I had the great pleasure of interviewing longtime broadcast journalist Dana King recently. Her honesty and warmth was refreshing; we don’t always expect that from public figures. I am inspired by her transition at midlife from news anchor to artist, her decision to go gray (she looks great!) and by her dedication to her children, both of whom have been living with health challenges.
I am also touched by her dedication to her husband, former NFL pro Linden King. That would seem like a no-brainer, but even though they are still married, they have not lived together for years. In fact, he is in L.A. in a new relationship.
They don’t have some weird only-in-Marin open marriage; they remain married because he is 55 and after 13 years playing football is unable to get health insurance. Linden — who was a stay-at-home dad for his son from a previous relationship and their daughter — is on her plan.
I know several couples who have not lived together in 10, 15, 20 years yet are still married. This is what journalist and author Pamela Paul calls “the undivorced,” although she also includes couples who continue to live together but still have separate lives.
As Paul writes:
The Census Bureau does not track length of separation, but at any given moment, approximately 2.3 percent of American adults describe themselves as separated, and an additional 1.4 percent say they are married but their spouse is absent (though he may be in the military or temporarily relocated for a job, for example).
Couples are staying married because, like King, there are health benefits involved. Others want to avoid the expense of divorcing and setting up separate households; it isn’t a good time to sell a home now, anyway. And some just want to avoid the rancor that generally surrounds divorce, although if they can manage to be civil to each other under one roof you’d have to assume they could divorce civilly, too. And, if they stay together, there’s no stigma of “failure” — it never stops surprising me how society can view an intact marriage in which there is contempt and criticism and all sorts of bad behavior as a “success” because they are keeping their commitment, and a couple that splits as a “failure.”
For a period, I was undivorced. My first husband and I married young, way too young. After 3 1/2 years it was clear we made a mistake. So, I left, but we didn’t divorce for many years after. Psychologically, I felt “safe” while dating — it was a way to avoid getting fully intimate with someone because I was “still technically married.” Why? I was back in school, finishing my degree, working — I really didn’t have the energy or desire to find another mate.
“You are not leading a full life if you remain with someone with the title of marriage when there’s nothing below the surface,” says Rich Gordon, a mediator at A Fair Way Mediation Center in San Diego.
Yet, as they say, it’s complicated. No matter what we chose, there are always pros and cons.
- Is being undivorced the new divorce?
- Do you think staying together for benefits/financial reasons/the kids is better than divorcing? And, better for whom?
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