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."