I Married Dr. Jekyll and Woke Up Mrs. Hyde
Years ago, with more than a touch of naivete, I was impressed by newspaper accounts of the happy marriage of Barbra Streisand and Elliot Gould. To me, they sounded like the perfect couple, who genuinely cared for and treated each other with tenderness and consideration, had common interests, and were concerned and loving parents to their son Jason. It was a nice feeling to "know" that at least one of my favorite movie stars (and I have always been star struck) was happily married. For some unknown reason, perhaps a trip abroad, I missed any newspaper accounts which might have told a different story. But on reading Anne Edwards’ Streisand recently, I was shocked to learn that after ten years of seemingly happy married life, the couple had divorced.
What Happens to Love? I wondered. What could wrench apart a seemingly perfectly matched couple? I continued ruminating about it. Why do so many marriages today fail? According to Leon Edel, "No lives are led outside of history or society." What in the history of our country has led to such an unprecedented situation? Could we learn from the combined experiences of many divorcees why over one marriage in two in this country today is doomed to end in divorce?
So I decided to begin a study in which I would interview divorced women and look for some sense in the dreadful statistic. I would ask these questions: Did they love their husbands when they married? Why did they marry them? Did they believe at the time that it was "till death do us part?" Do they believe it now? Do these women fall in and out of love easily? How many men have they loved in their lifetimes? Were there other women in their husbands’ lives at the time of the divorce? Were there other men in their own lives then?
What gives rise in each instance to enough misery to necessitate a divorce? Is there any connection between an unhappy childhood and a failed marriage? Do people’s marriages tend to emulate those of their parents? What makes us fall in love in the first place? Do women tend to lose their identities in marriage? If so, why?
I placed requests for subjects to interview on Internet web sites Divorce on Line, and He said: She Said, inserted notices in local Key West Newspapers, and enlisted the aid of various acquaintances and colleagues who were generous enough to confide their histories to me or to refer their friends. I interviewed the women personally, and/or sent them questionnaires to fill out. Then I assembled the stories of the seventy-one divorcees that make up this book.
These women agreed to let their stories be told, most with minor changes in identifying details as names, geographical locations, and professions of ex-husbands.
The titles of the selections were taken directly from the words of the interviewees, and were chosen in an attempt to capture the essence of each divorce situation. The essays contain the subjects’ accounts of their marriages, divorces, and childhoods in their own words, as spoken or written. My questions (which I kept at a minimum and took largely from the original questionnaire) have mostly been omitted. The essays have been edited for length, clarity, and sequence within each interview. The life histories, for that is what they are, are placed in the order I felt would be most readable. Although I have replaced repetitious words whenever possible, every precaution has been taken to maintain the original meaning of the subject. My goal is to capture on paper the true ‘voice’ of each woman as I heard it, with all the directness, bravery, pathos, and pain communicated by the teller. I wanted the book to be the women’s stories: I did not want it to be Alma Bond’s stories about the women. Cases in which interviewees disclosed little about themselves or their lives have been discarded. 71 cases remained and are included in this study.
In most instances, the interviews follow the original questionnaire on divorce, which can be found in Appendix A. When a woman wished to tell her story in her own way, I thought it was important to forgo my questions and to take down the story as told. Oddly enough, the great majority of interviewees responded to the questions, whether they were asked them or not. The questionnaire covers four major areas, the story of the marriage, the divorce, the childhood of the subject, and a brief description of her parents’ marriage. Because it interests me, I included a question on whether Freud’s statement that "People love in others what they are, were, or would like to be" was applicable to the participant’s love for her ex-husband.
Each contributor seemed a unique individual, with her own goals, sorrows, and sources of bliss. But to my surprise, I saw the majority of interviews take on a similar shape, which revealed who the women were and how the divorces fit into the pattern of their lives. Some comments were repeated again and again, until I began to feel party to revelations about the human soul - certain clues to the needs of the female psyche in the late twentieth century - that go beyond the ritual of divorce. These findings will be discussed in the Conclusions chapter.
The study is an anecdotal one. Although I have attempted to include women of various class backgrounds, the sample is too skewed by the kind of people (whatever that is) who respond to online "chat" groups or to newspaper advertisements to be statistically valid for the population as a whole. The study is heavily weighted by subjects in their thirties and forties, and a large proportion of the respondents are writers. Whether these findings are an accident of sampling, a phenomenon to be expected of highly educated women in our times, or true in the population of divorcees at large requires further study. In addition, no control group is included.
Nonetheless, I will make some general statements in the Conclusions chapter about my findings on divorce at the Millennium. I believe these courageous women have told a strange and mysterious story, which like the finale of a fine symphony, does not end with the completion of this book. And as with a fine symphony, their stories suggest more than has been verbalized. I hope they will encourage other researchers to take up where we have left off.
But my deepest desire is that this book be a source of support to the numerous women now drowning in the throes of divorce. We stand at a crucial juncture in the history of women. All our talents, wisdom, dedication, and energy are needed to ensure a better future to present and potential divorcees. I hope these life histories will provide lessons to help them achieve that goal.
The natural question to ask an author of such a book is if I myself have been divorced. The answer is no, but I know what it is like to fall out of love and wonder What Happens To Love? It is my belief that all of us - divorced and non-divorced alike - will see ourselves and our own lives in these pages. The concerns of these interviewees are not so different from the issues and difficulties that preoccupy all people.
In my years of practice as a psychoanalyst, I became well aware of how positively patients react to information about the lives of people with whom they can identify. A scarcity of information on the forces and pressures affecting divorced women has meant that there are very few female role models for them to follow. With this collection, divorcees can see their own fears, despair, grief, hopes, and aspirations reflected in the lives of women passing through similar experiences. I hope the fact that all the subjects came away from their divorces with greater strength, insight, and self-esteem will serve as an inspiration to all survivors of loss and pain.
A number of men contacted me online to voice their objections to my confining the selection of interviewees to women, and to remark that I was being sexist. To them I would like to say that I had intended to include interviews with divorced people of both sexes in this study, but soon came to believe that the path to divorce may be very different for men and women. So I resolved to confine this book to divorcees, bearing in mind the possibility of following it up with a sequel whose subjects are divorced men.
Most important of all, I wish to thank the many women who gave so generously of their time and emotions to reopen the often painful topic of divorce. A large number of them seemed to be seeking a safe place in which they could pour out feelings about their unresolved conflicts, and, I suspect, used the interviews and/or questionnaires to make order out of a jumble of conflicting impulses. If so, I am glad it served them well, and appreciate their profuse thanks and comments on the therapeutic value of participating in the study. As Queen Isabella said in Henry V, "Happily, a woman’s voice may do some good."
"We Reinvented the Traditional Roles"
Alice Marie Jamison is a blond, charismatic woman of fifty-eight, with a regal carriage. Where she sits is always the head of the table. She is a publisher, writer, and poet, who is also my colleague and dear friend. Alice Marie asked her story to be included in this book, as she feels that troubled couples may have something to learn from her experience.
"He was my first love, and I wasn't a seasoned woman. I was pregnant when we married. It's been a long marriage so far as marriages go, thirty-seven years and two months, and we've been on the verge of breaking up many times. Many people would call it a good marriage because today marriages don't last. Ours is not like most marriages: There hasn't been a moment in all thirty-seven years when you could take for granted that all was secure and well. It seems as soon as there is a feeling that things are really good, reality sets in, there is a decision to be made or something has to be changed. I have come to believe that is the way life is, up and down. That is the way life is and so is marriage. But I have the feeling that I can fundamentally come back to where I am, myself, and in this marriage I am never far from being able to come back to home base. It is always there.
"The worst break we ever had - I was thirty-three years old and married about eight or nine years - I was disillusioned. I felt there has got to be more than this. I was working very hard doing all the housework. But let me back up a bit to when I returned to school and began to work after I was married. Both times I rattled my cage significantly. When my daughter was less than two years old, I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job. I fully intended to talk to my husband about it, but before telling him I wanted to see if I would get the job and put all the systems in place so I could go to work. I got on bus, got job, learned to drive a stick shift so I could take daughter to baby sitter, took her to sitter, timed it so I could put breakfast on the table, get husband to work, daughter to sitter, go to job as placement director in small business college, come back on bus, engage stick shift, pick up child, make it look like I had never been gone, cook dinner, and meet husband at door and say 'How was your day at the office?'
"I hid my job from him for a week, invited his parents for dinner, had a few glasses of wine, and then blurted out, 'I have a job!' He stood up to his full six feet four inches and stalked out of the room. I said to the coffee table, 'If he doesn't come back I'll be okay, I'll be okay.' He did come back, but was never happy with the fact that I was working, although he was glad that much needed money was coming in. The work just folded into our lives and we went on with our daily activities.
"I cared about that job, but it didn't really engage all my talents. So I applied for a fellowship and got it. This time when his parents were there I said, 'From now on I am going to pay attention to my career.' He stamped out again. I thought a la the sixties, 'Been there, done that,' and went on and wrote my papers. I was not not going to be me. I always wanted to have a beautiful home, entertain, be a good cook, white sheets unwrinkled, flowers in the house, no mayonnaise jars on the table, term papers on time, Masters degree, job. I was going to do it all, and to a certain extent I did.
"I got tired of not being understood. I was open to the attention of other men, but my sense of honor wouldn't let me go too far there. But I was not entirely loyal and chaste in my marriage. I was looking for something, someone who would value the whole person I thought I was becoming.
"My husband's mother was the consummate housewife. She had dinner on the table at 5:30 every day for at least twenty-five years. She subordinated everything in her life to the contract she had with her working husband. She did the home, he brought the money. My mother was an artist. She hired cleaning women, she painted. My father was very proud of her. I tried to combine those two women in my life, which meant that I had to be both of them. I got tired of it. My husband seemed only to recognize the woman who got dinner on the table. He was never really interested in my studies or the job, didn't want to hear about my students. I think he was jealous.
"I met a man who was also a teacher who thought I was brilliant and gifted. He also was an operator. He was unhappy in his marriage. Ironically, he had just what my husband thought he wanted: He was bored with a wife who could only put the dinner on the table. He thought I was wonderful.
"My husband and I separated. We sat down and talked, carefully thinking the whole thing through as if we didn't know each other. We were careful of the impact the separation would have on our daughter. He chose to be the one to move out to minimize the impact on her. He was very decent about it. There was no argument. Incidentally, I was the one who spoke to his parents about the breakup. Even though I thought it was permanent, I told them we were like two children who aren't getting along who need to separate to cool off. At the time I thought I was making it up, but that's what we did. What happened was that we missed each other.
"As we were apart, both of us realized that we really didn't respect anyone else the way we did each other. If you can break up decently, it says something about what you have together. We were breaking up graciously, and by living separately and having time to think - the so-called space- we both stopped and thought about what it takes to do life. We realized that each of us was letting go of a really good person, and there aren't many of them around. I began to compare and realized that of all the men I knew my husband was one of the finest. He was having similar thoughts, although he was dating a little bit. We said, 'This is something we have to try again.' So we did a very typical thing - we bought a new house. We also took a big vacation. I think that is very significant. We had worked so hard and not taken time off, not thought about room to grow and a nice back yard. We weren't spending enough time on family and home.
"We decided to start over. We were going to be partners this time, nothing taken for granted. Nobody took out the trash, nobody cooked breakfast. Everything was negotiable. We were going to recreate this thing from the ground up, no roles. It quite quickly became apparent that there were certain roles we would fall into. My job was closer to home. I was going to do the chauffeuring of the kid to all activities, pick up the laundry, and that sort of thing. We began to reinvent the traditional roles, and grew to realize that lots of them make sense.
"But there was constant friction, and there still is. My life spills over into his. I'm the one who collects the stuff, I am the creative one, my projects are spread all over the place. By comparison I think his life is simpler, but in a way it spills over into mine the way mine spills into his. Football season has a kind of life of its own. When the game is on God forbid you want to do anything else. I can make a long list of things where we just don't fit, and there is friction. But day to day, more and more, each of us is making a choice, that we would rather be here with each other than on our own. Since that time I've never really been tempted by anyone else, ever. It was a testing ground. And the marriage tested out. He drives me right up a wall, but it's our wall, and I want to stay within those walls.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think how wonderful it must be to only be responsible for yourself. And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think how wonderful it is to have someone who is always there for you."
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