Damned If You Do

I read The Globe and Mail fairly regularly. One of the columnists, Sarah Hampson, has a semi-regular feature on relationships with a tendency to view marriage as a glass half empty. Because she is divorced, she focuses about half or more of her columns on divorce – the process and the aftermath. She is playing to her strength and the fact that divorce is one of the most common of denominators in many people’s lives anymore. Cynicism shouldn’t be a given, but she has a jaundiced eye. There are many divorced people who do not cast such a world-weary glance at the institution of marriage or love in general, but she isn’t one of them – though she will give credit where it is due.

Her most recent piece was on the Obamas’ Broadway date night and their tendency to promote their marriage as a successful one – which by all accounts it is. Her issue though is that they don’t air the dirty laundry as much as they try too hard to put a good face on their relationship, or at least that is what I read between the lines. She feels that the Obamas are being disingenuous.

Interestingly, I ran across a blog piece the other night that said much the same thing only the targets were ordinary bloggers who write about themselves. The blogger questioned whether the women whose blogs she reads are really telling the truth about their relationships, mothering experiences or their sublime contentment with being single. The writer thought that perhaps they were fudging and putting on airs to maintain a façade in a game of one upmanship because … I don’t know … because if you are chronicling your life in the blogosphere (or living it in the public eye as the President and First Lady do) and you are not doing it reality tv show style – with dysfunction being the main ingredient – then you are not real? You are faking it? Happiness and contentment are not common? Misery and longing is the major theme of most lives? Real relationships have sticky thorn-like issues? The average single person would rather not be*?

I have touched on this subject a time or two. Recently even. And I don’t think I am deliberately cultivating a façade because I keep private details about my marriage and my children private. There is no fourth wall in blogging, but each blogger does establish boundaries with their audience. I can be as revealing (some would say TMI) as John and Kate, but the truth is, I don’t want to, and Rob and I are so not John and Kate and so not interested in being so. We do not have a dramatic life. We are two remarkably well-suited mates who live a pretty ordinary life that just happened to have an unusual beginning. If anything, I feel a bit guilty FOR BEING happy, content and right where I belong. It’s not as if this has always been the case and I marvel often how I ended up just exactly where I should be. 

I am not Dooce and my motivation for blogging is, as it has mostly always been, about writing. 

What I think Ms. Hampson and the blogger are about is projection. A Facebook acquaintance recently  posted an update that read,

“It’s all about them. It’s all about them.”

And what he meant was that regardless of how your life manifests in the public sphere, others will interpret it through their own experiences and the spot in life where they are currently residing and make whatever is going on about whatever is happening in someone else’s life about what is not going on in their own.

Ms. Hampson, for example, is divorced and writes about the experiences of the divorced and all the other downer topics that consume the single. Since I was single a long, long time,  I know those gray-colored lenses through which she peers and how they tint the landscape with a pessimistic and cynical hue. Naturally, she would see the Obamas’ as posing, flaunting and perhaps even trying to hard. It looks like that when you haven’t had a relationship that really fit.

My dear friend Cissy, whom I have known for twenty years and is the big sister I had to go out and find, has a marriage that to anyone not privy looks effortless and loving. It is certainly the latter. Cissy and her husband were my role models. Had I never met them, I wouldn’t have married at all because I didn’t learn much about marriage from my own parents beyond endurance. But Cissy’s marriage is not effortless. There has been ebb and flow and back again during their 25+ years. I have not been privy to the details but I have been assured time and again that issues come up and are dealt with and it stays between them. Where it belongs.

Here’s what I learned about marriage – quickly – that the person you talk to when things are at ebb tide is your spouse. People who “poll the audience”, so to speak, do themselves no favors and their relationships much harm.

I never discussed Will and I with anyone really. Things that came up stayed between us. And we worked at making time for each other and communicating regularly throughout our day and allowing each other space and individuality. I brought these lessons with me when I began dating Rob, and he in turn brought with him the very similar things he’d learned from his marriage to Shelley. And key to this? Our relationship is about us. 

I am a writer. A blogger. I open small windows into my daily life just like everyone else in my genre. Just excerpts. Little splices really. It might seem like an Obama photo op, but I don’t think the world is a worse place because happy, successful couples share their lives. It is certainly healthier than the Spencer and Heidi’s of the world. Or the John and Kate’s. Give me a First Couple who date after 16 years of marriage and obviously delight in one another any day.


*My Auntie is 78 years old and never married. She will be the first to admit that she has known lonliness, knows it still from time to time, but she is not sorry she never married. She has more friends than my mother – and that is a feat – and she is never home between her social life, her volunteering and the army of devoted nieces and nephews who include her in every family function imaginable. And Auntie is not an isolated example. I know people in my own peer group and even people in the blogosphere who are not lamenting the single life. All life choices have an up as well as a downside and nothing can ever be said to be permanent.

6 thoughts on “Damned If You Do

  1. This topic fascinates me. Given the choice, I bet the Obamas would rather have a date night without an entourage. Yet they would rather enjoy a night on the town than not go because there might be a commotion. This is a good lesson for me personally. Me, in my little life, can’t get out of my own way because of what people might think.

  2. I think they are jealous, too. To many people, my marriage looked ideal. We never fought. We never fought because his response to anything like that was to leave. I learned to keep my mouth shut. Nobody knows what goes on in a marriage, not even one that is on television every week like Jon and Kate.

  3. “All life choices have an up as well as a downside and nothing can ever be said to be permanent.

    i think that sums it up nicely… sometimes chosen, sometimes not, it’s often what you make it…

    blogging honestly? i think it again gets back to why a blogger blogs. some want external validation, some are working on writing skills and discipline, some working out their demons… each of those brings different degrees of openness and honesty.

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