Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why I’m Still Married. Women Write Their Hearts Out on Love, Loss, Sex and Who Does the Dishes. Edited by Karen Propp and Jean Trounstine.

Although the title of this collection of essays: “Why I’m Still Married,” is not posed as a question, it would be a good one to ask. And the writers in this evocative anthology answer it with a warts-and-all account of their “successful” relationships. When we are young, and even not so young, we let ourselves imagine that marriage will be angst- free, a union of undying love with our much desired mate. Ah! But then reality rears its ugly head! The ladies in this anthology, expertly edited by Jean Trounstine and Karen Propp, have a wide range of stories to tell, and they ain’t always pretty. Often many of our partner’s flaws reveal themselves after the wedding ceremony, and tolerance, compromise, compassion, and accommodation have to come into play. According to statistics many couples today are quick on the trigger for divorce as soon as they see a few red flags. The testimony of the women in this book is that in spite of the problems a relationship can present; it is worth it to try to make a go of it.

The celebrated poet Marge Piercy has had multiple relationships, open relationships, affairs, the whole spectrum of liaisons. Finally, in her later years, she married a man 13 years her junior, the writer Ira Wood. Piercy writes about what she feels is the secret of a good marriage, and how it often fits us better as we age:

“I need to know that my partner has my back, is on my side, can be trusted out of my sight; Ira needs that also. He had to learn to live with cats in order to live with me. I had to learn to follow and understand football in order to live with him….

“You learn where your real boundaries lie as you make your way through a marriage, where you can give away, and where you cannot. When you are young, it’s no particular advantage to be married unless you are having a baby and want help and support. When you’re older, it is much more valuable to be in a marriage. Who has time or patience to date over forty unless you absolutely have to. We need each other more as we age, not less. Growing old together is, in part not forgetting to grow.”

Kathleen Aguero, a poet and educator, writes about her relationship with a man who had a very hard time controlling his explosive anger. But she stuck by him, and has not lived to regret it. Aguero writes:

“Describing the tender disciplines and pleasures of marriage is difficult for me. The pleasures of our relationship are mundane—shopping together for kitchen linoleum at the Home Depot, reading together in bed… He buys me flowers for no particular occasion. I buy him espresso beans covered with dark chocolate….All that anger and shouting, all those tears had bound us in good ways as well as bad. We’d seen the worst of each other and still on balance wanted what we saw. We love each other. But that’s not it, not enough. In the end I can’t explain why I didn’t divorce any more than I can explain why I married. I wanted to/I didn’t want to. At the core of my deepest commitments is something mute, a koan.”

This book is written by women, but this man got a lot out of it. I saw myself in many of the men portrayed here. When I read some passages to my wife of 12 years, she laughed in recognition. The women in this book are not pointing fingers. They admit to flaws and multiple mistakes themselves. What this book provides is a “true” account of what a relationship is: its ups and downs, its ying and yang,

For these women the right move was to stay in their marriages. But the point is clearly rendered that there are no definite answers in matters of the heart. In the end it is your decision to stay…or go away.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ April 2006.

The book is $25 from Hudson Street Press. ( Penguin Group)

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