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I had been following the on-again, off-again, on-again divorce of Sean Penn and Robin Wright for a while, not because I’m celeb crazed but because before Penn took off for Haiti and Wright to L.A., they lived just a few miles from me. I sometimes would see Wright around town, looking like any other San Francisco Bay Area yummy mommy shopping at Whole Foods or checking out the guitars at the local music shop, just much more famous and a heck of a lot richer.

So when I read Penn’s complaint to the Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago that he’d been “taken for one half of everything I had in the divorce,” I had to laugh — “Well, what did you expect, if you carry on like that?” — and I had a flashback to my own divorce a few years prior.   

Like Wright, there were affairs and other shenanigans. Like Wright, we tried to salvage the marriage. Like Wright, I was the one who finally said, “I want a divorce” — the hardest words I ever had to say. And, like Penn, my then-husband was dumbfounded — “You’re leaving me?”

Yes, I was, and that’s because he was doing everything that looked like leaving me except the actual leaving part.

Men, evidently, don’t leave.

As it turns out, it’s — sadly — the only thing Wright and I do share, but it’s something we have in common with a lot of other marital splits. Women ask for divorce two-thirds of the time. But it isn’t so much because the wives woke up one day and “fell out of love” or realized they had “different values or lifestyles,” as many 50-something men who initiated divorce told AARP in a survey a few years back.

No, something else is clearly happening. It may be true that men don’t leave but you have to look at why women do; as Frank Lloyd Wright once wisely said, “The truth is more important than the facts.”

So what is going on?

According to the National Marriage Project, formerly at Rutgers University, now at the University of Virginia, a lot:

“Two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. One recent study found that many of the reasons for this have to do with the nature of our divorce laws. For example, in most states women have a good chance of receiving custody of their children. Because women more strongly want to keep their children with them, in states where there is a presumption of shared custody with the husband the percentage of women who initiate divorces is much lower. Also, the higher rate of women initiators is probably due to the fact that men are more likely to be “badly behaved.” Husbands, for example, are more likely than wives to have problems with drinking, drug abuse, and infidelity.” tweet

Last year proved to be a bumper crop of “badly behaved” husbands. Just ask Sandra Bullock, Elin Nordegren, and Eva Longoria. But if the gals didn’t file for divorce, would Jesse, Tiger, or Tony have dumped them and perhaps shacked up with the other woman — or, in some cases, women? Probably not.

A few authors who’ve paid attention to those sorts of things cite some rather pathetic statistics that “the other woman” should pay attention to: about 3 percent of cheating men marry their lovers, according to Jan Halper (Quiet Desperation: The Truth About Successful Men) and about 75 percent of those marriages end up in divorce, according to Frank Pitman (Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy).

So, is it a case of guys having their cake and eating it, too? I don’t know, but there does seem to be some sort of disconnect between actions and reactions.

Of course, affairs aren’t the only reason women file for divorce more than men. And Penn certainly isn’t the only man lamenting that “it’s not like I don’t have to work”; men lose a lot in divorce, not just money and houses, but often access to their kids. That’s not OK, either.

Still, you’d think that sober reality alone would be enough to shape up all that “bad” behavior. Instead, what it’s probably doing is keeping a lot of young men from wanting to get married in the first place; with about half of marriages ending in divorce, saying “I do” is a big financial gamble for them.

And, sure, there are many, many “badly behaved” women out there. But at least if they cheat, most of them — 55 percent, according to Susan Shapiro Barash (A Passion for More: Wives Reveal the Affairs That Make or Break Their Marriages) — have the decency to leave.

Photo Christopher Hall/Fotolia

6 Responses to “Why women walk out more than men”

  1. Anonymous says:

    “And, sure, there are many, many “badly behaved” women out there. But at least if they cheat, most of them — 55 percent, according to Susan Shapiro Barash (A Passion for More: Wives Reveal the Affairs That Make or Break Their Marriages) — have the decency to leave.”
    So if a man leaves a woman after he cheats on her, is he being decent?

    And of course you would say leaving a marriage after she cheated rather than staying back to make amends would be the decent thing to do; women are usually (though not always) the financial benefactors of divorce. What if men in general earned less than women, cheated more, and more than half of them divorced their partners because they cheated, and benefited financially? Would that still be ‘decent’?

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      First of all, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek. There is nothing decent about cheating; in fact, it’s pretty destructive. The “decent” thing to do if one was unhappy in a marriage would be to name it and consciously uncouple. Then you’refree to have as much sex as you want with whomever whenever.
      That said, amends may/may not work. At that point, it’s actually the cuckold partner who gets to decide whether he/she wants to accept the amends and make amends with the cheating partner, not the other way around even if the cheater feels bad about cheating.
      The decision to stay or not really has nothing to do with finances although if a person — male or female — stayed at home to care for the kids by mutual agreement and gave up career opportunities to do so, you bet s/he should be compensated no matter who cheated or even if there was no cheating. That’s how the law works (in California anyway), and it’s the right thing to do, period.
      In my experience of marital infidelity (not scientific at all), women often cheat as a prelude to an exit of a marriage and men often do not. No one I knew thought of the “financial gains” or even losses of cheating; given that historically men have lost so much (back in the days when women automatically got custody of the kids and could move away, thus keeping dads from their kids), one has to wonder why they don’t take that into account.

  2. Rob says:

    Another delusional blog post. Women, such as yourself, usually benefit financially from divorce while men get screwed so it makes sense that women initiate most divorces. And if you think married men are more badly behaved than married women then you are even more delusional than I thought. The reason married men drink more is because they have demanding, fat, lazy, nagging wives. A different kind of bad behavior but intolerable nonetheless.

  3. amroque says:

    I have been divorced now for 5 years, we have two kids together and my life, is forever changed, and highly unlikely to improve. She initiated it, and she does not care, understand, or would admit that is is also responsible. I hate the fact that women have been second class citizens. Pay, rights, education, even sexual satisfaction, all the things that are kept from women is terrible, and all due to mens fear and lack of emotional maturity. All of this have one advantage for women, they will always, even if all issues are righted, be able to play the victim card. I live it. Most of the women in my life are degree holding, six figure earning, property owning, individuals, but as soon as the conversation turns to the sexes, it’s “men!”

    I have my ex wife, I would smile ear to ear at hearing any bad thing occur to her. Yes, the mother of my children! Why, because, I noticed that regardless of my contribution to our family, all the work, all the effort, the reality of the consequences, it comes down to: “I’m much happier now!” She does not have to go back and forth like the kids do. She does not have to give up a third of her income. She can always go back to the courts and ask for more money if her income should fall below a certain amount. I on the other hand, go three weeks without any money and keep borrowing, which you can follow through to either to being homeless or dead by suicide.

    We should not have married, but what get’s me is that it not about what is right for both parties and their children, it about control. Both parties should be able to lead fulling lives, and not destroy or control the others. Women may not cheat, that would be so easy to deal with, no they break you down, tell you repeatedly that “they” are not happy and that “you” are not doing XYZ. Everyday, a nip here, and jab there. Men, forget the reality of life, you are a mean to material gain and status, if you’re lucky. Love is a word they use to confuse you, cause it sure doesn’t mean a thing when the ball is in their court, don’t believe me?

    “Two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women.” What exactly are we doing? Men, what are women offering? Women, what are mean offering? It’s impossible to say what’s its like for everyone, but for those individuals other there that “lost” a family, life is forever ruined, sorry sorry, let’s all pretend everything is OK, resilient, move on, the sun will come out tomorow!

    Fairness, what the fuck happened to fairness. Men are dogs, Women are pigs.

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