Foreverland

From The Wall Street Journal:

Love is blind, or so the rumor goes. There’s nothing quite like marriage for restoring its sight. That seems to be the message of Heather Havrilesky’s “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage.” Ms. Havrilesky, the sage behind “Ask Polly,” an entertaining long-form advice column, offers up her own union—warts and all, matrimony and acrimony, 15 years and counting—for close observation.

Never mind the book’s subtitle. Tedium, divine and otherwise, is but a small piece of the story. Ms. Havrilesky aims to explore marriage in full: “the feeling of safety, the creeping darkness, . . . the tiny repeating irritations, the rushes of love, the satisfactions of companionship, [and] the unexpected rage of recognizing that your partner will probably never change.”

Ms. Havrilesky met her own future partner, Bill, over email. The connection was swift. “There was clever banter, a mutual puppet show, a shared fantasy that this might mean something. Salvation loomed, quickening the pulse.” “Foreverland” chronicles the couple’s flirty exchanges, first date, first trip abroad together and, of course, their wedding. The bride is three months’ pregnant, so parenthood follows quickly. Eventually there’s an impulsive and ill-conceived move to the suburbs, an extramarital temptation, and a health crisis.

Ms. Havrilesky and her husband are, by turns, at each other’s throats—notably on a family trip to the Great Barrier Reef that features terrible food, squawking birds and recalcitrant offspring—and in each other’s arms. “Somehow, you’ll manage it together,” she writes of a giddy period right after the birth of their first child.

For the record, she’s high-strung and judgmental, needy and opinionated, self-loathing, bossy, hyper-articulate and controlling. “I’m PMSing right now. Don’t propose while I’m still PMSing,” she directs Bill when she thinks he’s about to pop the question. “And don’t buy me some bubble-gum-machine ring. I want a real engagement ring. Don’t propose until you have a real ring.”

He, by contrast, is mind-bogglingly patient and a bit recessive, kind (“he was the first person I’d ever known who told me to be good to myself,” Ms. Havrilesky writes), defensive, tolerant (he listens with admirable calm when she tells him she’s having vivid fantasies about another man), and disinclined to anatomize his feelings. Let the games begin.

Many chapters in “Foreverland” feature an unmet expectation, a misunderstanding, a meltdown and an event that is likened to a bomb exploding. Ms. Havrilesky writes of being “wired like a dirty bomb” during an ego-deflating trip to visit her husband’s family. “My nervous system is the trampoline that takes every bit of emotion hurled its way and launches it in some other direction, like a bomb,” she notes of a fight with her husband about proper diaper-bag maintenance—though of course it’s about so much more.

Perhaps because of her day job as a dispenser of wise counsel, Ms. Havrilesky is well-versed in the minutiae of bad behavior, poor judgment and hurt feelings and very good at summoning words of encouragement and exhortation—sardonic, sympathetic, profane, stern, as needed. Quarrels and chapters in “Foreverland” are often topped off with “this is what we’ve learned, class” summations: “Love, like Monopoly, seems to boil down to raw luck, once you subtract the brutality out of the picture.” Or: “It’s not that easy to tame your desires. Sometimes you just want more.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

The more PG sees/reads of the marriages of other people, the more grateful he is that he married Mrs. PG.

A lifetime ago, when PG was doing a lot of divorces as an attorney, he got peeks at a variety of other marriages that hadn’t turned out well. Often, it felt like he was dealing with visitors from other planet with a different culture, different way of thinking and a much different idea about how to get along with others.

To be sure, some of PG’s clients were perfectly normal individuals who had made a disastrous decision about who to marry. In some cases, the client realized in retrospect that he/she had made a poor choice. In other cases, the spouse had, for one reason or another changed quite radically from the person PG’s client married. Drugs and/or alcohol were often, but not always involved.

While PG had a policy not to represent a crazy person and avoided a huge number of miserable cases by discerning an individual’s craziness and declining to represent them, on more than one occasion he was fooled and ended up on the crazy and irrational side of a dispute.

In those cases, he usually soldiered on and attempted to persuade his client to come to a reasonable settlement regarding children, property, etc. Crazy people are not always attracted by reasonable settlements, however, so in those cases, PG told them that they would need to let the judge decide the disputes they couldn’t settle. After all, that’s what judges are for.

PG’s understanding of the scope of human nature and behavior was greatly expanded by these many experiences. Whenever he came home from a nasty divorce trial, he always gave thanks for Mrs. PG and grateful that he had chosen well.

9 thoughts on “Foreverland”

  1. For the record, she’s high-strung and judgmental, needy and opinionated, self-loathing, bossy, hyper-articulate and controlling. “I’m PMSing right now. Don’t propose while I’m still PMSing,” she directs Bill when she thinks he’s about to pop the question. “And don’t buy me some bubble-gum-machine ring. I want a real engagement ring. Don’t propose until you have a real ring.”

    RUN – RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!

  2. My worst experiences with others’ interactions with “family law” occurred long before law school (while I was till married!)… because I was the commanding officer of a number of involved individuals, and on the receiving end of a Congressional Inquiry two weeks after I assumed one command because an individual in that squadron had not timely paid his child support obligations.

    In any dispute involving family law, there’s only one winner: The lawyers’ respective bank accounts.

    • I’m not sure about your last paragraph, C.

      Some of my clients made far more money from their divorces than I did. (More than they might have if their spouse had not been such a miserable excuse for a human being.)

      Of course, my clients had spent a lot more time being married than I spent representing them.

      • Isn’t it pretty much a zero sum game? The lawyers win, one of the parties may win and the other walks away cursing the courts and the law?

        • In the US, at least, most divorces end up with a relatively equal split of property between the parties.

          Generally speaking, judges will now assume the wife is able to work absent evidence to the contrary.

          Joint custody is also the default, although what joint custody can mean in a given case may vary quite a bit. Generally speaking, splitting time equally between the two parents is not regarded as ideal by many psychologists and attorneys based on the idea that the children need a home base where they spend the majority of their time, are able to more easily make friends than if they’re spending half the time somewhere else, etc.

          In cases where the parents live near each other and both parents are able to send the children to school without a long ride, a judge may approve something closer to equal time with Mom and Dad, but, absent some persuasive evidence that the children will benefit from equal time and one parent won’t be constantly leaving the kids with a babysitter while the other will provide more hands-on care. Many judges view that having a a stable group of friends in the child’s life is important.

      • Winning isn’t just about the parties’ property split; any family law matter involving lawyers has immense nonmonetary costs that may not show up for years. Or may show up immediately as kids’ grades nosedive, or whatever. The lawyers’ bank accounts, though…

        (I should also mention, as a clarification on my first paragraph, that commanders’ power to issue orders regarding payment of child support and/or alimony had been taken away two decades previously. Which apparently had escaped the notice of the staffers at the Hon. Congresscritter’s office, despite it appearing on the second page of the manual provided to all Congresscritters by the DoD on “Topics and Methods Allowable for CI Submissions.”)

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