Mary and dave are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage. My question is, what's the rush? Why did they wait 25 years?
I don't want to get into specifics here, like Dave's billion-dollar putter collection or Mary's aspiration to sell her pottery at the next craft show. I don't want to tell you that Dave's goal in life is to upgrade his home theater and that Mary's goal is to find herself, especially far away from Dave.
I don't want to tell you these details because one of the first things you learn in adult life is that the only relationship you can judge is your own.
Some people scrap like dogs and cats and still manage to stay together; on the other hand, a quiet argument about nothing can break a couple into two, with nothing left in common except legal bills. Relationships are tricky things, and it's easy to lapse into tired formulas like "it's all about the money," or "it's all about listening," or "it's all about getting an unattractive but effective housekeeper, secretary, or gardener."
Despite his sports car, golf membership, and HD plasma screen, Dave is a pretty bitter fellow. He says he had no early warning that Mary was unhappy. He thought their relationship was peachy keen. "Geez, a little warning and maybe I would have tried to change."
Mary says that she's been biding her time, waiting for a chance to escape. She was tired of the endless grind of her role. She not only works full-time, but she looks after the household.
"Listen, the shopping, cooking, cleaning, care-taking – isn't there more to life than back-stopping a man? I need time for me."
"Time for you?" shouts Dave. "Have you been in prison for 25 years? We've got a nice house, great friends, and a place at the ski hill. I didn't realize you were suffering so much."
"You don't get it," replies Mary. "You do whatever you want. I'm tired of picking up your damn socks."
How can both people believe they are getting the short end of the stick? Can these mid-life divorces be about both a woman's desire for self-actualization and a man's shock that emotional laziness does not a marriage make?
"Nobody bothered to tell me that the rules had changed," says Dave. "Nobody told me that women have all the choices and that all men get is combat duty."
"Let me be perfectly honest," says Mary, "I want to live life in a meaningful way. I want to be fully alive. I want to enjoy all that life has to offer. I'm not interested in being someone's wife."
"Nobody told me that ‘wife' was a nasty four-letter word," says Dave.
It's nothing new to say that men and women can fundamentally misunderstand each other's needs, but it may be interesting to begin mapping out a new territory for marriage, especially if marriage is to survive beyond children and mortgages and sleek waistlines.
Is it any surprise to you that, according to a recent piece in The Globe and Mail, the majority of divorces above the age of 40 are initiated by women?
Is it any surprise to you that marriage is one factor that statisticians say has proven to increase our life-spans? Just as we spurn it, we discover that marriage is the best thing for us.
"I'd rather have a short happy life than a long miserable one," quips Mary.
"That can be arranged, honey."
As more and more people separate, choose to live alone, or decide not to be married in the first place, marriage becomes the exception, not the norm.
Traditional gender roles have changed but many couples are still confused because they don't know what the new rules are. What does he do? What does she do? Who decides about the position of the toilet seat? How do we find the right balance between our own needs and the needs of our partner?
Baby-boomers are not only facing retirement surrounded by issues such as the "meaning of my life" and the "legacy of my life," but they also have to pay for the Darn Good Life, and we all know it ain't cheap.
Downsizing is no longer a top priority for so-called empty nesters. Making your success obvious has moved, with a bullet, to number one on the list. Thus, the custom wine cellar business is booming. Luxury automobiles are selling like hot cakes (the list of luxury items that were once optional and that have now become mandatory is endless).
Expectations concerning retirement have changed too. No longer do we want to pay off our mortgages while we save for retirement. No, we want it all.
And we want it NOW.
Everyday, the luxo-monoculture slaps us in the face like our friend's spanking new convertible or whatever else your friend has but you don't have, and it cannot help but make us incredibly dissatisfied with our lives.
Who has the power to resist the pressure to make our consumption so conspicuous?
"We're in debt up to our eyeballs because Mary wanted the big rancher with the lake view," says Dave. "You just couldn't stop competing with the ladies at the club, could you? You wanted a bigger stove, more granite, a killer powder room."
"Yeah? Who bought the turbo, the saltwater pool, the steam shower, the electronics? Nobody twisted your arm, Dave. We both bought into the lifestyle of impatience."
"And now it's not good enough for you, Mary?"
"Sorry, Dave. I've got no time for it."
"Mary, go ahead and dump me by the curb, but don't think that your life is suddenly going to be instantly different. The problem, Mary, is you. It's not me. Not having me around anymore won't be the quick fix you think it will be."
"It'll be a nice start."
"No, thank you, Dave. It's nice that you're finally looking me in the eye and talking to me.
Don't forget for the past 25 years I've been a work widow, a sports widow, and lately, an internet widow. Dave, we've been divorced for a long time; you just never bothered to notice because the services weren't discontinued."
"Darling, ‘service' isn't exactly what I'd call last night. You've been phoning it in for a dog's age."
Some say divorce can be a good thing. It can allow people to start again. A new perspective can be gained. Mary may travel the world, make love to a stranger on the beach, and sell her awful pottery to world fame – or she may wonder what she and Dave could have done years ago to make their marriage work.
Would it have been worth the effort?
Dave may lease a twin-turbo, date a couple of hot women with screaming kids, spend a couple grand on space-age golf clubs and he may wonder, every day, perhaps, what he could have done to better support Mary's aspirations.
When people feel a lump on their body, they see a doctor as soon as possible. When people sleep next to what they think is a lump, they'll wait five, ten, maybe 25 years to do something.
When I come to bed, often late at night, sometimes I listen to my wife breathing, and I think to myself how lucky I am, and then, as I lay my head on the pillow, I wonder if I am really the partner she needs me to be. Or am I just a lump?
_Stan Chung is a writer and Associate Dean of Arts and Foundational Programs at Okanagan College in Kelowna, Canada. [email protected]