I am a merry little ray of sunshine this morning, am I not? But I have been replying to emails, and it strikes me that it cannot be stressed enough how much a bad marriage can mess you up.
Like Malta, I have a schizoid attitude towards divorce. As a Catholic, I officially decry "easy" divorce, and I worry about its effect on children. But as someone who got an "easy" divorce and then an annulment and then ten years later found the most awesome man, I love divorce.
On the other hand, I would freak if the awesome man divorced me.
It's all so confusing. Let's leave it at that I deplore divorce, but I'm so grateful I got one, and therefore I have a schizoid relationship with it.
What I hate is being defined by a failed marriage. And whether you stay in the failed marriage or fill out endless pieces of paper (especially cheques) to get out of it, the failed marriage gets inscribed on your brain forever. There's the emotional damage, which can be very long-lasting. There's the spiritual damage, which can be jaw-dropping. There's the historical damage, which makes you want to wipe perhaps a whole decade or decades of your tainted memory. You can't, though.
If you get out, there's also the stupid government forms, like your tax bill, in which you have to tick "Divorced" again and again. If you get remarried, you find yourself referring to "my first husband." If you write a book about being Single, you discover your advertising blurb begins, "Divorced and..." Yes, that will really appeal to the orthodox Catholic reader.
There is also the humiliation of being contacted by a monsignor's frightened secretary who wants to establish that your second marriage was approved by the Church before the monsignor will deign to speak to you.
When I announced in my blog that I was engaged, a seething stranger wrote in furious that my annulment allowed this happiness. It was clear he felt that my punishment for a failed marriage should continue for life. Well, no worries there, mate. Unless old age kindly robs me of my reason, I will periodically be haunted by some nasty memories.
"Argh," I will suddenly say, apropos of nothing, perhaps on a bus.
"What?" asks B.A. kindly.
"Nothing," I reply.
The one good thing about a failed marriage and its aftermath, if you ask me, is that you get an intensely personal view of who you really are, and how tough you are, and how rotten you can be.
A good marriage fosters and nourishes the nicer parts of your personality. A bad marriage rips up the flowers and encourages the weeds. When you are, say, 25 and miserable, it is hard for you to see your weeds. But when you are, say, 35 and happy, you can see the weeds and keep them in check without beating yourself up too much about them being there in the first place. And if you are happily married you do indeed keep them in check because you are afraid that if you don't, divorce might happen. And that would be bad.
Now that I have frightened you rigid about the entire institution of marriage, I will muse on what I think are the best qualities for a husband to have. The first is kindliness. I'm married to a kind and cheerful bloke, and it's heaven. We are not exactly rich, but I don't really notice. If we lived under a piece of plastic under a bridge, B.A. would contrive still to be kind and cheerful, and you have no idea what a comfort that is. I would bring him mashed up roots in a rusty soup tin, and he would quip, "Don't feed the troll!" That's the kind of man he is.
The second is respectability. The wife's lot is sometimes a harried one. So much housework--ugh. I am so bad at housework, but it generally falls to me because I work in the house and I make very little money and I'm female and men are almost incapable of it and the only thing on earth that makes B.A. cranky is dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, etc., etc. However, any minor annoyance like having eventually to do the laundry is well-compensated by the fact that I am proud of my husband.
No, really. People are constantly telling me how much they like my husband, and how famous he was at university for this, and how good he is at that. When the BBC came to interview him about David Hume... Okay, I'll stop now before you develop diabetes.
Let's leave it at this: he's sincerely kind to you, and you are intensely proud of him. That's my recipe for a happy marriage.