Feed on

Nothing will make you think more about what marriage is about than a divorce. But there’s divorce and then there’s divorce. When I divorced in my 20s and we had nothing — no property, no savings, no kids — it was emotionally challenging, true, but that’s about it. If someone presented me a way to make the marriage work, I probably would have said, Why? We made a mistake; it’s over!

But when I divorced at midlife with stuff (a house, a car, a dog and, most important, young kids) it was much more complicated. While many people argue about the stuff and money, the bigger issue — to me, anyway — is the kids: How will we raise them until they can be self-sufficient? renegotiate marital contract

Now a friend is in the midst of a divorce and her kids, at 21 and 25, are no longer “kids;” they’re self-sufficient adults. What does divorce mean at this point?

While I am absolutely not against divorce, I like to explore alternatives that might be available for couples who are struggling as I once was. Which is the conversation I had recently with two family law attorneys who know all too well what isn’t working in our traditional marital model, San Francisco Bay Area attorney Mark Ressa and Minneapolis, Minnesota, attorney Mark Boulette.

While my conversation with them a few months ago was about the importance of marital contracts for newlyweds, my more recent conversations were about midlife couples, the ones who are driving the so-called gray divorce — those 50 and older — which is growing. While most divorces are initiated by women, it hurts us more than the men — 27 percent of gray divorced women live in poverty compared with 11 percent of gray divorced men, according to a recent Bowling Green State University study.

While those kinds of numbers made some sort of sense for me when talking about women of my mother’s generation, 1950s housewives who had few choices, I was somewhat surprised that those numbers were still true for boomers — my generation! While boomer women were renegades and feminists, and many of us had full-time careers while raising kids, we are still paid less than men are and many of us still resorted to traditional male breadwinner-female housekeeping roles when we married, which inevitably hurt us in the event of a divorce (a model that, despite all our progress, still seems to be the default for Gen-Yers and millennials). Plus, we live longer than men.

Knowing that, is there something else we could be doing?

In some instances, yes. Even if you didn’t create a contract at the onset of your marriage, you can certainly create one after the fact.

My second marriage fell apart after the discovery of a long-term affair as well as other issues. My initial reaction was to save the marriage because my kids were young, 9 and 12, and I was scared. I’d only worked part time since they were born, and we weren’t a wealthy family to begin with.

We could have transformed our marriage into a parenting marriage, giving our kids the consistency and stability they needed while separating the sexual/romantic aspect of our relationship from our parenting relationship, which my The New I Do co-author Susan Pease Gadoua has been helping couples do for the past few years. Would that have worked? In the aftermath of a long-term affair, I don’t know. Would I have considered it if it had been presented to me by one of our several marriage counselors? Absolutely, especially since my first reaction was to save the marriage (which, granted, may not be everyone’s reaction).

Sadly, you are not going to hear about parenting marriages from marriage counselors because it’s not in their frame of reference. Same with renegotiating the marital contract. Which is why Susan and I have been presenting before local therapists, helping them help their clients.

A blog post from more than a year ago on The New I Do website has a life of its own, with couples in a sexless marriage (by their definition) exploring the many ways they have tried to cope — suffer, divorce or cheat. The option of opening up their marriage will never come up in a therapy session because traditionally, therapists don’t think that way. What we need is therapists who are not only able to consider suggesting an open marriage, but also knowledgeable enough to offer support and information to help those who may be see it as an option.

But, let’s say there hasn’t been an affair or any sort of major dysfunction. Let’s consider middle-aged empty-nesters, suddenly staring at each across the breakfast table without the distraction of children for the first time in decades. Many couples might discover they have little in common with their spouse anymore, and any conversation that doesn’t involve the kids or household issues feels strained. This is especially true when husbands retire and they’re around 24/7. Which is why many older couples are willing to call it quits and move on.

Given the economic hit they’ll take, they could find other ways to be connected to each other while also creating space that honors their individual needs and “me” time. They could consider living apart together, which is what my mother did when my sister and I were out of the house.

None of this is to say I’m for or against divorce or marital longevity; most of us fall in and out of love with several people before we find someone we actually might want to be in love with for the rest of our life — if we even want that — and many people are much happier after divorcing.

But I am for letting people know that they have options. Your marriage is yours to create and re-create (and next week I’ll write about some couples who had marital contracts that I just discovered).

Want to re-create your marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Whether or not you said “until death do us part” in your wedding vows, and an increasing number of couples don’t say it anymore, most of us believe marriage should be lifelong even if they don’t always end up that way.

Of course when the words “until death” were added to the wedding vows, in the 1500s, average life expectancy was 38 years and marriages didn’t last all that long. Interestingly, there were about as many remarriages then (thanks to high mortality rates), one out of every four, as there are now, four in 10 newlyweds in 2013 (thanks to divorce).  renewable marital contract

Maybe “until death” made sense when marriages lasted an average of 12 years or so, as marriages in colonial days did, according to sociologist Stephanie Coontz. But do they make sense now?

Would it make more sense to have renewable marriages of certain lengths based on a couple’s needs — say two to five years for 20-somethings who want to experience married life before they start having children or 18 years for couples who have made that leap and wish to raise them to adulthood?

The idea of temporary marriage has been around for a long time, which I document in an article in Aeon this week, and was even in practice around the world centuries ago. It’s understandable why temporary marriage might have seem attractive to the West in decades past, when sex and having children outside of marriage was shameful, and when women relied on marriage for financial security. That’s not the case anymore, of course. So why have a temporary marriage when cohabitation can serve the purpose of a trial marriage?

Because cohabitation is not the same as marriage, which I’ve already detailed.

Millennials seem to be open to a beta marriage, at least in concept. Still, time-limited renewable marriages won’t necessarily give them what they want unless they know what they hope to achieve in their marriage beside longevity — our only marker of success. That’s why I believe in marital plans.

But a renewable contract is attractive for a number of reasons:

  • No more stigma — As the late Nobel-winning economist Gary S Becker observed, if every couple was required to personalize their marital contract based on their values and goals, the stigma, shame and judgment that surrounds alternative marriages (such as open marriages) and divorce would disappear; all of us would understand and appreciate that there are many ways to live and love, and many reasons to end a marriage.
  • It’s more romantic — Who wouldn’t want to know that his or her spouse is signing up for another go-round instead of staying together because of vows made years ago, with all the hope and often unrealistic expectations of young love; or because of fears of paying alimony and losing half of their retirement plans and access to the kids (reasons many men cite for not wanting to wed); or even just plain inertia? While marriage offers the illusion of everlasting love, commitment and a blissful life together, divorce is always an option and women overwhelmingly initiate it.
  • More transparency and accountability, less complacency — By creating a renewable marital contract based on a mutual needs, goals, expectations and values, couples will have to have open, honest discussions instead of assumptions and unexpressed expectations. You not only hold each other accountable, but you hold yourself accountable for what you agreed upon — and you can’t ignore things for too long because there’s a date that will require action; renew or not. You won’t easily be able to become complacent, the big killer of relationships.
  • You’ll have a stronger union — Some people fear an expiration date will give people an easy out, seemingly forgetting that divorce is always an option and no out is “easy.” There’s a lot of talk about the “work” of marriage. Define that as you may, all relationships, romantic or not, need attention. A renewable marital contract defines exactly what that attention is. As research indicates, matched expectations = happier partnerships.
  • Conscious uncoupling vs. contentious divorce — Even with renewable contracts, divorce may happen. One person may want out at the end of the contract or both. While no relationship breakup is painless, having a renewable contract may be less painful because the contract lays out the actions you will take (such as counseling), and by when, if there are problems the two of you can’t solve on your own. It also lays out what will happen in the event of a non-renewal (how you’d split property, savings, etc.), in a way that feels loving and fair — a very different reality when you’re in the typical crisis mode of divorce.

No one exemplifies the benefits of a renewable marital contract better than Married with Luggage bloggers and authors Betsy and Warren Talbot, whom we interviewed for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. Marriage is a social contract, Betsy says, and like any other contract it needs to be reviewed and adjusted from time to time. They do it on their anniversary, and have done so every year since nearly the beginning of their 11-year marriage.

Although The New I Do suggests couples have a written contract, the Talbots believe there’s power in stating out loud, “I choose you again” while detailing the specific things they’re going to work on to make their relationship better. And because of that, they are mindful not only of each other’s behavior, but also their own — and that either can say, “I’m done.”

Rather than make marriage too easy to leave, Betsy believes it makes it more difficult.

“Once you commit to work on your relationship on a regular basis with yearly check-ins for the big stuff, it is incredibly hard to walk away,” she says. “I feel far more secure now than I ever did in the ‘happily ever after’ of our early years. I never think Warren is going to leave because he shows me every day how committed he is to make this work, and tells me every year that he still chooses me as his life partner.”

That doesn’t mean those are easy conversations. In fact, telling your partner he or she is not quite up to snuff is incredibly challenging. But, as she says, “The goal of the conversation is to improve our union.”

Don’t you want that, too?

Want to individualize your marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.




The media is still trying to figure out the recent splits between rockers Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale after 13 years, and country singers Blake Shelton and Miranda Lampert after four years when it was revealed that The Voice co-hosts Gwen and Blake were an item.

According to Gwen, “There’s been loads of people that have helped me with this tragedy. There’s definitely key people that have pointed me into the right direction. Blake really helped me.”

I’m sure they’re not the first co-workers who have turned to each other for support and then suddenly fallen for each other. The rebound relationship is fairly common.

I’m also not discounting the possibility that they may have feelings for each other — or more — before each of them announced their divorce earlier this year, and that those feelings may have had something to do with their divorces. At least that’s what Gavin reportedly believesleave spouse for your lover

But is it bad to leave an unhappy marriage because of a desire to be with someone else?

As someone who has been cheated on and cheated herself, I have long believed that you should leave your marriage first rather than use an affair as an exit strategy. If the decision to uncouple isn’t mutual, trust me — the divorce alone is hard enough on the person who doesn’t want the marriage to end. The discovery of an affair on top of that can be devastating.

Then I read Astro and Danielle Teller’s book Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage, which, despite the sometimes too cutesy cow references, I loved — except the final chapter, The Other Cow. Initially.

The Tellers are questioning the status quo about divorce just like The New I Do is questioning the status quo about what marriage “should” look like. They certainly are not encouraging infidelity in their final chapter, but they acknowledge it exists (in fact, they cite a study that indicates that in a third of divorces, one or both of the spouses were already in some sort of romantic relationship with someone else). The question they wish to explore — and a valid one — is, are you a bad person to leave your marriage because you want to be with someone else?

Most of us don’t like when that happens, yet our thoughts are, well, fuzzy at best.

As they write:

“It may not seem obvious at first, but between remarriage (acceptable to most of us) and adultery (unacceptable to most of us) lays a long continuum. The continuum consists of the time when the new partner appears relative to the end of the marriage. If partner #2 shows up while the marriage is intact, we call it adultery. If partner #2 shows up years after divorce, we call it remarriage. If partner #2 shows up while the marriage is on the rocks but before the divorce decree is signed, well, it’s not clear what to call it, other than an uncomfortable situation.”

Perhaps Gavin is right — what Gwen, who has recently said that the last few years of her marriage were hard, and Blake are in is a “uncomfortable situation.” After all, their romance became public relatively soon after their respective divorces, which were announced, suspiciously to some, just weeks apart.

Are they bad people if that’s true? If a marriage is effectively over — and let’s face it, happy marriages don’t end in divorce — and one of the spouses falls for someone else, it may not be the smartest idea but should he or she be shamed and judged?

We don’t like the idea of people leaving spouses for new love yet, as the Tellers beautifully point out, many of us consider Sleepless in Seattle to be an uber romantic love story although it’s essentially about a woman cheating on her fiance to be with a man who’s a much better match for her. Yet we root for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan … even though she’s engaged and is lying to her fiance, a “nice guy.” (As does Vicky in Vicky Cristina Barcelona).

Think about that!

There was one thing, however, that bugged me about the book’s final chapter — the voice of the children, who may or may not be as enthusiastic about living with the person whom they may see as the reason their family fell apart, is conspicuously absent. Gwen has three young boys, Kingston, 9, Zuma, 7, and Apollo, 20 months.

That’s something for the adulterous parents to figure out, the Tellers say.

But society shouldn’t get off the hook for making unhappy people feel so bad about wanting to get out of a marriage, and in some ways actually setting people up to fail.

“Because society makes it so hard for people to leave their marriage, it sometimes drives people to do extreme things, like have exit affairs,” Astro told me. Societal pressure to be married and stay married, and to honor a marital commitment “until death” no matter what — even when a marriage isn’t working anymore  — is so strong that it influences “a lot of the dynamics that lead to adultery.”

Maybe that’s what we should more upset about.

Want to have a time-limited marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halloween is over, which means it’s a rapid slide into the holidays — Thanksgiving to Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa leading into New Year’s.

Instead of considering the last two months of the year the most wonderful time of the year, many people consider it the most stressful time of the year. Especially womenWomen and holiday stress

It starts with Thanksgiving, our vision of which seems to immediately turn to Norman Rockwell’s iconic illustration,  “Freedom from Want,” with loved ones gathered around the table and Mom in an apron presenting the turkey she’s no doubt slaved over all day as well as everything else.

While there are many men who love to cook and who take over the Thanksgiving Day preparations and cooking, the bulk of it is still done by women. As studies have shown, and as women know from experience, while Thanksgiving Day is considered a day of rest for men, in most households it’s a “day of both ritual and physical labor for women.”

It doesn’t get much better come December, especially if you have kids. There are cards to buy and send (or ecards), gifts to be bought and wrapped (and gift wrap, bows and ribbons to be bought), cookies to bake and gingerbread houses to decorate (if that’s been part of the family tradition), trees and houses to be decorated, meals to be planned, tickets to purchase to see “The Nutcracker,” visits to Santa planned … it’s a long list.

And a lot of what happens behind the scenes to make the holidays go as best they can — and granted, they often don’t go all that great — falls on the shoulders of women.

Why? Well, it’s an unhappy blend of expectations; the way creating a magical holiday has been presented to us, thanks to marketing and media, and our own desire to make the holidays “special.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, except a lot of it is gendered. Honestly, what men’s magazine helps guys discover “13 Stylish Holiday and Christmas Decorating Ideas”? That doesn’t mean men don’t feel pressured to get their wife, girlfriend or S.O. something meaningful and unique — it’s just much of the holiday “magic” that occurs in a marriage with kids happens because of Mom.

It’s exhausting, and you don’t even have to bake cookies or make homemade gifts to feel that way. It’s just part of the many ways women typically are expected to handle what’s been called the emotional caretaking of the family, which often goes unnoticed or undervalued — and sometimes even resented — creating a “his” and “hers” marriage.

So if you’re looking for a reason why more women are rejecting marriage or why they overwhelmingly want out of a marriage, this is example No. 1.

Which is why I love what Brigid Schulte of the Washington Post did in her own family a few years ago when she noticed she was feeling overwhelmed by making the holiday “magical.” She decided to share the responsibilities:

(M)y husband, Tom, and I sat around the dinner table with our two kids in early December and had our own honest conversation. What kind of Christmas did we want to have? What was most important to each of us? We ended up with a much shorter list. We divided it up fairly. For the first time in more than 20 years, Tom and I came up with a budget and split the Christmas shopping and wrapping 50-50. We’re all planning the meals.

Wait — sharing responsibilities? This is not rocket science! Having honest conversations about it, however, can be hard. And that’s because women often don’t talk about it — sorry, but we need to own that.

This is not a dig at men. It’s also not dissing women who love and willingly choose to decorate, plan and create magic for their family whatever the reason or season. It’s also acknowledging that a good number of women don’t allow the men in their lives to participate because they assume he won’t “do it right” — which can mean he won’t do it “my way,” which can also mean — because many of us still have gendered expectations — she may be judged for his holiday decorating/gift purchasing choices. Sorry but once again, we need to own that.

There’s no reason this season should be any less joyful and restful for everyone. All we — men and women — have to do is make it happen. And it starts by talking about it.

Want to individualize your marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Marriage is hard work but worth it. If you end up divorced, it means you didn’t try hard enough, you don’t know what commitment means and you’re putting you own happiness before your family’s — or all of the above — and that’s why you have a failed marriage.

What divorced person hasn’t heard that — or some variation — before?   Sacred Cows

As a twice married and divorced woman, I sure did. So did Astro and Danielle Teller. Despite their best intentions  when they said their “I dos,” each of their marriages ended, and when they started dating and then married, blending families and many marital years behind them (14 for Astro, eight for Danielle), they began to question a lot of the messages they’d been told about marriage and divorce, as well as the one-size-fits-all answers “experts” and the self-help industry had for struggling couples.

As scientists — Astro is a computer scientist who oversees Google[x] and Danielle is a physician — they tried to remove the emotional responses we all have about divorce so they could focus on the logic. The result of their inquiry is a book that came out right about the time The New I Do was published, Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage (Diversion Books).

Both books question the status quo when it comes to marriage and divorce, and offer outside-the-box thinking. I didn’t know about their book until recently, and as I read it and found myself highlighting much of what they wrote — scribbling in the corners, “Yes!” and nodding my head in agreement because they get it — I was eager to connect with them and thank them. It’s the book I wish I read when I was contemplating divorce (and I read a lot of self-help books) and sorting through the inevitable messy emotions I was feeling while also weighing the co-parenting, financial and everyday realities of divorcing with kids without crumbling under the shame and judgment that basically well-meaning people thrust upon me.

Their book presents the false cultural assumptions about divorce as Sacred Cows, illustrated as, well, cows, and if you have been divorced or are contemplating it, you have likely heard what the cows spew as “truth”:

  •  Holy Cow: Marriage is always good and divorce is always bad.
  •  Expert Cow: All marital problems can be fixed with help.
  •  Selfish Cow: People who divorce are selfish, people who stay married are selfless.
  •  Defective Cow: If you can’t make your marriage happy, or if you divorce, you must be defective.
  •  Innocent Victim Cow: Children’s lives are ruined by divorce.
  •  One True Cow: True love is why you marry but if you become unhappy in your marriage, you should stop believing in true love.
  •  Other Cow: It’s not OK to leave a marriage to be with a new partner.

Except, as the Tellers point out, the research doesn’t back up any of what we’ve been told and thus believe.

The New I Do asks you to question your assumptions about marriage; the Tellers ask you to question your assumptions about divorce.

If you’re struggling in your marriage or thinking about divorce, I highly suggest you read Sacred Cows. It won’t give you any answers and it isn’t going make some things about divorce — the grief, pain, financial impacts, etc. — any easier. It will, however, help you be aware of society’s damaging messages that clutter rational thinking.

Just as you have permission to have a marriage based on your values and goals, you have permission to examine your marital situation without shame or guilt.

Q: Your book originated from your own divorces. You mention how people tried to help while others made you feel shame. How did you sort through all those conflicting messages to look at the bigger picture of how we marry and divorce?

Danielle: Quite painfully. I spent a good year feeling horrible before I started getting a new perspective. Society’s giving you these messages that don’t make a lot of sense.

Astro: We didn’t come to any truths, but we did uncover some deep inconsistencies in society. That’s what the book turned into; neither an argument for marriage or divorce, but simply that we felt we had uncovered some sufficiently large hypocrisies in those narratives. We felt freed from a lot of the narrative pressure once we recognized how much hypocrisy was baked into those narratives.

Q: One divorce is often enough to scare people away from any sort of relationship, let alone another marriage. What was the path each of you followed that led you to the decision to tie the knot again?

Astro: We were just madly in love, there was no way we weren’t going to get married. … but, importantly, we made sure from the very beginning that there wasn’t going to be any guilt or the overhang of those sacred cows. Instead of promising that we were going to be together, which neither of us believes, it’s a desire to be together. If she decides tomorrow she’s no longer into me, she’s not a bad person. I’ll be sad, but she’s not a bad person. It sounds like a really small change, but it’s not.

Q: What makes a second, third, fourth or 10th marriage different than the first — is it just having a new partner, is it wisdom or personal growth, is it doing things differently or something completely different?

Astro: We went into our marriage even more romantically than into our first. … Everyone who goes into a second marriage has to understand, at least conceptually, that marriages don’t last because they have this abject lesson in their lives. What they do about that is very different.

Danielle: We have this narrative that all marriages are equal. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, then being married to someone else isn’t going to make things better. … I don’t know why as a culture we don’t admit who you marry makes a difference.

Astro: I think we do know why, because if the narrative of who you choose matters and choosing differently could be a successful way to get yourself happier, it would allow people a legitimate reason to end their marriage and try again. Society is not OK with that. Society starts from the perspective that it doesn’t want people to get divorced, and then it comes up with stories and reasons that cut off all the avenues of escape.

Q: The Holy Cow’s message is that married people are “better than divorced people.” Lots of people who prefer to be single or cohabit hear that, too. Why do you think so many of us believe that’s true?

Astro: I think it’s the other way around. It’s, how are the sacred cows tricking us into it? The reason is society, which we are personifying as these cows, wants us to get married and stay married, not to make you happier or your spouse happier or your kids happier, but because society, rightly or wrongly, believes it will get what it wants if it gets people to get married and stay married. (It’s) a mob mentality where no one of us is puppeteering this but we collectively talk ourselves into it.

Q: Society seems to hold on to a nostalgic view of marriage, that people who married “back then” understood what marriage is really about. Except “back then,” marriage was more a duty than a choice, and an institution that was often a pretty crappy deal for women but they had few choices. Why do you think we still cling to that vision?

Danielle: We romaticize everything about the past. We really want to believe that marriages can be happily ever after.

Astro: If I’m afraid she’ll leave me, and my main tool in keeping her from leaving me is shame and fear and guilt, which the sacred cows bring to my arsenal.. .. If I want her not to quit, I have to look at people who quit less. If I point to them (and say) that those people were noble, it latches into the general romanticizing of the past and then I can effectively make her feel like shit if she’s thinking of leaving.

Q: What are the most important things you hope people get from reading your book?

Danielle: To give permission to make decisions about marriage and divorce without the piles of guilt society puts on them. … Just because you’re divorced or you want to get divorced, that doesn’t make you a bad person.

Astro: If they go through the process of asking whether marriage is working for them without the fear and shame that the scared cows produce, they’ll still probably have some soul searching to do and maybe a lot of pain to go through, but it would be less than it would be otherwise and they’ll probably end up in a happier place if they can make that decision free of that fear.

Want to individualize your marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

Illustration courtesy of “Sacred Cows”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have been thinking about security lately, not in an Ashley Madison hack kind of way, but the way we seek security in romantic relations and what we gain — and give up — to have it.

It was spurred by watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona again, the 2008 Woody Allen movie that explores the very human struggle between security and passion, dependency and  freedom.

Can we have it all?  Security vs. passion

If you haven’t seen the film, in brief, the 20-something Vicky and Cristina are friends spending the summer in Barcelona with Vicky’s parent’s friends, Judy and Mark, and end up in a complicated love triangle of sorts with a seductive artist, Juan Antonio, complicated even further when his former wife, Maria Elena — a talented and tempestuous artist whose passion excites and destroys — reappears.

The no-nonsense Vicky is about to marry a New York lawyer whose bandwidth doesn’t deviate much beyond business, golf and buying a house in Westchester. The free-spirited Cristina is seeking something much more than that, but she’s unsure of exactly what she wants; she just knows what she doesn’t want. Cristina jumps at the chance for adventure when Juan Antonio approaches them in a restaurant and invites them for a weekend of sex, food and wine on a nearby island — “Life is short, dull, full of pain,” he tells them — and then, shortly after, moves in with him and indulges in a hedonistic life, including threesomes with him and Maria Elena. The one passionate night Vicky spends with Juan Antonio is enough for her to realize what she’ll be giving up by marrying her safe but boring fiance. For perhaps the first time, she lies to him.

It’s easy to see things are probably not going to end up well.

But, you have to define “well.”

WARNING: Spoiler alert.

Forget Juan Antonia and Maria Elena — their passionate “can’t live with you, can’t live without you” relationship will most likely never change. It’s what happens to Vicky and Cristina that matters.

Despite her lust-as-misplaced-love for Juan Antonio, Vicky marries her fiance. She settles for a secure, safe but passionless future even if there’s been a fundamental shift in her. She appears to be doomed to follow in the footsteps of her hostess — Judy no longer loves her husband and although she is cheating on him, she tells Vicky she can never divorce him. She, too, chooses safety.

Cristina, on the other hand, realizes that although she wants nothing to do with Vicky’s secure but boring future, she doesn’t want to continue to be swept up in the passionate insanity in the Juan Antonio-Maria Elena household, either. She leaves, unsure of what’s ahead but again clear on what she doesn’t want.

In the end, only Cristina, as untethered as she may appear to most people, chooses to live an authentic life.

Which gets me back to my original pondering, what we gain — and give up — for the security of a romantic relationship, especially marriage.

Besides love, which remains the No. 1 reason, many of us say we marry because we want life-long commitment (for heteros perhaps, but not same-sex couples). The promise of that gives us a sense of security, that someone will always love us and find us desirable, even at our most unlovable and undesirable, and will have our back. Except we know that it doesn’t always work out that way, and despite being a wonderful spouse and despite all the great things you do for your partner, you can’t affair- or divorce-proof your marriage. So marriage gives us a false sense of security that we will have what we want — or what we think we want — forever. Even when we don’t. Sometimes, divorce happens. Sometimes it doesn’t and while we may stay together and continue that history, we may no longer love each other or find the other desirable. All that remains is the commitment.

So, what are we giving up by buying into the “security” of marriage? Will we be living our most authentic life by seeking that “security”?

Well, I don’t have the answers and while you may not, either, those are the questions you might want to ask yourself before getting hitched, along with asking if you could be happy with commitment that didn’t last a lifetime. Many of us who have been in multiple loving relationships — live-in, married or not — have already experienced that. What wasn’t satisfying about that?

What’s your most authentic life?

Have the marriage you want by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.


Tags: , , , , , ,

I had been thinking about heartbreak.

It wasn’t that I was experiencing any at that particular time, but like every who has lived a few decades, I’ve had my share of it. And I wondered — did my experience with the often excruciatingly painful reality of heartbreak influence how I moved forward in love and life? Gravity_photo

Let me step back a bit. People experience all sorts of heartbreak that has nothing to do with romantic love. As a parent, I can’t imagine anything more painful than the loss of a child, and I have a few friends who have lost a child. That would trump any loss I have ever experienced, including the relatively recent death of both my parents, resulting in a complete split from my sister, and my beloved dog. And, at my age, I better get used to loss because it’s going to occur more frequently from here on.

But there’s something about romantic love that puts a layer of pressure on it. We’re told from when we’re little, and then grow to expect, that at some point we will find true love — the person who will “see us,” accept us as we are, make us feel needed, appreciated and truly loved. True love, the narrative goes, lasts forever.

But what if it doesn’t?

What if we have it and it goes away? What if we have it and it changes, turning into something hurtful — contempt, anger, abuse? What if we think we have found it, only to discover that it wasn’t really love after all? What if we never find it? Is the search for love different after we experience heartbreak? Does the experience of heartbreak influence the way we approach love? Do we fear getting too close? Do we change who we are to have love? Do we see heartbreak as a teacher, helping us understand ourselves, others and the world better? Does it scar as for life? Does it make us avoid love and closeness altogether?

That’s what I began thinking about.

I was further inspired by stumbling upon French conceptual artist Sophie Calle’s project “Take Care of Yourself.” When a boyfriend dumped her by email, which ended with a impersonal, “Take care of yourself,” she sent it to 107 women from all sorts of disciples, from philosophers to singers to poets to sociologists, to analyze it. Their insightful and often hilarious deconstructions became a celebrated exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Then I read about the Museum of Broken Relationships, in Zagreb, Croatia, of all places. And that’s when my friend, the amazing artist Veronica Napoles, and I decided we really need to carry the conversation further.

So we are.

We have just launched the Gravity of the Heart project. It’s a juried four-week exhibit slated for next year, but it’s also an international and ongoing conversation about heartbreak.

We’re looking for creative expressions that illustrate and speak to your personal experience with heartbreak — painting, collage, drawing, photography, sculptural and the written word.

Heartbreak is a real thing — studies indicate the stress of a breakup can cause what’s known as broken heart syndrome, or the slightly less sexy takotsubo cardiomyopathy (named unromantically after a Japanese octopus trap), which can lead to death. Despite that, most of us don’t die from heartache; in fact, we seem to be somewhat hardwired to overcome heartache.

Yes, most of us may overcome it. But how does it influence what comes next? That’s what we’d like to know. What about you?

Want to share your experiences? Go to Gravity of the Heart to learn more about how to participate in the juried art show. If you just want to have a conversation about heartbreak, please like our Facebook page and let’s go!

Tags: , , , , , ,

Lena Dunham is in a bind.

In March, the Girls creator boldly told Ellen DeGeneres that she and her boyfriend of three years, Jack Antonoff, would not be tying the knot until same-sex couples could, too — a noble gesture that Brad Pitt announced at one point, but then he and Angelina Jolie went ahead and married anyway. Then the SCOTUS decision was announced June 26, and the couple started getting texts “from our friends, from our mothers, from our exercise instructors being like, ‘Finally, it’s your time!'” and Dunham told Antonoff to “get on it,” and promptly regretted it (and one has to guess that Antonoff was, well, relieved).

Photo by Autumn de Wilde

Photo by Autumn de Wilde

Now, it’s months later, and there’s still no bling or wedding date set and fans and DeGeneres want to know, well?

And now it’s an unhappy situation and lots of ‘splainin’  because there are expectations (although how a Dunham-Antonoff marriage impacts anyone else but Dunham and Antonoff is beyond me).

For her part, Dunham says they’d rather “wait for a moment where we feel excited about” tying the knot.

“I mean we own a dog together. We own a home together, but the marriage thing is a big deal.”

Yes, marriage is a big deal. Thank you for acknowledging that!

But even if you never announced that you wouldn’t get hitched until everyone else could, everyone who is either living with a partner or has been dating someone for a certain amount of time has certainly felt pressure to wed.

Dunham does. In her July essay in the New Yorker, “The Bride in Her Head,” she acknowledges that her childhood dreams of a wedding one day were uniquely female:

“(A)s a man, his entire life has not been shaped by a desire for, or a rejection of, a fluffy white dress. … My desire for a wedding predated my ability to imagine anyone loving me for who I was and for who I might become. Now, having mostly become that kind of person, my desires were opaque even to me. I felt lonely, crazy, and guilty. I felt unsure.”

Dunham also observes that their stance for marriage equity bought them and other unsure heteros “a limitless breathing space that allowed our relationship to grow without any of the tortured questions of legal commitments and ring settings that seem to plague so many sooner than they might want.”

Why? No one needs to marry anymore for sex, kids, financial security — the usual suspects in our grandparents’ day. Why don’t couples give themselves “limitless breathing space,” and tell everyone else it’s none of their business?

Marriage is still the “normal” thing to do — graduate, get a job, get married. And even if you can resist pressure from friends and family, once you get to the age when you start going to a lot of your friends’ weddings, it can feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t tie the knot, too.

Despite how far women have come, there remains a sort of unspoken belief that our daughters would be better off married than solo; at the recent wedding of his oldest daughter, one of three, the father of the bride repeatedly was told, “One down, two to go,” as if all his daughters will marry, all his daughters want to marry and — most important — he won’t have to “worry” about that one.

And now even same-sex couples are feeling the pressure, and because they can marry, alternatives to marriage, such as domestic partnerships, are sometimes no longer an option. Marry or else!

Even though Millennials are — wisely — delaying marriage, once they approach the “magical” age of 30, there appears to be a switch, less of an external pressure and more of an internal pressure that they better “get on it” or somehow eternal love and bliss will pass them by, and they’ll be — *sigh*still single at 30.

Dunham is 29 and Antonoff is 31.

So, we should applaud Dunham for saying, whoa, not so fast.

Now if only all Millennials of “a certain age” would say that, too.

Resisted the pressure but now are ready to marry? Have the marriage you want by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: , , , ,

A month or so ago, I offered to work with a newlywed couple to create a marital plan. I got a polite, thanks but we’re just too busy and [new husband] isn’t too interested anyway.

My The New I Do co-author Susan posited a similar question her friend about to marry. “Oh, we’re good,” the bride-to-be told her.  marital planning

Of course. The engaged and the newly married are indeed busy and may indeed be “good,” if not great. It isn’t called the honeymoon phase for nothing.

But one has to wonder why there’s some hesitation — if not outright fear — to sitting down with the person you are promising a lot to — sexuality fidelity, everlasting love, the rest of you life to — and talking about the hard stuff, like money, sex, kids, chores, in-laws.

And that is why we see articles like 8 Things No One Tells You About Marriage (why are they holding back!?) and 5 Things I Wish I Knew About Marriage (Before I Got Married).

Actually, there were lots of people who would have gladly walked brides- and grooms-to-be through some of the challenges most, if not all, marriages face … if they actually were interested.

Sadly, many are not. In fact, between 30 percent and 50 percent of couples who are offered premarital education aren’t interested, and only about 30 percent of couples in general get premarital counseling. In some ways, it makes sense — when you’re newly engaged and planning your wedding and things are going great, talking about the hard stuff seems unnecessary and just one more thing to do. Why bring up problems that don’t exist, especially when “counseling” sounds like something couples need when things aren’t going well? And, in truth, even premarital counseling has its drawbacks.

Except that’s not the only way to approach it. Why frame it as problems? Why not see it as asking questions — what do we want to do in the next three years? Do we want to have kids and, if so, when do we want to start trying? What if we can’t conceive? Should we be freezing eggs or embryos now, or would be adopt? Are we both OK with having to move to further one of our careers? How are we defining infidelity? What does commitment mean to us? At what point would we get outside help, like marital counseling, if one of us asked for it?

Because even if you’re busy and disinterested now, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll likely be talking about some of those issues at some point. And lack of commitment, infidelity and conflict are why many couples divorce, even those who have had premarital counseling.

I know, it sounds like a lot of “what ifs.” Life is actually full of a lot of “what ifs,” many of which are out of our control. That said, if you are starting from a marital baseline, it’s a lot easier to revisit and readjust agreements when life throws you curve balls — and it will — without a lot of shock, resentment and disappointment. And in some cases, addressing the tough stuff before saying your “I dos” may make it clear that you aren’t really a good match after all. Yes, that is frightening.

So I get it. Young people often just don’t think like that. I know I didn’t. When I was 20 and about to marry my high school boyfriend, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to premarital counseling or marital planning. And when I interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert when CommittedA Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, her follow up book to her best-selling Eat, Pray, Love, came out, she pretty much admitted that she, too, wouldn’t have followed her book’s sage advice when she was in her 20s: “I would have read it with such contempt … it wouldn’t have done me any good. … I’m not sure it will do any good for young people. My place is among people who have awareness.”

So, if you’re in your 20s or 30s and thinking about marrying, do you want awareness, or do you want to spend time reading — or writing — articles on what you wish you knew before you tied the knot?

Just compare it to all the planning that goes into most weddings, as A Practical Wedding’s Meg Keene does:

Wedding planning is fraught with stupid questions. Chairs, for example, or what length your gown should be. Marriage is fraught with things that really do matter. Taking some time in the middle of the planning to talk about the reality of your lives together, and to ask yourselves hard questions? Well, that’s a gift. So if you can, go find someone, and talk.

But while premarital counseling gets you to talk about all that hard stuff, marital planning gives you a road map for what you actually want your marriage to look like. After all, you’re not just creating a life together — you’re creating a certain kind of life together. Your life.

Isn’t that what you want?

Want to learn how to create a marital plan? Order The New I Do on Amazon, and follow on Twitter or Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , ,

I was talking to a GenX journalist friend, in the midst of a divorce, about marriage, divorce, etc., and we acknowledged that, unlike Boomers and Millennials, GenX men can be a bit confused about the massive change in gender roles and what women are looking for in a partner. As we continued our free-rambling conversation, I asked her why we women still want men to make as much if not more than we do.

“Well, it’s hardwired,” she said.

OK, maybe it is, but if we truly want egalitarian partnerships (and I’m not exactly sure if we do), shouldn’t we have moved past that by now? 

Despite the many ways women have pushed forward as far as education, the workplace, being breadwinner wives, etc., there’s one area in which we still seem to have antiquated views — women overwhelmingly (78 percent, according to the Pew Research Center) want our men to have a study job. As Jill Filipovic writes in Cosmopolitan, “Pew seems to be operating under the (not entirely unreasonable) assumption that men are expected to have jobs to be ‘marriage material,’ while women simply have to exist.”

In fact, one of my posts from two years ago, He’s broke, you’re not — do you date him, is still one of my most popular. So many women continue to write in, asking if they should stay with a man who is marginally employed.

I don’t offer advice — I don’t have the answers for anyone, just a lot of questions they could ask themselves. But as I wrote then:

A recent study seems to indicate that we are stuck in a time warp when it comes to gender and money — we can’t get past the idea that a husband should make more money than his wife, and that is impacting whom we marry, how much a wife works, and even if a couple stays married. … Unemployed, under-employed and low-paid women are still dateable and marriage material, while guys are not.

I pondered why that might be.

Is it truly because we’re hardwired, as my friend believes, or is something else going on?

Dating coach Evan Marc Katz pondered the same question: “[I]f you can support yourself as well as any man can support himself, what DIFFERENCE does it make what he earns? Why is your boyfriend, the guitarist, ‘bad husband potential’ when his girlfriend, the painter, is just ‘his girlfriend?'”

While he and I have agreed and disagreed in the past, I have the same question for my sisters as he does — if you are both able to support yourselves, what difference does it make?

And if we are going to accept the “hardwired” argument, then shouldn’t we also accept that men are hardwired to be non-monogmaous, as some say?

My gut reveals an unspoken desire by women nowadays — we want choices. We want flexibility. We want to be able to work full time, part time or not at all, especially if we become moms. And, if we’re going to have a partner, he needs to make enough so we are able to do so.

Sorry to say, I don’t think we allow men the same choices. Granted, men may not want them. A recent Gallup poll indicates a huge proportion of men — 76 percent — would chose to work out of the home than “stay at home and take care of the house and family” while just 51 percent of women said the same.

But the 24 percent of men who seem to be seeking the same flexibility women want may have a much harder time finding a partner who wants that for him, too.

All of which makes me think what a man earns does make a difference when women are looking for a partner, even if he makes enough to support himself. We want him to support us as well, too. And I don’t think it necessarily reflects well on women. Because if we truly want egalitarian partnerships and we truly want flexibility, we’re going to have to embrace that some men may want the same.

Interested in having a safety marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press), order it on Amazon, and follow on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Older Posts »