In one of my favorite films last summer (Paris, je t’aime, which is actually a series of short films about love, set in Paris), there is a vignette in which a long-married man is about to leave his wife for his mistress. Years of mutual apathy have rendered the couple’s marriage stale and wilted. All of the little idiosyncrasies that he once found charming and endearing about his wife have become irritants that make his skin crawl. He fairly loathes the woman. Nothing short of an injection of a serious dose of “I actually give a care about you” could save it.
But (without spoiling it!) the husband learns something that completely alters his approach to their relationship. As their relationship evolves, the narrator intones, “Once he began to act like a man in love, he became a man in love.”
I love this line, and the concept behind it. It is, in fact, this very kernel of an idea that grew into my novel, SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER. So I found it interesting to hear it verbalized in the movie. There is, to me, such a simple truth to it.
Most everybody starts out in a marriage happy (I hope so, anyhow!). But long after the pheromones have fizzled out and the yearnin’, burnin’ love settles down to a quiet smolder instead of a raging inferno, life starts getting in the way of that original optimistic version of love. It is then that many marriages wither into a state of tolerance, or worse yet, intolerance.
I know it’s a cliched line, but the truth is, you have to work at a marriage. All the time. But the daily reality of life tends to clash with that mandate: with kids and work and chores and all of life’s have-to’s, who’s got time to work on something that you take as a given, even take for granted?
At a point in life in which my husband and I started seeing some of our friends’ marriages dissolve, I started to embrace the idea that you really can go back. It just takes a bit of effort. This is what I set out to explore when I wrote SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER. Perhaps with an optimism borne out of folly, I wanted to set straight the defeatism that seems to plague so many marriages eventually. But I wanted to do it with humor. And because I tend to be a smart aleck, with a little tang of sarcasm.
My own parents’ marriage fell apart after 25 years. It was not a pretty sight, and in truth it was a long time from when that first thread was picked from the tapestry of their marriage until the entire thing unravelled. But even though things played out in a worst-case scenario, I couldn’t help but believe that they could have forged through the worst of things and found some sort of positive resolution had both of them really wanted to do it.
Through the demise of their marriage, I learned that there really is–pardon the cliche, again–a very fine line between love and hate. Like fiber-optic-line thin. So if you can morph from a deep, unyielding love into almost hatred, can’t you then go back again? Or is this evolution only uni-directional?
I know that mentality seems a little pollyanna-esque. And rarely have I been accused of being very pie-in-the-sky. But I very much want to believe that-like with that man in the movie–perhaps what it takes is some sort of revelation to help two people, once so much in love, to re-vamp their attitude and try to rediscover what it was that thrust them together in the first place.
Who knows if this really can work out in real life? But the beauty of fiction is that a writer can resolve what in real life seems un-resolveable, and provide a little impetus for that happily ever after that we all expected in the first place.