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What should we say about marriage? (11/23/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

A friend gave me a copy of a book written by her niece, Jamie Patterson, called Lost Edens. It is a memoir, a story of the breakup of her first marriage (she is young, with no children, and I am assuming there will be a second).

Her husband was unfaithful, this after uprooting the two of them to go live in Southern California, following the dream. Luckily, Jamie has family there, because soon after they arrive, he moves out and in with a woman from work with a child. Unfortunately, it is not an uncommon story. But her honest portrayal of her ex-husband and herself made me shake my head and wonder what, if anything, all these many years of “feminism” have done for women.

She is expected, naturally, to work, to have her career. But she also feels, as does her husband, it seems, that she must devote every waking moment, every thought, every move, to what it is her husband wants. The journey from his leaving the first time, to his return to her bed, but not to the marriage, to the final brutal separation is painful, even to read about.

The young woman does not describe the beginning of their relationship, so the reader doesn’t know if the courtship and marriage were always so unequal. We don’t know how the woman has developed into a doormat, a painfully self-reproaching person who nearly has a nervous breakdown before she takes each step. We don’t know if this short marriage was destined to end this way, or if somewhere along the way he became an overbearing brute, not physically, but mentally, and she rolled over like a beaten dog. (This is something she says, though — they have never had a pet who was not afraid of her husband, and in fact a couple pets died.)

But in California, she is trying desperately to be the SoCal surfer girl with the long blonde hair that she thinks he wants her to be. When he returns to a cottage she has rented on the beach, they pick up some sort of marital relationship. But here is a clue, not very well hidden, to what is to come.

“The air is diffusing into a chill and my body shivers to keep warm. I try to hide this. Ben hates it when I’m cold, and I’m angry with myself for shivering.”

Or, as my grandmother liked to say, “Excuse me for living, I just fell out of the hearse!”

They walk on the beach, just like in the movies. She says, “I guess I just need to hear that you love me, and that you want to be with me, that’s all.”

He says, “Well, I think I love you and I want to be here with you right now…”

What could possibly make that girl stay seated? Why does she not walk away and say to herself, “I have made a huge mistake, I will talk to my parents and my friends. They love me. They will help me out of this mess.” She is religious, and divorce is not expected in her family. But really, I can’t believe a just and loving God means for people to live in such an emotional desert, abasing themselves minute-by-minute, unable to enjoy the least of the human experience. She finally wises up, and moves away from Southern California, back home.

Why do so many marriages fail? Why do so many of us make bad choices? What is it that society, and our families, don’t tell us about marriage that might help us to make better matches?

My parents never fought in front of us. In fact, I didn’t think they fought at all. It wasn’t until I was married myself that I realized that all fights were defused when my mother said, “Whatever you think, dear.” That wasn’t very good training for the marriage between two such hardheaded people like me and John, but we figured it out. In many ways we are lucky to have chosen the right people at the age of twenty-two. In many other ways, we have had to work at it.

But we should tell our children that even though marriage isn’t easy, and requires work, it also requires two people who value each other and themselves. This book of Jamie Patterson’s might be a very good book to give to your daughter who needs to take a good hard look at what she is choosing for the rest of her life. If she sees herself and her relationship in this book, maybe unlike the author she can extricate herself before she has lowered herself to the place where she has the self-esteem of an amoeba, and it takes years to become — and love — herself again. It might be a good book for your son, too. 


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