Thoughts on divorce

Don’t do it. It’s worth the effort to make it work.

As the child of a divorce, married to a child of a divorce, watching the self-destruction of other children of divorces, I just don’t have patience for it. I know marriage is hard. Communication is hard. Setting and being clear about expectations is hard. Holding up your end of the bargain is hard. Staying when they aren’t holding up their end is hard.

Walking away from what you share is hard. Losing the relationships that-might-have-been with your children is hard. Figuring out how to talk with people who think you were wrong to do it is hard.

Months and months ago I heard some positive remarks about a book called The Three Weissmanns of Westport. It’s a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility (if you’ve read S&S in the past few years, you’ll have this figured out within the first chapter). I bought it months ago and just didn’t get to reading it. The timing is probably about right, because now I was ready to read it.

In S&S, it is the father’s son from his first marriage who is charged to take care of the father’s second wife and 3 daughters after his death. This modern retelling changes it up a bit, and it is actually a divorce of the parents after 48 years that leads to the reduced circumstances of the wife and daughters. The bits about the divorce really hit home.

For example: p3 (the first page of the book)

Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there were irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?

The author of the book goes on to explain that it really had nothing to do with this divorce. It was really that Joe was “in love” with a younger woman, but that isn’t the reason he gave his wife.

Joe can’t figure out why his daughters are so mad at him and why they don’t want him to be happy. They can’t figure out why he’d do something so cruel and selfish as to abandon their mother.

The oldest daughter is thinking about him at one point (p65):

Annie thought fondly of her father for a moment. She almost wished he had died, she realized with shame, for then she would have been able to remember him as he had been, distant but in a quiet, patient, and reassuring way, someone she admired and looked up to and relied on. Instead, he was a living, unreliable, despicable deserter.

A little further on was this (p90):

Joseph had not spent all his time playing with the girls. He had been a work, and when he was home, he had agonized about work. Joseph wanted to build a future for his family. That’s what he told her at night when they lay in bed, arms around each other, dreaming of all the good things that would someday come their way. Well, Betty thought, here we are in the future, and what good did all of Joseph’s planning and concern do them?

In some ways the fact that this book so closely resembles some of the reality we are seeing right now is comforting. I did like how the author Catherine Schine showed how Joe did regret his decision and wish he could undo it a few times. But he can’t seem to figure out a way to undo what he’s done. And he’s easily satisfied by some small remark, that he is just fine with his new girlfriend.

One of the most telling moments in S&S in early in the book when the older son’s wife uses his generosity to somehow bring him down to barely giving anything at all to his father’s second wife and daughters. This book has the same scene, with the new girlfriend and her greedy desire to have his nice apartment, convincing Joe that his ex-wife can’t afford the maintenance and effort involved so he should keep the apartment and maybe give her some of the value instead. It’s amazing how his intention to be generous to his wife of 48 years, turns into months of no money at all due to legal discussions and exiles her from New York to live off the generosity of distant family.

In the novel, the daughters have their own relationship issues, but it was definitely the divorce of the parents that I found most interesting this time around. If you are thinking about divorce, maybe reading this novel will help you see some of the reasons it is worth putting in the effort to fix yourself and your marriage instead. Or at least understand why you will be considered selfish and making a huge mistake by some people if you go ahead with it.

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