I don’t know if you’ve seen this piece over at Double X. I have to admit to finding it deeply disturbing. At first, I enjoyed the Double X site, precisely because it avoided these vicious, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger testimonials, choosing instead to post revealing rebuttals to similar stories published over and over with limited editorial fact-checking under the Times‘ Modern Love rubric. Thus, Double X appeared to be devoted to correcting the record of these facile, self-promoting smears while at the same time attacking the very sleazy and voyeuristic practice of having ambitious NYC writers caricature their love lives for a byline and 5 C-notes.
This essay, in particular, struck a nerve because my ex-wife had her first marriage announced in the Times and spoke about its break-up (as she has written about ours) with the same nauseating mélange of breathless entitlement and bad faith. What’s worse is that the clear motive for producing such a written account of her failed marriage is the imperative to promote her new book — a heart-warming and empowering account of equally failed marriages and snatching triumph from divorce (as if there is not a significant amount already covering this base).
What I love best about this particular essay — and herein lies the entitlement that oozes through every sentence — is its simple premise: You would never believe that someone who has her wedding written up by the Times could actually have a failed marriage!
On my honeymoon, I called my sister from a phone booth in Burgundy, cows grazing across the narrow road, so she could read it to me. I pumped francs into the slot as an old plump woman bicycled past, the morning’s fresh baguettes in her basket.
Put aside that she didn’t have a Télécarte to use for the phone, I do indeed loves me a paragraph that includes the words “Burgundy” “cows” “francs” “bicycled” and “fresh baguettes in her basket.” Signs of a highly original thinker. I’m not sure what happens to second-rate NYC writers that they all love France, manage to find money to travel there, and return with the exact same imagery — but this is clearly a sub-species of the larger pool of NYC chick writers.
I’m sure after reading that last paragraph, you’re half near swooning and wondering — “Why couldn’t I have had a honeymoon like that? How such a fairy tale go wrong?”
Well, the marriage’s failure can all be attributed to another common trope: My husband was a wonderful charming guy “98 percent of the time, but the lava of his volcanic anger, when it erupted, left ash and scorched earth all over our marital landscape.” (Double take — this is a published writer.) Similarly, there seems to be this very bizarre and tightly held precept of marriage among this particular entitled set of matrimonial mythogynists that “a couple should never go to bed angry.” This was, in fact, one of my ex-wife’s rationales for all kinds of torture and abuse. Ms. Walsh’s response is equally troubling:
The first time he went to sleep mid-argument I poured a cup of water on his head. He staggered to his feet, swearing. For a moment, I thought that he might kill me. He was lost, wet, and exhausted. I was desperate, grieving, lovelorn. He didn’t kill me, we did go to bed mad, and it was not the last time. I had to let go of that rule.
Seriously, what kind of person 1) pours water on her husband’s head because he goes to sleep while you are fighting; and 2) describes it in such an odd and hyperbolic manner, that would shift so drastically the burden of the action? Well, at least she didn’t tear out and burn pages of the wedding album over the bed in order to wake him up — that’s all I can say. The surprising fact is, I think, that most people do get exhausted while arguing. Moreover, often one discovers, after a good night sleep, that one doesn’t really care about the cause of the previous night’s argument.
Another construct of this narrative of bad-faith and entitlement is always the recruitment of outsiders to use as foils, and upon whom one can impose one’s own heavy-handed subtext:
Most of the people who asked, “How are you?” were told, “We’re living in two different houses now.” They reacted as if I had said that I’d found a lump. “But it’s fine!” I’d hasten to add. “It’s a good thing.”
I’m quite sure she’s either using a generous interpretation of the word “Most” or she has never had to tell someone that she had found a lump. It is necessary, though, to her personal voyage of redemption — one that returns her to the Times — that onlookers had no idea of the trouble in her story-book marriage (after all, it was written up in Vows!) or tut-tut the idea of divorce as an acceptable solution.
And where is her ex-husband after all this? If you can stand watching the video linked above and again here for your convenience, you will see that he is right by her side, supportive of her re-writing their relationship, and helping her raise her web profile in advance of the book’s publication. Ah, that brings me back! When I read his description in the initial write-up of the wedding:
He is clean cut, friendly and bohemian, yet refined in his tastes. When he drives cross-country his car blares Beethoven. ”Peter loves wine and old cars and ideas,” said Tobias Lanz, a friend, ”Practical things are not his forte.”
he knows opera; he knows how to bake bread, French bread
I realized that this is exactly the person my ex-wife thought she was marrying — absurdly different from myself — and that triteness must merely be a pathology of the extremely entitled. Unfortunately, being published is an all too common symptom of that pathology.
Oh — there’s one more thing: