the children.
They ran an efficient, calm household, but Josie didn't feel rejuvenated
or truly seen in her marriage. "I know what it feels like to be alone in
your own marriage," she says.
As with other halfhearted marriages, nothing discretely terrible
happened to push it toward melancholy. Whatever their problems
together, there was nothing "wrong" with Rory in any definitive sense.
She was, and is, a decent, interesting, and accomplished person. The
forensics of the marriage's deterioration are murky. To me, it always
seemed that Josie tried too hard to please Rory in the beginning, in the
quest for domesticity. She subordinated her own preferences and
character too much, and hewed her life too closely to Rory's style. Eventually,
Josie's resentment over what she came to see as her generosity in
comparison to Rory's self-absorption seemed to build up within her.
And a lot of us, including Josie, perhaps, end up wanting most what
we least know how to secure for ourselves in marriage. Josie wanted,
and wants, that stability, but it is hard to reconcile with her experience.
The restless soul who grows up without family stability just
wants to settle down; the one who grows up witnessing a marriage of
passionless, frigid stability just wants to run with the wolves. Maybe
it's simply the human condition—to be perpetually but futilely lured
in marriage by the mystery of the code we've never managed to crack.
Josie first disclosed her discontent to us tearfully over margaritas
one night at the beach, during a makeshift girls' retreat. She'd kissed
someone else at a happy hour, and this felt like the start of a marital
slide. Josie was tormented by the idea of leaving her marriage. She is
profoundly devoted to her children and household, and as an advocate
for gay and lesbian marital rights she felt a special burden to make the
marriage work. In some ways she felt as if she and Rory had become
the equivalent of a model home or a spec house for happy lesbian
domesticity. But she'd spent enough years carrying water for the directive
of habituated stability and the less than joyous pragmatism of a
low-conflict, low-stress unhappy marriage, which was precisely what
she had. No easy path suggested itself. But she wasn't content, and she
couldn't put up a front with us anymore.
I'll pick up Josie's story below, but her dilemma up to this point
illustrates the mood. The country is honeycombed with halfhearted
marriages like this. I ask my online survey of nearly 2,000 to respond
to the statement "Most of the marriages I see aren't really that happy."
Forty percent express mild to "entire" agreement, which seems quite
high to me. I'm even more interested to learn how many see marriages
as inhabiting a neutral, ambivalent range. So I next ask them to react
to the statement "Most marriages aren't really happy or unhappy."
The statement yielded a high uncertain value, with 38 percent saying
they neither agree nor disagree, since we can't ever be sure about other
people's marriages. But almost 30 percent agree that "most" marriages
are somewhere in limbo between happy and unhappy.
Kyle was one of them. In an interview he says, "I interpret that question
to mean that people are ambivalent or in the middle, and I think
that's true. Lots of people get married out of societal pressure. But
it's so much ingrained that people don't really think about it. They're
probably relatively faithful, they get by, they trudge along. But they're
not quite living their ambition."
There's a unique feel to this semi-happy marriage. It's different
from the "you made your bed and you lay in it" resignation in my
parents' day. This melancholy is also distinct from the old chestnut
of Sticking It Out. We still have plenty of those marriages, and the
economic crisis that began in 2008 has only swelled their ranks,
because many couples simply cannot afford to get divorced. Or, if they
get divorced, the dramatically deflated value of their home makes it
hard to unload, since neither spouse wants it, and they can't sell it at a
good price. Stick It Out spouses follow the Aristotelian ethic that we
should choose virtue over happiness. They know full well that they're
unhappy, and choose to stay together for the children or the house. In
one researcher's restrained coinage, they are "as unhappy as it is
possible to be without seeking relief through divorce."
The marriage I'm describing is more genuinely ambivalent than
that. Often, in my own case, I really can't tell if my marriage is woeful
or sublime. Maybe I'm just so profoundly content that it feels like
unhappiness, because nirvana is dull in this way, it lacks frisson. Buddhist
wisdom tells us that the end of desire is the end of sorrow. Maybe
marital contentment is a place of stillness and solidity where nothing
happens, a vacuum with no conflict or disheveling passion. I often
feel that I'm "grounded." But does that mean that I'm stalled on the
tarmac, before my journey has even begun, or that I've arrived, firmly
if jejunely settled in the life we laid down roots for, the peaceful
destination we sought?
Such an indeterminacy of emotional extremes would have been
inconceivable to me in my twenties. Unlike the father of a friend of ours,
who unequivocally declared the state of marriage to be "so boring"
that he would "slit his wrists" if he had to stay in it one minute longer,
the low-conflict, low-stress melancholy marriage has a muted palette.
It's a marriage extinguished, as Robert Frost might have agreed, by
ice, not fire. This marriage doesn't explode, it implodes. You contemplate
your escape, or relief through flight, in a non-argumentative,
tranquil, well-ordered, high-functioning household where screaming
matches with your spouse are largely fantasized intra-psychic events.
In exchange for bliss you gain stability, comfort, routine, decorum,
convenience, and some sense of accomplishment in Being Responsible
for your child.
You develop tricks and skills in a melancholy marriage. In my own,
we have learned and perfected the marital screensaver function on
each other: the half-conscious, half-asleep demeanor of the habituated
spouse. Out of the densely knotted tangle of our marriage, we've
learned to pluck at the conversational strands and themes most likely
to produce alliance, stimulate agreement, and keep the harmony
between us. By way of sublimation for my marital gloom and worries,
I've gotten more obsessed with work and drink more red wine; John
exercises whenever he can (his version of "fun") and has cultivated a
fulsome hyper-agreeability, designed to keep marital equilibrium. He
-has developed a case of Ed McMahon Syndrome: "You are correct, sir!"
He tries with an almost flailing earnestness to be an innocuous,
agreeable partner-sidekick.
Yet even as we do these things the marriage has its own CNN-style
ticker at the bottom of the screen, scrolling a fractured mental subtext
of unarticulated grievances, deferred fulfillments, and lost ecstasy.
When you get frustrated you might fantasize yourself a boozily
confrontational Elizabeth Taylor ("If you weren't already dead, I'd divorce
you," she hisses at Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).
But in your life you do the laundry, pack the lunches, make the carpool
line on time, and pay the bills. You accept with quaking reverence the
prescriptions, however internalized, that you must avoid divorce. And
you're not entirely sure that divorce is even what you want. There are
no pure choices to be had; no obvious decisions to make.
To have marital yearnings and ambitions like this in an otherwise
pleasant marriage is to live out of phase with your times. In a faint
echo of Betty Friedan's "mad" housewives, who "should" have been
happier than they were in their comfortable, well-furnished marriages,
the melancholy spouse gets told today, directly or indirectly,
that they should be happier in the marriage, and more sanguine about
it, than they actually feel.
For one thing, if you are, or ever have been, in a low-conflict semi-
happy marriage, then you're in the crosshairs of the self-named
marriage movement in the United States. The marriage movement is a
loosely confederated group of researchers, advocates, and "pro-marriage"
forces (some also oppose same-sex marriage) who first stated
their principles at a conference in June 2000. They hope to revive a
culture of marriage, to encourage "marital interdependence" (that is,
a gender division of labor in marriage), and to promote government
policies that are explicitly pro-marriage rather than marriage-neutral.
They want the traditional marriage model back, not the romantic one.
It's my feeling that these political stances, cultural moods, and our
friends' opinions and even their marriages really do affect us personally,
even when we don't entirely share their views, mostly because
they subtly or not so subtly shape what we expect or ask of our marriage.
The marriage movement's advice is to try to make marriage
work, halfhearted or not, for the children, if nothing else. Those in
the marriage movement might have advised Josie that she felt unfulfilled
because, romantically befogged, she expected too much out of
marriage in the first place, and as a solution should recalibrate her
desires toward more pragmatic realism.
David Popenoe, a prominent marriage researcher at Rutgers
University and a former head of the National Marriage Project (also the
son of Ladies' Home Journal's iconic "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"
columnist), finds that many people's "view of marriage may be so
unrealistic"—romantic and narcissistic, he specifies—"that they're
doomed to failure."
Romance has acquired an avowed enemy with the marriage
movement, difficult as it is to fathom taking up arms against the fluffy,
meringue dream of true love. Kristina Zurcher, a scholar at Notre Dame,
summarizes the movement's view that marriage ideally should be
"stronger, more lasting, and about more than romantic love," which
is, after all, a highly perishable good. As evidence the marriage movement
could point to the preponderance of American divorces in the
first five to ten years of marriage. Researchers surmise that romantically
enthralled newlyweds with unrealistic expectations tend to be
quickly disillusioned and to divorce early on, as the froth wears off
(which makes me think that lacy, romantically frilled wedding gowns
like Princess Diana's might be sartorial omens of divorce). Marriage
defenders therefore talk of "surviving" the first years, as if they were
discussing cancer morbidity rates or loan amortization tables.
But this romance backlash is widespread, and not confined to
defense-of-marriage forces. You can't even skim newspaper commentary
on marriage without encountering romance desecrating headlines
like "Marriages Take Hard Work," a Man in the Gray Flannel
Pajamas approach to going to work in your marriage. "Many enter
marriage with false hopes, that romantic notion of living happily ever
after," a Houston Chronicle columnist explains, characteristically. "To
avoid divorce, we must prepare for marriage not with the glazed look
of fairy tale expectations but with the unwavering gaze and the
realistic knowledge that it takes lots of effort." Conservative New York
Times columnist David Brooks vividly opines that we'd be better off if
we saw marriage "as a social machine which, if accompanied with the
right instruction manual, can be useful for achieving practical ends."
If the Romantic muse of marriage was the poet, his is the engineer.
To stay married, "you just have to communicate until your knuckles
bleed," a woman in marriage education explains with characteristically
gruesome imagery. And maybe this idea of marriage as a well
geared machine, or hard labor, promises, if not happiness, then a kind
of satisfaction in the solace of heroism, and the achievement of valor if
not ecstasy. You're battling on the front lines, which is gratifying—so
long as you choose the right metaphor and think of your marriage as
a war story and not a love story, more as The Longest Day than
Casablanca.
The romantic jeremiad seems to be getting internalized: A 2001
Gallup survey found that 80 percent of single respondents in their
twenties anticipated marriage as "something that is hard and often
difficult."
Shirin is unmarried, in her late thirties, and runs her own business
in Los Angeles, after having been a "corporate slave for many,
many years." Her feelings toward romantic marriage typify the larger
ambivalence. "I think marriage is passé in this time and age," she
first tells me. "It doesn't jibe with the way we've evolved as people. I
think it will become extinct or rather unusual at some point. Since the
practical need is no longer there, what else is left? Love, love, love. I
feel every decision in our life is practical. If we can't have one aspect
be somewhat magical, then what?

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Marriage Confidential by Pamela Haag Copyright © 2011 by Pamela Haag. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Esther Perel
“In this timely and thought-provoking analysis of modern coupledom, Pamela Haag paints a vivid tableau of the ‘semi-happy’ couple. Written with wit and aplomb, this page turner will instigate an insurrection against our marital complacency.”
Laura Kipnis
“A startlingly honest and surprisingly funny account of marital discontent…. Avoiding comfortable bromides and rejecting the usual clichés, Haag reports on how married people really live these days…. This is one of the few books around with something new to say about the travails of modern love and coupledom.”
Debby Applegate
“Brilliant. . . . Marriage Confidential is both laugh-out-loud funny and gasp-out-loud shocking, and nothing less than a Feminine Mystique for our time. Mark my words, your marriage will change after reading this book.”
Stephanie Coontz
“[Haag] doesn’t shy away from controversy in discussing how some marriage ‘rebels’ try to breathe new life into their relationships. A candid and thought-provoking read.”
Linda Hirshman
“The personal is political after all. This first big history of the marriages of the post-feminist generation tells a riveting story of how socially empowered women-including many who opted out-and their mates are still struggling to find happiness in their personal lives.”

Read More

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