More women than men initiate divorce. According to statistics, we also recover from divorce faster emotionally. But are we still holding out hope for a happily ever after? It would seem so. We all still want to believe in love, marriage and ultimately the baby carriage. But at what cost are we willing to make that happen? Once we have it, at what cost are we willing to maintain it?
According to Suzanne Venker of Fox News who stated that women need to ‘lean on’ their husband to find ‘balance’ and insinuates this will make a marriage a success, we still long for the fairytale. However, she indicates that a woman’s independence in a marriage may be her downfall. The backlash against her article would indicate that us divorcees won’t stand for this kind of attitude, including taking all the blame for a marriage breakdown. Venker’s advice smacks of 1950’s mores. It’s not a place we want to go back to; marriages that are still Far From Heaven.
“Far From Heaven” starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid explores a marriage in the 1950’s and I think is still relatable and applicable to modern marriages. It was well received by critics. The wife, Cathy Whitaker played by Julianne Moore, certainly leaned on her husband but it didn’t save her.
When I watched the film several years ago, I was in for a jolt. I was in the thick of my marriage and SAHM role. You could say I was leaning on my husband to find balance. As I watched with my bowl of popcorn and glass of wine after I put the kids to bed, my heart began to beat faster and I became more and more uncomfortable. Watching Moore’s character desperately holding on to her marriage and all that goes with it was disturbing. Mrs. Whitaker’s necessity of keeping up her image and fulfilling her 1950’s wifely duties in spite of her emptiness, rang a bell of familiarity in me that I wasn’t expecting.
It was 2002 after all, and we had all come a long way. Children were not expected to be seen and not heard anymore and we certainly didn’t have to make our husband a martini and fetch his slippers when he arrived home after work. As an aside, my husband was serious about ‘his chair’ and would ask anyone sitting in it to move, even his wife. Maybe that was more indicative of Archie Bunker in the 1970’s but it always rankled me. Wait a minute, if I was living the balanced life Suzanne Vekner recommends, shouldn’t I have been happy to get up and let the man sit in his chair? Getting back to Far From Heaven, why was I finding a kindred spirit in Cathy Whitaker?
Her husband Frank Whitaker is indifferent to Cathy and uninterested in her sexually. He is happy to have her fulfill her role in the marriage and in fact uses her as his cover for his secret life. While she is unaware of his secret, she is very aware that something is missing in her marriage.
We watch Cathy maintain that perfect family against all odds. Have you ever done that even though something is terribly wrong or completely missing? You can’t quite put your finger on it. It isn’t an obvious problem like alcohol or gambling addiction or physical abuse. Those problems are in your face but what Cathy Whittaker is dealing with is ongoing emptiness, loneliness so deep it can make you crazy.
Inadvertently, Cathy finds a friend in her gardener and feels he is the only person she can trust to tell the truth about her life. She can’t even confide in her friends because they really are only her peers and she is afraid they won’t understand. There is a certain shame Mrs. Whitaker feels in her loneliness. Eventually, she is faced with divorce at a time when it was not common. She suffers as an outcast as a result.
In 2014, are we still far from heaven? I believe we still cling to the social expectations that come with being a wife and not ‘giving up’ on a crumbling marriage. Staying together at high costs, even in the case where the husband is found out to be homosexual or addicted to gambling or drugs. We have been raised to be the nurturer. It’s in our genetic code. And we are still harshly judged if we initiate a divorce. There is much sympathy for the men who are left regardless of the circumstances that led to his marital demise. If you left him though, you are the bitch from hell. You didn’t ‘lean’ on him enough or maybe too much only to find yourself ass over teakettle.
We need to come out of the closet and the kitchen and stand by our conviction to end an unhappy marriage with confidence. We don’t have to live like Cathy Whitaker and no matter what Suzanne Venker says, leaning on our husband isn’t going to save us. Should we still believe in love? Yes, because we will love again with the right person. Perhaps marriage and playing the role of the perfect wife will not be the ultimate proof of that love. When we let go of traditional thinking and gather our strength, we really aren’t so far from heaven. We’re getting closer everyday.
Will you marry again? Was your marriage far from heaven?