As usual, the end of the decade is being marked by countless articles, TV and radio specials–all of them scrambling to accurately distill the ’00s into a tidy list of significant people and events.
Oh sure, there was that 9/11 thing and a few wars started here and there–but apparently one of the most shocking things to happen in the past 10 years was that a rich, famous athlete had extra-marital affairs.
If you are among those who claimed to be floored by this news–who has perhaps smashed the face of your Tag Heuer watch in disgust–here is what I say to you: Give. Me. A. Break. You are so not shocked and you know it. You know it. Whatever one may think or feel about Tiger’s indiscretions on a moral level, I find it impossible to believe that anyone is genuinely shocked. Disappointed? Sure. But not shocked.
Since when has anyone with a squeaky-clean public persona lived up to it in his personal life? If you are a rich and famous married man, you are required to cheat on your wife. It’s not a choice. Ask David Letterman, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and all the others. Having extra-marital sex with younger women is written into their rich-powerful-man contracts. They are not allowed not to cheat. (OK, there’s the occasional Paul Newman, who finds a loophole by making salad dressing and pretzels.)
My cynicism about this should not suggest that I am one of those bitter divorcees who thinks all men are weak and pathetic–because truly that is not what I’m trying to convey. I certainly don’t condone adultery or deception, and I feel for all the duped wives involved.
I just think it’s naive to be surprised, given that unremitting monogamy seems like a longshot for most humans–rich, poor, male or female. In fact, what Woods did was so predictable that that’s what he should be most embarrassed about. Couldn’t he have instead surprised the world by not philandering? That would have been refreshing.
I like the way Frank Rich put it in a recent New York Times op-ed called Tiger Woods, Person of the Year: What’s striking… is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.
I just hope our president, who has so much riding on his own image as The Perfect Husband, has something like the Paul Newman clause written into his powerful-man contract–because if he ends up in a Monica Lewinsky-type situation, we will surely be looking right in the face of Armageddon.
What are your thoughts? Why is our society so, um, wed to the concept of lifelong fidelity, and why do we feign shock when we discover that, for the gazillionth time, someone has cheated on a spouse?
Last weekend, my daughters and I got our Christmas tree. Pulling out the decorations had a similar effect as the one I described in my post about my country house, where the familiar backdrop forces you to acknowledge the things that have changed in the intervening months.
Two Christmases ago (my, but it still seems like yesterday sometimes), R & I knew our separation was inevitable, but he was still living with us and the kids had no idea that our cozy foursome was on un-cozy ground. Not surprisingly, it was hard for me to enjoy Christmas that year. Everything we did–getting the tree, decorating the tree, hanging up our four stockings–was laden with the awareness of it being the last time we’ll ever do this. The last time we will all four decorate the same tree and wake up on Xmas morning together. The last time for this, for that. I happen to be especially bad at last times. When we took down the tree and packed up the ornaments into their usual boxes, I wondered which ones had spent the holiday in my house for the last time.
Last Christmas was difficult for the opposite reason: It was full of firsts. The first time I bungee-corded the tree on top of the car (may she RIP), the first time only three stockings hung on our mantel, the first time the girls woke up on Xmas morning and came into a bed that was mine alone. R joined us for breakfast, which felt absurdly normal and also miserably not so. I felt incredible pressure to hold myself together, to exude a see-everything-is-OK! attitude for the girls. The minute they left with R to visit his family, I sobbed for an hour (maybe two). Then, for the first time ever, I spent Xmas day alone, reading a new book–sad, but also, secretly, guiltily enjoying the solitude just a little bit.
And here we are one whole year later already. The girls and I decided we didn’t really need to drive to get a Christmas tree, so we got one around the corner and brought it home in the shopping cart. When we discovered that the trunk was too wide for our tree stand, I cursed, but at least I didn’t feel helpless or cry. I went into Mom-saves-the-day mode, grabbed the bread knife and shaved the trunk ’til it fit.
I can’t say that everything has come up roses (one look at my checking-account balance will quickly convince you of that), but a few aspects of my life are indeed much rosier than they’ve been for a while. For one thing, the gap on our mantel where the fourth stocking used to hang is not nearly as glaring.
On Xmas day, R will again join us for breakfast and I imagine it won’t feel as awkward as it did last year or as poignant as it did the year before that. To quote an old friend, it will feel, as so much now does, like the new normal.
And I won’t be spending the rest of the day alone this year either. What a merry thought.
I experienced one of my most rewarding moments as a parent last night. My 13-year old-daughter and I watched the first three episodes of the zany British TV show Absolutely Fabulous, which had us ROTFL together.
I hadn’t seen AbFab since it originally aired way back at the turn of the century. (Remember, when we had to sit in front of the TV at a specific time each week or we’d miss it?)
Back then, I related to the super-sensible, righteous teen daughter Saffy, who is forever trying to scold her loopy middle-aged mum, Edina Monsoon, into behaving just a little bit like a responsible grown-up. (In one episode, Edina tells Saffy, “We don’t use the word sensible in this house, sweetie!”)
To my unwrinkled under-30 eyes, Patsy and Edina looked old. Weathered. Clinging to the last vestiges of youth. But last night, watching AbFab–which, it being 2009, we’d Netflixed as if that’s a real verb–I realized to my horror that they look surprisingly young. In fact, they are younger than I am now. It was one of those chilling where-has-the-time-gone moments, like when it hits you that all sorts of professional adults are not automatically older than you anymore just because they are your dentist or the President of the United States.
And it’s my sensible, eye-rolling daughter who is the Saffy now. Which makes me…which makes me…0h, please, no…the Edina!
OK, I am not nearly as whacked-out as Edina (right??) But I can relate to her, which is scary enough. We’re both in our 40s, both divorced, both single mothers of too-responsible daughters. Edina leads a life of debauchery; I don’t, but my daughter is convinced that I do when she’s not around to keep me in line. Edina has tantrums in front of her child and does not model appropriate behavior. I try to model appropriate behavior, yet this new single-mother gig has at times pushed me thisclose to having a tantrum in front of my kids.
See? I told you!
Hold on, though. Maybe there’s still hope. I don’t own anything by Christian LaCroix and I refuse to get so thick around the middle that my daughter will quote Saffy and say: “Mum, it doesn’t matter to me that you haven’t seen your navel in 25 years or that you can wear your stomach as a kilt. Just as long as you’re happy.”
Have any AbFab memories to share? Any Edina moments to fess up to?
Once again, the blogosphere threw me a bone. Just when I was feeling low on inspiration, Sunday’s New York Times Magazine landed with a thump at my front door and begged for my attention. So, thank you, Elizabeth Weil, for writing Married (Happily) With Issues (and, btw, feel free to introduce me to your editor because I’ve always wanted to write for the Magazine; actually, I got close once, but then…oh, never mind.)
The article chronicles Weil’s foray into marital therapy with her husband–only they engage in it before they’re on the verge of divorce. According to Weil, by the time most couples enter therapy, they have been unhappy for six years, making the endeavor futile. So kudos to her for trying to nip that shit in the bud (and sorry for cursing, but it felt necessary). Seriously, I’d estimate that 90 percent of couples I know who have gone to marriage therapy have ultimately ended up in Splitsville anyway.
Weil’s marriage follows the standard script: Boy and girl fall in love during their clueless, carefree 20s, get married, skip around and play house for a while until the game turns serious. Then they have babies and lose sleep and spend the next few years singing the Alphabet Song and groggily emptying the Diaper Genie until–surprise–one day they emerge from the fog and notice that the romance has mysteriously departed from their relationship.
Which is not to say that the kids are to blame, because of course we all love our kids and they add immeasurably to our lives and we can’t imagine a world without them (there’s also that pesky biological drive to perpetuate the species).
Ultimately, Weil concludes that maybe the “good-enough” marriage is, well, good enough. She asks what, exactly, a better marriage would look like: “More happiness? Intimacy? Stability? Laughter? Fewer fights? A smoother partnership? More intriguing conversation? More excellent sex? Our goal and how to reach it were strangely unclear.”
Now I’ll confess that my goal in writing this blog post and how to reach it are also strangely unclear. I’ve been mulling this what-is-a-happy-marriage stuff over and have not come up with satisfactory answers. I do, however, have a few new questions inspired by Weil’s piece:
OK–your turn. What are your questions and/or answers on this subject? My inquiring mind must know.