I watched Gone Girl a few weeks ago and it’s haunted me for days. I saw it with a friend whose divorce was made final two years ago, and was later made even more final when her husband literally moved in down the block with his 20-something shiny new girlfriend in tow. One more nail.
“Of all the places on earth to move with his girlfriend, why would he move next door? Why would he do that?” I asked. She seemed so completely numbed by the wreckage that the question itself surprised her. She didn’t have an answer, though I did. “He’s an asshole.”
After the movie let out, we ate tapas at a Mediterranean restaurant and she let me grad-school-style gut and intellectualize the film. I rattled on about its commentaries on marriage, on women, on men, and every tragedy we inflict on each other and ourselves.
. . . Wives are people who disappear. [Gone Girl restages] marriage as a violent crime–an abduction. An independent, expressive woman is taken from New York; her beautiful body is disfigured, or threatened with disfigurement; and her accomplishments are systematically taken away or negated, rendered worthless by comparison to that all-trumping colossus of meaning, childbirth. (Clearly, many women find happiness in much this way; but, equally clearly, many of them don’t and can’t.) These narratives speak . . . to the revelation lying in wait for women when they hit the ages of marriageability and childbirth: that their carefully created and manicured identities were never the point; the point was for it to all be sacrificed to children and to men. But perhaps “Gone Girl”‘s greatest insight is that the men aren’t mere brutish exploiters. Where a more simplistic narrative would posit that every loss for women is a gain for men, Flynn shows again and again that nobody is a winner–everyone is a dupe. Girls are set up for a horrific disappointment, but boys are set up to be horrifically disappointing. Boys are taught to protect, but how do you protect someone who has the same basic rights as you do, and from whom you are also demanding a huge sacrifice?
–Elif Batuman, Marriage Is An Abduction
Just over the weekend, I found myself sitting with two women who listened patiently as I raved about Gone Girl. One woman finally said, “I thought it was good, but it was dark. It was a twisted view of marriage.”
“Isn’t marriage twisted, anyway?” I found myself responding.
When conversation moved into our mutual friend’s divorce, I said, “I don’t see how there could be any hope for reconciliation. Both of them will have to make significant changes and I don’t know that both of them are willing to do that. There were a lot of ugly things happening in that marriage.”
And the other woman spoke up with a wry laugh, “There are a lot of ugly things happening in all marriages.”
I’ve been thinking about that for days because it’s so precisely true and so precisely sad, too.
Why does love so easily slip from one shape into another?
“What kills love? Only this: Neglect. Not to see you when you stand before me. Not to think of you in the little things. Not to make the road wide for you, the table spread for you. To choose you out of habit not desire, to pass the flower seller without a thought. To leave the dishes unwashed, the bed unmade, to ignore you in the mornings, make use of you at night. To crave another while pecking your cheek. To say your name without hearing it, to assume it is mine to call.”
–Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
Does every woman in a marriage find themselves, perhaps more and more often, at points where they’re shocked by their own hatred for their husbands? Or the apathy? Or the sigh of relief when you come home and have the house to yourself? I don’t have children but I worry that if I did I would find them just as exhausting as my husband.
It’s impolite to my marriage to lambast it on the faceless Internet so I won’t, but don’t think it’s not tempting. I’ve been diligently trying to keep a gratitude journal the past few weeks because my days feel like such a heavy slog lately and there are times when I sit down to it with the pen poised in my hand and what I’m most grateful for of anything is the fact that the thoughts in my head are just thoughts, and not spoken words, particularly conversation or argument. My thoughts, it seems, are so ugly.
I use the term ‘marriage’ here, though there’s no contract between us and no ring. A friend of ours happened to walk in on a private argument a few weeks ago and he erupted into grateful laughter and shook his head and said, “Yep. You are definitely married.” As if to say, See?
There are glimmering moments I feel married and am grateful to feel married, but the time between those moments grows broader and broader. To channel Louise Gluck, there was once a time when I saw our love everywhere and in everything, as though the entire world were some kind of lace-sheathed confirmation, but now I only see us in certain things at longer intervals, and often in the shadows.
Yesterday, a stranger approached me and said, “You must be the wife.”
I nodded and told him, “Something like that, yeah, I guess,” since everyone we know always introduces me as his wife anyway, because what else is a woman worth but the title of the man she belongs to?
Wives are people who disappear.
I half-considered stuttering out an explanation that clearly defined what we legally were, which is nothing, but I have a colleague with who always corrects people who refer to her as her boyfriend’s wife and there’s something disrespectful about that to me that I don’t want to imitate.
Even though shared life includes moments of hot rage, I never want to not be the person who chooses, deliberately, to stay. To stay every day.
“I choose you.” That’s often the only defense I have when we argue. He chooses me back, too. So far. But always there is the threat of disappointment. From who? I don’t know. Whoever goes first.
Husband, wife, the title is just a title. It’s how we live that matters. Or how we leave.
I knew a man once who left his wife while she was at work. He took everything that testified to his existence and when she came home it was as if he’d never existed. The sister-in-law of a friend of mine did the same thing, leaving only the monogrammed towels. I know both a man and a woman who have been planning to leave their spouses for months–literally, planning. Not for each other. Just for themselves. They each have a whole separate, secret house. A whole separate life waiting for them. I know so many women who want to leave their husbands, too, or at least dream about it. We are all under fifty. I suppose if you wait long enough, the feeling goes away, but my God that is a lot of waiting, if you aren’t willing. One friend recently confessed that she wasn’t afraid of her youngest child growing up and, no, she wouldn’t be getting a dog to fill the gap because she didn’t want anything else holding her back from the option of climbing into her car and driving away from her husband. If she ever wanted. Someday. Maybe. It’s appealing and horrifying all at once, and I understand and sympathize and empathize, because how can a person who deeply loves another also ever be tempted to leave? How can one person be two things at once?
There are lines in my face. I don’t know how or why this happens to love, but it does. It is irrevocable, it pours through our hands.
“Love, the furnace into which everything is dropped.” — Salter