Tuesday, 5 February 2013

You Never Know What's Going On In Other People's...

Single people rarely live with your Married friends, so you very rarely get a ringside seat to what their Married life is really like. In many ways, this is a good thing. There is such a thing as private, family life, and few Married couples want their friends to hear their most personal remarks, e.g. "Your toenails are like daggers!" and "That's not how my mother makes spaghetti" and "Where the **** is my handbag, AAAAAAAAAAH!"

But this means that you see your Married friends most at their absolute personal best, e.g. when they are in their first flush of LOVE (sparkle) and engaged (sparkle, sparkle) and on their wedding day (sparkle, sparkle, sparkle).  After that, you might not see them that much anymore, especially if they have kids. All this may leave you with an idealistic view of what their married life is like.

Adding to the sparkle-sparkle-disappear factor is the loyalty of many Married couples to each other and the shared project (if I may call it that) called their marriage. Where I come from, you never, ever, ever complain about your husband to anyone but--in very trying circumstances--your mother, priest or doctor and--in the most extreme circumstances--the police, your lawyer and the judge. Meanwhile (where I come from) a wife expects her husband to be even more circumspect: not even the police and judge for him, poor man. All this, of course, is the (slightly problematic) IDEAL, from which one (even where I come from) sometimes falls short.

Then there are Married women who out-and-out lie. I once had a friend who was so loyal to her Project Called Marriage that she pretended to me that her life was absolutely perfect. Even sleepless nights with colicky babies were a joy---while they were going on. It was years before she admitted that they had driven her to breaking point. And I was convinced that there never was a happier marriage. I used to think, as I nursed the long hurt of my failed marriage, that at least she was happy, and at least there was one perfect marriage in the world.

"Why don't you have more children?" I asked one day as we met up for a long-awaited lunch. "Your kids are so beautiful."

She laughed. She told me that everything was so perfect right then, she didn't want anything to change.

Within a year she left her husband, and I finally heard the real story.

Well, what can I say? Marriage may be private but it is also public, and one of the building blocks of society. It's not just about a couple and their family; it's about the couple, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their parishes, their societies. Everyone. I put down the phone, rigid with horror and disillusionment. It wasn't just the unhappiness of a family I loved, and it wasn't just that I had been out-and-out lied to by a friend I trusted, it's that a sparkling symbol of my own hopes had just imploded.  

It's a truism that nobody knows how a marriage works, sometimes not even the two people in it. And I think it is salutary to reflect on the traditional sugar-covered almonds served at weddings. The sugar represents the sweetness of marriage, and the almond--which retains its bitter skin--reminds us of its sorrows. A wedding, with its new clothes, delicious food, joy and jollity, does not sum up marriage. It expresses hope for marriage. Very few married women, I think, say to a married couple, "I know you'll be very happy." What we almost always say, with great sincerity and sometimes with tears, is "I hope you'll be very happy."


Anna said...

Great article.

Seraphic said...

Thanks, Anna!

B.A. read it and said gloomily, "Everyone will think our marriage is in trouble now."

A mending heart said...

Thank you for this. So often I am asked by people, even those close to me, why I never spoke up about the tragic state my now-annulled-marriage was in. The complaining thing was one reason, another reason was an inability to give up on the shiny teenage dream that was crumbling to pieces around me ("Maybe if I do/say/act/dress in this or that way, it will get better."). The biggest reason of all being that my then-spouse was also very good at making me feel and believe that things weren't working because of me... "Because you do/say/act/dress/pray/drive/etc/etc/etc this or that way things are this bad."

Keeping up the shiny facade was bad for two reasons; it kept me in a VERY bad situation for a long time, long enough that it drove me to do regrettable things and eventually have a bit of a nervous breakdown. Lastly, and as of now the more tragic of the two, it somehow gives my own family and once-close friends the impression that they can question what I say happened, and even the validity of my annulment...

No one really truly knows what goes on behind closed doors. I would humbly ask to please remember that, especially when regarding friends whose marriages may not have turned out as nicely as everyone had hoped.

Seraphic said...

So would I. I would also remind people that they are not in fact the canon lawyers acquainted with the annulment case they dare have an opinion about and, furthermore, Roma locuta, causa finita.

Bad marriages hurt--a lot. The annulment procedure hurts--a lot. And healing hurts, too, sometimes a lot.

Domestic Diva said...

Thank you for this, Seraphic, more than I can say. I don't mean to ask you to be gloomy or reveal your personal life, but it IS helpful for us singles who can romanticize marriage to hear that even the best marriages can have their moments.

I have a friend whom I sometimes suspect is like your friend who put on the happy-happy facade, even lying about the state of her marriage to the world. Sometimes there's a little chink in the facade and I see things happen that make me want to wring her husband's neck, and she says she just needs to adjust her attitude and be a better/more submissive wife...and I feel like I could scream. My efforts to show her another point of view, without pointing any fingers at her husband, have been of no avail. Then I wonder if I'M the crazy one.

If you have any thoughts about how to be a good friend in such a situation, they'd be welcome!

Anne said...

One thing I love about my best friend (among many things), is that she will occasionally share some of her married struggles with me, her single pal. Nothing serious or too intimate, but it serves as as a beautiful example of what true work, compromise and sacrifice within a marriage can look like, beyond all the wedding joy you mention. It is just one of the many ways I have been blessed with her friendship.

Seraphic said...

Domestic Diva, there's not really much you can say beyond, "If you ever want to talk about it, or take a breather at my place for awhile, you're welcome." That's really it, beyond answering unpleasant revelations with "That sounds unpleasant" and "How do you feel?"

There are women who will put up with all kinds of unpleasantness because they want to or need to or the alternative is just too awful for them to contemplate. (There are even a few women who enjoy the unpleasantness, for whatever reason.) So all a friend can do is send out supportive signals and--very quietly and subtly--offer reality checks when quietly and subtly asked.

MaryJane said...

You can tell B.A. that now we think you are delightfully normal! :)

It seems like this topic is on many people's minds lately, single and married. I thought this was a good post (she made many of the same points)- http://moxiewife.com/2013/01/when-you-feel-all-alone/.html.

My married friends are wonderful about not ragging on their husbands, but occasionally they do share frustrations about their lives, and I find it incredibly encouraging. (And it sometimes even helps me to focus on the positives of being single, in a good way.)

J.M.C. said...


I’m a young-ish American woman who reads your blog fairly regularly, mainly because I enjoy your wit and common-sense! I’m also studying for a canon law degree, which naturally translates into working for a marriage tribunal in the future.

You’ve mentioned several times that your experiences in obtaining a declaration of nullity were very painful. I imagine that, just by its nature, such a process can’t be easy to go through. But would you be able—without sharing personal details that you would rather keep private—to explain a little bit more about why it was so painful? Or at least offer some thoughts on how, pastorally, the process might be made a little bit easier for the parties involved (especially for the women)? I’m only asking because, in the future, I want to be able to be as sensitive as possible to the people whom I’m called to serve.

Seraphic said...

Dear JMC,

That is a beautiful thought, and I will think hard about what I can say about that. Right now I will offer that the process can be very lonely, especially if the Catholic is going to and from the tribunal offices by herself. It is also difficult to give one's testimony to elderly nuns. Although I understand why elderly nuns are employed by marriage tribunals, e.g. they will work for practically nothing, the nuns I have met in the trade have not given out "getting it" vibes.

It would have been wonderful if I had someone who had themselves gone through such a procedure to talk to right after the interviews about what had had happened and how I was feeling.

Also it would have been very helpful if someone had made a follow-up appointment with me to explain what the grounds for nullity meant. And it would also have been helpful if they had warned me that they were filing my fees as a charitable donation. For some reason, getting the tax notice in the post knocked me for a loop.

At the time (1990s), I could not find any pastoral books about annulments, either. The only advice I remember was my (Jewish) doctor telling me to tell them that I wanted kids eventually and my (atheist) friend making jokes about providing funding to fix church rooves.